Tuesday, November 24, 2009


Below are some images of the firing. I actually did two firings, due to the fact that my 35mm camera broke at the beginning of the first firing. I fixed the camera and refired the kiln the following evening. The firings happened on September 11 and 12 and each lasted about 8 hours.

Friday, November 20, 2009

How To Build An Inside-out Kiln - Part 2

Sure, it's easy enough to pile a bunch of bricks on top of each other and say that they're an inside out kiln. But what actually makes it inside out?

I had a lot of time to think about how I was going to build this kiln as I hauled all 500 bricks from Paul's wharf to the kiln site 3km over land. In the end I decided to go with a double-bourry box kiln. It is the kind that I used during my NSCAD days and the kind that I am most familiar with. You can see an archetypal double-bourry box kiln here.

It is a very straightforward design. There is a large ware chamber in the middle with one firebox on each side. The fireboxes have two sections - a combustion chamber on top where fuel (wood) is burned, and an ash pit below that doubles as a flame channel. This is a very simple diagram of a double bourry-box kiln:

Note the lovely pot in the ware chamber, the fires in the combustion chambers and the ashes in the ash pits. To turn this kiln inside out I decided to dissect the design down the middle so that essentially I would end up with two halves. Then I transposed the two halves so that the fireboxes were overlapping:

The final step was to discard the unnecessary or physically unstable parts, most notably the arch/roof:

In this configuration the ware chamber is relocated to an undefined region to the left and right of the (now single) firebox. In principle I could say that virtually anything is within this new ware chamber - even the whole island. Compare the diagram to how the kiln actually looked when it was finished:

Thursday, November 5, 2009

Artist Talks - St. John's and Halifax

I will be talking about The Grey Islands twice next week - first at Eastern Edge Gallery in St. John's on Monday at 7pm, then Tuesday at NSCAD in Halifax. Please come out to see lots of pictures and hear lots of stories that haven't yet made it into the blog.

How To Live On A Desert Island

The most recent copy of The Scope includes a DIY column written this week by yours truly, all about how to live on a deserted island. Check it out here.

Monday, October 26, 2009

Finally, a product

Yes, I will finally be exhibiting an actual work dealing with my Grey Islands experience. It is a short looping video (19 seconds) titled Iceberg Paintings. At some point last winter I got it into my head that I was going to paint icebergs. Not on a canvas or anything like that, but actually go out in a boat and put paint on an iceberg. When I considered how ridiculously unsafe it would be to try to do that with a brush I had the brilliant idea that I would use a paintball gun. By the time I got to the Grey Islands, it seemed more than poetic enough - and a little less simplistic - to just have at an iceberg with my 12 gauge. Here's a still from the video:

The video will be exhibited at Eastern Edge Gallery in the soon to be opening Annual Members Exhibit.

Saturday, October 17, 2009


I've been searching the net to find good images of a double bourry box kiln so that I can explain the design of my inside out kiln. So far, I've only found this really great example of a single bourry box kiln, but I will keep looking.

How To Build an Inside-out Kiln - Part 1

I am often asked, "How do you build an inside out kiln?" Well, here is how the bricks go together:

Saturday, October 10, 2009


One day while strolling on the beach in French Cove I came across this peculiar looking stone:

It is semicircular, the size of a quarter, made of an amber translucent material, and has a very deliberate looking worked quality. The two large faces (the top and the bottom) are nearly perfectly parallel and the edges are chipped all the way around to one of two distinct angles. I picked it up wondering what it was and wanting to find out more about what human had made it.

It didn't take much work to figure it out. I asked Tim Rast, a local craftsperson, archaeologist and flintknapper what he made of it and he got back to me in no time flat.

According to Tim:

"Its definitely a French gun flint. A very nice one. Here's a link with photos of a few more modern reproductions of French and English gunflints.

"When gun spalls are made the original flake is trimmed to a standard size and shape by taking off lots of little chips around the edge. Thats the shaping that you noticed on your flint. There are also small chips removed when the flint is used in the musket. There will be a relatively flat unworked surface in the middle and lots of little flakes around the edge creating the square or half-moon shape. The underside will be almost completely flat.

"Muskets that used gunflints started to replace matchlock muskets in the 1600s and they started to be replaced by percussion cap firearms in the 1800s. I have a reference that says that large scale gunflint manufacture started to decline in France in the 1820s, although at least one family was still shipping gunflints to Chile in the 1920s. Your flint could date to pretty much anytime during that period (17th-19th century), which also coincides with the time of the French Shore."

Cool! Thanks Tim!

Friday, October 9, 2009


Last week I went fishing with my father during the annual cod fishery. Some people call it the recreational fishery, but I don't end up with this much food when I go to play ultimate. This was the first time I've gone cod fishing in decades, and I had forgotten what a miracle the ocean is. Or used to be before we fished all the fish.

On the Grey Islands I spent most of my time up on the hills or in the woods, and it was easy for me to forget that the reason people lived there in the first place was to work on the ocean.

Monday, October 5, 2009

What am I actually doing?

The question I've gotten most in the past two weeks is "What are you doing now?", so I thought I should take a moment to put it in print here.

Aside from eventually blogging all about everything on the Grey Islands, I've got a lot of other shit going on. I've wrangled back my BikeShare job, and there is a ton of stuff to do before our funding finishes up in December. Tomorrow there is a sustainability fair at the university and I'm doing free bike tune ups for anyone who dares defy the weather by bringing their bike outdoors. We've also got an exciting line up of bike courses for the fall - I'll post them as soon as they are made public.

In the world of art, I've taken on the position of chair at A1C Gallery. This is something that anyone who's done it before knows can easily turn into a full time job (without pay, of course). I've been involved in A1C since the beginning, and now that we are past the initial crises of birth I think this could be a really good time for the gallery and contemporary art in St. John's.

Soon I'll be getting back in the studio and I can hardly wait! I don't want to give too much away yet, but I've got this great idea about caribou antlers, pottery shards and gravestones. And there are other old and new projects: I've determined to finally finish up my little Tim Horton's intervention and I'm working on two separate film and video ideas. And I want to make pottery, too. I'll have to blame Alexis for that.

Oh yeah - and I've got this elaborate plan for a series of exhibitions/lectures next year. There are a bunch of deadlines happening in the next couple weeks that I've got to prepare for. It's a lot of grunt work, but it's got to be done.

To top it all off, I missed a whole summer of ultimate and bicycling so I'm determined to do as much of those things as I can before the snow flies. I've got a beautiful new bike on order from Cychotic which should be here in just a few weeks!

Not to be all full of myself, but I have to post this:

25 Greatest Works of Art Ever Made in Newfoundland and Labrador

Subjectivity aside, this does seem to be a pretty good cross section of art in Newfoundland over the past 30 years (was there any art in Newfoundland before then?). The reader comments at the bottom are reasonably predictable - ranging from the irate "those artists are a bunch of Canada Council sissies", to the generic "I like some of these selections, but I hate the others", and of course CFP's belligerent counterattacks. Naturally some people are against the arts in general (at least art that is not their own), and naturally some people can't seem to get past a subjective response in their reaction to art. I don't doubt The Grey Islands is one of those selections that one reader feels is "downright laughable".

Another that I'm sure caused more than a few giggles of disbelief would be The Stage. It's exclusive, it's debatable as to whether it is actually art of any sort, and as CFP says, "You don't know about it" which is enough to turn most people off. I've never been there for poker, but I have been part of the St. John's art poker scene occasionally, and have to admit it's quite the interesting and eclectic experience. But aside from that I'd like to defend The Stage from another perspective: it has another art history that even less people know about. Many years ago, a young Neil Conway lived in the stage, where he played country jams, battled the weather, and made pottery on an ancient kickwheel. As I remember, those were quite the times. The story of the stage is deeper and stranger than most people realize, and the unlikelihood of it as a venue for art is enough to make me appreciate that CFP has included it in his list.

We now return...

OK - so you've been wondering where I am and what happened? I needed a little break. I've spent most of the past two weeks eating, drinking, and catching up on the parts of my life that I've neglected for 3+ months. While I still feel exhausted and somewhat overwhelmed I think I'm at least at the point where I can make a few blog posts about stuff. So here I go!

Sunday, September 20, 2009


I am slowly making my way back to St. John's. I've been stopped off at my parents house in Clarenville for the past few days but will be heading into town tonight. I feel a bit like the astronauts must feel when they get back from space - overwhelmed but happy.

I had a great summer. There were absolutely no problems, and I am healthy and ready to get back to work. I will have lots of pictures and videos to post on here, and stories to tell eventually, but I don't have my computer back yet and there are many other important things I must do before I can get that done (like find a place to live, etc., etc.).

Anyways, stay tuned to the blog for lots of fun stuff!

Thursday, September 17, 2009

Some landscapes


And a couple pictures in case you've forgotten what I look like.

A few pics of the kiln

Haven't had a chance to go through all of them yet, but I pulled these out for you to have a look at.

Wednesday, September 16, 2009

Too tired

Just got back from the pub. Too tired to make a real blog entry now.

I'm back

More details coming soon. I have to go to the pub right now.

Friday, July 3, 2009

Finally :)

I am ready to go. After a series of frustrating delays everything has finally come together. My bricks are in the back of Paul Bromley's boat. We're leaving at 4am tomorrow morning. This will be my last post until I get back later in the summer. Wish me luck and tune into my Spot page to keep track of me.

Wednesday, July 1, 2009

Bricks II - The Saga Continues...

Yes, they have arrived. But it was not an uneventful arrival. It was, in fact, a bit of a mess.

First thing Monday morning I got on the phone with Bill at Ornamental Concrete. I needed to find out where exactly my bricks were and when they were going to get here. He made a few calls and then got back to me saying they would arrive on Thursday. Then, a few hours later, he called again to say they would be here on Tuesday. At that point it became clear to me that he didn't really know anything. So I got on the phone with Day and Ross myself. It took a couple hours, and many subsequent calls, but I finally found someone who was able to tell me where my bricks were. Corey at customer service insisted that they had arrived in Conche at 5:33pm last Friday. Well, I had been to the fish plant and they definitely weren't there, but Corey came back to me and said someone named T. Reid even signed for them.

I'll admit, sometimes I overlook the obvious, so in acknowledgement of that I went back to the fish plant to have a look. I scoured the place, and they absolutely were not there. Then, rather luckily, I ran into Scott Patey, the plant manager. He told me to call a few businesses in Roddickton and just to ask around about whether they had seen the bricks. Sure enough, first call I made I found them sitting in the loading dock at Roddickton Home Hardware. They had in fact been there since Friday evening, and Tyson Reid, the stock boy, had signed for them despite the fact they were addressed for someone in a different town. Apparently Day and Ross will deliver to Conche, but what they mean by that is they'll drop your gear off at some random place in Roddickton without telling anyone. Nobody contacted me, not Day and Ross, not Ornamental Concrete, not even Home Hardware. And - now this is the unbelievable part - my package was not the only one there! There was also a palette of boxes destined for the Conche summer garden party that had been missing for weeks! Apparently Day and Ross make a habit of serving their customers this way!

Having no other options I hired a local fellow with a pickup to bring my bricks the rest of the way into Conche. It took three trips and $200 to make this happen. And I could've easily gone to the islands on Monday had anyone known where the bricks were, so I lost three days of working in beautiful perfect weather. And I had to stay in Conche for an extra three nights, which cost me another $200.

I've called Day and Ross to try to recoup some of these losses. At the very least they should cover the $200 I spent completing their delivery for them. That was yesterday. Unfortunately today is Canada Day (everyone's on holiday) and tomorrow I'm leaving so I think there is very little possibility that any of this will ever be resolved to my satisfaction. I'll tell you one thing - I'll never trust Day and Ross with a shipment ever again. All in all their incompetence has cost me more than five hundred dollars.

On the upside, the fellows at the fishplant are having a good laugh - they've convinced one of the younger guys he has to carry all five hundred bricks by hand to the other side of the plant:


The cove is swimming in fish right now - the capelin are in, there are tomcods hiding under every boat, and I even just saw three salmon passing along by the end of the wharf.

Kilns and ovens

It's not unusual to find fire bricks along the beaches of the French Shore. I picked up these two today in Conche. They are the remnants of bread ovens made and used by migrant fishermen in times gone by. Just outside of Conche, in Crouse, there is an archeological dig happening. They are unearthing a French fishing site that was used from the 17th to 19th centuries. On Monday I had a tour of the site with Peter Pope, professor of archeology at MUN. The highlight of the tour for me were the bricks and stones that Peter says made up an oven that was probably used as long ago as the early 19th century. They are still in place where they stood against a wall of rock that functioned as the rear wall for the oven, although the arch and side walls have long since collapsed.

The French started making bread ovens in Newfoundland not long after the revolution in their homeland. One theory has it that the process of democratization instigated a desire for a few basic human rights - access to fresh food, for instance. Peter tells me there were no English bread ovens in Newfoundland contemporaneously to these early French ones, which I think is no surprise since the descendents of English settlers in Newfoundland still have no appreciation for fresh local foods.

I was lucky to discover that I am not the first to build an oven in this area, and that there is a tradition - albeit a lost tradition since the French were banished from their fishing grounds - of oven construction here. I'm going to take these two bricks to the Grey Islands with me and incorporate them into my kiln. They are beautiful and ancient, perhaps 200 years old, perhaps brought across the Atlantic from France, rounded and smoothed by the ocean, and still bearing a smoky colouring from countless uses. I realize it may be an archeological transgression to take these from the place where I found them, but it would equally be an artistic transgression to not acknowledge the precedents of local history and culture in my project.

Tuesday, June 30, 2009

The island floating ahead of me like a moon, tugging me forward. Whatever it has in store.

Leonard Quniton saying, 'the voices in those old homes.' And there it was, pulling and me already going its way. An island of voices and ghosts. But ghosts and voices are everywhere. Even along the road. Flashing by. Stop and let them speak.

A way to corner myself is what I want. Some blunt place I can't go beyond. Where excuses stop.

John Steffler - The Grey Islands

Sunday, June 28, 2009


If they have ice washing up on the beaches like this on the Grey Islands I'll have to bring along a bottle of scotch.

Some images from Conche


Sea arch:


Unfortunately, I didn't have my camera out when I almost stepped on the giant owl.

Saturday, June 27, 2009

Waiting for bricks

After a 14 hour drive (saw nine moose) I have arrived in Conche. I have to thank Dave and Tracy for getting me here in one piece. The last twenty kilometres over foggy, moose infested dirt road were particularly stressful. But here I am and everything is OK.

Well, almost everything. You see, my bricks still have not arrived here. This is the beginning of a long story, but I might as well get into it since I really don't have a lot else to do. I bought these bricks (500 low grade fire brick) from Ornamental Concrete on Kenmount Road. The price was good and they were exactly what I was looking for - in fact I was amazed that the purchasing process went so smoothly. For the record, I was concerned about the shipping right from the beginning, but Bill at Ornamental Concrete called Day and Ross himself where they quoted the price of $440 for shipping them right to Paul Bromley's door.

So when the bricks arrived in St. John's from Halifax (the fact they'd have to go back 600km in the same direction to get as far as Deer Lake before heading up the Northern Peninsula was an irony not lost on me) I asked Bill to hold onto them for a couple weeks so they wouldn't be taking up space at Paul's house until I got there. They agreed to ship them around the 15th so they'd be here waiting for me when I arrived on the 26th.

Flash forward a few weeks and I, having moved on to more pressing matters, assumed everything had went as smoothly as promised. I called Paul to tell him to expect the bricks two Fridays ago, but as he was out fishing I had trouble getting through to him. Eventually I talked to his sister-in-law who told me the bricks never arrived. Apparently Day and Ross decided they didn't want to ship to Conche. This was after they decided to take my money and tell me they would ship them, and before they decided they would not contact me about changing their shipping plans. Now that is some poor business practice.

So the bricks went back to Kenmount Road where they waited for me to call and make a big stink. I think Bill went to bat for me on this one - he called Day and Ross and got back to me saying they would be shipped on Wednesday past. It's now Saturday, and I expected them to arrive yesterday, but they are not here. So I'm sitting here in Conche, practicing my existentialism and waiting for bricks.

Tuesday, June 23, 2009


It is pouring right now in St. John's - one of those days where you can be thankful you are not in a tent. When it started this morning I was out in Logy Bay on my bike. I got absolutely drenched on the way back in. I've been out in some bad rainstorms and this ranked right up there with them.

I just realized that Environment Canada's radar network extends as far north as the Grey Islands. While this will be totally useless to me, since I won't have the internet, you will be able to check on the weather I'm getting by visting this link:



Just wanted to remind you that you can view my Spot page by going to this link.
Each time I send a message via Spot it plots a point on this page and attaches it to a Google map. I'll hopefully be checking every day or two, so you should be able to see my wandering throughout the island.

Friday, June 19, 2009


If you leave me your physical address (either in an email or via a comment) I will do my best to send you a letter/postcard from the Grey Islands.

Wednesday, June 17, 2009

10 days left...

...let's hope this weather holds out:

Monday, June 15, 2009

Still Life With Thanatotic Animals

Opening this week at A1C Gallery is Still Life With Thanatotic Animals by Lee Henderson. Lee's exhibition is an installation of photographs taken of stuffed animal heads. The heads have been photographed through the viewfinder of a second camera, so that visible in the prints are the details of exposure, aperture, focus and other camera settings.

The opening reception for this show is Wednesday at 8pm. The artist will be in attendance and there will be an artist talk at 8:30.

Ice update

Ice conditions continue to improve off the east coast of Newfoundland. The latest satellite data shows the furthest south extent of pack ice to be near the southern Labrador coast:

This is good for multiple reasons: it signals that summer is indeed on its way, and as the pack ice heads north, hopefully warmer water from the south will move in to replace it. (This in no way means there won't be icebergs in the area. In fact right now the Northern Peninsula is celebrating the Iceberg Festival)

Second, I believe there will be minimal likelihood of polar bear encounter. I was talking with a conservation officer in Roddickton last week, who assured me it's been a month since anyone's seen a polar bear anywhere near the area. The last one near there was relocated to Belle Isle, not to be confused with Bell Island where I was camping last week, or with Bell Island on which I'm going to be living this summer. The original French inhabitants of Newfoundland should've really tried to be a little more creative with their place names.


I've got my ride. Dave Gooseney, who I play ultimate with, is driving me all the way to Conche. He and his girlfriend seem happy to just take the weekend and go for a ride. Dave, like me, has never been up that far before. It should be a fun road trip.

I'm almost packed as well. There are a few final things I need to pick up, mostly some pots, pans and kitchen stuff, but also some tarps and art supplies. Now that I've started to put things into boxes it seems I will have less gear than I thought. That's a relief - minimalist that I am the less stuff the better. And the more stuff I have the more likely something is to go wrong anyways.

And food - well, I'm still working on that. I have a lot of grocery shopping left to do. And dehydrating. And calorie counting. But these are all things I feel are best accomplished during the week before I leave.

Two weeks from today will be my third on the island.

Monday, June 8, 2009

Still looking for a ride

I'm still looking for a ride to Conche at the end of the month. I really, really don't want to have to coordinate a bus/shuttle/whatever trip with all my gear. I'd much rather just hire someone from St. John's to drive me up there.

So I am making you (yes, you!) an offer. In exchange for driving me to Conche I will pay for your gas there and back, and for a night of accommodations in Conche. You can also come with me for a day trip (or longer) to the Grey Islands. This would be a great way to start your summer vacation, and a great way to explore the Northern Peninsula and Gros Morne, not to mention a once-in-a-lifetime opportunity to visit the Grey Islands.

I am planning on leaving around the end of June. The drive to Conche is a full day trip each way. I will have a fair amount of gear with me, but I think it could all fit into a small car, especially if there are only two or three of us.

If you're interested please let me know quickly as I need to get this sorted out asap. And if you can think of someone who might be able to take a few days off and would enjoy the adventure please send along this message to them.

Sunday, June 7, 2009


I went camping last night on Bell Island, partly as a test for some of the new gear I've gotten in the past few weeks, and partly as a follow-up to a bicycle touring workshop I conducted last Saturday. I brought along my Spot satellite tracker to see how effectively it could trace my path. You can look at this page to see where we went on Google Maps.

I am so impressed with this "Spotcasting" feature. All you have to do is press the button and make sure Spot has a clear view of the sky. I had it strapped to the top of the stack on the back of my bike while I was riding.

I think I will try to make extensive use of this feature while I am on the Grey Islands. That way I can create a record of everywhere I go, and also ensure that people at home know where I am and that I'm doing well.

And now a few pictures from Bell Island:

A sea stack at sunset:

The new tent:

Wild strawberries:

Bird colony on a sea stack:


I was on WAM (Weekend Arts Magazine) this morning. If you would like to hear the interview you can download a podcast from the CBC website here. I was lucky to hear the interview myself - I was camping last night on Bell Island (not the Bell Island of the Grey Islands where I will be living later this summer, but the Bell Island in Conception Bay) and woke up just in time to turn on my wind-up radio and listen to myself.

Thursday, June 4, 2009

Images from the islands

These are a few images I took from a Land and Sea episode about an eider duck project out on the islands. The location in these photographs is very near where I will be dropped off.