Whatever thought the word “art” brings to mind, take it a step further. And another step. And another.
Even then, it might be hard to imagine the level of creative expression at the Art Barn Studio, a workshop where things like homemade paper and books are the norm. With classes soon to be underway, the artistically inclined can start on their own journey into a range of media, including fibre art, paper making, painting, dying, quilting and so on.
“People need to take time away from technology and social media to express their creativity and play,” said owner Beth Swalwell, a rehabilitation assistant who does occupational and physical therapy at Crest View Village.
Her own ingenuity is plain to see, from art journals to quilted art. Visitors can check out her work — and perhaps sign up for a class — 7 p.m. Jan. 29 and noon-4 p.m. Jan. 30 during the studio’s open house.
The 860-square-foot space on her Erickson property turned out larger than Swalwell had planned — it started with her art studio, and then her partner added a workshop (which can double as an event space for parties, showers, art shows), as well as future space for a restaurant (they grow berries, including raspberries, goji and haskap), resulting in a 3,200-square-foot building.
Among the intriguing things that she can show visitors is paper made from various materials, including old denim. Swalwell has a beater that can create pulp from nearly anything, having been inspired during a visit to Tasmania, where she visited Maker’s Workshop in Burnie. A defunct paper mill has been transformed, with about 50 making pulp and paper, and sculpting with pulp and paper, made from lavender, forest floor debris and even kangaroo and wombat droppings.
“Papermaking is an ancient thing,” said Swalwell. “It’s cool and so fun.”
Art quilting is also something she’ll offer, with space for about 12 students in the studio. To make teaching easier, Swalwell has installed a GoPro camera above her workspace to show students what she’s doing on a TV.
“They don’t have to all gather around,” she said.
No discussion of Swalwell’s art is complete without spending time looking at her books. She’s a big promoter of art journalling, taking everyday things — fabric, catalogues, stickers — and making memento-filled books.
“I have this obsession with books,” she said. “When I go to the grocery store I get paper bags because I make books out of paper bags.”
She wants to take her offerings further, possibly including carving in the future, and the Lions Club has already expressed interest in using the space for special needs programs.
It’s no surprise that Swalwell loves art — it’s been a part of her life as long as she can remember.
“I grew up around art and artists,” she said. “We had so much art in our house.”
She found the quantity of art odd as a child, but discovered later that her father, a shop teacher, bought it from the poor First Nations community the family lived near in the Cariboo.
“He wouldn’t just give them money; he bought all the art,” she said. “What a lesson for my dad to teach us!”
Her mom was also an artist, working with textiles and running Creston’s Quiltview Corner until her 2007 retirement. Customers were upset when the shop closed, and Swalwell wants to carry on the family legacy of whet her father calls a “community institution”.
“I’m working from the foundation of the quilt shop,” she said. “People came there to feel better.”
And there’s nothing like art to help refocus the mind — there’s simply no time to think about anything else once a project begins.
“I never think, ‘This is going to be a great masterpiece.’ You just do it.”