Visiting artist and writer Alison Watt to share stories and art-making tips

“What wouldn’t you do?” is one card in a deck of flashcards made by musician Brian Eno and painter Peter Schmidt.

Picked at random, each card has a word or phrase with a new strategy for art making.

From “Breathe more deeply” to “Emphasize the flaws” or “Water,” many of the cards suggest something like the approach that painter, poet, biologist, and sailor Alison Watt will share with local artists in her “Loosen Up!” workshop on Saturday, March 24.

“It’s going to be an exercise in loosening up your ways of doing things, to kind of get out of your patterns,” says Jamie McDonald, co-ordinator of the All Islands Art Show and artist workshop hosted every year by the Haida Gwaii Arts Council.

At Watt’s workshop, artists are asked to bring a photo of intertidal life somewhere on Haida Gwaii — a realistic image they will turn into an abstract artwork using paints, inks, charcoals, pastels, pens, collage, printing, or found objects.

Held from 9 a.m. to 5 p.m. in the Bill Reid room of the Haida Gwaii Heritage Centre, the workshop has a $40 materials cost and this Sunday, March 18 is the deadline to register.

Anyone who didn’t already register for the workshop when dropping off a piece for the All Islands Art Show can do so at

McDonald said she’s excited not only for the workshop, but also for the March 23 talk and book reading that Watt will give about her own varied works. The guest lecture will start at 7 p.m. in the Performance House of the Haida Heritage Centre.

“I think it will be really interesting to hear about all her adventures,” said McDonald, who selected Watt as this year’s visiting artist because besides her work as a seabird biologist, poet, writer, and painter, she knows Haida Gwaii from leading sailing ecotours through Gwaii Haanas aboard the 92-foot schooner, the Maple Leaf.

“On top of her experience on the boat and in Gwaii Haanas, I thought her ties to here and the fact that she’s from a more scientific background but is painting as well would be really interesting and inspiring to people here.”

Ten years ago, Watt also did a year-long sailing trip to French Polynesia, sketching along the way. She has published several poems, a novel called Dazzle Patterns, and a memoir about her life as a seabird biologist called The Last Island: A Naturalist’s Sojourn on Triangle Island.

Islanders can hear Watt tell some of her stories in person at a pair of book readings scheduled for March 26 and March 28 at the Masset and Port Clements libraries, respectively. Both readings start at 7 p.m.

Along with talks and workshops, Watt will also speak one-on-one with some of the 59 local artists who currently have pieces up at the All Islands Art Show. The free exhibit will be in the Haida Gwaii Museum’s temporary gallery until March 31.

“They all look amazing,” said McDonald, speaking of the paintings, sculptures, jewelry and fabric pieces on display this year.

Along with works by established professional artists, McDonald said it’s great to see pieces from amateurs and up-and-comers. A few artists in the show are also family, such as father and son Bill and Jay Bellis.

“That’s fun too, to see multi-generation artists.”

Wherever you stand in the All Islands Art Show on now until March 31 at the Haida Gwaii Museum, it’s hard to escape the eye of Alexandra Rinfret’s “Imaginary Mammal,” a starry blue embroidered felt piece. (Andrew Hudson/Haida Gwaii Observer)
Wherever you stand in the All Islands Art Show on now until March 31 at the Haida Gwaii Museum, it’s hard to escape the eye of Alexandra Rinfret’s “Imaginary Mammal,” a starry blue embroidered felt piece. (Andrew Hudson/Haida Gwaii Observer)
Jill Kolodka’s “Wood on Silk,” a silk canvas coloured using red cedar, logwood chips and iron, had many admirers at the All Islands’ Art Show. (Andrew Hudson/Haida Gwaii Observer)
Details sparkle in “Turquoise Rain,” a woven red and yellow cedar hat by Marlene Liddle featuring holographic foil. About 160 hours of preparation and weaving went into the piece. (Andrew Hudson/Haida Gwaii Observer)
“Sea Angel” watches out for art fans at the All Islands’ Art Show opening, made by artist Delavina Lawrence, Kagad Jaad. (Andrew Hudson/Haida Gwaii Observer)
The Owl and the Pussy-cat go to sea in a beautiful pea-green boat. First imagined in a children’s poem by Edward Lear, artists Nancy Hett and Michelle Scott brought the unlikely seafarers to life in “The Love Boat,” a sculpture of clay, fabric, beads, buttons, wood, wire, and thread that was made with technical help from Lanny Turk and boat-building tips from Su-san Brown. (Andrew Hudson/Haida Gwaii Observer)

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