Making a Thing a Day


If you read my newsletter, you  know that I’m taking a design course right now. My course is on the subject of ideation or idea development, and as part of our homework, I have to do a ‘thing a day’ project.

What is a ‘thing a day’? It is a project where you make something every single day, regardless of whether you feel prepared do so or not.

Some of my classmates are making short videos, others are doing illustrations, and some are doing interviews. As my schedule is always jam-packed, I decided to pick up a project that I started a long time ago and then quit – I am taking a photo of a sign around my workplace in the Chinatown/Gastown/Downtown Eastside part of Vancouver. The reason why I chose to photograph signage is that I think that these small letterforms say so much, indirectly, about the changing-nature of my city.

The neighbourhood that I work in has been undergoing rapid gentrification for the last five years. It has been an interesting experience to watch it all happen from my office window. Housing for those with low income have been refaced into high-end condos, services for those in need have been turned into high end nail salons and baby stores, artist studios have morphed into sexy, empty loft spaces which no-one can seem to afford to rent.

Pictures of signs

Pictures from my #SignADay project.

I’ve taken on intense projects, but this is the first time that I’ve committed myself to making something visual every single day. I’m about a third of a way through the project right now and I’m learning about myself and how I approach my creative projects.Some days when I’m feeling resistant, I end up coming up with my favourite stuff, and some days when I’m feeling ‘I got this’, I end up terribly disappointed with the results. But when I look back at the last four weeks, I’m proud of myself for showing up every day – whether the photo turned out well or not. Sometimes it was pouring or I didn’t go to work, so I had to draw a picture of a sign – and despite not liking what I made, I had to post it. There is a special kind of magic in making things in large quantities. I’m finding that you can learn a lot about making by just showing up – over and over again.

More pictures from my #SignADay project

More pictures from my #SignADay project

If you want to take a look at what I’ve been up to, you can see my project take shape at #SignADay over on Instagram. Not all of the photos are mine – the interesting thing about sharing things in public is that people join in and are now sending me photos by using the hasgtag. This has become a spontaneous extension of the project, and one that I’m enjoying a great deal.

At the end of 12 weeks, I’m going to be rearranging all of the photos that I’ve taken into either a bound book or a piece of graphic design. I’m not sure what form the end presentation will take, but each photo that I take has sparked different ways that I could summarize this project at the end.

Other people who have done Thing A Day projects:

Noah Scalin’s Skull A Day (2008)

Lisa Congdon’s Collection A Day (2010)

Jessica Hische’s Daily Dropcap (2009)


Artist Interviews

What’s Next for Jennifer Cooper


Jennifer Cooper: 1/ 3 scale of a cod fishing dory with a stitched story about the Newfoundland dory fishermen. Photos used with permission of the artist.

Textile artist Jennifer Cooper’s work Prayer Flags for Ernie Cooper is featured in my latest book Strange Material: Storytelling Through Textiles. She works with two and three dimensional textiles, hand-dyeing and history. Though her days are currently filled with caring for aging family members, she tries to fit art-making into her busy life.

I asked her three questions:

Q: What do you want to make next?

A: I want to make another 3D boat based on my family’s involvement with commercial and sport fishing.  Our family had one of those car-top aluminum rowboats. Growing up with three brothers and a father who enjoyed sports fishing, and a grandfather who was a commercial fisherman/owner of a Seine boat means that the fish swim in my blood.

I’ve collected tons of family photos that I’ll transfer to fabric, I’ve already planned the boat’s construction, planning to hand-dye an old linen tablecloth of my grandmother’s greyish / aluminum. This is a tablecloth that many family meals were enjoyed upon. I just need the time to get started.

And, once it is done, I’m mulling around creating a series of vessels that served to build Canada … the Viking longboat that brought the first Europeans, a Voyageur’s canoe, an Inuit kayak, maybe a Red River cart, a Haida canoe … all made so that pictures and words that tell the story of the boat / cart and how it served to create Canada, are integrated in to their construction.

textile boat

Q: Where are you getting your inspiration these days?

A: The cod fishers’ dory was a big hit when exhibited. And, it was the first time my Dad actually took an interest in any of my art pieces.  He was impressed that I had built a boat.

A group of friends and I mounted a gallery show titled Architextile.  The six of us each created five works for display … thus 30 pieces for an exhibition. My take on the theme was to create pieces based on the Atlantic codfish. The instrumental builder of Canada, it was the cod that the Vikings were following from Norway to Iceland to Greenland to the Grand Banks off of Newfoundland.  It was the cod that brought the Basques fishers, then the English (with John Cabot) and eventually the French.

I like to research and learn things in my process of making, so making these boats would definitely serve those interests, too.  It’s not just about the finished product, I love the whole process behind the making.

Q: What other contemporary artist/designer/maker inspires you?

A: Linzi Upton, a quilter and creator living in Scotland

Sue Benner, who loves to paint dyes on fabrics to create fabulous surface designs

Pat Pauly’s abstract creations combining unlikely patterns of hand made and commercially designed cloth

Kerr Gabrowski’s fearless use of deconstructed screenprinting

Jane Davies abstract playfulness and use of colour

Books, Creativity, Ecourse, Uncategorized, Writing Life

Mixing It Up in 2015

Bang by Ai Wei Wei at the Vancouver Art Gallery, December 2014. A photo posted by Leanne Prain (@leanneprain) on

I gave up making New Years Resolutions a few years ago. Instead, I’ve adopted a theme word for each year – last year’s word was JOY (and amid the ups and downs of life, there was a lot of it) and this year’s word is STRETCH. For me this means trying new things, taking on projects that I haven’t done before, and expanding the limits of my comfort zone.

Over the next few months, I’ll be filling my time with some exciting projects, including:

  1. Changing my e-newsletters to come out every two weeks. Not on the list? You can sign up here. I started to publish to my list monthly this past fall but lost momentum over the holidays. With blogging and e-newsletter writing, my biggest hurdle is not keeping up the habit. This year I really want to prove to myself that I can do this. 35 newsletters – here we come! (the next one comes out tomorrow – January 4th!)
  2. A website redesign – my current site is not reflecting my goals and interests. I’ll be doing gradual updates over the next month. Keep your eye out for changes. While my focus has been primarily on textiles and street art, I intend to start blogging more about design, making, and the intersection of culture with all of these things that we touch and make by hand.
  3. My first e-course! Launching February 1, I’ll be sending out a weekly prompt via STITCHED STORIES to inspire stories for textiles, or textile stories (as you wish). The course will run for 12 weeks and this first session will be free. Let’s write together, it will be fun. I’m limiting this run to 50 people tops, so sign up early.
  4. An ideation class  – I’m taking a night class at a local design program on brainstorming ideas, and I’ll share what I learn as I go. I’m looking at getting a fresh perspective on how to generate new ideas. Plus, I’m super-excited to be around young graphic designers again.
  5. Sewing clothes and trying to figure out my new Serger. I may need your help figuring this one out.

It seemed like 2014 was a mixed bag for many people I know, and there is a feeling of optimism about the coming year. 2015 – I think you are going to be a good one.

Did you receive Strange Material: Storytelling Through Textiles as a holiday gift? Drop me a comment on this post and let me know what you think of it!

And, thanks to the Surface Design Association for naming Strange Material a must-have book for 2014. I’m honoured!