The artist's most important tool 

Brackendale-based Christina Nick teaches, touts value of a sketchbook

What: Art workshop

When: Sunday, March 15, 9:30 a.m. to 4:30 p.m.

Where: Brackendale Art Gallery

Cost: $80 (includes lunch and some materials

Some people never leave home without a cell phone, their purse, or a travel mug. But Brackendale-based artist, Christina Nick, is never without her trusty black sketchbook at her side.


Nick actually came to the interview with the ubiquitous sketchbook, which is crammed with drawings, text, ideas and, most importantly, memories.


"When I'm actually working on a sketchbook, when I'm traveling, I actually sleep with it," Nick admitted with a laugh. "It's kind of strange, but especially when it's almost finished, it becomes a very important item.


Nick studied fine arts at Mount Allison University in New Brunswick, moved to the Sea to Sky region and founded Artrageous in 1990, running the event for almost 10 years before deciding to travel the world in 2001. She spent two years traveling from place to place, doing work with archaeologists and endangered species trusts in South America and Africa in the process.


"I do a lot of hands-on work with animals, which really ties in with my artwork," she explained.


Her extensive travels and past work as a wildlife guide and a park ranger have also inspired many of her artistic endeavours, which often focus on that natural world.


"Everything feeds into everything," Nick explained. "My art is just the one thing that is consistent throughout my whole life."


A self-described "generalist," Nick has dabbled in a wide variety of artistic forms: writing poetry, drawing, mixed media paintings, collages, printmaking, etchings, monumental welded steel sculpture and carving. But one thing is constant, whether working with paint or metal - the sketchbook.


"Everything starts with the sketchbook and the sketches that I've done, and after that, I'll choose whether I'm doing a painting or a sculpture and use the sketchbook as kind of the raw material," Nick explained.


"...I think its crucial and I wouldn't really understand why you would be a visual artist without a sketchbook. It would be like a writer without a pen or a computer."


Her work often starts as a simple ballpoint pen sketch and evolves into something totally different, incorporating photographs and mixed media. And while the sketchbook is instrumental for Nick's creative process, she is quick to point out that it can be just as valuable to someone who doesn't consider themselves to be an "artist."


You see, Nick sees the sketchbook not just as an artist's tool, but a crucial possession for everyone, as a way to capture moments and chronicle a life lived.


"It's all about examining your life... it's a way for you to examine your life and understand it," she said.


But Nick is quick to point out that a sketchbook is different than a diary, in that it's intended to be shared with others, not kept as a private journal.


"For me, I like to show my sketch to people and they can then understand me a little better, and there's this communication that happens," she said.


This week, Nick will be teaching the art of creating and maintaining a sketchbook to people of all levels of artistic ability in a one-day workshop at the Brackendale Art Gallery. And this isn't the first time Nick has decided to try and share her passion for keeping a sketchbook.


"Two years ago, at Myrtle Philip School, I taught the whole school to do this, so it was kindergarten to Grade 7, and every kid got a sketchbook and every kid, whether they had ever worked on a sketchbook before or had ever done anything, they all managed to start a sketchbook," she said, adding that they eventually held an exhibition to showcase the students' progress.


The $80 fee includes lunch and some of the required materials, though you're asked to bring along your own sketchbook and collage materials. Also, if you bring a friend, you'll get a $10 discount. No previous experience is required.


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