Thanks for the gift of a play date with artist Mo Hamilton

Emerging from a peaceful Thanksgiving weekend, I’m grateful for so much: my extraordinary, beautiful life on the farm with LW, my family, friends and neighbours, my dog, my amazing clients, who spark me with their work and invite me to be part of it, the stories I’ve been given to tell, and often unexpected gifts—like last weekend’s NorthWords Creative Writers’ Retreat at Northwest Community College (NWCC).

Elsewhere, you’d pay a lot of money for an all-day art workshop. Plus you’d have to buy art supplies and provide your own meals. But those of us blessed to live in the north are doubly blessed, because every fall NWCC, Terrace Public Library (TPL), Terrace and District Arts Council, and Misty River Books offer a day-long all-inclusive creative writers’ retreat FREE to the first 20 people who sign up. (They offer a similar event for kids every summer.)


I jumped when I saw the poster for this year’s writers’ retreat: an Altered Pages art workshop with artist Mo Hamilton. Mo works from a studio above the fabulous Books & Company in Prince George. On her website, she says:

I obtain my inspiration from the external world around me, but reveal in my paintings the internal world of my imagination.  By reducing my images to their essential elements, I can bring simplicity, myth, and the primal to my explorations of limits and boundaries with the intent of moving beyond them…. I use life story as the dark, rich compost to generate new creation.

I’ve wanted to do mixed media collage and altered books forever, and the opportunity to learn from Mo was the nudge I needed. I knew my new friend Joan would be at the workshop, which made it seem less intimidating. (I met Joan at Rural Writers in Residence last April.)

The lovely Jess Dafoe of TPL warmed us up in the morning with a series of writing exercises. Then she walked us through preparing our pages to be altered in the afternoon session with Mo. Jess—whose name will forever be associated with gesso now—invited us to cut ten pages out of any book in a stack of library rejects and then glue five pairs together to result in five sturdy canvases. One old fellow bluntly refused. He’d signed up for a writers’ retreat, and the notion of defacing books appalled him. Several hours later, though, he was ripping and gluing with the rest of us—and whistling while he worked!

After lunch, Mo demonstrated several techniques—montage, line drawing, frottage, masking, stencilling, photo transfer—and after each demo sent us off to try them out.












We glued and snipped and painted all afternoon. By the end of the day we had created some intriguing pages.




I especially like this one that Austin made, where he tore up a picture of a painting and reassembled it.

I was nervous at first. Art scares the hell out of me—especially doing art in a group. But I relaxed into Mo’s advice to treat art journalling as a private experience of discovery, and I had fun with my beginner’s attempts at doodling and collage. Mo reminded us throughout the afternoon to walk around the room and take ideas from what others were doing—and I was blown away when I realized that Joan had envisioned and created an entire, beautiful, themed book. She wrote about her experience here.

I don’t know what kind of writers’ retreat NorthWords will offer next year—it’s different each time. But I’ll be watching for it. I don’t want to miss out. In the meantime, if you’re wondering where I am, I just might be at my art table, doodling and gluing dreaming and discovering.

Art journal made by Mo Hamilton

Art journal made by Mo Hamilton

4 Responses to “Thanks for the gift of a play date with artist Mo Hamilton”

  1. Margaret

    I’ve wanted to do an altered book forever but haven’t been able to get over the taboo around tearing pages or even writing on them.

    • commatologist

      I know, it’s a tough one! The only advice I can offer is to start with a really ugly book that has no redeeming qualities. I think the more you do it, the more you see the value in it, as opposed to only seeing it as damaging a book. Someone at the workshop – I’m not sure if it was Mo – suggested thinking of it as being in conversation with the book.

  2. Joan Conway

    It was great to play along side you Leslie. love the photos, you really captured the experience.

    • commatologist

      Thanks, Joan. So happy we had the chance to share that experience. It was wonderful to watch you in action – I could practically see your wheels turning. 🙂


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