Why working on This is a Job For Mommy! felt good

This is A Job For Mommy! An A-Z Adventure is coming out this week (and for sale!), and I am sitting with how good it feels to have created artwork for a project whose message I believe in so fully. In Keegan Connor Tracy’s book, “Mommy” has had 26 careers (one for every letter of the alphabet) and shares her experiences with her daughter in rhyming verse.

With a focus on jobs that are not traditionally considered “feminine” occupations, Keegan encourages readers to consider that women and girls can do any work – from the messy and physically demanding to the silly, scientific and adventurous.

Having supported diverse learners in school settings for the past nine years, this really resonates with me. Though we are comfortable with encouraging girls to strive academically, when academics are not a female student’s strength, girls are not encouraged to pursue the trades and manual, necessary community work (like electricians, mechanics, landscapers, etc.) in the same way as boys. Elective shop classes, for example, are often made up of predominantly male students.

In my experience, girls tend to see themselves occupying roles related to the beauty or fashion industry much more readily, or in caring or serving professions where women are currently heavily represented.

window washer

This is one of the reasons W is one of my favourite jobs of Mommy. For W, Mommy is a window washer! This is the type of job, like many roles relating to building maintenance and construction, that I think many girls would not envision themselves in. Maybe window washing is not usually considered glamorous, but it’s important, and pays what would generally be considered a living wage.

The ability to choose work that supports us is central to financial autonomy, which is essential to being able to make choices for ourselves, and self-determination is key to equality for girls and women.

There is so much work that is considered “men’s work” by default, not because it needs anything that men specifically have to offer, but because the historic domination by men in every field of paid work has not been eroded in that particular category. I’m thinking of how often it is easy to let the term “work men” slip off the tongue. Because most of the people we see doing everyday work in the community – like construction, automotive repair, electrical or plumbing work and other jobs that occupy the STEM fields (science, technology, engineering, mathematics), are men.

These are all good jobs, and there is no reason women could not, theoretically, be doing them. Indeed, it is projected that there will be a shortage of one million skilled trade workers by 2020, so women are actually needed to step into these roles. But preparing girls for jobs in skilled labour, manufacturing and trades has to be worked into how they view themselves at a young age, so they can even imagine themselves in the world of physically engaging, often messy “men’s work.” Employers are calling for training for girls in STEM as they recognize that it is a cultural and educational shift that needs to occur to correct the gender imbalance.

So, it feels good to contribute to something that can help shift how girls might project themselves in the future of work. Keegan chose a mix of kinds (and importantly, class) of occupations – blue collar, entrepreneurial, community service, sports, entertainment – and on the page all the jobs are elevated to something that is fun, exciting and meaningful.

I feel super lucky that I got asked to do work that I find meaningful in creating the illustrations and design for this book. I never take it for granted that it’s because I was told, as a daughter at home, and student at school, that I could.


Dog portrait of Betty

This portrait was created for a Christmas present, which is always a special commission. In this case, Betty had passed away recently so it was extra meaningful.

It feels so intimate to provide someone with a reminder of their relationship with their animal companion when that pet is no longer with them.  It’s so deep and sad when this relationship ends. It’s a special, pure type of connection whose weight I think is often overlooked.

I used India ink to paint Betty with some white gouache for accents, and for the background used watercolour and white pen.



amy dog 3

Why draw the ASL alphabet? The connection to Deafblindness and disability


For the past seven years, I have worked as an Intervenor in mainstream schools. This means that I have supported students who are Deafblind in a one to one position.  When people who work outside of the world of education, and specifically, disability, hear this they are often curious. How do you communicate?  Usually, a Deafblind person does not have complete vision or hearing loss, but a combination of a degree of both.  This creates a disability that is unique amongst other types of sensory loss, but also unique to each individual, meaning that communication needs are also unique from person to person.

Deafblindness is an “information gathering disorder,” meaning that the Deafblind person does not have access to the information that allows them to make sense of the world.  So, to communicate this person needs as many opportunities to access information as possible – through voice, object and tactile cues, touch, visual cues (symbols and photos) and sign language.   This is called a ‘total communication system.’  Sign language can be presented for the Deafblind person to see if they have adequate vision (often the signer must be close and in a preferred field of vision) or can be used in pro-tactile or ‘hand under hand’ sign.  This is when sign language is signed onto a person’s hands, with the “speaking hands” on top, and the “listening hands” held open underneath.  The ultimate goal when working with a Deafblind person who does not have expressive language is always that they will become an expressive communicator.

The students who I have worked with have had complex needs in addition to their Deafblindness.  I have worked with three students, and each has had physical disabilities, cognitive disabilities and medical issues that have additionally informed the way that they learn.  In a school context, relationships with peers, sense of place and belonging in the school community, and learning goals are always central themes.  For classmates who want to connect with these students who obviously learn and communicate differently, sign language has been a kind of meeting place.  Typically abled peers can learn sign language as a way to connect with these Deafblind students.  In contrast to Deaf culture, where exclusively signing spaces are the norm, for Deafblind students in mainstream schools a signing environment must be created.  This is also true of any non-speaking student who could benefit from sign language as a way to communicate.

Part of the reason I was inspired to focus on the American Sign Language alphabet in my artwork was because I wanted to show that communication is of primary importance, and assert that it is actually a right. In mainstream schools there is still a danger that students who don’t communicate typically will drift through their schooling without learning meaningful alternative ways of letting those around them know their needs, wants and life narratives. Amidst concerns of medicalization, convenience (it is often  easiest to anticipate the needs and desires of the student and automatically fulfill them) and appearing “normal” (and doing tasks that are not meaningful or goal fulfilling for the student, but are the same as their peers)  it was crucial to me that the students I worked with were always seen foremost as communicators.

asl alphabet poster

Communication is necessary for individuals to assert their personality, needs, wants, and individuality, and to feel a true sense of connection to others; to feel fully known and understood.  Often one’s personhood is assessed by others, though probably not intentionally or consciously, based on that person’s ability to communicate with formal language.  In a context where caregivers and educators might take for granted that disability corresponds to child-like passivity and co-operation, communication is essential for agency, individuality, and self-determination.

People with disabilities and their allies have been advocating for their rights to these human needs for a long time, and people with disabilities continue to fight to be treated as equal citizens of our country.  Institutionalization as a default practice for housing people with intellectual disabilities is very recent, continuing to this day despite the fact that it goes against Article 19 of the UN Convention of Rights for Persons with Disabilities*, which Canada ratified in 2010. The absence of communication, or voicelessness, perpetuates the belief that people with disabilities should have their decisions made for them, and settle for what they get.

So enabling a form of voice has been a huge theme while I’ve supported students. Matching vocabulary to the day to day life and readiness of the student, I have learned some ASL vocabulary and have been practising signed English with students.  Signed English is distinct from ASL because it lacks the grammar and syntax of ASL, and instead matches the signs to spoken English.

I am not fluent in sign language, and I am not part of Deaf Culture. So I have asked myself the question (and been asked), is it really my place to make and share this artwork? Will I appear to be taking a position of authority over a language that is not even my own? This year I have taken two beginner ASL courses which also teach students about cultural issues around Deafness.  Appropriation in the name of sharing and celebration comes up.  The topic of taking away opportunities from Deaf artists comes up.  Both are not okay. The more I learned about the complexity and sensitivity surrounding ASL, the more I had to ask myself- what am I trying to accomplish?

As I move away from Intervention, and go forward to support students with other types of needs, I am contemplating what this past seven years has taught me.  Within the small Intervenor community I have been part of, the phrase “Intervention is 50% PR” (public relations) comes up a lot.  When we face challenges around defining learning goals in a team environment, finding a place socially for our students, creating physical space for often bulky communication and calendar systems in already crowded classrooms, and making sure our prep time is spent creating the resources our students need, we practise the delicate art of PR.

With the ASL drawings, I guess I am in part falling into this practised role of intermediary. I want to draw the hearing and typically abled community in to engage with a language they may not have contemplated before, to see that it is worth spending time with, to see that it is worthy of recognition and respect. I want ASL to enter the mainstream, so that any learner who does not speak can have access to natural, embodied expression in a community that can understand and know them.  I know that pen and paper are not capable of accomplishing all of that, but they served me well in giving my own voice to this wish.

To address the concern of ASL and Deaf artists, I do not want to claim any space that could be filled by Deaf people.  My drawings are a contemplation, honouring and sharing, a visual place for my thoughts and feelings about what I’ve just written about, but they are not an authority and are not intended to perpetuate systems of the disempowerment of Deaf people.  I recognize that Deafness is not disability, though I imagine there are shared experiences between people with both identities.  I recognize that Deaf people are capable of speaking for themselves, and do not need me to speak on their behalf.

I also feel that sign language is needed in places it is not yet being used, for various reasons such as lack of community based  and accessible training (versus four-year programs through formal educational institutes), a belief that technology can serve the same purposes, and that sign language isn’t common enough to be a life long practical communication tool.  Now that ASL may become a third official language in Canada, perhaps we are seeing a change? Maybe teaching sign language to those who need it will be properly funded and organized in the near future.  But until then, we need to do our best to make sure everyone who does not yet communicate has access to the means to do so.

I encourage you, dear Reader, to learn about Deaf culture and history, as well as the history of disability, and to explore the visual art, theatre and writing of both groups.  I have included a couple of links below to get you started.  I invite you to learn with me, how we can better communicate with everyone in our community.


Canadian Cultural Society of the Deaf – artist directory

Christine Sun Kim- TED interview and videos – explores the concept of sound through visual art

Ken Glickman- comedian

RIT National Technical Institute for the Deaf–  artist directory

Zoée Nuage– Vancouver visual artist and Queer ASL founder and instructor

update: The artwork from this project will be used as educational resources and fundraising purposes by the Canadian Deafblind Association, and the BC Provincial Outreach Program for Students with Deafblindness. 

*Article 19- Living independently and being included in the community
States Parties to the present Convention recognize the equal right of all persons with disabilities to live in the community, with choices equal to others, and shall take effective and appropriate measures to facilitate full enjoyment by persons with disabilities of this right and their full inclusion and participation in the community, including by ensuring that: (a) Persons with disabilities have the opportunity to choose their place of residence and where and with whom they live on an equal basis with others and are not obliged to live in a particular living arrangement; – 14 – (b) Persons with disabilities have access to a range of in-home, residential and other community support services, including personal assistance necessary to support living and inclusion in the community, and to prevent isolation or segregation from the community; (c) Community services and facilities for the general population are available on an equal basis to persons with disabilities and are responsive to 

Goodbye 2016

This was a fun though somewhat melancholy event at Renegade Studios.  This multidisciplinary space was home to musicians, theatre groups, and visual artists, and is another soon to be casualty of condo development. A bit of an unofficial extension of Vancouver’s Eastside Culture Crawl, this space was the art home to my talented friend Maddy Andrews.  Maddy is a multidisciplinary artist who uses acrylic, textiles, and oils. Wall space was also shared with my mom, Jan MacLean, who paints in acrylic. The informal space was a nice way to share my newer work in oil, alongside some older prints of pet portraits and kids books.


watercolour christmas

It’s nice to mess around with watercolour, especially when the goal is to make something fun for someone you like alot or love. I’ve been using Christmas time as an excuse to make some whimsical pictures I might not otherwise create- since I don’t usually have an excuse. Maybe I’ll be inspired to make not so serious images more often.

Recent ness

So, not too much new stuff has been up in my world, but it feels good to be finished a big project, which has a title now- “Violet and her Worries.”  I am trying to figure out the best way to get the story published. . . but in the mean time it’s freeing to not have to work within the guidelines of a project.

I am realizing that I really like water colours, especially with line drawings over top.  I am messing around with shapes and colours and lines, and it feels nice not to want things to look a certain way.  Although, things are feeling super wide open, in that I have no specific ideas about what I want to work on next.  I’m hoping it will become clear as I make messes.

Pikaland.com has offered lots of inspiration.  I’ve been admiring artwork that’s graphic with nice bold shapes and clean lines, like Alan Brown’s work:


Mole Hill Art and Heritage Walking Tour

Today was the Mole Hill art walk/ 125th anniversary of Vancouver celebration. There were lots of artists showing work, musicians, and even a cowboy on stilts, who I now regret not taking a picture of. It was lots of fun with a great turnout, and for the most part bearable in the shade.

I showed the artwork from Lucy’s Tree, with a demo book that people could pre order, or sign up to be notified of when it’s published. With the exception of some frames breaking when they were blown over in the wind, things went pretty smoothly (I fixed the problems with some heavy garden rocks in front of the frames).

I like events like these because you get feedback and opinions from people who are just walking around, which is pretty different from when you invite all your family and friends to see your work in an enclosed space. I just wish I’d gotten to walk around and see more of the other artists. . . The other artists in my little yard were Michele Trask and Kate Moore. Both ladies were showing some pretty cool images, and I think we all worked on some painting and drawing throughout the day. Ashley Sommerville is a singer/ songwriter who shared the space with us, and kept us all in a good mood with her upbeat tunes.

By the way, thanks to everyone who lives in the Mole Hill Housing Society for literally opening up your back yards to this event. The residents were amazingly friendly and even volunteered to lug heavy tables around and do the thankless set up and clean up. Thanks guys!

Summer painting

So with the summer off, I resolved to finish painting in the illustrations from this story.  This project feels like it’s been going on forever, and I am ready to finish it and send it away from me where it will magically be published by a group of wonderful people who feel like paying me for an unsolicited semi autobiographical comic-y children’s story about anxiety.  Or I at least am ready to start officially writing it.

As it turns out finishing the painting might have been overly ambitious, as there are always distractions in life (like sunny days or trying to not be the lamest friend always), and it turns out I don’t have the longest attention span and seek distractions after about 4 hours of painting.  I also don’t know what is a normal amount of time to spend painting something like this, but it seems to be quite the slow process.  I want to say I’m a perfectionist, but there are just a lot of little details that take a really really long time to do.  And it takes me a long time to pick any colours that aren’t blue.Anyways, when I put everything together in a pile of finished paintings, I feel much better about things.  So that is what I am going to do.  I will try to keep them in order.  Also, I just got an iphone and am very excited about it, so the image quality may decrease and feature retro filters and scratchy framing effects.

Thanks to the West End B.I.A.

I wanted to say thank you to the West End Business Improvement Assocation, and especially to Lyn Hellyar, Executive Director, for awarding me with the President’s Choice Award for 2011.  The exciting thing about this award, which is a result of my participation in the West End Art Krall, is that it means the story I illustrated and showed as part of the Krall, ‘Lucy’s Tree,’ will be published and distributed by the West End B.I.A.  Awesome and ambitious Lyn has spear headed this project, and thanks to her we hope to see ‘Lucy’s Tree’ published by the end of August.  Thank you so much for this award- I could not have asked for better fortune.  Helen Davidson, the author of Lucy’s Tree, and I are both so excited to see this book become real.  So so grateful,


Thanks Firehall! and Hunter Bisset Gallery!

Thanks to the Firehall Arts Centre for hosting my artwork through January and February. And to the Hunter Bisset Gallery at Tinseltown for showing some of my drawings. They were part of the ‘Doodle!’ fundraiser for Atira Women’s Centre’s “Empowering Women Making Art” initiative, and will remain up for a little while longer.