Revisions, revisions


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Sorry, this week’s blog is being postponed due to revisions.

I recently discovered the need to move my website from its current host to another. So that’s what I’m in the process of doing – as well as incorporating this blog into a revised website.

With that change and the deadlines for a few major stories looming, putting a blog post together has been moved down the priority list.

Keep watching this space for the new website and blog. Once everything has been migrated, designed and ready to run, I’ll let you know.

In the meantime, thanks for you patience and keep traveling the intersection between faith, arts and Canadian culture.

“Desparate Measures” brings Port Aster Secrets trilogy to a satisfying conclusion


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Desperate Measures cover

If you’re looking for another book to add to your summer reading then Sandra Orchard’s Desperate Measures should be at the top of your shopping list.

Desperate Measures completes Sandra’s “Port Aster Secrets” trilogy. Fresh from surviving an attempt on her life in Blind Trust, heroine Kate Adams tries to get her life back together, continue the research her mentor started and single-handedly stave off a greedy pharmaceutical conglomerate. Kate becomes a pariah her hometown where the mayor, the unemployed and underemployed only see the benefits from the company’s potential investment. In Kate’s experience, GPC has proven anything but trustworthy, while leaving her with many suspicions and little hard proof.

To this mix, Sandra adds a variety of complications. The most significant: Kate’s on-and-off-again relationship with her protector, police detective Tom Parker. Less significant, but as vital to the plot are: Kate’s anger about a decision Tom made at the end of the previous book; Tom’s guilt about that decision; Kate’s secretive research; a global conspiracy includes the mafia, corporate espionage and an alphabet soup of agencies from both sides of the border (FBI, CIA, RCMP, CSIS). Under Sandra’s deft pen, the pieces come together in a page-turner guaranteed to keep you reading until late into the evening.

Under Sandra’s deft pen, the pieces come together in a page-turner guaranteed to keep you reading until late into the evening.

Sandra has the ability to lead you to the brink of solving the mystery, only to throw in another unexpected twist. When you’ve written a character off as a villain, they end up acting heroic…and vice versa. I’ve been a mystery reader since grade school where I started figuring out the endings to the Encyclopedia Brown mysteries, but Sandra kept me guessing until the end.

The strength of the Port Aster Secrets’ series are the characters. Sandra has created, in Kate and Tom, not the perfect couple, but the right couple. Both are scarred by their past, both look to the future and both show a realistic faith in God. Too often books of this genre resort to a cliche that Sandra has diligently worked to avoid. Sandra also develops a depth in her secondary and supporting characters which prevents them from being simply cardboard cutouts there to support Kate and Tom.

All three of the books in the Port Aster Secrets trilogy – Deadly Devotion, Blind Trust and Deadly Devotion – can be read on their own, but there’s enough carryover from novel to novel that you’ll eventually want to read all three books. No matter which one you start with, there will be enough in it to whet your appetite for the other two.


You can listen to an Arts Connection with Sandra, where she talks about Desperate Measures here:

Getting to the root of G.K. Chesterton’s tree symbolism


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Roots and Branches cover

Most of the analysis on G. K. Chesterton’s work has focused on his non-fiction books, predominantly Orthodoxy and The Everlasting Man. With Roots & Branches: The Symbol of the Tree in the Imagination of G.K. Chesterton award-winning novelist Deb Elkink wants to broaden that focus to include a look at Chesterton’s fiction.

Elkink first encountered Chesterton while working on a post-graduate degree in Historical Theology. Roots & Branches, which grew out of her academic research, is a literary analysis of Chesterton’s novels and short stories. For those unfamiliar with Chesterton, the first chapter provides an introduction to a writer of many genres: essays and articles, plays, poems, novels, short stories, art and literary criticism and biography.

The last chapter provides an overview of Chesterton’s six themes: home and journey, the person and God, light, the church, the ladder and the cross. Within these themes, Elkink notes: “The tree becomes an allegory for salvation. It acts as Chesterton’s ‘visual aid’ or wholistic model of the spiritual process by picturing the incarnational, redeeming work of Christ and the continuing sacramental presence of God in the world.”

Roots & Branches provides an insightful and informative look at a prolific and often paradoxical writer.

In between, Elkink demonstrates, through careful, thoughtful and thorough research, how the symbolic use of the tree took root in short stories Chesterton wrote as a youth, grew in use in his early novels and matured in his later works.

“The sacramental themes, introduced in earlier writings have, by Chesterton’s maturity, been refined and advanced,” writes Elkink. “The Garden of Eden, fallen into wilderness, now becomes the glorious jungle of the world, inhabited now by both evil and good, and still offering humanity a choice. The tree is the cause of, and the escape from sin. It becomes the instrument of violent sacrificial death climbed because of love, and figures not only the crucifixion but also the incarnation, the church, and the light of Christian truth.”

Roots & Branches: The Symbol of the Tree in the Imagination of G. K. Chesterton provides an insightful and informative look at prolific and often paradoxical writer. Both fans of Chesterton and those who know little about him will be well-served by Elkink’s analysis.

If there were any shortcomings, it would be the book’s style and layout.

Roots & Branches began as and remains an academic thesis. While I’m aware of the reasons behind the choice, I think the average reader would have been better served with a less academic approach.

And, with academic theses come notes. In Roots & Branches, it was decided to post them as footnotes at the end of each page. While this makes it easier to read than flipping back and forth between end notes and text, the footnotes often break up the text and can let the reader lose the narrative.

Don’t let these shortcomings deter you from reading Roots & Branches.  While they can make the book tough to get through at times, I’d strongly suggest persevering. Roots & Branches is worth finishing. Here’s a little encouragement from the Epilogue titled “A Chestertonian Invesion of Mt. 7:17”

“From Athena’s olive triumph,/To the Trees of Tolkien’s light/From Matt’s and Luke’s list of ‘begats’/To rooted branchings left and right/The myths of Man are arbor-crowned/On Calvary’s deathly height./But in this, Deb Elkink’s book/Inverted, as in G. K.’s sight/You will find, and I agree/That her good fruit has borne an Tree.” (Peter J. Floriani)


For an Arts Connection interview where Deb Elkink gives a few more insights on Roots & Branches: The Symbol of the Tree in the Imagination of G. K. Chesterton go to:

Trevor Dick Band’s “New World” CD travels physical and musical worlds


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Trevor Dick Band - New World cover

I’ve had my hands on a review copy of the Trevor Dick Band’s debut CD New World for a few months, waiting to be able to review it. Recently, the band released the CD, in digital form, through cdbaby and are in the planning stages a street release/tour this fall.

And it means I can now voice what I’ve been privately telling a few friends: New World is world/jazz/folk fusion at its best.

Trevor and I are friends, having worked together on a few ministry projects. I’ve had the chance to witness the three-year journey he’s taken from the inception of New World to its release. The journey has fraught with challenges but Trevor’s and the band’s devotion to the CD’s music and mission has helped them look past them.

New World might seem like a departure from Trevor’s previous CDs, but anyone who’s seen him live will recognize his signature jazz/fusion stylings. Another key difference: New World is a true collaboration between Trevor and the musicians who have backed him up on previous recordings and during live performances.

New World is world/jazz/folk fusion at its best.

Like any solid ensemble, the Trevor Dick Band is the sum of its parts: Trevor (electric, MIDI and acoustic violin and viola), Tony Lind (electric and acoustic guitar), Will Jarvis (electric and acoustic bass) and Steve Heathcote (drums and percussion). The recording also features keyboard player Brad Toews who’s left for other pursuits. Those parts, individually, are impressive: Will’s performed with everyone from Tito Puente to Amy Sky; Del Shannon to David Clayton-Thomas; Tony’s credits include award-winning works by Ali Mathews, Chris Bray, Jodi Cross, Stephanie Israelson and Deborah Klassen; and Steve’s an award-winning drummer who’s played for Elton John, Shirley Bassey, Rich Little and Bob Newhart.

From the opening track “Perpetuum” to the acoustic reprise of “Schindler’s List” New World travels the physical and musical world. “Ayabanga Village Market,” and “Ifriqiya” have their roots in Trevor’s childhood in Nigeria where his parents were missionaries. Tony’s composition, “Bourbon St. Carnival,” conjures up the sights and sounds of the New Orleans jazz scene. The “East of Sinai Prelude” and “East of Sinai” evoke the turbulence often found in the Middle East.

The Trevor Dick Band also journeys into the world of mainstream music with arrangements of Eric Clapton’s “Change the World,” “Schindler’s List” the theme song from Steven Spielberg’s Oscar-winning and the title track “New World” which melds the Louis Armstrong hit “What a A Wonderful World” and Anton Dvorak’s “New World Symphony” into a seamless musical narrative.

As I’ve said in other reviews, I judge the quality of a CD by how often it ends up being played on my various devices. If New World were a vinyl LP, the grooves would have long been worn out long ago from being played over and over and over…

From the first time I heard about this project, I expected it to exceed anything Trevor, and, now the Trevor Dick Band, had done before. I haven’t been disappointed. You won’t be either.


For more information on the New World CD, check

Contests: love them, hate them…just don’t let them define you


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The Word Guild recently announced the winners of the 2014 Word Awards (you can read the whole list here: My congratulations go out to all those who either won or were shortlisted. Over the last few years, I’ve had a chance to interview a number of them and, without reservation, can say they deserve the accolades they’ve received.

The announcement reminds me, though, of my own love/hate relationship with awards.

It’s not because I’ve never won an award. During my three-decade-long career as a journalist, I’ve entered, been nominated for, or placed, in awards from the Alberta Christian Writers’ Fellowship (now the Inscribe Christian Writers’ Fellowship), God Uses Ink, The Word Guild and the Canadian Church Press, the Guelph Mercury Christmas Story Contest, Word Alive Press Publishing Contest, Fellowship of Christian Newspapers Awards and City of Edmonton Book Award.

And I’ve seen awards from three sides: as an entrant, as a judge and as a co-ordinator.

But I’m still ambivalent.


First, the hate. Awards can provide a writer with the biggest letdown possible. I’ve been shortlisted for an award and attended the ceremony. I’ve sat on the edge of my seat, waiting for my name to be called (try doing that in a kilt at a formal award ceremony) and then watching as another writer walks down the aisle to collect their award.

The feeling of impending loss is even more devastating when you’ve been given the evening’s program and you see who has been nominated in the same category. I can recall at least two times when I looked at that list, that I realized I was coming away with an honourable mention. And, to be honest, the works which were awarded, were better than mine.

I can’t let either a win justify or a loss negate my worth as a writer.

Topping off rejection experience at the award ceremonies are the emotions that arise from reading the judges’ comments about your entry. I’ve often wondered if the judges read the same piece I’d written, based on their feedback. At time it feels like you’re going through the five stages of grief in a matter of seconds because the heart and soul you put into your work has been ripped from your chest.

But, then there are the years when you’ve actually won, which brings the love. I recall, at one awards ceremony, sitting behind a writer whose name was called for one of the organization’s major awards. At first the writer sat in disbelief before saying “that’s me!” And in an instance, they were running towards the podium and tried to catch their breath to offer words of thanks and acknowledgement.

Winning an award, for many writers, seems like a validation of their choice to spend hour upon hour staring at a blank computer screen, fingers poised over the keyboard as they sweat drops of blood until words appear on the screen.

Even an honourable mention can be seen as a partial validation and the hope that, with a little more improvement, the bigger prize can be theirs.

Despite my ambivalence toward awards, what I have learned over the years is that I can’t let awards define me. I can’t let either a win justify or a loss negate my worth as a writer. Those of us who can’t not write know that awards are nice, but in the morning we’ll be back facing that blank screen, waiting for the words to fill it.

“Shifting Stats” needs to be in every Christian’s to-read pile this summer


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Shifting Stats cover

“Canada is home to one of the most multi-ethnic, multi-cultural, multi-religious populations on the earth and we’re facing some of the most significant upheavals in our nation’s history” reads the blurb on the back cover of Shifting Stats Shaking the Church: 40 Canadian Churches Respond.

This seemingly ominous statement belies what is both a readable and informative book that answers the question (also in the blurb) “What does this mean for Christ’s Church?”

Written by two veteran journalists (who are also colleagues and friends) Shifting Stats tells the story of how 40 different stories have responded to the changes that have taken place in their communities. Commissioned by World Vision Canada, the book crosses denominational, geographic and generational lines to give readers a sampling of the changing Canadian church landscape.

Shifting Stats Shaking the Church: 40 Canadian Churches Respond needs to be read by anyone who has an interest Canadian society and the Canadian Church.

Like Evangel Church in Gander, Newfoundland which delivers furniture to those in need. Or Kensington Commons Church in Calgary, Alberta which opened its doors to those needing to recharge their electronic devices after a major power outage. Or the podcast ministry of Shiloh University Church in Halifax. Or the Community Laundry Enterprise Assisting Neighbours (CLEAN) run by Calvary Baptist Church in Vancouver, British Columbia.

Shifting Stats isn’t meant to be a comprehensive look at the Canadian church scene. Each of the 40 short chapters – each could be read in one sitting – is a tantalizing appetizer. The “More to Explore” section and contact information on each church provide readers with the tools needed to find out more.

The experience of Stiller and Paddey as researchers, interviewers and writers shines through the book. And there’s a cohesiveness in the voice. I’m familiar with the writing styles of both and yet I’m hard pressed to figure out who wrote which chapter. This adds to the readability of the book since there isn’t a jarring change in the voice from chapter to chapter.

Shifting Stats Shaking the Church: 40 Canadian Churches Respond needs to be read by anyone who has an interest Canadian society and the Canadian Church. In other words, this needs to be in every Christian’s summer to-read pile. You’ll come away informed and intrigued by what the church is, and can, do to respond to some of the “most significant upheavals in our nation’s history.”


To listen to the Arts Connection interview with Patricia Paddey and Karen Stiller go to

Church features students’ art as part of Art in Worship ministry


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Phil Irish, Puddicombe - edited cropped The Art in Worship ministry at New Life Christian Reformed Church intentionally incorporates a variety of artistic expressions into its worship experience. An element of this ministry are the regular exhibits of visual art on the walls of the northeast Guelph church’s sanctuary.

“In a sense we’re crafting a multi-sensory worship worship space,” says worship ministry coordinator Nicole Ensing in a media release announcing the most recent exhibit: The Temple Project

What’s unique about The Temple Project exhibit is that it features the work of nine students in Redeemer University College’s “intermediate painting” class. Six of the students and painting professor Phil Irish (pictured above) were on hand on Sunday, June 7 for a reception following the regular worship service.

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Redeemer University College art student Jessica Puddicombe talks about her art.

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Tristan Kaarid talks about his piece “The Carpenter and the Universe”

“Their task was simple and open: reflect on the connotations of the word ‘the temple,’ and create an oil painting that brings size, materiality, imagery, and visual language to bear on the theme,” writes Irish in a brochure explaining the project.

At the reception, he expanded on that statement, describing the various techniques the students used to bring the theme to life. The students were also given a chance to describe the journey they took in creating their works.

The art is stunning. Bethany Kenyon’s abstract “Immanence” combines gold leaf and oils. Irish explained how Maria Wagler used a pour technique for “Reaching,” a work my wife said was her favourite of the exhibit.

I was particularly struck by Nathasha Van Gurp’s work “Boundless.” The deep, rich colours used in her landscape captured the vastness of God she wanted to depict.

“My portrayal of the ‘temple’ is centred on the idea that His temple exists through all of creation as everything is created by Him and done in and through Him,” Van Gurp explains in a note accompanying the painting.

I came away with a couple of take-away thoughts that morning.

First: the willingness of New Life CRC to incorporate visual art as part of its worship expression. I’ve had the chance to see the works of at least three different artists at New Life CRC and have been moved by each.

“Our goals are to integrate visual arts more purposefully into congregational worship, and to create a space to host the art of our extended community” says the exhibit brochure. This is a model other churches might be interested in exploring and replicating.

Second: the sheer joy of witnessing a new generation of artists who have responded to that divine calling to express their faith in art.

“The opportunity to show art is second only to the opportunity to glorify God,” says Tristan Kaarid in the media release. “The capacity of art to represent the godly in creation is uncanny. To me, the calling to create art is of utmost importance.”

And just as significant was the welcome of both the art and the artists by the receptive congregation.

“We’re so pleased to finally host students of the Redeemer art department,” says Ensing. “This has been a goal of ours for a number of years.”


The Temple Project exhibit continues until June 14. For details and contact information go to

Has the Christian music industry died? It might be a good thing


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downhere onstagedownhere on their farewell tour in Cambridge, Ontario in August 2009 ((C) Quail Communications)

During the early to mid 1980s I had the privilege of freelancing for Alberta SonShine News, a monthly Christian newspaper distributed to churches in Edmonton, Calgary and points in between. A chance meeting with editor Peter Fleck led to a gig covering the burgeoning Contemporary Christian Music (CCM) scene. This led to interviews with almost every Christian artist who came through Edmonton including: Michael W. Smith, Barry McGuire, Armand Morales (Imperials), Georgian Banov (Silverwind), Steve Taylor, Randy Stonehill, Phil Keaggy, etc. The highlight of this period were interviews with Christian rock pioneers Larry Norman and Glenn and Wendy Kaiser (Rez Band).

Even when CCM wasn’t my main beat, I maintained an interest in Christian music as a the editor of ChristianWeek Ontario and the host of Faith Journal and Arts Connection. So I found the following analysis intriguing: where Tyler Huckabee writes: “The descent of CCM is a reflection of America’s waning interests in Christianity as a whole. The precipitous dropoff in CCM sales has left Christian labels and artists staring into the void alongside their pastors, scratching their heads, wondering where they went wrong.”

This seems somewhat simplistic and hyperbolic. A few more significant factors have contributed CCM’s death rather than the rise of the nones, some of which Huckabee points out.

 Canada’s CCM industry has never paralleled the American CCM industry

I need to point out that Canada’s CCM industry has never paralleled the States’. There have been a few Canadians – downhere, Connie Scott, Daniel Band, Quickflight, Manafest – who have broken through the American CCM juggernaut. But some, like downhere, left the CCM industry to pursue an indie path.


First, until the 1990s, Canada didn’t have Christian radio, a key contributor to CCM’s success in the U.S. Many Canadian Christian music pioneers – Salmond and Mulder, Arlen Salte, Daniel Band, Steve Bell, etc. – toured heavily to build a fan base.

Second, Canada’s size and lack of large cities lead to mainly regional instead of national fan bases. Musicians in southwestern Ontario could travel from Toronto to Windsor and play for hundreds of church youth groups and coffeehouses. Travelling the same distance, or time frame, western Canada’s musicians had maybe dozens. Those who did gain a national fan base spent even more time on the road.

Back to the main point: I see two key reasons for CCM’s demise:

1) CCM became more of an industry than a ministry. Musicians were pressured to create music that sold, not necessarily minister. Some CCM musicians have been able to do both but the pressure to create that next hit sometimes stymied both ministry and creativity.

2) New technologies have created significant shifts in every industry, music included. The goal for most musicians had been signing the ever-elusive recording contract. Record companies would then take care of marketing and promotion while the musicians made music. With the rise of iTunes, CDbaby and myriads of other music distribution channels, musicians have become marketers, tour managers, promoters, etc. – taking all the risks but gaining all the benefits.

Has the Christian music industry died? Only in the same way the mainstream music industry has died.

Is this a good thing? I think so. The change the Christian music industry has/is going through means artists can focus on creating the music they feel called to create. Not the music dictated by an industry.

For Todd Stahl “Art Ache” was more than art…it was prophetic


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40 Days in teh Man Cave cover

Art gives the artist a voice in society, whether the artist is holding a mirror up to what they see or rebuking what they feel has gone awry.

One of Todd Stahl’s pieces of art turned out to prophetic.

Stahl’s print “Art Ache” forms the basis of one of the devotions in his debut book 40 Days in the Man Cave. The story behind the print begins in 2010 writes Stahl on his website:

One night while I had some free time, I went for a walk. That particular day I was extremely stressed so I asked God to show me an idea in order to draw something significant. Before I even got to the end of my driveway I believe God gave me a distinct visual image of a heart with a band aid across it. I could picture the idea in my head instantly.So back inside I went to start the painting…

I believe God gave me a distinct visual image of a heart with a band aid across it.

At the time I thought I knew the reason why God gave me the visual. In my mind I surmised it was the fact that many people in life have very deep hurts. Pain that requires a band aid.  Aches that need time to heal. I also assumed the dark colours I chose were due to the fact my own my heart had become hardened and crusty. Feelings of bitterness were pushed way down deep in my own life.

Fast forward four years to when Stahl, whose full-time job is as a firefighter, began feeling ill. Eventually he was diagnosed with a heart problem which ended up requiring surgery. Writes Stahl:

We will never forget (Dr. Robert Kiaii’s) explanation as he took a pen, opened a pamphlet with the diagram of a heart and began to explain the main issue with my heart. While describing in detail he circled around and around with a pen the exact area where the mitral valve was on the lower left side of the heart. Dr. Kiaii also discussed how there are fine ‘cords’ which open and close the valve and mine in particular he noted had come apart and were all loose and flimsy like a parachute. He explained that since the valve did not seal properly my blood would not receive enough oxygen, therefore resulting in all the symptoms I had been feeling. Lastly, other doctors had told us that I may need a replacement valve while Kiaii explained he felt confident he could repair my valve robotically. He even went as far as to say, ‘it is almost like attaching a strong band aid on your valve’!

I know a few artists who create prophetic art – art that tells forth the word of God. Stahl’s story is the first, that I can remember, of prophetic art that foretold an event. Stahl took the art with him into the operating room and the ICU, using it as an opportunity to explain the “amazing story.

“God had a plan and the story became so much bigger than just a piece of paper and some paint,” writes Stahl.


You can hear an Arts Connection interview with Todd Stahl on 94.3 Faith FM on Monday, June 1 at 9:30 p.m. ET.

If you aren’t able to tune in, the broadcast will be eventually be archived at

And you can read Stahl’s story of “Art Ache” on his website:

Demystifying the artistic process


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Between Friends cartoon 001

Art is hard.

Let me put that another way: creating art is challenging.

The vast majority of arts’ consumers – readers, music lovers, gallery attendees – only see the results. Few know of the struggles artists face taking a piece from conception to completion. This is one of the reasons, when I interview artists on the Arts Connection broadcast (shameless plug: Mondays at 9:30 p.m. ET on 94.3 Faith FM and archived at, I specifically ask them about the process: Where did the idea come from? How long did it take? What was the  most challenging part of the process? What part was the most satisfying?

While the answers vary, they help the artist demystify the process and make the creation of art more understandable and accessible to the consumers of art.

For example, I have a musician friend who has been working on a CD project for the past three years. I’ve witnessed the challenges that have arisen, the frustrations faced and the anticipation of a near-completed project. When the CD is finally released, most of the people who will listen to it won’t have the faintest idea of the figurative blood and literal sweat, toil and tears that went into the CD’s creation. All that will matter is whether or not they like what they hear.

Social media has helped pull back the curtain that separates the artistic process from the finished creation. A novelist friend frequently posts updates on their social media feed about the progress of their latest novel. A landscape artist I’ve interviewed posts photos and videos that show the progress being made on current projects. And I’ve frequently posted updates about the progress on a novel I’m working on.

Demystifying the process also helps artists avoid the standard small talk comments which follow the “‘What do you do for a living?’ ‘I’m a writer, musician, etc.'” opening: “I was thinking of doing that at one point but I decided i needed to get a real job” or “I’m thinking of taking up writing once I retire.”

But there will always be those who think creating art is easy and anyone can do it. Smart phones and programmable digital cameras have made everyone think their Ansel Adams. Desktop publishing programs and print-on-demand publishers have created a plethora of Margaret Atwood wannabes. And the list continues based on the various technologies available such as video editing software, etc.

For those of us who are dedicated to our craft, we know how challenging it can be. We know the long hours devoted to creating a work. We know the pain of staring at a blank canvas, an empty computer screen or an unmarked music score as we wrack our brains for the correct colour, word or note. But we also know the satisfaction of a completed creation – or at least a creation we’re now releasing to the public because we know a piece is never really completed since there’s always a tweak here or there that can be made.

So let’s put paintbrush to canvas, fingers to keyboard, chisel to stone, eye to viewfinder, hand to instrument and create art.

No matter how challenging it is.