Lost and Found

My art was a beautiful escape when I was a teenager. My charcoal portraits did not tease me like the kids at school. The Supermodels I drew in my sketchbook didn’t care that I wore hand-me down clothes and no make-up. I had felt an unspoken commitment to those models to correctly shade their Versace boots or Calvin Klein jeans. If they smiled in the photo, I smiled too. Something I still do today. My imagination brought me joy. If I wasn’t drawing, I wrote mysteries and designed my own books. I cut paper to book size and used needle and thread for binding. For good measure, I bound those books with tape as well, almost causing my mother to go bankrupt from buying Scotch tape.

I grew older and enrolled in the legal secretary program at the local college, whereI received training for a respectable job that pleased my parents. Art was lost from my life when Economics 101 stepped in. Soon I bought into the whole adult package and found myself married with two daughters. I worked full-time to help support our family. I’m proud of my girls and my working-mom years; I was a positive, independent role model for my daughters.

After 30 years of not drawing, my best friend said to me, “Get yourself a small sketchbook and draw for yourself. No one has to see.” I began drawing again, spending 4 to 6 hours every dayat the kitchen table. After 6 months, my drawings improved and I received my first car commission. I was surprised yet pleased that a woman paid me money to illustrate her husband’s lipstick red Sprint car. Like sex, I will never forget this “first time” commission. Soon after another car commission followed. I added motorcycle commissions to my car commissions.

My art was lost but then it was found. JCVArtStudio is my Instagram and websitename. My gift returned and to not pay it forward would be selfish. Why have this gift at all? While blending marker ink, new ideas blossomed, such as my “Woman Empowered” motorcycle series, which depicts women empowered rather than women as sex objects. I show women living by their own rules, riding their motorcycles, and being free. I have 27 motorcycle illustrations, 75% of them of women, and with my newly acquired InDesign book publishing experience, I am creating a book of motorcycle illustrations entitled “Feel the Thunder” featuring women motorcycle riders from the U.K., Australia, the U.S., Mexico, Nova Scotia and Victoria. I will donate the proceeds to the men and women of Wounded Warriors.

For 24 years I believed the urban legend that a writer could not illustrate her own book, and an illustrator could not write a novel. I found my thriller manuscript from 2006. In June 2019 I will publish my thriller novel, “The Unravelling” written, illustrated and designed by me.  In 2020 I will publish my motorcycle illustration book. Nobody tells me what I can or cannot do. My art and writing are two friends on a teeter-totter, a delicate balance.

Joanna Vander Vlugt
My Art was Lost but then It was Found

Abandoned Adventures

By Vanessa Hozjan

These days, when life and work get too much we search for something to relax us; to make us forget about the chaos waiting for us when we return to work. Some women read, some go to the spa, or unwind with friends or family. I prefer to pack up my 4 pound Chihuahua, Jasper, some snacks and hit the road.

Since leaving Toronto and moving to Alberta in 2015, I have found a profound love for the dirt roads and stillness of the prairies. It gives me space to think and reflect on all aspects of life, or to just enjoy the quiet. These backroads have brought so many new opportunities and friends into my life and I love sharing the treasures I find through my photography.

The prairie backroads are known for their fair share of abandoned homes, and Jasper and I enjoy finding these gems and documenting them before they are destroyed. Alberta and Saskatchewan are my favourite provinces to explore, mainly because the houses are relatively untouched and have been standing vacant for decades.

Newfoundland was also a favourite of mine when I visited in spring of 2018!

After growing up in Toronto, the flat prairie landscape was a little bit of a culture shock the first few trips I made, but it is now something I crave when life gets too much. To be able to turn on a playlist and drive with no clear destination in mind is the absolute best feeling. For many people, being the sole person for miles can be a little daunting, but it is where I truly do my best brainstorming.

The history of these houses is what captivates my imagination. Who lived there? Why did they leave? How long has it been vacant? I often save the location and try to do a little research, but the older the house, the harder it is to come up with answers.

Now if you’re reading this, you may be thinking; isn’t it scary going into abandoned homes? And quite frankly, yes it is! Over the years I have learned many lessons and only proceed if safe to do so. If a house has been empty for 50 years, you can imagine the wildlife that has come to settle in the upstairs rooms or in the basement. I personally do not want to come face to face with ANYTHING, so I have many preventative measures that I use to rid the house of anyone I don’t want to meet upon entry. Once I check the land for covered or uncovered wells or large holes, I make my way to the front or side door where I bang on the side of the house as hard as I can.

I wait for all friends inside to vacate and then try to find a decent sized rock to throw through an open window on the second floor (I do not break windows or doors to gain entry). Once cleared, I step inside and examine the structure, if a floor is soft or open that is unfortunately where my tour ends. When travelling alone, I trust my gut and if it doesn’t feel right, I’m out of there!!

If I’m able to walk around and explore a little bit, I do so safely. There are many interesting things I have found while exploring; in some houses I have visited it’s as if the family just up and left, leaving behind everything. Kitchen cabinets still have canned goods, pianos sit weathered and peeling, and a house in Saskatchewan even had a fridge and stove left, in decent condition.

If I explore the house, I am usually in and out within five minutes. I don’t like to leave Jasper in the car too long and I’m usually too creeped out to make myself at home. I explore, get the shots I want and leave the place as undisturbed as possible. If anyone had ever owned a Chihuahua, you know that they are extremely loyal creatures, and like to stick close to their “person”. Jasper is no exception. He is my co-pilot on all adventures and I wouldn’t have it any other way. He has an elevated car seat so that he can stand on his hind legs and watch the traffic go by as we cruise down the main highway looking for a random road to turn down.

In his short 2 years of life, he has accompanied me to Toronto four times; he has been to Saskatchewan, British Columbia, New York State, and his favourite to date; Niagara falls!

Due to his small stature, he often becomes the center of attention when we go places. People cannot believe how cute he is, and I agree! I may be biased but I have never met a dog with so much sass and personality. We have many more trips planned, and I cannot wait to see where 2019 takes us!

**Disclaimer: Do not trespass on private property, or enter any abandoned structure without permission or without using due care and proper safety precautions.

Vanessa Hozjan

Photogapher, Photography by Vanessa