Thursday, April 30, 2015

Innocence Lost Foundation - Ava Vanderstarren & Fazineh Keita

Note - This is the first of two articles I will be posting on the Innocence Lost Foundation.

Those of us who are regulars at local fashion weeks have been watching Ava Vanderstarren walk the runway in many many shows.  She and I connected in a small way at events and through Facebook, but never really had a chance to sit and chat. Then one day I received an intriguing invitation to meet her and partner Fazineh Keita to hear about their new foundation - Innocence Lost.  I was, of course intrigued.

Over coffee at the Harrison Galleries, Ava and Fazineh shared about their passion to help former child soldiers find healing and a better life. The foundation was inspired by Fazineh's own story as a child soldier - something that will be shared in part 2 of this series, so be sure and check back.

For anyone taking this path, there are huge stumbling blocks.  Getting all the legal paper work done, a proper board in place, volunteers and support behind you, an architect to create the space and most importantly FUNDRAISING! The two have been working hard speaking everywhere they can to bring awareness, have volunteers making jewellery to be sold and set up a donation site.

I was utterly impressed. They had crossed their i's and dotted their t's. Innocence Lost in being built on a solid business foundation and I have no qualms in supporting their efforts.  So to begin this journey - I want to introduce you to Ava Vanderstarren through a Q and A about her life and this foundation. Then a little later, I will be offering the same on co-founder Fazineh. 

Enjoy! Don't forget to follow Innocence Lost Foundation on Twitter, Facebook and Instagram - links at bottom. And be sure to pop by their website to see how you can become involved in bringing their vision from concept to reality.

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Where were you born, where did you grow
up? What were you like as a child/teen? 

I was born in Abbotsford and spent all of my childhood growing up in Chilliwack, BC. My family lived on the mountain, in Cultus Lake and now by the Chilliwack River so I've always been around nature. As a kid I was very hardworking in school. I always got good grades and focused on my assignments. Sometimes my teachers would give me time off because I worked so hard haha!

I was a very nice nerd I would say :)

I did have friends, only a few close ones, but I would get along with everyone in my classes. At home I was very close with my family and spent a lot of time outside and playing in the creek. As I grew up and went to high school things stayed pretty similar. I graduated with top grades and was one of my high school valedictorians.

Can you remember any stories from that time that highlight you would take this career path and found a charity?

I was always a very artistic person, very kind and caring. I chose to go into acting because I loved drama class and was in all of the school plays. We had many school clubs and I was a member of Girl Guides and traveled so my world view was pretty open. I always knew that I was very lucky to be born in Canada and live where I do. I don't think there was just one instance that shifted my perspective but a culmination of all of my experiences and upbringing.

You have been very visible in the Vancouver scene over the last few years. Please share some highlights of what you've been doing.

Thank-you, I've been modeling and acting since graduating school. I was in an episode of Supernatural and on a few TV commercials. I won best actress at the POV Film Festival for the short film "A Day with Sofia". For modeling I work for Arc'teryx, have done Vancouver Fashion Week for many seasons and work for many local designers and photographers. I hosted a night of VALT last season and have been doing public speaking and hosting. In 2013 I participated in the Miss BC Pageant and was crowned with that title. This really helped with propelling me to start our foundation. That year Fazineh and I founded Innocence Lost Foundation because my platform was rehabilitation of child soldiers.

How did you meet your co-founder Fazineh Keita and how did the idea to found Innocence Lost develop?

Fazineh and I met at Vancouver Film School. We both took the Acting for Film and TV program there in 2011. The foundation is inspired by his personal story and the experiences that he went through. He was a child soldier in the Sierra Leone civil war. I saw how these experiences affected him on a personal level and how he had to deal with what he went through on a daily basis. He's a very unique and inspiring person. Then when Miss BC happened we decided not to wait and to do something towards our goals of humanitarian work now instead of waiting for "someday" to come along.

What is the goal of this charity organization - now, 1 year, 5 years?

Our goal is to help child soldiers that have been rescued out of conflict by creating centers that provide long term rehabilitation care. We want to spread awareness about these issues. For countries that have been affected by war we want to provide them with resources and education to move forward and deal with traumas and to help rebuild.

Our first project is a community centre for Kabala, Sierra Leone, which is where Fazineh is from. We want to provide the community with a water well, medical clinic, community gardens, education, art therapy, sports programs and skills training. Down the road we want to build rehabilitation centers in many different countries and help rescue child soldiers. 

Talk about some of the steps you've had to go through to establish Innocence Lost and to begin to raise funds?

In the summer of 2013 we filed all the paperwork to become incorporated as a non-profit foundation in Canada. Once we had our status we took some time to create our logo and website and establish our goals. In 2014 we began working with some amazing architects (Laura & Patrick from M3a) who helped us design a site plan and 3D models of our Kabala community centre project. Now we are really working on pulling together our volunteers and working on all the different areas and ideas we have for fundraising.

What has proven most challenging?

Things have really been a step by step process and a big learning process, so we're always discovering what to do next. The fact that we've never done this before is both a challenge and the exciting part of it. I like to get things done, so for me I've had to learn that things take time and you can't rush the process, but instead you have to enjoy the journey. I would love to be in Africa right now, but I know there are steps to take to get there and you can't cut corners.

Can you share a high moment in this journey - something unexpected?

The support and generosity that we receive has been overwhelming! It's amazing how people come together and can unite for the cause. Every time we get excited about an accomplishment and a step closer to our goals is a high moment. Things seems to fall into place. Our volunteers are so wonderful, and we're so lucky to work with so many amazing individuals that each bring something to the table.

Winning Miss BC was also pretty unexpected for me and definitely a huge moment in my life.
Also every time we leave our architect's office after a meeting we have an energy and excitement that lasts all day :)

What are the many ways readers can support this charity?

They can visit our website to learn more and donate online: They can also spread the word on social media and connect with us. We'll have many fundraising events coming up down the road that people can attend. We have t shirts, merchandise and a jewelry line that has all profits going to the project. Also we are always looking for volunteers and new ideas so we welcome anyone and everyone to join us in helping out in any way.

Anything else you would like to share?

I want to remind people that it's so easy to get caught up in the day to day struggles of life, but that there are so many people around the world that are happy with much less than we have. So I would ask for everyone to be thankful and positive and remember that they are lucky and blessed. At the end of the day, image and material possessions don't matter but love and kindness do.

Tuesday, April 28, 2015

Christina Waschko - On a Quest for the Perfect Dress!

Guest post by Christina Waschko: Take Action Consultant and Presenter of Motherpreneur TV.

On a quest to experience as many small and big adventures in life as possible - and to find the perfect dress - I have always been intrigued by fashionistas! Look at those well-put together outfits! How in heaven’s name do they do this? 

Everything a fashionista puts on looks so effortless! They can mix’n match different styles, patterns and designs - and still look stylish! They know what they want to throw on and most importantly, if it's not in their own wardrobe, they for sure know where to get it from! They have their designer peeps, their favourite stores, perhaps even their personal shopping assistant!

How do fashionistas do this?
Well, let me tell you how the other half lives; for example, the adventure seeking motherpreneurs of the world! We have a wardrobe full of… let’s call them basics! Denims, shirts and more denims. A few cardi's (short for cardigans), skirts, boots and sneakers! Going through the daily shower-shave-make-up routine is one thing – it’s a necessary evil (and I am low maintenance!). Adding the agonizing, time consuming quest to shop for the perfect dress is sheer torture!

Nothing, absolutely nothing, compares to the fruitless outcome of wandering through the mall, walking in and out of shops, trying on countless items and still coming home empty handed. Do you have any idea what I am talking about? You have the vision in your head, you have the money - and still can't find what you came for. If you happen to be a fashionista, then of course you can’t relate. You know where to get your desired items from.

I've done the mall walk many times over and decided it was time for something more drastic, a bit more adventurous! It was time to seek out treasures at my local Value Village in Maple Ridge. At least their dresses won't shrink or fade anymore! And, if Lady Luck is on my side, I might even score more than what I was hunting for!

At my age (younger than Madonna, older than Nicole Kidman), I prefer to shop for something that suits me rather than what’s in fashion. My body type (taller but less trim and muscular than Madonna, more toned than Nicole) calls for a dress that ends above the knee. If you have short legs like I do, anything below the knee makes them look even shorter.

I love sleeveless outfits - then I notice my upper arms are more flabby than ‘normal’. Decision made, no sleeveless for me today! Something low cut is pretty too- but only if you can actually pull off a cleavage! Darn, I don’t fit this requirement either! And again, this one is off the list.

I like a slim cut, not a tight fit! The difference between figure hugging and tight is choosing between looking like a pro or a sausage! What about colours or patterns?  This is another, all too serious matter altogether. As a matter of fact I know green, brown or lilac doesn't suit me. Vertical stripes make us all look fat - even you my dear fashionistas!  

One of my favourite colours is blue. The problem is, I own way too many shades of blue already! And for this reason, and a few other ones, I left this one behind too.

How difficult is it to find a dress? A simple dress is all I am asking for! One that  covers the ‘chicken fillets’(aka my hidden biceps), comes down to above my knees, features a round neck and fits like a second skin, but not too tight! 

Well Christina, it’s time to suck it up and face the truth, this kind of dress doesn’t exist. If Value Village can’t deliver, who can?  Dress-frustration is one agony I can live without! And this is the reason you see me in cardis, denims and sneakers!

However, feel free to enlighten me with your perfect solution: Where can I get the ‘perfect’ dress from? Come on now, spill your best kept secrets….I won’t tell! 

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In business or in life we need to “Kiss our Excuses Goodbye to reach our big, fat dreams or to add the extra- into -ordinary living!  

As hands-on Action Consultant Christina Waschko is walking her talk! 

And as presenter of  Motherpreneur TV (You Tube) she dishes out tried ‘n tested, action based, no-nonsense advice to mothers (and others). 

You can find Waschko at and on www.The

Wednesday, April 22, 2015

Eco Fashion Week 68 Pound Challenge - Carlie Wong

All Images by Peter Jensen Photography
Video of show at bottom of page courtesy of Fashion Pause

The second show I always make sure to see is each season at Eco Fashion Week is the 68 Pound Challenge. This is truly a trial by fire for the designer who accepts the task. They have only 6 weeks to select their raw materials, pick a direction, design, sew, fit and show 20 complete looks on the runway. It's an overwhelmingly difficult challenge involving long, long hours. And if they are working at the same time, sleep is probably a thing of the past. Each designer who has taken this challenge has approached it differently.

For the 68 Pound Challenge, a designer has to pick 68 pounds of fabrics - the amount of clothing thrown away by the average North American each year - only from amongst the heaps of unsellable items at Value Village. This can be used clothing of any type, tablecloths, curtains, and more. Using these items as the raw materials, the designer can completely deconstruct items and just use as regular fabric, or they can upcycle the piece by reshaping it into a new silhouette with details of the original intact, but used in different ways. Often there is a mix and match process with bits of several different garments combined in new, unique ways to make a new garment.

This season the challenge was accepted by the very talented Carlie Wong. I have been following her career since graduation from the Kwantlen design program and had the privilege of interviewing her way back in 2010 (Click HERE). It was such an honour to be in the audience. The collection was absolutely her aesthetic - something she decided to embrace from day. Hard to believe it was created from used materials. Hands down - it was stunning and I was one of many on my feet at the end offering a standing ovation.

Now for the real fun - a walk behind the scenes with Q and A!

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Where were you born/where did you grow up?

I was born in Hong Kong. I moved to Vancouver when I was 4 months old and been here ever since.

Have you always been interested in fashion? Can you share an early memory?

I knew I wanted to be a fashion designer when I was probably 10 or 11. But even earlier than that, I was very much interested in making things with my hands and making things aesthetically beautiful. When I was 4 years old or so, my sister and I were playing with my grandma's box of scarves. She was wearing them in different ways and pretending to be different characters. I was taking the scarves and decorating the house. She became an actress and I became a designer. I think making things beautiful was always in my blood.
Talk about your journey to become a fashion designer.

I knew at a young age that I wanted to be a designer so all throughout my high school and university, that's what my focus was. I worked part time during my studies at Manuel Mendoza and continued after I graduated making custom couture gowns and bridal dresses. I then switched to design for Mac + Jac Clothing and Kensie Clothing to gain a completely different experience working for a giant company. After being there for a year, I went on to participate on Project Runway Canada and subsequently quit my job to start my own line of high end womenswear. Ive had my own label for 8 years now. 

How are you currently working in the industry?

I currently do a lot of custom design work. I also teach design at Blanche Macdonald. I have been there for 5 years. I always have ideas for new collections because there's still so much I want to try. I've done sportswear, evening wear, bridal and even mens wear...but I want to do a resort line with bathing suits. That might be next, but I haven't got the time. 

How did you become involved in EFW's Value Village 68 Pound Challenge?

I was asked by Myriam to do it, and I told her I couldn't. I am working full time and I only had 6 weeks. She convinced me and I haven't slept until last night. (The night after my show) The materials and resources was most definitely a challenge, but the timeline was 100 times worse. 

Shopping had to be a real challenge. Talk about your process - how often did you shop, how many stores did you visit, did you have a theme going in or did it develop as you were drawn to specific garments?

Shopping was very tough. The first time I went, I had no clue what I was doing in terms of concept. I was in an athletic sporty mode and I started picking out weird mesh fabrics in a yellow and blue colour scheme. I took bags and bags of stuff, but when I laid it out on the floor at home, it just looked very cheap and nothing matched. It was also not very me.

It was hard because you are so limited. I wasn't allowed to take anything I wanted; I was only allowed to go through the rag-offs, which is the stuff that hasn't sold, so you can imagine how infrequently you would find something that was usable. It was frustrating, but I regrouped and decided to stick to what was true to myself - eveningwear. The second time I went to Value Village, I focused on high end fabrics with texture and shine in black and that worked out. I went scour the rag offs at various stores maybe 4 or 5 times.

Please share details on the final collection we saw on the runway. 

There was no real concept or inspiration to this collection other than the situation itself - having limited resources and time to create original work. My own mini challenge was to create a body of work that looks comparable to what I would normally make without these seemingly impossible limitations. I feel like at first glance, the pieces are quite commercial, but the story behind how they came to be and how the individual pieces were utilized is what I think would be noteworthy.

What did you gain from this experience and what advice do you have for stylists hoping to take part in future 68 Pound Challenges?

I would recommend not working other jobs. Doing this collection in addition to working and teaching meant I was working 80 hour weeks for 6 weeks straight. It was exhausting and could have been a tad easier. Normally when I do a 20 look collection I take 6 months, not 6 weeks. Its tough enough doing the challenge without a time limitation. In terms of the challenge itself. My advice is to stick to your aesthetic and do what you know. Going into a Value Village and looking through piles of junk is very overwhelming. Sticking to what you know and going with your gut feeling works best. 

Tuesday, April 21, 2015

Eco Fashion Week Thrift Chic Challenge - Lucy Yun, Megan-Magdalena Bourne & Dominique Hanke

All images unless otherwise noted by Peter Jensen Photography

Image by Peter Holst
Every season of Eco Fashion Week I say the same thing - the Value Village shows are always my favourite as they embrace the Eco Fashion, Zero Waste and Up-Cycling Movements.  I love the way those participating have to push their creative envelope to help us all see the fashionable possibilities of used garments.

In the Thrift Chic Styling Challenge, three stylists are given a set budget of $500 and challenged to style a ten look runway collection using only clothing and accessories purchased from Value Village stores. They can shop at one store or in several.  The process can involve just a single trip if they are lucky, or require multiple visits over the weeks allotted.  Shoes I would assume would be a particularly daunting challenge.  Over the four seasons I have attended this show, the range has been from very wearable to totally out of the box funky.

Last night we were treated to three very diverse collections as you can see from the images below. Lucy Yun offered us young, relaxed and casual, Megan-Magdalena Bourne brought a little more upscale with a rock and roll edge and Dominque Hanke showcased colour and bold looks complimented with great hair styling.

Instead of writing up each stylist, I decided to offer you short Q and A's with each of them along with a selection of runway pictures.  ENJOY!


Thrift Chic Styling Challenge

Lucy Yun

Where were you born/where did you grow up?

I was born and raised in Changwon, South Korea. I moved to Seoul to study in university and work. After completing 2 years of a Journalism/Communications degree in school, I wanted to go abroad and experience more. So I went backpacking to Europe, studied in Melbourne, Australia for a month and then Vancouver, Canada for a year to study English, Sales and Marketing. I fell in love with Vancouver right away, so I decided to move here for good.

Have you always been interested in fashion? Can you share an early memory?

I have always been fascinated by fashion because of the fun, artistic, creative and visual parts of it. I still vividly remember hiding my mom’s black high-heels and wore them under the desk while I was studying in grade 5.

Talk about your journey as a fashion stylist.

I have been working in the fashion industry for over a decade; I started working at an independent denim company doing visual and sales, then worked at Chanel LTD. Korea, and did marketing at a high-end designer brand in Vancouver. Then I got into merchandising and styling at a global fast-fashion retailer. Recently, I became a freelance stylist and marketing specialist. (see more about me and my work on my website,, blog, and Instagram,

How did you become involved in EFW's Value Village Thrift Chic Challenge?

Back in February 2015, I styled a portrait photo shoot of me with a very talented photographer. We developed a concept that is Victorian-era, vintage, dark and moody. I found a pop-up store in Gastown, Closet Crows, who loaned the garments for the shoot, some of them were owned by Myriam, the founder of Eco Fashion Week. Later on, Myriam asked me to participate on Thrift Chic Challenge, so I agreed to do it.

Shopping within the set budget to get all you need must be a real challenge. Talk about your process - how often did you shop, how many stores did you visit, did you have a theme going it or did it develop as you were drawn to specific garments?

I already had my concept set-in-stone before starting to shop, thus, finding garments and accessories that fit with the theme was not too difficult. I actually spent all of the budget on my first day of shopping, then tweaked a little bit after fitting. So far, I have been to Hastings location three times and Victoria Dr. location once to complete my collection.

Can you share your final thoughts about the collection we saw on the runway?

To have fun and make as little mistakes as possible.
What did you gain from this experience and what advice do you have for stylists hoping to be a part in future Thrift Chic Challenges?

In my opinion, knowing your style, having the concept ready, managing your time and resources are the keys to the successful collection. Having the ability to calculate and do the math is also important because of the tight budget. I would suggest to set the limit of prices per look before buying. It’s all about finding and putting clothes, shoes and accessories together that fit your style and the budget.

Lucy Yun Freelance Marketing Specialist
Instagram @beyunique

Megan-Magdalena Bourne

Where were you born/where did you grow up?
Vancouver, baby! Spent time on the island, in the suburbs, and on the road.

Have you always been interested in fashion? Can you share an early memory?

Yes! I grew up in the 90s, so the Spice Girls were a huge thing for a lil lady like myself. Dressing up to go to their concerts was probably the first time I was conscious of fashion.

Talk about your journey as a fashion stylist.

I've never desired to be a stylist. As a broke photographer, it was just something I had to do because I couldn't afford a stylist. I've always known what I liked and people have been receptive to it. Everything I do is an extension of my personal style, a way for me to express different sides of myself. I've always been drawn to a style that is timeless and functional… with a lil bit of rock and roll.

How did you become involved in EFW's Value Village Thrift Chic Challenge?

I'm definitely a "yes" kind of girl. I've had friends do this challenge in the past, so when I got asked to do it I jumped at the opportunity. Why not? I'm all about collecting experiences. Plus, I've been shopping at Value Village, styling myself and my models, for the past 10 years or so.

Shopping within the set budget to get all you need must be a real challenge. Talk about your process - how often did you shop, how many stores did you visit, did you have a theme going it or did it develop as you were drawn to specific garments?

I live a block away from a Value Village so that made things easier. I went to 5 different locations in total. I'm not one to rush or stress about things so I just took it really easy and let it happen organically. Like I mentioned earlier, everything is an extension of me. Creating this collection was pretty much me just shopping for things I would love to wear if I was a model. hahaha. It's pretty much the dream wardrobe that I'll never be able to fit into.

Can you share your final thoughts about the collection we saw on the runway?

It was very me! haha!

What did you gain from this experience and what advice do you have for stylists hoping to be a part in future Thrift Chic Challenges?
Don't over think it. Let it happen organically and just roll with the punches. I learned that it's hard to find 10 pairs of nice black shoes hahaha

Instagram @meganmagdalena
Twitter @whoismeggy

Dominique Hanke

Where were you born/where did you grow up?

I was born and raised in a small village called Kinver in central England

Have you always been interested in fashion? Can you share an early

Fashion has always been a huge part of my life. I vividly remember pulling apart my mother's closet to try on all her beautiful pieces and drawing lavish gown and hat designs in my bedroom for hours on end.

Talk about your journey as a fashion stylist.

Style and styling have always been a huge interest but it was only when I started my millinery business back in 2011 that it became a part of my work life. Putting together photoshoots and runway shows for my business gave me a real taste for it. I started getting people asking me to style them and eventually a photographer and makeup artist (the awesome Mr Johnny Se and Ms Sara Vande Vyver) asked me if I would style a shoot for them. I was super flattered, but I was like "Sure, but just so you know I am not a stylist". The shoot went well and from there it just grew, and now I work with multiple magazines, photographers, brands and celebrities.

How did you become involved in EFW's Value Village Thrift Chic

I got an email from the lovely Myriam asking if I would be interested in participating, and I jumped at the chance. The Thrift Chic Challenge is one of my favorite shows, period. It is such an inspiring concept, and the results are always so incredible (no pressure)

Shopping within the set budget to get all you need must be a real challenge. Talk about your process - how often did you shop, how many stores did you visit, did you have a theme going it or did it develop as you were drawn to specific garments?

I shopped at four different stores, and the Hastings one I visited probably half a dozen times. The budget is a challenge for sure, but if you shop smart it is more than doable. $50 per look can stretch pretty far if you are selective. On my first visit I built up my theme. My inspiration is the fun of fashion. I was inspired by my youth and my first forays into developing and defining my style (the late 90's early 00's pop culture), and the inspiration I draw from the amazing Advanced Style ladies and their ability to create and play with style in such a fearless way. You will definitely see visual references to films such as 'Clueless' and 'Mean Girls'.

Can you share your final thoughts about the collection we saw on the

I hope it was fun. I hope it pushed people's ideas of what is available to them at thrift stores, as well as what they can wear in their own lives. As someone who loves fashion and the artistry of fashion design, I want people to enjoy their wardrobe. Our wardrobe choices are the way we get to define ourselves. They tell the world who we are without us having to say anything, and we all make that choice. Even those who "don't care about fashion" make a choice. Why not make an enjoyable one?

What did you gain from this experience and what advice do you have for stylists hoping to be a part in future Thrift Chic Challenges?

This is such a unique event. I hope any future stylists have as much fun as I did. It really gives us a chance to show a different angle and face of the industry. If I could give any advice it is to just keep a clear head and stick with the plan, as there are so many options and it can get a little overwhelming, but mostly have fun!

Dominique Fashion stylist and Milliner
Twitter @cocochapeau
Instagram @hivemindhats

Tuesday, April 14, 2015

Artist Juss Kaur's Exhibition "Unfolding Consciousness" Opens at Beaumont Studios

When I received a press release from my friend Jessie Kaur about an upcoming art show, I was thrilled. My life had become too predictable over the last few years and in January I made the commitment to make time for a wider range of interests in 2015 - musical performances, theatre, art shows, spoken work poetry............... Vancouver is chock full of interesting places to see, things to do and events to explore, you just have to take a moment to search them out.

This upcoming exhibition features the Pointillism artwork of Juss Kaur, an artist who explores spirituality and reframes the identities and experiences of South Asians who celebrate Vaisaikhi. Her exhibition - "Unfolding Consciousness" - opens with a FREE reception from 6-9 p.m. on April 17th at the Beaumont Studios (316 West 5th, Vancouver).  To attend all you have to do is register at Eventbrite - just click HERE! I was devastated to realize I will be in Kelowna the opening night, but fortunately this show will run through April 23rd.

Kaur is a Kenyan-born artist who holds a Doctor of Philosophy from Oxford University and has been residing in Montreal, Quebec for over thirty years. Each of her paintings contain up to 20,000 Wahegurus. The artist chooses not to explain the meaning of each canvas, preferring their experimental nature engage the viewer to interpret the work and offer new perspectives.  She shares, “The ultimate goal I wish to accomplish is to hint at the illusionary nature of our world, while at the same time subtly implying that the universal spirit surrounds us,”

I was utterly intrigued, so arranged a Q and A with Kaur to learn a little more. I hope you enjoy it as much as did.  Again - if you want at attend the opening, just RSVP at the link above. For media inquires or to arrange an interview - please contact Jessie Kaur Lehail at

And one last important note - all Profits from "Unfolding Consciousness" will go to the charity Doctors without Borders!!!!!

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Interview with artist Jess Kaur

Where were you born? Where did you grow up?

I was born in Nairobi, Kenya, where i stayed until my early teens. Then I moved to Surrey, England, where I went to an all-girls Grammar High School.

What were you like as a child?

From what I recall I was a very lively person. Loved reading!!! I felt like I wanted to read all the books in the school library.

Looking back, can you share one story that hints you would become an artist?

Whenever I saw paintings I would stare at them for ages, as if I wanted to be absorbed into the details too. When I was 18 years old, one of older brothers was getting married and I wanted to give him a gift. As a student I didn't have much discretionary income so I decided to make him an oil painting of the legendary lovers "Sohni Mahiwal". I literally just picked up a brush, looked at a famous painting and copied it. To this day my nephew has it hanging in his house (see attachment). The joy I had in making the painting encouraged me to make a few more.

Talk about your journey to reach this moment?

I am basically self-taught. Even though I have been an Educator all these years, I always found time to draw and paint. After oils, I tried water colors and then portraits. This became my passion. The children were young and at home there was not much time so whenever I had a free period (when I was not teaching) and during my lunch period at school, I would work on a portrait. I started with portraits of the spiritual masters (Bhai Sahib Bhai Vir Singh and Professor Puran Singh). I was in love with their teachings and guidance and felt close to them as I drew them. So as my readings grew to include other such great souls - like Bauji Jaswant Singh, Nietzche, Soren Kierkegaard, I continued to draw.

I notice your website uses the title Mantra Art. What is Mantra Art?

Once again this started at school. I had just returned from a 10 day spiritual retreat in India and was in class. My students were writing a test and I was sitting at my desk looking through a book magazine and I stopped to look at a picture of a humming bird in mid-air drawing nectar from a red hibiscus. The intensity and the beauty moved me and I just picked up a pen and started writing "waheguru" - the mantra mentioned in all my art as I felt that all around was His Divine Presence and this was the only way I could depict it on paper. I let my heart rule and let it take me wherever it wanted to. I filled in the whole page with the mantra (afterwards in my lunch time) and it looked beautiful to me. When I shared it with my friends they wanted me to do more. So that was how Mantra Art was born.

It reminded me of a technique I had heard about from a very dear friend of my mine who had an art background. Pointillism uses small dots to make an image too. This technique evolved more over time as i experimented with colors and different pens. I learnt by making mistakes. For example - I made a huge painting for our gurduwara and unfortunately the ink I used started to disappear after a while with sun exposure. Mistakes are teachers in disguise. That is when I discovered 'archival ink" which never fades. I coined the phrase "Reflective Mantra Art" when I had my first exhibition at McGill University, in order to explain the meditative nature of the word, the mantra, being written. As one writes a mantra (and of course this could be any mantra like om, alla hu etc) with concentration it brings peace and reflection to the soul through its intense vibrations.

Your upcoming Exhibit is titled, "Unfolding Consciousness". Can you share why your chose that title and a bit about what you will be sharing with those attending.

The word "Consciousness" when translated into gurbani is "Surat" or "Chit". At any one moment we may be doing something but our "surat" may be elsewhere. As one practices, meditates and becomes an introvert, through an evolving process, as promised by gurbani, one begins to understand intuitively about the illusionary nature of the Universe and the ubiquitous Divine presence. My paintings attempt to bring the viewer to this realization; that God is Omnipresent (Everywhere), Omnipotent (all powerful) and Omniscient (All Knowing) and that we are all spiritual beings having a human experience.

This exhibition is also a fundraiser for Doctors without Borders. Why was it about this organization that drew your support?

For years I have been an avid supporter of this cause. I admire and am inspired by those who in spite of having high paying jobs choose to leave them and their families to go to remote places in the world and serve those who are in dire need. They put their own health at risk. With new challenges like Ebola, they need all the support they can get.

To learn more about Juss Kaur please visit her website at