Outside of Humber, what creative projects are you working on?
Recently I was working on Hadrian at the Canadian Opera Company. I made a lamb puppet that was sacrificed on stage. It was worked into a dance piece, and the dancers did a great job manipulating the lamb. The show had a live adult dog, so I also made a puppy puppet to match the adult.
My personal projects include a bird-skull character model that will be a mask, and a tiny wax carving of a dragon skull that will be cast in silver. I’m almost done a wood carving of some bumble bees into yellow heart, which is a super hard and sticky yellow wood. Lately I’ve been experimenting with ice dying fabric. The ice moves the dye through the fabric organically, so the results are always different.
How does your own creative work shape what you do in the classroom?
Working in prop shops always introduces to me to new tricks, new materials, and new methods. Sometimes it’s a fun new product, and sometimes it’s a safer or more environmentally friendly way to do something. It’s important to bring these advancements into the classroom.
I love sculpting. It’s one of my favourite activities, and I’m not picky about the medium. I often have a few projects in varying stages of completion on my workbench at home. It is usually one of those little creations that is the launch pad for freshly designed projects I bring into the classroom.
What do you most enjoy about teaching?
Seeing the students get excited about their projects. Many of my classes are demonstrations of materials and methods that are fun, but seeing the students begin to apply what they learned in demonstrations into their own assignments is really rewarding. I facilitate brainstorming exercises to get them used to throwing ideas on the table, troubleshooting, and ultimately planning a prop build. Seeing them be excited and perform that same exercise with each other for projects, or during production on the shows is the best part.
As a faculty member, you inspire the next generation of artists. Who or what inspires you?
Taking classes or workshops on just about anything creative is inspiring. I enjoy architecture and furniture design, which I always explore when I travel somewhere new. I regularly go to an artist’s retreat in Prince Edward County. The whole county is bursting with ideas, but I especially enjoy meeting the other artists in residence and visiting workshops. I adore the sculptures of Beth Cavener, Ellen Jewett, Chris Ryniak, and Crystal Wagner. Eric Hart is a props master in the States who writes an amazingly informative blog for props people. He often posts really interesting historical prop information, interviews with builders and designers, how-to videos of the things he makes, and has a great collection of resources any prop builder would find useful.
What’s the most valuable piece of professional advice you were given as a student yourself?
Never stop learning. There is a tip or a trick in just about every artistic or crafty discipline out there.
Nina Hartt. Photo credit: Kris Forge