by Sandra Marshall
Laughter is Sheree Bradford-Lea’s antidote for what ails us as she tries to engage us through her humorous cartoons, sculptures, mixed media/fibre art and puppetry. Her background in behavioural psychology, theatre and family travel set the scene for her explorations of these media.
A creator from a young age, she drew, wrote, and sang everything that struck her fancy. During high school she was attracted to theatre for a lifelong passion. Sheree continued her theatre interests, as she began a psychology degree in visual perception at Guelph University and later continued her graduate studies at Laurier and Queen’s Universities. Her experimental psychology studies in gender, empathy and moral reasoning later served as more fodder for her love of the absurd.
It was in Kingston that Sheree married and the couple decamped to Berkeley California, a career opportunity for her husband. Sheree continued to create—writing plays and short stories, having some produced and published. The couple returned to Canada with a one year old in tow, and made Ottawa their home, in time for the arrival of their second baby. Sheree began cartooning when the children were toddlers as she couldn’t devote full-time to writing, but she found that creating single and multi-panel cartoon strips fit her needs. At the suggestion of a teacher Sheree sent her artworks to a publisher, where they were well received. That encouraged her to keep her creative juice flowing, and she found ways to improve at her art form. She also began teaching cartooning and other art, when not creating and selling her own work to publications.
To expand from creating cartoons for publications of various types, Sheree applied her artworks to solid objects and sold them at craft shows. But she yearned for more artful ways to use her humorous ideas and embraced 3D mixed media. She expanded her boundaries to incorporate ideas that didn’t suit cartooning, but which tickled her fancy.
Cartoon humour influences everything Sheree makes. It embodies message, visual perception and personal connection with the viewer. She challenges the observer to stand back and be amused, while pondering the issue raised. Effective cartoons and humorous art attract people, who feel that they have a soul-mate. We are not alone in our opinions when we share a moment of laughter.
The National Capital Network of Sculptors was a natural fit for Sheree. Her passion for the curiosities of human and animal behaviour and visual perception was applied to her three dimensional art. In 2010, at the behest of stone carvers Danny Barber and Phil Smith, and to benefit a charitable cause, Sheree joined in the first annual Canadian Stone Carving Festival. For the first time, she sculpted a limestone block using only hand tools. Although she had only carved wood and clay before, she bravely attacked the stone over the festival weekend. She has been carving stone since then – mainly animals with added mixed media elements. Sheree is particularly fond of creating stone sheep with wooden legs, each one a unique personality. Carving stone sheep started at the Stone Carving Festival too!
Sheree once attended a puppet workshop with one of her daughters and became hooked on puppetry. As a result, she received a grant to build large scale puppets and perform at The Happening in Ottawa. Fabricating and performing with these ‘characters’ brings her special delight. Sheree is considering stop motion film for her puppetry as another way to tell engaging stories. But she promises that she will never give up cartooning and mixed media art. She always weaves in new ideas and themes to keep her work fresh.
Travel has shown the artist-psychologist that people’s perspectives are influenced by their locale. What flies in a city might be scorned by a small town crowd. Even her country upbringing and later moves made Sheree keenly aware of these contrasting sensory feelings. Being with theatre people and artists, academics and feminist at-home moms has been a form of travel too and given her a unique perspective.
Sometimes people do not like her perception. But a humourist is by definition someone with a clear, strong vision, who observes behaviour, sometimes predicting societal trends too—looking to the future. Her creative process can be ignited by something odd or interesting, ridiculous or annoying. Her mind noodles with the idea to find a way to turn it on its ear and point out the issue with humour. The fun continues in the building, carving, drawing, painting, sewing, or whatever she needs to spark the idea to life. It comes together as she works, without elaborate plans. Sheree says that her favourite time in the creation is at the inception of an idea, and she inevitably gets a good chortle out of it. Her least favourite part is having to slow down before she can continue—like allowing paint to dry. ‘’I’m not great at that kind of patience.’’
She sees good natured humour having enormous power to relieve our worries for a while. “That’s one reason good cartoon and visual humour lights up so many areas of the brain. When a person ‘gets it’, the gentle problem-solving exercise pays off with fireworks!” Sheree’s art twists our minds a little out of focus, giving us time to relax, think, smile. We leave a little lighter than when we came by.
The interactive artwork ‘Keep an Eye on Your Mother’ asked people to recall the maiden names of their great-grandmothers. The question puzzled many and they were determined to find out the answer, even to call distant relatives. Like herself, they didn’t realize that they didn’t know their own history. This cartoon-enlivened work sported a felted bird in a playing card bird house and is still one of her favourites.
Sheree has advice for others who may wish to take up her sculptural direction. “Stay true to your unique roots and passions.” As a youngster she spent time observing animals, especially her house cats and nearby farm animals. The colours and shapes of childhood return in her work repeatedly. “Observation is good, but don’t forget to experience life too, and laugh along the way.” Sheree sees herself as lucky to have her husband and children as inspiration.”Humour doesn’t laugh at other people, it laughs at human nature in general, and we are always part of that.” When we laugh at her cartoon animals we are laughing at our own human frailties.
“At the end of the day, make sure your pieces say something with humour, something that allows the observer to think and to feel.”
More of Sheree’s delightful work can be found at http://shereebradfordlea.com/