studio visit – patti normand

When I was a youngster, I used to spend my Summer vacation reading Nancy Drew books and wishing that I would stumble upon a mystery that I could solve with my besties. {And yes, that I could drive all over solving said mysteries in my red convertible.} Looking at the artwork of Patti Normand, I get some of those same yearnings. I want to crawl up and into the glass enclosures and poke around. Instead, I decided to poke around her studio and solve the case of The Super Talented Prop Master.

Tell me about your start. Did you attend art school or are you self-taught. Did you start with mixed media sculptures / miniatures in mind?

“Yes. I attended OCAD {Ontario College of Art and Design}. I did the “experimental” program doing a little bit of everything – jewellery, metal, plastic. I really just wanted to make things. I ended up concentrating on painting but continued the making with my professional career in museums and theatre.”

pnormand5ed PNormand1ed

“I began as a painter. I liked it. But dioramas and sculptural work allows me to access “it” from all sides, you know?”

You had a very long career in museums building some props and dioramas for some big Canadian institutions. I have seen lots of your work up close with my kids during visits to {the newly named} Canadian Museum of History. So, how was it that your professional work became your art?

“A friend of mine was having a fundraiser and asked if I would contribute a piece. I thought a while about what to create. I created a little diorama and it made me laugh. And then, at the event, people really loved it. I began as a painter. I liked painting. But dioramas and sculptural work allows me to access it from all sides, you know? And there is a logic to making things. I just want to make things.”


Explain to me a bit about the process. When you start are you beginning with a story? Or a fixed end image of what you want to achieve?

“I don’t usually have a ‘big plan’ or know the answer. It might start with an idea, like this one with the big wave. I had a reoccurring dream about a big wave. And so I began with that image. But I didn’t know where it was going. Really I just played with it. If it makes me laugh, I know it’s done.”

PNTheWave PNWavedetail

{Above images thanks to Patti Normand}

“If it makes me laugh, I know it’s done.”

You did a really interesting collaboration project with Leslie Buxton.

“Yes. We wanted to work together playing with the idea of a fictional town. She and I both share that curiousness and talked a lot about this town that from the outside is quaint but has secrets and quirks. For both of us, this was a great place to escape to.”

{Writer Leslie Buxton and Patti Normand worked together to create a small town full of intrigue in their 2014 exhibition Little Voices. Normand’s dioramas are shown alongside Buxton’s text pieces, and while each artist’s work is fairly mysterious on its own, the pairing of Normand’s physical image and Buxton’s lyrical image tells a wonderfully creepy story. Case in point, Gone and Dear Trevor.}


PNGone LBDearTrevor

{above image thanks to Patti Normand}

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Looking around your studio, there are a ton of materials here. What are your materials of choice? And the glass domes, that must also present a materials challenge?

“Really, the materials are different every time. I create using everything – styrofoam, wire, papiermache. I love papiermache. The ‘objects’ are true finds. Like, serendipity…Sure the glass enclosures present some technical issues, but I like that. It is fun to create with a really tiny glass dome and then sometimes it is fun to work on a larger scale.” {See the tree she was working on in her portrait below.}


And the photography of your dioramas, is that also a part of the art process or more an avenue to make something 3-Dimensional accessible and easy to present?

“Sure. There is that, making it easier for presentation. At first though it was just about needing photographs, needing to document my work, and feeling like I wanted more creative control over that process. But then I began to see it as part of the art. As the photographer I am forcing the narrative. I am possibly forcing a retelling?”


In terms of other artists that inspire you, who has “Wow”ed you lately?

“Well, just after my creating and showing my first diorama, I went to a talk by David Hoffos. He is a 3-Dimensional Installation artist that uses technology. There was something he said, which of course I can not remember right now, that turned on a light bulb for me. It made me realize that I was on the right path all these years, that my professional work is the work.”


“I was on the right path all these years, that my professional work is the work.”

Thank you so very much to Patti Normand for wonderful visit.

Patti Normand lives and works in Ottawa, Ontario. To see more of Patti’s work visit or, if you are in Toronto, see Patti’s brilliant pieces in person at the Toronto Outdoor Art Exhibition, September 18 – 20, 2015.


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