Thursday, November 9, 2017

Artist Spotlight: John Nagridge

I haven't posted anything on here in quite a while but I'd like to share my interview with local Detroit artist John Nagridge, which was published in the Ukrainian Metro News (Detroitski Novyny) magazine. John's an incredible artist and his art (along with other local artists' works) will be exhibited at the upcoming Grand Opening of the Ukrainian American Archives & Museum on November 11 in Hamtramck, Michigan. If you live in the area, stop by Saturday or on Sunday from 10:00 a.m. to 3:00 p.m. for the Open House. Click here for more info: Ukrainian American Archives & Museum Grand Opening Celebration

When it comes to landscape painting, John Nagridge likes being outside, always on the lookout for an inspiring vista. It allows him to be spontaneous and encourages him to interpret the world around him in a way that painting a scene from a photo simply can’t.

Photo by Jovan Jacobs
John grew up in Detroit and attended Immaculate Conception Schools. His drawings, etchings, woodcuts and paintings have been exhibited in various Detroit galleries, including the Detroit Artists Market and the Scarab Club. He was awarded a David Groff Purchase Award for a woodcut that was later exhibited at the Detroit Institute of Arts. John also designed the 2013 exhibition catalogue “A CULTURAL THREAD: The Enduring Ukrainian Spirit” for the Ukrainian American Archives & Museum of Detroit, art directed the display boards that were exhibited at the Detroit Historical Museum, and created the Ukrainian Museum website.

How did you first get started on your path as an artist?

My start began with a love for Peanuts comic strips. My dad bought me a paperback collection when I first learned to read. I learned to draw all the characters from it, especially Snoopy. I was pretty much self-taught until I went to Immaculate Conception High School, where I had art classes every Friday afternoon.

I majored in art at Macomb Community College and the Center for Creative Studies. I received my Bachelor of Fine Arts degree with a Concentration in Drawing and Printmaking from Wayne State University.

After graduation I continued woodcuts and linocuts. These printmaking mediums don’t require a special studio with chemicals and acids. I’d also do an occasional micropoint painting, a technique that involves masking a canvas and applying colors with spray. It’s like doing the pysanky technique on canvas. A few years ago, I started concentrating on painting and fell in love with it.

Please talk about your earliest influences.

There have been so many influences: teachers, friends, artists!

My first fine art influences were Mychailo Dmytrenko’s paintings on the inside of Immaculate Conception Church in Hamtramck. I love how he mixed realism with cubism with mosaic with Byzantine icons. His use of color and composition was so original. On the front right wall of the church is his painting of the Holy Trinity laying the crown on the Virgin Mary. It’s been one of my favorite paintings since I was in first or second grade. I don’t know if I’ve ever paid attention to an entire Mass whenever it’s been in my eyesight — including my own wedding!

Caterpillar and Alice
My high school art teacher Luba Kytasta encouraged me to sketch. I would draw scenes from a violent Conan the Barbarian tale or a strange comic book character to try to shock her. Instead of being shocked, she simply nodded at each page and pointed out a shading technique I could try to get my effect across better.  She then told me to draw more for her to view a week later.  The constant output of sketches dramatically improved my drawing.  She’s been a supportive influence ever since.

At Wayne State, I was strongly influenced by Stanley Rosenthal, Michael Mahoney and John Hegarty. Other early influences include Detroit artists Stephen Goodfellow and Lowell Boileau. They taught me micropointillism.

The rest of my influences range from comic book artists to Michelangelo to the 19th century Romantics to the Impressionists and the German Expressionists.

What impact has your Ukrainian background had on your work?

Like a lot of Ukrainian youth, I attended Saturday Ukrainian school. In between the lessons on grammar and memorizing the usual poems and songs, our teacher, Mrs. Julia Kapitanec, told amazing stories. I loved the tales of the rulers of Kyiv Rus, especially the Death of Prince Oleh. Mrs. Kapitanec also introduced me to the character Baba Yaga. I did a lot of sketches and paintings based on Baba Yaga tales with the thought of maybe doing a children’s book one day. One of my Baba Yaga paintings was exhibited in a show dedicated to Ukrainian artists at the Scarab Club in Detroit, coincidentally where I also showed my five-color linocut of the Death of Prince Oleh. Another favorite is the Revenge of Queen Olha (a subject I would love to paint).

Dzvinka Hayda has made a huge impact on my art. I met her when she was the president of a Ukrainian art organization named ADUK. She invited me to show at the Scarab Club Ukrainian art shows. She introduced me to the writings of Nikolai Gogol, whose scary and funny tales set in Ukraine influenced some of my art.

Baba Yaga

What’s the best advice you ever received and would like to pass on about being true to your creative vision?

Make art. A lot of it. When you’re done, make some more. The concept of talent is overrated. You become a good artist because you worked hard at it, devoting countless hours to your craft. To admire an artist’s work and say he or she did it out of talent, dismisses all the hard work and practice the artist put in over many years of development.

What inspires you?

Other people’s art! Whenever I leave an art museum, art fair or gallery, I’m very eager to get working on my own work. When I hang around other artists and talk with them, I can’t wait to draw or paint.

You’ve used various techniques in your artwork throughout the years. Can you talk a little about the evolution and why plein air knife painting is now your preference.

I met Kim Rhoney at the Northville Art Fair. She did these gorgeous knife paintings with amazing color and nice, thick paint.  I asked about her technique and she generously gave me tips to start. The next day I used a knife on a small oil painting, but didn’t care for it. I returned to brush and acrylic paint because I felt more familiar with them. A year or so later, I gave a mini painting workshop to a niece and my wife’s goddaughter. While they were painting, I thought I’d do a painting of them. Since they took my brushes, all I had left was a painting knife. This time the technique took. I did a quick acrylic painting of them and everyone loved it. A couple of years later, I took a workshop with Kim and she converted me to strictly oil painting. I haven’t stopped since. 

Aged Splendor

It’s a great technique for me. It forces me to not get fussy with details. I have to simplify the forms in my painting. It encourages me to be loose, free and generous with my paint. It’s so expressive that I can’t help but reveal my mood or personality in every painting I do. Hopefully, that’s a good thing, ha ha!

The past few years, I’ve really gotten into plein air painting. My in-laws have a neat little place in the Thumb. My wife and I will go up for a week or even a long weekend. I’ll bring my supplies and paint in Caseville, Bay Port, Kilmanaugh, and various parks and nature centers. It’s especially lovely in the fall.

Pumpkin Patch

Elmurst Fall
What's next for you on your artistic journey -- exhibits, plans, dreams?

I have a few paintings hanging at the new location of the Ukrainian Museum in Hamtramck. In August, I’m also participating in the Dexter Paint Out. I’ll make my usual treks to the Thumb area to do more plein air painting. One day, I’ve got to do a painting at Dibrova.

Caseville Breakwall

My dream is to retire from my job as a graphic designer and have all the time I want to paint, paint, paint. In 10 to 15 years, who knows?

2 Arrows Sign

For more information about John’s art, check out his website at: or

Tuesday, March 8, 2016

Interview with Poet Nina Orlovskaya

October 25, 2014

N.OrlovskaNina Orlovskaya's awesome poetry was recently published in Ukrainian Metro News. Please check out her poems if you haven’t had the opportunity! Her book is available on Amazon. I was excited to interview Nina about her work.
Can you talk about the impact of poetry on your life and when you first started writing.

I started writing poetry early in life, sometime during middle school. Being an introvert, I spent most of my time alone, indulging in thinking, and somehow I discovered music when I connected certain words that were interconnected in specific ways. I discovered metaphor before I learned that I wasn’t original — it was discovered centuries earlier. I didn’t call it metaphor, of course, I called it a cryptic way of saying anything you wanted to and no one or almost no one would understand you. When you’re 10 years old, to use metaphors while talking to your peers is slightly weird but cool. So I’ll say that poetry was a bridge for one introverted kid to travel into the extroverted world. Also, it helped me learn how to organize my thinking process and develop a very strong emotional memory. It’s sad to know that societies overlook the importance of teaching, or I should say, discovering the language of poetry in our children. Poetry is a language within a language -- an essence of language, a shortcut into a human subconsciousness.

You are fluent in several languages. When you sit down to write, how do you select the language of the poem or is this a fluid process?

I mostly write in English, sometimes in Ukrainian, and less often in Russian. Although I read poetry almost every day in all those languages. A poem starts in my mind as a vivid flash, a sudden splash of a past memory, triggered by a scene, a word, smell, taste …. just about anything. My poetry is a reflection of my feelings on some event in the past, kind of a third-level scenario. I don’t choose a language to write one poem or another; the language chooses me. I think in English but in that creative process that occurs right before conscious thought, I ‘feel’ in all three languages.

What is your writing and editing process like?

I write fast and short: a flash, a stream of consciousness. And later I reflect on what experience, what memory, is in that “gibberish” — kind of like decoding my own thoughts. Sometimes I have a complete four- or six-liner in my head when I wake up and that’s a poem that doesn’t need any editing. Almost all my very short poems are of this nature. A usual process of editing starts a few days after the poem is written. I like to revisit the poem every month or every few months, but I never let myself make any changes to the poem after one year.

What poets do you read and who is especially helpful or inspirational?

Just to name a few: Rainer Maria Rilke, Anna Akhmatova, Charles Bukowski, Theodore Roethke, Thomas Transtromer, Pablo Neruda, Robert Pinsky, Taras Shevchenko, and others. Often I read my less famous but still inspirational friends/poets. When I have writer’s block or need to find inner peace, I read Thomas Transtromer. For instance, I never tire of reading his poem “After a Death.”

What inspires you? 

I have to say nothing and everything. I am very hungry for life. There are times when I live with no time to write and I don’t even try to break my pace of living. And then there are times when everything slows down – it’s a time of reflection and involution, a time of inspiration and writing. That’s when I am most true to myself.

Nina Orlovskaya

Sunday, March 6, 2016

Inspiration and Personal Feedback

July 21, 2013
It’s been much too long since I posted in this space but the spring and early summer swept by as I ventured out to local book clubs and events where Crossing The Border was the topic of discussion. Much like my experience of living in Ukraine, listening as avid readers discussed my fictional characters was wonderful and a bit surreal at the same time. When I’m writing I’m so focused on the world I’m creating that for a while everything else fades into the background. Once the writing is done and the work has been revised a multitude of ways, it’s time to share it with the rest of the world. Getting stories and poems published in literary journals is one of the greatest thrills for any writer but you usually don’t get personal feedback from your readers.

So it was really eye-opening to take in others’ perspectives about Vera, Valeriy, Luba, Lina, Petro and the other characters inhabiting Crossing The Border. At times, there was lively engagement about why certain characters acted in the way they did or why the stories ended on a particular moment. One reader was worried about the elderly woman who braved the streets during the Orange Revolution to buy a cage for the lost parakeet that flew onto her balcony. Others described their favorite moments or the stories they connected with most. Some wondered if the stories were based on true experiences.

As I explained, the inspiration for my stories came from various sources. Some were inspired by images that I couldn’t shake such as The Bell Tower where I kept visualizing an elderly man climbing up an old set of stairs. I had no idea at the time where that image came from or even what country the story would be set in. It was a fun process figuring it out. Orange in Bloom was inspired both by a wayward parakeet that I rescued while living in Ukraine and by a news article I read about elderly women who cooked food for the thousands of protesters camped out in downtown Kyiv during the Orange Revolution. There’s always a part of me embedded in each of the stories but fiction takes over as my characters come to life. That’s the exciting part of writing – not knowing what comes next.

These real-life stories behind the writing of the book were recorded in a brief clip/montage that Megan Ammer filmed and edited during my book presentation at the Ukrainian Institute of Modern Art in Chicago:

Many thanks to the UIMA for this wonderful opportunity and  to the four book clubs in Detroit and Chicago who hosted me and/or selected Crossing The Border for their book pick of the month. I am so very humbled and happy by all the support and encouragement I have received from my readers and I am looking forward to meeting more of you at future events.

Spotlight on Natalia Erehnah, Author of Swan Mothers

February 28, 2013
In an earlier blog, I talked about featuring other writers in this space from time to time. Today I’m spotlighting Natalia Erehnah, who recently published her book Swan Mothers: Discovering Our True Selves by Parenting Uniquely Magnificent Children. Her book is fabulous on many levels. Swan Mothers is filled with wonderful insight, compassion and understanding as the author takes us on a journey through parenting special needs children. What enhanced the book even more is that the story is not only told through the author’s perspective but features other mothers, who in their own words, tell their stories so the reader is treated to various perspectives.

I’m the mother of a beautiful daughter who has special needs so this really hits close to home. I have to say that I was inspired and invigorated by the message of hope, acceptance and support throughout. Natalia Erehnah also shows various tips and techniques to handle stressful moments and highlights alternative methods of treatment. There are times when parents simply become overwhelmed by challenges that seem insurmountable. And yet in reading Swan Mothers, I felt comforted and strengthened. The book provides a pathway out of the darkness. I asked Natalia some questions about her book and writing process.

Can you talk a little about how Swan Mothers came to life and also how easy or difficult it was to reveal personal family details, i.e., did your role as a mother ever interfere with your role as a writer?

In the fall of 2009, I moved to Wisconsin with my family.  Having recently earned diplomas in Homeotherapeutics and Bioenergetics from the Institute of Natural Health Sciences, I hung a virtual shingle and began learning how to run a business by listening to free teleseminars.  During one such teleseminar, the speaker proposed writing a book, and I immediately knew I would do so.  Synchronistically, a Facebook friend posted that her writing coach was offering a writeshop for writers who were “at any point in the book writing process.”

At the writeshop, I was the only person who did not have a clear idea of what she would be writing.  I knew that it would be related to my parenting experiences, autism, and the natural health sciences, but had not written a single word.  I began writing in that writeshop, and went back for more, eventually joining a writers’ group led by Julie Tallard Johnson.  Throughout the year-long meetings, Swan Mothers was written, critiqued and edited.

I made motherhood and writing work together by writing while my children were away from home, either at camp in the summer or at school.  Now that I am homeschooling again, I find it much more challenging to create space for writing.

Regarding revealing details.  I am a private person, so I am surprised to report that it was easy to share my story.  I believe that ease came because the events relayed had been resolved before I started writing.  The only aspect of concern was that my story was about the journey of parenting, and thus, revealed information about my family.  I used pseudonyms for my children’s names and a pen name to afford my family some privacy.

The story of The Ugly Duckling is told throughout the book in snippets at the start of each chapter and obviously ties in with your book title. You also use the tale of the classic hero’s journey and compare it with the Swan Mother’s hero journey. It is a nice juxtaposition that connects with the overall personal stories of raising a child with special needs. What led you to this structure?

During the second writeshop I attended, my writing coach related the process of writing a book to embarking on a Hero’s Journey.  The term Hero’s Journey was new to me.  As Julie explained the phases of the journey, I realized that this archetypal pattern described my journey through parenting perfectly.  The structure for Swan Mothers came together within minutes.  While writing, I was looking for a story to use as a model for explaining the Hero’s Journey to readers.  As I read The Ugly Duckling in Clarissa Pinkola Estes’ Women Who Run with the Wolves, I was highlighting, underlining, circling, and writing notes in the margins.  I had found my story.  The title emerged later, during another workshop.

(My writing coach, Julie Tallard Johnson, has published nine books, including Wheel of Initiation: Practices for Releasing Your Inner Light and The Thundering Years: Rituals and Sacred Wisdom for Teens.  In November 2013, Zero Point Agreement: How to Be Who You Already Are will be released.  She publishes a free weekly e-zine for writers which I highly recommend.  You can subscribe at her website:

What discoveries did you make, either as a writer or as a mother, during the writing of Swan Mothers?

I was surprised how easy it was to write a lot in a short period of time (I wrote all of the “My Story” sections in two weeks while my children were at camp), and how long it could take to write even a few book-worthy words.  I discovered that it was almost impossible for me to write at the times I set aside for writing, and that if I did not write at those times, I did not make progress with the book.  Writing could flow easily or seem stalled for days or weeks.

I discovered that meeting with a group and having a good writing coach was vital to my process.  Committing to write a certain amount of words per month, knowing my partner would be reading, helped me stay on track.

Due to the support of my group and coach, and to the fact that the book wanted to be written, writing was mostly easy.  The road to publishing was more challenging.

I love your opening sequence and will quote a few lines when closing. You have a very engaging style of writing. What writers have inspired you? 

I fell in love with books as a child, and the writers who inspire me include my childhood favorites: Madeleine L’Engle, Katherine Patterson, E. L. Konnigsburg, and C. S. Lewis.

I read for pleasure, and will read almost anything with a good story line.  My current favorite authors include: Elizabeth Cunningham, Kathleen McGowan, Paulo Coelho, Marc Allen, Judith Prager Simon.

What other books would you recommend for anyone who has a connection with a special needs child and is searching for support and more information?

Drug-Free Approach to Asperger Syndrome and Autism: Homeopathic Care for Exceptional Kids by Judyth Reichenberg-Ullman, Robert Ullman, Ian Luepker and Bernard Rimland

I list many of my favorite resources in the appendix of Swan Mothers.  I also suggest seeking out bloggers and authors with the same or similar diagnoses as that of your child for an invaluable perspective on what it is like to live with a diagnosed condition.

You have a website at and a Facebook page titled Blessed by (Autism) Uniquely Magnificent Children, as well as a Facebook Swan Mothers Group (request to join). What’s next in store in terms of your writing and your efforts in helping parents of special needs kids?

I am developing workshops and retreats based on Swan Mothers.  I dream of a camp-type setting for retreats, where mothers can explore their parenting journey.

I am also working on two fiction books which weave together the stories of a modern-day woman, Anastasia Sophia, who is discovering herself through journaling (in the first book) and blogging (in the second book), and Talitha, who lived so long ago that archeologists have not yet discovered evidence of her people.

Thank you for inviting me to blog with you!

You’re very welcome Natalia! Thanks for sharing your thoughts and insight. I’ll close with a few opening lines from Swan Mothers:

For years I was visited by this recurring dream. I am driving south on a bridge in the Florida Keys. My children are in the minivan with me. The sky’s blueness is intensified by the whiteness of scattered, puffy clouds. Brilliant sparkles dance on the surface of the turquoise and seafoam waters. I am content, immersed in the peace, might, and splendor of the ocean around me.

Suddenly, my car is driving on air, as if on an invisible road running parallel to the bridge. I look around, terrified, and the pounding of my heart jolts me awake. 

Why is my heart pounding? Why did I panic? Nothing was amiss. The car was not plummeting toward the water. The sea and sky were as blue and beautiful as the moment before. My surroundings seemed the same. Yet the bridge had disappeared from under me.

Immigrant Fiction -- My Story

January 6, 2013

Now that Crossing The Border is out in the world,  I’ve been asked some interesting questions about the meaning behind the title I selected, as well as other authors’ influences on my work, and even if my Ukrainian background will play a prominent role in my future writing. You can check out my interview with Patti Abbott here, but for now I’d like to reflect a little on how important it was for me to discover other contemporary writers who came from different cultures and backgrounds, and interwove their personal histories into their fiction.

I grew up in Hamtramck, Michigan, a little city in the middle of Detroit, which was primarily populated with Polish, Ukrainian, Yugoslavian and Albanian immigrants at that time. I spoke Ukrainian at home, learned Polish choice words from my friends down the street, and played kickball in the alley with the Albanian kids from the next block over. My life was multicultural from early on, and yet when I first got to college, the stories we read and discussed didn’t reflect the diversity I had grown up with.
When I moved to Chicago, my literary world opened up and all of a sudden writing about my Ukrainian background was what I wanted to focus on. One day Harry Mark Petrakis, a Greek-American writer who had grown up in Chicago, came to Columbia College to give a reading and talk about his work. He was very dynamic and blew me away with both his presentation and the excerpts he was sharing with us. I remember that he was loud and funny, expressive and inspirational all at once. His books are filled with Greek-American characters and his vibrant cultural background is interwoven seamlessly throughout. I walked out of the auditorium that evening very excited and happy. Somehow that evening reinforced what I wanted to do in my own writing.
Afterward, as I started working on my stories, I tried finding other Ukrainian-American contemporary writers, but at that time in the early 90s, I didn’t know of any. I suppose I wanted camaraderie and to see if other writers from my background were tackling the same issues I was wrestling with. A couple of years later I discovered Askold Melnyczuk in the pages of a writer’s magazine, and in 1994, his wonderful debut novel What Is Told was published. Then in a small bookstore in Vancouver, I pulled out a collection of short stories by Ukrainian-Canadian author Janice Kulyk Keefer. I still remember that moment in the bookstore when I stood in the corner and leafed through the pages, eyes soaking up the words. Now, some 20 years later, there are many American and Canadian writers of varying immigrant backgrounds. It’s wonderful to be able to travel the world, as well as specific regions of our own country in this way, and discover amazing new writers.
That thrill of discovery–new writers, new worlds or even familiar worlds revisited—has all become easier with a simple click on a search engine. Personally I have fond memories of scouring bookstores for interesting new titles but there’s no denying how easy and effective the Internet is when you’re in search of something. And now there’s listmania and listopia and I am having great fun making my own themed lists of books. With that, I’ll close with a link to Eastern European Immigrant Fiction that I recently compiled for anybody interested in checking out great fiction with this focus. I’ll feature other lists from time to time since I’d like to spotlight other writers in this blog as well.
Happy reading!