5 Questions with Lynette Richards

Interview by Jade Courchesne

Lynette has been cartooning her whole life.

Lynette chose Stained Glass as her professional medium because it was both a trade and an art.

She was fully aware, too, that stained glass windows have used sequential narration for over 1000 years, and are essentially, early graphic novels!

She is proud to have been selected to create large public art installations for the first Pride Library in Canada (UWO London ON), and the ArQuives (formerly the Canadian Lesbian and Gay Archives in Toronto).

Lynette lives and works in Terence Bay Nova Scotia. She owns and operates Rose Window Stained Glass. She is a Craft Nova Scotia Master Artisan. She served on the Board of Directors of the SS Atlantic Heritage Park and Society for 6 years.

1. One of the things I loved about Call Me Bill is that the reader is given the room to appreciate the seemingly mundane details of the everyday. Do you find, as an author and illustrator, that you notice the same in your own day-to-day life?

I am an artist who loves to draw. I often sit for lengths of time in place to sketch. Many times, I have experienced noticing something for the first time after many moments have passed, such as the fragile skull of a mouse at my feet, or soft light glancing off moss, creating a beautiful composition. The skills of sitting, observing, waiting are profound paths to outward discovery and inward self-discovery.

Some say, Don’t just sit there, do something, and maybe that is the right answer sometimes – to get the body in motion, but other times it is equally valuable to say, Don’t just do something, sit there.

Multiple people can arrive to sketch in the same location, and be moved to draw entirely different scenes, some close-ups, some landscapes, some abstractions. An action as simple as drawing a line around what we want to draw declares what we find interesting. It is worthwhile to pay attention to what resonates with us to learn more about ourselves.

2. In creating the novel’s whimsical dream sequences, do you have specific sources you go to for inspiration, whether it be through folk mythology, historical documents, or otherwise?

I have loved stories since I was a child. I love Fairy Tales, Mythology, folklore, literature, and movies. The characters and story arcs are pretty similar, yet still satisfying to revisit over and over – I believe there are archetypes that we can embody and experiment with in our imaginations. Having a canon of symbolic characters is a language that even the earliest humans utilized to help make sense of our complex existence. This is the basis of Art History. I think it is a real shame that literature and poetry are not part of school curricula from the earliest years.

When I am trying to find my way into writing a book, or making art, it is useful for me to deliberately think about the concept, or dilemma, at bedtime. If I am lucky, my subconscious will shuffle the thoughts around, and associate them with whatever else is on file in my dream world. This can lead to amazing dreams, and sometimes insights. I have to be careful to wake up slowly so they don’t vanish and write down immediately what I can remember. The dream sequence in the book is an actual dream I had while writing the book!

3. I especially admired the attention to detail in contrasting the lighter and darker shades of grey across the panels. In your experience working as a stained-glass artist, how important is a keen understanding of sunlight and shadow in telling an effective story?

Shadow and Light are critical in stained glass painting. Stained glass is the only Art medium that is illuminated by the TRANSMITTED light of the sun, rather than reflected light. The sun is incredibly powerful – recall warnings not to look directly at eclipses! So my job is to manipulate the surface of the glass so we are able to look directly at the sun – that means, I paint layers of darkness onto the glass, in shades of grey to black, and only uncover the bare glass strategically for twinkle and awe. Stained glass is best viewed from inside, while standing in the dark, with the sunshine on the other side of the window. That is when we become most aware of the light! It turns out this is a life lesson about not being afraid of the dark.

Speaking of archetypes, humans ARE afraid of the dark, likely from ancestral reality that we cannot see at night, but predators can. Combine that with the fact that, as infants, we are helpless – dependent on others for survival and I think that, whether we know it consciously or not, all humans fear abandonment, and it plays out as Fear of the Dark, i.e., Death. Stained glass is cool because it actually IS Gothic! It is an actual art from the Dark Ages, but ironically, its power is that the darkness makes us aware of the light! The life lesson is that we do not get to live with just sunshine and sparkle – we will experience dark times too, but the bittersweet intermingling of love and loss that everyone experiences that has the power to inspire empathy and courage.

All the media I use for my art employs heavy darkness. Before I came out, I had a long year of depression, during which time I made self-portraits, trying to reacquaint myself with myself. Eventually, like plants in Spring, I re-emerged as a fragile, tender new version of myself. I learned to think of the darkness of the soul as winter, a time of rest and gestation, preparation for new emergence. Because of that, I began featuring darkness in my art – and reframing it as a nurturing positive thing that enables transformation.

In Call Me Bill, I tried to use black, white and greys evocatively in every panel, page, and spread. Understanding that humans are naturally drawn to the light, I used the tones to move the eye around, creating rhythm and mood, much like music does in movies.

4. What advice could you pass on to a young adult who might be conflicted about their gender presentation, gender identity and/or sexuality?

I would like young people to know that we are all perpetually becoming our truest selves. If they are conflicted, try to be patient – be kind to themselves and know that they do not need to know everything all at once. Nurture self-love. Seek self-discovery. Play. Dress up, dress down. Dance. If they have reached a place where they are no longer conflicted, but are afraid, that is also familiar human experience, and when it is time to be courageous, they will know. Treat yourselves and your friends with love and kindness.

5. What’s next? (book/stained glass work/otherwise?)

I have a large job in my studio this year – 9 big church windows to fabricate and install by Easter 2023.

I also have turned my attention to a new graphic novel that will somehow talk about women’s softball in the 1970s/80s, and the Canadian law that threatened to take children away from mothers if they were accused of being lesbians.

Jade Courchesne is currently working towards an MA in Cinema and Media Studies at UBC. Her SSHRC-funded research considers identity formation and performativity within the Canadian-Chinese diaspora, especially looking at code-switching and language practices of multiracial individuals on screen. Her published work (Ricepaper Magazine, Film Matters Mag and others) contributes to the expanding body of anti-racist literary media through discussions on ‘good’ representation and ‘performing’ race.

Read our reviews of Lynette Richards’ work

Call Me Bill, Review by Jade Courchesne

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