Friday, October 10, 2014

Some Assembly Required

Most of the time, I work in 2-D. I prefer to work in an art journal or to send artsy friends postcards, ATCs (Artist Trading Cards), or small art pieces. 

Recently, however, I signed up for a found object art swap as well as a fabric art swap, and these two pieces seemed to scream out for something tactile.

This is the piece I created for the found object art swap. The house began its life as a cheap key holder I found at a thrift store. The door was broken. I ripped it off. I also removed the row of gold hooks on which the keys are meant to hang.  Next I added to the inside square with numerous metal bits and pieces I'd squirreled away: an orphaned zipper, a key, a squashed rusty bottle cap, row of fuses, a washer, and even a feather. Some found pieces of metal were mysteries to me. For instance, the two metal strip around the bottom and right side....what's their actual job? And that square at the top...what original purpose did it serve?  Eventually, I added a photo of my grandmother as well as sheet music to the outside of the house shape.

This is the piece I created for the fabric swap. I decided to work in the inside nook of a photo frame--the part that normally faces a wall. The frame was covered with a black, cream, and gray fabric. Next, I crated stripes with duct tape and fabric tape. Then I created the two girls and made their dresses by winding embroidery floss around the dress shapes.Their little heads suggested the entire color scheme to me. I rummaged around in my stash and found two old spools of thread that continued the color scheme. Finally, I created a cascade of different types of flowers. Several of the flowers were cardboard or paper. Two were made of felt.

I made the two largest pink flowers. This is a process I learned well while making decorations for my wedding last year. It involves cutting several different circles of a rayon-like fabric and then using a candle flame to melt the edges into ruffles.

Final touches included a vintage clock face, some pink beads and the whimsical lettering to spell "Create," which seems apt, considering that the piece is being sent to one of my artsy and creative friends.

Sunday, September 28, 2014

Out of the Color Comfort Zone

This week's Documented Life Project prompt is to use 3 colors you don't normally use.  To begin, I looked through a pile of "failed" Gelli prints I'd made. A "failed" Gelli print isn't ready for the garbage yet. However, it's not ready to use or to put into happy mail. It might mean I need to add more layers, or lately I've been adding to the prints with pen.

These particular prints made use of a maroon, yellow, and a pink-orange. Salmon? Coral? Rouge? I'm not sure. I had bought the paint at a thrift store. 

So last night, I drew over the  prints with maroon, white, and black pens. Then I tore the 4 x 6" prints into smaller chunks and created a pleasing background pattern. I had drawn a butterfly on one of the prints, but I couldn't position it in a pleasing way, so I cut it up.

Finally, I added a zetti-type lady. Suddenly, the colors seemed like Fall, so I added the skeleton leaf, the "Admit One" ticket, and the gold clock.

And this isn't a DLP project, but it's a "Old Hollywood" swap project.  I'm not quite ready to send it to my partner because I feel like it needs something...

Saturday, September 27, 2014

Bohemian Rhapsody

Sometimes I sign up for art swaps then wonder what the hell I've done. Recently, I came across a  "bohemian" swap, and instantly hit the "join" button. Yet, as of this morning I'd done nothing to get the swap completed. 

In a general sense, I know what bohemian means.

If I look up bohemian art or bohemian style of clothing or decorating, I get a confusing mishmash of hippie and hipster.

Wikipedia says, "Bohemianism is the practice of an unconventional lifestyle, often in the company of like-minded people, with few permanent ties, involving musical, artistic, or literary pursuits. In this context, Bohemians may be wanderers, adventurers, or vagabonds.This use of the word bohemian first appeared in the English language in the nineteenth century to describe the non-traditional lifestyles of marginalized and impoverished artists, writers, journalists, musicians, and actors in major European cities. Bohemians were associated with unorthodox or anti-establishment political or social viewpoints, which often were expressed through free lovefrugality, and—in some cases—voluntary poverty."

That's all fine and good, but it still wasn't inspiring me to create something for my swap partner...

Finally, I settled upon trying for a visualization of the wanderer/adventurer component. I altered a Moleskine notebook by glueing two pages together and alternately tearing out 3 pages in between. I went with a color scheme of black, white, cream, and metal colors.

And here's the result:

Friday, September 19, 2014

In a Good Place: My Collage Process

It's common for people to assume that collage is just the haphazard process of sticking random things down on a substrate. Collage artists know that's not the case.

In an online art group I'm a member of, I also hear of people avoiding collage because they "Can't do it."

This post addresses both mindsets. 

Each week, the Documented Life Project (DLP) provides a prompt. This week the prompt was to use a feather. My chosen means of addressing all their prompts is collage. So how do I arrive at a finished project?

First I look through my stash to find the bits and pieces I think I may want to work with. In this case, I knew I wanted to work with a feather a friend had sent me. It's teal and purple and covered in clear microbeads. Knowing the feather was teal and purple, I chose bits and pieces that would work with those two colors. I usually only work with two or three colors. So you can see that my color scheme ranges from light blue to hot pink, purple, aqua....pretty much anything that looked good next to another piece.

I should also note that I have certain bits I love to incorporate as a sort of signature: black and white photos, cancelled postage, measuring tape, lace, numbers, etc. In other projects, that means eyes, hands, handwriting, Gelli plate scraps, and sometimes a word to meditate on.

Next I lay down the beginnings of a background. I usually work in sets of three, so you can see I have 3 bits with purple and two bits that are hot pinkish.

 Before I got too carried away, I wanted to make sure I incorporated the prompt item.  I also laid down the measuring tape and the number 9, again working for balance of the purple and hot pink colors.

 Next I added a beautiful tag a friend sent me in the mail. I pulled some bits off of it and added a few of my own (scallops, a cancelled stamp, and some 3-D roses). At that time, I tried to incorporate a heart, but I find that I almost always dislike the cartoonish type of heart. Anatomical hearts are more my thing.
 So I took off the heart and replaced it with a rose.

 I gave some thought to moving the tag and adding the anatomical heart, but it didn't work.

 So I moved the tag back into its original position. Then I began trying to fill in the white spaces. I added a Gelli print I'd done on deli paper. I added some paper lace and the word, "Imagine." I considered adding a series of chevron arrow-type shapes in the bottom corner, but it seemed too much.
 It always interests me that my eye won't leave an element alone. Notice I moved the imagine higher up, and it looks better than if it was closer to the 9. Why? I think it's because the eye is able to travel all the way across the page from pink element to pink element: from the imagine, to the "la rosa" card, to the stamped rose image, to the 3-D roses. And the feather points to that visual journey, so we get the bonus of emphasizing the feather too.

 I worried about the little square of white space. It really stood out to me, and I felt it had to be something dark to balance out the black writing of "imagine," the black in the rose, and the chevron/arrow thingies.

I get "happy mail" almost daily. What's happy mail? Well, other artsy people send decorated envelopes filled with ephemera--bits and pieces--fodder for art journaling, or in my case, collaging.
I had just gotten a happy mail that day featuring another favorite of mine: typewriters. I love anything that hints at my other love:  writing. I used the typewriter to cover the white space and instantly felt better...sort of. Even as I type this, the black elements seem a bit unbalanced. There are technically 5 elements with black. All of those items appear on the bottom half of my page. I imagine I'll go back and try to add some darkness to the top portion. Otherwise, I won't be a happy camper.

So here is my "finished" product, which is to say that, for me at least, a collage is never done. It's in a good place, for now. From start to finish, from the moment I began rifling through my bits and pieces, until the moment I glued down that arrow piece in the lower right-hand corner, I spent about 1 1/2 hours of blissful morning alone time. And now my day can begin.

Saturday, September 6, 2014

Transforming Lovers and Tyrants: An Altered Book Project

When I look for a good book to alter, I'm usually taken by the title. In this case, Lovers and Tyrants was too good to pass up, especially for a quarter.

When I joined the "Anything Goes" journal swap, I realized that my partner might not be keen on Lovers and Tyrants, so I completely overhauled the cover. I began by adhering chipboard shapes to the cover. Usually, I use E600. However, I was out. I used PVA glue. I placed a weight on top of the chipboard shapes and let dry overnight in order to ensure they had adhered.

Next, I applied a generous coat of white gesso to the spine and the front cover.  When the gesso was dry, I began applying Gelatos to each chipboard shape and also in-between those shapes. I applied it in quite a thick coat and then used my finger to smudge. I tried to use colors that worked well together if they came in contact with one another. 

Finally, I wanted a sgraffito effect. What is that, you say? Sgraffito involves using a tool of some sort to take away part of the surface you've just created. It's popular in pottery/ceramics, painting, and drawing. And some of you might be more familiar with it than you know, if you've done any playing around with scratch board. Some even make their own scratch board by using crayon to color heavily on a surface. They then paint over the crayon (usually in black in order to achieve high contrast). Finally, they scrape the paint away to reveal the colorful crayon beneath.

To achieve the sgraffito effect on my book cover, I simply took a pair of sharp scissors and used the point of one of the blades to scratch designs into the thickly applied Gelato. You can see that I created a number of patterns: crosshatching, stripes, scallops, even words.

I love the effect, don't you? It's a little bit grungy...a little bit shabby chic, a little bit "doodle-y"--I keep imagining how that spine will really pop when my partner puts it on a shelf with other books.

Finally, because I've invested hours in decorating the pages within, I thought I'd share with you a selection of my favorite pages:

This layout is an experiment in image transfer. And don't you love the fish scale look of that Gelli print?

 Here we have a lady I found on a piece of Stampington  paper. I loved that Lynn Perella collection of papers. I hoard them!
 The round bit on the left side is actually a mark made by a potato masher. I have a collection of potato mashers featuring different designs. Lovely, don't you think? Oh, and the layers on the right side act as cubbies--spaces to place tags or other bits and pieces.
 These are more Gelli print bits. I've begun to draw on them with stencils--that resulted in the scallop-y thing you see on the right side.

 It's fun to use up little bits and pieces in this project. When I get out my sewing machine, I go crazy and sew loads, but then I wonder what to do with those bits. Here you see a half circle, which fit the color scheme that emerged.
 I like for an altered book to be a tactile experience. Thus, I tend to use things like corrugated cardboard and little tags and such that beg to be touched!
 Here is some more stencil work I've done atop a Gelli print. It's actually a flap that lifts up for "secret" writings.
 I'm pretty proud of the project. I love the bright color scheme and would be happy if I received it in a swap. Yeah?
And I couldn't resist taking one last shot of her before I took her to the post office. I felt a little teary sending her off.

Saturday, July 5, 2014

Fishing on the 4th of July

I have a confession to make. I spend nearly every holiday wondering if I'm a freak. I intently watch others celebrating a holiday, reflect on how I'm celebrating the holiday, and wonder why I don't want or enjoy the same thing.

Yesterday, after knocking around the house all day, my husband and I decided to shake off the cobwebs--to get out of the house for a bit.  But rather than staking out a spot to watch the fireworks, we decided to go fishing.

Technically, HE decided to go flyfishing, which I don't do, but I was more than content to go to a spot where I could walk around the lake with Zeke.

We drove to Medical Lake. Everyone in the town seemed to be at the mansions lining the lake. I could hear children squealing. I could hear adults laughing. There was the constant sound of firecrackers and bottle rockets. I imagined the scent of gunpowder and hot dogs.

And then I felt it--that same feeling I often get. Is it jealousy? Do I want to be at a party? I don't think any of my friends were having such lavish parties--and if they did, we weren't invited. I'm kind of an introvert who struggles to be extroverted even at the smaller, more intimate get togethers our friends have. Am I jealous of the kids writing their names in the air with sparklers?

I'm not even really a fan of fireworks.


I grew up on a farm. We raised wheat, barley, peas, and garbanzos. I remember the 4th as a time to fear. My grandmother's small house was ensconced by fields which by the 4th were tinderbox dry. Farmers feared fires caused by errant sparks or hot tailpipes. So the thought of shooting a Roman candle high into the sky seemed ridiculously risky.

I grew up on a ridge seemingly populated by old grumps. And I was one of few children who grew up in that rural neighborhood. I can recall my grandmother and I driving into Moscow or Lewiston--towns an hour away--to sit in a mall parking lot to watch city fireworks.  I can also recall her allowing me "safe" fireworks at home. I wasn't really impressed by sparklers, which seemed like painful aerobics. It was all fun and games, and you could write in the sky...until the punk burned down to the point where you grasped it.  It seems like all safe fireworks were anticlimactic. Put a match to what looks like a coal pill...and it will grow into a sizzling snakelike pile of ashes. Light the top of a teepee shaped firework, and it will erupt in a 30-second volcanic spark display.

It seems like the only thing that really got my blood going were the renegades--the fireworks that went wrong or the ones that couldn't be predicted. Case in  point: Ground Blooming Flowers. Had my grandmother known what they really did, she would never have allowed them. And thus I loved them. Ground Blooming Flowers remind me of a terrible toy. Do you remember it? It's a ball attached to a string, and that string is attached to your ankle. And the object was to play a sort of half-assed jump rope by fit and spasm until the ball makes circular trip. When it gets to the spot your other foot occupies, you jump.

Light the wick on the Ground Blooming Flower, and it whizzes around with no decipherable pattern. Jump out of the way when it gets close to kissing your ankle. But there were only so many Ground Blooming Flowers, and you can imagine it was a lonely proposition to be the sole child lighting safe fireworks on a faded grass landscape.

When I was a teenager, life on the ridge changed when a hippie couple moved in to the farmhouse a couple miles away. I don't think the farmers knew what to think of them. People reported regularly to my grandmother on their activities. If they didn't see those activities with their very own eyes, they speculated. And so when that couple invited the whole ridge over for a 4th of July celebration, I think every last resident went, if only to finally get to up close and personal to the couple they'd thus far mythologized.

I will never forget that 4th. I never saw so many pies in one place. I never saw so many men looking like boys. Those old grumps were taking turns choosing from fireworks spread on a table like gluttonous pyrotechnic buffet. They'd lumber out to the open spot in the driveway, hunker down, and light a wick. All the while, the other men would razz the one doing the lighting for not doing it right. I'm not sure I had ever seen those farmers move so fast or smile as much.

The McMahon's were perfect hosts. Betty had a pile of crazy quilts she handed out. I still remember the comforting weight of that quilt against my bare legs. I remember never feeling so close to my neighbors as that moment.  I remember feeling a bit sad when the buffet table was cleared and there was nothing more to light. Nothing in my adult experience ever felt quite like that.


I am 39 years old and apparently a party pooper. I have no inclination to go to crowded places. And if all of the trappings I see on this day are part of being patriotic, then I am decidedly not.

However, I am grateful for:

  • bright clumps of sweet pea growing everywhere. 

  • "tough" boys who ride by on their tiny BMX bikes--boys who soften when they see my dog and ask, "What's your puppy's name? Can I pet him?"

  • the ability to study my husband from afar. How often am I side by side with him on some riverbank bait fishing for trout? And yet how different he looks now, alone, cracking the whip that is his line. Deft. Aware. He casts and recasts. He opens the silver box studies the flies with the same reverence some give a particular book with thin pages. This is knowledge too. At one point he, I, and a deer are sharing the same riverbank. I am frozen and so very alive.

  • eye contact with a deer frazzled from the constant gunshot sounds littering the air. She pants. She eyes my dog. I found myself saying to her, as if we shared the same language, "It's okay."

  • quiet time in which to really notice things. Someone has built birdhouses and placed them where birds are fully capable of making their own houses. A bug on the water produces a different circle than a fish. A beaver's teeth are the color of an orange. One person's weed is another person's flower.
This lake is therapeutic. They must have known that when they built Eastern State Hospital behind it. Many times my husband and I have joked insensitively that this would be a perfect setup for a horror movie. What could be scarier than two oblivious lovers being killed by an escaped mental patient?

I find myself wondering if those patients have access to the beautiful view--not because I fear some deranged killer but because I think in the John Muir sense that everyone can benefit from fresh air, bird song, and legs moving simply because they can.