Sunday, September 29, 2013

Drapery rods on your mind?

So I was playing with this technique for a swap.

I have a love/hate relationship with swaps.
(do I write about this at least once a week?)

I get so excited about various swap themes I click YES-SIGN-ME-UP, and then get stressed by all the deadlines, and grumble that I'm not doing any "serious art" for myself, because all I have time for are these  *&%#! swaps.  But if I didn't have these parameters and deadlines, would I be making this much art?  I think not.  I think I'd be sitting on the couch lost in the laptop, and still not doing any "serious art."

Perhaps swaps are a very convenient excuse that let me pretend I want to make SERIOUS art without having to put in the time and effort and vulnerabilty.

Or maybe it just feels good to be silly most of the time.
There's a lot to be said for silliness.

Last Sunday night we watched "Nacho Libre" and I made this:

Tonight we showed Max "Life of Brian"
and I worked on this bit of fluffy frivolity:

Talk about silly.
But if I don't keep my hands busy while I watch TV, I fall asleep.
Having mom snoring on the couch takes some of the fun out of family movie night, so Sunday nights are about moving-without-thinking.

But not thinking is just about impossible for me.
My brain is on overdrive right now.
I have agreed to speak at a gathering of women this week.
My friend Marilyn is a life coach and all around amazing person and she asked me to speak at this event she is calling "Spirited Women Live"
Here's the description of the evening:
"Join us as we gain inspiration from four incredible Spirited Women.  They have found their way, although not always in a straight line, to an exciting, meaningful place in their lives-a place where they’re connected to what matters deeply to them and, despirte the challenges they’ve faced along the way, creatively move in a forward direction."

And here's what the flyer says about me:
Like many other women, Karen is fully committed to her career and is grateful to be engaged in work that makes a difference in the lives of children and their families as Director of the Southboro Extended Day Program. But, Karen has another side to her life, creating and connecting to people as an artist and blogger, passionately exploring that world to sustain and energize her.  Taking risks as an artist allows her to stretch and strengthen areas of her life that unfold in ways she could never have imagined. Take a moment and check out some of Karen's work.  and  
What on earth was I thinking?

All the old negative scripts in my head have come pouring out as I prepare for this event. 
I will be impossible from now until Thursday.
Best to keep my focus on the absurd:

Put an "S" on it

September was "Put an S on it month" in my Super Mail Artists group.
The swap challenge was to create postcards featuring an animal that starts with the letter S.

I chose Stoats as my animals.
I have to confess, stoats fall into the category of animals I only know about from reading "The Wind in the Willows" and as I result, I wasn't entirely sure they weren't fictitious.
Mandy assured me that yes, they are real, but no, they don't wear waistcoats.

As it turns out, they are not only real, but live in my state.  Who knew?
I have never seen one in my yard, but this week they are abundant in my studio.

(I might have to save this one for the "animals in chairs" swap later this month)

(this one has two S creatures - stoat AND sea monster.  does that get me a triple word score?)
 They're rather cute, aren't they?
They may be vicious killers of backyard bunnies and birds, but in my mind they will only ever be slightly dimwitted guards dropping stones off the edge of Toad Hall onto poor unsuspecting Toad.

Thursday, September 26, 2013

Have you ever lit your painting on fire?

I hung out with my friend Catherine Weber in her studio this week and she wanted to try a new technique.
After creating a background painting with encaustics, we covered the top with a mixture of shellac and gold pigment powder, and then lit the shellac on fire.
Here's mine:

The fire does the most interesting things to the shellac/pigment.
Here are some close-ups:

I love the way the gold just floats on top of the layers of wax:

If you look carefully, you can see lines and letters from some of the collage paper I used in the encaustic piece:

Below is a shot of the entire piece.  It's a 12"x12" wood panel.
I feel like it doesn't have a focal point and could use one, but I'm not sure what I can put on top of that shellac layer. 

Catherine's going to be teaching me a lot more about encaustics in the coming months and I'm really excited.  Even if we don't light stuff on fire, it will still be a blast.

Saturday, September 21, 2013

Here's what I sent in return

My contribution to the naked mail art swap:  A sock narwhal.

Yup - that's a stuffed narwhal, made out of a sock, sent through the mail without an envelope.
I made an address label out of fabric and stitched it to the belly.  

 It went to the fabulous Katie Cahill in Oregon, who loves narwhals, and who recently put an inflatable unicorn horn on her cat.  I was so glad when I saw she was my partner, because I knew she would appreciate the sock narwhal as much as I do.  I've been loving them ever since Max brought one home from his after-school program last year.  I made them with my older campers this summer, and one keeps me company in the studio.

Since I was in narwhal making mode, I decided I'd mail a second naked one to the fabulous Amy McD in Lousiana, in honor of her birthday.

But first, they had to annoy Jake.

 Here they are, behind the PO counter, ready to start their journey.
I'm happy to say both arrived in perfect shape in just two days.
I love the post office.

and sock narwhals...

Friday, September 20, 2013

Use it up

This is a post about piles.  
You know the ones.
The piles of things you "might use someday."
The piles of things "too cool to throw away."
The piles of things "too good to use."
and then there's the "inbox pile" - the stuff received/found so recently it's still in a little box on my desktop.

When the inbox overflows, I sort it and file it into the pre-existing piles, and add new things to the inbox.

I was using my scraps more regularly during June and July because of the index-card-a-day challenge, but things have really been piling up since then.
Proof that I can actually use my stash.
It's a tiny dent, but it's progress.

We had Chinese takeout one night on vacation, and unwrapped some of the oddest/funniest fortunes I've ever found.  They were too good not to save, but I will not save them forever.
"Though I am not naturally honest, I am so sometimes by chance."

"Most people, once they graduate from the school of Hard Knocks, automatically enroll." 

The postcards above and below feature old photographs sent to me by Indigo.  She found them in an abandoned house.  I'm rather haunted by these photos.  Who are these people?  Did they live in that house? Why was the house abandoned?  How many years have these pictures been tucked away, unnoticed?  Why didn't anybody want them?  What other treasures lie inside? (the land owners gave Indigo permission to explore/take things before the house is demolished.  How cool is that?)

anyway - I had the momentary feeling that these pictures were just too precious to use and I should keep them.  But for what?  I already have albums upon albums of old photos of people who were actually related to me that I can't bring myself to use, so why hold onto the photos of presumably dead strangers?  It was liberating to just glue the original pictures onto the postcards.

Stamped image of a canning jar sent to me by.....??? (damn, I can't remember - but thanks!)

Sent to my pie-loving friend Pamela:
words to live by

Sent to the delightfully twisted Lynn, who would not report me to child protective services for making jokes about babies and booze:
sign me up!

It's Friday afternoon, and I have that feeling of limitless potential that comes at the start of every weekend.  The list of art-related things I plan to accomplish is ridiculous and unachievable, but a girl can dream can't she?  Whatever I end up doing, I promise to take a few things out of the piles.

Wednesday, September 18, 2013

Weekend art date

I spent all day Saturday making art with Mandy at her house, and boy did we have a good time.  Three other women dropped by to play at various points in the day and it felt so good to be in the company of others who love paint and glue and creative exploration.

The day was sunny and mild and we sat outside at Mandy's big patio table altering national geographic pages with CitraSolv. 
This is such a fun process.  You never know what you're going to get.
Here's a big pile of our pages drying on the ground.
You can see close-ups of some of Mandy's sheets by clicking here.

Next up, collaborative spray painting!
Mandy spread an old sheet on the driveway, laid down some large pieces of white paper and presented us with dozens of cans of spray paint and a big pile of random household items to use as stencils and masks.

We were tentative at first - walking around the sheet, adding little patches of color here and there.  As we warmed up, we just started layering new colors and patterns on top of existing ones, and we forgot to be afraid to cover up each other's work.  This was really really good for my inner control freak.  I'd be quietly observing a paper that I really liked, thinking the colors were perfect and it was probably done.  And then someone would lean in with a totally new color and I'd think "Oh no, that's going to look horrible!" and then I'd watch and gasp out loud in delight as the piece was transformed into something even more interesting.
 In addition to the big papers, I'd brought a variety of post-card sized cardboard (mostly cut up cereal boxes).  If something started feeling too precious, it helped to remind myself that I would in all likelihood be eating more cereal tomorrow, and there would be no shortage of card-board in my recycling bin, and quite a few colors of spray paint in my own garage.
Below are some of the postcard-sized pieces we ended up with:

and here are the big sheets of paper (which we will likely cut up into more postcards, or journal page backgrounds, or collage fodder.)

 After Mandy fed us a delicious salad and some amazing panini, we settled around the table and started to work on our own stuff.

I decided to work on a swap-bot
challenge - making postcards in the style of the artist Rex Ray.
I ended up making more than a dozen cards as I got the feel for the style and interplay of elements.
Here's some of the ones I made that day:

Here are my two favorites of the bunch (and the only one's I've mailed at this point)

I stayed until it got too cold and dark to do anymore art.  Besides, Mandy might have needed a break from my chronic goofiness after 8 1/2 hours.

Even after my 90 minute drive home, I was still buzzing with creative energy, and I went into my studio and kept making stuff until the wee hours.

Art friends are good for the soul!

Saturday, September 14, 2013

Look what I got in the mail....

and when I say "in the mail" I mean it...

This wonderful altered skull traveled without an envelope from Texas to Massachusetts in a mere two days.
 My post office people LOVED it and were wishing they could keep it. 

The sender is the wonderful Lisa Vollrath who is hosting a Facebook-based swap group called "Mixed Media Mail Art"

I think I'm going to love this group.  Lisa is a no BS person and has set up a group for people who actually like to make mail art (rather than lurk in social media groups) and who do it because they love the process of creating/mailing and don't need a perfect one-to-one response rate on everything they send.  I'm optimistic that there will be lots of mailing and very little whining.

This skull was part of a "Naked mailing swap."
I have a pretty good idea of what I'm sending my partner and will be spending a big part of today altering it.  I'll reveal what I mailed after my partner receives it.

Meanwhile, my new skull is nestled on top of my file cabinet amongst many other random treasures that make me happy.

What's the weirdest thing you ever got in the mail?

Friday, September 13, 2013

Use what you've got

Our vacation house was nestled amongst tall pines and the ground was thick with ferns.  Early in our stay I picked some and flattened them inside a heavy book, and was able to glue them to some postcards a week later.
 The background for this was made with a styrofoam meat tray.  Even though I took two bags of supplies on vacation with me, I still considered myself to have limited resources.  After cooking for 9 people all week I had a lot of styrofoam trays in the recycle bin, and I grabbed one and started carving random lines into it with a dull pencil.  I really didn't have a plan or vision for what it would look like, but when I went to test it out, I serendipitously chose white paint and stamped it over a dark background and realized it looked a lot like birch bark. (which made me start thinking about what other natural materials/images I could use from my surroundings, and the fern exploration began.)

 When I had used up my small stash of dried ferns, I was still in postcard-making mode.  I didn't have time to press and dry more ferns so I decided to try using them as stamps.  I rolled green paint onto the fern with my trusty brayer and pressed it carefully onto the card. I was surprised by the level of detail I was able to get. 

 Let's try it with white paint...

I also tried using them as masks - laying the ferns on top of a green painted background, rolling white paint over the whole thing, and then removing the paint-covered ferns.  I stamped with copper paint on top of the masked prints.

I then went kind of fern crazy and made and mailed a big pile of these cards.
Before we left I picked some more fronds and they are currently being pressed in my huge dictionary.
I will likely forget about them and when I eventually stumble upon them in the dead of winter I will have a wonderful summertime connection.

Do you make art on vacation?
What kinds of local "supplies" have you used?

Wednesday, September 11, 2013


Though it's only been three weeks, vacation is already starting to feel like a distant memory.  The frantic pace of the new school year has me tense and tired, but a few minutes of looking at my vacation pictures slows my heart-rate and reminds me that life will not always be this crazy.

I spent the last two weeks of August in this house:

Looking at these views:

and laughing with these people:

There was daily swimming and many attempts at synchronized diving:

hours spent searching for treasure in junk shops:

(and here's one of my scores)

There was kayaking (once someone helped me get off the shore)
(can you see my pouty face?)

 and campfires:

and swimming in the pitch black so that we could lay on the raft and look at the stars
(only my beloved 17 year old niece could have talked me into that one.  It was COLD.  and did I mention DARK?)

There was this totally awesome ropes course.
(and yes, I did it too, even though that's Max in the picture)

There were jigsaw puzzles, and board games, and lots of homemade cookies, and the occasional (hahaha) glass of wine:
(washi tape is very useful for remember which wine glass is yours)
 There was lake-side letter writing:

and postcard writing on the deck in my pajamas:

The 95 postal ATCs for the "Mail Me Some Art" swap were sorted and packaged on the picnic table:

and there was ART!
I claimed this little entry way for myself.  Brought my own card table, and 2 big bags of supplies.
There was an absolute flurry of creativity.

I finally had time to make this prototype of a tri-fold ATC for an MMSA swap:
(inspired by my surroundings)

Tomorrow I'll show you some of the postcards I made.
Tonight I'm going to close my eyes and dream of Maine.