Archive for March, 2007

“10 Little Ducks”

Read “10 Little Ducks,” written by Eric Carle, the famed author of “The Very Hungry Caterpillar” and dozens of other books written for kids. The premise of the story comes from a true incident when a shipment of bath toys fell overboard into the ocean. The toys washed up on shore all over the world. Carle uses this idea as the basis of his story and he does all the illustrations in his now trademark method of paper collage. These pictures capture the magical adventure of the rubber ducks lost at sea as the story follows their ecounters with sea creatures and creatures who live near the sea. The ending is very tender and a surprise for all.

$19.95 USA c.2005


Emily, My Muse

Poem 2, by Miss Emily Dickinson, is presumed to be the second poem she wrote for possible publication. It was supposedly composed in 1850, but not published until 1894, after Emily had died in 1886. Upon Emily’s death, her sister Lavinia went through Emily’s papers. She discovered a small box filled with over 900 poems, tied into 60 simply constructed packets with twine. Lavinia went to a publishing acquaintance of Emily’s and insisted the poems be published. So in 1890 a selection of 115 poems were published and well-received by the public. At least seven more collections with Emily’s original poetry were published, the last one printed in 1945.

Today I read Poem #2. Four of the simple lines gave me the inspiration for artwork and a few lines of poetry or non-fiction. The verse sounds quite like a kindergarten class’s recitation, so I will create an altered book featuring Emily Dickinson, with 8 to 10 pages using Dickinson as the focal point. Since I am reading a poem a day of Emily’s, I should have plenty of imagination fodder. I need to remember to print a few words on each page if not the whole verse. I also might create several ATCs using the same basic kindergarten art techniques.


Here is a little forest,
Whose leaf is ever green;
Here is a brighter garden
Where not a frost has been.

Using heavyweight watercolor paper or mat board. Cut a large-sized rectangle to serve as a collage base, at least 8″x11 1/2″, preferably 12″x15″. Cut remaining paper into several cards 2″x3″ to use for ATCs (artistic trading cards.) Since I am only doing 2 or 3 ATCs, I will put the rest of the paper cards aside to use at a later date.

Make the backgrounds using a technique with modeling paste (found at Michael’s or an art store, or through a mail order store like Spread the paste onto all of the papers, using a palette knife and covering the surfaces as if you were frosting a cake. Create a different texture by using the long side of an expired or junk mail credit card that has been cut like a saw’s cutting edge. Other textures can be made with a natural sponge, or an “art’s only” toothbrush or comb. Use your imagination and make texture on the papers until you are pleased with the designs. If you want a softer look, you can use white gesso instead of the paste, but I love the modeling paste’s peaks and valleys. They hold their shape and provide more texture.

Dry modeling paste completely. This will take several hours or possibly overnight. Pick two yellow shades of acrylics, ones that are next to each other on the color wheel. Mix some glazing medium or other transparent medium into each color, about 2/3rds paint and 1/3rd glaze. Apply the lighter color with a natural sponge, soaking the paint into the cracks to enhance the texture. While the first coat is still wet, rub the paint lightly with paper toweling. Remove paint from the surface, but the color remains in the cracks. When the paint dries until it is sticky to the touch, wipe again with damp paper toweling. Then apply the second coat of paint in a shade a bit darker and repeat the process.

Next, there are two methods to make the tree trunk. First method: Make a personal stamp using a small piece of linoleum block and cutting tools or a piece of transparent vinyl and an eXacto knife (from an art store or In this case, cut a stretched diamond, long and narrow, which will be used to stamp the roughened bark of the tree. Draw the shape of the tree you want, and using the homemade stamp, ink the shape with brown dye ink. Then add a slight (very slight) bit of black ink over the brown. Second method: tear a piece of a yellow phonebook paper from last year’s book. ( This is a wonderful thing to save for all types of mixed media art.) Paint a whole sheet of a yellow page with brown paint (you may mix in some glazing medium) and let the words show through a bit. Use two colors for more contrast if you want, but only if you use another shade of brown. It’s okay to be a little messy with the paint as long as you stay pretty much in the shapes. Dry the paper carefully, using a heat gun to speed drying time. (Do not hold heat gun too close, as the paper can burn.) Then tear paper — not cut, tear! — into the shape of a tree trunk kinda following the lines. Apply tree to the background paper or mat board using matte medium like a glue.

Take a small natural sponge, about an inch in diameter, dot in slightly dark green paint (so that it contrasts with the background) and splat paint in the shape of a tree-top, covering most of the width of the paper. Rinse sponge well. Then use red and pink paint to dab onto bottom of the paper to make a garden of bright flowers. Finally, accent with bingo blotters (, using green for the leaves and red for the centers of the flowers.

Nine Houses and One Bird

I don’t have all the details worked out, but here is what I have so far:

Cut mat board into 4″ squares. Decorate each background differently — collage or flat mixed media, different colors, paints and textures. Use a technique or two already detailed in this blog. (See under category Backgrounds.) Layer paints, spread gesso and then paint again. If you are using images keep them small, possibly in a pattern covering the square. When backgrounds are completely dry, proceed.

Draw a pattern for a birdhouse for each square. Only rule is the house must fit in the square. Make it a small house, a tall house, a squat house, a two story house, a many windowed house. Maybe add a chimney if you wish. Use each pattern to ‘build’ a house. Decorate the houses however you wish, but make them different from the backgrounds and from each other. Then draw a hole in each house so its’ bird dweller can ‘fly’ in.

Design one rather fancy, unusual bird. Maybe one with a multi-feathered tail, a sharp dinner jacket, a cowboy hat, a summer scarf, multi-colored feathers, a metallic bird. Be as creative as you want, as long as the bird itself is obviously a bird and it shows up well on the background.

Cover a piece of canvas board with a piece of fabric or paint. Glue the 4x4s to the canvas, leaving an inch or so between them. You can use Yes!, a strong white glue, to affix them.

Pick a birdhouse for each square, mixing and matching until the composition is pleasant. Attach the birdhouse to the background.  On the house for THE bird, make a painted perch out of a a small twig or whatever else you have around. Use an awl or Exacto knife to fashion a tiny hole under the entry hole and glue on perch. It doesn’t have to be too long, maybe 1/2″ long. Fasten the pretty bird to its perch.  Affix ribbon or fiber on the strips between the panels or leave them plain.

On the bottom, stamp words. Some suggestions: A House is a Home, Bird Home, One Out of Nine, Dwelling, The Shelter, Feathery Shelter, Flock House, or come up with a different name.

Stencil Fun

All kinds of things can be written about stencils. I purchased stencils, ones that provided both positive and negative space. (The stencil with the shape in it is positive and the loose shape that you can trace around is negative) for most of my art life. Then I discovered make-your-own  stencils and now my best shapes are  original ones. You can use a piece of cereal box cardboard or one of a similar weight. Practice drawing your cut-out until you are happy with it. Then cut it out and trace it onto the cardboard. Use an X-acto knife or similar tool and cut it out on a piece of glass wrap the edges even though they are not sharp, or a self-heal mat. Don’t be obsessive about cutting, a few jagged areas only make the stencil more interesting.

Some fun, store purchased stencils that have different applications and that are loads of fun, especially for younger artists,  are the 1 1/2 ” ABC stencils cut in a military font. These come in different sizes, I think both 3″ and 4″ too. They are cut out of oilboard so they are very durable. These are available at www(dot)dickblick(dot)com, which is a great mail order store for art supplies — cheap and fast.

To stencil, use a heavy bodied acrylic (sorry, not the cheapies) for the first layer, then a light bodied (cheap) acrylic paint for successive layers. These are the paints in little bottles from Michael’s that are under a dollar. They don’t have as much pigment as the more expensive paints, and show up a bit translucent, which is a neat technique.

Try stenciling through a piece of screen or cover a part of the cardboard with an acrylic mask to prevent paint in that area. Remove whenever you want. You can complete this project by adding a light spray of spray paint. (WARNING: Use only in well ventilated space, like a garage with the door open. ) Spread floor with lots of newspaper, but you know that, and dispose of the newspaper in a plastic garbage bag with a tie. Leave the garage while the paint is completely drying. And close the garage door if it’s windy.

If you used neighboring colors on the color wheel, or complementary colors, the background will come out fun. In this procedure, it is best to remember that less is more, but that tip depends on personal preference, as always.

Books for Inspiration

For a true dose of inspiration, go to the children’s department in your library or bookstore and find the following books. Search if you must, but get copies of them in your hands so you can open the book to eye candy:

A Seed Is Sleepy by author Dianna Hulls Aston, illustrated by Sylvia Long.
An Egg Is Quiet by the same author and artist.

These are spectacular works of creativity at its best. The detail in the artwork is quite remarkable and addicting, and the stories are rather sweet. Enjoy! Then go and create something!

Kindergarten String a la Bo

Loosely based on an Arts and Crafts Project from Discount School Supply which reminded me of my own kindergarten and first grade art projects.

Put 3 different colors of inexpensive (read cheap!) acrylic paint in 3 cups: try red, yellow, blue, or green, orange, purple, or if adventuresome, try any 3 colors you want. This project can be done on a heavyweight piece of mat board or on paper made for paint. Cut 6-9 pieces of yarn or string about 12 to 15 inches long. Dip two or three pieces of yarn in each color, coating nicely. Then using one piece of yarn at a time, arrange it on the paper, letting one end of the yarn hang off the paper about 2 inches. Don’t think too hard about this step. It really won’t matter how the yarn is arranged, but it’s a good idea to overlap some of them. Keep dipping and arranging until all the yarn is on the paper.

Cover the paper with the attached messy yarn with a second paper. Cover with waxed paper and place a book or other heavy object on top of this conglomeration. Hold the heavy object in place over the papers, and slowly pull yarn pieces out, one at a time. Zig-zag or wiggle the yarn for different, fun effects. When the yarn is gone, the project is done. Well, almost. Look at your artwork — don’t forget there are two pieces of art, top and bottom. Let dry completely before using for background paper, collage or assemblage work. Or cut the paper in 2 1/2″x 3 1/2″ shapes and make artist trading cards. You’ll be surprised with the results.

Emily, My Newest Muse

I bought a wonderful book yesterday, a solid tome of “The Complete Poems of Emily Dickinson.” These poems are in chronological order, which I consider a real plus. My plan is to read a poem a day (or maybe two, depending on length and depth). Then I’ll use an idea birthed from Emily’s wordsmithing to create an a-ha! inspiration for a new piece of art, preferably either collage or mixed media. I’ll try to do a piece once a week and post it here and on a Soul Food Cafe site. Also I’ll post my thoughts while brainstorming a new Emily Project on this site. Here is my first attempt.

The first poem was written Valentine week, 1850. The first three lines are the ones that speak to me.

The bee doth court the flower, the flower his suit receives,
And they make merry wedding, whose guests are hundred leaves.
The wind doth woo the branches, the branches they are won,
(And the father fond demandeth the maiden for his son.)
Emily Dickinson

Emily Project #1

The scene: bee on a flower, surrounded by 100 leaves. Use wooden shadowbox, preferably antique in nature (try antique stores, flea markets or auctions), but may be new (try Michael’s or a dollar store). If new, carefully antique with heavy acrylic paint, (coat one brown, coat two blue, blue dried partially then wiped off with rag, also ink and luminescent paint. Background ideas are: try gluing torn strips of a phone book (I still get blue pages in my phone book so I’ll use those) and covering with a light layer of gesso, fabric pillow ticking, watercolor paper wet well with water and spritzed with half light blue acrylic paint and half water. Or spritz watercolor with water until nice and wet, use light blue liquid watercolors to lightly paint much of the watercolor paper, then sprinkle with Kosher Salt and let dry. Could also consider taking dried, treated watercolor sheet and cutting it into 1 inch squares, then make a mosaic background. Before attaching the background to the box, map out placement of the tree placed according to rule of thirds. Perhaps the tree trunk and major branches can be made of found bark from the ground. Rule #1: Never pick anything off a live plant, unless you are picking flowers from your own garden. Plan on using paper leaves from the MM Company to dress the tree with exactly 100 leaves, making them appear wind-blown. Use a silk bee found in the silk flower section of Michael’s if nothing older can be found. Dress the ‘bee bride’ with scraps of white — silk, satin, ribbon, lace, fibers. Fashion a tiny veil if the right materials can be found, and fasten it to the bee’s head with a gold crown. Assemble. Apply background, then tree branches (paint more if needed.) Spread Yes! glue onto bottom and cover with coffee grounds mixed with greenery. Add some small twigs and rocks to the bottom. Place paper flowers cut and made 3D from my printed scrapbook paper stash (decorated on edges with complementary colors of dye ink and sprinkled with gold.) Attach bee to a focal flower. Add the first two lines of the poem to the background or around the inner edge. Find public domain (or other uncopyrighted picture to print) of a bumblebee. Copy five bees, glue one to each manila tag and tint in pastel colors. Attach tags to the bottom of the box on 6 to 10 inch pieces of fiber or ribbon.