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Rise Above

Rise Above

Rise Above

This is the companion to the collage I showed last week. I worked on them at the same time, and they have many of the same elements, like the lace, a piece from the boiled book, and a strong black line of ribbon with gold highlights.

One of the ladies in my local mixed media group asked me what the paper in the upper left came from. It is a warm brown with a light pattern. I tore a piece off the bag from fresh baked French bread that I bought at Food 4 Less.

A few weeks ago, one of the other group members asked me, “What do you throw away?”, after I had mentioned some other odd item on a collage I had made. I thought for a few seconds and said “The butter paper.” I know it should be used to grease up a casserole, but I rarely need to do that at the time I put out a new butter quarter.

I do keep a lot of things other people discard because they might be just what I need someday. My friend, Robert, tells me about once a month, that when I can no longer live here, my sons will come in and put my whole collection of junk in a dumpster. That’s fine, I won’t need it then.

On a more serious note, what I did differently on these two collages than I usually do, was to lay them on my work table side by side, and try out different arrangements of the items I thought I would use in the second layer. The first layer had already been completed and can be see in the Oct. 17 blog titled “Shifting Gears.”

When I had arrangements I thought I liked, I left them on the table into the next day, and looked at them again several times as I passed by the table. I was not in a hurry to finish them until I had a settled feeling about them. Then, I glued the loose pieces in place and put them under weights for about two days. The lace part took a long time to dry. After they were dry, I mounted them on heavy cardboard and weighted them again.

I had a good feeling about these collages. The best description I can give you is that I’ve felt like I’m out in the woods trying to find the trail that takes me out of the trees. I’ve tried some paths that looked promising, but didn’t go anywhere. Now, I feel like I’ve stepped onto the beginning of the trail that leads to the destination I have in mind.

To stay on this trail I will have to “Rise Above” my old habits. Like wanting to get something put together quickly. Like trying to squeeze the work in between house and yard chores. I need to tune out of the noise of our contentious culture and listen for the voice of my inner being, until I feel that sense of “Yes, this works.”



I don’t have a Halloween story for you today, but I can tell you about boiled books, which I have been mentioning the last two weeks. The process is somewhat like a witches brew. My local mixed media art group made these about two years ago.

We used watercolor paper, which we folded up into a packet, putting an assortment of leaves in between the pages. We clamped them together and put them in a large pan of water, to which we added a small amount of “Rit” fabric dye in whatever color we had, or wanted to try. They had to be weighted down with a rock because the paper wanted to float at the top.

As I recall, we brought the water to a boil, then turned the heat down to medium, and cooked them for several hours. We let them cool in the water. The next day we opened the packet, discarded the leaves, and set them aside to dry. The paper can be a bit fragile when it has been saturated with water for several hours.

We brought them to our meeting and looked at each others “books”, discussing which colors and leaves worked the best. I took mine home, added them to my stash of papers to use for something, and sort of forgot about them, but I see them when I’m looking for something else.

I decided to use them in a project for an online class two weeks ago because I wanted a dark shape that did not show a particular object. I used a page that was the outside of a package, and the impression of the clips I used can be seen, particularly in the collage I’m showing this week.


My original idea was to put something in between the two scraps with the clamps showing. I didn’t have anything in mind for the space. The rust + gold scrap was marking my place in a magazine I was reading, and when I took it out instead of throwing it away, I stuck it in the center space just to see how the color would look, because of that little line of rust on the clip.

Then, I went looking for a thin piece of something black, and found this wonderful ribbon in my sewing room that has two thin gold threads running through it. In order to get some of that rust color in another area of the piece, I used some oil pastels in the top left corner, before I added lace across the top. I also added a bit more paper on the bottom right, and a little white paint here and there.

I frequently have trouble finding a title for the art I make. This one was easy. I’ve been hearing the word “divided” all month, maybe all summer. Having different likes, dislikes, and opinions should not devolve into hatred. We are members of one nation with millions of ideas, feelings, and concerns.

The Opossum in My Yard

The Opossum in My Yard

On September thirteenth, my yard-man informed me that there was some kind of animal under a plant along my front walkway. I went out to look at it and told him it was an opossum. I don’t think he had ever seen one up close. He thought it might be sick or dead because it wasn’t moving. At the time I was busy with my son who was installing an overhead light in the kitchen.

Late in the day when I remembered the animal, I checked where he had been, and of course, he was gone. Opossums are known for playing dead. Later in the month, I had two occasions when I was in the side yard and thought I smelled dog poop but couldn’t locate any.

A few days after a hard rain during the first week of October, I was picking up sticks and branches under my big sycamore tree. I spotted a stick on the brick step of the rarely-used side door. It is not unusual for have sticks slide down the roof above and land here. As I bent down to retrieve it, I saw some kind of mess on the edge of the step and on down into the dirt under a mock orange bush. This area had been clean the last time I looked at it.

Before I actually picked up the stick, I realized that it wasn’t really a stick. What was it? Looking closer I thought I saw a bone. By this time, my brain had assessed the scene and flashed opossum, as I noticed fur, teeth, whiskers, more bones, and the tail on the bricks.  Ah! This was the source of the odor I had noticed a week or so before.

This was not my first encounter with opossums. In my memoir, I recount an episode where a mother opossum had her babies in our garage. I am pretty sure that an opossum has been eating oranges from my tree for years, and last spring, cleaning up, I found excrement from a large animal in a well hidden area, and suspected it might be from an opossum.

Opossum image on boiled book paper

Last week, as I was looking for collage elements, I saw what looked to me like two beady eyes above a long nose and what might be ears above the eyes, in a boiled book page. Apparently, cleaning up the remains of fur, bones, and tail has lodged in my brain.

And so, I found myself at 11:30 pm on Saturday night trying to make a decent looking piece of work. I had decided I should put in some dark areas first, and then decide how and where to add light areas. I added some dark paint around the torn image.

I also added a strip of lace for light and texture on the left side, but then everything appeared to be going vertical and it needed a horizontal line. I used paint to extend the color of the boiled book to the other side of the lace. I tried adding rubber stamp images to soften the paint lines.

It looked okay as I turned out the lights and went to bed. Getting into bed, I concluded that I don’t like using paint with collage to try and make it work.

Finished collage with opossum face

Sunday morning in the daylight, the dark color around the opossum image was much too blue. I liked the mottled section on the right side, and decided I wanted some of that effect on the left side. I was able to find a remaining scrap that I had torn off days ago.

Mixing paint to darken the blue area took some work to get it dark enough without going to black. I also needed to match as closely as possible the color of the boiled book piece, so that it appeared to be going behind the lace, and provide the continued horizontal lines.

This collage was made on tag board which did not work with matt medium and dried with ripples in the top part. I mounted the collage on corrugated cardboard using Yes paste. It was weighted overnight to dry, but the ripples have remained, although they don’t show in this photo.

So, one of this series I’m making for the online class is finished, and I’m satisfied with it. Before I tackle the other two collages, (the beginnings I showed in last week’s blog), I’m going outside in the sun and dig up more weeds in my yard.

Trying to Shift Gears

Trying to Shift Gears

While making breakfast on Sunday, my mind was busy pulling up ideas about what images I wanted to use in a series of three collages I’m making as part of an online course. I started with some background papers of colored tissue paper and neutral scraps.

Since this was a class project, I couldn’t tell what the instructor was planning from what she had shown at that point. Maybe I could use some pictures of birds or flowers was my first thought.

That thought got me thinking about my yard and all the unwelcome volunteers (plants) I’m in the process of digging up on the side yard. (Yes, I’m still weeding—after all, that is my “word for the year”.) I have hundreds of tiny three inch privet trees, palm trees, Pyracantha bushes, woody bushes I don’t know the names of, run-a-way ajuga, and of course patches of Bermuda grass in the regular grass under my large tree.

Next, my mind reflected on how quickly summer left and fall took over, even though the days are still warm. It is suddenly dark before 7:00 p.m. The house is cold at night. I need to shift gears so that I’m out in the yard in early afternoon instead of between five and seven.

And, I want to shift my thinking to more of what I want to do creatively instead of reviewing what has already happened. I find this incredibly difficult. It is so much easier to rehearse what went wrong, what I said, or what someone didn’t do, than to make mental space for what I could be doing now.

I understand why established artists and writers go to retreat places with meals provided for a few weeks or a month to concentrate on their work. I understand why artists, who can afford it, have a studio separate from their living place.

When I’m not reviewing the past, I frequently get involved in small projects. Sunday evening as I was preparing dinner, I needed brown sugar for a sauce. I have plenty of brown sugar but I couldn’t measure it because it was hard as a rock. I removed what I didn’t need from its package into a jar, went outside to the apple tree, picked a small apple, and placed a piece of it in the jar to soften the sugar.

A second small project was to soften hand soap scraps, collected over several years, so I can make round bars which I use for cleaning my brushes after painting or mixed media. Detours like these get things done that nag at me when I encounter them, but add up to chunks of time spent while creative projects wait to be completed.

Sometime Sunday evening, I recalled a suggestion I read last week in a library book which suggested looking at your own previous work when you need a new idea, and maybe that will trigger something. I also had the thought that I didn’t necessarily need to use an actual image of something for the class projects; I could use a color or texture for a focal point. I looked through some papers my art group did a few years ago and found some boiled books with colors that I liked which might go with what I already had.

In the process of this course, I’m using different adhesives, different paper, and a different way of thinking about images from the last class I worked through. I find that I’m not learning new techniques so much as comparing and evaluating the materials and processes and deciding which I prefer and what works best for me.

Instead of a finished project, this is what the three collages looked like at the beginning of this week. The dark shapes are scraps of a boiled book page.

Beginning of three collages for online class.

Obviously, I have a lot more work to do on them. Stay tuned.

Chasing Smoke and Mirrors

Chasing Smoke and Mirrors

In an online collage making class the instructor suggested we go through our box of images,

Are We Abandoning Our Birthright for Smoke and Mirrors?

and pull out those that catch our interest on an emotional level, even if the images don’t seem to relate to the idea we hope to express.

I selected photos of a campground being left by two figures, some odd land formations, and some light and dark patterns. On the bottom right side, I added a pile of rocks with part of our flag on the ground.

Like anyone who has even a minimal exposure to the news this summer, I’m exhausted from the nonsense.

There were the problems with the children being separated from their parents at the border. Then we had the fires all over California, and other western states, that were choking us with smoke.

We’ve had daily updates on the fallout from the never-ending Muller investigation of everything, which is turning out to be nothing.

Two weeks ago we had the hurricane, the effects of which are still unfolding along the rivers. Now last week and this, the unbelievable spectacle of the Supreme Court nomination.

We seem to go from crisis to crisis with little new followup on the previous incidents. All of this has me wanting to express my feeling that our government is abandoning our heritage for a display of smoke and mirrors.

This collage was made entirely from magazine pictures that were torn or cut and adhered to a cardboard substrate with “Yes” paste.

Detail Showing the Maze

My main image is what appeared to be a campsite that was being abandoned by two people walking away. I moved them further out onto some barren ground with streams of water. The people are looking into a maze that is surrounded by hazy black and gray patterns. They are surrounded by black, brown, and white patterns that don’t make sense.



Over the collage I added two coats of encaustic wax which adds a little haze and blurs the edges of the torn paper.  I’m pleased with the results – overall this is a dark piece – but I feel it expresses my feelings and concerns.

Are We Abandoning Our Birthright for Smoke and Mirrors?
More about Paper, Bark, and Wire

More about Paper, Bark, and Wire

Plaited paper with palm-bark 3-D view

One of my readers last week, Don, commented that he would like to see photos that showed more of the 3-D aspect of my experiments with handmade paper, palm-bark, and wire. I appreciated his suggestion because I was taking the photo straight on, like I would with a painting, and I had not thought about an angle that showed the elements that are not flat.

So here is the plaited piece mounted on a small, barely seen, square canvas.

3-D view


In the work that combines a painted piece that has cut-outs along with the paper and bark, the painted paper is secured flat onto the black backing. The handmade paper is mostly flat, but the edges curl up from the board and there is a part of the paper that arches over the painted piece and leaves a shadow.

3-D view handmade paper, bark, with cut painted paper



The bark-cloth is attached to the handmade paper in only a few places, allowing the way it dried when I collected it, to provide all the action in this work.



The third item made this summer, started out with a large handmade paper with extremely irregular edges, probably made with the last of the pulp on a large oval shaped screen.

Handmade paper, bark, wire mounted on watercolor paper

There wasn’t enough pulp to cover the screen. Being larger than the other paper I made, this piece has been sitting on top of the box for a very long time.

I threaded three lengths of thin copper wire across the paper so that I could shape the paper by bending the wire. I rolled up the two sides toward each other sort of like a scroll. In the lower center, I glued on a small wind-lashed piece of bark. This bark is all connected together by strong fibers even though it appears to be three small pieces.

Cleaning up under a crape myrtle tree a few days before starting this series, I had brought into the studio feathers and rolls of bark found under this tree.  Since I hadn’t put these things away, and I was cleaning up the work table, they were added to the piece.

3-D view

Of course, this item was too fragile to remain unmounted. I went on a search for something to use for a background. A piece of watercolor paper I had played with using a stencil and sponge painting caught my attention as I rummaged for something blue among sheets of past experiments.

I glued the blue paper to some heavy cardboard, and the handmade paper with its wire and bark was attached with gel medium.

The really fun part of all this is getting to use all the old, used, anybody else would have thrown it away, stuff I have in my stash!

What Can I Make with Paper, Bark, & Wire ?

What Can I Make with Paper, Bark, & Wire ?

Early in the summer, I thought I was ready to have some daily studio time. I had completed some unfinished projects, and weeded my book cases. I decided to play a bit, and see what I could do with three materials I have in abundance.

Paper, Bark, & Wire

During the winter, the neighbor’s palm trees are constantly dropping in my yard, what I call “bark-cloth”, and I can’t resist picking it up. I have boxes of this dark brown material that is thin, light weight, and flexible like cloth, but is also tough. It has openings, strings, and ripples in pieces large and small.

In 2005, when I was newly retired from my full-time position at the VA, I spent a week or so making handmade paper on my patio. I used junk mail as my base and added onion skins, asparagus, and other similar ingredients to the pulp. I used old embroidery hoops with screen cloth to drain the pulp. Thirteen years later, I still have most of these circular paper sheets.

My father, a ham radio operator, started building radios, televisions, and other rigs before there were transistors. When I moved my parents to California in 1996, he could no longer do this work, but had a large selection of copper wire which I added to my growing stash of art materials.

So I set out a small supply of these three on my work table.

Painted paper and hand made paper woven, with bark-cloth

My first action was to tear one of the paper circles in half, and slice one half into strips with my paper cutter. I plaited them together diagonally with some strips of painted paper I had left over from a basketry project. I tied a small, unruly piece of bark-cloth to the plaiting with some wire. Now what?  It sat on my table for a few days before I mounted it to a small, five-inch canvass with a mottled, neutral color.

That left me with a half circle of handmade paper, to which I secured a larger piece of bark-cloth with some wire. This sat on my table for several months until the week before my San Diego trip. This had now become another unfinished project.

A few weeks ago at my local art meeting we tried making cut-outs in paintings we had made earlier in the year. I used a small mixed media sample from earlier experiments. This was also now sitting on the work table. I decided to merge these two items and mount them on black cardboard.

Paper and bark collage with cutouts

I added a piece of aluminum foil with a wheelchair tire imprint which I found in the garage, and a leaf I had picked up last fall.

It’s not great art, but at least I’m doing something, which hopefully will continue. More on this playing with materials next week.

Dad’s Barometer

Dad’s Barometer

Dad’s barometer from his basement workshop

I don’t know how many barometers my father had, but I know he liked them because three of them came with him to California in 1996, when I moved my parents here for their final years. Of course, living along Lake Erie which is known for its quickly generated summer afternoon storms, may have been the reason he kept an eye on them. And as those things go, his barometers eventually took up residence at my house.

My dad was a “ham”, an amateur radio operator for 65 years. On the wall above his desk in the basement where his rig was set up, on which he talked to other “hams” all over the world, hung a wood plaque with a seven inch round barometer made in England. Below the dial, Dad had pasted a center slice of ham covering the name of some company. My father was always trading electronic equipment and supplies with his buddies, and he acquired this handsome barometer somewhere along the way.

Not surprisingly, I like barometers too, although one hardly needs one in California’s central valley. One of Dad’s bigger barometers decorated my garage next to the side door for about ten years until it became so weathered I couldn’t read the dial anymore.

I wanted to hang up the one with the ham picture in my computer/ shell collection room, but I didn’t want to look at that ham slice everyday. When I removed the ham, the wood underneath it had some painted writing partially scratched off. The only practical solution was to make a collage over the mess.

I could have covered it with flowers, birds, or butterflies, but I really wanted to have something that honored those traits I share with my dad: trading supplies and equipment with my friends, picking up treasure out of other people’s junk, and giving new life to odd, useful things.

Detail of collage on Dad’s barometer

I covered the writing with a grass-cloth wallpaper sample. The two metal stars at the top corners are part of the plaque, and I had to carefully cut the wallpaper to fit around them. The tan mesh in front of the gold foil is a chair caning material I have a roll of. The round grey/white thing in the center is a burned out light bulb socket. Other ephemera include an old buckle on a strap, a cruddy penny, and a wadded up piece of rusty barbed wire.

I used fine copper wire twisted to suspend a Tim Holtz blurb from the barbed wire which reads: “reality is limited, imagination is limitless.”

Detail of the quote
Catching Up on History

Catching Up on History

Old National Geographic Magazines

One of my impulsive “finds” at an estate sale a few years ago was a stash of National Geographic magazines. At the time, one of the members in my local mixed media art group was doing some interesting things with Nat Geo pages.

I go to estate sales on Sunday, when things are half-price, and I go at about 12:30 p.m. so I avoid the rush of all the folks who looked on Saturday and are back to grab their “must have.”  What’s left is the odd papers, rusty junk, fabric scraps, and home-made contraptions that nobody wants.

At this particular sale there must have been an entire collection of Geographics.

They were tumbling out of boxes on a small patio where people had been going through them. By this time, the women running the sale were having concerns about how they would dispose of them later in the day, and were encouraging people to just take what ever they wanted. They even provided bags for them.

So, I proceeded to fill up three or four bags of the ones that were easiest to reach. This was something I would get to “someday.” Since I didn’t have room for them in my house, I cleared space for them in the back of a cabinet in the garage. I stacked them neatly in order by the date of publication, which I noted was quite a while back.

When Robert moved into the apartment behind the garage, they were still there and I had other boxes of materials in front of them. Two years ago, when I reorganized the garage to give Robert more space for his photos, I moved the boxes, but left the magazines stacked up because he can’t reach that space anyway.

I hadn’t forgotten them, but this year when I started weeding my bookcases, and then began harvesting images from my magazine stash, I knew I needed to make a decision about this secret in the garage. Before Robert came back from Florida last month, I brought them into the house and installed them in some of the space I had cleared.

At the end of most evenings, I’m looking through one or two of these old magazines and cutting out images of interest. I’ve started with the oldest which was early in 1941 about the time my parents got married. I love seeing the old hand drawn ads. My boss at the printing company where I worked in 1964 drew like that.

I estimate I have about 138 of these magazines published between 1941 and 1960. I’ve never been

May 1942 – 2000 Ships

much interested in history, but suddenly I’m seeing photos of how the US is building 2000 ships in two years, how the women took over technical jobs and agricultural duties.

I’m looking forward to seeing what was happening in the world while I was a child. I’ll probably cut out things that catch my attention and do a project with those images.




In the middle of May, I needed to get my work tables cleared off so I could have space to sort the ephemera I have collected over the last two years. Ephemera— I just looked the word up in the dictionary—means “for the day, short lived,” and is also the name of a group of insects like May flies.

Mixed media artists use the word to refer to odd things that are attached to art pieces to add interest, texture, and complexity, fill in spaces, and give the work a personal touch. Some things that are commonly used are small artificial flowers, plastic gear shapes, beads, and ribbons.

For me and my collage artist friends, ephemera is anything we find that catches our interest, and appears to have been abandoned or no longer needed. For instance, I have acquired frames from glasses that have been driven over numerous times in parking lots, which are easy to use because they are so flat.

Ephemera & glasses frame on book cover

My favorite place to acquire and enlarge my stash is in the garages of estate sales. Dusty box lids or jars with odd nuts, bolts, washers, screws, extra pieces of things—junk to most normal people—can be had for small change. I also find all sorts of junk in my yard, even after twenty-one years. Rusty wire, nails, shoe cleats, hooks, as well as bird feathers, seed pods, butterfly wings, palm bark fiber, and termite sculptured wood pieces, to name just a few.

On my “To Do” list for May 15, was to put away the junk on the drawing board. I had been dropping things here all though March, intending to make a collage as soon as I could get to it. By May, I’d rather lost the “want to” feeling, but when I looked at the items, I quickly decided it would take longer to put each of them away in their designated container than to assemble the collage.

Collage: March 2018

The large yellow sales receipt is from the mattress I bought in December, 1996, which I had just replaced with a new one. I have been cutting up old magazines for months, and found an article about the San Joaquin Delta, just west of here, with a nice map, as well as the two square photos of animals.

The odd dark shape in the lower right is some palm bark fiber which landed in my driveway. The half circle next to it was found on my lawn. It is half of a label from a spool of wire . The twig in the center is from the birch tree outside my dining room. I don’t know which bird left me the orange and black feather. The rusty nail is the latest one I found.

This 10” x 10” collage is glued to watercolor paper, but still needs to be mounted on a stiffer surface to keep it flat.

Over the holiday weekend I sorted my metal ephemera, including some weird things in the garage that came with the house. I have it all in same size plastic containers, arranged so I can see what I have at a glance. Ah, the satisfaction of a project completed.

Until last Friday, when I went looking for a sprinkler part in the garage, and discovered a drawer of pieces for things that I no longer know what they came with. Some of them look very much like what I was sorting. More ephemera.