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Category: Mixed media, Painting

The Long Hot Summer

The Long Hot Summer

At the beginning of August, I was playing with watercolor, working my way through a book I had ordered from with the intriguing title “Painting Your Way Out of a Corner” by Barbara Diane Barry. I’d read a section at lunch time, and then in the evening paint the exercise, such as “Start with a line and let your brush wander around the page.”

The line wandered around the page.

Always before, I would start with a careful pencil drawing, so this was new territory for me.

Start with an oval to make a face.

The days were too warm to be out in the yard during the day time, so about August 7th I began cleaning out file drawers. This is an item that has been on my To Do List since sometime last year. I was a full-time student from 1984 to 1991. I still had papers written during my time at San Jose State earning my BA, and from J. F. Kennedy University working on my master’s degree. In those days, I used a computer as a word processor to write my papers, thankfully, because I was a horrible typist.

I also cut out magazine articles of interest and filed them. By now they are all out of date.

I also went through a drawer of recipes from magazines and newspapers. I haven’t looked in there for years because I’m cooking very little, make my favorites again and again, and it is faster to find recipes online.

It has been a very warm summer, with 2 – 3 days of triple digit heat every other week.  In my house built in 1947 with no central air conditioning, by the third day the heat builds up and it is very difficult to cool it down at night. We had 10 or more days of 100+ starting about August 12. On Monday the 17th, I was hearing about numerous lightening sparked fires around the Bay Area and along the coast. Tuesday evening, I noticed that I could not see Jupiter and Saturn which I have been seeing most nights in the southern sky.

Ash on grill on the patio.

The next morning, my yard man told me he was not using the blower because of the ash. By afternoon, everything was covered in black particles, and white, and grey dust from the fires. We are not near any of the fires, thank the Lord, but Stockton is sort of in a basin that catches smoke and ash from all directions. With that much smoke in the air, using my attic fan to cool off the house at night is not an option.

Ash on old table in back of the yard.

Cleaning out the files has been my main activity all month. Once I finished with the watercolor book, I didn’t start any new art because the file cabinets are in the studio and I was sorting through them on my work table. It was an interesting journey to read those papers I wrote. To think about what I had done and why.

I found a note I had written with a quote from Madeleine L’Engle in her book, “A Circle of Quiet”, published in 1972, where she uses the example of our bones as our structure that gives us freedom to move, to dance. . . She said,

“We are a generation which is crying loudly to tear down all structure in order to find freedom, and discovering, when order is demolished, that instead of freedom we have death.”

She wrote that 48 years ago.

To quote my exasperated dad, “When are you gonna learn?”

My last painting from the book.
A Series of Nine x 2

A Series of Nine x 2

Close up Dried Flax Leaf

One of the mottoes I chose for this year, long before any of us knew what this year would be like, was “use what you have.” Months ago, when things were “normal” I was working through a Jeanne Oliver online class called Wild Awakening which got me using supplies I had but didn’t know what to do with. Last week I was trying to finish up a series of nine mixed media pieces from that class, before I started another online workshop.

3 of 9

The nine items were pretty much done, but the watercolor paper had rippled and they needed to be mounted on something. I considered using stretched canvas but I would have to order them and my pages were 11in. x 14.5 in. not the standard 11 x 14. So, I went through my house and the backyard storage building, and found a half box of those storage boxes you get at office supply for file folders. The lids were the right weight of cardboard and there were nine of them.

3 more of 9

After trimming them to size, I still had the problem of how to hang them. I had come across some old wooden blind slats while searching for the cardboard. The slats had holes in them for the cords. I trimmed them so the hole would be in the center and they would be an inch wider than the 11 in. paper.

Close up of hanging bar

I used waxed linen on either side of the slat, tied an overhand knot, and left the cords three inches long which was inserted between the paper and the cardboard when I glued them together.

The rest of the 9

I put weight on each piece for two days, hoping to keep them flat, but the gluing wasn’t perfect. I inserted glue into the blips along the edges and clipped them with clothes pins to dry overnight.

Closeup of dried flax leaf

Once these nine pages were mounted, I added a dried-up flax leaf to each one. I had trimmed the New Zealand Flax plant two weeks ago and I’m fascinated how some of these leaves bunch up in the center, each one slightly different.

Series of 9 in living room

I lined up all nine on the living room floor so I could see what they looked like.


Meanwhile, I had cleaned out my drawer where I keep seed packets and found some heirloom tomato seeds, I had saved on paper towels, probably about six years ago. On a whim, I planted a few from each towel in small cups. To my delight, some of them sprouted.

Tomato seeds sprout

By last Friday, the tomato plants needed to be put into larger pots. I searched in the garage and tool shed for some bigger pots, but I haven’t saved any pots when I buy plants the last few years because I haven’t been starting seeds. It didn’t seem worth the effort for the return I was getting.

Then, I remembered I had seen the neighbor across the street planting something from small pots earlier in the week. I called them and asked if they had nine pots I could use. His wife brought them over to me and we had a short visit at the curb.

Tomato plants in bigger pots yesterday

I know it is late to be starting tomato plants, but it stays warm until October or later where I live.

Now, if I can devise a way to keep the squirrels from stealing my almost ripe strawberries . . .

This is a really good time to creatively use what you already have – we are all inventors.


New Prayer Flags

New Prayer Flags

Detail of new Prayer flags seen from the yard.

On the first of August, my local mixed media group made prayer flags. Our hostess had cut out rectangles of fabric for us to work on so they would all be the same size. Our group has a custom of making these flags when one of our members needs our prayerful support, and give them to her to enjoy.

The first time I made prayer flags at home I used a fairly heavy fabric, probably about twelve inches by fifteen inches, and strung them on a thick cord so I could hang them in my yard between trees.

The next summer, when I was in the mountains with the basket makers, one of the members brought supplies and even a sewing machine so we all could make flags out of silk. We painted them with Dye-na-Flow fabric dye, working outdoors under the towering trees. We painted a ten inch strip about forty inches across. When they were dry, we sewed bias tape across the top so they could be hung up when we got home. We made three cuts in the painted silk fabric, upward from the free side to the bias tape, so they would flap in the breeze.

I hung mine across the beam on my carport, just outside my kitchen window, where I see them every day. After about two years they began to shred in the winter storms. I retrieved the pieces to use in collage.

Two years ago when I visited my son and my three granddaughters, I took acrylic paint and silk fabric with me and we painted prayer flags outdoors. The girls hung them in their bedroom windows. I brought mine home and replaced the old ones which were nearly gone.

The rains this past spring trashed what was left of those flags. I had already put “New Prayer Flags” on my summer to-do list, so last week I got out some odd fabric and made another set. I’m not sure where my silk fabric is, and didn’t want to search for it. This fabric is dressy, probably a polyester, in a pale pastel orange, with a woven pattern. These are also a longer length than the previous ones I made.

I never quite know what to paint on the flags, and the dye is somewhat tricky to control, since I don’t use it often. I decided to try some stencils. I was pleased that the dye worked well with the stencils. I attached an extra long length of bias tape across the top so I could hang a bell on each side of the flags. I only made two cuts this time because I didn’t plan where the cuts would go before I painted. When the Delta Breeze is blowing, I sometimes here the bells ring.

Prayer Flags seen from my kitchen window.

Once I got my new flags installed, I got started on the rest of my to-do list. I’m in the process of a reorganization of the closet and cupboard spaces. I’ve been trying on garments I no longer wear, many of which no longer fit well because my body has changed shape. My feet no longer like most of the shoes I have enjoyed wearing for years.

The rest of this week is supposed to be very hot, so I won’t be doing much outside. From what I hear on the radio, much of the nation is having a hot summer.

I’m still working with my shell collection, going through family by family, trying to correctly identify each shell and updating both the handwritten log and the digital record.

And I may even get to some collage making. Stay cool and make some art!


Walk-by Mixed Media

Walk-by Mixed Media

This began with a zipper style sandwich bag, containing a small slice of French bread, being left on top of a toaster oven. I needed some extra counter space one day and tossed it up there. Later that evening, someone else didn’t notice it and used the oven, resulting in a lamination of sorts. I was able to carefully peel the bag off the oven top, and immediately decided it would be included in an experiment of mixed media art.

Laminated plastic bag

Over the last week we have had a few days without rain and I have been busy finishing up winter chores outdoors. Since my studio is in an open room right off the kitchen, I saw the toasted bag every time I walked past my work table. Knowing I wouldn’t have time to begin another extensive art project, I thought about how I might use this bag. I went looking for a base that already had something I started but never used. I found an 11” x15” cardboard with a black surface on which I had made a textured shape of a starfish using white plaster.

I put this on the work table next to the bag. After numerous trips past it, I got up one morning and decided to paint the plastered part with some Golden Ultramarine Violet acrylic. After more walk-by’s, I added some Golden Interference Blue to highlight the purple shape. To the left side of the starfish, I added a narrow tag board rectangle that I had painted last summer with gesso and a bit of paint which covers an ad.

Painted starfish
In this condition, it sat on my table for a day or two as I went in and out of the house walking past it uncounted times. It needed something else before I added the bag, but what could I do quickly that would pull things together?

Going in and out of the yard, and looking out my kitchen window, I watch my silk prayer flags flying in the wind all day. They have been shredded by the many windy days this winter. I’ve been picking up the shreds and bringing them inside to use in something.

By laying some pieces over the board, I could guess how they might look. I was hoping the starfish would show through somewhat. Three scraps were glued on with acrylic medium, which goes right through the fabric, so I just dabbed it onto the fabric as it lay over the plaster and the rest of the board. I covered it with wax paper and weighted it to dry overnight. 

I was somewhat disappointed that I couldn’t see most of the starfish the next morning, because the paint on the fabric was dense enough to block the purple. I added a hint of the Interference where I knew the plaster was. Then I glued on the cooked plastic bag with soft gel, weighted it again, and let it dry.

I set the piece up so I could view it from a distance. I thought it still needed a little something. I considered a thin white strip on the right edge to kind of balance the white on the left side. That would draw too much attention, so I added some scribble with colored pencils.

Plastic Ocean

“Plastic Ocean” had no design plan other than to use the damaged bag. It evolved as I walked by it many times a day asking “What if …?”  This doesn’t make great art, but keeps the mind working.   Art therapy indeed.

Crafting a Valentine

Crafting a Valentine

A Stand-up Valentine

In February, for most of the last 23 years, I have made a valentine for my friend Robert. He is an appreciator of art, and I can say exactly what I want to say when I make it myself.

Last year was an exception. I was at Walgreen’s looking for birthday cards for two of my granddaughters, when I happened to find a beautiful valentine card that said what I was thinking, in a much better way than I could have said it.

This year, I didn’t know what I wanted to say, but the valentine started to evolve anyway. In January, the leader of my local art group asked us to bring some 4” x 4” square pieces decorated with hearts of some kind, to be mounted into one large piece.

Two of squares with hearts cut from decorated paper

I made my four squares on watercolor paper by cutting heart shapes out of scraps of printed papers.  The tiny hearts are sequins. However, the morning of the meeting to assemble the large display, I was too exhausted from yard work the day before and went back to bed. I took them to the next meeting, but she didn’t need them.

Last Thursday, the group was using spray paint and stencils on some paper hearts. I brought the squares and spray painted the back sides, hoping to come up with an idea of how to make these into a valentine for this year.

Fortunately, we have had a lot of rain days, so I had time to come up with a way to connect the squares together. Since both sides were decorated, I couldn’t just apply hinges like I would have if I had actually planned the project from the beginning.

I laid out the four squares so that the cut hearts alternated with the spray painted sides. I have a roll of white Tutu fabric from an estate sale, from which I cut three strips about 1¼” inch wide.

Hinge connecting two squares before Tutu fabric is trimmed

I glued half of a strip to the left side of the spray painted square with matt medium. I glued the second strip onto the right side of that same square. The third strip was pasted on the left side of another spray painted square. I had to let this dry, and then turn it all over in the correct order, so I could work on the other side.

I pulled the unpasted sides of the fabric between the squares and glued them to the spray painted edges on this side. I let them dry, with some weight, over night. In the morning, I trimmed off the excess fabric. This makes an almost invisible hinge that can be bent either way.

Spray painted squares with words

Then, I had to come up with some words, which I typed and printed from the computer. After cutting around each phrase as close to the letters as possible, I used “Yes” paste to secure them to the spray painted squares.

To soften the white printer paper, I used a pale peach color watercolor pencil to lightly tone the paper, and blended it with a damp paint brush.

This has been one of the simpler valentines I have made for my man. It stands up easily as a table decoration. The hardest part was deciding what to say.

The back side

Have a Happy Valentine’s Day

A Glance Back, a Peek Ahead

A Glance Back, a Peek Ahead

I started 2018 by choosing the word “Weed” as my word for the year and I did all kinds of weeding in the yard, in my eleven bookcases, and in my closet. I’m still finding cupboards and drawers that could use some cleaning out, but they will have to wait.

I went through approximately a nine foot stack of old magazines cutting out pictures and discarding the rest. I’ve done such a good job of staying on top of this, that Saturday evening when I needed some magazines to select random images that appealed to me for a quick exercise in a book I was reading, I could find only one magazine in the recycle bin.

I began the year completing one or more unfinished projects that had been hiding here and there, as well as finishing an online collage course I had started in fall of 2017. I went through the rest of the year feeling like I wasn’t putting in the studio time I wanted to.

A quick inventory on Sunday of the work I did counted fifteen collages using a variety of materials, and two baskets made from the Watsonia I harvested from the garden in September. I completed two additional online courses, attended the Basket and Gourd two-day conference in Visalia, and led one activity for my local mixed media group.

The week between Christmas and New Year’s has had two primary activities—get the big leather-like Sycamore leaves out of the back and side yard into the street for pick-up tomorrow, and in the evening when I was exhausted from the leaves, set some art goals for 2019.

My inspiration board for the last three years.

First, I have a room divider in the studio that is also a place where I can hang things that inspire me. Nothing has changed on it since 2015; past time for something new to look at.

I have been thinking about a yard art project for over a year which involves many small items I have collected that are no longer useful. In the last few months I have been planning how to actually do it, and acquiring parts for it.

Many years ago when I lived in Cincinnati, I did some plein air painting and really liked it. But then I had my first baby and it was too much trouble to leave the house to paint. On Saturday, while raking up leaves, I stubbed my foot twice on a tree root in a place I walk often. I covered it with one of those square milk carton carriers which will make a perfect place to sit and paint in my yard.

Safety solution – a seat for plein air painting

On my computer is a digital book on how to use cold wax. I finally got around to ordering some cold wax, so I can try using it as I watch the lesson. I have one more online collage course lined up, which I hope to begin on Friday of this week.

In 2018, I have acquired as gifts or at estate sales, eight wonderful books about various artists that I’m eager to read, perhaps at lunch time, or instead of Facebook.

Art books waiting to be read

These are enough ideas to get me going. I’m praying for a lot of rain in the next few months, so I don’t spend all winter working outside like last year. I think it is important to write out some specific ideas for the creative work, and to leave some space for new ideas and opportunities to emerge.

Wishing you a Creative New Year!

Noticing a Brilliant Blue Sky

Noticing a Brilliant Blue Sky

Mixed media substrates on wood, paper, and cardboard

On Friday, July 27, about 1:00 p.m. I drove into the Livermore – Pleasanton area and marveled at how blue the sky was as I descended from the Altamont. On the way back home about an hour and a half later, I drove through the back roads as has been my habit ever since I commuted into Livermore daily in the early 2000’s. I enjoy checking on the crops, seeing the animals, and the circling hawks.

Altamont Pass Road winds through the golden sun-baked hills which now are mostly black from grass fires. I again thrilled at the blue sky behind the turning, white, windmill blades. The road joins Grant Line a short way before it crosses the two canals that move water south through the central valley. Between the canals is the Mountain House Bar & Grill where Altamont Road heads north and Grant Line continues east.

Gesso with mesh on cardboard

There is a little rise in the road as it goes over the second canal, and from there I can look out over the whole valley between Tracy and Lodi up to the north. There is a grey-purple blanket hovering over the Central Valley. The sky in Stockton has been a dirty white all week. To the west of us there was a fire on Wednesday and the air smelled of smoke on Thursday. The Yosemite area to the east of us has been burning all week. Friday, Redding, quite a bit north of us, was burning. No matter which way the air moves, we get the smog.

This summer we have had a breeze almost every day, and some days it has been windy, but by the end of the week little air was moving. My plan for last week had been to put in as much yard time as I could, to get finished with the spring clean up which I normally complete in May. The part of the yard that isn’t cleaned yet is in sun all afternoon. With the temperature near 100º, I’m only out there from 6:30 p.m. to almost dark.

A week ago, I had set out materials on my work table for making collage, but couldn’t seem to make

Gesso with marks and paint wash

a start. I decided to look at a mini-course on Jeanne Oliver’s network ( called “Inquire Within”, where the instructor starts with her method of preparing a surface which can be scratched into leaving marks when it dries. Or, the gesso mix can be put on through a stencil to add texture in a specific pattern. She uses gesso thickened with plaster of Paris, which I don’t have, but I mixed in baking soda instead.

I applied her method to eight different surfaces: watercolor paper, wood panels, and several kinds of cardboard. After the gesso dries, she rubs acrylic paint on the surface and then wipes off most of the paint before it dries, leaving a light color tone with darker areas where the scratch marks or a stencil were used.

Gesso through stencil on wood

Most of what she is doing is basic stuff I’ve heard or seen before, but it is good to refresh my memory and get me actually doing something with materials. In the next videos she demo’s selecting images and parts of photos and how she incorporates them into a piece so they don’t look like magazine cutouts.

While she is instructing on technique, she is talking through her process of choosing and combining images, deciding where to paint, then changing her mind and doing something else. She reverses something that doesn’t work out well, and applies a different technique. Hence, the title: “Inquire Within” by checking with her inner feeling about the piece as she goes along.

Gesso stencil on watercolor paper

Canvas on cardboard with gessoed stencil

So far I only have substrates waiting for images, but at least I’ve started some work. It doesn’t look like the heat and bad air are going away anytime soon.

Gesso and paint on wood with string that was on the brush


Maybe I’ll actually complete something.



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.


Treasure in Stockton

Treasure in Stockton

Stockton, California, roughly seventy miles east of Oakland, is frequently associated with crime and bankruptcy, but this city of over 300,000 souls has a number of wonderful gems including an excellent private university, a symphony orchestra, a theater producing live plays, and an art museum set in a lovely park.

Haggin Museum

The Haggin Museum, built in 1931 and renovated last year, hosts the Stockton Art League Juried Exhibition in even numbered years, this year being the League’s 60th Annual Show. The show opening last Thursday evening was open to the public and I went to see what is happening art-wise in the area. The show has been attracting some attention nationally, but most of the work is from California.

Best of Show award went to “January Oranges” an oil painting by Carolyn Lord of Livermore, who usually has watercolors in this show. Tony Segale of Lodi won a second place for a busy looking Chinese watercolor. I’m always happy to see local artists win some of the awards.

Mixed Media and Graphics were combined for this exhibit, so this category included drawings, work that used many different paints and mark making, and even works on fabric. Jean Judd of Cushing, Wisconsin made a finely stitched blue-gray hanging, “Rusted Lace #5” which I first thought was a quilt, but the fabric had been either printed or painted with a red-brown elusive shape in the center. I liked it because of the fine careful sewing which I could never do.

There are two small pieces in black, gray, and white of layered board which didn’t make sense to me until I saw them from across the room. Up close they are just abstract. From a distance a face appears as if the head is thrown back. Very unusual. How do artists come up with these ideas? They were made by Shelly Castillo Garcia here in Stockton.

I was fascinated by the Self Portrait of Marilyn Eger of Lockeford, California. I saw her demo at two Art League meetings some years ago. The large oil painting was a canvas filled with 1¼ inch squares, each with a circular shape made with a mix of colors on the brush. The colors are much lighter to form the face that emerges from the dark multi-colored background, and it is a good likeness of her. This won one of the nine special awards.

A good laugh is not what one expects to find in an annual show, but one was provided by Ann Zinck of Stockton. Her watercolor, “Chair Studies:” won an Honorable Mention. This small work has four framed pictures of chairs lined up horizontally, painted in the colors and style of: “After Van Gogh, After Valadon, After Hockney, After Cats”. After Cats shows a chair with shredded upholstery with the cat sitting on the floor beside it.

This is an excellent show, Juried by Sabina Turner. It will be at the Haggin Museum until July 15. If you are near Stockton you should take yourself to see it. Museum admission is free the first Saturday of each month.

Painting the Exuma House

Painting the Exuma House

Having a strong desire to make a painting, or several, of a building I saw on a shell collecting trip to Exuma in the Bahamas stayed with me for several years, as I related last week.

The first thing that caught my attention with this building was the color. It had a turquoise color door with a green door frame. The paint was peeling. The hinges were rusted. Part of the roof had been torn off by storms, and sunlight was streaming into the interior.

Young man sitting in window of house on Exuma

When I went back to take photos two days later, I was surprised to see a young man sitting in one of the windows. They were actually openings in the walls; the glass, if there had been any, was long gone. He had a soda and was smoking. I started taking pictures of the outside from different angles. I thought he might leave, but he didn’t. I didn’t have a lot of time to do this, so I ignored him.

This was probably a hangout for the teens on the island. There appeared to be some trash in a corner. The inner walls were stained with what looked like mold. Because the sun was streaming through the broken roof, I could get some shots with parts of the illuminated interior, framed by the door.

When I began to paint while looking at my photos, I was trying to reproduce the peeling paint, showing the different under-layers. After a few paintings of peeling paint, I became interested in the light coming through the broken roof. Getting the light right was the easy part. Painting the wall with the mold was much more challenging.

The Play of Light

While I was in the painting class I drove around some of the older parts of Stockton. I love the architecture in this city. There are areas that have beautiful older homes. I was going to take some photos for references to paint. But the details, the landscaping, the neighboring homes felt overwhelming.

As I’m writing this, I just had an idea of where to find more subjects for future paintings that I will want to make. I’ve been to downtown Stockton twice last month.

What we have is some very nice looking contemporary buildings scattered among stately old ones that are being repurposed for new uses. And then there are the old, worn down ones with the peeling paint and tattered awnings across the street or around the corner.

When we get some good weather, perhaps I’ll take my camera and see what I can find that will be a challenge for me to paint.