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Month: September 2018

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.

A Week in San Diego

A Week in San Diego

Military ships in harbor across from my hotel room.

I arrived home last Saturday evening totally exhausted from my trip to San Diego. I didn’t realized just how tired I was until Sunday when I woke up with fuzzy thinking and sore muscles everywhere. I don’t think it was from physical activities as much as from over-stimulation.

The room I had at the Sheraton Harbor Hotel looked out onto the water where I could watch people walking briskly along the edge of the bay. In the water were jet-skis, sail boats, Hornblower cruise vessels, Navy ships, and tug boats. The hotel is directly across from the Navy Air Station with helicopters coming and going all day long. Standing on my balcony, I was suddenly aware of how much I miss living near a body of water as I did growing up, and later in Virginia.

The first day I was there, I took my first Uber ride to the local San Diego Shell Club annual Shell Show in a building at Balboa Park. This show had exhibits prepared by the members, and a room full of dealers who had shells for sale.

A court yard in Balboa Park
Arched walkway in Balboa Park







After viewing the exhibits, I found a bench outdoors and ate the lunch I brought with me. I enjoyed the architecture of the walkways with the columns, being able to see the matching shape from the arches on the other side of the walk.

On Monday there was a field trip to the San Diego zoo also located in Balboa Park in an area with hills and ravines. I saw many of the large animals on a zoo bus ride designed to give us an overall tour of the place. The leader suggested we get ice cream after the ride before we separated to explore on our own. I enjoyed a Hagen Das dark chocolate covered, chocolate ice cream bar at 11:00 in the morning.

Young Panda munching on bamboo
Five giraffes keeping cool

The zoo has many smaller animals from around the world, including beautiful birds which often had to be located hidden in the trees in their enclosures.

One of the ladies I was walking with could rattle off the Latin names of all the plants. Of course I had to see the five giraffes, two of them only a year or two old.

Tuesday we visited the Scripps Aquarium in La Jolla with its spectacular displays of underwater creatures including colorful mollusks that don’t have hard shells called nudibranches, fish, and other sea creatures. Then we had time to get lunch and visit shops.

Tropical fish at Scripps Aquarium
Lacey creature at the aquarium







The Conchologists of America convention (COA) – the reason I was in San Diego – got going on Wednesday, with three days of short presentations about shells, interspersed with silent auctions, six of them, where attendees could bid on packages of shells and related items. I don’t generally buy shells because my collection is predominately beach collected, but I enjoy the silent auctions.

The Welcome Party Wednesday night began with a parade and photos of those who had decorated a hat for the occasion. I wore my head-gear which I detailed last week in this blog.

Also on Wednesday, my roommate arrived from Arizona. I met her last year in Key West and we talked about sharing a room at the next COA. It was wonderful to make a new friend and have someone to talk to. She had driven from Arizona, which added a whole new dimension to the trip. The vibe in San Diego is full of energy, people walking up and down the streets, eating lunch, and shopping in the older section of town, like Stockton would like to have. (We have the old buildings but not the tourists.)

Notable presentations included two by a man who has been diving and collecting in the waters of Alaska and the Aleutians for the last forty years. He has found that shells that occur all along the coast of Alaska stop suddenly at a point in the Bering Sea where the water temperature becomes two degrees colder.

Several talks showed results from DNA analysis that is starting to shed light on how land snails in the Bahamas migrated from island to island and resulted in new species.

We even saw video of a devise used to find and bring to the surface mollusks that live in the deep sea and are rarely seen.

Thursday night featured an oral auction where we watched attendees bid on rare and expensive shells. Before I left town Saturday afternoon, I cruised through the bourse, where sea shell dealers from all over the world displayed their finest treasures. I found the table which had an assortment of shells for $5 each, and selected a handful of shells I don’t have or have never seen before.

Next year COA will be at Captive Island, Florida in June. Hopefully, I will find time to reorganize my collection in the next nine months.