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Month: October 2018



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.

Two Baskets from My Garden

Two Baskets from My Garden

A month ago, I removed the dried leaves from my Watsonia plant, which grows in the center of my garden. You can see it in bloom with its scarlet flowers in the banner at the top of this page. Watsonia is from South Africa, a member of the lily family which grows from croms, similar to bulbs.

In the Central Valley climate this plant blooms from May into July. The eighteen inch long leaves dry up in the heat of August. I usually wait until January to remove them. But this year, I decided to remove them as I was clearing out other things in that area. As I worked, I could see the tips of the new shoots for next summer beginning to emerge from the croms. I had to be careful not to damage them.

I have had this plant for nine years, and I haven’t dug it up to separate the bulbs because it seems to be fine — “if it’s not broken, don’t fix it” — being one of my favorite themes. So it has now become a very large plant producing a huge bin full of dried leaves.

I wanted to sit down immediately and make baskets with these leaves, but the week ahead was full of dental and medical appointments, and urgent home repairs. The desire to work with this material was an actual physical longing to experience handling the leaves.

To make a basket from these leaves, or any plant that has dried, they must be soaked to make the material pliant, so it doesn’t break when handled. I have a small square fountain at the edge of my patio, and when I finally found a day, two weeks later, with time to play, I dropped a hand-full of Watsonia into the water to soak.

Damp Watsonia is very tough. I wove a square base in the center of nine leaves crossed by nine more, with equal lengths of the leaf on either side to make spokes for the sides of the basket. I tried to press the leaves close to each other because I knew they would shrink up when they dried, but Watsonia doesn’t want to be packed closely. This first basket was made to familiarize myself with the best way to use the material.

Sample basket made from Watsonia

I used twining around the woven square to secure the position of the leaves for the base. Twining is using two strands of the material that twist between each spoke, and once you get the hang of how to do it, it is very easy. When I got near the end of a leaf, I laid the cut end of a new leaf along side of the short one and used them together until the short one ended.

On my sample basket, I found that the material did not want to make even corners where I thought it should, and two of them are rounded not square. The first two inches of twining are open spaced, but the rest of the basket has the rows close together.

Tray like basket made from Watsonia

I made a larger basket allowing the nine by nine plaited bottom leaves to space themselves, and began the twining with the expectation that as I worked the Watsonia would pull together into upright sides. By the second day of working on this basket, I realized that steep sides were not going to happen, so I have more of a tray- type basket than I had envisioned.

Finishing the rim can be done several ways. On the smaller basket I bent the spokes inward and stuck them down through several rows of twining. On the larger basket I carried each spoke along with the twinner for an inch or two. Additional finishing involves clipping off the exposed ends where new twinners were added and cutting the ends of spokes after they are secured. On these baskets I left some of the narrow pointed ends of the leaves sticking out to add a decorative interest

A Memory from a Deep Well

A Memory from a Deep Well

I was quite surprised at the end of last week when a long forgotten memory surfaced in my mind as I thought about what I had heard and seen in the Supreme Court hearings on Thursday. I was asking myself if anything in my life was similar, in which I did not know details, like where something had occurred or how I had gotten home, but still had a vivid memory of some parts of the event.

I was seventeen at the beginning of 1960 when we moved to a new house in a suburb of Cleveland, Ohio. I did not make friends easily, and I had not begun dating, but I had a boyfriend at our cottage on Lake Erie, who I saw in the summer.

A life-long best friend of my mother, who lived in this suburb, called her and asked if I would go to the prom with a friend of her son who needed a date. When my mother told me about it, I said I didn’t want to go, but was told I should go and I would have a good time. My father likely supported her in this.

My Ninth Grade Graduation Dress

Mother said my dress from ninth grade graduation would be fine, and I was taken to her friend’s house on the evening of the event. Her friend’s son, whom I had met before, was driving. I do not remember what his date looked like or her name. I do not remember the name of my date, but I do have an image of his face. The place where the dance was held did not look familiar, but it was dark outside when we arrived.

What I remember about the dancing was that I could feel his penis against my leg all the time. After the dance ended, I discovered that this was an all night affair. The boys decided they did not want to go to the bowling activity. I don’t know what the other girl wanted to do.

My date and I were in the back seat. He wanted to kiss me and be close. I wasn’t afraid, but I was extremely uncomfortable being in that car. I thought the night would never end. I didn’t know where I was. I didn’t know what to do. I didn’t have any money with me, so even if I could have found a pay phone, I couldn’t call.

I had never been told how to handle this kind of situation. I had often been told that I was not to talk to strangers, so I wouldn’t get into a situation. This was repeated so often and so strongly that at the age of 42, when I started to attend the community college in Livermore, I was trying to figure out if people in my classes were strangers or not, and could I talk to them.

Nothing happened except some unwelcome kisses. I was not assaulted. I don’t remember how I got home. I think, since I was uncooperative and said I wanted to go home, they may have taken me home early, because I don’t remember anything about the breakfast that was to be the last part of the prom. I was lucky.

What is coming to me now as I write this, is that I had to ring the door bell at home because I didn’t have a key. When my parents asked how the prom was, I probably said “fine” and that I was tired. I went straight to bed, and never talked about it.

This memory would sometimes flash through my mind when my mother mentioned her friend, but I would refuse to acknowledge it. It wasn’t a strong enough memory to come up while I was writing my memoir.

The other day was the first time I really thought about the event, and allowed myself to acknowledge that my mother had insisted I go to this prom as a favor to her high school friend. I guess she knew it was an all night affair, but I didn’t understand that before I went. Although Mother passed away eight years ago, I have verbally forgiven my mother this weekend for putting her friend’s request before my pleas not to be taken there.

As I have read and listened to what is being said about both testimonies, I’m sorting out what I believe from what I saw and heard. I did not hear all of the hearing, but only heard parts of it. As a trained therapist, I think there is a lot of information missing on the woman’s side.

That tiny repressed memory I have tightens my stomach as I recall that night even all these years later. So, I can believe Dr. Ford had an experience with someone and not recall details of dates and places. I also find it difficult to accept that during her psychology training this trauma was not sorted out, and is still troubling her daily life. And, I think Mr. Kavanaugh has every right to be angry as hell.