It’s Official

May 5, 2018

Despite what the calendar says, I never feel like it’s “officially” spring until our Magnolias start to bloom and wildflowers are growing in the ditches. They are abundant this week, and on my drive home from work, the morning sun makes them practically glow.

There are two main kinds of wildflowers in sight at the moment; the first is a light purple honeysuckle type of flower. While pressing a few into a heavy book, I was taken back to my childhood, when we used to pluck honeysuckle blooms from their stems and put the tube end on our tongues for a tiny taste of nectar. (Sorry, bees! We did this a lot.)

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The second kind of flower is bright, bright yellow with a red center, and it’s everywhere, in giant masses. These are in the ditch across a road from our house.

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When we moved to Florida almost 30 years ago, ours was the only house for some distance. Throughout those years, we’ve acquired neighbors to the left, to the right and behind, but one thing has never changed: the large empty field across the street. Their house is set about half a mile from the road, and while several different crops have been planted there at one time or another (I mostly remember corn, hay, watermelon and sunflowers), it has also spent long stretches of time growing only grass. I’m always happy to look out across the yard past the road and the fence, and see nothing but nature.

fenced field

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Thank You, Somerset Studio!

April 22, 2018

For the past few months, I’ve been submitting art to various magazines as a way to spark my creativity. I like having an “assignment” – a particular technique or a particular theme; it gives me a starting point and a sense of purpose. The lovely photographers at Stampington have a deft hand at making any artwork look its best, and I’m so grateful they opted to publish all seven of the pieces I submitted for their May/June issue, which is about the classic technique of image transfers.

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I learned how to do image transfers in a Leslie Riley class more than 15 years ago, and I was so smitten I sat right through the lunch break in order to keep making more transfers! (You’d be more impressed if you knew how much I love a good lunch.)

The construction of this little book was inspired by Carla Sonheim’s online class,¬†Rags to Stitches: A Journal and a Purse. The transfer was created with the gel medium method on canvas cloth. I sanded the image here and there to add to the aged look, then added a little color with chalks. The buttons are enhanced with some gold Rub ‘n Buff, as is the chipboard crown. The ribbon tie is hand-dyed seam binding and I rubbed a little paint onto a Tim Holtz metal word band.

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This is a painted canvas board with nature-themed contact paper transfers. It’s one of my favorite transfer techniques, being almost foolproof. (I did say almost.) Black and white images always transfer better than colored ones, for some reason. But I like that “distressed” look, so it’s all good.

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Thank you, Stampington, for publishing the best of the best art magazines and for always encouraging and inspiring creativity in so many ways!

Purrfect Painted Paper Pet Portraits!

February 13, 2018

At the end of January, I was fortunate enough to take a class with the amazing Elizabeth St. Hilaire, the author of Painted Paper Art Workshop. The class was held in beautiful Mt. Dora, Florida, and lasted three days. Elizabeth creates amazing mixed-media works by tearing painted papers to use as “brush strokes” on canvas and the results are stunning.

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Elizabeth is just as talented a teacher as she is an artist. I was mesmerized by the breadth of her work and her friendly, encouraging style. She’s quirky and adorable!

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This class focused on memorializing our favorite pets – or, any animal we liked, actually. I was surprised to learn that, out of 17 students, I was the only one who brought a cat to paint! There were lots of dogs, but also a fox, a llama, a cow, a horse and other creatures you wouldn’t normally think of as pets.

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This is my dad’s cat, Chloe, adopted from an animal shelter a couple of years ago. My dad is quite smitten and loves to take photos of her!

Our “homework” consisted of tracing a photo of our animal onto an 11″x14″ canvas, then roughly painting it in to use as a template for the next step: tearing painted papers and gluing them to the canvas. We spent the first day learning about the process and getting started on painting our papers, using Elizabeth’s tips and techniques. She provided lots of supplies for us to use, including gel printing plates, stencils, stamps, etc. On the second day, we started ripping and gluing. It was messy and fun! Inspired by this cat painting of Elizabeth’s, I put flowers on Chloe’s head to bring in some bright color.

floral cat

Here is the finished work. Can you believe this is ALL torn paper? Even the tiniest bits, like the highlights in her eyes and the stripes on the pillow. We weren’t allowed to use scissors, so it was a challenge. I enjoyed the process immensely!

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I used papers from an atlas, a children’s large print storybook, a collection of essays about finding joy in life, a novel from the 60’s, sheet music and a bible written in Chinese, all of which came from the thrift store; plus rice paper and mulberry paper. It was fun to pick out words that fit the subject, like tiger, velvet, baby, and pixie. (I sincerely hope the Chinese words are “nice” ones, too!)

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Elizabeth makes whiskers on her animals from torn, twisted paper, but I just didn’t have the patience for that (nor was I confident it would look good), so I drew on Chloe’s whiskers with a black Pitt pen. Yes, I did “cheat” a little bit…but I never pulled out the scissors, so I think I’m still good! ūüôā

New Year and New Priorities

January 1, 2018

Here we are, already well into a new year, but my celebration began a few days earlier, when I got word from the editor of Art Doll Quarterly magazine that my submission was accepted for publication in their first issue of 2018! The theme for the Spring issue is the horoscope sign of Aquarius. When I saw the call for submissions, I immediately wanted to participate, as Aquarius is my star sign and I have loved the 5th Dimension song Aquarius/Let the Sunshine In since childhood.

I’ll admit I am quite intimidated by the amazing artistry showcased in¬†Art Doll Quarterly¬†because I am by no means a doll sculptor, not even a mediocre one! But – glimmer of hope! – they publish one “paper persona” in each issue. Paper I can do!

I covered an 8″x10″ canvas with painted paper made on a Gelli plate, then cut a silhouette from black cardstock to serve as the body of the “water bearer.” I dressed her in a gown of tracing paper that had been painted lightly to retain its translucence and then outlined everything with black ink and used charcoal to create shadows and depth. The Aquarius constellation is depicted on her watery gown in black ink and rhinestones.

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The fine folks at Stampington did a much better job photographing her than I did, though their version is a bit paler than the original.

Mallette_ADQ0218-page-001One of my resolutions for 2018 is to submit more work for publication, and to attend more classes and art retreats. Usually I don’t have the time and/or finances for these activities, but this year I will make them a priority as they bring me the most joy. Life’s short and time stops for no one, so why not make the most of it?

Holiday Time in the Studio

November 14, 2017

I’ve been making Christmas coupon books, and since I had to start before it was even Halloween, forced myself into the mood by loudly singing Christmas carols while cutting, gluing, sewing and bedazzling. (Rather, I should say “carol,” singular, because¬†Sleigh Ride¬†got stuck in my brain and was sung on repeat for about 20 minutes. And technically it’s not even a Christmas song!)

These little books are made with shipping tags for the covers. I color them by smooshing with Distress Inks and a little spritz of water to add some mottled texture. I love using vintage and retro holiday images; so nostalgic and fun!

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Most also get a little tag (I love my tag punch!), some washi tape, a flower, and ribbon threaded through the hole. (My BFF taught me to thread ribbon back in 2002. I was clueless before then!)

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Of course, there has to be at least one that will appeal to the menfolk. (Do people still use that word, menfolk?) This Santa with his new-fangled automobile and goggles is so manly Рand Steampunk is very popular!

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But my first love will always be the kitties! I would do all cats, if I could. Dude suggested I make one with a dog, because “people like dogs, too.” (Really? Okay…didn’t know that.)

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Just before Christmas, I’ll have to loudly sing romantic songs to get me in the mood to make Valentine’s coupon books. What do you get that special someone who has everything? Promises of dinners out, trips to the theater and foot massages, of course!

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I sound like Darth Vadar now…but it’s cool

November 3, 2017

One night early in January of this year, I woke up and went to the bathroom. When I got back to bed, my husband said, “What have you been doing?” I told him I’d just been to the bathroom. He said, “You’re breathing hard, like you just walked around the block!”

While I knew I’d been feeling fairly crappy, I hadn’t realized the extent of it until that moment. It had crept up so gradually that I was like the proverbial frog in the pot of water that gets hotter over time; adjusting to the discomfort until the boiling point is reached. I had attributed my lack of stamina to working a 12-hour night shift and being far too often sleep-deprived.

What that didn’t explain was my brain fog, occasional heart palpitations, and shortness of breath upon attempting even the most mild activity. At my annual exam in March, the GP listened to my symptoms, made some notes and said, “You know, you’ve gained 16 pounds in the last year.” I said, “No, I’ve actually gained 16 pounds in the last few months. It’s weird, because my eating habits haven’t changed.” He scheduled me for heart and lung tests, and when I returned with a clean bill of health in those areas, told me I should lose weight. That didn’t sound like it would help much, because I’d been even heavier a couple years earlier (before losing about 45 lbs) and had a lot more energy and felt a lot better even then.

Luckily I had also mentioned that my lower back had started to seize up occasionally, for no apparent reason, which prompted my GP to refer me to a rheumatologist. She turned out to be my hero! She listened to my symptoms, sent me for tests and determined I have Sjogren’s Syndrome, which is a disease in which your immune system attacks the glands that produce saliva and tears. The heart palpitations were caused by esophagitis (the esophagus was inflamed and pushing against my heart), which was caused by my throat being too dry to properly “lubricate” the food’s journey to my stomach.

The rheumatologist started medication for the Sjogren’s and got the esophagitis cleared up. With the medication, judicious use of eye drops, Xylitol lozenges and frequent hydration, I’m managing the disease pretty well.

But the shortness of breath and constant fatigue were still a thing, which the rheumatologist said could not be explained by Sjogren’s. Then she asked me what I thought was a strange question. “Do you snore?” I said, “Let me put it this way; my husband wears ear plugs.”

The next thing I knew, I was being sent for a sleep study. You literally go to sleep in a medical clinic, monitored by a technician who can see you on a camera, hear you over a microphone, and track your brain activity, heartbeat and movements via electrodes. This is what you look like after being, as I called it, “trussed up like a turkey” before going to sleep.

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The best part? Those 20-something electrodes are all attached with a gooey substance that is a real pain to wash out of your hair! Also, I got a rash from the adhesive on my face. But despite the weirdness of all the wires, being in a strange bed and knowing I was being closely watched, I did manage to fall into a restless sleep for a few hours.

Two days later, a nurse called me. “You have sleep apnea,” she said, and scheduled me for another sleep study a few days later. This time I was not only wired, but had to wear a mask attached to a CPAP (continuous positive airway pressure) machine. The technician explained that there are several stages of sleep. During “normal” sleep, your body is detoxifying and healing. During REM (dream) sleep, your¬†brain¬†is detoxifying and healing. When you have sleep apnea, you literally stop breathing, often multiple times per hour. Instead of resting and healing, your brain sends a surge of adrenalin to start you breathing again. This constant influx of adrenalin puts you in “flight or fight” mode and thus, your sleep is not restful or healing and as a result, you’re always tired and have difficulty concentrating.

Left untreated, sleep apnea can cause weight gain, diabetes, cognitive issues, coronary issues, stroke, even death! I said, “I had no idea this was so serious.” The technician said, “I don’t want to scare you with all this gloom and doom.” I said, “I’m not scared, because you guys are gonna fix this!”

A couple of weeks later, I had my own personal CPAP machine. You wear a mask covering your nose, through which high-pressure air blows through a hose, forcing your airway open so you keep breathing as you sleep. It does take some getting used to! At first, I was like…

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“This is not comfortable.”

But, as the tech who demonstrated the machine said, “It’s like getting used to wearing glasses. They may not be comfortable at first, but you get used to them, and if you can experience a benefit from the glasses, you’ll be more motivated to adjust.” I said, “Well, I’ve gotten used to glasses, a sonic toothbrush, a bidet, and a car with automatic headlights. I didn’t like any of those things at first, and now I love them. So I’m hopeful.”

So yesterday was Day 6 of the CPAP therapy, and I have noticed an¬†amazing¬†difference already! Earlier this year, I remember walking from my office to the office of my boss’s boss, which is probably about 100 steps. By the time I got there, I felt so exhausted that I rudely plopped down into a chair before he even offered it to me, and I was literally panting. He said, “Uh…did you¬†run¬†here?” It was embarrassing!

At work last night, I left the office, went to the bathroom, then to the break room, then into another building to get ice from the machine, back to the break room where I stood in front of the microwave for about a minute, then back to my office. As I sat down, I realized that, while I was breathing a little heavier than a person in great health would have, I felt fine and not like I’d just run a marathon! And unlike before, when I’d wake up every couple of hours, unable to get a decent sleep and then have to down energy drinks (or just give in and take a 2-hour nap), I’ve had no trouble at all staying awake and alert the past few days. It’s amazing!

So, yeah, the machine isn’t easy to get used to, but it’s going to be well worth it. I’ve learned to shift my thinking from “OMG, alien face-hugger!” to “Hey, awesome jet fighter pilot hero!” (It helps a little…)

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Spooky & Sparkly

October 3, 2017

It had been a very long time since I’d made a Halloween book. I remember going a little crazy and making half a dozen a couple years ago, but then I lost interest. This year I’m in the mood again, so off I went to Michael’s to stock up on Halloween paper. Alas, they had very little Halloween paper, and in fact, almost none of the paper pads that used to take up a whole aisle. (What the heck happened to them? Even the clerk couldn’t figure it out.)

No worries; I drove around the block to Joann Fabrics, which had so much paper it was bursting out the door. When the clerk asked what I was making, I told her I’d decided on little square Halloween photo albums that would be perfect for Instagram photos. She said, “Oh, wow; I just ordered a bunch of prints of my Instagram photos!” We agreed that there’s something very satisfying about flipping through a real book full of real photos instead of trying to view them on a digital device (it’s especially annoying when you want to spend more than a few seconds looking at a photo and the light goes off)! Her enthusiasm bolstered my confidence that people still enjoy preserving their cherished memories in physical form.

Each book is pretty much identical inside. Black and orange cardstock, occasional Halloween-themed pages and photo mats for 4″ square photos on every 4th page.

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Each book measures 6″ square, so photos up to 5-1/2″ can be added.

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As always, whenever I think I’m done, I leave it alone for awhile, take a second look and then go back and add more stuff. More is more, that’s my motto; especially when it comes to things that sparkle and glitter in the night!

little witch book

88 Hours of Heat, Dreams, and Vented Spleens

September 14, 2017

They say reality informs your dreams. That your subconscious mind uses those hours spent in deep sleep to process the information and experiences from the day and then twist them into crazy metaphors and literal extremes; vivid movies in our minds from which we often awake thinking, “What the heck was THAT?”

I’ve never understood why, but even the most ridiculous situations in dreams seem completely rational at the time you’re dreaming them. I often have extremely traumatic, oddly horrible dreams during which it seems perfectly normal for me to, say, throw babies into a ravine. During the dream, I am completely convinced that throwing the babies into a ravine is necessary and good for the babies and serves some noble purpose. But then I suddenly realize that what I’m doing is terrible and wrong! And I instantly wake up, horrified, and wish, as I do every time I wake up, that bad dreams weren’t a side effect of one of my medications. I have them almost every time I sleep.

Earlier this week Hurricane Irma came blowing through our neck of the woods. It had been downgraded to a category one by the time it reached us, so, aside from having to dodge a few broken tree limbs while driving, we didn’t have to contend with any major damage in our area. The power grid was another story! We lost electric service on Sunday, just before midnight, and it wasn’t restored until just before 4:00 p.m. Thursday, a total of 88 hours. (Oh yes, indeed; I counted every one of those hours!) At the same time, our phone and broadband service also disappeared.

Because we live “out in the sticks” and have a well that runs on an electric pump, no electricity means no water. We had prepared beforehand by filling the tub and buckets and jars and bottles so we could flush the toilets and have drinking water. Our small electric generator kept the refrigerator going, as well as the TV and a lamp in the living room. But there was no air-conditioning and no way to shower, and by Day 3, it was over 90 degrees in the house and we were starting to get…hmmm…a little ripe! We coaxed the generator into powering a small box fan, and spent most of the time sprawled in front of it, red-faced and sweaty, watching reports on the Weather channel of those in the southern part of the state struggling with total destruction of their homes and feeling grateful we still had a place to live. (Things can always get worse, can’t they? A little perspective never hurts.)

Thursday morning, there was no sign of electricity, but suddenly our phone and broadband service was restored. Hooray! It was just in the nick of time, because I was scheduled that morning to take a lengthy phone and computer survey, for which I would earn a nice check. The manufacturer of one of my medications was soliciting opinions about their website: how easy it is to use, whether the information is clear, what improvements could be made. While I spoke on the phone with the survey representative, he remotely connected to my computer so he could watch how I interacted with the website.

Things went well with the survey, and I was enjoying it…that is, until a certain point. The main purpose of the site is to inform people how to get financial help in order to afford their medication. They also provide an overview of various treatments available for cancer and other conditions, and resources for help with things like shopping, transportation, etc for those who struggle with medical issues. I had been exploring the site for about 20 minutes and was very impressed, until I came to a page that seemed completely out of place and completely unnecessary: a list of “alternative treatments.”

::sigh::

As I perused the list, I was confused and then annoyed. “Well,” I said to the survey rep, “this is disappointing.” He asked me to explain. ¬†I muttered angrily, “It looks like a bunch of woo-woo stuff here!”

(Definition of¬†woo-woo: “Dubiously or outlandishly mystical, supernatural, or unscientific.”)

“I was so impressed,” I told him, “with the science-based, factual information on this site regarding medical conditions, treatments and medications. And now this? Listing ‘alternative’ treatments on this site gives them a legitimacy they do not deserve. They have no place here. It makes me doubt the veracity of everything else on the site.

“It makes me angry that someone with cancer could find this list on an otherwise reputable site and be led to believe that any of these so-called remedies could help them. It gets their hopes up, it robs them of their time and money, and it can’t deliver. Worse, people waste their precious time pursuing these quack remedies when they could be getting real help from science-based, clinically proven treatments. I strongly suggest this section be deleted from this site.”

The survey rep said my comments were “very helpful” and that he personally tended to agree. (I may or may not have reiterated several times that I “felt very strongly” about the alternative medicine section!)

(Well worth a watch: The Amazing Randi’s highly entertaining Ted Talk about quackery and fraud, during which he ingests an entire bottle of homeopathic sleeping pills, allegedly a “fatal” dose.)

So the survey was still very much on my mind when I went to sleep a few hours later. As usual, my subconscious mind twisted the experience into a nightmare. This time I was doing something horrible to one of my cats, which I won’t describe because it was so heinous. In the dream, I explained to my husband what I was doing as if it made perfect sense: “I’m removing the bad parts of her, leaving only the healthy parts behind. If I keep doing this, eventually she will be cured and completely healthy!”

Clearly I was still dwelling on the evils of “alternative” medicine; which causes so much harm while claiming to do good! Eventually I realized I was actually hurting my poor cat, and suddenly woke up. I noted the alarm clock was still dark, so the power hadn’t come back on, and eventually I shook it off and fell asleep again. Sometime later, I gradually woke up from another dream. This time, remarkably, it was a good one! A man, whose face I couldn’t see, was holding a paper on a clipboard that contained a list of names. He pointed to a spot on the list and said, “Congratulations! You qualify to win a prize today!”

I thought, “That’s weird. I almost never have good dreams!” As I got out of bed, I noticed the clock was still dark. I walked out into the living room, glanced at the battery clock and realized I’d been asleep less than five hours, yet I felt wide awake. Just then, a nightlight plugged into the wall lit up and the ceiling fan began to turn! The power was back on and I had woken up just in time for it. I did win a prize after all! (Still pretty hot in here, though. My husband tells me it takes a full hour of air conditioning to lower the temperature by one degree!)

Mysterious Happenings

September 7, 2017

The September/October issue of¬†Somerset Studio¬†is here and I was pleased to find three pieces I’d submitted in their “Expressions” section. The challenge for their Halloween issue had been to create artwork based on the young-adult novel¬†Miss Peregrine’s Home for Peculiar Children.¬†The author, Ransom Riggs, had been inspired by highly unusual (and slightly disturbing) photographs of people on Victorian cabinet cards, and photographs of the actual cards are sprinkled throughout the book.

I love all things related to Halloween, especially as it was celebrated in the distant past, when things were just a bit more serious and a bit more…creepy. I searched for old photos on the internet and found a couple that could easily be construed as a bit odd or menacing, given the right context. After creating two pieces called “Secrets” and “Poison,” I decided to go in search of a real cabinet card to add authenticity to my next effort.

Within a few days, I was pawing through a shoe box full of vintage photographs at a favorite day-trip destination, the Webster flea market. My lucky find was a prim Victorian lady, all buttoned up in a long-sleeved frock, her unruly hair pulled severely back and pinned into submission. She sits very still for the photograph, but her expression hints at thoughts that are somewhere else entirely. What could be going on behind those pale, unfocused eyes?

Clearly¬†what I had here was the portrait of a Victorian serial killer! Her victims? A string of ailing dowagers, each of whom had entrusted her with their care, and none of whom suspected she was after their money. She was extremely kind and caring (all faked), and came with excellent references (all forged) from well-respected members of society (now all deceased). What’s a girl to do when she wants a new frock, but the old gal hasn’t popped off yet? She tells herself her actions are “merciful,” but her eyes reveal the truth! And thus do the eyes of her victims, which haunt her wherever she goes…

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Not content with confining themselves to haunting our deadly caretaker, these vengeful ghosts played tricks with the published instructions for my piece as well! Where I had written “ink,” “tissue paper,” “paper napkins”, “white china marker” and “cardstock,” those naughty gremlins substituted “paint”, “paper towel”, “decorate tape”, “tissue paper”, “white crayon” and “cardboard”! Worse, they changed the title from “Haunted” to “Strychnine! Poison.” So don’t be fooled, gentle readers, and never let your guard down when it comes to those you have wronged!

Bwaaaaa-hahahahahaaaaaaaaaaaaa…

Project Runway Fan Art, Week 3

September 5, 2017

The designers this past week were shown a new kids’ film, Leap!, about¬†a girl who dreams of becoming a dancer. They were to create a garment inspired by dance, movement and innovation.

While Ayana didn’t make it to the top, I adored her flowy black garment with hand-painted white stars. I think it could have been improved by ditching the tiers on the pants and instead making them very wide, but the stars were a really cool touch, and the veil made the model look mysteriously lovely.

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My homage to this “out of this world” fashion is a torn-paper galaxy and a model made of stars. Wait until midnight and look to the east, and maybe you’ll spot the elusive Ayana constellation!

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