Wild Sage Discoveries

Memory Houses from Recycled Wood and Ephemera

Memory HouseRecently I spent a delightful Saturday with my friend Rose Andreacola and several of her “artsy” friends.  She showed us a basic technique for creating simple house sculptures using primed scrap lumber, acrylic paints, stencils, stamps, photo copies, ephemera, and aluminum duct tape (from Home Depot and Lowes) used for making vent seams tight.

Her techniques for embossing with the metal tape are terrific.  She’s been using this in her art for well over ten years. She used mat board, cord/ric-rack, a tracing wheel,  a bone folder and a ball point pen to create the textures.  For the roof she runs the metal through a crimping tool.  From time to time she gives a wonderful class in how to do this.

It was lots of fun and Rose had several embellishment tricks for finishing including using a black wax marking pencil to accentuate edges, applying do-dads with Weldbond glue (very strong) and using various acrylic mediums for collage and varnishing.  If this is something you might be interested in doing, you might want to contact her at

I decided that my houses would focus on “memory” and dedicated #26 to my maternal grandparents.  “26” represents the street number of their home and the colors and embellishments have special associations with them.  My second house with the number “6675” is a celebration of our 40th anniversary which occurred earlier this summer.  It’s decor is infused  with memories of our life together.

Every time I glance at them a happy memory comes to mind.

“Spirit of the Desert” – an Encaustic Assemblage

In my studio I have a number of unfinished projects just waiting for the day they get moved to the top of my “to do” list.  I begin every summer with the intention of finishing all of them, but that hasn’t happened yet!  This summer “ Spirit of the Desert” made it to the top of my list and I am happy to say it is done!.

I started it over five years ago.  I had built a polymer clay head and finished it with acrylic paint, pearl powders and amber shellac.  I then torched it to bubble and move the shellac which resulted in very interesting the final surface.  But the project came to a halting stop when it came to deciding just how I was going to use it.  The head needed some kind of a base or body.  I knew I wanted it to sit among dessert detritus but none of  the cholla stems, wooden sticks, or unique rocks I had gathered suited the mood I was trying to create so I set everything aside for another year.  Every summer I would revisit the box containing the components and I’d start pondering the problem again all over again with little success.

Then last year I came up with the idea of creating my own base.  I used a can filled with gravel and covered it with “desert-like” texture.  At last I was moving forward!  I realized that the fragile plant materials that I wanted to use needed some form of treatment to preserve them.   I determined that encaustic made from amber beeswax and damar varnish would be an excellent solution, so I treated my collection of pods and leaves with the encaustic and set them aside.  Once again I was in a holding pattern waiting for my muse to divulge the next step.

My vision was to create a soulful image that conveyed the joy and wonder I feel here in the Sonoran desert.  When we first moved here from a lush northern California environment, I felt I was in strange terrain – dry, hot, prickly and mostly devoid of life.  Was I ever wrong!  I came to enjoy this desert that specializes in survivorship!  It’s hard to live here with so little water and so much heat, but desert creatures have accommodated with thick skins, hard covered seeds, shallow roots and special leaf structures to soak up the moisture when it’s available.  It’s a tribute to the adaptability of life on our planet!

This summer I discovered the project box in the back of my art closet and decided this was the year to get it finished!   It lived on my art table for several weeks while I arranged and re-arranged and adjusted the materials until finally, I was ready to commit to the final assembly.  With a little cheering from some of my art friends I present to you the finished “Spirit of the Desert”.

Naature boy

Small Quilt

Web mini quiltI made this quilt in a wonderful class taught for PaperWorks by Jane LaFazio in March.  I call it “Journey of the Spirit”.  I thought I had posted it, but I guess I didn’t!

Jane designed the class around nine writing exercises one for each of the nine component squares.  Each of the exercises centered around some aspect of our personal spiritual development.  We started each one by journaling with a gel pen on plain fabric. I chose to use an assortment of writing styles and plain neutral fabrics during these exercises, thereby adding interesting textures to the handwritten elements.

Next we tore the fabric into small pieces to be collaged on to the squares along with fabrics that we had brought to the class.  For each square Jane challenged us by introducing additional techniques including embroidery stitches (ladder stitch, French knots, loop stitch), design problems to solve (landscape layers, pockets, encasements) and items to incorporate such as beads, buttons and milagros.

From the on-set of the project, I decided to limit my palette to golds, greens and blues along with black and white.  I also decided upon finishing the squares, that I would add unity to the project by “glazing” the pieces with sheer fabrics.

While I was not able to complete the quilt in the class, I enjoyed having additional time for applying embellishments at home and stitching the squares to the thick felt background provided by Jane.  I now have a lovely piece infused with personal memory in the form of writing and other added memorabilia.  Just looking at it makes me happy.

This year stitching has become a very enjoyable addition to my creative activities.  I especially like it because of its portability – everything I need to work on a little mini-quilt can fit into a quart baggie which I can stuff into my purse and carry with me.  And it’s something I can do while half-watching TV with my husband.

Posted in Art

Morocco – A Unique Photo Book

In June of 2013, a friend gave me a beautiful piece of mica and a promise to share what she had learned about using mica in a workshop given by noted artist, Daniel Essig.  We met several times to go over her notes and to experiment with materials and book structures.

In the end, I decided that I did not want to do a book like the one she had made in Daniel’s class, but rather a “Mabel Dean” book – whatever that turned out to be.  I thought about “collections” of things which is what his book-style suggested with many unique papers, pages and windows.

Several years before my husband and I had gone to Morocco and I had taken some photos of people and places.  I decided that I would gather my favorite photos from that trip for this book.  The concept of using them as an Essig-style “collection” seemed intriguing.

I selected and printed test color photos on plain computer paper.  I liked the feel of the photo on the ordinary paper.  Some how regular photo paper did not suit my Moroccan pictures.  I experimented with finishes on photos printed on various papers and observed how shellac (yellow and white) and Dorland’s wax gave the photos a unique aged feeling especially when the pictures were printed on regular copy paper.

Morocco - openI thought about how  a book of colored photographs, page after page, could become boring.  I looked through my files to see what I might use for contrast and found that I had a number of “grab” shots of people that could work in the book.  Moroccan people do not like to be photographed, and I still feel a bit guilty that I snapped them when they had not agreed.  But I decided to use them in this particular book because it would not be for sale and it will have limited circulation. I believe that my treatment of their photos by printing them in black and white on transparencies, is a way of honoring them and their culture.

MoroccoOnce I had prepared the photographs – printing, treatments, and mounting on individual pages, I began to explore the kind of book structure to use.  After thought and experimentation, I determined that a stiff leaf binding would be the best format.

I found decorative brass metal in my stash, and velvet pink sand from the Sahara desert which I had brought home with me. All of these materials were used to create the covers. Somehow they seemed right for the project.  I painted Velin Arches papers so they had a sand-like feel and created a window for the sand.  Mica – possibly from the Atlas Mountains – served as the window pane.  A scrap of the brass was included along with a cerulean sky to create a Sahara landscape on the inside back cover.


My book was nearing completion.  Next I faced the challenge of engineering the book so that it would come together in a cohesive fashion.  Integrating all the components of the covers with the structure and maintaining a Moroccan flavor was my goal. I wanted a cover that would reinforce that this was a book about Morocco.  I determined that wood would be the appropriate cover material as the covers are like doors into the book.  I had some wood veneer that turned out to be just right once it was stained.  Adding a brass form to the front cover further suggested the door theme.

frontcoverThe book is now complete and my memorial to Morocco is in a form that will continue to bring back fond memory of that beautiful country.  I feel the end result is definitely a “Mabel Dean” book.  As I hold it in my hands I can see the Daniel Essig influences, subtle and sensory.

Guest House – An Encaustic Hanging Book Structure

One winter Saturday I took on a personal challenge to make a book in one day informed by the sculptural qualities of Daniel Essig’s work.  I wanted to submit the book for the Poetry Center show “Beyond Word and Image”.

Before starting, I “juiced” my muse by looking at artists books and setting aside some of my favorite texts and looking again at Dan’s work.  I began by painting two large sheets of Stonehenge and folding them into pages.  I reread the texts I had set aside to see if there was a fit.  I found that Rumi”s “Guest House was coming to life.

The individual folios became rooms.  I created openings to suggest  doorways and windows so one could travel through the house.  After much experimentation, I found a writing style for the poetry. But I was not finished.  The work needed a “wow” in the form of some sculptural element. That is part of the charm of Daniel’s work.

The GuestI stepped away from the piece and several days later realized that the book should be hung from something!  I could use a human form since the text refers to our humanness being a guest house.  I decided to suspend the book from an upper torso shape which I constructed using a foam-core base wrapped with plaster bandage.  This provided an opportunity to implant a hanger so the book can be displayed on the wall.

I painted the form with acrylic paint and applied a encaustic coating.  The final step was to attach the book to the form using artificial sinew.

The book took more than a day but less than a week to complete!  And it was not chosen to be in the show!  Oh well, that disappointment is just a part of being a human guest house.  I subsequently found out that the jurors were more focused on the graphic elements of the work submitted and in choosing a cohesive show, had eliminated some unique pieces that embodied innovative structures.


A New Artist’s Book

My most recent artist book, “The Edge” has been selected for inclusion in the show “Between Word and Image” at the University of Arizona Poetry Center, 1508 East Helen Street.  The show opened June 1 and will continue until August.  If you are free tonight, June 4, do come to the reception.

pw_pc_eviteWhen “edges” was selected as this year’s theme for our PaperWorks mixed media study group,  I started exploring many different meanings and graphic approaches to edges – alone, with the group and with others.  I decided to feature a favorite quote by Patrick Overton for my submission to this show.

For me the quote conjures up a vastness which I represented with a layered landscape.  Pastels added atmosphere and I took advantage of  the pages to contribute depth. I chose Stonehenge paper which I toned with pastels to create the landscape backgrounds.

Next I broke the quote down into five parts and wrote them on the upper edges of the folios.  Next I cut along the edges of  the individual letters.  I like the way the Neuland calligraphy cast shadows on the layers of background.

BlogThe Edge Inside copyI wanted the work to have an element of surprise – something I’ve been doing in recent pieces.  Placing wings on the cover did the trick.  Whichever way you start viewing the book, the other side provides an unexpected visual.

BlogThe Edge outside  copyMy photography skills do not do the book justice.  It is 14” tall.  When the individual pages are set up nesting inside of each other to enable the shadows to be cast, it is about 16” wide.  I hope you will be able to experience it while it is on display at Poetry Center.  The show will be open through August 12 this year.

Immersed in Texture

Several weeks ago I spent three days in a workshop sponsored by the Contemporary Artists of Southern Arizona – . They had brought in the popular and excellent teacher, Jackie Sullivan, to do a class on working with texture.Merrily

For me the workshop was extremely informative and productive. I don’t judge a workshop by how much work I finish because I am a fast worker and usually complete several pieces in a class. I judge workshops by how much I learn and how hard I am pushed by the instructor to explore my “edges”. Jackie did that very well! I left feeling I had learned some new “tricks” and I ended up with a number of pieces ready for mats!Ocean's Edge

I particularly liked Jackie’s way of transforming aluminum foil into an interesting collage material. The way she layered pieces on to her work to give work additional dimension was interesting. Her use of mediums was fun to revisit, and her unique way of building a painting was new to me.Red Wonder

Jackie likes sparkle and she had a number of ways to incorporate “glitz” on to the page. Years ago she and Victoria Pittman developed a wonderful class that was presented at the annual calligraphy gathering at Sonoma State in 2000. While I did not take that particular class, I have taken that same metallics workshop three separate times and have learned something new each time. I don’t think Victoria is offering it any more, but Jackie does include some of the techniques in her texture class.Blue Door

I won’t give away Jackie’s secrets but she said many of the techniques that she taught are demonstrated on the video offered for sale on her website. Forest

Creative Process, Mini Quilts, Fabric Pins & Dolls!!!!

My Creative Process

In recent years I’ve found a most enjoyable approach to making art and I’d like to share it with you.  I’ve read about other artists and how they approach their work.  Some plan out their project in great detail before they begin.  I’ve tried that approach and it doesn’t work for me at all.  Anything that’s “super-planned’ usually ends up in my trash can.


Gathering is the first stage of each project I undertake.  For years I’ve kept an idea file.  I have a huge stack of ideas and every once-in-a-while I’ll go through the stack to see if any of the ideas still have “juice”.  The ideas that stay on top become project candidates.  They get put on my project list where they can live a long time before I take any further action.   When I start to get serious about an idea, I create a project box (I like the clear Iris scrapbooking box from Michaels) and begin to gather related ideas, materials, models, photographs, articles – anything that I might use to develop the project further.


When the box gets full I start working with the contents and playing around with “stuff” to see what my next steps should be.  I decide what kind of project it will become – book, collage,assemblage, or piece of fiber art.  The time I spend playing at this stage is great fun.  I love Pinterest and I often review my “pins” to see if there are any interesting ways to expand my thoughts.    It’s exciting to revisit the colors, shapes, textures and ideas I’ve filed away.  Often inspirational flashes will come that help me “jump-start” the project.


When the time comes to construct the project, I have a clear idea of how I will begin.  As I’m building the piece I let the work guide me. I do one thing at a time and the work directs the next step.  This keeps me from feeling overwhelmed.  Since it is a discovery process, I don’t usually know what the finished project will look like.  But I do know when the work is done, because it tells me intuitively when there is nothing left to do.  By keeping an open mind, I experience delightful creative discoveries and hopefully a unique finished product.

This is what I like most about making art!!!!

Mini Quilts

MinidetailInspired by my friend, Barbara Snow from Bellingham, WA, I’ve been having a lot of fun making small quilts using running stitches and French knots.   I’m not a quilter but the idea of a card sized quilt made with fabric scraps and running stitches was appealing.

To get me started Barbara gave me a baggie with a small pile of fabric bits and pieces and some cotton batting.  One could use several layers of old sheeting, percale, or a piece of felt instead of batting.  There was also a piece of scrap fabric for the backing that coordinated with the scraps of fabric in the bag, some sheer fabric (netting, organza etc.), ribbon, and several kinds of thread.  The only additional tools I needed  were scissors, needles, a thimble, pins and beads.

I started by making a “cloth sandwich” with a piece of printed fabric, cotton batting and a piece of an old sheet.  I basted these together about 1/2 inch from the outer edge and then to make sure the fabric didn’t shift, down the middles.

Then the fun began.  After staring at the piece for while, I start stitching without any real  plan for the finished product.  I ran a line of stitching from one edge to the other.  It turned out to be a horizon line.  Then I started stitching around some of the shapes.  Next I added some knots for texture and some beads and more stitching.  Each time I changed materials I asked the work to tell me what to do next.  I used the sheer fabric (netting and organza) to “glaze” the surface.  I tacked the fabric in place with tiny stitches and then added some beading on top to anchor it in place.

The final step involved adding a backing to protect the stitching.  I cut a piece of fabric slightly larger than the little quilt.  Next I folded in the quilt edges to the inside and basted them in place so that they formed a finished edge.  To finish the back and protect the stitching, I cut a piece of fabric and pressed under the edges so it almost met the quilt edge.  I used a blind stitch to hold it in place!  And my little quilt was done.

Card QiiltThis was so much fun to make.  It was finished in several hours – mostly while I watched TV with my husband.  I decided that this type of project is a perfect travel activity because the materials and equipment fit nicely into a baggie, and most of the work can be done in my lap.

For fun, I made up some baggies with fabric, batting, beads, and thread and gave them to friends, just in case they wanted to try it out.

A Hug and A Kiss!!!

These mini pieces of stitchery were originally going to be used on a mini quilt.  But I found myself uninspired.  Then I thought I’d use them on my birthday doll.  But that didn’t speak to me at all.  I finally decided that I would turn them into fabric pins.  I finished the rectangle with the big X on it and realized that I had beaded a “kiss”.  If I placed the small square in a circle and it could be a “hug”.  It was easy to finish up both pins!!  I love the way they work together on a dark jacket.

Hug&KissDonatella – My 2014 Birthday Doll

I just finish my birthday doll for 2014.  Her name is Donatella.  She was a lot of fun to create and a good example of my personal creative process in action.

I started her several weeks before my birthday  by looking at my Pinterest file on art dolls.  I had no visual idea for what the doll might be. Next I started gathering materials. The collection included fabrics caught my fancy, a big of metal “findings’, a drawer full of yarns and ribbons and a multitude of beads of all sizes that seemed to go with the fabrics in the pile.

I spent an evening playing with all this stuff, and making little stacks of things that seemed to go together.  I had several small pieces of red stitching on dark fabric that I thought I might use in a mini quilt, but then I thought it might be fun to use them on the doll.  I vacillated back and forth but the stitchery didn’t go with any of the stacks.  So I set them aside for another project.

I was drawn to a piece of crazy quilted fabric I had made several years ago for a fabric bead project.  I kept coming back to it so I knew it had to be part of the doll.

Once that decision had been made, the doll began to take form.  I found the jeweled piece which told me it was part of the doll’s head.  I felt it was too small to be the whole head so I formed a wire circle and wrapped it with black taffeta.  Voilla!  Donatella’s head appeared, and from that point on I began to see her as a finished doll.

I knew the fabric would be used for the body.   My initial thought was to stuff the body, but somehow that didn’t feel right.  Playing with fabrics I formed a body shape that worked with the head.   Next I formed a petticoat which provided dimension without making an actual stuffed body part. I studied the head with the body and determined  that the legs and arms would be formed with wire and beads.

The biggest challenge came in how to “engineer” the component pieces so they worked together.  After I made the arms and legs and I had to figure out how to attach them.  I ended up using glue and stitching.

The final step was embellishment to enhance her personality.  I used ribbon and yarns to create a scarf.  My final delight came when I added more color.  I put the “hug” in the hands of Donatella and used the “kiss” as the yoke of her dress, coming full circle back to my original intention of including the little red stitcheries.

Donatella now lives on my studio wall as a sweet reminder of achieving my 77th year!


Drawing Adventures

When it comes to drawing I usually use a sketchbook or a good piece of art paper. After I’ve finished the drawing I may add color or I may leave it alone. I’ve never given much thought to the particular surface that I draw on.

This past week at a two-day class titled “ Exploring the Surface: Mixed Media Drawing on Paper”, I tried a whole new approach! The instructor was Catherine Nash, well-known papermaker and encaustic artist who has a personal passion for drawing.

Our first day began with handling an assortment of papers and making marks on them with a variety of tools to see how each paper responded. We treated some surfaces with sizing, wax-based resists such as crayon and then applied colored washes to create interesting backgrounds and drawing surfaces. We purposefully flooded ink and watercolor on to some areas of asian and hand-made papers so that the color would bleed through to the other side. After they dried we turned them over and worked on the back of the page, using the pattern that had bled through as inspiration for the drawing.

On “Day Two” we used a many kinds of drawing materials: pens, stick dipped in ink, crayons, chalk, pastels, oil pastel, graphite sticks and assorted brands of colored pencils to draw on the surfaces we had created the day before.

Our focus was on experimentation and discovery and layering media to develop richness in our drawings. The surfaces we worked on ranged from “Yupo”, a plastic sheet watercolor artists are working with to soft print-making surfaces and papers made from cotton, kozo and abaca fibers.

Here are some quick photos of things I played with.
These ink drawings were done as tests to see how papers responded to sumi ink and Noodles drawing ink in fountain pens. I collaged them together with a glue stick and some stitches.8

This kozo paper with bark chips in it was further distressed with methyl cellulose painted on it in a few areas (hard to detect) and then watercolor pencil and light wash added in a few areas. Now it’s all ready for a drawing!
Yupo and watercolor and a few pen marks make for interesting effects. I think I need a whole class on working with Yupo and I seem to remember that someone at the Drawing Studio is teaching one this spring.
Walnut ink laid gently on to damp sized kozo created the perfect background for a quick sketch of a pistachio branch. I drew it on dried paper with a sick of charcoal and a gentle hand. Next I added the watercolor. After it had dried again, I rubbed off the charcoal and was left with this.5a

I drew this quickly with a graphite stick on paper that had been toned first with washes and then, when dried, rubbed with some soft pastel (yellow-orange).

Now, as you can probably guess, I’m having a lot of fun making a variety of backgrounds so that I’ll have some ready to draw on.

Welcome 2014

New beginnings.
Here I am several weeks into the new year. My “to do” list has had “Write and post on Wild Sage Art” on it for at least the past ten weeks but somehow I don’t get to it! Maybe this year I’ll do better, but maybe this is the “every-once-in-a-while” blog.

I love beginnings – the new year, summer, the school year, my birthday, the first day of every quarter, the equinox, the solstice, the start of something (project, diet, friendship, workshop). For me each one is cause for celebration for at least a day or two. And that has been true this January too – with an extra special bonus. I had been plagued by an h.pylori infection that was recently diagnosed. After treatment, I am feeling so much better – better than words can describe! I feel like I got my life back – another new beginning to celebrate.

Great workshop.
Last week I took my first workshop of the year – a 12 hour class (over three days) with the extraordinary book artist, Laura Wait. She taught us a dimensional structure she developed several years ago. It utilizes a very wide spine which can support a hanger so that the book can be displayed on the wall. Signatures are spaced widely across the spine and stitched on to the spine with a traditional long-stitch. The hanger (cord or wire) is inserted into the spine through two of the stitching holes.

We started out writing with sumi ink on large sheets of BFK. Our natural handwriting became the foundation for paper embellishment. We experimented with a wide variety of tools from pens, colored pencils and chopsticks to wooden shingles and were encouraged to explore mark-making with anything that could transfer ink or paint on to paper. Over the course of the first two sessions most of us managed to get three layers of ink and/or color on to our papers which resulted in rich tapestries for book pages.

I especially appreciated the comfortable atmosphere that Laura created and would encourage you to take a class with her if you are so inclined. She will be teaching two classes at her Santa Fe studio and in San Diego and San Francisco this year. Check out her website for more details. She limits her teaching just a few weeks each year to make sure that she has plenty of studio time to do her own work.

Some of Laura’s favorites for making these painted books:
Paper that folds without cracking.
She likes BFK (heavy – 240 gm) for text pages because they have “bulk. She uses Velin Arches for covering book board and for pages.
Both papers fold without cracking and can handle water and layers of paint.

Watercolor and gouache for painting pages.
She appreciates the quality and extensive color choices of Daniel Smith watercolors. For gouache she often uses Winsor and Newton and Daler Rowney. Inks and liquid watercolor (Hydrus) are also fun to use for this project.

Watercolor pencils with creamy pigment.
When you spray drawn lines, they bleed in interesting ways and they are fun to use when writing on damp or wet paper. Derwent is one brand that is nice and soft.

Easy to handle cover boards.
We used 60 pt. archival case board which was a new product for me. It’s a fairly rigid board that is much denser than mat board. And it is easy to cut when compared to the Davey board most book artists rely on.

I worked on two books during the class and finished them up this past week. The first book, “Sanctuary”, was informed by writing about trees as I was working on large sheets of paper. I was thinking about how a tree can provide food and shelter for birds and other creatures. When it came time to choose a shape, the tallness of trees and the density of foliage where on my mind. After completing the structure I added the branch to the front cover and placed small copper clips to hold folios together – suggesting safe places found under the canopy and between the leaves.
The second book I’ve titled “Markings”. As I looked at the pages I had painted and began to assemble them into signatures, I was struck by the variety of marks and values I had created. Thus the title. When I went to size the book, I created pages that were two contrasting sizes and colors and widely spaced on the spine so there could be movement when the book was handled. This book also has a hanger on the back spine so it can (with a little help from museum wax) be displayed on the wall.