Dec 7, 2012

Quilting a Tiny Rebellion

I got a seriously damaged old quilt at a rummage sale for $5 and immediately started ripping it apart and using the fabric for collage and mixed media. One chilly summer evening I needed a blanket in the studio and it was the most convenient one. I learned that this quilt has just as much to offer in the dark as it does in the sunlight. It felt like the perfect hug. After a few nights I decided that it felt even more wonderful than it looked and decided to quit ripping it apart and start restoring it. Sometimes I choose compatible fabrics and neat stitches; sometimes I make larger patches out of loud fabric and stitches that are intentionally sloppy. It doesn't make sense to mend a quilt that falls apart every time it gets washed. But that's exactly why I do it. This simple act of committing to a lost cause feels very quietly rebellious.

Oct 27, 2012

Tree with Red Lipstick

My mom and I never lived more than a few hours apart but we wrote letters and sent home made cards at least once a week for decades. She made me this wonderful card with a fall leaf from our yard. As I write this the same tree is again red, like it is every year at this time. She wrote to me about the simple pleasures: some really fresh fish, a visit with her sister or subtle observations of changing seasons. She wrote about things that kept her grounded and gave her some joy.
I wrote to her about some kind of complication -- a sniffle, frustration with a class or work, a relationship that wasn't working out. I really do try to find joy in the simple things but it’s just not my forte. When I do find joy in a simple thing it’s usually some piece of junk I've picked up in the street or by poking ridiculous fun at the culture I (try to) live in.
As we get older we sometimes realize how much we are turning into our parents. It can be a frightening thought! Today I'm wishing I could be more like my mom in the way she would gotten up this morning to run outside and pick up the most beautiful fall leaves before she even finished her instant coffee.

Oct 22, 2012

Clutter is Better

I grew up in a cluttered home so my favorite book was this one "What Happened to Piggy?" Poor Piggy got mixed up with the dirty clothes and had a frightening outing to a commercial laundry before returning home (luckily!) unharmed. After that big scare his family cleaned up their act and lived happily ever after. On top of having "What Happened to Piggy" drummed into my head, I was swayed by new age gurus saying that cleaning out clutter would reduce stress and create all kinds of new opportunities for spiritual growth and success. 

I couldn't take the guilt any longer about how I was ruining my life with clutter so I decided to go all Niecy Nash/Clean House on myself and had a massive yard sale/DIY fix up. I now live in a mostly clean and organized home and I have to say: Piggy and the new age gurus both steered me wrong. I'm pretty sure some of the "Clean House" families got together for a good cry and some serious self medication in newly cleaned and organized homes -- that's what I did! I'm giving it a little (just a little) more time before heading to some yard sales to get my clutter on again. Meanwhile I've retreated to the only room in my home that is still somewhat messy -- the other rooms just scare me. 

If you have plans for cleaning up your clutter and organizing your life I urge you to immediately stop feeling guilty about being a slob and just relax and enjoy. If you're still not convinced I suggest reading "A Perfect Mess: The Hidden Benefits of Disorder - How Crammed Closets, Cluttered Offices, and on-the-Fly Planning Make the World a Better Place". 

Oct 12, 2012

Someone Else's Souvenirs

A friend recently commented, "You act like you've never traveled!" in a more than slightly snarky way, like "You can't possibly be as stupid as all THAT!" I managed to convince her that yes, I really was white trash. It wasn't too hard.

But I can see why she was a bit confused. My home is filled with vintage kitschy souvenirs that I've picked up for next to nothing at local yard sales. I serve drinks in glasses representing almost all of the 50 states (most of which I've never been to). In summer my back yard looks like a tiki lounge. I have an astonishing collection of old postcards, all from places I've never been. 

I live in a summer resort, so the idea of a "tourist" is, well, unappetizing. Me? A tourist? Ha! Hell no! Spending time on a cruise ship sounds like purgatory to me. I know there are many alternative modes of travel but spending money is often involved, and that's been somewhat of a barrier. 

But my friend really got me thinking about applying myself to going somewhere, just about anywhere, on a shoestring budget. Then a free travel offer arrived in my inbox today: A one-day round trip bus trip to a battleground state to knock on doors for the Obama campaign. Hmmmmm ... how desperate am I to get out of town? In the meantime I'll make some collages inspired by someone else's souvenirs. Here's one for Venice, where (of course) I've never been. 

Oct 9, 2012

Trashion at Maker Faire

Maker Faire says its "A two-day, family-friendly festival of invention, creativity and resourcefulness, and a celebration of the Maker movement". Its also a group of brilliant geeks, a few Burning Man vehicles, the Life Size Mousetrap Game (literally), edgy crafters, 3D printers, food and lots more.  There are even some boring corporate booths but no one pays much attention to them because they don't have the cool stuff. 

Last weekend I presented my Trashion Accessories workshop at World Maker Faire in New York and won an Editor's Choice Award. The creativity and the crowds (estimated at over 50,000 people) were overwhelming! 

It was a bit crazy to present a one-on-one workshop to hundreds of people (mostly kids) outdoors for two full days. The goal was to make a fun and wearable accessory. I brought an array of interesting materials that cost me next to nothing: discarded weed wacker cords, T shirts, computer cables, felted sweaters, wire, a leopard print Snuggie, safety pins, thread, magazines, cardboard, Diet Coke bottles and, most importantly, a ton of patience. 

I was really amazed to see how people were able to stop and create in the middle of a chaotic festival surrounded by so many interesting things. They committed to making something and didn't walk away until they were done. Then they walked away very proudly wearing their creation -- which in almost every case was quite cool. 

Disney was giving away plastic kites just a few booths away.  In spite of Disney's resources (and the obvious name and character recognition) the kids had a much richer experience making their own things out of a bunch of stuff that cost practically nothing. 

Sep 24, 2012

Sweater & T shirt Necklace

Easy & almost free necklace #2. I cut a felted sweater (orginally striped) into squares, threaded them on a scrap of wire and strung on my favorite kind of cord (a strip of an old T shirt). This T shirt happened to be tan and looks just like faux suede. Cost of necklace: free. I was going to donate the sweater & T shirt anyway. Plus I can make probably 30 from one sweater and T shirt.

I didn't travel to the tropics to take this photo. I used an Elephant Ear plant in my back yard as the background. The bulbs are inexpensive and can be brought inside and stored for the winter. The leaves can be over 2 feet long and will turn any back yard into a tropical paradise. (A few Tiki torches can't hurt either.)

Vintage Computer Graphics

I'm working on some super fast & super cheap projects for a workshop at Maker Faire. I was going to recycle a book from 1984 called "Art and the Computer". Seriously, why did I even still have this totally 80s computer graphics book? But something held me back and I decided to keep it. These vintage computer graphics are so dated that I think they're actually cool.

I made this necklace by glueing a page from the book on corrugated cardboard. I put a scrap of wire through for hanging and made the necklace by cutting a black T shirt into a long strip. Of course any image/collage from a book or magazine would be fun.


Following the pattern of TV’s “Project Runway,” my  8 to 11 year old students create these designs in my "Trashion" workshops. The girls are divided into teams and given an array of trashy items I’ve collected. And of course we have runway shows with guest judges. Every summer we exhibit the work. In the of 2011 we collaborated on a fundraiser with Donna Karan’s Urban Zen and exhibited the collection in the store. This summer we had a spectacular runway show in the Hamptons. (Ironic, yes!) Here are some additional photos.

I'll be at Maker Faire this coming weekend, September 29th & 30th. 

I love the magical process of collaboration  and invention that occurs in these classes. Thanks to for the wonderful article about my work!

Interesting Footprint

Amid all the footprints in the sand  along the shore this one caught my eye. I'm assuming that someone wore flip flops with "REUSE" carved into the bottom.

I love my recycled flip flop doormat and I have recycled flip flop bracelets too. I reuse all kinds of things that come across my path but so far I haven't made anything out of flip flops. So that's my latest challenge. What can I make out of this summer's old flip flops? (They're in the washer now getting freshened up.)

Crafting & Activism

Crafting and activism are two of my very favorite things, so when I get to do both at the same time its just a perfect day. Last Sunday I joined the Occupy Arts & Labor group Debt Squares project.

I made the square in the foreground of this photo. It represents my home because I almost lost it due to medical debt after a serious illness. Debt is a huge burden, and to make matters worse many of us (like me) feel guilty about, even if it was though no fault of our own. It was so healing and empowering to sew and share with the other people participating in this project.

May 11, 2012

Bender on the Beach

Yesterday the surf was really rough so all kinds of things washed up on the shore. My favorite finds were colorful and plastic. I know I "should" hate the garbage that washes up on the shore but I just can't. Yes, I hate it from an environmental standpoint, but from a creative standpoint I totally love it.  I started making and photographic faces on the beach with the stuff I collected. This one looks like one of my heros, Bender from Futurama. 

May 9, 2012

Found Wood Necklace

I'm trying to create jewelry that reflects my values, so all components have to be found/recycled or Fair Trade. I found the wood at the Brooklyn Botanical garden near Patrick Dougherty's wonderful woven wood sculpture.  It was a beautiful day with cherry petals swirling around like a pink snow globe. Yup, I stole a wood chip from the BBG as a little souvenir. I wanted to keep that all important wood chip integrity, so I just sanded it a bit, applied some lemon oil, gold leaf and attached the chain.

May 6, 2012

Newspaper Derby Hat

I made this hat out of newspaper and used hot glue, staples and tape to construct it. There is no hat underneath this hat! I was invited to a fancy Kentucky Derby party and didn't have a thing to wear. So I  made this hat and wore it with basic black. They had a contest for the best hat and I won a terrific dinner.

May 4, 2012

Keith Haring

I took this photo on July 13, 1982 at the Astor Place subway stop on my way to work. Last week I saw a similar piece in the Haring Show at the Brooklyn Museum. I used a Polaroid SX-70, the same kind of camera Keith used to take the self portraits at the beginning of this show. Seriously, two of my all time favorite things: street art and Polaroid SX-70 cameras. 

In 2012 you can see Keith's work in a museum. You can also buy a vintage SX-70 camera on Amazon and get film from the Impossible Project. But nothing can quite compare with the magic of finding this work in ordinary places back in the day. 

This week I got a little dose of the kind of magic I'm most fond of. Some wonderful people Occupied NYC with art on May Day and I found myself smiling like it was 1982. 

Apr 17, 2012

Recovering Art Major

I don't think I ever got a good critique on a painting. How did I deal with that? Simple, I stopped painting. Its pretty easy for me to look at a found or discarded object and think of some interesting way to transform it, but facing a blank canvas armed with just paints is something I just don't do.  For some reason doing a bad painting makes me feel like a total failure. 

I decided to go dive into that emotional territory and spend the afternoon painting. The results were so bad ... even the rags looked better than what I was working on. I felt like a total failure. I grabbed a beer and did a little journal writing for therapy. Then I threw everything in the trash except this one. 

Now I'm looking at this painting thinking "Its not really that bad. Maybe I can do this." 

Apr 10, 2012

Driftwood Jewelry

Traditional jewelry just isn't looking right to my eye lately, so I got the idea to combine beach finds with stitching to make jewelry. I experimented with drilling pieces of clamshell with my Dremel and a diamond tip drill bit. When I got the holes close enough to do some stitching the shell broke ... so I decided to switch to driftwood. First I added a little paint in colors reminiscent of weathered post beach clubs (that I never belonged to), and then a bit of embroidery floss and wire. Really fun, I'm going to make more. 

Apr 9, 2012

The Armchair Traveler

If you live near New York City you can go on a photographic day trip to China and Japan. I took these photos with my iPhone at the Chinese Scholar's Garden at the Snug Harbor Cultural Center in Staten Island.  Walking through eight pavilions and numerous courtyards overlooking a variety of water features is more like a journey than a visit to a park. Even on this perfect day we had this hidden treasure all to ourselves.

On April 28th & 29th I'll be heading to Sakura Matsuri festival at the Brooklyn Botanical Garden. I recommend going early because it gets super crowded, bringing a "real" camera and a blanket for a picnic lunch. New this year is a matchbox haiku workshop. 

Watercolor Silk Print

Whenever I find something made from silk that's under $2.00, I buy it. For this piece I cut the back out of a silk blouse and tacked it over the bottom of a shoe box. I gathered up a few colors of Dye-na-Flow (a concentrated liquid color designed for silk painting), a spray bottle filled with water, some cups for color mixing and extra water. 

First I sprayed the fabric with water to dampen it. Then I watered down the Dye-na-Flow a bit and started painting. When I finished the area I was working on I removed the tacks and repositioned the silk so that I had a new blank area for painting. The finished piece is 24" x 24". I'm thinking of using this piece as the front of a boxy top and leaving the back natural silk.  

Apr 4, 2012

Ocean Inspiration

Every day different things wash up on the shore. Some days there's lots of sea glass, some days there is an astounding array of deflated mylar balloons with their ribbons attached. Once in a while there are tons of starfish, or Monarch butterflies who aren't going to make it to their winter vacation.

Today was driftwood day. Because I need garden markers for the seed I planted, I gathered up pieces that were once part of a show fence along the dunes. That trusty wood burning tool turned them into easy garden markers. I also found a giant piece of driftwood, and a man joking said that it would make a good weapon. I said "Its for the peas" (pictured above, just peaking through the ground).

My favorite beach find transformation was when I found lots of chowder clams at the shoreline, still alive and kicking. I collected as many as I could carry in my scarf and brought them home to make a big pot of chowder. 

Eco Dye & Stitch

These fabric scraps were dyed using the same process as my eco friendly egg dye project (previous post). I made the dyes from onion skins, red cabbage, orange peel and green tea in various combinations. Vinegar was added set the color. I also used a tiny bit of bleach on the purple to bring out some green tones.

I was inspired by one of my favorite movies,  Great Expectations, the original (romanic decay at its finest) and the Boro textiles of Japan.The fabrics were all neutral cottons & silks cut from old clothes. I like the idea that these colors aren't permanent and I look forward to this piece changing over time.

Apr 2, 2012

Eco Friendly Egg Dye

I used these instructions to test out some natural egg dyes made from kitchen ingredients. Why did I photograph scraps of fabric instead of eggs? Because I only got two colors to work to my satisfaction, the golden yellow from the onion skins and the purple from the red cabbage. Good thing I practiced before Easter! Maybe I should have known better when I saw that this was posted on Better Homes & Gardens. Aren't they notorious for their test kitchens? Oh, and the part about leaving them in the fridge overnight ... don't do it. Keep an eye on the eggs as the color develops of they'll get too dark and blotchy.

So the effort wouldn't be a total loss I tossed some scraps of cotton and silk into my dye cups to give them some more personality for an upcoming project.

So if you want to go the all natural Easter egg route, I definitely recommend a practice run. Hope you have better luck than I did! Now I've got to do a google search for a recipe to use up all those onions and cabbage.

Mar 31, 2012

Something New

I was looking around my studio and found many things that were just damn ugly. The only thing they had going for them was that they were vintage, and vintage isn't always pretty. On their own the color combinations weren't working, and when I held them together ... yikes! So I decided to take these mismatched ugLY fabric and paper and make a collage.

First I made a kind of a patchwork then adjusted the colors a bit with glazes. Still not much going on, so I added some oil pastels. What I really like about this piece is that it looks nothing like anything I've ever done before. So my recommendation is take the ugliest, mismatched stuff in your studio and make something out of it. Maybe you'll find something new as well. 

Mar 30, 2012

Guilty Pleasures

I've been experimenting with traditional art supplies recently -- acrylic paint & mediums, pastels, oil pastels, inks. I've had this stuff in my studio for years but just didn't have any reason to use it. I love repurposing useless things and giving them a new life. But using the traditional mediums ... I'm feeling kinda guilty but I can't stop!

Mar 28, 2012

Free Store Fun

I love exploring the ideas of alternative social and economic systems. (Maybe that's why I Occupy?) When I heard that there was a pop up free store at Occupy Town Square in Fort Green Park this weekend I had to participate. Lots of great clothes and all kinds of useful stuff. There was something really beautiful about the fact that everything was free -- it was a delightful little vacation, a breath of fresh air. I brought some art supplies and got a great haul of vintage postcards (for collage).

Thanks to Calliope for creating this really inspiring banner. You can see more of her work here

Greetings from Riverhead!

I'm an artist and collector of vintage postcards, so I decided to photograph my home town and create my own hand colored vintage postcards. I had such a wonderful adventurous day doing this project!

Dear Andrea
This place is just magical in a creepy crime scene kind of way. The little dock is seriously dangerous and so is the one remaining swing. Behind the pool you can see the top of a grand pagoda. I went to check it out and its like one of the seven wonders of Riverhead. The ceiling is made of up of spectacular Chinese paintings. This ambitious and surreal project was never completed. That part I can understand, but why was it started. You'd love this place!

Dear Darlene & Brent,
I was really excited to see a family enjoying the river. They said they were new to fishing and were just out for the fun of it. Hope they don't catch anything because Brookhaven Labs dumped heavy metals (including mercury) organics (including PCBs) and radionuclides in to the river years ago. Like they didn’t know how dangerous that was, they’re a research lab! I checked online to see what the safety recommendations were for consuming fish caught in the Peconic River and came up with conflicting reports. Brookhaven labs said it was “fine”. Well, the river was so beautiful in spite of the radionuclides that we plan to rent a canoe some time in the next few weeks. I think that should be pretty save as long as we don't fall in. Want to come with us?
Patti & David

Dear Robinson,
You may think this is a stock photo, but I assure you that there are wild animals are living along the river and that I took it myself. I think this dock is a great place for baby raccoons to live because they get a freshly prepared gourmet dinner when the fisherman return. I hear they’re pretty good swimmers, too. Unfortunately I didn’t encounter any more wildlife that day but I know there are deer, turtles, bats, great blue heron and salamanders that make this river their home. 

Dear Sandra,
My cousin said that she was willing to sponsor us to the of Moose, and we may take her up on it because she said if you’re a Moose for like 10 years you could retire to Moose Village and not have to be homeless. So I looked it up and found that Moose members included Harry S. Truman, Danny Thomas, Jimmy Stewart, Arnold Palmer and Ernest Borgnine. Some of my other cousins live down the street from the Lodge, and we have an annual Easter kite flying contest on the Moose field. It’s pretty competitive, with people using fishing poles & line so they can get their kite the highest. Yes, and we have cool trophies too, like a horse’s ass for the loser, but we only give that one to an adult. One year a cousin invited an Indian family she knew from work. The problem was that they used glass covered kite string made famous in the book “The Kite Runner”. It was kind of a culture clash. Maybe you want to be a Moose too & we can live in the Moose village together when we get old?
Your best friend,

Mar 26, 2012

Tiny Repurposed Embroidery

I've been really interested in embroidery lately, but not the traditional kind. I decided to start small -- this tiny embroidery is less than 1 inch square. The base is a pair of white linen pants. I've used little scraps of paper and cloth that ended up on my studio floor and built up the layers until I was satisfied. Fun! More to come ... 

Why Is That Girl Holding a Gun?

I have a collection of LIFE magazines from the 60s. I bought them many years ago and they keep on being inspirational. The woman on the top left is a packing tape transfer from a car ad circa 1964. What was that Mad Men ad exec thinking when he decided that this very modern woman would make people buy a car more if she was holding a wild west handgun?

I'm not very good at creating a body of work. I make lots of different things and the common denominator is that they're based on repurposing.  But that's about the only thing these pieces have in common. I found 12 pieces of free plywood and challenged myself to make 12 collages in one month. I used LIFE magazine, pattern paper, 50s fabric, ink and nail polish in this piece.

Mixed Media in the Spring

I've been making collages forever. In the beginning I was inspired by Joseph Cornell. My study of his work led to a job cataloging his source materials before they were shipped to The Archives of American Art. Much of this collection has been digitized and is now available online through the Smithsonian.

What's new in this piece is the use of acrylic paint (white) and Golden Clear Tar Gel. I got the wonderful book Surface Treatment Workshop and was really interested in the ways acrylic mediums can add texture and depth to collage.  Being someone who never follows instructions I made up a few of my own recipes.  Here I layered scraps of fabric and paper with colored inks and gel medium on a scrap of plywood and finished off with a thick layer of tar gel and a matte varnish. I used tape around the edges to build up the layers of Tar Gel -- still working on a way to get it really flat and to get rid of the little bubbles. 

Mar 13, 2012

Old School Polaroid Transfers

Sometimes we only realize that an experience was really magical when we look back on it.  The afternoon I took this photo I was completely aware that it was a real gift be able to share this kind of creative adventure. When he was feeding the bird I saw something that perfectly represented what I was feeling. After the image was completed it took on an additional meaning, more of a spiritual representation of past and present, ghosts and memories.
This image was created using the Polaroid transfer process, which always has a large element of chance involved no matter how well you know it. I love surprises and the unpredictable interaction with the medium along with the truly old school process.
I’m a Polaroid geek. Film has gotten more rare & pricy but now we can all be digital Polaroid geeks with iPhone apps like Shakeitphoto. I use this mac app called Instant Its really useful for blurring a pixelated iPhone pic just enough and making it cool. 
I've actually done a photo series I’ve done using a broken digital camera. Once again I’m drawn to an unpredictable process and a reflection on memory and nostalgia.

Mar 11, 2012

Moss in a Dish Garden

As an artist I look for inspiration everywhere.  This week, I checked out the Hawaii themed Philadelphia International Flower Show. You wouldn’t believe the amazing things people can do with plants! It very much reminded me of dogs at Westminster -– neither the dogs or the plants look the same way in real life as they do at these events.

I rescue and find homes for Pekingese dogs. My dogs don’t look much like the astonishing Malachy who won best in show at Westminster this year. And my plants don’t have much in common with the fancy ones at the Flower Show. Except in the case of the hot new trend: moss!

The Flower Show hosted a packed workshop all about moss that was filled with moss enthusiasts like myself. Moss is having a moment because its low maintence and eco friendly. Save the earth & be lazy -- that's a perfect combo in my book. If you don't enough moss in you yard you can order more online. 
Because I love the challenge of making art and crafts with recycled and found materials, I decided to unleash my inner floral designer and make a moss dish garden using just what I could find in the house and yard.

I took a dish from the kitchen and filled the bottom with stones for drainage. Then I added soil, driftwood, rocks, moss and little plants. For maintenance I’ll water the plants at the roots when needed and mist the moss frequently. This would be a good project to do with the kids because you’ll see all kinds of little plants popping up that you might otherwise not have noticed. Happy Spring!

Feb 28, 2012

Well Loved Quilt Rewind

I bought a well loved old quilt that was really falling apart. Many of the squares were torn or missing but I loved the worn and faded the remaining fabric. It was extremely fragile so I decided to make a fabric collage using Misty Fuse. Its a very sheer fusible webbing that bonds the fabric permanently and is nearly invisibly when ironed. I frayed the fabric a bit more and added a few extra fibers. 

Feb 17, 2012

Valentine's Candy Box Rewind

This outfit is a collaborative project I made with a group of  8-12 year old girls. As soon as I saw the empty Valentine's chocolate box I thought "Bling!" The girls added the acrylic jewels. The dress is made from a coffee sack. I had to make it larger for the mannequin so I poked holes in the sides and added and tied strips of fabric cut from an old plaid shirt. Click here to find out more about my recycled fashion class. 

Feb 14, 2012

Cozy Dog on a Cozy Sweater Pillow

I was inspired by my button box. Once I stacked up the buttons they looked so interesting I had to figure some way to display them so I made this pillow from a felted wool sweater. (Wash on warm, dry on hot & you've got a felted sweater.) And my dog New New used the pillow to display ... himself! 

Recycled Bangle

I used a cardboard tape roll end as the base of this bracelet. To make it smaller & fit I removed a 1.5" wide slice from the cardboard and taped it back together. Then I wrapped it with some bits of yarn from my stash and finished it by using hot glue to line it with a scrap of leather. I think its going to be a big year for bangles! No more cardboard tape rolls are going in my recycling bin. Today's Creative Blog

Feb 7, 2012

Valentines for Occupy Wall St

Occupy Wall Street has sparked a conversation about all kinds of social and economic issues. I made these embroidered pins (or patches) from felted wool sweaters and embroidered them with OWS to encourage a conversation. What is OWS? What do you think about the Occupy movement? If you'd like one (FREE!) email me with your mailing address. P.S. No personal information will be used for any kind of marketing. 

Feb 5, 2012

Sweater Turns into a Potholder

I have fond memories of making those loopy potholders and still have my loom. The sleeve of this felted wool sweater made perfect, colorful loops. This project made me think of Amy Sedaris' (funny!) book "Crafts for Poor People". Very 1930s too. Perfect for taking a budget-friendly casserole out of the oven.