Flowers ... paper and otherwise
Last week I received a beautiful gift from a friend ... a handmade paper box with cut paper roses adorning the lid. In the note she sent along with the box, she talked of the Victorian meaning of flowers ... roses in particular. They hold meaning for love, honor, faith, beauty, balance, passion, wisdom, and intrigue.
My friend's flowers reminded me of the collage work I've done with flowers, much of it inspired by collage artist Mary Delany. Born in 1700, she started her collage work at age 72(!) where it's now exhibited at The British Museum.
Delany's work was especially striking with black backgrounds and vivid colors.
The floral arrangement above mimics Delany's style with the black background, but with natural materials. You can try it yourself by deconstructing and arranging just a few flowers (this arrangement is a lily, a daisy, some greens, and a small yellow flower I can no longer identify). Make your arrangement on black paper or some other background ... just be mindful of working outside and the breeze, it will wreak havoc with your petals (yes, that's the voice of experience).
If you remember, a few weeks ago, I talked about wanting to create larger work and I think I've found a new direction. Three-dimensional paper flowers. Big ones! I'm so excited.
But I must be patient. The supplies I need are not available locally, so I'm waiting for them to arrive in a few days and hope to have something to show next week.
And remember, it's not too late to start something new. Mary Delaney did at 72 and from what I've read about her, it changed her life.
Let's get going.
Making something from nothing
My mother used to make lampshades. Mostly hand-stitched silks shades with fringe. They're beautiful. She also did a turn with paper shades featuring cutouts as well as vintage florals, butterflies, and birds collaged on parchment papers.
She no longer makes shades but still has the vintage papers. When she and my sister were clearing things, they asked if I might be interested in them.
While I usually use painted sheet music in my collage work, I'm really enjoying the challenge and change of working with different materials.
I'm not sure if it's a fanciful flower or butterfly floral? Doesn't really matter, I can't stop.
Yesterday I created more. And in the process relished the satisfaction of making.
For well over an hour I sat snipping papers, switching one flower for another, digging deep into the pile of papers, tilting my head from left to right analyze the layout before settling on the best possible arrangement, then gluing things in place.
It took most of the afternoon before I talked myself into sitting down at my desk to get started, and am so glad I finally got there.
Of course gluing papers in place may not be your idea of fun, but whatever it is, I encourage you to sit down, stand up, or do whatever it takes to get going. I think you'll be glad you did.
Not sure where this is going, but it was fun getting to where we are
All of my collage work is relatively small. I snip and cut some pieces of paper that, if they drop from my scissors, can be hard to find on the table.
Sometimes they're stuck to the scissors; other times my hand; ocassionally they stick to the glue itself, embedded in the top of the glue stick; and then there are those that seem to vanish ... lost forever.
For a while I've thought of making larger collage pieces, but how?
Cutting larger shapes from the sheet music I paint wasn't working. It's too thin and I couldn't make sense of it. But what about cutting the shapes from cardboard shipping and storage boxes?
Trying something different
The barred owl is about a foot tall. He's a bit long in the beak, and there are things I'd change, but overall, not bad for a first go.
When I took it outside for photographs, I thought ... anyone who sees me will think I'm crazy. And then I thought ... who gives a hoot?!
I don't know what will become of my larger collage work, or this owl friend of mine, but I do know it brought me immense pleasure just to make it.
And sometimes, that's all that matters.
The other day when I was feeling restless, not sure what to do with myself, I knew the best thing to do would be to do something.
Presenting myself with a new challenge meant I had to work with new materials, and endure some frustration and challenges. But it I'm glad I did it. I know more than I did and looking at the owl makes me smile.
What a hoot!
July is Anti-boredom Month and it seems the best cure for boredom is action.
Making, doing, and learning.
It's also inevitable. We're all bored at one time or another. The question is, what will you do to get un-bored?
Some still hang
bright and red
others make like
polka dots, red on
The ones that
fill the gutter
line up like bowling
balls in the automated
Is it the imperfections,
or it it because they're not
already picked, in a bag,
in a store?
I wish it was my
It's been a week of bird sightings and activity.
I found a nest in the yard the other day. It was after a few days of strong winds ... winds that must have released it from its perch.
This morning we walked through the park and saw a group of people (a gaggle, or maybe it was a congregation) grouped together, all facing the same direction, looking up at a pine tree.
They were mesmerized by the great horned owl perched high above, with her two owlets(!) all fuzzy and huddled close together. In other words, a parliament of owls. Amazing.
And then there was the paddling of ducks down at the pond.
What's gathering in your neck of the woods?
- a convocation of eagles?
- a stand of flamingos?
- an ostentation of peacocks?
- a wake of buzzards?
- a peep of chickens?
- a muster of storks?
- a host of sparrows?
- an exaltation of larks?
- a colony of penguins?
- a wedge of swans?
- a party of jays?
I made this collage from old maps and a cancelled stamp. It occurred to me that when we look at a map, it's like looking at the world with a bird's eye view. I think we'll always need paper maps ... after all, what if there's no wifi?
A while ago I was feeling out of sorts, a bit edgy, and bored with myself. I didn’t know why and I didn’t know what to do about it.
All I knew was I wanted to shift my mood and stop the creep ... I’d already spent much of the day feeling off and I didn’t want it to creep into what remained of the day.
So I decided to do something. Something I enjoy. I sat at my desk with my collage materials. I like collage work because it’s easy to pick up and put down without taking up a lot of space or having to do a lot of preparation.
After I got going, I realized, once again, it feels good to do.
Was it because I was working with my hands? That may be part of it, but I think it’s more.
I think the doing activates a shift.
A shift from a passive, unsettled state of mind to a state of being active and engaged. It's why I'm such a fan of having hobbies, passions, and pastimes.
It works when I write letters, when I clean, or cook ... just about any activity, really. The challenge, always, is getting started. For the collage work, I started by sitting at the table. I didn’t know what I would do or create, but knew just pulling out the materials would help. And it did.
It's so simple ... yet so hard sometimes.
Why is it so hard? Sometimes it’s because we’re so busy doing for others we forget to tend to ourselves. To take some time (not a lot of time, just some time) to do what we want, instead of what everyone else wants or needs, or demands. Other times, we're just overwhelmed. By our work, our circumstances, and these days, the pandemic.
When I sat down, I wasn't sure what I'd collage, but felt better just sitting with my materials. It was then I realized, it feels good to do. So I made this collage.
This is not the first time I’ve written about stopping the creep. Read my post about the recipe that saved my life and let me know what you do to stop the creep.
A different way to connect
We won't be visiting in person this Thanksgiving, so I'm serving up a side of snail mail.
I've decided to make a small batch of handmade collage cards to send and give thanks (there's still plenty to be thankful for, even if we're apart). Now that I have the design figured out, it's a matter of cut and paste.
The process is a meditation of sorts. Cutting and arranging, cutting and arranging some more. It's the mindless act of doing that's relaxing. I sometimes work with no background sound, other times there's the television in the background, or music, and sometimes there's a conversation happening.
These patterns happened by chance. Well, at least the first set. I was trying to keep count of how many pomegranates I'd cut, so I started lining them up. I liked the pattern and took a photo.
The first image was so compelling, I decided to do it with the next batch. The green leaves were all a jumble until I thought to arrange them in a sunburst pattern. Much better.
This is interesting ... creating parallel designs as I work. It's also a good way to visualize my progress.
Are you a pattern maker? Do you have ways to track your progress on projects?
A less intimidating approach to journaling
This is my second hand-made journal. The first was the October journal - 10 pages folded in half to make 40 pages. At least one page for every day of the month.
I decided to create my own journal book because big, blank journal books are intimidating. So many pages to fill compounded with the idea that the pages should look good, my handwriting should be at it's best, and what I write should matter.
But I've discovered those things don't matter. With a small, monthly journal, the pressure is off.
Why have a journal?
My goal is to write once a day. To mull over what I'm trying to get done, how it's going, and what I need to do next. To ask questions of myself. Writing helps me work through the tough stuff, make sense of what's baffling, and record my progress...and success. However small.
And I get to create a new cover design each month.
In the front of last month's journal I wrote two goals for the month. To finish my letter writing book and a book about birds and birding.
I accomplished the first. Still working on the second.
To be honest, I forgot that I wrote my goals in the front of the book. When I flipped through the book at the end of the month, it caught me by surprise. The other thing that caught me by surprise was that I wasn't disappointed that I hadn't completed both.
I'm thrilled that I completed my first goal (I'm waiting for the final proof of A Snail Mail Guide to Cursive Writing Practice to arrive in the mail today(!)), and I'm working on the second.
The second book is underway, but far from complete. I think the reason I felt okay about it all was that I've been working on it. Making steady progress.
It's hard to know exactly how long it will take, but I do want to push myself and try to finish it by the end of the month.
What I'm discovering, though, is that working toward something is just as important as finishing it by a certain date. The work is the reward. It makes me feel productive, engaged, and ... just better.
And that's why I wrote, "Just the beginning..." on the cover of this month's journal. Because after I finish the birds and birding book, I've got another idea, and another. And that means beginning ... all over again.
Every day is the beginning of something. Maybe it's because something ended yesterday, maybe it's because we discover a new approach, trick, or method, and we're starting in a new direction.
The key is to keep going. Plugging away at things. It's amazing what can get done.
Every day we begin. We can toss aside a bad habit or distraction and focus on something we deem more important. Or not.
If it doesn't work today because you're tired, or not feeling well, or someone needs something you can't put off, you can begin again tomorrow.
It's up to us to do what we tell ourselves we're going to do. Because in the end that's what matters most. I don't want to disappoint anyone ... but most of all, I don't want to disappoint myself.
What are you beginning?
The coolest cat of all
It was a stare down and the cat with the green eyes didn't blink.
Twice now we've seen it, always slinking through the tall grass in front of the house two blocks down, one over.
It never moves when we pass by. Just stares at us, drawing us in, compelling us to stare back. It never blinks. Do cats blink?
It's the coolest cat I've ever seen.
This is a new entry in the I Write Letters to Say series. Today is Letter Writing Day. Letters are really just another way to say hello. To tell a story, to write about something that catches your attention. There's no need to write a two-page essay or worry about anyone correcting your grammar or criticizing your handwriting. They'll just be glad to hear from you and happy to get some mail ... good mail.
Really. People love getting mail and writing can make you feel closer to them.
Give it a go: be the coolest cat in mailbox and make it a good mail day for someone you know.
Here's some stationery to get you started.
Last night we saw fireflies in the corner lot where the grass grows tall.
We stopped so we could see more, and again and again, we pointed and said, "There's one. Over there." And, "Wow!"
Now I want to go back and see them again.
At the end of the block on the corner there's a garden planted on the edge of the road. It's tucked between the street and a stockade fence. It's so small, and jammed into such a small space, it seems more than a garden. It's a declaration. A fertile sign of determination and grit.
Someone wanted a garden and they were not to be deterred.
They wanted to grow peas, and tomatoes, and peppers. We know that's what's growing because they impaled the empty seed packets on sticks to mark what was in the ground. And we've watch them grow for weeks now.
There's a tradition in New England ... peas and salmon on the Fourth of July. Why? The salmon swim upstream this time of year, just when the peas begin to sprout.
I'm not sure the neighbors will pair salmon with their peas, but the garden's bounty is proof there's plenty to be savored when the seed of determination is planted.
Figuring out what works Collage work has become my go-to art form. After trying a bit of watercolor, line drawing, pencil, and more, collage is it.
It's the perfectly imperfect nature of collage that works for me.
It's not that things are sloppy or unfinished. No, I pay attention to detail and form, but its more conceptual than precise.
Finding the rhythm
All of my collage work is done with painted sheet music. No other papers: no book pages, receipts, or found paper. Just sheet music.
That, too, took a while to figure out.
There are no distracting words on the page and I like how the music adds texture to the pieces I cut.
And I've learned it best to keep a supply on hand. A stack of painted sheets. An assortment of reds and yellows, blacks, grays, and greens. Blues, purples, and pinks. Each with varied amounts of paint, rough edges, and dry brush strokes.
Ready when the ideas are
If I have an idea, I like to sit down and start in. If I have to begin from scratch, to paint the colors I want or need, I risk losing some of my enthusiasm, some of the spark that comes with having a new idea.
Having an assortment of colors on hand helps me stay with the idea, to keep my momentum.
I've been running on scraps for a few weeks now and I can feel it holding me back. Little bits of paper cut from larger sheets. Yesterday I ran out of the green I wanted. Lots of scraps, but not enough to finish what I started.
It's time to take stock ... and restock.
Painting the sheets has become part of the process. Part of the preparation.
Be sure you've got what you need to get started. It could make all the difference.
What came first, the shovel or the pine cone?
I can’t say how many times I’ve been down the road where we found the pine cones, but I’ve always been in a car, never on foot.
Last weekend in search of new walking routes, we set out early for downtown Westbrook. There’s a lovely river walk that beckoned and on Main Street, in the middle of town, a sculpture garden.
That’s where we found these particularly large pine cones. It was only when we got close, really close, we saw the pine cones were made from shovels. They are the work of artist Patrick Plourde.
It made me wonder, what came first, the shovel or the pine cone?
Though my collage work is on a much, much(!) smaller scale, they, too are made from repurposed materials, paper after page of sheet music.
I came to use sheet music after stopping at a yard sale. It was the end of the day and there were three big books of sheet music. As I was looking them, the woman who owned them said, "Twenty-five cents each. Otherwise they're headed to the dump."
Well, I wasn't looking for sheet music, but I was looking for was collage papers I could paint, cut, and make something from. I decided to give it a try.
Don't let a lack of supplies hold you back. Dig a little deeper and use some of this to make some of that.
p.s. Yes, pine cone is two words ... should have looked that up before I did the lettering. Grrrrrr.
Three words on a signboard in front of a local church. Hope was at the top, coming soon sat at the bottom of the sign, referring I’m sure to the day they might welcome parishioners inside. The words weren’t meant to be one phrase, but that’s how I saw it. I like to think hope is all around us ... it’s good to know more is on the way.
Yesterday I became the reluctant fixer when the hose on the back of the dryer disconnected. I couldn’t get it reconnected and it started a string of lefty-loosey, righty-tighty missteps, YouTube videos, and a trip to the hardware store where a patient and far-more knowledgeable expert put and end to my cycle of frustration.
Are you handy?
Most of the time I would say I am. But truth be told, it depends when you ask.
Yesterday when I was in the middle of trying to attach that hose, I would have answered with a resounding no. Today, basking in the satisfaction of a job well-done (well, done anyway), I’m more likely to say yes.
It’s a truth most of us can relate to. Doing something for the first time comes with unique challenges:
The key of course of course is pushing through.
Though I wanted to give up, and nearly did, I knew it wasn’t an impossible task. Connecting a vent hose requires minimal tools and supplies ... there’s no rewiring of electricity or other element involved that would best be left to a professional. But I couldn't do it alone.
It took seven YouTube videos, two hours of trial and error, and two trips to two different hardware stores before I figured out what was missing and found what I needed:
A missing element and some guidance.
It also meant letting go. Of a quick fix, of all I had planned for the morning, of perfection, and frustration.
Though I won’t been installing dryer vent hoses on a regular basis, it’s a good, and constant, reminder that while there can be a quick fix here and there, it’s not the rule.
We’re better served, it seems, to recognize things will take more time and effort than expected. That frustration is part of the deal, and a little help from an expert goes a long way.
That even though what we’re trying to accomplish may not always be easy or fun, what we’re left is increased confidence, a bit more know-how, and a deep sigh of satisfaction.
What to do when your thumb is less than green
Gardening takes time, a lot of time. There's the weeding and watering, pinching and pruning, bug patrol, and more weeding and watering. I like the idea of a garden, just not all the work that comes with it.
I'm not sure if I want a garden or just what comes from the garden. The plump tomatoes, crisp lettuce, and striking magenta-colored potato skin on just-rinsed red potatoes.
And flowers. Seeing what others do with flowers nearly makes me weep. It’s stunning.
I don’t want to do the work, but I yearn for the look and the bounty of it all.
Last year I found a solution: container gardens.
Well, window boxes that sit on the porch railing. There’s a cut-out on the bottom of the box that fits the railing and holds it in place.
It is, for me, the perfect solution.
With container gardens, I satisfy an itchy, but less than green thumb. And having the boxes on the porches where I see them as I come and go ensures I won’t forget to prune and water, and water and prune what I've planted.
But still, I keep it simple.
Marigolds, some geraniums, and a small kitchen garden. Just herbs, really. Four plants: parsley and mint for one of my favorite summer recipes, quinoa tabouleh, along with thyme and oregano for good measure.
Container gardens are the answer to small spaces, and small ambitions ... in gardening.
Do you have a flower or kitchen garden? A more ambitious spread with rows of peas, potatoes, and varieties of this and that?
If gardening is not happening in your world, remember, there’s always the farmers’ market. Green thumbs all around and plenty of parsley, sage, rosemary, and thyme.
We took a ride today and from a distance, the bright red petals of the poppies caught my eye. Stunners.
Two too many avocados. All ripe with no recipe to go to.
Well, I should say, no recipe I'd made before that I wanted to make again. I wanted something different.
I needed a recipe.
When I saw the name of the recipe: Chocolate Avocado Pudding, I wasn't sure to what to think other than, what an odd combination of ingredients.
But it works. Avocado and chocolate ... and some maple syrup and a splash of milk.
It's so good every time I place a little bowl of pudding on the table, I ask, "Want some puddin, Puddin?"
If avocados don't make it on your grocery list very often, but you like chocolate pudding, you might want to try the recipe. I use dark cocoa powder and add extra maple syrup. And, according to The Pretty Bee where you can find the recipe, it's paleo and vegan. Two more reasons (if you're looking for one) to try it. Yum, yum.
Do you have recipes with odd ingredient pairings? Do tell.
Sundials: fighting time and finding patience
On our morning walk we passed a sundial and the urge to check the time was irresitible. The arrow (or the gnomon as the shadow-casting feature on a sundial is called) indicated it was just after 7:00.
We were confused.
It was, we knew, just after 8:00. It took us a split second(!) to realize sundials, of course, don’t recognize Daylight Savings Time.
The sundial moved more than time
Seeing the sundial made me think more about time. How we spend it, how we fight with it, and how it teases us.
When I got home, I was reminded once again, that I need to be patient. That whatever hobbies, passions, and pastimes we choose, they need time to build and develop.
Just a week after I started my illustrated journal, I decided to go with the sundial for a new page and collage. But I struggled. I sketched the idea and started cutting bits of paper, but it wasn’t working. The proportions were off and even though one of the things I like most about collage is that it’s perfectly imperfect, it still needs to look like something close to what it represents. I wanted to give up and walk away because things weren’t going my way.
But I didn’t.
I stayed with it, and the more I worked on it, things began to shift. The idea of the sun as a background element came, then adding the minute and hour hands seemed like a good idea. It was slow going, but with each idea, my confidence grew and I forgot about the time, and the struggle.
When I was done, I knew there was a lesson somewhere, and it seems, the lesson is: things take time.
When I sat down I was frustrated and wanted my collage to come together quickly. Clearly, that wasn’t going to happen. My mind needed time to process the concept and figure things out.
But that’s not all.
The sundial set me on a course of unexpected curiosity, offering a couple of other lessons:
You never know where something may lead
When we got home, we were curious about sundials. We learned that sundials are the “earliest timekeeping device” and the element that casts a shadow is the gnomon.
It gave us renewed appreciation for sculpture, the stars, the sun, and the moon.
Hang in there
When I started the collage I was impatient. Things were taking longer than expected and I wanted to give up. But when I finished, nearly two hours later, I felt better. More relaxed and (really) happy that I stayed with it.
How often do you fight with time? Are there lessons you’ve learned from sticking with something?
Tell me about it.
For the love of books
There is a brick and mortar library in the neighborhood, but still, just five blocks away, there is a Little Free Library, a “take a book, return a book” exchange.
As part of our stay-at-home routine we walk around the neighborhood and every day we pass the Little Free Library box. Two weeks ago we put three books in the box and watched and waited to see how long they'd last.
The day after we put them in the box, one of them was gone. But then it took over a week for the second, and today, two weeks later, the third book was gone.
People love to read
Started in 2009 by Todd Bol of Hudson, Wisconsin, the Little Free Library network has spread. In 2020, there are "100,000 registered libraries in more than 100 countries worldwide." People like to read.
Though book exchanges are not a new idea, the Little Free Library keeps a registry of each through a community website.
Build your own
The project has inspired readers and carpenters alike. If you're interested in having a book sharing box in your neighborhood, the Little Free Library site has plans and tips for building and installing your library.
Not sure? There is a delightful gallery of images on their Instagram site.
Wondering if there's a book box in your neighborhood? The Little Free Library website includes a map page where you can look up your location. That’s where I discovered there are three within just a couple of miles of where I live.
Maybe there's one in your neighborhood?