Art · Art Therapy · Craftivism · Design · Photography · Reuse · Sewing · Upcycling

Napkin drawings

After decades of a design career in Silicon Valley, I’ve had countless opportunities to create (or witness the creation of) a napkin drawing. While lunching with friends or co-workers and an idea begins to develop, we’d draw it on whatever was at hand — usually the paper napkin.

What do I do with all those table linens I inherited?

In recent years my linen storage began to overflow with tablecloths, placemats, and napkins from deceased relatives. Most of them are white and either cotton or linen. Many of them have little stains with torn or frayed edges. I started to wonder how I could use them since I make most of my art from upcyled or repurposed materials.

What better place to sketch my happy memories than onto the cloth that witnessed countless dinners, tipsy toasts, birthday, and holiday celebrations. These rectangles of linen and cotton have soaked up the champagne and the tears of loved ones for many years. Is that a drip of juice from the blueberry pie my mom made? A circle of red wine that my stepfather loved so much? Is that spot of chocolate from my sister’s flourless chocolate cake?

Once friends and family heard about what I was doing with old linens, they started offering them. I quickly realized that not all dinner napkins are great for hand stitching. The cotton damask napkins are lovely but because of its unique weave the embroidery threads can get lost between the napkin threads. I set those aside and have been repurposing them by dyeing them using shibori folding and clamp resist techniques. It is a great way to give those napkins a whole new life.

Capturing the moment

During the past three years I’ve lost three close family members. This loss, combined with our country’s political climate (and the pandemic) caused me to want to work only on art that was joyful. What gives me great joy is looking at photographs I have taken of family and friends. I began to choose pictures I’d made that had the following qualities:

  • people who were engaged with each other and (preferably) not posing for the camera
  • children interacting with adults
  • children engaged in classic childhood pursuits
  • a scene that conveyed a sense of joy, discovery, or pleasure

I read a recent quote from an artist who said, “For me producing photorealistic copies of anything in any art form has been redundant since the invention of photography.” I don’t agree with her. I start with images that maybe aren’t great photographically but that convey a sense of intimacy between the subjects. My hope is to capture a moment between two people that those less observant might miss. And I want to show it with the fewest lines possible.

My process

Once I’ve selected a photo I begin the process of scaling it to the correct size and manipulating it so that more details are revealed. Then I print out the photo. I use both Photoshop and Lightroom to work with my images. Once I have a printed image I make a sketch. I leave out a lot of information. I try to use the bare minimum number of lines to convey volume, facial expressions, and gestures. Using a small light box I then transfer the sketch onto the napkin using either water- or heat-soluble ink. Then the hand stitching begins. (Yes. They are all stitched by hand — not machine.) Most of the drawings are made using a hand-dyed perle cotton thread that I get from ArtFabrik.

Showing a year’s worth of work

Last weekend I participated in the Whidbey Working Artists Studio Tour. It was a gorgeous weekend and the perfect opportunity for me to display the collection of napkins I’ve created — 27! My wonderful husband constructed a temporary clothesline for hanging the napkin drawings. It was very exciting to show these as a group and to hear people’s responses to them. It was the very best part of the Studio Tour for me. My friend, Monty Hunter, made a video of the display so that I could show it here and to people who were unable to attend. I hope you enjoy it.

Slow pan of the entire napkin drawing display at my Studio Tour in August, 2022.

If you are interested in seeing how I end up finishing these drawings — or if I decide to sell them, please keep an eye on my website and sign up for my newsletter. I’ll keep you up to date on my progress there.

Art · Etsy · Small business

A new page in my story

Five years ago I opened an Etsy shop and four years ago I wrote a blog post called, “What’s it like to have an Etsy shop?” Today I closed that shop. There were lots of reasons behind that decision. One of the reasons was because Etsy hadn’t improved in those five years. It just continued to get more crowded and more expensive. The other main reason is that I wanted to have a space where I could show my artwork in different ways than I could on Etsy. Etsy is only about commerce and I wanted to have a place to show work that wasn’t for sale as well as work that was.

I spent the past 6 months working on a new website. (Mostly I let it sit due to yet another family death.) But with the help of a wonderful web designer, Christy Price, I finished it this week. It doesn’t have all the work in it that I’d like to have, but I’ll continue to add to it as time allows. I like the ability to show my work in groups because I tend to make work that is part of a series. The website has a shop and I am now offering some of my art quilts for sale as well as the bags. Please come take a look, sign up for my newsletter, and browse through my creations. You’ll find the new site here:

Aging · Art · Art Therapy · Charity work · Sewing

Consider the caged bird

My last blog post was a little over a year ago when the COVID 19 pandemic hit the world with lethal force. At the time I thought it would be a short-lived event and that a little art project with kids would get me through the worst of the lockdown. I was wrong on both counts. The pandemic is still with us a year later and sadly, over 3 million have died worldwide. My creative life and art projects has taken an odd turn during this time.

I have never been a person who is short on ideas. I have so many ideas that I don’t have enough time to pursue them all. You should see the slightly amused and frightened look on my husband’s face when I say to him, “I’ve got an idea!” This past year though, my desire to pursue my artistic ideas just froze. I stopped writing this blog because I found that I couldn’t think of anything worthwhile to say. The events in our country and around the world had rendered me speechless. I stopped making my own art and started taking classes so that I could be led through a project instead of pursuing my own projects and ideas. I threw myself into making quilts for a local group that I helped start. Making these quilts was a way of being creative without having to think much. I kept asking myself why couldn’t I respond to this pandemic with my art? I had no answers. Everything in my life took on a different meaning because I’m over 60 and I became more aware than ever of my impending mortality.

In March of this year I got my first COVID 19 vaccine shot and suddenly I felt I could create again. I know this sounds weird because that shot didn’t guarantee that I wouldn’t get sick or die. But something about getting the shot unlocked the part of me that couldn’t respond artistically to my year of living in lockdown mode. Yay! I started creating my own work and exploring ideas about feelings I have had during the past year.

I started using caged birds as a metaphor for different scenarios of my life through this pandemic. In these images I included the feeling of:

  • being trapped
  • longing for my loved ones who were far away or unreachable
  • the craziness of parents being stuck inside with kids for too long
  • the sense of counting the days till all this is over and “normal life” can resume
  • the fear of going outside my home and being exposed to the virus
  • a parent’s need to protect their children from not only the virus but hate and racism

I’ve created seven fabric collages (so far). To incorporate words into some of them I used Morse Code since it translates so well into stitching. Here they are in order of creation:

Collage 1 – Cage Life
Collage 2 – Let me out. Set me free.
Collage 3 – I miss you.
Collage 4 – Counting the days
Collage 5 – Get me outta here!
Collage 6 – We’re coming to get you!
Collage 7 – SOS

Our pandemic is far from over so I’ll continue to add to this series. Even though I’m now fully vaccinated, I still feel like my wings are clipped. Life may never return to what it was before this pandemic but I’m glad that I am able to create once again.

Art · Art Therapy · Kids art · Learning · Photography · Upcycling

Quarantined with kids? Let’s make a zoo!

You can make animal portraits out of anything.

NOTE: All ages are welcome! If you are quarantined or social-distancing, please join us no matter your age.

Some of my favorite kids are stuck at home right now because their schools have closed temporarily. It got me thinking, “What kind of fun project could I do with them when I’m stuck on Whidbey Island in Washington and they are stuck in California?” I decided to make a quarantine zoo. Being in a zoo is a little like being confined to your house, right?

The wax from these cheeses works well for quick animal sculptures.

I remember how my son Charlie used to create animals out of all sorts of things. He would save the wax from the snack-sized cheeses and mold animals out of that wax. We kept the finished pieces in the refrigerator so they wouldn’t melt in hot weather. There was an entire herd of yellow and red animals for quite awhile. He also liked to carve animals and shapes out of large carrots. He didn’t use a knife, he used his teeth. It was quite creative but it meant that dinner could take a really long time! The point is, you can make animals out of just about anything so if you don’t have lots of art supplies at your house right now — no worries.


Create a scene with your animal toy to tell a story. This dinosaur can’t resist my apple pie.

Here’s how it works
For the next month, we will build a zoo together. Here on Whidbey Island school is cancelled for up to 6 weeks. Let’s try this for a month and see how we do. We will start adding animals everyday to our zoo from March 15 till April 15th. The animals can be made of anything. I’ll add a list of ideas below to get you started. Once the animal is finished, you’ll need to take a picture of it with a phone camera. Then an adult with Instagram access will need to post it to their Instagram page with the hashtag #quarantinezoo. To keep kids internet-safe, please just include initials and age. At daily intervals, I’ll collect as many of the animals as I can and post them here on my blog so people can view the entire collection. You can also see the zoo by following the hashtag #quarantinezoo. Are you ready?

This snake is cut from a magazine insert. No need to buy special papers. Recycle what you have on hand.

Let’s get started
1. Every day for the next month, make an animal. It can be a drawing, a sculpture, a collage — anything you can photograph. If you want, use the list below to find pictures of amazing animals in the PhotoArk. I’ve picked one animal for each day of this monthlong project. If you want to pick a different animal, that is just fine.

2. Photograph the finished animal with a mobile phone.

3. Post the photograph on Instagram and use the hashtag #quarantinezoo. Using this hashtag is very important. It helps me collect all the animals and put them in the zoo. Please include your initials, age, and the name of the animal.

This is my test Instagram post. It has the following information for our zoo.
Name: (initials only)
Location: (State, Country)
Hashtag: #quarantinezoo


Suggested topics
Following is a list of suggested animals for you to create. I picked them from the incredible National Geographic Photo Ark project. You can make any animal you want to but if you get stuck and would like a suggestion, here’s a list:

Day 1   San Jose Cochran Frog
Day 2   Red Lorie
Day 3    Four Horned Antelope
Day 4   Elk River Crayfish
Day 5  Western Spotted Skunk
Day 6   Clark’s Anemonefish
Day 7    Common Death Adder
Day 8   Gray’s Twig
Day 9   Black Necked Aracari
Day 10   Sitatunga
Day 11    Baby Swamp Wallaby
Day 12   Grevy’s Zebra
Day 13   Bewick’s Swan
Day 14   Blue Spotted Pufferfish
Day 15    Turquoise Parrot
Day 16   Nine-banded Armadillo
Day 17   Vervet Monkey
Day 18   Pallid Spiny Soft-shell Turtle
Day 19    Przewalski’s Wild Horse
Day 20   Haussa Genet
Day 21   Short-beaked echidna
Day 22   Florida Deermice
Day 23    Bilby
Day 24   American Rubyspot Damselfly
Day 25   Bobtail squid
Day 26   Southern Tamandua
Day 27    Schmidt’s Red-tailed Guenon
Day 28   Enid Snail
Day 29   Green Pygmy Goose
Day 30   Schneider’s Skink
Day 31    East African Crowned Crane
Day 32   Indian Flying Fox

Ideas for materials to use
Drawing – pencils, crayons, colored pencils, chalk, markers, paper
Painting – watercolor, oils, acrylic, paper, cardboard or canvas
Sculpture – wax, clay, mud, flour dough, wood
Collage – papers, buttons, beads, fabric, ribbon, tape, glue, scissors
Indoor ideas – legos, blocks, wire, pipe cleaners, twist ties, rubber bands, paperclips, straight pins, wine corks, toothpicks, all types of food (beans, seeds, rice, pasta, candy, nuts), thumbtacks
Outdoor ideas – sticks, leaves, rocks, dirt and mud, seed pods, pine cones, shells, sand drawings

Watercolor, pencil, marker, crayon — any of those will work.

I’m ready to start, are you? Let’s build the Quarantine Zoo! (If you want to start a day early, that’s okay!)

UPDATE: Here is our zoo as of March 30, 2020:

Untitled 3Untitled 4Untitled 5Untitled 6Untitled 7
Untitled 8

Untitled 9Untitled 12

Untitled 11

Untitled 16Untitled 17Untitled 21 copyUntitled 20 copyUntitled 27Untitled 283031

Art · Design · Etsy · Reuse · Sewing · Sustainability · Uncategorized · Upcycling

The scrap bag

I never throw away fabric scraps. They can always be used for another project – patchwork quilts, mending, or fabric collages. Some weavers use them to create rag rugs. If you are determined to reduce landfill and reuse every scrap, you might be interested in a project I just finished.

Last summer a friend and I went to the Whidbey Island Open Studio tour and visited Marcia Derse’s studio. Marcia is a textile designer whose work can be seen in many fabric stores around the country. I met her shortly after I moved to Whidbey Island and this was my first time seeing her studio. It was an inspiring place to visit. Instead of books on her shelves there were rows of fabrics ready to be used. Paintbrushes lived next to her sewing machine which looked over a view gently sloping towards the Puget Sound. I felt right at home.

The paper collage on the wall eventually resulted in the bolt of fabric below it.

You would think that as a designer of fabric bags I would be filling my shopping basket with as much of her fabric as I possibly could. I was tempted, but I promised myself that I would resist because I have enough fabric to last for a very long time. Most of my stash consists of cast-off designer samples that I regularly upcycle. I only bought two things — a packet of black & white fabrics from her “The Opposite” series, and a plastic gallon baggie of “studio scraps.”

That plastic bag sat around my own studio for a few months before I got around to using it. Once I opened it I realized that I was going to need to iron every single scrap in that bag or it would be too hard to use. It took me a few hours but I pressed and stacked the scraps by color. It was like opening a treasure box of colors and patterns. I wondered how many collages I could make with all these strips.

Every scrap was ironed and then sorted by color.

As I sorted through the pieces I decided I would challenge myself to try to use every single scrap from that bag to make something useable. I started with the biggest pieces and created fabric collages on top of a base piece of muslin or linen. Most of the scraps were strips so that guided my collage design decisions. They were going to be mostly striped. To hold the small strips onto the backing, I used a product called Mistyfuse. It has no paper backing (less waste) and is pretty easy to use. It allows me to secure the scraps to the backing while maintaining the “hand” (drape and softness) of the fabric. My first collages were based on one color at a time. To add visual interest I would occasionally add one little accent strip of a different color.

Building the collages and getting ready to iron them onto the backing.
After ironing them to the backing, I sewed the strips using various colored threads.
Sewing the strips into place with variegated threads.

Once the strips had been sewn onto the backing, I began to assemble the other parts so that I could make zipper pouches with the collages. I cut out lining from some of the fabrics I had purchased from Marcia. Then I clipped the parts together. I sometimes stack up a pile of these because cutting and assembling is stand-up work. Sewing is sit-down work. I like to alternate.

Parts of a zipper pouch all ready to assemble.

As I progressed through the pile of scraps, the remaining pieces began to be smaller and smaller and vary more in color. Some of the scraps were hand-painted. Some of the scraps were part of the fabric selvedge edge with text. Some had Marcia’s handwriting on it to keep track of her dye color tests. I used everything. I began to mix up the colors more and more.

Ultimately, I ended up with 21 collage zipper pouches. I photographed them all and posted them in my Etsy shop to sell. One woman’s trash is another woman’s treasure.

Charity work · Craftivism · Learning · Sewing · volunteering

The Blanket Project

One of my favorite signs from the Women’s March in 2017 was this:

The message really resonated with me because I am an introvert and I don’t like large crowds. But I was there marching with my friends, my daughter, and my grandsons because I needed to do something to express the outrage I felt. The outrage and the need to do something about it hasn’t left me these past few years. If anything, it has intensified as people continue to express their cruelty, hatred, misogyny, and bigotry in myriad ways. I have felt frustrated and helpless when I ponder what I can do to change things around me. Mostly I have focused on small things I can do to make a difference. In social media I have consciously chosen to be positive and upbeat instead of railing against the state of things. I’ve aimed to inspire instead of depress or anger but its hard to judge whether this actually makes a difference. Since moving to Whidbey Island I’ve been in search of a way to have more of an impact in my own introverted way.

Serendipitously, I met Darcy Sinclair, another former graphic designer who had similar feelings about wanting to make a difference. We came up with a plan to start a community of makers who would gather weekly to make things together and then give them to people in need. We both sew so we started searching locally for people who might need stitched items and found that the sheriff’s office and a local agency that works with foster kids needed blankets and tote bags for children who are suddenly moved out of their homes. I stumbled upon a Facebook post about ArtDivisionLA, a group that is making blankets to send to the people who are trying to immigrate to the US and have ended up in cages at the border.

We approached the people who run a community art center in Langley, WA called CreateSpace to see if we could start a regular meeting there to make blankets. They were very happy to let us use their space for this purpose so we advertised locally and had our first meeting. We emphasized that experts and beginners were welcome because we wanted this to be a place where people could learn new skills.

At our first meeting there were people who knit, crocheted, and sewed. Some who showed up had never sewed before and wanted to learn so we began to teach them. We started with the smallest size quilt that was needed and started cutting, designing, and stitching. We used donated fabrics and yarns. Some of the knitters, anxious to start, had already begun knitting blankets before the first meeting.

At our second meeting most of the people who came to the first meeting returned and there were several new people. Some already knew each other but most had never met. We started making new friends. Some people wanted only to make blankets for the local foster kids. Some wanted only to make blankets for the border families.

We’ve already given some of the fleece blankets to the local foster kids. We finished our first baby quilt and by this Friday’s meeting we should also have some knitted blankets ready to send to ArtDivisionLA for their Blanket Project. What is especially exciting to me is to watch the birth of a supportive maker community. I love seeing people teach each other new skills and help each other as they work. But what really thrilled me was when I overheard one woman say, “It feels so good that I can finally DO something to make a difference!” I feel that way too.

Want to get inspired or learn more about craftivism? Check out the Craftivist Collective. Or watch this TED talk by Sara Corbett. Or this site about craftivism. Here’s an interesting article about the rise of craft-based activism in recent years.

Art · Art Therapy · Design · Photography

Why 100 days of hearts?

This past March I decided to participate in the The 100 Days Project. I have been seeing the Instagram results of other artists doing this project for several years. It was interesting to watch their collections of 100 things build up over time. I just love watching a work in progress series.

Those of you who know me may wonder why I decided to commit to a crazy project like this? I’m currently in the middle of a huge home remodeling project. ACCKKK!!! We are living in an Airbnb and I have no studio right now. Why would I commit to a huge art project when all my supplies are packed in boxes and my life is so chaotic? Mainly it was to keep some kind of creative discipline or structure in my life.

You might think that artists and athletes have nothing in common but you would be wrong. They both need to practice their skills regularly. One of the things I try to practice regularly is my ability to “see.” I do this by making pictures almost everyday. The act of making a photograph, editing it, and cropping it is one way that I practice “seeing.” For me as an artist, seeing involves honing my observation, composition, and color skills. These skills are critical for creating almost any kind of art. So I try to practice them every day. I wrote “A picture a day keeps…away” several years ago when I was still working full time in the corporate high-tech world. During that period of my life, I needed a creative outlet that was personal, achievable, and soul-healing. This project had a profound effect on my life as an artist. I even made a video about it.

Some of the flower studies I created for my “Picture a day” project.

I started that project almost 5 years ago. Let’s do the math – that’s close to 1800 days. So, if I’ve already been doing this for 5 years, why do the 100 Day Project? Because my 5-year long discipline has been all about photography. I signed up for The 100 Day Project to make different kinds of art. I need to practice other skills besides photography and I am hoping that this process will help me.

Doing a project like this makes me accountable — especially when I post to Instagram each day. I’m not looking for extra likes or compliments. I’m not even super proud of many of my creations. The discipline of daily posting is very much like my art school classroom experience. I used to go into my figure drawing class and we would have short warm up sketches. Then we would do longer sketches. We always posted our work on the wall and had a class critique. It was how all my art and design classes worked. Make stuff and put it on the wall for the class and teacher to discuss. Critiques can be tough but you can learn so much from how the other students approach the same task. You learn about your own work by putting it up there for others to see. This is how I think about The 100 Day Project. Its a 100 day art class for me. Sometimes I throw some crappy stuff up on the wall and sometimes I make some real progress.

Heart made from skeins of silk threads.

Some of the artists participating in 100 Days are pretty intimidating. They are making work that is so good they can sell it. Some people are making big things that take several days or weeks to finish. Some people make a brand new thing every single day. Because my days will be chaotic during this 100 day time period, I’ve kept things simple for myself. We are going to be moving and still spending entire days going into Seattle to choose door handles, floor tile, etc. I needed to keep this in mind when I committed to 100 days.

The first 9 hearts of my 100.

I chose a simple shape, a heart, as my topic. 100 days of hearts. Its not my favorite shape in the world but I thought it might work. And so far it has. I told myself that on super busy days I could just take a photo since that’s easy for me. On days when I had more time I could make a heart in some other way. I’ve ended up with a lot more photos than I had hoped but that’s okay.

To be honest, I’m getting really sick of heart images. That’s okay too. Actually, I truly believe that when you start getting really sick of the subject matter you can start to discover new ways of approaching it. I think I’m at that point and its kind of exciting. I’ve started to work on some larger, more involved heart images and I’m liking the process very much. If you want to follow along, I’ll be posting my heart images on Instagram every morning for 65 more days.

The first in a series of heart wall hangings.
Gift wrapping · Holidays · Reuse · Sewing · Sustainability · Upcycling

Santa’s got a brand new upcycled bag


Every holiday season when we drag out the boxes of ornaments and decorations, we also drag out the box full of gift bags. These aren’t those sparkly, shiny paper and foil bags you buy at your local Target or Costco. These are fabric gift bags that my sister Jill and I have been making for over 20 years.

It started with our desire to reduce the amount of money we spent every year on ribbon and paper. But as we’ve continued to make the bags over the years, its become much more than just a money-saving idea. It is our small way of reducing the amount we consume and dump in the landfill. In the beginning we purchased Christmas fabrics that went on sale after the holidays. But in recent years we’ve been using fabrics that are upcycled. For example, the fleece bag pictured above was once a sweatshirt. I deconstructed it and made it into a soft gift bag.

The Bag Box

Educating our family

Part of embarking on a project like this has included teaching our family about how to use these bags. It takes time to make them and Jill and I have a few rules.

  1. The bags are exchanged ONLY within the family. That helps ensure that they will continue to recirculate instead of leave and never be seen again.
  2. If anyone is unable to store them through the year, they give them to Jill or me and we store them. One commitment you must be willing to make when you use bags year after year is storage. We are willing to store them but this isn’t practical for our college-age kids, nieces and nephews. When my son was in college, he knew he could buy or make his gifts and dip into our Bag Box for instant wrapping solutions.
  3. All bags must have reusable closures. In the beginning we didn’t do this but over the years we’ve learned to attach the ribbons or use other closures. Nobody wants to use a bag that doesn’t close easily.

Not all of our family members use and reuse our fabric bags. But over the years people have learned that they are really easy and make quick work of big wrapping jobs. My daughter has even started creating some of the bags.

Bag closures

We make sure that the closure is securely attached to the bags. Loose ribbons tend to get lost and the bags without a closure don’t get used. Recently I found a bunch of Velcro at a closeout sale and have been using that for closures. No bow-tying needed! The velcro bags are the first ones we tend to use because they are so easy. I’ve actually sewed a permanent bow on some of those bags to make them a bit fancier.

The best ribbons have been grosgrain although I’ve recycled some mesh & wire ribbons with good success. I always go through the trash bags after a gift unwrapping orgy to find ribbons, papers, and cards that are reusable. Here is an example of a bag made from a tee shirt knit with a gold mesh wire ribbon attached.

I sometimes sew the ribbons right into the seams for security. However, if you do this your bow might end up on the opposite side of the bag instead of in front. So most of the time the ribbon is attached at the center back. That way the bow will end up center front.

How the various bags are constructed

Gifts come in all shapes and sizes so we’ve created bags in many different ways to accommodate the variety. Pictured above are some different types of bags we use often. Drawstring bags have either a casing with a ribbon or cord that draws tight to close. The giant Santa bag above left is made from red and white fleece. The drawstring is placed so that the white collar folds down over the top. Envelope bags like the one in the upper right corner above can be tied with ribbons attached to the top edge and somewhere in the middle of the bag. These are good for flat or small gifts. Lately I’ve been making bags that are lined and padded or quilted. The padding protects the contents of the bag and makes it a little harder to figure out what’s inside. Jill experimented last year with this bento bag design (below). Instead of ribbon or velcro, you tie the pointy top ends to close it up.


I’ve made many bags from upcycled designer samples that I’ve gotten from FabMo and from Zero Landfill Seattle. Many of them have been sold in my Etsy shop. Below are a couple of examples of how I took plain linen and made it into a Christmas gift bag. Below left the fabric was block printed with white fabric paint. Below right the tree was appliquéd onto the yellow background fabric before constructing the bag.

The gift tags

There is no need to buy a bunch of gift tags for our fabric gift bags. I make my own from beautiful paper and greeting cards I’ve received. Then I attach them to the bag with a safety pin or some kitchen twine. No tape needed — ever!

18-172-1718-172-1818-172-16I bought this paper punch when it was on sale at Joann’s several years ago. But you can make interesting tags by just cutting out shapes from cards that you were going to toss in recycling anyway. Then punch or poke a small hole to thread the string or safety pin though and attach it to the gift bag.

One unexpected result of creating these bags over the years is that they have become part of our holiday memories. In recent years I’ve heard different family members say things like, “Oh, I remember that bag! I got it a few years ago” or, “Oh, this is my favorite bag! Can I just keep it?”

Are you interested in trying this? Here are a couple of tutorials that may help you get started:

Art · Art Therapy

The family that paints together…

boat-1We just moved into a new old house. The exterior setting is wonderful but the interior of the house needs major updating. One of the things I really don’t like about it is that all the walls in the entire house are covered with wood paneling. Yes, its like living in a 1950’s man-cave. We will be fixing this problem eventually but I wondered how I could make a temporary fix without incurring too much cost. I decided to work on covering the walls with paintings. The first painting is now finished and I’ll share the steps of how the whole thing came together.

I’m a former art teacher and this is a twist on a project that many painting teachers use as a group or class exercise. The idea is to take a classic painting, split it into a grid and then give one grid square to each participant to paint — typically on paper. The assembled result is usually very interesting and sometimes comes close to looking like the original painting. Often the gridlines show because of texture or color differences but I kind of like that.

I set up this first painting to coincide with a small family gathering that I hosted this summer. My plan was to have this project as one of our group activities. I prepped the wall before they arrived so that all they had to do was paint their chosen grid square. I had hoped that each person would paint two or more squares so the painting would be finished at the end of the weekend. But things never work out the way you plan. Here are things that happened:

  • Half the painting was unfinished when they all left.
  • Even though I primed the wall with 3 coats of primer/sealer, the wood panel varnish created a slight yellow tint to the white.
  • One person ignored the instruction to draw and paint only his/her square. He/she sketched the outlines for the whole painting. I’m not naming names. 🙂
  • Several people didn’t participate. The ones who did were the young ones. Besides me, only one older person painted a square. It seems that the older you get, the less confident or adventurous people are about art projects. See my previous post about this: You do not suck at art. Really. You don’t.

Step 1: Pick a painting you want to create

I looked to my favorite artists and decided to use a watercolor sketch by Van Gogh.

van gogh - boats-grid.png

I opened the image in Photoshop and created white grid lines on a layer over the image. Then I printed them out on my inkjet printer and taped the whole thing together. The painting is about 30×22″. Finally, I cut out the grid squares using a ruler and rotary cutter.


Step 2: Prep the wall

I scrubbed the wall a couple of times to wash off dirt first. Once dry, I drew out the border of the painting dimensions in pencil. I applied blue masking tape very carefully to the edge of the drawn border. Then I painted on the primer/sealer. I quickly realized that I would need several coats to tone down the golden yellow tint that seeped through the white primer.

Step 3: Draw the grid

To ensure the grid on our printout was the same as the wall painting, I drew the gridlines in pencil onto the dry white primer. I wasn’t worried about them showing in the final painting since we used acrylic paints. However, there are a few spots where the yellow paint didn’t cover them up. I labeled the grid using numbers across the top and letters down the side. Each corresponding printed image was labeled so the painters knew which square to paint.

Step 4: Paint!

Here are some shots of the painting as it progressed.



The artists who made this wall painting were me, my nephews Daniel & Jacob, niece Emma, stepmom Margo, and my friend Kim. It was really fun to make and I plan to do more when other family members and friends visit. There’s nothing like a shared project to enrich a gathering. I don’t really care if the painting is perfect or even beautiful. It was a fun thing to do together and I think all of us will remember that — not whether the result was perfect.

Art · Design · Etsy · Learning · Small business

The “F” word

The most paralyzing, damaging, crippling, and powerful “F” word that I know is FEAR. Many therapists have made their careers helping clients learn to cope with their fears. Many politicians and religious leaders have made their careers by effectively wielding fear as a tool. Have you ever noticed how fear and hate often go hand in hand? I hate spiders. Why? Because I’m afraid of them.

Here are some things that spark fear in me:

  • Initiating conversations with strangers
  • Public humiliation
  • Small spaces
  • Spiders and very large insects.
  • And swamps. Murky, slimy, crocodile- and leech-infested swamps.

Sometimes I draw things that I fear — like large hissing June bugs.

Here are some things that spark fear in me as an artist:

  • Walking into a shop or gallery and trying to sell my work
  • Sitting in a fair booth surrounded by my work trying to sell it
  • Signing up for an art class and being the worst in the class

Fear has been a recurring topic in my creative life. In the mid-1990’s I collaborated with emotion studios on a video addressing the topic of fear for a creative conference called ADIM. At the time most magazines and newspapers were still printed on paper and they were just starting to think about publishing their content online. Many graphic designers were very anxious about how the internet would change their jobs. We created this 15 minute High Anxieties video to address these fears. Interestingly, Debbie Stoller from Nickelodeon, was eerily prescient about what the future held for personal content. She basically outlines the idea behind YouTube a good 10 years before it came into being (about 9 minutes into the video.)

Last week I decided that I should sign up for a painting or drawing class. I thought I could use a refresh on my skills. Also, I just moved to a new town and classes are a good place to meet people who share your interests. I did a Google search on “art classes near me” and found out that there is an art studio with classes right across the street from me! How handy is that? Its called Whidbey Fine Arts Studio. One glance at their website and I was instantly struck with fear and self-doubt. Here’s why:


Total intimidation!!! This website just screamed “YOU ARE NOT WORTHY!!!” to me. It immediately brought back memories of my art school days. I was a graphic design major but I wanted to round out my education by taking certain fine art classes like composition, rendering, watercolor, figure drawing, and — painting. My professors were great and I loved the classes but halfway through my painting class the instructor came over to me and told me I should give up painting and stick to graphic design. He said my painting style was too flat and graphic. A terrible, wasted teaching moment! It felt like he was saying I was bad at painting and I wasn’t going to improve or change so I should just give up.

Because I’m afraid that I’ll be out of my depth (again) in a painting class, I haven’t signed up for it — yet. I need to work up my confidence so I decided to take an art journal/collage class at the Pacific Northwest Art School. Its a 40-minute drive, not just across the street, but I’m excited about it. I feel like collage is a much more forgiving medium than paint.

How do I go about conquering my other artist fears? I haven’t yet mustered the courage to take my wares door to door in the shops here in my new little town of Langley. Part of it is the fear of rejection which in turn leads to my fear of public humiliation. One of the good things about having an Etsy shop is that I never have to go door to door selling my stuff. I never have to hear someone tell me that my work isn’t good enough. But I have better selling success when people can actually see and touch the bags and pillows I make. Both methods of selling take time away from what I’d rather do — create. In a nutshell, because of my fear of rejection and humiliation, I hate selling myself and my work. And because I hate it, I don’t sell anywhere but Etsy. That’s a problem because Etsy isn’t a perfect place to sell things.

I’m sure there is a better approach but for now I’m trying to be aware of my fears and acknowledge them as such. And then I’m working slowly on keeping those fears from holding me back. The only thing I’m not really working on is my fear of spiders. Or swamps.