Category Archives: Creative Process

Fabric Sculpture.

Having grown up in the woods of Connecticut, bird stories in my family abound.  There was once a woodpecker that confused my grandparent’s aluminum siding with wood, and hammered away at it (loudly) every morning at dawn for weeks.  There was a saw whet owl that, one winter, perched in an evergreen outside my mother’s bathroom window, hooting for his mate.  We all hoped he’d return.  And my grandmother, lover of hummingbirds, did everything in her power to lull them into her yard.  She planted gladiolas and electric begonias.  She filled red feeders with nectar.  She carved out small spaces for them to hover and drink.

Glassenberg, Abigail Patner.The Artful Bird cover
The Artful Bird:
Feathered Friends to Make and Sew.
Illustrated. 159pp. Interweave Press, 2010, $24.99.
ISBN: 1596682388
ISBN 13: 978-1596682382
745.592-G464a

For years I’ve been meaning to try fabric sculpture, so I was thrilled to see that The Artful Bird featured a perched woodpecker, and an expressive owl.  I was hoping to find a hummingbird pattern as well, but as I fast discovered, sewing tiny pieces of fabric together isn’t easy, and sewing a hummingbird would require magnifying glasses and immeasurable patience.

Abby’s book covers the depth of materials, tools, and instructions needed to create the birds in her book, as well as any bird pattern that you wish to create yourself.  There are 40 bird projects and patterns, plus a gallery of guest artists, a stitch guide, and a resources section for finding specialty tools, stuffing, tapes, and wire.

Even though I have a queue of bird project possibilities, I spotted Abby’s penguin pattern and knew that it would be my first art bird.  I appreciate starting with the penguin for two main reasons: 1). The color palette was simple.  2). I know someone who loves and collects penguins, and I pour everything into a project when I know it has a recipient.  I went to my local crafter’s reuse facility, SCRAP, and dug around for black, white, grey, and yellow fabric.  For this project, I enjoy relying on the spontaneity of what might be found at SCRAP instead of purchasing new materials.

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one of two aisles of fabric at SCRAP.

The pattern pieces for all the birds in the book aren’t large, so many small scraps will do, and—bonus—you needn’t worry about fabric grain because Abby promises that grain variety only adds to the individuality and character of each bird.

I washed and pressed all my chosen fabrics.  I traced the photocopy pattern onto freezer paper with a sheet of blue carbon paper in between; this wasn’t the best idea since the carbon tends to smudge a bit, and rubbed off onto the white fabric I had found.  I had a small hiccup when I realized one part of the bird needed to be enlarged–my own oversight.  I used Photoshop to enlarge to the proper proportion, and re-cut my piece.  This wasn’t difficult, but it would have been easier while I was standing at a copy machine.

Cutting, pinning, and sewing the body was straightforward, and I followed Abby’s directions throughout.  I referred back to the Basic Birdmaking Techniques, especially with the neck, where I struggled to get my seams smooth.

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I thought I had selected thick white fabric for the penguin’s belly, but the inside edges are somewhat visible once the bird was fully stuffed.  Speaking of stuffing, next time I will certainly source Abby’s recommended wool stuffing.  I used the polyfill that you can find nearly everywhere, but it is slippery, hard to pack in, and its micro-threads popped through the fabric of the bird.  I have gone over it several times with a lint roller, and a pill remover with only passable results.  It’s also really easy to puncture through your stitches when stuffing the bird. I reinforced a couple spots along the way, and I did have to close a gap at the top of the head to smooth out a buckle.

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The feet were my big challenge.  In my stubborn, use-what-I-have mentality, I made the whole bending-of-feet part very difficult on myself.  Abby’s instructions are clear, easy to follow, and make sense.  She recommends 16-gauge brass wire.  Well, I had 22-gauge silver wire, which was too light weight, and I had 12-gauge wire that is made for rewiring your “wireless” cable system, or something.  What can I say?  It was in the garage, and it was GO TIME for penguin feet!  Lesson learned.  Bending 12-gauge insulated wire with petite jewelry-making tools is like mixing chocolate chip cookie dough with a fork—doable, but irritating.  As a result, my bird has out of proportion ankles.  But nonetheless, they work!  The armature of the feet is genius: the feet are essentially a giant bobby-pin and the bend extends up into the bird’s neck area.  This design allows for great balance of the bird, and I suspect if I’d used Abby’s recommended stuffing, the bird would perch even more easily, due to solidly packed wool stuffing and the overall weight of the wool.

The only real divergence I made in this penguin was a bit of fun fabric on the inside of the wings.  I’ve had this Route 66 road sign fabric for a while, and it wasn’t until I cut it out that I spied the “I Love Lucy” ® heart that was scattered into the pattern. (“Lucy’s Hollywood at Last” by Quilting Treasures).  This penguin is headed to a new home soon, where she’ll be greeted by a host of smaller penguins that protect a stretch of woodwork in our Auntie’s home.  I’ve been promised that all penguins are welcome in Sacramento, and I’ll get to visit Lucy on occasion.

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I think The Artful Bird is for an intermediate sewist who has experience with following patterns, a sewist who has patience for smaller pieces, a bird lover who can commit to a detailed craft, or anyone who wants the tools to craft their own favorite bird.  Trying one of Abby’s patterns will dramatically increase your confidence in making a fabric sculpture of any kind, especially one that requires an armature for support.  All that said, Abby’s chapter on Birdmaking Techniques is really superb, and will surely guide an intrepid beginning sewist through to bird completion.

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Abby writes regularly at whileshenaps.com.  Every Wednesday she releases a podcast about crafting, sewing, and the business of a creative life.  My favorite is her chat with Ann Wood, who makes sculptural fabric owls and ships and other woodland curiosities.   Abby is very transparent about her craft business, which is refreshing and unbelievably helpful in these competitive waters.  And she is honest about the joy and pain of writing, creating, and publishing a book.

Thank you, Abby Glassenberg, for sharing the tools to help me create my own artful aviary, to encourage ignorance of fabric grain, and to be so willing to discuss the business of crafting in a intelligent, exciting, and transparent way.

 

PS: It’s midsummer, and I’m going to press pause on artcraftnarrative.com until my kids are back in school.  Please come back in August for my report from ALA Las Vegas (upcoming craft & creativity books!), more craft projects (grey denim owls!), and book reviews.

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Knitting: the ultimate endurance craft.

Auntie Joni was the knitter in our family.  My grandmother (who taught me many of the needlecrafts) could repair a hole in a sweater, and she often darned socks, but it wasn’t her choice craft.  Auntie Joni (my grandma’s sister) ruled the roost when it came to wool.  She was fast and adventuresome.  She knit intarsia, Fair Isle, cables, and lace on one hand while playing the piano with the other.  I’m kidding, but you’re picturing her energetic virtuosity, aren’t you?  When I was a kid, she knit up mittens each the size of a Thanksgiving turkey, then shrunk them to just fit the hands of her three children.  The wool of these felted mittens was so dense, they were rendered near-waterproof, and perfect for downhill skiing.  Visiting Auntie Joni was always an adventure through a gallery of works-in-progress.  Like my Grandma, her sewing room was stuffed with bags of fabric and baskets of wool, threads graffiti-ed the carpet, and stray needles barbed arm rests.  No matter the season, Auntie Joni had several projects on the needles.  It wasn’t until I was nearly 30 that I caught a bit of an interest in knitting, and by then, lived too far from Auntie Joni for proper knitting lessons.  I bought a copy of Stitch n’ Bitch and taught myself to knit and purl.  I made a square.  Then I made a scarf for my one-year-old.  And then, I promptly knitted and felted an intarsia tote bag for my sister.  Auntie Joni’s mittens came rushing back to me when I pulled the half sized bag out of the hot, soapy water.

I’m a s-l-o-w knitter.  Being self-taught, my technique is wanting.  I can’t be engrossed in a movie or conversation.  I can’t knit in the passenger seat.  I often lose count.  It’s sort of amazing that I’ve finished anything on knitting needles.  But a few years ago, I went to Stitches West Yarn Convention in Santa Clara with my sock-knitting friend Monica.  I spied a must-have cardigan.  I tried on the sample, and knew exactly which size to knit.  I bought the pattern: Mondo Cable Cardi by Bonne Marie Burns at Chic Knits.  And then I obsessed about the yarn.

Mondo Cable Cardi from Chic Knits

Mondo Cable Cardi from Chic Knits

Knitting your own sweater is brave.  You need to be sure of your sizing and keep your gauge consistent.  You need to love the yarn, because it’s an investment.  And you need to commit: ie. Finish the thing, already!

Sizing & gauge—I felt confident about the size since I was able to try on the sample.  And I generally don’t have problems maintaining tension.  Working from an unknown pattern however, requires research and help from the knitting shop pros—if you’re a sweater novice.  Or in-depth reviews of the pattern on Ravelry, the knit/crochet on-line community.

Yarn—I chose a hand dyed yarn from Madeline Tosh. It is superb. The color is called Thunderstorm, which is an inky midnight blue with flecks of blue-grey.  It is a luxe, non-itchy merino wool that I cannot wait to wear.  I have had to purchase two additional skeins to assure that I won’t run out, and that dye lots won’t be totally off.  If you have a large project, like a cardigan, then it’s best to purchase all the yarn at or near the same time to assure colors match.  There are complicated knitter tricks for avoiding striations when switching between skeins, and you can find many books and Ravelry threads about this topic: just search “yarn pooling.”  Hand dyed yarn has its own innate variation, and that it what I love about it.  I don’t mind that colors pool slightly, or that areas are somewhat splotchy.  It’s part of the yarn.

Commitment–it is 80% complete, as it has been for 2 years.  Until now.  About 8 weeks ago, I spied a nearly complete cardigan in andreacollects Instagram feed.  We have had a good-natured back and forth about the progressive state of her cardigan (now complete), and the stagnate state of mine.  It’s July, or “winter” in San Francisco, and I’d like to wear this cozy piece.

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For the last couple of evenings, I’ve been adding rows to the incomplete left sleeve.  It’s nearly to the stage of switching to double-pointed needles as the sleeve decreases.  Then I must work the collar.  The pattern has a crew neck version, but I like the 4-inch width for warmth.  I plan to wear this cardigan as a jacket.  Lastly, the whole thing will be blocked, or washed gently and dried flat.  This process should even out all my stitches and hopefully lay down that curling bottom edge.  If not, then I plan to take out the inch of intermittent (5 knit to 1 purl) rib, and re-knit a closer knit/purl ratio rib—this should help the edge lay flat.  I hereby vow to post a progress report thereby holding myself accountable to you, my three readers.

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Exploring Image Transfers.

One of my creative goals for 2014 is to take more art classes, and explore new mediums. I spotted a class at the San Francisco Center for the Book which featured image transfer techniques taught by Courtney Cerruti. I peeked through Courtney’s Instagram feed, and knew that aesthetically, the class would be a great fit for me. I have attempted image transfers before (mostly by heat transfer), but I appreciate having a whole day to just play—and thankfully, Courtney encourages that kind of exploration in both her class and her book. So imagine my dismay when I enrolled in the class, ordered the book, and….the book didn’t arrive in time.  In class, I joked with Courtney that she should sign a scrap of paper, and I’d image transfer it into the book.  When I arrived home after class, the book was waiting. Silver lining: Courtney and I are both local, so I’m hoping to meet up with her again, share a pot of tea, and chat about art, craft, and old books.

Cerruti, Courtney.cerruti image transfers
Playing with Image Transfers:
Exploring Creative Imagery for Use in Art, Mixed Media, and Design.
Illustrated. 144pp. Quarry Books, 2013, $24.99.
ISBN: 1592538568
ISBN 13: 9781592538560
746.62 C336p

I have had the benefit of seeing Courtney demonstrate the techniques from her book, and I’ve had a day of studio time to play alongside her and a group of likewise intrepid image transferring gals. I think the class has given me a little more confidence than if I’d just cracked open the book. But truly, the trickiest part is finding and copying all the images you will want to use in all your art journals, collages, handmade cards, and art projects. I have spent the weeks between the class and this review building a file of images to photocopy. Last week, I took two burgeoning files and a stack of old books and Dover catalogues to my local copy shop, settled in and copied—for two hours. I made black and white copies. I made mirror image copies. I made color copies. And I happily trotted home with 75 pages of imagery to transfer.

In Playing with Image Transfers, Courtney covers five main methods to transfer images: 1) packing tape transfer, 2) blender pen transfer, 3) acetone transfer, 4) gel skin medium transfer, and 5) acrylic paint transfer. Each method features a full page of instruction including what kind of image or photocopy you’ll need, and whether the image will be reversed in the process. Also, Courtney includes a few tips for success. There are many techniques for this beguiling medium, but as Courtney states in her introduction: “I’ve experimented, tried, and tested every method and process out there. After many failures and many discoveries, I’ve settled into a set of methods that work both beautifully and consistently.”

At home, with my stack of copies and Courtney’s book, I started small. I made some quick blender pen transfers of birds and butterflies on a few mat-finished cards from Studio Calico for my Project Life® album (this is my week by week family journal with photos and stories). Blender pens are xylene or xylol with a felt-tip applicator. The tip makes it easy to apply to small, detailed images. The Chartpak Blender pen is nontoxic, but really pungent (you will not want to use this pen in an enclosed space or near unsuspecting companions). This pen works best with straight black and white toner photo copies. The results are similar to rubber stamping with black ink, except that the image options are limitless. If your image shifts a bit during the process, it can cause some haloing, which only adds to the charm. This is a very easy process, and can add to your art journaling, collages, and any other variety of paper projects.

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I attempted a couple acetone transfers on those same Studio Calico cards, but the results were spotty. I think the images didn’t have enough contrast, and the stock absorbed too much of the acetone. Then I tried the Blender Pen with the color prints. I recall Courtney saying that it may not work, but she also advises that all copiers are different, and to keep playing. Happily, the Blender Pen worked!

Packing tape transfers are the easiest transfer technique, but I sometimes don’t want the high sheen of packing tape, and I feel limited by the 2 inch wide roll. It does make for a cool project though, and can be done with kids. Just adhere the tape carefully to a magazine page or photocopy, burnish it, then soak the paper pulp off. The toner sticks to the adhesive, and yields a highly transparent tape. I used packing tape transfers in some of the collages I made a few weeks ago.  Here are the latest batch drying on a window with the smooth side against the glass.  I keep them on sheets of waxed paper, as recommended by Courtney.

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Courtney includes 19 project ideas to take you from playing with image transfers to actually making something from them. Collaged postcards with packing tape transfers. A jumpstart for sketching. Wearables, pennants, and stationery. Plus a host of mixed media project ideas.

Fauxlaroids. Brilliant name, eh? This project features packing tape transfers onto Polaroid-sized paper that will take you straight back to 1986. This project inspired me to order a 6 inch wide roll of packing tape. Then I thought it could also be scaled to fit Project Life 3X4 pockets, and take on the appearance of an Instax print. I think the high gloss of the packing tape translates well with this project.

Photo Sur Bois.  This project features my favorite transfer method–the Gel Skin Medium Transfer on wood. I had success with this method in Courtney’s class. At home, I had a couple small wooden plaques. I learned from the class that the hardest part about transferring on wood is waiting for it to dry. So I painted on the gel medium, and carefully smoothed an image (image side down) onto the gel medium, then allowed it to dry overnight. Once wet, the paper rolled away, revealing some marbling on vintage paper that I made a few years ago. Then I layered on some other elements.  Outcome: the transfer over transfer wasn’t a complete success.  Too much text in both images.  Next time, I want to try to cover the wood with vintage fabric, and transfer an image onto it. Or perhaps photocopy the fabric and use that as a background.  Or paint the wood, and use the acrylic paint transfer method.  Likely,  there will be more of this image-play to come since I have a stack of veneer varietals.

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Above left image of portrait & chair, and donut with hands are courtesy of Courtney Cerruti.

Mixed-Media Wall Hanging.  Another method that I want to spend more time exploring is transferring onto fabric.  Courtney’s piece features an assemblage of fabric with a photo of her grandmother framed by stitching, fabric scraps, and buttons. It hangs from drift wood and heavy red thread. An homage, and utterly tactile. This piece inspires me to make.

Modern Magnets.  I’ve gathered the materials for this project, and plan to spend an afternoon making a batch of artisan magnets with my boys.  They each have magnetic boards, and a set of animal-themed magnets is required.  In my copying expedition, I included their favorite animals, and other vintage curiosities.

Typewriter Tape Transfer.  Courtney recommends typing on tape. I was surprised to see how well my old Smith Corona typed onto the washi tape.  No smudging.  And what you can’t see is how deeply etched the letters are. This would work for any type of papery tape like masking tape, washi tape, or artist’s tape. It strikes me as the reverse of a Dymo labeler.

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This book is for the artist or crafter who wants a little image transfer guidance and inspiration.  You do not need to have any previous experience, though an art journal to play in would be helpful.  Courtney’s methods are solidly illustrated, and the materials are easy to find.  Courtney also includes a number of templates for completing the projects, and a resources guide for finding all the materials needed for sourcing and transferring images. The mat-finished pages of this book feature cleanly-designed layouts, and artfully illustrative photography.  I would be remiss to omit mention of the extensive contributor’s section. Each of a wide stylistic range of pieces is visually inspiring, and notes the specific transfer method used.

You can find a window to Courtney’s visual world on Instagram, or at her website, and blog–which features a video peek at Courtney’s process. She works and teaches at Creative Bug, and SF Center for the Book. She also has a new book about the many delightful uses of washi tape.

Thank you, Courtney Cerruti, for creating a tried and true book of methods that have me contemplating the purchase of a giant, grinding copy machine, researching 6-inch wide packing tape, and making great use of all the scrap wood veneer that I’ve been stockpiling.

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Gelatin Printing: in practice & play.

In Vanessa Mooncie’s The Print Making Book, she fashioned a set of placemats from gelatin-printed cork floor tiles.  Since this was my first time gelatin printing, I had no expectations for a finished project; I just wanted to try it.  I adore the unexpected discoveries that happen when I try a new-to-me technique.  I made a cookie sheet full of gelatin (according to Vanessa’s recipe), skimmed a slice of paper across the surface to remove bubbles, and let it congeal on the countertop.  I covered it with plastic wrap and placed it in the refrigerator overnight.  Before printing, I allowed the gelatin to come up to room temperature.  I don’t know if it would affect the viscosity of the paint, but it seemed easier than chancing it.  The plastic wrap left the surface with scattered rippling which may irritate some people, but I didn’t mind, and I found that once the paint was layered on, the ripples weren’t noticeable.  At first, I tried to use the screen printing ink from my Gocco printer, since I have a lot of it.  I tried to work it over a paper palette, but found that the ink didn’t move well enough to cover the 12X17 cookie sheet, and that mixing the paints on the paper palette resulted in a very homogenous color instead of the splotchy, mottled mess for which I was aiming.  So I shifted to acrylics.  I applied them directly to the surface of the gelatin, and used the brayer to both flatten and gently bleed edges. For this initial foray into gelatin printing, I used paint leftover from school and craft projects, even some mysterious paint from Daiso.  I added in some better quality once I got a handle on the actual process.

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I had a stack of papers at the ready: plain white drawing paper, ledger paper, nautical charts, and a hodge podge of envelopes, tags, and book pages.  My tool kit for mark-making includes a scrap of bubble wrap, empty tape cardboards, old tatting, and vinyl placemats with lacey edging. I have two hand-heId tools: one for making the divots in cracker dough, and one for shredding pasta dough into fettuccine.  I also had the negative from a set of magnets, and I think this piece yielded the best geometric results.

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I found that the first print off the freshly inked surface made for a very opaque print, obscuring whatever the paper or ledger had on it.  The second, or ghost print, was a better use of the printed papers.  And some paints picked up more thoroughly than others.  When there was residue on the gelatin, I sometimes used an envelope or tags to pick up the ink/paint.  Or I used a sheet of plain white paper, and repeatedly lifted all excess paint from the tray.

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Once dry, the variety of paints allowed for a range in sheens—from flat craft paint to smooth, glossy acrylic.  In all, I have forty sheets of gelatin-printed paper, and a handful of interesting tags and envelopes.  Next time—which is soon since the tray is occupying a shelf in our refrigerator—I want to experiment with either tube watercolors or gouache, or watering down the acrylics to allow for more transparency.  I also want to try using different shapes and silhouettes in the mark-making.  I plan to work these into a variety of projects: map-making, mail art, art journaling, gift wrapping, and collage.

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Printing: Potatoes, Rubber, Gelatin.

One Christmas, I came home from college, and showed my grandmother how to make potato prints. She had never seen such a thing before, and we made sheets and sheets of snowflake-patterned kraft paper to wrap gifts. Grandma would cut up the previous season’s Christmas cards with pinking shears, and use the snippets as gift tags. But that year, she used every scrap of snowflake paper. She said, with a wink, that it was the first trick I’d ever taught her. It had always been the other way around.

I loved the simplicity and the thrift of potato printing, but I also love to carve very detailed imagery. Potatoes hold up somewhat to detail, but lose their edges after much stamping. Further, you can pop them into the refrigerator to keep from spoiling, but only for a week or so. I eventually graduated to rubber stamp and lino carving, and have a growing collection. But no matter how impermanent, I will always remember those lopsided potato prints in my grandmother’s breakfast nook.

Mooncie, Vanessa.Mooncie cover
The Print Making Book:
Projects and Techniques in the Art of Hand-Printing.
Illustrated. 175pp.  Guild of Master Craftsman Publications, 2013. $19.95
ISBN-10: 186108921X
ISBN-13: 978-1861089212
760—M7789p

Vanessa Mooncie is known for her crochet and textile work, and has an established career as a silk-screen artist and illustrator.  It is clear, when I thumbed through The Print Making Book, that Vanessa took a great deal of time and care illustrating this book.  It is wholly appealing.  The cover has a watercolor paper texture.  The images range from foxes and feathers, lipstick prints and oxford lace-ups, to the line art of a washing machine.  And a plumed zebra!  Vanessa covers relief and screen printing, mono and sun printing, plus a section on images transfers and stencils.  Each type of printing requires a slightly different toolbox, but once you’re set up for silk-screening, for example, the options unfold.

Several of the 23 projects caught my eye.  One example is the Eraser Stamp alphabet.  I love Vanessa’s block font; it is endlessly useful.  The uniformity of the eraser’s size allows for a tidy A-Z set.  A few years ago, I carved an alphabet set based on my handwriting, upper and lower case with variations, numbers, and punctuation.  I use this alphabet often, and have contemplated carving a smaller alphabet.

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There is a useful and fun set of tote bags featuring the plumed zebra and a leaping fox.  I’m always reaching for reusable totes.  I even plan to use Vanessa’s fox image—a two color template that is crisp and fun.  I do not have a traditional silk screen set up, but Vanessa’s how-to is clear. I am eager to learn a home silk-screening method even though I have a small Gocco printer.  As many of you may know, Gocco stopped making the supplies for this small-but-perfect set up.  It requires screens, and bulbs to burn the image into the screen.  And those two things are proving difficult to come by.  And expensive.  Therefore, I try to make screens that will be reusable in the future.  I’m buoyed by Vanessa’s tutorial because then I wouldn’t be limited by any one screen size—I could craft my own!  The hunt for frames and screen printing mesh is on.  I have a couple squeegees, and I hope to use the inks from my Gocco printer.  Stay tuned.

Meanwhile, I’m completely at home with rubber stamp carving.  I have carving tools in spades—I use Speedball lino cutters and pink rubber sheets.  And it’s something that my kids enjoy as well.  In the past, I’ve had them draw directly onto the carving rubber, and remove the negative space.  It’s a fine way to get started, but note that your art will be a mirror image, which presents a problem if you have any text.  This time, I asked my boys to draw on paper, and they filled up pages of medieval bows, arrows, and shields.  And a yo-yo.  Then we transferred their imagery by burnishing the pencil onto the rubber.  My kids have had many opportunities to carve stamps.  (I have formed a habit of writing their names and dates on the flip side for posterity).  I set them up on a cutting board, and always give them a safety refresher: keep your fingers out of the path of the blade.

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I joined the boys, and made a small label stamp—which is vintage in flare.  I hand-drew the label, transferred it into the rubber in reverse, carved the negative space, then stamped my first try.  From there it took five more passes to clean up my image.  I use two main carving blades: a U-shaped channel for swaths of open carving, and a medium V for detailed lines and edges.

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It feels useful to me in many ways: for the spine of a collection of art journals, for a “Nº 1 Dad” card, for Project Life journaling, for a summer jam-jar canning label.

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A giant California return address stamp has been on my to-do list for some time.  I found an outline of California, and sized it to the rubber sheet.  Then I printed out several copies of it, and played around with lettering in our address.  Once I arrived at a well-spaced version, I traced with pencil onto tracing paper, and burnished the reverse image on the surface of the rubber sheet.  I carved away the pencil markings, taking time around our address, the zip code, and the Bay Area delta.  I fine-tuned the southern California islands as a last pass.  And while the islands probably aren’t critical to the overall stamp, I really wanted to include the Farallones, and felt it democratic to include the Channel Islands.  It’s a sizeable stamp, so I use an acrylic block to make the impression.  If the envelope has an overlap or a seam, then I carefully press down on the rubber alone just in that area.  It isn’t perfect, but it is handmade.  If it bothers you to not get a full impression, you could touch up any bald spots with a matching marker.

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Gelatin prints are another method of print-making that intrigue me.  Like potato prints, gelatin printing has a short lifespan, yet yields interesting and varied results.  I have a Silhouette Cameo paper cutter, and while reading Vanessa’s process for making Gelatin-printed placemats, I had visions of all the possibilities: organic shapes like tree rings, bird feathers, and lake outlines.  A menagerie of animals.  My own line art.  The hardest part is deciding what shapes to use.  I have a 12X17-inch cookie sheet filled with solid gelatin in my refrigerator—a note on the door reads: Please do not eat or move or place things on top of gelatin!!

You can view Vanessa’s artwork at: www.vanessamooncie.com or kissysuzuki.com.  There you can learn more about her crochet and knit work, and connect with her on Ravelry.

Thanks, Vanessa Mooncie, for writing and illustrating a diverse print-making book that compels me to get my hands dirty, try a new-to-me technique, purchase an enormous box of gelatin, and add to my hoard collection of hand-carved stamps.

 

PS: I’ve got a collection of inspiration for hand-carved stamps, and rubber stamps in general: http://www.pinterest.com/cortneysf/hand-carved/  And if hand-carving isn’t your thing, there are thousands of artisan stamp-makers on Etsy who will make you nearly any kind of stamp you can dream up.

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Collaborative Crafting for Bibliophiles.

Do you remember receiving your first library card? I wish I still had my card in possession, but I remember it distinctly. It had a wobbly signature, and was hand-laminated by a bi-focaled librarian from America’s first publicly funded library: Scoville Memorial in Salisbury, Connecticut. The library façade is granite mined from a nearby quarry, and from the walk, it resembles a small chateau. And inside it smells like a library. Papery and cool, even on the most humid summer day. I’ve since held many other library cards from other towns, colleges, and cities. And while I think it is still a choice pleasure to browse the stacks of a library, losing hours to that 90 degree head-tilt to read the spines, I absolutely love the ease and efficiency of the “request” system. This ability to create succulent reading lists online and have them delivered to my local branch was the difference between my sanity and an existence I’d rather not acknowledge during those early, frazzled days of motherhood. The library has saved me countless times in my life. So it is with the chiefest pleasure that I offer up my review BiblioCraft, a book that marries my two favorite occupations: libraries and making.

Pigza, Jessica.Bibliocraft
BiblioCraft:
A Modern Crafter’s Guide to Using Library Resources to Jumpstart Creative Projects.
Illustrated. 207pp. STC Craft/A Melanie Falick Book, 2014. $27.50
ISBN-10: 1617690961
ISBN-13: 978-1617690969
745.5—P629b

Written by NYPL rare book librarian and avid crafter Jessica Pigza, BiblioCraft is a tremendous collaboration between a librarian and a crew of artists and crafters.  The range of source material for the body of projects is completely diverse.  This book makes me want to marbleize paper, embroider cartouches, and explore every library in my day-tripping radius.  Jessica provides personal and useful commentary on the partnership of librarian and visiting bibliophile/artist.  There are chapters on research libraries and the nature of special collections, finding the right library, planning your visit, and using the cataloging system.  Jessica includes a copyright primer where there are some guidelines and many resources.  There is a list of digital libraries to reference, and recommended library collections—helpful for planning your next getaway to, say, The American Craft Council Library in Minneapolis, Minnesota.  Or the National Library of the Netherlands, in The Hague, for an exhibit on the history of decorated papers.  Curious?  I was.  Here’s the link: http://www.kb.nl/en/web-exhibitions/decorated-paper.  I completely appreciate the window into a far-flung library.

The 20+ projects included in Bibliocraft traverse stitching, sewing, embroidering, paper cutting, and stenciling a host of home décor projects.  The ideas are all beautifully conceived, with full back-story on each artist’s source point.  For example, the marbled fabric pouch made by Jodi Kahn was inspired by the historical marbled end papers found in old volumes.   A delicately quilled willow pendant designed by Ann Martin sprang from the gilt blossoms and leaves of a book cover.   Each project features a designer who worked with Jessica to find precisely the source material needed to propel the idea into fruition.  There is a narrative about the craft, and its history, as well as the story of how the historical document converged with modern craft designer.  I love reading about this process.

All the projects offer a full set of instructions and templates to complete each craft.  Some projects offer ideas on how to take the project further or alter to your taste.  Jessica, ever the librarian, instills more knowledge about each subject and suggests further readings and subject headings.  There are so many possibilities in this book; I want to make everything.

Pigza quotes

The above quote in the teal spot isn’t from Jessica’s book, but it is a favorite.  Prompted by Jessica’s quote about a wish list, I spent half an afternoon dreaming up wish list topics and things that fascinate me.  Here’s my short-list:

wish list

Bibliocraft is a book all artists and crafters will want to own.  My copy is borrowed, fittingly, but I plan to purchase it for its wealth of references, in addition to great project ideas.  Some of my favorite projects from the book include Jessica’s dogwood blossoms (great for attaching to packages), Grace Bonney’s antiquarian animal votive holders (I need a set: tiger, bear, koala or owl, lion, and maybe a snail), Sarah Goldschadt’s paper towns (I want to make tall, skinny, ornate row houses from the waterways of Amsterdam!)  And Rebecca Ringquist’s cartouche embroidery.  She used an old map cartouche as inspiration for a quilt label.  I have seen entire wall displays filled with hoop art.  I currently have twelve empty embroidery hoops of varying sizes.  I’m thinking about ampersands and arrows, initials, and a family crest.  There might be some mixed media embroidery since I love to sew paper to fabric.  Oh, the possibilities!  My library field trip is scheduled! Phase one: completed!  Phase two: bring copy card, wish list, ear plugs, and rations.

Read more about Jessica’s adventures in making at handmadelibrarian.com.  Also, she writes on NYPL’s blog about events, crafting, and Crafternoons at http://www.nypl.org/blog/author/jessica-pigza.

Thanks, Jessica Pigza, for researching, writing, and crafting a book that makes me want to befriend a librarian and hole up in the rare book corral at SFPL’s Main Library, then come home and turn old tea cup markings into embroidered wall hangings.

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Art & Craft Merger

Last week I was on a terrific bird hunt to make the Faux Taxidermy project from Blair Stocker’s Wisecraft.

IMG_2272

There were birds to be had on Etsy and Ebay, but I’m impatient sometimes, and the crafting cannot wait.  I went to my local Beverly’s, and happily birds were 30% off, which is great because I had big plans to dissect her.

fake bird

This is an example of the same brand/different bird on Amazon.  I might have actually bought and used this finch had it been in stock.  Instead, I bought a really weird looking canvas bird, and I am remiss for not photographing it for you.  But again, I am sometimes impatient when crafting.  The plan for this bird was to make a shadow box, featuring the bird, and a simple calligraphy label.  I love when crafty plans go awry.

Concurrently, I was reading and creating from Randel Plowman’s Collage Workbook.  I was making 5-minute collages and bird-themed collages and map-based collages.  While the collages were drying under a weighty American Heritage Dictionary, I dismantled the bird.  I also rummaged around for the sturdiest box to house my faux bird.  I have a collection of small, strong, hinge-lidded boxes from my Studio Calico Project Life® subscription*.  They are very good quality boxes that arrive monthly, and I knew that I would find a project for them at some point.

Happily, the bird fit into the box!  So I continued with my bird re-feathering, and since it had a metal clip instead of feet, I fashioned some legs and feet from a small piece of floral wire which—all of a sudden—magnetically stuck to the top of the box!  These strong magnets on either side easily hold a small bird upright.

bird foot meets magnet

And while I was delighted to have discovered that a bird could sit on top of the shadow box, I was foiled about what would go IN the box.  Another bird?  (I had several bird-making books on hold at the library, plus an old issue of Somerset Studios with a bird-maker interview).  And all the while, those collages dried flat under the dictionary behind me.  You know where this is going.

Back to the bird:

bird pattern making

After I had carefully taken all the canvas off the foam core, I laid each piece down and traced out the pattern.  Her tail was sort of over the top for her size, so I didn’t build that into her remake.  I kept the same beak, eyes, and wing shape, but simplified the tail, and added some vintage feather bits to her wings.  I cut new pieces of fabric from a vintage linen remnant, and glued them all back together onto the foam core.  I bent two small feet from floral wire, and left them green—she’s already a fabric bird, no need to force the faux issue.

Then I sanded the box.  It had a smooth surface, and the paint wouldn’t stick without deglossing; in hindsight, I probably should have primed it too.  But, as it was in the middle of dinner preparations, and I was throwing together pasta and sautéing vegetables in the kitchen while painting a second coat on my bird-box in the garage.  A juggling act.  Forget priming.  I used a small tester pot from Benjamin Moore called Deep in Thought.  (I have many of these tester pots, and I vow to find other small paint projects to use them up!)

Once the bird and box were fully dried, I set them on my desk, and thought maybe a bird poem would go inside—Emily Dickinson’s “Hope is the thing with feathers?”  Lyrics from a song— Jolie Holland’s “The Littlest Bird?”

bird complete

I think this is the point that I pulled out the collages, some of which were portrait in orientation, and wouldn’t fit. But were four horizontal, and fit nicely.  And that made for one happy maker.  A tilt on Blair Stocker’s lovely bird shadow-box-turned-evolving-display for collages!  And that, good people of the internet, is how I got sidetracked from Blair’s project idea, but I don’t think she’ll mind.  I still love Blair’s bird boxes, and will likely make a set as soon as I have the right birds.

The box is light-weight, and I plan to affix it to the wall with a piece of Command Strip, though I haven’t decided where to hang it.  I think a series is in order.

bird and collage

 

*Project Life® is a system of memory-keeping designed by Becky Higgins meant to stream-line photos and scrapbooking.  Studio Calico is a design company who builds fun papery kits in addition to Becky’s line.  I happen to love these monthly small boxes of supplies, and use the contents for all sorts of crafting.  I also maintain a Family Book—my own version of Project Life, and perhaps I’ll share my process for that project here.

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Collage for Keeps

As a mom with two very active boys, the “get started” part of any project is often my biggest hurdle.  It’s easy for me to derail when I don’t have the right ingredient, the perfect shade of paint, or an entire bag of semi-sweet chocolate chips.  (I do have a neighbor who buys her chocolate chips in bulk, so there is wiggle room on that one).  My chocolate chip neighbor—and friend, opera singer, (& editor: thanks Ann!)—will often send one of her boys running down to our house for large sheets of paper, pipe cleaners, or fabric.  It’s the best kind of neighborhood smack in the middle of our beautiful city.

Plowman, Randel.The+Collage+Workbook
The Collage Workbook:
How to Get Started and Stay Inspired.
Illustrated. 132pp.  Lark Crafts, 2012. $17.95
ISBN-10:1454701994
ISBN-13:978-1454701996
702.812—P726c

But collage!  Getting Started!  Randel’s approach requires very little start-up materials.  You can jump right in with an old National Geographic, scissors, and glue.  You can use what you have.  The phone book you don’t reference, but they insist on delivering.  Junk mail.  Magazines.  Workbook pages from your kid’s homework, especially with some scrawling.  The envelope from your tea bag: Harney & Son’s Paris, hands down. Randel recommends a few other supplies like inks, crayons, paints and a bone folder.  And he discusses foundations for your collage, adhesives, cutting tools, and other media.

plowman quotes

Randel also suggests printing some collage materials on tracing paper.  I love this idea for the semi-transparent quality and layering it creates.  I receive a weekly newsletter from Dover Publications, which features public domain imagery samples that can be saved directly to your computer. I created a few sheets of these vintage images and printed them to add to my bin of materials.

This is a book to help you investigate your own collage style.  The only way to get there is to get started and make.  And make some more.  Collage can be as simple as a few scraps of paper combined in an interesting way. Sometimes, seeing two distinct items conjoined is enough of a commentary.  Randel is a pro at creating.  Several years ago, he started a blog called Collage a Day, and committed to using his collection of ephemera.  His dedication to the art form resulted in hundreds of collages, many followers and collectors of his work, and this book.  He wants us all to make collages!  And he encourages us to jump right in.  This enthusiasm folds into his first exercise: Five 5-minute collages.  Five sheets of watercolor paper cut to 3X5, five minutes per card, and twenty-five minutes later you have surprising results.  Here are a few of mine:

For me, the collages begin with a piece or two of interesting background paper.  The secondary images inject color and texture (snippet of Braille, origami paper, upside down popsicles*). Then, my favorite part, adding in bits of detail (postage stamps, vintage labels, packing tape transfers, washi tape). I layer rubber stamping in plain black ink, and toner image transfers as well.  A few of the collages have some machine stitching, which looks good on a window ledge, since the light peeks through the needle holes.                     *I regret that I do not know the source of this image.

After completing my small series of collages, I took a step back and observed what I was inclined to use.  Old book pages, tattered sheet music, and a forest map.  Birds. Postage. And also texture.  There is a scrap of Braille glued down inversely, zigzag stitching, and a stencil that I spackled with Texture Magic (by Delta/Plaid, which doesn’t seem to be available).  Texture is where the internet fails us all.  I foresee combining more stitching with paper and fabrics, more layers, more pinked edges.

This is a great book for those new to collage, or needing to refresh their style.  But seasoned collage artists will still find value in many of the exercises, and inspiration in Randel’s work.  The fifty exercises vary between color studies and image pairings, geometrics and typography, maps and storybooks.  The  collages feature birds, flowers, and power lines.  And he even incorporates the scribbling of a child.  My favorite collage of Randal’s is called Ten, featured in the section on working with Numbers.  I love the bits of penciled arithmetic, a chemical compound, the digits 10 and word ten, and a vintage bird.  If you search for Randel’s collages, you’ll find hundreds to peek at online.  That alone is hugely inspiring.  Plus, he included a duplicate-able image library in the book to get you started.

Find more of Randel’s art for viewing and for sale, plus collage ideas at: randelplowman.com, acollageaday.blogspot.com.  The Collage Workbook blog features other collage artists: www.thecollageworkbook.blogspot.com

Thanks, Randel Plowman, for writing this book on jump-starting an intuitive collage practice that encourages me to collect (even more) ephemera and forlorn manuals to build into curious vignettes of jump ropers and the U.S. Post Office.*

*among many other agreeable and strange topics.

 

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the antidote for blocked artists.

Clearly, I’m a sucker for any book with projects or prompts.  Add in tons of current and full color art, and you might find yourself slightly overwhelmed!  Oh that Jealous Curator, and her insanely good taste…

Krysa, Danielle.  (also known as The Jealous Curator)CB
Creative Block:
Advice and Projects from 50 Successful Artists.
288pp.  Chronicle Books, 2014. $29.95
ISBN-10:1452118884
ISBN-13:978-1452118888
DDC 701.15

This project, coming from Danielle Krysa’s own desire to become unblocked, cannot—should not—be devoured in one sitting as I tried to do.  There’s just too much mining, too much good art, too many references sending me to Google this admired artist in Oakland and that series of bird collages from the guy cutting paper in the Midwest.  Danielle has chosen artists from a wide spectrum of disciplines (painters, illustrators, collage/mixed media, multidisciplinary, photography, ceramics, embroidery, paper cutting, installation).  Each entry for the 50 contributors has a short bio, a selection of work, and a shovel-full of questions about his or her particular creative process.  Danielle uses some questions on repeat: When did you first feel like an artist?  Or how do you feel when you are in your creative zone?  But there is tailoring too. Questions like: What are your tips for dealing with collages that are giving you trouble?  Do your commissioned projects drain or fuel your personal work?

There are some glistening gems of advice from artists who have ironed out their processes enough to write things like:
watercolor quotes
You will surely find other thought-provoking lines that resonate with you and your process, whatever your medium.

And there are a handful of artists who do not feel the pressure of a block—they’ve made a sort of peace with their muses, and allow that non-art time to serve as a transition, a breathing space between major projects.

But all 50 artists give you, the reader, a Creative unBlock. These delicious prompts &/or exercises are thoughtful nudges or smack-in-the-pants cattle prods to stir you up and get you MAKING. They range from breaking out of a rut by going for a walk and documenting your findings, or completely destroying a piece that has failed—or one that you love!—and rebuilding it. Some prompt you to leave art out in public, to be discovered and delighted by a stranger. There are challenges to help you mix things up, like move out of your natural medium and try something new. Catalog particular spots around your house, or arrange items pleasingly. Create a series of somethings. (I’m being intentionally vague because if you’re a working artist, writer, or maker, then you know the vacuous place called Uninspired. And this book would be a very handy antidote to have around when you’ve found yourself untethered in that barren land. And if you don’t know this space, then, as one artist’s claims: you’re lying). Though I do wonder what Danielle did regarding blocks before she amassed this collection of unblock exercises….

krysa quote

Danielle is no slouch to the visual world.  Her blog has become a spring-board for many up and coming artists, and for art-loving people who like to put interesting work on their walls.  Further, Danielle is making superb art as well, though she strikes me as veritably humble about it.  I’m not an art critic, but I know what I like, and I very much like what Danielle creates, especially her crisp collage and painted art with embroidered pops of color and texture.  Danielle vows to work through each of the challenges included in the book, and I can’t wait to see the fruits.

Find her at: thejealouscurator.com

Thanks, Danielle Krysa, for compiling a book so chock-full of great art by articulate and generous artists that I’m buying a rotisserie chicken for dinner tonight (instead of cooking) so I can keep working on my Creative unBlock #04 found-art sculpture exercise.

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Start where you are. Use what you have. Do what you can.
—Arthur Ashe

or as my Grandmother used to say:

Make do.

You can find out more about me in the tab above, but in a nutshell, I am endlessly fascinated with art, craft, and creativity books. I own many, borrow many, and devour them all. I have found that I am collecting them more than making from them, and this site is in part to change that habit. In the spirit of appreciation for the authors/artists, I am reading the books cover to cover. Truly reading every word. And then, I am making! I will aim to create at least one share-able piece from each book I review. Please join me on this journey through the Dewey Decimal 700s (and spots beyond).

I’m beginning with a book by Carla Sonheim for a few reasons: 1) I met her and bought a small piece of her art in Portland several years ago, and I found her to be grounded and patient despite the chaos of the art fair. 2) This book, published four years ago, encourages the “just start” motto. And 3) pen and paper seem like step one for beginning. Pen to paper. No fancy supplies, no fresh journal to worry about, no adhesives or temperamental watercolors; all things I love and will delve into, but for now: pen to paper:

Drawing Lab

Sonheim, Carla.
Drawing Lab for Mixed Media Artists:
Creative Exercises to Make Drawing Fun.
Illustrated. 144pp. Quarry Books, 2010. $22.99
ISBN-10: 1592536131
ISBN-13: 978-1592536139
DDC 745.5

From Quarry Book’s Lab Series, Carla Sonheim presents a playful collection of 52 drawing exercises to keep the practice simple, get you started, and see interesting and unusual results. Her materials list is brief to allow for the use-what-you-have, do-what-you-can approach. Each prompt contains a materials list, a notable quotation, some examples from Carla or a contributor, step by step instructions, and—my favorite, a few suggestions for taking the prompt further. These ideas are where everyone will gain more mileage from the book—as they push beyond the typical drawing assignments—along with your own trial and experimentation. The book also contains a diverse selection of contributing artists, and a short-list of Carla’s favorite books on drawing and creativity.

Her “Taking It Further” suggestions are a step away from what you might expect of typical drawing primers. For example, a drawing standard for warming up are blind contour drawings: easy, loose, non-judgmental. Carla suggests this technique with a twist: layering several of the same subject. Her example yields a galumphing elephant with weight and movement, enhanced by simple orange highlights.

Another project that speaks to me is Lab #35: Drawing + Collage. This is an exercise where you select a fragment of a photo from a magazine, and add to it. Find an animal head, for example, and give it an alternative, out-of proportion, or multi-limbed reboot. I think this project would capture an elementary audience as well as a seasoned artist. I have seen similar renditions that are coltish and imaginative accomplished by children.

My favorite Sonheim prompt is to create a series of drawings using sidewalk cracks as inspiration. Akin to finding animal shapes in cloud formations, I think this prompt is endlessly fascinating. I see imaginary maps in many of the sidewalk cracks around my city, with lush islands of grass, and the occasional rogue poppy. This moment of focus on the ground underfoot is also a lesson in stopping to really look—a cornerstone in any art practice. It’s another exercise that can be done with all ages, with few tools, and endless source material. Carla’s featured illustration for this project is a series of weird animals, line-drawn, with contour shading and a bit of color for pop.

Sidewalk cracks. My city government is attentive to the condition of our sidewalks. Severely cracked squares are often marked, and repair or replacement is a homeowner requirement. The first afternoon I went out with camera in hand, I was almost disappointed with the pristine condition of our walks! But, I found a few with nice marbling. And, to my equal delight and shame, I had several fractured rectangles on the margins of my own house! Best to draw them now before the City paints a yellow scald for me to repair.

I drew a half-dozen creatures from the fractures I found, and played a bit with coloring pencil to give them life. But then I struck upon some old Letraset vellum and rolls of washi tape, and I like the result much better. They aren’t the anthropomorphized versions of Carla Sonheim’s, but they interest me all the same.
This exercise can be applied to all kinds of man-made distress. I spotted a patch of peeling paint which took on map-like qualities for me: a truncated, Florida-less outline of North America, France—squished. Ireland, largely out of proportion with the other two shapes. All this richness on a wall of aged orange paint or a broken dilapidated square on concrete.  Here are three of  my sidewalk crack drawings:
sidewalk crack 1193  sidewalk crack 2194 sidewalk crack 3195

After reading through the book, I caught myself seeing a great deal more in my surroundings: the sidewalks tufted with weeds, a bristly ranunculus bulb, a tall stadium light that begged to be drawn blindly. I felt encouraged to just try. So I blindly drew my sunglasses and a tea cup. I drew alien sidewalk creatures. I took more pictures than I did the week previous—all in the spirit of looking and focusing. This book lives at my house; I expect I’ll pull it out more often when I need a reminder that drawing should be fun.

For more about Carla, visit her website at carlasonheim.com. She offers several “live” and self-paced on-line classes and tutorials on her website, as well as an up-to-date blog. The classes and e-books are a diverse range from drawing and watercolor to silly “Blobimals” and cereal box paper dolls.
Carla has published several books, including a new book on photography with her husband Steve Sonheim that I plan to review here soon.

the beginning.

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