>The Mother and Child Reunion


My children have always made art with me.  I couldn’t imagine not creating when they were small, and so they always had some variation of art supply, and close supervision as we worked side by side.  It helped keep me sane during those demanding toddler years and helped give them a leg up when it came to making art for school.  I never held back on what supply they could use, I just made sure it was a child safe alternative (adhesives) or I did part of their work myself (cutting). 

My youngest is soon to be 12, and he shares my studio with me.  We do the occasional show together and we brainstorm ideas for our work.  It’s really nice to have an art buddy so close at hand!

izzy creating

His favorite medium is polymer clay.  He’s sold many pieces and has even taken a few commissions.

izzy art

You can see some of his older work in the background, while his newer work is in the foreground.

We bounce ideas off each other, and take inspiration from each other’s work.  Recently I created this sea scene:

octopus garden complete two

Octopus’ Garden 2011  Machine embroidery with Kreinik threads, machine pieced and machine appliqued.  I still need to measure it, but it’s around 36” x 36”

We have an upcoming show opportunity, with parameters of no larger than 5 inches in any direction.  Izzy chose to make his own coral reef.

Coral reef 300

Izzy Stern  Coral Reef  2011 5” x 5”

Coral reef detail 300

Detail of the sculpture.  He was very concerned that the colors be accurate.  I love the eel peeking out from behind the fronds, and you can see the tentacles of the octopus that is hiding behind the anemone.

This is one of his most ambitious pieces to date.  I am really excited to see where he goes next!

It’s funny to see how you influence your children, or friends, or other people in your life, even if you don’t realize you are.  Sometimes a little encouragement and belief in their abilities can go a long way.


Posted by on February 16, 2011 in art quilt, family, sculpture, sea life


>One of My Favorite Days and People


I can’t remember ever not liking February.  Probably because it is so short.  February has the best birthstone (amethyst) and of course there’s Valentine’s Day, with the pink and red and lace and chocolate and hearts!

This year I made some of my own valentines to give out:

valentines in color one

FInished valentines made with Portfolio Oil Pastels on a base of painted, silkscreened and stenciled oaktag.  The drawings were made with India ink.

valentines detail one

A detail of what the blank cards looked like.  You can really see the detail of the silkscreen in this shot.  One of these days I will figure out how to make an image of the wonderful paint scribblings left on my art table.

valentines two

A whole batch of the cards awaiting decorating.

Many of my favorite people were born in February as well.  (With lots of birthday parties and cake! Cake and chocolate, yay!).  My most favorite February person is my Grandpa, who was born today (February 14).  He was a designer at General Motors, and would bring home lunchboxes full of the Prismacolor pencils he used at his job for us to play with. 

grandpa in fishing hat

He also had a good sense of humor.  When he retired, he decided to let his beard grow, and told me he was going to let it grow long enough to tie around his head.

grandpa and shep reading the paper

He also loved his dogs.  Here he is at our house in Michigan, reading the paper with Shep on the sofa next to him and our dog Laddie at his feet.

And my Grandpa loved me so much that when I fell in love with the treasure chest he’d made for himself, he made me one as well.

grandpas treasure chest one

I took this photo when I was 19 and in my “arty photo” phase.  🙂  My Grandpa gave me his love of art and his fun sense of humor, and yes, occasionally his gruff demeanor.  Today would’ve been his 110th birthday.

Sometimes the best gifts are the intangible ones, though I wouldn’t trade anything for my treasure chest.  What gifts have your loved ones given you?

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Posted by on February 14, 2011 in inspiration


>You’re My Inspiration


I was recently watching an episode of The Avengers on Netflix.  In this episode, high ranking members of the English military were given a child’s ball which had a hallucinogenic effect on them.  The sets of the playroom they saw while under the influence were graphic and colorful.  I used to watch The Avengers with my dad, and clearly, when looking at my work, I can see the influence of colors from tv shows such as this and Batman, as well as others (Laugh In, anyone?).

But one of the most obvious influences on my choice of colors and occasional fantastic imagery is the wonderful Peter Max.  His bold colorful images and detail filled work made my heart sing.  Imagine my surprise when I read in the 10th Anniversary issue of Veg News that he had been approached to create the Yellow Submarine film, but had turned it down.  The director hired another artist to work in Mr. Max’s style.  That explained so much about that movie.

I went searching for images to share with you and found this wonderful cake , inspired by the movie.  I think I know what I’m making for my birthday in April 😉

And now, some Yellow Submarine inspired artwork, from my work in a Moleskine Cahier notebook:

sketchbook project inside front cover

Pen and ink.

sketchbook project spread one

Collage from an old AAA travel guide, india ink, rubber stamp, acrylic and gouache.

sketchbook project spread one detail


sketchbook project spread two

View out the submarine’s porthole.

sketchbook project july one

I decided to colorize this one.  I used Inktense pencils by Derwent.

sketchbook project july two

Here you can see the detail of the pencil lines from the coloring.  I used to hate those, I wanted the image as smooth as possible, but as I’ve grown as an artist I can see the value in letting the process be seen in the lines.  If I did want this image more smooth, I could take a wet watercolor brush into it and dissolve the colors.  I may try that with a future iteration of this piece, drawn with a waterproof pen.  (I used a Pilot V7 on this one, and they most definitely aren’t waterproof).

sketchbook project july three

Then I imagined the submarine and the views from it as a necklace, with a sea urchin as a background.

sketchbook project july four

Most of the time I freehand the drawings, but for this one I used a light pencil sketch first.  You can see the faint lines if you look closely.  If I were doing this for reproduction, I would use a non-photo blue pencil next time.

sketchbook project july five

These are what I imagine the really deep sea submarines would look like.  Or perhaps the fish have evolved to take on some of the characteristics of the submarines they see daily.

sketchbook project july six

I had a lot of fun with the scales on this one. 🙂

What inspires you?  Are there images or colors you can trace directly to an outside influence? Or is your inspiration more subtle?  It’s always interesting to hear how other artists get their ideas.  How do you work?  Feel free to download the free worksheet from the sidebar and go wild!

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Posted by on February 11, 2011 in ideas, inspiration, play


>What Color is Your Thinking Cap?


duck tub

You’re the One  crochet and knitting with found objects

One way to cope  have fun with the switch between doing chores, whether they be household, or the daily to-dos for your art career, is to have different costumes.  Remember in grade school when your teacher would tell you to get your thinking cap on?  I was so disappointed that there wasn’t an actual thinking cap for us to wear.  Maybe it was just me, but I thought the idea of having something fun to wear could help a boring or difficult task more fun.

Who wouldn’t have a bit more fun if you did your errands dressed as a samurai?

tibetan temple

Tibetan Temple knitting and crochet, wool, soy silk and acrylic

Maybe did your thumbnail sketches under the boughs of a beautiful oak?

walk in the forest

A Walk in the Woods knitting, crochet and found objects, wool and cotton

Or even did your household chores dressed a little like Jackie Kennedy?


Jackie wool and acrylic, knit and crochet

There is  something to be said for costumes.  Even Havi wrote about them at her blog.  Having one can help you be brave, to act as if (I am thinking of my “New Job, Model Citizen” dress slacks that I wear when I want to project that air of confidence and competence at events such as art openings).  Having one can help your brain transition from mundane work stuff into art making time. 

alice repose

Alice’s Repose crochet, i-cord, found object; wool and acrylic

I have a small wardrobe of aprons that I keep in my studio, and when I am having a hard time getting into the work on any given day, I put on an apron, even if I am not planning on doing any messy work that day.  This tells me that it is time to play, and I can feel my body relax and stop fighting the urge to have fun.


Just Desserts wool, alpaca and cotton; knit and crochet.

Whether it is a thinking cap, an apron, or something more elaborate, a costume can add a lot of fun to your daily routine.  What roles do you play, and how could you dress them up?

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Posted by on February 9, 2011 in inspiration, play, process


>Time Travel


Twenty years ago when I was in graduate school, I wanted to do a series on water towers.

I took reference photographs.

water tower route 33

Water towers on Route 33 near The Plains, OH.

andrews water tower master copy

Water tower on the grounds of Andrews Air Force Base, Maryland.

I took my two toddlers out and parked in the parking lot of the local credit union and drew in the back seat of the car.

water tower drawing one

Water towers, Route 33, Caran D’Ache Neocolor II watercolor crayons on Arches Cover Black paper.

water tower drawing two

Water towers, Route 33, Caran D’Ache Neocolor II watercolor crayons on Arches Cover Black paper.

And I drew from reference photos, in my studio.

Gaffney SC drawing one

Gaffney, SC, Caran D’Ache Neocolor II watercolor crayons on Arches Cover Black paper, 40” x 30”.

(I couldn’t find my reference photo to put in this post.  Ironic, isn’t it?)

That’s as far as it got at the time.  There were a few false starts at paintings that ended up covered over, but these images were all that I had for a very long time.  Then I decided to revisit the imagery in my quilts (blog posts here and here).

And, while searching for a way to make some images that fit the parameters of a show calling for pieces no larger than 5”  in any direction, I remembered a technique described in the book Freestyle Machine Embroidery by Carol Shinn.

Carol took her source image and printed it out onto transfer paper.  She then ironed it onto a stiff fabric and filled in the image using machine embroidery.

Which I decided to do with the old drawings.

route 33 autumn afternoon

Route 33, Autumn Afternoon  Machine embroidery and photo transfer on twill.  5” x 5”

route 33 summer afternoon detail one

Detail, showing the layers used to create the feeling of the undergrowth.

gaffney sc embroidery one - Copy

Gaffney SC II, still in process.  You can see the twill on the borders.  I also use several layers of interfacing to stabilize the fabric and minimize distortion during stitching.

gaffney sc embroidery detail one - Copy

Here you can really see the texture of the stitches and of the twill underneath the iron-on.

I am using Golden Extra Heavy Body Gel to adhere the finished stitching to the canvas, pressing the work between two boards weighted down with paint jars.   Once the gel is dry, I trim the image close to the canvas and then paint the edges of the canvas with a coordinating color of acrylic paint.  In the future I may experiment with making the edges of the canvas covered in machine embroidery as well.

I really enjoyed working this way, and am eager to make new source drawings (of various subjects) to work from.  What treasures do you have in your studio that could provide a springboard for new creativity?


>What Does ‘The King’s Speech’ Have to Do With Art?



If you haven’t seen ‘The King’s Speech’ yet, I tried to not spoil any major plot points, but if you want to go into the movie and be surprised, you may want to wait to read this post until after you’ve seen the movie.  Go on and see it, I’ll wait.


Over the weekend I was able to go see ‘The King’s Speech’.  I had heard lots of good things about it from my friends at Facebook, and my husband was also interested in seeing it, so it was an obvious choice.  Sunday afternoon we headed out to take in the early afternoon matinee.

Two hours later I walked out of the theater feeling energized and uplifted.  The simple story of how King George VI worked with speech coach Lionel Logue to overcome his stutter and lead his country during the dark days of World War II made me cringe, made me laugh, and ultimately made me cry. 

And then it made me think.  I empathized with Colin Firth’s Bertie, not only because he agonized at the prospect of having to lead his country during wartime, but also because he was a person who had not yet owned his voice.  He could speak clearly and smoothly under a few conditions, but he seemed to have trouble with even every day conversation. 

How does this relate to art, you ask? 

Well, we often talk about seeing a person’s voice in their work.  Some works are muddied and the vision is unclear, while other pieces make our hearts sing.  I think there are a lot of similarities between the artist sitting at the easel, drawing board, or sewing machine, struggling to get out of their own way and let their voice out, and Bertie, struggling to get out a single word.

Blocks that kept Bertie from speaking clearly included early childhood trauma and present family teasing.  How many artists have trouble creating because of what a teacher or family member may have said to them when they shared their early art?

The most important thing that struck me near the end of the movie was when we were shown how Bertie was afraid to take on his authority.  He didn’t believe he could be bigger, and he was afraid to be bigger.  This made him angry when it was pointed out to him. How often do we act the same way in regards to our art?  We may not stammer, but we find other ways to stop our work from getting out, whether it is spending too much time on the internet, taking on other people’s problems, or even making art, but maybe not the art that we really want to make.

Of course we know what happens with Bertie, all we have to do is look at a history book.  In the film you could see the change in how he carried himself. At the end of the speech his shoulders were squared and he walked confidently out to greet his people.  He had found his voice.

What steps can you take to let your voice be heard in your work?


>Year of the Rabbit


Sometimes your inspiration can be directly traced to a specific event or object.  For instance:

The evil rabbit growth chart my mom embroidered for me.  I’m sure she didn’t think it was evil.  But those eyes freaked me out.  A lot.

bad bunny one

Could you sleep with this looking at you every night?

bad bunny two

And yet, somehow I managed to grow up and be a fairly normal member of society.

Then I started making my own rabbit art.

good bunny one

Good Bunny I 2007  Bic ballpoint on drawing paper

good bunny three

Good Bunny II 2007  Bic ballpoint on drawing paper

good bunny four

Good Bunny III  Bic ballpoint on drawing paper (my favorite of the bunny drawings, don’t tell the others)

good bunny five

Good Bunny III, detail

good bunny six

Good Bunny IV, still in process.  Machine embroidery, beads and sequins

good bunny seven

Good Bunny IV, detail

Macgregors bunny

Macgregor’s Bunny,  mosaic on repurposed name tag

rabbit drawing in color

Mad Hatter’s Rabbit, photo copy of Bic ballpoint drawing, colored with watercolor and colored pencil

white rabbit lark

Concept sketch for rabbit embroidery

bunny felt two

Down the Rabbit Hole 2009 16” x 19”

Bunny felt

Queen of Hearts 2010 18” x 18”

waiting for harvest 72 full

Waiting for Harvest 2007  Bead embroidery on Peltex heavy duty interfacing


Bunny Pierrot II 2010, acrylic on canvas



Clara Bunny 2007  Machine embroidery, stuffed plush

And suddenly Mr. Growth Chart didn’t seem so bad after all.  Look at all the work he inspired!

For more on rabbits and their symbolism you can read Terri Windling’s article at Endicott Studios and see more rabbit art at  Midori Snyder’s blog post.  Read about Chinese New Year here.

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Posted by on February 1, 2011 in inspiration, play