Doing Art Therapy on Myself

Here is what happened to me Friday October 15:

I fell down the stairs and bent my foot the wrong way. I might have two broken toes, I realize it could have been a lot worse. The pain is way down today so my head is more clear and I can actually write something! I don’t have to spend 100% of my time off of my foot until I have a follow up appointment with an orthopedic doctor, but I will have to spend the majority of my time with it elevated, at least for awhile. Not sure for how long, but in the meantime I’m taking the opportunity to study my art therapy book and my horticultural therapy books to see if there is anything I can do to cope better with the fear and frustration of being temporarily unable to move around much. I’d also like to help my stressed out family cope with helping me with my injury while dealing with other severe recent losses. What can I learn while I study and try things out?

Having Some Fun With Negative Space

I started out by working on some collages I began during #virtualartparty number 4, an online session my husband and I hosted to help our friends and family do a little art and hopefully feel less lonely during the pandemic. I’ll write more about the collages later, but for now I want to write about the leftover cut away paper pieces I was dropping in the waste basket to be composted. The shapes were interesting, and reminded me of something. What was it? Why were these scraps interesting? Then I remembered this really cool architecture photo I had put on an Architecture Pinterest board. And some sketches I’d done for a ceramics class in the spring of 1990. Good memories of one of those times when I couldn’t stop the ideas from coming, and a pretty good percentage of them still seem exciting to me.

What I was noticing was the shapes made by the negative space – the parts I cut away – and how they reminded me of positive and negative shapes that I responded strongly to. I took the most interesting white paper scraps back out of the waste basket and glued them down on black paper. I scanned them into the computer to make these positive and negative images to see if they inspired me to make something with them.

Using Photoshop, I made selection outlines out of the white shapes, stroked them in black, and printed out the results as coloring pages so I can try to encourage myself and other people to enjoy the benefits of coloring and art making. There is enough going on to get people started – sometimes a blank page is intimidating if people don’t know what to draw or color – that’s a tip I learned long ago in Drawing 1. There is still room for individual creativity in these and other coloring pages I’ve made available for free download.

Download free coloring pages:

Negative space #1

Negative space #2

Abstract Art

The shapes that resulted from the paper cutting do somewhat resemble natural forms, but the overall design so far is abstract. Is abstract art good for therapeutic purposes?

I often encourage people to try making some abstract art in a project that is relatively low stakes such as an art journal page, because my reasoning has been that many untrained artists are afraid that they can’t draw and therefore are discouraged from making art that attempts to be representational. If I can show them how to make art from found papers and found objects, maybe that will help them become less inhibited and just have fun.

My favorite kind of art is abstract and if need be I can keep myself entertained with shapes, colors, textures and lines for hours if not days on end. Even if I think it’s fascinating and fun, abstract art is likely going to be a hard sell for most people. Those who appreciate abstract art the most are often art and design professionals or people very knowledgeable about art, such as patrons or collectors. The general population is mostly not that big of a fan and prefers recognizable nature-based images (Marcus and Sachs 15). We know from reactions to modern art and modern public sculpture how wide the gulf can be between the tastes of art and design professionals and the general public. If this sounds elitist, it’s not meant to be, it’s just a fact pointed out in a therapy book to help practitioners offer projects that are most helpful to the patient (Marcus and Sachs 15).

Abstract art isn’t necessarily therapeutic to people with certain conditions or states of mind. Experiments on physically or emotionally stressed patients revealed not only an affinity toward nature imagery but hostility to abstract art – even to the point of attacking the abstract pieces. The same artwork often prompted positive reactions from the staff, showing how the varying states of mind of individuals influenced how the artwork was perceived (Marcus and Sachs 30-31).

Practitioners intending to use art to facilitate health should keep the client’s needs in mind above their own personal tastes (Marcus and Sachs 15). Stress is detrimental to healing, both mentally and physically (Marcus and Sachs 25), so the last thing I would want to do is add to someone’s stress if I was trying to help them.

What could I add to my abstract background to make a project that is more soothing to the general public? My project is aimed at people who want to color but don’t necessarily want to draw. I have several stencils in my collection with botanical imagery that will appeal to the universal human need for nature-based imagery. I can use colors that are soothing and also found in nature. I chose blues and greens because hot colors might aggravate certain conditions and interfere with wellness (Winterbottom and Wagenfeld 182).

Art Journal Page

Here is an art journal page I made with one of my abstract printouts and a botanical themed stencil.

I got out a piece of cardstock that I use as a template for making pages that fit my art journal and I traced around the printout to remind me where the page edge will be. I chose a stencil by The Crafter’s Workshop, Mini Four Ferns, and outlined the fern designs in pencil.
I chose a blue gray pencil color to fill in the abstract shapes so that they would visually recede into the background behind the green ferns. Where the fern and abstract shapes overlapped, I overlaid neutral gray marker. I used green colored pencils and a green Sharpie paint marker to color in the rest of the ferns where they did not overlap the blue, and I outlined the ferns with a thin black Sharpie pen. It didn’t look quite finished so I drew some lines in pencil that are reminiscent of topographic maps. Then I was satisfied!

Works Cited

Marcus, Clare Cooper and Naomi A. Sachs. Therapeutic Landscapes: An Evidence-Based Approach to Designing Healing Gardens and Restorative Outdoor Spaces. Wiley, 2014.

Winterbottom, Daniel and Amy Wagenfeld. Therapeutic Gardens: Design for Healing Spaces. Timber Press, 2015.

Make Reversible Masks

The top mask still needs the pleats, the bottom one is finished.

I made this mask pattern about a year and a half ago so that I could make my own masks with fabrics that I liked. I meant to publish it eventually, but so many people had put mask patterns out there online I figured there was no need for another one. But now the pandemic has gone on long enough that I’m getting tired of the fabrics on my original batch of masks so I decided to make some new ones. I figured if I was sick of my masks, others might be tired of theirs too and might want to try out a new pattern. So here it is!

Pieces of fabric cut to size for mask making.

Supplies you will need

Fabric

Narrow elastic

Sewing thread

Scrap cardboard or chipboard

Tools you will need

Template

Awl or large needle

Paper cutter

Sewing scissors

Sewing needle

Washable fabric marker

Pins

Instructions

Prepare the templates:
1. Download the Mask Template PDF file I made and print it out.


2. Trim around the outside edge of the template so that the paper edge ends at the 9 x 8 inch border.
3. Use an awl or large needle to poke holes through the four x’s that indicate where to attach the elastic, and where the two vertical lines intersect the border toward the bottom of the template. The two bottom holes indicate where to leave an opening for turning the mask inside out.
4.Out of scrap chipboard, cut out a 9 x 8 inch piece and an 8 x 7 inch piece. The larger piece is an aid for drawing a line to cut out your fabric, and the smaller piece is for drawing the seam.


Cut out and mark the fabric:
1. Place the 9×8 inch piece of cardstock on the reverse side of the piece of fabric you want for the front of your mask. Draw around with washable fabric marker and cut out a 9 x 8 piece of fabric. Repeat for the piece of fabric you want for the back of your mask. This pattern makes a reversible mask, so you can choose two interesting pieces of fabric, or a plainer fabric for the back if you choose.
2. On the back side of either your front or back fabric, whichever would show the marker better, lay the 7 x 8 inch piece of chipboard in the middle of the cutout fabric and trace around it with your washable fabric marker to indicate the seam line to follow.


3. Center the printed template over the fabric and make dots with the marker where you previously poked the holes. Lift the template and draw on the x’s and two vertical lines with marker.


Assemble the mask:
1.Cut out two pieces of elastic long enough to fit around your ears and hold the mask on your head. The length of elastic needed will vary by the size of your head. You can pin elastic in place to test what length you will need.

2. Lay one of the fabric pieces good side up on your work surface and place the elastic pieces so that they overlap the fabric and the ends line up with the x’s you drew on your fabric.

3. Lay the other piece of fabric good side down over the first piece and pin together.

4. Start at one of the vertical lines at the bottom indicating the opening, and start sewing along the seam line away from the opening, leaving that section open for the time being. Trim extra fabric away from the corners as shown.

5. Turn the mask inside out and pin the opening closed. Whip stitch it shut from the outside.

6. Fold the mask to make pleats as shown, pin, then sew the ends of the pleats in place. You’re done!

Easy Thank You Cards

Rubber stamps by Rubber Stampede (Thank You), Hero Arts (flowers) and unknown (passport stamp collage).

My Dad and I are making Thank You cards following the funerals of my uncle Dave and brother Larry. Tom helped a lot too with the gluing. I’m feeling the effects that a lot of people feel after serious grief and trauma: disrupted sleep, fatigue, brain fog, joint pain, muscle pain, etc. These symptoms are normal for some people after trauma and severe stress, apparently, but of course make everyday functioning relatively difficult for a time. A bike ride on Sunday with friends helped a lot. I asked Tom to be my coach and help encourage me to do the ride. He pumped up the bike tires and pumped me up emotionally and took a hot epsom salt bath with me before we got dressed for the ride to help loosen up my stiff and sore body. With that I didn’t need any pain meds like ibuprofen which I had taken from time to time the previous week. He helped me break through a big barrier and function better. I was really discouraged and scared by how sore I was and how bad I felt. I’m very grateful to have a loving husband to help me get over some rough spots and build on little victories to gradually improve over time. This is extremely hard even with help. I hope and pray that people out there who need support can get it from somewhere. As I find grieving and mental health resources online I’ll keep adding them to my self care Pinterest board.

In the meantime, Dad and I are extending the effort to make cards because we have abundant supplies on hand we enjoy using and we find the activity healing and therapeutic. But with not feeling terribly well I had to come up with a card design that was relatively simple so that we would not tax ourselves beyond our current abilities to make them. They are just challenging enough to force us to concentrate a bit but not so hard we want to give up in frustration. I have to take a lot of breaks, but I’m not giving up! Of course if you want to make your own similar cards you could use any suitable sentiment in place of “Thank You” to fit any message you want to send.

Supplies You’ll Need

Blank cards with envelopes – Dad had a whole bunch of envelopes in different sizes already on hand, so we cut plain white paper to the envelope width and folded the pieces in half to fit. If you prefer, you can buy blank cards with matching envelopes at craft stores.

Assorted papers in light, neutral colors for the two largest areas on the card, with subtle patterns on them. The design on the paper should be light enough to stamp on in medium to dark colors.

Assorted papers in more contrasting neutral colors and patterns for the narrow stripe on the front of each card.

Rubber stamping ink in a “harvest gold” color, a taupe color, and black.

Clean scrap paper to help with gluing

Optional – interesting die cuts, design tape (also known a paper tape or washi tape) and stickers for extra interest

Tools You’ll Need

Paper trimmer

Metal ruler for tearing paper

Scissors

Glue sticks

Squeegee, bone folder or burnishing tool

Rubber stamps. My friend Kate recently gave me a large collection of pre-owned stamps. I will gradually be offering some for sale in my online shop as I have time to get them listed. I did set aside some of my favorites to keep for my own collection (of course). To start out my Dad and I selected for these cards two Thank You stamps, two postage related designs, and three wildflower silhouette stamps. Unfortunately I’m not selling the exact stamps I used in this card because I really love them and there were no duplicates in the pre-owned collection Kate gave me, but you can use similar stamps in their place.

Instructions

  1. Glue a narrow strip of paper that is from the higher-contrast selections about 1/3 from either the left or right from the side of the card.

2. Cut and tear out pieces of paper in light neutral colors with subtle background patterns and glue them to the fronts of the cards on either side of the strip you glued down previously. I tore the edges that overlap the central stripes for visual interest. On some of the cards I added some stickers and design tape for a little extra interest if I thought it was needed. As you’ll see in the final graphic featuring variations on the original design, I added some hexagon die cuts I had made some time ago. When I was designing the prototype card, I asked Dad to pick out stamps he liked from my collection, and he also took out these hexagons, so I looked for ways to use a few and I liked them on some of the cards. Trim the paper to the edges of the card front when done gluing.

3. Stamp three flower stamps on the wider background side of the card in harvest gold or similar ink color. My Dad switched to a red-brown ink later in the process which also looked very good.

4. Stamp a Thank You stamp in black, and if you think the card needs a little more interest, stamp postage related designs or some other accent stamps of your choice in a taupe ink color as in my example at the top of this article. You might decide your card needs more or less done to it depending on what background papers you choose. See the graphic below for a bunch of variations that we made.

Here is a collage of some of the cards we made showing how many different ways you can use the same stamps. The additional lower case thank you stamp you see here is by Tim Holtz. Dad did most of the stamping and decided some of the cards didn’t need so much on them which is a fine design choice you can make when the papers are interesting. If you would like to download a high-res version of the above graphic (with more designs on it) to use in projects like stickers or faux postage sheets here is a link:
Printable Thank You Graphics

Additional Resources:

My Pinterest board for Greeting Card Idea and Sketches

My Facebook album for free coloring and paper crafting downloads

With more time and energy, I probably would have created a card that uses stamps that I actually sell, some of which I designed. For now the important thing was to make something nice that is also fast and easy. But if you want to browse my collection of stamps in my Etsy shop here it is: Stamping

Memory crafts needed in a hurry plus mourning in a social media age

Trigger warning: this blog post deals with the topic of suicide.  Please get professional help if you are suffering from mental health issues. If you are afraid that you might harm yourself, please call 911 or a suicide hotline immediately. Here is the National Suicide Prevention Lifeline phone number – 1-800-273-8255.

Knowing how to make memory craft projects and having memory craft materials around is most helpful when going through something like my remaining family and I just went through. My uncle Dave was discovered deceased on August 27, 2021 and my brother Larry died from suicide on September 4, 2021.

I think some people were taken aback that I was open about my brother dying from suicide almost immediately after hearing the news. No one gave me flak over it, but I do think a few people were surprised. I did ask my Dad for permission before I posted the cause of death. My Dad and I are the two remaining from our original nuclear family of four.

There are reasons why I wanted people to know the truth right away. For one thing I wanted people to know exactly what horror we were dealing with because it’s not likely that our lives will be “back to normal” any time soon, if ever. We will be needing and asking for some leeway in meeting some of our obligations as we try to figure out what our lives are going to look like now and decide how to prioritize tasks.

Another reason is that my brother fought to overcome bipolar disorder for over 20 years, and my late uncle did as well. My brother’s illness affected our family greatly even well before it was diagnosed because there were serious symptoms that made all of our lives challenging at times, even if we didn’t yet understand what they meant. I have done volunteer work from time to time over the years to help people with mental illness, mental disabilities, or are just going through a tough time as the result of a normal grieving process. In the past I taught workshops at the former Open Door Art Studio and a few years back I donated a few days work and a lot of supplies to Artists First studio with the hope of someday doing more work there. When the COVID-19 pandemic started, my husband Tom and I did a series of eight webcasts we called #virtualartparty to help people enjoy art and craft activities to help avoid mental health problems that could result from anxiety and isolation.

I knew my brother’s suffering had increased quite a bit over the last few months. I tried to show I cared and encourage him a little by doing a couple of “art therapy” projects with him and my Dad, and with a few other people who were also going through a hard time. I was planning to do more whenever I was able. I put “art therapy” in quotes here because while I’m a trained artist I’m not a formally trained art therapist – but since all art is therapeutic, my philosophy is it’s better to do something than nothing. Even if it doesn’t work, at least you have tried. And a few minutes of distraction from misery is better than nothing as well. I have to look for something good where I can in order to go on.

Making self-care cards out of Project Life cards

Art Journaling By Selectively Covering Text

I have been through a course of therapy myself to recover from an abusive relationship and the resulting serious trauma. Even though I have great empathy for sufferers I know there is a limited amount I can do to help someone else recover from severe mental illness. My Dad and I know we tried everything that we could think of to save our loved ones but we could not do it. Dave and Larry were both under medical care and as far as we know fighting hard for many years. Our help and the work of many doctors and therapists was not enough to save them. I’m grateful for the people who can be saved and sad about the ones that can’t. There is a need out there for compassion and understanding to aid others in helping their loved ones with mental illness or consoling them if the outcome turns out tragic. That’s something I can help with in a little way perhaps by writing about it and continuing to make small contributions to the general cause of mental health whenever I can. I think dealing with reality head-on is more useful for this goal than trying to cover it up. I feel devastated over what happened but it’s based on sadness, not shame. I don’t want other mourners affected by mental illness or suicide to feel shame either. So I’m trying to contribute by setting an example of frankness and truth. I am not judging others who choose a different way – we all have our reasons for how we grieve and how we process our situations.

It comforts me to try to find answers and explanations to find meaning in overwhelming situations. Right now I’m more consumed with questions than in a state of readiness for trying to find answers. That’s where the memory crafts come in. I made a few things for the funerals in a hurry, which served the purposes of mourning the dead, comforting others, and providing a needed distraction and creative outlet for myself to help me cope. Following are some pictures. It’s my way to mark just about any important occasion with art and crafts – both celebratory and mournful.

fishing related craft items plus lures
Fishing related craft items plus lures. Uncle Dave was cremated so I was asked to make a box to temporarily cover the plastic box of ashes during the mass. I was inspired to make a fishing themed box for several reasons. One, as Christians, I liked the allusion to Jesus asking the apostles to be join him and be “fishers of men”. Is there a way to use this tragedy as a way to bring God’s love to people? Another reason is that fishing was one of his main activities if not THE main activity he loved, and it broke my heart that when we went in his house all the items for a future fishing trip were ready by the door – poles, cooler, pliers, tackle, etc. I wish he had been able to go on his planned trip and many many more after that. Another is that although I don’t fish I love to be on water and one reason I do Operation Clean Stream is so that people like me and Uncle Dave and everyone who enjoys the outdoors can have clean, healthy streams. So that is something I felt a connection with him through – nature and water. Two of the lures I used I found in the Meramec River while I was doing stream cleanup, and the other lures I used were Dave’s.
wood panels for box
Wood panels for box after being painted, sanded and assembled.
Finished box
Background for Dave's photo board.
Background for Dave’s photo board. When I started Dave’s memorial projects, I thought I was going to have a lot more time to work on them. Unfortunately my brother also died before we could have Dave’s funeral, so some of that time went for planning Larry’s funeral also. Dad and I glued on the papers for this background from a selection I had already picked out to harmonize with the box. We used medical tape that Tom had around on the edges because we didn’t have time to shop for anything else. Fortunately, it was the right weight and texture and looked good. Because of our grieving and hasty preparations, I actually wore a dress with no underwear because I forgot to bring extra and using one of my brother’s ties as a belt because I forgot one to the first funeral – but we got by. With all the shock I’m proud of us for just functioning. We had a lot of great help too – we are very grateful. We believe prayer works and we know lots of people were praying for us. We also know how much we were helped by people’s kind actions. For example my husband Tom took two weeks off from work to help us. We are most indebted to him and others for their kind deeds.
Larry's photo board #1
Larry’s photo board #1

We used the same tape on Larry’s boards but I painted it a black/bronze color before we started gluing down the torn paper. This is only a tiny percentage of all the photos we would have liked to show but Larry’s friend Tim and others helped put together a digital slide show as well that was greatly appreciated by all of us.

Larry's photo board #2
Larry’s photo board #2
Larry's photo board #3
Larry’s photo board #3

Links to more information:

Dave’s obituary

Video of Dave’s mass

Larry’s obituary

Video of Larry’s mass (partial, but they got the homily which was excellent and appropriate)

Larry’s memorial Facebook album (in progress)

Art Journaling By Selectively Covering Text

Sometimes I find and save advertising materials printed on nice paper. I might like part of the imagery, or be attracted to the weight and feel of the paper, or both. It’s sometimes less intimidating to start an art journal page on paper that already has something on it than a blank piece of paper. In this article I’ll show you two ways to creatively alter found papers with text on them.

Tools and Materials
Assorted found papers and scrap papers
Clean scrap paper
Stencils
Markers and other drawing and coloring implements of choice
Painter’s tape or masking tape
Scissors
Glue stick
Burnishing tool

First, select a piece of paper with text on it, and a stencil. Tape the stencil in place over the text. Using the marking implement of your choice, outline the openings in the stencil only in the spots where there is text to cover.

This results in an interesting effect. The text turns into a texture rather than something you read, and the resulting graphic effect might suggest what to do next to finish the composition. You might decide to color in some or all of the outlines you just traced over the text.

In the example above, since I’ve used permanent black Sharpie markers, I can use almost any medium I want to add color if I want to.

There is no need to restrict yourself to using a black marker. My brother got off to a very good start on this page. He took advantage of the pale text to use colored Sharpie markers. If he wants to work on this page more it has a lot of potential.

I have a real weakness for amoeba shapes and any graphics that suggest mid-century modern imagery. I cut these blocks of text from a magazine because of the pretty shapes and colors backing some of the text.

The article I took these cutouts from was about work-life balance. There are some words in these paragraphs that would be good to have in my art journal, which I use as a self-care tool as well as for creative expression. I covered up the words I didn’t want to see with strips of scrap paper and left exposed the words I did want to see. When the glue was dry enough to handle, I trimmed the shapes. Toward the end, I got tired of gluing paper strips and for the last few lines I wanted to cover, I used a yellow opaque paint marker to finish off these pieces.

Some people compose prose or poetry this way, by removing words instead of writing them to make new compositions. In this sample I was mainly interested in making a visual statement, and I treated the words as random elements. But if you wanted to, you could make a carefully considered visual AND literary statement by selectively covering words.

Here is a two-page spread using both techniques from this article together. I think these two pages are almost complete. I’ll think about them for awhile before doing anything else to them, if I decide they need more.

It helps that these two found pages here were already strong graphically, which was part of the reason why I was attracted to them in the first place.

Every art journal page doesn’t have to be a masterpiece

I’m happy with how this two-page spread for my art journal turned out, even though it is kind of messy. Sometimes in the morning Tom will make the coffee before leaving for work and often he’ll leave a love note for me with good wishes for the day if I’m not awake yet. He uses paper left over from me printing out shipping labels for my online store. The leftovers just happen to be the size of my journal and planner pages. I punch holes in a lot of them and write on the other side when I want to take notes or record thoughts. Often either he or I will get coffee stains on the notes as you see here. Since I’m not starting with a pristine piece of high quality paper, there is no pressure on me to make a craft demo worthy effort every time I use these to make an art journal page. I did however greatly enjoy using stencils and stickers in the rough but satisfying example shown above to record a few thoughts about sharing morning coffee with my loved ones and having a healthy weekend.

In my last blog post, I wrote about the acronym G.R.A.P.E.S. and how the G stands for “Be gentle with yourself”. One way to do that is to take a little time to journal and let yourself off the hook if it doesn’t look like a brand ambassador did it. The activity itself is beneficial in many ways.

Stencils and stickers are real time savers when you want to slap something together without having to make a major art or design statement. I have a lot of supplies, but also I have a basic portable kit that includes some of my favorite stencils, a folio of colored pencils, gel pens, a few planner-friendly design tapes and some basic pencils and markers for writing and outlining. There are a few frequently used paper crafting tools in that kit like a burnisher, glue stick, hole punch, scissors, ruler and utility knife for cutting and sharpening pencils. I can get a lot done with that kit, and if I want to add more to the pages when I’m home, I have many more paper crafting supplies I can utilize.

The stencils I used in the two-page spread above are available in my online shop:

Mini Script Words

Mini Word Association

Mini Coffee Splotch

Mini Home Sweet

I have a couple of Pinterest boards full of more of my own examples along with samples, inspiration and tips from others on the topics of Art Journaling, Planners, Albums, Homemade Books and Scrapbooks. Enjoy!

Art Journaling

Planners, Journals, Albums, Scrapbooks and Handmade Books

Making self-care cards out of Project Life cards

I know several people who could use some encouragement right about now, including myself. I decided this week to get out my paper craft supplies to have a bit of creative fun and make supportive cards to use and more to give to people I know.

First I’ll explain what both self-care cards and Project Life cards are. Self care could be considered the practice of maintaining your physical and mental health in order to prevent burnout and breakdowns. While looking for some resources for my Self Care Pinterest board that I use for reference, I found some specifically aimed at caregivers of different kinds. Even if one chooses from their own free will to be a caregiver, it’s still a tough job. As these resources I found mention, one should not feel guilty for practicing self care even if you are naturally inclined to be giving – a burned out or broken down person is not in a good position to help others. We are able to be of much better service when we are strong. We are often socially engineered by individuals and institutions to sacrifice our own agency to serve interests not our own or of our own choice. I think it’s a beautiful thing to voluntarily share but not to be manipulated or coerced into it. The latter is just being a victim of people who choose to live a parasitic lifestyle.

So what are self-care cards and where do they fit in? There are many types of cards with different information that people have used over the years as reminders or teaching tools. Small cards are portable and fit in a wallet, a planner, a journal, a pocket or wherever so that you can access reminders on the go or wherever it’s convenient. When learning new life habits we might need a touchstone of sorts to keep us on track. Self care cards are just cards with self-care content. They can be purchased, downloaded for printing, or handmade. I often like to use a combination of desktop printing and paper crafting methods to make or decorate self care cards for myself.

What are Project Life cards? Project Life is a commercial product developed by designer Becky Higgins intended to make scrapbooking and related memory crafts easier and less time consuming, and to relate the activity to living well and positive personal goals. Pocket scrapbooking is a generic term for using clear pocket album pages to organize cards and various paper items. Like a lot of people, I picked up the modern form of the hobby of scrapbooking in the 1990s. When I first heard of pocket scrapbooking I was intrigued and purchased some cards to use in conjunction with with my “conventional” scrapbook pages and also in other paper crafts.

Several years ago I purchased the Project Life Cinnamon Core Kit and the Road Trip Theme Pack. These sets featured lots of colors I used a lot, and graphic themes that were complementary to a number of products I already owned.

I’ve used a lot of the cards in scrapbooks and other paper projects over the years but still have a good quantity left. Because some of the Project Life cards feature positive messages and others contain grids or lines to help with journaling or record keeping of various kinds, they are well-suited to use as a base to make self care cards. If you want to make these of course the bases of your cards don’t have to be specifically from Project Life – a variety of products could be used.

One activity that I learned a few years back from a depression support group web page is the acronym G.R.A.P.E.S. It stands for:

  • Being Gentle with yourself
  • Relaxation
  • Achievement
  • Pleasure
  • Exercise
  • Social

The idea behind using this acronym is to try to do one activity on the list from each category every day. From my own experience and from what others have told me who have tried it, even if it isn’t possible to do each category each and every day, striving to do it and tracking the activities each day to make sure one is continually improving does result in better mood and health. It helps you “social engineer” yourself into having a better life. This is anecdotal information of course, but if you delve into scientific research on mental health you will find out why it’s effective. In this project, I’ll show how I made self care cards track the use of activities from the G.R.A.P.E.S. categories. I put more “decoration” on these cards than is strictly needed but it’s fun to use up paper scraps while making cards that fit my own personality. And paper crafting itself is a great way to get the Pleasure “task” checked off for the day!

paper crafting materials

Tools and Materials

Project Life or other cards
Scrap papers in harmonious colors
Scissors
Paper cutter
Glue sticks
Thin markers in black and colors harmonious with chosen color scheme
Small letter stencils
Small letter stickers
Assorted encouraging stickers, die cuts, paper scraps featuring helpful sayings or sentiments, or other appropriate embellishments
Rubber stamping ink – black and harmonious colors
Rubber stamps
Hole punch
Cord or string to loop through hole

First I added paper scraps to the existing Project Life cards I had whenever I wanted to make the existing designs more to my taste. Mostly this consisted of adding paper scrap strips to the borders on some of the cards, leaving the grids or lines in view. Some of the cards were fine the way they were.

Next I assembled a variety of letter stickers from my collection that spelled G.R.A.P.E.S. For more variety, I drew some letters with marker through alphabet stencils and cut those pieces of paper out. I added the letters G.R.A.P.E.S. along the side on on side of the card. Since these cards came with designs on both sides, I used the other sides for spaces to take notes, or for making a mini encouraging collage with stickers and paper ephemera.

When necessary to make a grid to keep track of activities, I added vertical lines with thin markers.

I punched a hole at the top and added some string with a lark’s head knot so that I can use these cards as bookmarks also.

I thought some of the cards needed just a little bit more added to make them looked finished, so I stamped here and there with assorted rubber stamps and added a few more stickers.

As I complete daily activities that fit one of the G.R.A.P.E.S. categories, I’ll put a checkmark in the proper spot on the grid.

Additional Resources:

My article "Self-help Techniques for depression"

Link to a PDF file I made with motivational quotes and graphics with the letters G.R.A.P.E.S. for printing out

My Self Care Pinterest board

Art Journaling Pinterest board

Pinterest board of Planners, Journals, Albums, Scrapbooks and Handmade Books

Scrapbooking Page Sketches Pinterest board - includes a section on pocket scrapbooking

Sitting by water and sewing – one of my favorite ways to relax

Sewing and relaxing by the water
Sewing and relaxing by the water. Far left – working on Experimental Art Quilt #1 in our backyard last summer within view of our pond, enjoying the waterfall sounds. Middle and right, Cole’s Creek campground at Carlyle Lake in Illinois. I’m at the far right under the camper canopy working on a salmon-colored shirt that I am patching and stitching on.

When I’m fortunate to get some time to relax, I like to take a portable art project like hand-sewing outdoors to work on. If I can set myself up by water, that’s even better! Better still to add human companionship by going on a group campout. It’s always nice to take a little break from kayaking and other active pursuits and sit down around a campfire. If I should happen to get stuck with a lot of rainy weather and have to stay under a shelter for awhile, I’ll never be bored waiting it out if I have sewing with me to do. I have more camping trips planned for this season so I’ve prepared some next steps in three different current sewing projects to work on while I’m out there. These are easy to transport rolled up and carried in a bin with a selection of sewing threads and tools.

Experimental Art Quilt #2 in progress
Experimental Art Quilt #2, begun in 2019, in progress.

I’ve readied the right side of Experimental Art Quilt #2 in preparation of adding some accents in blue scrap fabrics and blue thread. The image above shows how I used computer graphics to plan out the red triangle area that I sewed during the last campout. I knew the finishing touches on this were going to either make or break it, so I tested out the red area in Adobe Illustrator first before stitching it. I think after adding the blue area, I’ll go back to the pale yellow areas for a bit of subtle texture, then I think it will be ready for the border to complete it.

Scraps plus reverse applique
Scraps plus reverse applique

Here are some of the scrap strips I made earlier combined with some fabric that is going to frame it in a reverse applique technique. I make a lot of strips of both paper and cloth scraps to incorporate into other projects later. I’m turned on by the idea of one stripe being colorful and rest being all neutrals.

Making scraps into stripes
Far left: a journal cover made with strips of paper scraps. I revisit this way of working with paper and over and over and still not tired of it. Middle: an apron with strip piecing and applique on the front. I was going to add embroidery in the middle but decided it was enough without it. Seeing this image again of what I planned makes me want to make another one to see what the original idea would have turned out like. On the right is my mother-in-law with the reverse applique Easter apron I made for her.
Pattern from my favorite shirt in the 80s
My favorite shirt in the 80s and lifting the pattern from it.

My favorite shirt from the 80s is on the left. It used to be white and black with short sleeves and a collar. Over the years, it got so stained and faded that I stopped wearing it, but I could not bear to get rid of it because I loved the pattern so much. In 2018 I dyed it my favorite color lime green when I had a batch going for my wedding, and last summer I cut the collar and sleeves off and made it into a vest. Now I wear and enjoy it once more!

On the right is that salmon-colored shirt I’ve been stitching on. When I bought this shirt it was white with black. Yes I still love black and white shirts with Aztec-looking designs on them! The first time I wore it, it got stains on it from riding a chartered party van to and from a Rush concert (May 2015 during their farewell tour – EPIC day and night by the way – my brother and his friends started partying at brunch, I joined in a group pre-show BBQ about 3 pm after getting my day’s work done). I don’t know what got on the shirt, but I could never get it out. I put it aside for future dye experiments to try to fix it. I made two different mistakes when dyeing because I was in a hurry and ended up with even more stains and splotches to try to cover up. So I decided to put embroidered patches on all the bad spots until they were all covered up.

Shirt patches #2
Transferring design traced from older shirt to patches for newer shirt. I scrambled the old design a bit to make it just a little different. That’s not the first time I’ve reproduced part of this shirt design for a project – my very first experiment with linoleum block printing in 1985 used part of it! I wanted to print it on EVERYTHING.

Patches on the front are done, though as it gets closer to completion I might add some decorative trim from top to bottom around the center panel to tidy it up. It doesn’t have to be symmetrical, but I think it needs to be a little neater. Now I’m starting work on the back. Sleeves will be last. Although the look is different, the concept of patching clothing with decorative stitching was done very well by the Japanese with the art of Boro, which I would love to try out in the more traditional Japanese manner sometime.

This was a lightweight, airy shirt when I first bought it – now it’s going to be a bit heavier because of the layers, maybe for fall wear. Probably when it gets close to completion I’ll add some white or metallic or both to the yoke area to bring the focus back to the neckline area. In the meantime, I’m having a lot of fun doing the stitching in different weights and colors of thread, like salmon, peach, rust, and coral to see what happens!

Bringing Back the Human Touch – Part 1

Toward the end of my recent Social Engineering class at Webster University, we were asked to speculate on our final exam and in class discussions on the future of social engineering in the face of upcoming technology trends. Here is a compilation of some of the questions followed by my answers.

‘Question: What will social engineering look like in 10-15 years? New SE techniques to use against targets? Better AI defenses protecting from online attacks? What is going to happen going forward?’

I was looking through some magazines my brother gave me last year and found articles relevant to the topic of future security challenges. The pandemic may not have put a freeze on innovation for a full year, but it probably slowed things down. So these articles I’ve viewed are probably not too out of date. My participation in the IT industry over the years has been as a creative – so I’m not that technical. I’m summarizing the technology aspects the best I can from one article in particular – “Technology Predictions from a [Precision] Electronic Test Thinktank”.

According to Microwaves & RF magazine, these are some of the trends that will help shape the future (Alexander and Harris). As I summarize I will frame them to emphasize issues most relevant to social engineering.

  • 5G networks will increase the power and capabilities of anything that is wireless, creating more innovation and adoption of applications.
  • Much new software with updated standards and certifications will be needed to run all these new applications, and users will need to be educated on what the software is capable of.
  • Artificial intelligence will be built into processors and chips. Quantum systems will need this capability to “control, measure and error-correct”.
  • Hardware will be designed to exploit the new faster speeds and processing power. Customers for the hardware are interested in providing satisfactorily speedy service to users but are even more intrested in “customer traceablility through the network for application monetization”.
  • More collaboration between international regulatory agencies and the technology providers will be required.
  • More consumers will use “Internet of Things” products and these devices will increasingly communicate with each other.
  • Human intervention will increasingly be removed from the loop.
  • Engineering education will become more holistic and interdisciplinary to bring awareness to engineers on the effects of technology on society and the environment and to aid in the developement of artificial intelligence, automation and robotics.

Edit 6/22/21: I found this report stating what James R. Clapper, Director of National Intelligence and his team thought about the IoT, AI, and other security related threats in February 2016. https://www.dni.gov/files/documents/SASC_Unclassified_2016_ATA_SFR_FINAL.pdf

In my Project #2 for this class, an important part of the (proposed, hypothetical) operation is to identify individuals who are more prone to risky behavior, and exploit that tendency. I did some research on the psychology behind risky behavior to refine the ideas. I found an article by a psychologist that was very persuasive to me. One of his theories is that there are people strongly attracted to sensation seeking that sometimes can go too far and take their search for new thrills into risky territory (Zuckerman). Sensation seekers enjoy novelty and constant change among other things. Tech gadgets are a great way to appeal to the desire for novelty and change since there is something new to try seemingly every time you look. If predictions are correct that the Internet of Things will enjoy increasing adoption and power, I see this as a great vulnerability – especially since psychologically, the people seeking the most novelty and change could be the same indivduals who engage in risky behavior and therefore could be less concerned with safety breaches.

While doing research for Project #2, I uncovered an article about a hidden microphone in an IoT product being misused to harm people with verbal abuse in their home. The manufacturers and designers left the vulnerability there, and hackers exploited it (McKellop). We could be even more vulnerable if manufacturers, designers, regulatory agencies and software developers go beyond carelessness and perpetrate deliberate harm. This is not a far-fetched concern because it has already happened. Facebook experimented on its users to manipulate what they posted by causing sadness among other emotions (Booth), and Google has experimented with how to manipulate our behavior by creating anxiety and causing cortisol levels to go up in users of its products (“Brain Hacking”). These practices harm human health, mental and physical. With more devices in the home, we theoretically would be increasingly prone to failing to keep up with all the threats, and not necessarily only from humans.

There are science experiments being carried out now using fungus organisms to build networks that can carry electrical signals, like computer chips. The carrying ability is confirmed, but they are too slow to replace silicon chips – for now. Some fungi are capable of performing tasks such as foraging for food, hunting live meat, navigating mazes, warning plants in it’s network about insect hazards, controlling the behavior of invertebrate animals, moving resources around to plants in the network that need it most, inhibiting some kinds of plant growth and teaching themselves to exploit new, previously unknown food sources, such as cigarette butts. That’s not a complete list but enough to give you the idea. Networks that connect plants with fungi and with each other are known as the “Wood Wide Web”. Scientists are trying to find out if fungal networks can be used for bio-computing and if we can transfer information and directives from a computer to a fungus. Scientists are also trying to figure out if fungi are intelligent or sentient (Sheldrake).

The idea of being surrounded by devices with artificial intelligence chips in them that can communicate with each other without human input is pretty weird, but looks like it might really happen. What if they find a way to communicate with fungi or other species as well? The late author Michael Crichton could write a good thriller about this if he was still with us!

I found an article that claims that Facebook robots have demonstrated the ability to make up a language that only they understand to use between themselves, while also demonstrating the ability to social engineer each other (Griffin). I have mentioned my two European Starlings before that I live with. They have the ability to social engineer me, and I have social engineered them. Their language abilities are not unlike what the article describes about the two Facebook robots. More research needs to be done (I engage in a lot of speculation in this section), but the starlings seem to me to have language that falls in about four categories. One category is a set of sounds that are hard-wired in that all starlings share. They start gaining the ability to add to that set of sounds when they are about 4-6 months old. Another set is “conversational”. They add to their vocabulary throughout life depending on what sounds are around them, and family groups and regional groups share some of the same vocabulary. My starlings have some sounds that we use between me and them and they have some sounds they use only with each other, so I wonder if they have two “conversational” languages or just somewhat diffent vocabulary for me and for each other. They have the ability to mimic human speech to the point of occasionally forming new sentences that follow predictable real life English grammar rules, including proper use of adverbs and voice inflections at the ends of sentences that fit the meaning. In other words, they have made up new sentences by combining other phrases that were not originally a question but create a question and inflected it like a question. That got my attention! They don’t always get grammar exactly right – they have added “You’re so birdy” to the list of phrases they heard from me that they love to say – “You’re so pretty”, “You’re so sweet”, etc. They can learn from other species of birds too – while boarded with two African Grays for a few days they came home with some new phrases I never say such as “Hello Princess!”. The last language category I’m aware of is the “song”. This also includes vocabulary that is learned throughout life and some of the elements are shared by regional and family groups. But it is not conversational. It’s a performance that they rehearse and refine constantly (at least the male does) and perform over and over in the same order. It identifies them individually and appears to be used for different social purposess such as humiliating defeated enemies, claiming territory, attracting mates, and showing off status. It’s theorized that the longer and more complex the song is, the greater their status is.

The birds are good at reading my body language, and I have taught myself the best I can to read theirs. We communicate on some simple matters quite well using a combination of verbal and body language but I don’t know if they know abstract concepts or how to communicate them. They have a pretty good grasp on a lot of social concepts though. Attila has a sound that means “I acknowledge your request but I don’t feel like doing it”. The sound for “ok I’ll do it” is different. They are very trainable but strong-willed. It’s fairly easy for them to learn things but if they aren’t in a good mood they may refuse to do it. She has another sound that I know means “fill the food dishes before you go to work”. They both appropriate and invent sounds and combinations extensively. I suspect that people who are studying language in all kinds of beings, including AI, could benefit from living with starlings. Mine have shown me some possibilities of inter-species communication that I never imagined in an animal other than maybe a dolphin or gorilla. If Facebook’s bots could produce and interpret a sound-based language, it’s easy for me to imagine the possibility that starlings or other animals with similar language capabilities would be able to communicate with them rather well and in languages that humans wouldn’t necessarily know. Starling’s voices are often described as “robotic” or “electronic” anyway, and even wild starlings sometimes sound like R2D2! Birds can have moods. Will AI robots have moods? If so what happens if they are in a bad mood or hooked up to a species that can have moods?

So a frontier of artificial intelligence, technology and social engineering could very well have a biological component to it that goes beyond human biology, with humans being the builder and the initial programmer but not necessarily in control. Artificial intelligence might someday interface with other species. For example is it possible that another species besides humans could learn to program fungi? Some fungi can program ants, after all (Sheldrake). Could a fungus use a computer or another species or both as part of a network to send and receive information and directives?

‘Question 5. Bring the Science of Social Engineering together with the various techniques and aspects of social media, the Triad of Disruption, along with the many methods and processes we have learned in this course, into your summary understanding of Social Engineering in the modern world. Feel free to use examples, experiences, and thoughts on the future of this discipline.’

I suppose as every person gets older, they have to reconcile what they thought the future was going to be like long ago vs. how it really is. The role of technology in our lives has been fascinating to me since I was first old enough to be conscious of it.

I have been a big fan of Mid-Century modern design, especially architecture, since I was a teenager. One of the things that attracts me is the way the shapes and lines and forms evoke emotions of excitement and optimism. From much reading and study over the years, I believe that a pervasive belief in the culture that new technology equals human progress is what drives that spirit.

During the time of Web 1.0, the “dot com bubble” era, there were new images appearing to signify the same idea in a way that referenced the internet and computers. You could indicate that your organization was technically advanced by using certain shapes and symbols, and some of them were even recycled from the Mid-Century modern era. Many people believed that a technical revolution was going to lead to a better life. It was a very exciting time. Every day I went to my job as a web designer with the feeling that I was helping remake the world in a bold new way and more freedom and prosperity for all people would result.

I feel very disappointed, and even betrayed, by what is actually happening now, so well summarized in your (I’m referring here to a diagram made by my professor Dr. James Curtis) Triad of Disruption diagram. It seems as though the destructive ideas are spreading faster than the constructive ones. This class has taught me a lot of ways to try to slow the destruction down. That is valuable knowledge to have and I will try to teach as many people as I can.

Besides knowledge needed to prevent attacks and retain as much of our agency as possible, I think more holistic education to bring more disciplines in contact with each other might be needed to remind ourselves of what it means to be human. Because I have an art degree as my Bachelor’s, I know what it’s like to be looked down on for not being in one of the STEM fields. Are the humanities looked down on and machines elevated because of people’s attitudes toward themselves? That is something I would like to explore in the future – getting back in touch with our humanity to restore some aspects of the human spirit I believe are being neglected.”

It was emotionally difficult to research and write the above comments for class because so many futuristic trends seem horrifying. I find the trends toward collectivism and robotics dehumanizing and dystopian. I’m also in a similar state to many people trying to regain a sense of connection with other people after a period of relative pandemic-induced isolation. My husband and I did not have our work routines changed as much as most, but we struggle to feel connected sometimes. Since outdoor activities are getting back to normal more quickly than indoor ones, volunteering at community gardens and camping are a couple of coping strategies we’ve been employing lately.

In the next installment of “Bringing Back the Human Touch”, I’ll write more about antidotes for an excess of technology and dehumanization!

Works Cited

Alexander, Jay and Jeff Harris. “Technology Predictions from a [Precision] Electronic Test Thinktank.” Microwaves & RF, March 2020, pp. 21-24.

Booth, Robert. “Facebook reveals news feed experiment to control emotions.” Guardian News & Media Limited, 2014, www.theguardian.com/technology/2014/jun/29/facebook-users-emotions-news-feeds. Accessed 9 May 2021.

“Brain Hacking.” YouTube, uploaded by 60 Minutes, 2018, www.youtube.com/watch?v=awAMTQZmvPE. Accessed 9 May 2021.

Curtis, Dr. James. “Curtis’ Triad of Disruption”. Diagram from course materials.

Griffin, Andrew. “FACEBOOK’S ARTIFICIAL INTELLIGENCE ROBOTS SHUT DOWN AFTER THEY START TALKING TO EACH OTHER IN THEIR OWN LANGUAGE.” Independent, 2017, www.independent.co.uk/life-style/facebook-artificial-intelligence-ai-chatbot-new-language-research-openai-google-a7869706.html. Accessed 9 May 2021.

Hadnagy, Christopher. Social Engineering: The Science of Human Hacking. John Wiley & Sons, Inc. 2018.

McKellop, Mario. “Google’s Nest Secure isn’t so secure after all; has secret built-in microphone.” The Burn-In. Sourceability LLC, 2019, www.theburnin.com/technology/google-nest-secure-microphone-controversy/. Accessed 7 May 2021.

Sheldrake, Merlin. Entangled Life: How Fungi Make Our Worlds, Change Our Minds & Shape Our Futures. Random House, 2020.

Zuckerman, Marvin. “Are You a Risk Taker?.” Psychology Today. Sussex Publishers, LLC, 2000-2019, www.psychologytoday.com/us/articles/200011/are-you-risk-taker. Accessed 7 May 2021.

Give a piece of print fabric the look of a “blanket”

Recently I was working on a sleeping bag for a doll, and I was looking around the house for a doll or stuffed animal that I could use to test out the size. I didn’t use it because it was too big, but I did look at a doll of sorts that I made a long time ago in sculpture class when I was working on a B.F.A. degree at SIUE. At the time I had taken the class, I had just been on a trip to Utah and had brought back with me some books on Native American petroglyphs and stone fetishes. I made a throw pillow sized soft wolf fetish with blanket and soft arrowhead for my late friend June for Christmas that year. We both shared an intense interest in Southwest travel and art. For class I made a humanoid stuffed figure with amulet bag, loincloth, and blanket.

While making the soft sculpture, although inspired by ancient Native American art forms, I did not want to refer to any particular culture exactly, rather I wanted to evoke an ancient sense of humanity that many cultures share. Throughout human history there were many ways to wear and use blankets as a part of clothing and outerwear before things like buttons and zippers were invented, and of course people still use and wear blankets in many ways today. For my soft sculpture’s blanket I chose a fabric in a garish early 1990s fabric pattern to suggest a striped blanket but not imitate any particular culture.

While working on my doll sleeping bag, I decided it was a good time to update the look of my soft sculpture. Since teaching at JoAnn Fabrics and Crafts from 2016-early 2020 I’ve been working a lot more with fabric. I decided to start with the blanket. I have a large collection of scrap fabric that I like to sew into strips to use in projects such as art quilts, purse straps, water bottle carrier straps, table runners, headbands, and more. I thought the blanket I made for the soft sculpture would look more attractive with some added strips of scrap fabric so I started piecing and sewing strips in place.

Experimental projects using fabric scraps.
Experimental projects using fabric scraps. From left to right: what will become part of Experimental Art Quilt #2 (still in progress), a table runner that I have used in many art and craft shows, and a purse with strap that I made for a niece as a graduation gift. The purse folds out so that it can be used as either a little clutch purse or a water bottle carrier. The strap is removeable and can be used in different ways.
Old blanket piece with new scrap strips held up against it to see if the colors and patterns look good together.
Left: old blanket piece with new scrap strips held up against it to see if the colors and patterns look good together. Right: an endcap I put together for Schnarr’s Hardware in Webster Groves, MO to showcase some supplies for fun summer craft and home decor projects. I used my refreshed blanket a backdrop for some blank wood succulent shapes ready for painting and decorating. On the other half, I draped a piece of nautical themed fabric. Over both backdrops are hung nautical themed flags that I sewed last summer.
Here is how to start a scrap strip.

Here is how to start a scrap strip. Decide on a color scheme and lay out pieces of fabric to use. Here I decided on a neutral scheme for a future project.

Place fabric pieces good side together, and pin along one edge. Keep going until you have pinned enough pieces to make a strip as long as you need for your project. The first two photos show the same strip from the front first, and then the back, after pinning.

Using a washable fabric marking pen and a ruler, draw a line along one edge, leaving a small seam allowance. Drawing the lines will help you keep your seams straight.

Sew all the pieces together and you’ll have a strip that you can use for many projects.

Temporarily pinned stripes in place on print fabric to see how the colors and patterns look together.
Temporarily pinned stripes in place on print fabric to see how the colors and patterns look together. A fabric pattern that has some kind of stripes or regularly spaced shapes that you can use to line up your stripes will save you a little time measuring and drawing lines on your fabric, but of course any fabric that looks good as a background would work.