When I was in grade school in the 1970s, I developed an unquenchable doodling habit early on. I covered almost everything in sight with doodles, including my brown paper textbook covers, folders, notebooks and tops of desks – I used pencil on the Formica tops so it would wash off. I thought my habit was harmless and decidedly my own business because I only doodled on my own property or with media that was washable, and I refrained from doodling on homework. I remember that my third grade teacher didn’t agree with that point of view at first and would try to curb my habit by confiscating my implements whenever she saw me doodling away. I don’t think that lasted long. My Mom complained to her about it and gave me extra pens and pencils so I’d always have another one anyway. I was mostly an obedient child but this is one area where I flat out refused to conform. Before too long I was left alone as long as I washed my desk top periodically. That seemed fair to me and all was peaceful from then on.
A popular item I remember from the 1970s was a DoodleArt kit. These were basically sophisticated coloring posters for older kids, teenagers, and adults. The black and white design was Doodled for you and the consumer was meant to color them in with colored markers. As I recall these were sought after items by myself and my peers in the 70s. While shopping at the toy store and the craft store I would drool over them. If I got one for Christmas or a birthday it was a thrill. Here is a link to a vintage DoodleArt kit for sale on Etsy, and I also found an apparently attempted DoodleArt revival on Facebook.
In the present day, many adults once more enjoy adult coloring, similar to actual DoodleArt. Many people like related activities such as art journaling and bullet journaling. Popular Zentangle is a form of meditative pen and ink art where the artist fills in sections of a design with repeating patterns, usually in black pen or marker. Some people add color to their Zentangle designs. Zentangle results do remind me of DoodleArt in a way, though Zentangle practitioners freehand draw their own designs instead of purchasing pre-made coloring pages.
A lot of my art journal pages are somewhat similar to Zentangle, in that I often like to fill in sections with repeating patterns, sometimes hand-drawn, sometimes traced from a stencil. Whenever I put some of my new art journal pages on Pinterest, in the area where you are shown similar pins to your own, a lot of Zentangle art comes up in my feed. I decided just for fun to try Zentangle for real just to learn a variation on what I already like to do. It really scratches that doodling itch that I still have!
There are lots of samples online of fill-in textures that you can draw in your Zentangle designs. I’ve linked to a few on a Pinterest board so you can see samples and get inspiration. After viewing some samples I decided to make a few of my own samplers featuring my own textures inspired by art journal pages I’ve already done. Here are some easy instructions for making your own sampler.
Tools and Materials Drawing paper Ruler Pencil Eraser Selection of fine tip black pens and markers of different diameters Optional – circle template
Some samplers I’ve seen online are works of art in their own right. The ones you see here are not that refined – they are more for practice and developing a vocabulary of textures that reflect my own taste in design. When I’m ready I’ll have lots of choices I can use to make my own version of Zentangle art.
Coloring Idea #2: Rainbow Effect With Gel Pens and Colored Pencils
Sometimes when I do “adult coloring” I have a specific idea that I am trying to explore. At other times, I just want to color without thinking too much – it’s so soothing. Rainbow color gradations are a sure fire way to lift my mood. Here is how to get a fun effect with stencils, gel pens, and colored pencils.
Step 1: Tape a stencil over the design area and outline with a thin, sharp pencil. For this kind of utilitarian marking I really like a mechanical pencil. It’s easy to erase and I don’t have to keep stopping to sharpen it.
Step 2: With the pencil and ruler, draw parallel lines at intervals across the page.
Step 3: Note how the pencil lines you drew divide the design into striped areas. Outline your pencil lines in one gel pen color per stripe in rainbow order. For example, I outlined the first in blue, then blue green, then green, then yellow, continuing through to pink.
Step 4: To make sure the gel pen is dry, lay a clean sheet of scrap paper over your design then burnish with a squeegee or bone folder. Lift the paper and check to see if any of the ink is coming off onto the scrap paper. Repeat if necessary until no ink is transferring.
Step 5: Erase your pencil lines. You probably won’t be able to get all the pencil lines out from under the gel pen ink lines, but the rainbow effect will still come through well enough. If the pencil lines bother you, you could go back in and touch up your work later with opaque gel pen colors, paint markers, permanent markers or the like.
Step 6: Color in gradations in pencil between and around your gel pen lines, maintaining the overall color progression in hues. There is a lot of room for creativity in how to color in this step. I choose to make the pencil colored in areas lighter tints of the hues in the gel pens and keep analagous colors roughly together. Keep experimenting and coloring until you are satisfied with the effect.
The example at the above right is not finished yet. Here are a couple more examples I’m working on of the same idea so you can see the work a little closer.
This is a time-consuming way to color, but sometimes that is just what I want. It requires just enough concentration to distract me from problems I want to forget for awhile, but it’s not so hard to do that I need a lot of energy. Sometimes when you’re in a crisis great ambition isn’t really there. I may or may not leave some of the background white. We’ll see!
Bringing the coloring to Dad in the hospital
I worked on the samples you see in this article and for PART 1 both on the go and at home in order to have samples to show to my Dad. Dad likes to do the #12daysoftomsbeard project and he requested that I bring him some shapes for it to color on at the hospital. I wanted to give him a choice of coloring techniques, so I had samples of each technique ready. I had supplies on hand to cover either choice, but to streamline my supplies I only brought colored pencils as both techniques can be done with colored pencils even though I used colored markers for the first one. Dad chose the stained glass effect from PART 1 – stenciling over patches of background color.
When I brought this project to Dad, he was only a few days past some serious seizures that affected both halves of his body, but especially the left. Dad is left-handed and I was very worried because Dad’s left hand had been in a claw-like position for about a week or more. After the seizures his hand relaxed. I wasn’t sure how much function Dad would have in the hand yet, so I prepared a couple of sheets of shapes in advance for us to color, one for me to demonstrate on and one for him. I taped the shapes to scrap chipboard pieces so they wouldn’t slide around while being colored. I also brought some shapes that still needed to be cut out so that Dad could cut some if he was able.
I showed Dad an overview of what we were going to do, then I offered him a chance to try cutting some shapes. He did a great job on them – with a right-handed scissors no less! I was overjoyed and a bit teary-eyed to see him doing so well. I told him this is what I want for Christmas – to see you able to do this! It seemed like a miracle compared to how he was just a few days before. For awhile I wasn’t sure if I was going to be able to ever talk with him again, much less do art together!
I suggested some color schemes for Dad – primary colors, secondary colors, and analagous colors. It wasn’t critical that the pieces be of any particular color scheme, but when I teach a project, if I can I like to include some useful art information. I’m not a trained art therapist but I am a trained artist so I can legitimately call these activities “educational” even if I can’t officially call them “art therapy” (Darley and Heath).
I got some colored pencils out for him to cover each scheme, and let him pick from among them. Instead of covering the whole background like I did on mine, he mostly drew small shapes all over the background without covering it all the way. And instead of coloring in the negative spaces between stencil markings, he put numbers on his tags, numbers 1-11 to go along with the #12daysoftomsbeard. He was short one tag, so I’ll make a #12 later when we get to that.
In this kind of project, expressive arts for therapeutic purposes, the process is far more important than the finished results (Darley and Heath). There is no reason to try to change what Dad wanted to do if it varied from my samples. Dad has always been creative – I was so glad to see that ability is still there!
Here I am drawing stencil lines over the colored in shapes before filling in the negative spaces with black permanent marker. The main difference between coloring over marker vs. colored pencil is that the colored pencil creates a slightly waxy surface which might resist the marker at first. To help with this, I outlined the black areas in gel pen before filling in with a black Sharpie marker. The gel pen sticks better to the colored pencil and once the outlining is done then it’s not hard to fill in with the Sharpie.
I have started embellishing some of the pieces that we colored with punched paper pieces, glued-on sequins and little dots of squeeze paint to go along with the stenciling.
When #12daysoftomsbeard starts on December 25, we’ll have a good selection of items to display on the beard. Hopefully people will send us more parts as a challenge to incorporate each day. The first year we did this activity, in 2019, I started out by clipping little pieces of paper to Tom’s beard with tiny clothespins. To keep things interesting, we’ve been gradually elaborating by making little garlands, involving Tom’s glasses, adding found objects and props, incorporating parts of the background, using far-out creative filters and more.
What will happen?
Above is a commemorative artistamp sheet I made to show off some of my favorite beard pictures from the first three years we did this project.
Works Cited andRecommended Reading
Darley, Suzanne and Wende Heath. “The Expressive Arts Activity Book: A Resource for Professionals”. Jessica Kingsley Publishers, 2008.
The 2022-23 Holiday season for many people is probably going to be the closest they’ve had for awhile to normal patterns of celebrating. My Dad and I have made some attempts to join in this year, but to be realistic most of our energy has been absorbed by the effort to get and stay healthy. My Dad has been having some medical issues since mid-October and I’ve been staying with him frequently at his house and visiting him him a lot in the hospital. Except for the past week – I just took a week off because I seem to have been hit by a flu-like illness (not COVID, I took the test!). I’m on the mend now. Dad has been taken care of during this time at a rehab hospital and will be coming home later this week if all goes as planned.
When he’s discharged, I’ll be providing some care he’ll need for about three weeks. I’m not sure how much either of us is going to be able to attend holiday activities in person. We will probably have to sit a lot of it out. But we will try to keep in touch online!
The annual project #12daysoftomsbeard is one that my husband Tom and I have been doing every year at Christmas time. It’s a way of combining crafts, installation art, photography, mail art, digital art and conceptual art into a holiday celebration for us and our friends and family and anyone else who wants to join in. From December 25 through January 6th he poses for me with different items in his beard and I apply wacky filter effects then upload the results to Instagram. We invite people to send in pieces to use in the beard. My Dad in particular really enjoys this activity and he wanted to work on some beard parts while he was in the hospital. I’ll show you how we combined stenciling and coloring to make a bunch of pieces to use in Tom’s beard during the 2022-23 Christmas season. I’m going to try to make an extra big deal out of it this year for my Dad and myself because we are going to miss out on most other holiday activities this year.
If you want more background information on #12daysoftomsbeard before reading on, here are a couple of my earlier blog articles about it.
Tools and Supplies Beard printouts – scroll to bottom of the page for links to 6 graphic files to download and print Cardstock and chipboard Pencil and eraser Ruler Black permanent markers Black gel pens Colored pencils Colored markers Painter’s tape Stencils and/or cookie cutters Scissors Hole punch Scrap paper for covering work surface Glue stick Squeegee tool or bone folder
Optional for Embellishments Sequins Glue Squeeze paint
Coloring Idea #1 – Stenciling Over Colored Markers
Scribbling some colored backgrounds is an easy way to make vibrant backgrounds for stencil art. By filling in the negative spaces with black marker, you can create an attractive faux stained glass effect.
Step 1 – Color in the background with markers in random patches to make something similar to camouflage patterns
Step 2 – Tape a stencil over part of the work area and outline in black gel pen, black fine tip marker or black fine tip pen.
Step 3 – Repeat with different stencils until the whole design area is filled with outlines.
Step 4 – Color the negative spaces in with black marker.
Step 5 – With a glue stick, paste paper pieces to chipboard or cardstock and cut out.
Step 6 – If needed, touch up the edges with black marker to make a neat edge.
Stay tuned for PART 2: Rainbow Effect With Gel Pens and Colored Pencils.
Art Saint Louis is having a virtual exhibition on their web site, from July 1 – September 1, 2022. I have had one piece selected for this show so I’ll be in it along with 25 other artists.
I’m also in an upcoming gallery show at Art St. Louis called “(all the) Feels”. It runs from July 30 – September 8, 2022. The opening reception is August 6 from 5-7 pm. One of my collages was selected for this show.
For several years I had pretty much given up on producing “fine art” pieces, even though I still had lots of ideas. The main reason was that my time seemed better spent making more craft-oriented things that helped promote my Etsy shop, the blog posts I was writing for Schnarr’s Hardware, or the teaching I was doing at the time. By then, life had taught me several times over not to put all my eggs in one basket when it comes to making a living. I was trying lots of things to see what worked and what didn’t.
In the fall of 2019 I started working on a Master’s Degree at Webster University in Advertising and Marketing Communications. My reasoning for studying communications is that art is a form of communication, and in addition picking up more knowledge about communications can make any of my activities more successful.
My communications classes are fascinating, absorbing, and creatively satisfying, but I cannot help but be jealous of the art majors. Many of the topics I study in communications are serious, and although art can also be serious it also can be pure play and I need some of that! My undergraduate degree is in fine art. Shortly after starting my studies at Webster University, every now and then I would walk over to the art building to see what the students were up to and to find out if there were any art shows that were open to all students and not just art majors. I found two in quick succession and to my great joy made new work and was accepted into both shows. One show was meant to be one night only, and the other show, “Back To Our Roots” was intended to be up for some time but was shut down early twice, the second time due to the beginning of the COVID-19 pandemic.
I’m about halfway finished with the Master’s degree right now. I’m using the skills as I go, so I’m not putting undue pressure on myself to hurry to finish. Also I have taken a break due to tragedies in my family at the end of last summer that caused severe grief and trauma that are still greatly affecting my productivity. I’m going to resume taking classes again when I’m sure I can handle the course work. I’m getting there, but there are setbacks along the way that cause me a lot of frustration, as well as to other people who want or need something from me. I feel really guilty when I turn down any work that people want, or set any kind of boundaries. This inappropriate guilt causes me a great deal of distress that I’m trying to work through, but boundaries are necessary sometimes so that I can get my trauma symptoms under control. The art piece of mine that the judges selected for the “(all the) Feels” show is about this discomfort and guilt. It contains parts that I began earlier for a different reason, but that is what the final result is about.
One of the best ways I know to process difficult and complex feelings is to make art. So this spring I joined Art Saint Louis and have been making more art to enter into their shows. I’ve been in a few of their shows in the past but was never a member before. A friend asked me a few weeks ago why I was doing this – we were at a party, so I didn’t want to explain at that time and place that I was kind of doing it as therapy. Yes, entering shows is good for promotional purposes for myself and my work, I can practice and improve my communication skills, I might get a sale, I might even win a prize which would be good for my show history. But much more important to me is motivation to finish some pieces so that I process what is going on inside me. I’ve been through some life-changing events and personal turmoil, as many of us have. Yes the resulting feelings and symptoms are unwelcome and difficult, but I can’t just wish them away. I have to process them, and art is one of the great gifts from God that I’ve been blessed with that helps me do that. I am very grateful for the opportunity to express and exhibit.
One of my favorite ways to relax is to cut up some old magazines and make collages out of them. One reason why collages are so relaxing is that I can start them without a pre-planned project in mind and just let my subconscious and the random materials in front of me suggest the theme. Stress is a common theme, because I tend to start them when I need to work some stress out of me. Another reason is that so much printed media, like all media, is filled with images that scream out desperation.
Most media has been on a trend during our lifetimes to become more and more extreme in intensity in order to feed what some people call the “attention economy” or the “addiction economy”. Many media companies rely on an intangible resource to generate revenue – that resource is our eyes on their content. Whatever distraction can direct our attention to them and away from real life is how many corporations generate revenue now. We are not people to them, but a resource to be exploited to fullest extent possible.
A lot of friends pass old magazines on to me to use in collages, and somehow, I don’t know how or why, I’ve been getting US magazine in the mail. The theme of a lot of my art and writing is media analysis, so I don’t mind getting these magazines to see the bizarro world that some people live in and the desperation on display when celebrities need your eyes on them in order to make money and promote the bizarro world agenda. Excess can be both entertaining and disturbing. I’ve done some study on what kind of toll it takes on the people who view it, and I plan to write more in that vein on an ongoing basis. Paging through the celebrity magazines, I also thought about the mental health of the people who go to extreme measures to remain in the top echelon of attention grabbers. Surgeries, diets, fashions, casting couches, drugs, abuse – what won’t they put themselves through in the quest for status in an insulated and dehumanizing system? When they break down, how do they feel about entertaining the masses with evidence of their pain and destruction? When they look at images of themselves, are they looking for signs that the cracks are showing, knowing that untold other sets of eyes are looking for that too and hoping they find some? When does what is on the inside start to show on the outside?
To make this collage I used a stencil I have that looks like a film contact sheet to make a grid in pencil on a plain piece of white cardstock. Using a template I made with a window opening the size of the rectangle openings in the stencil, I started building up images on separate pieces of white cardstock. After adding images to each rectangle, I added textures from stencils and an a black outline with markers. I used a gray marker to add some lines to the background, and gray and black markers with the stencils to add some more texture on and around cut out words, rearranged a bit.
I deliberately tried to choose less than flattering celebrity photos on which to glue mismatched facial features to make them look more “crazy” to show how I feel about corporations and government trying to use media and celebrities and communications professionals to try to force me to accept a bizarro world as my world. The Urban Dictionary states that a bizarro world is a place where everything is the opposite of the word used to describe it. For example, “good is bad, wrong is right, white is black, logical is illogical, giving is taking, insanity is sane”, etc. It’s one of my theories, shared by many, that those who start out relatively mentally healthy generally pay a price on the inside for living in a bizarro world and being coerced into propagating its false values. Picking up one of these magazines, no I don’t believe some of the messages it’s trying to send me. Ugliness is not beauty, exploitation is not empowerment, sickness is not health, artificiality is not freshness, materialism is not happiness, and celebrities are not just like us! And no, war is not peace, freedom is not slavery, ignorance is not strength. And I don’t love Big Brother either. So there!
When I started the collage, I initially intended just to have some silly fun with some silly magazines and not necessarily think about such serious topics. I can’t seem to stop analyzing media when I see it I guess. I hope my next art or craft project will stay more on the lighthearted side!
Here are links to the stencils I used, on sale in my store:
In early 2020, I participated in an art show at Webster University called “Back to Our Roots”. I dedicated my entry for the show to my late friend Mark Reed who passed away in 2018. At the time I was in this show, I started an artist statement to go along with my entry and I put it on one of my web sites. Like a lot of my projects, it grew bigger and more elaborate than I planned at first, and is still in progress. I ended up including grief about several other things in the process which is one of the reasons the series got bigger and bigger. It’s expanded almost to the size of a mini book, kind of like a mini memoir using my art journal and artwork as a jumping off point to write about my life so far.
My original intention in starting these pages which I’ll link to below was to help me process my grief over Mark and explain what my art journals were all about. At the “Back To Our Roots” opening I included little pieces of paper with the QR code to my web site so that show visitors could access the artist statement in progress from smartphones. The show was forced to close early, first from vandalism and then from COVID-19, so not very many people were able to see the original show.
Since I began the project, I have experienced more grief of an even more serious magnitude. It was caused by the type of trauma that when I hear about similar things happening to others I ask myself “how do people live through that”? I’m doing a lot better, thanks to therapy and a lot of writing and art making. While I’m getting better, there are people I know getting one piece of bad news after another. I just heard this morning from a friend whose family, like mine, has recently been impacted by suicide. For all those out there who hear bad news and wonder “how do people live through this”, or are wondering how they are going to cope with something in their own life, maybe my artist’s statement ongoing project will help.
If you would like to read what I’ve written so far, here is an index to all the existing “chapters” in progress. Just click the “back” and “next” graphical buttons to navigate forward or backward.
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.
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 in some cases. 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 for this demo 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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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. Note: my brother died a couple of weeks after making this page. I don’t know if I’m going to add to it or keep it as is, but it’s in my art journal.
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.
Following are more art journal pages that I started by selectively covering text. Enjoy!
There are personal, regional and world-wide reasons why the last few weeks of life have been especially difficult. I’m not the only one who seeks solace in art and craft activities, especially ones that bring back warm memories of cozy winter afternoons spent with my family making things. There is nothing better on a cold wintry day.
It’s been nice snuggling under the old family quilt my mother in law gave us recently. It was made in the 1930s by my husband’s grandmother and friends. I was given it in the hope I’d make something from it, since it has a few areas of damage and I’m well known for making new things out of old things – a lifelong pursuit. I decided to repair some of the spots before it gets worse, because most of it still looks good and for now I’d prefer to use it than upcycle it if possible.
I could have purchased fabric for repairing this quilt that matches more closely to the old fabric to disguise the repairs more, but I decided to approach this repair as adding a little of my own history to this quilt instead of trying to do a museum quality restoration. I looked in my extensive fabric stash to see how close I could approximate the colors and patterns with what I have, and decided it still looked good and I would enjoy the little differences and the memories from my fabric scraps. My Mom made me a tablecloth out of that multicolor floral print on the right in the early 1980s, and Kate gave me the blue floral scraps, for example. Every time I see the fabric I will remember them and others, that is one of the best things about quilts and quilting. This repair is very satisfying to work on because I’m adding memories and functionality as I go.
My Dad recently went through some things in his basement, and he had an extra quilt that someone gave him so he passed it on to me to clean and repair. It doesn’t have any holes that go all the way through and very few torn patches so we’re using this one until the other repair is finished, then I’ll swap them out and repair the second one. I really get a kick out of these colors and patterns. They look to me like they are from the late 1940s or early 1950s.
I’ve been putting my toe in the water of learning quilting over the last two or three years. I have two art quilts in progress and one baby quilt. Kate is giving me tips as I need them. Repairing quilts is a great way to increase my skills along the way.
In the above photo are some stuffed animals and little pillows I made in the 1970s when I was around the ages of 8-12. The rooster on the right was made from a commercial pattern that my Mom had in her stash and I think I still have it. The others were made by me from my own patterns – I’m not sure about the frog though. That one seems a lot more advanced than the others. It even has wire in it to make it poseable. Well, it probably is mine – it’s not symmetrical and I cut a hole in the back of the head to insert the wire and sewed it back up again, so that was probably an afterthought. The items on the right were recently extricated from my Dad’s basement and I had completely forgotten about most of them. I pretty much liked a lot of the same animals then as I like now – sea life, fish, invertebrates, birds, frogs! I loved little pillows with pockets, then and now! I felt very satisfied when I made these, and I love looking at them now for the memories of where those fabrics came from and how much fun I had. Maybe I’ll make some of these into patterns for kids – that’s one way to make sure a kid can do it! I know there are people who will make kid’s drawings into things, including softies. That’s a fantastic idea I think! I think I’d enjoy teaching kids how to make patterns from their drawings. I’ve loved making patterns since I was young too, though I enjoy following someone else’s from time to time – it rests the brain a little bit!
In 2019 I made the above softies for a niece and nephews. They were both modified from other designs I saw online. The chickens have a little pocket for hiding things under the wing, that’s one of the things I added because I love pockets so much. The monster bunny has a stomach pocket too though I ran out of time to embroider a stomach and intestines on it. My original vision of the monster rabbit also had some other ideas that got put aside as I was running out of time to get it done, but if I make another one I could give them another try. I made a deliberate choice to use crazy mixes of scrap fabric in order to pass on some of my fabric memories to them – even though they don’t know what most of them are, it feels satisfying somehow! I can still enjoy the memories looking at these pictures!