All posts by chasenfratz

How to start up a freshwater aquarium

Last edited: 11/08/22

This is going to be another one of those blog posts of mine that will be updated periodically as I work on and document a project. I have to move and rehome some aquariums that I’ve had set up in my condo for many years. I am donating some of my aquariums to schools and/or nonprofit organizations to make room for me to rehab my condo because it has mold damage from the upstairs neighbor having a serious water leak this past August.

The main way I’ve been using my aquariums over the last few years is to over winter plants and animals from my pond and the small water garden I kept before I had a pond. I need a place for the animals and plants from my aquariums to stay while I’m working on moving them. I’m currently staying with my Dad at his house because last week he had surgery and he needs some extra help for awhile. While I’m here, I’m reviving the aquarium I set up many years ago for my late brother. It’s been empty and dry for awhile, but I’m going to bring it back to life to make space for the plants and animals while I do my moving and setup tasks.

It takes time to set up a new aquarium and make it safe and healthy for aquarium life. If this is something you want to try, follow me as I set up a new aquarium, or two, or three so you can see how it’s done. Allow yourself about 30 days from the time you fill up the tank with water to the day you add the fish. You are almost guaranteed success if you follow my steps – they are based on decades of experience.

While I’m working on documenting my process from beginning to end, you might also enjoy an older article I wrote that includes information that can be applied to all fresh water aquarium keeping.
READ: Create an Indoor Water Garden

Also here is an article I wrote about water quality in ponds. Even though the scale is different, concepts about nutrients in the water and types of filtration are basically the same. Reading it should give you a good overview about the topic of water quality.
READ: Help – My Pond is Full of Algae!

How to start up a freshwater aquarium

Tools and materials needed:
Aquarium
Aquarium stand
Aquarium gravel
Aquarium filter
Aquarium lid
Filter
Filter medium
2 large aquarium safe buckets
Thermometer
Lava Rock

Options:
Aquarium heater
Aquarium safe silicone sealer
Air pump
Air tubing
Bubble wall
Activated charcoal
Ammonia test kit
PH test kit

1. Test the aquarium, used or new, for leaks. Place it outside or on a basement floor that can get wet near a drain. Make sure it’s on a hard, level surface. The water will be very heavy when the tank is full so the surface must be level in order not to damage the tank. You can temporarily place it on it’s stand if you’re using one.

Check the aquarium in a day or so to make sure all seams are dry. If it’s free of leaks, empty the water out and proceed to Step 2. DO NOT move the tank with any water in it. If there are leaks, get some aquarium safe silicone sealer to patch the leaks after thoroughly drying the area you are patching. Follow the directions on the silicone sealer packaging about curing times and such.

2. Place the aquarium on the stand in the spot you have chosen. If all goes well, this aquarium will sit in this spot for many months or years so take some care in where you place it. Near an electrical outlet is convenient for running your equipment such as lights and filters. Near a window is usually not recommended because the excess light might cause algae growth. However if you are growing plants with a high light requirement, you might prefer to put it by a window. If you do get algae, it’s annoying but not the end of the world, I’ll tell you how to fight it later.

It’s best to use a designated aquarium stand unless you are placing it on a sturdy piece of furniture that you are certain will hold the weight. In my example I’m using our old buffet which has held 30 gallon aquariums in the past for many years, so I know it will take the weight safely.

The gravel was still in this tank from the last time it was in use – several years ago at least. I’m not worried about whether or not the gravel is clean – any organic matter and dormant beneficial bacteria left in this gravel will actually help the aquarium get started again so at this time there is no benefit to rinsing it. I’ll explain why later in this article. If this was brand new gravel, I’d rinse it once in tap water just to make sure it’s not dusty and likely to cloud the water. Prepared gravel is rarely a problem but I always rinse once just in case.

3. Add aquarium gravel. The safest gravel to use is pre-packaged and intended specifically for aquariums. Rinse the gravel before adding to get any dust particles out.

Add only enough gravel to barely cover the bottom – deeper gravel will be harder to keep clean.

4. Fill the aquarium with tap water.

Once the aquarium is filled with water, we have to take some steps to make it ready for aquatic life. 

Remove Chlorine and Chloramines

Add Filtration

Exterior Filters

Interior Filters

Bubbles

It’s important for the water to be agitated a little bit so that gases can exchange at the surface, except for the few special cases where certain plants and animals prefer very still water. Oxygen needs to get into the water, and toxic gases need to get out. If your filter agitates the water enough, you don’t really need to add an additional device for making bubbles.  On the other hand, I think bubbles are so beautiful that I’m happy to go through the extra trouble and expense to add them.

If you have chosen a type of filter that uses an air pump, if the pump is strong enough you might be able to add a valve and bleed off some of the air to divert to a bubbler device. You can also just get another small air pump to run the bubbler. 

What are some examples of a bubbler, also called an aerator or airstone? There are wands, molded stones, and porous tubing in various sizes and shapes you can choose from. This picture shows a couple of different kinds that I’m using right now. To prevent crumbling, soak air stones in water for 24 hours before running air through them.

Regulate Temperature

Do you need to worry about PH?

It’s far easier to just choose plants and animals that like your water conditions than to try to use chemicals to manipulate the PH. If you get plants and animals from clubs or other hobbyists in the area using the same tap water and they don’t manipulate their PH, then you don’t have to worry about it. I haven’t tested my water for years – because I keep just a few species that I know can live in our water, it isn’t necessary. 

Whatever plants and animals you end up adding to your aquarium, find out if they have any special temperature or PH needs before you get them. Then you can be sure to group plants and animals together that like the same conditions. Then if there is a need to alter your PH you’ll be prepared. There are test kits and chemicals available at pet supply stores to help you monitor and change the PH if necessary.

TO BE CONTINUED…

I made two kinds of little stoneware planters for aquarium plants in Continuing Ed ceramics classes. On the left are examples I made without bottoms specifically for anchoring aquatic plants. To use them I pull some plants through the base and wrap with aquarium plant anchors. In this photo, I didn’t have any on hand so I wrapped the base of the plants with cord to keep them together. In the right photo are mini planters that I can fill with aquarium gravel to help anchor the plants. The plant on the left is Coontail, Ceratophyllum demersum. The plant on the right is Brazilian Waterweed, Egeria densa.

Aquarium Plant Species Profiles

Submerged Aquarium Plants

Anubias – Araceae
I have a few of these that I got from an aquarium store in the 2010s. They have very low light requirements and grow slowly.

Coontail – Ceratophyllum demersum
This grows well for me in both my pond and in aquariums with good lighting. I left some in my pond over last winter and it survived with a small heater keeping a hole in the ice and keeping the water from freezing over completely.

Egeria, Elodea and Hydrilla look very similar. They live mostly submerged but flower just above the water surface.

Brazilian Waterweed – Egeria densa
This grows well for me in both my pond and in aquariums with good lighting. I left some in my pond over last winter and it survived with a small heater keeping a hole in the ice and keeping the water from freezing over completely. I found my original specimens in Missouri in the Current River.

Canadian Pondweed – Elodea canadensis
Native to North America but has been introduced to other continents (Perry 85). A perennial commonly sold in pet stores for aquariums, also known as Anachris. Needs a lot of sun. (Atkinson and Mathison 53).

Hydrilla verticillata – looks very similar to and is related to Elodea (Perry 88). I don’t think it’s as pretty as Elodea and Egeria, because the leaves are more sparse making it look more leggy.

Java Fern

Java Moss

Floating Aquarium Plants

Duckweed – Lemna
I grow two sizes in my ponds and aquariums, Lemna minor and Lemna major. They are very beautiful grown separately, together, or with other floating water plants such as Azolla. The different sizes, colors and textures can be stunning when allowed to grow naturally in a patchwork fashion. If grown you must take care not to let it blanket the water surface completely or it might interfere with the gas exchange at the surface and cause a damaging lack of oxygen in the water. If you need to remove excess duckweed, that is a bit of extra maintenance you have to do, but there is a bonus – the tiny plants make excellent feed for vegetable-eating animals, or it could be a very nutritious addition to your compost or worm bin.

Azolla, Graveyard Moss and Duckweed
LEFT: Azolla with Water Hyacinth at the top of the photo. CENTER: Graveyard moss growing in my pond waterfall at the left, a mosaic of Azolla and Duckweed in the water. RIGHT: Mosaic of Duckweed (Lemna major and Lemna Minor) with a little Creeping Jenny emerging. In my experience Duckweed prefers lower light conditions than some other floating plants such as Azolla and Water Hyacinth. In my water gardens and aquariums I put a little of each everywhere I can to see what thrives in which spots. If you have extra it’s worth experimenting even if you think you know what it will do – sometimes the plants surprise you.

Water Fern – Azolla

Water Hyacinth – Eichhornia crassipes

LEFT: Watercress in planters in the “stream” area of my pond when I was first building it. The terra cotta pot is a temporary planter doubling as a temporary filter. Water flowing through lava rock is one of the best filters you can have for an aquarium or a pond. CENTER: Creeping Jenny and Watercress while it’s flowering. A beautiful combination! RIGHT: The Creeping Jenny growing in among rocks and in the temporary filter. Adds beauty and biological filtration.

Emerging Aquarium Plants

Arrowhead – Sagittaria

Creeping Jenny – Lysimachia nummularia
I have the gold leaved variety ‘Aurea’ which is a gorgeous lime green color. This is a truly amazing plant. It will grow in regular garden soil as long as it gets enough moisture. I first bought it because I saw it being used a lot as ground cover when I went on a house tour. I fell in love and got some. It makes an excellent aquarium plant too if you can give it enough light and grow it in an emerging situation such as on a waterfall or in a refugium or bog setup. It does fabulously well in the shallow, rocky, “stream” portion of my outdoor water garden too. It looks beautiful trailing out of containers.

Graveyard Moss

Lucky Bamboo

Papyrus – Cyperus papyrus I bought two Papyrus plants at the beginning of this past summer to put in the “river” portion of my pond. The grower calls one “Prince Tut” and the larger one “King Tut”.

Parrot Feather – Myriophyllum

Pondweed – Potamogeton

Watercress

Aquarium Animals

Works Cited and Further Reading on Indoor Freshwater Aquariums and Other Indoor Growing Situations

Bailey, Tom and Nevin. “Pet Fish Talk.” Pet Fish Talk, 2002-2022, web.archive.org/web/20220522003017/https://petfishtalk.com/. Accessed 28 October 2022.

Boruchowitz, David E. The Simple Guide to Freshwater Aquariums. T.F.H. Publications, Inc., 2001.

Brackney, Susan M. The Insatiable Gardener’s Guide: How to Grow Anything & Everything Indoors, Year ‘Round. Five Hearts Press. 2003.

“Field Guide.” Missouri Department of Conservation, 2022, mdc.mo.gov/discover-nature/field-guide. Accessed 27 October 2022.

Julian, T.W. The Dell Encyclopedia of Tropical Fish. Dell Publishing Co., Inc. 1974.

“Plant Directory.” University of Florida / IFAS / Center for Aquatic & Invasive Plants, 2022, plants.ifas.ufl.edu/plant-directory/. Accessed 27 October 2022.

Sakurai, Atsushi, Yohei Sakamoto and Fumitoshi Mori. Aquarium Fish Of The World: The Comprehensive Guide to 650 Species. Chronicle Books. 1993.

Van Patten, George. Gardening Indoors: the Indoor Gardener’s Bible. Van Patten Publishing. 2002.

Windelov, Holder and Jiri Stodola. Aquarium Plants: A Complete Introduction. T.F.H. Publications, Inc. 1987.

Works Cited and Further Reading on Outdoor Water Features and Water Gardening

“Aquatic Plants.” Chalily, 2022, www.chalily.com/product-category/aquatic-plants/. Accessed 28 October 2022.

Art, Henry W. A Garden of Wildflowers: 10 Native Species and How to Grow Them. Storey Communications, Inc., 1986.

Atkinson, Susan and Suzanne Normand Mathison, Editors. Garden Pools Fountains & Waterfalls. Sunset Publishing Corp. 1989, 1974, 1965.

Elving, Phyllis and Suzanne Normand Eyre, Editors. Container Gardening. Sunset Publishing Corporation. 1998.

Perry, Frances MBE VMH. The Water Garden. Van Nostrand Reinhold Company. 1981.

Wieser, K. H. and Dr. P. V. Loiselle. Your Garden Pond: Practical tips on planning, design, installation and maintenance. Tetra-Press. 1986.

White, Hazel and the Editors of Sunset Books. Landscaping Small Spaces. Sunset Books, 2001.

Make a textile out of fabric and thread scraps

A rainbow scrap textile in progress

As far back as I can remember, I’ve been creatively inspired to make things out of scraps. When I work on hand-stitched fabric projects, I often have several going at one time which means I switch thread colors often. Although there are many needles in my sewing tool stash, I have two or three that are my consistent favorites. Re-threading needles is easy for me since I do it constantly, but it’s a task that still takes time and care and I don’t enjoy doing it more often than necessary. Once I have a needle threaded, I want to use the color all up until the thread is too short to be of any use, even to me!

If I don’t have a project in progress at hand that can use odds and ends of threads, I will often sew semi-random scraps of fabric to scrap pieces of backing fabric to run off the extra thread so that I can quickly switch back to sewing with one of my favorite needles. Over time, I periodically accumulate enough of this new “textile” to make something else with it. Since these types of scrap textiles have a lot of raw edges in them, I won’t use them in something that gets a lot of wear or has to be washed because they would not survive for long. Even with that restriction, I have found good uses for the scrap textiles. Here are some examples!

Holiday ornaments
Christmas stockings
Throw pillows
Parts for art quilts

What will my rainbow piece turn into? I’m not sure, but I have some crazy images in my head involving that piece and some pale yellow, lime green, and electric blue tulle. What will happen?

Art show opening this past Saturday

Today I am Dazzle Yellow and I have a lot to say!
“Today I am Dazzle Yellow and I have a lot to say!”

I appear to be in-between crises today so I’ll take a moment to write a little about art!

This past Saturday, October 1, 2022, was the opening reception for the Art Saint Louis show, “Declaration”. Above is my contribution to the show. It’s made of found papers, paint sample cards and image transfers from found papers made with packing tape. My artist statement reads as follows:

“When I started, I was inspired by some found images of rug designs from a catalog combined with some of my own mini postage stamp inspired collages juxtaposed with paint sample cards in tints of yellow. I work part time in a hardware store where exciting possibilities are everywhere. Bright paint sample cards, caution signs and caution tape and anything in the store that is colorful are parts of life I greatly enjoy. One of the colors on the sample cards was named Dazzle Yellow. I made some image transfers on packing tape out of sign images from a catalog and pieces of found papers that incorporate yellow, basically making my own version of caution tape. The purpose of such a bright yellow is to get attention. Once you have it, how do you use it? Yellow could mean stop and be careful, stop and enjoy, or “Look at me, I’m full of possibilities today!”

This was not an easy art show to look at, because as you might expect, a show with the theme “Declaration” is heavy on political themes. I had my share of political ideas for art pieces I considered making for this show but I decided to go in a different direction – I desperately need a break from politics and I figured art show patrons might like a little break as well! Whatever the subject matter, it’s always an honor to exhibit among a group of artists as talented as these.

I’m on the left posing with my collage and Dad is on the right next to a panel outside on the sidewalk that we were all allowed to add to with chalk markers. I’m very grateful to my Dad for coming with me – my husband Tom was busy at a homecoming event at his high school at the time of the opening and I certainly don’t begrudge him that! My Dad has been coming to my art events for decades and I’m eternally grateful for his support!

I custom made the frame for this piece at the last minute – I hadn’t done any woodworking since making a memorial box for the funeral of my uncle last year. Due to tragic events of last year I had been in such a brain fog that I didn’t trust myself with saws, mat knives and things until I was kind of forced into making this frame. That’s part of my motivation for entering these shows – it’s therapy for me both because of the opportunity for expression and because the deadlines force me to get things finished.

I have made so many picture frames in a similar style that even though it had been awhile, I had little trouble and was vastly relieved when it turned out ok! I had been intending to buy a frame because I thought I didn’t have enough time to work up to making one, but in the checkout line after looking in three stores for one the right size and shape I discovered that I had forgotten to pay my credit card bill and the charge would not go through. I immediately made a payment over the phone but it took a couple of days to re-activate so I was forced to hurry up and make the frame. I’m now glad that happened because now I have a lot more confidence and the next frame or wood project will be much easier.

Here are some helpful links with more information about the “Declaration” show:

My photos from the reception (plus one of me and my collage that my Dad took – click right arrow to see more)

Image gallery of all the works

Promotional video

A public service announcement for those who own or rent condos at Brentwood Forest

August 29, 2022: Another entry from the #whydidntyouwarnme desk

This summer we had historic levels of rainfall in the St. Louis metro area which have resulted in a lot of heartbreaking damage and costly repairs for many people. My husband owns a house and I own one house and one condo. We were fortunate to escape the ravages of water damage on our three properties until last week – and it wasn’t from any natural disaster.

I own a condo at 1544 High School Drive in Brentwood Forest Condominiums, of Brentwood, Missouri. It’s a long story how I came to own this, which I’ll get into later. I lived there as my full time residence from November of 2004 until August of 2018 when I got married to Tom Winkelmann.

Since our marriage, we have used the condo to store some of our extra stuff while I have used it on occasion as a crash pad and a studio for art and writing when I need some quiet time away to get some creative work done. Until recently Tom had a cat who liked to pee on everything so I avoided moving things over there like my favorite furniture, pillows, and blankets until he was gone. The cat Leo was ancient when we got married and he passed away this summer. Eventually I plan to rehab the condo and get it ready to rent out. Over the last four years I’ve encountered a number of obstacles which have made it hard to get this done (if anyone wants to know more about these obstacles I’ll get into that but it’s not critical to know for this first section). This is going to turn out to be one of those blog posts I’m going to keep adding onto as I go through an unexpected problem caused by a water leak from the condo above mine, 1542 High School Drive owned by William and Laurel Mahon of St. Charles, Missouri. My unit is on the first floor of a two-story building.

Last Monday (August 22, 2022) I entered the condo to do some cleaning and moving to get ready for rehabbing. I broke my foot last year and was grieving over the loss of my uncle and the suicide death of my brother which happened at this time last year. I haven’t really been able to function close to normally until a couple of weeks ago. When I walked by the closet where the water heater is, I stepped in water. I opened the closet door to see if it was leaking, and saw that that the inside of the closet was full of mold and when I looked up I saw the ceiling of the closet was moldy, and the ceiling near the closet spreading into the living room and the room I use as an office was also moldy. Part of the wall on the outside of the closet had mold. So did part of the kitchen ceiling and the pantry. The last time I’d been at the condo was about two weeks before that and none of that mold was there then.

My water heater was brand new as of 2017, and it seemed unlikely to me that it would have leaked and leaked into the ceiling above it even if it did. I asked my Dad to come over and diagnose the problem. Was the leak from my level or upstairs? He diagnosed the leak as being from upstairs, and later that week he met with the son of the owner of the unit above me to show him the damage and let him know that there was likely going to be a claim made on his insurance for the damage to my unit.

My Dad told me he was under the impression that the son was going to try to deny responsibility, even though he had a plumber to his unit to shut off the leak upstairs, which had apparently originated with the air conditioning unit in 1542. The leak not only caused the mold growth, but ruined my water heater, which will have to be replaced. I’m sure the upstairs owners would rather my insurance pay it than theirs. But since the leak was upstairs, their insurance should pay. I will keep a log here on this blog of what happens because I’m probably going to have to explain this several times, perhaps in court if it comes to that, and it’s easier to just have it written out and documented as it happens. I will add photos and updates as I go.

My Dad met with the plumber hired by the owners of 1542 along with the property manager of Brentwood Forest this morning, August 29, 2022. The plumber confirmed that my water heater was ruined because the box with the electronics was completely flooded. The property manager appeared to be there not to help me, the victim, but to blame the presence of mold on two aquariums that I have near the damaged area. Those aquariums have been there since 2005. They don’t leak and until last week I didn’t have mold in any of those spots. I don’t understand why the property manager wants to railroad me. Whatever the reason, I will not let myself be financially abused for damage I didn’t cause.

Instead of helping the wronged party, me, with the giant inconvenience and time suck this is going to be, the property manager was more interested in threatening to have the city condemn my unit for having mold in it. If I ever want to sell my condo, I’m not really doing myself any favors by telling anecdotes about what the condo association here is like. But I care more about warning people, and I’m sure there are other places on the web where you can read similar accounts. If you must live here, rent, don’t own. And don’t make a long commitment.

You can read some of the reviews of the Brentwood Forest Condominium Association on Yelp. I’ll likely be adding mine soon.

https://www.yelp.com/biz/brentwood-forest-condominium-association-saint-louis

So here is my warning to people who own units in Brentwood Forest. If your unit is on a lower floor, before you go out of town, or leave the condo for awhile, such as on vacation or for the winter or whatever, take pictures or video of your ceilings to show they are clear of damage. Then if you get back and find a problem, it will be harder to pin the damage on you. Even though they admit the leak started upstairs, and common sense says water doesn’t flow upwards, it appears I’m going to have to fight for fair treatment. So there is a bit of advice to help you avoid a similar situation.

Stay tuned! I hope this doesn’t get as ugly as it looks like it might. But if it does, you’ll get the news here as it happens.

I usually don’t have back pain, but I have it today just from the emotional stress, so after I shut this laptop down I’m going to go swim in the excellent Brentwood Forest pool – probably the main reason I haven’t sold this place yet.

08/30/22

I’m going to be keeping a time log each day it’s applicable of how much time I’ve spent cleaning this up and managing and mitigating the repairs.

Time spent as of 08/30/22: 33 minutes

I sent the following email to Kent Allen, the BFCA general manager:

“I just want to let you know that as I make repairs on my condo, I’m going to be keeping track off all the expenses and time involved. I’m on the bottom level, and the water originated above me. That makes me the wronged party in this case. Since I’m the one who received the leaking water into my unit, I’m going to have to remove a lot of stuff so the walls can be fixed. This is going to be a lot of time for me, and the people upstairs are going to be charged for it. I’m going to be documenting all my time and expenses.

If you try to make things harder for me by making me spend extra time and extra fees to get this work done, say by trying to get the County to condemn my unit because of damage they caused, the extra time and expenses it’s going to take to reverse that will be charged to the insurance of the people in 1542, not me. So I hope you don’t try to hurt me that way because it will just end up hurting them in the end.

I’m not eager to cost the people upstairs more than is necessary because until now I have had no problems with them. They offered to pay for a leak from the bathroom up above mine before, but since I’ve been planning to rehab that whole bathroom anyway I told them not to worry about it. If they try to say the new damage is actually old, they are going to get a very different response. There is damage in several spots that came from above. I know what came from above and what did not. I have let the minor damage go in the past, because I’ve been planning to rehab and repaint everything, and it wouldn’t matter. But this damage is a lot more serious and it does matter. So please don’t hurt them by trying to hurt me.

Thank you for your time.”

Response from Kent.

“I’m not calling anyone. “

09/04/22

My expense tally so far:

08/24/22 – 64 OZ Air Dehumidifier Q=2 21.69

08/31/22 – 42 OZ Damprid Refill 4.86

1PT Concern Neem Oil 16.31

35 PT Dehumidifier 246.26

Subtotal: 289.12

09/09/22

Time spent as of 09/09/22: 142 minutes

Photos and videos of damage visible in this online album:

Condo Project

Here are is a photo and some videos that help show the mold did not come from my aquariums as your clients claim. I’ve had these aquariums since 2005. I never had mold around them until after 08/08/22.
A photo from 2010:
https://www.facebook.com/photo/?fbid=2262798733710&set=a.1176293771765

Some videos from 2012 showing aquariums and rooms where some of the damage is:
https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=WnqekmYIYI0

Those aquariums had been there for 7 years at that point with no sign of mold. I think if you take all the evidence together you can see that the idea that the mold just happened to come from my aquariums at the time when they admit that water was coming in from upstairs is not credible and is an attempt at fraud.

09/12/22

Time spent as of 09/12/22: 180 minutes

Two upcoming art shows

“Nourish” virtual exhibition by Art Saint Louis

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.

(all the) Feels show at Art Saint Louis

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.

More information about Art Saint Louis:

Web site: https://www.artstlouis.org

Facebook: https://www.facebook.com/ArtSaintLouis/

Twitter: https://twitter.com/ArtStLouis

Instagram: https://www.instagram.com/art_st_louis/ or @art_st_louis

YouTube: https://www.youtube.com/user/ArtStLouis

Art Dialogue Blog: https://artstlouis.blogspot.com/

Links to examples of some past and present fine art and design work of mine:

Graphic design and art portfolio on Facebook

Pinterest – Carolyn’s Art and Design

Pinterest – My Ceramics

Pinterest – My Old Artwork

Etsy – Art and Crafts by Carolyn (yes I’m planning on expanding this section more as I get time to do it!)

“Get the Funk Out” Collage

“Get The Funk Out” collage

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?

Getting some collage elements together

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:

Mini Texturized: https://www.etsy.com/listing/191860371/mini-texturized-6×6-stencil

Mini Tiny Circles: https://www.etsy.com/listing/679546395/mini-tiny-circles-6×6-stencil

Contact Sheet:
https://www.etsy.com/listing/1020629452/12×12-stencils

Mini Halftone Borders:
https://www.etsy.com/listing/1226450019/mini-halftone-borders-6×6-stencil

Are you anxious to get back out in your garden again? I know I am!

It’s been awhile since I updated the Schnarr’s blog calendar with gardening events. For the last couple of years most events have been cancelled or online. But a few in person events are starting to happen again, along with a lot of webinars and online sessions.

I’ve put some St. Louis based events, be they in person or virtual, on the Schnarr’s Blog calendar here:
http://schnarrsblog.com/calendar/

I’ve also added some pins to a couple of sections of the Schnarr’s Pinterest site to help people find gardening related webinars and on-demand content from all over the country.

Gardening Webinars and Online Courses

Garden Educational Videos, eBooks, Slide Shows and Podcasts On Demand

In the St. Louis area where I am, it’s a bit rainy and cold right at the moment and it’s possible that tasks you were looking forward to doing in the garden might be postponed for a few days. If you’re forced to be more indoors than you’d like, maybe some online gardening content will help you maintain a healthy state of mind. Enjoy!

Dad is on the left, Rosie Willis on the right. 03-26-2022

This past Saturday my Dad and I blew some of the winter dust out of our bodies and minds by volunteering at Fresh Starts Community Garden. It was Dad’s first time here while I’ve been to this garden a couple of times before. It was uplifting as always to spend a little time with the inspiring and kind leader Rosie Willis and the other volunteers. I get praised a lot when I volunteer, but it’s likely I get more out of it than I give – gardening makes me happy wherever I do it! And it’s always uplifting to be in the company of people who are working hard to help their neighbors.

This week those of us who are St. Louis Master Gardeners got some nice validation by getting the Master Gardener 2021 Impact Statement PDF document in our email. If you would like to see what we did in 2020 and 2021, check out these links:

2021 St. Louis Master Gardener Impact Statement

2020 St. Louis Master Gardener Impact Statement

I’ve been reading in the last year or two about biophilia – in so many words it is the human tendency to feel a sense of well being while exposed to nature. As I’ve learned from reading horticultural therapy books, in addition to spending time in or around actual nature, pictures, video and sounds from gardens can make people feel better mentally and physically. I hope the resources I’ve linked to can help give you some good feelings immediately whether you have to be inside or outside.

Here is a link to my photo album on Facebook of some of the past master gardener activities I’ve enjoyed since completing my training in 2016.

Master Gardener Activities

Here is a link to Fresh Starts Community Garden on Facebook.

Fresh Starts Community Garden

Happy Spring!

QR Codes are handy for promotions that require a fast turnaround

When I was Creative Director for my former employer Webinar Resources, we built QR codes, that is Quick Response codes, into many of our campaigns. I liked them so much I made a header graphic for our Facebook page meant to celebrate their functionality and their high-tech look. They appealed to me for design reasons as well.

We put QR codes on any surface we could think of – door knockers, cards, posters, electronic slides, buttons, t-shirts, holiday wrapping… I’m probably forgetting some. Eventually I even had a rubber stamp made of a QR code for my online store! I also made some graphics at my boss Mark Rice’s direction along the way to try to show how they work.

A selection of a few past QR code projects I worked on, 2010-2021

I thought for awhile that it was difficult to get people to adopt QR codes and that they might die out. That possibility was disappointing to me because they are useful and a lot of fun. But while working on Marketing and Communications homework for my classes at Webster University recently, I’ve snapped some pictures while doing research that make it look like QR codes are here to stay after all. It’s possible that the COVID-19 pandemic may have helped speed up the adoption of QR codes a bit because they provide a quick way to disseminate information without people having to touch anything. QR codes are also easier to access now because in many cases you don’t need to install a special app – on my newest iPhone the QR code reader is built right into the camera.

QR code sightings within the last two years, from left to right: downtown St. Louis in the City Garden, a mobile police camera in Dutchtown, a store front in Dutchtown, and a WalMart promotional free sample bag with QR code on the bag and on the enclosed advertising piece.

I have a client who is appearing in a live performance in two days in Scottsdale, Arizona. This morning I took some graphics off of some of the existing promotional and ticketing web pages and made a collage of some of them with a QR code on it. My intention was to make something fast and easy for people to share if they are inclined to, with the link built in by way of the QR code so that people who are interested can get to the ticketing page easily no matter how the graphic is shared.

The Unapologetically American Comedy Tour
The Unapologetically American Comedy Tour
I made a graphic of just the ticket for instances when the code is too small on the screen to be read.

There is a lot you can do with QR codes if you build them into campaign planning at an early stage. Even when you are under a time crunch, incorporating a QR code into a shareable graphic for social media is a very convenient way to spread information.

Fit and Healthy on Route 66: Robertsville State Park

On Saturday, March 19, 2022 my Dad and I drove from St. Louis County to Sullivan, Missouri to attend a neon sign re-lighting ceremony at the historic Shamrock Court. The Shamrock Court is being restored and plans are to re-open it as a motel in the not too distant future. Members of the Route 66 of Missouri and many other volunteers are helping to restore the property, with labor, fundraising, and other opportunities.

The Route 66 Assocation of Missouri Neon Heritage Preservation Committee (“NHPC”) has assisted a lot of historic property owners in various ways to get their neon signs restored. Here is a web page with a list of some of their neon sign success stories. It’s customary for Route 66 Association of Missouri members and allies to get together for a celebratory re-lighting ceremony whenever a historic Route 66 property in the region lights up the newly restored signs for the public to enjoy. March 19 was the Shamrock Court’s turn to shine.

Left: Dad (in red hat) and roadie friend Fred Zander. Center: A big, beautiful party! Right: “It’s so comfortable on the ground here!”

Route 66 events often incorporate car shows, and this night was no exception. Cool cars and trucks filled the parking area in front of the Motel and spilled over into the adjacent street, appropriately named Shamrock St. In keeping with the motel’s theme and proximity to St. Patrick’s Day, it was also a St. Patrick’s Day party complete with Leprechaun, Lucky Charms, wearin’ o’ the green, and lots of Irish luck bestowing fine weather upon us.

On a day so beautiful, my Dad and I left early so that we could go for a hike on the way there. There are lots of choices of places to hike between our homes and Sullivan – we are very blessed to live in Missouri which has abundant parks and trails. We considered several locations then decided on Robertsville State Park. It’s one of the closest State Parks to where we live, but since when we drive by it we are usually on our way to somewhere farther away, believe or not neither of us had ever been there! The one previous time in all my years of 66-ing (23!) that I tried to take a short detour off of historic Route 66 to check it out, I had to turn back because of a flood. So we decided now was the time to try something new and go finally go there. We drove around to see what the park contained and chose two short trails to hike on.

Left: beautiful blue sky and trees not yet leafed out. Center: frog or toad eggs in an ephemeral forest pool. Right: ornate cast iron post in the Roberts family cemetery.

The park was perhaps not in it’s full glory two days before the start of spring, when there is almost no green vegetation to see yet and the ground is saturated from late winter and early spring rains. Nevertheless, we found plenty to appreciate. I have not lost my childhood fascination with ephemeral spring pools. I’m intrigued mostly because I like to look for frog eggs and tadpoles, but they also have quiet beauty in their own right. They are usually clear and still and any vegetation or critters in the water look especially beautiful in such water bodies. As a special treat for me, one of the pools we saw did contain many masses of frog or toad eggs, and some free-swimming tadpoles! I looked at one mass up close to see the different stages of development of the tadpoles. They ranged from little dots to almost ready to emerge, with feathery gills developing and eyes looking right at me! I returned the egg mass to the water and prayed that they would all get a chance to hatch while the pool is still wet.

There is something to enjoy in every season in the magical Missouri Ozarks!

For more information about the re-lighting event and the Shamrock Court project:

Saving The Shamrock Court! Facebook group

Shamrock Court web page

Historic Preservation Weekend in Sullivan, MO A previous blog post of mine about volunteering at the Shamrock Court