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Thing-a-Day – a month will just have to be enough…lesson learned

February 27, 2015

I made it through a month and then realized that, while this is great fun, it is distracting me from larger projects with pressing deadlines. Despite high hopes, this was not the year that I would be able to complete an entire year of this sort of project. Maybe a month was enough time to figure out how I benefit from that sort of intense focus, as well as how I need a more flexible creative environment.  Long story short, I need to back away from the deadlines and get back to letting the work flow more organically.

My practice still involves daily small-scale focus – it always has – but I am having trouble getting away from the concept of completing something daily (let alone blogging about it!). I know I gave myself some slack, but I couldn’t take it – an interesting thing to learn.  I just dropped the ball and backed away.

The blogging in particular was taking too much planning. So apologies if you look for regular posts. I will add bits when they are most compelling and relate more closely to using recycled materials, and when I have time!

This is all part of figuring out how to balance concrete goals with more freeform exploration.  Thanks for coming along for the ride. Will post more as it happens.

Thing-a-Day – January 26 – cooked kozo fabric and vessel

February 7, 2015

Day 26 of the Thing-a-Day Challenge

Materials: cooked, unbeaten kozo (mulberry) bark, aka Broussonetia papyrifera

Kozo is an amazing substance.  It is a traditional papermaking bark fiber that can be used as a cooked, but unbeaten, source material to make barkcloth as well as in its fully beaten state for fine, strong paper.

dry kozo

bundled dry kozo, ready for cooking

cooked kozo

soaked kozo cooking with soda ash to soften






cooked kozo strips

cooked kozo strips

2-foot strip, 1 inch wide

2-foot strip, 1 inch wide

spreading out a single strip of kozo

spreading out a single strip of kozo








Once it is cooked, the fibers are still happily hanging together

strip now 8 inches wide and 18 inches long

strip now 8 inches wide and 18 inches long

in a cross-hatched pattern, but easily spread gently in to a wider open mesh or lightly beaten into a flattened “cloth.”  I prefer to just spread it out to make a lace effect.



dried kozo spread sheet








One of the miracles of kozo is that you can adhere damp strips (much like gampi) or piece of spread/beaten fiber to each other by pressure alone – no other adhesive needed!

simple kozo vessel

simple molded vessel





more complex kozo molded, multilayer vessel with delineated lip, approx 6" diameter

more complex kozo molded, multilayer vessel with delineated lip, approx 6″ diameter

Thing-a-Day – January 25 – cooked gampi strips into string

February 7, 2015
tags: , ,

Day 25 of the Thing-a-Day Challenge

Materials: gampi bark (from the Thymelaceae or Daphne family)

Gampi is quite similar to kozo (which I will talk more about tomorrow) and has been used for traditional paper making for centuries.  When cooked (with soda ash), its fibers don’t hold together very well, so it is difficult to form vessels out of stretched strips.  However, it pulls into long fine strips quite nicely, so it is a good fiber, in this cooked but unbeaten state, for making a long strings for knitting, sewing, or weaving. You just have to be careful not to pull too tightly when the cord is damp or the connection points will come apart.

like kozo, gampi comes in strips about an inch wide, but is less coherent when cooked

like kozo, gampi comes in strips about an inch wide, but is less coherent when cooked





cooked gampi breaks into long thin strips quite easily

cooked gampi breaks into long thin strips quite easily

damp gampi ends twisted

damp ends of gampi strips easily twist around each other and then dry firmly in place, making it easy to create long cordage or “yarn”

this is what the gampi strips look like when dry - they are a bit brittle, but loosen up when dampened again

this is what the gampi strips look like when dry – they are a bit brittle, but loosen up when dampened again

Thing-a-Day – January 24 – dyeing gut w/ various liquids

February 7, 2015

Day 24 of the Thing-a-Day Challenge

Materials: soaked sausage casing (hog gut), black tea, green tea, liquid from cooking gampi, armatures to cover with gut

Today’s experiment contributes to my ongoing gut-covered wire shell project.  As I have been making more of the shell pieces, I have realized that I want to add more color (albeit still within a fairly narrow palette).


Since tea is available in such variety and quantity (and since Laura had tried this before, so encouraged me), I started playing with it as a dyeing agent – both black and green tea.  Also, I have some leftover warm brownish liquid from when I cooked up some gampi (I had saved it, of course! You never know….).

Here is an image of three colors (from left to right) black tea, gampi juice, and natural:

gut 3 colors

The black tea reacted with the black annealed steel, producing spreading dark spots (rather than just rust) and strong darker reddish portions where the gut veins (?) run through the material.  The gampi juice had a softer, brown overall color. I didn’t take an image of the green tea sample, but it was only slightly yellower than the natural sample.


Thing-a-Day – January 23 – weaving a birch bark basket/vessel

February 7, 2015

Day 23 of the Thing-a-Day Challenge

Materials: Birch bark, water, wifi

I have had some sheets of flattened birch bark sitting in my studio for a couple of years.  I have used birch bark, years ago, but only in little bits enclosed in jewelry.  Maybe I made something out of it in summer camp when I was a kid, but I don’t really remember.  I brought some of the bark along with me in hopes that I would get the time to experiment with it here on this retreat.

I didn’t get terribly far into trying something new, instead falling back on an old fairly familiar form – a simple woven basket.  It was a bit of a challenge, since the bark strips were quite thin, but I enjoyed myself and I think the end result is beautiful, if only a preliminary foray into figuring out this material.

Birch bark, soaked

Birch bark, soake



I soaked the bark to soften it a bit.




Bark strips, front and back

Bark strips, front and back



Then I made strips (noting that the inner and outer colors are strikingly different and deciding to showcase that).



starting to weave the strips

starting to weave the strips



I wove a simple basket structure, but had forgotten how to finish the ends. Thank goodness for wifi!  I looked up a few possibilities online and then made up a technique that could accommodate the shorter pieces I was working with (due to my lack of advance planning – typical me in experiment mode).






Vessel exterior

Vessel interior





Enough of that.  An OK piece, but not something I feel I need to get into much more deeply here.  Done!



Thing-a-Day – January 22 – tea

February 7, 2015

Day 22 of the Thing-a-Day Challenge

Materials: tea – all sorts (and sometimes coffee)

Tea is definitely the stuff that gets us through the day.  Between the three of us here at the make-it-yourself arts retreat in Quakertown, NJ (see Day 21 entry), we have many varieties to choose from.  It provides us with excuses to take brief breaks form our work, as well as caffeine (or not) and warmth.


CInnamon cardamom teaFor some reason, this place is drawing me toward a cinnamon and cardamom tea from The Republic of Tea.  We have it only in loose form, and it is fun to see the bits floating in the strainer as they steep.  And it smells wonderful.




However, I am also drawn to the other teas for a reason particularly related to this blog – recycling.  I can’t think of anything to do with the leftover tea leaves (but give me a while…I’m sure I’ll get to that some day!).  But I love the variation in colors that the teas dye the teabags. And the bags come in a nice range of shapes, sizes, and configurations.  So I have started saving the bags – drying out the used ones and emptying the old tea into the compost.  Coffee filters are also beautiful.  Let’s see where this goes.

tea bags and coffee filters, ready to be transformed into something...but what?

tea bags and coffee filters, ready to be transformed into something…but what?

Thing-a-Day – January 21 – travel to an arts retreat (the Takaezu Studio, Quakertown, NJ)

February 7, 2015

Day 21 of the Thing-a-Day Challenge

Materials: car, art supplies, friends, optimism

Today, I traveled to the Takaezu Studio in Quakertown, NJ, to begin a 10-day arts retreat with two dear friends – Laura Baring-Gould and Karin Abromaitis. We became friends over the years as we sold our work at overlapping shows (particularly the Washington Craft Show and Boston Craft Show). When we are doing the same show or in the same city, we often have dinner together after the show breakdown, but have always been in an exhausted state, in transition, and never feel we have enough time to complete a conversation. Our few longer visits over the years, usually just two of us at a time, have left us eager to find a more formal (but relaxed!) way to pick each other’s brains and support each other in our artistic endeavors.

Laura works in many media (often mixed) from cast bronze to wood to photography, sometimes in a small scale, sometimes monumentally large. Karin makes functional and contemplative clay work, as well as copper jewelry and installations employing materials found in nature (vines, fish scales, etc.). She is also a theater director, performer, choreographer, teacher, etc., etc.

We all are drawn to pod and vessel forms for their inherent visual simplicity and complex potential.

One of Karin's window bowls - terra sigilata surface treatment with metal leaf interior and folded copper element

One of Karin’s window bowls – terra sigilata surface treatment with metal leaf interior and folded copper element


My Polkadot Squash Vessel – flax paper shrunk over steel wire, printed w/ acrylic metallic paint



Laura’s cast bronze chili pepper, approx 2″ long



Between preparing for weekend craft shows and gallery shows, not to mention family obligations and other daily distractions, we are three fairly busy independent artists. Yet somehow we managed to arrange a small chunk of time when we could all get away from other obligations (for the most part) and work side by side, with hopes for collaboration and definite plans for small materials demonstrations and lots of cooking, walking, and talking.  We each brought our own projects to work on, but also gathered books, materials, recipes, thoughts, and music to share during our stay together. The Takaezu Studio, where Karin is living these days, provided the perfect location. It is halfway between Boston, MA, and Washington, DC, and in beautiful western New Jersey.  This entry from the Oakworm blog has some lovely images of the place in the spring.

This is an idea of what it looks like in January.


Barn with bronze bell and other objects

Barn with bronze bell and other objects

Lovely compositions everywhere

Lovely compositions everywhere


...even in the attic

…even in the att

Next door to Toshiko Takaezu’s home and studio (now inhabited and run by the capable and welcoming Don Fletcher and Carla Romeo), is a new artist residency house, a comfy private space, separate enough from the main house and studio to get work done, but close enough to accommodate impromptu afternoon teas and pot luck dinners. We were lucky that the residency space is so new that two of the upstairs bedrooms have not yet been fully finished, so Laura and I could use them as temporary studios, since we don’t work in clay and needed our own spaces for wax mold-making and papermaking work.

The next few posts will reflect the work that I do during my stay here.


Thing-a-Day – January 20 – making a beaded bead

February 4, 2015

Day 20 of the Thing-a-Day Challenge

Materials: glass seed beads, nylon thread (Nymo A), old photo, black Sharpie pen

I have been an avid bead weaver for many years.  Most of my beaded work doesn’t require any recycled or recyclable materials.

Glass seed beads (size 12, Japanese), old photo, cut and darkened strip of photo to fit the widest part of the center of the bead when coiled

Glass seed beads (size 12, Japanese), old photo, cut and darkened strip of photo to fit the widest part of the center of the bead when coiled

However, simple “round” hollow forms benefit from a little stuffing, and strips of old photos, darkened w/ a black Sharpie (so that the white photo paper wouldn’t show through), serve the purpose beautifully.  I got a commission to replace a bead I had made years ago, so today’s thing is a beaded bead.

photo strip coiled into center of half-finished bead

photo strip coiled into center of half-finished bead

And here is the finished bead, ready to be shipped off!


Thing-a-Day – January 19 – Southern magnolia pod pendant

February 4, 2015

Day 19 of the Thing-a-Day Challenge

Materials: seed pod, drill with 1/8″ bit, neckwire or chain with clasp.

MagnoliaPendantMagnoliapodI collected this seed pod from a Southern magnolia tree in our neighbor’s yard years ago and it has stayed very stable, sitting in my studio waiting for a purpose.  I decided to continue my pod-as-pendants theme, this time choosing this much more sturdy specimen.


I drilled the woody stem with a 1/8″ drill bit and simply strung it on a neckwire – didn’t even seal it (we’ll see whether that was a bad idea).  So simple!  And such a beautiful object.

Thing-a-Day – January 18 – preparing kozo (mulberry bark)

February 4, 2015

Day 18 of the Thing-a-Day Challenge

Materials: kozo bark, water, bucket, soda ash

I am getting ready for an art retreat and I know I want to bring kozo. Kozo is mulberry bark that can be used to make paper. The finest kozo is Japanese and is fairly expensive.  I went cheap last time I bought it and got Thai kozo, which I love, but apparently has a more brittle quality than the Japanese version. The bark varies from season to season and in different growing conditions (as well as different countries). You can get both kinds of kozo and many other fibers and supplies for making paper at Carriage House Paper (in Brooklyn, NY).

In any case, I started with the bundled dry bark.KozoDry


I soaked it for a few hours in a bucket of water.


Then I rinsed it and put it in a pot of water on the stove with some soda ash to break down the fibers a bit.  I cooked it for a few hours and then rinsed it again to ash away the caustic (and brown) soda ash water .

cooked kozoNow it is soft and ready to play with.  While still in strips, you can spread it carefully into a thin bark cloth, either by hand or tapping it with a stone or mallet.  It stiffens as it dries, and it adheres to itself, so you can make long strips or “glue” layers on top of each other.

You can also beat it with a mallet to break up the fibers enough to make a fine paper pulp. I am not sure what I will do with it on the retreat, but I am thrilled to have it ready to go!