So what do you think, too cool NOT to wear?
What a wonderful surprise to receive a phone call from my long-time friend Trish Lehman, inviting me to join her at a Mixed Media Collage class in Edmonds last weekend. Besides the opportunity to create in a medium I hadn’t really worked in before, I was excited to see Trish, as she’d just returned from a trip to ICELAND and I wanted to hear all about it! We agreed to meet, and I offered to pack a special picnic lunch for us.
The all-day class was taught by an amazing Seattle artist, Caitlin Dundon, the owner of One Heart Studio. Caitlin is known for her trademark handwritten script and colorful mixed media paintings, and she’s a professional calligrapher and instructor in both mixed media collage and pointed pen calligraphy. Her introduction class was titled “Put a Bird On It”, and we were to spend the day using bird imagery and themes to explore the different techniques and possibilities creating work on paper, paperboard and wood.
After Trish and I fortified ourselves with the thermos of coffee I brought and some home made cinnamon rolls I baked the night before, we were ready to get to work. Of course, I couldn’t just “put a bird on it”, I had to use goldfish! There was a wonderful handprinted wrapping paper in the paper box with big fat goldfish on them, and it made me want to create something for Rolland as he loves blue and orange. Thinking the collage thing would be really easy, I started ripping and pasting to my board (OK, it’s actually a gel matte fixative, but I call it pasting). I had the fish hiding in some weeds at the bottom of what I thought was going to be a fishbowl, complete with fishy air bubbles. It didn’t look so great. Caitlin gently got me to think about a couple of ideas to make more of a composition from it – adding another fish, less of a highlight on the air bubbles, more of a “horizon” line toward the top – and she was right on every one of them. I added a light wash of yellow and the whole thing popped in a way that made me like the piece instead of wanting to chuck it.
On to Bird piece number 2. For me, that was a SOCK MONKEY! I’ve been saving paper stuff with sock monkeys on it for a couple years now, thinking one day I’d find a use for them. I had this idea of doing a tree with some monkeys hanging from it, but it evolved into a house. I don’t think a sock monkey house would look like a regular house, so I gave it some cartoony, angled walls, roof and window frame. My original plan to have three monkeys in the house made it too crowded and busy, so I chose my favorite guy (from a calendar of vintage sock monkeys), and had him looking out the window. A tree next to the house was the right addition – highlighted with some yellow to make it pop – and I added a door step in some hand-marbled paper I made WAY BACK in college when I was studying book binding and decorative papers. And last, I added SMile! to my piece, because that’s what always happens when I look at sock monkeys for awhile.
Lunch break! I loaded my favorite vintage picnic hamper with freshly made chicken salad, cantaloupe, yogurt, carrot sticks and bagels. I must say I make a MEAN chicken salad, and of course I’d brought along my favorite Stangl plates from the ’50s to serve it on. For dessert we had some spice cake cupcakes with cream cheese frosting – YUM! Luckily, cupcakes just happen to be Trish’s favorite food, and I’d brought along a few extra for her trip back home to Friday Harbor. Trish reported later that several of them didn’t survive the long journey north…
So the afternoon was winding down, and I’d yet to do anything with my bird! I decided to just crank it out and not overthink it, and I really wanted to finish my project DURING CLASS because the last thing I needed to take home was another unfinished ANYTHING. I’ve been working on this children’s book lately where the main character realizes the way out of his problem is to sing, so I wanted a little bird with SING on the piece. I’d prepped my board with blue and green (I love blue and green!), then I used this very cool technique of transferring my bird image onto fabric before I glued it down. A few leaves cut from a spin painting I’d done at the fair years ago, some music notes, lettering, then my final touch: a pearly, embossed swirl with the same embossed swirl over it in gold. I wanted it to look like that was the song coming from the bird, and I like how it turned out.
A fun, fun afternoon creating really gets my blood pumping, and the collaging techniques let me get a little bit dirty, but not so yucky I couldn’t get cleaned up in a few minutes – it’s so fun to get messy! Trish and I both came away with pieces we loved, and she’s getting ready for a BIG collage project, which I could tell was really starting to gel in her head during this class. I think she’s going to create something wonderful with vintage photographs of her family and I can’t wait to see it. And now I know what I can do with all that vintage wrapping paper, funky paper scraps, ticket stubs and old photos I’ve been saving – make some more art!
Ideas for making stuff, writing or cooking often sit and percolate in my head for a long time. Making sock monkeys for the artists I work with at Seattle Opera is just one of those cases. Several sock monkey “contacts” happened about the same time to get the idea buzzing in my brain, and the first of those was my introduction to the amazing Mermonkey – here’s her story.
The onstage actors in an opera that do not sing are called supernumaries, or “supers” for short. The most super of our “supers” at the opera is Miss Rosetta Greek. Rosetta is one of those people that everyone likes immediately – she’s beautiful, smart, is a phenomenal actress, an artist and has a great sense of humor and tells it like it is – always one of my favorite qualities in a person. She has turned her exceptional sewing talents into a thriving business – Heavens2Betsie – creating super hip cosmetic and toiletry bags, potholders, aprons and other useable art from vintage, retro and whimsical fabrics that she sells at the Pike Place Market in Seattle, cool kitchen and gift shops around the country and online. A few years ago during one of the shows, she was inspired to create her own mermaid sock monkey from a couple of funky ’80s sweaters she’d found at a thrift store. Over the technical rehearsal week and opening of the show, she would bring “Mermonkey” in to the dressing suite I worked in to update me on her progress, and I was totally hooked by the project. She eventually sold the beautiful Mermonkey, who Rosetta named “Atlantis”, to one of the principal makeup artists.
Atlantis left behind this seed of sock monkey-ness that would not leave my head. I remembered my grandmother giving me a sock monkey she’d made me for Christmas when I was a kid, and I knew I was going to make one. About the same time, I was working as a home and gifts buyer at a local nursery in addition to my opera job. I was ordering calendars for the store and found a sock monkey calendar with pictures of vintage monkeys dressed in costumes, so I ordered one for myself. Shortly thereafter, I found an old pair of red heel socks at a thrift store and knew this was my sign to start making sock monkeys! A search on the internet for a pattern and, ta-da! I was on my way!
So my thanks to Rosetta and Atlantis for their inspiration of what’s become a fun thing to be working on in my life. I’ve since made Rosetta her own monkey based on the ghost bride character she portrayed in the awesome opera Lucia di Lamermoor. Rosetta named her “Verboten” for reasons that will become obvious when you read her story – she’s one of my favorites and I’ll share her pictures soon.
Where will my next inspiration come from? Well, this one has been on the back burner of my brain for about 20 years – seriously – so keep checking back because I’ve got all the pieces now and am putting her together –