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Saturday, April 30, 2011

ECHO Totes--Sometimes it's Easy Being Green

In my experience of trying to "live green", I find free or very low-cost art supplies everywhere. That cellophane bag the microwave popcorn came in? A perfect bag for water-proofing the beautiful Artist Trading Card you made from your last batch of junk mail. Need adjustable straps? A quick trip to the thrift store and you’ve got a selection of them---they used to be belts. Using paints for a project? Keep a soon-to-be-re-purposed shirt nearby. Before you clean the brushes, wipe the extra paint onto the shirt. Soon you’ll have a snappy new item for your casual wardrobe, AND you’ve just put that much less paint into our water supply.
I began making ECHO Totes as a way to re-use ephemera I’d been collecting, especially bags I was given at conventions. I couldn’t see tossing the bags into the landfill after one or two days’ use, but their original “look” wasn’t very trendy. I sew the ECHO Totes on a vintage 1940’s portable Singer sewing machine. If you’ve ever seen one of those, you know this means I keep the stitching aspect s-i-m-p-l-e.
The easiest way to make an ECHO Tote for yourself is to start with a used bag made from at least 50% post-consumer materials. An example would be a re-usable grocery bag sold by stores, one that’s out-lived its intended purpose. These are great because the material has already been rendered water-resistant and is easy to sew. Cut the material down to the size/shape you want. Before you stitch the sides and bottom together, add embellishments, paint on designs, draw in words with a Sharpie, just add any elements that will personalize your Tote and make it more fun to carry. Next, stitch all sides together to form the bag part of your Tote. Pick sewable re-purposed materials (cloth belts work very well for this) to make the bag’s strap.
Pack it up, put it on: I'm off to the art gallery.
Until next week,

Sunday, April 24, 2011

No Peeps Before Their Time

Have the makers of Peeps changed its formula? I only ask because they seem, well, different this year.
You may already know that I’m a fan of SPAM (all capital letters) and can wax on way too long about its history in the world food chain. But you may not know that I am also inclined to toss up an annual shout-out for Jell-O and Peeps. In fact, I fully believe that the springtime holiday menu should contain at least one dish each of Hot & Spicy SPAM garnished with pineapple and cloves, a side salad of Jell-O Surprise complete with good-for-you fiber from nuts and celery, and a dessert of properly-aged Peeps. This is probably sacrileges coming from a west-coast gal, but See’s candies are an option. Peeps are a must.
Hence my small dilemma this year.
To paraphrase from an old wine commercial, I will eat no Peep before its time. And in the past, I could always count on my Peeps being nicely dried, shrunken and chewy if I opened them to the air (be free, little Peeps, be free!) a week before I wanted to serve them. It’s already been two weeks so far and they are still just as puffy and fluffy as the day they were hatched. What gives? I fear the worst: stronger preservatives. Sigh.
Segue alert
The metal artist book in this photo was begun at my last Paris art retreat in December. Note Les Frites from MacKy-D’s? And the cut up Orangina can? Got those both on-site in Paris.
Note also the Hot & Spicy? I brought that with. Told you I was fan.
Take care. Until next week,

Sunday, April 17, 2011


Yeah, baby. That got your attention, didn’t it?
I was audited once. But I’ll save that for the end…
Tomorrow’s the Big T day, and I’m not talking about gobble-gobble, here. Hopefully, you’re one of the forsightful Chosen who got $$$$ back, plopped directly into your bank account like electronic manna from heaven. How sweet it is.
I’m  in that crowd, now more than ever since my marriage to Mary Jo in California was upheld by the courts, and the fact that we live in a community property state. Who knew that would matter? Seems the Federal Gov is trying, really trying, to stop discriminating against married gay couples, and ruled that even though we still can’t file jointly, since we live in a community property state we can “share” our deductions-of which I had many and MJo had few.
Like I understand this? Not a chance. And that, my friends, is why I don’t do our taxes. Nope, it was the wondrous Janice, CPA, who researched this and brought it to our attention. Long story short, Instead of MJo paying about $1200 on her Federal taxes, she pays $132. And we both hit the ol’ tax-o-rama jackpot with the state since in California we can file jointly.  Of course we both would have hit the Federal jackpot, too, if we could have filed those jointly, but don’t get me started. “Baby steps, Renee, baby steps”, that’s what MJo is always telling me.
So about that audit: the word surreal comes to mind. The dude actually spent time re-adding up all the little Michael’s and Aaron Brothers’ receipts. I kid you not. He told us he normally did corporate tax audits. He was into detail. Me too. Haha. He didn’t find a thing. AND I got the inspiration for this altered book made from an old tax manual my CPA had on hand. It’s called “I’d Rather Visit the Dentist—and Have a Root Canal”.
I sold it to a retired dentist’s wife. And yes, I declared the earnings. All $75 of them.
Take care for now,

Sunday, April 10, 2011

Art and life: the ultimate mixed-media

I few blog posts back, I made a glancing reference to Pam Carriker’s book Art at the Speed of Life.  Now that I’ve re-read the whole book cover-to-cover, including the Editor notes at the beginning, “glancing” doesn’t cut it.
Side trip down memory lane:  years ago, I was learning to make artist’s books by hand. I was reading books about making art, books about making books, books about making books about making books. Enough, already. Then I was given Innovative Bookbinding by Shereen LaPlanz, and knew I had received the ultimate, show-stopping, look-no-more book on making art. The techniques were all about hand-binding books, but the book was about art, being an artist, ethics, generosity, community, passion, and, and, and…again, enough already—you get the picture. No books on making art that I’ve come across since have grabbed my imagination, pushed me to take new chances and to create to the degree that LaPlanz’ book did.
Then I got Carriker’s book, and realized that I was holding the best book of its type published in 15 years, and welcome to the 21st century to boot!
Art at the Speed of Life rocks it on so many levels, not the least is Carriker’s beautiful writing and the incredible visual impact of the art: pure eye-candy on every page.  Compelling? Believe it. I hit my studio hard after my first reading. Along with Carriker’s own art and writing, she has included work and words from 18 other mixed-media artists, rendering a treasure-trove of thematic ideas and process suggestions.  Advice ranges from the hysterically mundane (how to translate “latte-speak”), to flat-out brilliant. The book is organized around the concept of 7-days of art journaling, with each of the 7 chapters providing ideas/inspiration from the various contributing artists, and ending with a suggested exercise that will result in a completed journal page.
Back in that blog of last month when I made the glancing reference to her book, I cut to the chase and said “Just check the whole book out.” Let me cut to the chase once more: get this book, read it, go to your studio and make stuff.
Take care,


Sunday, April 3, 2011

I Loves Me Some Free Art Supplies

My niece, paint-morphed, holding her baby grrrl's ECHO Bear and matching ECHO Tote

Way (way) back in the 70’s, I was introduced to the concept of “conspicuous consumption”, which it turns out, was coined in the 19th century by a sociologist to describe the behaviors of the Industrial Age nouveau riche, but which, by the 20th, had changed in meaning to:
"The act of buying a lot of things, especially expensive things that are not necessary”
O.k., so define “necessary”, will ya? Aren’t shoes “necessary”? What about kitchen utensils? And jackets? Maybe I am getting a little defensive here because when it comes to art supplies, I waver between my firm belief that all are “necessary”, and my hidden self-admission that I buy way too many.  
Let’s not even talk about the art collection I have bought from other people.
Conspicuous.  Consumption.  And proud of it.
In my own way, I try to curb my buying habit be being ever-on-the-lookout for FREE!!!! art supplies. I especially love the challenge of finding and using materials that were purposed for “single use only” (oh, pu-leeze!) then expected to go to the land-fill. So much of it everywhere, so little time to make it useful again. Like a daily treasure-trove of inexhaustible and fabulous components--of inexhaustible, fabulous arts and crafts (I'm coming frighteningly close to being mistaken for a hoarder, aren't I?).  Fortunately; I really do use what I find, as this picture demonstrates.  Except for the thread I sewed them with, the button I used for the bear’s mouth and the 5 zip-ties, all the materials in the ECHO Bear and its matching ECHO Tote came from one-use-only products.  Not sounding like “conspicuous consumption” anymore, is it?
I like to share the wealth and will be doing lots of sharing this June 27-29 at my house near Lake Hodges in Southern California. Along with Lisa Bebi and Pam Carriker   we’ve organized an art retreat to include creating art all day, eating delicious food and reflecting on the part art plays in keeping us healthy in our daily lives. Interested in attending? Contact me for more details.
Oh, P.S: Michael's is having a HUGE art supply sale today, so ta-ta for now. See ya in the next go-around.