Sharing my passion for handcrafted jewelry, paper making, and living a creative life.

Saturday, November 19, 2011

Good-bye for now!

It has been a year of change and now it's time for another one.  I am leaving my beautiful lake behind, but  sometimes it's simply a matter of  having to choose one good thing over another.

My blog will remain open as I decide what to do next. 

Friday, September 2, 2011

Suncatchers and New Self Portrait

I reluctantly decided it was time to update my blog photo.  So after probably more than 50 attempts at a self portrait, here is the one that I chose.  My good friend said that the reason photographs after a certain age are never as flattering as we would like is because you can't see our personalities...the stuff that makes us sparkle in person.  Of course I would rather look like I did at 40 but hey, I'm alive and healthy and excited about what comes next and as they say, it's better than the alternative!

What I really came on here to post about was this gorgeous suncatcher I received from my friend, Peggy, aka PalsCreations on Etsy.   Our wonderful group, Piecemakers Mosaic Artists, recently did a suncatcher exchange where each of us made a suncatcher for the person above us on the list.  Peggy created this beautiful mixed media suncatcher for me.  The bird in the centre is done with glass and alcohol inks and the frame is mixed media under more glass.  Grout is used to tie the whole piece together.  I love it!  Thanks, Peggy!
Backlit hanging in my window
Without backlighting
And here's the one I did for Sandy (BeadedGlass on Etsy).
Stained glass on a clear glass backing with black grout.
To see more, go the the Piecemaker's blog here.  Lots to look at and very soon (as soon as everyone has received their suncatchers), you can see photos of everyone's contributions.  Can't wait!

Sunday, August 14, 2011

Handmade Paper Dyed with Wildflowers

I get into a bit of a panic at this time of year.  All of the wildflowers that I like to use for dyes seem to peak right around the same time.  My work area is overflowing with pots and bowls while I frantically cook down plant fibre for the paper, prepare the pulp for dying and process the dye plants.

This post will introduce you to the craft of dying paper pulp but, for more in depth reading, there are some wonderful books available on dying with plants. Many of them focus on dying wool rather than cellulose fibres but I'll list my recommended resources for dying your handmade paper with plants.  I must admit that I'm rather slapdash when it comes to dyeing but I get the results I want.  If I don't get exactly the same results every time, that's okay by me.  But if you want to duplicate your results, take good notes.
Arnica flowers
I won't be covering dyeing with mushrooms but I've included a resource on dyeing with them.  Some beautiful colours are possible with certain kinds.  I have a friend who used to collect mushrooms for me when he was doing forestry work and I got reds, oranges, and a gorgeous deep blue from some of the specimens he brought me.  You would be amazed at all the maggoty creatures that reside in mushrooms, though!  The dye pot was swimming with them.

When I play with plant dyes, I generally use corn husk and recycled paper pulp.  The corn husk pulp is a pale green colour and doesn't compete with the dyes.  Some of the other plants I use in my papermaking have a lot of natural colour so the dye colour doesn't show up as well.  For information on papermaking, click on this link for a tutorial I posted last spring, Make Your Own Paper From Plants.
Cow parsnip
You can use plant fibre pulp mixed with recycled paper pulp, plain paper pulp or pulp made from purchased fibre such as cotton linters or abaca.  Keep the pulp wet while you prepare your dye materials.

Wet paper pulp after pre-mordanting with tannin.

Before dyeing your cellulose pulp (plant  fibre, recycled paper, etc.), most dyes require that the plant based fibres be soaked in a solution called a mordant.  The mordant binds to the fibre and then the dye binds to the mordant.

There are various methods for mordanting pulp but this is the one I use.  I first use a tannin solution as a pre-mordant and then I use an alum solution as the mordant.  The alum doesn't readily fix to the pulp on its own so the tannin is used first.  You can purchase tannin and alum from companies that sell natural dyes and from some papermaking suppliers but  I make my own tannin solution from willow bark. You can also use oak galls or staghorn sumac.  The tannin can be used alone as a mordant but I haven't used that method.

I strip the willow bark for papermaking but before I process it in soda ash to make pulp for paper, I simmer it in plain water for an hour or so to extract the tannin.  I strain it into jars and fill right to the top before covering with lids for future use.  If mold grows on the surface, just skim it off before using. 

Jars of prepared tannin solution.
Prepare your tannin solution.  Add more water if required.  I like the tannin solution to be strong enough to colour the pulp a pale tan colour but not so strong that it interferes with the colour of the plant dye.  I've found that if my plant dye is strong enough, even when my pulp is a dark tan colour, it still dyes well.  The basic formula is to use bark equal to about 1/4 of the weight of the pulp to be mordanted but, as I said, I'm pretty cavalier about the whole process so if the resulting colour is a bit lighter or darker, that's okay.  Since I just boil up a bunch of willow bark at one time, I'm not measuring for a particular dye session.

Add the paper pulp to the tannin solution and soak for 8 to 24 hours.  The longer the soak, the more tannin is absorbed.  The pulp should be a pale tan colour.  Strain it and save the tannin solution.  It can be used again until it no longer colours the pulp adequately.
Mordant with Alum
I mordant my fibres once with alum after the tannin solution but you can do it twice for stronger colours, if you wish.  The alum is used with washing soda to make it less acidic and it also helps to make the fibres more absorbent.

The amount of alum and washing soda you use depends on the weight of your fibres.  Once again I must confess to being less than scientific about my process and I usually estimate the dry weight of my fibres.  Your alum should weigh 20% of the weight of your fibres and 6% of the weight for the washing soda (or 20 gm of alum per 100 gm of fibre and 6 gm of washing soda per 100 gm of fibre).

Dissolve the alum in boiling water in a large stainless steel pot.  Fill the pot about 1/3 full of hot water.  Dissolve the washing soda in boiling water and add to the alum solution in the pot and stir well.  Carbon dioxide releasing will cause bubbles to form (they'll overflow if the pot is too full).  When the bubbles have subsided add the pulp to the pot and add enough water to cover them.  Heat to a simmer, turn off the heat and leave the pulp to soak for 8 to 24 hours Strain and rinse the pulp but reserve the left over solution to use again.  I usually save the remains from a couple of batches and then add them together for the third batch.
Now the fun begins!  I love the time spent outdoors collecting the flowers for my dyes.  Many wildflowers will result in some hue of yellow, from greenish to orangey.  Modifiers can be used to create a range of colours from one dye plant.  There are books and information on the internet that tell you what colours to expect from many common wildflowers but often the information is about colours on wool, which can be quite different.  I enjoy experimenting.

Be careful not to disturb rare or endangered plants or to spread noxious weeds.  Some plants will render a rich, gorgeous colour in the dye pot but the cellulose fibres don't pick up the colour, even with the mordant.  I tried strawberry blight and it made a deep pink solution but it didn't dye the fibre.  If you're looking for a sure thing, then use plants that are recommended by other dyers and follow their instructions.

I use the same process with all of the wildflowers I collect for dyes.  Collect as many flowerheads (or other plant parts that you wish to try) as the weight of the pulp you are dyeing.  Pour boiling water over the plant parts in a glass or stainless steel bowl or pot and leave to steep for an hour or so.  Sometimes this is enough to extract the colour but I usually add more water and then simmer in a stainless steel pot for an hour; then strain out the plant material.

Add the pulp to the pot of dye and simmer for an hour (less if enough colour has been absorbed).  Strain and rinse, reserving the dye liquid if you wish to add it to another batch or for a lighter shade of the colour with the same solution.
From left to right (yellow is dyed with wildflowers, green is the same dye as the paper to the left but modified with iron):  cow parsnip, orange hawkweed, goldenrod, yarrow

Modifiers are chemicals that are added to the dyed pulp to change the colour.  There are several common ones that are used and each affects the colour differently.  The only one that I use is iron.  I make the solution by soaking rusty nails or other iron bits in a solution of 2 parts of water to one part of clear vinegar for 2 weeks or more.  My current solution has been sitting in my studio for over a year so it's quite strong.

After dyeing the  pulp with the plant dye, I put it in a stainless steel or glass bowl, add some water, and add a couple of tablespoons (all very scientifically measured, of course....not!) of the iron solution.  I stir until it changes colour (with iron it is called "saddening" the colour).  It results in a duller colour which is often quite beautiful.  The yellows turn to varying shades and hues of green.

Then I make paper and wait for the final results.

IMPORTANT NOTE:  After dyeing and modifying, strain and rinse the pulp.  Check with your local environmental authorities for disposal of any chemicals, including alum, washing soda and iron solutions.

My very favourite book is Wild Color by Jenny Dean (Watson-Guptill Publications).  Highly recommended for beginners to advanced dyers as her information for dyeing cellulose fibres is so comprehensive, yet easy to follow.

A Dyer's Garden by Rita Buchanan (Interweave Press).  Wonderful information on growing your own dye plants as well as some info on dyeing.

Home Dyeing with Natural Dyes by Margaret S. Furry and Bess M. Viemont (United States Department of Agriculture No. 230).  There is a lot of information packed into this small booklet.

Mushrooms for Colour by Miriam C. Rice (Mad River Press).  Some gorgeous colours are possible with certain kinds of mushrooms.

The Art and Craft of Natural Dyeing by J.N. Liles (The University of Tennessee Press).  In depth information on dyeing.

Dharma Trading Company   Even their catalog is fun.
The Papertrail A Canadian company but ships internationally
Maiwa Handprints A Canadian company.  They have an extensive supply of books and materials as well as lots of good information.

Thursday, August 11, 2011

Stinging Nettle Paper

Finally!  Five whole days of beautiful summer weather so I got out my floaty chair yesterday and, despite the barely above freezing water temperatures, drifted around on my lake peeling plant fibre for paper.

Not everyone gets excited about a proliferation of stinging nettle growing on their property, but I was thrilled to find a lush patch behind my shed. 
Wearing garden gloves, I first strip the leaves and seeds from the stalks.  This removes all the stinging bits.  Then with bare hands I strip the herbaceous bast fibre from the stalks.   You can read about the rest of the process in my previous post about making handmade paper.

Stinging nettle fibre makes a beautiful pale greenish, cloth-like paper that is very strong. 
Pure stinging nettle paper.

Friday, July 29, 2011

Age and Change

Another birthday has come and gone.  Each year on my birthday I like to reflect on the year that has passed and think about what I want for my life in the coming year.

As I get older, and each year feels shorter in relation to the years I have lived, I feel a greater need to make sure that I am living the life I want.   This year I made a difficult choice that made me incredibly sad but, when I thought about how not making that choice was affecting me, I knew it was necessary.  I also started the long, slow process of clearing out clutter and organizing my life.  I crave peace and order in all areas of my life.

I had a huge yard sale and got rid of years of accumulated stuff.  I have to admit that I have regretted selling a few things but the alternative would be to hang onto everything just in case I thought I might need it someday.  I created a budget and put all of my financial paperwork in order so I know exactly how unlikely it is that I will be able to retire when I had hoped I could.  I completely reorganized my studio and reminded myself that if I would just use all my accumulated stuff to produce and sell all the art I could make with all that wonderful stuff, instead of buying more wonderful stuff, I really could retire when I hoped.

I have also discovered something about myself recently.  I need colour!  I'm ready for my 70's earth tones to take a hiatus.  So as a birthday gift to myself, I bought some bright new cushions on sale and pulled in a few other lively pieces from here and there in the house for a fresh look in my living room.

My refreshed living room
This year I plan to finish the work on my house, create art most days using what I already have, and to do my best to stay healthy.

Thursday, July 14, 2011

Where Bloggers Create 2011

I just did a complete reorganization of my own studio space this month, and posted it here on my blog.  You can find it in the post right below this one or by clicking on my studio tour on the side bar.  I look forward to picking up some more great ideas on this tour but I'm  going to have to wait to implement them at least until I've lived with my present arrangement long enough to know what works.

For more inspiration for your creative space, starting on July 15th, you'll want to visit lots of  the featured studios at Where Bloggers Create 2011.  You don't have to rush.  Karen Valentine from My Desert Cottage, the event host, keeps the list posted all year. 

Sunday, July 3, 2011

Studio Reorganization Number ?

I love organizing my studio!  I have no idea how many times I've tweaked it in the past 3 years but I'm sure this won't be the last.  I get an idea in my head for one small change and before you know it the whole room is upside down and I'm as happy as a pig in mud!  Maybe this time I'll let it be long enough to remember where I've stored everything.
View from the hallway.
Pottery, mosaics and stained glass.  The stained glass is in a unit that stored old LPs and singles at the local radio station where my husband was a DJ.
This big drafting table is one of the few pieces that has stayed in the same place through every reorganization.  The area in the corner is for my encaustic work.  It's higher so I can stand while I work and the window allows ventilation.
Ice cube trays from the Dollar Store make great storage for all my little charms, brads and beading supplies.  This shallow drawer unit is from Ikea.
Old pop caddies are perfect for keeping tools accessible.  Plastic cups help contain smaller items.
Wet zone for soap and paper making and dyeing fabric.
These map files hold my pressed flowers, larger sheets of paper and stamps.
This old microfiche cabinet was an auction find and it currently holds all of my different paints as well as batik, bookbinding, printmaking and silkscreen supplies.  Can you believe I once gave it to my husband to use for his tools!?  He wasn't surprised when I asked for it back.
Books and other reference materials and packaging supplies live here.  The armoire holds canvases and frames.
Now that my space is all organized and I have the whole summer ahead of me, I'm ready to create!  I worked on this encaustic piece while I worked on my studio.

Birch 2 - Encaustic - 12x12 on cradled wood panel

Monday, June 27, 2011

The Joys and Frustration of Melted Wax

I have been working with encaustics (beeswax, damar resin and pigment) for less than a year.  I've completed pieces that literally had me jumping for joy and I also have mounds of wax 'mud' that I've scraped off boards after hours of frustration only to find myself there again, hours later, with another pile of mud...and anxious to try again!

I am so amazed by artists who have such perfect control over their work with encaustics.  I am self taught, or more accurately, I am self-teaching, and it's a struggle.  Books are great but nothing beats watching an accomplished artist manipulate their medium in person.  I'll be keeping my eyes open for a workshop soon.  Until that happens, I'm on my own.

Stormy Weather on Francois Lake
 Armed with a fresh supply of encaustic paints, I finished this painting yesterday for a friend's birthday. 

Friday, June 17, 2011


Do you ever just crave peace and order in your life?  No hunting for lost papers or running late for work...lots of time to just play with your frantically trying to produce for a deadline that you knew was coming months ago?  And an effortlessly clean house with no clutter?  I'm working on it.

Have you heard of Flylady?   It's a free site with a whole system for keeping order in your life.  I used it a few years ago but drifted away when we started building our new house.  I loved how well it worked when I did follow so now I'm re-adopting the system to fit my life now.

I just had a gigantic yard sale and what didn't sell I took straight to the recycle at our local waste transfer station so I wouldn't be tempted to re-incorporate it into my life.  Water levels are finally dropping so sandbagging is behind me.

I'm looking forward to a creative summer!

I made these encaustic collage cards on handmade paper last night.  The images are from an old wedding keepsake book that a friend picked up for me at an antique shop.  I use the original paper because I like the patina and the texture which copies don't have. 

Sunday, May 29, 2011

One a Day in May - Day 29 - When to say when!

I just have to call an early end to my May challenge because I'm not super human after all.  I am working on clearing out 20 years of stored junk for a yard sale next weekend and there are no minutes to spare so I'm going to forgive myself and move on.  But I will be back!

Saturday, May 28, 2011

One a Day in May - Day 28 - We all fall down!

Okay, it had to happen.  I just can't do a single thing tonight.  I've been going since 5:30 this morning and it's now 10:30 pm and something has to give.  I guess I could consider this blog post my creative bit for the day.  A bit of a stretch, I know. 

We've had endless rain and/or snow this past couple of weeks and the water is climbing higher and higher.  This is right in front of my house where only some of the fill has been added since construction.

The crashing waves breached my 3 foot rock wall which a few weeks ago was about 15 feet away from the lake.  That's a lot of water!

My fire pit is buried now.  I hope the water level peaks soon. 

Friday, May 27, 2011

One a Day in May - Day 27 - Four Leaf Clover

This was a quick and simple card to make at the end of a very busy day but that's  only because much of the work had already been done.

The paper, from my stash, is made from corn husks and recycled paper.  I haven't started making new paper yet this spring.  I spend a great deal of my time from late spring until early fall collecting plant fibres and then processing them to make my handmade paper.   I especially enjoy sunny summer days when I can float around on my floaty chair on the lake while I strip plant fibre and then make the paper outdoors.

I made the four leaf clover print from one that I found on a large plant along with several others last summer.  So this evening, all I had to do was put together the pieces for this card.  And now I'm going to fall into bed.

Thursday, May 26, 2011

One a Day in May - Day 26 - Calendula card set

I made the paper for these cards last summer but first I dyed the corn husks and the recycled paper with dye that I made from Goldenrod blossoms.  I love experimenting with wild flower dyes.  Most of them dye some shade of yellow, but a wide range from orangey yellows to greenish yellows.  And you can get even more variety by using different modifiers.  I'll do a tutorial about dyeing with plants later this summer.

My lighting washed the yellow out a bit in this photo but the Goldenrod gives the paper a light mustard yellow colour.  The flowers on these cards are Calendula (Pot Marigold).

Wednesday, May 25, 2011

One a Day in May - Day 25 - More ACEOs

I've been staining boards for the siding on my house since I got home from work so I just managed to squeeze in two more ACEOs from the backgrounds I made yesterday.

Secrets, ACEO
Dragons, ACEO
It's silly, I know, but I seem to need sleep!  It sure interferes with getting things done.

Tuesday, May 24, 2011

One a Day in May - Day 24 - Money Tree ACEO

Wow, do I ever lose track of time when I'm playing in my studio!  I just noticed that it's 2 hours past my bedtime.  Tonight I decided to play with the basket full of goodies that I received in my swap with the Melange Team on Etsy.

I started with a 9x12 sheet of watercolour paper and just started ripping and gluing down a pleasing assortment of papers, a few sparkles and some other shiny stuff.  Then I covered the whole thing with satin gel medium.  Once it was dry enough I cut it up into ACEO size (2 1/2 x 3 1/2 inches) with some bits left over for tags.

Then I chose one of the pieces to develop further.

Money Tree, ACEO
For this ACEO I made a tar gel transfer from a photocopy of a tree drawing which I adhered with more tar gel to the background.  I added some 'fairy dust' sparkly stuff, little stickers of 'money', and text on a small piece of muslin.  If only!

Monday, May 23, 2011

One a Day in May - Day 23 - Sunflower photo card

Every inch of my body hurts after a full day of heavy lifting and moving.  I've given myself a deadline of June 4th to have everything in its place.  Not the best time to have challenged myself to produce something every day! 

I think the most important lesson I'm learning from this exercise so far is that even when time and energy are in short supply, just doing one small thing really adds up.  Just to be able to pop a few new cards every week into my space at the Artisan Centre helps keep it fresh.

At first I wasn't sure if I liked the way this sunflower photo turned out.  The hand made plant fibre paper that I printed it on was pretty coarse so the image isn't sharp.  But once I mounted it on the hand made gladiola paper card, I changed my mind.  I think the added texture is rather interesting.

Sunday, May 22, 2011

One a Day in May - Day 22 - Deer and cat card set

My studio is almost reorganized but it's taking way longer than I planned.  Rethinking how much I can reasonably fit into a limited space is always a challenge.  It's a generous space and I love it but I simply have too much stuff that I'm not willing to let go of.

I squeezed in this set of block printed note cards.  The texture of the handmade paper adds rustic charm but it's almost impossible to get a perfect print.

I used two photos and my imagination to create this block print.  One of the photos was of my daughter's cat sitting on a dresser looking out the window,

and the other was a photo of a deer in our yard.  Not a great photo but I only needed the silhouette anyway.

For Christmas cards I added a dab of red sparkly paint where the deer's nose would be.

Saturday, May 21, 2011

One a Day in May - Day 21 - Flower basket card

I can't believe I've made it this far into my personal challenge to produce at least one piece a day in May.  There have been days, like today, that I feel too tired to do anything but have a bath and go to bed; but I made myself a promise (and then foolishly announced it to the world!) so here is today's challenge piece. 

Pressed flower assortment in birch bark 'basket' on gladiola leaf paper card.
As soon as I finish a few more cards for my space at the Artisan Centre, I'm going to start working on replenishing my Etsy shop.  One listing a day?  Maybe.

Friday, May 20, 2011

One a Day in May - Day 20 - Poppy photo card

I've spent the past 5 hours organizing in my studio and if I had completed the job I would have considered that my creative bit for the day.  But there are still hours to go in there, so I did a pretty low stress photo card instead.

The poppy photo is printed on paper made from recycled paper and mixed plant fibres and then coated with digital medium.  It's mounted on hand made iris leaf paper.

Thursday, May 19, 2011

One a Day in May - Day 19 - Heart card

The heart on this card is made from alder twigs.   They have to be bent into shape and pinned to dry for about a week before they are dry enough to hold their shape when glued to the card.  I use fine wire at the joins.  The closed dried blossom is birch leaf spirea.  

This card is made from pure swamp grass paper.  I like the rough texture.  I processed the plant fibres for a shorter time so they didn't break down as much. Sometimes I want a smoother surface for my cards, especially for printing photos onto, so I'll cook the plant material for a longer time. 

Wednesday, May 18, 2011

One a Day in May - Day 18 - Introspection

I missed most of this beautiful sunset this evening.  I was working in my studio and looked up just as it was disappearing.

Maybe it's time to take a step back from production and just create because I love to, not because I'm obliged to.  I already have a full time job.  Should my art be another one?   I want to make my home beautiful with all of the things I love to create but there aren't enough days in this lifetime if I keep filling them with never ending lists of "things I must make for money."  And the reality is, the money never really adds up the way I hope it will.  Not if I'm really honest about all the costs involved.

 Obviously I'm having "one of those days."  But it's something I'm going to spend some time thinking about.

Anyway, here's my Day 18...a set of small notecards to sell!

Tuesday, May 17, 2011

One a Day in May - Day 17 - Deja Vu Winter!

This was my morning commute!  I stopped the car to take the picture but I was only going 30 kilometres per hour.  The roads were treacherous!  Since almost everyone has traded in their winter tires for their summer wheels it was a pretty hairy trip in to work today.  Good thing I'm a procrastinator and still have on my winter tires!

We had 4 inches of snow by the time the day was over and the power was out most of the day.

I completed 8 more moose poo cards this evening.

Monday, May 16, 2011

One a Day in May - Day 16 - Oooohhh....Aaaahhh

I got an exciting packet in the mail today full of all kinds of bits and baubles for mixed media from some of my friends on the Melange Team on Etsy. I think using materials that I don't have a preconceived idea of how they were intended to be used will be fun.

The weather today just begged me to go curl up under the covers with a good book when I got home from work, so I did.

Big change from yesterday!
 But I did manage to get one card done before heading to bed...again...with my book!

Moose poo paper card