Capturing & Collecting

I haveJournal_20130210_IdeaNotebook always been a fan of journaling, from my early childhood diaries (with all the things that ARE in the family attic, I sure wish I could find those!!!) to later becoming a devotee of Julia Cameron’s morning pages. Some years my journals consisted mostly of hastily scribbled grocery and other to-do lists, with little time for art or creative thinking. In other years I filled notebook after personal notebook; at other times I focused on writing articles for professional journals, writing solely at the keyboard and rarely using my favorite pen.

In more recent years, I’ve added David Allen’s Getting Things Done methodology to the mix and found that a good excuse to add more, and different, notebooks to my life. Collage techniques and acrylic paints and mediums help to create artful covers to go with the various notebooks: one for “mindsweeps,” daily journals with perforated pages to “collect and capture,” . . . and of course the sketchbooks and art journals we keep to capture all those creative ideas that we must act on asap, or that must age for a time before their time comes. Here is another cover from my recent designs . . . yes, I seem to enjoy red and black these days!



Preserving History . . . Connecting the Dots

Today was one of those beautiful post-blizzard days in New England . . . just warm enough for a short walk with the Studio Pup, which meant lots of time leftover for making art.  Inspiration came quickly by seeing the connections between a box of vintage postcards recently unearthed in the family attic, waking this morning from vivid dreams of abstract acrylic paintings (a sure sign I haven’t been spending enough time in the studio!), and Jane Davies’ recent blog post on the threatened closure of her rural post office. Those who have ever lived in a small town know that the local post office is the heart and soul of a village, so Jane’s plight touched the hearts of artists around the world. Jane is a well-known mixed-media artist and teacher with a generous and whimsical spirit, so the overwhelming response so far is not surprising and certainly well-deserved!



I raided my new-found box of vintage postcards and used gesso, acrylics, thread and fabric to create new masterpieces over the originals.  Antique dealers might question my logic — the entire stash dates to 1906-1907, and many have already been postmarked — though the postmarks are clear, most of the original one-cent stamps have since fallen to the bottom of the box.  One of the cards I’ll likely be sending to Jane was originally printed in Cuba, but others are from far-flung states and small villages like Rupert, Vermont.

I sometimes wonder why I keep some of the things I do . . . but I always know that someday it will become obvious!

If you haven’t already, please send Jane an artsy postcard at:

P. O. Box 45, Rupert, VT 05768

Highly Prized

MJRussell_Jan2011_Highly Prized | Flickr – Photo Sharing!.

January is a month for catching up . . . and branching out!  This year I’m experimenting with new media as well as textiles, but of course can’t resist integrating some of my previous artwork in new ways.  I’m a member of The Sketchbook Challenge, where January’s theme was “highly prized.”  Here I’ve collaged a digital image of my puppy (which I’ve also used in the past as a photo emulsion silk-screen) over a background of gesso and acrylic paints and highlighted with wax crayon, art pens, & markers.  As you can tell from the journal text, he was a bit of a wild child!

Do check out the Flickr site for The Sketchbook Challenge to see hundreds of images from other members of the group!

Been on an Art Walkabout lately?

It’s now an old family phrase, coined twenty plus years ago from the movie ‘Crocodile Dundee’ . . . and “walkabouts” have been part of our lifestyle ever since.  Living in Vermont and not Australia, we tend to use our car quite often for what we probably should call “ridearounds” — but I love it when I can get to a city with a great number of art venues within walking distance.   A good place to start is monthly art walks in a city near you, such as the First Friday Art Walk in Burlington, VT.

If you find yourself in Providence RI, look for these great scenes on Wickenden Street.  You’ll love the lemon cake at Seven Stars Bakery and of course, no visit to Providence is complete without a stop at RISD‘s museum and great art supply store!

Isn’t an art walkabout just the perfect combination of “artist dates” and weekly walks?  Share your favorite walkabouts, and we’ll make Julia Cameron proud!

Off the Shelf Inspiration 

I met fiber artist Judith Reilly at a local quilt show this weekend, and was delighted to receive a copy of her Twelve Life Lessons for Creativity.  Judith is a fun and inspiring person, and seeing her list gave me the idea to begin my own collection of quotes and other snippets of inspiration.    For now, I’ll begin with listing a few of my favorite books here . . . but rest assured that I’ve also begun a notebook for specific quotes that I’ll post once they’re worthy of being called a “collection.”

Julia Cameron:

  • The Sound of Paper
  • The Artist’s Way
  • Finding Water

Mihaly Csikszentmihalyi:  

  • Flow

Twyla Tharp:

  •  The Creative Habit

Eric Maisel:

  • Coaching the Artist Within
  • Creativity for Life

Stephen Nachmanovitch:

  • Free Play

Shaun McNiff

  • Trust the Process

David Bayles & Ted Orland

  • ART & Fear

I always watch for Julia Cameron’s latest works but am on the lookout for new books, authors, websites and email lists.  Do you have a favorite creativity book, author, or other source of creative inspiration? Please share!

Yet another Hobby???

I met a character yesterday — her name is Lyna Lou, and she’s a self-described “printmaking pusher.”  Actually, my fellow Studio Place Arts classmates and I dubbed her that – but she’s really just a very passionate and talented printmaker from northern Vermont, and a pretty fun person!

Monoprint images © Mary Jane Russell 2010


In hindsight I should have known I’d fall for this new technique/ medium because mono-printing, collograph, and nature printing aren’t that different from what I’ve done with fabric for years.  Yet I really don’t have to confess to a new hobby, just because it involved an etching press and paper rather than fabric, . . . or do I?  Unless Until I move the looms around in the downstairs studio to make more space, and start searching eBay for used presses, I think I’m OK.

For now anyway.

What are some of the supporting or ancillary mediums or techniques that you dabble in, while maintaining your primary artistic focus?  How do you recognize when a serious new path emerges, and distinguish it from a dead-end diversion? Oh, and for my own sanity check I should ask . . . how many “hobbies” do you have?

Time-Release Genetics

Today I spent $25 on sewing thread.  About 20 spools of it, all sale-priced at 40% off.  No, I hadn’t run out of sewing thread, nor was I stocking up for a big project.  In fact, I don’t even sew.

Oh, sure, I know how to sew; I even own a sewing machine.  It’s stored away in a tightly sealed carton, a  relic from our last family yard sale.  At the end of the day, my aunt and my mother had secretly loaded the unsold machine into the trunk of my car.  They knew that I would need it, not necessarily then . . . but someday.  And now it lives in my basement — baggage from my past, safely packed and standing ready for wherever my future journey might take me.

My mother sews — prolifically and extremely well — which is probably why I don’t sew at all.  Like most young women, I have grown up to develop interests in anything but that which interests my mother.  To have common hobbies is to admit fate and acknowledge that, as women, we are destined to become our mothers.

Please understand that there’s nothing wrong with my mother.  She once broke her finger — at sixty-something years old, she’d had a minor incident while lacing up her shoes before aerobics class!  She didn’t give up waterskiing until she was in her early sixties, and that was only because the engine on the old family motor boat finally wore out.  No, she is certainly not a mother to be ashamed of.

She is in her seventies now, and still quite active.  Her retirement was given her time to organize her fabric stash, and the attic of our family home is now lined with rows of matching boxes  labeled with notations like:  wool- plaid, cotton- blue prints,  fabric-quilting scraps.  My mother’s love of sewing has been complemented by her Yankee thriftiness, and her fabric collection has grown steadily with each semi-annual sale at the local fabric store.

I’ve spent the last twenty years of my adult life trying any craft other than sewing.  Basketweaving led to knitting, crocheting, rug hooking, spinning wool, dyeing yarn and fibers, felting, and most recently, weaving.  I realize as I embark on this latest round of “fibermania” how dangerously close I am — flirting around the edges of the forbidden craft.  After all, what is woven fabric other than raw material for my mother’s hobby?  At first I made only scarves, which came off the loom as completed items.  But now I’ve begun to weave fabric yardage, wash and iron it, and store it away as if it were the end product.  Today, I decided to make some of this yardage into a set of tea towels; I cut the fabric strip into four sections, and realized I needed to hem them to prevent the edges from unraveling.  Rationalizing that “hemming” is not really “sewing,” I headed off to the fabric store for thread and a needle . . . because of course I owned not even the most rudimentary sewing supplies.

And there I saw the sign:  “40% Off!!!  All Threads!!!!” I don’t know what possessed me to seek out a shopping basket and begin to fill it with a systematic selection of neutral thread colors, then a dozen “common” colors that I might need for other projects, and then several spools of fancy threads made of rayon, with spirals of contrasting glitter.  After all, I had come to the store for a relatively modest purchase.  Was it the neon sale sign that made me do this?  Or something deeper?

As I reflected on my behavior, I thought back to a conversation I’d had recently with my friend Pat.  She loves delicate bone china and other Victorian finery, but her daughter always expressed nearly opposite tastes.  Pat relayed the story of the time she caught her adult daughter admiring an exquisite crystal vase in an antique shop, and how she teased her daughter mercilessly about this change of heart.  “Face it, Mandy,” Pat explained, “Daughters have time-release genes!”

I suspect this genetic theory is what led to my newly acquired thread inventory.  My yarn cabinet is already overflowing, but I carefully rearrange a shelf to make room for the new threads and organize them by size and color.

I hear the old sewing machine stirring anxiously from its cage in the basement as I begin hemming my tea towels.  And, not surprisingly, I find a certain bittersweet enjoyment in the task.

From the Archives . . .

© Mary Jane Russell 1999