Friday, May 30, 2014

Art Abandonment Project
Random acts of guerilla art
Originally published in the Santa Cruz Sentinel

On a bench along the shoreline of Lake Balaton in
Hungary, Friedel Kammler dropped handcrafted
 jewelry made by Jenny Potter and Donna Furgason,
 Canadian friends that Kammler made through the
 Facebook group. They sent the jewelry to Kammler
 to be abandoned in Hungary so their work could
 “crossover the ocean.” (Photo by Friedel Kammler)
You’re sitting at the bus stop, anxious to get to where you’re going, and you notice a Ziploc bag with a small note inside and something else you can’t quite identify, resting beside you. The note has an elaborately penned letter “A” and the title, “A Gift for You.

You are intrigued, so you pick up the bag and squint to read the rest of the note: “Art Abandonment is a group of artists sharing what we love to do by leaving artwork in random locations across the globe for other to find and enjoy. Today the Universe picks you to receive this gift with the hope that you enjoy it or pass it onto someone else. If you wish, you can send a message to to let us know it was found.”

You turn the bag over to inspect the contents. You think, “Is this for real or some new advertising scheme? Nothing is free, right? What do they want?” There’s a bracelet made of strung beads inside the bag. You open the bag and slip the jewelry around your wrist. It’s kind of cool. You start to relax and feel kind of lucky, like the universe is smiling on you.

The founders of The Art Abandonment Project—Michael deMeng and Andrea Matus deMeng—want you to feel this way. It’s their hope that, through giving away art, the world will become a slightly better place. They created a Facebook page for the group ( and have just published a book, “The Art Abandonment Project: Create and Share Random Acts of Art,” promoting their concept.

Michael deMeng and Andrea Matus deMeng, married
authors of The Art Abandonment Project, teach
 and exhibit their artwork internationally. They live
 in Vancouver, British Columbia and started the so that
 others could share their techniques for making and
 abandoning art. (Photo of their artwork provided by
Michael deMeng)
In the book, Michael deMeng (a Canadian) explains, “Obviously, one could easily abandon art without becoming a member of the Facebook group. This [Facebook] page merely provides an opportunity for others to see the good deeds of the group members as well as share experiences and feelings about the topic.” So members use the page to post photos of their artwork at the drop sites, discuss creative topics, and suggest good locations for abandoning their art.

Michael also discusses the pros and cons of various drop locations:
·         Retail stores: Good for exposure, but the juxtaposition with items for sale might be confusing to shoppers, or unappreciated by store owners.
·         Planes, trains, boats and other public transit: Your art could travel far and end up on another continent, but unidentified packages aren’t popular among security personnel.
·         Nature: Remote locations make your gift that much more unexpected when found, but weather is a factor and discovery may take longer.
·         Adrift at sea: Romantic notion, but not worth the pollution potential (unless it’s biodegradable)
·         Hotels: Good chance it will be found, but may end up in the lost and found cabinet since housekeepers don’t want to be accused of stealing.
Joanne Archer contributed several photos of her abandoned art
 for The Art Abandonment Project book, including this piece left
 on a rocky beach, including one of the standard labels provided for the
 Facebook group. In the book she says, “Once I abandon something,
 I can forget all about it. I have no wish to know who found it,
 nor receive thanks. I only hope that the finder enjoys it.”
(Photo by Joanne Archer)
·         The Big City: Plenty of people in all walks of life, but avoid locations where it might just be perceived as trash.

On April Fool’s day, Friedel Kammler dropped a collage he created with
 parts from printed paintings, on a safety-ring in the Harbor in Fonyod,
 Lake Balaton, Hungary, which made a nice tableau. The second drop that day
—a tiny altered matchbox, with a golden stone inside painted with the
 words “Love is Forever”—was left in the clutched hands of two public
 statues—Adam and Eve. (Photo by Friedel Kammler)
Some abandoners prefer complete anonymity and leave their gifts without a note or even a signature on their art. But, those who leave a note of explanation with the opportunity to respond by email, can sometimes get encouraging validation for their efforts. One example: “Last night we decided to take the kids to the park just before dark, and there on a tree was hanging the most beautiful piece of art, with such an appropriate message, (live out loud) with a clock and beautiful flowers, it brought tears to my eyes, I feel so lucky to have found this beautiful work of art, how can it get better than that? Thank you!!!”

With 14,000+ members, the Facebook-linked group has spread all over the world. When I sent out a request to members for photos of abandoned art, the first response came from Friedel Kammler of Hungary. For April Fool’s Day, he made two “drops”—a collage he created from a painting, left on a life-preserver near a harbor; and a tiny, altered matchbox, with a gold-painted stone inside inscribed with the words “Love is forever,” left in the clasped hands of a naked Adam and Eve statue. Friedel also scatters the work of two Canadian friends he made through the Facebook page, who send him packages of their own handcrafted items to be abandoned in Hungary.

Art Abandoner Gari Vibber says she left this parcel
 on the Oswegatchie River before ice-out. The April
 Fool’s Day challenge put out on the Facebook page by
 Michael deMeng was to make a drop in an unusual place.
 She says the gift was a photograph with an inspirational
 saying, “double-sealed in a waterproof container
 and set free to find its way.” (Photo by Gari Vibber)
Another artist I heard from—Gari Vibber—who creatively abandons jewelry and photographs in icy locations in upstate New York, said, “First, I must tell you that this is such an enlightening, upbeat, encouraging group. I have long been an anonymous, pay-it-forward, random-act-of-kindness kind of gal... this growing movement has insisted I step out of my comfort zone and try new things.”

Besides this drop on a car wash change machine, Gari Vibber of
 upstate New York sent photos of her artwork left on a
 windshield while the owner was out on Lake Ontario ice fishing,
at a restaurant counter with pasta and spaghetti sauce for sale,
 and on a “take me” table at a local church. (Photo by Gari Vibber)
After hearing from these artists and their generous pay-it-forward attitude, I decided it was time for me to step out as well. But deciding what to leave seemed as challenging as finding the right location. Should the gift be not too gender specific? Should it be something practical, such as note cards or jewelry? Should I make my first drop locally or further away? I wanted to be anonymous, but I also wanted the finder to know that this was an intentionally abandoned item, not just forgotten. Maybe too, it was a little hard for me to let go.

Finally, I put the standard AAP note inside a Ziploc (along with my gift) and asked my husband to make the drop. He chose a picnic table near a church parking lot. The gift was gone by the next day, set free to find its own way.

Sunday, May 11, 2014

Vivian Maier and Jon Sarkin
Artists by strange circumstance
Also: Cabrillo Extension, Aromas Garden Tour, and Bay Area Maker Faire
Originally published in the Santa Cruz Sentinel May 2 and May 9, 2014

“Finding Vivian Maier,” currently showing at the Nickelodeon Theatre,
 is the critically acclaimed documentary about a mysterious nanny, who
 secretly took over 100,000 photographs (including this self-portrait) that
 were hidden in storage lockers and, discovered decades later. Some consider
her one of the 20th century’s greatest urban street photographers.
Finding Vivian Maier
I’m hoping I have the chance to see “Finding Vivian Maier” (currently showing at the Nickelodeon) at least one more time before it’s gone. I loved this documentary about a mysterious woman, who knew she was a good—maybe even great—photographer, but kept her massive body of work hidden away until the day she died. She worked in New York and Chicago as a nanny for over 40 years, had no close family or friends, and even the families she lived with were unaware of her passion and unusual talent for photography.

She was born in New York in 1926, moved back and forth to France with her mother, and returned to New York as an adult in 1951 where she was hired as a live-in nanny, and purchased her first serious camera: a Rolleiflex twin-lens reflex. On her days off she wandered the streets of New York, documenting urban America. 

When she moved to Chicago in 1956, Maier was nanny to three boys, and had access to a darkroom, which allowed her to develop film and make prints. After the boys were grown, she bounced from family to family, accumulating hundreds of rolls of undeveloped film. By all accounts—from her employers and the now-grown children she helped raise—she was an eccentric, fiercely opinionated, intelligent and intensely private person. Some implied that she may have been mentally imbalanced as well. Making photographs must have been Vivian Maier’s way of understanding the world, and finding her significance within it. She didn’t need any more than that.

Maier’s massive body of work—kept in delinquent storage lockers—would come to light when, in 2007, cardboard boxes of her negatives were purchased at a local thrift auction house by a Chicago real estate agent, John Maloof. Ever since his remarkable find, Maloof and others have dedicated themselves to collecting her work, constructing and printing an archive, and promoting her rare talent through the making of a film and gallery exhibitions around the world.

View her beautiful black and white street photographs and read more about Vivian Maier at

Cabrillo Extension SummerArts Program
May EL Wire Class Land Sharks (photo by Tina Baine): Todd
 Williams, who will be teaching in Cabrillo Extension’s
 SummerArts Program, likes to take his remote-controlled EL wire
  land sharks to Maker Faire Bay Area each year, thrilling the
 crowds as them “swim” around one of the darkened exhibit halls.
EL Wire expert Todd Williams shows his Cabrillo Extension class, how to 
work with electroluminescent wire. Explorations in EL Wire 101 is just one 
of 33 community art classes being offered this summer at Cabrillo College.
 For a tour of the amazing art facilities, exhibits student work and
 demonstrations, come to the “Art Party!” at the Visual Applied & 
Performing Arts (VAPA) Open House on Saturday, May 17, from 5 p.m. to 9 p.m.
In order to make the impressive Cabrillo College visual art facility more available to the people who paid to build it (see your property tax bill), and to offset the fact that CabrilloArts (community courses) will be taking a one year hiatus starting next fall, Cabrillo Extension is offering an unprecedented 33 SummerArts classes beginning this June, including 21 new classes that have never been offered before. The selection is broad and tantalizing, and includes stop-motion animation, handmade teapots, stained glass and steel-based furniture. I took the Explorations in EL (Electroluminescent) Wire 101 class from Todd Williams last year, and I can attest to the high-quality of the facilities and equipment available at Cabrillo, and the value of learning from a professional, experienced artists.

Workshop Coordinator Patrick Stafford says Cabrillo Extension is also offering something new for teens this summer. “There will be 2 one-week sessions in which [middle and high schoolers] will be able to experience a sampling of most of the different media taught in the art department,” says Stafford. In DiscoverArts Camps, teens will have the opportunity to experience ceramics, jewelry making, woodworking, collage, screen printing, painting, 3D assemblage, blacksmithing, camera-less photos and hacking toys (ala Sid from Toy Story). To register go to

Maker Faire
The next Maker Faire Bay Area is coming up soon, May 17 and 18 at the San Mateo Event Center. If you’ve never attended this making-frenzy-fest before, I promise you won’t be disappointed. There is so much to see and do—from high- to low-tech DIY—so plan to arrive early and spend the entire day (or two). For details and advance tickets go to

Candy-colored irises stretch over a broad hill-side at one of the stops on the Aromas Country Garden Tour, held Saturday, May 10 from 10 a.m. to 4 p.m.
Aromas Garden Tour
Sponsored by Aromas Hills Artisans, this year’s garden
 tour held the day before Mother’s Day, will featur
e artists in each garden, demonstrating their talents.
If my mother lived nearby, I would treat her to a day of exploring country gardens and art on the Aromas Garden Tour, held May 10, the date before Mother’s Day. Local artists will be stationed in each garden, painting irises, carving or weaving guitar straps, with some of their wares for sale. In my opinion, the three not-to-miss gardens are the iris gardens, where you can see hundreds of these candy-colored rhizomes in bloom and pick out ones you’d like to own; the protea farm with these incredibly large and extraordinary South African flowers, blooming on a lovely hill overlooking Aromas; and—because it’s time to replace your thirsty lawn—the brand new, drought-tolerant demonstration garden behind the Aromas Water District, with drip irrigation and all plants labeled. For details, go to
Jon Sarkin: When Brain Trauma Results in Art
I just finished reading “Shadows Bright as Glass” by Amy Ellis Nutt, the remarkable story of a man who became an artist overnight, with an obsessive need to create. In 1988 Jon Sarkin was suffering from tinnitus, hearing a continuous, high-pitched screech that grew louder and shriller every day until it was nearly deafening. After months of seeking treatment, he resorted to radical brain-surgery, from which he suffered a major stroke. To reach the clot and save his life, his surgeon had to carve away thin layers of his brain. During surgery his heart stopped twice, depriving his brain of oxygen. When he awoke later, he was a completely changed man--emotionally detached from his wife and child, and, although he tried, unable to return to his normal working life as a chiropractor.

Jon Sarkin is described on his website as “a prolific, 
even compulsive, artist who creates elaborate drawings
 and paintings cluttered with words and images.” Sarkin
 became an obsessive artist overnight after complications
 during brain surgery. (Courtesy of Princeton Day School)
The transformation was very difficult for his family, but even harder on Sarkin, who not only knew that he lost a part of his brain, but that he had lost his identity as well. Nutt’s book chronicles this prodigious alternation in Jon Sarkin’s personality and sense of self, and how making art became the bridge back to a meaningful life. For me, the transformation of Sarkin from a hard-working family man who occasionally sketched and painted, to someone who had become completely consumed with the need to make art, says a lot about the brain’s belief in art’s ability to provide answers.

For Sarkin, his brain was working overtime to solve the essential problem: Who was he? “He knew he was consumed with getting his thoughts and sensations down on paper, as if only then, looking at the colors and shapes and words, would it all come together into a pattern and make sense of his past and his present,” writes Nutt.

Jon Sarkin’s cluttered, stream-of-consciousness, crazy quilt style is anything but linear, but it has caught the attention of the art and publishing world, where his work has been featured in The New Yorker, The New York Times, ABC Primetime, This American Life, GQ, ArtNews, and galleries in New York, Los Angeles, and around the world. I encourage you to see Sarkin’s work at

Friday, April 25, 2014

Turn your photos into art
Blowing up SLR photos into something special
Originally published April 18, 2014 in the Santa Cruz Sentinel

Since his printer’s width limit is 44 inches, Steve made his largest image—Jack Kerouac
 Alley in San Francisco—by printing on two panels which he had to match
 up perfectly when framing and hanging.
I’ve been the designated family photographer for years and love to add a good family or vacation photo to our hallway gallery. But

I’ve never really considered blowing a photo up large enough to display in my home like art. Would that even be possible with my 8-megapixel camera?

I go visit a friend—Steve Snyder—whose roomy home is like an art gallery, with his vibrant California landscapes and macro photography displayed on every available wall space. Steve likes to shoot classic California scenery in places like Capitola Village, Big Sur and Yosemite, and print as large as he possibly can. His large-format Canon printer allows him to produce canvases up to 44 inches wide, and many more inches long.

I ask Steve if someone like me, with an old digital SLR, could also produce poster-sized photos. “Absolutely,” he says. “It depends on the image.” To demonstrate, he points to one of his most popular images—huge orange carp swimming in a koi pond—which he says he shot with a 2 or 3 megapixel camera quite a few cameras ago, and hung above a doorway.

Why does this relatively small file blown up to 39”x50” still look good? Large photos make you stand back farther to take them in, and “when you’re standing back so far, you don’t need so many megapixels,” he says. But why does this photo in particular work? “Because it’s a big graphic image,” he says. “You’re not looking to see all the little pores in the fish’s head. You probably wouldn’t want to.”

One of Steve’s most popular images of a koi pond was shot several years ago with a 2 or 3 megapixel
 camera, but still looks great blown up to 39” x 55” in the entry way of his home.  Framing under glass
 would add unwanted reflections, so Steve used canvas in a floating frame, which adds a black space
 between the image and the frame.
 In contrast, he points to a huge, abstract image hung at eye-level nearby—an extreme close up of a polished rock, shot with a 36 megapixel Nikon. “I want to see all the detail,” says Steve.

With his macro photo of a polished rock, instead
 of wrapping the image around the edges of the frame,
Steve maximizes the printed size of the photo
 by adding black to the wrapped edge. In the black
 band he’s added his name, date, and title.
Generally speaking, a landscape will stand up to enlargement much better than a portrait, because the details of faces are so much more important to a viewer than being able to count the leaves on a tree. But the print medium also matters, says Mike de Boer, store manager of Bay Photo Lab in Soquel. “You can’t do metal if you want to go really big. It really exposes the qualities of the image. Canvas is much more forgiving,” he says.

Both Mike and Steve helped me understand some other basic principles for making high quality photographs.

  1. Set your camera for the largest file size possible. For my old Canon, I have a choice of “Large” for a 3.3 megabyte file, “raw” for an 8.3 megabyte file, or both simultaneously.

  1. If you shoot raw files (preferred by most art photographers), you will have to have software such as Adobe Photoshop or Lightroom in order to download the photos and save them as JPEGs. A raw file contains the data exactly as it is collected by the image sensor, and “gives you a much wider ability to fix images, especially in troublesome exposure areas,” says Mike. Or, as Steve puts it, if you shoot raw files and save them as JPEGs, “you won’t have more information, but you’ll have better information.” (One note: If you shoot raw, or raw + JPEG on vacation, make sure you take lots of memory cards with you for storage of those big files until you get home.)

  1. If you do any editing of your images, make sure you always save them at the highest quality setting—12 for a JPEG. Another option is to copy the JPEG or PSD files you want to enlarge to a memory stick and take it to Bay Photo, where a technician will sit with you and edit your photos in Photoshop with your input. (Basic editing, such as darkening the sky or improving colors, is free; “art work” editing, such as removing objects, is charged by the minute.)

  1. Adobe Photoshop is still the professional choice for photo editing software. But a less expensive and easier-to-use option is Adobe Lightroom. One way to get Photoshop at a more affordable price is to take a high school or college-level photography class (which might also improve your photo skills), so you’ll qualify for the much-reduced student price. Adobe also offers free downloadable beta (testing phase) versions of Photoshop and Lightroom.

  1. Steve noticed the inexpensive, chipped lens on the front of my camera lens to protect the lens. He says cheap filters will create reflections and color loss. Better to go without a filter and use a lens hood instead. Or, for landscapes, use a high-quality polarizing filter.

  1. Don’t use your $99 ink-jet printer (limited to 8-1/2 x 11 paper) or do inexpensive DIY framing for fine art photos. Printing on photo paper is still done, but there are so many more options that will enable you to frame your photos without glass and its distracting reflections. On you’ll get a taste of the huge variety of printing and mounting options out there, such as:

·         Canvas—implies the richness and quality of a painting, printed with archival inks on high-quality ink-jet printers. Canvas can also be wrapped around 1-1/2 inch deep stretchers, making the additional expense of glass, matting and framing unnecessary.
·         Metal—vibrating with luminescent colors, these durable prints are created by infusing dyes directly into specially coated aluminum sheets. Metal is growing in popularity, and is available in glassy, matte and other finishes.
·         Floating frames—available and very effective for canvas and metal prints, floating frames create a black space between the frame and the print so that the print appears to be floating.

Mike says the quality and size of a printed photo are also determined by customer expectations. “We talk to people and see what’s acceptable to them,” says Mike. “In the first few minutes, we can usually tell.” An employee since 1998, Mike’s seen Bay Photo’s roll change quite a bit in 16 years. “The interactions with customers used to be a lot shorter,” he says. “Now we’ve become a social place where people hang out and we talk about images.”

You can also upload your photos (if the file size isn’t too large) and order the exact treatment you want through,, or other online photo processing sites. To see Steve Snyder’s photo album, go to 

Tina Baine
For an archive of my columns go to

This is my photo  before I decided to take it to Bay Photo, of the green hills above San Martin at Harvey Bear Ranch Park. Mike de Boer improved the image by darkening the sky and heightening the color saturation.  He suggested I have it printed as an 11 x 17 metal print, which I did for about $50.  The finished print is really stunning.  I would have liked to go larger, but the loss of detail would have been noticeable.

Friday, March 14, 2014

Refinishing kitchen cabinets with time, effort and savings
How I stayed busy, got a new kitchen and read 5 books over 26 weekends
Originally published in the Santa Cruz Sentinel March 21, 2014

A recent article in Popular Mechanics says that the national average cost for a minor kitchen remodel is about $18,500, while a major overhaul comes in at almost $54,000. Better Homes and Gardens reports that the average price of an upscale kitchen is a staggering $107,973. These numbers might encourage us to do something we shouldn’t with our 401(k) or kid’s college fund. But when I told my contractor that I wanted to spend less than $10,000 (including new appliances), he told me it was possible if I kept my 1980s cabinets and refinished them myself.

Cabinets typically make up one-third to one-half of the average total kitchen-remodeling budget, according to the National Kitchen and Bath Association. But there are ways to trim cabinet costs such as:
  • Using standard-sized stock or RTA (ready-to-assemble) cabinetry. RTA cabinets are finished, pre-drilled and delivered in a flat pack along with all the hardware needed for assembly.
  • Replacing cabinet doors, drawer fronts and cabinet moldings, but keeping and refacing the existing cabinet boxes and framework with veneers.
  • Opting for doorless upper cabinets.
  • Adding new hardware, a few glass inserts, and paint or stain to update the existing cabinets.
Throughout this months-long process, I “read” several
books, so earbuds are an essential component of cabinet
 refinishing. Of course you’ve got to crank up the volume
 when sanding the cabinet doors after stripping.
Another option is illustrated on the cover of the hipster guidebook, “It’s Lonely in the Modern World”: forgoing upper kitchen cabinets altogether, and just stacking your dishes on simple shelves.

I decided to strip and re-stain rather than prime and paint because I preferred the look and warmth of wood. I refinished some cabinets long ago, and hoped there was new technology to make the process safer, easier and faster. Like any home-improvement project, there are multiple ways to go about it, so it took some time to research and compare methods and materials. Basically, refinishing involves these seven steps:

1)      Remove hardware and wood trim:  Use a drill or screwdriver to remove all the hinges and pulls, and a taping knife and pry bar to remove the wood trim. I decided to replace the hardware, but if you are going to reuse it, store pieces in labeled Ziploc bags until you have time to soak and scrub them clean. Also label the location and orientation of each drawer and front with painter’s tape. Mask the surfaces around the cabinet boxes with painter’s tape and cover the floors and counters where you are working with plastic garbage bags.

Liquid strippers work best, but for vertical surfaces use
gel, which won’t drip as much. I used Citrustrip,
 a bright orange gel that smells decent enough,
worked pretty well, and claims to be non-corrosive,
 non-toxic and biodegradable. Paint on with a cheap brush,
 allow it to work awhile, then remove with a plastic scraper.
WORK WISELY: Stripping is a nasty business. Whether you are stripping oil-based paint or varnish and stain, spare no expense on protecting your health. Buy thick rubber gloves, a big box or two of disposable nitrile gloves, eye protection, a sanding respirator, and a vapor respirator (the serious, $50 kind). Work outside or with windows and doors wide-open (drought years are optimal in this case), read all labels and use the appropriate protection whenever you are using chemicals or sanding, even when working outdoors or with so-called safe products. Also be conscientious about how you are disposing of all work materials—many of which don’t belong in your garbage can. For every step of this process there are products that claim to be safer to use than traditional solvent-based products, so I suggest reading some online MSDSs (material safety data sheet) to know all the risks before you choose.

2)      Clean:  Remove grease and dirt from the cabinet and drawer front surfaces with a trisodium phosphate solution (TSP), and wipe off with a wrung-out sponge. Allow the surfaces to dry completely. If you’re going to install new hardware that won’t use the same screw holes, fill in the old holes with wood putty. (If you are going to paint your cabinets, you don’t need to strip them—a HUGE time-saver. Roll on primer tinted to match your top coat, allow to dry, then roll on the paint.)

3)      Strip: I used Citrustrip, a bright orange gel that smells decent enough, worked pretty well, and claims to be non-corrosive, non-toxic and biodegradable (but still use gloves and a vapor respirator). Paint on with a cheap brush, allow it to work awhile, then remove with a plastic scraper. Apply a second time if necessary. Remove any remaining residue with fine steel wool (.00001) and odorless mineral spirits or pre-stain.

4)      Sand: Using an orbital or finish sander and 150 to 180 grit sandpaper, sand all surfaces until the bare wood looks uniformly clean and feels smooth. You may need a stiff brush or detail sander to get into corners or groves. (I used bamboo skewers.) After sanding, wipe the surfaces with a dry cloth to ensure all dust is removed.

TAKE A BREAK: Breathe a big sigh of relief (away from any dust and fumes) because the hardest, most tedious part is over.

I spent about $500 on everything I used to refinish my kitchen cabinets—including replacement hinges, pulls and knobs. Most of the tools can be used again for other home improvement projects.
5)      Stain: Find a paint store like South Bay Paints in San Jose, where a clerk spent about an hour with me, opening cans of stain and dabbing various shades onto the back of my stripped and sanded cabinet door until I was satisfied with the color. Gel stain is rubbed on and the excess removed with cut-up tee-shirt strips. Follow the directions on the can, and don’t let the stain sit for too long or it will start to gum-up and the excess with not wipe off. Let the stain dry for 72 hours before applying the finish coat.

One of my favorite aspects of Holly Scrimsher’s
 remodeled kitchen is her magnetic knife and scissor
 strips, hung above the sink on her wood laminate walls.
6)      Apply finish: I chose to brush on a polyurethane top-coat on with a 2-1/2 inch, white china bristle brush, but polyurethane can also be sprayed on. Following the grain, make about two passes with the brush, and then one very light final pass, before moving on to the next piece. If you apply too heavy a coat, you must continue to brush it out to avoid runs and drips, so strive for light coats. After a few hours you can sand very, very lightly with 220-grit sandpaper and apply a second light coat. No matter how careful you are, there will most likely be a few drips, but only you will notice them.

7)      Replace hardware: If you’re using existing holes and hardware that fits those holes, this will go fairly quickly. If you are making changes, use a plastic template to mark the screw holes, so that they are consistent from cabinet to cabinet. Use a tape measure to find the center of drawer faces and center the template on that mark. After reattaching the fronts to the drawers, drill pilot holes before screwing new drawer pulls into place.

REALITY CHECK: Lowe’s website has a helpful refinishing guide with a chart for determining the type of the existing finish on your cabinets (wax, shellac, lacquer, water-based, varnish, polyurethane, oil, or paint) in order to use the proper stripper. At the very end of the guide, in tiny print, they say, “Before undertaking refinishing, remind yourself that it takes a lot of time and effort.” In retrospect, I don’t think I read this warning in any of my other sources, and if I had, it was probably much too subtle to have discouraged me. Working 2-4 hours a weekend, it took me about 6 MONTHS to complete the cabinets (with hardware help from my family). But it was worth it, because I saved thousands of dollars by doing it myself, and my whole kitchen remodeling project would have been beyond our budget without it.

Tina Baine
For an archive of my columns go to

Lisa Jensen and James Aschbacher’s kitchen is all about those Bermuda Teal cabinets. “We didn’t want to spend a fortune on either fancy veneers or (ulp) entirely new cabinets,” says Lisa, so they decided to keep their 1960s plywood cabinets and power up the color. “We wanted something more fun,” she says. They scrubbed all the surfaces with a vinegar solution to remove the grime, and James (a professional artist) then painted all the cabinets “very meticulously” by hand. “Our friends and other visitors loved the new color instantly,” remembers Lisa. “During Open Studios, it’s hard to steer people out of the kitchen & back to the art! I was the only one who had reservations after James finished painting the first cabinet. An hour later I loved it!” (photo by Lisa Jensen)

With wood (or wood laminate) on every surface, Holly Scrimsher’s kitchen feels like a cozy mountain retreat. Holly, and her grown children Wendy and Jess, spent last summer remodeling the space from floor to ceiling, doing all the work themselves. She says she spent about $3,400 (not including appliances) for the entire project. Her maple-finish cabinets were purchased assembled at Home Depot, replacing old cabinets with about six coats of paint. A seasoned woodworker and all-around handy person, Holly was able to create, customize and improvise whenever necessary, like when she and Wendy used a car jack to hold the upper cabinets up while they fastened them to the wall. After trying vinyl floor tiles as a backsplash/wall covering, she finally decided to use laminate flooring instead for a much more practical and economical version of wood paneling.

Sunday, March 9, 2014

Yoga for the brain
Zen Doodling
Originally published February 7, 2014 in the Santa Cruz Sentinel
Jann Griffith has drawn several beautiful underwater
 scenes using her vast collection of Zentangle designs.

The author of "Why Zebras Don't Get Ulcers," Stanford professor Robert M. Sapolsky, has focused much of his neurological research on the effects of stress on animals, and by extension, humans. Sapolsky believes it is vital to understand the difference between survival stress, and the everyday human kind brought on by memories, emotions and thoughts.

"For 99% of the species on this planet, stress is three minutes of screaming terror in the savannah, after which either it's over with or you're over with," he writes. "if you're running from a lion, your blood pressure is 180 over 120. But you're not suffering from high blood pressure--you're saving your life. Having this same thing happen when you're stuck in traffic, and you're not saving your life. Instead you are suffering from stress-induced hypertension."

"When you look at the diseases that do us in (heart disease, cancer, adult-onset diabetes, Alzheimer's), they are predominately diseases that can be caused, or made worse, by stress," Sapolsky writes. "As a result, most of us . . . will have the profound Westernized luxury of dropping dead someday of a stress-related disease. That's why it's so urgent that we understand stress-and how to better manage it."
A classic Zentangle—by Jennifer Miller—is drawn
 on a 3 ½ x 3 ½ paper tile, using a black archival pen
 to draw patterns in each random section.  Jen calls
 drawing mistakes “a beautiful oops,” since you can
 easily incorporate an unplanned line into a new design.

While studying laboratory rats that received random electric shocks, Sapolsky observed several ways rats are able to cope with stress. The first way is to take their stress out on another rat by “biting the crap out of it,” writes Sapolsky. The second is to anticipate stress with predictive information—for example a warning bell ten seconds prior to the shock. The third stress reducer is having the perception of control—even if it’s only a placebo—such as having a lever to press. The fourth is to have a friend—social affiliation helps control stress.

But for me, the most intriguing stress-reducing strategy for a lab rat was the fifth way: gnawing on a piece of wood. “The guy’s not going to get an ulcer, because he has an outlet for his frustrations. He has a hobby,” writes Sapolsky. If this is true—if hobbies help us cope with anxiety and live longer healthier lives (and not resort to “biting the crap” out of our family and friends), then having an artistic outlet—especially one that is therapeutic by design—may be worth exploring.

The Joy of Zentangle

Zentangle is an art form that promotes drawing as meditation. The theory behind Zentangle is that, by making simple, repetitive strokes, you become totally focused on what you’re doing. As you become absorbed in the process, you find yourself getting calmer, less stressed, less judgmental, and feel happier and more content—like yoga for the brain.

Matthew Fitch, 7, proudly shows the
 valentine he’s just created to the January
 meeting of the Morgan Hill Zen Doodler Club.
Maybe you already doodle on a notepad when you’re bored or daydreaming, or just want to escape. It’s relaxing and transporting. Like doodling, Zentangle (also known as Zen Doodling) is easy and requires no artistic skill. says, “You cannot fail to create a Zentangle. Since it is not a picture of something, you have no worries about whether you can draw a hand or a duck. You always succeed.”

I recently took one of Nancy Domnauer’s monthly Zentangle classes at BookSmart in Morgan Hill. I’ve never practiced any form of yoga or meditation, but I definitely experienced a calming, focused state while creating my first Zentangle. A classic Zentangle is drawn on a 3 ½ x 3 ½ paper tile. Using a pencil, we drew a dot in each corner of the tile about ¼-inch from the edge and connected the dots with straight or wavy lines to create a border. We then drew a loopy “string” inside the border creating four or five random sections. Using a black archival drawing pen, we drew patterns she taught in each of the sections.

Jennifer Miller draws Zentangle
 designs on shrink plastic squares
 and then hinges them together
 with jump rings to make bracelets.

The creators of Zentangle—Rick Roberts, a former monk, and Maria Thomas, a lettering artist—developed Zentangle ten years ago as a method for anyone to achieve a peaceful, meditative state through simple drawing. Today there are more than 400 CZTs (Certified Zentangle Teachers) worldwide, thousands of Zentangle enthusiasts, and many books and websites devoted to the practice.

Nancy has also organized monthly meet-ups—the Morgan Hill Zen Doodlers Club—where her student can gather, exchange new patterns and resources, and draw together. Karen Fitch, who brought her 7-year-old son, Matthew, to the January meeting, says Zentangle is great for her son because “he can do it and be successful. We try to draw something together at least once a week, after he’s done his homework,” she says. “You’re really engaging both sides of your brain.” That evening they each worked on making valentines—filling in the letters L-O-V-E with Zen Doodle patterns.

Pam Drayton is quite enthusiastic about her latest hobby. “I’m addicted. I have to get every book there is. I’ve given this to all my nieces and nephews, and now they are Zen Doodling all over the Midwest,” she says. “I work in high-tech and it’s a very stressful job.” She says that within minutes of drawing her first Zentangle, she felt calmer. “It’s just the most relaxing thing in the whole wide world,” she says more than once. “You don’t expect it to be pretty, but this is so cool. I’m a 70s girl. I used to get detention for drawing stuff like this in class.”

Zentangle can be done anywhere with only a black pen, white paper and a pencil. No eraser is needed because there are no mistakes. An errant mark can be easily incorporated into the design, and may even “take you in unexpected and exciting new directions,” says Nancy. Its portability also allows you to improvise wherever you are—on a business card or a napkin—anytime you feel the need to relax and focus.

Jolene Hall and her daughter Nikki work on designs during
 the January Zen Doodler Club at BookSmart in Morgan Hill.
 Jolene says, “This helps me to concentrate better.
 I’ve always doodled, but now I feel I have purpose to my doodles.”
The official Zentangle website ( offers instructional videos demonstrating the basic technique, products, a newsletter, CZT training dates, and a blog with project ideas and links. There are quite a few books available on Zentangle and hundreds of pattern ideas and applications online. Zentangle patterns can also be used to decorate fabric, note pads, shoes, jewelry, cards, mugs, journals, scrapbooks, furniture, gourds, tiles—any surface that will accept ink.

Nancy Domnauer writes that, “A completed Zen Doodle project looks complicated, yet if you slow down, focus and take your time, you will create an attractive work of art!” She views the Zentangle process not only as a stress-reducing, art-producing hobby, but as a metaphor for life. “You can transfer the insight and experience of success and accomplishment to any life experience,” writes Nancy. “Something may look complicated, but you now know that you can do it, one simple stroke at a time.”

Side Note: Nancy Domnauer’s next Zen Doodling for Adults class meets Monday, February 17, from 6:30 to 8:00 pm at BookSmart at 80 E. 2nd Street in Morgan Hill.  Call BookSmart at (408) 778-6467 to register for the class, or email Nancy for more information at  Also check-out her collection of Zen Doodle designs and applications on her Pinterest page: 

Sandra Dunie of Morgan Hill made her Christmas cards
from Zentangle designs. She says, “Sometimes you
 wake up in the middle of the night and think, what can
 I do next. I never felt like I had the talent to do art.
With this, I just feel comfortable.”