Monday, December 22, 2008

Weath-Making

Make a Wreath from Virtually Anything
Originally published December 6, 2008 in the Santa Cruz Sentinel

Let’s be clear on one thing—you can make a wreath from virtually anything. If you noodle around on the Web you’ll find wreaths made from feathers, candy, Astroturf, buttons, cookie cutters, wine corks, shells, chilis, sheet music, aluminum cans, socks, playing cards, traffic signs, dried fruit, and even (taking “anything” to an regrettable extreme) diapers. As a natural-born hoarder, this no-holds-barred aspect of wreath-making got me thinking about my own personal stashes of stuff. Could beer-bottle caps make an attractive wreath? How about felted sweaters? Or that dried up artichoke flower I found in my vegetable garden yesterday?

Wreaths in history
Traditionally, a wreath is a decorative ring made of flowers, leaves and sometimes fruits that is displayed by hanging on a wall or door or in a window. Wreaths are commonly made from evergreens such as bay laurel, pine, cedar or holly. The early Greeks used small laurel wreaths as victory crowns in their ancient version of today’s Olympic Games. Like a wedding ring, circular wreaths can symbolize immortality or eternity. But, if you’re willing to forego the symbolism for artistry, wreaths can also be square, horseshoe-shaped or even star or heart-shaped.

Live or dried plant wreath
The base of any wreath—what gives the wreath its form and holds it all together—is typically made from a wire frame, grapevines, moss, foam or straw. But you might also be able to simply use cardboard or a coat hanger, depending on your design. For a wreath made from plant materials you may also need floral department supplies such as picks (use to strengthen a stem), pins (used with a foam or straw base), and floral wire or tape.

Natural materials include evergreens, flowers, berries, cones, fruit, nuts, seed heads, and pods. But don’t stop there. Walk around your neighborhood with a shopping bag and some pruning sheers and gather what looks useable. For a fragrant wreath, use pine needles, or rosemary, lavender, eucalyptus, or bay leaves. For a colorful wreath (don’t necessary limit yourself to red and green) consider dried flowers, dried pomegranates, dehydrated orange slices, rosehips, berries, dried corn or Chile peppers. For spots of interest add buckeyes, pinecones, wheat or straw, acorns, garlic bulbs, seeds, dried corns husks, or bark,

Without doing a lot of drying or shopping, I made a natural wreath from cedar cones, orange rosehips and rosemary attached to a grapevine base. I used a hot glue gun to attach the cones, and floral picks—which look like fat green toothpicks with a piece of thin wire attached to one end—for attaching the rosehips. The grapevine wreath I bought; the rosemary was from my own backyard; the cedar cones and rosehips I scavenged from the neighborhood.

Live succulent wreath

To make live succulent wreath you’ll need a green wire wreath frame, floral wire, peat moss, potting soil, rooting hormone and lots and lots of cuttings from succulents. Start by collecting a shopping bag full of succulent cuttings a day or two before assembling the wreath so they have some time to callous over. Pack the wreath first with a layer of wet peat moss, then soil, then more peat moss, and then wrap the whole thing with floral wire so it stays together. Poke holes in the moss with a screwdriver before inserting the cuttings dipped in rooting hormone. Soak the wreath occasionally to keep the succulents alive. If the cuttings eventually outgrow the wreath, plant the whole wreath in a pot or take more cuttings and start over.

Aluminum soda can wreath
There’s a book for sale online called “Crafting Aluminum Art” that has instructions for crafting several different wreaths using soda cans. Most of their wreaths use the unprinted silver side of the aluminum along with permanent marker. For my wreath, I looked for soda cans with red or green in the label so I could use the printed side of the can. Beside about 10 cans you’ll need a needle and thread, can opener, wire cutters, scissors, a permanent marker (optional), cardboard, stapler and tape. Cut a 10-inch round base from the cardboard, 1 ½ inches wide. Sew a soda can pull-tab to the top of the wreath for hanging.

Use the can opener to remove the top of the can. Cut through the rim with the wire cutters and then cut the top and bottom off the can with scissor. Cut the can from top to bottom so that you have one flat piece of aluminum about 4 by 8 inches. Cut four leaves from each sheet of aluminum and bend or score down the center and sides to make them look more leaf-like. Color with permanent marker if desired. Attach the leaves to the cardboard with staples, overlapping leaves as you go so that the staples and the cardboard don’t show. Cut thin strips of aluminum, then roll them around a chopstick to create streamers, which are then taped the cardboard at the bottom of the wreath.

Paper wreaths
I found a beautiful pastel wreath online made from reused paper rolled up into about 100 little cone shapes. The edge of each cone was scalloped and the paper came from intriguing sources such as vintage sheet music or second-hand books, or textbook pages dyed in Concord grape solution. For more color the artist added Starbuck’s brochures and Anthropologie catalog pages.

Also online, Paper Source offers two paper wreath kits—a poinsettia and a holly leaf—which could be done, but would take much longer to make without the kit. (The holly leaf wreath kit has 72 die-cut holly leaves.)

Wire wreath
I like the simplicity of the wire wreath and its flatness makes it much easier to store than other wreaths. I made two, one with red and silver wire and sequins, the other fashioned with plastic-coated wire, then wrapped in red wool yarn. These wreaths are smaller and look nice as a table centerpiece with a candle or flowers.

Wreath-making

No-Holds-Barred Wreath-Making
originally published in the Santa Cruz Sentinel, December 6, 2008


Let’s be clear on one thing—you can make a wreath from virtually anything. If you noodle around on the Web you’ll find wreaths made from feathers, candy, Astroturf, buttons, cookie cutters, wine corks, shells, chilis, sheet music, aluminum cans, socks, playing cards, traffic signs, dried fruit, and even (taking “anything” to an regrettable extreme) diapers. As a natural-born hoarder, this no-holds-barred aspect of wreath-making got me thinking about my own personal stashes of stuff. Could beer-bottle caps make an attractive wreath? How about felted sweaters? Or that dried up artichoke flower I found in my vegetable garden yesterday?


Wreaths in history

Traditionally, a wreath is a decorative ring made of flowers, leaves and sometimes fruits that is displayed by hanging on a wall or door or in a window. Wreaths are commonly made from evergreens such as bay laurel, pine, cedar or holly. The early Greeks used small laurel wreaths as victory crowns in their ancient version of today’s Olympic Games. Like a wedding ring, circular wreaths can symbolize immortality or eternity. But, if you’re willing to forego the symbolism for artistry, wreaths can also be square, horseshoe-shaped or even star or heart-shaped.

Live or dried plant wreath

The base of any wreath—what gives the wreath its form and holds it all together—is typically made from a wire frame, grapevines, moss, foam or straw. But you might also be able to simply use cardboard or a coat hanger, depending on your design. For a wreath made from plant materials you may also need floral department supplies such as picks (use to strengthen a stem), pins (used with a foam or straw base), and floral wire or tape.

Natural materials include evergreens, flowers, berries, cones, fruit, nuts, seed heads, and pods. But don’t stop there. Walk around your neighborhood with a shopping bag and some pruning sheers and gather what looks useable. For a fragrant wreath, use pine needles, or rosemary, lavender, eucalyptus, or bay leaves. For a colorful wreath (don’t necessary limit yourself to red and green) consider dried flowers, dried pomegranates, dehydrated orange slices, rosehips, berries, dried corn or Chile peppers. For spots of interest add buckeyes, pinecones, wheat or straw, acorns, garlic bulbs, seeds, dried corns husks, or bark,

Without doing a lot of drying or shopping, I made a natural wreath from cedar cones, orange rosehips and rosemary attached to a grapevine base. I used a hot glue gun to attach the cones, and floral picks—which look like fat green toothpicks with a piece of thin wire attached to one end—for attaching the rosehips. The grapevine wreath I bought; the rosemary was from my own backyard; the cedar cones and rosehips I scavenged from the neighborhood.


Live succulent wreath

To make live succulent wreath you’ll need a green wire wreath frame, floral wire, peat moss, potting soil, rooting hormone and lots and lots of cuttings from succulents. Start by collecting a shopping bag full of succulent cuttings a day or two before assembling the wreath so they have some time to callous over. Pack the wreath first with a layer of wet peat moss, then soil, then more peat moss, and then wrap the whole thing with floral wire so it stays together. Poke holes in the moss with a screwdriver before inserting the cuttings dipped in rooting hormone. Soak the wreath occasionally to keep the succulents alive. If the cuttings eventually outgrow the wreath, plant the whole wreath in a pot or take more cuttings and start over.


Aluminum soda can wreath

There’s a book for sale online called “Crafting Aluminum Art” that has instructions for crafting several different wreaths using soda cans. Most of their wreaths use the unprinted silver side of the aluminum along with permanent marker. For my wreath, I looked for soda cans with red or green in the label so I could use the printed side of the can. Beside about 10 cans you’ll need a needle and thread, can opener, wire cutters, scissors, a permanent marker (optional), cardboard, stapler and tape. Cut a 10-inch round base from the cardboard, 1 ½ inches wide. Sew a soda can pull-tab to the top of the wreath for hanging.

Use the can opener to remove the top of the can. Cut through the rim with the wire cutters and then cut the top and bottom off the can with scissor. Cut the can from top to bottom so that you have one flat piece of aluminum about 4 by 8 inches. Cut four leaves from each sheet of aluminum and bend or score down the center and sides to make them look more leaf-like. Color with permanent marker if desired. Attach the leaves to the cardboard with staples, overlapping leaves as you go so that the staples and the cardboard don’t show. Cut thin strips of aluminum, then roll them around a chopstick to create streamers, which are then taped the cardboard at the bottom of the wreath.

Paper wreaths

I found a beautiful pastel wreath online made from reused paper rolled up into about 100 little cone shapes. The edge of each cone was scalloped and the paper came from intriguing sources such as vintage sheet music or second-hand books, or textbook pages dyed in Concord grape solution. For more color the artist added Starbuck’s brochures and Anthropologie catalog pages.

Also online, Paper Source offers two paper wreath kits—a poinsettia and a holly leaf—which could be done, but would take much longer to make without the kit. (The holly leaf wreath kit has 72 die-cut holly leaves.)


Wire wreath

I like the simplicity of the wire wreath and its flatness makes it much easier to store than other wreaths. I made two, one with red and silver wire and sequins, the other fashioned with plastic-coated wire, then wrapped in red wool yarn. These wreaths are smaller and look nice as a table centerpiece with a candle or flowers.


Sunday, November 2, 2008

Knit-Free Neckware

Seeking that Spark of Inspiration
(Originally published Nov. 1, 2008 in the Santa Cruz Sentinel)

L
ast month’s Open Studios Art Tour was abundantly inspiring—I came away from many of the 20 or so studios I toured thinking about how I would incorporate elements of what I saw into my own creative endeavors. The literal meaning of “inspire” is to inhale. For me, breathing in the ideas, techniques and sources of other artists’ inspiration is very exhilarating. I can only guess at what inspires other artists, but here are some possibilities.

The natural world has always provided inspiration to artists such as Tina Tucker, who paints elegant rural landscapes of Santa Cruz County. Or to Karen Card, whose raku-fired torsos remind me in a whole new way of the timeless beauty of the human form.

Other artists, like Robert Larson and William Marino, take their inspiration from reusing manmade objects. Larson creates patterns of subtle and infinite variety using the graphic designs of weathered Marlboro cigarette packs. Also a recycler, William Marino unwinds the thin strips of paper that make up flea market dartboards, and then rewinds them into circles, spirals, cones and other shapes that transcend their humble origins.

Still other artists seem to be impelled not so much by their subject matter, but by their methods and use of materials, such as Daniella Woolf, who buries bits of printed paper in layers of colored beeswax and resin to create images of depth and irresistible tactile qualities.

Of course, the whole point of my monthly column is to provide inspiration and the know-how to create. Even if you don’t think the project of the month is for you, my hope is that you may find one small aspect of a project inspiring--whether it be in the subject matter, the techniques, the materials, or even in some deep-seated, visceral response.

First spark—I’ve got to try that!

I recently saw a scarf in a Morgan Hill yarn shop that was made without knitting. It was basically an abstract, lacey combination of colorful yarns and threads. The shop owner described the technique, and I sought out the water-soluble stabilizer that makes the process possible. It’s found by-the-yard in the interfacing section of a fabric store or in various pre-packaged dimensions under the Sulky or Aquabond brand names. Water soluble stabilizer feels and acts just like a medium-weight interfacing until you get it wet—then it just dissolves. (Note: Aquabond has a paper-backed adhesive, which may have saved me a lot of time and trouble, but I didn’t have a chance to try it.)

Trial-and-error take one—Scarf #1

To create a “wash-away” scarf or shawl you can combine any materials that can be sewn and can get wet. Ribbon, yarn, fabrics, felt, thin plastic, are all possibilities. The instructions I found online suggested getting the stabilizer damp, a little at a time, in order to adhere the materials to its sticky (but not wet enough to dissolve) surface. I made a ribbon scarf this way, but I wouldn’t recommend it since the right amount of dampness is difficult to gage, and if the stabilizer gets too wet, it turns into a big gluey mess. A spray bottle may work better than the sponge I tried, but it’s probably best to avoid water altogether.

Second spark—seeking help from a pro

After my first scarf attempt, I visited Open Studio artist Mary Hammond, who makes a wide-ranging variety of beautiful no-knit scarves and shawls, and she gave me a few tips. She said to try a light coating of spray adhesive if I needed the materials to bond to the stabilizer before sewing; use no water until I was ready to dissolve the stabilizer; and wash the finished piece numerous times to remove all the stabilizer residue and soften the materials. (Mary may also be teaching a class in her techniques; for more information, contact her at knitwits@baymoon.com.)

Trial-and-error take two--Scarf #2

Back at my kitchen table, I made my second scarf with several different yarns, ribbons and fabrics. I arranged the materials on top of a piece of stabilizer, then added a second piece on top to create a sandwich. I pinned the sandwich all over to keep the design in place, then randomly quilted it all in a narrow zigzag stitch. Some of the narrow yarns shifted, but basically things stayed in place. The problems with this scarf are multiple: I didn’t really consider the negative spaces—where only the stitching shows to give the scarf that lacey effect; the stitching is in a light-colored thread which doesn’t show up against all the other pastels---again, I missed the whole point; and the sewn-down eyelashes of the eyelash yarn just looks messy. I still felt inspired by Mary Hammond’s scarves, but the learning curve was steep.

Some modest success—Scarf #3

For my third scarf I tried to keep the design simpler, with materials that had some built-in traction and wouldn't slip around. I used some felt cut-outs from a previous project and some crimped yarn. I laid the design down on the stabilizer, then sprayed lightly over the top with a fabric adhesive, before adding the top layer of stabilizer and sewing.

Combining inspirations—Scarf #4

For my final scarf I thought back to Daniella Woolf’s encaustic works featuring vertical patterns of shredded journal pages. I scanned and printed an image—a page from my daughter’s 8th grade science journal—to fusible ink-jet fabric. I adhered the printed image to cotton fabric and cut it up into strips with a rotary cutter. Instead of using the stabilizer, I sewed the strips together without spaces, and then added yarn. I’m not sure it’s a scarf exactly, but it may be the genesis of another project altogether.

Final thoughts

All the Open Studio artists I’ve mentioned (except Mary Hammond) have great, inspiring websites. You and I may never paint like Tina Tucker, or sculpt like Karen Card, or do collage like Robert Larson, or wind paper like William Marino, or make encaustic images like Daniella Woolf. But their work may lead and inspire you to create something wholly new, with a vision and a voice all your own.

Saturday, October 4, 2008

How to make cardboard furniture

Cardboard Chic
(Originally published in the Santa Cruz Sentinel, Oct. 4, 2008)

Today marks my fifth anniversary writing about crafts for the Sentinel, and I’m glad to say that writing this column has never been a chore for me. It gives me the chance to do what I love most—figure out how to make something I’ve never made before and share it with other.

Sometimes it’s exhausting, rounding up all the materials and working to complete a project in the space of just four weekends. And sometimes it’s stressful worrying about whether the finished project will be newspaper-worthy. But mostly it’s what I look forward to doing at the end of each workweek. And luckily I’ve got an indulgent family, who never complain that the kitchen table is cluttered once again with newspapers and paint and there is no room to eat (like now).

When I first Googled “cardboard furniture,” there was a lot more out there than I suspected. You can make chairs, stools, benches, bookcases, room dividers, tables, lamps—one site even had a cardboard house. One of my favorite designs is an easy chair with ottoman made early in his career by the celebrated architect, Frank O. Gehry, which actually looks like it might be comfortable as well as a great conversation piece. (www.netropolitan.org/gehry/chair2.html)

Another innovative cardboard furniture designer is Giles Miller, who creates beautiful designs on simple compressed cardboard tables and lamps by “fluting” the internal corrugations of recycled cardboard. (www.gilesmiller.com)

If you want to know how to make cardboard furniture, Leo Kempf offers instructions for making his “speech-bubble coffee table” and two other projects on his website. Inspired by the work of Frank Gehry, Kempf’s technique uses laminated single-ply cardboard and plywood spacers, for a very solid construction. www.leokempf.com/cardboard.html

You can also find plans for making children’s furniture from folded cardboard at www.foldschool.com. And on YouTube, Gomi Style’s video www.youtube.com/watch?v=cOa1kHEiIpg shows how to make a legless chair from reused compressed cardboard.

I learned another technique from cardboard furniture maker Eric Guiomar in a step-by-step DVD “Cardboard Furniture.” Guiomar teaches classes and is part of a French collective, the Cartonnistes, who make whimsical pieces in bright colors with curvy shapes you wouldn’t ordinarily see in wood furniture. Instead of using multiple layers of cardboard for strength, the Cartonnistes use a tab and slot construction technique that requires a lot less cardboard, but is still sturdy and durable. (order DVD from www.vinestreetworks.com/cartons.html)

Besides allowing freedom of form, the Cartonnistes’ furniture illustrates other advantages of cardboard furniture over wood: it’s lightweight, inexpensively made from reused materials, and requires only a few hand-held tools. The DVD provides clear instructions for making a cabinet, complete with drawers and a cupboard door. For my first project, however, I opted for a simpler piece—a small coffee table.

What you need:

  • Cardboard (I used double-wall sheets for the framework and single-wall for the outer surfaces)
  • Hand-held jigsaw
  • Metal wood rasp
  • Glue gun with glue sticks
  • Gummed paper tape (try Wild Rose Artists’ Supplies or Lenz Arts)
  • Scissors, sponge, paint brush, box cutter knife, pencil, paper
  • Tape measure, ruler, yardstick
  • Wallpaper paste or adhesive, wood glue
  • Pressboard
  • Tissue paper
  • Polyurethane, water based
  • Acrylic or latex paint

What you do:

  1. Sketch the design of the table profile on paper. Don’t create areas that will be too narrow for taping or painting.
  2. Transfer the sketch to the cardboard as a full scale drawing, with the corrugation pattern vertical.
  3. Trace over the final sketch with black felt pen.
  4. Cut cardboard into four rectangular pieces, the size of the scale drawing.
  5. Tape edges of cardboard together with design on top
  6. Use jigsaw to cut out all four profiles. Retape as you cut to avoid shifting; the profiles should be identical. Use a wood rasp to file irregularities on the edges of the four profiles. Put two profiles aside.
  7. Mark notches in pencil across the top and bottom of the other two profile sections about six inches apart; this will determine the location of each strut.
  8. Measure the height of the cardboard at each notch and record the measurements in pencil. Mark the center of the measurement and cut slots to the center points, about ¼ inches wide for double-wall cardboard.
  9. Determine the depth of the table. Cut each strut to match the depth of the table and the height of the cardboard measurements taken at each notch. Cut slots along the width of each strut at 1/3 and 2/3s of its length, to the center point of its height.
  10. Fit the struts into the slots cut into the two center sections of the table profile.
  11. With the table on its back, attach the front and back profiles to the struts using the gummed tape, moistened with a sponge. Use a level or yardstick to be sure the four table profiles are aligned perfectly around the perimeter. Use heavy books to weight the top pieces so it stays in place while taping.
  12. Cut a long strip of single-wall cardboard, as wide as the depth of the table, and wrap it around a tube so it will bend around the curving parts of the profile. Glue the long edges of the strip to the outer profiles, gluing a little at a time until the table is completely covered. File edges where necessary for neat corners.
  13. Cover all exposed edges with the gummed tape, cutting slots to fit nicely around curved edges.
  14. Cut a piece of pressboard to fit on the top of the table, and glue down with wood glue, weighted overnight with heavy books.
  15. Mix wallpaper adhesive with paint for a translucent effect. Paint a small area of the table, add a piece of tissue paper, then paint over the tissue paper. Don’t over-brush or the tissue paper could tear and bunch up.
  16. When the piece is completely covered, allow to dry overnight. Then paint with 2 or 3 coats of water-based polyurethane.


French designer Eric Guiomar began sculpting furniture from discarded corrugated cardboard boxes 15 years ago and became enchanted with the material. He's involved with a group of Parisian designers which calls themselves cartonnistes, after carton, the French word for cardboard.

Sunday, September 21, 2008

How to make a kaleidoscope

















The Great Philosophical Toy

(originally published in the Santa Cruz Sentinel, September 19, 2008)

The word “Kaleidoscope” is based on three words from ancient Greek: 'Kalos' meaning beautiful, 'Eidos' meaning form and 'Scopos' meaning watcher. So a kaleidoscope is a “beautiful form watcher.” Patented by a Scotsman, Sir David Brewster, in 1816, kaleidoscopes were instantly successful in London and Paris. Early fans called it “the great philosophical toy,” alluding to its metaphorical qualities.

I own three inexpensive kaleidoscopes, each with its own distinctive, ever-changing view. One is filled with multicolored plastic beads of various shapes which tumble around against a plastic stained-glass-like background. As you turn the barrel, colorful patterns burst like a 4th of July sky.

The second (technically a teleidoscope) is constructed simply from three mirrored strips with a clear marble at the end. It fractures the world around you into unrecognizable triangular patterns--even pointing it at this computer screen creates fascinating geometric images.

The third—my favorite—has tiny Leonardo da Vinci-like silhouettes of male figures, which click-clack about as you turn the barrel to create intriguing new body shapes from reassembled heads, limbs, and torsos.

Clearly, the kaleidoscope achieves its “beautiful philosophical forms” by a variety of means. And, although high-end parlor scopes can cost thousands of dollars, a toy scope can be made simply with amazing results.

Using the only two how-to books I could find on the subject--“The Kaleidoscope Book” edited by Thom Boswell and “Simple Kaleidoscopes” by Gary Newlin—I made several scopes using inexpensive and recycled materials. Jackie Marr, owner of Kiss My Glass on 7th Avenue in Santa Cruz, also graciously brainstormed with me one afternoon and offered some creative solutions and materials. (See Jackie for mirrors, cutting tools, copper tape, and glass.)

I had trouble breaking away from making kaleidoscopes to write about making them because I never felt finished. I just wanted to keep on experimenting with different mirror sizes, angles, and numbers; different constructions; and different items to view. (Note on mirrors: first surface mirrors are best for kaleidoscopes and can be ordered, but are more expensive. For a box of six inexpensive mirror tiles, try Home Depot.) Here are two novice projects to get you started.

Pringles Scope

What you need:

2 Potato-chip canisters with plastic caps

Mirrored paper, 3 pieces cut to 2” x 8 7/8” each (look in the scrapbooking section of a craft store)

Can opener

Plastic milk container

Packing peanuts or bubble-wrap

Electrical tape

Scissors, craft knife, clear-drying glue, ruler, fine-tip Sharpie

Clear packaging plastic (pre-packaged produce comes in these recyclable containers—look for ones with large flat areas)

Basically, you are constructing an eyepiece, a mirror system, and an object chamber. The canister holds the mirror system in place and makes the whole construction sturdier.

  • To make the eyepiece, cut a dime-sized hole in the center of one plastic cap.
  • To make the mirror system, tape the three pieces of mirrored paper together with tape so that they will bend into a triangular tube.
  • To make the object chamber, carefully cut two circular pieces from plastic. The clear plastic circle should fit inside the canister. The translucent plastic circle should fit inside the plastic end cap.
  • To assemble the kaleidoscope, attach the eyepiece to the bottom of the canister after removing the metal end with a can opener (add electrical tape to get a tighter fit). Insert the mirror system into the canister and pad with Styrofoam bits or bubble wrap. Drop the clear plastic circle into the canister to rest on the end of the mirrors. Fill the object chamber with flat, colorful items and attach the end cap. If desired, cover the outside of the scope with paper and other decorations. Rotate the kaleidoscope to view.

To see photos of this assembly, go to www.diynetwork.com. When it calls for butyrate plastic, use mirrored paper and/or any clear plastic thin enough to cut with scissors.

PVC Scope #1

What you need:

Double strength mirror, 3 pieces each 1/8” x 9” long (use a ruler and glass cutter to score and running pliers to break; or get a shop or experienced friend to do the cutting for you)

PVC pipe, 1 ½” diameter, 9” long

PVC end cap, 1 ½ diameter

PVC female adapter with threaded end, 1 ½ diameter

Hacksaw and file

Drill with bits

Last four items listed above for Pringles scope

  • To make the eyepiece, drill a hole in the center of the end cap using a 1/8” drill bit, and then a 5/16” bit.
  • To make the mirror system, tape the three pieces of mirrored paper together with tape so that they will bend into a triangular tube.
  • To make the object chamber, carefully cut two circular pieces from clear plastic to fit inside the female adapter pipe. Glue one to the threaded end of the female adapter piece on top of the outermost thread. The second piece will be placed inside the threaded piece, to rest on the rim of the innermost thread,
  • To make the body, cut the PVC pipe to length with a hacksaw, and file the edges smooth.
  • To assemble the kaleidoscope, insert one end of the PVC pipe into the eye piece. Insert the mirror system into and pad with Styrofoam bits or bubble wrap. Fill the object chamber 2/3 full with colorful items and attach the end cap. Drop the clear plastic circle into the object chamber. Insert the PVC pipe into the chamber. Rotate the end cap to view.

Possible items for the object chamber include broken colored glass or plastic, broken windshields, beads, die-cut shapes, marbles, ball bearings, seashells, paperclips, sequins, flowers or insects. Take a walk down a well-traveled country road, keep your eyes on the ground and you’ll have a pocket full of objects to use by the end of your walk.

For a YouTube video on making a PVC pipe kaleidoscope, go to: www.ehow.com/video_4412587_materials-making-kaleidoscope.html

To see where making kaleidoscopes can take you, visit www.brewstersociety.com to view the wares of this international kaleidoscope society’s members.

Kaleidoscope Group (1st photo): These are the four kaleidoscopes I made: Pringles Scope (dark green), Tapered Scope (red), PVC Scope #1 (white) with chamber, and PVC Scope #2 (blue) with interchangeable wheels. PVC Scope #2 is a variation on PVC Scope #1. Use spray paint to coat the PVC pipe and copper tape to attach a glass lens as the eye piece. Use two mirrors with black mat board on the third side, cut at a narrower width. Add a glass rod to the body while stuffing. Cut two round pieces of clear plastic 4” in diameter, and drill a hole in the center of each to fit snuggly on the glass rod. Glue objects to each piece of plastic and spin the discs on rod to view.

Three kaleidoscope views (2nd, 3rd and 4th photos): All viewed through the PVC Scopes, using: found items in an object chamber (PVC Scope #1); flower petals glued between a sandwich of clear plastic to make a wheel (PVC Scope #2); plastic items glued to a plastic wheel (PVC Scope #2).

Two more kaleidoscope views (5th and 6th photos): Objects viewed through PVC Scope #1 and through a tapered scope.


Monday, August 25, 2008

How to make a journal

Handmade Journals and the Corps of Discovery
(Originally published January 2, 2008 in the Santa Cruz Sentinel)

When Lewis and Clark explored the northwest from 1804 to 1806, their long list of provisions included ink powder, pens, and numerous bound journals for recording the day’s events and all that they observed. Their journals consisted of numerous small notebooks, approximately 4 x 6-inches, of the type commonly used by surveyors in field work. Some of the journals were bound in rich red morocco leather and others were simply bound boards covered in marbled paper. Lewis and Clark carried their notebooks sealed in tin boxes to protect the relatively fragile journals from the elements.

The pages of their journals combine words (penned in marginless, slanting script) and pictures—maps and drawings of birds, fish, plants, trees, and native peoples, their tools, crafts and dwellings. Other members of the Corps of Discovery kept illustrated journals as well.

I suppose if Lewis and Clark had set out on their historic journey of exploration in 2008, they would have blogged their way to the Pacific Ocean. Their written observations may have been identical (assuming their laptops stayed charged), but significant information would have been lost without their drawings. (Spell-check would have also ruined William Clark’s creative spellings.)

Although a blog may be today’s virtual journal of choice, I believe there is still interest in creating journals of more tactile and visual variety. Two recently published books that confirm my suspicions are, “The Decorated Journal: Creating Beautifully Expressive Journal Pages” by Gwen Diehn and “Visual Chronicles: The No-Fear Guide to Creating Art Journals, Creative Manifestos & Altered Books” by Linda Woods and Karen Dinino.

Diehn’s book also has instructions for creating your journal from scratch, so that even the cover and the binding are expressive elements of the journaling process (much as Lewis and Clark’s were). The project titles such as “The Three-Minute Pamphlet” or “The Thirty-Minute Multiple-Pamphlet Journal” made me smile in hindsight when each took me significantly longer to make. But the books themselves turned out very nice, and perhaps, with practice, I’ll get faster.

All three of the books I made have pages which lie completely flat when the book is opened. This is especially important if you’re going to make entries with any media that could run before drying such as watercolors. This also gives you the option of treating two pages as one large page. I’m not certain how Lewis and Clark’s journals were constructed 200 hundred years ago, but here are instructions for the most successful of the three books I made. (Also see, “The Essential Guide to Making Handmade Books,” by Gabrielle Fox.)


What you need for the multiple-pamphlet journal

  • Nice text paper, thick or thin, 8 x 6-inches or larger (to make pamphlets more quickly, use paper already cut to size)
  • Cover paper about 5 times the width of the text pages (to recycle, you might use an old poster or wrapping paper, or even a shopping bag)
  • Sewing needle with eye large enough to accommodate thread
  • 1 yard heavy thread (buttonhole twist, waxed linen, embroidery floss, or dental floss)
  • Pushpin
  • Telephone book
  • Ruler for measuring and tearing paper
  • Craft knife, paper cutter, rotary cutter and mat—whatever you have on hand
  • Pencil
  • Bone folder and/or paperclips

What you do for a 4 x 6-inch journal

The pamphlet. Tear or cut the text papers into 8 x 6-inch sheets. (The width measurement--8-inches--is double the finished page-width.) The number of pages is determined by the thickness of the paper—for example, 8 for computer printer-weight, 3 for watercolor-weight. Fold each sheet in half widthwise, using a bone folder or paper clip to smooth the crease of each sheet. Then nest the folded papers inside each other to form a pamphlet or “signature.”

The cover. Assemble more pamphlets (an odd number in total) until the pile, when lightly compressed, is about ½-inch tall. Cut or tear the cover paper to 6 ¼-inches x 18 ½-inches. Lightly score to create seven sections with these widths: ½, 4 ¼, 4 ¼, ½, 4 ¼, 4 ¼, ½. Fold at each score, adjusting as necessary, to create the cover. The ½ sections on either end will overlap on the inside of the spine. The middle ½-section will form the outside of the spine.

The pattern. Make a hole-punching pattern with a 2 x 4-inch piece of scrap paper. Fold the scrap paper in half vertically. Open, fold horizontally, reopen. Using the needle, make a hole in the center of the pattern where the two folds intersect. Punch two more holes along the vertical fold, ½-inch from either end of the pattern. Make the last two holes equal-distant from the outer two holes and the center hole, for five holes total.

The pamphlet holes. To punch holes for sewing, open the telephone book to a page near the middle. Center the hole-punching pattern along the crease of one pamphlet and then press the pamphlet firmly into the crease of the telephone book to hold it in place. Using the pattern as your guide, use a pushpin to punch holes in the pamphlet at each mark. Mark holes in the rest of the pamphlets.

The cover holes. Place the cover flat on a page of the telephone book (not in the crease) and place the first pamphlet opened out flat with its crease centered into the exact center of the spine section of the cover, both horizontally and vertically. Using the pamphlet holes as a guide, poke holes into the cover, making sure it still folds nicely into a book shape without any buckling.

The sewing. Cut a piece of thread (I used wax linen and dental floss, alternately) about 36-inches long and thread the needle. Numbering the consecutive holes #1 through #5, poke the needle into the center #3 hole from the outside of the pamphlet. Pull the thread through leaving a 4-inch (or longer) tail. Next, from the inside, poke the needle out the #4 hole, and gently pull the thread tight, being sure to pull each stitch parallel to the plane of the paper. On the outside, poke the needle into the #5 hole and pull tight. From the inside, poke the needle out the #4 hole (this time going from the inside out), then into the #2 hole, out the #1 hole, into the #2 hole, and finally out the #3 center hole. Attach the other pamphlets in the same manner, spacing them evenly across the spine.

The finishing. Tie the tail and the thread of each pamphlet together in a square knot close to the hole. Trim the threads to one-inch or leave them longer for threading beads or braiding. (I left mine long enough to braid across the width of the book and tie together, holding the book closed.)

A final note. Whether you call it a journal, a diary or even a manifesto, recording events or observations can serve a variety of purposes. A journal can be a record of your travels, whether they are literal, psychological or spiritual. It can be an archive of significant events. It can be a cathartic effort to work out personal difficulties and frustrations (see www.journalproject.com). It can be a field journal of notes and sketches for later, more polished literary or artistic inventions. Or, it can be a world-altering historic record, ala Anne Frank, Charles Darwin, or Lewis and Clark.

Lewis and Clark journal photos courtesy of the American Philosophical Society
Lewis and Clark kept meticulous journals of their trip, recording each day's events and sketching items that caught their interest. The drawing of a eulachon, or candle fish, decorates Lewis' entry for Feb. 24, 1806, in one of 30 original expedition notebooks stored at the American Philosophical Society library in Philadelphia, Pa.



How to collage

Collage--Easy and Infinite
(Originally published January 3, 2008 in the Santa Cruz Sentinel)

Collage is one of those art media—like coloring with crayons—that nearly everyone has experienced firsthand in school. My 15-year-old carried a stack of magazines to her art class just last week. Although gluing down found images on a piece of paper meets the definition of collage, like most art forms, the creative possibilities of working with collage are infinite.

Although the techniques of collage were first used at the time of the invention of paper in China around 200 BC, the term collage (which comes from the French word coller, to glue) was coined by artists George Braque and Pablo Picasso in the beginning of the 20th century when collage became a distinct part of modern art.

The wide appeal of collage may be that it’s easily produced from readily available materials. And those materials can be virtually anything—from paper (magazines, photographs, newspapers, handmade, etc.), to fabric, to all sorts of flat and not so flat objects. (Collage usually refers to two-dimensional works; its three-dimensional cousin is called assemblage.)

To illustrate the endless list of possible collage materials, consider two illustrations in “Collage Techniques” by Gerald Brommer. The first, an abstract work by Blessing Semler, has the following list of materials: handmade papers, fabrics, old watercolors, photographic negatives, burlap, photographs, and painted paper on canvas. The second, a concept piece by Marlene Zander Gutierrez, uses cast paper, velvet, barbed wire, nails, and plant materials on paneling.

I was recently invited to a meeting of the Contemporary Quilt and Fiber Artists (CQFA) by Brookdale fabric artist Debbie Wambaugh, and was pleased to see lots of beautiful examples of fabric collage in their show-and-tell session. What they might categorize as non-traditional quilting, is also collage in the sense that they are assembling disparate pieces of fabric and embellishments to create a new whole.

I especially enjoyed certain artists’ ability to recreate scenes of depth and dimension—a still-life with fruit or a coastal landscape, for example--using two-dimensional, inherently flat materials. It seems tricky and a challenging exercise to replicate the shape and form of real-life objects, with nothing but scraps of fabric.

After visiting the group, I gave myself a collage assignment using materials I already had on hand—in this case, cereal and frozen food boxes. I saved what my family used for a month and was dismayed to see how much cardboard we throw in the recycling bin in that short amount of time.

Actually, I have long wanted to make art from cereal boxes after seeing a beautifully collaged ancient-Greek-style statue in the San Francisco Airport terminal last year. The entire figure—including the face, hair, toga, and even a broken-off arm--was fashioned entirely from long, layered strips of packaging cardboard to create a phenomenal work of sculpture.

For my project, I decided to collage a hubcap I found on the roadside. I washed all the grease and dirt off, then used scissors to cut up narrow strips of packaging cardboard in varying lengths. After deciding on my design, I applied bookbinding PVA glue with a brush to each strip to glue it in place on the hubcap. (Keep an old damp cloth towel and lots of paper towels nearby to wipe the accumulating glue of your fingers and other surfaces as you work.) Although I like that my creation was no-cost (except for all that packaged food), I could also drill a hole through the center to add a clock kit.

A book that discusses collage techniques with practical craft applications is “Collage with Color” by Jane Davies. She includes instructions for using collage to make book covers, lamp bases and shades, jewelry, gift boxes and greeting cards. When covering non-porous objects such as glass or metal, she recommends first priming the surface to be collaged with an all-surface acrylic paint or primer. If the object to be collaged is a porous material such as wood, cardboard, papier-mâché, bisque pottery, Styrofoam, etc., it need not be primed.

Davies suggests covering the object with lokta or some other strong but flexible paper, and then collaging with similar paper on top of the base layer of paper. (Lokta is a handmade paper from Nepal made from fibrous bark which grows in the Himalayas.) She suggests using a synthetic glue such as PVA which dries clear and does not wash off. Generally, PVA is not archival (Elmer’s, Aleene’s, Sobo, etc.), but it will last years before showing its age. PVA used for bookbinding is a little more expensive, but is archival.

When the collaged piece is finished and dry, apply one or two coats of acrylic gloss or matte medium. Be sure the medium penetrates all the nooks and crannies in the paper, but don’t let it pool. This will give your piece a finished look, cover up some of the stray adhesive, and also make it water repellent.

I would encourage you to think beyond the conventional to come up with a unique collage creation. The same daughter who carried magazines to school last week, came home yesterday with a belt covered in magazine images, themed by scenes from one of her favorite books, Alice in Wonderland.

For objects or materials for collage beyond your recycling bin, try a thrift store for good prices such as the Goodwill Bargain Barn near Costco in Santa Cruz. (I haven’t been there yet, but I hear it’s smart to get there early and bring gloves to dig through their $1-per-pound clothing bins.)

For an introduction to inspired fabric collage, attend a meeting of the Contemporary Quilt and Fabric Artists in Campbell. See their website for meeting and workshop dates, and examples of their work at www.CQFA.org,