Every time that I gave a tour at the Roger Brown Study Collection, the visitors would spin on their heals mesmerized by the myriad of art pieces that Roger Brown had collected. My eyes would always be drawn up to one particular piece, a paper mache jaguar mask, the size of a jumbo pumpkin. It was painted yellow with stylized black spots and accents of red. I loved it, and wanted to be swallowed by it.
So, in redecorating the Spring Bird Cottage, I decided to create some sculptural pieces that reflected that same sort of animal spirit. I chose three animals, a screech owl, a fox, and a buck. These are three significant animals to Spring Bird. The Spring that I spotted the a pair of screech owls launched the beginning of the process of moving to Spring Bird, and the fox is a symbol creative ferocity for me. The buck, of course, acknowledges the presence of the lovely, sweet deer at Spring Bird. BUT, I ran out of materials to finish the buck. So, I abandoned it. (Another time, buckeroo)
If you are interested in starting your own menagerie, it's super simple and easy, and it doesn't require too many supplies. Below is how I made these!
1. recyclables such as plastic bags, yogurt containers, milk jugs, and cardboard tubes. (whatever will help you to achieve the shape of your animal.)
2. masking or painter's tape
3. plaster cloth
5. bowl of water
7. acrylic paint
8. acrylic gloss medium
9. assortment of paint brushes
10. card stock
Build an Animal Armature
Use the recyclable and tape to build the shape of your animal. You can omit any details like ears that might be small and delicate. You can add these later!
Cover your entire armature with plastic bags-- or as much as possible. This will make it easier to remove the armature from the plaster cloth later.
Applying the Plaster Cloth
Cut the plaster cloth into managable strips 3" - 4" wide or into small squares.
Dip the cloth into the water, wipe off the excess, and drape over the armature.
Lay strip by strip --overlapping a quarter inch or so until the entire armature is covered.
You can apply multiple layers to strengthen the sculpture.
Before the sculpture starts to set, you can manipulate the material to create eye sockets or whatever shape and detail you like! I dug my thumbs in to shape the eyes.
Let the sculptures dry.
If you are in a hurry, you can speed up drying in the oven at a low temperature. (Check the plaster cloth package to verify temperature).
Finishing Your Animal Sculpture
Once your sculpture is dry, you can add those details (like ears) using cardstock or whatever materials you want (like bottle caps) to refine your sculpture's design.
Afix details with masking tape.
This Summer we got caught up in a beautiful collaborative web at the Renaissance Faire. The Faire's collaborative webs were strung between trees with simple, white string. Visitors and Renaissance residents tied and wove leaves, sticks, pieces of yarn, lost pacifiers, and broken bits to the webs. Over the course of the Summer, the webs caught more and more magic. It was a delight to experience, and immediately I knew that I wanted to try something similar at Spring Bird. So, this past Monday, with the help of cousin Austen, we strung up a web, and I tied on its first bits of magic. I am hoping that over the course of the next months, it will collect more and more pieces of wonder as it becomes a collaborative forest art project! I imagine feathers, notes, twigs, pinecones, and more tied up in the web. Next time you come to Spring Bird, make sure you come and find and add to it!
If I had a secret weapon in my war to be a creative productive person, it is the mighty pamphlet book! A pamphlet book is a simply stitched book with a soft cover. It's basically what you would make if you have one of those beautiful long arm staplers. Without one of those toothy beauties, you can still make a pamphlet book you can make yourself.
Why make a pamphlet book?
I use my pamphlet books in two main ways. One, I use them for my bullet journals , which are my everything. . .my calendar, schedule, goals, to-do lists, sketchbook, all in one. I make them monthly, and they keep me focused on what needs to get done each day, week, month. . . you get the picture. You may remember reading about my bullet journal process in an earlier blog post.
The other main use for my pamphlet books is to contain a big idea. What does that mean? I create a book each time I have a new project idea that is substantial enough to exist on its own. I usually get a flutter of disparate thoughts for my next big plan, and I need a way to contain, organize, and see them. Making a pamphlet book is my first step in making the next big plan come to life. Having a tangible object filled with chicken scratch, mind maps, and sketches helps me to move into logistics, timelines, goals, and eventually the bullet journal (full circle).
I remember reading a piece by the superbly creative choreographer, Twyla Tharp. Tharp was writing about her own creative process in designing dance performances. (Forgive me for my lack fluency in discussing this art form. I am probably misnaming something here.) It turns out she would fill boxes with the bits and pieces that inspired her. The boxes would have labels and contain anything from pages torn from magazines to articles of clothing to recordings of music- - - anything that would help to inform her choreography for a particular project.
For some reason this was so striking to me. Dance seems so abstract, and the idea of choreography so intangible. I loved the freedom Tharp gave me in conceiving of having a material locus for ideas. Something happens in capturing them, collecting them, that makes it easier to manifest that project.
So, if you want to make your own little container for ideas, shopping lists, or journal, check out this very simple way that I make my pamphlet books. This is a basic structure, and there are many ways to vary it. Also, if you want to dive deeper into bookmaking as your next creative adventure, the pamphlet is a foundational element to making a larger hard bound book. So, here is your first step!
I think that 11" x 14" paper is a nice size to work with. Your final book will be 7" x 11", but any size paper, within reason, will work.
I like bristol weight paper for the cover because it adds an extra heft in protecting the precious insides. You will need one sheet.
As for the insides, I like Strathmore sketch paper for bullet journals and general scribbling, but if I am going to be painting in the book or using markers, I prefer Cansons' XL Multimedia paper. Of course, the thicker your inside paper is, the fewer the sheets you can use.
Since the number of sheets depends on the thickness of the paper and the purpose of the book, it's hard to but a number on it, but I use anywhere between 6 and 15 sheets of sketch paper in a typical pamphlet book. Whatever number you settle on, you will have to be able to fold the cover and the inside sheets easily.
Also handy, an awl (really sharp tool for poking holes), bone folder (flat smooth thing to make tight creases), 24" of string (embroidery floss or something similar in heft), large eyed needle (able to thread hefty string), tooth picks, and a cutting mat or surface on which to poke holes.
Honestly, if you wanted to give this a try without investing in the bone folder and awl, the most critical components are the needle and thread. The other items just make the process easier, but aren't absolutely necessary.
Preparing the Pamphlet Book to be Sewn
Begin by shoring up all of your papers with the bristol paper (or cover paper on the outside). Get all your papers in alignment before folding them in half.
Use your pointer finger to make a crease in the middle of the fold.
Then use your bone folder, finger, rulere, credit card, or something to crease your spine starting from the middle crease out.
Run the bone folder along the spine a couple of times, flipping the book over to crease the backside as well as the front. This just ensures a nice creasy crease.
Yay! Your paper just went from paper shape to book shape! Congratulations!
Next you are going to open that nicely creased book up to the center page. Place the book cover side up on your cutting mat or safe surface, and grab your awl or sharp poker.
As Summer wanes, I thought it may be fun to soak up some sun by making Cyanotype Prints! This method of "printing" is an easy and striking way to capture your nature collection. This is a great project for kids, but it's just as fun for adults. It can be done rather quickly on a sunny day, making it conducive to short attention spans.
Begin by hunting for natural materials. Look for leaves, feathers, sticks, bones, or anything that might have an interesting shape. The items don't have to be flat, but flatness does produce a crisper print.
Cyanotype paper is light-sensitive, and must be kept wrapped in darkness until you are ready to make your print.
Once you have your collection ready, lay your paper on top of a firm surface like cardboard. Arrange your items into a satisfying composition, careful to not overlap.
Then, you can place the accompanying acrylic sheet on top of the entire blueprint sandwich to keep the floaty items, like feathers, from flying away in the wind.
Make sure there is solid sun exposure with no shadows, and then you wait 1 - 5 minutes depending on how much sun is shining. The paper will change to a lighter blue as it is exposed to the sun.
After the blue has faded, remove all of the items and rinse paper in cold water for about a minute. You can add lemon juice to a tray of water if you wish to achieve a darker blue. (I did not do this). Then dry your print in the sun on a paper towel. The blue will deepen as it drys creating an x-ray effect.
The directions say that you can flatten your print under books. You could also cut it up for use in a collage, or cover a homemade book, or paste into your nature journal. I'm thinking of using the print as a basis for a textile design. Let me know if you have tried making cyanotypes and what your experience with it has been!
Speaking of textile design, Pat and I installed the wallpaper that I designed via Spoonflower, in the cottage bedroom. This is the removable wallpaper that acts like a giant sticker. So, it will be easy to pull down when we get tired of it, or repaint the room or whatever. It was fairly easy to install, but I think it helps to achieve zen before beginning hanging your paper. They should add that to the instructions. Let's just say, I am glad that we only had a small wall to try this out. Anyway, Spoonflower also included a handy scraper to eliminate bubbles. All in all, I would do it again to achieve a statement wall. What do you think?
A Reason and Season for Nature School
I've been hinting and sharing tidbits all Summer about the nature observation project that the kids and I have been practicing. This project emerged from my desire to do better at studying and connecting with the natural world, its patterns, and my relationship with it.
I decided to embark on this experiment with my kids (ages 8 and 11) since I intuitively knew they were born naturalists. Selfishly, I wanted to learn from their brilliant ideas and approaches.
Well, we are all born with the curiosity and hunger to learn about the world, to notice it, and to hold lengthy conversations with it. Similar to our losing our childhood practice of play, drawing, and uninhibited dancing, many of us stop nurturing our natural curiosities as we age. We learn a false sense of separation from nature, but here is an equation for you - brought to you by Penelope on our first day of Nature School.
It's a little difficult to read, but she wrote, "Hello!!!!! This equation is for you. Humans = Nature" and then, "Humans are Nature" She is undoubtedly familiar with my hashtag #youarenature that I tag onto most of my Instagram posts, but I love that she is sending out an invitation to the reader, "Do the math! You are nature! Pay attention!"
What Nature School Looked Like
Armed with drawing supplies, sketchbooks, picnic blanket, and our guiding text, The Nature Connection: An Outdoor Workbook for Kids, Families, and Classrooms, by Clare Walker Leslie, we would pick a spot (sometimes indoors if raining) and settle down to notice what was happening around us. We usually sat for about an hour.
On the first day, the kids jumped right in plucking leaves off of the trees, making rubbings and taping them into their books. We made note of any questions we had along with any observations regarding the weather or what was blooming, leafing, insects bugging, etc. We talked about labeling our drawings, and not worrying if drawings were perfect. They were meant to diagram the experience not be works of art.
Almost immediately, though, I introduced Clare Walker Leslie's template for nature observation, and it became an instant hit. It was helpful to have a structure that included unseen elements like the phase of the moon and the times for sunrise and sunset. We each had our own interpretation of the structure, though. Abe leaned into drawing a whole scene, while I tried to focus on documenting poignant happenings.
Penelope took the framework one step farther making her entries into newspaper articles. She would craft a headline for that day's event and write a story describing such exciting news as the first duckling to hatch and the repair of a stone wall next to our patio. She preferred to include puns whenever possible.
Our Most Successful and Fun Day
The very best day we had at nature school, we spent in the creek. We began with Abe and I sitting on the bank and Penelope on a large rock in the middle of the creek. After a long period of arranging our tools and books so they wouldn't get wet, we began drawing and noticing, and there was a lot to see!
Here are some observations:
Here are some questions:
After playing in one spot we walked down the creek, noticing the current, sorting through pebbles, and clearing fallen branches out of the stream. Penelope said that water was the thing that calmed her the most. (She was spending the week without screens). Abe, our geologist, was marveling at all of the rocks. It took a lot to get both kids out of the creek for lunch and a bathroom break, for me. Hours had melted away, and it turned out to be my favorite memory of Summer. If I had to write one of those "back to school" essays about what I did over Summer, this would be it.
Continuing Practice of Nature Notes
These last two weeks have been busy with work, and the kids have been vacationing with grandparents. So, we haven't done nature school in awhile, but I have been continuing to make nature notes. I shared some in previous blog posts, but I really want to develop it as a year long practice of connecting with the natural phenomena around me so that I can recognize those same phenomena within me.
I decided to make a pamphlet book to fill, record, and remember. I want to be able to refer to these nature notes as a visual record of the previous year as well as a tool to develop my relationship with nature.
I am continuing to use the same nature notes template, but I adjusted it slightly to include room for notes that may pertain to nature or just my day in general. Below is the blank template. Feel free to use it as is or amend for your own observations. I also highly recommend The Nature Connection as a guide and resource for more ways to spark your inner child and develop your relationship with nature.
In the coming months, I intend to bring you more creative ways to connect with nature. Remember that important equation: You Are Nature! So take time to look around and make friends with yourself!
PS Just in case you missed my very soft launch of my new quilting line: Thumble. Please check out my new website devoted to quilts From Love, For Love, For Life! And be sure to sign up for Thumble Mail which is more about funny love notes and less about promotions, coupons, or sales!
Anna Lentz, artist and writer, blogs about making a creative life connected with nature at Spring Bird.