Category Archives: An Artist’s Life

My Love of Art Supplies: Prismacolor pencils

I decided the other day that it would be great to write a few posts about some of my favorite art supplies. No affiliate links or anything, just to talk about what I love and why I love it. These are Prismacolor pencils. My mom & dad bought me a basic set and I added to it because you always need more colors. When I was a kid there was a craft/hobby/art supply store downtown called Who’s Hobby House. (It’s still there.) I used to save up my pocket money and buy Prismacolor pencils one at a time from the big pencil display. They were $.75 a piece, I think. They were treasures. I remember discovering Ultramarine (which is an awesome color) and I had to ask my dad why one was called “non-photo blue”.

When I thought about writing this post about why I loved them, I went digging through all of the junk drawers and pencil cups in the house so I could take a photo and those three above are all I found. I know if I kept digging I would turn up more, but those three might easily be 30+ years old. Terra cotta, Burnt Umber and Hot Pink.

Why do I love them? The colors are rich and intense. The leads are soft and thick and you can get a huge range of color depth by pressing harder or softer. If I were to compare them to the colored pencil sets I use in classes that I teach: Prismacolor pencils are like the cappuccino I had in a cafe in Italy. Regular colored pencils are like the coffee in the waiting room at the place I take my car to get the oil changed. Both absolutely work but let’s just say that students (of any age) are rather hard on art supplies, so they get what’s easy to replace. These were the first “grown up” art supply I remember having where I really understood that it was the good stuff. (Kids should always have the good stuff as far as I am concerned, but that’s a post for another day.)

Today’s my birthday. And when I discovered that I could only find three of my very favorite pencils, I thought I should do something about that. My 12-year-old self is totally jumping up and down right now.

I bought the whole set. Every color they make. I was just going to get a basic set, but the sweet girl at Blick Art Supplies said “I think this big set might be on sale on our website, let me check for you” and sure enough, when she checked, it was marked at about 20% of its retail price, which made it $10 more than I was going to spend anyway. Sold. And they honored the web price in the store. (Nice work, Blick!)

Six trays, 150 colors. I know this will make some of you cringe, but I know me and I know I won’t keep them in their box in these nice little trays in color order. I am so not that person. So I am going to make a zipper bag to keep them in. And I know the perfect fabric designs to use:

These are both by my friend Kelly (weavingmajor), who I met a little bit working on the Spoonflower book. Ages ago I ordered some of the pencils design on peel-n-stick wallpaper to cover a sketchbook of mine. I can tell she loves the Prismacolors as much as I do.

Make art with me: March 2

Thursday March 2 • 6-8 pm • free admission
Hennepin History Museum

I will be in the gallery talking about my work, answering questions and teaching YOU how to make awesome origami dresses like these from the exhibition. It is really fun to do and I have printed patterned wrapping paper so that every one can be different.

I was talking to someone recently about origami as a theme in my work. I never start out saying I am going to have something that’s origami, but it always shows up. Origami is a Japanese art form of folding paper. The designs are made without cutting or tearing the paper and almost always start off as a perfect square. When I was a kid, my dad had an origami book. It has been his since *he* was a little kid; a gift from a very favorite great uncle. Uncle Lester was a magician who specialized in paper tricks. I have written about him before. We were only allowed to look at the origami book with supervision, but my dad would sit with us for hours and help us figure out animals and flowers. There is one design from the book that I have had memorized since I was a kid. I remember folding it in elementary school from pieces of lined paper; it’s an unusual one that starts with a rectangle. My original engagement ring was an origami butterfly ring. I found the book it came from and tracked down an out-of-print copy for my husband for our 20th anniversary. I think origami was one of the first art forms I really connected with and said “I love this”. (In contrast, I hate painting. I really don’t enjoy it at all. It took a long time for me to embrace that. It’s ok to be an artist and hate painting.) So I hope you can come and learn to fold something. Maybe it will click with you too.

Screaming Hairy Armadillos (or armadillos as the road to inspiration)

There is a lot going on in the world right now that makes some of us want to scream. I get it. But I think we need a little break from that to talk about a different kind of screaming.

Let me introduce you to Amber.

She’s a screaming hairy armadillo from the Smithsonian National Zoo. They tweeted about her last week. And my mom and I both saw it and were curious. Why was she called a “screaming” hairy armadillo? I get the parts about hairy and armadillo, but screaming?

So we Googled it.

And then we got the giggles. My dogs are now in love with Amber’s cousin-in-the-video and come running in the room when I play the sound. I told my mom “I think I need to design something with screaming hairy armadillos on it”. This might be the first fabric I have ever designed inspired by a sound. 🙂

So I thought about that for a couple of days. I have been working non-stop on grant/exhibition projects and I needed a day to goof off and design something fun. And I thought it would also be fun to talk a little about that process.

First I studied a bunch of armadillo photos and thought about how to make that great armor texture they have. Cut paper bits? Something photographic? Lace? Then I saw something pop up in my Facebook feed about making a paint texture with bubble wrap.

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So I grabbed a piece of bubble wrap and some double-sided tape and made myself a roller around an empty soda can. I squirted out some paint on the tin foil, rolled some on the roller and painted some sheets of black card stock.

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Messy, but perfect! Then I started drawing some armadillos. I did a quick pencil sketch and then drew over them with a fine sharpie pen.

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I thought I would just fill in their backs with the paint texture and have them be hand drawn. Turns out that they are perfectly cute little guys, but not very successful as fabric. I played with colors and fills and I just couldn’t get them to balance. The bubble wrap texture was so bold and dark and the lines here too delicate. Bleh. So I walked away for a bit.

Then I tried re-drawing them using layered shapes in Illustrator. That worked a lot better. The big blocks of solid color were much more balanced with the bubble wrap texture. I am kind of in love with them.

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The bubble wrap also got a little tweaking. I changed the transparency of that layer to be about 45% and put it over the same base color of the armadillo (turquoise in this example). The black in the bubble wrap print darkened the color up so that I got a nice related shade and you can still see some of the rainbow colors in the paint.

Then, we all know they are screaming armadillos, so they needed to say something. Only I couldn’t make up my mind what they needed to say, so I actually did two versions of the design: one with blank speech bubbles and one with “just do it” sort of positive messages: read it, think, love, believe, speak up, try, make good art.

I thought it would be fun to have options. Want your armadillos to scream Happy Birthday? or Congrats? Or Happy Retirement? Then you can fill it in with fabric markers, paint, embroidery, or sharpies. A friend sent me a list of “g-rated” swear words yesterday. She remembered that I talked about a collaborative print I did in a class with phrases like “oh piddle” and “son of a biscuit” and I now think it would be super funny to do a version with the armadillos politely swearing up a blue streak. But that’s another day.


So I started with a blue and green colorway and did two color variations, one with bright earthy colors and another with pinks and purples. The background of the armadillos is a photo of peeling paint from a utility box. Sometimes amazing textures come from weird places. But it goes nicely with the other paint textures. I took the same bubble wrap scan and made a seamless texture out of it too. So you can also get coordinating “polkadots” that match the armadillo armor.



I named them “Activist Armadillos” and I have uploaded all 16 designs to Spoonflower as fabric or wrapping paper designs. I have ordered swatches of all of the versions and I will post an update when I get them and decide if I need to make any tweaks to the design. I can’t wait to see them.

I think the screaming armadillos would make an awesome tote bag with a lining of armor polkadots. I might have to make that for me.

It takes 6 hours.

This video is about 2 1/2 hours condensed down into 34 seconds. That’s me installing just one of the pieces for my first solo exhibition, which opened on Thursday last week. I thought it would be fun to try and capture a little about what installation is like because I don’t think artists often talk about that part. I filmed this on my iPad, which was set up on a windowsill across the room.

The piece is called Well Dressed and there are 144 origami dresses hung on tiny clothespins from bakers twine.


I had sorted them ahead of time by style. If you look closely at the photo, there are about 7 different dress styles and I wanted to make sure they were fairly evenly distributed among the “laundry lines”. I chose colors and patterns to be next to one another as I went along. The patterns on each dress were created by students in the workshops I did as part of this grant project. I printed their designs on wrapping paper in 6 inch squares. Then I did a lot of practice folding. I searched for origami dress tutorials on YouTube and Pinterest and because my paper was much thicker than traditional origami paper, I needed to fold and tweak the designs to work with the heavy paper.

I installed this piece first because I knew it would take the most time. Actually after I finished the time lapse video, I went back and added one more laundry line row so I could spread out the dresses a little more because I felt like they were too crowded.

In addition to this wall, there were 8 other pieces, a section of photos and “the making of” original art, plus 2 interactive sections. The rest of those were relatively fast to install.

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Most of my dress forms have to be creatively padded to make things fit just right. I always make pieces that fit me, but I am not as tiny as the dress forms are. Quilt batting, bubble wrap and pins are my friend. I forgot to take a photo of the “before”, but this lady is wearing two layers of quilt batting and a bra with some extra padding so she looks like this dress fits her. The arms on these dress forms help a lot to make things hang right.

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You can see from the photos that the gallery I installed everything in is an old house. I thought formal gallery labels would look kind of out of place in that kind of a setting, so I made all of my labels look like framed pieces and used vector drawings of big ornate frames to put them in. I printed those on peel and stick wallpaper and cut out the outside edge of the frame before I hung them up.

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144 paper dresses, 288 clothespins, 84 feet of string, 3 dozen velcro hangers, 8 dress forms, 12 trips up and down 2 flights of stairs, 14 feet of wallpaper, 20 yards of fabric, 6 hours to install.


You are invited: Unexpected Art Workshops


Registration is now open. These workshops are FREE with museum admission.

I was fortunate to get a MN State Arts Board grant this year and it’s time for the public projects part of that grant. I have partnered with The Bakken, The Museum of Russian Art and Hennepin History Museum to host 3 evenings of workshops making art inspired by each of their collections. You can read all about the background of this project on my Unexpected Art page. I want to invite all of you to please come to a workshop. A big part of this grant is having a public component and that means I need you to participate. Each museum will be doing something a little special the evening of the workshop: staying open later hours, pulling special things from their collections, and including all of the workshop fee in with regular museum admission. That means you get to visit an awesome museum, get to see something that few people get to see, take a mini workshop and take home a piece of art. It will be awesome!

You do need to pre-register because I have limited computer space. My grant also funded a mobile computer lab, which I will have set up for the workshops. You will be making art inspired by special pieces from the museum collections. I will help you transform your art into an awesome fabric design. You will get to keep a swatch of your fabric (mailed to you after it is printed) and I will include everyone’s swatches in an exhibition of art hosted at the Hennepin History museum in January 2017. You don’t need any experience with fabric design and I promise you will have fun.

Dates: Thursdays November 3, 17 and December 1

Register here at the Unexpected Art page. (Slots for the November 3 workshop are already going fast!)

A tale of Two Cons: Weaving and Star Trek

In the last week, I had the awesome experience of attending both a weaving convention and a Star Trek convention. If the zipper bag pictured above gives you any clue, you can see that these are both things that I enjoy.

The weaving convention was the annual Handweavers Guild of America conference, which was held in Milwaukee. I was a “leader” which means I was there to teach 5 classes on everything from social media to fabric design and to participate in their runway show. The Star Trek convention was held a downtown hotel in Minneapolis and had actors from all of the Star Trek series in attendance, doing Q&As and photo ops.

Surprisingly (or maybe not surprisingly) these two “cons” had a lot of things in common.

A conference is a conference.

There were panel discussions, seminars, cocktail parties, VIP areas and volunteers with clipboards and headsets. There was “conference center food”: numerous forms of bread and cheese (pizza, nachos, pretzels) under heat lamps. There were bored-looking spouses on their cell phones holding bags. There was a registration table staffed by volunteers trying to keep track of 6 things at once. The air-conditioning was cranked to ice age levels. I am pretty sure you could get dropped in to any conference anywhere on any topic and know you were at a conference.

There are costumes.

I am sure this doesn’t surprise you about the Star Trek con. Sci-fi gatherings are famous for this. I saw Klingons, Vulcans and a baby Trill. There were exquisite reproductions of Bajorans and swords made from tinfoil-coated cardboard. As a lover of costumes, I was delighted with all of the things made by hand.

We didn't go in costume, but this was Halloween a few years ago.

We didn’t go in costume, but this was Halloween a few years ago. I get it.

Weavers also wear costumes. It is a given that you wear your favorite handmade stuff when you are at a fiber art conference. I made a tank top with my weaving themed fabric specifically to wear to this conference. I saw handwoven shawls and jackets, handmade shoe laces and a pair of amazing sprang leggings. (Sprang is finger-weaving technique.)

You can ask anyone about what they are wearing and they will tell you all about it: how they researched it, how they learned how to do it, why they love it, where they struggled. And if you ask them about it, you will be rewarded with a smile that lights up the room. They do it because they love it.

There are celebrities.

I said hi to the brilliant John DeLancie (aka Q). It was quiet when we were there and it was a tiny room, so I was standing just a few feet away from him when I walked in the room. I know I had a huge smile on my face when he looked up, so I said hi and he said hi back. It was neat to make that little connection. We enjoyed the Q&A sessions we listened to. Marina Sirtis (Troi) was really funny and Gates McFadden (Crusher) so genuine and geeky.IMG_4008 2

I wouldn’t rank myself up in the “celebrity” status, but the very first afternoon I was at the weaving conference I felt like a celebrity. Someone recognized the fabric my shirt was made from (one of my designs) from Instagram photos. A student from a workshop I taught last summer came over and told me how much she had loved that class and how glad she was that I was there. An Etsy customer that I did a big custom order for came and found me in my classroom to show me the loom she made with her tiny weaving loom kit. One student handed me a handwritten thank you note at the end of class to say thanks for teaching her. I felt like a rock star. It was awesome.

I felt some awkward empathy with the Star Trek actors. The conference was small and not very busy and many of them were sitting at tables covered in glossy photos, surfing Twitter on their phones and waiting for people to come over and chat. I have sat at art shows and smiled at streams of people who walk right by. My art might not be your thing, but imagine what it’s like to have your art be yourself (as an actor) and have people just walk by. That must be SO hard. I know that watching someone pick up one of my scarves and smile at the fabric design is the best feeling; I can just see the connection. It felt weird to me to go over and chat with strangers about a show they made 30 years ago, so I hope that my big smile as I walked by conveyed a little how much I appreciate their work.

There is geeky stuff to buy.

IMG_3957It’s a vendor’s dream: an audience that is guaranteed to love what you are selling. There are things to collect. There are things you can’t get anywhere else. There are people selling things because they love what they do and are just as big a geek as you are. There are t-shirts if you want to proclaim your geeky-love to the world and there are things that you know you will be the only one at your workplace that knows what that thing is sitting on your desk because it belongs to a special level of geekiness. There are always silver jewelry charms that are made in the shape of something thematic (drop spindles, Star Fleet communicators) and coffee mugs with the conference logo. There are always large unisex t-shirts that are big and baggy on me. (That’s a personal pet-peeve.)

There are people who love what you love.

When I thought about writing this post, I immediately thought of that quote by Wil Wheaton (coincidentally a Star Trek actor) which I posted above. Cons are where you find those people who love the same stuff that you do and you all are there celebrating the way that you love it. It’s pretty cool to be able to wear a shirt that has weaving shuttles all over it and have someone stop dead in the hallway and say “That’s so awesome!” and not “What the $%# is on your shirt?” It’s fun to be a part of a tribe.

That’s kind of the whole philosophy behind my Etsy shop, honestly. I am a fiber art geek and I make things for other fiber art geeks. That’s what makes it fun. I don’t do it because it is fun sewing dozens of zipper bags (that is super boring, I will be honest). My job is making things that help people celebrate the things that they love. That’s fun.

Have you ever been to a conference focused on a particular theme that is near-and-dear to your heart? I had a great time at both places and it was great to be a geek along with all of the other geeks. It wouldn’t be as much fun if we weren’t all there together.