postcard machine

this is not art

I realised with a start yesterday that the deadline for iHanna’s DIY Postcard Swap has crept up on me while I was tied up doing other things! So I got my ass into gear and made 8 postcards…actually I made 11, but as the quality of subsequent ones got better, I found myself throwing the very blah earlier ones away.

Which is not to say that I consider these 8 to be the pinnacle of my creative abilities…I was tempted to discard a few more from this group. But let’s be practical and realistic: I have two free days left. I’m running out of time. I also need to make some journals for the craft fair this weekend, as a matter of urgency. So these will have to do…and I hope I can make another two postcards this morning, so I can get cracking on the bookbinding.

“Please upgrade your output levels to Panic Mode…and thank you for flying with Seat-Of-Your-Pants airlines.”)

cliff dweller

It quickly became clear , as I put these collages together, that I deeply dislike using commercially printed papers. Although I have my own small stash of scrapbook papers and other decorative elements from the scrapbooking craze of several years ago, when it came to putting collages together, I almost always tossed the pre-made decorative stuff in preference for papers and media that I had made, myself. I still used some patterned papers or magazine pages for some cards, but I tried to keep them minimal.

This lady with a cactus, for example, uses commercial papers for the cactus pot, and the floral background. The paper clay face was made in a Sculpey doll mold.  Everything else was painted, printed, drawn or stitched by hand.


This one doesn’t look like much, but I’m very proud that everything used for this collage is my own work: painted textures and fragments of old lino prints that I did during a printmaking course many years ago. Totally organic.

green bottle

A cartoonish painting of a cat that was in an old sketchbook…I love finding uses for odds and ends like these.

orange cat

An unsuccessful little painting on canvas got cut up and I drew the bottle around it, and stuck it down to commercial scrapbook paper and a scrap of Thai ‘money’ for the dead.

storm in a bottle

The other half of that underworld bill, on a page from one of my favorite drawing magazines, Le Gun, and another unsuccessful painting of…toothpaste? Go figure.


A second paper clay character…I’ve nicknamed her Little Zen Riding Hood. A stencilled background, some linoprinting, a coloured photocopy of some cross-stitching I did on paper, and the red cloak is cut from Unsuccessful Painting #3 (I did a whole series of these lumpish duds).

In emulation of a line from one of Joanna Newsom’s songs (Bluebeard) I wrote “What a woman does is walk paths of the unconscious…it is not a question of straying or not straying.” Deep, huh? LOL

little zen riding hood

An old seedbook of embroidery ideas has resurfaced…

yellow medallion seedbook

Something I found while reorganising my bookshelves this morning: an old seedbook, with some projects and ideas that I had been toying with or working on at the time. Not sure what year I started this, but it was sometime between 2000 and 2005. Kris painted the covers for me…based on a kilim design from Daghestan, although the use of so much yellow makes the pattern look Chinese.

I’ve posted about seedbooks on here before; I keep them distinct from written journals and separate, again, from visual diaries/art journals where I just play and explore, visually, how I’m feeling or what’s going on in my life. A seedbook is really where I plant the seeds of creative ideas, refining or figuring them out, planning their construction with diagrams and technical drawings, or just a place to keep them ‘safe’ so that I can go back to them someday. The seeds may or may not actually grow into something, but at least they are there and I can evaluate, use, build upon, or discard them as the need arises. I have quite a few of these idea collections…

It’s so strange to go over old writings and designs…what a different sort of person I was then! Like this painstaking catalog of beads and other bits that I had purchased—no doubt intending to make who-knows-what costume jewelry or beaded and embellished book covers—complete with the price of each and a code for where I had bought them. I am happy to report that I am no longer this fussy; I have learned to work with the substantial stash of materials that I already have, and no longer suffer from anxiety attacks that I may run out of something and not be able to find it again. It allows me to discover new things to use, rather than repeat myself or my ideas by using the same materials.

yellow medallion seedbook
yellow medallion seedbook

Clearly, beads were an obsession at this time…and a kind of colorful, store-bought African tribal look that I thought was pretty hot *LOL* I do remember that I started collecting cowrie shells off the beach where we lived (I actually came to Darwin with two shopping bags full of ground down cowrie shells that I was going to decorate chthonic and primitive embroideries with…I ended up returning them, still full of dried salt and sand, to the sea) as well as clean pieces of bone, teeth, and feathers. The hunter-gatherer look. ;)

yellow medallion seedbook

yellow medallion seedbook
These scrupulous hand-drawn diagrams for working tubular peyote stitch are testaments to a younger me, when I had all the time in the world to muck around like this. These days I skip the meticulous notes and try to get into the actual making as quickly as possible…

yellow medallion seedbook

This design still delights me, and I think I will finally do something about it and turn the plan into an embroidery:

yellow medallion seedbook

And this Polynesian design actually made it into the world of form! It ended up as a rich satin-stitch-filled embroidery, on the cover of a journal:

yellow medallion seedbook
I almost felt like a voyeur, looking through this seedbook and finding a handful of ideas that I had completely forgotten about.


If you’ve been following along for a while I think you’ll notice the way I jump from doing one thing to another. For a spell I might be obsessed with embroidery, and everything I post about will be related to that. Then I’ll get into bookbinding, and embroidery will sort of fall by the wayside. Lately I’ve been into drawing and painting, to the exclusion of everything else. To someone following this blog (and who probably subscribed because he/she really enjoyed seeing just that one dimension of creative expression I happened to be working on at the time) this hopscotching back and forth probably seems really capricious , undependable, and erratic…a kind of craziness.

The funny thing about this is that, for me, there is almost no difference between painting, stitching, sewing clothes, or binding pages together. For one thing, the principles you absorb by doing one craft or art form are carried over into all your making. The mind is not a hard drive and can’t be partitioned so definitely. Hands practiced at one form of work will take what they know—that sensitivity, that intuition—and apply it to the next task.

A line is a line is a line…you seek variety and expressiveness when you make a line, be it in ink or thread. In all practices a line can be a dot that went for a walk; it can be an arrow that shows the way, or a guide that leads the eye; it can be a road, or a boundary, an edge, a bridge across an abyss, an umbilical cord, a ball of thread that will take you into the labyrinth, and then lead you back out again.

Layers can be pages, can be leaves, wings, curtains, veils. They can speak about concealment and revelation, can talk about light and shadow, about translucency, about juxtaposition, about sequence, story, the what-happened-next, what-lies-behind-the-next-hill, and who is the monster a the end of this book? Ultimately, all are statements about the passage of time.

Ideas about form, space, edges, progression, texture, the what-ness of the material, its intrinsic qualities, its limitations and how to push the material beyond those limitations, are all part of some greater, all-encompassing journey to expression of Being…to integrity, or maybe even some kind of Truth.

whites and not-so-whites

Jude Hill’s What If Diaries approach to making is a key that unlocks the door to a thousand doors. It’s a marvelous question, hanging there in the space around your work table when you are trying to push your own boundaries, trying to give birth to monsters or gods. Just by reading her own posts, where she asks “What if…?” over and over, like a mantra, you absorb the habit of asking the same thing of yourself.
When you finally stop trying to imitate Jude’s work (a natural compulsion, but you won’t get anything of your own out of it…Jude asks “What if?” and dives off a cliff, and you just follow along hanging on to her coat tails?) and really start to ask your own What Ifs, magic happens. Things come into being. And they are yours. Rough, maybe, or too plain, but the making gives delight, and the thing made is something new (to you, anyway). And from there you see other doors…directions, a fork in the path. I could go this way with it…or I could go that…

Holding firmly onto the end, toss imagination’s ball of string out in front of you, and let it unroll down the path, around the bend, and out of sight. Now reel yourself in.

I stopped making lists and thinking about things, yesterday, and decided to do something physical. Scoured the boat for whatever white-ish fabrics I had (for the Whispering Whites part of the Diaries) and found 10 meters of white cotton gauze (I was going to make a mosquito net, once upon a time), a few bits and pieces of lace, crochet, and damask, some brand new ladies handkerchiefs, those stained white bedsheets I dug out of some hotel’s rubbish, and some great triangular cotton bandages from an Army First Aid kit.

I decided:

To heck with looking for fabrics that carry memories for me, those colonial drawn thread and fillet lace gowns or rotting church veils, some bride’s trousseau or the doilies my grandmother made…I don’t want to build an altar to the past. I want to work with my head and heart firmly planted in the present, and push out from here. Synthetic organza? Poly-linen? Fusible web and spray-on adhesive? Wire to give structure and form? Acetate for strength that lets light through? Sure, why not, if these are what I have and know how to use? I firmly believe that if women of the 19th century had access to these things, they would have made no bones about using them, too. They were practical women.

Also, as with everything else that I do, I will dance my wild hopscotch between painting, paper craft, printmaking, sewing, embroidery, and anything else I care to add into the mix. Because I am not partitioned. :)

What if the thing I love the most about white fabric is the way that light glows through and around the fabric, and shadows or silhouettes of varying intensities are the counterpoint to that luminosity? What if white could become a vessel for light? What if I worked with the idea of vessels and three-dimensional space, rather than stick to the flat Nine Patch?

The Nine Patch squared?

The Nine Patch cubed?

*eyes wide* OHHH………


Origami balloon, made from a single square cotton handkerchief, four seams, and some tiny, tiny stitches to keep it from opening up.


There it goes! My ball of string, jouncing along down a hillside and out of sight. I’m off after it. See you later!

Whispering White

cuello bordado
In the What-If Diaries, we have started with white. Thinking about white…its associations, its significances, its definitions. Words started to multiply in the forums: snow, angels, virgins, brides, sunlight, linen, home, moon, stars…

I wrote down some of the things that I think of when I think about white, and found it rather telling that, for me, anyway, white is not such a light or gentle thing. Could not relate to snow or anything frozen or cold. Thought of things like angels or glowing brides with a vague distaste. Realized that, in the tropical Philippines, white (fabric, anyway) was completely unnatural. White was introduced from somewhere else. Our own fabrics were earthy and strong-colored. It was the Spanish, coming along in the 1400s and colonizing, then Christianizing us, and turning the islands into a trading and military outpost  for their empire, who insisted on white clothing and white linens, who wore white because it was cooler in the tropical heat.

So, for me, white is the color of colonial history, of Catholicism and the Church. I think of bleaching. I think of erasure. It’s hints at occupation, oppression, an elite ruling class comprised of uncomfortable, over-dressed foreigners, gasping like pale fish in the liquid air of the tropics.


Looking at white in other ways, too…taking my cue from Jude Hill. White as translucence or transparency. As negative space. As absence. As the opposite of shadows and darkness. And yet, without one, there is no other…Daemon est Deus inversus.

Jude Hill asks, “What if light could be created by dark?” And vice-versa, I’m thinking.

shadow of lace

I took photographs of this embroidered head-covering. My mother made this, when she was a girl. She wore it to church, in the days when all the women covered their heads before entering a church, and the priest stood with his back to the congregation, talking intimately to God in Latin.

I’m not ready to cut it up for any fabric workshop, yet, but I let it inspire ideas. The embroidery on the veil used to be white, but when I was small I kept stealing this veil from her dressing room drawer, and she kept taking it back. Finally I took it with me up a mango tree, and tucked it away “safely” in a hollow in the tree trunk. Then forgot about it. It sat in leaf mould and beetles through a whole rainy season, balled up in that tree’s cavity. When I found it again, the white had yellowed. Distressed fabric. Distressed mother, too. She finally gave it to me just a few years ago.


Against the sun, the veil casts a shadow that is its opposite…the black net lets light through, the white embroidery blocks the lights, casts the darker shadow. Transparent darkness and opaque whiteness.

No projects gelling yet. Just a random eruption of little ideas…a flurry of fireworks, stars and bokeh when I close my eyes and look through the skin of my eyelids. I’m finding white difficult and prissy to approach.


I don’t own very much meaningful white fabric at all. We didn’t use white fabric at home for linens or curtains or anything like that…and I am not sentimental enough to drag away all my mother’s old fabric, even if we had. Leave the past where it is, I say, it’s just an encumbrance, something we carry around with us to make the ego feel more substantial, to give it more of a story to tell.


What can I use for this workshop? Back to the idea of trying to please our colonizers (who thought we were dirty, because we were dark) by whitening everything—fabric, skin. Today, many Filipinas still buy products with “skin whiteners”, and hide under umbrellas from the sun. And bathe three times a day—maybe because they hear that voice in their heads that tells them their skin is brown because it’s thick with dirt? Wash, wash, wash. “Out, damned spot! out, I say!…What, will these hands ne’er be clean?”

Thinking I may force my whites, by bleaching the life out of the colored fabrics that I do have.

DIY : : Bunny & Cow Romper Babies

Bunny & Cow Romper Babies DIY

Jacksons Drawing Supplies in Darwin has a new staff blog!

Our first offering, anticipating Easter, is a little DIY for these cute Bunny & Cow Romper Babies…there are photos and a PDF for the pattern pieces. You may remember that I made one of these for my goddaughter some time ago. This time I took photos and re-drew the pattern pieces. Naturally, it uses materials sourced from Jacksons Drawing Supplies. We work there, after all, and what’s good for the shop is good for us. :)

The shop has been at #7 Parap Place for over 20 years, and still we get locals coming in to tell us that they never knew we were there. No wonder the business is struggling! So, in an attempt to drag the one and only proper art and technical drawing shop in Darwin into the 21st Century, we’ve decided to start a blog.

There’s not a lot on there yet; it’s hard to find the time and coordinate with each other—we can’t do this stuff on the job (that’s why it’s called “the unofficial staff blog”) we do our blogging at home, photographing the steps and projects on the weekends, using our own cameras, laptops, and internet connections.

But that’s okay, we really want to do this…we’re all creatives and, as the main art shop in town, we know so many of the local artists. We’d like this blog to serve as an outlet for our own creations and projects, to feature profiles of Darwin’s artists and art organizations, to keep track of local art events, and to even maybe answer of the many, many Frequently Asked Questions that we get about paints, mediums, materials, techniques, and so forth.

I hope you’ll take a minute to check it out, maybe download and give the Easter project a go, and even subscribe to the post feed so that you’ll know when the next few goodies come up!

Week 7 of Designing a Creative Travel Journal

This entire post was copied and pasted from my assignment submission page on…just to let you know where I am at with this project. This was the last assignment of the course…supposed to be the ‘Beta’ of my product, though it’s clearly nowhere near the beta stage yet! But this was all I could do in the one day I had to finish it all.
It’s midnight, I’ve work tomorrow, so this has to go up on the course site tonight…hence the hastily chosen “brand name” and the lousy photos taken with camera flash because it was long past sunset when I took most of these.
Travel Journal and JacketREISE is German for “journey”

The journal is bound using Longstitch/linkstitch (aka Limp Binding) The pages are stitched to a spine of strong leather, with plenty of space between them for the gradual inclusion of ephemera, postcards, photos, and other souvenirs of the trip. I cut slits into the leather spine to form “loops” through which the elastic strap of the jacket can be threaded.

This view of the inside of the jacket shows the elastic strap for attaching the journal, as well as three pagemarker ribbons, which are part of the jacket.

The elastic strap weaves in and out of the journal’s leather spine…

and is held down by a snap on the outside of the jacket:

Some features of the journal itself are a 20-page fold-out photo album:

A plastic template for square petal envelopes, to make your own little pockets for small things…

using interesting papers (newspaper pages, magazines, decorative papers) that you collect along the way.

Stick these petal envelopes down wherever you need them.

Also, you can rate your travel experiences and flag your entries using the three stamps that are attached to the ends of the page marker ribbons.

When your journal is full, undo it from the jacket, and strap down a new one.

IWWMW design a travel journal (and case) that conveniently combines an artistic/creative traveler’s tools and materials for collecting/recording during a trip, and the finished works of art and memory?

Primary needs:

  • Journal integrates collected souvenirs, and records (in the form of writing, art, photos)
  • Journal has storage space for art materials and journaling tools.
  • Journal is strong, hard-wearing, long-lasting and keeps contents secure.
  • Journal is customisable to a great degree.
  • Journal is convenient to carry.
  • Journal is easy to use/deploy.
  • Journal is a pleasure to use.
  • Journal is comprised of “artist’s grade” materials.
  • Journal has pages of information that is useful while travelling.

Submit a one paragraph description of what the next steps would be to further refine and develop the artifact:

I had one day in the entire week to do my journal prototype, so there are a lot of things that have been left out as I simply did not have the time. Obviously, the actual printed pages of the journal are missing—sections for foreign words & phrases, packing checklists, To-Do or Must-Visit list pages, shopping info (bought what, where, for how much) as well as cultural and foodie notes, and lots of important travel information (itinerary, time and currency conversion, contacts, and so on) It’s also missing customisable page tabs, for different sections.

I did not get around to putting a closure on the jacket. I hoped to add small D-rings for a removable bag strap. And I would have liked the final journal case to be made of very thin but strong leather, instead of linen. A range of designs for the journal jackets (or at least diferent colours) would have to be considered.

Other ideas I had at the start of this project, and which I think are still good, are:

  • a small pamphlet with 50 fun ideas for fresh, quirky, creative ways to fill your travel journal…exercises and such
  • a website where REISE users can upload pictures of their journal pages, share their drawings, photos, collages, doodles…and engage in forums with a community of other artist-travelers.

I know this isn’t “one paragraph”, but I have learned so much from this course, the journey really has been the destination, and its own reward. I don’t think I’ll even bother to find out what my final score is, now, or download some meaningless certificate of completion! What was of real value here, I have already received.

Thanks and good bye!

◊ ◊ ◊

Week 6 of Designing a Creative Travel Journal

Travel Journal alpha

What happened to Week 5? I didn’t do my homework. :( The load was light, anyway, because of Thanksgiving in the U.S.

Instead, I started working on my alpha prototype in Week 5, because I knew I wouldn’t be able to do it all in just the one week of Week 6. I have a new job (tell you about it when I take some photos!), but haven’t managed to slough off the old one, yet…I’m giving my old boss till the Christmas holidays to find a replacement for me. So I worked 6 days last week, will work 6 days every week for the next 3 or so. Not so terrible, I’ll survive, but I haven’t had time to do any groceries or blogging or even laundry…it’s just a big grey block of work and, when I get home at night, The Prototype is waiting. So then I make a coffee and sew pockets until 1 or 2 in the morning, because I am not going to drop out in the last quarter, I’ve done way too much to just let it all go.

Anyway, the idea is still to make both a journal “jacket” and a specially bound travel journal, and for these two to work together. I have run out of time to make the bound book for this week, so I will present that as part of the Beta model, next week. Here are just pictures, and some notes, about the journal jacket part, which was a lot harder to put together than I thought it would be, though I have to say that I am thrilled to have learned SO MUCH about stitching all sorts of pockets, zips, even an expandable three-part pocket that fans out to a 90-degree angle. Go, me! (Hey, I can pat myself on the back…I have been living on rice with soy sauce and an occasional tomato, from the plant on the back deck, for 5 days…)

The photos with annotations were the ones I submitted to the course, but I’m throwing in a few more for this post, to give you all a better idea of what’s been included, changed, etcetera…

By the way, the photo at the very start of this post is shows pages of our old marbling experiments journal. For a few years in the Philippines Kris and I marbled our own papers and fabrics for the journals we made; we weren’t using any of the proper stuff—there was no carrageenan, or special marbling paints, or ox gall. We used rain water, cheap local acrylic house paints, and manioc starch for the size. Still, we managed to get our patterns to a pretty good standard, amazingly. The green marbled fabric on the cover of the journal, in some of the photos below, is one of ours.


I envision a travel journal (book), together with a sturdy “jacket” that I can put the journal into. The jacket has multiple pockets to hold not only the maps and paraphernalia of traveling, but also the art materials he/she might use to create a more personalised and artistic journal. Unlike the journal—which I imagine will become an inactive but cherished receptacle for the traveler’s memories and impressions when it is filled—the jacket is re-usable.

I work 6 days a week, so I didn’t have time to hand bind the travel journal (book) itself…sorry! But I’ve done so much work on this thing, already, that perhaps I should be viewing this “Travel Journal Jacket” as a separate design from the actual “Travel Journal”! Maybe I’ll just finish off the book part for the beta prototype next week.

NOTE: The rubber stamps are a heart, a star, and an unhappy face, representing “Like this” (or “Love this”), “Important” and “Dislike this”. The stamps are meant to be used to flag entries where the traveller wants to rate an experience. I found this solution preferable to Moleskine’s use of symbol stickers which, of course, always get used unevenly, and run out too soon.

NOTE: There are three of these large pockets with zippers that run along the edge of the journal jacket…see first illustration for placement of all three.

Just a final photo showing where everything is, from left to right: a  green journal has been strapped in, some maps and papers are in the expanding pockets, pens and brushes fit snugly into elastic loops, and there is a stamp pad and a glue tape gizmo in the tool pockets at the right. Also, yes, those are my feet, spread very far apart! :)

Travel Journal alpha
Travel Journal alpha

Week 4 of Designing a Creative Travel Journal

10 journal concepts

I quickly revised my problem from last week, and drew 10 new concepts for this week’s homework, submitted yesterday. In them, I’ve re-focused on the journal, with most of the storage space for things like postcards, ephemera, trinkets, pressed flowers, and all the other little bits and pieces that one collects along the way when moving through an unfamiliar place. Some of the books still have a little storage built in for things like a small tin of watercolours or pencils, pens, but I stopped thinking in terms of an entire bag dedicated to rolls of tape, glue sticks, and big fat tubes of acrylic paints or whatever else a person uses to artfully fill his/her journal.

I had to do these concepts the same week that I was actually supposed to be building prototypes. It took forever to make the leap from a concept, on paper, to actually making something. I dawdled ever so much! I think I was scared of finding out that my concepts were impossible to make in the 24 hours I had left before submission deadline. I’d done so well, so far, that I hated the idea of slipping behind, now that things were really getting interesting. My two chosen concepts involved techniques I didn’t have much practice in. Much of what I thought I knew was theoretical…like I figured it couldn’t be too hard to stitch a zipper on a pouch! But I’d never really tried, before. Finally stopped faffing around yesterday and put concept D together in three hours. Amazing how much theory and preparation you can do without once you stop overthinking and just do it.

Concept D: Journal and Jacket

prototype D

It’s VERY ROUGH, but the gist of the idea is there. A flexible wraparound cover jacket, with pockets and pouches on every available surface,
prototype D

and a leather strap that hooks into the book, through the little hollow between cover and text block that all my hand-bound books have, and snaps down on the cover to hold it in place.

prototype D
prototype D

This snap was a serendipitous find. I didn’t have any snaps, nor a snap setter, but as I was rummaging through an old toiletries pouch of buttons and buckles for something else to use, I saw that the pouch itself had a snap. Took a utility knife to that pouch in a flash, and stitched it on with rough and impatient abandon.
prototype D

Concept C is almost identical to Concept D; the only difference is that the book pages are bound to the cover in C. This sort of binding (a limp, or longstitch/linkstitch binding) would allow me to space the signatures out a bit more, accommodating the things to be added in by the user. But the idea of the re-usable jacket and journal refills seemed, on the whole, a more considerate and practical solution. I can work out how to space the pages in the journal itself later, I hope!
 prototype D

Concept I: Dos a Dos book and box


I used two books, bought at the second-hand bookstore years ago, intending to use them in altered book projects I never started. They’re very faux elegant, pretentious things…fancy goldstamping on some horrible ‘leather-look’ textured paper, and only one edge of the pages is gilded: the top edge, which visitors are sure to see when this deep red set of Australia’s Great Books sits on a bookshelf. The other three sides of the text block are left plain.

I took the text block out of Adam Lindsay Gordon, and replaced it with clamshell box ‘jaws’. They’re uncovered, in these pictures, because I had to submit photographs an hour later, but I went and covered them afterwards. Then I simply glued the two books together, back-to-back and topsy-turvy, to resemble the binding format known as dos a dos (two to two).
prototype I

Some letters, photos, and trinkets in the clamshell box, to heighten that feeling of travel treasures…

And the completely indigestible, utterly boring pages of that great Australian classic—that nobody I’ve met seems to have read, but of whom everyone here speaks in hushed and reverent tones—We of The Never-Never on the other side. I read three chapters. I am thinking it’s time to do that altered book project now, and paint or draw on these pages.
prototype I

So, which one do you like better, D or I? And if you had to buy a travel journal, would you consider buying one of these (provided it was made properly, not out of placemats or old books)? I’m only asking to test how successful the designs were, but would love to hear what you think!