Category Archives: Creativity

Nothing But Love

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Nothing But Love

I love Valentine’s Day, not for the commercial expectations for diamonds and romance, but, rather for the idea that there is a day where we are asked to contemplate and appreciate the love we experience, give and receive in our lives in all its forms.

Linocut heart prints with Chocolove

Linocut prints and chocolates waiting for delivery.

To celebrate this year, I carved a simple sentiment out of linoleum and printed multiples to give to friends and family along with a hug and some good chocolate.

Cats with Valentines.

Not all the cats are equally impressed with their Valentine hearts.

I tried to get the cats in the spirit. Bean was slightly tolerant of my heart placement, and Vera was completely disinterested. But, Lucy was enthusiastic, with appreciation for my cause.

Give appreciation to all beings who touch your life. If that involves hearts and chocolate, great! Otherwise, just a nice hug, or a slow blink, will do.

Your Itinerant Attack Cat

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Handmade Books

Just a sampling of my handmade sketchbooks and journals.

Directly after Drawlloween, I turned all of my attention to production for the Holiday Art Market where I sold my handmade paper goods. Namely, journals and sketchbooks that I bind by hand, with covers of original design. In preparation for the show, I completed 90 books and orbs in just fourteen days! I’ve been blogging about my progress and describe one bookmaking process here, give an update here,  and then discuss my paper orbs in a later post.

Art fair booth set up

Attack Cat Studio at the Holiday Art Market.

I had a successful showing this weekend and visitors to the market seemed to really like my work. Since this was the first full-on beta test for Attack Cat Studio, I feel pretty good about the results. It was especially interesting to watch people interact with the displays. For example, some of the book stands are a little tippy. But, the flow of traffic through my booth seemed to work well. I also collected a few contacts who are interested in taking a bookmaking class with me in the winter.

Attack Cat Studio Logo

In addition to connecting people with sketchbooks and journals, I get to talk with cat lovers who notice my logo. The most frequently asked question is, “Which one is the attack cat?!”

Now, I prepare for another show, this one in December, at the Merry Maker’s Marketplace. I have new images to print for book covers, larger sketchbooks to create, and lots of pocket-sized journals to replace. If you’re interested in seeing some more of my work, you can check meow-t on Etsy.

Cat in a Box

Miss Bean, the original Attack Cat.

Connoisseurs of Comfort

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Creative, inquisitive, and masters of the spaces they inhabit, cats have no qualms about making themselves comfortable. By way of example, I illustrate the particular behaviors my cats exhibited this week.

SUNDAY
We had a few friends over for Halloween. It was late, so I thought I would wait until the morning to complete the clean up. This is what Lucy thought about my leaving the drink station up overnight.

Cat on drink cart.

Awesome spot. I can see the whole room from here.

THURSDAY 
Bean has a penchant for imposing horizontal-ness as a way to say, “I will control you.” Here, she flops at the foot of the stair (a trick she learned from Lucy,) in an attempt to get someone to play with her. And, more adorably, Miss Bean takes a break to lay atop Neil who was just trying to do some sit-ups.

Cat laying on things

Left: Cat bed with instant heater
Right: None shall pass!!

FRIDAY
I’ve been working feverishly in my studio to make books for an upcoming art show. Interested in my activity, Lucy surveys the situation, then attacks my scissors, knocking the offending implement to the floor.

Cat with art supplies

This is a mess. I’m sure I can help.

Ginger cat with scissors

These things are useless when you have claws.

MIDWEEK
Tuesday, I was looking around the house for Vera, only to find her rolling in the laundry with a stinky dish rag. She has returned to the stinky dish rag for a couple of days, each time scruffing on and attacking her prey. I think it’s a sure sign that I need to do some laundry. On Wednesday, she exhibits complete disinterest in anything going with her humans.

Cat in laundry

I adore my stinky dish rag.

Yawning Cat

Yawn….or…. Rrrraaawwwrr!?

A Little Cat Voodoo

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I had a hard time figuring out how to interpret this one– Day of the Dummy, today’s Drawlloween prompt. So, I decided to turn my stuffed cats into voodoo dolls. I wrote about my little toy friends a few posts ago, and since I’m keeping all of my entries cat-themed, I referenced them as models. Don’t worry– the originals are still in one piece.

Voodoo Cats

Toy kitties stabbed, ripped, and hexed as part of a dastardly plan!

Drawlloween with Cats

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Cat Graveyard Illustration

Day 1: Return from the Dead

The real story is what happens inside the haunted house. That’s one of the reasons I’m participating in Drawlloween 2015, a month-long list of prompts and postings based on Halloween themes. I love Halloween–not so much the gore-ridden, chainsaw type of Halloween, but costumes, candy, and fun “scary” stuff. Plus, I’ve never been able to draw anything even vaguely terrifying.

Do Not Feed After Midnight

Day 2: Better Homes and Goblins
I interpreted this one more like Gremlins… but Goblins…Gremlins…not much difference!

I’m enamored with narrative, so I decided that I would include cats in order to push the story element of the illustrations. By pairing my silly cats with the daily prompts, I’m forced to think of imagery I might never have considered.

Cat lurking after a spider.

Day 3: Spider Day
This is possibly the scariest thing I’ve ever drawn.

I’ve set the parameter of working small. I trace a credit-card onto a page in my sketchbook and plan the sketch. The drawing is finalized using watercolor and pen, my preferred media for illustrating.

Cat and Mouse

Look out, Vera! I based this image on a photo I took of my cat Vera at the bottom of our hallway stairs and imagined what would happen if her toy mouse came to life.
Day 4: Mansions and Manors

I’ll be sharing my Drawlloween 2015 entries for the rest of the month. I hope I can keep up!

Make Your Own Cat

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Make Your Own Cat

A few years ago, I constructed a prototype toy cat using scraps of hand-dyed fabric and some beans for stuffing. The resulting creature, let’s call him Stuffed Cat One, was entertaining, but not quite what I was trying to achieve. I learned a lot at that time, like, I don’t like working that small, the arms should be longer, the head isn’t dimensional enough, it needs a puss nose and whiskers. It’s kind of a long list. For whatever reason, I woke up this morning, three years later, determined to take another go.

Pink Beanie Cat

Here’s the original! Stuffed Cat One.

Stuffed Cat Two, assembled from black cotton, is fresh off the design table. It was not easy going. First of all, black is impossible! A lint collector of the first degree and hard to see details, I struggled with keeping it clean and concise.

Making a Stuffed Black Cat

Heads, legs, arms, and a tail. Plus, the unstuffed body of Cat Two.

Second, there are some proportions I would change. The distance from the nose to the neck seam is too long for a cat. The narrow arms and legs next to the puffy torso make Stuffed Cat Two look like a cousin to Piglet from the Hundred Acre Wood. The size and placement of the ears may be adding to this problem. The eyes give him that Toothless look from How to Train Your Dragon. However, these eyes are an improvement over the first attempt where I sewed on amber-colored jewels that made Stuffed Cat Two look like Super-Freako Sparkle Kitty.

Stuffed black cat.

The finished prototype. He has whisker issues, but he seems friendly.

Don’t get me wrong. Prototypes are important. I didn’t wake up thinking I was going to make Two, the Amazing Forever Cat. Besides, frustration is instructive. I learned that I like working this size better. I think the overall shape of the nose is improved over Stuffed Cat One. And, during construction, I figured out some shortcuts that would help if I wanted to make more than one at a time.

Stuffed Cats

Stuffed Cat One and Stuffed Cat Two, side by side, for comparison.

It is unclear whether or not I will now, or sometime in the future, create Stuffed Cat Three. All of my observations will guide me should I decide to make adjustments and try again. I just have this romantic notion of a herd of Stuffed Cat minions, all fun and funky, looking down at me from a decorative shelf. No matter what I decide, I’m sure you’ll hear about it one way or another.

A Labor (Day) of Love

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A Labor (Day) of Love

It’s been a long time since I made a flat-back, case bound book. This one is not flashy, just a hard cover with black book cloth and decorative end sheets. I enjoy the process of craft, the kind that requires attention to detail, with every step considered and executed with great care. This book is for my math teacher/artist husband, who likes the elegance of simplicity, and deserves a new book to start the school year.

Parts of a book.

My prepared pages, along with all of the parts for the cover, including the book cloth, end sheets, and binders board.

Book making is a sequential process, each step requiring it’s own precision. It starts with measuring, cutting and folding multiple pages, then sewing them together into an organized stack. Boards have to be cut with lovely right angles, front and back, with one narrow piece for the spine that matches the thickness of the sewn block of pages. If one measurement is just a little off, it can skew the next in a way that throws off the whole in the end. Plus, there’s gluing. Too much, and your paper wrinkles and there are unwanted spurts of glue ooze. Too little, and things don’t hold together properly.

Steps in Book Binding

I enjoy the systematic operations of assembling a book, including checking the measurements, sewing the pages, and applying adhesives.

All of this exactness feeds into my desire for orderliness as the proper recipe of ingredients results in a well-made object. When it’s working, it’s a thing of beauty! In addition, the making of a book has meaning beyond the labor. A book is a personal object, carried in a pocket close to the body, opened by hand. The pages, turned one-by-one, become filled with the thoughts of the recipient. It is in this use that the maker and the owner become collaborators. As the book becomes imbued with life and wear, it becomes an even more beautiful and priceless object.

Black flat back case bound book

Since we no longer teach together (like we did for ten years,) I feel that, by making a book for him to use for notes and drawings, at least a little piece of me goes with him to school every day.

Building A Book

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Building A Book

You may (or may not) have noticed the intermittent, yet ongoing, production from my studio. There was the fabric dyeing day, followed by multiple screen printing sessions using my old thermofax machine to burn screens. Now, I’m finally turning the printed and dyed fabric into blank journals and sketchbooks.

Steps showing sewing on tapes.

Top: The finished cover before the pages are attached. Bottom Left and Right: Shows what the in-process sewing looks like from the inside and the outside of the book.

The books have soft covers that I create by attaching the fabrics to Pellon Fuse-n-Shape, a thick, iron on interfacing that gives the covers some thickness without making them too thick. The binding is a variation of the coptic stitch and sewing over tapes. I like this binding because it leaves the spine exposed, and allows the visible stitches to become part of the aesthetics of the finished book. This binding is also sturdy and allows the book to lie completely flat when opened, a desirable quality when writing or drawing.

Orange Cat Book

Hand-dyed fabric with thermofax screen image, exposed-spine sewing on decorative cotton strips. Book is bound with waxed linen.

I have fun coordinating the cords, threads, and fabrics to individualize every book– no two are identical. Sometimes, I choose contrasting fabrics for the front and back of the book to add visual interest. So far, I have constructed six of these soft cover books and, with each one I complete, I learn a little more about the small things I’d like to finesse.

Cat on table with books

A selection of books, guarded over by the original Attack Cat, Miss Bean.

I’ll Never Look At Tourist Art the Same Way Again

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I’ll Never Look At Tourist Art the Same Way Again

If you live in a tourist area, you are familiar with shop windows rife with ubiquitous images of whatever the local icon might be. Where I live, it’s lighthouses, beaches, cherries, sand dunes, a seagull, the quaint main street with it’s charming buildings. “Real” artists often poo-poo the tourist art as not Art (you know, of the capital “A” variety.) I am guilty of this thinking at times, dismissing that 100th lighthouse painting as not interesting enough. 

Tree sculpture at Arte Cruz

Arte Cruz in Volcan, Panama. Awesome artist!

However, I recently met an artist in Panama that changed my thinking of how I view the artists in my own back yard. His name is Jose de la Cruz, and he is a wood carver and proprietor of Arte Cruz. On the day we visited, Cruz not only welcomed us into his shop and showed us around his wood working studio, he also introduced us to his little dogs, and politely tolerated my hacked-up Spanish until he told me I could ask questions in English.

Cruz studied art in Honduras in the early 70’s, then trained in Italy carving marble. Eventually, he settled back in his home town of Volcan, opened his own studio and has been carving every day for the last 38 years! He gathers and dries his own wood that is sourced locally, and works in a variety of ways from sculpture-in-the-round, to bas relief, to elaborate inlaid furniture.

Cruz is part craftsman and part showman. As proof, he carved my name and a few flowers in a piece of red cedar. He used tools he made himself, without pre-drawing or measuring, and carved decisive, confident marks in the wood with a flourish, all the time explaining his process. He made it look SO easy! This demonstration of his skill was impressive, and inspired me as an example of how true practice of craft yields excellence.

Carving CollageYes, technically, he made a cute plaque with my name, for which, he only took a donation, since it was “for demonstration.” And, yes, it’s exactly the kind of thing you might find in a tourist shop. But, here’s where I started to think differently. Why can’t artists also do work that is the bread-and-butter stuff that appeals to travelers, and also make more elaborate, personal pieces? I mean, Jose de la Cruz is a classically trained master craftsman! He didn’t have to take any time with us, and could have had an assistant pawn his work to us in the already well-stocked gallery.

I guess my rambling point is this — I now look differently at the paintings of seagulls and cherries that I see in my own hometown. Good for those artists if their work is inspiring or brings joy to someone. Isn’t that the point of making things anyway? To elicit emotion from others? I love my Panamanian red cedar slab carved with my name and flowers. It has a special place in my studio and represents an amazing day, spent with people I love, made by an artist — in person — in a place I may or may not never visit again. That is true art.