Sunday, March 27, 2011

Folk art is a family tradition

My artwork is often influenced by folk art. If my work sometimes looks naive or imperfect, you could say it is because I skipped out of my life drawing and painting classes a little too often, because the materials I use are so varied that I'm expert in none, or it could be because it is a family tradition. My paternal grandmother Leona McCafferty was a tole painter and teacher.                                          


Like me, she preferred decorative painting on practical household items rather than fine art, although she did some paintings, such as this wonderful landscape remicient of Grant Wood. 

She went to college in her 50's and taught tole painting classes and weaving for years. Most of the gifts she gave me and my sister throughout the years were amazing things she had decorated including old trunks, tin milk jugs, hat racks, jewelry chests with our names and birthdates on them, and little stools. She taught her impatient little granddaughters her tole painting secrets and tricks. 

Her work has a simple, naive look to it, but it is much harder to achieve than it looks. Often there are deliberate misspellings or family in-jokes on the items (note "faih" below).    

 She made signs and always used the same colors- her beloved red-orange, aqua, rich gold and olive green. She used outlining and dots and decorative swooshes and filigrees. The imperfections were what caused you to adore them.

She was an early upcycler, making this plaque of mushroom caps out of the dried oil paint splotches on her art palette. You never know where you'll find inspiration.

As you can see in my work below, some nuts just don't fall far from the tree. And that's just okay.

Wednesday, March 23, 2011

Make a fresh spring wreath (with stuff you probably have around your house)

During a particularly cold, rainy and cloudy early Spring in Portland it helps to look forward to sunnier days and new life emerging with a fresh green wreath. By gathering a few things from your yard or other outdoor area and using a few craft items you probably have around the house you can make a wreath that will help celebrate Easter and our delayed Spring that is just around the corner(?) 
 Do you have a grapevine wreath lying around- maybe in the Christmas decorations? If not, head to the craft store for this $5 investment piece you will use over and over- around 20" or so across.
Look around your yard or another outdoor area for small branches with small, tough leaves like boxwood. (If you don't have any boxwood bushes in your yard, make a note to plant some- there is nothing better for long-lasting floral arrangements and they are great looking shrubs.) Cut some branches 7-10" long- maybe about 30 or so.

Start sticking them into the grapevine wreath going in one direction all the way around. Keep sticking them in among the grapevines so they are secure until you have filled out the entire wreath. It's okay if the grapevines still show here and there.

 Adding a bird's nest will make it even more "Springy". Start by finding some small egg-shaped rocks in the yard. Paint them a color you like (or have) like creamy white or robin's egg blue with craft paint. They will probably take two coats to cover.

Take some light brown paint with a little water added, put a little on a paint brush and flick it with your finger onto the rocks. You can flick other colors too.

Make bird's nests with whatever you can find in your yard or in your craft supplies- the top nesty is just a nest-shaped piece of green moss, the right nest is some natural Easter grass, the bottom nest is a flexible green vine (like ivy) wrapped around and around and secured with wire, and the left one is some raffia wound around and sewn with needle and thread so it stays in place. Set your eggs in the nest- you should hot glue them if they will be on a door or----bonk! Ouch...

Either hot glue or wire the nest with the glued eggs onto the grapevine wreath. If you'd like a more polished look, take some scissors and trim the stray branches so the edges are smoother, but I like it wild. To hang it on your door or a wall, take a paper clip and pull it open so it is a two-ended hook. Hook one side onto one of the grapevines and hang the other side on a nail. A boxwood wreath will stay green for a couple of months. After that, keep your grapevine wreath for a new design later.
Enjoy your Spring wreath- and be sure- Spring is coming----it always does, but sometimes we have to wait a little longer for it.

To see an fresh Etsy shop called "A Linnet's Wing" that features natural spring wreaths, go here:

Sunday, March 20, 2011

Quietly creative

 Lent sometimes has a bad rep. People think it is a time to give something up that you love like coffee or chocolate. A friend invites you out for a mocha and oops- you've blown it two ways.

Actually Lent can be a quietly creative time. You can tell people you're slowing things down for Lent and say "no." You can reclaim your Sabbath and rest. You can quietly reclaim your sense of wonder and let some new ideas flow in. You can find God again.

In this spirit my 4th-6th grade church school class created a Lenten altarpiece. In the style of a triptich, it is made out of light blue foam insulation board. It was cut into three panels at the lumber yard, then cut with an exacto knife into the arched shapes on the tops. It was painted front and back with acrylic paint- green for the landscape and three sponge-painted colors of purple (the color of Lent) for the three skies. 4 matching pieces of 10" x 10" felt were glued with hot glue to the back of the panels (2 from the left to the middle panel, and 2 from the right to the middle panel) to create hinges. I chose scrapbook paper in tones of green, tan and gray and choose a limited color range for each panel. We determined the left panel would be the road to Jerusalem on Palm Sunday, the middle would be the Crucifixion, and the right the Resurrection.   

The preteens tore and cut the scrapbook paper and created the landscapes, including roads, buildings, hills, crosses and the tomb and attached them with ball-headed straight pins. The paper was then glued on and sealed with ModPodge and the pins removed. This altarpiece is so amazing- it looks like it is made out of stone!

The first Sunday of Lent all the kids started making little figures out of pipe cleaners and clothing them with fabric. After they took Communion, they went to the altarpiece and pinned their figures to the foam panels with the ball-headed pins. Notice the angel in the sky and the shepherd's crook.
By the time we reach Easter, we will have illustrated the story of Holy Week. I can't tell you the deep meaning and the feeling of belonging and involvement this creative project has given to all the kids in the parish. The adults sit and watch in wonder as the scenes are populated with Biblical figures. Next week- animals!

Never underestimate the power of art to help people connect to something greater than themselves and find deep spiritual meaning. Even if you're five years old.....

To see an fresh etsy shop called "madsaintrat" that uses vintage religious imagery in art pieces go here:

Saturday, March 19, 2011

What is this all about?

Every blogger has her own special point-of-view. Who, me? Uh, yeah, well, YES--- I'm a blogger, sure I am. I'm also a crafter, an artist, an art history and church school curriculum writer, a family minister for the Episcopal Church, as well as a wife, mother, daughter, sister and fun friend. I have been involved in art sales in Portland, Oregon for 17 years and just opened an etsy shop under the name of aVelvetLeaf. In the midst of this steep learning curve of learning how to ship, take decent photographs and write copy, I'll attempt to add blogging to my already overcrowded schedule. After all, how hard could it be with my writing and arts background? Err....did I mention I'm over 50? That my computer skills are completely self taught? That when I went to college not only were there no computers, but no calculators? That a year ago I didn't know what a blog was? Well, I guess you see my challenge. I plan to share creative ideas, the joy over successes and laments on the struggles. I'd love for you to come along on the journey.... however rocky it may get.


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