Tuesday, February 6, 2018

Skinny Little Big Magic

Today is my friend Martha's birthday*. We met fifty a number of years ago at the American School in London when we each moved from our respective Stateside homes to live in London for our last year of high school.

Because Martha is an active tree-loving member of—and top-drawer volunteer for—Friends of Trees in tree-loving Portland OR where she lives, I sent her a nifty book about trees to celebrate her birthday.

Because I am a painter who loves to paint bookmarks that coordinate with books, I also wanted to paint a bookmark to pair with her tree book.

So, the 'problem' needing a solution in my studio became how to paint a tree on a skinny little strip of heavy weight card stock.

My hubby Dave had recently brought home a now-outdated 2017 horticultural calendar, thinking I might like to add it to my art supplies. I had recently been been undertaking some serious household decluttering and thought, Add to the paper in our home? Have I not been trying to reduce and recycle? But I accepted his thoughtful pass-along.

And good thing I did, because it triggered such a fun creative adventure.

I pulled this unlikely page from the calendar, with its photo of a ground plant looking like no tree I know of in Portland (though what do I know about trees in Portland? not much):

I tore pieces from the calendar page and completely collaged my bookmark substrate, thinking to use negative space painting to … do something, though heck if I knew what.

This was one of those pieces, though, that then magically propelled itself forward. I showed up, and the universe and I collaborated.

So. Much. Fun.

Instead of painting negative space, I added loose, intuitive, India ink mark-making on top of the glued collage. 

Then pops of blue oil pastel to create depth. 

Next, more collage, this time tiny bits to create foreground. 

After that, hmm, needed some gentle differentiations in visual texture, wanted to maybe add some text collage, but the text I had was all printed on white paper—too jarring, what to do? 


The calendar—the calendar! the one I considered refusing!—offered up print on green paper. Awesome. 

I kept coming in close, stepping back, coming in close, stepping back. 

The bookmark eventually nudged me and said: Yo! We need a little contrast here

OK, OK. I grabbed a metal skewer thingy I have, poked it into the mouth of a tube of burnt sienna acrylic, thinking, complementary color …  or close enough. Dabbed bits of burnt sienna onto the bookmark with the skewer.

Stepped back.

Oh my gosh! 

I was in a tree.

This is one of my favorites ever—loved the process, love the product, love that it celebrates Martha.

Happy birthday, cherished friend : )

On a Hot Summer Day, You Turn down Our Street and Feel like You're Entering a Cool, Green Tunnel
1.5x6.25"; acrylic, India ink, oil pastel, and collage on heavy card stock
* Martha will want me to point out that even though we are now the 'same age' as each other, she is, in fact, nine months younger than I. Duly noted.


  1. Love your narrative, love the bookmark, love that I know the Martha you’re celebrating!

    1. Joje, thanks! And thanks so much for persisting when your comment wouldn't go through despite several tries. I'll be in touch to see if we can resolve this ongoing snafu.

  2. Absolutely amazing! Love reading your thought process as you decide what to do and mixed with daily thoughts as well.You are one talented writer. Great gift!

    1. Carol, thanks for your feedback and your appreciation of my thought process as shared through my writing. This painting was SO engaging and SO much fun in process and SO satisfying as a final outcome. Woo hoo!

  3. Lucky Martha! Friends like that are for sure to be cherished. And the story here- I love your thoughts. But geez, Dotty.....now your art is "nudging" you to do this or that. Please teach me how to get my art to nudge me, to talk to me, to greet me as I pass by, etc. Pretty cool. This is beautiful!

    1. Laurie, indeed Martha and I have been SO lucky to be friends all these years.

      Um, your art nudges, talks, greets all the time, Laurie; you just THINK it's thoughts in your mind but it's your paintings : )

  4. whoa! This is a stunner! Those darks! That depth! The words! Wow, Dotty! Celebrating trees and friends and PORTLAND (one of my favorite places!) and your incredible art!

    1. Thanks for your exuberant appreciation of this magical piece—what you write above is precisely what I felt: whoa! this is a stunner! those darks! that depth! the words! And then all the celebration of everything behind this piece.

      For sure, the experience of that bookmark keeps me coming back to my studio even on days when magic is curled up in a corner snoring.

  5. Wow!! I love this painting - and the lovely story that you have shared. I feel like I am sitting in that tree and looking through the leaves. Everything is just right with this Dotty - and yes lucky Martha, but lucky both of you for having this friendship!

    1. Janet, so glad you have that same feeling I do of sitting on a branch in that tree looking through the leaves! Thank you for your comments.

      Martha and I are blessed in our friendship, and actively grateful : )

  6. WOW. checked into your blog this morning and there was my beautiful bookmark. Thank you, thank you. Love this entry for so many reasons...My friends have marveled at the bookmark and now I can explain how it evolved, or refer them to your blog.

    1. Martha, great fun to have you show up here in person, so to speak! Hope your bday was outstanding … and goes on for many more days or weeks, depending on how long you can milk it! Happy to have provided the provenance of this piece for your benefit : )

  7. Dotty I love that you share your joy filled process with us! Thank you for sharing this wonderful story, and treasured Martha :) This is one of my all time favorites of yours too. I feel like I am looking at bits of sparkling glass, reflecting and refracting sunlight. The depth tricks my eyes, and holds me while my brain makes sense of what it thinks it sees.
    Amazing what you can do with "trash". wishing you another joyful day of creating!

    1. Sheila, thanks for your thoughtful observations here. Wild, what one can do with trash, indeed! Wish you could see this one in person. I sprayed it with a clear glaze that adds to the textural qualities of all the collage and the overall illusion of depth.