Saturday, November 25, 2023

Peace, Love and Understanding: Papier Mâché Beads

 A week after the Hamas attack on Israel with tensions running high, global tension rising, and people finding even more reasons to fight the multi-front reality wars, I was in a Lyft car on my way to an 8-day Krishnamurti Retreat in Ojai. My Lyft driver, Abdulcadir, was friendly and curious and after questioning me about my destination and about Krishnamurti, he shared that he had his own daily spiritual practice. Every day he would write down a spiritual thought or principle, carry it with him, and periodically meditate on the principle throughout the day. We agreed that the basic ideas of kindness, gratitude and acceptance are common to all religions and spiritual belief systems, and were mutually baffled why the human species keeps turning on itself.

He reached for an old envelope on the front passenger seat that he used to record spiritual principles for his daily practice and handed it back to me, I asked if I could photograph it and he happily agreed.

Original envelope front

Envelope back

I have worked with paper mâché beads in the past to process life events, and have found it to be a deeply satisfying, slow meditative process over a period of days or weeks. The process of making these beads is outlined in an earlier post, Funerary Art: Souvenirs from the Bardo. When I returned home after the retreat, I reproduced scaled printouts of Abducadir's envelope to produce this beaded strand while the conflict in Gaza escalated.

It is hard to make sense of the world and of humanity itself in these troubled times. I do it with my hands. It helps. Talk to strangers. Be kind. Make stuff. 

Wednesday, November 15, 2023

Advent 2023: Let There be Magic


A very Wiccan holiday

Coming up with a spectacular advent calendar every year is challenging, but when your recipients enter their teens the challenge becomes formidable. This year's version of the advent calendar features Wicca, and reflects an abiding fondness for all things magic, pagan, and nature-based. The perfect antidote to the doomsday mood that is daily becoming more prevalent on the planet and having a palpable affect on teenage angst.

The fun starts with a forest-green hoodie that lends a kind of - "Pssst...hey lady, want to see some magic?" - air to the proceedings. Upon arrival the hoodie is mysteriously closed, building anticipation towards the grand opening on December 1.

Psssst...hey lady

Close-up of outer label

When opened, the hoodie reveals a wealth of spell-casting supplies.


Those supplies include: 14 different herbs, 14 different crystals, 12 different colored candles, and a custom-made "Welcome to Wicca" booklet. And of course, a chocolate every day.

Spell-casting supplies

The magic book

Book front

Back of book

Additional supplies were tucked in to help make the spell bottles and spell sachets.

Spell casting containers: bottles and sachets

Hopefully this healthy dose of magic will help the young recipients combat the stress, doom and gloom of modern times and reintroduce a little hope and wonder in their worlds. 

* I don't usually mention any commercial products of any sort, but should you choose to make your own version of a Wiccan advent calendar, this witchcraft supply kit from Amazon priced at under $25 sure made the whole project a lot easier to pull off. Just strip away all packaging (saving lists of contents and their magic properties for your magic book) and use the individual components in your calendar. A blank book is included in the supplies. I pasted on a new cover and converted it into a spell cookbook, offering information about the magic properties of all supplies in the front, some minimal advice and instructions, and leaving the remainder blank for the recording of spell recipes they come up with.

Wednesday, October 25, 2023

Skipping through a Mind Yomp: Graphic Thinking

 This is part two of an ongoing series of attempts to explore what happens to the mind when you explore unfiltered graphic representation of abstract thoughts. This round was conducted at an 8-day retreat of intense dialogue at the Krishnamurti Foundation in Ojai, California. Serendipitously, I was housed in the Annie Besant room. Besant was one of the founders of the Theosophical Society and a pioneer in the whimsical world of thought forms, and this virtual proximity with Besant across time seemed too ripe with possibilities to pass up.

A Conversation with the Self

Internal dialogue

A Conversation with Another

An underlying issue with both of the above attempts is that they were, in themselves, a conscious projection of the conscious, linear mind. I hit the jackpot on day 7 when, after switching out the toilet paper roll in the bathroom, I glanced at the now-empty cardboard roll, jumped up, went to the desk, and produced the object below. An initial urge to enclose a scrap of paper stating an "answer" or "conclusion" was mighty strong until I realized the box itself posed a perfect spiritual riddle on its own.

How to Get Out of the Box

Toilet paper tube as spiritual artifact

The riddle solved

And now I turn back to more practical matters like eco dyeing and stitching, though come to think of it they too produce mindless moments of wonder. And as always, you are encouraged to experiment with nonverbal expression of the mind at work on your own. Peruse Annie Besant's "Thought Forms" to give yourself a nudge.

Saturday, October 7, 2023

Reality Weaving: Graphic Translation of a Conversation



This is a new foray into untangling thought, words and communication, and proved to be such a fascinating experience I thought it worth sharing in the event others would like to experiment. The point here is not artistic merit - materials used were paper bags (scrubbed to soften and alter the texture), printer paper watercolored in different shades and then cut up, and lettering from an old vintage stamp set.

The challenge was to capture an absorbing, dense conversation with my sister at Saratoga Hot Springs in Wyoming.

Pages 2&3 (click to enlarge)

Pages 3&4

Pages 5&6

Pages 7&8

Pages 9&10

Back cover

I plan to continue experimenting with the graphic translation of thoughts, conversations, and encounters as an exploratory practice that is somehow outside of either art or language.

Bonus Fodder for the Mill

Shortly after completing the little booklet above and sending it off to my sister, I stumbled across the fact that a book by Annie Bessant, called "Thought Forms," is now out of copyright and available free on Guttenberg.  Click here for Thought Forms.

This little booklet by one of the founders of the Theosophical Society absolutely fascinated me as a 19-year-old student in India back in 1968, and it fascinates me even more today. I find her ideas delightfully absurd and a wackadoodle, but have to admire her determined attempt to translate thoughts into images. A few of those images are offered below.

Let the experimentation continue! One small effort to rage against the apocalyptic night.

Tuesday, August 29, 2023

Summer of Invention #3: Toe Bugs


The Problem

First let me say this isn't about the cost of a sock. This is about fighting back against the throw-away, out-of-control consumerism that has brought us to the brink of the apocalypse. It is also about combatting the emotional embarrassment of finding yourself at someone's house or, worse yet, a spiritual retreat in Ojai, where it becomes clear that the exception is that everyone is expected to remove their shoes. And it is about cute little bugs. It is a win-win scenario. Part of the Summer of Invention has been about tuning in to quotidian, annoying little problems that generally go unnoticed and figuring out how to fix them. 

A graphic take on problem identification: sock toe holes

The Solution

I have always wanted a darning egg for purely aesthetic fondling possibilities. I have never known how they are actually used. I ordered a cheap one online that came with darning needles and a set of embroidery thread. It arrived within 24 hours. The kit cost less than a good pair of socks.

The solution: a darning egg kit

I then spent about twenty minutes watching online how-to videos regarding darning and felt I had grasped the general idea.

The Toe Bugs

As a rank beginner when it comes to darning eggs, I found my first toe patch looked scraggly and had a couple of random bits sticking out. It looked sort of like a bug. This was the "aha" moment; I rethreaded the needle, went back in, and added a couple of legs and antenna. 

The first wonky toe bug

Colors that pop make for happy toe bugs

This is admittedly an invention far behind the times, a recycled invention from yesteryear. Which may be a lesson about thinking twice before you dispose of anything, including ideas.

Wednesday, August 9, 2023

Summer of Invention #2: Hot Water Bottle Babies


The bottle babies

I have felt an affinity for the late Queen Elizabeth ever since I read years ago that she would wander the cold and drafty hallways of Balmoral Castle clutching a hot water bottle to her tummy. Even though I live in Oakland, California, which has what Rand McNally has declared the best climate in the world, the foggy, rainy winters can chill you to the bone if you live in a 1920s apartment building with one iffy radiator. I have been cuddling hot water bottles during the winter months for years, but they weren't doing much for my sense of aesthetics, leaving me feeling like a frumpy old queen.

The bottles need a cover to be both safe (protecting you from a scalding hot bottle), removable, and washable. The covers they arrived in from Amazon do the job, but they are neutrally ho-hum at best, and quickly become tired and worn looking after multiple washings.

The bottles

Original covers

The solution? Upcycled thrift store infant onesies, scored for $1 each and adapted for use.

The end result

The hot water in the torso and fiber-filled arms and legs make the bottle extraordinarily comfortable, and the onesies can be easily removed using the front fasteners and tossed in the wash.

The how-to:

Click to enlarge

And there you have it, a pleasing and practical solution to a problem of royal proportions.

Official royal portrait


Monday, July 17, 2023

Summer of Invention #1: Dead Dog Calcium Pill Reminder

 Welcome to the Summer of Invention, a creative interlude I have peremptorily declared, which kicked off about two weeks ago and is proceeding apace. The rules are simple: 1) Identify a problem, 2) invent a creative solution—the wackier the better. 

Below we have a prime example, focusing on the problem of remembering to take daily calcium pills. Every strategy I have tried in the past, including placing the pill bottle front and center on the table where I always sit, has utterly failed. I also have a deep aversion to tainting my aesthetic landscape with ugly plastic commercial products and labeling. The solution? Using inspiration drawn from the Days of the Dead celebrations which incorporate a playful use of bones, I came up with two strategies. 

Solution One

The first is a Days-of-the-Dead-style papier-mâché dog, which seems like the perfect reminder to take care of my bones while adding rather than detracting from my environment. We begin with a plastic bottle, destined to meet a fate far more exciting than the recycling bin.

Step 1: Pick a plastic bottle

Step 2: Rough shape the dog using paper towels and tape

Step 3: Start building layers of papier-mâché 

Voila! A pill bottle.

Note the bottle-cap butt feature

Solution Two

The second invention, far simpler to pull off, occurred to me while up to my elbows in flour paste working on solution one. This approach simply required recycling an old, smaller pill bottle. After measuring the bottle to figure out an accurate label size, I harvested a couple of images from the internet, resized them on my computer, printed them out, and glued them on. 

Original, ugly, bargain-size bottle

Front label on recycled, smaller bottle

Back label


And there you have it. Summer has just begun and more inventions are already in the pipeline. Stay tuned.
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