Saturday, June 30, 2012


This incredible beauty is called the Passion Vine.  What a perfect name!  It certainly does seem to grow and bloom and climb with passion.  This is another beauty from our brushpile, which is practically a garden in itself.  I think I could have a blog devoted to all the wonderful things going on in and around it.  I have been trying for a couple of weeks to find out what this gorgeous thing is and  to tell you the honest truth, I was a little bit afraid of it! (Rocky Horror Picture Show flashbacks) It grows vigorously - covering the brushpile in just a few weeks, and look at those enormous egg-shaped seed pods.  They are the size of a hen's egg!  This thing looks as if it could take over if it wanted to.  I have to say, it is the most exquisite flower I have ever seen growing in the wild here.

I did some research, and discovered that it is a cultivated botanical called Passiflora, for all you armchair botanists out there.  And as it turns out, the name comes from an association with the passion of Christ.  "The lacy halo represents the crown of thorns; the five stamens, the five wounds; the ten petal-like parts, the ten faithful apostles." - from The Southern Living Garden Book.

Now that I know I don't have to be afraid of it taking over the place, I can enjoy it even more.  I hope you enjoy it too!

Wednesday, June 27, 2012

Fabric Painting Tutorial

My friend, Emily, from The Floss Box  has encouraged me to do a little tutorial on painting the fabric backgrounds for my textile art.  So, I decided to put a little something together to show you how I did it.  It's really very easy.  All you need is a piece of fabric, some acrylic paint and brushes, water, and a stencil or template.  For this piece, I wanted to recreate the feeling of the creekbank covered in soft green ferns bathed in dappled sunlight.  So, I literally went out and picked a couple of fern fronds to use as a template.

The first step is to dampen the fabric.  I did this by brushing on water with a paintbrush.  This will allow the paint to flow smoothly and evenly onto the fabric.

Next, make a thin wash by mixing the acrylic paint with water. The more water you add, the lighter the wash will be. 
Now it's time to brush on your base coat of color.  Remember, it's always easy to go back and add another wash if you want more color.  Just allow it to dry for an hour or so between coats.  You can, of course, speed the drying time by putting it in front of a fan.

The edges of the fabric want to curl, and sometimes the fabric will pucker a bit, but don't let that bother you.  I just weight the edges with some handy dandy rocks and keep going. The paint/water mixture will also want to puddle up in places which doesn't bother me either, as I am going for a very natural, organic look.  The imperfections give it more character.
When you get the background color you want, let it dry completely.  You want the fabric to dry so that when you start stenciling, you will get crisp, clear lines.  If it is wet, the paint will run and you will get blurry, undefined shapes and lines. 
I wanted my next layer of color to be a shade darker, so I added a touch of black to my green paint - just a touch!  Now I am ready to begin laying my stencil or template and begin adding another layer of color - still very thin and watery. 

Now we are ready to lay our stencil and begin painting around it.  The brush shouldn't be dripping wet or it will run underneath the edges of the stencil.  Press the brush against the edge of your container to get most of the watery paint mixture out and if necessary, blot it on some paper towels.  Here we go....          
Pounce your brush around the edges of your stencil.  You may have to hold the stencil down with your finger as you go around it.  I still have green paint under my nails. Now lift up your stencil, and voila!                                                              
See?  Isn't it pretty?  And easy peasy.  Now, just continue doing this until the whole piece is covered.  Change the angle as you go to give it more interest.  Allow each layer to dry before adding another layer on top, so that your images stay crisp.    
Here is the finished piece after 2 layers of stenciling.  Don't be afraid to overlap the stenciling.  It adds depth and creates a richer, more layered look.  I had a lot of leftover paint/water mix, so I added a tiny bit more black to make a nice dark green and just flicked the wet brush with my finger to create the speckled effect.  Then, with a nicely wet brush, I went a little Jackson Pollack and whipped the brush across it a few times to make those nice streaky effects.  I am really happy with the result.  I think it looks a little bit like fern fossils.  It is not a painting of ferns, but rather the soft suggestion of them.  Now I just have to figure out what to put in the foreground.  Why not try one of your own?  I'd love to see what you come up with.  You might teach me a thing or two.  Have fun!                                                                                                   

Tuesday, June 26, 2012

Morning Glories

Their name is absolutely perfect for them, isn't it?  They are glorious indeed.  These are some more beauties from the brushpile.  I told my husband he cannot burn it because there are too many beautiful things growing in and around it.  It's a magnet for all sorts of beauties.  There are cardinals nesting down inside it.  It's covered in beautiful blooming vines.  Dandelions and Black-eyed Susans surround it.  My sweet husband just sighs and smiles a knowing smile.  He understands that I find beauty in strange places. And, when he stops to really look, he sees it too.  He will wait until fall to burn the brushpile.  Thank you, Honey.

Thursday, June 21, 2012

Shades of Blue

Shades of Blue, by Starr White
This is a little abstract painting I did in a little over an hour yesterday.  I love abstract art, but it has always been the most difficult style for me to paint.  In fact, this is the first one I've ever done that I really like.  I have tried painting abstracts many times in the past and have never been satisfied with the result.  And, it was a struggle - trying to 'paint an abstract'.  But, I believe this is further evidence of a shift in consciousness for me.  I didn't think so much about what I was doing.  I just sort of felt my way through it.  What I mean is, I knew that I wanted a dark background with lighter squares or rectangles in the foreground.  I knew that I wanted it to have a very organic, not-too-perfect feel to it.  And then, I departed from thinking and let something else take over.  I just kept painting rectangles, dipping my brush randomly into different shades of blue.  And, there was something else new.  I knew when to stop.  I just knew.  That has never happened before either.  I usually agonize over when to stop, and I almost always think I could go back and do something more or something better.  But not this time.

Now, in the interest of full disclosure, I must tell you that I have started reading "Drawing on the Right Side of the Brain" by Betty Edwards.  But, I'm only on Chapter Three.  I've only just completed the first exercise.  I haven't gotten to the part where you actually start the exercises to teach you to access the right side of the brain yet.  So far, it's just been a discussion about the roles the two hemispheres play in helping us sort out our environment.  So, I don't think it's that.  Emily and I have been discussing this concept of letting go and working intuitively and freely - outside the confines of conventional thinking. But, I really can't pinpoint the exact cause of the shift or why it seems to have happened overnight and almost without my being aware of it. I just know that something has changed.  I feel freer and more relaxed about my work.  Something inside me that has been tight and constrained has been loosed and is unfurling. It is difficult to describe in words.  It's just sort of a feeling of freedom and confidence and knowing.  I like this feeling.  I feel like an artist.

Wednesday, June 20, 2012

Meg's Mushroom, Take 2

Here is the new and improved version of Meg's Mushroom with the background of painted fabric I made in this post .  I added a second oak leaf and attempted to create some depth of field by placing it behind the little grassy sprouts. I also placed some of the pine needles behind the stem and used only 1 strand of a darker thread to try to make it appear as if it is farther in the background.
I worked hard on this one to re-create the little spots on the mushroom cap.  At first, I was only using conventional embroidery stitches, turkey knots and french knots.  But, I became increasingly dissatisfied with them as they did not adequately express the look and feel of the little bumpy spots in the inspiration photo.  So, I began to experiment as I was working - just trying different things.  I let go of the idea that I had to use a conventional, documented embroidery stitch, and I just focused on recreating the 'feeling' of those bumpy little spots. 
I was thrilled with the result.  The elongated, irregular and highly textured 'bumps' were just what I was looking for!  I wish I had starting making them at the beginning instead of close to the end.  I suppose my boredom and frustration drove me to just start experimenting.  I can't describe it, but I feel that I tapped into something.  I wasn't thinking so much as feeling my way to a solution.  Those little white bumps might not look like anything to get excited about, but for me they are.  They represent a step forward for me artistically.  I realized that I had been boxing myself in before by trying to 'stick to the rules', and that this small experience, this little taste of artistic freedom is the beginning of my freedom from the box.  That is my goal - freedom.  Freedom from the fear of failure and the confines of conventional thinking.  There is something inside an artist that is much deeper than thinking.  I tapped into that place for just a tiny moment - just long enough to let me know that it's there.

I continue to be amazed at how much I learn from these little projects.  I had a wonderful teacher that used to say, "We learn by doing."  That is so true.  The best way to learn something is to just jump in there and go for it and not worry about failure.  Every failure is a valuable lesson, and therefore, is nothing to fear! Now that this little guy is finished, I am looking forward to the next project and the lessons it holds for me. 

Monday, June 18, 2012

The Dreamer

The Dreamer, by Starr White
This is a little watercolor pencil sketch I drew near the end of  last summer.  I had no idea at the time just how prophetic this little image would be.  Here I am, less than a year later, blogging about my creative life - in which mushrooms play a large role at this point.  As I've said in previous posts, the little mushrooms represent fairytales and magic and the enchanted world of fairies and gnomes that I imagine living here in my little woodland paradise.  They appeal to the child within me, and seem to embody a spirit of hopefulness and a belief that maybe, just maybe their is a little magic in the world afterall, that maybe dreams can come true.  And besides that, they're just so darn cute.  They make me happy.  I suppose that little fairy is me, sitting atop that big toadstool dreaming of being an artist for real.  Dreaming of turning my love of art into some kind of living where I can spend my days doing what makes me happy.  It seems to me that the art I create is a good indicator of what's going on in my heart and mind at the time.  And, so it would seem that I am still dreaming about fairytales and mushrooms and a bright future.  I hope that little guys dreams come true.

Saturday, June 16, 2012

The Wren's Nest

A beautiful little house wren has built a nest in a basket on our back porch.  What a clever little bird she is!  Not only does she have a view to die for, as the back porch overlooks the creek and waterfall, but she also has two big guard dogs to keep her and her babies safe.  Yesterday  morning she sat on the edge of her basket and looked me straight in the eye as if to say a cheerful, "Good morning!" and proceeded to belt out the happiest little song you ever heard.  I think she knows she's got it made.  Here is a photo of her nest.

It is a cavelike little construction with a top and sides and a warm little bed lined with soft mosses and hair (from the dogs!) on the inside.  If I was a bird, I would want this little house.  I watch her from the kitchen window bringing in one item at a time.  It has taken weeks for it to progress to this point.  And I noticed, as I looked very closely at it during her absence, that she has taken great care in choosing her materials as well as where she places each little piece.  Now, my question is, do you suppose that she is decorating this nest?  Look here at the delicate little flower she has placed on top...

It positively looks like lace!  And I also see in there some small dried nuts or berries, and of course the soft green moss.  This brings up an intriguing question.  If she is going to the extra effort to make her nest more beautiful, why?  Is beauty necessary?  The obvious purpose of the nest is to keep herself and her babies snug and warm and dry until they are ready to leave, so why make it beautiful as well?  Do you think that animals have aesthetic sensibilities as we do?  It would certainly seem so.  But, what is the purpose of beauty?  Certainly, an ugly nest would do just as well?  And considering the big picture, ugly creatures like cockroaches and monkfish reproduce just as abundantly, if not more so, than beautiful ones like peacocks and butterflies.  So, I say that beauty is really not necessary for survival.  And yet, it is everywhere.  Even in the smallest details of this little wren's nest.  I believe it is a gift. What do you think?

Tuesday, June 12, 2012

Alien vs. Predator


If you've seen the movies, you get it.

I have no idea what crawled out of that cocoon......and I don't want to know.

Can you see how huge that spider is?  He's ginormous!!!  Do you see those big glowing eyes? 

Now you can see why, when I'm walking, I carry a big long stick out in front of me like this....

Walk softly, and carry a big stick!

Saturday, June 9, 2012

Fun with Fungi!

OK.  You know by now that I love mushrooms.  Well, for a girl who loves mushrooms, mosses, and lichens, this is shaping up to be a banner year.  Abundant rainfall and mild temperatures have created ideal growing conditions for my fungal friends, and I have lots of new photos of them to share.
Yesterday, we spent the afternoon playing in the creek below our house.  Actually, I spent the afternoon peeking into the small, small world that thrives along the banks of the creek.  It's such a beautiful, magical place to me and always has been since I was a small child.  For me, it's the place where fairytales are born.
This tiny, delicate world is full of beauty and wonder.  It's so easy to imagine fairies and gnomes hiding out in these secret places in between the forest and streams.  After all, if you were a little fairy, wouldn't you like to hang out here?  I know I would.                                                                                                                 


Thursday, June 7, 2012

Vive la Experimentation!

Overall, I was happy with the result of my little orange mushroom project.  The only thing I really wasn't satisfied with was the background which seemed a little empty.  So, I've been experimenting with backgrounds for my little applique'/embroidery pictures.  I used to think it was totally unnecessary to dye your own fabrics and threads, etc.  I thought people were either going a bit overboard or they were just gluttons for punishment.  But, now I totally understand why artists go to the trouble to customize their own materials.  Recently, I visited the fabric store looking for a patterned fabric that I could use for the backgrounds of my pictures. I literally spent hours combing every aisle for something to use and came up with nothing.  Either the color was wrong, the pattern was too large, or something.  Therefore, I have come to the inevitable conclusion that I too will have to create my own background fabric.  And, afterall, that is probably best anyway.  It will make my work even more unique, which is always a good thing.  I firmly believe that it is our individuality, our uniqueness, which is our single greatest asset as artists.  The more ways we can express that the better. 
First, I cut some small swatches of canvas and used stencils and acrylic paint to try to create a background of fallen leaves. 

The "control" swatch is the plain piece on the lower left.  Upper left is what happens when you don't allow it to dry properly before trying to paint on it.  I was hoping it would be a softly blurred effect.  It's blurry all right.  I was much happier with the other two.  The leaf shapes on the lower right I thought were a bit too large, so I cut my own smaller leaf shape out of an old plastic water jug and used it for the one on the upper right.  I think I like it the best. 
When I went to the fabric store, I did purchase a piece of brown cotton calico with a soft, mottled print.  I like it pretty well by itself, but I decided to use the stencilling technique on it to see what it would look like.

The unpainted piece is the one on the left.  This time, I decided to combine the large and the small leaf shapes and alternate between using the negative and positive large leaf stencil.  I was trying to achieve the soft suggestion of a mass of fallen leaves.  I know it's subtle, but that's what I was going for.  Again, I don't want it to compete with the design that will be applied to it.  What do you think?  Was it a successful experiment?  

Tuesday, June 5, 2012

Weird and Wonderful

Poke weed : : ???? : : Florida star anise : : Bracket fungus : :  Big fat bracket fungus

We've been enjoying lots of soft summer rain here lately, and it's bringing out all kinds of weird and wonderful things.  Poke weed is a poisonous plant that farmers hate, but it's pendulous clusters of alien looking berries on bright purplish red stalks make it an awesome thing to behold.  I have no idea what that extraordinary blossom is called.  It's on a vine that's growing on a brush pile.  Isn't it magnificent?  The Florida anise has a bright red flower which turns into this green seed pod which will eventually turn brown and look like its culinary cousin the star anise that is used a lot in Chinese and Indian cuisine.  I'm not sure if you could cook with this one.  The plant itself has a pungent herbal musk scent which some people say smells like a wet dog, but I have never thought so.  I think it is a more earthy-herbal scent.  And check out those fantastic lavender-tinged bracket fungi!!  Aren't they gorgeous?  They look like something out of Alice in Wonderland or Avatar.  And of course the big fat one.  From another angle, it looks like a pair of lips stuck on the side of the tree, but I chose to shoot it from a more flattering angle.  Would you like to see the lips? 

Pucker up, honey!