Studio visit: Linda Rael

If I had to name an artist friend whose artistic sensibilities most closely match mine, it would be Linda Rael. In fact, this is what I wrote in this blog in 2016:

I know of no other artist whose works resonate in my heart as much as those of dear friend Linda Rael. Everything she creates makes me think, “Dang, I wish I had done that.” She incorporates animal bones and porcupine quills and rust and earth and tattered linen and other stuff that myths and magic are made of. I purely love her art!

She Cat by Linda Rael – owned and cherished by Lyn Belisle

Yesterday, I finally got to visit her “new” studio near Boerne in the Texas Hill Country. Some of us from the Fiber Arts group toured her studio, and it’s a wonder any of us ever left – what a great place!

Take a look at the video, hot off the camera:

Linda creates figurative pieces. Soft sculpture and clay are the basic ingredients. They are highly embellished with embroidery, beads and found objects, including natural elements found on walks in the woods.I learned a new technique from her involving wax and fiber yesterday – it’s exciting! Seems like I’m always learning something from Linda.

She’s been published in all the best places:

  • Belle Armoire
    Somerset Studio
    Art Doll Quarterly
    Cloth, Paper, Scissors
    Quilting Arts
    Haute Handbags magazine

A lot of SHARDS readers know and love Linda as well. She creates quietly, constantly, and with cause, always with a nod to her native New Mexico. This quote by Milton Avery always reminds me of Linda: “Nature is my springboard. From her I get my initial impetus. I have tried to relate the visible drama of mountains, trees, and bleached fields with the fantasy of wind blowing and changing colors and forms.” 

I took pictures of her inspiration boards while we were there – maybe some of it will rub off on me.

 Visiting other artists’ studios is such a great way to get an insight into their work and mindset. Linda Rael‘s studio is a remarkable place. Thanks, Linda, for your generosity and your spirit!

Linda Rael

“Although the relationship between humans and our environment is a serious subject, I attempt to approach it with humor and whimsy through my figurative work.”    ~~~~~~Linda Rael

Little spirits everywhere – and a little freebie, too

Spirit Doll by Zippy Smith

This spirit doll, above, was a present from my friend Zippy. The doll’s head is made from a burr acorn. She’s winking at me. I keep her on my desk to remind me to lighten up when I start taking myself too seriously!

Which leads me to the joy of Spirit Dolls in general, and how other artists use the spirit doll faces I make for my Etsy shop. I love getting photos of their work, and just received some new ones from Gainesville, Florida artist Regina Roper. Look at her fantastic creations!

Regina Roper

Regina Roper

Regina Roper

I asked Regina if she’d share her thoughts with us on SHARDS. She writes,

“I make 3D bead sculptures, vessels that I make the fabric for myself from loose fiber, boxes, just about anything that strikes me. My work is based in themes of goddess, myth, and legend.

The first photo is a piece called ‘Come the Spring, I am Reborn’. This is a small faery doll set into an alabaster base, she is reborn every Spring as the Crone turning to the Maiden and gets younger and more beautiful as the seasons turn until again in winter she must spin a cocoon and hibernate until Spring.

Her sister doll is called ‘The Bright Arc of an Afternoon’ and is a small faery with a goddess arc. The free sitting cloth doll is called ‘Caipora’. She is the Brazilian goddess of the wilds. She is a protecting force, she looks over the animals of the rainforest. In this version, she sits in the branch of a tree and guards a nest containing a single amethyst egg that represents the egg of an endangered Hyacinth macaw.”

These are so evocative of the changing seasons and are filled with personal meaning. Wow. Thanks, Regina!

Mt dear friend, Joanna Powell Colbert, has made a book about spirit dolls that she invites everyone to share. She is incredibly generous. I’ve posted the link before, but here it is again if the spirit starts to move you! How to Make a Spirit Doll.

And if you really want to get deeply into this fascinating craft, my DVD on the subject is not a bad investment! The Magic of Spirit Dolls is available from Artful Gathering.

If you’ve read this far, here is a little freebie for you – a digital collage I made this morning while I was playing with Photoshop. I think I was inspired by Laura Robert’s work at the Art League yesterday!

Click on the image to go to the download link. You can download this, play with it, put it on the front of a card – whatever! I’ll be making more of these to share in the near future. I hope it lifts your spirits!


Art, alignment and your New Year’s Resolution explained – maybe

I was working in the studio yesterday on a striped background for a painting workshop, and when it was finished, I assumed it was going to be a horizontal composition. Then I wondered. . . why had I assumed that? Why was horizontal my default?

So I asked my Facebook friends what they thought. I wanted to see how weird was I compared to them. I posted the painting in three separate pics (combined, below) and asked if they like it better horizontal, vertical, or diagonal. (Remember, this isn’t a finished painting, just a striped canvas, so content isn’t really an issue).

When the FB comments started, they were all over the wall, so to speak. Some people gave reasons, others just stated a preference. Some changed their minds, some had some cool out-of-the-box replies.

I decided that different kinds of people like different linear arrangements – well, duh. But why? Here’s an article from Vanseo Designs that explains part of the reason:

The Meaning of Lines: Developing A Visual Grammar

 Horizontal lines are parallel to the horizon (hence the name). They look like they’re lying down, at rest, asleep. They suggest calm and quiet, a relaxed comfort.

Horizontal lines can’t fall over. They accentuate width. They’re stable and secure. The convey an absence of conflict, a restful peace. Horizontal lines by their connection to the horizon are associated with earth bound things and idea.

Vertical lines are perpendicular to the horizon. They are filled with potential energy that could be released if they were to fall over. Vertical lines are strong and rigid. They can suggest stability, especially when thicker. Vertical lines accentuate height and convey a lack of movement, which is usually seen as horizontal.

They stretch from the earth to the heavens and are often connected with religious feelings. Their tallness and formality may give the impression of dignity.

Diagonal lines are unbalanced. They are filled with restless and uncontrolled energy. They can appear to be either rising or falling and convey action and motion. Their kinetic energy and apparent movement create tension and excitement. Diagonal lines are more dramatic than either horizontal or vertical lines.

Diagonal lines can also appear solid and unmoving if they are holding something up or at rest against a vertical line or plane.

MY CONCLUSION, and how to decide on your New Year’s resolution:

After you have chosen your preference and know whether you are a Horizontal, Vertical, or Diagonal person, you can write a really cool New Year’s resolution. To wit:

  • Horizontal people should resolve to get out of their comfort zones. Take a chance. Eat a squid taco. Experiment with fluorescent paint on a burlap canvas. Paint it with your toes.
  • Vertical people should resolve to lighten up. Loose the formality. Eat a Cheesy Jane’s beanburger and don’t use a napkin. Toss the oil paint realism and go for a Jackson Polluck style with enamels. Get high on the fumes.
  • Diagonal people (oh, how I wish I were one) should resolve to channel their crazy energy. Eat tofu, drink green tea. Paint with only shades of gray on white paper. Yeah, that’ll last about ten seconds.

See what one little question on Facebook can lead to? OK, now that I’ve helped you with your self-analysis and your resolutions, I’m headed out for a squid taco. Ewwww.

Happy New Year! And thanks for reading SHARDS, no matter how weird it gets.

Bee beautiful – construction problem solved

These little “Bee dishes” that I make for Marta Stafford’s gallery have proven to be popular – yay!

I donate a dollar from each sale to the Rodale Institute’s  Honeybee Conservancy. Besides the fact that bees are vital to the environment in so many ways, they also give us sweet-smelling beeswax, which is vital to encaustic artists!

These bee dishes are made from irregular small slabs of clay, stamped and patterned, and then draped over something” so they will dry in a slightly concave shape. I had never been able to find a suitable round object to drape them over.

I tried half of a plastic Easter egg, wads of tinfoil, cotton balls – nothing really worked.

The “something” had to be round on top, flat on the bottom, and relative smooth so the design would not be messed up when it was laid over the mold.

It also had to be heat-proof so that I could dry them in the oven and sand the bottoms before they went into the kiln.

Slab form in progress

I finally had an “Aha!” moment about the forms for draping the clay – I am a potter, after all, so could make the “something” myself!

Bee drape molds made of white clay

I rolled some white clay into balls, and formed two dozen small pinch pots to function as little individual drape molds. I fired them, and just tried them out yesterday. Voila! Perfect!

White clay formed into small pinch pots to be used as drape molds

a Bee dish draped over the white clay form

So the white clay mold worked great – it kept the dish from flattening out, and heated it from the inside while it was drying in the oven before sanding.

Bee dish with bottom sanded to flatten it slightly

When I unloaded the kiln, all the little dishes were nicely concave and were ready to be finished with walnut ink and metallic wax – the small hand-formed clay drape molds worked!

Bee dishes fresh from the kiln without their walnut ink enhancement

Bee dish as a ring holder

A lot of making art is about engineering and problem-solving, whether you’re painting or doing assemblage, fiber art or photography. Construction and composition are vitally important, and figuring it out is fun.

Here is the new crop of Bee dishes – Marta sells them for $12 and part of the money goes to a very bee-you-tiful cause.  Hooray for artistic problem-solving!



One-of-a kind personal cat shaman

I just finished one of my favorite projects ever – a custom Cat Shaman for a delightful person in Spicewood, Texas. She had seen the piece, above, at Marta Stafford’s Gallery. It was already sold, so she asked if I could make one for her with her own mementos. Of course! What fun!

She mailed me a box of little treasures along with handwritten notes about what each one meant to her. There were scraps of linen and suede, pins and teeth, elephants and medals.

Putting all of these precious things together in a meaningful way was a bit overwhelming, so I started at the beginning by choosing the proper earthenware cat head.

This guy looked pretty wise. I figured he could give me advice as I went along. “Trust the Process,” he said.

It was kind of amazing how things started fitting together inside the little “heart box.”

When you work with other people’s sacred objects, it can be a bit intimidating, but it’s also a privilege – I enjoyed the stories about each piece as I progressed with the assemblage. There are a lot of memories and symbols packed inside this little box!

I kept adding and subtracting and rearranging, and through trial and error, the Cat Shaman guided me through.

He’s going into his packing box today for his drive to Marta’s Marble Falls gallery – Diana, I hope you love him as much as I loved creating him! Thank you – what an honor!

Cat Shaman for Diana, Lyn Belisle 2017

Cork clay?

I saw Dale Jenssen at a Fiber Arts meeting this week and she gave me a package of Cork Clay. “Ever hear of this stuff?,” she said. I hadn’t, so I took it right home to play with it – play first, research later is my motto.

It looks for all the world like gingerbread. It has a dryish texture and can be flattened with a clay roller.

Naturally, I wanted to see how it would work in one of my earthenware face molds, so I pressed it in.

It came out easily and looked like – well . . . a cork face.

Kinda weird, but kinda interesting, so I let it dry overnight, and then sprayed it with some walnut ink to see what would happen. Yikes, it totally absorbed the ink! Looks like lava rock, but very lightweight.

Next, I tried a bit of silver wax on the surface. I think this would work well as a collage element.

Here’s what the back looks like – very cork-y!

Once the experimentation was done, I decided to see what people really use cork clay for, and discovered that its main use is as a mold or armature for Precious Metal Clay before it’s fired. The PMC is molded around the cork clay, which then burns off in the kiln. I found these photos in a London artist’s blogvery interesting!

My jeweler pals, Jan and Nancy, are probably thinking, “Well, DUH, Lyn – of course that what cork clay is for!” And if anyone else uses cork clay it for artful endeavors, tell me what you do with it.  Thanks, Dale, for the sample and the introduction to a new medium!

The heart of friendship

Carol Mylar and me in Colorado Springs

When I had a studio on Queen Anne Street back in the 90s, Carol Mylar was my studio partner. We have been the best of friends ever since, and when she moved back home to Colorado Springs fifteen years ago, part of my heart went with her. But we stay in close touch, visit in person as often as we can, and enjoy that special ESP that good friends develop. However, she was able to fool me recently in the nicest way!

“Tiny Dancer”, Lyn Belisle, assemblage 2017, original version

She had sent good luck wishes to me when my work was shown at Marta Stafford’s gallery last month. Little did I know that she and Marta had been in secret negotiation about one of the pieces called “Tiny Dancer”. Carol purchased it without telling me because she wanted to surprise me by sending me a picture of it on the wall in her Colorado Springs home.

“Tiny Dancer”, Lyn Belisle, assemblage 2017, heartless version

The sale was arranged, but when “Tiny Dancer” arrived in Colorado, she had no heart – it had fallen off and gotten lost somewhere. Carol emailed Marta at the gallery, and Marta then casually asked me if I had another little heart  –  the buyer, “Sue Smith,” said it had been lost and wanted a replacement. Fortunately, I had one heart left from in my collection of very old Mexican clay beads.

I thought it was weird that Marta asked me to send it to her rather than the buyer, but I sent the little heart to Marta in Marble Falls, and she secretly send it along to Carol.

The next week, I had a text from Carol with a photo of “Tiny Dancer” taken on the wall at her house – boy, was I surprised – I had no idea how it got there, especially since I thought somebody named “Sue Smith” from Albuquerque bought it.  When I read Carol’s message, I finally got it  – she wrote, “She lost her heart, but now it’s found. Every detail has a story. She’s beautiful!” I was so thrilled to see my work on my dear friend’s wall.

“Tiny Dancer,” happily living with Carol in Colorado

There’s a metaphor here about friends, about love and distance, about losing and finding one’s heartanyway, the story made me smile – thanks, Marta, for your part in the caper, and thanks, Carol for giving a good home to this little assemblage with the paint-brush leg and newly recovered heart! ♥♥♥



Exquisite ephemera

My friend Lisa Stamper Meyer had a great studio show and sale yesterday that showcased her recent painting trip to France. She (lucky woman) enjoyed a time of deep artistic exploration during a month-long residency at the Chateau Orquevaux.

Here’s a piece that I purchased from her yesterday. It reflects some of her signature materials and themes, which came into sharp focus during her journey – and everyone loves her ravens:

Mixed media collage, Lisa Stamper Meyer

Lisa is a master in both collecting and using “ephemera,” those wonderful scraps of vintage paper that add intrigue to artwork. Fortunately for her friends, she brought back packages of French papers, letters, and book pages to share with us. Look at some of the cool stuff I got!

There is something about using authentic letters and book pages that somehow makes one’s artwork more precious than using reproductions.

When you are working with ephemera and printed pages, remember that the same guidelines of composition apply – Alignment, Breathing Space, and Thirds.

Here’s a preliminary collage arrangement of some of the pieces that I got from Lisa:

collage composition practice

And here are a couple of tips for YOU that will help when you use ephemera or printed media.

ephemera composition tips

  • If there is a border on the torn paper strip, use it to good advantage by reinforcing the visual border of your work (see on left edge how the black border stops the eye from going off the page).
  • If you have one torn edge and one straight edge, the torn edge should face into the work (see the top edge) – again, this focuses the viewer toward the interior of the composition.
  • When you use a section of text, align it into the center. If it’s aligned away from the center, the viewer will be inclined to turn the composition outward to try and read it, and that will redirect the eye off the page.

Next time Lisa goes to France, I am going too, with four empty suitcases to fill with nifty French ephemera! (I wish) What is it about printed materials foreign languages that is so intriguing?

If you’re interested in materials like this and can’t get to Chateau Orquevaux, there are good sources on Pinterest for vintage French correspondence like this one

There are also design sites like this one that sell more vintage collage and decoupage ephemera that you can shake a glue stick at -:Southern Blackberry Designs

Somehow, though, going to France on a residency program to collect ephemera sounds a little more appealing. Thanks, Lisa, for sharing your experience, your work (and your fantastic ephemera) with us!

Holiday freebie for you – faux turquoise technique tutorial!

I may not have time to give workshops right now (the next one will be in January), but I can still teach you a few things! Here’s a lesson freebie – a cool Faux-Turquoise technique.

While working on a commissioned assemblage, I realized how often I use the painted faux-turquoise finish that I developed several years ago. It works on almost all my mixed-media surfaces – clay, paper, cradle board, canvas.

Here’s your step-by-step tutorial on how I do this finish. Feel free to change it up and experiment with your own variations. There’s no secret here, just simple materials and techniques that give good results in an uncomplicated way. It’s super fun, too.

Step One: Assemble Materials

Rarely do I specify specific brands, but in this case, these three acrylic paints work best in combination of all the ones I’ve tried for this particular technique.

You will also need a wide-ish flat brush (about 1″), a graphite pencil, a terrycloth washrag or studio rag, a white colored pencil (optional), and something to paint on. For this demonstration, I chose  4×6″ piece of archival mat board. You’ll need a water container to clean your brush, too.

You don’t need a lot of complicated materials for this

Step Two: Make you mark

I often have my workshop participants open up to their work by doing some scribbling on the substrate – you can always gesso over it, but it keeps them from being intimidated by a white surface. If they don’t know what to scribble, I ask them to scribble what they had for breakfast! In the demo below, I just did some random markmaking with a graphite pencil. It added a bit of subtle texture to the surface, too.

Make the space yours by claiming it with markmaking

Step Three: Slap on the base coat

Paint right over those marks you made with a coat of Aqua Green acrylic, being generous. Use random strokes, x-strokes in every direction. You don’t want to leave thick texture, but yo do want some slightly raised areas.

A nice coat of aqua green painted randomly on the matboard

Step Four: More marks

Let this coat sit until it is sticky but not dry, then go back in with your graphite pencil and make more light marks on the surface.

Step Five: Lighten it up

Add some of the Matte White acrylic to the Aqua Green to make a paler tint of turquoise. Brush it randomly over about one-third of the surface. Play with the proportions.

Matte White with a bit of Aqua Green

Step Six: Press and Lift

While the lighter tint is still wet, Press your terrycloth rag straight down onto the surface to lift some of the lighter tint in areas. This leaves very stone-like patches of light and dark.

Press the cloth straight down, then lift.

Step Seven: Adding the Azo Gold

Take your bottle of Quinacridone Nickle Azo Gold and drop several blobs of paint on the surface. It will look very dark and slightly gross, but don’t worry – Quin Gold is extremely transparent and will make a lovely glaze in the next step.

Blobs of Quin Gold dropped on the surface

Step Eight: Blob-dabbing

Using the same terrycloth rag (which will never be the same again), dab the blobs firmly to spread them and create texture.

Dabbed-out blobs of Quin Gold

Step Nine: Light blending and marking

Continue to add light marks, and do a bit of blending with the rag, but use a light touch.

More scratches and marks

Step Ten: Finish with dry-brushing

To veil and push back all of the color variations and textures, dry-brush a final coat of aqua green over the surface. You can see here that the right half has been dry-brushed and the left half has not yet been brushed. If you build up this layer slowly, you can control what is revealed and what is concealed. “Dry-brushing” means just that – adding a little bit of paint to a dry brush and stroke it lightly over the surface. After this step, let the whole thing dry. And go wash your brush!

Final dry-brush coat

Step Eleven: Tah-Dah!

You can see in the close-up how the painted finished mimics the real stuff in texture and color. As I said, this surface is archival mat board, but you can try this technique on anything acrylic paint works with.

I can see it on a mirror frame, for example, with copper nailheads all around it, or perhaps covering the top of a wooden box. Or how about a turquoise ornament for a Christmas tree, Southwestern style?

Here are a couple more photos of the faux-turquoise mat board cut up into smaller sections, and also a small adornment with copper tape for a collage or pin.

collage adornment

Cut sections of faux-turquoise matboard for mixed media

I hope you enjoy this technique. If you try it, let me know how you use it!

And thanks, as always, for reading SHARDS!




Nectar and Ambrosia

Part of the fun of Thanksgiving is remembering all the food that we liked as kids, the stuff that came out only at holidays. I loved to watch my mother make “Ambrosia,” which is a Southern tradition. According to Alabama Chanin, “Ambrosia began appearing in cookbooks in the late 1800s when citrus fruit became more prevalent in markets across the country. These early recipes were very simple, usually including only orange slices, coconut, and sugar layered in a glass dish.”

Mother would spend a long time peeling, de-seeding, and sectioning orange segments, which made the kitchen smell wonderful. It was labor-intensive, for sure. She added coconut and pecans and Maraschino cherries. A bonus for me was getting to sip the juice from the Maraschino cherries after she had drained them – turns your tongue red and gives you a major sugar rush.

I’m making a shortcut version of Ambrosia this year, and so far, it looks pretty good. I have all of the fruit ready and will add the rest of the ingredients, including the coconut,  tomorrow morning. It’s pretty already!

Shortcut Ambrosia in progress – trust the process!

Here’s the recipe if you want to give it a try – and if you can get to the grocery store today without losing your sanity.


1 (8 oz.) tub of whipped topping, thawed
1 cup sour cream
1 (20 oz.) can pineapple tidbits, drained well
1 (15 oz.) can mandarin orange segments, drained well
1 cup red or green seedless grapes, sliced in half
1 1/2 cups sweetened coconut flakes
1 1/2 cups mini marshmallows
1 (10 oz.) jar of maraschino cherry halves, drained very well (optional)
1/2 cup chopped pecans (optional)

Then you just mix the whipped topping (think Cool Whip), the coconut, sour cream and marshmallows together and fold it in with the fruit. It’s neither huate cuisine or health food, but hey – it’s a Thanksgiving tradition!

The “nectar” part of this post is Almond Tea, which showed up at a lot of Southern holiday parties. It’s a gusssied-up version of Sweet Tea, and it’s non-alcoholic so kids can have some.


3 tablespoons instant iced tea powder
1 cup white sugar
2 cups boiling water
1 (12 ounce) can frozen lemonade concentrate
2 teaspoons vanilla extract
1 tablespoon almond extract

In a 1 gallon container, mix together the instant tea powder and sugar. Pour in the boiling water and lemonade concentrate, and mix well. Stir in the vanilla and almond extracts. Fill container the rest of the way with cold water. Stir and serve over ice, or refrigerate until ready to serve.

Actually, you can just add a little almond extract to regular iced tea and it tastes great, different and kind of exotic.

I mentioned the Alabama Chanin Journal earlier – if you want an imaginative, feel-good source of information and inspiration, check out Alabama’s site and read about her beautiful and sustainable food, clothing and other makings. Slow Cloth founder Elaine Lipson introduced me to this journal. It’s a favorite.

Finally, if you’re still in an “easy recipe” mood, take this link to my favorite Cranberry Jalapeno Relish that I published here in 2014.

I am so grateful to all of you for being SHARDS readers – Happy Thanksgiving!