Yes, Santa Claus, there is a Virginia

What was it Douglas Adams said? “I seldom end up where I wanted to go, but almost always end up where I need to be.”  I didn’t anticipate moving to Virginia but here we are…and it’s wonderful.

Starting over – it can be intimidating and overwhelming…but also exciting and invigorating…right now, I’m somewhere in between.  From finding the DMV and a vet (a priority when you have geriatric animals) to meeting new people and exploring the area, my last several weeks have been a rollercoaster ride.  I miss the old and familiar but I’m armed with a GPS and a “best restaurant guide”…what more is there?

So, yea – I feel like every time I step out the door the day unwraps like a Christmas package…what is down that road?  What is in that gallery?  Where is the best coffee?  Virginia is a very cool place – a serious blend of old and new…being able to jump in the car and visit a Civil War site or pop into DC and drink in the Hirshhorn Sculpture Garden is amazing.  All the starting over, exploring, establishing new roots suits my independent nature.  It’s fun and lonely and mind-expanding and unnerving all at the same time.  And it’s definitely keeping me on my toes…and giving me tons of ideas for new sculptures…I just have to wait until we find a permanent home to set up the studio…stay tuned…


Adieu, Portland


Why Did The Chicken Cross the Road? (totem series)

Well, here we go again…to those of you who know me, you won’t be too surprised to learn we’re moving…this time back to the East Coast – Northern Virginia…not sure the exact spot yet, but someplace near DC…I’m really excited about a new adventure, but at the same time, it’s hard to say goodbye to Portland.  We’ve only been here 5 years, but I’ve grown to love this place…if you live here, you know why…if you don’t, you need to come visit.

I don’t know anyone in Northern Virginia so I’m guessing it will take me a while to get synced up in my new area…if you have any suggestions as to what I should check out, I’m all ears…

Thanks to everyone in Portland – and beyond – who helped make my time here absolutely delightful…I promise I won’t tell anyone how great it is to live here – it’ll be our secret…

Close Encounters

I confess – I have a thing for rock formations.  Geologically, they are amazing records of the earth’s movement and it’s make up and that’s fascinating stuff.  But the stratifications are so interesting to me; I am drawn to the incredible patterns and textures…they are nature’s sculptures and, boy, is she good at it.  I have piles of photos from which I gather inspiration.  We just returned from a two-week road trip through Montana, South Dakota, Idaho, and Wyoming where we saw some incredible places like the City of Rocks (Idaho), Devil’s Tower(Wyoming) and Needles Scenic Byway (So Dakota).  Man’s hand at resculpting one of nature’s rocks – Mt. Rushmore – is humbling…how one man’s vision and the hard work of lots of men became a symbol of America’s innovation and creativity.  I was deeply moved (and more than a little grateful to Teddy Roosevelt and his vision).  I’m already thinking about doing some cement sculptures that will be more organic and fluid in form.  I can’t compete with nature, but I do feel a bit like Roy Neery in my need to build in her shadow.

Some Cement Sculpting Tips

Pre-mosaicked cement chair with throw over arm

Since my show at Guardino Gallery, I’ve had a few inquiries about how I make my sculpture (and a few sad stories about failed sculptures).  While I think it is always best to take a hands-on class, I thought I’d answer a few questions here…afterall, not everyone can take my class.

First thing to know: not all cement is created equal.  Cement products are made for specific purposes – some for flooring, some for underwater applications, and so on.  Little is made specifically for sculpting.  Before you start – know that the product you’re using is suited to your needs.  The material I use, Parex Optimal Adhesive Base Coat, is part of an architectural system for facing buildings.  It is made specifically to coat a building’s facade to make it weather resistant and so that stucco will stick to it.  It was developed in Switzerland and is used from Germany to Minnesota to Alaska…I know it will withstand all kinds of weather.  Some other materials will last outside for a while, but maybe not as long as you hoped.  I’ve got a piece – my test piece – that’s been standing in my yard for 6 years and not a blemish is on it.   It’s the only product I use.  One of the great things about it is once it is cured, it becomes a totally independent structure, meaning that whatever armature you used doesn’t matter anymore…One other great thing is, you can add small amounts of water with a bristle brush to get a completely smooth surface…lots of other cement products don’t hold up to additional water once it’s mixed.  Also, it is lightweight…seriously light weight for cement…Of course, if you need to make it heavy, you can always weight it.  Lastly, there are some other good products out there but the price point of Parex is really good by comparison.  There are other brands of this same type of product – Drybond is one…it just depends on what’s available in your area.  The other thing you’ll need is fiberglass mesh – sold at the same places as Parex; this is in large quantities (rolls of about 100 yards for $80)…there are some mosaic places online that sell much smaller pieces…or see if some folks want to go in on it together…

Now, start with an armature – use styrofoam, hardware cloth, plaster of paris, whatever you’re comfortable with…cut your fiberglass mesh into strips (wear gloves – it is fiberglass after all), mix your Parex to a brownie mix consistency (I use a paint mixer on my electric drill), put a layer of Parex down – approximately 1/4 inch, embed your fiberglass mesh and smooth it in with a Bondo scraper (available at auto parts stores); repeat 2 more times, smoothing each coat with a dampened bristle brush.  Each layer should dry somewhat before you add the next (say until the shine goes away)…but you can also let it dry completely. If it is particularly hot, mist the cement so it doesn’t dry too fast and leave hairline cracks. Let the cement cure for 30 days (I’ve cheated a few times with this step but this is a do as I say kind of thing)…Once it’s dry, if you have some bumps you can rasp them out.  If you have some indentations, you can add a bit of Parex to level them out.

Voila!  You can cover it with mosaic, spray paint, whatever or nothing…Obviously, this is a crash course; if you want in-depth information, you’ll have to take my class…but I’m here if you have any questions.  Try it – but don’t blame me if you find it addictive…

Flights of Fancy

I had several clients ask me if I could make them a smaller version of my flying carpet (which is 48×24).  I added a few for my show at Guardino Gallery since the smaller size (18×11) seemed more manageable for people…These easily hang on the wall with a couple of D rings…if you put them at an angle, the carpet actually looks like it’s flying up the wall.  Some are all mosaic and some are ceramic with just a bit of mosaic for detail (see below); the fringe is all hand-rolled ceramic.  I love making these…I feel like they can transport me to someplace fun and exotic…even just for a few moments…my version of  “Calgon, take me away”…

Gallery Show

It feels like I haven’t updated this in ages…and I haven’t…but I have a good excuse – I’ve been in the studio day-in-and-day-out getting ready for a show at Guardino Gallery in Portland.  I have 11 sculptures, which might not seem like a lot but remember: first I have to make the form by carving, then layering cement on; let it cure; make tile, then mosaic…it is a time consuming process and I’m never happier than when I’m doing it!  My dogs forget who I am, there’s an inch of dust in my house (and on my eliptical machine), the laundry is piled high, and my studio looks like a cyclone hit it…but I’ll be ready…hope you can stop by the gallery…the show opens with a reception Feb 25th from 6 – 9; it’ll be there until Mar 23.  Guardino Gallery, 2939 NE Alberta St.

New Fireplace Installation

I just finished this fireplace for a client who wanted something that blended in her gorgeously decorated bungalow.   She chose this concept from three I designed for her; I like to give people choices up front – it usually means fewer changes as the project progresses.  I created the pattern as a mirror image.  It was complicated, but it made the final motif more balanced.  I had a hand-drawn, life-size cartoon that I followed – and dreamed about for two weeks while I installed.   Once we picked exact colors, I started handmaking the tiles for the surround – each tile was made individually – not cut; I could have used commercial tile but we both knew that handmade would have a craftsmanship finish.  Besides, the whole concept of using handmade as much as possible appeals to my artistic nature.  The floor, however, is McIntye tile; it was the exact color we wanted with a scratch-resistant finish.  In such a low-traffic area, I wasn’t too worried, but I just couldn’t find a glaze that I liked as much.  Cutting them was a breeze with a good new blade.  It’s all about the tools, people.

The installation was fairly easy (except on my back); I had the tiles laid out and numbered ahead of time.  My client was a dream and she has the two sweetest cats that watched every move I made…I hope they don’t become competitors now that they know my secrets…