Working With Natural Materials

Natural materials appeal to me. Whether it’s hammering leaves to get the green out of them or using tea bags to stain paper, the natural world holds mysteries and wonders for me that make me feel like a magician whenever I use the materials I find in the yard or kitchen.

I love white on white. And I love mosaics. Here’s the beginning of a mosaic made out of egg shells. They take a bit of work to prepare–I use the ones that were broken raw, rather than boiled. I clean them in soapy water and peel off the inner membrane, let them dry and then break them and glue the pieces on a piece of watercolor paper. I love the mosaic look. Eventually, I will paint them, but for now, I love white on white.

Backlit, the egg shells appear as a very different thing. They look thin and fragile, which they are. This is not a project for the impatient.

I love these cabbage roses. Except they aren’t made with cabbage, they are made with celery. Take a bundle of celery, leave the rubber band on, and cut off the root end about two inches from the bottom.

Then put paint on the cut end (not the cut off part, the long stalk part) and print on paper. Presto! Cabbage roses.

I’ll be teaching this technique on December 8 at the Shemer Art Center in Phoenix.

And finally, I am taking an on-line calligraphy class from Val Webb. I’m enjoying it immensely. This week we are learning a cat alphabet. The letters make me laugh. This is my first try at the letter A.

Love a calligrapher with a sense of humor.

–Quinn McDonald is a writer and an art experimenter. She is waiting for a big idea with those egg shells.

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17 thoughts on “Working With Natural Materials

  1. Now, of course, I’m wondering about why you use the stalks instead of the base. I’ll just have to buy a bunch of celery and try it out won’t I?
    And the egg shells – stunning. What is it about white on white? W on W embroidery, not that I have the patience, is so delicate loooking as well. Is it its fragility that is so attractive.

    • The reason you don’t use the cut off end is that the ribs of celery are too tightly packed and warped to give you a got print. I tried it and got crummy results. the loose stalks will touch the paper and leave a print. I have always been a sucker for white on white anything. I never wear white (meatballs threaten to jump on me, and follow me for miles), but I do love the look.

      • I can just see meatballs and spaghetti bowling along like tumble weed after you. Too funny!!
        As for your comment to Pete about dust,living about 100 metres from the beach, we get it too. Every time the wind and rain come from that direction, the prevailing wind damn it, the windows look like I could scrape them off and use them as my salt suppply . . . but I wouldn’t want to be anywhere else right now.

        • The salt is harder to work with than just dust, I’d think. But the amount of dust is astonishing–which is funny. I live in the desert. It was unexpected, though, and it still surprises me. It gets in the pool and the pump has to work extra hard to get it out. And your image of meatballs chasing me is exactly right. I just dyed a white big shirt blue-grey because I could not keep it clean. The last three times I wore it, someone spilled coffee on me, or a kid got PBJ on the hem, or best of all, a woman with a baby asked me to hold the baby while we were in line at the grocery store. Cute kid, I obliged, and the kit spit up on the white shirt. Inevitable, I tell you!

    • The technique works on paper, so I imagine it would make a great lampshade–but I’m so practical, my first thought here in the desert is, “How do I dust it?” Here, it won’t stay white-on-white for long!

      • I guess I wouldn’t worry about dusting it, you could always use a hair dryer on low setting to blow off the dust if necessary. If it gets too bad, you could always paint it or put a clear sealer on it so the dust would come off the surface easier.

        • Yep. Sealer is a good idea. In the piece I made, I want to paint it, then use a sealer, so I’ll be able to tell how it works. And then I could vacuum it while I do the blinds. If you saw my studio, you wouldn’t want to aim a hairdryer in any direction! The joys of a paper-art studio are tiny bits of collage scraps waiting to be used. I’ve never lived in a place where dust piles up so easily–but we’ve had lots of dust storms this year.

          • I have never lived in the desert, so I don’t think about that much dust. The hair dryer in your studio might create some interesting results… Just put some glue on your base paper and then start blowing around the little pieces and see where they land!

          • Dust?

            1. Make a lampshade with two “walls” of fabric with a narrow space between. Support the shade with hollow tubes with the ends open to the inter-fabric space. Blow air into the tube to blow the dust outward.

            2. Dust tends to have an electrostatic charge. Make a lampshade with a transparent conductive surface (e.g. iridium tin oxide) and run an alternating current through the conductor. (Alternating because you can’t predict whether the dust is positively or negatively charged).

            3. Place surfaces with non-alternating conductive surfaces around a room; as the air circulates they (might) attract the dust. BTW dusting cloths like Swiffers work this way. Hmm, maybe a ceiling fan with charged blades would do this, although cleaning or replacing the blades might be a pain.

          • Yes, Pete, great suggestions. Wanna build that lamp shade for me? You need to come out here and see the dust. Seriously, this is the desert. In one week, my blinds collect enough dust to write on and the window wells enough to see what color it is–it varies in colors with dust storms. But then again, we only get 8 inches of rain a year and most houses have single-pane windows.

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