Tuesday, April 13, 2021

Spark Plug Mandala!

(Above:  Mandala XLVI, the Spark Plug Mandala. Framed as a diamond: 23" x 23"; hung as a square: 16 1/2" x 16 1/2". Found objects hand-stitched to a block of a vintage quilt. Found objects include: spark plugs; a clock face; four, blue plastic bottle caps; zipper pulls; brass hinges; vintage cocktail forks; four, silver square-beads that were once part of a bracelet; a metal circle with six holes; and lots of buttons.  Click on any image to enlarge.)

Most of this post is an illustration for how I've managed to mount my mandalas and distribute the weight of the found objects that are hand-stitched to a section/block of a vintage quilt.  I've selected this particular mandala to use for my example ... because ... well ... this many spark plugs are obviously heavier than most other objects I've been using.  I got these spark plugs at Bill Mishoe's auction house, a place selling everything from antiques and paintings to used household items ... and ... apparently, brand new spark plugs ... still in a box.


(Above:  Lot 208 with the silent auction bidder's sheet.)

There were several lots of spark plugs in small, corrugated boxes.  Someone bid the opening/minimum of $6 on all the boxes.  I wrote $7.50, the next increment, and my "permanent" bidder number (#74) on just this one box.  No one bid more.  (Permanent numbers are for "auction regulars". I've been attending Bill Mishoe's auctions for more than thirty years.  Ordinarily, the auction is live but during this on-going pandemic, it is held like a silent auction with bidder sheets.)


(Above:  The spark plugs!)

Inside the corrugated box were six smaller boxes.  Inside each smaller box were eight, individually packaged spark plugs.  Brand new, small engine (whatever that means!), spark plugs.  I was thrilled and decided to use almost all of them on a small, single quilt block.

(Above:  Mandala XLVI, detail.)

Because these spark plugs are small and not at all flat, I needed something on which one end could rest.  Thankfully, Marty Ornish recently sent a package of found objects for my stash.  In it was a clock face with the perfect rim.  Each spark plug was stitched down with at least seven stitches.  I used purple #5 perle cotton.  All this stitching was done while the vintage quilt block was stapled to a stretcher bar.

(Above:  The finished quilt block, removed from the stretcher bar.  The stretcher bar, on which a piece of acid-free foam-centered board was glued and stapled in place.)

When all the found objects were hand-stitched in place, I removed the vintage quilt block from the stretcher bar.  A piece of acid-free foam-centered board was cut to fit inside the slight lip/bump of the stretcher bar.  It was both glued and stapled into place.

(Above:  The quilt block re-stapled to the stretcher bar.)

Because I'm using vintage quilts which are not always in excellent shape, I lay down a piece of netting over the quilt block before attaching any of the found objects.  I did this after stapling the quilt block to the stretcher bar.  Why?  Well, netting can rip rather easily.  Having staples put through it and later removed would risk it being torn.  I re-stapled the quilt block to the stretcher bar without pulling the netting around.  The photo above shows the piece re-stapled to the stretcher bar and the netting not being stapled down.

(Above:  One corner of the stapled quilt.)

To deal with the corners, I pull out as much of the batting as necessary to eliminate bulk.  I also cut away the quilt backing.  This makes it much easier to fold/pull/staple a neat corner.

(Above:  This shows the corner, folded/pulled/stapled.)

Ideally, the corner would be neater but that isn't always possible when dealing with vintage quilts.  Yet with the bulk of the batting and backing removed, the corners are almost neat enough!

(Above:  The netting pulled around to the reverse and stapled in place.)

When all four corners are stapled in place, I pull the netting around to the back, twisting the netting at the corners, and then stapling it to the back of the stretcher bars.  This means that all the staples are actually UNDER the netting.

(Above:  The piece finished on the stretcher bar.)

Finishing the sides and corners in this way produces a nice look even if I weren't going to put the work into a frame.

(Above:  The back of the piece.)

Now comes the important part!  It is necessary to distribute the weight of the found objects.  On all my other mandalas, I used buttonhole thread and stitched long running stitches through the foam-centered board and piece ... in both vertical and horizontal rows ... every two to three inches.  Therefore, no part of a mandala is stressed by more than a two to three inch square of the whole. 

(Above:  Detail of the weight distribution stitching.)

For this spark plug mandala, I used the same #5 perle cotton thread and stitched through the foam-centered board, up through the quilt block, and around each spark plug ... twice ... firmly securing each spark plug in place.  The weight is evenly distributed because the spark plugs aren't just attached to the quilt but stabilized by the foam-centered board.

(Above:  The finished piece and its floater frame.)

As a certified, professional picture framer since starting my shop in 1987, I've always approached my art-making with presentation in mind.  Before stitching the very first mandala, I knew I wanted a "floater" styled frame.  This is the type of picture frame moulding that doesn't have a lip over the edge of the artwork.  The moulding lips around the back of the artwork.  The artwork fits INSIDE the frame and is put in place from the front, not the back.

(Above:  Off-set clips used to attach the stretcher bar to the floater frame.)

I used just six off-set clips to screw the stretcher bar to the back side of the floater styled frame. 

(Above:  The finished piece from the back.)

Another piece of foam-centered board was installed to protect the stitching on the back.  A label was attached and wires installed for hanging either as a square or a diamond.  I hope this blog post helps others with their presentation/framing needs!

Sunday, April 11, 2021

Mandala XLV

(Above:  Mandala XLV. Framed as a diamond: 36 1/4" x 36 1/4"; framed as a square: 25 3/4" x 25 3/4".  Found objects hand-stitched to a section of a vintage quilt.  Found objects include: spark plugs, plastic novelty eye glass frames, six-inch wooden rulers, vintage stitch pattern needle knobs, old keys, metal picture framing hangers, drapery hooks, buttons, paper clips, sewing machine bobbins, gold metal circles with holes (function unknown), and some sort of gear in the middle (also for an unknown function.) Click on any image to enlarge. $450 plus SC sales tax and shipping.)

I started stitching on this mandala before going to Arizona for a week.  It was quickly finished after I returned even though I had no idea how this was going to happen when I departed.  I had no plan after stitching down the toothed gear in the middle and the circle of spark plugs.

(Above:  Detail of Mandala XLV.)

I knew that I'd have a border of layered buttons.  I had thought about adding the sewing machine bobbins, but otherwise I had no idea what more would happen until ....

(Above:  Found objects sent to me from a new, cyber friend, Marty Ornish in California.)

.... these things arrived by mail! It seems that just when I "need something", "something" arrives!  I couldn't wait to add the vintage Sears Kenmore stitch pattern needle knobs and the rulers.  Quickly, the gold metal circles found places on the mandala.  (They are the ones that look like the top of a salt shaker ... except that there's no way to attach them to a container!)  Four of the plastic eyeglasses frames got stitched down too.  I haven't thought up a place for the silly, plastic eyelashes but I'm sure a future mandala will include them!  Thanks, Marty!

(Above:  Detail of Mandala XLV.)

The spark plugs came from Bill Mishoe's auction.

(Above:  Detail of Mandala XLV.)

The toothed gear in the center of this mandala also came from Bill Mishoe's auction.  Like the spark plugs, they were on a table lot with all sorts of other junk.  I don't know what this gear once did.  It isn't always necessary for me to know the origin or use for my found objects. 

(Above:  Mandala XLV, hung as a square.)

My last name is almost always stitched in the lower, right corner.  On the mandalas that can hang as a diamond, I've slated the letters so that it isn't necessarily obvious that another orientation might have been intended.

(Above:  Some of my stash of found objects.)

Many people have asked about how I organize my stash of found objects.  Many people think I must have a very large room for all these things.  For the most part, I laugh.  Why?  Well, the word "organized" has very little to do with it.  Also, my stash isn't in a single room; it's all over the house.  Now ... it isn't completely disorganized either.  The photo above shows the items that have made it into the room living.  These are some of the things I absolutely know will be stitched to a mandala.  There's an old mayonnaise jar of paper clips, several boxes of buttons (though most of my buttons are elsewhere ... because they'd take up more room that this image shows!), boxes of vintage paper fasteners, a tray of clock gears, a cigar box of laminated Tampa Nugget cigar bands, and plastic bags of syringes and syringe caps.  There's a box of metal picture frame hangers and another box of screw eyes.  One Ziploc bag has a collection of zipper pulls and there's a red mesh bag with white plastic dairy pulls.  
(Above:  An antique butterfly collection cabinet with several open drawers.)

In a downstairs room, I have an antique butterfly collection cabinet.  It functions like a flat file unit.  I know its original function only because the drawers once included a wire mesh over each one.  This was for drying the collected specimens.  There were also random bits of butterfly wings, here and there.  The cabinet wasn't that expensive because the original door was gone.  Some of the drawers now hold clock gears.  Some have nails.  Some hold old book spines.  Most are simply assortments of small objects.  So ... a little organization but not much!

(Above:  A table with more "stuff" but also where I keep my electric drill.)

On a nearby table, I have more of my stash.  This is, however, an important place.  My electric drill stays plugged in and ready to drill holes in things like dominoes and six-inch wooden rulers.  My Dremel tool is on a shelf just below.  Lots happens here.  Beside this table are two, ten-gallon buckets.  Each one is about one-third filled with old keys from a college dormitory.  Student mailboxes were re-keyed every year.  I was the lucky recipient of hundred of used keys!

(Above:  Spark plugs!)
The found object stash is in a constant state of change.  Just when I thought that spark plugs were the coolest, most imaginative, and unusual "embroidery supply", I was the lucky, successful bidder on a box of brand new spark plugs.  This was just last Wednesday at Bill Mishoe's auction.  Inside the small box was six smaller boxes.  Inside those were eight packages of small engine spark plugs.  For $7.50 I have all these items for the next mandala!  Who would have thought!

Thursday, April 08, 2021


(Above:  Steve and me along the perimeter trails at Red Rock State Park outside Sedona, Arizona.  Click on any image to enlarge.)

Many people have asked how I maintain such a prolific studio art practice.  The answer always revolves around Julia Cameron's The Artist Way. The Artist Way is more than a book, more than a 12-week program meant for artistic recovery, more than techniques and exercises aimed at jump-starting creativity.  It is a lifestyle.  I'm one of millions, world wide, whose life was transformed.  The Artist's Way changed me. It let me claim my true, artistic self.  I've been through the twelve weeks on two different occasions.

(Above:  Jasper Forest, an area in the southern part of Petrified Forest National Park.)

The Artist's Way works for anyone who really uses it.  Like most things, one receives the benefit of a program if one puts in the effort. The efforts for The Artist's Way can be boiled down to two basic actions.  First, one should write daily, stream-of-consciousness journal entries.  Julia Cameron suggests three, long-hand written pages.  During my second time going through the twelve chapters, I started cheating.  Of course I did!  Instead of hand-writing, I type my "Morning Pages".  I store them on my laptop, filed by date and organized into yearly folders.  I've been loyally doing this since 2007.

(Above:  One of the brilliantly colored sectional logs in the Jasper Forest area of Petrified Forest National Park.)

The other, basic part of The Artist's Way is the habit of going on a weekly "Artist's Date".  Well, I cheat on that one too.  I don't always want/need an hour every week just for myself.  Yet, I know this is important.  It is part of "filling the well" for inspiration.  So, I look forward to times when I can really, seriously, and gloriously step back from my life for more than an hour ... as in travel time ... as in a week away!  Going to Arizona was just this sort of occasion, a time to soak up nature, be in awe of ancient artifacts, eat different foods, drive through foreign looking landscapes, and feel the presence of God, the Great Creator. 

(Above:  Another amazing section of an ancient log, now petrified.)

Steve cashed in some of the frequent flier miles that were returned to us after a canceled 2020 trip and we flew into Phoenix.  Our first day was spent driving up and through Sedona and then taking the perimeter trails at Red Rock State Park.  We logged about six miles and later had a fabulous meal at Lumberyard Brew Pub in Flagstaff near where we stayed the night.

(Above:  Some of the sculptural formations of mountain and eroding stone near Jasper Forest in Petrified Forest National Park.)

The next morning we headed to Petrified Forest National Park, entering from the southern side.  We went to the Visitors Center for trail recommendations.  Why? Well, I really couldn't figure out the trail system.  We wanted to hike, not just walk a paved, wheelchair accessible, quarter-mile loop with nicely placed signage describing the intentionally placed sites.  The park's website was oddly unhelpful even though it listed routes under the title "Off the Beaten Path".  So, we asked the ranger.  Well, there's a reason for my confusion!

(Above:  Holding the photocopied pages showing images of landmarks along one of the "Off the Beaten Path" routes at Petrified National Park.)

The longer, more adventuresome trails really aren't trails at all.  The "Off the Beaten Path" routes are upon request. The ranger showed us all that are available.  We picked two:  Jasper Forest in the southern part of the park and Onyx Bridge in the northern area.  We were given two, photocopied pages for each route.  On the pages were short descriptions accompanying pictures of landmarks. The idea is that visitors walk from one landmark to another ... if they can find them.  We were warned that many people "get lost" ... but not to worry.  Off we went to the Jasper Forest Overlook and to the route that was supposed to be three miles in all.  We were okay for the first two images.  Then, we were "lost".  There was no need to worry though.  We walked for three miles into the vast landscape littered with giant petrified logs but at no time were we out of sight of the overlook.  We saw a deer running up an embankment, inspected all sorts of plants, and snapped pictures of colorful, petrified wood that seemed EVERYWHERE.  Our conversation swirled around "What is rare?"  Petrified wood is rare but it is also plentiful in Jasper Forest!  There's something truly profound on such a walk.

(Above:  The red hills between the cliff and the desert floor in the northern section of Petrified Forest.)

Then, we drove to the northern section of the park, to the historic Painted Desert Inn which was closed due to the pandemic but beside which our next "Off the Beaten Path" started.  We knew the initial section would be a descent of 300' to the desert floor.  From the cliffside, we walked through a maze of red hill mounds and out onto the flatter, desert floor.  We nearly got lost again but were determined to find the next landmark on our photocopied guide.  At last, we saw the cut-off butte. The picture was taken from close range ... when the ninety degree angle was obvious ... with sky behind it ...


 ... like it is in the selfie we took.  From where one stands after leaving the red hill mounds, it is nearly hidden in the rest of the mountain range ... far away ... as in over a mile!  There are only nine pictures for the route to onyx bridge.  The distance though is TWO WHOLE MILES.  We definitely felt like explorers!

(Above:  Onyx Bridge.)

We also felt quite accomplished in finding Onyx Bridge, an ancient, petrified log that once spanned a wash in the desert.  Feeling great, we turned around to head back ... and saw that at no point were we really ever out of site of the Painted Desert Inn perched atop the cliff!  Our hikes totaled about six miles.

(Above:  Mr. Maestas Restaurant in Holbrook, Arizona.)

We checked into a cheap hotel in Holbrook, showered, and headed to Mr. Maestas Restaurant.  It was filled with antiques, had great food, and an excellent staff.

(Above:  One of many old vehicles behind the restaurant.)

Holbrook, Arizona is a charming place of decay and memories of yesteryear.  I think every vehicle registered to someone living there is still there.  The rock shops sell petrified wood by the pound and have more than one or two fake dinosaurs to lure in tourists. 

(Above:  Packages of flavored, dried crickets.)

Before leaving, we tanked up the rental car.  Inside the gas station I found packages of flavored crickets for sale!  I asked if I could snap this picture.  "Sure", was the answer!  On the flip side, I read that they have absolutely no nutritional value, but the cashier assured me that lots of people just love this snack!

(Above:  One of thousands of giant saguaro cacti in Saguaro National Park outside Tuscon.)

We headed over meandering back roads leading toward Tuscon and to the eastern section of Saguaro National Park.  There, we hiked two more trails ... a total of another five or six miles but over rather flat surfaces.  I took lots of pictures of the giant saguaros ... both of alive ones ...

... and the wooden "bones" of the dead ones.  The weather was perfect.  There were very few people on any of the trails we took.

(Above:  A blooming ocotillo cactus.)

We checked into our Towne Place Suite room for a good night's rest ... because we planned on more hiking the next day in the western section of Saguaro National Park. 

(Above:  Along the Hugh Norris hiking trail in the western section of Saguaro National Park.)

We also knew that the hiking in the western section would be over much more roughed land.  At the Visitor Center we were recommended to take the Hugh Norris trail, a 2.7 mile hike up over 1000' in elevation to the junction with the Sendero Esperanza Trail ... and then turn around.  Well, we made it! But, we didn't turn around!  We went for a little distance on the Sendero Esperanza, took the Dobe Wash trail back down the mountain, and then had to walk almost two miles back along the unpaved loop road to our car.  We did it! A little over SEVEN miles!  There will come a day when we will be restricted to the simpler paths and the wheelchair paved walks ... but that day wasn't last week!  My soul is filled with inspiration, gratitude, happiness and a refreshed mindset for making more artwork.  That's quite an "Artist's Date"!  

The next day we spent four wonderful hours at the Sonora Desert Museum.  Reservations were made on line for an early arrival ... 7:45 AM.  We were there for more than four hours, arriving just in time for rattlesnake feeding!  WOW!  (Yes, the snakes swallowed whole, dead mice that were dangled in front of them on long tong-like tools!)  We also saw javelina, a wolf, a fox, an ocelot, lots of spiders, a great pastel art exhibit, fossils, minerals, a pool of stingrays, and lots and lots of beautiful plants.  Below are some of the hundred of so photos I took!  Enjoy!