Journal Jam

IMG_1094_2 My sister-in-law Gretchin and I are putting together a series of joint art and writing prompt classes that we are calling Journal Jam. We will be announcing the location of the first workshop shortly. In the meantime, we have both been working on our own journal pages. One of the prompts I love to offer comes from a book by Tristine Rainer called Your Life as Story. In it Rainer gives a prompt on How to be ________. The writer than offers a list of criteria describing how to be ______. Gretchin and I plan to use this prompt in our class and as an example I tried my hand at my own.

The night before I had been visiting Gretchin's house where my three-year-old niece Ellie was dancing around in the buff. I decided to write How to Be Three-Year-Old Ellie Dancing. Here's the result:

How to Be Three-Year-Old Ellie Dancing

Be Stark Naked

Lift Your Arms in the Air


Mold Your Hands into Tight Little Fists

Roll Them One Over the Other

Do Your Magic

Stare Up Into the Sky with a Smug Look of Satisfaction

Burst Into Song

Sing the Theme to Frozen

Twirl Again

Lose Interest

Walk Across the Room, Strutting like a Drunken Supermodel

Turn and Walk Back Toward Me

Shout "Hey Bee, Look at This!"

Twirl One Final Time.

I then went to work on my own journal pages, but as so often happens the preliminary sketches seemed better than the final result, so I experimented a couple of times.

One of the things I love about digital collage and one of the reasons I turned to working in that medium is that nothing every has to go waste. You can always use a "bad" photo or sketch and transform it into something else. I started to do so with one of the iphone pics I took of my sketch.

I had an older picture of Ellie and when I put them together it seemed as if the two were dancing. I am still working on the collage. This is just the preliminary piece. I'm calling it Shadow Dancers or Fairytale 699.

blog shadow dancing

I'm hoping to add a version of this to my journal pages as well.


Once and Future Things: An Exploration of Girlhood

Next month, November 7th through December 3rd, my digital collages will be hung in my first-ever solo show at Radio Bean in Burlington, Vt. The opening reception will be on November 13th from 5 to 7 p.m. Curated by ONE Arts Collective, the show will feature 12 of my digital collages in a show entitled Once and Future Things: An Exploration of Girlhood. For those of you familiar with this blog and my work, the following explanation is probably not needed as much of it is offered in past posts and in the gallery section of this site, but for those of you who are new here's an explanation of the show and some background on my work: When you watch girls at play you can often catch glimpses of the people they will become. Like fairies and other magical creatures, the inner world of children seems to evaporate if it comes in direct contact with that of an adult. Still, with a camera lens there are ways to capture it, if you stay on the periphery and observe. With little boys who are typically all action and mugging for the camera, this is more challenging. Girls? They frequently have moments of stillness that offer you this chance. The quickness of the lens lets you capture what is so fleeting—images that hint at the future, of the women these girls will become. In these moments, when their secret world becomes visible, there is a maturity, a strength, and yet, also a vulnerability that can make adults uncomfortable. Simultaneously, we see in them both their innocence and the approaching loss of it. We know they stand on the cusp of transformation. To become a woman means to leave the little girl behind. While children long for the future, we look at them and long for what was. We see in them “once and future things.”

My digital collages have been describe as” hand-worked stories” and as a writer and photographer, I couldn’t be more pleased with this. They combine photography with hand drawing in pastel, crayon and colored pencil as well as digital drawing with Adobe Photoshop and embellishments such as embroidery and glitter. I create my collages in Adobe Photoshop using “recycled images’ that maybe weren’t picture-perfect as standalone shots, but work together to create a new vision of the inner word of children and also animals. Most of my digital collages frequently have fantasy or spiritual undertones. I use Photoshop to draw, paint and manipulate the image and then print it out to hand draw, paint and perhaps embroider or add other embellishments before rescanning the image into Photoshop. The finished work is a digital print on photograph paper.

My work has appeared in venues throughout Vermont, New Hampshire and New York. I also work as a freelance writer and writing instructor helping others find their own unique way to tell their stories.

A few months ago, I connected with ONE Arts Collective, when I took part in one of their shows called Spirit Animalz at Burlington Beer Company and am happy to now be a member of their group. I am excited to have the chance to share my work with a new audience and hope all of you will spread the word and stop by to check out the show if you can!

Moon Child Encaustic

moon 3 Here's my first official encaustic painting. I say first official because the other encaustic works I have done all prominently featured wax-dipped collages. This does too, but at the base of the work is an encaustic painting. I love the texture it created. I wanted to carry the moon imagery through so I created the moon with a stencil and then rubbed oil paint into the wax to create the aura around the moon. I then attached part of the wax-dipped digital collage I created in class using pins. The three dimensional quality was created by putting cardboard in back of the collage. Finally, I used an iridescent blue acrylic paint to the edges, it looks purple. I'm calling the finished product Moon Child.

Textured encaustic painting

Adding the collage elements

Something New

Over the last year my photographs have been chosen for two Healing with Arts shows at the Norris Cotton Cancer Center at DHMC in Lebanon, N.H. At the last show a fellow artist told me about a four-week class on encaustic painting or painting with pigments mixed with hot wax. We had discussed this before because we were both interested in introducing new elements to our art. The digital collages I make end up being 2-D prints of my work, but I am always interested in introducing 3-D elements and texture to see what they add to a picture when it is once again scanned and compressed into a 2-D image. I thought wax might be an interesting option. Me in front of one of my photographs at the last Healing with Art show.

The class has been a lot of fun in spite of the fact that I've had to relax during the learning process, something that is not easy for me to do, and be willing to make mistakes. The first night we took a square wooden board and covered it with wax and experimented with various techniques to add texture, carve into the surface and to add stencils. Our teacher taught us two different stenciling techniques to add decorative designs to our pieces and I, of course, chose to add pugs. As an aside, the instructor noted that she was very impressed that I could create stencils of pugs on the spot from memory (oh, how little does she know!)

Step 1: My first encaustic experiment.

For week two, the instructor suggested that we bring in some of our own images that we wished to use in our encaustic works. I brought in several of my photo collages.

My Photo Collage: Recipe for a Fairytale.


She taught us two dipping techniques for covering the image with wax and then had us experiment by using some other materials she had in her studio such as Papilio Metallic Transfer Paper and Saral Transfer Paper. We also used National Geographic to transfer images to our work.

Papilio Metallic Transfer Paper.

Saral Transfer Paper

I used the Papilio Metallic Transfer Paper to add gold scarabs to my waxed-dipped collage and the Saral Transfer Paper in white to combine two images from National Geographic, placing them at the bottom of the piece.

Waxed Dipped Collage with Transfers.

While working on the image in class I already began to formulate some ideas for what I wanted to do with it when I got home and could experiment in Photoshop. I knew I wanted to keep elements of the original collage such as the colors and feel, but that the new elements were more of a distraction than a complement. I loved, however, how the bottom portion of the image looked. I decided that I would cut it out either literally or in Photoshop and then put it on a new background. Once I got it in Photoshop, however, I began playing around with blurring the background and adding new elements to the image. I had originally planned on waiting to sew on the wax, which has an unique feel and appearance, before manipulating the image in Photoshop, but I couldn't wait and ended up really liking the result. I used both the image of my waxed-dipped collage and my encaustic painting on wood, merging them in Photoshop to create a more textured background. I then began experimenting by adding photographs I have in my "materials" folder in Photoshop. I am far from finished as I want to still print the piece out and experiment with thread and paint and drawing and may even change the piece further or create a whole new one as I progress in my next two classes, but wanted to share with everyone what I have done so far. The instructor is supposed to teach us how we can set up our own encaustic studios or workspaces, which I hope I can do (You need a space that is well-ventilated) because I like the texture it adds to the collages, but also think I could produce some interesting traditional pieces as I learned the techniques better. I'll continue to post pictures as the collage progresses.The friend who introduced me to the encaustic class often prints  her work out on aluminum and I am considering doing so with this piece when it is complete.

Working Draft Digital Collage: Prayer

For now I'm calling it "Prayer."

After the Snow

blog avery 2 Today was largely spent cleaning up after the snow. We have a lot of it. But what a clean up team we had. My nephews, Adam, Raine and Avery and my niece, Tori, arrived a little after mid-day with shovels in hand to clear out the cars and make paths for the snow. My brother John plowed the driveway.




tree at night



Animal Love

Ellie and dog Is there anything cuter than a picture of children and animals? Probably not, and that’s just the problem – such pictures tend to be taken as throwaways, too lighthearted, too cliché – I think they hide hidden depths. Both children and animals inhabit worlds we can only guess at, imagine. One we can never visit, another we may have known, but have outgrown and quickly forgotten. We are foreigners to their minds, but we can observe. The cuteness is only the surface layer.

Today, we took my niece Ellie on a fun-filled outing. She encountered several dogs along the way. Each time she greeted them exactly the same – “Ohh, doggie,” she’d exclaim. “I hug!” And, she would proceed to go over pet, nuzzle or kiss the animal. “Goodbye doggie,” she’d then say.

Where does the love of animals come from? What causes it in some and not in others? Why do we find such images so precious, so cute? I see in my niece the ability to step outside of herself and embrace another, the start of lifelong connection, the beginnings of wonder, empathy and love. Animals are so well suited in allowing this connection, in rewarding with soulful expression or wag of the tail, our fledgling efforts.

When Ellie arrived at my house today, my pugs greeted her with lavish kisses. “Tongue,” she said, as Alfie and Waffles licked her, slobbering all over her mouth. “Oh my gosh!” she said! When I witness the angelic calm, the sweet bliss that comes over her face with each embrace, I feel the same way. “Oh my gosh!” And, I hope I never lose my fascination with such exchanges, that I never dismiss what passes between these creatures as mere cuteness. I hope it remains as fresh for me, as curious as it did when I saw it today.

May I always see in such moments the birth of empathy, the promise of acceptance.


Photo by Catherine Gifford I hate going to the gynecologist. No surprise there, right? Who doesn't? Going to the gynecologist ranks right up there with getting a tooth pulled, having a colonoscopy and getting stuck in an elevator with a bunch of sweaty strangers, right? The thing is to me going to the gynecologist is more than an unpleasant activity. It is the equivalent of walking through a field of deadly land mines with every unpleasant moment rife with potential emotional dangers.

First, there is the whole body image thing. When you are sitting naked with your feet up in stirrups, it’s pretty hard not to acknowledge that your mind and soul are definitely attached to flesh, a fact I often try to ignore. I’ve written about it before, but like many women, learning to like, let alone love my body, has been a lifelong battle. It’s hard enough to feel good about my figure fully clothed, but I bet even Gisele feels self-conscious laid bare under the harsh fluorescent lights of a gynecologist’s office. There is nowhere to hide, no way to suck in your stomach, no way to ignore your imperfections. It may not help that among my history of unhappy gynecological experiences, I had a doctor who loved to comment that I was as fat as she was – that went a long way toward making me feel both relaxed and confident, thank you!

Which, second, brings me to that whole relaxation thing. When a doctor puts a stethoscope to my chest and tells me to breathe normally, I often find myself holding my breath beneath clenched jaws. My body’s interpretation of relax is much like a deer caught in headlights – freeze, sit rigidly, don’t move and maybe it will all go away. I don’t intend to be difficult I try to tell the doctors. This is my version of relaxed. In the past, on more than one occasion, this has led more than one gynecologist to quietly slip me the name of a psychologist at the end of my appointment. Oh yes, one more way to help me feel “normal” and good about myself.

Third, and this is the one that brings tears, every trip to the gynecologist reminds me of what’s missing – the children I haven’t had. Bad enough in your twenties and thirties, but in your forties? Now, even the most optimistic physician acknowledges that ship has likely sailed. I know there are still ways to be a mother, but let’s face it, being at the gynecologist’s office getting an ultrasound for a fetus-sized fibroid instead of a baby, is a literal punch to the gut. I remember the first time I learned I had fibroid tumors. At that ultrasound, my mother was there looking at the screen as the nurse read out the size of the benign tumor and I realized that other mothers and daughters had the joy of seeing a baby there. We did not.

Most days I press on, keep my dreams alive, console myself with nieces, nephews and pugs, lose myself in a busy life. Sometimes in the right clothes, on a good hair day, I pass the reflection in the mirror and really like what I see. I remind myself that my life is full, it, and the body in which I dwell, deserves grace and thanks, and to be fed with faith and gratitude, but there is something about the gynecologist’s office that lays too much bare – fear and shame reveal themselves, fully exposed. My dignity, hopes and dreams sit piled up in the corner with my respectable shirt and jeans; they seem to mock me.

Such is usually the case and so I began my appointment teary-eyed, worried more about the feelings this exam would produce than the actual exam itself. And, then suddenly something switched. My inner journalist came out and I found myself asking the doctor about her life, what had possessed her to choose such a career. As she talked and I listened, I forgot that I was naked, my hopes exposed, it was just me talking, conducting an interview like I do everyday. And, to be honest, I have had some really bad interviews; ones that made me panic way more than the gynecologist’s speculum. Nothing that happened in that room could really change the feelings I had about my life. Sure, it was unpleasant and the medical tests could have some worrisome repercussions – that’s the way things go – but suddenly, I didn’t feel like such a freak. My blue jeans and black shirt might have remained folded up on the doctor’s table, but my dignity, hopes and dreams had crossed the room and folded themselves back into my body.

None of us is solely flesh nor solely spirit – we are mind, body, and soul and regardless of the baggage handed to us, we get to decide what we’re going to carry or at the very least how we’re going to carry it. I walked out of the gynecologist’s office, clothed in that knowledge, to a day that had turned unexpectedly temperate.



Writing Prompt: Gardens

Tori, Vader, Humpie Doggie, Catherine and Avery I do not plant my own garden, but I revel in the gardens of others. Across from my house, in an island of pavement is a small grassy triangle. Members of the community maintain this small, patch of earth each spring by planting flowers that change as the season progresses – evolving from tulips and daffodils to daisies and irises. I await the arrival of the first buds each year, seeing them rise as the sun ascends and shares its warmth with us. It is my signal that spring is upon us. Every time I see her, I rush to inform one of the women in town, the one who helps tend this garden, how much it means to me. She seems thankful, if sedate, as I gush over the flowers.  Her own lawn is equally adorned, so perhaps she cannot digest just how much I appreciate her efforts, how tied I am to those blossoming patches of color across the lawn. They have been a backdrop for photos of my nieces and nephews, a garden hideaway to retreat amidst the fairies, a place to witness their inner men and women emerge as they strike magical poses well beyond their years. It has allowed me a reprieve from computers and deadlines, a minute field in which to roam for 10 minutes, camera in hand. It has been a place to say goodbyes, a train platform to see my dying dog off to another world.

Vader died a year ago June 1st and for the month leading up to his death, my nieces, nephews and I would frequently tote his limp form, along with his constant companion, his stuffed “Humpie Doggie” across the road to sit him in the flowers and allow him a few moments of sun. His body carved out a small sunken dent in the hollow of the flower bed and I imagine I see it there still, although the flowers this year have arranged themselves in a different pattern. There are yellow irises now, tons of them, although last year I remember varied colors. It would be easy to say that the color has faded since Vader’s death, but it is not true. I miss him, but the world is warm and golden. Waffles and Alfie frolic in the back yard and wait eagerly by the gate as I water the tomato plants my father chose to plant this year. Life wilts and grows, ebbs and flows.

The grandmother of the boy I loved is dying in the garden room of the local hospital where my grandmother, too, passed away. He and his cousins make plans to fly home for her funeral even while she remains alive. Our lives are busy and do not slow, but the world is green and full; the sky blue with marshmallow clouds. If we had a choice, we would not leave it today. We would sit in the garden and enjoy it a spell, feeling the warmth on our faces, reveling in the life around us.

I try to remember this. So on the anniversary of his death, I visited Vader’s tree on our front lawn; the place where I had rested with him in the hours before his death, looking up at the leafy canopy, embracing the light from the sun. I stretched out on the dirt and grass, not caring if my dress clothes became grass stained and soiled and I looked up once again – thankful for his small life and all the life that has occurred in the year he’s been gone. I sat up and stared across the lawn at his garden, thinking how tall my nieces and nephews had grown in a year, how much life had changed – my niece Ellie was only a baby in a basket when she visited last Memorial Day, now she is a rambunctious toddler – “go, go, go” is her catchphrase. I got Waffles once Vader was gone, joined a Writer’s Group, gave a reading, welcomed and bid farewell to three classes of students, started a blog. I traveled to Laguna Beach, Washington D.C., Woodstock, NY. My brother went off to boot camp and my Mom had a cataract removed. I wrote articles and stories, drew pictures and paintings. My niece spoke my name. Life is full. We bud and we bloom. We bid goodbye. And, on a good day we are aware of it all and thankful for our gardens.

Vader's Tree

Writing Prompt: Return to a memory from last year. Write about it.