Friday, February 26, 2010

Welcome to the Steampunk Zone!

The ad that drew me in the doors
of Art Space on Sixth.
I walked in.
I said,
"Can anyone please 'splain me
what, exactly,
'Steampunk' means?'
From the 1870s to about the 1940s,
before the true technology takeover,
referred to artists, authors, etc.
who made art endeavoring to
illustrate their individual ideas
as to what the future would be like.
Ok, that's a start.
I turn,
I mosey into one of the exhibit rooms,
sorta kinda anxiously reading
every single label to
see if it said Steampunk.

But then!
Here she came:
And then things got goooOOoood!
Ed Schenck piece,
looking like every alien in every
old comic book I ever laid eyes on.
Also rather like ET on crack, huh?
[Or is that Toni on crack,
looking at ET?]
Drawings, left, right, by Nina Pak.
More, later, on
the midriff in the center.
I love
what you do with found objects.
Doesn't this look like
the Alien,
from the original movie?
Bad A**!
This is beyond cool,
beyond fierce,
beyond any ray gun I
got from mailing in cereal box tops.
Angel, and Ray Guns.
And a War and Peace combination
pinball/target shooting gizmo.
Angel rocked it.
I missed a lot.
Ray guns - Ed Schenck
War and Peace gizmo - Ken Coplan
Angel gets to touch,
even tho' all the signs say
'please don't'
to exhibit viewers such as myself.
So when Angel touched,
Toni got to touch, too.
Toni likes to touch,
especially ray guns.
Ken Coplan's pieces,
also of found objects,
hushed me.
Juxtoposition of bullet casings and
angel heads,
rusted out bottle openers,
screws, springs,
some with on buttons,
all with gorgeous patina?
Well, lots to think about
and take in.
Future Fashion
from the inventive mind of
artist Sarah Welch,
constructed of recycled products.
I would SO wear this!

Having seen this much,
I'm ready to do some personal research
on the genre,
and return.

For Phoenix-Metro area locals
The Full Steam-Punk Ahead Exhibit
lasts through Sunday, February 28th, 2010
11 a.m. to 6 p.m., free admission
7127 East Sixth Avenue, Scottsdale

Ask for Angel!

Friday Reflections: Guest Artist Susan Taylor Brown

Opening Closed Doors
by Susan Taylor Brown

Whenever people ask about the whys and the hows of what I do in my poetry workshops with incarcerated youth, I often struggle for a starting point.

How do I tell you about the sight of a boy pouring his heart out on the page with no one standing over him telling him he is dumb for doing it? How do I tell you about the pride of a young man standing up to read his poem to the class, a poem that exposes the deepest hurting part of himself? How do I tell you that the simple act of me showing up every session, no matter what they said or did or tried to do to push me away, that my showing up showed them that someone cared which meant that they were worth caring about, worth saving? How do I show you the very heart of these boys, these boys who had never written poetry before, who tried so hard at something so new, and who succeeded beyond my expectations?


Taking a Chance On
My life
This program
Reinventing my behavior
For my family
For myself
To do right
To succeed in life
Dealing with my issues
Myself to become a better person

Maybe I start by telling you not about these boys but about someone else in my life that I love very much, someone who struggles with demons that threaten to overwhelm them, someone who feels worthless and unloved and as a result makes bad choices that result in negative consequences that cause that person to continue to spiral downward.

Someone I can’t save no matter how many times I’ve tried.

I’m a children’s writer and poet by trade and I tell stories to try and fix things in my life that I can’t ever seem to really fix for real. I’m a fatherless daughter that writes stories about positive relationships between fathers and daughters. I’m a divorced mom who writes stories about kids trying to make sense of broken families. I’ve been poor and abused and I write stories to try and understand why those things happened to me and how to keep them from happening again.

The local arts council in my town has a wonderful program that matches up visual artists, musicians, dancers and writers with teenaged students in the at-risk population. The idea is that art empowers these teens to make a difference in their lives. Kids who don’t or won’t talk to teachers or counselors can often find a way to work out through art. I’m lucky enough to have received grants the past few years which have allowed me to go into alternative schools; usually with students who are incarcerated, and try to teach them what I know how to do best . . . spill your guts on paper.

Try is the operative word here because it doesn’t always work. These kids are locked up both literally and metaphorically. They have been in and of gangs, jail, and foster homes. They have learning problems, language problems, and a giant dose of attitude - But they all have something to say.

One of the most difficult students I’ve ever had was Edgar. He was big, built like a battering ram. He had escaped a detention facility and had been on the run for two years. At sixteen he was back in the classroom and wearing an electronic surveillance ankle bracelet. He wrote about gang life, getting drunk, and hurting people. He was the only student who ever made me feel afraid and I never really felt like I connected with him until the day I asked the class, "If you could go back and change something in your life, what would change and why?"

Some kids went right to work writing. But not Edgar. He just leaned over the desk and held his head in his hands. When I asked him what was wrong he told me he didn't have enough paper. I thought he meant to write on so I put a stack of paper on his desk.

Then he told me no, he meant, there wasn't enough paper in the world for him to write about it all. He said he'd change everything. Then he said that it didn't matter. That he had screwed up, he was going to court the next week, and he knew he was going to be locked up again.

I didn't ask any questions. I just told him to write.

All the other students finished and left but Edgar kept on writing.

When he finally got ready to go he told me that writing was hard but that it made him think. And sometimes it even made him feel sorry for the things he had done.

I am locked up in the hall.
I wonder how long I have to be under the system’s armpits.
I hear the white walls talk.
I see compadres coming in and out of this place.
I want all this to come to a stop.
I am locked up in the hall.
I pretend to understand myself.
I feel under a spell.
I touch my face wondering how I look after all the years of being gone from home.
I worry I won’t make it in the real world.
I cry inside my head cuz I gotta stay strong.
I am locked up in the hall.
I understand my mistakes.
I say enough with all this.
I dream to be out one day.
I try to escape my vida loca.
I hope these demons inside of me will leave me alone.
I am locked up in the hall.

People ask me what I do exactly, how I prepare for the sessions and the truth is that it’s hard to prepare for this sort of thing. I try but it’s mostly different every time. A few things stay the same. I read them some poems at the beginning of each session. Their reactions to those poems, and the discussions that come as a result, help me decide what to bring in the next time. I usually start of with acrostic poems because most of them are familiar with the format and by doing a name poem it helps me get to know who they are. I talk about using all five senses early on because they it becomes a warm-up to do a group poem using all the senses before we get down to the writing of the day. I like to do a family poem because these kids, especially the ones who have been locked up for a while, family is everything. I have to prepare a new lesson plan each night because so much of it depends on how things went in the previous session. And I always bring a couple of extra lesson ideas because sometimes what seems like a good idea falls completely flat.

There are so many things to be aware when I go into these classrooms. I need to not wear blue or red because those are the colors of the rival gangs of my area. In some places I need to pin my long hair up so they can’t grab it and not wear long dangling earrings. I need to not let them write about gangs and drugs and much of the only life they know. When we do art I need to make sure they don’t sneak some gang symbols onto the page. And they always try. The class never stays the same. Some kids are removed. Some new kids join. Some work willingly and some, even with the threat of losing privileges would prefer to challenge me every step of the way.

But the hardest part of it all is something I can’t prepare for – their reaction to me. Some of them are outright hostile. Some just silent. Some want to be the class clown and some want to disappear. I never know how I am going to deal with each of these situations until I’m right smack in the middle of it. Sometimes what I do works and sometimes it doesn’t and I have to try again.

But when it works, it works in amazing ways.

The lonely boy whose dad only cared about getting drunk and smacking him around wrote love poems for his girlfriend.

The boy who was an overachiever at everything, including being a gang member, wrote long poems about his family and how much they meant to him.

The class clown wrote about having no friends.

The boy who knew he might never get out of jail again wrote poems of apology to his mother.

Powerful stuff.

Becoming involved in poetry helped open the prison doors of their souls. They became vulnerable and real. The simple act of me showing up every session, no matter how hard they pushed me away, showed them someone cared. It gave them hope. And the way I look at it, if we can give them hope, we can help them make a change in their life.

Here is a group poem the kids wrote in one of my sessions.

has a beautiful life to it.
You sound like happiness, sadness, love
taste like fresh strawberries
and feel like soft skin, sandpaper, a brick wall.
Poetry is all the colors of the rainbow
and smells like freedom, incarceration, a sexy girl.
Oh poetry, you drive me crazy.
You make me want to scream, to feel, to heal.
You look like sunshine and moonlight in the city.
Poetry is feelings on paper.

This isn’t easy work and I’m not the brave, strong person some people think I am. But I love words. I believe they have enormous power. Power to do good, power to heal, power to bring hope.

I believe we need to dare these kids to look at their lives differently. We need to give them new tools for expressing themselves.

And then we need to listen to what they have to say.

* * * * * * * * * *
Susan Taylor Brown is the author of many books for children including the award winning verse novel, Hugging the Rock and the forthcoming picture book, Enrique Esparza and the Battle at the Alamo.

Visit her website at or her blog

Susan blogs in-depth about each of her poetry sessions with incarcerated students. To go directly to those posts, click here:

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Wednesday, February 24, 2010

A Creativity Consumer

Today, I told someone I consider myself a 'user' -- that I take everything in, then distill it to aid my writing.  Period.  Bottom line.  Other forms of expression come and go -- when they cease to feed my pen, they're ejected.  But the next thing I 'need' always presents itself.
Mainstays:  music and photography.  But I'm forever searching out the 'new' in those genres:  new-to-me, that is.  Brain food -- and not, necessarily, 'intellectual' -- but certainly stimulating on some level, preferably multiple levels.  I'm a hussy for literal and figurative forks-in-the-road, spontaneous pull-overs, tangents and detours -- no itinerary.  I love surprises:  my own, and others'.  I can keep a secret.  I enforce change even in the routine -- rearrange my drive to work, rearrange my furniture, change my hair color, my linens, my inspiration board or items.  When I've outgrown an attachment to something, when it no longer pulls growth from me, the sentiment and my attachment to it die.  I give it away - no looking back.  I purge every 3 months - clothes, books, art supplies, dishes, DVDs.  CDs are the hardest to part with, but that's because I've learned that in a month, a year, two years, they become new to me again, because I'm different, my listening and responses are different.
I used to watch the same movies over and again, re-read the same books.  But no longer -- I want the novelty of fresh stories, characters, ideas.  My journal?  Every time I begin a new book, the book itself is different, and my approach has mutated.  I write with an altered focus.  I do or don't add visuals, less or more, often none.  I incorporate lyrics or quotes in this book, then abstain completely in the next.  I listen to music as I write in one book, crave silence during the next.  The only consistency is the words -- my need for them, the page and the pen.  Lately, I'm entirely suspicious of the familiar, when for years I was afraid of down time, when I didn't write -- no, when I didn't want to write, as if I'd lost it forever.
Now, I accept.  That's really been a refrain for me the last six months:  accept.  Accept.  Accept.  Change or stasis, energy or exhaustion, serenity or frustration.  Everything, every bit of it, leads to discovery.  An ongoing issue in my life has been trust -- my exceeding caution there, my withdrawing even from people or situations that deserved it.  Acceptance is the inroad to trust, and I'm gaining on it.  I've written a journal for 34 and a half years, and what I've seen is that only the habit of writing is fixed -- my perspective, always shifting, expanding, keeps me fascinated.  If that's not trust, what is?
Narcissism?  That's "me me me" without growth or introspection.  My journal has always been the place where I expect the most from myself, hardcore truth-telling, the ugly alongside the progress, the beautiful accompanying the setbacks.  Spelled out, and then some!  Reviewed.  Considered.  Patterns of behaviors?  Oh yea!  Obstinacy, denial, justification?  Uh huh, in abundance.  But soon followed by admittance, confession, and the outline of lessons learned, absorbed.  Lessons absorbed then slowly -- s l  o  w  l   y --  effected.
My journal has an insatiable appetite, so I feed and feed and feed it, with blogs, interviews, documentaries, articles, interactions, biographies, magazines, events, contacts, exchanges.  It's not that I'm fearless.  Not at all.  It's that I'm usually scared to the near-core, but the core core says, "Go!  Go -- anyway!  Go -- in spite of!  Go!  Because there's something there."  Something not just for me, but for others -- eventually, somehow, some way.  Husband, sons, family, friends, associates, acquaintances, strangers -- all!  Because if I make my self, my mind, my world larger, I may effect enlargement elsewhere.  I believe I'm needed, that way.  I believe we're all needed, that way.
So I'm a creativity consumer -- but I recycle.  Unusual concept of a food chain, maybe.  But you know, it's like this:  a chance meeting at a writing workshop and my world has since opened exponentially.  That meeting has facilitated an artist interview, a perfectly timed meditation CD, a book that has validated events in my life back to the age of 6, and a steadily growing friendship.  How can I ever know the tides I'll turn by chance [by chance? or by need, by placement?] in someone else's life?
I want to be sure I always show up, and my journal is my impetus to that.  Take this post, for instance -- a thought-flow lifted straight from its pages, no editing, no cleaning up or coordinating, so you can see how it happens -- at least for me.
* * * * * * * * * *
Photos mine, from the car show and an airport where My Lovely Mother, my bros, and My Love, Ciera, watched gliders take off and land, February 13, 2010

Tuesday, February 23, 2010

Tuesday Technique'N: Collage Sheet Art with Guest Artist Mary Mata

Collage Sheet Card & ATC Creations
Text & Photos - Mary Mata

The idea for making my collage sheets evolved naturally from my own card making.  At the time I was making cards from my photographs.  I soon wanted somthing a little different.  Collage was a great way to put a lot of 'pretty' in one space.  I was also teaching myself Photoshop so the ideas just came together easier after that.  After making collage style cards for resell, I thought, "Hmmm.  Why not create art for others to make their own cards?"  The rest is history.

Much of the inspiration for my art and collage sheets comes from my own photography and vintage photographs.  I love color, so everything gets a healthy dose of it!
The first project I wanted to share with you is a card made from my 'Raven Hair Beauty Card Collage Sheet'.
Materials used are:
Blank card (cut an 8-1/2 x 11 in two, then fold)
Glue - I like quick dry tacky glue or photo safe glue
Ink pads in colors to match - pigment inks work best
Glimmer Mist - love this stuff
Metallic Gel Pens for embellishing
Collage  Sheet(s) of course!
Ephemera if desired
Once you have cut all the images from the collage sheet, start layering them to find a composition you like.  
When you find a look you like, lightly mist the background with silver Glimmer Mist. Let it dry.
Choose your ink pad in the color you like and ink the edges of all your pieces.  Let those dry.  Ink the edge of your card background.   Now you are ready to glue!
Glue background with all your pretty pieces.  Let the glue dry.  And now, if  you'd like, you can embellish with your metallic gel pens.
Completed Card.
* * * * * * * * * * *
The second project I want to share with you is an ATC made from my Seaside Card Collage Sheet. 

Materials use are the same as those above, with the exception of a blank ATC background, and a gold star I glued under the butterfly.
The technique for the ATC is the same as for the card ...  
that's because I have a very short attention span and need instant gratification! 
I do like to glue my ATC to a sturdier background, though, such as watercolor paper or card stock, cut to size.
Completed ATC
I also like to use shipping tags to make tags or bookmarks.   Some like to decorate their scrapbook pages.   
And transparencies add a further layer of dimension and allure to your project. 


About me:
I grew up out in the country in sunny California. We always had a garden, so I developed a love for the earth and all its beauty. I got my love for photography from my dad, but I was always drawing pictures as a kid. I am self taught, with the exception of a few classes I took in high school.  Everything I know about art and photography comes from reading a book, experience, and studying others peoples art. I tend to like the Art Nouveau and Art Deco look, so I do lean in that direction.

I worked as a wedding photographer for over 15 years, so I did teach myself photoshop. But because I was an artist before I was a photographer, I would constantly look for ways to make my photographs look more like art. That's where collage came in. It was a natural progression inside my 'let's go in twenty different directions' brain.

When I started the collage sheets, I was already making my own cards. There were collage sheets already on the market, but most featured clips of ephemera, not something you could create a card from with one sheet. My sheets also tell a story via my use of coordinated images versus just a group of unrelated pictures.

You can find my collage sheets, along with other fun stuff to create with at
If you have any questions or comments, please email me at
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Mary Mata's collage sheet images have been gracing the pages of my written journal, my visual journal, my hand-crafted cards, and my mixed media canvases for the last three years.  She, along with one other artist, is my favorite source for collage sheets -- they express my internal horizons and visions; they are what I would create if I could!  I couldn't believe it when I discovered them, as if Mary had taken the extended world tour of my mind and imagination!  I visit her ETSY shop just to soak in the loveliness, and for a perfect mental escape!

Mary, my excitement level at
having you here for a
Guest Artist technique post
can't be articulated. 

Saturday, February 20, 2010

Rice Freeman-Zachery at Frenzy Stamper

The Place:  Frenzy Stamper,Scottsdale, AZ
The time:  5:50 p.m.
The Hostess (& Shopping/Workshop Enabler):  
Debbie, Frenzy Stamper Proprietor
The Coveted Object of Our Friday evening quest:
Rice Freeman-Zachery's newly published book,
Or, in my case,
the author herself.
I, too, dressed in orange, in her honor,
my hair recently colored red!
Double BB, my curious consort,
wore his pale tangerine shirt.
Some occasions just warrant going all out!
Rice's publications, new and older,
awaiting us - tabletop.
My fellow questers, 
sitting around the table,
all of us chatting,
sharing stories of our jewelry,
travel experiences,
film recommendations
On the left, above?  
With the to-die-for hair?
Traci from Tempe, 
someone I'd also arranged to meet
personally for the first time.
Even Double BB said,
'Hey, next time you change up your head,
try that style, would ya?'
More friends of Rice, her books;
Rice's gawgeous orange hair at bottom.
Much as I love her hair,
I was even more enthralled by her tattoo art.
And every piece of jewelry comes with a story!
Rice, in case you couldn't guess already,
is a serious story teller, 
of the oral as well as written tradition!
File folders with truth telling labels, 
at last!
I suggested "uber crap".
Another friend recommended "big steaming pile of crap."
Rice's favorite, in hand.
Rice's favorite,
& some tomfoolery!
A group of women and no tomfoolery?
Yea -- not!
It's The EGE to the rescue!
The Ever Gorgeous Earl slays the
Total Crap Folder Wielding Fan!
(not really, but it sounds good)
In fact,
a more warm, engaging & smiling man
would be hard-pressed to meet.
Except ... wait a minute ...
Double BB was there!
The EGE here models attire dyed by
his fabric art queen herself, 
& Double BB in tangerine -- yummmmm.
I said 'Gimme Beautiful!' for this pose;
all I got was 'cool'
(beautiful being self-evident, dontcha know).
Uh Huh -- Coupla Bad A**es -- yup.
More like 
two awesome scoops of 'warm, engaging & laughing' manhood!
(& yes, also cool, & beautiful).
An autograph for moi,
in orange,
in the NEW book.
An autograph for Double BB
in my copy of her previous release.

And then, 
Double BB had to be fed,
so we hugged goodbyes all around
& moseyed out into the desert night,
with a serious case 
of the GRINS!!
* * * * * * * * * *
What impresses me most about all of this is
the realization that for me, 
for all of us there to meet her,
to have books signed, 
Rice and The Ege are just TWO people we are meeting.
We feel we 'know' her from her books, her art,
her podcast interviews with other artists;
that we know them both from Rice's 
But at each of her stops on this book signing tour,
she is meeting skads of us, 
her admirers & followers,
and if my experience last night was any indication,
she and The EGE, 
are somehow able to make each of us 
feel known in return,
made individual, Seen, Recognized.
Of course that's not possible, 
for them to be able to absorb so many,
in so many places, 
but the grace of creating that connection
in the moment
is a lesson I learned last night,
and something I hope to effect,
improve upon 
in each of my daily interactions.
As for Double BB,
he wants to set up a trip to Midland, Texas
and see 'bout shooting some hoops
with The EGE.
Earl?  that would be a challenge!
You say when!

Friday, February 19, 2010

Friday Reflections: Guest Artist Joe Ray

Creativity and the Witching Hour
Text and Photos  -- Joe Ray

My witching hour is between 3 and 4 a.m. on weekends. It’s when some invisible hand has nudged me and whispered in my ear, “Get up, there’s something to be done in an uninterrupted manner. I’ll show you. Get up.”  I usually protest a little, but on the early side, I’m up at 3 or 3:15. On the later side -- 4 – 4:30. It’s dark outside as well as quiet. Sometimes the moon shines brightly as it smiles from above and at other times it gives me that slivery smile and a wink with minimal light. I’m always a little skeptical; you can’t always believe what the moon tells you.
I enjoy getting up at this time and with coffee in hand, music turned on, I begin to lay colors onto my palette or open a container I’ve already mixed paint in. Part of what was calling out to me are usually one or two of the works in progress on my desk on the easel. They’ve been waiting patiently for me to show up. We begin a little dance, a courtship of sorts where I whip a dry brush around as a warm up, sort of like a bird prancing and shaking its feathers before its mate. I smile and begin. This is the part of the day that sets up a great beginning for me. It puts me in a good mood. By 10 a.m. I’ve gotten a lot done.  I’ve had a parade of possible scenarios prance through my head, all in time to the music playing.  In between songs I can hear quail and other birds coming to life outside of my window. Maybe I woke them up.  I’ll step outside for a few minutes before I get into the zone and ponder the sky -- that’s how I know what mood the moon’s in. I proceed accordingly. The fresh air in the morning is invigorating, rich with the smell of the desert and creosote accented with the silhouetted butte across the street at Papago.
Typically, I work on 4 or 5 pieces at one time. This time of day allows me to see each clearly and imagine somehow the final outcome and have a small conversation with each piece. There is no jealousy here; it’s a communal give and take thing. We’re all happy.
The beauty of working at this time of day is that it’s the best way I can think of to unleash creativity. The only thing I’ve been through at this point has been sleeping, dreaming and the occasional astro-projection activities. I always make it a point to write something in my journal during the morning as I paint (I’m actually a pretty good multi-tasker on my terms, and these are my terms). Sometimes my journal entries are sketches, sometimes arrows punctuated with fragmented words that mean nothing to anyone but me. That’s okay, it’s my world, my universe at this hour.
It’s important to journal. I don’t think you can look at pictures without knowing the words, saying them, hearing them, writing them and reading them. Words have helped me see pictures more clearly, they’ve defined colors for me. Most of these words don’t appear in a cohesive manner or in anything resembling a completed paragraph. 2 or 3 words can mean a page full of paragraphs to me when applied on a sheet of paper. I’ve been journaling off and on since I was a teenager. In college I embraced classes where we were to journal events; it was something I thrived on.
I used to throw away my completed and filled journals until some time in the mid to late 90s when someone asked why I tossed them and didn’t keep them. I didn’t have an answer - it had never occurred to me to keep them until that moment. Since then, I’ve acquired a bunch of bound books filled with thoughts, nonsense, dreams and arrows in them. They seem to have multiplied at the rate of 2, sometimes 3 per year.  Sometimes I find inspiration in sketches that I’ve made through the years in these books. Sometimes the writings in them bring lost joy, sadness and feelings of “man, am I glad to be done with that phase”. These words often find themselves onto canvas or on paper that I happen to be working on. Words on (or about) color are under appreciated beauty, especially when both English and Spanish are combined, fused together for a greater good that somehow makes more sense.
What we write, what we create and dream are a large part of what defines us. It prepares me to go out into the world and interact, which I absolutely love doing. If I happen to have a journal with me at a bar (usually when traveling) or at a party, I’ll ask whomever is with me to write something in the book for me, or to draw me a picture. This takes people by surprise but I find it no different than asking someone to pose with you for a photo, or even ask to take their picture. I feel that this is where the most personal and deep crevices of our creative juices mix with that which others have. A creative and creationist oriented cocktail of sorts. Served straight up.
Yeah, that’s it.

* * * * * * * * * *
Joe is an hispanic painter and printmaker living in Scottsdale, Arizona - a place with quite a bit of dust, rocks and great sunsets.

Most of Joe’s work is reflective of a bi-cultural perspective formed by the Arizona and Mexico region(s),
the people living in that region as well as a contemporary Chicano perspective. The work speaks to the Mexicano, the Chicano, the Hispanic and the Gavacho.

Joe is also Creative Director and Principal of Estudio Ray, a strategic design and branding firm in Phoenix.

* * * * * * * * * * 

Gracias, SeƱor El Artist!