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Checking In

How are you doing this week? We’re all hiking through the woods together towards the end of the year.  This last stretch is equal parts lovely – because we spend time with people we love, and harried – because the To-Do list is three stories tall.  I’m a squirrel, searching for a magical nut-of-balance between the two extremes.

I hope you’re sneaking mini-opportunities to doodle on the back of opened envelopes, and jot down post-it note art-ideas to tackle in the new year. Did you add art supplies to your wish list? Have you picked a workshop to take, or an online video course to schedule with a friend so you can launch 2018 with Creative Shahzam!?  I hope so.

mat board collagraph supplies
Non skid to secure the mat board while carving line work, and a stack of uncut mat board ready to make more collagraphs
line style collagraph
Carving shallow linear elements from the back of a mat board sheet to make a collagraph

To Your Health

Art-making close to the holidays can be scarce, but even if you have ten minutes while chatting on the phone, keep your sketchpad handy.

The satisfying reverberation of a pen or pencil tip skipping across white paper – even the back of a utility bill – can lower blood pressure, slow heart rate and inspire a deep sigh in your body’s limbic system.

If you’re wrapping presents, cleaning the house, or boxing gifts to ship – anything that doesn’t involve words, like writing or list-making would – try listening to an audiobook or a podcast.

If you choose one that grabs your attention, you’ll find your body a bit more relaxed after listening, because the brain is busy digesting information or a story, which over-rides and quiets tendencies for worrying, fretting and stomping through weedy, knee-high stressors.

Fox sketches, and fox collagraph plate, under construction in the studio
After inking and wiping in an indigo-gray ink, pulling the print
making a collagraph
One of the first prints, with a very light intaglio ink and wipe, on thin, translucent kozo paper

Don’t Throw it Away

The first couple of prints from a collagraph are often a little “sketchy” looking, because the inked plate hasn’t yet collected enough pigments in the recessed linework.

You can see a couple of skipped, white areas in the linear elements around the foxes cowl and tail in the photo above.

The beauty of adding other media to your prints is the opportunity to repair those not-quite-right areas with pigments.

In this case, I used a dry brush application of watercolor (below). The kozo paper has no sizing, so the pigment bleeds through the back, and seeps past the brush-marks if wet pigments are applied. After the watercolor was dry, I added shear layers of colored pencil. Have you tried coloring your prints?

collagraph mixed media
Adding drybrush watercolor to the print, as under-color for the pencils
painting watercolor on kozo
You can see how watercolor bleeds through the back of kozo paper, so lay an extra sheet of something underneath before you start painting the print.
mixed media collagraph
Adding prismacolor colored pencils to the little fox
mixed media collagraph
Island Fox, 7.25 x 5.25 Collagraph on Kozo paper (available here)

How to Make a Collagraph

Here’s a tutorial video on making a collagraph plate from scrap mat board, and printing it without a press. Gather your supplies, and give it a try. One of the best things about printing simple linear designs like this little fox is the option to apply all sorts of other pigments to the print, for a mixed media, open edition.  Every print gets to be different from the other.

A tutorial to make a mat board collagraph print from my youtube channel.

The Thomas Fire

This week, the Thomas Fire ripped through our town, and many communities around us. Nine days in, and the fire is 25% contained after clawing through 237,000 acres of wildland, and almost a thousand houses.

Several of our friends lost their homes. We were evacuated for six days. Water had to be boiled before consuming, electricity was out for a week, and the air was thick with acrid smoke. When the evacuation order was lifted, we found our house sooty but unscathed. Our back yard hillside, and 12 of our neighbors weren’t so lucky.

The  boot prints on our rear patio, and every garden hose pulled straight, tell a story of firefighters risking their lives as the fire roared down the hill into our backyard. Anonymous firefighters I’ll never meet saved our house, and the homes of our neighbors, with just a few feet between scorched shrubs and our back door.

Almost 8000 firefighters from all over the country are here. I can’t think about the gratitude I feel without welling up. Total strangers raced towards a raging, dangerous fire on a Monday night, while their families were at home decorating Christmas trees, to save mine and my neighbor’s houses. That is a character trait of courage and deep generosity to emulate. #thankyoufirstresponders

Thomas Fire in Ventura
The midnight sky behind our house as we evacuated, and the view looking back at Ventura from the marina twenty minutes later on Monday night.
thomas fire smoke
Satellite imagery of the Thomas Fire, and the view from the foothills of Ventura a few days later. The ocean and the channel islands are usually along the horizon line, but they’ve been lost in the smoke this week.

What’s Next

I’ll be wearing a cape of deeply felt gratitude in the coming days (and a respirator). My friends weren’t so lucky, and a walk through my neighborhood to see concrete slab and a chimney where a family home once stood is a gut punch of perspective. 

Our little town is okay because of the kindness of strangers. We will harness the same good spirit to lift up the folks who had losses, until everyone is well on their way to new beginnings, and turning setbacks into comebacks.

Thanks for stopping by and I’ll see you in the next post –


Art Quote

Life is a series of experiences, each of which makes us bigger, even though it is hard to realize this. For the world was built to develop character, and we must learn that the setbacks and griefs which we endure help us in our marching onward.

Henry Ford
which watercolor paper is best?
Get a free download of Watercolor Paper 101.  All about surfaces, sizing, weights and components.

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26 thoughts on “Island Fox Collagraph Print and the Thomas Fire”

  1. Thank you Belinda — you are an inspiring person all of the time, but in the face of being evacuated and seeing your neighbourhood devastated. Wow! I’m so sorry, and so impressed with your pluck and courage. Yes thank you to the fire fighters. What a job. I am grateful too. And grateful to you for this lovely post.

    XOXOXOXOXO Barbara

    1. Thanks for the hug, my friend. I’m hugging you back, with ardent wishes for a steep turn into a different direction in 2018. Here’s to gains instead of losses, and good health. I clink my tea cup against yours to seal the deal, and march onward. xoxoxo

  2. Wow, thanks for the note. Had no idea you guys were in the pathway of that furnace. Hope your life sorts out well and that you are able to be a resource to others still. So, did you guys spend the time away on the Cape Dory?

    1. Hi BC, Thanks for the good wishes. We did indeed take refuge during the evacuation on the boat. With a very reluctant cat, in high wind. Lots of ping-ponging against fenders all night, while the fire chewed through the hills. We’re lucky though, so no complaints.

  3. Patti Koscheski

    We are thankful you and your family are OK. We so far escaped these . Fires all around us, in SCV but only fine ash today. Stay safe and draw a pic of our wonderful first responders. Still waiting to see if our family members in Santa Barbara are still ok.

    1. Hi Patti,
      My kids live in Santa Clarita. We’ve watched the fires there closely, and at times, it felt like all of California was on fire. Cali-ferno. A little bit of rain would sure be swell. Thanks for touching base, and I’m glad you guys are okay over there. Fingers crossed for Santa Barbara. xo

  4. Incredible! So glad that your home was saved and that you are ok. Our hearts go out to everyone who has been affected by the fires in California this year. We have had our share of fires and smoke in Oregon this year as well, but have been spared the devastation to the south. Take care, Belinda, and stay safe.

    1. Thanks, Mickey. I’ve seen the fires and smoke earlier this year up north. It’s heartbreaking to watch on news and social media, and it’s a gut-punch of shock to watch it eat your community. Now, we all pray for the safety of first responders and the citizens of the next towns and villages in the path of this awful fire. Thanks for your note.

  5. So glad you and your family are well and safe. I was getting continual reports via Linda (Queally), but glad to read your words. My son-in-law is a retired fire fighter. They are a special breed indeed! My prayers certainly go out to your friends and neighbors who didn’t fare so well, but with friends like you they will come out on top.

    1. Thanks for the encouragement, Lizz – we are all good here. Beginning a plan for landscape repair, and looking forward to the removal of ash and soot. It’ll all be lovely again in time. The community here is very close and inspiringly supportive to the folks who lost homes.
      I look forward to re-joining your good company in the art-making and posting scene shortly. xoxo

    1. Hi Kim, Yes, we are amazingly lucky here. Every day, it seems I hear of another friend who lost a home. Many of them weren’t sure until they could enter fire ravaged neighborhoods with the National Guard for 10 minute intervals to see if their homes survived. The community is dumbfounded by the number of losses. We will all soldier on. Thanks for the good wishes.

  6. So thankful that you are safe! Thanks for the update and always appreciative of the art inspiration! Because of you, I’ve taken two printmaking classes and continue my quest to watercolor! Happy holidays!

    1. Hi Marie! Hearty congratulations on taking printmaking and diving deep into watercolor exploration! That’s such great news. I’m encouraged that you are encouraged! Keep us posted on your progress, and thanks so much for the well wishes. 🙂

  7. I had been wondering how you fared, knowing you were almost in the middle of it. So pleased you are safe, but I wept for many others.
    Happy Christmas, Belinda, and may 2018 be a kinder one.

    1. Thank you for your kindness, D. The smoke, and patrolling fire vehicles remind us that a week has gone by, and its over now. The atmosphere at myriad potluck dinners with displaced friends indicates a shift from grieving and telling incident stories, to conversations about insurance adjusters, renewal and planning. It’ll be an amazing Spring, I think. 🙂

  8. So glad to hear from you following all the news reports about those devastating fires in California. I wasn’t sure what city/town you lived in and now realize from your blog that it was indeed a very close call! Thank you for taking the time throughout all this to send your inspiring art tips. Wishing you happy and safe holidays and a fulfilling and art-filled new year!

    1. Thanks for your good wishes, my friend. All is well here, and we count ourselves *incredibly* lucky. When the smoke clears, and the ash settles, and we deep clean our spaces, and open the windows to ocean breezes, this will all be something that happened one December. For now, we’re sending out gratitude, and good wishes & support for the friends who lost everything, and the extended appreciation to the community of supporters from afar like you. Thanks for holding our hands.

  9. Egads, the fire came so close! I’m so glad you are all okay but continue to take care of those lungs… Thanks for giving us the update. We’ve been so worried! J&J

    1. Hi Lovie, Thanks for the hug. We’re all good. Walking through the neighborhood is a lesson on chance. The gutting fire was completely arbitrary, and I’m pretty sure our home would be gone if the firefighters hadn’t fought from the back patio. We count our good fortune in measures of 100’s. It will be a refreshing pleasure to watch this community re-build. Thanks for the reminder about our lungs – we are wearing respirators outdoors. Mine have a big lipped smile drawn with a sharpie. 🙂

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