Shell Metamorphosis: Works of Rowan Mersh

Being connected to modern culture requires a certain amount of screen time. You and I, in order to share these musings, which are surely worthwhile, have to spend time on a device. The paradox of our reality is that, the more time we spend in this two dimensional, textureless yet very real place, the less time we spend interacting with our neighbors and our local, three dimensional environment. What do we do when we need to remember to get out of the box?

My cats remind me by snuggling up to me at the keyboard, rumbling, enticing me with a friendly purr. My husband and friends remind me when it’s time to go to the store, or hang out, or take a walk. Then there are those quiet moments that we long for: at the beach, in our backyard gardens, climbing a mountain. There are also moments brought to us by art. At a museum, in our own homes, in community spaces, physical art, especially sculpture, reminds us of our desperate need for texture, touch and connection. It helps us get out of our shell.


Placuna Anima Maris (Oyster Soul of the Sea), Rowan Mersh and Bob Lorimer. Photo Credit Frankie Pike

I’d like to share the immensely beautiful and exquisitely textured art of Rowan Mersh with you. The irony of sharing pictures of physical art online does not escape me, but the beauty of the internet is that it can show us things that would not enter our normal day to day lives.

Rowan Mersh is a multi-media sculptor living in London. A graduate of the Royal College of Art, he has created a variety of work, from kinetic and interactive installations to textile sculptures. Today I will concentrate on his work with shells.


Asabikeshiinh V


Asabikeshiinh V detail

Mersh slices the shells, which are sustainably harvested, grinds and polishes them and reassembles them by hand into structures and patterns which he then coats with a fluorocarbon resin that preserves and fuses the piece. It’s a painstaking process; the larger pieces take months to create. These Doxander vittatus shells, common name Vitate Conch, look as delicate as lace. I love the way Asabikeshiinh V seems to flow and move. Do you see a school of fish, or maybe tropical foliage?



Asabikeshiinh II. Photo Credit Frankie Pike.


Asabikeshiinh II detail. Photo Credit Frankie Pike.

As the shells fit together, they determine the design of the piece. The turritella shells in the piece above were laid with the largest in the center and the smallest at the outer edge. Asabikeshiinh II recalls the graphic designs of M.C. Escher, but with the magical addition of texture. Seen up close, it looks remarkably like a lace textile.



Asabikeshiinh IV


Asabikeshiinh IV

Here’s another variation on the theme, this one resembling a light and airy chrysanthemum in full bloom. Does it surprise you that asabikeshiinh is an Ojibwe word for “spider? The legend of the Spider Woman who protects the Ojibwe people tells that, as the Ojibwe became scattered across North America, the Spider Woman instructed women to construct dream catchers to filter out bad dreams and hold them until the sun could destroy them. I knew this legend only vaguely through commercial efforts to sell tourist goods and trendy healing products. Mersh’s works seem to reclaim some of the dignity and significance of the original story. Can you see the webs?



Asabikeshiinh Praegressus. Photo credit Frankie Pike.


Asabikeshiinh Praegressus. Photo Credit Frankie Pike

Asabikeshiinh Praegressus shows the evolution, or progression of the dreamcatcher idea. This time, Mersh has allowed the form to curve in on itself, creating a sort of nest or basket. The turritella shells here look more plantlike, almost like reeds, but still retain their weblike pattern.



Placuna Pro Dilectione Mea II


Placuna Pro Dilectione Mea II detail


Placuna Pro Dilectione Mea II detail

Placuna Pro Dilectione Mea II looks as if it is made of soft feathers, but it is actually made of the shells of the windowpane oyster, the same shells that we often see in windcatchers. The hard, brittle, transparent discs, also known as Capiz Shell, are abundant in the Philippines and Southeast Asia. The title translates Oyster(shell)s for My Love.


Turitella Duplicata II


Turitella Duplicata II detail


Turitella Duplicata II detail

Returning to the turritella shells, Duplicated Turitella II leaves them mostly whole, sticking out like some strange sea plant or perhaps a nappy animal pelt. The closer you get, the sharper and more amazing the spines look. An illusion of motion is created by gradually varying the angle of the shells. Mersh’s talent for shaping, which involves thinking of each shell as a painter would think of a brushstroke, is astounding.



Pithváva Praegressus I detail


Pithváva Praegressus I

Pithváva is a deity of the Yurok people of the California coast. He created the dentalium, or “tooth” shell, considered by the Yurok to be sacred. Dentalium shells were frequently traded among First Nations People. This piece is an exploration of both the dentalium and the god, a physical representation that is almost kachina-like in its significance. It is Rowan Mersh’s connection between his material, the natural world and the metaphysical legends of the past that give his work not only beauty, but a reverant resonance. You long to reach out and touch it, and through it to connect to nature and the past.

All images used in accordance with Fair Use Policy for educational purposes. Please spend some time on Rowan Mersh’s amazing website, where he has many more pictures and works to share.









Originals by Synkroniciti: Outgoing Tide

After a few years and two floods, I’m finally painting again. Nothing calms me down better than putting some color on canvas and seeing what crops up.

The section of wall to the left of our fireplace has some damage from whatever hung there in the past. It’s a rather tall footprint, and I didn’t have anything to fill it, so I headed to the craft store and bought a canvas. I hung the bare canvas briefly and realized that I should have bought a taller one, as part of the damage still showed clearly. Instead of returning it, I decided to make this a mixed media piece and attach a fabric skirt to the bottom to extend it.  I went through my fabric stash and, after some deliberation, settled on a gauzy green fabric embroidered with vines. I gathered it in the lower right corner and tied it off with some twine. To make the transition work and help anchor the fabric, I glued pine bark gathered in my back yard across the top of the skirt. Then I applied gesso to give the canvas some personality and texture.

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The next step was to make the piece more cohesive and cut down the contrasts between the canvas, bark, and fabric. I began shading the canvas with tones of yellow with red and pink mixed in. I painted the bark, favoring metallics, yellows, greens and blues that would give the bark more color and some iridescence, exaggerating the edges and patterns that were already present. White gesso, which has more body than paint, created a smokestack effect across the upper third of the painting, while a blue creature with arms appeared in the middle third. At this point I had not yet made a conscious decision as to what this painting was going to present, but the hints were all there.

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With the encouragement of Facebook friends, the painting became a beach scene featuring a starfish. As I began to paint and overpaint the starfish, building a nice layer of impasto (texture achieved by layering paint), I also detailed the foliage of a plant, intending to place a flower between the rocky bark and the creature, who appeared to be stranded on the sand. I worked more pink and red into the sand, which I later toned down.

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I could not leave that beautiful creature to die on the sand, so I began to shade in some water, thinking he was in some inlet or tidal pool. The water grew deeper and more turquoise, then I decided it was deep enough to splash where it hit the starfish. White gesso created the illusion beautifully. The flower had its first incarnation and other plants sprang up on the shore. At some point, I noticed that there were pockets under the bark where I could put items… a bit of pine cone, some fuzzy dried plant matter. Have you ever cut up a pine cone? It’s a daunting task.

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During the next phase I tried out some things that I liked, messed them up and then came up with better things. The only time that painting gets stressful is when I get attached to a particular item… a texture, a line, some shading… and it gets destroyed as I’m working. I’ve learned that, most of the time, the thing that comes next is more well-suited to the piece as a whole. Here are a few nice near misses.

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Here is the final product, Outgoing Tide, my seventh completed painting. The shading on the sand and the plants took me some time, but I am pleased. There’s a painted seedpod added that I find a happy touch. Painting the sides black makes the piece stand out; I went back and did that to 5 of my other 6 paintings. They won’t need framing now. As far as perspective goes, I decided we are on our stomachs looking down over a rocky ridge past some plants in the foreground  toward a tidal inlet surrounded by sand. The tide is going out, and that starfish will be carried back out to sea, far from the yellow flower that reaches out to him. From a damaged wall comes a vibrant new piece of art. I’m going to have to paint more.

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Patterns of Connection: The Land Art of Dietmar Voorwold

Why should modern humanity regain and hold on to its connection with nature at a time when technology seems omnipresent?


AmWeg207 © Dietmar Voorwold

I have always loved making things: textures and patterns create a sense of calmness for me. In my early years I made a texture book into which I glued pieces of fabric. I would spend hours rubbing my hands over the small swatches. Geometric patterns, fuzzy fake furs, textured weaves… they were all delightful. I think I must have worn that book out at some point, but I never lost my love for fabrics, texures, patterns and colors. This love would resurface from time to time. A few years later in grade school I would get in trouble for filling my desk with pretty rocks from the playground.


AmMeer71 © Dietmar Voorwold


AmWeg97 © Dietmar Voorwold


AmMeer430 © Dietmar Voorwold

These creations by German land-artist Dietmar Voorwold take me back to my childhood. Trained as a photographer and graphic designer in Dusseldorf, Voorwold returned to school later to study Art Therapy at the Institute for Humanistic Psychology (IHP) in Eschweiler, Germany. For several years, he spent time working with children, adults, and people with special needs in educational and therapeutic institutions in Germany, Holland and Great Britain, focusing on “self-expression, joy and inspiration.” He found great satisfaction and collaborative potential in making patterns from stones, leaves and other natural materials. In 2008 he moved to Scotland and began to concentrate on making temporary outdoor installations.

Nature is the perfect stage and canvas for the beauty and lightness that I like to express. –Dietmar Voorwold

Land art, the arrangement of collected natural materials into patterns and forms is increasingly popular. In a world that seems so technological and so regimented, it becomes more and more important that we cultivate the simple side of ourselves, that we recognize who we are as part of nature. Otherwise, it is simply too easy to get lost on the sea of social media, to become ungrounded and feel that we are being carried away on the current. Nature is far more difficult to fake than our daily online lives and it offers us a tactile, physical relationship that we cannot replace with virtual reality. If we are clever, we can find ways of using technology to help us record and memorialize those moments of synchronicity and meaning that are the fruits of that relationship.




AmMeer578 © Dietmar Voorwold

Thankfully we have rebellious artists like Dietmar Voorwold to take us down the paths less traveled to those places where everything connects. The result is never quite what we expect, and that is the allure and magic that keeps us interested in the world around us. Call it enchantment, call it synchronicity, but do not let it pass from our existence.


AmWeg193 © Dietmar Voorwold

All images used in accordance with fair use policy for educational purposes. Please spend some time on Mr. Voorwold’s website, where you may purchase prints of his luscious work.



Imitating Nature: Green Cacti of Lina Cofán

Nature is a great source of inspiration for creatives of all types. Lina Cofán takes a whimsical look at cacti.

Cactus 101


Lina Cofán was working as a performance and theater based artist in Berlin when she decided to move back to Spain and pursue an interest in ceramic sculpture. The majority of her pieces are plants, specifically cacti. Cacti come in a wealth of textures and shades of green to which Cofán adds her imagination and skill. The result is simply enchanting.



Cofán’s creations are life size, rendered with playful ridges in glowing greens that delight the eye. From barrel shaped to tall saguaro, from prickly pear to pincushion, these quirky cacti have an astonishing amount of personality.



Please check out Lina Cofán’s website. I hope to see and learn more about this talented artist in the future.


All images © Lina Cofán

Quote for Today: Joseph Brodsky



I always adhered to the idea that God is time, or at least that His spirit is… In any case, I always thought that if the Spirit of God moved upon the face of the water, the water was bound to reflect it. Hence my sentiment for water, for its folds, wrinkles, and ripples, and- as I am a Northerner- for its grayness. I simply think that water is the image of time, and every New Year’s Eve, in somewhat pagan fashion, I try to find myself near water, preferably near a sea or an ocean, to watch the emergence of a new helping, a new cupful of time from it.
Joseph Brodsky, Watermark
Public Domain Image via Pixabay

Sensuality of Texture: Geology of Shoes

Machines are so essential to daily life that we often fail to appreciate what we can make with our hands.

Statue of a Cordwainer in Watling Street, London Image © Metro Centric with CCLicense

Statue of a Cordwainer in Watling Street, London
Image © Metro Centric with CCLicense

A cordwainer is a person that fashions luxury footwear from soft leather by hand, designing, cutting and shaping shoes into objects of beauty and usefulness. The term is derived from the same word that gives us cordovan, a soft leather that originated in Cordoba, Spain and has long been used in the trade of making shoes.

The Cordwainer’s Technical College of London has an illustrious history of training world class artisans. Famous fashion designers like Jimmy Choo and Patrick Cox trained there. In 2000, Cordwainer’s was folded into the London College of Fashion. Barbora Veselá, the immensely talented artist featured in this short film by Petr Krejčí, is a recent graduate. Combining techniques that have provided beautiful results for centuries with a modern creative flair, she’s inspiring to watch and her shoes are fantastic. There is a certain peace and comfort that settles over me when I’m watching an artisan at work.

Video via Petr Krejčí on Vimeo.

Krejčí’s exceptional film captures the magical textures and sensuality of Veselá’s work. The shoes featured in the video are inspired by the colors and contours of geological maps, hence geological shoes. The creative process is refreshingly slow and careful compared to that of objects made entirely by machine, as leather scraps of different colors are cut and assembled on a shoe tree, sanded and cut again to become shoes. The punching of the leather for laces is a supremely sensual moment– so delightful!

If you are interested in looking at more shoes, or perhaps even ordering some from Veselá’s shop in London, please take a look at her website.

Gluten Sensitivity for Construction Workers, Artists and Children: Building and Crafting Materials

Construction and craft projects often result in exposure to gluten. Where does gluten lurk and how can exposure be minimized?

In the spring of 2009, our house flooded and we embarked on a journey involving demolition, repair and renovation. At the time I didn’t know that I was gluten intolerant. My husband and I decided to do our own work, which taught us many things about how houses are built and how to be handy. I remember being horribly exhausted, but I expected that– it was a stressful time.

IMG_4495Our house had taken on a foot of water, so insurance paid to replace the bottom four feet of drywall. This drywall had to be cut out and replaced, leaving a faint seam on the wall in some places. In order to cover that seam, we decided to texture the walls, which was my project. I had fun using brooms, feather dusters, rags and all sorts of things to make different textures around the house. I used joint compound, which goes on wet and dries into a paintable surface. Drywall may or may not contain gluten to bind the gypsum plaster, generally a nasty substance itself, which forms the core of the wall. Joint compound and wall texture are loaded with gluten to help the material mix and hold together. No wonder I didn’t feel well.

© PNASH with CCLicense

© PNASH with CCLicense

If you need to work with this stuff I would recommend a respirator (a la Breaking Bad) and gloves. I am not kidding. If I had to do it over again I’d either wear a protective suit or get someone else to do it. To tell the truth, construction materials contain things that are much more toxic than gluten. Reading the material safety data sheets on these things can give you nightmares.

© Fouquier with CCLicense

© Fouquier with CCLicense

The whole experience made me think. Where else is gluten hiding? Construction is often the realm of burly men who don’t admit to things like gluten sensitivity, so these materials are even more poorly marked and labeled than the things we eat. Have you ever used the substance marketed to fill nail holes? It’s full of gluten. I recommend using Elmer’s wood filler instead, which is gluten free. I no longer mix or spread tile grout or cement, and don’t apply caulk. These products have all sorts of terrible, cancer-causing things in them, in addition to a great potential for gluten and labeling that is less than revealing. Once they dry they are much safer. I also steer clear of adhesives unless they are marketed as gluten free, such as those made by Elmer’s. Indoor and outdoor house paints are generally gluten free, although you might want to contact the manufacturer to make sure, unless they have texture in them, in which case they are almost certain to contain gluten. Paint is wonderful in that it seals whatever it coats; just be careful if you need to sand.

© Mike Plante with CCLicense

© Mike Plante with CCLicense

Builders aren’t the only people who have these issues. Plaster is another thing that can be full of gluten if wheat flour or wheat derivatives are added to help it hold together. Chalk, which is basically colored plaster, can be highly dangerous to the gluten intolerant due to the amount of dust it produces and the propensity children have for putting it in their mouths. This is one reason that many schools now have dry erase boards instead of chalkboards, although most chalk produced today is gluten free. Ever felt weird using sidewalk chalk? I did.

Modeling clay and products like Play-doh contain gluten as well. It helps give these products their texture. If all of this scares you, don’t worry, there are alternatives and awareness is growing all the time. I recommend shopping for supplies online at Discount School Supply because they post a list of allergens for the products they carry and have a special webpage for those with allergies and sensitivities, including gluten. The Colorations line of products is great. Better safe than sick!

Other posts in this series include: Gluten Sensitivity: An Introduction and Gluten Sensitivity and the Artist: Avoiding Wheat Flour in Art Supplies.

“The Texture House”

Creating a dollhouse is a complicated project. Imagine the challenges of designing one for someone who is visually impaired. Meet designer Maryann Roy and marvel at the Texture House, a detailed miniature home in the round, with all of the textures, shapes and finishing touches that make a space unique. Beautiful attention to detail and spectacular workmanship and design are here combined with a strong sense of empathy, allowing Maryann to step into someone else’s world and make beauty there designed especially for that person. This is a special gift. Please take time to read the story of the Texture House and enjoy the beautiful photographs. There is a video here as well, if you would like a sense of the piece as a whole. Truly inspiring.

Time to Play With Your Food: The Art of Bento

©Raphaël Labbé with CCLicense

©Raphaël Labbé with CCLicense

What happens where creativity, status, and practicality meet? In this case, lunch! Bento encourages you to play with your food.

Bento is a homemade or takeout meal common in Japan. Traditionally packed into boxes, some of which are very elegant, basic bento consists of rice with fish or meat and vegetables. The bento has been around for centuries, much longer than the western lunch box, but recently parents and artists in Japan and around the globe have elevated the art of bento food preparation to new heights. Using the natural texture, color and structure of food, along with modern accessories and food coloring, people are making pictures.

Video via Harley Anderegg on YouTube.

Some Bento are called kyaraben or character bento. They often depict popular characters, such as these from Miyazaki’s film My Neighbor, Totoro. Amusing and cute as they are, I would be torn between eating and admiring them. What’s it like to take a bite of your favorite cartoon personality or celebrity figure?

© Héctor García with CCLicense

© Héctor García with CCLicense

© Mokiko - Bohnenhase with CCLicense

© Mokiko – Bohnenhase with CCLicense

Another form of Bento is the oekakiben or picture bento. These can be nature scenes like the one below:

© Sakurako Kitsa with CCLicense

Canada Geese © Sakurako Kitsa with CCLicense

closeup © Sakurako Kitsa with CCLicense

closeup © Sakurako Kitsa with CCLicense

or cityscapes like this one. You can devour Berlin!!

Berlin Skyline © Mokiko - Bohnenhouse with CCLicense

Berlin Skyline © Mokiko – Bohnenhase with CCLicense

Bento began in the 12th Century out of practicality. Rice was cooked, dried, and placed in a bag for later. Brown bag lunch, anyone? By the end of the 16th century it became fashionable to place foodstuffs into beautiful lacquered boxes to be used at tea parties. Travelers carried bento boxes made from bamboo on the road, and bento was served between acts at theatrical performances of Noh and Kabuki plays as well as on holidays. Bento is entwined with Japanese culture and symbolism.

The offering below is more than gorgeous, but at some point you are cutting into a pretty neck. Sadistic? No. Just don’t think about it. No one complains when we cut up Oscar the Grouch for a birthday party.


Geisha © Sakurako Kitsa with CCLicense

During the 20th century the bento box fell into disfavor, especially in school, because it clearly revealed the status of the student and brought economic disparity into focus in the classroom. A child was judged by his peers for what was in the bento box, and would be envied or ridiculed accordingly. After World War II, with Japan’s economy in shambles, there were no longer the resources for such luxuries anyway. Children and teachers were provided simple and uniform school lunches by the public school. But who could resist something so beautiful for long?

© Megan with CCLicense

© Megan with CCLicense

In the 1980s, thanks to the microwave oven, the convenience store and ingenious marketing, bento made a comeback. It was seen as a clever way to get children interested in eating, and, sometimes, to encourage them to eat healthy food rather than processed goods. Many parents of Asian school children labor over these elaborate lunches, some of which take hours to prepare and mere minutes for a hungry child to devour. Once again bento is at the intersection of status, practicality, and creativity, and it is set to conquer the world.

Here’s some more pictures by some of the best bento artists on the web. Pi, anyone? Wait, something is wrong here…


© Sheri Chen with CCLicense


Goyza Girls © Sakurako Kitsa with CCLicense

© Megan with CCLicense

© Megan with CCLicense


© Wendy Copley with CCLicense

© Vingt Deux with CCLicense

© vingt-deux with CCLicense

© Vingt Deux with CCLicense

© vingt-deux with CCLicense

© Megan with CCLicense© Megan with CCLicense

© Sakurako Kitsa with CCLicense

© Sakurako Kitsa with CCLicense

© Thomas Bertrand with CCLicense

© Thomas Bertrand with CCLicense

with CCLicense

Mock Lobster © Sakurako Kitsa with CCLicense