My Feathered Friends: Party Shoes and Nesting Shoes

Turning old shoes into pieces of art sounded like fun; I had no idea it would also be therapeutic. Last weekend’s Walk in My Shoes Soirée saw the debut of my Party Shoes and Nesting Shoes, two pairs of my old shoes converted into art objects. The process made me reflect on my life… from the costume jewelry of my childhood to the nests that symbolize new dreams that I have for my life and art. It was a wonderful project and I felt lighter, happier for doing it. I would love to repurpose old shoes as keepsakes for others.

Party Shoes

I turned a pair of high heels that had become excruciatingly uncomfortable over time into Party Shoes. I like to think of them as the drag queens of the repurposed shoe world, beautiful and flashy with glitter, flowers, feathers and ribbon. They were plain black pumps to start off, with a little velvety section over the top of the foot and a simple black bow. I finger painted them with acrylic glitter paint, one in green and silver, the other in green and blue, and stuffed them with glittery fabric flowers. I brushed some silver paint on to add a little more definition in some places. Originally I planned to fill the shoes with beaded necklaces, but the result did not please my eye, so, after a trip to Michael’s craft store, I went down a different path.

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At this point the designs diverged much more. Blue and green was stuffed with a bit of non-descript fabric to keep the toe area plump. This fabric was covered over with a lustrous blue ribbon which loops its way over and around the shoe before forming a celebratory bow above it, as well as a matching blue feather boa that envelops most of the back portion of the shoe and cascades down from the heel. I intended to put a piece of metal in the shape of two joined leaves which had come off of one of my favorite hair clips many years ago across the toes, but the leaves came apart by accident. One leaf remains on the front toe while the other is fixed on one side of the heel, helping to hold the boa onto the shoe. I placed a clear glass bead, the kind you might use in bulk to fill a vase, like a droplet on the toe-leaf, where it looks like a bit of dew. Absolutely fabulous!

As for green and silver, she was stuffed with a piece of purple shantung. A scintillating stripe of gold glitter ribbon anchors itself from the heel and holds the design together. I placed a section of a rhinestone necklace, the kind of costume jewelry my grandmother would bring out for me to play with when I was small,  around the gentle curve above the toe bed, placing a clear pink glass bead on either side for a neater, more finished look. A spray of feathers juts up from the back of the heel, sticking straight up with pride, and a gold ribbon reminiscent of a gilt spider web drapes itself over the shoe. Unable to make it stick with glue, I used a pair of sparkly earrings to pin it on either side and threw in three other pairs  to add a little more bling. This shoe is a celebration of all of those gaudy baubles we loved in childhood–the ones society tells us to put away if we want to be taken seriously. Society be damned! We need the whimsical and the kitschy in our lives.

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Nesting Shoes

The Nesting Shoes have quite a different mood. These winged boots are about the collaboration between earth (reality)  and sky (imagination) to provide for the nurturing of a baby dream. That dream could be anything: a project, an artwork, a vocation, a career, or even an actual baby. These shoes have an artistic, self expressive side as well as a practical one. They are mama shoes.

I took a pair of grey boots that had never fit properly…the arch is in the wrong place for my foot. I bought them years ago, along with a matching pair in brown. In denial, I hung on to them, occasionally wearing them, as if they would magically fit someday. I found a much better use for them.


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First, I cut away most of the upper portion of the shoe that surrounded the ankle. I left a thin strip on either side, like an ear, to support the wings that would be introduced later. I stuffed the shoes with raffia, one in a dark color and one in a straw color. Into the darker one I placed a large straw colored bead, careful to hide its hollowness. I glued somber colored mosses around the nest and tied a necklace with a spectacular plastic pendant around the opening, knotting it into a bow in the back so that the pendant would hang down above the toe. Black and reddish brown acrylic paint was added in whorls and stripes to accentuate the shape of the shoe and make it feel more natural, less mass-produced. Finally, sprays of peacock and other feathers were added over and under the “ears” to create the illusion of wings. She stands firm on earth, but the glory of her feathers declares that she is ready to fly away if need be.


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The other boot was the most difficult of all the shoes to make. It took hours for the tacky glue to dry on one section so that I could move her to glue down the next section. I can’t count the times things had to be reattached. I was worried she wouldn’t be done in time, but she was, and she was everybody’s favorite.


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I tied together three small speckled beads on a piece of raffia and placed them in the nest. I knew from an earlier project that these beads make the best eggs. A piece of rough ribbon, something like pieces of thin twine laid next to each other to make a thick strip and painted across with white stripes, was glued around the nest opening. I  cut a matching pair of wings from a cardboard mailer and glued them to the shoe’s “ears”. Brushing on yellow and black acrylic paint, I made them into butterfly wings. This would have been easier to do before I had attached them, but I hadn’t had the idea yet. I then began to attach bright green and neutral moss, as well as some delightful bark lichen and seed pods from sweet gum trees which I had picked up on walks. The seashells and glass beads which peer out from below the moss proved the hardest to secure. I love the encrustation of different objects, especially the whorl of a shell attached to one side of the heel. This shell took so many attempts before the glue finally stuck, and it is also one of the elements that keeps the left wing from falling off (if you try, you can also find a bit of twine that helps do the job). Working with so many items of varying weight was a huge challenge, but the “faerie” Nesting shoe came together beautifully. She is heavy on the earth, but graceful and delicate as well, with her fragile butterfly wings and brilliant bright colors. If the first nesting boot were autumn, this one is certainly spring.

Hmmm… that leaves winter and summer for the brown boots, doesn’t it?



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

Psychedelic Ecosystem: The Elephant’s Garden

Come take an artistic walk on the wild side where the sublime meets the brutal. Refreshingly honest, beautiful and whimsical!

The life of any ecosystem depends on the death and sacrifice of some individuals within that system, and this fantastic garden is certainly no exception. There are a few beasts here big enough, such as the amusing Pneumatic Behemoth who squeezes eggs from its nether region, to rest peacefully and quietly at the top of the food chain. If you wait a few seconds, someone will be eaten- the Behemoth itself has vulnerable young– or a fight will break out. Even the roses like to scuffle.

The Elephant’s Garden is a short film by animator Felix Colgrave with music by Anthony Calhoun, aka Red.M. You can take a listen to Red.M’s wonderful full score for the project, including music that was not used, here. Colgrave crafts a stunning world, full of marvelous, strange beings that often move in ways we don’t expect. This movement not only makes delightful sense, it is deftly choreographed to Red.M’s funky, rhythmic electronic score, which enhances the sensual beauty and dark wit of Colgrave’s work. There are many influences here, put together in a way that is uniquely Colgrave: Indian and and southeast Asian meet Peter Max, Terry Gilliam meets Miyazaki. It’s a colorful world.

A glance at Colgrave’s website will reveal a delightful and biting wit, cunning mind and a willingness to help and encourage others. You can check out his glorious video for Fever the Ghost’s song Source and the whimsically sadistic animated short Man Spaghetti, which is vaguely reminiscent of Ren and Stimpy. Colgrave produces clever animation that looks backwards while pushing the envelope relentlessly forward.

The Elephant’s Garden was a project Colgrave created at RMIT University, Melbourne, Australia’s largest University and a global leader in technology and design. It was the winner of Best Australian Film at Melbourne International Animation Festival 2014. We cannot wait to see more from this talented young animator!
















Rebuilding Connections: The Collaborative Works of Patrick Dougherty

Modern life makes it easy to lose our connection to nature, to others and to our childhood. Can art help?

Close Ties, 2006 Scottish Basket Maker's Circle, Dingwall, Scotland Image © Fin McCrea

Close Ties, 2006
Scottish Basket Maker’s Circle, Dingwall, Scotland
Image © Fin McCrea

River Vessels, 2010 Waco Arts Festival, Waco, Texas Image © Mark Randolph

River Vessels, 2010
Waco Arts Festival, Waco, Texas
Image © Mark Randolph

Patrick Dougherty builds fantastic nest and hut forms from saplings, fusing sculpture and crafting with architecture. After designing a project, he recruits people to help him with construction, teaching them how to weave and work with sticks. Inviting the public to be involved in the joy of creation is a wonderful way to spread the word about a new installation and give the community a sense of ownership and participation in the art. Materials are drawn from local plants which are often grown and harvested specifically for the project.

Call of the Wild, 2002 Museum of Glass, Tacoma Washington Image © Duncan Price

Call of the Wild, 2002
Museum of Glass, Tacoma Washington
Image © Duncan Price

Over the years, Dougherty has built more than 250 installations all over the world. He describes his creations as “whimsical, ephemeral, and impermanent”. You might see a striking resemblance to illustrations by Dr. Seuss. Parts of us which we put away when we grew up into serious adults start to thaw out and wake up in the presence of this kind of whimsy. Why do we insist on being so serious?

Uff da Palace, 2010 Minnesota Landscape Arboretum, Chaska, MN Image © Todd Mulvihill

Uff da Palace, 2010
Minnesota Landscape Arboretum, Chaska, Minnesota
Image © Todd Mulvihill

Last January, Dougherty built Boogie Woogie in Hermann Park, here in Houston, from saplings of Chinese tallow. Chinese tallows are ubiquitous here, accounting for almost a fourth of all trees in Houston (Wikipedia). These quick growing and weak trees, despite their pretty leaves, are invasive and it is actually illegal to sell, distribute or import them in Texas. I’m constantly pulling them out of my garden. They are perfect for this kind of application, because no one will miss them.

Boogie Woogie is designed to look like an ancient glyph or symbol when viewed from above. I really enjoy the variable height of the roof, with its dramatic slopes. You can see the sky quite easily through that lightly woven roof, which makes being inside even more magical.

This is a lovely video featuring Pomp and Circumstance, an installation built in 2011 at Oregon State University in Corvallis, Oregon. It is part of the Inspired By… series by Shwood Eyewear, which presents artists and creatives operating in the Pacific Northwest, and was filmed by Gary Tyler Mcleod and Austin Will. They did a wonderful job of capturing the humble and generous spirit of Dougherty and his work, which never ceases to draw you in.

Video via Shwoodshop on YouTube.

I am fascinated by the value of illusion here. First of all, the eye is fooled into believing the nests are lighter and more fragile than they are. In fact, Dougherty’s goal is to make something that looks simple and haphazard despite the complexity and sturdiness of the weave. His work is inviting rather than intimidating. The Monk’s Cradle below looks as if it will collapse at any moment, but it is completely stable.

Monk's Cradle, 2012 College of St Benedict and St John's University, Collegeville, Minnesota © Thomas O'Laughlin

Monk’s Cradle, 2012
College of St Benedict and St John’s University, Collegeville, Minnesota
Image © Thomas O’Laughlin

Secondly, Dougherty creates spaces that suggest an alternate reality to our modern, computer driven society. From inside one of his nests you get the feeling that the world is a playful, imaginative place. You can imagine leaving normal life behind to wander and cavort here indefinitely. It reminds me of my childhood playhouse, which was an a-frame design built from scrap plywood. It wasn’t nearly as cool, but it gave me a similar feeling. Dougherty does a wonderful job of cultivating enchantment and contagious joy, evident in both the construction and exhibition phase of his creations. It makes me want to go out and play. Put your shoes on; the last one outside is a rotten egg!

All images are used in accordance with Fair Use Policy for educational and analytical purposes.

Quote for Today: Marian Keyes

© David Monroy with CCLicense

© David Monroy with CCLicense

Besides, I’d seen a really nice pair of shoes yesterday in the mall and I wanted them for my own. I can’t describe the feeling of immediate familiarity that rushed between us. The moment I clapped eyes on them I felt like I already owned them. I could only suppose that we were together in a former life. That they were my shoes when I was a serving maid in medieval Britain or when I was a princess in ancient Egypt. Or perhaps they were the princess and I was the shoes. Who’s to know? Either way I knew that we were meant to be together.
Marian KeyesWatermelon

Rescuing Home: Detroit’s Heidelberg Project

How do we respond to poverty, drugs and crime? Tyree Guyton strengthened the spirit of his Detroit neighborhood through art.

Penny Car © David Yarnall with CCLicense

Penny Car, Heidelberg Project
© David Yarnall with CCLicense

In 1986, Tyree Guyton returned from serving in the U.S. Army to his home on Heidelberg Street in East Detroit. The McDougall-Hunt neighborhood had become an unfriendly place, sinking deeper and deeper into drugs and crime. Guyton had lost three brothers to violence on the streets and his grandfather, Sam Mackey, encouraged him to take a different path. There was no money to rebuild the houses that were falling apart on the street, but Grandpa Sam helped Tyree made sculptures, paintings and installations that reimagined those houses as art, reclaiming them from dissolution and destruction. Neighborhood children joined the project and it began to spread like a wildfire. Maybe they couldn’t make their neighborhood pristine, but they could show that people who don’t have money can still dream and be creative. Guyton never imagined how much his efforts would inspire and change his community and the world.

Video via HeidelbergProject on YouTube.

The woman who drove up to Guyton to demand what was going on, Jenenne Whitfield, became his wife. We can certainly appreciate how she was drawn into this fascinating world. The Heidelberg Project has transformed the neighborhood from a violent place where people feared going outside, even in the daytime, to a proud and quirky attraction that draws visitors from all over the world. In twenty-seven years, it has won several awards and represented the US at the Venice Architecture Biennale. Despite its therapeutic effect on the community and the attention of “shrinking cities” all over the globe, not everyone is a fan of the project. Part political protest, celebration of life and experimental art installation, it has always been at the crossroads of frustration and inspiration. Some feel that isn’t art, but trash, while others see it as standing in the way of urban renewal.

© Michigan Municipal League with CCLicense

© Michigan Municipal League with CCLicense

The Heidelberg Project was almost destroyed in the name of progress twice by the City of Detroit during the 1990s. Last year a series of fires, which proved to be arson and remain unsolved, took down several houses, shaking the safety of the Heidelberg Project and striking at the heart of the community. Fortunately, Guyton sees adversity as proof that the art is working and is far from giving up. We wish him all the best and encourage people to follow his bold example.

© Michigan Municipal League with CCLicense

© Michigan Municipal League with CCLicense

"Party Animal House" © Bob Jagendorf with CCLicense

“Party Animal House”
© Bob Jagendorf in accordance with Fair Use Policy

© Nic Redhead with CCLicense

© Nic Redhead with CCLicense

"Number House" © Nic Redhead with CCLicense

“Number House”
© Nic Redhead with CCLicense

Using Your Brain: The Work of Emilio Garcia

Emilio Garcia is a sculptor and toy designer who began his artistic career in the motion graphics and multi-media realms. While pursuing those interests with prestigious companies such as Berlitz Kids, Hitachi, Diesel, and The North Face, he began to have concerns about the loss of appreciation for tangible, physical art. These concerns eventually led him to abandon the digital for the concrete, or in his case, plastic.

Global Warming Brain © lapolab with CCLicense

Global Warming Brain
© lapolab in accordance with Fair Use Policy

Fascinated by the creative possibilities of plastic, which is more durable and less expensive than many other sculptural media, Garcia founded the Secret Lapo Laboratories, where he experiments with plastic sculpture and three dimensional printing. His first big hit was the Jumping Brain, a human brain with frog legs that has become an extremely popular and iconic image. It is his delight to make imaginative pieces with his own hands which can then be produced on a larger scale. He has been able to use his connections in the business world to forge partnerships with companies like Limoges and Disney who can mass produce his original designs, as well as with artists like Paul Frank and Mark Ryden.

© lapolab with CCLicense

© lapolab in accordance with Fair Use Policy

© lapolab with CCLicense

© lapolab in accordance with Fair Use Policy

© lapolab with CCLicense

© lapolab in accordance with Fair Use Policy

After the Jumping Brain took off, Garcia began several projects on the theme of brains, which feature heavily in his artistic output. These include the Skull Brain series, the Brain Pattern series, and the ARThropod Brain series, which is comprised of combinations of insects and human brains. It may sound weird, but it is gorgeous and is a wonderful way of using technology to evoke the exotic variety of the bug collection. His newest creation, set to release very soon, is the BRAINADE, a figure made of resin in the shape of a brain and a grenade. Garcia’s irreverent and whimsical imagination and his knack for marketing are a true inspiration.

© lapolab with CCLicense

© lapolab in accordance with Fair Use Policy

Recreating Dreams: The “Surrealistic Pillow Project” – Photography by Ronen Goldman

Ronen Goldman is a photographer with a great deal of dedication who recreates scenes from his own dreams. You can take a look at his stunning work here. Profound, whimsical and often both at the same time, these other worldly images give us a look inside the mind of the dreamer.

Ronen Goldman, © Dana Zax with CCLicense

Ronen Goldman,
© Dana Zax with CCLicense

Goldman started this project while working on an idea for a cover for an independent music album (the photo with the guitars). You can find out more about his painstaking process, which creates about 4 images a year, in this interview from the Chase Jarvis Blog. Assembling and figuring out the shots while sticking to a budget and crew of himself and one other person is certainly a challenge, but the result is well worth it.

Dracula’s Nemesis?: Night of the Vampire by Alê Camargo

© ishankasaurus with CCLicense

© ishankasaurus with CCLicense

This is an amusing short by filmmaker and animator Alê Camargo. It features a vampire in the city of São Paulo, Brazil, who is having an exceptionally bad night. A predator more persistent and horrifying is making him miserable. I can relate, what about you?

I guess that is what he gets for napping when he should be out getting a bite! If Looney Tunes had a vampire cartoon, this would be it. Slapstick humor and vampires, just plain awesome. Cream cheese and broccoli pizza? Not so sure about that.

If you want to know more about Alê Camargo and Buba Films, click here. It helps if you read Portuguese.

For the Kid in You: The Impish and Heartwarming World of An Eye for Annai

eye-38729_640Jon Klassen is known as a writer and illustrator of children’s books and as an animator. He has worked on films, such as Coraline and Kung Fu Panda, and directed the video for I’ll Go Crazy If I Don’t Go Crazy Tonight by U2. As an illustrator he has won several awards, including the Governor General’s Award for English-language children’s illustration for Carolyn Stutson’s Cat’s Night Out and the 2013 Caldecott Medal for This Is Not My Hat, which he also wrote. His book I Want My Hat Back was among the New York Times 10 Best Illustrated Children’s Books for 2011, although it kicked up some controversy over its ending, in which a character (the bear) eats another character (the rabbit), an event which is not explicitly pictured in the illustration.

In the early 2000s, as a student in Sheridan College’s Classical Animation Program, Klassen teamed up with Dan Rodrigues, later an animator on Kid vs. Kat, to make An Eye for Annai, a charming and clever animated short about a one-eyed monster looking to replace his missing eye. The film is hand drawn and animated, with digital coloring and a mix of traditional and digital backgrounds. Klassen played the recorder to make most of the soundtrack and used a recording of the Jazz classic Jeepers Peepers to finish off the magic. Jeepers Peepers, where’d you get those eyes? Clever! The main tune is the children’s song Frère Jacques, but listeners will catch interpolations of the Sailor’s Hornpipe and the Imperial March from Star Wars. It is this impish whimsy that makes the video an instant classic, despite limited budget and resources. What an adorable little red monster! The fruit eating monkeys and the obnoxious peacocks are some of my favorites as well. Enjoy!

Video via ubak on YouTube.