Sea urchins are one of my top 3 favorite specimens to collect. They are abundant, easy to spy, and if you are on a good sea urchin beach, you are probably surrounded by rugged, salty, isolated and pristine shoreline--the best kind if you ask me!
When Atlantic Green sea urchins are alive, they are an inky purplish greenish colour and covered in sharp needle-y spines that move all around like curious--but dangerous--feelers. Unless you are collecting them for food, just walk away and let these ones be. There are plenty of empty ones, washed ashore by the changing tide, devoured by gulls and crabs, etc. With time on the shore, they drop their "needles" and get sun-bleached, becoming white polka-dotted pale green "eggs"--fragile but: coat them with watered down white glue to strengthen them enough to use in your projects.
Urchins, like starfish and sand dollars, have RADIAL symmetry--meaning they can be divided into 5 identical pieces if you were to break them apart from the middle outward, like a sliced pie.
My FINDERS KEEPS urchin earrings came about when I accidentally discovered how neatly a dropped shell split itself apart, and how neatly jagged the edges were. I quickly set to work rounding out the tops and bottoms of the wedge pieces, drilling holes, then adding resin for extra durability, and Voila! Lightweight earrings perfect for dreaming of mermaid days by the sea!
Empty urchins are already hollow on their undersides, making them very easy to display on a wall--simply stick a pushpin into the wall, and hang the urchin on the pushpin!
I have seen other crafters make snowmen and tree ornaments from stacked urchins and I've even seen strands of light up urchins (made with mini lights) which look really neat when the light shines through and highlights the intricate lacy patterns.
Other species of sea urchin look very different from the ones we have in Cape Breton, NS, but they all have that wonderful dotty, symmetrical exterior, making them perfect not only for Arts & Crafts, but also for contemplating the wonders of nature: just try looking at one. really look. Now break it apart... see what it did there? Amazing, right?!
My Stepdad plays in a band. He plays Bass Guitar. He changes his strings. Frequently. Lucky me!!!
When musicians decide their strings need to be replaced, usually the old ones just go into the trash. But what the musician discards as "useless" and "worn out" is still of great value to the folk artist. Good quality strings are made from durable, corrosion and rust resistant metal. They can be snipped, bent, soldered, and hammered into shape, making them perfect for jewelry projects or almost any project where you would normally use wire.
An added bonus are the little brass parts at the end of the strings--free beads!
If you don't know a musician, (firstly, I will guess you are not from the east coast, because everyone around these parts knows a musician or IS a musician!) you can ask your local music store for their discards.
Practice caution when working with guitar strings as they can "sproing" at you and also poke their sharp ends into you--wear eye protection!
Driftwood is a versatile material to work with. It is relatively easy to drill, carve, and paint and it is found in a wide variety of shapes and "finishes".
When you are strolling along your favourite beach, you will notice all the different shapes: sticks, boards, logs--imagine all the possibilities!
I enjoy gathering the little tiny pieces for assembling in a shadow box or for use in jewelry projects. The flat boards that wash up on the shore can be made into signs for around the home or in the garden (just use brush and paint to add your family name or favourite quote). The longer sticks of driftwood are attractive toppers for a wallhanging or window display. Recently I've had fun making "inch worms" from ruler-length sections of driftwood sticks--a great project for children!
Driftwood boards, logs and sticks can also be used in rustic building projects--watch out for nails and embedded rocks--you don't want your saw to go through those--and use your imagination to create something useful and absolutely unique!
Sand dollars are sort of like the holy grail for many beachcombers in Cape Breton. Many people lament that they have "looked all their lives and have never found one." However, this does not mean they are rare--this particular creature is common in our waters, but it's just that it doesn't wash up as frequently as the other shells. (attn biology keeners: yes, you are right. the sand dollar is not a true "shell" but is in fact a "test" but we will say "shell" in the interest of communication)
Go to a beach that is known to have a sand bar for the best chance at finding these, however, know that they are very tide-dependent finds and it seems to take a special wind to wash them ashore in any great quantity--I have personally only seen "scads" of washed-ashore sand dollars a few times in my life. %90 of my sand dollar stash has been GENEROUSLY donated to me by friends, family, and oftentimes strangers who knew I used them to make pendants. Once, when I really needed them and was running low, I purchased some which were a byproduct of the fishing industry but for my pendants, I preferred the ones found "naturally" as I found they were sturdier and had more character.
Many people have heard of breaking open a sand dollar to reveal 5 doves inside--it's true, the pieces that fall out really do look like little white doves!
Oh, Seaglass Collection! You glorious, frosty, glowing bunch of coastal detritus! (Detritus is just another word for "garbage", sounds fancy though huh?)
Almost every shoreline in Cape Breton has SOME pieces of seaglass mixed in with the rocks and sand. Some beaches have more of it than others do, but when you consider that all it took to make HUNDREDS of unique specimens was literally ONE bottle tossed into the ocean 50 years ago, well, it's understandable why we have so much of the stuff.
The best beaches are the ones that were handy to a dumping facility...some beaches *were* a dumping facility once upon a time!
Everyone has their own reasons for taking up the hobby of seaglass/beachglass collecting. I do it for the thrill. When I was new to collecting, I wasn't as choosy about what glass I took away from the beach as I am now. There are now only certain pieces that capture my imagination enough to keep them: thick nugget shaped "boulders" or "jellybeans", chip-free whole bottoms that resemble "cookies" or "biscuits", blue but only if it isn't sharp, any marbles; any red, orange, yellow, black-green colored glass, any well-worn pottery, and of course: any heart-shaped pieces.
I already have a lot of the more common brown, green and white colours which I like to use in my Kaleidoscopes, see-through shadow boxes, display tubes, and double-walled hurricane vase displays. The teeny tiny pieces make cute earring studs that you can mix/match, and the bigger pieces are nice hanging in a window where they can catch the light and be beautiful.
I think Seaglass is at its best when it has light shining through it or when it is arranged many pieces together, for variety.
Many collectors reluctantly confess to keeping their stash in an ice cream bucket or a ziploc bag, stashed away in their basement but this is a shame when there are SO MANY easy and affordable ways to enjoy it in the home, while still respecting its integrity and beauty.
When seaglass is displayed proudly, others can enjoy its beauty and marvel at its history too. Every piece has a story, and if you are captivated enough to research your treasures, you will start to "hear" some fascinating ones every time you beachcomb!
Flowers & Leaves
“People from a planet without flowers would think we must be mad with joy the whole time to have such things about us.”
The art of pressing flowers is nothing new--it was popular in Victorian times and began long before that.
I'm not sure why people are hesitant to try their hand at pressing their own flowers, believing they need fancy equipment or the patience of a saint. I am telling you the truth when I say this: there is NO easier craft than pressing a flower. Even small children can do this. The hard part is waiting a couple weeks until the flower is fully dried. (my favorite is when I forget I pressed a flower and then when I remember to check the press the excitement feels like getting a letter in the mail. A letter from a friend. In a pretty envelope!)
Supplies needed: a stack of books, a box of tissues, some flowers suitable for squishing (experiment--some are better than others, but why not just try it and see what happens!)
1) Open up a book and lay down a tissue to cover one of the pages, this is the "mattress" your flowers will "lay" on. 2) simply place your flowers one by one on top of that "tissue bed" you just set up. arrange them with a bit of room in between them (like cookies on a tray--not touching each other) 3) Now that you've laid them all out, it's time to cover them over with another tissue. Lay this tissue #2 on top of the flowers. It is their "blanket" that sandwiches them in between 2 tissues. 4) Shut the other half of the book down on top of the tissue bed-sandwich thingy. 5)stack a few heavy books on top of the flower-press-book so that it is shut tightly, and wait a couple weeks before opening. 6) When you open it up after 2 weeks, you will have a surprise: perfectly dried, paper thin flowers for you to use in your art & craft projects!
Overlooked at best, oft-despised Seaweed is commonly seen as nothing more than an obstacle to enjoying a day at the beach. Nothing quite like dreaming about your favourite sandy beach and planning the perfect spot to lay your beach towel only to arrive and find the whole scene completely buried in veritable mountains of decaying plant material.
Oh well, lemonade from lemons, right?
Next time you find yourself scowling at Seaweed mounds, why not try poking around--you might discover some really beautiful shapes and textures to use in your next art project!
Once it is pressed flat and left to dry, many types of seaweed will form branching tree-like shapes that are useful as "stencils" in artworks. Simply lay the seaweed onto your surface, paint around it (I use spray paint), and when you remove the seaweed, you are left with the tree-shaped silhouette of the space it occupied!
Alternatively, pressed seaweed can simply be mounted and framed for inclusion amongst your other nature-themed artworks, or: forget the frame and simply tie a string directly to the "trunk/stem" of the plant and let it hang from a ceiling or a shelf, mobile style! It is especially beautiful with the light shining through it to reveal its deep mustard, brown, and burgundy tones.
A fun bonus fact I discovered after accidentally leaving my seaweed un-pressed for too long after bringing it home: it can be "re-vitalized!" Even the dry crispy seaweeds will eventually soften and spring back to their bushy, ruffled selves after some time in a dish of water. It's a magical activity--try it out!
Some books are best friends. Weathered companions whose every page is to be cherished and preserved for future generations. The written word is powerful, and the best writing can stay with you your whole life.
But then there's the other books.
These are the ones you find unloved, sometimes even NEVER loved at thrift stores, flea markets, and yard sales--what do we do with those?
We use them! The covers. The pages. The spines. If you are creating anything that calls for paper, why not consider using bookpages in place of store-bought? Encyclopedias make dandy flower presses, and there are many ways to make shelving from old books. Check out Pinterest to get the juices flowing and then do your own thing--old books are low-cost or free so you can go ahead and not feel too bad about "messing up". Mess-ups often lead you to exciting discoveries. Start ripping!
Do you like incorporating textiles into your art & craft projects? Sure, you can go to a fabric store when you need material--fabric stores are awesome!--but when you start looking at second hand clothing stores (or your closet!) as an alternative source of raw materials for your projects, you open yourself up to a whole other world of possibility!
Soft Leather coats and skirts can be cut apart and the pieces transformed into leather bracelets, little pouches, leather coasters, etc, etc, etc. Do you need to do a scene in monochromatic blues? No problem: Old denim jeans will give you every shade from deepest indigo to palest powder blue, and then some! Check out the corduroys, velvets, flannels and even knit sweaters...then mosey on over to table linens for even more variety! So many textures and prints to play with.
Try to question *almost* EVERYTHING you've ever been taught in sewing class--fabric paint isn't really necessary in most applications when ordinary paint, spray paint, markers, etc can also work. Sometimes it's okay to leave a raw edge. Buttons don't have to match and they don't even have to be store-bought--you can make your own!
If you check out the history of textile production, you gain a deeper appreciation for the work involved in creating textiles--all the more reason to re-use them rather than throw them away!
A big part of what draws me to found objects is their "voice". Every object once used, now discarded, has its own unique story of its life up until now. An object's patina (signs of age) hints at this story, and if you are looking for an exercise that will spark your creative juices, try contemplating life from the object's point of view! Hold the bowl/spoon/gadget carefully. Be quiet and still and "listen" to it. Consider all the things it might have "seen" in its lifetime. What images are conjured up by this exercise? What emotions or memories are stirred by your own contemplation?
Kitchen discards are particularly interesting artifacts: you can tell a lot about people by their pots, pans and the utensils they eat with!
Usually, kitchenware is designed with very high standards of durability. Since it is built to withstand rough conditions, it is especially good for functional crafting: garden sculpture, wall hooks, etc. Thrift stores are a great source for old dishes and trays, silverware, etc. Have fun browsing their kitchenwares sections and keep your mind open to new ways to use these veterans of the heart of the home!
Before rubber lobster bands became common around the mid 1970s, Fishermen used wooden pegs, often whittled by hand, to hold shut the Lobster's Claws.
You could earn 25 cents if you carved enough pegs to fill a tobacco can!
The Lobster Plugs I use were salvaged with permission from an abandoned fishing shack here on Cape Breton's east coast, NS. I found only a small container full, about a mason jar size, and I do not think I will ever find more of them. If you would like a pair, please message me and I will make them at your request!
Sometimes, you just gotta paint. If I am a rapid crafter--building a thing as SOON as I think of it, just to see if it can be done--I make up for it with how slowly I percolate my ideas for wall art. Usually, the idea nags at me for years before it's as if I finally listen to it and give in: "ok, Idea, you can come out now".
Some of my "paintings" have found objects included in the finished art, some have just a trace of found objects, and still others are "pure" paintings, that is, no found objects at all-- just imagery created with paint on canvas. Or pastel on paper. Or pencil on wood. You get the idea.
Working with various art mediums makes me a mixed media artist, and my found object habits make me a found object artist, but over the years, I've come to refer to all my work as "Experimental Art" or "Folk art"...so I guess that makes me an Experimental Folk Artist!
I'm not very good at producing work based on custom request. I understand why you might think I can easily whip up a painting of your favourite flower for that space in your dining room--honestly, I SHOULD be able to do this--but it just never seems to work out...for one reason or another, I will inevitably end up taking a ridiculously long time to complete your request, and even then, it may not be what you had in mind. My paintings are adventures, and I never know just how they will go. The idea is merely a starting point. The finished piece can often be as surprising to me as if a stranger had come in and taken over. It's weird. I don't understand it. But it's Art, and I am happy to go where it takes me.
When we are out and about, and we spy something AMAZING that we can't live without, we usually do 2 things:
1) We buy it! 2) We contact the maker to see if we can order more for our customers!
Money is tight and times are hard. It's easy and almost automatic to search for the "cheapest" thing when buying for your home. But in most cases, choosing to surround yourself with beauty and magic will end up being LESS expensive in the long run: living amongst uninspiring, cookie-cutter objects can be boring and depressing...think of all that money you save on therapy and medications by cultivating your own reality!
It's YOUR life, and your home is your very own private nest. When we put thought and care into choosing pieces that reflect our authentic selves, we create a more peaceful sanctuary for those selves. Our thoughts flow more freely and mundane chores become a little cheerier.
Buy the expensive soap (it's only pennies a wash if you do the math anyhow) Get that weirdo thing that makes you happy every time you see it. Invest in some fixtures that will display your cherished oddities and trinkets with pride! Never feel guilty or ashamed of the things you love. Life is short, and as my grandparents used to say "you can't take it (money) with you!"