Thursday, November 19, 2020

LAW 179: We all wear masks, don't we?

 Hmmm, appropriate don't you think in this time of pandemic. 

Don and i were on a zoom meeting with a former student of his, and some how masks came up. Not just wearing a mask for protection now, but art masks.



Above, The Shaman Mask, c. 2010, total length 23", 11" W 10" D. Materials include, papier mache, pig gut, hemp rope , black thread.

 One thing led to another, and after spending some time in a futile search i realized i had never documented the masks that i had created primarily as teaching tools.

So here for your viewing, and perhaps purchasing pleasure are some of the masks that i made while i was teaching three dimensional design.

Masks play a major part in our lives right now, as protection against the deadly virus that is running unchecked all over the world. As an aside, please if you aren't wearing a mask in public currently, please, please reconsider your position on this.



Above: The Creature from the Deep, 14.5 x 9 x 9.5". Materials include papier mache, deconstructed wired gold fabric ribbon, glass seed beads and black thread.

But beyond protection, masks have always played a major part of human life. Think about all the myriad ways masks are utilized in human life. In theatre. Masquerades. Halloween celebrations. Ritual shamanic healing. I'm pretty sure that with some thought we could all expand on this list.

Suffice to say, we use masks to both reveal and obscure. Handy little things they are. 

Not to mention masks have been used throughout human history and in all culturals for some or all of these purposes.

My interest in masks stems from a brilliant exhibit mounted by the St. Louis Art Museum, "Masks: The Faces of Culture", in 1999.



Above, Googly Eye Mask, total length, 30" x 6.5 x 10.5". Materials include papier mache, de-composed and stained cotton canvas, black thread and craft google eyes.

I realized something as i was composing this blog post. For some reason when i made these pieces i never titled them. This is very unlike me, as i have always felt that the title is an important part of the process. So it may seem that these have very silly or mundane names.

The masks that i make are constructed of papier mache, made of recycled brown paper, white(PVA) glue and assorted disposable everyday objects.

They are all made in a helmet style; designed to be worn without ties, they will fit most people's head.



Above Machine Nature Mask, 15 x 13 x 7". Materials include papier mache, Catalpa Seed Pods, contact lens cases.

They are comprised of a minumum of twelve layers of paper with a variety of pigment patinas and have a natural wax rub to protect the surface. You can clean them will a damp soft cloth.

Most were made between 2008- 2013.

You can send me a private message through my blog or All of these masks are available at very reasonable prices. Prices available on request.

I am also willing to work on commission. They are a lot fun to make, however time consuming. Do bear in mind that i live on a boat. Winter is not the best time to have your hands playing with wet, cold paper. 

Take care, say safe

and wear the mask

more later


Sunday, November 8, 2020

LAW: 178, Which one, design decisions

 Good morning, it is a beautiful day on the Chesapeake. After we got confirmation of the Biden/Harris victory, the world took a deep breath and started to wake up from our collective nightmare of the past four years.

This photo was taken after election day, but before it was called. Do you think that the fog and mist are indicative of the confusion in the country?

From the Dock, 11.05.2020

Perhaps unsprisingly, the weather cooperated. We cast off our lines and left dock yesterday afternoon and motored out to our favorite local anchorage, which is really just a little bitty way down the river. But hey, we're anchored out and enjoying the bliss of solitude.

Okay, so it is not always as easy as that. The river has silted in quite a bit in the last couple of months, it took us four times before we were happy with our location. Which does mean that i got to drop and raise the anchor four times. Gotta love the exercise. We probably had to anchor about 150' further out than normal.

But aside from that i really want to focus on what goes into design decisions from a photographic point of view.

The color this morning at dawn was incredible. I grabbed my phone and took a couple of shots, but realized immediately that i wasn't satisfied with the color. So out came my trusty Canon Rebel T3 SLR digital. I got some stunning photos. As always i threw away more images than i kept. Three cheers for digital cameras.

I really like both of these images, but for different reasons.

Middle River Sunrise #1, 11.08.20

Middle River Sunrise #2, 11.08.202

#1, is the first image i took, i was focusing mostly on the reflection of the trees on the water. I think #2, is the better photograph, even though i lost the tree reflections. Why, well, better depth of field, and compositionally #2, is far more interesting to me, because the mast reflection isn't smack dab in the middle of the image. What do you think?

Planning another beautiful day on the river.

More later,

Monday, November 2, 2020

LAW 177: Great Minds, or Synchronicity

 Talk about collage weirdness; minutes after i post images of "Is This Not My Pre-Approved Life?" yesterday one of my contacts from a variety of collage boards commented on my piece. 

That isn't the weird part, the weird part was that she was just finishing a piece in which she had used two of the same images i had. 

The story unfolds something like this.

Untitled, by Diana Curbelo

Diana posted with my permission the two pieces side by side on a FB board that she created. She was interested, as explained below in exploring the emotional ground behind our mutual choices. Below you will find some of the commentary. me elaborate on this synchronization of collagists’s emotional choices on images (?)

Two minutes after Gail posted her collage (on the left) in another group, (I had just glued down mine, on the right), I saw it and gasped and wrote in her comments:
“Gail, I have 3 of the images you have used, two of which I actually used today for my Sunday Diary Collage, which I will post shortly!! So uncanny!!! It has to be the emotions we are feeling. What do you think????”
I was flabbergasted!! Lol

I was curious, excited to see what she had done, what images we had used, and how the completed work differed.

Diana went on to say....

I’ve had this happen before, but never at the exact same time. I think how we choose our images is so directly related to how we are feeling, and this weekend, well, those women are looking a bit worried....

I pointed out that there also structural similarities. We had both used an amputated human figure, and the compositional structure was very similar.

Like i said, great minds....
Stay tuned
and if you haven't voted yet, make sure that you do.

more later gail

Sunday, November 1, 2020

LAW 176: Construction of a collage

 I was talking with Don today about the construction of this piece. How it came together, how i used the elements to create the composition.

From one of my ongoing collage journals, Eye to Eye,  6.5 x 10" spiral bound hardcover with black cardstock. 


I enjoy working ideas out in my collage journals. I try to not get too invested in them as finished projects, rather more like a handy way to develop new vocubulary.

Not to mention, working in as limited space as i do, it is far simpler to be able to close a notebook, than finding safe, dry storage for larger individual pieces.

Unlike my normal practice of coming to the collage table without preconceptions of what i was going to create, in this case i knew what i wanted to make. Triggered by the outside of a very official looking envelope, which was nothing more than yet another come on for life insurance. I saw that pre-approved bar code, and instantly decided i had to use it.

I just might have either been listening to or had the lyrics of the Talking Heads, "Once in a Lifetime" going through my head. Although i didn't know exactly what image i was going to use, i did know that i wanted a sort of as above, as below sort of thing going on.

This collage turned into a technical challenge when i had to make the decision to use one side of a page instead of the other. 

As an aside, at the very beginning of my collage "career" i decided to not copy nor print images. This was for two basic reasons, i did not want to let the images get too precious; and i felt that copying and printing multiples of images lessened what i saw as a primary thrust of collage, the spontaneity of random juxtaposition in composition.

Of course this means that i am often put into the position of sacrificing one image to use the other. Such a dilemma.

Another technical challenge here: how to use an element that is only half of a recognizable image, in particular the image of the woman's legs. Blessed serendipity came into play when i realized that i could indeed eat my cake and have it too. That the image that i decided to sacrifice was intact enough that i could use it as well.

Structurally i felt that the two background pieces of numbers and computer imagery weren't strong enough, or didn't provide enought contrast to convey my intention. Amazingly the reverse of the off cut from between her legs turned out to fit perfectly in that problematic negative space.

Tying the whole piece together is the photo of a group of young women from circa 1930's Germany. So, two different media sources using the metaphor of swimming in advertising to sell us something other than what we have.

Keep on making

more later,


Wednesday, October 28, 2020

LAW 175: How to make a glorious mess in your tiny kitchen; or the Pumpkin Gnocchi Were Divine or you can do more with pumpkin

 I want to start by letting you know this is not an every day dish. It is however worth the time and effort you will put into it. It is simply put, a divine expression of autumnal comfort food, and who doesn't need that in these perilous times.

Ready to roast

Nummy little pillows of pumpkin and potato deliciousness, robed with a sage and garlic butter sauce, garnished with thick cut hickory smoked bacon. 

Are you drooling yet? And Why did i decide to make pumpkin gnocchis? Well, i did have a lot of leftover fresh pumpkin from making pumpkin cider, soo....but that's another story.

Really, we find it sad that pumpkin is only available for a very short season, and that most of it is never eaten.

Start by roasting some pumpkin. I used about a quarter of a medium sized pumpkin for this. Treat it like you would any winter squash. Once it is tender and cooled off, scoop out the flesh, discard the skin, and set aside, or refrigerate. And yes of course you can freeze pumpkin. Roast a medium sized baking potato, one with a lot of starch. Repeat instructions for treating pumpkin, but don't throw away your potato skins. Go ahead, have a snack.


When you are ready to proceed to actually make the gnocchi you will need 1 tsp of salt, 1 egg, and somewhere between 1-2 cups of flour. Sorry, can't be a whole lot more precise than that as there are so many factors at play here, most of which have to do with moisture. I used about 1.5 cups this time and probably should have used a little more, as i ended up needing quite a bit of dusting flour.

IMPORTANT: Clear your work surface, you need enough space for one or two large plates and enough room to roll out your dough. Don't laugh, working in a boat galley, space is at a premium, prepping, mis-en-place all takes logical forethought. Remember, i'm doing this all on one burner. Make a nice big pile of flour on your work surface, put your mixed pumpkin/potato in the center, make a well, crack your egg into it and sprinkle the salt over. Quickly mix the egg in and dig in with your hands and as gently and swiftly as possible blend everything together. Knead until you have a nice smooth dough.

Gently now

You want a very soft(sorry it will be sticky)dough, try really really hard to not over work it. Shape your dough into a vaguely loaf shaped object, and slice a piece off. Roll it into a rope, and cut into bite sized shapes. Do make sure that you have your plate dusted with flour, try not to let them touch each other as they just love to grow ever closer. Wax paper can be a good friend here.

Yes i know that leaves a lot of wiggle room and up to your imagination, but hey!

Break time

Now here is where your prep and mine might diverge. Bearing in mind i only have one burner, so a major consideration in bringing together a meal of this complexity is the order in which it is best done. At this point i fried up my bacon, picked my sage leaves and grated my parmesan cheese.
Bacon porn, why not

All of the rest of this meal prep is very hands on. Hopefully you took the time to relax a little and imbibe in an adult beverage of your choice.

Bring a large pan of salted water just to a boil and one at a time, yes you read that right, one at a time, and yes i do know, you probably have  30 plus plump little pillows of divine pumpkin potato goodness resting calmly next to your cook top, one at a time tip those little bits of goodness into the water. Don't over crowd the pan and as soon as they float to the surface, scoop them out with a slotted spoon, drain and set aside.

Wait until they float

Get out a nice sized shallow fry pan, i would certainly recommend a 12" cast iron chicken fryer. I have one from Lodge and it is my go to pan. You want a medium high heat. Melt 2 Tb butter, fill your pan with as many gnocchis as you can without crowding. Do Not Turn Them Over. You want the contrast of a nicely browned and slightly crispy bottom and a soft pillowly top. I filled my pan twice. Try not to interfere with the process, until the gnocchis develop color and crisp they will stick to the pan and well, you don't want that to happen. As they are done, once more, set them aside.

Add an additional 2 Tb butter, melt, toss in your sage leaves, smash at least one nice sized clove of garlic and toss it in. Saute until the sage leaves start to crisp, 2-3 minutes, reserve sage leaves and garlic if you want.

Honest, don't poke the gnocchis

Whisk in 1 TB flour and cook stirring for a bit, add 1 TB milk,1/2 & 1/2 or milk, take your pick, next up 1/2 cup of the water from poaching the gnocchis. Gosh i hope you didn't throw it away. Stir back in the gnocchis, coating each and everyone of those little bits of tenderness. Serve topped with cheese, bacon and sage leaves.

butter, sage and garlic, why not?

Oh my oh my oh my.

Yes indeed

This should technically serve 4 people. I lost about 1/4 of this batch due to operater error. I told you to not let them touch! We were absolutely stuffed, but we did eat all of the rest of them. With a light antipasto and maybe a salad this would definitely be a filling celebratory meal for four people.

Don't forget the pepper and wine



1 cup pumpkin puree

1 baking potato

1 tsp salt

1 egg

1.5 to 2 cups of flour

2 TB butter for frying 


2 TB butter

1 TB flour

1 clove garlic, smashed

1 TB cream

1/2 cup starchy water

Sage leaves

Does it look i used too much bacon?

I know that this might seem like a lot of work for a meal i promise you will love, but if you love to cook it is just such a wonderful gift to the people who love to eat your food.

evidence of a well loved meal

Bon appetit


Tuesday, October 27, 2020

LAW 174: It is officially soup season; making stock

 I know when soup season officially starts. It starts when seemingly out of nowhere a ziplock bag that slowly fills with veggie odds and ends materializes in the freezer.

Yes folks, it is really a simple as that. The basis of a great soup is a well prepared stock. Yes indeed, in a pinch you can indeed use a store bought stock, or shudder, bullion cubes. That is if you have no care for your sodium levels.

Once the weather turns cool enough that soups and stews are what come to mind when dinner planning, well, that is the time to start squirreling away all those veggie odds and ends that normally, i hope, you are composting. You know, onion ends, carrot ends, mushroom stems, garlic, etc etc etc.

 I would caution against saving and using potato peels(i mean who peels potato) and cabbage family discards. Potato peels will release starch and turn your lovely stocks cloudy, cabbage family discards will over power any of the other flavors you might have.

Other important elements of stock making are bones and carcasses, don't throw away those shrimp shells or fish heads while you are at it. I can see a great bouillabaise in your future!

Simmering gently

As a case in point the featured dish from a few evenings past is a lovely thick middle european styled soup, Barley and Mushrooms with Lamb.

I started with the shank end of a leg o' lamb that we had smoked a couple of weeks ago. Since i had just started my stock bag i was short on veggies, so i sacrificed a few baby cloves of garlic 1/2 an onion and a carrot and a celery stock. Add cold water to cover, throw in a bay leaf and maybe a few peppercorns, turn the heat on and pretty much walk away. 

I shy away from overseasoning my stocks at this point, as i am mostly using the remenents of already seasoned meals and don't really want to muddy the water, so to speak.

The only thing you really need to do for your stock while it is simmering is occasionally skim whatever foam or fats that come to the surface, and keep the liquid topped up. 

There is no hard and fast rule for how long a stock needs to simmer. It could be as little as 30 minutes for a simple vegetable stock or a court bullion of shrimp shells and fish heads. Any stock that is meat based will benefit from as long simmer time as you can manage. 

Living aboard a smallish sailboat, it is not just the fuel consumption that you have to take into consideration, but the level of humidity that stock making generates, particulary if you do as i do and not cover my stock pot. I so shoot for around 2-3 hours, during which time i will top up the water probably twice. I'm pretty happy with about a 20% reduction.

Okay, so your stock is done, go ahead and fish out all the big parts, reserving the bones and any meaty bits that might have fallen off. Discard the veggies. Strain into a heat proof vessel.

All the essentials

I shoot for about 4 cups of stock for almost all of my soups. There are several important factors in play here. This makes a soup that makes an excellant meal for  Don and i, with leftovers for a light lunch, and perhaps more importantly is the amount of liquid that will top off my go to 12" all purpose cast iron pot.

Wipe out your stock pan and start your soup. Barley develops a lovely nutty flavor if you take the time to toast it before adding it to soup. A cup of barley in a nice hot cast iron pan will take as much as 15-20 minutes to start to get a nice color and aroma. If you can afford the time, do do it. If not, well it will be fine as well.

Follow along with me here, this is an important caveat: i almost never measure my ingredients. Yes of course i make sure that i have the right amount of water to make rice, etc, but i'm talking about spices, amount of oil, etc. So when i tell you 1 TB freshly ground pepper, no,i didn't grind the pepper than scoop it up into a measuring spoon. Nope, i put in what i thought looked like the right amount and then, i tasted it!

How, Why do i have the confidance to do this? I have been cooking all my life, it is pretty much the way my mom taught me how to cook, hell, i read cookbooks and cooking blogs for entertainment. 

And yes of course, i do measure when i find a new recipe that i am trying, although i have been known to substitute ingredients on a regular basis.

All of this is a bit more than i planned to talk about, so the Barley Mushroom soup has gotten short shrift. 

Table set and ready to eat

This soup features the standard, cool/cold weather roster of veggies, carrot, celery, potato, onion, garlic and mushrooms. In this case, three different types of mushrooms, fresh buttons, white or bella, dried shitakes and some black cloud ear. I usually soak my dried mushrooms in the hot, just strained stock, while i am toasting the barley and getting all my veggies mis en place.

Start by sauteing diced onion in your fat of choice, in this case olive oil and some bacon fat, because, hey i had it, and you are wasting a precious kitchen resource if you toss that lovely bacon fat. Add sliced mushrooms, garlic, diced carrot, celery and potato. Stir to coat, add minced garlic, lots of it, finally barley. Once more stir, making sure that everything has been touched by fat. Add the stock and now for seasoning. Since i wanted a middle european flavor profile, with warm, slightly piquant notes i opted for: bay leaf, small quill of cinamon, whole clove, a dried chili pepper, lots and lots of fresh thyme. These all went in with the stock. Simmer partially covered until everything is done to your taste. It is going to take at somewhere between an half hour to an hour. It really depends on a lot of factors, sheer quantity, btu's and how tender or crunchy you like your veggies. I tend to the less done is better side of things. I despise mushy vegetables, and honestly prefer my grains to be a little chewy. 


Pretty soup. pretty bowl

When this soup is where you want it, turn it off.  Temper between 1/2 cup to 1 cup of a good full fat greek yogurt, and add it back into your soup. At this point add lots of fresh ground nutmeg, be generous and serve, garnish the top of the soup with some good smoke spanish paprika.

Did you notice i didn't ask you to put in any salt? I know for a fact that the rub i used on the lamb originally had a fair amount of salt in it. I often don't actually salt my soups and stews until i serve. This one certainly needed only the smallest dusting of a nice coarse sea salt.

Tasty leftovers

This is my standard soup formulation for the two of us:

1 onion, carrot, celery, potato, 4 mushrooms (in this case 4 buttons 4 shitake and 1 small section of cloud ear) 2-4 cloves of garlic, and 4 cups stock.

Bon appetit!


Sunday, October 18, 2020

LAW 173: A walk at Marshy Point

 Marshy Point Nature Center is one of our favorite local hiking destinations. It's quite close, accessible by city bus if necessary and has in the six plus years we have lived on the water provided access to the peace and beauty of woodland and shoreline hiking when needed.

Oak leaves changing

We decided to head off in a different direction, hoping that the trails on this side of the park would not be too muddy. We were in luck. We walked out White Tail Trail to Iron Point. It seems that the trail has been recently upgraded, yeah! As i remember a couple of very muddy spots along this trail from previous hikes, it was nice to not end up with muddy, wet feet. 

Sunday morning paddlers

When we reached Iron Point, which overlooks the outlet of the Gunpowder River and Wilson creek(i think) we could here the paddle boarders well before we could see them. It is always amazing how far sound carries over water.

Sigh. I'm still learning how to best use my new lens and am often dissapointed in some of the results. You have got to love digital SLR's though. I cringe sometimes when i think of all the film i would be wasting during this learning curve.

Frustration #3

And why you ask, is the above image titled Frustration #3. It is a rather pretty picture of trees slowly changing color in glorious sunshine. What's not to like? Well the elusive, beautiful red tail hawk that was soaring in and out of my picture frame; mostly out.

Mungo at Iron Point

Still and all a pretty day, breathing some peaceful forest air, no complaints here. I think we have a few more weeks before we hit the full on fall glory here on the Upper Chesapeake. 

Keep breathing,
more later