Original Work

Popo Postcard Project

Edit (Saturday, Oct 10) – the livestream is over – thank you for all the support and love. The benefit raised $2200.00 to be split between the San Diego Blood Bank and the Leukemia and Lymphoma Society. Amazing! The link to DJ Wyntre Mysteria’s twitch page is still active and there are videos of some of the livestream, if you missed the real time action.

First off – the livestream benefit in honor of my dear friend Tiran – who is battling AML (Acute Myeloid Leukemia) is happening RIGHT NOW (until 11 pm PST tonight)!! You can tune in at any time and donations are fabulous, but not required – your support and encouragement is fabulous too! As you can see in the screenshot, they’ve already raised over $1600.00!

screen shot of the Barakah livestream on twtich
acrylic painting in red, orange, and purple hues of a mouth and chin

Back in August, I participated in the POPO August POetry POstcard Festival and had a blast with it. I think I got the email from Kerfe encouraging me to sign up about an hour before the deadline and I signed up with mere minutes to spare in the middle of July. I committed to sending one postcard a day every day in August to 31 strangers from around the world (although 95% in my group were U.S. addresses). There is a lot of freedom on the type of card – I received both handmade and commercially produced – and also for the poetry on the back. The guidance for the poetry was for it to be inspired by the epistle form.

I decided to cut up old illustration board I had to make my cards – I went by measurement for the cards and let the image that resulted on the back be random. Not every card was a masterpiece, but I liked the effect.

The epistle I wrote on the back of the card above:

“’What you have given me is, of course, elegy: the red-shouldered hawk is among these scattering partridges, flustered at…’ Eavar Boland from On the Gift of the The Birds of America

The sharp shinned hawk is but a teenager, he hops clumsily from eucalyptus to eucalyptus; we see him learning to fly over the bulldozers and water trucks, bursts of wings to stay alight.”

This one read: “’A Rip in the Fabric of Interstellar Dreams’ – I’m still drinking my coffee so I don’t immediately understand the journalist is talking about a radio telescope in Puerto Rico; I imagine a great tear in space, the loss of so many to a tiny virus, compressing space-time”

“I saved my father’s butterfly collection and hung them in my own house not knowing a thing about them. This morning the light caught the Great Blue Hookwing, blue dappled wings like headlights in the rain”

I didn’t wind up getting 31 cards from other participants: sadly there seemed to be quite a few problems with the USPS and cards were returned or lost. But I did receive almost 20 cards and they were beautiful! I learned a lot too and definitely plan on participating next year.


I will be posting a few more cards/epistles I did on Instagram as well!

We interrupt this blog feed…

transfer print of table of contents for astronomy textbook overlaid with flecks of paint

This is going to be a little different than my usual art and/or poetry posts (although I did include some mail art above that I worked on this weekend!):

At the beginning of September a dear friend of mine was diagnosed with Acute Myeloid Leukemia (AML). Tiran and I have been friends for over 25 years. We grew up together, went to college together and although our lives and careers took us different places all over the country, somehow we have ended up in the San Diego area together in the last couple years and it has been wonderful to reconnect.

Befitting the word “acute” in the name, the timeline of his illness went like this: I spoke with him one Sunday by phone and everything was fine – he was healthy, going to work the next day, and we had a good conversation – by the following Sunday, he called me to tell me he was in the ICU. He could barely breathe and his prognosis was dire. He was calling to say goodbye in case he was unable to have that conversation later. I was floored by how fast this leveled him and left him near death. It was another shock in a year of shocks. And we have 88 days left in 2020 for more to go wrong happen!

Luckily, he was able to start treatment and he moved out of the ICU after a few days. His prognosis is improved as of now. But he is still battling AML in the shadow of COVID-19. He is unable to have any visitors at all and the hospital is a very lonely place in the best of times. He has no immune system to speak of in a time and place all we can think of is our immune systems.

Despite this – despite having their lives blown apart by AML and on top of the disruptions and job losses caused by COVID – my friend and his partner have responded in a really positive way. They have organized a benefit livestream to raise money for the San Diego Blood Bank and the Leukemia and Lymphoma society in Tiran’s honor. Tiran’s partner is a local DJ who spins gothic and industrial music under the name DJ Wyntre Mysteria and he has organized DJs from around the world to play for this benefit that will livestream on Twitch for 29 continuous hours, on October 8th and 9th.

Now, maybe gothic and industrial music is not your jam and maybe you aren’t sure about this whole Twitch thing (isn’t it just for people playing videogames? you ask. I thought the same thing – but no! I just recently learned there is a whole live music/DJ culture on there), but I hope you will check it out. You don’t need an account to tune in and you can join at any time during the 29 hours from the comfort of your home and time zone. You never know, you may discover something new – a new DJ or song or even genre of music.  Even if you aren’t able to donate (and lord knows times are tough for people), having folks tune in is encouragement too.

In a time when everyone seems to be circling the wagons, I’ve been heartened that my friends’ response to their own tragedy has been to reach out and help others. It is a breath of fresh air in these stifling times.

Information on the event provided by DJ Wyntre Mysteria is below. The link to the livestream on Twitch is: twitch.tv/djwyntremysteria

He can also be found on Instagram: @wyntremysteria

Please stay safe and well (I don’t need any more surprises in 2020)!

poster for benefit livestream of gothic and industrial music called Barakah
  • list of DJs participating in the livestream

Trappist-1e Home Lithography

grid of nine monographs of planets in neon colors

I was really excited when Phil contacted me in early September and asked me to choose the next Kick-About theme. I bandied about a few ideas in my head before finally settling on the Trappist-1e exoplanet that was discovered just a couple of years ago. I remember when they announced the discovery of the planets that are orbiting the Trappist 1 star: a group of friends and I had a whole conversation about them while on a long training run. The planets Trappist-1e, -1f, and -1g fall in the habitable zone of the Trappist 1 star and they all have very short “years.” Trappist-1e has a year that is only 6.099 Earth days long. If humans were ever to settle on another planet with such a drastically different orbit, would we change the way we measure time? Years? Would it change the way we consider aging?

The prompt:

Artist rendering from wikipedia of the Trappist 1e exoplanet
Text box describing the discovery of the Trappist-1e exoplanet

For this Kick-About, I returned to making monoprints in the same vein as I did for the Alice Neel prompt from the Kick-About #5. I wanted something spontaneous and bursting with energy. I sat down and calculated how many Trappist-1e years I would be now and it was humbling to say the least: I am 2,307 Trappist-1e years old. The other two numbers represent my Earth ages: 38 years old, having spent 14,072 days orbiting our star. We don’t actually know what Trappist-1e looks like (the picture in the prompt is an artist’s rendering), so I let my imagination run wild making planets on the inking plate.

A few closeups of my favorites from the grid:

There were some monographs that didn’t make it into the grid – one is below – I plan to post the other “outtakes” on Instagram in the next few days. I am very excited to see what everyone came up with for the Kick-About #11, which will be up tomorrow!

monograph of black abstract planet with green edges

Failed Experiments

fragmented failed transfer print on

I promised some failed experiments today and so I present two recent ones that just didn’t turn out. Although taking the extra effort to photograph these and prepare this post has endeared them to me more than I expected. I find myself looking at the photographs and slowly, partly redeeming them…so “Perpetual Little Particles” came about because I had just purchased some Light Pumice Gel at the art store and my first transfer with it went flawlessly (that one became a postcard that was posted on IG on Wednesday, actually). In my excitement, I tried another bigger transfer – and I’m not sure if I applied the medium too thickly or what, but it came apart as I pulled the plastic sheet away. But I can say the Light Pumice Gel gives the texture that it promises on the tub and it reminds me of fine sand at the beach.

closeup of failed transfer on blue painted background

This next one was a case of handling the piece too much. The initial transfer of a photograph of the author James Baldwin went perfectly – I was thrilled with how it looked over the foil backing. And so, if one transfer was good, more must be better! I wound up having a gummy mess with the different media applied too thickly. I’ve considered sanding down the gummed up areas to see if that will salvage the piece and seeing it again for the post has reinvigorated my will to do that.

failed transfer print of author James Baldwin over gold foil
closeup of a failed transfer of a photograph of author James Baldwin

The birth of John Coltrane, September 23, 1926

JohnColtraneBirth.jpgHeroin, cancer – 
nothing could stop your prayer:
a saint of music. 

Happy Autumn Equinox! I hope everyone is staying safe and sane in these crazy times.  I was looking through the Illustrated Poetry archives and discovered I don’t have a good equinox post, but I do have a past post about John Coltrane’s birthday.  I am one day early – his birthday was September 23, 1926 – but I think that is okay.

From the original post: “The history haiku for today is to honor the birth of the legendary jazz musician John Coltrane (1926 – 1967). He struggled with addiction as a young man, and sadly, his career was cut short by liver cancer at the age of 40, but he had an outsized impact on jazz and music in general. Especially towards the end of his life, he believed his music had a spiritual dimension, one that transcended any particular religion and tended towards a universalism.

John Coltrane has made an appearance on Illustrated Poetry before – in an illustration of the poem In Memoriam John Coltrane by Michael Stillman. I’ve posted it below.”
MemoriamJohnColtrane

being repelling moving apart

three brown ink wash faces with black ink outlines transfer printed words overlay
brown ink wash square with black outline face and word "Being"
closeup of middle ink wash square face with "repelling" transfer printed on top
right hand ink wash square face with "moving apart" transfer printed over

Posting another mini-art experiment that turned out better than I expected – doing some ink washes and drawings before overlaying the transfer print. There is a part of me that feels I should also post some failed experiments – because that is the unvarnished truth: many don’t turn out. These days, because of all the transfer printing I’m doing, the transfer fails completely or pulls off the under-layers or dries really weird.

I think about the highly edited nature of social media and the illusion it gives of perfection – but then the other side of my brain is just so happy when something works that it says “No, but show that one! Blargh on the ones in the recycle bin!” So, just know that the truth is that experiments fail as often as they work (and if we shift to science, please know that 90% or more of experiments in the lab fail) and next week I’ll pluck up some courage to post some failures too!

Albatross Box

black and white photo of details from the Albatross box - bird skull entwined in thread and wire

I confess that I’ve always wanted to make shadow boxes (AKA assemblages) and so when the Kick-About #10 theme was announced as one of Joseph Cornell’s assemblages called “Romantic Museum” – I decided to seize the day and fulfill the dream (click HERE to see Kick-About #9 and the announcement itself). First, the prompt:

I took a cue from the fact that “Romantic Museum” is housed in a case used for storing scientific specimens. I had an old wooden wine box I’d picked up curbside on trash day a while back: I painted it and used it to house the reconstructed bones of seabirds. NOTE: These bones were all found objects – washed-up on the beach near my home, already skeletonized. They are not from the same bird, and most likely are from local seagulls.

On the back of the box, I transfer printed as much of the “Rime of the Ancient Mariner” by Samuel Taylor Coleridge as I could fit (click HERE to read the entire poem). The imagery of sea birds in this poem is so powerful it has seeped into everyday language as the phrase “an albatross around my neck.” Many seabird species are highly endangered – for instance almost half of all albatross species are threatened by the degradation of fishing stocks and habitat loss. This is in addition to the effects of climate change that intensify storms and disrupts sea bird breeding on remote islands. They are caught in an environmental net of human making. I hoped to convey some of this in my “Albatross Box.”

Since finishing the box a few days ago, I have been struck by how different it looks at different times of day. The shadows draw me in and highlight different phrases and words from Coleridge’s poem. Wiring the bird bones together was unexpectedly emotional for me – I know this box isn’t just about the plight of seabirds or found objects – and in that too it finds kinship with “Romantic Museum.”

A ride on the DNA machine

collage of black and white science illustrations and shapes with DNA polymerase overlay and red DNA stitching

To keep the pressure low, I always give myself a little pep talk as the deadline for the Kick-About on Red’s Kingdom blog nears, “don’t worry, if Phil announces the theme for the next Kick-About and you don’t have a single idea, that’s okay – it’s totally okay.” But when he announced that the theme for Kick-About #9 was a musical composition by John Adams entitled a “Short Ride in a Fast Machine,” oh, I had ideas. Because there is an incredibly fast machine operating inside of you – countless times a day, taking you on a too short ride from the moment of conception until the day you die: your DNA replication machinery. This complex machine, made up of dozens of components, makes an exact copy of your DNA in preparation for your cells to divide.

First, the prompt:

Next, the connection: There are a lot of animations of what the DNA replication looks like inside of your cells, but this one is short (only 1 minute) and does a good job of showing how fast and complex this machine truly is:

I went back to an A4 paper sized collage, which I had done for the first Kick-About I’d participated in (Kick-About #4: Orphée). I like how this format lets a story form freely around the images. But it does present a challenge for me to photograph and/or scan. The top image was the best photograph I could capture and below are some close-ups.

Closeup of black and white DNA machine collage showing detail

The overlaid transfer print is of the DNA replication machinery (same as shown in the video) midway through making a copy of the genome. The imperfect transfer speaks to the fact that DNA replication does go awry sometimes – as we age, in certain diseases such as cancer, and in some inherited diseases. I was really inspired by Kerfe’s stitched Cicada wings in the last Kick-About and decided to continue the DNA helixes by stitching, letting the ends unravel. We are learning more about our genome all the time, but human heredity is extremely complex, and not all of it is written in the DNA code itself. We have much yet to discover and even more to understand.

In the end, it is always too short of a ride – but at least the journey is made, in part, on this very fast, very elegant, machine inside of you.

Mini-arts that turned out

small red collage with bit of paper and the word "atoms" on it

The host of one of the open figure drawing studio sessions I used to go to (back in the time before COVID when there were such things) would always say that the secret to “art success” is to make a lot of it and not get too hung up on any one piece. This is true, although I think this man did not also have small children! My time for art is after my kid is in bed and it is very finite. And so I totally get hung up on individual pieces, especially if there is a deadline involved – I’m unlikely to get a chance to redo it once I’m committed to an idea. The compromise I came up with recently is to do mini-tests for certain works to see if I want to proceed with my plan or if it’s going to fail miserably. And sometimes I like these mini-arts just as much as the finished product! The “tester” for Atomic Courtesy is above (the scale is about 2 inches by 3 inches).

Another one, testing out how the Thomas Guide maps transfer print:

layered collage with map and a wooden circle and the word "motion"

This tester strategy has been working well for me and so I plan to keep it up! The bonus is that when the tester turns out, it becomes like a bite-sized preview and art in its own right!

If either of these pieces speaks to you, they are up for grabs: let me know in the comments and I’ll be in touch to send it to you. Remember, they are only 2 by 3 inches each, so not going to work over your mantelpiece (unless you have a miniature fireplace).

Atomic Courtesy Collaboration – Jacobson

GIF by John Sapiro

Atomic Courtesy

To smash the simple atom
All mankind was intent.
Now any day
The atom may
Return the compliment.

Ethel Jacobson

collage of beige and red particles escaping from a black concentric reactor

John Sapiro and I began our email correspondence about this little poem and the history of the atomic age a few months ago, before the early August anniversaries of the atomic bombings of Hiroshima and Nagasaki, but amidst the early chaos of the pandemic. It seemed almost ridiculous to be talking about yet another threat to worldwide health, peace, and humanity and yet, it was the mood of the day. I couldn’t find an exact date for Ethel Jacobson’s poem, although it is in a book I have that has a copyright date of 1952. And so our conversation centered mostly around the cold war of the 1950s and 60s but veered around widely. We talked about the physicist Richard Feynman and his “One Sentence” the sentence he composed that could be left behind to restart all of science and technology in the event of complete cataclysm (i.e. nuclear annihilation).

“…all things are made of atoms — little particles that move around in perpetual motion, attracting each other when they are a little distance apart, but repelling upon being squeezed into one another.”
– Richard Feynman (1918-1988)

I had planned to print Feynman’s entire sentence on my collage, but as I set up the transfer print, it felt wrong. It was too optimistic, too clinical, too exact for what I was feeling. I kept pulling away words and phrases until I was left with this one word; then I was satisfied.

We worked on our pieces in parallel and this is the result! Please stop by his blog (click here!) to see more of his unique combinations and recombinations of music, art, poetry, and video.

Lastly, my tiny paragraph of self-promotion at the end here:

Have doggedly kept up with the writing exercises from Ursula Le Guin’s Steering the craft latest entry (here it is!) is on POV and my very very short story called “The Mountain Lion Killing.”
Also, I have an IG, come on over to @merb02 to say hi and see different haiku and monoprints and some desert photography.