Thursday, October 30, 2014

What Does It Say?

A letter--but is it good news or bad? Watercolor pencil, acrylic, Sharpie, gold gel pen. 14 x 20 cm.

Monday, October 27, 2014

Herfst en 's-Gravenhage

The Hague has the most beautiful trees of any city I've visited. There are many parks and lanes where you can step out of the bustle of city life into a different world. Autumn (Dutch herfst) brings a whole new aspect of color and light as the sun sinks towards winter and the leaves blaze with shades of orange.

The city has a long association with forest. It's modern name, which is officially 's-Gravenhage but the Dutch usually shorten to Den Haag, is derived from "Des Graven Hage." This means something like The Count's Wood or Hedge, and it was used as a hunting ground for nobility.

A couple weeks ago I took a short-cut through the Haags Bos. These woods used to be part of a much larger forest which may have been the origin of the name Holland. That forest was referred to as the "Houtland" (wood land), or "Holtland" in old Dutch. (An alternate explanation is the name comes from the "hollow" land in this low-lying country, but I like the idea that Holland is an homage to these beautiful trees!)

Over the years the trees were cut and the forests shrank into small enclaves, until the "Act of Redemption" was enacted in 1576 to protect the remaining woodland.

As I walked through the Bos, it was just beginning to show the first signs of Fall. Golden sunrays cut through still green leaves.

 Looking behind a tree, I discovered I was not alone.

In fact, the woods were full of tiny life easily overlooked by those of us living on a human scale. I stopped to examine this miniature forest within a forest.

Shortly after my walk the leaves abruptly changed color and drifted off on the not-so-gentle breeze. This photo from a previous year shows how amazing an autumn stroll through the city can be. This lane isn't part of the Bos--it borders the Binnenhof in the center of the city, but views like this can be found all over.

Ma'at Silk

I'd like to wish a happy anniversary to Maisie of Ma'at Silk who is celebrating her first year on Etsy! Ma'at Silk features artwork made with colorful patterns. Her work on silk is particularly striking and bright. I became acquainted with Maisie through an ACEO trade, where I received this lovely "Mid-winter" pattern (it makes me think of snowberries): exchange for my "Marilyn" card:

You can see more Ma'at Silk over at her blog, where she is holding a special giveaway, or visit her Etsy shop and congratulate her on her first year!

Friday, October 17, 2014

Fort Union Trading Post

Tour the US: North Dakota / Montana

Google Williston, ND, and you will find plenty of headlines about the oil field that has made the area into one big boomtown. Seemingly gone is the quiet life enjoyed on the (formerly) sparsely populated northern plains. However, go 30 miles south-west of Williston and you will find an outpost hanging on to the days of isolated frontier life.

Fort Union. NPS Photo

Thursday, September 25, 2014

1950s in a Box

Someone gave me a Marilyn Monroe tin for inspiration, and it was sitting on my shelf for several months before I realized it could be used as a 3-D canvas. Considering Ms. Monroe on the front, it was only fitting that anyone who peeks in the box should see a glimpse into her world.

I don't know what her vanity specifically looked like, but this design is a composite of period bedrooms I studied, adjusted for the materials I had on hand. Those materials include patterned papers, aluminum recycled from a beer can, fabric, thread, ink, and pencil.

See it on Etsy.

Thursday, September 18, 2014


Here's a collage inspired by a 1930s photo booth snapshot. The woman, who is identified as "Ann," looks like she ducked inside to get out of the cold. I gave her a coat made from felt and velvet, and a decorative button for the lapel.

I also used a paper-like fabric with green and gold, various patterned papers, a feather I found, thread, gel pen, acrylic, and ink. Her face is done with watercolor pencil and prismacolor.

Friday, September 12, 2014

Embassy Festival

The Hague, Netherlands

Where can you watch a traditional Thai dance, eat Pakistani chicken and rice with mango sauce for lunch, and then learn about Tango over a cup of Argentinian tea, all within a day? The Hague's Embassy Festival is a chance to do all of this and more! Last weekend was the second annual festival, showcasing the different countries who are represented in the International City of Peace and Justice.

The festival was crowded with curious visitors.

A large crowd turned out, with many of the tents packed with people tasting wine, collecting travel brochures, and buying handcrafted souvenirs. This was a chance for countries to show off their cuisine with aromas of fried coconut balls, shish kebab roasting over coals, and tortillas on the grill beckoning visitors every which way.

Slovakian majolica pottery.
Performers entertained throughout the day. I walked from one tent with dancers from Thailand to another featuring a French flutist. Along the way I picked up some Filipino recipes, tried a lightly seasoned fried bread ball at the Haiti tent, and perused Russian nesting dolls.

Thai dance. Their colorful dresses really brightened up the overcast day!

Despite being right next to the U.S. embassy along the beautiful Lange Voorhout promenade, the Americans didn't make an appearance.

In a city full of embassies located in beautiful, historic
buildings, this has to be the most foreboding one I've seen...

Wednesday, September 3, 2014


The 20th century is, I think, one of the most fascinating periods of history. The changes during the last century had distinct and direct influence on our society today. We may be tempted to take these changes for granted, forgetting that we only got here through the work and bravery of people such as Helen Richey, a pioneer of aviation and trailblazer for opening male dominated fields (such as piloting) to women.

Growing up near an airport, Richey was inspired to earn her pilot's license at age 20. She learned stunt flying and competed in races.

In 1933 Richey teamed up with fellow pilot and friend Frances Harrel Marsalis to embark on an endurance flight of nearly 10 days in the air in an attempt to break the record for a female pilot. A third of the trip was completed when the plane's wing was torn during midair refueling. Richey found herself crawling out onto the damaged wing with her needle and thread and successfully repaired the tear to finish the rest of the flight.

On the heels of the good press she got from her flight, she became the first female pilot hired by a commercial airline. However, she was rejected by the all male pilot's union and the company was more interested in using her publicity than her skills so she left after a short time. Amelia Earhart learned of her treatment and protested, but Richey did not return to commercial flying.

Instead, she and Earhart teamed up for the Bendix Race, where they finished in 5th place. Richey continued to push the boundaries of flight, and in 1936 she set records for travelling 77 mph in her class of light plane, and for reaching an altitude of 18,000 feet in a plane weighing less than 440 pounds.

By the early '40s, she was working as an instructor, being the first woman to earn a teaching license and also to train military pilots, until she went to England to join the Air Transport Auxiliary, a British civilian organization which ferried aircraft and personnel during WWII. She returned to the US and joined the Women Airforce Service Pilots.

After the war, she grew despondent, believing her flying days were over. She died in 1947, tragically by her own hand.

This portrait honors Richey's passion, determination, and bravery. The phrase "Spread your wings and fly" is meant to inspire us to find these things within ourselves.

Acrylic, gel pen, india ink, Sharpie, fabric on canvas.

Learn More:

237 Hours 42 Minutes In The Air ! British Pathe, 1934

Helen Richey Collection on Flickr. San Diego Air & Space Museum Archives.

Krivyanski, J. Michael. Pittsburgh Area History: Female Aviation Pioneer Helen Richey., 2012.

Merry, Lois K. Women Military Pilots of World War II. McFarland, 2010.

Friday, August 29, 2014

Romanesque Architecture ACEO

Find it on Etsy

My latest ACEO was inspired by the Abbaye de Fontenay, which I wrote about last week.

Friday, August 22, 2014

Abbaye de Fontenay

Montbard, France

France has more grand, historic buildings than you can shake a stick at. My favorite so far is Fontenay Abbey, a UNESCO World Heritage site located in the Burgundy region.

Entrance to Fontenay

It was a Cistercian abbey designed to be a place where more than 200 monks could live a life of simplicity and self-sufficiency conducive to prayer and reflection. The abbey was founded in 1118, and construction of the church started in 1139 under the guidelines laid forth by the abbey's founder, Saint Bernard, which included simplicity in decoration and a single large sleeping area shared by all of the monks.

Dormitory shared by the monks. The bedding was simple and they
laid on the floor.

Walking into the church gives a bizarre feeling of both weightiness of almost a millennium of history and light airiness created by the high ceilings and soft glowing sunlight from the windows.

The high ceilings encourage you to look upwards.

The facade was stripped bare over the years, and the few remaining sculptures seem lonely and crumbled. The effect is completed with the tomb of Knight Mello d'Epoisses and his wife. I wouldn't have been surprised to find Indiana Jones hanging out behind one of the pillars.

13th century enamelled floor tiles.

From the church you can walk into the cloisters where the monks would have done their reading.

Hallway surrounding the cloisters' courtyard.

The other, smaller rooms in the structure have impressive examples of Romanesque vaulted ceilings.

Chapter House where the monks assembled to discuss their readings and other business.

The gardens surrounding the abbey are beautiful and very peaceful with a balance between careful sculpting and natural formation. Several statues and flowing fountains form a focal point that invites you to come sit and enjoy the sunshine and cool breeze.

The bubbling of a fountain completes the peaceful setting.

Also noteworthy is the feat of engineering that can be found in the forge. The monks used iron ore from the surrounding hills to create tools. In order to work the iron, someone had the idea to construct a tilt hammer which used water power to drive the heavy hammer. Dating to 1220, it was one of the earliest hydraulic hammers in Europe. Today visitors can see a reconstruction, or take a look at this video to see a similar hammer in operation in an Austrian blacksmith shop.

A wheel captures the force of the river...
...which turns a shaft with a cogwheel. The teeth of the cog catch the lever to the left,
which has the hammer on the other end, and the lever is first lifted and then dropped as each
tooth moves upwards.
The forge building.

The abbey declined in the 16th century after the practice of Commendation was introduced and abbots were nominated by the king rather than by the monks. It was sold off and in the early 19th century was turned into a paper mill until it was bought by the Aynard family a century later and underwent restoration.

It is still privately owned by the same family, but many of the buildings are open for tours.


Abbaye de Fontenay

Near Montbard, Burgundy region.




Open daily from 10-6 in the summer (with guided tours each hour), 10-5 in the winter. Please remember that the French take a lunch break from about 12-2 and many places, including the Abbey, may close for several hours in the middle of the day.


Adults: 10 for unguided tour, a couple euros more if you take the guided tour in French. Discounted rate for kids and large families.

Tuesday, August 5, 2014


I'm not totally satisfied with this one, but maybe it just isn't possible to capture all of Joplin's passion and energy in a single painting.

"I'm a victim of my own insides. There was a time when I wanted to know everything. I read a lot. I guess you'd say I was pretty intellectual. It's odd, I can't remember when it changed. It used to make me very unhappy, all that feeling. I just didn't know what to do with it. But now I've learned how to make feeling work for me. I'm full of emotion and I want a release, and if you're on stage and if it's really working and you've got the audience with you, it's a oneness you feel. I'm into me, plus they're into me, and everything comes together. You're full of it. I don't know, I just want to feel as much as I can, it's what 'soul' is all about." --Janis Joplin

Watercolor pencil, acrylic, Sharpie.

Based on the photo by Daniel Kramer.

Tuesday, July 29, 2014

Behind Blue Eyes

I'm loving these watercolor pencils. I found this 1920s photo of Ziegfeld Follies girl Marion Benda a while back, and she caught my eye again as I was looking through my collection of old photos. Originally I had thought she'd make a nice collage with knitted lace, but looking at her again, I realized a simpler drawing would let her haunting eyes shine as the center of her portrait.

The story behind those beautiful eyes is a troubled one, and difficult to piece together. The limited mentions of her are confusing in their facts, but one newspaper article indicates that she buried her first husband after a car accident, and afterwards never seemed to find peace for herself. She was Rudolph Valentino's date just before he unexpectedly died and claimed to have also secretly married him. She turned down speaking roles on stage, saying she couldn't act. Various articles mention attempts at suicide by over-dosing on sleeping pills, until she was finally successful in 1951.

This portrait uses watercolor pencils, felt pen, and acrylic on paper, and is done in shades of purple and blue with the background yellowed with coffee. I found one reference to her eyes actually being brown, but considering her hair probably wasn't purple either I'm ok taking some artistic license here! Measures 8.5" x 11".

A few of the original newspaper articles are available online. This one from the Milwaukee Journal covers her death. Another article from the same paper dated 1927 spins a bit of a story surrounding her financial troubles which may or may not contain accurate glimpses into her character.

Friday, July 25, 2014

Netherlands vs. USA

Nieuwe Kerk, Delft
No expat blog is complete without a comparison of differences between the old home and the new. Therefore, I've put together my list of observations about life in the Netherlands that is different from what I am used to in the United States.

Culture and Society
  • The Dutch language pronounces every letter in a word. 
  • Love of symmetry - many windows display pairs of vases, candles, etc.
  • There are few public holidays, but (depending on your job) it is not uncommon to take a month vacation.
  • Healthcare is reasonably priced.
  • Recycling is thorough and fairly convenient.
  • On birthdays, instead of wishing the birthday boy/girl a happy birthday, people congratulate their family (for putting up with them for another year???)

Monday, July 7, 2014

Doodle Postcards

Last week the painters started working on the outside of the apartment. First step: wake everyone up with a screeching sander, which upon investigation turns out to be operated by a strange man unexpectedly standing at your 4th story window. Working in my studio suddenly had less appeal, so I looked for a project that could easily be taken elsewhere. These postcards are what happened.

I had a pad of blank postcards laying around for awhile, and I weeded through our collection of dried out ballpoint pens. I started with a simple concept for each card and built up the design around that, adding new ideas as the pictures developed. So basically, a doodle.

I had a lot of fun experimenting with interesting designs. Some I like better than others, and this "Spikes and Bubbles" card is my favourite. I should say something insightful about the juxtaposition of circles and lines, but the simple truth is the idea of popping bubbles amuses me far more than it should.

All of these are currently available through Etsy.

Monday, June 30, 2014


A friend gave me a flea-market-find jewellry box with a picture frame in the lid. It seemed like a fun chance to experiment with three-dimensional layers in a collage! Lily is the result.

Thursday, June 19, 2014


 A friend gave me some leftover fabric, and I realized it was destined to end up in a collage. Jeanne is the result.

Jeanne Hebling was a French actress who starred in the early French films of the 1920s and 30s. However, this gal proved to be more than a pretty face during WWII, when she joined the resistance and used her apartment to host meetings and harbor Allied agents. After the war she moved to the US and ended her film career.

She is drawn with ink and watercolor pencil in purple shades to compliment the purple, teal, black and silver fabric pattern. Other details are created with silver gel pen, acrylic, and a sequin. She measures a compact 10x15cm and is completed with a silver colored frame.

Monday, June 9, 2014

Onze Lieve Vrouwekathedral

Antwerp, Belgium

Onze Lieve Vrouwekathedral and friend.
For how close Belgium is, I have spent relatively little time exploring the neighboring country. My main experience there was when we passed through on my first visit to the Netherlands. We were supposed to have a connecting train in Brussels that would take us to Holland, but when we got there the track was closed due to a gas leak. In order to get around the leak, all the would-be train passengers were packed onto buses where we stood for the over an hour bus ride to Antwerp. Except some of the roads winding through the small towns were also closed, prompting detours across unpaved alleys riddled with potholes that made sure we got to know our fellow passengers a little better. I held my breath that the overloaded bus wouldn't sink into the deep mud.

Thursday, May 29, 2014

Zelfgemaakt Markt

I've been busy these last couple weeks preparing for the Zelfgemaakt Markt in Utrecht this Saturday. It took me most of a year to figure out how to search for Dutch craft markets (turns out they are called creamarkten...) so I'm really looking forward to finally trying one! Here's just a small preview of what I'll be bringing. I even had a chance to revisit wood drawings, including a traditional handmade Dutch klompen which I decorated with tulips (I'm sure the Dutch can always use more tulip-y things) bordering a view of the Dom Tower in the center of Utrecht. It's a holiday weekend and the weather should be decent, so here's hoping for a good turn out!

Wednesday, May 28, 2014

First Choice Sale

Craft fair season is starting, but I'd like to give my Etsy shoppers first choice! If you've had your eye on anything in my Etsy shop, now is your chance to save 20% with coupon code FIRSTCHOICE. This coupon expires when I pack up for my first market on Saturday (drop in to the Utrecht Zelfgemaakt Markt if you are in the area), so use it while you can!

Friday, May 16, 2014


I'm really getting in to collages! I like how the dried flowers look in this one. They are "weeds" that grow along the sidewalk dense as a yellow wall. I couldn't hardly wait for them to dry to try them out, and I think they worked well. The lace collar is from a vintage lace pattern. The design in the background is based on an old deco ironwork gate. In my mind it leads to a garden, so the collage is named "Gardens."

It makes me happy to create something that is just about beauty. Not all art has to be shocking, revolutionary, or have abstract meaning. Isn't it just as important to celebrate what is beautiful in the world?

The collage consists of various papers, knitted emroidary thread, dried flowers, watercolor pencil, marker.

Friday, May 9, 2014

International Living's Incomes Abroad

I was consulted for an article in International Living's Incomes Abroad magazine. It's a very basic summary of the process I described under my DAFT posts. I would also say that getting the residence permit is only the very first step to building a life in Europe. Actually living abroad isn't without its challenges. I wouldn't guarantee the last sentence unless you are proficient in Dutch, but I also live in an area where people rarely practice their English so it really depends on the community. Click here for a larger image if you'd like to read it.

Thursday, May 1, 2014

Great Basin Images (plus...Blogaversary!)

Play Me A Happy Song is one year old! Even scarier...that means I've been in Europe for a year and a half now. I still miss things back home, not the least of which, my last park--Great Basin--and it's wide open places, natural beauty, and friendly people. Lately I've been enjoying some amazing photography of the area made by one of my friends. I had the pleasure of working with Kelly for two seasons, and his knowledge and enthusiasm always impressed me. His expertise ranges from the geology beneath our feet to the stars above our heads, both of which are dramatically captured in his photography.

He has graciously let me share with you two examples of his work from his website, Great Basin Images. The first one is a great shot of the type of quirky and unexpected remains one can stumble upon in the desert. The back-drop is the awesome night sky, one of the best in the continental U.S. Just looking at this makes me homesick--sorry Europe, but you lost your stars several million light-bulbs ago!

Find this photo on his website

The next photo shows some local history. That's another thing I love about this area, so many artifacts and old structures that have just been left lying in the desert, preserved by the dry climate and sparse population. These are the Ward Charcoal Ovens, which operated in the 1870s to produce charcoal in support of mining operations.

Find this photo on his website

These are just a couple of his photographs from the Great Basin desert. You can see some more awe-inspiring skies and scenery at Great Basin Images.

Or, if Facebook is your cup of tea, follow him here.

Saturday, April 26, 2014

Hello King

King's Day, Netherlands

Today is the first Dutch Koningsdag (King's Day) in 122 years. After last year's affectionate send off of the former Queen on her last Queen's Day, and the much anticipated coronation ceremony of King Willem-Alexander, this year doesn't have the same weightiness of witnessing an historic moment. However, the Dutch are still excited for this annual chance to show off their national pride and get outside to enjoy the pleasant spring weather. Google even joined in with this graphic for

Graphic from