Sad French Birds

One of the ideas in my notebook was for a print depicting two birds with their mental states printed in lettering on their feathers. I had high, high hopes for this print. The lettering was going to be so subtle that it would blend almost seamlessly into their plumage, such that you’d have to look twice before you figured out they had writing on them at all.

The birds were going to be French, of course, and one of them was going to be sad; the other depressed. Because French birds are existential.

Plus, it was going to be a two color print using two different plates (the second plate a birdcage.)

And . . . here’s how the first plate, with the birds, turned out:


The bird on the left is depressed because the lettering on her feathers is ass backwards.

*le sigh*

Bringin’ Bookplates Back

I’ve decided to focus on printmaking in 2015. I got distracted this past year with my shiny new sewing machine and even though I did a lot of printing on fabric, I sort of lost sight of what attracted me to the art form in the first place. It’s easy to become intimidated, as I did, by all the possibilities and by all the techniques I haven’t learned. Also, being a perfectionist is both a blessing and a curse in printmaking because although precision is worth a lot, the fear of messing up can be paralyzing, at least for me.

So I’m making an effort this year to just go balls out and make prints, as many as possible and as often as I can. The goal is to learn and improve, and not to worry so much about “doing it correctly” and making something beautiful every time. I’m going to continue to educate myself as much as possible about the art and technical aspects of printmaking, but I’m not going to beat myself up over the fact that I didn’t go to art school or that, for now, I can’t do intaglio.

My goal is to print something new every week, but that means that sometime’s I’ll be making a stamp or just messing around on a Gelli plate. With this in mind, I did a little project this weekend just to get motivated – I made myself some bookplates.

From The Library of Rima Tessman
From The Library of Rima Tessman

I carved them out of a pink Speedball block and it’s small – only about 3×4 – so I decided to ink it using a pigment ink pad instead of block printing ink. The pigment ink (Tsukineko VersaFine) didn’t take well on the mulberry paper I tried first, but I got some nice impressions on some handmade Indian paper that I found at Tuesday Morning and don’t even know the official name of.

I actually made bookplate stickers because nerdball that I am, I have a sticker making machine. And then I almost didn’t put them into any of my books because as bookplates go, mine aren’t very fancy and I thought that I should spend a little more time making another, very beautiful and detailed bookplate. But then I remembered that I’m trying not to be such a neurotic perfectionist this year and stuck them into a bunch of my art books because that’s poetic!


The fact is that somebody else’s artwork is always going to be better, more detailed, more beautiful than mine. And no matter what I make, I could probably improve on it. But I want to learn how to say “done” and put the art out there to live in the world. I have so many sketches and ideas in my notebooks that I’ve been saving for “when I get better” or “when I have the time to do them justice” but this year I’m just going to go down the list and print ‘em up.

It’s going to be very hard for me.

How To Make Lithuanian Straw Ornaments

Here are steps to make a very basic Lithuanian straw ornament with a four-sided base (šiaudinukas).

Okay, these are made from copper tubing, not straw. But the steps are the same!

We are going to use paper straw instead of the traditional rye straw because it’s easier to work with and easier to find, and we’re going to use fishing line instead of thread because when you use fishing line, you don’t need a needle.


  • White paper art straws (you could use plastic as well, but I would judge you)
  • Clear monofilament fishing line (not braided)
  • Ruler
  • Scissors

First, cut twelve pieces of straw so that they are all equal lengths. I recommend anywhere between two to four inches per piece for this first attempt. Be very precise in your measurements because even small differences in length can make the final product lop-sided.

Now cut about and arm’s length of fishing line and string four of the straws onto it, threading them to almost the very end of the line.

Bring the two loose ends of fishing line together and tie them in a knot so that the four straws you strung on the line form a square. From now on, we’re going to call this our “foundation square.”


Tuck the short end of the fishing line into one of the straws in the foundation square to hide it.

Now string two more straws onto the long end of the fishing line and tie a knot at one of the corners of your foundation square so that your shape looks like a house with a roof:


From now on, we are going to call that roof part an “ear.” (Just go with it.)

Tie another ear onto your foundation square by stringing two more straws onto the end of the fishing line and tying a knot at the next corner of the foundation square. Your shape should look like this:

cat ears

Repeat this process until your foundation square has four “ears.”

A foundation square with four “ears.”

(When you run out of fishing line, just tie more on making sure to hide the knot you use to secure it within one of the straws.)

When you have four ears around your foundation square, run the fishing line up through one of the ears so that it comes out through the pointy end.

Then tie the ear out of which the fishing line is protruding to the ear opposite from it to form a pyramid. Your shape should look like this:


Now thread the end of the fishing line back down to one of the corners of your foundation square and through one of the remaining “loose” ears.

Tie the ear out of which the fishing line is protruding to the ear opposite from it. Your shape should look like this:


Cute, but not very exciting, is it? This form is the basic building block that, once mastered, makes creating elaborate variations possible. Here are some simple ways to add interest to a basic four-sided ornament:

Use longer straws for two of the four sets of ears:

Use longer straws fro two of the four sets of "ears" to make a teardrop shape. (This is an ornament I made using brass straws.)
Use longer straws for two of the four sets of “ears” to make a teardrop shape. (This is an ornament I made using copper straws.)

Nest a smaller ornament inside a larger one:

Here's a small three-sided ornament nested within a larger one.
Here’s a small three-sided ornament nested within a larger one.

Hang a smaller ornament to the end of a larger one:

An ornament I made using copper straws and pieces of amber.
An ornament I made using copper straws and pieces of amber.

Or use longer straws for the foundation square and shorter straws for the ears:

himmeli ornament closeup 4

You can also hang smaller ornaments from the corners of a larger one:


The instructions I’ve provided are for making ornaments using a four-sided foundation square, but more elaborate ornaments can be made by making the foundation square five, six, seven, and even eight sided. Alternately, a simple triangle/pyramid shaped ornament can be made using a three-sided foundation.

Good luck.