Archive for the ‘Art’ Category

Mountian School Dresser

Friday, February 22nd, 2013



This dresser was formally Seth’s.  Due to it’s small size and the ill proportions of his closet the dresser was ready to move on.  In the fall I had the inspiration to refurbish it as a Mountain School dresser for sale at this year’s auction.  I did not have a clear vision in my mind other than the red sections and hooks for puddle boots, backpack and water bottle.  Seth and I painted the drawers, and Seth had the inspired idea to mask off the grey wood on the drawers and keyholes.  The effect is quite nice.  There was much ado about what should go on the front of the drawers.  Seth wanted all sorts of animal tracks, and I wanted to stay chicken neutral.  Eventually we had to agree to disagree and stick with the chicken motif.  The top drawer is the creek drawer, and the bottom drawer is the redwood drawer.  Although I got the creek idea from a fancy design blog, I tried to render the rocks and water in a more relaxed manner.

I got these cute boot shapes from a door mat design in a Garnet Hill catalog.  This proved a blessing because puddle boot renderings are outside of my visual language.  Needless to say, the trees on the other side were easy.  The aesthetic turned out really graphic and vibrant, a true reflection on our time at Mountain School.  Although, while Seth was in Mountain School I never would have had time to do a project like this.  I guess I don’t really have the time now, but I made it fit.  It always feels good to make something with my hands, weaving the tactile illustrative process into my everyday routine.

The most interesting part proved to be the missing back-splash.  The back-splash was lost some time ago, leaving a funny 3/4 inch space.  I puzzled over what to put there and kept coming back to corks.  Not only did they fit perfectly, corks are a quintessential part of the Mountain School construction experience.  We poked holes in the cork with an awl and got this coated wire from the hardware store.  I thought we would twist different shapes for the photo holders, but the fern fiddleheads tied it all together perfectly.

Good luck on your next adventure little dresser!

Hive House

Sunday, October 7th, 2012

For my 40th birthday Jules sent me a copy of the Design Sponge DIY home decor book (thanks Jules).  Thumbing through the pages I began to realize that with very little effort our house could be transformed.   We rent, and our house only has two bedrooms, so by the end of elementary school Seth is bound to outgrow it.  We could invest in better carpet, but time flies and we would be moving before the carpet was even broken in.  We could paint every room in the house, but that takes valuable time and I would rather be swimming, snowboarding or soccer gaming.  We needed to choose what to do to make it our own within budget and reasonable time.  Here is what we did.

A few years ago we purchased a Modernica day/bed sofa in golden yellow.  You can see it here in the “thinking” corner of our living room.  I purposely leave this corner open.  Seth commonly lounges on the sofa with his head hanging over the edge and reads a book.  You can see there is one open there in the bright morning light.  The perpetually changing pile of books and 70’s yellow fabric reminds me of old school institutional libraries – no frills places where you can let your guard down and open your mind.

Light is an issue in this house.  The cottage is positioned on the eastern slope of a mountain, so there is never a “bright” time of day.  That said, the sofa sometimes seems dark and moody, but more often it has a sunny lively demeanor.  The cushion on the ottoman comes off.  When Seth is away the pillow stays on.  When Seth is here he takes the pillow off and uses the resulting coffee table for the business of the little boy.  The pillows are the perfect  firmness for Lego play, comfortable enough to let your imagination flow, but stable enough to land a ship on.   It is remarkable how much a piece of furniture can facilitate  life.

Up until Labor Day weekend the wall below that runs across the house from the living room to the kitchen was painted primer white.  Ryder made me stay home from whatever trouble I would have gotten in had I gone camping, and forced me to paint the wall.  Well not exactly forced.  Once I started to see how unifying and chipper the color was I could not stop.  I always turn into my mother in situations like these, hyper-focused forgoing sustenance and rest till my vision is realized.

Choosing a color to paint a wall can be an endless chasm of choices.  That is, if you don’t already have a piece of furniture in a happy color that you love.  Gold complements all the people who live here, and I would go so far as to say that painting our wall gold has brought us even closer to domestic bliss.  Our house now feels like what  a bee must experience collecting pollen on a giant sunflower.  Warm filtered light reflected off the yellow petals, yet still in the shadow as you cling to the upside down flower in the endless pursuit of collection.  I now think of our house as the “hive house”.  “Hive” in the sense that it is warm and buzzing with bees, but also “hive” as if we hived off a portion of summer and preserved it here to live in through the damp cold of the Santa Cruz Mountain winter.

Painting the central wall “Midas Touch” required other walls to be updated too.  The wainscoting below was a “redwood” color.  Before the gold was even dry,  I dug in the garage for some old primer and covered the offending orange.  Now the light in the kitchen itself is even cooler, but it is off-set by the glow from the rest of the house.  I like the way the two temperaments play off each other.  I might add that our vast crop of Lumina pumpkins does a good job transitioning the eye.

This painting had to hang somewhere, but it sort of clashes with the gold.  We hung it on an old nail in the living room and the placement was perfect.  The living room is, for all intents and purposes Seth’s room.  The mechanized little boy vibe of the oil is a nice juxtaposition to the cozy reading chair, vintage children’s books and “Goodnight” house. This corner is dominated by the wood stove, and in the winter it is alive with the primal element.  I think this painting will hold it’s own when winter waltzes in and we are forced to acknowledge our survival hefting logs and tending coals.

Speaking of heating, we do not use the gas heater on the wall because propane is simply too expensive.  Instead we use molding hooks and Ikea frames to document the drawing du jour.  I was finding that although Seth always has sketch books at his disposal, he will often draw great works on computer paper.  Since the heater is metal I was using magnets to a fix these drawings.  However, it still looked messy and I found myself  never stopping to enjoy the work.  In the frames, I look more closely at the drawings and admire the detail.  The frames are easy to use so Seth can take the work in and out as he pleases.  At some point down the line I would like to make a fabric slip cover for the heater, but for now we are working with the “Duchamp” of it.

Earlier in the summer we made a few critical mods to the kitchen.  The most impactful being the chalk board paint island.  You can see the grey triangle tiles in the back splash.  They are impossible to change.  When the island was white the first place you looked was those darn triangles.  We had to upstage them, yet acknowledge them, such that no one could accuse us of “throwing up a distraction”.  The chalk board, especially after a wipe-down matches the tiles perfectly.  We use the chalk board for everything.  My favorite use was over the summer.  Seth had to stay at home with me while I worked on certain days.  We would write down the schedule on the board together.  He liked the physicality of it, and the fact that he had “buy-in” to the schedule.  It was a handy parenting tool because he could read the times he had written on the board, and he could check the clock on the stove.  If I was on a call with a client I would simply point to the board and that was his cue to check the time parameters.  This worked well except when I was outside the tolerances :-).

Behind this curtain are the washer and dryer.  I am perpetually closing the curtain after people, but the pretty allium pattern rewards me for my toil.

My favorite update to the copesthetics of the kitchen was the addition of proper stools at the drawing table.  The house had come with some white dowel stools that were falling apart when we got here.  We decided to retire those and drop some cash for well designed relatively good quality stools.  I like the fact that the legs are tapered and they blend perfectly with the vintage drafting table.  We spend so much time at the table making stuff that is critical to our futures.  Good stools seemed like an investment worth making.  Although, it is funny that we spent our decorating budget on the least flamboyant items in our home.

I hope your summer was abundant, and autumn finds you well stocked with ideas for the long winter ahead. – Alis

Spring Fairies

Friday, March 18th, 2011

This spring batch of fairies was really fun to make.  I made them for the Mountain School Auction.   Whenever I make things for little kids my heart warms ~ mmm cute.

I was particularly proud of my fairy holder made out of paper.  I wove the paper in and out so that it made nice little holders.  You could take the fairies in and out easily which I think helps with the sale :-)  The paper was attached to the wall with blue tape, then the sign covered the tape

Stone Soup and Preschool Herb Garden Kits

Sunday, February 27th, 2011


“Soup from a stone – fancy that!”

Choose from one of three classic renditions of the stone soup tale donated by Leigh’s Favorite Books in Sunnyvale: Stone Soup by Jon J Muth, Marcia Brown, Ann McGovern.  Your kit will include a “stone” in it’s own hand made pouch lovingly crafted my Mama Alis and Grandma Bertie.  Two packets of organic, easy to grow seeds.  Mixed carrot featuring different color carrots like purple.  Pole beans that can be added fresh or dried to soup.  Last but not least, this kit includes a healthy celery plant that will add incredible flavor to all your stone soups!


This herb garden kit features plants, stone plant markers, preschool friendly recipes and a hand made lavender pocket.  Plant an herb garden with your child that he/she can harvest herbs from and cook into dinner: Chives, Sage, Oregano, Peppermint, Lavender.  This kit comes with one recipe card for each herb, on one side of the card is an easy to follow recipe that involves the help of the child.  The other side of the card is a pictorial version of the recipe illustrated by Seth Whitman Mountain school alumni.  The name rocks are illustrated with matching drawings as the recipe cards so that your preschooler can easily identify which herb to “harvest”.  Your kit will include a lavender pocket hand made by Mama Alis and Grandma Bertie.

Preschool Murals

Thursday, December 30th, 2010

This is the little mural on the garden shed at Mountain School.  It is an ode to the chickens, Poppy, Tallulah and Marie.  The outlines of the venerable ladies are based on Chloe’s chicken drawings from a few years ago.  Since Seth and I did summer school this year, we took advantage of a warm summer day to bring permanent paint to school with us.  We drew outlines of the chickens with chalk and let all the kids paint them however they wanted.

The great thing about letting the kids paint was that the design of the colors was uninhibited.  If I was to sit down and fill in the spaces, it would not be nearly as cool.  I came back later and used light washes of color to smooth all the sections together.  This way it retained the kid painted feel, but allowed me to blend a bit and darken where white paint would go.  The last step was for me to paint on the white chicken outlines.

Seth gave me the idea that the children could paint the chicken mural themselves.  The summer before last Seth helped me paint the mural in the bathroom hallway.  The main parts of the mural were painted in chalkboard paint, but Seth painted all of the colored sections.  He actually got up on the ladder on a hot August afternoon and painted the tree and everything.  When children paint something their touch adds a sense of whimsy and the unexpected.  Although they are serious about painting, their strokes add a sense of energy that I love.

Our three fours class was the inspiration for the mural.  First off Seth was / is really into drawing with black on white.  I think the sense of contrast is appealing to him.  The hallway is rather dark and dingy anyway, so the contrasty black sort of makes a crisp statement.  Secondly the kids loved having Teacher Laura measure them.  This was the inspiration for the measuring tree.  The chalkboard paint was sort of an academic theory.  But it was based on the premise that at this age kids like to draw on walls, furniture and in other inappropriate spaces.  I thought it would be cool to have walls at school that you could draw on, so that there would be a designated place in a mountainschooler’s life where they could “tag” things and not get in trouble.

For years this quote had been printed on eight and a half by eleven paper and pinned up in the main room.  One day Aimee was musing that we should paint the quote in big letters across the top of the wall below the ceiling so that parents could have something to “inspire” them while they composed their observations.  This gave me the idea to paint the Sartre quote on the bathroom door (yes his name is misspelled, but I did return with a sharpie and added a carrot with the extra r).  Often times I find parents standing in this grimy hall way because their kids have asked them to wait outside-but-not-leave while they use the potty.  Why not take advantage of this idle time to hit parents over the head with early childhood propaganda.

I like the markings that started to appear over the year.  It looks to me as if older kids have been here writing and drawing too.  The beauty of chalk is that it wipes off with a wet towel, leaving the hallway ready for the next year.

Best of RISD ~ Drawings

Sunday, July 18th, 2010


I went through all my drawings that I saved from my years at RISD yesterday.  Most of them went in the recycling.  I saved a few good ones and photographed others.  I’ve been meaning to do this for a while, it just took a day of no kid and the energy.


I was fortunate enough to have Victor Lara for my first two semesters.  He was the right teacher for me.  He really pushed you to see and record the essence of things, and his teaching style was laid back but dead serious.  We drew for 8 hours a day and every night.  It was tiring work but by the time the year was over I could really draw.


I liked these two drawings because the studios at school really looked like this, chaotic, cluttered and not so clean.  I remember coming back from exercising and having to stay up till 10 doing self portraits.  I looked tired in most of them.  Hard to believe I was 18 once.  StudioSpaceAlis

My favorite project at RISD was my tree drawing series.  I drew the Beech tree in the president’s office garden every day for a month.   I went every morning before breakfast, no matter the weather and drew this tree.  I have spent my adult life living in and loving trees.  It is interesting to think that my core interests have not changed, I’ve simply gotten older.


Karim Rashid’s production furniture studio was the toughest semester at RISD.  As an adult and a manager I realize now he must have been an administrative headache, but he was a great teacher.  Of all the teachers I had, he spent the most time with us.  He really loved design and espoused the value of it in every aspect of life.  He continuously sat down with each of us to help refine our designs.  He was always candid and genuine with a good sense of humor.  He was also the most rigorous teacher.  He was really adamant that we design for a specific agenda on all fronts, aesthetics, materials, ease of manufacturing.  He set limitations, but you never felt limited.  He had a way of guiding you through misjudgments such that you genuinely wanted to do a better job the next time.  Inspirational might be too strong of a word, but it was something like that.

As I flipped through the drawings I noticed that many had lines drawn on the back.  Karim was really into practicing drawing a straight line.  He had us practice all the time.  It is one of the useful tricks from my RISD days that I use all the time.

I am not sure that anyone from this studio except Peter Mann continued on to build furniture, but it certainly was an influential experience for me.


I really liked Seth Stem too.  He was a very conscientious and gracious teacher.  I remember that for my final crit he had someone come in especially for me, and as I recall her insights were great.  I remember I got a serious talking to by Seth when he found out I was not going anywhere for spring break.  He felt students should get away to clear their heads, and he made no bones about telling me to get out of town.  I used to live vicariously through this man who drove in every day with a windsurfer strapped on the roof of his car.  It was comforting to know that someone in Rhode Island was getting enough exercise and enjoying the great outdoors while the rest of us were stuck in gloomy Providence.


The drawings that struck me as most interesting upon re earthing were sketches of shoes.  Perhaps it was because prior to this I had only seen compressed charcoal and pencil drawings, but whatever the reason I saved lots of them.  These were from Bob Oneal’s shoe class.  Bob was the teacher that I think I had the most in common with from a sensibility perspective.  However, I don’t think we got along very well personally.  I was then and am now head strong.  I have learned overtime to channel my opinions but I’m sure I was a handful back then.


Bob had us do lots of interesting conceptual projects.  I found a whole folder of drawings of this little piece of plastic.  I think we were supposed to animate it in some way.  Below are paintings of the landscape we created out of found objects.  My landscape was a forest made of rusty nails with all sorts of other items in it (I don’t remember what) in among them.




There were some landscape architecture  drawings and universal kitchen sketches mixed in.  I definitely was not cut out to do either of these things.  Come to think of it I really am not cut out to do any of the things I learned in ID.  By the time I graduated I’d given my college try and knew that none of the physical skills I had learned would be used again, but that the conceptual and organizational skills were invaluable.  I was unequivocally sure that I was going to design information as my career.  So far I have not veered from that path…again head strong.


The other thing that struck me about the drawings I found was that many of them were sort of about inner peace, and finding order in chaos.  This is part an parcel how I make my living.  I make complex data and concepts easy to understand.  It is nice to look back and see continuity in your life.  At least in your drawings.  I have 4 tubs of sketch books to tackle next, curious to see what those reveal.


Quail Eggs

Tuesday, April 13th, 2010


Stephanie brought several dozen quail eggs on our trip to Tahoe.  Since we were the last to leave, we got to take home the remaining unboiled eggs.  I explained to Seth about blowing out the yolk and insides of an egg so the shell can be preserved.  He loved this idea.  He spent about three hours of his life this spring happily blowing  quail eggs.  He was so patient.  Whenever  one would crack mid blow,  he would swish out his mouth with water (he kept a glass nearby for this common occurrence), wipe his face with a with a paper towel and carry on.


The morning after Seth finished his egg blowing marathon he announced that he was going to paint the eggs.  Ryder handed over some water colors and Seth got to it.  I forget from year to year how memorizing egg coloring really is.  By the time he was half way through I couldn’t hold myself back, I had to get in on the action too.  The pinks and greens were particularly spectacular.  I don’t know why color is so appealing on eggs, there is something about the form that lends itself to hue.


My springs are very busy.  Every year we have a big egg hunt.  This year we had a small egg hunt that was preceded by a big school auction, that took my time instead.  For some reason these eggs remind me of spring break in college.  All I can remember is sleet out side my window in Providence, and quail eggs.  I don’t know why we would have had these eggs but the speckles make me feel so introspective.  Back then I wanted the life I have now.  It’s funny that I knew someday I would get to make art and crafts with my own kid, all I had to do was bide my time and work through all the things that happened between then and now.


Last Day at the School House

Wednesday, March 31st, 2010


Today was our last official day of Mountain School at the little red school house.  In honor of this transition I thought I would document some of my favorite preschool phenomena, starting with community paintings.  I love the way the children gather around a shared canvas.  This is such a great way to start out the collaborative path of learning.  My own childhood and education were singular, there was little in the way of group projects.  I don’t want this for Seth.  I want him to enjoy a lifetime of social connection and exponential productivity.  There is so much joy to be found in collaborating with others, it is a fundamental part of being human.


Seth has brought beets that he grew in his own garden all three years we have been at Mountain School.  In those years life was a bit transitory, but we managed to plant beets where ever we were.  Planting beets twice a year helps us hold on to the importance of the growing cycle, and keeps us rooted in what is real.  I guess most of all, it’s  the continuity of one plant.  There is one plant that, come hell or global warming, Seth knows how to grow to sustain himself.


Mountain School above all is about stewardship.  A. rescued this snail from the beet greens.  She must have carried it around for 20 minutes, showing it to friends and faithfully caring for it.  Eventually she let it go in the garden where it could munch on our flowering kale.  It struck me that a child like A. who is usually spearheading the more human-centered activities would take the time to engage with this snail.  It’s not so unusual in the larger context of our school.  The philosophy is so rich in natural experience and observation, that even for the most “social” of children this act of stewardship was undertaken with the least bit of pretense.    She picked up the snail and took care of it because when you go to Mountain School that is what you do – without a second thought.

“A Garden of Discovery”

Sunday, March 28th, 2010


This year’s auction was an undisputed success.  The decorations team did a great  job.  Everyone contributed loads of fabulous ideas.  The end result was relatively easy to accomplish, and was nothing short of magical!







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Many of the class and individual projects were amazing.  Vilma’s hand made redwood bench was spectacular.  Thanks to the Franks the 4/5s chair was embellished with some wonderful illustrations.  Teacher Marie’s quilts were wildly popular.  I may be biased, but I think Seth’s square rocked!

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This costume rack is genius!  I mean what kid doesn’t want access to any costume 24/7, and with a banana slug on the rack to boot!  The birdhouse replica of the school was quite sweet, and made me feel a little sad that this is our last year ~ sigh…


I think this quote by our school founder Betty Peck pretty much sums it up…

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Mommy & Me Dragons

Sunday, January 17th, 2010


Dear Seth,

My new years resolution was to make sure that I documented your impressive dragon preoccupation.   I draw the outline and you fill in the colors.  Sometimes I help with the colors too, it’s something we do together.  It started on the day of the ALS fund raiser.  You were anxious and fidgety waiting for our “performance” were we spoke to the guests about Grandma Belle.  This was our first stab at dragon therapy.  It evolved from there as a sort of transition activity.  The tradition of coloring dragons on legal pad in sharpie emerged from a moment where we were waiting for our carpool, and you suggested we draw a dragon using the materials floating around in the car.  After that, dragon drawing morphed into an an activity indicative of transition times.  Times when you had too much unfocused energy, or times when you were tired and scattered and needed a bit of paper to lay it all out on.


The wall above your bed is covered in dragons, each of them a little slice of your emotional being.  We tried new techniques of coloring the dragons.  In the photo below “Elbowy” and “Closey7″ are partly colored with flower petals.  And of course every one’s favorite “Scratchy” the scratch board dragon.  Scratch-boarding was incredibly appealing to you.  I guess you liked the process of coloring really hard with a big black crayon, then taking a letter opener to the canvas and undoing what you had just done with equal intensity.  When you found out that I was planning on working on a Boy’s Almanac header you politely insisted that we do it in scratch board.  You then proceeded to art direct the entire project from start to finish.  It was neat to see you take creative initiative.  Partly because you have seamlessly picked up the art of creative leadership, but mostly because not in a million years would I have been motivated to come up with these wonderful creatures on my own.


The day that you found the giant piece of Ikea cardboard and announced that it was high time we start making the  “pin the fire on the dragon” dragon was simply the best.  We must have worked on it off and on for at least a week.  Me coloring a bit haphazardly, and you directing me with gentle specificity.  As usual you started planning your fire party well in advance this year.  The dragon was finished at least a month before the party.  You were quite diligent about taking me to Affordable Treasures  and Michael’s to make sure we had just the right party favors.  You were even flexible when we went to the Nob Hill last minute and brought home a blank frozen cake.  You rose to the occasion and art directed Ryder in the process of squeezing out a frosting dragon, complete with fire truck and ladder to douse the flames.


I may never remember any of the imaginary dragon play scenarios from the last 4 months, but I will always remember your legal pad dragons.  Thank you for the fabulous “Autumn of the Dragon”.

Love + Mommy