Category Archives: Walks in the woods

Getting ready for SGCI in Knoxville

SGCI: Southern Graphics Council International’s annual conference will be meeting beginning tomorrow, March 18th in Knoxville, Tennessee. I’m thrilled to be participating as one of the Prints in Peculiar Places artists, as well as in two of the Inkubator conversations. I challenge you to take a look at the Inkubator conversations and the first person to correctly choose and name in the comments the two conversations in which I am participating will get a “word” of their choice. (See below for the words.)

For my Prints in Peculiar Places installation I have made some new paper words and will be installing them in a copse of trees at the L&N STEM Academy in Knoxville. I’ll be hanging them between 2-5 pm on Wednesday, tomorrow, provided my flights are on time! If you are in Knoxville, please stop by and say hello. Here are the words ready to go. DSC_0107

Some of you might remember when I first did this installation in Rittenhouse Square in 2005. At that point I only had five words. I made nine new words, eight that were chosen by the L&N students: hope, joy, wish, laugh, live, share, smile, hope and the ninth, heal, that I chose. Many of the words were made by MCLA students’ Isaac Wood, Denis Sinclair and Angela Digennaro. Big collaboration and help!

I am extremely grateful for the MCLA students and only wish they could also attend the conference. I look forward to posting pictures from the install. Stay tuned!


Beach Combing

Assuming the squat position over a pile of stones and shells instantly takes me back to memories of rocky Atlantic beaches in the Caribbean.
I could spend hours in that position hunting for shells of a particular size and shape. But right now I am near Crescent Beach in Portland, Maine atop fibrous rocks that splinter like wood and seem closer to giant petrified logs than coastal shale.
My low-position has me eyeing for splinter stones, worn smooth but still more spike-like than I’ve ever seen in New England–reminding me of another Caribbean memory–choosing a beach by the kind of shell or stone gathering I wanted to do.
The challenge I set for myself now is how to transform these forms into drawings, little abstractions of memory and moment.






Detail Tracks_webSometimes I feel split in two, walking between dense and more dense thoughts, wonderings, and desires. Picking paths along established tracks, and then venturing into other footsteps, like those of the animals in my backyard. The porcupine, bear, and coyotes guard the ridge of glacial erratics–they disappear into the massive rocks, where do they go? I sometimes wish I could vanish in a similar way…but into my den of making.

The above image is from Tracks, a series of fifteen 13×13 inch square compositions. Each piece is part of a larger tree rubbing that I transformed through the addition of little painted dots and tracks with ink. My favorite five come together to form a much larger piece. Each of them are individually framed and they currently are on exhibit at Pioneer Spine&Sport in Lenox, MA. Tracks_web

The Snow Labyrinth

Snow! While my friend Alke was visiting from England during the past couple of weeks, we discussed my fascination with walking and art, including the labyrinth that I mowed into one of our meadows last summer. The idea of a labyrinth in one’s backyard totally inspired her to want to make one in the snow. So armed with a printed image of the labyrinth we set out to create one. (It was REALLY cold that day. Like, 5F or something equally ridiculous. We both donned serious amounts of layers and were quite warm!) We also welcomed moments of apricity or, the warmth of the sun in winter. Thanks to fabulous PRESS intern Jonas McCaffery for teaching me that word. You might just see it on a mantra card at PRESS in the near future.


We approached the making differently from the summer mowing creation. Instead of using a super large compass, we began in the center and slowly made the outlying rings by following the pattern.

I am so grateful to her for wanting to do this together. I did not realize how I missed walking the labyrinth–and it was really a fun creative problem to solve. And we celebrated by making s’mores afterwards!

Happy New Year from Thailand Part Two

After floating lanterns into the night sky, we walked back to our hotel grateful for sleep and looking forward to some fun adventures. We decided to spend New Year’s Day walking the streets of Chiang Mai visiting temples, offering prayers and taking selfies.Thailand106

My favorite temple was Wat Cheddi Luang. The cheddi originally had 16-20 full size stone elephants encircling it. Only one original remains today, plus four reconstructed ones.  Thailand137 Thailand112 Thailand121






















But what caught my eye were the aphorisms on the trees in the courtyard around the cheddi.

Trees + Mantras = Heaven

I imagine that many phrases will find their way onto cards that I make at PRESS or collages. Some of the translations crack me up and made me wish I read Thai. Perhaps in another lifetime.

Which one is your favorite?

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Happy New Year from Thailand!

We arrived in Chiang Mai–which is in the northwest corner of Thailand, fairly close to the Myanmar border, just before lunch on New Year’s Eve to visit Doug’s son Eli who is teaching English there. After a lovely walk around, followed by a two-and-a-half hour massage for $30 we joined the masses to begin ushering out the old year and welcoming the new.

All along the moat that encircles the old city of Chiang Mai were locals and visitors lighting and floating off paper lanterns. We missed Loi Krathong which takes place on the evening of the full moon of the 12th month in the traditional Thai lunar calendar–which happened in November. Apparently thousands of these lanterns were sent off then. We just got to see hundreds of them.Thailand056

The lanterns size in around 3x2x2 feet. A wire or bamboo ring holds the paper with a fuel disk that gets lit in it’s center. The result is a mini-hot air balloon. I had to float one off of my own!

All three of us did it–we wrote our prayers/wishes for the new year on the outside of the paper lantern, and then helped each other hold and and adjust the paper as they filled with hot air.

Eli helping me hold my lantern as it fills with hot air.

Eli helping me hold my lantern as it fills with hot air.

One of the moments I will remember the most from this two-week trip to South East Asia is Eli saying to me as I was holding onto my lantern, “Remember Melanie, when it’s ready, just let it go.” And I did what I often do in life, I held on tightly to the lantern, and kept holding and holding a little fearful that if I let go it just might not do what it’s supposed to do. As those thoughts rifled through my head, a tugging and pulsing began in my hands, the lantern wanted to move into the sky with all the other prayers and I just had to let go. I just had to let go and trust that it would go along into the sky along with all the others. And it did.

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Walking in the woods at night

I am part of an incredible art collective. Three Americans. Three Australians. Every two months one of us comes up with a “book structure” and a theme and we make at least six of them, and send them to each other. We’ve made things like tunnel books, pop-ups, and one-page books.

I choose the volvelle structure–with the theme document. The moveable wheels and circle format fascinates me. One of my design heros Jessica Helfand (one of the founding editors of Design Observer, Senior Graphic Design Lecturer at Yale)  wrote a great history on it called Reinventing the Wheel.

Our theme? Document. And what did I document? I documented walking in the woods at night. We hike a number of trails in our backyard with very complicated names.

  • The short walk.
  • The steep walk.
  • The mountain bike ride.
  • The reverse of the mountain bike ride.
  • To the reservoir.
  • To the bridge.
  • The hike where I almost killed Doug. (Because it took way longer than I anticipated and it started to snow and get dark and we couldn’t see the white blazes and we didn’t have any food. I know, not smart.)

Out of all of these it’s a toss up between the short walk and the steep walk as to which we do the most. But we have done both of them in the dark with headlamps. Using artificial light at night in the woods opened up the possibility of walking in the woods during times previously out-of-question. The only thing to conquer? Fear. It’s amazing how naked I feel when I walk in the woods at night. Since I don’t hear very well when I do hear something, it tends to freak me out. The first time we hiked like this, at the top of the steep section an owl called out. We played call and response for a few go-arounds. But the human quality to the call churned up every nerve in my being. Intellectually I knew it was an owl, physically my stomach tied itself up and my heart rate escalated. Had I been alone I would have started to run at full-speed. My volvelle documents this walk. Different strings of words like fear creeping outside light become sandwiched between the whooooooo calls of the owl. 29 words make up the the text–with a third of those words calling out whooooo. The tree pattern adorns the back of the volvelle.


Want to learn more about volvelles? This page will help you. Want to make your own? Go here.

And here’s one in action from my undergrad alma mater Case Western Reserve that I’m including only because it cracked me up that it came up in my basic google search.

How-to finish a project

Like many book artists, I have a number of unfinished editions hanging out in my studio in various stages of completion. Every summer, for the past three years I have set forward with the missive that this would THE summer, the summer of completion. During the first two summers I made progress, but I did not complete any of the projects. This summer is different.

It began with a visit from former colleague Lauren O’Neal, who is now the Director of the Lamont Gallery at Philips Exeter Academy in New Hampshire and her colleague, Lamont Gallery Manager, Sara Zela. They came to see my calendars, but were interested in all things I do that document, especially my Tree Guides. My tree guides are a series of pamphlet books, anywhere between 4-5, that are made from tree rubbings from very specific trees. I take the rubbings back into the studio, working back in with watercolor, colored pencil and in a couple of pamphlets stencil and letterpress. For each pamphlet/portrait there is an accompany field guide entry that tells about the tree, why it’s important, a little bit of context, etc. The pamphlets and the field guide live in a clamshell box. In the past I made these as unique boxes, now when I make one, I make an edition of two or three.

In the stack of unfinished editions, live the pieces and parts to make tree portraits for trees from a residency in Nebraska City where the Arbor Day began and tree portraits from a residency on Mount Greylock. The notes and work go back to 2008 and 2009 respectively. The clamshell boxes were finished. Four of the nine books were bound, but still needed labels and other details. The field guides barely had rough drafts.

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Of course Lauren and Sara definitely wanted these plus the Alaska Field Guides, which was completed. This would be my motivation. The work needed to be delivered by August 16th, along with all NINETEEN of my calendars. This was the summer solstice. July flew by with trips, to Ohio, Delaware, Philadelphia, and Spain. Numerous parties. At least a half-dozen cakes baked. The coordination of the move of PRESS and the move of my classroom and office. Hello August 9th.

I loved reacquainting myself with my own work–work that helps feed my need to get lost in the reverie of the greens and browns and greys of nature. Work that helps me remember to slow down and look, to be a bit slower in the things I do. Enjoy.

If you happen to be in New Hampshire between September 9th and October 19th, do check out the exhibit.

Also, if you like this work, you can learn more about how I made it in Jenny Doh’s Journal It. Or, if you would like to purchase something like it, contact Vamp and Tramp. They carry the Alaska Tree Portraits, and Postcards, a year of postcard rubbings from all over the world, with an accompanying field guide. Or of course, contact me!





Waste more time in nature

One of the things I love about BlueQ products are the little hidden messages. Some messages are quite irreverent, others surprise and inspire in the best possible way. The subject line of this post was one such message hidden in a bag that I was recently given. (It’s the owl bag…and BlueQ is a Berkshire Company that never fails to 1. entertain me and 2. be a model for corporate giving and good practices.)

The message came at the perfect time for me. I had recently returned from ten fabulous days in Spain. And while this was not a nature immersion trip, I did get reacquainted with the architecture of Antoni Gaudi–which is completely based in what he observed in nature. Talk about biomimicry, this guy was the king of it. Here’s what he wrote about La Sagrada Familia–a cathedral that he began to create in the late 1880s and work continues on it today:

The purpose of the building is to shelter us from the sunshine and the rain; it imitates the tree, as this shelters us from the sunshine and the rain. The imitation touches the elements, as columns were trees first; then we see the capitals decorated with leaves. The ramified shape of the columns and their great number will give the congregation the feeling of truly being in a forest.

Throughout all his works, elements of nature can be identified, he played with shadow, form, color and content. He experimented with roof lines that mimic how a leaf functions, utilizing a conoid–or a curved plane that funnels rain water and hold great weight. He hesitated in using this structure at first because no one else had ever considered it. He was completely revolutionary in how he let nature inspire him with her building blocks–adapting them to fit his functions. A true modernist–form follows function. This National Geographic page gives a brief overview. Check it out.

These are some of my favorite pics, the ones that remind me the most to waste more time in nature. I especially am got excited about the sunflower inspired chandelier, partially because my friend Tara wrote a post about sunflowers and I read it minutes before I left the hotel to go and draw and visit Casa Batllo.




I’ve always loved the word bliss. I had a friend who lived on Bliss Street for awhile in Florence, MA. For me, I always associate bliss with

  • Biking Bliss
  • Printing Bliss
  • Running Bliss

Bliss = Flow. I sometimes can even feel my body beginning to enter that state of total and complete concentration and oneness with whatever it is I am doing. I get it most consistently biking, running and art-making. When I get into bliss or flow, I will not hear someone speak to me directly, I am lost in my own little world of wonder and concentration. I can feel my heartbeat slow, and my mind begin to quiet. Since I know what the triggers are–I can make sure I don’t enter bliss when I’m teaching, I joke about it with my students, but it’s serious. I know how I am when I have entered that state and when I’m supposed to be the “one-in-charge” I really should be focused on those for whom I am charged, versus my own work.

What takes you to bliss? And have you entered that state lately? If not, I encourage you to try to make the time to get to it at some point this week. Or at the very least, think about what takes you to that place.

Lately I have entered printing bliss quite consistently. It’s a rush to get into that state. The entry is like having blinders lowered around my eyes, like horse blinders, allowing me to focus every neuron in my body on whatever it is I am doing. Recently it has been the creation of a maze book, a book for my Australian American mail exchange on the theme nucleus. A maze book is a book made from one piece of paper. You strategically cut and fold the paper so that the book folds down into an accordion of sorts. There are all sorts of different ways of making these fold-downs, one-page books, maze books. Pretty much anyone can make one, which is why they are really hard to do well. You’ll see the overall layout of this in the slideshow.

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Perhaps you saw my earlier post that got into a bit of the preliminary process. These new images take you through the printing, from the first lock-ups to the last. I am grateful to Antoine, the PRESS BHIP 2013 intern for his help in solving the lock-up “puzzle” and for taking these pictures. You can see more pics from PRESS at our Flickr page.

Here’s the outside of the final book. To get the spacing correct there are 4-EM spaces in between each of the nucleus letters. This is the second printing of the cover. In the first printing I misspelled forest and had not adjusted the spacing. But it was a super happy accident. Why? (Considering this is a maze book and I had already printed the beautiful green circles on one side and the text on the other side–so how could I possibly fix this without starting from square one?) Turns out I had like coaster weight paper that was just the right color. So I printed the corrected title on that, adhered it to the book, and called it a day. That extra firmness to the book gives it just enough stability to make it easier to handle and formalizes the overall piece. I love it!1075538_597468986959385_824867774_o

If you want to see the final piece, you’ll need to wait for the Markings Exhibit that opens in September at PRESS.