Dollhouse Daydreaming: How to Create An Art Dollhouse PART ONE

Recently, for the past few months, I had been brewing over the idea of slowly creating an art dollhouse.   An art dollhouse is a dollhouse that you do art to.  (There’s quite a wide spectrum here as you can imagine).  How to get a hold of a dollhouse was step one… What to do to it would be a whole different story…

Well, I received a pretty amazing and coincidental gift two weeks ago…  This story warrants just a bit of back info. When Jason and I were starting out as new parents, about 12 or 13 years ago, we needed some extra income.  He would run ads in local papers to shovel roofs in the winter time.  One of his roof-shoveling-clients had these two amazing dollhouses.   Fully furnished and lighted, these houses held quite an established miniature collection.  I remember the woman proudly showing them to me.  I ooohed and ahhhed for sure as she pointed out this and that and turned on the two dozen lights.  My memory is vague, but I think she said something to the effect of, “Maybe they can be yours someday.”  We lost touch shortly after that.

Fast forward to a couple of weeks ago.  This same woman called us up out of the blue.  She was moving to Costa Rica to live out possibly the last chapter of her life, and couldn’t take her dollhouses with her.  She was wondering if I’d like them.

No need to think a fraction of a second on that one.  Yes, PLEASE, was my answer.  And THANK YOU SO VERY VERY MUCH!

…I used to have a dollhouse when I was a child.  A beloved two story balsa wood colonial with a wrap around porch.  My grandfather had made it for me.  It was quite special.  Maybe I’ll tell you about it’s demise in another post…

Anyway, here’s the largest of the two houses gifted to me a few weeks back, a big San Franciscan Mansion with it’s amazing contents spilled out all over my dining room table:


Here’s a side view of my table, showing the smaller, Swiss Chalet-style house:


I carefully boxed up all the furniture and began thinking about my next move…Just how and where to begin.  It was a giant undertaking.  I needed to remove wallpaper… It was peeling and had burn marks from hot wiring that had corroded and stopped working long ago.

In this process I questioned my sanity.  I asked myself some pertinent questions like, “Just WHO do you think you are tackling such a huge project? You don’t have time for this!”  And, “You’re a mother for God’s sake.  Your time is desperately needed elsewhere!” And, “How OLD are you anyway?  Playing house is for kids!”  Oh and here’s a good one, “You can’t possibly have the space for such a huge project.” And last but certainly not least, “Just HOW is this going to make you money, huh????”  When I was done beating myself up, I decidedly told my inner critic to go fuck off, and forged ahead.

I let my 10 year old daughter assume ownership of the smaller house.  We’ve started removing wallpaper with a wet rag and sandpaper.  It works well, but it’s a slow process…  I’m almost done de-papering one room: wet, rub, sand, repeat.

I’m starting to imagine my finished rooms.  What they will hold. What they will represent.  Times in my life?  I’m thinking about colors… Textures… The special little cormorant skull that I will hang above the tangerine colored mantle… Should I spray paint the skull before hanging it?  Maybe…  That reminds me of Jeffrey Dahmer though, so maybe not… He spray painted skulls…  Anyway, the design process is quite thrilling really…

As an aside, I’m sketching a piece of dollhouse furniture per day as my 100 day project.




This coincidence of me wanting a dollhouse and soon receiving the mother-load of all dollhouses, certainly makes the list of my top 10 lifetime coincidences.

While I ponder this, serial killers, and the meaning of life, you’ll find me elbow-deep, tinkering in tiny 1:12 scale rooms:  Wet, rub, sand, repeat.




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Upcoming Book Making Workshops For Kids and Adults in Brunswick!

The Painted Dog Studio is very excited to welcome the amazing Anna Low of Purplebean Bindery on May 13th from 10 to 3pm.  She will be teaching one of the classic bookbinding stitches, the coptic binding.  Coptic Bookbinding workshop is $50 and no bookbinding experience is necessary. You will simply need to bring a hard cover book, no larger than 8.5” in any direction, to cut up and use for the covers of your new blank book.  To register, email Mandy at


Another booking making class on the schedule is an old-time favorite of mine, Belted Books.  This is a two-part class and the cost is $60.  On Friday night, April 21st, from 5:30 to 8:30pm, we will “art-up” our blank pages with paint, machine stitching, and meaningful paper scraps.  On the following Friday evening, April 28th, we will bind our books using the bind-over-tapes method.  Students will have the week in between to add more elements to their pages.  You’ll need to bring a hard cover book to use as your cover, meaningful paper scraps from your life, and a couple of old belts.  Goodwill is a great source for belts!


Last but certainly not least, I’ve added my first summer camp to my long class list.  Young Book Makers Camp will take place Monday through Thursday, July 10th to the 13th, from 9 to noon each day.  Ages 8 to 18 are welcome to join.  Each day we will start out working on a zine; a small, single sheet, folded book that tells a short story.  (These zines will be copied and handed out to each student on Thursday to take home).  We will also work on an two ring binder-style art journal each day (binders shown below) and an accordion fold book will be made as well.  Students should bring a dozen or so photos that can be cut and glued into a book.  The cost for this 4-day camp is $135 which includes all materials and a snack.


To register for any of the above, simply email Mandy at  For the Young Book Makers Camp and the Belted Books workshop, space is limited to only 5 students, so reserve your spot soon!!!


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What To Do With A Finished Art Journal That You Simply Cannot Stand: A Texture PLUS PanPastel Tutorial

I had this mess of an art journal a while back.  It was one of my earlier art journals where I was still unsure of my process.  I had made the book myself and I liked that part about it; the structure, the size, the heavy paper weight, etc.  The cover was made from a cute vintage record sleeve.



What I had done on the inside was hideous.  I guess it was a “bad art phase” or something like that, but it all rubbed me the wrong way.  The pages seemed somehow contrived, they lacked drama, there was no connection to the real me, the paint I had used was too glossy, etc. etc… It was just plain ICK.  What do you do with this big chunk of negative energy taking up space?  Something had to be done, and fast.   I could chuck it.  I could donate it to Goodwill.  I could abandon it on Maine Street in Brunswick.  All of these were viable possibilities.

My brain fired off a spark of a thought.  Instead of ditching the journal forever, I would make one last attempt to save it.  I love creating texture in my art journals.  Real touchable texture.  So I decided to add a bunch of real texture to each page.  Book pages, lace, trim, AND plaster casting material.  I used a sewing machine, set it to a long straight stitch length, and stitched paper and fabric elements to each and every page.  It was all quite random, with no preconceived notion of design. There was no glue needed either; machine sewing is strong to enough to hold everything in place.  And no need to back stitch as that would simply create a hole in the page.

Once this stitchy feat was accomplished, I gessoed every page, twice!  I had to start fresh, with a blank, fully textured, mostly white page.  When dry, I adhered the wet plaster cast pieces with a bit of heavy gel medium.  And I even gessoed again. Yes, a third time, after the casting material dried.  It was triple insurance that those pages wouldn’t haunt me anymore.  Here are several page spreads, full of delicious texture, ready for greatness.







Here it is standing up.  Just look at those fore edges!



Well, you get the picture…  So what do you do exactly with these pages?  The possibilities are endless, of course, but what I’ve done thus far involves PanPastels, black acrylic paint, white Sharpie poster paint pens, a bit of paper, gel medium and some Liquitex Modeling Paste.



This cute little bird flies south soon, don’t worry.  And the message basically says shit or get off the pot.  In more ways than one.

I may actually be in love with PanPastels…  They are AWESOME.  Really really awesome.   The birdie above was made with 3 colors plus a dark brown chalk pencil.



PanPastels are dusty and thus need a sealer.  A stinky aerosol sealer.  I usually try to avoid using these as they tend to off-gas for a long time and I can’t stand the fumes.  However, I tried out a new-to-me brand.  I found a matte varnish by Grumbacher that stinks to high heaven at first, but the odor dissipates very quickly.  In just a couple of days after I used it, the page spread barely smelled.

My overall plan is to fill my big textured beauty of a book with PanPastel delightful-ness.  It’s nice when art disaster is averted, isn’t it??




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An UNCERTAIN Mixed Media Art Journal Tutorial Using Watercolor, Ink, and Gouache

During these uncertain times, post-apocalyptic-2016-election, I thought it would be a good idea to art journal a little bit about uncertainty.  Art journaling for me is generally an uncertain process anyway, but I thought I could delve a bit deeper into the idea.  Uncertainty definitely has a ring of fear to it.  I found this quote online somewhere; “Uncertainty: turning fear and doubt into fuel for brilliance.”

Now here’s a good example: recently I was uncertain about my cat’s overall health.  Basically I suspected that he had worms and that scared me.  I turned my fear of cat worms into fuel and quickly got his furry butt to the vet.  Ever give a cat a pill?  Now THAT is an uncertain process.




Anyway, to begin my uncertain art journaling, I started with a large grid-like rubber stamp smacked in the center of my page spread. I used a black  StazOn brand ink pad. I came up with my own quick quote (below) about the word uncertainty.  (Feel free to use it!)  I wrote my quote using a dark gray “Pentel Sign Pen,” a most fabulous waterproof marker-tipped pen. I also doodled with this pen around my stamped grid.  Very free doodles, spur-of-the-moment doodles, no-preconceived-notion doodles. Uncertain doodles.  I made sure my doodles had large enough white spaces that would be easily watercolor-able.  Spaces that a number 6 round brush could really get into.



I then jotted down several things that quickly came to my mind that I was uncertain about.  I used several different colored pencils and wrote inside the spaces left by the doodling.  I particularly like the following uncertainty:



Then came the fun part: water-media painting, or the coloring-in process.  I used gouache, watercolor, and acrylic inks to fill in the white spaces made by the doodles.  I left the center grid area alone.



I went from color to color and media to media intuitively and made these decisions completely in the moment.  I had no color scheme, no plan at all.  It was totally UNCERTAIN!  At some moment I decided I needed some dark contrast and so I colored in a few areas with black India ink.  Once my coloring job was dry, I doodled some more using a black roller ball pen and an extra fine white Sharpie Poster Paint marker (a most awesome acrylic paint marker).  I also shaded a few of the rounder shapes with some colored pencils.



Gouache is amazing stuff.  I’m loving it.  I was very uncertain about it at first, but now I find it really  quite wonderful.  It has a matte, almost chalky finish.  This is PERFECT for art journaling because it assures non-sticky pages.  It also has a more opaque quality than watercolor.

So I guess my overall message about uncertainty is as follows:  Life is uncertain.  It always has been.  Live in the moment.  Don’t worry about things beyond your control.  Be kind.  Have compassion. Remember that presidents come and go.  And always spay and neuter your pets.  Etc. etc. etc.



OH! And do lots of art journaling.  Lots and lots of art journaling. Not sure how?  Come to one of my workshops at The Painted Dog in downtown Brunswick, Maine.  Every other Friday, usually from 1-3pm.  Check out my classes page for more info!


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A Halloweeny Art Journal Transfer Tutorial: And How to Move Beyond Your Perceived Mistakes

I took half of my Girl Scout troop to Salem, Mass last weekend and now I am  inspired to do great Halloweenish things in my latest hand-stitched art journal.  I captured some wonderfully creepy pictures while there, with the idea of incorporating them on a page or two via an ink jet transparency transfer.  I had done several transfers before and they are quite fun.  Transparency transfers seem the easiest for art journals.  They are relatively painless, if you do them correctly… Below are my wonderfully creepy pics:





The next one is my fave.  A woman painted these cute baby dolls, sewed adorable clothing for them, and sold them in cute little boxes.  Oh how I do love this type of contradiction!



I began my page spread rather blindly, as I usually do, and covered most of it with torn paper bits from an old Thesaurus.  I used Matte Gel by Liquitex to adhere.  This is a common go-to way of establishing a first layer.  And I just love layers…  Just avoid covering the crease.



I then, for some reason, painted it a see-through peachy skin tone. (I was developing a plan but this would soon change).  I had no peachy skin tone paint so I mixed gesso and fluid matte medium together along with a drop of red acrylic ink and a drop of orange acrylic ink, all pictured below.  Voila, SEE-THROUGH PEACHY SKIN TONE!



Next came my big mistake.  I photocopied my 3 awesomely scary photos on the wrong type of plastic transparency (it was actually translucent plastic, I should have known). I cut out what I wanted and adhered them, ink side down, to my page with the wrong type of gel medium (It was a matte gel, I should have known).   Two strikes unbeknownst to me until I “removed” the plastic pieces.  The plastic was stuck to the page, firmly.  The page tore and only bits of the transfer remained.  I was bummed, I will not pretend otherwise. Not one to be easily defeated, I embraced the mistake and made it work.  I moved on, determined to fix the mess, and began “mending” the tears (and tears) with pink and yellow neon paint.



The picture below really shows the shoddy transfer.



Now for the much more correct transfer method… I photocopied my 3 photos using my ink jet printer onto a sheet of acetate transparency plastic.  You know, the kind for overhead projectors.  The ink takes a looooooooong time to dry on the plastic, so be patient.  And while it’s drying, resist the urge to touch and rub the upper left hand corner, Jason. (Sophie told me it was you after I blamed her).



Next, I cut out the pieces I wanted to transfer.  I laid down a nice bed of self-leveling clear gel (glossy finish) on the page where I planned on sticking my images.  Normally I would have used Gloss Gel Medium but I had lent it out last week.  (Avoid matte finish gels as I think they have the tendency to turn out a little less clear and/or not separate from the plastic as easily).



I carefully placed my first image, INK SIDE DOWN, onto the bed of just-applied gel.  I gently and quickly pushed from the center out to remove trapped air bubbles.  The printer ink very quickly turns back to a liquid, so be very gentle when pressing on your image.  I repeated this for the other images.



I also brushed away some of the inky gel that seeped out from under the edge of the devil baby picture.

Now comes the part I’m not very good at.  You really should let the whole thing dry over night.  Just leave it alone, go watch TV or read a book or something.  I simply couldn’t resist, and a few hours later I started peeling away the plastic pieces.  And of course, it wasn’t completely dry, and the image didn’t completely separate from the plastic sheet and I was left with holes here and there.  I really didn’t mind all that much though.  The holes lent themselves to the overall Halloween look.



I see air bubbles too, but I really do love my creepy devil vampire baby.  I then did my usual thing and sort of intuitively arted up my page spread.  I used black India ink, neon acrylic paint, paper from a funny Dick and Jane parody book, and a little bit of pen and colored pencil.



I like what I ended up with;  it’s playful, colorful, and oh-so Halloween!



The Fugit Hora line on the tombstone came out backwards.  Not a big deal.  I was informed that Fugit Hora means time flies.  And boy does it.  I have an eighth grader.  I’m almost 40.  The weeks zoom by.  The logical conclusion to this is that pretty soon, before we know it, we will all be dead.  Happy Halloween everyone!!!



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