Art in Rehab: Summer Chickens

I work several times a week in rehab and long-term care communities. The job requires patience, clarity, and enthusiasm. You need to meet folks where they are. Most are elderly. They have lived through more than I have, and have memories I can barely imagine, such as skating on Fresh Pond, now fenced in, or riding the long-demolished trolley from a suburb into Harvard Square.

They also come with any amount of artistic experience, from none to near professional. So any assignment must be adaptable to all levels, and still offer the chance to feel accomplished at the end of an hour. Often this means I sketch the basics for them, so they spend the hour painting. Initially this felt wrong -shouldn’t all the work be original? A conversation with a talented friend who works with children reassured me. “They call this scaffolding,” she told me. “You give them a structure they can build on, while you release that initial fear of failure.”

So this month: chickens. Thank you, Pinterest, for the original painting - I regret not noting the artist’s name. But the clarity and humor always made me laugh. Turns out it works for others too. I painted my sample chickens pink, purple, and green. “They are not ‘real’ but still we recognize them,” I pointed out. “Make these your chickens. Any colors you want.” Everyone reached. One person even painted piglets from her memories of the family farm. Enjoy.

Random intention

While you print, keep your sketchbook open. Use it to wipe off your brayer. Print off excess paint from stencils. test colors. When the page is full, start a new one. (Waxed paper between the pages prevents sticking.) Later, work back in, with other marks and materials. What happens may surprise you.


What was random can become intentional.

Leaves of summer

Walk outside. Pick some weeds. Back inside, get out some paint, your gel plate, and print. Watch the colors layers as they build. Change colors. Print again.

And keep a sketchbook handy, to wipe off excess paint. Sometimes those unintentional marks are the most inspiring.

Leaf Printing Time

Summer loves gelatin printing. Leaves are back. Grasses too. Dust off your gelatin plate (or make a new one), pick some leaves from your garden, and bring them to your print table:

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Leaf mask

Ink your plate. Place leaves on top. Here the smooth side is down. On the right you can see the clean void each leave leaves when you take a print.

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Leaf print

For your next print, turn the inked leaf over and place it on your plate (inked or not). You’ll get a positive leaf image on your next print.

If one layer doesn’t satisfy, have faith and make another. The layering makes all the difference. Play with cut stencils and found objects. Layer brights and darks. Throw in irridescents for sparkle. The results will infuse your stash with summer energy.

Join me for a Gelli Print afternoon

Need more space? Time to focus and maybe a plate to borrow? Join me for an afternoon of Gelli Plates and Monoprints at the Arlington Center for the Arts. Friday, August 2, 1-4 pm. Register here. Spend the afternoon steeped in pattern and color.

Sketchbook dreams

After a day in the studio, moving furniture and supplies, starting new work, I sat down, tired, with my sketchbook and some old supplies:

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catch ideas

The creative mind sprouts ideas like a plant sprouts leaves. The artist must simultaneously play plant and gardener.

So, keep growing, but prune to prevent legginess. Reach wildly. Seek structure to support growth.Drink deep from inspiration. Fertilize wisely. Reread this poem by Marge Piercy.

Pull up the weeds. Give away what’s dusty. Scribble during the smallest scraps of time to scribble. You might be surprised what your sketchbook has to say.