Tuesday, November 19, 2013

Margot Mondays - Advent calendar part I

Monday is the one full day of the week that I have with Margot. She is in preschool the rest of the week and so it's a precious day. However, like many of you, I also have work to get done, groceries to buy, dishes to do, laundry to wash, and email to check. Many Mondays are spent doing far too much busy work. I have missed connecting with my kids through art making (one of the original ideas behind this blog)  and so I thought - let's make Monday all about Margot. 

I know it's Tuesday and I'm a little late getting this Margot Monday kicked off, but to be honest I didn't think of Margot Monday until the wee hours of Tuesday morning! So here we are, and I want to show you what we did yesterday. 

Margot loves art projects just as much as I do, and so we came up with a fly by the seat of your pants Advent calendar idea. This week we used stamps, ink, and glue to make envelopes for each day of December and Margot painted clothes pegs to hang them up with. Next week we will do the really fun part of dumpster diving (or walking to our local grocery store and asking) for a palette to break up and use for the back of the calendar.

Come back next Monday (or probably Tuesday) for the next installment.

Sunday, November 17, 2013

Sunday studios - flat files


I'm pining after some flat files. Do you have any? Are they useful? I've twice been offered some, and have missed both opportunities. I'm kicking myself now. I'm salivating over these wooden ones I saw on Blissful blog

Photo: Diana Lovring
and this set that looks a little worse for wear, but very loved and still functional.

I have a  feeling I may be more in the Ikea budget range, but you never know what you might stumble on. I love this use of multiple files to create a large work space. The photo is from this interior design firm, but it looks like a possible Ikea hack to me. 

I will leave you with this exquisite set of drawers. They are part of the collection of Alketas Pazis, who runs a  prop house in Greece.  Follow the link to see his exquisite showroom. The collection is extraordinary.

Sunday, November 3, 2013

sunday studios

Jenny Saville in her studio
 ‘Motherhood has also taught me to cut the crap. I used to come in and make coffee, read the paper, have lunch. Time was fluid and I probably wasted it. Now I come in, take off my coat and start.’ -taken from royalacademy.org.uk

Irene Lagut in her studio, Paris, 1922

One of Picasso's most famous works, The Lovers (1923), is based on their relationship which began in 1916 and continued, on and off for many years.

Sunday, October 27, 2013

sunday studio

Here's a new idea: Sunday studios. I've been finding studios on Pinterest that I'd love to work in. I do love to have a good browse and pin, but I also miss the flick of a magazine page and the surprise and sense of discovery there was in it. On Pinterest you just expect to find inspiring things. It takes a little of the joy out of it for me. BUT...

I'm not going to complain when I find such a sweet space as this. It took me a little while to find the source (another thing that bugs me about Pinterest), but finally I traced it back to a ceramic artist who's space is named "Up in the air somewhere" studio. They make exquisite ceramic vessels, but it would be hard not to in a space like this. I love the windows, quirky floor, cluster of lights and collection of mis-matched tables.

So long Sunday.

Friday, October 25, 2013

it's that day again

I'm thankful it's Friday, but also kind of wishing it was Tuesday as I have so much to do. I'm trying to stay in the moment and be present for my daughter painting next to me, and take in the trees changing color outside my studio window, but all I can think about is the fact that I have things to print, and make, and do do do!

Slow down I want to yell at my freaky self. It. will. all. happen. SO first things first - here's a Freak Flag for Friday. It's a fun one I think. Circles are always happy for me, as well as the color green.

You can purchase a print of this collage on my etsy shop. I've done a lot of updating recently to include some new prints, and hopefully in the near future, some tea towels and cards. You can click on the link to the right to see the shop, but here's a preview of some of the goodies you can find there.

Have a great weekend. 
Remember to crunch the leaves, 
carve a pumpkin 
and smell the crisp Fall/Autumn air. 

Friday, September 20, 2013

Freak Flag Friday

It's been a while since I did a


painting and post. It was fun to do this one as I was thinking about what makes people call someone a freak, especially children about one another. Red hair, weird clothes, lone wolf behavior - all of these things are, in fact, intriguing, beautiful and unique. 

Let that freak flag fly, and while you are at it, don't try to control everything so that you miss the gifts in front of your nose.

Have a great weekend.


Wednesday, September 18, 2013

back, and in the studio

I'm back.

Wouldn't it be wonderful to have a little caravan in the woods?
A quiet spot to think.
Mist in the trees.
Mossy scents
Birds and small creature sounds.

Thursday, April 18, 2013

a portrait a week

I've missed a few weeks but as a friend said to me 
"it's better to do something imperfectly than nothing perfectly". 

I love the dreaminess in my children's faces in these photos. It's not often that you see this quality in an adult's face. After the events this week in Boston I was looking at my kids and wondering at what age they would first learn about the twisted nature of some individuals. I was thinking about my friends with older children and curious about how they are talking about this situation with them, as well as about Sandy Hook. 

Have you had to talk to children, or other friends, about these recent events and how have to handled it? 

What do you want for your children to know in the midst of tragedies?

This is part of the portrait of your children once a week for a year over at Che & Fidel.

Wednesday, April 17, 2013

going forward

As you can tell I haven't written in a long time.

It's not because I've lacked the time, or for lack of ideas, but truth be told, it's because I'm changing things up in the Messy Lab Studio. When I started this blog I was following up on two things I love and hoping that with more research and exploration I'd know which way to go, what to invest more time in, and what I love more.

The two things are:

1- making a mess with kids, exploring sensory play and art projects.

2- making my art and illustrations.

I kind of knew that #2 would win out, but I've wanted to explore the idea of having a messy lab studio physical space where children could come to explore art making.  A friend sent me a link to Mucky Kids Art Studio in Boston and it's been a source of much inspiration. HOWEVER, many things have held me back from pursuing this fantastic idea, namely the fact that I'd not be able to do my own work. It sounds rather selfish when I type it out, but really I want to try and make it work. Can I, me, Johanna, make a living doing what I love doing more than anything else in the world - - making art.

SO, here goes...this blog is now going to be much more about illustration and art making. Sorry for the switch up, but life does that doesn't it?

I'm going to keep the Freak Flag Fridays, and pick up where I left off with the 52 weeks project, but I'll be doing some experimentation with the tabs and what I include here. I'm not one for showing products, so much as exploring process, studio spaces and projects.

I'll leave you with this fantastic video from UK illustrator, Sam Brewster. He opens up his process and gives encouragement about how to start your career.




Friday, March 22, 2013

giveaway winner

Happy Friday everyone! Karina is the winner of the print giveaway. Congratulations!

Freak Flag Fly 03.22.13

Yes, I know, I know. I missed last week! I actually was painting this one last Friday and couldn't get it to where I wanted it to be so I saved it for today. 

It was quite wonderful that I didn't post it last week as this morning I bumped in to two of my favorite ladies in my neighborhood, one of whom directly inspired the Freak Flag posts. Emily is a fire cracker, inspiring everyone she meets to be better, bolder and brassier. I am a huge fan of hers. 

This morning she, and my dear friend Eileen, both had pink earrings on. Not the soft demur baby pink, but neon 80's pink that makes you giggle and remember the pink lipstick and batwing top you wore at 16. I said "I think I have to do a pink freak flag painting today". When I got home I remembered that I had this one to use. Perfect!

Just a reminder: That's exactly what Freak Flag Fridays are all about. I want to celebrate the beauty, mystery, wildness, weirdness and oddity in all of us. 

6 year old in the house

My little boy turned six this past week. After a month of family sickness (strep, flu) we were all (almost) healthy and able to celebrate with a small party and  cupcakes at school. When my parents came for the following weekend we went for a warm wander through the conservatory in Garfield Park. It was a welcome warming of the bones during a brutally cold March.

The new 6 year old took off in great joy through the green moss and winding paths shouting "we're in the jungle, we're in the jungle". I only wish we were. This March has been particularly cold and windy. I don't even remember the month of his birth in 2007 being quite so awful. I love reading blogs in Australia, like Che and Fidel, or my two sister's blogs in the UK - Playdohandpoo and spooninginthekitchen, as it reminds me of other seasons and temperatures!

My in-laws in Mississippi have seen daffodils come and go already, and we are still waiting for their green heads to break through the earth here. What signs of spring have you seen near you?

These are part of a portrait a week series on Che and Fidel.

Friday, March 8, 2013

Freak flag #3

“I used to think I was the strangest person in the world but then I thought there are so many people in the world, there must be someone just like me who feels bizarre and flawed in the same ways I do. I would imagine her, and imagine that she must be out there thinking of me too. Well, I hope that if you are out there and read this and know that, yes, it’s true I’m here, and I’m just as strange as you.”  - Frida Kahlo

I have come across this quote from Frida Kahlo three times in the past two weeks. It must have been revived recently and I can understand why. It speaks to all of us who for one reason or another have at some time (or most of the time) in our lives felt odd, an outsider, bizarre, or different. I know that's most of us, and instead of fighting what makes us 'different' - embrace it! 

That's exactly what Freak Flag Fridays are all about. I want to celebrate the beauty, mystery, wildness, weirdness and oddity in all of us. 

This collage will be  is available as an 8"x10" print on my etsy shop soon.

Please leave a comment or follow my blog and you'll be entered to win a print of this weeks collage. 

Have a great weekend.

Tuesday, March 5, 2013

a photo a week

Action shots. Well, these are aren't all that action-filled, but for sick kids climbing on a sofa and jumping on a trampoline constitute action. I love M's tongue sticking out. It's her cheeky sweet self.

This is a funny one of R as he's coming down from a big bounce and he has some serious trampolining concentration on his face. RIght now he's refusing to have his hair cut. I have been trying all sorts of bribery just to get a tiny trim, but he's having none of it and can smell a bribe from a mile off.

This post is linked to Che and Fidel's lovely project 52. A Portrait of my kids once a week for a year.

light, drawing, hands

We've all been sick this week and finding slow, peaceful activities has been key. We made a light table for the first time and we were all entranced. I didn't know but this same box with lights can be used for starting seedlings as it becomes slightly warm. My avid gardener of a sister in law passed on this tid bit.

R's beautiful gum ball machine drawing lying on the warm radiator in the afternoon light.

My sketch for an illustration of Woodie Guthrie's song containing the lyrics "Tom cat, Mama cat".

R's hands working those fine motor skills. He hummed and sang to himself as he worked, calm and happy.

M's sweet hands doing what she loves best right now - drawing.

Sunday, March 3, 2013

what's going on

This is my desk right now. I'm working on a number of illustrations that I'll show you over the next weeks. I'd like to share my work on here as well as my kids messy universe.

BRF day boy

I was so proud of my soon to be six year old when he told me he wanted to draw each invitation to his birthday party, and draw each one he did. The front was the same on all of them. He wrote BRF DAY BOY, but inside was a special drawing designed with each friend in mind. I was planning on taking photos of all of them but he sealed them before I had a chance. I found the least sealed and snuck a couple photos! I love how he added the smily face and present to the BRF. Now I'm planning how to make the requested green ninja birthday cake.

Tuesday, February 26, 2013

Boxes are the best

I have probably taken a photograph of my children in a box every week of their lives! They love sitting in them and going to new imaginary places in rockets, planes, cars, fire trucks, elevators and carriages.

This box has had a number of incarnations and on the day that the above picture was taken it was a school. You can see they are sitting on tiny chairs, but what you can't see is the enormous pile of pens at their feet.

I almost forgot that Margot has also made this same box into a Sarcophagus, and herself into a mummy using toilet paper and washi tape!

One of the best things about playing in boxes for me, is that there can be as much or as little direction from the parent. There are endless things that they can come up with on their own, or you can get out the paints and Xacto knife and build a house with opening doors and windows.

Do your kids like to play in boxes? What is their favorite thing to do with them?

I am linking this post to 'a portrait of my kids once a week for 52 weeks' over at lovely Che and Fidel.

Saturday, February 23, 2013

Freak Flag Fridays

Yes, it's Saturday and I'm writing my Freak Flag Friday post now. I've been looking forward to writing this post all week, but as you know life can be messy and throw you a curve ball.

On Tuesday my husband got a bad concussion when he slipped and fell on the ice while out running. He couldn't remember how he got home (about 20 minutes of lost time)! He's not been himself since and the doc assures us this is normal. The CT scan looks fine, but it's really odd to have someone you know not seem like themselves. He looks like a lost little boy most of the time even though he's trooping off to work.

Our brains are at once so delicate and resilient.

On Monday I was excited about Friday, but then Friday arrived and I was so discombobulated by the week that I couldn't get the post done. So here I am on Saturday night writing while my husband is asleep and the kids are watching a movie.

Next Friday I'll explain how Freak Flag Friday came about - I promise.

I hope you have a good weekend.

Tuesday, February 19, 2013


I was inspired by Rachelle over at Tinkerlab to help grow the community of artists (large and small) on Instagram. Follow Tinkerlab's tags #creativetable and #tinkersketch.

And join in Messy Lab's too - - #messylabcoloring - - Try to take the photo as your child is in the process of coloring, using natural light and not a flash. We'll get a better chance to really see what you are creating that way.

Add the hashtag to the comment under your photo.

I can't wait to see what you and your kids are collaborating on. 

Monday, February 18, 2013

going with the flow with salt dough

Another title for this post might be 'How to go with the flow when your preschooler wants to do something completely different than the activity you planned to do with her'.

I didn't tell her what I had in mind as I do like to go with the kids creative ideas, but today I did have what I thought would be a fun idea brewing.
I wanted to make salt dough people and creatures and then make a diorama for them.
She wanted to feel the ooey mixture of salt flour and water on her hands.
I wanted to add one color to each ball of dough that would then get made into a specific shape.
She wanted to splatter color all over the big mound of flour and salt.
I wanted to be careful not to get food coloring all over our hands.
She wanted to smoosh all the colors onto the ball and see how many she could get on her hands.
I wanted to break the ball in to smaller pieces and color each of them.
She wanted to make a volcano.
I wanted to play with the volcano.
She wanted to cut the ball in to smaller pieces and bake them 'into candy'.
Before baking on parchment paper for 2 hours at 200 degrees. You can also let them air dry over night.
The stained counter top before I scrubbed it with Bon Ami. 

 It was a wonderful lesson for me to remember to listen and have patience. Do you find it true that you have agendas and lists for the day and if they get derailed it can be very frustrating? If you are a parent, have you become more or less patient when this happens (since having kids)? 

Losing track of my agenda is a daily occurrence for me and sometimes I am more patient than others.

I tend to be more patient if I've slept well, not drunk a glass of wine with dinner the night before, and had 30 minutes to myself before the kids wake up. 

What about you? What helps you to be more patient with your children / co-workers / spouse? 

Saturday, February 16, 2013

2.16 portrait of sibling love

These two are seriously best buds. They play, fight, love, play, sleep, laugh, cry, play, eat, sleep, read and poop together every day. It makes my heart sing to see the love between them.


"I want to make art" is M's latest refrain. Now this isn't once a week, or even once in a blue moon, it's every day. Yes, every day I hear in a loud clear voice, usually from across the house "Mummy, I want to maaaake aaaaart".

On the particular day that I am thinking of M was sitting on my lap at the end of lunch. She saw the Mod Podge perched at the end of the table and asked to make a robot. To be honest I didn't have the energy to get out paper, scissors and odds and ends for collaging so I said "use what's on the table already". 

Sometimes it's a good idea to let go of our perceived notions of what art should look like, or how a child should do an art project. Look at what is in front of you in a new way. Tooth picks and cheese could be a tower, paper and forks could make a tent, and left overs could become an orange rind and pretzel robot.

These moments teach children to look at every day life with new eyes, to be fascinated with the world around them, to practice non-linear thinking, and in this case we also talked about what shapes she was using to create her robot.

I'd love to hear what fun and quirky things you have made with your kids that surprised even you?

A messy post by Margot

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Monday, February 11, 2013

studio set up + stamped valentine cards

It's been a long time coming and finally I have a studio with light (It is a very gray day here in the midwest so please excuse the lack of sunshine). This sun room (next to our living room - see the corner of the couch?) was my kid's play room and I have claimed it! They now have the office for a playroom and it is so cozy and chock a block full of toys, lego and art supplies.

I love setting up a new space as I try to cull out the objects and tools that are obsolete or have just been hanging around too long. I have a much more edited version of a desk now (below) and the trick will be keeping it this way. Any suggestions welcome!

This (below) is my box o' collage goodies. It sits right next to me on the warm radiator, and when the cat is not trying to lie on top of it I can easily access it. 

So far I am loving it, although I think the rules about using this space are still a bit like this day - gray and fuzzy. We'll work on that.

We did make some valentine cards yesterday at my studio table. R + M were so excited to see how I carved a lino heart  and glued it on an old stamp handle we had hanging around in our stamp box.

We used these exquisite name stamps carved for my kids by Molly Carlson of Emerson Street Creative.
I met her at my kid's school Artisan Fair in December and we talked about what I was looking for. Low and behold a couple of weeks before Christmas she emailed me with photos of these stunning stamps that she hand carves.

You can see more of her stamps in her shop on Artfire. She also has beautiful prints of Gulf coast wild life paintings she has done (they were originally sold for a fundraiser after the oil spill).

R + M are going to write each child's name on a card and hand them out at school. It is a custom that I am still getting used having grown up in England where we did nothing for our class mates for any holiday. There are some very fun and beautifully designed packs of cards to buy these days, but I couldn't pass up a chance to use our beautiful stamps. Thanks Molly.