Step ladders, collaboration, and grandkids

Posted in children's drawings, digital graphics, surface design on February 23, 2015 by Betsy Lahaussois

Last spring we visited my sister Helen in Colorado, after a family wedding at the other end of the state. Her beautiful house is sparely and artistically furnished with things that spark joy, and this charming ladder, decorated by a local artist as part of a fundraising event, is proudly displayed at the center of the action. While we were there, my childhood friend Sue came down from her mountain top to hike with us, and she too was smitten by its quirky presence. We each made a mental note to investigate decorating ladders once we got home.

IMG_7033Sue got there first!
Sues ladder

I never found a local source for tall wooden step ladders, but Ikea had some good short ones, ready to assemble. I bought four, and it wasn’t long before Noam, a grandchild who loves projects, swam into my net!IMG_8242

I don’t know if all just-turned-four year olds are as brilliant at following assembly pictograms as Noam, but he lined up the pieces perfectly, selected the right hardware, and let Jacques tighten the screws for him.

I suppose I am like many others with an artistic temperament in that I have always preferred working on my own. You can get a little territorial about your space and your supplies, and following your own hunches seems compelling enough without the distraction of someone else’s input. But I started rethinking the benefits of collaboration when Steve Ford of Ford and Forlano, one of my favorite jewelry designers, came for a visit with slides of his work. Steve explained how he and “Forlano”, who live at the opposite ends of the country, send partially finished work back and forth via UPS, trusting that they are on the same page, and welcoming each other’s “surprise ending”. Not long after Steve left, the Parisians arrived for their summer holiday, and I tested this Collaboration thing, making a family table cloth. It was fun! Nobody spilled toxic chemicals or left my best paint brush to harden in the sun. We surfed on each other’s creative energy!

Collaborative table cloth

Noam, an early layer

So, eager to continue the experiment, I became Noam’s collaborator when we got out the paints. He mostly made the marks, and I mostly said, “Whoa! Enough! Here, try this tool…”, and mixed the paints with the medium. Noam is a man of process!–a new day, a new layer (“any color as long as it is blue!”). I finally declared this stepladder done; it could have gone on forever!

Noam's ladder Don’t you love the signature?Noam's signature

And then we dashed off another, with four or five playful layers. (As you can see, by now the tube of blue paint was History!)unnamed

This week Alexander and Martin are back in Italy for their school holidays. The weather has been moderately cooperative, but yesterday we were all restless from an inside day, and I proposed–guess what?!–assembling and painting the last two step ladders. This team was able to put together their own ladders, and when it came time to decorate, I had a feeling I knew what to expect! (From Alexander, careful geometrical renderings, and from Martin, explosions and amputated limbs and Star Wars imagery…) What was I thinking?–they announced their theme in one voice, with no hesitation. DAZZLE Ladders! We had been looking with delight at the camouflaged battle ships from World War II, and now they were ready to camouflage some furniture.images4926741146_2a31b23416Because the final two ladders are black, it wasn’t such a stretch. I gave them each a pin-nosed bottle with white liquid acrylic, and they dived in. Martin, like a true artist, took the surprises and ran with them. Here is a little Paint Book experiment he had done on my iPad a few months ago:


And here is how he dealt with an unruly blob of white paint that squirted out of the bottle onto his ladder. I love how he applies discoveries made in other media to the project at hand! IMG_8884Here are both fellows out in the field with their still tacky ladders, hoping to speed up the drying process.IMG_8888

Painting by subtraction

Posted in textiles on July 22, 2014 by Betsy Lahaussois

I have been painting with fabric paints on cloth for a while now, and though it is really fun, and technically as straightforward as painting on a canvas, I am not so happy with the tacky surface I get when I fail to put on the brakes in time. If the piece turns into a table cloth– so often the case!– I don’t really want all that inadvertent texture.




So I decided to investigate starting with a colored ground, and removing the color to make my marks. I stocked up on black, navy blue and red sheets from Ikea, ran them through a cycle of washing the machine to remove the sizing, and painted/printed/marked them up with bleach or Formusol, a product described in Making your Mark, the excellent handbook published by Claire Benn and Leslie Morgan of Committed to Cloth.
















IMG_3168 (Downsized to Ikea pillow cases!)  IMG_3166IMG_3169




My results were hit or miss! You need a long, sunny day (or a top quality steam iron and a gas mask), to activate the Formusol, and the black sheet in particular reads like a weather report, with visible splats of rain and smears from grabbing it, still wet, and running for shelter.  Household bleach works much faster, and has its own range of weird effects! It is a little scary combining the two.  I described to a friend how the seemingly innocent combination of household chemicals heated up and shot out of my hand, and she told me the tragic story of her teenaged cousin who blew up the house, and himself.

Enough risky practices; time to consult the experts!

Lucky me–months ago I had managed to snag a coveted place at Claire’s “Working with Intent” workshop, scheduled for the end of June. Nine of us wrote up our wish list of questions and hopes and goals, and Claire custom designed the course to fit our needs. It was heaven! Here is Claire, demonstrating dry monoprinting, a process invented by a friend who got called away in the middle of her (wet) monoprinting project!


Claire Benn demonstrating dry monoprint

My wish was to start at square one with the Formusol, and to see whether the process-heavy MX dyes (which don’t sit on the surface like fabric paints but become part of the fiber) are for me. We had a blast! With Claire’s guidance, I over-dyed my pile of samples, cut them into strips, and went home with the makings of two “potato chip quilts” (so-named because you can’t stop at one!)

It was a magical week from every point of view.


photo 1




We shall see if the energy and water greedy MX dye process is a keeper. Stay tuned to this channel!


How to draw your grandmother

Posted in "video", children's drawings, drawing on March 3, 2014 by Betsy Lahaussois

During the recent visit of Martin (7) and Alexander (13), I spent some time on the other side of the drawing board! Martin–whose drawings usually spring from his vivid imagination, and tend to feature mythological battle scenes and severed limbs, drew my portrait, while Alexander acted as cameraman.  It was a fascinating experience. Never in my life have I been so carefully scrutinized; no wrinkle or bulge slipped by undocumented!

I’ve trimmed the twelve minutes of footage down to three, and added a soundtrack of Ronn McFarlane playing “Passemeze”. Enjoy!

Screenshot 2014-03-03 10.37.34

Bonfire of the Vanities

Posted in drawing on December 4, 2013 by Betsy Lahaussois


Every decade or so, a person should do a little house cleaning, and my studio is frankly overdue. One clue is that the wall behind a large drawing folder,"recycle or pitch!", has become damp and crumbly since I last sprang into action. Another is that there is no available surface except the ironing board to empty the contents onto…

And so last week I emptied one folder onto the ironing board for a major purge, and then the next, and the next. By the time the second garbage can was full, Jacques handed me a box of matches, and history took its course.

It felt exhilarating, but also a little scary. Is it such a good idea to destroy 90% of your drawings just because they long ago served their purpose, and you don't want your children to have to agonize over them? I think next time I will photograph the borderline pieces before lighting the match. But I do feel less encumbered, which is good. And I find this photo of a model awaiting her fiery fate has a power the original drawing never did!

More of these games! (summer 2013)

Posted in textiles with tags , , , on August 8, 2013 by Betsy Lahaussois

ImageImageImage (recto)Image(verso)ImageImageImageImageImageImageImageImageImageImageImageImage

Any color as long as it is black!

Posted in stitches, surfaces, textiles with tags , on April 23, 2013 by Betsy Lahaussois

The other day a friend said, “What have you been up to in that studio of yours?…or maybe I should look at your blog and see for myself?” WHAT blog?, I thought–I had completely forgotten that I even had one! Perhaps the time has come for an update.

It is always a surprise when a random discovery sends you off in a new direction. Months ago, I happened upon a three part You Tube demonstration of curvy-line quilting by Alicia Merrett ( which clearly explains how to piece irregular shapes so they lie flat when sewn together. I have always been drawn to the more spontaneous types of quilting, but had no idea how to make the puzzle pieces fit together. Here is the secret! Go watch Alicia and find out for yourself…

I have lots of little scraps from discharge-dyeing experiments, and thought a curvy quilt sample would put them to good use. Here is my first try:


Being able to make the shapes part of the structure, rather than appliqueing them on top, was a revelation to me. What’s next?…

I always liked painting on fabric, but it is hard to get a line that is not too halting–or one not so paint-charged that it leaves a gummy surface when it dries. Claire Benn and Leslie Morgan’s excellent book Making your Mark describes several ways of monoprinting on fabric which are a good alternative to direct painting. In my favorite method, you paint on a sheet of plastic, flip it over, and transfer your image by rubbing it with the back of a spoon or a squeegee. I like the mysterious but spontaneous marks, and the likelihood of a surprise or two! In my next exercise, I pieced some curvy shapes out of natural cotton to print on. After enjoying the white on white stage, I found the newly monoprinted surface discouragingly airless and heavy…


but wow! what about that REVERSE side! –the open seams and the bits of ink that had seeped through from the front seemed much more interesting.


After adding more curvy scraps of painted fabric to the edges, here is how it looks. I like the contrast between the open seams in the central section, and  the closed ones in the background…at first I finished the piece with polite edges, but then felt nostalgic for the raw look, and ripped the edges back open!


Meanwhile one day on a walk, I had found an interesting old license plate, flattened and weathered, and brought it back to my studio. While my attention was elsewhere on curvy lines, it was doing its work on my subconscious, and before long I noticed with amusement that I was steamrollering and creasing my own materials!…



..tacking them down to a backing, and monoprinting over the whole assemblage.




And these are what I have been mostly doing recently, with more in the works. Sometimes when the folded parts with double or triple thickness are a bit bulgy, I stitch them down to the backing with scribbly sewing machine lines. This flattens them, while adding yet another interesting linear element…

In a word, one thing leads to the next in the most absorbing way– at least till the “wave” hits the shore, and we have to start all over again, wondering what to do next. Meanwhile there is no happier state, is there, than on a roll in the studio!…


The days are getting longer!

Posted in Uncategorized on December 22, 2012 by Betsy Lahaussois

The days are getting longer!



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