Archive for January, 2013

This post is way overdue, but better late then never, right? So When I moved into my current home here in Ithaca I moved in with a wonderful woman name Marsha. She is an art teacher and artist herself who is particularly talented at clay work. When I started telling her about natural building she got really excited and we decided we had to do some kind of cob project this past fall. We didn’t have much time to plan so we kept it super small and experimental. But it was a lot of fun, and I can proudly say that this is my first natural building project where I was the “expert” on the scene and played the role of teacher rather then student.

So here is what we we decided to do. Marsha works at the Ithaca Youth bureau doing clay work with children and adults. They have some outside space there right next to stewart park so we decided that was the perfect spot for our experiment. Following we our totally experimental approach we decided to try a cob bird bath (yes, we knew that cob doesn’t generally do well in direct constant contact with water.) We came up with a design where the base would be cob on top of a mini stone foundation and then the top, which would hold the water, would be an actual ceramic piece that would be water proof and act as a mini roof over the base. Of course, the plan evolved as we built (and is still evolving) but here are slideshow of pictures from along the way:

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Our goal was to have the children involved as much as possible and to just experiment and have fun. It was a big success! The children loved it. How could they not? Its a child’s dream to play in the mud. And they were fascinated since any of them were working in clay with Marsha but had never seen this application of clay.

The cob we made used clay from six mile creek river bed, straw from a friend of Marsha’s and gravel from a pile we found in a dump yard. For the plaster we used sand from a nearby golf course (because it was such a small project they let me take a 5 gallon bucket of from them, and mixed in some horse manure for fiber and extra stickiness along with the creek slay.

The kids had fun experimenting with pigments too, crushing up berries and seeing what effect that had on the color. I tried remember to take pictures but it seemed I would always be too involved when the action was happening to remember. So most of the pictures are taken at the end of the day once the kids left. But the were involved in a good portion of the work.

It was a lot of fun and cost us nothing to make. And it is still holding up well, even after rain storms, heavy winds, snow, and below freezing temperatures! We hope to continue the tradition in future years and build other cob projects with the youth bureau children. Some ideas we have are a cob dragon that also serves as a bench and perhaps a play house/gazebo.


This is something I have been meaning to do for a while, but finally got around to starting. Here is the result!


Here is the simple recipe I used: egg yolk, mineral oil, and water as a base. I ended up adding some mayo to the base to to thicken it, but that was not in the original recipe I used.

Pigments included cumin, cinnamon, curry, cayenne, sage, cocoa, and coffee grounds. Then to get a little pinks and blues I added crushed up chalk pastels. So really, mostly things from my kitchen!

One egg and mineral oil whisked together with then some water added slowly while whisking made plenty of base to do this mini painting and still have quite a bit to spare. I then put a little of each pigment I wanted to try onto a pallet and dipped my paintbrush in the base and then mixed it into the pigment. I used regular, non synthetic, acrylic brushes (which I got as a birthday present from my grandparents this winter)

Here is my “sample” page where I tested it at each stage and with each pigment:


The results were pretty good I thought. The tones I got were all very earthy and many still had some grit but that gave the paint a nice texture. If I had a mortar and pestle I may have tried grinding some of the pigments further.

You may wonder where I got my inspiration and recipes from. Well, I worked mainly from two books: Using Natural Finishes: a step-by-step guide by Adam Weismann and Katy Bryce, and The Natural Paint Book: a complete guide to natural paints, recipes, and finishes by Lynn Edwards and Julia Lawless. Both are great books with different strengths and I am really just beginning to explore them both. They are fun because they have paint and finish recipes for everything from wood, to walls, to pure decorative projects.

After this little foray into natural paints I decided to also try some natural ways to finish wood. A walk through six mile creek and ithaca falls landed me some beautiful branches and driftwood and now I have begun to nickname my room the “twig room.”

So I took one of the branches and carefully took all the bark off used a butter knife and dull screw driver. I didn’t want to use a chisel as I really just wanted the bark off and din’t want to damage the wood. Then I decided to use a recipe for a transparent oil glaze for wood. The recipe actually calls for boiled linseed oil, solvent, and pigment. I used mineral oil, mineral spirits and pigment as that was what I had around. The goal with this finish is to add a very subtle hint of color that brings out the natural grain and beauty of the wood. After painting it I decided to lightly sand it and then oil it again, which gave it a nice smooth finish.


It was nighttime when I did this so here is the finished product silhouetted with some mood lighting in my room.


Here is my progressively “twiggy-er” room in daylight


And again at night.

Ok, that is all for now! I look forward to more experiments now that I have a bit more free time on my hands due to being out of school.

Like a Phoenix from the Fire

I didn’t know what I was going to paint or what the significance was going to be. I just knew I had been invited to a “zoo” themed party and felt somewhat obligated to go so I had to come up with some kind of costume.

Well, I started painting and this is what emerged:


I didn’t even have a name for what it was but everyone at the party said, “Wow, I love it! Are you a phoenix?” And then I realized, yes, that is what it was; a phoenix, rising up from the fire.


The invitation to the party invited us to be our inner totem animal and this is what emerged. Perhaps it is because I feel I have undergone a transformation and emerged from the ashes and the fire of the last few years to a world more beautiful then I could have ever imagined. I feel so blessed to be where I am now. With warmth and light.



Teaching Peace

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Stories have a power and a good story stays with you for a lifetime. Growing up I was blessed with many powerful stories that came to me through The Shadow Box Theatre. These stories included African drum, inspired by African folktales, Lumpy Bumpy Pumpkin, a Halloween rendition of the well known ugly duckling story, and  The Earth & Me, a tale of a child asking the earth, “How do you make a tree?” Opening with a Native American quote, “All things are interconnected. What befalls the earth Befalls the sons and daughters of the earth. We did not weave the web of life, We are merely a strand in it. Whatever we do to the web, We do to ourselves,” The Earth & Me truly caught my imagination as a child and is a cornerstone of who I am today.

The Shadow Box Theatre is a non profit theatre founded in 1967 and run by an amazing woman, Sandra Robbins, who just happens to be my grandmother. When I found out that they had lost a little over $30,000 due to damaged equipment and canceled shows from hurricane Sandy and were considering canceling their spring production of The Earth & Me I knew I had to help. This theatre teaches peace and respect and empowers children from diverse, often under served, families with messages of hope and change. And this show seems more important then ever in the wake of Hurricane Sandy.

So we are gearing up for an ambitious IndieGoGo Campaign as one way to make up our deficit created by a few rainy days. In preparation for this campaign, that should launch by mid February, we need to raise our visibility on all channels as much as possible. Doing this is simple and free and only requires a few minutes of your time.   Will you help us out?

Sandy Robbins and See-More say "Hello!"

Sandy Robbins and See-More say “Hello!”

And, if you have been touched by any of SBT’s productions, which include books, multimedia puppet shows, CD’s and DVD’s, as well as workshops for children and families and teacher guides, we would love if you can write us a review on yelp:
I will, of course, do my best to keep you all updated on our campaign’s progress through this blog but the best way to stay in the loop is to also make sure you are following us on facebook and twitter. And of course, please pass this on to anyone you think might be interested!
To view the full campaign visit
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