✒️🌱: Testing and bottling wild inks to bring to Saturday’s workshop. This is the scrap paper I put down to protect the counter and do quick checks. Isn’t it pretty??
Every splotch and blotch on this paper came from a plant, and can be made at home. From wild grapes and acorn caps and chokecherry berries and…
Some of these colours last longer and truer on the page than others. But what makes them beautiful isn’t limited to how they look on paper.
🐾🌱: Using wild inks reminds me of tracking animals in the winter. When I come across the tracks of a coyote or a bunny, it’s like hearing their echo. Like they’re there. And when I open a bottle of ink I made from a plant, I see sumac’s red panicle in winter and the sphinx moth I met on the grapevine.
🐞⏳: In searching for colour, I learn about the galls of aphids who have been living between sumac and moss for over *48 million* years. How to whittle invasive honeysuckle into a pen. How to find the pinks hidden in avocado stones and buckthorn bark. It’s adventures inside of adventures.
Wild inks are a little more… wild than what you’ll find in the store. A little less vanilla. They’re wilful and ephemeral and full of surprises. And that’s okay. I’m here for the ride. Besides, nothing gold can stay — though that wild grape purple lasts a good long time. 😉
🍼🍂: Some critters have babies in the spring, and then again two or three more times before winter comes. Which explains why, when I went for a run the other day, I ended up with this baby chipmunk on my shoe!
🐿️🍂: Coming around a corner in the forest path, I heard a small unfamiliar rustle in the leaves to my left. On closer inspection, I discovered I was surrounded — by baby chipmunks! Their ears and feet too big for their bodies, like little stripey puppies. So a chipmunk, but with the cuteness dial cranked to 11. I’d chanced by a chipmunk burrow just as the babies made their first explorations of the aboveground world.
From Hinterland Who’s Who: “at four to seven weeks old, the young chipmunks begin to leave the burrow to forage. At first they are unafraid, but after a few days above ground they are more wary and escape quickly if disturbed…”.
🌰🍼: It’s a little unusual for chipmunks to have a second litter in the fall, but they’ll do so in a favourable year. And this does seem to be a good year for acorns…
Though this particular baby was very bold — it ran over to me on the path, had a chew on my shoelace, and then ran off again — it didn’t show any signs of distress. A baby critter that is human-clingy or acts in a “are you my parent?” way is showing an unnatural behavior that may indicate they’ve been orphaned.
🐿️🤹: But these baby chippies seemed healthy and rambunctious. I encountered them again in the same spot a few days later, and this time everyone was too busy trying to climb twigs and sedges and check under every leaf to be fussed with me. Perfect.
🐸🐰🦌: In the past couple of weeks we’ve also had encounters with baby tree frogs, baby cottontail bunnies and seen a young fawn with its mom on the trail camera. My own attention may have turned to stacking this year’s winter firewood, but it seems fall baby season is still in full swing!
It wasn’t so much teaching them how to carve masks, I thought I’m going to teach them how to unlock the creative side of themselves.
So what I did was I went to the art store and I got I think 7 or 8 easels and all these canvases, with the canvas already on the frame, like these pictures, blank canvases, tonnes of paint, and laid everything out, and I told the kids I don’t care what you guys put on this canvas as long as you feel strongly about it.
There’s no such thing as an ugly painting if it’s something that you feel inside of you, that means it’s beautiful. And if you can put that on canvas that means it’s the truth, so that makes it beautiful. So there’s nothing that you can put on this canvas that will be ugly.
So don’t feel weird because you don’t have the right technique. If you feel like painting flowers and you feel sunny inside, that’s good, that’s the truth. But if you feel ugly inside and you want to paint something dark and scary that’s good too, that’s because it’s the truth, so that’s still beautiful.
🌱🎨: Discover the world of wild inks. Learn about foraging for colour, unlocking the secret pigments of plants and, best of all, make your own “Wild Inkling” art to take home! Together we’ll explore the world of pinks, yellows, greens, browns, blacks, and purples hiding in plain sight.
🌳👍: This workshop is hosted by and in collaboration with Lower Trent Conservation, so in addition to making cool art with plants, your registration supports our local conservation areas. Double win!
(Also I saw turtles basking in the quarry right beside the workshop site, sooo…. triple win!)
🔗: Link to register through Lower Trent Conservation is here. Hope to see you there! // Covid Notes: The workshop will be held entirely outdoors, based in the picnic shelter. Registration is limited. // 🌈🎥: Interested in making ink but can’t attend? The Colour of Ink featuring Jason S. Logan (Toronto Ink Company) — author of the incomparable ‘Make Ink’ — is now available to watch free online here.
I made wild grape jelly for the first time a few years ago. Y’know how when you have a hammer everything looks like a nail? Well once you’ve enjoyed homemade wild grape jelly, everywhere looks like a place to grow wild grapes… Old display stand? You could grape that. Extra bit of fencing? You could grape that.
🍇🌳: We haven’t planted any grapes here. They were here before us and they’ll probably be here after. Wild grapes are all over Ontario. Once you start looking for them you see them everywhere.
🧗♀️🍇: But we’ve set up a few places here to encourage wild grape to bear fruit in spots we can actually get to. Grape likes to climb, so sometimes it runs right up to the top of a tree. Where it dangles my jelly dreams out of reach. Look up, way up, and I’ll call Rusty… and tell him we’re out of jelly.
🍇🚧: But grape also likes to move side-to-side along a nice fenceline. So a couple of years ago when we installed a new fence, we also coaxed the grape growing nearby onto its wires. I checked it today to find it is very happy in its new home! Grapes on grapes on grapes. Enough for both us and the wild critters to snack on. Jelly is back on the menu boys!
🍇=🥒✒️🧵: In honesty the jelly is mostly for Neil, but I use wild grape to make a couple of other things here too. The leaves are perfect to pop in fermenting pickles, and I use the berries to make ink, and the vine to make drawing charcoal. In a pinch, I’ve used the vine as twine.
🍇☠️: A word of caution — wild grape is all over Ontario roadsides, but so are pesticides and poisons. Many cities (including ours) spray their roadsides, so be very very picky about where you forage wild foods. Toxic lookalikes like Canadian moonseed also exist. There’s no shame in enjoying a nice homemade strawberry jam on toast if you don’t feel you can forage safely. Strawberry jam is delicious.
🍄💙: Found these blue-tiful mushrooms in a friend’s forest on Sunday. I ID it as a Lactarius indigo. Lactarius are known as “milk mushrooms”, because when cut they “bleed” a milky fluid. And that liquid can be some fantastic colours! Just look at that blue!!
🍄✒️: I brought home a sample mushroom for some ink-speriments. I used the very technical approach of squooshing the mushroom cap and bottling what came out (bottom right). It’s a lovely colour in the vial, though natural inks sometimes don’t dry as vibrant as the source. But I had a feeling this ink might dry the exact colour of a nuthatch. And it did! Soooo…Lactarius nuthatchii? I’ll keep checking back on this little birb to see how the colour holds up over time.
👩🔧🎨: If you’re curious about wild inks, I’ll be facilitating a Painting With Plants workshop at the end of September. (Workshop will be held outdoors.) More details to come, but feel free to DM us if you’d like the full info when available!
🎨🌿: Nuthatch is painted with Lactarius indigo, acorns, oak galls, and goldenrod. Detailed with soot ink and a quill pen.
🍄☠️: Friendly reminder not to squoosh mushrooms you don’t know. Ontario also has deadly toxic mushrooms and some are fruiting right now. Squoosh responsibly friends.
I’ve been working on this automata in my spare time for weeks. It’s a bit intricate, and has a quite a few moving parts. (Literally.) I had it all working. I handmade wooden gears fercryingoutloud. And during final assembly, as I got it ready for glue-up, the axle snapped in two.
Am I looking for a reason to stop, or a way to keep going?
I ask myself this sometimes, when I get frustrated. It helps me notice whether my brain is helping or hindering. When I’m building something, repairing something, baking something, making something. When something goes wonky, when it gets tough. When the soup tastes like hot garbage or the light won’t turn on or the part doesn’t fit.
Like the Saturday before last, when I hit one too many tool challenges in a row, and decided to handle it by… crying. It happens. I didn’t want to keep going, I wanted to declare everything everywhere stupid and go sulk. But what I know for sure, even while being a grumpy hothead, is that won’t get me where I want to go. Fall down seven times, get up eight.
Okay. It snapped. What I built once, I can build twice. So I exclaimed a few words that would make a sailor blush, and then switched tasks. All that’s changed is what I’m working on next. Take a moment to grieve, then drill out the old glued-in dowel. Source a new one, get sanding. I can rebuild him. Better, stronger, faster!
As much as I’m working on making this automata, I’m also working on my ability to keep going. Every maker I know has finely honed this skill in themselves. They work on it at least as much as they work on their craft. They work on it by trying again. And again and again. And maybe one more time after that.
All the speedbumps I know how to go over, it’s because of Past Me. Sometimes she gives up, sure. Yes, I’m a hothead, and I can bail with the best of them. But everything I know how to navigate today is credit to her. I’m super grateful for every time she kept going. Even and especially when it suuuuuuucked. I want Future Me to be able to look back on Today Me and say the same thing. I want to make her proud.
The Maker’s Dozen offices and home and workshop activities all operate out of one building — a log house. (🏡🛠️🍽️🖥️🌲🌱🐓🐇🐈)
🏡❤: This is the start of our 8th year here. When we were looking in the area, both this house and the “conventional” one across the street were for sale. Looking at this house, Neil said “but wouldn’t it be like living full-time in a cottage?” to which I replied “EXACTLY”.
🌬️🏡: But all homes require love and maintenance, including log ones. The wood requires a little physical or chemical intervention to keep nature from reclaiming it too quickly.
The previous owner refinished the whole house just before we bought it, and we’ve been coasting on that “just” for a looong time. A couple of years ago we realized that “just” was pretty stale. Time to get on it…
🏡🤓: So working on the logs has been one of my summer projects. We didn’t know anything about log homes when we moved here (or septic systems or wells or forests or chickens or…). We’ve sought out experts and amateurs ever since, and met and learned from some great people. Folks who know more than us, and generously share their tips and techniques. Any mistakes we make taking care of this house, well, they’re ours to live with. Literally.
🏡💦: For the log house curious, here’s the program we’re following. Each wall needs to be: washed with log wash, treated for any insect penetration, any damage patched up with a special epoxy, large (~1/2”) upward facing checks filled, and finally restained (if needed) and a fresh top coat applied. The great part of DIY is we can do it a bit at a time. We’re spreading it over a few years — this year is the high priority/high exposure bits. Fitting this work around other work. Grabbing the sunny days, being grateful for the rainy ones that fill the water tanks. (It takes a lot of water to wash a house…)
❓: We’re happy to share what we’ve learned and experienced about log home living. Any silly or obvious or weird or curious questions, just ask! Will I know the answer? Definitely maybe!
At Toyota, waiting for car service. I always wait outside if I can. Every waiting room seems to have a TV, spewing bad news on my lap. Out in the real world, the news is at least mixed.
I’ve spread my picnic blanket out on a patch of garlic mustard — or is it creeping charlie? — behind a line of supersized pickup trucks. Their hulking metal forms the back wall of my improvised porch. A short chainlink fence straight ahead warns lazily about the high speed highway beyond. I could jump the fence easily, and I am terrible at jumping fences.
But to my right is a tiny green tangle — a few yards of plant life. And the longer I look, the more threads I see. Purple loosestrife is woven with yellow salsify, stitched through with queen anne’s lace. Patches of white sweetclover, pops of sunny goldenrod. Tall swishing grasses, and the velvety stalks of sumac. Some plants I recognize, some I don’t know. I look them up, though my phone is old and battery life is precious. Knapweed, burdock, birdsfoot trefoil.
I’m alone back here, save for the guy a few dealerships to my left, who is working this fenceline with a weedwhacker. But he’s going slow, and I’ll probably be gone within the hour. I doubt he’ll get to me and this little thicket before then. If we’re lucky, he’s only working his dealership’s particular domain, and his weedwhacker will be stopped by a line in the corporate sand.
Chicory’s pinwheel flowers bloom mauve nearby. On each one is an iridescent green sweat bee, harvesting pollen. The chicory harvested, the bee moves on to the pretty pink rosettes of the field bindweed. I notice another little green bee, then another. Transport trucks storm past us. Decorated with logos of eagles and tigers, their bellies are full of fossil fuels and plastic.
I get up to investigate some burdock, and when I return, three tiny grasshoppers are sitting on my plaid blanket. Dandelion clocks that have run out of time float past and snag on the nap of the fabric. The four of us sit surrounded by wild carrots, raspberry, and grapes, with a few plastic takeout containers chucked on top.
I look up at the summer sky and spot a tiny bird chasing off a crow. The tiny bird is so very tiny, but nevertheless, it persisted. The corvid flies past another invisible line and, triumphant, the tiny bird sails back home. I can’t make out what sort of bird this is, this stalwart little spirit. It’s a David and Goliath story, with the part of the pebble played by a self-slinging bird.
The guy with the weedwhacker is inching closer, fighting against all the life that’s already made it up and over the fence. It’s whacked and whacked but the green just keeps coming. Already, the bindweed slinks undaunted over the harsh gravel meant to keep plant life at bay. As if the gravel were a river, and the bindweed were thirsty for more.
It’s all about as simple as everything is, which is to say, not simple at all. Most of these plants are invasive or introduced. I drove here today, and I will drive home. I’m woven into all sides of the story. Sometimes I cut down the green, kill the bug, and whack at “weeds” too. But, as Amy Krouse Rosenthal said: In the alley, there is a bright pink flower peeking out through the asphalt.
Little gray treefrog we relocated to a red oak(it was on the BBQ and we were about to make sausages…). It was on the tree for about 2 minutes before we had trouble spotting it again, and we put it there.