Closeups: Spring


Today is the Spring Equinox! Let’s celebrate the coming of warmth and the promise of the growing season. Here are some spring-inspired closeups of my artwork, starting with a house and tree, which I guess is from the first grade. Skip 50 years, to a group of details from some nursery rhyme illustrations in Pocketful of Posies. If you have the book, you can look carefully and pick them out.








going to MECA

Last week, I had a wonderful visit to the Maine College of Art in Portland. Illustration faculty member, Jamie Hogan and I met at a conference last spring and she invited me to come and talk to a group of illustration majors. Our time at RISD in the 70’s overlapped a bit, but since we weren’t in the same classes, we never knew each other. My husband and I also fit in a short visit with our son Ian, who is a painting major at MECA. In preparation, I tried to remember what kind of things I would have appreciated hearing about at their age and changed my usual slide presentation, gearing it to a younger art student audience.

I started by showing the students my first book, made at age 8, and then progressed to projects I’m working on today. Sharing stories of failures as well as successes, I described my journey to find and express my own personal artistic vision.  I encouraged them to discover their own unique way as well.  I emphasized the value of an art education, no matter where it leads, and predicted that their time at school will benefit them in ways that they may not see until much later. The skills they are learning are basic to our human experience, because they are being challenged to look carefully at what they see, solve problems imaginatively, and to learn how to create something new. This is a special time, when students are surrounded by a supportive community that believes in the power of art.  We’ve all heard the opinion that art is unnecessary and impractical in today’s harsh world, so I think spending time with other motivated artists is essential.

I told them about people I meet who are skilled technically, but lack the confidence to create original designs. Many are mature women who copy patterns and faithfully follow directions, always coloring inside the lines, so to speak. In a lot of ways, needlework traditions have been kept alive through this culture of imitation. For many, this is a comfortable and peaceful way to spend time. Others want to break out and do original work, but are struggling to find a way. Technique can be perfected through hours and hours of practice, but creating something new takes a sophisticated understanding of design, color and composition–the principles of which one can learn in art school. But, folk artists create strong, well designed artwork, so art training  isn’t always necessary. Being original could have more to do with self-confidence and a willingness to experiment than education. Of course, it’s never too late to grow artistically, it’s just easier to learn the vocabulary when you’re young.

It was a pleasure to meet so many students who are serious about what they are working on. I love how funky and fragile they are at the same time. Their teacher, Jamie Hogan followed up with an e-mail, saying that “the Salley effect is rippling through the department!” She told about one senior who had an epiphany after my talk. She remembered that she really liked to do sculpture, but had gotten wrapped up in trying to paint realistically. Now she’s going to return to making 3D things, and somehow combining them with painting and air brushing, and she’s filled with a new enthusiasm. Thank you, Jamie, for passing this on. Hearing the students’ reactions makes it all worthwhile!

By the way, a spot has opened up in my Felt Banner Workshop on Oct. 27th. Intermediate to experienced stitchers are welcome to sign up. Check it out here.

Close-ups (winter solstice)

The Shortest Day by Susan Cooper

And so the Shortest Day came and the year died
And everywhere down the centuries of the snow-white world
Came people singing, dancing,
To drive the dark away.

Salley, age 8

They lighted candles in the winter trees;
They hung their homes with evergreen;
They burned beseeching fires all night long
To keep the year alive.

detail from “One Misty, Moisty Morning” in “Pocketful of Posies” 2010

And when the new year’s sunshine blazed awake
They shouted, reveling.
Through all the frosty ages you can hear them
Echoing behind us – listen!

detail from “Little Jack Horner” in “Pocketful of Posies” 2010

All the long echoes, sing the same delight,
This Shortest Day,
As promise wakens in the sleeping land:
They carol, feast, give thanks,
And dearly love their friends,
And hope for peace.

detail of balsam pillow in “Felt Wee Folk” 2003

And now so do we, here, now,
This year and every year.

detail from “Little Jack Horner” in “Pocketful of Posies” 2010

Autographed copies of Pocketful of Posies are available from my Esty Shop.

Closeups (baskets)

I love baskets and have included all kinds in my artwork since the beginning, like this Easter basket crayon drawing from my childhood.

crayon drawing, age 7

The elephant mother in my first picture book, The Way Home (1991), needed a way to carry bananas, so I made tiny (1/2″) wire baskets, wound in embroidery floss. Read my story about the making of The Way Home here.


Here is Mary, from Mary Had a Little Lamb, holding a basket of clay strawberries. This basket is also made with thread wrapped wire, but a little bigger at 1 1/4″. Real stones are glued in the garden.


This egg basket appears in Pocketful of Posies, in the illustration for the rhyme, Higgety, pickety, my black hen. It’s made by coiling and wrapping wire with embroidery floss. You can see glimpses of the green florist wire through the thread. I can’t for the life of me remember how I did the pattern on the top and bottom.  The original is about 2 inches long and filled with 1/2 inch wooden eggs.


Also from Pocketful of Posies, Daffy Down Dilly’s 3/4″ basket is made the same way.


This detail from Jerry Hall is enlarged quite a bit, with the original basket being less than 1″.


Close-ups (cottages)

I’m a hopeless homebody and have been putting cottages and other cozy shelters in my artwork forever. This first yellow house is from the back cover of  the first edition of Mary Had a Little Lamb.  The board book version shows a portion of the picture that doesn’t include the house.


This one from You and Me: Poems of Friendship has a ribbon porch roof decorated with tatting.


I used cloth-covered wire to make the gingerbread edging along the roof line in this cottage from The Hollyhock Wall. Looking more closely, there is a lot of cloth wrapped wire in this scene: tree branches, hollyhock stems wicker furniture and straw hats. The dolls are about 1 1/4″ tall.


This is the Russian grandfather’s  house from Peter and the Wolf. See the whole illustration in an earlier story about the CD here.


This quintessential  thatched cottage is from the rhyme, “One, two, three, four, Mary’s at the cottage door”, which is in my new book, Pocketful of Posies. Find out about the book and the traveling exhibit of original artwork here.  Also, see the whole double page spread in another post here.


Note: See other posts in the Close-ups series archive here.

Closeups (grapes)

I smelled grapes this morning. Wild Concord grape vines strangle the trees along the bike path and their dark purple fruit is ripening. Women were picking low growing grapes and filling plastic bags. Here are some closeups of grapes in my artwork over an almost 50 year span.

crayon on lined paper, 1960 (age 5)

This pin was made by covering red beads with sheer lavender fabric. Read the story of my pins here.

pin, 1978

The grapes in this fabric relief piece were made the same way as the pin, but about 1/2 the size. I used real curly grape vines. See another detail from “Vineyard Family” here.

detail from “Vineyard Family” 1985

Here’s one from my kitchen faux tiles, which you can see here.

faux tile, 1991

Here’s a scene from Mary Had a Little Lamb, when the lamb was following Mary to school. See other closeups from the book here.

detail from “Mary Had a Little Lamb” 1995

And this is a felt pin from my how-to book, Felt Wee Folk: Enchanting Projects.

felt pin from “Felt Wee Folk” 2003

Note: See other posts in the Close-ups series archive here.