Homage to Dr. John – a mixed media collage

This is a collage to honor the music of Dr. John (aka Mac Rebbenack). It is the art for the Homage to Music card deck exchange hosted by Red Dog Scott.

(Click on the Homage to Dr. John image — at right — to see the 767 x 1006 pixel version. It opens in a new window.)

Dr. John is probably my favorite musician, since I first heard his music around 1970. On an early album, Gumbo, he described his sound as “a combination of Dixieland, Rock & Roll, and Funk.” Add a little Mardi Gras and gris-gris, and you’ll get the idea.

Not everyone understands his music; I do, and it inspires much of my art.

This collage was over a month in preparation.

I started with a stretched canvas that I’d painted metallic gold (spray paint).

Then, I began layering Burnt Sienna, Cobalt Blue, French Ultramarine Blue, and finally a black that I mixed using French Ultramarine and Burnt Umber.

Because I use oil paints for their depth of color, each layer had to dry for at least ten days. (In workshops, I use acrylics because the layers dry in minutes, not weeks.)

After the layers were dry, I began sanding them down for texture. I place a wooden block the size of the stretcher-bar opening, under the canvas so it is evenly supported.

I sanded down different amounts in different areas.

Then, I began the collage.

My first layer was tissue paper, crumpled and “painted on” with Golden brand Soft Gel Medium.

Next, I “painted on” a piece of antique lace. Over that, I glued three strips of teal chenille yarn.

For small pieces, I use the Golden Medium as glue; for larger pieces, I use hot glue.

Then, I added feathers. Some were gatherered at the beach, others were purchased.

Next, I coated the entire canvas with Golden Medium, and waited for it to dry until tacky. At that point, I began applying Gildenglitz. For the larger areas, I increased the adhesion with a double-sided tape.

Almost finished, I glued on a dollhouse Parcheesi board, a plastic lizard, and a heart milagros that I had sprayed gold and highlighted with Dr. Martin’s calligraphy ink, in copper.

The final addition–when everything else had fully dried–was some highlights with Rub N Buf gold leaf, in antique gold.

This is the kind of piece you can expect to complete in my workshops that involve collages, and natural materials.

Generally, I like to work with rich & deep colors, gold leaf or glitter, and natural objects such as twigs, acorns, and feathers–natural materials, used flamboyantly.

This remains one of my favorite collages.

If you’re not familiar with Dr. John…


Breakthrough Shrines – Notes

My Artfest 2004 workshop, Breakthrough Shrines, was very controversial.

In fact, I’d say it was an absolute disaster for many of my students. (The troll sitting in the back of the room, contributing snarky comments as we worked… that didn’t help.)

This workshop showed me that the audience at Artfest had changed, abruptly and radically.  That year, they wanted “safe” workshops and “cute” art. Though I take delight in cute and happy art, and often create it myself… it’s not what I usually teach.

In fact, I was locked out of my next classroom until my students insisted the organizers open the room. And then my third workshop that year… the room wasn’t set up and we had to wait an hour for enough chairs for students.

I was not prepared for that kind of disapproval – especially at the expense of my students – and, by mutual agreement, I did not teach at later Artfests.

So, with that as background, I’ll admit that you may not like the following class notes and tutorials.

The class had been designed as a process-based experiment to push students towards artistic expressions that were new and different… and perhaps uncomfortable.

There was nothing “safe” about this class.  Students either loved it or hated it.  Some caught the spirit of the exercise and produced amazing work.  Others sat there and stared at me.

Would I teach that class again?  Maybe.  If I did, it would be only for extreme, process-oriented, experimental artists.  And, I’d teach it very differently.

These following notes reflect what I taught during the class, and at the pre-class meeting the night before.

Step one: Add texture to your shrine container

To get the most from this shrine-creation process, start with a box or other paper-like container. Basically, the surface has to be something that plaster and gauze will stick to. (If the container is slick, painted, or metal, you may need to sand it and/or coat it with gesso.)

Drape the outside first, using plaster and gauze. My directions are in: Adding texture with plaster and gauze, two pages of step-by-step instructions.

Step two: Rubbings & mixed-media collage

After waiting for the outside the of the shrine to dry – usually overnight – it’s time to create the interior.

I recommend using rubbings for your backgrounds. They’re a fast way to cover a lot of the surface, uniquely.

You’ll create the rubbings on any kind of paper, from printer paper to tracing paper to… well, whatever comes to mind and is thin enough to pick up details on whatever’s below it.

Although my class examples were very gothic in nature (and too creepy for some), they were intended to challenge students with unfamiliar motifs.

In real life, any rubbings will work.

Try rubbings from:

  • a screen door
  • the sidewalk outside your home
  • the numbers from your front door
  • objects in your jewelry case or from your kitchen tools
  • keys and coins in your wallet, and
  • rubbings made with rubber stamps.

You can add collage art or mixed-media embellishments over the rubbings/background, either before or after cutting the rubbings to size and gluing them in place.

In-class work:

I’d brought a collection of castings from 18th century (and earlier) New England memorials. Many were gothic artwork from grave markers. (Note: They were responsibly cast, using techniques that risked no damage to the original art and carvings.)

Some students used them for rubbings. Others were, frankly, creeped-out. (The class subtitle had been “Art Shrines from Dark to Light.” I guess they weren’t expecting to start with anything that dark.)

A few tips for rubbings:

After completing the inside of the shrine, finish the outside by layering paint and polyurethane to add color and depth to the gauze. (Or, if you were aiming for a “mummy” effect, perhaps tea stain it?)

I like to add elegance, so the following finishing tips include my “easy antiquities” ideas.

Step three: Easy antiquities and other finishing techniques

Altered Books – Examples

In the late 1990s and early 2000s, when altered books were a new form of art (for us, anyway), I taught classes about making them.

My classes included ways to treat covers, bindings, and pages in books, especially to use them as art journals.

However, I soon realized that my students became most excited when I showed them how to cut openings in books.  Those openings could be filled with art of all kind, including shrines and assemblages.

So, catching their enthusiasm, I added altered books to my art shrines classes… and stopped trying to demonstrate them as journals.

The following images are from my earlier altered books classes, before cutting-openings-in-books became its own art shrines workshop.

My favorite altered book page may be “Generations.”  Reminders of my heritage always make me smile.


Altered book - Leprechaun Companion
Altered title page from “The Leprechaun Companion”
Family photos from several generations
Photos from multiple generations of my family, collaged over an altered book page.

Grow – Embellished fabric to use as an altered book spine.

Nevermore - an altered book for Halloween
Nevermore – An altered book for Halloween. Theme: Edgar Allan Poe.

Gold front

Edgar Allan Poe Shrine

Poe Shrine

The Edgar Allan Poe Art Shrine is one of my favorite assemblages.

The elements include a raven printed on muslin, in three sections.

I found him in a Dover book, and added color in PhotoShop (Image-> Adjust-> Saturation).

Then, I printed him on some iron-on tee shirt transfer paper that works in inkjet printers.

I repeated the design several times on the paper, and then ironed the raven onto plain muslin, which I later cut to size. The edges were treated with Fray Check, a Dritz sewing product that prevents unravelling.

Black feathers and dried Black Malva flowers, plus dried wild rose petals, accent these compartments.

Edgar A Poe's wifeThe portrait in the gold oval frame is Virginia, Poe’s great love.

I found her portrait in an old biography of Edgar Allan Poe, and copied it.

I printed it with sepia brown ink, on my inkjet printer.

The frame is a dollhouse decor frame.

In front of her rest dried wild rose petals, gathered at the seashore. I usually collect them at the park at Cape Neddick “Nubble” Lighthouse, in York, Maine, just over the border from New Hampshire.

(More info about “the Nubble” – Cape Neddick Lighthouse [offsite link]).

A leaf of dried sage is to the right of the portrait. Traditionally, in addition to sage’s popularity in cooking – it’s used in turkey stuffing/dressing – it also signifies healing. It’s also supposed to be an aphrodisiac.

According to Poe’s biography, he never recovered from the death of his wife. So, the healing quality of sage is most appropriate.

Skull and candles in Edgar Allan Poe shrineIn the section to the right of her, there is a skull which was hand-carved from a deer’s antler. I found it at a flea market in Hollis, NH.

That dealer sells all kinds of weird and wonderful antique and reproduction beads and trinkets. He had only a few of these, and while it felt creepy buying one, it also seemed the right kind of creepy for this shrine.

In front of the skull are brass-colored metal candlesticks and dollhouse candles (probably plastic). I really like including dollhouse items in my shrines, especially if they look reasonably accurate. They can be pricey, but I find the best deals at crafts supply shops; these came from A.C. Moore in Nashua, NH.

Poe poemIn the center section, the lines of poetry are from The Raven.

The scan quality isn’t very good in this copy, so here’s what the lines say:

  • Then, upon the velvet sinking
    I betook myself to linking,
    Fancy unto fancy, thinking
    What this ominous bird of yore
    Meant in croaking, “Nevermore.”

Next, a golden and teal-colored pillar represents Poe’s famous Fall of the House of Usher.

In the bottom row, the center image shows a photo of Poe, taken from his biography. I’ve modified this so it looks somewhat pointillist, and a little eerie.

At the far right is a limbless china doll’s body. I’m not certain why I included it, but it adds to the Gothic sensibility of the piece. It also came from the flea market in Hollis, NH.

The outside of the wooden shrine was painted black. On the back, I glued a title card and signed the piece.

The shrine is about 8 3/4 inches wide, and about 10 1/4 inches tall. It was completed in late September 2000, and immediately purchased by a happy collector.

Tammy Fae Pocket Shrine

Tammy Faye art shrine by Aisling D'Art
Shrine to the goddess of mascara,
Tammy Faye Bakker Messner

Tammy Faye Bakker Messner (March 7, 1942 – July 20, 2007) remains a goddess* today as she was during her brief time with us.

Her continuing optimism was a beacon for all of us. Her sincerity was almost as remarkable as her mascara — or were those false eyelashes…or both?

When I began working with art shrines, I had to make at least one shrine to her.

And, when I had reason to create sample “pocket shrines,” it was clear that one had to be to Tammy Faye. Few women have achieved such distinction in modern society. She was a legend in her own time, and success never spoiled her.

Inside the shrine, I’ve posted one of my favorite quotes from Tammy: “I’m just a small-town girl at heart.”  (How could anyone not fall in love with someone that sweet and naive?)


The box is a plain matchbox, bought at a scrapbooking store in Massachusetts.

If you can’t find blank matchboxes, discount stores and smoke shops carry inexpensive (full) matchboxes.  Empty them and cover them with art.

I lined the matchbox with a glitzy, irridescent pink fabric that I bought at the local JoAnn Fabrics.

The beads which spell dear Tammy’s name came from crafts shops, and the little star bead from a bead shop in Harvard Square (Cambridge, MA).

The photos of Tammy are from several websites, all featuring the readily-available images of our goddess.

The outside of the matchbox is covered with a thin foil, which I got from Gayle Page-Robak.

I cut out a photo of Tammy to feature her remarkable blue eyes. The eyelashes are false, bought for $2.74 at WalMart. They’re the closest that I could find, to the “official” false eyelashes given to lucky members of the audience at the premiere of “The Eyes of Tammy Faye.”

(I have since acquired two sets of the official false eyelashes from the movie premiere.)

I glued the eyelashes, beads and fabric in place with Perfect Paper Adhesive. Everything else was glued with Rollataq, but any paper adhesive would work fine.

And, I’ve been enormously flattered by the many requests, but this piece is not for sale.

*With all due respect to those who take the term “goddess” seriously, I’m being flippant when I use that word in this context.

Superman Mini-Shrine

This is a pocket shrine to Superman. It’s in the lid of a Pringle’s potato chip canister. You know, those clear-plastic snap-on lids.


My vision was a dimensional night scene of Superman flying over Metropolis, with a reference to Clark Kent’s day job at The Daily Planet.

How to make a pocket art shrine like this

I nicked the lid in a V shape at the sides, so the lid will fold.

I punched four holes with my Fiskars 1/16″ punch, two on each side, and “sewed” embroidery floss through them to hold the lid at a right-angle fold.

(For a close-up and more details to make this, see Superman Shrine – Pringles Lid.)

The background of the top and bottom are watercolors on plain art paper (Dr. Ph. Martin’s concentrated watercolors).

Both the stars and the streetlights are dotted with acrylic paints.

I used a very fine waterproof pen to draw the black, ruled lines on the bottom/flat half of the shrine, indicating streets.

The Superman image is from the comics, digitally altered to fit.

Yes, there are two Superman images: One is glued directly to the background. The second one hovers over him, on double-stick foam tape, to give a 3D effect.

The Daily Planet building is actually cut out of a Superman comic book and glued (with Rollataq–a specialized glue) to the background.

I also applied a small NYC skyline to the background. I found it online, printed it and cut it out.  However, it could be reduced from any NYC tourist brochure.

The buildings in the foreground are from old images of New York City, which I digitally reduced and colored. The tallest one is the Empire State Building. (Do a Lycos Image Search using those words, to locate a graphic you like.)

They’re mounted on and supported with cardboard, and pushed through slits in the street graphic, so they stand up. The street graphic was glued into the Pringle’s lid after adding these buildings.

The colors are brilliant, and this little shrine could sit nicely on a nightstand or desk.


During my previous marriage, we had a full-sized Superman shrine in our house. Superman was one of my ex-husband’s idols.

The big shrine filled an entire bookcase shelf in our dining room. It contained statues, figurines, first-edition novels, comics, and other collectible ephemera related to Superman.

My idea for a Superman pocket shrine emerged, in living color, at 3 o’clock in the morning. I was already tweaking graphics with my computer, when the sun came up.

I was thrilled with this pocket shrine, and it was a present for my ex-husband.

He got custody of it in the divorce.
*Superman and all related characters and names are the trademarks of DC Comics, (c)1996. All rights reserved.

The art on this page represents fan art.  It is not offered for sale or trade.

Prosperity Pocket Shrine

This is a workshop sample that I created, showing a pocket shrine in an embellished matchbox. The photo on the left shows the outside of the shrine, and the right photo shows the matchbox, opened.

top of shrine inside prosperity shrine

For this shrine, I used a plain matchbox that I covered with some Chinese newspaper. I glued a hare (rabbit) sticker (from a swap) to the outside of the box, and the word Prosperity. (I was born in the year of the hare/rabbit.)

I cut the outside (the cardboard case) of the matchbox so that it would serve as a “door” to the shrine… it opens and closes. That part of the shrine is tacked in place with hot glue, at the back of the shrine.

Inside the shrine, I used decorated origami papers. Inside the matchbox, I used:

  • a gold paper notary seal
  • the Chinese symbol/word “prosperity” from a rubber stamp (no company name on stamp)
  • a yin/yang symbol on Chinese newspaper (no name on stamp), and
  • a small replica of a Chinese coin.

The coin is held in place with hot glue.

Art and Alchemy Pendant Shrine

I created this pendant shrine for a friend. The symbols in it are specific to her interests.

When I started this project, I knew that I wanted to make a pendant/shrine using a matchbox, a Premo-covered book, and strung with hemp and glass beads. The results are fabulous!

Here’s how it looks:

the Ishtar shrine/pendant

the cover opens to a small book

the inside of the matchbox slides out

Inside the shrine, there is a figure of a goddess, plus two tiny, actual candles.

The pendant is made from a matchbox covered with Premo (polymer clay) & gold leaf. The images on clay were applied from laser prints, with gin.

The book was printed on paper, folded & bound with muslin, and glued inside the covers, then bound with hemp twine, also used for beaded strands.

Inside the matchbox, the shrine is on plush black velvet with a photo image of an ancient Ishtar figure.

I used birthday candles (burned) in Premo candleholders, glued into the shrine.

The beads are glass, or made from Premo and gold leaf.

It was a successful gift for a good friend.

Otherworld Shrine

Otherworld Shrine by Aisling D'ArtThis is a pocket shrine, created for a shrine exchange hosted by Patty Harrison in the UK, September 2000.

Artist’s statement:

This box represents the “other” world. It’s the fantasy land of the faeries. In legends, it’s a world similar to ours but also different.

The black sky represents the darkness people travel through to reach this land. The flowers (painted, and dried, natural flowers) are part of the dazzling beauty of this fairy world.

The dangling opalescent star is what gives the shrine movement and life. The small bit of quartz crystal in each box represents “magic” in everyday life, which we add in our own, unique ways.

How each one was created

Preparing the container

I started with small wooden boxes, purchased at the local fabric store, JoAnn Fabrics. They’re each about four inches tall and have a removable lid with a star cut in it.

I stained the outside of each box to a light oak color, and added color stains using a stencil that I cut in a five-pointed star shape.

The inside of the lid is painted with gold. Inside the box, I used a moss green shade of Lumiere paint. The back of the box is lined with black plush velvet, which I glued to and wrapped around a cardboard base, before gluing it in place with Aleene’s Tacky Glue.

Then I drilled holes in the sides of the box, inserted part of a bamboo skewer (from barbecue supplies) and painted it matte black, so it’s sort of like a rod in a closet.

The shrine elements

In the very back, I have a moon-and-black-bird image that I created for one of my websites. The bird represents the Morrighan, of Irish mythological history. She is one of the Tuatha De Danann, also called fairies.

Next, I drew a dolmen, and painted it with watercolor. Both this and the moon/bird images were scanned a printed on shiny photographic paper, which I trimmed neatly before gluing the images in place on the velvet.

The flowers and elements of the green world were drawn with a zero point Rapidograph, and painted with Dr. Ph. Martin’s concentrated watercolors. These were scanned and printed on a heavy matte paper.

These pieces (two per shrine) were glued, diorama-style, using tabs I left on the sides of the art, when I trimmed it.

Next, I trimmed and glued bits of moss and dried natural flowers in the shrines. I used Aleene’s Tacky Glue for this.

Then, I added one small quartz crystal in each shrine, slightly hidden in the greenery.

Finally, I suspended an opalescent star bead from the “closet rod” in the box, using black thread. I glued one opalescent glitter star to the “closet rod”, and one directly to the black velvet background.

(The black rod conceals the topmost edge of the moon, in this scan. The rod is visible in the real shrines, but does not generally obscure any of the images.)

Completing the shrines

The outside of the box was highlighted with gold, and varished using a glossy polyurethane finish.

Each of the four shrines sent to this exchange contained a small plastic bag. In it, there was a quartz stone with a hole in it, strung on a purple satin ribbon. In fairy lore, if you look through a stone with a hole in it, you may be able to view the faerie world.

I made a total of eleven of these shrines.

Four went to the exchange, three are kept in our family, three were sent to “four creative somethings*” subscribers who requested them.

The remaining one was sold to a collector at Artfest 2001.

*”Four creative somethings” was a four-part subscription to small pieces of art, sent at random to people who signed up. That art subscription is no longer available.

Superman Shrine – Pringles Lid

You can make a small shrine using a Pringle’s potato chip lid. Here are some general instructions to create the base for the shrine.

My Superman shrine is illustrated at left.

It was created using very small artwork–some of it original–and a Pringle’s potato chip lid. You know, one of those clear plastic snap-on lids that allows you to reseal the container.

First, I washed it with dishwashing liquid to remove all grease from it. Then, I cut a notch in each side, so it could fold.

But, even if I scored it along the fold line, the lid wouldn’t stay folded at a right angle.

side of shrine

Plastic–such as this potato chip lid–has a “memory,” which means that it likes to return to the same shape it was made into at the factory. In this case, the Pringle’s lid wants to snap back into a flat position. It’s necessary to fasten it at a right angle, for the shrine to look right.

My solution was to use my Fiskars 1/16″ punch. I put a total of four holes in the rim of the Pringle’s lid: Two on the upright part of the shrine (one hole on each side) and two on the flat part of the shrine (also in the rim, one hole on each side, right & left).

Then I used embroidery floss and an embroidery needle. I knotted the thread as if I was sewing, and pushed the needle and thread through the hole on the bottom/flat side of the shrine. (The hole is actually in the rim, but it’s on the half of the lid/shrine that’s rests on the table.)

I sewed this from the inside so the knot is hidden under the rim of the lid.

Then I put the needle and thread through the corresponding hole on the top/upright side of the shrine. It’s less important whether or not you go from the inside out, or vice versa.

Either way, I went through the hole twice, knotted the thread, and left a good tail on it when I cut it.

Then I put a dab of glue (Perfect Paper Adhesive, but white glue will work fine) on the tail of the thread, and tucked it inside the rim of the lid/shrine.

I repeated this process on the other side of the shrine.

I know… this may be impossible to understand without a bazillion diagrams.

If none of this makes sense to you, experiment. You’ll probably come up with an even better design!