The Senses Project | Inspired By… Van Gogh

The Creative Life

I just finished listening to Van Gogh: A Power Seething* and the synapses are firing, the ideas zinging around my head, and it’s inspired me to start up a new series here on the blog: the Senses Project.


One of my high school English teachers didn’t assign book reports. Instead, we did either tracking projects on whole-class reads (we each had a character, element, or theme to track throughout the book then give a presentation on it at the end of the unit) or spin-off projects for independent reads (where we took an aspect of the book we chose and developed a presentation on that, rather than a synopsis of the book). These were, in my opinion, far superior to writing a book report and allowed us to express our creativity in the process. This is along those same lines.

I doubt I’ll do this for every book I read this year (in fact, I probably won’t even log this year’s reading the way I did most of last years–those posts were just gargantuan!), but I am in the mood to read more non-fiction, biography, etc. so as the inspiration hits, I’ll put a new one up.

Starry Night, Vincent van Gogh (image via

Starry Night, Vincent van Gogh (image via

Today’s has a very stream of consciousness start. There I was, in the car, listening to someone report on the early life of and read aloud letters sent by Vincent van Gogh largely to his younger brother, Theo. I’m sure most of us have this picture of the tortured artist in our heads from the public scuttlebutt about his life, but what we hear about is largely from the last decade of his life and some of it isn’t even correct.

But I’m getting ahead of myself! Let’s start with this quote from one of his letters to his brother. He didn’t start out wanting to be an artist, I don’t even think it was in his top 3–frankly, he didn’t seem to be setting out to do much of anything for a while, except push peoples buttons; this isn’t an entirely flattering “portrait” of the artist, more brutally honest than anything. But eventually he did find his way to art, and had this to say during the early days of painting:

“I’m glad that I’ve never learnt to paint… Probably then I would have LEARNT to ignore effects like this… I don’t know myself how I paint… I see that nature has told me something, has spoken to me and that I’ve written it down in shorthand.”

Vincent van Gogh to Theo van Gogh, The Hague, September 3, 1882, letter 260
as quoted in Van Gogh: A Power Seething by Julian Bell

I love this idea that formal instruction would have been an impediment to his process and style. Granted, maybe things would have been easier for him, but easy is not always right. And it wouldn’t have suited his temperament as far as I can tell. We learn so much from just experimenting and trying.

But art as shorthand for nature, that’s just beautiful, too.

At any rate, listening to the book reminded me of two other works, stream of consciousness-style. The song Vincent by Don McClean (also sometimes referred to as Starry Starry Night, from the opening lyrics) and the movie Mona Lisa Smile. The former is a direct connection, the latter, well, if you haven’t see it, I urge you to for a variety of reasons, but of particular interest is the scene where the teacher and students discuss van Gogh’s sunflower painting.

Sunflowers, Vincent van Gogh (image via

Sunflowers, Vincent van Gogh (image via

And a popular lie is uttered:

…he never sold a painting in his lifetime.

But that’s not true, he sold at least one of record, and a second one is suspected (though the details are a bit fuzzy per this 1998 article from the Baltimore Sun). Furthermore, there’s a good chance he sold some sketches earlier on in his career and, as Bell points out, technically sold all of his work past a certain point to his brother. Theo largely supported Vincent and, in a fit of something, the artist decided he would not take handouts but would forward work onto Theo and would consider any money received to be payment for said work ,and based on merit, to boot!

Still, Vincent was just starting to make a name for himself in the larger art world when the confusion of his mind–he’d be living in an asylum for several years due to fits of what we would now call bipolar disorder or a non-seizure form of epilepsy, making him a danger to himself and to others–became too much and he committed suicide.

Mona Lisa Smile also sent me on a tangent to see if the other item of note in that scene, the paint by number kits of van Gogh’s more famous works, still existed (presuming that they did in the first place). They do! Though the ones I found on Amazon seem to use acrylics, not oils, and require the painter to add their own stretchers (wooden frame) or other support to facilitate painting. Still, I admit I’m tempted. Though the movie makes good story-use of the sunflower kits*, I’m more drawn to the almond blossom one* (based on one of his last paintings, done in the Japanese style that was heavily influencing art–and other realms–in those years, as a gift for his nephew). The colors and style would go nicely in our living room and, since it’s from the 1890s, isn’t all that far off from the time our house was built!

Blossoming Almond Tree, Vincent van Gogh (image via

Almond Branches in Bloom, Vincent van Gogh (image via

In moments I’d come up with something to read, see, hear, and do–what about the last sense, taste? (One could argue, after all, that paint would tickle the sense of smell, especially oil paint!) Food may not have featured highly in Vincent’s letters to Theo, but drink did. For those who are open to adult beverages, Absinthe is your best bet for imbibing as van Gogh did. And he was from Holland (though spent a lot of time in France and some in London as well), so you could also indulge in some good, imported Gouda (their best-known cheese); I prefer the smoked variety, though I don’t know how authentic that would be! Potatoes would also be appropriate, of you could go with a Dutch Baby pancake (maybe topped with cheese for a savory supper).

The Potato Eaters, Vincent van Gogh (image via

The Potato Eaters, Vincent van Gogh (image via

And thus we have a recipe for some independent study, engaging all the five senses and with both quick and more involved options. I kind of love the idea of a book spurring deeper investigation and self-study, don’t you?

To sum up:

Anyone game to try? Have you ever read and seen something that sent you on your own journey of exploration?

Porch Wish List: Come and Sit a Spell

The Gingerbread Diaries

I’ve lived in plenty of houses with porches–they’re sort of de rigeur down here, after all–but very few have been “functional” porches. What do I mean by functional? A porch that could barely hold a single chair, much less two. A glorified concrete slab under an extended roofline without even a railing to speak of. Uninviting. Austere. No fun.

A porch can serve as either a deck with a roof over it or an awning with a floor under it. The former is a place to hang out and have fun with the aid of some shade, the latter being only concerned with sheltering windows from the full-on sun. The best porches, though, are easily both and so much more.

I love coming home to this every day.

I love coming home to this every day.

Driving up to the Dollhouse each day makes me smile. Part of it is just knowing that it’s ours, all ours, and part of it is the pretty pink exterior set off by the white porch. Our porch is made for sitting and watching the world go by. But it needs a little work.

First task: Privacy

It might sound strange, wanting privacy on a porch that faces the street and all, but it’s not like I want to enclose the entire thing. It’s more than I want a little more definition on the sides of the porch. Our lot is ~70×209, so the neighboring lots are fairly close. Not so close you could reach out and borrow a cup of sugar through facing windows, but a driveway apart. The east side of the house (that would be the left when facing the house) has a line of trees that creates some natural fencing, but the west is not so lucky. And while I like our neighbors well enough, I don’t want to feel self-conscious about not talking to the residents that routinely take the afternoon sun next door every time I venture out.

Funny how the break in the trees is right at the end of the porch...

Funny how the break in the trees is right at the end of the porch…

I think some previous tenants tried to accomplish the same thing with the sad little trellis on the right, but nothing is growing on it, currently, and my chances of training up a vine are slim to none. I could probably kill kudzu. (Though it would be divine to have wisteria and/or morning glory draped over it. A girl can dream…)

So, instead, adding some lattice panels, painted white, to each end of the porch will provide a tiny bit of privacy, some additional shade if we’re out there in the late afternoon, and still look pretty. I was inspired by the spandrels on some very fancy Victorian homes like this one.

Isn’t that awesome?!

Second task: Color

And while I’m on the subject of “walls,” another update I’d like to make is to the railing and corner pieces. Not change them for something else (are you kidding, that’s what gives the Dollhouse its Gingerbread designation!), but add a little more color. The Victorians didn’t shy away from bright and bold, so I thought it would be nice to paint the cut sides of the white balusters and brackets with our accent colors (the dark green and red) and maybe some additional decorative painting on the faces of the brackets. I’m also waffling between adding some additional molding along the top of the porch, but that might be a later update.

Finally, on the color front, our porch ceiling needs repainting already. (grumble grumble shoddy prep by “professionals” grumble grumble) It’s been peeling and chippy for months, so we knew we’d be tackling it eventually.

So much frustration...

So much frustration…

Now, apparently it’s a very Deep South thing to paint porch ceilings blue. Funny, I’ve never actually seen one or heard of this until very recently. I asked Mom and she confirms that this is not a thing in Louisiana, at least not that she observed in all her years there, only reading about it in magazines over the last little bit. I know geography isn’t my strong suit, but it still amuses me that you can call something a “Deep South” thing when you’re talking about eastern seaboard states that are a lot closer to the Mason-Dixon line than my home state or even my current one.

But I digress…

Will we paint our porch ceiling blue? Not sure. I don’t mind the idea, especially if there’s a chance it could discourage the wasps from building their nests in the eaves–we have gone through so many cans of wasp spray this first year it’s not even funny.

Third Task: Seating

Currently our porch sports a wire patio table and 2 chairs. They’re nice enough, though the chairs could use cushions, but they need a refresher. We also ended up with some spare dining chairs (I laugh at our surplus of seating these days, after so many holidays of dragging in said patio chairs and office chairs to the table) that I’ve set out on the porch for now. Things are looking a little rag-tag at the moment.

This would be the main sitting side of the porch.

This would be the main sitting side of the porch.

First I think I’ll give the patio set a good wire brushing and then a couple coats of outdoor spray paint in bright white. I don’t usually go for the when in doubt, paint it white school of decor, but the railing has such great contrast with the pink house paint and green floor that I think it’s the way to go in this case.

OH! I just had a fabulous idea! I think that the patio table needs a mosaic! *pondering design options*

Okay, while that possibility spins in the back of my mind, the three refugee chairs also could benefit from a coat of paint along with other repairs. And after seeing them sitting so close together like this, I began wondering if I could (and by that you know I mean Todd) join them together and make a chaise lounge out of them, capitalizing on the single armed-ness of the one chair. I’ve wanted a chaise lounge for so long–probably the one piece of furniture I’ve wanted, unabated, since childhood–and this looks like a good way to DIY it. I can pad the single arm and made cushions out of outdoor-friendly fabric and foam (and make matching ones for the patio chairs) and it’ll be the prefect place to lounge on the few days of the year it’s bearable to be outside.

Maybe we need a fan on the porch…

Fourth Task: Fixtures

There's a difference between antique and decaying!

There’s a difference between antique and decaying!

Fan or no, we definitely need a new porch light. We’ve spotted some contenders during our many trips to Lowe’s for one thing or another.

This being our favorite so far,

This being our favorite so far

Also in the plans are some shutters for the windows in the same green as the porch floor and, finally, a new front door. Screen optional.


Our front door is in really sad shape: there’s a pronounced gap at the top, it only stays closed when the deadbolt is flipped, and (as I believe I’ve mentioned before) it swings the wrong way. Todd brought home door brochures from Lowe’s and absolutely nothing looked right to me. I want glass, but not frosted or textured. The ones with leading are nice, but too modern.  Basically, I want something that looks a lot like our back door, but with a single pane of glass, either 1/3 or 2/3 the height, not half or full glass.

Okay, what I really want are a pair of narrow double doors with side lights, but that would require changing the entire front of the entryway and, well, I don’t want it that badly.

And there’s a better chance of us finding a salvaged door that Todd would have to man-handle into what I want than finding it in the store, but we’ll cross that bridge when we come to it.

We’ve also talked about maybe having a porch swing installed (but I’m not sure the porch roof would hold it), and a second seating area over on the opposite side of the porch by the living room bay. It’s not quite as spacious over there, but there’s room for a small chair and table, I think.


Our porch is pretty spiffy as is, but I look forward to spending more time out here once we’ve squared away a few details.

Episode 14: Sweet Tea


Today’s episode turned out to fit beautifully with the September challenge over at Gauche Alchemy, so I decided to run with it! While not all of the songs are strictly “country,” they all have some aspect of down home earnestness, a twang to go along with the back-beat, or something else that makes them fit in my head; there’s even a bit of the rolling zydeco rhythms in there in tribute to my beginnings in Louisiana. And an apology for my voice, today, I’m still getting over the cold that prevented me from putting out an episode over Labor Day weekend as planned. Hopefully we’re back on track again with this episode and I’ll find a good time for the “missing” set of songs to fall into place 🙂

Sweet Tea—Kim McLean 
If You Feel Froggy—Freighttrain Jones
That Texas Girl—Late Model Humans
Mercury In Retrograde—Sean Wiggins
Space monkey—Jim Hodgson
Rolling Back To You—Codie Prevost
Hard Way Home—Runaway Dorothy
Need a Little Squeezin—Copper Box
Zydeco Junkie—Chubby Carrier and the Bayou Swamp Band
Strip Tease—Musical Spa
As Far As My Heart Can See—Norma Jean Martine
Evelyn’s Green—She Swings, She Sways
One Monkey Don’t Stop The Show—Dann Schumann

Of course, this isn’t my only contribution to this month’s Gauche Alchemy challenge. To go along with the music I painted up an old pair of lace ankle boots into appropriate dancing shoes. Check out today’s post over at to see and read more about my project and find out how to enter your own inspired creation for a chance at this month’s prize.


And on a technical note, can I just say how much easier it is to create this podcast now that I’ve started using Adobe Audition?! When I started podcasting I used Garage Band because it came on my my Mac and it was fairly user-friendly. Since Minnie the Mac finally gave up the ghost last year, I was kinda dreading how I was going to put the episodes together and, truth be told, it was part of the reason I kept putting off relaunching the podcast. I know a lot of people use Audacity (the fact that it’s free helps) and I downloaded it to edit some songs for our wedding last year. It’s okay, but it wasn’t as intuitive as I’d hoped; even reading the help and tutorial files didn’t help all that much.

Now, Audition is cheap, but since I subscribe to Adobe’s Creative Cloud service anyway for Illustrator, Photoshop, InDesign, Lightroom and (more recently) Premier Pro, it was nothing extra to download Audition as well. And even though the process of putting together the podcast still involves selecting and rearranging the playlist to the point where I’ve listened to the whole thing about 5 times before it’s all said and done, using Audition means that the actual putting-together of the show takes about as long as listening through it all once more time. Even the transitions that took forever to fiddle with in Garage Band are automatic in Audition, to the point where I maybe have to tweak one each show.

So, you know, if you’ve ever thought of creating your own podcast on whatever subject or in whatever format, I can’t rate Audition highly enough for making the technical aspects super simple.

[/end PSA; no affiliate links just a really happy customer :)]

Searching for Inspiration: the Guest Book

Third Time Wife, Wedding Planning

The guest book is one of those bits of wedding decor that actually has an honest-to-goodness purpose–it even gets int’s own table, putting it right up there with the cake in level of importance.

Darice Guest Book set, image via

Darice Guest Book set, image via

And, yet, after the wedding the guest book generally gets shoved into a box or onto a shelf, seldom to be looked at again.

Hardly seems fair, right?

Which is why I always thought, even when I wasn’t considering another marriage as a possibility, that having guests sign a photo mat that could then be hung in the home with a picture from the day made much more sense in the grand scheme of things.

Darice Signature Mat, image via

Darice Signature Mat, image via

And those crafty wedding vendors have even come up with a silver version with an engraving pens, just so you don’t have to worry about the mat clashing with whatever decor you have in your home.


Engraved Photo Mat by Cathy's Concepts

Engraved Photo Mat by Cathy’s Concepts (image via Amazon)

Then again. I’m not sure the signatures would be easily seen once hung on the wall, they might look more like scratches.

At any rate, I figured a signature mat was the way we’d go and considered the matter closed.

Until I found wedding blogs and saw all of the creative ways brides and grooms were collecting these mementos of their guests!

Thumbprint Wedding Tree, image via Thumbprint Guest Books

Thumbprint Wedding Tree, image via Thumbprint Guest Books

The thumbprint posters are absolutely adorable and I could have easily drawn one suited to us (a bunch of grapes, perhaps?) but I have a hunch that many of our friends would balk at the idea of leaving their thumbprint anywhere not legally mandated. We have some suspicious friends.

Envelope-filled guest album via Style Me Pretty Photography: Charlotte Jenks Lewis Photography

Envelope-filled guest album via Style Me Pretty
Photography: Charlotte Jenks Lewis Photography

Going back to the more traditional guest book, this book of envelopes is very nice–like storybooks with little extras, those envelopes just beg to be opened and the nice and funny notes inside read.

Wedding Guestbook pages from The Guestbook Store

Wedding Guestbook pages from The Guestbook Store

As a scrapbooker, of course I liked this idea of the the fill-in-the-blanks guest book with places for pictures, etc. Of course, these sorts of pages expect guests to spend a certain amount of time filling them out, and I’d rather folks have time to mingle than have their heads down over a page. Those that would even bother, that is.

"where is my birthday" Guest Book Calendar

From Flickr user vjoyking, a “where is my birthday” guest book calendar

And this guest book calendar is inspired! Having each guest sign on their birthday is not only unique but useful, too! You’ll never have an excuse for forgetting Aunt Martha’s birthday again. Of course, a perpetual calendar would also work well for this, it doesn’t have to be tied to a single year.

Guest Bench by Knocked Off Photo by Scott V.

Guest Bench by Knocked Off
Photo by Scott V.

Revisiting the more out-of-the box solutions, this guest bench is a lovely keepsake for a home, which brings up the idea that pretty much anything a person can sign is fair game for a guest “book” stand-in.

So what would we, wine lovers having a vineyard-themed wedding, choose to use as our signature item of choice?

All in good time… (meaning next update, of course!)

37 Home Decor | It’s A Frame Up!

64 Arts

Displaying Art in Your Home Space

You know, I used to think it was terribly vain to display my own art at home. For the longest time the only painting of mine to be on the wall was the one I had to frame for the student show back in 2004 or thereabouts.

Color study still life by Jennifer Walker

Some day I’ll frame the feather panel that was originally part of this piece.

Some time last year, though, I changed my attitude. I don’t know if it was anything major that shifted or just that I was running out of places to store finished work except the walls, but I started with a cork board above my computer and then started hanging different projects I created for Gauche Alchemy, etc. Now my gallery wall is a nice piece of inspiration in my home office and I look forward to filling up the rest of the wall space in there!

Obviously I did not use a level to hang some of these. Gotta fix that ASAP!

Obviously I did not use a level to hang some of these. Gotta fix that ASAP!

There’s really no rhyme or reason with my gallery wall, I just pick the best place by size when i have something new to hang up. Overall I try to keep a certain balance going, but since this wall is a work in progress, it’s going to be a bit off now and then.

I love my medal bar signs--I even leave the Halloween ones up all year.

I love my medal bar signs–I even leave the Halloween ones up all year.

We did something similar in the dining room above the bar, only this was a more deliberate grouping of tin signs and other objects. The large center canvas is newer than the rest of the groupings, and I’m still not sure that’s where it’s going to stay (which is why it’s still overlapping one of my tin signs).

Regardless of whether it’s framed photographs, paintings, prints, or shadowboxes filled with collected items, I think art on the walls makes a space feel more lived in, more alive, and more soothing all at the same time. Most of my items are wrapped canvases, but for everything else I like to find a frame that’s large enough to hold my art plus at least 6 inches, then cut the mat myself.

image via

image via

I have the Logan Do It Yourself Mat Cutting Kit (that I picked up at Michaels years ago with that ever-important 40% off coupon) that makes cutting straight and beveled mats pretty simple (though you’ll want a self-healing mat to protect your work surface, too).

But what about those items that don’t frame easily? The prints and ATCs (artist trading cards) and other things without sufficient border to slip behind a mat? There’s always the shadowbox option, just mount whatever you’ve got to the backing board and go. You can also drill or punch holes in the corners of canvas board and attach a hanger that way, like I did with my Shower Inspiration piece.

But for the 4×6 art card I received from my swap partner, Michelle, I wanted a way to show it off without permanently adhering it (since it has equally awesome sides). Here’s how I solved this riddle.

Now to decide where on my wall this one should go!

Now to decide where on my wall this one should go!

First I dug out a suitably sized frame from the tote of random frames I have in the garage. The glass and backing board are long gone–who know what I did with it–but that’s okay! I cut a piece of foam core exactly the side of the rear opening and made sure it fit snugly.

Doesn't everyone have a tote full of random frames? No?

Doesn’t everyone have a tote full of random frames? No?

Then I found a piece of card stock that would work as a background for the 4×6 card without distracting from it and cut it just slightly smaller than the foam core.

The royal blue picks up on some of the splatters in the background of the art card but still stands out enough from the black edges.

The royal blue picks up on some of the splatters in the background of the art card but still stands out enough from the black edges.

Adhere the card stock to the foam core–I used double-sided tape, but a glue stick would work just as well, I’m sure–and then fit the covered foam core into the frame to stay. Mine was a pretty tight fit as is, but if you have a little wiggle room, it’s not a bad idea to secure the backing into place in whatever way seems best.

Another option--useful if the card is very bulky--would be to attach ribbon straps to the corners of the backing board before securing it, so you could slip the card into place.

Another option–useful if the card is very bulky–would be to attach ribbon straps to the corners of the backing board before securing it, so you could slip the card into place.

Since I wanted to make sure I could remove the card or flip sides whenever I wanted, I used clear photo mounts at each corner to hold the card in place. All done!

Have you thought of adding any art to your space, lately?