Posts from the “art + design” Category

MAKING SPACE FOR CREATIVITY in the age of overload

Hiromu Kira "The Thinker"

Hiromu Kira “The Thinker”

When I first started writing, I quickly noticed that my best material didn’t happen while I was at the keyboard.

The best stuff usually came to me while I was otherwise occupied with everyday tasks, often appearing mysteriously as if conjured from the ether or channeled from an alternate reality.

My “letter from the editor” would pretty much write itself during my walk home from work. The outline for my next article would take shape while I was in the shower. A kick-ass blog title would pop into my head as I scrubbed the dinner dishes.

The trick was to give myself enough time for these mind-less moments, to mind less what I was thinking, give free reign to my thoughts, give freely to association and stream of consciousness. (I think I just did some of that right there.)

I still come up with my most fruitful ideas and juiciest turns of phrase while I’m doing things other than actually working.

But why?

I wanted to know – what is this thing called ‘creative space’?

Of course, the moment I set this question to brewing, I also set in motion a kind of Kevin Bacon effect. Six degrees of variation on the theme “claiming space in a world of chronic busy-ness” are suddenly everywhere I turn.

I can’t flip on the radio, open a magazine, or check my inbox without hearing about the benefits of taking regular technology vacations. The FOMO (Yes, Folks, that’s Fear Of Missing Out – so pervasive there’s an acronym for it) that drives us to constantly mainline our social media. The decline of adaptability and creativity in our collectively overscheduled kids. Obviously these issues are seriously stirring the pop culture pot.

Then Johanna Beyer of On Your Path Consulting miraculously drops a video in my lap – Tiffany Shlain’s “A Case For Dreaming” – and voila, my aha moment leading to this post.

But this cascade of connected ideas would never have begun if I hadn’t carved out a “creative space” corner in my mind in the first place.

In her illuminating (and just really cool) video, Shlain explains why. She calls it the “Default Mode Network” – a network of neurons that we can only access when we’re on autopilot (i.e., walking, doing chores, daydreaming). In this mode, we suddenly “see connections where we didn’t see connections before.”

Shlain’s video presents the case for dreaming while providing plenty of thought-nuggets to chew on and explore further. I could tell you more, but really you should just take the six minutes and see it for yourself. I promise you’ll never again feel guilty about taking a brain break.

So now I hope you reclassify dreaming and mind-less-ness as critical parts of the creative process. Be generous with your vacations  – technological and otherwise. Sit still. Stop. Notice. Smell. Taste. Feel. Listen.

Let your mind wander. It knows what it’s doing, even if it appears suspiciously to be shirking its duties. In reality, it’s forging paths and making connections and busting its buttocks to create something new, something that didn’t exist a nanosecond ago.

Plus, think of the extra brownie points you’ll get for doing the dishes tonight.






GOING ZERO WASTE how low can you go?

Zero Waste Home US ORIGINAL

Bea Johnson knows a thing or two about vinegar.

She uses it as a window cleaner, laundry freshener, drain opener, weed killer, insect repellant, and stain remover. She even used it instead of conditioner until her husband got a tad tired of her smelling like vinaigrette.

You see, Bea is one of the leading proponents of the Zero Waste movement.

The Queen Bea of Zero Waste, you might say.

bea johnson

bea johnson

When her inspiring story started in 2006, she was living the American suburban dream in a 3,000-square-foot home filled with trinkets and trivia, driving (a big SUV) everywhere yet getting nowhere, consuming a lot…yet not quite fulfilled.

Now she lives in a small cottage with just the basics, gets around town on two wheels instead of four, has time for simple pleasures with her family, and has never been happier. Her story unfolds like a fable, as a Sleeping Beauty gradually wakes up to the toll the American Dream takes on our relationships, ourselves and our planet.

On Bea’s blog  and in her new book, Zero Waste Home, she chronicles her trials and tribulations of reducing waste and simplifying her life. She talks about her almost obsessive efforts to eliminate waste, and eventually finding her way back to reasonable and sustainable solutions for her family.

Her blog and book are amazing collections of all the things that worked for her, and we learn so much about creative solutions for the home, office, garden, personal care, even while traveling. Here we can find ideas for fresh and timeless home decor, creative alternatives to traditional products, the best places to buy bulk (there’s even an app for that), and the art of refusing freebies and other un-necessities.

Bea does an amazing job of keeping Zero Waste approachable. Notice I didn’t say ‘attainable’. Because she is the first to point out that Zero Waste is not an absolute – “shit happens” and to make waste is to be human. The great thing is this book passionately reminds us that we get to decide how much each of us makes.

Bea’s lifestyle might seem rash to some readers (charred almonds for eyeliner!) but not extreme enough to others (yes, folks, she does use toilet paper, albeit the recycled, unbleached kind). But there are hundreds of simple and creative tips in this book that anyone can use – the harried mom, the hardcore environmentalist, and everyone in between.

Try a few of Bea’s tips this week. You might discover for yourself that ‘less’ is truly ‘more’….

What is Zero Waste?  A philosophy based on a set of practices aimed at avoiding as much waste as possible. In the manufacturing world it inspires cradle-to-cradle design, in the home it engages the consumer to act responsibly.” { (c) Zero Waste Home}

Why you should consider it.

  • Less garbage in landfills.
  • Fewer toxins in the air, soil and water.
  • Reduced greenhouse gas emissions.
  • Less time spent cleaning and curating your material stuff.
  • More time spent with friends, family and experiencing stuff.

A random sampling of Bea’s Zero Waste tips:

  • Welcome alternatives to disposables. Swap paper towels for reusable rags, swap sandwich baggies for kitchen towels or stainless containers, drop garbage liners all together (wet waste is mostly compostable anyway).
  • Buy in bulk or at the counter, bring reusable bags (for dry goods), jars (for wet items such as meat, deli, cheese, peanut butter) and bottles (for liquids: oil, soy sauce, shampoo).
  • Refill your bottles with bulk shampoo and conditioner, or use a shampoo bar. Instead of hairspray, switch to lemon water in a spray bottle. To go longer between washes, substitute dry shampoo for cornstarch (in bulk).
  • Use 100% recycled and unbleached toilet paper individually wrapped in paper,
  • Do laundry once a week using a bulk laundry detergent, full loads, and cold water cycles as much as possible. Savon de Marseille, dishwasher detergent, lemon or vinegar work great on stains.
  • Use bulk liquid castille soap as a dish/hand cleaner, baking soda as a scrubber (in a stainless Parmesan dispenser) with a compostable cleaning brush (a wooden one with natural hair). Purchase dishwasher detergent in bulk.
  • Use refillable pens, piston fountain pens, mechanical pencils, refillable white board markers and donate extra office material (paper, pencils) to your public school’s art program.
  • Start your personal junk mail war, cancel your phone directories, and sign up for electronic bills and statements.
  • Only shop for clothes a couple times a year to avoid compulsive buys.
  • Buy second-hand clothing.
  • Find creative ways to decorate your table with few napkin folding tricks, discarded leaves/branches from the yard, or just seasonal fruit.
  • Hostess gift: Bring a jar of a homemade consumable, or your favorite bulk item wrapped in Furoshiki.
  • Give the gift of an experience as a birthday present.


What are your tips for Going Zero?


BE GOOD eco-friendly + fair + philanthropic + fashion

Threads for Thought Juno Poncho

Threads for Thought Juno Poncho

Normally I’m not one to plug a single product or business. But since October is fair trade month I’m going to let you in on a little fair trade secret.

Be Good  has lovely clothing and jewelry for the ladies, gear for the guys, gifts for all. And every stitch of it is socially responsible, fair trade, sustainable, and/or philanthropic (usually and).

For many of us going more eco, our clothing is the final frontier of green-itude. And it can be tricky finding stylish goods in the sea of hemp caftans and beige messenger bags out there.

GoodBoysOwners Mark Spera & Dean Ramadan have curated an amazing collection of fine greenery for the hipster set. In a jaded world of I-can’t-make-a-difference-so-why-bother, their optimism and energy is refreshing and contagious. Plus how can you argue with free shipping over $50 and free returns?


Screen shot 2013-10-14 at 1.02.59 PM

Pop in the brick/mortar shop on Union Street in San Francisco, or just pop by the website.

What are some of your favorite online eco-purveyors?

ROME it’s just better with a guide





I just got back from spending seven days in Rome.

It wasn’t my first time there – I had been twice before and enjoyed seeing all the usual suspects like the Colosseum, the Vatican City, and the Trevi Fountain.

But this time felt like the first time, for one simple reason: I got some help getting off the beaten path.

I’ve never been on a guided tour before, mostly because I’ve always had a pubescent obsession with looking like a local whenever I travel. I was strictly stealth with my maps and camera, spoke in hushed tones, and avoided sensible footwear at all times.

But now I’m all growed up and I finally understand that the joy of traveling is truly seeing without worrying about being seen (as a tourist).

Two guides in particular showed me a Rome that I never knew existed. Rome is all about its historical underbelly, about what lies beneath and between its layers of civilization. If you take the time to peel them back, you begin to grasp that Rome is a work of art in progress, an ongoing morphing masterpiece.

Just as the ancient Romans integrated most of the cultures they conquered, modern day Rome is a crazy intertwixt of old and new, ancestors and inhabitants, food and wine, art and architecture. Everywhere you look there’s a reminder that this city has stood for millennia, and it profoundly changes the way you think about time – and your place in it.

If you can swing the extra cost of hiring a guide, I guarantee you’ll get an exponential return on your investment.

These are the guys that transformed my trip from very cool to truly awesome…and some of their favorite Roman nooks and crannies.

Chris at Roscioli Salumeria

Chris at Roscioli Salumeria

Chris from Wine & Food of Rome has a dual degree in European History and Religious Studies, and it serves him well. He’s a virtual search engine for facts and dates, but also for rich cultural context. Despite his pedigree, his style was casual and he welcomed all our questions as we wended our way through the city streets. (Okay, full disclosure here: Chris is my brother. But I’m totally objective about how talented he is – I swear.)

  • The food at Hostaria da Pietro is not even the same species of that which passes for “Italian” in the U.S. Chris asked them to just bring us whatever was fresh that day, and it was absurdly delicious. The waiter treated us like his long-lost famiglia and showed us photos of his newborn daughter. It was that kind of place.
  • I’ve done a few wine tastings in my day, but sommelier extraordinaire Alessandro at Roscioli Wine and Food Tasting takes it to another level. We tasted upwards of a dozen Old World wines paired with generous morsels of burrata cheese, pecorino romano, specialty prosciuttos and house-made spicy rigatoni.

    Villa Borghese gardens

    Villa Borghese gardens

  • "Apollo and Daphne" by Bernini

    “Apollo and Daphne” by Bernini

    We spent hours at the Villa Borghese,  the 148-acre former estate of 16th century cardinal Scipione Borghese. After strolling the magnificent gardens (now a public park) we toured the gallery filled with Ancient Roman mosaics, exquisite Bernini sculptures, and paintings by Titian and Raphael.

  • There are more than 900 churches in Rome. We only saw a fraction of them, but my favorite was Santa Maria degli Angeli. The church’s crumbling ruin of an exterior belies the grandeur inside – so symbolic of Rome’s tradition of not fixing stuff up too much, of celebrating its heritage and imperfect beauty.

    Santa Maria degli Angeli

    Santa Maria degli Angeli


Evan in action

Evan in action

Evan from Rome Illuminated has almost a decade of experience as a guide. He had dramatic flair and infectious enthusiasm as he effortlessly ushered us through his highlights of modern-day Rome. He also had an amazing ability to paint a picture of the sights, smells and sounds we may have encountered on a trip to Ancient Rome.

Caravaggio "The Calling of St Matthew"

Caravaggio “The Calling of St Matthew”

  • My second favorite church was San Luigi dei Francesi, mostly because it has three amazing Caravaggio masterpieces in it. Evan brought the paintings to life, pointing out subtle details and giving us the stories behind them.
  • We thought we were going into the Teatro Valle for a quick peek, but Evan managed to score us a grand tour of its innards. We climbed the rafters, got a bird’s eye view of the set pulleys and the backstage. Built in 1726, the theater was shut down in 2010 due to budget cuts, but was soon occupied by directors and
    Teatro Valle

    Teatro Valle

    performers who still stage regular productions. This Roman passion has spurred other grassroots movements all over Europe to save old art institutions.

  • We wrapped our tour with an aperitivo with a view – Evan called ahead to reserve a table on the terrace of Hotel Raphael . Arriving just as the last of the daylight faded and the city panorama was illuminated by hazy pink streetlights, we raised our Negronis and drank a toast – to our speedy return to Rome.

    Terrace at Hotel Raphael

    Terrace at Hotel Raphael


What are your favorite Roman hotspots?




DHARMA STRASSER MacCOLL portrait of an artist


Green Interlace 38" x 38"

Green Interlace 38″ x 38″

To approach a work of art by Dharma Strasser MacColl is to experience a series of unexpected layers and exquisite surprises.

On first glance, each work is serenely beautiful to behold – the primal shapes, the magnetic compositions, the saturated colors.

Large Ombre Bloom

Large Ombre Bloom 16″ x 16″

Come closer, however, and the surfaces begin bubbling with sculptural details. You notice the stitches overlaying brush strokes and the intricate hand-cut patterns of lace-like paper. You detect the flutter and shadow of delicate felt forms and ceramic beads.

Dharma has been making art for almost twenty years, and her newest body of work “Interlace” combines painting and ceramics in an entirely unique way. The shapes she uses – floral, starburst, leafy – echo those found in nature: “nature on steroids” as she likes to say. They also often evoke the cellular, as if peering through a microscope at a thin slice of a larger organism.

Upward and Beyond

Upward and Beyond 31″ x 38″

Dharma has a hand in making or shaping most of the media she uses. She cuts and sews with felt and Nepalese lokta paper. She forms and fires the porcelain and clay beads that sparsely adorn many of her pieces. Her studies in ceramics as well as Pre-Columbian and African art are evident. But the care and precision she puts into her beadwork is inspired by her English grandmother, who made bouquets of vibrant flowers with wire and tiny seed beads.


Blossoming Yes 17" x 15" lokta paper, porcelain, thread, gouache

Blossoming Yes 17″ x 15″

Her materials – clay, wool felt, thread – may be substantial, but Dharma manages to transform them into something ethereal and airy. Her compositions explore the Japanese concept of ma – of active negative space, the space between things. Other essential themes that dance around “Interlace” are the interconnectedness of life and the playful tension between intricacy and simplicity, form and abstraction, modern and primitive.

When Dharma dives in to a new piece, she’s never quite sure of how it will end up. There’s a sense of wonder and curiosity in her process – she stays open to whatever comes, discovering her own work as it breathes and grows. And we imagine that each work is as compelling for her to make as it is for us to see.


Dharma Strasser MacColl shows at Traywick Contemporary in Berkeley, CA

Orange Interlace 38" x 38"

Orange Interlace 38″ x 38″