The art of maps

Ed Fairburn

Ed Fairburn

For directionally challenged people like me, maps are mostly a pain in the ass. They're hard to read, impossible to fold, and often take you to the wrong place 

Paula Scher, Tsunami Map

Paula Scher, Tsunami Map

So it never occurred to me that mapping is a symbolic language--a language that combines the visual and the verbal, which is what I'm most interested in these days.

Karen O'Leary, Map of Paris

Karen O'Leary, Map of Paris

Everywhere I look, though, artists are expanding the concept of "map" and creating amazing work. Like Ed Fairburn, meshing the geography of the face with the geography of the place…Paula Scher, making huge maps out of place names…Karen O'Leary, cutting intricate maps of cities…and many more.

Fortunately, people who are passionate about maps are great proselytizers, determined for the rest of us to get it. Some of my favorites:

And now that my eyes have been opened, I realize I've already made some maps in my journals--and plan to make lots more.

Journal page, 9.19.13

Journal page, 9.19.13

"Are you an artist?" Gulp.

Journal page, August 2008

Journal page, August 2008

A little boy saw me drawing this creature and asked, "Are you an artist?"

Me? An artist? Whoa…that's a really big word. Way too big for me. Artist? That's someone else. Or is it?

I don't know how you define artist or decide you are one. What I do know is that the A-word causes a lot of grief for people--not just me.

It unleashes all the lies you learned growing up:

  • Creativity is a gift bestowed on the lucky few
  • Being an artist means painting in a loft in Manhattan
  • Suffering is a prerequisite for making aart
  • And so on

The inner critic thrives on this sort of thing. Mine is so loud, I've given it a name, TOI (The Ogre Inside). TOI is invested in keeping me safe, secure, and stuck. Stuck in the muck of creative despair.

It's kind of funny now that I'm writing it down. What drama! What angst! What a waste!

So I have a proposition. Let's just drop the A-word and get on with making art--or whatever you call it.

Hello, blog. I missed you.

Journal page, 3.28.10

Journal page, 3.28.10

We've been friends for a long time--since 2010. So please forgive me for being unavailable these last few months.

I had my reasons:

  1. I wasn't sure what I was doing, if I cared, or if anyone else cared.
  2. Using new technology is so hard for me, I keep giving up.

What changed? I realized that debzweb is for me. (Duh.) I enjoy the whole process: noticing what I'm thinking, writing clearly, adding illustration, and of course, getting responses.

Besides, debzweb supports my calling: inspiring you to explore, write, draw, color, collage, doodle, and most of all, play.

That's what enabled me to approach the problem (an upgrade of the platform I've used for years) once more. I still wanted to give up, but this time I kept one of my favorite quotes in front of me.

Discipline is remembering what you want.

What I want is to create an electronic version of my studio, a magical place where you can slow down, look around, try things, make mistakes, surprise yourself, and have a lot of fun.

So can you come over and play? I hope so.

One more thing we've lost along the way

Remember personalized stationery? For most of my adult life I had beautiful notecards, which I used all the time: to say thank you, send a picture of the kids, or just stay in touch. 

But I used up the last of my stash long ago, and hadn't even thought about it till this week, when I was messing around and created my own. 

It made me sad to think about what we've lost. I mean, who doesn't love to get real ("snail") mail?

So I've decided to do something about it. I'm going to send at least one note a week for the next year. And maybe, if I'm lucky, I'll find something in my mailbox, too.

leafcard copy.jpg

Paying attention to my attention

Rapt:Attention and the Focused Life, by Winifred Gallagher. I haven't read a book like this in a long time. One that totally absorbs me, changes my thinking, and even inspires new behaviors.

This journal entry shows what I mean. On the left hand side, I'm thinking about all the things I'd like to do (that is, have Sam do) to improve our house. 

On the right, I consider changing my perspective instead. Think about how beautiful our house is...get out of my own head and into Sam's...and reevaluate how important these things are.  

It's amazing how making that one small shift changes everything. The result: I let go of my self-righteousness (after all, he really ought to do these things), laugh at myself, get Sam in on the joke, and go on to have a great day. 

My experience is what I agree to attend to.  - William James

The quick brown fox

Journal entry, 2013

The quick brown fox jumps over the lazy dog

That's the one I learned in typing class a million years ago. But I didn't learn the word for it--pangram--till last month.

A pangram is a sentence that uses all the letters of the alphabet. And the quick brown fox is just one of them. 

Adobe uses this one for font samples: Sphinx of black quartz, judge my vow. Another popular one: Pack my box with five dozen liquor jugs.

Now I've come up with my own:

Bright kids squeeze juicy boxes when palms wave. (No one said it had to make sense.)

Why don't you try it? I'd love to see what you come up with.

Homesick at the holidays


Celebrating Chanukah around 1958,

I've loved North Carolina since I arrived here, nearly 40 years ago. But sometimes I still miss the familiarity of my youth, so much it hurts. 

I miss being surrounded by family...the grown ups speaking Yiddish when they didn't want the kinder to hear...the smells of potato latkes, knishes and grebenes (onions cooked in chicken fat till crispy)...the sense of iving in a very Jewish world.

I miss my mom's style, my dad's enthusiasm, my brother's teasing, even Grandma Rose's big wet kisses. (Euwwww!) 

"Homesick." That's how Margaret diagnosed my condition, and it sounds right to me. I'm homesick for a home that only exists in my memories and a few photographs. And now that I think about it, I realize how lucky I am to have them.

My mother's centerpiece. (Notice the candleholders, which are goblets turned upside down.)

The other side of pride

Tissue paper applied with matte medium, 11.27.13.

"Is it possible you could benefit from being more proud of yourself?"

Just as I'm extolling the virtues of humility, I get this question from Rob Brezsny of Free Will Astrology. Whatever you think of astrology, this guy offers something the world needs right now: relentless positive energy and gentle reminders of what's important.

This week, he reminds me there is more than one side to pride. While I've been thinking about the kind that gets in the way of authenticity, I forgot about the other kind: a sense of accomplishment in a job well done, a recognition of personal progress, an acceptance of one's own strengths.

I don't know why that is so hard for me and, I suspect, for many of you. I'm always so aware of what could have been better, I don't notice what's really good. 

So today I'm appreciating a couple of my most recent journal pages. First, the one with Brezsny's reminder, and next, an elaborate doodle. I can see my energy, growth, and playfulness here, and I like it a lot. In fact, I'm proud.

What are you proud of this holiday season? I hope you'll take the time to notice what you do right.

"Pride makes us artificial; humility makes us real."


Journal entry, September 2009

It took me 60 years to understand--and act--on Thomas Merton's words. (In the interest of humility, let me just say that I've never read Merton; I just like to collect quotes that resonate with me.)

What is pride? I think it's the fear of being vulnerable or showing vulnerability. It's the drive to "look good" at the expense of what we really want: intimacy, purpose and joy.

Some of us--by that, I mean me--have to go through hell to let go of self-defeating behaviors like this. I had to hit bottom to find humility and give up the pretense of being "together."

I hope you find an easier way.

I don't think my son had a choice, though; Ben couldn't be anyone but himself. While that made his school years particularly painful, it's what people love about him as an adult. When you talk to him, you feel that he's right there. There are no filters or lies that come between you, nothing that separates you.  

If that's autism, maybe we need more of it.

I crack myself up

A felt egg?

What could be sillier? Felt pancakes? Felt broccoli? A felt sandwich?

You can find instructions for all of these online, as well as for felt layer cakes, doughnuts, and bacon. (Bacon? I really don't understand the recent obsession with it.)

The point is, I'm not the only one who gets a kick out of these things. You can find tons of felt food online, including inspirations, tutorials, patterns, and products.

But there's something particularly charming about the egg. Maybe it's just seeing it in a real egg carton...or its shape...

Whatever it is, my grown son, Ben, got it. He's liked the other felt things I've made, but he loved this--and asked me to make one for him.

No problem. I've already started making more.


In case you missed the original photo, or wanted to see the yellow squash I added.

Instructions for living, via Mary Oliver



I don't always understand Mary Oliver's poetry, but I love the snippets of hers I come across here and there. Like the great advice I used in this book: "Instructions for living a life. Pay attention. Be astonished. Tell about it."

That sums up a lot for me.

By the way, I made this book in Rosie Huart's class, "Painting Poetry" at Art of the Carolinas. Rosie started and closed the class by reading one of Oliver's poems.

I don't always get her poetry, but The Journey took my breath away. It's about the courage to listen to our own voice, rather than the others screaming around us. Read it, OK?

Learning by doing


"We learn to do something by doing it. There is no other way."  John Holt

That's what I love about art workshops. Teachers--at least the good ones--demonstrate things they've learned and then let you explore on your own. 

Rosie Huart, who taught "gestural mark-making" at Art of the Carolinas this weekend, is one of the good ones. She loosened up the class by getting us to make marks with alternative tools--dried leaf, metal plate, feather, stick, cork--that are hard to control. Then she sent us on our way with one piece of advice: Ask "what if..." 

It took a while, but eventually we got it: there is no right way. You have to try things out and see what happens. (You can see what happened for me in the examples above.)

I had so much fun in the morning class, I signed up for her evening one: "Painting Poetry." In three hours, we painted both sides of a large piece of watercolor paper and turned it into a book--without getting stressed out, which is a minor miracle. I came right home and filled mine with textures and words, which you'll see in my next post.

Meanwhile, Art of the Carolinas has become an important marking point for me. Since it happens just once a year, I can easily compare my experiences and appreciate the progress I've made over time.

It's not just about new techniques, materials, and tools, though I love learning about them. What's truly important is the confidence I'm building, which frees me to follow my heart and do my own thing. What a blessing.

It was just "beshert" (meant to be)


What I Learned at Type Camp - a few samples from the weekend

Beshert. That's the Yiddish word for "meant to be"--and it's just how I feel about my weekend.

I mean, how often does this happen?

Monday: read about something called Type Camp.

Wednesday: hear a talk by Dr. Shelley Gruendler, the amazing force behind the camp.

Friday: go to Type Camp calligraphy workshop in Asheville

Sunday: emerge with new energy, skills, and confidence.

To understand how really weird this is, consider that the most recent camps were held in Vancouver, Canada, and Kagawa, Japan; the next are scheduled for India and Ireland. Most focus on understanding typography and enhancing creativity.

So it's just luck that Shelley is a graduate of the NCSU School of Design, and that this workshop was all about my passion: calligraphy. Or maybe it's synergy. Or some other force in the universe.


In any case, thank you.Campers and teachers Carol Fountain Nix and Laura Worthington (top right)

And what did you accomplish yesterday?

That's what I was wondering when I made these vegetables. Don't ask me why.

Well, since you asked... I found this pattern for making vegetables, fruits and cakes, and was simply enchanted. I had to make them--right away of course. 

I'm pretty sure this is not going to change the world, but it was pure fun to sew and stuff these little guys. And now they're sitting in a basket on my kitchen table, which makes me laugh every time I look. 

What's next? I'm thinking the egg carton and eggs...or the cupcake...or maybe the banana. Stay tuned for more.


Celebrating 30 years of marriage


Halloween 1982

This was taken 31 years ago, two weeks after I met Sam; we were married one year later. Now, somehow, it's our 30th anniversary. 

Thirty is a big number, especially for two hardheaded people with different backgrounds, religions, traditions, interests, perspectives and expectations. Add two challenging kids (to put it mildly), and you've got a recipe for disaster.

So how in the world did we get here? I attribute it to a lot of luck, a spiritual connection, good chemistry, and sheer grit.

Plus, to be really cheesey, we complete each other. Sam is the rock that keeps me grounded, safe, and sane; the engineer who can build or fix anything; the man who has adored me through life's ups and downs. He says I add the play, spice, and surprise that makes life worth living.

I once read that a good marriage is one in which both partners think they got better than they deserve. I know I did.

Thanks Sam, for the best 30 years of my life. 

Discovering Sanine, after all these years

Sanine, by Michael Artzibashef, was published in 1907.

My grandfather, Harry Levin, read Sanine in Russia before he immigrated to the U.S. My mother said it was his favorite book, and she looked for it for years.

My brother eventually found a copy for her. So I wasn't surprised when I discovered it on my bookshelf. What floored me was the inscription on the first page.

"To Ruth?" My mother-in-law?

How likely is that? I mean, it's not like War and Peace or The Rubiyat of Omar Khayam (of which we have two identical copies, one from each mother).

So I finally sat down and read it. I was totally engrossed, due in part to the story and maybe more to the ties across time. And I've been thinking about it ever since.

Well, sort of thinking. Mostly not knowing what to think. It's such a different style of novel from modern ones. There is a story line, but mostly the characters debate existential questions: convention versus nature, autonomy versus intimacy, men versus women.

Sanine scorns accepted social rules, saying what he thinks and taking what he wants. There's something noble in this at times, but he leaves disaster in his wake: deflowered women, despairing men, and a lot of suicide.

I wonder what my grandfather made of all this. 

By the way, his real name was Gershon and his brother, Herschel. But when they came through Ellis Island, both were translated as Harry!

Listening to the internal "committee"

Committee members sitting around the conference table.

Notice that each has a laptop and cellphone. If I tune into the constant chatter in my mind, I can hear all the dumb things my inner voices are saying. But I never thought about naming them till last week, when I read Soul Collage by Seena B. Frost. Now I can't think of anything else. 

Frost's book explains how to make and use Soul Collage Cards as guides for life's journey. You create four "suits," beginning with the Committee: the psychological aspects of your soul. In other words, the inner dialogue.

Who are these characters, and what are they saying? Here's what I've uncovered so far:

  • The Critic. "You suck. Your work sucks. What a loser!"
  • The Wounded Child. "What about ME, ME, ME?" 
  • The Little Sister. "I just want to play!"
  • The Princess. "I want stuff and I deserve to have it."
  • The Rebel. "Question authority, and while you're at it, break the rules."
  • The Existentialist. "What's the point?"
  • The Coach. "Be kind. Be grateful. Focus on your life's path."
  • The Mystic. "Awe and wonder are present in the moment. Be here now."

I could go on. And on. How about the Fighter? The Nurturer? The Bitch? The hard part, at least for me, isn't identifying committee members; it's limiting membership to the most influential. 

How about you? Who's playing in your mind right now? Who was there yesterday? Last week? Please tell me I'm not alone in this...

"So what do you do?"


From This Is Not the Life I Ordered, by Deborah Collins

That question may be the reason I dread parties, especially parties with my husband's colleagues.

The thing is, I don't know how to answer. I'm an artist, designer, crafter? I just like to make stuff? I'm playing in my studio? 

So this year, I prepared myself the best way I know: by thinking on paper--that is, writing in my journal. It sounds lame to me, but it turned out to be a useful exercise. When someone at the party asked the inevitable question, I had words to explain (whether he understood or not). 

1. I'm interested in communication, combining words and images to create meaning.

2. That point of view guides whatever I create: journals, books, wall hangings, cards, boxes, tokens, pillows, blankets, etc. 

3. My mission is to inspire creative play, to overcome the obstacles our culture erects.

4. I'm getting ready for the next phase. I already hired a professional photographer to catalogue my work. Now I've been asked to teach and will, if I ever get around to writing a class description. 

So where does this blog fit in? I'm not sure, but I've started working on it (in my journal, of course), and I'll let you know when I figure it out.

By the way, the party thing worked great. Thanks for asking.

Mood swing alert

The Daily Mood, from Fred and Friends

Hunky-dory? Chipper? Peckish? Snarky? These are words I would never use to describe my emotional state. Plus, those emoticons get old really quick.

So it's time to retire The Daily Mood flip book and create my own mood deck, something I've been contemplating for a while. Luckily, an idea for the format basically fell on my head--or Margaret's, I'm not sure which.

It's the perfect thing for the box of old-timey, heavy flashcards I was saving for something or other (apparently this). Take a look at my first few attempts, and please, let me know what you think.

With love from my studio and gratitude for my healing hand, Deb.

Work in progress

Visual literacy

"Wow!" That's what I would have said if I saw this kitchen in a magazine. So it took me a minute to realize that it's mine.

I see my kitchen every day, of course: I just don't see it like this. What I see is the spots on the cooktop, the dishes left on the counter, the newspapers piling up in the corner. I forget to see the big picture--how beautiful it is and how fortunate I am to live this way.

We don't see things as they are; we see them as we are. 

That's what Anais Nin said, and I'm sure there's plenty of research to back her up. We think we're seeing with our eyes, when it's actually our brain at the controls. And the more informed we are, the more our eyes can distinguish and comprehend. 

That's why I walk into Starbucks and see the typeface on the door, while Lynda sees the furniture arrangement and Sam sees his friends at the counter. 

Mostly, it appears, we don't see much at all. We're "visually illiterate," according to designer/writer George Nelson. But we can learn, as he explained in his classic book, How To See: A Guide to Reading Our Manmade Environment.

By the way, see the light above our kitchen table? Nelson designed it in 1947.