Patty’s home needs a roof

Rough sketch of roof with dimensions and notes on available lumber
Sketch of roof with notes about available lumber and dimensions

I’m used to big box stores where prices and materials are more or less clearly marked. Lately I’ve been searching for local options in an attempt to avoid the big box stores (and their sketchy politics), but I’m often intimidated by the layout and lack of information in such stores. The roof of the playset had more rot than I expected. Each board was 1X6X48 inches. I also wanted to increase the overhang of the roof to keep our birds dry.

So here’s the thing about a project like this- I seem to spend as much time on the planning, designing, and sourcing of materials as I do on the building part. Making art is similar- often you spend more time thinking and planning than making. The making, truth be told, is generally the fun part.

I could have saved about half the wood of the roof and bought 1X6 lumber to replace the rot, but that wouldn’t have allowed me to increase the overhang. I could have used plywood, but I just didn’t want to. I’m not against it, but it does have chemicals in it that limit its long term usefulness as a material. I guess it bothers me that you can’t even safely burn it after it’s usefulness as a building material has run out.

I didn’t see any interesting alternatives at a nearby big box store, so I went to a local lumber store that had been recommended to me.

Did I mention that I’m an introvert? So a brand new store with unknown layout and rules (remember it’s the Covid 19 era as well) gives me pause. I sat in my minivan for a few long minutes before heading on in. Immediately it’s clear that all the wood is out back somewhere. There aren’t any good signs to tell me where and how to find it. The woman who answers my questions is nice enough, but it’s clear that that none of it is labeled for the novice consumer, or priced, and I will just have to ask. I looked around some more and retreated to my car.

So I’m literally in my van with my sketchbook, and I call. What do you have that might work for the project I’m making? The person on the phone is marvelous considering, and I have to call back a few times as he measures the actual size of the wood he has in stock, and I check my math. Because here’s another thing for the unsuspecting novice- a 2X4 piece of wood (why oh why are we still using the English measurement system?) does not actually measure 2 inches by 4 inches. It’s usually closer to 1 3/4 X 3 1/2 inches. So you have to take into account the actual measurements of the wood.

6 raw boards, sanded and ready to stain
6 raw boards, sanded and ready to stain

They had 1X8X16 rough spruce. Not a material I’m familiar with, but I was intrigued- could I make that work? I did the math and figured it it was actually pretty perfect, that if they cut each piece into 3 even pieces 5’4″ each (the van holds a 4X8 board but 16 feet is too long), I could get enough wood if I bought 5 16′ lengths, and bought 6 just in case which turned out to be helpful. That would increase my overhang by several inches lengthwise and about 2 inches longer on each side.

After buying the wood, which necessitated a trip inside, I was told to drive around back. Vague directions, very little signage. I hate that- can you tell I hate that? But I found the right person, who looked a little confused but he found and cut the wood for me. As I’m out there I realize that much of the wood, mine included, is stored outside on the ground. I’m not sure if that’s standard procedure but it doesn’t seem ideal, so even as I’m waiting for it to be cut I’m having this buyer’s remorse, second guessing all of my decisions. In the end I spent $100 on the wood for the roof, which is a bit more than plywood would have been but I feel better about it. My point here is that hardware stores and lumber yards, which are traditionally male spaces although that’s changing, are intimidating if you’re not in the know. Better signage and labeling would help that. This is where the big box stores get it right- making it easier for those of us who weren’t indoctrinated into this world at a young age to figure out how to navigate.

The wood is fine, but it was dirty and pretty rough. I decided to sand it, not smooth, but just enough to get the dirt off and some of the gray bits. My small ‘mouse’ sander was clearly not up to the task. I was able to borrow a palm sander that was better (thank you Jeffu!). It’s all going to be covered with roofing paper and shingles so it doesn’t have to be beautiful, but I stained one side anyway to give it an extra bit of protection from the elements. I figure I can paint the other side, which will then be the ceiling of the 2nd floor, if I want to. We’ll see.

5 spruce boards, stained dark brown and laid out to dry on the playset
5 spruce boards, stained and drying on the 1st floor of the playset

Next step was to trim all the wood that wasn’t exactly 5’4″ (some were longer). Somewhere along the line I thought, well what if I bevel the edges of the 2 pieces that meet at the peak so that they line up nicely? But cutting 5′ boards with a circular saw at a 45 degree angle lengthwise isn’t all that easy, and my first try was off quite a bit, then my 2nd try went awry (I might have cut through my portable worktable a wee bit) and I got frustrated. I was underestimating where the blade came out underneath, and I also kept forgetting to use the correct guide on the circular saw for the 45 degree cut. It’s not good to get frustrated when working with power tools. My husband noticed and said let’s take the dog for a walk now. So we did.

Came home, 3rd try and I got it right. In the end it’s not that different than cutting a beveled mat, but the tools have more HP and the material is a lot denser and thicker. By the way, I always wear safety glasses and ear protection, and I’ve deliberately cultivated a neurotic habit of pulling the battery out every time I put the saw down. Safety is an extremely important consideration- I need all my fingers thank you very much!

Today’s task- replace the rotted boards with the new boards, trim the top of the 4X4s to match. One had some rot at the top so I’m taking 3 inches off the top of all 4. This is where the frame of the roof screws/is bolted to the structual 4X4s of the playset.

Meanwhile, I’ve ordered the shingles and the roofing nails, and they’re ready to pick up at my nearby box store. Sorry local store! I’ll try again… but I do love the new curbside pick-up option.


sci 68


Barred Owl

All summer long a barred owl hooted outside,

keeping me company during the sleepless times.

Friday morning I found him on Chicopee Row, recently hit.

As I gathered him up,

he opened his eyes one last time,

seeing me.


Later that afternoon-

I took him to his final resting place

on a hill where 3 oak trees grow

together as one.


The silent nights are lonely without his call.



Deborah Santoro


Chakras Evolve


I had the pleasure and honor of auditing a printmaking seminar with Phyllis McGibbon at my alma mater last fall.  This allowed me to try lithography for the first time, and to substantially improve my silk screening technique.  More importantly, my ideas and thinking evolved and the LIQUORS & Chakras series took a huge leap.

While I was writing a reflection paper for the class, my husband came up with the idea to put them all together in one image.  The resulting image (above) shows the original 70s era LIQUORS sign in Ayer, Massachusetts, alongside an early gelatin print version of the sign that is about 7 feet tall.  Figure 3 is a hanging mobile made of paper and transparent film, shown here before) and finally the black, white & silver prints in image 4 are my final project for the class, a series of 7 silkscreen prints.

between muladhara and sahasrara


LIQUORS and Chakras


It all started with a 60s era LIQUORS sign in Ayer, Ma. For several years I have been weaving the letters (LIQUORS) in and out of yoga poses and tile patterns in my prints and multimedia pieces. In March I made my first gelatin printed LIQUORS sign, 8 feet tall and 14 inches wide.  And then I made another.  It was interesting that just as I was committing to make prints that I could sell, the first things I actually made were more or less unsaleable prints.

The 7 letters of the LIQUORS sign line up neatly with the 7 chakras, an esoteric system of thinking about the energetic body that emerged in India centuries ago and was imported to the West along with yoga in the 19th century.  The chakras and their associated colors, meanings, and locations continue to evolve in the West.

Chakras are thought to be spinning orbs of energy at various locations in the body.  This concept is useful to yoga practitioners who use them as focal points, a means of concentrating ones mind on the practice.

The LIQUORS sign points to the ubiquity of alcohol in our culture.  Despite the fact that a percentage of the population is always in recovery, our culture values the convenience having alcohol in grocery stores. Imagine for a moment that you are recovering from opioid or alcohol addiction, and yet simply to purchase bread, milk, and eggs, you are obliged to walk past an aisle full of beer and wine.  For most people in recovery, it’s not just one substance, it’s any mind altering substance they can’t have, because one is never enough.

This is the mock up of the sign.  The final version will be fashioned of silkscreen on acetate, laser cut plexiglass, marbled and hand printed papers.  Inside the letters are allusions to places in the body the chakras represent and potential pathways for healing.  There are x-rays, neurons, words, brain imagery, yoga poses, heroin molecules, and more.   The imagery here is evolving as I study the chakras and learn how to heal from grief. A good friend told me that I would have to learn how to incorporate this loss into a new version of myself.  The one thing that’s missing in this sign is my sister- I’m still figuring out how to add her in.

Here it is in my studio, twirling:






akua, Uncategorized



Coccyx, Silkscreen and monoprint on paper.


This piece iterates an ongoing exploration of the hip joint, the space in and around where the head of the femur sits in the socket of the pelvis known as the acetabulum. The yogi reaches through time when she reaches for a deep bind, exploring layers of tension in the body.  The pose here is pasasana, or noose pose, and is the first pose of the 2nd series of Ashtanga yoga.



Writing an Artist Statement/ Value Proposition

Molecular Prison

I’m participating in an Artist 2 Work incubator program designed by Professor Ellen Wetmore of UMASS Lowell.  So far we’ve had lectures from professors on value proposition, basic marketing concepts tailored specifically for artists and the art market, branding, and targeting the luxury market.  I’ve learned many new things and relearned things I’ve forgotten that I knew.

Our first homework assignment was to write a value proposition.  She asked for 2 sentences and I wrote a paragraph.  Typical.  Separately from the class I read advice on applying for grants that seemed sound- have 3 people review your grant proposal before you submit it, and include at least one person who does not speak the lingo.  The rationale is that not everyone on the board of folks reviewing your grant will be fluent in art speak, and you need to reach them too.  So I had my husband read my value proposition, and at first I though he just didn’t get it, but by the next morning I realized that I just wasn’t being very clear.

Good advice, that.

Deborah Santoro: The Asana Series

My prints and multi-media pieces inhabit the space between yearning and falling, between striving to realize a potential, and the habits/patterns/programs that enmesh us in ways of being that do not serve our higher selves.  The LIQUORS sign becomes a stand-in for addictions of all kinds, and the hopelessness that trails them. The asana, or yoga poses, represent an embodied, intuitive knowing that links human potential with universal themes; dendrites and star charts, our mitochondria like tiny suns inside our bodies.  In the time bound dance between despair and enlightenment, time, pattern and color all have their part to play.


Altoon Sultan & Recent Happenings


I recently went to Wellesley to see the Kathe Kollwitz/ Krieg Cycle exhibit at the Davis Museum & Cultural Center.  I’d write about that, but Altoon Sultan already did that here. While I was in the vicinity, I went to Altoon’s current exhibit at the David Hall Fine Arts Gallery downtown. I went with children, and so didn’t have quite as much time to really look as I would have liked.  It’s a bit distracting when your middle daughter starts rolling around the gallery on a wheeled chair, even if the owner is exceedingly nice and even encouraging.

Still, I have admired her from afar for some time and it was wonderful to see these exquisite little works in person.


I was also given a large full color catalog with a full length essay about her work, which I will read as soon as I remember where I put it.  It was been that kind of week.  Two weeks, really.  But today I’m back in the studio and it’s been so long since I updated my website/blog, that I’m feeling slightly ashamed.

Not for lack of working, however.  Here is a new piece:


It’s similar to what I’m working on today, only now it’s a diptych, with more orange.  An interesting confluence, to me at least, is that the way Altoon’s hooked wool rectangles hang from pins on the gallery wall causes them to be not perfectly straight.  The gelatin plates I’m using are the same way, and as they age they become more and more irregular. All in the interest of subverting the tyranny of the rectangle.

The diptych idea popped into my head about a month ago, but it requires a bit of a set-up to line everything up, which I finally did today.

One more thing.  I’ve become hooked on listening to the Modern Art Notes Podcasts while I work.  They had a really interesting one on Picasso’s sculpture at the MoMA, and today I listened to an older one on Marylin Minter and David Ireland.   If you like modern and contemporary art, they are a great way to learn while you work.



Museum Visits and Studio Notes

February 2015 was the longest month ever, enough said.  But it’s March now, and as the days lengthen, and my daughter’s art class starts up again, I find myself in Boston with more frequency.


A taut exhibit in a corrider at MFA Boston has me exploring contemporary Chinese Art.  This show is from the collection of Carolyn Shu and Rene Balcer.  The above piece is one of the Face Mazes of Lu Shengzhong.  This is just a teaser, I’ll have to get back next week to document it better as the MFA does not seem to be hyping this show so much.  I’ve learned to forgive the MFA its excesses because it comes out with gems like this, and I figure it has to pay the bills some how.


This is a reflection of myself in a piece by Teresita Fernandez, a MacArthur Grantee whose exhibit at MassMoCA (which might still be up) was just… it induced perspectival epiphany, among other things.  There’s a talk by her somewhere that was also quite good.  Forgive me but I didn’t make a note of the title of the piece.  It’s over where the side entrance used to be, if that helps.  On the first floor, contemporary side.


Hommage á Monsieur Matisse, collage and monotype

This small collage was made after a trip to the MoMA to see the Matisse Cutouts, which were glorious.  It’s not yet glued here which is interesting to me because Matisse himself didn’t glue down his cutouts.



A good day in the studio yesterday.  Sometimes it feels like you spend all day to get one interesting thing at the very end.  It took the whole day to get there.  Not that I’ll throw out the others, but suddenly it all crystallized.  That, that indefinable thing that I didn’t know I was looking for until I saw it.


quo  qu2

One place where I have not done well as an artist is dealing with rejection.  I sort of suck at that.  Today I received a rejection to a show I was hoping to get into.  What I normally do with rejection is is to stop trying for a while.  This is not a productive or useful response.  Today what I will do is read a chapter from The War of Art, and then decide what to apply to next.

The important thing isn’t that I please others.  The important thing here is that I am absolutely true to my inner vision.

I reject that rejection.