Monday, September 28, 2020

The Stenciled Nest

Like most of us, I have been keeping very close to home for many months now - longer than many, as I live in New York.  We went into lockdown earlier than most states and stayed there much longer.  For the first several scary weeks, I pretty much stayed inside.  The weather obliged by being cold and wet and ominous.  Curled up on my sofa in a nest of blankets, I spent hour after hour looking out the window, too worried and stunned to do much of anything but watch the birds at my feeders.  As so many others did this spring, I found consolation in the birds:  the bright flash of the goldfinches that brought yellow to my yard before the forsythia bloomed, the quarrelsome starlings, the nuthatches creeping headfirst down the tree trunks, the quick, acrobatic chickadees flitting from perch to perch.  Birds have always carried a lot of symbolism on their delicate wings, and this year it seems they've had to do a lot of emotional and spiritual heavy lifting for us - at least they have for me.  I tear up when I think how much I depended on my wild bird companions for comfort - and still do.  I bought so many additional feeders on-line that I started running out of places to hang them.
And I will confess, I have struggled with making art during this time.  My attention has been directed toward my family and my home, always driven by the nagging fear that this winter will likely be a hard one in many ways, and by the need to make repairs and prepare for uncertainty - my own nest has to be my family's sanctuary during the alarming uncertainty that lies ahead of us.
So, in keeping with the theme of home decor, I decided to offer an even larger invitation to my birds by hanging houses for them.  I offer this fall craft/ home decor project as a welcome to my bird friends - please, I beg you, stay by me.   Don't leave me. 
I began with three bottle gourds I purchased on Etsy, already drilled with holes to serve as bird houses.  I have always been fascinated by nests, especially the elaborately woven ones that look like giant baskets - the weaverbird nests that can house whole colonies.  With that in mind, I looked for stencils that might
Art Party S499

mimic that woven yet organic texture.  In Daniella Woolf's Art Party stencil (S499) I found the right texture -  woven without looking mechanical.  I like that there are some shaggy elements that make it look like bits of grass sticking out of the woven pattern.   Using a sponge and quinacridone nickel azo gold fluid acrylic, I stenciled randomly through this stencil onto tissue paper.  The best way to stencil onto a rounded or other 3-d object is to use collage, of course, and torn tissue applied with matte medium and a brush makes it possible to conform to any shape, no matter how irregular.  The unpainted parts of the tissue seem to melt and become transparent, allowing the underlying color to show through.  I overlapped the torn bits to give a somewhat random effect to the weaving. That way, what started as a plain gourd became a "woven" basket nest.

I followed this idea of stitched or woven nests to a looser interpretation with stencils from Pam Carriker (Eyelet Lace S569) and Carol Wiebe (Stitched 02 S540), using sepia fluid acrylic on tissue with two smaller gourds to produce one nest that appears crocheted or knitted, and one that looks patched and embroidered.  Because these must hang outside if they are to be true bird homes, I finished each collaged gourd with a few coats of polycrylic sealer, paying special attention to the edges of the holes to protect them from the elements.  Hanging from the same tree is a bag of alpaca hair for nesting material inside the houses.
So this is the home decor that resonates with me in the time of pandemic.  I don't know if any of my wild bird companions will use these houses, but I sure hope they choose to make their homes here and be my neighbors- and I hope they like the stencils!
May you all will be safe and warm in your own nests this fall, and may you can find inspiration, comfort, and security - be it in making art, or watching the birds.

Eyelet Lace S569

Stitched 02 S540


  1. What a lovely, organic way to use stencils, Jennifer. You transformed your fears into inspiration, and created these unique bird houses to honour the creatures who brought you comfort and consolation during an extraordinarily stressful time. Thank you for your heart-filled creations, and wishes that we may also find inspiration, comfort and security. You have encouraged us to create in a way that serves others, even as it adds beauty to our own lives.

  2. I have some gourds just waiting for this kind of inspiration! Make sure the holes are no larger than 1.5" or predator birds can get inside! Birdbrain Robin (at) robinsnest1 (@


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