crinkled Masa paper

Berry Hunt on Masa Paper

Last week’s Playful Muse lesson was painting on crinkled Masa paper. I just never get tired of this technique and have blogged about it for years. No matter what season it is, the crinkling of the wet Masa paper invites fluid paint to do the intricate work of nature’s delicate forms in the color palate of the season.

Muse Group demo: acrylic inks and collaged pieces on Masa paper, mounted on w/c paper, 10 X 11″

Lets play Mother Nature’s winter game

Find color hidden in roots 

Under frost and rotting leaves 

In fog and chill, sprinkles and glum skies

Each discovery making sunless days glow

Red berries and white ones til the daffodils 

Spread their yellow skirts

I learned this technique over 20 years ago from master artist Cheng-Khee Chee. I just ran across an old video of him demonstrating it, if you’d like to take a look and try it yourself! 


Wintertime birds and trees

fineliner pen and watercolor in w/c journal

Two days before Christmas the ground was frozen solid and icicles cascaded from bird feeders. The suet basket outside my studio window was swarmed by a band of tiny birds unlike the Juncos and Chicadees, Finches and Sparrows I’d been seeing. The winter light was low, and they were so fast and their heads so thoroughly embedded in the suet that I couldn’t see their heads or any species identifying details. They had enough shape though to venture a color sketch!

And God Bless my birding mentors, this group of savvy women I occasionally go birding with. On Monday this week I joined the monthly meet up and sure enough, my simple description was enough for them to venture an ID. Bushtits! These tiny birds crowd-cluster a feeder, just like the one above, with tails helter skelter. As we walked along the trail, sure enough the little guys made a frenetic, tittering appearance in a tree.

As a beginner birder I used to think birding was just about seeing and hearing a bird and knowing its name. But the behavior angle is even more interesting, especially with these Pacific Northwest gray skies, when any but the brightest colors against tree branches is hard to discern. 

And leaves that remain on trees masquerade as bird shapes! Location and type of movement can be the final identifier.

No, this picture was not taken at 5pm. It was 10am. Could you ID these birds? Too big for Bushtits. Robins probably.


We were at Pioneer Park which is 5 minutes from my house. At first the bird activity was minor, so I paid attention to the vegetation, which is so dramatically different from other seasons. And my mind was brought back to the crinkled masa paper painting I’d just finished. When you wet the paper and crinkle it, you get a complex filagree of spidery texture. And that turns into instant vegetation when paint is added.

acrylic paint on crinkled masa paper mounted on w/c paper

It becomes impossible to not see the branches and trunks and brambles and . . .birds! I turned a dark smudge here into the crow I’d imagined and otherwise let the imagination take over.

You can see more examples on my blog here and here I learned the technique from master artist Cheng-Khee Chee a good twenty years ago and have been exploring with it ever since, often in Muse Groups, but also on large abstract canvases. The Masa paper is inexpensive and available online and in large art supply stores if you want to give it a try.

Merry Christmas!

The Arctic Bomb Cyclone, oh my! I hope you’re escaping the worst of it, and on target with holiday plans? Yesterday my trip out to the icicle-bedecked bird feeder, where starving birds were grabbing the very last of the seeds, became a daring rescue mission. The driveway was a sheet of glass ice, and my footprints decorated the lawn, as I crunched my way across with the fresh seed.

I warmed up the studio and hunkered down to try out some crinkled masa paper painting. But I kept getting visions of homeless people trying to stay warm on the streets of downtown Olympia, of refugees fleeing humanitarian crises stalled at our border in freezing temps and without shelter, and of Ukrainians facing a winter of power outages and genocide from Russian invaders. My first painting got very dark and I found myself cutting out skeletons for collage! Luckily I also ran across a print-out of one of my favorite Rumi poems, The Guest House.

So I want to share the paintings and the poem that inspired them, turning the black funk that had settled on me into hope. 

acrylic on crinkled masa paper and collage mounted on w/c paper, 10 X 11″

The Guest House

This being human is a guest house.
Every morning a new arrival.

A joy, a depression, a meanness,
some momentary awareness comes
as an unexpected visitor.

Welcome and entertain them all!
Even if they’re a crowd of sorrows,
who violently sweep your house
empty of its furniture,
still, treat each guest honorably.
He may be clearing you out
for some new delight.

The dark thought, the shame, the malice,
meet them at the door laughing,
and invite them in.

Be grateful for whoever comes,
because each has been sent
as a guide from beyond.

-Jelalludin Rumi


I was enjoying painting our snow covered Pacific Northwest forest scene, when a storm-tossed body of water appeared, and I thought of  these folks at our border. . .all the hazardous crossings; mountains, jungles, desserts and dangerous bodies of water.  Fear alone could not make it possible for them the survive the cruel journey. In interviews with refugees one hears that in the midst of all that sorrow there is hope, that “the crowd of sorrows, who violently sweep your house. . .may be clearing you out for some new delight”. 

I’ll be sharing more about crinkled masa paper soon. I’ve cycled back to it several times over the years and am aways delighted with the textures one achieves with such ease. 

At home here our Christmas plans have become more modest this year. Ben is staying in North Carolina and braving the sub- freezing temperatures. Thank goodness he didn’t try to get on an airplane! And Andrew is recovering from one of the not-Covid other viruses going around. So it’s just the two of us to stay warm and watch the birds mobbing the feeder. 

Sending Christmas blessings for you and your family and good wishes for the new year! Thank you for being here with me. It means a lot.


My Woods

Trees and skies, that is the theme my group of Muse sisters is pursuing in our art exploits now. There is a beautiful birch tree by our driveway which has been enticing me to paint it’s white bark again. So I got out some Masa paper and wet and crinkled it, and did the thing where you drag your brush along the tops of the wrinkles. . .and instant trees without all the fuss of getting it “right”.

With these mixed media pieces I always poke around til I find something to add that might tickle the imagination. And, well, you’ll see what I found. . .a bit of enchantment.

India ink, fluid acrylics, crinkled Masa paper mounted on w/c paper and collaged on

I like to imagine a walk in the woods

And I’d come upon a native

Or maybe I’d be hidden in a bramble

And he wouldn’t know I was watching

(Though that seems unlikely

It being after all more his wood than mine)

But let’s just say he didn’t see me

And I was the stealthy one

Who picked up his scent of hide skin and smoke

With some tree sap thrown in

And it was I who wondered

What bird offered up its feathers

And they looked like they belonged there

On his head


But I’m imagining as a white woman

Who grew up in a house with central heat

And got her clothes from stores

And saw Nature as something altogether different,

Separate and wildly mysterious

And mostly out of reach

Hence my stories about

What might have been

If I’d slept in a teepee

And danced to drumbeats and

Cooked over an open fire

And learned to heal with herbs.


But back to the native here

This is after all my woods he has entered

On his horse with his rifle in hand

I do not fear him

He has entered my enchantment

Evacuation and beyond

Alas I had in mind the blazing colors of autumn growth when I painted this in Muse Group a couple weeks ago. The theme was the “tree of life” and we were painting on crinkled Masa paper. We’d had a lovely uneventful “fire season” at that point and even a few drops of rain. But by now you probably have heard about our massive Kincaid fire, evacuations, and lengthy power outages. The sentiment is strong here. . .oh no not this again!


acrylic and collage on crinkled Masa paper, 10 X 10″

When the neighboring towns of Windsor and Healdsburg evacuated and the winds were blowing our direction, we packed up our photo albums, hard drives and important papers and headed down to a hotel in Daly City, just below San Francisco where we figured that PG+E would not cut the power. There we stayed for four days, glued to the news and texts from friends, to await the terrifying spread of this firestorm.


While our brave fire warriors battled the flames and thousands of courageous evacuees buttressed themselves against the sudden drop in temperatures without heat and power, we hunkered down in Daly City and made a hotel our temporary home. To manage the anxiety I sketched, starting on Day 2.


On Day 3 we visited sketch buddy, Laurie Wigham and John, in nearby Bernal Heights. Laurie took me up the hill to enjoy 180 degree views of the city. In her good company and from that vantage point I could feel more philosophical about the possibility of losing our home.


Daly City is well endowed with malls and access to a freeway that is a major artery to SF and the bay area. The eating establishments within walking distance of our hotel included Inn n Out Burger, Krispy Kreme doughnuts, Mr. Pickle and Miss Tomato sandwich shops. The waiting and constant attempt to get updated news was exhausting. We wandered malls to find dinner.

By Day 4 I decided to go for a nature walk around nearby Lake Merced. It turned out that the “trail” was next to rushing traffic, BUT the lake was teaming with birdlife! So I spent a delightful hour in nature therapy, listening to bird conversations and arguments. I couldn’t quite tell which they were.

I have no more illustrations for after that. The winds died down. The fire is mostly contained. No one died in this fire though around 87 homes were lost. We’re out of danger for now, though our hearts are now with southern California as the fire monster is not ready to rest yet. The population of Sonoma County is back home with electricity mostly restored, grocery stores at least partially restocked and air that so far is mostly breathable.

And now we know, that all can change once again. There’s not really a home free anymore.

What Kind of Creature

If you’re asking what kind of creative this is, then maybe you don’t know about animal spirits.


crinkled Masa paper, inks, collage on w/c paper 10 X 11″

What kind of creature is that? you ask, as if animal spirits confine themselves to only one specie. These spirits are known to take the form of imagination and keep you guessing, to move with stealth and vigor across the page even while standing still. 

This one looks you in the eye and knows you, as the mirror does. . .only more. Knows your mental undergrowth to be a brambles and yet is comfortable there.

. . .even as you in your waking state find your hair standing on end to confront that gaze.

Look, I don’t dream up these creatures. They appear out of somewhere/nowhere. This one was (partially) a demo of various ink splotchings, stick drawing etc. for the Wabi Sabi workshop two weekends ago. It needed to be liberated from a piece that was going nowhere, so I cut it out and found a home for it/him/her on another underpainting of crinkled Masa paper.

It was a real Halloween character, this pregnant bunny/deer dancing creature. Isn’t this the way we often put together a costume, feeling free to mix metaphors.  Mine this year was a combination ballerina (tutu) and pirate (hat) and probably some other elements when combined with Jazzercise leggings and shoes.

Rileystreet Art Supply Demo


acrylic on crinkled masa paper, mounted on w/c paper

Free Demo at Rileystreet Art Supply, Santa Rosa, CA

Colorful Masa Paper Textures

Learn a mixed media technique using Japanese Masa paper to create delightful textures in your watercolor and acrylic paintings.  First wetting, then crinkling the paper, you can achieve a marbling effect with color application using watercolor, inks and fluid acrylics. This inexpensive oriental paper with its long fibers and sizing maintains its strength when wet, and can be flattened and mounted or used as collage papers.  In this demo you will learn how to work with Masa paper, while being introduced to some creative applications for mixed media painting.

Friday, February 12, 2-4 p.m

Sorry, there is no space available at this time, but they may have a wait list. Contact Rileystreet.

And if you’re interested in this technique, I am planning a new mixed media workshop incorporating crinkled Masa paper and the Japanese esthetic of Wabi Sabi to be held at Sebastopol Center for the Arts June 25, 26.  Put it on your calendar!  More info to follow.



acrylic and sumi ink on crinkled Masa paper with collage mounted on w/c paper

Shrooms!  My favorite winter bauble with an old shriveled apple still hanging.  My world outside and the territory of my imaginary ramblings, where I shrink myself to Lilliputian size. And take a wet walk beneath the bushes and across the decomposing leaves to come upon these newly sprung umbrellas with the spongy undersides.  There I rest and inhale deeply as the storm batters the landscape around.

It seems I never tire of painting on this wonderful Japanese paper or of painting mushrooms. These bright red mushrooms with white dots can be seen in my neighborhood now. Poisonous I’m sure. You don’t get that flashy unless you’re a lure! I take a bite of the painterly sort.

The Flower People


acrylic inks applied with brushes and dip pens on crinkled Masa paper, 10 X 11″

Do the flower people come out of their bud homes at night, when they’re sure we’re asleep, to dance and carry on in the moonlight?

What would they have to say, if we knew how to listen?  Would they answer all those questions about the birds and the bees and the caterpillars, like where do they come from and who eats who?

And would they tell us, that if we looked closely, we might notice them dancing in the middle of the day, and maybe even hear them speak some pretty things. . (.and others not so pretty)?

More hallucinations of a bent mind?  Or just another experiment for mixed media fun?  You decide.

The lesson was a new one titled “Mixed Media People”, which I titled first and then had to figure out how to share it with the group.  My intention was that we would allow the human form to emerge from our play with collage and paint.  I took an old colorful “start” from my pile, put tracing paper over it, and started sketching the outlines of the figures, who already seemed to be there in the colorful shapes.  Without editing I transferred the outlines to the painted surface and proceeded to define them with negative painting of shapes and outlining with a dip pen.

It’s probably safer to meet these flower people on the paper than in dreams, don’t you think?

Garden Sprite


acrylic ink on crinkled Masa paper collaged and mounted on w/c paper, 10 X 11″

garden sprite, bloom miss

your fingers in every inch of green

one day you sow

next day you sprout

next day it rains and you

don your blossomy bonnet 

dance through the wet grasses

singing your ancient fertility songs

your brush loads with fresh pigment

colors drip off your fingers and bleed from your feet

fragrances rain down from your open mouth

you cock your ears to signal frog choruses

and bird symphonies

garden sprite, spring’s favorite emissary

It is that time of year again when I wish I were a wild animal and could spend each day outside.  Instead my days consist of errands run in cars and chores in the house and studio and brief tastes of blossomy, green grassy, muddy earthed sweetness in the in betweens. It all happens too quickly, this sudden bursting out of life, as though there were some mad caffeinated conductress orchestrating it all, with no compassion for those of us who would like to savor each moment.

I’m heading off to Portland, OR for a long weekend starting tomorrow, visiting my son and friends there.