My New Project: Designing Merchandise Using my Artwork

My New Project: Designing Merchandise Using my Artwork

Even though I am enjoying a lot of visibility these days (I was in five exhibitions this year!) sales are slow and like most artists, I need a steady revenue stream to support my habit. 

For many years I thought about designing some commercial items to sell. Simple things like mugs or bags. Over the summer, I started to activate this idea and I was quite surprised to see how the field of print-on-demand has exploded. 

Although there are many print-on-demand companies to choose from, I decided to start my collection using Printify because they have 250 items and I found them very user friendly. Here’s how it works. You choose an item, say sneakers, and upload your design. In a few moments, you can see a 360-degree model of the item and can easily edit the design.

Cambodia- 2018 43.5 X 52 X 1 screen--printing on fused plastic bags, sewing

Click here to see 360 view of Cambodia Boot.

The harder part is uploading this to your Store, in our case WooCommerce, as well as our new Save The Birds Design website. Fortunately, I have a great team. Sandra and I develop the designs and Tyler handles the technical back end. 

Designing the items is fun.  We use details of my fine art pieces like Cambodia (pictured above). We have used this detail on journals, cell phone cases, latte mugs, sneakers, high heels, and boots!  actually shop on our website by each design! 

Since nearly all of my silk screens are developed from drawings of endangered birds, we used the drawings on tee shirts and mugs and grabbed a detail of the drawings and enlarged this for its design impact. Here you can see an example of a detail from the Shoe-Billed Heron and how we used it on bags, aprons, shower curtains, laptop cases and sneakers and boots.

When we create the silk screens that we use to print on the sheets of fused recycled plastic bags, we shrink the drawings into smaller silhouettes. Our Save the Birds Logo features six endangered birds: Bengal Florican, Kagu, Maleo, Madagascar Serpent Eagle, Giant Ibis, and the Shoe Billed Heron. You can see the logo printed on bags, mugs, water bottles and of course, tee shirts. 

Abstract Wing Design: Shoe Billed Heron

Sandra and I spent two months designing items for our collection and when we launched the Save the Birds website, we had 123 items for sale! We had a great time and you can see how creative you can get using snippets from your own work. 

On our mugs and tee shirts, we have paired the drawings with inspiring quotes by environmentalists like Rachel Carson (we sure didn’t listen to her when she published Silent Spring in 1962), John Muir, Julia Butterfly Hill, Wangari Maathai, and our youngest muse, Greta Thunberg.

One of the big benefits of print-on-demand is that Printify and its affiliate printers produce each order as it comes in, packages it and mails it out. There is no inventory or shipping for us and we end up keeping about half of each sale. Kind of like a gallery split. I think it’s a great arrangement.

Since I give a percentage of all my sales to organizations that protect birds and their habitats, developing this new line not only gives me a steady income, but it also enables me to raise more money to protect endangered birds. Some of our favorite organizations are Audubon, Bird Conservancy and ProAves.

So if my original artwork is out of your budget, take heart. Now you can buy merchandise for your closet or home and gifts that feature my artwork and bird drawings

Click on our logo below to visit the Save the Birds Design website: 

Drawings of Endangered Birds from Artist Residency In France

In October 2016, I spent a month at La Porte Peinte artist residency in a small medieval village in central France.  I did hours of research about endangered birds, which led to a series of 18 drawings of birds around the world whose existence is threatened by habitat destruction and other thoughtless human practices.

Initially, I only intended to spend the residency doing research and writing about my artwork. I wanted uninterrupted time to answer questions about why I was so compelled to make art about endangered birds and what relevance they had to my own life. However, in the process of the research, the images of the birds were so haunting, especially the ones that were nearly extinct, that I felt compelled to draw them. That process was so intimate as I realized that in many cases, people would never see these birds again except in books and on the internet and I wanted to honor them with the human hand and heart. These images are now appearing in silk screens for the feathers I use to create my artwork, on plates that we design for floor installations and for my other creative projects.

(Click to view larger image)

Community of Women

A COMMUNITY OF WOMEN: My Mexican Studio Assistants

Upon hearing that I moved to Mexico to avert a financial disaster, a colleague said “Oh, we all thought you moved there so you could get studio help and work larger.” Well, it turns out she was right, but I didn’t know it at the time.

Although I have studios in Durham, NC and Chapala, Mexico, most of my production work takes place in Mexico. Due to the vast difference in pay scale, I can afford to employ a team of Mexican women to fabricate my feathers.

One team is a grandmother, mother and granddaughter who handle the fusing and print preparation. The other team is a mom and teenage daughter who assist Sandra, my full-time assistant with screen printing and cutting out feathers.

With the exception of cooking and cleaning, there are few employment opportunities here for women so it feels great to be able to help these families while producing the components I need for the large-scale work. It’s a win-win for everyone.

Over time, everyone has taken ownership of their part of the production making it more efficient and refined. I love the energy of our women’s atelier (taller in Spanish).  I’d love to hear about your experiences with studio assistants.


The favorite spice of fiber artists

Even when I worked with fiber and encaustic, I bounced back and forth between letting the wax glow unimpeded versus adding waxed linen and wire to create surface texture (see example of Plumage 6 and 7 above). Now that I am creating feathers by screen-printing on fused plastic bags I have started to feel the tidal pull towards adding texture again.

Since I am working on a larger scale, I wanted to test drive some texture options on smaller pieces. In a new circular black piece, I tied in black plastic zip ties and painted the tips. Although the texture alludes to nesting material, the plastic speaks to ecological threats to birds and the drastic reduction of nesting habitat that they are facing.


I’ve also tried tying in waxed linen and wire thread. I love working with these materials because they have a mind of their own and curl in wild and unpredictable ways. Texture enlivens the surface of the feathers and evokes the threads that birds use to feather their nests in nature.




There’s a time and a place for using texture and I anticipate adding it when I want more visual excitement and forgoing it when I prefer a more tranquil surface. Let me know if you have a favorite texture.





Wandering in the Desert

My year of R&D

Every summer I jury a couple hundred applications for the 360 Xochi Quetzal Artist Residency Program. One note I frequently write on applications: work and statement both strong but not integrated. One day I snapped to attention because I realized that my pieces were guilty of this too.

I stopped making the work I’d been building for the last fifteen years and began to search for a better integration of the content and form of my feathers.

Early on I printed details of my previous work on linen. The resulting feathers looked flat and dead. I moved on to printing images and text about endangered birds on sheets of fused plastic bags using an Epson 3000 digital printer. The machine was way too persnickety and it was clear it could never keep up with feather production.

Finally I returned to my roots and began silk-screening just like the old days when I was a textile designer. Much experimentation was required to work out the kinks of priming, ink flow and over-printing.

It took a full year to work through the research and technical details. The resulting feathers were embedded with visual and written information about habitat destruction, endangered and extinct birds, migration and endangered languages.

There were times I felt completely lost and hopeless and that I was wasting my time. However, faith in the creative process carried me through. After a lifetime making art, I have learned that pushing through the narrow places always pays off. I am delighted with my new feathers and feel that I accomplished what I set out to cure: marrying content and form. Let me know if you agree.

Textile Fibre Forum Interview

Louise Saxon, Resident Artist from Australia

Soon after we selected Louise Saxton, our first resident artist from Australia (see our interview, we were contacted by Janet deBoer, the publisher of Textile Fibre Forum, the premier fiber publication in Australia. Janet wanted to do an article about Louise in the context of her upcoming residency. A nice email exchange ensued, during which I sent Janet some images of my work as a way of explaining my penchant for artists working in fiber.

When Janet saw my work, she immediately wanted to do an article about my artwork and 360 Xochi Quetzal! It was very affirming to get such an enthusiastic response from Janet, who is a household name in textiles. I have read Textile Fibre Forum for many years in order to follow the developments in the vibrant fiber art community down under. I was very honored to be included in this international publication. My 2-page interview appeared in Issue No. 166 (see cover photo).

The interview covers some topics that I don’t usually get to address, like my ambivalence about using digital imagery, the evolution of my environmental concerns, my background in textile design and why I started the 360 Xochi Quetzal Artist Residency Program