Art = Science + Math + Architecture

Art = Science + Math + Architecture

The more I have birthday parties or individual sessions @ FLOOF Collage pARTy!, the more I become aware of how much the kids are learning while having so much fun. Not only do they go through a process of creativity which may or may not end up in a project that they take home, but also their work is very multidisciplinary.

Because the materials in my shop are 80% recycled/reused, there is a lot of curiosity about their origins. “Where did you get THAT!?” is a frequent question. Even for myself, there is a lot of exploration to be done, as I dismantle a piece of hardware, or a computer game, or a garment to add it to the bins of assemblage parts. There’s often a discussion of history that accompanies this question. “How did people use that tool in the past?”

Talking about my culture can involve archeology and sociology. Mentioning that my Mom (may she rest in peace) was a hoarder often results in a psychology lesson.

My materials are sorted mostly by color, although in the last two years I have loaded up several bins that I call “Miscellaneous Madness”. When I am done with a group session, I don’t always have time to resort everything, so in it goes to the MM box.

In order to make a piece of work at FCp!, clients are given a basket in which they can gather their materials from all over the shop. The color wheel gets used then to help them define how they might use complimentary or contrasting colors, primary or pastel hues.

Making a three-dimensional work moves into the area of physics – balance, proportion, weight. Math gets involved with measuring how to cut something or how a smaller piece can fit within a larger base. Symmetry is more important to some than to others. Science talk results when glue or paint is involved. “Will this stand up with white glue?” “How does hot glue work?” “What will happen if I mix acrylics with tempera?”

I love listening to people figure out how to make their dreams happen, and helping them if they get stuck. Watching collaborations happen is also very rewarding, whether it is sharing knowledge about how something works, giving support when someone gets frustrated, or making a suggestion when a friend is stuck. I point out that teamwork is sociology at work.

Recently I have been selling Maker Paks in five shops in Ithaca, NY and party-goers have been buying them as favors for their guests. These paks are comprised of several ounces of a variety of textures, colors, shapes, and materials for use in making art, in a cellophane bag. Inside is an instruction card with suggestions on what to make, and my business card is tied to the top with a colorful ribbon.

I hope that the users of these Paks can spread the fun around and continue their educations even outside of a school setting. They might not even be aware of how much they are learning!






My Mom, God love her, was a hoarder and a shopaholic, like the ones you see on TV. When I was growing up, we had no table or counter that was not covered with “tchotchkes”, junk, clutter, unopened shopping bags and other useless items. We could never find a working pen or a sharp pencil, despite cups full of them everywhere. And there was nowhere to sit, study, cook, or eat without piling  up out of the way, moving clothing papers to another room, or shoving newspapers onto the floor.

There were piles of styrofoam and old magazines in the basement. Our kitchen junk drawer was stuffed with wads of string of every hue and texture, and rubber bands of every thickness and color.

My Dad did his own type of collecting. On his walks to and from the hospital to his pediatric office, he would pick up random pieces of dismembered earrings, bracelets and necklaces from every sidewalk and each parking lot. He had a little workshop in the basement with some small tools where he would “potschke”  in an attempt to make workable jewelry. In the basement there was a cute little anteroom with french cabinet doors where he kept his samples. It was full of empty pill, tincture and lotion bottles of every color, shape, and size, and oh, the lids!

To this day, in reaction to growing up in such a household, I react very viscerally to physical chaos, feeling anxious and claustrophobic. Sometimes I feel like screaming “I can’t stand it! I need space!” When I am eating at our breakfast bar, if the salt and pepper shaker or the napkin holder are too close to my plate, I have to move them to the back of the counter.

In 2009, I decided to move my art supplies from a 120 sq. ft. room upstairs to a 500 sq. ft. studio downstairs next to my garage, and to open my studio to the public. I vowed that it would stay organized. Of course, it’s a known principle of physics that stuff expands to fill the existing space. What was initially a dozen baskets of materials sorted by category soon became 50 plastic bins sorted by color. I had ribbons, lace, paper, yarn, buttons, beads, shells, fabric, feathers, netting, faux fur, and wood, many of the things my parents collected when I was a child.

My son Ethan is a glass artist who lives in Seattle. On one visit to Ithaca, he looked at my new location and said: “Mom, I know you love baskets. They’re beautiful and very country chic, but they’re not efficient. Give me $50, go have coffee with your friends, and I’ll set you up.” Three hours later he had completely reorganized my supplies by color into the first dozen of what would later become 50 plastic drawers.

I’m a sublimated hoarder – I just hate to throw away something that could be used again for art. There is a counter at the top of my staircase where daily, a few everyday items appear which would otherwise be discarded. If something is texturally interesting, colorful, or if I can envision that someone could make something clever out of it, down it goes into FCp!

Then the fun begins for me. I love deconstructing things to morph them into art supplies. Computer parts become fascinating bits for assemblage. High heeled shoes disassembled yield beautiful pieces of leather, much gorgeous bling, zippers and velcro straps, ribbons and gilded insoles. My hammer, pliers, tin snips,  and wire cutters get quite a workout. And the heels can make functional or fun sculpture. Containers of all sorts, lids, broken electrical parts – all fair game for art.

Recently I came upon a piano that was about to be relegated to the dump. Instead, I took the hammers, keys and all those cool kinetic spring-loaded pieces to my art-making shop. I spent hours yanking out hundreds of steel pins from the sound board. There are now buckets and drawers full of felt, wood and metal springs in my studio, and my upper body strength has been enhanced.

It’s as therapeutic for me to acquire and remake the supplies for my shop as it is for art-makers who frequent FCp! to create there! Come see for yourself.

The pleasure of working with people who have disabilities

The pleasure of working with people who have disabilities

My original educational background was at Washington University in St. Louis, where I studied in an oral/aural program to become a teacher of preschool deaf children. After I graduated, I taught for four years in Nashville at the Bill Wilkerson Hearing and Speech Center, also in an oral/aural program.

I distinctly remember two special students, Mike and Samantha, who were the smartest in the class, were class leaders, and yet possessed what we then called “The X Factor”, which somehow prevented them from learning speech. They understood everything I said, were quick to respond, and yet, unlike some who were ready to be mainstreamed by age 5, were still severely delayed in expressive language.

There are so many causes of deafness – genetics, prenatal viruses, viruses in young children which affect hearing or speech, and syndromes which involve multiple systems. These days, so much more is known about the autism spectrum than was known in the 1970’s.

When I moved to Ithaca, my husband and I had decided to start our family, so it was not a good time to return to school for a Master’s, required for Special Education in NYS. So I worked part-time when my children were younger and at the age of 38 went to Nursing School at TC3.  I worked as a nurse for 16 years before starting my art career after the death of my first husband (Bob1) and before my marriage to my second (Bob2).

My work with special kids and the medical community piqued my interest in the therapeutic value of making art. There is no better way to zone out and forget your troubles while making use of your brain (art involves lots of math, mechanics and physics, I tell my students). And in my studio, if you need help with the physical stuff, we have plenty of assistance and adaptive devices to make your creative visions into tangible objects, whether functional, expressive, or decorative.

I love helping senior adults with multiple disabilities realize their dreams and wishes to make whatever pops into their minds. Sometimes they come into my studio with a fixed idea of something they want to execute. Most of the time, the goal is relaxation and enjoyment, and the ideas arise from the materials that they have free reign to choose, based on texture, color, shape or function. I get great satisfaction watching the joy on these artists’ faces when they finish a project and show it off to their friends or the staff member who accompanied them to FCp!  Sometimes the process is more important than the product, and the piece is left for me as a “sample” for my next party.

Because the supplies in my studio are so varied, kids and adults on the autism spectrum love the tactile aspect of working with FLOOF materials. Sometimes, more time is spent in exploring the feel or sound of the stuff, or trying to guess the origin of something recycled or reused, than is spent in the construction. Many of my clients bring me gifts of objects that would otherwise have ended up in the dump, because they understand the beauty and possibilities of everyday objects to make something wonderful.

I look forward to working more and more with agencies, clubs, or groups whose clients have special needs, to bring the amazing world of art to everyday folk who might not otherwise get to experience it.




FLOOF Maker Paks Available NOW!

FLOOF Maker Paks Available NOW!

My newest product from FLOOF Collage pARTy! is the Maker Pak. Comprised of a melange of 80% recycled/reused materials, each one is a cellophane bag full of imagination-inspiring Miscellaneous Madness.

The idea originally arose years ago (I can’t believe FCp! is 7 years old now) when I would host a birthday party at FCp! and not have time to re-sort all the materials by color.

At the beginning of FCp!, my shop was organized in cute baskets by material – lace in one basket, ribbons in another, paper cut-outs in another. My son Ethan Stern, who is a glass artist living in Seattle, came home to Ithaca to visit for the first time since I opened the studio to the public.

“Mom,” he offered, “your shop is very sweet, very ‘country’, but not as user friendly as it could be. Give me $50, go visit a friend for lunch, and I’ll hook you up.”

When I returned from lunch, he had bought 6 tiers of plastic stackable bins, the kind with 3 drawers each, and had all my materials sorted by color! Wow, what a difference!

Now, when budding artists came to make something creative, their color preferences were a new source of inspiration, and the ideas often arose from the objects they pulled from the drawers.

In 2016 I had the idea to market some of my materials in shops around town. Originally I called them “InspirART EcoFUN”. Again, Ethan offered his 15 years of experience in the art world to help me. (I often tell people I inherited my talent from my son, because he was a working artist long before I was).

“Mom,” he said, “you need a shorter name, and you need the name to reflect your brand.” The light bulb went off in my head, and thereafter my labels said “FLOOF Maker Paks”.

So far, FLOOF Maker Paks have been offered in 3 sizes – 1 oz., 2 oz. and 3 oz. This Fall, I will be assembling Mega Paks of 10-12 oz. as holiday gifts.

Enjoy and be inspired, knowing that you are an eco-hero as well as an artist! Here’s what the instruction card you will find inside each FLOOF Maker Pak will look like:


The Real Decision Tree

The Real Decision Tree

For years I have been using a printed and laminated list to stimulate creativity,  helping people decide what to make, who to make it for, and how to make it. Finally, I have had the time and head space to find a free stock-photo tree with good sturdy roots to print and label as a true Decision Tree. And I recently lucked into some beautifully colored card stock on which to print it.

First I explored the mathematical and scientific decision trees, like the ones used on ancestry sites. That diagram didn’t work for me aesthetically, so I decided to use a natural tree.

I have a label maker that I adore, and use almost daily for all kinds of organizational tasks, or for making greeting cards. Fortunately, I had various kinds of tapes to use, so that each part of the tree – the roots, trunk and the branches could have a different color and style of font. I also had another unique one for the title.

My other well-loved gadgets came in handy as well – my paper cutter, and my laminating machine. So now I have a fairly indestructible tool to use when explaining to folks what FLOOF Collage pARTy! is all about. I especially love it when kindergarten or 1st grade kids get excited about sight-reading the words while I am explaining how the process will go in our maker space.

When I have a party, it’s often hard to corral all 10 excited kids and get their attention before sending them off with a basket to start their treasure hunt for materials. This tree solves that problem in a fun way. And I love it when I can combine my backgrounds as a teacher, a designer, and an artist in one fell swoop. Joy all around!




Why I Save Found Objects

Why I Save Found Objects

 I have a little “secret” gift closet under the stairs. I love to shop, so I buy adorable things when I see them on sale, and then I always have something without having to run around at the last minute. It’s a sublimation of my pack-rat (read: “hoarding”) tendencies that are Itkoff and Reingold family traits.

Bins by Color .jpg

My Dad would pick up smooshed jewelry off the street and keep a little box of them in the kitchen “miscellaneous” drawer. Then, whenever one of our little chatchkes needed fixing, he’d always have the part. He loved to “potchke”. It would drive my Mom crazy, to hear her tell it, but I think she really found it endearing (and very handy).

Bins by color.jpg

Mom filled the dining room table with bags of bargain clothing which never fit anyone, and no one ever wore. She just bought them because she liked the colors or the style, or because they were 90% off. Now I do that with the ulterior motive that my clients are cutting them up with fancy scissors, punching them with fancy punches, and gluing, nailing or tying them to my “blanks” (wood, metal, cardboard, construction paper, foamboard, boxes, coat hangers, single socks)  for FCp!. It’s the most creative way to recycle.

And the funniest thing is that I used to have a small business called The Ordered Castle, where I helped people organize their work or home environments. I closed the business when I started making art, but I still get about one call a year from people who hear about what I used to do, so I keep my hand in it anyhow as backup income for this starving artist.


Three Types of Visitors

Three Types of Visitors

My art studio has been in business for 7 years now. Over and over when there is a group of kids making art with me, I have noticed three types of people who come to my studio: The Maker, The Accumulator, and the Observer.

My studio is a 500 square foot space with three walls of bins mostly sorted by color. 80% of my material offerings are recycled objects – metal, wood, ribbon, rope, yarn, string, rubber, leather, buttons, fabric, paper, hardware, plastics, dismantled shoes, computers and kitchen appliances, all rescued from potentially being sent to the landfill.

When people come to my studio, I review the options for what they can make using the above Decision Tree (some day I will draw an actual tree) to help with the overwhelm of looking at so many possibilities. Then I give each one a basket and let the materials speak for themselves. Often the undecided artist will be motivated by a certain object to build a sculpture, puppet, mobile or diorama based solely on the materials they have fallen in love with, despite their original idea.

I make it clear that they do not have to use everything in their basket. That explains the many “miscellaneous” baskets that exist, when I don’t have time to sort each individual bit by color after a session.

The Maker focuses on a project which may be something they had decided on before they came, or arrived at based on my Cheat Sheet. Over an average of an hour-and-a-half, the Maker usually completes it to their satisfaction.

The Accumulator will usually try to select a project involving a container (I call them my Blanks) so they can fill it up with as much “stuff” as possible, under the auspices of making a treasure box. I sell FLOOF Maker Kits (formerly called “Take-Home Paks”) by the ounce, so the option of taking home extra materials to start a new project always exists. The materials involved in their project while in the studio are included in the cost.

Then there is The Observer. This person is either a reluctant participant who came as a sibling or a guest to a party but is not really interested in making anything. Often they have had a “bad” experience with art in the past, where someone has told them their work wasn’t good enough for one reason or another. Either it did not conform to the viewer’s expectation of what a particular thing should look like, or the viewer’s expectation of what that person was capable of executing. Or the person was someone who had trouble with the social engagement that a group art experience engenders.

Sometimes The Observer will just sit quietly and watch, and sometimes they get motivated enough to suggest materials or ideas to another Maker. They never seem bored. Maybe they just couldn’t figure out what they wanted to make in the time allotted.

Either way, I have a sign now on my shop door that says “NO SMOKING, NO FEAR, NO JUDGEMENT”. I always hope that The Observer will return on an individual basis to work on something of their choosing.