Artist Rita Trickel: Beyond Here There Be Dragons

Ahoy mateys! Ever see an old sea map where dragons marked dangerous or uncharted waters? Pictures of dragons, sea monsters, or mythological creatures warned sailors to stay away. No telling what’s beyond. Shiver me timbers!

If sailors got too close to these areas, trouble abounded. Danger was at hand. All hands on deck and batten down the hatches!

I had this same feeling in June when I showed up at my friend Rita’s house in Cleveland. I hadn’t seen her in fifteen years, since she moved from the Milwaukee area. I couldn’t wait to see her again. I navigated the 435 miles and eight-hour trip from Milwaukee to Cleveland, and finally found her house.

Then I got to her front door and saw the doormat:

Shiver me timbers! Was I welcome or not?

I soon learned I had nothing to fear. Uncharted territory–yes, but of a different kind. Exploration and experimentation abounds.

Check out this friendly face . . . our attempt at a selfie:

Rita & me

And dragons? Only a friendly one. In the back yard . . .

Back in Milwaukee, our daughters had been friends, my husband had two of her three kids as government students, and we were in a writers group together. That’s when I first experienced Rita’s wondrous creativity–as a fellow writer. I fell in love with the way she turned a sentence, brought an image to life with vibrancy, humor, or poignancy.

But that’s only the tip of the iceberg. Her creativity has spilled into every possible area, from home renovation to wire sculptures, from textiles to jewelry making.

All with a dragon muse. You know it has to be a friendly dragon or else the little creatures (yes—fairies & gnomes) wouldn’t be flocking to these adorable little houses . . .

Not just two or three houses, but a whole village . . .

And a wire sculpture “family” tree . . . Rita says, “The tree is windblown, like our family, with each member’s birthstone “leaves.”

The entire house is full of whimsy–the walls, too . . .

Rita is retired after several occupations; the most recent career was adjunct English instruction. She remains a grateful wife and mom, and a glorying grandma.

What do you love to create?

Rita: It really varies! Across the years, I’ve delved into forms of weaving, sewing (quilting, appliqué, entire bedroom ensembles), furniture refinishing and repurposing, landscaping, jewelry-making, home rehabbing and decorating, writing, wire and natural materials sculpture, natural perfumery, and oh many others.

My most recent venture is creating fairy houses . . .

Where do you get your ideas?

Rita: My ideas often are generated by necessity, or they flow from connections and resonations—from some aspect of nature, of daily life, or someone else’s creation that intrigues me. That intrigue usually percolates a bit as I continue holding together the rest of my life, until one day I have both the time and the need to sit with that idea and start working out some aspects of it.

How do you create? Say something about your creative process.

Rita: I just love creating, so the process varies depending on the medium and thing I’m about to create. I use writing to connect with loved ones or to clarify my thoughts and emotions, so that process starts with writing a chunk of words, stepping away, then returning later and editing.

I love the feel of textiles or most any natural material between my fingers, in my hands, so my dimensional creations nearly always include them. I usually begin a project like that by researching aspects of it—how it’s already been done, tweaks I need or prefer, best materials, techniques, cost, time, sketches and diagrams.

During actual hands-on development,
I always run into problems, setbacks, and do-overs.
That used to feel like a kind of failure,
but now I know that’s a pretty regular part of my process, too.

How do you bring creativity into your daily life?

Rita: I mentioned above that my ideas often are generated by necessity; many daily life necessities lead to some creative outburst.

I have a dragon statue in my backyard, along with a glaringly ugly outlet on my deck. I percolated and researched and wandered local art supply stores, and settled on the need for a removable cache of gorgeous dragon eggs over the outlet.

Right now I’m in that problems/setbacks/do-over phase, trying to create dragon eggs that are lightweight but sparkling with jewels, yet finished so they can withstand midwestern weather. We’ll see—skills or knowledge from previous unrelated projects come along into the next project, and that’s true with these eggs as I develop the base and make waterproofing, glues, and finishing choices.

The dragon eggs are still a work in progress, so I’m not satisfied with how they’d photograph. I figured out how to keep them lightweight, the weatherproof texture material with the best paint and glue adhesion, the jewels, and a clear, heavy-duty weatherproof jewel glue.

I haven’t yet, though, come up with a final, weatherproof finish that layers correctly. Right now I’ve got 3 jeweled eggs (gold, silver, and rose gold) I loved up to that final weather-proofing stage; I tried different finishing products, but when I applied them, the antiqued depth I want disappeared into that finish coat and the base paint—3 failed attempts! I’m now just looking at them and percolating how to ramp up a monochrome base after it’s been finish-coated.

Similarly to the dragon egg process,
I’ve been through rehabbing three homes,
and when I saw a little resin fairy house,
I thought how much sweeter I could make one,
using natural materials and some of the construction
techniques I’d learned from rehabbing.

From that intersection of daily life experience and possibility, I began building tiny homes of bark, moss, twigs, roots, stones, and found items. I soon branched out into castles and varied my architecture, sometimes based on examples I’d see in travels through, say, the Southwest or Europe or rural countryside.

Where did the inspiration for each of your miniature houses come from?

Rita: A trip through Area 51 resulted in a tiny home apparently converted from an ancient, mysterious mossy rocket ship—with a green head peering out. (Area 51 is a classified U.S. Military Base situated in Groom Lake, Nevada, supposedly the location of alien sitings.)

A trip through historic pirate territory yielded a mossy pirate ship, seemingly grounded in the middle of a forest and again, converted into a tiny woodland home.

At a craft store, I saw these bare wood castle forms (the reverse sides have rooms and stairways) and thought my grandchildren would enjoy them. Using the bare wood forms, I made 2 castles, one of sparkling mortar, its interior rooms likewise glittering with varied colored mortars. In contrast, this pictured one was darker, composed of bark and river pebble—a likely haunt for wizards and such.

These are early experiments with materials—bark, stone, glues, finishes, this house took shape as I went along.

I continued testing materials and adhesive qualities. I used craft store bird houses as base forms.

More early experiments in use of moss and mosaic glass—learned moss is tricky to seal and finish so that it’s both durable and appealing.

Trips to the D.C./Georgetown area inspired this triple townhouse-style. I found a craft store form to build on, using mostly river pebbles, fashioning doors and mortar steps.

I’d hoped to make this roof removable, so this could be a treasure-chest-style house. I learned more about how moss behaves as it’s sealed, and the moveable roof was a great idea that didn’t work. Yet.

Below, Left: I used bark and practiced with thin-sliced cork shingles.
Below, Middle: I remembered old Midwest farm homes with each addition of completely different materials, so this, fashioned on a craft store base, features log, then stone, and finally mosaic and mortar.
Below, Right: I experimented with fiberglass mesh to create an asymmetrical, leaning little house.

I was biking past a man working in his yard, and he gladly handed over an awesome, freshly dug, tree root I admired. It provided the base for this multiplex of gnome homes.

Any tips for others who want to create?

Rita: Research. Step back when (not if!) those problems and do-overs show up, but don’t give up—research or percolate some more. Art is created by flawed and frail humans. By the time you finish a creative work, you’ll know Every One of Its Flaws. But you’ve incorporated them and included them into a whole that’s now a work of art. Like the human who created it!

Do you have any ideas percolating that need some time and attention from you? OR tell me which of these fairy houses you love!

I welcome your comments below!

Ever musing,


6 thoughts on “Artist Rita Trickel: Beyond Here There Be Dragons

  1. So much delightfulness here! My grandsons always want stories about dragons. They just capture the imagination. I try to make them kind and funny, but they are at the bloodthirsty age where dragons MUST breathe fire and be frightening.
    I enjoyed each picture. The houses have just the right amount of whimsy without being overly cute and precious. What a great gift! Artists truly bless us all.

    1. I remember when my boys loved dragons, too. I think all kids go through that stage. Some never grow out of it. 🙂 Like Rita.
      Whimsical is the perfect word for these fairy houses. I was captivated the first time I saw them.

  2. I think my favorite is the very first one on the left—that and the tree with the birthstone leaves. Beautiful!

    And I love the line that art is created by flawed and frail humans. Quite an encouragement.

    1. In addition to being flawed and frail humans, I believe it’s our frailty and flaws that give us our art. Our deepest longings, our failures, and our wrestling with sadness and anger all feed the fire of inspiration. Without those, as writers we wouldn’t have as much to say. Nobody wants to read stories about people whose lives are perfect. I think it’s the same way with a lot of visual art, too.

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