North Star: Winter Solstice Recovery Gals Art Exchange

Artwork by Tammi Salas

The theme for the winter solstice recovery gals art exchange was “North Star”.  This theme held so many possibilities!  It was a bit overwhelming, as I love galaxies and stars, and maps.  I envisioned creating a map of my partner, Jill’s sobriety journey, but that was a little too complex for me, although I did try to incorporate a bit of a map in my card to her.


What really pulled at me was the idea of a galaxy. The definition of a galaxy is: “a system of millions or billions of stars, together with gas and dust, held together by gravitational attraction.”

I couldn’t help but think of the community of women that exchange art, the Unruffled community and the sober community in general. All of us, held together by “gravitational attraction”.

Now, I love galaxies.  I love trying to paint them and capture them, because they are, by definition, ever changing.  I have painted many with watercolors, but never any with acrylic paints, and I had this idea that I wanted to paint something, refurbish something, with a galaxy.

My father collected barometers.  I say collected because after my mom passed away, he didn’t really want anything to do with them anymore.  I’m not sure why; if it’s because she really loved them, or they remind him of her, but I do know that he would hunt for the perfect barometer, and would bring it home to her, and then it would add to his collection.

I took a few of them from him when he was giving them away. I wanted to take them all, but didn’t have the space.  Barometers always mystified me.  I knew that they worked by measuring changes in air pressure and would predict changes in the weather. Changes in air pressure signal the movement of high or low pressure areas of air, called fronts. In general, if a low pressure system is on its way, be prepared for warmer weather with storms and rain.

I thought of barometers as something the Wizard of Oz might peddle, just very mysterious, but very cool at the same time.

So as I was thinking about this exchange, the thought of stripping a barometer and painting a galaxy over it came over me, and that idea would not leave. The idea of stripping away the old, such as my habit of drinking, and replacing it with something beautiful.  A new creation. I thought the recipient, Jill, whom I’ve had the pleasure of being partnered with before, would either love it or hate it.  It’s a bit of an odd thing, but I just had to see how it would turn out.

I started by stripping the barometer of it’s fake wood/decoration, which was a sticker.


Then I created my own black gesso to cover the wood material underneath.  I’ve never done this before, but you just add black acrylic paint to white gesso.



If I had to do it again, I would perhaps use clear gesso as it took quite a bit of black paint to get to the color of black I wanted, it was hard to get it darker than a grey.  I could have bought my own black gesso, but it’s a bit expensive, and I knew I didn’t need a full tub.


Next, I took some old makeup sponges and tore them in half, I didn’t have a “painting sponge”, and again, I was improvising.

I picked colors for a bright galaxy, I love pinks, and teals in a galaxy instead of it being super dark.  I started layering all of the colors together, using the sponge so it wasn’t too consistent and had more of a galaxy look.  I also protected the sides of the barometer face with tape.



I let each layer dry to avoid the colors becoming a brown “mush”. 🙂

To finish it off, I covered it with a color changing acrylic top coat with a gloss finish, it added sparkle to it, and in the light can change from gold to red to violet.


Next, I used white acrylic paint and an old toothbrush to create the stars in the galaxy.


I put the piece in a box in my sink to avoid getting paint all over, and I protected the face of the barometer as well.


To finish it, after the piece dried, I painted the hanger and the back in a royal gold, adding a few coats.  Here’s the finished piece:

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I love Tammi’s idea of accidental paintings, and I’ve been using that practice with leftover paint.  With the leftover paint from this project, however, I created a mini canvas of a galaxy.

I’m not used to using acrylic paint to paint a galaxy, watercolors are much more free in that they blend so nicely together, so I found this to be a challenge, but I feel it came out pretty, just like a galaxy.


For the next piece, I knew I wanted to do something with actual lights.  I thought about the Northern Lights, and how there are so many colors.  I went back and forth on what that would look like, and when I went to the craft store and saw this lantern, I knew this was the receptacle I was looking for!


It had the ability to take out each pane of glass, so I did that and set them on a paper towel, later replaced by tinfoil. I wanted to create the illusion of stained glass.  I knew I had seen projects using food coloring to create this effect, and so I decided to do that.


Other materials needed were glitter, I used a few different kinds, and I was going to use some metallic white, but I used it on one pane and didn’t love the effect, so only used on the one.


I drew stars on the back of patterned paper, and cut those out in various shapes.


I used gold Sharpie to color the other sides of the stars, and I alternated the pattern and the gold on the glass.


I started with clear Elmer’s glue, and red, green, blue and yellow food coloring.  I poured the glue onto the glass, and then added drops of food coloring in a random pattern, being really careful to avoid adding too much and creating a brown glass.


Then I swirled the food coloring with a toothpick, and added the stars and glitter.


It took almost 2 days to dry, I think having it on the tinfoil was preventing it from drying, so I finally stood it up to dry.  I was just worried about everything dripping off, but by that time it was dry enough.

I added LED battery-operated Christmas lights inside, and I am really happy with the result.  I had initially envisioned a more “sophisticated” look, but this looks pretty cool to me.


Lastly, I included a poetry book I had published with Moon Journal Press about 12 years ago.  All of the poems are inspired by the Universe, it’s called “Universal”, LOL. An e-copy is available at the following link if anyone is interested:

This poem especially I wanted to include in with the artwork:

Your Sky

The sky unfolds above us, an atlas.
Diagram of paths open for travel.

Two tattered books by your side –
The Astrological Companion
and Burnham’s Celestial Handbook.

I’m just an amateur astronomer sky watching.
I know the North Star is brightest,
(which you’ve told me is a fallacy),
and everything revolves around Polaris.

We name them with fingers and whispers,
placing index on white light,
declare them stars, or more specifically,
Metallah, Chara, Alya.

The brightest ones Capella, Vega, Altair.
All defined by magnitude, spectra class,
declination and proper motion.
Each with catalog numbers, coordinates.

Such familiar shapes – the W of Cassiopeia,
the square of Pegasus, the sickle of Leo,
the buckle of Orion’s belt.

In the labeling of things,
the meaning gets lost.

Constellations, after all, are the invention of humans,
the desire to impress our own order to the chaos that is the sky.

What interests me is not the known,
but the unknown.  Those unnamed stars
that are invisible until looking through thick telescope glass.
The ones that hide between the obvious –
the Big Dipper, the Milky Way.

The ones that dissolve like static,
fold into the black sky without a trace,
and no one knows they are missing.

Obsolete, disused.
Patterns disconnected.

We are like those stars.
Mysterious, hidden on this pier,
the lake below us dark as the sky.
Seems we’ve been here a thousand years.
No one knows we are here.

The light from the nearest star
will take years to reach us.

I focus on the moons of your fingernails,
constellations of your palms.
Found on old maps, no longer recognized.


My husband created the cover art of this book of poems, and it is similar to the kind of art I thought would be so perfect for this theme.

I also included a crackle quartz and a couple of clear quartz.

The crackle quartz is known to ward off negative energy and to stimulate the chakras, and the clear quartz is known as the stone of power and amplifies any energy or intention. It protects against negativity, attunes to your higher self, and relieves pain.

I always feel so fortunate to be a part of this exchange.  I stretch myself to try new things, and I usually learn something in the process.  This time I created artwork that my mother would have loved.  I always feel her nearby when I’m creating, this round she was even more present.
I think she might be my muse.

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