Friday, April 18, 2014
PLACERVILLE, CALIFORNIA
99 CENTS

Branch out, naturally

Quick. Think of 10 ways to use a tree branch in your house. Go …

I admit, after I’d lit on one use — burn it in the fireplace — I was uh, stumped (sorry).

This is where creative types like designer Michele Beschen take over. Beschen, TV host of B. Organic, now in its fourth season on PBS, makes it her business to teach people how to be “naturally creative” — that is, grab what’s around them and make useful stuff.

“It’s all about celebrating an organic lifestyle and learning ways to live resourceful, self-sustaining, beautiful lives,” she said when I called to tap and channel some of her natural creativity.

“My projects help people think differently about natural materials, and about how to be less wasteful.”

(You’re not wasteful, you say? You should see what this lady does with a grapefruit shell.)

Besides her TV show, Beschen offers hands-on workshops for all ages at her studio in Van Meter, Iowa.

“Give me an example of how we can use nature more inside?” I ask.
“Wow. Help me narrow it down. Pick one common natural material.”
“Tree branches?”
“It’s all in how you slice them,” she starts. “You can slice them lengthwise or into rounds. You can peel off the bark, or put them in a pencil sharpener.”
“That makes me feel dull.”
“Once you start playing and manipulating, let your imagination take over.”
“I’d rather let your imagination take over.”

Then she riffs on the many ways to use tree branches in DIY home projects. I catch these 10, which come at me fast:
• Take an interesting section, bore several same size holes in it, and use it to hold candle votives.
• Gather a bunch of branches and arrange them in a vase. Leave them natural, or paint or stain them. Add texture by wrapping them with wire, leather or fibers.
• Cut a 4-inch-thick branch into discs to make coasters.
• Cut a thinner branch into discs to make quarter-sized tags. Punch a hole in the top of each. Thread with twine, then tie the twine around jars to label contents (peach jam) or around gifts. Write on them with a wood-burning tool.
• Hang a long, sturdy branch on the wall with extended brackets to make a place to hang coats or a quilt.
• Get a decorative wood picture frame. Arrange branches across the back to fill the void and create free-form (or is that tree-form?) art.
• Find a branch that has split broomlike into at least three more branches. Turn it multi-branch side down. Cut floor ends so they’re even and the top edge of the main single branch so it’s flat and table height. Attach a piece of finished wood on top to create a side table.
• Stick smaller twigs in a pencil sharpener, cut them in two-to-three-inch lengths, string them onto some leather with beads, and make a necklace.
• Line up then bind same-sized twigs to form the floor of a tray. Stack and bind same-length twigs to create sides.
• Now gather kindling scraps for the fire.

I don’t know about you, but I need to branch out. And although I’m a long way away from leading Beschen’s naturally creative and organic lifestyle (I mean, she makes her own baby wipes, for goodness sakes.), I’m inspired to look to nature more for free decor.

Here are ways Beschen suggests we fire up our naturally creative selves at home.
• Know it will go. “Nature goes with everything,” said Beschen. “Whether your home is contemporary or traditional, nature works. It doesn’t just go in log cabins.”
• Shop the best store. Mother Nature’s art shop is free, open 24-7 and the inventory is always changing.
• Shake it, wash it. I told Beschen about the time I hauled in a pile of Spanish moss, which literally grows on trees around here, and used it in a centerpiece on the dining room table. I too-late discovered it was laced with chiggers, itty bitty red bugs whose bites itch beyond all reason. Beschen laughed and shared the story of the bag of acorns she once set on her carpet then soon after found the area crawling with tiny worms. Ick. So you don’t bring home more than you bargained for from the outdoor store, give materials a good shake outside and wash them well.
• Learn by doing. You can’t be creative without getting hands on. Taking the first step leads to another. Leave your inner critic at the door. This is more about process than result.
• Embrace your inner artist. “I often hear people say, ‘I’m not creative,” she said, “But everyone is. We just lose touch. Creativity doesn’t have to be in the form of art, but can be in how we do our job, or dress, or cook. We all need to exercise our creativity more because there is so much power in it.”

Syndicated columnist and speaker Marni Jameson is the author of “House of Havoc” and “The House Always Wins” (Da Capo Press). Contact her through marnijameson.com.

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