Tuesday, January 14, 2014

Meet the artist - Ellen MikaBrown

It's been ages since I've run an artist profile, but there is no better way to jumpstart 2014 than with today's featured artist.
Before we launch into Ellen's biography, I want to share an astonishing fact.  Ellen has not missed a single swap since she discovered MMSA in September of 2012.  That's 54 consecutive swaps.  54!!!!
Chances are, if you've done a few swaps with us here, you've had the pleasure of receiving Ellen's work.  And if you're nosy curious like me, you've wondered "who is this lovely woman and how can I learn more about her?"

Without further ado, here's Ellen in her own words:
(I took the liberty of sprinkling examples of her MMSA work throughout the post)

Hi, I am Ellen MikaBrown. I have lived in Williamsburg, Virginia for almost 16 years with my family and will have been married 35 years in August. My husband is retired from the U.S. Air Force and NASA, Langley Research Center in Hampton, Virginia. Previous to that we lived in Decatur, Alabama for 14 years, while he was at NASA, Marshall Space Flight Center in Huntsville. Before that it was Tennessee and before that Michigan. Dick is from Michigan and I was born in Savannah, Georgia, although I moved around a lot over the years – 18 times or so – it is all a blur.

Round postcard swap 4/8/13

Our daughter, Anna, was born in Decatur. I was an older first pregnancy maternity patient, as my OB-GYN referred to me. I felt like a bloated freaky experiment most of the time, but it was well worth it – probably more than you wanted to know! My daughter will soon be 25 years old and is a private pilot and aviation mechanic with her own business, RAB Aviation Services. She is hoping to build a hangar for her business in West Point, Virginia this year. Presently, she is sharing space in a hangar at Dinwiddie County Airport in Petersburg, Virginia. She is studying for her instrument and commercial ratings. Anna and her Dad do aerial photography and Dick has a collection of over 7000 aircraft photos. Anna and a friend are planning to go into an aviation flight school and charter business soon. It is complicated, but I am sure it will all work out. She is amazing and the best thing that has ever happened to me. She also scares the sense out of me regularly with her flying antics. A recent trip to Galesburg, Illinois in an open cockpit Stearman with another friend is an example. It was a 13 hour trip one way with moving commentary, “here I am flying over the Ohio River. You can see it way down there!” Oh well, I told her to go for her dream...

Purple postcard swap 8/26/13

I am sure that you are wondering why I am giving you all this information, but it all plays into making me the person I am, so bear with me a little longer.

I graduated from the University of North Carolina at Charlotte so many years ago with a psychology/sociology major and a handy dandy certification in education. I tried teaching (my grandmother’s dream) for awhile and although I loved the kids, it just did not fit. Since then, I have worked and volunteered in a lot of different career fields – jack of all trades, master of none. I am in fact, still wondering what I will be when I grow up. My favorite job was writing an activity and creating column for a local parenting magazine in Alabama for about 10 years. When my daughter entered middle school, I started working as a pagination designer at The Virginia Gazette, the oldest printed newspaper in the original 13 colonies. I resigned in 2011, after another 10 years, to take care of some family issues out of state. By the time I returned, downsizing and the downward spiraling of newspapers had eliminated my previous job. I am now working with my daughter in her aviation business as a bill collector, negotiator, correspondent and a weird type of surgical assistant, locating tools during airplane repairs. I know a lot more about airplanes and tools than I ever have in my life, so another career field has appeared. I never envisioned myself being a grease monkey assistant, but you never know what life is going to throw your way. My main concern is not walking into the props, but I do love flying. “Resistance was futile, I was assimilated.”
Fall postcard swap 9/22/12
I have been an avid reader all my life, particularly mysteries. I also write poetry (I started writing haikus as a meditation technique and I love it) and my favorite, “writing my way through life” journals. Most get shredded, because, let’s face it, friends and family do not always get along and I do not want to leave the journals behind, in case I get hit by a meteorite! My greatest loss was leaving one of my journals in the airport in Amsterdam several years ago. A big chunk of my life was in that journal and I am still grieving.

Trees postcard swap 9/9/13

We have two cats and they are very special, because they "rescued" us, when we visited our local animal shelter six years ago. Piper is 9 and an orange tabby and Pippin is 12 and a ragdoll Siamese, the “P” boys! Pippin was raised with a dog, before we adopted him, so he barks when the doorbell rings – freaky! They make me laugh and we have a lot of "awww" moments. It is like looking into the soul of a big cat, but in a domestic, gallon sized version – miniature mountain lions. There was a special, “two cats for the price of one" deal on the day they adopted us, so we could not resist. We had just lost our elderly Siamese and I was just going to visit and came home with two cats. That was a great day. And then, there is also, Charley, our 16 year old cockatiel, who was also a rescue. She is very sweet, can tell time and loves to hang upside down from her perches and scream.

Black and white postcard swap - 9/29/12

Art has always been my “craziness” therapy, getting me through a lot of stuff, ever since my mom sent me to painting classes when I was eight to help me express myself, when I found out we were moving for the umpteenth time. My dad worked for the government - ATF and as soon as the bookshelves were installed, we were moving again. I did not like my painting teacher. She reminded me of my first grade teacher who kept yelling at me to not color outside the lines. In addition to the painting, I have made baskets out of pine needles, reed, cotton cording and fabric, knitted, done embroidery, made rugs out of fabric and painted canvas, needlepoint, floral arrangements (my mom enrolled me in a class), quilting, sewing, tatting, collage, photography, stained glass, candle making, soap making and well, you get the picture. My problem has always been that you can only display so much of your art, then you start gifting it (neighbors, teachers, family and friends) and finally, it ends up at yard sales or donated to the thrift store. When my mother-in-law sold a rug and placemats that I had worked on “forever”, at a yard sale, I decided I was done with random art creation and gifting. Too much heart and soul was sold that day.

Postal themed ATC swap - 8/5/13

Speaking of yard sales, we started downsizing several years ago, because of the desire to move to a smaller house, with one level because of my husband’s 5 back surgeries and my hatred of housework, particularly dusting. I am also trying to embrace the minimalist movement, so we sold the house of many stairs and moved to smaller accommodations. Unfortunately, I did not downsize enough, so I am still donating. Presently, I am going through the many boxes of holiday“stuff”. How I ended up with 6 nativity scenes is beyond me and 5 tree toppers for one tree! But I digress – frequently!
Non-paper postcard swap 6/17/13

Several years ago I returned to art by altering playing cards, because I could “make art” in a day and it took my mind off my daughter moving out of state (she is back now). I read about it online and it was something I could do just for myself. Then I found Postcrossing and starting sending postcards around the world. I am often reminded how small our world really is and I have met so many interesting people and learned about a lot of fascinating places. I have also run across a few “cranks”, but such is life – recent response to a postcard I had sent – did not like it, did not like paintings, did not like the artist and I should have looked at his site to see the cards he likes – sooo sorry. Along the way, I found MMSA, when I participated in The Sketchbook Project. They had a link to the lost art of letter writing and they lead me to Mail Me Some Art. I started making mail art, which I find very challenging and a lot of fun and the rest is history. It forces me to work outside the lines and has introduced me to a lot of awesome techniques and interesting artists. I am in awe of the other art I see and receive in my mail box. Sometimes my insecurities come out and I think I will stop until I get better, but if I stop, I will never get better, so on I go – some amazing and some not so amazing. I am a work in progress. I am so appreciative of the encouragement I have received on this journey. I love the art I get in my mailbox and I have a rotating art display to admire. I have participated in some other swaps and I am always glad to see familiar names – it is really a small world we spin in. I am so glad to be part of this wonderful group and I will see you at the swaps!
Blue postcard swap 1/21/13

Thank you for sharing your story, Ellen, and for being such an active part of this community.
It's so lovely to know more about you. - Karen

Want to share your story?  (please?)
Click here for the details on how to do it.
Click here for the very convincing list of reasons you should share your story with us.
Click here for the list of other brave artists we've featured.


big mamabird said...

Nice to meet you Ellen! Oh I can relate to all that moving around, and using the practicing of art as a therapy against the crazies! It is so nice to get an idea of the person behind the art here...thanks for sharing!

Unknown said...


1. A one-storey with barking cats and screaming cockatiels. Ellen, you must have one busy place!

2. I am from MI, too, and lived in Hampton, VA the first year of my marriage, so I decided, at that point in your bio, that you are WAY COOL. After nine months of also feeling like “a bloated, freaky experiment most of the time,” I delivered a baby girl at Langley AFB.

3. My husband does photography, but mostly scenic landscapes now, and definitely on the ground, looking up at the sky.

4. I tried teaching also (math). Also loved the kids, but found the school political climate too much like “extreme sports fencing” for me.

5. I don’t know what I want to be, either, when I grow up. But do we “have” to grow up? Maybe that’s still an option . . .

Unknown said...


6. Love your writing. Love, LOVE your writing.

7. Would love to read more of your writing, especially your poetry. (Haiku is a great format for mail art.)

8. I am as charmed thinking about what “negotiation and correspondent airplane work” is (Is the former like therapy for divorcing Cessnas? Is the latter the airplane equivalent of sending mail to servicemen overseas in oversized, loopy, calligraphic handwriting? “Dearest B-54 Bomber #67, Hope you are not homesick . . .”) as I am trying to picture you in safety goggles and a jumpsuit, bent over low and randomly flailing a socket set or a pair of tweezers about somewhere near individuals flat on their back under the belly of a Boing, with only the soles of their feet poking out beneath the nose.

9. Did I say that I loved your writing?

10. You are indeed lucky to be rescued by cats, and admitted into their pride. Agree with the part about them being gallon-sized mountain lions. (We have been claimed by two, especially at dinner time.)

Unknown said...


11. Bummer that one would have to leave “any” house before the bookshelves could be used. You must have needed therapy for that one yourself.

12. On the painting teacher from hell: In kindergarten, for me, it was “the classmate from hell,” upbraiding me for coloring my tree trunk the wrong color. I’ve been emotionally scarred ever since.

13. And as to shredding the journals, please, please, DON’T. Keep prying eyes away, yes, but consider donating to a historical society, genealogical library, or university library (maybe UNC, since you’re an alum?) that will keep them in restricted status for decades before anyone can read them. Either that, or else conceal the identity of those you write about negatively, and keep them for your family. Your great-great-grandchildren/nieces/nephews will also likely have people they don’t get along with; “sooo sorry” cranks they encounter; and days when their hearts and souls will feel “yard-sale” tromped on. Knowing that you had days like that, too, can help lighten their days.

14. I am thinking that the best place to find awesome ephemera is airports and train stations. It seems that every writer has a story about losing a crucial manuscript in a train station, and of course, the entire premise of the play “The Importance of Being Earnest” is the leaving of a baby in the coatroom of the Brighton Line.

15. Karen: I just riffled through my MMSA mail art (revisiting a nice, portable art show in the process), and discovered that “chances are” has not been in my favor. Lots of pieces from lots of other people, but alas . . . no Ellen. The only solution for that, it’s clear, is for me to “play swaps” again and again. I hope it’s even better than “playing slots,” that if you’re not winning, keep throwing in quarters, and hopefully you will.

cjsrq said...

So nice to get to know you, Ellen. I have been the lucky recipient of several pieces of your mail art and they have been wonderful. Looking forward to our swapping paths crossing again in the future.

FarStarr said...

Nice to meet you, Ellen! I haven't managed to do many swaps and I sure do admire your dedication! :)

Terrie said...

I've been one of the lucky ones too and have received several pieces from you that I just love. It's nice to know more about the person behind the creativity. Looking forward to more swaps this year!

Unknown said...
This comment has been removed by the author.
Unknown said...

So nice to meet you also and so glad that I am not alone on my crazy journey.

Unknown said...

Thank you so much for the kind words Joanne. It is nice to be understood.

Unknown said...

I am enjoying this narrative. Thank you. In answer to negotiation, some customers think that the price for services can be quibbled over - no! And sometimes it takes lengthy emails to convince them otherwise - sheez!

Unknown said...

Hope to see you this year at the swaps and thank you so much for your encouraging words. "The Importance of Being Earnest" reminds me of something I read recently - did you know that at one time, parents could send their children through the mail service to visit Grandma? Nothing surprises me anymore. Hope you have had an artful day.

Unknown said...

Thank you for reading my lengthy epistle and for your kind words. I am humbled. Happy swapping.

Unknown said...

So nice to meet you also. Thank you for the encouragement. I am so in need of a pat on the back from time to time. Hope your day has been wonderful.

Unknown said...

Hi Terri - thank you for reading and the kind words. I too, am looking forward to more swapping. Hope that you are having a good new year.

Unknown said...

Thank you Karen, for adding some of my swap art. It gave everyone some time to come up for air!! I appreciate all you do for us.

Michele C. said...

I, too, have been a lucky recipient of some of your swaps, Ellen!! I love your profile, so nice to "meet" you! Greetings from your fellow Virginian! Michele

Unknown said...

Hi Michele - so nice to hear from you. Thank you for the encouragement and hope to cross paths again. Have an artful day.

Unknown said...


I am loving a book of prose writings (mostly autobiographical) by Jewish author Paul Auster. In it, he talks about living in Paris in 1971 (pre-telephones there). The only way to communicate quickly was either by going and knocking on someone’s door (the direct approach), or else through something called a “pneumatique” (which sounds like a pathogen one tries to avoid contracting while visiting the hospital). Instead, it was a rapid telegram that the post office would send within the city (who knew?). Far cry from our day of texts, emails, smart phones, and the like, but snail mail and mail art are always good reliables. Although, I will say that with all the communication venues available, sometimes it’s hard to know how to get in touch with anybody, because no one can possibly check everything, all the time. Despite all our gizmos, we can still feel like we're on a deserted island. "Doesn't anybody check their text/voice messages/email?" etc.

[Aside: As I look out the window while typing this (mid-afternoon), I’m dumbfounded as to why some little yellow moth is flitting around outside the window. Yep, a yellow moth, flapping up and down, a little woozy and hibernatorily drunken, above our still-snow-blanketed lawn. Global warming must have this guy dreadfully confused, because it’s still January 16, still Minnesota, and still only 14 degrees out at present. Then again, less than two weeks ago, it was -26 (yes, that’s a negative sign), so to him, it probably feels springy (as it does to me), although the daffodils and lilacs, the true signs of spring, are still long in the snoozing stage. Where on earth does he think he’s going? Out for emergency cough drops for his sick, moth family? (Can you hear all those croupy, baby moths, hacking and sputtering? I can . . . ) Then again, I’ll let you ponder that for the rest of the day:“Why did the yellow moth cross the road?”]

Unknown said...


Digression, of course, in the previous . . . but when the moth distracted me, I "was" going to pass along Gwendolyn’s line in the “Earnest” play, about how she never travels without her diary ‘because one must always have something sensational to read on the train,” or something like that.

I do know, though, that I did see, once in my childhood home, a diary bequeathed to us by my grandmother (the “mail art” one). It was a simple thing, with entries about the antics of teaching kindergarten students, and even a poem she wrote the day President Kennedy was shot. The diary has long since been misplaced (destroyed?), so I never saw it again, but I would give anything to see it now. She died when I was very little, so I really don’t remember her at all, although I do have some pictures of her, and some of her art. I would love some of her words, though.

Here is a sweet little video (one minute) that probably gets at this feeling better the previous paragraph. It’s about how a young girl finds courage knowing what her g-grandfather went through in WWII. So, no, not everyone will barter cherished goods, cheap, on folding tables on the lawn. Some descendants find their ancestors fascinating.


Love your gray “kitty” icon, which makes me think, Karen, that we’re probably about due for a “gallon-sized mountain lion” themed swap, to go with the bird swap and the horse swap. Jaggers and Dingus agree (I asked them, and they looked at me blankly, which means, in kitty-ese, "Yes! Absolutely! Cat postcards rock!"), and probably Piper and Pippin agree, too, especially if they could get ones to lay on from Jaggers and Dingus. (I think you should let Jake do all the processing on your end . . . )

But, now it's back to “my artful day," yes. I bought a clearance drawing book yesterday at the used book store here, and after months of puzzling through negatives spaces and contour drawings, highlights and cast shadows, I think I am FINALLY starting to “get” what they are talking about. I am actually jazzed about trying a penciled still life (maybe send as a random art kindness to someone). Then again, calculus was the same for me. I had to keep looking at limits and derivatives and scratching my head, until all at once, it clicked and I thought, “Of course! How phenomenally easy!” (I still think that calculus is one of the most breathtaking fields man has ever come up with.)

Unknown said...

(NOTE about comment removal: There was a burp in the initial upload process, so I wasn't sure my post went through. I rewrote and reposted it, so deleted the first one (which had, actually, worked), since it didn't need to be up there twice. Thus the "delete" was to avoid duplication, not because I rethought my posting, or because anybody flamed me, or anything.)

Cynthia said...

Hi Ellen! Nice to meet you!

Unknown said...

And I you, Cynthia.

Unknown said...

Love your thoughts. Your grandmother would be proud. So happy to meet you.

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