Saturday, April 30, 2011

Who Wouldn't Want to Win?

Okay, I don't normally like to ask for help, but in this case, I'm willing to make an exception (it involves FREE art supplies, so you know I'm gonna jump at this chance). Michaels is having a photo contest on Facebook for Mother's Day, and I know it's a long shot, but it's a chance to win a $500 Michaels gift card... Can you imagine the fun we could have? Voting is simple, click on the above link, and you'll be redirected to the contest page with my entry. Click "vote" and repeat (the next day). You can vote once a day until May 7. Feel free to share and encourage others to vote! Because you know what that means? More crafts and project ideas for you! (See how I made this about you?) Anyhow, it would be awesome to win. Right now, I only need about 2000 more votes... So, hey, it's possible, right?

My two sweeties in their Easter dresses. C and K.

Wednesday, April 27, 2011

Picture of the Day: Who's A Cute Wittle Baby?

There's more than one way to make a baby with your eyes and your mother's
chin. Artist Jason Thompson has birthed several little Jason's, but this one
is the most precious...

Artist Jason Thompson  is a sculptor who prefers to work in large-scale, industrial materials and has lately been working in bronze, which he lovingly calls "an expensive, time-consuming, pain in the ass." This piece is part of a series of bronzes that Thompson has been working on, all featuring his own mug fused to an undersized body. This particular photo was taken as a play on those expensive studio portraits that parents spend way too much money on, according to the artist. Personally, I love it as a metaphor for the creative process. Artists and parents are both creators, and spend much time and energy making sure their "creation" is just right before turning it loose in the world. Jason holds a BFA from Marshall University and is working toward his Master's at Edinboro University of Pennsylvania. To see more of the artist's work or to contact him for a commission, please check out his website. Or check out this article to learn more about the artist and his inspiration.

Sunday, April 24, 2011

The Art of Paying if Forward, or I Promise It's 100% Edible

My mom came to visit the other day, and like any self-respecting grandparent, she brought gifts for the kids. The girls, ever the little princesses, were very happy with their cute leather shoes with pink polka-dot bows and their purple and white Springy purses. My little adventurer was excited to try out his new backyard adventure vest and binoculars, and made sure to show everybody his "journal" that came with it, picturing all the other items in that play set that he does NOT yet own. And she brought something for me, too. Knowing my affinity for the creative, my mother brought me something she thought I could make use of: a package of edible Easter grass and bunnies. It didn't take long to formulate a plan.

Yesterday I gathered supplies, a package of cake mix and some icing from the Dollar Tree. I had eggs and applesauce (an oil substitute in baking, and healthier to boot), so basically I spent $2 on this project. Not bad for  an hour's worth of fun with my kid and a delicious dessert as well!

Eli poured the mix, water, and applesauce in, and Mommy helped with the eggs. He kept
asking if he looked like a girl in the apron, and I assured him that eyelet lace is very
masculine. Don't you agree?

When the cupcakes were baked and cooled, I piped the icing on using a
zip-lock bag with the corner cut. These were the supplies we used to decorate:
edible grass and bunnies, chocolate covered, multi-colored sunflower seeds,
and Butterfinger eggs.

Eli performed the role of "quality control" making sure that everything was up to par
flavor-wise. In other words, he kept eating the toppings while we worked.

He was very proud of his work.

He decided that the top cupcake, the one with the Butterfinger egg and no
grass, would be his. Later, he asked me which one was his, because he couldn't
remember... so I guess his selection was arbitrary.

We didn't get to do an Easter egg hunt outside because of the rain today,
but we created a mini "egg" hunt on several of these, using the sunflower
seeds as eggs.

Eli had a blast making cupcakes today (even more fun than he had eating them, I think). And I'll have to admit, so did I. Thanks, Mom for always nurturing my creativity! I'm doing my best to pay it forward. 

Friday, April 22, 2011

Project Ideas: Roman Soldier Costume

I have built a reputation among my family and close acquaintances of which I am particularly proud. I am the costume guru, the go-to girl if you have questions, need some help, or if you really just need someone to construct a costume for you. I made a wizard costume for my niece from a graduation gown and an oversize party hat, I helped my older sister make her headdress and cape for her She-Ra costume for Halloween, I sewed a silver and purple Renaissance style gown for my little sister's surprise LARP birthday party... you get the idea. And I love it! I live for this kind of thing. So, when my sister-in-law asked if I could help make some Roman Soldier costumes for her kids' Easter play, I said, "Yeah, baby, yeah!"

Normally if I am asked to make a costume, I do my supply shopping personally and take a few weeks to get the task accomplished. This time, I have been asked to make two costumes in less than 3 days with supplies procured by another. Alright, I'll take that challenge!

One piece of robot armor, two plastic robot shields, two brooms, some gold
foil bags, and gold spray paint. I supplemented this with some cardboard (duh),
hot glue, and some odds and ends from around the house.
With my materials laid out, I made my plan. Cardboard rounds for the shields, add cardboard to the breastplates, heck... I'll even make cardboard helmets.

This part Eli helped with. No, not the cutting, the tracing. We used a round
laundry basket to trace the circles for the shields.

We hot-glued the cardboard rounds to the plastic shields, making them look
more Roman-esque as well as allowing us to utilize the plastic handles.

All armor needs some sort of ornamentation, that's how the soldiers showed their status to inferior men. So, with a little more scavenging, I found some pieces that did the trick nicely.

This shield has a dragon emblem from one of my son's broken armor pieces.
The black "jewels" were beads sewn to a hand-me-down shirt that didn't
fit properly. Hot glue does the job.

Around this time, the baby started fussing, so I did what I could to appease her while working as quickly as possible. That accounts for the scarcity of photos from this point on. I supplemented the plastic breastplate with cardboard and constructed two helmets as well. When the armor pieces were put together, I painted them with gold spray paint. Any metallic spray paint will do for armor, but for this Roman armor a bronzey-gold was chosen. After the paint dried, I added skirts to the bottom of the breast plates and straps to attach them to the soldiers. The plumes on the hats are Christmas tinsel garlands and pipe-cleaners, also secured with hot glue. I constructed spears using broom handles and cardboard with duct tape wound around the spearheads. The sword was constructed in much the same way. I ornamented the armor pieces with squares of gold foil paper from the gift bags.

Here's the armory. By no means perfect, but not bad for 2 hour's work with
several interruptions from babies and the phone.

Eli graciously offered to model the armor for me, and would happily keep it if he were allowed.
This kid can't get enough of swords and soldiers.

With more time, I probably would have added some other paint to give the armor a more tarnished look, because we all know that real warriors don't have time to polish their armor. Also, it would be nice to add pauldrons and a cape. Maybe next time. But, for the time and effort put into it, I think it turned out pretty well. Good enough for a 5 minute stage appearance, and that was the goal. Hopefully the pint-sized actors will agree. (And the upside for me? I get to keep the extra spray paint and gold-foil bags to use on one of MY projects. Win-win, really.)

Monday, April 18, 2011

Tying Up Loose Ends

In trying to come up with decorating ideas for my daughters' upcoming Princess Masquerade Ball, I dug a wall hanging out of storage that I made back in the college days. To be more accurate, it is a tapestry; however, it is a far cry from what probably you probably picture in your mind when you hear the word "tapestry". The graphic is unsophisticated, the colors are dull, and the whole thing is made from acrylic yarn. Even though the execution is crude, the design is appropriate for my medieval castle decor plan. 

When I originally wove this tapestry, I was trying to combine the traditional coat of arms for my family and my husband's, but I was in a rush to finish it to meet the deadline. I ended up hot-gluing strips of poplar to both ends to cover up the knotted thread. Five years and three moves later, the first thing I notice is that at some point one of these strips has been broken.

Castle themed? Yes. Fit for a princess? No.

So I removed the wooden strips and dug through my fabric selection to find an appropriate color to bind the ends. Light blue works, and I had just enough. I machine stitched them into place. When the ends were bound, I added loops so that I could slip a rod through. After a scavenging trip to my outbuilding in the backyard (packed with goodies left by the previous owner of our house), I returned with an old wooden curtain rod and finials. A little long, but otherwise perfect. I'll have to get my husband to cut it shorter and drill a hole for the screw on the finial, and then I'll glue the ends on.

Looks a lot better than the original presentation, even with the long
curtain rod. I think my princesses would approve.

When this project was done, I had just enough time before my girls woke up from their nap to finish something else I had in the works. Do you remember the knight's shields we made with salt dough, cardboard, and aluminum foil? I used some acrylic paint to give them a faux patina. I think overall, the snake turned out better than the dragon, but both will work for our purposes.

All they need now are loops on the back so they can be hung on the wall.
Hot glue to the rescue!

Not bad work for an afternoon. The next project I will be tackling: princess gowns for my soon-to-be two-year-olds. Now that is a test of my skills if ever there was one. I'll let you know how that turns out.

Sunday, April 17, 2011

Poor Little Piggy

Poor Piggy made it through surgery for a full recovery,
but he's going to have a few scars.
Pennies, nickels, dimes, and quarters roll all over the table and my son smiles as he sorts them into piles. We talk about how much they are worth relative to each other, how to tell them apart, how to count them, and how to spend them. Eli really wants his own rake and shovel so he can help out in the garden, but this is a slim week, so Mommy says, "Why don't we break open your piggy bank and see if you have enough money to buy them?" He is so excited to be able to buy his own tools, but sad that it comes at a cost: the health of his little piggy bank. This little guy does not have a cork or a rubber stopper. The only opening on him is the coin slot on his back. There is nothing for it, we have to break him open. So Eli cringes as I use a screwdriver to pry apart the piggy, and when it is done he asks, "Mommy, can we fix him?" I say, of course we can and I smile, even though I'm not sure how. The piggy bank is made of plastic, and I still haven't found a reliable glue that will keep plastic together once it is broken. As worried as he is about his little friend, Eli has forgotten why we are emptying his bank in the first place. But as his mommy, it's my job to make sure everything is okay, so as soon as we are done counting his money ($15 and a handful of pennies), I take his tiny piggy bank and the broken pieces inside to try to put it back together. I feel like the king's horses and men trying to repair Humpty Dumpty, only I have something that they didn't have: tape and band-aids, and I know how to use them! Piggy will live to be cracked another day, and in the meantime will be fat on pennies, nickels, dimes and quarters once more. And Eli shall have his shovel and his rake. Someday he'll have to learn that you can't always have your cake and eat it too (or your pork, rather), but today my kid can be a child, comforted with the notion that Mommy can fix all things with a piece of tape and a band-aid. He can grow up tomorrow.

Tuesday, April 12, 2011

This Ain't Yo Mama's Easter Egg

Yeah, mine didn't look this good, but it sure was fun!
It's that time of year again: time for fluffy things like bunnies and chicks, time for sweet things like sticky faces and marshmallow peeps, and time for fertile things like gardens and eggs. Yes, my friends, it is Spring, and with spring comes Easter, a holiday rife with religious meaning and symbolism. But I'm not going to talk about the "real meaning" of Easter today, I'm here to share with you a different take on a classic tradition: the Easter egg.

We have all bought PAAS egg decorating kits, balancing boiled eggs on a tablespoon to dip them into cups of colorful dye, experimenting with color layering or tie-dye egg patterns. Some of us have added crayon marks or stickers or displayed our eggs upright in little cardboard rings. But have you ever dripped hot beeswax on an empty eggshell, dipped it in dye, and burned the wax off with a candle? Well, then, you haven't lived!

When I was a kid, a family friend had the wonderful idea to attempt Ukrainian Easter eggs. Unlike American Easter eggs, when you make a Ukrainian Easter egg you start raw. The artist carefully pokes tiny holes in both ends of the egg, and then blows the egg out of the shell. During our attempt, my mother decided this process was too time-consuming, and she put her creative mind to the problem, coming up with an innovative solution: electric breast pump. We used the pump to suck the yolk and whites out of the eggshell, setting the egg innards aside for scrambled eggs or omelets later. (Note: if you are using your breast pump for milk, you will want to sanitize the parts after they come in contact with raw egg before pumping again.)

Playing with fire enhances the fun!
With the delicate, empty eggshell in hand, it was time to light the candles. The holes in either end of the eggshell must be sealed with wax before the egg can be dyed. We used beeswax candles and a wooden stylus with a metal tip to dip the hot wax and apply it to the eggs. The purpose of the wax on the eggs is to preserve the light colors on the egg even after it is dipped in darker colors. For instance, if you plan for part of your design to be white, you would draw that in using the wax as ink before you dip your egg in any color. With each layer, you add wax to preserve the color before you dip your egg again, starting with the lightest color and working your way to the darkest.

When all the dipping is done, use the candles once more: to melt the wax that you have so painstakingly applied to your shell and wipe it off with a paper towel. With the last wipe of the towel, your masterpiece is revealed! Now, when I last made Ukrainian Easter eggs I was a child, so my designs weren't terribly sophisticated, but for a family project you can't get much more fun! It's not for tiny tots (hello, fire), but for older kids, it is a great twist on the same old boring Easter tradition, and a memory I will treasure always.

What's your favorite Easter tradition? Do you have a fond memory related to Easter from your childhood? Please share, I'd love to hear about it!

Monday, April 11, 2011

A Tip of the Hat, A Tip of the Scales

Installation by Andy Goldsworthy,
King of Balance
So.... all those things that I had been neglecting so that I could focus on my creative outlets? Yeah, those are the things I've been doing lately. I have made a huge dent in the mountain range of laundry that was scattered across my house, from bathroom to bedroom, terminating in the laundry room. I have washed dishes three times in the last two days (that's gotta be a record!) and I have even been cooking (gasp!). That's right, folks, I have turned into a regular Susie Homemaker, or at least her less organized, but better looking cousin Sally. And because of this, you might feel that I've been neglecting you... and if that is true, I sincerely apologize.

You may recall my discussion of momentum in a previous post and be wondering if I have lost mine. Don't worry, I haven't, I have just redirected my focus to bring some balance into my life. For the last few months, I have spent virtually every free minute writing, dedicating almost no time to my other duties around here. And let me tell you, people noticed... It got so bad, that my husband STOPPED complaining about not having clean clothes in the closet to wear. Yeah, I know. So obviously I had to do something to tip the scales back in the right direction.

Balance is a concept I wholeheartedly believe in, both in art and in life. In a work of art, balance brings a sense of calm and completion to a piece, rendering even something otherwise complex and messy easy on the eyes. In life, it is much the same. To check your balance when painting, it can be helpful to view your work upside-down or in a mirror (or upside-down in a mirror). In life, well, sometimes you just have to take some time and look around.

Spending too much time and energy on one part of one's life to the detriment of another can add stress. (You CAN have too much of a good thing!) So, now that I've tipped the scale in the other direction (I think it's been 5 days since we last spoke... too long, I know), how about I work on some balance? I know the kids and my husband will appreciate having clean underwear and actual meals, and even if you didn't miss me, I missed you! I'm going to work on making sure that I am writing something worth reading, not just churning out the posts so that I can brag about how often I post (I don't really do that), because after all, the tiny red dot equals the big black circle every time!

(Yeah, that's a balance joke... red carries more visual weight than black, so you can use less of it to balance a larger block of black. Meaning that if I write less often, I will make sure it is more worthwhile to read. I know, lame joke, but hey... what can I say, I think should at least get points for inserting an art lesson in here.) 

Thursday, April 7, 2011

A Movie and a Sword Fight, What Better Way to Start the Day?

She looks positively dangerous in her
Prince of Persia shirt and pirate coat.
There's no more exciting way to spend your morning than adventuring on the high seas, fighting fire-breathing dragons, battling scurvy pirates and evil robots, and finishing your quest all in time for a satisfying lunch of PB&J sandwiches and milk. I've been having a great morning watching the kids play dress-up while they watch The Princess Bride on the big TV. I think my ladies have picked up a few new fencing techniques from Westley for their next epic sword fight against big brother. My girls look positively dashing with their tunics, coats, and swords.

Watching my own kids play brings back fond memories from my own childhood. My sisters and I reenacted scenes from that very same movie after we had watched it. We, too, would dress in costume to enhance our play, donning layers of lacy slips or my oldest sister's silky, peach, ring-bearer dress from my grandma's wedding (yes, I did say my sister's ring-bearer dress: she was a little too old to be a flower girl with the rest of us). We would pile pillows on the floor and climb to the top of the bunk bed again and again to replay the scene. You know the one: Princess Buttercup leapt from the tower, smiling as she fell in slow-motion, yards of fabric trailing after her as she floated into Fezzik's awaiting arms. We never did get the slow-motion part down, but we sure accomplished the yards of flowing fabric and the falling. The only problem we ever had was deciding whose turn it was to be Buttercup.

My own daughters seem to relate more to the swordsmen than the princess. Perhaps that is a symptom of having an older brother to emulate instead of sisters. I'm sure my little ladies will become delicate princesses as they grow older and our costume collection expands, but at the moment there's nothing feminine about them as they cross swords and run screaming through the house, narrowly escaping bandits and cutthroats to arrive back at their own pirate ship. And that's fine with me, who am I to stifle their creativity?

The Princess Bride has always been one of my favorite movies for the adventure, comedy, drama, and love story. It leaves me feeling good every time I watch it, and I love sharing that with my babies. I think that Pirates of the CaribbeanStardust, and Lord of the Rings also deserve special recognition as being wonderful, imaginative adventure tales that I want to share with my kids to fuel their play. If you haven't seen all of these, add these movie titles to your Netflix. You won't be disappointed, I promise.

Tuesday, April 5, 2011

Picture of the Day: "Mythic Self-Portrait"

Mythic Self-Portrait, Thaneeya McArdle, 8"X10"
Digital art, 2003
Thaneeya McArdle is an artist who has traveled the world in search of inspiration and spiritual enlightenment. Her work is colorful and imaginative, often integrating disparate elements to achieve a cohesive whole, as in the above piece. I love the mystery and meditative peacefulness this picture evokes. In the words of the artist: "This image involves a meditating figure with a clock illuminating the third eye. Emanating from the figure is a blend of Buddhas, black hole equations, and a map of the stars. This image exemplifies a marriage of science and religion, both of which are pedantic attempts at examining the reason for life on earth. The religion/science relationship depicts a unification of the outer world with the inner workings of the mind. This didactic standpoint demonstrates a search for the meaning of life that is based on research and discipline, creating a synthesis between the oft-opposing disciplines of religion and science."

The things that strike me about this artist are her boundless curiosity about the world and her ongoing search for answers. I think we should all approach the world with an attitude of child-like wonder and an appreciation for all it can teach us, after all, it worked out pretty well for us as kids.

Interested in learning more about Thaneeya's techniques? Check out her instructional website!

The Art of Finding the Right Word, or Top 5 References for Writers

Words can be your friend.
When I am writing, sometimes I can't find the right words (Gasp! You're shocked, I know) to express the tone or attitude I am trying to build into my scene. I know what I want it to feel like, but I can't always find the perfect imagery on the first try, so I find myself stuck, banging my head against the wall, hoping the words I seek will magically appear on my computer screen. It can be the most frustrating feeling in the world to settle for the wrong words, knowing that you'll have to go back and change them later. I suppose that's what editing is for, but who wants to edit? Wouldn't it be wonderful to nail it the first time? (Disclaimer: I am not condoning skipping the editing process. It is often necessary to edit in order to prevent oneself from sounding like an idiot.)

During my hours of wandering aimlessly around the internet, I have stumbled upon several resources that have helped me in those times when I am grasping for the right word, phrase or image. The following links will direct you to very useful pages to reference when writing. If you write at your computer, you may want to bookmark some of these, or if you prefer to write "unplugged" (without that pesky internet to distract you), you may want to print these lists out and keep them in a file on your writing desk. After all, we can never have too many weapons to use against the mighty Writer's Block.

1. Body Language: Do you find yourself repeating the same phrases (she shook head, he furrowed his brow, she blinked in surprise)? Here is a list of body language and what it means. Is your character angry? Check the list and see if the corresponding posture seems fitting.

2. Emotions: Can't find just the right word to express how your character is feeling? Here's a cheat sheet. No more "she felt sad," try deflated, abandoned, demoralized... You can find the word with just the right shade of meaning with this cheat sheet!

3. Latin Love: Ever tried to write a character who was smarter than you? This list of common Latin words and phrases is especially helpful if you are writing a lawyer, a 19th century learned individual, or a condescending ass.

4. Watch Your Tone: This list of tone/attitude words can help put you in the right mindset to write as well as find the write word to express the feeling you are looking for in your writing. Caustic and Contemptuous, after all, are not equal, and should not be treated as such. And this list has handy definitions, so no need to grab the dictionary to help you decide which word you want to use!

5. He Said, She Said: This is the most important reference I am posting, if you haven't been impressed by any of the rest, prepare to be blown away by this one. One sure way to spot an amateur in writing is overuse of the word "said." There are a million different ways to say said, so why not use them? Why not say threatened, piped up, announced, drawled, challenged, countered... I could go on. My goal: eradicate the word "said" from my writing.

Do you have any secret weapons you use when writing? Please share!

Above image from Reconnections. Another interesting Google Image search: "words"