Monthly Archives: May 2014

Big Excitement about Tiny Crafts.

I never had a dollhouse.  There was a communal one that we all played with, made of tin, at my grandmother’s house.  And a grand Victorian that my grandfather made my sister when I was an age considered too old.  It occurred to me when my boys were in preschool that they could have a doll house; they had a vague interest in the giant one at our little school.  But the time came and went, and Legos entered our lives.  Legos.  We could fill a macro-sized dump truck with the Legos in our house.  The most popular series under our roof is the line of Minifigures, from generic space guys to specialized licensed characters.  We’ve got them in abundance.  My almost-ten year old has versions of himself “in Lego.”  Made his whole class “in Lego.”  Made all the Greek gods and goddesses “in Lego.”  We’ve customized some parts with Sharpie.  And I have on two occasions made miniature rolls of toilet paper for a Lego port-o-potty.  This has been the extent of micro-crafting at our house.

McGuire, Margaret.  Alicia Kachmar, Katie Hatz.microcrafts
Microcrafts:
Tiny Treasures to Make and Share.
Illustrated. 87pp.  Quirk Books, 2011. $16.95
ISBN-10:1594745218
ISBN-13:978-1594745218
745.592—M5835

I found Microcrafts while browsing the 745s at my library’s main branch.  There were thousands of books keeping this one company, but the enormous spool of thread on the cover captured me, and when I peeked inside and saw the miniature deer heads—into the book bag it went!  The microcrafts featured are very small scale versions of stuffed animals, sculptures, jewelry, books and cards.  I generally steer toward purposeful crafts, and I have to say that outside of accessorizing a doll’s house, you may have trouble imagining what you’d do with some of these little trinkets.  I suggest that most of the crafts can be glued to a magnet or clothespin, rendering them more useful.  They can also punctuate a gift, be tucked into a lunch box, or be intentionally left on a park bench to be delightfully discovered.

Once home, I fawned a bit more over the deer heads (and ordered a brick of Sculpey).  I also flagged a page featuring a book no bigger than a postage stamp.  There was even a tiny bird feeder made from a clear drinking straw!  (But seeing as how I’m well underway in killing the lemon cypress trees* on the patio, I’ll have to table that idea till I can get a bonsai to thrive).  Meanwhile, I obsessed about those deer heads for three days…

When the Sculpey arrived, I halted the presses.  I preheated the oven, rolled out some waxed paper, and dove right in.  Shaping deer heads isn’t quite so easy; I used some internet imagery to help.  Then, because I have 1 ¾ pounds of clay, I made a rabbit, a tiger, a brown bear, and some feathers.  I baked them while our dinner cooked stovetop.  My husband, the cookie fanatic, was sorely disappointed to discover a menagerie of taxidermy baking in the oven.  I made my deer heads slightly bigger by accident, so I had to size up the mounting plaques.  I should have checked them against the pattern first, because Sculpey doesn’t shrink.  I had plans to use some wood veneer for the plaques, but have you ever tried to intricately cut wood veneer with scissors?  It was like cutting a cracker.  Bits everywhere.  I recommend a cracker box, or chipboard.  Now, to find some proper antlers…

DSC_4645

Absolute magic happened when I showed the book to my almost-8 year old son.  He’s a tiger lover, a magpie, and a hoarder in training.  And green is his signature color.  I once rescued a green sequin from the gutter for this child.  He saw the mini cat project, and had to have a tiger.  Except in green. With gold stripes.  He ran for his own supply of green felt, and green yarn.  We sat and made this tiger-kitty in ten minutes, then painted his features.  He requested orange felt be added to the shopping list.

green kitty

Invigorated with the quick success of micro-tiger, I set to work on the miniature book.  I followed the instructions to the letter, since I knew the binding step would be easier if I didn’t make drastic alterations.  And I must say, if this is your first foray into book-binding, just be patient.  Follow the chart.  Give yourself time to do the sewing in one sitting.  You can hold the book with two fingers, and sew with the opposite hand, unlike a larger book that requires lots of cumbersome back and forth maneuvers.  If you are completely new to book-binding, there are great books that take you step by step through many binding varieties.  (If you fall in love with the craft, visit Dispatch from LA with Mary Ann Moss.  She makes beautiful, authentically-Mary Ann books, and teaches online classes.  Actually, you should just visit her site regardless.  She makes good stuff).  Midway through the process, I chose petite anchor-printed endpapers, and found a snippet of text about fair winds and sailing for the cover paper.  At this point, I also had a recipient in mind, and I spent the rest of the evening building a book that will house a years’ worth of thank yous from a great class of fourth graders.  The miniature book instructions in Microcrafts yielded a fetching little book.  I added endbands made from a piece of ribbon, and also affixed a jump ring so it can be worn as a necklace.

minibook

I order my bookbinding supplies from Volcano Arts (Japanese screw punch bits, endband, needles) and Etsy for waxed linen thread.  A quick search of “miniature” on Etsy or Pinterest produces thousands of small things, perfect for terrariums, doll houses, and curios.  But I think some of them may also have potential for one of my favorite things—water globes.

This book is for all levels of crafter, especially one who likes to sew tiny felt animals or assemble micro-scraps of fabric and paper.  It is light on prose, but is brimming with great photography and descriptive instructions.  Many projects feature a little magnified snippet with a tip on managing such a small pieces.  There is a reference section in the back focused especially on the miniature scale.  (Hint: toothpicks, nail art brushes, and HO-scale railroad people are recommended).  Also, there is a section for modifying Microcrafts, plus a list of shopping resources.

You can read more at: www.quirkbooks.com/microcrafts.  Margaret posts on Pinterest.  Alicia’s Etsy shop is: eternalsunshine.etsy.com.  Katie’s Etsy shop is: katiehatz.etsy.com.  The contributor’s section of the book hosts fourteen more artists, and their respective online spots.

Thanks, Margaret McGuire, Alicia Kachmar, Katie Hatz, and Co., for compiling a book that surprised and delighted all members of my family, helped us use 3 dozen toothpicks, and compelled me to buy a rainbow of felt.

*I welcome all advice on the pair of dwarf lemon cypresses that I happen to think were failing when I purchased them.  They should be bright chartreuse.  They are crispy and brown, and—I fear—done for.

 

Tagged , , , , , ,

Collaborative Crafting for Bibliophiles.

Do you remember receiving your first library card? I wish I still had my card in possession, but I remember it distinctly. It had a wobbly signature, and was hand-laminated by a bi-focaled librarian from America’s first publicly funded library: Scoville Memorial in Salisbury, Connecticut. The library façade is granite mined from a nearby quarry, and from the walk, it resembles a small chateau. And inside it smells like a library. Papery and cool, even on the most humid summer day. I’ve since held many other library cards from other towns, colleges, and cities. And while I think it is still a choice pleasure to browse the stacks of a library, losing hours to that 90 degree head-tilt to read the spines, I absolutely love the ease and efficiency of the “request” system. This ability to create succulent reading lists online and have them delivered to my local branch was the difference between my sanity and an existence I’d rather not acknowledge during those early, frazzled days of motherhood. The library has saved me countless times in my life. So it is with the chiefest pleasure that I offer up my review BiblioCraft, a book that marries my two favorite occupations: libraries and making.

Pigza, Jessica.Bibliocraft
BiblioCraft:
A Modern Crafter’s Guide to Using Library Resources to Jumpstart Creative Projects.
Illustrated. 207pp. STC Craft/A Melanie Falick Book, 2014. $27.50
ISBN-10: 1617690961
ISBN-13: 978-1617690969
745.5—P629b

Written by NYPL rare book librarian and avid crafter Jessica Pigza, BiblioCraft is a tremendous collaboration between a librarian and a crew of artists and crafters.  The range of source material for the body of projects is completely diverse.  This book makes me want to marbleize paper, embroider cartouches, and explore every library in my day-tripping radius.  Jessica provides personal and useful commentary on the partnership of librarian and visiting bibliophile/artist.  There are chapters on research libraries and the nature of special collections, finding the right library, planning your visit, and using the cataloging system.  Jessica includes a copyright primer where there are some guidelines and many resources.  There is a list of digital libraries to reference, and recommended library collections—helpful for planning your next getaway to, say, The American Craft Council Library in Minneapolis, Minnesota.  Or the National Library of the Netherlands, in The Hague, for an exhibit on the history of decorated papers.  Curious?  I was.  Here’s the link: http://www.kb.nl/en/web-exhibitions/decorated-paper.  I completely appreciate the window into a far-flung library.

The 20+ projects included in Bibliocraft traverse stitching, sewing, embroidering, paper cutting, and stenciling a host of home décor projects.  The ideas are all beautifully conceived, with full back-story on each artist’s source point.  For example, the marbled fabric pouch made by Jodi Kahn was inspired by the historical marbled end papers found in old volumes.   A delicately quilled willow pendant designed by Ann Martin sprang from the gilt blossoms and leaves of a book cover.   Each project features a designer who worked with Jessica to find precisely the source material needed to propel the idea into fruition.  There is a narrative about the craft, and its history, as well as the story of how the historical document converged with modern craft designer.  I love reading about this process.

All the projects offer a full set of instructions and templates to complete each craft.  Some projects offer ideas on how to take the project further or alter to your taste.  Jessica, ever the librarian, instills more knowledge about each subject and suggests further readings and subject headings.  There are so many possibilities in this book; I want to make everything.

Pigza quotes

The above quote in the teal spot isn’t from Jessica’s book, but it is a favorite.  Prompted by Jessica’s quote about a wish list, I spent half an afternoon dreaming up wish list topics and things that fascinate me.  Here’s my short-list:

wish list

Bibliocraft is a book all artists and crafters will want to own.  My copy is borrowed, fittingly, but I plan to purchase it for its wealth of references, in addition to great project ideas.  Some of my favorite projects from the book include Jessica’s dogwood blossoms (great for attaching to packages), Grace Bonney’s antiquarian animal votive holders (I need a set: tiger, bear, koala or owl, lion, and maybe a snail), Sarah Goldschadt’s paper towns (I want to make tall, skinny, ornate row houses from the waterways of Amsterdam!)  And Rebecca Ringquist’s cartouche embroidery.  She used an old map cartouche as inspiration for a quilt label.  I have seen entire wall displays filled with hoop art.  I currently have twelve empty embroidery hoops of varying sizes.  I’m thinking about ampersands and arrows, initials, and a family crest.  There might be some mixed media embroidery since I love to sew paper to fabric.  Oh, the possibilities!  My library field trip is scheduled! Phase one: completed!  Phase two: bring copy card, wish list, ear plugs, and rations.

Read more about Jessica’s adventures in making at handmadelibrarian.com.  Also, she writes on NYPL’s blog about events, crafting, and Crafternoons at http://www.nypl.org/blog/author/jessica-pigza.

Thanks, Jessica Pigza, for researching, writing, and crafting a book that makes me want to befriend a librarian and hole up in the rare book corral at SFPL’s Main Library, then come home and turn old tea cup markings into embroidered wall hangings.

Tagged , , , ,

Art & Craft Merger

Last week I was on a terrific bird hunt to make the Faux Taxidermy project from Blair Stocker’s Wisecraft.

IMG_2272

There were birds to be had on Etsy and Ebay, but I’m impatient sometimes, and the crafting cannot wait.  I went to my local Beverly’s, and happily birds were 30% off, which is great because I had big plans to dissect her.

fake bird

This is an example of the same brand/different bird on Amazon.  I might have actually bought and used this finch had it been in stock.  Instead, I bought a really weird looking canvas bird, and I am remiss for not photographing it for you.  But again, I am sometimes impatient when crafting.  The plan for this bird was to make a shadow box, featuring the bird, and a simple calligraphy label.  I love when crafty plans go awry.

Concurrently, I was reading and creating from Randel Plowman’s Collage Workbook.  I was making 5-minute collages and bird-themed collages and map-based collages.  While the collages were drying under a weighty American Heritage Dictionary, I dismantled the bird.  I also rummaged around for the sturdiest box to house my faux bird.  I have a collection of small, strong, hinge-lidded boxes from my Studio Calico Project Life® subscription*.  They are very good quality boxes that arrive monthly, and I knew that I would find a project for them at some point.

Happily, the bird fit into the box!  So I continued with my bird re-feathering, and since it had a metal clip instead of feet, I fashioned some legs and feet from a small piece of floral wire which—all of a sudden—magnetically stuck to the top of the box!  These strong magnets on either side easily hold a small bird upright.

bird foot meets magnet

And while I was delighted to have discovered that a bird could sit on top of the shadow box, I was foiled about what would go IN the box.  Another bird?  (I had several bird-making books on hold at the library, plus an old issue of Somerset Studios with a bird-maker interview).  And all the while, those collages dried flat under the dictionary behind me.  You know where this is going.

Back to the bird:

bird pattern making

After I had carefully taken all the canvas off the foam core, I laid each piece down and traced out the pattern.  Her tail was sort of over the top for her size, so I didn’t build that into her remake.  I kept the same beak, eyes, and wing shape, but simplified the tail, and added some vintage feather bits to her wings.  I cut new pieces of fabric from a vintage linen remnant, and glued them all back together onto the foam core.  I bent two small feet from floral wire, and left them green—she’s already a fabric bird, no need to force the faux issue.

Then I sanded the box.  It had a smooth surface, and the paint wouldn’t stick without deglossing; in hindsight, I probably should have primed it too.  But, as it was in the middle of dinner preparations, and I was throwing together pasta and sautéing vegetables in the kitchen while painting a second coat on my bird-box in the garage.  A juggling act.  Forget priming.  I used a small tester pot from Benjamin Moore called Deep in Thought.  (I have many of these tester pots, and I vow to find other small paint projects to use them up!)

Once the bird and box were fully dried, I set them on my desk, and thought maybe a bird poem would go inside—Emily Dickinson’s “Hope is the thing with feathers?”  Lyrics from a song— Jolie Holland’s “The Littlest Bird?”

bird complete

I think this is the point that I pulled out the collages, some of which were portrait in orientation, and wouldn’t fit. But were four horizontal, and fit nicely.  And that made for one happy maker.  A tilt on Blair Stocker’s lovely bird shadow-box-turned-evolving-display for collages!  And that, good people of the internet, is how I got sidetracked from Blair’s project idea, but I don’t think she’ll mind.  I still love Blair’s bird boxes, and will likely make a set as soon as I have the right birds.

The box is light-weight, and I plan to affix it to the wall with a piece of Command Strip, though I haven’t decided where to hang it.  I think a series is in order.

bird and collage

 

*Project Life® is a system of memory-keeping designed by Becky Higgins meant to stream-line photos and scrapbooking.  Studio Calico is a design company who builds fun papery kits in addition to Becky’s line.  I happen to love these monthly small boxes of supplies, and use the contents for all sorts of crafting.  I also maintain a Family Book—my own version of Project Life, and perhaps I’ll share my process for that project here.

Tagged , , , ,

Collage for Keeps

As a mom with two very active boys, the “get started” part of any project is often my biggest hurdle.  It’s easy for me to derail when I don’t have the right ingredient, the perfect shade of paint, or an entire bag of semi-sweet chocolate chips.  (I do have a neighbor who buys her chocolate chips in bulk, so there is wiggle room on that one).  My chocolate chip neighbor—and friend, opera singer, (& editor: thanks Ann!)—will often send one of her boys running down to our house for large sheets of paper, pipe cleaners, or fabric.  It’s the best kind of neighborhood smack in the middle of our beautiful city.

Plowman, Randel.The+Collage+Workbook
The Collage Workbook:
How to Get Started and Stay Inspired.
Illustrated. 132pp.  Lark Crafts, 2012. $17.95
ISBN-10:1454701994
ISBN-13:978-1454701996
702.812—P726c

But collage!  Getting Started!  Randel’s approach requires very little start-up materials.  You can jump right in with an old National Geographic, scissors, and glue.  You can use what you have.  The phone book you don’t reference, but they insist on delivering.  Junk mail.  Magazines.  Workbook pages from your kid’s homework, especially with some scrawling.  The envelope from your tea bag: Harney & Son’s Paris, hands down. Randel recommends a few other supplies like inks, crayons, paints and a bone folder.  And he discusses foundations for your collage, adhesives, cutting tools, and other media.

plowman quotes

Randel also suggests printing some collage materials on tracing paper.  I love this idea for the semi-transparent quality and layering it creates.  I receive a weekly newsletter from Dover Publications, which features public domain imagery samples that can be saved directly to your computer. I created a few sheets of these vintage images and printed them to add to my bin of materials.

This is a book to help you investigate your own collage style.  The only way to get there is to get started and make.  And make some more.  Collage can be as simple as a few scraps of paper combined in an interesting way. Sometimes, seeing two distinct items conjoined is enough of a commentary.  Randel is a pro at creating.  Several years ago, he started a blog called Collage a Day, and committed to using his collection of ephemera.  His dedication to the art form resulted in hundreds of collages, many followers and collectors of his work, and this book.  He wants us all to make collages!  And he encourages us to jump right in.  This enthusiasm folds into his first exercise: Five 5-minute collages.  Five sheets of watercolor paper cut to 3X5, five minutes per card, and twenty-five minutes later you have surprising results.  Here are a few of mine:

For me, the collages begin with a piece or two of interesting background paper.  The secondary images inject color and texture (snippet of Braille, origami paper, upside down popsicles*). Then, my favorite part, adding in bits of detail (postage stamps, vintage labels, packing tape transfers, washi tape). I layer rubber stamping in plain black ink, and toner image transfers as well.  A few of the collages have some machine stitching, which looks good on a window ledge, since the light peeks through the needle holes.                     *I regret that I do not know the source of this image.

After completing my small series of collages, I took a step back and observed what I was inclined to use.  Old book pages, tattered sheet music, and a forest map.  Birds. Postage. And also texture.  There is a scrap of Braille glued down inversely, zigzag stitching, and a stencil that I spackled with Texture Magic (by Delta/Plaid, which doesn’t seem to be available).  Texture is where the internet fails us all.  I foresee combining more stitching with paper and fabrics, more layers, more pinked edges.

This is a great book for those new to collage, or needing to refresh their style.  But seasoned collage artists will still find value in many of the exercises, and inspiration in Randel’s work.  The fifty exercises vary between color studies and image pairings, geometrics and typography, maps and storybooks.  The  collages feature birds, flowers, and power lines.  And he even incorporates the scribbling of a child.  My favorite collage of Randal’s is called Ten, featured in the section on working with Numbers.  I love the bits of penciled arithmetic, a chemical compound, the digits 10 and word ten, and a vintage bird.  If you search for Randel’s collages, you’ll find hundreds to peek at online.  That alone is hugely inspiring.  Plus, he included a duplicate-able image library in the book to get you started.

Find more of Randel’s art for viewing and for sale, plus collage ideas at: randelplowman.com, acollageaday.blogspot.com.  The Collage Workbook blog features other collage artists: www.thecollageworkbook.blogspot.com

Thanks, Randel Plowman, for writing this book on jump-starting an intuitive collage practice that encourages me to collect (even more) ephemera and forlorn manuals to build into curious vignettes of jump ropers and the U.S. Post Office.*

*among many other agreeable and strange topics.

 

Tagged , , , ,

the antidote for blocked artists.

Clearly, I’m a sucker for any book with projects or prompts.  Add in tons of current and full color art, and you might find yourself slightly overwhelmed!  Oh that Jealous Curator, and her insanely good taste…

Krysa, Danielle.  (also known as The Jealous Curator)CB
Creative Block:
Advice and Projects from 50 Successful Artists.
288pp.  Chronicle Books, 2014. $29.95
ISBN-10:1452118884
ISBN-13:978-1452118888
DDC 701.15

This project, coming from Danielle Krysa’s own desire to become unblocked, cannot—should not—be devoured in one sitting as I tried to do.  There’s just too much mining, too much good art, too many references sending me to Google this admired artist in Oakland and that series of bird collages from the guy cutting paper in the Midwest.  Danielle has chosen artists from a wide spectrum of disciplines (painters, illustrators, collage/mixed media, multidisciplinary, photography, ceramics, embroidery, paper cutting, installation).  Each entry for the 50 contributors has a short bio, a selection of work, and a shovel-full of questions about his or her particular creative process.  Danielle uses some questions on repeat: When did you first feel like an artist?  Or how do you feel when you are in your creative zone?  But there is tailoring too. Questions like: What are your tips for dealing with collages that are giving you trouble?  Do your commissioned projects drain or fuel your personal work?

There are some glistening gems of advice from artists who have ironed out their processes enough to write things like:
watercolor quotes
You will surely find other thought-provoking lines that resonate with you and your process, whatever your medium.

And there are a handful of artists who do not feel the pressure of a block—they’ve made a sort of peace with their muses, and allow that non-art time to serve as a transition, a breathing space between major projects.

But all 50 artists give you, the reader, a Creative unBlock. These delicious prompts &/or exercises are thoughtful nudges or smack-in-the-pants cattle prods to stir you up and get you MAKING. They range from breaking out of a rut by going for a walk and documenting your findings, or completely destroying a piece that has failed—or one that you love!—and rebuilding it. Some prompt you to leave art out in public, to be discovered and delighted by a stranger. There are challenges to help you mix things up, like move out of your natural medium and try something new. Catalog particular spots around your house, or arrange items pleasingly. Create a series of somethings. (I’m being intentionally vague because if you’re a working artist, writer, or maker, then you know the vacuous place called Uninspired. And this book would be a very handy antidote to have around when you’ve found yourself untethered in that barren land. And if you don’t know this space, then, as one artist’s claims: you’re lying). Though I do wonder what Danielle did regarding blocks before she amassed this collection of unblock exercises….

krysa quote

Danielle is no slouch to the visual world.  Her blog has become a spring-board for many up and coming artists, and for art-loving people who like to put interesting work on their walls.  Further, Danielle is making superb art as well, though she strikes me as veritably humble about it.  I’m not an art critic, but I know what I like, and I very much like what Danielle creates, especially her crisp collage and painted art with embroidered pops of color and texture.  Danielle vows to work through each of the challenges included in the book, and I can’t wait to see the fruits.

Find her at: thejealouscurator.com

Thanks, Danielle Krysa, for compiling a book so chock-full of great art by articulate and generous artists that I’m buying a rotisserie chicken for dinner tonight (instead of cooking) so I can keep working on my Creative unBlock #04 found-art sculpture exercise.

Tagged , ,

purposeful crafting.

I love a flea market.  Used book sales.  Thrift stores.  And most especially, my local reuse center SCRAP.  We also have the grand dame of Northern California antique fairs at Alameda Point (first Sunday of the month).  Even if I’m making something with new supplies, I often add in a bit of old paper.  I feel like it anchors the piece in a wholly different time.  I also have crates of old books, vintage notions, and chipped plates all just waiting for divine inspiration.  Enter Blair Stocker’s new book, Wise Craft.

 

Stocker, Blair.

Wise Craft:Wise Craft front panel

Turning Thrift Store Finds, Fabric Scraps, and Natural Objects into Stuff You Love.

184pp.  Running Press, 2014. $20.

ISBN-10: 0762449691

ISBN-13: 978-0762449699

DDC 745.5

This soft-bound volume is jam-packed with ideas on resuscitating old things.  Its’ cover brings handicraft right into modern: embossed title cut from fabric and scraps, subtitle in a cursive chalk, author’s name on a garment label.  There are several tutorials simply illustrated by Lisa Congdon.  The book is well-indexed, and has a host of templates to help you complete the projects as seen.  Blair also recommends a crafter’s toolkit.  It’s a curated list that many people should have no trouble rounding up.  The book is arranged by season, though many projects could overlap.  I relish when cookbooks organize by season, and I can see why Blair takes this approach as we all go through seasons of creativity and making distinctly related to weather, light, and materials.

I find that the process of creating something new from a tired or neglected item makes it feel more special, more intentional.  I am not militantly “green” or obsessed with thrift.  I just find that creating original pieces from gathered goods gives me a more personal connection to my surroundings and environment.  It establishes a sense of value: of place, of family, of personal history.                          -Blair Stocker

Each of the 60 projects begins with a brief, but personal description; I enjoy knowing why and how a person was inspired to make something.  Some of Blair’s projects are very simple and easy for the new-to-crafting type.  This might be frustrating for the more seasoned DIY-er, but I prefer to see these seeds as starting points: how can I make that silhouette leather coaster more interesting for me (who loves to emboss/stitch leather).  The book is appropriate for all level of crafter.

Spring for Blair means cleaning and tidying, and the inspiration to make new things.  This chapter has home décor items like personalized statement dishes—easily accomplished with the right china marker, and a recycled flower mirror (the mirror frame has been embellished with soft fibers and felts cut into leaves and blossoms) that has me wracking my brain to remember where I tucked away those old sweaters I was saving for something special.  She made a series of glittered art wall pieces that features the Stocker Family made-up words.  I instantly thought of a short-list of words and phrases that would look great in glitterati for our house.

Summer, in the words of Blair, “is the peak season for garage sales.”  And when I saw her woven chair back, I was awed.  There are so many times when I pass up rattan or caned chairs because I’m slightly intimidated by the brittle material.  But this chair boasts a fresh seat and colorful woven backrest.  When I recently walked through Salvation Army, I heavily contemplated a gorgeous old chair with an upholstered seat, and a weathered rattan back.  I need to go back; I’m committed to trying something similar.

Fall is my favorite season–aside from that one holiday ALL arachnophobes loathe, therefore I do not decorate with webs or plastic creepies.  I stick to owls and ravens, pumpkins and bats.  So Blair’s spooky dishes are perfect for me.  Sweet, vintage plates with a seasonal surprise.  Even a drawing from a child—a mean pumpkin face or a grimacing candy corn—can be scanned and decaled onto a thrifted piece of china.   Also, the book features a tabletop garden that, even though it is spring right now, makes me want to renovate my current terrarium with rocks, sticks and driftwood.  It features three lonely succulents.  I tried to cajole my boys into a nature walk/treasure hunt for the purpose of terrarium adornments.  I have two sticks to show for it.  To be fair, they did present me with two stolen flower heads—one with a missing petal, and a feather that was supremely battered.  The flowers died by bedtime, and the feather is missing in action.  I think another walk is in order, but for now it looks like this:

terrarium

Another classic project from the book is the miniature faux taxidermy mounted in deep shadowboxes.  I adore shadowboxes.  The hard part is editing what goes into them, and this project has inspired me to keep it simple.  Blair’s shadowbox trio features a single, perched, plumed bird—fake, of course—and a simple, scripted label which is an opportunity to practice your calligraphy or old-school cursive.  Maybe even ask your fourth-grader to pen it out for you.  Where am I at with this project? I have three shadowbox candidates.  I have sticks and dowels for perches.  But I do not have acceptable faux birds.  And even though I’m inspired by Blair’s simple, vintage birds, I haven’t found any remotely natural-looking.  I got lost in an internet rabbit-hole searching for fabric bird tutorials.  And I now have two books on bird-making headed in my direction.

While this book has jump-started several ideas and 50% complete projects, I do have one start-to-finish to share: the bead-bombed tote bag.  Blair made hers from a woebegone tablecloth.  I used a piece of vintage fabric that I’ve been saving for twenty years.  Twenty.  I am so glad to have put this piece of fabric to use!  Further, I live in San Francisco, where reusable bags are a requirement for all shopping (or pay a bag fee, and live with the scrutiny).  I have many bags for the grocery shopping, but I like to have separate ones for the library or new sweaters.  Enter this tote.  I followed Blair’s instructions from start to finish.  I think this is a note-worthy comment since I usually see a picture, and try to wing it.  But, for the purpose of this review, the instructions are clearly written, and yield a great, sturdy tote.  Mine is lined with a medium weight canvas (per instructions) that should support a load from the library, or a long day at the flea market.  In the spirit of making it mine, I added a simple pocket, off-centered for  right-hand wear, for keys and phone.  I started a small patch of beading on the reverse side.  It adds a bit of interest to the old fabric.  I am not sure how it will wear.  I considered sewing the beads in place, but for now, the fabric glue is completely invisible, and the beads are staying put!

beaded tote  bloom for wisecraft

Like the rest of us artists and makers, winter is a scramble to create holiday gifts, décor, cards, and treats, and if you live in reach of polar vortexes, major efforts to stay cozy.  Thus many of Blair’s winter projects are of the felted and fleeced variety.  My favorite from this chapter is a remix of the spring flower mirror, simplified into a single bloom brooch.  (I added one spring-like flower to the strap/bag intersection of my tote!)  This is the perfect, speedy gift for teachers and cousins. It would be a beautiful gift embellishment, or grace a bottle of wine or craft beer.  Or make a collection for your caroling group.  The thing I love most about this idea is that I’m thinking about it NOW, in May.  So I can spend the next few weeks hunting for tartans and plaids when no one else cares.  I feel ahead of the holidays already!

You can find Blair in all her handmade glory at: http://blairstocker.com/

Thanks, Blair Stocker, for crafting a book that presses into service all those special cast-offs I’ve been saving for just the right project.

Tagged , , , , ,

Start where you are. Use what you have. Do what you can.
—Arthur Ashe

or as my Grandmother used to say:

Make do.

You can find out more about me in the tab above, but in a nutshell, I am endlessly fascinated with art, craft, and creativity books. I own many, borrow many, and devour them all. I have found that I am collecting them more than making from them, and this site is in part to change that habit. In the spirit of appreciation for the authors/artists, I am reading the books cover to cover. Truly reading every word. And then, I am making! I will aim to create at least one share-able piece from each book I review. Please join me on this journey through the Dewey Decimal 700s (and spots beyond).

I’m beginning with a book by Carla Sonheim for a few reasons: 1) I met her and bought a small piece of her art in Portland several years ago, and I found her to be grounded and patient despite the chaos of the art fair. 2) This book, published four years ago, encourages the “just start” motto. And 3) pen and paper seem like step one for beginning. Pen to paper. No fancy supplies, no fresh journal to worry about, no adhesives or temperamental watercolors; all things I love and will delve into, but for now: pen to paper:

Drawing Lab

Sonheim, Carla.
Drawing Lab for Mixed Media Artists:
Creative Exercises to Make Drawing Fun.
Illustrated. 144pp. Quarry Books, 2010. $22.99
ISBN-10: 1592536131
ISBN-13: 978-1592536139
DDC 745.5

From Quarry Book’s Lab Series, Carla Sonheim presents a playful collection of 52 drawing exercises to keep the practice simple, get you started, and see interesting and unusual results. Her materials list is brief to allow for the use-what-you-have, do-what-you-can approach. Each prompt contains a materials list, a notable quotation, some examples from Carla or a contributor, step by step instructions, and—my favorite, a few suggestions for taking the prompt further. These ideas are where everyone will gain more mileage from the book—as they push beyond the typical drawing assignments—along with your own trial and experimentation. The book also contains a diverse selection of contributing artists, and a short-list of Carla’s favorite books on drawing and creativity.

Her “Taking It Further” suggestions are a step away from what you might expect of typical drawing primers. For example, a drawing standard for warming up are blind contour drawings: easy, loose, non-judgmental. Carla suggests this technique with a twist: layering several of the same subject. Her example yields a galumphing elephant with weight and movement, enhanced by simple orange highlights.

Another project that speaks to me is Lab #35: Drawing + Collage. This is an exercise where you select a fragment of a photo from a magazine, and add to it. Find an animal head, for example, and give it an alternative, out-of proportion, or multi-limbed reboot. I think this project would capture an elementary audience as well as a seasoned artist. I have seen similar renditions that are coltish and imaginative accomplished by children.

My favorite Sonheim prompt is to create a series of drawings using sidewalk cracks as inspiration. Akin to finding animal shapes in cloud formations, I think this prompt is endlessly fascinating. I see imaginary maps in many of the sidewalk cracks around my city, with lush islands of grass, and the occasional rogue poppy. This moment of focus on the ground underfoot is also a lesson in stopping to really look—a cornerstone in any art practice. It’s another exercise that can be done with all ages, with few tools, and endless source material. Carla’s featured illustration for this project is a series of weird animals, line-drawn, with contour shading and a bit of color for pop.

Sidewalk cracks. My city government is attentive to the condition of our sidewalks. Severely cracked squares are often marked, and repair or replacement is a homeowner requirement. The first afternoon I went out with camera in hand, I was almost disappointed with the pristine condition of our walks! But, I found a few with nice marbling. And, to my equal delight and shame, I had several fractured rectangles on the margins of my own house! Best to draw them now before the City paints a yellow scald for me to repair.

I drew a half-dozen creatures from the fractures I found, and played a bit with coloring pencil to give them life. But then I struck upon some old Letraset vellum and rolls of washi tape, and I like the result much better. They aren’t the anthropomorphized versions of Carla Sonheim’s, but they interest me all the same.
This exercise can be applied to all kinds of man-made distress. I spotted a patch of peeling paint which took on map-like qualities for me: a truncated, Florida-less outline of North America, France—squished. Ireland, largely out of proportion with the other two shapes. All this richness on a wall of aged orange paint or a broken dilapidated square on concrete.  Here are three of  my sidewalk crack drawings:
sidewalk crack 1193  sidewalk crack 2194 sidewalk crack 3195

After reading through the book, I caught myself seeing a great deal more in my surroundings: the sidewalks tufted with weeds, a bristly ranunculus bulb, a tall stadium light that begged to be drawn blindly. I felt encouraged to just try. So I blindly drew my sunglasses and a tea cup. I drew alien sidewalk creatures. I took more pictures than I did the week previous—all in the spirit of looking and focusing. This book lives at my house; I expect I’ll pull it out more often when I need a reminder that drawing should be fun.

For more about Carla, visit her website at carlasonheim.com. She offers several “live” and self-paced on-line classes and tutorials on her website, as well as an up-to-date blog. The classes and e-books are a diverse range from drawing and watercolor to silly “Blobimals” and cereal box paper dolls.
Carla has published several books, including a new book on photography with her husband Steve Sonheim that I plan to review here soon.

the beginning.

Tagged , ,