Monday, January 12, 2015

A Very Crafty Christmas: Miscellania and Paper Wreaths

There were two other things I made for Christmas this year, but since I forgot to get finished pictures, I probably won't bother posting them. After all, who wants to see everything but the final product?

Instead, here's a little mish-mash of some of the smaller projects I made, and at the end are this year's paper wreaths.

I made these dishwasher magnets at Husband's request using magnet strips and washi tape sheets. I used an acrylic paint pen to write on them. I had some leftover magnet strips after "Dirty" and "Clean" were done, so I just made a couple matching bar magnets for the fridge. Can't have too many magnets, eh?

As calligraphy practice, I made some gift tags using kraft paper tags and gold ink. Just in case you can't read them, they say: "merry christmas", "Santa! I know him!", "Peace, Joy, Love", "Merry Christmas, ya filthy animal", and "Mele Kulikimaka", because that song was stuck in my head for WEEKS this year.

I look at these and see a lot of practice I still need to do, but it's not like people pay that much attention to gift tags anyway. Although I was pleasantly surprised to see a few people keep them after they got their presents and threw away the rest of the wrapping. :)

I've decided my favorite thing currently is to write funny or slightly terrible things in really pretty letters all over everything I can get my hands on.

I also really, really love brown paper packages tied with jute string and these tags. I just die.


This isn't really a gift, per se, but I adore this practice piece I made using the Flourish style worksheet from The Postman's Knock, who is basically my new favorite. Seriously, if you're a fan of pretty letters, both alphabet and postal, go check her out. She's amazing. Anyway, I had fun playing around with this style.

As a new mom, I caved to a Pinterest trend and collaborated with Infant to make these cute little ornaments. I used the same paper clay I made Baby Groot with, which actually gave me a lot of problems as it didn't dry flat for most of the ornaments. You can see a bit of wrinkling on the right edge of this one, and it was by far the flattest.

I can't personally recommend this project. I made nine of these suckers and let me tell you: wrestling a paint-covered foot away from a grabby, curious baby while trying to simultaneously keep him from touching you, himself, the furniture, the walls, and anything else in range, is barely fun once. It's definitely not fun nine times. 

Finally, I made more paper wreaths. I. Love. Paper. Wreaths.

This year, I got a little crazy and added feathers to a couple of the ones I made using paper doilies. I also made several recycling pages from old ARCs, which is my favorite way to reuse those suckers.

Large, with feathers. This is by far my favorite. It didn't sell at the only craft fair I did this year, so I'm totally keeping it. 

Small, with feathers. Zoomed in, so it looks bigger, but it's about 9" across.

Small, from book pages.

Large, from book pages.

This was my very first attempt at a colored wreath. It's still recycled book page flowers, but I hand-painted each individual flower layer with either a silver or blue acrylic paint wash before assembling the flowers and then the wreath. Then I added various pieces of silver and blue wreath picks and a larger focal point cluster at the bottom left.

I don't know if I'll ever make one like this again. Probably not unless I can sell it for a hundred bajillion dollars, or I really, really like the person I make it for (which, luckily, I do, for the person I made it for this year). It was truly a labor of love. 

Well, there you have it. That concludes 2014's Very Crafty Christmas. Here's to a crafty 2015!

Friday, January 9, 2015

A Very Crafty Christmas: Game of Thrones Dragon Egg(s)

Yeah, I went a little crazy this year.

Husband is also huge into Game of Thrones, and the theme of Infant's nursery is mythological creatures. I had made Baby Groot for Husband, but with the intention that he would live in Infant's nursery. And there was another mythological creature I thought would work out great in there, too: dragons.

I came across this tutorial on making "dragon eggs" using thumbtacks, nail polish, and styrofoam egg forms. It sounded like precisely the tedious thing I love to do, so I decided to experiment by making one egg. After reading the description of the dragon eggs Daenerys Targaryen gets in Game of Thrones, I decided to start with the cream egg.

In the book, it's described as "pale cream streaked with gold". Well, that's a bit vague, but I had a solution.

I got cheap gold thumbtacks from the dollar store and used cream acrylic paint for the base coat (much cheaper, quicker, and less smelly than nail polish). I did about 50/50 on one coat vs. two coats of paint. I liked that with one coat, a little bit of the gold color from the tack showed through.

After that, I topped the paint with a gold glitter top coat from NYC called Top of the Gold (clever, huh?), also varying the thickness and number of coats, and used a regular clear top coat over that. It took FOREVERRRRR. But the results were pretty cool.

I bought an old-timey (technical term) chest from... you guessed it, Michaels, and crafted a platform inside it using foam core board, push pins, and some satiny maroon fabric I had lying around.

On Christmas morning, I gave Husband a card that sent him on a (short) quest to find the chest. This is what greeted him when he solved the puzzle:

What's this? (And bonus Cat)

Is that what I think it is? 

No way!

There's only one egg, but there are spaces for two more. Hmmm...

A dragon egg.

He's currently trying to figure out how to hatch it. We won't be following the Targaryen example, that's for sure.

Thursday, January 8, 2015

A Very Crafty Christmas: Steampunk Clock

I need to apologize, firstly, for my awful photography.

I feel like it's a skill I need to learn so I can have pretty Pinterest-worthy pictures of my work, but while I can take decent landscape/ animal/ people pics, I am pretty much the worst at pictures of objects. So, apologies.

But, that's not what this post is about. Yesterday I showed you the Baby Groot I made for Husband. Today, I want to show you the steampunk shelf clock I made for Husband's cousin.

Well, technically, I made it a couple years ago. This is what it looked like in December of 2012:

I originally gave it to him in its first iteration at Christmas two years ago. It was hastily done, as I'd gotten the idea at the last minute (like many of my best ideas). Unfortunately, the execution was a little lacking, and while I loved it when I gave it to him, I found myself making him a guarantee: if it broke or was otherwise unsatisfactory, I would fix it.

One day about a year ago, it fell over on his shelf and a few pieces came off. But the real kicker was the frame, which completely fell apart. He called me on my guarantee, but at the time didn't know a secret I did: I was pregnant, which meant it would be a WHILE before I got it back to him. I also asked him if he minded if I made drastic changes to it, which luckily he didn't.

So this year, with the product of said pregnancy napping safely away, I dragged out his clock and decided to re-gift it to him, but as a better, stronger, faster version. (I could rebuild it. I had the technology).

I upgraded the frame itself, moving to a shadow box instead of a display frame. I opted for more of a military steampunk feel instead of the frilly, awful wire bending. And I added a theme to tie the whole thing together. Essentially, the little glass vial, the gears, and the watch were the only survivors from the original design.

And here it is, December 2014:

Glass glare is awful...
... so here's the insides, out of the box, for a better view. I added a few more gears, more decoration,  and made the wires more secure. There's an additional Mysterious Potion Vial (TM). And new colors for the background.
Finally, the box itself. I used a plain old 5"x7" shadow box, but added these awesome metal feet from the Tim Holtz Idea-Ology collection at Michael's. Also from Tim Holtz was this super ornate label holder. I used distress ink to age white paper and wrote on it with India ink and my dip pen. It says "Time Travel Machine- USE WITH CAUTION -HGW"

I glued them all on and made artificial nails by cutting the heads off brads and gluing those on, too. Et voila. A steampunk shelf clock. I kind of wanted to keep this one.

Wednesday, January 7, 2015

A Very Crafty Christmas: Baby Groot!

This year for Christmas, I decided to raid my mini-Michaels craft room and make a whole bunch of stuff for gifts. I love creating, and I'm never happier than when I'm busy, so with finances being a little tight, it made more sense to give gifts from my heart (and hands) instead of a store. (Though there were plenty of those, too).

I... may have gone a little crazy. I made a lot. Too much for one post, which is why you're about to see a few of these. Today, though, I'm going to start with one of the big gifts I made for Husband.

This fall, the day before I had my first surgery, Husband and I went to go see GUARDIANS OF THE GALAXY and both immediately had a new favorite movie. Awesome Mix Vol. 1 became the soundtrack of my recovery as Husband played it around the house, set a few songs as the alarms on his phone, and generally sang and danced to it throughout the day.

So naturally, I wanted to do something GotG themed for him. And the thing that leapt to mind first was Baby Groot.

I've never sculpted such a large piece before. I've made smaller things, far less detailed and more general-blob-shaped. I consider this my first sculpture, and while it's definitely flawed, it came out much, much better than I expected. This is the piece I refer to in this post.

Without further ado, here he is. Behind-the-scenes pics follow the finished product.

Front- terrible angle, sorry

Back (still needs some minor repainting in his armpit)

Different angle to show potting

Sans pot

First, I made this wire armature. I've never done this before, either, but I was pretty excited with how it came out.

Then I started wrapping clay. I used a recycled paper clay that was surprisingly smooth and workable, but unfortunately left LOTS of little dried bits around as I worked. (These photos are a bit washed out, sorry. The lighting in my house is horrible and my phone flash is super bright).

More clay wrapping

Around the arms

Up and over the head

Added a bit more clay to give depth to the face, and his crown of branchy bits. The crown was cut into sections and molded a piece at a time. I removed a few, as you can see there are too many here.

Finished crown

First arm and hand. I thought the face would be the hard part, but the arms honestly gave me the most trouble. I hadn't originally planned on doing wire hands but I'm glad I did-- the clay was way too soft to stand up on its own and the number of times he fell over onto his arms would have broken them off it it weren't for the wire supports.

Second arm and hand. Same issues wrapping clay around the teeny wire fingers, but I was still glad for them later. 

I added some wood graining, thickness at the bottom for stability, and tree-trunky bits. Then I carved his face, the part I'd been dreading all along. I'm still not happy with it, but I think a lot of that comes from the face I chose to carve. I decided not to do a smiling Groot because I wanted to leave the possibility that he's dancing when we're not looking. :)
The final product one more time for reference. I painted him a dark chocolate brown, then did a light brown wash over it for depth and wood grain texture. I painted the vines and moss on in a few different shades of green. The eyes were all black with a feathering around the pupil of the lighter brown. Since the clay was made from recycled paper, for durability I sealed him with an all-purpose sealer. Unfortunately, the only one I had in the house was high gloss, hence his unnatural shininess. Someday I'll re-seal him with a low gloss or matte sealer.

I acquired the pot a long time ago at IKEA, and used styrofoam to build a base inside of it. I wedged toothpicks into the exposed armature at the bottom of Groot and stabbed him into the styrofoam, then used an all-purpose glue to hold the rocks in place (smooth pebbles from the floral section of Michael's). I went with black/ gray because I thought it looked more space-y.

And there you have it! Our very own Baby Groot. 

Thursday, December 18, 2014

How Writing Gave Me the Confidence to Try Anything

I'm very comforted by routine. Comfort zones are (were) my thing. Seriously. It used to take a lot to shake me out of my rut, and I was a huge proponent of "write what you know".

Except... then I wasn't.

About the time I started pursuing writing as an all-consuming passion seriously, I got an idea for a book that was impossible for me to write. The main character was male, first of all. And black. I am neither of those things.

For a long time, I lamented that I would never get to read the book I couldn't write, because no one else would ever write it. And then I decided, oh, what the heck. I'll just write a chapter. Maybe two. Thirty pages. 100.

Oh crap. I wrote a whole, impossible book.

Writing that book, whether it ever sees the light of day or not, was literally a life-changing event. It gave me the confidence to go from "no, I don't do that" or "no, I CAN'T do that," to "okay, I'll give it a shot."

And my life hasn't been the same since.

I love art; whether it's writing or building things or learning calligraphy or cross-stitching or music or .... so on and so forth. But I never considered myself an artist. After all, I couldn't draw, or paint, or sculpt worth a darn, so I was just a poser. An art poser.

Except-- the more I try these impossible things, the easier they become. The more I do, the more I can do. I'm not saying I'm great at everything, but I don't suck as much as I thought I did at everything, either. Last year, I started painting. I just finished my first-ever sculpture and while it's not great, I'm still really, really proud of it. I still haven't taken up drawing, but calligraphy is like drawing with letters, and while I still have a lot to learn, I'm pleasantly surprised with how it's gone so far.

Every book I've written since that pivotal manuscript has been impossible somehow. Some challenge present in the structure or the plot or the characters or the writing itself, something that I would have said before was "not me".

But then I realized that I am still trying to figure out exactly who I am, and I probably will continue to do so my entire life.

And I am so excited for all the things I thought I couldn't do before that, it turns out, I can.

And so can you. Don't let the impossible things stop you, because if you give them a try, you just might surprise yourself with what you're really capable of.

Wednesday, November 12, 2014

Support We Need Diverse Books, and How Books Help Heal

You'd have to be living in a bubble (literally) to not know anyone who is diverse.

Diversity is a wide umbrella. Obviously, most people aren't white, straight, fully-abled, mentally healthy males. And yet, this is the flavor of person most of our media portrays. 

Books are a little bit better, in that especially with the rise of YA, many protagonists are now female. But racial, physical, sexual, and mental diversity are all still underrepresented.

Right now, there's an indiegogo campaign to raise funds for the non-profit organization We Need Diverse Books, which raises awareness about the lack of diverse characters in fiction and encourages publishers and readers to supply and purchase books by diverse authors and featuring diverse characters. 

This is a cause that should be important to us all, because everyone deserves to find someone like themselves in the pages of a book. As of this blog post, the campaign is less than $4,000 from its $100,000 goal. If you want to support the cause, please donate at the campaign here

Yesterday, I was talking to one of my friends at the ranch. Her wife is bipolar and recently had a severe manic episode involving a hospital stay and heavy medication. Her recall ability was severely affected by the episode and my friend has been working diligently to help rehabilitate her. We got to talking about books, and she told me that one of the ways her psychologist suggested helping her wife's recall was to read books. 

Well, the problem with that was that it's still very difficult for her wife to read. But she can listen to books on tape! And they have been. My friend says they'll listen to a book for a couple hours, then she'll wait a day or two and discuss what they listened to with her partner. Her wife's recall has improved dramatically just from this simple exercise that many people use for recreation anyway. 

This story really touched me. It's so easy to get caught up in the idea of Being Published. Yes, ultimately, most people who want to be published do so because they want their books to be out there and for other people to read them. But so rarely do we really stop and think about how our books will affect and possibly even change people's lives. What we put out in the world could have a profound effect on someone else. 

So think about it. What worlds could you be opening up to someone by including diverse characters in your books? Take the opportunity to do whatever you can to make the world in your books more like the world we live in. You never know who you'll touch with your books. 

(Note: please don't actually physically touch people with your books, unless you know them.)

Tuesday, September 30, 2014

Seals vs. Sea Lions

I hear this one all the time. It's a perfectly understandable confusion; these two animals are very similar in a lot of ways. If you're not a marine scientist or even an aficionado, there's not a whole lot of reason or opportunity to learn what the differences are between a seal and a sea lion.

This post would be more accurately titled "True seals vs. Eared seals" (more on this later). The family of pinnipedia is divided into three main categories: walruses, the eared seals (sea lions and fur seals) and the true seals (like the harbor and elephant seals). Within the eared seals, there are several types of fur seal, which have a thicker undercoat than sea lions. But aside from typical nit-picky species differences, fur seals and sea lions look pretty much alike. Therefore, since it's the only good image I've taken recently, the photo I'm using to illustrate the eared seals is a northern fur seal.

There are lots of similarities between true seals and eared seals. They're both mammals. They both belong to the family of animals called pinnipeds (meaning "wing-foot"). They have five digits on each flipper. And they both have sensitive whiskers for the detecting, pursuing, and capturing of prey.

But once you actually see them side by side, the differences become a lot clearer. 

This is a an eared seal (and a human, if you want to be pedantic about it):

My photo, and you're about to see it a lot.

This is a true seal. A harbor seal, to be exact:

From Wikipedia
You'll notice several differences immediately, but the biggest one is their general body type. The eared seal is definitely more of an athlete, with a svelte, lean, muscular body. The harbor seal is, er, well, more of a fast food and binge-watching TV sort of animal. Rounder. More to love, and all that. 

Both animals are very differently equipped. The eared seal has a rotating pelvis-- it can pull its rear flippers under its body and "walk" on all fours. Please excuse my terrible MS Paint illustrations of this:


In Rotation


Here's that standing eared seal photo again, with the rear flippers highlighted:

With true seals, their locomotion is primarily reliant on the amount of blubber they contain. Basically, it goes like this:

A true seal's flippers are much smaller, partly to stay out of the way when they go bouncing along.

Both animals are graceful in the water (though eared seals can move a bit more quickly), but eared seals got the upper hand out of the water, too. 

You can also look at color. Eared seals are pretty much universally a dark brown. They may have some blondishness from sun bleaching, but for the most part, they're chocolate colored. True seals are usually seen in a wider range of colors (all neutrals, but more varied, for sure). The harbor seal is spotted, for example. 

But if you're on a boat and you look in the water and see both animals looking up at you, there's one fast and easy way you can tell them apart. 

Sea lions and fur seals have external ear flaps (little coverings for their ears), hence the family name "eared seal":

True seals don't:

My photo

So, that's the difference. Wasn't that fun?!