Thursday, October 28, 2010

An Historic Discovery (?)

Do these puppets look familiar to you? They've been hanging around the library's puppet corner for a while now, as you can probably tell from their well-loved appearance. But do you recognize their likenesses from TV? I'll give you a hint: "It's a beautiful day in the neighborhood..." YES! That's right! These are two of the puppet characters from Mr. Rogers' Neighborhood, more precisely, from the neighborhood of Make Believe! They are X the Owl and Henrietta Pussycat! My co-worker Gail commandeered the cat years ago, renamed her Miss Kitty, and made her her permanent sidekick. She assists her with all her "Stories and More" and "Terrific Twos and Threes" programs and is often seen wearing fun and funky outfits (Gail is always finding cool new sweaters, skirts, and accessories for her; she's kind of like the library's version of Miss Piggy, now that I think about it!). Gail recently noticed the prominent wristwatch on her paw and discovered that she was one of the main puppet characters on Mr. Rogers, and then we found the owl among the other puppets. Here is a photo from the original show:
Who knew we had such celebrities in our midst?!?

Monday, October 25, 2010

Autumn Sketchbook Page and an experiment

Here is the next page in my sketchbook. I thought about making a smaller version of the conceptual art piece I did for the FANE challenge, but I'd already put away all those scraps and didn't feel like messing up my workspace all over again! Instead, I started going through my stash of fabrics with fusible webbing already adhered to the back, to make a quick fabric collage, and this is what I came up with! I like it much better than the experiments in monoprinting I did yesterday. I always hear about how much fun and what great results other artists get from painting or dyeing their own fabrics, so I've wanted to try this easy technique. I started out by smearing several shades of acrylic paint on a piece of plexiglass and leaving some swirls in the paint with my fingers. I pressed a piece of the sketchbook fabric onto the smeared paint to get the following print.
I felt that one was a little muddy, so I tried again with only 2 shades of blue. Here is that one.
One final attempt with a darker blue. This one was still disappointing to me so I hand painted some purple swirls after I made the print. Still not very inspirational.
So then I tried to "fix" them by doing another monoprint on top of the first one using a different color of paint and a fork to make the texture, rather than my fingers. Here's what they look like now:
Still disappointing, don't you agree? It was fun to try something new and get messy with paint, but I find that the fabrics themselves are what often inspire my work, and these were decidedly NOT inspiring! I may try this technique again, now that I have a little experience with it, but for the most part I think I'll stick to my regular fabric collage!

Friday, October 22, 2010

A (much needed) Day Off (sort of)

Last night was the second meeting of my new monthly "Creative Playgroup for Women" at the library. We printed leaves onto fabric with acrylic paints to make a seasonal decoration. These can be used to line a Thanksgiving bread basket or as part of the table decor under a centerpiece. All the ladies had a nice getaway from the home responsibilities for an evening, had some nice conversation with other sympathetic, hardworking moms, and went home with a nice handmade souvenir! I call that a success!
But this morning I woke up with terrible sciatic pain in my right hip and down my leg. I actually had a hard time getting out of bed and into the kitchen to make the lunches. So I didn't take Cassie out for our usual morning exercise session; instead I rested with one knee over the other to stretch out my hip and finished the last few chapters of my current book. Then, after all the girls were safely on their way to school, I sat down and did a little art therapy! I made a cane of polymer clay with a jack-o-lantern face and sliced it up to look like this:
I baked them, and then made a nice carrot cake and some cupcakes (sort of a welcome home for my big Cupcake who is coming home tonight after more than ten days away on business!). While they were baking and filling the house with a lovely autumny, homey, spicy smell, I noticed the kitchen was badly in need of a good scrub down. I try to ignore all the little crumbs, stains, dust, and cobwebs (I don't usually wear my distance glasses in the house and don't really see the dirt!), but this morning everything looked especially dingy. So I spent a little while
with a sponge, some paper towels, and some cleaning products. I even tackled this lamp in the dining area, which had two bulbs out and a heavy layer of dust! Here is the picture after it's been cleaned (no before picture - too embarrassing!).

After the kitchen was all spic-n-span, I finished up a few pairs of the jack-o-lantern earrings. I'll give them away to my three girls and my two partners-in-crime at the library (since we work with small children, we always wear costumes the week of Halloween. That's next week!).

I'll leave you with a shot of the finished carrot cake. Keep smiling and have a nice weekend!

Wednesday, October 20, 2010

Caribbean Thread Sketch

I haven't started any new projects since I finished the conceptual art piece last week, so I thought I'd squeeze in a page for the sketchbook project. I had already gessoed, textured, and painted the background on this canvas and was trying to decide what to do next. I thought I would do a simple thread sketch, but I seem to have a hard time keeping things simple! I began with the central elkhorn coral, which I sketched all in one continuous line with variegated thread. Then I added the brain coral in the foreground and a piece of purple netting for the fan coral. I decided to tint the first two corals using inktense pencils. Because the entire coral is not filled in and the background color is still very visible, I think it helps make it look more realistically underwater; what do you think? Finally, I added in the fish: a school of small silver fish (we saw clouds of these swimming together on St. John), a yellow-tailed snapper, some small purple fish, and an eel. I also decided to stitch in a spiny urchin. I like the piece in general and it was good for practicing thread sketching and learning how to do effects like showing movement, making something look like it's underwater, and making lines radiating out from a central point. I do enjoy these underwater scenes, don't I?

Tuesday, October 19, 2010

Self Discovery

As I mentioned in September, I've been reading a couple of books written by Barbara Sher. One of them is titled Refuse to Choose! A Revolutionary Program for doing Everything that You Love. One of the challenges I've always dealt with in my life was finding one thing to focus on for a career. In college, for the first three years, I consistently took one science class, one English class, one art class, and one music class, because those were my four main areas of interest and I just couldn't narrow them down. After finally selecting English as a major (I do love reading!), graduating and working for a while, I decided to become an elementary school teacher because it seemed like the perfect job for combining all of my talents and interests. Although I no longer teach, I still find myself not wanting to give up any of my many varied interests.
Barbara Sher explains in this book that there are many people out there like me who want to do everything and she calls them Scanners (Leonardo da Vinci, Aristotle, and Ben Franklin were Scanners). In the book, Barbara Sher shares stories of other people who are Scanners and how they frequently have trouble staying in any chosen field. She identifies different types of Scanners and offers techniques to help Scanners use their many varied talents and interests to have a successful and happy life.
This book was worthwhile reading for me for a few reasons. One reason is that while many Scanners quoted in the book thought there was something wrong with them for not being able to choose and focus on one area, I've been more egocentric about it. I always wondered what was wrong with everyone else because they weren't interested in constantly challenging themselves! To me, there is so much to see and do and learn about in the world, and we only go around once. I don't want to spend my time in front of the TV or doing something I've already done. But now I realize not everyone is like me (the majority are not) and I need to be more accepting of those who don't need to be constantly challenged.
The book offers ways of combining interests in your life, and after reading it, I realize I've already kind of worked that out on my own. My past life as an elementary teacher allowed me to enjoy a variety of subjects, and my life now is just as busy and varied. Working part-time at the library, I still enjoy connecting with and teaching children. I also have the opportunity to educate their parents on Early Literacy skills and how they can better prepare their children to be good readers. I sing and play the guitar in my classes and help come up with crafts for the four- and five-year-olds, so I get to be creative. And of course, I still get to marvel at the many talented authors and illustrators and enjoy the best of children's literature. Since I only work part-time, I still have time to be with my own children, challenge myself with more personal creative projects from art quilting to bathroom remodeling, and enjoy the outdoors by gardening in my own backyard.
So, in summary, after reading Barbara Sher's book, I understand myself better, I understand my family better, and I appreciate my varied life more. I still have goals I'd like to achieve and I can use some of the tips and tricks she suggests to attain them. I don't think I'll ever be good at flower arranging (see photo above!) but I'm happy to have what I've got!

Thursday, October 14, 2010

Conceptual Art Challenge

I just got back from the October FANE meeting, the rain is drumming on the roof, and I am ready to put on my PJs and put on "Project Runway" while I blog about the meeting and show you my latest creation. Above is the entire piece which is roughly 18"x18". I'm not sure that it actually qualifies as Conceptual Art, since it really is a piece of art, but I like the way it looks. Since the concept we were trying to get across was art quilting, I ended up making an art quilt! (What else?) We had to make a statement about our pieces (I don't really like explaining what I've made - if you don't get it by looking at it, then it's not a successful piece!), so I'll give you a synopsis of what I said. To me, an art quilt essentially has texture, color, and layering. It is a form of self expression by the artist, and somehow expresses a sense of joy or fun in the creative process. I basically went through my fabric stash and picked out swatches of some of my favorite colors and textures. I ended up using close to 50 different fabrics ranging in texture from burlap to silk. I de-emphasized shape by sticking to squares and rectangles, so the textures and colors were the focus.
Embellishments are some of the most fun elements of art quilts, so I had to include some. I used buttons, rick-rack, safety pins, beads, copper foil, copper mesh, and various natural found objects. Even though the piece is very abstract, some of the colors and textures reminded me of elements of nature, like water, sky, trees, and seasons.
The meeting tonight was really great - it was a struggle for all of us to grasp Conceptual art and try to come up with something of our own, but all the pieces were meaningful, fun, interesting, and exciting. Visit the FANE blog in the next few weeks to see what everyone else did and read their statements.
Now, who's going to Bryant Park on Project Runway?!?!
(I predict Mondo, Michael, and Andy).

Sunday, October 10, 2010


We enjoyed a beautiful and mild fall weekend here in the northeast. I took a break from all my home work to shoot the late afternoon sun lighting up these deep red mums. Don't you just love that color?

One big task I got done at home this weekend was putting my youngest daughter's bedroom back together, now that her older sister officially resides in her own room on the lower level. There used to be bunk beds against the far wall and she took the one large dresser with her, so we commandeered the TV armoire from our family room and moved it up into the corner. We've been repurposing a lot of stuff around the house lately. It's cheaper and easier than trying to sell used pieces and find good quality yet not too expensive new ones. It just requires imagination, time, and muscles for moving everything around! (It also helps if you have a cooperative hardworking husband with a sense of humor!) Her new room looks clean, neat, and spacious! I hope it lasts!

This afternoon, I also took on the task of crushing up cardboard boxes for recycling. We had accumulated quite a collection, with all the new purchases for the hall bathroom. I still can't get the car in the garage, but at least now I can walk from one side to the other without climbing over a mess of boxes!

Here is Cassie "helping" me with the cardboard. Little stinker.

Pictured above is one of our cats, Tigger, also known as "the tumbleweed." She has fur that just seems to attract and trap all kinds of debris, from stick-tight seeds, to leaves and twigs (last year I even found a slug stuck in her fur! Ew!). This weekend I've been combing through her fur and removed about 18 ticks! Between her, the other cat, and Cassie, I've probably killed 25 ticks this weekend. I also dosed her and her sister with Frontline to help in the tick battle. They seem to be in exceptionally high numbers this year.

All my weekend homework wasn't unpleasant, though. This afternoon I baked some yummy double chocolate oatmeal cookies! These should get us through a good portion of the week. I'll try not to eat too many!

A parting chuckle: Here is a photo of the new commode in our updated hall bathroom. While we were in our local home improvement store checking out the different models available, we noticed a numerical flush rating given to each toilet. Most were an 8 or 10. Curious about what criteria the manufacturers use to rate the toilets, we questioned a clerk. It turns out the number stands for how many golf balls a toilet can handle in one flush! One model claimed it could swallow an entire bucket of balls! This one was rated an 8. (So far so good). But it seems like a more appropriate testing instrument would be yams or baked potatoes, no?

Friday, October 1, 2010

Colors of the season

It's hard to believe autumn has arrived and it's already October! You can probably guess by my less frequent posting that the preschool programs at the library have started up again, school is in full swing, and I'm back to spinning many plates in the air. As early as I get up and as careful as I am with my time, there just never seems to be enough for everything I want to do. But I did manage to create this autumn necklace for a co-worker whose birthday is today (same as my youngest daughter). Most of the components I already had on hand, but I picked up the large copper ring and the hanging ribbon at the local craft store, and created the main yellow leaf by stamping on polymer clay. I got the idea for this style from a book called Custom Cool Jewelry by Melinda Barta. It's fun playing with different combinations of metals, colored glass beads and other components; it's like a charm bracelet, only even easier!
So what else have I been up to? Here's a quick rundown:
  • At work, I do seven children's programs a week, including one for caregivers and infants, three for children 13-23 months, two for preschoolers age 3-5, and one for second graders. I see almost 100 kids a week!
  • Also at the library, I started a monthly "Creative Playgroup" for women! We meet for about an hour one evening a month to relax, talk, share dessert, and do a simple creative project. Last month we played with polymer clay; next month we're making leaf prints on cloth napkins as a seasonal decoration. I've been thinking about doing something like this for about a year now, and our first meeting was lots of fun!
  • We finally had our hall bathroom made over! The new porcelain floor tile, maple vanity cabinet, and vanity top with two recessed sinks all look fantastic! We still need to give the walls a fresh coat of paint, install the new vanity light, and choose accessories. When it's all completed, I'll post a picture.
  • Birthday parties! Two weeks ago, we hosted a sleepover for five 12-year-olds (I'm glad that's over!) and tomorrow we're taking a few 10-year-olds out to the movies and then back to the house for pizza and cake.
  • We've started finalizing my middle daughter's move from the bedroom she shares with her little sister to her new downstairs place (which used to be my husband's office). All the papers and books are gone, there's a fresh coat of jamaican blue paint on the walls and a fluffy white area rug; now all we need to do is move the bed and dresser - probably tomorrow!
  • I started another conceptual art piece for my FANE group. We're scheduled to show them at our next meeting on the 14th of this month. The challenge is to create a piece of conceptual art no larger than 18" on a side that illustrates the topic "art quilt." We are also supposed to make a statement about the piece. I am actually enjoying this one; I'm treating it very playfully and enjoying going through my fabric stash and grabbing swatches here and there in various colors and textures. I'll post the results when it's done.
In between, I try to keep up with the grocery shopping, cooking, laundry, and cleaning. Last fall, I was so strapped for time (that dog takes up more time than you'd guess, and greatly contributes to the mess!) I actually started paying someone to come in twice a month to give the house a good thorough cleaning. But over the summer, I let the girls help me do it and saved us some money to boot. I don't really like cleaning, but I do like having a clean house! When we all work together, we get it done in a few hours on Saturday morning. Have a nice weekend, everyone!