Monday, July 30, 2012

A Mixed-Media Experiment WIP

 Last week, I came across this gift bag at the library, which someone had left behind.  I liked the pattern on it immediately, and decided to use it in a mixed-media experiment.  I've always wanted to try some of the layered, mixed-media pieces described in Cloth Paper Scissors magazine, and this found paper seemed like the perfect material for a first layer.  I took it home, cut it to fit onto a 12"x 12" stretched canvas, and used gel medium to adhere it on.  Then I painted over it with a thin layer of gesso, toweling some of it off to allow the pattern on the bag to show through.   Next, I used a natural sea sponge and some acrylic paints (thinned with water) in shades of sky blue, pale green, and yellow to add some background color.    Unfortunately, that step, which I neglected to photograph, covered up most of the original bag pattern underneath - oh, well - but I kept going.  I used real leaves and various shades of green acrylic paint to make prints in the right upper and lower corners.  Then I cut some discarded wallpaper samples to make a tree trunk and branches.  I used the gel medium to glue that on, and Mod Podge to glue some leaf-printed tissue paper over the thinner branches.  This is how it looks now:
I tinted some scrapbook paper a barn red color, and stamped on it with a music stamp, then cut out a birdhouse shape.  I used the original printed gift bag paper for the roof.  Now I need to add some birds and some more leaves - maybe I'll use fabric for those to give it more textural interest and dimension.  So far, so good...

Friday, July 27, 2012

Third Prayer Flag

 Pictured is my latest prayer flag for Family.  We visited with extended family last weekend and it was another reminder of the important role families play in our lives.  The definition of family has changed enormously in the past 20 years, so much that it makes me wonder whether we realize how vital the role of the family is in society.  I live in a very family-oriented community and sometimes I get to know whole families who bring their children there for books, DVDs, and programs, which is very encouraging.  But from what I hear in the news, it seems the family has taken a back seat to the individual.  While individuality is important, we all start somewhere, and usually it's with people who love us and are willing to make sacrifices for us.  So this week I created and hung my prayer flag to honor and value the Family.  Below is a close-up of the flag so you can see the heart-shaped stitching to reinforce the fused appliqued letters and shapes.
 Now I have three!  Don't they look happy hanging together in the backyard?

Tuesday, July 24, 2012

Tropical Charms

 I had a little time Friday and Saturday to play with my new craft materials and I've come up with this happy bunch of charms.  It was really fun playing with the variety of materials and bright colors.    The mix of materials runs from real shell to glass to acrylic to polymer clay.  The flip-flops came out better than I thought they would, and I really like the bright pink hibiscus flowers.  How do you like the green pair of dice (get it? pair-a-dice, paradise? Too corny?)   I've been dying to try making a little margarita using translucent polymer clay ever since I saw the ones at the Inedible Jewelry shop on Etsy.  Mine came out ok, but hers are amazing!  I'll have to try again (I wonder how she does it...).

I also stamped a few charms onto shrink plastic and came up with these, below.  These stamps were from a children's stamp kit I got years ago.  When I was cleaning out last month, I went through them and threw many of them away, but I'm so glad I kept these!  I stamped with Staz-On inks on the shiny side of the Ruff-n-ready Shrinky Dinks, then colored on the back side with colored pencils.  They're colorful and fun and almost have a 3-D effect to them.
I still have some more charms I want to make, but I think I'll be able to put these together into a bracelet real soon!

Monday, July 23, 2012

Another Renga Layer

 When my FANE group met a few Thursdays ago, we swapped our renga fat quarters again.  I received the piece above, which has two design layers on it already.  The originator of the piece monoprinted with lace in the lavender gel inks and the next person added the bold red and gold lines and circles with a stencil.  You can see a little more of the original lace texture in the close-up below (click on the picture to enlarge it).

 At first I thought of printing on some yellow circles here and there, but I was hesitant to add another color.  Instead, I decided to soften everything by doing more printing with lace.  I mixed white acrylic paint with a fabric medium and spread it out on an acrylic plate.  Then I lay a scrap of curtain lace in the paint and used it to print on top of the other two layers.

 I covered the lace with a piece of scrap paper and rubbed it smooth to ensure a good print.  Below is a close-up of the results...
and this is what the whole cloth looks like now.   It will get one more layer before it goes back to the original artist.  Hope she likes it!

Friday, July 20, 2012

Confessions of a Craft-a-holic

Every few weeks or so I get the itch to mosey on down to one of the local craft stores to see what's new and what's on sale.  I've been going less and less, as my stash is quite sufficient and I really prefer to use what I have rather than buy more, to save on time, money, and storage space.  But this week Michael's sent out a "25% off your entire purchase" coupon through e-mail and it was sort of burning a hole in my pocket, so I gave into temptation and went over there this afternoon.  I had just spent about 4 hours cleaning the house, so I figured I deserved a little pick-me-up.

Not only have I not been buying craft supplies lately, I haven't really been creating very much.  I think I've just been needing a little down time to read, chill out and recharge my batteries.  I've been thinking about some new themes for charm bracelets and the one in particular that I've been ruminating on is a sort of tropical "Margaritaville" theme.  I thought maybe a lime green and hot pink color scheme with things like margaritas, lime wedges, flip flops, and palm trees.  But for some reason, I wasn't inspired enough to begin.  Today at Michael's, I came across the colored stone beads in the center of the picture above, and thought maybe adding citrus colors like yellow and orange would make it even better!  So I bought those, as well as the smaller blue and green glass beads next to them, and the woven ribbon to the right of that.  After dinner, I even spent a little time rolling the ribbon into beads, as you can see.  I went through my stash and found some yellow and orange glass fish, lots of lime green buttons, some brightly colored mini dice, and shiny plastic flower beads.  The colors look great together, don't they?

But of course, I couldn't leave the store with only the beads and ribbon - I had to squeeze as much out of that coupon as I possibly could!  So I meandered through the stamp aisle and found some nice background stamps that were on sale and got a few more bricks of polymer clay.  I was able to use a 50% off one item coupon as well, and picked up a nice variety pack of pearl-ex powders to use with the clay.   Maybe I'll get up real early tomorrow and start playing with all that fun new stuff!  What plans do you have for the weekend?

Wednesday, July 18, 2012

My Two Adventurers

This morning my two oldest went off on a two-day, two-night hike on the Appalachian Trail as part of Adventure Week at a nearby Outdoor Education camp.  They were very excited as they packed up their backpacks with clothes, sleeping bags, bug spray and plenty of water!  They are each carrying a 2-liter water bladder with a hose attachment as well as two additional liters of water, as the forecast is for extreme heat and humidity today.  They have only a short hike today, but a longer one tomorrow, when the weather will (hopefully) be cooler and drier.  Right now I hear some thunder in the distance - they each have a rain poncho to cover themselves and their backpacks, but with this heat, they'll probably welcome the cooling rain!
 Here they are at the drop-off site this morning.  It was already beginning to get uncomfortable standing in the sun.  One of the group leaders said the air would feel cooler once they head onto the trail, which was very shady.  Let's hope that's true!
I was kind of looking forward to a couple of days with less activity around the house (chauffering, cooking, laundry, etc) but now that they're gone, the house seems very quiet and I can't help wondering how they're making out in all this heat...  (I'm sure they're fine and having a great time discovering the wonders of nature with all their other teenaged friends, right?  Of course they are!)

UPDATE:  About 3 pm yesterday, the camp director called to say they were canceling the overnight because the weather report changed from "scattered thundershowers" to "severe weather" so the girls got to come home, shower, and spend another night in their own beds before heading back out to the wilderness this morning!  I am so glad that oppressive heat is gone and I'm sure they'll have a great time camping out tonight!

Monday, July 16, 2012

More Surface Design

 Thursday evening, my FANE group met to share the Renga fabrics we've been collaborating on (read more about it here).  Everyone is so creative and using so many different techniques and materials!  Some used stencils or rubbings with Shiva paint sticks, some used dyes or acrylic paints or inks, others stamped an outline with Staz-On inks and used crayons to fill in the design!  It was fun seeing all the varied results.  A few of the observations I had were that a) some people were afraid of "messing up" a piece of work that another person started; b) some people seemed to be thinking more in terms of a finished piece of art with a focal point rather than a piece of fabric with a design on it; and c) I was either impressed with the clever additions people made or feeling like I would have approached it differently.  All these things made me want to go home and try some more experiments with surface design, so that's what I did!

Below is another fat quarter that I spritzed with water, randomly painted with two different shades of Setacolor paints, then left crumpled up to dry.  It's interesting how the random paint blotches left less of a visible impression than the crumpling.
 I liked the results right away, but knew it needed more.  Since I'm doing this process solo, I don't have to wait a month to have someone else add the next layer - I went ahead and did it myself!  I decided I'd continue with the green theme and print some leaves on next using acrylic paints.  I've learned through trial and error that the best way to do this is to cover the back of each leaf with a thin layer of paint using a paintbrush, then invert it onto the fabric where you want the print, covering it with a paper towel and rubbing it with your fingers to ensure a good print.  You can really get a nice detailed print this way.
Here is a close-up shot:
I think it still needs something else, so I'll probably add another layer or two during the week - maybe some copper or gold veining or patches of yellow here and there.   I had so much fun with that, I decided to reproduce the original first layer I did for the group Renga.  I used Batik EZ by Crafter's Pick to make wavy lines over my prewashed fabric, let it dry, and painted over it with watered-down inks.  I think this one came out even better than the original one I did for the group. The lines are smoother and wavier, rather than somewhat angular, and I used inks instead of paints (I couldn't find the certain bottle of ink I wanted to use last time, but found it exactly where it was supposed to be with the other inks!).  I wonder what I'll add to this next...
I had a little bit of ink left over, so I used it to tie-dye this small piece of cloth.  I accordian-folded the fabric, then rubber-banded it at various intervals and poured the ink over it.  After it dried, it looked like this:

I was never real big on dyeing my own fabrics, but with inks and paints, it's really easy and not as time consuming as I originally thought.  And it makes your art that much more original.  Maybe I'll make a habit of doing this once a month or so, if the mood strikes me!

 After all that, I still had a little ink left over!  I found some plain wooden beads that were unvarnished or finished in any way and soaked them in the remaining dye.  After they dried, I doodled little curly designs on them with gel pens and coated them with an acrylic varnish.  Cute, huh?  Now I have some original beads to use in my jewelry designs!
 Gotta go get the girls from camp now.  One thing I really miss about the school year is the buses!  I don't particularly enjoy all this chauffering!  Oh, well, a mom's gotta do what a mom's gotta do!

Sunday, July 15, 2012

Peekskill Brewery

 Ever since we visited the Ommegang Brewery in Cooperstown, NY last August, my husband has been interested in beer making.  He's even made a couple of batches of his own brews, which were quite good!  Friday night we decided to take a little drive over to Peekskill to visit the Peekskill Brewery, a microbrewery there.  It's a cute place with a short but tasty menu  (see it here), including several of their own beers.  If you take a little stroll down the hallway towards the bar area, you can see the vats where the beer is made.

We started with a local cheese and meat platter that had some new and different flavors, like smoked duck and a variety of sliced sausages as well as cheeses from Sprout Creek farm, a local producer up in Poughkeepsie.  My husband and daughter each ordered a burger, which was big & juicy and topped with all the fixin's, including really ripe, flavorful tomatoes.  Mark also had a rich and creamy macaroni and cheese on the side.  I ordered the fish and chips, which was fresh and crispy, with a side of lemon-parmesian fries.  Yum!  Mark drank the Shotgun Willie and the Eastern Standard and I had a Daywalker Wheat.  Once you get used to the more complex flavors of a draught, microbrewed beer it's really hard to go back to mass-produced, bottled beer!
 Afterwards, we wandered across the railroad tracks to the Peekskill Waterfront Green, right on the Hudson River.  We didn't quite get to see the sunset, as it was a hazy evening, as you can see from the pictures, but the views were still gorgeous.  I still love walking along a waterfront, whether it's the Long Island Sound, the Atlantic Ocean, the Hudson River, or Lake Casse.  There's just something about looking out at a stretch of water that's soothing and refreshing at the same time.
All in all, a fun and different way to spend a Friday evening!

Friday, July 13, 2012

Morning Glory

 Morning is my favorite time of day.  The day stretches out ahead with all kinds of possibilities and my energy level is always highest then.  I usually get outside with Cassie first thing, and we walk around the yard for a short while before we take our morning jog-walk.  This morning I was up especially early, before the alarm and even before Cassie.  I took advantage of feeling wide awake two hours ahead of schedule, so I crept downstairs to play with some art supplies.  I have to work my first Saturday at the library tomorrow (I love my job, but a Saturday???? In July????), so I thought I'd seize the moment and get in some creative time while the house was quiet.

Since I had already cut a few prayer-flag-sized rectangles and had them laying on the table, I decided to stitch up another one.  This time I used the sewing machine as well as a variety of scraps.  With all the green everywhere all around us this time of year, I decided to work with various shades to spell out the word "life."  It's so easy to take all forms of life for granted, so I thought this flag would be a little reminder about what a miracle life really is, from the littlest green bug to the tallest trees to the complexity of a human being.  So here is my prayer flag for Life.
 Now I have two hanging over my (somewhat bedraggled) collection of potted herbs.  I'll try to do one a week for the summer, so I can fill up the whole line!
While I was out with Cassie, I couldn't help but admire the gorgeous lilies that have burst into bloom this week.  Their color is just brilliant, even in the dimness of early dawn, and their perfume just fills the air.   What's even more miraculous about these, and gives me another opportunity to pause with awe over the miracle of life, is that I never planted these!  I'm not sure where they came from - maybe a neighbor's plant produced seeds that settled here behind the deck?  Wherever they came from, they sure are beautiful!  
 Here's a close-up:

Hope your morning (and day) is glorious!

Saturday, July 7, 2012

A Little R&R

 On Wednesday, my family traveled to our vacation home in the Poconos at Masthope Mountain Community.  We've been spending July 4th there for years and it's become kind of a tradition.  Last year there was a whole crowd of people at the house, but this year it was just us, so we got in some much needed R&R and family time.  We spent time relaxing at the pool and swimming in the lake.  Usually the crowds this time of year are horrendous, but it didn't seem as bad as usual, maybe because the 4th fell on a Wednesday and the crowds came more on the weekends.
 Part of my R&R included reading (nothing better than digging into a juicy novel on the screened-in porch after a day in the sun!) but I also brought along some hand stitching.  I added some highlights and details to my seahorse tee shirt.  It's kind of hard to tell in the photo, but I think the metallic thread adds just the right amount of definition and sparkle.  Can't wait to wear it to work this week (I can't believe my summer programs begin on Tuesday, as does camp for the girls!).
 I also brought along some rectangles of fabric and pre-fused prints to make a Prayer Flag.  These are a variation on the traditional Buddhist prayer flags, which are solid-colored fabric flags symbolic of the 5 elements (yellow-earth, green-water, red-fire, white-air, blue-space).  These flags are hung outside to help bring harmony and balance to the world as the wind blows through them and the weather eventually wears them down and carries them away.  Vivika Hansen DeNegre took off on this idea to start the Prayer Flag Project in June of 2011.  "She invited people from around the world to join her in making Prayer Flags.  Each flag is created in the artists' own style, then hung outside for a while, its words and sentiment dissolving into the wind and being spread to all whom the wind touches. They are a living, breathing, kinetic journal of our hopes, dreams and concerns."  I made one for my FANE group a while back, (see it here)  but hadn't made any more.  I thought a small, hand stitched project like this might be a good thing to do while away; I came up with this Independence Day-themed flag, below.
More and more to me, it seems our country is being pulled apart by too much selfish dissension.  While I value and respect all our differences, as Abraham Lincoln said, "a house divided cannot stand," so during this week of celebrating our independence and many freedoms, I will hang up my flag praying for Unity.

Tuesday, July 3, 2012

Salley in the House!

 Yesterday, Salley Mavor brought half of her traveling exhibit of illustrations from her award-winning nursery rhyme book, "A Pocketful of Posies,"  to the third floor gallery of the Mahopac Public Library where I work.  Unfortunately, I was unable to meet and talk with her (and ask her the dozens of questions I have about her process!) but she'll be back in August when the show comes down and she'll be doing a presentation at the library then as well.  I've waited this long to meet her, I guess I can wait another six weeks or so!

Two things struck me about seeing the art in person.  One is how lovely the hand-dyed felt is that she uses.  It has none of the artificial and somewhat garish colors of the cheap acrylic craft felt readily available at all the craft stores.  The colors are muted and delicate, and in some places, variegated, as in some of the blue sky backgrounds.  ("Question #1: Where do you get your felt?")
 Look at some of the details in the work here, especially the queen's tarts.  Her stitches are so tiny and perfect!
Above is a portion of the illustration for the rhyme "I eat my peas with honey."  Look at the detail!

 And again, this perfect little basket, handmade by her!

 The figures in this illustration were even smaller than her usual wee folk.  The acorn caps were from little baby acorns.  See how the sky isn't one flat shade of blue, but varies a bit, as if there's an atmosphere and clouds?  How about these feathers stitched with variegated thread - all perfect!  Below is Little Boy Blue and a very detailed sheep and haystack.

 A second thing that struck me about seeing the illustrations in person was how sculptural and three-dimensional they really are.  Figures, houses, trees and animals really come up off the background significantly, but I think a degree of that is lost in the printed book versions.  Too bad!
 You can see some of this dimension in Simple Simon's illustration below...
 ... and also the rooster here who casts a bit of a shadow.
I wonder if she sketches out the composition first, or simply gets out some materials and begins to lay things out.  I bet it's a combination of the two (sketch first, lay things out, adust things as needed).  Anyway, Salley's work will be on display for all of July and most of August.  If you live within driving distance of the library, come on down!  It's an impressive and inspirational show.