Monday, June 30, 2008

Super simple painting project

My turn for the super simple project. Almost embarrassingly so.

Anyway, I am helping my little sister move her two year old son into their current guestroom in order to have room in the current nursery for the new baby, a girl. My mother is in charge of girlification of the current nursery. It's gender neutral, but leans a little heavily more towards boys than girls (lots of blue).

I took over my nephew's room. It's been pretty fun but it's really hard to design a room that's 1000 miles away! The basic idea is to go with a sports theme. The main colors for the room are blue, red and brown (more like beige).

With those few facts in mind, I just did a few quick craft paintings on cheapo canvases. I wanted to keep a symmetrical look to the room (and "art) so I bought these little 10"x10" canvases for $3.88 each at Walmart.

For the actual painting, I used a basic acrylic craft paint. I painted the canvases the background colors I wanted (if you are ever painting a field of red paint, prime your white canvas with a nice light gray paint first and your red will be more true...I learned this fact the hard way after 6 coats of paint that still wasn't red). I then found images of the sports balls that I wanted online and sized them to be the basic same size. Consistency is the key, even in simple projects. Especially in simple projects.

Because I lack a gene that allows me to draw a circle perfectly, I traced the outline of the balls onto the canvas using transfer paper. I love this stuff. After getting the image onto the canvas, I just carefully painted on the colors. It took a while for me to get everything just right but it turned out okay. A little boring, but once these are on the wall I intend them to be, it should make a good statement (pictures of the wall to come...if it works out!).

Thursday, June 26, 2008


I’m almost too embarrassed to post this as a project, it’s so simple. It is, however, a pretty handy idea in my opinion – a certain unnamed person might even refer to it as a “good thing” – so here it is, for your use/enlightenment/momentary diversion:

If you happen to be anything like me you find yourself, on any “special” trip – first time to NYC or another major US city, certainly any overseas travel – saving little paper items like ticket stubs and concert programs. If you happen to be a lot like me, you return home and promptly – or worse, eventually – stuff your fond paper memories into a shoebox, dooming them to virtual oblivion. Yes, I know, someday you will unearth your little collection of subway passes and receipts and collage them into a special scrapbook along with all those wonderful photos you took. Hey, maybe you can even go ahead and include a photo of those nice pigs flying past the window. Anyway, the great thing about this little project is that it doesn’t preclude the eventual scrapbooking of your travel detritus – in fact, it will actually help you out with that scrapbooking – as will a space heater to warm up your frozen-over corner of scrapbooking hell.

The truth is, in this digital age, I’m not even sure I want to be making the conventional paper&photo-corners albums anymore. I’m much more interested in someday formatting and self-publishing my best pics into an actual book courtesy of
lulu or somesuch – and rest assured, if I ever do undertake such a project I will be posting about it here. Nevertheless, it’s nice to have a way of keeping the memories associated with your paper travel debris – in particular to remember the names of places where you ate, or whom you saw perform and what they played.

For instance, on a truly wonderful trip to Barcelona last month, I collected two concert programs and several ticket stubs from various museums, etc.. But especially nice were the small business-size cards given out by nearly all the restaurants. These typically have the restaurant name on one side and a map showing its location on the other.

What a great thing to have! Either you could be planning a trip back years later, or have a friend going over there, and know exactly which places to recommend – even showing them precisely how to get there. Trust me, this is a vast improvement over: “If you take one of the streets heading south from the piazza, there should be a little dive-like place about halfway down the street – I think.”

Time for a quick, but important, aside: I’ve never been a diary kind of person, and although I’ve traveled with other people who kept travel journals, I haven’t ever been inspired by the idea. Yet there’s quite a bit of data that’s gotten lost as a result of my anti-journalism attitude. (A perfect example is Barcelona itself: this year’s trip was actually my second to the city; my previous trip dates back to the spring break of my semester in Rome. I have embarrassingly vague memories from that trip, in part perhaps due to it’s having occurred in the pre-digital age when I took far fewer photos than I do now, but keeping a journal certainly would've helped. Of course I have a general impression of a great, scruffy time wandering around the city, which is the most important thing. But it’s downright stupid that I cannot even locate the approximate neighborhood of the hostel where we stayed, or remember all the places we visited.) So, for this trip, I decided to take the journalistic plunge. I stopped and bought a Moleskin the second day there. Yes, the Moleskin company has gotten a bit pretentious, but they really do make a good product.

And it’s actually quite easy to find snippets of time throughout the day to record the goings-on: sitting at dinner or lunch waiting for the meal to arrive – OK, this makes you look like a total tourist, but when your dinner companion has his video camera out, the cause has already been lost – and most particularly breakfast is a great time to catch up with the previous evening’s events (in the case that, like me, you are not much of a one for staying up recording these the same evening). In fact, for someone who had previously shown so little enthusiasm for keeping a journal, I got quite obsessed by it and, as you can well imagine [ahem, so much for the “quick” aside], each day’s entry was more verbose than the one before. I didn’t write a novel, but I think I got down enough to trigger the memories in the future. Particularly fun was recording what we ate and drank at each meal – this will be great to read in the years ahead, but it did require a certain vigilance. Leave it too long and you’ll be amazed what details you forget. So, the point at which we’ve finally arrived is the importance of keeping a travel journal. This is more than a recommendation; it’s an essential principle of life, like brush your teeth each morning and night or look both ways before you cross the street. Obviously, there are trips where this rule may not apply, such as family-oriented visits, or work-related trips. My advice is to err on the side of caution, though, and to keep a notebook handy.

So I returned with not only a sizeable pile of travel detritus, but also my little notebook chockfull of happy Catalonian memories. I would love to someday format a real little book about Barcelona based on the trip, but for now the obvious thing to do was to somehow marry my paper bits with my notebook.

The rest, as you’ve probably guessed, is very straightforward. I sorted through my ticket stubs and restaurant cards, arranging them in approximate chronological order (greatly aided by my journal entries). Then, with double-sided tape, I stuck them into the book immediately following the final journal entry. A small sampling:

Ticket stubs and shopping labels...
For a Spanish guitar concert program, I trimmed excess paper from the edges, then folded the program accordion-style so it can be pulled out and read in its entirety:

And that’s it. Pretty simple. Of course there are various ways you could improve upon this – one problem is that the thickness of all the accumulated cards and ticket stubs keeps the notebook from closing properly. Because my Moleskin has the handy elastic strap to keep it closed, this isn't a real issue for me. However, an obvious solution (provided you’ve got the extra pages – I know I did) is to cut out several pages from the notebook to make room for the thicker paper. Another variation would be to stick in each day’s cards in between each day’s journal entry – although this I don’t like so much, as it turns into a project to keep up with during the trip – you’d have to bring along your tape and allow time to do it each day. And double-sided tape may not be the absolute best adhesive to use; I liked it, though, because there’s no mess as with an Elmers-type glue, you get better adherence than with a glue-stick, and the chances of being able to remove things in the future are improved. If you were a maniac, I suppose you could go for photo-corners, but if you’re that kind of person chances are you’d be putting together a full-blown scrapbook anyway.

And speaking of scrapbooks: how, you ask, will this “actually help you out with that scrapbooking,” as stated above? First of all, obviously, by keeping these items handily in one known place. Secondly, preserving the correct sequence of your various events. Each item should be able to be removed – carefully – from the notebook at a later date. Even if they don’t easily peel away from the tape, you can always cut out the notebook paper and trim to fit your ticket stub or what-have-you. But even if these things never make it into a scrapbook, you’re left with a nice, minimalist little travel book – a mini “story of your trip” – fun to show off to others or to reawaken your fond memories of far-flung places.

Lesson learned: Keeping a travel journal is not only surprisingly easy but incredibly gratifying. Start doing it.

Monday, June 23, 2008

Sunday Sunset Soiree

Hey everyone!

So last night I put together a little soiree for my apartment building in order for the tenants to all kind of hang out on our fabulous deck. It was fun. Almost everyone made it but one couple, who had a previous commitment.

Because it is summer, I wanted to go with a cold finger food sort of theme. I knew that my people limit would be 7, so I knew I wouldn't have to make enough food for an army, which I did anyway because I always imagine myself eating all the food. I also wanted to have some fruity summer cocktails as it would still be light outside and a bit warm on our deck.

The first appetizer I made were these baby blts. They were really good, but for some reason (the tomato scare?) I was the only one to make a considerable dent in them. Oops! I would definitely make them again though, but preferably at an indoor party because, although they didn't go bad, the mayo in them turned a little darker than normal after a very short time.

The second little snack was a spinach dip (cold) served with an array of fresh veggies. This spinach dip is super easy to make but a bit bland. I would definitely add a little somethin' somethin' to it, although I'm not really sure what...I would have added that dry Italian seasoning stuff, but you'll see that my next finger food already had that in them. Anyway, I also served bite size tortillas with the spinach dip and that was as fantastic as dipping the veggies in the dip.

Lastly, I made cucumber toasties. These little treats are tasty! I did NOT add the dried dill to the top of them because I forgot! Doh! But they were gobbled up by everyone. I first made these in the summer of 2004. Yup. I remember. Silly. I haven't made them but once since that summer (I took them to three parties...yeah back when I went to parties!!).

Along with the three recipes I gave you, I also sliced a fresh pineapple (Man, it was so good!), fresh watermelon (not so good - not very ripe), and chips and salsa.

For my summer themed cocktail, I made slushy watermelon mojitos. These drinks are just darn right yummy. Everyone loved them, including myself. They were very fruity (although not so much as they could have been due to the underripe watermelon) and just had an overall nice balance of tastes. A most excellent, refreshing summer drink!

Although I took ZERO pictures of the party, I could post the aftermath of the kitchen, but I don't feel like showing you all my dirty laundry just yet...maybe a few posts from now!

Saturday, June 21, 2008

Here's the story ...

So, I have always been a huge Brady Bunch fan. Yes, I know, and even agree with, all the criticisms against it: corny, dated, awful clothes, major plotholes, Florence Henderson. I realize it isn't great art, and acknowledge that much better TV shows - even family-oriented shows (?) - are out there. But countless after-school afternoons watching Brady reruns left me with a surprisingly deep affection for this family of eight. (This might have something to do with growing up in a family of eight, albeit with a slightly different boy/girl ratio.) Seeing a classic Brady moment, like Peter eating his moustache, or Greg dropping Mike's blueprints in the gutter, is like slipping on a comfortable pair of shoes (if only I wore comfortable shoes). So that's why several months ago I at last broke down and bought the complete Brady Bunch series on dvd. I no longer feel the need to watch it daily, or even weekly, but I've been making steady progress rewatching the series from the beginning. Whenever I finish a disc I pass it on to my local nieces who, I'm happy to report, have completely succumbed to the Brady charm and have each found in the Brady's an alter-ego: Marcia for niece #1, Cindy for niece #2. (OK, let's all take a moment to sympathize with left-out, stuck-in-the-middle, underappreciated Jan.)

A few weeks into this Bradymania, niece #1 (we might as well call her Marcia) brought joy to her aunt's heart by declaring that the Brady's, not Ratatouille, would be the theme for her upcoming birthday party. This presented all sorts of great potential party ideas - games, activities - and led to two projects that made for a somewhat hectic but thoroughly fun and rewarding week.

A Very Brady Birthday Cake

There was no question in my mind what a Brady Bunch Birthday cake should look like – the classic blue-background nine-square grid, with the “Happy Birthday” message where you typically see the show’s title. Because an all-blue cake (albeit with faces) seemed a bit dull, I decided the grid should appear as a screen on a 70’s-era TV set. I found this photo – actually a radio designed to look like a TV – online to use as a model.

I like this one because it’s not just a brown wooden box with a screen in it, attractive as those are; the TV set itself has some nice variety – wood sides, sleek white plastic face, cool little speaker and control knobs. I was itching to get going already. I decided to bake the cake in an 11x15 pan, and put together a quick AutoCAD drawing/template based on my radio-TV model.

Obviously the major challenge for a cake like this is the Brady faces – what to make them with and what to use as a guide. Because the center square of the grid would be covered up with Happy Birthday “Marcia”!, I was spared having to make an edible Alice, but I still needed something on which to base my Mike, Carol, Greg, Marcia, Peter, Jan, Bobby, and Cindy. Naturally I turned to ebay, searching out things with drawn, and therefore easier to trace, images of the Brady's, such as paper dolls, comic books, and coloring books, dating from the Brady era (and staying away from all the Brady Bunch Movie paraphernalia – I found the movie somewhat enjoyable, but this had to be a classic Brady cake, no satires would do). Several likely items were available, but the auction ending soonest was for a Brady coloring book –I won this for a mere $10 thanks to my pinch-bidding older brother. (The bidding night conflicted with 5th-row seats at the Robert Plant/Alison Krauss concert at the Pavilion, which by the way was amazing and much better than the album, although I do like the album, and don’t always enjoy concerts. But it’s always incredible seeing musicians who are really good at what they do and have so much versatility. At shows like that I find myself watching the “back-up” musicians as much as if not more than the featured ones. end of aside)

Since the images I would be copying were somewhat cartoonish, I had decided to try my hand at color-flow for the Brady faces. This is a decorating technique where you first outline your desired design (usually trace it on a sheet of waxed paper) in color flow icing, allow that to dry thoroughly, then fill in areas of color with thinned-out tints of the same icing. My mother, who is really gifted at cake decorating (and baking!) did several cakes with color flow when I was growing up – the most memorable of these to me was my fifth birthday Strawberry Shortcake Cake, which featured a perfect color flow Strawberry Shortcake.
Anyway, the great thing about color flow is that it can be done several days in advance – actually even months in advance – giving me plenty of time to perfect my Brady’s, and meaning that the actual cake-decorating day should be relatively stress-free, the trickiest part already behind me. However, the problem, potentially, with color flow is that it must be done at least two days in advance of going on the cake to allow plenty of time to set up. The day of the party drew nearer, and I began to get nervous because my coloring book still hadn’t arrived. I searched the internet for decent Brady images I could use instead, but in vain. The closest things were images from the dreadful, short-lived cartoon show The Brady Kids. These, however, were very low resolution and besides that, featured only the kids – no Mike and Carol.

But,,,,,, the coloring book didn’t come and didn’t come – around this time I noticed that my Brady dvd’s, in addition to containing all five seasons of the show, include A Very Brady Christmas, The Brady 500, and one episode of The Brady Kids. It wasn’t what I had wanted, but in desperation I put on The Brady Kids and began pausing the disc and snapping photos. Did I get weird screening effects? Yes. Was this still better than the low-res internet pics? Absolutely. Did I get a usable picture for Mike or Carol? No, but this was better than nothing. Maybe I could start with the kids and the coloring book would arrive in time to use for the parents. I brought my AutoCAD template into Adobe InDesign, and placed my Brady Kids pictures into it, scaling them to fit the grid. Of course my Happy Birthday image had to be written in the classic Brady typeface, but the font is readily, and freely, available online. (Twenty years ago, if you had told me that one day I could “download” the Brady typeface from the “internet” to use however I wanted, I wouldn’t have believed, or understood it.) I added the Happy Birthday “Marcia”! – which I also planned to do with color flow, to the center of the grid, and was ready to go.

The next available night I whipped up a batch of color flow icing to try my hand at making Brady’s. Mistake number one was probably deciding to tint an entire batch of the icing black; for my first attempt, wouldn’t setting part of it aside and only tinting half have worked? Oh well. After mixing in almost all of my brand-new black paste food coloring, I had a nice dark grey. Mistake number two was deciding that parchment paper was the same as/better than waxed paper. Wilton’s website doesn’t stress the importance of waxed paper, but it sure doesn’t tell you to use parchment, and now I think I know the reason why. Anyway, I laid a sheet of parchment paper over my printout and painstakingly piped Happy Birthday “Marcia”! in nearly-black color flow. It looked … not great, but passable for a first attempt. I would wait and do the kids later.

But not too much later – at this point it was three days before cake-day, so next day I decided to buckle down and start making faces. Unfortunately my color flowing skills had not improved overnight. After subsequent conversations with my Mom it seems clear that my icing was too thick. Whatever the case, the Bobby, Greg, and Peter that I piped were not inspiring – wiggly, too-fat lines – and my hand was killing me. Worse, thanks to using the wrong kind of paper, the icing was not adhering to the paper at all but coming off and sort of breaking up (the same was true for the previous night’s Happy Birthday).

Now, as it happens, the day I had gone shopping for color flow mix – partly because it was so exciting to be at Michael’s with such a wide array of Wilton products before me, and partly because I was scared of undertaking my first-ever color flow project with no back-up plan – I had also bought a couple of packages of pre-tinted ready-to-use rolled fondant. (Another product I’ve never used – not to offend any fondant-lovers out there but I sort of disapprove of it: it doesn’t taste very good and is becoming so ubiquitous these days. Aren’t cakes for eating, as well as looking pretty?) After two discouraging hours of non-successful color flow, it was clearly time for Plan B. In fact, I probably could’ve stuck with Plan A had it occurred to me to call Mom and ask for color flow advice, but as it happened that didn’t occur to me.

As it was I developed a fairly good method for doing faces in rolled fondant: making a separate tracing (on parchment) from the photo for each color of fondant, rolling my selected color (often a blend from two or more of the pre-mixed colors) to about 1/16” thickness, overlaying my tracing, and scoring through with a #11 Ex-acto blade (clean, of course). Especially nice is what good results you get from scoring in the facial features – not only do they give you a guide later for adding color, but they add a nice dimension to the fondant.

Here’s Greg, original Brady Kid on the left, pre-detail painting fondant Greg in the center, and final on the right. I especially like his groovy fondant eyebrows (didn’t bother doing those for the girls).
I found it took me about an hour to do one face. I wasn’t entirely fond of The Brady Kids’ take on Marcia and Jan – too plump-lipped and glamorous-looking – so I modified them slightly when I made my tracings.After each face had hardened, I went back with a paintbrush and did a little shading with food coloring – dipping the brush directly into the jar. In some places this came out a little strong, most notably I think on Bobby and Jan. I tried a similar technique for the facial features, but it was too strong (fortunately, I had a mess-up Marcia that made a good test palette). Rather than use full-strength paste food color, I blended a small amount of the paste into a brown gel food color. This is a much more forgiving medium, and also somewhat easier to apply. With the same #11 blade, I painted it right into the score marks on the faces. For larger areas like the eyes I used a bamboo skewer.
So, Greg, Peter, Bobby, Marcia, Jan, and Cindy were ready to go, but what good is a blended fondant family without the parents? With no coloring book, and cake-day only one day away, I realized it was time for me to – urgh – actually draw something. I found the most representative photos I could of Mike and Carol – had to be from the later years (meaning, open-necked shirt and afro for Mike, flipped out hair for Carol) to match the Brady Kids. It was tricky making a drawing that was cartoonish enough to match the kids that still looked like the actors. Somehow I managed to make Carol look more like Shirley Partridge, and I think that Mike’s face came out too thin, but they were basically fine.

So, finally cake day! I had made up the cakes – two 11x15 layers of lemon cake mix (yes, I use cake mixes; read Carrie’s posts if you want from-scratch cakes) – several days in advance so they were frozen and easier-to-ice. Although I know that all-shortening frosting is supposedly easier to work with, I just couldn’t bring myself to subject even unrefined juvenile taste buds to such yucky stuff, so I made up Wilton’s buttercream recipe – half shortening, half butter. In all I would make three batches of icing, one less than I had anticipated. One problem of this being a lemon-flavored cake is that chocolate (ie., cocoa-powder-based) frosting really isn’t appropriate. The brown frosting for the edges of the cake thus required large quantities of food coloring – the brown color would only take it so far, so I ended up adding both red and black as well. Later I added more black to this to turn it into the black detail frosting.

The cake icing process itself was pretty boring – smoothing and resmoothing. Although my “crumb coat” came out pretty well, every subsequent layer was a bit of a mess – it was hard to keep the brown edge frosting from getting mixed into the white top frosting, but oh well. I mixed a little silver pearl dust with powdered sugar, and lightly brushed that over the upper right corner of the TV (where the control knobs would go). The knobs themselves are mini Reeses cups painted with black food coloring. The notches around the dial are chocolate sprinkles, selected to be approximately the same length and applied with (clean) tweezers. I used a #134 (?) tip to make a crosshatch for the speaker, and a #47 tip for doing the black trim around the edges.

But the fun part was slathering on my bright-Brady-blue screen and carefully putting each Brady in his or her place. Afterwards I piped on the black grid and applied the Happy Birthday “Marcia”! (cut with the Ex-acto out of white rolled fondant, and outlined with a black food decorating pen). As you can see, my cake decorating skills are not perfect – such sloppy edges! – but I think the overall effect was just right. “Marcia” and her friends loved it (guess who’s face she wanted on her piece), and of course that is the most important thing.

Two days after the party my coloring book came. It features a little story about the Brady family going on a camping trip. Although it may have been worth the $10 just to read the phrase “Hey! They Look Keen!”, as of now I have no idea what use to make of it. But maybe yet another Brady project will present itself …

Lessons learned:

# 1 Always have a Plan B. Or two.
#2 Never again try to make brown or black icing without using cocoa powder.
#3 Call Mom when you're having trouble.
#4 Assume two weeks' delivery for all ebay purchases.

Mom always says...

I hadn’t planned on contributing anything to the Very Brady Birthday other than the cake, but as I wandered the party supply aisles at Target in search of 70’s-ish wrapping paper, my eyes drifted up to a row of piñatas. None of them had anything to do with the Brady’s, or the 70’s, but I was reminded how much I like piñata-bashing as a party activity: good way to give out treats without having to do favor bags; everyone can participate, yet it’s equally fun to watch other people take their turn; and it all culminates with a loud noise, a big mess, and lots of candy. For about the next half-hour a part of my mind continually sifted through Brady piñata ideas – something simple enough to be formed with a rubber balloon, yet immediately referential to a timeless Brady moment, and preferably something that was supposed to get broken. (Oddly, not until now did it occur to me to make a Marcia-ñata with a bulls-eye on her nose. Perhaps that’s out of loyalty to my own "Marcia".)

Anyway, it wasn’t long before I knew I had the perfect Brady-ñata concept. When we got back from Target, I grabbed my Brady dvd’s and searched out Confessions, Confessions, truly a classic episode from Season 2.

Here’s a synopsis from The Canonical Brady Bunch Episode Guide:

The other children each confess to breaking Carol's favorite vase ("Mom always says, 'don't play ball in the house.'")* in order to prevent Peter from getting grounded and missing a camping trip. The parents put Peter in charge of doling out punishments to the others.

* [easily the most frequently
misquoted line in Brady history]

I was disappointed to see that the vase I would be replicating was uglier than I remembered – brown and orange, with a weird fish-scale texture around the sides and inverted scallop shells around the top.
I gave myself a bit of artistic license, though, rejecting the matte, dark orange paint in favor of a lovely pearlescent copper – close enough to the original, but prettier. (After all, we’re talking about a girl’s birthday party, not a reenactment of the actual episode.) I bought the same pearlescent paint in peach and brown for accent painting. No real idea why I went for tempera rather than acrylic paint, which is what I usually use. I guess I thought it might dry faster, and it comes in larger bottles. Plus, the colors were so nice.

And this is where a little insanity, or the Christie Factor, set in. Piñatas are of course made to be broken, and therefore very little time and effort should go into making them. But I couldn’t stop myself from quickly checking the soap- and candle-making aisles to see if just maybe I could find a scallop-shell mold to add some dimension, and authenticity, to the vase. Now, anyone who’s ever shopped at Pearl Paint in Cambridge can tell you that the store is perpetually understocked. Odds are that had I gone to the store on another day with the explicit intention of making a shell-shaped bar of soap, I would have left in frustrated defeat. Yet on this day, uncertain as to whether getting into dimensional papier-mâché was really the best idea, there it was: on an aisle pretty much depleted of all other soap-making equipment, a lone clamshell soap mold more-or-less the perfect shape and size for my piñata.

Now all I needed was newspaper – grabbed a few free Metros out of the box – and a rubber balloon. Here’s a tip: For some reason (choking hazard?) it’s become impossible, at least around here, to buy packages of rubber balloons at normal places like drug and craft stores. If, like me, you don’t have easy access to a Party City-type place, try going to a florist. The nice lady at Central Square Florist sold me four rubber balloons, uninflated, for about a dollar. I went home happy and ready to get started.

I didn’t think to take pictures of the early stages of the piñata but I’m sure you can get the idea – I blew the balloon up to about 18” high and taped a strip of thin cardboard around each end to make a base and a rim. Since I was babysitting that night, "Marcia" got to help me with the first coat of papier-mâché on the body of the vase. The glue – one part flour to two parts water – is kind of gross and oddly icky smelling for something so basic, but it does the job and is satisfyingly cheap and simple to make. We covered the entire balloon with newsprint, lapping over the strips of cardboard to make them one with the vase. I had considered leaving the top of the vase – inside the larger rim of cardboard – open, but Marcia wisely advised me to cover that as well, so that it bulged over the rim of the base.

I figured I needed eight of the shells to go around the top, so I got started molding those as soon as possible. The mold had two pieces, which let me do two shells at a time, laying strips of soggy newsprint across the mold and pressing it down into the ridges as best I could, leaving plenty of excess newsprint around the edges for attaching to the vase. I only did one layer of newsprint for the shells, since they were just for decorative purposes, but I ended up with three layers on the balloon. Before I did the third layer I spaced the (completely dry) shells around the top, loosely taping them in place before attaching them with the final layer of papier-mâché.

When the third layer was completely dry, I popped the balloon – actually a pinprick didn’t do the trick; I had to cut off a chunk of it with scissors to get it to deflate. Marcia’s idea of papier-mâché-ing over the top worked perfectly; with the balloon deflated I was able to punch the convex top of the vase down so that it made a concave well inside the rim, giving the appearance of it’s being open at the top.

At this point the vase already looked pretty cool. One of the neat things about papier-mâché is the curious juxtaposition of random swatches of newspaper that you get. I found myself, as I applied the layers of papier-mâché, picking the more “interesting” side of each strip of newsprint to face up. Sudoku or crosswords won out over large patches of color; large patches of color or photos won out over boring text. Since I happened to have grabbed the Pride Week parade issue of the Metro, you can imagine there were some interesting photos.

So it was sad to have to cover it up; but, knowing that nine-year-old girls were less likely than I to appreciate the artistic merits of newsprint, I started slathering on the beautiful pearlescent copper paint. Which is when I began to wish I’d thought to grab a bottle of gesso at the art store. One layer of paint later, the fine journalism of the Metro was as legible as ever. Again, the overall effect was quite nice in an artsy way, but again, I anticipated young voices inquiring “Why can you still see the newspaper underneath?”
So I persevered, adding another layer of paint before bed, another before leaving for work the next day. In all I did four coats, although there were places where it could have used a fifth.
The detail painting went pretty quickly – largely because it was now a week since this project began and mere hours before the party. I didn’t find much use for the peach paint but mainly used the brown – picking up a little paint on the tip of an angled brush and a little water on the other side so I got a “floated” effect. I did some quick shading around the shells, then made the ribs with a couple of shaded edges (very sloppy) extending down between the shells to the base. After this had dried, I added a very quick fish-scale design in every other panel around the vase.

I cut a flap in the concave top, dropped in alternating layers of crepe paper, candy, and party crackers (leftover from Christmas but in non-holiday-specific jewel tones), and closed it back up with masking tape, painting over the tape to blend with the vase. (Given more time, I would’ve done this last step with papier-mâché.) Then because I was worried it would be too boring and vase-y and generally non-thrilling to nine-year-old girls, I punched holes in the top and threaded bright silk flowers down through the candy.

I had gotten so used to thinking of the vase as a work of art (however temporal) that I had forgotten to worry how well it would function as a piñata – until we got it strung up outside and a blindfolded Marcia took the first whack. It actually did great. With each whack of the plastic baseball bat (girls these days are surprisingly powerful), the piñata gave a little more, gradually leaking out its treats just as Carol’s favorite vase slowly sprung leaks at the dinner table, but holding out the big bust until each of the five contenders got at least one try.

Like the vase, the piñata was ultimately smashed beyond repair, but this time no one got grounded. Here’s the aftermath:
And here's Carol's vase after Peter's errant free throw: Lesson Learned (too late, this time): Always have a bottle of gesso handy.

Thursday, June 19, 2008

Intro for Carrie the Crafting Queen (har har)

Well, I'm not new to blogging but I am new to the idea of having a singular place, with my best friends, of "showing off" my creativity.

Christie suggested having a blog to showcase our personal accomplishments (i.e. creative outlets) and I have to admit the idea had crossed my mind once or twice in the past. However, being the big procrastinator that I have become, I never got around to doing anything about it. So Christie is our blog hero of the week! Woo!

Most of the projects I work on are for other people. I enjoy giving people what I feel are truly loved gifts. Although my end product may not look anything like something you would buy at the store, I hope that the receiver of the gift understands that I took time in making it with love, just for them and with their personality in mind.

I'm very excited about this blog because I feel like all of us are very talented in different ways. We all have failures but most of all, we all have successes. I guess we'll have to show you both. It's kind of embarrassing, but sometimes you have to keep practicing to make things perfect. Yup. That's life.

Also, I'm not nearly as eloquent as Christie so don't expect any posts from me with big words or beautifully written descriptions. That's her forte :) I'm straightforward and goofy and I'm just fine with that.

So enjoy our projects and feel free to ask us questions. The whole point is to share with everyone who loves crafty things, whether it be baking, sewing or et cetera, and encourage others to find their own creative outlet.

Christie: only marginally insane

For about as long as I can remember I’ve been making things – I guess the very first thing I remember making is a little Indian village with tiny paper teepees scattered across a table. It started with paper and glue, but these days I’ll undertake just about any kind of project: sewing, woodworking, cooking, baking, decorating, and mostly that undefinable category that involves a little bit of everything to achieve the finished product (I guess that’s the et cetera). This doesn’t mean that I excel at any of the above skills, only that I’m not afraid to play around with whatever’s necessary to create in three dimensions the project that already exists in my head. Always I have more things in mind to do than there is time to make (and certainly to finish) them all. You’d think working on actual full-scale, bricks-and-mortar things these days would be enough for me now, but there’s always something in the back of my head I can’t wait to get home and work on.

Starting with that first little Indian village, there’s been the perpetual issue of what to actually do with all the various things I feel compelled to make, but that very rarely discourages me from starting something new. Lately, though, it means I try to redirect my creative tic towards either ephemeral things (edibles) or into things for other people. (December is a really busy time for me.) I won’t say that I ever regret giving away months of work, or watching a knife slice into one of my “masterpieces”. Sometimes, though, I do wish that I had better documentation of my projects either for my own memory or (I’ll admit) for showing off. That’s why I wanted to start this blog – a way of hanging onto all my various projects without taking up any more space in my apartment, but also a sort of portfolio of what I’ve done that just might inspire other people to make little Indian villages of their own. Not to mention, this blog is really yet another little project for me (and Carrie, and Julie) to work on, and goodness knows we’re always in need of another project.

You might or might not find this all as interesting as I do, but maybe there will be a few ideas you can use, or modify into your own unique project. Welcome to the insanity …