Tuesday, May 26, 2015

Thumbprint Tree Guestbook

I've had a busy few weeks with the end of school around the corner, the warmer weather finally upon us, and all types of family and friend celebrations, but I'm alive and well and here to share a cute little craft I made for a close friend's wedding.

Back in 2011, Indy's best friend from high school and his lovely wife got married.  They asked if I would make them a thumbprint tree guestbook, which I had never even seen before.  After a few pinterest searches, I got to work and made them this:


(Forgive the angle/cropping.  I had to ask the wifey to send me a photo of it, which is framed in their dining room, and she couldn't get around the glare on the glass.)

Their thumbprint guestbook turned out really well, especially considering their wedding was the night of Hurricane Irene and a large part of their guest list had to bail due to weather conditions and canceled flights!  We lost power a few times in the night, but the party kept on and it was a really great, memorable wedding.  The couple loves their keepsake and it's so nice to see it framed in their home every time we visit.  And it was so easy to make!

Materials: Illustration board, Watercolor pencils, Ink pads - Done!

Anyway, flash forward to 2015, one of *my* best friends from high school, Koichi, was getting married, and his is a love story for the ages!

Koichi is half Japanese and half Peruvian.  He went to school up in Boston and while he was here, he met a Japanese exchanged student, Yuriko, who was here for just a semester.  They hit it off and have been dating from across the world for TEN YEARS!  They'd save up money and try to visit each other once a year until finally, last winter, she moved here for good!  The two had a small courthouse ceremony shortly after, but also planned a more traditional celebration, which took place just last weekend.

Now, as I said, Koichi me since high school.  He's been a huge supporter of my music and has seen me perform with pretty much every band I've ever been in (and that's saying something!)  One night, while a bit tipsy at a party Indy and I hosted, he asked if I would do he and his fiance the honor of singing at their wedding.  While I was completely flattered by his request, I was also totally freaked out!  I'm an okay singer, at best, and I do loud garage band or indie singer/songwriter type stuff- I am in no way, shape or form a wedding singer.  I don't even do karaoke!  There was no way I could confidently perform for him and his wife on the MOST IMPORTANT DAY OF THEIR LIVES!  I felt awful but I had to turn him down- I did the whole "it's not you, it's me" thing, and Koichi being Koichi, was totally sweet and understanding about it.

But, a few weeks later, I thought of a different fun, creative way I could be part of their special day, and I offered to make them a thumbprint guestbook!  Even better- they'd never heard of one, and didn't have any plans for a formal guestbook- SCORE!

I got to make it even more personal in that I decided to make it a cherry blossom tree. Since Yuri is from Japan, she has an affinity for Cherry Blossoms.  There's a park nearby where Koichi and I grew up that's famous for their Cherry Blossom Festival, and he took her there just this spring.  All of the planets had aligned, and I quickly got to work.

First, I sketched out the tree and used my projector at school to project their names and wedding date at the bottom.  I used Prisma markers to fill in the text:


Then, I got out my good 'ol watercolor pencils, and filled in the trunk, branches and a bit of grass below the tree:


And after picking up a few pink ink pads and an 18x20 frame from Michael's, my job was done!  They had the guestbook set up by the door and as their guests entered/exited the wedding, they made their mark.  Today, Koichi texted me a final photo of it saying, "Thanks, buddy! We can't wait to hang it in our new place!"


Thursday, May 14, 2015

Mastering This Masters Thing, Part 5: Invisible Empire

You can read about my Graduate Thesis Journey here: part 1part 2part 3, part 4.

My fourth installment of my self portrait series I chose to work with a song called Invisible Empire off of KT Tunstall's newest album with the same name.

I have long been a fan of KT.  I've seen her a few times live, and each time is so enjoyable- she is a true performer, and as a musician, she is one of my idols.

In the year she wrote this album, she went through a divorce and the death of her father, so as a whole, it has a much different feel than her previous work.  When I researched the meaning of this song, I came across this blurb from KT in an interview from songfacts.com:


  • Tunstall explained the song's meaning to The Daily Telegraph: "This song is the title track of the first half of the record, and sets the scene. It's about creating a reality that is only based on what you want to see, not what's real. It'll either come crashing down, or you'll want to set it alight yourself to find the truth."

    "It's about the idea that if you try and control life, you kill it," she continued, "but if you let it flow in its own way, it can flourish."

While I can absolutely see where she was coming from, every time I hear this song, I feel something slightly different.  For me, the  track Invisible Empire is all about overcoming hardships, surviving something, and knowing that you'll be okay. 

The lines that inspired this painting are from the very beginning and the very end of this song:


I thought the candle was gonna go out
The wind was blowing and the door was open
But the candle never went out, never went out

Woah, oh, I wear a rusting crown
I know this dynasty is falling


For this painting, I went literal with the imagery:



This was the image I was working from for this painting, which, oddly enough, was super simple to shoot.  Normally when I do the inspirational shot for my paintings, I take about 100 images before I get one I like enough to use.  I figured with the candle light this would take twice as long, but I think this was the third or fourth shot.

I started this painting on a Saturday night while Indy went out with some friends:







With the hardest part mostly figured out, that week in class I moved onto the body:






I was only sort of happy with my progress at this point.  Turns out painting candle-lit skin is really freakin' tough!  As I was working, my professor recommended I study some of the works by Georges da La Tour:



Looking at La Tour's work actually helped me a lot, and over the next week at home, I was able to improve the glow of my skin:



Once I was pleased with that, I went int on the rusting crown:





So here she is, for now, the queen of my Invisible Empire.  I have some detail work to do yet in the hands, but I felt good enough where this one ended to start on the next.

Tuesday, May 12, 2015

A Meandering Jog on a Treadmill...

If you are a teacher, I know it's hard enough to find 5 minutes to use the bathroom, let alone 18 minutes to watch a youtube video, but if you can find time, please watch this. 

Some one I know sent me a link to her friend's blog, here.  Let me just say, that right now I wish that she and/or John Oliver were in charge of America's education.


Sunday, May 10, 2015

Mother's Day Gifts

I love Mother's Day, not only because I love my mother and mother-in-law, but also because I always see the holiday as a gift-giving challenge.  I try to think up something that is small, yet significant, and meaningful, yet affordable.

My mother-in-law is a very sentimental woman.  She is all about family and celebrations and will usually find about 10 reasons to "cheers" during dinner.  I know I can always kill it with a personal, hand-made gift for her, so that's what I did this year.

For a while I've seen "Family Birthday" or "Family Celebration" calendars on Pinterest.  They've been one of those hand-made gifts I've always wanted to try, and this Mother's Day was the perfect opportunity.  

I headed over to Michael's Arts & Crafts and bought a wooden plank (about $4) a few packs of wooden disks (about $4 per pack) and some jump rings (about $3).  Once I had all my supplies, the fun began:

Step 1: Prime everything.


Initially I wanted to burn in the text and stain the wood, like I did for my sister's 5th anniversary gift, but the wood on this plank was much thinner than the wood on my sister's gift, and there were some glue stains on it. I knew the stain would get all clumpy and uneven, so I decided to paint them instead.  I just used some acrylic paint I had on hand at school, but if I were to do this again (I will never do this again, more on that later...) I would use spray paint.  It would've just been more efficient.  Also, in watching some youtube how-to videos, some guy recommended placing the disks on a strip of masking tape to keep them from moving while you paint- this is an excellent idea and I highly recommend it.

Step 2: Add Text


This part was rather easy- I typed up the text I wanted the board to read, "Family Celebrations," hooked up my projector, taped the board to my chalkboard at school (notice I didn't erase it first) and traced oh-so-carefully.

Step 3: Fill in the Text and Add Eye Hooks


I started filling in the text with acrylic paint, a tiny brush and a very steady hand.  While that dried, I added the eye hooks, which I had left over from some framing projects at school.  A pack of eye hooks is about $2-3 at Home Depot, making the entire project around $15!  I measured out 12 hooks (one for each month of the year) and screwed them in by hand.  The wooden plank was super soft, so it was really easy.

Step 4: Paint Forever, Drill Holes, and Ask Yourself If This Is Really Worth All The Time You're Putting In


As the title of the step reads, I painted what felt like a zillion wooden disks (12 of each of the 4 colors I created).  It took about two days.  I  primed them all on both sides, mixed four custom colors and gave 2-3 coats on each side.  Again, I reiterate that spray paint probably would've made this much more enjoyable.

Then, I started drilling.  As you can see in the photo above, I lost a few soldiers in this process.  I had to practice using the right sized drill bit, the right amount of pressure, and the right distance from the edge of the disk, but after about 5 or 6 broken disks, I figured it out.  At this point I should probably also say that I definitely suggest painting all of your disks before drilling.  The first 10-12 disks I drilled first, then primed, then painted, only to have to re-drill because the paint filled up the holes.  Rookie mistake.

Step 5: Attaching the Jump Rings, Break Several Nails, Nearly Abandon Project Entirely


I don't have any in-progress photos of me adding the jump rings, because it was a horrible experience and I was THISCLOSE to throwing everything out.  At one point I threw my pliers and they landed on the board, so now there's a tiny nick next to the "M."  I was prying these tiny jump rings apart with my nails, which resulted in three or four broken ones and several unusable jump rings before my Work BFF and jewelry teacher (I know, I know, I should've just gone to her first) suggested I use a swiss army knife to split the jump ring and bend it slightly to thread through the disk. 

Once I used her technique, I didn't have any more issues.  Although it bears mentioning that after you start threading the jump ring through the disk, you should have a pair of tiny pliers on hand to shimmy them all the way through.  I borrowed mine from her, and they were perfection.

Step 6: Adding Names and Dates


I used a sharpie to add the months, dates and names of family member's birthdays and wedding anniversaries.  Part of me was all crazy OCD at first about my handwriting on the disks, but somewhere around March I decided, f-it, this is a hand-made gift and it should look hand-made, and nothing hand-made is perfect!

I'm actually really pleased with the result and I'm hoping my Mother-In-Law is, too.  But as I mentioned before, this is a one-of-a-kind piece.  It was affordable and I'm glad I did it, but never again.  It took about two weeks to complete- probably would've taken two or three days total if I didn't have a job to go to and a house to keep clean, but once was enough for me, thanks.

You may have noticed in the beginning of this post, I had two of these bad boys in production, but when I started filling in the text with paint, I realized that: A. Making two of these things might kill me, and B. My mother is a great woman, but wouldn't love this nearly as much as my MIL.  So I decided one was enough.

Now something my mother does love is Anthropologie.  We both adore the store, and in that way, her gift was personal as Indy and I made a trip to our local mall and I scored this awesome infinity scarf on sale for $32:


There were actually two of them in the sale basket and I used a remarkable amount of self control not buying one for myself. I know scarf season is almost gone, but the navy blue and chevron pattern have a nautical feel and made me think of summer time.

And added this *amazing* smelling bar of Pear Blossom soap for $8.  In fact, it smelled so good we also got a bar for the MIL, and Indy's two aunts who will be at our Mother's Day festivities today.


So there you have it!

Happy Mother's Day to all the Moms out there! We wouldn't be here without you!

Thursday, May 7, 2015

A *Free* and Pleasant Surprise!


In the beginning of the year my supervisor emailed me and asked if I wanted a desktop copy stand.  I had never heard of one before, but it was a donation, and never one to turn away free stuff, I said, “Sure!”

A week later, it was delivered, and until today, it had been sitting atop my filing cabinets collecting dust.

With the end of the year zooming toward my face, I realized that I’ve fallen behind on my picture taking.  I usually pride myself on how great I am about photographing every single piece of artwork created by every single student in my classroom each year, but somehow this year got away from me.  While I was organizing works for our Spring Arts Show next week, I decided to get back on my game, and while I was at it, I’d also learn how to work this Desktop Copy Stand Doohickey.

It kind of looks like a weird SciFi movie prop, but when it's all set up, it looks like this:



It took some fiddling and adjusting, but I was in shock and awe when I finally got it to work.  Take a look at these photos, which are a visual map of my learning how to use this thing:









And even better, with the correct adjustments, I can do my cropping and color adjustment with the camera, in real life, and not on my computer in Photoshop!  That means just taking a few extra minutes to get my camera settings/lamps aligned and I shoot, shoot, shoot, swapping pieces in and out.

What used to be a time consuming and rather frustrating process (running Photoshop on my computer is kind of like watching grass grow, or paint dry.  You just wait, and wait, and wait, and by the time it’s up and running, you forget what you wanted it open for in the first place.) is now going to take me a fraction of the time it used to!

Now I just have to find a permanent home for this rather large contraption.  The time it saves will be worth the space it takes up, that's for sure!

Monday, May 4, 2015

Year 5: Wood

My older sister and her husband have been married *5* years!  April 30th was their anniversary, and since I was the Maid of Honor at her wedding, I've made it my personal goal to try and give them a small gift each year in-line with the traditional list of Wedding Anniversary gifts.

Year 1 was Paper - I got them a card and a gift certificate to a restaurant that year.

Year 2 was Cotton - I got them a customized couch pillow with their monogram on it from Etsy.


Year 3 was Leather - I got them each a nifty wallet/passport holder.

Year 4 was Fruit/Flowers - I got them both! A small arrangement from Edible Arrangements.

Each year I typically spend about $50 on their anniversary gift, but with Africa right around the corner (gettin' excited!) and paying for graduation gifts/wedding gifts for pretty much everyone I know (what's the deal with 2015?!) I had to keep it cheap.

I wanted to make them sign for their front door, so I went to trusty 'ol Michaels Arts & Crafts where I picked up a fancy wooden plaque:



I think this was somewhere between $10 and $14.

Then, using Photoshop and my handy dandy projector at school, I traced on my text with an HB pencil:


Then I used one of the several wood burners I have at school (I ordered, like, 30 one year, and then realized my classroom didn't have any ventilation, so we couldn't use them...but my room next year does!) and I burned in the text.  I had to be *super* careful, because there was no un-do button for this job.  Once I got home, I also drilled two holes into the board for a hanging ribbon.


At this point I was left with the question, "To stain, or not to stain?"  I'd asked the opinion of my Work BFF and she told me she'd had a discussion last year with the Wood Arts teacher who always recommends using regular 'ol Olive Oil to stain things for your home, so I gave it a try.  No in-progress photos of that, unfortunately.  It just slightly tinted the board- nothing too drastic, just a hint of warmth like I wanted.

After that I gave it a once-over with some lacquer, measured, cut , threaded and knotted a brown hanging ribbon (I burned the raw edges of the ribbon to keep it from fraying), and I was done!

Below are two shots of the finished project hanging on our front door:



I gave it to my sister this past weekend and she *loved* it!  The whole thing was only $10-15 and took about a day to complete. Me for the sentimental-yet-affordable-gift-giving-win!