Much is happening behind the crochet curtain, which now extends from the US all the way to Wales, where my friend Don is testing the Jane Austen pattern I debuted last week. We are possibly a little giddier than we should be about the whole testing process, but really, if you can’t geek out about the things you love, what’s the point?!
Don has even been taking pictures for me as she goes along. Look at those tiny, adorable arms. Does she not rule?
Meanwhile, the very first amigurumi I ever designed – namely, Frankenstein’s monster – has also gone international, after being translated into Spanish! It was fun for me to see the translation, if only because I like to pretend that my high school Spanish still means something. And whenever I recognize a word, I feel certain that it does! Self-delusion is rad!
I have to talk more about what I got for Christmas. Hey, I know it’s late January, but clever display strategies are like fine wine: They require a trip to Goodwill. No, wait. They benefit from a glaze? Look, I don’t drink fine wine. The point is that some things take time.
First up is a gift from my dear friend Nancy, who found this amazing book, which is shaped like a D for D’Angelo, my last name, which is cool. She felt it could be even cooler, though, so she commissioned my friend Cindy to paint on it:
After much consideration, Cindy decided it to would be hilarious to riff on Dan Brown’s *Angels and Demons*.
Why is that funny? Because when two English grad students get married, their house is filled with Shakespeare and Milton and Woolf, and rather less so with Dan Brown. She has now obligated us both to have and to display Dan Brown. That distant sound you hear is her chuckling to herself.
Totally by coincidence, meanwhile, I received this amazing Junker Jane doll from my husband:
It seemed to me that these things needed to be displayed together, and that’s where the trip to Goodwill comes in! I found this candle holder for a couple of bucks.
Sorry for the bad photo.
I liked it because of its height, which would allow me to create a sort of standing shelf, with room underneath as well as on top. Enter: Craft wood.
From this point, we have the familiar tale of gesso and paint.
Why black? Because the candle holder is distressed, with spots of black showing through. I wanted to be able to able to imitate the effect on the shelf.
Initial coat of white over the black.
The whole thing put together was much too stark, though, so I did a mustard glaze over the white.
With apologies to Eminem, will the real Slim Janey please stand up?
Just for grins, I thought it would be fun to show the prototype. on the left, and the finished version, on the right. From inception to refinement, Jane grew taller, underwent a breast reduction (painless, I’m assured), and came to terms with Pride and Prejudice: Zombies. Kind of.
Do you see a bit of head reshaping as well? You are as clever as you are observant, my dear.
The pattern is going out to my brilliant tester this weekend and should be available soon!
I got a lot of really cool presents for Christmas this year, like this gorgeous set of Tudor matryoshka dolls, created by artist Rhonda Anderson:
Matryoshkas. Russian dolls. Nesting dolls. Mine. These go by many names.
Imagine my giddy glee when next I opened this gorgeous set of matryoshka dolls, created by artist SL Scheibe:
These are members of a nerdy book club. It meets weekly in the lower left chamber of my heart.
I might even have said to someone at that point, “I am going to have to figure out a cool way to display these!” Because here’s the problem with smallish objects. They look great up close on a shelf, like this:
Yup, we do. We look great.
But as you move back . . .
. . .they kind of lose impact
“I need to create some sort of tiers,” I said to my husband, and he said, “Don’t you have blocks in the garage?” OH YEAH.
Plus craft paint
Even from far away, this is clearly something colorful and cool that I want to check out!
Last Saturday, I promised that this Saturday, I would show you Jane Austen. Then school was canceled for two days in a row, during which time, the heat more or less went out, in the midst of which, I had to pull together a birthday celebration for my husband to ward off the horrors of an all-day deposition in a mesothelioma case. So yeah. I didn’t finish Jane Austen. Sorry about that!
My big accomplishment, however, is that I sorted the gathered skirt! Hooray! Here’s Jane again, in her empire-waist dress.
And here’s what I’ve done:
Body + skirt
I make no promises for next week, because heaven only knows what would happen if I did. I do hope, however, to show you a completed prototype!
This was a nutty week, during which, most of my plans were thwarted by cold, the canceling of school, or the perpetual demands of my offspring to watch Doctor Who with him, feed him, or in some other manner acknowledge his existence. Needy, needy! I did want to share a quick project, though, one that requires no extra effort but can produce cool wrapping paper or project backgrounds in a pinch.
I am participating in a 30 Paintings in 30 Days challenge this month. Here you see a progress shot of my very first canvas for the challenge – but don’t look at the canvas. Look at the brown paper bag I have stretched out on the table underneath the canvas.
I use that brown paper bag to wipe excess paint off my brush if I’ve overloaded it, or to wipe off excess water, or even (in the wee hours of the night) to mix colors. Look at the bag again, a little more than a week later:
It acquires not only a beautiful texture, but also a bright, funky, organically eclectic and spontaneous look. When most of the bag is covered with paint, I get myself a new bag for my work area and use the paint-covered bag like this, to wrap packages:
Or like this, as a starter for mixed media:
To do this yourself, just take scissors and cut a brown paper grocery bag down a side seam, then cut off the bottom. My grocery store keeps the brown paper bags just underneath the conveyor belt. Look around your checkout lane – or ask a cashier – and unless you’re at Aldi, I’ll bet you can find some, too.
I spent a lot of time this week thinking about the patterns I want to design in 2015, and I am pleased to report, first and foremost, that I have accepted my inability to create 276 new designs this year, mostly because my doctor has informed me that having four extra arms grafted to my body is not covered by Obamacare.
The other good news is that the 30 or so designs I am still insisting I can make (FANTASYLAND!) are going to be super exciting! For a host of reasons, however, I need to learn how to gather a skirt before I can dive in and get started. Yeah, that’s some crazy Home Ec nonsense, but trust me: It matters.
Knitting, of course, has a gathering stitch, but crocheting has none. So I’m experimenting. And I’ll give you a hint about who I’m designing while doing these experiments:
Usually, this is the day I post “Living with Art,” but holidays, and recovery, and reasons. So here’s a thing that an artist couple asked me to make for them for Christmas that I thought I would share. (Background: She makes foxes. He makes skulls. Every year, they give each other something that brings these themes together. From me, the wife requested a skull egg cup with a wooden egg fox sitting inside. Ready? Feeling informed? Let’s go.)
The egg and the cup, with five or six coats of gesso.
Although she has lived in America for more than 40 years now, my mother-in-law hails from Australia, and she loves having reminders of her native homeland around the house. There’s a boomerang above the doorway to the garage, a picture of the Sydney Opera House in the office, and koalas stashed here and there on shelves. For Christmas this year, I knew I wanted to crochet her some new potholders, but I felt totally uninspired until I came across the free pattern for this, created by Cordelia Serene:
Dear Platypus Potholder: I love you.
I ran out of time before I could make this guy a mate, but I gave it to my mother-in-law on Christmas morning all the same, and she was so tickled by his cute little face that she decided she wanted to display him on the wall of her kitchen.
How great does that look?!
Once she had that up, well, she thought she’d also display the potholder we gave her many years ago, featuring our son’s elementary school artwork:
When she told me that she’d hung these things, we were in the car en route to The Hobbit, but I was so excited I almost dove over the seat. “You’re ‘Living with Art’!” I exclaimed, clapping my hands. “I am!” she agreed. “I’m ‘Living with Art.'”
And this is how it starts: With one piece, one original creation, one nail in the wall, which quickly becomes two. If you’ve been reading along in 2014, I hope you’ve put at least one nail in the wall, but if not, today is your day! Heck, take the weekend, if you need it! Just put something on display – and since this is the final “Living with Art” for 2014, tell us all about it!
Here they are, in all their glory – the entries we received for this year’s Holiday Contest. Put on your fuzzy slippers, pour a cup of cocoa, and grab something to make notes with, because if you’re not inspired looking at these projects, you’re not looking!
The Before Gnome
oddbreed found this classic garden gnome at Michaels, but from the get-go, she knew he really wanted to be a misfit elf instead. After using paper clay to give him some proper elfin ears, she grunged him up using molding paste and pumice, then painted him up with a mix of acrylics.
Before and after
Ann Says: This inspires me to play with texture! And paint! Just look how much character he gains from the textured elements, along with the incredibly cool glazing effects. He has the look of elegant pottery now. Amazing work!
Sam’s Mr. Rexmas
Full disclosure: Sam is my sister-in-law, and after seeing this picture on Facebook, I compelled her to enter this contest. Aren’t I fun to have in the family?
Sam used found objects to alter this dino, creating the hat from pieces of two dog toys and grabbing the nose from an earring that lots its partner. Technically, I believe Sam was supposed to give Mr. Rexmas to a co-worker as part of a Secret Santa, but she couldn’t part with it. She and my brother then made Mr. Rexmas a swanky seasonal house:
Ann Says: Mr. Rexmas makes me laugh so hard! I could not love him more. Also, I wholeheartedly support the (re)use of plastic toys for the holidays. If you have toys lying about, you might even consider making some Tipsy Toy Taxidermy Ornaments.
Tanya’s Bad Elf
Tanya has resolved to get more involved in art challenges and contests and things in 2015, so she decided to start early with the wonderstrange contest, which we wholeheartedly endorse! She started with a plain wooden ornament, which she painted black. She sketched and colored the elves on paper, then glued them to BOTH sides of the heart, adding bows and bling to complete the transformation.
Ann Says: Double-sided!!! It seems so simple after the fact, but the best ideas often are. I love pretty much everything about this ornament: The elves’ faces, the elves’ hats, the fact that the ornament is fun to look it no matter which way the breeze blows (or which way the branch dips while the cat is climbing the tree). The circles, spirals, and stars make for a super festive background, too. So many good ideas, Tanya!
Heather’s SoCo Guardians of the Galaxy Holiday Vase
If there had been a prize for the most appealing “before,” Heather would have run away with it. Here’s why:
After a fellow writing friend and collaborator left the bottle behind at the end of a “write night,” Heather decided it needed to be upcycled. She snagged some cheap comics from the local comic book shop for 10 cents a piece (score!), then tore the pages around the frames to preserve some of the best quips and one-liners. A friendly tub of Mod Podge helped the pages stick to the glass. Once everything dried, she used gesso to block out Groot and painted him on top.
Ann Says: So clever to trim Groot with lights! I love this idea! This is an especially brilliant project for those years when the holiday budget gets tight, because you can always ask for bottle donations from friends, then give your friends the gift of your time and talent. Hooray, Heather! Fantastic submission!
Sal’s Bathrobe Zombie Ornament
There’s really no “before” shot for Sal’s project, because Sal made it from scratch. She used a basic doll template to trace and cut the fabric, then drew and colored the face using markers. After painting on the socks (and for modesty, some unders), she made the doll an adorable little bathrobe, which she bloodied up for effect.
Ann Says: Holy adorable! I have a weak spot for zombies, so I fell in love with this instantly. And I learned from this that I could use art markers on fabric, which had honestly never occurred to me. (It makes sense, of course. There’s no need to use fabric markers on something that’s never going in the wash.) I might try a simplified version of this project for our tree – minus the bathrobe layer, because I am just not that talented with the textiles.
I’m not sure what template Sal used, but if you Google “small doll template,” you’ll find oodles. Genius ornament, Sal!
Tracy’s “Jerry Is Our Last, Best Hope!”
Tracy created her Christmas display from a variety of things she had in her house: This fantastic Jerry Garcia doll, a Santa hat, a cross, and tiny lights.
Ann Says: This is a fantastic idea! It’s simple, it’s festive, it’s fun, and it integrates regular decor with seasonal decor, minimizing the amount of work it takes to snazz up the place for the season. Excellent thinking, Tracy – and please tell me where you got those adorably tiny lights!
Cindy’s Krampus Ornament
Everybody loves Krampus, the dark and dastardly counterpart to Santa who chains up naughty children and carries them away. We especially loved learning that Krampus likes to pause for a refreshing minty snack in between kids! Cindy created Krampus using watercolors and Microns, then cut him out and glued him very neatly to this ornament, which is why the only visit she’s getting will be from the jolly bowl full of jelly guy.
Ann Says: Some representations of Krampus verge on the excessively scary, while some go too far toward the cute and cuddly. Cindy got it JUST right! Her Krampus is menacing, but he’s not going to eat your kitten. Kittens don’t taste good after peppermint, anyway. Beautiful work, Cindy!
Heather’s Most Foul, Cruel, and Bad-Tempered Rodent You Ever Set Eyes On
On a trip through a thrift store not too far from where she lives, Heather spotted this beribboned bunny:
“All I could think about,” she said, “is with a little love, this could turn into the bunny from Monty Python and the Search for the Holy Grail” after munching on a knight. If you don’t know what she’s talking about, here’s a little clip to help you along.
Meanwhile, here’s the altered bunny, whose transformation she achieved with gesso, paint, and a bit of Christmas trimming:
As time goes on, she will be dressing it up in different seasonal outfits, like some people do with a statue of a goose or a dog.
Ann Says: I could not stop laughing when I saw this. My husband had to come running in to see what on earth was so funny. I wish I had thought to transform a bunny this way! It’s clever, it’s nerdy, and it’s very well done. Bravo! If I could, I’d make a little wreath of bones to sit all around it. (Look at the bones!)
Els’ “Heart of Forth Worden” Ornament
Els started this incredibly cool ornament with a rubber heart, which she transformed with paint and embossing powder. The lead crystal drop at the bottom is an antique, a part of a 1900 light fixture from Fort Worden, located in Port Townsend, Washington.
Ann Says: The women of wonderstrange love the anatomical arts, and we ogled this pic for a long time, very appreciatively! The skull bead adds just the right touch. I am totally inspired to think about organ ornaments, as weird as that sounds. (It would be fun to have a whole little tree of bones and anatomical organs, though, right? Oh oh! Or a bone tree with organs dangling from the branches! Oh oh oh!)
Karen’s Two-Headed Fred
Karen started with this sweet (well, saccharine?) ceramic piece that features two precious little children holding hands. Thankfully, she and her paper clay had quite a different vision for it.
Ann Says: Holy transformation! This is incredible! Sarah and I both adore two-headed things (as, I think, do most sensible people). Karen gets major kudos for her vision here. Their heads are just the right distance apart to make this work, and the giant, double-necked, slouchy Christmas sweater is perfect! Major applause!
Debby’s Octiloo Ornament
Everyone who knows Debby’s work will instantly recognize her distinctive style in this ADORABLE little Christmas freak ornament, which I completely want to steal.
Ann Says: Seriously. Stealing. Looking at this, I’m not even sure I’m above it. I’d totally be forgiven by law enforcement, too, because who can resist tentacle jammies?! NO ONE! (Fantastic work, Debby! As you may have noticed, I’m smitten!)
Els’ Cthulhu Tolls the Bell
Els did a pretty fantastic thing with her second submission for our contest: She preserved the basic silhouette of a vintage porcelain bell from the 1960s, even as she added polymer clay tentacles, paint, and sparkle nail polish to transform that bell into Cthulhu. Looking at the transformation, you can see what it was, and you can see what it is, and there is perfect harmony between the two.
Ann Says: Not in 100 years would it have occurred to me to do this. I would have felt the impulse to cover the bell completely, or to try to make the curve of the bell into sand (?) or earth (??) or something (???). Els’ choices were far superior. I find this a deeply satisfying and clever alteration. Plus, I’m betting it’s still functional!
Amy’s Family (Christmas) Tree
Full disclosure: Amy did not finish this in time to submit it for official consideration in the contest, but I encouraged her to send pics anyway, because this is another great idea!
Amy started off with three major components: 1) an ornament stand that she received as a gift for being a subscriber to Country Woman magazine; 2) a set of 12 day of Christmas ornaments that her mother used to display; and 3) a heart-shaped ornament that she had her husband purchased for their first Christmas together.
She covered the stand in floral tape and gel medium, then added substance to the ornaments with paper clay.
At that point, she started painting the ornaments to resemble her family: Husband, children, significant others, and grandchildren.
The heart ornament from Amy’s first Christmas with her husband will eventually go on top, and each ornament will also feature a heart motif on the back.
Ann Says: This is an heirloom in the making, something Amy’s grandchildren can show their grandchildren. I just love this idea. It would make a great gift, too! Can’t wait to see this when it’s finished!
Audrey’s Dark Angel
Audrey took second place in the contest with her dark angel, which started out looking pretty traditional:
Audrey removed all of the elements of the dress that she didn’t like, plus the wings and the halo. “After that,” she says, “I used paper towels and Mod Podge to create something in the void of her chest, and made the ‘heart’ she’s holding.” Audrey draped the angel in cheese cloth and arranged rooster feathers on her back to serve as wings, securing them with wire. Black and red acrylics finished out the piece.
Ann Says: We were really impressed by a number of things here, not least (of course) the amazing beauty of the finished piece. The rooster feathers give this angel serious presence and scope, which is important when you live in a place with high ceilings like we see in the picture. The combination of new and original fabrics is seamless, and the draping lends both to the grace and (again) the scope. Altering a mixed media piece is not the easiest thing to do, but Audrey really used her materials well, and she created gorgeous overall coherence.
Amanda’s Rocket Raccoon Nutcracker
Our top winner in the contest was Amanda, who started off with a challenging item to alter:
To transform this classic nutcracker into Rocket Raccoon from Guardians of the Galaxy, Amanda used Sculpey to alter the facial shape and profile from Homo Sapiens to Procyon Lotor, or you know, a human-type dude to a raccoon-type dude. She removed the drumsticks from the nutcracker’s hands, using one of them to serve as the armature for Groot, who took up residence in what used to be the drum. The result is an impressive, nerdtastic, thematically appropriate Rocket Raccoon nutcracker who is holding Baby Groot.
Ann Says: What really dazzled us here was just about everything. Amanda looked at her nutcracker and realized – even at the structural level – how it would make a terrific Rocket, from the short pants of his outfit to the “Groot pot” he already had in front of him. She also executed her idea really well, from the clean paint lines to the sculptural work. This is not a cutesy, cuddly, toned down Rocket; this is a badass Rocket, which is (of course) perfectly fitting for the character we see in the movie. We also loved the way she recolored and remodeled the hair to get the shape of Rocket’s face. Great job!
Thank you, thank you, thank you to everyone who submitted! You are so inspiring!