Thursday, January 31, 2013

Help! I need more room!

 OK, so I should explain.  I'm letting you take a little peek inside my house.  You've seen the outside, all cute and Victorian-ish.  But we are now inside, have walked through the downstairs and up the stairs, where there are two bedrooms, a teeny room that was once a nursery but is now my hubby's office, a bathroom, a closet, and in the middle of it all, THIS oddly shaped room - used as a combo of computer room, my art studio, and filing cabinet sort of space.  Above you see Marguerite, a large hand puppet (I'm guessing about 4' tall) that was made (by me) maybe 25 years ago for a community theater production of Carnival.  She lives in a plexiglass case in this room, that happens to have a papier-mache fat cat sitting atop it.  Don't ask me why there's a stuffed gorilla on the stool next to her.  Not a clue.  About Marguerite: her head is papier-mache, and along with her I built three other puppets - a walrus, a fox, and a little boy, all for the same production.  Being that this was 25 years ago, I'd never heard of hot glue, so everything had to be glued in steps and allowed to dry.  The puppets took me a whole summer to build.  The other puppets reside with the two puppeteers that used them in the show, and the show's director. 

 Back to the room.  Above you see some of the other odd stuff in here.  There's two plaster bandage masks, both direct casts of my face, a papier-mache bowl named 'Homage to Matisse' that I made, a plaster sculpture I made in a college class, and a goofy cat I drew in high school when my brother was showing me off to his friends: "draw something!"  he said.  That's what I drew. 

Below you can see a little more of the space and get a hint of my problem.  That's quite a large piece on my easel (I turned it around so you can't see the mess of what's on the front.  Some other time for that!)  The red cart is where I keep my painting supplies, and right now there's a bunch of junk piled on top of it.  Hoarders here we come... 
 And here's the rest of the room - a built in computer desk and file cabinet, and a needlepoint chair - a collaborative effort many decades ago between me and my mom.   I drew the flowers, she did the needlepoint. Notice, in the prior photo, the drop-cloth tucked into the bottom of the easel.  The room is carpeted in beige.  Not exactly ideal for a very messy artist (me). 
 The door leads out to a little fake balcony with no railing.  It is permanently locked/closed.  The room gets very little natural light through the window in the door, and there are no other windows in the room. 

In the summertime, I take my little artsy craftsy endeavors to the picnic table in the backyard, when it isn't too hot or too buggy or raining or windy or....  you get the idea. 

So where does someone like me, who loves her art big and colorful, and always is taking on some crazy new project, (such as building ridiculous latke trophies) actually do the work?  Um, that has become a BIG problem.  Until last June, I had an art room at school, with large tables.  I often stayed after school late working on my own crazy projects, trying things out, and experimenting.  I've had a decent classroom for pretty much 24 of the 27 years I spent in this school district, and before that, I was single and lived in apartments where the spare bedroom was an art studio.  Retirement has taken away the resource of my classroom.  I no longer have an 18" paper cutter at my fingertips, or those nice large tables in a nice sunny room.  Yikes!  What do I do?  Renting studio space is not currently in my budget.  For the first time in my life, I find myself without a dedicated space for creative adventuring.  Like I said, YIKES!

I do my sewing at the kitchen table, and that's also where I made the latke trophy, though it was inconvenient when we wanted to cook or eat.  Our house is small.  I am considering creating a crazy mask to enter in an event in a little over a month, but I just don't know where I can build the mask.  I am jealous when I see some of you post photos of cute little basement studios (Mini Matisse, Art Project Girl, among others). My basement is unusable and could be used in a horror movie.  It is little more than utility space for water tank, and that sort of stuff.  The floor is uneven, and the walls - um - well, it's just plain creepy.  I'm seriously scared to go down there.  Any renovation to make it usable would easily cost thousands of dollars; not really feasible on the income of two retirees.  And there's no water or bathroom down there, and access to the basement is from the back porch, not from inside the house.  Stupid, no?

When I paint in this in room I've shown you in these photos (and I do, from time to time) I can't really even appropriately stand back from the artwork and get a good look, or I might trip down three odd little stairs that divide the middle of our upstairs.  And for working on crafty or sculptural projects, there is no table at all.  The spare bedroom also has no table, and really not much room for one either. 
I'm frustrated.  I don't expect you to have any great solutions for me; I just needed to vent.  But if you DO have an idea, please feel free to share!!  Thanks for listening! 

Sunday, January 27, 2013

DragonWing Arts!!

I am embarking on a new endeavor!!  
Last April, as I approached my June retirement, I posted here about some of my intended post-retirement plans.  I talked about a professional development opportunity with the education arm of my state teachers' union, but after attending training for that I realized that the program was not a good match for me.

I also talked about my desire to continue making art with kids in some capacity, perhaps an after-school art enrichment program.  Well, after a lot of roundabouts and detours, I am finally able to tell you that it is becoming a reality!  My program will be called DragonWing Arts and hopefully next week I'll be getting the first information out to the community.  The program will be housed in a room in Temple Beth El, where my I have had a family membership for 25 years and served on the board for 6 years.  They are excited to be working with me, even letting me use the facility for free until my business is able to earn money.  The initial supplies, including some furniture items, will set me back a bit financially, but once I have the basics tools it won't be so expensive.

This week I'll be getting info hopefully into the local school, and begin purchasing supplies.  I've put together plans for an 8 week program, meeting once a week for an hour and a half, for kids in grades 3 to 5. I'm hoping to find 5 to 10 kids for this first session.  Based on how it goes, I'll plan for what comes next. My biggest fear is not finding kids to sign up, but even if it doesn't happen the first time around, I'm sure I can get it to catch on in my community. 

I'm planning to base each 8 week session on an broad overarching theme.  For the inaugural session my theme will "Flights of Fancy", which relates to the DragonWings name of my business. I figure this theme will allow me to start with a variety of imaginative projects, including a guaranteed success papier-mache - flying pigs!

I'll keep you posted!  Wish me luck!

Note: the artwork in this post - both the dragon and the DragonWing logo - were drawn/designed by me.  Please make sure to give me credit if the images are used in any capacity.  Thank you.

In Memory - tribute to a friend

Did you ever wonder what caused a blogger to stop posting on a blog?  Perhaps you have read a particular blog for quite a while, left comments, and the blogger has visited your blog too.  Even though you've never met in person, you feel like you've become real friends.  And then they stop leaving comments, stop posting, and you miss them.  Often the blogger had a change in their life - a new baby, a career change, or they've simply gotten bored with blogging and moved onto something new.  

Perhaps, like me, you followed the blog Created 2B Creative, whose blogger went by the blog name Xinme (which stands for Christ in me).    If you read her blog regularly, as did I, you probably were aware that for more than a year she was fighting a tough cancer battle.

 I suppose my friendship with Xinme might seem like an unlikely relationship.  But me, the little Jewish art teacher in a public school, and she, the deeply religious Christian woman and homeschooler from Canada both shared a love of our families and a passion for creativity.  While her religious background was very different than mine, I admired her deep faith and optimism, and her positive spirit.

We became a little more familiar with each other personally in the time prior to her cancer diagnosis, when she posted this amazing post about transforming an old dress into a beautiful tote.  I was smitten.  We emailed back and forth as she gave me some specific instruction on the transformation.  I followed her directions successfully, but I still like her creation better than mine.  I think it's the awesome fabric she used.

Shortly after, she put out an invitation on her blog, seeking participants in a pay-it-forward creative challenge.  I jumped in.  It was a bit after this invitation that she received her cancer diagnosis.  Frankly, I didn't expect to ever receive my little creative gift; she was going through so much that was so much more important than a little promise made on a blog.  But she still posted from time to time, and remained upbeat.  Time passed, and suddenly a gift arrived in the mail: in a sparkly bag there was a beautiful teal stone necklace strung on a ribbon of reds and golds, vivid rich colors all (my taste, totally), and, lo and behold, there was also a dragonfly, woven out of wire with colorful beads, on a clothespin core to clip on the edge of a planter.  So it wasn't just a gift; it was a gift made personally for me.  She knew I adore dragonflies, and have a home full of plants. 
While she was no longer able to blog, I continued to follow Xinme's journey, through a website her family made available.  Xinme passed away a few days before Christmas, surrounded by her loving family, and while they miss her terribly, I'm sure, her spirit lives on with her wonderful devoted husband and children. They still feel her presence, and their faith has been a huge source of strength to them.  Despite the difficulty of her last months, she maintained her positive spirit and faith until her death.

Thank you, Xinme, for letting me into your heart for a little while, and for sharing your spirit with all of us.

Tuesday, January 22, 2013

An oldie but goodie - 'Words that Describe Themselves'

I've shared this in a lesson plan exchange (of lessons for substitutes) that Art Project Girl arranged a year or two ago, but I've never posted it on the blog before.  The flag image above had me thinking about our presidential inauguration, so I thought I'd share this lesson today. (By the way, did you LOVE Michelle Obama's red dress as much as I did?  Spectacular color!)  

Back to the lesson; the idea is simple.  How can you illustrate a word so that the word itself illustrates what it says (but is still easy to read)?  We brainstormed word ideas on the whiteboard, and then selected words.  No two people in the same class were allowed to select the same word.  Great words include nice descriptive adjectives (curly, frozen, boiling, tangled, etc) and almost any sort of noun, including objects or broader themes (sports, art, ice cream, mountains, rope, autumn, feathers, wild animals, cupcakes, magic, waterfall, ocean, snowstorm, rocket, hair, etc). Try to discourage the real easy words: hot, cold, short, tall.  
 Plan ideas on scrap paper, and then select the materials that work best for the chosen word.  Make sure it is spelled correctly!  We usually talked a bit about lettering (use of upper vs lower case, etc) and spacing (there is nothing worse than running out of room and having to squash together the last few letters).  On the final paper, the word is drawn out very lightly to make sure the space is being used effectively, and then color is added as appropriate.  Some of the examples in these pictures were colored with markers, others with colored pencils or crayons.  They were then cut out and mounted on construction paper, so from start to finish, the lesson took two art class periods.  Time permitting, the lesson can be expanded.  Wouldn't it be great for that FLAG to be waving against a sky?  And what if the EGGS (below) were placed in a frying pan or on a plate? 

Sorry the rest of these are sideways.  They are the only pics I have of this project so they'll have to do :(

The pieces pictured in this post were all done, I believe, by 5th graders, but this lesson can be easily adapted for both younger and older students. 

Saturday, January 19, 2013

Getting the most out of blog reading

Lucy under construction, July 2004
(*The photo above has nothing to do with this post.  I just always think a post is nicer with a photo or two.)
 How do you go about reading blogs? This may seem like a silly question, but really, I've given it a bit of thought, so bear with me please.

I use the blogger dashboard to scroll through the zillions of blogs I follow to see what posts I want to read. If I want a little more of a snippet, or if I want to search for a particular topic, I sometimes also use the Google reader.  If you have a blog, you automatically have both the dashboard and Google reader.  I know some of you subscribe to other readers or feeds or whatever you want to call them, but I find the blogger feed and Google reader to be very simple and easy.

BUT some of you do all your blog reading in the reader, and never jump to the actual blog.  When I find a post I want to read, I like to open it up so that I am reading the blog directly. But, here's the clincher. Lately I do a lot of my blog reading on my iPad. When you open a post on an iPad, if you scroll to the bottom you will find that it offers the option to 'view web version'. I'm betting many of you never choose this option.  There's an important reason why I do choose that option, and that's why I am writing this post.

Lucy under construction, August 2004
There's a lot more on a blog than just the post content.  If you are doing all your blog reading on a reader, or on a tablet without clicking 'view web version', you are missing a lot of what's available for you on a blog.  The three things most meaningful to me (other than the post content, of course) are the labels, the blogroll (of course both are often renamed on blogs to as per the desire of the blogger; my blogroll is called simple FAVE BLOGS), and the followers. Why am I so interested in these?
  • The labels interest me so that I can find an old post on a particular topic.  For example, looking for something for kindergarten?  Click on the kindergarten label and you'll find any post tagged with that label!  Simple!  You won't see the labels if you are viewing the posts only in a reader.
  • The blogroll interests me because often you might include a blog I've never seen before on your blogroll, and I can jump there directly from your blogroll!  Again, you won't see the blogroll if you are only using the reader.
  • And the followers!  You can learn a lot about a blog by finding out who is reading it.  And you can click on the follower and find out if they have a blog too, and if they do, and you've never seen it before, then, well... you get the idea! 
Again, this image nothing to do with the post...  I just didn't have a good way to end the post.  Anyhow, how do YOU read blogs?  Have I given you any food for thought? (Food!  Time to go cook some dinner!)

Wednesday, January 16, 2013

My little beaded pouch - Done!

About a year ago I found this cool out-of-print book, Beaded Amulet Purses, (pictured below) while browsing the Strand Bookstore in lower Manhattan.  This week I decided it was time to finally try out one of the projects in the book, with my own design of course.
I figured I'd better start out with an easy one, since, while I make jewelry, I had no experience doing something like this.  The easiest project in the book had a heart design, which I did not like, so I re-graphed it to the more abstract geometric pattern you see in the finished purse.

Look closely at the purse and you'll find some mistakes in my pattern.  (Actually these are mistakes I made weaving, not drawing the pattern; the pattern was correct.)  Some of my colors, magenta, dark red, orange, and brown, were so close to each other that I mistakenly used magenta where it should have been red in a couple of places.  I made a mistake with using the wrong green once also (there are two greens in my pattern).  By the time I discovered these mistakes I was too far past them to change them, so I left them in.  Hey, it's handmade, right?
The weaving was done in a tubular fashion, using a compressed toilet paper roll as a support, using a peyote stitch.  (Hey, am I the only one old enough here to wonder where the name of that stitch came from?  I hear 'peyote' and I think of the mind-altering drug made famous in a book about shamanism by Carlos Castenada.)

But anyhow.  The peyote weaving process was not difficult, but was terribly time consuming, because you can only add one bead at a time, in contrast to bead weaving on a loom, where you add a whole row at a time.  With a complicated pattern, I found that I had to cross off each bead on my pattern as I picked it up on my needle.  And when it was done, it was SO much smaller than I anticipated.  Looking ahead in the book, I think most of the other bags are a little bigger.

By the way - forgive me for any strange formatting.  I was trying to rearrange things, and blogger didn't like what I was doing and had another arrangement in mind.  Oh well.  

The bag in the book had a heart charm hanging off the bottom, but I didn't want to do that.  So I gathered what beads I could find to match, and made the strap similar to the instructions and finished it today, sewing on the strap and a little dangle.  Here's everything I was using.

I'm not quite sure what in the world I'll now do with the finished bag.  I was remembering a costume jewelry locket my mother gave me as a young teen, that she had worn in her younger days.  There was not a place for a photo inside the locket; instead, there was room for a couple of coins, what my mother referred to as 'mad money'.  If a date with a boy did not go well, the coins were used for a phone call or subway fare home.  Not much use for a few coins these days though, so I don't know WHAT will fit in this itsy bitsy pouch.  I'm certainly open to your ideas.
Speaking of your ideas, I'd love some advice.  As you can see above, my hair is getting LONG and a bit straggly.  You may recall, I was aiming for the old hippie look with my growing hair, with a long silver braid down my back.  But my very low hairline in the back makes braiding difficult and uncomfortable (a braid tugs at the nape of my neck when I turn my head).  Meanwhile, my (former) bangs have been growing and are off my my face for the first time in decades.  I have an appointment tomorrow, supposedly for a trim.  Do I let the bangs keep growing, or what?  How do I keep it from looking so raggedy?  And what about the bottom?  Do I cut off a few inches to even it out?  Or just trim and go with the fact that no two hairs are the same length?  Or should I do something totally different? (Though I'm not cutting it short or with lots of layers right now, because I like to be able to tie it up.  But frankly, it is so thick, there is so MUCH of it, that nothing is easy any more.)  Anyhow, I probably won't get too dramatic, but I could use a set of eyes other than hubby's, since he probably wouldn't notice if I cut off 1/2 foot and dyed it purple.  Seriously.

Thursday, January 10, 2013

Test-driving the new camera - I'm in love!

We went to Lake George in the sunshine today so I could give my new Nikon D5100 a good test-drive.  I let hubby take a couple of pics of me, though I think he is scared of the camera.  Just set it on automatic, please!  I'm getting over my own fear, and intend to use every feature.  By the way, note my absolutely FABULOUS new camera bag  hanging across my shoulder.  I searched long and hard for a bag that was small, carried across the shoulder, could go hiking or on a simple walk, had room for what I needed, and was CUTE too.  Ta da!  The Crumpler 4 Million Dollar Home!  Yes folks, that's the name of the camera bag.  You can't see it in the picture, but the inside is an absolutely brilliant turquoise color.  Ooh la la!!  It wasn't cheap, but hey, you get what you pay for, the quality is excellent, it's guaranteed, and I'm happy.  There's room for the camera, the little necessities (filter, spare battery, Rocket blower, cell phone/wallet, and my sunglasses.  If I got a bigger bag I'd put more stuff in it, and that is NOT a good thing.  I need something I can easily manage tromping in the woods or I won't use it.  By the way, I currently have the Nikon camera strap on the camera, but I'm making a padded strap-cover (I found instructions online) and I'll show you when it is done!  I need to be a fashionable photographer!!

We spent a bit of time exploring an mini-golf course with an 'around the world' theme, and that's where these photos were taken.  
 I shot a  few pictures experimenting with the creative options on the camera.  This is the only pic I shot with selective color.  (I set in on the yellow and then couldn't figure out how to change the color for another picture.  Being that I was wearing gloves and it isn't exactly summer outside, I decided to figure that element out in the warmth of my home.)  Sorry it is rotated.  I wasn't going to post any pics that blogger rotated, but since this is the only one I shot like this, you're stuck with it.
     This photo below was shot with another creative setting - cool, isn't it?  
After we finished up in the mini-golf course, we went down the road to the Magic Forest amusement park, where Uncle Sam and Santa stand as sentinels, and shot the photos below.  I have some great vertical photos of Uncle Sam against the brilliant blue sky, but since they are all vertical and blogger rotated them all, I didn't want you to need a trip to the chiropractor just for looking at my photos.
 Here's another sideways one, but I couldn't resist.  Again, a creative camera mode. 
 Above is lovely Lake George, which didn't have any ice at all!  That doesn't bode well for their annual Winter Carnival, does it? 

Finally, we went home.  Here's the necessary photo of my cat, and some tins in my kitchen.  I collect them.
 I promise I'll get back to posting art teaching stuff again real soon; I have lots to share, but since the camera is new, I couldn't resist.  You understand, I'm sure. 

Friday, January 4, 2013

Camera update & fooling around

foolin' around - this photo is actually frost on a window
 No, I haven't made my camera purchase yet, but I have finally made my decision, based on assorted opinions, comparisons, reviews, prices, etc.  It was tough.  This little Libra (me) likes to weigh and balance everything.  Speaking of weighing - a lightweight camera is important to me.  I want to be able to take it tromping through the woods, and I'm not exactly the biggest strongest gal around.  Just the opposite.  Anyhow, in case you are considering a purchase sometime too, here's how my thought process has worked:
water condensation on the same window
The weight had me narrowed down to the Sony a57 (that I mentioned in a prior post), the Nikon d5100, the Nikon d3200, and the Canon T4i.  I eliminated the previous frontrunner Sony due to the fact that it wasn't mentioned much in reviews/comparisons and isn't authentically a DSLR.  Since that's what I set out to purchase, it seemed silly to spend the money on something that wasn't what I had said I wanted. 

So I spent time talking to my big brother, astrologer/photo enthusiast, who knows me quite well, and he gave me some solid advice.  I went back to the camera store and played with the Nikons and Canon.  While the d3200 was the lightest weight, and had a wonderful in camera guide, it was missing some features that the others had, such as the flip-out live view screen, so I didn't consider it further.  (For someone who takes a lot of pics from a kayak, that flip-out screen will be indispensable!)  Each of the other 2 had features I liked better than the other.  I was happy to discover they both have auto-bracket capabilities, and can therefore do  HDR (high dynamic range) photos which is something I'd like to explore once I have a good feel for the camera, and have used it a bit.  I liked  the location of some controls and menus (and the touch screen capability) on the Canon, but I liked the 'feel' of the Nikon body.  In the end, with January camera sales going on, with both having same lens - 15-55mm - the Canon will cost $150 more than the Nikon.  I decided that was enough of a difference to direct me toward the Nikon.  With that $150 I can get a nice camera bag and some other accessories, or put it toward another lens.  By the way, there's an option of getting a bigger lens for some more $$, instead of the 15-55mm, but since weight is so important to me I didn't consider that option.

So Nikon d5100 it will be, and once I have it, and have used it, I'll let you know what I think!

Meanwhile I need to get myself a decent & affordable photo editing program, without a steep learning curve.  I do not have Photoshop.  Currently I am using both Microsoft Photo Editor, and a Corel Photo editing program.  Both are very limited. My brother suggested I might like Lightroom.   Anybody want to offer their opinions?

Hubby is waiting to go fetch some dinner; hope you've had or will have a great week back in school!!