Monday, March 31, 2014

On Saturday, I took my daughter and went to MoPaca, the Missouri Alpaca Show where you can stand in a room with hundreds of adorable alpacas and their charming, extroverted owners. We went with friends and the little girls had a great time petting the alpacas and trying to kiss them, and my friend and I had a great time looking through all the yarn and spinning demonstrations (and also petting the alpacas). 

Alpacas are so cute. I want to play ring-toss using hula hoops around their necks, but I would wrap the hula hoops with sweet-tart necklaces so that the alpaca could have a treat, too. Then afterwards I would ride my alpaca into the sunset while hugging its neck and telling it that it was the best friend I've ever had. (This is obviously a fantasy; I should not own an alpaca.)

My favorite quote from talking to all the owners was one I overheard by a lady running a yarn stand that told someone, "You should never buy an alpaca out of emotion." Sound advice, since I'm sure most people are not prepared to care for one, especially in Missouri where our weather is so flippantly random that they'd overheat easily.

Cuteness x infinity = alpaca
If this Alpaca were mine, I would name it 'Shaggy'.
The spinning demonstrations were really neat. They had someone showing how to "grade" the fleece, and then showing people feeding it into the spinning wheels. It looks infinitely relaxing and now I want to learn how to spin my own yarn, but of course I want a giant 'Sleeping Beauty' style spinning wheel because it seems like some grand/intimidating object... probably because Disney taught all 6 year olds to be scared to death of spinning wheels, and it wasn't until I was 12-13 that I realized that spinning wheels had a purpose OTHER than delivering near-fatal dosages of sleeping-poison to princesses.

This lady had only been spinning for 8 years, stating she
took it up in her "golden years" for relaxation. I would like
to start now even though I'm in my "bronze years".

When I saw this, I actually squealed because this one lady
labeled her yarn with the photo and name of the alpaca.
I would knit a scarf knowing that Iris was somewhere happily
munching her hay and squinting up at the sunshine. Adorable.
I might squeal again just typing this.

'Mopaca' was a really fun (and free) time. My daughter got a little stuffed alpaca from her friend to put on her nightstand, too. We all want to go back next year.

China has the Most Elegant Stamps; Girls from Belarus have the Prettiest Handwriting

I've been on Postcrossing for a couple years or more now. It's a really cool (free) website where you can sign up to be anonymous pen-pals with people across the world. You send a randomly assigned person a postcard, and then a different random person sends you one. I haven't always been good about scanning them all in for a digital record, but I have over 50 of them now from various countries and it's the perfect thing for collages... and to satisfy that wild need to travel and see the exotic (or a different person's 'normal') without having to drop thousands on airfare. I enjoy the stamps as much as I do the images. Things I've learned? China and Taiwan have the most elegant stamps, and girls from Belarus have the prettiest handwriting.

Sinyi Business Complex - Taiwan

Tuomiokirkko (C.J. Engel, 1852) Domkyrkan The Cathedral Der Dom

Minsk, Belarus

Wednesday, March 26, 2014

Opening A Sister Shop

Today we opened a sister shop called 5 & 19, too which sounds like my locker combination.  We considered 5 & 19 Useful Things but it sounded too close to needful things and we all agreed that a Stephen King reference wouldn't sell doilies.  It was hard to get focused on all the new inventory and most of the night was spent eating barbecue and having Megan argue with her brother about the state of the world.  The real work didn't begin until 9:00 at night and now we are all up at 3:00 in the morning breathing sharpie fumes.  I might have been asleep except for a cat that had been wronged multiply times during the day who decided that payback is never so sweet as it is at two a.m.

Vada is master of all he surveys.

Saturday, March 1, 2014

A Tutorial on How to Paint Pottery and Have it Look Decent

My birthday present from my fiance this year was that he purchased me an unfinished yarn bowl (for my knitting) and studio time at the Ceramic Cafe - this great little pottery place in Overland Park, KS. I'm not much of a painter; there's this misconception that if you're an artist you just do ALL the art things... but paint is messy. I want to always have control over my piece of art as it happens. I watch tons of process videos on YouTube where artists are slapping paint around and paint on top of paint and wiping it back off and they'll get it looking beautiful and then volcano-blast the whole painting with black and then pull the painting back from the grips of destruction to be even *more* beautiful... but yeah. Not me. I don't like my process to be that exciting; I much prefer to sit and stew in my Type A personality while making 1,200 controlled and perfect little penciled hatch marks.

Think... think... think.
Being that I'm not much of a a painter, I went and picked up the yarn bowl the day before so I could squirrel it away down to my art studio and stare at it and plot my plan of attack. There's no worse feeling than sitting in a group setting of other people all making art and having that moment where three people ask you, "Hey! What are you making?" and you just don't know the answer. That moment makes a lot of people hate art class as kids and they grow up to be adults that hate making art. It's a powerful, bad moment if everyone else around you is inspired and working like happy bees and you're just... stuck. So I like to have quiet, private space to agonize over ideas. When I had decided on a rat/flower/skull motif, I pulled reference photos (never work without them) from Pinterest and Google and set to work on a little planning to make the painting so much easier.

This is 'frisket'. You need this.
The reason I know about the existence of 'frisket' is because my design professor in college still did art the hard way (non-digitally where there exists no CTRL-Z command). He had us do an airbrushing project where I was first introduced to the concept of painting with high-speed mist. It was terrifying... but I fell in love with frisket. Frisket is like high end contact paper that you can make stencils-in-reverse from. You cut it out in the shapes of what you want and it protects your painting surface by keeping it clean... then later you peel it off and you've got a fresh painting surface in the area you want. In airbrushing, it's ideal because you work dark/background colors to light/foreground colors... and like this, your paint layers build and build. In painting pottery, frisket is going to work for you as a way to keep things tidy. I bought this packet of frisket at Hobby Lobby, but I had to get four associates involved before anyone could locate it... it's just... a bit obscure a product for most people. But it's there; I promise.

I took my reference photo and put a piece of double stick tape on it, and then stuck down the frisket (still on its backing paper - you don't want to peel that off yet!) on top of it. Ideally, you'd have a light table with a glass cutting board to use for the step of cutting out your image... but if you don't, take a sharpie and put the frisket/photo on your window. Use the sunlight to see where to trace the outline of what you want to cut out, and THEN cut around it with a sharp craft knife. (You can use scissors, but the frisket is stretchy and delicate at the same time and if the scissors aren't sharp and perfect you can stretch and tear the frisket.)

Now you have a plastic stencil cut-out of your photo! SELF HIGH FIVE!
Nooooowwwwwwwww you can peel off the backing to the frisket and behold what a wondrous thing you've made! Using a dry sponge, rub your piece of pottery down pretty good to get dust off it. Now put your stencil wherever you wish.

This plastic stencil of a skull is going to keep my pottery white where
I want the skull to be, and let me paint all around it as sloppy/fast as I want.
Using the concept I discussed earlier, you want to plan to paint the background FIRST and foreground LAST when you actually get to the painting stage. That's really how you get a piece of art that looks planned. It's human nature to want to do the interesting stuff first, but fight the urge in this instance. I watch my kids make a lot of art and I've never seen them do the grass and sky before the drawing of the dog or rainbow. RAINBOWS FIRST! Except here... here you want to create layers of stencils, starting with your foreground objects, then put stencils of your middle-ground on top... so that the ONLY part of your pottery still exposed is your background color. Then, working in reverse, you're going to paint your background, then middle ground, then foreground.

Cutting thin strips of frisket is good for borders, stripes, patterns, etc. Applying the frisket with a decal spreader (tool shown in the photo - basically a piece of firm rubber with a handle attached) is also a good idea for a nice smooth edge. If you don't have one of those (who does?) then don't worry - just use your fingers to press down any air bubbles.

Pottery before being fired in the kiln.
Notice how pale and blah the colors are? They won't be after they're fired.
I painted the inside of my bowl black, and then peeled up the frisket skull to reveal the unpainted white surface underneath. When it's fired, whatever wasn't painted will be a bright white.

To summarize the painting application on the outside of the bowl, I painted the blue sky first. Then I peeled away all the strips that I'd cut for grass/leaves and painted the newly exposed areas green. Next I peeled away the flower stencils and painted those a creme color. Then I peeled away the rat shapes, leaving them white. Going back in with a detail color, I outlined everything in a darker red (which hides a multitude of sins where the colors maybe met up messily). Lastly, I peeled away the stripes for the border to leave nice, crisp lines around my artwork.

I'm going to leave you with the best, most true tip I read on paint application: 1 coat = transparent / 2 coats = streaky / 3 coats = opaque.

Good luck on your pottery painting projects and I hope this maybe gave you a new technique to consider!

A Post regarding Fiery Girls in General, and Medusa in Particular

With my paper dolls, I like to do things that aren't just two arms and two legs because it keeps things more interesting... so I've spent a lot more time than the average person on the planet contemplating a variety of human-animal-mash-ups. In an effort to keep things classy, (and not to feel like the villain from "The Human Centipede" with his beloved three-dog) I've done mostly things inspired from such unlikely places as the Dungeons & Dragons Bestiary and classic Greek Mythology.

Case in point was my decision to do Medusa, even though I personally loathe Greek art. There was never a more unbearable Art History Class than the one spent looking at their columns with the slightly different ornate tops and all their geometric zig-zaggy-boxy-whatnot. But aside from a ripped up version of a sorority-house-toga, I was able to have fun with Medusa in all her half-snake-half-woman monstrosity.

Medusa Jointed Paper Doll - Snaketastic!
Before I started drawing her, I was contemplating such questions as, "Is she ugly or pretty?" and "Did she have a bow in 'Clash of the Titans'? What kind of bows did the Greeks use? Do I really care or am I just gonna draw something that looks cool and let the history majors send me nasty emails?" And there were so many questions that I decided I had to Google Medusa to reread the story, since aside from her infamous decapitation... I really couldn't remember WHY she existed or WHY she was all "Get out of my ruins or I'mma kill you!" and such.

"I'mma kill you! and such!"

It turns out, Medusa's story is just unspeakably horrible. It's like kneejerk/cringe/brow-furrowingly awful... something I've come to expect from "The Days of Our Lives" style of mythology that the Greeks dish up. There's several versions, but basically while Athena was making her daily rounds to all her temples, she caught Medusa being raped by a dude (sometimes Poseidon, sometimes not) and Athena decided she would punish Medusa for... you know... having the audacity to be brutally attacked in her temple instead of just coming to slaughter birds as sacrifices like a normal girl. (It all makes more sense if you're Greek.)

Medusa with her snake hair. All the snakes probably had names, but
I don't know them because Medusa's Wikipedia page didn't specify.
So Medusa was cursed with snake hair and a snake tail, and that really neat superpower where she can turn people to stone if they make eye contact. Since that curse makes it hard to date, or shop for groceries, or wear pants... Medusa went to haunt some lonely island for the rest of her days, and munch on rats. But no, that wasn't bad enough - then a bunch of Greek guys had to want to go hunt her as a trophy so she had to arm herself and fight back, lest she be brutally murdered on top of her rape.

I ended up my research really *liking* Medusa cause in spite of all that - she's fiery, and if we were all being honest, we always suspected Perseus was kind of an idiot anyway right? So I vote for the fighter girl with the awesome eyes.Of anyone in that story, I want to be the most like her. If you'd like to buy her to hang over your work desk as a reminder to be a tough-girl then she's in my Etsy Shop.

Modern House Designs for Minecraft: A House on Stilts Keepeth the Monsters at a Comfortable Shooting Distance

My love of modern architecture and legos spilled over into Minecraft in a big way. It's an obsession similar to my Sims obsession of 2000 (where I did nothing but go to my college classes and build Sims houses with downloaded wallpapers). I like the idea of small and well-designed houses that function in-game and can be built with materials that are easily mined. Anyone can build a 5,000 block mega-mansion out of diamond blocks in creative mode... but what if you're playing an online survival game with friends, and want something attractive that's easily defend-able from monsters? My logic led to me to build a house on stilts.
Minecraft House on Stilts situated in a bay. Monsters wade,
but they don't swim.
If you're building this, or something similar, "legit" then an important thing to know is that if you place fenceposts on the ocean floor, the post will physically take up the size of a normal "block" which means it creates an airbubble around itself where you can breathe. Breathing is good, as it prevents drowning. So what I would do is let myself sink all the way to the bottom of the ocean, place 2 or 3 fenceposts on top of each other.... *breathe next to the poles* ....and then fan out from there with my other posts. For the sake of convenience, I built a wide dirt platform one block above sea level on top of the fenceposts so I could build the rest of the house as if I weren't floating out on the ocean. 

I chose a shallow bay for the build site, so I could plant a lot of sugarcane
for paper production as I was planning a gigantic library after this.

Materials to get that "modern" look are white blocks (snow), gray blocks (clay), birch wood plank blocks, and iron bars to form the ivy trellis on the other side. You can get leaf blocks into your inventory by using the "shears" tool to cut trees and then place them as greenery. I also made some more designer-looking trees from green wool blocks and fence posts.

Here I built down to sea level to create a built-in dock for boats. A ladder
takes you back up to the house-level.
Interiors in Minecraft are kind of a clunky, depressing venture so I always get happy when I see someone who has done something attractive. Building glass skylights with panes is easy and more intricate looking than just glass blocks, and despite the appearance of "spaces" they would still block out spiders (not that there are any spiders in the middle of the water).
Pressure plates on top of fence posts make lovely little bedside tables.
Using slabs for roofing helps break up the blockiness.
If you're starting a project like this - I would recommend sketching out on graph paper how you want the different heights to look. I ended up changing my design a little bit as I built it, but I always start out with a sketch that looks something like this:
The "X"s on the floorplan show stilt placement, and the dashed
lines show the outline of the decking. 

Final material counts differ from what's shown and I ended up using snow instead of stone (because I found out that it doesn't melt in the rain). Minecraft physics and weather are things you have to experiment with. For instance, torches won't melt snow but they WILL melt ice blocks into water source blocks and that can be a nightmare for those who like to use ice blocks for windows instead of glass blocks.

Showing Your Electronics You Love Them By Giving Them Sweaters

My knitting skills aren't where they need to be yet to knit a sweater for my loved ones, mostly because my loved ones have all these pesky arms and necks and torsos of various diameters... so I had to ask myself, "Do I have any loved ones that are more... rectangular?" The answer is, "YES I DO!" So, I made a sweater for my iPad. 
My iPad Sweater: The "Corylus" Pattern on Ravelry (FREE)
I was a little intimidated by the "magic cast-on" method at first. I actually said out loud while reading it, "I will not be afraid."... a moment which made me have to ask myself if I'd lost perspective on human fear. However, the "magic cast-on" creates a seamless bottom to your bag while you're knitting in the round - so it's well worth the 10 minutes of staring blankly that you'll do as you figure it out. After the second try, I got the hang of it and then as you go around a bag forms inside your circulars. Yippee. It's actually a really cool, squishy, neat-feeling cover for it (the back of it is just straight seed stitch)... but I don't think I'll be trusting my iPad to any six foot drops while in its care.

For the button, I used a button from my dad's 1985 trenchcoat. I'm sure my mom will be pleased those buttons she snipped off and saved in 1992 have now found a home in 2014. If I had been smarter when doing this project, I would have made a button hole in the very bottom of it so that the charger port could still be accessed with the sweater on... but these are the things we think of in hindsight. Ah, the regrets of youth/yesterday.

I still have a bunch of yarn left over from my trip to "The Yarn Shop & More". It's my favorite yarn shop in Kansas City (Overland Park, to be exact), and they haven't complained yet that I mostly go in there to slam my face against their piles of baby alpaca yarns (the babies are the softesttttttttt) more than I actually purchase yarn. It's a little bit fancy/pricey for my skill level so I mostly go just to pet their inventory and take classes... and also watch their yarn-baller machine which is half parts magic and physics.
See, the circular fencing spins and then the other thingie spins
and then your yarn turns into a ball, the end.

My 6 Year Old's Mad Minecraft Skills

My son made the most awesome archery target for himself to practice bow and arrow. I almost yelled in his face how awesome he is. I'm thinking when they go to bed tonight I might fly around in their world and take more photos because they're building so many delightfully colorful/silly/cool structures. Most of them involving giant mushrooms. 
My son made a giant Minecraft statue as an archery target for himself. It's adorable.