Sunday, January 31, 2010

"Simon's Belt and Mittens Once Worn"

This is the title of my next scrapbook page. We just went camping. It was freezing and really kind of miserable. The fire and the s'mores were great, of course, but next time I think we'll just do the fire and then come home and sleep in our own beds.

One funny thing that happened, besides us (my husband and I) forgetting our backpack at home with all of our essentials (flashlights, warm pajamas, and pads [sorry if that's TMI, but, yeah... I was horrified]), and also besides us forgetting the forks for roasting the marshmallows: while Adam was off at the store with Elliott to buy some things (minus the flashlight because Thad was brilliant enough to pack one for himself which was commandeered as the family flashlight [he felt very proud]), Thad and I sat back at the camp and did a bit of stargazing.

"Look, Mom! I see Simon's belt!"


"Simon's belt! Right there! Those three stars!"

I said, "Oooooh, you mean Orion's belt."

"Yeah. Orion."

I went on to point out the Pleiades and Cassiopeia, which are the only other two constellations I can positively identify. This may sound strange, but the little and big dippers are hard for me because I never can tell which rectangle in the sky is the dipper part. I don't know if that makes sense. But the sky is full of rectangles!

And little Elliott, the punk that he is, flatly refused to wear the mittens I knitted just for him just for this trip. I was so concerned about his little hands and tried to get him to wear them, but he wouldn't. I bought a brand new ball of Lion Organic Cotton yarn in Khaki (absolutely BEAUTIFUL yarn, by the way) to knit them. As I was knitting them, he kept saying, "Mittens for AY-YOT!" But when it came time to wear them, all he said was, "Don't want mittens for Ay-yot!"

I managed to get only a few very bad pictures of him wearing them one time this morning. Apparently his dislike of the whole thing led him to be unwilling to pose while wearing them, too.

I don't know why I try to make things for my children. I really don't. At least he loves the blanket I crocheted for him while I was pregnant. But that's probably because he got attached to it before he realized what it meant--that he was appreciating something I spent a TON of time on.

Oh, well. Now he's fighting with me because he wants the letter stamps in the bottom drawer of the storage tower on my desk. It's a battle he will not win.

Saturday, January 30, 2010

Craft or art? Who cares?

This is something I used to think about (read: OBSESS about) quite a bit. Is what I'm doing a craft or is it art?

It's something that is thrown around so often that it seems almost pointless to post my new thoughts about it, and I wouldn't, except that this is my blog and I figure, why not?

The modern craft movement ("modern" being translated as "super tolerant and overly inclusive") seems to have embraced the idea that everything handmade is art. God forbid we should offend anyone, from scrapbookers to plastic canvas stitchers, by saying that they're "doing crafts". This would seem to be the same modern thinking that has labeled everyone from kids who look both ways before crossing the street to the firefighters who gave their lives on September 11, 2001, as "heroes".

Why is it that we are so obsessed with overusing words until they no longer hold any meaning? Or of trying not to offend to the point that we label the mundane as incredible, lifting up what is common so that what is truly exceptional is no longer admirable?

Lately, maybe just as I've been going through a lot of personal growth in the past couple of years, in my art and in my personal life, I find myself wondering why it matters so much. Does it matter that what I'm doing might not actually be "art"? Do I need for what I produce to have that label to feel good about what I make? Or am I really wanting it to feel good about myself? I've long connected my obsession with creating to a need within me to prove that I am somehow worthwhile, as though each piece I produce is yet another tangible proof that I deserve the air I breathe. At times, failing at any point in the creative process was so overwhelming to me, I'd enter into something of a depression. It wasn't just sticking something in the wrong place, or breaking a bead, or whatever--it was like a cruel confirmation of what I had always secretly suspected: that I wasn't good enough.

Learning to rise above all of this has been difficult. I'm going to say without shame that without the healing work of Jesus Christ in my life, it wouldn't have been possible. All you people out there groaning right now or clicking the "x" up at the top of your screen, go right ahead. I'm not preaching. I'm saying point blank that without this relationship in my life, I wouldn't have made it. If it were my husband or my friend, I would share the same information in the same tone and with the same motive--just to share.

But, based on my own beliefs, especially that we were all created, and not just some cosmic accident, I can say that my breakthrough came in this thought: that my existence proves my worth. As in, I wouldn't be here unless God wanted me. Not just, "I think, therefore I am," but, "I think, therefore I have value."

So the question of whether or not what I make is craft or art seems to fade away. Maybe art has to do with the intent. If there's a real expression there, as in, the artist trying to say something, then I think it's art. If I'm putting together a scrapbook page, no matter how beautiful it is, or how artistic it may be, I'm not sure it's art. I think art can also be based upon skill. I mean, artists used to work for their entire lives to reach a level of mastery that few of us in the modern age who have learned most of our techniques in a few hours spent browsing Google or Youtube will ever know. What is art? Skill, expression, purpose... Maybe all of these things, and maybe more. I've come to the conclusion that most of what I do is crafts. And that's okay with me. Knowing who I am, and recognizing my own value, has freed me to create without the pressure of always having to make "art" to somehow prove myself. I can make mistakes now, and I even use them.

I don't know if any of this makes sense. But it's maybe something to think about. I think, therefore I have value. That's all the "proof" I need. Now the stuff I make is just stuff I make. And it's fun!

Tuesday, January 26, 2010

Making Molds and a Skeleton Key in Polymer Clay

Inspired by my most recently acquired book, "Vintage Greeting Cards" by MaryJo McGraw (given to me by Jan, head of our card exchange, for helping her with her Cricut--an unnecessary, but much appreciated gesture!), I have set about on a mold making spree today.

The book has a lot of cool cards in it showing several really interesting embellishments attached to the fronts of the pieces. The author discussed picking up a lot of these things in antique shops. I thought to myself that I should make molds to create my own pieces out of polymer clay.

Ever the lazy and reluctant shopper (both because I'm cheap and because I'm toting a 3 year old who understands all too well the meaning of "don't touch" because of how obviously and thoroughly speaking this phrase to him in any store pisses him off), I set about rummaging through my jewelry and came up with a few items that I wanted to mold. Some of the pieces, pictured below, are from a necklace that I bought at a yard sale a long time ago for 75 cents. (At the time, this felt like a lot of money, but I couldn't help how desperately I wanted the delicate, white, airy necklace which is made up of the pictured flower as the center and three pieces on either side, small, large, small... The pieces being the ones pictured alongside... I'm not even sure that this thought is still a sentence, but I'm currently being begged for cookies by both of my children and am in quite a rush and don't feel like editing right now, so you have to forgive the length of this tangent...)

The other piece is a ring that I bought from Avon quite a while ago because I thought it was so pretty!!!! And, one disclaimer that I will get out of the way beforehand is thus: You cannot criticize my nails. I simply can't stop every time I'm hit by the creative genius Bludger to do my nails before I take pictures for my blog, can I?! I don't know if that's a disclaimer, but anyway... I shall proceed.

I began by conditioning a whole lot of white clay. Most people make molds with scrap clay, but because of the apparent porous nature of the white pieces here, I felt nervous pushing anything other than white clay into them.

Begin by brushing the pieces generously with cornstarch. Use a paintbrush. Shake off/brush off excess.

Get a stack of clay that is thicker than the embellishment. It doesn't have to be twice as thick, like most people say. I made mine just about one layer of clay thicker (on the thickest setting of the pasta machine). Brush the stack of clay with corn starch.

If the object is thickish, like mine are here, push the clay (cornstarch side down) onto the object while the object is laying flat on your work surface. Squash the clay on there really well, then flip it over. If you see gaps around the object (which you probably will), put the whole thing back down and squish around the edges of the object. Press down gently to make the clay all even again on the bottom. Switch back and forth between doing the pushing and squishing until you're satisfied with how everything looks.

You can stretch the clay away from the object while it's uncured, so take advantage of that. Gently pull your object out of the clay. Simply push the clay back until the molded image reflects the actual object again size-wise. Look at mine! Isn't it pretty!? (I get really excited because I don't know if things are going to work when I start snapping pictures... I just hope they will! I can't say how often I just delete pics off of my camera without letting all two of you ever see them.)

If your object is more shallow, or you only need a really shallow impression, just get a stack of clay ready that is pretty thick (two layers on the thickest setting of your pasta machine), dust everything with cornstarch again, and press the object into the clay. In this case, I was molding a ring that was the same all around, so I just rolled it across my sheet, pushing firmly, and trying to keep it all straight.

I went back to the beginning and made it so that the mold went all the way to the end on both sides.

I thought I was done, and then I noticed that the edge of the ring was interesting, too. So I made a mold of that. Again, this is two layers of clay, and stuff is dusted, and I'm just pressing.


So, I thought I was done again, but then decided to make a skeleton key to mold so that I didn't have to hunt them down in antique stores. Roll a thinnish snake. You know, as thin as you want. Can you tell I'm rushing now? My husband just got home a bit ago and I want to go see him.

Roll another snake of clay and curl it in an oval shape at one end of your original snake. Trim off ugly ends so that they join together nicely.

Nice join:

Starting with a square of clay on the thickest setting, just draw in a shape for the key. If you swear up and down that you can't draw a stick figure, you may just be blowing smoke so that people say you're better than you think, but in all seriousness... This is just a straight line on the top, two little rectangles on the side, and a larger one in the middle. See that? Now cut off the top. Use your X-Acto knife, keeping it perfectly perpendicular to your work surface, and cut the rest.

Attach the key part to the snake. Push it up against the snake just a bit without distorting anything.

I started playing with texture here. Add a ball at the join in your oval and over the join from your oval to the first snake. Squoosh it down. Texture a bit.

I used this Studio by Sculpey tool to do texturing. You can find some sort of similar roundish thing to do this job, I'm sure. The end of a different tool, for instance. Maybe even your X-Acto knife? If you seriously don't have anything, make a ball of clay, stick it on the end of another snake of clay, bake that, and when you're done, you have a round pouncy tool to do texturing with.

Roll a tiny snake of clay, too...

Lay it over the join between the first snake and the key part. Cut it even with the key part.

Pounce and texture the whole thing, accenting seams, smoothing stuff, whatever you want, until you're happy with what you've made. Use your blade to gently remove the key from your work surface.

Here's all the stuff ready to bake! I made a few extra molds--the ends of a couple of screws, for making fake screw brad tops for cards, and a texture sheet. I bake my molds that are deeper (that are made by squishing the clay on top of the flat object) upside down because that's the flat side. If you bake it the other way, they can distort and that's no fun!

Here are fake little screws I made from my mold. Use water when you're making your molded pieces if you're planning to put pearlEx on them afterwards--if you use cornstarch, the pearlEx doesn't have a place to really adhere.

Here's an entire tray of my baked, molded pieces. I LOVE how the flowers turned out! I coated them all in pearlEx prior to baking, then gave a little coat of liquid polymer to make them all a bit shiny and to make the pearlEx more permanent.

I did end up making a mold of my key and it worked out GREAT. I'll show some more molded keys in the future. Sorry for the rushed post, everyone! Now I'm off to see my husband. I've got to rudely yank him off of the other computer and make him pay attention to me. ^_~

Friday, January 22, 2010

Polymer Clay Kokeshi Doll

My good friend, Christy, gave me a Kimmidoll as part of my Christmas present. I thought it was SO cute. I went to the company website and found that these dolls are based on the traditional Japanese Kokeshi dolls, which are little wooden dolls made very simply with no limbs and an over sized head. They're painted and are considered a great expression of the Japanese artistic aesthetic: beauty in simplicity. Virtually all reliable sources state that "Kokeshi" means something like "little seed" and that they were often made by farmers and given to children to play with. One source says that they represent the old time Japanese practice of infanticide... The dolls were made, without limbs, as almost substitutes or representations of the murdered babies. I spent hours reading online one night, sifted through several posts on various forums (my husband said, "WHAT are you reading?!"), and could find only ONE source they were all quoting that presented this theory. I think the shock value of it made it popular over all of the boards, more than that this is actually what these dolls were for. I tend to believe that they were probably toys, so I'm going to start making them because they're ridiculously cute!

I made this tiny doll (it's 1 3/8" tall) out of white polymer clay and baked it. I sanded with 220, but that was it, to make the surface smoother. The rougher feel of it (as in, not sanded beyond 220) makes it more believable as wood. I then doodled my design onto the doll, gave the entire thing a (Caucasian) flesh colored wash. First was the hair, then I did the face, then the clothes, and finished up with the flower accents. I baked the doll again, once it was painted, for about 15-20 minutes to set the paint.

I do everything at my craft desk, which is all set up with my scrapbooking stuff, and I discovered part way through painting my second doll (which I'm not showing because it's u-u-guh-ly!) that hitting the paint with a heat gun really helps it to dry faster! Bueno!

I LOVE this thing! I can't wait to make more! I'll probably post a little tutorial in the future on how to make the doll itself, but it's all one piece of clay, for the greatest amount of strength possible.

Saturday, January 16, 2010

It's all Julie's fault!

Well, now I love Pink Paislee, too. I don't think it will ever replace Basic Grey in my heart, but the Autumn Blossom paper is just too beautiful for words, and there are a few others they have that have really caught my eye.

I am packing up the boys, yes, BOTH boys, to go to a scrapbook store today and look at paper.

May God have mercy on us all.

Friday, January 15, 2010

Review of Stampin Up! Clear Mount Stamps

Clear stamp enthusiasts everywhere are rejoicing just a bit, I think, at the introduction by Stampin' Up! of their new clear mount stamps. Basically, the stamps are still rubber stamps, but have a cling texture backing that allows them to be used as repositionable stamps.

Stampin' Up! touts this innovation as the cat's meow because you can still have (as they say, more or less) superior stamped images while gaining more storage space. They don't say that you get more accurate placement because the die-cut stamps don't QUITE match the accursed labels (more on that later). They say to use the Stamp-a-ma-jig for perfect placement.

I've got to point out one thing, however, that the idea that you can't have a perfectly clear stamped image with clear stamps is flat WRONG. You just have to make sure you're using pigment or chalk inks. The clear stamp material doesn't cling to the dye inks. They coagulate on the surface of the stamp, which is why many stampers say they don't like clear stamps because they get blotchy or unclear images. (I use this to my advantage quite frequently, actually, with dark brown dye ink in particular, such as the Distress Vintage Photo or Tea Dye, to get an instant vintage look.) I've said it before and I will say it again: To get good images with clear stamps, use chalk or pigment ink. You've also got to figure out how hard to press to get a good image. Clear stamps squish more than rubber stamps.

Writing in bold makes me feel very authoritative and important.
But I'll stop now. I was mainly excited by the Stampin' Up! release because of the extra storage and also because the prices are lower. They're not significantly lower. But any savings is a savings and in the end, less money spent per set means I get to get more stamps.

I just got my first three clear mount stamps from Stampin' Up! today and had to get online right away to give you all (all three of you) my review.

-Cool idea... good images. Love the idea.
-DON'T buy the Stampin' Up! clear blocks for these, especially if you already have clear stamp blocks at home. Any of your clear blocks from JoAnn or Michael's will work. They're cheaper in general and you can use coupons. All of my blocks are from JoAnn and they work perfectly fine with these stamp sets.
-The labels are stupid and I hate them, but will always use them.
-The storage is kind of better, I suppose... The stamp sets come in DVD cases, essentially, so that's the size of your storage. It's thinner than the typical stamp set box, but also much longer, so you have to find a place for it, and unless you already store DVD sized things in your craft area, you'll probably have to figure out a place to store them.

Now... the labels. As I said, the labels are stupid and I hate them. What I'm talking about is the little label that goes on the back of the stamp itself so that you can see the stamp through the block. I had such a hard time with my first set that I decided to take pictures of the second set I labeled and hopefully help someone else out there with the tips I discovered after almost ruining one of my labels forever. (I saved it, thank God, but I think my years of craft experience helped me there... A newbie might not have the same luck.)

Here's what you get: Labels on the left, stamps on the right. Notice that they're oriented exactly the same. Keep this in mind, especially as you're doing the FLOWERS or any other image that doesn't have a definitive top and bottom. It's easiest to punch these only just before you get ready to attach the label, since the label is the exact same shape and size as the stamp. You can line it up better that way.

The labels are wicked sticky on one side, with the cling texture on the other. So if one of the labels pops out of the sheet... Wait a second, let me rephrase... When pretty much every single label pops out of the sheet as you're removing the backing, you're dealing with the sticky side up and the cling on the bottom. They curl like nothing else, too, so it's almost impossible to lay the thing flat again. The instructions say, very ideally, to peel the backing off of the label starting at the split. (They all have a little split.) My instructions are more like this:

Label Surgery 101:
-Use your needle tool skillfully to gently, gently part the split in the backing over the clear label. While holding the label backing down with your non-dominant hand, slide the label to the edge of the split and let it tear, lifting one section of the backing as shown in the photo below.
-Using the needle tool (because if this thing gets stuck to your fingers at any point, it's not coming off until it recoils from sufficient negative, murderous energy emanating from every pore of your being as you try, ever so carefully and slowly and GENTLY to unstick from your finger, then from the needle tool, then from your nail, then from the needle tool, then from the very tippy corner of your nail, then from the needle tool, on and on as it curls and sticks and laughs and taunts you to destroy it, knowing full well that you never will, because it's the ONLY one you have and it rests safely in its hateful inherent value to you), carefully peel the backing off, still pushing on most of the backing with your fingers, until you, quite miraculously, peel the backing off without pulling the stupid label out.

When (not if, I'm sad to say) one of your labels comes out:
-Don't lose your cool. That's what it wants.
-Using the needle tool, lay it back into its hole in the backing sheet as exactly as you can. Tilt the needle tool slightly and roll the needle and pull off to one side, using the tiny border of the backing sheet as a kind of holder for the label itself.

When you've successfully managed to get the label free, this is what it looks like:

-Punch the stamp out of the rubber sheet, peel off the backing paper from the stamp, and press the stamp into the label, lining it up as perfectly as you can.


When you've done all of them, you can push them into the back of the case like so:

Here it is from the back, with all of the labels in place:

Storage comparison... three clear sets with three regular sets. I'm not uber impressed by this savings of storage. But I AM impressed at the fact that there are little thumbnail images of every stamp right there on the spine. That was just a stroke of brilliance and I tip my hat to whoever at Stampin' Up! came up with this.

The final verdict: A wonderful product in general. I'm pleased with my purchases. Even the epic battle with the labels got my primitive blood pumping in a Xena, Warrior Princess kind of way. I felt important enough to do a blog post, anyway, and to type in bold for a bit. All in all, I'd recommend these stamps. They're the same quality that you've come to expect from Stampin' Up!, slightly cheaper, slightly more annoying to put together, and take up slightly less space.

Thursday, January 14, 2010

Divided Box Tutorial

Here's one of my methods for making a divided box. This takes forever. Well, one like this does. I decided to make this as a place to house some of my favorite pairs of earrings, so I used several small boxes to create one box that has several compartments.

I'm teaching a more technical version of this in my Scrapbook Social class tomorrow night, but this is the really simple way to do this.

Basic idea is to create several small boxes that you will connect together to form one box. Below is a picture of my basic template. I wanted 1.5x1.5" compartments with 3/4" walls. The picture shows how that gets set up. See the 1.5" base in the middle of the template drawing with 3/4" walls on all sides. Two of the sides have one extra 3/4" wall which folds over the tabs created from the other side. If you don't get how this gets cut/goes together, look at the following pictures.

This is cut at 4.5" x 3".

This is how the box get's cut out/scored:

Because the length of the walls (1.5") and the two tabs put together (3/4 + 3/4 = 1.5) are the same, cut a slice off of one of the tabs on either end of the box.

Fold along all of the scored lines with your bone folder. Add glue to the piece that will get folded for one side of the box. (In retrospect, I realize that I could have made several small boxes without that extra folded tab, which would have been WAY shorter. Cut 3x3" squares. Score in 3/4" from all edges. Create the tabs. Still cut a small slice off of two of the tabs. When you glue, put glue only on the tabs and fold the side of the box in, leaving the tags outside because they get covered up... Ugh, I should have done it like that! LoL.)

Fold the glued wall over the tabs to create one side. (Or skip the extra fold as I described above.) Repeat to get the other side of the box done.

Once you get all of the boxes made, create the little pieces you'll use to attach them all together. I keep the wall height the same, but keep the wall width shorter by 1/16". For instance, these little pieces of paper are 1 7/16" wide, but 1 1/2" tall, so that when they're folded in half, they create a 3/4" wall. Shaving off the 1/16" allows for them to fit inside the boxes better.

Glue on your little extra tab piece and put it over the side walls of two different boxes. (Since these boxes have some walls that are thicker and some thinner, I kept all of the thicker walls up and down and all of the thinner walls left and right, for uniformity.)

Repeat across your row of boxes. They will curl up a bit.

Connect the boxes together by gluing between the boxes themselves. Squeeze until it holds.

Finish an entire row of boxes at a time, before trying to attach rows. Attach the join between the boxes all along the row.

Blue between the boxes of the row.

Repeat until you end up with a divided box!

I decorated my box just a bit to hide the unsightly joins and to give it a bit more strength. I also made a lid. I need to finish decorating it and putting jewelry in it. I'll post a pic when that gets done. But it might be a while. I've got a second article to finish for Polymer Cafe magazine, four classes at JoAnn to make posters for, and a 3 year old running around distracting me all day long. And I've got to get instructions done for my Scrapbook Social class tomorrow night.

Tuesday, January 5, 2010

Getting published in next month's Polymer Cafe magazine!!!

I am SO thrilled right now! Polymer Cafe magazine has accepted an article I wrote on button mold beads. Apparently it's going into the next issue! Bonnie will be happy to know that the necklace I gave her for the AZ Polymer Clay Guild Christmas Party gift exchange features the bead that I made in the article. So it's kind of cool, I think. Maybe I should have kept it. Oh, well. Gotta share the love.

So I need to post more polymer clay stuff on here. Especially since I'm about to start teaching a new polymer clay class at JoAnn. Most of the guild members will probably not be too interested in it because it's going to be an absolutely basic class. But it should be great for anyone who has wanted to do polymer clay for a while, but didn't know where to start!

Friday, January 1, 2010

Polymer Clay Chess Set

This is the chess set I made for my husband for Christmas out of polymer clay! I did a cinnabar finish and set red and black Swarovski crystals into the pieces so that you can tell which side is which. (One side is all red, one side is all black.) My favorites are the knights on the red side with red eyes. ^_^

This was an undertaking, to be sure! Making the pieces took quite a long time--I would have strangled myself if not for my trusty Makin's extruder. The finished pieces with crystals set were baked, sanded (220-800, not my usual 220-3000... I got TIRED!), antiqued, and baked again. I made the chess board on a circular piece of wood I picked up at Hobby Lobby. The top is covered in papers... WHICH papers!? Yes, you guessed it... BASIC GREY! These are from the Marrakech set, which is a whole other level of holiness in my Basic Grey paper canon. The only other items covered with these papers so far are two of my bibles. So, yeah. I LOVE my man.

These are shots of my guys (Adam and our older boy, Thad) playing with the set on Christmas Eve.