October 28, 2014

Art Class

For the past few months, I've been taking a figure drawing and painting class at PAFA on Tuesday mornings*. It has been so, so, SO wonderful to pick up charcoal and paintbrushes again! The class is taught by Doug Martenson, whose approach is so relaxed and helpful and kindly insightful, that the studio is a total joy. Also a joy? The fact that we are getting all Degas up in there, complete with a trip to the ballet studio and a couple of modeling sessions with one of the ballerinas. I've been loving every second of it.

Black and white charcoal on toned paper:



Oils:

(underpainting)



(finished work)



So far so good, I think, although I clearly need to fit the figure better to the surface... Next time.

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* Can I just say that it is wonderful that someone offers continuing ed classes during the day? It would basically be impossible for me to take a evening class. And there are at least two other freelancer or stay at home moms in the class, rocking their brushwork, so I know there are many of us in this boat.

October 26, 2014

Jack Pumpkinhead



Yesterday was a glorious day - one of those breezy, sunny fall days when the sun is still warm enough to satisfyingly heat up the back of your jacket and pants if you stand in one spot long enough.



We made the best of it by going pumpkin picking at Terhune Orchards, which I love for its just-right level of crowdedness. Not so empty that you feel like you're bothering actual working farmers, but not so mobbed that it is basically an outdoor supermarket. Sure, they throw in things like a giant corn maze -



But while you're making your way through, they also ask you to collect the ears of corn for animal feed.



I suspect that the pumpkin patch is really more of a pumpkin drop-off area, since there are not too many actual vines there, but there is nothing like the feeling of lugging a bunch of those bad boys around purposefully on a wagon.



So what did we make out of these?



This morning, we took turns designing, cutting, carving, and shaping, to end up with a motley crew of monsters and victims. Strong plug here for linoleum carving tools for edging the finicky details! Check out the sunlight coming through that chomping one in the back! I don't think the puny light that lights them up at night is going to be nearly as awesome.



Can you guess which one is Jake's and which is Lara's? It's very hard to figure it out...

October 24, 2014

Two Lofts are Better than One

I finally got around to taking pictures of the kids' double loft room! They've been enjoying it for 2 months or so now, long enough for the discussion to segue into the separate rooms conundrum. But still, right now, here is what it looks like:



We went with the cool color scheme the kids had worked out (you can see it in the initial plans we talked about here), with Lara getting a purple square and Jake getting a blue one. How did I work out "squares" when neither the walls nor the ceiling in that room are at all plumb? Through a lot of eyeballing, basically. I found that lining things up with the windows made more visual sense than lining them up with the ceiling and walls, and then I fudged a half inch over several feet here and there to make everything connect without too much obvious distortion.

Lara's new loft bed came with the desk and shelves as one unit, but Jake's loft didn't have any built-in storage. So, I whipped up a matching set of square shelves by surrounding a cheapie Kraftmaid cabinet that happened to have almost the exact right dimensions with some lumber. With some stain and matte polyurethane, you honestly would never know that it wasn't part of that bed originally:



Also, look - fairy lights under each loft! For some reason I have been obsessed with having these things around a bed since childhood. I remember really wanting to have twinkle light around my bed even in high school. Why on earth did I not make this rather easily attainable dream come true until now (for someone else!)? No idea. I remember vaguely worrying that they were too frivolous or something. Basically, apparently I was a very silly person.

October 22, 2014

Do You Believe in Magic?

If yes, then this rainbow wizard has a few things to show you about ice powers! A blast from his ice lighting bolt? Zap! A glowing spell from the ice orb on his staff? Whoosh!



If no, then this illusionist magician will be more to your liking! Behold as she conjures coins from behind ears, flowers from seemingly ordinary magic wands, and cards out of thin air. Marvelous!



I have to say I was very tickled that the kids picked these very complimentary, two-sides-of-the-same-coin style costumes. I did have the good sense to ask them to draw what they were envisioning before getting out my sewing machine. Why good sense? Because my idea of a wizard is Gandalf as portrayed by the delightful Sir Ian McKellen. Jake however, was imagining a rainbow-colored cape and hat, a prickly staff, and a lightning bolt:



What are the odds that the next day after he drew this I would find a plastic light up lightning bolt in the Target dollar bin? Apparently excellent, because that is exactly what happened. And of course when I showed it to Jake, he was entirely unsurprised. Why wouldn't every whim of his imagination be easily and readily available at any given moment?



Lara's more worldly understanding of magicians and their craft is evidenced by this drawing, a nice and sober companion to Jake's fever dream (I wouldn't be surprised if he half-expected that moon and stars to be a constant part of his costume backdrop):



I originally just bought a top hat from a costume store, but it was deemed insufficiently tall. Amazingly enough, I found some swirly felt that almost exactly matched the material for the cape! Again, what are the odds? These costumes were clearly fated to be by the Halloween gods. Here you can see her magic trick: a disappearing feather flower: perfect because it is very easy to perform and to carry around.

October 9, 2014

And a Hug Around the Neck

Do you ever suddenly feel jewelry-deprived? It's pretty high up there on the list of first world problems, I know, but still, sometimes it's nice to have empty neck syndrome be your biggest challenge in life. My solution? Just make some new stuff!

We found this beautiful piece of driftwood in California last year. What made all those whorls and perfectly rounded burrows? Some kind of insect? No idea. I took the world's tiniest drill and super-carefully made two holes and then added some tumbled turquoise chunks to balance the matte rawness of the wood. I love that it's huge but also weighs nothing.



I also took a few larger beads from my grandma Janna's very long strand of semi-polished amber and just added a piece of translucent smokey glass for balance and to pick up some of those great veined inclusions on the biggest amber bead.



Phew. Neck decoration crisis averted.

October 8, 2014

OOooOOooOO ~~ Spook-tacular De-gore-ations! ~~ OOooOOooOO

As wisps of its decaying burial shroud frayed around it, the long silent skeleton suddenly felt itself jerking awake with an almost electric jolt. Gray bone fingers clawed their way through the roots of the dying vegetation that covered its grave, obeying an inescapable desire - no, command - to rise and once more roam the world of the living...



Nearby, in another windswept corner of the abandoned cemetery someone, or something, clad in all black hastily made a quick escape, leaving behind a blood-spattered severed hand as the grisly evidence of a misbegotten act. A shallow grave for a dismembered enemy? The remains of a diabolical meal?



Spinning wildly in all directions, the lidless, spider-wracked eyes of the cemetery guardian took in these scenes and still other, more disturbing ones. A mute witness, it served its time until the curse of its existence could be broken...

September 4, 2014

Diorama-rama-rama!

One of the Lara's summer assignments was a totally open-ended book project, which at first sounded sort of overwhelming but then turned into a really fun way to pass some time together downstairs in the art room. The result? A huge and awesome multimedia diorama of a scene from Roald Dahl's "The Big Friendly Giant".



The sky is made of squares of paper died with food coloring (Lara's genius solution to the fact that we forgot to get anything blue at the craft store), the clouds are paper and pom pom balls, the ground is felt with some paper houses, the giants are Sculpey clay, the helicopters and chains are store-bought.



She made pretty much everything, with some mild parental assistance for the tiny details on the giants' faces and general "let's everyone glue these blue squares of paper down because three people will do it faster than 1".



I wish I could see her presenting it to the class!

August 12, 2014

How to Fix a Shoe Elastic!

Well, looks like someone around here has been super fired up by her previous cobbling success - so much so that I've decided to double down and try my hand at a different kind of shoe repair. And so, may I present to you the worn out elastic hall of shame, in which sad, broken down strands of what was ostensibly formerly a piece of stretchy material are now just desperately clinging to the buckles of a pair of sandals:



The trusty tools are much the same as last time (seam ripper, curved needle, waxed thread), with the addition of a piece of elastic of matching color and width (long enough for both shoes). Missing from this picture is tacky glue and a binder clip, both of which are necessary, but both of which somehow missed the mandatory photo shoot. Late night out with the hot glue gun, I guess.



The first thing to do is very carefully seam rip the stitches that keep the elastic sandwiched between the layers of leather. I tried to cut as little thread as I could - just enough to ease the elastic out. The elastic appears to have been glued as well as stitched into place, which is probably why it was still somewhat attached to the shoe strap.



Fold your replacement elastic in half, and then cut it to be just slightly shorter than the old stretched out one. You don't want it too loose - instead, you want the stretch to engage a little bit when you have the shoe on.



The next thing is sort of jazzy and improvisational (or at least I couldn't figure out any sort of methodical approach to doing this). Slip the bar of the buckle through the middle of the new elastic, trying not to break any of the threads or rubber by kind of just pushing them all apart and shoving the bar in between.



Now it's time to re-assemble the thing. Get out your favorite fabric glue (I like Tacky Glue for its... well... tackiness) and smoosh a bead on the inside of the leather. If the leather is the bread of the leather-and-elastic sandwich, then the glue is the mayo that holds it all together.



Slide the elastic into place and clamp the whole thing closed with a large binder clip, or something similar. The key is to position it so that you can still access some of the seam, because that's what you're about to start working on.



Tuck the thread knot into the sandwich and start sewing along the side that you've left out of the clip. The easiest thing to do is just use the same holes that the old stitches used. Make sure, as you sew, to push the needle through not just the leather "bread", but also through the elastic. That way it'll really be anchored in there. As you go, keep repositioning the binder clip until you don't need it any more.



And voila! You are done. Now fix up the other shoe to match, and you are off to the races!

August 7, 2014

Big Changes

Well, it looks like the time of bunk beds has come to an end. Or rather, the time of someone sleeping in a lower bunk bed is pretty much over... because the kids are getting loft beds! This will call for a total shakeup of their room, and they are so excitedly on board with the whole "we get our own desks and don't have to share!" phenomenon.

Right now their room looks like this. And I mean, literally right now - that's right, I didn't even feel like picking the stuffed animals up off the floor (or initiating a battle to get them to do it...) before taking this picture:



But in the future, we will create an oasis of awesomeness that right now can only be suggested by my wham-bam Photoshop skills. After adding a loft bed with a built in desk for Lara, and taking the bottom bunk off the existing loft bed for Jake, we will basically be splitting their room in half visually. To add some flair, Jake wants his area to be blue and Lara opted for hers to be purple. The question then remains: what color should the rest of the walls be?

Blue?



Gray?



Or taupe/beige?



Right now, our money is on this nice warm gray, which I'm sure will be extremely easy to find, since from everything I hear, all gray paint is super cooperative and looks just like you would expect it to. What do you think?

July 29, 2014

How To Fix a Shoe Buckle!

So let's say you have a favorite pair of shoes. Like, hands down, the shoes you wear every day because they are super comfortable to walk in, and you can ride your bike in them, and they look pretty good too. And then, let's say, one day one of the buckles on a shoe strap just snaps in half. Out of nowhere, just breaks into pieces.

You probably say to yourself, "Well, I'm sure a cobbler could fix this," and you go to your local shoe repair place. But then, let's say, the cobbler shows you buckles that are both the wrong size and color (the only ones he has!) and also expects $30 for the privilege of uglifying your favorite shoes. Do you give up? No, of course you don't give up. Instead, in what you think is a brilliant move, you call the shoe manufacturer... but to no avail, because they don't stock replacement hardware. This is probably the moment that you decide to take matters into your own hands.



After a careful Etsy search, you find someone who makes almost identical buckles to the ones on your shoes. "Hooray for independent small business craftspeople!" you probably exclaim to yourself, as you ready your tools: the new buckle, some waxed thread, a seam ripper, and a curved needle.



Your first job is to pick apart just the bit of the seam that holds closed the loop of leather that would usually attach to the center of the buckle. In this picture, it's the darker leather piece (you can see the hole that the buckle's prong goes through).



Once that's done, you thread the new buckle onto the now open loop, making sure to put it facing the right way.



Now it's time for the finicky part - stitching the loop closed again. The advice for leather is just to reuse the old stitch holes. After tying a knot at the end of your waxed thread, you start a little bit before the first seam-ripped stitch, going over old still-in-place stitches to secure them. You try your best to sandwich the knot between the layers of leather.



Slowly, slowly, you keep going from hole to hole and then double back over again. If your thread happens not to match perfectly because apparently your laptop's screen colors are not true to life, and you bought your thread online - well, it's no big deal because the new stitches will be hidden once the buckle is buckled anyway.



After the last stitch is in place, you tie a small knot on the side and then slip your curved needle through the layers of leather to the other side. This will both pull your knot in between the layers of leather so it's not poking your toes, and will make it more stable.



And, just like that, you have defeated the forces of evil shoe destruction and have emerged triumphant with your favorite shoes intact! Winner, winner - chicken dinner.



(The fixed shoe is on the left.)

July 17, 2014

My Grandfather's Eye

My mother's dad, Boris, was an avid amateur photographer. Family lore is rife with stories of him checking the light meter and slowly adjusting the focus on the giant lens attached to his equally giant camera as we, posed and poised, started shuffling impatiently. I loved the cozy and alien feel of the tiny red-lit darkroom that he had set up in a closet in my grandparents' apartment, with its semi-mysterious trays of developing solution, floating upside-down images, and drying black and white photographs hanging from a clothesline. I never wanted to do it myself, but I loved watching him.

Many of his shots were turned into slides. Actually, the division was straightforward: black and white film became photographs and color film was developed into slides. It may have something to do with the availability of the necessary equipment in Russia in the 80's? In any case, I have recently started the long project of digitizing the slides. As expected, there are many fantastic pictures of our family. But a surprising delight has been seeing the more artistic photos that Borechka would sneak in here and there - landscapes, street photography, bits of nature that caught his eye. Here are a few of my favorites:









And what did I look like 30 years ago? Check out those 4 inch diameter braids, people. Those ponytail holders look industrial strength!