Ornamental Plaster Sculpting, Mural Painting, Faux Finishing, and Imaginative Interior Design.

Ornamental Plaster Sculpting, Mural Painting, Faux Finishing, and Imaginative Interior Design.
CLICK ON THE RABBIT ( yes, those are cabinets) TO SEE MY PORTFOLIO, AND LEARN MORE ABOUT MY SERVICES...theartofthehome.com

Wednesday, October 29, 2014

Q: What's white and lacy with paint all over?

A:  Linda Hughes' living room walls  (OK, yeah...and certain parts of my wardrobe, but I'm not sharing photos of that mess!)

Lace panels are surrounded by a glazed faux finish, using the same colors as Linda's stripes in her kitchen.  (Note:  You can click on the pictures to see them somewhat enlarged.)
When Linda told her neighbors she was having me paint lace on her walls, they thought I was probably stenciling it, maybe even using lace as a mask to paint through.  That's a lovely idea, and it works, but lucky for me, with my love of mixed-media projects, Linda Hughes likes to do things that are a little different.  

This neighbor came to see the lace, and was delighted to be surprised with a painting of hers displayed on the wall!  She had put it in a give-away pile, and Linda just couldn't let it go to the thrift store.  Linda has great taste, and great neighbors!
I wasn't so sure when Linda plucked the painted lace sample from the second batch of samples I brought for her to see.  She had liked several things in the first batch, but would unmake her mind almost as fast as she made it up.  Painted lace is actual lace, painted onto the wall.  As in permanent texture, and not exactly the usual thing folks do to walls.  Linda had so far been pretty particular, and I needed to be sure she loved it on a large scale, before I started this process, so I invited her to my place, where I have it on my artroom walls.

She absolutely loved it.  No doubt, no question, no need to sleep on it. It wasn't that Linda didn't like the other choices.  She just knows better than to settle for anything less than real love.

Here's the version in my art room.  The pattern shows up more with the darker glaze, but the subtlety of white is equally beautiful, when seen in person.  Yes, the trim here is made from burlap and acorns, and yes, the ceiling is quilted.

In my art room, I've done the painted lace technique glazed in moss green, and it goes from ceiling to baseboard, with most of the wall area hidden behind shelving and supplies.  For Linda, I suggested we do it in panels, and to balance with the rest of her place, that we do her lace in white, with a green faux finish surrounding the panels.  This way she would keep a paler version of the green color she had, which had turned out to be way too dark for her north facing condo unit, while lightening up the walls, for that airy, fresh cottage look.

Here's a close-up of one panel, showing three patterns meeting, with a tiny doily masking a bare spot.  To get a similar look to these walls, begin by collecting every piece of lace curtain, tablecloth, valance, doily, and mantilla you can find in a summer of garage-saling.  The stained ones in the Free box are perfectly fine for this.  Next, roll a coat of white paint onto your wall, and while wet, staple the lace to the wall (I cut larger pieces apart for more interest), then roll paint over the top of the lace.  Think of it like decoupage with paint instead of glue.  The staples will show if not strategically placed, so sometimes it's good to add interestingly shaped upholstery tacks for more detail, and to help secure edges and small bits.  Once the paint dries, you can leave it as is, or glaze any color you like over the top.  I used a very sheer umber on Linda's to keep it white, but enhance the details. 

Linda's thrilled to bits with the end result, and with the tweaks she also hired me to make to her furniture and accessory arrangements, throughout the condo.  She knew her taste, and had great pieces, so it was easy to show her a few designer tricks for creating a finished look that flows throughout her home.  It was also a whole lot of fun.  She's one of those clients who takes good care of those she hires, pampering, praising, promoting, and oozing generosity, and she loves to play, too!  I couldn't have asked for a better way to end the summer than creating this mossy, lacy confection for such a sweet soul.

Whatever your style, I'd love to help you take it all the way to blissed-out perfection!  Click on over to my website (theartofthehome.com) to see my full portfolio, and to get the details on how to go about commissioning me.  And yes, as a matter of fact, I do travel.

Wednesday, September 10, 2014

Asking and Receiving

Mural by Dawn-Marie deLara for the Belle Plaine Library, BP, Minnesota.  A young swordsman reads Dragon Hunting for Eejits, while barely hidden behind him, the dragon reads up on Safe Cracking.  And the Princess?  She takes a break from reading The Practical Princess Presents:  Dragon Proof Your Own Palace.  I'd like to say she's the smartest, but truth told, all of them are so buried in their books, they fail to see the pranks being pulled by the animals behind their backs.  The mural is called, "Everything you need to know in life is in a book...well, almost everything"

A little story about the librarian who asked for what she really wanted...and got it.
Step 1.  Even though it doesn't show in the end, wash in background color, to banish the overwhelm of a big blank wall, then go home and figure out how you actually want to paint this one.  Nope, did not know what style I was painting, at this point!
You might know I live across the street from the local library.  No?  Ah, welcome then, new reader!  Not only am I over there often for printing and scanning (they have way better equipment than I want to invest in), and for the usual checking out of massive stacks of books (which I rarely return on time, despite the proximity), but I've also done a lot of painting there.  Mostly wood graining trim and marbleizing columns, until recently.  
Step 2.  Having decided to layer solid light colors over dark shadows, paint in inky black in the background, then come over the top with shrubs, hanging branches and ferns.  Step 3.  Add in a bunch of animals that weren't in the original sketch, and work on painting the rippling creek water.
What to use?  On an interior mural of this size, craft paint and basic acrylics work just fine.  I sometimes use Flasche acrylics, which are a velvety French brand, but they are quick drying and for this reason, very hard to blend.  In the end, I don't think the results are much different.  Other muralists would disagree with that, so use what pleases you.

Last winter, when I lettered a quote on a beam, Georgine the librarian asked me if I could letter the words "Juvenile Books" over that section of the stacks.  Now, since I practically live at the library, I happen to know that Georgine has long wanted a mural for "her" branch, but has been waiting for a long talked about, but still not quite funded addition to the building.  She's asked me more than once over the years if I'll paint it, and with her retirement looming, she's been despairing of any of her pet projects happening on her watch.  

Step 4.  Rough in the main characters, and add more grass and ferns.
Looking at the space she wanted lettered, it occurred to me that I could actually fit a carefully planned scene right there, and even with any future additions and rearrangements of books, some part of the kids' section would likely always be there.  Thus, instead of a quick quote for lettering two words, I submitted a proposal for two versions of that, plus one for a full mural.  Georgine was delighted, and the Friends of the Library were willing to pay half.  I had offered to donate part, so we were good to go, but Georgine and the Friends, who I sometimes suspect consider me (their local artist) a pet project, thought perhaps we could get some Legacy Funds, as well.  
Step 5.  Work up faces and details.  At this point, titles are added to the books, and the mischief the secondary characters are up to becomes apparent.
I used photos from books for most of the animals, though some readers will recognize the wolf as my beloved, though long departed malamute, McKinley.  The princess and the swordsman were both painted from photos of my Artgirl, Faithie, who also helped rough in some of the background color one day, and who patiently rescheduled her art classes around my wonky painting and sleeping schedule.  If you have none of your own for models and slave labor, do as I do and borrow kids from friends!
Here in Minnesota, we have funding set aside by a vote of the people to pay for arts and cultural heritage projects, known as Legacy Funds, and our libraries benefit quite a lot from this money.  This funding brings world class musicians to small town libraries, traditional and folk dance instruction with live music to one branch, and pays for classes like the collage and book arts workshops I taught at several libraries this summer.  I'm sure it pays for lots more, but those are the programs I've personally enjoyed.  This funding has also helped pay for murals in a few libraries, and for Belle Plaine, they agreed to match what the Friends would pay.  With the original sketch fully funded, I went ahead and donated matching hours for extra animals and details.
Step 5, continued... Finish main characters' details plus secondary characters on the other end.   Step 6.  Go back two additional mornings to tweak details, including adding lots more grass and leaves to tone down the dragon a bit, and to better show the crows that pilfer his treasures.
Also useful for mural painting:  Plenty of fresh water, lots of good strong coffee (particularly if working through the night), and audio books and good music.  Two of the artists I listened to while painting, Chad MacAnally and Dean McGrew, are both musicians I discovered through Legacy Funded programs at libraries.

For the last two weeks of summer, running straight through Labor Day Weekend, I painted in the off hours, meaning mostly late at night and on the weekends, tidying away my scaffold and ladder each morning before the library opened, much like the shoemaker's elves.  I was asked to work some while the library was open, but on a scaffold over the heads of young children in a small space?  Sounded like a Berenstein Bears episode in the making, so I had to decline, though the last two mornings, I was still finishing up when the doors opened, so they got a little of what they asked for.  They also asked for a presentation, which Georgine somehow turned into three, but I don't mind.  I never run out of words!
Georgine-the-Librarian.  Also known as, "She-Who -Asked".

We all got what we asked for, in the end.  Georgine got her mural; I got paid the full value of the original submission; and the library got some live action mural painting, a crazy silly story hour, and a couple of "meet the artist" events, the last of which will happen on Saturday, September 20th at 11:00 a.m.  Life is that way.  We do get what we ask for.  If you aren't getting what you want, may I suggest you check to be sure you're asking (and saying "yes, thank you") with all your heart?  If you don't believe me that it works, ask Georgine, who asked loudly and often, until the right people heard it at the right time.  

It's your little world!  Ask for what you want, and always, always, always Paint Happy!

Saturday, August 23, 2014

Orgasmic Rose...wait, I meant Organic...well...

Photos in this post thanks to Ann Viveros, mandala artist, Jamberry Nail rep, and soul sister.  Click her name to get to her website.

I'm back.  Hopefully this time, back on a weekly schedule.  I've certainly stacked up plenty of projects and whims and gourmet goodness to write about for months to come.  I wasn't too busy, I just hadn't the heart to write much this past year.  No big trauma, just burn-out from the crazy schedule of publishing the five issues of 365 Being, while still blogging at least twice a week, and working on three children's books.  Even Lucie the adventure mouse has been on the back burner most of the year.  Wait!  Not literally.  I promise, not cooking up mice!   
Yup, I'm back.  Yup, cut my hair, surprised my friends:  Cindy says never wear it any other way.  Maureen says I look dangerous.  Kit calls it sexy.  Kae hates it, but Kae also hates fresh basil, so her opinion is suspect.  I love it some days, and want my braid back on others.
Anyway, my love of wordsmithing is back, and I've been cooking up some lovely stuff, and itching to write about it.  Lately, since it's the Icky-Sticky days of summer in Minnesota, I've been making ice cream for my friends, instead of the usual soup.  I'm not one to collect fancy kitchen gadgets, as those would displace all my fancy mismatched china that I collect, but the ice cream maker was only ten bucks at the thrift store, and the memory of childhood summer nights with my father at the crank washed over me as I stood gazing at it.  This memory, coupled with the fact that this machine came with a cord instead of a crank (no dad muscle required), made me forget I was there to buy a few paint shirts, and instead I came home with a gadget.  

Which I promptly stuck in the back of a cupboard and forgot about for a couple of years.

I'm not that much of an ice cream eater.  However, every summer there always comes an evening, when I've worked a long day, and on the way home, I stop to get a pint of something wonderful.  That day came, but wonderful was not to be found.  Sure there are a jillion decadent indulgences in the freezer section, and many that started as little companies, then got bought up by the mega giants, thus making them available in ever wider varieties.  So lots of choices, but not one without artificial ingredients.  Even the premiums.  

Now, to be fair, I was at a small grocery, and I am way beyond reasonably picky.  I'm sure there were lots of flavors with ingredients that even in massive doses wouldn't hurt you.  But I don't eat chemicals.  Period.  Except when friends and clients feed me.  I do not eat antifreeze.  I do not eat artificial colors, and I completely fail to understand artificial flavors, especially in high priced (used to be)gourmet items.  What am I paying for if not the exquisite best the world can offer?  I was grumpy.  I was incredulous.  I was disheartened.  I was ice cream-less.

A few days later, I pulled out the machine, dusted it off, and read the directions.  After another round of grocery store label reading, I had vanilla without weirdness (WTH Watkins???  You still have the rep of being all natural, but you are most definitely NOT), cream without corn syrup and diglycerides (Don't assume that a one-ingredient staple is what it says it is), milk, eggs, and cane sugar, plus my friend Kae's childhood favorite recipe.  I made her vanilla frozen custard, then tried Strawberry ice cream, Peach Sorbet, Almond Joy ice-milk-less, Chocolate shower ice milk, Rockin' the Road ice milk, Rose frozen custard, and Raspberry Rose, as well.  I am suddenly more popular than ever on the potluck circuit.

Am I saving money?  No.  By the time one buys clean ingredients, plus ice and rock salt for the freezing process, and a bunch of extra containers to package it for give-aways, Godiva is a bargain.  Having gone chemical-free, I've resigned myself to buying expensive groceries and thrift store clothes (which actually can be a bargain, but the $120 sweater for $10 is a story for some other post).

Am I eating ice cream three meals a day?  Thankfully, no.  When my heart finished its mending, a month or so back, I totally lost the craving for sugar-sweetened comfort, so luscious pints are stacked in my freezer, ready to go to friends, paint clients, and folks who do me favors, and 20 pounds has fallen from my frame.  I only crave a bite or two, when a long, hot afternoon melts into soft evening, and the sound of the crickets conjures the rhythmic scrape-scrape-whirring of Papa at the crank, the buzz-buzz-slap of mosquitoes being dispatched by sleepy-eyed onlookers, and the natural goodness of summer chilled to icy perfection.

My friend Ann requested Rose ice cream, and even brought a bottle of rose water down from the city.  We took it to Friday Open Studio at Maureen's (Maureen Carlson's Center for Creative Arts), where Kae, who usually hates anything not "Iowa food" moaned for ten straight minutes.  Thus, the name...

Annie's Orgasmic Rose Iced Custard

6 eggs well beaten
1 1/4 cup sugar
6-10 cups whole milk
1 Tablespoon rose water

Add sugar to eggs in the top of a double boiler and add as much milk as will fit with room to stir.  Place over simmering water and cook, whisking constantly until thickened, about 12 minutes.  If you aren't sure, dip a clean spoon in.  It should thickly coat.  You want to do this slow and careful, or you'll have curdled egg in a milk bath*.  Pour the cooked custard through a sieve (there will be a few rubbery lumps, so just do it) into your ice cream maker's container, and add as much milk as you like.  On the 6 cup end, you have rich custard, on the 10 cup end, you have a lot more to feed your friends, and I think it's more refreshing.  Stir in the rose water.  Yes, 1 T is enough.  Taste the mixture before churning, if you don't believe me.  Freeze according to your machine's directions.  Then place in cartons in freezer for at least 2 hours before eating.  

Best to freeze in pints, as after several hours, homemade ice cream is harder than store bought (no anti-freeze, and not much butterfat in this particular recipe), and needs to soften a few minutes before scooping.

* If you do curdle it, pour it through the sieve and freeze the sweet, rosy milk anyway.  Serve it within a few hours of churning, for best scoopability.  With no fats, it will freeze quite hard.

Wednesday, February 26, 2014

I'm not a mason, but I do a good job of make believe.

I hesitated to write today's post, having neither the camera nor the photography skills to get shots that really show what the eye sees on this project.  The homeowners were overjoyed to the point of tears though, and I know they'd like this to be posted so they can share with far away friends, so I'll ask you to use your best squinty eyes here, and trust me that it looks almost indistinguishable from the real thing in person.

Cookie and Ed first called me in to do a faux finish in their bathroom.  They loved this Southwestern style wall paper mural, but after a remodel it was floating awkwardly on the wall.  I simply glazed the wall around it in a matching adobe finish, and extended a leaf detail from the mural out across the wall, just a bit.

I didn't paint this mural, just the wall around it, when the room was enlarged for wheelchair access.  The trick here was to paint the base coat over the wallpaper, right up to the edge of the window, then match the finish to the little bit that shows at the top.  The shadow hides the wallpaper edge on the side, and the bottom edge was sanded a bit to help it blend in, prior to painting.

They were so pleased with this that they asked me if I had any ideas for the plain niches that held their favorite bronze statues.  The rugged, western style sculptures needed something richer than a plain beige wall to set them off, and Ed thought perhaps a mountain mural would do the trick.  I've done such things for taxidermy displays, but I wasn't sure, and Cookie was strongly opposed.  As we talked, or rather as I babbled on, trying to keep up with the free flow of ideas that spews out of my brain at times like these, I said something about a rocky desert cliff face, and Cookie's eyes lit up.  Seems the rock wall on the other side of the room was her consolation for giving up the stone fireplace in a recent remodel.

Art niche with faux stone plaster finish.
There would be no way to install more of the real thing in such small niches, but I could simulate it in paint, or if they wanted, in plaster and paint.  They loved the idea of some real texture, so I hauled in a bucket of mud and a couple rolls of masking tape and got busy.  Just masking off the stone shapes in two niches took about five hours.  This step involves cutting off the straight edges of every piece of tape, and then once they're all placed, going back and adding shaping to all the corners.  For this room, it also involved lots of stopping to compare it to the real rock wall, to be sure sizes, shapes, and placement looked like the original.

The real thing, except the color is a bit washed out here, and I couldn't get it back.
Prep work like this feels a bit like cooking Thanksgiving dinner.  You know, that feeling you get when the meal you just spent five hours preparing gets scarfed down in about fifteen minutes?  Yeah, it's kind of like that, because as soon as you trowel the mud on, you pull the tape right back off.  Good thing this has the happy reward of instant (though unfinished) stones to admire, unlike that holiday dinner that leaves you nothing but a carcass and a mountain of dirty dishes.

Once the "stones" dry, I scrape over them with a taping knife, knocking off all the sharp points and shaping the edges, and then I give them a white or clear base coat, and let that dry.  While it's drying, I mix several stone colors to match the real stone, and then start brushing it on, scumbling it into the divots and crevices, and blotting some back off.  Every stone gets a bit of almost every color, though which is dominant varies from one to the next, and extra shading is added to some of the stones, making them appear to protrude much farther from the wall than they do.  Sadly, this is where the camera knocks things flatter than they appear in person. Sigh.

This shot held onto some of the shading.  If you squint, you might get back a bit of the shape the camera insists on flattening. :)
By the time I was done tinting these, the mortar spaces had turned very nearly the color of the real mortar, so I didn't have to add anything there.  We all stood back to look it over, and agreed that all that was needed was a bit of extra shadow to give the individual stones the definition of the real wall.  It made the work day stretch a little late into the evening, but the results were so worth it.  The statues got backdrops strong enough to support them, Ed and Cookie got something they said was better than anything they expected or imagined, and I got warm fuzzies from their tearfully enthusiastic hugs (and a lovely tip, thanks you two).

Joy for me is in the details; the details of the jobs I do, the details of the lives of the people I meet, and all the little moments in a work day that confirm that I'm in the right place, doing the right thing.  Whether I'm writing a kids' novel, illustrating a picture book, or decorating homes like this one, it seems my job is always to make stuff up, and if it's all made up, well, why not have fun and fill it with all the detail possible?

May your home, your work, your life overflow with joyful details!

Monday, January 13, 2014

A Mother's Work

Over the weekend, at the monthly soup and studio gathering I host for friends, we celebrated the impending motherhood of our friend Pamela.  Part of the celebration involved sharing a story about a childhood memory of our mothers, and how it impacts our life, now.  I thought I'd share mine with all of you.  Like most folks, I didn't get exactly the childhood I wanted, at the time, but I got just what I needed...

Just one corner of Baker Food Co-op.  

When I was little, my mom got together with a couple of her friends to order organic food in bulk.  We had the van to haul it, and the other two had driver’s licenses.  After a few years, many more friends wanted to join in, but the van couldn’t haul enough, and nobody had room in their home to divide up that much, anyway, so they came up with a plan to form a food co-op.  Those three women, along with a handful of other folks, met around our big dining table.  They hammered out articles of incorporation, filled out non-profit paperwork, and discussed by-laws and boards.

My mother had no degree, and at that time, no real business experience.  However, she had grown up with entrepreneurial parents, she knew food, and she was an absolute budget queen.  She was starting to work part time in a local restaurant, but she still considered feeding her family to be her primary job (though as a 70’s feminist, you’d not have heard her say it that way).  She held meetings, argued ethics, read everything available on sustainable, organic food production and consumption, and spent hours on the phone tracking down sources.  This was long before internet and unlimited long-distance.

And where am I in this story?  I’m the kid at the table, with her own cup of Seattle Spice tea, listening to it all, or in the next room, “holding meetings” with the children of those other folks.

What started as three women and a van grew into a true co-op, with a downtown location open to the public, and significant discounts for working members,  which make health food in my home town cheaper than typical grocery store fare.  Last time I was home for a visit, I stopped in for a few things, and the clerk ran them through on my folks' membership number.  A clerk in training raised an eyebrow, and the other clerk explained who mom is.  Still, the trainee looked unsure.

“Look,” I explained, half joking, “My whole childhood is invested in this place.  I painted posters for the windows after school, I fell asleep to the sound of Mom balancing the books on an old fashioned adding machine, and countless family weekends were spent building shelves, hauling produce, and re-packaging bulk cheese.  If mom and her friends had started it any earlier, my first words would have been “non-profit corporation”, and I’d have teethed on the drafts of the by-laws that covered every surface in our house for months.  The co-op got my mom, so I get her discount, once every few years.”

Sure I wished my mom had come to more of my baseball games and been backstage for my ballet recitals.  I wish now that I had a few more memories of Mom and me playing together, but I think no matter what our moms give us, we wish for something more, or other.  I envied the kids whose moms brought cupcakes to school, and sewed the costumes for recitals, but in hindsight, I’d say I did alright.  My mom taught me young to bake my own cupcakes and sew my own costumes, so she could get out in the world and show me how to be a woman with vision, passion, and tenacity.  Cupcakes are overrated.

Monday, January 6, 2014

Midnight in New Orleans

Sky ceilngs are fun to paint.  Usually I'm asked to do them in a nursery, but I've done them in pantries, dining rooms and bathrooms.  Just before Christmas, I got to paint one in a master bedroom.  Usually, the clients want a cheerful blue sky with just wisps of clouds.  These folks didn't want the usual.  These folks wanted:  

  •    Moody romance
  •    Maybe with a stormy sky, if possible
  •    A 1920's vibe...art nouveau perhaps
  •    Perhaps a little New Orleans
  •    Perhaps a little Celtic
  •    Work with their lavender walls and traditional mahogany furniture

Here's how all that worked into one design...
This shot actually shows it a little brighter than it looks in person, but you can see the overall idea here, anyway.  Perhaps you can understand why I spent a couple of days singing everything from "Stormy Weather" to "Bad Moon Rising", as I painted.  As music is not one of my talents, this will hopefully fade from the client's memory fairly soon.
All the necessities, and then some.  Most clients give me hugs, but these folks gave me kisses!  
Here you get a  better sense of the ceiling color.  The clouds fade down onto the walls, where they are overlapped by a free form border, based on a 1920's wrought iron design, which I crossed with some Celtic line work from an ad of the same vintage.  Though the ceiling was mostly blue and gray, I used some purple toward the edges, to blend with the walls, and then a shade of raisin for the main scrolls to link the purple and lavender with the mahogany furniture.  
Yes!  One shot where the camera saw what people see.  Here you see the plummy undertones in the lavender, the extra ribbons of white in the border, and the clouds in their full glory.  This shot explains why this is my new favorite project.  Of course, I'm one of those odd ducks who loves thunder storms, so I'm biased.

So, what's on your ceiling?  Bored with plain white?  Even if something this dramatic is a bit much for you, there are lots of other possibilities.  Click on over to my website to see some other ideas, or give me a list of everything you like, and I'll see what I can stir up.

Tuesday, December 31, 2013

Auld Lang Syne (The Old Long Since)

May we always remember these days fondly, by the steps they build to the future we've yet to live.

2013 was, for me, a year of blessings and transformations, new adventures undertaken, new friends made, old friendships deepened, pleasures shared, treasures safely held onto, and a few dreams let go of.  A pretty typical year, by that description.

In reality, although my life isn't exactly typical ever, I'd say this year was exceptionally not so, thanks to some great friends... 

Cat Isles, author, patron, sometime business partner, and generous friend.

Cathy (Cat) Isles commissioned me to illustrate her children's book, Fruit and Veggies Aplenty!...


During a writing assignment for an art class, I met a mouse named Lucie..

 Lucie loves bread and cheese, negligees, and Italy.  Wait, Italy?  I think that's a different adventure!
Lucie (along with a few other dear friends) helped me take a dream trip to Belgium and France....
I seem to have taken more pictures of bookstores than of the panoramic scenery.
I met a crew of kindred spirits in France...
Most of the merry band of revelers I spent a week with at La Cascade in Durfort, France.

Sing every Broadway tune ever written?  Sure!  Swear in French-a-la-southern -gal?  Sure!  Behave badly at the dinner table?  Repeatedly!

Oh, and we made books.  That was what the class was all about, after all. 

And I reconnected with one of my dearest childhood friends in Belgium...

This is my childhood Bestie, with her two younguns.  If you listen to MPR, these are the faces on the other side of the microphone when you hear, "Reporting from Brussels, this is Teri Schultz."  Yeah, the boys are often right there with her, 'cause news happens in the middle of real life.

And now I'm currently writing the final chapters of Lucie's adventures, Postcards From Lucie, a novel for middle-grades readers, and beginning to shop for a publisher!

Watch for Postcards From Lucie, coming soonish (we hope) to a bookstore near you.

With my friend Cat, I published three more issues of the magazine we started in 2012...
Cat with our friend and constant mentor, Maureen Carlson, in a 2012 photo.  We were too busy to pose for photos in 2013, I guess.
And then we let it go...a beautiful dream that was a bit too fragile to sustain longer, but that lived long enough to give me deep joy, new connections, and I must admit, great pride and satisfaction.  

Those were just the brightest highlights.  I spent much of the year in the homes of wonderful clients, in and out of the studio with my Artgirl, Faithie, and enjoying the company of some of my dearest friends, a.k.a. "The Saturdays".  Of course, I'll continue painting and decorating for clients, but as those who've followed this blog over the years have surely realized, I'm doing less of those projects lately.  As you may have noticed from this post, I've fallen rather seriously (deeper) in love with books this past year, and I suspect my focus is going to shift even further in that direction in 2014.  Time will tell.  One adventure leads to another, and someday, these days will be the "Old Long Since".  I hope I'll still have all of you to swap tales with. 

May your new year be filled with deep love, bubbling joy, grand adventures, abundant prosperity, and the very dearest and sweetest of friends.

Tuesday, December 24, 2013

Don't lick the tree!

Last year's Christmas tree was a freshly cut, quirkily spindly spruce, decorated in a rustic, natural simplicity.  It was beautiful and peaceful, and I loved it.  This year however, with the outside of the house covered in frosting and candy, I had to do something sweet inside, as well, so the tree is a sugar-saturated confection.  Well, actually, it's mostly paint and glitter, though the cookies and candy canes are real.  Kinda wish I'd used a real tree this year too, as the fresh balsam would have smelled heavenly with the scent that wafts from the cookies...sigh.

Sugar coated Christmas Tree

Cupcakes in rainbow hues mingle with...
Ice cream cones in five different flavors, and...
chocolates, intermingled with...
Classic gingerbread hearts.
Of course, I always have to have a few words with my visuals!

Here's a peek at what's marauding as edibles:

Cupcakes are made by removing the satin thread covering those ubiquitous unbreakable ornaments.  These are always nearly free at most any thrift store, and waaaaay less expensive than buying new Styro balls.  Be cheap and green and recycle!  The frosting is created with cotton-type pads.  Quilt batting will work, but these thin little pads (I think they came from an industrial supply place) look amazingly real when stretched and hot glued to the ball.  The ball is glued into a cupcake paper, and then the "frosting" is tinted with a wash of thinned acrylic craft paint and sprinkled with iridescent fairy dust glitter, while still wet.  A dark pink pom-pom "cherry" was glued on top for a finishing touch.

Ice cream cones also start with those satin covered balls, though for these, you needn't remove the satin threads.  The ice cream is created with Sculptamold, which is a coarse plaster/paper mache material, available at nearly any craft store.  Just glop it on the top 2/3 of the ball, leaving a little lip to overhang the cone, like all the best ice cream parlours do.  Instant paper mache will also work, as will most air dry clays.   Once dry, paint with thinned acrylic paints, and sprinkle with fairy dust while wet.   The waffle cone is made from a quarter circle of tag board, covered in a lace doily, or scraps of old tablecloth or curtain lace.  Use a heavy coat of Mod Podge or white glue to stick the lace to the tag board, then saturate the top of the lace, too.  Without waiting for it to dry, paint this in caramel and brown tones of acrylic paint, and curve gently into shape.  Once dry, hot glue the quarter circles into cone shapes, trim the top edge a bit if desired, and hot glue the ice cream into the cone.  

Close-up of how the "ice cream" looks.  No need to be fussy, and in fact, they looked more real when I quit trying so hard to sculpt them.

The chocolates are simply brown pom-poms (made from thrift store yarn), some trimmed square, with snippets of ribbon, mini-gimp, and ribbon roses icing their tops.  I applied Minwax Polycrylic to both sides of candy papers to stiffen them, them coated the edge in gold paint, immediately dipped into gold micro-glitter, then hot glued the pom-pom chocolate in the center, with a hanging ribbon tucked under one edge. 

All of these are easy enough for pre-teens to create, and Artgirl helped with some.  Others I worked on at Friday Open Studio, at Maureen Carlson's Center for Creative Arts, though I had to guard them closely from my so-called friends, who were like kids ogling the cookie jar before dinner.  Click the link to Maureen's for Open Studio info.  If you're in the metro area, come join us!

However you decorate, however (and whatever!) you celebrate at this time of year, may your holidays be filled with sweetness and light!

Wednesday, December 18, 2013

Sugar Shock

   Christmas brings out the kid in me.  Okay, yeah, I know what you're thinking.  Tuesday brings out the kid in me.  Waking up in the morning brings out the kid in me.  Fine, yes, we all know my inner 3-year-old runs the show.  Still, I don't usually get to play this much.  I took a break from writing these last couple of months (blogs books, and bookazine), to get life back in balance. (Thanks for the emails, cards and messages, dearest hearts.)  Seems I'd forgotten what it was like to end the workday at 6, instead of whenever I finally fell asleep on my feet, or at the computer.  Still, my idea of relaxing rarely involves turning on a television, and with audio books I can get my lit fix and do stuff, so here's what I did with my Monday afternoons, my weekdays when I had no paint jobs booked, many, many evenings, and most weekends for the past two months...
   Gingerbread is a big Christmas tradition for me.  Actually, it's about my only tradition, except for stockings (yeah, still).  I don't have a big stash of sentimental ornaments, so I decorate my trees in different themes every year.  I celebrate in different ways, depending on who I celebrate with.  Growing up, I couldn't eat my family's traditional clam chowder, so I don't have a gotta-have-it Christmas meal.  But I always bake gingerbread.  

   Most years, it's just cookies, but when I have time, I love making gingerbread houses.  The largest one I ever made was a scale model of my parents Victorian era farm house, back when I was in high school.  It was over 2 feet tall, had candy glass windows, and a light inside that glowed through them.  My mother had visions of an architect in the family.  I simply had visions of sugarplums (too bad Cake Wars hadn't yet debuted on television, or I might have had visions of becoming a sugar chef).  Sorry Mom.

   I've wanted to turn Belle (short for Belle Amie...yes, I gave my house a name...if you met her, you'd understand...) into a gingerbread confection for a few years now, and with the help of my Artgirl, Faithie, it finally happened.  Faithie has made a couple of gingerbread houses herself, and is something of an expert on candy, or at least emptying my candy jar, so she was the perfect partner for this venture.  After some initial sketching, brainstorming, and measuring, we figured out the recipe:

Frosting.  Batches and batches of frosting.
Mix 25 strips of muslin into 4 gallons of thinned paint, shape as desired, and let dry for three days.  May need to be made in batches, if space is not unlimited.
   Faithie and I tried spray foam insulation to make frosting, but the foam was difficult to spray in the shape desired, and one can only made a single strip.  We needed 25.  Not friendly to the budget nor the environment, so we nixed that.  I had a mountain of recycled muslin panels, and I knew dipping fabric in paint would make it shape-able.  It took a few tries to come up with something that looked like frosting and didn't take more than 15 minutes per segment to shape.  We tore the muslin into 18 inch wide by 15 foot long strips, dunked each into slightly thinned paint (which I mixed from "Oops" paint and job left-overs, then tinted), then scrunched them with our fingers on a plastic sheet laid on the dining room table.  There was only room for six pieces at a time, and each batch takes several days to dry, so as usual, Thanksgiving dinner didn't happen here.  

Candy.  You need lots and lots of candy
To cook up these, cut discs from 2" thick Styrofoam about 12 times the normal size of the candies you wish to create.  Shape with serated knives, and by sanding with scrap pieces.  Paint as desired.  Make more than you think you need.
   My goal was to make everything for this project from stuff I already had.  Unlike most folks, I used to work in the event industry creating theme party decor, so I happen to have a large stash of stuff like Styrofoam.  All the mints, M &Ms, and candy canes were made of Styro.  If I'd not had this, I'd have gone the stitched-stuffed-and-painted muslin route.  Once shaped, and once you vacuum off all the styro bits clinging tenaciously to your clothing, the round candies are painted. However, to create the stripes on the candy canes, I dipped a few yards of muslin into red paint, spread it out flat to let it dry, cut it into strips, then pinned those onto the canes.  Waaaayyyy easier than painting spiral stripes on styrofoam.

Gumdrops.  Faithie wanted gumdrops.

Gumdrops require circles of muslin, all the empty hanging planters to be found in two garages, large stones and strong twine for wind resistance, cotton batting, tape, paint in gumdrop colors,  and iridescent flitter (large size glitter).

Dunk fabric in paint, wring out a bit, and drape over  pots.  While still wet, sprinkle liberally with flitter for a sugar effect.  When dry, trim the fabric even with the rim of the pots.  Do not finger paint your sister.
  When making large batches of giant candy, I find it's always good to employ child labor.  If you have none of your own, do what I do, and borrow them from other people.  They will usually work for candy, so stock up on Starbursts and Skittles, and brace yourself for an energetic afternoon. 

Lollipops and Candy sticks.  At least a few.
For lollipops you need large Styro balls (never turn down the junk your friends offer, if you have room in your basement to store swell stuff, as you never know when you will need things like giant foam balls), acrylic craft paint, cellophane, wired ribbon, and large dowels or old curtain poles.  Candy sticks are made of cardboard tubes. acrylic or latex paint, and colored tape.
   The lollipops were the first thing Faithie thought of, and we made them in no time at all.  We painted the balls in her choice of colors.  We used a cordless drill with a paddle bit to make a deep hole in the foam ball, then put a bit of hot glue on the rod and inserted it.  It's a good thing we made them early, as the ground was already starting to freeze.  We had to put them up way before anything else, which must have had folks wondering what we were up to.  We also dug a hole for a 2x4 that the candy stick sign post slides over.  We get really high winds, and I wanted to be sure the ELVES AT WORK sign (another of Faithie's ideas), didn't end up down at the donut shop.  It's made of thin plywood and attached with long screws and large washers.
It's not child labor if her parents are paying me to teach her stuff, right?  What, you never used a post hole digger in art class?

Elves.  Faithie said we had to have elves...and a sign...
Work?  Play?  Eh, same dif.
Ingredients for making an elf:  Left over 3-strand house wire, duct tape (you didn't think this whole project could have happened without using duct tape somewhere, did you?), one toddler sleeper (okay, I did have to buy that...thrift store for 2 bucks), quilt or snow batting, one small pair of gloves, fabric for tunic, hood and shoes (an old curtain panel did the trick here), a foam mannequin head or large foam ball, feathers for hair, hot glue and acrylic paint.

We intended to make three elves, but they take a fair bit of time to construct.  Also,  I had only one mannequin head, and no desire to sculpt heads from scratch for this, two months being all the time I had for the whole project.  The basic idea is to create a stick figure from stiff wire, including fingers, and with a long neck.  Use duct tape to hold strands in place, as needed.  Insert the figure into the sleeper, and stuff with batting.  Put a little padding in the fingertips of the gloves, and wrestle them onto the hands.  If you were making a more permanent soft sculpture, you would wrap the wire in batting and muslin strips and stitch things in place.  That's a whole different thing.  This is Prop Making 101.  

To dress the elf, the tunic is a rectangle with a slit for the head cut in the middle, edges trimmed.  The hood is another rectangle folded in half, trimmed a bit in back, and hot-glued along the seam line.  Shoes are made of three pieces of fabric, hot glued rather than stitched. to save time.  Everything was belted with ribbons, and the hood was pinned into the head to hold it in place.  Oh, the head!  I did shape it a bit by pressing a paint brush handle into the foam, then I painted the face, and glued some craft store feathers on for hair.  I drilled a hole into the neck and pushed it onto the wire neck of the body structure.  Don't glue if you want to be able to turn the head.  She's wired onto the ladder for wind (and prankster) resistance.

You should note that as far as paint for this project goes, we didn't worry about interior/exterior/house/craft.  Any acrylic will hold up fine unless you're in a really rainy climate.  I've painted quick "temporary" signs from interior wall paint and craft paints which got left out for years, year round.  Use what you have, or what you can salvage.

So there's our recipe for a gingerbread house.  We'll add a few ingredients next year, since there were a few things we didn't have time for.  Also, the attic windows didn't get any frosting, mostly because I've never opened them, and I thought it perhaps best not to test the old hinges and latches in the dead of winter.  See, I think these things through.  Well, most things.  Like, I thought to put the second storey frosting and candy up before the roof got snowed on....just didn't really think about needing to get it down from the snowy roof in January.  Hmmm... If we don't get a January thaw, I may be taking it down around St. Paddy's day!  Fa-la-la-la-leprechaun!
Artgirl, a.k.a. Faithie.  Best elf.
I love this kid!
So, yes, I'm back to blogging.  Check back here next Monday for a peek at my Christmas tree, if this wasn't sugar enough for you.  In keeping with the sugarplum vision, I covered this year's  tree in cupcakes, candies, ice cream cones and cookies. It's almost as sweet as Artgirl.

If you're wanting sweet paint for inside your house, check out my portfolio of possibilities at theartofthehome.com.  I'm still booking January paint dates.

Questions or comments can be left below, by clicking where it says comments.  

I took the in-progress shots, but Steve Isles was kind enough to come down from Jordan and shoot the afters, including pics of Faithie and I together.  Of course, it had something to do with it also being dollar burger day at Johanne's Bar and Grill, just around the corner.  Whatever the motivation, thanks Steve!