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

Monday, April 29, 2013

Hair clogged drain? This $3 tool and 30 seconds is all you need.

I don't endorse products or allow random advertising on my blog, but I have recently found out that I am actually not the last person on earth to know about this tool.  None of the people I mentioned it to this week had ever used one, so maybe you don't know about it either.  If you have slow bathroom sink or tub drains, and anyone in your house wears their hair longer than a buzz cut, stop at your local hardware store for one of these this week. 

Zip-It.  Clogged bathroom sink or tub drain?  This is probably all you'll ever need.
Wasband #2 (he of the musician's mane) used to plunge the bejeezus out of the tub drain about once a month, and it still never worked very well.  About once a year, I would give up and dump a bottle of the wickedest drain cleaner I could find down the thing, which also didn't seem to really (di)solve the issue.  A few years back, I found the pipe cleanout under flooring in the closet, and removed a hairball the size of a dachshund from where the plunger seemed to have packed it into a union of the new and old plumbing.

About a year ago, knowing the clog wasn't that far down the pipe, but unable to work any sort of magic with a plunger, I popped around the corner to the hardware store (love small town living!) to see what else there was.  I chose the ultra-super-dissolves-everything-except-miraculously-your-pipes potion, and then spotted this little gizmo.  It's a Zip-It.  Some of the potions now even come with one.  I don't think you need the potion.

Despite my best efforts, and a fine tea strainer that catches most of my baby silk hair, I still get a slow drain a few times a year.  I now know not to push it further along with a plunger, where it will grow from a mouse sized inconvenience to a small monster that will totally clog the pipe fifteen minutes before out of town guests arrive.  Now I just pop in this little zippy strip, wiggle it, tug a bit, briefly panic thinking this will be the time it gets permanently snarled into the drain, and then finally pull out the offending snarl of silk.  Voila!  and Eeew!  (I'll spare you a photo of that.)  Zippy-quick drains, once again.

Okay, this is not the sexiest post I've ever written (Wait.  Sadly, it might be.  This isn't really a very sexy blog is it?), and not exactly a decorative topic (unless you noticed the fab painted marble counter top), but it's probably one of the biggest favors I could ever do for my readers.  Seriously.  I love whoever invented this thing.  I could marry whoever invented this thing.  Oh wait, I can operate it myself.  No spouse required.  Good thing, 'cause I could be in for a really big surprise at the altar... ! :)))  Whoever you are, I send you my undying gratitude.  I hope it's made you a millionaire.

Friday, April 26, 2013

Mmm-Mmm good (...gawd do not eat that crap in a can!)

Once upon a time there was a very little girl who wanted to go to story hour at the library, and she got all dressed up.  Not in her fancy-patched hand-me-down jeans, but in an actual dress.  Her mother said she needed to eat lunch first, and all her siblings gathered around the table.  Being all dressed up made the little girl feel much too big and important to sit on her baby chair, and she insisted on sitting on a regular one.  Of course, this meant that the hot soup was way too high to reach, and somehow, the bowl flipped, and scalding liquid covered her beautiful dress.  The last thing she remembers of that day was screaming while being almost instantly lifted from behind and whisked toward the kitchen sink.  She has never again eaten Campbell's Tomato Soup (baaaad soup).  She still loves libraries, and every once in a while, she even wears a dress. 

Homemade tomato soup.  Broccoli garnish optional.  Was not going to let lunch get cold while I ran to the store to buy parsley for a photo, slacker that I am.

Actually, the reason I've never eaten store-bought tomato soup is that I think it tastes sort of pasty.  For as long as I can remember, my version of tomato soup has been to just heat diced canned tomatoes and add some herbs.  It's pretty good, but it has that sharpness. 

I was thinking about this recently, and it occurred to me to use pureed carrots, both to add body, and to smooth out the flavor.  The idea came from habanero hot sauces, which are usually carrot based.  I added a few more veggies, along with the carrots, and I'm really pleased with it. Thick, smooth, and no pasty fillers, or un-food ingredients.  Spring has finally arrived, but evenings are still cool, so this soup is a great way to warm your tummy (from the INSIDE).  Throw an audio book on the CD or Mp3 player while you cook, and you've got story hour, too!

Almost instant Tomato Soup

   Finely chop or coarsely grate, then saute (in a little olive oil) until soft, and even a little brown:
1/2 medium-large onion
4 stalks celery
2 large carrots
1 tsp (1 clove) minced garlic

   Toss in, and stir to wilt:
2 big handfuls of spinach leaves
1 tsp tarragon

  Puree in blender with:
1 large can of diced or crushed tomatoes

  Heat in saucepan with:
1 quart chicken broth, vegetable stock, or water

That's all there is to it.  Soup's on!

Now, of course that's not the end of the story.  At least not for the recipe.  This is great left over, but what if you don't want tomato soup again?  Stir in crumbled cooked hamburger or other chopped, cooked meat and a diced baked potato, add a handful of left-over green beans or broccoli,  and kiss those Chunky Soups good-bye.  Don't want soup? Toss it in a skillet and simmer it for a few minutes to evaporate the liquid back out (or skip the broth/stock/water in the first place).  Now you have a great sauce for an omelet or steak...

Souper Sauce on a broccoli and mushroom omelet.
Want Italian?   Just add some basil and oregano, maybe a little more garlic, and you have pasta sauce.  Cook it just a bit thicker, and it's pizza sauce.  Mexican?  Cumin, chili powder, and some cooked pinto or kidney beans.  I could keep going, but it's after midnight, which is way past my bedtime, so write your own ending!

Monday, April 22, 2013

The Greenhouse Effect

It is April 22nd, and it's snowing.  Again.  I don't care if we are forecasted for as much as four inches of snow tonight, I put my parka in the winter storage closet on Saturday, and it's not coming out again until autumn.  Period.  Especially since we are also forecasted for 74 degrees on this coming Saturday.  As you might well imagine, the gardeners in Minnesota are getting really antsy.  Even I, grower of the worlds largest heirloom free-range dandelions (all organic, of course), am getting mighty anxious to at least play in the dirt.

A handful of gardeners (and me) from our local garden club got to spend a few hours in semi-paradise on Saturday. Pearson Greenhouse in Jordan, MN, let us come in and plant up our flower pots and hanging baskets. Andrew says he's never done this before, and was a little hesitant, but Dan, the garden club's self-proclaimed curmudgeon, somehow sweet talked him into it.
Garden club members browsing Pearson Greenhouse.  This is maybe about a fifth of the big greenhouse, and there were several smaller hoop houses behind it.

My (365 Being bookazine) business partner and her husband joined the garden club recently.  Cat really loves beautiful gardens, and Steve really loves gardening, so I guess they're a match made in heaven.

Dan, the curmudgeon, who is usually on the other side of a camera at garden club meetings.

Beth (right) whose cats once starred in a blog post (Zen and the Art of Cat Herding click to read, if you like stories wherin the cats humiliate the human), gets some help choosing plants.
 Oh.  My.  Stars.  It was such heavenly tonic!  The allyssum in one corner of the huge greenhouse scented the warm, humid air with such honeyed perfume, I could imagine bees getting drunk on the fragrance.  Maybe that's because I was getting drunk on it.  Hmm...does this make me a  reeeeally cheap drunk?!  "Greens-tender, I'll take another shot of that there nectar!"

Andrew Pearson, a gardener's best friend.
The folks at Pearson's were so helpful, and very patient with our questions.  Some of us brought along magazine clippings of planter arrangements that we liked, and they helped us choose similar plants rated for our zone (normally 4/5, though I'd be inclined to call it a zone 2, if I looked out the window right now), and sized for our planters.  They will water and tend our pots for a few weeks, until Mother's Day, by which time the weather is usually warm enough to put them outside.  Now that we've all had a preview of what they have growing, I'm betting most of our members will be going home with more than just their pots that Sunday!
We got to belly up to the potting bench and play in the dirt.

Bonnie (left) and Carol (right) were having fun in the, well, um, fluorescent lights.  Even without any sun, it was fun.  And in case you're wondering about the laundry detergent jugs, those make great scoops for things like potting soil, when you cut the bottom end out.
Big box stores sell plants cheap, but if you have a local nursery, try to give them your business.  Sometimes their prices are higher, but spending your money locally means you keep your neighbors in business, your friends employed, and your community thriving.  In the long run, the cost evens out.  Besides, you won't find the intoxicating air of a well-tended greenhouse at the Big Orange Depot, and if it's snowing three weeks later than a normal late winter where you live, believe me, that's some priceless stuff!

Thursday, April 18, 2013

How to Create a Classic Bagged Leather Finish

Bagged leather is one of those classic faux finishes that works with a lot of decorating styles.  I spent a day this week painting a wall for clients who had done some remodeling and wanted me to make the new wall match one I did a few years ago.  Since I custom mix glazes, my biggest worry was matching the color, but luckily I have a habit of mixing way too much, just to be on the safe side, and I had left the extra with them, as I always do.  I'm fairly certain their base color is Behr Iced Tea.  The glaze I custom tinted is mostly raw umber, but softened with some burnt umber tint.  I like Hirshfields (a Midwest brand) glaze a little better than Behr, which in the past dried faster, though I've not tried it in several years.  You may want to mix extender into your glaze to give maximum working time.

"Tobacco Leather" bagged glaze
You can get all kinds of different patterns with plastic pressed into wet paint.  Julie preferred a pretty fine and even look to hers, so this is how I did it on this job...

Mask everything.  Use 2" wide tape, tan on popcorn ceilings and woodwork, blue on delicate painted surfaces.  Put down drop cloths, fill a bucket of water and round up a few rags to keep handy.

Prep your tool.  This will give you better results, allow you to work faster, and make the job easier than trying to just hold a scrunched up bag in your hand.  Wrap a Woolie tool or a grout float with tan masking tape turned sticky side out.  Turn a couple of plastic grocery bags inside out (otherwise the ink will transfer to your wall) and scrunch them onto the tape, creating as much texture as possible. 

Once you are ready to paint fast and without stopping, using slightly thinned glaze, cut in the edges of a section about one yard or meter square.  Notice I use more of a squishing motion, rather than brushing it in the usual way, which could leave lines.

Roll paint on, then starting tight in the edges, pat quickly with the tool, a little for loose large pattern, a lot for finer pattern.   Roll the next section, just meeting, but not overlapping, and pat this seam first, then the rest of it.   This is not a forgiving technique, and overlap marks will show.  On a larger wall, keep a damp rag handy and wipe it over the surface ahead of you before rolling on the glaze.  This will keep it wetter longer.  Also vary the size shape and edges of the patches you roll on, so if you do get laps it isn't as obvious.

Paint tight spots by dabbing with an artists brush.  In really small areas, you may not even need to press plastic into it.  Pull tape, clean any sneaky glaze off of the ceiling edge,  and touch up any unglazed spots that might show up along the baseboard and in corners.  Done.

If you put your switch plates back on right away, wait a few days to tighten the screws, to keep them from sticking to the glaze.
 There are a few more tricks to this. 

   One is to not try to go around inside corners.  It almost always looks better to work on side walls, then come back to dry edges, mask the corner with blue tape, and do end walls. 
   If you have someone work with you, have them wipe with the damp rag and roll on the paint just ahead of you, so you can just keep working the bag. 
   You will need to wipe excess glaze off of the bag fairly often, so have a few rags handy for this. 
   Don't let paint start to dry on the bag, or you will get little paint boogers stuck in the next part you pat it onto. 
   If paint gets on your textured ceiling, it usually is best to let it just barely dry and pick it off with a fingernail, rather than trying to wipe it off wet, whicn almost never works.
   Start in the least visible spot in the room, and finally, if your first attempt is going badly, wipe it off quickly, take a break, tweak your glaze if you think it might need to be a bit thinner or thicker, and start again. 

City loft or country cabin, formal dining room or cowpoke's nursery (or just in a typical suburban master bedroom), leather is always stylish.  Try it!

Monday, April 15, 2013

(Not so) Old Plaster

Working on Cat's illustrations (see last post), I'm spending a lot of time in the room formerly known as my dining room.  I probably blogged about this room some 320 posts back, but people still ask if Belle's dining-room-turned-studio-annex walls are the original finish, and whether it's pressed tin or paper.  No, and neither. 

stenciled plaster (joint compound), and hand sculpted paper clay border
When I moved in, most of the walls were off-white, and painted with a slight orange peel texture. I'm guessing the texture paint was done to hide a hundred years of less than perfectly patched lath and plaster. Not my favorite thing ever, but neither is sanding for hours to crate smooth walls, so I worked with it.

The technique I used is essentially what was done before the machine age made pressed tin and embossed wallpaper available to the masses. It's joint compound (simply the modern day plaster substitute, premixed and easy to work with) trowelled through a stencil. The look was popular, but few homes in the U.S. would have had it done the old way, especially not with the hand-sculpted (Italian paper clay) border, however I only wanted to nod to the era, not decorate a museum set.

Belle Amie, built in 1906, is historically relevant to this small town, but not architecturally significant. She's well built and beautiful, but not too valuable to tweak. In fact, I'm fairly certain she was built from the left overs from the family's lumber yard, and I think these people who put a huge pink window in the foyer would probably approve of my artistic additions. (If not, they aren't saying much about it.)
custom stenciled plaster

Still, I didn't go off in a totally new direction. The stencil I designed for the walls is a simplified version of the sunflower pattern on the doorknobs found throughout the house. The diamond pattern is found in the mullioned pink window in the foyer, as well as leaded glass sidelights and a transom window. The garland of leaves and fruit is my own folly, as I didn't want to take the wine colored walls all the way to the ceiling, and needed something to finish the edge. Sculpting this was a long slow process, of course, especially since it took a few tries to figure out what to use, but it turned out to be the beginning of my love affair with sculpting plaster.
antique doorknob, sunflower pattern, pre-1906

Had I known the dining room would eventually be a second art studio, would I have done the same thing? Probably not. I'm glad I didn't see the future, because I love working in this room several days a week.  I think one of my favorite things is to make functional things beautiful, or to use beautiful objects in functional ways.  Just like I don't save the good silver for special meals, I don't save the fanciest room in the house for special days.  In fact, enjoying the fine things every day makes every day a little bit special.

Have a great week.  Sure hope you love your work space as much as I love mine!  If not, I do leave my sanctuary to work on other people's walls.  I'm almost done with this illustrating project, so I'll be ready to take on some walls in a week or so.  Click on the rabbit at the top of the page for contact info.

Thursday, April 11, 2013

Of Birds and Brambles...

Well, April in Minnesota is looking pretty much like the last six months in Minnesota.  For those of you who don't live here, no, this is not normal.  Not that it never happens, but it hasn't in the 15 or so years I've lived here.  Not this much snow. 
It's just like a Currier and Ives Christmas card, except it's April.

Nothing to be done about it.  Bird watching was really good, since all the spring returning songsters show up against snow covered branches.  My cardinals and robins are all accounted for, and the house finches had to share the front porch with a lot of them, as they swooped in to dry their feet on the throws I leave on the swing and rocker.  I put out seed for everyone, and enjoyed the parade.

Robin wants in.  They weren't battering themselves against the glass (I'm "kind enough" to not wash my windows too often and thus endanger them), but there were several robins checking out the greenery in my front parlour from their perches in this bush, and on the front porch today.

There are always lots of things to do on a snow day.  I'd have gone out and built a snow fort, but then I would have had to endure the guilt of not shovelling the sidewalk.  My apologies to the three people who walked through downtown today, but I just could not force myself to shovel wet heavy stuff that will be water tomorrow.    Instead, I stayed in and did my work, which is just as much fun as building snow forts.

A tidy little stack of tissue, paint and markers...

 ...has turned into a landslide of snips and scraps...

during (you should see the floor!)
  ...to create things like this:

I probably could have just flattened a real onion and snapped a picture, but what fun would that have been?
Sorry, just the sneakiest of peeks, because this is an illustrating job for Cathy Isles' newest kids' book, Fruit and Veggies Aplenty, and I'm sure she'll want to unveil it properly in due time.  I had to show it though, because I've been really thin on blog material lately, since I usually show my work of the week, and for several weeks, this has been pretty much it.  Who knew it would take as long to illustrate a picture book as it does to paint a sixty foot mural? 

No, of course it didn't have to take this long.  True to my motto,
  "Two roads diverged in a wood
    and I, I went hiking off
       through the brambles",
I managed to find a way to make adding a bit of "loose and simple color and collage", to Cat's text and Lisa Fahey's photos, about as detailed as loose and simple can possibly be. 

There is nothing to be done for me.  I will happily tell you a dozen easy ways to do just about anything, but I will never personally take the easy way if it isn't the juiciest option I can dream up.  Why not?  Because the berries make the bramble hike worthwhile.  (Hang on Cat, I'm almost there, berries and all!)

Monday, April 8, 2013

Breathe or crack up? Hmmm...maybe both? But in a good way.

B  R e A T H e.  (Close-up from a mixed media fireplace I did a few years ago)
I had a weird day last Friday.  As I lay contemplating the quiet of 4 a.m. in a very small town, I suddenly heard the terrifying sound of the city street sweeper, out for the first cleaning of the year.  Why terrifying?  Because the city tows anyone left on the street before the sweeper comes around, and I had forgotten to move my van, which I parked on the street days earlier, to avoid my icy driveway.  Luckily, the tow truck driver took pity on me, and chose to ring my doorbell.  Unluckily for him, the doorbell doesn't work, so I didn't know he was behind the storm door when I flung it open and came flying out (without keys and in my pajamas). 

He survived the battering, I moved the van, and after an adrenaline-crash nap, I got on with my day, which was weirdly up and down.  Morning pages and prayers were soothing, insightful and inspiring, but I still sent one email three times and still didn't get it there with attachments (which I found out long after I left the house); I cheerfully and boldly gave two spur of the moment presentations of the bookazine, and afterward realized I had not once introduced myself or explained who I was; and I remembered to stop at the grocery store, but despite my sunny, optimistic demeanor, forgot to get the item I stopped for, and had to go back. Optimism sometimes has limits.  Aaaargh! 

Finally, having mucked up everything, and not daring to actually work on the day's mural project in the few remaining hours, I went and parked next to a lake, read through some research books I had picked up at the library, and worked on some writing projects instead.  Safe work, safely isolated from innocent bystanders.  When I arrived home, there was an email from Cat, my partner in 365 Being, that said "Breathe."  Oh, yeah.  Too bad I don't remotely check email during the day. 

The email made me think of the Breathe mosaic (click here to see full fireplace), which made me think maybe it's time for a mosaic post.  I don't get to play with this addictive process very often, so the only thing I've done since last summer's garden stake toppers (click here to see mosaic garden ornaments) is this mail box.  I'm still waiting for the ground to thaw enough to install a new post for it, but here's a shot of it on the work table.

Usually I arrange patterned china in pretty rhythms.  On this piece, I nipped solid china, most of it textured or embossed, to create flowers for the rabbit's garden.  This was inspired by some of the work by artist/designer Kaffe Fassett (Kaffefassett.com), who is one of my absolute fav's when it comes to abundant juicy color and layered pattern.  His website, mostly full of his fabrics and needlework designs, doesn't show very much mosaic work, but he has a book on mosaic and several others you might want to check out.
If you are into chipped china mosaic more like the Breathe piece, check out vintagedragonfly.com.  I came across her on facebook a week or two ago, and she does lots of mosaic, plus other crustily embellished creations that fans of layers of sparkle will love.

Some days you can get back on track with some deep breaths and a little spiritual chiropractic. Others are just wonky, and the best you can do is to know they will be funny in retrospect.  I hope your week is full of fabulous days, but if not, don't forget to BReATHe!

Thursday, April 4, 2013

5 wise folks who know the secret to bliss...

In case you didn't know, I'm exceptionally fond of words.  Not only am I a writer and a bookazine editor/designer/publisher (365being.com), I used to be a sign painter, and have done my share of calligraphy.  I also used to be really perfectionistic about my lettering, but over time I have come to prefer playing with my letters.  Here at home, I have lettered favorite quotes over all the double doors, and when I decided to blog about favorite quotes tonight, I realized these two say pretty much the same thing.  As someone once said, the more things change, the more they stay the same...

"The highest form of bliss is living with a certain degree of folly."  ~Erasmus

"It's rock 'n' roll baby, you gotta let your freak flag fly." ~Cyndi Lauper
Hmm...who else said about the same thing?
  Dr. Seuss:  If you never did, you should.  These things are fun, and fun is good!
 Collette:  You will do foolish things, but do them with great enthusiasm.
 and Mary Engelbreit sort of said it:  Life's too mysterious, don't take it serious.

What do I say about it?  How about this one:  You're never too old for super hero pajamas!


Monday, April 1, 2013

Spring treasures...

Earlier this spring, I received a sweet little hand-turned wooden bowl in an artists' exchange, which I really love.  I used it this weekend to hold the naturally dyed eggs a bunch of us made at Maureen Carlson's open studio on Friday. 

Several of us had noticed variations on naturally dyed eggs on facebook and Pinterest, and wanted to see how well the techniques worked. We tested spices, tea and coffee, onion skins, cherries, grape juice, and red cabbage (which oddly enough makes a really pretty blue). Maureen did one batch by boiling the eggs with the onion skins and vinegar in the cooking water, and those came out a really deep rich streaky brown, looking almost woodgrained themselves. 

Cat and I plan to do a full story on this for the Spring 2014 issue of 365 Being, with directions, and some more dye materials and techniques tested by then.  These may not be quite bright enough to excite the average six year old, but if you are doing a vignette with old lace and rusty bits, the muted tones could be just the look you are after.  That's a whole year away though, so in the meantime, you might want to catch our current issue, available at 365being.com.