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

Thursday, March 31, 2011

Inspiration: Maureen Carlson

If you have been reading this blog for a little while, you may have noticed that I have added a regular "Inspiration:  somebody" post every week.  Although I'm only just now getting to her feature, Maureen is the person who inspired this.   Back in December, when my dog McKinley died, I sent an email to a few close friends, then wrote his story as a blog post.  Maureen Carlson was one of those friends, and she replied that she hoped I would write something as nice for her when she dies.  I think I would rather tell you all how great she is while she's alive, so you are inspired to meet her.  Being counted among her friends is one of my biggest blessings, and one I would wish upon all of you.
Maureen visits with Kadence at open studio one cold winter night.

If you've never heard of Maureen Carlson, you probably aren't a polymer clay artist (and you can't have been reading my blog very long or very carefully).  Maureen was one of the first "rock stars" of the world of polymer clay-commonly known by some of it's brand names, Fimo and Sculpey, among many others.  She teaches classes at her own place, "Maureen Carlson's Center for Creative Arts" in Jordan, Minnesota, and at workshops and events across the country.  She hosts other well-known instructors at her center, as well.  Maureen has also appeared on popular craft shows on television, and written numerous books on polymer clay sculpting, which is how I first "met" her.
A peek at the retail space at Maureen Carlson's Center for Creative Arts.  Many of Maureen's original pieces are displayed beneath a hand lettered border, painted by your favorite ex-sign painter.  Click photo to enlarge, click again for details.

About fifteen years ago, when I lived in Alaska, I decided to make a whimsical angel tree-topper for a friend's mother, and off I went, to the local craft store.  Polymer clay was gaining popularity, so there were several books available, and as is the case for all trendy crafts, there were dozens of specialty tools one needed, not to mention a rainbow of colors of clay. One of Maureen's books caught my eye, both for the whimsical style of her characters, and the page that showed you how to make your own sculpting tools from common household items.  Frugal artist that I am, I didn't want to invest a ton of money in something I had never tried before, and wasn't sure I would even like doing, so this was perfect.

That little tiny book was packed full of information and inspiration.  Not only were her directions clear on how to begin, but the encouragement to think about the shape of your own features as you smoothed each piece into place made sure that the results would be your own creation, not a copy of hers.  Maureen is great that way, whether she's helping you bring out your best in your art work, or in your self. 

My very first polymer clay attempt.  Don't blame Maureen's instructions if my whimsical angel turned out to be an elfish version of my dad.  I did as she said, and imagined my own features, but intentionally exaggerated them.  Guess I look more like my father than I realized!

See, she doesn't just teach art.  She's passionate about healing art ( I prefer to call it growing art), the kind of process where you make something interesting, while you make some interesting discoveries about yourself.  You know the quote about the statue David, where Michelangelo says he was always in the stone, he just let him out?  Well, that's how Maureen is.  She sees something in each person who comes to her, and she helps them reveal it.
All the sculpting that I do today started with what I learned from Maureen's book.  More of my ornamental plaster work can be seen on my website, theartofthehome.com

Maureen is kind and wise and talented and funny, and she can give you the gentlest head-tilted-to-one-side, one-eyebrow-raised, "reeeeaaallly?" smile that immediately tells you to cut the crap and get real with yourself.  You don't have to tell her your truth, but you may as well tell yourself, cause she's gonna keep quietly looking at you that way until you do.  Now, some people completely miss the look, and she's fine with that.  I've never seen her act or speak judgementally about anyone (okay, except upon hearing about someone who hurt my feelings, but that was her protective-friend hackles raised, and she had my permission to call a booger a booger in our conversation, while I tried to be open minded and figure out the other guy's perspective).  So, she's kind and wise and talented and funny and loyal and feisty.

Now, back to that book I was telling you about.  There was something else to that book.  There was the brief story of Maureen, this artist who was making a living writing these little how-to books, and selling her whimsical creations at a Renaissance festival.  I knew it was possible!  I knew there had to be a way to have an art career that was a heck of a lot more fun than commercial sign painting, despite what everyone kept telling me about being practical.  I knew it, and this woman was proof!  I had never met her, but I put her in my imaginary "wise council", and held her as my vision of what was possible, if I had the courage to make changes.

Years later, or more precisely, a whole lot of courage, four homes  one state, and a new business later, I was driving from Belle Plaine to Minneapolis, and saw signs for an art festival in the neighboring town of Jordan, and made a side-trip.  As I strolled along the sidewalk, familiar characters in a shop window caught my eye.  I knew these Wee Folk!  I knew this artist!  I don't actually remember if I got to visit with Maureen that day, or just with some of her friends, students and employees who were helping out, but I began stopping in occasionally for supplies, advice, and Friday open studios, and eventually saved up to take a class.

This is Summer Joy, the piece I made in that first class I got to take from Maureen. 
I love watching Maureen teach.  I love watching her students bask in her genuine care and appreciation for their unique way of being, and believe me, some of them be pretty unique!  But know this, if Maureen ever thinks anyone is less than wonderful, I don't think I've ever heard her say it, or seen her face show it.  You are 100% safe letting your guard down in her classes, which is the only way to really get the best she has to offer.  Like I said, you aren't just learning about sculpting clay, here.  Whether a fumbling beginner or a capable pro, each student is challenged just enough, encouraged just enough, guided just enough, and if the breaking point of frustration is hit, Maureen glides in at just the right moment to lend a hand, and make it fun again. She's kind and wise and talented and funny and loyal and feisty and compassionate.

Here's one of Maureen's "Dolls on the Wall" sculptures. 

Maureen explores the theme of masks in many of her works.  Click to enlarge, so you can see the details, or better yet, look for this on her website, which has professional quality photos!
When you hang out at Maureen's you come to appreciate what a skilled listener she is.  Maureen is a seeker of knowledge, truth, light.  Her art and classes have progressed from whimsical fairy-like beings known as Pipsywoggins, to pieces and classes that explore and express soul and spirit, sometimes in light and humorous ways, sometimes in more sober styles.  Her teaching has evolved, both through experience, and through a pretty serious course of study, to better meet the responsibility of handling students with deep caring.  She's the best listener I know, and yet she still takes classes in listening! (I do try very hard to learn this skill from her, really I do).

So, she's wise and kind and talented and funny and loyal and feisty and compassionate and patient and beautiful...and one of my very favorite people in the whole world.  Let me introduce you...

(click here)

Tuesday, March 29, 2011

Nothing to Fear but Fear Itself

Once upon a time, a very long time ago, I wanted to be an elementary school teacher.  I taught preschool, I managed construction crews (a job I found strikingly similar to teaching preschool), and crowds of unruly heathens did not faze me, (regardless of whether their overalls were Osh Kosh B'Gosh or Carhaart).  Somewhere over the years, I lost that, and in recent years have often found myself overwhelmed by even small unruly groups, particularly the young ones.  Last Friday, I mentioned I was looking forward to today's Gathering of the ArtGirls (my three eight and nine year-old students who usually come individually for art lessons on Mondays)with a degree of trepidation.

Silly me.

They were already at high speed before we even got started.  Remember when you had this much energy and enthusiasm on a Monday?

I almost caused today to end with a fatigue headache, and a good-but-exhausted grade for the day.  Oh me, oh my, brave DM, yadda, yadda, yadda.  I caught myself this morning setting the stage for doom, suggesting in an email to my women's business group that positive thought for my sanity might be in order. Honestly, after a morning of baking cupcakes and cleaning house while dancing to everything from "March of the Scottish Bagpipes" to the soundtrack to "Footloose" (I love that you can get music at the library!), I was looking forward to the party.  So I left the whine in the email, but followed it with "Okay, truth:  I get to spend my Monday afternoon at work, playing with my buddies and eating junk food, nya nya nya nya nya-nya!"

...and that's just what I did.

Kadence, Jensen and Faithie, after making party hats and decorating the dining room with streamers and balloons, decorated cupcakes

In an attempt to keep things calm as possible, I suggested we not eat the cupcakes until later.  Fine.  They just ate large quantities of frosting, instead.  Caught you, Faith!

They arrived hopped up, without any sugar, and I reined them in enough to focus on making hats, putting up streamers and balloons, frosting cupcakes, and making and playing a game.  In between, because my house is a Victorian maze of rooms, with multiple doors in and out of each, they spent a huge amount of time chasing each other in circles, shrieking and laughing exactly like my friends and I did, at their age.  It was really fun.  Was I on Valium?  No.  Did I do 20 rounds of EFT/meridian tapping in advance?  No.  I just decided I was going to have fun with my friends.

I filled their champagne flutes with cream soda, and taught them to give toasts.  We toasted artgirls, dogs, owls, love, parties, and burps.  Yes, burps...it's the age.

Now of course, having had an Alaskan Malamute for 13 years, I'm not in the habit of leaving anything breakable within tail wagging range, so very few treasures were in danger of being shattered.  Bear in mind, too that I don't have a typical lifestyle, and my whole house is pretty much on standby to be used as artspace, when the need arises, so I don't have precious carpets and lots of silk pillows that would cause me to worry about soda pop spills.   Also, although the girls know the rules in my house are nearly non-existent, they are all very well mannered and respectful, and will stop immediately if asked.  I only had to slow them down a couple of times.

We each chose a favorite animal, and then took turns drawing one part of our animal to create a creature that turned out to be a mix of German sheppard, cat, owl and rabbit.  Activities like this keep budding artists from comparing themselves to eachother, and just focused on the fun of it.
By the time their mothers picked them up, we had consumed a large quantity of mocha frosting, along with a small amount of cake, several cans of cream soda, a few bites of pizza, and my penny candy stash was looking pretty depleted.  The girls didn't seem any more hopped up than when they arrived, and I was kind of in shock, but not so much of the frazzled variety but of the "wow, that was it?" variety.

Art Girls Forever! 

We tell ourselves stories about our abilities, our personality, our limits, and we create a smaller life so many times, because of it.  I started the day expecting to be wiped out by 6:00 p.m., but I changed my story, and thus my expectation, and I had a really fine time.  "You get what you expect".  I say it, I know it, and still I keep relearning it. 

Of course, now I'm so hopped up on sugar and happy vibes that I might have to get one of you to come scrape me off of the ceiling...except it's midnight, and those of you who are awake to read this as it's posted are half way around the world.  Uh-oh, now I'm battling a fear of the cream soda hang-over that's looming on the eastern horizon (you know you are getting old when junk food gives you a hang-over)!  Have a good week, and let the challenges be fun, if you can.

Friday, March 25, 2011

The perfect place for your next girls' getaway...

  If you know any quilters, scrapbookers, book clubs, or other small groups that like to do weekend get-aways, this is a perfect spot, so pass this link along to them. PLEASE!

I've mentioned Marion's Place on here before, but now that the website is up, I wanted to be sure you all really know about this five bedroom farmhouse, that can be rented for events, retreats, and celebrations, or as a great alternative to a hotel, if you are traveling as a group. 
When last weekend's guests arrived, I happened to be there, tweaking a few last-minute details, while owner Cindy Heimerl ran a quick errand. It was a group of women who do a "girls' getaway" every year.  Looking for a place convenient for women travelling from opposite directions, one gal's husband found Marion's through the local chamber of commerce.  From my out-of-sight spot, I got to hear the first reactions of some of them, which ran along the lines of "This is the nicest place we've ever rented." and "This could get to be a habit!" and "Oh, you have to see this room!" 

Cindy's website has a beautifully done slide show of the house, but that was just after the basic decorating, and before Cindy had time to do what she does best, which is layer up the most unexpected combination of fabrics, pretties, and fine art into absolutely scrumptious environments.  I'm still working from a borrowed computer, with no way to crop photos, so I can only show you these few snaps, but hopefully this will give you an idea of what had that group of women oohing and ahhing well into the next day, when they visited downtown, and were overheard by locals who know the place.

Every bedroom has cozy corners for quiet time to yourself, but don't worry, there's plenty of gathering space, as well.  As you will see on the website, the generous sized dining room has a long library table, perfect for projects or eating, and if it's the former, not to worry, because the kitchen has a generous sized table for noshing between creative sessions.
The house isn't only for women, but it certainly has a feminine vibe, with lots of sparkles, classical statuary, and sweet details.  If you are looking for a venue for an intimate wedding, Marion's place is perfect, and even more perfect than perfect, because Cindy happens to be a wedding officiant, on top of being an entrepreneur with fabulous taste, and vision.  Come summertime, there is also a barn (with chandeliers...you just have to see it), that can be rented separately.
Marion's Place is also convenient.  You get the privacy of a farmhouse in the country, but barely five minutes down the hill is a full sized grocery, pharmacy and liquor store, and two more minutes brings you into downtown Belle Plaine, where there's a cafe, a coffee shop, a bakery, and several taverns...oh, yeah, and me!  Two minutes down the hill from here, and you are on the banks of the Minnesota River, in a stretch known nationally for great bird watching.  At the moment, due to Minnesota's very snowy winter, we're known for the only river crossing not flooded for 30 miles in either direction.  Don't worry, Belle Plaine is on a bluff above the river, and Marion's is uphill from here.

I hope you will take a minute to check out the website, and do us the kindness of telling others.  You never know who might have need of a great little get-away spot like this.  atmarionsplace.com

I hope you have a great weekend.  I'm working straight through, doing one bedroom paint job, and touching up festival signs for a local church, plus prepping to have all three Artgirls here at once on Monday.  It's Spring Break, and when they begged for a gathering of the girls, to which I agreed, I'm not sure I was thinking clearly.  Three very smart, very high energy, very creative little girls, playing off of eachother may be the undoing of me...check back Tuesday morning to see if I survived!

Need paint?  check out my portfolio theartofthehome.com

Did google or someone send you here looking for decorating or crafting instructions?  Please feel free to email me with questions.  If it has to do with cooking, sewing, crafting, faux finishes, or decorating, I might be able to help, so don't hesitate.  Really.  dawnmariedelara@gmail.com

Tuesday, March 22, 2011

Inspiration: Ramon and Carolyn Lara

Ramon and Carolyn Lara have a lot to teach about the art of living. 
 Sometimes the artists who inspire other artists wouldn't even call themselves artists.  And true enough, these two inspire me in ways that aren't just related to art, and speaking of related, yes, they are related to me. 

My mom, Carolyn, is an amazing chef who made a career of turning small town tavern food into something special, sneaking in a little more flavor, a little more nutrition, and a little less of the bad stuff, without anyone knowing what she was up to.  She tested on us kids first, I suspect, so she knew just how much health food she could get away with, before some cowboy caught on.  When she wasn't cooking at work, she taught us kids cooking from scratch, which began with digging up about 1/4 of a city block of crabgrass to plant a garden.  We know where our food comes from, what it takes to get it to the table, and how to make it taste good enough to justify all the work, thanks to her.
Hey, that's my Dad and Mom (Ramon and Carolyn Lara) on the cover!  Photographer S. John Collins could not have captured them any more perfectly than this.

My dad, Ramon, when not out working in the woods, was right there with her on this, presenting a united front in parental child labor enforcement, and torture by Brussels sprouts, but while Mom specializes in the fine art of food, dad is the d-i-y guy with a twist.  My Dad taught me how to expertly wrap a present, tied with a perfect bow, when I was about ten, which was the same year he taught me how to roof the house with cedar shakes.   He's all about integrity, inside and out, so whatever he builds, whatever he does, it's strong and well-planned, as well as beautiful.
1.  Pizza night at the Lara house had nothing to do with delivery, and everything to do with playing in the kitchen (photo from long before the gorgeous kitchen remodel).  Here Dad, with a "child would you knock it off with that camera" look, sizzles bacon on the wood cook stove, while Mom sets out a tableful of toppings for everyone to mix and match as they like.   2.   The pair of them bust a few dance moves on their way out the door...either that or they're critiquing each other's shoes.  3.  The house after new shingles, before siding and bedroom addition.  Yes, they let us kids climb up there and help with the roof.  Right bunch of mountain goats, we were, so we woulda been climbing something steeper than this, if they had sent us off to play.

My folks and I are very different in our aesthetics.  Dad builds things with wood in a clean Danish Modern sort of a style that shows off the grain, while I (influenced by early exposure to thrift shops and antique stores by my mom...was my first word patina?),  I build things from recycled furniture and paint and gild them to the max.  While Mom likes a traditional American country sort of a look, though, I'm more likely to gravitate toward European influences.  Thus, their influence on my artwork is more an ingrained way of living, doing, making, and being, than an aesthetic.

It's about knowing that the details, even the ones that don't show, do matter.  The flavor of the soup Mom makes depends on how folks cared for the garden that produced the vegetables, how she seasoned the stock, and how much wine and conversation is flowing in the kitchen, while she's cooking.  I stir up projects the same way Mama taught me to cook, with my senses wide open, testing possibilities, following whims, letting others add their bit of flavor, and never forgetting that love is the most important ingredient.

It's about having the patience and vision to follow an idea from "Well, how do I fix this crumbling corner of the foundation?" to "We built a new master suite on this side of the house, to suit our needs as we age."  This project of Dad's explains where I get my tendency to "wander off through the brambles, when there were plenty of berries by the path".  The foundation repair that became a wing on the house has vaulted ceilings, a mosaic stone tile floor, and a passive solar wall of beautiful stone.  It also has a water feature aspect to the stone wall that didn't quite work, so it's under reconsideration, but that's inspiring, too. 

Artists aren't afraid of trying what hasn't been done.  It's not a question of if it will work, but how to get it to work, and that's just a matter of playing with it, working on it, studying about it, moodling and doodling through it, and if I got this part of the lesson right, the occasional artful application of the perfect blend of swear words, at just the right moment.
1.  Mom seems to have found something interesting in the cabbage patch.  All I can say is I didn't leave it there!  2.  Dad is not always this successful at controlling the fish population in the Snake River, but he always enjoys it! 3.  Although this wooded picture doesn't seem to be taken there, somewhere out there in the mountains is the Ramon Lara Compartment of the Wallowa-Whitman National Forest.  Like having forests to hunt and fish and play in?  Thank a tree-hugger  (actually, I only ever saw him hug a tree once, and that was on a camping trip that involved a late night with the uncles, and some sort of tummy upset :)  ).

These days, they are enjoying their retirement, pretty much working full-time as volunteers on a number of committees and projects.  Baker City, Oregon, surrounded by beautifully reforested mountainsides,  has a beautifully preserved historic downtown, a community art center, a farmer's market, a food co-op, and countless other amenities that can trace their existence or continuance in some significant way to the work, vision, cooperation, participation or leadership of these two.  So then, the most valuable inspiration I've gotten from them?  I think that would have to be the fine art of citizenship. 
Tonight's muse. 

Happy Birthday, Papa Bear!  Thanks for showing me how it's done.  Both of you are an inspiration to so many of us.  Love you BIG.

Friday, March 18, 2011

Things aren't quite what they seem around here

What do you get when you combine a vintage light fixture and a glass candle holder?   Two less things in the neighbor's trash, and a cool pedestal bowl.
I remember once trying to explain almond butter to a friend, as "kinda like peanut butter, but..." At which point she started laughing and said "Everything in your life is kinda like something normal, but not exactly."

As long as we're gluing together glass, this hatstand is two vases and a round glass candle globe.  You can do these as garden ornaments and candle sticks, too.  To create the illusion of a single piece of glass, stick to one color, or graduated color.  I use loc-tite 5 minute epoxy.
Help, I'm gluing, and I just can't stop!  This one's a vintage metal light fixture (turned upside down), topped with an old china bowl, and a drift of seashells.  A great way to make use of a china pattern  you love that doesn't match any other dishes you own.  Pedestal bowls can hold all kinds of things, including candles like this one, in every room of your house.
Fast forward twenty years, to a friend who after five minutes in a junk shop with me threatened to have my headstone engraved with what she swears is my favorite phrase: "Oh, look, if you turn it upside down, it could be a..."  I had planned on "Gone to the Grand Perhaps, back soon!", but hey, at that point, I'm sure I'll go along with whatever.

My upside down piano legs are second only to my Teddy bear on the list of "what would you grab if you had five minutes to vacate".  They are willed to my friend Cindy, but  I plan to live to 100, and she's a bit older than me, so feel free to request second dibs.

Seriously, I do have an inability to let things be.  It's too much fun to transform them into something more useful, especially if they're headed for the dumpster. 

This mantle, made of two salvaged headboards and a broken mirror mosaic, would have been made of an old piano top, but that ended up being a breakfast bar in a client's home.  Careful, the junk bug is catching!
Why buy poster frames when vintage storm door windows, painted black, have so much more character, and cost little or nothing?  Watch for dumpsters outside homes in old neighborhoods, where remodeling is commencing, then don't hesitate to ask if you can salvage.  It's trendy, now, and you will very likely meet interesting people who will give you all kinds of unexpected treasures (complete with vintage stories and homemade cookies), if you are charming and polite.  And the pink satin pointe shoes?  Mountain Girl didn't always live in hiking boots.
How many uses can you think of for a wrought iron candle sconce?  Here it holds towels over the sink in my garden themed kitchen.  If I hadn't had this, I probably would have used my wrought iron garden hose holder, since I rarely roll the hose up, anyway.
Edison said, "All you need to be an inventor is a good imagination and a big pile of junk."  If a big pile of junk is Edison's heaven, I wonder if that's him I hear thumping around in my basement full of salvaged treasures!

Need help on projects in your home?  Click on over to my website theartofthehome.com for information about how to hire me, and to see my full portfolio.

Want to do something yourself, but don't know how?  Please feel welcome to email me.  If it's handmade home decor, party decorating, cooking, or sewing, I just might know how to do it, and if I do, I'll be glad to share what I know with you.  dawnmariedelara@gmail.com .  Really.  Just ask.

Wednesday, March 16, 2011

A wee bit o' green

A little St. Patrick's Day game for you:  How many green things can you find in this photo?  Once you count the obvious green colored things, you might want to count the other green things. 

Living Room at Belle Ami.  Just how green can you get?  click to enlarge, click again for details.

 Let's see, there are two salvaged piano legs, turned upside down.  One holds a candle, the other a fern in a thrift-store dish that also catches drips from the hanging plant above.  Then there's all the furniture, most of which came from estate sales, craigslist, and curbside on trash day.  Beneath it's custom slipcover that I made from left-over fabrics, the sofa is really a red and green plaid hand-me-down from the photographer across the street.   The black wicker chair is part of an antique set gifted by friends when they moved.  The lamp is a yard sale find, with it's shade covered in fabric from a yard sale skirt.  One of the pillows on the sofa has a cover made of more of this, plus left-overs from the scrap basket.  The floorcloth is painted on a painter's dropcloth.

Then there's the extremely green window treatments.  Far more green than meets the eye.  The oatmeal beige drapes from the previous homeowner are still there, slip covered in fabric I found in a classified ad for $1/yard.  This way, I get the insulation properties of the existing drapes (plus a layer!), I threw nothing in the trash, and I used about 1/3 of the fabric needed to make new drapes.  Topping them is a valance made of salvaged table cloth lace, and some sheer fabric from the same seller as the drapery fabric, draped over branches that slough from my maple tree, and all wrapped up in grapevine my friend Beth asked me to help her thin.

Half of the house plants get double green points, too.  The ferns were florist-bought gifts from my friend Cindy, who loves this room, but the rest are my outdoor plants from last summer, which I have managed to not kill for an entire winter.  You are supposed to be veeeeery impressed by this.  They were all planted in compost, since I didn't have any potting soil handy at the time, and none of them has had any fertilizer.  That's more because I didn't think of it until just now, than because I would have to go find something organic that doesn't smell like rotting fish, or doesn't come packaged in a ton of not-green plastic (what is it with packaging organic stuff in multiple layers of plastic, anyway?).

I really don't know why the Boston fern in the window is doing so well.  These are the ones you are supposed to mist twice a day, and keep away from heat sources.  I barely remember to water my plants twice a week, and I have yet to find a plant mister that lasts more than about a dozen squeezes of the trigger, so I'm chronically without.  Also, that's a radiator, hiding under a topper made of a salvaged cabinet door and left-over burlap, behind it.  My best guess is that this is the room where I write my morning pages and do my morning meditation and prayers, and the energy of that somehow makes the fern happy.  I sit next to her when I write, and when she's thirsty, she drapes her fronds across my shoulder. 

Fantasy?  It's an enchanted sort of a room.
Happy St. Patrick's Day!  Remember to get your green on, and watch out for the little people!

Monday, March 14, 2011

A story of brooks and butterflies...and a fawn named Dawn-Marie???

Woodland mural for little girls' room by Dawn-Marie deLara.  Click to enlarge, click again for details.
 Once upon a time,  two bright, beautiful sisters named Brooke and Ava shared a bedroom, a puppy named Ruby, and a love of hanging out in the work shed with their daddy, who is a landscaper.  This meant that their Daddy, Pat, was just as involved as their Mommy, Brenda, in the planning of this mural,  which included discussions of sedge grasses, understory plants, and a short debate about whether it was vital to be seasonally accurate (we all agreed, no, favorite things from spring through autumn are allowed to mingle). 
Ava and Brooke in their meadow.

The room is small, and has two beds.  Custom drawers were built beneath to accommodate clothing, so the dresser could be removed to make room for the main part of the mural.  This side of the room features a maple that extends across the window valance, and next to the door is a pin oak with a robin's nest and a marauding squirrel.  There are four butterflies around the room, one for each family member, and above one bed, two lines from a song the girls' grandma likes to sing to them. 

Just in case the beds ever move, small tufts of grass and ferns are painted in the corners behind them.  The girls got to help with this.  Brooke, who spent a lot of time watching me paint and keeping me company, painted some really nice grasses and ferns all by herself, and Ava painted something I think might be a spider wort plant, which is a far prettier plant than it's name suggests (yes, I tweaked her painting a tiny bit).

Realistic birds and animals will grow up right along with the girls.
Daddy requested a mama robin feeding her babies.

Mama wanted a bushy tailed squirrel above the door.

One of the girls gets to fall asleep beneath an oak tree and the words to a favorite lullaby.
The other sister sleeps beneath a branch of the maple, in the company of two chickadees.  The valance is artist's canvas stapled around the trim.
When it's time for bed, the girls like to pet the fawn and tell it, "Goodnight, Dawn-Marie." 
 Good night dear ones.  Pretty dreams!

Friday, March 11, 2011

Writer's block...

Any frame can become a chalkboard, with plywood painted and cut to fit.
Yeah, like the chalkboard says, I'm writing a book.  Not so much today.  Today, I tested the guestroom rug in the office, and then realized this meant the perfect curtains for the office were hanging in the music room turned dance/exercise studio, and the cabinets from that room would work great in the art studio if the extra studio table came up to the office to be used for spreading out book chapters in progress.  It's amazing when writing a book about decorating this house how hard it is to tell the difference between procrastination and designing for the book.

If you don't have a frame, paint one on the wall!
btw:  As for the quote, if you've tried and this still  isn't working for you, think of it this way:  try "yes, thank you!", instead of "pretty please can I?"
Both of these chalkboards are mine.  The one painted directly on the wall is in the kitchen, and used to hold the menu for the week, back when I cooked.  These days it holds inspirational quotes and reminders to buy peanut butter.  I used the other one (from the dining room) at an event recently, and was surprised by how many people still don't know that you can make your own chalkboards, or have heard of it, but think it requires special mystery paint.

Here's the scoop:  You can turn just about anything into a chalkboard.  If you use a bonding primer, just about any slick surface, including glass can be covered, but because there is going to be constant chalk abrasion, I prefer to replace mirror or glass in a frame with thin, smooth plywood (like birch) or Masonite.  As for the surface paint, any paint will work, but for best results, use an exterior grade paint in an eggshell or satin finish.  The new indoor/outdoor enamels are great.  Use a foam mini roller, and apply at least three coats.  Remember, this will be written on and wiped off a lot, so more than two coats is a good idea.
Don't have a frame?  You can always paint it straight on the wall, like my kitchen.  I painted a border to look like dimensional sculpted plaster, but you can paint on any style of border you like, or frame it in wall paper border strips, or skip the frame entirely and paint the whole wall.  Of course, by now, your creative juices are flowing, and it's occurred to you that you aren't limited to classic black or green, right?  Just choose a color dark enough to contrast with the chalk.

So then, today I've written morning pages (read The Artist's Way by Julia Cameron, if you aren't familiar with these), written a to-do list, written a fix-it list for my computer guy, written two quotes for jobs, written on my kitchen wall, and written this blog.  If my book is really going to debut in about eighteen months, I suppose I better go write something for it! 

I'd put it off til tomorrow, but  I'm off to Northfield to get photos of the woodland mural from a few weeks back, to show on Monday's blog. Sadly, tomorrow also happens to be the annual St. Patrick's Day March of the Clans in Belle Plaine, so I'll be missing out on two of my favorite things:  bagpipes and men in kilts.  Sigh.  If you're in the area, kiss a leprechaun for me!

Wednesday, March 9, 2011

Inspiration: French Accents Rugs and Tapestries Inc.

While we're on the topic of ceilings, (of course you read the last post) here's another one of Belle's. 

Medallion patterned ceiling, inspired by an Aubusson rug
I did warn you in the last post that I'm a little obsessed with ceilings.  This one was inspired by an ad for a rug, though I simplified the pattern a great deal.
I left off the floral ribbons and filled in with my signature art nouveau scrolls.  Click for close-up.

Starting with their design, I pulled one shape and color, and tweaked it to work with the light fixture.
My shoulders were throbbing by the time I got this far, and I wasn't sure where I wanted to go with the pattern, so I left it alone for a couple of years.  I think I'll actually be adding some details to this in the near future, but I'm thinking pearls and seashells, rather than the flowers and ribbons of the inspiration piece.

I've been keeping clipping books since I was about four...I remember working on them during "nap time", which I think was just Mom's way of getting a break from my nonstop imagination, insisting I take some quiet time behind a closed door.

Since the inspiration clipping is about 1" x 2", and impossible to photograph, I looked them up online.  www.farugs.com  Do check them out.  They have some seriously beautiful pieces.
As you can see, the magazine clipping is mounted to a scrapbook page.  I do this with favorite clippings, creating one-of-a-kind inspiration books that I refer to when a design or project won't gel.  Sometimes it helps to see how someone else balanced a color, or combined mismatched furnishings.  It's not about copying someone else's look, but clarifying my own preferences.

I always have design clients pull magazine tear sheets, and I keep files of them to share, but for myself, I do go the extra step of pasting them into books.  It's fun to look back at the ones I did in high school, full of first apartment ideas, legwarmer fashions, and Lady Di haircuts!  And just about the time I think my style has evolved, I discover that legwarmers are back in, and I wonder if the extra fabric at the calf wouldn't balance the extra padding on my thighs!  Okay, maybe not.  To erase that scary image, I'll leave you with one more ceiling.  This is the closet of the room featured above, with a tent stripe pattern that picks up on the fan motifs from the corners.

even closets deserve pretty paint

Monday, March 7, 2011

Inspiration: Robin Brown/Magnolia Pearl

This Sunday, I finally got a day to work without interruption on my home, Belle Ami.  I was tempted to paint a mandala design on the office ceiling (inspired by Ann Viveros), but I've been fairly immersed in paint for weeks, and besides, I still hadn't finished the art room ceiling, which I started quilting a couple of years ago.  Okay, it's not quilted in the traditional sense, but covered in fabric in the style of the crazy quilts that were popular around the time the house was built.  I know, normal people put quilts on beds.  Did I ever say anywhere that I'm normal?

A crumbling lace tablecloth was Fabri-tac'd onto a gold tablecloth, and then stapled to the ceiling with strips of crazy quilted fabrics, embellished with new and vintage ribbon, pillow case lace, and silk flowers.
Now, I can't claim to have thought this up entirely on my own.  I was inspired by Robin Brown, the fabulous textile artist behind magnoliapearl.com.  In her book, A Bit of Velvet, A Dash of Lace, she covers a wall in her Bandera Texas home with salvaged bits of old hand knotted carpets.  I loved the rich texture and sheer unexpectedness of this, but having searched for affordable old carpets to layer on my floors for a couple of years, I had only come up with one, and I didn't love the colors.  Besides, I didn't have a wall that could use the treatment.

However, I did have a damaged ceiling in my studio that needed either replastering, or a fresh layer of Sheetrock over it, and (oh, big surprise) absolutely no desire to do such tedious and laborious work.  And in that same room, stood a mountain of fabrics bought for projects that somehow never quite got done, and  sample fabrics collected for clients.  Having done a fair bit of crazy quilting back in the late eighties, it wasn't a big leap from carpeted wall inspiration to crazy crumbling plaster solution.
Crazy quilted ceiling in Dawn-Marie deLara's art studio...oh, yeah, that's what I did with the gold tablecloth...wondered why I couldn't find it in the drawer!
So, now that the art room ceiling is done, perhaps I'll take a break from working overhead before tackling the mandala design on the office ceiling.  This idea was inspired by spending a couple of hours on Saturday morning with Ann Viveros visiting Kingsway, a retirement home here in Belle Plaine.  Ann led a group of memory care patients in a mandala painting exercise (on paper, not the ceiling.  They're memory challenged patients, not ceiling-obsessed decorative artists), and she invited me to join them.  I bravely said "yes", though after last week's stupid brains, I was not entirely sure they would let me back out of the facility!

Mandala painting by Ann Viveros
I had a great time trying to loosen up and let the paint flow, and was surprised by how difficult something seemingly similar to my own work could be.  The more casual and simple I tried to keep it, the harder it was!  I also had the pleasure of having some interesting conversations with some amazing women, and came away changed forever.

A selection of Ann Viveros' work is on display at Kingsway in Belle Plaine, MN
My grandmother lived more than seven years with Alzheimer's disease, long after the memory loss was so severe that she really couldn't do anything but sit and watch life pass by.  I've lived most of my adult life with a buried dread of someday finding myself in that state, or headed towards it, and thinking how awful to live long past the time of feeling useful. Thanks to a beautiful woman who was a concert violinist, I was reminded of what I already know, and have said more times on this blog than I can count...You never know how you touch the lives of others.
This woman didn't just convince me that any human being can be taught to sing (barring physical defect), and give me a mini-voice lesson.  In so doing, she made me realize that even if we should ever get to the point where we don't remember having met someone five minutes earlier, it doesn't mean we can't give them something of value.  I have lost my biggest fear about growing old, and I can tell you that this isn't insignificant.

Because I have lost a core fear, I am changed at depth, and this now changes my interaction with everyone I come in contact with, in some indefinable way.  A friend once told me that to be significant, one had to be like Jesus or Michael Jackson, and I wasn't sure how to debate it, though it seemed off to me.  I think the error might be in confusing fame with significance.  We all affect far more of the world than we are ever aware of, regardless of whether our name is ever known beyond our own circle of friends.  This violinist touched countless lives with her music, and now because she changed me, she touches every life I touch...not to mention all the people who will one day not cringe when I open my mouth to sing and the notes come out right!

So tonight I wish you peace, inspiration, and the wisdom to know that if you are present on this planet, you are significant.