Friday, May 29, 2009

A pudgy panda

This fine gentleman is made of black and white wool and a couple of handmade buttons. I hate to panda my own panda, but this is my favorite stuffed creature yet. He turned out so soft and chubby! And his expression is just the right combination of sweet + crazed.

Below: PIP (panda in progress).

Thursday, May 28, 2009

Buttons, painted

Above: my homemade buttons, painted and varnished. If you wish to make your own, take a peek at my button-making instructions!

Tuesday, May 26, 2009

You, yes you, can make homemade buttons!

That is, if you have no children, and are on vacation! If you have no real responsibilities of any kind, you can make your own buttons!

Actually, although it's a two-or-three day process, button-making is not as ridiculously time-consuming as you might think. You spend half an hour cutting them out and twenty minutes baking them, and then a day later you paint and varnish them. And it is fun, really fun, to have your own buttons to use on the baby sweaters you knit for your friends' babies! Although, actually, I've been blowing all of my buttons on stuffed monsters.

Here's how to make your own buttons. The ones seen here have been baked and are ready to be painted and varnished. Huzzah!!

You'll need:

wax paper
1 package of soft Fimo (56 g)
lipstick tubes, small cookie cutters, tube lids, or anything else you
think might work for cutting out buttons
plastic coffee stirrers/straws (bad for the environment but great for button-making)*
a couple of sharp, pokey things (unbent paper clips, sewing needles, pins)
acrylic paints (high viscosity, or whatever you already have) and brush
varnish, either the kind you spray or the kind you brush on

Day one: Spread out a sheet of wax paper. Knead the Fimo clay and flatten it on the wax paper. I like to put another piece of wax paper on top of the clay while I'm flattening it, to keep the clay smooth and mostly free of fingerprints and wrinkles.

Use your lipstick tubes and other button-cutting junk to cut out a bunch of buttons; re-roll and re-flatten your clay as necessary to keep cutting out buttons until you've used up all of your clay.

Use the plastic coffee straws to make two or four (or whatever you want) holes in each button. Those environmentally evil pieces of plastic* are great for this, because you can just cut off the tip of the straw once its clogged with clay, and continue about your life's work of polymer button-making.

Once you've cut out your buttons and put holes in them, transfer the wax paper and the buttons to a cookie sheet and bake according to the directions on the Fimo package. I go for 230 for about 25 minutes. Allow to cool.

Day 2: You could probably do this on day one, once the buttons come out of the oven and have an hour to cool, but I always feel like doing something else and returning to my buttony darlings the next day or so. The next step is to paint them. You can do this right on the wax paper the buttons are already sitting on. There are many ways of doing this paint job, but here's what I do: take an unwound paperclip or a strong sewing needle and put it in one of the holes on your button. Paint the top, sides, and inner holes. Holding it somewhat in place with the paperclip or needle keeps you from having to hold it with your fingers (which would get covered in paint, I been there sister) but also lets you rotate the button a little to facilitate the paint job.

Repeat for all buttons. When they're dry, flip them over and paint the backs with the same method. Depending on your paint you might have to do the whole painting process more than once to get the look you want. If your paint is really soft-bodied or thin, you'll definitely have to paint and repaint; that's why I like high-viscosity acrylics.

Day 3: Take those buttons outside and varnish them front and back (allowing one side to dry before doing the other, obviously). If you're using a spray, wear a mask... they cost like forty cents at the craft store, it's no big whoop.

Don't leave your buttons outside unattended, because birds like colorful objects and will steal them. You laugh, but it totally happened to me!

* These things are really, really bad. They NEVER biodegrade, ever. So I was ambivalent about having to visit the coffee areas of three local gas stations before I found any plastic stirring straws. I mean, they're perfect for button-making, but I would prefer, for Mama Earth's sake, that they stop being manufactured. Sigh. And look, to make it even worse, the little fuckers are INDIVIDUALLY WRAPPED!

A quick curry

How super-lame and predictable would it have been if I'd called this post "curry in a hurry"? Very! Very super-lame and predictable! Take note, food bloggers: the blog post title "Curry in a Hurry" is officially off the table.

This is a really yummy curry I made a few days ago when I had an eggplant I wanted to use up. I cooked it way down in a large skillet, sauteed some onions and curry spices, and then cooked it all together with some chickpeas, garlic, and tomato paste. Serve with rice, then watch TV and go to bed!

Friday, May 22, 2009

Purple knitted monster!

I made this little magenta mister on dpns with worsted weight yarn. His eyes consist of one homemade button* and one repurposed one. He's striped and a little crazed!

* I made a supply of polymer buttons a few years ago, and have enjoyed using them on baby sweaters and yarny monsters lo these several years, but my batch is pretty well depleted; that's why I'm making a new, even bigger batch. Buttons '09, baby. I cut and baked the new buttons yesterday and am gearing up to paint and varnish them later tonight or tomorrow... probably tomorrow, since the sun is on its way down and varnishing should be done out of doors.

Monday, May 18, 2009

Scary knitting

I'm on vacation until my summer courses begin, and am
patrolling the interwebs for knitting ideas. Anything to
keep me busy, and oh my god, check out this terrifying
thing you can knit! Pattern available here, for free... if
you dare.

Sunday, May 10, 2009

Family tree

This crazy thing is a project mapping my influences in the area of illustration. It ended up feeling like a kind of family tree. I couldn't narrow my immediate influences down to fewer than four major artists: the brilliant illustrator and color designer Mary Blair, the Modernist graphic designer and illustrator Paul Rand, the children's book author and illustrator Richard Scarry, and the comic strip cartoonist Lynn Johnston.

Mary Blair, the illustrator whose work I admire most, was a Disney artist whose brilliant color design changed the entire look of Disney animation, and whose clever designs and coloring has influenced generations of illustrators. She did children's books, animation, and commercial work. Beginning one branch of my "tree," Blair was a student of Pruett Carter, a prominent Los Angeles magazine illustrator and teacher whose work is also full of color. Following that branch of the tree -- Carter studied under Walter Biggs, a magazine illustrator whose Impressionistic style of commercial and editorial illustration won him rare full-color assignments from many major magazines, like Harper's, Redbook, and Good Housekeeping. Biggs studied under the renowned poster artist Edward Penfield, and Penfield studied under the painter George de Forest Brush, who was known for his scenes of Native American life. Brush was a student of Jean-Léon Gérôme, a French painter mainly of historical subjects, portraits, and scenes from Greek mythology. And this branch of the tree ends with Paul Delaroche, an immensely popular 19th-C. French painter who liked to render dramatic scenes, religious subjects, and the people and events of his time

A second branch begins with Richard Scarry, whose whimsical drawings of anthropomorphic animals are loved by kids all over the world. You probably remember poring over his enormous, detailed board books when you were a kid -- they usually didn't have plots, but instead consisted of visual lists of the people, places, and things that Scarry liked to draw. Scarry was a great admirer of another children's book author and illustrator who drew animals: Beatrix Potter. Potter in turn had been a great fan of A. B. Frost's illustrations for Joel Chandler Harris' Uncle Remus stories. Frost had been a student of the great Golden Age illustrator and teacher Howard Pyle, and Pyle, although he was largely self-taught, is believed to have been influenced by the work of Felix Darley, whose books were always present in the Pyle household when Howard Pyle was a child.

The graphic designer and illustrator Paul Rand begins a third branch of my influences. His innovative manner of combining color, image, and text in simple but beautiful designs (often using cut paper instead of paint or ink) has had a great impact on western design, especially illustration and commercial design. Following this branch -- Rand was influenced by the poster artist Adolphe Cassandre, whose work shows the influence of Cubism and Expressionism, and who is well known for his commercial illustration work and for the typefaces he developed. Cassandre was influenced by Picasso, the co-founder of the Cubist movement, and there is a strong connection between Picasso and the painter el Greco, who was a forefather of both Cubism and Expressionism. El Greco was likely a student of Titian while in Venice; at the very least, he knew Titian and was an admirer of his work. And Titian, of course, was a student of the High Renaissance painter Giovanni Bellini, whose rich, deep colors -- achieved by using slow-drying paints -- transformed western painting.

The fourth and final branch includes a contemporary cartoonist, Lynn Johnston. Johnston writes and draws the syndicated comic strip "For Better or For Worse," which has been appearing in daily newspapers nationwide since 1979. Stylistically, my own work might be more similar to Johnston's than it is to any other artist's (and I wish my work were as good!). Her pen and ink drawings fascinated me when I was growing up, and I admire them even more today. With equal aptitude for character design, storytelling, and comedy, Johnston seems to inspire artists and non-artists alike. One of her major influences is the cartoonist Carl Barks, who worked for Disney for many years and created the Scrooge McDuck character (as well as many other characters from the town of Duckburg, Calisota!). Barks' pen and ink drawing style influenced many cartoonists, and continues to do so. Barks' main influence was the animation pioneer and cartoonist Winsor McCay, creator of the immeasurably influential "Little Nemo in Slumberland" comic strip. McCay's influence was his teacher John Goodison, a glass stainer and college art instructor. Little is known about Goodison, but his instruction is thought to have aided the development of Winsor McCay's understanding of value and his striking use of color.

Surey this has been brutally boring for those who aren't art history buffs or illustrators, but I learned a lot while doing it, and I really recommend this exercise to visual artists. For me it really provided some insight into the history of illustration in the west, and into the work of the many artists to whom I owe a debt. If you do it, post it and send me a link!

Saturday, May 02, 2009

Vegan peanut butter cups

When I make chocolate-peanut butter cups, I usually do more or less this (with vegan dark chocolate chips and leaving out the shortening), or else just melt together the peanut butter and the chocolate chips and pour into miniature cupcake papers for a less complicated version that's nearly as delicious. They go in the fridge for an hour or two, then we eat them like two starving people.