Making Monsters

When we were younger, my mom handpainted beautiful ornaments for craft shows.  Often, she laid them out like an assembly line:  all faces, then all hair, and on and on.  She had to make quite a lot of the same thing by hand, with slight variations in skin and hair colors and decorative borders.

Sometimes repetition is monotonous.  But there are other times when doing the same thing over and over again can be quite comforting.  That’s how I feel about my Dream Creepers.

I started making Dream Creepers when I was playing around with resin casting, and wanted to use the resin casts and mix them with fabric doll bodies.  I came up with these little monster puppy dolls.  Myla loved them, and since they were a little strange looking, we came up with the idea that they HAD to be a little creepy to chase bad thoughts and bad dreams away.  Later, talking to my mom, she suggested we call them “Dream Creepers.”  And there ya go.

intro

I experimented with a few things, and finally came up with a good system.  They’re fun, but there are so many steps to making Creepers that it would sometimes get overwhelming–until I set up a sort of assembly line for myself that works pretty well.  I thought I’d get tired of making the same things over and over, but like my mom said, it actually is quite comforting.

So I thought it’d be fun to share the process with you!

First off, to make sure all the Creepers are roughly the same size, I made myself a little pattern.  One of the fun parts for me is picking fabric that works for the body and finding or corresponding fabric for the legs & ears.  (I’m a bit of a fabric junkie.)

step 0

1: I lay all my fun little fabrics out and try to match them with fake fur.

2:  I have a giant box of scrap fake fur, so it’s kind of fun to match up some of the fake fur with the fabric colors and patterns and see what I can come up with, just using the materials I already have.  I’m more a fan of earthy colors than bright ones, but I try to make a little of everything.

step 1

3:  Once I find a color that’ll work, I cut a mane and tail from the scrap fur.

4:  I lay out all the paired-up fabrics and fake furs.  Sometimes it sits there for quite awhile before I get to them because: life.

5:  I have several saved molds from sculpts I did awhile back.   I pour resin into them.  This has to be done when the kid is busy doing her own projects and doesn’t need help, since I have sticky gloves on for a while, and usually end up getting resin on my clothing because I forget to wear an apron or something.

6:  Now I have a box of resin monster heads and faces!  Sometimes they need to be sanded and smoothed out, sometimes they just need to be washed.

step 2

7:  I pull one of the fabric stacks out–I usually work on about 4 or 5 at a time.  I have fun painting each of the faces to match up with the fabrics for their bodies.  (before I had my system, I’d randomly paint heads and THEN match up fabrics…which was way more frustrating than this new way!)

8:  The faces are gloss varnished in my garage.  I use either Krystal Clear spray varnish or resin spray.

9:  Next up, I sew the ears, fold them and sew them to the manes.  I like to play with ear positions, as it totally changes the personalities of the little Creepers.  Once the ears are sewn to the manes, I glue the varnished resin heads to the mane/ears with E6000 glue.  This requires that I place pressure on each of the heads to really seal the glue, so I stash them under heavy things (like my sewing machine, or stacks of books) all around my art room for several hours, often overnight.

step 3

10:  I got some CUTE little bum labels from a seller on Etsy!  I designed the little fabric labels and ordered them and now I sew them on all the bums.  When I get an item (like a doll) I love being able to find and contact the artist in case I’d like to order more of the same thing later down the road.  Plus, they’re just stinkin’ cute!

11:  Next up, when I have some time, I sew up all the little legs and flip them.  Since I do about 4 or 5 dolls at a time, it doesn’t take very long for this step–so I like to be able to pop in and do that one if I have a little time.

12:  Stuff legs!  Another quick step I can do when I don’t have much time.

step 4

13:  I sew the little legs (3 on each side) to the body/belly pieces.  There’s a circle piece for the bum and head endpieces of the cylindrical body-shape, leaving the neck open, and making sure to add the tail and the new bum-labels.

14: Then I stuff it!  This is a fun step, since it’s nearly done and starting to look like a little fella.

15 & 16: I match up the heads and lay them on the bodies, so that later, when I have a chance, I can sew them on.

step 5

17: I sew up the neck.  It’s kinda boring…but necessary.

18: I sew the mane on the body.  These two steps are especially tedious and not my favorite part, but it means I’m nearly finished, and I never really know what they’ll look like til they’re almost done.

AND THEN BOOM–THEY’RE DONE!

step 6

Myla loves them all, and we have made an agreement that she can’t keep every one, but she can be a part of finding them new homes.  She helps me name each one and usually gives them a kiss on the nose when they’re on their way to their new families.

And although they’re weird, Myla loves them immensely.  I’ve gotten some sweet notes from people about their enjoyment of the little Creepers.  I know they’re strange, but something about them makes me very happy.

happy creepers

Even though I do my best to show them in pictures, they’re really best enjoyed in person.  SOOOOOO….I’d like to let everyone know that I’m signed up for Alamo City Comic Con in San Antonio, Texas from Sept 11-13!  Stan Lee’s gonna be there, you guys!  And Hodor!  Ron Perlman!  Michael Rooker!  Walt, Jr. from Breaking Bad!  A bunch of people from Walking Dead and all sorts of other people!

I’ll be selling the creepers, as well as the little monster jewelry I make:

happy necklacess

I’ve had a few wonderful photos of them being worn, and I love seeing them in action!

happy necklaces

Anyway, I hope you enjoy hearing the whole process!  While it’s a fun one, I sometimes think people don’t know how much work goes into them. I have people asking me for discounts…but if you don’t see the work that goes into things, it might not mean the same thing to you.

So if anyone’s in the San Antonio area and wants to check us out in person, I’d love to see you!   I’m not sure where these little guys fit in in the “art world.”  I’m not sure if they fit in at a convention, but I hope we’ll at least have fun and make a few people smile.

Collaborating With a 6-Year Old

A few years have gone by since I collaborated with our then 4-year old…  And on occasion, people will ask me if we could do more.

outer face

Sometimes we still do.  It’s more of a casual thing.  I’ll toss her a page and say, “here are a few heads if you feel like sketching,” usually when she’s bored or looking for something to do.

Sometimes they turn out okay, and I try new things with them, making little pendants or doodles.  But mostly, it’s just a fun little pasttime.sometimes we do

On occasion, she still adds a body to a face I’ve done, and it turns out pretty well…

sometimes-zissou

For the most part, though, to be honest:  the main reason we don’t always collaborate is that she’s busy doing her own thing!  She’s FIERCELY creative.  She throws herself into her art desk and is consumed with scissors, staples, and tape, making all sorts of wonderful things–

doing her own business

Other times, she just draws.

myladoodles

Lately, she’s been obsessed with “writing books.”  We can’t get enough little thin sketchbooks–she fills them up with complete stories–usually just directional things, like new creatures she invents for her Minecraft game, or the inner anatomical workings of the prehistoric wooly mammoth.

doing her own books

She mixes and matches her Lego minifigures, creating all kinds of new creatures.  She makes “costumes” from construction paper, and spends hours inventing her own board games, like “Fishing for Genies,” and “DeerPeople Land” (it’s like Candyland…but with deer-people, obvs).

doing her own thing

And from time to time, people ask us why we don’t do very many collaborations anymore.  The simple answer is that we DO….but mostly, because you don’t always make art just for other people.  You do it because you love it.

Sometimes, the things people ask us to do work out fairly well:  we did this mural together at Crave Hair Lounge in Killeen, and it worked mainly because the owners gave us complete freedom to do what we wanted.  But even then, it was intimidating to make sure it actually worked out on such a large scale.

mural

I’m sure when our collaborations went viral when she was four, we could’ve been involved in a great deal of things.  We were asked us to do custom portraits together, requesting certain animal bodies.  People wanted us to write a book with a single main character, or wanted me to collaboratively write POETRY with her.  I was asked if we could create new work for ads, for products, for magazine illustrations.

But can you imagine?  Have you ever tried to get a 4-year old to do anything?  It’s tricky.  Now take that 4-year old, take their favorite thing to do, and make it a JOB.  Tell them they HAVE to do that thing a certain way.  Make them do it within a deadline, or re-do it if it’s not exactly what someone had in mind.  Does that sound fun anymore?  Maybe I missed some opportunities, but you know, I’d rather have done that than make her favorite thing become a horrible chore.

Instead, now that she’s older, and she’s developed her own style, I’ve found a different way to collaborate with her.

Now, I ask her to help me.

Often, my favorite thing to draw is her.  Occasionally I do a series for myself I call “Stuff Myla Says,” where I illustrate the funny things she says.  And sometimes, she’ll help me with them.

stuff myla says-i believe

But one time, I was doing a portrait of my dad, and I was trying to find a way to artistically describe some of my best memories from my childhood.  I couldn’t figure out how to tell the story of some of my favorite memories–playing in the woods, exploring castles, enjoying sci-fi, and building gnome bridges.  Do I draw them out realistically?  Do I draw them as a background?

She came over and asked me what I was doing.  “I’m drawing me as a kid, with Papa.  And I want to draw some of my favorite times with him…but I can’t figure out how to draw all my favorite childhood memories of him.”

“I’m a kid–maybe I could help!”  She said.  “You tell me, and I’ll draw it.”  And we did.  And it turned out SO MUCH better than I could’ve hoped for.

dad

Lately, my favorite thing to draw is her.  It’s fun to put her in new scenarios.  And when I do, since she’s her own artist now, I like to ask her to “help” me.  And the things she adds always turn out better than anything I could’ve come up with.

monster doodler

I once drew her from a photo I took of a funny face she made while she played an arcade game, and asked her for help with it.  “I wanted to make it like you’re fighting monsters and robots.”  “Oh, okay!” she said, and her imagination took off from there.  She created this intricate story about these creatures releasing monsters from these eggs, and ones that weren’t good or bad, just “in the way,” and others who were “just trying to survive.”

monster battle

I drew her as an imaginary astronaut, and asked if she’d like to add to it.  She came up with an elaborate story about all kinds of aliens meeting up on the “deer people” planet…(apparently, that’s a thing, in her world)…

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Sometimes, I need clarification on what she’s drawn, and she’s always happy to help me; sometimes telling me what colors things should be…but only if I ask.  She’s not demanding about it at all, and will often say, “You can make them whatever color you like.”

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And she always seems happy with the end result…

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Another time, I started this drawing of her (from a photo of her in a simple eared hoodie), and turned her into a forest kid.  “She looks kind of scared,” I said.   What do you think she look so worried about?”   She thought for a minute, then said,  “forest monsters.”  And we took turns back and forth drawing monsters, based off of what the other one said.

jungle monsters

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Once, I asked her “If you could be any creature, what would you be?” and she said (without hesitation), “A WINTER CENTAUR.”  So I drew her as one, and she described to me the colors she imagined, and added all her little winter friends.  “Don’t forget, mom:  I should be all white, but with mud on my fur to blend in with the trees.”

winter centaur

Next, we did a spring centaur (mostly because I stink at proportions, and was trying new things).  She drew her walking next to a deer-dragon, surrounded by baby deer-people (creatures she invented) making nests in her hair and snacking on grapes.

spring centaur

Another time I drew her riding a furry beast (think: Where The Wild Things Are), and she added all sorts of monster and bird friends, helping her along her imaginary journey.

beast rider

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I’ve held strongly to the idea that she draw whatever she likes.  I love her creativity, and as a mom, the best I can do is allow her the room to be herself, in any capacity, being sure to gently nudge her on a safe path along the way, or steer her aside if she starts to venture down a dark road.  But mostly, allowing her to be herself, allowing her to be her OWN artist and ASKING for collaborations has been what works best for us.

And instead of the accidental collaborations we started with, now that she’s older, we’re consciously collaborating…working together to tell a story through the pictures…something I’ve always had a problem with in my own art.  But by allowing her to take control for a combined purpose, I think it helps build her confidence.  She’s not just adding on to my work…she’s helping me tell a story together, and I love it.

“We make a great team,” she says.  And that makes me smile.

(I added a few of our newer collaborative pieces to our print site at Society6…)

(Copies of the book of early collaborations we made ourselves through Kickstarter can be found here…)

About Face

When Myla was born, my mother and I wrapped her up in a little blanket to take a photo of her.  “Oh no.” I said.  “Delete that one.  It doesn’t look anything like her.”  We took photo after photo, again and again, and with each photo we took, a completely different little baby popped up on the screen.  Nothing on that little camera compared at ALL with the beautiful little creature in front of me.pink hair STARTI love drawing our daughter.  When she was younger it was very intimidating, and I was so awkward drawing her, because no matter what I did, it didn’t really LOOK like her.  It didn’t seem to capture that beautiful little person in front of me.  It’s one of the most intimidating things about painting portraits: trying to make the image capture the personality of its subject, especially when you don’t already know that person very well.  I comfort myself with the idea that (in my mind) it doesn’t HAVE to look exactly like them.  It’s supposed to be a representation of an aspect of their perceived personality.

So Myla has reached an age where she is slowly beginning to be self-aware of her appearance.  Not to the extent that some kids are….she cares nothing at all about clothes (you could put a space suit on her and she’d say, “oh, okay.” and rock that for the day.  On Kinder graduation photos she said “did you see they put a GENIE costume on me?” when referring to the cap & gown, which she didn’t even question–just rolled with it).  She doesn’t really care about how her hair is styled, other than in a functional way (to keep those curls out of her eyes). But from time to time, she has started to notice little things, like how everyone’s skin is different colors.  That some people “seem fancy” when she doesn’t really notice that sort of thing.  That people keep telling her she’s doing “boy things.”

If her girlhood is anything like mine was, I know the worst of it will come when she’s a teenager.  But I’m hoping to sort of help her enjoy and celebrate herself–whatever that means to her–now.  Not by constantly showering her with praises of beauty (although I think telling her she’s pretty is a good thing to hear, too), not by inflating her ego by making her feel superior, but by asking her what makes her FEEL happy and pretty, and trying to be comfortable with and rock whatever she’s got.pink hair START2This will totally work, because my parents actually did the same things for me, and I NEVER had any image issues.  (INSERT SARCASTIC FACE HERE)   ….Okay, yes, I’m fully aware that no matter what I do, she’ll have issues.  But one can try, right?

So I drew this little Myla-face on a piece of pressed chipboard, and asked if she wanted to draw what she liked.  What made her happy.  What made her smile.  What made her feel like a good person.  How does she see herself?  And I let her use my acrylic paints to paint on it.
She painted pink hair, because she’s always wanted pink hair. We used paint-in temporary dye from time to time when she was younger, but they sort of frown at wonky hair color at her current school (which I find ridiculous).  She drew a streak of black (which sort of looks like a beret).  If anything, it was a fun opportunity to teach her a little more about using acrylic paints…

pinkhair in progressShe asked if she could use a pen to draw the rest, and drew things that make her smile:  dragons, animals, made-up creatures, Lego characters.

pink hair ALMOST DONESo later, I finished painting the background for her.  I thought it was fun that instead of TELLING her what I thought of her, I got to see what she thinks, what she feels…how she sees herself.  Not to judge, but just to think about and be comfortable with.

pink hair FINALThere are so many good examples for kids about how not being judged only for your outer appearance.  Some are:

  • Elsa and Kristoff telling Anna (when Anna wants to marry someone she just met) “You don’t even KNOW him!”
  • How Cinderella and her Prince marry after only a few nights of dancing and missing footwear.
  • Flynn in Tangled liking Rapunzel’s for more than her hair.  And the big mean guys in the tavern who sing “I Got a Dream” look creepy, but are (mostly) quite sweet.
  • In the book “the Paper Bag Princess,” that the clothes you wear and the way you look doesn’t make you a good person.

And those are just a few that Myla (at age 6) and I have had pretty in-depth discussions about.  Not in some lecture, not by me bringing it up, but just in talking about what we just saw or read.

You can have fun with what you look like, you can change your hair and decorate it.  Your body can be bigger or smaller or shorter or taller than everyone else’s.  Your skin can be so many different colors.  You can have fancy clothes, or secondhand pants.

But what’s MOST important is being smart, being caring, being kind.

I hope she always sees herself the way I see her.

The Birthday Girl and Such

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This past weekend, our little monkey turned SIX years old!  Yes, that darling little 4-year old with whom I collaborate is now SIX.  Can you believe it??  Since her birthday always falls near Memorial Day weekend, we actually celebrated her birthday around some extended family last weekend.

This past weekend, on her real birthday, I was HORRIBLY sick with yet another headcold, so the Dad took her out for a fun day.  Whew! High fives to the Daddy.

So I’m still on the mend, but thankfully (unlike the bronchitis I had a few months ago) it’s the kind of sick where I can still draw and paint.  I’m working on this little doodle of her as an imaginary astronaut explorer, where I let her draw the characters behind and around it.  I’ll show more of the process later (when I actually finish it), but for now I barely have the energy to do much more than my basic necessary functions…

So have a great rest of the week and enjoy the people and things around you, whatever they are!

Little Wooden Necklaces

My mom & I sometimes swap art supplies.  Last time she visited, she brought these little wooden disks that I wasn’t sure what I’d do with…but I knew I WANTED THEM.

So one day I drew some little faces on them, and let Myla add doodles however she wanted.

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She drew a snake and a ghost mouse….you know.

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Then I added detail and painted them….

She even made me a mockingbird!  (It’s the blue one on the left.)  There’s also an elephant, and a robot drawing on her own smile.

At this point, they needed some cool little beads, and hey–why not put them on a necklace?

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She also did a t-rex mermaid and a pterana-maid and I spiced them up a bit with with some little dangle-beads.

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So since she was on a roll, I asked if she could help me make ANOTHER necklace for myself (because one can never have enough dangly art necklaces, amiright?):  I have been MAD over Imperator Furiosa from MadMax: Fury Road, and showed Myla a photo of her.  All I needed to say was “lady with a robot arm,” and she knew just what to do!

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Isn’t it lovely if I can say so myself?  She did such a great job on Furiosa’s little arm.  It’s one of my favorite things to wear lately!  I added little watch pieces to represent steering wheels and green beads to represent “The Green Place.”

Anyway, I’m not sure what to do with the others yet–I’m thinking keychains?  Maybe little necklaces?  Teacher gifts?  As with pretty much ALL the projects I do with Myla, I LURV making them and selfishly want to hoard them all for myself….or maybe I could do something special with them…I’ll figure it out eventually!  Either that, or our house will eventually spill out overflowing with our collaborations, her doodles, and the millions of cut paper projects and books she creates on her own…  :)

Walking Through the Witches

People ask me sometimes about ballpoint pen and how I use it in my drawings.  They’ll say that when they use it, it smears or gets discolored.  And I say, “that’s because no one in their right mind should be using ballpoint pen.”  But I can’t help it–that’s what I like.  It’s what I’ve ALWAYS liked, and what I’m most comfortable with.  It’s cheap, portable, easy to find, easy to carry.

But it does have a couple of issues.

Don’t be scared, though!  When I was younger, information was a lot harder to find, and I was about the only one I ever knew that drew with a PEN.  Nowadays, there are TONS of fine artists that use ballpoint (sometimes they call it “biro”), and do some AMAZING work.  I don’t know what they go through, but here are some things I’ve learned…

THE PEN ITSELF

I’ve learned that I like ballpoints.  Not gels, not rollerballs, not ink pens.  BALLPOINTS.  Believe it or not, there’s a difference.  Nothing fancy, either–I’ve tried the expensive ones, and they’re nice, but for my work, they’re not gritty enough.  Plain ol’ Bics work best for me…but I’ll use anything in a pinch.

PENS GLURP

I call it “glurping” or “glumping,” or whatever.  It’s that blob of ink that sometimes comes out when you’re drawing, that can smear up your whole picture.  Early on, I’d be happily drawing and OH NO MY WHOLE DRAWING IS RUINED!!!  I know of one artist who uses his finger to wipe the pen every few strokes.  I use my shirt….or whatever dark fabric thing is closest.  Which is why, if you look all over my house, and on every shirt I own, you will most likely see little constellations of pen dots on my right front shoulders.  As I draw, every couple of minutes, I instinctively wipe my pen on my shirt in a little twist.  Sure, there is absolutely a better way to do this that was not so messy on my clothes.  I could use a napkin.  But I don’t.

PENS TURN FREAKY COLORS

I use ballpoint sketches as sort of a skeleton, because I like the pen marks to show through a little.  If I watercolor on top, I get this nice blend of ink and pen.  If I use acrylics, you still get to see the great lines, but with painting more on top.  BUT IF YOU VARNISH, no matter HOW MUCH acrylic paint I have on top of my pen lines, the pen will SHOW THROUGH.  And it turns sort of a purplish color.  I’ve tried different varnishes, and I always get the same result.  I usually like the look, but if it’s TOO discolored, I wait for the varnish to dry and paint in acrylic back on top of it.  Varnish THAT, and you’re good to go.  Waste of time?  Yes.  Draw my undercoat in pencil instead, then?   NEVER EVER EVER. Don’t know why.

So here’s a typical project:  Awhile back, my art friend Aaron McMillan (@mcmillankid on Instagram) and I challenged each other to draw Meryl Streep.  I wanted to draw both versions of her witch from “Into The Woods.”

I usually start with the eyes and work my way out.  I’ve mentioned before that there are many ways to measure faces to get proper proportions, and while I did my time with that in art school, I prefer to just wing it, because I like the wonky look.

1-ballpoint

My drawings are made up of very soft lines using varied pressure and crosshatching.  I noticed once, while drawing, that I sort of blur my eyes to see the values and tones as I’m shading…which might explain my terrible eyesight.  (Thankfully I’m near-sighted, so I’d still be able to draw in a post-apocalyptic world if I broke my glasses…but I’d be useless spotting anyone more than 10 feet away.  …I have to think about these things.)

2-good witch

Once the sketch is done, I usually use watercolor or acrylic, but for this one, I challenged myself to use markers (since Aaron uses them a lot).  Several people use Copics, but I prefer Prismacolor Premiere Brush Tips for no real reason, other than that I’m comfortable with them, and I love them.

Now this is where people who try this often get freaked out, because pens do freaky things…

3-adding color

AAAUUUGH it’s PURPLE!!    Yeah, using markers on top of ballpoint pen is a little freaky because it instantly turns purple.  This can weird you out at first, and make you think you’ve ruined the whole thing.  But be patient!  All is not lost!  Keep going…

I get my darker markers out to shade, and the purple discoloration is already starting to settle down a bit as it soaks into the page…

4-shading

And now by the time I’ve blended my darks with my lights, the purple tone is almost as faded as a bad dream in the daytime.

5-smoother colors

So here’s what it looks like, flat without much highlights.  I have the ballpoint skeleton underneath, and I like the quickness of the markers–you can blend solid colors very quickly with darker shadows, and the marker soaking into the page does the rest.  So here it is all flat, and ready for the next step…

6-final flat color

Highlights!  Here I like to use white acrylic paint (although I’ve used white colored pencil in a pinch) to add highlights to everything to make it pop a little more.

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I like to find the “hot spots” of white, and blend them into the background color.

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And there ya go!

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The main point is not to get freaked out.  I teach our daughter that there’s no real way to “mess up.”   If you can’t fix it with ink or paint, you can always pretend you did it on purpose.  :)

Don’t be afraid to mess up.  Just open that sketchbook and DO IT.  The worse that could happen is that you learn something.  So good luck with all your artistic experiments!

Bad Starts

Pssst!  Hey, you!  Do you want to see some horrible artwork?

…Well, neither do I.  But unfortunately, my sketchbooks have been filling themselves up lately with really bad starts.

bad starts1

Usually, these make for perfect doodle starters for Myla…but lately, they’ve barely been good for even that

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They’re badly started before they’ve even begun.

Some people have said, “Oh, they’re fine!  They look great!”  But really they aren’t.  Not when I know I can do better.

So what do you do when everything you doodle comes out wrong?  I usually do one of two things:

1.   Distract myself with other hobbies.  This is usually when I have to try and change it up a little.  I sew for awhile.  I sculpt.  I play Legos with the kid, or let her lead drawing games with me.

2.   Keep bashing my head against that very same wall, in that very same spot.  Photographers take TONS of bad shots before catching “the one shot” that works.  Sometimes, trying, and trying, and trying again is a helpful way to get out of a rut.  This requires lots of disposable supply stock, and patience.  It will be frustrating.  You will fill up many pages with many bad sketches.  But one day, something halfway decent might come out, and you will be a little relieved.

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But it’s like revving up an engine that won’t turn: once there’s a spark, you have to keep it up, or it’ll falter again.

For now, my engine’s still trying to turn, and that’s when I have to remind myself of the most important step of all:

3.  ALWAYS keep a sense of humor about it all, and don’t take it so stinkin’ SERIOUSLY!!!

Really, it’s art.  Calm down.  It’ll come back.  And it’s that confidence that it WILL come back that has kept you going for years and years, and that you need to be comfortable with.  That you need to relax around.  If you’re really into it, it’ll come back.

Remind yourself how much you DON’T suck by looking at some of your favorite pieces you’ve made.  Keep a little scrapbook of your best work, and pull it out on occasion and look at it.  I like to look at mine and remind myself, “oh LOOK!  I’m not THAT totally horrible!”

So, I know about artist’s block, and I know about writer’s block.  Are there others?  What sorts of things do you enjoy doing, and does the skill to do it ever leave you for awhile?  And if so, what do YOU do about it?

Stitched

One thing I’ve ALWAYS enjoyed is the fine line between hard and soft, aggressive and sweet, monstrous and dainty.

A long time ago, in a blog post far, far away, I wrote about playing with sewing my paintings, and my embroidery inspirations

embroidered-mockingbird

I’m pretty inexperienced with embroidery, but I loved creating with thread.  I loved the feel of mixed textures on paintings, as well…  I got a little book on different types of stitches and just played around with them…

embroidered-jinkxembroidered-catalyn stark

And even tried painting on canvas fabric and hand-sewing on top of it.  I was able to keep some of the detail of painting that I couldn’t get (or didn’t have the patience to get) with embroidery.

embroidered-birdembroidered-hummingbird

And then a reader asked if I had tried machine stitching.  And I hadn’t!  So I immediately gave that a try.  And OH what fun!

I think the first one I did was the Galdalf below–I loved the idea of working various stitches on my machine into his beardwork.  So much fun.  I started adding it to the backgrounds and into parts of peoples’ hair…

stitched 2

I even used it, in some cases, to represent part of a character’s story–like the battle-scarred Hound and Tyrion Lannister from Game of Thrones, below.

stitched 1

I can’t get enough of stitching everything now!  I love the variations of texture.  I still love hand-embroidering, especially when I can add the little beads and things.  Have you tried experimenting with a new medium?

 

 

The Super Builders

One rainy day, after watching a few too many episodes of  the Amazon show “Annedroids” , Myla said, “I want to build something!  I want to be an inventor.  Hey mom, can we build stuff out of other stuff, too?”

Not one to turn down an awesomely creative educational opportunity, I asked her what she wanted to build.

“ROBOTS!” she exclaimed. “We can even make one that helps with chores, and does the dishes.  Maybe even one that talks to us and plays Legos.  Can we make one that cleans?”

Um.  Well, since I don’t happen to have earned a degree in robotics and engineering, I was stalled out.  Until I remembered this:

One year while visiting my parents, my nieces decided to take apart some old electronics and build stuff.  They just took it all apart and hot-glued it all together.  Because that’s the kind of awesome stuff they do.  One of them came up with this one, and sent it to us–it’s a portrait of Myla painting!

original

Isn’t it AWESOME?  The curly hair!  The eyes!  The “paints,” and even the little collaboration taped to the easel.

I offered that as a suggestion, and Myla jumped at it.  We dug around the garage for some old electronics, but since I had recently donated or dumped most of them, a trip to the thrift store yielded a good harvest:  $5 for an old broken cassette player and a video tape rewinder.   The height of technology at the time, they now served a much more artistic purpose by yielding parts for our creations.

1

The cool thing was getting her familiar with some tools, which is a good skill for any kid to have.  I unscrewed the main body of the pieces, and taught her a little about wire clippers and screwdrivers.  This all involved a lot of work on my part, but it kept her busy and interested, just trying to figure out the tools and tiny pieces.  (Plus she looks super cool in her dad’s sunglasses, which doubled as eye protection, since I didn’t have any kid-goggles.)

A big bowl came in handy to keep all the little parts in for later.  That would be where we’d keep all the tiny pieces and what we could dig through to build more out of later, and she got a kick out of seeing all the little pieces inside.

2

I plugged in our trusty low-temp kid’s glue gun–those are the ones that heat at lower temps to make it a little easier for kids to use.  Still, since she had a bad experience with it ages ago (she directly touched the hot glue), she was hesitant to use it.  Instead, I let her tell me what went where, and I helped her glue.  I showed her, too, how the glue dries VERY quickly, and as long as you don’t touch it right away, it’s pretty harmless.

I just remember being warned so often about the dangers of power tools (my grandad cut the tip of his thumb off once, and I’ve heard tons of Wood Shop horror stories) that I have to fight through my fear of them sometimes.  I’d rather teach her the right way to use them, than just have her be afraid.

3

So here’s what we created!  A remote control cat, and a tiny gear robo-mouse!  So what if they can’t move on their own.  They were fun to make, and we had a great time building them!

cat mouse

This is the first little face I made as a quick example to show her how you can make things out of the junk parts…

face

Later, I was inspired by an Instagram artist who fixed his friend’s Ever After doll by building her a steampunk leg–and I realized I could use some of the broken electronics to make a prosthetic arm for a Monster High doll that Myla had acquired, whose arm was missing.

I had some tiny watch parts from a jewelry project I had in my craft supplies, and just hot-glued a little hook-arm together for her.

robo arm
Anyway, it’s a rainy day again today.  Maybe we’ll have to be inventors again.  Ah, sciencing!  It’s the best!

 

Playing With Dolls

It all started with a Blythe doll….

Not too long ago, I was introduced to the crazy world of dolls when a friend traded me a Blythe doll in exchange for some artwork.  She had warned me I may become addicted.  “Oh pshaw,” I thought.  “They’re cute, but I’m not really that into ‘people’ dolls.”  I really didn’t know much about Blythe…just that they were a very unique doll that I had seen around for ages, and thought it’d be fun to have one for Myla.

But then I started learning about this whole other WORLD of customizing dolls.  Now THAT I could get into–not so much to sell, but just for fun.  Taking something that was factory-made and changing it to your own version?  That’s pretty darn cool, I guess.  People do ALL kinds of crazy customizations to their Blythes, and I started to find it fascinating.

But PAUSE–I’ll come back to Blythe..

I saw that people were customizing other dolls, so soon I found myself eyeballing my daughter’s Monster High ladies (if you’re shooting for impossible body standards, you may as well go ALL out and be a MONSTER, right?).  Since she wouldn’t give her approval to let me experiment (although she did let me add some definition to the lovely designs on her Loch Ness Lorna doll) I took matters into my own hands, and started shopping around.

LornaAnd when I saw this girl based off of Bigfoot–complete with hairy arms, hairy legs, and GIGANTIC feet, how could I turn that down??

So I googled a few tutorials on customizing doll faces (there are THOUSANDS online), and took the paint off of her face and repainted her all over again…a little more hairy.  A little more freckly.   And those LEGS!  Those are some non-shaved winter sasquatch legs for SURE!  I love ’em.    It was a little intimidating at first….I guess just the idea of totally messing her up.  But really, if I had messed her up, I really could just wipe the paint off again with nail polish remover, right?

bigfoot1The Tech Talk

There are a hundred ways people do and don’t do it, so I won’t give a full tutorial.  Really, there are tons of people who make money online professionally customizing dolls, and they really know their stuff.  I don’t.  I’m just playing around.

I’ll just say I wiped her off with nail polish remover that had acetone in it (apparently, this can melt some plastics, so be careful), and it all came right off.  Then I painted her with acrylics (most people use certain types of art pastels and paint that on, which gives more of a soft airbrushed look).  The trickiest thing is spraying it to seal it all, because some sprays never fully dry, leaving the plastic tacky.  This is particularly annoying because EVERYTHING sticks to it.  This is what I accidentally did (despite reading about it), so now her face and arms are a little tacky.  I ordered the correct spray, though, so help is on the way!  The plasic was pretty easy to paint on–the acrylics didn’t really bead up or anything, and I was able to get a LITTLE bit of smooth shading (pastels would’ve probably been a lot smoother).

So to me, store-bought Monster High doll: boring.  CUSTOMIZED Monster High doll?  SUPER COOOOOOOOL!!!

And despite insisting I wouldn’t become a “crazy doll lady,” I was messing around on etsy, and found an inexpensive little MH WIG from FantasyDolls.  And OMGersh, look how cool it looks!!!

bigfoot2

She’s almost a proper sasquatch!  It’s not properly glued onto her head or anything yet–like I said, I still need to fix that little “tacky skin” issue first–but I think it’s going to be pretty darn cool.  And since she’s a “bigfoot,” I thought clothes wouldn’t look right, but nekkid didn’t quite work either.  So the lovely lady from the shop offered to send me some scraps from the wig hair, and I’m going to use it to tack onto her body, like a really real sasquatch!

So why, you ask?

I don’t know.  Because it’s fun.  And why not?

In the meantime, my friend has fully supported my new experiments by sending me two Blythe doll bodies to play with.  So I “tattooed” them with acrylic paints and permanent marker…I want to see which will hold and which won’t on what kinds of plastic.  And hey–doll tattoos!

tattoosSo let’s return back to Blythe…

Myla has a blonde, curly-haired Blythe doll she named “Sweetie.”  I have a long brown-haired one we named “Mabel” (after the backyard gnomes that used to “visit” us).

There are SO many options for customizing Blythe dolls–you can change their bodies, paint their faces, paint their eyelids, you can give them completely new hair, and you can adjust their eyes so they don’t have that creepy straight-ahead doll stare, just to name a few.  Since I’m not so skilled in all of THAT (and since they’re quite expensive dolls), I decided to do a few littler things, like paint “tattoos” on their bodies, and make horn headbands for them.

mabel n sweetieI made deer antlers for Mabel out of Super Sculpey, hot-glued and E-6000’d onto a little doll headband.  Myla asked if I could make Sweetie a pair of goat-horns, so I made those the same way.  (I tried to cast them in resin so I could make a lot more, but my molding and casting skills still need some work.)

When I told Myla I was going to “tattoo” my doll’s body, she asked if I could do Sweetie’s too.  She told me exactly what she wanted:  a deer-girl.  Because she says Sweetie is someone loves caring for all kinds of animals.  So that’s what we did!  And since Mabel seems like some sort of wood-nymph fairy girl (yeah, you heard me), I did a moth on her.

Anyway, call me crazy for playing with dolls.  I get it, really–it does seem pretty strange.  But really, it’s quite fun!  To be able to take something and make it into something else completely your own is pretty awesome.   I wish I had some spare Blythe faces to play with.  Apparently they come straight out of the box looking VERY plastic, like this:

factorygirl2And when you start looking at what people do to them (just google “custom Blythes,” if you’re curious), it’s actually pretty impressive.

I’m not sure what I’m going to DO with these dolls once I’m done.  Stick ’em on a shelf?  More than likely, Myla will want to play with them.  I know some dolls are fancy, and some are expensive, and it may be risky to let your kid play with a “nice” doll.  But if you teach that kid to be NICE to your “nice” doll, then hey–why not?  I mean, they’re toys, afterall.  They’re meant to be played with and enjoyed!

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