(This is not so much art-related, but I thought I’d share a little story. So if you’re up for it, just sit back, relax, snuggle up, and tuck in. Here we go…)
People often wonder what it’s like to grow up in a military family. Unlike the TV show trope, my dad didn’t march us around the house, barking commands at my sister, mother, and me. After a long day of formations and the field, that was probably the last thing he wanted to do.
Being in an army family means lots of things, but most significantly, it means moving around. A lot. My husband once commented that our daughter at 3 years old, had flown more often than he had the entire first 25 years of his life.
I grew up around the army, and I was very outgoing…until it all slammed to a halt in about 5th grade. I remember it distinctly, because that was when all the social awkwardness happened, and the things I loved (like drawing, reading, bugs, and sci-fi) suddenly became “weird” to the people that had so recently played side by side with me. Being a military family meant that just as social awkwardness set in, we got into an unfortunate pattern of moving nearly EVERY YEAR. So just as I was settling in somewhere, it was just about time to pick up & move. I became a bit more introverted. I stuck my head in my sketchbook and didn’t bother to get to know anyone.
Boohoohoo. Believe me, it’s not a story of pity. My parents took us to so many wonderful places and we did so many fun things. I’ve seen amazing and wonderful parts of the world that my heart STILL aches for. Yes, school was rough at times, but isn’t it always? I lost & found my voice many times, and I’d be a completely different person if anything in it had changed. Years later, I JOINED the army, and found my voice again. I spent four years in that were some of the most important years in my life. Now I’m married to a soldier, and we have our own “army brat” (that’s VERY loving term of endearment and respect, for non-military folks who may be unfamiliar with the term).
But one of the down sides of moving around so much is that we either hang on to things too much, or we let go of things too easily. Maybe that’s also true metaphorically, but I’m talking in this case about actual THINGS. I’ve had friends who spoke of family heirlooms and things being passed down from generation to generation–an idea that fascinated me when I was younger, as we didn’t really have that sort of thing. Moving a lot means the army gives you only so much weight allowance, so sometimes you have to dump the excess.
When I was around eight, I got a Steiff donkey (Steiff is a German dollmaking company). I was in LOVE with that donkey. My sister got a teddy she called Molly Bear. I tried to name my donkey, but he always ended up Just Donkey. He was my go-to guy. I cried many tears into his furry gray neck, and I cuddled with him on many happy nights for many many MANY years.
Me in my Care Bears jammies with my Prince Valiant ‘do, and a brand new Donkey.
When I was old enough to go off to college, like Andy in Toy Story, I left Donkey behind at my parents’ house, and they eventually put him in storage in the shed with a few other of our childhood dolls. Several moves later, he stayed forgotten in a Rubbermaid container, and when I thought of him, I thought of him with a smile. And years later, when my dad retired, I asked about Donkey. “Oh gosh,” my mom said. “He’s probably in a container in the shed somewhere.”
Several MORE years later, not long after Myla was born, I asked again about Donkey. Sadly, it was discovered that most of the dolls and boxes in the shed had suffered at the hands of a major mouse infestation. Dolls and clothing had been shredded by them, paper and stuffing used to make nests in what was once assumed to be sealed-tight containers. Quite a few things were lost or destroyed by mouse-droppings and nibbles. It was a mousetastrophy.
I had heard (for a military family, especially) that it helps comfort a kid to have a doll that is a special “lovvie;” the one constant thing that your kid can connect with and keep, and with a new (and VERY fussy baby), I would have loved for that to have worked. I am here to tell you, my friends, that in my experience, you cannot MAKE a doll be a lovvie. I tried to make many dolls and blankets her lovvie, and nothing stuck. I constantly put them by her in bed, I’d give one to her when she’d cry, and she could really not care less if they were there or not.
And then, just before Myla’s first birthday, mom sent a package to us in Alaska. It was my DONKEY!! And he was FINE! He had somehow survived the rodent apocalypse unscathed! Mom had washed him and sent him to us when they cleaned out their shed. I happily gave my beloved Donkey to Myla, who I assumed would simply cuddle him for a bit and toss him aside. But for some reason, out of ALL the dolls that have ever come and gone, THIS one stuck.
From the minute I gave him to her, he has rarely left her side. So Donkey has been with her since before she could walk, and though other dolls have come and gone, she always goes back to Donkey. New dolls are the occasional favorites sometimes (I may have mentioned she has a stuffed animal addiction), but she always goes back to Donkey.
Donkey has been there for doctor’s appointments, shots, airplane rides, hotel nights, and was a MUST the time she had to stay overnight at the hospital after a bad flu. He has been puked on, accidentally painted on, and had food and drinks spilled on him. His fur, once fluffy and soft, is now matted and course. His neck flops from years of constant cuddling. His mane and tail are nearly threadbare.
And if you ask her if she’d like you to open him up and add a bit more stuffing to make him less floppy, she would tell you “NO, PLEASE. I love him JUST the way he is.”
He is hers, and she loves him.
I can’t change the fact that we move so much, and as an army brat myself, I think it actually ends up making you strong. You appreciate what you have, and enjoy the people around you. You have friends from all over, and even when it’s hard to keep in touch, you can be miles apart, and still feel close to them if you’ve been lucky enough to find some good ones. So in her world, it makes me feel good that something so loved in my life has been so well-loved in hers.
So do you or your kids have a special doll? Some sort of “lovvie” they can’t part with? Do you have something special you’ve passed down to someone else?
Okay, so I’ve written in the past about my experiments with resin casting my mermaid sculptures, and again when I started making dolls from the sculpted faces… Well, I’ve decided finally, after much trepidation…..
It’s intimidating, and I can’t fully pinpoint why I feel that way. I think because I like to give my full attention to things, and since I have a full-time job and a full-time family (not to mention all my full-time hobbies), I was nervous about not being able to give it the attention I’d like it to have.
And also, there was something else darker looming. I worried about the intimidation of “HAVING” to do something, as opposed to doing something just for the fun of it. Ages ago, when I was a kid, my mom (being a military wife, and a full-time, mostly stay-at-home mom) handpainted ornaments for craft shows. They were BEAUTIFUL, and she loved it, and did really well at big shows. In the demands of stocking up for a craft show, she turned her art table into an assembly line of sorts, painting variations of the same things over and over and over again. People loved it, and she did her best to provide a variety of kinds of figures in different skin tones and hair colors, and offered to customized each of them by painting their names on them. It was amazing. But soon, people became picky about customizing things. It wasn’t enough that a simple little character had red hair, they’d ask for WAVIER red hair. Or more freckles. Or a slightly darker skin tone, or dimples. And we’re not talking full, customized portraits here–we’re talking cute, detailed but simple, country crafts. And people would complain constantly (and loudly) of the price–$5 for a handpainted ornament, and they’d complain, not bothering to notice all the hours of work and love that went into each one. After years of this, Mom got burnt out. Although it helped supplement my dad’s army income, after awhile, trying to please everyone, along with doing the same thing over and over and over again wore her out.
But friends have assured me that it can be just for fun! That it doesn’t HAVE to be a custom assembly line. It can be a place to put all the strange things I create, and ENJOY creating, and sharing with people. And that if it gets to be too much, I can put it on “vacation” while I sort things out.
So I decided to give it a try.
I’ve had SO much fun with this resin-casting, that I’ve started making Monster Puppies.
I’ve written before about how much Myla loves her odd little doll, Midnight, and how despite people thinking it’s “creepy,” she loves it all the same.
I’ve had SO MUCH FUN making a variety of monster puppies, in different cute but creepy versions. I’ve always LOVED the juxtaposition of soft and hard, sweet, and sour, cute and creepy…and that’s what I had fun with in making these little guys. For now, I decided to just put up what I’ve created, and not offer customized pieces just yet, until I can get a feel for if I can handle it or not…
The hardest part is convincing Myla that she can’t adopt EVERY. SINGLE. ONE. She loves them all, and her first reaction to each new Monster Puppy is a very beloved, “AWWWW!!!!!”
They’re not for everyone, I know. But they’re fun to make, and people are either totally creeped out by them, or think they’re unusually cool.
I’ve also had a LOT of fun making my little monsters into JEWELRY! I made several necklaces in a couple of designs…
This next one is my personal favorite, and I decided to keep her for myself… (I’m wearing her right at this very moment, actually.)
Myla picked her favorite, and actually wears it to school (although we later changed its eyes to black after she saw mine).
You might think it odd that I send my kid to school with a creepy monster necklace, in the heart of Central Texas. Once, while making smalltalk with some little girls at the craft store, the girls looked at her necklace and said, “wow, that’s really creepy.” Myla knows that some people think so. We’ve talked a lot about how it’s okay to like something and it’s okay NOT to like something. Nothing’s for everyone. But I asked her if it made her feel bad, and if she wanted to take it off. “NO! Not at all!” She said. “I just don’t want people to be scared of it.”
So now, if people say it’s creepy, she’s decided to say, “Yes, but she’s actually quite a nice and FRIENDLY monster.”
I also made a few of them into pin-backed brooches.
I’ve also added several pieces of ORIGINAL artwork (not the collaborations, however–still can’t part with those), paintings, and sketchbook pages.
In any case, welcome to my shop! It’s a collection of things I love to make, and I hope they at least make you smile. I’ll do my best to add new things to it from time to time, in whatever direction my crafty brain takes me, whatever I’m into at the moment!
Or: “Why We Have a Dead Horse Taped To Our Window”
Here’s a quick little story:
Recently, we watched a show on PBS called “Animal Odd Couples,” about unusual animal friendships, which Myla loved. She especially loved the story of Charlie the horse and Jack the goat.
Charlie was a 40-year-old farm horse who was blind in one eye, and very near to being put down when the family noticed that their 16-year old goat, Jack, had begun walking with Charlie around the farm, standing on his good side to lead him, making sure he got where he needed to go. As the horse got older and blind in both eyes, the goat began leading him in front so he could follow his sound.
The show is very sweet, and you can watch the story of Charlie and Jack here:
Later in the story, they talk about how Charlie passed away. In tribute, Myla grabbed a paper plate and asked me if she could draw Charlie after he died (she has learned to ask about potentially inappropriate images after some “artistic mishaps” at school), and I said it would be okay.
I don’t think she meant it in a morbid way; to her mind, it was more of a tribute. The “x” eyes and the tongue sticking out are merely a way of telling you visually that the sweet horse that was part of this amazing story died. She wanted people to know about Charlie and Jack. She asked me if I’d write the story around it, and I took dictation on the words she wanted me to write. She asked if we could get a big stick and put it in the front yard so that everyone could see the story, but (thankfully) I convinced her that the weather might be an issue, and we compromised by taping it to the window in our kitchen nook.
So, we have a drawing of a dead horse on our window. But it’s sort of…sweet, actually?
And that’s the story of Charlie and Jack, and how Myla loved them.
So Austin Wizard World happened this past weekend, and I thought I’d tell you all about my very first ever Con experience as both a vendor and an attendee…
First off, the fact that the event started on a Thursday was apparently unusual, and had quite a few vendors and staff in a huff. The event also coincided with a football game that same weekend, but it being my first time at all, I didn’t have much to compare it to.
My awesome sister was nice enough to loan me her teenage daughter to help me with the event, so we flew her from Maryland. At 17, Maylin is no stranger to conventions, and loves the art of cosplay (dressing up as beloved characters).
Maylin helped me set up the table and watch it so I could walk around a bit, too. It was awesome having her there! She did get some funny looks, though, when I wasn’t manning the booth. “Yeah, right, this teenage kid has a 4-year old?!?? It must be a HOAX!” Heheh. Myla had school Thursday and Friday, and three days of a 5-year old sitting at a booth would be a little much.
So many people walked by and recognized the artwork, and said very nice things about it. We got a lot of “I feel like I’ve seen this online somewhere….” and “Oh! are you the lady??” It’s a testament to how unreal online things seem, as I got several people saying, “Oh, this is actually REAL?? Are you the real PERSON??” Uh. Yes? Yes, I am.
One of my favorite parts of the convention was just people-watching. SO many fun and clever costumes!! There was a group of four girls, all dressed as different versions of Wolverine. They could barely walk a few feet at a time before having to stop to get their pictures taken by everyone, and made everyone smile who saw them. There was a cute Toothless, a teeny tiny (and very realistic) Predator. I saw lots of cool Gamoras and Starlords, a few Rocket Raccoons, and even a Groot made from foam noodles.
This Phoenix cosplayer had a pair of giant foam wings attached to her back, and she was getting stopped every few minutes to have her picture taken. One of my favorites was a simple costume worn by a very tall woman shopping with her daughters. Green skin and hair, light purple shirt, and brown dress, carrying a 1-ton handbag….LADY HULK!
Another cool chance happening was that while sitting at the booth, this Punisher came up to us and it took me just a second glance to realize it was my very own cousin Andrew! I had no idea he was coming, and he had no idea I’d be there. Small world! He and his girlfriend Bea cosplay all over Texas, and she came as a variety of characters all three days..Catherine from The Cell, Catwoman, and Lady Deadpool–go check her out at Ninja Kitty Cosplay!
They even walked around a bit with Myla and let people take their picture, which made her feel a bit like a superstar.
It was also amazing to meet all the other artists and vendors that worked there, and talk to them about their ideas and projects. I listened to artist Doug Hazlewood talk about making comics the old-school way. We were seated next to the creators of The Cat webseries on YouTube. I talked to artist Brian Essig-Peppard about his project Zeroes for Hire. SOOO many good artists! And it’s really cool to know that people you’ve gotten to know online through their artwork are really nice people in real life.
For example, I first followed artist John Mueller on Instagram because he makes AWESOME artwork, and also because I remember seeing his comic Oink way back when I was in art school. He’s revamped that series, and he actually asked me (and a few other handpicked artists) if I’d do a piece of artwork for the back of his new Dark Horse comic Oink: Heaven’s Butcher, which comes out in February. (I just finished it & sent it, and I’m SUPER honored to be included!)
Anyway, John was at the Con with Sam Gage to promote their awesome game called Bedlam, via Kickstarter, with some cool rewards! At some of the higher tiers, you can even get YOURSELF drawn in as a character in the game!! These guys were lots of fun, made beautiful artwork, and were just all around awesome people. (If games are your thing, I know they’d certainly appreciate a like, a pledge, or a share!)
They were also REAAALLLY big fans of our collaborations, and really made Myla feel special when we went walking around.
Speaking of feeling special, we had a special visit from a facebook friend, Lauren, who (joined by her Tribble) brought her copy of our book to have us sign! Luckily she came on Saturday when Myla was there, and Myla not only signed it, but drew an octo-cat inside. It was so wonderful to meet her!
I even met up with a friend from high school, and his family! (High school, by the way, was in Augsburg, Germany…so again, small world!)
Another fun run-in was spotting tattoo artist and sideshow performer Katzen Hobbes. I mean, she’s pretty difficult to miss, right? I ran into Katzen YEARS ago from a distance at a tattoo convention, and always read about her, so it was cool to finally meet her in person. She’s going to be featured in Ripley’s Believe it or Not book, coming in September. She was really nice, and told me she did art with her son Felix from time to time, and that she had heard of our artwork and enjoyed it, and that since she was an artist and a mom, people would send her the article.
Since I’m a bit on the…”grownup” side, I wouldn’t consider myself much of a fangirl, so when the list of celebrities came out for the show, I didn’t think I’d be interested much. …UNTIL the thought crossed my mind that I might get them to sign some portraits I had done of them…
You might know Michael Rooker as Merle from The Walking Dead and Yondu from Guardians of the Galaxy…I brought my portrait of him to pose for a photo with, and had him sign the other, which was just an unfinished ballpoint sketch at the time. He was friendly! Like, VERY friendly. Like, country boy, holding your hand, callin’ you “Sugar,” big-hug friendly. “You did this, girl? Man, you’ve got some skills! All with a ballpoint pen, huh? I’ll be darned.” It was on Thursday, so there was hardly anyone there. I asked him if anyone offers him chocolate covered pretzels. We talked about Mallrats, and having to have his shiny butt full screen for the whole world to see in that one. He was funny. Later on, he walked around the Con floor, chatting with vendors. “HEYYYYY it’s you again!” he said to me. “You still working on that drawing? Man! You’re fast!” And then he strolled off to chat with a scantily-clad Red Sonja.
Friday was Norman Reedus, from Walking Dead. Since there were separate lines (and costs) for autographs and photos, I wasn’t able to take a posed photo, but Norman was super nice. Everyone kept saying, “oh, Norman Reedus? He is SUCH a nice dude.” And they were absolutely right. While Saturday was full of teenage fangirls screaming and shrieking his name, Friday was much more laid-back. As I walked up, he gave me a hug, shook my hand and said, “Hi, I’m Norman.” I asked if he’d be willing to sign my drawing, and he said, “MAN, you did that??” He stared at it a bit and told me I had a very unique style. I told him I was an illustrator, that my husband & I loved the show, and couldn’t think of anything else much to say. I know he enjoys artwork, and even made a book of fan art, but I wish I would’ve known beforehand that he actually MADE art at one time–that’s actually something I would’ve LOVED to have learned more about…..DANG IT!
Anyway, Myla stayed for a good chunk of the day Saturday, and had a GREAT time. She LOVED seeing all the costumes, and she LOVED looking at all the artwork. She said she wanted to stay there for the WHOLE NIGHT. She seemed SO at home there! At one point, inspired by the allure of commerce (or maybe it was the influence of the other artists), Myla drew some pictures, and laid them out on the floor. “I hope someone will buy my artwork,” she said. I helped her spell the words “For Sale” on her sign. “How much will you sell them for?” I asked. “One hundred,” she replied confidently. “I think that might be a little too much. How about one dollar?” “Yes! Of course!” she said. So from then on out (after first trying to sell some to me and Maylin), she would ask people kindly, “Would you like to buy some of my art?” I worried that she might not handle rejection well….but I underestimated the power of a kid’s selling techniques. I mean, who could resist?
One guy came by specifically to meet her, and tell her what a fan he was of our work. When she offered up her drawings, he asked if she had any of Harley Quinn. She didn’t, but grabbed her markers and drew him one right then & there. He happily thanked her with a ten dollar bill and a smile (people can be SO awesome, by the way). Made my heart smile!
By the end of the day, when Daddy came to pick her up, she had made $20. She told me I should go to the shops and buy any doll I choose. Whichever one I wanted for myself. “Hm,” I said. “What doll do you think I should choose?” Immediately, she answered, “FLUTTERSHY!!!” Then quickly added, “Uh…or whichever one you would like.”
So of course, impressed by her moxie, I brought home a stuffed Fluttershy for her, for all her hard work.
And that was that! So much fun meeting so many people, seeing so much artwork, and all the fantastic costumes. I think we may have to go to a few more, even just as attendees. Maybe this time…in costume! I have all these awesome cosplay ideas if Myla would only cooperate, but of course (as she should) she has her own ideas. Like being Fluttershy or Rainbow Dash (can you tell she just discovered My Little Ponies?). My husband says that instead of a pageant mom, I have to be careful not to become a cosplay mom. :)
Til next time! Woohoo!
Have you heard of Kiwi Crate? It’s a fun little mail-to-your-doorstep program, where every month, a cute little box comes to your mailbox, filled with all the tools and supplies you need to do a couple of art projects. (They totally don’t give us any freebies for saying so, but we think they’re pretty awesome, especially for crafty ladies like us.)
So recently, Kiwi Crate finally named their little kiwi character “Steve,” and Myla was excited.
“I’d like to make a Steve doll!” she said. Since this usually involves basically ME doing all the work, I sort of brushed it off for another time. “But I think I can make it all by myself!” she said excitedly, digging through her craft box with all the giddy anticipation of a newly hatched idea.
Allright, I thought. I’ll help her with the basic sewing. She’ll get a chance to see the sewing machine in action, and she can do the rest herself.
Carefully and meticulously, she cut shapes out of the felt that came with one of the monthly project kits, along with a few extra supplies from my sewing box. She quickly and furiously drew the shapes out herself, cut them out herself. It was HER vision, and she was so EXCITED.
And when the time came, I had her place her hand next to mine on the machine, and I had her help me guide it to sew on the little beak. I had her help me pull the little needle and thread through the button eyes. And things were going well. How cute! What a great learning experience! I thought…
Until we put the stuffing in.
“When does it get bigger? I wanted it to be the size of a pillow to cuddle with. Isn’t it going to get bigger?”
…Uhhhh. Oh my.
It was then that I realized that in all her furious anticipation, she had a goal in mind of exactly what she wanted this little kiwi to look like, and this tiny blue thing was NOT living up to those expectations at ALL.
As this reality hit her, she became instantly inconsolable. Those of you who have spent time with kids this age might be familiar with the complete and utter irrationality of a kid-tantrum. They’re these things that are unexpected, unexplainable, and completely bewildering. There’s no use saying, “But you cut it out! You must have KNOWN how big it was?!?” There’s no use saying, “How would it possibly get BIGGER?!?!” These things mean nothing to a small child. All they know is that Thing A was in their head, and Thing B does NOT match up.
And OOOOhhhhhhh the tears. Oh the crying. Oh, the dramatic frustration. It was safe to say that we were done with the kiwi for the day.
Later, when the tears had finally stopped flowing, we had a chance to talk. “You were upset because you thought when you stuffed it, it would get bigger?” “Yes,” she said. “Do you understand that freaking out about it doesn’t change anything?” “Yes,” she said. “Can we do something about it? Can we make a bigger one?” she asked me, hurriedly.
But to avoid the bandaid trapping of instant gratification, I insisted we would need to wait. From now on, if we were going to do this, we would take our time. We would draw out a design, pick the fabrics, take a couple of days, and make a PLAN.
And now, this is our new word for projects: PLAN.
Several days later, after many talks about calming down and using our words, we drew pictures, we picked out fabrics, and we started working on another Steve.
We drew pictures. We picked out button eyes. We talked about his beak and his wings. We chose which fabrics to use from my fabric stash. She helped me sew him. She helped me stuff him. She drew out what kind of legs she imagined he’d have.
It’s a hard lesson, when your imagination doesn’t match up with your reality. It’s amazing to keep your imagination in the stars, but you also have to be aware of what’s actually within your reach, and when you’re totally and completely off-track.
Another thing that’s so hard for a kid to grasp is that if you take your time and plan something out, it makes for a MUCH better project with a much better plan. These days, when everything is available at the touch of a button, it’s easy to forget that there’s also legitimate value in WAITING.
Myla’s five, and I’ve only just begun to try her on a chapter book at bedtime; one of my childhood favorites: The Phantom Tollbooth by Norman Juster. “I think I’ve already seen that show,” she said, “and some of the creatures scared me.” “But that’s the great thing,” I said. “It can be totally different in your imagination.”
Every night when we read a chapter or two, she asks me, “Will we go ahead and just finish it tonight?” And every night I tell her that we just have to wait to see what happens. Of course, she’s impatient, but she accepts it with excitement. I thought her attention would dwindle, but so far she seems to be hanging on.
Later, we set the kiwis side by side, and I asked her to look at them with me.
“They’re both beautiful,” I said. We talked about how when you have a great idea, it’s great to want to get it out as quickly as possible, but that sometimes when you take your time and plan it out, you have a chance to make it better, make it stronger, make it more like what you had in mind, maybe do things you hadn’t thought of before, or do them in different ways. When you rush, you might get the idea out quickly, but planning it out helps you figure things out that you might not have done with the rushed version. Since we took time to plan out the second kiwi, we made its wings flap down, so they could lay down to his side (instead of stick out to the sides) and we were able to make his beak stick straight out, like a kiwi’s.
It’s got to be hard for kids, growing up in our new world of on-demand tv, DVR, instant downloading, live streaming, wifi, and online shopping to understand the process of having to wait for ANYTHING. I have to remind myself that that waiting is something that kids today are much less familiar with. It’s not a skill they have ever really had to use. It’s not better or worse than when I was a kid, it’s just different. There’s no use pining for the past. It’s how we live now, and there’s no use trying to completely change the world and live in a cabin somewhere….
….But I think slowing things down a little is a pretty good habit to make from time to time…
In my ongoing experiments with sculpting, molding, and resin casting (like this one), I wanted to try out a more functional use for resin casts….Could I maybe make some kind of doll with a resin-cast face?
After a few rough sketches, I got some Sculpey out on an index card, pushed marbles in for eyes, and played around to see what I could come up with. Of course, since Myla loves to be involved, I let her have a lump, with which she made the little figure on the top left, and I came up with these two monster faces on the right (people on Instagram said they looked like monster kittens):
I still have some tricky times with molding and casting, and have wasted more than my fair share of molding rubber and resin…So I let Myla have a few of the wonky ones to paint herself…
And I added some color to a few molds that actually came out well…
(Initially, I put resin on the mouth and eyes for a “wet” look, and only sealed the faces with varnish, but later ended up sealing the whole face in ModPodge Dimensional Magic for better wear & tear).
Aside from painting them, the most fun part was trying to figure out what sort of fabric to use. So many options that completely change the look of each face! And I just used scraps of things I had in my fabric bins, including fun fur, industrial felt, mismatched fabrics, and excess pieces of a patchwork quilt I once made.
I learned from talking to other artists (have I mentioned how much I love Instagram??) that the best way to affix the heads to the fabric is to use E600, and put them under a heavy object overnight. Granted, they smell like chemical warfare afterwards, but if you let them air out awhile, the smell eventually goes away.
The first creature I made was a basic doll-shape:
…And Myla loved him.
Then I made a body for the one she painted herself:
…And Myla loved him.
I tried a more “pillow-like” one, with octopus-legs…
…And Myla wasn’t crazy about that one. (Don’t worry–it’s found a good home at my friend Corrie’s house.)
I did what Myla describes as a flying fish-fairy:
And a sort of dragonfly-dragon:
But by far, my favorite was when I tried something completely different, and made a more 3-dimensional body, with three little legs on each side.
It was my first time making one that wasn’t just a flat front & back without using a pattern, so it’s a little wonky, but I quite like it.
Annnnnd, of course, Myla loved it. She calls her “Midnight” and carries her everywhere lately. I realize these things are not necessarily made to be ‘toys” (how much they hold up to the wear & tear of kid life is still being determined), but she treats her dolls pretty well, so why not?
Thankfully, the horrendous glue smell has gone away. And after repairing her chipped little resin face a couple of times, I think a good coat of the ModPodge stuff has really helped keep her shiny & new.
It’s a funny thing, though, when she takes her little monster places. Other little girls will look at Myla and smile sweetly, and Myla will smile back…then they’ll look down at her fuzzy little monster, and their face will inevitably change to a mortified “what the HECK??” When she takes Midnight anywhere, the comments she gets stem from either complete disgust, or absolute fascination. And when people ask where she got such a doll, she says, with her sweet little 5-year old voice, “my mom sculpt it and cast it in wesin.”
Listen, I know we like weird things. And I know most people won’t “get” the same things we’re into. So we could teach her to either hide what she likes to be “normal,” or take it as an opportunity to share our weirdness with someone else.
We teach her that when someone doesn’t like something, or doesn’t “get” it (like maybe her references to characters she has heard stories of and loves, like Gamora and Groot, or Storm, or Star Wars), it might be because they just don’t UNDERSTAND it, or haven’t heard about them….but that it doesn’t make it wrong. It might just mean that they don’t know, which would be a good chance to teach them something new. People don’t always like the same things, but they shouldn’t try to make someone else feel bad for liking what they like. And no matter what, you should never EVER feel bad or ashamed for liking what you like, no matter how weird, as long as you’re not hurting anyone else. If they don’t like it, that’s okay–that’s their business.
So far, she’s done pretty well with that, thankfully. She doesn’t go out LOOKING for a conflict, but so far, she handles it with grace when she does.
On a side note, people have asked if I sell these, and so far, there are many reasons I haven’t. I quite like doing them just for fun, and as much as I’d love to share them, the thought of doing them to order is quite intimidating! (Not to mention, the effort that goes into sculpting, molding, casting, painting, and sewing might be worth a bit more than people are willing to consider.)
I have trouble with that–the thought of custom work and getting rid of the things I make. It really is daunting. I worry that it might lose it’s “fun” or its spontaneity. Also, I’m not sure how well they’ll hold up. Maybe one day, when things aren’t so busy, and I’ve got this whole resin-casting thing down pat/ Maybe I’ll make a few and put them up in a shop as-is. (I keep saying I’m going to do that….)
Until then, have any of you tried resin casting? Have you tried making dolls from them? I’d love to see your creations and hear from you about your resin-adventures!
You know what kids seem to love (when they’re old enough to stop shoving everything in their mouth)? Sculpting stuff.
Play-doh was great when Myla was younger–easy going, soft enough for little hands to squish. We’ve tried lots of different clays since she’s gotten older, and they all have their own issues (getting stuck in the carpet, for one). But when our craft store had multicolored, never-drying clay on sale, we gave it a whirl. I thought she could have fun building and rebuilding things in a variety of colors.
Of course, she sculpted like a MILLION awesome little figures, and they don’t dry, and she won’t re-use the clay to build something else, and they’re each incredibly amazing, but….now what am I supposed to do with them? I’ve daydreamed of lying them all on a piece of plywood and sealing the whole thing with resin…but that might be a bit beyond my skill level.
There are times as a parent (especially when the husband was deployed and I had a project I desperately wanted to work on, or when I was sick, or–heck–when there were everyday household things that really needed to get done) when art projects are a great distraction. And there are times I have used art projects the way some parents use television (although HEY–there are MANY times when television is absolutely called for and helpful, believe me).
And man o MAN! Did she sculpt! Mermaids are her favorite lately. She says “I am IN to mermaids right now.” But since she’s an artsy art girl, plain ol’ mermaids aren’t enough, and she does fun things, like add a little old-school mobile phone that was a mystery piece in one of my Munny kits….
(Don’t mind the skin change; it was important to her that Storm’s skin be darker, and the assorted Duplos we have (which I purchased in a big random bag from a secondhand store) didn’t include a darker one.)
There are times you are busy, and your kid is happily playing next to you, and you see that everything is going well, but because you’re engrossed in what you’re doing yourself, you don’t REALLY notice what exactly she’s doing until she shows you this:
…which is, of course, a Duplo giraffe in a Nightcrawler costume that she made out of clay. Complete with tail.
And those are the times when your jaw drops, and you stop what you’re doing, get down on the floor to play with her, and really SEE her ideas, get a glimpse of how her little brain works, and all the little creative things she’s doing, because DANG it’s cool.
Once, when I was younger and walking home from school, I remember thinking to myself, “I’ve never seen a real four-leaf clover.” So I sat down right there in the grass and I SWEAR after a few quick brushes with my hands, I found one straight away. I’ve done that quite a few times since. I’ll sit in the grass and think, “I wonder if I can find another four-leaf clover?” and will find them. I’ve found about a dozen, and taped them all in sketchbooks or scrapbooks or in shadowboxes here and there in our house.
Those things are ALWAYS there. You just have to LOOK for them. It’s so easy to pass them by, but they’re the things that pack the biggest punch.
And it’s those little things that can make a rough day feel SO much better in an instant. It’s always the little things.
Awhile back, I got an email from Canadian musician Jennifer Gasoi, who won a Grammy this past year (whaaaa????!!), saying that she enjoyed our collaborations, thought we might enjoy her music, and wondered if she could send us a copy of her award-winning album.
You’d like to send us a copy of some awesomely fantastic, jazzy, hip-shaking music that Myla & I could jam out to? Why, yes PLEASE!
Weeks later, we got her CD in the mail. I turned it on while we were doing crafts, and Myla stopped mid-doodle, and got up to dance and shake around. The music is fun, sort of retro-style, a touch of swing, a bit jazzy, and all around pretty cool for me (as a grownup) to listen too, too. (You can listen to it here.)
I’m constantly amazed at people sharing things they’ve done with us, so I’m quite happy to share it with you. We loved all the happy sounds, and had our own little dance party in our art room. Myla said, “It was very nice of her to send us some music. Maybe we could send her a card to say thank you!”
And so we did.
Myla told me what she wanted to write on the inside, and I helped her spell it. I’m not sure exactly why she turned Miss Gasoi into a catfish, surrounded by other underwater creatures, but that’s what she was inspired by at the time.
So please, go check out Jennifer Gasoi for yourself, and get a little dancing in your toes!
UPDATE: Jennifer tweeted us, saying she loves being a catfish…and coincidentally, she’s a Pisces, so…it makes sense, huh? :)
So I just realized it’s been a YEAR since I first posted the story about collaborating with our 4-year old! And while a lot has changed (she’s 5 now, for one), so much is still the same. I thought it’d be sort of cool to share a bit about the whole experience, and what we’ve been doing since…
1. People have been SO super nice! I still get SO many wonderful comments, messages, posts, and emails, saying wonderful things and sharing wonderful stories about how this fun little project that Myla & I do together has affected them in some positive way and it’s such a wonderful thing to hear. New-mom artists saying they couldn’t figure out how to still create while caring for a kid have told me they have hope now for a new way to create. Other type-A’s like me, who have been reminded to let go a little bit and enjoy the ride. People spent time doing similar projects with their kids, their students, their patients, and shared the stories with me. It feels really good to hear that something we did just for fun has had such a positive effect on so many people.
The fact that people take a little time out to say something nice to someone they don’t know personally, is very heartwarming, and makes me feel good about the fate of the human race.
2. Some people can be jerks. I have learned the age-old internet rule, and will agree that it is most definitely true (mostly on external blogs, not my own, thankfully): DON’T READ THE COMMENTS. SO many websites, instead of linking directly to my full story, retold the story using my photos on their own website. Usually, they don’t tell the whole process I went through, leaving readers confused and critical, and more likely to make random nasty (and not at all constructive) comments. Everything from “She’s holding her pen wrong,” “the mom overindulges her,” “the mom probably does those herself, for attention,” “those drawings aren’t THAT good,” and “what the hell am I even looking at???”
…Some people make a point to take a little time out of their day to be total jerks to a complete stranger, which makes me a little discouraged about the fate of the human race. Thankfully, though, there are WAYYYYYYY more positive comments than negative, and I do my best to ignore them, and focus on people who AREN’T talking out of their butts.
3. We self-published an AWESOME BOOK. We had a few publisher nibbles after the post, and even worked for quite a while with one, trying to narrow down how we might possibly turn it into a book for children, until they finally gave up on the idea altogether. It wasn’t until then that I realized it might not BE a children’s book. So I made my own Kickstarter video, and with the help of SOOO many people sharing and getting the message out there, we were able to exceed our goal and make a book I am very very proud of, that tells the story of our collaboration, has pages to doodle in yourself, and is a collection of a great many collaborations, and the fun little titles I gave them. We also were able to make a little children’s book of animal collaborations. I can’t seem to part with the originals, so I don’t sell any of the originals to anyone. I keep them in a very full binder for her to enjoy later. So since we weren’t able to have a professional publisher work with us, at least I was able to make our drawings into a fun little book that we can share with people.
4. We still get around a bit, from time to time. Aside from a great many interviews & articles from all sorts of places in the world, we’ve had a few little online adventures. We had someone contact us to see if they could purchase a few prints to use on a TV show as set design background if the show stayed on. (We allowed it, but I haven’t seen them on the show, and I don’t think it was picked up for a new season.) A theme park on the other side of the world asked if they could display a few for a Mother’s Day event they were having. Our post was shared on facebook by a couple of fun names…
(None of this at all means anything to Myla, though. She just likes to draw.)
5. People have asked us to do stuff. We have been asked to do custom work, but trying to “control” what a 5-year old draws is nearly impossible. Sometimes I can give her suggestions, and sometimes she turns the person into Nightcrawler or a mermaid, just for fun. You can never tell. Nor would I want to stifle what she does, or put any limitations on it. The very few times I’ve tried to steer her in a certain direction is hit or miss: sometimes it works out like magic (as in the Hellboy doodle we did below), and sometimes it doesn’t work, and it’s just frustrating for the both of us. So instead of getting frustrated, I just take the pressure off by saying no to most custom work, unless it’s something fun that we can do in a way that has little to no pressure. (Reading Rainbow’s Kickstarter, for example, is running an art contest for their calendar. We’ll give it a try, but if it doesn’t work out, no big deal.)
We have been asked to design logos for products, but aside from just the logistics listed above, it just feels weird to use them for a product. I don’t have any big political belief behind that thought. It just feels weird, so I just say no.
We were once asked to have a film crew film our day to day life and doodles, but I couldn’t see how that would work, since both my husband and I have agreed that we’re not comfortable with the idea of having Myla’s face fully openly out there in internet land. Why not? Well, aside from just the regular worry of creepy old creepers, people can be plain nasty, as I said earlier, and nastier when they have something in front of them to point at behind the safety of their screens. She’s adorable, but she’s five. I don’t need random people commenting and judging her SOLELY based on her physical attributes (as I’m sure the world will do in plenty of time when she hits puberty). No thanks.
6. Life is pretty normal. When we first did the collaborations was just before my husband was deployed, so he missed the majority of the hubub, and watched it lovingly from a distance somewhere in the middle of Afghanistan. Now that he’s back, things are pretty normal again. Myla started Kindergarten, and is on a mission to share her love of superheroes with the world. Like everyone, we have good days and bad days (but they are very nearly all good days). She loves superheroes, mermaids, and “crafty crafts” (which is what we call all the artsy art things we enjoy doing). I post our work primarily on Instagram, but also on Facebook and Twitter. I also use Instagram to post a ton of whatever strange drawings, sculptures, or projects I’ve personally got going on as well.
7. We still draw. A LOT. When we first started collaborating, it was incidental. It just sort of happened. Now, she ASKS me for heads to draw, and sometimes for certain characters. I like to mix drawing, say, a certain actor’s face for her to draw a certain character’s body on, and she has fun with that. If she wants to do one of Wolverine, for example, I draw Hugh Jackman. It’s fun for both of us. Her drawings have become more narrative, with so much more going on, and it’s been REALLY fun for me to try to make them make sense by making the background more detailed, adding more highlights and shading to the artwork, to the faces. It’s so much fun!
People have asked me about her tiring of drawing only the bodies–but she doesn’t LIKE how I draw the bodies on her heads (she hasn’t worked on that “letting go of expectations” thing that I’ve worked on, and is sometimes critical if I go off-course). Drawing faces and characters on her own, though? She’s WAY into that! Oftentimes, I’ll tear out pages from my sketchbook of drawings I haven’t finished, and don’t intend to finish (even if it’s just an eye), and let her just use her imagination:
But now that she’s a little older, a great deal of our work is directly influenced by the things that influence her: superheroes, characters from shows and books and comics. This past summer, I signed her up for day camp (basically 3 hours a day of themed daycare). She could choose between Princess Camp and Superhero Camp. She chose Superhero camp, which has been a huge influence on her drawings:
She’s also had a thing for mermaids lately…
There are also a great many characters she’s never really watched the actual shows of (she’s only 5, remember, and she’s not too fond of too much action & violence), but has seen or heard of the characters. I’ll usually just tell her a toned-down, simplified story about the character, and let her elaborate:
She will draw characters from some of her favorite, most beloved tv shows, books, and movies:
There is always a WHOLE lot of Star Wars:
And some of them come straight from her own imagination:
8. We still LOVE to share… Whether it’s between Myla and me, or other people, we love to share our doodles. I recently did an art trade with an artist on Instagram, whose 4-year old daughter decided to make Myla a little sculpture to add to the package. It was so awesome! Myla loves to show people how to draw “step by step” (but she will almost NEVER tell you what it’s going to be in the end…probably because she makes it up as she goes). She loves drawing marker “tattoos” on any visitors we have who are willing. Last time we visited my husband’s family, they all gathered round chit-chatting and waiting their turn for Myla-tattoos.
…SO WHAT’S NEXT? Well, we’re just gonna keep on keepin’ on. Since I have all these books now, I thought it’d be fun to take them to a vending table at Wizard Con in Austin, Oct 2-4. So I’ll be doing that, and bringing my niece along to help. Myla will mostly be hanging at home with Daddy, and only stopping in on occasion (since I’m guessing it’d be pretty hard to keep a kid at a booth ALL DAY for THREE DAYS??) to see costumes and such (conventions scare her, though, so we’re gonna play that one by ear). I’m bringing TONS of books, some prints, a few of my own originals, and whatever else we can muster up. It’s gonna be FUN! So if you’re anywhere in the area, PLEASE come see us!
I absolutely LOVE watching her develop her drawing. I get so excited when I notice her drawing something new, like Wolverine’s “fists,” and the amount of detail she remembers just from seeing a few pictures of a character. We’ll keep on doing them for as long as they’re fun. And if they’re not fun, we’ll lay off them for awhile. But right now, we still love drawing together, so that’s what we’ll do. And I’m always happy to post them!
Most of all, I love love LOVE hearing from other people who have been inspired to do their OWN doodle projects with their friends, family, students, and kids, so if you’ve got stories to share, I’d LOVE to hear them!
Love, love love. Just realized there was a WHOLE lotta love in this post. And that’s awesome.
(Posted below are just a couple of the wonderful doodles people have sent me that their kids have done after being inspired to draw by our doodles. I love seeing all that imagination growing!)
So that’s a little update on our doodles this past year! I’m so grateful for all the positive response we’ve gotten from something we just love doing together. It’s SUCH a good feeling to put something good into the world!
(I constantly post new prints for purchase at Society6. Please feel free to take a look!)
I absolutely LOVE drawing faces. I love the detailed mapping of a face, and how the simplest little line or shade can change the entire look of someone, for the better or worse.
In school we learned the proper ways of facial proportion for artists, and if you want to get better at drawing faces, it’s the absolute way to go (something like this). You focus on how to lay out the face by using the eye as a specific unit of measurement. It is mathematical, it is precise, and it is also fluid and easily adaptable…each face is different, but easy to measure, if you pay attention to the proper structure of proportion.
If you follow those guidelines and those measurements (and how they pertain to each person you draw), the person you’re trying to draw will look very much like they’re supposed to.
But once I learned all that and it made sense, I started to have fun with it.
Picasso once said, “Learn the rules like a pro, so you can break them like an artist.” And for anyone just starting out, I’d always recommend learning the basic foundations first. Not because you can’t HANDLE doing it on your own….but because it’ll make you a better artist in the long run.
But once I learned the structure of proportion, instead of laying it out in advance, I began to start in one spot, and just see where it takes me. Here’s a line. What’s next door? Oh, it’s darker here, and lighter a little bit over there….
Now I very RARELY (alright, maybe even NEVER) draw with any sort of preplanned layout, or sketch out proportions in advance.
Instead of measurement and preciseness, I draw a line, look at what’s around it, and make some rough guess as to where it all fits in. Sure, it’s not precise, but it’s more enjoyable to me, to see where the face will take me. That’s where the fun part and the personality in drawing comes from, for me.
Sometimes it works, and what I end up with is basically what I was hoping for, with a bit of that magical distortion that makes my brain smile.
And sometimes it doesn’t, and I get to the end and it’s not quite what I thought it would be. And even though I THINK I’ve followed my own directions as I look at my reference, there’s something that doesn’t work. As if, despite following my map, I took a wrong turn somewhere. Something that’s off, that isn’t making it sing…
Sometimes it’s a little simple thing and it will change the entire look of everything. Sometimes it just can’t be saved. Either way, it’s more fun to me to create this way than aiming for absolute realism.
Sometimes a face is so simple, with such simple characteristics that you have to play very close attention to the tiny little details to have it even come close to making sense. The tiniest line in a carefully placed area can change someone’s entire look. And I mean that literally: one. single. tiny. line.
Babies are difficult that way. Babies, artistically speaking, are circles with simplified features floating in a sea of smoothness, with very little lines around to tell you where to go, or where each thing fits in relation to the other. Babies are hard.
But so are some adults. I drew Angelica Huston recently three times, and still couldn’t get the simple subtleties of her face quite right, even with my altered proportions. Actress Lena Headey (Cersei from Game of Thrones) has such a unique face that has continued to elude me–with such simple but heavy expression even just in the slightest move of her eyebrows, or the littlest smirk.
This is probably why people who are typically deemed “beautiful” or “handsome” don’t seem so at all to me: their faces are devoid of personality, wiped clean of any imperfections. They could be ANYBODY. They look like the same polished versions of eachother with different styling options. They seem empty.
In MY world, imperfections are absolutely what make someone interesting. One of my very favorite lines is from Francis Bacon, who said, “There is no excellent beauty that hath not some strangeness in the proportion.” It’s the odd things that make us beautiful, make us interesting, and give our faces stories to tell. The things that make you different, make you stand out, or make you uncomfortable? When you remove the emotional reaction, those are the very same things that make you SPECIAL.
I sort of fall in love a little with someone’s lines when I draw them. Not romantic love, but more a VERY deep appreciation of their shapes, their lines, their uniqueness. I think that (aside from just not wanting to give attention to negativity, or show disrespect to any survivors) is why I have trouble drawing serial killers or concentration camp survivors, or some other such mortifying characters.
There are so many stories that faces can tell…especially when you find the unique thing about them, and celebrate their differences and individual strangeness!