I’ve been in a lot of pain lately. Technically, I’ve been in pain since around 2003–for about FIFTEEN YEARS. Apparently, I have degenerative bone issues from Ankylosing Spondilitis (which I realize sounds like a made up name), meaning my spinal disks are too thin and the vertebrae scratch together….which makes me go from “mildly uncomfortable” most of the time to “EXCRUCIATINGLY painful” at other times, and sometimes so bad I’m even unable to walk.
Which sucks. Boo-hoo-hoo.
A few years back during my very worst episode (where I couldn’t even get out of a chair or walk without crying in pain), I broke down and bought a cane for when I might need help walking, to take the strain off my spine. I just went to the drugstore, and bought the least ugly one they had, in plain black. But it was therapeutic-looking and hideous, and made me feel like a frail old failure.
Recently, I posted about it online, telling about how I had to carry it when taking our daughter Myla to school, and it freaked out some of the kids, wondering if I had gotten hurt or something. I asked if there was any way a CANE can be “cool.” And apparently there is! People told me about some cool ones you can find online either on Etsy or Amazon…and some people even suggested I make my own. ..WHAT?!?!
When I found out that some people use resin to make decorative cane handles for cosplay and fun (and sometimes for real use), I thought, “Hey, maybe I CAN do one myself!” So I’ll show you what I did…
I started with a base of aluminum foil. I was thinking I’d make some sort of hideous monster, like I depict my pain. I surrounded the foil with 2-part apoxie sculpt–it’s a sort of clay you mix together from 2 parts, and it dries to a rock-hard strength within 2 hours. You have to use gloves because of the chemicals (which are a little tricky to work with), and you can use water to soften it up.
After wrapping the foil ball in apoxie clay (I left a hole in the bottom to fit on top of the cane), I did my best to sculpt with some metal tools and marble eyes…what came out wasn’t a monster, though–it looked more like a boston terrier Fu dog–a protector of sorts. And I was totally okay with that.
I needed it to be rounded to be able to hold on to it, so I made its ears fall back a bit, and added decorative designs on its face, sides, and forehead.
Once it dried (about 6 hours later because I was impatient–24 hours is best), I painted it in solid black so I could add this metallic rub on top of it for a metallic glow.
Later, I asked my super skilled husband to saw off the curved handle of my hideous cane. Thankfully, it was adjustable at the bottom, so cutting off the top still allowed for me to lengthen it to my needed height. Using E6000 clear glue, I pushed the dog-head onto the sawed-off cane and let it dry.
And it turned out pretty cool! (…Well, as “cool” as a cane can be…)
I still thought it needed some sort of transition, so I wrapped metallic tape around the neck, painted it black, and did the metallic rub again. Finally, I sprayed it all with clear varnish to keep it fairly smooth, and keep it from getting scratched.
It’s worked out well so far! I haven’t scared any children at Myla’s school–they actually love looking at it now, as weird as it is.
And while I wouldn’t exactly call it “cool” (maybe “less-than-lame”), it feels MUCH less embarrassing to carry around.
Living with constant pain is terrible. You don’t want to talk about it for fear people will pity you. You feel like a failure, like you can’t do the things you used to do. I was in the Army. I used to play roller derby. I used to feel strong. Now, I have to carefully take each step so I don’t cringe from imbalance. It’s depressing and discouraging. You feel like a less-than-human being for your family. You get well-intended input from people, asking if you’ve tried certain medicines or books, yoga or acupuncture, tens machines or infusions, Injections or pot. And I really don’t mind so much–there’s not much info on AS, and anything I’ve learned, I often learned from other people, so I always appreciate and am grateful for the effort.
Still, I’ve tried every legal thing I can try, with no luck. So if I have to carry a cane sometimes, the least I can do is make it a less-than-lame cane. And if you ever need to make a cane for yourself, or for a costume or cosplay, give it a try!
Whenever I’m feeling bad, or having a rough time, I turn to Hogwarts.
During a rough time a few years back, I listened to the entire Harry Potter book series on audio about three times in a ROW. I filled my nights with all sorts of Wizarding projects before our first real big vacation to Harry Potter World in Orlando, and after we returned, I had even MORE Potter projects on the mind.
So recently, when I was feeling cranky, and a drawing of my daughter didn’t work out the way I had planned, I looked at the page in frustration. The 8-year-old I was trying to draw looked much older. I thought, “I’m getting frustrated–maybe I should head to Hogwarts.” I thought I’d start from scratch and draw one of my beloved professors. And then a fun thought struck me. What if I turned this drawing into my OWN Hogwarts professor?
My first thought was that Hogwarts needed an art class. A wizarding art teacher would be very eclectic, right? Maybe have a few artsy tattoos (ala Sirius Black), with a good mix of Frida and Ms. Frizzle. So I created Professor Eliana Peppercorn, who teaches Traditional and Practical Arts, and decorates her hair with tiny wands she carves out of mandrake roots. She likely teaches traditional magic techniques, as well as hands-on methods. Perhaps Mama Weasley was a guest speaker in her course, demonstrating her knitting techniques…
THIS made me happy. THIS made me smile. I started thinking of other courses…other professors. Hogwarts likely needed a wizarding early history teacher, right? (I mean, aside from Professor Binns, of course, whose classes are legendarily boring…)
I documented a few process shots before settling on a name, which my Instagram readers helped me with. (The best part is reading the funny comments people left, such as “I had him for study hall” or “She gave me detention,” or “I took his course 2nd and 3rd year!”) They seem to be telling me their names as I’m drawing them, or at least a rough idea of how it should sound. So the names are fun. And in the spirit of diversity, I wanted Hogwarts to represent a person of color.
So this is Professor Bonlander Tulumbee, Professor of Ancient and Medieval Wizarding History…
Next, I wanted a “senior” Professor, someone who was very creative, a little spacey, maybe with a mod sort of 70s look…and I created Coriana Hunch, Professor of Dramatic Arts and Dance. (Someone commented that “she tried to start a ballet club, but no one showed up.)
Again, I thought about diversity, and what a forward-thinking move it was (in the books) to hire Firenze the centaur as a professor of divination at Hogwarts. So I wondered who else might be a good hire, and decided that a bold move would be a gobin. Professor Diglish left his position at Gringott’s to teach Economics and Business Management to later-year students. He would probably be very simply dressed in a dull suit, and likely quite boring and grumpy.
I started thinking about the different Houses that professors might come from, and wanted someone a little intimidating. Professor Maglin Severance, a former Slitherin prefect in her day, now leads lab courses in Biological Alchemy. I figured she might be responsible for the mixing of different animals, such as griffins, cockatrice, or such. She’d likely also intermix metallurgy in her course, and so is dressed in dragonscale garments, laced with gold and silver.
As I started thinking of other courses a school might have, I thought of muggle geography, and how it relates to the wizarding world. I imagine maps with levels and layers on top of layers, as in a architectural drawing of a multi-level building. Professor Hanson Pembrake maps all that out for us in Spatial Geography.
I’ve got tons of other ideas, of wizarding versions of muggle courses: Like Shop, Home Economics, First Aid and Nursing, to name a few. I think it would be so fun to lay out a staff yearbook, with each professor’s portrait, as well as other background info.
I absolutely ADORE the Wizarding World, and these drawings are making me SO happy. I wondered at first if I should have made them from Ilvermorny (the American Wizarding School), but I decided that my love of Hogwarts was irrepressible. I’m having so much fun creating little lives for them, and listening to the comments people have, treating them as if they are real professors, and they each make me smile.
I’ve had my daughter come up with doll ideas in the past that have been fairly complicated, and required a great deal of my attention. But a few days ago, in an attempt to keep her occupied in something creative (rather than vegging out on her Ipad), I suggested she DRAW her own simple pillow-dolls.
“I can DO that?!?” She questioned. Of course! And the best part is, it takes minimal mom-effort. 🙂
I started with a bolt of inexpensive off-white muslin fabric I had. I have no recollection of how I obtained this fabric (I think my mom once sent it to me), but it’s been around a long, long, time, and I use it for EVERYTHING.
I grabbed our bag of permanent markers, and told her she could draw away, keeping in mind that it had to have a seam around it, preferably simpler than the drawing, to make sewing easier and more sturdy.
Once she did that, I took her to the sewing machine, where I had her help guide the fabric (she’s still learning to use it herself), and with the fabric doubled over, we just stitched all around the outline, leaving a gap on the leg to stuff it.
I figured this would be much easier than dealing with flipping a doll inside out, as you do with more detailed works, and this was VERY exciting to her. We cut out the doll around the stitching (see the gap in her leg? That’s where we stuff), stuffed her, and then completed the stitching with the machine.
She was SO excited! You’d think we’d never made dolls before. “Why didn’t you ever TELL me we could do this??” she asked excitedly. I reminded her that I had tried to get her to do this MANY TIMES over the years, but she always had WAY more complicated things in mind. Anyway, apparently times had changed, and she was enthralled, immediately sitting down to draw more.
And they were lovely! She said she wanted to call them “SweetKitties,” and asked if she could put them up for sale in my Etsy shop for $5 each. I had intended to offer them here, but surprisingly, they sold out within an hour of posting them!
I am so grateful to have so many sweet and generous people that read our blog pages and social media supporting our art, and I’m grateful for each and every one of you reading these words right now. Her excitement that someone actually bought her SweetKitty dolls was thrilling. She helped me package them up, even making little “adoption cards” for each of them (like I do with my Dream Creepers).
Someone suggested she should put catnip in them so their cats could carry them around, but she worried that a cat would tear them up. She says she’ll make more (because people so kindly asked if she would), but as kids don’t always have the attention span for dedicated business, we’ll see how it goes!
In any case, it was heartwarming to see so many people be so encouraging and supportive towards and 8-year old kid. I had initially made this post to share the simplicity of making fun & easy dolls with kids, but it really truly was endearing.
In any case, if you don’t sew, you could always do what our stuffed animal-loving kid did before this most recent project: make the front and backs out of regular ol’ paper, stuff them with wadded up scrap paper (or toilet paper) and tape all around the edges. BOOM–instant doll!
So make something fun, and easy, and get those kids CREATING!
Recently, we were scheduled for a new puppy appointment at our vet’s office, and the thought occurred to me: the office had been so sweet and helpful with the passing of my hairy baby, Adie. They had helped me in a rush when I brought her in, seizing, and helped make her comfortable in her last moments. Along with the regular sympathy cards they send out, they sent a Christmas card at the holidays, recognizing how difficult it must be without her. I wanted to show my appreciation somehow.
This is when art skills come in handy. But what could I do? I talked to my mother. A sign? I suggested. Some sort of drawing? The old stand-by of cupcakes? She said she had always wanted to give an office a gift of a decorative pen set, like the ones you see that have giant silk flowers that customers can use and not be able to walk away with.
I decided it was the perfect idea, and got to work straight away.
I wanted to do the design on the pen cap, so that once the pen runs out of ink, they could still use it and just replace the pen. I rolled a ball of aluminum foil around the pen cap, and sculpted a base color in Super Sculpey around it. This not only helps the clay cook thoroughly, but gives it a strong base, and makes it so you don’t have to use as much clay.
Since I was doing this in honor of my sweet hairy baby, Adie, I sculpted one of the pen toppers with her little face, using beads for eyes.
I made a few others…some cats, a dachsund….
And even our other dog, our boxer Scout. Once they were cooked, I glued the heads onto the pen caps with E6000, and glued little strips of ribbon around the base to hide the seam leading from the clay to the pen cap. I then glued little paper flower from the scrapbooking section of the craft store to hide the ribbon seam.
All in all, they turned out pretty cute!
Since I figured they’d be getting a lot of wear & tear, I tried sealing them in clear resin, but honestly, it might have been better not to. Even painting on a thin layer, it dripped down and kept rolling down the pen as it dried. It sealed over the ribbon as well as the flowers. It wasn’t TERRIBLE, it was just difficult to manage.
I found a mason jar and filled it with tiny rock sand from the gnome-garden section of the craft store, and wrapped a ribbon around the whole thing.
I brought it to the vet’s office when we had our new puppy appointment–it was my first time back since I had rushed in there with Adie a couple of months earlier. They unknowingly gave me the same room, but it was okay. I couldn’t remember who exactly was there the day I brought Adie, so I described the attending vet (who I only remembered was male) to the vet at this new appointment, and told her why I had brought them; that it was a thank you for their kindness with Adie.
The vet seemed very surprised, happy, and touched. In my disarray, I had forgotten to put a card with it, but she said she would tell the staff and what it meant to me.
It was a fairly easy craft that I already had most of the supplies on hand for, and the things I had to buy weren’t very much at all. Silk flower pens are wonderful too (I’ve seen some beautiful ones), but I loved how these turned out. I bet they’d be cute with some little felt heads, or needle-felted faces!
Have you ever used your creative skills to show your appreciation to an office? What kinds of things have you done?
This year was a rough one for me–I hit a stumble. I tripped and fell down a bit. I won’t go into a whole list of sob stories, but as a highlight (lowlight?), the two biggest things have been living with a lot of pain because of spinal deterioration from Ankylosing Spondylitis (which really eats away at your morale). Also, I watched my best hairy baby, Adie, get sick and pass away. I was heartbroken.
Christmas was spent surrounded by family and lots of love, but I also felt Adie’s absence. I spread her ashes near the lake where we used to love canoeing together at my parents’ house.
At the risk of sounding overly dramatic, my heart hurt. And as silly as it sounds, I asked the Adie in my mind to help us find a new puppy to love. Before she died, I didn’t know if I’d want another. After she died, there were so many sad spots in the house where she used to be, I needed to fill them. And I knew she could steer us in the right direction.
And it worked! We hadn’t really intended to buy a puppy just yet, but we started casually looking for fun with family, and of all the little pups we looked at, a family breeder had one nearby in Oklahoma that was so pretty and supposed to be a cuddler, so we made a little stop there on our way back home to Texas. Turns out, she was JUST what my heart needed….sweet, and so VERY cuddly and kissy.
We named her Winnie, after a sweet Boston terrier named Winston in a Pixar short called “Feast.” She’s pretty scared of my husband, though, and still needs to get the hang of potty-training, but she’s wonderful. She plays with our boxer, Scout, and cuddles with Myla. She gives me so many kisses and cuddles that my skin is super dry (I’m not complaining though! I love puppy-kisses).
Adie will never go away in my heart. It’s so sweet to see similarities and differences. Winnie lays next to me while I draw, snorts like a piglet, and has terrible gas, like Adie used to. And she likes to be by my side, following me around the house all day. But she loves sweaters and doesn’t like blankets wrapped around her. I got myself a super cute Boston bag for Christmas with a face that looks just like Adie’s. (Later, I even added a little heart on her snooter). I love it. It makes me smile.
And it made me realize how I’ve been trying to comfort myself lately with cozy things. Fuzzy blankets. Warm cardigans. Soft pajamas. I even drew this portrait that Myla added to, filling it with cozy things, snuggling up like a hibernating squirrel.
I’m not really one for New Year’s resolutions–I think you can make resolutions ANY day. But I’ve decided to be a little nicer, a little more patient, a little gentler with myself, and work my way outwards. As I shared on Instagram, I sometimes get so caught up in checking on others’ well-being, I forget to check in with myself. I want to surround myself with good actions, with gratitude, with good thoughts, with good words.
Be kind to yourself, and have fun. Celebrate little things. Even if (ESPECIALLYif) it’s just something silly like a pair of Chewbacca jammies to match your daughter’s…
Recently, a reader shared a poem by Hallie Bateman with me that pretty much summed it up:
And I love it. The bit about becoming love instead of pain? The part about cherishing yourself as your mother did when she held you as a baby? So much YES. A little kindness–especially to yourself–goes a long way.
So here’s to not only a happy new year, but a happy new day, a happy new moment–right now.
As the holidays draw closer, I’ve been trying to get a clean start of things. Get on top again, get my mind sorted out, and move forward with clean, clear steps.
I’ve been loving these little tiny sketchbooks lately. Although Moleskines are my standard faves, these Ranger Dylusions are fun because of their shape, the little pocket inside, and the fact that I can draw on the covers (although the paper inside is meant more for inkwork and stamping, and doesn’t hold up well to much waterwork). I get the 5″x8″ one, and it’s nice to be able to carry it around and have it with me wherever I go. The binding even has a spot to hold my pen!
But what seals a sketchbook for me is being able to draw on the cover. I used to spend countless hours (pre-child) giving meticulous thought and detail to the front cover of a new sketchbook. I overthought it–I had to be sure it was “exactly right,” as if it determined the future success or failure of the work it would soon have inside.
Now that time is more limited and precious, I’ve had fun letting the daughter draw on them with me. I start with a roughly-drawn simple face, and she adds the rest.
Like this dragon gathering…
These cute little girl-gnomes, building robots and taking care of things…
This amazing xenomorph queen (Myla has a great love of xenomorphs and their whole lifecycle, although she’s never seen the movie) with mutant aliens, a chestburster, and facehugger…
And this fantastic little Harry Potter, complete with other little characters from the movies we love so much…
When I’m really pressed for time and anxious to start a new sketchbook, I turn to my collection of stickers I’ve amassed over the years. I LOVE stickers! Friends send them, I have some of our own artwork. I even got a giant grab bag of mixed retro stickers from a seller on Etsy once.
Sometimes I cover the backs, because they make me smile…
Here’s a glance of the insides, with the pocket, and the spot for the pen that is my favorite feature…
And to look at them makes me smile.
I hear from people all the time, such humbling stories about the struggle of finally getting back into art after a long dry spell, especially after having a child. Maybe it’s not drawing, maybe it’s sculpting, or sewing, or music, or dance.
Whatever it is, maybe it’s time to start fresh. Maybe you don’t have to start at the new year–resolutions can happen today. Open a new book and fill the cover with pretty things that invite you in every time you look at it! And if you do, share it with others, because in my experience, sharing helps. Sharing makes people feel connected, even from miles away.
And here’s to the hopes for a wonderful new year–a new, beautiful blank book for each of you to start decorating…
These past couple of weeks have been a little rough, getting used to the loss of my beloved Boston, Adie. It’s still strange not having her here by my side every day, following me from room to room, especially by my bed when I wake up every morning.
This past week, her ashes were returned to us, which I knew would be a little rough, but when I saw they had included a set of her pawprint impressions, I broke down all over again. I had gotten an imprint of her nose before she passed, but I didn’t think to get one of her paws. I didn’t think I even needed one, but it was such a lovely surprise, it makes me smile.
There are several ways I’ve been trying to feel better. I’ve been drawing portraits of her before she was ill, because I knew it’d be hard afterward. I tried drawing her later, but it was difficult, and made me sad, and just didn’t look right. So I went to a different medium, and tried embroidery, stitching this little portrait of her, surrounded by her favorite thing, popcorn.
I loved spending time with all the little pieces of her face. I like that the popcorn ended up looking like little flowers, in a way.
Someone on Instagram sent me a message, saying “maybe you could make one of your Dream Creepers for yourself that looks a little like Adie?” It was a good sign, as I had already been tossing the idea around for a little while. I chose the fabric, something soft (because Dream Creepers make great neck pillows for long trips), and my husband helped me put it all together.
If you look closely, you can even see I added a little something on her snooter: a little foil heart on her nose, sealed in resin. She ALWAYS had something on her snooter from sniffing the floor for crumbs, and people used to laugh at my photos with the same caption over and over again: “Adie, you’ve got something on your snooter.”
I started to realize that those funny moments, the ones that made me smile, were where the healing was. The best memories were the happy ones, and instead of dwelling on how much I missed her, I started remembering all the funny things.
Recently I visited a friend who is a tattoo artist. Annie and I have known each other for awhile, and she knew how special Adie is to me. She drew up the most perfect design of Adie with her favorite thing–popcorn–and added a piece to her snooter. She tattooed it on me, and I was floored at how wonderful it looked (because Annie is an amazing artist). I love it immensely, and I love that I get to carry her little happy face with me wherever I go. Instead of being a super serious portrait, it makes me smile.
Like the time I sculpted a goofy portrait of her, and she was less than impressed…
One of the biggest realizations for me was this portrait I drew. Initially, I wanted to draw her sitting in her “old man” pose, with her little pink belly hanging out, which always made me smile. But it ended up looking sad.
…Until I added a fart. Because my hairy girl could clear a ROOM. You wouldn’t expect something so small would make a smell so obnoxious, but it always made me laugh as I was gasping for air. And it didn’t bother her in the slightest.
So that helped a lot. For some reason, something like that goofy drawing makes me instantly remember the funny side of her, and makes me feel happy. It wasn’t something I expected, but I’m grateful for it, that something so little helped me heal with a smile.
And in a perfect moment of great timing, my husband sent me this image, which happened to be in his Instagram feed DIRECTLY after my post of how a little toot-doodle made me smile again…
And it’s the truth.
I had to say goodbye to my sweet dog this week, and my heart is broken. It’ll get better in time, but it hurts a lot right now. I won’t flood you with every detail of my dog’s life, but I wanted to share the process of my memory bracelet, and how I made a mold of Adie’s snooter.
Adie was 11 years old and had been sick for awhile, and battled both cancer and seizures. And while medication was helping, I didn’t realize my remaining time with her would be as short as it was. In the very end, I held her face and kissed her snooter, but she had had so many seizures that her little body couldn’t handle it. She was already gone before they told me she was gone.
Adie (named “Awesome Dude” after a line from an SNL skit–A.D. for short) was my baby before I had a baby. She was pretty sure SHE was my baby, too….
She was a tiny thing when we first got her, only 2 pounds (and rescued from what I’m pretty sure was a puppy mill), and we brought her home with worms and ear mites, and made her good as new. She grew up around our gentle boxer, Scout, who was so sweet and careful with her, that Adie lived her life assuming she was as BIG as her.
She licked my face constantly, because I loved her doggy-kisses. She followed me EVERYWHERE. She cuddled with me CONSTANTLY. She had to sit by me ALWAYS. And she could clear a room with her toots.
She loved me, and I loved her, and she made me smile. She was a food-junkie, and constantly sniffed our floors looking for any possible scraps of food…which left her inevitably with some random scraps of paper or dirt stuck to her nose. Family would laugh when I’d post a picture with the simple caption–over and over and over again through the years: “Adie, you’ve got something on your snooter.”
I had the feeling she was getting pretty bad. We made an appointment to talk to the vet, hopefully about upping her medicine to help with the seizures. I started thinking of the worst, and what sort of thing I’d want to remember her by.
She didn’t wear her collar at home, so I didn’t have an emotional attachment to it. I’ve seen art made from whiskers or toenails, but that just didn’t seem like my thing. What I was going to miss most of all was kissing her little snooter.
I looked around the internet, and found that there are artists on Etsy that would send you a moldmaking kit, you’d send it back to them with an impression of your dog’s nose, and they’d make a lovely piece of metal jewelry. It’s a beautiful thing, but I wondered, since I have worked with moldmaking and resin, if that would be something I could do myself. I didn’t find much online, so I thought I’d walk you through the process I had of making my own, for those of you who wanted to give it a whirl, or–like me and Adie–whose time was short.
1. First off, I got this Amazing brand mold putty at our local craft store. It’s a nontoxic 2-part quick-curing mold formula. As you can see in the top right of the box, it comes in two tubs. You pinch equal parts of each, and squoosh them together in a ball and mix it until it doesn’t have any streaks in it. You have to work fairly quickly, as it starts setting once it’s completely mixed.
2. Next, I held Adie gently, and quickly pressed the ball up against her nose, making sure to keep her mouth open to breathe. She was tired and lethargic anyway, and didn’t seem to mind much. She just kind of let me hold it there for awhile, and if you press gently (not completely squooshing), you should be able to pull away after awhile with a decent nose print.
3. So here’s a picture of the nose print (minus a few shedded hairs–don’t worry, it didn’t hurt her at ALL and she’s shed WAY more than that in a day–but maybe be more careful if your dog has long hairs). Next up, I set the mold carefully in a messy container (because I knew it would be messy) and poured my resin mix in it, waiting for it to cure (the kind I got takes around 10 minutes).
4. And here’s the little resin cast of Adie’s lovely little snooter. I used my little hand-held dremel sander and shaped the edges into a smooth sort of oval.
5. Next up, I painted it solid black. I didn’t want it to be realistic or anything; this is just an undercoat of acrylic paint, in preparation for the next step.
6. I found this water-based Metallic Lustre by DecoArt in “Iced Espresso” to match the wrist bracelet setting I had found at the craft store, and painted it over the black.
7. Look how pretty! The black undercolor really makes the details pop.
8. Here is the blank bracelet base I found at the craft store. There are several options you can choose…this one is a leather adjustable band with a flat panel to glue things on. I knew I didn’t really want a necklace–I felt like it’d be comforting and easier to give her snooter a kiss if I wanted to, to have it on a bracelet.
It’s glued on with E6000, and I later went back and sealed it in clear resin, to avoid scratching it up (which is what happened the first day I wore it, even though it had been sealed with clear varnish).
And there it is. And two days later, she was gone. And I miss her so much, but I’m so glad I had a chance to do this.
Whatever people need to do to grieve, as long as they’re not hurting anyone else, it’s okay. There’s no “right” way to remember a loved one. For me, having a mold of her little kissable nose around isn’t nearly as good as her real nose, but it helps the hurt a little.
Myla handled it well. We cried a lot about it. She asked if I could make her a bracelet too. (The next day, a kid at school asked if she cut her dogs’s nose off….because kids can be insensitive jerks sometimes.)
So there you go. I miss my sweet Adie. I miss the spot by my bed where she slept. I keep looking down and forgetting she’s not there. It’s weird feeding only one dog instead of two, and the boxer isn’t NEARLY as excited about food as Adie was. It’s strange sitting on the couch and not having her snuggled up against my side.
I miss kissing her little face.
I got so many kind words over on Instagram about losing my sweet Adie. She made people giggle in the IG Story posts I made of her whining while she was waiting for dinner (two hours early). And many people asked me about the process of making the bracelet.
It’s not the same as having her back, but hopefully, if you’ve got a hairy baby, you can make a nose mold too, and have a snooter around to kiss goodbye.
Goodbye, sweet Adie.
Hey stranger. It’s been awhile.
I’ve been a bit in the dumpers lately, and trying to get out. Nothing big, nothing serious. Just the dumpy dumps. But while I work my way out, I thought I’d share this little frog rider with you.
It started when I was sick in bed. I have been getting back injections in preparation for a spinal ablation, and although it’s supposed to be a fairly speedy recovery, I have had a hard, painful road with it….so I’ve been spending a lot of my down time in bed.
Like Frida painting in bed, drawing is a really good way for me to be engrossed in something other than pain. For a time, I am so focused on what I’m drawing, that I don’t feel so bad. It’s like floating somewhere above your body, until someone or something reminds you that it’s attached to you.
I used to hate the feel of pencil on paper, like nails on a chalkboard. But you can hold a pencil upside down while you lay in bed drawing, so there are times when it has its moments. Plus, I’ve learned to make peace with a pencil, in a way…. A blending stump, some workable fixative, and some watercolors make for an old-fashioned illustration feel that I can’t always get with my pens. It’s not the right move for everything, but it has its moments.
So I drew a little frog rider. It’s our daughter, Myla, but it doesn’t HAVE to be her….it’s just that I have a million reference photos of her, and I love every one of them. I could draw her little face a million times and not get tired of it.
I try to get caught up in detail, but it doesn’t always work. I get lazy with backgrounds, but I love trying anyway. Even one of my favorite artists, Matt Gordon, says he “fakes” a lot of his intricately detailed backgrounds with squiggles….but somehow, I can’t pull it off nearly as well as he can…
But it’s a happy distraction. Maybe sometimes I use it too much, as a crutch to avoid discomfort…but it’s my happy place. My safe place. My place that doesn’t hurt so much.
My little frog rider might not know where she’s going, but she’s looking back a little to make sure the rest of it stays behind her. And that froggy–maybe she’s keeping an eye on things, too. Maybe they’ll get where they’re going one day, but for now, they’re trying their best to hang on tight in the instability of a bumpy ride…
Hopefully, that road’ll get a little smoother, froggy.
After weeks of working on this project, I would like to unveil how we made Myla a wonky little Animation Station….CUE THE FANFARE!!
AND NOW….a quick backstory: Myla is 8 years old and LOVES animation. The first time she understood it was at a children’s museum called The Thinkery in Austin, where they had a station set up where a camera was positioned over a flat surface, with a screen in front, where you could arrange the blocks, push a simple button for each frame, and see what you’re doing on the screen above. She was ENTHRALLED.
(There are usually various-shaped wooden blocks on the tray around that center “stage”)
She’s played with drawing animation apps like GoldieBlox for awhile, but this was the first time she really understood stop motion, and a fire sparked. These days, she uses Stop Motion Studio on her Ipad, which takes some getting used to, but is mostly user- and kid-friendly. You can also adjust it where it “ghosts” an image of your previous frame, so you can see where you were before.
In the past, she’s worked with clay, making stop motion videos…
But one day, while watching some behind-the-scenes LAIKA videos of Kubo and the Two Strings on YouTube, we decided we should try to build a simple-ish figure and set up our own portable station that maybe she could carry around and set up wherever she wanted. So here’s our wonky project, and what we’ve learned so far…
First off, I wanted it to be mobile–something she could use to carry accessories and things, and maybe the lid could flip up to be used as a background. I found this decorative holiday “suitcase” at our local craft store, and spray painted it a matte color and then decorated it with stickers…
We used Mod Podge for the inside, to “glue” a flat background to the inside lid. I figured she might be able to lay a sheet of paper over it to change out the background whenever she liked, but primarily, a “wooden” craft paper pattern served well to cover up the holiday cheer that the box initially came with.
Next up, she designed her character. She LOVES animals, and creates the most amazing little characters. This one is named “Zeen,” and is a little wolf-girl.
We talked about how it would move, what we could and couldn’t do. We talked about how to make the face and eyes change, and how it would stand. I looked up some simple armature techniques online (THAT’S a rabbit-hole of possibilities), and started building a body that would be big enough to do what she wanted, but small enough to fit in the box and still be able to use the background.
I’m not sure the gauge of the larger wire that I used, but in hindsight, I might’ve gone softer, as it ended up maybe a little too stiff. I twisted two pieces together with a drill (which was a hilarious endeavor), and used wirecutters to twist it into shape. The legs are tightly hinged, but they can bend at the “waist,” which I thought would add more movement–but if you’re not careful, she does end up flopping over.
I used floral wire for the smaller appendages, and floral tape to smooth it out a little.
And after a bit of messing about, I finally came up with a basic structure that fit in the box, and still met all of her sketch ideas. (I have learned, with my kid, to be very clear about what is and isn’t possible, and to remind her that things in her head don’t always look the same in mine, so we do our best to talk about it in great detail beforehand.)
I built a base from balled-up aluminum foil to keep the head light, and wrapped Super Sculpey around it, embedding floral wire where I wanted the ears to be.
After baking it, I painted the face, and added fur. (Yes, fur is very tricky to keep consistent during an animation, but she doesn’t mind–she was excited about the fur, and it’s all about having fun right now).
I left the eyes blank, because we decided that she could stick a little circle of paper to the eyes, and that way she could “move” it in the animation like a pupil.
The next step was to make something for it to stand on. The professionals use this peg system, wherein they mount the feet over and over again into a board depending on what movement they need. Instead, I opted for ultra-strong neodymium magnets.
First, I mounted a piece of foam core to a little “stage”at the front of the open suitcase. I kept the top removable in case we needed to access the whole case or something.
I sloppily hot-glued the magnets to the bottom of her feet, and other magnets to the underside of the foam core sheet.
(Looking back, I might’ve tried finding some piece of flat metal for the magnets to stick to? Since I couldn’t get much coverage due to polarization, we have trouble standing her up in certain places.)
And finally, after much trial and error, she works!!! SHE’S ALIIIIIIIIVEEEE!!!! Mwahahahah….. Well, you know. SORT of.
There are, as is to be expected, some kinks to work out….
First, I might’ve tried finding some piece of flat metal for the magnets to stick to, instead of foam core (if only I could get it to fit PERFECTLY in this box). Second, the wire I used is a little to stiff (as I mentioned) so motion (especially small movements) are hard to manage without moving the whole character. Third, we need a better tripod stand for Myla’s ipad, because we just lean it against things, which works, but…could work better.
She’s been so excited by it, and has already animated a little, but we’ve only JUST finished it, so there’s still some practicing to do.
But the best part? When I posted it on Instagram, someone suggested I contact Kevin Parry. They said “he works with Laika studios and he is awesome.” So I looked at his page and sure enough, this guy was the EXACT SAME animator in the VERY SAME VIDEOS Myla and I had seen on YouTube, that first inspired us to make a character! He’s worked on Kubo and on Box Trolls, and I’ve even seen his personal videos (usually animation tricks, and silly-walking references) online, shared by friends. I just didn’t know his name. It’s such a small world!
I messaged him, and to my surprise, he replied and mentioned how cool it was that she was animating at such a young age, and that the details would come with time–that she should just enjoy animating as much as she can. He was incredibly helpful, and told me that a simple trick for the eyes would be to coat them in vaseline and stick a little paper circle to it and move that around. He gave me tips on structure and magnets, and practicing simple movements. The poor guy must get bombarded with the same questions over and over again and again, but he was so enthusiastic it was exciting.
And when I told Myla about it the next day, she was inspired all over again. And I was reminded of how good it is to share what you love with other people. It only helps, when you encourage others and help them learn. And it doesn’t take anything away from you–it’s up to them what they do with it.
And that’s the thing–It’s like when people ask me how to “become a good artist,” all I can tell them is if you love something, you’ll do it, and you’ll never stop learning. You’ll do it and do it, and soon you’ll find you’re doing it SO much that you’re getting better at it, and you don’t even realize it. It’s a passion. If you don’t have it, you’ll likely put your energies elsewhere, and that’s okay too. But if you’re excited about something, you’ll keep doing it, and you’ll keep learning, and you’ll just get better and better.