Tuesday, December 22, 2009

Winter is Upon Us

     Yesterday (Monday the 21st), was the WInter Solstice:  the shortest day of the year.  From here on out, the days begin to lengthen again, so in a very real sense, Solstice, and not January 1st, marks the 'beginning of the New Year'. 

     I had planned a nice little Solstice celebration, complete with burning a small Yule log in our portable firepit, but the weather had other ideas:  it rained!  Fine!  So I came inside, and turned on my battery-operated, cat-safe "candle," and drank a glass of egg nog.  Gotta be flexible!

     As the year winds down, and we all reflect on where we've been and where we're going, I thought I'd finish my blogging for the year with some stray thoughts to clean up some mental 'loose ends' as it were...enjoy my rambling nonsense:

     It occurs to me that every time I think of some new trend in inventions, someone beats me to it--probably because I don't have the means (or know-how, in many cases) to design and create a prototype, and finagle my way through the legal hurdles of copyrighting said idea.  None of these things have anything to do with crafting, so I present them here simply as entertainment.

      I do follow auto circles to some extent, and I enjoy watching races.  I've also followed the development of solar, and seen the very bulky solar-powered cars that race through the Australian outback.  The biggest drawback to solar always seems to have been the inordinate weight imposed by all the battery packs required.

     My thought, going back several years, has always been, "Why not have the photo-voltaic solar cells just drive the motor directly, and eliminate any need for batteries?!"  Lo and behold, on TV yesterday, there it wasMy idea, come to fruition!  Oh, man!  (Slaps self on forehead.)

     One of my previous such frustrations includes, "If we can put men in space, and return them to earth without being 'cooked' on re-entry, then why can't we make a toaster that doesn't get hot on the outside?!"  Sure enough, a few years later, there they were:  cool-touch toasters!

     I'm going to stop voicing my ideas--someone must be stealing them!  ;-)

     Next, I'm going to actually invent something for my cats.  Purrhaps it will let me reclaim my bed at night!  Hee hee hee...oh, I forgot:  the cats allow us to share their bed!


     I have the solution to the country's economic mess:  just print more money, and pass it around!  Hee hee!  Our money isn't backed by the silver standard anymore.  It really is not worth much more than the paper on which it's printed.

     So, just print up a cool million for every citizen over the age of 18, and they will all go out and buy stuff, or pay off bills, and the economy will be all better!

(Well, I can dream, can't I?--I warned you, today's blog was for entertainment purposes.  Please don't take me seriously today!)

     Hmm..you know, it's not just the end of a year, but the end of a decade. We're now all 10 years older! HA! I just had to bring that up, didn't I?!  (Ducking)

     In one of my modes, I am a stand-up comic:  I used to belong to a comdey improvisation troupe.  If you have ever watched "Whose Line Is It, Anyway?" on TV's Comedy Channel, you've seen the kind of thing I was into.  In fact, I'll tell you a little secret, here.  "Dizzy Miss Lizzy" actually began as my stage name!  I liked it, and decided to keep it as my online personna.

     Sadly, there is no such group where I now live, and I miss it greatly.  It was a lot of fun...and sometimes, I just run in that mode, and my online friends and acquaintances reap the "benefits."  Some of them may not realize I'm just being a wiseass...a professional wiseass, at that.  ;-)


     And with that, I'll close out this blog for 2009.   May you all have a very Happy Holiday, whatever one you celebrate, and a prosperous New Year!

Saturday, November 21, 2009

More reasons why about yesterday's post

Yesterday I made a strong case against "Black Friday."  Today, I offer these links, the first one is within Etsy.com's "Storque" blog..and yes, you can read it without having an account...I signed myself out to check... and the second is a link to the page explaining the entire project.

This is about shopping locally, at small independent stores, instead of at big-box chains, which, in spite of people's arguments about "how many jobs they provide," actually do more harm than good to our economy.  This is about bringing production of goods back onto our own shores, and thereby saving and making thousands more jobs than would be lost by loosing the 'big box' stores. 

Read on:




Thursday, November 19, 2009

Black Friday--Please Boycott!!

Today's post is simply intended to plead with all holiday shoppers to not patronize brick-and-mortar stores on so-called 'Black Friday.'

It is an unfortunate tradition that is very disruptive to families' holiday celebrations.  If really feel you must shop that day, please shop online only!

I was just going to post a link to my Face Book page, so everyone could read what I wrote in detail, but I then realized that not everyone who may read this blog is a Face Book friend, and so would be unable to read it.  Thus, I've just copied/pasted that text here:


Ok, people. Here it is: it's far past time to kill he over-hyped, over-priced, obsessive consumer shopping monster that has this country in its grip!

Here are TWO websites to help in this endeavor:

http://www.adbusters.org. and http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Buy_Nothing_Day

I have been annoyed in the extreme with corporate 'rushing of the season' for many, many years. This year, however, came the straw that broke the camel's back--and I'm GOING TO NAME (corporate) NAMES!!

KOHL'S is REQUIRING ALL of its employees to work on so-called "Black" Friday. That's bad enough, that they (and all other brick-and-mortar retailers) are SO greedy that they cannot even allow thier employees to have the entire Thanksgiving weekend holiday in peace and quiet with THEIR families.

 No, they have to take it a step further, and open the freaking store at FOUR A.M.!! I'm sorry, but NO ONE needs to be shopping already at THAT hour! It's the middle of the danged night for pete sakes!! If anyone seriously has to shop (doubtful) on THAT day... they can surely do it just as well during the store's normal operating hours!

This means that every single person who insists on going shopping that day is RUINING SOMEONE ELSE'S HOLIDAY!! There is no more plain and simple way to put it than that.

FURTHERMORE--there is a ripple effect...for many families, this means curtailing or cutting short their own holiday plans to accomodate the outrageous, obscene work schedule of the retail employee in the family. My own plans have been affected, even though my kids are adults with their own families. However, my husband and I are spending the holiday with HIS mother this year--3.5 hours from home. We won't be home till Sunday. Ergo, I need someone to care for my pets, and administer meds ON SCHEDULE to one of them.

Thanks to KOHL's extreme family UN-friendly policies, my daughter will now NOT be available at the appropriate times to do this....forcing us to seriously impinge on and alter our own plans. She is the best (and really only) option for this; she lives near, our animals know her, and she knows their routine. (And no, I cannot afford to have them boarded, so don't even go there! )
You'd better believe I just sent a scathing e-mail letter off to KOHL's corporate! I even told them that I was struggling to maintain civility as in truth, I had NOTHING ladylike to say about the matter.

WHY NOT just start the shopping season on Monday? Let FAMILIES have thier 4-day Thanksgiving weekend. In my opinion, anyone who thinks it is that necessary to go shopping that early should be taken out to a field and horse-whipped! That is unbridled consumerism at its very worst, and about as necessary as watering the lawn in a rainstorm!


Thank you!!

Monday, November 16, 2009

A Not Altogether Wasted Monday...

I finally finished my kitty cat coasters, and by the skin of my teeth, at that.  I ran out of sealer spray just as I finished the backside of the last one!  WHEW!

Here's how they came out: 

     As you can see, I went ahead and did mixed sets.  Even though my poll is not expired, it was running 50-50 between all one color and mixed sets.  I am on the hunt for more of this thin pine, and when I find some, I'll add some single-color sets to the offerings.

    If anyone of my readers KNOWS of a source for this very thin knotty pine (originally used as packing material), within a20-mile radius of my location in the far eastern side of Contra Costa County, California, please let me know!

    I'm fairly pleased, but there were a few minor issues with the paint and the wood grain.  It happens.  Not a lot can be done about it, but, after all...minor imperfections are all part of  100% hand-made items.  It proves no robots or other fancy machinery went into the manufacture!

    Next, I have to spray the new mousie ornaments I've finished...but that will involve going and buying more sealer first.  Ahh... interruptions..gotta love 'em! Good excuse to stop by Peet's for a mocha???  (hee hee hee.)  Actually, had to go out anyway--stop by P.O. and ship out an order; go to bank; might as well pick up the spray while I'm out and about.  And in reality, I guess I don't really get to go to Peet's, as it's 3 miles in the opposite direction from my main errands.  Oh, well, was fun thinking about it.  LOL

    That's that for today.  Back to work and off to errands!



Sunday, November 15, 2009

Finishing up

Good Morning. 

   At least I think it still qualifies as morning...that's an unusual phrase for me to use.  LOL  Actually, it is 10:30, I just got up about 45 minutes ago from a delightful Sunday sleep-in, and I'm still in 'waking up and becoming functional' mode. 

   I worked out in the studio until after 10 last night, finishing up several of my mouse ornaments.  They will be ready for their photographs today.  I also finished 3 sets of the kitty-cat coasters, and they will receive their sealer coats today, then be photographed.

    As of this moment, I have made 3 sets of 4 in assorted kitty colors...and am now all out of the recycled wood I was using.  So far, I have had no luck in tracking down a new source of this same kind of wood.  It seems that things are now packed exclusively in cardboard or wrapped in paper, and not protected by thin wood.  The hunt goes on.


  Okay--started post this a.m., put it on hold ... it is now 3:30 p.m., and I've finally finished all I can do for today out in the studio.  The mice are finished...got the antiquing done.. now they must dry 24 hrs. before I can spray the sealer, and THEN, several hours later, they will finally be ready for photos...so, I was considerably ahead of myself this morning.  (Overeager to be done?)  See?  Told you I'm not a morning person.  Brain does not work well before noon.  LOL

   While there is much more that I could be working on out there, I've had to quit for the day, as the antiquing process involves some pretty heavy fumes, (from the solvent used to wipe back the antiquing...sort of like a paint thinner kind of smell), and I was getting a headache.  So I picked up all my paints, to get ready for tomorrow, when our 'regular' business partners will be here to work, and I can't have my painting stuff in the way.

   In fact, I still smell it, so some must have gotten onto my sweatshirt...I must conclude this blog and go put the shirt outside to air out! 

   However, my new mice and coasters should be up sometime this week, so keep watching!


Thursday, November 12, 2009

The Year is Flying By...

Holey Smokes! Can you believe it's already November???? Every year about this time, I ask, "WHO put grease on the calendar?!" No one ever 'fesses up, though. Sigh.  Must be that "Murphy" guy!  LOL

.......and here we are, already into the second week of November!  Yow!  Well, folks, I've finally found my missing stencils, so I can now get back to work making more of my recycled wood coasters.  Woo Hoo!

   Here are a couple of photos of ones already  made:

These are square, irregular thickness pieces of knotty pine, salvaged from packing material.  Go green!  ;-)

I also plan to offer some with kitty-cats.  The one pictured below is but a single one that is a prototype. 

 Please visit the poll in the sidebar at top right, and help me choose which color kitties would be most popular for the new coasters!  ;-)  I'm sure I'll do at least a few of each, but having an idea of which color should be the highest quantity would be helpful.  Thank you!

Saturday, October 31, 2009

Halloween and Fall Thoughts

     Happy Halloween, or Happy Samhain, whichever it may be for you!

     While I am not so fond of the end of summer and the coming of cold weather, I have always liked Halloween.  It is and always has been my favorite holiday, as it sparks my creativity, and I can let my imagination run wild to create whatever quirky ideas may come forth.  I'm not into the Hollywood version of guts and gore, but I do enjoy the creation of  spooky and mildly to moderately scary scenes.  I was for a few years, involved in the production of a Haunted Theater back in the day. 

    We members of the  Pacifica Spindrift Players  had decided that "everyone and his brother" does a haunted house theme...but we...well, we are a theater group, and we have a perfectly good theater...so what else to do  but created a haunted theater?!  I was involved for the first three years of this production, prior to moving from the area.  It ranked among the most fun things I've done in my life. (While I've provided a link to that group, sadly, it does not seem that the haunted theater is being done anymore.)

      Carving pumpkins, painting my Halloween ceramics, helping my daughter decorate her house for Halloween  (no kids on our street), all are things that occupy my thoughts at this time of year.  Baking?  Eh...not so much.   I did more than my share back when my kids were young, and cooking is not one of my favorite things to do.   That said, I do have a good stock of holiday recipes upon which I can rely when the budget gets too tight to shop for gifts...definitely the case this season!

     Holiday cards...I'm going to 'mail' all my holiday greetings via e-mail this year.  That will be both budget-friendly and eco-friendly,  saving both postage and paper!  Only a few people who either do not have internet access, or whose e-mail addresses I do not have, will be sent paper greetings through the Postal Service.

    Gift wrapping this year?   Use up any leftovers of purchased wrap I already have.  When that runs out, I'll go to plain white tissue paper, and/or recycled brown paper bags.  Gift tags?  Handmade from holiday cards received in prior years. 

    Although I am a California native, my parents were New Englanders.  They also lived through the Great Depression of 1929.   Hence, I was raised with the frugal Yankee values of, "Use it up, wear it out, make it do or do without."  This was instilled in me from childhood, and explains why, when I was home sick from school one day, I shed oceans of tears over the 'terrible waste of food,' when my mom had gone to the store for cough medicine for me, and a few small grocery items. 

     Mom did not drive, and the little store was only a block away.  However, it was pouring rain that day, and by the time she got a few doors from home on her return, the paper sack had become so waterlogged that it broke.  All the groceries fell out onto the sidewalk.  The bottle of orange juice smashed, as did the bottle of cough syrup.  Mom scooped up as much as she could, and ran to put it on our front steps, which were sheltered from the weather.  Then she ran back, and got as much of the rest as she could.  As it happened, the loaf of bread ended up on the step below the broken bottle of cough syrup.  Given that the medicine was inside a box, the broken glass was contained, but the liquid seeped out of the box, and dripped down onto the bread.  You must realize this was before bread was packed in plastic bags--the packaging was cellophane--easily torn, and not liquid-tight by any means.

     Now, I don't know how many of you are familiar with the cough syrup that was branded as "Pertussin";  that's what she had purchased.  If you don't know what it is, the smell is something on the order of turkey stuffing, as it has a good deal of the herb thyme as part of the ingredients.  There sat the loaf of bread, soaking up 'eau du thyme,'  while my 10-year-old self wailed from the top of the stairs about the waste, the terrible waste. 

     Mother, needless to say, was annoyed on a number of levels.  She salvaged what she could, grabbed a broom to sweep the broken orange juice bottle from in front of the neighbor's house, and prepared to return to the store to replace what had been lost.  (I think maybe she waited for a break in the weather...that part of the story is less strong in my memory.)

    That was a bit of a long-way-around of stating that I am no stranger to 'green' and 'eco-friendly' habits.  It's always been just something I do.  Only nowadays, it seems to have evolved into a fad and a buzz-word.  That concerns me, as fads are all too often passing fancies that do not stay around.  With many fads, that is just as well.  But when it comes to responsible husbandry of this rock on which we all live, a 'passing fancy' is not okay.

    Cheers and may you all have a bountiful, wonderful and safe holiday season.

Thursday, October 29, 2009

Winter Is A-Cumin' In....

   The first signs of cold weather are here.  While we have mostly either evergreen trees, or those that loose their leaves without first turning color, there are other signs that the season is turning.  For one thing, we've had our first big rainstorm, and then this week, two days in a row of howling winds, with gusts strong enough to do serious damage to trees, and even to the landmark San Francisco-Oakland Bay Bridge.

   Cooler weather, however, severely impacts the ceramics business.  For one thing, the ceramic clay itself is much slower to 'set up' in the molds, and when it has set up and the excess dumped out, it takes much longer for the piece to become solid enough to remove from the molds.

  On the painting end, the paint is much slower to dry, and glaze, especially, takes 'forever' to dry in cool weather.  I've had to resort to turning on the space heater in my studio today, and I hate doing that, because they make the electric meter spin like a doggoned helicopter!

    The pumpkins have been out in the stores for a week or two now;  Halloween costumes, too.  Another sign of Fall is the ripening of the pomegranates on our tree.  Now, I am 'sure' there is something useful to do with pomegranates besides eating them.  (Funny, don't you think, how things you loved as a kid don't seem so appealing to your adult self?)  I used to love pomegranates.  Now, not so much. 

  Perhaps something to do with getting sick on the undiluted juice that was just sicky-sweet?    So much for attempting juice-making with them.  I think maybe they used to also be used as dye for yarn or fabric, but since I neither spin yarn nor do weaving, that option is out. 

   A whole treefull of beautiful red fruits, threatened with the green waste bin.  No, no!  My Yankee-bred conscience won't allow that!  Think!   Aha!  Solution:  pick them, and donate to the after-school program at the karate school.  Problem solved!  (And they were very grateful!)

   My thoughts turn belatedly to crafting Fall decor for Halloween and Thanksgiving.   Something inside me just refuses to experience or prepare for a season months ahead of time...doing that finds me burned out by the time the actual holiday arrives. 

  I get disgusted beyond polite words at seeing Christmas items out on display in the stores already!  It is just not right!  Let Halloween and Thanksgiving have their fair share of time on the calendar, please.  October is for Halloween; November is for Thanksgiving.  I do not care to see Christmas displays prior to December 1st.  (Okay, okay, the day after Thanksgiving if you must!)  Who's with me?

    And now, I must return to my studio to finish that stubborn slow-drying glaze!  Cheerio!

Friday, October 23, 2009


Hello, Crafters and other friends!

    As I've stated many times, I'm a "Jill of All Trades."  I love variety and trying new things.   One of my many crafting forays was an attempt at soap-making.  Mind you, I did not have a 'scratch' recipe... I purchased soy-based soap 'melts' into which could be put fragrances and colors.  I made several one year for my grandsons' Christmas gifts.  They were quite amused to get little bars of pink soap, scented like bubble gum and with a tiny plastic pig encased in the middle.  AHA!  You have to actually wash your hands to get the toy! 

  That bit of gift-making experimentation over with, I packed up the supplies and put them away.  In the meantime, we moved.  To say that chaos ensued would be a world-class understatement!  Eventually, I got my new art studio up and running, but it very quickly got taken over by our full-scale bisque ceramics operation.   All my other crafts languished in various closets and cupboards.

    (Creating ceramics is an extremely dusty enterprise, and dust is incompatible with all my other crafting ventures, e.g., jewelry, scrapbooking, soap, needlepoint, etc.  The dust is very, very fine, and sifts into literally everything.  A closed cupboard offers no protection.  If you have ever sanded wood with a power sander, it is finer dust than that; if you have ever done sheetrock sanding, it is finer dust even than that!)

    As this year's budget is on the tight side, I again thought about the soap, and since I now have granddaughters about the age the grandsons were during my first attempt, I thought to unpack the soap stuff, and do a reprise.  Well don't you know, I tore apart my craft cupboard in the studio, and no soap making supplies were anywhere to be found.

    I did find some candle-making supplies, and instantly learned that candles should not be stored in a room that reaches over 100 degrees F. on a regular basis (when the kiln is running).  Ooops!  Well, of course, I did know that candles should not be stored in hot places, and we carefully keep all our holiday and emergency candles out of the attic.  However, at the time my art studio was finished and things put inside was before I acquired the kiln and began the ceramics business.   By the time we installed the kiln, I had completely forgotten the candle-making stuff was in there.  Grumble, grumble...I know now!

   Among the other things I found, however, were some stenciled coasters I had begun making years ago, and which got packed up with all my other crafts for the move.  I had completely forgotten about them as well.  However, now that I've re-discovered them, I'll be putting the final finishing touches  and listing them in my Etsy shop.   As to whether there will ever be any more of these made depends on my being able to find similar material. 

   Many of my crafts are 'upcycled' from things originally with a very different purpose.  Not quite "scrap crafts," though; I don't make reindeer from egg cartons, for example. The wood from which the coasters were made  began as packing material to prevent bailing wire from cutting through paper-wrapped bales of wood-chips.  (My elder daughter used to have a couple of Guinea Pigs, and we used the wood shavings for their cage litter.)  However, since I no longer purchase bales of wood chips, I no longer get these pieces of thin wood.  It is not sold in that thickness at retail.  The only such thickness is found in balsa wood, strips of thin plywood, or bass wood, intended for hobby model-makers, and the cost is prohibitive.  The search goes on.

   I have also found my stash of sewn-on sequins in assorted shapes, which I use to decorate some very special Christmas stockings.  These stockings are very labor-intensive, and I usually just make one pair every now and then for special friends.  That said, however, I am now stuck on the problem...once again...of not being able to find the appropriate raw materials.  They use old-fashioned nylon stockings (not pantyhose) with a seam up the back of the leg, and also mens' old-fashioned thin silk dress socks.  Trying to find either item nowadays is, well, let's just say the proverbial needle in a haystack has a better chance.

   I have a lot of work cut out for me still as I continue to search through my cupboards, looking for my soap-making supplies.  Who knows what other forgotten crafts or supplies I will find as I search?  It's a regular first-class detective mystery!



Friday, October 9, 2009

Not Quite Crafts...

      By now you know this blog is mostly about my crafts.  Today's post is not.  I do have some vintage items I'll be putting in my online shops from time to time, so I thought I'd share a few of the pictures here.

      This first one is an abstract poodle pin, given to me by a school chum when I was in high school.

     I don't really know anything about the maker, whose mark is seen in the lower left photo, above.

    The next item is an antique GOP elephant pin.  I've no idea whether it was just a "party pride" pin, or related to a specific campaign.  I've not been able to find out.  All I know is that it was with my great-great aunt's stuff when she passed back in 1963 at the age of 86, so it's definitely very old.

    For your enjoyment next on the menu are a couple of vaseline glass bowls/candy/nut dishes.  No clue as to vintage, maker or pattern name (no marks on the undersides!)  They came to my mother from a great-aunt of mine.  They are both intriguing shapes, but I've never really been fond of this yellow-green color glass.  I'm more partial to deep, rich tones, like cobalt blue glass and ruby or cranberry glass.  At right above, shown in normal lighting, and below left, under a blacklight.

      The next one is taller, and is shown below right, in normal light, and below center, under blacklight.


And that's all for today, folks!  Thanks for stopping by to look at my curios!

Thursday, October 8, 2009

New shop slowly taking shape--and other miscellaneous stuff happening ;-)

Check out my shop on ArtFire.  It is slowly but surely being populated with items.  I have so many different things I do that I don't spend a great deal of time on any one of them at a stretch.  I bounce back and forth..."multi-tasking."

Truth is, I thrive on variety, and would end up bored to tears and in a looney bin somewhere if I had to do the same thing over and over and over all day long, day in and day out.

This week, I got to get back into video editing, which I enjoy, although, I'm not real thrilled with the Windows "Movie Maker" program.  It has limitations I do not like, so I'm researching other options.  I have Pinnacle Studio 7, but the hardware card seems to be among the missing.  Until that can be located, I cannot install it in my computer.  Further, my current computer has 2 built-in firewire ports to which my video cam can be connected, so there may not be space inside for the Pinnacle Studio card.  (All of that, however, is hubby's department--he used to make a living as a hardware/software configuration specialist.  However, working with such large clients as Wells Fargo and Kaiser Permanente...and having their  hard drives in your possession, complete with all the data on their clients....was an extremely high-stress job, and probably responsible for his several heart attacks!  So, I put no pressure on him...if/when it gets done, it does, if not, I'll muddle through.) 

Today, I'll be getting some more painting done, as I have to clear the painting out before tomorrow, to make way for cleaning green ware.  Cleaning green ware is a very, very dusty process, and completely incompatible with painting or glazing. The extremely fine dust will settle into wet paint or glaze and ruin the job.  Too bad I can't afford to create separate rooms for dusty/non-dusty operations!  That way, everything that is 'in process" could be just left out for the next work session.  Ah, well, such is life.  ;-)

That is all for now, folks.  Thanks for stopping by!

Wednesday, October 7, 2009

Wednesday, Wednesday....

    Finished the race video...tried to work on the one for MIL wedding  (now 2 years old--shame on me!) and found I HAD finished it, but at the time, had no means to burn it to a CD or DVD.  Now I do, but it won't work!  Grr... tells me all sorts of error messages, such as "invalid file type"  or "no disc in drive"  (now that's an outright lie!)  

   Well, since the video I was having trouble with is from a saved file 2 years old..that may be the problem.  I might have to re-upload the original raw footage from the camera, and start all over again in the editing process.  Grrrrrr.....   

    Not quite sure how to proceed at this point, so I'm going back to paint more mice while I think about it!

    Just posted up 2 new ornaments today on my Etsy site.  Will do more tomorrow, or later this evening on my Artfire site. 

    Keeping it brief today, and lately.  Just quick updates, no articles in mind just now.

Monday, October 5, 2009

Work in Progress...

Well, I found the program in Windows to edit video, found the missing fire wire cable for the video camera  (it was plugged into the back of the computer the whole time! I guess that's. sort of like loosing your glasses while wearing them!  DUH!)

Now, all I have to do is finish editing the video I shot of the Radio Control car races, (promised to hubby), then the wedding video (2 yrs old!!) for my mother-in-law...  and THEN I can shoot my demo video of my studio and the entire process of ceramic-making!

Woo-Hoo!  Onwards and upwards!

Happy crafting, everyone!

Sunday, October 4, 2009

Fall Is Here...

And with Fall, Winter is not far behind.  :::sigh:::  I sit here and wonder who spilled grease on the calendar.  How is it that days can drag, while years zoom?  And the older we get, the faster they go...with still so much left to do.

Speaking of which, I've decided to offer some of my "Mousechief Crew" tree ornaments as DIY projects in sets of 4.  I thought it might be fun, and folks might like to paint some up to their own specifications and color schemes.  the first two sets are now posted in my Etsy shop.  Here they are:

This is set #1 above.  It has the candle climber, North Pole, Bell, and Hickory Dickory mice.

Below, is set #2, which features the wreath napper, bedtime prayers, sleepy Willie, and "Grandma Mouses."

Set #3 is not yet posted, so I'll keep it secret a bit longer.  These darling little mousie critters average about 3" tall, and are quite detailed.  Regular readers will recall that week or so ago,  I wrote an in-depth article about the full process for creating these little fellows, as well as my carousel animal line.

I also make a Western-themed line, which are much larger statuettes, and excellent gifts for the horse lover in your circle of family or friends.  The overall process for making the Western items is exactly the same...with the exception of the size, and the fact that several are multiple-piece molds. 

A mulitple-piece mold has some or several of the various parts of the finished statuette poured separately, for if it were to be poured all of a piece, there would be too many angles for the piece to release from the mold without breaking.  So, these smaller parts are poured separate, and must be attached with a clay slurry mixture while the clay is still very wet.  This is done just as soon as the figure comes out of the mold. 

It can be very tricky, for often these parts are small, and they are fragile, and easily squished at the soft clay stage, or cracked and broken off at the green ware stage while it is being cleaned.  Here is one example of such a piece:

In this item, the Buffalo Soldier, the extended front leg of the horse is an "attachment," and as you can see, it is sticking out "in harm's way."  It is a very difficult item to clean in preparation for firing, withouth breaking this extended leg.  Imagine a few strands of raw spaghetti laid across your palm.  Now, if you were to close your palm, and begin to squeeze, it would not take much before those strands would snap.  That is a pretty fair example of how fragile raw green ware is.  You can literally crush it in your hand with little to no effort.

This bronco rider is even worse to deal with.  Not only is one of the horse's legs an attachement (the opposite side from that shown here), but the entire torso and head of the rider is an attachment, as is his left hand and arm.  His right hand is actually molded in with the mane of the horse, so it must be carefully aligned when the torso is attached.  This figure is a real "PITA" to assemble, and likewise very fragile and easily broken at any stage along the way.

These are much larger items,  each standing approximately a foot tall...so their added weight adds to the risk of damage.  There are even some items which must be carefully laid in a box of newspaper shred to dry, or they will either fall over or 'squish down' from the weight of the wet clay.

Like the much smaller mice, these are very intricately detailed pieces, and painting them realistically takes a long time.  For the most part, we just offer these in either the faux-bronze look seen here, or in a plain gloss glaze (we will do realistic painting, but must ask for a 3-week lead time, and they are about double the price of the plain finishes).  The plain gloss glaze finish is seen on the rearing stallion, below.  (Note that his left leg is one of those pesky "attachments.")

   So, happy Fall, and ... (I dread to rush the season) .. happy holidays.  Be well and be safe, each and every one.

Friday, October 2, 2009

Friday Update..

Greetings, everyone!

    Today is Friday, yay for that.  But, my plans have hit a snag...my idea for creating a video presentation of my work has been delayed by computer issues.

    It seems that in order to install the software to run my video editing suite, it is first necessary to have a hardware card installed in my machine.  That card is still in my old computer, and changing it over is my husband's department--unfortunately, he will be unavailable to fix that until next week.

   Meanwhile, I have video to shoot at the Radio Control car races being held in town this weekend, so, I need to refresh my memory on use of the camera.   After that, if hubby wants the race video ready to upload, it will behoove him to act quickly to make the changover in the computers.  Nothing like a little extra bribery for incentive, eh?  Heh, heh, heh!

    I continue to work on my holiday ornament painting, and will be listing more items each day.  Keep checking back in my Etsy shop at:  www.DzyMsLizzy.Etsy.com

    Thanks for following my blog, and for shopping with me!  You are all appreciated.


Thursday, October 1, 2009

Photos, Editing, busy, busy

   Well, there is a lot to do today.  I have a slew of mice to paint; photos to re-take and tweak; which in turn must be uploaded to computer, edited, and swapped out for other pictures in my Etsy listings.

  Then, I must re-install my video editing software, as it was in my old computer.  I am supposed to be editing a wedding video for my mother-in-law, ...  (ahem--the wedding was 2 years ago!  Ooops!)... but, that video was also in my old computer, and it somehow did not transfer across to the external hard drive when we sent the puter in to have the data rescued.  UGH!!  I was about halfway done--now I must start from square one.  This time, I'm in a time crunch, as I promised to bring it when we visit for Thanksgiving.

   Next, I have to get out the manual, and re-learn this video cam (it is fairly new to me...I've hardly used it at all), and shoot the video I want of my studio processes.  Probably some of the cat's antics, as well... I've more or less hinted at a promise of cat videos to friends on my other blog (part of the Cat Blogosphere).

  That's about it for today--none of it will get done if I don't get off this computer!  :-)

Cheers, Lizzy

Wednesday, September 30, 2009

The Holidays are Coming; The Holidays are Coming!

A 1 an' a 2, an' a 1...2...3.... and heeeeeere we go!  It's October, and that means just one thing:  the official beginning of the time of year known as The Holiday Season. 

Most B&M stores have their holiday offerings out ridiculously early, 'rushing the season,' as it were.  I don't care for this practice, but I do understand that with mail-order sales, which is what we online crafters are doing, it is necessary to be a bit ahead of the game to allow for shipping time.

That said, I still do not like to be working on holiday items in June, so every September and October finds me 'busting tail' to get my Etsy and Artfire shops stocked with holiday goodies. 

I am in the middle of painting a slew of cute little mice for my "Mousechief Crew" ornament collection.  There will be several duplicates, so more than one person can have them; there will also be some one-of-a-kind.  Aha... collectibles value?   LOL  Probably not. 

But, you can look for my new offerings for Halloween already in my shop; and a few last-minute items will be there by the end of this week.

Christmas will not be far behind.  Somehow or another, Thanksgiving gets cheated out of very many decorations..who's with me to rectify this situation?  Sign on below in the comments! 

That's it for today...back to work for me!


Monday, September 28, 2009

A New Technique

Ceramic Plaques

Some of you may have read my earlier post about how I create my small holiday ornaments...as well as the larger ceramic items.

I have added a new line; wall plaques engraved with various "cute" sayings.  For these, I use an entirely different approach.

The plaques are molded, in a sense, but instead of liquid clay slip being poured into molds, I begin with moist clay in a block, much as a potter might use to throw on a wheel.  I have several molds, this type more properly known as "jigs," into which I fit pounded slabs of clay.

Pounded?  That's right.   Once the clay is cut from the large block, it is unlikely to be 100% the correct size and shape, or thickness.  Chances are, a few pieces will have to be squished together to form the whole.  The pounding makes sure all the layers have become one, and there are no air pockets in the middle.  Air pockets spell death to ceramics.  The least little bit of air in the middle will have whatever tiny amount of atmospheric moisture in it, that was trapped when the clay was molded.  In the kiln, this becomes steam, and expands.  It has nowhere to go, so "kaboom" goes your piece!

The pounded clay is then laid into the jig, and pounded further to fill in to the corners.  Then, it is rolled with a roller to smooth the top.  (The jig is fastened to a smooth surface, so the bottom is more or less smooth already.)  Once the jig is completely filled, any excess is cut from around the edges, and the clay allowed to sit and start to dry.  There is a lot of moisture; it can be left to sit even overnight in cool weather. 

After it has hardened up enough to handle without warping too much (clay has 'memory' and a warped piece will come out warped, even if it was re-flattened before finishing the drying process).  At this stage, using a sharp pencil, I scribe in the sayings, and blow out the clay shreds that result.  I then add whatever edging treatment I desire, and set them to fully dry.  Depending on the weather (read: time of year), this can be overnight to almost a week.  These plaques are solid clay, ¼" thick. 

Once it is fully dry, it then proceeds into the cleaning queue, to be pepared for firing, from that point, the same as any other green ware piece.

After firing, I use a different type of finish treatment to get my 'rustic wood' look.  These paints are oil-based, and each coat takes almost a full week to dry fully, even in warm weather.  Then, the sealer coat is applied, and they are ready for sale.

Saturday, September 26, 2009

Business Cards and a Photo Lesson

    Todays' article is inspired by a question in one of the Etsy forums about the feasability of making one's own business cards.  There was mixed feedback in the forum, some people vehemently against the idea, claiming that self-made cards are "unprofessional," others saying it would be ok to design, but then send them off for printing.

    This article is aimed at making your own cards, from design start to finished product, right at home.  There are a couple of things to keep in mind when doing so, and right from the gate, I am going to tell you that you need to have (or be able to borrow) a laser printer. 

    A dot-matrix printer will not give you the professional quality card you are after.  The images do not come out quite as sharp, but the worst feature of the dot-matrix printer is that the inks will smear and blur in the presence of any moisture (including someone's sweaty hand).  That alone will make you look very unprofessional, indeed. 

    It is just not very confidence-inspiring to hand someone a card, and say, "Here's my card...don't let it get wet, or the ink will run."  WOW!  (I speak from sad experience, believe me, it is true.)  So, we bit the budget bullet and invested in a color laser printer.  The price has come down considerably from where it used to be, but they are still not cheap-cheap machines.  Ours is pretty much a bottom-of-the-line model, and it was in the $400. range.  That was about 2 years ago, however; the prices may have dropped further by now.

    Next, please consider it an investment in your business, and purchase actual business-card stock.  It is now available with "micro-perfs" and make a very clean edge, (not "fuzzed" like the older type used to be).  They look very professional.  I strongly recommend that you do not use plain card stock and try to cut them apart with scissors or a paper cutter into individual cards.  First, is is not easy to make them absolutely uniform, and size variance is very unprofessional.  Sure, if you are handing out one at a time, from your purse or pocket, no one will know--but if you have a table at a craft show, and a stack of cards out...the 'handmade/hand-cut' look will be painfully obvious.  My advice:  don't do it. In any event, it takes a lot of extra time that you could be spending working on your craft or otherwise promoting your business. 

    And now, on to the nuts-and-bolts of the how-to's.

   First and foremost, decide on what information you want and need to put in your card.  As obvious as this sounds, it is amazing how many people overlook important items such as their telephone number, e-mail, fax number, or any other such contact-important bits of data.  Proofread, proofread, proofread!  If you have any grammar or spelling errors, you are hurting your business image.  If spelling and grammar are not your strong suit, ask for help with this.

   Next, focus on your design:  Are you going to use a simple logo?  Clip art images?  A photo of one of your products?  (Clip art is easy, much free clip art is available online, and available from simplistic to elaborate.  That said, however,  public domain clip art is also the least professional in appearance.  I would stay away from that option.)  If you have a logo already designed, that would be the way to go.  If not, it is also a great idea to use a photo of one of your products.

   Be sure the product photo you wish to use was taken at high resolution, and is an absolutely clear and crisp image. This will be the first impression people will form of your goods.

    In my opinion, using a photo image as an entire background might tend to make the card difficult to read, because there are bound to be different colors within the image, and it is nearly impossible to select a font color that will have sufficient contrast with the background at any and all points of the image. (Think about how sometimes you're watching something on TV, and they put up a text graphic, and you can read some of it, but some of the text also blends with the background color making it very hard to read.)

   A better option would be to go with a fair-sized image off to one side or the other of the card, making sure that the photo in question was taken on a plain-colored background (white is probably best, in this case, unless your item is white....), showing nothing but the product. That way, it is easy to 'grab' the photo without having to worry about trying to edit out any distractions. 

    As far as card stock goes, the image will show up best on crisp bright white cards, and in that case, will not  look unprofessional for not being on glossy stock. (How many glossy photo-business cards do you actually see, "out there" anyway...some, but not all that many.) On white stock, your image, when taken on a white ground, will not have a sphere (or square) of any other color--the white background will blend in to the white card, and your product will really 'pop.'   I will explain how to create this 'floating image,' known as a 'zero-horizon background' at the end of this article.

   You could also use light gray, or maybe ivory. But Obviously, to make your image show to best advantage, you don't want any darker colors.  Keep in mind that if any part of your product is transparent or translucent, the background color of the card will show through this part of the photo image, thereby 'coloring' that part of your product.

   No matter how you proceed, it is important to be sure you are using some kind of actual business card template--whether downloaded to work with MS Word, or using an actual design program, such as Print Shop, (what I use), or any of many other graphic-design template-available programs.  When  you have finished your design to the point of wanting to see it on paper, print out a test print.  Many business card packages include a pre-printed template for this purpose.  Make several photocopies, (so you don't use up the only one), and print directly on this for an easy way to determine proper fit and layout appearance. 

    If your package does not have such a trial-template page, when you have your design roughed in, print it out on plain paper, selecting the option for the full sheet of actual business cards.  Then, take a sheet of the business card stock, and hold the paper printout in front of it, against a window or other bright light.  Check for proper alignment and fit within the cards, and make any necessary adjustments. 

   One thing you want to scrutinize very carefully is legibility.  It is easy to get fooled into thinking you can crowd all kinds of information onto your card while working on your computer--it looks great on the monitor--usually defaulted to "fit to window" view.   Surprise!  You print out your masterpiece, only to find you need a magnifying glass to read it.  I made this mistake once, by being in a hurry, and found that I could barely read the font size even with my glasses on!  UGH!!  Waste of stock, ink and time!    Lessons learned the hard way stick the hardest, however.    I'll never make that goof agin... I now always re-size the computer screen view to "actual size" so I know what I'm going to end up with.

   Single or double-sided cards?   Personally, I don't like double-sided cards.  Many people like to be able to use the back side to make a note to themselves about what the specific product they liked was, or at what craft fair the vendor was found, any verbal offers or information the vendor gave them.  If included with an online purchase, the same applies--the buyer is able to record the specific item they bought.  It is also amazing how many people will never turn a card over to see what, if anything, is on the back.  I even notice this  (scarily) when paying with a credit card--they don't turn it over to see that I've not signed it, and instead written, "ask for I.D.")

Your Photo Lesson of the Day

   This section presumes that you have at least basic photo-editing software available to you.  You want to minimize the time spent 'messing about' with edits, but you still must be able to cut/copy/paste and adjust size (downward), and possibly white balance, if you have not done so in your camera when doing the shoot.

    First, if you already have a great photo of the product you want to feature on your cards, you're in good shape.  But look at it closely:  is it sharp to the 'nth degree'?  Clear color definition?  Best angle?  Free of distracting shadows or irrelevant items?  Background same color as your card stock?  If so, great, you're ready to go.   If any of these items are lacking, though, you are better off to re-shoot the item with specifics for business card use in mind.

  To create a free-floating image that can be easily cut/pasted into your card design with no lines or borders showing around the image, you need to have a background that is virtually the exact same color as the card stock you want to use for your business cards.  White or ivory are best first choices, with light gray bringing up the rear.  It is easy to find white or ivory cloth; the right shade of gray is less easy to come by.

   For this to work, it must be cloth;  a hard surface colored board will not work because you will have a line of demarcation between the vertical and horizontal sections of your set.  The elimination of this line is what creates your 'zero horizon.'  The cloth must also be opaque, and matte finish.  filmy, gauzy fabric will defeat the purpose, and shiny fabrics will cause light glare at awkward places. Nothing must show through from behind.  Bedsheets are actually excellent choices.  They are readily available, and if you do not already have any in plain, unpatterned colors, they may be had fairly cheaply; twin size is more than big enough.
   Take your cloth, being sure it is large enough to cover whatever else is behind the area.  Tack or tape the top of the cloth to the wall along its entire width.  Next, pull the cloth smoothly down and forward, and let it drape into a smooth curve as it falls to the floor or table, or whatever you are using for your level surface for your product.  If necessary, iron the cloth first...and be sure you have taped/tacked it evenly...you don't want wrinkles; it must also be spotlessly clean. 

   If cloth is unavailable, you can also use paper, but it must be paper that comes in a roll, and wide enough to cover the area.  (Although paper is trickier to work with--it smudges and tears easily.)  You don't want folds or crease marks (or rips) any more than you want wrinkles in the cloth.  An absolutely smooth, seamless background is your goal.  Here are a couple of examples from my own Etsy shop taken with this method...it is actually how I do 99% of my product photos.  That way, I can put them to any use without further editing.

    Put your camera on a tripod or other solid surface, set it for the highest resolution possible (refer to your owner's manual).  This is important because it will give you the best quality image to import into your card project.  You can always reduce it down, but you cannot increase.  Trying to increase the size or resolution of a photo taken at too low a resolution will only result in a very fuzzy, blurry, grainy look, and ruin your chances of appearing professional.   

    Take several shots from slightly different angles.  That way, you have options from which to choose, and if you don't like one, you already have others, without having to re-set the entire photo shoot.

   Use good lighting...bright, but indirect.  As with all your other product photos, avoid using flash.   Side-lighting--high from both sides works well--just be sure none of the light glares back into the camera lens.  (For further photography-specific and lighting tips, please refer back to my earliest articles in this blog.)

   And there you have it.  It sounds complicated, but it really is not.  There is a lot to read, but it always takes more words to explain how to do something than it does effort in just doing it.  Don't panic.  Read each step, and refer back as you progress through the stages.

Below is an example of one of my own business cards (my telephone number is deliberately obscured here for privacy reasons.. it is my home number.)

  Best wishes in all your ventures, online and off!    

My Friend, Christine B.

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Hey--if you know me; you know you've found the right "Liz."  If you haven't figured it out by now, you probably don't know me.  ;-)