human behavior

Alphabet Art Made Easy

Posted in Art, Crafts, Home improvement by humanb on November 12, 2013

At 37 weeks and 2 days pregnant, my days of crafting will soon be over – at least for some time. So after the successful completion and installation of my handmade nursery yarn mobile, I spent the last two days making a piece of art for over the baby’s chest of drawers while I still have the time and energy.

A traditionalist to some degree, I was particularly keen on making some sort of alphabet art, but the recyclist in me wanted to use things I already owned. The compromise was to use a blank canvas that had lived under my bed for a year and my old acrylic paint with a set of MDF letters from the local hardware store.

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The fun part of this project was in trying to work with the materials on hand. Because I’d insisted on using the 18 in x 24 in canvas I already had, I was forced to make the letters fit by randomly staggering them. The effect is quite different from an ordered and equally-spaced arrangement.

I painted the letters one colour at a time, mixing my own colours rather than using paint straight from the tubes.

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To ensure that no two letters of the same colour were too close together, I made a Microsoft Word version of the final colour arrangement before beginning, but still re-evaluated my colour arrangements as I worked.

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After all the letters had been painted, I considered the background.

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The white looked fresh, but unfinished when considering the piece as a whole.

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I considered newspaper, dictionary pages and Word Find Puzzle pages as possible backdrops – even going so far as to buy a book of Word Find Puzzles, thinking this was the best option. But while I was cutting out pages to cover the canvas, I placed the letters on my dark grey ottoman to see how a darker background might look…

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As suspected, the colours popped! My husband thought as much too, and declared unequivocally that dark grey would be a superior background to a printed page.

So I made my own grey paint – always a better choice than simply mixing black and white. There’s an infinite number of shades of grey, some cooler, some warmer. Using the remainders of my blue and purple paints, I added black, white and yellow oxide to make a rich, warm colour.

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The result is a bold and individual take on a thoroughly unoriginal idea.

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It’s a bit in-your-face, this artwork, with its letters so large, bright and crowded. But as it hangs quite high (and alone) on a clean, white wall, its energy feels contained.

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At $1.83 per MDF letter, and with 26 letters to buy, this project ended up costing much more than I would’ve liked, but it was quick and easy to produce. And while it’s by no means a great piece, it is fun without being garish or cheesy. Moreover, seeing as there are no cartoon monkeys, butterflies or bumblebees painted on the letters (Google nursery alphabet art), I see no reason why it can’t can’t find a home on our walls for many years to come – even after our son has moved well beyond his A-B-Cs.

Just not in my bedroom forever. 😉

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A Grown-Up’s Nursery Mobile

Posted in Art, Crafts, Home improvement by humanb on November 7, 2013

In March I wrote a post about my weight loss on the 5:2 Diet. I lost seven pounds in three weeks on calorie restriction alone, and had every intention of continuing my experiment when something unexpected happened.

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Our baby is due in three weeks and we won’t discuss how much I weigh now. Sufficed to say, all weight loss experiments are on hold until December and I’ve shifted gears to more creative endeavours now that I’m officially on maternity leave.

My husband and I live in a 1.5 bedroom unit in Sydney, and as the second, smaller room serves as a very necessary study, the baby will share a bedroom with us. This means two things:

1) This boy will not be accumulating more stuff than is necessary given space constraints (and my resistance to gross materialism in general); and

2) Our bedroom will now have to harmonize the tastes of three different people to become something neither too adult nor too infantile.

In other words, no cartoon choo choo trains on the walls, but no more muted colours either.

After clearing the wall on my side of the room, I invested in the Grotime Turin Cot, a European space-saving crib considerably smaller than the standard, and bought an Ikea Hemnes Chest of Drawers to store our new roommate’s clothing and other bits and bobs.

That leaves the fun but challenging task of decorating a baby’s space in a grown-up’s room.  What better place to start than with a nursery mobile?

So that was project number one. A quick search of nursery mobiles yielded lots of delicate and cutesy (but boring) examples; just as much garish and clichéd kiddy stuff; and a smaller number of DIY, crafty pieces of varying appeal.

But one mobile featured on Pinterest stood out among the rest.

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Glorious, simple, colourful yarn balls!

This one was deceiving, however, as it was more a long line of suspended balls of yarn than a proper mobile, and would not have worked nearly as well above a crib as it does in a brick-walled loft.

But the idea was a gem, and a Google search of “yarn mobiles” yielded plenty of other examples. Given my lust for upcycling, recycling, leftovers and used everything, I was delighted that I’d found a mobile whose materials I didn’t have to buy. I knew my mother would have plenty of scrap yarn from the crocheted hats and blankets she makes under the brand GaGa Originals.

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So once my box of scrap yarn arrived from the US, I set to work. Thinking, that is. It took a surprisingly long time to decide how to tackle this project…

Which colours do I use? How do I make the balls? Do I make them different sizes or the same size? How do I hang the balls? How many balls on a string? How do they stay fixed on the string? What kind of string? What should the string hang from? How long and how wide should the whole thing be?

In the end, I was fairly happy with my choices.

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But this project was more difficult to complete than it looks.

Choosing My Colors. My mother sent me more colors than I ultimately used, and four different types of yarn. I had hoped to only use the Lion Suede, with its soft, velvety texture (see the green, for example), but I found the palette too limited as I didn’t have enough, so I was forced to use the coarser yarn as well. After spending several days(!) selecting my colors, I realised the palette was still wanting for lack of any orange. Reluctantly, I hit the craft store and bought a ball of orange yarn of an entirely different texture from everything else. To my relief, it worked just fine and communicated nicely with the hair of my childhood Annie doll.

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With only small amounts of my favourite colours, I had to find a way to make them stretch, so I decided to use styrofoam balls that I could wrap with the absolute minimum amount of yarn. Of course, that meant having to go back to the craft store to buy styrofoam balls. 😦

Creating the Yarn Balls. Having looked at a number of mobiles online that used balls of varying sizes, I decided the effect was interesting at the expense of elegance, so made all the balls the same size for my project.

Most of the tutorials online involved randomly wrapping yarn into or on to a ball. Only one tutorial advocated a single layer technique using glue. The effect seemed cleaner but proved impossible (for me) to execute.

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Clearly, my craft glues were too toxic for the styrofoam, as they ate away at the darn things before I could get any yarn around them. When I tried a less toxic glue of weaker strength, I found it impossible to get the yarn to stay put or to stay clean. The green ball represents my abandonment of that technique for a simple wrap-around approach with a small dot of nontoxic glue to seal the end. Note the small dot of discolouration from glue on the centre orange ball pictured below. Once I’d realised how easy it could be, I finished the lot in no time.  😉

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Threading the Balls. Initially I thought clear fishing wire would work best, creating a floating effect like in the brick-walled loft example. But my husband convinced me that it was an inappropriate mix of ideas and materials and that twine was a better partner to yarn than fishing wire or string.

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Threading the balls was easy enough with an extra-large (and long) sewing needle. Securing the balls on the string was as easy as tying a knot in the twine before the next ball was strung, leaving roughly 3 inches between each ball for symmetry.

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Suspending the Balls.  Most of the mobiles online suspended the balls from one or more wooden rings. After initially trialling a single wooden ring, I decided it looked too nursery-esque, and opted for the equally traditional but edgier wooden cross.

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To create the cross, I chose the extremely lightweight material, balsa wood, which is remarkably easy to dent and score, but reliably strong. After staining the wood, I glued two pieces together, wrapped the centre in copious amounts of twine, and wrapped the four ends with blue Lion Suede. Before tying the strands of yarn balls to the cross, I scored its four sides where I planned to tie the strands.

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The addition of a large ball suspended from the middle was an afterthought when I realised the project still seemed to be lacking something. I have my husband to thank for the suggestion that it be red, a colour I generally dislike, but acknowledge has a particular vibrancy.

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The Finished Product. The end result is a mobile that I think can appeal to grown-ups and babies alike, with its simple forms, vibrant colour, different textures and nods to both traditional and contemporary elements. This mobile proves that art, craft and interior design need not be infantile to appeal to infants. There’s no reason that I know of why a baby would prefer a collection of cartoony stuffed elephants, half moons and owls hanging over his head instead of this.

Completing the Space. The abstract paintings on the nursery wall were painted by my two nieces a few years ago. They’re a bit too free-form to remain there, I think, but they’re fun place-fillers for a future project. The children’s book was written and illustrated by a family friend and will move when I make a proper home for the baby’s burgeoning library. The baby shoes were my mother’s from the 1950s and will remain there. And the Ikea chest of drawers is begging to be hacked, as soon as I figure out how to embellish it.

Whatever the final design, it will hopefully blend well with the rest of the room, while clearly defining the baby’s dedicated space. There’s still plenty to be done in terms of storage solutions, decoration and final placement of things.

But I reckon my old Annie is there to stay.

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The crafty hoarder

Posted in Art, Crafts, Home improvement by humanb on September 26, 2012

At least half a dozen nurses at my hospital ER have commented on my pen supply.

Every morning I pull my stash out of my bag to select three or four pens in decent working order to pocket for the day. As I go through my shift, I inevitably find one or two discarded, neglected or forgotten pens on a table top somewhere and pocket those too.

My work day ends with my assimilating my now larger pocket collection into my coveted stash.

As my husband would say: The perfect crime.

Whenever a nurse sees my stash, she always asks:

What the hell do you need all those pens for?

I proceed to explain that I worry about being without a pen when I need one.

You’re a hoarder! an English nurse once accused.

I calmly explained to her that on the contrary, I was simply a collector. I collected other things as well: foreign coins, movie stubs, airline tickets, birthday cards, candlesticks, yarmulkes (in my tween days of frequenting synagogues for bar mitzvahs), seashells, driftwood, twigs, newspapers featuring important world events.

A collector.

That’s just yuppy for hoarding! the ward clerk chimed in.

[Gasp]

I was more offended by the “yuppy” designation than the suggestion that I might have had some sort of psycho-behavioural pathology.

And anyway, I don’t. Or at least, my mother-in-law has got it worse.

She collects her dog’s hair.

And bird bones.

So as part of my redecorating efforts in my mother-in-law’s house while she was away, I searched for a suitable collection of hers that could be liberated from a dusty bookshelf and artistically displayed for her regular enjoyment. After all, what’s the point of collecting stuff if you never have occasion to look at it? And if you never look at it, why the hell not chuck it in the bloody bin? (Yeah I know, ‘Doctor heal thyself.’)

So here’s what I did with her coaster collection:

Most of her coasters are from her frequent trips to Germany, and this isn’t all of them, of course. But much of her collection consists of duplicates, so this is a fairly accurate representation of the extent of the collection. Many of these coasters were double-sided, so duplicates were pasted side-by-side, showing the different sides of one sample.

The coasters were mounted on deep canvas covered in pages from a German language book – I can’t remember which. But the subject of the book was completely unrelated to coasters. Or beer. I know that much. Of course, only my mother-in-law would know how little the background had to do with the foreground. I don’t read German.

Now on the wall, the collage looks fun and quirky, but I wonder if it doesn’t need a frame to keep it from floating in a sea of white.

Perhaps it does. But framing is expensive, and I’m on a low-budget craft tear at the moment. And this project was the cheapest, easiest and least labor intensive of them all.

Which makes me love it all the more.

Cheers.

Back to Kindergarten: Building Block Art

Posted in Art, Crafts, Home improvement by humanb on September 25, 2012

My re-design of my mother-in-law’s front porch was not complete until I had addressed the large expanse of bare brick wall at its far end, where the freshly painted white cabinet stood alone.

Continuing the theme of my driftwood piece, I wanted to fashion a piece of art made entirely of found or scrap wood.

After scouring the car port and garage for unused deck wood, garden posts, and the like, I gathered all of the scraps of MDF, balsa wood, and untreated pine left over from my previous craft projects.

For paint, I used the small tubs of craft paint that I had happened to take over to the house, as well as the paint she’d used to paint her front door red.

Here’s the result:

The frame is the same as the one used for my driftwood piece – part of the packaging from my mother-in-law’s new kitchen oven. Again, I stained it the same charcoal colour as the mosaic frame, bench seat, driftwood frame, and little side tables.

The brown ribbed wood was purposely left unpainted to identify it easily as parts of the pool deck. The other blocks were painted in only a few colours to give it some life without too much chaos.

The front end of the porch was rather busy – with a mosaic bench, a mosaic house number and the driftwood piece. Given the simplicity of the block art, I decided to go for a subdued, more minimalist design for this end of the porch.

For seating at this end, I found two gorgeous, well-crafted wooden chairs for $25 from Australia’s version of the Good Will: Vinnies.

The old birdcage from Tunisia was also repainted in its original crisp white with pale blue highlights, offering a dramatic contrast with the charcoal-stained side table. I don’t know that anyone will actually be spending much time on the porch – even with my redesign – so I’m not too concerned about the impracticality of a birdcage on the table.

No, I’m not too concerned about anything at this stage, because I’m pretty sure I could call this front porch done if I wanted to!

Of course, there are still a few smaller brick walls remaining…

Mosaic Challenge: Poolside Table

Posted in Crafts, Home improvement by humanb on September 23, 2012

With plenty of bathroom and mosaic tile left in my stock, and my new woodcutting abilities (courtesy of my kick-ass jigsaw), I was on the hunt last week for another project.

Two days before my mother-in-law was due back from overseas, I turned my attention to her backyard which, to be honest, is already beautiful, but with a few exceptions. Her kidney-shaped pool is surrounded by wood decking which is fairly expansive as it runs towards the house. Despite an abundance of outdoor furniture on patios and the far deck, the larger area of deck towards the house is quite bare. Wasted space, really.  Two lonely chairs made of wicker and stainless steel – uncharacteristically ugly for her backyard – float in the middle of the deck, side by side, with no table for drinks between them.

Et voilà. A table!

The backyard also has two large wooden box planters with no plants inside them – perfect for a table base. All one of them needed was a a slab of wood cut to size, with small squares cut out of the corners. Pfft. Easy. Haven’t I done this before?

In one day, I had cut the wood with my jigsaw and planned my design with mosaic and bathroom tile. I glued and grouted the piece the following morning. Here’s the result:

What I love about this project is that it enabled me to use those turquoise tiles – a previously regrettable purchase. Their color turned out to be a perfect match with the pool. And the deep blue tile around the edges nicely echoed the blue of the distant flower pot on the other side of the deck. To better connect the unfortunate steel and wicker chairs with their surroundings, I chose a grey grout that matches the steel of the chair legs perfectly.

The combination of turquoise and white tile here has a bit more of a bathroom feel to it, which would normally be unacceptable for an art piece, but is tolerable in this case, as it’s a pool-side mosaic.

The table top is solid, but not too heavy to be removed to access storage.

It’s not the prettiest mosaic on its own, but it works brilliantly in its environment. It gives the large expanse of deck a bit of interest, keeps the steel and wicker chairs from looking completely out-of-place, and offers a practical surface to place a drink, all while hiding storage items inside the planter.

Sweet.

Next up: Back to the front porch (and to childhood) with art from building blocks

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