Thursday, September 9, 2010

Hiking Through the Florida Scrub

Sunlight through oak trees

Although it was sunny, and not my favorite weather for a hike, it was early enough in the morning to still be fairly tolerable.  I really hoped that we would see white-tailed deer , because the area is just covered in tracks. The deer are usually most active around dawn and we were arrived around 8:30 am, but I still had some hope.  Most of the trails are a kind of habitat known as Florida scrub . The soil has a sandy feel, hard for walking at times,  but great for gopher tortoises  to burrow in.  We didn't see any tortoises today, but did see some other interesting wildlife and wildflowers.
Deer Tracks

Unfortunately today the deer flies were especially bad, but I had hopes that  it meant there were deer close by.  Braving the nasty biting flies and humid Florida heat, we pushed ahead along the trail that was perfumed with the fragrance of sweet bay magnolias which were covered in swallowtail butterflies.
Sweet Bay Magnolia
Meadow Beauty Wildflowers
The path brought us next to a small lake where we saw an alligator's head sticking up. He didn't seem very large, only about 5 or 6 feet, but as I stepped closer to snap his picture he went under.  We had seen a lot of interesting insects and birds. The air was full of the sound of cicadas buzzing as we started heading back to the beginning of the trail. Shawn, my husband, had picked up a long stick to use as a "walking stick to protect him from snakes", which I thought was a little silly. As we stepped along the trail I noticed a small, dark shape curled up right in Shawn's path. If you have ever tried to react quickly to warn someone about something happening so quickly, you'll know how I felt. I couldn't get the words out fast enough as his foot came down right next to a coiled up dusky pygmy rattlesnake, so yes, when words fail : SCREAM. In the same instant Shawn jumped and the snake jumped, thankfully in two different directions.  The snake was obviously peeved, although it moved off the path, it turned around to look at us and began to shake it's tail.  Although they are small, they can deliver a nasty bite and are usually more aggressive than their more visually intimidating cousins. Although shaken, I did manage to snap this picture of the snake:
Not the greatest picture, he had decided he was done with us and was slipping away. Most snakes really want little to do with human contact, and most will go with the "flight" option over the "fight".  Had he actually been stepped on, he probably would have had a very different attitude.

Still shaking a bit from our snake encounter, we walked until we came to this lovely spot where the oaks made a beautiful canopy.

The ground was covered with leaves and these enormous patches of  reindeer moss one of my favorite types of lichen. It's a threatened variety and people love to gather it because it doesn't wither up if you pick it.  This area of the woods was really covered with many varieties of lichens and mosses, which I love and find very fascinating.  As I looked through the trees I noticed something white moving back and forth.  We got very quiet and kept watching as we realized the white things moving were the tails of two deer.  I was really thrilled to see them, but the moment was fleeting because they realized we were watching and moved deeper into the forest.

Being that we are both fairly adventurous people, the snake incident, after the fact, was really an interesting part of the hike.  I probably won't tease Shawn about having his "walking stick" as much now, because it did help him spring out of the way quickly, and I think he'll watch where he's stepping a bit more carefully.

Thursday, September 2, 2010

Paper Mache Hot Air Balloon Diary

As my cats try under coats of polyurethane, I find myself wanting to return to a project I've been wanting to make for a long time, a vintage style hot air balloon mobile.  The photo above is along the lines of what I want to do-similar styles and color palettes.

I've started with some large helium quality balloons. They blow up to a nice traditional shape and are a bit sturdier.  I covered one with the traditional strips of newspaper, and I'm covering the other with a paper mache clay recipe. Both will get additional coatings of the paper mache clay. 

For the gondola, I'm going to try using a recycled toilet paper tube as the base:

I need to wait for the paper mache coats to dry a bit more before I continue with it, so I have them in the garage with a fan drying them.

  I'd like to try making one very traditional, so I've been searching the net looking for vintage images for ideas.  For the second, I want to go in a more whimsical idea and I'm really considering making a cabbage, but that might be a bit ambitious.

Wednesday, September 1, 2010

New Endeavors

So I was invited to include some of my "wares" in one of our local shops in town. It's sort of a crafty, vintage, antiques kind of shop with a decidedly down home kind of flavor. Although my tastes tend more towards the whimsical and weird,  I'm hoping I can bridge the gap through my love of folk art. Folk art is really the essence of whimsical marrying the practicality of "down home".  Thankfully I'm starting with a rather small space at the shop, only a bookshelf, but in my mind's eye that bookshelf grew to the size of an entertainment center.  I'm very happy at Etsy, so I really didn't want to take many items off of the site. That meant I would be very busy creating.

For awhile I've been wanting to incorporate items into my sculptures, but that's not the greatest idea when working with clay that needs to be fired in a kiln.  I decided to look into paper mache, which I have dabbled in, but not really explored it very thoroughly. I had made paper mache pinatas and bowls, but never sculptures.  I found this very cool recipe :  Paper Mache Clay and then sort of went from there.  I've ended up modifying the recipe a bit. The flour in the recipe is entirely too attractive to my dog, who showed me he would stop at nothing to eat the folk art sheep I was making.  As with all forms of art, cats tend to be my special animal that I just naturally gravitate towards making.

I'm really excited about exploring this recycled  medium that will enable me to make larger and more creative sculptures.  My ceramic kiln is all of 8 inches squared so it's been very limiting to my creative process.  I still plan to create more ceramic pieces, but now I have an additional outlet.

I also created some muslin soft sculpture folk art for the shop. I'm especially pleased with the cabbage.  I looked at a lot of folk art carrots, but didn't see any cabbages so I came up with my own way of doing it, and I'm thrilled with the results.  All the muslin creations were made with patterns I made or some were made without a pattern, I just sewed the shaped I wanted and then cut it out.  After the sewing, I stuffed the pieces (using a bamboo fiber fill) and then painted them with acrylic paints.

The two bottom shelves of my "area" are filled with little vintage treasures I've found or had. When I shop for vintage stuff it's really hard for me to part with it, because I usually buy because I love it.  It will be hard to part with the little wooden purse, but I'm totally Ok about the boxer.
The duck bookends are kind of cool, they feel like solid brass and have a nice feel to them.

Here is my new little area in "The Whatnot Shop" :

As worried as I was about filling the shelves, I actually brought home items that would not fit.  Now, I get a bit of breathing room and I can return to working on my new cats for Etsy:

Tuesday, August 24, 2010

A Walk in the Woods

Today began with gloriously overcast skies.  Summers in Florida are not always the most pleasant for hiking, and I really needed my nature fix, so we decided to go for a hike to enjoy the pearly gray skies and slightly cooler temperatures.

Almost immediately after starting along a trail we spotted many deer tracks.  It was a bit late in the morning to see deer so there was little hope of a sighting.  We could see deer tracks in all sizes, even some smaller than my thumb. Of course, I didn't think of taking a photo of the tracks at the time, but this would have been a nice play to insert one. 

I really love velvety green moss, one of my favorite things to line a terrarium with (I even have a little crop of it at home).  This piece of moss peeking up through the oak leaves looks almost like a green heart. There's a bit of reindeer moss growing on top.  I saw lots of reindeer moss, but did not pick any because it is protected. 
We saw quite a large variety of mushrooms, lichens, and moss.  These last few days of rain have really brightened the moss and lichens and helped the mushrooms to pop up. 

We saw some wildlife, although it was elusive and difficult to capture in photos.  We saw a large cottontail rabbit,  tufted titmice, cardinals and red-winged blackbirds.  Mostly we heard the birds singing, and the cicadas buzzing.  Then, I almost walked face first into this:

It's hard to tell in this photo...but this is a large golden orb weaver spider. They really love to create enormous webs across a shady pathway.  Most of the ones we saw measured about 2 to 2.5 inches across, not what you want to walk into face-first, that is for sure!

As we walked, I found this burnt log, that looks almost like it could be the skull of a dragon:

I love to forage through the woods for interesting bits of nature to bring home, and today I found the greatest prize. I found a deer antler! Each year a deer grows new antlers and at the end of a season they shed them.  I'd always hoped to find one, and today was my lucky day.
Here's a photo of it back at my home:

I also found what has been my Holy Grail plant of terrarium creating: The British Soldier Lichen.  It's not an uncommon species, but not usually common in the places where I've looked. Here's a photo of it with a bit of the green cushion moss I'm growing:

It has the most beautiful little red "flowers".  I'm guessing that's how it got it's name--because of the beautiful shade of red, like little "redcoats".

As we were leaving, happy and invigorated from our hike, a friendly black vulture came down and seemed to pose for me:

Today was such a treat, I wish I could do this every single day.  It's so inspirational to be out in nature. My soul feels recharged, my mind at peace.

Monday, August 23, 2010

A Little Loopy

Lately, I find myself drawn to very unusual themes and items.  The more off-the-wall, the more drawn I find myself.  For instance, take a look at my latest Etsy favorites:

The general quirkiness draws me in like a moth to the flame. One of the things I really love about Etsy is that quirkiness is not only loved, but encouraged. Where else, but Etsy would I go to sell a ceramic catnip mouse, complete with a poem I composed for the occasion?  For some reason I felt completely compelled to make it, weird as it may seem.  My husband doesn't quite get it, but I'm figuring someone, somewhere will. 

I've been enjoying making pendants and buttons, texturing them with BURLAP. I love the look and feel, and from what I've seen so far, a lot of other people love it too.  I love pressing a piece of lace into the clay and getting the detail of the pattern.  I also enjoy tatting ( a kind of knotted lace making) so I've been tatting motifs to be used for molds and texture.  Seems a little crazy, huh? Making a time consuming type of lace, only to smoosh it into clay.  Keeping my fingers crossed that others will like it too.

So today, as my youngest child experiences her first day of Kindergarten and I'm alone all day for the first time in 13 years, I will embrace my quirkiness, enjoy the unusual works of art created by my friends at Etsy.

Tuesday, August 3, 2010

The Menagerie

I always get asked about what inspires me, what's my muse?   Usually, it's some type of animal or plant.  I've got a very active butterfly garden that always teeming with butterflies and caterpillars.  I try to bring one or two caterpillars inside when I see them so that I can watch out for them and then enjoy their miraculous change.  In the garden, the birds and stray garden cats that I have feed seem to have called a truce, the cats barely giving the birds a glance as they stop in for a drink at the bird bath.    Lizards of green and brown languidly bask in the sun, quick to dart away if one of the garden cats gets too close.  These are my animals that come and go as they please, but I know them and love them as if they were pets.

When I go inside,  I've got lots more to inspire me.  We have a greyhound we've adopted, Yorkie (Naughty NuYorker).  He's never really naughty and to be honest, he's no "yorkie". Weighing in at about 95 lbs he's our biggest baby.  We've had him a year now, and he's almost 3.  He's pretty mellow overall, very good about telling us he needs to go out, sometimes too interested in the cats, but not so much that it gets him in trouble.

Our cats are an interesting group, we have Shadow the patriarch.  A beautiful blue and cream tabby who loves to greet guests. He's 10 years old now, but still plays like a kitten.

Then we have our little girl kitty, Ginger. She's a red tabby British shorthair mix.  She's a bit of a diva, but loves to be petted.  She's almost 9 years old.

Jake is our Maine Coon mix kitty, he inherited the looks, but not the bravado. He's 16 lbs, but terrified of the 8 lb Ginger.

Recently, we adopted two more kitties from the pound.  We have a pretty large house so actually people might find it hard to believe we have one cat, let alone five.  They seem to all like to sleep under the same bed so they are fairly easy to find.

 Yoshi is one of our new kitties.  He's a flame point  Siamese (colorpoint shorthair) . He had been waiting 4 months to find a home.  He's an young adult, only 18 months old, such a sweet boy.
Fuji is the baby of the group, I'm thinking about 3 months old.  He's a chocolate lynx point ragdoll mix, he's such a sweet cuddler with the softest fur I've ever felt.  He has really interesting markings--reminds me of a Siberian husky dog.

Alice (held firmly yet lovingly, by my oldest son, Austen) is our big beefy Flemish Giant rabbit.  At 4 months she already weighs 12 lbs.  She loves to chase cats and shake her plastic toys in her mouth...growling. I imagine that when she's full sized (possibly 20 lbs) this will be quite alarming.

We've got doves, lizards, snakes, frogs, toads, and fish as well--each with their  own interesting personality! It's easy to find inspiration everywhere thanks to all my sweet animal friends!

Friday, July 30, 2010

Getting Lost in the Past

My Grandpa and Snub Pollard
I've been working on scanning a photo album that belonged to my great-grandmother.  This album includes some family photos, but not in the traditional sense.  You see, my grandpa was a child actor in the era of silent films.  A lot of these photos are about 86 years old and some even older.  Mixed with these incredible photos are newspaper clippings, tickets, and various other ephemera of the day. It's really easy to get lost in the pictures.

Aunt Fifi

This is one of my favorite pictures, my Great Aunt eyeing actress Constance Binney, sizing her up.
Conrad Nagel, Eleanor Boardman, Grandpa starring in "So This is Marriage"

An interesting thing I found is that my Grandpa's own pet kitten was in the movie too. They paid it $3 a day.  That's pretty good money for a cat to earn back then!

Well, I have LOTS more to scan still so I'd better go. I still need to scan the Harold Lloyd pictures!

Saturday, July 24, 2010

New Glass Gem Magnets!

I've been working on some new ideas involving my photos, paintings, collages and glass.  I have a large number of glass gems from various projects so I've been experimenting with making them into pendants and magnets.  So far the results are quite promising! I realize this isn't a totally new idea, but since the pictures in this case are my own photos, paintings, and collages, it gives it some originality (at least I think so, lol ).   I love the magnifying effect of the glass droplets. For those who have never made these fun little things, here is a quick tutorial:
Glass Gem Magnet Tutorial
Supplies Needed

Clear (without iridescence allows the picture to show through) Glass Floral Gems
Desired images, scrapbook paper works great!
Mod Podge or other gel sealer
round magnets, not larger than the size of the gems
scissors or round paper punch equal to the bottom size of the gems
two part epoxy glue
  1. Wash and dry gems well, inspect for defects
  2. cut images from the desired source
  3. apply a small coat of mod podge to the flat side of the gems and then glue the paper circles face down onto the glass gems
  4. trim any excess paper once the mod podge has set.
  5. apply several more coats of mod podge to the underside of the paper and allow to dry
  6. mix the two part epoxy ( I used loctite) according to package instructions
  7. apply epoxy to magnet and stick magnet to the paper side of the glass gem
  8. allow epoxy to harden, polish front side of new magnet
This is a greatly simplified tutorial, but you get the idea.  You can have a lot of fun using tissue paper layers, creating tiny collages under the glass. I like to use the "contact sheet" option when printing out photos or artwork because it's just about the right size.  I have plans to try this with glass tiles and would use about the same basic directions.  Also, using Mod Podge, you can make a gel transfer to the glass, creating a translucent image. It's how I made this:

I have some other artwork/glass projects up and coming.  A lot of my creations involve a necessity and right now I'm in the middle of redecorating two rooms and desperately wanted some interesting artwork, so that will be the inspiration for some lamps I am planning to make.  Hoping to get the supplies today and see if I can put them together!

Tuesday, July 20, 2010

Great New Thrifty Finds

Another good trip to the Goodwill! Adding to my little treasures from last week are two aqua glass insulators.   I don't think I'll be crafting with them because from my research so far they are as old as the early 1900s. One even has an original wooden pin inside.  I looked at them, and thought, I know those are very old and might be valuable, but for the life of me I can't remember what they are.  They were used on telegraph poles like this:
I've learned that what I have are  Brookfield glass insulators.  The the aqua color seems to have been very popular during the 1880s, but since mine are just marked B, I'm thinking maybe mine are more likely more recent (if you can call the 1920s recent!). Brookfield stopped making glass insulators in 1921.  I like the idea of having a row of them in a window shelf so the light shines through so I will be on the look out for these lovely little pieces every time I'm on the hunt now.
For more information about collecting glass insulators there are several books. They go from very cheap (I paid $1.99 each for mine) to crazy expensive (purple ones can go for about $80 or more). 

A Guide for Insulator Collectors: With Prices

Now I am off to sculpt a new idea that has been bouncing around in my head!

Monday, July 12, 2010

Good Will Hunting 1

          I've had my creative energies leaping in very different direction so I'm having trouble getting any project completed.   It's like the case of the shoemaker who has barefoot children.  I create and sell art, yet my home hardly has any of my work displayed.  So I'm trying to change that and hoping along the way to get inspired in new directions.  Today I got to do something I just LOVE.  I really enjoy thrift shopping.  In my area, it's hard to find diamonds in the rough, but I still find them.  Today I really scoured the books (in my area books seem to be incredibly under valued), wanting mainly ones that I can deconstruct for collage but also looking for old editions.  Was ecstatic to find a 1938 edition (the year it was first written) of "Rebecca" by Daphne Du Maurier, for $1.99. I'm pretty sure it's one of the first U.S. editions. I searched online and had trouble finding pictures of the same book to compare.  I love the story, so I guess the big thrill is getting something possibly that valuable.  I also found a very old copy of  "Black Beauty" by Anna Sewell, but it's very unlikely to be a first edition although there was no date inside. 

        I also found :
6 glass jars with glass lids. ( I've been watching for a decent number of them so that I can make a set of  Sun Jars .  ) $1.99 each

Warren Kimble Chick and Egg Salt and Pepper Shaker for $1.99 in Box Henny & Penny

Book of postcards of Gustav Klimt Paintings $1.99

So all in all it was a fruitful afternoon of scavenging! 

Monday, April 26, 2010

Latest Projects, Plant Nabbing, Ladybugs, etc

Wow,  it's been awhile since I've posted anything.   I've got spring fever and I've been working on one of my other loves, gardening.  My gardening style could best be described as...Jungle meets English Garden.  Ever since I was a very young child I've been drawn to anything English. Now back in those days I didn't know it was "English", I just knew I liked it.  I adored Agatha Christie,  The Secret Garden was another favorite, The Hobbit, C.S. Lewis books, books with large manor houses surrounded by gardens and moors covered in heather.  Later I was to discover through genealogy research that the majority of my ancestors came from England, Ireland and Scotland, so it might be some kind of genetic thing.  In any case, I'm happiest when surrounded by a jungle of flowering plants, birds, butterflies, ladybugs, and of course garden cats that come to visit and "help".
       My style is very informal, I want my garden to look a bit on the wild side.  I love the "old fashioned" flowers but many of them just hate it here in Florida.  At times Florida can be very dry and other times it's like a rain forest.  I've learned I need to be really open minded when selecting plants.  Things don't always want to grow where I put them.  In my area there are a lot of spots that I've learned are called "ruderal" which basically means "disturbed".  I like to go to these "lots" to scout out wildflowers because to be honest at any given moment they could be mowed down.  I seem to have an uncanny sense of what is about to be demolished because often days after I "harvest" some plants, next thing I know it's been destroyed. So really, I don't feel bad about taking plants from spots like these.  A couple of weeks ago I discovered this amazing wisteria vine that had to be at least 15 years old.  It was surrounded by viburnum bushes covered with ladybug larvae and pupas.  I made many cuttings off the wisteria and collected hundreds of ladybug larva and pupas to bring home.  Ladybugs are one of the most amazing natural pest controls so I really wanted to encourage them to live here.  I put the larva on different plants in the yard, and put the pupas (ladybug cocoon form) in a clean jar. As the pupas hatched I placed the ladybugs on the plants outside.  It's been so interesting and amazing.  I'm still working on getting the wisteria rooted, but it takes several weeks so I won't know if I was successful for a few weeks.  ANYWAY!  Yesterday I noticed that the wisteria vine had been cut down and REMOVED! The viburnum shrubs covered in ladybugs had been drastically cut back to skinny little "trees".  I felt sick to see what had been such a happy hub of buzzing life, destroyed as if  it were garbage.  So to be honest, when foraging for plants upon "ruderal" sites, I'm going to take what I find because very few people in this area really care about wildflowers and wildlife.  They just care about tearing stuff down to build yet another business that will stand empty in 6 months.  I found a huge number of sundew (similar to venus flytraps) plants sparkling red in the sun next the lake.  I felt a little guilty taking one, but there were so many, I took my husband back to show him, but some doofus had driven a tractor all over them and ripped them to shreds.  Some might survive, but most were unrecognizable as anything other than red sludge.  Mine, however, is doing fine.
I couldn't have saved them all.  I know this, but every time I have someone knowledgeable "clucking" at me for taking a wild plant, I remind myself that to some people if a plant didn't come from Home Depot, it's a weed, and my town is FULL of those kinds of people.  So I'm thinking they just assume I'm a little off my rocker for putting weeds in my garden.  Weeds like coreopsis,  passion flower vine, royal poinciana, wild lupines,  lantana, tradescantia, blue-eyed grass, asiatic dayflower, blanket flower to name but a few.