Friday, July 26, 2013

Finally! Natural DIY Bug Spray That Works.

I have been trying to find a better, natural bug spray for years. One that would work for my dogs as well would be even better. After much research, I combined some essential oils that repelled all three threats: ticks, mosquitos, and fleas. The first formula wasn’t strong enough for the mosquitos around here. Until now, the only commercial bug spray that even comes close to working for me is ‘Deep Woods Off!’ Even then, it sweats off halfway through a hike, most of the time. And for some reason, DEET creeps me the hell out. 

For my four dogs, I’ve always used the monthly treatments available from my vet, to the tune of about $60 a month. That treatment is deadly to cats. How good can that be for my dogs? Not as bad as a tick bite, I suppose, but all four dogs have already tested positive for Lyme’s disease, in spite of using the treatment. And mosquitoes transmit heartworms, in addition to several other potentially deadly diseases. 

Since I’ve been using this spray on them, there have been no ticks, no fleas, and no mosquitos landing long enough to bite. Yesterday, I dared to take a four mile hike, through tall grass, past swamps, and deep into the woods wearing dark pants. Not a single mosquito bite, not a single tick. When I got home, I worked in my gardens for another two hours. Same deal. I am sold.

Sunday, June 9, 2013

Not to be discouraged..

I have many rebellious bones in my body. It runs in my family. My brother claims John
Lydon, aka Johnny Rotten, is our cousin. My aunt says it's John Lennon. My mother says Paul McCartney. I have no idea. Possibly. The Irish are quite prolific. And we're all related to someone famous. The point is, I don't like being told what to do. Ever, really, unless I'm learning something new. But whenever I'm in my sister's car, I ask her to shut down her talking GPS. It bugs the hell out of me not only to be interrupted, but then told what to do, repeatedly.  As if I didn't hear it's commands the first time. Once in a while, this natural inclination gets in my way. The caricature project became something I wanted to rebel against, especially after the contest failures.

So, I've finally fallen far enough behind with the caricature project that I have to figure out a way to catch up without sacrificing quality. Then again, sometimes I fuss too much on a piece and the life is rubbed right out of the image. I will admit that the contests had some effect. On me, my work, and my attitude toward caricatures.

Live caricatures are altogether a unique experience. Every person, every event is different. One thing that is consistent is the character of the atmosphere where they are the most successful. My best time caricaturing has been at places where people are having an escapist sort of experience. Renaissance faires, local, themed festivals, or vacation spots.The caricatures are quick, usually less than five minutes per person. And whether they're successful, or not, I will probably never see them again.

Studio caricatures are another story. If I had weeks to put into one image, I could. Early on, I thought using the 'Trending Now' section on the Yahoo home page would help me decide who to draw for that day's piece. Unfortunately, the same people trend quite often. Why people are so obsessed with the Kardashians, and Angelina and Brad, is lost on me. And most politicians aren't worth the lead in my pencil. That brings me back to choosing actors or characters out of the movies or shows I'm watching on Hulu or Netflix. Or simply people that I like. For example, Larry David.
This caricature is small, only 5" x 7". And I gave myself a time limit of 15 minutes. I think it took me longer than that to gather the reference photos. But I like the result so much that I did more quick ones using the same materials. Here's Robert Downey Jr.

Not that I'm even close to being caught up. We are 160 days deep into this year already, and Mr. Downey Jr. is number 72. Not that 72 new caricatures this year is a fail, but I'm failing to keep up with a daily commitment right now. But I've always been a bit of an idealist, and still think I can do it. I knew I'd fall behind when the gardens woke up until most of my planting is done. In just over a week, I have some down time planned, and I'm hoping I can have a bit of a marathon session. Maybe I'll get an egg timer and see how I do with 15 minute blocks. Either way, it's not over and I'm not giving up. And if the end result is that I get better, it's a win win.

Friday, May 10, 2013

Onward and Upward

The place settings have reached their destination and are completely loved! My new bowl design went over with flying colors - yay! Speaking of flying colors, my friend posted beautiful photos on her blog about her experience. Now that I won't ruin the surprise, I can post a few photos, too. The day the bowls came out of the kiln is the same day they shipped. While my gardens were grateful for the sunshine, it's not the best time to photograph shiny surfaces, but I did the best I could. I'm in the process of making more place settings, and once they're finished I'll be able to wait for a day with bright steel grey skies, my favorite kind.
Salad plate

It has taken many years of trial and error to get to this glaze, and I absolutely love the results. Even this minute, I want to hit 'Save' and finish this post right here so I can get back to work making more! However, the same day I kissed these plates goodbye, I received an order for a dozen Wonky Martinis, and as soon as I post this, I must go empty and reload the kiln. To fill the order, so far I've made sixteen, with another four waiting for assembly in the basement, just to be sure I end up with twelve that are the same height. 

And there's kayaking to do!

Last Friday, my thirty three rose bushes arrived, ready for planting. Most of my weekend was spent alternating between gardening and making the martinis. They're all in now, but I still have a ton of work to do planting three big buckets of dahlias and seeds for zinnias, sunflowers, and more. Gardens don't wait for you to have time for them, especially the weeds! This year I was hoping to install a vegetable garden in the backyard, but only if we had it fenced in time, which doesn't appear likely, at this point. As it is, I lose plenty to the deer, bunnies, and woodchucks.

On another note, I still haven't found the time for caricatures. With pottery, the process is so much about timing, and if something has to get done, it does then, not later. Later it could be too late and all the time and material are wasted. Since I'm getting paid to make pottery right now, not caricatures, that's my priority. I'm not making excuses or ditching the project, just leaving it as something I'll get back to as soon as I have the time to spare.

One thing my friend mentions in her blog is my intention to move forward with my pottery business. A few years ago, I invested in a much larger kiln, but the lid was broken in transport. There isn't a way to repair it, so it must be replaced and it's just one of those things I haven't had the money to do. The new lid will cost more than I paid for the used kiln. With my existing kiln, I can fire two place settings at a time. The larger kiln could easily fit all eight. Or large sculptural pieces, which is why I bought it originally. I'm hoping to apply for a grant to cover that, as well as a few other necessities which would speed things up around here, bringing my business to the level where I would be able to hire someone to help. That would officially make me a Job Creator! And on top of that, people could buy my plates, bowls, stemware, and bakeware made right here in Massachusetts. That's a good direction all around.

Monday, April 22, 2013

Plates and Bowls and Tiles, Oh My!

It's been a while since my last post, but I didn't even come close to winning the Ben Affleck caricature contest. 13th out of 19. Not to be discouraged, I tried again. This time the subject was Yoko Ono. Here's my entry:
I ranked 12 out of 14. Tough crowd. The result was a bit discouraging for me, so I decided to take a break for a few days. That has turned into nearly a month at this point. While I'm not abandoning the project, I'm certainly further behind that I expected to be so soon.

Fortunately, I've been otherwise distracted in a good way. Two projects popped up at once for my pottery business, Beaconsfield Designs. The first surprise was a friend ordering eight place settings! In this case, the place setting consists of a dinner plate, salad plate, and bowl. I got right to work making the dinner plates, which were going to take the longest to dry. Some potters use molds for plates, but I'm not set up to work that way, so they are all thrown on the wheel. I did my absolute best to make them all the same, although there certainly will be some variation. That's the best part, though, right?  As I write this, they are being bisque fired. I've been posting photos of the progress for my friend, and she is loving the process, too. Here they are freshly thrown, in the dark of my damp basement.
And then two days later they were dry enough to trim.
trimmed and drying..

Just after I started making the plates, another friend asked for help with tiles. He has been doing a complete renovation of his kitchen, gutted right down to the studs. To break up the modern upgrade that was feeling a little too sterile, he ordered hand painted tiles from a company in France to match some antique pieces he and his wife received as wedding gifts many years ago. Apparently, after months of waiting, the tiles went from 'back ordered' to 'discontinued'. He received notice about two weeks before the scheduled counter installation, the last step before tiles.

Even though I've never painted tiles, I said I'd give it a try. He brought me the original pieces of pottery he had and nine blank pre-made bisqued tiles he found at a local paint-your-own-pottery place. After a visit to my pottery supply, where I found a tile setter for my kiln and hopefully the right color glazes, I was ready to go. When I glaze stoneware, I plan on the glaze expanding and moving while it's being fired to an extremely high temperature. The tiles are not stoneware, and they do not need to be food safe so they are fired to a lower temperature. The colors stay exactly where you put them and there's no room for error.

The first tile was a color test and I found some of the glazes a little goopy. The result was a bit lumpy with some colors and some of the colors burned off a bit. I made the adjustments and painted one feature tile and eight tiles with just the corner motif. They were happy with the results and requested one more corner motif tile and six more feature tiles with what I believe is a Cosmo near the center. The final results are shown above and I think when they see them they'll be quite happy.

Firing the tiles has helped the plates finish drying. The glazing begins tomorrow and I'll be firing for five or six days straight. I can't wait to share the results. The bowls are still in the works, and I'm hoping to finish throwing them today while the kiln is going. I've worked a fun, new, all-purpose shape for the bowls. They're a combination of my small, angular bowls and a classic onion soup crock. My friend serves up a lot of stews, chili, and soups, so I want to make sure they look cool, hold a hearty serving, and have a shape that prevents sloshing over the rim. Plus, they can be stacked!

After I finish making the bowls, deliver the tiles, and have dinner, I might just sit down and draw a caricature. That's the plan.

Friday, March 15, 2013

From the Ashes (or Shreds) of a Fiery Temperament

Okay, I have no problem admitting I can be short-tempered. While I do my best most of the time, every once in a while I get frustrated with something I'm working on and tear it up. Not that big a deal. Recently, I joined a caricature site They have a contest every two weeks and I decided to give it a try, working into my Project 365 lineup. This cycle the chosen subject is Ben Affleck. He's not very remarkable looking, really, except for his chin. Even then, he's no Jay Leno or George Clooney. For two days, I tried to nail him. And it just wasn't happening. I started with a color piece, done with acrylic inks, but it just wasn't him. At the beginning of the second day, I decided to start over. I tried going with straight ball point pen and not trying so hard. That didn't work either. Aargh. Now I was feeling like I was just wasting my time and should move on. Ha. Like I could do that. But, I did need to start a third time and needed to clear the decks, so I ripped the two I had done and tossed them in the direction of the shredder. I just couldn't figure out what I was doing wrong, and found myself looking at the scraps. Which now looked interesting in the pile. I grabbed some packing tape and stuck them together. Here's the result:
Now, I really like this, and it was the closest I had gotten to a likeness, but obviously I couldn't submit this as is. So I scanned it and reworked it in Photoshop. Yes, I could've spent another two days futzing with it, but at this point I'll be happy to never see Mr. Affleck again. Here's the final result that I've submitted to the contest:
They're taking entries for another two days, then the voting will begin. As I write this, I was the thirteenth entrant. I consider that good luck, although this has nothing to do with luck whatsoever. Whether I win, place, or nobody votes for it at all, I finished. Now I have to get back to work catching up on caricatures I didn't do in the meantime. As of today, I am a full twenty caricatures behind - eeek! Plus, there's an Art-A-Thon happening right now on IllustratedATCs, and I'm hoping to do some trading - wahoo!

Thursday, February 7, 2013

Embracing the Wonky

Timing is everything, especially with clay. The martini-style stemware was proving to be a challenge. Of the original test set, one survived the first firing. Not to be discouraged, I made the parts for seven more with more elaborate stems, and assembled four before quitting for the day. The next morning, I moved them and three stems instantly broke. There's no fixing that, either. While I loved how they looked, I was not in love with wasting time and materials. I made another set of seven and six made it into the kiln for the first firing, which they all survived. I glazed four and they are gorgeous! How functional they are is another matter. I supposed it depends on the function.

They are officially Wonky. I adore them. They look like they're having a conversation. Both of these will hold nearly four ounces, even at an angle. For me, that's adequate when it comes to straight alcohol, but that's my experience of tending bar talking. And if you can't handle a crooked cup, it's easier to tell when you've had enough, right? Otherwise, this set would look amazing with a scoop of sorbet, or shrimp cocktail. With the sturdier stems, I lost some of the fun. And if they're going to bend a little in the kiln, I might as well have a little more fun again. That, and I think I've found a solid system of construction. Here's the next set of seven, which are already safely in the kiln waiting to be fired. Hopefully, I'll have three sets listed on Etsy by early next week.
This batch, shown upside down here, has deeper cups to keep them functional in spite of the gestural outcome.

While they are drying, I'm catching up on a few days of caricatures. I need to rephrase my Project 365 to an average of a caricature a day. Right now, I keep a list, so even if I get behind a day or two, I know what I'll be doing when I get a chance to sit down to draw. It's interesting how most celebrities are a bit bland looking - perfect nose, perfectly plucked frozen brow, poofed lips. Not much to play with, really. Although a high percentage of what's trending is something like an arrest, breakup, or other devastating situation, or they're portraying someone more interesting, so at least that adds a little flavor. Here's what I drew for 'Depp to play Bulger':
It only occurred to me as I posted this that I forgot all about the striped mugshot background - oops! When I go through all the images for the book, I'll probably add that in.

And speaking of 'Trending Now', when it comes to tattoos that trend is quotes, and I am loving doing lettering. Recently, I met a fellow hardcore bookworm and here is her new tattoo of artwork she provided with an intentionally wavy font and block print-style illustration:

As soon as I can take a break from the pottery wheel, I'll be back to work on my own piece - can't wait! My daffodils started popping up two weeks ago, a better indication than a groundhog's shadow that we're having an early spring, most likely followed by an extremely hot summer. Rain barrels will in place as soon as the snow starts melting..

Thursday, January 24, 2013

So far, so good..

So far, a mere twenty four days into it, I am still keeping up with the caricatures. Using the 'Trending Now' section of Yahoo's home page has certainly made the decisions much easier. It also gives me a few choices so I don't have to necessarily draw someone I really don't want to waste any lead on, like the Octomom. Who really needs to be reminded of that hot mess on welfare?Jackie Chan, however, is entitled to his opinion like anyone else and it doesn't diminish his incredible skill or charm, as far as I'm concerned.

This cold weather is also keeping me productive making pottery! It's the perfect time to run a kiln when it's seven degrees outside. Especially when we're expecting another outrageously hot summer this year. I'm still focused on expanding and rounding out my line for the wholesale market. In addition to the french butter dish seen drying in the background in the photo below, I'm adding martini-style goblets, with wine goblets soon to follow. One of the set below made it into the kiln and is being bisque fired as I write this.
 And finally, people are thinking about tattoos again! It's that time of year, the holidays are done and for most people, swimming is months away. That coincides nicely with a tax return for some, too. I have one big piece coming up of a phoenix that I can't wait to start! But speaking of taxes, my year end accounting and the new shipping rate increases have me considering leaving Etsy to build my own storefront as part of my website instead. to keep things simpler, with a built-in shipping calculator so someone on the east coast doesn't have to pay west coast rates, then wait for a refund of the significant difference. So now, I'm off to research the possibilities.

Thursday, January 3, 2013

Happy New Year!

It's a brand new year with brand new possibilities. My sister inspired me to attempt a year long project. Whether or not I can do it remains to be seen, but I've started. My goal is one caricature a day. I had an experience just before the holidays that had the potential to sour me on caricatures. Fortunately, I have too much fun doing them to actually let that happen. One thing has changed, however. Other than celebrities or politicians where there is a plethora of reference material available, I will no longer take on studio caricature jobs. They just tend not to work out, and after much effort, I tend not to get paid. Which is a drag, to say the least. Caricaturing with the subject sitting directly on front of me is entirely different than working from a photo or two. Unless it's someone I've met and interacted with, and then referred to photos, I have a harder time capturing the character of someone. With the celebrity caricatures, I can watch their faces in action. This project will probably end up revealing what kind of television shows I like to watch, or who gets on my nerves. This first set for the first three days of the year will tell you I like to watch Top Gear, that's for sure.
I drew them in pencil on the reverse side of bits of scrap poster board. I'm sure I'll get around to some color pieces, but pencil is always so much fun. And if I actually stick it out and do the whole year, I might even bust out the scratchboards. In the meantime, I'm now scheduling events for the upcoming season, drawing at birthday parties, reunions, wedding receptions - who knows? It's always different and always fun. I will be posting my daily caricatures on my Berkshire Caricatures Facebook page.

East Street Studios has a new rule for 2013 as well. Now there is a deposit on tattoo designs or drawings. If you fail to show for your appointment and don't bother to call, you lose the deposit. I'm not sure why people don't take tattoo appointments seriously, but they don't. And all too often I'm set up ready to go, so even more time is wasted. I have taken steps to be ready up to the point of pouring the ink and opening the needles and tubes. My machines and cords are wrapped, my bottles are bagged, my inks are chosen and on standby, all ready for action. It's not as if I'm open for walk in traffic with a wall full of flash to cover the missed appointment. For many shops, this has been the standard practice. I see the wisdom in that now so there is a $60 non-refundable deposit required for a drawing or appointment.
 Beyond that, I'm already planning my gardens and rooting coleus for window boxes now that the days are getting longer and daffodils are right around the corner. We have some big landscaping changes happening this year, including a driveway redesign and new stone walls and fencing. I have a feeling it's going to be a great year!