Thursday, October 6, 2011

I dreamed I went to Paris with Carol of Paris Breakfasts.

And if you don't know Paris Breakfast, go over and acquaint yourself right now!
We were immediately drawn to this window.  Is it?  YES!  My first Parisian macaron tower!
The pastry case was filled with strictly ordered rows, as any Parisian case is arranged.
Though the macs were a bit depleted!
They even had Carol's beloved guimauve! (marshmallows)
The boxes were so elegant!  Shades of Laduree?
The boxes are dressed in beautiful silk ribbons.
This chest provided an elegant station for coffee and tea condiments.
The napkins and plastic to-go ware nestled beautifully inside the drawer in pink linens.
Even the plastic ice cream bowls were tres chic!
We decided to sit on this lovely period piece.
The Mariage Freres tea was perfection!

As I paid the bill, I glanced down to the countertop and saw the shop's card.  Natasha's Mullberry and Mott!  Why, that's not in Paris at all!  We were in Kansas!

Wednesday, September 21, 2011

Confessions of a would-be Travel Journaller

I confess!  When I  travel I always intend to draw and paint in my fabulously illustrated hand-made journal, showing all the places I visit and the meals I eat.  Reality often intervenes:  The tour guide gives me exactly 3 minutes to explore after he finishes talking....I start dinner with a lovely glass of wine, and suddenly, my sketching is a bit wobbly.  Or it's too dark to see what I'm eating, let alone draw it!
Undaunted, I take a photo!  Then, back at home, I can make the journal page at my leisure.
 Sometimes this approach actually results in a new approach.  Take this photo from the Rookery, a Chicago building designed by Burnham and Root in the late 19th century and renovated by a young Frank Lloyd Wright several decades later:

Mr. Wright clad the dark iron columns of the original building's atrium with white marble and added a gold leaf  pattern.  This is not what we tend to think of when we think of Wright's work but it did brighten the space considerably.  The tour guide did not allow us any time to linger after his brief talk, pointing out various features, so I took a photo.  When I got home, I considered drawing this detail, but I wanted a visual cue to remind me of the gold leaf, so I printed the photo at a size that would fit on my page.   Below, you can see part of the photo in the top half and the cut out area in the bottom.

I used an Xacto knife to cut out the pattern.  If I had planned to use this stencil again I would have printed on  card stock or a clear transparency sheet, but I only needed to use this once, and printed it on plain paper, which was much easier to cut than any other paper.  Laying the stencil on my page, I printed through it with a metallic gold stamp pad.  I was out of gold leaf, but if I'd had any on hand, I would have sponged the gold leaf adhesive through the stencil.  Note that I didn't bother cutting out the pattern on the entire photo, just enough to get one full repeat of the pattern.  That left a bit of space on the page for me to draw in the dark iron column inside the marble cladding.

One additional benefit of leaving some journalling to do after returning home:  I get to prolong the pleasure of the trip!

Saturday, August 20, 2011

Trader Joe's Macarons - or What are friends for?

If you don't know Paris Breakfast you MUST run over there at once!  Paris Breakfast travels to Paris several times a year in order to keep us on the cusp of everything French, with a particular emphasis on French pastries and macarons.  She selflessly researches, photographs, paints, and shares her findings with us.
When I recently told her that I now have access to Trader Joes, she mentioned that she has never tired TJ's macarons because she has to use public transit to and from TJ's.  I recognized my duty at once:  I went straight to TJ's and bought this box of vanilla and chocolate macarons.

By the time I got home with it - 20 minutes at 94 degrees- they had defrosted, and I carefull removed one of each flavor from the box.    Please note that the macs are NOT a uniform size.  Hmmmm. Uh-oh!  The vanilla shell top crumbled as soon as it touched it!  

I put them both to the taste test.  They were OK, a bit too sweet but I think that is because they're vanilla and chocolate.   I've never had a vanilla mac or a plain chocolate macaron.  Half the fun of macs is the gorgeous colors and exotic flavor combinations.  I think the flavors (like pistachio, passionfruit, chocolate with blackberry filling, etc.) cut the sweetness and add a bit of tang.
But back to that collapsing vanilla shell:  would a second mac crumble, too?  I tried it, and it DID!  Now I was on a mission, and I had to remove all of them from the package.  Egad!  Every last one of the vanillas crumbled.  You can't serve crumbled macs to guests.  I had to choke them all down.  Then I noticed the irregular sizes of the chocolate macs.  Those, too, would have to go.  Can't serve guests irregular macs.  But, hey Paris Breakfasts, what are friends for?

Thursday, August 18, 2011

Polymer clay Altoid travel tin - in which I save you from all my mistakes!

My home-made Altoids travel tin is traveling in France!  Sadly, I am NOT traveling in France.  I gave it to a deserving artist, who filled it with these watercolors and is giving it a good workout.  Photos to be posted later.
If you're interested in making one, here's what I did...

First, trace around the outside of the tin 3 times.  You are making a template for 3 layers of polymer clay.  Draw the pans you think you'd like to make.  I drew a couple of designs before choosing one.  If you use a fat marker (like an old Sharpie) it will make a line about 1/8 inch wide and that is the thickness you need to leave around the outside of the template and between each pan.  You can make the pans any shape and size you like.

Condition your clay and roll it out a the thickest setting.  Cut 3 pieces from your template.  I chose a very white clay with a bit of sparkle.  

Typically, using cutters like these cookie cutters will give you the best cuts in polymer clay, but these were not the exact shape and size I wanted and since I had to cut both remaining layers identically, I ended up with some very wonky holes.
I found that using the blade cutter to mark the cutting lines worked best.  First I lightly marked them, then I cut out the openings with a craft knife.  If you wish, you can lay the tracing paper template right on top of the clay to mark it.  Repeat on the other layer and put them both into the tin.  You now have a stack of 3 layers - one is not cut at all and the top two are cut identically to form paint pans.
Use a clay tool to square up the edges and smooth the openings.  Manicure tools would work, too.  Roll out  a very thin  snake of clay and using the tool, press it into the void between the clay and the edge of the tin.  This will keep water from slopping down the sides into the bottom.  Fire per manufacturer's instructions, cool it and fill!

Monday, July 18, 2011

Tube watercolor is different from pans!

Carol Gillot of Paris Breakfasts recommended the new winsor-newton large pans.  She sent me to this You-tube video:
The nice man said that tube colors are formulated differently than pans!  Who knew?  Tube paint loses it's dispersant and conditioners when it dries and can be hard to re-wet without the conditioner and dispersant.
Another video  explained that tube paints do not contain the preservatives that pans have.
With a wonderful 50% off coupon for my local art store, I bought 2 colors:

  •  Burnt umber because it cracks up when I dry it in pans and is very hard to re-wet
  • Cobalt because I've had trouble with it getting moldy in my old plastic palette with a rubber seal to keep the paint moist.

I am in love!  These colors come in a very large white china pan,  2 1/2 inches by 3 1/4 inches.  They rewet instantly and make a wonderful creamy wash in just a few swipes of the brush.  The pans can stack and there is also a nice wooden holder for the pans.  They are pricey; you're getting a lot of paint in this size pan.  I'm saving my pennies for more colors!

Monday, June 27, 2011

Pantry capers for the tea tippler

These tea tins should look familiar to you:  I've posted most of the pictures on the tins on my Flickr pages.

Finished tea tins
  I'm a tea addict AND a tea tin addict.  I simply can't resist great packaging, like this one from Republic of Tea:

There is nothing like a message from the Minister of Tea to convince me I need yet another tin.  Over the years I have accumulated quite a few empty tins (Please don't let me show up on the next episode of Hoarders!)  This summer I was inspired to make them over with  my own drawings and photos.  Here's how I did it.  First, remove the paper label.  This will leave some very sticky residue and I removed it with Goo Gone, though I have also used cooking oil and peanut butter, both of which take longer and require more elbow grease.

Part of the lid sits inside the top of the tin and is made of plastic to give a good seal.  Wrap it with Press and Seal, being careful not to put it on the dark painted area:
Wad up the extra Press and Seal, making a little bundle:
Spray paint the lids and cans white.  Oops, wash them in the dishwasher first - hand washing was not enough as you can see from the bubbled up paint I got on my first go-round:
Now for the fun!  Scan and print art work or photos onto "waterslide decal paper".  I used "inkjet clear" since my printer is an inkjet.  I got mine at the local big box office store, but if that won't work for you , you can get it on Amazon .
Print the art work or photos onto the paper and let the ink dry for an hour or so.  Then spray them with Crystal Clear Acrylic per the decal directions.  You'll find it in craft stores with the Krylon spray paint cans and at hardware stores.  Let the sheets dry.  Cut out the part you want to put on a tin.  I cut closely around the edges of the images at first, but then changed to just cutting a rectangle.  The clear part hardly shows on the tins.
Put the decal you've cut out into a bowl of water, with the paper backing attached.  In about 1 or two minutes you will be able to slip the backing paper off.  Put the image on your tin and use a wet dishcloth to smooth the image down, starting each stroke from the middle of the image and working your way toward the edge.  If you decide it's crooked, you can lift it up and re-place it.   Voila! Now you can take a turn for the obsessive if you can use chalkboard paint to paint a circle on the lid and then use washable chalkboard markers to label the tins, but I just put P-Touch labels on mine since  I didn't like the look of the black chalkboard paint I had on hand.  Yes, I know it comes in other colors, but I still wear my new shoes out of the store like a grade-schooler, if you know what I mean.  Instant gratification is hard to resist.

Thursday, June 23, 2011

Milkweed Season

I find wildflowers in the woods and in the new wild part of the local park while walking my dog. When I observe a wildflower, I make basic notes on site and take reference photos, while holding my Airedale, Ozzie, in check and trying to avoid the ticks and mosquitos.  I return to my computer to upload photos and refer to my collection of books and the internet to identify the flowers.  This is what my initial notes look like:
At this stage, I usually find I have missed observing some key point of information, so I re-check the plant on my next trip, using a different color of ink each trip.  Sometimes I end up with 4 or 5 different colors!  This one was fairly simple because I had identified it before.  Finally, I do a pen and ink wash like this:

This, like many milkweeds, has sticky white "Elmer's Glue" type sap and is poisonous throughout.  Most animals have the good sense not to eat it, though I have found instances on the internet of cattle or sheep eating it and becoming very sick or even dying.  
Monarch butterflies get the benefit of all that poison:  This is a host plant for monarchs and the poison has been detected in the bodies of both the butterfly and the larvae, which they consume when they eat the plant parts.  The poison doesn't affect the butterfly, but it doesn't agree with  butterfly predators, who soon learn to "Leave the Monarchs alone!  they'll make you sick!"