Pee Wee Loves Henry!

I was scrolling through Facebook this morning when I came upon a picture of my kid. Not that unusual to see on Facebook, sure. But then I realized that I hadn’t posted that photo– Pee Wee Herman did! Henry’s Pee Wee Halloween costume was featured on the real Pee Wee’s site today! Talk about this gal’s dream come true!

Pee Wee Feature on Henry's Halloween costume

For those who haven’t seen the blog post on which Pee Wee based his feature, you can check it out here. By popular request, I’ve also added a listing of where I found the toys included on Henry’s Pee Wee helmet so you can make your own! (And if you do make an attempt that that epic helmet, please share– I’d love to see!)

Thanks to Pee Wee for featuring my kiddo, and thanks to Henry for being so awesome and loving Pee Wee as much as I always have.

Street Art in the South Loop

I’m lucky to go to work every day in Chicago’s South Loop, a neighborhood that’s a fascinating blend of cultural institutions, colleges, and business. While I work on Michigan Avenue, one block west is Wabash, a cavernous street slightly off the tourists’ path, topped by the El tracks and full of hidden gems. One of my favorite parts of this area is the Wabash Arts Corridor, a so-called “living urban canvas” spearheaded by Columbia College Chicago to make visible the creative community of its campus.

cleon3When I attended Columbia in 2008, they were just beginning the murals and large-scale art installations that have now taken over this area. At that time I was lucky enough to create a window installation that was on display for a few months at 623 S. Wabash, a hint at things to come. Today the Wabash Arts Corridor encompasses Wabash Avenue from Roosevelt to Van Buren, Michigan to State Street, and features more than 20 large-scale outdoor art pieces, from murals to sculptures to installations. 150730_UniversityCenter_EINE_HARMONY_PDembinski-2514IMG_8217-14150908_TatyanaFazlalizadeh_Finished_PDembinski-4419

As part of this spring and summer’s Big Walls event–in which WAC will install 18 new pieces– Dutch artist Collin van der Sluijs recently completed a mural at 11th and Michigan. Featuring an explosion of flowers, van der Slujis researched native Illinois plants and animals to include in the piece, rooting it in place figuratively as well as literally.

I’m lucky enough to pass this spot every day on my afternoon commute and got to watch the mural emerge against the huge brick wall over the course of a few days this month. All of the artwork on the Wabash Arts Corridor is inspiring, and I’m especially thrilled to have this beautiful piece now greet me every day.

Images via Colossal. 

100 Days

I’ve been making things my whole life, and one thing I’ve learned over the past 34 years is that creativity is hard. When it’s good, it’s great, of course. But the smooth patches inevitably melt into something more trying, when the spark doesn’t burn as brightly and inspiration is harder to come by.

I’ve been in one of these creative lulls since around the new year, and decided recently that it was time to take action. The only way through these creative blocks is to take them head on, so I decided I needed to find a practice that would force me to work through this rough patch and find my inspiration again.

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I decided to tackle the 100 Day Project, a creative challenge to do one thing every day for 100 days. Drawing is something I’ve done very little of over the past 10 years, but my 20s were spent with a sketchbook never out of arm’s reach. I sketched in every slow moment, filling notebook after notebook with words, drawings, collages, and more. Given the joy that practice brought into my life, I thought that forcing myself to draw again might be just the jolt that I need.

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With the 100 Day Project you’re encouraged to create your own hashtag to allow people to follow your work. To that end, I’ll be completing #100DaysOfNightsAndWeekends (an homage to the time I get to spend making each week). I’m just a few days in, but so far I’m having fun experimenting with styles and mediums. I hope you’ll follow along on this crazy drawing journey! Here’s to 93 more days of drawing– I’m excited to see where I’m at on the other end.

Street View Stories

There’s the old idea that given long enough, even a monkey could eventually type Shakespeare. The Tumble collection 9-Eyes takes Google Earth images–arguably the most banal and random photography out there–and finds the Shakespeare within those millions of images. Where the most interesting of my Google maps searches is usualy just to look for my car in front of an old apartment, 9-Eyes’ images capture scenes that look like they could’ve been taken by the most accomplished nature or street photographers. People in haunting poses, seemingly pivotal moments of their lives. The Awl’s Everything Changes featured the images as story starters, inviting readers to create their own narrative out of these captured moments. Few photographs beg to be explained and explored quite like these.

via Everything Changes

Volcano Birthday Blast

Last summer we took Henry to see his very first movie, “Inside Out.” We all loved it, but afterwards, when anyone would ask him what he likes about the movie, he’d say “the volcano!” He liked the story of Joy and Riley, sure, but what really made an impression was the short before the feature, Lava, about a sweet volcano couple singing an infectious Hawaiian song.

The obsession stuck with him, and the song has even made it’s way into our nightly bedtime routine. So when we asked Henry what kind of birthday party he wanted this year, it came as no surprise when he requested a volcano party.

Volcano birthday invitation

The piece de resistance of the party would be, of course, a volcano cake. I scoured Pinterest for ideas, but found it tough to find volcano-themes that weren’t dinosaur or natural disaster-related, or frosting lava that didn’t look super unappetizing. Making the volcano structure also looked to be a challenge. There were some cute ideas for using rice crispy treats to mold a cone shape on top of a regular cake round, but I wanted a cake you could actually eat all the way through.

I decided to give cake carving a try for the first time, and did a test run the weekend before Henry’s birthday. I had two 8″ cake pans and a tiny 6″ one we’d used for the smash cake I made him for his first birthday. With some carving, I was able to get mid-size layers that worked, and smooth out the edges pretty well with frosting.

Volcano Cake Test Run

(Please ignore the two-tone frosting–I ran out of the original. That’s why you do a test!)

On the Friday night before Hen’s party, I baked up six cake rounds and put them in the freezer overnight. On Saturday morning, I brought them out and started piecing together and carving. I settled on five layers with one cardboard support in between, and a taller, thinner shape than the test volcano. The top layer had a hole cut in the center to anchor the cotton candy that rose from the top as smoke.

The cake came together surprisingly easily. After setting the layers up, I popped it back into the freezer for an hour or so and then got out the icing. I’d decided to surprise Henry with a peanut butter and jelly cake, in honor of his current favorite food. We went with white cake with raspberry jam in between the layers and a crazy good peanut butter/cream cheese frosting discovered from this recipe.

The frosting was thick and adhered well, and as it set up I was able to smooth out the texture. The peanut butter also gave it a nice brown, vaguely mountainy color. I decided at the last minute to dye some coconut and put it around the platter for grass, and finally relented to adding jam lava, which is still a little gross looking, but worth it😉 Finally, the volcano was topped off with the cotton candy smoke to mimic my illustration from the party invitation.

Volcano Cake

Luckily, besides looking good, the cake actually tasted good, too. Unfortunately the smoke didn’t hold up so well on the unusually-humid day, and it ended up wilting into a weird, crystalized mess by the time the party started. But the rest held up, and I have photos to remember the smoke’s original glory.

Henry loved it, and we’ll probably be eating off the leftovers for at least the next week. Can’t beat that!

For the rest of the party decorations, I made volcano stickers and buttons to commemorate the day, and we found some popping volcano-themed candy, too. And mountain-shaped goody bags with tissue paper lava were takeaways for the kids who joined us. I think they lava-ed them. Ha!

I figure as long as I keep my over-the-top parent projects to just one a year, we should be good. Last fall had it’s epic creation, and after this cake, I guess I’m at my quota for this year. Stay tuned to see if I actually keep my promise😉

Oh, and here’s to four years with the sweetest, loveliest goofball I’ve ever had the privilege of knowing.

The Future Looks Bright

NASA’s Jet Propulsion Lab isn’t exactly what I think of when I think of great illustration, but they’ve proved me wrong with a gorgeous recently-released poster series. “Visions of the Future” brought together scientists, engineers, designers, and illustrators to create a series of nine posters meant to conjure the wonder and possibility of space travel. They remind me a bit of the poster series from 826LA that I wrote about a few years back, along with the clear influence of Depression-era WPA posters, which are a perennial favorite of mine. The designs are available free to print, perfect for tacking up in the bedroom of your favorite future explorer of the cosmos.

One Man’s Trash

My love for a good, old-fashioned obsessive collection has been well-documented (see here, here, and here). As someone with a soft spot for objects that deserve a good home, I find that the line between adding to your collection and leaving something for someone else to find is a fine one. At the thrift store I can convince myself that someone else will come along and give that amazing object a good home, but what about when something interesting is destined for the landfill? How do you say no then?

Perhaps this sense of rescuing things just before they’re lost forever was the motivating force behind the collection of Nelson Molina. A now-retired New York City sanitation worker, Molina began collecting objects from the trash to decorate his locker. 30 years later, his “Treasure in the Trash” collection now takes up one entire floor of a sanitation department warehouse in East Harlem. The collection (which is sadly not open to the public) lives on as a reminder of the value, humor, and strangeness of broken and discarded things. One man’s trash is clearly another man’s warehouse full of treasure.

Via Atlas Obscura.