33 of 100

It’s hard to believe, but I’m not over 1/3 of the way there on the 100 Day Project. The daily drawings have given me a chance to play with different subjects and styles, from single characters, to collections, to patterns, and experiment combining hand drawn and digital illustration. Not to mention that it’s been an opportunity to get up close and personal with a sketchbook, something that I haven’t done in years. Here are a few favorites from the past couple of weeks.

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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.

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.

An Old Year, A New Year

Inspired by the Top Nine lists everyone’s been posting on Instagram this week, I decided to take a look back at some of my favorite moments from 2015. Instead of going on just people’s likes on the photos I posted (which, let’s be honest, tended to be an indicator of how well I hashtagged), I created a collage of the personal and professional moments that’ll stick with me most over the past twelve months.
Top Nine of 2015

  1. RBG: My new Ruth Bader Ginsburg puppet was by far my favorite design in years. I’ve already explored some of the many reasons why I love RGB, and it was lovely to know that she’s got plenty of other puppet-loving fans out there besides myself.
  2. Good/Bad: A twofer of possibly my best and worst parent moments of the year– The bad news: My kid got his front tooth knocked out at school. Dang. The good news: An epic Pee Wee Herman Halloween costume.
  3. The King: I love this custom Elvis puppet. It was about time I got to render that famous white suit in felt.
  4. Pride + Victory: This year, the Chicago Pride Parade fortuitiously fell the day after the Supreme Court’s decision to legalize same-sex marriage. To say that the event felt electric would be a bit of an understatement, and I’m so proud we could be there to witness that moment.
  5. Furiosa: My favorite custom puppet of the year– I got to create this Imperator Furiosa based on the badass character from the surprisingly good film, Mad Max: Fury Road. I shared a few months back about my process in getting her signature black make-up just right.
  6. New Views: Probably my biggest personal moment of the year, after a very long search and a lot of false starts and dead ends, this August I got a new job doing pretty much exactly what I dreamed of doing at pretty much exactly the kind of organization I wanted to work for. Oh, and this is the view from the building on Michigan Avenue. Not too shabby.
  7. Jean-Michel: Another fun custom order I completed this year was this Jean-Michel Basquiat. One of my favorite all-time artists, it was great to get the push to finally try out making him 4″ tall.
  8. Roadtrip: Our family vacation to Cape Cod this fall was an epic week of r + r, but the highlight of the trip (and one of my very highest highlights of the year) was the 30+ humpback whales we saw on our whale-watching excursion. It was pure magic to be in the presence of these incredible creatures, literally close enough to be eye to eye and get wet from their spray, and is an experience I’ll never forget.
  9. Furry Friends: This year we decided to volunteer as a foster home for the wonderful dog rescue One Tail at a Time. We hosted four lovely pups over the course of the year, the final one– Sprinks/now Murf– became a “foster fail” when we decided to make him a permanent addition to the family. How could we say no to that face!

There you have it–my 2015 in a nine-part nutshell! I’ve said it before, but I’ll say it again: thank you to you–my readers, customers, and friends–for coming along on this journey, reading what I have to say, and being interested in my finds. I hope 2015 was good to you, and wish for a brighter and kinder 2016 for us all.

Stuff I Love Right Now

Time for another edition of “Thing I Love Right Now,” a.k.a. “I’m out of other blog ideas/would rather talk about stuff I’m obsessed with instead.” Enjoy!

1. Taylor Swift, 1989
I tend to be late to the mainstream pop culture party. I’m always a little snobby about the thing that everybody else likes, so I hang back and tend to discover about a year late that the rest of the world–gasp!–was totally right. Case in point: I cannot stop listening to Taylor Swift’s 1989 album. It started with the Ryan Adams version, which I could stream on Spotify and loooved. I knew I liked the singles from her album that had been released to the radio, and judging by how obsessed I was becoming with Ryan Adam’s sad-guy versions, I decided to take the iTunes plunge and by the original. Best decision I’ve made all year.

2. Moccasins
Every fall I renew my devotion to moccasins (Minnetonka, usually, but I’m not that picky) and every winter I get a little sad when it gets too wet and I have to put them away. This fall is no different. I even bought a new pair to keep at work (nobody has to know that they’re actually the soft-inside slipper versions– sooo cozy) in the hopes that they’ll stay more presentable and pass as semi-professional for a bit longer.

3. Little Women
The embarrassing truth is that I’ve never actually read Little Women (I know, total girlhood fail), but I could quote just about every line from the 1994 movie version. From Claire Danes always-crying Beth, to Christian Bale’s amazingly luxurious Laurie hair, Marmie’s constant stream of truisms and Kirsten Dunst’s totally bratty Amy, it is a tour de force of warm hearts and Bechdel-tested goodness.

3. My polka dot jacket
jacketI bought this jacket from ModCloth (my other current obsession) a few months back, and in all my years of wearing clothes, I have never gotten as many compliments on an item of clothing as I have about this coat. It’s gotta be one of my wisest purchases to date, and I plan to wear it as far into winter as I possibly can (which is probably like one more week).

4. Matt McGorry’s Twitter
359641-matt-mcgorryMatt McGorry is totally likable as CO Bennett on Orange is the New Black, but it wasn’t until a few month ago that I discovered his really progressive online presence. Whether shamelessly promoting vital discussions about race, or proclaiming the importance of feminism, he’s doing exactly what white dudes should be doing with their privilege– using it for good. It’s really refreshing to see someone embrace their platform to encourage these kind of discussions. He’s definitely worth a follow.Screen Shot 2015-11-30 at 10.22.36 PM

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Welcome to the Playhouse: Pee Wee Halloween Costume

Henry's Pee Wee Herman costume

Update: As featured on Pee Wee’s blog, May 16, 2016 (!!!)

Henry and I started watching Pee Wee’s Playhouse together a year or so ago. It has honestly been a dream come true for me that he loves the show as much as I did when I was a kid (and, heck, still do). When I was a kid, I never wanted the show to end. I distinctly remember feeling so bummed out when the credits started to roll; thirty minutes was no where near enough time to examine every intricately-designed and decorated corner of the space, or stare intently at the puppets, trying to figure out how they were made. Now that the show has been re-released, the picture quality is astonishing. There are so many new details to take in, now in their fully-realized, HD glory. It’s a feast for the eyes, and the show itself totally holds up as well.

When Henry decided on his Pee Wee costume a few months back, I wasn’t totally sure it would stick. Three year olds aren’t exactly known for keeping their word. I’d check in with him every few weeks just to make sure he was still on board, and since he wasn’t wavering, I decided back in September that it was time to get to work. Since Henry’s blond hair is clearly not very reminiscent of Pee Wee, my mind went to the crazy helmet that he wears at the end of each episode of the show. Just like last year, the costume hinged on some crazy headwear to make it complete.Pee Wee HelmetAfter a lot of research and a lot of searching (this thread was particularly helpful), I eventually collected most of the toys needed for the helmet– giant eyeball, squeaky bulldogs, dinosaurs, cowboys, clown heads. I decided against the flame stickers only because the helmet was already pretty full. Besides the helmet, the rest of the costume was thankfully pretty easy by comparison: The same gray “robot pants” Hen wore last Halloween, a vintage gray jacket on Ebay, white Tom’s knock-off shoes, red bowtie. Pee Wee Herman costume suppliesHenry had a bike helmet that he’d almost outgrown that we decided would be a good base for his headpiece. Though it was already red, I thought that trying to glue toys onto the slick surface probably wouldn’t work very well, so step one was covering the top in papier mache. Pee Wee Herman helmetFrom there, I painted a few coats of red paint and started gluing. Gorilla Glue is great for sticking weird things like this together, but because it takes a while to cure, I had to rig up an elaborate web of tape to keep everything in place. And since that stuff puffs up like crazy, there was a fair amount of chipping away at the extra glue afterwards, too.1_IMG_4117Next was another layer of papier mache to make the eyelid, and then a few coats of paint to touch everything up and hide any extra glue. The final step was then covering the whole dang thing in glitter– a bottle of clear sparkle paint left over from the mural I painted for my niece 15 years ago. Sometimes being a packrat pays off!Henry's Pee Wee Herman costumeThe final product is everything I could’ve hoped for. With the kiddo suited up and on his scooter, it was pretty much unmistakable who he’s supposed to be. (It helps that he’ll sing you the “Connect the Dots” song at the drop of a hat, too.) We tried out his costume over the weekend at a local kiddie Halloween parade and only lost one dinosaur over the course of the evening. I consider that a success!

 

Update: By popular request, here are the sources where I found the toys used to construct Henry’s/Pee Wee’s helmet, along with tips for how I used them:

Eyeball: The real helmet looks to have a Mad Ball, but they’re now collector’s items and the real ones are hella expensive on Ebay. Instead, I found a foam squeeze toy that was a pretty close approximation, if a little smaller than I’d hoped. The one I bought (on Ebay) was similar to these.
Plastic Dinosaurs: Lots of dinos are easy to find on Ebay as well. I went with monochrome ones to keep it simple (ha!)
Clown Heads: These were on of the trickiest pieces to research, and I was never able to find clown heads that were flat. I think I did come upon something very close to the original at one point, but knew I didn’t have tools that would let me saw through the hard plastic. Instead I went with a 4-pack of cake topper clowns.
Bulldogs: The bulldogs on Pee Wee’s helmet appear to be hard plastic. The closest replica I could find were soft squeaky toys. I cut them down the middle with an x-acto knife and removed the squeaker. Because they’re not rigid, these were tricky to glue down, so I filled them with newspaper that I adhered with tape, then glued that down on the bottom with more glue around the edge.
Cowboys & Indians: Lots of these available on Ebay and Etsy. I went with a bulk lot of about a dozen that were all different because I liked the variety. (I also x-acto-ed off all the guns and threw away the extra racist ones, to keep it 3-year-old appropriate.)
Birds: I searched and searched for ducks like those featured on Pee Wee’s actual helmet. Alas, they were no where on the internet, as far as I could tell. Instead I went with balancing birds, cut in half with the magnet removed. They’re easy to find online, too.

 

There you have it– a Pee Wee helmet recipe. Or as close as you can get to one, anyway. Good luck!

New Headshot

I’ve been in need of a new headshot for a while now. The photo that I’d been using to represent me and my business was, well, sorely out of date. It was taken back in 2009 or so, and basically everything pictured, besides me, is gone now– the apartment, the dog, the laptop, even my old studio chair. Plus, I’m not even looking at the camera, which is sort of rule number 1 for an engaging headshot.abbey studio1I’ve been scheming for close to a year to hire a photographer to come take some shots, but I’m a world class procrastinator– not to mention I never want to clean up my studio– so, down to the wire on a deadline, I had to take matters into my own hands.

Last Saturday while the kiddo was napping, I asked my boyfriend to come take photos of me. He’s no photographer, but I figured I could get everything into place and have him focus and press the shutter. When I was finally set up and went to look for him, I heard the distinctive sound of snoring coming from the living room. They tell you to sleep when the baby sleeps, and it’s clearly a habit we’ve had a hard time breaking three years in. So, I was on my own.

Not a photo of the actual nap in question, but still relevant.

Left to my own devices, I decided to see if I could rig up a photo on my own. Armed with my delayed shutter, a stack of empty Amazon boxes, and some nice afternoon light, I’m pretty happy with the results. Abbey HambrightWho needs a photographer when you can Photoshop the mess out of the background yourself ; )