Archive | December, 2011

An Olive Branch

28 Dec
Now that we’re all adults and receiving gifts is no longer the pinnacle of our Christmas celebration, my family has downsized to a secret Santa-variety exchange. This year I picked Danielle, my brother’s fiance, out of the hat.
Naturally, I procrastinated until the very last moment. I wasn’t sure I had the time to make her something, so I turned to Etsy. This shop caught my eye and I placed my order. Much to my dismay, I received an email from the seller to say she couldn’t promise it would arrive by Christmas and all my plans were foiled! So I said, “Screw it. I’ll make one myself!” 
Pros: I could personalize it with my own symbolic botanical choice; an olive branch, as well as the colors of my choice to suit Danielle’s complexion.
The olive branch: a symbol of peace that dates back to Ancient Greece; traditionally worn by brides to symbolize a peaceful married life. It is a symbol of Danielle’s humanitarian dedications, a symbol of peace between Danielle and I, and a symbol of peace in their upcoming marriage.
Cons: How the hell do I make a pendant out of an embroidered swatch?
The finished pendant
I began by researching botanical illustrations of the olive tree, using these two as my primary source material.
Illustration by Sally Petru
For my fabric, I chose a pale, blueish-gray wool. It was the perfect color; wool was an ideal fiber for its resilience and flexibility; and it conveniently happened to be the leftover accent fabric from a suit I made for my brother a few years ago, giving it additional symbolic heft.
I stretched my fabric in an embroidery hoop, and using my image source for reference, I sketched an olive branch lightly in pencil on the fabric.
Due to its size, I used basic sewing thread (rather than embroidery floss), leaning more heavily on the polyester and poly-silk threads for a shinier finish. For greater control, use a single thread, not a double thread (after threading the needle, knot just one tail end, rather than knotting both tails together).
Threaded and knotted needle
Pencil drawing with the first bits of embroidery
Now, I don’t have any formal needlework experience, so I mostly made it up as I went along. Really I just used my thread to carefully fill in the shapes I had drawn out. For more detailed instructions on embroidery, there are plenty of excellent resources to be found online, including instructional videos on YouTube. The following are a few photographs documenting my progress.
To transform my embroidery into a pendant, I got the brass setting for a few dollars in a bin of secondhand odds and ends in Williamsburg jewelry shop, Brooklyn Charm. Anyplace that carries jewelry making supplies should have some variety of setting one could use for a project like this. I was very lucky to find one the perfect size for my embroidery, but certainly it would be a better idea to find your setting before you start your embroidery.
I cut a circle out of some heavy-duty chipboard I had lying around to fit inside my setting (with extra room for the fabric). The chipboard worked well for me, but if you don’t have any around I would consider your other options. Metal or wood would be more durable solutions, but your primary consideration must be the construction of your setting.
I then cut out my embroidery, leaving a seam allowance of at least 1/4 inch. I cut a circle of the same size out of a backing fabric (I used a dark gray silk). I machine stitched around the edge of what would be visible of my embroidery and backing, serving as a barrier to keep your fabric from unraveling when you cut into it to fit it snugly around the back of the chipboard. I next glued my embroidery to the chipboard with craft glue (I recommend Sobo) and clipped triangles out of the seam allowance so that it would bend around the back of the chipboard and lay flat. I slipstiched the backing to the wool around the edge of the circle. This stitch should be invisible when done correctly, however, my setting covered this edge, so it was forgiving of flubs. Finally, I applied a thin line of glue around that edge and inserted it into the setting, sealing the stitching and securing the embroidery in place within the setting. 
Chains are very easy to assemble. All you need is some chain (purchasable by the foot at any jewelry supply store), jump rings, a clasp, wire-cutters, and needle nose pliers.
Jump rings on upper left-hand corner
Simply cut chain to desired length and connect pendant and clasp with jump rings. When opening and closing jump rings, never disturb the integrity of the circle by pulling the ends apart. Instead, open and close the ends of the ring laterally.
To round out Danielle’s gift I did my own botanical illustration in Prismacolor colored pencils and Pigma Micron pen. My primary source material for this one was this image, a 19th century illustration by Franz Eugen Kohler.
I think my high school art teacher would be glad to know I’ve finally embraced calligraphy, after all the grief I gave her over our illuminated manuscript assignment. Using my new favorite calligraphy pen, I penned a message on the back of the card and addressed the envelope (handmade from re-purposed magazine pages).
Front of envelope
Back of envelope, sealed with a monogram (gold ink on black gaffers tape)
The finished necklace was set on a bed a recycled decorative paper in a re-purposed box, wrapped in magazine pages and topped with a bow made from the excess strips of magazine page paper.
Warm wishes for a happy holiday season!
Melody

Animal Textures

15 Dec
So, these past two months I’ve been student teaching at an elementary school in West Harlem. It’s been exhausting. It’s been chaotic. (Not to mention that my true passion doesn’t lie with the wee ones, but with the high schoolers.) But it has been a rewarding experience none the less. And now that I’ve taught my last lesson there, I thought I’d share some pretty adorable artworks with you all.
I did a three-week series of lessons with a first grade class, drawing animals and incorporating texture, to tie in with their studies in science class.
While it’s true, these are just the artworks of children, when you give them a good hard look, children’s artwork can be truly inspiring (just ask Jean Dubuffet!) They do not yet subscribe to the social standards of what art should look like. They do not yet have the fine motor skills or the patience to obsess over the minuscule details that I know I often fall pray to. There is a lot of simple, instinctual beauty to be found on these pages.
Week 1: Alligators
I led a step-by-step drawing lesson starting with ovals to find the basic shape, followed by a focus on indicating the texture of alligator skin.
My sample alligator
My instructional drawing

 
Week 2: Sheep
I led another step-by-step drawing lesson, but this time we added cotton balls for texture. These sheep came out so unbearably cute I can hardly stand it.
My sample sheep
Week 3: Sharks
This lesson was a little different, and more challenging. I had them trace a shark template and cut it out of textured paper, which my little 1st graders struggled with quite a bit. So unfortunately there wasn’t quite enough time for them to finish their ocean scenes. But still, we got a couple cute pieces out of it.
My sample shark
And now it’s onward and upward! Thanks to all my wonderful teachers. Someday very soon I’ll have my diploma and certification in hand and a class of my very own. I can’t wait!
Cheers,

Melody

Squash

14 Dec
I have adapted a new personal policy when it comes to grocery shopping. We all have our own personal staples, and it is easy to slip unconsciously into mundane dining. I always look for new and different seasonal produce (a boon not only for the palette, but also for the planet, if you let the season guide your selection). And thanks to this new personal policy, I just discovered the most delicious squash I’ve ever eaten.
Buttercup. A blue- and green-skinned turban winter squash.
I chose it because it was small enough to not be too much of a burden for the bike ride home, and it looked funny, but also relatively easy to peel (I was also considering an awesome-looking warty variety. Of course, I ended up baking my squash, so there was no peeling necessary).
Baking is an excellent and versatile method of cooking winter squash. Once thoroughly soft and moist, the meat can be scooped out and added to just about any recipe.
Basic Instructions for Baking Winter Squash:
– Cut your squash in half
– Scoop out the seeds and pulp (I like to save these flavorful tidbits for a homemade vegetable stock) 
– Brush the cut side with oil or melted butter
– Place them cut side down on a baking pan with about 1/2 inch of water
– Bake at 375 (although, if your squash is sharing the oven, it is much more flexible with concern to the temperature than most things)
– Bake until the meat is soft and the skin is wrinkly (about 30-45 minutes)
– Allow your squash to sit and cool in the pan for a bit and reabsorb any moisture it may have oozed during baking.
While my squash was baking, I caramelized a red onion. This brings out the beautifully rich, sweet flavor of the onion; I almost always caramelize onions when I cook with them.
Caramelizing Onions:
– Heat up a few tablespoons of oil or butter in a wide, thick-bottomed saute pan
– Stir in onions
– Once thoroughly warmed and coated with oil, reduce heat to avoid burning
– Cook over low heat, stirring often for 30 minutes or more
– If your onions get too dry or begin to burn, splash some water into the pan
When the onions were about halfway done, I added a few cloves of minced garlic to the mix. When the squash was ready and cooled off enough to handle, I scooped out the meat and added it to the pan of garlic and onions. A little salt and pepper, the juice of a lemon wedge, some chopped cranberries to garnish, and it was literally the best squash I’ve ever had. This little fella was so sweet and flavorful, you’d have thought I’d added a healthy helping of brown sugar. But it was all squash! I was totally floored.
I served it with brown basmati rice and sauteed baby wild greens (another phenomenal seasonal find).
Happy Harvest!

Melody

Dinah at Rest

2 Dec
The second in my series of intimate moments in oil, a portrait of my calico.
Dinah is sometimes the sweetest, snuggliest kitty you ever met. And sometimes she is an insufferable, manipulative hellcat. She is the queen of her castle. She gets what she wants, and she doesn’t mind breaking a few household items on the way. I painted her at her sweetest, while catnapping. But in a nod to Egon Schiele, one of my favorite artists, I exaggerated many of the curves and angles of her body to give an air of agitation. I also filled the canvas, brimming with busy patterns because, first of all, I quite enjoy painting patterns, but I also think it gives the otherwise quiet scene a vibrating energy.
I keep intending to keep photographic documentation of my process, and then getting entirely wrapped up in painting and forgetting to take pictures. So I only have two stages to show you.
This is after about five hours of work.
 And the final product:
Meow!
Cheers,
Melody