Thursday, January 28, 2010

Lace Chain Scarf

In the midst of my painting, collage-ing, and ornament-making, I also crocheted a scarf for my brother's girlfriend Melissa, whose birthday is just a few days after Christmas.

Some months back, I saw this scarf advertised in a magazine:

I was immediately intrigued and went online to download the free pattern.  However, the pattern was a bit hard to follow, and without the motivation of having someone to make it for, I never got very far.  I decided I would try again for Melissa's birthday.  After only a few failed attempts, I finally figured out the pattern and was able to complete it.  Hooray!

Here is the finished product:

Here is a close-up of the pattern:

And here is the oh-so-adorable edging:

Despite the difficulties I had with understanding the pattern, I love how the design looks and it would not be hard to replicate now that I have figured it out. The scarf is composed almost entirely of chain stitches and a few single crochets, which gives it a very unique look. Aside from deciphering the instructions, the only real downside to this pattern is the fact that it requires constant stitch counting—meaning you can't carry on a conversation or watch a movie while working on it. Trust me. I tried.

The pattern called for a slightly bulkier yarn, but I opted for something a little finer to play up the pattern. I used Country Yarn for the first time and found it wonderful to work with. This is a blended yarn of acrylic and merino wool and has a nice sheen to it. It is also a 12-ply cable yarn, so no problems at all with splitting. I will definitely be using this yarn on future projects.

If I were to use this pattern again, I think I would like to try it with a bulkier yarn. The picture just looks so wonderfully soft and fluffy. But considering how many projects I already have going at the moment, I doubt I will be doing this anytime soon!

Wednesday, January 27, 2010

Heritage of Hope

My second collage was a wedding present for my friend Mayna, the fabulous and fashionable owner of Closet Fly. She and her fiancé said "I do" last month in beautiful Costa Rica. Sadly, I was not able to attend the wedding, so instead I poured my energy into making a special gift for them.

After having such success the first time around, I was excited to get started on Mayna's collage. But this one didn't come together nearly as easily. Perhaps it was my high expectations after the last collage turned out so well. Perhaps it was all the pressure and busyness of the holiday season catching up with me. Or perhaps it was simply a very different collage that needed a very different approach.

Whatever the case may have been, I struggled for weeks trying to get this collage to match the vision in my head. I had trouble with colors, picture shaping, picture placement, and even frame selection. In the end, it never really did turn out the way I thought it would. And I finally decided that was okay. Sometimes art has a life of its own, refusing to conform to our preconceived notions no matter how hard we try to force it. Sometimes my job as the artist is to just let it be what it is and stop trying to make it something I think it should be.

So here is the finished collage by itself, which I entitled "Heritage of Hope" (click to enlarge):

And here it is in the frame I finally settled on (click to enlarge):

I asked Mayna for a few pictures of her and her fiancé and then incorporated them with my own flower/foliage pictures to create a seasonal progression. I used a background of earthy browns and greens, which I chose initially to coordinate with Mayna's wedding colors, but as the collage took shape, the browns and greens seemed to be the best backdrop for the theme and content of this project. Instead of cutting everything in straight lines and angles (as I had done for my sailing collage), I followed the shapes of the flowers and leaves. This gave the collage a more open feel overall and let the colors and shapes "pop" or stand out from the background. Before I even began this project, I purchased a carved, distressed, cream-colored frame to coordinate with the vision in my head. But that frame was all wrong for the finished collage. After much searching and deliberation, I settled on a rich coppery brown one that gave depth and weight to the collage while still blending with the colors and feel of it.

So although this project didn't turn out like I had envisioned, I am still pleased with the final result. I have learned much about the process of creating a collage—not just the mechanics of it but also the artistic elements and challenges involved. And hopefully I will soon be applying what I've learned as I finish the long-in-process Growing Is Beautiful collage!

Wednesday, January 20, 2010

Love At First Sail

If you were hoping this post was going to be about me being in love, I'm sorry to disappoint you. It's not that at all. It's about an art project I finished recently—a collage, to be exact.

I've been itching to play around with the collage medium for a while now. In fact, it was the beginnings of a collage that inspired me to start Growing Is Beautiful in the first place. I wanted a way to share both my creative process and my finished art pieces. And I think I got more than I bargained for. But that's another post for another day.

As I was brainstorming gift ideas for the busy Christmas/birthday season of October through December, I decided that collages would be perfect for two people on my list. I started the early phases of planning my collages and picked up a wonderful book at the Goodwill entitled Make Your Mark by Margaret Peot. In my ideal life, I would have gone through this book chapter by chapter and played around with all the different techniques and exercises given. In my real life, I skipped all the way to the chapter on collage and gleaned some great information to help me in my projects.

The first important thing I learned was that my method of gathering words from magazines had one big problem—most of our current print media is not acid free. Which means that all the words I placed into my collage would deteriorate at a rapid rate, rendering the words themselves illegible and potentially ruining other materials in the art piece. Not good. Not good at all.

My two options for overcoming this dilemma were to either photocopy all the words onto acid-free paper or to find a source for acid-free words in the first place. I opted for the latter and bought a stockpile of word stickers from the scrapbooking supply section. This worked fairly well, but I found the range of words to be somewhat limiting and definitely less raw and random than I wanted. In the future, I think I will try the photocopying method and see if I like that better.

The second important thing I discovered was what the book's author called "the best collage adhesive." This was actually the primary reason I purchased the book because I had yet to figure out what adhesive I could use to accomplish my collages. In the past, I have often used rubber cement for my paper-based creations (such as greeting cards and the like) but I find the smell horrifying, the mess annoying, and the strength of its hold less than great. The book suggested a mixture of polyvinyl acetate (PVA) and methyl cellulose powder. After some searching, I was able to find these at a local art store and whipped up a batch for my first collage. If you are interested in the recipe, feel free to email me. Otherwise, I won't bore you with the details. I found it to be a good adhesive for the most part, though a bit messy to work with in the context of using it with photographs. Since both my collages are newly completed, only time will tell how the adhesive stands up over the months and years to come. However, it didn't have much odor and the hold seemed strong once it began to dry. All good things, in my opinion.

My first collage was a Christmas present for Melissa, who is my brother's beautiful, hilarious, and altogether wonderful girlfriend. My brother introduced her to sailing this past year and she instantly fell in love—with sailing, I mean! Thus, I chose to make a sailboat-themed collage and entitle it "Love At First Sail."

Here is the finished collage by itself (click to enlarge):

And here it is in the frame I selected (click to enlarge):

Honestly, I was surprised how quickly the actual collage came together and how well it turned out. I started with a canvas panel, painted it blue and washed it with gray, and then attached pieces of duck-cloth canvas to incorporate the texture of a boat sail. I used pictures from Melissa and Carrington's various sailing adventures as well as a few sailboat pictures my dad had taken. I wanted to keep the sharp lines throughout and cut everything into angles and triangles rather than rounding the shapes. And I am very pleased with the results. Even the frame, which I chose for its natural wood color and intricate carving, added much to the finished product.

And, by the way, Melissa loved it.

So there you have it—my first successful collage!

Friday, January 8, 2010

A Resolution of Sorts

I'm not a big fan of New Year's resolutions. I drove by a local church this week and saw this on the reader board:

Resolutions: In one year and out the next

Yep, that pretty much sums it up.

For one thing, I find that this process of "making resolutions" often becomes a kind of open season on my life and my person. I tally up all the things I dislike about myself, my circumstances, and my life accomplishments (or lack thereof) and then I resolve to change them. As if my fairy godmother is going to show up on New Year's Eve and transform me into a princess—or, at the very least, a much cooler, smarter, and more successful version of me.

And I suppose that's the real problem. The making of resolutions seems to tap into my natural tendency toward all-or-nothing thinking. I don't just want to make a little change here or there—I want a complete overhaul. Anything less hardly seems worth the effort.

Still, as I was waiting for an appointment this week, I was confronted with the statistic that people who specifically make resolutions are ten times more likely to achieve those positive changes than people who desire the same changes but don't specifically make a resolution (Source: Wow. Ten times? Kind of makes you want to sit down right this minute and make some resolutions, doesn't it?

All of this brings me to the conclusion that perhaps what I am most in need of here is to practice the art of setting reasonable goals. To that end, my overarching resolution for 2010 is not to reach some arbitrary level of achievement but rather to make progress. Specifically, I want to make progress in these areas:

My intimacy with God—whether that means re-learning how to pray, being more deliberate about studying scripture, or figuring out how to incorporate God into more of my daily life.

My health—whether that means symptom management, pursuing more invasive testing and treatment, or simply learning to live within my limitations.

My Work—whether that means changing jobs, changing careers, or changing my definition of success in my current job.

Yes, these are all big things. Huge things. Things that have been in process for a while now. Things I could never hope to accomplish in a year's time. But that's exactly the point. I'm not looking to accomplish anything. I'm just resolving to make progress. I'm setting these up as goal posts down the road—way, way down the road—so that I know where I'm heading. If the only thing I accomplish in the next 12 months is to take one step closer in each of these areas, this year will have been a smashing success.

And to make things more interesting, I've also come up with a list of fun things I hope to do this year:

*Write more poetry—this shouldn't be too hard considering I only wrote four poems last year!

*Comment more often on the blogs I read—now that I'm a blogger, I understand how important it is to know that someone is listening when you pour your heart out in cyberspace. So don't be alarmed if you start hearing from me more often :o).

*Take a trip to California to visit my dear friend Laura—I've been wanting to do this for the last 5 years or so and it just hasn't happened. But I'm hopeful this might be the year.

* Finish the "Growing Is Beautiful" collage I started nearly a year ago—perhaps I shall complete it for my one-year blogging anniversary.

*Visit new photography locations around the area—maybe the Rhododendron Garden in Federal Way or the Bellevue Botanical Garden. I'm getting excited already. How many days until spring?

*Learn how to make amigurumi—I know you're dying to know what that is, so go ahead and Google it.

*Finish the infamous filing project I've been avoiding for five whole years—I wouldn't normally put this on the list of fun things to do, but I already started working on it last weekend and it's going so well that it actually is fun. Yeah, I know. I'm weird. But that's why you love me, isn't it?

There now. I've just increased my chances of success by tenfold. Want to join me?

Friday, January 1, 2010

Best and Worst of 2009

 Today marks the beginning of a new year. I can't say as I am sad to see the old one go. It's been a long stretch of life, filled to the brim with changes and struggles. And yet, I wouldn't erase this year even if I could. I have learned. I have grown. I have healed. I have changed. Looking at it that way, I'd have to say it's been a good year. And isn't that the way it always is? God use the most difficult experiences to produce the greatest lessons, the strongest growth, the deepest healing, and the most lasting changes. Yes, it's been a hard year. But because of that, it has also been good year. In light of all this, I've compiled a list of the biggest challenges I've faced this year as well as the best things that have come out of them:

Worst: Losing a life-long friend. 
Best: Discovering that I have a strong network of friends and family who are eager to hold me up and help me move forward when I am hurting and broken. 
Best: Having the chance to practice forgiveness.

Worst: Grieving Nathan's death. 
Best: Watching the memorial tree come back to life after a bitterly cold winter and letting this become this metaphor of my healing. 
Best: Making peace with Nathan's death and celebrating the one-year anniversary of his homegoing.

Worst: Experiencing the tearing down of my relationship with God. 
Best: Finding out that although God is not who I thought He was, He is still God and still the One I desire above all else. 
Best: Having the opportunity to start over in my relationship with God.

Worst: Leaving my little green house with the purple door, uprooting my garden, and letting go of my independence. 
Best: Learning how to live in community as an adult. 
Best: Having a place to rest, heal, and make decisions about moving forward.

Worst: Realizing there is no future for me in the career I have invested in. 
Best: Finding a new vision for my life and work. 
Best: No longer needing to succeed in a job where I am destined to fail. 

Worst: Struggling to find relief of chronic health problems. 
Best: Discovering that sometimes it is better to live with limitations than to exhaust all your resources trying to fight them. 
Best: Letting go of the need for an answer.

I am certain that 2010 will hold its own set of difficulties, and while I don't relish that thought, I will say that I am looking forward to seeing what God will do, in both the good times and the bad. Because if I've learned anything this year, it's that God is good. Always. Not just when it feels like it, not just when things go right, not just when life turns out the way we want. God is always good. And for that I am deeply grateful.