December 30, 2008

Post-Christmas Hush

Listen. Can you hear it? The sound of silence--the post-Christmas hush that's descended on one and all. It's the absence of advertising. The opposite of Jingle Bells, We Wish You A Merry Christmas, and Silver Bells 24/7. The fudge is gone, the sugar cookies too. The wrapping paper has been recycled, stored, or thrown away. Beloved guests and family members have returned to their homes. Neighbors are back to doing whatever they do. The dogs have lowered the alert level to blue, realizing there are no more huge rawhide bones stuffed with fake bacon wrapped and resting under the tree.

This Christmas brought a bevy of handmade son, Jesse, gave me two cool paintings. One very light, pink, Oriental looking with flowers and bird-like shapes--lots of layering and careful thought. And, another smaller painting with blues, pinks, greys, and kitchen objects. I will treasure these forever!

My son, Bryce, made a paper nativity set which miraculously made its way through the mail without a fold or dent. I never tire of the outsider-type art he sends to me, and the decorations and writing along the outside of his boxes always grab the positive attention of the postal staff. Bryce made me a bracelet as well--the plastic laces, woven kind, that takes oodles of patience to create; by a guy who's learned patience the hard way.

My sister, Joan, gave me a wonderful bag to hold yarn projects: it's called a "Knit Knack Sack"! And it came with a holder for needles.

Just before Christmas I visited my mother in Florida and returned with the knitting needles (and one large crochet hook) that belonged to my grandmother. These were used from 1920 to 1970, approximately, and are in a variety of colors and sizes arranged in a handmade corduroy holder. I left some duplicates with my sister, Joyce, and gave thanks that TSA now allows knitting needles in carry-ons.

How great it is to have these needles that were used to create so many treasured things? Unfortunately, the only needlework of Grandma's I still have is a slightly shrunken Granny Square afghan, which is now more like a well-worn lap blanket.

I do have knitted lace made by my great-grandmother and table-cloth and runner made by her as well. Along with a very old quilt. But that's another blog article...

What I learned this Christmas in the gifts I created for others (hats and scarves):
  • A different type of yarn, a different size of needle--can make a huge difference in the way a project turns out.
  • I've can add ear flaps, trim and all sorts of extras to personalize any hat pattern! That was fun!
  • It would be helpful if I measured the recipients' heads. I ended up doing a lot of adjustment or redoing...I never realized head sizes differ so much.
  • Handmade gifts, given and received, and gifts that support hobbies and do-it-yourselfedness are wonderful!

Now, it's the new year....Time for resolutions both fun and serious. I am busy making altered books as samples for the altered book workshop I'll be leading January 18th in Athens, Ohio. You can learn more at

Happy New Year!

December 22, 2008

Love you can hold in your hands -- holiday gifts

Wow, it is Chanukah. And, nearly Christmas. And Boxing Day. And Kwanzaa. And New Year's! 2009 is nearly upon us.

I am hunkering down as what more can we do when the morning starts out at 1 degree F and zooms up to only 3 by lunchtime? Jackie gives thanks for her crocheted sweater as I carry her outside, put her down, she pees, I pick her words are really needed for my little Chihuahua of 6 years. She knows the drill by now.

What I love about this time of year is making gifts. Thankfully, our family values homemade/handmade gifts and there is no pressure to spend a lot of money. I've made scarves and hats this year; an altered book too. I've learned more about types of yarn and am finding out how much difference the yarn and the needle size make when crocheting. The same pattern in different yarn and needle size makes a huge difference. Without changing my pattern, I worked up several different looks to fit each person's personality and needs. Glamourous and fluffy for one. Natural fibers and hand-dyed colors for another. Soft and beautifully muted Monet's water lilies hues for my mom. Muted blues and blonds in a wool and soybean protein (?) mix for Mark. It's been a joy to work on these things!

I hope the recipients will know the love that went into making them. And I sure hope I guess right on the colors and styles!

Happy Holidays one and all!
PS: The hat shown above was made from a pattern in "Vogue Knitting on the Go: Crocheted Hats" which you can find at Amazon.

December 17, 2008

Creative Ideas for Collage, ATCs, Altered Books, and Scrapbooking

The following are some ideas to play with when you have artist’s block or just need a starting off point.

  • Think of a favorite song—what images, colors, word phrases, remind you of that song? You could do the same with a poem.
    “I love about you…” Create an ATC for someone you love
  • Discovery: Ever make a find that changed your life? Ever learn something that turned your life in a new direction? Every been surprised? How could you capture this on an ATC?
  • Acrostic Journaling: Select one word, then write a phrase or sentence using the letters in the word. For example “LOVE”: Live in Love; One Family; View the Future; Evolve Together. Since these would be a lot to put on a 3.5 x 2.5 inch ATC card, I would try making four cards that capture each phrase and then, perhaps, frame them together. Whenever you have an idea that is bigger than what you can fit on an ATC, break it down into steps, phases, or basic ideas—and use more than one card, create a set.
  • Use a favorite quote as a starting off point.
  • Have a favorite color? Make a card with nothing but that color, in all its various shades (black added) and tints (white added).
  • Celebrate your pet.
  • Do a memorial-type ATC for a person or pet who is no longer with you.
  • Secret message: Embed a single word or phrase within your ATC. Use code. Or, use a paragraph from an old book and underline certain words in the paragraph to create a new sentence.
  • Celebrate a hobby
  • Create birthday cards; you’ll need them all year long. Purchase blank greeting cards (see my resources list) and affix the ATC to the front of the card with a glue stick. Now you are ready for birthday cards.
  • Forget the e-cards—everyone would rather have a “real” card!
  • Do the above, but make thank you cards.

If you run into a block with your creative efforts, remember the following:

  1. It doesn’t matter if you cannot draw. Being creative is not about being able to draw. Drawing is a technique. It is not the only skill needed to be creative or considered artistic. Put drawing out of your mind, and you will have more fun and be able to benefit from creative endeavors without self-consciousness hanging over your head, spoiling the fun.
    Feel free to use images you find all around you. If you want to sell your creations, become informed about copyright law (easy to research on the web, in relation to collage and art). I recommend Dover books, which are sold at JoAnn fabric and online. They have many beautiful images and come with CDs too, so that you can have the images in your computer. Dover allows the unrestricted use of 10 images from each book, even in work that is sold (check with them if there is any question, though, as I am not a lawyer).
  2. When getting things realistic feels “too hard,” explore and enjoy color, technique, and process. It is from doing, doing, and doing some more—shutting off your inner critic—realizing this time is for you and WHATEVER you create will be beautiful and worthwhile—this is how you benefit from exploring the creative.
  3. Money is tight for many people. Art materials can be costly. Explore recycled materials. When you begin looking at everything you throw away with new eyes—“Hey, this could be useful!”—you’ll soon have a box or bag full of stuff. Magazines, boxes, paper, ribbons—all of it can be used to make ATCs.
  4. Say Yes more than you say No.

December 8, 2008

ATC to hold money gift, and hang on tree

>>>>This ATC can be given as it is, or adhered to the front of a blank greeting card, or you can put an eyelet on either side of the top edge, thread a ribbon through it, and hang it on the Christmas tree.

>>>>I shared this pattern with participants in our latest ATC workshop, and everyone seemed to like it. We adjusted the template to fit specific needs, for instance, one participant wanted an envelope that could hold postage stamps, as sold by the post office on in those booklets/sheets.

>>>>Here's how to make the ATC at left:

>>>>Use a blank ATC and decorate it with paints, collage, or colorful papers. The one in this picture has a painted background. Here's how to make the background:

>>>>Painted Background of ATC:

>>>>Place several ATCs on scrap paper or plastic. (I used 6 and work on them all at the same time.) You'll need 2 colors of acrylic paint, plus one metallic (I used gold from the Luminare line sold at

>>>>Take a medium size brush and apply the first color in random, happy stripes, squares, and circles.

>>>>Take a smaller brush and apply the second color in joyful squiggles, dabs, and dollops.

>>>>Take the metallic paint; dip your brush or a popsicle stick, in the paint and drip, splatter and splotch it on the ATCs. The gold dot on the bottom left of my ATC was made with a round sponge brush. I bought a set of sponge brushes in the crafts department of a discount store and they are perfect for this. You could also make your own sponge brushes in a variety of shapes. Cut out shapes from sponges, glue one side of the sponge to a piece of plastic (like a square cut out from the lid of a tub of Cool Whip), and voila, your own unique shaped sponge/stamp!

>>>>While the happy painted ATC is drying, move on to making the envelope.

>>>>Making the envelope:

>>>>The envelope below measures 2 x 2 inches. If you print this image out from your computer, make sure it prints so that the square is 2 x 2, otherwise your envelope will be smaller or larger, but it will still be proportionally okay.

>>>>A tiny envelope is made by drawing a square and then drawing half of an oval on each side of the square. (see the attached template). I altered the formula slightly, as I like one side a bit longer and the opposite side a bit shorter, so that a button can be placed on the longer side and a hole punched in the shorter side, to make an envelope as shown on this ATC. Cut one envelope pattern out on test paper and see what proportions you like. You might prefer pointed, triangular flaps rather than rounded ones. Or, perhaps you’ll cut the top flap with decorative scissors. Or, maybe you’d prefer a rectangular envelope rather than a square one.

>>Cut the envelope shape out.

>>>>Score the crease lines with an Xacto knife on the pretty side of the paper. (only necessary if the paper is thick)

>>>>Punch a 1/8 inch hole in the middle of the top flap. Put an eyelet in the hole. If you don't have an eyelet maker, put a reinforcement "donut" around the hole, or put clear tape on either side of where you want the hole, then punch the hold. If the paper for your envelope is card stock, (heavier paper) you might not need to reinforce the hole. If it is thin (rice paper) you will have to reinforce the hole. In any case, the eyelet gives a nice finished look and is easier to make than you might think. Directions come with the eyelet maker, available at most hobby/craft stores.

>>>>Sew a button in the middle of the bottom flap.

>>>>Now glue the envelope together: glue the bottom flap with the button to the side flaps (all folded properly of course with the button flap on top). IMPORTANT: use a gluestick or, if using white glue, put a piece of scrap paper inside the envelope. You don't want your envelope gluing shut inside so that you can't put anything in it.

>>>>Take a 6 inch piece of thread and put a bead in the middle of it, thread both ends through the hole in the top flap. Estimate the length needed (6 inches is good) for the loop to go around the button and make a knot just below where the button would be. Put two small beads on the end of each length of thread and make a knot after each small bead, trim the thread.

>>>>Glue the back of the envelope to your now dry painted ATC.

>>>>Optional: I also cut strips of thin (1/8 inch) decorative paper out with scalloped scissors and glued those on the side of the envelope.

Inside the envelope, you can place small photographs, small notes, or tiny ATCs, or money gifts! You can put two holes in the top of the ATC, string ribbon, yarn or raffia through, and hang on the tree for money gifts.

©2008 Janice Phelps Williams. You may feel free to print out, email and share this pattern with others, but please give proper credit and a link to . Thank you!

December 7, 2008

Special Effects for Collage Using Photo-altering Software #1

Today, I salute the wonderful worlds of photographs and technology. How great is it that we can not only scan, enlarge, restore, share, create, and alter photographs old and new, but we can also share them by phone / computer/ websites /blogs / iPod / CD / DVD / flash drive. Sometimes I think this is all so wonderful that I hardly know what fun and creative technique to try next.

Of course it is one thing to work in Photoshop on a project for a client; quite another to "futz" around (or is it "phutz") and lose two hours of the day altering a photograph of your aunt and uncle so they now have the legs of the family dog and the ears of Mickey Mouse.

As a book designer I've given perfect skin, thin thighs, whiter teeth, younger eyes and thinner upper arms to many authors whose photos were about to grace a back cover. But I also like to use photographs, old and new, to create altered books, artist trading cards, collages, and whatever the heck pops into my mind. Technology has given us access to a pandora's box of visual treasures.

If someone had told me when I graduated from college that I'd use a phone, without a cord, to take photographs of my artwork to place on a computer that others would visit, I would have shook my head in bewilderment. Kind of like I do now when my younger son, a web developer/IT person, explains new software to me.

Anyway... today I was assembling things for an altered book. I decided to unify the many photographs by making the colors all a bit faded and "old-timey" looking. (see three photos at top of this article). This was accomplished by opening the photos in Photoshop, then going to IMAGE > ADJUSTMENTS > HUE/SATURATION and changing SATURATION to 50%. In some cases, I also used IMAGE > ADJUSTMENTS > PHOTO FILTER > SEPIA 50% to give a warm tone to the photographs. The roses above, for instance, were beautiful, deep pinks, yellows, etc., but for the project I wanted to use this photo for, I needed something more muted. I didn't want pastels, but just less saturation of color.

By doing this, the project which incorporates many pieces from a variety of sources, will hold together better visually. I used Photoshop, but any photo altering software will have the same capability, though the terms may be slightly different. At the left, you can see an example of the various effects you can get with photo-altering software.

In the first photo, nothing was's just as the photo was taken (this is Mark and me on our wedding day last year...yes, we had lunch at Smith and Wollensky's).

>In photo 2, I've put a "cool" filter on the photo.

>In photo 3, I've reduced "saturation" to 50%. I love this effect!

>In photo 4, I've gone crazy...The saturation is increased to full effect...100%.

>In photo 5, I've done something but don't remember what. Oh yes, I used "film grain" which is an "artistic" filter in Photoshop.

>In photo 6, I've "posterized" it using a filter in Photoshop as well.

This is a lot of fun and, depending on the original photograph, you'll get a variety of results. It's best to use photos that are simple, have few elements, or are close-ups.

I print my photos out on Epson Premium Presentation Paper, matte, 40 lb, to use in collages, atcs and altered art. For photographs to share or put in an album, I use Epson Photo Paper, glossy, at 4 x 6 inch size.

Happy creating!

December 3, 2008

Love-of-Nature Table Arrangement

When we moved into our home in Athens this past July, there was a small bird's nest perched atop one of the porch lights. Usually, I would leave a nest alone, but this one had been abandoned and I was concerned about the dry straw and pine needles over the warm, and somewhat outdated, porch light.

I took the nest gently down and put it in the garage, sure I would find a use for it somehow. Just looking at it--I admired the workmanship. How did the little bird get it so round? So perfectly cup shaped? How did it hold together through all sorts of weather? And, mind you, all made "with no hands." Only a beak.

As Thanksgiving approached, I wanted to make some sort of arrangement using pine cones gathered at Drummond Island last year, tiny pine cones from Ohio University's campus, buckeyes from our back yard, and the bird's nest. I gathered these items together and, wanting to "fancy them up" grabbed a can of gold spray paint.

—Also my respirator. It's the first time I've used aerosals in a while and didn't want to stir up asthma symptoms. So, I did the sensible thing. Used the inhaler and strapped on the respirator. Looking like a giant fly and avoiding the room where our parrot resides, I went out into the garage and sprayed the heck out of these beautiful, natural elements. Hmmmm....

—Then, I found an old wooden salad bowl that had seen better days. It was humiliated by Mark's more beautiful and sturdy wooden bowls--a whole array of them, to be honest--and had been hiding in the back of a cupboard pretty much since we'd joined households. I promised it a new level of respect, and grabbed it and my glue gun, as well as the painted pinecones, bird's nest, and buckeyes.

—I put MI-5 DVDs in the player, poured a glass of Coke and settled in for a nice relaxing afternoon. On the table in front of me were a bevy of industrious projects, including nine ATCs for the "Two-Sided Hanging Ornament" swap and six or seven, I can't remember, ATCs for the "Blue Christmas" swap.

I'd used the "squirt blue, silver, and turquoise paint onto a slick surface and let it dry" method for the Blue Christmas cards, and so there was wet paint drying on surfaces all around. Silver beads used in the ornament cards were rolling across the table, as well as leftover glitter, a half-empty bag of gingersnaps (yum!), several pairs of sissors that said "sewing only" but nobody listened, and my favorite pens (Micron .005).

—I squirted glue generously into the bottom of the wooden bowl and arranged the larger, longer pine cones around it, their bottoms toward the center and their tops toward the rim. Next, I put the bird's nest in the middle and put enough glue in there to hold it.

—Then I took the medium size pine cones (more roundy shaped and about 2.5 to 3 inches long) and glued those around the bird's nest. I filled in all empty spaces with the tiny pinecones.

—I also used some leaves and eucalyptus (also sprayed gold) to fill in spaces, as well as some cool feathers purchased at Jo Ann Fabrics and Crafts a long time ago and left over from another project.

Three perfect buckeyes were glued into the middle of the next. Something else was needed (isn't it always?) and so I glued three white plastic beads in there as well.

—The arrangement looked really nice on the cherry table next to our dining room table. I love it and will enjoy it for many years, and the old wooden bowl seems happy to have a new life. I don't know how the wild bird feels about it. Hopefully the two-acres of woods behind our house will provide a new place for her to nest in the spring.