Sunday, January 30, 2011

Week 5: Classy Magnets

If your refrigerator is like mine, the fridge magnet situation is pretty lame. Magnetized advertisements for nail salons and defunct banks hold up a mess of grocery lists, kid classroom projects, and recipes. This week, let's toss the tacky magnets and glamorize our refrigerators with some classier replacements.
Mermaid magnets!
What You Need:
  • polymer clay (Sculpey)
  • t-shirt transfer paper for inkjet printers (Avery)
  • digital images
  • sticky-backed magnets (ProMag)
  • rolling pin
  • freezer paper and parchment paper
  • two disposable metal pie pans, metal clamps
  • clay tool or Xacto knife
  • bone folder or spoon
  • gloss varnish (Liquitex)
  • Liquid Sculpey
  • pigment powder (Ranger Perfect Pearls)
  • embellishments, glitter markers
What you need, clockwise from left: Sculpey, Liquid Sculpey, image printed on t-shirt transfer paper, rolling pin, magnets, brush, clay tool, pigment powder
Polymer clay is amazingly versatile. You can roll it, stamp it, cut it out into any shape you want, then bake it in the oven to harden it. Once it's baked, you can paint it and embellish it.

For this project, we're going to combine the versatility of polymer clay with an inkjet image transfer technique. For Week 2, we made an image transfer gel skin using a laser printed image. Trouble is, most of us don't own laser printers. There aren't many options for image transfer with an inkjet printer - but one surprisingly successful trick is to use t-shirt transfer paper. Baked on top of the clay in the oven, the inkjet image transfers beautifully.

Let's get started.

Step 1: Prep the clay
Condition your clay by rolling it around in your hands until it's soft and pliable. I used plain white Sculpey that was old and hardened, so I squeezed on some Liquid Sculpey to help soften it up.

Then put your clay on a nonstick surface (freezer paper works well) and roll it with a rolling pin until it's a uniform 1/4 inch thickness. If you have a pasta machine, you can extrude it that way too.
Rolling the clay

Step 2: Add your images
You can use any digital images you have stored on your computer. I used a digital collage sheet with mermaid images from ARTchix Studio here - the images were already created and perfectly magnet-sized.

Cut out the images to the size you want. Optionally, you can rub some Liquid Sculpey onto the clay surface, which helps the images adhere to the clay. Position your images face down on the clay. Remember that your images will be reversed when transferred to the clay, so for words or numbers, reverse the image before printing it out.

Cut the clay to the image size with an Xacto knife or a pointed clay tool.
Cutting out the clay

Then rub over the image with the bone folder or spoon to make sure it's completely adhered to the clay.
Burnishing the image

You can optionally add some color and shine at this point by brushing pigment powder on the back and sides of your clay piece.
Adding pigment powder (optional)
Step 3: Bake
Polymer clay releases fumes when it bakes, which you don't want mucking up your oven. A nice trick I learned from A Work of Heart studio is to bake your clay in a pie pan with another pie pan clamped to the top, keeping the fumes inside the pans rather than your oven.

Place your clay pieces on a piece of parchment paper in the pie pan, then follow the clay baking instructions on the Sculpey package.

Step 4: Reveal and embellish
When the clay is cool to the touch, now comes the fun part: peeling off the transfer paper to reveal your image, now baked into the clay.

You can add little embellishments, paint, or some shine from a glitter pen at this point. The image doesn't always transfer perfectly, so you can hide imperfections by rubbing a similar-colored pigment ink stamp pad (such as Palette ink) over the bare areas.

Once your embellishments or inks have dried, brush a coat of acrylic varnish over the front, back, and sides of your piece (let the back dry before varnishing the front).

Peel the sticky backing off the magnet, adhere to the back of your clay piece, and replace those tacky old magnets with your new colorful creations.

Monday, January 24, 2011

Week 4: Salvaged Shade Garden

There's a back corner of my front yard that's so dank, so depressing, so weed-infested, I cringe in shame whenever I walk past it. No doubt you've got a neglected corner like that in your yard, too. Well, this week I finally did something about it. A long-awaited backyard renovation is starting on Thursday, and some of my beloved plants don't fit in the new garden plan. Instead of sending my plants to the great compost heap in the sky, I moved them to that lonely corner of my front yard. Win-win all around. Here's how you can do the same.
Before -- oh, the shame!
After -- finished garden with salvaged plants from the backyard 
What You Need

  • trowel
  • shovel
  • garden gloves
  • plants
  • planting mix or planting compost
  • all-purpose fertilizer
  • bark mulch
  • edging and pavers

The "what you need" list here is deceptively simple -- first, you'll need to do a little research before digging in. Is your skanky corner sunny or shady? And just how much sun or shade does it get every day? Spend a few days observing your area at different times of day. Once you have a sense of how much sun it gets, you can plan your plants accordingly. My area is very shady -- it just gets a little sun in the mornings. Fortunately, the plants I needed to move all thrive in the shade.

You can find out what plants do well in shade by looking at the plant labels at your local nursery. Shade plants are usually grouped in their own separate area. If the label doesn't give you the information you need, look up the plant in a garden guide (the Bible for Western gardeners is the Sunset Western Garden Book).

Don't forget water needs, too. So long as your shady area gets some water, you'll be fine. All my plants are on a drip system; if you don't have a drip system, commit to hand-watering your plants frequently, unless you live in an area with plentiful rainfall.

Then, check your soil. If it's super-hard clay or very sandy, you'll want to amend your soil with soil conditioners or compost. So long as it doesn't fall in either extreme, though, you'll be fine, so let's get started.

Step 1. Arrange your plants

I was fortunate in that all the plants I used happened to be living right in my garden. I dug them up and dragged them out front, and haphazardly arranged them in a semi-pleasing way. You might want to take a little more time. If you're buying plants, buy plants of varying heights (check the label to see how tall the plant will grow). Put taller plants in the back, medium height plants in the middle, and low-growing plants in front. Keep them in their pots and move them around till your composition looks pleasing.

What makes a pleasing composition? Keep it loose. Don't put plants in rigid rows. Group them together in shaggy triangular shapes. If you're using several of the same plant, buy them in odd numbers -- again, so that they end up with a random-looking effect you might find in nature.

Choose complementary colors. You might want to have a pastel color scheme, or a bold color scheme, for example.

Again -- I just used what I had. Sometimes I only had two of a particular kind of plant, rather than three. Come spring, if the arrangement looks lopsided, I might add in another plant or two here or there to balance it.

Step 2. Prepare your planting area

If you've got soil problems as mentioned above, you'll need to do some intensive digging and conditioning. My soil is great -- it's former orchard land around here -- so I just grabbed a shovel (for the bigger plants) or a trowel (for the smaller ones) and dug a hole for each plant that was a little bigger than the root area of the plant.

Pour a little all-purpose fertilizer into your hole. I used to use teaspoons and tablespoons to measure, but now I just eyeball it. You just want to give the plants a litle nutrient boost, you don't want to kill 'em off, so go light on the fertilizer. Dig the fertilizer into the bottom of the hole a little so that it mixes with the soil. Then, mix the garden soil that you dug out of the hole with some planting mix to loosen it up.

Step 3. Plant!

Well -- stick your plant in the hole. If it's in a pot, loosen the roots with your hands so that they stick out; otherwise the roots might not spread themselves out properly. Make sure the roots are inside the planting hole, and that the top of the root ball is a little lower than the top of the hole.

Then fill the empty spaces around the plant with the soil/planting mix combo that you mixed up. Water the area and see how the soil settles. Often it'll settle down lower than the planting hole, so add more soil till the ground level is even.

When all your plants are planted, water everything thoroughly. Really soak each plant so that they have plenty of water to get them started. Take care with small, fragile plants -- soak carefully so that they don't become submerged.

If you're using a drip system, add in your drip tubing now, before mulching.

Step 4. Mulch and add decorative elements
Closeup of the formerly weed-infested back corner
The best way to pretty up a garden area (and to hide drip irrigation tubing) is to pour a thick layer of bark mulch over the area. It's not just pretty -- it keeps down the weeds, too. Be generous -- two or three inches' worth of mulch is about right.

I also added a makeshift path of salvaged pavers from the garden, and used leftover bricks as edging. It's not going to win any garden awards, but it'll look pretty nice in the spring. And I won't have to hide my eyes anymore as I walk past.

Sunday, January 16, 2011

Week 3: Book Cover Rescue

As luck would have it, this week's project is another book cover. At my daughter's Hebrew school, the parents of third graders made a special book cover this week, to be presented to our children in a ceremony this month.

Unfortunately, this seemingly innocuous book cover decorating project was fraught with peril. For one, we were cautioned to make something that our child would keep and treasure for their whole lives. Um, no pressure. Worse, decorating fabric is something I've never done. So I accidentally got iron-on transfer muck all over the front of the book cover. Then one of the cover's fabric handles fell off. Time for a do-over. Art metal and fusible web to the rescue!
From messed-up book cover #1 . . .
. . . to a final cover using art metal and fusible web.
What You Need
  • fabric book cover
  • art metal (Ten Seconds Studio; I used Peacock color)
  • art metal mold (Ten Seconds Studio; I used #BM02)
  • paper stump
  • sanding block
  • fusible web (Pellon Wonder Under or Dritz Stitch Witchery)
  • paper towels, parchment paper, press cloth, and fabric-safe glue
  • fabric and ribbon
  • glitter glue (Ranger Stickles; I used Patina color)
Materials needed, clockwise from left: art metal, book cover, art metal mold, paper stump, sanding block, glitter glue, fabric pieces, fusible web, and ribbon
This week we'll explore two techniques: working with art metal and with fusible web, a.k.a. iron-on-transfer for fabric. You may not have a special book cover presentation in your future, but you'll find plenty of uses for both art metal and fusible web in your own projects.

Step 1: Art metal
Art metal is amazingly cool: thin, colored metal sheets that you can cut easily with scissors, emboss, distress, and then overlay on almost anything. You can sew it onto fabric. You can glue it onto pretty much any surface to create picture frames, pen-and-pencil holders, card embellishments, or in this case, to class up a blue book cover.

Get started by taping the mold in place under your piece of art metal. Then, using a paper stump, rub over the metal, and your embossed image starts to appear. Outline the shapes thoroughly so that they're well-defined. You can use special metalwork tools for this; I don't have them, so I just applied pressure via the paper stump.
Embossing with the paper stump
Remove the mold, then lightly sand over the metal with the sanding block. The block removes the color from the metal, giving the raised areas an aged, distressed look. Make sure to keep a light but thorough touch so that the raised surfaces are uniformly sanded. Finish by wiping the metal surface with a damp paper towel to remove stray bits of sanded-off color.

Step 2: Fusible web
Now it's time to work with the fusible web to affix the fabric. Gather the fabric you'd like to attach to your project; I used wide corduroy ribbon and a tie-dye print fabric.

Position your fabric on the rough side of the fusible web. Heat your iron to a hot setting, then put a piece of parchment paper on top of your fabric so that you don't get iron-on transfer muck on your iron. Iron the fabric for about ten seconds and check that it's affixed itself to the transfer backing.

Cut out your shape (you can pencil it in on the smooth paper backside of the fusible web). Then, peel off the paper backing. Now you're ready to iron your fabric to the book cover or to your chosen fabric background.

Step 3: Finishing
Measure your book's spine width and leave room for the book's spine in your book cover design. Then do a dry run, placing your shapes and metal before affixing them.

When you're satisfied with your design, iron on your fabric first, so that the art metal doesn't get in your way. Position your shapes on the background, then take a damp cloth and cover your fabric with it. I used a lightweight white fabric so that I could see what was going on underneath. Press firmly with an iron on "wool" setting for 10-20 seconds to affix your fabric. It takes a minute or two for the fabric to finish heat-setting, so you do have a bit of leeway if you make a mistake. I kept messing up -- the fabric would move from where I'd placed it -- so I just peeled up the fabric and tried again.

Next, glue the metal to your background. I used my favorite Tacky Glue, but any glue with a strong bond that's fabric-safe will work here. You can also sew the metal to fabric with a sewing machine. Use paper towels to wipe up excess glue that seeps out after you press down your metal.

Finish with embellishments as needed. I messed up by using too much glue, which dried unattractively on the front cover (ack! again!), so I added a distraction in the form of Stickles, which is a classier version of glitter glue with an easy-to-control fine tip.

My daughter may or may not keep this cover for her whole life, but now, at least, it's something I can feel proud to present to her.

Monday, January 10, 2011

Week 2: Ironic Kindle Cover

Electronics accessories tend to come in one-look-fits-all. Take this black Kindle cover. It's perfectly serviceable, but it's not me. Let's personalize our boring black stuff this week by adding some quirkiness back in. I'm going ironic here by working with a typewriter motif -- you know, the way books used to be written.
start . . .

to finish
What You Need
  • Electronic case of your choice. The cover used here is CrazyOnDigital's leather Kindle case.
  • Laser-printed, magazine, or scrapbook paper. I used graphic45's Communique Collection: Typography.
  • acrylic soft gloss gel (Liquitex)
  • freezer paper
  • small tray
  • Aleene's Tacky Glue
  • Felt shapes or other embellishments. I used Fancy Pants Designs Harvest felt shapes.
  • Dresden trim (

At first glance, a quick and easy way to add style would be to simply glue an image of your choosing onto your background. But, because these cases get a lot of wear and tear, we need to work with durable materials that will hold up when shoved into backpacks, dampened, and squashed. We're going to create an image-transfer gel decal that will not only "melt" visually into the cover, it will also be archival because the paper is removed -- only the image remains.

To get started, cut out an image of your choice. For this technique, you need to use a laser-printed image, catalog/magazine page, or scrapbook paper. Ink-jet printouts don't work because we're going to use water to remove the paper, and ink-jet inks will run all over the place -- they're water-soluble.

Lay down some freezer paper as a non-stick surface to work on (you can find it in the grocery store; it makes a great crafting surface). Brush a thin coat of gloss gel on top of your image and let it dry, which takes about 20 minutes. Then, brush on three or four more coats of gel, letting each coat dry before brushing on the next. This sounds tedious, but it just takes a few seconds to paint the gel on each time - do it when you've got a few seconds of free time here and there over the course of an afternoon.

When your final coat of gel is dry, now comes the fun part. Pour some water in your tray (I use the tray that came with my toaster oven) and dunk your image under the water. Let the water soak in for about half a minute, then pull the image out, turn it over, and rub off the paper. Take it slow, rubbing off the layers of paper gently enough that you don't pull too hard on the gel skin on top of the image.
Gel decal after rubbing the paper off the back
The paper will all fall away with continued rubbing; you can use one of those Mr. Clean Magic Erasers to rub off the last bits. You'll see that the ink sticks to the decal, even when the paper is removed. Un-inked (white) surfaces of the paper will render transparent on the decal. Because I'm gluing a dark image onto a dark surface, I left a bit of paper on the back of the decal so that there would be some contrast between the dark image and the dark case.

I glued the image to the cover with the tacky glue, and for some more interest, I kept up with the typewriter motif by stamping a letter onto a felt shape and using that as a "button" on the flap. I added in other felt shapes as embellishments. The felt shapes are thick and sturdy, so they should hold up to repeated use.

almost done . . . but it wasn't quite right yet

I thought I was done at this point, but the cover didn't look quite right. Something was missing here to tie the look together. Dresden trim (also known as German scrap) is a shiny foil trim that works perfectly as a finishing touch. Unlike the rest of this cover, the trim may not hold up over time, as it's paper-based. But it did the trick to finish the look.

And begone, pedestrian Kindle cover!

I brushed only three coats of gel over my image, so the decal was on the thin side when I removed the paper, resulting in some tearing. Take the time to brush on four or five coats so your decal is thick enough to work with easily.

It took a few iterations to finish the cover. Until I added the trim, it didn't have a cohesive look. Sometimes you can be done "enough" to be satisfied, but still search for that perfect element to add in later. When you've reached a stopping point with any piece of art, use it, enjoy it, but leave room for future inspiration to strike.

Monday, January 3, 2011

Week 1: Funky Star

This battered cardboard star was stuck in a forgotten corner of the Paper Source store, leftover from holiday crafts projects and awaiting a certain recycling fate. Rescued, it becomes some funky wall decor.
start  . . .
to finish

What you need
  • cardboard star (Paper Source)
  • origami paper (Yasutomo)
  • acrylic soft gloss gel (Liquitex)
  • paintbrush
  • optional: metallic paint, beads

How to do it
Decoupage involves gluing down cut-out pictures and sealing the result with varnish. In keeping with this project's funky theme, we're going to decoupage in a more free-form way here, by tearing up paper into teeny little pieces, then gluing them together to create a soft, mottled effect.  Origami paper makes a great decoupage paper for this, because its mulberry fibers melt together nicely when glued.

You probably won't be able to find this exact star, but you can decoupage on anything that glue will stick to. Try it on large cardboard or particleboard initial letters that you can find at craft stores, storage boxes, the plain wood edge of a bulletin board -- anything that needs a little spiffing up.

Special glues such as Mod Podge are meant for decoupage, but they're toxic-smelling. Odorless acrylic gel is not only a versatile painting medium, it's also just sticky enough to decoupage with, and it won't ruin your paintbrush.

1. Tear up your paper into 1/4 to 1/2 inch pieces, keeping with whatever theme you like. I made each point of the star a different color or pattern.

2. Paint a thick coat of acrylic gel on a few inches of your background. Glue down the paper piece by piece, making sure the pieces are touching or overlapping. If you miss a spot, just glop on more gel and stick another piece down.
The star, in process
3. This is fun for a while but can become quite tedious unless you're truly OCD-inclined. What kept me going was that the star started looking pretty good, plus the huge responsibility entailed in completing my first make52 project.

4. When you've finished decoupaging, wait for the acrylic gel to dry. Once it's dry, paint on a top coat of gel. This does several things: seals your piece, protects it, gives it a glossy finish, and allows you to paint, glue, and otherwise embellish your piece further without damaging the underlying paper.

5. The star looked almost done at this point, but for a little extra glitz, I outlined each angle of the star in an antique gold metallic paint, then added a blue doodad in the center and blue beads on each point, glued down with Aleene's Tacky Glue -- you can use it to glue pretty much anything; plus, it's non-toxic.

And, ta da! Funky Star.

Saturday, January 1, 2011

Creative 2011

There never seems to be enough time. Between work, parenting, and the various pulls of daily life, it can be hard to muster the energy even to read a book at the end of the day.

Something's missing. And that's free, unfettered time to make, to create, and to play. In 2011, I'm going to consciously make the time -- or find it, from bits of leftover minutes in between the daily schedule crunch -- to be creative.

I'm going to make one original project a week for the 52 weeks of 2011. Anything creative goes: art, craft, garden, and creative cooking projects. I'm excited right now about art metal, glass making, and image transfer. I'm terrified of yeast, so I think bread making will be in my future. I'm going to learn as I go, and I'm not going to plan too far ahead, leaving room for inspiration to strike week by week. I have no formal training in anything except drawing and painting, but I'll make up for that with curiosity. I'm planning to use "jack of all trades, master of none" to my advantage and expand my horizons week by week.

Best of all, for each week's project, I'll tell you how I did it, with photos, materials, tips, and techniques, so you can do it too. We all need to make time to play.

Join me this year for a creative 2011!