Monday, December 11, 2017

Mexican Nicho Ornament

When I first saw Gwen Lafleur's website, one of the things I fell in love with were the Mexican Nichos. They were all so gorgeous I had trouble choosing just one, but I decided to try starting off with a small one. I loved it, but just couldn't decide quite what to do with it. The pretty nicho sat on my worktable staring back at me. A couple of days ago, it suddenly it occurred to me that it would make a wonderful Christmas ornament...and I knew just whose photo to put inside--our little Maltese fur baby, Coco.
First, I gathered some items I thought might work with the nicho and a few tools: a spool of wire, jewelry wire cutters, scissors, beads, and ribbons. While rummaging through my jewelry components stash, I found a carved red heart that I had been holding on to for years. I had added a decorative headpin and twisted a loop in the top, but it didn't work for any of the necklaces I was making.  However, it seemed just the perfect item to combine with the nicho. Red for Christmas, and a heart for love.
I got started by cutting a length of wire, which I twisted into a loop on the back of the nicho, making the loop big enough to hang off a branch. I left the ends very long so that I could attach the carved heart at the bottom.
The heart didn't hang quite the way I wanted so I tried stabilizing it on the back with a few pieces of washi tape. I also wrapped some washi on either side of the base of the wire loop to keep it from slipping.
I still wasn't happy with the way the heart was hanging, so I decided to clip the long wires off and rethink the hanging method. I decided, with another long piece of wire, to try adding some more beads, then wired on a bow and a few more little red beads. I attached it to the top D-shaped loop (which is part of the nicho) and again I stabilized it with washi tape.
The ornament seemed almost finished, but I needed to make a couple tweaks. I switched out the blurry laser-printed photo of my beloved dog Coco for one printed on glossy photo paper from an ink-jet printer at a slower speed. I considered using a color photo, but the black and white worked nicely with the silvery-colored nicho. 
I used a small piece of waxed paper, cut exactly to the size of the nicho, to determine just where to trim the good photo. It was hard to choose which of the pictures to use--they were all so cute. I loved the one of Coco with a giant cup of coffee at a sidewalk cafe, but settled on one of at home him "reading" the New York Times fashion section, with his paw on a Gucci ad.
The nicho opens up and has a space about 1/4" deep. I decided to fill the space so the photo would be right behind the glass. So, I took some wedge cosmetic sponges, trimmed them down a little, and glued them into the case. I also stumbled on some little red faux-berries, and tucked them into the nicho closure for a holiday accent.
I trimmed the ribbon ends, and at the last minute, decided to also add a bit of ribbon to the top loop, where the ornament would meet the tree branch. The ornament is especially poignant for our family--little Coco died last year, the day after Christmas. He was 12 1/2 years old, and had been sick since Thanksgiving. This will be the first Christmas in 13 years without him, but with this special ornament, he will still be with us.

A nicho ornament doesn't have to just be for Christmas: it can honor anyone at any time. 

Envision how adorable it would be with a photo of a new baby, embellished with pastel ribbons, beads or a tiny rattle. It could also be a tribute to an ancestor when done with a sepia-toned photo and earth-tone ribbons and beads. Take a look at the many sizes and shapes of nichos that are offered on Gwen's website...I hope you'll love them as much as I do!








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Friday, December 8, 2017

Holiday Gift Tags





Tags are a quick and easy way to add a personal touch to a package. I recently made several sets of holiday tags to spiff up the gifts that will be soon under the tree in the Wyatt living room. The three groups of tags that emerged were all quite different--from girly and romantic, to masculine/traditional, to black and white graphic patterns.

The first set was the girly/romantic group. The German and English scrap angels really called to my inner-frilly side. One of the techniques that I return to time and again is using printed teabags in my artwork. When I saw the German and English scrap angels on Gwen's website, I immediately knew that--combined with printed teabags--they would be perfect for some holiday tag-making.

Scrap angels, blank tags, and printed teabags
I gathered some dry, empty teabags and, with some white acrylic, used some of Gwen's beautiful wood blocks to print the bags. (For a step by step tutorial on my "faux lace" process using teabags, click here)

A standard-size blank tag, and an oversized chipboard tag
Gluesticks work well for adhering the teabags to the base paper
Various laces and ribbons from my stash were
auditioned to see what went best with the printed teabags
An English Scrap Angel was "auditioned" for a standard-size tag

Before being glued, a carefully trimmed German Scrap Angel,
printed teabag and lace scrap were "auditioned" for a large tag

For a more masculine look, I chose some festive red and gold marbled paper from Gwen's sample pack, and combined it with a scrap of commercial scrapbook paper, a bit of polka-dot ribbon and one of the gorgeous Dresden Medium Medallions for a simple, yet striking tag.

A Comet Medallion was "auditioned" for the tag
to see how it looked with the marble paper and ribbon
Since layers of paper covered the tag's hole, an awl was used to poke a new hole in the tag
The medium medallion was attached with a large brass brad, and black words,
printed on clear mailing labels, were added
This close-up shows the mini brads that were added for a decorative touch under the inspirational holiday words
The next weekend, I was tired of red and green and obvious holiday themes and decided to see how some of Gwen's stencils would work in black and white for a holiday look. I painted some tags with white gesso, and others with black gesso. Some black and white gingham ribbon set the designs off nicely. On the tags below, I used both Gwen's cardinal stencil and Ornamental Petal stencil/mask with white paint on a black background.
White stencils and white gel pen on black painted tags
On the tags below that were painted white, I used a wedge cosmetic sponge and small dabber tool with a black stamp pad to print the holly section of the cardinal and holly stencil. Although it is not officially a holiday stencil, the Decorative Medallion stencil reminded me of a snowflake so I used that also. I added a few words here and there with either a black or white gel pen. Since I am not always perfect at stenciling, I fixed the places that were too sketchy or light with either a black gel pen, white gel pen,  and white or black paint on a tiny brush.

Holiday words were added to the stenciled tags using a black gel pen
I usually write the recipient's name on the back of the tag to keep the front looking festive. Now all I need to do is finish my holiday shopping so I have some gifts to wrap up and tie the tags onto!

During the month of December, you can save on German Dresden Trim and German and English Scrap using the code on the coupon below. There's still plenty of time to order so that you can create your own gift tags, cards, wrapping paper or other festive gift items!



Friday, December 1, 2017

Creating Women Who Run With the Wolves

Faces are fascinating. They can convey softness, strength, vulnerability, power, anger, sadness and a multitude of other emotions. But faces are tricky to draw or paint from scratch. A great help is using a stencil to get the basic proportions right. Once the eyes, nose and lips are positioned, you can let your imagination run wild.

For two recent journal pages, that is exactly what I did. Once the facial features were in place, they developed into strong, fierce looking women, who reminded me of archetype women inspired by the book Women Who Run With the Wolves, by Clarissa Pinkola Est├ęs, PhD.
What started as a stenciled face morphed into an archetype woman
after adding some handwritten thoughts and Gwen Lafleur designs.
I started this face with an old Jane Davenport stencil. On my lunch break, I lightly traced the stencil lines into my handmade journal and added watercolor randomly. I was going for unnatural colors and sort of an alien mood. I could have stopped at the watercolor stage, but my brain cried, "More, more, more!"
Over the weekend, I had  more time to work on the journal page, so I used three of Gwen's stencils to add interest and texture. Using a small wedge cosmetic sponge, I applied white acrylic paint through the stencils, giving a suggestion of a neck tattoo with the decorative folk flower stencil, a dangly earring with a section of the art deco border stencil, and a crown with the decorative medallion stencil.
I then added a little more color and accent with colored pencils, white paint, chalk and gold paint.
The last steps were adding some sparkle to the eyes, and words about inner strength that came into my mind as I looked at the almost-finished page.

I recently got a new Khadi journal, which is made with wonderful, handmade Indian watercolor paper. I have been testing various art mediums in it...it is terrific for watercolors, watercolor crayons, and watercolor pencils, but if used for stencils, you need a layer of paint or gesso first to prevent unwanted bleeding, which I found out the hard, messy way!

So, I put down a layer of white gesso on the journal page and let it dry. Then, through another old favorite Jane Davenport stencil, I penciled in the lines of the face and added in my own lines for the hair and upper body.
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Next, I used some parchment paper as a mask before I started working on the background. I wanted to showcase some of Gwen's stencils in the background, so I mixed up some purple acrylic and sponged it through the decorative folk flower stencil. It was a little too dark, so I used some white paint on bubble wrap to soften it.
Next, I went to work on the face. The color I mixed was not perfect, but I knew I would paint over it.
I painted in some lines for the hair and clothing, and when dry, added color with watercolor crayons.

The page looked like a hot mess with no hope, so I put it away for a few days.

The next weekend, I used some more acrylic paint and colored pencil to get the face to look less gray. I added eye color with a TomBow brush tipped marker, and some turquoise watercolor to add depth to the purple stenciled background. It started to look like less of a hot mess.

The eyes needed work. I softened the eyebrows and added some blue accent under the eyebrows. I also added green watercolor to the clothing.
She looked almost done, but something was missing. Using a sepia ink pad, a small cosmetic sponge and a mini dabber tool, I added Artistcellar mini chakra pocket stencils at her throat, third eye, near her heart and in the background. With a sharpie marker, I added inspirational words.
Once the words and symbols were added, what had been just another pretty face transformed into a second archetype woman.

Both women on these journal pages are beautiful, feminine, and graceful, yet the added words and symbols convey inner strength, knowledge, and wisdom. Side by side, they make a powerful team.

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To see the two types of Artistcellar mini chakra stencils I used, click here.
Jane Davenport stencils are available here

In December, Gwen's Artist Tribe is focusing on creative ways to use Dresden Trim and English/German Scrap. Look for posts from me, along with Jackie P. Neal, Lynda Shoup, Jill McDowell, Sandee Setliff and of course, Gwen Lafleur (links are on Gwen's blog) ...annnnnd you can save 15% when you order any Dresden or Scrap during December. Details are on the coupon below.











Friday, November 24, 2017

Humong Star Medallion Choker and Elegant Sari Trim Gift Box


Here's a gift duo that's very eye-catching, yet surprising easy to make: a handmade choker medallion necklace inside a handmade, glitzy gift box!

The minute I opened my first box of supplies from Gwen Lafluer Studios, I fell in love with a small red medallion that was stitched to a piece of black velvet. I had no idea what the red starburst design symbolized, but I immediately envisioned it as a choker necklace, and sketched the design in my "Idea Journal." I only had one medallion, so I ordered a couple more, then got to work. I learned that they are vintage embroidered star patches, made by the Hmong tribes in Thailand.The question was, what should I pair with the star medallions? Flat pearls? Red buttons? Swarovski crystals?

Using small, sharp scissors, excess fabric was trimmed from the Humong Star Medallion
 I rummaged through my boxes of buttons and jewelry components, and finally settled on some black and white rubber beads that were in my stash. I had taken apart a bracelet and used some of the black and white harlequin beads years ago for an Alice in Wonderland project. The rubber beads were a little strange, but somehow worked with the medallions.

The medallions and beads were "auditioned" for spacing and arrangement before being stitched to the velvet ribbon
After the medallions were hand stitched to the ribbon, the rubber beads were pinned in place
 
Close-up of beads being sewn on to ribbon
The necklace is nearly complete
I pinned everything into place on a piece of black velvet ribbon that had a little white edging, then hand stitched the necklace. Last, I added a sticky-backed velcro closure. The velcro makes the choker not only easy to put on and take off, but makes it adjustable so it will fit on anyone's neck.

The finished necklace, adjustable to any neck size
It occurred to me that I had the perfect place to keep the necklace--inside a little gift box I had recently made!

I had been saving a small brown cardboard box for a few months. One of the people that I trade small art with had sent me some ATCs and ephemera in the box. I had been storing some Irresistible India gold trim with black squares and pearls in the box, along with some other supplies, and realized that somehow the color of the cardboard went beautifully with Gwen's sheer trim.

I had some black velvet ribbon that went nicely with the fancy trim, and decided to use both the fancy trim and velvet ribbon on the box, and to paint the rest of the box black. I carefully measured, and taped off the area that would show through the trim, revealing the beige color of the unpainted box.

The area under the sari trim would be left natural, and the rest of the box painted black
 I used black gesso to cover most of the box top and bottom, and when dry, gave it a shine with a coat of clear gloss medium. Next, I carefully adhered the sheer trim to the box top with heavy gel medium and used clips to secure it. When dry, I added the velvet ribbon trim.

Clips held the sari trim in place until the heavy matte gel dried

When the ribbon and trim had dried and the box was almost done, I added the finishing touch: flat bottomed pearls. I attached them to the velvet ribbon with a glue gun.

 

Top view of the finished gift box
Top and side view of the finished sari trim gift box
 The finished box is elegant and striking...perfect for any occasion...and who would think it was really easy to make?

Like the trim and medallions I used? The good news is that there will be a big Cyber Monday Sale on the Gwen Lafleur Studios website...just in time to create some special items for holiday gift-giving! Or, take a look at Gwen's original mixed media and jewelry creations, they are just gorgeous! You may also want to check out what the other Artist Tribe members have created by going to Gwen's blog, or click here to see all the Artist Tribe projects.