17 April 2014

Throwback Thursday: Marionette

Here's a thing you may not know about me: I love puppets. I grew up on Sesame Street and The Muppet Show, and my fascination for how a skilled puppeteer can bring an inanimate object to life has never waned. One of my favourite toys as a child was a raccoon hand puppet that my dad brought back from a trip (I had a huge collection of stuffed animals, too). It was realistic enough that even my young self could make it look like I was holding a live animal in my arms.

Also, my paternal grandfather had puppets. I believe he made some of them himself. We grandchildren weren't allowed to play with the marionettes, but I remember when we visited I'd always try to sneak into the basement and just look at them. One in particular fascinated me: a papier mâché skeleton. Now that my grandfather is gone, I sometimes wish I had that puppet, so I could look at it, the way I did as a child.

Then, a few years ago (okay, more like ten or fifteen years ago), I decided I should try to make a marionette. So I did what I always do when I want to try something new: I went to the library and got out a stack of books, and I read them.

I was already making dolls. Not many, just the odd one as an idea came into my head. So I figured why not try a stuffed doll marionette first, to see if I could. So I did. Meet Iris.

Iris was inspired by the Greek goddess, messenger to the gods of Olympus, and spirit of rainbows. As I child, I also loved rainbows (unicorns, too). I used black cloth with white paint because I love the look of Greek white-on-black pottery, and I used ancient Greek art as a starting point to design the look of her face.

Her hair, hand-dyed yarn that I picked up on a whim, is much more rainbow than it looks in the photos -- the greens and blues and purples are at the back -- and it has little crystal beads tied into it, like the water drops that make a rainbow.

I don't think the Iris of Greek myth was depicted with wings on her feet (Edit: according to my notes, she did indeed sometimes have winged boots), but Mercury -- also a messenger to the other gods -- was, so I extrapolated. Except I gave her butterfly wings. If I were to do this same puppet again, I might go with dragonfly wings instead.

So why a sudden post about marionettes? I always meant to make more, after Iris, but I never did. Soon after I made her, I went to art school (she was in my application portfolio) and didn't have time for such whims. But a couple of weekends ago, my neighbour at the Halifax Crafters spring fair was Pam of Puppet Dudes. She makes Muppet-like hand puppets, but my puppet-love was roused again. And I've been watching Jim Henson's Creature Shop Challenge on TV (don't tell anyone, but I might have a slight celebrity crush on Brian Henson).

Now I want to make another marionette. I had an Idea. I bought some fabric: black cotton again. And then I haven't had time to work on it. Right now I'm in a slight pause between the two halves of a big bookbinding job while I wait for the artist to finish the rest of the pages. I should be catching up on my April book reviews. And I will. But since I haven't had time to play with my marionette Idea, I thought I'd write a quick something about it.

Edit: I remembered I have my NSCAD application sketchbook still. Here are a couple of the pages where I was working out Iris's design (one added above, one here):

When I get some free time, I'll make another cloth doll marionette. If it goes well, maybe I'll try a papier mâché skeleton.

09 April 2014

Writing Wednesday: Almost There

I'm still not writing much, alas. In fact, I have a short freelance article I wanted to have handed in at least a week ago that I haven't finished yet. I can't express how much that bugs me.

But no sooner was the craft fair over with that I had to launch myself into a big bookbinding job. It's more catalogues for textiles artist Sandra Brownlee (I'd link to my previous post about the work, but I'm on the mobile Blogger app for iOS which, for some inexplicable reason, lacks the ability to insert links), and is going to keep me busy for at least another week or two, especially with juggling my About YA Books work (and that damned freelance article I *will* finish soon).

The above image is just a fraction of what I have to do. I'll be binding and putting covers on 76 regular edition books, and once I have the rest of the materials I'll also be doing 12 deluxe versions with all sorts of extra inserts (if I remember, I'll add links to the two earlier blog posts about these books when I'm back at my desk; in the meantime, if you search "Sandra Brownlee" in the little search box at the top left they'll come up in the first few results).

So far, I have managed to sew 15. I'll need to speed up if I'm going to get this done in good time. So now I'm off to make supper, and then back at it. Oh, and this means my Stamp Saturday posts are probably going to continue to be nonexistent until this job is done.

02 April 2014

Here is a Pretty Picture or Two

Thing I made recently for the upcoming craft fair, after which I will be resuming regular posting with more than a single sentence.

23 March 2014

Busy, Busy

(This is the second time I've written this post, and I'm stuffed up and groggy, so it's going to be even shorter than the first time (damn you, Blogger for iOS, for dumping my post when I switched to Safari to look up a URL) (yes, I should have saved a draft first, but I really shouldn't have to) (also typing while annoyed) (and too many parentheticals) (I need more cold medication).)

What was I saying? Oh yeah. Busy with craft fair stuff, teaching, and sick, so not posting much until a few weeks hence. There was more detail and better sentence structure, but my ears are starting to ring, which means I need to rest, so I'll leave it at that. Here's a picture of some of what's keeping me busy:

Oh, and this is for the Halifax Crafters spring market, the first weekend of April, at the Olympic Centre. If you're in Halifax, stop by. There's no admission fee, but there is food and chocolate and cool crafts.

16 March 2014

Oops, Missed a Post

Yeah, I missed my Stamp Saturday post yesterday. Apologies to anyone who was waiting for it. I'm in the middle of prepping for a craft fair with mostly-new merchandise, so I'm a bit swamped. But never fear, Stamp Saturday will return shortly. 

12 March 2014

Writing Wednesday: Something From the Future (or the Past)

The next book I write is probably going to be book four of my urban fantasy series by alter ego Nic Silver. Though probably I should also finish Reindeer Girl. And since someone actually asked for it about a million years ago, there's the sequel to A Madness of Kentaurs to do.

But at some point in the hopefully not-too-distant future, I have an old project to get back to. It's one that I wrote the opening paragraphs to sometime in the distant mists of the past (er… the mid-90s, maybe? the early-00s?). I came across it looking for something else about a year ago, and it made me laugh. In a good way. And then I set it aside again to work on other things.

The main character is an archaeology PhD student named Grace Cowell (Gray for short), and I intended it to be a mystery novel, set in southern Alberta where I did my field school (which wasn't that long ago at the time I started thinking about this book, but is rather a very long time ago now). I had some fun notions about the plot, but no experience writing a mystery.

I still have no experience writing mystery novels, but I do have a lot more experience reading them. But I think I may also add some adventure novel elements -- maybe not to this book, but I have some ideas for the next one in the series. Because, naturally, all my short story ideas turn into novels, and my novel ideas turn into series. Sigh.

Anyway, here's the opening for Reading the Bones, an archaeological mystery-adventure, which I might get started on before the year is out. Or not.


“Consulting the oracle?”

Grace Cowell looked up to see the jolly, bearded face of her thesis supervisor grinning at her. Professor Ray James straightened his stocky frame from where he’d been leaning against the doorway, and stepped into the room.

Gray looked back down at the array of bones on the black-topped table. “Apparently, I’ll have an exciting adventure this summer, and meet a short, dark and handsome stranger,” she said.

Short, dark and handsome?”

Gray held up one of the bones as an exhibit. “Absolutely,” she said, schooling her voice to mock-oracular seriousness. “The healed fracture in this ursid phalanx is unmistakably indicative of short stature.”

The professor laughed and took the slender bone. It looked very much like a human finger bone, unless one knew what to look for. “So many big words,” he said, “from such a small object.”

“I keep hoping that if I make the summer sound grand and important, it will be. Or at least that it won’t be dull.”

Ray grunted. “These are the bones from Devon Island?” he asked.

Gray nodded and absently spread the jumble out more on the table. “Yup,” she said. “And instead of heading to the frozen north, the land of the midnight sun, etcetera, etcetera, to dig up more material for my dissertation, I’ll be going to hot, sticky southern Alberta to supervise bored field school students digging up cow bones and rusty nails.”

“And bits of broken glass,” Ray said. “Don’t forget the bits of broken glass.”

“Thanks so much for the reminder,” Gray said, resting her chin on her hand and her elbow on the table. She sighed. “Bits of broken glass. I hate historic archaeology.”

“If you want,” Ray said, handing her the bear bone. “I can tell Simon to find someone else to assist with the field school.” He tried unsuccessfully to hide a smile behind his beard.

“No,” said Gray. “I said I’d do it. I have to do something this summer, and historic archaeology is better than no archaeology. Besides, this field school gig pays.”

“You’ll have fun,” Ray said. “Not all students are bored. Or boring.”

Gray made a doubtful noise.

“And even if you don’t meet a short, dark and handsome stranger, at least you won’t have to live in a tent and worry about being eaten by a polar bear.”

“I suppose,” said Gray. “Though I don’t relish driving down to the ranch every day.”

“You’ll be able to bathe more than once a week. In a real bathtub.”

 “There is that.” Gray sighed and began to pack the bones she’d been examining back in their box. She might not get back to her dissertation work until the summer was over. “There is that.”

08 March 2014

Stamp Saturday: A Few Materials to Avoid

Until I test all the various things from my first post, most of which are specifically sold for rubber stamping and/or easy printmaking, I wanted to point out a few materials that might seem like good choices, but are probably best avoided (unless you're going for a specific effect, in which case you may want to experiment anyway).


If you read the other posts on this blog, or follow my Twitter or Instagram (both @anagramforink), you probably know I do a lot of linocuts. So it may seem odd that I'm now telling you not to use it. The thing is, though, lino is great for relief printmaking, but terrible for stamping.

Lino is a lot harder to cut than rubber stamp materials, it'll dull your tools a lot faster (and you *really* need sharp tools to cut it in the first place), and you probably won't be happy with the results unless you're printing on a press or using a hand-printing rub technique. For simple stamping, it's just not soft enough to make a nice clean image.

So, unless you plan to take up printmaking proper, save yourself some aggravation and steer clear of linoleum.


One of the things on my list for stamp making materials is white plastic erasers, and they're excellent for rubber stamping. But they're pretty much the only kind of eraser worth spending money on. Personally they're also the only kind I use for erasing, too (except, very occasionally, kneaded rubber).

Most other kinds of erasers are too hard, too crumbly, or too textured to give good results (though, possibly, they might be useful for specific effects if you want to spend a lot of time experimenting). Those horrible pink erasers are among the worst, though different brands have different properties and a few of them might be worth trying if you're in the experimenting mood.

Also, there are some white erasers that are not the good kind -- they're pretty much just white versions of the pink ones, and nearly as bad to work with. They're usually the same shape as the pink ones, and often sold with ink erasers attached to one end.

Some coloured erasers, like novelty kinds, are very similar material to the good white plastic ones and would probably work, so if you find them really cheap it might be worth trying them, but in general I'd just say just get the white ones. You can even find them at the dollar store in a pinch.


Those sheets of craft foam might be tempting, and so might styrofoam trays and that sort of thing. They certainly could be fun to play with, but won't give very good results for rubber stamps you actually want to keep and re-use.

If you've got any more materials to avoid, or have achieved interesting results with something I said was no good, please feel free to leave a comment and share your results.