07 November 2014

Flashback Friday: Elves

I always loved to draw, and pretty much started drawing (and writing stories) the moment I figured out how to make marks on paper. But in junior high I encountered the wonderful indie comic Elfquest and really started drawing all the time and trying to make my own comics (though many of my earliest drawings were accompanied by words in the form of illustrated stories).

The influence of Elfquest on my drawing style was huge, and still quite visible in my work today. 

This pencil crayon piece was one of my earliest attempts to create my own characters in in the Elfquest world. (Warning: there will be a lot of elves in upcoming Flashback Friday posts. They were my favourite thing to draw for many years, and if you know my work, you know I haven't outgrown them yet.) Oh, and the guy on the left isn't aiming at the girl on the right; they're meant to be two separate character studies.

I think I was around 14 or 15 when I drew this.

29 October 2014

Writing Wednesday: NaNoWriMo

NaNoWriMo starts in a few days, and I'm planning to do it again this year. I'll be writing the next Others book (unless I change my mind at the last minute). In the meantime, I'm working on a story -- maybe a novelette or novella -- about a big old museum on the odd people who work there. I was hoping to have that done by the end of October, but with only a few days left, and one full 8-hour shift at the video game store (I usually do 3 or 4 hour shifts as a part-timer), plus a variety of errands and a dog to entertain, I don't think that will happen.

So I'll be trying to finish "The Curator's Tale" (working title, and probably won't stick), while also starting Koldun (book 4 of the Others series). This could be disastrous, because I also have a lot to do throughout November for the Halifax Crafters winter market, and I'll be getting more hours at the video game store because of the holidays. And I'll be looking for a regular freelance gig to replace my About YA Books writing, when ends at the end of this month.

In related news, my novelette "Ichneumon" (under my Nic Silver pen name) is now free on all the Amazons and will be until the end of day on Halloween. It's a creepy story and not for everyone, but if you like that sort of thing, here are the links:

Amazon US
Amazon Canada
Amazon UK
Amazon Australia
Amazon India
Amazon Germany
Amazon France
Amazon Spain
Amazon Italy
Amazon Japan
Amazon Brazil
Amazon Mexico

Remember that you don't need an actual Kindle to read Kindle books -- most devices these days have a Kindle app that works just as well (you just have to buy through the website and not through the app). But if you have a Nook or a Kobo, let me know and I can send you an epub version.

Now I need to get at those errands so I can do some writing this afternoon.

24 October 2014

Flashback Friday: Bird Wizard

Here's another cringe-worthy old drawing for your enjoyment. I was still rather awful at adding colour to pencil drawings. Right after I drew this (but before adding colour), one of my younger cousins was so impressed he wanted to draw one himself, so he copied off my drawing. I think I used to have his version, too, but it seems to have been lost in the mists of time. Or something.

I can't remember how old I was when I made this, but I'm pretty sure I was in junior high, so I must have been between thirteen and sixteen. I had probably just re-read The Lord of the Rings. Again. (I still do that from time to time, though I haven't drawn any wizards in ages.)

17 October 2014

Flashback Friday: Rainbows and Unicorns

I was going to try to start doing occasional Throwback Thursday posts, but yesterday I got called in to work early and didn't get time. So instead, here's Flashback Friday, in which I will post old drawings of mine.

Some of these, like this week's, are really going to make me cringe. But I think it's useful to look back at old work, especially for me, because I have a tendency to not see the progress I'm making the more I practice. Looking at these really old pieces makes that progress obvious.

I don't now how old this particular piece is, but if I had to guess I'd say I was maybe twelve or thirteen when I drew it. I'll dig out the original later and see if I might have dated it somewhere (I made a book of old drawings for a second year creative writing class about a million years ago -- aka the early 90s -- then photographed that book maybe seven or eight years ago, so I have quite a few terrible old drawings around).

Anyway, here's a lovely crayon image of a unicorn, a pegasus, and a rainbow. Because I was a tween girl once, and even if I was a tomboy I also liked unicorns and rainbows and sometimes even sparkly things.

15 October 2014

Writing Wednesday: End of an Era

Okay, maybe "end of an era" is a tad hyperbolic, but it kind of feels like it. As some of you may know, I've been a freelance writer for many years, and my main gig, the one I could always count on, was writing for About.com. Over the years, the pay has ranged from pretty good to pretty bad, depending on the contract (there were quite a few different ones, using different ways to calculate monthly compensation) and how much web traffic I was able to generate for my articles and reviews. But I always got something for my work.

I started writing for About way back in ... er ... 2001, I think. I took on the Creative Writing for Teens site, and did a lot of work I'm really proud of (some of which I hope to edit and re-use at some point in the not-too-distant future). In 2005 the PlayStation Portable site became available, and since I was feeling a little burned out writing about writing, and had been reviewing games part time anyway, I applied. It was a brand new site, and I built it from scratch. It was fun. But if you play videogames, you know the PSP was never the success Sony had hoped, and it wasn't too long before people just weren't reading about it -- or its follow up, the PS Vita -- any more. Lucky for me, the Young Adult Books site was created in 2012, right when I was feeling most discouraged about the future of the PSP site. I applied, and got it, and once again, I built the site from nothing.

It's been tremendous fun reading, reviewing, and writing about YA books. But my contract comes up for renewal at the end of this month. About has a new (ish) owner, and I knew the contract was going to change. I expected I'd be making less money until -- one hoped -- I could build more traffic. I didn't expect my contract to not be renewed at all.

But, hey, "expect the unexpected" and all that. I'm writing for About YA Books until October 31, and then that's it. I could speculate about why my contract isn't being renewed, but I won't. About.com was good to me for 13 years or so. I'll probably apply to write for another one of their sites, though I don't expect to get the job. But you never know. I may not have a huge socila media presence (yet), but I can sling words.

In the meantime, if anyone is looking for a writer -- I know lots about books, writing, assorted forms of art, comics, videogames, nature, and all sorts of miscellanous stuff -- let me know. I'm going to need the work.

05 October 2014

Inktober Fish

In an effort to climb out of this creative slump I've fallen into (well, a slump by my standards, anyway), I'm doing Inktober, where you draw an ink drawing every day in October. You can follow my efforts on Instagram and/or Twittter if you want to (I'm anagramforink on both), but so far I've mostly done simple things (especially my two for the 2nd and 3rd days, when I got home after work too sleepy to accomplish much).

Anyway, yesterday I drew a fish I was rather happy with, though I could tell it needed more to really make it a finished drawing. Here it is, in green ink with touches of violet and silver ink, drawn with a brush (well, two brushes -- one for lines and one for washes) on watercolour paper.

This is not any particular sort of fish, just something out of my brain, that developed as I was looking at a little print of a flying fish by Charles van Sandwyk that I have on my wall next to my desk (I'd kind of like to be CvS when I grow up...). The head ornaments are loosely anglerfish-inspired, and the fins might have come from a fancy goldfish.

This afternoon I decided to scan it for a better image than the one I posted last night on Instagram, and then, well, I couldn't resist dropping it into Photoshop to play with. I knew I wanted to keep anything else I did to it subtle, so to start I just plopped in an old foxed book paper texture, then made the texture on the fish itself less opaque, which gave me this

Even this little bit of work makes it look more finished, though I still have niggling thoughts about adding some other little touch. Bubbles, maybe? Then I thought how much fun it would be to have this fish on a coffee mug, so I made a version I can use on deviantArt (where you'll find me as feynico) and other places that do POD mugs, with a white background (I might take out the signature glyph, but I also kind of like it).

In this case, I made the paper texture 100% opacity on the fish to show up better. I'm half thinking I might add some muted reds and oranges to the scales, but I'm not sure...

11 June 2014

Writing Wednesday: Plugging Away

I'm still not back to my regular writing output, but I'm determined not to stress about it anymore (dertermined, dammit!). I have been slowly working away at a story--a novella, maybe--that's going well. I'm enoying the main character and the setting, and thinking that it may be a recurring series, probably with different charaters in the same setting. Kind of like what I have planned for my Wonder Island stories (the first one, Ichneumon--the title of which I may change since it says nothing about the story if you don't know what it means--is available at the usual ebook outlets (no link at the moment, as Blogger for iPad won't let me add links)).

Anyway, "The Curator of Improbable Fossils" is somewhere under half finished. As I got closer to what I thought was the end, I realized it might work better as an alternating viewpoint story, since there are things I can't address properly from the one point of view. So I've written most of the Curator's part of the story, and now I'm transferring it out of my handwritten notebook (I don't always hand-write, but I find it helps me get un-stuck sometimes because it seems much less permanent, like I don't have to get it right).

Next, I'll write the Librarian's point of view (and maybe even type it directly into the word processor, since the Librarian is a rather more modern character than the stuffy Curator). Finally, I'll write the end. I don't know yet if the concluding parts will be alternating viewpoints, or from one or the other's point of view, or from something more omnipotent. I hope I'll know by the time I get that far.

01 June 2014

Suspending Stamp Saturday, Sort Of

I just found out that I got a table (actually, a half table) at the Dartmouth Comic Arts Festival in August. Yay! It's only a half day thing on a Sunday, but I have so very much to get done by then. Add to that the fact that I just started a part-time retail job, and retail is extra-exhausting for an introvert like me, and I just don't have time to do everything.

So, sadly, for now, I'm going to suspend my Stamp Saturday posts. Probably not entirely -- I am going to try to work on them a little at a time between other things, but those other things have to take priority for now. Rest assured, though, that I will get back to stamp stuff. I have all that wonderful material to play with, after all!

Just as a taste of the length of my to-do list, here are some of the main things on it:

  • write 8+ reviews and articles each month for Young Adult Books site, plus site maintenance and other odds and ends, and reading the books I review
  • work two or three shifts a week at video game store
  • teach letter press one evening a week (until the end of June) -- this usually takes up most of the day as I also run errands and print some things of my own while I'm in the city
  • make corrections to Fey chapter one digital files and re-print
  • scan, touch up, and letter Fey chapter two pages for posting on the web
  • lay out Fey chapter two in book form, order a proof, correct, and print
  • finish as much of Fey chapter three as possible
  • finish Art Nouveau satyr illustration and print as poster (and maybe other things)
  • make prints of dragons (first test different sizes)
  • text for Monsters mini-comic
  • scan and touch up images for Monsters mini-comic
  • make cover (possibly letterpress printed) for Monsters mini-comic
  • make fairy stickers
  • make Fey business cards and flyers
  • wrangle Wordpress so Fey site looks better
  • make myself a Fey t-shirt to wear at DCAF
  • figure out table set up and buy/make necessary stands, etc

So yeah. Whole lot to do and no time to waste. Plus, in order to be able to do my video game store job well, I need to read video gaming news and reviews so I can better help customers. And I need to decide if I'll have my novels to sell at DCAF, too, and if so, I'll have to lay out several of them for print, get and check proofs, and order copies. Probably I'll just get a few more copies of the ones I already have available in print (though one needs a cover change to match the new e-book version cover).

I think the rest of today may very well be spent scanning. I may also drop dead before I even get to August. Heh.

29 May 2014

Writing Wednesday: Back on Track… ish

Just before I sat down to write this, I found out that I got the part-time retail job I applied for. It means I'm likely to have less time for writing and drawing unless I sacrifice something else. And since I'm determined to keep writing fiction and making comics, it may be this blog that suffers. But it's only a part time job, at least for now, so maybe I'll be able to keep juggling everything else. At any rate, it'll mean being able to pay the bills every month, which is a huge relief.

But not all is lost. I've managed to write a couple more parts of the odd story I started, so I'm up to about 3500 words (hand-written, so my estimate is probably a little low). It's not a prodigious amount, but it feels good. And I'm excited to see what happens to my characters.

I've also been working on a little mini-comic or zine, with monsters reconstructed from fossils -- based on the idea that ancient peoples interpreted huge fossil bones as giants and dragons. It's pretty fun, and silly, and I hope people will like it. And of course, I'm slowly pecking away at the dragon faux natural history book. I've set a goal of November for having that done, but there are a lot of illustrations yet to do, so we'll see.

And, as if I don't have enough to do, I'm tossing around the idea of doing an occasional webcomic about being an almost-middle-aged woman working at a mall video game store. I'll have to see if I have anything interesting or funny to share from the experience first, I guess.

21 May 2014

Writing Wednesday: Nothing to See Here

How the heck is it Wednesday again already? Have I finally reached the age when time seems to kick into fast forward? Wait, slow down!

Er, anyway… I'm essentially still where I was last week. I've been trying to get myself back onto something resembling a schedule and am making slow progress. But those stories are building up in my head and if I don't get them written soon my brain will explode. Or at least that's what it feels like.

I did at least pull out all the pages of my comic Fey that I have done so I can assess where to go with that next. I'm going to have to start re-scanning and re-lettering the rest of the pages soon, as I've almost reached the end of chapter one. And, a handful more pages to draw and chapter three will be ready to scan and letter, too.

So yeah. Not much done, but I think I'm slowly crawling out of the hole of non-productivity. Or at least I hope so.

17 May 2014

Stamp Saturday: Machine Cutting

I don't have a proper Stamp Saturday post done, and it's being one of those days when I get the minimum of work done so I can enjoy the sun outside and/or do something silly instead (like today, I have done yard work (!) and next I'm going to start working on a minicomic). So instead of the cutting techniques post I was intending to have ready today, here's an image of another product I'm going to be evaluating at some point in this series:

It's the Stamping Starter Kit, from Silhouette, intended for use with their desktop die cutters. I have a Silhouette Cameo. I'm hoping the latest software version will work with my computer (for some reason, I could never get the last version running, so I've been using the next-to-last version, which does not include the presets for cutting stamp materials) (which is why this box has been kicking around my workspace for months instead of being used).

Anyway, assuming the software all works, I'll be giving this stuff a spin to see how fine it can cut, how cleanly it cuts, how easy it is to set up with the software, and how well it stamps. Exciting! If it works well, I'll be buying lots more of the stamp material (and probably more cutting mats, too, as they do wear out) and mounting them permanently rather than using the reusable acrylic blocks that come with the kit (well, I'll use those, too, but for ones I don't want to mount permanently).

This isn't going to be a material I'll use to replace hand-cut stamps. They're not likely to have the same look, and I enjoy cutting my own. But I'm hoping it will be a good addition to my arsenal of printmaking/stamping supplies.

14 May 2014

Writing Wednesday: Dealing

So, there's been a certain amount of crap going on in my life lately. Things mostly beyond my control, but things I still have to deal with. Eventually, maybe, I'll write about what those things are, but for now I'll just say they're making it really hard for me to focus or get much more done beyond the absolute basics I need to do for my various jobs.

But not all is doom and gloom. Even though I'm worn out with the crap-dealing-with, and my brain is a little scattered, I've actually written a little. Not a lot, and I still have a ways to go to get back on track. But I did manage to start a new story -- maybe a long short story, maybe a novella. It's probably not a novel, but I'm not really far enough into it yet to know.

It's a story, or one of a series of stories, that I've been thinking about for a while. It'll most likely appear under my "Nic Silver" pen name, not because it has lots of sex like my other Nic Silver books, but because it feels more like a Nic Silver story. Which is to say, dark and weird. Probably.

I also managed, finally, to get started on the next "Others" novel (also written as Nic Silver). It's only half a chapter, but it's a start and it gives me a vague direction to head in. I think I have less of an idea where this book is going than I did for the previous books, which might be why it's taken so long to get to it.

And, not writing, but related, because it's for a book I'm working on (which I will also write the text for), I've managed to finish some more dragon illustrations and get started on a couple others, which is why there are dragon pictures decorating this post. I'll make the finished ones (well, mostly finished -- they will eventually have hand-written text on them) available as prints in a few places online soon.

So yeah. Dealing with crap, but still dragging one foot after the other. I'm too damn stubborn to ever give up.

04 May 2014

Stamp Saturday, on Sunday

I'm planning on getting back to regular Stamp Saturday posts soon, but in the meantime, here's a little bit about some rubber stamp stickers I made recently. 

Everything starts as sketches, of course. In this case, I needed to make some one inch round stickers, so I drew a few pages of one inch circles to doodle in.

Once I picked the designs I liked, I cut the stamps from white rubber erasers (in this case I got them all out of one eraser).

I tested the final stamps with a couple of different stamp pads to see which would work better. Then I stamped them on some sticker paper that I had already letterpress printed a wood grain background on and cut the circles from on my die-cutter.

I ended up with quite a few extra, so I packaged some up for sale. 20 stickers per sheet, three different designs.

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.

05 March 2014

(Instead of) Writing Wednesday: Sunset

Instead of inflicting another boring grammar or pet peeve article on you all, and because I'm not feeling particularly moved to write about anything specific (or maybe just because I'm lazy) here's a gorgeous sunset out my window Monday evening.

01 March 2014

Stamp Saturday: Little Prints

I was initially drawn to rubber stamping because it was like printmaking, only smaller, less messy, and less expensive. And the vast array of ink pad colours, not to mention extras like embossing powder and markers for colouring, were appealing to that same part of me that always has the urge to buy more art supplies. (I have ink -- both for fountain pens and for dip pens -- in just about every colour you can think of, just to name one example).

I never did end up buying many stamps. I have a set of Celtic designs given to me as a gift that I use from time to time, but never on something made to sell (or almost never -- I can think of one exception). I think I bought a couple of leaf stamps, and I have a office supply date stamp and a really great set of tiny alphabet stamps that can be set on a plastic holder almost like letterpress type (another gift, and one I have gotten a lot of use out of).

But, like just about any other craft I've tried, there was one thing that kept me from making rubberstamping a significant part of my art/craft making. I took up cross-stitch once, and really enjoyed the meditative aspect, but gave it up soon after. Why? Because I wasn't interested in making someone else's design, and I knew I could like never develop the skills needed to create my own designs without first spending a lot of time working from patterns.

With rubberstamping, though, I soon discovered that it wasn't that difficult to make my own stamps from my own designs. I can't remember where I saw or heard or read about it -- I won't claim it was an original idea, though I suppose it could have been -- but the Internet was relatively young and there wasn't much information to be found. But somewhere, I heard you could cut stamps from white plasitc erasers. So I did it, using an X-acto knife. I think the first thing I ever cut was my original White Raven logo. I still have it.

And though I set stamping aside for a few years while I worked on other things, I eventually came back to it, armed with more knowledge about other forms of printmaking, and with better skills for cutting print blocks that could be put to use cutting stamps, too.

For some people, rubberstamping is one of those scrapbooking crafts that are looked down on as not very original. For me, while I don't want to work from other people's designs, I'm sure as heck not going to look down on someone who isn't interested in making their own. But I see rubberstamping as a kind of small printmaking (though some stamp-making materials come in fairly large sizes and are even sold as printmaking, rather than runnerstamping, elements). And I use it for the same things as I do lino, litho, and intaglio: small art prints and greeting cards, bookmarks, gift tags, and other odds and ends.

The prints tend to be less crisp than printmaking, and I feel they're less precious, but other wise they're no different. The same skills are used to cut your own rubber stamps as to cut any other kind of printmaking surface (though rubber is rather easier to cut than lino, wood, or copper). 

26 February 2014

Pet Peeve: The Dreaded Apostrophe

Pretty much anyone who uses words for a living has pet peeves. Most of mine have to do with the eroding of precision by the common misuse of words with similar meanings -- theory instead of hypothesis, for example, or jealous when the correct word is envious. Mostly I try to just ignore them, or else I'd go crazy with irritation. And besides, I can't stop language from changing. It's sad when precision and nuance is lost, but languages are living things, and common usage changes them.

But when to use an apostrophe, and when not to, is really a super simple thing, and yet it confuses so many people. Apostrophes mean possession, many people think, so they add an apostrophe to its or hers. Shudder.

Actually, the simple truth is: Apostrophes are used for contractions.

That's it. That's all. Apostrophes never pluralize and they never indicate possession. Now wait a minute, you might be thinking. Because there are times when you need to use an apostrophe with a possessive, and times when it might be acceptable to use one with a plural. For the first: it's not because it's a possessive, it's because it's a contraction. And for the second: it might be acceptable, but it isn't correct.

So, the simple rule for apostrophes again: Use an apostrophe only when your word is a contraction.

Before I get to how that works with those pesky possessives that happen to have apostrophes, here's an essay I wrote a million years ago when I was in charge of the About.com Creative Writing for Teens site (as I said last week, it no longer exists, though you may find parts of it archived -- or plagiarized -- here and there on the web).

Which Word: Plurals, Possessives, and Contractions

More Than One

Most nouns are made plural simply by adding s (or es if the word already ends in s or sh). So more than one dog are dogs, one horse plus another horse makes two horses, and you can be in one skirmish or several skirmishes. Then there are the irregular plurals like mouse becoming mice and knife knives, but that doesn't concern us here. The point to remember is that when you add s to make a plural, you add only the s, never apostrophe-s. So dogs is always dogs and never dog's if you're talking about more than one dog.

But That Is Mine

Nouns are made possessive by adding s also. This is why people get confused. But it doesn't have to be confusing if you remember that to make a noun possessive you add apostrophe-s, and not just s all by itself. So to say that a bone belongs to a dog, you say that it is the dog's bone. A horse that belongs to Jonathan is Jonathan's horse. And so on.

But then what do you do if the noun or name ends with s already? There are two possibilities. One is to go ahead and add apostrophe-s after the s that is already there. The other is to just add an apostrophe. So you could say that a car belonging to Seumas is Seumas's car, or that it is Seumas' car. Adding both the apostrophe and the s is generally considered more correct, though either option is acceptable. The same two possibilities are available when making a plural noun possessive. You could say the dogs' bone or the dogs's bone in order to indicate a bone belonging to several dogs. To talk about the house where the Joneses live (more than one person with the last name Jones), you would say the Joneses's house or the Joneses' house. Writers usually use whichever is most like the way someone reading aloud would pronounce it; so a writer would probably write Seumas's car but the dogs' bone and the Joneses' house.

More Apostrophe-ses

Another place you get that old apostrophe-s is when you contract two words into one word (known as a contraction). Contractions don't always involve ses, of course; don't and isn't are contractions. But it's the ses that get confusing. All you need to remember is: in a contraction, the s always stands for another word (usually is, but sometimes other words like us). So that dog is running can become that dog's running and let us go swimming becomes let's go swimming.

Those Pesky Possessive Pronouns

Another source of confusion is possessive pronouns. Pronouns are words that stand in for nouns, like me, you, she, it, us and so on. Unlike other nouns, pronouns never use apostrophe-s to become plural; they have their own special plural forms. To show possession, the dog that belongs to me becomes my dog; the dog is mine. So you get the forms me my mine, you your yours, he his his, she her hers, us our ours, it its its. The word its seems to give people the most trouble. The key is this: its is a possessive pronoun (possessive pronouns don't use apostrophes); it's is short for it is.

When Plurals Are Allowed Apostrophes

Now I've already said that plurals never use apostrophes, and I stand by that, but some publications (and web sites) require the use of apostrophes in plural forms in special situations (and only in special situations). Those situations are ones where the s that makes the word plural might be confused with part of the word itself, in acronyms or abbreviations, and with numbers. So some newspapers, for example, specify that you must write how-to's rather than how-tos, CD's instead of CDs, and the 1990's rather than the 1990s. Personally, I think people are smart enough not to need those apostrophes, but if it makes the difference between selling an article and not selling one, I'll put the silly things in.

How To Keep It All Straight

That seems like an awful lot of detail to remember, but it's all logical if you stop to think about it. But to make it a little easier, just remember these rules:

  • Nouns become plural with s or es (unless they're irregular), and never use apostrophes (except in some publications where some words, acronyms/abbreviations and numbers are required to have them).
  • Nouns, including plural nouns (but not pronouns), become possessive with apostrophe-s (or sometimes with just apostrophe).
  • Pronouns have special possessive forms and so do not use apostrophes.
  • Contractions always use apostrophes to indicate that part of the word has been taken out to shorten it.

And that's it. Remember those four points, and you'll always know if you need to say its or it's, the dogs or the dog's.

In the million years since I wrote that article -- which I mostly still agree with -- I learned why it that possessive nouns use apostrophes, and it makes everything so much simpler. I think if they would just teach that one little bit of the history of English in school, a lot of people would never be confused about apostrophes. And if I'd known it when I wrote that article, I could have simplified my final list to:

  • Only contractions use apostrophes.

Because the reason possessive nouns require apostrophes is because they are also contractions.

Once upon a time, in order to make a noun possessive, you have to make it awhile phrase. So to say that George owned this book, you'd write: George, his book. And, as language change, that phrase became one the was more conveniently shortened, contracted to George's book. In other words, George's is a contraction of George, his.

So how come we don't use Emily'r instead of Emily, her? I imagine it's partly because it's unpronounceable, but also because the default gender in the English language has long been male. (I won't say it always was, because there was a time when English -- or that which English evolved from (I don't recall the details and I'm too lazy to look it up) -- had a different set of pronouns).

So there you go. Apostrophes are only used for contractions, and possessives only have apostrophes if they are also contractions.

22 February 2014

Stamp Saturday: Tools

This series is about cutting your own rubber stamps, and I'm planning to test a whole bunch of different materials that are available for that purpose. If you missed the first Stamp Saturday post, which covered all (or most) of the materials I'll be covering, you can find it here.

Because I look at rubber stamping as a type of printmaking (more on that next week, probably), I tend to use a lot of the same tools I use for other relief printmaking processes. In other words, the same tools I use for linocutting.

My earliest rubber stamps, which I cut from white plastic erasers something like fifteen years ago (back in the days when Staedtler still made erasers in an extra-large size), were cut using an X-acto knife. I didn't really know what I was doing, even though I had done a small amount of linocutting before. They turned out surprisingly well, considering how difficult it is to cut efficiently and neatly with a simple knife. I'll have more on how to cut with different tools a few posts from now, so don't worry if all you have is a knife. It's possible to use one much better than I did back then.

These days, while I still keep my X-acto handy for trimming edges, I do most of my cutting with lino tools. When I cut actual lino, I generally use woodcarving tools rather than the tools sold as lino tools. For not that much more money, you can get a decent set of Japanese wood carving tools that will last a lot longer, and which can be easily sharpened with a stone. I got this set from Lee Valley Tools here in Canada. 

They also sell a set with clear acrylic handles that I've heard very good things about, and that I'm tempted to buy as designated stamp cutting tools (I like to keep my tools separate as it cuts down on re-sharpening). I also have a couple of sets of those cheap Speedball lino cutters with replaceable blades that I bought to have as backup when I'm teaching. While they're not that great for actual linocutting -- they dull too quickly and don't re-sharpen as well as real woodcutting tools -- for stamp cutting, they're actually not too bad. Rubber stamp materials aren't nearly as hard as lino, so the tools don't dull as quickly, so once you get them properly sharp, they'll stay that way for a long time.

I do most of my cutting with the small v-gouge, which I find has the best shape for a good, stable cut. The small u-gouge is good if you have a lot of curves to cut (I find the u cuts curves better, though the v is fine, too), but the shape of the cut gives less support to the printing surface. I'll get into that more when I talk about cutting technique, but for now I'll just say that if you only buy a single tool, make it a small v-gouge. Larger tools are good for clearing out large blank areas and cleaning up edges, but the v is best for basic shapes and detail.

If you plan to do a lot of cutting, and get yourself a decent set of tools, you'll probably want to invest in some sharpening tools, too. For frequent use, a strop may be all you need, though it's not something a lot of people aside from woodcarvers have on hand. Lee Valley sells a two-sided strop -- put dressing on one side, and leave the other side clean, and run your tools over it from time to time as you go. Since rubber stamp materials are quite soft, it may be all you ever need if your tools are sharp enough out of the package.

If you're not sure about a strop, or don't think you know how to use one (and they are a little awkward to use on a carving tool when compared to how easy they are to use with a knife), then a fine sharpening stone is your best bet. I have a little stone I got as a gift that has fine on one side and medium on the other, and covers most of my sharpening needs. Chances are, you won't need anything coarser than that for rubber cutting. If you do lino and are hard on your tools, a coarse stone might be a good investment. 

Next week, I'm going to backtrack a bit and write what probably should have been the first post in this series: a sort of introduction and my thoughts on the whys and who cares of rubber stamping. The week after, I'll probably begin on technique.

19 February 2014

Writing Wednesday: Stalled, and Practical Musekeeping

Since I started a (hopefully regular) Saturday post called "Stamp Saturday" I figured why not make Wednesday about writing. Since, you know, "writing" and "Wednesday" both start with "w."Or something. Plus, some people come here to read about writing, and some about art/craft, and some about whatever else happens to fall out of my brain. So on Wednesdays, I'll try to say something meaningful about writing.

So. I haven't been writing much lately, except for necessary work things. My fiction writing has been completely stalled. Why? I don't know. I don't actually believe in writer's block; I know all I really need to do is sit down and start typing. But I haven't. Fear, maybe? Loss of enthusiasm because nobody has noticed that I've written anything? Maybe, and maybe. Or maybe it's because I'm a little contrary by nature (subtly -- most people would probably find me accommodating rather than contrary) and the more I berate myself for not writing, the less likely I am to write.

But not writing does weird things to my brain. I feel strange and wrong in ways I can't really describe, and which don't really have a source. Except I only feel this way when I'm not writing. So I obviously need to get writing again. And I find myself remembering an article I wrote a million years ago, when I was in charge of the Creative Writing for Teens website at About.com (don't go looking for it; it no longer exists and you'll be redirected to the Fiction Writing site). I re-published it more recently on one of those content sites (Suite 101 maybe? Associated Content? I can't remember) when I was trying to see if I could get more writing work (I concluded those sites aren't really worth the effort). Apparently, it got picked up by "Yahoo Voices" which I have apparently been part of since 2009, though I don't recall signing up. I might have done, and forgotten. It's the sort of thing I would do. More likely, Yahoo bought out whichever content site it was I had written it for, and transferred me and some of my content over. Anyway, here is "Practical Musekeeping" which may or may not help with writer's block…

Practical Musekeeping

The Role of Inspiration in Writing

You've heard the old saying that something is "one percent inspiration and ninety-nine percent perspiration" (or, as Marion Zimmer Bradley put it, "ten percent inspiration or talent, and ninety percent hard work"). It's true for writing, too, but that isn't to say that inspiration -- the Muse -- has no role in writing.

Getting inspiration, finding your Muse, is important, but it's even more important to know that you can't just sit around waiting for a Muse to show up. Muses aren't interested in writers who sit around not writing, Muses are interested in working writers, writers struggling to find the words to express their own vision of the world. Become one of those writers and soon enough you'll have a Muse whispering story ideas and perfect phrases into your ear as you write.

Feeding the Muse

As Ray Bradbury pointed out, it is necessary to offer a Muse sustenance before you can expect one to come to you.

It may seem a little silly to feed something you haven't got yet, but it works. If you really are meant to be a creative writer, you've probably already got a Muse hanging around, waiting for an invitation. Offer her something tasty and she may just let you see her.

So what do you feed a Muse? All sorts of things, really, but primarily experience. But before you get dismayed, thinking you're young and haven't got much experience to offer, you should know that experience comes in many forms. You're alive, so you've had experience. You've felt things, done things and learned things. And you've read things.

To provide your Muse with plenty to eat, go places and do things, but most of all, read. Read everything. Read poetry (even if you think you don't like poetry; sometimes you have to do things because they are good for you). Read non-fiction; that's where odd ideas come from. Read fiction. Read in and outside your genre. Read classic literature (it's good for you). Read junk (it's tasty). All these things will be filtered through your own perceptions to feed your Muse.

Enticing Your Muse

Once you've attracted a Muse (or discovered one you already had), you'll need to get her to come out and play now and then, to help you with your writing (exercise is very good for Muses). To do this you must sit down and get to work. Write something, anything. Don't wait for the Muse to tap you on the shoulder and tell you to get working; Muses are basically lazy and won't bother very often. But once you're stringing words together, your Muse will get curious. She'll think, "There's a better way to say that," and then she'll come out and tell you what it is.

Remember also that Muses are shy, so don't try to force her out. Just go about writing that poem or story, and let her venture out on her own. She will, and the more often you entice her out, the more easily she'll arrive next time.

Do Not Neglect Your Muse

The worst thing possible for a Muse is neglect. If you ignore her by ignoring your writing, she'll go away and it can be very difficult to get her to come back (not impossible, though). If you don't keep feeding her with new experiences and new things to read, she'll begin to repeat herself and you find you write the same boring stuff over and over. Be attentive to your Muse, fulfill her needs and she'll help you with your writing for the rest of your life.

Further Reading on Musekeeping

If you don't feel quite ready to accept the responsibility for keeping your own Muse, try reading some of these fine publications. You can never have too much information, though Musekeeping is really quite a simple and natural process.

Zen in the Art of Writing: Essays on Creativity by Ray Bradbury (Bantam Books, 1990) contains the very useful essay "How to Keep and Feed a Muse (and was the main inspiration for my article). "It isn't easy," Bradbury writes. "Nobody has ever done it consistently. Those who try hardest, scare it off into the woods."

"Waiting for Inspiration?" Ha! is a short but useful commentary on Inspiration (another name for the Muse) by Beth Mende Conny. (Note: this used to be available online, but I can't find it anymore. If anyone finds a link, please send it along and I'll update.)

15 February 2014

Stamp Saturday: Materials

I'm going to try adding a second weekly post here. We'll see how I can keep up with it. Stamp Saturday is going to be notes and thoughts on a project I'm working on, to write a book on carving your own rubber stamps. It came about because I was looking to buy such a book, and the only ones I could find were either out of print (and fetching ridiculous prices on the collector's market), or had only small sections about how to make the stamps with the rest of the book taken up by projects.

There are, I think, plenty of great books already for people who want ideas of what to make once they have some stamps (and you can make the same projects with store bought stamps as you can with hand-carved ones) -- I'm more interested in the technical details of creating my own designs. So I'm going to be doing a lot of testing and experimenting, which will be the raw material for a book to share what I learn.

To get started, I pretty much ordered one of every kind of material that seemed suitable from Dick Blick Art Materials (because they have a pretty good selection, and decent prices/shipping). And I had a few things already on hand (one of which, I just realized, I left out of my photo).

The list so far:

  • Blick EZ Cut
  • Speedball Speedy Carve
  • Moo Carve
  • Inovart Eco Karve
  • Inovart Smooth Cut
  • Richeson Clear Carve Linoleum
  • Speedball Speedy Cut Easy
  • Soft Kut
  • Speedball Speedy Cut
  • white plastic eraser
  • black rubber mat

The black rubber mat is actually sold as a non-slip surface protector for cutting lino on, but I thought I'd try cutting it as a stamp just to see how it would work. It looks like there may be a few new things at Blick that they didn't have when I ordered, so I'll probably update the list eventually.

What I will not be using (though I use it for printmaking) is linoleum. It makes an excellent relief printing surface, and I love working with it, but it's not nearly soft enough for rubber stamping. (And the Richeson Clear Carve in the list above, while called "linoleum," isn't really, so I'm going to try it). I'm also not going to use foam printing elements because while they're fun, they're too soft to produce good results, and don't stand up to heavy use.

My initial tests will simply be how well these materials cut. Then I'll compare how well they take ink (and what kinds of ink), and how well they print when used as a rubber stamp (rather than in a press like a printing plate). I'll also try them with and without a layer of foam (it adds give and can make harder materials print better in some cases).

Over time, I'll keep track of how well the materials last, and I may save some of the bits trimmed off so I can try leaving them out in the sun, leaving them in a damp area, and that sort of thing.

12 February 2014

Crow Snow Angel and Ice Eagle

I start teaching my Introduction to Letterpress class today, so all I have for you this week is a couple more photos of bird-realted things. Maybe I'll remember to take some pictures of my class this time around, and share them here.

Here's a thing I call a "crow angel," which is a snow angel made by a crow landing. Other birds make them too, of course, but the crow ones are the easiest to photograph (not that this is the best photo). This was in my front yard, near where I put seeds out every morning.

And here's a very very blurry image shot out the window of a moving 18-wheeler on the Pictou causeway. In case you can't tell, it's a bald eagle on the ice. It was really far away, so I couldn't tell what it was doing. Eating, probably.

05 February 2014


We get plenty of visitors to our house, year round, because I put out seeds every morning, and I try to keep a suet feeder filled in the winter (once the squirrels discover it, it empties fast). Here are a few of the most recent birds, from the past week.

A female Downy Woodpecker. These little birds are not shy about telling me when the feeder is empty or someone else is eating from it. They're quite talkative.

A couple of shots of Dark-Eyed Juncos. There are juncos where I lived in BC, too, but they had brown bodies and black heads, instead of the solid slate grey that NS birds have. Either way, they're terribly cute. These guys won't eat from a feeder, but are happy to take seeds from the ground, and really like it when the jays get into the suet, because they drop a lot on the ground.

For a few minutes, a male Hairy Woodpecker condescended to share the suet with a Blue Jay. It didn't last long, though, before the woodpecker chased the jay away. They're pretty close in size, but our jays tend to be a bit skittish, and even the Mourning Doves can chase them off.

29 January 2014

Paper Moths

I had been thinking, a while back, about combining letterpress printing and die-cutting to create some paper moth specimens. Something like the ones I made from leftover proofs of my book moths intaglio prints (sorry, no photos of those to hand at the moment), but more three-dimensional. I'm still planning to do that, but it occurred to me the other day that I could also make three dimensional moth specimens out of my handmade paper.

So I tried it. If you follow me on Twitter or Instagram (@anagramforink on both), or are a friend on my personal Facebook account, you may have seen a photo of the first attempt. For the past couple of days, I've been making a cheap dollar store shadow box look nice to put it in, staining, adding a hanging wire, and lining it. I still have to find a small brass latch, but today I've been trying to decide what colour paper to line the box with.

I've narrowed it down to five more-or-less neutral papers. Royal blue looked nice, as did burgundy, but the rich colours, I thought, drew too much attention to themselves. Here are the five finalists (apologies for the less than stellar photos -- I took these with my iPad in poor lighting). Any opinions are welcome.



Grey faux parchment:

Deep grey:

Deep brown:

Some of the papers aren't lying flat, but they will once they're pasted in, so please ignore that. I won't mention which one(s) I'm most inclined towards yet, as if like to see what people think.

And I will be making more of these, and they will be for sale. This is, I hope, just the beginning. Which means I'm going to need to make more paper...

23 January 2014

More Snow

I remembered to photograph the snow this morning. It doesn't look that much worse than the photos from yesterday, but the snow is actually considerably deeper. It was up to the top of my snow boots when I fed the birds earlier.

22 January 2014

Snow Day

We've had quite a bit of snow here in a Colchester Co, NS. A few days ago, I woke to find the yard looked like this:

Quite a lot of that snow fell off the trees and roofs and car, and it was just warm enough that some of it even melted. But it's blizzarding here today, so there will be more snow yet.

Here's how it looked early this afternoon, after some light snow overnight and somewhat less light snow this morning:

There's a lot more out there now, but it's too dark to photograph. If I think of it, I'll take a picture in the morning and post it.

15 January 2014

Snowy Owl

Some folks have expressed interest in the processes I use for various things that I make, so I thought this week I'd go through how I made my latest die-cut card, step by step. If you follow me on Twitter (@anagramforink), or have friended me on Facebook, you may have already seen some of what's in this post.

Everything starts with an idea, naturally, and the snowy owl popped into my head as a result of the stories I keep seeing about how this winter snowy owls have been migrating farther south than usual, showing up even as far down as New Jersey. We have snowy owls here in Nova Scotia, but I've never seen one (nor even heard one, as they are not very vocal, unlike our other local owls).

So, with images of owls popping up in my social media feeds, I started to get ideas about how I could make an owl card. First, I looked at lots of pictures, trying to figure out pose and angle. Then, once I'd decided I wanted a flying bird, I found some more specific reference images, and started to draw. Since I knew I wanted the card to be more or less symmetrical, I concentrated on one half of the owl, because I could use Photoshop to create the other half. 

When I had a sketch I was happy with, I firmed up the lines with a black pen, and then erased most of the pencil lines.

Next, I scanned the image, copied, pasted and reversed the half I'd drawn to make a complete owl, and cleaned up the lines. I used the fill tool to fill in the outline, creating a solid black shape. This makes it easier for my cutter software to create a file to cut from.

I saved the image as a tiff, and imported it into the cutter software, traced, resized, and started test cuts. Sometimes I get a usable design on the first go -- usually if it's something simple. More complex designs require more tests, especially if there are lots of small pieces to cut out, as there are on this owl. Once something gets too small, the cutting blade can't pivot quickly enough. In the case of the owl, I had to make the bars on the feathers larger.

I also wanted to try a simple silhouette version.

None of the initial designs was quite right, so I tried again. I'd already decided on the black background, though I used the blue and green again in my tests, since I had already folded the card. The moon was a whim, added as a way to bring out the eyes by having something else yellow in the image.

A few more tweaks, and I have the final design. I could play with it some more, but I know myself well enough to know that sometimes I have to say "good enough" or I'll just keep fiddling forever.

In a day or so, I'll cut out a whole bunch of these, and then start assembly. They're sized to fit a standard (#10) business sized envelope, and I'm out of plastic sleeves that size, so I'll have to order more before I can sell these. I'll have to get more envelopes, too.

(Apologies for the terrible photos. The first and last were shot just now, with my iPad, and the Blogger app doesn't work very well with the iPad's camera. Some really weird things happening with framing. The other two images I took earlier, still using the iPad camera, but from within the native camera app, so at least they're framed better.)