Monday, January 31, 2011

Design Inspiration Day - Piggies!

Wooden Noah's Ark Pair of Pigs by Me
 Been contemplating some new piggy-centric designs and as my usual mode of operation I'm looking for inspiration from my book shelf (happily reading instead of working).  Here's some of my favorite pig visuals:

Some are simple pigs.  This image isn't even from the story it's the end paper!

 "Pigs" art by Michael Martchenko"

"It's Bedtime Wibbly Pig" by Mick Inkpen

I love Wibbly. I love Mick Inkpen.  Viva la Pig.

I've got old pigs, or rather, piggies from old books. Usually my vintage 1940's or earlier books make pigs overly realistic and rather ugly but I love these piggies. 
"Plump Piggies" no artist named
 I first saw "Plump Piggies" in a local antique mall with the pages framed beautifully and I wanted to get pregnant and start decorating a nursery.  I can see it now with gray walls, simple white furniture and these accents of pale pink piggyness It's a good thing everyone doesn't pass these images framed so pretty or we would have a huge population explosion. 

"Gerties Not Alone" by Norman Chartier
I found an extremely didactic little gem at the thrift store and though the story is dreck the barnyard art is lovely.  Love this pig. Yes, I cut up the book for my notebook.

The best pigs ever though, are the piggy world of  "Toot & Puddle" books.
"Toot & Puddle" by Holly Hobbie
Ms Hobbie is the artist that drew the wildly popular little pioneer girls of the same name in the 1970's.  Her story goes that she was under contract and had to produce Holly Hobbies long after she became sick of them.  She vowed to never draw or paint anything she didn't want to and when finally free she set to raising a family and painting just for herself.  Fast forward, one of her daughters was in graduate school and contracted cancer. The treatments made her loose her hair, made her skin pink and swollen so that she would refer to herself as a "piggy" and sign notes to her family with little pig drawings.  Mom sent her pig sketches in return.  Though her daughter lost her life to the cancer the piggie drawings became Holly Hobbie's ongoing project and turned into the  "Toot & Puddle" series of books.  They show the adventures of two little pigs (I believe they are cousins) that live together but Toot travels the world and Puddle loves to stay at home. 
 "Toot & Puddle" by Holly Hobbie
Don't you want to pinch this piggy bottom?  If I could ever paint light this wonderfully I could die happy.

Wednesday, January 26, 2011

How Many Sanding Machines Does One Girl Need?

The BLHubby has always been crazy about tools.  When he recounts his happiest days there's our marriage, birth of the kids and one is when we were young parents and we went to a local police auction where for only $10 he was able to get a big metal tool box that when opened was full of Craftsman tools.   I've been strangely adverse to using or buying many tools.  Sure I had a sewing machine but really - a single needle can make anything, can't it?  I guess I was raised on stories of rugged pioneers entering the wilderness with just axe and carving out land for crops and a snug home.  BLHubby  used to negotiate - he'd do a project for the house and I'd agree we needed to get him some new tool to do it with.  I had one tool to my name, a jig saw.  I could and did,, make most anything with that and a 4 way screwdriver.  Things have changed.

Then BLHubby bought me the scroll saw.  I couldn't make the animals for my arks without it.  I think that saw was a "gateway tool" cause I've been converted to the necessity or at least convenience the right woodworking tool can make when doing a job.   BLHubby has become a "tool pusher" or I have become a "tool enabler".  Our wood shop has become filled up and I claim many of the power tools as "mine".

Look at the number of sanding machines I use regularly.


I always do some hand sanding. Especially after things have been sealed.  Years and years ago BLH went to an auction and came home with a few cases of industrial sanding belts for the grand sum of $25. They are about 12 feet long and for way too long I've been using them for hand sanding. I just tear them into usable pieces. I thought I had used them all when he found one last box in the barn.  I used to give each kid a piece of sandpaper and let them work on wood pieces.  They thought it was fun and all sanding does something to wood so they were amazingly effective and it's good for a child to labor at something productive.


BLH brought this home last year and I wondered what to do with it.  It took me a while to learn to use it but it's what I use first when smoothing out my little animals.  Last week I was rounding off the bum of a little bear when the sander groaned and green sparks started flying out the bottom confirming that it was inhabited by aliens that were trying to go back to the mother ship. I hit the "off" switch and unplugged it but there was black smoke curling up and a horrible smell.  To my shock and surprise,  when I thought about finishing the animals without it I panicked!  Hand sanding, no way! Fortunately,  BLH had bought the extended warranty so for the cost of another extended warranty on a new machine I was back in business. Whew!


Every little animal gets a ride on this to make sure their feet are level.  BLH brought this home when he caught me trying to use his hand held belt sander to level off feet.  He was afraid I'd do damage to myself. (I only scraped my fingers - didn't take them off.)


I use this to finish the sides of the arks and bear houses.  Hand held and multi purpose. This is the first "electric" sander I got used to using.


I found this in BLH's tool box and I've adopted it as my own.  I first used it to shape the elephant's trunk but It also shapes ears, horns, tails and I can sand the tummy of the little animals. 

This isn't every sander in the shop. There are some I never use that BLH claims.  But wait, I think we do have a little "mouse" detail sander that would work inside the arks.  Maybe I can find it.  Do I need a 12 step program?

Wednesday, January 19, 2011


What's this Hot Mess?  This is me trying to stage and photograph new arks - but we can't till we get SUN.  My photos are really dependent on natural light (note the poor color in this photo).  It is cloudy, overcast, foggy even.  It's been cloudy all week.  Sun was forecast for yesterday.  The promised sun didn't appear.  Yesterday they said it would clear today.  This morning my favorite weatherman would not commit to sun, but he thought we might have some this afternoon - if the snow is late.  I've heard of rain dances - does anyone know how to bring sun?

Wednesday, January 12, 2011

Old Toy Inspiration

I find inspiration everywhere but sometimes I really fall in love. 
I found this here on Etsy. 

I look at it and drool.  Not that I'm really collecting very expensive vintage toys but I love the look.  This was made by Fischer Price, I'm not sure when but I love these pre-plastic era toys.  For fun I searched other vintage Fischer Price toys and found these pull toys.
This pull toy I adore.  Circus images aren't as popular now as they were in the 1940's or 1950's.  We worry about how animals are treated and we even think clowns are scary but this circus wagon is so happy!  I love the elephant and tiger.
 This duck is so cute.  I don't know if this if before or after Disney's Donald Duck but it's clearly similar.  I think it's lots cuter.  Don't you love the little feathers on his but?

 I love the colors here.  This is a different manufacturer, I think.  The orange, green, blue and yellow look very "now".

Fisher Price did lots of Disney themed toys and usually I'm not found of them but these are part of an Easter Train based on a Disney cartoon.  I love the animals on wheels. I find myself imagining every animal I see on wheels. 

Monday, January 10, 2011

Toy Safety and The Best Loved Child

The tow headed "boy" on the left is a long ago version of myself.  I'm in my grandfather's sweet, clean  barn and the other urchin child who is working so earnestly on her saddle tack is my cousin, Margie.    Margie was lucky enough to live on the ranch and I was visiting.  What were we doing?  We were "riding" the saddles that were so thoughtfully stored mostly in our reach and demonstrated by my baby sister. 

The ranch saddles were hung from the barn rafters to keep them dry and safe from critters.  We kids loved to climb on them and swing.  My mom took the photos, so at this moment an adult was present, but, my memories of playing in the barn are pretty unsupervised. 

It's at about this time during one of my visits to my grandparents ranch that I remember grandma providing us with one of the neatest toys ever.  It was a Mr. Potato Head toy.  Not the one with a plastic head like our kids have now but a  prehistoric version.  It consisted of a set of eyes, ears, lips, etc. very much like the modern toy but made of metal.  On the back of the parts, where a modern set has a plastic tab that fits into a slot in the plastic potato, this set had an inch and a half long ice pick like spear with a very sharp tip.  You stuck the eyes, ears, etc. into a real potato. We also experimented with the big carrots that were stored in the cellar and given to the horses for treats.  I was pretty small and my memories are a bit fragmented but while playing with this toy (you know where this is going) my brother was stabbed  with one of the pointy bits. I remember lots of blood, maybe a tetanus shot and the toy disappeared never to be seen again.    Even my family thought this toy was too dangerous for their very young, and these folks let my brother drive the truck when he was nine and thought nothing of hoisting their toddlers up on a giant horse for a ride.   (You've seen the photo evidence of our barn escapades.) I wasn't raised by sadists. On an almost daily basis I have reason to give thanks for being born to a family that was capable and caring. My parents and grandparents weren't negligent, they just lived in a less enlightened time.  Imagine all the people who designed, manufactured, stocked in a store, purchased and gave to a child this scary version of a toy.

As time goes on we (the collective whole society we) have decided we need to protect young larva as much as possible and how we do that is still evolving. In 1972 the Consumer Product Safety Protection Act came into being and it's been amended and improved over the years.  In the recent past most of America has been alarmed to find that many toys, even from well know makers, have contained lead based paint or other toxic materials.  Most of these have been made in China but often the ultimate manufacture was unknown.  In response, in 2008, our government passed the Consumer Product Safety Improvement Act with some specific rules for all products marketed to children.   Mostly it said that children 's products shouldn't contain lead or certain phthalates and that products had to be labeled so we know who made them and where and most controversial, that children's products had to be tested by a third party to prove they met the lead and other standards. The labeling isn't hard to comply with but the testing was impossible for an artist crafts person (like me) to comply with.  A whole lot of artists, including me,  rejoiced  when the rules were modified to allow someone like myself to make toys or childrens' decor as long as I use products that have been tested and certified free of lead or other toxins.  Wood was declared to be non toxic and not in need of testing but coatings, paints, varnishes and all finishes have to be from a source that certifies they have been tested and are compliant. 

Some makers of childrens toys use wood and only finish it with peanut oil or beeswax (which could be eaten).  The above teething toy by the wonderful littlealouett is a perfect example.  While I appreciate this look I want color and pattern and I want more color than i could get with berry juice. Fortunately, there are child safe finishes.  I have three considerations in choosing what I use for my arks, toys and decor. 

1. All components must meet CPSIA standards
 All paints, sealer and finish I use are labled "AP" by the Art and Creative Materials Institute. 
Products bearing the AP seal of the Art & Creative Materials Institute, Inc. (ACMI) are certified non-toxic. A medical expert evaluates each product and its ingredients. A product can be certified non-toxic only if it contains no materials in sufficient quantities to be toxic or injurious to humans, or to cause acute or chronic health problems. AP certification is reviewed by ACMI's Toxicological Advisory Board. These products are certified by ACMI to be labeled in accordance with the chronic hazard labeling standard, ASTM D-4236 and federal law P.L. 100-695.

I date all items and save receipts and the dated containers of finish and paint so I can show the paint used on a specific item.

2. My comfort and safety
This may sound strange but something that can meet the CPSIA standards may not be the best thing for me to use every day.  For example, when I started making arks I top coated everything with Minwax Polyacrylic.  I used it because it said it was safe to use on infant cribs.  (I have an empty can that is labeled "crib safe".) I also liked that it was water based.  This product does not meet the 2008 CPSIA standards.  The product didn't change the standards did.  I contacted Minwax and they recommend Fast Drying Polyurthane for childrens products.  Fast Drying Poly is not water based.  I would not be able to use it in the studio (which is a spare bedroom right next to the master bedroom).  There would be too many fumes.  I would need a spray booth in the garage, a resprator, some heat to make the finish dry, etc.  Maybe sometime down the line but I need a water based product.

3.  A Beautiful color and Finish
This comes after the safety concerns but it's important to me. I want my colors to be beautiful and not fade and I want a beautiful satin look and feel to all my products. 

Thank heaven we've come a long way from sharp pointed Mr. Potato toys.  Safe toys are complecated but we can do it.

Wednesday, January 5, 2011

No Nonsense?

The holidays left my Etsy Shop pretty empty, so I've been up to my elbows this week cutting, sanding, gluing and soon painting. 
Clamps every where

Camels in progress - fueled by Dr. Pepper.

I start most days by putting on my current favorite socks. I've worn this brand before and their logo has been subtly printed in beige or on the sole.  The version I wear most now greet me with this admonition.

Their stern advice gets me ready each morning.  Ready to do this:
Nonsense?  Nothing like socks that keep your feet warm and dry and make me smile each morning.

Monday, January 3, 2011

How Do You Store The Christmas Tree?

We have a BIG, lovely and very fluffy pre-lit artificial Christmas tree that we bought several years ago at Sam's Club.  I still love it but storing it each year has been a bit of a problem.  It came in a humongous cardboard box and we would store it back in the box but the tree once fluffed up didn't fit back into the box with the flaps closed.  The box with tree also weighed two or three  tons.  We could have used a forklift to get it to the storage room or back to the barn.  The box has been disintegrating little by little and this year it dissolved into dust. I've looked for a storage box, tote, bag (or two boxes)  and I've even purchased a couple but the tree doesn't fit into anything. 

Look what BL Hubby came up with for tree storage.  A Bagster Hack!

A Bagster is a huge bag sold at our local Blue as an alternative to a roll off dumpster.  You buy the bag and take it home and fill it up with trash or debris then call the associated trash company for a pick up at an additional fee. Both Orange and Blue have this brand or a similar brand.  We thought it was a genius idea but the expense is more than getting a roll off.  But where else could you get a huge, strong, flexible container?  With handles even?  It was only 29$. 

Tree is now bagged, and hauled off to the barn by the big strong teen aged BLGrands.  Sorry for the fuzziness in pictures.  Success!