Tuesday, May 31, 2011

Day 40: Yarn

The prompt to work with yarn pretty quickly led me to think of cats, possibly because any project involving yarn also involves keeping it away from our own.
About the cattiest book I know of is T.S. Eliot's 'Old Possum's Book of Practical Cats', and my copy is illustrated by Edward Gorey. Probably more people are familiar with this one from the Broadway musical, but it's really worth sitting down and reading the original poems. That's actually why I bought this little paperback of Amazon years ago, back in High School or College. There were a few versions available, but I couldn't pass up Gorey's illustrations.
I tried to capture the style in yarn, which sounded simple enough since there's a lot of attention to line, but it turns out yarn doesn't do well for details. Not standard black yarn, anyway. I drew a quick pencil sketch, and laid down glue over the lines section by section, letting it get a little tacky before I put the yarn down. It was all pretty quick and easy, but I lost the toes on the original drawing and decided whiskers would just clutter it up.
Maybe if I'd worked bigger, I could have gotten more details in.

I have to admit that sitting down and looking through the poems does tend to leave me humming the tunes from the musical, but I think they leave a lasting impression even without that. There's so many different cat personalities described, that we sometimes end up wondering which ones best fit our own cats. Also the poem on 'the Naming of Cats' amuses me, because I don't think I've ever had a cat that didn't name herself.
They also definitely do strange dances in the night, and who knows what all else. I've lost count of the number of times I've heard some bizarre noise downstairs, a crash or something else, in the middle of the night, and gone down to find nothing amiss and one of the cats sitting innocently in the middle of the floor, giving me a 'did you want something?' kind of look. It's pretty clear from the poems that T.S. Eliot personally knew at least a few cats.
Our cat Froggy giving a gang sign?

Monday, May 30, 2011

Day 39: Haiku

Much loved and much missed
Deceptively innocent
Gently made us think

Friday, May 27, 2011

Day 38: Work underwater

I didn't technically create this project underwater, so I'm not sure if I quite met the spirit of the prompt, but for some reason the only idea I kept coming up with had to do with a children's book from the Serendipity series written by Stephen Cosgrove and illustrated by Robin James.The book I was thinking of is called 'Featherfin' and I know I had a copy when I was younger but it either didn't make the move across the country or is somewhere lost in the apartment. When I looked it up again the story itself came back to me, in which Featherfin (a fantasy eel with peacock feather designs) dreams about the big world above the water, all his (her?) elders say it's no place for an eel, but Featherfin goes anyway and almost asphyxiates on the beach before escaping back under the waves.
I'm not sure I really like the implications, but it's the illustrations that lingered in my mind. I suppose the message still makes it pretty appropriate for the prompt.
The underwater part of things is in the video below, but I made a little Featherfin eel puppet out of a few scraps of fabric and a wire. It took maybe half an hour to put together and half of that was cursing at the netting that's sandwiched between the green fabric because it would not hold still. I have my girlfriend to thank for the gorgeous green-gold metallic fabric, and the whole thing was done in a big fishbowl I've had set up but sans water, that I keep meaning to get a few fish for. Now that it's full of water maybe it would be less effort to get a couple fish than to drain it again... In the meantime, it makes a good theatre for eel puppetry.

Thursday, May 26, 2011

Day 37: Stapler

Should have made his head wider...
Still trying to get myself back into the swing of daily updates, and I spent all day yesterday feeling inexplicably crappy.
Anyways, this prompt was to use staples, or even the stapler itself, and for some bizarre reason my brain leaped from making a picture out of staples to the ridiculous phrase 'stapleface'. It sounds to me exactly like the kind bad guy of name you'd hear in the Dick Tracy comics.
If all you know of Dick Tracy is from the wacky early 90's movie, you probably think it's full out campy stuff.
That's what I expected when I picked up a collection of the old comic strips at the library a while back, and I was... surprised.
The villain names are sometimes pretty goofy, and some of the plot stuff is too, but a fair amount of it is weirdly straightforward. The villains commit a lot of very real-world type crimes, and there's a fair amount of villain and sometimes even innocent bystander death. When the latter happens, the characters usually pause to ponder what a horrible shame that is. It makes for a really bizarre blend of serious crime drama and cartoony art and monikers. Sometimes it's a little jarring, but it's definitely worth reading at least once, and I do wonder what it says about the era it first came out of.
For the record, it's very hard to make a straight line with staples. The nice curves you see are staples I bent by hand and fed into the paper, folding over the backs with my pocketknife. I only jammed the stapler up once, which is kind of amazing, especially since it happened when I was mostly done and just trying to get out a few loose staples.

Monday, May 23, 2011

Day 36 (Really?): Make the old look new

I hope somebody's still reading this blog, but if you are I bet you thought I'd given up.
I really apologize for the big gap. Life just kind of got away from me, partly because working a lot of odd jobs under the table can devour your time the way no normal job could. Part of that is they are multiple, and that means dashing from one place to another. Also a major portion of my time got eaten up painting a giant signboard menu. It's awesome to get a job like that everyone will see, it feels professional, but it took a lot more time than I'd anticipated. Anyway, I hope this one was worth waiting for, because I did put a lot of work into it.
With the assignment to make something old look new, I scrambled around looking for ideas until my brain fell on the metaphor of Neil Gaiman's 'American Gods'. The plot is a convoluted one, but at its core is the idea that the old gods of ancient mythologies do not die when we stop looking for them, but they are forced to either adapt or fade away. Some gods find it harder than others to make a place for themselves in the modern world, but the author makes some very plausible transitions. Some deities, in a very essential way, are still up to their old tricks even if they've learned to put a new face on them.
There are several gods portrayed in the story from various diverse cultures (including one whose legacy is the subject of another Neil Gaiman novel), but one I noticed missing was Ganesha.
I'm not a Hindu, I'm not really anything that's easy to define by the terms of organized religion (although I was attending a Unitarian Universalist church for a while, and have only stopped due to a hectic schedule), but Ganesha holds a special place in my mind. Back when I was in High School, or maybe college, I had an incredible and apocalyptic dream that involved the repercussions loss of religious faith the world over, and in it the only deity I actually came close to was Ganesha. It was in the form of a white stone statue, and at the time I couldn't even name what deity it was beyond 'that elephant-headed one from India', but the image was one brief pause in the chaos of the dream. It was a moment of resounding calm while the world was crumbling, and I stood before the statue and touched it, and it started to cry.
I don't see the dream itself as prophetic in any literal way, although there was some important symbolism in it, but an image like that really sticks with you. 
I have since learned a lot more about Ganesha, and collected a few little figures and a pendant. Of all the deities of the Hindu culture, Ganesha is without dispute the most widely revered. The myths around him and his status vary from one sect to another, but he crosses boundaries other deities apparently don't.
What it is about him that makes him so popular, I'm not sure, but even to other cultures he's probably the most easily recognizable. It's not just his cuddly, elephant-headed appearance that makes him endearing, but he's also usually represented as being fairly humble and easy-going.
He is known chiefly as the Remover of Obstacles, the guy that helps deal with roadblocks in your path. Depictions vary, but some of the more common things he's shown carrying are an axe and a rope, both useful for differing approaches to practical obstacles. I guess the ability to chop things down aggressively or work more subtly pulling something aside or someone through makes him a pretty versatile problem-solver. This version is also giving a sign of blessing, which can't hurt along the way, and carrying a lotus blossom to remind us to pause sometimes in all that work and enjoy where we are. He's also dancing... because it has to do with balance and moving through the world, or maybe just because he's that kind of a guy.
If you look at my previous progress posts, you might get an inkling of what kinds of old materials I used to make him. Nothing was purchased for this project, and most of it was old stuff that we had around and really didn't know what to do with.

His body itself is made from an old plush shirt that fit me in Middle School. I hung onto it because the material itself was so awesome. I want to add that my girlfriend gave me a lot of help on sewing the body, because our sewing machine has been busted and yes this thing is every single stitch sewn by hand. Only one material in the house struck my mind as right for his pants, and apparently it struck hers too, because the yellow fabric was actually a mostly-finished skirt my girlfriend had made for a doll. It was long since abandoned for reasons I can't fathom, and she let me cut it up. What he's wearing is actually called dhoti and it's one very long rectangle. I wrapped and tucked it just like the real ones, although I had to tack it down with stitches.
Beads are something we seem to have no end of, and yes I used lots. His rope is just some neat yarn, and his axe is actually a plastic one stolen from my pirate collection (remember those?), prettied up with some paint and beads and glue.
Lastly came the lotus flower, which is made with a technique a close friend of mine invented. It's colored tissue paper, a couple layers cut into circles with petals coming off them and strung onto the end of a piece of wire. Then you paint and shape them into place with clear nail polish and it magically makes it all translucent yet flexible and durable.
I leave you with that reminder to stop and enjoy life's moments, and I'll try to do more of that in the future by resuming this blog.

Sunday, May 1, 2011

Almost there...

This has taken longer than I wanted, but if I can just get the time tomorrow to finish him off, I'll be making a real post and get things back on track... I guess that was my spring break? Except that I spent most of it working odd jobs.