Friday, November 27, 2009

A real yarn of a tale...

I'm constantly running out of yarn. Just when I'm a few stitches away from completing a project, the ball of yarn gives up the ghost and I'm left with the final few inches of crinkly string. My project basket resembles the bad kid's backyard in Toy Story, with all the abandoned, disfigured toys.

Last month, I visited family, which meant new prezzies for all the kiddos. I had so much fun making Brobee last year, so I wanted to make a matching one for another little fan in the family. I got as far as the head and shoulders before running out of yarn.

Shoot! Time was short. Fortunately, I remembered some dopey-looking flowers I had once crocheted out of the same yarn. These flowers, although somewhat charming from this angle, are what we in the biz call, "total crap." Trust me, they didn't turn out half as cute as I had wanted.

I do hate to unravel my work, no matter how bad it is. But when my local yarn shop told me that they had stopped carrying this particular brand of yarn, I knew the flowers were doomed.

Surprisingly, it only took half of their nubby stems to complete Brobee's pill shaped body.

And, using the rest of their stems, I finished Brobees's arms. (Although I had to make them skinnier than usual. This Brobee's a bit of a weakling.) The flowers were none too pleased.

They were even less pleased at the thought of becoming Brobee's feet, once I had robbed them of nearly all their green yarn.

My sister had a lovely suggestion--switch colors and make boots. Of course! So Brobee's boots saved the day.

I wish I could finish by telling you this was the best toy I ever made and all the unravelling and scrimping was worth it. The toy turned out ...okay. He's a little wonk-eyed, thin and meh. Even little Natalie, who's pretty much the most giggly and curious baby to ever crawl the earth, seems vaguely bored.

(More accurately, she looks like a Modigliani painting. Most accurately, this one!)

But I digress. Not to worry about the flowers. I have big plans for them. I'm thinking a little knit cap for Natalie, with two happy--and recycled!--flowers on the side. Hopefully, we'll get smiles out of all three!

Monday, October 26, 2009

The Eyes Have It

It's often said that "the eyes are the windows to the soul." As an artist and toymaker, I can tell you that the eyes really set the character of the whole piece. Eyes, stance, shape, mouth--it's these little details that give a mess of knotted yarn soul and temperament. The eyes especially are the breath of life.

My personal toy-making style is to stick to yarn only. I do like the clean, old-fashioned look of a yarn eye. While it is sometimes a challenge to compete with the glossy, more realistic-looking button eyes, I never have to worry about it looking too human (ergo a little creepy). Most importantly, the finished product is 100% soft and cuddly, with no hard bits that can scratch or choke little babies.

If you're an artist, you understand what an absolute delight it is to sit down to work on a piece and see what emerges. When you're really in the zone, it's almost like your hands are on autopilot and just channeling some floating idea. I imagine it's like using an Ouija board. The character just comes to life in my hands, and I'm just an observer.

I made this little fellow for my beautiful one-year-old baby niece (who's a whiz with her animal sounds!) It was serendipitous that I didn't have much time or yarn, since that prompted me to keep the arms short. I cracked up at the effect! His stubby limbs make his pear-shaped frame even more squat and chubby.

Yet, even though he's a fat little lard, he still manages to look superior and self-important. Who oh who does he remind me of? Ah yes...

Of course! The red beard, the snootiness, the chub! It wasn't my intention to channel Henry VIII, but once it came to life, there he was. In all his yarny glory.

So I was quite pleased with how his little character turned out. And even though he peers at me (his creator!) with unmasked contempt, I just adore him.
...which probably tells you a thing or two about my character.

Saturday, September 19, 2009

"Whooo... are... you?": Breaking bread with a dead little friend

Few things make me feel so productive, so 19th-century pioneer woman, as when I'm eating my own recipes off of my own pottery. I can look down at the table and think, "Yup, I made everything you see here. Everything!"

Maybe it's a Stewart thing, or maybe Martha and I really are related. I don't know, but at times, I'm almost tempted to take up welding so I can make my own silverware. Or glass blowing. Or heck, even wood shop--I'll make the table itself.

And if I could grow my own produce, that would be really something. But alas, New York can only be so accommodating. Good thing we have several excellent farmers' markets for all the fresh, local greens we can handle.

On a recent farmers'
market trip, I noticed--across a crowded stall, with the love theme to West Side Story softly playing--the bok choy looking fresh and tasty. I'd always dismissed bok choy as a stir fry veggie in the past, and never really gave it a chance. (I like my veggies raw.) But, seriously, what a totally boss-looking veg it is. With that light green stalk and those hearty dark green leaves. I was charmed to the gills.

So, like the wanton hussy that I am, I brought the bok choy home with me immediately, eager to get things started.

I put together a marvelous raw bok choy salad. Very simple too. The details:
Chop several bundles (bunches? stocks? heads? herds? murders?) of bok choy--five huge ones if they're in season, or 15 late-September dinky ones. For the dressing, whirl up equal parts (I used 1/4 cp each) olive oil, quality soy sauce, and about 3-4 cloves garlic. Mix well, serve on your own handmade pottery--yes, yes, I am a show off--and enjoy.

One very important detail: wash the bok choy thoroughly. I had hurried through this step, and realized so when I reached the bottom of my dish. Laying there, drowned in my garlic marinade, was an--admittedly very lovely--revolting, and quite dead caterpillar.

I my first reaction was a series of little gags, like a cat with a hairball caught in its throat. So nasty! Then I mused on all the worse things that might have happened.

1. Finding a half-eaten caterpillar at the bottom of the dish

2. Taking a hearty bite into something squishy and distasteful. Extracting it to find a well-chewed-but-still-recognizable caterpillar.

3. Finding several caterpillars

I don't know whether to include "Actually swallowing a caterpillar and never realizing it" on the list. I'm not convinced that a) that's worse and b) that doesn't already happen to me on a regular basis.

Oddly enough, this episode didn't turn me off of bok choy. On the contrary, if those tasty little things are endorsed by the caterpillar, who is nature's leading connoisseur of leafy greens, then they must be good.

(By the way, the bases of bok choy look like green roses when you cut the stalks off. Ah bok choy, the smarmiest gigolo in the garden.)

Saturday, February 14, 2009

I would do anything for love ...but I won't do that

Gift giving can be a tricky thing when you're an artist. You might set out with the best intentions of making someone a really lovely, personal, one-of-a-kind gift with your own two hands. But then things happen. The piece could turn out really uninspiring:

I'm not sure whether or not I started out this piece with the intention of giving it away, but once I saw it come out of the kiln, I knew it was going nowhere.

"Ug, what man would want you now?" I spat out, looking it up and down with all the contempt of a disappointed stage-mom. What I thought would be metallic and speckled, turned out dark and heavy. Utterly disqualified. I wouldn't want it out there with my name on it. It's blog material, but nothing more.

But let's say now that the opposite is true. You might end up with something just amazing. This little pot surpassed my expectations so far that I hardly recognized it in the end.

I certainly didn't expect all the variations in color and texture. It was, I kid you not, a single glaze--applied it thick in parts and thin in others. So I was expecting some subtle nuances here and there. But wow. This trapped a ton of carbon.

I kept turning it around on my banding wheel, looking at it from every angle.

So how could I ever give it away? I don't know who would appreciate how rare a ceramics phenomenon we've got going here. Glazes are often so unpredictable. When they come out as delightfully surprising as this, it's a miracle.

Then there's a sappy romantic in me that says: Giving away something that's so precious to you personally is such a a beautiful expression of love, it really doesn't matter if the person you're giving it to 'gets it.'

So, point of the story is, you can tell how much I love you by how tightly I cling on to the handmade gift I'm giving you. If you have to wrestle it out of my hands while I wail, "No! I'll never be able to recreate it!" then you can be assured that I love you pretty darn much.

Sunday, December 14, 2008

12 Days 'till Christmas...

So we have 12 days until Christmas and I'm working my fingies off on my true loves' presents. My project basket is bursting with crocheted Christmas magic.

If you're wondering who that green stripey guy is at the top of the basket, that's my piece de resistance! He's Brobee, a character from Yo Gabba Gabba, a kid's show on Nickelodeon that's quite the hit these days. (Interestingly enough, the show's creators are none other than the Aquabats. You remember the Aquabats? The ska, pop-punk, kooky band from the 90's?)

Yes, so Brobee caught my attention at first because he looked like a cinch to make. He doesn't have many colors, so I could easily make him using yarn I already had. He also has no tiny details such as whiskers or eyelashes, which sometimes don't age very well since yarn can fray. And his stocky form meant that he would be a really durable toy.

I also considered making Muno, the red cyclops guy, but ...meh. There was something about Brobee that called to me. I can't quite put my finger on it. Something about his look that I related to.

But then when I watched this video, I was sold. What a character! See if you can watch the same without:

  1. Getting the song stuck in your head all evening

  2. Feeling genuinely sorry for the carrots (I mean, call me a sucker, but I was sad for them)

  3. Wondering smugly if there will be a "party" in his colon with that undigested chicken bone n'all

Sunday, November 30, 2008

Bowling, Anne style

I think it's high time that I posted some of my work, no? I've been on a pasta bowl kick for a while. They're functional, frequently used, and they have a nice flat surface, the perfect canvas for whatever glazes and slips you can whip up.

After visiting Japan, I was inspired to start on a series of bowls with characteristic little notches on the rim. Kind of like a backwards spout. I like the outcome. With one purposeful little tweak, I'm actually giving the finger to my early days as a potter, when I insisted that everything be perfectly round and symmetrical.

Peace on Earth

Visiting this beautiful country--where nature is diverse and lush, the people friendly and prosperous--it's hard to believe that just a generation ago we dropped nuclear bombs on their land.

Who knows what the next sixty years will do to Sudan, Iraq, the Congo, the Holy Land, etc. I just hope I live to see peace and prosperity spread a little further across the world.

My heart goes out to the victims of the terrorist attacks in Mumbai, to their families, and to all of us who abhor such acts of violence.