Kaleb Sleeping Portrait

I drew a crayon portrait of my twin sister’s oldest child, Kaleb, for Christmas. This spirited little one is such a fantastic bundle of energy, it’s these rare quiet moments that catch me by surprise and squeeze my heart even tighter. I adore this guy.

He turned three on December 30th.

Kaleb Asleep in Crayola crayons on illustration artboard

Paul and Andrew Portraits

For Christmas this year, I made crayon portraits of my two nephews on my husband’s side of the family. These adorable little guys are the sparkle in the family! Paul is three years old and Andrew will be two in February.

Portrait of Andrew, Crayola crayons on illustration artboard
Portrait of Paul, Crayola crayons on illustration artboard

 

I’m so happy to have them in my life. And on December 26th we welcomed a brand new little nephew into the family! I’m looking forward to drawing another portrait for baby Tyler.

Dino Party

To celebrate my nephew, Kaleb, turning three years old, I helped my twin sister prepare for his dinosaur themed party.

The design for the cake was inspired by this cake at Project Nursery that I had seen on Pinterest:

So adorable, right?!

I made mine from a Devil’s Food mix, adding a tablespoon of cocoa powder and a teaspoon of vanilla extract. I also used butter instead of the 1/3 cup of oil that’s called for on the back of the box. To be completely honest, my husband actually put the batter together for me at my direction as I was painting the dinosaur posters (see below). It’s always wonderful to get a little help with these things. This is the largest cake I have ever made. The inner layers are slathered in this chocolate cream cheese frosting with chocolate beebees scattered on top to give a surprise chocolaty crunch. The green frosting is a Swiss meringue buttercream, which I had never attempted before. I doubled this recipe, Swiss Meringue Buttercream, with all the hints and it turned out so delightfully that I will definitely be using it again. It’s so fluffy, flavorful, and smooth. Scrumptious! It was fairly easy to work with too. The eyes, teeth, and arms are sugar cookies that I cute out by hand, adding food coloring to the arms to match the frosting color. The tail and party hat are frosted ice cream cones — another brilliant suggestion from my husband. He’s a keeper! Mini M&M’s provided the spots of color. Everyone loved the cake.

My sister had a bunch of fabulous party activities planned. The ring toss Triceratops and bean bag eating T-Rex were a hit with the kids and adults alike. I had fun painting them, too.

She also had adorable dinosaur temporary tattoos and dinosaur toy party favors.

My husband caught these two holding hands. The party spirit had spread to everyone, I think.

 

Happy Birthday, Kaleb! And a Happy New Year to everyone! I hope 2019 will be a wonderful year for us all.

Wintry Wishes

There’s nothing like a soft snowfall in the quiet of a wintry forest… Here is a quote from Lewis Carrol that expresses that cozy feeling in the midst of the harshness of winter:

“I wonder if the snow loves the trees and fields, that it kisses them so gently? And then it covers them up snug, you know, with a white quilt; and perhaps it says, “Go to sleep, darlings, till the summer comes again.”

Snow owls are one of my favorite birds of all time and I’ve been wanting the challenge of drawing something that blends so adeptly into its surroundings. Attempting to illustrate snow, or anything white really, is in fact all about color. You have to go into the project with a definite color scheme in mind because those shadows and lights are full of the rainbow! Crayons are perfect for this kind of illustration.

You can purchase a card of this snow owl drawing in my etsy shop! DIGITAL DOWNLOAD – Snow Owl Card

 

Snow Owl, Crayola crayons

 

Spooky Desert Bookmark

It’s that creepy time of year again! I love curling up with a good book and a warm cup of tea on these autumn days. I recommend anything by Nnedi Okorafor, if you’re on the lookout for a great read. Her words flow in and around you like brisk wind through naked trees. And if you’re getting ready to settle in for a good reading session, you might need a bookmark to fit the mood. I made this week’s crayon drawing into a bookmark with a quote from Nnedi Okorafor.

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Spooky Desert, Crayola crayons
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“If you spend enough time in the desert, you will hear it speak.” – Nnedi Okorafor, Who Fears Death.

You can download my Spooky Desert Bookmark on etsy.

Check out these other bookmarks in my etsy shop Familiar Oddlings.

Protect your hands

Needle felting is hard on your hands. The repetitive motion of stabbing the needle into the wool is not only a hazard for your fingertips — those needles are sharp! — but it can be a strain on your wrists and finger joints, especially if you are working on a project for any extended period of time. Sitting for hour after hour stabbing at a clump of wool can lead to aches going up into your arms and your back as well.

Here I’ll share with you a few of the things I do to try to help prevent these aches, or in the cases where it seems inevitable, at least recover from them. If you have more ideas, please share them in the comments.

Let’s do whatever we can to make needle felting a more fun and less painful experience.

THIMBLES. I recommend always using thimbles to guard against stray pokes. As noted above, these needles are sharp. I have drawn blood more times than I care to count, even while wearing thimbles. Without them, my fingers would be riddled with scars. Even if I’m just going to do a few “touch up” pokes, I put my thimbles on. It’s the best policy.

I like to use leather thimbles so that I can manipulate the wool with relative ease and feel where exactly the needle is while still being well protected. You can find these thimbles in the quilting section of most craft stores and there are many online sources for them as well.

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Nimble Thimble from JOANN Fabric and Crafts

WORK SURFACE. Using a pad of some kind as a work surface. This is something that I moved away from and then returned to throughout my needle felting life. I have learned the deeper wisdom of it over the years. Not only does the pad provide protection against the sharp needle stabbing into your leg or any other appendage, it lets your supporting hand, the one not doing the stabbing, rest. I felt a lot of long and thin shapes, like snonkey eyestalks and tapir stripes, and I often hold the strip of wool in between my thumb and finger while I stab at it. So exhausting! My left hand quickly cramps up. I’ve found it is so much easier on the hand to let the wool rest on the work surface and hold it minimally in place.

There are different types of work surfaces to use with needle felting. When I first began felting, I used a piece of foam. I didn’t like it because it crumbled after being poked so many times. It also made loud noises whenever the needle went into the foam, so pretty much … Every. Single. Second. I was working on my project. Maddening. Then for a while I used a pillow, which got wrecked in short order. Now, after years of not using any work surface at all, I use a Woolbuddy, which is actually itself made of  densely felted wool. I highly recommend it.

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Woolbuddy on Amazon.com

STRETCHES. Taking the time in the morning to do a few stretches and exercises to specifically strengthen your hands and fingers can really help. Every day before beginning my felting session I spend about a minute opening and closing my hands in fits in rapid succession. After the minute is up, I roll my wrists in circles and shake my hands out till they feel comfortable again. This has really helped stave off aches in my hands and wrists.

Here is an excellent short video for more great exercises: exercises for tendinitis (tendonitis) or carpal tunnel (cps)

Another video that I’ve found helpful: Yoga for Wrists & Fingers – Yoga for Wrist Cramps & Carpal Tunnel

When I’ve overdone it and my hands and shoulders are aching, yoga in general has been very healing for me. Try a few different things and find what works best for you.

TAKING BREAKS. This is an important one to keep in mind when you’re in the middle of a project and want to get “just one more” piece of it done. If you’ve been at it for more than an hour, take a little break and rest your hand. Get up and get a glass of water, pet the cat, or simply daydream for a moment. It will really help give your hands that little bit of recovery that enables you to get that much more done when you can come back to it fresh.

 

Those are the major things I can recommend to help you with this fantastic hobby. I’d love to learn more methods so let me know any good tips and tricks you’ve figured out in the comments.

Anthopleura WIP Video

I’ve been working really hard on the needle felted Anthopleura sola, the Starburst anemone, but making all those tentacles is taking a long time. So I thought I’d give you guys a peek into the process by…

… making my first needle felting video! View it at the link:

 

Below are some stills from the video with a bit more information.

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I found a yarn that was the perfect color to blend with my other roving (loose wool ready for felting or spinning). I only need to take it out of its loosely spun strands and make it into roving. You can do this with any yarn that is %100 wool, or any kind of felt-able fiber.
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Using specialized carding combs, I blend the two colors of roving together. You can get combs like these from Etsy or your local craft store.
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Here you can see I am wearing leather thimbles on my fingers and thumb. I use a wooden needle holder that I’ve found to be the most comfortable. Even though it has multiple slots, I typically use only a single needle. I felt on a Woolbuddy pad, which is a mat of densely felted wool that works just like a foam pad but better.

The start of the tentacle is a core of plain undyed roving, which is then covered and expanded upon with the blended roving. After rolling the wool into roughly the shape of a tentacle, I poke it repeatedly. The barbed needle does the felting by grabbing the strands and tangling them around each other with every poke. Slowly the tentacle starts to form and hold its shape.

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I stretch the blended roving out in a line to get the tentacle long and thin.
TentacleBlueTip_web
I add blue roving to the tip of the tentacle.
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The tentacle is complete and ready to join the others on the anemone!

Thank you for watching my process! This is a long and intense project and I’m glad to have you all along with me.

Check back for photos of the finished anemone.

Anthopleura sola WIP

Today’s post is a sneak peek of my latest needle felting project: Anthopleura sola, the Starburst anemone.

These are one of the most gorgeous sights you’ll see as you walk along the tide pools of the California coast, with their jewel-like tentacles dancing in the currents. You can spot this particular species by the stripes radiating out from the center in a luminous “burst.” Here is a photo I took on one of my excursions to the tide pools:

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Anemone at the Fitzgerald Marine Reserve

And more photos of these magnificent life forms:

 

I want the felted Anthopleura sola to be life-sized with a diameter of about 150 cm. I’m pushing myself to work larger which allows me to get in more details.

 

 

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Here you can see I’m experimenting with different colors and seeing how they come together. I had to blend a few different colors together to find what I wanted. I blend the wool by carding it between two combs.
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I found the colors that I liked and put in the delicate “burst” pattern.
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Starting to put in the tentacles!

I loved poking these creatures when I was a kid and watching their tentacles retract, and then poking them again and seeing the water gush out. It was so exciting! I doubt they enjoyed it very much, however, and I no longer practice this harassment. But I still adore watching these beauties in their shallow pools.