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First light, and we’re continuing to enjoy some much-needed rain here in Northern California. There’s bustle going on downstairs in the studio, but it’s uninteresting compared to Scarlett, sleeping off an early morning foray into the great suburban outdoors.

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In that respect, her explorations are not that different to my own, except I’m neither five months old nor a cat. No matter how much I wish.

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Still. She approaches her new domain with seemingly equal amounts of enthusiasm and caution.

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I want to be like Scarlett. Especially the perfect nap part.

Newsletter, Walnuts

I’ve been wanting to publish a newsletter for some time. Printed magazines have always been dear to my heart, and I see an email newsletter as a cost-effective way of sharing my interest imperative of a daily creative practice — however it occurs to you — as essential human activity, without all the adverts. I’m using Constant Contact for delivery, in part because I’m familiar with it from my volunteer work with Pacifica Beach Coalition, and hey, start with what you know.

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Years ago I made an advent calendar for my daughter, when she first moved away for college. It was a garland of shelled walnuts containing tiny treasures glued over a length of ribbon, meant to be re-cracked as the days unfolded. This is a perfect project for miniaturists, for who among us does not have an overflowing stash of tiny treasures?

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Construction is easy enough. Get a pound or so of jumbo walnuts in the shell.

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Split them cleanly open, and remove the good bits. (It’s just weird to call nuts meat.) Share with your squirrels and birds or save for cooking/snacking. I found a shellfish fork to be the handiest tool for all tasks, but use what you have. Keep the shell pairs together.

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Ensure you have a dedicated helper.

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This is the really fun part. Depending on to whom you intend to give this, go through your stash and find small treasures that will fit in a walnut shell. This one is for my almost-four-year-old granddaughter.

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It’s helpful to test fit and line up your treasures so you can roll with assembly. Make sure you keep your walnut shells paired!

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A thinnish, flexible ribbon or raffia works best. (I’ve needlessly complicated the process here by using a sheer ribbon and a novelty yarn, but both have sentimental value :) Dot glue on both sides of the shell, sandwiching the ribbon, and realign the cracked shell edges.

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Hold until dry. Think about good things.

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Decide a pleasing interval between walnuts, and repeat the process for the number of days you wish to advent, depending on what you’re counting down (or up). The finished walnut garland can be hung in any number of ways. Of course you’ll want to give some consideration to the contents vs. the force necessary to re-break the shell, but it’s pretty easy.

If you’re fancy, the walnuts could be gilded or embellished with numerals. Or glitter… or rose thorns. You get the idea. Evoke.

For me, cracking and shelling walnuts returns me to my childhood, when every home had a nut bowl on a living room side table, always available for a snack. Holiday baking involved conscripted labor. Our job as kids was to crack a very large bag of walnuts, almonds, pecans, hazelnuts, the odd Brazil nut — our mother would never indulge the cost of pre-shelled nuts! — and extract the usable parts. As I recall, whole walnut and pecan halves earned a dividend. These memories are imbued with a happiness of shared industry and rich nut tidbits.

Anyway. Projects, ideas, like this are what I have in mind for my newsletter content, as well as quick inspirations, fun facts, helpful hints, and links to relevant, deeper content around the subject of being a heartfelt creative person. Sound interesting? There’s a clunky link in the sidebar to subscribe, as well as a new “Newsletter” page with a contact form. Obviously I’m still working everything out. I’m thinking a once a month issue to begin with. Interested?

Defense

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It’s come to this. I bought a stack of dollar-store foamcore and built this fortress to repel the kitten’s perpetual investigations. It looks ridiculous. Hoping the sloping top will deter her from lounging on the roof as she would do when the build was merely shrouded.

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Of course, when I lifted the stronghold to work on the build… “Hey, what’s that cracking sound?”

As Paula Poundstone recounted, I can’t have nice things.

RIP Starla Argo v1

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I came home to find this grisly modification to Starla Argo, whom I had thought was safely ensconced in the Sea House Warming Hut, up on a high shelf. Here’s the weird part: nothing else was disturbed.

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And there’s a lot of random stuff on the stairs and deck.

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When I asked Scarlett if she knew anything about this, she sniffed Starla a few times, then galloped off down the hallway.

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I found her lounging in the kitchen sink. Her head was bobbing rapidly in that cat way of gathering as many perspectives as quickly as possible to assess if I was going to use my big voice again, which is why her face is a bit blurred.

It’s OK. Starla v1 was a learning prototype, and I had notes on changes to my technique and her design. But I am going to invest in some of those upright square plastic boxes I’ve seen stop motion animators use to store their models for v2 and subsequent characters.

Felines and Flora

I’ll just get the cat pix out of the way first thing.

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Classic long-suffering Albie and his unwanted sidekick. All he wants to do is sleep on the bed and not be mauled. She shadows and adores and mauls him.

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See the succulent/cactus hybrid hovering slightly above her sisters in the long planter? This is a new feature :) I’m adding believable stems to some of them.

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This may be one of the most enigmatic photos I’ve ever published. Here are tiny stems very close up — they’re just over an inch long. They’re made from floral wire wrapped with torn strips of brown paper bag. Easy to make a gentle curve and plant.

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In other projects, I got all the sizes of leaves from JMG Miniatures to make potted palms for either side of the stairway. They come five to a bag and are cut from a nice green sturdy stock. I’m not even painting them! I glued a fine gauge green wire onto the central stem of each frond to enable sculpting.

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Once the glue was dry, I curled them around a fat watercolor pencil (Derwent Inktense, Teal Green 1300, not mandatory).

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I gathered groups of three or four fronds, and bound them together with strips of torn brown paper bag.

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I bundled three or four frond clusters around another length of floral wire, and covered the lot of them with more torn paper bag strips, and stabbed them to dry in their eventual planters. These are those ever-versatile, well-modeled chocolate brown Houseworks tapered pots to which I had given a “zinc” finish.

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Here they are “palmed” and waiting for the glue to dry in the pots. I’ll cluster more succulents around the bases, tying in with the rest of the casual landscaping. I like how they both frame and add a “parlor” friendliness to the entrance. Since this is meant to be a refurbished working farm building, I didn’t want to put in a stuffy staircase banister.

In the showroom proper you can see an exquisite spinning wheel, gifted by our beloved reader BW. We’ve both agreed it’s a bit too pristine, but I’m reluctant to augment it. I need to channel my inner Sleeping Beauty for counsel.

Until then…

Echeveria!

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Been making California poppy and echeveria planters for a little while now.

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I first learned how to make echeveria from this wonderful tutorial by Annie Christensen of We Love Miniatures. She uses brushed pastels at the end to tint the leaves. All the succulents in the Argo Wool Works foundation plantings were made using her method.

Lately, I’ve taken to using markers to tint and edge the various shapes punched from cardstock painted with acrylic wash, as seen above.

Also, do you see those footed flat clay planters? They’re from Falcon Miniatures, made in Thailand, and seem no longer available. If any of you know a source, I’d be very stoked :)

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This afternoon I was fooling around, searching for some new shapes from the limited punches I have. I covered a bottle brush seed pod with overlapping petal shapes, and set that in a base of cupped leaves. Then I stuffed an emerging flower shape in the apex hole — I really need to look up the correct botanical terms — and… a new, fairly convincing succulent/cactus hybrid variety was born! I’m quite pleased with its appearance and will post a step-by, after I get a manicure :)

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This picture of Scarlett nuzzling into Albie expresses my joy. I expect one day to stop posting so very many cat pictures, but she is so stinking cute and delightful…

 

Do-overs

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Last night after woods class, I was all excited to finish the Argo Wool Works samples wall chart. I had designed it and punched quarter-inch circles from all the wool felt colors I had earlier in the day.

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After gluing them on, I realized they were just too big :(

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Today I re-worked the chart and punched out another batch of eighth-inch samples. I would have considered 3/16-inch, but that punch is somewhere I cannot find :/

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As I mentioned, I’ve had to cover the build with a carefully folded and tucked sheet secured with binder clips, to prevent Scarlett from demolishing it. Alas, her super-burrowing powers have proven superior to my defense effort. This is her wondering why I’m using my big voice?

Wroughting Iron, Again

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The human hand often makes the best gluing jig, yes? After considerable deliberation about style, I’m making a salvaged wrought iron railing for the wee balcony off the Argo Wool Works showroom. These are portions of the same laser cut panels from JMG Miniatures used in the Sea House Warming Hut. The best thing about making “vintage” wrought iron is the globbier the glue and the cruddier the paint job, the more scale authenticity.

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Observe my current working conditions. The railing joints are reinforced with black paper brackets and “bolts”, which add tremendous stability to the fragile structure.

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Scarlett was on her way to inspect my suspiciously-tinkling glass of white wine (Layer Cake Sauvignon Blanc, vintage 2015, lovely). Soon after, she sat down on the many 1/16-inch punched bolts (and x-acto knife, etc.) which clung to her fur and trailed after as she sped on to the next investigation. (The dots clung, not the knife :)

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The railing installed, with mounting brackets. It appears a bit too “freshly painted”, so I want to hunt down some examples in the wild to see how they oxidize. But not too much. Structural integrity is important :) Also made brackets for the scythe from Sir Thomas Thumb, which will support some sort of sign. Perhaps Lasciate ogne speranza, voi ch’intrate?

Nah. Probably just Argo Wool Works.

Argo Wool Works, Plastic Litter Collage, Scarlett

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After serious depredation wrought between new kitten and granddaughter, I had to relocate the Argo Wool Works build from my worktable to a higher shelf. This made working on it difficult, and me sad.

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Frustrated, I’ve moved it back to the worktable, and hope to protect it from marauders by covering with a dropcloth when I’m not present to defend it.

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I made small progress with the lights.

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And spent considerable time thinking anew about the interior.

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In other news, the plastic litter collage is complete, and made its debut in the Pacifica Beach Coalition booth at the 31st annual Fogfest celebration. I noticed it suffered some depredation of its own, as it came back with some pieces missing. Seriously, who steals trash art?!

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Scarlett is three months old, and thriving. Our older boy cats have resigned themselves to her presence, tolerating, and even initiating play.

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Here she is complaining about a recent heat wave, from her in perch in another relocated (and depredated) build, my first-ever Loft (1)961.

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Wish me luck!