Jan 30, 2014

Worth it.

So, I work with teenagers as part of my zoo job.  Back in grad school, my Master's degree project was implementing a teen volunteer program at the zoo where I work.  I called it ZooTEENS.  We're going on the program's sixth year this summer.

Sometimes this part of my job is really hard.  There have been a few days where I just wanted to throw in the towel.

But every now and then, something happens that makes me realize that it's all worth it.

Like recently, when we opened up the application process, a former ZooTEEN (who has grown too old for the program) posted this on her facebook wall:  "If you love animals, are willing to work hard and not bitch (too much), learn something new every day, and get an awesome experience, I highly recommend that you apply! I wouldn't be where I am today if not for Zoo Teens and of course, Dani Ives."

And then today, I read a local article which featured an interview from another former ZooTEEN turned employee:  "O’Toole says that her time as a volunteer taught her many important life skills. 'I became comfortable approaching and talking to groups of people I didn’t know, learning about ethics and my true calling in life. I wouldn’t be where I am today without the ZooTEEN program.' ”

It's moments like this that make me love what I do.

Because even when things get tough, it's worth it. 

Jan 28, 2014

The Making of a Felt Painting

When I tell people that I needle felt, more often than not I have to explain what that is.  At shows, a lot of folks walk into my booth and assume that I'm using boiled wool or I have knitted then felted (by way of washing and drying) my products.  I always keep some unfinished products and supplies on hand so that I can demonstrate the process:
"See, I gather the wool into the general shape, then I poke it with these special, barbed needles, 
and the fibers tangle together. The more I poke, the more I can shape and sculpt the wool..."

Once they see how things are made, then it seems as though they have a better appreciation of the total work and time that goes into each piece.  Needle felted pieces are not something that can be mass produced--at least very well.  I'm just a one gal show over here (plus the work my husband puts in).  As much as I wish I could make more things, my time is finite, which means my productivity is finite too.  Sometimes I'm envious of graphic designers and artists who can make prints--they can produce so much product.  They can send their work to shops across the states--out of the states even.  I struggle to renew local consignment orders.  Thank goodness the shop owners are patient. But I digress.

Below is the step-by-step process with short descriptions of how I made the wool painting from week 3 of 52 Weeks of Felt Paintings. Enjoy!

1. Blank needle felted canvas on my felting foam with my 6-needle tool.
2. The four shades of blue I used for the sky.
3. The entire background was covered in one blue.
4. Other blues laid out on the canvas to determine how I wanted the gradient.
5. All the blues are felted down.
6. Playing with composition with shades of pink and purple for the balloons.
7. Started with the the balloons in the back....
8. And worked my way toward the front of the bunch.
9. All balloons are felted in place.

10. Placing lighter colored felt for balloon highlights.
11. Balloon highlights are felted in.
12. I also added some white into the highlights.  Determining string placement.
13. "Stretching" the wool into long pieces for the strings.
14. All the strings are in place.
15. Adding flesh colored wool for the hand and arm holding the balloons.

16. Adding small balloon details.
17. Small detail work on the hand.
18. The edges of the painting are still pretty messy...
19. ...so I cleaned them up with my felting needles.
20. Edges smoothed.  (Side shot to show dimension.)
21. Finished!

I didn't time myself while making this.  It's not terribly detailed, so I guess it took a total of 1.5 hours (give or take a bit) not including all the picture taking.  More detailed pieces take up to 3 or 4 hours. It truly is a lot of layering, and it's easier to build up the felt rather than take it away.

Does anything about this process surprise you?

Jan 26, 2014

52 Weeks of Felt Paintings - Week 4

I really enjoyed making this felt painting (and different versions of it) last year, and it seemed to be a really popular one at shows.  So, I thought I'd try a different color scheme.  And this one is much larger.  My husband made me some felt painting canvases, and they're huge!  Well, you know, bigger than my normal felt paintings. 


This one took about 4.5 hours from start to finish, because it is bigger, but also because I spent a lot of time blending  and layering colors.  There are five different blues in the sky.  It might be hard to tell in the photos, but there is a bit of green layered on top of the black tree silhouettes, too.  Oh and all of the little stars are individually torn from a big chunk of wool and rolled into tiny balls.

I've been debating about putting these paintings in my shop.  I really should be keeping them for craft and art shows, which start in the Spring.  So, for now, unless I make a few extras, I'll probably just keep them out of the shop.  But that doesn't mean I can make one as a special order--so if you see one you like, just let me know!

Jan 24, 2014

Remember that tattoo I mentioned a year ago...?

Remember this post about a tattoo? Well, I thought I'd share the latest with you.  I've been planning this tattoo for well over a year.  I've been thinking about it, letting the idea stew like one probably should before permanently inking your body, and I'm still completely in love with my idea.  Last November, I started my search for an artist.  I visited a friend's tattoo artist at a local shop.  He did great work for her, so I thought I'd see what he could do for me.  We exchanged some emails, and right off the bat he gave me a price that was "half off".  I don't know why, really, but that gave me a bad vibe.  Later on that week, I stopped in the shop to talk with him in person and show him my ideas.  My experience at this point was a little strange.  My husband and I walked in, and there were two kids, like nine year-old kids, sitting behind the desk. I paused and looked around.

Nine year-old- "Can I help you?"
Me, a perplexed look on my face-"Um. I'm here to talk to so-in-so."
Nine year-old who at this point couldn't be bothered and resumes her coloring (I don't really remember if she was coloring, but she was doing some sort of pencil-to-paper work.)-"He's over there doing a tattoo."
Nine year-old-"You can go over there."
Me-"Oh. Okay."

So, my first impression of this particular shop was so unprofessional.  Not good.  So I walked over to the studio area, not exactly sure where to stand, because he's clearly busy.  He greeted me and was super nice, but it felt awkward interrupting his work on someone else.  Plus, the studio seemed cluttered and a little disorganized to my tattoo virgin eyes. It was just weird.  But I was there, so I talked to him about my idea, left him some pictures, and he said he'd get back to me with a drawing. And he did. And it was great.  But my gut feeling was to keep looking. 

So, two months later, after the holiday rush in my shop, and after a lot of internet searching and portfolio browsing, I contacted a different shop.  Their work is stunning! I pretty much already knew that this is where I'd get my tattoo. I stopped by one afternoon to let them know what I wanted. I talked with one of the artists about the idea, he had some input and advice, which I was a little put off by at first, because his advice meant changing the tattoo a bit. (The more I thought about it later, though, the more I appreciated his input.)  So after our initial chat, it was then my job to pick which artist I wanted to do my tattoo. This is not really what I was expecting, but it makes complete since. (For some reason, I was hoping that they would tell me which of them would be best suited for my idea. But like true artists, they each have their own style, so of course it makes since for me to choose which of their styles fits me best.)  So, after thirty minutes (read: f o r e v e r) of staring at their portfolios, I finally picked Gabe

And honestly, it was this tattoo in Gabe's portfolio that convinced me. (This photo is not me.) And no, I'm not getting butterflies. At least not yet. ;)

I gave him a quick run down of my idea, and he liked it.  Cool.  But here's the kicker.  His waiting list is a year long.  A year!  Oh, I was so disappointed.  After having already pondered this idea for a year, I was ready.  Like put-me-in-the-chair-and-let's-do-this ready.  And, understandably, a deposit is required to secure a place on his list. 

So, we left the shop with plans to think it over. Not even five minutes later on our way home, I had decided that I would go back the next day to put down my deposit.

So now I'm on the list!

For 2015.

Which is still disappointing, but folks, it will be WELL worth the wait.

Jan 21, 2014

Felt Heart Tutorial

Hi friends!  If you're a novice needle felter, I've got a fun tutorial for you today!  And it's just in time for you to use it for Valentine's Day!

Let's make some Easy Peasy Felt Hearts!

You'll need some carded wool or wool roving in your chosen color(s), felting needles, and foam to protect your work surface.

The amount of wool you choose will determine the size of your heart.  I tear off a chunk and ball it up to get an idea of the size of the heart that it will make. 

Start with your wool fibers laying somewhat flat.

Fold over one side to make a straight edge.  Do the same to the other side.  Your goal here is to make pretty edges and a point for your heart.

Needle felt the edges that you folded over into the heart.  Make sure the fibers are firmly secured.  The more you poke, the tighter the fibers will become.  Now you should have some pretty edges and a point.

Now we need to make the rounded top of the heart.  Fold over the top to make pretty rounded corners.

Felt it down, and you'll end up with a funny looking triangle.

The last step is to make the little heart humps.  Using the needle, felt the valley of the top of the heart by poking in the same spot in the middle repeatedly.  The more you poke, the deeper the valley.

Give your heart a final once over with your needle, smoothing out any lumps or imperfections.

These are so pretty strung up as a garland, scattered over a table with some flowers, or sitting in a pretty bowl.  Have fun with these, and let me know what you do with yours!!

Jan 19, 2014

52 Weeks of Felt Paintings - Week 3

I've got a cheerful felt painting for you this week. Balloons are pretty much always cheerful, right?

Like my Wilson Phillips inspired title? 

So, I've been busy felting some V-day and one-of-a-kind items to have in stock and ready to ship when my shop opens Monday at 4:00!  I'm so excited!!

Until then, though, I'll leave you with this: "Someday somebody's gonna make you want to turn around and say goodbye.."

You're welcome.

Jan 16, 2014

Our Travel Wall Update

My husband and I love to travel, and you may remember the post I did a while ago about our travel wall.  We've collected different artworks, prints and maps, some during our travels and some purchased later, and created a gallery wall in our living room.  Back in April 2013, my husband and I went back to Europe and collected pieces from Belgium and France, and then purchased a piece off Etsy to represent the Netherlands.

I finally updated the wall---nine months later.  Sometimes I just take my time...

Anyway, here it is!  We added three new pieces.

1.  This painting was purchased directly from the artist in the Montmartre neighborhood in Paris.  When I decided to buy it, I actually didn't have enough cash on me, and the artist was going to leave soon.  So my husband and I went on a mad dash searching and asking around for an ATM.  For future reference, there are NOT many cash machines in Montmartre. But we made it back in time.  Barely.  Lesson learned.

2.  I saw this piece on Etsy and had to have it for the wall.  Tulips are my favorite flowers, and windmills are so iconic for the Netherlands (that's even where the artist lives!).  Plus, it has felt details sewn onto the canvas.  This Etsy artist has prints for so many different cities--check her out!

3.  Different kinds of lace have originated from Belgium, so I thought a pretty piece of lace would be a perfect addition to our travel wall. This is a piece of handmade lace that we purchased in Brussels from the cutest little old couple.  It took me a while to find just the right one,  but I did, and I love it.

(Kitty apparently cannot be bothered by all this photographing.)

We aren't planning any trips to Europe this year, but we will be going to Florida to celebrate my 30th birthday in the Spring.  We could use some recommendations for places to visit or stay or where to eat.  We'll be driving and town hopping our way down to the Keys.  xoxo

Jan 15, 2014

My Second Stitch Fix!

I got my second Stitch Fix yesterday, and I am hooked!!  I got the shipping notification email late last week and was anxiously waiting for Tuesday's mail.  My stylist did a fabulous job again!!

Like my first fix, I received three tops, one skirt and one dress.  I peeked at the styling cards before I ripped open the tissue paper to get an idea of what was in my box.

So, let's talk about this top first.  I would never have picked this up in a store. Never.  I own nothing with a Peter Pan collar.  I own nothing with buttons down the back.  I never would have thought that this top could work for me.  But it does. Like a dream.  I like the swans, I love the blue, I even like the fancy-ness of the gold buttons.  It's a keeper for sure.  (In my original 'additional comments' to my stylist when I first filled out my profile, I explained that I love prints *of* animals, like birds or cat silhouettes, but I don't like animal prints like zebra stripes or leopard spots. Score!)

Next, I tried on this skirt.  I was a little hesitant about the stripes, but it's really cute.  The drape and little bit of pleating help to break up the lines a little.  Plus, its a bit shiny and metallic, so I think this skirt can be dressed up or down.  Another keeper.

Let's talk about the cardigan (top right.)  It has tiny embroidered owls on it.  I mean, I'm a teacher at a zoo.  Could there be a more perfect sweater for me? Probably not.  But if you want to search for one, by all means, let me know if you find something. My husband jokingly said this would be a perfect addition for my librarian collection of clothes. Pffff.

The white top on the bottom right is really cute too.  It's super sheer, so it definitely needs a camisole underneath it.  I really like it, but it's a little too tight at the bust.  Just a little.

But this dress.  This dress is amazing.  I love it.  (And my husband likes it too, so it's pretty much an automatic check in the 'yes' box.)  It's a bit stretchy, and it's short, which is great for my short body.  

I decided to keep everything.  Even the just-a-little-too-tight top. Why?  Because if you keep all five pieces, you get 25% off your total, and, for this fix, it's actually less expensive to keep all five rather than just the four.  Also, I won a $50 credit recently through an instagram contest, so my total was an unbelievable $92.50 for ALL five pieces. 

So, if you haven't already, but you want to try this for yourself, you can use this referral link (if you want to), and I'll get a credit when you get your Fix.  It's so fun!

Would you keep any of these pieces for yourself?

Jan 13, 2014

52 Weeks of Felt Paintings - Week 2

If you follow me on Instagram (@begoodnatured), then you've already seen this one. (I post lots of fun pictures over there, including animals--come see!)

Anyway, I really like this wool painting.  These photos don't really do it much justice though--my camera was having issues with these blues.  Weird.

 I wasn't sure how this would turn out, or if I would have the patience for all the feathers.  But, I think it's painterly and detailed enough to be just my style with these wool paintings. Success!

Jan 8, 2014

Fur, Feathers & Scales - Mali Uromastyx

Nope. That wasn't a typo. My fingers were properly placed on my keyboard. In fact, my spell check wants to change uromastyx to burgomaster.  Really? What is that?  Anyway, a uromastyx is a real thing.  And until very recently, I didn't know much about them.  So, we're basically learning together! See how fun this is?

Meet Agatha the Mali uromastyx, which is a lizard sometimes known as a spiny-tailed lizard, and rightly so.

They are found in North Africa and the Middle East. 

Agatha is roughly eight years old, and the average lifespan for one of these guys is about 15 to 20 years.  You might have noticed that she has a slightly misshapen tail.  She used to be housed with a male who bit her tail.  Needless to say, they broke up. 

They average 10 to 18 inches in length (but one species can be much larger) and eat only vegetation. They don't drink much either, because they get nearly all the water they need from the vegetation they consume. 

This mali uromastyx species is sexually dichromatic, meaning the males and females are different colors--the males are more brightly colored than the females.

My favorite thing about Agatha (although her big, fat, spiny tail runs a close second) is the way she excretes salt to normalize the amount of sodium in her body.  You and I excrete salt through sweat and urine.   She has nasal salt glands that secrete clear fluid, which later dries as a fine, white powder. That white stuff on her face is actually salt.

Thanks for learning about this reptile with me! What's your favorite thing about Agatha?

Jan 5, 2014

52 Weeks of Felt Paintings - Week 1

Oh, it's been cold here in Missouri.  I've gone outside once today.  Once.  As far as my front door step. To take the pictures of this painting.  If you look closely, you can even see tiny snowflakes that have landed on the painting.  My dogs don't even want to go outside--they're getting so restless.  And my poor chickens!  They have extra straw and an extra heat lamp for the next couple days. 

Last week I announced that I'd be doing another 52 weeks project this year: 52 Weeks of Felt Paintings. I'm pretty excited to get into this! I have some fun ideas....

But for my first week of 2014, I felted a little bunny!

P.S. My shop is closed until January 20th.  But when it reopens, I'll have some Valentine's Day goodies!

Jan 2, 2014

Because I'm crazy

I had so much fun with 52 Weeks of Felting in 2013, and I hope you all enjoyed seeing some of my new felted creations.  I've decided to continue with it in 2014 for a few reasons: it keeps me from being lazy with my felting, it helps me keep my inventory stocked for craft shows, AND it pushes me creatively.  I tossed around a few ideas for this year's project like 52 Weeks of Birds, or 52 Weeks of Monsters, but I decided to focus on what I enjoyed doing the most of last year: felted wool paintings!

Custom felt paintings for Christmas.
So 2014 will be the year of wool paintings! I'm pretty pumped about this!  I've got a short list of ideas going, but I need to come up with, you know, 52.  Want to add one?  What would you like to see this year?

Jan 1, 2014

Happy New Year!

I hope that whichever path you choose for 2014, you and yours have a year full of love and happiness.