Sunday, August 8, 2010

The Incredible Non-Edible Dessert Plush

I have a good friend at work who I’ve known for years now. We’re alike in personality in many ways, we laugh a lot, and we share a common love of chocolate (especially dark) and sweets. It was her birthday recently, and I decided to give her a gift card to Dairy Queen because she likes the Buster Bar Sundae or Blizzard…..whichever it is. But, I wanted to do something more personal as well. So, I decided to make a plush chocolate chip cookie ice cream sandwich.
That’s right! A cuddly little plush version of the yummy, sweet ice cream treat! I really didn’t plan much or put a ton of thought into it. As I was mulling it over, I tossed it around in my head as to how I would do it. The days went by and it got closer and closer to her birthday, so I needed to get on the ball and do some work. I figured I’d make it into three pieces: the top and bottom cookie which would consist of two pieces of fabric sewn together and stuffed just a little so they wouldn’t be too flat and then ice cream in the middle. It was this middle part that I knew would be a little tricky. I didn’t want to make it into two separate pieces which I would sew together because then I’d have a seam. Let’s face it; there is no seam in ice cream!! (Though that does rhyme, but I don’t know what that has to do with anything.) I envisioned a round, squished thing of white fabric that calls to mind the nice creaminess of vanilla ice cream.

As I felt the time pressing in on me, I decided to just start and see how it went. I knew that at its heart, the way I had it in my head to do, the plush would basically be just three circles. I found a cup that had the right size for the cookie, so I traced it on my sketch paper/pattern paper and started in on that. I was going to do felt since it might look more rough and cookie-like, but I didn’t have the right brown. I didn’t have any more brown fabric either, as I found out. However I luckily had some scraps which I could use, but I couldn’t make any mistakes and I didn’t have any extra to allow for the shrinkage that always happens once you make the stitches. I went for it and hoped for the best. I used scraps of black felt for the chocolate chips and tried to be intentionally random in both the way I cut the chips out so they wouldn’t be perfectly round and in their arrangement on the fabric. Unfortunately my natural instinct for symmetry and logic war against this creative inclination, so I asked Shawn for help on the last part. He placed them in a haphazard way on the fabric, and I pinned them down so I could sew them exactly as he had them. (Not exactly sewing at its most whimsical, but hey it gets the job done.)

When I was done with that, I sewed the cookies up and set them aside to work on the middle part the next day. However, when Shawn looked at them a little later I either realized or he pointed out that I hadn’t sewn them inside out. How stupid!! You stop sewing for awhile, and you forget what you’ve learned. They definitely looked better with the stitches on the inside, so I stood in my kitchen that night (stronger lighting) and ripped out all the stitches. I’d have to redo it the next day as well as do the middle to finish the whole thing in order to bring it to work that following day. As I lay in bed that night, irritated with myself, I kept thinking about how I was going to do the middle now given that it would be hard to sew the ice cream part to basically closed-off cookies. I tried using a needle that curves one time so it would allow me better access to making stitches through a small opening, but I couldn’t get the hang of it. I decided I would just go ahead and stuff the cookies, finish sewing them up and then be sure not to push the needle through both layers of the brown fabric. Even more hoping for the best!

Once I finished that after work the next day, I found the same cup I had grabbed earlier and used the larger end to make the circle for my ice cream filling. I wanted it bigger so I could kind of fold it over to attach to the bottom cookie. That way, I wouldn’t have a seam and maybe it would look like someone had squished that nice scoop of ice cream between those cookies. It was more difficult than I imagined, folding it down and making it work. Since the fabric was a larger size, I kind of had to fold it in as well as under to sew it onto the bottom cookie. It was a tad annoying, but in the end gave it a bit of that textured look that ice cream has in sandwich form.

If I had it to do over again, I would try to line up the places where I sewed the cookies shut and the spot where I closed off the ice cream after I stuffed it. That way all the messiness would be in one area which could be easily hidden from view. Inexperience once again shines large and bright! Overall though, I was pretty happy with my efforts. The glaring flaws are always hard to overlook, but the appearance was nearly spot on and it was certainly fun and interesting. My friend absolutely loved it and told me later in the day that she had to put it away in her bag because she kept reaching out to it thinking it was the real tasty treat! That’s not a bad compliment to get when you kind of threw it together on a whim.

Monday, July 5, 2010

Oghma Did It!

As the organizers of the UP! Fair began to meet and discuss our plans, I started feeling decidedly unproductive in my efforts. I was present during the meetings and I provided feedback here and there, but I didn’t feel like I was doing enough. I hoped to be a good bit of help at the actual event, but I wanted to contribute more. Anything that might need to be done concerning promotional matierals, the workshops, content provided would be handled by most of the team through their own artwork. So where exactly did I fit into this talented group?

I wasn’t sure, and I’ve enjoyed feeling like I didn’t belong. So, what could I do to be involved in a bigger way? There’s the sewing projects I’ve done for my “line” of demonals, but I didn’t feel like those belonged at a convention celebrating artists, sequential art and independent publishing. My stuffed creations don’t fall into that category at all. So, what else is there?

Then I thought about making something to give to the guests tabling at the event. It would be an extra thing that they might enjoy would foster a nice partnership between them and the UP! Fair. I wanted it to be useful, so it wouldn’t seem like junk where they’d squinch their eyes up and say “Gee, thanks,” as they tossed it in the first trash can they could find. I considered doing a card holder with an approximation of the UP! Fair logo, so they’d have something readily available to keep any and all business cards they collected at the event together. It would be practical, functional and decorative. Ultimately, though, I nixed the idea. I wasn’t sure if it was the right way to go, and I was afraid that it might not hold the cards well enough to be useful.

I kept thinking about it and thinking about it, and then I remembered an idea for a stuffed creation that I wanted to do based on something mentioned in Art & Story. I have no idea which episode of the podcast this happened, but Jerzy and Mark were talking about the humidity level in the studio and how it was affecting their ink. They complained about it seizing up and getting gloopy (my word, not theirs!), and one of them made the off-hand remark about an ink ghost coming in and stealing the moisture in there. I immediately started wondering about an ink ghost……..what would it look like? I thought that would make an awesome stuffed animal, and figured on making it one day. Well, I decided I could take that ink ghost, make it into an ink monster and that might be a fun thing to provide our guests!

As I was designing the look of the ink monster, I went online and Googled monster as an image. I was trying to figure out what kind of face I wanted to do. I imagined my little ink monster forming out of a puddle of viscous ink, rising out of the murky black as a rounded shape. He kind of galumphs along, with the bottom part of him kind of slurping along the ground as he leaves an ink trail behind him. I didn’t want to do arms on him, though I don’t rule out that he has them. I also didn’t want to do a mouth because I wouldn’t be able to it justice in felt or fabric, since I saw it in my mind as a maw opening up with strings of ink stretching vertically across that vast, dark space. (Think of a Scooby Doo ghost mouth if that description doesn’t quite get the idea across.) So I needed eyes, but what kind of eyes? My ink monster is not malevolent or angry, but despite his bulky movements he’s not stupid either. I checked out a few images, and as crazy as this is going to sound I realized I don’t have to do two eyes! What a revelation that was! Think outside the box, Carrie, because you don’t have to view things in the traditional way. I really liked that idea so decided to make him a Cyclops. How fun!

Then I started thinking it through to see how I might pull this off. I came up with the idea to make a large pattern with rounded edges made in a haphazard manner. When I had the fabric cut, I draped it over something around the house that I could use as a guide for the size that I wanted and then I sewed the folds together to make it keep the general shape. I also wanted to create the feeling that the fabric around the bottom of him was loose, to give the impression that it might undulate as he moved. I filled the middle with polyfil and then cut another bit of fabric out and sewed it on as a bottom.

When I was done……….I hated it!! It was an absolute disaster and I was extremely disappointed with my efforts. It looked like this big, squat blob-like flower with an eye. I put it on the counter near our laundry room door where we sometimes put paper that needs to go in the trash. I couldn’t quite throw him away at that moment, but planned to later on. My husband had other ideas though, and I found later that he had disappeared. I asked him about and he told me he had hidden it because he wanted to keep it. In fact, he had named him Humboldt because it reminded him of a squid and we had recently watched something on television about Humboldt squids.

Shawn encouraged me to try again, so I did. It’s amazing what a small tweak here or a change in design there can achieve. I decided to ditch the whole one-piece pattern idea, and instead cut out a front and back pattern. I saw my ink monster, as I said, as tall and somewhat slender so I was careful to draw that kind of shape. I then pared back on the amount of “drips” at the bottom of the pattern (the little ins and outs to make it look like an ink splotch). I also tried to make those drips as random as possible but with enough forethought so they wouldn’t end up lining up somehow front to back. I kept the eye the same and the piece that I cut out to sew to the bottom, though I didn’t actually make a pattern for that.

He came out tremendously different and so much better!! I used some leftover pieces of orange felt that I had rather than using black, in case it was a flop too. But he wasn’t, though he came out a bit too slender for how I pictured him. So, the only thing left to do was to make him a little bit wider and find a fabric that evoked the texture and qualities of ink. Shawn and I took a trip to JoAnn’s to look around. Normally I would go by myself, but I wanted a second opinion on what might look best. We found a couple of good candidates, one in particular that was swimsuit material and really had the “feel” of wet ink. However, part of what I enjoy about stuffed animals is the soft texture, the cuddle factor. I had discovered a remnant that was black which had a shiny quality to it as well having that softness that I so enjoy. Ultimately I went with that one and quickly made another prototype. (It’s so much easier when you have the patterns already completed.)

He’s a beautiful, little ink monster in my opinion. My only complaint with him is that since the material I found was not as stiff as the felt so rather than sticking out and retaining that shape, they folded under his body. I’ll have to cut out a pattern around those drips and use that to sew to the bottom rather than just closing off the hole where he’s stuffed. If that works out, then he’ll be pretty damn near perfect for what I’m able to accomplish at this stage in the game.

I’m considering him to be the unofficial mascot of the UP! Fair. That hasn’t been truly discussed yet with the other organizers, but to me that’s what he is. I wanted to come up with some sort of back story for him, nothing long and involved just a base for what he is as well as a name. I sent suggestions to Shawn at work one day, and the few that got bandied about weren’t quite right. I was thinking of him as some sort of muse, so I Googled gods and goddesses and found a site that listed names from various cultures. I saw one listed whose description caught my eye: Oghma (Scottish, Irish) - God of Communication and Writing, and of Poets. I thought that was rather appropriate for the UP! Fair, so I sent it to Shawn. Thus, my little ink monster became Oghma, the Ink Monster. Shawn and I discussed the back story on the way home from work, and we came up with the idea that he isn’t a muse in the normal sense of the word. He’s the reason why your ink seizes up and becomes thick. He’s the one behind your sudden frustration on where to take the story or what kind of person a character is going to be. The smudge of ink that appears on your nice, clean page……..that was Oghma. Whenever something goes wrong…………Oghma Did It!! But, he is not a creature to be hated or abused. He makes you ever more vigilant of what you are doing and drawing. When something isn’t coming together like it should, you can be certain that Oghma is behind it. Not to irritate you beyond all else, but to make you consider other possibilities. Sure, he can be annoying and sometimes he might just be messing with you for the fun of it. But more times than not, he’s there to help if you can figure out what he’s trying to tell you!

Monday, June 14, 2010

UP! Fair Launches This November

So, fast forward to late November of this year. It's another holiday season, and the following week you'll be dining on whatever constitutes a Thanksgiving meal in your house and most likely visiting either thoroughly enjoying yourselves or just counting the minutes before you can leave and go home again. Whichever category you fall into, I urge you to consider making a trip to Lexington, KY that weekend before, the 19th and 20th. A wonderful group of artists and creators will be celebrating sequential art and storytelling along with independent publishing at UP! Fair. It is a free event chock full of new work to be discovered on our exhibition floor as well as fun and informative workshops (also free) to attend, led by the guest cartoonists and authors.

UP! Fair will be held in the The Carnegie Center for Literacy and Learning in Lexington. Along with me and my husband, Shawn, of Branded in the 80s, this event is being organized by an amazing group of artists and writers. Sara Turner is one-half of Cricket Press, the other half being her husband, which specializes in custom screen-printed posters, letterpress, illustration and design. She has published titles such as File 49 and Boys in the Den as well as collaborated on The Replacements, Silver and the Periodic Forces, and Equalizers of the Divide with Jerzy Drozd. Jerzy is the proud papa of his graphic novel The Front, along with being contributing editor of Sugary Serials, an anthology of all ages comics which you can find online as well as buy both the single issues and collected editions. He also co-hosts the Art & Story comics podcast with Mark Rudolph and Kevin Cross. Mark is the author of Closing Doors, a graphic novel about the decline of a record store. He publishes Thrills From Space, a series of short-form sci-fi stories through his CV Comics imprint, as well as illustrates for magazines, record albums and music-related merchandise. Kevin has his hand in illustration, cartooning, and animation. He is the creator of the Monkey Mod webcomic. Anne Drozd is part of Tiny Astronaut Press, along with Jerzy Drozd and Mark Rudolph, and collaborated with her husband on mini-comics such as Rocketosaurus, Dino Love and Tiny Hamilton. She also collaborated with Mark on the mini-comic Dino West.

Last year, Jerzy co-organized the Kids Read Comics Convention which Sara, Mark and Anne also attended. They were so jazzed by the honest feel of the convention, the turnout, and the camaraderie between fellow artists, creators and independent publishers that they all decided to create their own convention. By combining the best aspects of a comic convention with the heart and soul of an art fair and throwing in those extra touches that only their minds and outlooks can provide, UP! Fair was born. It's going to be a great place to celebrate creativity, find new people and works to enjoy, and just be a wonderful way to spend your weekend. I hope some of you will come join us in the fun!

Some of the organizers of the UP! Fair used their creative talents to make our website visually appealing and fun. It is, after all, what they do! I truly enjoyed looking at the different drawings everyone did. (Above are just a few.) It was a showcase of various styles and subject matter, all carried out with the simple idea of going up. I couldn’t help but be inspired by all that inventiveness and started wondering what I could think up in the same vein. One idea I considered was a huge vine going up into the clouds with tools of the comic book trade as well as comic books themselves sprouting from it like leaves or branches. However, my lack of any true drawing skills hampered me in making that any kind of a reality…… least one I would be happy about. I realize how much hard work has to go into learning how to draw. As much as I hope to one day learn how and gain some skills in that particular endeavor, the thought of producing something right now that in no way would live up to what was in my head hurts me.

So, I ditched that idea and thought some more about it. I can’t tell you what made me think of a spaceship (I wonder if that happens a lot to creators), but as soon as it popped into my head I could see it. A blanket of snow covers the ground, making the landscape hushed and peaceful. A small cluster of trees stands off to the left, bare, lower trunks reaching high and filling out with bristling needles of green. Out of this stillness, in the woods where nothing stirs and no one is aware of what happens in this little part of the world, a small spaceship rises into the nighttime sky with only the tiniest of sounds. My mind was captured by the picture, enjoying the idea of spectacular things happening not with a bang but simply and quietly. I felt that image would be what you would only see if you were there at the right moment, if you turned your head at just the right time. It was exciting and I wanted to do it!

Again though, lack of drawing skills get in the way of executing it so I decided to “crop” the drawing and focus that inner lens in so it would be more on the sky than the whole scene. It was harder than I thought it would be to draw cartoonish trees! It took me awhile to decide on one I liked, and then that much longer to enlarge it and do it for keeps. I sketched out the spaceship until I had something that I was happy with and then had to struggle through doing it again and larger. That messes me up every time! However, I do have to say I’m extraordinarily pleased with my little spaceship. I think it is so utterly cute, and it feels like me in a way if that makes any sense. It’s something that would appeal to me if I saw it somewhere, and it feels like it belongs in a cartoon.

At one point, I traced over it in ink and then decided that I would really like to continue with the whole process by coloring it. I adore black and white images, the stark contrast between the two colors, the dynamic between light and dark, but I wanted to do more with this one. So, finally one weekend I asked Shawn to show me the basics of Photoshop. I had used it long ago in college, but it had been years so it was like learning it all over again. Once he set me up with those basics, I worked on it that same day and completed it. My drawing wasn’t that complicated so that’s no great feat, but I was proud that I had done it myself and made the color choices on my own.

It somehow seemed anticlimactic though, like now that it was finished it should be more, should be better than what it is. But, having said that, I’m still glad I did it and pretty happy with the results. Hopefully, I can come up with another drawing idea so I can try my hand at coloring again.

Monday, June 7, 2010

One Small Step for Demonals.....

At the end of March, my grandmother turned 90 years old. There isn't much that a granddaughter can buy for someone who has lived that many years, so to celebrate her birthday I decided to make her a version of my sun demonal. She’s an avid knitter and has been for as long as I’ve been alive, so I figured she would appreciate something not only homemade but made by me. The colors and the shape of this particular creation keep drawing me to it, so I keep going back to it for one reason or another. However since she doesn't quite have the same sensibilities as I do, I did not include the wings and I used matching thread instead of the dark and stark black thread of my original version. This was not a problem at all, since I don't mind making non-demonal versions and enjoy the differences between the two.

It turned out rather well, as much as it can anyway since I cannot pull off a perfect piece of sewing. There were flaws that my eye immediately honed in on, and I, of course, worried they detracted from what I want anything that I create to be. But, overall, I still think it's a great little sun! This time I decided to attach some ribbon to it so it could easily be hung. She already has knickknacks of various kinds, and I didn't want her to have to figure out where to lay this thing I was giving her. Plus, I rather liked the idea of it being a piece of art to a certain extent, displayed on a wall or hung from a ceiling. Not really in a vain sense mind you, though certainly that is part of it, but rather as another way of viewing and doing my own pieces. (With these projects, I work one thing out and get used to it before my brain thinks of other options or doing it differently.) Shoot, they could even be ornaments on a Christmas tree if someone wanted that!

Unfortunately, I didn't think to do the ribbon thing until after I had sewed it up completely so I couldn't attach the ribbon on the inside where the stitches wouldn't show. I did my best with it, especially considering that when you put needle and thread through ribbon it immediately starts to fray! A lesson to be learned there if there ever was one. I'll have to figure something out to make sure the ribbon stays intact as well as securely attached to the sewn pieces in the future while maintaining a neat appearance.

Sunday, December 6, 2009

Ducktopus in the Plush!

So, Ducktopus is finished and I just heard today that he arrived at his new home with BubbaShelby! I guess I’ll be kind of informal with this one and just give some final thoughts now that he is completed.

Unfortunately, I appear to have a highly developed artistic dislike for my own creations because I’m not wholly satisfied with how Ducktopus turned out. It’s not that I don’t like him, it’s just that I think he could be better and it hurts in a way to see those flaws when I wanted him to be perfect. However, I have received more than one message from BubbaShelby saying he absolutely loves him, so maybe I should stop worrying and obsessing over it. Call me crazy!!

Anyway, I might have mentioned this in the other blog post but I decided to sew this one on the outside rather than hiding the stitches. I actually could have done it the other way around if I had made the two unattached tentacles bigger. If I had, I wouldn’t have dreaded trying to turn them outside in. I also would have been able to stuff them. As it was, after sewing the front and back pieces together the hole wasn’t large enough for me to poke any polyfil into those little arms so they’re just flat. I’m pretty disappointed by that actually. I wanted them to have more dimension and depth, but at least they remain stretching out rather than drooping so that’s a plus.

I also feel like I needed to stuff the duck body more so it looked squatter and more rounded. As it is, given the fact that you can see more white between the tentacles on the right side, the duck body looks slightly lopsided to me. I always worry about overstuffing though, so I used my own judgment (backed up with Shawn’s opinion) and quit with the polyfil after a certain point. However, it just doesn’t seem to pop enough on its own, and I really wanted each creature section to stand out by themselves as well as a whole.

I did try to do add a couple of interesting touches to this piece. I cut out a front and back piece for each eye in order to make it thicker. When it's just one piece, the stitches tend to make tiny holes given the thinness of the felt. However, I ended up stuffing the eyes as well so they would stand out a bit from the head. You can't easily see that from the pictures and it certainly isn't a huge effect, but I was glad that I had done it. Also, I wanted the duck feet to be stiff so the body could kind of stand/be propped up and the feet would bend without losing their shape. So I bought some foam-type material and cut a piece out for the foot itself as well as the leg. I sewed the front and back orange fabric pieces together with the foam pieces inside then sewed the whole thing to the body. I wish Ducktopus could have stood on his own, but I'm pretty happy with how those feet turned out.

When I look at Ducktopus in the pictures BubbaShelby took, I'm extremely proud of of him. Seeing him surrounded by so much appreciation and affection, I don't see the flaws as much and I'm just happy he exists as a plush. Please check out BubbaShelby's post about's an awesome read and it shows Ducktopus off in a much better light than I could ever do. All my thanks go to Eric for coming up with this extraordinary creature in the first place and for allowing me to create a toy of one of his creations! You and Ducktopus rock, Eric!! : )