Monday, March 30, 2009

Project #85 - Boiled Artichokes



Whole artichokes are the lobster of vegetables: they have a wonderful delicate taste and are tastiest when eaten with drawn butter. They also aren't cheap, but they do go on sale in the spring and the fall. We saw globe artichokes the for sale on Sunday so I snapped up a few for dinner.



Artichokes are big and take quite a while to cook. The trick to getting everything to cook evenly is to trim some of the outer bits that would be too tough to eat, and allow more of the boiling water to reach the middle. Lop off the top, remove two or three layers of the outermost petals and trim the tips off of the remaining ones. Be careful, some varieties of artichokes have spikes.



Bring a stock pot about 2/3 full of salted water to a boil. Drop in your trimmed artichokes. Boil for about 45 minutes, less if you have smaller, fist sized artichokes.

If I didn't have my husband around the first time I made artichokes, I would never have figured out how to eat them. Artichokes are big unopened flowers; you might see the deep purple of the artichoke bloom on the outer petals. The edible parts of the flower are the fleshy parts at the bottom of the petals and the tender base that connects to the stem.



First, we eat the petals. Pull them off one-by-one and dip them into the butter. Clark likes do dip his in lemon mayonnaise as well, but it's a personal preference. Scrape off the tender bottom part with your teeth.



Keep pulling off petals and eating them. They'll get get thinner and more delicate as you work your way to the center and you'll be able to eat them in chunks. Once the petals are gone you'll left with the fleshy base of the flower. Scrape off the inedible layer of stamens and pistils.



Some people call this the heart of the artichoke, and it's by far the best part. Dip it in butter and enjoy!

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posted by Alison 3/30/2009 09:24:00 PM : (0) comments : splink


Sunday, March 29, 2009

Project #84 - Robot Motif Bowls



A few weeks ago a friend saw my robot tea cup and asked me to make a set of dishes with the same motif for her wedding. Of course, for the wedding of a good friend, one that has done many nice things for me, I would be happy to make whatever she wants.

However, I usually cringe at gift requests. "Oh! I love it! Can you make me one?!" "I can't find/afford X. Could you make one for me?" I've said 'yes' too many times and the stress and work just piles up. I have some ground rules in place to preserve my sanity:

  1. I don't make things for annual events like Christmases and Birthdays. I know that people think they are doing me a favor by requesting something handmade, but it is far less costly to go out and buy something almost every time. I may be a cheapskate, but my time is even more valuable than my money, and most requests would require me to put in a significant amount of work. I have a lot of friends and family members so I would be working constantly if I didn't set limits. I do make exceptions for really special occasions like weddings and births.
  2. I don't make something for someone unless I am sure they are going to like it. I don't want someone to be disappointed with what I made especially for them; it really makes me feel like I wasted my time. Most complaints or requests for me to redo something will get the asker permanently struck from my list.
  3. I sometimes have requesters put in some sweat equity into their item, that goes double if they want me to sew them a dress. At the very least, I'll have them cut out all of the pattern pieces and serge the edges. People without an idea of what they want need not apply, I don't want to spend time fussing with at them to pick a neckline or color. The best ones are the people with a pattern and fabric in hand.
  4. Please don't ask me to make something for you to give to someone else, especially if I don't know that person. No, just no. Which takes me to...
  5. If you really want me to make something, pay me. If I'm getting paid then none of the above rules apply. Plus, I take commissions on a regular basis and I tend to do those before any pro bono work which means at best you'd be getting your free item 6 months later. I give discounts to friends, but it's motivating to get compensated for time and materials.


It's not that I don't love making things for other people, but I like making things that are unsolicited so much better. It means that I can do without deadlines and my gift will be a surprise. I loved making Christmas stockings for my in-laws and a chess set for my friend. I think they were taken well just because they were unexpected and without preconceived ideas about what they were going to get. Everybody wins, right?

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posted by Alison 3/29/2009 11:03:00 AM : (0) comments : splink


Saturday, March 28, 2009

Project #83 - Hidden Chamber Hamburger



Lent has passed the 1 month mark and I'm starting to really fantasize about meat. Why do I do this to myself every year? I guess it's good for the environment to eat less meat, but it's so tasty that I have a hard time following through any other time of the year.

I miss hamburgers so much that I kind of want to hide little hamburgers instead of eggs this Easter. I made one today out of polymer clay with a little hollow chamber to hide a (generous, maybe) monetary prize.



I started out by forming the bun and meat patty (*drool*) parts. I used an old serger cone to measure out the hollows, but anything circular like a bottle cap will do.



I then added lettuce and cheese to my burger, rolling each flat whatever chunky markers I had handy. The cheese will go on top of the paddy, so I cut out the middle.



I used tiny neodymium magnets to hold the top of the bun in place. I pressed a stack of them into the unbaked clay on the bun top and on the cheese slice. I wiggled them around to make a depression slightly larger than my magnets. Polymer clay shrinks a little after baking, so this assures that the magnets will still fit.



Clark suggested that the hamburger would be a good place to hide a wedding ring, but that might be too rich for a regular Easter.

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posted by Alison 3/28/2009 11:52:00 PM : (0) comments : splink


Friday, March 27, 2009

Unfinished Project - Songwriting with Clark

I'm working the merchandise table for some friends' band and the show is running longer than expected. There is no way that I'm going to get home in time to start anything by midnight. As, usual I turned to my husband for help.

It was too loud for us to hear one another, so we typed out the following conversation on my laptop, which of course comes with me to every show.

Alison: Crap, I need to think of something. New font??! Something cute? I can just glue googly eyes to something...{Clark just points to self}

Clark: ...Could you do something with the earplugs? I've got extras.

Alison: Hmmm...I saw Audrey Hepburn wearing ones with tassels in Breakfast at Tiffany's this morning...hold on Martha is rubbing her butt on my knee...I wish I had my calligraphy pen. Oh! We could write a song or something.

Clark: How about a song about fighting about who drives home? I think our taking-turns system is interesting. Kind of.

What would the chorus be?

"I want to drink!
.. I want to drink!
NO!
I want to drink!
.. I want to drink!
No!"

Okay...how about the first verse? What should we say? "I wanted to drink on St. Paddy's day, but you downed that Guiness anyway!"

How about a scene similar to ours tonight at the house...
'what should we make for dinner?
let's go out!
But we don't have any money!
No, we've been good this month.
Okay, but where should we go?
Let's go to the bar!
and then it begins...

That doesn't rhyme! And that's not how it went! We need to up the prevaricating by 80%. This is totally going to be my blog entry for today.

Of course, we'll have to rewrite to make it rhyme, but I think that would be a good opening verse. Let's see...

Umm..okay...write some lyrics, you!

First things first, what does prevaricating mean?

Prevaricating = hemming and hawing

Ah, yes, there was much of that. But it doesn't make for a good song.

Finally home at my house...
I asked myyy spouse...
What are we going to do for food?
It was clear she was not in the mood...

(small musical interlude - like 2 bars at the most(=)


Do you want to go out?
Yes!! Yes!! Yes!
Are you sure you want to go out?
Yes!! I think so!

Alright then, where should we go?
Got any ideas?
No, no...

Can I be the one to drink for once tonight?
But it's my turn, right?

'I wanted to drink on St. Paddy's day,
but you downed that Guiness anyway!'
'But you told me you couldn't drink,
Cause you had to work all day-e-ay'

Whatever dude... (music builds)

"I want to drink!
.. I want to drink!
NO!
I want to drink!
.. I want to drink!
No!"

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posted by Alison 3/27/2009 11:10:00 PM : (0) comments : splink


Thursday, March 26, 2009

Project #82 - Fibonacci Petticoat



It's Thursday again and time for another skirt. Yay! I've made a few underskirts this year already; they're great for guarding against the winter chill, but they'll be stifling by the time May rolls around. Today I made a short, single layer petticoat that will be more comfortable in warmer temperatures. This skirt is made from strips of cloth so no store-bought pattern is necessary. You'll just need a ruler, scissors and something to mark cutting lines on the fabric.



As I mentioned before, I prefer to use the Fibonacci sequence to help determine how much fabric will go into each of the skirt tiers. I decided to do six really short tiers so that I would be able to get the maximum volume for my single layer (I do double and triple layered petticoats for winter). The sum of the first six non-zero Fibonacci numbers is 20 (1+1+2+3+5+8). I measured out my two yards of cloth and cut it into the 20 strips I would need.



Here are the strips folded into quarters so you can see the fabric breakdown for each tier. Almost half will go to the bottom tier.



I sewed the strips for each tier together into a ring and serged the edges so I can throw the whole thing into the washing machine without worrying. If you don't have a serger you can use a zig-zag stitch or bias tape to protect the raw fabric edges.



It took about an hour and a half to serge the edges of the fabric pieces and stitch each tier together. I was so bored that I calculated how many miles of cloth my serger can sew in an hour as I watched it plod through each tier. It can stitch about 3 yards of fabric per minute and about a tenth of a mile in an hour. Oh, and I had to stop and rethread the machine twice, which is the worst. Above is a picture of the pile of fabric I shaved off when I serged the edges of the fabric. Oy!



I'm going to wear the finished project underneath my dress for the concert tomorrow. I volunteered to work the merchandise booth at the Good Night, States show, so I thought I would wear something cute. I always volunteer when someone from the band asks because I like being guaranteed my own chair. I ♥ sitting!

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posted by Alison 3/26/2009 11:55:00 PM : (0) comments : splink


Wednesday, March 25, 2009

Project #81 - Mini Gargoyle



I learned something new today: the term 'gargoyle', used in a strictly architectural sense, only covers decorative figures that function as downspouts. Those stone demon figures that I think of when I hear the word 'gargoyle' are called 'chimeras' or 'grotesques' by architects to distinguish the downspout type from its decorative counterpart. I guess I should call my little sculpture a 'Mini Grotesque instead'.

This little guy is supposed to be a tax-time demon, the good kind that helps you find receipts and discover new deductions. If I were to make a bad tax time demon it would probably have a big vacuum cleaner and an audit dartboard, which would be funnier if our taxes were already done and filed.



Here is a view of the wings and tail in the back. I like putting high, male-pattern-baldness hairlines on my polymer clay creations. I have a hard time sculpting the clay to look like hair, so in this case less is more.

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posted by Alison 3/25/2009 10:47:00 PM : (0) comments : splink


Tuesday, March 24, 2009

Project #80 - Flying Saucer Drinking Glasses



A friend requested an entire hand-drawn set of dishes for her wedding, so I thought I would do a small project that would help me estimate time for a the big one. I had a few quick sketches of flying saucers in my notebook that would translate well as a ceramic decoration.



I finally cracked open a new glaze pen after using the same old one for months. Why don't I do this all the time? Right. Because I'm a cheapskate and I have to use all of my old pens until the only thing keeping the ink flowing is constant shaking and a fluent stream of obscenities. It might be worth a few dollars to keep extras around if newer pens help me finish projects in one quarter of the time and with one quarter of the cursing.



I only let the aliens snatch one person per glass. Depending on your perspective it could be a picture of someone getting kidnapped or someone returning after a joy ride.

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posted by Alison 3/24/2009 10:52:00 PM : (0) comments : splink


Monday, March 23, 2009

Project #79 - Gummy Fish



Today I learned about the next great art material: gummy worms. They can be melted in the microwave and remolded into almost anything. I learned this from a tutorial on how to make gummy shot glasses. (I am totally jealous that I didn't think of that first. Curses!) I melted down my own gummy worms while cooking dinner today and I was shocked at how easily they are to work with.



I used my silicon fish ice cube tray to mold my gummy fish. It's helpfully labeled 'water only'. Don't you tell me what to do, ice cube tray.

Clark and I had a rule for dividing food expenses when we moved in together. He would pay for his own beer and I would pay for my own candy; the rest would come from our joint account. Dear, I owe you $2.



I cut the gummy worms in half and sorted them by color. The red gummy worm halves were the most prevalent (as it should be) so I mixed those with a little orange and a little pineapple.

I put them in a microwave for 22 seconds and was shocked to find that the gummy worms were already melted. I microwaved the container for a further 15 seconds to get the liquid hotter, and thus easier to pour.

I would also like to point out that liquid gummy worms are quite tasty. I have some cruddy Asian dental work and my teeth ring with pain when I eat most gummy candies. It's good in the long run for my health, but I sure do love candy. It's nice to know that I can drink liquid gummy and pass up the painful chewing part. (Next stop: incorporating this new knowledge into a mixed drink. A swedish fish made from swedish fish, perhaps?)



It only took half of a 1 pound bag of gummy worms to fill the entire mold. I added some chocolate chips to some of the fish. It's an odd combination of tastes, but our dinner guests liked them.

The only tricky part was pulling the finished candies out of the mold. The fish tails warped a bit, but mostly stayed intact despite all of the pulling an cursing to which they were subjected. I think I'll dust the tray with corn starch for easier extraction next time.

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posted by Alison 3/23/2009 11:10:00 PM : (0) comments : splink


Sunday, March 22, 2009

Project #78 - Red Dotted Shirt Dress



I've been working on this dress off and on for the entire week, but I made the biggest push to finish it off today. I put in my last stitches just 15 minutes before running out the door to take dinner to some friends with a new baby. I threw a machine washable cardigan over it just in case of baby puke, but the little guy just sat in my lap and slept while his parents ate.

I used NL6587. I usually don't trust New Look patterns, so I made this one out of the cheapest usable fabric I had. What can I say? New Look patterns are dirt cheap so I have a lot in my stash.

The fit was perfect on the first try, but I might make some adjustments to the collar for future versions. I also like the gathered skirt, which would leave room to let out the seams without completely dismantling the dress. Clark and I are considering having children soon, so lately I've been looking at every pattern and asking "Can I get fat in this?" It would suck to lose most of my handmade wardrobe should I gain a size or two after pregnancy.

I love shirt dresses. They work even with the weirdest, quirkiest fabric. I want to make one of every color so I can wear them everyday this summer.

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posted by Alison 3/22/2009 10:48:00 PM : (0) comments : splink


Saturday, March 21, 2009

Project #77 - Chewy Chocolate Cookies



Clark had a table tennis tournament today. He's made noises about wanting me to finally come and watch him play, so I decided to be a good wife for once and drove down to South Park to oblige him. I think I was the only spectator, so it was me clapping by myself in the background whenever Clark scored a point. However, there were nachos for 50 cents, so everybody wins!

By the time we got home Clark was just too worn out to do much besides sit in his chair and watch our DVR recordings of the Osaka Spring Sumo Tournament. I'm always game for sitting! Sitting is the best!

Okay, so after two hours of sumo I baked a batch of chocolate chip cookies, because watching fat guys push each other around will make you hungry. I used Alton Brown's recipe for chewy chocolate chip cookies. I burned the first batch. I totally blame that our meek oven timer. Its beeps only reach the second floor half of the time. I'm lucky that Clark likes burnt things; he ate most of them while enjoying his customary Saturday coffee. He also likes old and stale food, so it's nice for the bottom line.

Okay, so I made a second batch, but it was light and fluffy instead of chewy. The cookies were also shaped like half-domes instead of flat circles like normal chocolate chip cookies.

Clark made a third batch out of dough that had been left at room temperature and those turned out just right. To bad there was only enough left to make two each. Summary: ignore the part of the recipe that says to chill the dough. Also, the ice cream scooper is unnecessary.

Clark also made a pun for the day: ご chewy ください。 (go chewy kudasai) It's a pun on ご注意ください (gochikudasai = be careful)...okay so not that funny, but Clark is dreaming of building a cookie ad campaign around it.

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posted by Alison 3/21/2009 07:35:00 PM : (0) comments : splink


Thursday, March 19, 2009

Project #75 - Cracker Box Clock



We have a clock that doesn't keep time, but we never paid enough attention to it to find a replacement. Not even a fresh set of batteries could revive it. After a year or two it became a useless wall decoration instead of a clock.



Today I remembered that I have about a dozen clock kits sitting in my office, the product of a deep discount. Hmmm...clock kit + some kind of clock base = new clock! Why didn't I think of this before?



I used a box of Cheez-It crackers, minus the crackers (most are in my belly) as my base. I will forgive the creative spelling of 'cheese' because, unlike every single cereal box in this house, there are no ads featuring mediocre movies or obnoxious prizes on the front. Wait, we own High School Musical cereal? That's a cereal? WTH?



The assembly was blessedly short. I just cut a small hole in the center of the box and poked the clock movement through. The clock piece was designed to stick through a thick piece of wood, but it lends a nice 3D effect to my new clock. Lastly, I cut a small triangle slit and hung it on the old nail in the kitchen.

Also, don't seal up the top of the box so you can change the clock battery without cutting the box open...or if you forgot to put in a battery at all. Not that I did that or anything.

I considered putting numbers on the face, but I like the simple look better. I see that it is time for more cheese crackers!

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posted by Alison 3/19/2009 11:32:00 PM : (0) comments : splink


Tuesday, March 17, 2009

Project #73 - Leprechaun & Gnome Oven Mitt



Gnomes and Leprechauns have a lot in common on the surface: they each have beards, they are both very prosperous, and they can both be shoved into an average sized women's purse. However, the similarities don't extend much beyond that. They don't hate each other, but they really don't get along.



Gnomes are very Germanic, austere, and hard-working. They like quiet and prefer slow country life. At parties Gnomes are always checking their watches (or hour glasses or whatever the hell gnomes use to tell time) because they have to get up early and get things done. Leprechauns, on the other hand, would be happy to dance and drink all night.



Gnomes frown at the Leprechauns' ways of making money. Most Leprechaun income is acquired through trickery and aggressive short selling. The average Gnome shuns the spotlight, but Leprechauns are eager for endorsement deals and have long-standing ties to the breakfast cereal industry. Gnome pursuits such as mushroom gathering and dandelion re-fluffing are viewed as wastes of time by Leprechauns, but they are not above using rainbows as storage devices.

Still, they can always commiserate about the lack of eligible ladies in their communities. Elves are usually available, but neither Leprechauns nor Gnomes can put up with the endless cookie making and talk-talk-talking.

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posted by Alison 3/17/2009 11:45:00 PM : (0) comments : splink


Monday, March 16, 2009

Finishing Up Loose Ends



Tomorrow is St. Patrick's Day, so instead of starting a new project I decided to finish an old one, Project #4. I'd left the dress unhemmed since I put it down in January and with a zipper only half-installed. I've been making more and more full skirted retro-style dresses. I love the dimensions, but the hems take hours to sew and I just keep putting it off until I really need to make a good impression.

I did kind of a cruddy job with the invisible zipper, but I might just need to bite the bullet and actually buy a invisible zipper foot instead of hand-stitching (poorly). Still, I love this dress and I'm going to have a good time wearing it out.

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posted by Alison 3/16/2009 11:29:00 PM : (0) comments : splink


Sunday, March 15, 2009

Project #72 - Garden Plan

I'm not always the best about paying attention in church, especially during hymns, so I usually bring a pen and doodle in the service leaflet. This morning instead of drawing my usual dinosaur collection, I sketched out what I want to plan in the garden for the year. I want to start seeds so that they'll be ready in time for the last frost. The garden is already cleared out and weeded, so I can even start some of the cold-weather plants now.


I started with a brown thumb and slowly graduated to a yellow one. Last year I tried to grow a bunch of things, like soybeans for example, that weren't right for the size of my garden. I thought about it carefully and I'm trying to stick to veggies that make the biggest difference for our bottom line. These are the plants that I'm going to use for my spring crop:

  • Peas (Serpette)
  • Lettuce (Buttercrunch)
  • Swiss Chard
  • Red Orach (a salad green)
I'm also a fan of doing careful year-round planting, so I usually seed a secondary set of plants indoors and have them ready to go for when the spring plantings peter out in the hotter weather:
  • Zucchini
  • Spaghetti Squash
  • Beans (Romani Purpiat and Scarlett Runner)
  • Tomatoes (yellow pear and juliet )
  • Cucumbers (TBD)
I also have a few perennials. They make planning easier because they stay put.
  • Lavender
  • Bee Balm
  • Strawberries (Technically they're a biennial, but they have so many runners that the tale care of themselves with a little thinning from me here and there.)
  • Chives
The fun part of planning is drawing up the bed charts. I have two main beds, an 8' by 4' raised garden, and a 6' by 10' garden nestled against the house. They both get a lot of afternoon sun and a little shade by evening.



I've already got my peas and red orach planted in the raised garden. The red orach doesn't take up much space, but it gets to be pretty tall and was one of the best producers in my garden last year. When the peas, lettuce and swiss chard bolt I'll replace them with tomatoes, beans and cucumbers.



Home grown strawberries are the best thing ever! The strawberries in this bed will be done by mid May, but the Zucchini and Squash are aggressive growers, so they'll take over after that. To the one side I have my perennials: chives, lavender and bee balm.

I'll also have various herbs in containers sitting in the less hospitable parts of the garden. I can move them if it gets to hot. Most of my container plantings will be herbs like basil, parsley, chervil, shiso, dill and mint. I'll also have a rotating crop of salad greens in the big container.

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posted by Alison 3/15/2009 11:25:00 PM : (0) comments : splink


Saturday, March 14, 2009

Project #71 - Pies for Pi Day



Happy Pi Day everybody! I love any holiday that is celebrated by eating PIE! Delicious, circular PIE! I invited some friends over and made a peach pie and a broccoli, tomato & cheese quiche. Quiche is round and it has a pie crust, so it counts, right?



I started preparations last night by making all of the pie crusts. I didn't have unsalted butter and or all purpose flour, so I made up a pie crust recipe to account for this.

Pie Crust
Ingredients:

  • 1 1/3 cups of bread-making flour
  • 1 stick salted butter
  • 1/3 cup super cold ice water
Put the flour into a large mixing bowl. Cut the stick of butter into small pieces and then cut it into the flour until the mixture is crumbly and there are no pieces of butter left larger than the size of a pea. I like to use a fork in one hand and a butter knife in the other to smoosh everything together. Be careful not to overwork.

Next, add your water a little at a time until you can roll the dough up into a ball; you probably won't need all of it. Cover it with saran wrap and keep it in the fridge for at least an hour. Freeze if you'll need it after 3 days.

The trick to having extra flaky crust is to make sure that the butter stays as solid as possible and only melts in the oven. To make sure this never happens, I never touch the dough with my hands until it's ready to be balled up and placed in the refrigerator. I also dice my butter and then freeze it for 30 minutes. I also freeze the mixing bowl for 30 minutes.

I made three, one for the quiche and two for the peach pie. The bread making flour made the crusts extra chewy, which was surprisingly good, kind of the texture of pizza crust.

I liked the recipe for tomato and basil quiche at Cooks.com, but I adjusted some of the ingredients to better suit our purposes. My version of the recipe is below.



Tomato, Broccoli and Cheese Quiche
Ingredients:
  • 1 Pie Crust (see above)
  • 2 plum tomatoes
  • 1 head of broccoli
  • 1.5 cups of shredded cheese (we used mild cheddar)
  • 2 tbs olive oil
  • 2 tbs balsamic vinegar
  • 4 eggs
  • 1/2 cup milk

Roll the pie crust out and put it in a 9 inch pan and bake in a preheated oven at 400 for 8 minutes. While the crust is browning chop your veggies and sautee in the olive oil and vinegar until the broccoli just starts to wilt. Take out your crust, add a layer of half of your cheese and pour the sauteed mixture on top. Whisk your eggs with the milk and pour it into the pie crust. Bake for 10 minutes at 400 and then turn the heat down to 350 and cook for another 20. Enjoy!



I didn't think that quiche would be this easy and tasty. I even made little ones for a friend who is lactose intolerant.



I couldn't find good fresh peaches, so I took a chance and used frozen ones. I used this recipe from allrecipes.com. I like pie recipes with tapioca because they're less likely to fall apart. I've had two slices of this pie today and I'm contemplating having a third.



Mmmm...pie.

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posted by Alison 3/14/2009 04:11:00 PM : (0) comments : splink


Friday, March 13, 2009

Project #70 - Tesselation Placemat



Tonight, instead of going out, Clark and I sat in bed and watched So I Married An Axe Murder while eating Girl Scout cookies. I like keeping my hands busy while I'm in front of the TV; I have a hard time just sitting and focusing sometimes and it's nice to have something extra that keeps me completely involved. I used one of my tessellations from Wednesday to make a patterned placemat/trivet for the dining room table.



I traced my bird tessellation piece to form a pattern on a piece of stiffened felt and cut out each piece, one-by-one. Tessellations are great because there isn't a lot of waste. I glued each to a contrasting color and trimmed the edges when finished.

I'm a little worried that it will melt if I place a hot dish on top of it. I'll have to test it out to make sure there won't be a big mess.

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posted by Alison 3/13/2009 11:40:00 PM : (0) comments : splink


Thursday, March 12, 2009

Project #69 - Sprouty Skirt



It's Thursday again so it's time for another skirt. I'm going with a sprouty theme this week; I finally started my early spring planting and I've been pacing around waiting for everything to germinate. This is my sixth skirt for the year, so I might take a few weeks off of Make-A-Skirt Thursdays so that I can pace myself for the remainder.

Speaking of clothing excess, I finally cleaned up the floor of my room a few days ago and now my circa 1925 closet is completely full. The pole is bowing alarmingly and I have to lean against the door to shut it. I'm going to have to invade and colonize closets in the rest of the house in order to find places to wedge this new skirt and the rest of my clothes. Would it be such a bad thing to keep the vacuum and all of out boardgames in the basement?

Not that any of this is going to thwart my plans for making even more clothes. Clark and I have been piling up clothes in the hallway for Goodwill, but its getting harder as more and more of my wardrobe gets to be stuff that I made myself (I think I'm at about 30%). I don't find it hard to toss my ill-fitting and unflattering store-bought clothes into the reject pile, but it's another thing to get rid of the handmade stuff even if it's also ill-fitting and unflattering. That's because each represents hours of work, and each represents a valuable lesson, like the dress that taught me that I should avoid dropped waists with A-line skirts, or the skirt that showed me that my butt is too big for certain pencil skirt cuts. It's tough to part with these lessons, but it's gotten to be too much and I need the closet space.

I think I'm going to hold my nose and toss out the biggest mistakes this weekend.

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posted by Alison 3/12/2009 08:59:00 PM : (0) comments : splink


Wednesday, March 11, 2009

Project #68 - Tessellations

I will forever have mixed feelings about my 8th grade math teacher. On the one had she taught me a snazzy way to make tessellations, and on the other hand, she once gave me an 'F' on a project report because she thought it would be funny. I'd missed a test due to illness and instead of giving me an incomplete, as she should have, she gave me a failing grade that I would then have to show my mother. What if my parents were the "beatings for anything below a 'B'" types? Harpy. Whatever, I guess those two things cancel each other out.

I've seen a lot of MC Escher illustrations where you can see the grids he used to map out his tessellations. I don't think my brain could ever work that way. However, my brain does work a lot better by cutting things up.

This is what we're going to do. We're going to cut up a shape that we know already fits into a self-same grid (like a square) and turn it into an even more complex figure that will still fit into a self-same grid.



First, take a square of cardstock. Make a mark exactly at the center point at each side. Draw a line between each point and its opposite. Do the same on the reverse.



Cut a piece out of one side. Flip it and add it to the other side.



Do the same to the side 90 degrees to the left or right.



Now you can trace your tessellation pattern onto anything and add extra details.



Tessellations can be used to make an infinite number of shapes, complex or simple, abstract or with a toehold in reality.

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posted by Alison 3/11/2009 11:29:00 PM : (0) comments : splink

Project #67 - Screen Printed Fabric



Yesterday's post was about burning a screen using the power of the sun. Today we'll talk about using that screen to print on some fabric.



You should use your screen as soon as possible after exposing it to light. Once your screen is just dry enough tape up any edges not covered up by emulsion. Also, tape up anything that you don't want to print. Any roll of masking tape will work. Don't use duct tape, it will leave a sticky residue and mess up the stuff you want to print later.



Take your time and arrange the first item you want to print under your screen. I used some pieces of plain cotton muslin. It's cheap, but it takes ink beautifully. Spread some of your screen printing paint to one side of what you want to print. Use your squeegee and pull the paint across the image once. Lift the screen and you'll see your image.



I like screen printing with multiple images and colors. Just reset the screen between each color: wash off the excess paint; take off all of the tape; let the screen dry; retape; print; repeat. By the time you're ready to print again all of your prints should be dry.

Never let your screen get too dry unless you want the images to stay permanently. When you're done, just use some photo emulsion remover, rinse, and let the screen dry before adding the next coat of emulsion. Iron your piece of fabric (on the opposite side of any printing) to set the screen printing paint permanently.

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posted by Alison 3/11/2009 10:52:00 PM : (0) comments : splink


Tuesday, March 10, 2009

Project #66 - Burning a Screen Printing Screen

Screen printing is one of my absolute favorite hobbies. I think I've burned close to 100 screens in the last two years alone. It's a little cheaper than buying a print Gocco and you'll be able to print in a larger format. You'll just need to buy a screen, some photo emulsion, a squeegee and print out a transparency of what you want to print. In all, it will set you back about $40 if you order from Dick Blick.

First, you're going to prepare your screen. I use a Speedball kit and squeegee a thin layer of emulsion onto my screen, covering both sides evenly. We have a completely dark room under our porch where I leave most of my screens overnight. We seal it up during to winter to save money on heating costs, so I leave my screens in a large cardboard box. I elevate the corners of the screen slightly with tiles for circulation and cover the whole box with a black cloth. From this point on you'll want to expose the screen to as little light as possible until you make your exposure.

Once the screen is dry (~18 hours later) I use the same box to help make an exposure. First, keeping the lights as low as possible, I removed the tiles and checks to make sure the screen was dry. Next, I arranged the transparencies of the images I wanted to print on the screen. Then I overlaid the transparencies with a piece of glass from a picture frame to keep the film settled and flush against the screen fabric. I covered all of this with an opaque piece of vinyl and closed the box.



I very gingerly carried the box with the screen inside to a sunny spot of the yard. I then opened the box and uncovered the screen and transparencies, exposing them to sunlight. I waited about 10 seconds and then turned the box a quarter turn to eliminate the shadow the glass edges cast. I waited five more seconds and then covered everything back up.



I took the box to a shady part of the yard and turned on the hose. Moving quickly, I grabbed the screen, threw off the transparencies and immediately soaked the screen on both sides with the hose. This will set your images and you won't have to worry about overexposing the screen anymore. If your exposure was successful, you'll see a slight shadow corresponding to your transparencies.



Now blast the screen with the hose at the highest pressure possible. You'll start to see the bits of the unexposed emulsion wash away. If you put the emulsion on thickly this might take some time, but a close up blast of the hose will usually take care of it. The picture above shows an area with most of the unexposed emulsion removed, but with a few light green bits left behind. This part of the process is likely to get you pretty wet, so wait for a warm day.



Hold your screen up to the light to see if you completely washed away the areas you want to print. Once the screen reaches your satisfaction wipe it off gently and let it dry. Use the screen as soon as possible because a screen that gets too dry will be difficult to clean and reset for the next set of images.

Tomorrow, I'll post about some simple, multi-color printing techniques.

If you live in Pittsburgh and don't want to bother with photo emulsion or buying your own equipment, try visiting AIR on Tuesdays during open studio. There are a lot of helpful people and lots of studio space. It's a good way to pick up new techniques and get started. It only costs $5 for a screen and free access to the exposure unit and studio space.

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posted by Alison 3/10/2009 11:06:00 PM : (0) comments : splink


Monday, March 09, 2009

Projects from the Past - Cardinals vs. Penguins Chess Set

I'm a bit under the weather today, so I'll be posting a project from last year. I made a bird-themed chess set as a surprise for a friend. I'm terrible at chess, but it was a little hard to give away after I spend so long crafting the pieces. Still, my birdies are in better hands now. Six months later I'm better at parting with things I make, especially because now I have more than ever before.











The queens are the taller ones with smaller crowns.



Bishops



I ran out of red clay so the cardinals had to hire mercenaries.



Rooks



Pawns

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posted by Alison 3/09/2009 11:00:00 PM : (1) comments : splink


Sunday, March 08, 2009

Project #65 - Hillbilly Dress

Not all dresses were meant to be. The scary thing about sewing the wrong dress is that you can't put it back on the rack and grab another in a different color or in a size up or down. I chose this pattern because I don't own any wrap dresses and because it didn't need a zipper for a closure. I have a limited supply of zippers that I brought over from Japan, so I love any pattern that lets me continue hoarding them.



I'm wearing a shrug in the picture because the cut of the shoulders makes me look like a linebacker. I think this dress would work better for a lady with a bigger rack and more meat on her bones. Luckily, the pattern goes up to size 22 (44 inch bust, 37 inch waist) so it covers a better range than most mall stores. Plus, there's a little tummy hiding voodoo due to the empire waist.

The dress gets its name from the fabric. It's a handkerchief style pattern, with a little edge from skulls, guns and cards...if it is possible for cotton fabric to have an edge.

I'm about a week and a half into my Lenten no "meat with feet" fast. I'm starting to fantasize about steaks and big fat hamburgers. I consoled myself with a dressed up pizza.



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posted by Alison 3/08/2009 11:24:00 PM : (0) comments : splink

Project #64 - Milkshake Candle

It was candle-making night at the Ladies-Auxiliary. I never imagined that home made candles would be so complicated, but there seem to be a lot of differences between home made candles and ones purchased in the store. Namely, that due to the way the wax cools there is usually a divot in the center of the melt and pour DIY candles and those are those flaws are deeply troubling to some candle makers. I think it can cause feelings of inferiority and shame.

However, my friend Saralinda, the evening's craft expert had some strategies to avoid misshapen shame candles. My favorite was the idea of making a candle milkshake.



Saralinda reuses tin cans sitting in a boiling water bath to melt her wax. This project involves at least two colors of wax, so multiple tin cans are the key. We were a little hasty with the smells so I ended up with a vanilla grapefruit milkshake.



I poured my melted wax for the milkshake layer into an eggnog glass. Missing from this picture is the smell of my burning flesh. The can was really hot and I didn't have a firm grip on the tongs.

I wrapped a lightly waxed piece of wick around a pencil and dangled it in the middle of the glass of hot wax. We let the bottom layer congeal for about 45 minutes before pushing in a regular drinking straw and clipping the wick, leaving a extra inch standing up. We left the remaining wax in the can sitting on the counter so that it would cool enough to roll out a wax cherry.



Next, we added the whipped cream layer. I whipped the wax with a fork as we dipped the can in a cold water bath. The wax curdled after a few minutes and I managed to whip enough air in so that it resembled whipped cream. I poured it in a layer on top. Finally, I placed the cherry on top.



I dare you to drink up this milkshake, Mr. Plainview! Thanks to Saralinda for her help and picture taking skills!

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posted by Alison 3/08/2009 11:23:00 PM : (0) comments : splink


Friday, March 06, 2009

Project #63 - Illustrations of Robots and Ice Cream

I like to sketch and doodle whenever I get the chance. It's one of my favorite things to do when I'm left alone for a little while with my notebook. My company hired an in-house illustrator, so most of my illustrations are no longer work related. He's an amazing designer; I'm mediocre at best, so I'm glad that I'm not spending so much of my trying to draw lumpy, distorted glass bottles when I should be coding or doing something within my skill range.

Still, drawing is fun and I miss doing it everyday. The bright side of doing illustrations on my own time is that I can draw just things that I like. I definitely like ice cream and robots.

All of my robots look kind of surprised.





I like doing my digital drawing in Flash better than in Illustrator, which is a little like mowing a lawn with a pair of scissors. I like the simplicity of the tools and how quick it can be to assemble a layered image, so maybe it's not completely nuts.

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posted by Alison 3/06/2009 10:38:00 PM : (0) comments : splink


Thursday, March 05, 2009

Project #62 - An Improved Color Perfect Pitch Tester



(Previously) I took some time today to apply a color picking strategy so that choosing the right one would be a lot more challenging that in the previous version. During testing there were quite a few cases where one would need bionic eyes to get the answer correct on the first try. I haven't yet decided whether this will be a bug or a feature.

Still, it's pretty easy to cheat with this game, so I might include a timer and set a time limit or create a scheme to award more points to quicker guesses. It would also be nice to do some long term score tracking so that we can have a better idea of what is actually a good result vs. a mediocre one. How will I determine high scores? I could track strings of correct guesses on the first try...or something. I'll have to think about it.

My code is a little less elegant this time around. I hesitated posting it a little, but maybe someone will find it educational. Learn from my mistakes, kids!

stop();
import flash.events.MouseEvent;
var cardArray:Array = new Array(card_1, card_2, card_3, card_4, card_5, card_6, card_7, card_8);
var correct = Math.floor(Math.random()*8);
trace(correct);
var total_guesses = 0;
var right_guesses = 0;
var wrong_guesses = 0;
var total_tests = 0;
var wrong_tests = 0;
var wrong_once = false;
var red; var green; var blue; var big_box_color; var choose;
instructions.enabled = false;

reset();
setBoxes();
change_color(color_button.color_bar, big_box_color);

color_button.addEventListener(MouseEvent.CLICK, get_color);

function get_color(e:MouseEvent):void {
color_button.gotoAndStop(2);
change_color(color_button, 0x000000);
instructions.gotoAndStop(2);

var count = 0;
for each (var card:MovieClip in cardArray) {

if (count == correct) {
change_color(card, big_box_color);
card.addEventListener(MouseEvent.CLICK, set_click_right);
}
else {
var near_color = generate_near_color();
change_color(card, near_color);
card.addEventListener(MouseEvent.CLICK, set_click_wrong);
}
count++;
}
}

function setBoxes():void {
var percentage:Number = right_guesses / total_guesses;
if (total_guesses == 0) { percentage = 0;}
box1.text = "Correct guesses: " + percentage.toFixed(2) + "%";
box2.text = "Correct on first try: " + (total_tests - wrong_tests);
box4.text = "TESTS: " + total_tests;

}

function reset():void {
correct = Math.floor(Math.random()*8);
choose = Math.floor(Math.random()*3);
red = generate_hex_value();
green = generate_hex_value();
blue = generate_hex_value();
big_box_color = "0X" + red + green + blue;
}

function set_click_right(e:MouseEvent):void {
color_button.gotoAndStop(1);
reset();
trace(color_button);
right_guesses++;
total_guesses++;

if (wrong_once == true) { wrong_tests++; }
wrong_once = false;
total_tests++;

setBoxes();
change_color(color_button, big_box_color);
instructions.gotoAndStop(1);
var count = 0;
for each (var card:MovieClip in cardArray) {
card.removeEventListener(MouseEvent.CLICK, set_click_right, false);
card.removeEventListener(MouseEvent.CLICK, set_click_wrong, false);
change_color(card, 0xCCCCCC);
count++;
}
}

function set_click_wrong(e:MouseEvent):void {
wrong_guesses++;
total_guesses++; wrong_once = true;
setBoxes();
}

function change_color(card:MovieClip, next_color):void {
var colorTransform:ColorTransform = card.transform.colorTransform;
colorTransform.color = next_color;
card.transform.colorTransform = colorTransform;
}

function generate_hex_value():String {
var hex_array:Array = ["0", "1", "2", "3", "4", "5", "6", "7", "8", "9", "A", "B", "C", "D", "E", "F"];
var first_num = hex_array[Math.floor(Math.random()*16)];
var second_num = hex_array[Math.floor(Math.random()*16)];
return (first_num + second_num);
}

function generate_near_color():String {
var temp = generate_hex_value();
var new_red = red; var new_green = green; var new_blue = blue;
if (choose == 0) if (temp != red) new_red = temp; else generate_near_color();
else if (choose == 1) if (temp != green) new_green = temp; else generate_near_color();
else if (choose == 2) if (temp != blue) new_blue = temp; else generate_near_color();

return ("0X" + new_red + new_green + new_blue);
}

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posted by Alison 3/05/2009 11:27:00 PM : (0) comments : splink


Wednesday, March 04, 2009

Project #61 - Marzipan Panda

One of my excellent co-workers put together a really thoughtful fish picnic lunch at the office to today for the two of us. We had smoked salmon, salmon paste, and herring of various kinds along with veggies, crackers and cheese, and I am a fan of all cracker based meals. This is my fourth year in a row of going without meat except for fish or eggs for Lent (a.k.a the Nothing with Feet Diet); she's a pescatarian so it's the one time of the year when we eat the same things.

All of my remaining co-workers have pretty mainstream food tastes that don't include fish from a tube, so they each declined heartily. One even watched us eat with the same expression a cat wears as it watches its owner take a shower. "How can you do that to yourself?" Well, that means more herring for us, I guess.



To show my gratitude for the lovely meal I made my generous co-worker a panda out of marzipan, one of her favorite desserts.



I used about 1/3 of a stick of marzipan. It's best to have everything at a uniform level of texture and moisture, so I always knead it for a few minutes and remove any stubborn lumps.

I dyed a little more than half of my lump of marzipan black using about 1/4 teaspoon of food coloring. Flatten out your piece to maximize the surface area and pour the dye on top and give it a few minutes to soak in. Knead until it is a uniform color and use a paper towel to soak up the excess dye.

Black food coloring will stain almost anything it touches, so work off of a surface you don't care about and wear gloves if you need to have your hands and fingernails looking nice in the near future. I washed my hands 4 or 5 times and may hands are still gray and my fingernails make it appear that I've been mining coal by hand.

I formed the body and legs from the black marzipan and saved a little extra for the ears, nose and eyes. I washed may hands (again!) and made the head and tummy out of the remaining undyed marzipan. I assembled everything while the marzipan was pretty moist. The black dye is pretty aggressive, so I left a few smudges.



Lastly, I had some of the white marzipan left, so I colored it green to make some bamboo. I let the stalk the panda is holding dry out for a few hours so that it would hold its shape.

I don't know if I would be excited about eating something that has so many fingerprints on it, but at least I washed my hands. I hope my co-worker likes it. Too bad I didn't think to dip it in chocolate ahead of time.

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posted by Alison 3/04/2009 09:35:00 PM : (0) comments : splink


Tuesday, March 03, 2009

Project #60 - LED Light Jars



I think one of the low moments of planning for my wedding was sitting next to several tea lights one afternoon with a stopwatch and pouting when I realized that they would never make it through a four hour reception. I then bought enough supplies for a whole wedding of LED lights and never used them (dumb!) except for in some magnetic lanterns I built for an art installation. (side note: Hilariously, I don't think anyone noticed my lanterns because they were hanging ten feet above everyone's heads. There was just a little card with my name and the title on it at eye-level and nothing nearby unless you craned your head 90 degrees to the ceiling, which no one did. I should have added a little card that said 'Look up.' with an arrow...and maybe a smiley face or something. The lesson: always get your pieces installed at eye level. )

I still have most of the parts sitting around my office along with lots of other electronic components, but I'd like to put them into use for an upcoming movie and board game party.



Ingredients:

  • As many Jars as you can find
  • 1-2 LEDs per jar
  • 1 battery per LED (I recommend CR-2032)
  • 1 battery holder per LED
  • 1 switch per jar (optional)
  • Wire
  • Solder (optional)
  • Soldering Iron (optional)



I got most of my parts from ebay, but the batteries came from cheapbatteries.com. These LED lights last for days (I know from another timing experiment), although they'll dim significantly after the first day and a half. Plus, unlike tea lights you can stack them. You can use saved jars, but I have a matching set I ordered a year ago from American Science and Surplus. All together, building a dozen or so of these things shouldn't cost more than $15.



First, pop your battery into the holder. Next, solder two pieces of wire with stripped ends, one to each of the wires coming out of your to your LED. Clip the excess LED wires. If you don't have a soldering iron handy you can twist the wire with the leads from the LED or use electrical tape to hold them together. LEDs are directional so test to see if you have the correct side of the LED matched with the correct terminal on the battery. Solder one side together. DO NOT solder anything directly on the battery; use the leads on the battery holder. If you aren't using a switch connect the other piece of wire to the remaining battery terminal. However, I recommend using a switch because it's a pain to switch the batteries in and out whenever you want to turn the light on or off.

If you are using a switch, solder the free piece of wire from your LED to one of the free metal leads, testing to make sure you don't accidentally connect one side to the ground. Solder one last piece of wire to the corresponding switch lead and then to the remaining lead on the battery holder. The circuit should be complete and your light will turn on and off with a flick of your switch.



Some switches allow for controlling two separate circuits.



Here is a close up look at my soldering, something else I learned in middle school and never improved.



Most of my wiring knowledge comes from an eighth grade project where each student in my class built a little cardboard house and then wired each of the rooms complete with switches that turned on and off. While that was that was the coolest middle school project EVER, my knowledge of electronics pretty much ends there. If anyone has any smarter ideas than the ones I write about I'd love to hear them.

posted by Alison 3/03/2009 09:53:00 PM : (0) comments : splink


Monday, March 02, 2009

Project #59 - Punctuation Soap

I'm not yet cool enough to make my own soap. Instead, I spent the evening melting chunks of soap I bought at a garage sale in the microwave and adding bits of color.

Soap is a lot harder to work with than I'd imagined. I thought I would just be able to cut off chunks and fashion them into whatever I wanted. However, as soon as soap cools off it gets pretty brittle and hard to shape neatly. So, my initial tries at making question marks and exclamation points met with lumpy, broken failure.





I ended up pouring the molten soap onto a cutting board into patterns that I could cut into the shapes I wanted. This was an inexact exercise and I went through nearly a dozen rounds of melting, pouring, and scraping up the remainder to melt again. It was all less easy and fun than I'd imagined, though playing with soap does simplify clean up time.





Arg. The punctuation marks are even backwards when viewed from the front. This is not my best showing. My colored, punctuation-free soaps are pretty, though.

I have a lot to learn about soap making, though I'm not sure if the time investment is worth it for fancy soap. However, I would love to make soap with a prize inside, Deadwood style.



Also, I colored a wooden horse yesterday while updating a project database. I bought the cutout for $1 after hearing some bad family news and wandering around the craft store in a fog. I dunno...horses make me feel better. Does that count as making something? Making a colored horse from a ... not colored horse? If not, I definitely need to think of a project where I get to color. It's therapeutic.

posted by Alison 3/02/2009 10:50:00 PM : (0) comments : splink


Sunday, March 01, 2009

More From Context Free Art

Arg! I ended up working way longer than I expected today (deadlines!), so I'm going to double up projects tomorrow. I have been playing more with my copy of context free art. Below are some of my more recent renderings and their rules.



startshape TREE

rule TREE 20 {
SQUARE { size 0.25 }
TREE { y 0.2 size 0.99 rotate 1 }
}

rule TREE {BRANCH{}}
rule BRANCH 1 {
}
rule BRANCH 2 {
TREE { rotate 20 flip 90 }
TREE { rotate -20 flip 90}
}

rule BRANCH 2 {
TREE { rotate 30 }
TREE { rotate -30 }
}
rule BRANCH {
TREE { rotate 40 }
TREE { rotate -40 }
}




startshape TREE

rule TREE {
SQUARE{}
TREE {y 1 size 0.99 rotate 1.5 brightness 0.01}
}

rule TREE 0.05 {TREE {}}

rule TREE 0.05 {
SQUARE{}
TREE { s 0.99 b -0.5 flip 90}
TREE { s 0.6 b -0.5}
TREE { s 0.5 b -0.5 flip 90}
}




startshape TREE

rule TREE {
SQUARE{}
TREE {y 1 size 0.99 rotate -3.5 brightness 0.003}
}

rule TREE {
SQUARE{}
TREE {y 1 size 0.99 rotate 1.5 brightness 0.003}
}

rule TREE 0.05 {TREE {}}

rule TREE 0.05 {
SQUARE{}
TREE { s 0.99 b -0.003 }
TREE { s 0.6 b -0.003}
TREE { s 0.5 b -0.003 }
}


startshape FEATHER

rule FEATHER {
SQUARE{}
FEATHER {y 1.1 size 0.99 rotate 1.5 brightness 0.01}
}

rule FEATHER 0.05 {FEATHER {}}

rule FEATHER 0.05 {
SQUARE{}
FEATHER { s 0.99 b -0.5 }
FEATHER { s 0.6 b -0.5}
FEATHER { s 0.5 b -0.5 }
}

Labels:

posted by Alison 3/01/2009 11:22:00 PM : (0) comments : splink

Project #58 - Foam Megaman 1-Up



My favorite video game series, is Mega Man. I love any game that can be played in permutations! There are 8! (= 8*7*6*5*4*3*2*1 = 40320) ways to beat the initial bosses, although I could never really beat Quick Man without beating Flash Man first, I think that leaves 7!...hmm...that can't be right...crap, I forgot all of my combinatorics. That leaves 28*6! ([7+6+5+4+3+2+1]*6!), which works out to being 20160, or half of 8!.

Anyway, today I made my own little tribute and put together my own 1-Up icon. Everyone needs an extra life here and there, right?

I've never really used colored foam sheets before, but they were on sale for 3 for $1 so I thought it would cost too much to experiment. I like how easy the foam is to cut and mark. The black parts are actually some stiffened felt, which was also 3 for $1. I think that makes this project officially mixed media. Yaaay!



I had a surprisingly hard time finding a picture of a MM extra life icon online. I remember having a set of icons for my old Mac laptop that was all sprites, but even that has fallen off of the face of the earth. I ended up taking screen caps of you tube videos of people playing Mega Man 2 and then trying to reconstruct the icon. in the end, I determined that the extra life icon fits within a 16 by 16 pixel box and comes in four colors. I think I got it right, but it might be off by a pixel here and there.



I have a special ruler designed for framing, but it's perfect for cutting out anything with right angles.

Labels:

posted by Alison 3/01/2009 01:14:00 AM : (0) comments : splink



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