Wednesday, April 29, 2015

Window Wonders: Art Transparencies

orchid transparency
Orchid transparency, marker on organza
Some of you are stay-at-home parents with small children, home-schooling parents or grandparents, or parents/grandparents who help children with their schoolwork. These attractive transparencies are easy to do, made with inexpensive materials, and something you and the children can do together. Suppose your children are learning about flowers, insects, seashells, or airplanes. As an accompanying activity, why not help a child make a transparency of one of the objects he/she has been studying, to illustrate an oral or written report, and to have something to hang in a window afterward. When the child tires of the picture, it can be replaced by one on another topic.

hibiscus sketch
Hibiscus sketch
Before you a do a project with children, however, you might make a transparency of your own. Then you can guide a child through the project (and impress them with your talent). I prefer to work from my own sketches, like this one of a hibiscus flower. I sketch the picture in pencil, putting in all the shading. Then I outline it in permanent marker to make it easier to trace onto parchment or fabric. If you don't feel comfortable doing that, there are always pictures you can trace. Coloring books are a good source of these. Dover Publications, Inc. has dozens of great coloring books on all kinds of subjects ( The illustrations are detailed and accurate. There is no charge for using these illustrations, nor do you need to get permission to use them, so long as you don't use more than ten of them in any one project. Or trace calendar, catalog, or magazine pictures.

Orchid samples
Orchid samples
Start with a simple outline drawing or tracing. Go over the outline with a black permanent marker (I used a Sharpie®). You will need a piece of white organdy, non-woven interfacing, nylon organza (or silk, if you can find it), woven interfacing like buckram, parchment paper, tracing paper or some other sheer material. (Parchment paper is found where baking supplies are sold; it is rolled, so press it lightly with a warm iron to flatten it.) Make sure that the material you use will accept crayon or marker. (If you use interfacing, get the firm kind that is slightly rough on one side and smooth on the other, not the soft kind that feels fuzzy. Don't use iron-on interfacing.) Press the material with the appropriate iron temperature. (If you have not worked with nylon or silk before, be aware that they are slippery; tape the edges to cardboard before you begin coloring especially with crayons.) Protect your work surface so no marker comes through to it. (Marker should not come through parchment; however, you will not get brilliant colors with it.) Trace the outline onto the fabric or paper with a black or dark fine-point marker. Color the picture with permanent markers, washable markers, or rather heavy applications of crayon. Once a picture done in marker is dry, it is ready to be framed.

Butterfly transparency
Butterfly transparency on interfacing
A crayon picture, however, requires an additional step. Place a couple of layers of heavy paper or paper towels on top of a pad of newspaper. Put the picture, face-up, on top of this. Place more layers of white paper or paper towel on top of the picture. Press the whole thing with a dry iron at the heat setting for cotton, being especially careful not to scorch nylon or silk. Press until all the wax from the crayons has been absorbed and only the color remains. Keep checking the layers, changing the paper as needed. You should do this step for the children. If you allow them to watch, stress safety. When no wax remains and the fabric has cooled, your transparency is ready to frame.

Hibiscus transparency
Hibiscus transparency from sketch, crayon on organdy
I like embroidery hoops for framing. The hoop should be a little larger than your picture, but smaller than the parchment or fabric around the picture. Plastic hoops come in many bright colors. The outer half of a wooden hoop can be stained, varnished or left alone. Be sure that any finish is completely dry before you secure the picture in the hoop. Be particularly careful with parchment or tracing paper.. Center the picture over the bottom half of the hoop. Position the upper half so that the adjusting screw is directly above the center of the picture. Press it down over the fabric and pull it as taut as possible. Turn the hoop over and cut away all the excess with scissors. Secure a hanging thread around the adjusting screw. Hang the picture in the window where the light will shine through it with the colored side facing out. If you use plastic fishing line or clear nylon thread to hang it, the hanger will be nearly invisible and the picture will appear to “float” in the air. If you prefer a picture frame, select a light-weight one without backing or glass. Remove any staples from the back. Cover the back edge of the frame with a white glue (like Elmer's). Stretch the parchment or cloth, face-down, over the back of the frame and press it against the glue. Let it dry completely. Cut off all excess. Put a screw eye in the top center of the frame.  

Workspace with markers
Workspace with markers
Older children will probably prefer to work with markers. I use Sharpies®, but Crayola® makes a large variety, including washable ones. You will, at least, need black, brown, dark blue, light blue, yellow, orange, light green, dark green, pink, red, and purple. White areas should not be colored. Protect the working surface. Remind the children to replace the caps on the markers tightly when they are not in use so the pens will not dry out. Make cleaning up and putting away materials an important part of the project.

Workspace with crayons
Workspace with crayons
I encourage young students to peel the paper off the crayons so that they can use sides and blunt ends as well as the points. Crayons are not expensive, but it pays to get good quality, like Crayola®. Parchment paper is not very good for crayon; you would do better to use tracing paper. If it will not mar the work surface, you may want to tape their pieces of paper or fabric down with masking tape before they begin to draw. If they are working on cloth, they will need to press harder to draw lines and to color areas more heavily than they would on paper. They may need some help with this. They may outline parts of their finished pictures with a black or other dark crayon so that it shows clearly. Keep all the crayons even the broken ones because we will be doing some crayon batik later this year.

Enjoy the teachable moments,

Hummingbird transparency
Hummingbird transparency in a 4" embroidery hoop

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Monday, April 13, 2015

Persevering Plants

Resilient Crocus
This is the time of year when I fold my needlework, put away my art and craft supplies, and become a servant of the plants. J.D. keeps his camera handy, but deserts his computer to rake and hoe, plant and cultivate, water and weed. Most of our daylight hours are spent in the greenhouse or the various garden plots tending vegetables and fruits for our stomachs and flowers for our spirits.

I have always surrounded myself with plants. As a child on the farm, I used to take my little red wagon and follow the men as they cleared the roadside ditches. I would fill the wagon with clumps of wildflowers, take them home, and plant them around our house. At one time I had eight kinds of wild violets. I have one kind here. It planted itself in one of the garden spots last year and has now established several “colonies”, including one on bare rocks. I admire its tenacity, perseverance, and determination to grow and thrive.

Our eighty-seven-year-old next-door neighbor has an apricot tree that is more than one hundred years old. Despite its age, in good years it bears hundreds of firm, luscious fruit. The few branches that hang over our yard provide all the apricots we eat during the summer, plus plenty to freeze for winter. We had two mild freezes in March, while the tree was in bloom, so we must wait weeks to find out if there will be an apricot crop this year.

Crabapple Blooms
Crabapple Blooms
In our front yard is a crab apple tree that has been my favorite tree for more than thirty-five years and it was old when we moved here. I don't make jelly from the fruit any more because it requires too much sugar; I leave the fruit for the birds to enjoy. A small flock of cedar waxwings stays with us for a day or two in the fall, eating the fruit to fuel their bodies for migration.

We feed the birds all year long and maintain several birdbaths. Soon after we moved here, I noticed plants growing here that had not been here when we arrived and that I had not planted. I realized that at least some of them had probably been introduced by the birds. Many were annuals that bloomed for a season and disappeared, but some became permanent residents. The most spectacular of these is an Oregon holly-grape. It started as a tiny seedling beside our homemade greenhouse. I liked its glossy, spiny foliage and watered it from time to time. Today we have a dense cluster of plants that reach to my shoulder and are about eight feet (2.5 meters) in diameter. They are spectacular in the spring when they are covered with spikes of vivid yellow flowers. In the fall their berries supply food for birds and other animals.

Oregon Grape Holly
Oregon Grape Holly

The evergreen tree beside the holly-grape was also a surprise. It suffered a lot of damage from the deer the first couple of years. As its prickly companion grew behind it, however, the deer lost interest in it. It is taller than I am now and has regained its symmetry. It grows more attractive each year. I really approve of the birds' landscaping efforts!

Rhubarb, bent on world domination
Not all our prodigious plants have been so welcome. We had a rhubarb patch that grew much more than we could eat, preserve, or even give away. My husband would dig it up, but it would come back the next year. At that time we had a small boat that we used for fishing. One autumn, he overturned the boat on the rhubarb, sure that it would die over the winter. The next spring I noticed that the boat appeared to be several inches above the ground. Removing the boat revealed a healthy boat-shaped rhubarb patch that had raised the boat with stems and leaves. Then he had a load of crushed rock dumped on the plants. I was afraid he had finally succeeded. As you can see, he had not. As J. D. uses the rock for landscaping, I expect that patch to grow and grow and grow.

Forsythia "tree"
Some of our plants have delusions of grandeur. Our forsythia and snowball bushes are fast becoming small trees instead of shrubs. They appear to be having a contest to see which one can grow tallest. Currently the snowball is in front. The remarkable thing is that they can do this in our arid climate without requiring additional watering.

Coral Rose
Coral Rose
Then there is our most ambitious rose. It is a climber that produces lovely coral blossoms. It is often the first of our roses to bloom and always the last one to stop blooming, producing blooms even through three frosts last autumn. It long ago outgrew its trellis and now supports itself on the greenhouse. It doesn't seem to need much support, however, since it now grows a good four feet (125 cm) above the greenhouse roof.

Lenten Rose
Lenten rose, making a home under the mock orange
We planted a mock orange bush at the end of a nice lilac hedge. Everyone said it wouldn't survive our cold winters. Not only does it perfume the neighborhood every May, but it has grown over, under, and through the lilac hedge (which is now taller than the house) for more than the length of the entire house. Then it “jumped over” a large garden plot and, perhaps with some help from the birds, grew another large bush against the side of a storage shed.

So, whenever you get the opportunity, stop and smell the violets and the mock orange and the roses. And, like the plants,

Strive to thrive!

Red and white tulips
Early tulips celebrate the arrival of warmer weather

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