Tuesday, February 21, 2012

Don't Blink: They Grow Up So Fast

I hope you will indulge me today while I get a bit nostalgic.  My first-born son turns fifteen years old today, and I really cannot believe how fast the time has gone.  It feels -- well, maybe not quite like yesterday -- but like just last year, that I held my beautiful baby boy in my arms for the first time and felt myself bursting with love for him.  I remember that moment so clearly, whereas I can't tell you what I had for lunch yesterday or where I left my keys this morning.  My mind can't quite wrap itself around the fact that it has been a whole fifteen years since then.  Of course, I've gotten to know him better over the years as he's grown into a wonderful young man, and I love him now more than ever.  So I really can't come to grips with the fact that he will be going off to college in just three and a half years -- which I know will pass in the blink of an eye.  I'm trying to treasure every moment. 

Anyway, so instead of writing the blog I had in mind for this week, I thought I would share a few photos of some of the murals and furniture I painted for him when he was little.  His current bedroom is a typical teenager's room with rock posters on the wall, and not a thing made by mom.  ;-)
I painted the "Owl & Pussycat" nursery while I was pregnant, inspired by the classic children's poem by Edward Lear.  I happened to find the Laura Ashley border paper just as it was discontinued.  The "pussycat" is a portrait of our beautiful cat inaptly named "Stinky" (courtesy of my husband).

For my son's first birthday, I painted him
this table and chairs set.  It held up to 
lots of abuse and still gets use when 
the baby cousins visit.  I still love the 
tortoise shell pattern on the seats.

For his second birthday, I painted my son this circus rocking chair.  The chair was inspired by a trip to the Circus World Museum in Baraboo, Wisconsin as well as my son's love of his toy circus trains.  This chair in turn inspired the theme for his "big boy" room, two years later.

My son's "big boy" circus room, from about age 4 to 7, had wide-striped circus tent walls, hand-stained two-toned furniture, vintage circus posters, and miscellaneous hand-painted items such as shelves, wood finials, and of course, the rocking chair that started it all.

Tuesday, February 14, 2012

Loving the Swirl of Life

My original acrylic painting,  Symbiosis:  Peacock Ocelot Tree
I’ve always had an affinity for swirls.  Looking around my house, I see swirls everywhere – in a Klimt print, on African telephone wire baskets, on modern metal wall and table sculptures, on a Japanese raku vase.  I could go on and on, but you get the point.  And lately, I’ve been painting trees with swirled branches and roots. When I’m drawing these trees, my hand just flows.  The swirls seem to emerge naturally when I’m felting too.  Sometimes, the little wisps of wool just want to make a swirl, and I go with it. These swirls just come to me, almost subconsciously.  Most of you have probably doodled some swirls in your day, so you may have an idea of what I’m talking about.  It just feels freeing to draw swirls.
Zulu telephone wire basket

Anyway, I figured given all the things in my house with swirls, it wasn’t just me.  I looked into it and found this fascinating discussion on www.zenzibar.com.   Not surprisingly, I learned that the swirl or “cosmic spiral” is a nearly universal symbol.  The swirl has appeared throughout the ages and across many cultures, including Celtic, Arabic, Native American, Japanese, Australian, Hindu and African.  The meanings vary somewhat, but it is consistently a positive symbol of life, rebirth, growth, energy and/or creativity.  The swirl or spiral appears in nature in shells, storms, the ram’s horn, the coils of snakes and vines and even the form of the galaxy itself.
Raku pottery vase with swirl

What I liked most about the Zenzibar discussion was the notion that we experience the path of life as a spiral:  that as we grow, we circle back around to similar places and experiences, but each time with a new perspective and enhanced understanding.  I really feel this way about my art.  I started out as a kid drawing, coloring, doing all sorts of crafts -- just for fun.  In my twenties, I liked to make things for myself to wear – jewelry, painted denim jackets – things that allowed me to express my creativity and individuality.  In my thirties, as a young mom, I started a business creating hand-painted children’s furniture and art called Stroke of Whimsy.  Again I painted denim jackets, but this time with the little ones in mind.  That’s just where my focus was at that stage in my life.  After a few years, I shut down that business because the renovation of our house had become a full time job. 

I spotted this art deco style vase
at a restaurant last weekend.
At that point, I began another pass of my life’s swirl and all of my creative energy turned to matters of architecture and interior design.  Even when our house was done, I enrolled in a masters program to study architecture and interior design.  And although I loved art school and learned so much, I realized that a career in interior design was not a good fit for my life right now.  I still wanted to be home and available to my kids, and perhaps more importantly, I wanted the kind of true creative freedom that you just can’t have when you are designing for a client.

Zazzy Peaock felted purse hook
So here I am, in my forties, approaching my art from a perspective that really combines everything I’ve experienced, learned and loved up to this point.  My creations are undoubtedly influenced by architecture and modern design, as well as by nature.  (It just so happens that swirls feature prominently in art deco design, one of my favorite styles.)  I’m incorporating my children’s art as well. I enjoy felting flowers and ladybugs, inspired not only by the many beautiful little girls in my life (nieces and daughters of friends) but also by nostalgia for my own childhood. My love of painting animals is now expressed by incorporating animal prints and patterns in my painting and felting.  And I’m once again designing jewelry, but I think in a much more sophisticated way than I did in my twenties.  Well, hopefully, I am more sophisticated than I was in my twenties!

At this moment, the swirls I’m most excited about are my tree paintings.  I painted them before I learned all this about the universal meaning of swirls and spirals, and yet undoubtedly the swirls in my paintings symbolize life and creative energy.  Beyond this universal meaning, the entwined swirled branches symbolize symbiosis, the interdependence of all living things and the hope that, despite our differences, we can all find a way to live in harmony.  I know it’s a little corny, but that is my wish for the world.  It is Valentine’s Day after all.  In the words of John Lennon, “All we need is love.”

My original acrylic painting, Symbiosis:  Leopard Giraffe Tree

Tuesday, February 7, 2012

My Swanky DIY Living Room

I don’t like the idea of a “formal” living room.  It’s outdated and, well, just too stuffy.  But when we remodeled our house, we planned for a living room for my husband’s  piano.  (He happens to be a very talented professional musician and singer, in additional to being a lawyer!)

Anyway, our living room, while not “formal,” is significantly “dressier” than the rest of the house.  It’s the room that’s ready for a night on the town.  If it were an invitation, it would say “Festive Attire.”  Ironically, it is also the room in our house that contains more of my do-it-yourself makeover projects than any other single room in the place.  I crackle-painted used furniture, made my own lampshades, and refurbished and rewired an old crystal chandelier.  I think the room looks elegant, and it's very satisfying knowing I made those things myself. 

It all started years ago, in a previous, more traditional house, when I blew the living room budget on a pair of chairs and a little “divan” loveseat.  I went over the top with the chairs – gold paint with a black crackle finish, three different fabrics, with double piping, etc.  Well, I just loved those chairs -- still do -- even though they're a lot flashier and more detailed than my usual modern aesthetic.

But then what?  I couldn’t find other furniture pieces for the room that weren’t out of my budget and/or even more over the top.  So I got the idea to check out the local used furniture shops.  Next thing I know I was buying a beat-up dark mahogany coffee table and two even more beat-up traditional side tables.  I painted them gold and then crackle painted them black. Voila!  I had matching furniture.   Adding the harlequin detail on the coffee table gave it even more of a vintage feel and made it a little less matchy.  (I should explain how I did all the math, measuring and masking to create the harlequin pattern, but I have so much to say about hand-painting furniture -- I did it as a business years ago -- that I think it’s better left to a whole other blog entry.  If anyone needs to know now, just leave a comment to let me know.)

Now for the lamps:  I found a couple of lamps I liked at Home Goods, or someplace like that, but I hated the lampshades.  The shapes were wrong, and the off-white linen did nothing for the room.  I looked around and didn't find anything better.  So, even though I had no idea how to do it, I decided to make my own lampshades.  I found a website (www.lampshop.com) that offered instructions and supplies for making lampshades.  Yay!  I ordered a couple of wire frames I liked, an instruction manual, and some special glue.  Then, I headed to the local fabric store.  I bought a taupe silk to match my loveseat, some muslin backing, and then the fun stuff -- soutach trim and sparkly beaded dangly trims. 

This was probably eight or nine years ago, but I still remember being petrified that I was going to muck it up and ruin all that lovely silk and trim.  But then, it turned out to be fairly easy.  The lampshades came with templates and instructions.  And the soutach trim hid all the glued seams and messy edges.  They’re far from perfect (don’t look too closely), but I think these lampshades really work in this room. 

Lastly, when it came time to choose a hanging light fixture for our remodeled living room in our new modern house, it just didn’t seem right to use a really contemporary stainless steel number like we have in the rest of the house.  The living room needed something more bohemian, a little sparkly, a little vintage … Well, it just so happens that back before I had my modern house, I went though a phase where I was collecting antique wedding-cake style tiered crystal chandeliers, all purchased on ebay.  I had two dainty little ones, one huge one that we had professionally refurbished and hung in the entry of our last house, and one medium-sized one that was a complete and utter disaster.  I knew that last one was perfect for my new living room!  It was an old corroded hunk of junk …  but it had really “good bones,” and I saw potential. 

            The brass was rusted, the light sockets were corroded out, and it had many missing or damaged crystals.  (Oh, how I wish I had before photos for all of this!)  I could have had this chandelier professionally refurbished (for a bunch of money), but I decided to tackle it myself. I took all the crystals off, leaving just the metal frame.  I even took all of the light sockets and wiring out – it was useless.  Then, I sanded down the metal frame with steel wool and painted it with a silver leaf.  (Yes, I know that the furniture has gold paint, but I’m a big believer in mixing my metal tones.  Sometimes, it just works.)  Next, I found instructions, again on the internet (gotta love the internet!), and headed out to the Home Depot to get supplies.  I needed four new light sockets, wire, end caps, chain for hanging, and some other stuff.  (Hey, I’m no expert on this.  I’m just telling you, if I can do it, so can you!)  I completely rewired the thing, and it worked! Lastly, I found replacement crystals on the internet, put all the crystals back on, and installed my glorious “new” revamped vintage chandelier.  I was a proud little do-it-myselfer!  (I couldn’t find the exact instructions I used, but this one and this other one seem like good resources.)

So, that’s it. It was all a lot of work, but it was totally worth it to create my unique, swanky living room. If you’re willing to put in some effort and get creative, it is possible to create a stylish, high-end room without spending a fortune.  And doing it yourself means that it will be uniquely you.  After all, you’re decorating for yourself, not for the rest of the world.  My living room is very me – the particular side of me that likes to get dressed up for a night on the town -- but still me.

Wednesday, February 1, 2012

So I Have a Thing for Peacocks

On a road trip up to New York to visit family over the holidays, my youngest son pipes up from the back seat:  “Guess what my signature animal is?”  In unison, my husband and I asked, choking back laughter, “You have a signature animal?!”  So, it turns out my eleven-year-old is a narwhal.  What in the heck is a narwhal? Apparently, it's some sort of whale with a horn on its head.  (Aha! So that’s what that was in the movie, “Elf.”)  How I went nearly forty-four years without this critical knowledge is beyond me!

Felted Peacock Heart Necklace
Anyway, this got me thinking about my “signature animal.”  Ironically, I had just chosen the name “Zazzy Peacock” for my business.  So the peacock must be my signature animal, right?  Well, yes and no.  Maybe it’s my aspirational signature animal.  I think I relate to cats way better than birds, that’s for sure.  But there’s something about the peacock.  The bird itself is bold and showy.  It’s not just the beautiful feathers and that little headpiece – although the bold colors and pattern of the peacock feather eye (or heart, as I call it) have been heavily influencing my art for quite a while now. Anyone who’s met a peacock at the zoo or a petting farm knows that they are more than beautiful -- they are downright cocky. They will follow you around loudly talking to (or more like squawking at) you.  I imagine they’re saying “Look at my feathers! Aren’t they amazing?”  You’re lucky if they don’t peck you.  They clearly want attention.   And this is so trite it goes without saying, but they are clearly proud of themselves. 

Felted peacock camera or phone case
So, yes, I aspire to be like the peacock.  I want to create beautiful works of art and have no hesitation about showing them to the world.  I want to just put myself out there, maybe even be a little loud sometimes.  And then, I hope to be proud of what I’m doing.

I would describe my “signature” style as funky, modern, colorful, fun, and sophisticated – sometimes even all at the same time.  I am inspired by the rich colors and incredible patterns found in nature (and not just peacocks!), simple lines and geometry, symbols from modern and ancient cultures, and tribal art and crafts.   My true passion is painting and making felted jewelry and accessories that are truly one-of-a-kind works of art, but I also enjoy making the occasional flower, ladybug, flower, heart, or peace symbol – just for the fun of it.

So this is it.  I’ve launched my business, started this blog, and I’ll be opening my etsy shop very soon.  (Update:  Now open!)   I’m finding my voice and showing my feathers, so to speak.   At this moment, I am a proud peacock.

So, tell me, what’s your “signature” animal?  Do you have a signature style?

Detail from my painting, Peacock Ocelot Tree

All Zazzy Peacock Studios designs and images shown are  © Jill Newman 2012.  All rights are reserved.

Needle Felting: Love at First Poke

Wool roving, foam and felting needles 
I’ve experimented with many materials and forms of art and crafts over the years.  I’ve dabbled in ceramics, polymer clay, crochet, beading, tie-dye, and quilting, among other things.  I’ve painted everything from canvas and paper, to wood, walls, furniture, denim and even leather shoes and handbags.  But I’d never taken to anything so quickly or so passionately as I did to needle felting.  In her fabulously fun and instructive book, I Felt Awesome, Moxie warned me that needle felting was addictive, but it was already too late for me.  Oh man, it was literally love at first poke, and I’ve been felting almost every day since. 

Given that most people I know look at me like I have three heads when I mention “needle felting,” a brief explanation seems in order.  Needle felting is the process of taking loose wool fibers, usually roving or batting (basically cleaned unspun wool hairs, either combed or uncombed), which have been dyed in a wonderful array of brilliant, rich colors, and poking them repeatedly (we’re talking a lot of poking) with special barbed needles until the fibers become enmeshed and matted together into one seamless non-woven fabric.   I then create designs by adding little wisps of different colored fibers, almost like I’m painting with wool.  Only it’s even better, because the result is something soft, fuzzy, and functional. I absolutely love it!

My new sleeve
I myself only discovered needle felting thanks to Martha Stewart.  I happened to spot a blurb in Living magazine about how to needle felt cute little patches over holes in wool sweaters.  Well, this caught my attention because I’d been hanging on to a cashmere sweater with a couple of holes.  So I innocently ordered a pack of wool roving and a felting needle over the internet.  Two days later, I needle felted a simple design over the holes in my sweater, and -- boom -- I was hooked!  Over the next two weeks, I read a slew of books on felting and magically acquired several different kinds of needles and nearly fifty different colors of wool.  It was like I was possessed! 
Zazzy Peacock iphone and camera cases
Those first two weeks, I broke two needles and went through at least one band-aid a day.  I’m happy to say I haven’t broken a needle since, and I hardly ever break the skin anymore.  I can still be heard yelping, “Ow!” on a fairly regular basis, however.  (Did I mention that these needles are really, really sharp and barbed?)

Anyway, I’ve spent many, many happy hours since then honing my felting skills and refining my process.   Now I needle felt my pieces – poking them countless times with various needles, do some wet felting  (which –over-simplication alert – involves rubbing and/or rolling the felt in hot soapy water) to further tighten the fibers, and then needle felt some more – until I’m satisfied that the piece is firm and well-felted.

And you can only imagine how many colors of wool I have to work with now!  The best part is that I keep coming up with ideas for different things I can make, and new designs and color combinations to try.  The possibilities seem endless, and I’m so excited to see my artistic visions come to their fuzzy felted fruition.  Well, back to felting!

Have you tried any new crafts lately?  Are you tempted to try needle felting?

All Zazzy Peacock Studios designs and images shown are  © Jill Newman 2012.  All rights are reserved.