Category Archives: Creative outbursts

Classroom reveal, Part 2

I forgot to do this earlier, but here’s the updated classroom reveal, featuring my tissue-paper truffula forest and IKEA leaf canopy, along with a few flourishes I’m pretty sure weren’t there when I did the first reveal.

A few details:

The inflatable chair lasted about two weeks before it developed a leak. Disappointing, but I didn’t expect much for $5.

I can HIGHLY recommend the mermaid pillows, which have a soothing effect on kids and adults alike.

When we read <em>Beowulf</em>, my seniors thought it would be hilarious to have a plushie of Grendel’s arm hanging above our door like the entrance to Heorot, so of course I made them one.

The truffula trees were time-consuming but very easy; I’ll post a tutorial later if anybody wants one.

The bulletin board on the desk is made from old ceiling tiles.

The big leaf is a baby-bed canopy I picked up for $15 at IKEA. The balloon lamp is another IKEA find — $6, IIRC.

The lights on the “Pride and Joy” board are battery-powered fairy lights that came with little clothespins attached. I use them to display student work, school pictures, etc.

The shoe organizer is a cellphone parking lot. I stuck a power strip to the underside of the chalk tray next to it and plugged in chargers with extra-long cords to give kids an incentive to surrender their devices without a fuss.

The file pockets hold copies of the week’s Common Core objectives. I’ll share how I use them in a future post.

Not pictured: my beloved wax warmer, which makes my room smell like a cinnamon roll, thanks to dollar-store wax melts.

I wanted my room to feel like the children’s section at Barnes and Noble. It ended up being better. Elementary kids come in and hang out after school just because they like it. Colleagues wander in occasionally when they’re tense and need to unwind. Meetings are less stressful when I host them. I suspect part of the magic is that it allows people a safe space to be childLIKE, so they don’t feel the need to be childISH.

Emily

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Classroom Reveal, Part I

Sorry I’ve been so quiet all spring and summer. I’ve been busy — state testing, prom, honor society induction, professional development, graduation, finals, ducks (shoutout to our ag teacher for taking the noisy, destructive little SOBs off my hands), travel, side hustles, curriculum writing, and last but certainly not least, painting an elaborate mural on all four walls of my classroom.

I finally wrapped up the mural on Monday. It was a long process that began last spring, when I wandered into my superintendent’s office and asked how much trouble I’d be in if I painted literary characters all over the walls of my classroom. She basically gave me carte blanche and waited to see what would happen next. About 103 hours of actual work later, this was what I came up with:

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I still have a truffula forest made out of pool noodles and tissue paper to mount on a particle-board stand, a couple of giant IKEA leaves to install near my desk, and a few more strings of fairy lights to hang on not-quite-finished bulletin boards, but I’ll post all that when I do an official classroom reveal in August.

My goal with this project is to remind my kids of how they felt about reading when they were little — back when they were exploring the Hundred Acre Wood and having wild rumpuses and sneaking through Hogwarts under an Invisibility Cloak instead of being assigned a million pages of stuff they didn’t really care about. I want to recapture some of that joy and maybe get them excited about reading again. We’ll see how it goes.

Emily

P.S.: In case you’re interested, here’s an update showing the finished room.

Make-It Monday: Mural update

Laying in the color is a fairly quick step. The details will take much longer.
Laying in the color is a fairly quick step. The details will take much longer.

This work in progress will probably remain in progress for the foreseeable future, as I have a small part of a very large mural project booked for next weekend, but I’m hoping by the end of winter, I’ll have my bathroom finished. The faux-stone look isn’t difficult, but it’s time-consuming, and I’m having to piecemeal it as time allows — an hour here and a half-hour there.

More color laid in and a little detail work started here and there.
More color laid in and a little detail work started here and there.
Here's the section directly below the part I showed you last week.
Here’s the section directly below the part I showed you last week.
And here's that small section below the (nearly) completed part to give you a sense of where it's going.
And here’s that small section below the (nearly) completed part to give you a sense of where it’s going.

I’ll post occasional updates on my progress so you can see the technique. If you like it, feel free to try it on your own wall. It requires more patience than anything else. When it’s all done, I might put together a tutorial.

Emily

Make-It Monday: I paint because I’m lazy

Longtime readers will recall my adventures in drywall repair last winter, necessitated by the slipshod home-improvement work done by the previous owner of this house.

The drywall in our bathroom was installed as poorly as the drywall in the rest of the house, and the paint job was even worse — drips and cracks and alligatored spots everywhere.

I could retape the joints, sand everything down, and repaint the walls in there with some textured finish that would conceal any flaws, but I’m not going to, for two reasons:

1. My projects earlier this year in the bedroom and office taught me that I haaaaaaaate working with drywall in tight spaces and rag-painting around obstacles.

2. I need a sample of trompe l’oeil mural work to show prospective clients, as most of my murals — with the exception of my faux-neon pieces — are done in a more cartoonish style.

With all that in mind, I decided to make the cracks in the bathroom wall look purposeful.

This is a work in progress, obviously, but here’s what I’m up to:

Preliminary sketch.
Preliminary sketch.
Closeup of a section that's about 95 percent finished. I need to come back and soften up some of the mossy patches on the stucco, but this is the upshot.
Closeup of a section that’s about 95 percent finished. I need to come back and soften up some of the mossy patches on the stucco, but this is the upshot.

It’s not perfect, but neither is the wall. Intentional imperfections, rendered in careful detail, seem infinitely preferable to imperfections created as a result of someone’s sloppy attempts at home improvement, and hopefully the end result will be realistic enough to earn me another paying mural gig or two somewhere along the line.

I’ll post an update when I finish the project.

Emily

Make-It Monday: Mural planning

I’m not at liberty to reveal the full scope of my latest project, but I have another mural in the works. I’ve started working on the canvas sketches for client approval. I will, of course, post pictures of the finished project when it’s completed, which I expect will be several weeks from now.

In the meantime, here are a couple of details:

This little guy is a margay -- a type of small wildcat native to the Amazon rainforest.
This little guy is a margay — a type of small wildcat native to the Amazon rainforest.
Golden-headed lion tamarin. He'll look much cuter at full size; rendering fine details on canvas at this scale (he's about the size of my thumb) is tricksy.
Golden-headed lion tamarin. He’ll look much cuter at full size; rendering fine details on canvas at this scale (he’s about the size of my thumb) is tricksy.

The guy at the top is an Amazon parrot. He won’t appear in the finished project, as he’s being replaced with a more colorful species (likely a scarlet macaw), but I think he’s cute, anyhow.

More images coming in a few weeks. Stay tuned.

Emily

Another recent project

Following up on yesterday’s post, here’s another little project I did recently. The Blue Swallow Motel on Route 66 in Tucumcari, New Mexico — which we have long since established is my favorite place in the known universe — has a set of black cardboard information boards under the glass on the front counter. The boards have been in existence for as long as anybody can remember and provide information about other local businesses and services that might be of use to guests.

I’m not sure what was used to make the white letters on the boards, but it doesn’t respond well to spills, and despite the glass over them, moisture occasionally reaches the signs and smears the lettering. I’ll be in New Mexico soon to lead a motorcoach tour, do a few projects at the Swallow and spend a couple of days signing books at a festival.

The owner asked whether I could include restoration or replacement of the information boards among my projects. Based on the historic nature of the originals, we decided the best course of action would be to leave them as-is, remove them from harm’s way, and replace them with a set of updated boards featuring current businesses. Using paintmarkers and black poster board, I created these modern versions, designed to approximate the style and dimensions of the originals. The originals will preserved in some manner that maintains their historic integrity and protects them from further damage. I had the new ones laminated. Hopefully they’ll last as long as their predecessors.

The originals advertised a package-liquor store and a restaurant, both of which have since closed.
The originals advertised a package-liquor store and a restaurant, both of which have since closed.
A funeral home seems an odd thing to promote to travelers, but at the time the originals were created, there was no 911, and the local funeral home also ran the ambulance service, so it was good for guests to have ready access to the phone number in case of a medical emergency.
A funeral home seems an odd thing to promote to travelers, but at the time the originals were created, there was no 911, and the local funeral home also ran the ambulance service, so it was good for guests to have ready access to the phone number in case of a medical emergency.
The original version of the top featured a local car dealership, with stylized logos for the brands they sold. The bottom was just like this, except it had the original owners' names.
The original version of the top featured a local car dealership, with stylized logos for the brands they sold. The bottom was just like this, except it had the original owners’ names.
The original featured the Odeon and a long-closed drive-in movie theater.
The original featured the Odeon and a long-closed drive-in movie theater.

I’m looking forward to getting to Tucumcari and starting work on the mural I’ve got planned, which will be something of a tribute to Bob Waldmire. I haven’t had a good dose of New Mexico since October, and I really need one. While I’m out there, I’ll be signing copies of Greetings from Coldwater and the new print edition of Route 66 for Kids, which has been updated for 2016. (There’s also a Kindle version of the guidebook, but it’s the 2015 edition. I haven’t had time to figure out how to update it and link it to the print version yet. The information is mostly the same, but a few places have raised their prices or changed their hours in the past year.)

Emily

What a spring.

I keep thinking I’ll get on here and write a post catching up all the stuff I’ve done this spring, but every time I think I’m about to catch my breath, something else happens.

March was a little bit busy, but nothing ridiculous; mostly just the usual preliminary garden work, and I started a redecorating project in my dining room that got pushed back a bit when I landed a gig painting a mural at the new juvenile justice center the county is developing. I spent the middle of April working on that. I think it turned out well:

Ignore the white smudges; that's just sealer that hadn't dried yet when I took the pictures.
Ignore the white smudges; the sealer hadn’t dried yet when I took the pictures.
The mural is in an area where little kids in the foster system wait when they have court dates.
The mural is in an area where little kids in the foster system wait when they have court dates.

I also had three road trips in April: a nice trip to Pontiac, Illinois, on April 9 to help the Illinois Route 66 Association spruce up the museum ahead of tourist season; a pleasant trip to Tulsa for a Judy Collins concert April 24; and a trip to Afton, Oklahoma, for our friend Laurel’s memorial service April 30.

That last trip started out well but turned into a nightmare 70 miles from home, when my Subaru decided to have its second catastrophic breakdown in as many years. When we described all the problems we’ve had with the car since we bought it, Subaru corporate offered us $1,000 off a new one. Uh, no. I already spent $5,000 having the transmission rebuilt in this one — for which I still owe $8,500 — and now it needs a $6,800 engine and radiator replacement. I’ll just cut my losses now and park it until I finish paying it off, thanks.

Of course this happened the week I decided I was going to break my 30-year swearing habit by assigning Weight Watchers-style points to profanities, giving myself a daily quota, and cutting off an inch of my hair for every day I exceeded my points.

When we left for Afton, my hair looked like this:

memarch

After I spent two weeks cussing that bloody Subaru, it looked like this:

memay

I don’t love it, but I hate it less than I expected, for various reasons.

Automotive woes notwithstanding, it’s been a pretty good spring. I’ve been doing a lot of landscaping projects. Here are a few I especially like:

We bought an arbor in April. I’d wanted one for a long time.

To the right is a wall I built around the asparagus patch to keep Riggy from sneaking into the garden via that gap between the metal fence and the privacy fence. Just beyond the gate is the new arbor I bought in April to train the wisteria.
April. To the right is a wall I built around the asparagus patch to keep Riggy from sneaking into the garden via a gap in the fence.
This is the wisteria a month later. (Notice the parsley to the left of the arbor, too. It grew all winter and got huge this spring, so I'm letting it go to seed.)
This is the wisteria a month later.

I also decided to try my hand at fairy gardening, Whovian-style:

Fairy gardening is all the rage on Pinterest. This is my geeked-out version.
Don’t blink.
A month later, the lucky bamboo is struggling a bit, and the fern is a lost cause, but the other plants are thriving.
A month later, the lucky bamboo is struggling, and the fern is a lost cause, but the other plants are thriving.

And, of course, my pride and joy:

March.
March.
April.
April.
The pond as it looked today, with the water irises blooming profusely.
Today. Love those irises.

Finally, here are two views of my front porch since I started adding plants and decorations to it:

Curb appeal. We haz it.
Curb appeal: We haz it.
The view from my front door. Love those ferns.
The view from my front door.

I have several other projects to share, but this post is getting out of hand, so I’ll stop there for now. Hope you’re having a good spring, wherever you are.

Emily