Two Jade Buttons

The book is done!

I haven’t even had time to list it on the 2017 Book Art page, but it’s up on SaatchiArt now: https://www.saatchiart.com/art/Sculpture-Two-Jade-Buttons/799858/4038430/view

Here’s a teaser. Yes, those are detachable cufflinks in Burmese jade and buffalo bone, on the lower right panel.

And the covers:

Spring Garland Earrings

Not quite the first completed project of 2018, but the first one ready to show off:

 

Spring Garland Earrings!

2″ long asymmetrical tendrils of beaded vines make up these lightweight, dramatic earrings.

Findings: .925 sterling silver leverback ear wires from Plazko.com.

Beads from Creative Destination, Drumbeat Indian Arts, Fire Mountain Gems, Bead World, Bead Garden of Sedona, ArtBeads, and other sources.  (I’ve only been collecting beads since 1985, so I’m getting a bit fuzzy on where and when I scored some of them.)

Beads: Czech pressed glass accent beads. Size 11 seed beads in peacock green iridescent matte finish. Size 14 and 15 glass seed beads in various shades and finishes of green, gold, and iridescent black.

#14 and #15 seed beads are around 1mm in diameter, give or take a hairsbreadth, so they are finicky little beasts to wrangle on nylon beading thread and a size 12 quilting needle.

Super-tiny seed beads are always useful in bead embroidery. I just had to buy more for a beaded hatband project coming up, so now I have about 25 colors. I love Creative Destination and Drumbeat, because they’re local to me, and both have a *vast* selection of #14 and #15 beads in hundreds of colors and finishes…and small vials for smaller projects. Fire Mountain and Artbeads stock larger packages of thousands of colors.

I recently re-used a bunch of beaded vines from this old 1999 folding screen project, and decided it would be fun to make new vines.

I might possibly be insane enough to make a matching necklace sometime.

 

Ornament Magazine

For 43 years, Ornament Magazine has been documenting personal adornment through the world’s highest levels of wearable fine craft and art media. The magazine itself has a physical beauty that has never been compromised: thick paper, glossy finish, stunning photography, and deeply-researched articles.

I first encountered Ornament in January 1979 in the skimpy magazine section of my local jewelry supply store in northern New Mexico. Having farted around with bead stringing, weaving, and embroidery, I was starting out in ‘hot’ jewelry-making (due to the Christmas gift of a tiny butane Microflame torch like this, some flux, a soldering block, and some copper wire. Thanks, Dad.)

In the late 70s, the Four Corners region of the American Southwest was a nexus for serious jewelry design.

The local Native American tribes had ancient, vibrant stonecarving and fiber traditions married to relatively-new silversmithing exposure. In the early 20th century, Fred Harvey and other Anglo entrepreneurs helped make ‘Indian’ jewelry and fashion popular with the outside world, opening up a vital industry for Native crafters. Arizona Highways Magazine often showcased Native jewelry designers. In Albuquerque, Saul Bell had made Rio Grande into ‘the’ jewelry-making supplier of the region, as well as a powerhouse of artistic and technical networking. From the Latino population came another lush, riotous tradition of decorative and wearable art.

It was a good time to be a young artist inspired by all of these intermixing elements. In the fall of 1979 I started learning from an actual, serious jeweler (who quickly trained me out of most of my self-taught jewelry bad habits.) Ornament and Lapidary Journal were mainstays in his library. From him, I first heard about the Tucson Rock & Gem Show and Fire Mountain Gems.

These days I return to Ornament for regular, and often wistful, recharges of my creative batteries. I may not always agree with or even like the featured artists or scholars, but I always find *something* to inspire me.

Earrings and other conundrums

Artisans make bread-n-butter pieces: smaller, simpler objects that feed the bank account. But they also need room for the big or complicated gonzo works that feed their joy and skill.

I don’t have pierced ears, I don’t intend to ever have pierced ears, and clip-on earrings tend to hurt me after about an hour. So when I design jewelry I tend not even consider making earrings. (I’m all about ear cuffs, however, which are usually absurd and overblown.)

For 2018, I’m trying more earring designs. They’re small and generally less tricky to do than a big necklace project. They make a good test of new stitches and bead types. Because they take less time and material, they can be more affordable for both artist and buyer.

I love painting on matte-finished shell, but I need more practice to get my knack back. Hence: earrings.

A few of my beading friends make the bulk of their show and Etsy income from earrings. For various reasons I need to follow in their footsteps this year.

But earrings (and beaded amulet bags, bracelets, barrettes, and other small projects) have a hidden cost: the time and material spent making them is lost from bigger, more ambitious projects. There can be a strong temptation to *only* make earrings to sell. This same tendency befalls many Etsy artisans and artists attempting to load juried festival booths with cheaper buy-sell goods. Cheap and fast = lots of small sales. Especially in a recession.

What do artists lose when they focus solely upon easy sales targets? They can’t build up stocks of larger and/or involved gallery-and-museum-worthy pieces. That robs them of the opportunity to enter career-advancing contests, or apply for single-person gallery retrospectives. Unless those artists run across an earring-only gallery, they’re out of luck. Without museum-worthy pieces, artists cannot reach the one market that has so far thrived in this era: the wealthy private collector or corporate collector.

Artists who do have the luxury of building and storing stocks of finished pieces, can take advantage of those opportunities. That usually means they’re either selling enough work to make it a fulltime job…or they’re being subsidized somehow. Sometimes this can occur through family ties or marriage, sometimes through thrifty budgeting or a great non-art job.

I know an artist who is one of the finest realistic painters I’ve ever met. She’s rarely sold work, and almost never shows her pieces. I only know about her because I met her while I worked in an art supply store. She paints because she loves it, she’s damn good at it, and she’s got enough outside resources to ensure she’ll never need to rely on her art for a living.

I know a fiber artist who lives in an upperclass environment in a country and culture where servants are the norm. This artist can afford to spend months on single pieces, and keep them just for fun. Her work has a density, exuberance, and purity that a more sales-driven artist might give up as inefficient.

Art myth: many artists pride themselves on being scrappy and socially edgy, thriving on the rough and impoverished margins. Art truth: supplies are expensive, poverty is terrible for creativity, and most prolific and ‘successful’ artists have well-planned revenue streams.

I’m faced with some changes in my art sales this year: two venues are on hiatus, while several more are ramping up. That means I need a balance of over-the-top jewelry and book art pieces…and earrings.

 

 

2017 in review

What a year, gang.

We’ve seen political upheavals mingled with newly energized activism. Lazy intellects, desperate anger, slick marketing, and pathological distrust of expertise resulted in everything from Trump’s election, Brexit, serious Flat Earth conspiracies, anti-vaccination movements, pseudoscience, and the disastrous return of Lysenkoism to Russia. We’ve seen brave, fierce scientists, journalists, and ordinary people standing firm against blind ideology, snake oil sales, and craven greed. I’ve never been prouder of my fellow liberals.

A rising drumbeat of climate change warnings is shifting the human equation from ‘prevention’ to ‘mitigation’ and ‘adaptation’. Some geographic areas may benefit, many others will not. In delicious schadenfreude, the places most benighted by narrow religious and pseudoscientific beliefs may be among the worst affected by climate change side effects. But make no mistake: we’re all in this mess together.

Science did cool things in 2017. The solar eclipse was amazing. We’ve proven that gravity waves exist, and can be used for cosmological exploration. Paleontologists have found more ‘missing link’ hominid fossils that show humanity is a vast sprawling bush with an ancient lineage, not a narrow tree. New technological advances like CRISPR and gene therapy herald major changes in medicine.

Personally, it’s been a year of triumph and terror. I’m thrilled at new options to bring my art and writing to the public. Look for some great art and fun projects in 2018.

I’m now intimately acquainted with the US costs for kidney failure (a friend’s, not mine): $235,000 and counting, even with decent insurance.  It’s made me coldly and carefully consider my own responses, if I have a major medical issue. People who don’t live in the US don’t understand the choices that poor to middleclass Americans must make: balancing earnings to maximize insurance subsidies, long term healthcare vs family bankruptcy. The Baby Boomers are the last generation of Americans with even a chance at retiring on liveable pensions…and many of them are discovering their planning has fallen short.

I have no idea what 2018 will bring, much less the next decade. I live, therefore I hope.

Mamie’s Fudge

After seeing this made when I was a kid, I’m trying out the recipe for ‘Mamie Eisenhower’s Fudge’.

It’s a really friendly recipe if you’re scared of candymaking. Just remember: no touching the fudge until it sets overnight. Cover the pans with foil and keep in an *undisturbed* room temperature location. Chill after cutting into *very small squares*.

Here’s the recipe I followed, from Southern Living Magazine. https://www.southernliving.com/recipes/mamie-eisenhower-chocolate-fudge-recipe

I divided the mix…one got toasted walnuts, one was plain.

Note: this is neither diabetic nor diet-friendly candy. The *bowl* is too rich for one person to lick clean.

I’ll post pictures when it’s done.

 

‘Rocketship’ Fiber Art Books

These are coming along nicely. The teeny rocketships are all embroidered, and now both sides of the text blocks are sewn together.

I debated hand-sewn seams to anchor the folds, but my hands and schedule said ‘nope’. So my trusty old Elna sewing machine did the work, in about a quarter of the time I’d take by hand. (And much less agony.)

Now for the cedar wood covers.

To get a sense of scale, each of these books folded up will measure around 2.75×1.75×1.5″.

Doug Jones and the Republican Soul

As I write this at 6am on a Wednesday morning, several major news organizations have called the Alabama Senate special election for Democrat Doug Jones. The Republican candidate, the odious Roy Moore, has yet to concede.

This is a big deal for American politics. Early exit polls and anecdotal evidence suggests this is more a demographic victory than a Democratic one. Minority, younger, and urban voters faced off against entrenched white, older, and rural voters, amid a blatant barrage of vote-suppression tactics engineered by Alabama Republicans.

How bad was it? Mother Jones Magazine has this report. The Alabama Supreme Court set in motion measures intended to immediately destroy paper ballots and erase electronic traces, acts intended to ‘protect’ a Republican victory from claims of vote-rigging. Anti-Moore voters persisted and gave enough of a victory to (probably) be safe from a recount.

The Democrats and associated #Resistance folks are understandably jubilant. Donald Trump has so far offered an uncharacteristically mild congratulation to Doug Jones, followed by a tepid claim that Luther Strange would have been the better candidate (instead of Moore).

The Republican majority in the Senate has shrunk by one more vote, making their legislative effectiveness even more questionable. Moreover, this election can only be seen as a warning to Republicans: their party direction under Trump could tarnish their ‘brand’ for generations.

Do they care?

Understand that, to the Evangelical Christian bloc, Donald J. Trump was always an unsavory but useful tool. As long he is useful to their Culture War efforts, he’ll be tolerated. Mike Pence has spent decades grooming himself as a logical Evangelical choice for POTUS. The year he’s spent kowtowing to Trump has undoubtedly been hard for him, but he probably views it as a divine test of his faith.

Mike Pence is one heartbeat or one impeachment consensus from being President of the United States of America. This is right where he wants to be.

And right where his right-wing allies –from KKK and alt-right Nazis, to ultra-devout Evangelicals and ultra-rich donors, to even Russian interests — want him to be.

The new Republicans understand they are at a crossroads: control of the US hinges on demographics and voter engagement, pitting largely older whites against largely younger minorities. Freezing out those younger, poorer, easily disillusioned voters with suppression and misinformation was *the* core goal of the 2016 Presidential Election. It worked then.

Will the election of Doug Jones signal a new era of engagement and cooperation among liberal voting blocs in the US? It’s a promising start, but only one battle in a long and dangerous war.

President Pence is not where sane Americans, or the world, want to be on the eve of global recession, nuclear threats , and climate disasters. Donald J. Trump can be reliably said to only be out for himself (with his blood family a distant second). Pence has a Mission from God, and it’s not the one from the Blues Brothers movie.

What is so bad about a President Pence? His allies, for one: a world-spanning collection of oligarchs and devout thugs who will stop at nothing to cement political and economic power. The ‘tax reform’ bills making their way through consensus in the US House and Senate are proof enough of that. These bills take away earnings, freedom, and security for most poor and middle-class Americans, and reward the ultra-rich.

Pence’s Russian ally Vladimir Putin has led and refined a dangerous game of concealing his own incompetence and inadequacy by creating a false-equivalence narrative. ‘Everybody cheats, everybody lies, there is no moral high ground, and democracy is a lie.’ His ultimate goal is not the ennobling of Russia, but the degradation of its opponents. Donald J. Trump is undoubtedly Putin’s puppet, but Pence and the Republicans are his useful equals.

Far worse is Mike Pence & Co’s enthusiastic acceptance of End Times beliefs: the idea that the world is ending in a series of events predicted in the Biblical Book of Revelations.

End Times is the *only* reason Christian Evangelicals support Israel. They don’t like Jews, but according to Revelations, Jews and Israel are necessary to kickstart the return of Christ. Christian Evangelicals of Mike Pence’s strain are likely to be anti-science, anti-tolerance, anti-climate change, and anti-alternative energy.

They don’t think the world is worth saving. They mask that belief behind a practical pro-business, anti-tax strategy that bills itself as good for the short-term economy. But at the root, most End Times believers (who can be every religion from Christian, Jewish, Muslim, Buddhist, and far-right Hindu, among others) think the End is going to come in their lifetime, so why build anything for a secular future? They recognize their views are unpopular with liberal mindsets, so they’ve set out to minimize liberal challenges while they can.

My takeaway from the Doug Jones election is this: liberal voters and politicians need to be ready for anything, and committed to landslide victories and constant vigilance…or the resulting alt-right empires will make Margaret Atwood’s The Handmaid’s Tale look like Disneyland.

Abusive agents and how to spot them

This will eventually have its own spot on Filigree’s Rule, but I thought the problem merited its own longer post.

Literary agents are human: they have likes, dislikes, foibles, and triggers like anyone else. Sometimes an author is lucky and their quirks will mesh with the agent’s. This is one of the major reasons to *exhaustively* research agents before you approach them.

Commercial publishing is a rough business. As reasonably well-informed authors, we know literary agents offer our best shot at decent sales with a trade publisher. Agents…good agents…do a lot to earn their 15%.

Note: I’ve had two literary agents between 1992 and 2016. Both are lovely people and skilled professionals, and they would *never* dream of treating authors the ways I’m about to list.

Bad agents can ruin your career, your sanity, and your joy in writing. I’ve watched dozens of agentfails over the last eight years, as I researched publishers, agents, markets, trends, and my fellow authors. It’s not always easy to spot bad agents ahead of time.

What is a ‘bad agent’? For this post I’m only talking about commercially successful literary agents, with excellent documented sales and large client lists…who have, with certain authors, failed so epically and horrifically that no one should ever query them again.

But very much like the current focus on sexual harassment in work & politics, I can’t actually name these agents without opening myself to legal jeopardy. Their awful treatment of some authors is an open secret, if you take the time to research. Writer Beware and www.absolutewrite.com offer a depth of information going back many years. Simply watch for authors announcing they are seeking new representation, and track back through their & their ex-agent’s social media posts.

This post follows one particular author and agent, with enough of the serial numbers filed off for me and the author to remain safe. (The agent could be inflicted with boils and bedbugs, for all I care.) Do I know who it is? Sure, because I have basic research skills and a good memory.

Author: three well received SFF novels from a large publisher. Books compared favorably to a master of the subgenre.

Agent: really well known in SFF community, but has some previous problematic social media gaffes.

Author was typically over the moon upon initial signing of first mms & two proposals, but noticed quickly that agent didn’t pay attention to the next two books’ outlines. Agent obviously wanted a massive bestseller/award winner, and pushed that outcome over the author’s story preferences. Agent insisted in being the sole go-between for author and editor, not allowing independent contact between the other two parties. Agent tried to rewrite books without author’s input or permission. Called on that no-no, Agent then withheld useful criticism during edit processes, but began complaining about the writing in published versions. Agent was incommunicado for long stretches of time. Agent began gaslighting author about poor sales and promo. Agent appears to have torpedoed the final book proposal, leading to its refusal from the publisher.

Finally, after several years, the agent ‘fired’ the author recently, essentially telling the author they were a terrible writer, a useless person, with no usable ideas and poor skills. That no respectable publisher would work with the author after seeing their poor sales. This shattered the author for almost a month, before serious intervention and their own resilience prompted the realization: ‘That agent is a horrible person and seriously unprofessional’.

The author could look back and and see early warning signs, enough to agonize over ‘I should have left earlier’.  But we’re authors, and it’s damn hard to give up on having an agent, especially one advertised as having industry clout.

I queried that agent a couple of times for different projects, got form rejections, learned some squicky things about the agent on social media, and never bothered with them again.

I honestly hope they leave the business. How they treated this author is not an isolated case, but part of a pattern with this agent and agency.

End of an Era: Loose Id

 As per this Facebook post, the erotic romance publisher Loose Id is closing. https://www.facebook.com/LoosenYourId/posts/10156261079630101

The four owners (The Quad, in LI nicknames) have decided not to squander the market’s good will, and are winding down the business by May of 2018.

This was my first romance publisher: they took on the first edition of my M/M space opera ‘Moro’s Price’ when no literary agencies or Big Five publishers would. For the most part, for the first few years with Loose Id, I was satisfied with sales and marketing. When it came time to renew rights again in summer of 2016, I decided to end my contract. I have no ill feelings toward LI at all. It just became apparent that my style of writing wasn’t going to sell that much in their current catalog. Eventually, ‘Moro’ went on to NineStar Press, a stunning new cover, a tighter revised second edition, and a whole new series opening up in the next couple of years.

What happened to Loose Id?

Amazon, certainly. The rise of Amazon’s behemoth publishing schemes have decimated earnings at many smaller publishers. The abrupt closure of All Romance Ebooks last year sent many publishers panicking, as it had been (on paper) sometimes a bigger seller than Amazon. Loose Id’s prices had always been read as high compared to other romance publishers, and their attempt to bring down those prices in recent years was apparently too little too late.

The romance publishing industry is changing in interesting ways, as well. Big Five and larger independent imprints are at least paying lip service to diversity in romance, which may be opening up new opportunities for authors formerly only able to publish with smaller niche presses.

While romance readers still make up the majority of genre book readers, crossover stories with other genres are becoming more common and popular among both romance readers and other genres like mystery and SFF. Readers (and agents and editors) are more open to LGBTQI and POC characters and writers. The super-raunchy, at-least-one-sex-scene-a-chapter formula (adopted by many early 2000s erotic romance publishers) was a reaction against the ‘fade-to-black’ coy sex of most mainstream romances in the 1980s and 1900s. But a counter-backlash is building against excessive or gratuitous sex scenes, especially as Millennials ramp up their buying power and preferences in the reading market.

Quality of work, not unrelenting quantity, is a sought-after feature especially in the saturated self-pub romance markets. Writers can still make a bundle from releasing at least one book a month, but the quality has to be there, or seasoned readers get quickly bored.

I hope Loose Id is able to unwind with as little stress and confusion as possible, and their remaining authors find their way to new opportunities. I hope remaining erotic romance publishers take note of the changing market, instead of wallowing in denial (like Ellora’s Cave, for example.)

On agents and publishers

Hint: if your publisher pops up and declares they will no longer consider submissions from agents, and requires their authors to sever existing ties with agents…your publisher is either predatory, clueless, or both.

This post prompted by the hilarious meltdown from Tyrant Books, an independent literary press based in Rome & NYC. Tyrant *has* published some great books, but apparently reached the breaking point recently over agents ‘stealing’ authors away to bigger presses.

Authors with agents have jumped into the fray, explaining how their agents helped their career.

Tyrant’s authors have joined in, calling the publisher fiercely devoted to quality in a world of vanilla, low risk commercial publishing (and they are also right.)

If you are an unpublished author (or a midlister disillusioned by your career arc), it’s tempting to treat getting a reputable agent as an impossible goal…and from there, a short sour-grapes hop into ‘agents are just leeches and scavengers’.

I’ve pulled my submissions to agents, in favor of working with NineStar Press. I’ve had two agents in a quarter-century, and both are amazing people. Just not the right agents for me, as I’m not the right client for them. The large story arc I’m working on has already had segments published (Moro’s Price) or contracted (The Purist) through NineStar…so the whole series is now unlikely to be worth an agent’s attention. I’ll need to write something else to go back into the agent query game.

But this doesn’t mean I’m against all writers looking for agent representation.  Writers with skilled agents generally get better contracts, subsidiary rights, better marketing, and protection from publisher collapses. (I may have a great story to tell about that in a week, about an author whose work I adore.)

But for now, here’s an article link to the Tyrant controversy.

Authors accuse publisher of exploiting writers by banning literary agents

Myself from Space

For a couple of years recently, I worked at a strenuous but fun job painting faux finishes on fiberglass architectural forms.

A mostly outside job winter or summer, it involved schlepping big cast brickwork arches onto sawhorses, fixing the (numerous) flaws from the manufacturer, and painting a three tone finish to mimic a particular type of Italian brickwork.

Even when the Phoenix temperatures hit 117, I loved that gig. I had a great team and a wonderful boss who is a master of moldmaking and theatrical props. The work was easy once I figured out how it all went together. There was always enough shade, cold water, and excellent coffee. The boss had wrested from the unforgiving clay a remarkable garden, so that meant fresh tomatoes and artichokes. (I hadn’t seen an artichoke flower before. They are otherworldly.)

For comic relief and amazing eggs we had urban chickens.

The boss got out of that business, two years after I left it for an indoor job, and is now departing to the Antipodes and a saner country. I can’t blame him. He’s having an artwake/farewell party in a couple of weeks.

The house will be sold. Will the new owners will keep up the garden, or keep funny obnoxious chickens, or create mad art miracles behind a privacy fence? Or will they be a boring bland example of gentrification?

In a fit of nostalgia I looked up our little enclave on Google maps, and found a satellite photo snapshot circa 2014 or 2015:

Google’s commercially available detail is stunning. From the vegetation and shadow angle it’s summer, a couple hours after noon. The house, shop, and garden are tucked into an unassuming scruffy corner of metro Phoenix. The boss’s truck, one of my coworkers’ vehicles, and my car are clearly visible in the locked, fenced parking area.

Out in the workyard are the shade canopies, the unpainted white fiberglass forms, the upright drying racks, stacked sawhorses. And two blobs casting shadows as they work: my coworker and me.  I know because I can see the colors of the shirts we’re wearing.

It’s really weird to see yourself from space, from orbit, from a past time.

But also damn cool.

 

 

Tempe Festival of the Arts Awards, Fall 2017

The latest award ribbons are done and delivered! As I mentioned here, they are based on the collage/printmaking work of Erin Curry. Here’s the Festival poster image, a commissioned piece.

And here are the award ribbons I made in fiber applique, machine stitching, and hand-sewn beaded embroidery.

Materials include polyester felt, commercial printed cotton, digital print on fabric, gel transfers on fabric, polyester thread, polyester grosgrain ribbon ties, metal pin-backs, and glass beads. Signed on the backs: ‘Marian Crane 2017’

Added 12-13-2017: And one more 9×3″ Honorable Mention Award, because the art was so good the Festival judges gave out one more award.

Gel transfers on fabric

I’m partway through the next set of award ribbons for the Tempe Festival of the Arts.

These are based on the work of Erin Curry, so for the applique backgrounds I used a mix of bright and subdued cotton prints glued on white felt pre-edged with dark green/blue rose print fabric. The prints have some unifying colors and thread patterns: deep blue starry effects, bright blue tropical prints, map and ledger fabric, touches of orange and yellow.

Then came sewing on the printed fabric show labels, three to a ribbon, for all seventeen main categories, the three ‘big’ awards, and two small honorable mention awards.

Curry’s ‘Animalia’ prints are tricky to adapt, even with my own photos and Painter 17. I really wanted to have the animal motifs sewn in black & white with an embroidery machine, but that’s not in the budget right now.

But wait…I had a few yards of pale pastel floral chintz. I have a laser printer. Ta da, gel transfers!

You can find clearer instructions online. Basically, work on a clean flat area. Have waxed paper or plastic-covered cardboard panels for drying. Paint a layer of clear acrylic gel medium all over the fabric area you want to cover, paint gel over the printed face of the fabric, press printed paper facedown into the fabric, and squeegee the hell out of the paper. This will force gel down into the fabric, and stick the paper image smoothly to the cloth.

Let dry on covered surface for between 3 and 24 hours, depending on how rushed and/or insane you are. Peel off the fabric from the drying platform. Dunk the fabric into a big tub of warm water. Do NOT use a bathtub for this unless you have a screen cap to prevent paper shreds from clogging your drain!

Let soak for a couple of hours. Peel off the paper, then gently rub off the rest of the paper fibers. The result: a gel layer trapping the laser printed image against the fabric. You can paint another layer of satin or matte gel over this, to make it stronger for wearable applications.

I’d forgotten how fun these can be and how clear an image they can yield. The trick apparently is fine-grained smooth natural-fiber cloth (cotton works best, in my experience). Linen will pick up the linen texture, which is great if you want that in your piece. An aged fresco effect can be achieved by sanding the face of the fabric lightly with 600-grit wet-dry sandpaper (but then you should paint a stabilizing gel layer over the top.)

Using a white-on-white print or a pale print fabric with strong transfer images gives depth to the prints. They can be embroidered and beaded over, and touched up with fabric paint.

Now that I remember how to do these, they’re going to be in some fiber art books.

What’s next for the award ribbons? Sew down the motif critters, then beadwork, then grosgrain ribbons and metal pin backs for ease of display.

Final pieces can be seen here.

Happy Halloween, 2017!

Because they make me smile:

Sugar Skull ceramic planters from a nearby Trader Joe’s.

I’m wondering if I could coax a Datura seedling into growing in one, instead of the succulent shown.

Probably shouldn’t, though. Responsibility in gardening, and all that.

But honestly: wouldn’t it be gorgeous?

Horehound candy from scratch

Note: ‘Natural’ doesn’t necessarily mean ‘safe’. A surprising number of herbal products can harm or kill you, used improperly. This stuff is no exception. So if you are mad enough to make your own horehound candy, be careful and don’t overdo it, either in the making or the eating.

These are horehound candy ‘sanded’ lozenges from a company called Claeys. They’re readily available online, at candy shops, or kitschy folk-life/food outlets like Cracker Barrel. Their characteristic bitter flavor is well balanced by the cane sugar candy, and they are nicely soothing for sore throats and stopped-up sinuses.

But they are made to a modern American taste. I find them rather wimpy and mild.

Horehound itself, good old Marrubium vulgare, is an odd plant. Kind of the coyote of the mint family: drought tolerant, tough, opportunistic, and so bitter most sane animals won’t nibble it. It probably originated around the Mediterranean, but has spread as a colonizing weed nearly everywhere. (My given name comes from the same root word as this plant, so I have several dimensions of fondness for it.)

My first taste of ‘real’ horehound candy came in my early teens. My local community college had a great wintertime presentation of A Midsummer Night’s Dream, and my junior high English class got to attend.

The college made a Renaissance Faire thing of it. My local historical re-enactors/Faire folks added flavor by dressing up in garb while running sales booths. I most clearly remember one selling blackberry tartlets (damn those were so good), and one selling horehound candy.

The candy had been poured into dark brown glassy sheets looking like medicine-bottle glass, then broken into irregular shards. This comes close, from sugarontheweekend.

Clients bought it by weight. A shop matron in full merchant-class Tudor garb weighed it out on a shiny brass suspension scale somewhat like this one.

I’d heard of horehound candy in novels, and knew what the commercial versions tasted like. This stuff? In a class by itself. First I tasted the brown sugar, then the deep herbal bite like the funkiest of mints. I enjoy strong, bitter flavors, especially if they have complex layers. Coffee, tamarind, grapefruit, even bitter melon: bring ’em on!

The candy did something else: my usual persistent winter sore throat, legacy of childhood illness, hayfever, and some seriously polluted air, vanished for the rest of the show.

I snuck out at intermission and used the rest of my spending money on brown chunks of miracle candy, which I doled out carefully until spring. Especially after our family doctor told me I could give myself high blood pressure or heart failure if I over-ate it.

Commercial horehound candy has been a mainstay in my house ever since, but I’ve missed the rich bitterness of the Ren Faire version.

I decided to make my own.

There are recipes. You can find them online. I do not recommend this. It takes a bloody long time, and it reeks up the whole house. Not quite as bad as cannabis, but damn close.

I, however, am a bit insane. Possessed of a candy thermometer, brown sugar, maple sugar, vanilla extract, some excellent spearmint, and a nearby herb & tea shop selling very fresh dried horehound leaves from a quality supplier…I spent last Saturday making my own horehound candy.

Once I slowly boiled off the water from the decoction, I didn’t take it to the ‘hard crack’ candy stage. I wanted easy-to-break sugar crystals, and I’d already spent most of a very stinky afternoon.

The result, 5 hours after the initial herbal steeping, was a revelation: soft, luscious crystals that look like dark-honey quartz drusy. The taste is better than I remembered: first the cane and maple, then hints of vanilla and spearmint, then SLAM the bitter glory of the horehound.

Works on my throat, too.

I just have to remember that this is much stronger than the safe old Claeys drops.

If I keep it cold and dry, I figure I have a couple of years’ supply at least. Which will give me enough time to try out online suppliers, because I am probably not making this stuff again. (The reek!)

 

 

 

 

Orange Orchids & a Halloween shirt

Guilty as charged: I love Halloween more than I love Christmas. I used to be dazzled equally by both. I adored the lights, the glitter, the rich mythology. Both are consumer frenzies, but I hold that less against Halloween than I do Christmas.

Not so much the fault of Christmas. It’s been hijacked by both ultra-conservative and ultra-capitalist forces, and the underlying fun has been shadowed…for me. At some point I might fall back in love with it.

Halloween? I have no problem with its glitz, I’m familiar with the Samhain stories from which it evolved, and no treacly-pure ‘harvest festival’ will take its place in my esteem.

Here are two fun pieces that will help me celebrate the season in years to come (MileHighCon 2018, I’m eyeing you.)

Orange Orchids is a long 32″ beadwoven necklace I started a little over a year ago, with vague ideas of weaving it into a lighted strand of ED orange pumpkins. Yeah, no, engineering and physics said otherwise. But the necklace alone is wearable, and I’ll be adding more vines and flowers to it to make it even longer.

Everyone needs a good Halloween shirt, and I lucked out with this one at my local Kroger’s on sale. I usually don’t bother with thin synthetic knit garments, but the design on this one was so killer I had to have it.

However, by the time I actually wear it, it will almost certainly have more beads.

Autumn landscapes: Baltic Blue 1, 2

I’m shamelessly neglecting my #Inktober duties.

With so many disasters both natural and manmade in the news right now, I wanted to pull away briefly, and post two old-but-fun pieces inspired by Autumn.

‘Baltic Blue 1 and 2’ are large acrylic paintings on canvas, approx 22″x36″, done around 2009-2010. While pure fantasy, they were inspired by the myriad small islands around Copenhagen, where I’ve never been, but had seen in a friend’s photos of an enchanting autumn trip.

Imagine mother-of-pearl skies, rich blue water, and vibrantly-colored farmhouses.

Materials: acrylic paint applies with brush and brayer, iridescent and interference acrylic paint, stainless steel paint.

Larger versions found here and here.

 

Crane’s Guide to Writing and Baking

Okay, we’ll try another version of this.

In other words: writing is work. Often very hard work, that might pay little or nothing for an insane amount of time and labor. There is no set ‘destination’, since your career can skyrocket to best-seller and movie status, or crash into obscurity with equal speed.

If you want to write as a hobby, as I did for 20+ years, that’s fun and admirable.

But if you decide you want to publish your work, whatever genre it might be, you owe it to yourself and your book to do as much widely-ranging research as possible.

Don’t just look up ‘Publishers’ on Google or Bing, and go with the first one you see, maybe in your area. And please walk away from any publishers or agents who want you to pay upfront (or in anything but commissions off sales) to work with them. Take some time to look up other authors who’ve written something similar to your book, generally within the last two to five years. Did any agents represent them? Who published them? What do their sales look like on Amazon? Have you met these authors at book signings or conventions? Are you on a writing-oriented social media site?

For more information, gleaned from my mistakes and those I’ve seen in the industry, go here to see all the ways writers can be led astray on the publishing quest.

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Help keep the power on so I can keep blathering about art, jewelry, writing, and politics! I’ve joined Rakuten Marketing, so your click/buys on the links below will send me a micropayment.

Remember Mystery Science Theater 3000? The perpetrators are back with the online streaming movie commentary service
RiffTrax LLC

For more highbrow pursuits, here’s Taschen, one of my favorite publishers of beautiful, thought-provoking books in fine art, photography, culture, and the humanities.

TASCHEN - Beautiful Books

Blue Night Marketing Affiliates

These are the people who pay me, when you click/buy through their links on this blog. They feature companies whose products or services I, or friends and family, have used in the past. These companies have not directly paid me for a specific review or endorsement.

While many of these links will be found in text form, or as images at the bottoms of future or previously written posts, I thought it might be efficient and honest if I also show my current affiliate marketing links in one post.

Amazon. Where I show or review books, I check to see if they have a corresponding Amazon sales page, and link to it. In most cases, that will be a paid link: if my review was useful enough to send you looking for the book, and you buy it from Amazon, I’ll get a (very tiny) percentage of the sale. Whether I know the author or not, I will only review books if they strike me as really worthy of my time.

Rakuten Kobo U.S. Because I believe in fair competition, I’m also offering links to Rakuten Kobo U.S. This gigantic publisher of the Kobo format is one of the most popular in Asia and Europe, and fast making a name for itself in the USA. So if you don’t want to buy an e-book off Amazon, chances are you’ll find it on Kobo. I’m thrilled that NineStar Press, my current e-book and print novel publisher, has just made a direct distribution deal with Kobo!

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Coursera. I wrote a whole blog post about Coursera, I like them so much. This company provides universal access to some of the world’s best online college courses, lectures, and professional certificate programs. Build your brain!

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Vudu. Cut the cord to cable TV: if you just want HD movie and TV-show streaming a la carte, try Vudu. This American content delivery and media technology company’s streaming service distributes most current and a 70-year back catalog of vintage movies and shows.

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Taschen. One of my favorite publishers of beautiful, thought-provoking books in fine art, photography, culture, science, and the humanities.

TASCHEN - Beautiful Books

RiffTrax, LLC. In long-ago ages there was a cult hit, a low-budget comedy/movie review show called Mystery Science Theater 3000. The main ‘gimmick’ was a hapless Everyman imprisoned on a satellite over the Earth by evil masterminds, who periodically forced him to watch the most horrible old movies For Science. He had robot buddies for company, and to the Evil Scientists’ dismay, had a great time absolutely shredding the movies.

Why that long intro? Because MST3K may be no more, but its founders are back with RiffTrax LLC.

This streaming service allows you to sync their hilarious real-time commentary with specific movies. This is the only sane way to watch some real steamers (like Tommy Wiseau’s ‘The Room’). Rifftrax also has live shows, and if you ever get a chance to attend one, GO.