Drawing 101

November 30, 2011

I think everyone is caught up on our latest projects, so I thought I’d tackle something new, thanks to a brilliant suggestion (thanks Ben!). One of the things I excel at is drawing. I started when I was eight and I haven’t stopped. I find it sad when people tell me they can’t draw. Truly, a large part of it comes from practice. You have to practice anything to get good at it and art is no different.

So over the next several days, I plan to break down some of the elements of drawing to help bring some perspective and information in, in an easy to approach way. I encourage you to try it out and share your pictures with us, ask questions, and do what makes your creative side happy.

So to start, drawing is essentially making marks on a surface to represent an object, concept, or idea.  Abstract drawing is drawing that does not reflect a realistic representation. It is often sketchier (in the non-skeezy way) and has strong use of color and line. I draw in a realistic style, meaning I attempt to attain a realistic representation of my subject. For example:


Whatever style you prefer, it comes down to some basic principles. I’m going to start with shading, light, and how to draw what you see. I used Photoshop to create these images, but the concepts are the same whether digitally or manually produced.

This here’s a box.

You can see here that I’ve added a light source. This tells us a lot about which parts of the picture will be bright with highlights, and which parts will be dark with shadows. The brightest areas should be where the light is directly contacting, whereas the darkest areas should be those most away from shadows. This is not always a distance issue, rather underneath an overhang will be darker than the part of the overhang farthest away from the light source. But for simplicity, we’re going to use this box.

As you can see by this picture, the lightest area is the side the light is hitting. The next brightest are the edges that touch that side, and it becomes progressively darker the further away from that side you get. The back side of the box will be the darkest area. Using a gradient, or progressive shading, you can create a soft effect of tone differentials, using just one color.

Color is an important part of shading. How you use color can impact the mood and feel of your drawing, as well as add a realistic element to it. For example, take the same box and color it green. I’ve used black to create the shadow, because black is dark. You can see from the following picture that it does hint at light, but it doesn’t quite look right.

When thinking about shadow, don’t think about it in terms of light=white, dark=black. Instead it’s about tone. A dark tone=shadow a light tone = light.

Here I’ve used a light tone green, a middle tone green, and a dark tone green. A green box will have green highlights and lowlights because it’s still a green object.

Color tone can also be described in terms of warm and cool. Warm tones are often lighter tones, including yellow, orange, and reds. Cool tones are blues, greens, and purples.

You can see in this picture that the box has become much more vibrant and dynamic. This is also a great way to “color” a white object. I used yellow and red for the warmer tones where the light hits, and purples for the cooler tones where the shadows are.

Play around with it a little bit and explore your colors. Look at the objects around you- what colors are the shadows? What colors are the highlights? How many colors do you see? Is the tone of the object dark or light, warm or cool?

Once you feel comfortable exploring color and tone, look around at the objects you see and select one to practice with. It’s important to DRAW WHAT YOU SEE. What I mean is this. We all know what a flag looks like- it’s a rectangular piece of cloth that has some kind of decoration on it.

As so:

(Ignoring the stars and stripes issues) this is the US flag. However, when drawing the flag, we don’t draw it as a rectangle because it’s likely not in that shape. They drape and fold and flutter. The flag might look more like:

rather than a strict rectangle. Okay okay, so this is a bad drawing, but I think the point is there, that you have to draw what you see literally, not what the object looks like as an object. The shape of a cup is a cylinder and the top is circular, but looking at it from anywhere but straight on, it’s an oval.

So, step by step we’ll learn to draw. Try it!


November 29, 2011

This weekend we pulled out our quickly amassing tubs of Christmas ornaments to decorate the house. Is it early, sure. But it’s SHINY. Besides, I love my tinsel tree (yes I HAVE a tinsel tree. Are we surprised? No). Anyhoo, I thought I’d post a quick project for my lovelies to make this time of year.

Step 1: Find some doilies- you can check antique shops, Joann’s, Michael’s, or Grandma’s trunk.

Step 2: Get some fabric stiffener.

Step 3: Stiffen said fabric.

Step 4: Allow the doilies to dry on a flat surface or rack (for better air circulation).

The dried doilies will become hard and you will be able to string them up. Stringing several together makes a nice snowflake effect.

It Felt Good

November 28, 2011

So a few weeks ago I promised to post pictures of my little felt gifts that I’m making for people. (If you’re getting one from me, don’t look 😉 ). Today, I bring you those items.

I love working with felt. I discovered it earlier this year and figured out that you can just make so much cute stuff with it. It’s pliable and easy to work with. It holds embroidery well. You can just DO so much with it. So I started working embroidery together with felt to make little stocking-stuffer ornaments.

I largely tackled these the same. Cut out your background, your pieces, place them, sew, stuff, and finish. That’s it. Finito. They take less than an hour a piece.

Here are some examples of what I’ve done:

I love the vintage feel of this one:

You can also add buttons or other things to add a little texture and visual interest:

All in all I think they’re turning out pretty cute. I’m sure you can make little patterns, but I just free-handed these. Layering fabric also gives a pretty effect.

The other project I’ve been working on is similar, but I’ve used small embroidery hoops as my background. Again, adding felt, fabric, and embroidery gives me a simple project that takes about 30 minutes to complete. Tie a ribbon on the top and you’re done.

I love the effect of the metallic threads:

Finally, here’s a walk-through of a cute and quick project. Napkin rings!

First I cut out two lengths of blue fabric and glued them together. This gives the ring more durability. I use a tacky glue that is good on fabric. You could also sew them together if you want.

I then cut a slightly narrower strip of white and sewed on a large button.

I then embroidered some quick snowflake shapes and glued the white strip to the blue.

Bring the ends around and sew this puppy up and BOOM. Cute gift. Total time: <2 hours. Total investment: $2.00 for buttons, about $0.08 for felt and thread, and a little bit of time.

If you’re feeling extra ambitious, you can probably sew a few quick napkins to go with your rings.

The Anti-Turkey Thanksgiving

November 27, 2011

We have nothing against turkey. They’re just large birds, and especially for only 2 or 3 people, cooking a whole turkey for Thanksgiving means you’re stuck in a bad stereotype of Thanksgiving leftovers. We’ve done a turkey breast in the past, which is more appropriately sized, but Thanksgiving is the time to lay all your cooking chops on the line. So, this year, we decided to do a non-traditional Thanksgiving. We had an appetizer of lobster tails in cream sauce, with roasted whole duck as the main course. We’re also not big pie people (another piece of Thanksgiving heresy), so we also made two mousses for dessert.

We started our cooking day making homemade bread. This is a fairly traditional yeasted bread that is one of Rachel’s Thanksgiving traditions that we still follow. We split the batch in half, and half had dill and fennel seeds with kosher salt on top, and the other half got sundried tomatos, olives, tomato paste, and cheese to become a form of pizza bread.

We also prepped all of those things that you eat BEFORE your indulgent Thanksgiving meal. In our case, smoked gouda cheese, summer sausage, and crackers.


After that, we got the duck started. It’s not only smaller than a turkey, it’s less prep work. In our case, we just scored the skin to let the fat out, and added a little bit of salt before popping it into the oven at 300 degrees. It had to be turned and poked every hour for about three and a half hours to let it cook evenly and crisp the skin.


Then we turned the oven up to 400 degrees, brushed the duck with a glaze, and put it back in for a few minutes to finish the process of crisping the skin:


Final duck:


While that was cooking, Rachel made a cream reduction and it made friends with the lobster tails. Seafood can be a little sketchy in the Rocky Mountain region (we aren’t close to the sea). These weren’t the best lobster ever, but butter and cream go a long way towards rectifying that:


While the duck was finishing, we also made some of the more traditional Thanksgiving side dishes, glazed carrots, green beans, and mashed potatoes. All together, it looks like this:



Hope everyone had as much fun cooking this Thanksgiving as we did. Now here we go into Christmas cookie season!

Okay okay so Katie and I have been really remiss. I mean, October 16? So unacceptable. The thing is, we’ve started a million things and not managed to finish any of them. I’m in full blown Christmas mode (since September) so I’ve been cranking out a lot of new projects that are small.


Mostly I’ve been working on one of two things: embroidery, and felt. I’ll catch you up on both so that when I post pictures later, it will all make sense.


Basically, embroidery is the process of making decorative stitches.

Embroidery can be machine done, which is very clean and crisp, or by hand, which is more genuine. Embroidery dates way back and was used to decorate clothing, tapestry, and other fabric goods.

I learned to embroider basically on my own, trial by fire. There are a lot of good websites out there that demonstrate the different types of stitching, as well as books. Here are the basic stitches:


All you need to get started is a hoop, needle, some thread, and a pencil or transfer.

1. Decide on your pattern – you can find free ones here.

2. Once you have your pattern, trace it using graphite paper, make an iron transfer, or free draw it with a soft pencil.

3. Consider your colors, stitches, and design aesthetic. For example, I almost always fill things in rather than doing an outline. As you can see in the above picture, it’s possible to do color blending for nice shading.

4. Begin!

Some of the things that I have picked up along the way include a few of the following:

  • Use a tight-weave fabric: Fabrics with a loose weave tend to pull through and not hold well. A tighter weave will give you a clean, sharp look.
  • Don’t be afraid to mix mediums: I frequently mix fabric, felt, stitching- it depends on the look you’re going for. For example, I have some projects with small hoops, a natural canvas background, and then different fabrics to represent snow and trees. Cutting out and applying these shapes gives me a background to embroider in decorations, words and anything else I want!
  • Don’t pull on your fabric too much: I like having a tight embroidery plane to work on,  but if you pull too much you can actually stretch out your fabric.
  • Keep it clean! Wrap your project in a bag or fabric to keep your work nice and clean.
My new favorite project is applying these embroidering skills to make felt Christmas ornaments. They are a quick and easy gift.

As you can see, simple felt, a few stitches and you have a wonderful, vintage-style ornament. SO CUTE! Again it’s easy to mix and match different fabrics to create different looks.

I’ll post pictures of my projects a little later on.