I’ve developed a bit of a preoccupation with watercolors. I was a prolific painter as a child, then grew out of it as I got into cartooning. Then I discovered that Randy Milholland of Something Positive also makes these gloriously whimsical watercolors that are a perfect mash-up of both mediums and I just had to try it out.
My first attempts last year were… not the greatest. I started on the wrong kind of paper, then the colors were dull, and the black permanent ink I was using for the line art didn’t stand up to the watercolors, which would either cover the lines or run right over them. For someone like Randy, who draws and paints in a much looser style and has better control over his brushes, this isn’t necessarily a problem. I, on the other hand, am enough of a control freak that I can’t stand coloring outside the lines, but I have very little experience using brushes for fine details, so I did a little experimenting to find more suitable materials.
I started with this cute line drawing of a giraffe with a parasol:
I actually initially created this as digital drawing practice.
It’s still a work in progress.
In the mean time, I really wanted to pull out the watercolors and play this weekend, so I re-drew the giraffe on watercolor paper, and got out my Speedball pens for a little fancy inking. Unfortunately, on my first pass at the supply cabinet, I couldn’t find my bottle of India ink, and instead used Black Magic which, it turns out, bleeds a lot before drying on the page. So I had the lines down, but they were really fuzzy.
I unearthed the India ink, and was very happy to find through some controlled experimentation that it did not bleed, and that after a little practice, I could make pretty nice lines with a size 0 brush that would mostly cover the fuzzy sins of the Black Magic ink. What followed was a very long evening of painstakingly slow drawing with an overabundance of careful muscle control.
The finished line drawing had only a few hints of the messy first layer.
I took even more time coloring. I started with the easiest bits – first the yellow ochre and burnt umber sand, then the base cobalt blue layer for the water and the lemon yellow of the sunset. I still have a good bit to learn about color theory, but I was pretty happy with the layering effects of vermilion for the darker red/orange shades, and Prussian blue in the sky and reflected colors in the water. The main lesson of the background work was to leave more white space. Watercolor is not a reductive process, and white paint doesn’t very effectively dilute or cover color that’s already down on the page.
The India ink solved several of the problems that had plagued me before. It did function as an effective barrier for the more watery paint (to a reasonable extent). It also resisted some of the paint that ended up on top of it. The dryer mixes were more prone to showing up over the black lines, but even then, the black is bold enough to show through.
I finished the parasol and put down the base yellow on the giraffe then left everything to get really good and dry before I tackled the spots.
I was actually pretty terrified of the spots. Giraffe spots are distinctly indistinct – they’re irregularly shaped yet relatively regularly spaced. I am fairly awful at randomization, but I intentionally didn’t include the spots in the line art because I wanted to challenge myself to be a little messy. It was a very pleasant change of pace to just let the brush wander where it wanted. I wound up having a grand old time making all the little mismatched spots, and only lost focus and drifted out of the lines once.
I am really pleased with the final results:
I call her “an American giraffe in Peru” – inspired by a very funny friend who has spent the last few months adventuring in South America and sending back amazing stories and pictures along the way.
My usual method of cartooning is pencil drawing, relatively quick-and-dirty inking with permanent marker in the sketch book, then scanning and inking a second time digitally before coloring. I waste time with the extra inking step because I generally don’t have the patience or trust in my own fine motor control to get the lines right on the first try, and digital inking allows me to use the “undo” function to maddening excess.
I learned a few things by depriving myself of that “undo” option:
- Once you put India ink on paper, it doesn’t move.
- Brushes don’t go where you want if you rush.
- Brush lines will be uneven if you do not carefully mind the pressure exerted by your hand.
- Thicker lines cover more sins and add character.
- Water will dilute many sins, but won’t remove them completely. Watercolor is not a reductive process.
- Evaporation makes your paint darker. Once you have the color you want, don’t hesitate.
- If you have to go back and mix a close match that isn’t quite right, that’s ok too.
- When you step back a little, all those tiny mistakes are barely noticeable.
I will almost certainly be doing more of these. I feel like I’ve learned a lot in the last week, and now I want to practice. A lot of what I’m learning on paper will help my digital drawing as well.
So this is the part where I geek out about how well this experiment of mine is going.
I jumped on the NaNoWriMo bandwagon so I could use the public shaming aspect as a motivator. Several of my improviser friends are writing actual novels, and did the customary public announcement:
“I’m writing for NaNoWriMo. Ask me about it constantly so I feel obligated to keep writing.”
So I did the same.
I’m ahead on blog posts, and I have several more that only need a few touch-ups before they’re ready to post. The scripts were being neglected, as I’d finished the easier of my two planned arcs, and wasn’t feeling up to the task of the second. I need to add more characters, and I was really struggling to come up with characters with any sort of depth.
The Hideout runs a show called The Free Fringe where groups submit really ridiculous format ideas, then get a thirty minute time slot to try them out in front of an audience. Sometimes it’s amazing and turns into a new troupe. Sometimes it crashes and burns. This is why the show is free.
Last night’s Fringe was a NaNoWriMo special where a group of writers came in, talked about their work a little, read a scene, then a group of improvisers from the Austin Secrets cast would pick up the story and play a few scenes to help work out what comes next. I tossed my scripts into the mix, just to see what would happen. Given that I couldn’t really read a scene, and it would be very hard to explain the comic quickly, I didn’t expect much.
I should really stop underestimating my improviser friends.
I gave them a very open scenario, and they jumped in enthusiastically. Two happened to perfectly fill the roles of two characters I’d partially written, and two more gave me really excellent new characters to build on.
I walked out of the show with four pretty solid characters in my head, then I stayed up late brainstorming with the Boy, filling out those characters, building their world, and plotting their arcs. I feel like I have a few years worth of material here, if I stick to my one-a-week schedule.
I’m actually itching to start drawing, so I’ll probably hit the 30-script mark early and get a jump start on my buffer.
My comic is coming back! Yay!
As happens far too frequently, this quest started with a perfectly innocent question from my friend Mike:
Why, Mike? What do you need?
“Knit a scarf that is at least 12 feet long and is being worn by 3 people at one time.”
For a scavenger hunt. A really big, ridiculous, awesome scavenger hunt.
12 feet with no gauge or width requirements? Easy peasy.
Two skeins of Red Heart (Cherry Red and Royal blue), one skein of Impeccable “Folklore” variegated, size 13 needles, a few feet of Premier Starbella “Fly a Kite” just for added whimsy, and a few hours later…
12+ feet of scarf
I will not be writing a novel this month.
November is National Novel-Writing Month. I briefly had thoughts of trying to write that thing that’s been knocking around my head for the last three years, but then I remembered that I’m very, very busy and have a to-do list that will take me a decade to complete.
So instead of writing 50,000 words in the spare time I don’t have, I’m going to knock a few things off my to-do list. I’ve been intending to resurrect the comic all year, and I’ve let the blog fall tragically behind. My knitting/comic friend Rachael – half of the creative team behind the brilliant Worsted for Wear – strongly recommended having a large buffer before publishing again, so I’ll be putting most of my efforts toward that. I also have at least five blog posts from the last year that are mostly written, but haven’t been edited and posted.
So this is my stated goal for NaNoWriMo:
30 days, 30 comic scripts
5 Fridays, 5 blog posts (back-dated to the time they were originally written)
If I’m very good and get all my homework done, I’ll try to get some preliminary sketching done as well, but let’s be reasonable.
I put this out into the world for my followers to keep me honest. There will be a new blog post tomorrow night. You are officially deputized to bother me if there is not.
Firefly: The Musical ran its inevitable course – it got shut down prematurely by Fox.
So the theater finished out the second month with the Joss Whedon Pajama Party, a variety show with sketch, musical, and improv acts inspired by the work of Mr. Whedon, as well as a collection of videos that were written and shot usually in a week or less.
One video series featured Firefly’s Wash playing with his toy dinosaurs at the bridge console when he should have been flying the ship. Simple enough, right? We had the actor from the musical, toy dinosaurs aren’t hard to come by, we just need a stationary camera and… oh yeah, the console.
Mind you, this is the week that I was getting minor surgery done on my face. I should have volunteered for lying in bed and being useless. But no.
“Yeah, I can make a console.”
Surgeries were Tuesday and Wednesday mornings, the shoot was scheduled for Wednesday afternoon. Monday evening was my only available work time.
Step 1: Raid the Craft Cabinet
poster board (assorted sizes and colors)
faded black construction paper
assorted wooden doo-dads
one tiny can of metallic spray paint
three rolls of packing tape
Wait. That is a ridiculous collection of materials. Pare that down.
poster board (assorted sizes and colors)
faded black construction paper
assorted wooden doo-dads
one tiny can of metallic spray paint
three rolls of packing tape
In the interest of time, I opted for drawn-on buttons, knobs and screens, rather than some complicated collection of bits and pieces that would take too long to construct, and would be very likely to fall off in transit.
Step 2: Find Reference Photos
Folks, I challenge you to find photos with a clear view of Serenity’s bridge from the tv series. No really – Google it. More than half of the images returned are from the film, which used a much more complicated and rounded set – not ideal for a reproduction that is clearly going to be made from poster board base.
How about a shot from the show itself? Every time you see the console, there is someone between it and the camera.
Finally, finally, I collected a few decent images.
Step 3: Get Over Any Expectations of Making an Accurate Replica
Seriously. The set designers had a budget, better materials and probably a couple of weeks. A high-quality replica is not going to come out of a pile of paper products and some spray paint in 6 hours or less.
Step 4: Construct the Base
The console is basically broken into three parts, each at a different angle. Using the poster board and a truly stupid quantity of packing tape, I built fairly close approximations, then painted them with a combination of spray and acrylic paints, in shades of metallic bronze and brown.
Step 5: Make the Doo-Dads
I made the lights, switches, buttons, and screens using chalk pastels on black construction paper, then liberally applied fixatif to keep it all from rubbing off on Wash’s hands while he played with his toy dinosaurs.
The final product was not at all glamorous, and bore only a passing resemblance to the real thing, but given that the video showed only a small portion, and that wasn’t the focus anyway, it served its purpose.
As an added bonus, I was able to just slice through the tape along the edges and store it flat, just in case the need arises again.
Oh, and that “seamstress for the band” bit?
After the first Firefly show, the cast and crew hung out and sang karaoke for a few hours, and toward the end of the evening, they sang Tiny Dancer to me.
Blue jean baby
…seamstress for the band
One final costume project from Firefly: The Musical
Saffron, one of the lead characters, was supposed to have a lovely red shawl, something that looked like it was hand-knit either by herself or one of her “sisteren” in the backwater maiden house from which she came.
Our Saffron had a really lovely, not-at-all-handcrafted crimson wrap.
It didn’t kill the backwater farm peasant costume, but it didn’t really help. The shawl is also one of those memorable costume pieces that a lot of fans would just expect to see. So in my last act as impromptu costume mistress, I took on the task of making a proper shawl.
Now, the shawl from the original show is pretty clearly knit, and it’s a fairly intricate lace pattern, making an accurate replica well out of my reach because (a) I never learned to knit lace, and (b) I didn’t have the time to learn just then. So I took the most obvious course of action: I faked it.
Using Caron’s Simply Soft in Garnet, and a size N hook, I crocheted a pretty slick shawl.
The pattern is pretty simple:
DC 4 in first ch
Then repeat this pattern for as long as you can stand:
Three rows of spaced Treble Crochet:
Ch 4, TC 1 in last st of previous row, skip 1 ch 1 to the middle stitch of the previous row, TC 1 ch 1 TC 1 ch 1 TC 1 in middle stitch, skip 1 ch 1 to the last stitch of previous row, TC 2
One row of solid Double Crochet:
Ch 3, DC 1 in last st of previous row, DC 1 in each st to the middle stitch of the previous row, DC 5 in the middle stitch, DC 1 in each st to the last stitch of the previous row, DC 2
End with a spaced Treble row.
Add fringe to your heart’s content.
I completed the shawl in time for the third show, and our Saffron gleefully tied it over her shoulders, and fiddled with the long fringe when she got nervous on stage, and enjoyed having her arms free for the action scenes.
(For more adventurous knitters, this is far and away the best-looking pattern I was able to find before giving up my search.)
Back on set with Firefly: The Musical.
While I was pondering the bonnet, I discovered that another other costume was incomplete.
Shepherd Book, the ship’s resident preacher-man, had a very distinctive grey shirt on the original show. It looked like a standard dress shirt, but with a plain strip of cloth where the buttons should be, and a flat collar that evokes the typical look of modern-day clergy, with a stiff white liner peeking out the top all the way around the neck, instead of showing an inch or two in the middle of the throat. (This may, in fact, be a style some real-world priests wear, but I haven’t seen it.)
Our Shepherd was wearing a lovely grey dress shirt backwards.
This worked for the photo shoot, but the moment the rehearsal started, I spotted a problem. He had more than one scene where he spent a majority of the time with his back at least partially to the audience – buttons, backward collar and all. He looked ridiculous.
I stole his shirt at the end of the rehearsal and promised to have something better by the final run-through on Sunday.
I miraculously found a cheap grey that was a perfect match for the Shepherd’s shirt. I cut two strips about 4 inches by 2 feet, folded them long-ways, and stitched together the edges and one end. I turned them inside-out, pressed both along the seams and fold, and then started pinning.
With the shirt’s original collar tucked safely inside-out (outside-in?), I stuffed the stitched end of one of the strips into the top of the shirt, then safety-pinned it down the side of the placket so that the button holes were still accessible. The second strip was pinned around the collar so that the stitched-up end could overlap about four inches on one side, and the unfinished end was again unceremoniously stuffed into the top of the shirt.
The final product looked a royal mess on the hanger, with loose ends hanging out and safety pins everywhere, but our Shepherd could get the shirt on and off with minimal fuss, and with the shirt tucked in and the collar fully pinned up, it looked remarkably like the original.
It wouldn’t have won any fashion awards, but it looked pretty great for a $5 thrift-store-and-scraps costume. And as an added bonus, the alterations could all be easily undone, leaving the actor with a nice, normal grey dress shirt.
When we last left off, I had just delivered a super-quick Jayne hat to the dress rehearsal and photo shoot for Firefly: The Musical.
It will surprise absolutely no one, but that was not the only costume piece I created for that show.
I made a pretty floral bonnet.
…and a shawl.
…and I retrofitted a shirt.
…and I made a starship console.
I’ll start with the bonnet.
While waiting for the Firefly: The Musical dress rehearsal to start that Friday, I learned that the cast was unable to procure a pretty floral bonnet, a critical prop for the opening scene of the show. (If you’ve seen the episode of Firefly, you know exactly what I’m talking about. If you haven’t seen the episode, you will have no clue what I’m referring to. Just know that a main character wears said bonnet to great comedic effect, then references it later for greater comedic effect. It is a seriously critical prop.)
Naturally, I hop on Twitter to ask my two best seamstress friends (Dear Roommie and her previous Dear Roommie) for help putting together something that could pass as a pretty floral bonnet.
Dear Roommie, naturally, had a bonnet and matching apron stashed away in her costume collection at home in San Antonio.
Dear Roommie’s Dear Roommie tweeted instructions for a possible bonnet design. Four tweets. Full instructions.
I love both of these women more than I can possibly say.
I ran home after the rehearsal and put together a bonnet mock-up from the muslin that I just happened to have on hand – because I am apparently getting serious enough about this sewing nonsense to have a muslin stash.
Even in its thin, floppy state, it looked like an actual bonnet.
I took it to the tech rehearsal Saturday morning, and the stage manager nearly kissed me.
After rehearsal, I ran out and purchased the gaudiest floral calico print I could find. I made a few adjustments to the design, including fusible interfacing in the brim (because I keep that on hand now, too – wow, I feel like a grown-up seamstress, almost), and about an hour later, I had something that actually looked like a pretty floral bonnet.
In case you want to make your own pretty floral bonnet, here’s a brief explanation of the construction:
I think my favorite part is how much more hilarious it is than the bonnet used in the original show. Brown frilly bonnet with dainty flowers? Pfah! I want to hear that bold, flowery print screaming from the back of the theater!
I hadn’t slept a whole lot in the last week, and had to get up pretty early for that Saturday rehearsal. Then I constructed a pretty floral bonnet during the time I’d initially intended to spend napping to make up for that lost sleep, so I was pretty loopy by the time I finished construction and headed out to watch a truly amazing musical improv extravaganza that evening. I think I showed that picture to everyone I saw Saturday night. (Sorry about that guys – it really was the sleep dep talking.)
Needless to say, the squeals and hugs from the cast and director when I showed up with the actual bonnet at Sunday’s rehearsal were well worth the lost nap time.
Aside from the ego stroking involved in having a dozen talented actors and crew ooh and ahh over my creations, this has actually turned out to be a good educational project.
I don’t think I’ve sewn anything completely without a pattern before, so mentally designing and then just making a frakking bonnet has been a good creative exercise. I feel a good bit more empowered to design future projects, rather than be completely dependent upon expensive and confusing patterns.
Putting together the bonnet has also just been good practice with the sewing machine. I’m still not as skilled at putting stitches right where I want them to be as I’d like. I have difficulty making straight lines, and I’m even worse at making curved lines that move the way I want them to. It basically comes down to a dexterity problem, and the best way to overcome coordination issues is to practice. But you can only practice so much when materials aren’t especially cheap and can’t be recycled as easily as, say, beads or yarn. I generally only pull everything out when I have an actual project, at which point I’d rather it look right when I’m done. While I was madly assembling the bonnet, it dawned on me that because stage costuming doesn’t have to look perfect up close, it actually makes for ideal sewing practice!
So, friends, if anyone needs something ridiculous sewed/crafted for a show, you know where to find me.
…and I have now said “bonnet” in person and text more times this week than possibly the rest of my life.
So remember when I said I was going to finish projects? What I meant by that was finish projects before I start other projects.
I failed. Like, the day after that post.
I spent the better part of two months engrossed in one massively involved sewing project that I should have been finishing that week, but a friend needed a Jayne hat.
For the uninitiated, Jayne Cobb is a big, tough-guy character on Joss Whedon‘s tragically short space western television series Firefly. In one of the final episodes, he receives a comically uncharacteristic care package from home, complete with a hat hand-knit by his mother, which he obviously loves, because it’s from Ma Cobb. It is the signature costume piece from the series.
So I woke up to the follow inquiry from an improviser friend of mine:
Now, we’re going to skip over the bit where I was the first person he asked and get right to the important bit.
I *have* a Jayne hat. It’s a very nice Jayne hat, made with lots of love by a wonderful friend from college who was just learning to knit and happened to make two while she was learning the pattern. She just up and handed over the spare when I said I loved it and would like to have one of my own one day. (Clearly, this was from my pre-knitting days, as I didn’t just ask for the pattern and make one myself.) I’ve worn it as my primary winter hat every year since.
But you see, the colors aren’t quite right.
And the friend who needs the hat is actually playing Jayne in a local production of Firefly: The Musical, and we already knew we’d have a lot of fans out to see it, so I just couldn’t bring myself to put him out on stage with an inaccurate hat.
So I made another one.
Seriously – he asked at 10:00am on Tuesday, and I was in the HobLob by noon, and knitting by 12:30.
Yes, it’s a sickness.
No, I’m not getting help.
I’m (more or less) using this pattern, because the girl who wrote it obviously obsessed over all the details the way I would have, if I had that sort of time. Frankly, she deserves a medal for doing all this work and putting it online for free. As far as I’m concerned, this is the definitive Jayne hat pattern.
Actually, stop reading my post for a few minutes, and peruse that blog entry. You need to see it. I’ll wait.
Now back to my hat!
I used Vanna’s Choice yarn in Brick, Rust, and Mustard, on size 10 circular needles.
I started with 68 stitches, because my Jayne has a large-ish head. As I finished the main portion of the cap, I discovered the best part of this pattern:
There is no decrease.
During her many pained hours carefully examining the original hat as seen on the show, she found that it bunched at the top, which means that the hat is made by forming one big tube, then just drawing up the top like a bag.
Fun fact: Making a giant tube and gathering the top drawstring-style makes for a really stinkin’ cute hat!
Final dress rehearsal and photo shoot was at 6:30 on Friday. I finished sewing in the ends during lunch.
The hat was going to be a complete surprise, but I was working on it at a show on Thursday night, and took the opportunity to ambush my friend and check the size. The surprise turned out to be instead that the hat he saw half-finished at 11:30 on Thursday night was done the next afternoon.
Rather cunning, dontcha think?
What have we learned from this project?
a) not above buying the love of my friends with ridiculous hats
b) a hopeless geek
c) addicted to knitting (again)
d) really pleased to return to my old role as the go-to gal for crafty things. Go on – ask me to make something. No, don’t – I have other projects to finish!
e) All of the above
I have a cousin who has managed to mold a lifelong hobby into a legitimate career. He has lived and breathed basketball, as far as I can tell, for his entire life, and now he’s a sports writer who follows all his favorite NBA teams, watches every game, and interviews the players and coaches for a living. (Obviously, lately he’s been following more legal shenanigans than actual games, but… that’s really not relevant to the post.)
It seemed only natural, when I learned he and his wife were expecting a little girl, to make something special and basketball-ish.
Possibly I was a little too literal?
In all seriousness, I actually put a good bit of thought into the design. I could have gone for the plain old beanie design, thrown some stripes on and called it a day.
“Hey, cuz! Check it out! Now your kid’s head is a basketball!”
But baby beanies are just so… common.
Furthermore, I wanted to add some element of fashion, because my tiny victim’s mother is a dance teacher who somehow even manages to add some style to her slouching-around-the-house clothes.
Clearly, I needed some kitsch. Something hip. Something that says, “I look at fashion trends at least once a year… y’know… when I’m bored.” Clearly, a newsboy cap was the way to go.
As an added bonus, I knew the smaller size of the hat would drastically reduce the problem I usually encounter with brimmed hats. Specifically, the brims tend to get… floppy. It’s a simple matter of physics, really. The kind of yarn I want to make a hat out of tends to be very flexible, and then the design of an adult-sized hat would call for a brim that is a good six to eight inches long, and more than an inch wide, at which point the flexibility of the yarn will cause the piece to droop. Since I am generally far too lazy to do something as involved as conjuring plastic inserts, I just very rarely make brimmed hats.
This is especially sad because I love brimmed hats.
As usual, any excuse will do, and I made a tiny brimmed hat with a tiny brim for my tiny new cousin!