Friday, October 31, 2008

I ate a cricket.

Actually, I ate several. I was on a tour of a local market outside of Oaxaca, in Ocotlan, and the vendors were selling them, a little scoop in a plastic baggie for a few pesos. They were soaked in chili and vinegar, and fried crispy. The guidebook said they were a local delicacy . . . and it seemed like the right thing to do. Unfortunately, I didn’t like them very much. I did take a picture of the crickets, but this one of marigolds at the market was much prettier:

Fortunately, the market was also full of places selling pan muerte, special bread baked for the Day of the Dead and meant to be placed on the altar.

The dead partake of the essence, and each loaf is labeled with a small figure, perhaps to resemble the dearly departed. I, er, also partook of the bread – sweet, and MUCH easier on the stomach than the crickets.

The sugar skulls don't seem to be as common here in Oaxaca state as they are in Mexico City and other parts of the country. I did find out that they are generally given as seasonal gifts to the living, and that the recipient’s name will be spelled out in icing on the forehead. Apparently, it is much less common to buy them to represent the deceased on the altar.

And of course, like every other market or public arena, there was an altar building contest for the kids! There was one for Frida Kahlo, and this one featuring the Virgin of Guadalupe:

Back in Oaxaca City, there was this really cool poster for some event that's happening tonight:

And - good news! - On the way back from the market I got a call on my cell phone from Rick at one of the four airlines I flew on (though not the one I filed the claim with). They found my luggage! In Portland, Oregon! And, with my help, he found the claim. So, the luggage should be on it's way soon . . .

Thursday, October 30, 2008

On to the Altars . . .

No word on the luggage yet, so I’ve purchased clean underwear, shampoo, and a t-shirt. I must say my outlook has improved vastly.

Wandering around the city, I ran into several parades of small school children in costumes, complete with live marching bands!

Here, I accidentally also caught a proud mama with a camera phone!

Of course, I didn't actually come to Oaxaca for Day of the Dead to see cute little kids in costume - it's just a special bonus! I come in large part because of the art and craft of the region, and the specific crafts that emerge to celebrate Dia de los Muertos. Like the altars constructed to honor the dead. What can I say? I'm a total sucker for those places where art and spirituality co-mingle.

So, today, I totally lucked upon groups of college students working hard on building altars full of Day of the Dead offerings as part of a contest. I wandered by several times during the day (as I got myself a comfort-food pizza, checked out some craft shops, etc.). As a result I was able to get shots of several of the altars in various states of construction. Several of them were laid out on the ground, and used flowers, dry beans, rice, and even mounds of dirt, shaped and colored with chalk, to create the images. All were constructed to either honor a specific dead person, or something important in history such as Mayan or Zapotec heritage. Here's one of my favorites, even though I have little understanding of its specific meaning:

They were working in teams, laughing and working together to get the altars built.

They had closed off a section of the street, and covered it with awnings.

Aren't the flowers gorgeous? It's mostly marigolds and cock's comb.

And this one is just mounded and colored dirt . . . from what I could make out, it was constructed to honor a faculty member who had died this year.

Look at how many people are working on it together!
Those are all people behind the lines, not spectators!

Here it is later.

Check out all the detail - from what I could see, they were taking colored chalk, ground very fine, and using tiny funnels to apply the details, and larger pieces of mesh to shake out color over the larger areas.

And here's another one - a "traditional" (ie, what I'm used to seeing) stepped altar. Depending on the intention of the builder, the steps in the altar can stand for five phases of life, the seven regions of Oaxaca, or the number of boxes available. The idea is that the beloved dead come here, take the essence of the offerings, and know that they are remembered and honored. Some builders put effort into representing Earth, Air (represented by the cut paper caught in the wind), Fire (candles), Water, and Spirit. It is also traditional to put things out that were enjoyed by the dead in life, such as fruits, bread, even cigarettes, as well as images of the dead or a sugar skull with their name written on it. Some will use candles, incense, and even pathways of marigold petals to guide the souls of the dead to the altars. Often, a mat is laid at the altar so that the dead can rest after their long journey.

Here, there are also live figures, beautifully costumed in Oaxacan garb!

Yes, I did see her stop to rest her arm for a few moments - and she smiled. It's not quite as serious as the Beefeater guards in London.

And the honored guest - with a Corona!

Everyone was snapping photos - touristas and locals alike! It was a wonderful creative, celebratory spectacle - and it was amazing to me that the students worked so hard together to put it all together, and then, only hours later, were tearing it all apart! I love to imagine that, when I pass, my loved ones might choose to remember me in such a joyful - and crafty - way.

Wednesday, October 29, 2008

Travel Lessons Learned: It's Not That Bad

I was supposed to be in Oaxaca, Mexico, yesterday. I arrived today. My luggage did not. For those of you who may wish to travel to Oaxaca or another similarly distant land at some point in the future, allow me offer up a few lessons learned:

  1. The Portland airport is surprisingly active at 4:30 am, or at least it appears so to someone operating on four hours of sleep who is usually not out of bed before 8:00 am. Had I been more alert, it would have made an interesting anthropological study.
  2. When the captain tells you that your 6:00 am flight has been canceled because “flight essential parts” are not functioning, be glad they didn’t just try to “wing it and fly anyway.” This is not like the check engine light coming on in your car (yes, I have been ignoring mine for several months now.) Get off the plane and get in line to be re-routed.
  3. Two hours is not an unreasonable amount of time to wait to be rerouted. Do not try calling the airline while you wait in line – they may ask you to complete a survey before helping you, and you may just say negative things out loud which cause other passengers in line to stare at you. Be nice to the people around you. They have your luggage. Just read your book, and be glad that there is a Powell’s Books and multiple coffee shops in the Portland airport. Do not be surprised, however, if you are attacked (quite accidentally) by a viola while waiting in line.
  4. When forced to stay overnight in Mexico City without your bags on the airline’s dime, make sure they take you somewhere nice, and give you meal vouchers good at the same hotel where they are putting you up. Or rather, make sure you ride in a van with people who will insist on being taken somewhere nice and being given meal vouchers good at that same nice place.
  5. Do not be surprised when, upon arriving in Oaxaca after having been routed through four different airlines, they cannot find your luggage. Remember, it is bad form to break down sobbing in small international airports. And even though you were a bit short-tempered on the phone, and did insist on meal vouchers, it is very unlikely that anyone is actually out to get you.
  6. Young men will flirt. Even if you are old enough to be their mother, and have been wearing the same grungy travel clothes for over 36 hours, they will flirt. You are paying to ride in their taxi, and they will flirt with you. The weather is amazing, you made it one piece, and the hotel kept your reservation, so go ahead and smile.
It’s not really that bad.

Monday, October 27, 2008


I leave the country tomorrow, and I have to make one quick trip first: to the post office, to mail my Portland 2009 Art and Soul Teaching Application – oh. And then I have to

Wednesday, October 22, 2008

The Best Halloweenieness Ever!

So, I love seeing dachshunds dressed as bananas (little dogs dressed as food) and skeleton gingerbread men (food dressed like little people) and babies in roast turkey costumes (little people dressed as big dead birds) as much as the next blogger . . . but this, ladies and gentlemen, this takes the Halloween Cupcake - From Bitter Betty, my new favorite blogger, may I present Costumes for Houseplants:

the Ferocious Ficus

and - my personal favorite - the Rest in Peace Lily.

She's got a tutorial for this folks, so get on over there and give her a visit!

Sunday, October 19, 2008

DEMO! 3D Fabric Butterfly Ring

I started making some 3D butterflies to add to the No-Sew Soduko quilt for my mom, inspired by the ones Martha made for one of her quilts. And while I was playing with the printed butterfly fabric, I thought "Wow! This would make a great ring! Or a pin!" And the project would probably work with just about any fabric that has an image or pattern between 1" and 3" in size. Sadly, I don't have the link to the exact fabric I used, but here's some that might be fun. And I thought it would be fun to share the DEMO with you . . . no matter what fabric you choose. So, here's my 3D Butterfly Ring Demo!

DEMO!! 3D Butterfly Ring

What you'll need:

Butterfly fabric
Sharp scissors
Lite Steam-a-Seam 2 fusible webbing
8" of 22 guage copper wire (or other thin wire)
Thin cotton batting
Flat top ring blank
E6000 glue
Parchment paper or press cloth

1. I started off with some fusible webbing - I like the Lite Steam-a-Seam 2 brand because the thin layer of fusible webbing is slightly sticky on both sides, and comes with a removable wax paper on both sides. This makes it easy to position your fabric on the webbing and to cut it out. Prep the fabric by ironing it and roughly cutting the shapes out - don't try to cut them out precisely at this point - it'll be difficult and there's no need to do it at this point. Then start by pulling the protective wax paper off of one side of the fusible webbing.

2. Position the fabric on the webbing. It'll stick to the surface.

3. The butterflies will be easier to cut out once they are gently stuck to the sticky surface of the webbing - it helps stabilize them, as does the fact that the backing is still on the webbing. So now's your chance to cut them out in excruciating detail.

4. Now cut out two butterflies for each ring, one for the front and one for the back.

5. Cut two pieces of thin guage copper wire (I used 22 guage wire here, and I cut each one about 4" inches long - I eyeballed it, based on the size of the butterfly). Then, leaving about an inch and a half for the antennae, twist the two pieces of wire firmly together. This will form the body.

6. Take the other ends of the wire and form them into wing shapes. This wire will make the wings moldable.

7. Now that the wire's ready, and your butterfly is cut out, peel away the backing. Now, you should just be left with the fabric butterfly and a thin layer of sticky fusible webbing.

8. Now, lay the wire down on the sticky surface and position it.

9. Now cut out two little pieces of batting slightly smaller than the wings - you want to be sure that there's still room around the edge for the fabric to fuse.

10. Now, add the batting to what is rapidly becoming a butterfly sandwich. This will give it a little more dimension.

11. Now peel the backing off a second butterfly, and add it to the stack. I chose two butterlies that were exactly the same for the front and the back, though you could use plain fabric for the back. Squeeze it all together so it sticks.

12. Heat up the iron. Place the completed butterfly sandwich between two sheets of parchment paper or a press cloth (to protect your iron from the wire and any sticky reside from the fusible webbing), and . . .

13. And iron, pressing firmly on each side.

14. Let it cool (the antennae will get hot!) and trim any edges that aren't lined up right.

15. Use a pair of round-nose pliers and shape the antennae into curly shapes. At this point, you could also whipstitch around the edges, maybe in a pretty metallic thread. Mine felt pretty sturdy, though, so I decided not to.

16. Bend the wire to shape the wings. Take a dollop of E600 glue and place it on a clean, dry flat top ring mount. Place the shaped butterfly on the ring and press it into the glue. Use a toothpick to clean up any excess glue. Of course, you could also attach the butterflies to a magnet, or a push-pin, or a pin-back, or you could even attach them to earrings!

17. Let it dry for 24 hours, and wear!

I made a few extras, too, and pinned them to the no-sew quilt.

Friday, October 17, 2008

The Great Studio Re-Organization!

I've been in this house, and hence, this art studio since the Spring of 2007. A year and a half. It seems a little soon for the two-car-garage turned art studio to have fallen into such disarray - but I suppose it's also been just long enough for me to spend time in the studio and figure out what works and what doesn't. First, the view from the door into the kitchen:

And the view with the garage door open:

And things have changed since I first moved in. The number of media I work in regularly has increased, I've built a light box to take photos for the blog and the up-coming Etsy shop, and I'm making a lot more art and teaching a lot more classes than I was a year and a half ago.

Now, this means that the studio has been doing its job - and it means it was time for an upgrade. I bought some more shelves from Costco on Monday (which the father-in-law-ish sadly pointed out were made in China) and I took the before pictures above on Tuesday in a state of overwhelm. I've spent the past three days re-organizing the studio.

Now, to the untrained eye, the before and after pictures may look, well, the same, so allow me to guide you through the myriad of functional improvements! First, with the garage door open, just look at how much organized it looks! (just nod your head) And you can actually see parts of the floor!

And, when you come in from the kitchen, there's a painting area that's well-lit. I haven't had a good spot in the studio for process-painting, and I've been craving it! Now, there's also a clear spot on the garage door nearby so I can put up some cardboard there and do large scale work! (A spot that was previously blocked by . . . the easel).

And the main tables, for doing print-making, collage, and assemblage construction are a good bit clearer . . .

I switched things out so that I have a counter-height table at the encaustics area. I usually stand up while I work . . .and I hung up these plastic papel picado banners from Happy! Colorful!

Perhaps the biggest improvement is the creation of a larger dedicated jewelry-making/dremel tool using area. All the small power tools and the jewelry-making tools are now together and easily accessible. Good, since often both get used for both my assemblage work and my jewelry-making. And, there's a better place for me to leave jewelry projects in progress without them getting mixed up with the bigger, messier projects on the main tables.

And, the student supplies are separated a bit better. They're in their own corner by the garage door for easy loading/unloading. They're also still accessible, since I do raid the student supplies for my own projects.

And, there's a little more room now around the lightbox. I'm anticipating that this area will become not only a photo area, but also something of a packing area/freebie button-making area once the Etsy shop is really open.

Phew! Now, to get in there and get my application together to teach at Art & Soul 2009!