Tuesday, August 26, 2014

Invention and Imitation and a Dice Game—It's All Art

I made up this dice game when my kids were elementary-school age and we were homeschooling and I wanted a way for them to practice their multiplication that was more interesting than flash cards. Wouldn't it be swell if I could find a game that used multiplication in scoring?, I thought.

Well, I couldn't find one, so I made one up. I don't recall that we actually used it all that much. Kids don't always feel the same enthusiasm for our brilliant ideas as we do.

Years later, I thought this would be a good product to market to homeschoolers and other parents and teachers, so I designed a little booklet of instructions, bought dice through various educational supply sources, got some round tins from the Ax Man surplus shop in St. Paul, collaged the covers of the tins, and sold them at a homeschooling conference and then on Etsy.

With limited success. But just when I think maybe I won't bother with these anymore, someone buys one, or a few, and tells me how much they like it, and I decide to keep making them.

A third-grade teacher who bought one at a craft show later told me how well it kept a bright student occupied. A person who bought one from my Etsy shop said, "It's a fun game to work the brain." Another said, "Great for my third grader!" And this: "Great for all of us—kids and adults—in the car at first but they ask to play it at home now as well."

These little tidbits of encouragement have kept me making the games, even though they're not exactly a best-seller for me.

As my first few batches of games sold, I was scrounging for tins of various sorts to contain them, and eventually decided to buy the tins wholesale to be assured of a ready supply. Still, I was covering each one with unique ephemera from vintage bingo sheets, maps, and math books, always buffing the metal lids with sandpaper to make the glue adhere, then burnishing them to get rid of any bubbles, and glueing a label on each that coordinated with the colors on the paper. After that glue had dried, I then brushed on a sealant and left them to set overnight.

I knew I couldn't really expect to ask as much money for these as the time and thought I put into each individual game (searching for images, tracing and cutting and glueing, etc.), so I tried designing a standard cover for the tins to print out on sticker paper.

I didn't like the design I came up with, so I went back to crafting them one by one. (I disliked the design so much I can't even find an example to show you.)

Then I had a customer want six of the games for her son's birthday party. When I asked her if she had any preference as to the design on the tins, she replied "Math symbols, please."

And that made me recall a recent cover of Conduit magazine featuring chalkboard math symbols in the background.

And that made me think of a book I read earlier this summer, Steal Like an Artist, by Austin Kleon (which I bought at my local independent bookstore, Moon Palace Books), which pointed out that all artists get their ideas from somewhere, and we shouldn't be afraid to imitate and adapt ideas we come across, because those artists stole ideas and motifs from someone else.

Or, as my art buddy Brian Western once reminded me, "There is nothing new under the sun."

So I designed new covers for the dice games, featuring numbers and equations in a white chalkboard font on a variety of colored backgrounds, and I printed them on sticker paper, which means I don't have to buff, glue and burnish them anymore.

The customer was pleased. And so am I.

You can find these games in my Etsy shop, btw.

Tuesday, August 19, 2014

I Am a LoLa Artist Too!

The LoLa art crawl is this weekend, August 23–34!! I will be participating this year at the Minnehaha Professional Building, 3960 Minnehaha Avenue (site No. 39 on the LoLa map), with artists Jymme Golden and Laura Burlis.

What's the secret of secret Belgian binding? I will show you at the art crawl.

Stop by between 10 a.m. and 5 p.m. Saturday and Sunday to enjoy shelter from both rain and heat in this comfortable air conditioned space on Longfellow's main drag, as well as refreshments, cool demos (Laura Burlis on making millefiore canes, me revealing the secret of secret Belgian book binding, and Jymme with her sketchbooks open to show her process), and a give-away drawing by Jymme, and maybe me, too.

I have been making a few new things for LoLa and I thought I would give you a little preview of some of them.

A fun series of projects I started this spring are little hand knit pocket doll critters to tell your troubles to or play with (for children older than 3) or display on your desk to remind you to lighten up.

Each of these is knit by hand without a pattern or instructions. I just wanted to have fun with free-form knitting without having to follow directions or take notes. As I finished up knitting them, I pulled all "tails" of yarn, and sometimes a little extra yarn, to the inside to serve as stuffing.

Then I put them in mesh bags and sent them through the wash several times to felt them, which makes them even smaller and "knits" the fibers together for extra firmness and body. After they're dry, I add wooden beads for heads and sew on their hats and embellishments.

They are all less than three inches high.

I've also been making more journals, some from beverage boxes and some repurposing the covers of vintage books.

Then I've taken the text blocks from the books and have been turning them into little stand-alone art pieces of their own.

I've also been working on some upcycled decorated tins. I have been making these little kits or treasure boxes for kids for a few years now, each one is unique and is filled with assorted small toys and other objects. I have several of them ready to bring to LoLa.

But sometimes people give me their used mint tins to repurpose, and so I thought it would be fun to try something different: to fix up the tins but sell them empty so that other people could have the fun of putting together their own treasure boxes, whether as gifts (for kids or adults) or for themselves.

One of several tins-in-progress

In fact, there are a few stops along the LoLa art crawl where you can pick up some fabulous tiny things to put in your own tins, and I will have information and tips about them available for you.

Finally, I designed a DIY "mindfulness cube" with sayings on each side, to use as an object of contemplation or even as a small gift box. I will have a few of these assembled as examples, but will be selling only the flat sheets, printed on card stock, for people to make their own.

I hope to see you at the crawl!