Let's Just Try It

a compilation of inspiration and creative endeavors of a mom and daughter duo

Art By Putty Knife

This was definitely a classic “Let’s Just Try It” project!  A photo posted on Pinterest got my mind going, and a verse that I have always wanted illustrated were what got me going.  All it took was a big canvas with the right dimensions, a putty knife, Acrylic Gel Medium and my tray of acrylic paints.  One afternoon of joyous painting – it felt like the days when my mom would sit me at the table with fingerpaint – colour mixing and mashing…. so much fun!

This is how simple it is: Mix acrylic gel medium to give acrylic paints texture (or I suppose, use oils!). Use a paper plate as the palette – start with the lightest colour and load the putty knife-edge with the colour – stroke down for one, stroke to the side for the second. PIck up a bit of the next colour and stroke on the palatte to blend the colour slightly – continue working through the canvas, laying down the background. Work in the focal point (in this case, the tree).  Let dry.  Add leaves when dry.  (NB: the leaves consisted of a significant amount of gel as I wanted them to stand up on the canvas – I wasn’t entirely happy with the result – and definitely shouldn’t have worked on it at 10 pm!

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In true “Lets Just Try It” style – let me share what I learned….

  • A rough sketch of the elements of the painting can give direction for colour change as you go. It wasn’t entire a “fly by the seat of your pants” project.
  • Mix enough paint with the gel medium to get you through the entire painting. Matching mixed colours and gel is a difficult task – luckily this particular technique does not require exact match!
  • Edges are tough to tackle with a stiff putty knife – a softer, more flexible one would have been better
  • Blue tends to dry more transparent my end result was not exactly what I had hoped for as the overlapping of the colours were not disguised with the blue – of course I had to wait until it was dry to discover this!
  • Paint in the detail while the background is wet for a fun way to add tone to your detail. My tree trunk was painted with the same base colour, but when dragged through the wet background, picked up the light and dark elements.
  • Decide BEFORE you start whether you imagine a frame or not.  Sadly, I painted this on a stretched canvas, and have decided it definitely needs a frame…. I will have to seek professional advise about how to make that happen.
  • Finally, take your time on the final details!  I was so determined to finish in one day, that I got a bit sloppy on the leaves. It resulted in a slightly cartoonish looking tree.  Next time I will save the leaves for a fresh day, and spend time on some detail.

Rainbow-licious!

You know you are getting old when the things that were popular when you were a teen are popular once again. Smurfs, puffed sleeves and yes, my favorite teen-aged trend – the rainbow.  In my day, it didn’t represent New Age, or homosexuality – it was just cool.  And we had rainbows on everything – t-shirts, stickers, bedding, you name it!

It is with much joy that I see that my youngest girls also think it is cool.  And for both of their birthdays this year, we baked rainbows. 🙂  Such fun!

For my newest teen – freshly 13 years old, we made tie dye cupcakes.

I didn’t take photos as I went – it was a midnight oil type of project – but they were very easy to do. Instead of a recipe I used a white cake mix and equally divided the batter into 6 bowls. Each bowl was tinted a colour of the rainbow.  One spoonful of each colour, done in reverse order, into a white cupcake paper resulted in 15 lovely full cupcakes with a funky tie-dye appearance.  A white fluffy buttercream frosting swirled on top and it was a hit!

For my youngest’s 11th birthday, she requested a monster of a rainbow cake – 6 tiers, “with white frosting and sprinkles, please Mommy!”

I read Martha Stewart’s recipe (consisting of 14 egg whites and endless hours of whipping and baking) and decided that a revamp was in order!

The basics are:  6 layers – each layer is 1/3 of one standard recipe (therefore, 2 recipes will produce 6 layers)

Helpful tips before you begin: Precise division of both cake batter and filling are imperative. I used a scale for the cake batter, and a measuring cup for the filling. Baking one recipe at a time made these divisions much more manageable.

Using white margarine made a cloud white frosting for the outer layer. I used a cream cheese frosting for the filling, but can imagine many delicious possibilities such as coconut, lemon or vanilla flavours

The Nuts and Bolts:  Betty Crocker has a great white cake recipe – using only 4 egg whites, mind you.  A doubled recipe is required, but I recommend mixing and baking them separately.

After mixing the batter, measure and divide into separate bowls (3 for each recipe), making sure each bowl holds exactly the same amount of batter.  Colour each bowl with the appropriate colour of the rainbow.  Orange is easy with a bit of red and yellow, and purple with yellow and red.  I found that a mixed green was muddy looking, so I used a bottled green food colour.

Each bowl will fill a 9″ cake tin about 1/3 full.  These bake rather quickly, so watch them carefully.  20 minutes should be sufficient. Use a toothpick to test.

As the first recipe cools, mix the second recipe and follow the same procedures.

 

Once cooled, begin stacking and filling in between each layer.  Remember to work in reverse of the colour spectrum – purple, blue, orange, yellow and red.  Use exactly the same amount of filling between each layer and spread evenly, extending slightly beyond the edge of the cake

Finally, frost the outside of the cake and top.  Add whatever (if any) sprinkles or embellishments you like and Voila! You can taste a rainbow!

Things I learned along the way

More filling! Having a nice white divide between each colour makes for a greater impact.

Use Green food colour instead of yellow and blue combined.

More colouring = more intense colour.  Best option would be powdered or paste colour, but my cheapy liquid worked well and didn’t noticeably change the flavour of the cake.

Make plenty frosting for the outside of the cake – This is not  your average sized cake so a double recipe will be required.

Next time, I would love to make a 3 dimensional rainbow to place on top – either from moulding chocolate or royal icing.  However, the surprise on everyone’s faces when we sliced into what appeared to be a lovely white cake, was worth the secret 🙂

 

 

Camping the Healthy Way

When I was a kid, we went camping often.  Mom and Dad would seemingly just decided we were going and we would pack up our tiny little Toyota Corolla (with roof rack), wedge our bodies in, and head off. From my child eyes, my mom would just throw all kinds of things into the cooler box and away we went.

We loved being outdoors, we loved the sounds of nature, we loved the activity… but most of all we loved the treats.  Camping meant treats – caramel corn, smores, trail mix and lots and lots of soda pop.

Now we have our own kids, and while we don’t camp nearly as much as I did when I was small, it is still a fun holiday… and a lot of work.

We are in process of bidding our fair summer goodbye, while all my northern hemisphere family and friends are just beginning to look forward to summer, we are packing for a weekend at the dam (lake for you northerners).

I am a huge list maker when it comes to camping, and I like to plan carefully my menus and snacks.  And, of course, with our healthier perspective on life now I need to break out the creative juices and get cracking!

I’d love to hear your favorite camping take-a-longs  and we will find ourselves with a great list of amazing yummy treats to add some flair to our next trips out-of-doors.

Breakfast ideas:

Potato Scramble – veggies, eggs and egg whites with a splash of salsa on top. Yum!

Yogurt and Papaya with a granola crunch topping and Health Muffins

Super Starter Oatmeal – oats cooked with chopped apple, peaches, raisins (or cranberries!) and cinnamon.  Mmmmm!

Lunch ideas:

Wraps made with homemade hummus, tomato, lettuce and a sprinkle of shredded white cheddar

Stuffed Baked Potatoes – broccoli, cauliflower, beans and a sprinkle of shredded white cheddar. Salsa and Plain Yogurt for a saucy topping

Dinner ideas:

Grilled chicken with whole wheat pasta salad, pepperdew and feta cheese

Chicken Chili and corn muffins

Easy Paella

Snack ideas:

Dried fruit trail mix  pretzels, peanuts and purchased dried fruit with coconut

Popcorn

Fresh fruit

Fresh Veggies and Hummus

Sweet Treat

(just because camping isn’t camping unless you have them…)

 

Marshmallows, chocolates and Marie Biscuits (if we were in the States, it would be graham crackers!)

 

 

So while we try not to look like the Beverly Hillbillies heading out on our adventure  at least we’ll know we’ve got “good eatin’s” in the food box!

Heart Shaped Mini Wreath

Most times, it’s the little things that count.  The unexpected kiss on the cheek, the wink across the room, the help when unasked.

There is nothing nicer than leaving a little gift for someone anonymously, and this little heart wreath is a simple way to show those you love that you appreciate them. Leave them hanging on the door, from the car mirror or maybe even on the shower handle.  Depending on the size made, it would take no time at all to whip up half a dozen. They use mostly scraps or repurposed materials and cost almost nothing.

Materials:

Medium Gauge Wire – (recycle an old hanger!)

A pair of pliers and a wire cutter

Masking tape

Scraps of fabric (left overs from sewing projects, old pillowcases, bits of worn out clothing)

Bits of Ribbon to hang with

Step One: Bend a small heart from a piece of wire.  Tip: start from the bottom of the heart and bend upward. Bend each side of the top of the heart by gently bending the curve around.  Perfection is not needed.

Step Two: Twist the ends of the heart together. If too long, trim shorter.  Tape ends with tape for safety. ( if the twisted section is too long, as it is above, trim with a pair of wire cutters. The tape will hold it together.

Step Three:  Tear strips from a variety of types of cloth.  The width required will depend on the size of wreath made.  For a 7 inch wreath, I used approximately 1 inch wide strips. If using very thick material, make narrower strips.

Step four: Cut the strips into a length that will make an easy hitch knot.  My sample was made with approximately 4 inch strips

Step five: Tie the strip onto the frame using a hitch knot. ( Fold the strip in half, forming a loop. Fold over the frame, insert the ends of the strips through the loop and pull tight.

Continue all the way around the frame pushing the knots close together and varying the colours and patterns.

Step Six: To finish the wreath, pull the ends of the knots apart from each other to give it a fluffed appearance.

Tie a longer length of ribbon in a loop and thread it around the wreath to form a hanger.

Ta Da! A cute little gift to brighten someones day!

* Options (I love options!)

Use a bigger frame and wider strips to make a really fluffy wreath

Use scraps of ribbon, or widely different textures of fabric for a beautifully diverse wreath

Hang a string of beads from the middle or the bottom – or a charm – or a bow – the possibilities are limitless!

Hearts-A-Plenty Quick DIY Wall Art

I love pretty things, but I love pretty things done quickly even more!
Our house has a very natural relaxed feeling – natural stone, putty coloured walls and wood.

I found a selection of woven wicker hearts at Mr. Price – my favorite budget hunting place. For R140.00 ($18.50) I got my creative juices flowing and came up with a great natural looking piece to hang over my bed. It fits perfectly with the apple green and brown – and has a little sentimental value with each heart representing one of my family.

I hung each heart at eye pleasing levels, knotted at the top with two small loops to create hangers. In less than an hour I had just what I wanted.

Arts and Crafts in Cash-Strapped Times

I am certainly not an historian and do not have a degree in Art – but after recently visiting a few of the worlds most amazing museums in Paris, I realized that it doesn’t take an art major to draw the conclusion that economic and social climate certainly impacts what is considered beautiful in the eyes of society.

Who doesn’t love beauty?

Here we are in a world-wide economic down-turn  – does that mean that we all must don grey and black clothes, let the garden die and line our lives with illustrations with images similar to a Charles Dickens’ novel?  Not a chance!

In fact, art has a way of picking up the spirits and brightening  the future – so let’s get busy!

“What to do?” you may ask…  “I don’t have money to decorate” you may say… Not to worry!

Art does not have to be a stodgy effort of oil and canvas – nor does it have to be a perfect example of skill. Art is what decorates our lives and gives beauty to the dark corners of our rooms. 

I am a recent Twitter convert – and while my husband loves to follow political stories, I prefer something more positive, so I have looked for posts on all things bright and beautiful. In my quest, I have come across  a few Tweeters who are sharing their amazing ideas for adding beauty using materials that are all ready on hand – giving a whole new perspective to the word “recreation”. Isn’t it true that those who love to create find it recreational? – and if you are using recycled or repurposed materials, you have joined the upcycling (or as I call it “re-creation”) movement. 

My head is spinning with ideas – some old, some new.

         How about teddy bears or place mats sewn with old denim jeans?  

    Wreaths or adornments made from book page roses?

  Lamp shades from old milk bottles?

    Garden art from old soda cans?

Here is a hint: A quick internet search of “upcycling” or “crafting with recycled materials” will give you an endless list of projects – and if you are a Twitter fan, look for posts from Trashthetic, Triftybydesign and Hipcycle for some daily inspiration.

And don’t forget to WATCH THIS SPACE for some of our efforts!

Quick But Warm Two Tone Lap Blanket – No Sew!

While I have basked in 91 degree weather today, my friends and family back in the States have endured a winter of note – snow, power outages and now flooding. In honour of them, I have spent my Saturday making some lovely warm lap blankets – perfect for an evening of book reading or television viewing. Come July, I’ll be ready!

It all started with a bargain R99.00 ($12.00) for four beautifully colour coordinated polar fleece blankets on sale at my local Pick N Pay shop. They are a little thin, but perfect for the project I had in mind.

Materials and Tools:
1) Cheap and ready-made polar fleece blankets, but fleece bought from the local fabric shop would be as good, if not better.
2) A pair of Scissors
That’s IT!

Step One:
Layer two coordinating blankets (or lengths of fabric) on top of each other


Step Two:
Cut slits through both layers – 8 or 9 centimeters deep, spaced 3 or 4 centimeters apart. It is important that the cuts are consistently the same depth.


Step Three: Starting at one corner, begin to tie a basic square knot, using the bottom blanket’s strip tied to the top blanket’s strip.

Tip: Don’t tie too tightly as this may cause puckering.

Work around the blanket until the top is tied to the bottom along all edges.

Extra scraps of fleece could be used to decorate the center of the blanket – imagine flowers cut and fastened with a big bright button scattered across the face of the blanket.

Watercolour Play

Beautiful Setting + Loads of Time + Creative Itch + a new set of Watercolour paints and paper = two weeks of fun

I am in no ways an artist – but I do have a ton of fun playing like one. And when you have a view like this one – it is impossible to not be inspired.

Elizabeth and I both had a go at it, and it was fun to see our different styles. Elizabeth is much more free-flowing and captures the beautiful translucency of the paint, while I tended to work it very similar to the acrylic paints I am more accustomed to. The results of the same images were drastically different.

My compositions were from actual settings, but in the last one, I composed the scene from my “drive by (photo) shoot”.

Painting No. 1:  The scene from sitting on my bed in the loft of our holiday cottage.  I literally just sketched (did I say I am not an artist?) and tried to duplicate what I saw with the paint.  My big lesson on this painting – aside from the fact that watercolours need more water – was that using other tools than brushes can work well for some effects. I used the end of a piece of card dipped in the paint to make the lines in the grass and reed walls.  It was a good practice – however I am disappointed in the feel of it as it ended up looking like a nice colouring in job.  More water, looser brush strokes – and some basic perspective adjustments as well.

 

Painting No 2: This was part of a photo I took at Inhambane Bay. I started this as a practice piece for a larger painting I want to do one day.  Because I had decided it was just for practice, I was a little more relaxed. I still tended to overwork the focal point, however I did work on the composition and colour value a bit. I tried to reserve white without masking fluid, but it was a bit of a challenge.  The end result was much more satisfactory and I might even put this little guy in a frame.

Painting No 3:  This one is a completely composed scene from 4 different photos I took. It isn’t yet finished, but because I am now back home and no longer indulging in the luxury of relaxed afternoons, I might never get it done, so I’ll post it anyway.  I worked specifically on the composition and detail on the focal point. My biggest challenge was that I cannot paint faces (yet) and in my photos, because of the darkness of the interior of the shops and the darkness of the complexions, the figures appeared to not have heads. This just did not look right in paint. Also, the man pushing the wagon will soon get a hat, because he required more detail on his face and I just can’t yet work it out.

All in all, I think I have found some definite bonus points for watercolours that I haven’t seen in acrylics. The paint is much more sensitive and willing to be moved and worked. I enjoyed playing with it, and whether or not I treated it properly, it was still a great learning experience.  I also love the ethereal feeling it can give when not overworked, and as I get better, this will be something I may strive for.

I’d love to hear from anyone who has experience with watercolour and what tips and techniques you find useful ! 🙂

 

Drive-By (Photo) Shooting

On my list of things to learn… number 4….. Photography. Thanks to a generous gift from my hubby, I have a fantastic camera, but I find that I suffer from photographic shyness. Something about pointing a camera in a public setting makes me feel like I’m intruding into people’s lives uninvited…. yet I long for those amazing shots of beautiful faces, candid moments and picturesque settings.

On a recent trip into Mozambique, Elizabeth and I tried a new technique we call “Drive By Shooting”.  A word of warning: do not refer to this technique casually in a public setting. It tends to draw strange looks and unwanted interest in your conversation.

A long stretch of road lined with a collection of informal shops as well as many people was the setting.  I set my camera to action (remember that I am still in beginner status here…) and clicked off a series of shots with the camera placed on the open car window as we drove at about 40 km  down the road. I played a little zooming in and out and came up with many quick glimpses into the local life. A quick run through the shots, deleting those that were of nothing interesting, left me with a collection of photos that have given me many great subjects for artistic endeavours as well as a great memory of the feeling of the area we were in.  A little Photoshop help for lighting and composition and I will be happy. 

(please forgive the low resolution…. we have a VERY slow connection, and I had to reduce the size of the photos to get them loaded)

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Easy Tamale Pie – Made Healthy


One thing we have missed since living in South Africa is South American food. Our home town in the States had a population of people from south of the border, and the cuisine readily available was “muy bueno”. I am always on the look out for food that we can make with ingredients we have available, but it’s not always easy.

Tonight’s dinner was a first time shot at a recipe in my new Better Homes and Gardens Cookbook that I was given as a gift this year (imported from the US, of course). It was a huge hit. Conversation around dinner was “You haven’t made this before…. please don’t stop”.

A few alterations made it a little more nutritious and didn’t take away from the flavour or texture of the dish. Next time I will add more green peppers and maybe sneak in some extra grated veggies on the sly such as zucchini (marrows) and carrot. I am sure that corn would also be a nice addition.

Ingredients:

■1 onion, chopped
■1 green pepper, chopped
■3 cloves garlic, chopped
■1 Tb. olive oil
■1 lb minced chicken breast (leave out for a vegetarian dish)
■1 1/2 tsp chili powder (more if you want extra zip)
■3/4 tsp cumin
■Salt and Pepper for seasoning
■1 can kidney beans – drained, rinsed and slightly mashed
■1 can cannelleni beans – drained, rinsed and slightly mashed (substitute black beans if available)
■1 can pinto beans – drained, rinsed and slightly mashed
■2 c. tomato juice (or V8 style juice if available)
■1 can green chilies (I substituted one-seeded fresh green “Thai” chili, chopped fine)
Cook the onion, green pepper and garlic in the oil until softened. Add the optional minced chicken and season with salt and pepper. Cook until no longer pink. Add tomato juice, cumin and chili powder and the undrained tin of green chilies (or fresh chopped chili as preferred) Heat through.

Transfer into a 3 qt casserole, or 9×13 pan. Heat oven to 400 F or 200 C.

For the topping

In a medium bowl mix the following:

■1 cup cornmeal
■1 cup whole wheat flour
■1/2 tsp salt
■2 tsp baking powder
Add to the above ingredients

■1/4 cup canola oil
■1 1/2 c. milk
■1 egg
Stir until just moistened.

Grate in 2 oz cheddar cheese and 2 Tb chopped flat leaf parsley or fresh coriander leaves

Spoon over the top of the bean mixture and bake for 20-25 minutes.

Serve topped with a dollop of sour cream and a splash of spicy salsa for some zip.

Finish as a meal with a nice side salad and you’ve got it made! Enjoy!