so you think you can craft

Before another week of summer reality television passes me by, I wanted to briefly write a few thoughts about the two shows I'm currently watching: Craft Wars and, of course, So You Think You Can Dance (which will henceforth be referred to as SYTYCD...if you don't know that abbreviation by now, we probably shouldn't be Internet friends).

But first, Craft Wars.  As you all know, I dabble in crafts.  I'm not sure if I'm as "avid" a crafter as Tori Spelling (who knew, right?), but since graduating from art school a few years ago, I've spent more time on the craft side of the age old art/craft debate.  So when I heard about the show, what with my love of crafting and reality competition-based TV shows, I applied.  I even got a response back.  Additional information they requested at that time included pictures of art I'd made that used unique materials, examples of any building or construction me or my "assistant" had done, a description of the most "out of the box" piece I'd ever created, plus my age and a picture of me and my "assistant." Again with this "assistant" business - I'm a one-gal show, y'all!  I can't afford an assistant!  Well, after the first few minutes of the first episode of the show, it was clear that my "assistant" could have been my husband or a friend.  Do I have to share the whopping $10,000 prize?

This brings me to my first criticism of the show.  I don't consider myself a greedy person and admit I felt better about the measly $10K prize when I saw that it was just for one show's worth of work, but seriously TLC?  What is that, about $6K after taxes?  Even Bravo's Work of Art rewards the winning artist with $100,000, and that's in addition to a solo show at the Brooklyn Museum, which is, as they say, priceless.  Oh, but wait - now I remember. Crafters craft out of pure love for what they do. Perhaps. Clearly, I was not quite right for the show. In a way I'm sort of the opposite of what they seem to be looking for. Rather than make functional products out of unconventional items, I tend to use fairly conventional materials to, I hope, somewhat unusual ends (classical columns out of paper, etc.). And rarely is what I make, as an artist at least, at all functional. As a crafter I do indeed hope my products serve a function but in the end, I'm a pretty conventional crafter. Also, I haven't used my sewing machine since I was 14. And that was a little while ago.

Anyway, enough about me. My second, and really only other criticism of the show is with the judging.  I like the format of the show, beginning with a Top Chef quickfire-esque "pop challenge," giving contestants one hour to make a common crafty product (birdhouse I get, duffle bag not so much) out of the items at their disposal.  Two of the three contestants then go on to the master challenge which, up to this point, has basically consisted of a very similar structure built out of wood, but accessorized in different ways with a different theme each week.  Even Tori-as-hostess is growing on me.  She's very mom-like when talking to contestants about the projects they're furiously working on (and I don't mean that in a comforting way, I mean that in a slightly sort of scolding way, which is, of course, delightful to watch). And that's about as critical as it gets.  When the judges aren't saying thought-provoking things like, "overall, I think it's great," they're mostly complaining with one another about where they stand on the glitter spectrum.  This, my friends, is what I see to be the main difference between art and craft - a good ol' fashioned ass whooping.  I mean, constructive criticism.  I love, love, love the community of crafters and how incredibly supportive they are (I basically cannot look at my Twitter feed on Tuesday nights until after I've watched the show).  But God forbid anyone say anything even remotely critical - and constructive - about something someone has made.  Or perhaps art school has damaged me forever.

With SYTYCD, on the other hand, the judging is one of my favorite parts of the show (in addition to the dancers and the choreography and sometimes the music and the format and the fact that I can call in, and, and, and...).  And I know everyone connected to the show says it every season (to which I actually disagree the last couple of years) but I really think this season, season 9, is going to be really, really fantastic.  The dancers keep getting technically better, but this season it seems like the dancers are good and have really captivating personalities, not to mention a great range of dancing styles, including a few that can't really even be categorized.  Early faves include Alexa (I'm truly smitten with her very 80s look and think Mandy Moore will have a lot of fun with her), Cole (I love watching highly choreographed martial arts-type films - wishing Steven Soderbergh would turn Haywire into a TV series, for example - so it's not surprising that I dig his unique style...he's also pretty easy on the eyes, wouldn't you say?), Cyrus (what's not to love about this guy, although, to be fair, I do think he has some serious limitations as far as the competition goes and would be surprised to see him make it too much further), Eliana (I think she's my official girl-crush this season), Janelle (two words: belly dancing!), and Whitney (a ballroom hot tamale, indeed). And for the record, Matthew has got nothin' on Ryan Gosling. Amirite? (I link to his Wikipedia page, as if you don't know who he is! LOL)

On a slightly negative point, I'm not as excited as everyone else seems to be about the return of a certain someone, but I'll try to refrain from hatin'. I'm also a little concerned about this one-night-only format.  Partly because that means I only get 50% SYTYCD this season as compared to past seasons, and partly of course because I'm just confused as to how exactly that will work, what with the calling in and all.  But I guess the mystery won't be a mystery much longer. Needless to say, after a two-week hiatus, I'm eager for the first real show of the season. Bring it!


wild 'n' crafty fun for the four year old

My son turned 4 a couple of weeks ago and we celebrated with a birthday party at the Oakland Zoo.  I blogged about the zoo/safari/jungle themed invites I created using a few of Neal's illustrations well over a year go, but took this opportunity to tweak a design I was never fully satisfied with.

I guess the end result isn't all that different, just a little simpler, and printed on the very eco "paper bag" card stock from Paper Source.  Coordinating paper products included little favor tags and thank you cards:

The favor tags were attached to my, in the end, somewhat pathetic attempt at a pinata alternative, not because I have anything against a good ol' fashioned pinata (though I am a fan of the pull-string variety), but because, for some reason, the Oakland Zoo does not allow them.

I had already bought a big bag of candy from Costco when I read the fine print. I had to do something with all that candy!  So I stuffed three or four pieces each in a dozen large, plastic Easter eggs, wrapped that in tissue paper and attached the favor tag with brown baker's twine.

Favor bags this year included not a single, handmade-by-an-Etsian item! I know, right?!  I didn't even take a picture of the mass-produced items included within but in the goody bags kids found binoculars, sunglasses, a little mug with a zoo animal on it, and limited edition "jungle animal" green and white Mothers Cookies (you know I'm a fan), topped off with animal print bandanas.

Party decor was pretty simple, consisting of orange table cloths, and plates, etc., in blue and brown.  I had ordered these little animal finger puppets as possible cupcake toppers/favors but didn't care for them so ordered an alternate set and had these on the tables instead.  Most of them came home with us, unfortunately (what, you don't like chintzy finger puppets?!).

Instead of balloons, which I always find to be problematic (does one parent spend half the morning schlepping professionally helium-filled balloons from party store to party site, do you spend twenty bucks on one of those DIY kits, or do you blow them up yourself, pass out, then hang them from a tree?), I ordered these animal print "lanterns" instead.  Unfortunately I didn't really brainstorm how I'd quickly install them so after trying a few things, in the end used the orange crepe paper I had to hang a few grouped together in three or four spots.  These would be really cute for an outdoor, evening party, assuming you have the space and time to string some outdoor lights through them.

The only other DIY project I tackled for this party was the cake. This was our biggest birthday party yet (with about a dozen kids and even more adults) so while I was seriously tempted by a Costco cake, in the end I went ahead and baked up a double-layer nine inch vanilla and chocolate marble cake and a dozen vanilla and chocolate cupcakes. And it's a good thing I did because we only went home with about two pieces of leftover cake. The kids all wanted cupcakes, of course, then asked for servings of cake, too!  I don't know why I was shocked by this (they are kids, after all) but I have to admit I was a little taken aback.  Perhaps more by the parents' willingness to allow me to totally jack their kids up on sugar? At any rate, I was pretty pleased with how the cake turned out. I dabbled in Pinterest for this party, saving ideas here and using some of my favorites, including pirouette cookies for the outer edge of the cake (kind of like a bamboo fence, I guess), this circus train topper (I also ordered animal print cupcake liners from her), pieces of Hershey bars for the train tracks and a much nicer set of zoo animals for the cupcake toppers.  I frosted the cupcakes and the birthday boy helped me sprinkle the tops with crushed chocolate cat cookies from Trader Joe's, to look like dirt and grass. For the cake itself I used Trader Joe's box mixes (they are really so good) and for the frosting I used my go-to recipe for white chocolate buttercream and a mixture of Trader Joe's chocolate frosting mix and caramel for the filling. Yum.

For activities, we "led" a scavenger hunt through the zoo for the first hour or so. Somewhat disastrous, not surprisingly, what with trying to keep a dozen kids more or less together to answer eight or so questions that they can't actually read while you walk through hilly terrain, all in an hour's time. Then the kids came back, enjoyed some pizza, a few rides (the party was in the rides area of the zoo), and the two other activities I'd come up with - photos with this safari Jeep photo prop (what can I say, it was six bucks) and temporary tattoos I'd printed using the same illustrations used on the invites and paper goods.  The temporary tattoos were a huge hit. Initially I thought about face painting but I knew I wouldn't have the time to do it nor did I want to spend $150 or more to hire someone.  We went to one of several Easter egg hunts this spring at this place called Pump It Up and one of the activities they offered was a temporary tattoo station.  Brilliant!  This is the paper I used to print the tattoos (you do not need a Silhouette machine - just an inkjet printer). It's a little pricey considering you only get two sheets but I could fit 8 or 9 pretty large tattoos on there so if you size them a bit smaller you actually get a pretty decent amount, assuming you don't make any printing errors.  The birthday boy is above, sporting one of the snake tattoos. Clearly, this birthday stuff is very serious business.