Tag Archives: DIY

The Mother of Invention

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The old saying, “Necessity is the mother of invention,” held true for me this week. Kids are returning to school in the Valley of the Sun, and that means dealing with cell phones in class. This year, my school is adopting a no-phone policy across the board during class time. (This is good news for those of us who battle the texting, gaming, and surfing that distract students from learning.) In order to make the edict more palatable I want to provide a space where students can park and charge their phones while we’re working on literacy and writing skills.

To my dismay, most of the classroom phone storage devices are hanging shoe organizers with pockets. Since all of my wall space is taken up with posters and academic language word walls, I want something that will rest on the counter at the side of my classroom. The few tabletop organizers I found were on the pricey side and wouldn’t arrive until after the kids report in a couple of days. So, I decided to make one.

I observed that the organizer I’m after is simply a series of boxes or slots that are large enough to accommodate any phone and provide access to a plug. So, here’s my low cost solution:

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I went to my local post office and picked up 19 of the (free) small Priority Mail boxes, which are about the size and shape of three DVDs stacked together. I drew a line down the center in order to get two open boxes from each piece. (I have 36 chairs in my room, so the 19 boxes cut in half  create 36 slots plus a couple of extras in case I mess up!)

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Here’s how the boxes look once they’re cut in half and assembled. (Just use the fold lines and pre-applied tape to put them together.)

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Next, I arranged the boxes into groups of four. The desks in my classroom are numbered and arranged into quads to create small tables and work groups for students, so it seemed logical to mirror this organization in the cell phone garage.

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I considered stacking the boxes vertically, but ultimately decided against it because I think the other arrangement provides more stability.

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Once the arrangement was finalized, I added labels that correspond to the group and seat numbering system on the desks in my room. Students will put their phone in the slot that matches their group and seat number. (I have nine groups of four students.) Then, I used left over box tape to form a set. After I finished the whole thing, I realized I probably should have “laminated” the labels with clear tape before attaching them just to add some durability to the card stock. (So, consider adding that step if you construct one of your own.)

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Once all the sets were created, I used left over masking tape to put them all together. I taped around the whole group a couple of times and across the bottom of each set both vertically and horizontally. (I have to confess that I changed tape here because I ran out of the box tape. I was determined to just use whatever I had to complete this project.)

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Finally, I used some shiny silver duct tape from my stash to finish the “garage.” This added more stability and durability to the project. (If you want to use spray paint to finish the piece, I suggest covering the whole thing in masking tape first to add that stability and create an even finish.)

When I take this to my classroom tomorrow morning, I’ll line up a couple of power strips in front of the boxes to provide a charging station for my students. Hopefully, this will entice them to willingly park their phones and give them a rest during Junior English!

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Finding Inspiration

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Sometimes I just need to spend a couple of hours browsing through antiques and artsy fluff to get a project rolling. Recently, Lochinvar and I wanted to create a photo studio space in our basement and a dressing room from a laundry catch-all area. These projects allowed me to contemplate some revamping in other rooms, too – including the guest room and our bedroom. With four spaces and plenty of furniture whirling through my head, I needed some thematic ideas. So, on a whim, I spent a quiet afternoon at Merchant’s Square in Chandler.

This is one of my favorite places to pass a hot summer day because I always leave with decorating ideas and a few chuckles from the quirkier items that abound. For instance, check out the wooden clogs that look like Lego blocks. These puppies would make a great Cosplay costume addition, but not something I’d wear on a daily basis. Can you imagine the noise?

 

0625181227.jpg  Then, there’s the knight-in-shining-armor themed table lamp. I fear my feline friends might try to stage a joust with these accoutrements. Or, worse yet, it might provide weapons for would-be intruders.

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And, as long as we’re talking about about weapons, whose bright idea was it to invent an indoor horseshoe game? Note it says “Rubber shoes reinforced with steel” on the box. I think my Ragamuffin would have destroyed every piece of glass in the house with permission to throw around these things. (And we won’t even discuss the fact that Father looks like he’s about to shout Ole! while young Betty appears to be practicing for the high wire.)

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After a bit of mucking around, the silliness factor gave way to more inspirational items like these romantic doodads. The doll themed coloring book would make wonderful artwork for a girl’s room or an antique style dressing room, as would the lace angel wings. (I have to admit, I looked at those for quite awhile trying to image where they might end up in my house.

 

Of course the porcelain meets paper doll also seemed to fit in with my romantic vision which would perfectly complement many of the whimsical beribboned tags. All of these items were the vision of a single vendor who had lacy French-feeling frippery to spare. I think I could have decked out an entire room in that one shop, and I felt an instant kinship to its anonymous owner.

As I continued to amble down the aisles, my eyes and hands were drawn to many pieces of painted furniture, but I especially fell in love with the old Paris maps on the drawers of this piece. The colors are so beautiful and delicate!

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I also love the wrapping paper lining on the drawers of this chest. Just opening up an empty drawer feels like an adventure among the flowers.

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In addition to the lovely romantic furniture and decor items, several vendors offered beautiful pieces of wearable art. Here, a plain linen shirt became a jacket bedecked in crocheted doilies, embroidered table toppers, and an assortment of vintage lace odds and ends. The maker had an entire rack of shirts, jackets, and dresses that I would love to wear about town.

Finally, I fell for this vintage purse with an adorable under-the-sea theme. This is the perfect piece for those always-be-a-mermaid days. (Sigh)

As I browsed, my brain considered that I could create the new dressing area as a homage to vintage frilliness and keep it for myself, but (alas) Lochinvar had design plans of his own (dark wood, leather, and a blue Oriental rug). So, I settled for cleaning out and rearranging the guest room with its antique bed, painted desk, and handmade yo-yo bedspread and pillow shams (Thanks, Mom!)

0626181056a0626181056bIn the end, Lochinvar also suggested that I could work some fru-fru magic on our bedroom. (Of course, he didn’t have to say that twice!) So, that project is currently underway. I have already added curtain panels from Goodwill (a bit of sheer lace over a print at the window and some dotted swiss in the archway), reupholstered the seat over the tub, hung some peacock art, and added a comfy chair to the space. Meanwhile, those map covered drawers continue to dance through my head as I survey two night stands, a headboard, and a foot board. I think they’re calling my name!

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Easy DIY Art with Colarting Kits

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When summer temps hit the valley of the sun there are only a few acceptable activities. One, of course, is hanging out in the pool; another is anything that can be done inside with air conditioning and a cold drink in hand. (The latter situation is also familiar to my northern friends who hunker down to escape the blustery cold of winter.)

As a teacher, I spend a good deal of my time in the summer thinking about and planning for school (which gears up at the beginning of August), but since I don’t have to do those activities on a bell schedule, I also get to spend a good deal of time in my studio. On 115 degree afternoons, the coolness of the basement beckons me to color, cut, and paste.

Thus, our Colarting (where coloring meets art) kits provide a means to escape the heat and create something to hang in my room, office, or home. Let me show you how it works with the Dreamy Kitty design.

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Each kit comes with three or four layers (depending on the picture) to create a 3-D design along with a package of standard embellishments and the foam tape used to give the art dimension. Full instructions are also included, along with a bonus coloring page.

 

 

 

In step one, each of the layers is colored in preparation for cutting and stacking. While a person could leave the larger shapes blank (white), I suggest filling them in to provide a background when looking at the pieces at an angle. This helps the piece look more professional when its complete.

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The middle layer has a gray space around the pieces to indicate what will be cut away. Because I know I’m going to cut these out, I don’t worry about staying inside the edges. As a matter of fact, I intentionally go over the line to make sure I fill in all of the white space. In addition, when I’m using several shades of the same color (like two shades of green on the squirrel shape), I color the entire shape in the lighter color using a chisel tip marker, and then go back with the darker color and fill in the details using a fine tip marker. This makes it much easier to color small, detailed areas.

As you can see, I have written the color numbers I used across the top (which will get cut off). Since I don’t always have time to color all of the pieces at once, this helps me remember which markers I used so I can carry the color theme over to other pieces.

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The top layer consists of cut outs that will rest on top of the middle layer pieces. I used the same basic colors to complete these pieces, too.

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If you plan to use a photo mat (which I highly recommend since it adds a professional finish to your artwork), put the background in the mat before you begin adding the layers. This allows the layers to stick out over the edge of the mat and adds to the 3-D effect.

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Now you’re ready to cut out the middle and top layer pieces.

Once everything is cut out, open up the embellishment packet and locate the foam tape squares. These will be applied to the back of the cut out pieces in order to create a 3-dimensional effect on your artwork.

It’s always a good idea to space out the foam tape squares around the edges of larger pieces (like the kitty). The smaller pieces may only need one or two squares to support them. Remember to plan the number of squares per piece to make sure you have enough.

Once the tape is stuck to the back of the layers, peel off the wax paper backing and apply the middle layer to the background.

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Repeat the application process with the smallest top-layer pieces. Here, the angled photo gives a better look at the shaded in bottom layers. (Take a look in the lower left corner under the lizard.)

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Once all the layers of the picture are attached, it’s time to have some fun with the embellishments. The packet contains basic embellishments in clear and silver to match any color scheme. Of course, you can always add extras from your own stash. (Consider buttons, beads, jewels, trims, pieces of broken jewelry, or even origami.)

If you don’t have a stash, we offer additional embellishment kits in multiple colors. (All of our kitty-themed demos on the website feature standard embellishments. The other themes sport a variety of items from my studio.)

Arrange the embellishments wherever you like. (I suggest placing all of them on the piece before gluing, just to make sure you like the layout.) Regular white glue or craft glue will work to attach the embellishments, or if you’re impatient (like I am), use a hot glue gun for immediate gratification.

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Finally, don’t forget to sign your work before putting it into a frame. Our kits create an 8 x 10 picture which fits into an 11 x 14 mat and frame. (I suggest you get a shadow box frame so your work will be protected behind glass.) If you use a non-shadow box, simply remove the glass to allow space for your 3-D design to pop out of the frame.

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The final product is a one-of-a-kind piece of art ready to adorn your office or home. Our whimsical designs are perfect for kids rooms, dorm rooms, hallways, and cubicles. They make great gifts as a project to be completed or as a finished product to make someone smile.

Check out the nearly 30 designs available at thecockeyedcolorist.com. Happy colarting!

 

The Devil’s in the Details

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Popular advice on living and working goes two ways: “Don’t sweat the small stuff” or “Take care of the small things and the big things will take care of themselves.”

No wonder I’m always so confused! The paradoxical nature of these philosophies can create problems in life management. (At least it has for me lately.) As we move closer to launching our new product line (Colarting – where coloring becomes art) and our new website, the details seem to be ganging up on me and holding me down.

Two nights ago I spent three hours looking at embellishments online – weighing the pros and cons of rhinestone size, shape, and color; checking a ruler for relative size of charms; figuring out per piece prices on packaging; comparing the merits of glitter cord versus metallic cord … you get the picture. After dangling my toes in the wholesale supply market I presented my list to Lochinvar like a cat dropping a goldfish at her owner’s feet (and with about the same result). Needless to say he really just didn’t know what to do with this detailed list of shiny bits meant for our kits. (This is a good example of how to not sweat the small stuff – get someone else to do it for you. Of course, the down side to that is you are stuck with someone else’s decisions.) On the other hand, the right assortment of embellishments will add value to our pieces and (hopefully) make people want to buy them. Ultimately, Lochinvar did what all good partners do – he said, “This looks great!” and smiled encouragingly, even though he wasn’t really sure what I had done.

So, every time I spend hours doing something that looks insignificant I find myself contemplating whether or not I’m overthinking it or spinning my wheels for too long. After all, I have a deadline to meet. Which, of course, is another double-edged sword. While some people balk at deadlines, I tend to thrive under them. My ability to work under tight deadlines helped me land (and keep) my first writing job at The Mountain Press (my hometown newspaper), and it’s a skill that has served me well over my 23-year teaching career (especially when it comes to getting essays graded). However, deadlines are also stressful. They impose a sense of urgency that keeps me awake at night and demands time away from relaxing activities like enjoying a dirty martini and a James Bond movie with a cat in my lap.

I guess, in the end, the trick is choosing which details to give time to. If I sweat the right details (but not all the details) perhaps that will be enough.

 

 

Success Is Measured Many Ways

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Have you ever sort of failed at something but felt like you succeeded? That’s the situation I’m in regarding some jewelry box items I made last week. In the end, I successfully completed the project (which can be a win all by itself sometimes), but the items don’t really measure up to professional caliber. (I’ll show you in a minute!) However, even when projects don’t end up the way I’d hoped/planned/schemed/dreamed, there is still a sense of satisfaction that comes from the DIY mentality.

It all started when I purchased an old secretary a couple of months ago with the intention of turning it into a cabinet for my jewelry. (Trust me, I have lots!) I discovered that keeping all of my stuff in plastic tackle boxes wasn’t really conducive to wearing it. I didn’t take the time to look for just the right necklace and bracelet, I just grabbed my go-to pieces on top. So, I thought if I found a way to make the pieces more accessible, I’d wear more of it. (Seems logical, right?) And what better way to do that than with a piece of beat up old furniture.

Step one ensued – painting. Once that was accomplished, I jumped online to find some jewelry trays to hold my sparkly happiness. Unfortunately, the inexpensive trays were not the right size for my shelves or the drawers below. Sigh. After much searching I did find some trays that would fit the parameters, but they were high end adding up to nearly $200! (To be fair, they were wood with a lovely blue velvet lining – pretty sweet!)

This led to step two – DIY the jewelry trays. (This is the part that isn’t too pretty. You might want to look away!) In the end, I think the plan was good, but the execution lacked finesse. (What can I say, I’m much better with paper and paint than fabric and hot glue.)

Since I didn’t want to fork over the cash for fancy trays, I decided to use whatever I had to create my own. As luck would have it, I had three boxes from Christmas candy what were the perfect size for my shelf. (yeah!) So I covered them in wallpaper scraps and used a couple of stained towels to make the rolls for the rings. Then I covered those in left over felt and turned in the ends. The result was usable, but not particularly professional. (In retrospect, I might have chosen a softer, thinner fabric which would have made the ends much easier to finish.

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Here’s how the trays look in the cabinet. I used Command hooks to hang all my necklaces above and removed the extra shelves. I ended up purchasing beading trays to hold my earrings in a drawer below, but how to get the bracelets out of hiding eluded me for awhile. I looked at some of the t-shaped bracelet holders, but they were too tall for the drawer and a little pricey. Then I saw a bracelet tray that basically had “humps” to put the jewelry across but was low enough to fit in the drawer below. So I decided to give those a whirl, too. (Ever the optimist I figured this project had to be better than the ring trays!)

This one is made from a cat food flat (which is about the same size as the earring trays) and toilet paper rolls. Luckily for me, when I was revamping the studio last week I found some batting, which made the job easier. The process was pretty much the same as above with the exception of placing a pad in the bottom of the tray before covering the cardboard rolls and adhering them to the tray. I do think the ends finished a little better since I found some cardboard circles to cover with fabric and act as caps.

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Unfortunately, about halfway through the project I had a rather nasty run-in with the glue gun (silly me!). But Lochinvar came to my rescue with burn gel pads which took the sting away pretty quickly, so I finished the tray as the walking wounded. In the end, the pieces were not perfection, but there were several successes here. First, I didn’t have to fork over any extra money since everything was made with scraps. Second, I didn’t have to wait for shipping. (I’m really all about instant gratification.) Third, I had a good time embellishing the story of my wrapped hand at work today, and (finally) I have the pleasure of knowing that I figured out how to do it myself. So I’m calling it a win. I hope when your projects go awry, you’ll still see the bright side. (Hey, that’s why I’m the Cockeyed Colorist!)

A Fresh Start

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As a January baby it has always made sense to me that a new year means a fresh start. Once we reach the day after Christmas, my wheels start turning and I contemplate what I need to begin anew. This year’s answer is my art. I want to move from the realm of part-time crafter to real-time artist. That means a new commitment to learn, grow, and practice art on a daily basis. Shockingly, this requires actual scheduling on my calendar. To that end, I purchased a goal-setting planner and spent several hours evaluating what I really want out of my time on earth and how to get it. (To be fair, I have most of it already – my sweet Lochinvar, my talented kiddo, supportive family members, and space to dream.) With these intangibles under my belt, it’s time to pursue some concrete goals, and the best way I know to begin a journey is with a clean slate, so I spent three days (yup!) cleaning out and reorganizing my craft room into an art studio.

I started by taking EVERYTHING out and changing the organizational structure. Previously, I had items sorted by “topic.” For example, all flower-related pictures/cut outs were in a box. Other boxes held bugs and butterflies, cats, watches and keys, words, etc. There were boxes of ribbon, boxes of lace, boxes of buttons and jewels, boxes of broken costume jewelry. Everything had its place. Having lived with this system for a couple of Januaries, I thought it best. However, upon really contemplating how I create, I realized that I didn’t open most of the boxes on a regular basis. I had one or two motifs that I used over and over, and then I dug through the box looking for a specific color. I didn’t always remember that other motifs might have that color. (For example, when I’m looking for blue, I don’t automatically think “cat.”), and thus I began to feel stuck. So… everything had to be resorted by color (and everything I hadn’t touched in a year or two had to go to Goodwill).

This, my friends, was quite the task. I honestly did not realize how many pieces of paper I had in my space. (Let’s just say I might be a candidate for a t.v. show about craft hoarders.) I even broke down and cried once when I hit the point that my basement was a huge mess, I had spent hours working, and I was only halfway done. (You know that feeling? The one in the pit of your stomach when you know you’re screwed because it will take just as long to clean it all up and go back to the way it was as it will to move forward and finish the job?) Ugh. However, I persevered, and I learned some things along the way.

First, I was inspired by many of the images that had been hidden away in boxes for a couple of years. All the ocean scenes, green leaves, seashells, cherubs, gilded edgings, and pictures of beautiful women made me want to stop in the middle to create something. Second, I realized I had been even more stuck than I thought. I had fallen into going to the “expected” image instead of the interesting one. Third, I found that some disarray made me happy. Now, usually I’m all about tidiness, but something in the profusion of color and motifs is inviting. A little (organized) chaos is good.

Take a look:

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dscn2436All of my “stuff” is resorted into baskets by color. This storage system from IKEA is inexpensive and ultra handy (I’ve had it in different parts of my house for several years). The color bins include white/beige, tan/brown, yellow/orange, purple, black, pink, red, blue, green, metallic, multicolored (for things that didn’t really fit anywhere else), and people. I left the “people” motif because that is the one element I always know I want. Other baskets have cardboard, original drawings, sketch books, etc.

dscn2437This is a close up of the side wall. All of the solid color paper and card stock of various sizes are sorted by color, too. They are stacked in open cubbies where they’re easy to see and grab as needed. The bottom shelf has books for cutting up. Some of them are quite old reference books with beautiful antiqued pages, while some are much more recent books with interesting pictures to use as clip art. Most of them were free from a library that was downsizing. The few I paid for came from thrift shops for only a couple of dollars. (Actually, I have a rule about not spending more than $2.00 on elements I plan to cut up and paste together.)

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Now the back wall items for craft shows including canopy parts, display pieces, inventory, office supplies, etc. This shelving unit and its contents used to be in the main area of our basement, but swapped places with my computer desk to clearly separate the areas and create a more open feel.

Though the space looks a little spartan at first glance, the lack of clutter is soothing and the real treat is pulling a basket for ideas.

The pink basket looks pretty unassuming by itself, but once you start unpacking all kinds of goodies appear.

Previously, if I needed something pink I would have gone for flowers, but now I see there are so many other options: cats, dragon flies, butterflies, bunnies, shells, and even crosses. This arrangement encourages diverse thinking and is just more fun.

As 2017 gets underway, I hope you find yourself moving forward. It’s your world; color it!

 

 

 

Halloween is Creeping Up on Us!

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Lochinvar and I love Halloween. (OK, maybe I LOVE Halloween and Lochinvar is kind enough to humor my obsession.) Either way, we always have something going on for fright night. In the past we have teamed up with friends to host murder mystery parties or participate in costume contests with outfits based on colors, characters, and general tomfoolery. This year we are hosting a Festival of Imagination complete with a two-sentence scary story contest, a howling contest, and a costume contest; and I’m going as … you guessed it … a coloring book.

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I found a pair of hot pink Crayola socks and a crayon-top hair ornament at the Halloween store. Then, I bought a plain white men’s dress shirt at Goodwill (It even has oo-la-la French cuffs!) for about four dollars. The rest was just a matter of drawing and coloring. While this was not difficult, it did take some time since I covered the entire body of the shirt and colored parts of it. Since coloring books are black and white, I’ll be pairing the shirt with a black skirt or black shorts (to show off the socks, of course) and plain black shoes. I’m also contemplating some temporary hair dye to match my pink crayon accessories.

If you want to be a coloring page, too, but don’t want to draw everything from scratch, I suggest blowing up a piece of clip art that you like and tracing it on to the shirt. You could scatter some larger elements, and then fill in spaces with smaller complementary items. If you don’t want to take the time to color the shirt, walk around with a few markers and have others color in pieces while you’re wearing it. You could also repeat the process on a pair of tights, plain white socks, or tennis shoes. This could also be a good activity for the kids if you prep the drawing on the shirt but let them color it.

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I used Tulip fabric markers for this project. (Just as an aside, several years ago I colored a pair of plain tennis shoes using Sharpies. The markers bled pretty badly, muddling the colors and my lines. It could have been the canvas rather than the markers, but I didn’t want to risk a repeat of that project, so I went with fabric markers instead.) I already had these in my stash of goodies, but they are readily available at discount and craft stores. Both kinds worked well, but I really liked the double-tip markers better. The fat end made a nice line for drawing the designs and coloring large areas, while the fine end worked well on smaller areas (like the cuffs). In addition, when the fatter tip started getting “dull” on the black marker, I simply snipped a little off to recreate a sharper tip.

dscn2416I did find that the darker colors (especially dark blue and purple) wanted to spread a little if used next to an already wet area. I combated this by coloring the darkest shades first and letting them dry for about 10 minutes before coloring lighter areas adjacent to the dark. In addition, I allowed the darker green to bleed when coloring leaves by using it around the edges before quickly coloring in the lighter shade and picking up some of the darker color. Just like in a regular coloring book, play with the blending. At first I used the colors as they were, but then I began mixing pinks and oranges to get nifty shades. Remember, the point is to have fun. (My feline companion Stanzilicious certainly had a blast helping me pick out the correct colors!)

If you don’t use a seasonal theme, you could wear your art work all year (which is what I had in mind). Now, though, I’m thinking about creating shirts with holiday themes like Halloween, Christmas, or New Year’s. A birthday shirt could be a fun way to let everyone know it’s your special day. Just think of all the embellishments! Happy Halloween and happy coloring!