About Kate

http://www.katescreativespace.com

I blog at www.katescreativespace.com

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It’s beginning to feel a lot like…

Fir Lady 2017…Christmas!

So here she is; the Fir Lady returned in from the cold, this year with an old and much-mended sack as her elegant shawl, and a sprinkling of dried limes and pinecones to decorate her skirts.  Oh, and twinkling lights of course, because everyone deserves to sparkle at Christmas.  This year she’s taken up residence in the hallway, where she lights up the entrance and welcomes friends in from the cold.  And also in the hall;

IMG_3039An oversized wire star (from here), threaded with white lights and hung against a wall of logs, catching my eye and making me smile whenever I move about the kitchen.

IMG_3002In the bedroom, a more tranquil nod to the holidays; a simple driftwood wreath on the mantel.

Christmas mantelAnd then in readiness for the weekend …festive baking!

rosemary christmas cakeI decorated this simple jam sponge with thick white icing, a rosemary-sprig forest (topped with tiny pieces of gold leaf) and amaretti biscuits providing a rocky woodland path for the miniature model deer.  And then I took it all off and experimented with something a little different; a felt-mouse snowball fight!  I still haven’t decided which topping to go with…

Fun and festive Christmas cake

Making notes, for the creatively-minded

- The fir lady is an annual creation, made using branches of fir (from my local garden centre) wired around an old shop mannequin.  I secure a length of chicken wire around her waist and then attach the branches one by one, overlapping and occasionally trimming branches which stick out at peculiar angles.  After the first year, I learned to wear rubber gloves to avoid becoming a human pin cushion.

- I used a string of 750 warm white lights to wrap around the hallway star, and then taped the cable to the floor with transparent packaging tape for safety’s sake.  The star is hang on a wooden baton secured between the logs, but for an ordinary wall just use a standard picture hook.

- For the cake, I wired stems of rosemary to cocktail sticks to stop them wilting, and pushed the sticks into the cake.  A light sprinkling of powdered sugar simulates snow.  The paper tape and ribbon wrapped around the cake are previous year’s purchases from Anthropologie and John Lewis.

- for the ‘snowball’ cake, I used felted mouse tree-decorations and snipped off the hanging cord, sticking them into place on the cake top with a dab of icing.  The snowballs are made of fondant paste, and the rosemary makes a reappearance as the forest backdrop.  Felted holiday ornaments are everywhere this year; try White Stuff, Anthropologie, Oka, Pottery Barn and John Lewis.

….and now the weekend is here, and school is at last finished for the year for a jubilant, exhausted Harry.  I have a few more days of work to go, but before then a weekend filled with friends and family, with the making of eucalyptus garlands and stringing of ornaments and mulling of wine, and of log fires and duvets.  And possibly, just possibly……snow!

IMG_7556Have a wonderful weekend wherever you are and whatever you’re doing.

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Three fun holiday projects!

ReindeerHappy Monday! How are you?  It’s turned numbingly, bitingly cold since my last post, and we had our first flurries of snow on Sunday (the perfect day for a picturesque but entirely unproblematic snowfall).  Harry and I finished making our annual Christmas cards, this time with a beautiful and cheery reindeer, painted by Harry. We were inspired by the work of amazing illustrator Catherine Rayner, who paints gorgeous animals and also shows children how to draw them for themselves (this giraffe!).  Harry sketched out his reindeer and then we mixed up some watercolours for him to use.  He outlined it in a black water-resist pen which made all the difference to his finished painting…

Harrys reindeerI scanned the picture and printed off a set of cards for us to fill in (if you’re wondering – he added the holiday lights two days after the rest of the painting, and after I’d printed out the pictures below; an artist never stops iterating…).  For the cards that we can hand-deliver, we’re sealing them with big red and wooden buttons from the button box for a final fun accent.

Reindeer cards We’ve also made some simple but vibrant tags to go on gifts, by taking inexpensive bulk-buy white tags and glueing on a mass of tiny pom-poms; we simply rolled a glue-stick over the last couple of inches of each tag and then pressed a handful of pompoms onto the glue, leaving in place until they dried..

DIY PomPom Gift TagsAnd then my third and rather more understated project; silver-sprayed giant gift sacks made from the same paper potato sacks I used for this project;

Silver-sprayed paper bags for holiday gift sacksTo make these, simply spray your paper sacks silver (or any colour – but do it outside given the fumes and the mess!).  Whilst the paint dried, I printed out giant name-tags onto watercolour paper (using this font), cut them into shape and then used a brown marker pen to line the edges in dashes to mimic stitching, adding a wooden star to each tip.  I glued the tags under the turned-over rim of each sack, and they’re now ready to stuff with gifts….

Making holiday gift sacks…like this olive tree! olive treeIMG_9865Have a wonderful – warm! – week, wherever you are and whatever you’re doing.  In the evenings after work we’re slowly decorating the house for Christmas, building this year’s Fir Lady and taking a rather Nordic approach to winter decor, with stars, greenery and wooden accents dotted around; more to follow on this next time!

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p.s. One from the archives;  rather more elaborate heirloom sacks for those with the time and dedication…

A homemade nativity

Simple nativity angel

This week I made a simple Christmas nativity scene using some wooden blocks I picked up from a craft store.  Painted in muted colours and with twists of wire, modelling-clay and wooden accessories, they make a calming and beautiful tableau.

How to make a simple nativity setI bought a selection of different wooden shapes (mine were from A C Moore in the US; Michaels in the US and Hobbycraft in the UK also sell similar).  I chose sets of three shapes to form my shepherds and wise men, and then picked out shapes that could be crafted into the other key figures in the stable…

simple nativity set building blocks

I gave Joseph and Mary two layers of pale grey paint, and then rolled out a rectangle of white modelling clay to form their clothes, pressing a wooden button into each as it dried.  Baby Jesus too just has a thin sheet of clay to swaddle him; his cradle is a giant coat button and a soft handful of dried moss.

Simple nativity Joseph Mary and baby JesusOur shepherds have simple clay headcloths, tied with a small length of leather cord; their crooks are wooden pins (designed to use with wooden wheels in toy-making I think; but any piece of twig or stick would do).

simple nativity shepherdsnaive shepherd dollsThe wise men have simple crowns made by rolling out a length of clay and cutting it with serrated scissors (If you don’t have these, just use a craft knife to cut out triangle shapes).  Their gifts are little wooden squares (repurposed from a rubber stamp alphabet kit!), topped with the same little buttons as Mary and Joseph’s clothing.

three wise menthree wise men nativity dollsAnd finally Gabriel; my favourite angel.  Hand-cut wings of clay are pressed into his back, and a thin length of gold wire thread around his head to form a halo, topped with a tiny clay star.  He stands on a wooden block, keeping watch and centering the scene.  He makes me smile.

Simple nativity angel

A simple nativity, that looks all the better for being a little rough and ready and unformed.  It’s a very satisfying project for a winter’s afternoon… and the first sign of Christmas to appear in our home!DIY Simple nativity scene

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The Advent of Beauty

I’ve made advent calendars in the past, usually filled with chocolates and tiny toys for Harry.  This year I decided to make a rather different one for a couple of my girlfriends, which reveals a new beauty treat each day through the month of December…

DIY beauty gift advent calendar

A few weeks ago, I began to collect pocket-sized lotions, potions, lip balms and soaps; sprays and rollers and mini-mirrors and scents.  Some were saved from in-flight washbags or handed out at beauty counters as samples, whilst others I bought especially.

Some are meaningful gifts in themselves; the Cowshed candle that will burn gently by a bathtub for many nights, or the This Works pillow spray – whereas others are one-time fun throwaways; a single use Clarins hand-cream sachet or a sample-sized scent from Miller Harris.  A couple of chocolates did find their way in too…DIY Beauty Advent Calendar ideasI used a simple £5 wooden advent house frame, and painted the interior squares with different shades of green paint; olive, leaf, sage and the lightest mint. Then I counted out the goodies and wrapped each one in tissue paper before stuffing it into one of the squares (I didn’t number them; it’s a lucky dip choice!). I then cut a piece of cardboard in the shape of the house by tracing around it, and covered it with giftwrap to make a lid for the calendar and tied a ribbon around; DIY Christmas Beauty Advent CalendarAll ready for December 1st!

You could also use simple envelopes (glassine or paper) and a normal gift box for your advent calendar.  My other friend lives across the pond in Philadelphia so I’ll be taking hers on the plane, and opted to box it up instead, using different sized mini-envelopes with wax seals…Beauty advent calendar in day by day envelopes

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A few ideas if you fancy making this;

  • 24 is a lot of envelopes or boxes to fill, especially with just ten days to go; try buying multi-packs of things like lipbalm flavours, travel-sized product sets or simply cruising the aisles of Sephora, Boots or other beauty stores asking for freebie sample-size sachets and trial use products
  • Mix it up with mini-chocolates, hair clips, temporary tattoos (Meri Meri for kids or Tattly.com for me :-) ) or tiny nail polish pots
  • Other ideas entirely; different herbal or fruit-flavoured tea-bags.  Tiny dinosaurs for little people (I’ve made one for Harry this year filled with pocket-sized velociraptors and triceratops).  Miniature bottles of spirits for a whiskey-lover who is worth the investment …the possibilities are endless.  Best of all, share this with someone who might just make one for you, with a heavy-handed nudge.  After all, they have 10 WHOLE DAYS to get going!

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Simple Origami Crowns

Origami Birthday CrownsIt’s Harry’s birthday  soon, and it seems to me very important that at breakfast-time he should get to wear a crown (because if you can’t be a king on your birthday, when can you?).

In describing these as origami crowns, I use the term fairly loosely; in truth they involve folding single sheets of paper once and then simply slotting them together.  You could do it with one hand whilst saving the world with the other.  I have tried my very best to make this look beautiful and difficult, but in fact it is great fun and one of those rewarding things where you can feel like a genius with very little skill involved. IMG_2508

I used this origami paper because I love the vibrant colours; any paper will do though, as long as it is square (try cutting squares of gift-wrap, or even newspaper for stylishly undone look…)

Take a sheet of origami paper and fold it in half to form a triangle.  Repeat. Slot the triangle into the fold of the first sheet, and carry on, as below…

Making an origami paper crown

When you get to the end (use your head to measure roughly how many pieces you need), simply tuck the last triangle into the first one to complete the circle.  The crowns should be sturdy enough to hold their own shape, especially if you push them together tightly, but you can always add a dab of glue into each fold to fix them permanently into shape.  This is useful if your birthday person is young enough (or old enough, or tipsy enough) to be likely to drop it on the floor and tread on it, or sit on it.

It doesn’t matter which way you fit the triangles together (inside or outside of each other, or alternating) – fitting them together in the same direction gives the smooth striped effect of the crown below:

Origami paper crownOr you can fold the triangles in half again to create a more angled, regal look like this:Pointed origami crownEvery member of the family looks good in these, so don’t let anyone try to convince you that they are too regal to wear a paper party hat.IMG_2289

Good Luck!

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Lest We Forget (simple DIY poppies)

poppies made with coffee filters With Remembrance Day on Sunday, I decided to have a go this week at making poppies, using coffee filters to create simple yet beautiful oversized blooms in commemoration. Here they are…coffee filter poppiesIMG_2355

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To make these, I took a pack of coffee filters and separated them into little clumps of 3 or 4, then filled a shallow bowl with around 1cm of water, adding bright red food dye.  Make the concentration quite high for a really vibrant colour.  Place the stack of filters upside down into the bowl and within seconds they will soak up the colour and turn red. Lift them out, tip the water away and turn them upside down to dry, squishing them together to help them hold their shape (when they get very wet, they want to collapse and lie flat; keep them standing tall!).  I placed mine in a very low-heat oven to dry out for ten minutes, but leaving on a counter-top overnight would work equally well.

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When they’re completely dry, dip a wet brush into a pot of black food colouring and then touch it in the centre of each flower bundle; this will give you a spreading, fibrous black circle to mimic the heart of a poppy.  Leave to dry, at which time you can add further finishing touches and definition with your paintbrush. (Perhaps needless to say; by this point I was covered in red and black food dye and wielding wet coffee filters and loaded paintbrushes, so this stage goes visually unrecorded..)

As these were commemorative poppies rather than just pretty flowers, I decided to stitch a military button at the centre of each of mine (leftover from this project)

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When you’ve made your poppies, a few ideas..

  • Attach a pin to the back and wear as a brooch, with a simple dark top; vibrant and head-turning
  • Wire them to faux stems (or even real bushes and plants) and place them outdoors this weekend
  • Thread them into a wreath, either using a wreath form or stiff wire
  • Gather them into a simple bowl and set them in the middle of the table
  • Thread onto string to make a garland for a window-frame or mantel

p.s. Remember the utterly mesmerising sea of poppies at the Tower of London in 2014?

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The Circle of Life

IMG_1997When we got married almost ten years ago, I slipped a champagne cork from the wedding breakfast into my husband’s pocket as a memento of the day. A year later, I did the same on our first anniversary, and then again when we raised a (very small) glass to toast Harry’s arrival into the world.  Slowly, unthinkingly, I began to assemble a collection of corks from the most memorable events in our lives.  Be it great dinners with old friends, Christmas and birthday parties, new jobs, reunions and celebrations big and small; whenever I remembered I’d scribble the date and event on the cork and stash it in the kitchen drawer.

But joy has no place in a drawer, so last weekend in a sentimental mood I tipped it out and began to create a huge circle – a wreath of corks – to hang on the wall in the kitchen and remind us of all of the magic that’s happened, and all that’s yet to come.  Tucked in the drawer now instead is a small tube of glue so that we can easily add the next cork, and the next one; layer upon layer…

IMG_2023To make this cork wreath….

I drew and cut a big (about 70cm) circle out of grey board, and then sprayed it with a copper-colour paint in case the card showed through between the corks. I deliberately cut a narrow ring so that the corks would appear to ‘float’ and the background would be invisible; the inner ring of corks are glued to the cardboard, but the outer ring(s) are simply glued to the corks themselves; their weightlessness makes this easy.

IMG_1902I used wood glue because that’s what I had to hand, but gorilla glue or any strong adhesive will work; I built this on the kitchen counter over the course of an afternoon and used glasses and cups to hold the corks in place whilst the glue set.  Position each ring as offset to the one before, so that the corks nestle between each other; this gives it strength.

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IMG_1917To hang on the wall, simply add a loop of thin wire around the ring and hang on a hook.  Consider it an ongoing life project which should never be considered finished, and whose gaps are to be filled as soon as a new occasion for celebration presents itself…

IMG_1951p.s.  from the archives: another use for those champagne cork-cases (scroll down), and two fun ways to wrap a bottle.

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DIY Constellation Pumpkin

DIY Constellation pumpkin

It’s almost Halloween!

I have to confess, the spooky side of Halloween is not really for us; Harry has long been a-feared of witches, ghosts and all things spooky, and after brief experimentations with ghoulish decor we’ve decided to instead embrace the bits we love; the baking, the trick or treating and the pumpkins. Oh, the pumpkins.  Every year I buy several monster ones and every year I find myself shoulder deep in seeds and pumpkin flesh, scooping out a seemingly unending sea of mush.  Every year I remind myself to remember next time to wear gloves.  Every year my nose starts to itch during the messiest bit.

This year, I made a constellation pumpkin, inspired by the wondrous Martha.  I love the night sky and it seemed somehow fitting to have a pumpkin in our porch that mirrors the stars above… so armed with a drill and a craft knife and a somewhat loose recollection of the major constellations, I began.

I sketched the rough position of the stars with a pencil, googling the different shapes and then  - very quickly – resorted to making up my own to fill up the space.  Press lightly so your hand doesn’t slip into the curves and furrows of the pumpkin, and reassure yourself that everything looks better by candlelight – by definition therefore, your pumpkin will look awesome.  I used a drill to bore through the holes (keep it whirring as you pull it back out, to clear the pumpkin from the hole), and a craft knife to carve out the joining bars, angled at 45 degrees to create a triangular channel and reduce the risk of cutting through the whole pumpkin shell.  I will not lie to you; this takes a little while, as you can intuit from the changing light in my pics below…

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Martha Stewart used a heirloom pumpkin which was already a fetching and atmospheric shade of blue-grey.  My pumpkin was a £2 supermarket pumpkin and hence vibrantly, inorganically orange, so I lightly daubed it with paint to tone it down a little…

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…and here it is!

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I used a string of fairy lights inside the pumpkin, with a few pushed into the actual drilled holes (you can see them burning super-brightly above).  This really looks beautiful and helps to highlight the different constellations as dusk is falling, or if you are keeping the pumpkin indoors in a dimly lit room.  Don’t worry though if that seems either too messy or too fiddly – by the time it is truly dark, the pumpkin will glow all over and all of the stars stand out.  Pour yourself a glass of wine, wrap up warm on the porch, and admire your handiwork…

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p.s. I carved this a few days ago and now appear to have turned the entire kitchen into a fruit fly sanctuary and haven, due to my rather haphazard clearing up of fermented pumpkin innards.  All eradication tips welcome…

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Every Child is an Artist

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Picasso famously asserted that ‘Every child is an artist. The problem is how to remain an artist once we grow up’.  It’s a great question to ponder; why do so many children change from being magnetically drawn to any available paper and crayons to declaring, somewhere in the double-digit years, that ‘I can’t draw’, and never feeling inclined to do so again?

Harry is still at an age and stage where he loves all things arty and crafty, and I’m keen to gently foster this as far as possible.  Here are a few of the things we’ve discovered and loved together…

This book is a favourite, packed with brilliant ideas for drawing projects, like drawing by torchlight, making monoprints and staging an art party.  I can’t tell you how much I love it.  Our first project was a simple fruit bowl still-life, arranged by Harry, that we drew together at the kitchen table.  The challenge was that we had to use oil pastels (neither of us had tried this before), and use a coloured paper background.  Harry won Best in Show for his picture (I was robbed!).  I liked it so much that we scanned it and made it into a set of cards;

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The internet is a fantastic resource both for blogs and for tutorials.  We loved watching Quentin Blake showing us how to draw Willy Wonka, and sat together with our pens and paper, following his pen-strokes and creating some astonishingly passable imitations.  Try typing ‘how to draw a ….’ into your search engine, filling in the blank with whatever you are passionate about (unicorns, pterodactyls, tractors, volcanoes… you name it, someone somewhere will have a tutorial showing you how).

This blog is great for a steady stream of ideas and projects; the Facebook feed is one of my favourites.

Museums and art galleries are also a favourite and a source of continual inspiration.  But here’s the thing; we whistle through them at a rate of knots, going where Harry’s interest takes us and staying for as little or as long a time as we feel like.  We take a sketchbook and pencils and settle down on quiet spots of floor or benches to draw the things that capture our attention.  Favourites include the V&A in London, Yorkshire Sculpture Park and Tate Modern.  On my list for a long time has been the House of Illustration (and how I wish we could have teleported to California to visit this!)

Workshops are also fun; during school holidays I often sign Harry up for classes for a couple of hours to try new things, like Lego animation (a HUGE hit), clay-making (hit and miss) and this most recent triumph; a short class at a local art shop teaching kids how to draw wolves using charcoal.  An unusually specific topic, but for this seven year old it was just about the coolest thing to know how to do.  And the result was awesome.  We framed it and it now hangs, three-foot-wide and howling at the moon, in the snug.

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ps Three ways from the archives to make kids feel ever prouder of what they make; an art desk calendar,  a matching pairs game and these cereal box pegs from yesteryear.

Cereal box pegs

mantel pegs tutorial from www

Happy Tuesday!

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Bears, bears, everywhere…

Plaster brown bear head from katescreativespace

This week, I made a giant brown bear head to hang on the wall….

Papier mache bear head on wall

It is one of the messiest things I’ve ever made, so brace yourself.  It’s also really, really good fun.  Having mastered the bear, Harry and I are currently attempting a triceratops (because our ambition knows no bounds).  But first, let’s scroll back to the beginnings of the bear..

Start by blowing up a large balloon (actually, start with at least two; one will pop or deflate at some point in an explosive, soul-destroying splatter, so have a back-up).  Soak pieces of this magical plaster and carefully cover most of the balloon, leaving a plate-sized gap at the bottom; I used three layers, waiting 24hours for each to dry.  You can also use traditional papier-mache, it will just take a few more layers to become rock-solid.

papier mache balloons

When dry, gently pop the balloon with a pin to release the air; this will cause it to shrink gradually away from the sides of the shell and minimise the risk of it collapsing, like so;

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Stand and admire your beautiful spheres.  Consider fleetingly how anatomical they look.  Get a grip, begin again.

balloon mache base for animal heads

I fashioned a nose and some ears out of more of the plaster, squeezing it into lumps and moving it around for an appropriately snout-like muzzle.  I trimmed the rough edges around the sides to give a flat base for hanging.

papier mache animal heads

Then the fun (and slightly less messy) bit;  paint!  I began with a base coat of caramel-brown acrylic paint, then added a darker shade to give definition around the muzzle and back of the head;

making a mache bear head

..and then added hot pink inner-ears, a sponged smudge of colour for the cheeks, and a black nose, using white shading to create the impression of nostrils (and that’s not a line I ever thought I’d write).  Two buttons from our button box made perfect eyes, glued into place, and my husband’s stylish and expensive winter scarf the perfect stolen borrowed accessory.

papier mache bear head

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..and then I borrowed my actual husband because Harry was finding it quite heavy to hold.  Doesn’t he look dashing?

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Nate (for that’s the bear’s name, we’ve decided) is currently residing in the spare bedroom, but will shortly transfer to Harry’s room where he can keep a careful and affable eye on things.  At least until the triceratops comes along, and then who knows?

brown bear head craft for kids room katescreativespace animal head making

Have a good week, wherever you are and whatever you’re doing!

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p.s.  I’m quite obsessed with this plaster; The Odd Egg and the moon

Mache brown bear head!

A tonal change of season

Painted tonal pumpkins

Have you ever painted a pumpkin?  Until now I would have put it in the category of ‘life is too short to even contemplate this’, but then I decided that I would give it a go.  As the seasons turn from summer to autumn, it feels a little too early to deck the halls with vibrant orange pumpkins and foliage, so I bought a handful (ok, barrowful) of misshapen pumpkins and gourds and decided to use up some of my many paint tester pots to create a subtle centrepiece instead…

Painted pumpkins and foiliage for fall

I used just two base colours, both sage-green wall paints leftover from painting our kitchen.  I slowly added white to one, and petrol blue (from here!) to another, creating five tonal shades.  Each pumpkin needed a couple of layers, and I did no prep whatsoever.  I am sure there is an art to this, but slapping paint on happily seemed to work just fine.

A fall tableau

I’m thinking about where to arrange them in the house; along the kitchen table, certainly, and perhaps a couple on mantels and at the door.  For now though, they look very lovely just sitting here in the art room…

Painted pumpkins

p.s.

tonal spoons

last year’s cityscape pumpkin and

in praise of autumn

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