Tuesday, November 3, 2015

Japanese Woodblock Print Workshop by April Vollmer: Book Review

Review by Nellie Escalante

As a printmaker, I was so excited to receive Japanese Woodblock Print Workshop: A Modern Guide to the World of Mokuhanga by April Vollmer. I don’t know much about this kind of printmaking, mokuhanga, but I was excited to find out more. From the moment the book was delivered it into my hands, and I opened the package, I was impressed. It was a lot thicker than I thought and the cover was absolutely beautiful. 

Japanese Woodblock Print Workshop has an approachable tone but also reads like a manual, giving step by step, methodical instructions in creating a work with this printing system. I am accustomed to reading printmaking books that are crafty in nature, about having fun with the art form; the very nature of printmaking is about the everyday and the ease in which one can make an impression. But this book conveys printmaking as serious business.  This is indeed a workshop, just as the title suggests. You come to this book to learn and to work, and I like that.

The author, herself, is a serious student of this art form. Vollmer completed her MFA in printmaking at Hunter College (also my alma mater) and worked with Vincent Longo, an abstract artist who moved easily between printmaking and painting.  She sought mokuhanga after graduate school because it was a water based technique and suited her needs as an artist printmaker in a small studio.  

However, this does not mean that a novice wouldn’t also enjoy Japanese Woodblock Print Workshop. Vollmer states, “I have tried to balance my respect for the careful craftsmanship of Japanese professionals with the desire to make the technique accessible.” Elsewhere in the book she says, “with experience, artists can develop an approach to woodblock printing that reflects their practical situation, technical ability and available resources.”

Vollmer takes us back to the history of Japanese woodblock printmaking, the tools and materials needed to carry out this art form, a step by step guide to create a print, and a chapter on new directions in this medium. The book also includes many exquisite illustrations and photos and is packed with information about tools, techniques, and paper. At the end of the tome, Vollmer, generously, offers countless resources such as a list of online and print magazines, classes, conferences, residencies, a dense bibliography, and other printmaking opportunities.

This was an absolute feast for the mind and eyes. I would recommend this book to serious students of printmaking, someone who already has a basic knowledge of the art form and would like to delve more into the world of the Japanese woodblock print, or, in other words, mokuhanga. I know I will! 

For more info click here
To learn more about April Vollmer, go to her website here

Reviewed by Nellie Escalante
I received this book from Blogging for Books for this review.

Saturday, October 31, 2015

Unintended Saint

I moved into a new home last year and to my surprise, the house came with a saint! This sweet little saint draped and entrenched in blue, right there in my backyard. I am guessing, it’s the virgin Mary. I’m guessing because I grew up Protestant, in a Spanish speaking Pentecostal church where there was no imagery besides Sunday school illustrations. Sightings of such man-made icons, like this one,  conjure up visions of my childhood church members screaming IDOLATRIA!

So when I was confronted with this icon in my yard, I didn’t know what quite to think or do. “Should we remove it?” I thought. I mean, we’re not Catholic, it doesn’t mean anything to us. But as time went on, we just let it stay. She was there first, by all means, who were we to remove her, she wasn’t harming anyone or anything.

As time went on I began to feel close to this saint. I would worry that she was getting rained or snowed on in the winter or that the wild greenery of the summer would practically bury her. I know she wasn't real, but I began to have a certain kind of affection for her. She has become a part of the family. Her presence in the backyard became palpable. 

I live in a largely Catholic neighborhood, or at least it used to be largely Catholic. Now there are people from everywhere with various beliefs living here, but Catholic remnants still remain. I see saints in some of the houses on my block. 

There is also a big Catholic church on my block as is the school that accompanies it. These, together, practically take up the entire street.   

This was actually taken late at night

I have to say that I enjoy this holy presence in my neighborhood and it's not only images, but holy texts that abound as one passes the church. This "open 24 hours" sign intrigued me. I was like, "what? The church is open even at 3 am?” I don't know how they did it but this seemed right. I don't know if I would ever need the church at 3 am but just to know that it was, well, this Pentecostal girl was already won over. 

This "come to me " sign meets me those mornings I'm scheduled to work in the museum, on on my way to the train. What a great reminder right there in the open. I like these holy markers, along the way, these spiritual sign posts make me feel and desire the holy and otherworldly in my life. 

Maybe the Catholic Church was onto something. The Nicene Creed talks about God being in the visible and invisible. The Catholic Church got the visible part right. My Protestant background was more interested in the  invisible (except when it came to women’s dress, that’s another post). But in the real world, the invisible becomes visible through things seen with the naked eye; art, icons, church architecture, sacred texts, you and I.  All these bring us a little closer to God, especially the last two, when we do indeed act like Him. 

So yes, we kept the saint. I like seeing this God symbol in my backyard as we eat, as the kids play, as I screen print and make art in this open space. In my mundane, daily life, God is there, and this sweet little saint tells me so everyday.

Tuesday, September 29, 2015

I Caught a Glimpse...

The other day, I went bowling with my church friends, we were ten, including moi. We met a wonderful family there, they were invited by one of our church members. They were  a family of four: mom, pop, an eleven year old girl and a boy. The girl was so beautiful and well spoken; a dancer. I couldn't believe she was only eleven. We talked about dance technique; chasses and ronde de jambes. It was the most intellectual conversation I had that night. 

Then I caught a glimpse of the boy, the cutest kid. Tall and skinny, like Dan, soft brown hair, also like Dan, I asked his mom how old he was, he was eight, just like Dan. So, I caught a glimpse. A glimpse of what Dan might sound and move like if he didn't have autism. This boy was funny and witty, I could imagine Dan being like that. He spoke fast and had the cutest expressions; I could imagine Dan speaking like that...and for that second, I could feel tears begin to well up. But just for a second. As quickly as these feelings came, they left. They left with the thought of my sweet Dan. 

Dan and I had the most amazing time, earlier that very day. We had a wonderful water play session in our back yard and I remembered his smile, the sheer joy over his face and body playing with the water; his chuckles and laughs. Later on,  I remembered his touch, leading me to the sofa, so I could tickle and massage him. I remembered Dan, my son, his face, his laugh, his gaze, his smile, and in that moment, I did not want him to be anyone else. That beautiful boy I had met in the bowling alley had his own name (which I actually forgot now) and his own life, and his own face. 

He was him and Dan was Dan 
and he is mine and 
I love him for who he is.  

At this time in my life, I would not recognize Daniel if he talked and stood still.This doesn't mean that we don't aim for this and work hard so he can be the best he can be, but at this time, it's not him and I want him to be him. I want Dan. 

So I caught a glimpse of what Dan might have been and I looked away, content.

Saturday, September 19, 2015

Easy "Cut and Paste" Dress/Jumpsuit Refashion

This was a super easy refashion, my last for the summer, and very much in line with my other jumpsuit creation. The only difference is, that in the previous design, seen here, I made the pants from scratch and bought the top. 

In this one, I used a dress given to me, and a jumpsuit I bought from a thrift shop which turned out to be too large. 

The flowery print on the dress was too overpowering for my frame and the hem was lopsided. I just didn't like how it looked on me, it also showed all my chichos (love handles). It    was made from jersey fabric and had very little structure, but I did love the top. 

The opposite was the case with the jumpsuit. The top part was too big but I loved these balloon, jeannie pants. 

Since I loved the snugness of the top, I decided to keep that part of the dress, it hugged my small torso, and I love the way that feels. This is the very reason I learned how to sew, I often felt like my body was swimming in my clothes making me feel uncomfortable. 

Heres's a close-up without the belt and with Dan hanging off my arm
Anyway, I added the top to the balloon pants to form a collage of sorts of the two outfits. 

...and with the belt, it looks even cooler! More and more, I am loving this sillouette on me, small top and giant bottom. That's actually the shape of my body and I love it. 

I also loved the little surprise in the back. 

There were, however,  some things to consider. First, was the opening of the dress big enough for me to pull over my hips? Check! It was. Would I lose the stretch of the elastic once I stitched the two? I wasn't sure. 

Normally, if you stitch two pieces of fabric together, even if it's two stretchy pieces, the stitches will not stretch unless you use elastic thread, which I had run out of, but luckily, I didn't run out of ideas!  I figured that if I cut the pant part of the jumpsuit above the elastic, I could stitch the two on the elastic and this might continue the stretch. Here's a short video I made showing this process. 


This is the first time I am working with video, so excited! but I didn't realize the audio was so low, so here is the transcription: 

"I am now attaching the top to the bottom, the underneath, of course, is the blouse portion and the black is the pants. Now, I'm stretching it so I actually get the stretch when I actually put it on." 


The only audio here is "weeeeeeeeee", lol. I stitched both pieces on top of the elastic.

It worked and I absolutely love the results. I've already worn it   several times already; to church, my museum job, and the other day, to my son's school open house. 

It really is a versatile piece and so easy to make. 

Listen, if you have clothes you don't wear anymore, chances are there still might be something about it that you love and can possibly refashion into something else. There are too many clothes that end up in land fills. Lets do something about this. Teach yourself basic sewing skills or hire someone to help you refashion your wardrobe (not me though - my plate is currently full).  Over 80% of our clothes are made over seas in Bangladesh and China and they are paying big time for the cheap clothes we buy. Recycle, refashion, it's not just a fad and although it's also about the planet, it's more about our fellow human beings. The planet doesn't need saving, we do. I plan to talk more about this in future posts, I guess it just spilled over here. 

What do you think? 

Friday, August 21, 2015

Crafty Moms, Your Creative Business, and Summer Breaks: Tips on How to Continue Making Sales when your Kids are Home from School

Like many moms this time of year, summer camp has ended for my two boys and I find myself home with them for three more weeks until classes begin in September. So what's a crafty girl with a creative business to do during this time? Close up shop? No! Here are eight tips to help crafty moms stay creatively active, sustain an online presence, and continue  making sales while caring for their children during summer break, or any break for that matter.  

1. Renew, renew, renew. 

When the kids are home, I am busy planning outings and playdates for them so I don't have time to create and add new listings to my shop.  However, low and behold, Etsy has this amazing "renew" feature that allows you to refresh your listings. When you renew an item, it moves to the top of your shop and appears on your site just like a brand new listing. Etsy charges 20 cents per renewal but it is well worth it. It keeps your shop looking fresh and not abandoned which is a turn off to customers. If you have an Etsy shop, this is the way to go.  If your shop is not on Etsy, there might be other ways to work on SEO during this time so your shop can be found by potential clients.

Night time sewing

2. Engage in night time crafting

I have items in my shop that I offer on a custom order basis and sometimes they are ordered when the kids are off so I need the sewing time. 

After a long day at the swimming pool, the zoo, or the museum, the kids are usually tuckered out (hopefully) which means early bed time, and mama can get that order out!  I engage in nighttime crafting a lot during the summer. It's also a great time to experiment with new ideas as the kids doze off to lala land. 

Spring Break 2014

3. If you are a blogger, blog about your activities with the kids.

I've done this a couple of times, you can see one such post here.  I blog about our vacations, our outings to the park, the library, whatever. It makes you a real person to your readers/customers. You have a life, you are not a machine. I like sharing this part of myself with the world. I want people to know the context I create in. My attempt at authenticity has brought me into community with other moms and if I can inspire anyone along the way, even better...and don't forget to insert a link to your shop somewhere in the post. That's the whole idea! 

4. If you don't already have one, create a kids version of your craft. 

Why not? They are there so they can act as a focus group. Ask them what they think about a particular material, style, pattern, whatever. Make something for them, have them serve as models, put them to work, lol. 

From time to time, I do make clothes for my boys and have been toying with the idea of a kids line. The idea actually started last year while they were home during winter break. I made this color block sweatshirt for my younger son and many people became interested in buying one for their kids. I got busy with my museum job and wasn't able to bring it to fruition at that time, but it is something that will happen, eventually, when the timing is right. The point here is that the idea was sparked during a school break.

5. Comment on blogs, post pictures of "ready to ship" items on your social media platforms

If you have "ready to ship" items, by all means, call attention to them on your social media platforms. This is a great way to continue making sales during school breaks. All you have to do is package the item and take a trip to the post office which might turn into a fun outing with your kids. 

Also, when you comment on blogs, you can add a link to your shop, if it is allowed and appropriate. This also helps bring traffic to your shop. 

6. Create WITH your kids

Break times are great times to do some crafting with your kids. I whip out my printing supplies and other craft materials and go to town. I usually have to coax my older son to join me in this but the little one loves it. He has autism and these kinds of activities are great for his sensory issues. 

Crafting with the kids allows them to see what you do, be part of it, and inspire them in the process. Let's face it, at the end of the day, the people you want to impress most is your family...and once again, take a photo, post it on social media and don't forget to link to your shop!

7. Be transparent.  

If you're overwhelmed with the kids and you sense that you can't get your orders out in a speedy fashion, please, state this in your shop announcement section and social media platforms. A simple message saying that your kids are home for break and it might take longer to make and ship your items will due. Most people understand and this might even start a conversation with other crafty moms about work/life balance, I know it has for me. I have never had a problem with a customer when I am open and upfront about my current situation.

My son continues to be proud of me and that makes all the difference. 

8. Show "behind the scenes" images with your kids.  

Since I am not creating new items and listing them in my shop during school breaks, I like to, at least, update my photos or take new ones during this time. Since the kids are around, they inevitably make their way in a couple of the shots. In the past, I would delete these but, in recent years, I have included some of them in my shop or blog. You can see some of these kinds of photos in this post

I like sharing this part of my creative operation for the same reason as no.3, it makes me a real person, relatable, especially to other moms. You are a mom and you have a creative business. This is a great way to show how you balance the two. I love seeing social media posts like these in my feed and, I assure you, I am not the only one, and once again, insert your shop link in your post, I can't say this enough, or maybe I can and I'm beginning to sound annoying :) 

So there you have it. You don't have to close up shop and hang a "Gone Fishing" sign when the kids are off from school (although sometimes you do, that's for another post). You can have the best of both worlds and enjoy them while still maintaining an online presence. I have realized, in recent years, that these school breaks fuel my business, not hinder it. My boys are the reason I do what I do and I am reminded of that every summer. 

When you have time, check out my shop at www.nelesc.etsy.com