Monday, December 24, 2012

DIY Mini Wall Portals & Companion Cubes

Happy Christmas Eve, everyone! The last of my family left yesterday morning, so of course I immediately got to work finishing up my latest geeky craft project:

Mini wall portals!!

I first got this idea back in November, and originally planned to make them into hanging ornaments for the tree. It's a bit late for a Christmas craft, though, and I suppose it makes more sense to have them attached to a wall, anyway. (That said, you could easily add a loop to the back and turn them into ornaments for *next* Christmas.)

The illusion is fairly convincing from the side, and considering this set is only my first prototype, I'm pretty chuffed with how it turned out!

I'm sure you can tell HOW I did this - it's basically just a companion cube cut in half and attached to an oval mirror - but you may be wondering where I got the supplies.

The mirrors are 4X3 oval craft mirrors I found on ebay. I bought them in bulk, but you might be able to find them sold individually at your local craft store.

The cubes were a lot trickier, since I had to cast and paint them myself. I cast them using ThinkGeek's excellent silicone companion cube ice tray (which is only $5 right now, so I'm kicking myself for spending nearly $20 on it with shipping) and some Amazing Casting Resin :

This casting resin sets up in about five minutes, and is, hands-down, the coolest craft thing I've ever played with in my entire life. When I popped out the first cube, I literally yelled in delight and danced around the kitchen, cackling like an evil mastermind. SO FUN!! You pour in a liquid, and five minutes later pop out a hard plastic object. It's MAGIC, you guys.


You can use any silicone ice tray or candy mold for resin, but keep in mind that once you do, you can never use it for food items again. Of course, with ice trays you could always cut the tray in half - just be sure to mark which half is which.
The finished cube. This resin has a surprising heft to it, so it isn't nearly as light as you might expect. I have two cubes sitting next to my keyboard right now, and I keep picking them up just to admire them. :D

Next John cut my cube in half with a power saw, and I painted the two halves with acrylic craft paint. It took three or four coats to cover, though, so I really should find some better quality paint for next time.

I used a glue strip to attach the cube halves to the mirrors, but super glue or E-6000 would work just as well or better.

The orange and blue outlines on the mirrors were achieved using a layer of colored glass paint topped with acrylics. I would have only used the glass paint, but you could barely see the blue, even after four coats. The orange showed fairly well, but even so adding the acrylic really deepened the colors. I also used some yellow and light blue to add a little dimension to the interior edges:

I purposely made the outlines rough, to try and echo the smokey nature of the portal edges:

Next time I might try sweeping the paint inward more, to get that flame effect a bit better.

Oh, and even with the glass paint underneath this finish can scratch off pretty easily, so be careful if you try it. There's probably a clear top coat you could apply to protect it, but I haven't researched that yet.

For now my mini portals are on the wall beside my monitor. I attached them using Blue Stik, a reusable putty, so I can move them if I find a better spot later on.

Like I said, over all I'm pretty pleased with how these turned out, but I'm still not satisfied with my portal edges. I'm going to experiment a bit more with the glass paints to try and get more translucence, but if any of you have suggestions for other techniques or products I should try, please let me know in the comments! If I can make the portals just a bit better, then I'd like to make several more sets - perhaps even do a give-away here on the blog? Eh? [eyebrow waggle]

Friday, December 21, 2012

My HDR Learning Curve

I'm having an early Christmas with my family this week, so thanks for being patient while I catch up on posts, guys! In the mean time, here's a little more botched-up Disney HDR for you. ;) 

I know now what I was doing wrong with these shots (I had a camera setting goofed up), so I hope to try them again the next time I'm out at Disney. Still, even though they're plagued with technical errors, I thought you fellow Dizgeeks might like seeing a few shots, if only because it's always fun to see crowd-free photos of the Magic Kingdom. (Well, fun for ME, anyway. It always reminds me of my Skipper days there, walking through the silent streets, and it never stops being magical, either.)

There's no real secret to getting people-free shots at Disney: all you have to do is stay past closing. They start clearing the park out around an hour past park close, and you can stay in the hub or on Main Street for an hour and a half or more. You'll see plenty of other photographers with tripods around, and it's kind of fun to see this whole other fan group emerge as the regular tourists slowly trickle out.

I'm pretty shy around the photogs, since I know practically nothing and end up staring wide-eyed when asked anything even remotely technical, but John will strike up a conversation with anyone toting a big camera. He's actually picked up a lot of tips and equipment recommendations that way.

This is my most true-to-life shot of the night; it doesn't have the typical HDR surrealness to it. It's also not very interesting, which is a shame; I think I failed to capture the real majesty of the Liberty Tree.

You can really see the technical problems in these next few, and I'm absolutely kicking myself for not getting those settings right:

Ug. So grainy. (But a neat view, right?)

And try to imagine how pretty this next shot would have been if I hadn't messed it all up:

John and I waited a solid 30 minutes to get this shot, too, poised over the timer, having countless takes spoiled by guests wandering down the corridor or in front of the carousel... Oh, the pain. 

(Don't worry, I'm not TOO broken up - I know we can always go back and try again. Heh.)

At least this black and white is a little smoother:

And I purposely made this next one surreal, since the graininess was killing it anyway:

My favorite shot of the night was actually the over-exposed version I took for an HDR pic:

Everything looks like colored glass!

And here's the resulting HDR of the same shot:

It's, you know, not great. But like I said, I'm learning, and sometimes it's fun to share the "failures" along with the successes.

Some of you have asked for tips or tutorials on HDR, but I think it's obvious from this post that I don't have any to offer personally. :D I can tell you I use a Canon 7D with a 17-50 lens, and I could probably show you how to take the bracketed photos necessary for HDR now, but that's about it. So, if any of you have suggestions for good online tutorials, please share them in the comments!

Today John and I are heading out to Epcot with my parents, and we'll all be toting camera bags and tripods. (So if you see a nerdy family standing around discussing F-stops, be sure to say hi.)

[UPDATE: I've had a few requests to add the black & white castle shot to my DeviantArt gallery, so you can see it here, and even purchase a print, if you like. Thanks for the kind words and for making my ego inflate, guys; it's the ultimate compliment to have someone request a print of your photo!]

Sunday, December 16, 2012

Open House!

Ok, guys, I think I'm finally ready, so...

Who wants to see my house?

(Because, really, it's not nerve-wracking at ALL to let the whole internet see your whole house and judge all your stuff and decorating skills and/or lack thereof. Nope. I am SO calm and at ease and please pass the eggnog.)

[slamming down glass]


Our tour begins here, in this gallery front room:

I'm especially excited to show you guys that back wall, because I just finished those gears two days ago!

John and I cut them from MDF at the same time we made the tree topper one a year or more back, but they've been sitting in the garage ever since. I based them in copper, and then used three different spray paints - a hammered copper, metallic bronze, and gold to create this finish:

 This one's a bit dark. The others have slightly more variation:

 That's an LED branch with peacock feathers left over from last year's tree topper in the vase.

Doo-dads. (Technical term.)

The art and clock are new, too. The clock was a recent gift from my parents' collection, and I bought the print here on DeviantArt (and for cheap! I love DeviantArt.)

K, now the other side of the room:

I don't think I've ever shown you guys my hot air balloon hooks behind the front door. When I bought them they were bright white and shiny, so I beat them up with a hammer, sanded them down, and slopped black glaze on to grunge them up. They're a real bugger to photograph, since there's no light over there, but here's my best shot:

 Here's the view from the front door:
We have a relatively small house (1400 sq ft) but this big open area makes it feel a lot bigger. 'Course, you ARE looking at the vast majority of the house right now. :)

Ok. So. Straight ahead is our back room, with the kitchen to the left and the dining room to the right:

 You've seen my dining room before, but here it is again, decked out for Christmas:

Alas, still no steampunk light fixture - although John's been drawing up blueprints for one just this week!

There's actually a plasma globe in that lantern next to my ray gun. It doesn't really show, but the purple streamers of light in it look really cool next to the gun. (The post the lantern is sitting on is just a painted piece of PVC pipe. )

This was the hardest - and last - vignette I put together. I scrounged through the house looking for anything fuchsia. (The star is sitting on a cup I hold my makeup brushes in, turned upside down.)

Here's the top of that cabinet:
 I like all the sparkly clear glass and silver. 
(The plexiglass NOEL is edged in silver glitter, so you can only see it clearly from an angle.)

Random close-up:

Sometimes you lovely readers will send me an antique key or two. I just want you to know they're all being put to good use. :)

I've had several requests this past year to post more pictures of my kitchen, so I did my best! Here's the side you've seen before:

And now the other side:

John and I gutted the kitchen down to the studs about four (or was it five?) Christmases ago, and rebuilt it all ourselves using Ikea cabinets. It's a really tiny galley kitchen, only about four feet wide, but I love it dearly. (If you're wondering where we keep the food, there's a pantry/laundry room through the bifold door at the end. And the ceiling is flat; the wide-angle lens just makes it look sloped.)

Further proof of how tiny our kitchen is: I can't actually stand IN the kitchen to take pictures of it. This was taken through the window over the sink. Note that we only have a two burner stove top over there. Note also that we don't cook, so this has never been an issue. :D 

We painted the wall finish ourselves, too. It's modeled after some ridiculously expensive tile of the same shape and colors.

And finally, our back room, complete with my treadmill desk eyesore:

See the giant tree through the windows? It's so big that you can stand in one place and see it through three of those windows. Pretty awesome.

When John and I bought this house (which is also our first house) it was high-gloss Pepto pink inside and out, with dark wood paneling and shiny pink ceramic tile throughout. Some day I should post before and after pics for you guys, because they're really fun to look back through, just to see how far we've come.

BUT, that's definitely enough rambling and pictures for now - and this is my last Christmas show-and-tell post, promise! I hope you had fun, because now I'm off to grab all the junk I had to hide in other rooms and strew it around the place again. (Just keeping it real, yo.)

One last night shot of my front room, since it's prettier with the curtains open:

 Mmmm. Glowy.

Happy weekend, everyone!

Saturday, December 15, 2012

My Steampunk Christmas Wreath!

I hope you aren't tired of my Christmas decorations yet, because I still have one or two surprises left! I'd hoped to show you my entire dining room today, but yesterday was pretty emotionally exhausting (if you read CW and/or the news then you know what I mean), so I'm afraid I didn't take the wide-angle shots last night like I planned. Instead I planted flowers by our front door and held onto John and tried to remind myself what real life feels like.

Fingers crossed I'll have pics ready by tonight, though - and also that my new flowers last more than a week, because I got real ones and I am reeeeally bad at gardening. Heh. (It's still 80 degrees here, btw, which is why I can plant flowers in December.)

Ok, so in the mean time, here's the crown jewel of my dining room:
I did it! I made my steampunk wreath!

There were a lot of different directions I could have gone for this wreath, and at one point I was planning to make two, because - as you know - Christmas makes me go a little crazy. Anyway, reality intervened, so I didn't get to the second one, which would have been copper and purple and hot-air-balloon themed. I still have plans for a more casual, hardware-store version, though, for every-day use next year.

Anyway, for this one I started with a strand of garland and a wire wreath form, since I couldn't find a plain wreath I liked. (They all looked so cheap and fake.) My strand of garland made for a pretty sparse wreath, though, and it was three pains and a half to wire down, so in the future I'm definitely going with the pre-made ones.

And here's my "process:"

Anyone with cats knows this is how all crafting gets done.

I collected all the items I thought I might possibly want to use - goggles, keys, clocks, ornaments, etc. - and began laying them out. Originally I wanted to use my copper nutcracker, but later decided an all-brass theme would be sparklier. I'm sure a lot of you recognize most of the big stuff I used, too, from John's goggles to the oversized key we made for our steampunk newborn shoot.

The nutcracker side of the wreath is my favorite:

I love my little refurbished clock up there, and I'm sure you don't have to ask if that hidden Mickey is intentional. (I made that, too, from a big jingle bell and two mini-tree ornaments.)

The hardest lesson I learned with wreath-making is that you can't decorate it flat on a table, because when you pick it up everything will shift and move and generally not hang at ALL like you pictured. I had to re-wire almost everything when I picked mine up, since so many things moved or slipped. (URG.) In the future I'll hang it on the wall first and work on it vertically.
After working all night on the wreath I stood back, looked it over, and hated it. It just seemed so clunky and disjointed. In despair I made up a bunch of brass wire curly sprigs (just bending wire around a chopstick) and also tucked in a few more of those die-cut gears I love so much. Somehow those two finishing touches brought the whole wreath together for me, and now I love it.

The bow is the most rigged thing I've ever done, and you'd laugh if you could see the back side of it. Staples and wire GALORE. The bow center is something I made a while ago to become another steampunk medal, but I've yet to find a good ribbon for it. I think it makes a nice centerpiece for the wreath, though, don't you?

K, that's my wreath! I hope you guys like it, and that you have an awesome weekend!

Friday, December 14, 2012

My "Not Mom" Interview

I've reached the point in my career where I turn down more interview requests than I accept, both because I'm tired of answering the same questions all the time ("What's your favorite wreck?") and I am a terrible, terrible marketer. (Buy my books? Please?) And I think it goes without saying that all radio and TV requests are politely declined*.

That's why it's so refreshing to do an interview that focuses on something other than Cake Wrecks, and this recent one with Laura of The Not Mom was an absolute pleasure to write. She's doing a series focusing on child-free women online, but in a lovely, supportive manner that I think celebrates everyone's life choices, with none of the holier-than-thou attitudes that can sometimes invade both sides of the parenthood issue.

Head over to Laura's article to read my responses on things like how I'm treated as a child-free woman, my thoughts on what defines me, and the role blogging plays in my social life. It's not a long article, and I think it could help spark some deeper discussions on parenthood, life choices, and how we perceive others.

And thank you, Laura, for the great interview!

*To be fair, it's not like interviewers are beating down my door, but I do still get a few requests a month. And it's always nice to be asked. ;)

Thursday, December 13, 2012

My Halls Are Officially Decked

Growing up, my family didn't have any traditions for Christmas - no special cookie recipes, no annual readings of The Night Before Christmas, not even any sentimental childhood ornaments for the tree.
When I hit my pre-teen years there was talk of skipping the tree all together, until it became clear that I would spiral into some serious teenage angst without one. My parents and older brother humored me after that, but I was the only one who really relished decorating the tree - which had to be done just so - and I would hoard Christmas trinkets from the dollar store and spend hours decorating my bedroom, too. To me, there was simply nothing more magical than sparkly tinsel, strands of colored lights, and glitter-drenched ornaments.

 Our living room tree. How do you like my poofy Deco mesh garland &topper?

One year, when money was especially scarce, my mother walked out onto our property (we had five acres in a tiny backwoods patch of Florida) and chopped down a scraggly little sprig of a pine to use for our Christmas tree. It was the most pathetic, Charlie-Brown-tree you can imagine, barely my height and with giant bald patches, and when I saw it I'm ashamed to say I actually broke down in tears. (I later did my best with it, though, finding stuffed animals to sit in the bald spots and making a reindeer out of paper towel rolls and cardboard to sit underneath.) There was just something so crushingly depressing about that little tree, and to this day the memory of it pushes me on to create something beautiful and warm and happy at this time of year.

The top of our entertainment center.

Looking in to the living room from behind the sofa.

So, once a year I spend every spare moment I have for a good two to three weeks decorating the whole house for Christmas. It's the only holiday I decorate for, and I freely admit I go overboard, but it makes me happy - in a neurotic, perfectionistic, "cannot-rest-until-the-garland-is-completely-symmetrical-on-ALL-sides" kind of way.

I like creating little vignettes on all the table tops, and scouring the house for things to use.

That "floral arrangement" is a $5 mini tree with a few feathers, flowers, and ornaments tucked into the branches. John told me it didn't look too ridiculous, so I went with it.

Yes, this is HDR. Told you I was hooked. Can you spot the other 2 HDR pics in this post? They're not quite so obvious.

 The top of our radio cabinet.

I'm the world's slowest decorator, which is why it takes me those two to three weeks. For every minute I spend hanging something up I spend ten staring at the blank wall, debating what to do with it. I'm in awe of all the crafty home decor bloggers out there who make it seem so effortless, because putting that stuff up there all together? SO HARD. Next year I'm just copying all these pictures.

I made the two wall swags, btw, wiring on everything from the pine cones on up, and of course you remember the steampunk cone trees. I wish I could take credit for the big floral arrangement, but that's from Old Time Pottery. (I spent $60 on it three or four years ago, and to this day I feel slightly guilty for not just making one myself - but floral arrangements are really freaking hard! Major props to those of you who can do 'em, because I barely managed those swags.)
My steampunk tree hasn't changed much from last year, although John and I did make a better topper for it:

We actually made several large gears like that last year, cutting them out of MDF with a scroll saw, but the project we made them for never got done. So I dusted this one off and roughly applied faux gold leaf to give it a mirror-like shine. Then John attached an L-bracket to hold the Edison bulb in place:

I debated adding peacock feathers or copper wire sprigs around the topper, but they seemed kind of busy. Let me know if you guys think it's too plain as-is, though.

Now, ornaments!

Peacock feathers, jewel tones, birds, keys, copper spirals, and gears:

The only new additions were a few mercury-glass balls, which you can see on the left. And on the right, wave hello to your photographer!

That's all I have ready to show for now, but I am *SO* close to being done with everything. Just a few more bits in the steampunk dining room, and then I'll get some wide-angle shots up for you, so you can feel like you're actually here. :)

Happy holidays, everyone!