Sunday, May 29, 2016

Nailed It! The Art of Pinspiration

Bird's Eye View

Have you ever wanted to draw, but had no idea where to begin? This sort of creative block seems fairly universal to most any creative avenue (writing, painting, cooking, you name it), and one of my favorite ways out of this rut is to step back and do a little R&D. 

When it comes to art, for me that means working from a reference. This not only gives your creative brain a break while still flexing the muscles, but also gives you a chance to study up, refine your skills and experiment with new styles. Where can one find references like this, you ask? Pinterest, of course!

Hey, fancy ladies!

These fancy ladies were inspired by this Fashion Photo which struck me as soon as I saw it. I referenced the clothes, hair and postures of the ladies, but gave them to a few of my own characters instead. (If I really wanted to maximize the learning experience, I should have gone after that background, too, but... maybe next time!)

Women's Fashion Sketches

These sets of sketches are based off pins curated by Pinterest's Men's and Women's Fashion categories. As you can see, photos of people are great examples of how clothes hang, fit, etc. on a body, as well as a person's stance, weight, expression and so on. As usual, I took all of the above and gave them to my original characters to add a little of my own style and fun.

Men's Fashion Sketches

Along with photo references, I've also recently delved into my Art board for inspiration. For this study, I picked out a few pieces with a slightly abstract, colorful style I seem to be drawn to. I didn't have my watercolors handy, but I did have a nice set of very inky markers I wanted to test out, so it worked out rather well.

Color Study x3!

I based these exercises in color on these awesome pins: HorseFace and Bird. Of my own renditions, the bird is by far my favorite, partially because it turned out so well and also because I like the original so much (it's the cover of my Art board!). In my opinion, the face turned out pretty well, too, and the horse is... okay. And you know what? Okay is okay because this is practice. Phew! It's amazing what a little grace can do for the creative process!

Face & Bird... Take 2!

These two pieces are based on Face Profile and Bird Profile, because apparently I'm fascinated by faces and birds! Once again, the originals were watercolors and my renditions were done with marker, but perhaps I will bust out my watercolors to practice those awesome effects soon. 

In the meantime, to see how fashion advertisements and costume catalogs can also be handy (and hilarious) references, check out my Guess Who: From Catalog to Coloring Book and Halloween Costume Art blogs!

Saturday, January 23, 2016

Dewey's Debut: The Birthday Book Brownie

Birthday Book Brownie!

This year's birthday cake was extra special because I got to share it with another awesome character... Dewey! I love a good book and this guy's no exception. I drew the little dude as part of my Leadership class project (a donation station benefiting the local library), and then made the cake in honor of Dewey's official debut. So what kind of cake to you bake for such a celebration of literacy?

So we meet again...

A book cake, of course! Or in this case, a book brownie. In the interest of fewer crumbs in the library (and because I make a killer brownie), I opted for a brownie cake instead of the usual. 

Books & Brownies? Yes, please!

A good tip for showstopping brownies? Doctor up a boxed mix with tasty extras like cinnamon, vanilla and chocolate chips. I also swap out half the oil for applesauce, as it's less oily and you can't tell the difference.

Isn't he cute??

When it came time to decorate, I decided to freehand Dewey. The original artwork (above) took me a few tries (and a little Photoshop) to get just right, but I only had one go with the icing...

Now that's what I call food art.

To do the line art, I simply put some chocolate frosting in a ziptop bag, cut off a corner and used it as a piping bag. For single attempt in icing, I think it turned pretty well!

Because sprinkles are for winners!

For some finishing touches, I added a thicker line of chocolate around the edge to mimic the book cover (plus a little at the spine for the bend of the pages). The sprinkles were for extra color and fun. 

Ready to book it!

All packed up and ready to go... to the library!!

A deluge of Deweys!

As part of the Leadership project, our class held a coloring contest featuring Dewey. It was super fun to see so many fantastically colorful versions of Dewey on display and know I had a part in it.

Coloring contest winners - Great job, kids!

These three masterpieces were the winners of the contest and earned their artists great prizes, like the chance to roll the first "gold" coin down the wishing well.

Dewey's Donation Station!

While I did the artwork for Dewey and other graphics on the signs, this wishing well was a huge team effort involving everyone in the Leadership Folsom class of 2015. Thanks to everyone from the build team to the fundraising crew and all those in between, the whole project was a success, and we were even able to donate $3000 to the library at the debut celebration!

Leslie Knope would not approve

The event itself was a total blastlocal dignitaries showed up along with parents, kids, business owners, caterers and more! Since the shindig just happened to be on my birthday (and had a delicious book brownie (birthday) cake), I decided it was actually secretly my birthday party. How nice it was for everyone to come! ;)

Let's READ!

Here's to another exciting year to read, write, bake and otherwise creatively make the world a funner, tastier and all around better place. Let's read!

Friday, July 3, 2015

4th of July Pie: Happy Birthday, America!

The 4th of July is a great time to celebrate freedom, independence and our nation's birthday. It's also a great time to bust out the fireworks (where legal), barbecues and patriotic baked goods!

As it turns out, I actually started out just planning a baked good to celebrate the July birthdays of two of my coworkers. When one requested cherry pie, I could not help adding one more birthday to the mix.

My, my, this American pie

Instead of the typical lattice top, I simply added three full dough stripes across the bottom of the pie and three half stripes across the top. I added white sugar to the stripes to make them extra white and tossed it in the oven for about 20 minutes.

(If you're looking for a good crust recipe, by the way, check out Pie Crust V on It's my go-to crust recipe for most of the pies I make.)

The stars were baked separately on a cookie sheet (also topped with white sugar) for about six minutes. Once both the pie and stars were done, I placed the stars in the stripeless corner of the pie and surrounded them with fresh blueberries for the final patriotic touch. 

Happy birthday, America!

For more exciting pie ideas, tips and recipes, check out the LydMc blog post Pi r delicious!

Saturday, February 14, 2015

I Heart Muffins: Happy Valentine's Day!

I <3 Valentine's Day!

Valentine's Day is the perfect time to celebrate with sweet, pink treats full of love and deliciousness. As it turns out, you can make just about anything heart-shaped, and muffins are no exception. 

Instant yum

While I originally just intended to make some of my favorite go to muffins as part of a low-key brunch, inspiration and timing got the better of me and made for a fun, new creation.

Think outside the box...

By following the "What if" recipe option listed on the back of the box, you can transform these already tasty muffins into allegedly "guilt free baked donuts." The only main difference in the process involved putting the batter into a plastic bag and piping it out onto a pan.

The shape of my heart

Since it was <3 day anyway, I decided to take it one step further and make Valentine's Day themed, heart-shaped donut muffins. 

Circles, hearts and triforces, oh my!

Along with the fun heart muffins, I made a few traditional round and bar donuts, as well. I even went so far as to make a triforce because that's just who I am.

Think pink!

The icing for these special Valentine's Day donuts was as simple as it was tasty, made from just powdered sugar and the remaining juice saved from the boxed mix's enclosed cranberry tin.

Love at first taste

The naturally pink hue of the resulting icing was perfect for the Valentine's Day theme of the heart-shaped donut muffins and made for a wonderfully sweet addition to our special brunch. 

Cranberry orange donut muffins - yum!

While this neat muffin transforming technique is perfect for hearts on Valentine's Day, you can just as easily make traditional donuts or other shapes for any time of the year. Muffins will never be the same again!

For other Valentine's Day fun, check out the series of nerdy valentines in all your favorite fandoms: Love is in the Cards.

Saturday, January 31, 2015

Novel Baking: The Book Cake!

Edible fiction

One of the few things I enjoy more than baking is reading - especially a good, old-fashioned book. Fiction, nonfiction, tomes, novellas... stories of all kinds are welcome on my bookcases. So, when I found a baking pan in the shape of an open book, I simply could not resist. 

Book armor (+42)

My test run with the new pan began with an already hungry audience, so I decided to go the quick route of boxed cake mix. I also decided to sweeten the deal by making a few modifications. 

Going bananas!

Taking a simple yellow cake box mix, I followed all the directions as listed, but added to the concoction two ripe bananas and...

Chocolate makes everything better.

...Chocolate chips! This way, instead of having a run of the mill boxed cake, you have a delicious semi-homemade banana chocolate chip cake. Yum! 

This story isn't even half baked.

After mixing everything thoroughly, I poured the batter into the book pan and set it to bake, again following the box directions for time but checking intermittently to test for doneness.

A cooked book!

You can't tell it's a chocolate chip cake from this angle, but flip the cake out of the pan and voila!

Chips ahoy!

Leaving this cake unfrosted would undoubtedly taste delicious given the extra moisture and density from the banana. But, since this was my first go using the elusive book pan, I wanted to make it look the part.

Tabula rasa

Vanilla frosting is not always my top choice, but I had to admit it was ideal for the bookish look I was aiming for. For extra effect, I used a specialized frosting tube tip to give the illusion of pages on the edges.

Short and sweet, literally!

Unfortunately, I was not able to give much time or thought to the icing job (or the story line) as I had an eager audience chomping at the bit. So while this literary baked good was admittedly one of my less polished creations, let's just call it a first draft. 

Taking a page from this book.

As expected, the banana chocolate chip book cake was a hit, and will definitely be added to my library.  

To be continued!

Wednesday, December 31, 2014

Personalized PJ Pants: Mix & Match Pockets!

Handmade pajama pants are the coziest

There's nothing quite like cozying up on the couch in a warm, comfy pair of pajama pants, and it's even more special when the pjs in question are personalized just for you! That's what I thought when I decided to make about a dozen pairs for my friends and family for Christmas. Making so many pants from scratch may sound crazy, but pajama pants are actually a fun, simple sewing project that makes wonderful gifts, especially in the cold, winter season.

To make the pants extra awesome, I made several sets with mix and match pockets representing special groups like my three college roomies. Each of the pairs of pants in the set wound up with one pocket of each of the other's fabrics. How cool is that?

And so it begins!

The first step in this project was finding a good pattern that included pockets and selecting fabric for each person. Since the roomies' favorite color is blue across the board, I decided to honor that with the fabric choices and pick patterns that further exemplified each person. As such, I found a Mickey Mouse pattern for the Disney lover, music notes for the musician and sharks for the marine biologist!

Pinning fleece is like sewing a marshmallow cloud.

While the majority of the fabrics I chose for these pants and others are flannels, I did end up opting for fleece for one of the roomies, partly because she lives in a colder climate, and partly because there were no good blue music-themed patterns available in flannel. 

The mix & match pockets come into play

Despite the difference in fabric, sewing the flannel and fleece together proved to be no problem at all. As a precaution for any sewing project, it's good to wash all the fabrics before measuring or cutting to make sure any shrinking and/or bleeding they plan to do gets done before the sewing.

da na... da na... da na da na da na da na!

Once sewn, I finished off the pants with matching ribbons and elastic. One of the reasons homemade pajama pants make such great for gifts is because you don't have to worry too much about sizing. Do make sure to measure though, as the "large" size on this pattern was definitely more of an XXL.

Musical Mouse Shark Pants!

With one trio of pants complete, and every other pocket a different matching fabric, I was excited to create my next set, this time for a group of sisters!

Pink pants in progress 

For these girls, I decided to make all the fabrics a shade of pink with different animals on each. The chosen fabrics ended up being polka dot and plaid Scottie dogs, green kittens and singing birds - perfect for each of the girls!

It's sewing cats and dogs!

Later in the game I realized I still had not made any pants for myself. Since that simply would not do, I set to making a matching set of two for myself and my best friend from second grade. 

Pattern Mash-up

When I asked what fabric she'd like and she said neon leopard print, I don't think she expected I'd actually find it! When all was said and done, both of these pants actually turned out to be some of my favorites.

Perfect for camping!

Along with the mix and match pockets pants, I also ended up making a few solo pants with normal pockets for other friends and family to keep everyone warm and cozy all the year long. They're so easy and fun to sew, I may even make some more for next year.

Even Batman likes pajama pants

For more crafty and cozy homemade gift ideas, learn how to arm knit the Literally Handmade Moebius Scarf or try your hand at the adorable Puff Ewoks!

Thursday, November 27, 2014

Thanksgiving Thanks: Goodies for Do-Gooders

Happy Thanksgiving!

I've always had a soft spot in my heart (and stomach) for Thanksgiving. Stuck in between two majorly merchandised holidays, Thanksgiving is often overlooked and has become something of an underdog in the holiday season. Nonetheless, Thanksgiving is quite possibly my favorite holiday to celebrate. 

For me, it has always meant good times with family, sharing delicious homemade creations and catching up while hanging out in the aftermath of football and food comas. This year, my family had the opportunity to make our Thanksgiving something completely different, so we decided it was time to start some new traditions. 

'Tis the season for baking

What better way to celebrate Thanksgiving than by giving thanks? And what says gratitude better than home-baked goodies?

To celebrate Thanksgiving 2014, we decided to make plates of baked goods and deliver them to various servicemen and women who, by the nature of their job, have to work on the holiday. With gratitude for the firefighters, police officers, doctors and nurses of our area, we got to baking.

The best cranberry bread ever.

My all time favorite holiday recipe and the first thing we made for the plates of goodies is my mom's amazing cranberry bread. The original recipe was my grandpa's sister Jean's, and it's since been published in two family cookbooks and Typesetting Tables on the Unix System (co-written by my aunt Mary). Clearly, we're a talented family on both sides of the tree.

The book sells for $337-$555, but you can have this page for free.

Between my mom, my brother and myself, we created quite the mountain of treats including apple cinnamon muffins, almond crescents, pumpkin cupcakes, pumpkin scones, cranberry scones, pecan date bars and, of course, cranberry bread. 

All your leftovers are belong to us.

Once all the baking was complete, it was time to set up the plates and write some thank you notes. Call me old-fashioned, but I think hand-written thank you notes are a wonderful, tangible way to show appreciation for a kind deed, gift or thought. Since Thanksgiving is all about giving thanks, it seemed like the perfect addition to the plates.

En route to tour the local fire/police departments!

With our plates wrapped, stacked and ready to go, we were on our way. Equipped with a map and my phone, we made our way to seven fire departments, one police department and a hospital in four surrounding cities. 

Is it silly that I get starstruck around firefighters?

In the course of our adventure, we got to meet more than a dozen kind and awesome firefighters, a dispatcher and quite a few nurses. As a special treat, one fire department invited us to take pictures with the fire engine... 

Such hospitable heroes!

...and another department invited us in to meet the crew and their families! For the record, their Thanksgiving feast smelled delicious.

At one of the Fair Oaks fire stations, there were chickens on top of the sign. Chickens. If you're at all familiar with the area, you know that is so awesomely Fair Oaks.

Chickens on a marquis = Fair Oaks in a nutshell.

This Thanksgiving, I have a lot to be grateful for. Between memories of Thanksgivings past and excitement for continuing our new tradition, I'm filled with happiness, gratitude and a whole lot of leftovers. 

A big thank you to all the civil servants and caregivers who work all year long and on holidays like these to keep our communities going. And of course, Happy Thanksgiving!

Thanksgiving thanks!