Tuesday, May 24, 2011

Making Paper Tags

Old paper dolls, vintage cards, and other forgotten ephemera make great options for decorative gift tags to adorn presents. Even cutouts from old paper doll book covers and coloring book images make great choices; playing cards and even samples of sewing patterns are perfect for thematic gift packages.

Some of Cordwood Cabin's artists and other online writers have published articles on creating unique gift tags for birthdays, holidays, and other special occasions. Clicke HERE and HERE for a wide array of ideas and HERE for unique patterns involving vintage paper and craft materials, as well as recommendations for paper doll gift tags, including the celebrated Dolly Dingle images so popular in paper doll reproductions.

Tuesday, May 17, 2011

A Few of Our Favorite Things: Figureheads

No, not the kind that head companies, corporations, or centralized government, but the kind fastened on the front of ships in the long-ago era of sailing the high seas for profit and adventure.

Perhaps the book-turned-film story The Eyes of the Amarylis explains it best, but the ship's figurehead holds a certain amount of fascination as a piece of art. From the rough trident-wielding figure dredged from the depths in a Nancy Drew novel to the weatherbeaten but lovely lady in Master and Commander, I can't help but envy the skill that creates these works of art -- and wish I possessed a little of it myself.

Sotheby's auctions and other high-end antique sales include figureheads, many in the form of busts or reduced to parts by age and retirement (often the figurehead was made with removable parts, to prevent storms and battles from breaking off limbs or decorations). View this recent bust, complete with large crack, fetching a sizeable price; for even the damage of weather and age cannot erase the elaborate detail in her gown and features, as well as the expressive nature of her face.

Modern carvers reproduce some of the most popular designs, including the ever-present mermaid, the "Jenny Lind" images which graced the fronts of ships, and a few unusual choices (soldiers, mythic figures, even gentlemen) which are seldom immortalized in romantic reminiscience on the art form. While their work is not inexpensive, the reason why is apparent when one surveys the obvious effort put into each block of wood. Some are elegant, some are comic, some are downright bawdy -- but the beauty of a handcarved image, the detail in the face of these antique figures, is unmistakeably charming.

While company-made reproductions are often available in resin or fiberglass, true romantics will always prefer the wood -- for the sheer knowledge that age, weather, and experience will leave their prints in the grain of the wood and the paint peeling from the surface -- or at least could, if they could bear to let it out of doors.

Monday, May 9, 2011

A Few of Our Favorite Things: Jessie Wilcox Smith

For Christmas, someone gave me a reprinted edition of Mother Goose rhymes featuring the brilliant illustrations of Jessie Wilcox Smith. A premiere children's artist and illustrator in the 1800's, Smith created scenes of charm, color, and simply brilliant detail for some of literature's most famous stories. From fairy tales to magazine covers, her career produced hundreds of extraordinary designs.

My first -- and favorite -- brush with her work was Robert Louis Stevenson's A Child's Garden of Verses. The 1940's and 1920's edition are still hanging about in the house, complete with the unforgettable illustrations for "The Land of Counterpane" and "Bed by Day" among others. Smith's pen sketched out black and white illustrations and bold color images for The Water Babies, At the Back of the North Wind, Heidi, as well as classic fairy stories such as Cinderella and Red Riding Hood.

Like Parrish, Wyeth, and other celebrated illustrators, her work was varied in terms of design and publishing source -- some wonderful examples are included in the Little Big Book illustrated series today.

Tuesday, May 3, 2011

A Few of Our Favorite Things: Kaleidoscopes

Shredded crayon, colored glass, elaborate lenses: any number of things form the charm and beauty of a kaleidoscope. The ever-changing images draw us to gaze into the depths, marveling as children -- transfixed as adults, even. From cheap plastic toys to expensive heirloom pieces, they survived the mainstream toy market while others models have faded away.

Some artists devise their own, using kaleidoscopes made with removable turning ends for color and pattern variety. Sizing cardboard end tubes to fit, equipped with plastic end caps and transparent tissue to allow the light to filger and the mirrors to distort the images. Color confetti, marbleized tissue, and other resources create the patterns and images for distortion.

The challenge of creating a new endpiece for a kaleidoscope is worth the trouble for artists fascinated by unique projects. For others, the charm of a simple plastic toy with a firmly-attached endpiece for turning will be more than enough to please.