Friday, February 28, 2014

Building a Business

It's been interesting, over the last year or so, to watch a friend turn a hobby into a small business.

Word of mouth is terrific!

Like many hobbyists who work in fabric, Liz had developed a HUGE pile of scrap fabric... But what to do with it?  Then she got the idea to make cute little aprons with those leftovers and, later, purses from this same fabric treasure trove.  By now, of course, she's running out to buy more fabric!

This growing business gives Liz a great way to exercise her fantastic eye for color and pattern.  (No kiddin' the girl can match beiges without a sample along with her in the store!  Amazing eye and memory for color.) Because... her friends like the products.  REALLY like the products.  At this point she's finished her fifth set of  purses for a wedding; each bridesmaid getting a coordinated purse holding, usually, the traditional gift of jewelry from the bride.  These sets (or just, you know, one solo purse) can be as customized as desired... pick yer fabrics, pick yer linings if you want, pick vintage decoration...  suit yerself.

Very very popular!

Today I'm happy to announce the opening of her brand-new on-line store Liz's Whimsies.  Check it out!

Word of mouth?  Alice says she shops here!

Thursday, February 20, 2014

In the Press

A few interesting items from newspapers:

On a personal note, I am chuffed to discover that Vanya and Sonia and Masha and Spike at Uptown Players is a hit.  According to the Fort Worth Star Telegram:

 "It’s the best production of a play that Uptown Players has ever done, and it doesn’t hurt that the script is one that, like the great writer from which it takes its inspiration, is destined for classic status."  

Wohoo!  Read the rest of the review HERE.  I really do admire this script and cast.  Earlier post on the show HERE.

Les Demoiselles de Avignon, Pablo Picasso - public domain at Wikipedia

On a non-personal but still theatrical note...

There's an interesting op-ed in the New York Times written by actor James Franco about the recent plagiarism scandal around another actor's, Shia LeBeouf's, creative? endeavours...  It's an thoughtful and maybe even a plausible take on behavior that, in anyone not a famous actor, would be considered mere cheating and brattiness.  Read it HERE.  

I think Franco may have a point (I've seen a few actors let much less fame that LaBeouf's go straight to their egos), but it seems... inconsistent... for anyone to act out because they're treated "special" while counting on that "special"ness to shield them from the consequences.

More and more I come to think that we have to separate the work from the man (or woman).  

Picasso was a kinda nasty person who painted well.  Charles Dickens was more flawed than his own Scrooge. More recently, Woody Allen... sigh.  I deeply love many of Allen's movies, but I have no idea where the truth lies in the ugly 20 year old accusations against him that have resurfaced.   I can only be glad that I need never decide whether to let him babysit my kid and can, instead, just rewatch Manhattan.  Whatever Allen is or did I choose not to devalue his work, just as I'll always love the story of Scrooge's redemption and Picasso's blue guitarist.  

I think it's often true that the artist puts the best part of themselves into their work (leaving the worst for us to cope with in daily life), while The Work seems to go on to develop a  life independent of its creator.  

In which case... maybe LaBeouf's biggest sin isn't so much plagiarizing others as that, by casting doubt, by NOT putting his best self out there, he betrays his own body of work, past and future.


Saturday, February 15, 2014

"Vanya and Sonia and Masha and Spike" AND Stone


Always a relief when a show opens successfully.  Vanya and Sonia and Masha and Spike is a script I really really like - given a terrific production by Uptown Players with an amazing cast.  Well worth seeing.  So get your ticket fast.

I kinda like the set.  (I might be partial, of course.)  So, the highlight of the show for me?  The coolo fake stone!

Well , what did you expect?  Would the set designer quote the witty lines of the clever script by Christopher Durang, point out the superior thespian-osity (this is a great cast), or marvel at the (well-directed) slick physical comedy?  No, no, no, be realistic.  The set designer would applaud the lovely faux stone carving by Dennis Canright - using acetone on expanded polystyrene sheets!

(That and give thanks for the much-appreciated set dressing by Kevin Brown and the lovely lighting by Jason Foster.  Thanks to the whole set crew for all their hard work.  What troopers!)

Back to the star of the show, that coolo stone...  Here's how you too can have faux stone on your own set.

Photo courtesy of Uptown Players' production of Vanya and Sonia and Masha and Spike 

Step one: carve the stone.

Dennis (and many other carpenters) prefer to paint acetone on expanded polystyrene.  Wherever the paintbrush applies acetone, the foam is eaten away - deeper if applied horizontally, shallower if applied vertically.  Either way you get a wonderful roughness and random quality that feels like natural stone. You paint on the mortar lines and spatter random stone pits.  Works great!  But I personally prefer to carve the mortar joint lines with a snap-blade knife because I hate the acetone fumes... a technique that gives a more "chiseled" looking stone, which can be nice.  Combining the techniques would be aces.

Step two:  Base paint.  Dennis and/or his carpenters sprayed the foam panels with a medium-light, cool gray.  I followed after and gently rolled the stone with a warmer putty-gray, in a deliberately blotchy way.

(At this point, naturally, the rest of the production team worried that this ugliness would be the final "look," but "Take heart!" I told them (or something like that)  "Lo!  There are many paint steps yet to come!")

Faux stone photo by me - given to public domain.  This is taken under work-lights 
not the more flattering theatrical lighting, so make allowances please!

Step three:  At this point the fake stone sheets were attached to the frame of the on-stage "house," so I spent a whole day bobbing up and down in the lift detailing individual stones.  For this show I used four colors of latex paint: black, a chocolaty brown, a rust, and a pale gray/almost white, arranged in that order - dark to light - at my feet in the lift's bucket, plus a bucket of water.  With a sash brush (I like the angled edge) I mostly dry-brushed on remarkably little color. 

Close-up detail of faux stone, given to public domain.

You can see how nicely the rough texture of the foam takes the dry color.

Now here's a photo of the non-acetone, knife-cut style of fake stone to give you an idea of its more chiseled look.  Muuuuch slower though.

Close-up of stone on The Beauty Queen of Leenane, Kitchen Dog Theater, 
also public domain photo

The Beauty Queen of Leenane, Kitchen Dog Theater

If you're curious, you can read more about the Beauty Queen stone (and the show) on my "Set Questions Answered" Squidoo page  HERE.

Wednesday, February 12, 2014


You know that mad rush to meet the deadline...

The last few days have been long, tiring ones, trying to get the set for Uptown Players' production of Vanya and Sonya and Masha and Spike ready in time for photos last night.

I've been popping up and down in the lift like a demented Jack-in-the Box, painting stone walls, then the carpenters popped up and down in the same lift (plus ladders) raising a faux slate roof over an (also faux) breezeway and plopping my weather-vane in place (an even more faux thing, there being neither breeze nor weather inside the theater... and that's just great, thank you, because we've had plenty of freezing weather outside it lately).

Designer, set dresser, TD, carpenters... The whole gang has been really sweating it (despite the cold), racing against the deadline.  This show has a lot of dressing what with its interior furnishings and decoration and its exterior lawn etc.

So.  Busy.

Then yesterday, just as we were starting to see the end of our labors in sight, just as we were starting to think, "We're gonna make it, we're gonna make it, almoooost made it..." a nervous management came to tell us that icy weather meant that photos had to be postponed until today.

He expected us to be mad - instead we immediately and gratefully sat down to rest.

Now, after an evening with my feet up and a good night's sleep, I'll just saunter back into the theater today to add little details, some wood grain on the stairs, a few orange flowers to balance out stage right, that kind of thing.  As far as I'm concerned, the perfect project is one where, once you think you're done, you get the gift of a little extra time to sit and to stare, to evaluate, then to make those few small tweaks that really finish the design.

This time it's orange flowers.

Image courtesy of

Tuesday, February 11, 2014


If you read this blog, you're someone who understands creativity.  A designer maybe.  A writer.  An engineer.  Someone who appreciates art.  Someone who thinks for themselves.

So you know how important it is to have a free, safe, unobserved area to work in and to experiment in.

This free place may be a desk in a quiet room of one's own - with no nosy person going through your crumpled-up notes and sketches.  Or this might be a laptop in a cafe with no one watching over your shoulder, reading your first drafts and recording on a clipboard every website you visit for research.  And if your interests are social or political... well, you know just how important it is to make private phone calls.

Except the NSA has a Great Big Clipboard.

All our electronic communications - calls, emails, texts, web searches, everything on your cell phone - all are wide open to our nosy Big Brother.  They may not bother to listen to your calls or to rummage your trash, but only because they don't feel like it.  Today.  There's nothing else stopping them, because, under the Patriot Act and related law, it's all legal.  Or legal-ish.

Let's change the law!

Even the Act's original sponsor, Rep. Jim Sensenbrenner R-WIS, now repudiates it, saying, "The NSA has gone far beyond the intent of the Patriot Act, particularly in the accumulation and storage of metadata.  Had Congress known... the bill would never have been passed."

Here's the actual Fourth Amendment:

"The right of the people to be secure in their persons, houses, papers, and effects, against unreasonable searches and seizures, shall not be violated, and no warrants shall issue, but upon probable cause, supported by oath or affirmation, and particularly describing the place to be searched, and the persons or things to be seized."

I don't know about you, but having the NSA able to take my personal phone book, log my calls, list my emails, and take my browser history... that seems unreasonable to me.

There is legislation pending to modify the Patriot Act and to restore judicial and congressional review to NSA spying and to strengthen due process on our rights to privacy and free association.  The USA Freedom Act is a start at reform.  It's supported by most internet freedom and privacy-rights groups as a start: as "A floor, not a ceiling," according to the Electronic Frontier Foundation.

Today is a day of protest against government spying.

Please call or email your legislators and let them know that this is an issue important to you.  Urge them to support the USA Freedom Act.

(If you don't have them on speed dial, you can find your legislators HERE.)

"But I don't have anything to hide," you say.  Neither do I.  Neither do most people.  The point is that we shouldn't need to think about it, because calculating whether this or that call or email or website is "safe" is deeply chilling.  It's like designing, while knowing that every ugly scribble will be pulled out of the trash and graded by that snoopy Brother.  We need privacy!

And that's not even talking about our personal safety when the government has everything you've ever said handy on a clipboard, ready to use against you.  Here's a parting thought from Cardinal Richelieu - a man who understood the NSA mind-set:  

"If you give me six lines written by the hand of the most honest of men, I will find something in them that will hang him."

Sunday, February 9, 2014

Fiction Round-Up

In my scanty spare time I've been reading and even watching a few films.

Recommendations, you ask?

The latest of Ben Aaronovitch's Peter Grant magic-London-copper series is finally FINALLY available in the U.S.  Broken Homes.  I read it in one day.  Very good.  A bit slower moving than some others in this series (this is #4), but that is made up for by snarky modern architecture jokes and then by the incredible sky-diving-like rush of concluding chapters and the final kick-in-the-head of its end.  Man.  I reread those few sentences three times to make sure.  Highly recommended... but start with The Rivers of London AKA Midnight Riot (#1) first.  So... when is #5 due out?  Man!  That cliffhanger ending!

I've also recently roared through Game of Thrones - the books.  Very good.  Very violent.  Someone online has made travel posters for literary places, Rivendell etc. including King's Landing from GoT, to which someone else commented that they preferred to come back from their vacations alive.  I second that: Game of Thrones is fun to visit... only on paper, thanks.  I'm waiting now for the next of that series too.

One stand-alone (so far) book: The Thinking Woman's Guide to Real Magic by Emily Croy Barker.  This is a modern woman suddenly dumped in a magical alternate medieval past situation... very nicely done.

Like all the romantic vampire craze stuff out there now, many if not most of the newest fantasy and urban fantasy novels can be... well, inferior.  Mere attempts to cash in on a fad.

These are wonderful books!

Off to the theater...

Monday, February 3, 2014

Color Junkie

I love color.

Years ago I worked with a very talented interior designer who could do beautiful work using color, but specialized in a sort of natural non-colors only palette, the natural pale birch through ebony shades of wood - white and off-white and unbleached pales and black of granite or leather.  Really beautiful, nuanced, textural interiors.

But where was the red? I wondered.

Red!  how could anyone resist it?  Some famous interior designer (wish I remembered who) said that
"No room is finished until there is red in it."


Except I feel that way about most colors.  (Except for maybe what Winston Churchill called "poor brown.")  Shoot, even brown - warm, friendly brown - has its charms.  I love color!  Can't get enough of it.

Matisse's red room - believed public domain image

I've been reading or rereading a couple great books on the subject lately:

Roy G. Biv: An Exceedingly Surprising Book About Color, by Jude Stewart and Pantone: The 20th Century in Color, by... Pantone I guess.  The color-standard experts, you know the ones.

Roy G. Biv is a little book full of the stories, folklore, history, and science of color.  Fascinating!  Here are a couple quotes from it that caught my eye:

"Red, of course, is the color of the interior of our bodies,  In a way it's inside out, red." 
- Anish Kapoor.  And...

"A thimbleful of red is redder than a bucketful." 
- Henri Matisse.  A man who knew his Red.

Pantone's 20th Century book, on the other hand, is less literary and more visual, though no less historical, a decade by decade look at the last century's color palettes.  Using an image from each period - a painting, an ad, an object - Pantone color samples are pulled from each.  Not only is this an interesting and beautiful book... I've found it very useful in working with directors in establishing the color palettes for theater shows.

(I wrote more about the Pantone book HERE when I got it for Christmas.)