THE ARTISTIC LIFE – Living the creative life in everything we do

Posts tagged ‘DIY’

Easy Chalkboard DIY

After being inspired by a lot of craft and home organization projects on Pinterest, I’ve been rushing home from work lately to try to fit in my own little creative projects. One of these projects is my DIY framed chalkboard. I’d been browsing Pottery Barn and Ballard Design catalogs, and both companies offered a very classy framed chalkboard for displaying the menu of the day or household to-do lists. Of course these were very costly. Here’s my own DIY version for a fraction of the cost.

1) Buy a small can of chalkboard paint at your local Home Depot, Lowes, or other home improvement store. You can also look online for a recipe to make your own paint.

2) I found an empty frame I had lying around the house. The size was perfect for my pantry wall, to replace the ratty old dry erase board we had there.

3) I found a flat piece of cardboard and trimmed it down to fit in the frame I found.

4) Using acrylic gesso, I primed the cardboard.

5) Once the gesso was dry, I painted 2 coats of chalkboard paint onto the primed cardboard, letting it dry for a day between each coat.

6) I fit the painted cardboard into the frame with the frame backing and used industrial strength adhesive-backed Velcro to attach to wall.

7) (optional) We had this little container that we also Velcro’d to the wall. This is to hold the chalk and eraser. If you use a frame that has a bit of a shelf or lip, you can keep your chalk there.

Note: I also saw Magnetic Paint next to the Chalkboard Paint at Lowes. Another option would be to create a magnetic board instead, or even layer the magnetic paint underneath the chalkboard paint to make this a multi-purpose magnetic blackboard!

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Wine/Beer Label DIY Project

DIY Beer and Wine Label Collage

DIY Beer and Wine Label Collage

Here’s an easy DIY project for your home bar, entertaining area, man cave, media room, or wherever this might fit in with your decor. If you have some favorite wines or craft beers, save the labels from the bottles and use them to make a collage. In our household, we entertain with Belgian beers and Chianti wines. To remove labels from bottle:

1) Soak empty bottle for several hours in warm water (we put them in our kitchen sink)
2) Attempt to peel the label off.
3) If steps 1-2 weren’t enough the dissolve the glue, apply Goo Gone to the label area liberally and let this soak in for a few hours.
4) The label should peel off.
5) Save the labels and let them dry out. If necessary, use small objects on the corners to keep the labels flat as they dry.

Find a picture frame with glass. I usually have several extras in storage, so I tend to use something I already have. Depending on the size of the frame you are using, collect enough labels to fill the picture area of your frame (obviously, a larger frame will require more labels).

Once you have your collection, lay out the labels in an eye-pleasing design. Remember the artistic guidelines of creating balance in your design, by balancing colors, values, etc. to make the design attractive. You don’t want all light-colored labels on one side, and all dark labels on the other side. I usually start out with the larger labels, and then add the smaller labels as I go along.

Once you have your layout, use a method to attach the labels, such as double-stick tape or glue stick.

Frame your collage, clean your frame, double-check how everything looks in the frame, and (if everything looks good), you’re all done! Hang in your entertaining area.

Note: This project can also be created with cool cardboard drink coasters!

Pillow from Rice Bag Easy Project

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I have been organizing at home since the beginning of the new year, and I found this cool empty bag that had contained authentic Spanish rice, in the back of my pantry. This bag is made from nice sturdy cloth and has a cool retro look to it, with some international flair.

I don’t have advanced sewing skills, but do know how to make pillows. In this case, most of the work was already done, as there was already stitching on 3 of the 4 sides…all I needed to do was 1) iron the fabric to get the wrinkles out, 2) stuff the pillow with stuffing from the fabric store, and 3) use matching red thread to hand sew the fourth side together.

Voila! (or should I say “Ya esta!”)

I think this unusual pillow looks rather handsome on our leather barstool…like something they might even have at Restoration Hardware, but for a fraction of the price.

Free Gift Tag Project – What To Do with your Old Christmas Cards

I hope everyone had a Merry Christmas and a Happy New Year! Yesterday I spent taking down the Christmas decorations, de-cluttering a bit, and getting the house back to “normal”. One of my mini-projects that I did yesterday is something that I learned from my mom…a simple way of having custom gift tags for free next Christmas.

Most people don’t have room to keep every Christmas card they receive each holiday season, but I don’t like just tossing them out and letting them go to waste. So, after the Christmas decorations (and cards) are taken down, I usually set aside a little bit of time (usually while I’m watching TV anyway) and make tags out of the old Christmas cards I received. Just grab your cards and a pair of scissors. All you have to do is look for little patches or areas on the card designs that would make a good tag. There should be some blank area somewhere on the new tag to allow for writing. Also make sure that there isn’t already some handwriting on the back of the section you cut out.

I usually pick little designs that are on the card…a Christmas tree, a horn, a reindeer, a star, etc. and cut out a square or rectangle, usually 1 or 2 inches on each side. Even a solid area of red or glittery gold can make a nice tag. I also like this process because I get to look through this year’s Christmas cards and letters one more time. Sometimes during the holiday rush, we also rush through everyone’s thoughtful letters and notes, and may forget something that they have said. At the end, I have a large stack of free gift tags to use next year. I store them in a small container aptly labelled “Gift Tags” for next year. Happy snipping!

Tips for Photographing the Family Christmas Card

It’s the time of year where we get our mailing lists together, buy holiday stamps at the post office, and prepare to send out the family Christmas cards to family and friends. Family photo Christmas cards have been very popular for quite a few years now, and if you are new to creating your own photo card, or just looking for ways to improve your annual creations, here are a few tips.

1) Shoot while other family or friends are in town. We like to do our photo shoot when my mom is town for Thanksgiving. She is also a photographer, and can help with the setup and pressing the shutter button. Other options are to use the self-timer option (with 10 second delay) or to subtly use the wireless remote shutter release while you are posing in the photo.

2) Use a clutter-free background for your photo. You want to keep the backdrop simple – a neutral background, a blurred background with bokeh, the lit Christmas tree  (slightly out of focus can be a nice effect, especially with some bokeh), or simple scenery (grass, woods, etc). You want the focus to be on the people, and not the  background. Make sure that everything in the background of the photo is intended to be in there. There is nothing worse than getting your 80 prints back from the printer, only to find out that you accidentally show a can of Pringles in the photo next to the family pet.

3) Blank areas or less appealing parts of the photo can be covered up in a graphics program, with solid areas of color, text, or clip art. For example, in this posted photo, I covered up the bottoms of my husband’s dirty sneakers with a solid brown area, and included our names on it. I use Photoshop, but use whatever graphics application you are comfortable with.

4) I use at least 300 dpi resolution. Different printers use different standards and specs, but 300 dpi is a good standard. You can always downsize afterwards, but you can’t successfully up the resolution, without losing quality.

5) You don’t have to match your outfits exactly, but at least make sure the colors go well with the theme (I tend to wear greens, reds, or neutrals) and that they don’t clash with each other. If you decide you’d like a blue theme for your Christmas cards, well then, make sure you all wear blue that doesn’t clash, and if Aunt Edna is in the picture, make certain that she gets the memo and doesn’t wear orange stripes that day.

6) Add some Christmas ambience. This is optional, but I find that it makes it look like a Christmas card, without even much effort. Include the family Christmas tree, holiday decor, snowy deck, fireplace, etc. but remember to keep the background fairly simple (tip #2)

7) Sharper isn’t always better, especially with holiday portraits. Dimmed lights, a warm glow, Christmas lights shining in the dusky light…these all add a holiday ambience, give a warm feeling, and make everybody look flattering. Tack sharp is not a requirement for this type of portrait. Of course, make certain that your family members’ faces are all in focus. This isn’t an excuse to hand out really blurry and poorly executed photos.

8) Try including the family pets, in addition to all family members. This can be logistically difficult (my cat doesn’t like to be held or forced to “model”), but it gives the photo a sense of your whole family and adds some personality and cuteness to the picture.

9) Instead of something in the background, try something interesting in the foreground. For instance, in this posted photo, I liked the look of the string of Christmas lights laying in front of us and the reflections on the hardwood floor. But again, keep it fairly simple. The focus should be on the people.

10) I find that using one of the many online or local print services are actually cheaper than doing it yourself. With the cost of glossy printer paper and ink, it is less expensive to upload your photo and send away for the pictures. I’ve also used the fast printing services of a nearby drugstore (Walgreens, CVS, etc) or Target. You can usually pick up the results in the store within a couple hours. This year I’m using Shutterfly online. You can choose holiday cards if you want a card that opens, or simple prints (less expensive). If you already have an online photo account with this type of website, by all means, use it. Some online services even can address and mail your cards for an extra cost (you need to upload your mailing addresses to them). For me, it’s not worth the cost, but if you’re in a time crunch, go for it!

11) If you have added design elements to the photo itself (tip #3), you should choose to just make basic prints, or at least select a very simple card layout template.  You don’t want to add additional greetings, text and art to your photo, if it already contains this. Make sure you preview your photo within any template very carefully and make sure it isn’t too busy or that nothing is cut off (some of these sites tend to crop the outer area of the photo a little bit).

Hope these tips help you create the perfect family photo Christmas card! Happy Holidays!

Christmas Card Family Photo

Christmas Card Photo

Homemade (and Free!) Christmas Wreath

This weekend has been spent eating turkey and decorating the house for Christmas. We are expecting 55+ people at our house for our neighborhood annual progressive dinner, so wanted expand our usual holiday decor. But I also didn’t want to spend a lot of money. So, I decided to try my hand at an evergreen wreath (picture to come shortly).

Tips for making a free homemade wreath for your door or wall:

1) Use old coat hangers for the base. I used three old metal coathangers, and, using pliers, twisted them into a frame onto which to attach the greens. I kept the hook of the first  hanger to  hang the wreath when it’s complete. I then twisted the triangular hanger shape into a rough circle. I intertwined the other two bent hangers around the first hanger, to create areas where greens can be attached.

2) Use greens from your yard, Christmas tree, or even a home improvement store. We found FREE Christmas tree greens in a bin at Lowe’s. Right after Thanksgiving is probably the best time to find these freebies, because the Christmas trees have recently been delivered to the store, and there are lots of branches cut off the trees when they are packaged for sale. Various types of greens can be used, including pine, fir, and holly. Find holly with the red berries, for some pretty red accents on your wreath.

3) Use nuts or pinecones, also available from your yard. These can be wired or glued on, once the base of the wreath has been finished.

4) Use any wire or string you have laying around the house to attach each branch to the hangers. Keep the branches flowing in the same direction (clockwise or counter-clockwise) when attaching to the wreath. Look at your wreath in progress for any gaps or unevenness in the greens and add branches or twigs as necessary. Continue until the wreath is equally full on all sides.

5) Complete the wreath with a bow of ribbon or fabric used from last year’s gifts. I usually keep any good quality ribbons on gifts that are presented to me. I can then recycle these for future gifts or crafts.

Cork Wreath Christmas Gift

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If you are even a little bit crafty (no need to be Martha Stewart) and a wine drinker (or even a bottled Belgian Beer drinker), you have the ingredients to make a nice Christmas gift for your wine lover friends or family. I am currently working on my 3rd wine cork wreath.

If you drink wine and wonder what to do with all of those corks, here’s an idea. Gather a number of corks (one can probably make a wreath out of about 75 corks, although the more the merrier). For us, it usually takes about a year to collect this amount. You want to try to use the real corks and not the plastic ones that are becoming more common. Even if you go out to a restaurant and share a bottle of wine with dinner, stash the cork in your purse. Nobody will mind.

Materials list:

– wreath base. I like straw but these are getting harder to find. Styrofoam will work too. I prefer the light green styrofoam, as they look less tacky than the bright white foam when little gaps peak through the corks.

– ivy leaves/grape leaves. The artifical leaves they produce now are more tasteful than they used to be. I use this as a base for the corks.

– 75-150 corks (not plastic)

– wooden toothpicks

– glue gun/glue sticks

– wide ribbon or fabric that can be tied into a big bow (red, burgundy, purple, gold make good accent colors for the wine wreath)

– green wire, floral tape or floral pins

1. Wrap the string of ivy or grape leaves decoratively around your wreath base. You probably just want to use a thin covering, to allow plenty of openings into the wreath base with the toothpicks later on. You can use green wire, floral tape, or the floral pins to attach the string of leaves to your base.

2. Break each toothpick in half. Use the sharp pointy end of each half to insert into the middle of the length of each cork.

3. Place hot glue around where the toothpick is inserted into the cork and a little bit on the length of the toothpick.

4. Insert each toothpick into a spot on the wreath base, making sure there is adequate glue for the cork to be permanently fastened to the base. Vary the direction and spacing of each cork so that the overall look of the wreath is appealing.

5. Continue this process until there are no unsightly gaps left on the wreath and double-check that there are no loose corks.

6. Clean up any “strings” of glue on the wreath.

7. Use the ribbon or fabric to create a large bow on either the top or the bottom of the wreath.

8. Create a hanger on the top of the back of the wreath out of the wire, tape, or pins.

And there you go…an easy peasy, but impressive homemade holiday gift!

Capture Your Artwork in a Blurb Book

So, I took advantage of a recent promotion offered to Zenfolio members to create and buy a Blurb book. This has been on my to-do list for a while now to showcase some of my photography and/or paintings, so I jumped at the chance. To take advantage of the temporary promotion, I needed to create my book relatively quickly, which was possible using their online book-creating tool, Bookify Online.

The most time-consuming part of the process was selecting whether I wanted to go with photography or oil paintings as the theme, and choosing which photos to use. Once these have been selected (I recommend dumping them all into a Blurb folder/directory on your hard drive), you can upload them to Bookify. For this step, the computer does most of the work. Upload all of your pics, and, depending on the speed of the connection and the size of your files, this may take a while, even hours. However, just let it do its thing, and check back every so often.

Once uploaded, Bookify provides an easy wizard type interface where you can make selections regarding how you’d like the book to look. Note that using Bookify isn’t highly customizable. However, if you want to create a book simply and quickly, this is the way to do it. Please note that you must decide on your book size before you begin! I made the mistake of selecting one size before I started, uploading and designing part of my book, to realize I wanted a different size. Well, it turns out, if you’d like a different size from what you selected, you need to start all over (if using Bookify)!

If you have more time to devote to this process, and are of the graphic designer type, Blurb provides other tools for book creation.

You can then drag your photos to each of the pages. Deciding which photos looked best together on opposing pages took a bit of time. This is a rather subjective process, but makes the overall experience of viewing your book, in my opinion, more pleasant. Photos with similar colors, tone, and comparable themes seemed to pair well. Otherwise, flipping through your book may be a more jarring and disjointed experience.

About 10 days after ordering my creation online, I recieved my book. I am pleased with the results, although next time I may spend more time experimenting with the more customizable methods of book creation.

All in all, it is a rewarding experience to see a hardcover book in high quality print containing your own artwork. I hear that this is a great marketing tool to show to would-be clients, but is also a great way to save memories of a great family vacation or honeymoon.

How I Made a Homemade Photo Box

Studio setup for homemade photobox for microstock photography

My studio setup for homemade photobox for microstock photography

I recently posted about taking photographs for microstock photography using my new homemade photo box. Here is how I made mine, using only materials that I had on hand:

How I Made my Photo Box:

1. I found a fairly large box, roughly 14x18x16. This box can be different sizes, but you don’t want it too small. A roughly square shape is desirable too.

2. I located a roll of rice paper and duct tape. Other materials can be used, such as white tissue paper, light white fabric, etc. I had rice paper sitting in my closet, so that’s what I used. Of course, masking tape can be used instead of duct tape.

3. With the box opening facing me, using an Xacto knife I cut an opening into the left side, right side, and top, leaving about a 2 inch frame around each opening. I was not very particular with measurements – I did this freehand.

4. I cut rice paper large enough to cover the 3 openings.

5. I used duct tape to secure the rice paper over each opening.

6. I cut the cardboard pieces off of the box top (which is the front opening of the photobox), except for the bottom piece.

7. I cut a long piece of rice paper and taped this to the back inside of the photobox. This is used as the white background for photographed objects within the photobox. This piece of rice paper can always be replaced if it develops any wrinkles, stains, or other imperfections, as you will not want to remove these imperfections with Photoshop every time.

8. I am experimenting with various desk/portable lamp combinations. You will need a combination of lights angled from the top and side(s) of the photobox to achieve the lighting that you want.

9. I’ve also learned the trick of placing a square of clear glass (I used a piece of glass from an old picture frame that I wasn’t currently using) on the white rice paper backdrop (the part that extends to the bottom of the photobox). This adds that subtle reflection that is popular in some stock photography. Of course, the addition of this glass is optional, depending on the look you are trying to achieve.

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