Thursday, April 28, 2016

Signposts along the Road - The Keymaster

I have been thinking recently that it would be fun to write about the little things that, throughout my life, seemed to point to me finding my way back to the depths of my childhood imagination and ending up "here" becoming a maker of things.

Having the luxury of looking back always makes it easy to see these things from the distance. Most of them, of course, I could never have known or reasoned out at the time. . . but it is interesting to see the way they lined up, or returned again and again periodically, to point me in a certain direction or to act like signposts along the road. . . even talismans at times.

I don't usually think of things as foretelling or "signs" but actually believe they are indeed placed there to allow us to see, with this hindsight over time, that we made the right choices.

So today's look back is at one of the more ethereal ones (they are always fun to write about aren't they?) and one of my favorites.

The Keymaster

I - I have written before about one of my early childhood friends, Becky. She was the only girl who played with us boys at the apartment complex where I lived with my mother til the age of 12. Becky was a few years older than me and was a great sci-fi fan and she got to play all the juicy roles as elf and fairy queens, Sara Jane Smith, the Bionic Woman, the scientist trying to help Godzilla, Zira from Planet of the Apes (to MY Cornelius), aliens and astronauts etc etc.

When we would play games that were crafted more from our own imagination, she used to like to call me the Keymaster. She probably saw it in a movie or show that I never saw but it was also due to me having an old skeleton key that my grandfather had given me. I would always bring the key along as a prop for our little adventures.  Because, ummmmm, you ALWAYS need a key! The funny thing is, while Becky and I played together alone only once in awhile, whenever other kids joined in, they always wanted to be the Keymaster (everyone wanted that key!) . . . but Becky, taller than most all of us boys, would just shake her head and say, "No, Nicolas is the Keymaster and that's the way it is!" I was 10 years old and I felt like such an adult. lol

II - Truth be told,  I've always loved keys. When I was 16, I  also learned how to make illicit copies of keys. I saw it in an old bank heist movie, using card stock paper and crimping pliers to make an indented copy of the key in the thick paper and then, carefully cutting it out and gluing it to a key blank, You could buy blanks in any five and ten back then and I got my hands on one, glued my paper key to it and filed the blank down to the shape of the key. It took months of filing (it wasn't exactly fun "play") and, when it was complete, the key worked once in the lock I had and that was enough. I felt like I had really achieved something and, basking in my own small glory, I thought then too about those days of being the keymaster. . . I laughed about it and went on my way. . . back to the more relevant games of my teen years. . .

III - Fast forward to adulthood and the middle of my creative "lost years".  Early Thirties. Looking back now I can see I was teetering on the brink of packing the creative world, the one I loved and nurtured for all those years so dearly, away.

I never knew the girl's name but she was like something out of Through the Looking Glass. The first few times she came into the coffeehouse I managed, I remember thinking she was, in a city that prided itself on keeping it weird, the perfect ideal of that off the wall weirdness. She would order a pot of tea, usually Lavender Earl Grey, sit up in the huge front window of the shop and read a vintage book. She was hard to miss with extremely pale, white face powder makeup which allowed her pale blue eyes to really glow, vintage, colorful dresses and bows and shoulder length ringlet curls (a wig I believe) and ruby red lipstick to add the finishing touches.

One day she popped her head into the shop on a busy day and yelled out, "Hi Nicolas!!!" and waved at me with such enthusiasm. The girl I was working with that day asked me "Who is that?" and I had to say, "I actually don't know her. . . and you know, now that I think of it, I've never told her MY name."

A few weeks later I got a call from another employee asking me if I could come down to help with someone who they thought was a little "disturbed". When I got there, I was told the person was in the bathroom. A few minutes later, the Looking Glass Girl emerged. Dressed sort of the same as always but everything was just a bit . . . askew.

All a bit disheveled. . .  she got in line and I motioned to the girl working that I would take care of her.

When it was her turn, she ordered two cups of tea, asked how I had been and then spoke a few lines of quick dialogue, very low, that I couldn't make out at all. I got her teas, set them on the counter and before I could say anything she said, "Did you put enough honey in them honey?"

Caught off guard I replied, "Oh, umm, no. . .  I didn't know you wanted any honey in them."

She bristled (literally and visibly) shutting her eyes super tight. . . and launched into an unexpected, diatribe of undecipherable nonsense and broken sentences which lasted about 15 seconds. After which, she looked me right in the eyes again and repeated, "So I ask you again. . .  did you put enough honey in them honey?"

And my reply, this time, without hesitation was "Yes, I did, the perfect amount."

Her face lit up with the biggest smile I had ever seen on it and she said, "Thank you honey." and she took the teas, put her own honey in them anyway and left, beaming.

I think it's unnecessary to go into her decline beyond that because it was alarming but, a few weeks later I saw her for what would be the last time. Many of my employees had told me that she came in on occasion and would "act up", mostly the babbling and what some described as "mean looks" directed at them and other customers. . . but it seems that, if I was around, she was always calm and collected and held it together.

That last time though. . . when she came in, she went straight back to the bathroom and was in there for a good half an hour. When she came out, she stood at the far end of the counter and waited til she could catch my eye, then frantically waved to me to come over to her.

When I did, she handed me a half used packet of gardenia scented bath salts, a bottle of her perfume, a deck of cards in a little velvet pouch. At this point I noticed she had one more thing in her closed hand. She leaned over and whispered, "Nicolas, please take care of these things for me until I come back.". . . then she held out the last item in her hand, reached out, and put it into mine saying, "Nicolas, you must keep this safe. . . you know you are the Keymaster." and there it was. . . in my hand . . . a beautiful, tiny, skeleton key. The other kids working that day, who were concerned as I went to talk to her,  overheard every word and for months after I was referred to as "the keymaster" quite often in the shop, especially when a problem of any sort needed to be solved or handled.

In retrospect, I do not want to appear so casual about the Looking Glass girl's mental health. The coffeehouse was just a block from a church parish dining hall that served the homeless and displaced and two non profit facilities that dealt with many troubled people. It was, looking back, just an almost daily part of life in that neighborhood during those years.

And please know that I could never look at an event in the stream of someone's personal, mental decline as a "sign" for myself from the universe.  I do have to say though that the Looking Glass girl, always in her own paracosm, even when seeming to be even-keeled, was in that way definitely a kindred spirit of some sort. My own paracosm may be a conscious choice but it is as far removed from most people's view of our world's reality as can be in many ways.

The idea of her calling me the keymaster, some 25 years after I was first anointed with it by Becky, makes me think that there is grace to be found within every situation. And the threads, no matter how much we may have lost our way, are always there revealing themselves.

We never really can let them go. . .

And though I never saw her again, I held onto the things that the Looking Glass girl entrusted to me until I sold the coffeehouse. . . just in case she ever returned.

So to each of these parts of my path, I must bow graciously and remember them all as equal parts of my path. Important in their own way.

All a small part of what led me "here".

Saturday, April 23, 2016

Here Be Dragons (OK. . . ONE Dragon!)

Hey everyone!

The first dragon. . . oh I feel like a proud maker-parent here, I have to say!

I have wanted to make my own dragons for some time now and you may recall I posted the little "Dragon tower" not too long ago but this is the first stand alone creature I have finished. Again, a culmination of ideas, experiments and developing techniques. I loved the form and expression on my tower dragon so I kept that as my look and just expanded in size and detail with this little one.

All the little things like how to add scales to an entire body when you have to hold the piece somewhere to get into all the little places and legs and such without smashing the scales you already imprinted! Finding the right wings, the right coloring techniques and on and on. . . and then there was the oft-forgotten but quite important consideration of planning them so they can be shipped. . . not something I tended to think about in the early days. . . but something I now do regularly. :)

To say it has been a few years of process and trial and error would not be wrong!

I am considering whether or not dragons have a role in my stories/book. If they do, I know that it won't be as fire-breathing destroyers or creatures that instill fear or dread. Nope, it is more likely to be that they are quite docile and, in fact, rather meek.

And mostly, that is because I really have trouble making "creatures" that aren't sweet. :)

So let me introduce you to Aramara

She is 5.75" ear tip to back claw/toe (the longest dimensions) and 2.75" deep. Her head is just about 3" high.

Her eyes are made with faceted Swarovski aurora Borealis elliptical beads and her wings are beautiful, large wing charms painted with gold pigment acrylics.

She is an awesome shelf companion and rather loves to look over my shoulder while I type. . . like right now. . . like, always. lol

I am looking forward to making friends for her to keep her company. Hoping to have a few of them to offer in the shop this summer as well. Once I have enough that is. . .

I hope you enjoyed seeing Aramara and, as always, thank you for dropping in!


Monday, April 18, 2016

Tis the Season. . .

I just wanted to drop in real quick and share this link with you.

It's one of the many cams you can access thru Cornell University's school of Ornithology (just click on any of the links in their "Bird Cams" menu) to watch live feeds of bird nests as they bring their little ones into the world.

For me, it's more addictive than any human made show I could ever watch.
OK, maybe not Doctor Who. . . or the Man in the High Tower. . . or the Unbreakable Kimmie Schmidt. . . but still. :)

So right now thru that site there are little Barred Owlets, (check out their link on the live Barred Owl cam page to the calls of the adult Barred Owls!) California Condors, Hawaiian Albatross and The Great Horned owls all with little ones being raised and fledged to watch right now!

But soon to come, the Barn Owls, Dottie and Dash, always the over achievers of the bird world, have SIX eggs (that's almost a sure recipe for a little heartbreak as it is likely that not all will survive) the Red Tailed Hawks have three eggs again this year (all survived to fledge last year) and the Osprey, Iris and Stanley,  are just going to be settling in in the next week or two to begin their season (last year they lost both eggs to a huge hail storm so I am rooting for them this year!).

Keep in mind. . . it's nature and it's uninterrupted and wild. . . so the larger the birds, the larger the prey they capture and return to the nest to tear apart and eat. Not always what you want to watch but, for the most part, fascinating. Like when the Barn owlets get big enough and start swallowing things whole. . . yikes!

I did feel sorry for the beautiful white Egrets who bathe in the reservoir beneathe the Great Horned owl nest. . . you'd think they'd learn! Anyway, fair warning!!

And the feeders. . . the FEEDERS! If you don't have access to watching a busy bird feeder around your home, I suggest the Cornell feeders which are a fine indoor surrogate and can just be left on to listen and watch birds come and go all day!

Hey, some people are crazy cat people and I, well, I am a crazy bird person.

And my own morning routine involves feeding our cat but then making my way downstairs as the dawn arrives to feed the birds. Here, I have around two dozen Sparrows, a few pairs of Mourning Doves, a few finches and a sprinkling of Starlings and right now, as it is nesting season, just a few of my fine fellow crows (Though in winter as many as 30 will show up daily and let it be known they are here for food!) and one resilient seagull who I have had many epic mental battles with to try and fool her so she does not eat all the food. We've come to terms it seems and so I now count her among the regulars.

Anyway, that's all for today my friends. . .

The writing project is still on task and I am 22 days in but more on that soon enough. . . but it just occurred to me how this same 30 day writing exercise could be applied to almost any creative endeavor. When I think back to what stopped me from writing so many times it was always the point A to point B syndrome. How do I get there? And the distance seemed so far. But in manageable 30 minute chunks? which will now add up to 15 hours in one month? Wow! I "found" the time and each little step is totally manageable and . . . ahhhh yes, yes, so much more for another post. . .

Have a lovely week ahead my friends and I will look forward to showing some new work in the coming days too. New statues, my first stand alone DRAGON and getting closer now to May, when I am determined to set aside all but what I truly want to make and to allow my heart to just play. . .

Until the next. . .


Wednesday, April 6, 2016

Stories Moving Forward

I've been creating stories all my life. Since I was a child really.

At 11 or 12 I had two of those old Radio Shack single cassette players and I would write scripts for plays or stories and then, going line by line, I would record them by first speaking one line into one tape player then, stop, press record on the second while pressing play on the first, and then adding the next line of dialogue after the first tape played. And so on and so on for the entire length of the story. I'd do all the voices and all the narration. Even feeble attempts at singing improv theme songs on occasion. lol  :)

Now, all these years later I found myself really feeling ready to create a book of short stories, or at least several small zines, that are centered around the worlds I have built thru and alongside my Etsy creations the last 6 years.

The Bewildering Pine
The Ledgerkeepers
Kitsurada: Land of Foxgoyles
The Troll Troubles
And many more

But as an adult, there are new challenges. Mostly an uncontrollable tendency towards self editing and doubt. Uncertainty about how to build a complete world because, after all, I am not 11 and I see the holes where they should be and what I have YET to create to make these stories work.

So how to get started?

Well, 10 days ago I began searching for that help.

It came in the unexpected form of a 30 day writing primer called the Fantasy WorldBuilder Guide. Thirty short exercises to help you start to flesh out and think about those things that make a "world" complete. Everything from climate and political atmosphere to, of course, the map, timeline of historical events, the people, the languages etc etc. Now I have seen these in one form or another before but none felt as helpful as this. In part, it helped me realize I HAVE thought of much of this but, the truth is, I am ready now and committing to the 15-30 minutes a day to do the work.

And the guide has sent me off in research directions I never would have thought of due to the links, ideas and great summaries about each section/exercise.I can't explain why but I recognize the difference in this guide is that it really allows you a range of investment. 15 minutes is all they ask and it's fine if that's what you want to spare but, if you are game, it is easy to se how an hour or more each day can be spent deepening the daily ideas on your own.

I have, I would say, doubled my world's depth in the first 10 days this way.

What the old world language is, what the trade and commerce and resources of the world are, how exactly my world's magic works, what the major conflicts have been (and I have to say, I am intent on writing a non-violent story/stories, so, that came with it's own interesting challenges!)

Best of all, the pieces I already had have started falling into place. The map being further and further fleshed out. The characters and types of creatures and myths. . . it's been truly exhilarating thus far.

20 days to go.

After that I will get back to the start again and go thru it once more, for 30 more days, and expand it all some more. I have plans for a large wall sized timeline/map/storyline to begin to be able to visually, in one place, see it all. And then,of course, time to start filling in the stories.

At this point, I am partial to a first book of short tales, sort of like Shaun Tan's "Tales From Outer Suburbia."  and I know that the last tale will be either the lead in to a second book of shorts or, the basis for a larger novella to follow. It is, If I can say so myself, a very good "hook". :)

Many of you know I am completely invested in the idea that stories are what creates demand for what we produce. Be it organic produce, fairy houses, quilts, handmade books,  masks, jewelry, etc etc. And we ALL tell our own tales our own way so I never think anyone should follow my lead if it isn't their thing. . . but I would also recommend a perusal through Austin Kleon's newest book, "Show Your Work" , where he says,

"Artists love to trot out the tired line, “My work speaks for itself,” but the truth is, our work doesn’t speak for itself. Human beings want to know where things came from, how they were made, and who made them. The stories you tell about the work you do have a huge effect on how people feel and what they understand about your work, and how people feel and what they understand about your work effects how they value it.

You should be able to explain your work to a kindergartner, a senior citizen, and everybody in between. Everybody loves a good story, but good storytelling doesn’t come easy to everybody. It’s a skill that takes a lifetime to master. So study the great stories and then go find some of your own. Your stories will get better the more you tell them."
I, of course, agree totally with this as I feel my stories are as much a part of my ability to make living as a maker-of-things as anything else. Second only to never being satisfied with "good enough" and going all out in every way I can to make the buying experience wonderful for the recipient. 
So maybe that is what has held me back in writing these new, larger stories. It's a total package for me and I do not think I believed I had any idea how to create that complete world with just stories and illustrations.  Or perhaps it was just that I couldn't find the start line among all the floating pieces? 
Well, the 30 day exercise certainly changed that so I want to recommend it to anyone who has any sort of  make believe/fictional world you want to enrich and any stories you want to tell. You can find the exercise and thru it, many wonderful links to other great resources, here:
And to close, just a little peek into two new pieces for you all today too!
Happy day to everyone and I hope the magik of Spring (or Autumn if you are down under) is shining brightly in your world and in your hearts!
Another colorful version of what has become quite the popular item. And the flowers just keep getting more out of hand! :) 

A blue-roofed Enchanted Tower seemed a nice change of pace. I want to play with different roof colors this summer.

Friday, April 1, 2016

April 1st - New Work. . . No Fooling!

Watch out for the tricksters today! There is always mischief afoot on this day. . .

April brings me a bit closer to a time I have been looking SO forward to! Taking the first few weeks of the month to work thru the rest of my standing custom work before allowing myself a 6 week break to just make multiples of some things for the shop and continue working on my new items, stories etc for the summer ahead. Dragons, new fairy houses, Egyptian statues, figurines and more.
This is hard for me. Saying no to easy projects or, for lack of a better phrase, easy money, is hard. But I find myself constantly frustrated with the lack of time to explore new directions. I have to remind myself, time and again, that I am only a little ways down the path I am traveling thru this work. . . that while I could easily just keep making what I do now and selling it, I have so many ideas to expand and grow the world I have created and that, if I do not grow that world, it will become more of a box than a boundless landscape. 't think of anything more important actually. . .

I think it's important to stay true to that vision and to follow the heart where the heart wants to take us. I can't think of anything more important actually.

But for the day of April Foolerie, here are a few new items to share

The Enchanted Woods Inn - Hand Timbered plank by plank and the little lamp post glows in the dark.

A sweet little gateway for a fairy garden I think! Been thinking of making these with for some time but, you know. . . life!

These seem to fly off the shelf lately! My newest Mushroom Fairy House Upon a Star. 
I think little charms, like these sweet sun faces, can really add a quick touch of magic to the handmade houses.

A little experiment that went and got itself out of control! I am really determined, it would seem, to find out just how much tiny house I can cram onto the little 3" landscaped stars! :) More of these to come for certain!
 That's the latest. More soon on the "30 Day World Building" writing exercise I have undertaken, (on day 5 right now) and sharing some thoughts on looking back and seeing, with hindsight as the viewfinder, that path to "here".

Have a lovely April Fools day all!