Saturday, March 19, 2011

Making (and baking) the most of my free time

Now that I have finished my M.A. (I'm just waiting on the university registrar to process the final project grade and gimme my hard-earned piece of parchment—C’mon, c’mon, c'mon!), I’ve been busy looking for other things to do. Yesterday I signed up for cake decorating classes, and I’ve been  buying new cookie cutters so that I can practice my sugar cookies and improve my royal icing decorating techniques.

The impetus for signing up for the classes was the sugar cookies that I made on Thursday evening. After following a terrible recipe for royal icing from a well-respected book on decorating sugar cookies that encouraged profuse thinning of the flooding-consistency icing, I had the most disgusting looking sugar cookies that I have ever seen. The cookies oozed icing all down over their sides and onto the plate. They looked sick. Ugh. But, man, were they tasty!

No matter how yummy my ugly cookies might taste, I’ve realized that half the battle with baking and working with icing is having the right recipes and the right tools, and I've never bothered much about the tools. For the cake decorating course, I had to buy a beginner’s kit that has all the tools a beginner could want. Now that I’m turning my love of baking and decorating into more of a regular hobby and I'm beginning to amass various cutters and tips and couplers (which sounds vaguely like a collection of medieval instruments of torture), I feel better prepared for any decorating situation that might come my way. Nope, nothing can go wrong now!

Aside from baking, I’ve also made a commitment to drawing every Saturday morning while I listen to CBC Radio One, which on its own has long been my standard Saturday ritual. So for the past two Saturdays I’ve been holed up in my office/craft room with my pens and some proper drawing paper. Again, like with baking,  half the battle with drawing is having the right materials, like the right pens and the right paper. I'd never bothered to buy proper drawing paper until last week, but the price (confession: I got a good discount!) is worth it—it’s easier to draw on and shows the ink better (it makes black look blacker!) than plain old computer paper, which in my inexperience and ignorance I’ve been doodling on all these years.

So now armed with the right tools, I will draw every Saturday.  I figure I have to put some time aside for it each week or otherwise I’d never do it--that's just the way my organized brain works. My only rules are (1) I have to draw for at least an hour, and (2) the drawing doesn’t have to be good but I do have to finish the drawing rather than throw it in the garbage halfway through, no matter how awful it is.  The past two sessions have produced three odd scenes of Paris with the Eiffel Tower in the distance, as if it is being viewed from the balconies of apartments. Although I wasn't consciously aware of it as I was drawing, I think that somewhere in the dark recesses of my mind I was inspired by that cool, orange-y Grand Marnier ad, “La Vie Grand Marnier,” that I saw on my last trip to Florida. It played at the beginning of a lot of the films and TV shows on the plane, so I saw it a bunch of times.

I love the style of the animation in that ad. My drawings are not nearly that good, however, and because I have no intention of showing them to you (not unless I've had a few shots of Grand Marnier first), I'll describe them to you. The first one is a night scene with a befuddled looking French artist/mime clich√©, complete with a black beret and stripey Breton shirt √† la Picasso, attempting to put the moves on a sophisticated Parisian woman. The second one is another night scene of a lone woman with big hips in a polka-dot dress with a glass of wine looking out over a balcony at Paris. Maybe she’s alone because her stereotypical French artist boyfriend is hitting on the more sophisticated woman in the first drawing, or maybe she’s alone because she wears hideous polka-dot dresses. I don’t know. The third one is like the morning after the other two drawings; it has a hairy looking Eiffel tower in the background of a breakfast table set with a strangely anthropomorphic coffee service. Two coffee cups look at one another adoringly while a despondent coffee pot looks off into the distance, trying desperately hard to appear indifferent but the plume of steam coming from his spout/nose betrays his true feelings. Meanwhile, three coffee spoons are lying on the table nearby gossiping amongst themselves about the whole affair and looking rather smug. And yes, there's a croissant on a plate, but it doesn't have a face and so it doesn't appear to be feeling anything at all.

I’d show the drawings to you but they’re awful. I wondered whether or not to put my signature on them, or whether I could put someone else’s signature on them to hide the fact that I drew them. As if people would actually believe that "Picasso" came back to life just to travel all the way here to break into my office/craft room, quickly draw three crappy scenes of Paris on my discount-bin drawing paper, and then disappear again. But the point is not to try to draw something good or even mediocre (and I'm a champ at the medicore game); the point for me is just to DRAW. The one thing that having no free time for the past few years has taught me is that I should strive now to use my free time doing all the things I said I’d do when I was up to my eyeballs in research and essays and intellectual pursuits. Like drawing, for example. And making cookies. And making little toadstools from felt.

And so, last weekend I made a prototype for some felt gnome-home toadstools I want to make. Look:

Felt toadstool 1

Felt toadstool 2

It's about 5 and a quarter inches tall. It’s my first time making one, and so there are a few kinks that I still want to work out before trying another one. I got the free pattern here. It's actually a pincushion pattern, but I can see making a whole bunch of varying sizes to make a Christmas gnome village. Last year I said that once I had finished my M.A. I would make a Dr.Seuss-style Who-Ville Christmas village. Maybe I could make TWO Christmas villages, a felt-y one for gnomes and another one for Whos! Hey, the sky's the limit now, what with all this free time!

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