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The DIY I will NEVER do again

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I saw this adorable castle from a post on Pinterest. It’s the wooden castle that you can buy really cheap at Michael’s, and it had been turned into a Harry Potter castle. I was thinking it would be an adorable gift for my son for Eid al-Adha, with some peg people and accessories. I already had a ton of little wooden dollhouse toys he could play with, so it sounded like a good idea.

I drove an hour to Michael’s and picked it up, sorting through the castles that were there, looking to see which were in disrepair. I happily went home thinking this was going to be a fun project.

A month later, I still had not started it. I hadn’t even decided if I was going to paint the outside or leave it plain. I had no plan.

At some point I decided I was going to Modge Podge brick-print scrapbooking paper to it. This seemed like a brilliant idea, considering that the paper was fairly cheap. Joanne Fabrics had a sale at the time too.

I quickly discovered that the sheets were an inch shy on each dimension to be used to cover an entire side of the castle. I had to cover each side using FOUR DIFFERENT SHEETS. This was not the end of my heartburn.

As I persisted, tracing each side onto sheets and making it work, I realized just how complicated those windows were, the edges, and eventually the hardware on the end that keeps the castle shut. Oye ve.

At one point I realized as well that the paper was bubbling profusely. Even pressing the air bubbles did not work.

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The point I began swearing like a sailor was when I went to glue on the end pieces and realized AFTER GLUING THEM that I had not cut out the end windows. Oh…it gets better. You can’t trace from inside because the windows are blocked by stairways. I had to press the paper into the window and cut the edges.

Phew. Then it was done. And the bottom edge curled up. *dies*

But- I gracefully completed these adorable peg people.

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Even better, I had bought this little stable at Michaels as well, and I needle felted the cutest dragon to go with it!

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So it wasn’t a total loss, and I really think the people and dragon came out nicely, but I will be damned if I ever decoupage anything again!

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I love yardsales

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Whats worse- the condition of this chair or my grainy cellphone pic? Ha! But, I have no complaints because I got it for a dollar! I love yard sale bargain stories!

I’ve been looking for one for quite some time, but thought the expenditure too pricey for something that my son would outgrow in a few years. Most unfinished wooden children’s chairs run about $65-95. However… a dollar I can do!

The reason why it is so important to have child sized or child-accessible furniture is that it teaches them independence and makes them feel welcome in the home, like they have their own place. I never understood this theory until I read about Montessori method.

It needed some work. Most rockers dismantle in the same place, but with a little wood glue and a rubber mallet (best investment EVER! I’ve used the damn thing in so many projects!), the back was put back into place. A paint scraper took off the letters which were hot glued on.

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I decided to paint it using a combination of patterns that I had seen on Indian work and Mexican work, using some of my acrylics. I always go with a high gloss paint on furniture because it has more enamel in it, which is resistant to dings and heavy wear.

Here’s the finished product! Its far from perfect but I LOVE the character!

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creative

Spring Banners

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I love Tibetan prayer flags. But they’re against my faith. So, the children and I decided that we would make spring banners instead to liven up the house.

I started by doing some ombre washes with watercolor on stiff watercolor paper, one for each color of the spectrum. Its very easy- you simply wet the paper, and brushing side to side down the page, you push a concentrated mark of color all the way down to the bottom. Watercolor washes are pretty basic. You can even add more than one color, pushing the lines into eachother.

Since my children are eight years apart, they had to have very different “assignments”. My two year old doesn’t exactly have his own ideas and my nine year old is “perpetually bored” which, in Waldorf terms,  is growing intellectually and hasn’t figured out how to manipulate her newest phase of development. The best play for this type of dilema with both ages is rote participation- laundry, dishes, housekeeping, cooking, etc. But occassional, I tire of such a thing, and want to create art, and that is how this project was born.

For my two year old, the assignments were structured on color learning and garden basics. Both children are participating in our potting outside. For my nine year old, hers was a bit more complex, but focused on spring and gardening. Here is each assignment:

For the two year old:

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Handprint tulip

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Garden of fruits- the 9yo drew the fruits he wanted and he colored them, along with his rainbow.

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Collage earth

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Ladybug- he colored the ladybug and glued on her spots

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Dandelions- he loved gluing these in place

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Fingerprint drawings- spots on the mushroom, fingerprint caterpillar, and flower

Each print was accompanied by counting, learning colors, attempted cutting, and a story.

For the nine year old:

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The spring fairy

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Fingerprint mushroom, etc.

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Garden design

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Garden gnome

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Red things on the farm (in spanish)

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Coastal creatures

These things were actually projects that she suggested with very little input, so I’m proud that she was able to come up with her own ideas, even though they weren’t completely cohesive. I let her follow her own interest, and she researches things weekly at the library that she finds stimulating.

We strung each banner up in the kitchen area using yarn. Each print has to be tied individually to prevent it from sliding down on the string. We knotted it carefully.

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Spring itself is a celebration here on the homestead, but helping children understand the changing seasons is the very beginning of being aware of the world around them. And they don’t look too shabby in our kitchen either 😛

DIY Waldorf Nature Table

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A nature table is a diorama made to reflect seasonal changes. It’s used by Waldorf method curriculum to help children learn about their natural environment and to understand the abstract concept of time. This nature table that I made shows wild flowers that we collected together outside, “spring” animals, such as the bunny, duck, and *currently chewed* chickadee, our felted egg and spring fairy, and a felted nest. The background watercolor is a stylized depiction of a classic spring story called The Root Children, and the fabric is a silky hijab (most people use small play-silks, but I have a gajillion hijabs, which happen to be the right size…).

The lessons to be learned here are copious. Eggs have beings inside of them. Animals nest- even bunnies. Animals make their appearance after long winters, in the spring. Spring flowers are different than summer flowers, and turn into fruit or leaves. Budding nature is in a muted pastel pallet. Buds emerge from the earth…and so on and so forth. The fact that the diorama is interactive and friendly to exploratory hands (i.e. can be played with) seems almost crucial.

I decided early on that I wanted OUR nature table to be interactive. I’ve read some perverse posts on other sites in which mother’s keep them out of reach to little hands. To me this defeats the purpose. Children gather information with all of their senses, not just their intellect, so why rob them of the opportunity? We keep ours in the common area to avoid mishaps with spills or things being put in mouths *ahem* like chickadees. My most chuckling apologies to the person that I told that my son was past the age of putting things in his mouth. Hello, molars.

I originally saw this nature table on another site for much more than I could afford, and I’ve secretly been plotting ever since on how to hack it.

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Beautiful, right? Gah, the coveting. This is why you should never ever ever shop online at Waldorf stores. Unless your husband is a neurosurgeon. Or Channing Tatum. If your husband is Channing, you’d probably HAVE to shop at Waldorf stores…all the TIME. Because you’d have a million children. Handsome children. I digress.

So, anyway, being the sculptor that I am, I was like- Why can’t I make this out of cardboard? It doesn’t HAVE to be chintzy. I began with a box, and cut it to be like this:

IMG_6713Then I drew a curve and cut the sides. I used the first cutout to trace the same curve on the other side. I used scissors, but a utility or Exacto knife would work.

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Then I drew a tree design on one side, cut it out, and used the pieces to trace another design on the other side using an Exacto knife.

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Ok, that step was a little easier said than done. But its worth it. It looks AWESOME.

Then I painted the whole thing. I mixed white and a little bit of brown acrylic. I think a high-gloss household paint would work too. Don’t use tempera paint- it will be too wet. There’s a pleasant side effect to SOME warp that happens with the paint- it causes the sides to bow a bit, which looks really groovy.

IMG_6719Then I hot-glued these weird little plastic hook things on that I found in my toolbox, but you can get fancy one’s at the hardware store or one of the big-box stores.

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I added a hijab that I tied into bunches with string. Hijabs are Islamic veils for women, and generally cost about $5-7, and are exactly the same size and material as “play silks”, coming in a wider variety of colors and prints. I get mine at Alhannah.com.

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The pink one was nice, but it felt too gender bias. The green also better reflects the color pallet outside.

Then I made a watercolor of my stylized depiction of root children. I *could* have color photocopied a page, but I didn’t want it to be exact, I wanted it to be my interpretation. Granted, I am NOT a 2D artist, I’m a sculptor, but it’s not terrible. If you don’t like your own artwork and don’t want to photocopy things, have your kids make a backdrop.

IMG_6751We gathered wildflowers from outside during our playtime and put them in an old babyfood jar.

IMG_6742I added some carved Ostheimer figures.

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And I added a nest and fairy egg (because what is springtime without eggs?!).

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TADAH!!!!!!!

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For more information on how to construct a nature table and seasonal activities, I suggest:

  • Seven Times the Sun: Guiding your Child Through the Rhythms of the Day by Shea Darian
  • Earthways: Simple Environmental Activities for Young Children by Carol Petrash
  • All Year Round (Festivals and the Seasons) by Ann Druitt
  • The Children’s Year: Seasonal Crafts and Clothes by Stephanie Cooper
  • A Child’s Seasonal Treasury by Betty Jones

And other books:

  • Beyond the Rainbow Bridge: Nurturing Our Children from Birth to Seven by Barbara Patterson
  • Toymaking with Children by Freya Jaffke

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Carving Ostheimer figures: An art lesson with Ms. Kate

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These are called Ostheimer figures. They’re wooden figures designed for play by children to help make real world connections and for imaginative play. Sometimes they are animals, sometimes they are people or characters from folk tales. Most of them originate from Germany, as it is a German tradition. They are very expensive.

How expensive? This set right there would be around $60.

Well, there’s more to money when it comes to the value of Ostheimer figures. They are heirloom quality toys that are often passed on through generations. They are pretty impervious to destruction as well.

I said to my mother, “Gosh, I’d love to get Abe some Ostheimer figures, but they’re so expensive!” To which my Irish-German-born mother replied, “Well, see, those types of things used to be made by grandfathers. Grandfathers would whittle them as a treat.”

Ah. Leave it to my mother to get my creative juices flowing. But she is absolutely right. In olden days back in old country, they didn’t have mass-produced wooden figures made from scroll or band-saws. They had toys made from hand tools. I prefer hand tools actually, and never was able to articulate it until I read a book by Ianto Evans called The Hand Sculpted House, in which he describes the difference in rhythm and spirituality felt by working with hand tools instead of scary, noisy, and very dangerous electric tools that literally seem to vibrate the brain.

I thought this a perfect lesson to pass on, as I recently figured it out myself. My concentration for my BFA was in sculpture and ceramics, so I have quite the history of working with hand tools and wood. I thought I would start carving Ostheimer figures for my son and it turned out to be quite easy.

First you’re going to need to gather some hand tools. I recommend a utility blade with a NEW blade or a sharpened pocket knife, a hack-saw (any hand-saw will do, but this one has a fine blade), and a couple of grades of sandpaper (meaning medium, fine, and extra fine). For finishing, you’ll also need a small chunk of pure beeswax and a rag, and some high-quality watercolors. You may also want gloves if you’re accident prone.

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Now- I have to tell you, these are the tools that *I* prefer. You may want to pick up some other hand tools like wood chisels or linoleum print chisels. I do not prefer wood chisels because you then have to place your item in a sandbag and hit the chisel with a mallet. This is very difficult on small figures and I wouldn’t recommend it AT ALL if you’re working on something smaller than your hand. The chisels often need to be sharpened as well. For lino print chisels, they’re ok, but often not sharp enough. You can get wood-print chisels, which may be even more successful than a blade in some instances- BUT! They are EXTREMELY sharp, and you are more likely to cut yourself. I’m an experienced printmaker and even I abstain from using them (they go through gloves!). Here are some examples of each that I would recommend.

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lino carving inside

woodcarving tools

Wood-print carving tools

Next, find a small piece of wood. I began with a stick. I recommend a soft wood like white pine, but if you haven’t any pine if your neighborhood, you may be able to get a small piece at your hardware store. The hack saw comes in hand if you see a stick that you like that is too big. Get a fallen limb- it should be dried out and not “green”. If it comes off the tree, it will be too full of sap. If its from the ground on a rainy day, bring it inside and don’t work on it until it’s fully dry.

I recommend that you start with a bird because they’re easiest. In Toymaking with Children, the author makes an excellent point- if you start out with a stick that is close to the shape you want, it is easier. For birds, I recommend a wide “V” shaped stick.

Now, the reductive process is one of it’s own- most people are used to the additive process, ie, adding things to what they’re making, such as building a dollhouse or piecing a quilt. Whittling is completely different because you’re creating a form by taking away. You will have better luck concentrating on one part at once, rather than working all around the figure, but everyone works in a different way. I began with the face. The beak and head are the hardest part of the bird, and if you completely mess them up and need to start over, you haven’t invested all of the time required for the body.

It’s also helpful to Google a few pictures. Sometimes I Google real images, sometimes stylized images, and sometimes I go back to the link above and look at actual Ostheimer figures.

Once you have your figure carved, it may look a bit like this.

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Sand it down, starting with a medium grit, and work until you get to a fine grit. The surface may have digs or marks on it, but this is about practice, not perfection. The beauty of the wood WILL show through, which is even more meaningful since these figures are made to help children make real-life connections. This item is made of wood, with love, from hands and blade. It has knots and veins in it because its made from the remnants of a living tree, which grows from the earth.

Next you can watercolor it. I prefer hard watercolor when I work, but many prefer liquid. I like the watercolor because the wood absorbs it, making it less prone to chipping, and because the colors are muted. I kept away from detail and made it simple to encourage imagination, and I abstained from including eyes for reasons of my Islamic faith. Start with the lightest colors FIRST. Add darker after, and if you want to accent grooves or transitions between limbs, you can add a bit of dark brown or black around the edges. You can see where this is evident in the ears of my rabbit. Make sure it dries well.

Lastly, you’ll want to coat it with beeswax. The method I recommend is something that is actually used in stone carving technique. Simply use the solid beeswax to rub all over the figure. Then take a rag and rub it in evenly. You may prefer more than one coat. Every so often you may prefer to put a new coat of wax on the toy to protect it from wear.

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The smell of fresh white pine and pure beeswax is intoxicating and beautiful.

For the next challenges, experiment. I tried a duck (easier said than done!) and then a rabbit. Each figure is up to interpretation.

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rabbit back (2)

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rabbit front

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DIY Toddler Gift Roundup

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My son and my nephew share birthdays that are a month apart. It’s great- they’re both the same age. I always wanted a sibling close in age, so I’m pleased that my son will have a similar experience. My relationship with my cousin who was close in age, was a part of my childhood that brings me some really heartfelt memories.

Being that I don’t believe in consumerism, I made toys for both boys. And while I don’t believe in gender grooming, these toys tend to be male oriented, but don’t let that dissuade you from trying your hand at them. One of my fondest memories growing up was opening up the homemade gifts my mother made me for holidays and birthdays. I especially loved homemade dolls and Barbie clothes.

This doll here is just a salvage Cabbage Patch, rescued from the consignment shop. It was naked with messy hair, but clean, so I scooped it up like an orphan. I made some clothes for it out of some old felted sweaters, and I’ve included instructions below!

To felt your sweaters, make sure they’re 100% wool. Wash them on hot, preferable with something like denim to agitate it more, and then dry it on hot.

To make dolly pants, the pattern is simple. Since most dollies don’t have much in the way of a butt, you simply cut off a sleeve at the end. I sewed up one side to make it more even, like a tube.

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Then I cut up the middle, and sewed around the edges to make pants.

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Tada!!!!! Next is the shirt. Cut off the end of another sleeve. Cut holes in the sides, big enough to accommodate the width of the doll’s arms.

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Cut two squares of fabric and sew them together on the side to make tubes for sleeves. You can simply measure around the dolls arms by wrapping the fabric around it and allowing for a small seam, or even cutting the sleeve length after the tube is sewn on. I cut along my seams to reduce bulk after stitching it.

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Then I turn up the sleeves on the ends, and turn up the armholes. This makes like two sets of lips touching, making a fabric seam to sew. It should look like this.

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Since my dolly has a short baby neck, and the cuff of the sweater I used was long, I folded it down, and blanket stitched it in place, like a turned-over turtleneck.

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I also blanket stitched around the cuffs. I like how it flairs the end of the sleeves.

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Lastly, I blanket stitched the bottom of the sweater and the bottom of the pants.

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The booties are stretchy fabric (knit would work, like an old t-shirt). I sewed it in the shape of a capital cursive “U” (that is, straight on one side, curved on the other), with a straight hemmed top. Infant socks would work just fine if this seems tedious to you. For a bed, I painted an old clementine box, and made some simple bedding from some fabric scraps and quilt batting.

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In addition to the dolly, I made a few other gifts. I made this bag with washable crayons and a tractor coloring book for my son. It’s a great little bag to bring for rides in the car, or appointments. There’s an entire post on how to do this one.

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Perhaps one of my most clever hacks was this wallet that I made my nephew. I used this pattern, and used old mail-offer credit cards and old gift cards. There’s also an ID card to fill out, which came from something my grandmother had on hand. The money is just a rectangle of felt, which has fancy stitching around the edge, and I used a fabric marker to write on it. I suppose that a Sharpie marker would work as well.

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Last, I also recommend this car cozy. My son has had a blast with it!

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barn hop

The therapeutic magic of making: Art Journaling

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After college, I didn’t “make” much. I have a daughter with special needs, and shortly after my 8th year of studies, I had my son. My children are 7 years apart. I definitely had my handful with family and career, and rarely time to take care of myself, let alone do things for pleasure.

But a stark realization hit me about a month ago- I wasn’t taking care of myself, I was merely staying afloat. And to work out how that happened, I decided to start working on a project that I had abandoned, an old altered book that I had started as an art journal.

My daughter, who coincidentally is also dealing with some issues, really enjoys working alongside me, and I thought that it would be a great tool to give her for coping. Since I already had my altered book, I made her this one out of recycled materials. I’ve included the details here, along with photos of both our journals.

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The irony in all of this is that the book is made from old articles from my Holistic Health degree program curriculum. I gathered up around 200 pages, and some old cereal boxes. I traced one page onto the cereal boxes to make two covers. Here’s what I got:

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The articles already had holes in them, but I had to punch holes in the cover as well. You can decide if you’re going to have the graphic facing out or in, covered or not.

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The next step was kind of tricky if you’re not familiar with book binding, but this is a technique that I used with my freshman students. Thread a piece of hemp through the middle hole. You shouldn’t use yarn because it stretches too much- use hemp or waxed string.

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Take the end of the hemp that is on top and thread it down through the top hole.

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Take the end of the hemp on bottom and thread it up through the bottom hole.

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Take the same end that you just threaded up through the bottom hole, and thread it back down into the middle hole.

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Take the thread that is in the top hole of the book and bring it back up through the middle hole.

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Tie them in a knot like you do your shoelaces.

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Now you’re ready to get started! For my daughter, I told her to decorate the cover and then I wrote prompts on about 100 pages, leaving blank ones on the other half of the book. I got some ideas here. I also put in “kids art journaling” on Pinterest and showed her pictures, and talked briefly about some techniques that were used, such as collage, free hand drawing, watercolor, or painting. Here are some pictures of what we have so far:

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“Five of my favorite things”

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“A place I want to travel”

"Cat Hotel"

“Cat Hotel”

My art journal is a little different because it’s an altered book. The difference I think between real altered book making and art journaling like I’ve done here is that most of my images aren’t ones that I’ve created from scratch, but that can certainly be debated. I still use many altered book making techniques, such as washes, using found objects, and mixed media. Here are pictures of my journal:

I never decorate my cover until I'm finished.

I never decorate my cover until I’m finished.

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The right page is actually a clear pocket

The right page is actually a clear pocket

The bottom right is flaps

The bottom right is flaps

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