Saturday, December 31, 2011

C: Celebrating...?

I had major plans for the letter C.  But the last 3 months (I could even say the last year and a half) have been rather... how shall I put it... chaotic.  In the midst of youth ministry, art ministry, work, wedding commissions, promotional illustrations, the holidays, and the like, I have found very little time for myself.  Little time to enjoy my own creative passions.  Little time to read.  Little time to even socialize much with friends outside of business-like settings.  Blogging, especially, has taken the farthest backseat possible to the rest of life's priorities.

You should know that I desperately wanted to create a charcoal piece for this post, as it is one of my favorite mediums.  I may have even chosen clouds as my subject matter, for they are another favorite "C" of mine.  However, with the New Year soon approaching (about 25 minutes to go), I felt it time to move ahead with this alphabet thing.  So here are some New Year's goals, alongs with some favorite C's.

New Year's Goals:

1. Put less on my plate so that I can enjoy life once in a while, not just stress myself through it.
2. Try to make homemade paper (Reduce, Reuse, Recycle).
3. Finish my still life (I started it in September... it's seriously gathering dust now).
4. Look into the professional benefits of having a Twitter account (I have been avoiding the idea all together, but am questioning lately if it would be a useful networking tool).
5. Start exploring more useful, homemade craft ideas.
6. Do the small, personal commission I was given earlier this year.
7. Read the whole Bible in a year (this is the hardest one ever...).
8. Work with paper mache again.
9. Create more wedding stationary samples to show future clients.
10. Read all the books that people have let me borrow!

Favorite C's:

- Clouds
- Charcoal
- Christmas
- Cheese
- Creativity
- Cooking
- Craft Stores
- Celebrations
- COLOR!!!

Tuesday, October 18, 2011

Back to B for a Bit

I mentioned in my last post that I had made vegan chocolate cupcakes, but did not include the recipe.  They were just as tasty as any cupcake with eggs or dairy would be.  The only thing I did not make was the frosting, so they were not completely vegan in the end.  But the cake recipe is completely vegan.  My favorite part about this recipe is that it is simple and uses ingredients you probably have on hand all the time, so you really can make them whenever you feel like it.

To be honest, I forget which website I found this on.  But they were all basically the same as far as ingredients go.  I actually sort of combined two recipes in the end.  This was originally for cake, so I had to refer to another recipe to determine the baking time and the like.

Vegan Chocolate Cupcakes
  • 1-1/2 cup flour
  • 1 cup sugar
  • 1/4 cup cocoa powder
  • 1 tsp baking soda
  • 1/2 tsp salt
  • 1/3 cup oil (the original calls for vegetable oil, but that stuff is no good for you so I used safflower oil)
  • 1 tsp vanilla extract
  • 1 tsp distilled white vinegar
  • 1 cup water
Pretty straight forward here.  Preheat to 350 F.  Mix together the dry ingredients first.  Then add in the wet ingredients.  Mix it all together.  Line your muffin pan with baking cups, pour in the batter, and bake for 20-25 minutes.

As for the frosting, you can use anything really.  You can make it from scratch, which is easy since it's usually just powdered sugar and milk or something simple like that.  Or you can buy your favorite kind.  Whether you are vegan or not, these cupcake are easy to make and even better to enjoy.

Monday, October 17, 2011

B: Blogging and Baking

The Blog:

I'm one of those artists who gets bored easily with what I'm working on, or what I've already done. And, unless I am officially sold on something, whether it be the title of this blog or the overall look of my web presence in general, I will mull over it until it feels right. Sometimes I give it a week to decide if it stays or goes; sometimes it takes me longer (usually the simple issue of a busy schedule).

Anyway, it was time for a change. The overall look and layout of this blog had been driving me mad for quite a while. And, while I've been changing it off and on, nothing had quite satisfied me visually. So, today I finally got a chance to mess around with Blogger and to create new designs in Illustrator. Not only am I pleased the simple, clean, new header, but I'm glad I was able to use my own design. I hadn't had time before to work this out, and so I'd been using the pre-made templates. You can only customize those so much, and sometimes it's still not quite right. I have yet to learn the html tricks that will allow me to customize the side bars to my liking, but that will have to wait/

I also changed the title from "The Colors of Joy" to "A Stroke of Joy." Who knows... maybe it will change again, but for now, at least, I just like this better. Sort of the play on words I'd originally wanted when I started this blog, and it reflects my interest in fine art as well as design. I think I will be more likely to update this blog, now that I can tolerate the new layout.

The Baking:

I decided last night that it was time to start getting rid of my cocoa powder, so I made some chocolate cupcakes (they happened to be vegan and were delicious).  I want to start buying ethically sourced ingredients, especially chocolate. But, rather than toss all of the possible, unethically sourced items I've already ignorantly purchased, I will just try to hurry through it, so as not to cause any child slave to have worked in vein all the more.

I love baking. Especially with chocolate. But since my recent discovery of slavery in the cocoa industry, I can no longer go through life and think of chocolate the way I used to. I cannot eat chocolate, bake with it, or buy it... unless I know that it has been ethically sourced. That means the cocoa farmers get paid what they deserve, and, therefore, can sustain themselves without the work of slaves.

If you are reading this, if you believe in freedom for all people, and if you truly desire to make the world a better place... let this knowledge change your life with the hope that it may benefit the lives of those being oppressed. The cocoa industry thrives at the expense of many innocent people. Namely, children. Children who are manipulated into slavery, who are kidnapped from other countries and brought to work the cocoa plantations until they die, or are killed because they are too weak to work. These kids are the same ages as the ones who go Trick-or-Treating on Halloween, filling their bags with chocolate goodies. The saddest difference, besides the obvious one, is that the kids working the cocoa fields have no idea what chocolate even is or what it tastes like. They have no idea where the cocoa goes, or that it's used to make the delicious treats we enjoy.

Do not buy Hershey's products... or Nestle or Mars/M&M or Cadbury products. In fact, you should look up every brand you know and love, and discover what's really in your chocolate.  But chocolate lovers, fear not.  There is chocolate out there that IS ethically sourced.  It might be a little more expensive, but it's worth it to support this cause.

If you are at a loss for what company might be good, Green&Black can be found at most major grocery stores.  It's a good place to start and they make good chocolate.

Other favorite B's:

- Books
- Birds
- Bed
- the color Blue
- Brushing my teeth
- Blankets
- the color Brown
- Brainstorming
- the color Black
- Bold lines
- Ball point pens
- Bumble Bees (the cute, fuzzy little guys)
- The Bible

Monday, October 3, 2011

An Alphabet Adventure: Anniversary

Two years ago today, Adam and I began our new life together as husband and wife. While we don't have anything special planned for this day in particular (I'm sick, Adam is at work, and there are many errands to run later), I thought it would be the perfect day to start another new adventure as an artist. And so, today begins my first ever alphabet undertaking.

I have been picking away here and there at various things over these past two years, some art-related, some not. I am inspired to do so many things, and yet I hardly have the time to do them. So, I thought a simple alphabet series would not only inspire me with each letter, but that perhaps it would also help me feel like I'm accomplishing something, one step at a time.

The photos above are from our wedding and honeymoon. Being the artist that I am, I made sure we took a picture of the three distinctly different colored trees, located outside the Yankee Candle in MA. Mmmm... nature's palette!

Some favorite A's of mine:

Acoustic Guitar
Art Ministry
Art Museums
Annual Celebrations

I don't know what will come next in this alphabet, but I hope to have a fun time coming up with all the things that inspire me.

Wednesday, August 31, 2011

The Eye (Back in the Groove!)

I'm leading the new student art ministry at my church. Last night was our first meeting. I was nervous at first, but everything went well. I issued the first assignment, answered art-related questions, and did a lesson on the different kinds of pencils and how they work. It was pretty laid back, and we did free draw for the last half hour.

One of the questions that came up was, "How do you draw an eye?" For me, it's one of those things that I just sort of learned how to do at some point, but have never had to explain it to someone else before. I was trying to recall the various lessons I was taught, trying to figure out how to put it into words, not just come across like one of those "this is how I do it so watch me" tutorials. I want my students to understand what I'm teaching. And I want to understand what I'm teaching.

So, I looked online for some kind of tutorial on the artistic anatomy of the eye and how to draw it. I was sadly disappointed to find many of the "this is how I do it so watch me" tutorial videos, which all kind of sucked anyway. Ugh. I found plenty of scientific diagrams, but they didn't explain how to draw the eye. Obviously... they're scientific.

The diagrams were not unhelpful, but I did eventually realize I would have to revisit the anatomy of the eye on my own, and figure out a way to explain it in terms of drawing. I sought the help of my best anatomy book, The Atlas of Human Anatomy for the Artist by Stephen Rogers Peck. Every artist should have a copy! Between the book, the online diagrams, and my own artistic knowledge, I was able to get a new grasp on this small -yet complex and important- facial feature. I still have more research to do for next week's meeting, but I can assure you I am having a blast drawing like this again. It has been much too long.

Monday, August 15, 2011

Stationary Gigs

I've been designing for a lot of weddings this year. They've all been pretty nicely spaced out, and I'm having lots of fun designing the various pieces of stationary. I'm still trying to build up a portfolio, so I'm glad to have had the recent opportunities to do that. I have recently updated my website, and will add more soon. I also have been asked to do the invitations for a friend's 30th birthday party, and another wedding for next year. It will be my fifth wedding job. Can't wait!

I'm finding that I really enjoy designing stationary. Weddings in particular. They are always different. Different themes, colors, etc. Some people like their weddings big and bold, while others like them small and simple. I love sitting down with a bride and discovering what she wants her stationary to say, before there are words to say it. I love capturing the personality of each celebration before it happens. And, as much as there are some very nice, commercially done invitations available, I love the idea of custom invitations. They just seem to capture the uniqueness of each excited couple.

Each relationship is different, so why not express that special romance through the very first piece of the wedding that people see? The stationary. Save the dates and invitations are some of the first things that announce to family and friends that you are about to embark on a new adventure with the person you love most! Why not make it your own from start to finish?

Yep, I'm totally digging the wedding thing. Let me design your stationary! :)

Wednesday, June 22, 2011

"It's been a long time...

...since I've seen your smiling face." - Cake

O art, how I miss thee! I've been doing a lot of wedding-related design these days, but have been so desiring to make my own art again soon. The first piece is a little project I did up for a woman from church. I actually took out some paint and washed a new color over the mat board I used. It felt SO GOOD to paint again, even if just for a quick wash of color.

The second piece is just a little environmentally-inspired design I was just messing around with. I was experimenting with some photographed elements: scraps from the mat board, on a black coffee table, with the flash on. This is pretty much the scraps and the reflected light manipulated in Photoshop. I think I want to experiment with the black background a little more though. It seems lacking... Fun fun though!

Monday, April 4, 2011

Digital experiment with quick sketch

"Only he could ignite her soul, make her come to life."

Tuesday, March 29, 2011

Still here... busyness away!

March is coming to an end. And what do I have to show for the past couple of months? I had promised myself that I would aim to meet the goals I set in place before the "new year" began. Let's look at them again and analyze what's been going on.

1. Blog more.
2. Make time to draw and paint every week.
3. Spend time with God everyday.
4. Read more. About anything that matters to me: ministry, art, food, marriage, etc.
5. Learn more about organic food and healthy cooking.
6. Build better relationships with my co-workers and customers.
7. Make more time for others.
8. Plan a meal schedule for each week. This will save time and money, I am certain.
9. Bake more.
10. Learn to budget, save money, and be a good steward of what God has given me.
11. Be more outward focused.

(1 and 2) The very first one on there, to blog more, has been completely neglected. Why? Because the following one has been severely neglected as well.

(3) My relationship with God has been up and down. Not the quality of my faith in Him, but the time I put into learning about Him. Reading the Bible and praying and the like. The time I do spend with Him has been awesome! He reveals to me things I hadn't thought of, or just shows me more of who He is and where I need to allow Him to work on me.

(4 and 5) LOTS of reading these days. Books, articles, recipes, magazines... I've been reading on pretty much all of the things I find an interest in. Theology, ministry, The Zeitgeist Movement, food, do-it-yourself articles, information on anything I don't understand, etc... It's been very engaging and challenging and wonderful! As for food, my favorite everyday thing I do homemade now is hummus.

(6) Always a progressive thing to build relationships. I haven't seen them much lately though because of all the oral surgery I've been getting. These freaking teeth issues! Which maybe I'll get into in the future. But I've been learning patience at work. I'm already fairly patient, I think, but it helps to be challenged and thrown out of one's comfort zone. Some days are harder than others, but ultimately I enjoy the people I work with. I think there is still room for much growth in how I build those relationships. It's more than just putting up with or listening to people. Effort must be put forth in engaging them and learning about them.

(7) I'm not sure how to gauge this exactly. I've been wishing I could be more like God, able to give my attention to anyone and everyone equally, to love everyone I know fully by being there for them and pouring time into them. But I am not God. It has been so hard to not just reach out to those I am friends with, but to give my time to them. Life has been ridiculously busy. The only people I have truly been able to engage with are the people I see every week, whether at work or in youth ministry. And I have to say that my most intentional and sought after time outside either of those is with the students I serve as a youth leader. I am able to meet with them every week in person and on Facebook. However, while I cannot be everywhere and be with everyone I'd like to, I'm finding that one way to be with people and support them is through the gift of prayer. To be able to pray for someone is something I often overlook. Being in a physical world makes it easy to think that the only way to reach out to others and help is by doing a physical act, whether giving money or moving furniture or driving somewhere. It's so easy to forget about the spiritual needs of people. That is something I have been learning.

(8,9,10) Adam and I have been taking a Dave Ramsey's Financial Peace course. We are now on a budget, planning meals, and doing all of our cooking at home. No more eating out unless we have gift cards that allow us to. I have not been baking much, but all the cooking definitely keeps me busy. Being on a budget is one of the best things we've ever done for our marriage and family. Knowing where your money is going is an amazing feeling!

(11) Yeah... gotta work on this. I think being outward focused is a lifelong goal, and a learning process at that.

I've been playing guitar more, too!

Life has been busy, and there are things I must adjust, but I'm feeling pretty good about this year so far! God is good, life is good. Some really crappy things have happened this year, and those times have been rather brutal, but I still have to say that I love my life. And it's time I start acting like it!

Monday, January 31, 2011

Happy New Year!

Today marks the beginning of my self-decided new year. In a previous post, I explained that December and January had been so busy that they became one big, mushed-together month. And when January came, I was caught off guard, with no plans or goals for the new year. And so, in an attempt to be re-motivated, I'm starting afresh in February.

This little piece is, hopefully, only one of more to come. One of my goals for the year is to make more time for art making. The design stuff I've been doing is fun, but for me, it's not the same as doing a real hands-on piece of art. I want to draw and paint more, traditional art stuff. This little bird painting has actually been long overdue. I told my sister at least a year ago that I'd paint it for her. So here it is, Sis! I hope you like it.

Tuesday, January 25, 2011

Wedding Invitation Packet from my own 2009 Wedding

I want to start keeping better track of my work within blogger, and better organize it to make it more accessible to my viewers. I am starting with all wedding related things, just to see how it goes. Eventually, I hope to have much of this blog organized into categories. I guess we'll see how this goes for someone like me, who is not naturally organized.

Bagels: Part of a complete breakfast

To address some of the questions many of you have been asking me on Facebook and elsewhere, I've decided to dedicate a blog entry to bagel-making. Questions have consisted primarily of "How DO you make bagels?" and "Are they hard to make?"

Last summer, I decided I wanted to learn to make bagels. And, with the help of the internet, that desire became a reality. I simply typed into a Google search "How to make bagels" and was on my way. The very first link led me here, where I learned all about the bagel-making process. The recipe is very simple, and the directions are very straight foreword and helpful. This addresses the first question: how do you make bagels?

Now, are they hard to make? At first glance, that recipe page may seem long, tedious, and daunting. But to be honest, it's not that hard. The first time through it is a little time-consuming because you are still learning the process, but after the first or second time you've done it, the process is much easier and the time more manageable. At this point in time, I've broken the process down into stages. I've also figured out a couple little tricks to make things easier.

Homemade Bagels

4 cups bread flour
1 Tbs sugar
1 1/2 Tsp salt
1 Tbs oil (recipe calls for vegetable oil, but I use olive)
2 Tsp instant yeast
1 1/4 - 1 1/2 cups warm water (not too hot or cold, you'll know)

Stage 1

Mix all the ingredients in a bowl and knead for about 10 minutes.
(Add water last. Use the first 1 1/4 cups, and only add the remaining 1/4 cup if you are having trouble integrating all the flour. Add only tiny bits more if that's still not enough. It might take a little while to get it going but give it a couple minutes to decide if you really need it.)

After you're done kneading the dough, separate it into 8 equal balls.

Leave the balls alone for 20 minutes to let them rise.

Stage 2

Preheat the oven to 425 degrees fahrenheit.

Roll balls to form bagels.
(This part takes practice, and it gets easier the more you do it. Sometimes if I have trouble with the dough sliding around due to dryness, I moisten my hands with water. If they are too wet, though, they will also slide around. You can also moisten the ends of the rolled dough with your hands to make them stick together better.)

Leave again for 20 minutes to let rise.

Stage 3

Fill a large pot (or a frying pan with tall sides, which is what I use) with water and bring to a boil.

Place bagels in water and boil for about a minute on each side. Do not crowd the pot. Boil them in 2 or 3 batches if you have to. Remove bagels and set aside to dry for a minute or two.

While bagels are drying, grease a large baking tray with cooking spray or oil. Set bagels on tray.

Bake for 10 minutes.

Stage 4

Flip the bagels over.

Bake for another 10 minutes.

Remove bagels from oven and let cool for 20 minutes.

Stage 5

Cut, spread on the cream cheese, and enjoy your delicious homemade bagels!

Thursday, January 20, 2011

The Wedding Whirlwind

This is an overview of the design work I did for my brother-in-law's wedding. Remember that wave of busyness I mentioned last post? Well, this was only part of it. For the sake of privacy, I blocked out people's last names.

The Invitation: Inside( left); Back (top right); Front (bottom right)

Reply Card

Wedding Program: Front (left); Back (right)

Shower Invitation

It's kind of amazing that so much work goes into the preparation for one day. Invitations, showers, dress shopping, flowers, finding a venue... So much planning and coordinating! And then, when it's over, it almost feels like it didn't happen. Months of work gone in what seems like only a few hours. What a blur! I thought it would have been less of a blur since it was not my wedding, but perhaps when one is a part of something that wonderful and thought out, one ought to expect it to go by fast.

Anyway, congratulations to Ben and Meghan! May they have a long, happy and blessed marriage!

Wednesday, January 12, 2011

February: The New January?

I doubt I need to mention how long it has been since my last post on this blog. Or any blog for that matter. I had hoped to post something before the new year, with all my new goals in mind. I even had a post all written out on paper, ready to be typed. Yet, because of how busy I have been, I have had minimal free time.

If you recall, I was asked to be in my brother-in-law's wedding. The wedding is this weekend. Since September, I have been able to just barely keep ahead of the wave of business. This has included wedding-related tasks mostly, but also a slew of youth ministry work, house work, a job, and the monster we call "the holidays." Keeping ahead of this wave has not been easy. And, while I have managed to stay on top of certain priorities, others have been waiting on the back burner a little longer than I'd like.

So, without further hesitation or excuse, I present my February New Year's goals. You may be thinking, "But, Alyssa, New Year's begins in January." Yes, very true. But for me, December and January seem to have been mushed into one continuous month that has yet to subside. Usually, I feel a little refreshed when the new year arrives, with goals mapped out and ready to implement. There's that sense of motivation, a spark in me that wants to take new ideas and run with them. But this year, that just hasn't happened yet. January is well underway, and I've had no time to think about anything other than that giant wave right behind me. So February, I have decided, is where my new year will start. And with the "new year" comes new hopes and goals.


1. Blog more.
2. Make time to draw and paint every week.
3. Spend time with God everyday.
4. Read more. About anything that matters to me: ministry, art, food, marriage, etc.
5. Learn more about organic food and healthy cooking.
6. Build better relationships with my co-workers and customers.
7. Make more time for others.
8. Plan a meal schedule for each week. This will save time and money, I am certain.
9. Bake more.
10. Learn to budget, save money, and be a good steward of what God has given me.
11. Be more outward focused.

I'm sure there are other goals rolling around in my head that haven't surfaced yet, but I think this is a good start. See you in February!

Goal #9 is clearly underway already.