Begin again


Today I was so closed to finishing up a hat I was knitting for my son. He had chosen the colors and was very excited about the combination. And yet, it just wasn’t right – it was uncomfortably tight, and the pattern didn’t work out the way we had expected. I had a quick (silent) convo with myself about whether it was about perfectionism, or just being honest with myself. And he was trying to be really aware of my feelings and he didn’t want to tell me he didn’t like it… but after we both danced around it for a while, I declared that if he didn’t love it, then what was the point. And we pulled out the stitches together, and I cast on again.

I haven’t knit in ages, but I had some car time this weekend so it was fun to get back into knitting (and road trip knitting is the best kind of knitting), but I feel happy to make something he loves. And I feel happy to make something I love. I have spent so much time knitting and sewing things to justify impulse purchases – “I need to make a hat out of this yellow yarn,” because I liked the way it looked on the shelf.

And then in ended up wearing things I hated to justify the knitting that I had done to justify the impulse purchase. So, in the last few years I have made big shifts – stopped buying yarn unless it had a very specific plan, and buy good yarn that I couldn’t wait to start knitting. I often cast in for my gauge swatch within hours of my yarn purchase. Now I spend way less on yarn now, and I only have materials i love.

DIY Watercolor Palette (from Makeup Compact)

Creative Living, Free Projects

My watercolor travel kit started with watercolor crayons, but this summer (a summer in which I am home ALL THE TIME) I fantasized about travel and improved my portable watercolor kit. You know, so I am ready for whenever I get to travel again.

Eye shadow palettes make really good watercolor palettes – the little wells are already there, they just need to be cleaned out and filled up with tube watercolors. I had some trouble finding ones that were on their way to the dump, but over the summer I did manage to collect 3. The smaller to went to my kids (with hot glue used to make smaller compartments as needed). The bigger, glorious 32-well compact, is now mine and I love it. I don’t even have enough colors to fill it all! I started with a Sakura Koi set of 18 tube watercolors, so I mixed some together and left some wells empty for future expansion.

Want to make one?

Once I found an makeup compact that I wanted to use for paints, I started by emptying whatever makeup was left (these were all used) and washing it with soap. I had to use q-tips to clean out the corners when I left the metal pans in place. The one that I removed the metal pans from needed the glue removed.

Once dry, I laid out my watercolor tubes and filled each well. A toothpick helps for stirring the wet paint and ensuring it spreads to the corners.

After filling up each well, I left it to dry for 24 hours. Once it’s completely dry, it’s ready to use!

Watercolor summer

Creative Living

Watercolors have always seemed to mysterious to me. I certainly used them often enough as a kid, but always felt like there was a secret I just never understood. I even took a watercolor painting class in college becasuse I was sure that a college professor would certainly tell me the long hidden secrets. But they just talked about them like paints and colors, and I left the class still feeling like I was missing something. I mean, they never turn out like I expected, but once in a while, I would make something that looked ethereal and otherworldly. And I had no idea how I had done it.

And so, as a parent, I pulled out the watercolors and played another with my kids. I suppose it was when I started using watercolor crayons that I felt like I had some semblance of control over where the colors when on the page. I added the color with the crayon, then manipulated the colors with water. That made sense. It obeyed the laws of gravity, too.

And now I have dipped my toe in again and it feels less mysterious and more playful. I don’t alwasy know how the color will move, but I have made peace with that and just like to watch it move on the page, or see if I can catch the colors of the trees by mixing in a little more blue, or maybe it’s purple?

Curious about upcycling an old eye shadow palatte into a travel watercolor kit? Read more here.

Artists on the Move

Dirt Magazine, Family
The rocks of Joshua Tree, as interpreted by a 35-year-old and a 4-year-old.

On our family trip this year we ventured out into the desert for a week of hiking amidst giant boulders and jackrabbits. My husband and I backpacked in Joshua Tree National Park almost a dozen years ago, hauling our water, hiking to abandoned mines, enjoying the quiet vastness of the Pinto Basin. So we decided to go back with our 4 and almost-7-year-old.

Yeah, the second trip was nothing like the first.

We’d hike in the morning, hide out at the hotel during the heat of the day, then bring a picnic dinner into the park. There was whining, for sure. My younger kid would wake up at 6 a.m. with loads of energy and volume, but as soon as he set foot on the trail he would beg to be carried.

But we were prepared. We had read stories about desert animals, geology and artists. We had animal and plant ID pamphlets, and a Junior Ranger activity book. And I had a travel painting kit tucked into my pack.

I packed a set of Staedtler Watercolor Crayons, Strathmor Watercolor Postcards, a handful of paint brushes, and two little plastic pans for water (jar lids or bottle caps would easily do the job). I carried them in a small zipper bag and tossed it in our backpack when we went hiking. With watercolor crayons, you can draw out the shapes with the crayons, then go over it with a wet brush to spread the colors and blend them, and you can even try brushing water on the blank page and then drawing with the crayons over that. We don’t paint a lot at home (what can I say, paint plus toddlers is overwhelming) so this was all kind of new, but low pressure.

I wanted to have a quiet activity for when we needed a rest, but an activity that kept us in the moment and outside. My kids are never silent, but at least we could sit together while we talked about the color of the sky or which rock was their favorite.

The most meaningful and satisfying family vacations we have had are ones in which we found a way to stay engaged with the place we were visiting. By learning about the history of a place, learning about unique rocks or animals that we might see, we get to do more than just see a place, but examine it, be immersed in it. I don’t want to pay thousands of dollars just to get out of the car, snap a selfie, and drive on.

I am going to bring my watercolor kit on hikes or outings this fall, and see if the magic will work again. If painting in the desert was fun, with all its many browns, imagine how thrilling it will be to paint all the colors of a Hudson Valley autumn?

Originally published in Dirt Magazine, July/Aug 2018