DIY: 3M Auto Boot Camp Proves You Can Make Your Old Car Look New Again

It would be wonderful if we could each buy a shiny new car the second the old one started to look shabby. Even if you’re careful, scratches, dents, and general wear and tear can take their toll on your precious. One solution is to take it to a detailer and have them buff and polish until it looks like new, but that can be expensive. I recently discovered how easy it is to bring a car back to life and here’s why you should try this, too.

I write about cars all the time. It’s my day job to know about horsepower and torque and wheelbases and all those numbers the engineers love to quote. I know a lot about cars, but I have never once tried to do any cosmetic work on my car to reduce the effects of age. Awkwardly applied touch-up paint, yes, but buffing and polishing, never.

Continue reading DIY: 3M Auto Boot Camp Proves You Can Make Your Old Car Look New Again

Your Guide to Creating the Perfect Tree of Life Pendant

Recently, I found myself caught up in the tree of life phenomenon. Specifically, I took a real interest in wire-wrapped, handmade tree of life pendants. I had an opportunity to take a three-hour class, held by Wattle Tree Designs, at a local gift shop. Boy, was that a lot of fun! Women, beads, laughter, and the age-old art of passing down a craft from one person to another. I was hooked! Read on for inspiration and instructions on how to make your own tree of life pendants.

Continue reading Your Guide to Creating the Perfect Tree of Life Pendant

Turn Plastic Rings into Bat Bling!

DC Comics has now declared Batman Day to be an annual event, celebrating what they boast in their publicity as the “World’s Most Popular Superhero.”

It’s only proper to accessorize accordingly.

Here’s a way to make some unique bat jewelry out of those cheap plastic novelty rings that I’m assuming are now a legal requirement for most birthday goodie bags and carnival game prizes. All it really takes is some paint, rhinestones, and ambition.

Continue reading Turn Plastic Rings into Bat Bling!

3 ‘Star Wars’ Handprint Paintings for Younglings

Photo: Kelly Knox
Photo: Kelly Knox

When my daughter was a toddler, one of our favorite activities was making handprint paintings together. She loved feeling the cool paint as the brush tickled her fingers, and I loved having a small keepsake of her little hands. Add a Star Wars theme to the handprints, and you’ve got a perfect painting to hang on the fridge or paste in a geek mom’s scrapbook.

Here are three Star Wars handprint painting ideas crafted with small hands to make happy memories.

What You Need

  • Washable paint (Crayola)
  • Paint brush
  • Black marker
  • Paper

Princess Leia Continue reading 3 ‘Star Wars’ Handprint Paintings for Younglings

6 Questions With Darling Army’s Cosplay Clothing Wiz

The Darling Tennant Suiting Cosplay Jumper Pinfore (left) and the Galaxy Police Box Cosplay Kimono Dress (right) are two of Darling Army’s top sellers. All photos courtesy of Darling Army/Amanda Marin.

A few weeks back, we featured “11 Awesomely Geeky Aprons” on GeekMom. People love aprons because they provide a nice excuse to squeeze a little cosplay in everyday—or at all, if you like to keep your cosplay behind closed doors.

However, as the owner of the online shop Darling Army, cosplay artist Amanda Marin makes designs that you’d be proud to wear almost anywhere. Heck, I’d wear this Pokeball skirt or even this Baymax pinafore to the grocery store, if I could.

Amanda doesn’t just create aprons, but she also does dresses, skirts, bibs, tights, and more. She aims to add one new design to her site every week, but she’s also pretty open to suggestions. She just isn’t always open to new orders. In fact, she typically only takes on 20 projects at a time, which can take anywhere from 2 to 4 weeks to create. When she does take on new orders, she usually fills up within 4 to 5 minutes. (Mark your calendar; the next order window will be open on Sunday, September 13, 2015, at 7:00 a.m. PDT.)

Although she constantly has orders to fill, I got the chance to ask Amanda about her online shop, her inspirations, and some of her best-sellers.

GeekMom: Please describe your shop…

Amanda Marin: I focus on making cosplay alternatives for cute enthusiasts. In general, I take male characters or objects from shows and adapt their designs to be more flattering for a woman’s body. Instead of making full cosplay or dresses, I focus on adapting these designs into kimono dresses and pinafores which can easily be adjusted for multiple sizes and removed, which makes them ideal for long convention days. Have you ever tried to even take a simple eating break during a con in full cosplay? It’s a nightmare!

Photo: Amanda Marin.

GM: How long have you been doing this?

AM: I’ve been sewing my own cosplay for almost 15 years (since I was 12), but I’ve only been offering them to other people for the past four years. When I was working towards my teaching credential, I couldn’t hold a normal job because I was student teaching full-time during the day and going to classes at night. Since I didn’t have money for Christmas presents that year, I made my friends fandom pinafores with leftover fabric and they loved them! Eventually, I decided I’d have to start selling my designs online since it was my only job option. The rest is history!

GM: Would you say that most people order for cosplay or everyday wear? Or do you even know?

AM: It depends. Most people order the pinafores and kimono dresses for conventions and specific costume events. The skirts and capelets are more for everyday wear. My printed dresses and tights are new, but I think a lot of people are ordering those for everyday and casual convention days.

GM: Where do you get your ideas?

AM: From whatever I am playing, watching, or reading at the time. I have a sketch folder with over 400 designs that haven’t come to the store yet. Every time I join a new fandom or see a new character design, I usually add a couple sketches to that folder.

GM: What is your top seller?

AM: That’s actually pretty hard to say! For a while, my David Tennant Suiting Pinafores were on top, but the addition of kimono dresses has brought a whole new group to the store. For now, I’d say the Galaxy Tardis Kimono Dress has been the most popular design for the past two months. It changes based on the season. Convention season usually sees more anime and gaming-inspired designs, while Halloween leans towards Doctor Who.

GM: Is this your full-time job?

AM: Yes! So much for that teaching degree. I work 10 to 15 hours a day on orders, depending on the season. Halloween usually sees me working from morning ’til night.

For a peek at more of Amanda’s designs, check out the Darling Army website and the Darling Army Facebook page.

Be the Artist: LeRoy Neiman

Put in motion your favorite “fictional” sports by capturing motion and color using some LeRoy Neiman influence. (Image: “Slytherin vs. Griffindor” by Lisa Kay Tate)

The Artist: LeRoy Neiman

Everything about 20th Century American painter LeRoy Neiman was colorful, from his art to his personal style and attitude.

LeRoy Neiman was always colorful. His autobiography, All Told, was released just days before his death at age 91. (Artist image courtesy Creative Stuff, via Wikicommons. Program cover: New York Jets via Wikicommons. Book cover: Lyons Press.)

He was born in 1921 in St. Paul, Minnesota. His father abandoned his family at an early age, and he was raised by his mother, whom he had described as “spirited” and “ahead of her time.” He grew up in a working class neighborhood, and had even referred to himself as a “street kid,” but that didn’t stop his artistic cravings. In school, he painted signs for school assemblies (as well as tattoos on his friends during lunch). In the Armed Forces, he painted backgrounds for Red Cross shows.

Later in life, he continued several successful commercial art and fine art ventures, for everything from magazines to sports program covers.

His signature painting style came about in the 1950s, when he discovered that “free-flowing paint” produced fast-moving strokes and therefore, fast-moving action.

In terms of his art, Neiman was prolific. He could produce a couple dozen paintings a year, and was constantly sketching images he used for his painting ideas.

According to his biography on his official website, Neiman often painted on “Masonsite or Upson (a board made with ground wood and recycled paper products), and used a sheer coat of polymer ground (a type of primer)” on the surfaces. Then he laid on the color. He painted large brushed areas with oil paints, combined opaque and transparent materials to compliment each other, and made the most use of both positive and negative space as he could. There were often two or more media in each painting, including watercolor, ink, graphite, gouache, or felt-tip marker to achieve the look he wanted.

He said in a 1961 issue of American Artist he would use colors, painted outlines, and space to help him “describe whatever is emotionally necessary for its intended function in the picture.”

He is best known for sports paintings, and drew action-filled scenes of Olympic games, horse racing, Super Bowl bouts, and most every other kind of team or individual sport. His images also covered a spectrum of pop culture icons of hundreds of celebrities from Sylvester Stallone to Liza Minnelli. He even created 40-foot-high murals for dancer and choreographer Tommy Tune for a New York City theater. He also painted landscapes, animals, and images that inspired him on his travels to exotic locations.

Neiman’s own look of a New York-style “man about town” was recognizable as well, as he was always seen with his large handlebar mustache and, most the time, with his trademark cigar.

Neiman painted nearly his entire life. In 2010, he had a medical problem that resulted in the amputation of his right leg, but he continued to paint. He died at age 91 in 2012 in the New York home he and his wife shared for more than 50 years.

Even through his paintings weren’t always perfectly in tune with the natural color schemes of the actual subject, he said he remained true to the subject in his own way.

“I do not depart from the colors borrowed from life,” he said in VIP Magazine in 1962, “but I use color to emphasize the scent, the spirit, and the feeling of the thing I’ve experienced.”

The Project: Fantasy and Sci-Fi Sports Scenes

Neiman’s use of color often brought out what he called the “spirit” of the subject, not necessarily the expected norm. Fortunately, fictional bouts don’t have to worry about what’s always completely real. (Image: “GoGo On The Grid” by Lisa Kay Tate)

I’m ending this summer’s Be the Artist projects with something fun, colorful, and easy to explain…but not so easy to achieve that it doesn’t pose a good challenge.

In celebration of Neiman’s colorful spirit, as well as the start of many school and professional sports, let’s paint an action image of a favorite “fictional” sport.

This project is the perfect opportunity to play with mixed-media. If the color works…use it! (Image: Lisa Kay Tate)

One of the reasons Neiman’s work was so popular was that sports and fine art had never really come together before to a great extent. He had tapped onto a new and vibrant genre with this artistic marriage. Even those who prefer books or movies over playing fields and arenas have to admit, fantasy is filled with sports like Quidditch, Hunger Games, or Pod Racing. It’s out there, and it’s exciting.

Look at screen shots from favorite movies or comic book pages for a favorite “sports” or “recreational” image and paint it. Sounds easy, but can you capture that action? How far are they leaning on their brooms or ostriches? How far back is that throwing arm? Examine these pictures and see what clues make our eyes realize this static picture is actually full of movement?

Now, can you capture it with without “sketching” it or drawing it out first? Okay, I’ll go easy on beginners. Go ahead and sketch out your idea lightly, or take advantage of the method used in the Roy Lichtenstein project with just broad brush strokes. Don’t worry about facial details. Novices can even try tracing just the outlines like the Alphose Mucha art project, but only use these “cheats” to get started if you have trouble.

With Neiman, the key was in strokes and color. Neiman did do some portraits and figure drawings, but he was the king of energy and movement. Put your art in motion, by adding color along the figures edges, splashes or splotches in the background, and other touches of color overlaid through the entire picture.

Try some splatters and bold strokes, or use a sponge and pat down the background with layers.  Also, remember Neiman liked to combine media, so go ahead and use watercolor with acrylic, or colored pencil with pastels or crayons. If it looks good and works for the sport, then that’s the only rule you need to follow.

Whatever you pick, be bold! Be bright! Stand out! Whether it was his art or his own persona, quiet subtlety wasn’t what Neiman was often known for, as he said in a 1984 article in Esquire:

“I like being outrageous,” he said.

“Joust” by the Tate girls used acrylic, watercolor, and fine tip marker. (Image: Lisa Kay Tate)

Top 10 Tips For A DIY Haunted House

What's more fun than Halloween haunted house? Photo courtesy iStock Copyright egal
What’s more fun than a Halloween haunted house? (Photo courtesy iStock, copyright egal)

1.  Spray paint is not water-soluble—wear gloves.

2. If using a handyman for labor, be specific. Just telling him you want a “table covering the toilet” will result in a small piece of plywood balanced on the stool.

3. When covering the walls in plastic sheeting, clearly mark where the outlets are hidden.

4. Do not replace all lighting sources with black lights until after you decorate.

5. Dogs do not like large, animated spiders.

6. Dogs do like severed latex heads.

7. Turn off sound-activated animatronic zombies before giving your mother-in-law a tour.

8. You may think you’ve scrubbed all the glow-in-the-dark spray off your hands, but you can’t be sure until you go to the movies.

9. If using a basement or garage, count the fake plastic spiders. It makes finding the real ones easier.

10. The interwebs lie! The recipe using brighteners and phosphorescence does not make black light paint. It does, however, make a potent smoke bomb.

Okay, so those may be my top 10 lessons learned, but unless you too get a call from your neighbor to report a runaway Golden Retriever carrying a bloody head, they may not be the most applicable. But after building several over-the-top haunted houses, I’m happy to pass on some hard-won advice:

1. Build strong. I cannot over-stress how much abuse will be inflicted on your haunted house. No matter the age group, no matter how well-behaved, fear and excitement lead to wild behavior. I hire high schoolers from my neighborhood to work inside for extra scare, but they are all well-informed as to the risk (punches have been thrown) and are allowed to back out and take breaks. Anything I care about, animatronics and such, are behind screens and fences. Most people, even tween-age kids respect a barrier. I build with sugared-up 10-year-old boys in mind, and most things hold up.

This door might just be tough enough! photo courtesy iStock copyright Joe_Potato
This door might just be tough enough! (Photo courtesy iStock, copyright Joe_Potato.)

2. Don’t skimp on the scary. After several years of Halloween parties, I’ve learned that the kids who are going to be too scared, are just going to be too scared. Same for adults. Toning down the fright won’t help—they aren’t the audience you’re building for. I have other games or activities for that crowd, and I amp up the scare. The last year I built, I put in an air gun, which really brought the screams. But the folks that were into it couldn’t wait to go again. A few kids made their parents go with them, and a few parents made their kids take them through as well! Make it as scary as you can. It really will be appreciated.

3. It’s all about the lighting. Anytime someone enters a haunted house, they are expecting to be scared. Unless you have an actual zombie or weeping angel somewhere, very little you can do will live up to their imagination. But if the lighting keeps them from ever being completely sure where they are or what they are seeing, your scary will be helped along by their own internal fears. I like pitch black, black lights and strobe lights. You can buy high-quality strobe and black lights on Amazon or most Halloween stores. Use a variety, even together.

4. “Real” walls are a must. I’ve been in some homemade haunted houses that use sheets or boxes to make walls, but these eventually create problems. They rarely hold up—see number 1. Also, they allow the flow of the haunted house to become disrupted. Not knowing what’s around the next corner plays into that imaginary fear, but if folks can walk right through the walls, the effect gets spoiled. I use multiple plies of black plastic sheeting. These can be maneuvered to run floor to ceiling, and make very solid walls. I’ve used shower-type tension rods and zip ties to brace the sheeting, although sometimes we’ve built rudimentary frames with 2x4s. Granted, this will create some damage to the space you are working in. I suggest garages or unfinished basements if you want to go the full-frame route. The last time I went all out, we ended up remodeling the basement. Although, for full disclosure, the remodel was planned before October.

Good luck cleaning that mess! photo courtesy iStock Copyright dimjim
Good luck cleaning that mess! (Photo courtesy iStock, copyright dimjim.)

5. Small spaces work. Don’t be intimidated if you don’t have a ton of space. We used a 500-square-foot basement, and with the many twists, turns, and (yes) tunnels we created, the haunted house felt huge! Next year we are planning a giant haunted house in our three-car garage. I’m actually a bit intimidated by all that space!

6. Separate entrance and exit are optimum. While it isn’t always possible to have a one-way traffic pattern, if at all feasible, try to work this out. Folks will bottleneck at different points in the haunt even without having to make a return trip. Plus, as stated above, half the scary is in the imagination, so eliminating “spoilers” is best for optimizing fright. For our basement house, we used our exterior entrance—complete with a small, 2×4 framed canopy of black sheeting to block the light—as a queuing area and had the thrill-seekers exit through the house. It made for quite a wild time in the kitchen, where the basement stairs empty out, but was worth the headaches.

7. Staple guns are (unfortunately) your friend. There is really no way around this one. It is hard on walls, ceilings, and floors, but after trying absolutely every type of tape, tack, hot glue, and string on the market, I’ve come to realize that the only way to get fake spider webs and many other props to stay, and hold, up is via staple gun. Black duct tape is key for fixing lighting wires and holding the sheeting together, but nothing can replace those little staples. Once again, go with a garage or unfinished area. Or just plan a remodel.

8. Liquid props do not leave willingly. You are warned. One year, I decided to splatter a wall with fake blood. Two coats of primer and three coats of paint later, it wasn’t visible—until you turned on the lights. Seriously, if you are going to spray anything, use plastic painters sheeting to save the floors and be prepared for a massive clean-up job. Or just make the haunt somewhere appearance doesn’t matter. Bonus, if you use the same space the following year. The sprays will still be there! And if you are wondering, yes, I really did go to a movie with glow in the dark hands. And nose.

9. Hire Staff! This may seem like a silly expense, but trust me on this one. Don’t go all out—I use local high schoolers. You can usually pay babysitting rates and, if you hire the right kids, they really get into it. I always station someone at the entrance to control the entry flow and one person near the exit to keep the door shut after each terrified person flees. I usually like one or two people within the haunt to add some interaction. One year, I made a tunnel with a hidden side panel (plywood) to allow my workers to reach into the tunnel and grab the thrill-seekers. It was both evil and genius. I’ll use that one again. I make sure to have a few extras so someone is always on break and let them rotate positions. Like I said, this may seem like overkill, but it leads to our last tip…

Hire the right help and everyone will have a good time! photo courtesy iStock copyright AlbinaTiplyashina
Hire the right help and everyone will have a good time! (Photo courtesy iStock, copyright AlbinaTiplyashina.)

10. Have an adult beverage. The best thing about throwing a party is enjoying the party. You’ve done all the work to build the haunt, so now sit back, sip, and relax. Let your high-school employees take it from here; they will have a blast without being micromanaged. And, after all that work, you don’t want to see how your creation is treated, trust me! But the screams and giggles and folks running from the exit back to the entrance will be a great reward. That, and that frosty mug.

Accio, Books! Make a Hermione Granger Bookmark for Back to School

Photo: Kelly Knox
Photo: Kelly Knox

Go back to school with the brightest witch of her age by making a Hermione Granger bookmark to nestle in her one of her favorite things: a book.

This bookmark is inspired by the look of the new Pop! Hermione Granger recently released by Funko.

What You Need

Photo: Kelly Knox
Photo: Kelly Knox
  • Black, white, maroon, gold, brown, and light tan/peach cardstock
  • Black enamel dot stickers (like these from Doodlebug, found in craft stores with the scrapbooking supplies)
  • School glue
  • Scissors
  • Black marker

Get Started!

Begin by cutting two black strips the same size, approximately 1.25 inches by 6 inches (or 4 inches for a shorter bookmark). Cut a small oval for Hermione’s face, and a strip smaller than the black strip for her neck and shirt.

Photo: Kelly Knox
Photo: Kelly Knox

Next, cut a small shape for the tie out of the maroon cardstock, and a small strip of gold for the tie’s stripes.

Photo: Kelly Knox
Photo: Kelly Knox

Cut a hair shape out of the light brown cardstock, using the oval as a guide for size. (Remember, this is Hermione, so the poofier the better!)

Photo: Kelly Knox
Photo: Kelly Knox

Now it’s time to start putting it all together!

Glue the oval behind the hair, and then glue the white strip to the bottom of the face.

Then, glue the maroon tie under Hermione’s chin. Cut the gold strip to fit and carefully add two stripes to the tie.

Photo: Kelly Knox
Photo: Kelly Knox

Next, cut a small triangle in the top of one of the black stripes for the front of the robe. Line it up with the tie and glue the robe to the shirt.

Flip the bookmark over, and glue the other black cardstock to the back to finish the robe and give the bookmark a cleaner look.

You can also trace her hair on the brown paper, cut it, and glue to the back of her head to finish the clean look.

Photo: Kelly Knox
Photo: Kelly Knox

You’re almost done! Place two black enamel dots for Hermione’s eyes, and draw a smile beneath.

Finally, to add some texture, use the school glue to draw waves in Hermione’s hair and down the length of the robe to give it some detail.

Photo: Kelly Knox
Photo: Kelly Knox

After the glue on the front dries, flip the bookmark over to add waves to the back of her hair with school glue for the final touch.

Photo: Kelly Knox
Photo: Kelly Knox

Allow the bookmark to dry completely, and Hermione is complete.

Be the Artist: Ansel Adams

moon over tatooine
Moons Over Tatooine, using a photo of the moon, and a set up display of plastic toys. Tatooine, by the way, has three moons. Two suns, three moons. Ansel Adams would have loved it there. Image: Lisa Kay Tate

The Artist: Ansel Adams

Ansel Easton Adams, born in 1902 in San Francisco, California, was known for his black-and-white landscape photography, primarily of the wide open spaces of the American West.

Adams used the contrast of light and dark to make his images more dramatic. Adams portrait by J. Malcolm Greany, Public Domain. All other images by Ansel Adams from the National Archives, via Wikicommons

As a child, Adams was prone to hyperactivity and hypochondria. He did, however, love the view of the Golden Gate Bridge and the surrounding landscape around his home. He also loved the beauty of nature at a very young age.

Adams was a talented pianist through his youth, and his focus on piano was what helped curb some of his hyperactive tendencies. He even planned on making it his profession at one point.

He got his first camera in 1916, a Kodak Brownie, where he took his first photos of Yosemite National Park during a family trip. So began his love of the camera, and he was ready to apply it to his love of nature. He was so inspired by Yosemite, he returned there the next year with tripods and better equipment. He was soon learning basic darkroom techniques, and even acquired a job in San Francisco as a photo finisher, but kept returning to Yosemite. He eventually met and married Virginia Best there. Best ran Best’s Studio in Yosemite, which is today known as Ansel Adams Gallery. In the 1920s, he begin selling his photography of Yosemite from that studio.

An avid outdoorsman and environmentalist, Adams captured many of the wonders of the natural world on film including Glacier National Park, Carlsbad Caverns, Taos Pueblo, and many others. As a member of the environmental conservation group, Sierra Club, Adams even worked as a summer caretaker for the organization’s visitor center in Yosemite Valley when he was a teenager.

In the years before digital cameras and instant photo adjustments, Adams, along with fellow photographer, Fred Archer, helped develop a method of determining the best exposure for a scene. This is known as the “Zone System.” Even if his subject matter seems uninteresting to some critics, his pristine capture of shadows and light is still appreciated today. He did do some work in color, but found black and white more appealing.

Even his early photographs showed his care of balance, and he experimented with different methods of making images more beautiful, including soft-focus etching, the Bromoil Process, and other methods.

No matter how simple or vast his subject, Adams wanted it to be more than just a snapshot.

“It is easy to take a photograph,” he said in his self-titled autobiography, “but it is harder to make a masterpiece in photography than in any other art medium.”

The Project: Moon Over…Wherever

moon over Hobbiton
Moon Over Hobbiton, Middle Earth using my moon image and some cutouts from a movie magazine. Image: Lisa Kay Tate

Adams took one of his most famous works while visiting New Mexico in 1941: Moonrise, Hernandez, New Mexico. This darkly peaceful work depicts the quiet Northern New Mexico village, with snow-covered mountains in the background, residing under a full moon.

This piece, at least to New Mexico residents, often pops up in the news, as photographers still try to re-create it today. This in itself isn’t a problem, except for some reason or another the residents of Hernandez don’t enjoy getting visitors with cameras interrupting their solitude. It is understandable to want one’s solitude, but it is also no mystery, upon seeing the photograph, why is makes for an inviting photo op.

An old desktop calendar image of Adams's Moon Over Hernandez, New Mexico (bottom left) serves as inspiration for these pictures of the moon (and an eclipse) from our backyard. Image: Lisa Kay Tate
An old desktop calendar image of Adams’s Moon Over Hernandez, New Mexico (bottom left) serves as inspiration for these pictures of the moon (and an eclipse) from our backyard. Image: Lisa Kay Tate

To pay homage to this piece, which exemplifies Adams’s mastery of light and dark balance, as well as avoiding any trespassing issues, this simple photography and collage project takes advantage of the convenience of digital cameras and photo editing apps, while still demanding a little creative thinking on the part of the photographer.

First, take a picture of the moon from your home. You don’t have to capture your landscape in the photo if you don’t want, but make sure it is from where you reside (unless you can’t get a good shot of it, then take one from an area as close to your home as possible). Plus, it’s a good excuse to get outside and enjoy nature, like Adams did.

Once you have your image, print it. Color is fine for now. The black and white aspect comes later.

Next, either draw or set up a little scene from a favorite place, real or fictional, and cut it out. If you build one, take it at a slightly lighter time of day, so it will stand out against the moon. Again, color is fine for now.

These little plastic toys will look more authentic once changed to grayscale. Image: Lisa Kay Tate.

Take the little “landscape” and place it over the picture of the moon, so it looks like it is in the forefront. Once finished, take another photo of the finished product. Don’t scan it—as tempting as it would be—as that would be missing the point of the whole thing, taking photos.

Now, here’s the key. If you’ve taken these photos in color, use the grayscale tool on your digital device or photo editing app (they should all have one), and look at the difference. Much more dramatic, isn’t it?

If you have taken these in black and white, play with the levels to get that Ansel Adams effect or dark and light contrast. I also used the Pixlr web app to create the torn edge effect (also to add some stars to Gallifrey). Print them out on photo paper, and you’ve got your own personal Moon Over… image.

Fair warning, photography can be quite addictive (and I’m not talking about selfies). It only takes the spark of one inspiring view to ignite that passion to capture one’s world on film, just as Yosemite did for Adams.

“The splendor of Yosemite burst upon us and it was glorious..One wonder after another descended upon us. There was light everywhere,” he wrote in his autobiography. “A new era began for me.”

Maybe one will for you, as well.

moon over gallifrey
Moon of Gallifrey, using our moon photo, and a simple drawing of the Gallifreyan landscape, as well as an online filter to add some stars. Image: Lisa Kay Tate

This Geeky House: Enchanted Forest Inspired Home and Garden

Summer is waning, and I am trying to hold on to the last bits of warm before the fall sets in and the colors change. The magic of summertime inspired me to find some modern treasures that put a little magic into your home. Here are seven (a magical number) that will enchant your rooms and gardens and make you feel like you live within a fairy ring:

Image courtesy of Dellamorteco

Dryad Statue

This gorgeous statue from art studio Dellamorteco is made out of handpainted resin will have you wondering which of your trees are also inhabited by nymphs. He also makes a beautiful Dryad Winestopper and a spirited Titania (The Fairy Queen) statue!


Image courtesy of Bodner Chandeliers

Firefly Branch Chandelier

While this one was my favorite, Bodner makes a whole line of woodland chandeliers that are quite pretty. If you don’t want to buy the lighting, this is also a very easy item to make. There are a thousand and one examples online.


Image courtesy of Shawn Lovell Metalworks

Tree Bed

Yes, the price tag on this bed is steep, but LOOK AT IT. Stunning. Anthropologie makes a similar bed for much less, and if you are on a budget, creating your own could be as simple as attaching some natural or spray painted branches to a cheaper canopy bed, or hanging them like a canopy from the ceiling.


Image courtesy of Trustworth Wallpaper

Trustworth “The Fairyland” Wallpaper

There are actually several Trustworth wallpapers that would fit in an Enchanted Forest home, but this one was my favorite and the most appropriate in my opinion. Can you imagine a wall of this? It’s magical enough to evoke the spirit of the forest but abstract enough to be very modern.


Image courtesy of Terrain

Victorian Fernery Bench

I can already see myself sipping tea in the garden on this incredible fern bench, surrounded by the trees and plants that provide shelter to the fairies and the woodland creatures. I also love this little set.


Image courtesy of Karma Kiss

Toadstool Table

Can you imagine your little fairies and gnomes playing and snacking at this adorable table? Inside or outside, this would make everyone feel happy and magical! There’s another version at Hearthsong as well.


Image courtesy of FairyBehindTheDoor

Fairy Doors and Accessories

I’m going to tell you a little secret, there is nothing more powerful than a fairy door. If you hide it in your garden, it gives your family and friends great delight. If you put it somewhere passersby can discover it, their delight will be your joy. You can build a full village or just one little door, but it immediately enchants its surroundings. The one above came from Etsy Shop Fairy Behind The Door, who carries all sorts of styles and options. There are also many others on Etsy. I even saw a section for fairy accessories in the garden section of Target the other day! Last but not least, make your own! Using natural and recycled materials you can DIY some awesome fairy shelter and playgrounds!

Home Sweet Geeky Home!

GeekMom Call For New Contributors!

cropped-cropped-geek-mom-transparent.pngNote: Thank you all so much for the submissions. We have looked them over and expect to be sending out invites by Friday, October 9th.

Geeky parents of the Internet, GeekMom wants you!

GeekMom has been an active community blog for nearly 5 years now, and we have a dedicated group of people who participate and enjoy sharing their experiences as geeks and as parents. We want to grow and bring some new energy into the family; and that means finding new geeky parents to join our ranks. Continue reading GeekMom Call For New Contributors!

Zucchini Hack: Make Your Own Gummy Worms

We're not kidding. Zucchini worms are not only healthy, they taste awesome.
We’re not kidding. Zucchini worms are not only healthy, they’re chewy and sweetly delicious. Photo: L.G.  Weldon.

It’s “Overwhelmed By Zucchini” time of year again. My family is all too aware that zucchini lurks in their omelets, their smoothies, their pizza, and their burritos. My neighbors are onto my little trick of leaving anonymous squash gifts on their porches. My friends are no longer fooled by Zapple Pie.

Time to turn to my trusty secret weapon: the Excalibur 3900. This miracle machine (a.k.a. a dehydrator) sits on our laundry room counter, churning out marvels all summer and fall. It gives me the power to convert a head of cauliflower, chopped and dried with salt and garlic powder, into crunchy snackable tidbits that fit in a pint jar. It lets me transform a peck of tomatoes into dried tomato slices that neatly fill a quart bag. It enables me to turn a sink full of peaches into dozens of flavor-packed fruit roll-ups.

Which brings me to zucchini. Yes, that monster zuke in your garden or CSA basket can be transformed into tasty gummy fruit. Not like the candy version; more like the health food store version of gummy fruit. Go ahead, give it a try. You can get through quite a few monster zukes this way.

Zuke Gummy Worms

You might want to change the recipe name, either to keep from fessing up to the main ingredient or to avoid comparison with those wildly colored and artificially sweetened candies. Maybe call them Zuke Fruits. (Zucchini is a fruit, btw.)


  • 6 to 7 cups of peeled zucchini, cut into thin strips*
  • One 12 to 16 ounce can of unsweetened juice concentrate, undiluted (apple-raspberry, grape-cherry, or pineapple are wonderful)
  • 1/4 to 1/3 cup of water
  • Optional: flavorings, such as fruit extract or fruit oils (I use a dash of lemon or orange extract when using pineapple juice)
  • Optional: for a sweeter snack, add up to 1/4 cup honey or up to a 1/2 cup sugar

*Peel zucchini and cut out the core so that no seeds or sponge-y seed area remains. I cut the strips about as thick as my husband’s fingers. As long as they’re somewhat uniform, cut them as you please. Heck, make them into cubes if you like.

Make healthy zucchini candy.
Peel away the skin, then cut into uniform strips. Photo: L. G. Weldon.


Put all ingredients in a large, non-stick skillet. Bring to a boil, then turn down to a simmer. The zucchini will not be completely immersed in the liquid, but will soften as it cooks. Stir gently with a rubber or silicone spatula as needed to move the liquid around so all the pieces have time to simmer in the juice.

Continue cooking until all pieces are translucent. Chances are the liquid will be entirely used up by that time. Typically, it takes about a half hour but it can take longer. If the pieces still aren’t done, you may need to add a few spoonfuls of water. I often take out the pieces as they become translucent in order to let the others cook longer.

Spread the pieces so they’re not touching on non-stick dehydrator sheets and load in the machine. Put the dehydrator setting on “fruit leather” or “fruit.” On my machine, that’s between 115 and 125 degrees. Start checking for doneness after about 8 hours. It can take up to 24 hours, depending on the size of the pieces. I check by peeling off a smaller, more done piece and munching it. Testing is the fun part.

(I tried cooking a batch of these on Silpat sheets in the oven on the lowest temperature, 170 degrees. When they didn’t get to the dry chewy stage after about 9 hours, I got impatient and tossed them in the dehydrator. The fan in the dehydrator really accelerates the process.)

You’ll know when they’re done. They should be somewhat tough and quite chewy, keeping your mouth much busier than you’d expect. If they’re not chewy, they’re not done. Keep checking, since you don’t want them all the way to crisp! Because their moisture content won’t be as low as most long-term storage items cranked out by dehydrators, store them in an airtight container and use them up in a few days. Or keep them in the fridge (that’ll make them a dental challenge for sure). We haven’t chilled any we’ve made because they get eaten up too quickly.

These little snacks are remarkably tasty. They’re also (unlike actual gummy worms) very filling. Zucchini has fiber, potassium, calcium, magnesium, vitamin A and C, folate, choline, and even omega-3 fatty acids. It may lose some nutrients from cutting away the peel, but each piece is a highly concentrated package of tasty energy. It can’t be compared to the candy. It’s better. Not rainbow-colored, but sweet and delicious.

Cover Girl Announces Star Wars Edition Makeup

Image credit: CoverGirl via Allure Magazine

Last month, Lucasfilm announced an assortment of product partnerships for the release of Star Wars: The Force Awakens, including Verizon, Duracell, General Mills, Subway, HP, and FCA US. The seventh was CoverGirl cosmetics, and today we finally got to see what that will look like.

On the up side, Star Wars! Possibly on the down side, depending on your makeup preferences, the colors are very trendy and not necessarily daily wear, featuring shimmery purples, a gold, and a silver shade. But on the other hand, while a luminous lilac might not be office wear for your day job, they could be perfect for your next cosplay. The nail colors are a bit more wearable. (And I’m amused that one is named Nemesis, which seems more like a Star Trek color name.) There appear to be two mascaras, a Light Side and a Dark Side that are repackages of their Super Sizer mascara. They come in 10 different tubes, each with a Star Wars quote on it, from “Do. Or do not. There is no try,” to “You will meet your destiny.”

See all the pictures in the preview at Allure magazine and get it in stores September 4.

TOMS Shoes for Gamer Girls (No Painting Required!)

Red Gamer TOMS Shoes © TOMS
Red Gamer TOMS Shoes © TOMS

Most moms are familiar with the comfort and style of TOMS shoes. If you wanted to add your distinctive geek style to your comfy slip-ons, though, you usually had to take the time to paint them yourself.

But not anymore! Continue reading TOMS Shoes for Gamer Girls (No Painting Required!)

Be the Artist: Alphonse Mucha

It seems every pop culture icon has been given the Mucha treatment. Why not a self-portrait or family picture? Image: Lisa Kay Tate.

The Artist: Alphonse Mucha

Alphons Maria Mucha (AKA Alphonse Mucha) is credited as being the father of art nouveau (French for “new art”). Born in the Czech Republic in 1860, drawing had been his hobby since he was a small child. When he was around 19, he began taking on decorative painting jobs, especially scenery for theaters, and eventually began formal training at the Munich Academy of Fine Arts.

He got his “big break” as painter in 1894, while living in Paris. He had already been creating designs for magazines and advertising, and was asked to do a new advertising poster for a play featuring Paris’s most famous actress, Sarah Bernhardt. His piece gained so much positive attention, Bernhardt began a six-year contract with Mucha.

Mucha wanted to concentrate on his fine art creations, but it was his commercial work that was best loved by admirers. Artist image: Library of Congress (Public Domain). Poster images: Wikicommons courtesy of

Mucha was soon producing several works for theaters, books, posters, and advertisements in his now familiar style of what soon became known as “Art Nouveau,” (new art). This style featured young women in flowing robes, sometimes with flowers, sometimes with halos, and often in pale, pastel colors.

Despite his popularity in this style, Mucha was frustrated it was his commercial work that gained the most attention. He wanted to concentrate on his fine art. This included his 1899 publication, Le Pater, an occult-oriented look at The Lord Prayer (of which not more than 500 copies were made), and his twenty-painting series, The Slav Epic, documenting the history of the Czech and Slavic people.

In the 1930s, Mucha’s work began being denounced as “reactionary” when German troops begin moving into Czechoslovakia. He was one of the first people to be arrested by the Gestapo there, and developed pneumonia during his interrogation in 1939. Shortly after his release, he died of a lung infection in Prague.

Many were already considering his style “outdated” at the time of his death, but Mucha’s art is still extremely popular with present day art lovers.

Despite the events surrounding his death, Mucha said his work was meant to bring people of all types together. The Mucha Museum in Prague features one of his inspirational quotes on the subject:

“The purpose of my work was never to destroy but always to create, to construct bridges,” Mucha said, “because we must live in the hope that humankind will draw together and that the better we understand each other the easier this will become.”

The Project: Mucha Yourself

Mucha’s halos were a mainstay in most of his images. What details will you put in yours? Image: Lisa Kay Tate.

Anyone who has visited a book store, wandered past the window at an art shop, filed through the poster art at craft and interior design stores and sites knows Mucha’s work is pretty much everywhere.

Take an even closer look, and it’s pretty evident Mucha and art nouveau-inspired fan art is all the rage. Everything from Disney Princesses to Doctor Who. Google any characters or pop culture icons with the words “art nouveau,” and there’s a four-to-one chance someone has done a Mucha-mashup of them.

If this is the case, what is there left to create? Well, is there any art nouveau fan art of…You? No? Let’s change that.

Find a full-body or waist up photo of yourself…or a relative or friend…you want to send back to the art nouveau era. Using tracing or other light-weight paper, trace the outline of your subject with a fine line black marker, making the outer edge slightly broader than the details. You can over-exaggerate features such as flowing hair or clothes if you want. Once done, carefully cut it out and set it aside.

Use a simple tracing of a photo to create a black and white image, you or your kids can color in on their own. Images: Lisa Kay Tate.

On another, more substantial piece of paper, create your “Mucha-esque” background. The most obvious choice being that large circular “halo.” To make this, draw two concentric circles. Make the center one slightly off-centered or flush in the middle. Next, using a stencil or compass, draw several connecting circles in the space between the larger and smaller circle. Now, within each circle, draw items colors that best represent the subject of your drawing (fandoms, flags, astrological signs, flowers, occupation-related items, etc.).

Finally, give it a border and background. Mucha often flowers, stars, clouds, solid backgrounds, vines and other flowing designs, if you’re looking for some inspiration.

If you’re ready for an even bigger challenge, add some words. These can be free-handed or cut and pasted on the picture from printed out letters. has about eight or nine really good art nouveau style fonts to try out.

Once the image is set in place, color it in with colored pencil, watercolor, or marker. Mucha’s work often has shades of yellow, pink, blue, green, and other pastels. Take a look at some of Mucha’s work on sites like Pinterest for color and design inspiration.

How simple or detailed you go is up to you, but make it personal. Art was a very personal matter to Mucha, and this inspirational quote by him is often seen accompanying posters, essays, photos, and exhibitions featuring his work:

“Art exists only to communicate a spiritual message,” he said.

What message do you want Mucha’s style to help you convey about yourself?

It isn’t hard to find Mucha’s work, or pieces based on his work, which are on everything from calendars and t-shirt designs to fan art. Images: Lisa Kay Tate.


‘HGTV Design Star’ Jen Bertrand Talks ‘Doctor Who’ and Country Club Punk

Daughter's Room with center divider Photo Credit: Bob Greenspan
Daughter’s room with center divider. Photo credit: Bob Greenspan.

Several years ago, my husband and I lost our collective minds. We decided to remodel—and not just a bathroom or six-month kitchen overhaul. No, we decided to go for broke, move out, and take our stately 1920s-era Grande Dame all the way down to the studs.

After about a year of fighting with contractors and praying for fire, we could finally see the beginnings of what could someday be a livable home. And it was about this time that I realized how little I actually knew about interior decorating. What I really wanted was more than just help with cushions and colors; I wanted a guide to help me encapsulate my family’s personalities and tastes within our surroundings.

While our architect, Chris Fein of Forward Design, was doing an award-winning job of modernizing our space while staying true to the original deco feel, neither of us was well-versed in the subtle nuances of embedding personality that would take our project from a house, albeit a remarkably well-designed one, to a home.

Daughter's Room with center divider Photo Credit: Bob Greenspan
Daughter’s room with center divider. Photo credit: Bob Greenspan.

Enter HGTV Design Star winner Jen Bertrand. I didn’t choose Jen because of her award-winning status, however cool it may be. Instead, I knew her through our mutual involvement in a community charity, and figured if anyone could “get” me, it would be her.

Some time ago, when asked to describe my personal style, I coined the phrase “country club punk.” It stuck, and if I may be so bold, pretty much works. I’m way too tame for the actual counter-culture, but odd enough to require a two-chair buffer zone at PTA meetings.

Recently, Jen and I sat down to debrief and discuss the project, life, and Doctor Who.

E. Lillith McDermott: Why don’t you tell me a little about your background and why you went into design?

Jen Bertrand: Actually, I am a non-traditional designer, self-taught due to my love (AKA obsession with) interior design. My father was a colonel in the Air Force and we moved every 2-4 years. My mother would choose the most hideous of houses and then magically transform it into a home through creativity and style. It doesn’t hurt that I lived in Germany, Holland, and Italy and got to see great design that stands up to time and looks beautiful 500 years later!

As for my education, I have a B.A. in Art Education with an emphasis in ceramics and a masters in Teaching & Leadership. I learned to apply the principles of design from my art life into my designs. And I guess it doesn’t hurt that I won the show Design Star Season 3 on HGTV. It is lovely, and a little self-assuring, when 5 million people are cheering you on and you pull it off!

ELM: Okay, so I’ve described my personal style as “country club punk.” In five words or less, what’s yours?

JB: Risk-taking comfortable contemporary is my personal style, but my professional style is whatever makes my client’s soul happy! I try to get into their hearts and heads and help them pull off whatever is their dream space.

Son's Room Photo Credit: Bob Greenspan
Son’s room. Photo credit: Bob Greenspan.

ELM: That’s a perfect segue into one of my favorite aspects of our project—how you worked with my kids. It was very important for me that they felt their rooms were really theirs; that they could see themselves in the design. I also wanted them to begin to understand the importance of art and design for making daily life richer.

JB: Yes! To all you parents out there, it really is fun to get your children involved in your home design. Not once has a child ever grown up and said, “My home had the perfect shade of beige!” Having the children be a part of the process really made it easy, because I knew what everyone wanted.

The daughter’s room was fun because I started with the idea of toile wallpaper of a London scene, which you took and ran with!

ELM: We love the wallpaper! The toile idea sparked a memory of an amazing piece of toile artwork I’d seen on—which everyone needs to bookmark immediately! We were able to get a toile wallpaper with Doctor Who characters embedded in it, in a deep purple!

JB: It was a great push and pull of ideas. I, of course, love the room divider that we found online and created our own version of with an upholstered aspect. The thought behind it was really to create two “zones,” due to the size and shape of the room. And of course, I love that we used red Mongolian lamb on her tulip chair—which, I have to say, we did long before PB Teen had all their furry chairs! The other aspect of that room was keeping already owned elements and giving them a fresh feel. So often we are quick to throw away and start new, and what is that teaching our children? Instead, look at your items with fresh eyes. Or, I say invite friends over, pop open some wine, and dream up all the ways you can change something and still keep it!

Son's Room Photo with Grey Muppet Chair Photo Credit: Bob Greenspan
Son’s room with grey Muppet chair. Photo credit: Bob Greenspan.

ELM: My son’s room was a bit more open, design-wise, as it was a completely blank palette. Since our daughter’s room was one of the least changed areas of the house, but the boy’s area moved sides of the house and had completely new walls, ceiling, everything—I’d say we went even crazier in there!

JB: It was also really fun because I have a son the same age, so I was pretty sure I knew what would make him happy! There are lots of parts of the room that I adore, but I think the most fun was buying super textured bath mats at every Home Goods in the city and then taking them to our upholsterer and asking her to cover a massive chair in them. And the best part was that she was excited to do it!

ELM: We love that chair! We call it the “Muppet chair.”

JB: Ha! And of course, I love that we put steel on the ceiling in his play room. It added the perfect amount of industrial, but in the most unexpected, not in your face, way that really finished off the space. And I would be absurd if I didn’t mention the Doctor Who curtains…

ELM: Once again courtesy of!

JB: Which go perfectly with the TARDIS desk and window shade.

Son's room with metal ceiling Photo Credit: Bob Greenspan
Son’s room with metal ceiling. Photo credit: Bob Greenspan.

ELM: We had a lot of fun combing through Doctor Who quotes to have printed on the shade. My daughter got a book of sayings as a gift and we all went through it as a family. Obviously, the boy got the final say, but we all had fun going through the process. Okay, I’m sure we could talk for hours about the kid rooms, but I wanted to touch on the basement. As we’ve had people over, that is probably the area most commented on. Is there anything you’d like to add?

JB: I have to say, even though I had no part in it and only got to design around it, I am obsessed with the Star Wars diorama. It is amazing and it is probably (besides the piano) my favorite part of the house. To me, it honors the client’s past of owning a comic book shop, their childhood because we all grew up with Star Wars, and their future of bringing in the unexpected into their home design. To me, how a family styles their home says a lot about them and for you all, it was just that… all about family. Which is why the wall map was perfect! We created a custom map to apply to steel panels to create a huge magnetic map for all the magnets collected on family trips—one more family tradition represented in the home design. Also, as you know, you all love to throw a party! I’ll never forget our first meeting where the basement was still showing signs of a massive Halloween party. It’s not often you hear a client say “excuse the fake blood.” I knew I was going to have fun at that point! That being said, the basement bathroom needed to be interactive and the wallpaper was a fun way to create a moment that could house memories and silliness over the years to come!

Basement with Star Wars display Photo Credit: Bob Greenspan
Basement with Star Wars display. Photo credit: Bob Greenspan.

ELM: And it has! Every sleepover takes place in the basement and all the kids love coloring on the wall! So, you mentioned the piano. Next to the basement, that is second most discussed item.

JB: The piano, I adore! I befriended a graffiti artist and have used him in various capacities over the years. But when I saw the piano and asked if we could paint it and you said “yes,” my light bulb went off! What is unexpected… who doesn’t love a good graffiti tag? Okay, maybe not everyone, but I do! The crazy part is all we did was tell him to stick to a grey tonal palette and have fun. I find that when you work with creative people and you don’t give them too many parameters, you get the best end result. And the great part is that it is subtle and yet a great conversation piece!

Smiley faces made to be colored with markers. Photo Credit: Bob Greenspan
Smiley faces made to be colored with markers. Photo credit: Bob Greenspan.

ELM: It is absolutely a great conversation starter. I get asked so many questions about it every time we have company. Which, as you’ve pointed out our love of parties, happens often! Well, I really loved working with you. I hope you enjoyed it as well!

JB: You had me at “country club punk!” Really? Who wouldn’t love that aesthetic? Plus, it was a job all about collaboration. We had an uber-cool architect, homeowners with unique personalities, and my Willy Wonka brain—how could we lose! Also, I married a Brit, so meeting someone and the first question is “So, who is your favorite Doctor?”—how could we not have fun?

Jen Bertrand and her Willy Wonka brain can be found at You can also find her on instagram at @hgtvdesignstarjenniferbertrand

What a Dip: Delicious Dip Recipes for Every Day


Easy everyday homemade dips.
Easy, everyday dips. (CCO public domain Eisenmenger)

Dips and spreads aren’t just for parties. They make packing lunches easier and snacking healthier. If you toss them on the table while dinner is in the works, they’re also a great way to reduce pre-meal whining. Yours and the kids’.

Here are four versatile recipes: two sweet, two savory. Go ahead, tweak the amounts or add new ingredients as inspiration hits. For most recipes you’ll need a blender to achieve the requisite smoothness. I swear by my Vita-Mix (actually, it keeps me from swearing). When using a different blender you may need more liquid in the following recipes.

Healthy dip made with beets and pineapple.
Bright pink, still healthy. (Image: L. Weldon)

Tickled Pink Dip

You’ve probably never encountered this recipe before. It’s a bright concoction that doesn’t taste much like beets but adds lively color to your table. No one said you have to fess up about the ingredients.

1 small fresh beet peeled, chopped, and cooked until tender, about a quarter cup total (if using canned beets, make sure your product contains no vinegar)

1 20 oz. can crushed pineapple in juice, drained (reserve liquid) or 2 1/4 cups fresh chopped pineapple

1 teaspoon vanilla extract

2 tablespoons honey, more to taste

Process all ingredients in blender until smooth. If more sweetness is desired, add additional honey.

Serve with fresh pineapple wedges, apple slices, or other firm fruit as well as bagels, toast or muffins.


VLUU L200  / Samsung L200
Bright color, bright flavor. (Image: L. Weldon)

Apricot Dip or Spread

Leave this recipe chunky or blend it to a creamy smoothness. Make it with other dried fruits, like cherries or mangos. You’ll find plenty of ways to enjoy it.

1 cup chopped dried apricots

¾ cup orange juice or apple juice

8 ounces cream cheese or mascarpone cheese

honey, optional

Combine apricots and juice in small saucepan. Bring to a boil, reduce heat, and simmer 10 minutes or more. If microwaving is preferred, combine same ingredients in large microwave-safe glass dish, cook at high heat for three minutes. Cool, then drain and reserve liquid.

Beat the cheese until smooth. This is easier if you warm it briefly first in the microwave or in a dish over hot water. Incorporate apricots, adding cooking liquid to desired thinness (up to 3 tablespoons). For a sweeter taste, add a few spoonfuls of honey. For a smoother dip, process in a blender.

Serve as a dip for apple halves, pear slices, and other firm fresh fruit. Try as a spread for small bagels, toast, pancakes, and muffins. You can also use it in sweet wraps: Just spread on whole grain tortillas or pitas, add sliced strawberries or other diced fruit, then roll the wraps and slice into rounds.


VLUU L200  / Samsung L200
Super flavorful. Make sure to blend it well. (Image: L. Weldon)


This uniquely flavorful Mid-Eastern dip always includes walnuts and red pepper. Many recipes call for breadcrumbs, onion, and pomegranate molasses. This version is quick and tasty.

1 cup (half pound) shelled walnuts

1 8 oz. jar roasted red peppers, drained (or one small red bell pepper, roasted)

2 cloves garlic, minced (raw or sautéed)

½ to 1 teaspoon ground cumin (I like to roast whole seeds, but ground is fine)

½ to 1 teaspoon red pepper flakes

½ teaspoon salt

2 or more tablespoons cold-pressed olive oil

½ tablespoon lemon juice

either 1 teaspoon honey, or 1 teaspoon black cherry concentrate, or 1 teaspoon pomegranate molasses

Dump all ingredients in blender container and pulse until mixture is smooth. More olive oil or a dash of water may be needed to blend well.

Serve as a dip with pitas, flatbread, or crackers. Use it as a dipping sauce for raw or grilled veggies, kebabs, or hot sandwiches. Thin it to serve over tomatoes and avocados as a protein-rich salad dressing.

Hummus and variations. (image CCO public domain Tohma)
Hummus and variations. (Image CCO public domain Tohma)


The variations on hummus are unlimited. Try one or more of extras such as curry powder, chopped spinach, olives, sun-dried tomatoes, fresh parsley, or green onions. Replace the garbanzo beans with black beans, lima beans, adzuki beans, or fava beans. Replace the tahini with almond butter, cashew butter, or peanut butter. How about a hummus tasting event?

2 cups cooked, drained garbanzo beans

2 to 3 cloves raw garlic, chopped

3 tablespoons fresh lemon juice

2-3 tablespoons cold-pressed olive oil

2 to 3 tablespoons tahini (sesame seed paste)

salt and pepper to taste

Process garbanzo beans, garlic, lemon juice, and olive oil in blender until smooth. A few tablespoons of water or additional oil may be needed. Add tahini and blend until it is incorporated. Add salt and pepper to taste.

Hummus is often served in a low dipping bowl. It’s often topped with oil, a dash of paprika, some fresh parsley and lemon slices on the slide. Scoop hummus with pitas, flatbread, or crackers. Scoop it with celery sticks, grape tomatoes, and carrots. Roll it up in wraps with meats, cheeses, or veggies. Serve it with a chopped salad of cucumbers, tomatoes, green peppers, red onion, and mint leaves. You pretty much can’t go wrong with hummus.

Be the Artist: Jackson Pollock

pollock cookies
These Pollock-tribute cookies are one of the best ways to combine art and cooking projects. Image: Lisa Kay Tate.

The Artist: Jackson Pollock

Jackson Pollock was a an American abstract expressionist artist best known for his drip painting, a form of abstract art created by paint dripped or poured onto a canvas or other surface.

Even books about Pollock feature his drip painting method on their covers. Images: (l to r), Cooper Square Press, Harry N. Abrams, and Taschen Publishing.

Pollock was born in 1912 in Wyoming. He always possessed an independent and aggressive nature, and was expelled from two high schools as a teenager. He later moved to New York to study at Art Students League, and later found work during the Great Depression for the WPA Federal Art Project. Soon after, he received a commission to create a mural on the townhouse of renowned art collector Peggy Guggenheim, and people begin taking notice of his talent.

It was in 1936, when he first discovered the use of liquid paint for drip painting method. He not only preferred this style, he used whatever he could to create his images, from resin-based paints to household paints. He became so well known for this style, a 1956 Time Magazine article dubbed him “Jack the Dripper.”

Although some critics regarded his style as nothing more than random, “meaningless images,” he went on to become one of the Twentieth Century’s most respected artists.

One thing about his style, is it very satisfying and energetic to try out, and there are even online sites that allow people to try out his method. The site (not to be mistaken with the actual biography site), will take art lovers right to a page where they can create their own drip painting.

my pollock
An image made on the site, created by Lisa Kay Tate.

Pollock died in a car accident in 1956 at age 44, and was given a memorial retrospective exhibit of his work at New York City’s Museum of Modern art a few months later.

Pollock didn’t always care what these critics thought, as he knew what he wanted to say and how to say it. That was what mattered.

“Abstract painting is abstract. It confronts you,” he said in a 1950 interview in New Yorker. “There was a reviewer a while back who wrote that my pictures didn’t have any beginning or any end. He didn’t mean it as a compliment, but it was. It was a fine compliment. Only he didn’t know it.”

kermit cookie
Pollock liked to use unconventional means for his drip painting style. Why not decorative icing, like on this Kermit the Frog-inspired Pollock style cookie? Image: Lisa Kay Tate.

 The Project: Pollock Cookies!

Pollock used a number of less conventional tools in his works, such as sticks and basting syringes, so this project will utilize a medium that is both unconventional and tasty… decorative icing!

Since this is an art project more than an actual cooking project, use commercial pre-made, plain sugar cookie dough, like the type that is almost too tempting not to eat raw.

Use regular commercial cake decorating icing or gel icing, or use a basic powdered sugar glaze recipe found in pretty much every baking cookbook there is. Different colored glazes can be made with just one drop of food coloring in each batch, and a small medicine dropper, syringe, or teaspoon can be used to create the drip pattern.

Cookie Monster and Elmo cookies! Image: Lisa Kay Tate.

Like the Be the Artist project for Josef Albers, this project is primarily about identifying at theme through color. Find a favorite group of characters… Justice League, the characters of Inside Out or cast of Orphan Black, X-Men, the band Gwar…whatever you want to represent, and convey it, via drizzling color schemes on plain, cooked, sugar cookies in icing.

For example, the family really enjoyed Cookie Monster’s “Shower Thoughts” at with musings from New York City museums (including cookie-related comments like “cookie dough is sushi for desserts!”). We thought a nice cookie homage to him and other Monster muppets would be in order.

Use two, three, or four colors that represent that character. Drizzle them on the already baked and cooled cookies in icing, but not just all over the place. Think about how much of each color this character would best be represented by, as well as the placement. Let them dry and arrange them, not stacked, onto a serving dish.

Once finished, you can serve this little tasty gallery as part of an art-themed party, or just as a way to make dessert or snack time a little more colorful. To make it more interactive, have everyone guess which theme or characters the cookies represent, before eating them.

These may not be works in traditional paint on canvas, but the according to the book, Abstract Expressionism: Creators and Critics by Clifford Ross, Pollock expressed what he felt the important source of modern art is…and it wasn’t merely in the medium, or even in the subject:

“Most modern painters work from a different source, they work from within,” he said.

Fozzy & Kermit
Fozzy Bear and Kermit cookies, by the Tate Girl bakers. Image: Lisa Kay Tate.

13 Awesomely Geeky Aprons

My Little Pony via MTCoffinz on Etsy.
My Little Pony Rainbow Dash apron via MTCoffinz on Etsy.

I love to cook, which means I have very few shirts that aren’t stained with sauces, oils, and other ingredients from my kitchen experiments.

A few years back, I went into this super-cute general store in New England and found a handmade apron for a mere $6. It was a no-brainer of a purchase, as well as one that has saved me from having to throw out half of my wardrobe.

Aprons are an essential kitchen tool, which come in a variety of patterns. While the $6 special is hard to come by, if you’re willing to pay a few extra bucks, there are a slew of them out there that allow you to extend your geeky fashion to the kitchen—or even the convention hall. Want to see what’s cooking in the world of geeky aprons? Check out the slideshow for 13 of my current favorites.

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Be the Artist: Keith Haring

Keith Haring’s work proved you don’t have to be superhero to do great deeds. Create your favorite fictional heroes making some big real world differences in small ways. Image: The Doctor Recycles, by Lisa Kay Tate.

The Artist: Keith Haring

Keith Haring was born in Reading, Pennsylvania, in 1958, and was known as both an artist and social activist in the late 20th century, dealing with everything from life and death to war and peace to sexuality and love.

His father was an amateur cartoonist, and even at an early age, Haring loved spending time with him creating drawings. He was influenced by artists of all styles and media, such as Dr. Seuss and Walt Disney, and later, Jackson Pollock, Pierre Alechinsky, the modern sculptor, Christo, and even poet William Burroughs.

Keith Haring’s images are some of the most recognizable art associated with the 1980s. Sculpture image by Dr. Colosssus; mural image by Alberto-g-rovi, both from Wikicommons. Album covers: © A&M Records.

He studied commercial art at Pittsburgh’s Center for the Arts, and later moved to New York to study painting in the late 1970s. His simple and energetic outlined style line art sent cultural and political messages to the public about the epidemic of AIDS, the importance of love and acceptance, and the triumph of the human heart.

Haring is one of the most recognizable artists associated with the 1980s, but for many, his most iconic image will be the cover design for the compilation album series, “A Very Special Christmas,” which raises money for Special Olympics.

Though some of his work dealt with adult situations, his style also appealed to kids. The site Haring Kids includes color books, cards, and other activities suitable of art lovers of all ages.

Haring died from complications with AIDS in 1990, but his legacy continues today. The philanthropic Keith Haring Foundation not only preserves his work, but provides grants to children in need and those affected by HIV/AIDS.

He has been honored with such memorials as a Macy’s Thanksgiving Day Parade balloon in 2007, and a Google Doodle in 2012, on what would have been his 54th birthday.

There is also a 17’ x 6’, 32,256-piece jigsaw puzzle, “Keith Haring: Double Retrospect,” created in his honor, that holds the Guinness Book record for the largest jigsaw puzzle in the world. Haring fans can purchase this puzzle for $318 in the U.S., or £283 in the U.K.

As one of the icons of the 1980s in this year’s Get Pop-Cultured celebration at Barnes & Noble Booksellers nationwide, the store hosted an online post card coloring contest for all ages.

No matter what Haring focused on, he always knew the importance of the maintaining the soul and heart of a child:

“Children know something that most people have forgotten,” he said in his book, Keith Haring Journals.

The Project: Make-Believe Heroes Doing Real Heroic Things

What if Wolverine put his abilities to use helping an underprivileged neighborhood grow food for themselves? Image: Lisa Kay Tate.

Haring kept his work very simple, but packed quite a bit of meaning and emotion into what appears at first glance to be just faceless outlines.

In honor of Haring’s knack for elevating the heroic struggles and triumphs of the anonymous everyman, here is a very simple project for artists of all ages.

First, find a favorite superhero. Easy enough. Next, in the style of Haring, make simple line drawing of them doing a simple feat that makes a big difference (giving blood, helping at a soup kitchen, reading to children, bringing groceries to a shut-in). These are the everyday heroics of the faceless everyman not often seen in newspapers, on television or in social media.

No matter how simple Haring’s style appeared, you still want to sketch out your idea in pencil before using more permanent media. Image: “Wonder Woman adopts a new friend,” by Lisa Kay Tate.

Use only a couple of small symbols (cape, cowl, etc.), as the sole means of identifying that particular hero. Otherwise, they should humble themselves a little, and be part of the masses.

Even before street artists like Banky hit the scene, Haring helped bring street art to a new level. Plus, his style is perfect for chalk drawings. Image: Lisa Kay Tate.

Once your drawing is done, go back over it with a more permanent, bolder medium. Haring was bold and bright in his images, so use strong lines and bright colors. I used felt tip marker for the final designs. Haring limited the amount of colors he used in most of his drawings, to about two to four different colors. It’s okay to go over that limit a little, but keep it as basic as you can. Haring’s work was colorful at times, but not so much it detracted from the energy and message of the piece.

Like Banksy, Haring drew attention to street art with his creations, and his history as a street artist lends itself to creating sidewalk chalk art. This may be a temporary tactic, but a good way to spread a little message with a big heart to passers by.

Heroes don’t have to thwart alien attacks or overturn criminal masterminds with superpowers to be heroic. Haring believed in the ability for everyone to be hero and his art showed it. He also believed his and all artists’ works should reach people of all backgrounds, and he expressed this simple….and profound…thought in his journals.

“Art is for everybody,” he said.

Pick an everyday act of kindness and heroism, like visiting veterans, that anyone with or without superheroes could do. Image: Lisa Kay Tate.

Being The Worst Cosplayer

Image By Rebecca Angel

What defines the worst cosplayer? Perhaps not remembering much about the character. Not even their real name. That was me!

Image By Luke Maxwell

This is She-Ra, Princess of Power. In case you aren’t familiar with her, you might know her brother He-Man. When I was little, I watched He-Man on a regular basis, and then She-Ra too. I have fond memories of visiting my Grandma with my sister. First we got a snack of two cookies (never enough!) and a cup of milk (eww, but I had to drink it.) Then we would sit in front of the TV and watch those two cartoons.

Skeletor was seriously bad when I was six. The speedos didn’t faze me. I wondered why that scene of He-Man throwing a rock was in every show. I loved, loved, loved She-Ra’s pegasus. And she was so cool.

Flash-forward to now, decades later. My sister decided she wanted to be She-Ra for Halloween last Fall. Our mother made a fantastic costume. Getting ready for ConnectiCon this year, I remembered the costume and decided I could cosplay! I haven’t cosplayed in several years, and with no work involved getting it ready, I figured I was all set.

Forgot about the research part. Research? Yeah. I watched the cartoon thirty years ago, so my memories are really, really vague. It didn’t occur to me that I should review some stuff before going to a geeky convention where people might actually be FANS of my character. Oops.

It started the morning I was getting my costume on at a house crowded with people all going to the Con.

ME: (getting the headpiece on over the wig)
CON-GOER 1: You look adorable!
CON-GOER 2: That’s fitting since her name is Adora.
ME: No. I’m She-Ra.
CON-GOER 2: Right… and her real name is Adora.
ME: It is?
CON-GOER 1: (laughs)
CON-GOER 2: (sighs)
ME: Didn’t He-Man have another name too?
CON-GOER 2: Yes.
ME: Kevin?
CON-GOER 2: Adam.
ME: Damn.

I filed that information away in case someone called me Adora instead of She-Ra. I was all set! Except I wasn’t. The first person to recognize me unfortunately knew way more about the show.

REAL FAN: She-Ra! Yes! Great costume!
ME: Thanks!
REAL FAN: Watch out for (insert random strange name here.)
ME:…um…yeah! Yeah, I will!
(Walking away with my son)
ME: Was it obvious I had no idea who she was talking about.
MY SON: Yes.
ME: Damn.

I ran into the fellow con-goer from the morning and pumped her for more info. I couldn’t remember most of what she told me (should have written it down) but I did remember the power sword words: “For the honor of Grayskull… I am She-Ra!” Good for me. By the end of the day, I didn’t run into anyone who quizzed me, but I did get some thumbs up from fans, and one photo taken. Yay!

Next time I cosplay I promise to know a little more about my character before parading around. I really am a fan of She-Ra, just a very old one.

Be the Artist: Mary Blair

What if Mary Blair and other mid-century concept artists had worked on some of today’s popular shows and movies? Find out, with this watercolor art challenge. Image: Lisa Kay Tate

The Artist: Mary Blair

Mary Blair is one of the Walt Disney Studio’s most beloved artists, and is credited for bringing the modernist art style to the Disney family with her concept art for both film and theme park attractions.

Born Mary Robinson in Oklahoma in 1911, Blair attended Chouinard Art Institute in Los Angeles on a scholarship, due to her gift for painting. When she graduated, however, it was in the middle of the United States’ Depression era, so instead of trying to make it as a fine artist, she took on her first job at Metro-Goldwyn-Mayer.

Soon after, Blair and her husband, fellow animator Lee Everett Blair, went to work for the studio of animator (and close friend of Walt Disney’s), Ub Iwerks. By 1940, she had joined the Walt Disney Company as a concept artist.

Left: Artist Michael Netzer’s portrait of Disney artist and animator Mary Blair captures her modernist style. Right: A section of Blair’s 90-foot mosaic, still a favorite site for visitors to Walt Disney World’s Contemporary Resort. Images: Wikicommons.

In addition to serving as art supervisor for the classics Saludos Amigos and The Three Caballeros, she contributed her animation and concept art talents to some of the studio’s most famous animated films in the 1950s including Cinderella, Peter Pan, and Alice In Wonderland. She was also the driving force behind the look of the Disney Parks’ most famous attractions, It’s A Small World.

One of her most famous pieces, a 90-foot-high mosaic mural created in 1971 for Walt Disney World’s Contemporary Resort, still greets visitors today.

In addition to her work with Disney, Blair illustrated several Little Golden Books, designed sets for Radio City Music Hall, and did freelance work for everyone from Hallmark to Nabisco.

Blair style is easy to spot in everything from theme park attractions, like It’s A Small World, to picture books. Images: Rick Tate (left) and Lisa Kay Tate.

Her work was respected and loved by fellow Disney legends like animators Frank Thomas and Marc Davis. Davis even listed her work on the same level of Henri Matisse, and described her as bringing “modern art to Walt in a way that no one else did.”

Even after she died in 1978, her legacy continued, as she received several posthumous awards. This included the honor of being inducted into the Disney Legends group in 1991, now held every other year during the D23 Expo. She share the honors that year with other legends like actress Julie Andrews, and Uncle Scrooge creator Carl Barks.

Blair could give much meaning to the most simple images.  Remember, it doesn’t take much too much detail to tell a good story. Image: “That Rascal Moon” by Lisa Kay Tate.

The Project: “What if Mary Blair did Concept Art for……”

Remember the Marvel Comics series “What if…,” which gave alternative stories to familiar characters, with ideas like “What if Wolverine was a Vampire”?

Well, this project asks the question “What if Mary Blair did Concept Art for…….?”

Blair’s wonderfully imaginative style could make any type of show look a little better. She was a master of watercolors, especially the opaque watercolor medium gouache, which made up many of her vivid paintings.

One of her defining factors was her innovative use of color. She would combine images and color in a way the would make even the simplest drawings would come to life. What if she was recruited to help brighten up the tone of today’s popular shows and movies?

This “Be the Artist” will be a little different, as it isn’t as much about mimicking an artist’s style, but her spirit. Use colors, simple and bold figures, lots of lively background, and a sometimes childlike, playful attitude.

Find a scene you think would be fun to see in the mid-century style, and paint it. Use simple, but bold expressions in any faces you use, and don’t forget the background. Use watercolors, acrylic, craft paint, or other bright medium. I used a mix of watercolor and colored pencil, which can be easier if still mastering more detailed areas with brushes.

I’ve chosen some more “grown-up” shows I enjoy that seem unlikely candidates for retro Mary Blair style storyboard—Dexter (the early season before it became too unwatchably depressing), Top Gear, since I’ve been binging this show lately, and Game of Thrones, because, well, I love drawing dragons.

Don’t be afraid to use similar colors close together. Emphasizing a certain color may add to the personality of the piece. Image: “Oliver!!!” by Lisa Kay Tate.

However, young artists shouldn’t choose an inappropriate show for their age. One of today’s animated favorites could be given a fresh mid-century style makeover, ala Blair.

Add a little descriptive explanation under the image, as they did in many mid-century children’s books, to make it even more playful.

Today’s television and movies seem to be so dark, cynical, and somber, compared to the days of Blair’s most significant works. Perhaps with a little Blair-style mid-century modernist treatment, everything can seem a little brighter.

Don’t think you can do this? You never know unless you get to work and try. Blair felt actually doing something was where the real learning began.

Blair historian and author of The Art and Flair of Mary Blair, John Canemaker featured this inspiring quote from Blair about on that very subject:

“You get an education in school and in college,” Blair said. “And then you start to work, and that’s when you learn!”

Be the Artist: Banksy

Leave an anonymous gift of graffiti with this portable graffiti project inspired by Bansky. Image: Lisa Kay Tate

The Artist: Banksy

Who is Bansky? That’s a question many people want to know, as Banksy is the pseudonym used by the now world-famous grafitti artist. Banksy’s work started popping up around the Bristol and London underground art scenes in the mid-1990s.

He started out doing freehand art, but soon turned to the quicker stencil method in the 2000s. Banksy has also created stickers, spoof “Bansky of England” £10 notes (which can still be found on eBay), limited-edition posters, and other works. He has traveled beyond the United Kingdom, and left his mark in American cities like New Orleans and New York.

There has been plenty of speculation about the identity of Banksy, including that he might be a woman artist or group of artists, going by “he” to help hide the true identity. His… or her… or their… work is sometimes humorous and often bearing an anti-establishment political or social message. Whether or not the viewer completely agrees or adamantly disagrees with Banksy’s viewpoint, there is one thing everyone agrees on—Banksy’s work is eye-catching.

Many artists use their work to support a certain social or political view, but Banky’s anonymity may have more to do with where his art ends up, rather than what actually depicts. For example, one time the artist somehow climbed into the London Zoo’s penguin enclosure and painted the seven-foot-tall message, “We’re bored of fish!”

Illusive as he is Bansky’s graffiti bears a very distinct style that has influenced other street artists. Images: Wikicommons. Book image: Random House UK.

Bansky has done his share of behind-the-scenes commissioned work, as well, from exhibitions to art installations. He also co-created the 2010 documentary on street art, Exit Through the Gift Shop, with fellow street artist “Space Invader.”

One problem with anonymity is Banksy isn’t available to give public talks about his work, but he talks about it in his book, Wall and Piece. There are also other books highlighting Banksy’s pieces found in different cities.

No one may ever really know the true identity of artist behind the Banksy name, but really, would that be any fun? Just knowing this artist is Banksy is good enough for now, and Banksy is happy with it that way.

“Speak softly, but carry a big can of paint,” he said in Wall and Piece.

 The Project: Anonymous Graffiti Gifts

wild thing
Find a design to fit the environment, and the intended giftee, and leave it where they can see it. Image: Lisa Kay Tate.

Many artists have used stencil or screen printing techniques, including Andy Warhol, Corita Kent, and Pablo Picasso, but Banksy created a way to make this method bold, detailed, and fast, the latter usually to help him get the work finished without getting caught.

This project is going to take advantage of one of the easiest forms of stencils to find: pumpkin patterns. Anyone who has looked online at for pumpkin patterns recently, or has seen kits in the store, has probably noticed they don’t often have anything to do with Halloween or fall anymore. Some superhero, pop culture patterns could be used year round to create summer lanterns in watermelon, make t-shirt stencils, or in the case of this project, make some quick Bansky-style stencil murals.

Printable pumpkin patterns make easy stencils for year round projects. Images: Lisa Kay Tate

I need to emphasize one thing, first. Actual graffiti is illegal. Don’t leave any permanent images anywhere without the consent of the owner. Now, I grew up in an area where graffiti-style art is a true fine art form, but it often takes the form of “murals.” One artist I talked to a few years ago told me the difference between a mural and graffiti was “you have permission to make the mural.” In short, get permission.

So, how do we leave surprise art bombs without getting permission? Easy! Create portable graffiti on poster board or cardboard, so they aren’t permanent.

Layering the stencil: Create design’s shape with a silhouette (top), the add the details with other layers. Images: Lisa Kay Tate

Find a stencil (start out with a fairly easy pattern), and print it out. For larger images, this will take a few pieces of paper, so print on scrap paper at the lowest draft setting. Print two or three copies of the image, in case you need extras. Good, clean stencils are important in getting a layered effect.

Cut the first pattern out as just a silhouette, no details, and leave the cut-out piece for later. Place this image on the poster board or other surface and spray over the entire image. Younger artists can do this sponging or brushing on the paint.

Cut out the final project, for some easy portable graffiti. Images: Lisa Kay Tate

Now, if you are just choosing a two-color method, take the cut out potion of the pattern and cut the  details, and place it over the first pattern. Then spray, sponge, or brush the detail layers on. Once you’ve mastered this, you can try it with three or more colors by just cutting out certain details on each layer. You can add smaller details freehand.

chalk mockingjay
Chalk art is another way to leave a non-permanent graffiti-style gift….or share an inside joke with fellow book lovers. Image: Lisa Kay Tate

This method can also be used for sidewalk chalk art graffiti. Use a thicker cardstock paper, so it doesn’t rip or warp when coloring in the pattern.

The finished pieces can be left behind as a fun “thank you” to family or friends who you were staying with for the summer, a birthday gift for a parent or sibling to wake up to, or an end-of-school gift for a teacher who made a difference.

Some artists have criticized Banksy’s use of stencils as “cheating,” but when stealth is key, they work best. Banksy, apparently, doesn’t care what others think, as stated in Wall and Piece:

“Become good at cheating, and you never need to become good at anything else,” he said.

Okay, this isn’t something to follow in all aspects of life, but in Banksy’s high-speed art world, it’s okay to take a short cut sometimes.

It is also totally okay to reveal yourself as the artist after a couple of days, but make them guess a little first.

My Little Sock Alien

alien main
Our little sock alien, Roz, is just an easy version of a sock monkey pattern. Image: Lisa Kay Tate.

Every Fourth of July weekend, the City of Roswell, New Mexico, explodes with visitors for the Roswell UFO Festival. The annual event celebrates the mysterious 1940s crash in the nearby desert, of what may or may not have been a U.F.O.

Either way, the Roswell-style alien is instantly recognizable. He also makes a for a nice twist on the classic sock monkey.

As much as I love making geeky variations on the sock monkey, I love the alien best because I don’t have to mess with the meticulous parts like the ears or tail.

This variation will work with any color of wool or cotton socks, with just one piece of black (or other dark color) felt and any color embroidery floss.

If you haven’t made a sock monkey before, start with a basic sock monkey pattern found on many craft and sewing blogs. The site Craft Passion has a nice, basic pattern and tutorial.

The naked alien (left) is the sock monkey sans tail, ears, and nose piece. Creating the mouth is just a matter of pulling a piece of floss around the front of the face. Images: Lisa Kay Tate.

Once you’ve found your pattern, build only the easy “body and legs” portion, which entails cutting a slit in the leg portion of the sock. Disregard most of the second sock’s pattern (ears, tail, mouth, etc.), and just cut a pair of arms.

little aliens
Aliens can be made in any size and color. Image: Lisa Kay Tate.

Once assembled, tie a piece embroidery floss a short way above the arms and pull it around the front of the alien’s face. Pull the thread through the sock to where you sewed the first end of the floss. This will smush in the bottom potion of the face, so it takes on an oval Roswell-style alien face.

Next, fold your felt in half to cut two identical oval “eyes.” Sew these on the front of the alien and use extra floss to add a pair of nostrils, the nose, and any other details you want. I like to sew a little star-shaped highlight on one of the eyes.

Tie a ribbon or little scrap of cloth around its neck to give the head more shape, and you have a little sock alien.

Once you’ve gotten the hang of this, you can make them in different sizes and colors, and keep them on hands for gifts.

I like to stick to browns and grays for my traditional “aliens,” but I’ve learned these can look really cute in brighter colors. I’ve even modified this idea to make sock skeletons.

Go out and find a color that suits your aliens best, though. The socks are out there.

The alien and his skeleton buddy, using the same basic “alien” method. Image: Lisa Kay Tate.

Be the Artist: Anna Atkins

main photo
Take botanical prints into the Jurassic age, using solar print paper found in most craft and educational supply stores. Image by Lisa Kay Tate.

The Artist: Anna Atkins

Anna Atkins was a botanist and photographer, known for her photo prints of plants, algae, and other natural items.

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Anna Atkins’ cyanotypes were both wonderful educational tools and beautiful works of art. Print images: Wikicommons. Atkins portrait: Public Domain.

Born in 1799, she is often credited in books on the history of photography as not only one of first the women photographers, but also the first person to create a publication with photographs as the illustration. Some sources say she was the first woman photographer, but others disagree and credit this milestone to a woman named Constance Talbot. Either way, Atkins was groundbreaking for women in both the fields of natural science and photography.

Atkins was raised by her father, British chemist and zoologist John George Children, as her mother died soon after her birth. She grew to love the natural world, and honed both her scientific and artistic tendencies by studying her country’s native plants and animals. She later created 250 detailed engravings for shells, which her father used to illustrate his translation of the French naturalist Jean-Baptiste Lamarck’s book Genera of Shells.

Just as John James Audubon was known for images from the world of fauna with his drawings, Atkins was known on the other side of the Atlantic with plants. She was an avid collector of dried plant specimens, and was made member of the Botanical Society of London in 1839.

In 1841, she purchased a camera and began creating the works for which she is best known: cyanotype impressions. The process was created by a family friend, Sir John Herschel, and Atkins took full advantage of its potential. Discovering photography was an easy way of creating scientific illustrations. She used this process to create three volumes of British Algae: Cyanotype Impressions, Cyanotypes of British and Foreign Ferns, and other botanical guides.

Only a few original copies of her British Algae books are still known to exist, with one volume selling for more than £220,000 in a 2004 auction. There are currently books which feature her work including Sun Gardens: Victorian Photograms and Anna Atkins: 250 Cyanotypes.

The Project: Jurassic Sun Prints and Faux Cyanotypes

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This dino’s day in the park solar print used a plastic dinosaur, hollyhock leaves and blossom, and a yucca branch. Image: Lisa Kay Tate.

Cyanotype was a photo printing style using chemicals like ammonium iron citrate and potassium ferricyanide to produce a “cyan-blue” print. The process of copying drawings was both simple and inexpensive, spawning the term “blueprint.”

Atkins used this method to create beautiful plant specimen photography. Today, scientists and photographers can purchase commercial sun print paper, like Sunprint kits or other brands, at locations as common as educational and art supply stores.

Gather leaves, toy or cut-out dinosaurs, shells, feathers, and whatever else captures your fancy. Images: Lisa Kay Tate.

This makes it easy to make prints of plants and animals… including those from the primeval world.

Arrange dinosaur image cutouts, small plastic dino toys, plant leaves (real or artificial), small rocks, feathers, and other small items on a piece of solar print paper in an area away from the sun.

print priocess
The easy sun print process: Place items on sun print paper out of direct sunlight. Then let them sit in the summer sun for up to five minutes. Rinse the images with water and dry on a flat surface. Once dry, you’ve captured your dinosaur specimen. Images: Lisa Kay Tate.

The great thing about sun print paper, as opposed to photo paper, is indoor light won’t effect it as quickly. You can see what you are building, before taking it out to the sunlight. If you have mostly flat items, use a piece of clear glass or acrylic to hold the items in place. A piece of acrylic comes with many solar paper kits. Any thicker items like a figure can be placed on top. The flatter the item, the more clear the print.

Now the fun part… carefully take the image outside and let it sit in direct sunlight for around five minutes. Then, rinse the paper gently in water. The blue particles in solar paper react to ultraviolet rays. Any part of the paper blocked will remain white. Simple science mixed with art mixed with geeky creativity. What could be more fun?

Making “Faux-to” Print

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Spray painting over objects can create a nearly identical image to a sun print. Images: Lisa Kay Tate.

If you can’t find sun print paper, an easy way to create the look is by placing the same objects as you would a sun print on a thick piece of paper and lightly sponge blue washable paint over them. You can also use blue spray paint, but make sure you use it on objects you don’t mind getting permanently paint covered. Make sure the items are secured with a small amount of tape, so they don’t move or blow away in the painting process. If using spray paint, hold the can directly above the image and spray in light, short bursts.

For a fun variation, sponge or spray orange and yellow paint over items on black construction paper for an image that resembles a fossil specimen in amber.

Using black paper with orange paint turns a faux sun print image into an amber-encased specimen. Image: Lisa Kay Tate.

Don’t feel like you are not really making art just because it isn’t a meticulous drawing of the scene. Atkins fully admitted how wonderful it is to have an easier way to capture images in her text in British Algae:

“The difficulty of making accurate drawings of objects so minute as many of the Algae and Confervae has induced me to avail myself of Sir John Herschel’s beautiful process of Cyanotype, to obtain impressions of the plants themselves, which I have much pleasure in offering to my botanical friends,” she said.

Well put. Go and share these works with your own friends.

The Perfect Jewelry for Cosplay and Everyday

EdithYorkinspired Jewelry on Etsy
Some favorite pieces. Photo: Martha Lewis.

Here at GeekMom, we frequently share DIY cosplay ideas. Those include everything from the costume itself to the best accessories. Maybe you’re looking for a steampunk gypsy hairpiece or tips for Big Hero 6-themed family cosplay. How about the perfect jewelry to go along with your costume? Last week, I had an opportunity to interview Martha Lewis, crafter and jewelry designer. She repurposes older, and sometimes incomplete or broken, pieces of jewelry into new works of art appropriate for cosplay and everyday.

GeekMom Maryann: Hi Martha Lewis! Welcome to GeekMom, and thanks taking the time to talk to us about your passion for jewelry making.

Martha Lewis: Thank you for giving me the opportunity to talk about my jewelry.

GMM: When did your interest in jewelry making start?

ML: After 33 years working for the Henrico County Police and Sheriff Departments in Virginia, I retired on January 1, 2011. A month later, I signed up for a beginners jewelry-making class offered through the county for $6. I went to my first class, and two hours later, I left with five pieces of jewelry that I had just made. The skills I learned in the class evolved into a love for creating and designing one-of-a-kind jewelry items. I found that I have a real knack for recycling loose beads, broken bracelets, and tangled necklaces and morphing them into new meaning for each unique piece.

EdithYorkinspired Jewelry on Etsy
A wonderful combination of treasure chest and lock. Ahoy mate! Photo: Martha Lewis.

GMM: Who was your inspiration?

ML: My grandmother, Edith, and her namesake, my mother. They both loved colorful and shiny jewels. With the passing of each, I was afforded the privilege to be the new owner of their trinkets. Since they both grew up and lived on the York River, as did I, EdithYorkinspired was chosen as the name for my jewelry line.

GMM: I understand that you have memories of a favorite childhood piece that belonged to your grandmother. Can you tell us a bit more about that piece and why it speaks to you?

ML: When I was a child, my grandmother gave me an opal ring surrounded with rhinestones. I loved wearing it, even though it turned my finger green! I still have the ring, and I will always cherish it.

EdithYorkinspired Jewelry on Etsy
An eclectic combination of brass elements combines for a beautiful necklace. Photo: Martha Lewis.

GMM: Can you tell us a bit more about where you find the pieces for your designs? Sometimes at local thrift stores, I see bags of broken pieces of jewelry. Do you snatch those up?

ML: I find a lot of vintage jewelry at estate sales and auctions. Typically, there will be a box or bag of broken and tangled jewelry up for sale. More often than not, I bid on the unknown. Once I get home and rummage through it, it’s always a surprise to see what I can actually use. I have gotten some pieces from thrift shops, but I find that most of their grab bags are costume jewelry.

GMM: How long does it take you to make your pieces?

ML: Since each piece is unique, that plays a big role in how long it takes to complete. If I finish a piece but am not pleased with it, I will break it down and start over.

EdithYorkinspired Jewelry on Etsy
Making use of old timepieces. Photo: Martha Lewis.

GMM: Can you tell us a bit about what goes into the creative process to take a bag of loose beads, pendants, etc. and form a vision for the new piece?

ML: Usually, I will decide on a pendant, or main focal point and go from there. Coordinating beads, chains, charms, and a clasp are all decided on before I begin crafting.

GMM: Are you aware that some of the pieces you create fit in nicely with cosplay and steampunk? I’ve seen clocks, keys, owls, and other wonderful vintage items in your jewelry.

ML: When I first started this hobby, probably 75 percent of what I was making was related to or referred to as steampunk. I still make that style along with beaded items. Since each piece is created from a vision, it pretty much depends on my thought pattern at that moment.

EdithYorkinspired Jewelry on Etsy
Tools of the trade and a wonderful assortment of pieces to work with. Photo: Martha Lewis.

GMM: I understand that you previously sold your jewelry at local consignment stores and through Bling of the Past. How can interested buyers view the current pieces you have for sale?

ML: In June 2015, I launched EdithYorkinspired on Etsy. I plan to add new items on a regular basis to hopefully capture repeat viewers and lots of sales.

GMM: Thanks for taking the time to talk to the GeekMom readers about your wonderfully unique jewelry items.

ML: It was my pleasure, and thank you for offering to spotlight EdithYorkinspired.

EdithYorkinspired Jewelry on Etsy
Beautiful green-themed owl. Photo: Martha Lewis.

Like what you see? Martha would love to have you visit her EdithYorkinspired Etsy store.

DIY ‘Doctor Who’ Tile Coaster

Photo: Kelly Knox
Photo: Kelly Knox

When I spotted this ingenious coaster DIY on the Sharpie blog, I just had to make it for myself—with a geeky twist, of course! Sharpies and alcohol turn the ink into a gorgeous, galactic mix. Pick up a few inexpensive tiles from the home improvement store, grab some Sharpies, and you’re ready to get started on your one-of-a-kind Doctor Who tile coaster.

What You Need

  • Ceramic tiles
  • Rubbing alcohol
  • Black, blue, and purple Sharpies
  • White acrylic paint
  • Painter’s tape
  • Eye dropper
  • Clear acrylic paint / varnish
  • Felt (optional)
  • Paint brush
  • Scissors
  • Glue (optional)

Get Started!

Begin by cutting and sticking the blue painter’s tape to make a TARDIS shape anywhere on the tile.

Photo: Kelly Knox
Photo: Kelly Knox

Next, use the black, blue, and purple Sharpies to draw outer space all over the tile. Be sure to cover the edges of the painter’s tape for a clear TARDIS shape.

Photo: Kelly Knox
Photo: Kelly Knox

Next, use the eye dropper to drip the rubbing alcohol on the Sharpie ink. The ink will run, blend, and form interesting patterns. You can move the tile slightly to help it mix together.

Photo: Kelly Knox
Photo: Kelly Knox

Allow the tile to dry completely.

Next, use the paint brush to splatter stars on the tile. Allow the paint to dry completely. (If there is still wet rubbing alcohol on the tile, it can create a glow effect with the white paint splatter.)

Photo: Kelly Knox
Photo: Kelly Knox

When the ink and paint are completely dry, remove the painter’s tape.

Next, spray the tile with clear acrylic paint or varnish to seal the ink.

Photo: Kelly Knox
Photo: Kelly Knox

Allow the clear acrylic paint to dry completely, and your coaster is complete! Feel free to add a felt backing to protect your coffee table from accidental scratches.

Photo: Kelly Knox
Photo: Kelly Knox

Be the Artist: John James Audubon

toucan sam
Give some fictional birds a natural habitat, like sending Toucan Sam back to the rain forest, in this project celebrating the work of John James Audubon. Image: Lisa Kay Tate

The Artist: John James Audubon

John James Audubon was born in 1785 as Jean-Jacques Audubon on the French colony of Saint-Domingue (today’s Haiti). He modified his name to John James when he immigrated to the United States in 1803 at age 18.

John James Audubon’s images of animals are considered by many as accurate as any photograph. His publication Birds of America, contains more than 450 species. Images: Wikicommons. Book cover image: Welcome Rain Publishers.

Despite growing up in the aftermath of the French Revolution and attending military school, Audubon’s interests were always nature walks and nature watching. He would make drawings of birds, nests, and other images of the natural world he loved. His first American home was a farm called Mill Grove in Pennsylvania, where the John James Audubon Center is located today.

While in the United States, his interest in birds and wildlife grew and grew. He mastered ornithological (bird centered) art, and his paintings considered by many conservationists to be as accurate as any photographic depiction of birds in their natural setting. He was known to replicate birds’ features, color, and mannerisms better than any artist at the time. His works included watercolors, oils, and engravings.

His most famous collection, Birds of America, contains 453 life-size paintings of North American bird species. Some copies of the original printing of the book have sold for millions of dollars. He also released a volume on North American mammals, as well.

Today, Audubon is remembered as much for his conservation efforts as his art, and, according to the John James Audubon Center’s biography of the artist, he performed the first recorded experiment of bird banding in the United States. His observations on bird anatomy and behavior are still considered vital to those studying birds, and he discovered 25 new species and 12 subspecies during his travels. The National Audubon Society conservation organization was created in his honor in 1905, and several parks, sanctuaries, schools, and other public places bear his name.

He has been so identified with conservation, the quote A true conservationist is a man who knows that the world is not given by his fathers, but borrowed from his children is often attributed to him, yet there is no official record of him actually saying this.

The Project: Fictional Birds of America (and Other Places)

bird project
Look at images of fictional birds and their real life counterparts, and make a fun ornithological mash-up. Image: Lisa Kay Tate

Audubon documented hundreds of species of birds, and discovered several new ones. He was very keen on making sure they were often depicted in their natural habitat, with as much accuracy as possible.

In pop culture today, there are birds everywhere—Angry Birds, Donald Duck, mocking jays, Toucan Sam—just as a start. What would these animals look like in their natural habitat? Do some research on where real life versions of these bird species, or similar-looking birds might live, and put them in that environment.

big bird
As far as we could guess, Big Bird may be just a really large canary. image: Lisa Kay Tate.

For example, Big Bird appears to be a great big domestic canary-type bird. Canaries are named for their native lands, Canary Islands! Find some images of the birds in that habitat, give Big Bird a more natural home, and blend the “real” and “fictional” aspects of him.

Don’t feel you have to be as accurate and refined an artist as Audubon. Even he started out with more crudely sketched drawings before he honed his drawing and painting skills. Use any medium you want, including some of Audubon’s favorites, like watercolors. If doing some plein air (outdoors) painting, colored pencils work well, too.

Make sure to document the common name and “scientific” genus and species of the bird. If there isn’t one, make one up. Warner Brothers had fun doing this with their road runner cartoons. Remember seeing those freeze frames that said “Road Runner (Accelerati incredibilius)”? The real genus and species for the Greater roadrunner, by the way, is Geococcyx californianus, and they are actually related to the cuckoo.

Of course, also try honoring Audubon’s legacy by documenting and illustrating the birds of your own city, neighborhood, and backyard. Audubon himself found trying to capture even one aspect of the natural world to be quite an undertaking. He expressed his desire to fill pages upon pages with his drawings in a journal entry found in the book Audubon and His Journals (1897), edited by his granddaughter, Maria R. Audubon:

“I cannot write at all, but if I could how could I make a little book, when I have seen enough to make a dozen large books,” he asked.

Be the Artist: Roy Lichtenstein

Matt Murdock takes a break in this Roy Lichtenstein-inspired photo paint-over utilizing the Ben-Day dot pattern. Image and art: Lisa Kay Tate.

The Artist: Roy Lichtenstein

American pop art pioneer Roy Lichtenstein began drawing as a hobby, and enjoyed drawing portraits of this favorite jazz musicians playing their instruments. He enrolled in classes at Art Students League of New York his last year in high school in 1939, but it wasn’t until the 1960s, when he was a teacher at Rutgers University, that he began creating his pop art paintings that incorporated his cartoon-style images influenced by commercial printing techniques.

Roy Lichtenstein’s Ben-Day dots were popular no matter what he did, be it painting or sculpture. All images: Wikicommons.

His portraits often featured thick outlines, bright, bold color schemes, and a pattern known as Ben-Day dots, a printing method named after printer Benjamin Day using dots to give the illusion of color. This method was common in early color comic strips and books.

Lichtenstein worked primarily in oil and an early form of acrylic paint called magna, and incorporated these painting methods to give his paintings the illusion of being a photographic reproduction.

One of his best known works, the 1963 painting Drowing Girl in which a singing woman dramatically exclaims “I don’t care! I’d rather sink than call Brad for help!”, was his take on a panel from DC Comics’ pulpy romance series Secret Love #83. Another piece, the Disney-inspired Look Mickey, was the result of his son looking at a Mickey Mouse comic and saying to his dad, “I bet you can’t paint as good as that.”

His painting Whaam!, actually a painting of the word itself in dramatic comic book letters, is considered one of pop art’s earliest examples. Many of his works were very close copies to the image that inspired them, like an ad or comic book panel, and he even worked on a series where he added his own style in reproductions of pieces by other famous artists like Vincent Van Gogh or Pablo Picasso.

Lichtenstein also worked with sculpture and screenprinting, and even in his last decade of life, he was working on new series that turned everyday images into pop art. He died in 1997 at age 73.

Despite his work being shown in galleries from Tate Modern in London to Museum of Modern Art in New York, some critics discounted the comic strip appeal of his works as trite. One Life Magazine article in 1964 posed the question as to whether Lichtenstein was the “Worst Artist in the U.S.”

Today, Lichtenstein’s legacy has risen high above any complaints from his critics, as some of his works have sold for millions of dollars. His style is now copied by many, including a recent trend of recreating his look on real-life people with make-up and face painting techniques.

The Project: Hero Paint-overs

Remember, some of Lichtenstein’s most popular pieces were near copies of something else, but were still his original works. (Though this ‘borrowing’ has detractors.)

We’re going to take a cue from the makeup artists who turn real-life models into pop art, but we’re not actually going to use a real face.

These regular photos can be transformed into pop art with a few strokes of a brush and some fine tip markers. Image: Lisa Kay Tate

Instead, print out a portrait photo of a character or personality on card stock or thick drawing paper. Square images look best for this. Make sure it’s printed lightly, because you’re going to paint over it…just like a comic book inker!

First, use a dark marker, like a felt tip, and draw over the contours of the person’s face, so it starts to look like the edges of a coloring book. Do this first, because when you go back to paint over the image, you’ll  have a better guide.

Little by little a photo becomes a painting. Outline it like a coloring book, then paint within the lines. Go back over the lines again once the paint dries. Images: Lisa Kay Tate.

Next, using lighter colors, paint over the face. Then paint the background, hair, clothes, or any larger spaces. Paint thin enough so you can still faintly see the detail below. Primary colors were used heavily by Lichtenstein: Don’t be stingy with blues, reds, and yellows.

Using brighter paint and makers, outline as much of the face as you can once more, so it starts to look like it was drawn image, rather than a photograph.

Paint (or paste on) a think bubble or quote box, and give that character something to say. It can be sad, dramatic, meaningful, or just plain funny. Lichtenstein used thin, simple letters for his words. They don’t have to be fancy.

Once you get the details you want, add the Ben-Day dots of brighter colors to the skin area of the portrait. This is the hardest part, because you want to keep the dots in fairly straight grid, not just random. This process will take some time and patience. Felt tip markers work well for it, but wait for all paint you use to dry first.

Be patient when drawing the dot patterns. Also try to keep them as straight as possible. Images: Lisa Kay Tate.

Once done, you’ve done one of the things that made Lichtenstein famous, make a near-copy of something else, but with your own touch to make a completely new work.

Lichtenstein even talked about this, in a response to his critics, in a quote found in a 1972 biography by John Coplans:

“The closer my work is to the original, the more threatening and critical the content,” he said. “However, my work is entirely transformed in that my purpose and perception are entirely different.”

“Scarlet Beats Scarlett.” This turned out looking a bit too much like Madonna, but the style is still there. Image: Lisa Kay Tate.

Summer Science Fun: Make Pink Tea!

Image by Rebecca Angel

Science experiments are fun when you can play with them, but they are more fun when you can eat them! Or, in this case, drink.

Litmus paper is used to show the pH scale in chemistry. Litmus is what chemists call an acid-base indicator. Although it’s great for science, do you have it handy in your home? Well, I don’t, and any extra step means I never get around to doing the science. For the busy (lazy) parents like me, we need a different acid-base indicator. And I love tea.

In a previous post, my daughter made me violet flower tea, which is blue but turned pink when lemon juice was added. She also gave a good explanation on how this happened. If you have some violets, it’s a simple recipe to try (and pretty! and tasty!).

How about regular tea? Tea (Camillia Sinensis) contains tannins, which can act as acid-base indicators with color: Acidic lemon juice and tea turn light yellow, alkaline baking soda and tea turn reddish-brown.

Kashimiri Tea, Pink Tea, or Noon Tea are all the same names for a distinct tea recipe from Kashmir, a region near the Himalayas in South Asia. (A quick geography lesson would be appropriate here too.) The tea turns pink! And you can drink it! Yummy science!

Pink Tea
5 cups water
1 tablespoon semi-fermented tea, such as oolong (some recipes use green tea, so use it if that’s what you have)
1/4 teaspoon baking soda
1 teaspoon salt (traditional, but sugar can be substituted)
cream, half and half, or whole milk (Yak milk is often used, if you have it…)
cardamom seeds and star anise (optional)

1. In a sauce pan, combine a quart of water with the tea and baking soda. Let it come to a boil and then lower to medium heat for a half hour.
2. Turn off heat.
3. Add cold water.
4. Mix the tea by lifting a ladle filled with tea up about 8 inches and letting it pour back in the pan. A parent or older child should do this since it will splash. Repeat 10-20 times. This is the fun and messy part!
5. Add some cardamom and star anise.
6. Add salt (or sugar).
7. Let sit for a few minutes.
8. Strain the tea.
9. Pour in cream until the color is pink.
10. Drink up!

As you can see in my picture above, I didn’t get a super pink color, but since I really liked the flavor, I’ll be trying it again. Here is an explanation of tannins and color changes. Remember, if you have acidic water, it won’t work! What other acid-base indicators are in our kitchens? And did you like the tea?