Tuesday, April 8, 2014

It's a Mad, Mod, Mosaic World

Way back in late November I received a message through a social networking site from someone who liked my mosaic work and was looking to commission a backsplash for his kitchen. We had my family visiting and I was furiously working on our master bathroom renovation.  It's not often that we have free babysitting from the grandparents so I spent whole days tiling our new shower.  Somewhere in all of that I managed to try to email the prospective client. Time passed and I got another message through a different site from the same client. Now it was Christmas time and we had Mike's mother coming to visit and the holiday to attend to. I was still working on the bathroom reno and trying to finish gifts for everyone. I did connect with the client and we discussed his kitchen backsplash project. I did not hold out high hopes for it to actually come to fruition because so I get so many internet inquiries about my work and they mostly fall through. Most people are just not serious about the project or realistic about the cost of commissioning an artist to hand cut glass to make a custom mosaic mural for them. Or, sometimes it seems as though people are just fishing around for prices, free advice, etc. I take inquiries seriously and have wasted a lot of time and effort on long distance projects that never happened. That's going to change-onward.

Amazingly, this client was serious and realistic and we began discussing what he and his wife were looking for. They liked a mosaic of mine from my site that was based on Gustav Klimt's Tree of Life work.  My mosaic is abstract with geometric shapes and a golden color palette. The clients loved it but they wanted flowers and butterflies and vines. Hmm. How to do that without it turning out too sweet or childish looking? After a couple of preliminary designs and some further discussions we arrived at a design that we all liked.  It has the flow of the inspiration mosaic with tendrils of green vining ribbons, pared down flowers in simple concentric circles and some realistically rendered butterflies. To me it has a modern look and a lot of life.  There is something almost cosmic feeling about the floating flowers.  I included a yellow swallowtail butterfly as a memento of watching them in the garden with my little girl last Summer. We had loads of them around the wild perimeters of our yard.

It's a fairly large mosaic (6 ft. long) though certainly not the largest I've made. I've been updating the clients on my progress through digital photographs. As I neared completing it the clients enlarged it, more than doubling the project in size. I'm now working on the second phase of it and making good progress.

I've always worked fast but it is a challenge to work on something as detailed as a mosaic when I am home with my 2 yr. old daughter. I work while she naps or after dinner and on weekends, whenever I can. This is the first large project since having my daughter and moving. While finding time to work is challenging it is also rewarding. I am really grateful for my patient clients who are giving me quite a lot of freedom to be creative. It's great to have this creative time in my studio. Working on this project is helping me to think about my work and where I want to go with it.

I'm really looking forward to completing this mosaic and shipping it off to it's new home soon.  I can't wait to see it installed.

Monday, February 17, 2014

Glass Insulator pendant lights

I am so happy that Retro Renovation did a little story on my painted tile kitchen backsplash project that I blogged about last time. You can check out their site here http://retrorenovation.com/ A few people seemed interested in our glass insulator pendant lights that were seen in the photos. Also, I promised in my last blog post that I would talk about how they came to be.

When we bought our house the kitchen came with some pendant lights that we really didn't care for. There were four of them, of varying lengths. They didn't seem to be that old and were in good shape but were a little too cute for us. They had white, stained glass shades with an iridescent finish in a hexagon shape. The metal piece that covered the top of the shade also had a flowery scalloped edge.  They were the only lighting in the kitchen except for some under cabinet lights.  Here they are taken down and ready for Craigslist. You can see how they looked when they were still up on my last post about the painted backsplash.

I knew that we wanted something more vintage-retro modern.  Scouting around on Pinterest I saw some pendant lights made from old glass insulators. Love at first sight! First of all, I love glass since I am a mosaic artist. Secondly, the color! The insulators usually come in a lovely shade of aqua blue.  Thirdly, my father and grandfather have collected these kinds of insulators. I remember them lined up on a window sill at my grandparents farmhouse. I'd seen some insulators for sale on Craigslist so of course I had to make some. Glass insulators were used on telegraph lines.  They used to be found on telegraph lines along railroad tracks.

I would call this an advanced DIY project. You should consult an electrician.  Have your work checked and have the electrician install the lights.  You don't want to mess around with electricity.
I bought one insulator to test out how difficult it would be to drill a hole through the glass. I purchased it at a local place that dismantles old houses instead of demolishing them and salvages and resells the materials (Urban Miners in Hamden, CT). I noticed that they had a whole bucket of insulators so I could make the rest of the lights.

I bought a diamond bit for my drill in a hold size large enough for the light cord to fit through. I had checked out the pendant light kit from a home improvement big box store already. It's messy to drill through glass and potentially hazardous.  Safety glasses are a must. You do not want to get glass dust or a shard in your eyes. I did the drilling out in our garage. I put the insulator upside down, so the open end was at the top. I poured a little water into the insulator so that it would no overheat while I was drilling through the glass. I put a piece of scrap wood under the insulator to cushion it while I drilled, too. It takes patience and a steady speed. Even with the water the glass gets pretty hot and I had to stop a few times to let everything cool off. It probably took me 10-15 minutes to drill all the way through the glass and my hands had pins and needles for a while. But, success! I had one shade done!
I've read that you can use a drill press to make the hold but I don't have one and can't comment on that.

I drilled the rest of the shades and my husband and I got to work on the wiring. Like I mentioned before, the pendant kits can be purchased at a home improvement store. The kits are for standard sized bulbs, too big for the insulators. The space inside the insulator for the bulb is quite small so a candelabra bulb is the size we want. I bought four candelabra socket kits. Now comes the advance part. Remove the standard size bulb socket off the pendant kit and attach the candelabra socket to it. I followed the directions from this blog but I confess I had to read and reread it several times to really understand what I was supposed to do.  ttp://www.girlinair.com/2011/03/how-to-make-glass-insulator-light.html

Now, since these four pendant lights are the main lighting for our kitchen we needed them to be bright. At first I just put in some candelabra bulbs that we had lying around the house. They were bright enough but the bulbs stuck out from the bottom of the insulator shade quite a bit. I looked and looked for tiny, bright bulbs but came up with nada. We found some halogen bulbs online that were super tiny but also very, very hot. Halogen bulbs give off a ton of heat. They were also very expensive. They seemed to work great at first but one of my insulator shades cracked due to the fact that the cord was a bit crooked and the super hot bulb was too close to one side of the shade.  *sad face*. We ended up taking out all of the halogens and went back to the regular candelabra bulbs. I've gotten used to seeing the ends of the bulbs and the overall effect of the pendant lights is nice. The blue color goes so well with my painted backsplash and at night there is a cool band of aqua light that gets spread along the ceiling.

My dad says he wants me to make him some insulator pendant lights for his kitchen. They probably remind him of his old collection.

Thursday, February 6, 2014

Paint your tile backsplash!

Yup, that's what I said. I meant to write about this little project a long time ago but I wasn't sure that this was going to be more than a temporary fix. Months later, it's looking like my painted tile backsplash is going to stay.

When we bought our house my husband and I were pretty happy with the kitchen. Only 10 yrs. old and in great condition with an efficient layout and ample cupboard space. The only thing wrong was that it didn't really go with the rest of our mid century modern style house. We have an open plan in the main living spaces with high, angled walls, huge windows, brick fireplace hearth. The kitchen had cherry colored cabinets in a Shaker style and a black, matte tile backsplash. I didn't mind the laminate counters at all since they had a stone look pattern in natural colors. I seriously thought about painting the cabinets since Shaker style cabs can look more modern that way. Also, the drawer and cabinet pulls could be upgraded to something other than the blackish-chrome pulls we have now. I'm home with our 2 yr. old so I don't have much time to paint the cabinets. I've done it before and I know that it could take weeks to do all the steps and for drying time.

What really bugged me most was the black backsplash. It just sucked the light out of the counter space.  Our kitchen has a lot of light, maybe too much. We have a huge picture window over the stove. Even on cloudy days I really don't need to turn a light on in there. But the area under the upper cabinets was shadowy thanks to the black backsplash. I'm not afraid of using black in an interior. I think black can bring a sharpness into a room's design. But it has to be used correctly. Like in a fabric print, black frames on art, black and white photography. This black tile backsplash just looked wrong. As a general rule, brown (the cabinets) and black don't look great together.

So one day I thought maybe I could paint the backsplash. I had dabbled with painting tile before so I felt pretty confident that it could be done. It helped that the tiles are a matte finish but I have painted glossy tiles, too. What's key is the primer. I used a bonding primer (XIM). It stinks to high heaven but it is durable stuff. I taped off the countertop, stove, upper cabinets and anything else that touched the tile that wasn't going to get painted. I used a foam brush to paint on the bonding primer. It's very runny so a lot goes a long way. It is a good thing to do this project in warmer weather when you can open windows for ventilation. In fact, using a respirator is a good idea. I used my stove's vent, too. The primer dries very quickly, under an hour. After that I used a white water based primer, Glidden's Gripper. I did this to cover the black as the bonding primer is clear. It didn't completely cover the black but helped get rid of a lot of it.

I had an much loved McCoy vase in turquoise for inspiration. I mixed up about 5 shades of turquoise acrylic paint, from deep to light. 100% acrylic is what you want. It is stronger than latex paint but still has water wash up and little to no fumes. After the primer you will appreciate that!

I used foam brushes again to paint each tile individually. I made a random pattern because I wanted to keep it looking retro. I didn't worry about the grout lines getting sloppy, I'll cover that a little later. It took a couple of coats to make the tiles look completely solid. I liked it but it was a little overwhelming, all that turquoise. I looked into my supply of acrylic paints and pulled out copper. I randomly painted some tiles copper throughout the backsplash. The copper helped bring in the cherry wood tones. Now the kitchen made more sense in relation to the rest of the house.

I cleaned up the grout lines by using a grout colorant product. It's very easy to use, just paint it on in the grout lines and wipe off with a clean rag. After that I sealed the backsplash with a couple of coats of shellac. It's holding up very well and is washable. Our kitchen gets heavy use, too. In one of my photos you can see how the tiles looked before I used the grout colorant and the other one shows the "after".

I really thought that painting the backsplash was going to just be a temporary fix and that ultimately I would make a mosaic backsplash and paint the cabinets. But I have grown so fond of the backsplash and how it makes the cabinets look good that I'll probably keep it. Most of all, it's fun and that's what we like about this house. We've had other houses where we felt like we had to respect the age and history of the house and keep the colors historic. This house feels different. I've painted most of the walls here white because that's what the house wants but I have not been afraid to bring in some wild colors (orange front door!) to be accents.

Most people who come to our house really seem to like the backsplash and it looks pretty retro without being too kitsch, I hope. Next maybe we'll talk about the lights.

Big thanks to Retro Renovation for doing a story on my little project! You can see the story here and check them out:



Tuesday, March 12, 2013

Healthier pizza for kids

Untitled My almost 18 month old daughter has become a picky eater. I know that this is not unusual behavior for a toddler but it still stresses me out. I make almost all of her food from scratch and when she rejects it it drives me crazy. She used to love all veggies but lately she eats mostly oatmeal and fruit and buttered tortellini. Not the most balanced diet. On a recent trip to visit family we ordered a veggie pizza and she really liked it. So, my new mission was to make a healthier pizza with more vegetables.

 Crust recipe
 • 1 large or two small sweet potatoes/ app. 1½-2 cups (I microwaved these whole, with the skin on, until tender. Allow to cool, the skin will come off easily, then mash thoroughly.) • 1½-2 cups flour,white or whole wheat(start with 1/2 cup and add more as needed) • 2 tsp baking powder • sprinkle of oregano • app 4 Tbsp cold water mixed with 2 Tbsp virgin olive oil • salt to taste- I have recently begun to add app. 1 tsp of salt to this crust. Preheat oven to 400°F. In a large bowl, mix sweet potato, flour, oregano, water and oil. This will make a very soft dough. Mix thoroughly, then spread on one or two parchment-lined baking sheets. I made 8 small pizza doughs. I oiled my hands and spread the dough, or you could wet your hands with water to make them not stick. Once all of the doughs were formed I baked them for 15 min. I wanted to be able to freeze them so I could make some quick meals for Em. Once they are cool enough, I stacked them with pieces of parchment or wax paper in between each one and put them in an freezer bag. To thaw, I'd wrap them in a paper towel and start off at 30 seconds to a minute. I haven't thawed any yet but once I do I will amend this recipe with the exact time. Untitled Untitled To make the pizza take one cooked,thawed crust and put it on a cooking sheet or tin foil. For pizza sauce I puréed cooked mixed vegetables like carrot, broccoli, corn and green beans in a blender with a small can of roasted tomatoes. I added a little tomato paste to thicken it. Spread enough of the sauce on the crust to cover and add toppings. I had some poached and shredded chicken and also some shredded Parmesan cheese. Run the pizza under the broiler or toaster oven for a minute or two until warmed and the cheese is melted.Even if your child doesn't like vegetables on the pizza, there are enough in the sauce and crust to just make a cheese pizza. Em loved it and ate an entire 5 inch pizza by herself. "Pizza" is a new favorite word now. I'm going to experiment with getting even more vegetables into the crust. For now I am just happy that she likes it so much because it is sometimes hard to get her to eat enough. I tried a piece of the pizza myself and I like it. It's slightly sweet from the potato and the sauce tastes like a mild tomato sauce. I added no sugar or salt to the recipe.

Tuesday, February 5, 2013

Trying to find a good egg

In recent years I have become somewhat obsessed with our diet and finding healthier sources for our groceries. It started with reading Michael Pollan and also Barbara Kingsolver's book, Animal, Vegetable, Miracle. I had been feeling guilty about my role as consumer of cheap and inhumanely produced meat and dairy products. Pair that with an overindulgence of meat at the holidays and I was ready to give vegetarianism a try. Thankfully, my husband was on board with this change because it probably wouldn't have worked any other way. It's been more than three years since we stopped eating meat. OK, we've cheated a couple of times when faced with a particularly delicious roast made by good friends at a holiday dinner but that doesn't count, right? And I should really call us Pescetarians since we do eat seafood. Good thing, because we moved to the Connecticut coast in April and the seafood here is pretty freaking good.

We do eat dairy products, too. We love cheese and go through a ridiculous quantity of milk each week. This is because we make our own kefir (almost 5yrs doing that!) and have smoothies every morning. Mike is much more consistent with the kefir smoothies than I am. Sometimes I just want a bowl of oatmeal on a Winter morning. Our toddler also drinks a lot of milk now. We buy organic milk but sometimes I think it'd be cheaper to just get our own cow!

Because we don't eat meat, eggs have become an important part of our diet. Once again, I buy the best eggs that I can at the grocery store but I always felt like I was being duped. Organic, free-range? What does it mean when it comes to eggs? Not much, apparently. A little research into the "free-range" eggs I'd been buying revealed that it was just another factory farm with some tricky marketing labels.

I searched the web for local eggs and found a woman who lived just a few minutes from me who was
raising chickens and selling eggs. We had a back and forth email exchange about how she uses no drugs or chemicals in raising her chickens. I drove over last week and picked up my first dozen of her farm eggs. She was really friendly and insisted that I meet "the girls". We walked over to a fenced pasture area with a vintage camper trailer in the middle of it. Pretty cool chicken coop, if you ask me. Maybe a dozen or so hens were milling about pecking at the ground like chickens are supposed to. They were white, black, speckled and buff colored and quite fluffy looking. One white rooster was strutting around; proud of his harem, no doubt. Occasionally, one chicken would appear at the open door of the camper-coop and jump down to the ground. That alone was worth the trip. This lady loves
her chickens. She picked them up and hugged them while we were talking.

Then there were the eggs. The egg lady explained to me that she doesn't wash them and they still had the bloom on them. I admit that I had no idea what that meant so I looked it up when I got home. Turns out its a natural protective coating on the egg that keeps it fresher longer. Store eggs have had the bloom washed off but then they are sometimes oiled to put a protective coating put back on them.
I still had some store eggs around so I did a side by side comparison. The store egg's white was runny, almost watery and spread over half of my frying pan. The farm egg's white was thicker and barely spread at all. It was also a double yolked egg. Probably an unfair comparison right there. The farm egg's yolk was almost orange to the store egg's more pale yolk. I planned to compare the flavor
of each egg but my husband came into the kitchen and was hungry so I gave him the store egg. My
double yolk farm egg was delicious!
Farm egg vs. Trader Joe egg

It's nice to know that the chickens that produced the eggs weren't debeaked (http://www.animalrightszone.com/birds/debeaking/)or hadn't eaten arsenic laden feed (http://abcnews.go.com/Health/truth-eggs/t/story?id=16871055). In fact, I'd say those chickens looked pretty happy (and sporty)in their vintage camper-coop.


Thursday, January 31, 2013

On tall trees and wind storms


When I look at the windows or our house I can almost imagine that we live in a more rural place than the suburban cul-de-sac that is reality. Mostly, because we are situated on top of a hill surrounded by tall trees.  We can barely see the houses on the street behind us. It is quiet, oh so quiet, here.  Except today because the wind is really strong.  I am listening to it roar through the tall trees.  There are several very tall trees on or bordering our property.  Most are pines but there is also a huge, old Sycamore and what we think is a very old cherry tree.  The trees are lovely.  They wave, shimmy and sway.  Today they are waving furiously, trying to get my attention.  Possibly because pieces of them are falling off.  I woke up at around 4AM to the loud roaring of the wind. It sounded like jet engines overhead.  Worried, I got up and peeked out the windows.  The trees were more mobile than usual.  I did hear debris falling on our roof but nothing that sounded too serious.  I went back to bed but found it hard to settle back into sleep.  I kept expecting to feel our house sway in the wind.  In Buffalo, in our old three story houses we always felt a slight rocking when the wind blew hard. Now we live in a one story house made of concrete block.  It does not move.

Upon waking for the day we discovered that several good-sized pine limbs had fallen in the night.  Thankfully, they fell away from our house.  Later, Mike called me after he'd left for work to tell me that one limb was dangling over our roof near the chimney.

Untitled When
we first took possession of the house one of the first things we had to do was to remove some small trees that were growing too close to the foundation.  When I say they were close I mean the trunks were rubbing against the roofline. Another surprise was that two of the trees were hollies.  I had no idea that holly could grow that large.  Then we noticed that the large tree at the front of the garage on the berm was a gigantic holly.  My father stayed with us for a week helping us do some projects before we actually moved in.  Removing the trees was on the list.  We had some mild weather to help out and he and Mike spent several days bonding over a chainsaw, taking down 20ft. holly. The trunks were cut up with the chainsaw and stacked for future use as fuel for our fireplace. Seen in this last photo is also the Sycamore tree with an ugly wound from a previous storm, possibly Hurricane Sandy which blew through the area just about a week before we closed on the house. Guess we'll need to buy a chainsaw.


First work at the new house

I am still catching up on what has happened since we bought our house. We've only been in it for about 6 weeks so it shouldn't take too long.

We closed on time in 45 days-a first for us! It was a long day. We had he final walk through in the morning and the closing in the afternoon. We had our baby daughter with us. That seemed like a good idea, until it wasn't. The closing meeting dragged and Em got restless. She ate all of her snacks and drank all of the milk we'd brought. I had to ask the lawyer if she had any whole milk in her mini fridge. Thankfully, she did. Finally, we got out of there and headed straight for the house. Em fell asleep on the way there and we let her sleep in her car seat inside.

Our first job was to pull up a lot of old, vinyl tile in the hall and master bedroom. It was that fake brick-looking stuff that one normally sees in a kitchen. Why was it in the bedroom? Who knows. It was very loose, too.  At least in the bedroom. We knew from our inspection that there was or had been some kind of leak from the master bathroom that was affecting a piece of baseboard trim and the floor tiles in the bedroom. As a result, we do not use the shower in the master bath at all. It is circa 1950 terrazzo and in bad shape. It's also super small. Thankfully, there is another full bathroom down the hall. Anyhow, that is what we suspect to be the reason for the loose tiles. We literally just picked them off the floor without any prying. We did the whole, quite large bedroom in about an hour and called it a day.

What we were left with was a painted concrete floor. Our house sits on a concrete slab, no basement. There are radiant heat pipes embedded in the concrete. The floor was painted green and red in what I would guess was lead paint. We considered polishing it down to the raw concrete but were nervous about releasing lead and other toxins into the air. We were moving in in a week and had little time. We ended up carpeting it and the other bedrooms.

The hallway posed another problem. First of all, it took a lot more sweat to get the tiles off because they were put down properly with mastic. The mastic was still gummy slightly probably because of the heated floors. (By the way, it is nice to have heated floors!). The previous owners had left us boxes of the "luxury vinyl" tiles that they used in the living and dining rooms. It was neutral and looked so much like ceramic that it fooled me on first viewing. I figured it was an easy job, I'd laid tile before. Dear lord, that was hard work! I had to work at night for two nights to get the majority of it tiled. I had started it and had worked for an hour when I noticed the seams meandering. I had to rip it up and start over. Have I mentioned how long this hallway is? 38 ft. For real. Two grueling nights of crawling around on the floor and the hallway was tiled. Well, I still have to finish some fussy edges but it looks done. The tile is good for high traffic and transfers the heat well. Not every floor material is suitable for radiant floor heat.

We have two skylights in the house. One in a half bath and the other in the hallway. They really let a lot of light in during the day. There is no need to turn on lights in these rooms during daylight hours. Most of the rooms in the house have ample windows to illuminate them without using electricity.  Hallways and small bathrooms, though, usually do not have windows.  I love that I can see the sky and trees through the skylights, and the stars at night.