31 December 2010

Recipes: Zucchini & Tomato Ricotta Custard Tart

Farmer's Market Vegetable Tart

I’m sure you could use whatever veggies you have on hand, but ever since I saw Carole Ann’s post about her Squash Tart & Tomato Jam over on Connect the Dots Crafts, I’ve had a hankering for a zucchini tart. I made the tomato jam (see the recipe at Homesick Texan) over the weekend with farmer’s market tomatoes, so today I finally made my tart. I ended up liking it better on its on that with the jam, but c'est la vie!
You’ll need:
1 refrigerated pie crust (or make your own, if you’re feeling daring)
1 small-medium zucchini
1/2 small onion (I used white, but whatever you have will be fine)
1/4 pint cherry tomatoes, halved (if you have romas, use those, about 4 or 5, sliced)
1 t. minced garlic (or 3 cloves)
1 T. unsalted butter (optional, use olive oil or similar if you don’t have butter)
15 oz. container of ricotta cheese
3 T. sour cream
3 eggs
1 t. honey
1 T. brown mustard
cracked black pepper
salt (I used Hawaiian red, but whatever you have will be fine)
Start by slicing the zucchini into thin rounds. Sliver the onion finely. Chop the cherry tomatoes in half. Combine all in a skillet over medium heat with the butter and cook until nicely browned and softened. Add garlic and a light sprinkle of salt and cook for two more minutes, until fragrant. Remove from heat and set aside to cool slightly.

Lightly cooking your vegetable before baking your tart takes away some of the moisture, which means that you don't end up with a soggy crust bottom!
In a large bowl, mix the ricotta cheese, sour cream, eggs, honey, and cracked pepper. I really like pepper so I gave it a generous dose, but if you aren’t sure, just a couple cracks from your pepper grinder will be fine. Don’t overdose on the honey! Just a smidge adds a real delicate sweetness to your ricotta custard. (If you wanted a dessert tart, however, honey is the way to go... just maybe use apples instead of the tomatoes, hey?)
The eggs help the ricotta bind into a custard. You could stir in 2 T. of your favorite hard cheese at this point as well.
In a 9-inch glass pie pan, roll out the pastry dough. You could roll the dough into a 14 inch circle (slightly larger than the 12-inch one you started with), but it’s really not essential, unless you want to make a really nice looking rustic crust around the edge. I didn’t bother because I was in a rush to get dinner in the oven.
Spread a thin layer of the mustard along the bottom of the pie crust. This is kind of a “secret” ingredient and adds a really nice flavor. You could skip it if you hate mustard with no ill results.

Hate mustard? Pesto would make a delicious substitute here.

Spread the ricotta mixture into the pie crust. Top with the cooked veggies. There’s no need to make ‘em look all fancy like I did for the photograph, of course, just spread ‘em around evenly if you want and it will be fine. It’s the taste that counts, right? You could sprinkle some shredded hard cheese on top if you wanted before baking (parmesan would be great), but my boyfriend doesn’t like parmesan, so I skipped it. 

To make this "rustic" crust, I just folded over the excess pastry and pinched it randomly to form a slight lip.
Bake at 375 degrees for about an hour, checking after 50 minutes. You want a nice golden crust on your tart before removing it from the oven, and the custard should be set (i.e. not liquidy).  Serve with a nice dollop of tomato jam and make yummy noises. If for some reason you are interrupted in the middle of baking by the National Grid guy inspected a possible gas leak, don't panic. Just leave the oven door closed when the oven is disconnected and add 5 minutes to your cooking time. 

Tell me this doesn't look delicious! Nick and I both ate two servings!

Use green & red peppers instead of the tomato & zucchini blend here.
Any type of mushroom would be excellent with this recipe, either add it with the t&z, or alone.
Any summer squash could stand in with the zucchini: yellow or pattypan squash would work great.
Leave out the tomatoes if you don’t have any & use extra squash or add mushrooms.
Add seasonings in with the ricotta cheese, like italian seasoning and basil for an Italian feel, dill for a nice side to go with your choice of fill, or cumin for a Mexican flair, depending on the taste sensation you want.
Use half ricotta and half goat cheese for a truly decadent vegetable tart.

30 December 2010

Artsy-Crafty Link Round Up #3

It's almost time for another session of Bling Bling jewelry classes, so I've been thinking about what projects I think the kids would like to learn. I've found a bunch of cool fabric jewelry ideas that I think we're going to try, and not just because my supply budget was cut. I want to encourage the students to recycle and refashion their old stuff and thrift store finds, so I'll be taking in stacks of old jeans, vintage t-shirts, and scraps of fabric to see what they come up with.

Here's a round-up of fabric jewelry tutorials on the web:

There's a lot of potential with this idea: use fabric that matches your favorite outfits or go for a monochromatic look. I like the way fabric and metal blend in this necklace, and I think it's easy enough for my middle school students to master. Definitely on my list of projects to try this month.

I'm actually not sure if I even like the look of these, but maybe in a different fabric, these could be cool. Also, this might be great adorned with rhinestones, since the kids love those. I'll have to try making them to decide if my students would have the patience to try 'em. They don't look all that different, but the author says a few times how time consuming they are, so we'll see.

I think these are super cute, but I don't know if the kids would be into them or not. I thought the cupcake necklaces would be a huge success, but I'd say they were 50/50 on whether or not they liked them. Of course, most of the kids want to make gold chains and diamond bling, so it's not exactly the style they like. However... a rhinestone or two might change everything!

With the right choice of fabrics and paints, these could be a good project. I think we'd make a long necklace out of these instead of bracelets, since I think that style would be good, since a lot of the kids are rockin' an 80s vibe these days. Seriously, am I doomed to forever be in junior high? Haha!

I love the look on these necklaces, but I'm not sure that the sewing technique is going to work with the kids. However, I think if we used recycled t-shirts (i.e. jersey), we could do the knots from the other tutorials. And sewing the fabric flowers might work okay, but the kids did a great job with the felt flower headbands we made last term. As long as it's an "instant gratification" type project, they'll love it. And the flowers are super cute, so I bet it will be a good project. I'll be making samples soon.

I like the idea of a bib necklace from fabric flowers, and I have a bit of leftover wool felt from last session. I'd definitely leave out the lace, but I like the fact that the students could completely personalize the necklace to suit their style by choosing colors that work for them. I have a huge box of scrap fabric that I couldn't bear to throw away or recycle, so I know I have lots of options.

I like this design better, but it's a little advanced. I know some of the students would dig it, others wouldn't want to take the time to add all the details. Still, I love that it incorporates beads and buttons!

I kinda like the flower technique in this tutorial, though we will not be burning any edges in class, haha! Though that makes me wonder if we could dye the edges using a stamp pad or paint, so will have to try it! Love that the author saw a necklace she liked and didn't want to pay for so made her own. That's the ingenuity I'd love to inspire in my students!

I think this would look cute with some beads sewn in the middle or maybe some rhinestones, cuz the kids love those. Color choice would definitely influence the style factor of the design, too.

I love this, but don't know if it would be a good student project. It would be cool to offer up as an "advanced" project though.

27 December 2010

Awesome Etsians #2: Piddix

If you use collage sheets in your artwork, you're probably already familiar with Piddix. If not, hurry over and check out what the shop has to offer! With vintage images from Alice in Wonderland to vintage German anatomy woodcuts to pinup girls, Piddix is sure to have something that tickles your fancy. Most images are offered in a variety of sizes, from 1/2 inch circles to 1 inch square to Scrabble tile sizes, but if Piddix doesn't carry the size you need, Corinna makes it easy for you to learn how to resize the images yourself on her website.

I am a HUGE fan of Piddix. I have bought too many collage sheets to count from Corinna, both for my own use and for use in my jewelry design classes with kids. I subscribed to her subscription service when it was offered, and I'm currently subscribed as one of her image testers! I love that I never have to worry about copyright issues when I use sheets from Piddix: she's already done the research to ensure that her images are royalty-free. Corinna is always quick to respond to emails, super friendly, and fast with delivery of online images. It's no wonder Piddix has become one of Etsy's Top Sellers!

Bright Mod Flowers
copyright Piddix 2010
Here's Corinna's profile from the Piddix website:

"Welcome to piddix licensing. Owner Corinna Buchholz regularly travels across the country with her family, a scanner and camera to gather inspiration in archives, beaches and mountains. Back home she uses her 15+ years of graphic design experience to create professional, unique designs that have made her one of the top independent sellers of images online. Piddix images are in use in nearly 50 countries and have been featured in countless publications including Belle Armoire Jewelry, HGTV, Stringing Magazine, Modish and two upcoming books."

Framed French Ephemera
copyright Piddix 2010

Learn more about Corinna of Piddix in the Quit Your Day Job feature on The Storque.

Learn about selling on Etsy from a true Etsy success story: Piddix.

25 December 2010

Etsy Tips & Tricks #4: Improve Your Photography Skills

When I was in high school, I went through a black & white photography phase. I have a simple 35 mm camera and I bought the black & white film because I thought it was cooler than lame-o colored shots. I didn't know what the heck I was doing. I knew nothing about lighting or angles or background/foreground. I just took pictures of anything that seemed interesting. In the many rolls of black & white film that I went through from 11th grade until I was too busy partying it up during my freshman year of college, I did manage to snap a few really great shots... but most of them were, admittedly, crap. (Some, literally, including my infamous "toliet flushing" art shot. Doh!) I made a few albums, put the rest in a box, and promptly forgot about them.

Later, I upgraded to a digital camera. My first digital camera was a pen cam, some crappy flash-free number that only took decent pictures if I shot in the bathroom (which crazy bright lights) or outdoors on sunny days. Oh, and I had to keep the pictures tiny on the web or they got all fuzzy. My friends and I definitely had a blast doing crazy photo shoots with the good old pen cam, including the photo comic strip "The Air Conditioner from God" and things like that, but after the best photo shoot of all time was lost due to a glitch in the camera's design that caused it to lose all saved photos if the battery died, I quickly lost interest.

A few years later, I had finally saved up enough money for a laptop computer, and Dell was running a promotion at the time that included a free Fujifilm FinePix digital camera with all the accessories, and I was psyched. I started taking pictures again, mostly of my friends doing stupid things and random scenic vistas, and when I went to Europe, the digital camera came with me to dialogue the most epic adventures of Mr. International and me. (I must have had a nickname, too, but for the life of me, I can't remember it. Note to self: Ask Mr. International!) Out of that came a cool web project called, um, Moira Does Europe, followed soon by the Phonebooth project. [Man, I really should upload these old projects, because I still love them. The only project from that era still online is Roses.]

So, yeah, I graduated from college, tried my hand at writing with minimal success, and somehow ended up as an artist/teacher. I still  use a Fujifilm to take pictures, mostly of my students being silly now, and of their projects, but I'm usually handing the camera to them. We even used my old Fujifilms (I have two now, long story) for a digital scavenger hunt that I designed this past summer for Hope High School's H20 program. But a photographer I am definitely  not.

So imagine my chagrin when I realized that my success selling my work online, as well as getting into galleries and shows, depends on my ability to either take fantastic products shots or to pay someone to do 'em for me. Ack! I've been doing okay shots, and I found a few templates that make it look like I can take a decent photograph, but a huge stalemate to my success as an etsy business is that my pictures look like crap. I learned about lightboxes a few months back, and I made one out of a cardboard box. It worked okay, but it's been annoying to find somewhere to store it and it's actually a little too small to shoot anything bigger than, say, a bracelet. Necklaces? Forget it. I thought about making another larger box, but where the heck was I going to keep it?

Things changed when Carole Ann showed me her collapsible photo light box made out of white foam core. Fantastic! You can make the box any size you'd like and when you aren't using it, you can take it apart and store it somewhere out of the way. The tutorial is on Snickerdoodle Creations. I'd love to tell you that it was insanely easy to make, and in fact for me, it was... because I didn't make it, Nick did. Still, he didn't seem to have any problems and now I have a lovely giant light box.

Just for fun, I posted some before and after shoots of my images after applying the technique shown in the Snickerdoodle tutorial. The first is my pencil tin, the second is an art piece I made, and the last is a random plastic butterfly that was floating around in my studio.

I've been working on improving my photography skills in the last few months, and I think that shows in the images in my etsy shop, Literary Tease. Here's an image from my Bonjour Paris Magnet set, the very first item I sold on Etsy:

Here's an image I took recently, from my Choose Your Own Word Dictionary Ring listing:

Dictionary Cocktail Rings
copyright Moira Richardson 2010

I don't know about you, but I think there's a world of difference between those two pictures. The dictionary ring image is far superior. I've learned how to avoid light flashes by the way I position my light. I use a full-spectrum lightbulb in my light box. I've also learned how to adjust levels in photoshop so that the colors show up properly, instead of yellowed out like in the Paris magnets shot. I'm sure there's still room for improvement, but I'm quite happy with my photography at the moment, especially considering that I'm still using my crappy point-and-shoot.

24 December 2010

Recipes: Basic Kale Chips & Oven-Roasted Corn

Sometimes, I just don't feel like cooking, so I end up eating stuff that's bad for me because it's easy and fast. So I've been working lately to build up a repertoire of delicious, fast, and easy dishes. Here's are two of my all-time favorites:

First, kale chips. OMG, do I love kale chips. My sister, Fiona, introduced me to Kale chips, and I have to admit, they didn't sound that great, but if my sister was raving about them, I figured I ought to at least give them a try. The first time I made them, I wasn't that impressed. For one thing, they were way too salty, which, I found out later, came from a typo in the original recipe that I used. Ugh. All, they were kind of, well, weird, but I decided to try them again, and I've finally come up with a "recipe" that's really yummy.

Oven-Roasted Kale Chips

Preheat your oven to 350 d. F.

1 bunch fresh kale, any kind will work, but I like the curly kind

Tear the kale off the stems and into smallish pieces, maybe 1 - 2 inches big? They will shrink a lot when you cook them, so don't be afraid to keep 'em on the larger side. Put the kale pieces into a large bowl or pot.

1 T. olive oil
1/2 t. vinegar (any kind, I've used balsamic and white)

Drizzle the oil and vinegar over the torn kale. I'll confess: I never measure, so use more or less as needed. Use your hands to get in there and smear the kale with the oil and vinegar. Try to make sure that every leaf is covered. You'll be able to feel when it's all mixed right.

Lightly spray a cooking sheet with cooking spray. (Not necessary if you have non-stick pans, but I don't). Spread the kale mixture evenly all over the pan. It really doesn't matter if the leaves overlap a bit.

1/2 t. salt
1/8 cup nutritional yeast

Sprinkle the tray of kale with salt and nooch (nutritional yeast) to taste. If you don't have nooch, it's totally optional, but it really makes the chips taste awesome. You can buy nutritional yeast in the bulk foods section at most Whole Foods. It's about $8 a pound, but you only need a small amount. Bake for 10 minutes, remove from oven, turn with a spatula or tongs, and return to the oven for 8 - 10 more minutes. Depending on your oven, you might want to start checking the tray after 15 minutes. The kale will shrivel up and when you touch it, it will be crunchy. You want to stop cooking when most of the kale is crunchy, being careful not to let it burn or turn too brown. I tend to have some non-crunchy pieces, but I think they taste delicious and don't worry about it too much.

Here are some additional recipes for flavoring your kale chips. I haven't tried any of these yet, but I definitely will sometime soon. These all call for dehydrating the chips instead of doing them in the oven, but I'm going to stick with the oven method, just add the new flavors.

I'm totally eating a bowl of kale chips as I write this entry. Yum-um!

Another favorite of mine is oven-roasted corn. Since the oven was already hot from today's batch of kale chips, I decided to make corn to go with dinner tonight. Oven-roasted corn is probably the easiest recipe ever.

You need:
Fresh ears of corn, enough to serve whoever's coming for dinner
(Okay, I know it's winter, so corn might not be the best -- save this for the summer!)

Oh, yeah, that's it.

Preheat the oven to 350 degrees F. Place the fresh corn husks in the oven, directly on the rack. There's absolutely no need to pre-husk the corn or remove the silks before cooking. Just chuck 'em right in the oven, wander away for 30 minutes (perhaps to work on your blog, like I'm doing), and go back to the most succulent, mouth-watering corn you've ever had. No need for butter. No need for anything. Just peel back the husk to use as a handle, remove the silks, and eat. Oh my gawd.

(If you really must put something on your corn, check out this recipe to Mexican Street Corn from America's Test Kitchen. It is amazingly good. I saw it on the show and had to try it the next day for dinner. Wow!)

23 December 2010

Artsy-Crafty Link Round Up #2

I'm constantly finding cool projects I want to try, so I figured I'd share some of my favorites here. These are all projects that would be great for a rainy Saturday afternoon. Or a snowy Thursday. Whatever.

I've seen the awesome Japanese fabric tape on Etsy and totally love it, but what am I ever going to do with it and don't I have enough tape already? Well... now I can make my own using supplies I already have around the house. LOVE it!

I've made these before, and chances are good that you have, too, but it's been a while and I still have a giant 3-lb coffee can full of glass marbles somewhere around here. Plus I want to make sure I remember to check out this site again!

Well, I'm pretty sure my landlord would not be cool with me decorating my house with Sharpies, but what a cool idea! If you own your own house, you should try this. An apartment-sized version would be to make a smaller framed piece. Still awesome. Sharpies rule! I have like 50 of them on my desk!

Way better to paint with corn syrup than to ingest it, right? Seems like a fun project, especially with kids. Might be nice to make a custom set with your favorite colors, too.

I suspect this might be an excellent project for me to try, especially since I have way too many dictionaries in my house just waiting to be crafted. A good use for dictionaries that have already be scoured of all the "good" words. These will be super cute as earrings!

I've done this project before, too, but I love the nifty little way that the tube of fabric covers all the joins at the back of the necklace! I made mine with scraps of random fabric, but a t-shirt will be nice and soft. These make great headbands, too!

One of the first crafty projects that Nick and I made together was books from cereals boxes based on a pattern in ReadyMade. This version is decidedly more stylish.

Happy Birthday Nick!

This isn't Nick's cake. But it is Nick's birthday! Happy birthday, sweetheart!

21 December 2010

Happy Birthday to Me!

Happy Birthday MOIRA!

This isn't my cake. But today is my birthday!

20 December 2010

Awesome Etsians #1: Beat Black

One of my favorite shops to browse on Etsy is Beat Black.

Zombie Cupcake Necklace II
copyright Beat Black 2010
 Sarah's work is always fresh and visually arresting. Whether it's the Zombie Cupcakes or I Heart Brains (Lunch Meat) pendants, there is always something beautiful and strange to check out. Every time I visit the store, there is something new and everything always looks more amazing that I remember. Sarah, a Torono, Ontario resident, creates all her work in her tiny apartment studio without molds, so every piece is truly one-of-a-kind. It's no wonder she's made over 500 sales on Etsy!

I Heart Brains (Lunch Meat)
copyright Beat Black 2010
Sarah makes necklaces, earrings, rings, brooches, cufflinks, ornaments and magnets. All items can be engraved with your choice of message (for an additional charge) or customized in your choice of color (for free!). With prices that range from $15 - $67, Beat Black offers something for everyone, whether you love zombies, human anatomy, or anything wonderfully strange.

On Sarah's blog, she recently posted images of her first pieces and showed how they evolved into the work she does today. I loved seeing how she's grown artistically over the years! I find it so inspiring!

Buy your own Beat Black creation on Etsy or by visiting Sarah's website.

18 December 2010

Etsy Tips & Tricks #3: Craftopolis

If you already have Google Analytics, you know it has its limitations. Sure, you can see how many people visited your Etsy shop or blog each day, but wouldn't it be great if you know exactly which tags they searched in order to find you? Wouldn't it be great to know how many page views each item in your shop gets each day as well as the total number of page views? Want to be able to see all your lovely hearts in one place?

Enter Craftopolis, which is several great Etsy seller tools in one. First, you have Shop Lovers, which shows you who's loving your shop and which items are getting the most attention. You can see all of your page views and sales for each month in one easy to read chart. You have the option to allow Craftopolis to connect to your Etsy shop and to your Google Analytics account for the best functionality.

If that's not enough to woo you, Craftopolis also offers a Tag Report, which shows you how people found your items by giving you the specific tags that they searched as well as the page number that they found your item on. So, if you see that your locket was on 6th page when someone searched for lockets, you know that you should either relist or renew soon so that your item will appear higher in the search listings.

To make it easy, Craftopolis has Edit Express, which is a fantastic and easy way to adjust your store's prices, item titles, descriptions, and/or quantity. You can edit every item in your store at once or check only certain items. You can completely change the description or modify by adding an extra line of text. You can change the prices on sale items by a set dollar amount or a percentage. The functionality is amazing. I can't vouch for how well this function works just yet, but I will be trying it out soon & will be sure to report back.

Have you used Craftopolis? What do you think?

17 December 2010

Recipes: For the Love of (Vegan) Cheese

I'm intrigued with vegan eating, and lately I'm interested in raw food, but if there's one thing that I missed when I was experimenting with eating vegan full-time, it was cheese. I know it's not the best thing for me to eat, especially in excess, but I love the creamy, dreamy yum of cheese. The imitation cheeses that I've tried have been pretty nasty overall, so I just went without. Until I started reading a cookbook (The Conscious Cook) that included a recipe for cashew cheese, I had to try it, especially since I had all of the "important" ingredients on hand. I had to soak 2 cups of cashews overnight, blend them with a probiotic water mix, sit the mixture in a warm place overnight, and when I woke up, I had cheese. Sorta.

When I first tried the mixture, I thought it was okay, but nothing great. Then I added the seasonings, and wow! Now it's this delicious creamy goodness that I had to force myself to put in the fridge so I didn't keep eating spoonfuls of it. Delicious. For dinner, I'm already planning stuffed shells... if the cheese lasts that long.

Here are some other vegan cheese and related recipes that I want to try:

This looks like it has a creamy texture very similar to my favorite goat cheese. Wheat berries are an ingredient I've never experimented with before, but I know I can get them in the bulk bins at the Whole Foods near me.

This sounds heavenly! This site also details the general process for making cashew cheese as well.

This blog entry includes details on how to make some delicious-looking vegan nachos. This would be a good alternative for anyone who doesn't like nutritional yeast "cheese" sauce or wants to mix it up a bit. Agar flakes can be purchased at a specialty grocery store, like Whole Foods, near the Asian foods.

Nick loves lasagna, so maybe he'd be willing to try the cashew cheese if I layered it in a lasagna? I tried to get him to try to the cashew cheese this morning, but he refused, saying it scared me. No worries. More for me. :)

In this middle of this article, there's a dip recipe that sounds pretty good. I'm already thinking of all the different dips I could make using the cashew cheese as a base. Mmm....

Here are some raw flat bread crackers to go with all that cheese you'll be whipping up after reading this entry. All you need are a few ingredients and a dehydrator. I haven't tried these yet, but I'm sure I will.

A huge list of raw vegan recipes, from cheese to dips to burgers. Sounds good to me!

If you've tried any of these recipes or you have any to share, please let me know!

16 December 2010

Artsy-Crafty Link Round Up #1

I've been looking at tutorials and blogs all day in between bouts of cleaning. I found so many things that I wanna try, both on my own and with my students, so I decided to post a blog about my favorites.

I'm marking this one because it reminds me on these awesome woven stretch bracelets that my former roomie, Melanie, taught me how to make. She made a loom very similar to this, only much smaller, and used stretch cord. I never did master the technique, but I definitely want to try it again!

This will be a perfect project to use up some of the smaller scraps of fabric that I have in my house. I can't bring myself to throw (or give) away super cute fabric, but what the heck am I going to do with it? Now I know! Also, I really wanna get organized, and I think these baskets would be great! Stylish!

I just think my students would LOVE this cute little project, and I'd love an excuse to buy a bunch of awesome buttons. Always eye 'em up, but unless I have a purpose... Cute!

I have a purse that has these embroidered mirrors on it, and I always get so many compliments. I love that I could try this technique with all the vintage coins I have lying around my house! Fabulous!

I think there's a lot of potential with this project! Unfortunately it wouldn't work for my Bling Bling classes, since it takes a long time both to make and to dry, but I can see me making these just for the heck of it. I dunno, maybe I could adapt it for class use?

I made a jewelry display very similar to this board, but I wouldn't have thought to turn into into an inspiration board when I was done using it for jewelry. Love the idea!

I'm so freaking cheap that I just don't want to pay $5 for a crap cardboard magazine holder, you know what I'm saying? I currently have three magazine holders: 1 trashpicked, 2 picked up for 50 cents each at IKEA, but if I end up with more magazines, I'll be making one of these!

These are just so cute that I had to post 'em here. I love the idea of making my own tote bags; whether I'll ever get around to makin' some is a completely different story.

Oh man, I'll never get anything done if I keep looking at all the awesomeness that this blog has to offer! Just visit and you'll see why! Fabulous!

15 December 2010

Button Design Contest Winners - Del Sesto

Each session of Bling Bling, the students participate in a Button Design Contest. Using magazines, markers, pens, pencils, glue, and paper, students create original designs that will be printed and distributed to students at their school during our end-of-session event. On Monday, I posted the winners of the contest at Gilbert Stuart.

Here are the winners from Del Sesto, as voted by the students at Gilbert Stuart:

Third place:

This design by Layloni is great, and not just because she shows how much she loved Bling Bling with her design! I love the tear drops and the drawing of the heart.

Second place:

Norman is always the student who spends the whole class working on one very detailed project. He made an amazingly detailed felt guitar, a set of hand-drawn guitar buttons that I told him he could sell, and this wonderful button design. At first glance, I thought he hadn't followed the only rule: that the word bling had to be in the design somewhere, but when I looked at it again, I realized that both people in the design are wearing little Bling necklaces. Awesome!

First place:

I think the students chose Kaisha's design as the winner because of the colors and the "fresh" sketches and text like "LOL" and "FYI" etc.  She'll be really excited to find out she's the winner!

So what do you think?

14 December 2010

Almost Free Bling: Make Your Own Shrinky Dinks Bling

Yo! If you wanna make your ass some fresh ice without having to drop some mad green, this bangin' Shrinky Dink tutorial is for you, kid.

Make Your Own Shrinky Dinks Bling
Or, how to Make (fake) Bling Without Breaking the Bank

You'll need the following materials:

Frosted shrink plastic - 1 sheet
Black permanent marker
Tacky glue (I used Aileen's Fast Grip)
Assorted plastic rhinestones (at Michaels, for $3 for a package of 144)
Hole punch
Jump ring (approx. 7 mm)
Ball chain necklace
Parchment paper or a non-stick craft mat

You'll also need access to an oven or toaster oven.

Draw your design on a sheet of scrap paper. I made a money sign because I'm so money, baby. You could also find a great free font online with Grafitti style lettering (mine's called Graffonti) and make a bling initial necklace. The size of my design is an 8.5 x 11 sheet of printer paper folded in half. Your design will shrink to about a third of the original starting size. (You'll see an example later to help you gauge.)

Once you have a design you like, trace the design onto the shrink plastic.

You can actually draw on either the frosted or the non-frosted side of the plastic, but I recommend the frosted because it smears less.

In order to converse your shrink plastic and have enough left to make another sick pendant, keep your design as close to the edge as possible. If you want to add additional colors to your design, you can use colored pencils or permanent markers to do so.

Next, carefully cut around the edge of your design. Be careful with corners, because it's really easy to break shrinky dinks. I tell my students to cut slowly and carefully to avoid problems. Cut fast at your own peril, yo.

As you can see in the picture above, I experimented with cutting out the interior of the letter (the bottom of the $). This did not work really well. You could certainly use an exacto blade and a cutting mat and get a perfect edge, but since this project was designed for middle school boys, I figured no way did I want to bring razor-sharp objects into the classroom. I colored the top of the $ black in the center, and this looked just fine, especially if you are wearing a black shirt.

When you are done, you will now use a regular old hole punch to punch a hole in your design. This is where you will use a jump ring to attach your pendant to your chain.

Don't be in such a hurry that you skip this step! Adding a hole after shrinking does not work. Shrink plastic becomes hard and rather brittle. You could try drilling it, but you'll likely ruin your piece. Punch the hole first and you don't have to worry about it. I use an ordinary-sized hole punch. Remember that the hole shrinks, too, so you don't want to use a small punch or you might find your hole closes right up.

Preheat your toaster oven to 300 degrees F. Place your pendant shiny side down on your non-stick mat (or parchment paper). Place into the oven and watch the magic happen.

Step 1: Your pendant will curl up all crazy-like and you will panic thinking that it's going to mess up completely.

Step 2: Your pendant will start to unfurl and flatten out again. You can breathe again now. When your pendant flattens out completely, count to 10 then remove the tray from the oven. Use an oven mitt, stupid!

Cautionary notes: I didn't want to tell you this earlier, in case you freaked, but sometimes, very rarely, your shrink curling into itself will stay stuck. If this happens, or seems to be happening, just pull out the tray, grab the shrinky and pull it apart. This might hurt your fingers, but will probably hurt less than having your design destroyed. This happens most often with larger sized shrinkies (1/2 of an 8x10 sheet or bigger; smaller ones usually don't have this happen.) If it looks all crazy bumpy after you do this, put it back in the oven, upside down, and shrink for a few more seconds. It will flatten out again.

Another note of caution: be careful not to overbake, especially if you are using parchment paper. If you don't pull out the shrinky soon after it flattens, it can get stuck to the parchment paper. This can be solved by running the shrinky under water until the paper softens enough to remove it. This is a pain if you have a class full of students though, so try to avoid it. I have yet to have anything stick permanently to my non-stick craft mat. It was $10 and well worth it! I can't remember the brand, but I found it at michael's near the embossing supplies.

Note the size difference between the starting design and the finished item. I'd guess that the finished shrinky is about 1/3 the size of the starting size, but I'm not exactly a math whiz, yo. With a little practice, you'll figure out the best sizes for your projects. You totally could measure your pre-shrunk and post-shrunk designs to come up with a formula that will tell you exactly how much your piece will shrink, but who has time for all that?

Now that you're shrunk, it's time to add your bling.

Working in small sections on your piece (on the front of the pendant, if you had any doubt), add a thick layer of tacky glue. Begin adding gems one by one in the design you like. For this pendant I completely covered the design in bling, but you could do only an outline or something else if you want. To place the gems, you could use tweezers or a special tool for gem-setting, but I found that for me, and for my middle school students, simply pressing your finger onto the top (sparkly side) of your gem will work. The gem will stick to your finger long enough for you to position it and press it into place.

Don't worry about having a thick layer of glue. The glue will dry clear, so you won't notice the thick parts when it's dry.

When the pendant is finished to your liking, put it away in a safe place to dry overnight. The next day, use a jump ring to attach your ball chain necklace, and BAM, you've got yourself some fresh bling, my friend.

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