I was never very good with legos as a kid. My older brother could build the most amazing things with them, but I never seemed to have the patience and planning skills to create intricate lego stuctures. I suppose that's why Mike Doyle's Victorian houses seem so stunning to me. Check them out!
Just a quick word about our feathers. We frequently have rooster saddle and/or neck hackle pelts available for sale in the Etsy shop! These are from our own roosters, processed here on our mini-farm. When you raise chickens, you invariably have too many roosters. We only need one or two to keep the hens laying fertile eggs; the rest are usually destined for freezer camp. We give them a good life before the end, with lots of fresh air, all the bugs and greens they can eat, and plenty of space to roam around in. When it comes time for them to be supper, we try to use as much of the bird as possible. Most of our chickens are Dominiques, so our offerings are mainly barred (grizzly) feathers, but occasionally we have a few birds of other breeds.
Our rooster pelts are not the fancy types of pelts that fetch high prices at angler supply shops. Our birds are bred to be good backyard homestead livestock, so breeding emphasis is not placed on feather length like in the commercial fly-tying feather industry. However, even a normal old rooster grows some pretty beautiful hackles, so we save and dry the pelts when we process our boys and sell them at a price in accordance with their quality. Each pelt contains hundreds of feathers that are great for more than just fly-tying, too! Good for crafts, millinery projects, you name it. The neck hackles are smaller overall than the saddles, but there are great feathers to be found on both neck and saddle. If you don't see any currently in the Etsy shop, drop me an email. Sometimes I keep a few in reserve for my own projects, or I might have some that are almost ready and I just haven't gotten around to posting them yet.
We also sell wing and tail feathers. Wing feathers are more abundant, we almost always have gobs of these. Good, long sickle (tail) feathers are less common, so I don't post them in the Etsy shop as often. Again, you're always welcome to email and inquire if sickles are what you're after. Recently I've begun experimenting with preserving entire wings and should have some of these for sale soon, too. So check back often, if feathers are what you need!
Cernunnos' feet are mostly done. I need to sand them here and there and maybe use the dremel to bring back some definition in the achilles tendon. I bulked it out a little too much there and now I think it looks too round above the heel. But that's the nice thing about the clays I use, you can always attack them with a dremel bit to carve down areas if needed. I want his feet to look rough, like he spends most of his time barefoot, but I hope to accomplish that more with the paint than with the clay. Wish me luck.
Then I started on the antlers. Cernunnos is supposed to have seven-tined antlers, so I looked at lots of photos of stag antlers and got an idea of what I wanted to do. I cut several armature wires and shoved them down into the holes I had left in the polymer clay head. The center of the head is packed foil, so the armature wires puncture it easily and stick a little bit. I squirted a bunch of glue down into the head as well and then had to let it dry before shaping the wire. Brian laughed because it made Cernunnos look like he had antennae, so of course I had to take a photo.
Once the glue was dry, I filled the rest of the gaps in the head with epoxy clay, let THAT cure, and then I was able to shape the wire into my basic antler armature. I've since also added some epoxy clay to the places on the antlers where the wires overlap, to help lock them in place before I sculpt the antlers fully. I love working in epoxy clay, but the way I use it does involve quite a bit of waiting for cure time.
You'll have to forgive me for straying from art topics for this journal entry. Someone asked me to tell the story of Buffy (one of my chickens) in a blog post, with photos, so how could I resist? Since this is the only blog I have, it'll have to be here. Hey, we'll just pretend the art on topic today is ... chicken photography!
Buffy was a buff orpington hen. I know, not the most original name. She was part of our first flock of eight hens, all different breeds. She was a cutie from the day she arrived in a little peeping parcel from the hatchery. We gave clever names to the other seven chicks and then ran out of steam, so she became Buffy.
Chicks grow up quickly. She turned into a gawky adolescent with the rest of the flock. She started laying eggs right on time, and laid nearly every day through the summer. She discovered the joys of foraging in the garden and dust-bathing under the pepper plants with the other girls. She turned into a big orange fluff ball, a characteristic of the breed. When she ran, she looked ridiculous, a bit like a woman trying to run while wearing voluminous bloomers. And if you had scratch grains to offer, she'd always come running.
One day in early autumn, Brian and I were out working in the garden together. The chickens always like to help in the garden, too. They love it when we pull weeds, turn over soil, anything that reveals tasty bugs for them to eat. We had let the weeds get the better of the squash patch through the summer, and the grass was quite thick among the vines. The squash were just about done for the season, so we were pulling up vines all over. I heard a commotion not far from where I was working and looked up to see Buffy dancing about. She was stabbing at something with her beak, jumping backwards, chasing around ... at first I thought something was attacking her! But it turns out she was doing the attacking. I heard little squeaks and saw a mouse trying to make a break for it. Buffy kept grabbing it and letting it go again. I think she figured it had to be tasty, but didn't quite know how to handle it. She was used to chasing bugs. Bugs don't put up much of a fight. This went on for quite a while, until she managed to subdue and kill the little thing. I think she may have just worried it to death.
All the commotion had attracted the other hens, who were convinced that Buffy must have had something good to eat. She picked up her dead mouse and started to run off with it to find a quiet place to eat. I ran after her, thinking she might get herself into trouble. The mouse was bigger than her head, after all. I didn't think she'd be able to swallow it, and a chicken is not equipped to tear prey into small pieces like a raptor would. I stole the mouse from her and tossed it way out into the tall grass. If a chicken can look disappointed, she did so at me.
Excitement over, Brian and I went back to pulling up squash vines. Not five minutes later, we startled another mouse out of the grass. Apparently they'd set up shop in there all summer. Buffy was prepared. She'd figured out how to handle them. She darted in, grabbed the mouse with her beak, and shook it around violently until it stopped moving. Then she ran straight off, followed by two other hens. I stood up to follow them and saw Buffy playing tug-of-war with another hen over the prize. In the scuffle, I lost track of who had the mouse and then it was gone. I never saw exactly what happened to it, but Buffy wandered off after that with a particularly full-looking crop. I think she swallowed it whole. That was when she earned the title of Vermin Slayer.
I used to worry about mice getting into the coop and eating the chicken feed. I worry no longer! I did a quick Google search and discovered that this is not uncommon. Chickens are omnivorous, after all. They'll chase after anything they think they can swallow. Not all of our hens would eat mice. Once we saw a mouse run out of the grass near where Mab, one of our wyandottes, was standing. It ran across her feet and she jumped straight up into the air with a squawk. If she'd had a chair, I think she would have leapt up on it and screamed like a girl. But not Buffy. She was our mighty mouse hunter.
In her second year, Buffy started laying quite large eggs. I hatched a few of them, she had big strong chicks. She kept laying bigger and bigger eggs through the summer. I wonder if it may have been her end. One morning in September she climbed into a nest box and sat there all day. I checked on her a few times because it was a warm day and it seemed like she'd spent far too long in there if she was laying an egg. In the afternoon I took her out of the nest box and felt her abdomen to see if she was egg-bound, but there was nothing there. The day before, she'd been out chasing bugs with all the other hens, so I couldn't imagine what disease she may have contracted so quickly. I put her down in the run where it was cool, right next to the water bowl. She seemed happier there, and started to take a half-hearted dust bath. Brian had been out running an errand, and when he got home I told him I was worried about Buffy. We went out to check on her and found her lying on her side under the coop, not a natural position for a chicken. I picked her up and carried her out onto the grass. She was still alive but looked so very sad. I fretted over her to Brian and was about to run in the house for my chicken health handbook when she just ... died.
We expect to have a lot of chicken friends come and go on our little farm. It's the nature of livestock. But some of our feathered friends grow on us more than others in the time we get to know them, and Buffy is one we'll definitely remember.
Bits of progress, forgive the messy desk photo. I bulk out the legs by needle felting wool in place over the fabric-wrapped armature wire. It's pink because I use whatever color I have extra of. It'll be covered by clothing later so I figure the pink doesn't matter. I decided he'd have bare feet, which means I have to sculpt them. He's got most of a right foot and part of a left foot. I'm using epoxy clay for strength, which means I have to add a bit at a time and let it cure.
I also started to block in the ram-horned serpent head on the staff. I'm using polymer clay for this part so I can have a longer working time. I want it to look like it's all carved out of one branch, so I need to give it a wood grain look. Might be tough. Just winging it so far.
Small progress on Cernunnos tonight. I want him to be carrying a staff, or walking stick. At first I liked the idea of a scepter, since he is Lord of the Wild. But I think I prefer a staff, not least because it allows me to sculpt one more gnarled tree branch. I want his staff to be crooked like a twisted branch, but I also want the line it creates to pass through an imagiary center line that IS straight (if that makes any sense). So I used floral tape to wrap a length of armature wire to a dowel rod in four places, and then bent the wire around those four joints into a twisted staff. I covered the wire with epoxy clay to set the position, and when it has cured I will cut away the dowel rod so just the wire and clay remain. We'll see how it goes! Current state photo is as left. Cernunnos has been depicted in association with a ram-horned serpent, so that's what I will sculpt on the top of the staff. Hopefully when it's done it will all look like it's carved from wood.
Then I bent wire hand armatures for the figure. The right hand is going to be resting on a branch of the tree-throne, so I started curling the wire fingers into position there. As always, I have to adjust the plan as I go. I had wanted his hand in one particular position, and then realized that the branch is far too small to look natural with the hand position I wanted, argh. So I changed it. I'll get there. I think I will sculpt the hand directly to the branch, as well. Many of my art dolls I've created such that the figure can be removed from the base, but Cernunnos is going to be quite solidly attached to his tree! Then I can paint the hand and tree all at the same time (as well as the head, feet, etc.) before I clothe him. Speaking of which, I haven't truly figured out what he's going to be wearing ...
Anyway, the left hand will be holding the staff, so I made that armature as well (see below). I won't be able to pose it at all until the staff is completed, so I've just left it rudimentary for now. I hope to work more on this over the holiday weekend! Everything starts to fall into place in my head. Finish the staff, sculpt the hands, sculpt the feet, finish sculpting the head and neck, sculpt the antlers and ears, paint everything, bulk out his arms/legs/torso with wool, maybe gesso the body, finish the base, make and attach clothing ... so far yet to go.
Yesterday began my holiday. The Christmas cookies and candies are all baked, packaged, and shipped away to family as gifts. The presents for Brian and Cloudy have been purchased, wrapped, and tucked under the tree. The last day to ship for Christmas arrival is fast approaching, so I've stopped making ornaments for sale in the Etsy shop. I'm down to three of four left and that's all I'll make until next winter. Many of my normal time-sinks are absent for a while; the garden long ago went dormant, the pig was sent to slaughter, we won't start incubating eggs for new chicks until late in the winter. Sure, I still have dozens of projects. There's a rug I need to finish braiding for the living room. The office really needs to be re-organized. I ought to make a couple of more window quilts to help keep the chill out of the house. But for the most part, I can now snuggle in and work on some me-projects for a month or two. Things I want to do for no other reason than I want to do them. Last night I dug Cernunnos out, dusted him off, and got back to work. I sculpted two of the branches on his tree-throne, and then tonight I sculpted two more. It's difficult to take photos of them on my messy art desk, but here they are. There are five branches total on the tree-throne, so I've got one left to sculpt, it's the plain looking one in the photos.
I find some of the best websites by peeking at which websites are referring to my own gallery or journal. Here's one I am now in love with, the Geek Art Gallery blog. Buckets of awesome!!!
Justin Hillgrove is combining so many of my favorite characters! What am I going to do? My favorite is the Miyazaki creatures in the style of Maurice Sendak. Wonderful! His work will be on display in Seattle next April, check the link for details.
You know how much I love group art challenges. I just discovered another cool blog for such things. It's called Creative Every Day, and I'm definitely tempted by the challenges there. Leah Piken Kolidas is the blogger, and I like the way she has her group activities set up. 'Creative every day' doesn't necessarily mean an art project every day. Like her, I understand how overwhelming that can become! She encourages participants to expand their interpretation of 'creative' and share it with others when and how they are able. So it's a low-stress approach, and she offers monthly themes to help inspire you if you are feeling stumped. Nice!