Any Cross Section Through a Sphere is a Circle

Two Paper Spheres
Group of Paper Balls
Better in Batches. I learn a lot more by producing multiples.

I’ve been working on these beauties off and on for a week or so. Each handmade paper circle, some twenty-four to thirty per orb, was hand cut and sorted by color and pattern. The orb was then carefully sewn using book binding techniques. The end decorations were made by covering aluminum buttons with dyed cloth.

Sewing the Orb
I used a basic book binding technique to sew the individual folded circles to make the orb.

I continue to consider further possibilities for this structure and enjoy the process of making them a lot. But, that’s where it falls apart. I still haven’t figured out how I’m going to fashion the hanging device in a way that is suitably elegant. Ornament cap? Bead hanger? Hidden screw eye? Or maybe they don’t hang at all. Maybe there are just sweet little buttons on both ends. I would like to be able to suspend the spheres from a decorative cord while enclosing the top opening. I have some ideas yet to try. If you have a suggestion, I’d love to hear from you!

5 Things I Love About Cats

Cats in Catio

Why DO people like cats soooo much? Cats claw your stuff, vomit on the rug, and track litter all over the house. They wake you up at four in the morning by walking on your face. They deposit cat hair everywhere, and never like riding in the car. And, yet, they are adored. My cats are so revered that I will pay to put my cat-allergic guests up in a hotel when they come to visit than oust my felines.

Cat in a box. Cats playing with toys.
Predictable, curious cats make playtime fun.

Here are a few things I love about cats:

  1. They’re entertaining. From excited reactions to catnip and laser pointers, to the predictable occupation of a cardboard box, cats provide hours of distracting fun.
  2. They’re aesthetically pleasing. Graceful, always thoughtful about the placement of their paws, there’s something about the presence of a cat that makes a space more habitable, more beautiful.

    Cat asleep in the sun.
    So beautiful! There’s something peaceful about a kitty in a sun puddle.
  3. Cats are snuggly. In varying degrees, my cats like to get pets and scruffs from the humans. Vera is the flopper who waits until I am perfectly settled before plopping over on me. Lucy just likes to be in my vicinity. Bean wants the full on lap experience. As in, “Please do not move. Ever. Or I will bite you.”

    Cats with their people.
    My cats love to be with the humans.
  4. Cat politics. Who gets to perch on the highest part of the cat tree? Who comes and goes through the window to the catio first? There are places in the house that clearly belong to one cat and other places that are comfortable, communal property.

    Cats in cat tree. Cat in a pod.
    From cat tree hierarchy, to pod sleepers, cats work out their own territory.
  5. Cats are a good reason to come home. Seriously. I love my home and life, but the thing that convinces me to return from any vacation that my cats are waiting for me. I say this with all sincerity, yet remain dubious regarding cats actually missing me.

Do you love cats? What is it that you find so appealing about cats? Why do you put up with all of the cattiness and furballs? Share your story!

Make Your Own Cat

Trying to make cats.

A few years ago, I constructed a prototype toy cat using scraps of hand-dyed fabric and some beans for stuffing. The resulting creature, let’s call him Stuffed Cat One, was entertaining, but not quite what I was trying to achieve. I learned a lot at that time, like, I don’t like working that small, the arms should be longer, the head isn’t dimensional enough, it needs a puss nose and whiskers. It’s kind of a long list. For whatever reason, I woke up this morning, three years later, determined to take another go.

Pink Beanie Cat
Here’s the original! Stuffed Cat One.

Stuffed Cat Two, assembled from black cotton, is fresh off the design table. It was not easy going. First of all, black is impossible! A lint collector of the first degree and hard to see details, I struggled with keeping it clean and concise.

Making a Stuffed Black Cat
Heads, legs, arms, and a tail. Plus, the unstuffed body of Cat Two.

Second, there are some proportions I would change. The distance from the nose to the neck seam is too long for a cat. The narrow arms and legs next to the puffy torso make Stuffed Cat Two look like a cousin to Piglet from the Hundred Acre Wood. The size and placement of the ears may be adding to this problem. The eyes give him that Toothless look from How to Train Your Dragon. However, these eyes are an improvement over the first attempt where I sewed on amber-colored jewels that made Stuffed Cat Two look like Super-Freako Sparkle Kitty.

Stuffed black cat.
The finished prototype. He has whisker issues, but he seems friendly.

Don’t get me wrong. Prototypes are important. I didn’t wake up thinking I was going to make Two, the Amazing Forever Cat. Besides, frustration is instructive. I learned that I like working this size better. I think the overall shape of the nose is improved over Stuffed Cat One. And, during construction, I figured out some shortcuts that would help if I wanted to make more than one at a time.

Stuffed Cats
Stuffed Cat One and Stuffed Cat Two, side by side, for comparison.

It is unclear whether or not I will now, or sometime in the future, create Stuffed Cat Three. All of my observations will guide me should I decide to make adjustments and try again. I just have this romantic notion of a herd of Stuffed Cat minions, all fun and funky, looking down at me from a decorative shelf. No matter what I decide, I’m sure you’ll hear about it one way or another.

Arty Cats

Cat Pattern

I collect cats. There are only three that already saturate the available space in my home, so I enjoy other people’s cats whenever I can. My obsession doesn’t stop there because I also amass images of cats I see in art museums and galleries. I am always on the lookout for the shadowy places an artist might have hidden a cat in a Renaissance painting, or featured a cat in a Pop Art portrait. I even wrote a brief post about Cats in Art a few years ago.

Sleeping Cat, Ruskin Spear
Sleeping Cat  Ruskin Spear was a British painter during the 1900’s. In addition to his portraits of dignitaries and such, he painted charming cats, as well.

My most populated collection of cats resides on Pinterest in Arty Cats. This is where I store and share images of cats I’ve seen that I really like. In my little online cat art gallery I’ve included master painters like Ruskin Spear and this sweet, sleeping cat, and Theophile Steinlein, who painted sassy French cats of the Moulin Rouge era.

Cats 1920 Steinlein
Cats 1910 by the grandfather of all cat painters, Theophile Alexandre Steinlein.

Some living artists whose work I admire include Midori Yamada, who creates quiet cat worlds with simple compositions . But, I also like the folk-style art of Ryan Conners of Kilkenny Cat Art in which she portrays cat friends who take off on adventures in their Volkswagens.

Cat (I drew and read the story of Uchida Hyaku閒teacher.)
Cat (I drew and read the story of Uchida Hyaku閒teacher.) by Midori Yamada
Tuxedo cat in VW Bus
Two tuxedo cats in their red and white bus! By Ryan Conners

All of this cat art  is interesting to me, not only because I love cats, but also because I make pictures of cats. I like to see what other people are doing, and how I fit into the visual conversation. What is instructive to me, at the very core, is that people make extraordinary art about everyday things, in this case, cats. It is in the portrayal of the ordinary that elevates it to art as it becomes imbued with the perspective of its creator. Whether it makes us contemplate, or relate, or smile, or even dislike, then the art is successful.

Cat Gallery by Nicole Wong
Cat Gallery by Nicole Wong at Nicole Wong Illustrations on Etsy.

As far our feline friends, it’s clear that cats inspire artists, whether as portraiture or symbol. The next time you’re in an art museum, I challenge you to do your own cat count to see how many works of art include a kitty. And, if you’re interested, you can see the varied cat portrayals I’ve saved on my Arty Cats Pinterest board. You can even start your own cat collection. If you can’t have more actual cats, then why not horde some virtual cats for your own enjoyment?

An Obvious Mixed Bag

Birch Tree in September

I hope you’ll forgive me. I have a case of blog posting procrastination. Not only have I been remodeling the basement, a.k.a. The Mole Level, the weather has been pristine. Clear blue skies, crisp in the morning, yet warm enough in the afternoon for me to be lured away from responsibilities.

Scaredy Cats
Lucy, Vera, and Bean in various stages of denial about the strangers in our house. P.S. I would not usually publish such a poor photo of Vera (center) but her hiding place deep in the closet left me no choice but to use a flash.

The cats have been in hiding during while the workmen are here, so it’s hard to get good cat portraits. And for some reason, I’ve been avoiding my camera, unaware that I should be documenting all of the changes. I must be having an identity crisis. Or, maybe I feel the shift from the mostly carefree days of summer to the seriousness brought on by the ever-so-slight hint of color on the maples.

Left: A workman replaces the carpet in the stairwell as seen through the cat door. Right: Walls prepped for painting in the family room.
Left: A workman replaces the carpet in the stairwell as seen through the cat door. Right: Walls prepped for painting in the family room.

Whatever it is, the cats are constant in their cat-ness, anchoring me to the earth, lest I float away with the first falling leaf. I have, despite the distractions, managed to make some new books in anticipation of a busy (and not-far-away) holiday season.

Handmade books
Handmade books. Larger, printed books are sewn on tapes. Smaller books are suede with tie closure.

Today, the waves on Lake Michigan are supposed to be seven feet high. Maybe I’ll take a drive out to see them…. Ah, but that’s the wistful, wish-it-was-summer me. More likely that I will get back to my blogging and book arts, do some housework, and make a quick run up the road to the vegetable stand for some fresh tomatoes to go with dinner.

Heirloom Tomatoes
It’s easy to find a good tomato this time of year.

A Labor (Day) of Love

Book in Press

It’s been a long time since I made a flat-back, case bound book. This one is not flashy, just a hard cover with black book cloth and decorative end sheets. I enjoy the process of craft, the kind that requires attention to detail, with every step considered and executed with great care. This book is for my math teacher/artist husband, who likes the elegance of simplicity, and deserves a new book to start the school year.

Parts of a book.
My prepared pages, along with all of the parts for the cover, including the book cloth, end sheets, and binders board.

Book making is a sequential process, each step requiring it’s own precision. It starts with measuring, cutting and folding multiple pages, then sewing them together into an organized stack. Boards have to be cut with lovely right angles, front and back, with one narrow piece for the spine that matches the thickness of the sewn block of pages. If one measurement is just a little off, it can skew the next in a way that throws off the whole in the end. Plus, there’s gluing. Too much, and your paper wrinkles and there are unwanted spurts of glue ooze. Too little, and things don’t hold together properly.

Steps in Book Binding
I enjoy the systematic operations of assembling a book, including checking the measurements, sewing the pages, and applying adhesives.

All of this exactness feeds into my desire for orderliness as the proper recipe of ingredients results in a well-made object. When it’s working, it’s a thing of beauty! In addition, the making of a book has meaning beyond the labor. A book is a personal object, carried in a pocket close to the body, opened by hand. The pages, turned one-by-one, become filled with the thoughts of the recipient. It is in this use that the maker and the owner become collaborators. As the book becomes imbued with life and wear, it becomes an even more beautiful and priceless object.

Black flat back case bound book
Since we no longer teach together (like we did for ten years,) I feel that, by making a book for him to use for notes and drawings, at least a little piece of me goes with him to school every day.

Soft, Yet Sometimes Evil

Tabby cat close up

Intelligent, impertinent, and sometimes snuggly, Miss Bean exudes personality. At nine years, she is the old lady of our cats.

Kitten and Cat
On the left is little Miss Bean just a few days after I rescued her. On the right is Miss Bean now. She still likes to look out the window.

A stray on the campus of the private school where I taught in San Antonio, she was pulled from the rosemary bushes by the maintenance staff in 2006. The school policy on cats was to call animal control, so I asked the guys to hand over the kitten to me. She was so tiny that she needed to be bottle fed, so, for weeks, she came to school with me, at first just sleeping and eating in a crate in my office. As she became more mobile, she pounced around the art room, posed as a model for drawing, and sometimes, caused chaos.

Kitty on table
The wee Miss Bean was a daily fixture in the art room when she was a kitten.

At home, she never really socialized properly with the other cats. There was a time when she was being catified by Cleo, one of my older calicos, but Cleo became ill and passed away, leaving Bean without a mentor.

Cat laying on person
Miss Bean positions herself where she is the most comfortable.

Occasionally, Bean still has difficulties relating to the other beings. I understand that bottle fed kittens are notorious for bad behavior. Bean has her moments, but under patient direction, constant reassurance and training, she has become a wise, mellow, somewhat snuggly friend. Bean especially likes to spend her down time perched on my husband.

Cat in a catio.
On the shelf in the Tabby Shack surveying the neighbors.

I am really bonded with Bean, I guess because of bottle feeding, and the extra special care she’s always needed. She has exquisite, multi-colored fur, a white kisser, and black, black feet bottoms.  Bean can really be a sweet cat once you know to be gentle, and watch for her communication. I can’t believe I’ve lived with Miss Bean for nine years already! She’s definitely been worth the trouble.

Learning How To Art Fair

Cats on Blue Tag
Books and display items
Part of my table set up at the Gypsy Market.

I took Attack Cat Studio out to hawk wares at a local makers market for the first time on Sunday. While I didn’t really expect a lot of sales due to the venue, (near food and the beach, afternoon crowd of wanderers not really looking for art) I did learn A LOT. For example, just watching people interact with my books and how they’re displayed, as well as hearing the kinds of questions I might get, and who shows interest enough to bother, was all very instructive. Some people were interested in the process. Some people just wanted to tell me how much they love cats, too. Many people just smiled politely and walked by with their microbrew and tacos.

Here are some points I wrote down about my day:

  • Put price tags on everything, not just on a sign.
  • Have a unfinished book in pieces, so people can see how they’re made.
  • Offer some items in a lower price range.
  • Maybe offer pencils or pens to go with the books.
  • Bring something to do when it’s slow.

My day was productive in that I know what to do for the next market. I am also preparing for a few holiday markets. These are all indoor venues here in the north. I am working my way up to larger, summer art fairs where I’ll have to set up with a canopy and deal with the elements! Are you an art fair artist? Do you have any advice for me?

And if you’re interested, you can find me at my Etsy shop.

Learning By The Book

Close Up Book Sewing

It’s been an interesting transition for me from teaching in a school setting where there are requirements, grades, and some continuity from one class period to the next, to workshop teaching where the time is limited to a few hours, and the class is more about acquiring an experience based on a single skill. Believe me, this is a BIG adjustment for me. I’m used to having multiple class periods to introduce, reinforce, and direct an in-depth project or skill set. Instead of thinking long-term, I have to focus more on teaching something that can be accomplished in a short period of time, yet still be a challenging, rewarding experience for the participants.

Beautiful books made by adult students in my bookmaking class.
Beautiful books made by students in my bookmaking class taught at Blackbird Studios.

I recently guided students in a bookmaking class, keeping in mind the shift to one-time experience-style instruction. The participants were determined, yet nervous, in their intention to make a book, so I went step by step through the process, which included:

  • selecting and folding all of the papers,
  • preparing the edges for sewing by poking carefully measured perforations on each fold,
  • binding the pages together by sewing over the tapes, into each page,  and linking the ends,
  • and, finally, gluing the covers together.

The class was scheduled to meet for two hours, but ran over by about thirty minutes, as I underestimated how long it would take the group to finish. (Every time I teach, I learn something new about my process and how I might do things differently.) Despite the extra time, I think all the participants were amazed with their creations and left proud of their new books!

The Middle Cat

Yawning Cat

Vera is part cute, part playful, part scaredy cat, and part lap kitty. We found her in a bush outside of a hair salon parking lot one evening when we were out for a walk. We couldn’t see her, but we could hear an insistent, high-pitched, staccato mew…mew…mew. She was very skittish and skinny, hiding deep in the bushes. My husband ran home to get a carrier and a little cat food. We put the carrier down with the food in it near the bush, and waited…for about two seconds! She went running in to the carrier, we closed the door and took her home.

Kitten and cat
The top photo is Vera just a couple of weeks after we brought her home. The lower photo was taken this winter in my studio, eight years later.

She is now seven years old, and hasn’t changed much at all. She’s the cat that our guests almost never see because she hides until she deems you a safe friend. She loves to be up high.

Four pictures of a gray and white cat.
From lap kitty to garden explorer.

She’s often found on the fridge, hanging out on a shelf, or in the back of the studio closet. Vera is the most helpful when I’m working in my studio. She offers advice on (a.k.a. lays on top of) my projects. But mostly, she just wants to have lots of scruffs!

Cat on book and on fabric.
This is how she helps me when I’m working in my studio.