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First Attempts at Background Washes in Coloring Books (FAIL)

I follow a number of incredible artists on YouTube and their work has inspired me often over the years. One such time was when I discovered the wonderful art done by Dede Wellingham. I’ve binged many of her livestreams and she’s as sweet and funny as she is talented (which is a lot).

The first video of hers that really got me revved up was “Color Washes in Imagimorphia AdultColor book by Kerby Rosanes Pt 1 of 3“. Adult coloring books were starting to become a big thing in the creative world (back in 2016) and something I’d come to late since I usually focused on fiber- or food-based arts. It hadn’t occurred to me to mix media in the ways Dede demonstrated and I could NOT WAIT to try it out. And I… well to say I missed the mark would be an understatement.

It started out so promising! I collected an assortment of my coloring books, some acrylic paint, my Neocolor II watercolor crayons and my Inktense water-soluble pencils (neither shown in pic).

Problem # 1 – using the wrong materials

Dede uses a number of media in her books, including pan pastels, paint, pencils, markers…but in particular the video that inspired me was based on using acrylic paint to drop in washes of color onto your pages. This has a two-fold effect: 1) it gets color down on the page and fills in the tiny detailed areas, making it easier and less intimidating (and faster) to color in with other media later, and 2) it creates an incredible base for colored pencil as adult coloring books are usually printed on paper that’s relatively smooth but pencils benefit enormously from a paper with more tooth. The acrylic paint gives the paper the missing tooth.

Unfortunately neither the Neocolor IIs nor the Inktense are acrylic paint.

Neocolor II dry in imagimorphia
Neocolor II wet
Neocolor II dry in imagimorphia
Neocolor II wet
Inktense dry in imagimorphia
Inktense wet
Inktense dry in Doodle Fusion
Inktense wet
Neocolor II wet in Doodle Fusion

Looking back, even though I like some of the colors I’d chosen, I’m not happy with the results. I don’t like how all my random scribbles show because I hadn’t put the color down evenly, and I’m disappointed that I completely messed up on the entire “adding tooth” benefit.

Problem # 2 – using the right materials the wrong way

The remaining pages that I’d painted were all done with acrylic paint. That means they must be good, right? No, actually. Not at all. Some of them (the underwater ones in particular) look better in person than in the images below, but none of them are “good”, because I missed the mark again. I was so focused on getting a spread of color onto the page that I didn’t think I had to try and do it nicely. I’m embarrassed to admit it really didn’t occur to me that that it was more than a matter of simply splashing water into paint and wiping it across the page a few times. In most cases below I did a horrible application, and in the one or two that aren’t too bad, I used too much water and so the resulting color doesn’t have the tooth either. (And in the final case, I’d used much too much water and caused the marker on the reverse to completely bleed through).

Acrylic paint in imagimorphia
Acrylic paint in imagimorphia
Acrylic paint in imagimorphia
Acrylic paint in imagimorphia
Acrylic paint in Doodle Fusion
Acrylic paint in The Time Garden
Acrylic paint in The Time Garden
Acrylic paint in The Time Garden
(the next page that bled through to the one above)

Problem # 3 – choosing the wrong pages

I think this was the worst mistake I made out of all of them – I chose the wrong pages. With one exception, I’ve never really wanted to color ANY of the images above. Rather than pick pages that I looked forward to, instead I thought I could “cheat” my way into getting pages “done”, and done “faster” by slapping color down to make the final coloring quicker and easier. Instead I now have pages I still don’t want to do, just now they have some color on them.

So why am I bringing this up now? Well Dede’s videos have come back into my recommendeds and I’ve begun binging again, and once again am completely hooked. On THIS TIME I’ve learned from my mistakes!

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Following Sarah Renae Clark’s “5 Easy Tips to Improve Your Coloring (Instantly!)” Video

I’m not a big fan of New Year’s Resolutions. I personally don’t believe in waiting for a special day to start the changes we want to make, and numerous times I’ve made a public declaration of “this year I’ll ____” only to have my interest, enthusiasm or time dwindle until said thing is forgotten completely. My track record the last few years is spotty…I’ve completed a full year of the Create This Book challenge with Henri in 2020, but failed miserably at both my “19 for 19 WIP-to-FO” challenge in 2019 and my daily doodle self-promise in 2021.

So this year I’m not setting a resolution, but rather I’m choosing to make time for the things I want to achieve. In particular this year I want to focus on improving my drawing & coloring skills, so instead of forcing myself to do a set routine daily (which can become a chore) I’m going to simply allow myself to enjoy the process by doing what excites me.

Just before the holidays I’d discovered the YouTuber Sarah Renae Clark, thanks to a collab she did on Jazza’s art channel. I enjoyed their joint challenge so popped over to her page to take a look and wound up binging a ton of tutorials, one of which prompted today’s post.

For those who don’t know, I do have a background and education/experience in drawing, painting, sculpture and the like as one of my degrees is in Creative Arts. Because I have a “professional” education I often get stuck in practice… feeling like I can’t just color something (for example) without “doing it right” and making sure it’s an accurate representation of my skill. It can be rewarding when the result matches my intent, but it sure puts a lot of pressure on when all I really want to do is chill on the couch with a cup of coffee and an adult coloring book! I’ve shown some pages I’ve colored here on the blog before but even those often feel inadequate for what I know I’m capable of, so improving my techniques in a way that makes them feel more natural has been a long-time desire.

And then I watched Sarah’s “5 Easy Tips to Instantly Improve Your Coloring Pages” video and an idea quickly formulated.

I decided to follow the 5 steps myself, not as an abstract concept but in actual practice. I would select 5 coloring pages, designating one for each of the tips, and hopefully come out of the process feeling like I’d levelled up… even if only a little bit.

I rewatched the video and took notes on each step (although the same information is also in her related blog post) and set about choosing pages that would be ideal for this purpose.

I went with 5 pages in my Daler*Rowney Art Therapy: Utopia book. I have 4 of these little books and they’re quite cute. I’ve worked in this book quite a bit already and while the subject is a bit quirky, I like that the book is small enough to not make each page take forever. (It’s only 5.75″ wide by 8.25″ high). Also, the pages are 1-sided, so I could use media that might bleed through. Bonus- this book series has a built-in page protector (the back cover folds out to go under the page you’re working on) which came in incredibly handy during this process.

The first of the 5 steps Sarah lists is to incorporate shading and blending. I focused in particular on using shading to create depth, and so chose this “slide” page as I thought it would be easy to darken the lower layers and give a sense of perspective.

My plan was to give each page an underpainting with Spectrum Noir alcohol markers and then go back over it with Prismacolor Premiers for the shading and details.

With that in mind I colored the page. I started with bright colors for the slides to help bring them forwards visually and tried to pick darker ones so the background would recede. I also tend to default to using the same colors so I tried to pick ones I rarely reached for (which is why it’s so chaotic!).

In my head the lower levels would be full of shadows from the upper tubes and I was hoping it would get super dark, to where it almost looked like a really long drop. Unfortunately this was a case where I was unable to execute my vision.

This was after my first pass with the colored pencils. I quite like the shadows I added under each figure…but that’s about it. I don’t feel that any of the other shadows really work. I was able to make the teal tubes look round but I don’t get a sense of depth with any of the others, and I don’t find that the slides look concave at all.

Rather than continue to fuss with it in frustration, I took a break and moved on to coloring the under layer of the next image – the orange scene below. I was still intending on finishing all of the pages in pencil, but by the time I’d started coloring what was meant to be an underpaint on the 3rd image I realized the paper was handling the alcohol markers REALLY well, and that I was enjoying using them. I don’t reach for the Spectrum Noir’s too often because they bleed through most books (and most aren’t one-sided) so having an opportunity to put them to work was really enjoyable. There’s also a really big instant gratification difference in seeing large areas of color completed in minutes vs hours.

At this point I decided to come back and give the page one more go with my markers. This is the final result. Am I happy with it? No. Am I happier with it? Yes.

Mostly I’m happy that I tried. None of the 5 tips are particularly hard – in fact they’re called “easy” right in the title. And for the most part none were ones that I didn’t already know. The point of this exercise, to me, was to actually put them into practice. I did many art theory classes, I know light theory and shadow values and the difference between form shadows and cast shadows etc. But since I rarely apply those principles I don’t have the muscle memory to use them in the way I’d like (unlike something like knitting where my hands just know how to do things without much thought). Tip #1 showed me that this is something I need to work on, which is great because it gives me somewhere to focus and one day see improvement. 🙂

Tip #2 (actually tip 3 in the video but I worked out of order) is about incorporating black into your coloring pages. This can be large areas like backgrounds or by using a fineliner and adding details or extras to the page that weren’t there to begin with, like dots or designs in the background.

I admit I cheated a bit with this one! I forgot to take a pic before I started coloring, but except for the oranges, this is what the image looked like before I started coloring. The Matrix-esque dots in the sky were already there, and the city silhouette was just asking to be a solid black, so it didn’t take much work or thought on how to incorporate black into this image. Still, I liked it, and chose it for this particular challenge.

The circles felt like oranges to me so that’s what I went with for coloring. I used the same gray on the robots (androids?) as for the previous pic, and a Sharpie for the city. My markers are old so there was a bit of dry-down causing patches of lighter areas (especially visible in the green and blue areas) but it didn’t bother me enough to do a second layer.

Finally, I added a bit of shading (pulling in Tip #1) in the areas the oranges and branches overlapped, as well as some (failed) shading on the robots. I’m not happy with some of the placement nor how blocky it looks. I added a neon glow off the tablet and around the radioactive oranges, and boosted the black background with some colored pencil. The final touch to include a bit more black was to add fine Micron dots to represent the pitting in orange peels, and some faux screw-heads in the tree’s bumpers.

Overall I’m happier with this one than the previous, though I don’t think it has anything to do with the tip or my follow-through. I really do love the idea of not being afraid to make changes to your books, though, and hope to get comfortable enough to add characters and designs of my own to some of the pages with lesser detail.

Tip #3 (really tip 2 in the video) is to add white for highlights. I’ve used this technique a bit but always been afraid to push it too far. So I chose this fish page deliberately so the bubbles in the water would give me plenty of reflective services to which I could add a shine.

Once again I forgot to take a pic before starting to color, oops. The jellyfish were quickly colored in shades of pink and for the fish I copied a color scheme I’d used on another occurrence of the same fish in the book. Trying to keep working the shading tip, I did add a slightly darker green on any of the intersections between layers of seaweed, but I’m not sure it’s visible in the finished image.

I wanted to give the background a gradient from lighter, closer-to-the-surface water up top down to murkier depths below. To achieve this I colored the background with 2 shades of gray; the first, darker one was applied to about 1/2 the page, and the second, lighter one filled in about 2/3 of what remained. I left the top 1/3 of the water area uncolored. I then went over the entire background with blue, coloring in small overlapping circles.

I outlined each bubble with a colorless blender. It didn’t remove the color completely but just enough to give each bubble a slight halo.

Finally I added highlights to the bubbles, jellyfish and fish with a Sigma Uniball UM-153 white gel pen. I don’t think the fish normally would have highlights but in my head they’re robotic just like all the people in the book. I also added some extra little white dots for oxygen bubbles coming up from each fish’s mouth as well as in the tangle of jellyfish legs.

Am I happy with it? Yes. I could have done better on blending the background and I wish my markers weren’t so old that the alcohol evaporated in patches causing the streaky look, but overall I’m quite happy with it, especially the shine on the fish. I could still use some practice though, and I think getting better at where to put the highlights will come hand-in-hand with getting better at where/how to place shadows.

Tip #4 (but actually #5 in the video) is to use a color palette when deciding what colors to pick. This is actually something I’ve struggled with sometimes, as I gravitate to the same colors that I like, and when I stray I can land in some weird territory (see: the slide pic above). There are many online color palettes available but Sarah offers her own and on a whim I decided to spring for it. I do so many different types of crafts, cakes, coloring, etc that having help for what colors look good together will only be an asset.

Once again I forgot to take a “before” pic until after I’d already started.

Her palettes are really well organized into clickable PDFs that you can search by keywords, themes or specific colors you want to use. I’d chosen this beach-looking scene as a test page, so I searched by “beach” keyword and decided to use palette #9 since it gave me options for the sand and water along with pops of color I could use for the umbrella and beach chair.

Something really fantastic about the Color Catalog is that she not only gives you the hex, RGB and CMYK color codes for each color in the palette, but there are also companion charts available that will tell you exactly which color she’s mapped to each from many of the most popular brands of pencils and markers. I was able to use the Spectrum Noir companion chart to find the exact SN color numbers and pull my markers without having to manually compare swatches to the samples. It’s really great!

This page probably took me the least amount of time to work on, but felt like the longest when coloring in each individual cell in the umbrella. Overall I’m pretty happy with this page. I didn’t add any white highlights and I’m not sure my laptop glow is in the right shape, but I am happy with the umbrella’s shadow on the ground and cutting across the stand (though looking back now I probably should have had the circle continue on the other side of the chair as well). Still further proof that my shading needs work. This seems to be a running theme!

Finally, step 5 (the 4th step in the video) is to add textures to your page. I chose to use this telescope page for a very specific reason: it would give me a chance to practice with this texture book I bought SPECIFICALLY to help me color more realistically.

The book is fantastic, showing you how to replicate each texture in short, step-by-step blocks. The only problem was it didn’t include brass, which is the look I’d wanted for my telescope. D’oh! (It has hammered brass, but that’s not quite the same thing). I could have used the references for silver or pewter and simply changed the colors, but instead I decided to find a reference image.

I could not find any telescope images in an upwards angle like the coloring page so I made one myself! I found a sample image of the exact antique brass look I wanted to go for, and saved it to my phone.

I then used my phone’s built-in photo editing tools to flip it and skew the angle until it was as close as possible to what I needed. It’s not perfect, but it’s definitely close and was a really big help as a reference.

I was really nervous about this one because I had such a specific idea in mind and I’ll admit I was worried I wouldn’t be able to execute it. I almost gave up and was going to pick a page to try out one of the other texture ideas (eye shadow) instead but I’m really, REALLY glad I didn’t. I LOVE how it turned out!

In fact, I was so happy with it that I decided to pull all 5 tips together into this one final image.

I went back to the Color Catalog to find a color palette that would work with the copper/bronze/brass colors I already had, and this one with the bright pop of pink really charmed me.

I really tried to make sure I used all 5 tips in this one. Texture? Check. Adding white? Yup- I added highlights throughout including some shine in the brightest areas of the telescope. Adding black? Oh yes – I added extra lines in diminishing circles in the planet to try and give it a sense of depth, with the lines being more concentrated closer to the viewer and moving further apart the further away they got. Color palette? Sure thing – I used only the colors listed. And finally for shadows I got creative and added the shadow from the telescope, although I wasn’t paying proper attention to the actual shape of the telescope and didn’t do the best job.

This was the finished result…and I just did not like it. I actually put it aside for a few days to think, because I was so happy with some parts but couldn’t help thinking it looked so incomplete. I debated adding some darker grays to the sky so they’d still be in the same family as the palette, but wasn’t sure I wanted that look. I was stumped. I’d followed the rules, and yet I wasn’t happy with the result. So what did that mean?

It meant that sometimes, it’s ok to break the rules. There are no coloring police! Plus Sarah’s tips are just that – tips and suggestions on how to improve your coloring results, that you are free to incorporate (or not) but they’re not hard and fast rules. She’s not saying “this is the ONLY way”, she’s saying “if you’re stuck, why not try this? It couldn’t hurt, and it might help!” And they did.

And not being limited meant I could come back to it later and add completely new colors into the background, to give it a sort of galaxy look that I didn’t even know I wanted until I’d achieved it and it was just perfect.

I went over the original gray with two shades of purple, blending them together where (I imagined) the planet’s light met the night sky. I also blended the main purple into the pink halo off the edge of the planet. I then traced over every start and (bubble? pearl?) with the white gel pen to remove their black outlines, and deepened the telescope’s shadow and refined it as best I could.

I am SO happy with the finished result! I’m really proud of this one, and really, really glad I embarked on this challenge.

I’m really glad I took the time to go back and rework something I wasn’t happy with. This makes me feel excited and hopeful about doing more coloring and testing and learning. And having gone through this exercise I can now pinpoint which areas need more refinement, and seek help for those things specifically (like improving my shading!!).

I think this was a great project to start off my year. If it’s something you might like to try for yourself, here are the links again to Sarah’s video and blog post. She’s got a TON of other videos and posts, and whether you’re a beginner, average or expert colorist, if you’re interested in adult coloring I definitely recommend checking her out.

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How to make a Fortnite Loot Lake cube cake

Today’s Henri’s 13th birthday and we’ve made it to his big, first “double-digits” birthday cake. Not only was Fortnite massive at the end of 2018/early 2019, but the Loot Lake cube event had just taken place and when asked what theme he wanted for his cake that year, there was zero hesitation. Easy for him to decide, but I’ll admit it took me a moment to figure out how to put it into action!

In the end I went with a cake that represented Loot Lake with the cube starting to submerge, and one of the wooden panels with Henri’s name on it. If curious about the cubes, you can read up on them here. You can actually watch the cube hit and go under here.

At this point this should be really familiar reading, but once again a few days before his party I baked cakes and prepared them as per my usual method. I also prepared my fondant pieces so they would have time to harden.

For the wooden panel I printed out his name in the Fortnite font and cut a rectangle around it with my dull blade cutter, freehanding the perpendicular planks.

I also cut out 6 1-inch squares to use for the cube. The grid on my measuring mat was perfect for this!

…except that it was too annoying to assemble the panels into a cube so instead I squished them all back together with some extra fondant and cut a 1″ cube out of the larger chunk.

I used my adjustable circle cutter to cut out a disk of fondant the same diameter as the top of my cake. I’d link it but can’t find it for sale any longer. I wonder if that’s because it isn’t that great – and tends to leave unsightly divots in the center of your fondant (like in the above image). You can either freehand cut a circle using a mat with markings like mine, or trace around your cake pan or same-sized bowl and cut that out instead.

At this point I set aside all the fondant pieces to air-dry, turning a few times daily so all sides could dry well.

The night before the party I levelled, torted and crumb-coated the cake as per my tutorial linked above.

While the cake was chilling in the fridge I painted the nameplate with gel colors diluted in vodka, using a quick version of my painting fondant to look like wood tutorial (another version of the wood also found here). I also cut an angled slice off of the cube so it could sit flush against the top of the cake and still look submerged, and inserted a bamboo skewer to help it anchor to the cake later.

The cake got a clean layer of white icing and then the fondant disk was placed on top so it would adhere well.

I used the back of a food-only paintbrush to lightly score demarcation lines for where the cube’s magical effect would spread to, using the game screenshots as color and placement references. (Oh yeah- the cube is magical. It turned the lake bouncy). I also gathered my supplies for food painting: more gel colors in my required colors, white icing tint, sparkle gel, water with a syringe, my gel paint palette, toothpicks, food-only paintbrushes and icing sugar to be the base of my “paint”.

To create the lake I added blue gel colors to some icing sugar and used a syringe to add water until I got a consistency similar to paint. The syringe helps avoid adding too much water at a time, but if it does get too watery you can thicken it back up with more icing sugar. Once it looked right I painted the lake blue, stopping at the demarcation line and feathering slightly over the edge so it wouldn’t be sharp or precise.

I mixed up more of the same color but runnier (similar to flood consistency, if you decorate cakes) and applied it all over the same sections, allowing it to self-level. Then I left the cake to set for 15 minutes.

Next I mixed up more icing paint in white and light blue and put dabs of each in an alternating pattern around the inner circle’s edge before using a toothpick to swirl them together. It’s ok if the darker blue bleeds into them a bit, as this was meant to be the edge where the lake water meets the rubberized water and has the magic glow effect.

To add more magical “oomph” I added sparkle gel around the edge, overlapping into the darker blue. Then I set it aside for another 15 minutes.

For the center where the lake has already transformed, first I mixed up a medium purple shade with a lot of the sparkle gel mixed in, as well as a lighter purple and white with sparkle. I filled the center circle with the medium purple and while it was still wet I dripped in the two lighter colors and swirled them gently. Once I was happy with how it looked I set it aside for another 15 minutes.

I tinted some vanilla icing green for the grassy land around the lake and covered the sides of the cake, slightly overlapping the disk on top to hide the fondant edges. I then textured the top bit to look more like grass. You can pipe around the base of the cake if desired (I’d run out of icing, oops).

I mixed up a darker purple for the cube and a brighter pink to be the glowing light where the cube touched the water, and painted the cube itself. Allow to dry for 15 minutes by either holding it (and enjoying a little break!) or you can push the skewer into a scrap chunk of fondant or styrofoam.

Tip: Save a bit of the dark purple in case you need to touch up the cube after you stick it on the cake.

Even though my fondant was white to start, I decided to paint over Henri’s name with the Wilton White-White. It doesn’t show much in the pic, but in person it made it much brighter.

The last step is to push the skewer into the cake and then the Fortnite Loot Lake cube cake is done!

I’d used a bit too much water in one of my purples, so the next day you can see that it cratered a bit when it dried down. But I’m still super pleased with how it turned out! I love the glowy swirl where the lake meets the “magic” and it really does look like the cube is sinking into the water.

Plus Henri was really happy with it, which was the most important part! ❤

I’ve had questions before about whether fondant topper painting adds extra thickness to the top of a cake, and as you can see from the cross-section, it really doesn’t.

Henri’s other birthday cakes

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Neko Atsume Snowball Cake

A few years ago one of the games the kids were obsessed with was Neko Atsume. They loved collecting all the little cats and their toys and taking in-game Polaroids of the kitties doing cute things. Snowball was Henri’s favorite, and on his 9th birthday he asked for a Snowball pic cake.

First thing I did, as always, was to bake the cakes a few days before his party.

He couldn’t decide between cherry chip or vanilla cakes so I made one of each then set them aside to stay moist until time to decorate.

Next I made the fondant topper. Just as for the Tem Shop cake I like to make my fondant toppers in advance as well so they have time to harden and set before placing on the cake.

I’m a big proponent of using references, so once again I found a reference image and scaled it to my desired size. I couldn’t find one with the specific pose Henri wanted (Snowball holding the red ball) so I found separate references and combined them myself into one.

On the same day I baked the cakes I also rolled out some white fondant and cut it to the size of my Polaroid. I let it air dry until the night before the party, when I sat down to finish the cake.

I used a pin tool to lightly sketch the cat outline in place by tracing the Snowball cut out onto my fondant. Then I used edible ink markers to color in the image, finishing with black for the cartoon-look outline.

Using a reference image is a really great way to help get a result that you’re happy with!

I set the topper aside so the ink could dry and then it was time to focus on the cake! First step was to levelled and tort each cake, then stack them into place.

The trimmed bits of cake freeze really well for future snacking, or you can crumble them up and mix with your leftover icing to make cake pops (which also freeze well for future snacking!).

First the cake gets a crumb coat (above) and then later a second, clean layer of icing.

I applied the topper to the still-moist icing and then the cake was done!

The fondant topper doesn’t add too much extra thickness to the top of the cake and does not need to be removed for slicing. It’s also easily removable from the slice for anyone who doesn’t like the taste.

Henri’s other birthday cakes

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Candy Cake

If you’re ever in need of a quick and easy cake decorating idea, do what we did for the family cake for Henri’s 9th birthday and cover it in candy! (Technically “chocolates”, though the Smarties count as both).

Bake your cake(s) and prepare them for decorating with your preferred methods (or follow my tutorial).

While the crumb coat is setting up, prepare your chosen candies and chocolates. As Henri’s birthday is in January, I used Smarties, Aeros and KitKats left over from Hallowe’en. Unwrap everything and crush up anything you want to use crushed (like my Aeros). You want everything ready and at hand while the next layer of icing is still wet, so it will stick well.

Add a clean layer of icing to the cake on top of your chilled crumb coat, and then stick your candies into place. Lining the edges in Smarties is fun, easy and colorful. You can sort by colors and place in a pattern (as I did here) or you can use them randomly as with this cake (or this example).

Finally, you can decorate the top. Use KitKat bars to spell out an initial or age and fill in the remaining surface with crushed Aeros. Pat down gently with a clean, dry hand to embed the little chocolate bits into the icing well, so they don’t fall off when you move or transport the cake.

Candy and cake make a great combination and the great taste will belie just how easy this is to put together for any holiday or occasion.

Henri’s other birthday cakes


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How to make an Undertale Tem Shop Cake

Henri is going to be 13(!!) on Saturday, so between now and then I’m going to share some of his past birthday cakes that haven’t hit the blog yet, with full tutorials for the ones that are possible. First up is this Tem Shop cake from his 8th birthday, back in 2017

The kids (and I, if I’m being honest) were bit hard by the huge phenomena that was Toby Fox’s Undertale. The name “Flowey” instantly evokes a bigger horrorscape than the trippy sequence in Fantasia, we use “determination” in more sentences than appropriate and often have Megalovania and the rest of the incredible soundtrack on repeat. For a while Henri’s favorite character was Temmie and in addition to adding “Hoi!” to nearly everything he said, he was determined to have a Tem Shop birthday cake.

A few days before his party I baked up 2 cakes in my usual way and set them aside so I could work on the fondant toppers.

I found a reference image from the game online:

Then I resized it to the scale of my cakes, using the baking dish as a guide.

The bottom third of the cake would be the black text box that’s always present on screen, so I scaled my reference image to fit 2/3 of the cake and printed it out.

I rolled out some white fondant onto my Wilton measuring mat, using my roller with spacers to get an even thickness. Then I used the blade tool from my gum paste tool set to carefully cut out each piece.

I set the pieces aside for a few days, flipping them over about twice per day, so they would harden. The more moisture that gets removed from the fondant prior to painting the better, since painting will add moisture and I don’t want the sugar to melt down.

Anytime I do fondant painting (ex: Minecraft cake, Charlie & Lola cake, Skylanders cookies, Montreal Canadiens cake) I always like to assemble all my supplies within reach. This includes the paintbrushes and palette I use exclusively for food, Wilton and AmeriColor gel colors, a small jar of vodka for diluting icing gels, toothpicks for getting the gels out of the tubs, plus icing sugar for thickening my homemade edible “paints”.

Gel colors dilute super easily, so a tiny dab on a palette is often all you’ll need for beautiful, rich colors.

I painted each piece to match its in-game counterpart. Most are easy enough to eyeball but if ever you’re not sure of dimensions you can sketch lightly over the reference with the tip of a pin and emboss guide lines into the fondant.

Once the pieces were touch-dry I prepared the cake itself. First I gave it a crumb coat.

Then I tinted some icing to match the wood background of the shop and applied it over the shop section of the cake, making sure to apply it thick enough to lightly carve into without reaching the cake below.

I used a toothpick to score lines for the wood wall then diluted some brown gel color and carefully flooded it into the grooves.

The final touch was to add some nail heads, and the wall portion was done.

After that I tinted icing black for the text box.

Pro tip: if you start with chocolate icing (instead of white vanilla) you’ll use much less black coloring, which will avoid any bitter taste in the icing.

I covered the remaining part of the cake in black, and then added the figures, and then finished up the outside and edges of the cake with white icing to clean everything up.

If you add the fondant toppers while the icing is still moist, they’ll stick in place without issue. If your icing has already started to crust over then you can paint a little bit of water on the back of the fondant and that will adhere it in place. Try to avoid getting too close to the edges with the water, so it doesn’t leak out around the edges and cause bleeding onto the base icing.

Final step was to use a set of mini alphabet cutters to cut out the message in Temmie’s mixed-caps word style.

Again, for reference, here’s the image of the Tem Shop in the game:

and my cake:

RATED TEM OUT OF TEM 🙂

Henri’s other birthday cakes

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Project Memory Jars

As last mentioned in my plastic canvas wall hangings update, back in 2019 I’d given myself a pretty ambitious resolution: a challenge to turn 19 “works in progress” into “finished objects”. The first project added to my “19 WIP-to-FO Challenge” was my wall of Project Memory Jars

I’ve had a longstanding tradition of keeping a little length of yarn from each knitted and crocheted project I’ve made (later adding plastic canvas projects as my fiber hobbies crew). It started as keeping a bit of yarn in case there was need for repairs, but other than mending some knitted socks, it didn’t really wind up being a useful hoard item. That said, I have a strong visual memory and it was lovely to look back at the various yarns and remember the projects I’d made. The small colorful scraps would often bring up vivid memories of the gift recipient or technique I’d struggled with or laughter with crafty buddies in a workshop.

Originally these remnants were rolled into a ball and tied on one after another. It made them easy to store but impossible to see all the yarns on the inner layers.

My first “solution” was to make them into something tangible. They’d still have the same memory placeholder and all would be visible. Back in 2012 I eagerly cast on for a crochet granny square and made a few large blocks, intending to one day sew them into a large scrappy blanket.

This worked…fine actually. It was a chaotic mess and I knew I’d love the resulting blanket. The problem was that it would never be finished. I’d be storing a bag of 12″ granny squares for decades because even though I work on 50-100 projects yearly, the amount of triple-crochet stitches I’d be able to get from a few yards of leftover yarn was minimal.

So I thought about it and came up with a different idea. A silly little memory wall that makes no sense to anyone but me, but makes me smile and remember all the projects I put my time, effort, energy and care into.

My project memory jars

The shelves and brackets were extras from my previous job, so luckily I had those already on-hand.

I bought the jars at my local Dollarama in but if you can’t find them near you then these jars paired with these label packs would be a great substitute. Instead of using the white chalk that came with each jar I wrote on their labels with chalk markers.

Now that the wall was ready it was time to fill the jars. Which meant finally getting around to undoing the granny squares. Since it was the first item on my 19-for-19, it made sense to start with that one first.

1. FO Project Jars

What I said: I need to rip out all the individual lengths of yarn (1-10 yards long, each), match them up with what project they were from, and put the separated yarn into jars designated for each year.

What I did: basically exactly that. Only what took one sentence to type took hours to actually do. Frogging the granny squares was easy work, but before I could start I had to look at the center stitches of each block and figure out what project that was from, so I could put the blocks into a chronological order. (Luckily I take detailed project notes and my Ravelry page is mostly up to date!)

Once I’d figured out which blocks went where time-wise, I ripped them back and rolled them back into one big ball as I went, so the newest yarn was on the inside. Once everything was frogged I was able to start with the oldest scraps and begin to sort.

It was slow work but I moved through the yarn, cutting away the knots and putting a few inches of each yarn into the relevant year’s jar. Since the jars aren’t huge I only kept a bit of each and had a colorful pile of spaghetti left over at the end, which I later separated by length.

Anything that was a yard or more I rolled up and added to my mini ends bin, for use as waste yarn, stitch holders and row counters, or random craft projects.

I only undid knots for the cotton scraps because I had plans to re-use those. Every time I got to cotton yarn I added it to this growing ball, which I later turned into 2 scrappy dishcloths for my kitchen, using my own perfect, lay-flat, knitted diagonal garter dishcloth pattern.

I used about half of the scraps to make a smaller cloth with a hanging bit on the end, and then used up all the rest for the 2nd cloth. (The pattern is knit like a diamond so all you need to do to use up every bit of yarn is to find your center…work half the cloth until you hit the center point and then start the decreases to work the remaining half).

With all the jars filled and the extra bits used up, that officially marked the first of my 19 completed WIP-to-FO projects for my challenge, and now I have a silly bit of wall décor that confuses everyone who comes into my home office. I get to look at it and reminisce about all the people I’ve knit for and all the yarn-related creativity that moved between my fingers.

Here’s looking ahead to 2022 and all the projects it will bring.

Happy New Year!

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How to Make Plastic Canvas Gift Tags

Looking for a different way to label your gifts this holiday season?

These personalized plastic canvas gift tags are quick and easy to make and are reusable as charms after the wrapping paper’s been recycled.

You only need a few supplies to get started:

  • plastic canvas – I used 7-ct but if you have a more complicated design that you want to fit into a small area, you can use 10-ct or 14-ct. (The “count” is how many holes per inch).
  • plastic lobster hooks – metal will work just as well. You can even cannibalize hardware from broken keychains or charms you already own
  • yarn – scraps from other projects will work great for this
  • yarn needle
  • scissors

The first step is to choose your designs so you can create a chart. My example tags were made for a young boy whose name starts with a “B” and was really into Minecraft, and a young girl whose name starts with “K” and was really into Monster High. So I decided to put their initials on one side and something iconic from each theme (Creeper & Skullette) on the other.

I used Excel to create my charts but you can just as easily use graph paper. If using Excel resize your cells into squares and then use the color fill to draw your designs, 8-bit pixel-style.

For the Creeper tag I went with a square shape since most Minecraft mobs have square heads. I then “drew” a capital b in a grid of the same size as the Creeper face. I decided not to do the typical blend of colors for the Creeper since this was just a quick add-on to the birthday party gift we were giving, but you can get as creative as you’d like!

For the Monster High tag I found a free-use Skullette chart and used the size of that chart as a basis for my “K” chart, which I drafted in a font similar to that of the Monster High lettering.

You have freedom to design anything you’d like for your tags! Your only limit is the total size you’d like your tags to be, as the bigger your design, the bigger the results.

The next step is to cut out plastic canvas pieces the sizes required for your tags. Remember that it takes 2 holes on the diagonal to make 1 continental or cross stitch with plastic canvas, so if your grid is 10×10 pixels then you need to cut out a piece of plastic canvas 11 holes x 11 holes, etc.

Stitch your pieces as desired. I used continental stitch (half of a cross-stitch) and did the green background for each piece first, leaving one piece with a tail about 3-4 times as long as the full perimeter. This is optional but by leaving the seaming yarn as your tail it’s one less end to hide later.

After the green I filled in the spaces with black for the “B” and the Creeper’s face.

I followed the same process for the other tag, working from background first to the details last, so the details would remain sharp and not risk getting fuzzy at the edges. First I did the white background (flipping Skullette so the bow would be on the right since the original chart was for Perler beads which get flipped after ironing), then the purple (as I didn’t have pink scraps handy), and finally the black, which I also used to backstitch some shading under the “K”. I didn’t do the tail trick for this one as I wanted to seam it with a different color.

To seam, hold the pieces with wrong-sides together and go from back to front through the first corner 3 times. Next whipstitch around the first side and when you get to the next corner, go through it 3 times again, and continue this process around. When you get to the corner where you’d like to put the hook, do the first corner wrap, then wrap twice while also going through the hook’s jump ring, then go through the corner alone once more.

After all 4 sides are fully seamed you can skim your needle through one side’s wraps and pull the yarn through, for about an inch, then trim the excess as close as you can.

These little tags are under 3″ making them perfect to clip onto a schoolbag or tote.

They really add a personal, handmade touch to a gift without taking too much time or costing the bank.

Have fun creating your own!

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Mini Cupcake Transport Hack

Today, December 15, is one of the many days recognized as “National Cupcake Day”. We’re also halfway to the holidays! In case you’re planning on bringing a little home-baking to your celebrations, here’s a quick and easy little tip to help you out.

Picture it. You’ve baked a dozen (or more) mini cupcakes. They’re all iced and decorated and smelling delicious. But you don’t have a cupcake carrier and your largest Tupperware is already in use! What do you do?

Voila!

I know what you’re thinking. “If this is about cupcakes, why are you showing me egg cartons?”

Ahhh because those aren’t eggs inside!

Surprise!

Ok ok, so I know what you’re thinking now. “Sure, it’s an easy way to get them to wherever I’m going, but how am I going to get them out afterwards? Won’t I squish the cupcakes? If I tug on the fondant toppers won’t they just pop off the icing? And what if I only have icing on top? I can’t very well grab THAT, now can I?”

Ahh don’t worry, I’ve got you covered! It’s as easy as…

…1…

…2…

…3

Poke!

Of course it does take a quick moment of prep, so let’s rewind.

First, make your toppers. These were for Jakob’s 7th birthday, when he was super into Adventure Time. His birthday cakes 2 years in a row were AT-themed, and these cupcakes were a little extra treat to surprise his class at school (back when we were able to do that).

As always when making most toppers (Pitfall cake, Charlie and Lola cake, Minecraft cake, etc) I recommend making them a few days in advance. Not only will this allow the fondant to harden, making placement easier, but it will also help prevent the fondant from absorbing moisture from the icing (or water/fondant glue) and disintegrate on you.

The Gunter toppers are pretty simple to make. Roll out some white fondant and use a circle cutter in your desired size for his face. I went with a cutter the size of the top of my mini cupcakes. I like to use a fondant roller with levelers but you can eyeball it. Roll your white fondant scraps a bit thinner and use your smallest cutter for the eye shine. For my size cupcakes I used a large smoothie straw for the eyes so a regular straw was perfect for the white shiny dots. Set the white circles aside and roll out some black fondant. Use the same cutter as for the head to cut one black circle for each face, and then shift it down a bit and cut away most of it to create a crescent moon-type shape. Use water or fondant glue to attach the black crescent to the white face, and then use the remaining black to cut out his eyes. Attach the eyes to the face and then the eye shine to the eyes. Finally get some yellow fondant (or tint the scraps of your white) and use your fingers to pinch off tiny pieces and roll them into mini cones for his beak. The cutters do the bulk of the work for you and assembly is pretty fast, making this a really simple design.

For reference, here’s Gunter in the show:

Next, bake your cupcakes. I didn’t take progress pics of this part but it was a basic vanilla cake recipe and a swirl of store-bought icing.

Bonus tip: empty your icing tub into a bowl and whip it up a bit with a hand or stand mixer. Not only will it be a lovely consistency for piping lush swirls but the air added to the icing will increase the volume, getting you more mileage out of what you’ve got.

While your cupcakes are cooling you can prepare their carriers. Each egg carton will hold 1 dozen cupcakes (obv) and you’ll need something sharp for cutting out the bottoms. I found a knife/blade worked much better than scissors for this.

The easiest method was to cut around the carton’s own indent. Imagine the circle was a square and insert the knife straight down into 3 of the 4 “sides” of the circle. Then you can tear off the little flap this creates.

Give a little wiggle to push the cut edges to the inside. This will make it more comfortable for you later, and the raised little bits will also give the cupcake a bit of a shelf so it doesn’t fall too tightly into the hole and get stuck.

And that’s all it takes! Super easy, using something you’ve probably already got on-hand.

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Glow Effects with Gel Pens

Today’s post is a little tip on how to use gel pens to get a special effect in your coloring book pages. In honor of Walt Disney’s birthday this week* I’ve used a page from my Art of Coloring: Disney Villains coloring book.

This is the original page. It’s slightly warped because on the back is a page I colored fully with my Inktense pencils and it was saturated over and over. While I do keep this book clipped shut (as shown in this post with my hanger tip) I’m still impressed at the thickness of the paper in this book. It’s definitely better than most of my coloring books!

As with many of the coloring books based on movies and tv shows, the scenes in this book are often pulled directly from a still from the original source material. In this case you can see the above image is nearly an exact copy of the second image from the movie, below. It looks like the book artist added a background detail and the mist with the llama above in order to make it more interesting as a coloring page.

While I did use the still as a reference for the characters, I took creative liberties with the color of the potion as I wanted to see if I could achieve a glowing affect and thought the contrast with a yellow glow would stand out more than pink.

This is a super easy effect to achieve, and takes materials you’ve probably already got on-hand! All you really need is a gel pen in your desired bright color! I’ve also used a water brush for convenience, but you can swap in a regular paint brush and small cup of water and get the exact results.

You have to work fast so I wasn’t able to pause and take a step by step. Outline the area you want to have the glow, and then immediately while the gel pen ink is still wet, use a water brush or water-dampened paintbrush to blend out the gel ink.

The glow areas in this image are too large to do all at once as the gel would dry before I could get to it. So I worked in small sections, tracing just inside the lines of the swirl and blending the wet ink inwards. For the glasses and potion bottle I only traced on one side so there wouldn’t be too much ink. I then scribbled some of the ink on a piece of scrap cardstock (the shiny kind like used in consumer packaging) and diluted it with water to make a paint for the glow around the bottle.

That’s it! That gives a really cool glow effect that you can achieve super-simply, in almost any coloring project. To see the glow really pop, let’s finish coloring the page!

Switching to my beloved Inktense, I outlined the misty sections with a few shades of green. I didn’t record my colors but there was definitely #1400 (Apple Green) and I believe some #1520 (Hooker’s Green). If you look in the mist closest to the llama, you can also see some #0100 (Sherbet Lemon) to amplify the glow and pull the yellows into the mist.

With Inktense the rule is always “a little goes a long way” so I only needed the barest of color application to get the light wash you see in the image on the right. To blend out you can use a water brush or regular paintbrush with some water and moisten the drawn lines just like those old coloring pages in kids’ activity books.

Next I did the same for the background behind the mist, first filling it in with a super-light application of #2020 (Indian Ink) and then deepened up the borders with #2200 (Ink Black).

The main background first had a layer of the same Indian Ink followed by #750 (Dark Purple) since purple is the complementary color to green (opposite on the color wheel).

The last step was to finish the characters with a bit of #1800 (Baked Earth) and #1740 (Saddle Brown) for Kronk and #760 (Deep Violet) for Yzma, and #1210 (Dark Aquamarine) for the teal bits.

I love how this page came out! I’m continually impressed at the paper quality of this book. Having now done a fully water-saturated coloring on both sides of this same page, I’m amazed that there is no bleed-through or tearing. I love the bright glow of the gel pen against the ink, and especially the reflected glow in the goggle lenses.

I hope this tip helps you use your gel pens in new ways!

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*December 5th