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Use sandpaper to improve the tooth of coloring book pages

Today, September 14th, is National Coloring Day. Of course coloring isn’t limited to coloring books, but over the last few years they’ve definitely become more prevalent! Whether they’re your preferred place to apply color or something you only do with kids, you’ve likely noticed that the paper quality can vary greatly. From thick cardstock to what’s basically printer paper, the type of paper will affect everything from what media you can use in the book to if you can actually color both sides of the same page.

On average, most adult coloring books use a slightly thicker-weight white paper that can handle all dry media as well as water-based markers, with some bleed-through if you press too hard or go over the same spot repeatedly. Crayons and colored pencils will lay down pretty evenly as the paper has little-to-no tooth, but if you’re the kind of artist who prefers to work with a more textured paper, here’s a tip that can help transform the books you already own – sandpaper!

I’ll demonstrate this in my copy Archie’s Coloring Book (and there’s a video demonstration at the end of the post).

This is a great book that is jam-packed with tons of images of Archie and the gang, showcasing everyone from the core trio to side characters (Dilton, Moose, Cheryl, Sabrina, Josie and the Pussycats, Miss Grundy, Mr. Weatherbee), to the ‘Lil Archie gang. Even Jughead’s dog Hotdog appears in all his shaggy glory!

I first thought about this back in 2017 after watching one of SuperRaeDizzle’s videos on dollar store art supplies. If you don’t follow her you really should – she’s a fantastic artist who does a lot of art supply reviews and draws/paints with incredible realism. In the linked video she uses a sanding block to rough up a sheet of inexpensive Bristol board to give it a better drawing surface.

I thought it was really cool but didn’t think it applied to me – until I started wondering if the same technique would work in what I was using a lot of at the time – coloring books. In theory it seemed like it should work but with the paper so much thinner than Bristol board I didn’t know if it would work. Would it tear the paper? Would it destroy the printed outlines? Would the ink bleed?

I had to try it for myself. To make the results as clear as possible I chose a page that allowed me to clearly divide the page into two halves.

I left the Veronica side of the page untouched and sandpaper I had on-hand to lightly rough up the Betty side of the page.

Here you can see the before (left) and after (right). There’s no obvious distress to the page though if you look closely at the black line of Betty’s shirt near the guitar you can see faint striae where the ink was removed.

To hold the book open while I worked I used my pants hanger hack. Still highly recommend!

I then set about coloring the page with Faber-Castell Polychromos colored pencils. I was careful to color in both girls the same way, using the same colors and applying the same amount of pressure.

Right away you can see a difference! Coloring on the Veronica side was exactly like coloring with colored pencils on computer printer paper (though I think this paper is slightly thicker). It’s super smooth and flat without any tooth or texture at all, and the colored pencil glided over the page really easily. On the Betty side I could feel the roughened-up surface of the page and it gave the colored pencil something to grab to, making coloring a very different experience.

It’s difficult to put the feeling into words but coloring the Veronica side felt like I had to concentrate more, because my natural tendency was to use more pressure to get more color payoff, whereas on the Betty side the same amount of barely-there pressure gave a richer color payoff.

Coloring on the super-smooth side made me very conscious of trying to not color too hard because it took more work to lay color down. On the flip side, coloring on the textured side of the page made color application a breeze, to the point where I had to concentrate on not applying too much and losing any highlights.

Both sides are colored the exact same way, using different colors for shading. I didn’t want to do anything too fancy because this was only a test; it was more about seeing if the sandpaper would ruin the book or any attempts to color vs me trying to get a professional-looking result.

I’d sanded the guitar evenly down the middle and thought there would be a more obvious difference between the two sides but I’d say it’s pretty subtle. Again- the sanded side has more depth and more color payoff while using the exact same pressure as the unsanded side.

I was also curious if sanding the paper would affect marker application, so decided to fill in the music notes with a mix of sparkle and metallic gel pens, in black and charcoal. I was really happy to see that there didn’t seem to be any effect on how the gel ink applied, and that both sides had the same amount of glitter and shine in the light.

Finally I wanted to see if there would be any issues coloring on larger open areas, so I picked two colors and experimented with blending them to each other. In my first layer of color (2nd image from the left) you can see that both sides are streaky but the funny thing is it’s for different reasons!

Veronica’s side is streaky because I struggle with laying down barely any color…though I probably didn’t have a proper point on my pencil, which didn’t help. Whereas Betty’s side is streaky because that’s the grain from the direction I’d sanded. You can see it better in the image below (though I sort of like the streaky look on her jeans because it makes them look more like real denim LOL)

The last test that I did was to compare the difference that burnishing would make on either side. I went over both sides of the guitar with my beloved Prismacolor Premiere colorless blender and really tried to smooth any grain down and move the color to fill any remaining white areas. I have the page open in front of me as I type this and while my fingertip can tell the difference between the two sides it is SLIGHT, and definitely not as much of a contrast as the rest of the page halves.

(And truthfully I’m not completely convinced that I’d feel a texture difference there at all if I hadn’t sanded too hard in that spot, as you can see by the diagonal lines of indentation on the lower right of the guitar)

Here’s the completed page. If I didn’t know that one side had been sanded I would think that I’d colored harder on the right side, and possibly used a different color for Betty’s jeans and background, as I do feel that there’s a visible difference in this closeup.

I don’t find the difference is as obvious in this image, though I’m not sure if it’s because the black background is causing a distraction.

After trying this once I’m a convert! I have a large collection of coloring books and I think this technique opens up a world of possibilities for getting different effects and results with colored pencils, crayons, and pastels. The opportunities expand even further if you experiment with different grits of sandpaper!

Imagine coloring a fantasy scene and sanding a grassy area with one grade of sandpaper, bricks of a castle with another, and the bark of a tree with a third… you could get a whole range of textural effects within the image all before even laying down any color!

Other notes: in the video below you’ll see a little bit of ink smearing. That was due to pressing too hard with the sandpaper, so it’s avoidable but something to watch out for. I was happy to see that there was no consequence to the back of the sanded page, nor any texture transfer on the facing page.

Here’s a graphic for those of you who like to pin my posts, and as promised above, here below is a video showing this technique in action.

This post may contain affiliate links. This means I might make a small commission on purchases made through the links, at no cost to you.


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Happy Birthday Sweet Seventeen

Seventeen years ago, on September 7 2004, I started this blog. Yes, this creative passion project of mine is officially old enough to be in college and donate blood. It began on Blogger in the boom of knitting/craft blogs that fed blogrolls and Yahoo swaps and RAOK groups.  We’ve seen the onset of Ravelry and Worldwide Knit In Public Day, and welcomed pattern sources like Knitty, Craftsy, Twist Collective, St Denis Yarns and others before having to say goodbye to some of them.

With YouTube, Instagram and TikTok flooding the internet with video-based creative content, running a blog feels almost antiquated. I’ve been asked by friends and family why I don’t switch to another format but the truth is… I don’t want to. I love video tutorials. I follow a TON of craft-content YouTubers, and have saved a huge amount of “try one day” crafty TikToks to my favorites list too, so it’s not a critique of the other formats. They absolutely have their place, especially for some techniques or tutorials that can really only best be shown in video. That said, I still think there’s a place for blogs and photo-based project/pattern support.

My “blogaversary” this year falls on the first day of Rosh Hashana, which is the Jewish New Year.  I think that makes it perfect timing for a long-overdue blog restart. (I know, I know, I’ve said this before. Shhhh!) Coincidentally I was born on was erev (eve) Rosh Hashanna (we won’t say how long ago!) so Happy birthday to the blog, happy sort of birthday to me, and happy Jewish New Year!

To celebrate 17 years in the public craft domain I’ve scoured the site, my notes, folders, and metadata and picked 17 fun, interesting or long-forgotten items from my blogging history.

1-7

Numbers 1-7 are from the archives.  These are posts even I forgot about!  Some are helpful tips, some are free patterns/tutorials, and all are added to the How To section above.

8

Even when I don’t post regularly I get a steady stream of visitors (thanks!) and I’m always curious to see what search terms bring people my way.  So number 8 is my top referrer keywords from back in my Blogger days.  Funny enough it’s a tie between two completely random things that have almost nothing to do with my site: “cute japanese cartoons” & “hangman”.  I’m guessing the former is related to the time I knit a Japanese boy band, but the latter?  NO idea.

9

Number 9 is the results of my top search terms after migrating the blog to WordPress.  Unfortunately/fortunately Google has been encrypting the vast majority of search terms since 2013 so 9771 of my results are “unknown”.  Of the list that remains the top three terms are: “Toothless”, “pocketbook slippers”, and “pocket book slippers”, likely linking back to these two projects (Toothless, slippers).  Wanna know the lowest search result that brought someone my way?  “Long hair cut feet”.  I wonder how disappointed the searcher was to find my post was literally about a long hair transformation??

10

Number 10 is a really cool fact- I’ve had visitors from 170 different countries!  The majority are, unsurprisingly, from Canada and the United States, but rounding out the top 20 are the UK, Australia, Germany, Brazil, the Netherlands, Mexico, France, Iceland, Spain, Italy, the Philippines, Israel, New Zealand, Poland, South Africa, Argentina, Hungary and Denmark.

11-14

Numbers 11-14 are my the top 4 posts since switching to WordPress.  I had a hunch what these were because they keep Pinterest flashing up on my phone.  What I didn’t expect was that the top post would outrank second place by more than double!

15

I’ve spent the last few months poring over my unshared projects and planning out a blog schedule for the year.  For number 15 I thought it would be fun to look through my folders and see just how old my oldest unshared project truly is. There was a lot to wade through but I found it!  Coming in at over a decade old a crafty hack that you’ll see on the block next year dates all the way back to February 2010!

16

Looking through all those projects was a fun trip down a creative memory lane.  As number 16 here’s a little teaser of a post I can’t wait to share in full…

Any guesses?

17

And finally, for making down this far: number 17 is a picture of me at the same age as this blog.

Whether you’ve been here since day 1 or day 6204, thanks for being a part of my creative adventures. I run this blog for me, but I love sharing it with you. ♥

*All search terms and other totals above were accurate as of the date of preparing this post.


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How to Bake a Cake and Prepare it for Decorating

Henri’s 10th* birthday party was last weekend, and while I’m not a professional by any means, I have made enough cakes by now (not to mention the 40 or so ones I’ve yet to post) that I often get asked for tips or help.  So I decided to put together a step-by-step guide on how I prepare a cake for decorating.** 

I’ll get more into the “how to bake a cake” part in a future post, as there are a lot of little tweaks and tips for the baking part itself…but this post will cover specifically how to prepare a basic cake for decorating.

Note #1- I typically bake my cakes 1-2 days prior to when I plan to decorate, which – depending on the desired outcome – is 1-2 days prior to the cake’s due date. (IE: if the cake is for Sunday, I’ll bake it Thurs or Fri night, then decorate Saturday night. If it’s a very involved, sculptural cake, I might bump those dates back a day each to leave more time for decorating.)

Before you can bake the cake, you need to prepare your pan. This step ensures you’ll be able to remove the cake from the pan once it’s baked. Some people line their pans with parchment, but I use this method:

  • Grease the pan’s bottom and sides with either Pam, margarine, or butter
  • Drop a tablespoon of flour onto the greased pan
  • Over the sink (I learned the hard way) slowly rotate and tilt the pan until the flour fully coats the bottom and sides, tapping if necessary to move things along
  • Make sure it’s fully covered, touching up bare spots if necessary
  • To remove excess flour, hold pan upside-down over the sink and smack the bottom of the pan a few times. The loose flour will fall into the sink.

Note #2- They make a ‘baker’s’ version of Pam that has flour mixed in already.

Note #3- I’ve heard of, but never tried, using Pan Grease in lieu of the above. I’m planning to try it out sometime when I don’t have a deadline looming 🙂

  
Pan Grease

1 cup shortening
1 cup flour
3/4 cup vegetable oil

Mix well with electric mixer and store in airtight container. Does
not need refrigeration.

Note #4- It doesn’t matter what kind of flour you use. One time I’d bought the wrong kind of flour for a recipe and had no use for it, so I used that one for preparing pans until it had been all used up. Ever since I use all-purpose, but you can use whatever you’d like, including nut-based and gluten-free flours. I’ve also seen people use cocoa powder when preparing pans for chocolate-based recipes.

Note #5- Don’t try to tap out the excess flour over a garbage can unless your pan is small enough to hold lower than the rim of the can. I learned this the hard way…

Once the pan is ready, you can prepare your batter, then pour it in. Some cakes need to be left alone, but for my regular birthday-type cakes, I drop the pan on the counter a few times so the air bubbles in the batter can raise to the surface and pop.

Once the cake is ready to come out of the oven, a very important step is to let the cake set in the pan for about 10 minutes. Try to remove it too soon and it will fall apart, but wait too long and it will get very difficult to remove. My standard is to set my oven timer for 10 minutes and use that time to get out the items I’ll need for the wrapping step coming up.

Once 10 minutes are up, your cake is ready to remove from the pan. Loosen around the edges with a knife. I also like to sort of “tuck” the knife under the cake and give it little test lifts to help ease it from the bottom of the pan.

The photos above show how I used to remove the cakes from the pan- I’d flip the pan over onto a flexible cutting board, then use a 2nd board to flip it back to right-side up, before sliding it onto a tray to allow it to cool overnight.

However- I don’t do this method any more. Instead I remove the cake from the pan and place it immediately onto a long length of Saran Wrap, which I then fold over to seal. Then I turn the cake 90 degrees, place it onto a 2nd long length of Saran, and wrap it again, so the 2nd layer covers any gaps in the 1st. I do this immediately after the 10 min rest in the pan.

Once the cakes are wrapped in Saran, you can leave them to cool. I’ve done this up to 5 days in advance of serving, and the cakes still came out perfect. In fact, I’d recommend this even more for cakes made in advance- unlike my previous method of leaving them uncovered, the Saran traps the heat and steam into the cake, leaving them dense and moist and delicious instead of dry and crumbly.

Leave the Saran-covered cakes somewhere dry and cool where they won’t be disturbed. (Don’t leave them stacked as the top one might sag, I only did this when I took the photo as I was trying to estimate how tall the finished cake would be).

Allow the cakes to cool at minimum overnight. A cake might feel cool on the outside but still have residual heat trapped inside, and icing and decorations will slide right off.

Once cooled, you’re ready to level and tort. (Tort is just a fancy word for “cut the cake in half, horizontally). For best results, use a knife long enough to fit across the narrowest edge of the cake.

Slowly and evenly cut off the rounded cake dome, starting at one corner then easing your way across until you can go straight down along the cake. Keep your hand steady and try to hold the knife as flat and parallel to the table as you can. Once you’ve cut all the way across you can remove the scraps for eating or other uses. I always like to have a storage container handy as well to hold the cake scraps which I use later with any leftover icing to make cake pops for my kids.

In the demo cake shown here, I didn’t tort, but if I would have it would have been at this step. Using the same knife as above, cut the cake horizontally into two layers.

Note #6- I recently picked up these cake level guides and OMG they’re perfect! I clipped one to my knife and held it flush against the table as I cut and I’ve never had a cake turn out as perfectly level before. I <3.

Before you can begin decorating, you must consider your base. Is the cake to be moved? Is it going to be heavy, and need a cake board? For the cake shown, I iced, decorated and transported it on the white tray, and I would use the same method with any other tray or cake stand. If this was a tier in a larger cake, however, I’d be using a cake board.

Put a dollop of icing into the center of where your cake will go. This will “glue” your cake to the tray/board and keep it from sliding around. Center the cake into place and give it a little push down to adhere.

Fill your cake. Do a border of icing around the edges of the cake and then fill it with more icing, jam, whatever you’d like. Then place your other layer on top and press down lightly. I often flip it so the flatter bottom of the cake layer becomes the top of the cake, but this 9×11 was a bit too large and thin for me to feel comfortable flipping without risking breaking. I’m a klutz after all…

Before I begin to ice the outside of the cake, I protect the tray/stand/surface with parchment paper or wax paper. Cut off a narrow piece and then cut that into pieces to fit around the edges of the cake. For a rectangle or square cake I’d cut 4 narrow strips, if it was a round cake I’d cut the full-size strips into thirds and slightly overlap them to surround the cake with a hexagon of paper.

See the crumbs on the parchment? That’s why it’s there- to protect the base from crumbs and icing. The crumb coat (shown) isn’t part of the decorative exterior, it’s used (and named) to capture any loose crumbs that would otherwise fall off as you work. Ice the cake on the top and all sides, but don’t worry about covering every inch of the cake. The main thing is to trap the crumbs and fill in any gaps in between the layers of the cake.

Note #7- Mine is sloppy. Both the crumb coat and the upcoming icing. This cake was for fun. If you are planning to cover the cake in fondant later OR planning to have smooth or knife-edge sides, then you should make sure your crumb coat is smooth as well, or it will be more difficult later.

After the crumb coat I like to put the cake in the fridge to set the icing. This isn’t completely mandatory, so don’t stress if you don’t have room in your fridge. Place the cake somewhere cool and undisturbed for about 30 minutes, or until the icing crusts over.

Once the crumb coat is done you’re almost ready to decorate. The cake just needs one more layer of icing. If I’ll be covering with fondant, I put a thinner layer. It’s more to smooth the top/sides and give the fondant something to ‘stick’ to vs a layer of icing to eat. If I’ll only be using icing, then I put a thicker layer, making sure to cover the cake completely.

For the cake in these examples, it was just for fun and I wasn’t going to be adding decorations, so I gave it a quick layer of thicker icing. I made it even but didn’t spend any time trying to make it smooth.

Whether or not I’ll be adding fondant, or additional decorations, this is the point at which I’ll remove the parchment/wax paper strips. Gently lift them away, making sure not to drop any icing blobs onto the cake or tray. If necessary, use a sharp knife to break the seal of any hardened icing that is connecting the papers to the cakes.

Note #8- Even if the icing on the strips looks clean, I don’t add it back in with any remaining icing to re-use. It’s more likely than not that there are cake crumbs within.

And here’s the baked, iced cake, ready for topping with fondant decorations, candies, candles, or anything else you have in mind.

Hopefully this basic instructional was helpful! If you have any questions that weren’t answered, leave them in the comments and I’ll update it with my answers.

*I know, Henri is 10 already!  Can you believe it? 

**This is only how I do things, after the last 10 years of trial and error.  I’m not saying it’s the only way, nor even that it’s necessarily the right way.  It’s just my way, and if it helps you, it can be your way too 🙂


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Quick Crafty Tip: Using Pants Hangers

I don’t have a ‘Crafty Compilation’ for either of the last two weeks as I’ve spent them working primarily on some sample knitting that I’m not sure if I can talk about yet.  So, instead, here’s a quick tip for those of you who enjoy coloring: pants hangers are your friend.

tip color with clips 02

Yup.  Actual hangers that you use to hang up your pants.  (Or your kids’ pants, in my case).
tip color with clips 05

I’ve been using binder clips with my Art of Coloring: Disney Villains book ever since I got it.  I’ve been using a lot of water media in it and I’ve taken to clipping the book shut whenever I’m not using it to minimize most of the page warping.  Because this book has thick cardboard covers it stays open pretty flat on its own, though I tend to pop the clip onto my working page mostly so I don’t misplace it until I need it again.  With other books I’ve taken to working on a clipboard for both the hard surface as well as the ability to clip the book open to my current page.  For the most part, that worked perfectly.

tip color with clips 04Then one day I was laying on my belly in bed coloring the page above (the Eagle image in Kerby Rosanes’ imagimorphia).  It was held down by my clipboard on the far right of the right page but I kept getting frustrated at the left-side page flipping shut every time I reached over for my coloring supplies (Stabilo 88 and Staedtler Triplus fineliners, as well as Caran D’Ache Neocolor II watercolor crayons for the purple wisps).  I’d been laying on my belly and constantly raising up onto my elbows to brace the page between color changes was starting to hurt more than the coloring itself soothed.

Henri had had a similar problem holding open his Pokemon books so he could sketch from them, and I’d lent him my cookbook stand.  It was a great solution but now that I needed it I didn’t have the heart to steal it back for myself.  That’s when I remembered the image going around Facebook a while ago in a list of kitchen tips: using a pants hanger to hold your recipe up and out of the way, by hanging it from an upper cabinet doorknob.  I had no need to hang my coloring book, but it would be perfect for what I needed too!

tip color with clips 03

And it was!  The two clips hold the pages down on either side, but the stiff bar that connects them keeps them open flat, where the book could otherwise still slip shut.  (The above wip image is also from imagimorphia, and the background wash was done with the Neocolor IIs).  After you’ve finished coloring the page, the hanger can then be used to clip the book shut as it dries to minimize any warping from the wet pages.

If you wanted you could also store your books from the hangers, sideways along a bar similar to needlepoint sets.  (Ooooh now I’m picturing a dry cleaner-style conveyor holding all my coloring and craft books… that would be awesome!!)

tip color with clips 01

And for an easy reminder to pin:

tip color with clips titled

That’s all for now.  Hopefully this tip could be handy for some of you!

This post may contain affiliate links. This means I might make a small commission on purchases made through the links, at no cost to you.


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Creative Coloring Througout the Year Gratitude Journal

I had an idea the other day that I’d love to share with anyone interested in coloring, journaling or scrapbooking.  It’s something I definitely plan to do over the upcoming year, and I’d be so happy if anyone else made it their habit as well.

One of the gifts I received at our family Christmukkah Day (Christmas/Hanukkah/Birthday) gift exchange this past weekend was this Creative Coloring Throughout the Year 2017 desk calendar.  It’s one of those ‘page-a-day’ type, like the knitting calendar I’ve had a pattern published in in the past.

color-page-a-day-journal-01

The top two-thirds of each page contains lineart to color in, below which is the date and a small lined section for making note of appointments, or birthdays, etc.  The images are detailed enough to have fun with but not too large so as to be daunting at the thought of ‘having’ to complete an entire one per day.  They’re sized perfectly for fineliners or sharpened colored pencils, though I found I was able to use the broader nib of gel pens in mine without too much fuss.

Now, when I first opened it I was initially really tickled at the prospect of a small bit of coloring I could look forwards to daily.  I even thought it might be fun to bring to work, to perhaps have a little something to scratch at with my ballpoint pens during lulls in the day.  Then it hit me- I don’t want to throw out something I’ve spent time and effort creating (and don’t let anyone tell you differently- coloring in is still creating).

color-page-a-day-journal-02

But what could I do with the pages?  Of course, being a crafty person, ‘scrapbooking’ was one of the first ideas that came to mind.  However one insanely expensive all-out scrapbook in the past was enough to convince me I am so not interested in scrapbooking, which my wallet is quite thankful for.  So keeping the pages merely for the sake of keeping them was out, especially since I’m trying to pare down this year, not accumulate more clutter. So I wondered: was there anything I could do to make them useful?

And then it hit me…an idea that’s simple enough for children to do and yet so sweet that I hope others will like and benefit from it as well: a gratitude journal.

The plan is simple.

After I color each day’s page I’m going to use the notes area to jot down something I’m thankful for on that day, or a few things that made me happy.   Then I’m going to glue them down into a scrapbook (in my case the 80-page sketch book from my local Dollarama).

I’m so excited about this.  At the end of the year at worst I’ll have a bunch of pretty pictures to look at and at best I’ll have some great memories to treasure.

color-page-a-day-journal-05

As you can see I’ve only got a few images colored so far, so I’m already behind, but my aim for coloring each day’s lineart is way more therapeutic than technical, so I’m not trying to create any mini masterpieces.  As such I’m planning to get through the outstanding days’ pages as quickly as I can so I can start properly and keep it current.

I would really prefer to have two days per page instead of three as shown above.  With four images per sheet (two on the front, two on the back) the 80 pages the scrapbook holds would only give me the ability to store 320 days…not quite enough for one full year.
color-page-a-day-journal-06

I’ve got more of these books, though, so at some point I plan to swipe the missing pages from another sketch book and ease them into this one so I can have the entire year together.
photo-2017-01-17-8-34-02-pm

Above you can see the days I’ve already colored, and here below is a sneak peek at January 4th.  The others were done using fineliners and gel pens, but this one I’m doing with colored pencils and using varying amounts of pressure to get different shades within the image.  For example, the frog was colored with only one pencil, pressing harder in some spots and lighter in others.  Same for the flower, and I’ll be completing the image the same way.

color-page-a-day-journal-08

As you can see it’s not about the media nor the execution, it’s merely about the process.  The act of putting color to paper while letting your mind wander… letting the day roll off your back and allowing yourself to focus only on the wonderful memories that you want to commit to paper.

page-a-day-square-titled-site

I do hope you liked this idea and if anyone plans to start their own coloring calendar journal please let me know in the comments, I’d love to see it!

pinterest-stack-sited-coloring-page-a-day-gratitude-journal

And here’s the full plan in an image for my fellow Pinners.


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Playing with Caran D’Ache Neocolor II watercolor crayons in Kerby Rosanes’ imagimorphia

I’d been researching watercolor pencils a little while ago, and while reading review sites I came across a few mentions of the Caran D’Ache Neocolor II watercolor crayons.  They looked interesting and were lauded for their bright, vibrant colors and creamy texture, so I made a note to look up more reviews.  In the meantime, I remembered that at some point during my creative history I’d owned a set of, what my memory told me, were kid’s-quality twist-up watercolor pencils.  I could picture the set, and knew there was only one place in my home-office they could be, so one morning I went downstairs and took a look.

I found the twist-up colored pencils right away… and was disappointed to see they were just that- colored pencils.  Nothing water-soluble about them.  It was frustrating to have been mistaken but I figured I’d just continue my research… and then I peeked through the rest of the drawer just to see what other drawing supplies I’d collected over the years and had forgotten about.

neocolor 01

What a discovery!  I think I squee’d out loud when I saw the white edge of the tin under an old pencil case of charcoal and blending stumps.  Not only had I forgotten I owned these but clearly I’d barely ever used them when I got them, because they were all still full-sized and touching the sponge strip running the top of the case.

Immediately I brought them upstairs to try out.  I’d been stuck in bed, resting my legs due to a really bad bout of sciatica, so I put together a little portable watercolor kit that I could use in bed without making a huge mess: a tiny tupperware of water, a fine-tipped paintbrush, and a folded handtowel for blotting and cleaning my brush, all contained within another small tupperware that I could close up and store with my craft supplies.neocolor 11

I made pages for them to add to my swatch book.  I didn’t want to use water in that pad itself because the paper is so thin, so I folded a sheet of cardstock in half and tore it into two papers that each fit on my swatch book’s pages.  I scribbled a little bit of each color onto the paper and then activated each with a tiny bit of water.  These colors are so rich and the crayons dissolve so easily that a SUPER tiny amount of water is all that is needed.neocolor 12

After the swatches dried I labeled them with the color names from the Caran D’Ache site and then used a glue stick to affix them into the swatch book.  Now- onto the coloring!

My first test was the inside cover page of Kerby Rosanes’ imagimorphia, which I have been loving lately.  I colored the page pretty quickly, not bothering to fully fill in all areas (like the cut area of the tree, for example) because I knew once wetted, the color would spread.  I did some minimal color mixing and shading on the leaves, deer and dino, all using the crayons as crayons to color.  Sadly they’re old enough that they became fragile, and two colors broke in half as I worked.  They’re still usable, but I was disappointed.  More evidence of their age is the (removable) white bloom on some of the darker colors, as well as how the lightest brown dried out to the point of looking like a Flake chocolate bar inside its wrapper.  😦

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The crayons applied color wonderfully but, as to be expected of crayons, they didn’t have points sharp enough to work into the fine areas of the image.  I was able to use the edges of the points to get into fine spots like the rays’ tails and such, but I didn’t bother trying to color the butterflies, knowing I’d just make a mess.  In some areas, like the pom-pom-looking little dudes, I only colored the center, planning to move the color outwards later, once I activated the paint.neocolor 03

The very first spot I activated were the clouds in this image.  I set a sheet of cardstock behind the page to protect it from any bleed-through or water damage, but it really took such a tiny amount of water that I doubted there would be any actual problems on the reverse-side pages.

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You can see in this enlargement of the lower edge what the clouds looked like before the water was applied, as well as the rough, uneven coloring job I did.  I’d cringe, except it was deliberate.  After seeing how vibrant the colors were and how much they spread, I didn’t want to waste any of the crayon filling in any more densely.

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This is the final result.  I can’t get over the difference, and how smooth and rich the colors turned out!  I did manage to achieve some subtle shading and depth to the colors, and if I’d wanted to color over-top and re-wet I’m sure I could get even more effects.  The largest difference for me is in the tree, the deer and the dino, but I’m charmed by all of it.neocolor 05 back

I was super-pleased (but not surprised) to see that there was NO bleed-through on the other side of the page.  This means I can use these crayons throughout the book without worry, which makes me really happy.neocolor 06

Here’s a side-by-side to really compare the before and after images.  Besides blending out the patchy scribbles, the colors (which were pretty vibrant before) didn’t fade out and some became even brighter.  They blended beautifully and dried really quickly, but not too fast that I couldn’t move around soft watercolor washes.neocolor 07

For the facing page (above) I decided to try using the crayons in a different fashion, as if they were individual little sticks of paint.

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I wetted the brush, blotted most of the water off, and then dabbed it against the tip of the crayon, picking up some color, which I then applied to the image as paint, just as if I’d picked the color up from a palette.  You can see some of the peach on the tip of my brush, as well as on the face and hands of the little girl I’d just painted.

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This is the finished image after painting.  In contrast to the side where I colored first, I think this side has a softer, almost dreamier application.  However it is slower to keep re-dabbing the brush to the crayon, and it makes mixing colors more difficult as the paint dries much faster when using this method.  I greatly recommend it for areas where you need more control or a finer application than you’d get with the stubby crayon.

This method also made me realize that my broken crayons were not a loss, nor was my flakey, dried-out tan.  I can put a small piece of the color in one of my palette wells and activate it to use as paint, meaning that no part of these (expensive!) crayons will ever be wasted.  🙂

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Here’s the back, showing again that there was no bleed-through or ghosting.

I’m really glad I found these crayons in my stash, and I can’t wait to play around with them more in this and other books.  The colors are incredible and they activate so easily and beautifully, I really recommend them.  Mine have broken and dried out, but they are also over 15 years old (!!!) and still work as well as if they were brand new.  I would wholeheartedly recommend these.

 
This post may contain affiliate links. This means I might make a small commission on purchases made through the links, at no cost to you.


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Last-Minute DIY Pikachu Costume

All month Henri has been telling me he planned to wear his Creeper costume for Halloween this year.  He’s brought it up many times and even pulled the head out of the dress-up bin in our den to try it on and be sure it still fit.  And then this past Friday his class went to circus school for the day and he came home like this:

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and then told me he wanted to be Pikachu for Halloween.

This guy:

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Um.  Okay.  We had nothing at home I could use to make a physical costume, but I knew we’d be going to Walmart the next day so I told him if we found a set of face paint, I’d buy it and would paint his face like Pikachu.

Saturday we were at Walmart and found some inexpensive face paint, but then he started complaining that he didn’t have Pikachu’s ears.  I thought about it a little and told him we’d be going to the dollar store next; if he found a headband that fit him I’d buy some yellow felt and make him some ears.  He found a girl’s one with a plastic bow attached, but it was yellow and fit him, and they had a pack of felt with yellow in it so we brought it home and I set it aside.

Yesterday I was at my parents’ house for dinner and Henri made a comment about being excited to wear his Pikachu costume to school the next day and I realized – oh crap, Halloween is tomorrow!

Ahem.  Forgive me, my brain has been a little foggy lately.

We got the kids home and to bed and then I sat down and made Henri’s costume.  It was quick, and it was easy, and it used either dollar store supplies or things you may already have on hand, so if you’re stuck for a last-minute costume, here’s how you can whip  this up in plenty of time to go trick or treating tonight.  Grab a friend who’s dressed like a Pokemon Trainer and you can be your very own live Pokemon Go team.  🙂

Here’s what you’ll need:

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The first thing I did was carefully cut off the plastic flower on the head band, then I put it on Henri’s head and marked off where the ears should sit.  As it happens we have a large Pikachu doll that was the right size to trace for the ear shape, but you can just freehand it.

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After the ear shape was drawn, I drew a second line about a quarter inch outside it, for a seam allowance.  Then I cut out the shape through all 4 layers of yellow felt.

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The next step is to sew the ears together.  I used yellow thread and a simple running stitch since the ears wouldn’t really be under any tension.  I left the open end edges unsewn for about a quarter inch so I had enough fabric open to gather over the heandband.  If you don’t want to sew, you could also glue the sides shut, but if you do make sure to put the ear side that you drew on on the inside to hide the pen markings.

Next I colored the ear tips with a black sharpie.  The mess you see on the right is the transfer of ink from one side when I flipped it over to color the other side.  I’m showing you this so you can be prepared and cover your work surface.

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Once the tips were colored I stuffed each ear with some loose batting then sewed them over the sides of the headband where I’d previously marked.  I used a blanket stitch to close the open edge but you can use any stitch you like, or glue them shut as well.

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Here are the finished ears.  They look silly off but are kind of cute on.

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(Yes I had to try them).

While I was working on the ears I kept glancing over at the tail on our stuffed Pikachu and realized it wouldn’t take that much more effort to make one too, and surprise Henri.

To start I took some cardboard from our recycling bin and sandwiched it between two sheets of white cardstock with a regular glue stick.  To make sure it dried well I placed it flat on the table and set some heavy books on it.  Once the ears were done the cardboard had fully dried and I was able to trace Pikachu’s tail onto it.

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Then I cut out the tail.  I brainstormed a few different ways to attach it to Henri.  I don’t like the idea of sending a 7yo to school with a safety pin on his butt, so I came up with a belt method.  To make it work I carefully pried back about an inch of the tail section and folded the cardstock on each side outwards.

I used my Spectrum Noir markers to color the yellow of the tail and then colored the lower edge with a black Sharpie, completely overlooking the fact that it’s supposed to be brown, because I was working in dim lighting.  D’oh.  You can use any permanent markers, and do the proper colors.  🙂

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To make the belt section, I first cut two holes into each side flap.  I then threaded three strands of yellow yarn through each side, made a knot to secure them near the top, and then braided them into belts which I could then slide through the belt loops on his jeans and tie at the front.  I made them longer than needed because I didn’t have his waist with me to try them on, and had planned to cut the excess this morning but we ended up just tucking the ends into his jeans.

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And there you have it!  Add in some yellow face paint, bright red cheek circles and a black triangular nose and poof-

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You’ve got one happy Pikachu.

Have a happy and safe Halloween!

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Looking for more Halloween costume ideas?  Check out here.

This post may contain affiliate links. This means I might make a small commission on purchases made through the links, at no cost to you.


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DIY Pirate Accessories From Dollar Store Items

When my boys were little, they wanted to be pirates.  Henri especially – it was either a Viking or a pirate, depending on the day.  Inspired by Jake & the Neverland Pirates they drew treasure maps with large scrawled Xs and hid their toys and told me it was their secret booty.

I wanted to give them some real toys to play with, but all the pirate-themed sets I could find weren’t safe for my rambunctious 3-year-old.  I needed something childproof, and ideally inexpensive.  Finally, after catching him trying to use his sippy cup as a spyglass just like the Backyardigans had on one of their pirate-themed adventures, I had an idea.  One trip to the dollar store and some recycling-bin scrounging later, these fast, easy, and inexpensive toys were born.

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You’ll need:

I used items found locally, but the links above would work just as well 🙂

First up – the binoculars.  (Btw…yes I know pirates didn’t use binoculars.  But I couldn’t be certain my kids would use the spyglass as such, and not a makeshift sword, so I wanted to give them another sight-related option.  Feel free to leave this one out, or use it for a different play idea.  Perhaps an adventurer, bird-watcher or a fun game of I-spy?) For the binoculars you will need 2 clean toilet paper rolls, one cube from a dollar store packet of wooden craft shapes (about the size of a sugar cube), and a roll of electrical tape.  At my dollar store this tape comes in a set of 4 colors all packaged together.  You can use Washi or other decorative tapes on the outside, but I would not use them for the support structure.  If you want to use them, apply them at the end, for decoration.

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Step one is to cover the tubes in tape.  I had done these first, and only later realized I should have covered the exposed edges FIRST, THEN wrapped the sides.  When I get to the spyglass you’ll see I fixed that.  If you want to be smarter than me, fold little pieces of tape over the exposed edges first.  Be careful to not place the inside edge deeper than the width of the tape itself so you can cover it later.  I have enough tubes for 3 sets shown because my neighbor’s young son was also really into pirates and I wanted to surprise him with a set of his own.

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Step two is to cover 4 of the sides of the cube in tape.  Place the tape on one edge of the cube and just keep wrapping around the other 3 sides until you reach the beginning again. You’ll be left with 2 exposed edges that are opposite of each other.  Don’t worry about covering them, as they will be against the tube rolls and won’t show.

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Step three is to connect the rolls to the cube.  Place it a bit in from one edge so it looks like the bridge on a pair of binoculars.  Be sure to place the raw, exposed edge against the tape so the covered sides are what is shown.  Secure well with more tape.

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This is what it looks like when you have three rolls done.  I’d run out of tape, and had to go buy more to get more blue… d’oh.

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This is when I covered the edges and realized I should have done it first.  Oh well.  If you’re like me, and goofed, place short strips around the exposed edges.  This is for aesthetics as well as durability – no open edges means it’s less likely the toy will tear or fray after some hard toddler use.  Be sure to not place the inside edge deeper than the width of the tape itself (see: left roll).  Once you’ve covered the edge completely, cut a length of tape to fit on the INSIDE of the roll, and place it around, as close to the edge as possible, to cover and secure all the short edges (see: right roll).

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Then you can use another length to go around the outside, covering those short pieces too.  (This step is unnecessary if you covered the edges first).

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Here’s a completed pair of binoculars.  The new blue tape I’d bought was darker than the original, so it gave a nice finished look, almost like adjustable lenses.  Even though they’re ‘only’ toilet paper rolls, the rubbery tape gives them a surprising amount of durability.  Don’t get them wet, however, as the inside paper is still exposed.

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Next I made the spyglasses out of paper towel rolls (though you can cut down wrapping paper tubes too).  As you can see, for these I was smart enough to cover the ends FIRST, THEN wrapped the tubes.  It’s easier to see on the white than the blue, but when you wrap, ease the tape slightly sideways so you can move along the tube/roll.  Because the tapes are rubbery, they’ll stretch to where you want them to go, instead of tearing.

Finish covering the tubes by wrapping a piece of tape around the inside of the open edges to cover the short pieces.  Because you did them first here, you won’t have to add more tape on the outside.

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(This picture makes me laugh because it’s such a typical scene in my house – the dining room table covered with mom’s crafty projects, the kids’ placemats and a bag from the latest dollar store run for supplies.  *chuckles*  Plus seeing the boys’ bibs reminds me just how long ago I’d made these.  Those are their “I ❤ Dic Ann’s” bibs.  *grins*)

Once the spyglasses have been covered with tape, use glitter glue (from the dollar store) to paint on whatever decorative touches you’d like.  I went with gold grip handles on mine.  Set them aside to dry overnight, using drinking glasses or other supports to avoid messing up the wet glue.

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For the treasure chests you’ll need some kind of chest-like container.  I was lucky that my dollar store had these little wooden chests, but you can use any container or box you have on-hand, even an old Tupperware.  I bought strips of glitter gem tape to decorate mine, but you can use sticker letters, nail gems, paint, or anything you like.  (Oooh they would look INCREDIBLE painted to look like real, aged chests!)

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Finally, you’ll need some pirate booty.  I got these acrylic diamonds from my dollar store, as well as the strands of ‘Mardi Gras’ beads.  I would have loved to include gold coins, but couldn’t find any on that visit.  This set I found on Amazon has both gems and gold coins together, and would have been a great addition.

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Decorate the chests.  My kids picked their favorite colors of these jewel strips and I cut them to fit along the top edges, but you can do whatever you like to the outside of the chests.

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To secure the booty inside, we’ll be using a high-tack craft glue.  If you have older kids you can omit this step and leave the treasures removable, but since two of my recipients were 3 years old and some of the jeweled edges were sharp or choking hazards, I elected to make my treasures permanent.  Plus this would ensure there was always booty ready to be discovered.  Place a thick layer of glue in the bottom of the case, a little more than you think you’ll need because the wood absorbs some.  Begin placing your chains and jewels down into the glue so that they look like they were piled in haphazardly.  Use more glue as needed to secure any loose bits.  Feel around to make sure any sharp edges are embedded in the glue vs sticking out.  Every now and then hold up or shake the box to see if any bits move or shift, and keep adding glue into every nook and cranny.  I went crazy on the glue because I know my toddler will find any loose edge to play with.  Don’t worry about the white glue showing as it will dry clear.  Finally, once you think your treasures are secure, set it aside to dry at least overnight.  I dried mine overnight then held it upside down and shook it around, then added more glue to any of the bits that moved.  One of the chests was going to be a gift for a toddler and I didn’t want to worry about any accidents on account of it.

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Here’s how my collection turned out.  They made fun play accessories for around the house and costume day at school, and were surprisingly long-lasting.  The boys didn’t manage to get the gems and beads out of the boxes for at least a year and a half, and the chests, the spyglasses and even the binoculars are all still intact in our dress-up bin all these years later.

If you make any of these I hope they give your toddler/child just as much fun as my kids had with them.  🙂

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This post may contain affiliate links. This means I might make a small commission on purchases made through the links, at no cost to you.


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How to make a Minecraft Enderman head (with bonus diamond block trick-or-treat basket)

Update: This tutorial is now also available as a downloadable PDF here. More details at bottom of this post.

Some of you may, like me, be suddenly realizing there are only ten days left until Halloween.  No stress – there’s still plenty of time to make a Minecraft Enderman costume, complete with a matching diamond block trick-or-treat basket!

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For Halloween last year Jakob wanted to be a Minecraft Enderman.  For reference, these are the tall, spindly black figures who appear out of nowhere to steal your blocks.  They’re neutral mobs who can teleport and will only attack when provoked by looking them in the eyes (which, to be honest, is kind of hard to avoid, seeing as how they’re the most vivid part of the things!).

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In the game Enderman can’t actually pick up diamond blocks, but that’s what Jakob wanted anyways.  To be an Enderman carrying a diamond block.

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I was fresh off my “Skylanders Sprocket wrench pulling double-duty as secret purse” achievement so I thought if he’s gonna be schlepping a box around anyways… why not make it useful and turn it into his trick-or-treat basket?  So that’s what I did.  🙂

The first thing to do was assemble all materials.  In total the two parts of the costume required the following:

  • 2 boxes (one large enough to fit over the wearer’s head, & a second box to be the treat basket)
  • craft paint in the appropriate colors
  • masking tape
  • ribbon
  • double-sided tape
  • scissors
  • craft knife
  • paint brushes
  • something to use as a palette (I used a styrofoam plate)
  • gauzy black fabric (optional, and I cut mine from a dollar store scarf)
  • spray sealant (optional)
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Everything but the boxes and scissors came from my local dollar store, making this not only an easy costume to make, but a really inexpensive one too.

ENDERMAN HEAD

Top row:

  1. Assemble all materials
  2. Cut off the flaps on the side of the box you want for the opening.  Tape down all other flaps securely, cover all seams and use tape to cover the cut edges at the bottom.
  3. Measure out your grid on all 5 remaining sides of the box.

Middle row:

  1. Cut out the eye holes.
  2. Cover the cut edges of the eye holes with masking tape, then paint the Enderman’s eyes with two different shades of purple.
  3. Paint the rest of the Enderman’s head.  I followed a actual chart pattern using shades of charcoal and black but you can just as easily paint the whole rest of the head solid black.

Bottom row:

  1. Optional: tape a piece of sheer black fabric over the eye holes so they don’t show from the outside but can still be seen through on the inside
  2. Enjoy your new Enderman head!
  3. Wear with black sweatpants, a black sweatshirt, and black stretchy gloves.  Add a diamond block trick-or-treat basket for a complete Halloween costume!
  4. (optional- seal the paint with spray sealant, more on that below)
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DIAMOND BLOCK TRICK-OR-TREAT BASKET

Top row:

  1. Assemble all materials
  2. Cut off the flaps on the side of the box you want for the opening.  Tape down all other flaps securely, cover all seams on the outside and cover the cut edges at the bottom.
  3. Mix aqua and white together to get a few different light aqua shades.

Middle row:

  1. Following an in-game image of a diamond block, paint one side in shades of aqua, making one lower corner darker for shading.  Repeat on the other 4 sides.
  2. Add a border to all 5 sides using the aqua paint at its full strength.
  3. Paint the inside of the box black.

If you prefer a more accurate version, I have compiled this tutorial into a downloadable PDF (linked at the bottom of the post) which includes full-color screen-accurate charts for both the Enderman and the 16×16 grid of the diamond block, including the hex codes for each color so you can color-match accurately.

Bottom row:

  1. Make 2 holes in 2 opposing sides.  Knot ribbon through the holes to act as handles.
  2. Enjoy your diamond block trick-or-treat basket!
  3. Add to the Enderman head for a complete Halloween costume.
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One optional step that I did but is not obligatory at all is to spray the painted sides with a sealant.  I didn’t know what the weather would be like on Halloween and didn’t want to worry about rain causing the paint to run.

*Update in 2020: the heads are still going strong! The boys outgrew them of course, but we keep them as nerdy shelf displays and they look exactly the same as they did back when I made them.

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And that’s it!  The longest part in making these costume pieces is waiting for the paint to dry.  🙂

(PS: Looking for the big guy’s little buddies?  Check out my tutorial for Minecraft Steve and Creeper heads here!)

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I hope this post shows you how easy and fast it can be to make your own Minecraft Steve and Creeper heads!

You can adapt the tutorial to make any Minecraft mob, and I’ve got an assortment compiled for you here.

As mentioned above, if you’d like an easy-to-print-and-save PDF version of this tutorial, I have made it available on Etsy here. The 12-page PDF includes full instructions with additional details, clear photographs, as well as game-accurate full-color numbered charts for all 5 sides of both the Enderman’s head and the diamond block, along with their hex codes for perfect color matching.

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More Minecraft-themed fun:

How to make a Minecraft Steve and Creeper Heads

How to make Minecraft Lootbags

How to make Minecraft Mob fondant cake/cupcake toppers

How to make a Minecraft cake

Throwing a Minecraft birthday party

Minecraft Zombie Charts

Minecraft Jack-O’-Lantern Charts

This post may contain affiliate links. This means I might make a small commission on purchases made through the links, at no cost to you.


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Halloween help

My phone has been pinging quite a bit lately, notifying me that people have been saving my pins.  While I think that’s awesome, and am flattered, I was also confused because I couldn’t think of what I’d posted that would be so popular at the moment.  And then I remembered – it’s almost Halloween!  Sure enough, it was my Minecraft-related pins getting all the love, the Creeper/Steve head tutorial especially.

So for anyone who found my blog via those pins, or anyone else who’s interested, here are some quick links to my (few) Halloween/costume-related tutorials.  I do have more coming up this month, so be sure to come back and see.

For those with some boxes and paint lying around: here’s how to make Minecraft Steve & Creeper heads.

For those who need an easy addition to their Gryffindor robes, here’s a quick free scarf pattern.

For those with a young’un eager to train a dragon, here’s how to make a viking vest.

And finally, for those with a lot of knitting time on their hands, here’s how to make a child’s first superhero costume, as well as a look at how I used that same pattern to turn Jakob into Superman for his first Halloween.

I hope you enjoy the links!  For my fellow Minecraft-loving folks, I’ve got a matching Enderman tutorial coming up, complete with his very own diamond block.  Stay tuned!