Monthly Archives: June 2014

Keeping Our Fandoms in Check

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fanzines“Mom, you’re such a liar,” my oldest daughter retorted back to me with a knowing smirk when I told her I’m not a “fan” of anyone.

This may seem like an impossible statement coming from someone who has not only written articles about, but also designed craft tutorials based on favorite television shows, comics, movies, and even individual actors. Heck, I’ve even referred to myself as a “fangirl” in some cases.

My daughter proudly pointed out the movie or show franchises I love, the fan art I collect and create, my Pinterest pages focusing on characters I enjoy, and even actors who I, embarrassingly enough, find physically pleasing to the eye.

These are merely hobbies that I hope help feed the creative process.

Yes, it is fun to love the art, characters, setting, universes, and overall “aura” of a fandom. It also helps make complete strangers connect with one another over something as seemingly simple as a logo on a t-shirt or a particular band resonating from an iPod. People may come from different cultures, backgrounds, or geographic regions, but when they call themselves “Whovians,” “Trekkies,” “Fanboys,” “Browncoats,” or “Ringers,” they suddenly relate to others from all over the world on at least one level. That’s a pretty cool notion, when we think about it.

Make no mistake, though, I am no one person’s fan.

I’m not saying I dislike everyone who has made his or her career in front of a camera or from behind a microphone, but I’ve learned that investing too much of one’s affections toward an individual—no matter how talented or appealing they may seem—is almost always a way to become disillusioned and disappointed. I used to get sad seeing girls and boys waving their hands around like wings and screaming with tear-soaked faces upon seeing a person who makes their living pretending to be someone else. How undignified.

I try to extend this attitude beyond the entertainment industry, as there are those in the field of literature, science, and art, as well as world leaders, whose achievements I greatly admire. I try to separate their works from their personal lives and views; something I’ll admit isn’t always easy, and so I created a list of self-imposed rules.

DO read articles about an upcoming movie, concert tour, or book coming out from a favorite person. This is what they do for a living and these are products they are offering to the public. Movies, books, and records are fun to get lost in. By all means, escape to those worlds every now and then.

DON’T read any article that includes the phrases “gets engaged/divorced,” “vacations with family at, ”or even “comes out about” in it. This is none of our business, even if it seems that person invites this attention. We have friends and family going though similar things everyday, who deserve our attention more.

DO remember that celebrities are strangers. We don’t know them, despite how many times we may see photos, gifs, posters, paintings, action figures, or videos of their likeness.

DON’T think being that person’s “biggest fan” will remedy this. Celebrities live in a world where “everyone” is their biggest fan, and making this statement to them will not suddenly make you their new BFF. Don’t expect it for any reason.

05_02_010064_fullDO tune in for performances or interviews on talk shows. These are usually centered around an upcoming project that is really the main focus of the talk, anyway.

DON’T watch voyeuristic reality shows about “famous” people’s everyday lives. What they do on stage or screen belongs to the public. We really shouldn’t care about what they do at the dinner table, in the bathroom, or in the bedroom.

DO use photos of celebrities for fashion or style ideas. I’ve gotten ideas for jewelry, scarves, or hairstyles after seeing photos of actresses, musicians, or even historical figures. Of course, I’m just as likely be inspired by someone with a cool pair of Converse at the supermarket.

DON’T let any celebrity give you advice on what your body or face should look like. Sometimes, the biggest self-esteem issues a person can have is when they compare how they look to how a movie star, who spends hours in a make-up chair, has someone pick out their outfits for them, or gets paid to spend hours in the gym. These people’s images are carefully packaged and they don’t always look the way they do at pre-planned photo ops.

DO applaud or feel happy for a celebrity when they win an award in their own field, especially if it is for their portrayal of a favorite character.

DON’T feel your own achievements in life are any less important, just because they aren’t awarded with a gold-plated trophy in a fancy theater. I do respect actors’ achievements. The fine arts are important, but no more so than being fed, healed, educated, or clothed. Everyone in this world is important, from the celebrity behind the podium, to the one who designed it, to the one who cleans the stage at the end of the evening.

DO give a listen to a band a favorite celebrity might like or pick up a book they are reading. This is just another way to expand your own interests, but please don’t pretend to like something that doesn’t appeal to you just because you-know-who does.

DON’T let a celebrity invalidate your one belief or opinion, just because their’s is different. This might be on how they feel about big things like social issues or religion, or little things like football teams or favorite shows. Your beliefs are your own, not their’s. You wouldn’t (I hope) belittle someone else’s opinion if it were different from your own, so don’t let someone make you feel bad about who you are, if you feel in your heart of hearts you are right.

DO learn about a new charity a celebrity might suggest. As a matter of fact, there is never a good reason to not look into new ways of helping others, even it if turns out that charitable cause might not be your cup of tea.

DON’T let them tell you how to vote. Every election year, people of celebrity status gather around their favorite candidates to try to drum up votes. I’ve always found this distasteful, even if they are supporting the same candidate as me. My vote is my own, thank you.

DON’T be so blinded by a person’s attractive features or cute personality that you ignore their ongoing behavior issues or bad habits. There’s a popular song out today with the line “we are how we treat each other, nothing more.” If someone’s behavior is repeatedly offensive to you, they might not be worth your time.

DO forgive these people for their flaws. These people are human. They will stumble. They will screw up. They will not always be at their best. I heard a saying once not to let one bad thing a person does make us forget all the good things they have done. This holds true with everyone, from close friends to coworkers to even the celebrities I’ve spent the last thousand words cutting down to size.

Whether or not my daughters heed all or any of this advice is up to them. However, I’m certainly not going to begrudge them those excited moments during a photo op or autograph session upon meeting a favorite actor, author, or musician.

I do hope, however, they see these experiences as no more than just a few of many souvenirs of a fun and active life, and not compare them to the true shining moments of each one’s future, such as educational achievements, career, first loves, discovering one’s true purpose and talents, traveling to new places near and far, and even becoming a fun, strong, and geeky mom someday.

I also hope that if either daughter ever meets her celebrity “idol” someday, whether it’s one she has now or in the future, that person realizes that meeting my incredible daughter is an even bigger honor and privilege for them than it is for her.

Summer Artist-inspired Projects: Josef Albers

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A representation of The Incredible Hulk inspired by Albers’s “Homage to the Square” series. Albers used simple squares because they didn’t distract from the color schemes.

Part of my summer-long “Be The Artist” series for GeekMom.com where kids, teens, and fun-loving adults can learn about influential and popular artists by lending their own geeky edge to their styles.

The Artist: Josef Albers

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Albers worked on his “Homage to the Square” series from 1949 until his death in 1976.

Josef Albers was born in Germany in 1888 and was an active artist and teacher at the celebrated German art school Bauhaus in the 1920s.

Although he was accomplished in many visual art forms, including photography, typography, and printmaking—not to mention being a talented poet—he is best known as an abstract painter and theorist.

It was after he moved to the United States that he began working on his famous Homage to the Square series in 1949. This series meant so much to him that he continued it until his death in 1976 in New Haven, Connecticut. These works, consisting of three or four layers of nested squares, may look at first like just a series of square patterns, but they were really all about color.

Albers was very serious about “chromatic interactions,” or how colors look when seen next to each other as well as how they appear one at a time.

According to Albers’s own writings on the topic, the way people experience color is “varied based on our individual personalities and on factors such as hue, dimension, and placement.”

For example, orange might make some people angry or anxious, and others energetic and excited. Place it next to yellow, and someone might see fire, while others see feathers, or flowers. Everyone, he realized, sees colors in their own way.

 The Project: Homage to the Superhero

For this project inspired by the series, we’ll take a look at the personality of favorite superheroes through color.

First, pick a medium to paint/draw with and on. Albers did much of these paintings on masonite in oils, but any medium will do (acrylic on canvas, watercolor on paper) as long as the attention to color relationship is the focus. If using a rectangle piece of paper, fold or cut it into a square shape, if possible.

Find an image for the shape that might represent that hero. Logos work well, but keep them as simple as possible. Albers used the square because it was a neutral shape that would not distract viewers from focusing on the colors. Keep that in mind when picking a shape.

Use a template for reference, if needed, or draw it freehand, off-centered on the paper. Draw two or three larger outlines around the shape, so they look like concentric, or “nesting,” images.

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Albers inpired Batman and Superman, using simple shapes and colors.

Find three or four colors to represent the hero. Starting with the center image fill in each outline in an order so it conveys the hero’s personality or mission. Superman or Wonder Woman might have the brightest or lightest color on the outer edge, to represent hope or strength. Batman, on the other hand, might be a bright light surrounded by darkness.

Younger artists can try making different color patterns when doodling with crayon or marker and see how certain colors can create a mood, convey a personality, or even tell a story. Even the same four colors arranged in different patterns can change the mood.

For an extra challenge, use only squares, as Albers did, and represent the superhero entirely with colors. Many heroes may utilize the same colors (red, blue, and yellow is popular with many heroes), but the different arrangements are what make them unique. Anyone can draw squares, but squares using the right color patterns will make all the difference if distinguishing Supergirl from Wonder Woman.

Even then, Albers said everyone will interpret the pattern in very personal ways.

“If one says ‘Red,’—the name of color—and there are fifty people listening, it can be expected that there will be fifty reds in their minds,” Albers said. “And one can be sure that all these reds will be very different.”

Embracing my Epic Cake Fails! Case Study: TARDIS Cake

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Why, oh why can’t I give up the notion I can decorate cakes?

I work well in all artistic mediums, except the ones that are perishable, sticky, and tasty.

I learned this sad fact nearly 10 years ago, when my daughter and I ran across Ace of Cakes on one of those rare summers when we actually had cable. My oldest daughter was 4 at the time, and she was enthralled. Every Death Star replica or over-the-top wedding cake was a wonder to behold. Next year, when her fifth birthday approached, she remembered a Mad Hatter-style cake that had rolled out of Duff Goldman’s kitchen and looked at me with hopeful eyes.

“Can you make me an Alice cake, Mom? I want a mad tea party,” she pleaded.

“Mom’s creative,” my husband replied. “She can do that easy.”

I must have looked at him as if he was trying to stuff a kitten in a blender, because he recoiled quickly, and kept quiet for the rest of the day.

The request got me thinking that maybe I could master this skill, and so began my misadventures with custom family cake-making.

Cupcakes have never been a problem for me. Throw on some icing, random thematic garnishes and trinkets, and send ‘em off to school or the party. There was even one Ratatouille-themed birthday, when I completely abandoned a regular cake. Instead, I let party guests design their own cupcakes to display on a tiered “cake” made of hat boxes. This looked great until we lit the candles on the birthday girl’s cupcake, setting a little paper “Remy rat” on fire, to a gleeful (and frankly disturbing) chorus of 6- and 7-year-olds chanting, “Burn the rat! Burn the rat!”

Perfecting the actual full-sized party cake continues to elude me. Actually, that is an understatement. It mocks me.

There have been some mild successes, some near misses, and some not-even-close attempts. There have been toppling Rapunzel towers and a sugary Smaug’s lair. There was a castle so unstable that I wouldn’t let my worst enemy live there, and a big, colorful, candle-lit mess that may or may not have been a Kaiju claw descending from the Pacific Rim.

One Guitar Hero cake we made for my husband’s 43rd birthday would have been nearly perfect, except I ended up making an elaborate graffiti-style message wishing him “Happy 4-E.” Great for a new classroom or office, not for a birthday.

This year, however, was extra special, because it was not only my oldest daughter’s 12th birthday, but Doctor Who has been her first real adolescent fandom—complete with her first celebrity crush (David Tennant). She wanted a TARDIS cake and I intended to make her one that she would love.

I even set the scene, with a full-sized Tenth Doctor cardboard standee wishing her birthday greetings when she woke up that morning. I wanted this TARDIS cake to be perfect. I had fooled myself by thinking, “How hard can a rectangle box be?” At that point, a little Chef Duff crawled into my head and commenced to trash-talk my efforts.

You’re in for a rude awakening, amateur. I take my skills on tour…like a rock star.

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Cupcakes…not problem. Hand me the sprinkles.

I had looked up several TARDIS cake ideas online, each more elaborate than the next, and started to lose confidence. There was even one birthday cake given to Eleventh Doctor portrayer Matt Smith that was so elaborate, he could have shrunken down and walked into it, if he was so inclined.

I started the project after the girls had left for school. I had it all figured out in my head. I baked a few orange-colored mini cupcakes to place in the main cake batter, so it would resemble the TARDIS walls. I was pretty proud of myself, until I put the main yellow sheet cake in to bake, and began assembling my Ninth Doctor standee for party decorations. My daughter doesn’t care about him, but standees are cheaper when two or more are purchased—at least that’s what I kept telling myself. Anyway, he must have been a little too distracting, because the inner Duff gave me a snarky little wake-up call when the cake was more than half done.

You forgot to put your orange spots in the batter, moron…I’ve made a cake for Steve Carell.

I tried to remedy this, but the cake came out of the oven with the orange dots only half-adhered to the batter. I had to make due with the lumpy results. While it cooled, I used some pre-made “sugar decorating sheets” to cut out the TARDIS walls. These can look smooth, but tend to taste like construction paper.

I cut out the first two sides on one sheet with little problem. However, when I opened the other package, I realized it was a different color blue, thanks to having to get two different brands to have enough sheets. I had also forgotten to purchase a food pen and had to draw the details on in felt-tip marker. Luckily, I was planning to peel the “sugar shell” off before eating it.

I used cardstock images to create the details I would attach after the walls were on the cake. I then used actual blue construction paper to make the roof, and placed a little portable LED light string through the top. I used some clear tape for a makeshift light bulb.

Copping out with printed images? Really? Okay, but I have a line of merchandise and cake products…some of which you’ve bought in the past, sucker!

I set the walls aside and cut the sheet cake into four squares, which I stacked in order to make a TARDIS shape. I held up The Doctor action figure I planned to put next to it, and he was dwarfed by the cake. It looked like The Doctor had regenerated into a toddler.

I used a sharp knife to slice the cake’s sides and top down to size, and placed the remnants in a plastic bag for later cake cravings. Then, I mixed some plain icing with a drop of blue food coloring and iced the sides. It was a blue, sticky square that resembled a TARDIS as much as a moose resembles a couch. Maybe, when I get the sides up and roof on it, it will work.

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My TARDIS cake attempt…and I’m fully aware the “roof is all wrong.’  (Thank you well-meaning Whovians).

That’s going to fall apart. Put a stake in it, you idiot. I’ve used stakes in the cakes I’ve made for movie premieres…you know…in Hollywood?

I pulled chopsticks out of my purse from last night’s Chinese food “date night,” cleavered them down so they wouldn’t poke out of the top of the cake, and got a sliver in one finger trying to edge it in one of the corners. I had never gotten a splinter baking a cake before, and hoped it wasn’t a bad omen.

Try to be a little neater. I try to be neat, even for a rebel. I used to be a graffiti artist. Yeah, that’s right.

 I lightly attached the sugar sides to the cake and gave them corner edges with extra decorative sugar. I placed the paper roof on and clicked on the little light.

Once I got the cake assembled, I assayed my progress. At best, it resembled a paper model made by a grade schooler as part of a class project. All I could think of was this TARDIS materializing in London, making not the traditional “Whoosh…whoosh…whoosh!”  sound, but rather “Derp! Derp! Derp!”

Finally, while trying to figure out how to stand The Doctor up, who was getting a little too “wibbly wobbly” for the cake base, I became so frustratingly overwhelmed, I tossed the little Time Lord aside and stormed out to the kitchen.

Way to give up…did I mention I have a whisk tattoo? Tats are cool.

“And you can shut your big celebrity chef mouth,” I thought to the little annoying Duff in my head. I retreated to bed and looked through scrapbooks of past birthdays, for either inspiration or self-torture. I really wasn’t sure which.

As I went back through my photos of what I considered “epic cake failures,” I got a little depressed looking at the poor excuses for culinary art I had concocted for my kids, husband, parents, and even in-laws—and wondered why I even bother anymore. They were lopsided, bumpy, occasionally sunken, and just plain weird. What was I even thinking?

Is this TARDIS even worth the effort or should I just take a store-bought cake and stick a plastic toy time machine on it? I was ready to just write this one off, when I noticed something in nearly every photo that turned my tears of defeat into misty-eyed joyful memories.

My girls.

In each picture, one of both of them is admiring the cake, their cake, with wide-eyed surprise, or posing proudly by the item created just for them. It didn’t matter if the cake didn’t live up to the high standards set by professionals and celebrities. It was their cake, something Mom made them, because she loves them.

I soldiered on like a true Time Lord and supplemented the “epic mess” with some cake crumb Gallifreyan landscape from leftover parts. I added frosting faces to some mini marshmallow adipose creatures around it (the Whovian “cute creature” equivalent to Tribbles or Ewoks), placed it in a setting of themed wrapping paper, decorations, and the two life-sized Time Lords.

I placed a heavy mug behind the slightly slumping TARDIS to prevent it from keeling over while I was out, shut a table-jumping cat in the bedroom, and went to pick up my girls from school.

“Oh, my gosh! I love it, Mom,” my daughter said as she ran towards her birthday corner. “And it lights up!”

Sure, little sister immediately speared the side with her finger. Sure, the adipose were eaten before the candles were even lit. And The Doctor figure, which was ordered on eBay no less, burst into flames during the customary “Happy Birthday” song, giving me rat-burning flashbacks. None of that meant a thing. The Doctor escaped with minimal cuff damage, and the cake was cut into and consumed in 12.5 seconds after the end of the singing.

The cake was beautiful and perfect, because my daughter loved it. No one or nothing else should even matter. Besides, it was a cake, to be eaten.

As I hugged my new 12-year-old, I could hear Chef Duff again. Only this time, my perceived arrogance in his tone was replaced with encouragement.

Hey, that’s a pretty cool cake. Just keep doin’ what you’re doing.

“You’re right,” I thought. “It is a nice cake. Thank you.”

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Lest I forget…the REAL reason I do it…and it isn’t about the cake!