Order + Disorder: A Love Story

Painting PatternsEarlier this year, I embarked on a kitchen refresh that’s become lengthier than projected (read: it’s just now wrapping up).  A cabinetry and appliance swap-out morphed into months of living in limbo amidst plaster dust, taped floors and washing dishes in my bathroom sink.

And I’ve struggled with it.

The has question nagged:  how can I keep a sense of order while living in disorder?  I like structure and I crave organization.  (Just ask my mother; apparently as a kid, I couldn’t start my homework until my room was spotless).

The experience has been an exercise in flexibility to say the least, letting things go and being at peace in the moment.  That being said:  sitting around waiting isn’t my style.
Closet BlankEnter new project: my 2nd bedroom closet.  What once housed Christmas decor, class projects and suitcases is being transformed into a desk nook ready for writing and designing.

So far the essentials are in place:  my contractor blew out the interior, my millworker PHAW fabricated an oak desk to provide lots of workspace, and I’ve installed sconces from Schoolhouse Electric for a classic look. But the white walls begged for some visual interest, so I committed to doing an accent wall, something I’ve thought about for years.

To plan, I pulled inspiration from everywhere: wallpapers, tile patterns, furniture.  I wanted a bold geometric look, which can done in a small space with little risk.  Inspo 3But I wanted it to be all mine, original.  So I sketched some patterns and opted for a triangular geometric repeat, which I eventually transferred onto the wall (about a gazillion times?) via a stencil I made from scratch (scroll for more details).

Once the wall was fully covered with my pattern, I got down to the business of painting, filling in each geometric shape with varying mixtures of greens and blues and teals, diluting the acrylics with enough water to mimic the look of watercolor.

At this point, my sanity was surely in question.  But the whole thing was a blast.  As I progressed, I got lost in the painting – in a good way – not thinking about the outcome, but enjoying the way the paint soaked into the flat white walls.  My mind could wander as I focused on the task, distracting me from whatever was ailing me that day:  heartbreak, self-doubt, you name it; this proved a perfect antidote.

I was suddenly a 14th century frescoe painter, feeling what they must have felt placing watery paint on chalky plaster.  And then a flash of connection to my grandmother, who painted ceramics for years.  I now understood the satisfaction she had putting paint on blank figures all those years in her quaint little kitchen.

As I worked to fill each tiny shape, the paint dried to a finish beyond my power.  While my pattern itself was rigid and controlled, inside each shape lie a bit of crazy, a little bit of kismet: fate determined how each stroke would dry.

Turns out, my wall is a little bit controlled, and a little bit wild.  Like me.  The two can indeed coexist, and that can be a beautiful thing.

For more scoop on the step-by-step, see below.  lastpic1 – Gather inspiration.  See above!

2 – Pattern development.  To get started, I sketched out simple grids, experimenting with repeats and ratios, using my ruler and triangles. I opted for a 1.5″ x 2″ repeat.  You get the drift.  #mathWall Sketch 1

3 – Paint Testing.  I played around with acrylics on poster board that I could place in the closet to stare at for a few weeks.  Mostly so I could nail the blue-to-green color ratios.  BUT also so I could stall.

Standing Desk

Makeshift art table!

When I had a good pattern going, I photographed it and drew up a mock in Photoshop.  (Can you see how far I got in Photoshop class?) It gave me the green light to move forward.Wall with watercolor pattern4 – Stencil creation & application.  I transferred my finalized pattern onto a blank plastic stencil sheet.  I then cut out key lines in the pattern with a straightedge (without cutting all the way through at the ends of each shape).  I taped it to the wall and traced  until the wall was filled.  Tip:  A long level is key here each time you tape up the stencil).  Stencil 15 – Painting.  I put “paint to wall” in an inconspicious place to see how things would look.   Using the inexpensive acrylics was somewhat freeing, as I didn’t worry too much about messing up – and they also mimix the look of watercolor when mixed with enough water.

The final result?  If only I had one!  Stay tuned…

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Watercolor Chairs

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I made a promise to myself this summer to spend more time creating, doing, immersing myself in some of my old, favorite hobbies I loved as a kid.  If you remember, this summer I talked a lot about the passions you have as a child and how they never really go away – and they’re a great indicator of what you should do now.

Enter the watercolor thing.

I started doing these watercolor exercises two years ago in a Rendering class, where we learned how to paint the textures and nuances of furniture.  We traced chairs and other pieces from old design magazines, then rendered them in color however we chose.

It was a blast.  There was something exciting about how different each rendering can appear based on how the paint dries on the page.  And for a non-committal soul like me, there’s something gratifying about placing color on paper, letting it dry into its final form without playing with it too much, watching different shadows and textures take shape.

I’ve been thinking about this a lot, how much I enjoyed creating these little studies and thought, why don’t I do this more?  Well, I know why.  It’s obligations, chores on my to-do list, and the ebb and flow of life in general that can pull one away from something that’s so simple but can be deeply gratifying.

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But I just realized I’m not OK with that, and here’s why.  I just finished Big Magic by Elizabeth Gilbert, which serendipitously talks about living a more creative life.  We’re all creators, she hypothesizes, and we come from a bloodline of people who have made things with their hands for thousands of years.  Just because we don’t use those gifts everyday doesn’t mean they’re not there, waiting to be acknowledged and put to use.

The advice struck me, hard.  The fact that you can live a more creative life solely because it feels good, is liberating.  That you can pursue it not for career change, not for fame or recognition.  But for you, the artist’s sake, exploring your curiosity and creativity solely because of the joy it brings you.

My favorite morsel from Gilbert is this:  “You might spend your whole life following your curiosity and have absolutely nothing to show for it at the end – except one thing.  You will have the satisfaction of knowing that you passed your entire existence in devotion to the noble human virtue of inquisitiveness.  And that should be more than enough for anyone to say that they lived a rich and splendid live.”

I couldn’t have said it better myself.

So selfishly, I’m creating these studies for the sheer enjoyment they bring me, posting them here to hold myself accountable.  Chairs are fun!  But so are landscapes, trees, and hell, maybe vegetables.  I hope you enjoy them.  But most importantly, I enjoyed creating them.  And that’s what matters most.

Summertime Throwback

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They say the things we did for fun at 8 years of age are the things that will – then and now – make us happiest.  I’m not sure where I heard this, but when I did, it struck me.  And it did so again during a recent visit to my parents’ home.

I found this shell on display in a powder room, inscribed with its date of creation:  1988.  I was 10 at the time, and pursuing a budding career in shell painting.  These little studies took up much of my summer afternoons, and I spent hours churning out pieces for friends and family.  (There were many duds, of course: one gem that my sister has since “lost” screamed “Erika’s Room!” in a horrid peach-and-mint-green palette.  Not my best work).

But producing a masterpiece each time wasn’t the point.  I got lost in the blissful act of creation, and loved it.   There was no goal, no deadline; I was creating art for the sake of creating art.

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I thought of this recently when my friend Marley visited me at the shore.  She arrived with handfuls of colorful embroidery floss in tow, and we whiled away the day weaving bracelets, recalling the knots of our youth, muscle memory at its best.

With each new project, I spent an embarrassing amount of time choosing colors and designing my pattern.  Like painting shells, each new design presented me with a limitless combination of colors and an empty slate, the possibilities endless.

Bracelet cropped

I wove together this number after I got the hang of it (again)

And I realized:  this isn’t too different from dreaming up a concept for a room.  In fact, little creations like these can act as a springboard for new designs: like how a room would look with a with a buttery leather sofa, lavender and orange throw pillows, brass accents, and a patterned rug to bring it all together.

And I guess that’s the point of all of this:  by letting myself get totally wrapped up in something so simple yet so consuming, I not only created something beautiful (to me), but came out of it with renewed inspiration.

On that note, I’m diving more freely into my little creative projects, starting now.  Projects I’m pursuing purely for the joy they bring me.  We all get caught up in the speed and hustle of everyday life – at least I do.  Things may move fast around me, but it doesn’t mean I can’t slow down and find time for the things I love.

So I’m watercoloring more, painting more, sketching more.  And in the spirit of sharing, I’ll be publishing a different sample of work each month, starting with some watercolor studies I’ve been working on.

Hey, what’s old is new again.

Painting the Bedrooms: Before & After

BR before

Master Bedroom (before)

Master bedroom (during)

Let me caveat this by saying that the word “after” isn’t accurate, as this is really just the beginning.  Design for me these days is a work-in-progress.  I had painters tackle the two bedrooms and the bathroom (I drew the line at those bookshelves, and my back thanks me).  They did an awesome job (PaintYourApartment.com) and left me with a nice canvas of neutral.  The grey in the master bedroom is taupe-ier than I expected (Revere Pewter by Benjamin Moore), but it works.  More putty, less pewter.

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Master Bedroom (after, accessorized)

I brought some life into the room but I know I’ll have more tweaks to make, by bringing more texture and layers.  For now, I’m going with a green/brown/natural theme because, well, I had a green blanket handy.   I had planned on pulling teals and reds in from my living room, but once I started to set up shop, the room had other plans.  It’s funny how that happens.  The green from the trees outside fought to come in.  So hunter green + warm accessories = my new palette!  Who knew.  And let’s not forget my new #biggirlbed that arrived  this weekend.  Huge change for me considering I’ve been sleeping in the little bedroom on a full bed for months.  I guess you could say I’m comfortable in small spaces…

Speaking of, the dark paint in Bedroom #2 did wonders:  Days’ End by Benjamin Moore.  Out with the orange, in with a rich palette that moves from navy to gray to black depending on what time of day it is.

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Second bedroom (before)

Second bedroom (after)

Second bedroom (after)

Many people think painting a dark color in a small space will only make the room look smaller.  I think the opposite is true, and I’m loving the results:  the dark walls bring some drama and play nicely with the white trim and walnut floors.

Painting Prep

If any of you know how decisive I am (I’m not), you’ll know how easy picking paint colors is for me (it’s not).  So I did what any gun-shy homeowner would do: put up an array of colors and stared at them obsessively for a few weeks.  (OK…months).  In my defense, I was trying hard to enjoy summer here without the burden of a big project and commitment.
But it’s almost fall, the humidity is fading, and it’s time to breathe some new life into these walls and permanently tone down the bright colors I’ve lived with since moving in (see pumpkin orange, below).
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For my bedroom, I played around with a few grays and opted for Revere Pewter by Benjamin Moore (upper left):
Gray Paint Swatches
It’s a warm gray thats a bit deeper than my living room.  I’m thinking of doing a hand-painted accent wall behind my headboard at some point.
For bedroom #2, I wanted to go dark, with pops of color, brass and white.  An informal survey of approximately everyone who’s been to my apartment has about 1% of them supporting me in this decision.  So naturally, I’m even more excited for the project.  I’m going with Day’s End by Benjamin Moore (not shown)  Will it be a nice jewel box or a dark goth cave?  We’ll see!  I love a good challenge.

Bookshelves: Before and After

Layers of dingy cream-colored paint coated the old built-ins that line the west side of my living room.  I could go nuts painting my whole place right away, but I’ve decided to start here:  it seems less daunting than taking on something that requires working around some of the more intricate crown molding in the other rooms.  So this will be my first solo paint job.  Here are some before pics.

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And after:

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I used a Decorator’s White by Behr, a semi-gloss latex.  The fireplace took about four coats to conceal the ash that had built up over the years.  But it was worth the time and labor and immediately breathed life into the space.  And I’ll admit to fantasizing about styling my books.  By color?  Genre?  Vertical or horizontal?  I started with cookbooks (below).  Oh the things that keep me up at night.  #nerdalert

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