Rebecca Baer® Artful Living

05 February 2015

Focus, Focus, Focus!

Of the many things that keep me busy, sharing discoveries on this blog is one that I enjoy.  On the other hand I spend countless hours photographing, formatting and composing what appears here.  In addition to this blog I maintain several websites including my eCommerce site RebeccaBaer.com, my art licensing site RebeccaBaer.net (okay, so I'm not terribly original with those website names), my store site ArtisanLifeAndStyle.com along with FB, Linked in...  You get the picture.  Enough already!    Developing original content isn't so hard. My brain is always exploding with ideas, more that I can possibly accomplish.  As I wonder where my time goes and try to determine how to insert more hours in the day, I find that I still only get twenty-four.
 Fooey!  The alternative is to try and cram fewer tasks into those hours, which brings me to the title of this post.

When our youngest was in middle and high school we turned to homeschooling (One of the best decisions ever!).  She was an excellent student but easily distracted.  I cannot count the number times we repeated the word "focus", as in "focus on the task at hand".  I was reminded of that recently and decided that perhaps I need to focus.  How can I  spend my time most effectively?  What must stay; what can go?  Add to that, on what do I want to spend my time?  Well the answer, first and foremost, is designing.  Designing is my first love.  Whether painting or enhancing my work in Photoshop I truly enjoy what I do.  It is also my livelihood.  Designing stays.  I'll spare you the step-by-step details and suffice it to say that my blog really only entertains me.  I like cooking, creating, figuring out coding workarounds, etc, and like to share my discoveries with you.  The reality is that all of this does nothing for my time management, although it might help some others save a bit of trial and error.   My last post before this one was for making homemade sauerkraut (once again it turned out great btw, yum!).  That was a few months ago.  It's not that I haven't had an original thought since then. I have them all of the time.  Other things just take priority.  Before Christmas I had been considering making some changes to the blog, especially how often I post and what the focus of it should be.  Then I received a Christmas card from a family member who said such lovely and encouraging things about my writings (thanks Kendra!) and I began to have second thoughts.  So I did nothing.  Now I can't just leave the blog dangling forever so there are going to be some changes.  If you've read this far thanks for sticking with me while I ramble.

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Posts of the arts & crafts, creative sort, like you would find under my "hands on" tab will be shared on my RebeccaBaer.com site.  I have been and will continue to post these inspirations and techniques on my home page, treating it like a blog, likewise for topics like art & design, technical savvy (art gadgets) and art-related tutorials.  If those topics are of interest to you please subscribe to my RSS feed for my website updates here  Once you complete the form you will receive a confirmation email from feed burner. If the confirmation does not appear in your inbox (within minutes) be sure and check your spam folder. You must confirm your subscription to activate it.  If you do not confirm your subscription, you will not receive updates.

Brilliant ideas like my instant hamburger bun pan (okay, I'm proud of that one--and it's super popular) I may not be able to keep to myself but I make no promises.  The same goes for code workarounds.

This leaves "foodie finds" and "made from scratch" tabs.  We've discovered some quaint shops and
markets along with independent eateries in our travels and love putting them out there share a good word on their behalf.  These honest commentaries do get traffic and hopefully have given the purveyors a boost.  After all, word of mouth is the best advertising.  If I add any foodie finds in the future, they are likely to be few and far between.  

"Made from scratch" features my original recipes or sometimes my adaptation of existing dishes.  These won't go away.  I refer to them frequently and know that others enjoy access to these as well.  New additions will be sporadic though as writing and sharing recipes cannot be a priority for me.  As I mentioned above, designing is my principal task and must be where I focus my attention.  Incidentally, I have a few tabletop collections on the horizon that feature my work, which brings me full circle.  What better vessel in which to serve one of my recipes than dinnerware bearing my art.  How fun and exciting is that?

04 September 2014

Fermenting Cabbage aka Making Sauerkraut

I began my foray into fermenting cabbage four years ago.  The results were spectacular and we were immediately hooked on making our own sauerkraut.  Once you've tasted genuine homemade sauerkraut you will never want the store bought variety again.  With each batch we learn something new and this year has been no exception so I thought I'd share.

As summer winds down I put in a call to a local farmer to see when cabbage will be ready.  Our reserves are low so  I definitely want to make a full large crock of kraut this year.


Deciding how much cabbage to buy is a guess.  You can fit a remarkable number of heads in a crock as they compact during stomping.  I attribute our sauerkraut success to using a  fermentation crock.  I have two sizes, a 15 liter and a 10 liter.  (To use the crocks you will also need  stone weights to keep your cabbage submerged in the brine.  In addition to regular kitchen equipment, a wooden sauerkraut stomper is helpful.)  I opted for two crocks over a single, larger crock for a couple of reasons.  First, the crocks are pretty heavy empty and when full are difficult to move.  Second, I can make two different varieties of sauerkraut at the same time or make pickles or other fermented veggies in one and sauerkraut in the other.  I remembered writing in a previous blog post that I could have fit a couple more heads in my crock but neglected to go back and see exactly how many that would be.  Since our reserves were low I planned to use both crocks.  At the farm I decided that fifteen heads of cabbage was the magic number.  As we were washing, slicing, salting and stomping we seemed to have an awful lot of cabbage.  My husband asked, "How many heads did we have the last time?"  This is when I decided to look at my earlier post to discover that we bought seven heads and estimated that we could have added two more to the crock.  Hmmm, fifteen isn't that far off from seven plus two, right?  Anyway, I wanted to use the small crock too this time so really, it's not so much.  Some of the heads were quite large weighing well over seven pounds.  Those seven heads from our previous venture averaged five pounds each.  We had roughly ninety pounds of cabbage to wash, peel, slice and stomp!  Here's how it went:  He said:  I don't know, it's getting pretty full.  She said:  I think we can fit a couple more.  Repeat this a few times and you get the gist.  In the end we ended up with two very full crocks with just enough room to fit the weights in under the rim and one very large head of cabbage left over.  


Note to self:  Read your old post as a reminder of how many heads of cabbage to buy before trekking out to the farm.


At this point all seemed well.  The two crocks were happily gurgling along.  At the (pre) dawn of the second day we discovered water covering a large area of the kitchen floor and were puzzled as to the source.  It seems that our very full crocks were overflowing with the brine from the cabbage.  This is not an aroma you want permeating your living space.  To get things under control I ladled about 24 ounces of brine out of each crock leaving plenty of brine covering the cabbage.  We wiped the outside of the crocks and set them on a towel then proceeded to wipe up the kitchen floor.  All this at four A.M.  Not my favorite way to start the day.


Note to self:  Maybe it is possible to overfill your crocks.  Perhaps twelve is the magic number.


With two crocks to fill I decided that the larger crock would be filled with our original sauerkraut recipe using sweet onions plus caraway seeds and juniper berries for seasoning.  It is important to know the weight of the heads of cabbage you are using so that you can adjust your salt accordingly.


In the smaller crock I decided to experiment with a different combination of seasonings.  


My recipe for a 10 liter crock: 
  • 5 heads of cabbage (roughly25 pounds)
  • 2 Tbsp salt per head-Important: do not use iodized (table) salt.  Kosher (I use this), sea or canning and pickling salt are all acceptable.
  • 2 small sweet onions
  • Seasonings are optional. I decided to use 1 Tbsp. each of Coriander seeds and Black Peppercorns per head (5#) of cabbage.  After the cabbage had been stomped I added five large home grown and dried bay leaves.  I note home grown because the freshness of these probably makes them a little stronger than store bought.  If using commercial bay leaves you may want to add a couple more.
Before you start, you need to make sure everything is absolutely clean.  This includes your crock and weights of course but also the work surface, and any bowls, knives or slicers that you will be using.  I mixed up some food grade, no-rinse sanitizer to clean all of my surfaces and tools. You can find this at home brewer/wine making supply stores if you choose to go this route.

Begin by removing the loose outer leaves and then quarter the cabbage with a sharp knife.  Cut the core from the cabbage quarters and shred the head of cabbage.  To do this you can use a sharp knife, a mandolin slicer, a cutter specifically designed for cabbage or a vegetable slicer. After shredding 35 pounds of cabbage on a mandolin slicer during our inaugural sauerkraut event I decided to invest in a Nemco vegetable slicer and it was worth every penny.  This commercial hand-crank slicer requires no electricity and will breeze through a head of cabbage in a minute or less.  

When one head is finished add it to the crock and top with a layer of thinly sliced onions, 1 Tbsp. of coriander  seeds, 1 Tbsp. of black peppercorns and 2 Tbsp. of salt.  Stomp the cabbage with the wooden stomper to break it down and release the juices.  The cabbage will compact considerably.

Continue the process of shredding the cabbage and adding the salt (plus seasoning and onion) then stomp aggressively to compress the cabbage.  The salt will pull the moisture from the cabbage to create the brine. 

After the final addition has been stomped down you should have enough brine to cover the cabbage and the weights.  

The brine increases.
The filled crock with weights.


Make sure all of the cabbage is off the sides of the crock and below the brine.  Add the weights and press down so that the brine rises to cover the weights completely.

Place the lid on the crock and fill the air lock with water.  Within 24 hours you should hear the "bloop" of air bubbles being released through the water in the rim of the crock. Remember to top off the water in the airlock periodically so that you retain the seal.

The temperature at which you ferment the cabbage will affect the speed of the process.  At temps below 60 degrees the cabbage may not ferment; above 75 and it may become soft.  When fermenting the cabbage at 60-65 degrees it will take 5 to 6 weeks while storing the crock at 70-75 degrees your cabbage should be fully fermented in 3-4 weeks.  

My other sauerkraut recipes:


Homemade Sauerkraut

Homemade Sauerkraut: Sweet & Sour Beet Kraut
Homemade Sauerkraut Using Red Cabbage

17 July 2014

Autumn Painting & Card Projects


It may be Summer but fall is just around the corner.  Now is the time to get started on those Autumn painting projects. I've penned three articles for the October 2014 issue of PaintWorks magazine and each one is designed for your painting pleasure! If you are not a subscriber look for this issue to be on sale July 29th. This squash trio, pictured at right,  is painted on a removable canvas panel allowing you to change your decor with the seasons. You can also find a lovely doqwood design in the spring 2014 issue of PaintWorks.
Instructions for making the burlap pillow shown as well as two companion pillows can be found here.

In addition to the panel featured above you will find two articles on making cards with watercolor accents! The first is a pair of Halloween party invitations with wonderful drippy backgrounds. The party-themed text are separate stamps so even if you aren't planning to throw a party you can use the concept and stamped images to create a fun holiday project.   The second pair is focused on the blessings or heart and home.  They are a great way to remind loved ones that you count them as a blessing especially if you cannot be with them at Thanksgiving.  My color choices for this set are not traditional fall hues so these cards are suitable for anytime you want to make someone feel special.  Both card projects feature beginner watercolor techniques and a great way to try a new medium! 

We've created discounted kits that include the stamps, papers & twine for making these cards the kits can be viewed here and here.

          
Come as You Aren’t 
Simple to create yet splendidly artful, a touch of watercolor makes each of these party invitations an original no matter how many you make! I’ve used a variety of orange hues on the examples shown but you could fashion others using a range of rich violet or brilliant green hues and still present a contemporary Halloween theme.
Homemade & Handpainted Blessings 
Toned hues of red-violet and yellow-green provide the subtle backdrop for a brilliant pop of watercolor. Incorporating a splash of painting makes each handmade card unique and a special treasure for the recipient. The fast & fun nature of these cards will have you sharing Thanksgiving greetings near and far.


15 June 2014

Easy Lemon Coconut Macaroons with Chocolate

This recipe is based on one I came across online for easy coconut macaroons.  I found the simplicity of the ingredient list intriguing.  It required just three ingredients.  Two cups of unsweetened coconut, one can of sweetened condensed milk and one teaspoon of vanilla.  While the short list had its appeal, I knew these would be much too sweet for our tastes so I modified it for a more balanced profile.  To counteract the sweetness I added lemon in three forms beginning with the zest from a large lemon then adding the juice from half of that lemon.  Using the juice from the whole lemon would have added too much liquid but I still wanted a bit more lemoniness so I added two envelopes of True Lemon.

Preheat your oven to 350 degrees.

To make the cookies use a spoon to stir together the following ingredients in a bowl.

2 cups Unsweetened coconut
1 can   Sweetened condensed milk
1 tsp.   Vanilla
Grated zest of 1 lg. lemon
Juice of 1/2 lemon
2 packets True Lemon

Drop, in tablespoon-sized lumps, onto a parchment-lined baking sheet.  Sprinkle with extra coconut.  Bake for 12 minutes or until they start to brown.

Remove cookies to a rack immediately after baking.

For the finishing touch, and a note of bitter chocolate, I coated the underside of each cookie then drizzled the tops.  For this you will need both chocolate chips and unsweetened baker's chocolate or you can substitute a bitter chocolate bar in the range of 70% cacao.
Combine 1.5 oz. each (I measured the chocolate by weight.  To measure by volume 1.5 oz. is about 3 Tbsp.) of the chocolate chips and the unsweetened chocolate in a small, flat-bottomed bowl. Microwave at short intervals (30 sec.) stirring between until the chocolate is melted.

Place a sheet of wax paper on a cookie sheet.  Dip the underside of each cookie in the melted chocolate.  You only want a thin layer so if your chocolate is thick use an icing spatula to sweep away excess.  Place the dipped cookie on the wax paper.

Melt .5 oz. of each chocolate and place in a plastic bag.  Snip the point off the corner of the bag to create a tiny hole.  Gently squeeze the bag to create a thin stream of chocolate as you travel to and fro over the cookies.  Refrigerate to harden the chocolate.

These were a hit and immediately deemed "blog worthy" by my tasters.  Enjoy!

28 May 2014

SURTEX | Art Licensing

Our experience as first-time exhibitors in 2014.

Booth Design
Prior to the show we had to decide how to approach our booth design.  There are varied ways that exhibitors choose to outfit their booth.  Some artists treat it as a singular display with an overall theme showcasing one collection or look.  Other artists and most (if not all) agencies feature a variety of art on their walls.  The more elaborate booths often have every surface decorated--even the corner posts!--and make use of alternate seating, tables and accessories.  We chose to take the simple approach for a few reasons.  First, our primary goal and purpose for attending the show is to license artwork so with that in mind we chose to focus on presenting art rather than creating a pretty and unified booth.  I freely admit that the booths that were all decked out were definitely prettier but keeping things simple worked fine for us. Second, we wanted to be able to pack everything (except the banners) into a single, wheeled tub that could be loaded in the car so there would be no shipping and we could unload it ourselves.  Third, we wanted to keep costs under control and our largest expense to decorate the booth was to order banners.  Another factor was time.  Leading up to the show I wanted to focus on adding to my collections not creating custom decor for the booth when it would only be used once.

Banners
I ordered my banners from smartpress.com based on a tip from another artist (Megan Aroon Duncanson) on Linked-in.  I opted for 36" x 72".  These filled all horizontal space on the panels but stopped short of the full length.  I didn't see any reason to go with longer banners since the bottom would be hidden from view.  The banners had grommets at the corners, which allowed us to hang them using hooks provided by SURTEX.  Opening morning I was glad I selected the grommet and hook method of hanging the banners because quite a few exhibitors arrived to find several of their banners on the floor.  Admittedly, this did not provide a seamless look for the booth but each banner featured a different collection so hanging separately was not an issue.  


Samples
We took samples of goods featuring licensed art that was also shown on the banners.  One reason for taking the samples was to add a bit of dimension to the booth.  Another is to show that I am already a licensed artist.  The samples proved to be a huge draw as quite a few manufacturers/art directors stopped to inquire about them and then proceed to review artwork.  Print on demand services allow you to create items to add dimensional product to your booth but may not offer the same advantage as actual samples.  Most who stopped because of the samples began by
asking if they were licensed as well as the identity of the manufacturer.  We displayed dinnerware by Certified International, a journal by C. R. Gibson and a few bolts of quilt fabric featuring my latest release from Studio e.


Portfolio
In lieu of a print portfolio we used two ipads loaded with pdf's for each collection.  This worked well and we definitely needed two.  At the busiest times we could have used a third person and ipad.  No one even inquired as to whether we had a print version for viewing.  This saved the expense of printing as well as dealing with several print books to transport.

Handouts
Rather than order a singular-themed post card to distribute I printed two-sided, half-size tear sheets for fifteen or so different collections.  When a contact expressed interest in specific collections we gave them the corresponding cards for reference.  We used matte photo paper and the prints were photo quality.  These were very well received and much appreciated.  We will definitely do these again.

High Desk vs. Low Desk
The default desk height provided is the low desk.  Exhibitors have the option of selecting a high desk.  We chose the high desk.  Both have their advantages.  Contacts tend to sit down at the low desks, which could encourage a more leisurely review.  On the other hand you may miss out on those who don't feel they have the time to sit.  The low desk blocks less of your booth so more of your walls are visible. The high desk allows you to get off your feet without appearing to sit and you remain at eye level with passers by.  Conversely the higher chairs do tend to obstruct the view of your walls.  After having the higher desk at this event and discussing the pros and cons we did not have a strong preference for one or the other until we realized that the high desk offered considerable storage.  We will stay with the high desk for future shows.

The Results
The show was terrific! We made new friends and met several linked-in connections in person. We gained a large number of new contacts including multiple new contacts for categories we were hoping to add.  I am not even close to being done with the follow up and sending art out but I wanted to take a moment to share our experience with you.

SURTEX is a dynamic market filled with the latest trend-on artwork, designers and licensors from around the world. Diverse art & design draws quality buyers and licensees from manufacturers and retailers of all product categories.  Attendance is roughly 6000.

09 April 2014

Preserving Magnolia Leaves

Magnolia and other types of leaves can be easily preserved using a simple solution of glycerin and water.  In order to create a craft project for a gardening group planning a visit to "Artisan Life & Style" I used the following process on both magnolia and holly leaves with excellent results.

  1. Prepare your solution using two of parts very hot water to one part glycerin and pour it into your chosen container.  A narrow container will require less volume as the smaller diameter allows it to rise higher than in a container with a larger diameter.
  2. Gather your freshly cut branches keeping in mind that shorter branches will take less time to preserve as the glycerin solution has less distance to travel. Mash the ends to expose more surface area and submerge the mashed ends.  These will take several weeks to absorb the solution.  Check the progress weekly.  When the solution has reached the leaves you will see a rich brown color beginning to develop following the paths of the veins on the magnolia leaves.  
  3. Once the entire leaf has turned a glossy brown it has become fully saturated and can be removed from the solution.  Holly leaves become a deep black-green hue.
The preserved leaves can be used for a variety of crafts and home decor applications including wreaths, swags and arrangements.  The leaves can also be used as an art canvas on which to paint.  Imagine a magnolia blossom painted on a preserved leaf.  This would be a summertime beauty to enjoy once the season is long past.

To gild the leaves I used RB Gilded Stenciling Adhesive (it is thick so it does not bead on the glossy leaves) along with Composition Gold Leafing.

21 March 2014

Do I Really Need Duplicate Brushes?


You've been painting for years and are likely to have an enormous stash of brushes.  You've recently decided to expand your horizons and try a new medium.  Or perhaps you are just getting started and aren't sure which medium will speak to you.  You've heard talk that you should have a different set of brushes for each medium but you are hesitant--surely that advice is from a company or individual who wants to sell more brushes, right?  Well, as it turns out, no.  Keeping a separate set of brushes reserved for use exclusively with oils, acrylics or watercolors is good advice.  

For starters, oil and water don't mix so if you use your brushes interchangeably between oils and waterbased mediums you create a compatibility problem.  Residue in the brushes can cause bonding issues or areas of resist. Oil residue can irreparably stain a paper or acrylic coated surface. In some cases the desired hair content or brush shape may differ.  For example, Oil painters and watercolorists often prefer a natural-hair brush while acrylic artists sometimes like a brush with synthetic bristles.  

Classique Angles
"Okay, sounds reasonable but doesn't that mean that I can use my acrylic brushes with watercolors?", you might ask.  After all, these are both waterbased so, no compatibility issues there.  The answer is a resounding yes...and no.  Compatibility isn't the problem, binders (or the lack of) are.  Acrylic paints have a binder which, upon drying, makes the paint permanent.  Watercolors do not have a binder so when more moisture is introduced to dry paint the colors come back to life.  (Let's pretend the following example is not drawn from personal experience) In a pinch you might grab a brush you usually use for acrylics but think it won't hurt to use it for watercolors, just this once.  You just need a quick wash of Ultramarine Blue and it will rinse right out.  But alas, the next time you go to pick up a nice bright white or light hue for your acrylic project you discover that the color has taken on a brilliant blue tint!  The presence of moisture in the brush has caused the residual watercolor to reactivate and change your acrylic hue accordingly.  

Now that you know there there is indeed sound reasoning behind the admonition to isolate your brushes don't be concerned that you need to duplicate every brush you own or plan to purchase.  I use the same brush series (these are a blend of natural and synthetic hair) as these series themselves perform well across all mediums but I have duplicates of certain ones that are reserved for each of the specific mediums. I prefer certain brush shapes depending on the medium and don't need a duplicate for each and every style so I add only as needed.  For example, since I have painted primarily in acrylics for years I have most everything I need for this medium with a few duplicates, some by choice, others by chance.  
Au Sec brush series
My preferred brushes for acrylics include Classique™ Angles 1100 series, Rounds 
1000 series, and Liners 1020 & 1050 series along with the Au Sec™ 200 series for blending and drybrushing. The other brushes in my stash are those I have collected in my quest to discover what works for me.  As I began to dabble in watercolors I added duplicates of the Classique™ rounds and liners to my collection.  I find that I use these most and can add others, like an angle here of there as needed.  For oils, I have mostly the Classique™ angles and liners rather than rounds with an occasional Au Sec™ thrown in for drybrushing or textural applications.  


Since you aren't likely to be using each group of brushes simultaneously it is most convenient to keep brushes for each medium in designated carriers.  If you don't have separate carriers for the brushes then segregate them within the same container and mark the handles with colored masking tape for quick identification.

The brushes that meet my needs are few and can be found on our website:rebeccabaer.com.  Order the sets to save money.