Friday, March 20, 2015

Cleomade at Castle in the Air


If you visited Castle in the Air during the early days of our upstairs gallery you might have seen the paintings of Cleo Papanikolas, which melded images of food and animals in phantasmagorical and whimsical ways. As delighted as we were by them, we’re even happier that they are just the tip of the iceberg in Cleo’s creative world.

For the past year or so we’ve been proud to offer the Cleomade craft kits, and YouTube tutorials, each one of them a small sculpture you can assemble with simple tools and minimal fuss. The range includes prize ribbons, a wooden keychain charm, a trio of moths whose wings part to reveal tiny books, woodland candy boxes, and a paper oyster shell holding a fortune.

In addition to her artistic talent Cleo also has a knack for teaching, which is why we’re so happy she’ll be presenting a springtime themed “make-and-take” craft at Castle in the Air. Just drop in on March 28 from 12pm to 2pm and walk away with a charming craft you’ve made yourself. It’s free!

We recently asked Cleo about her kits, her creative career, and how much of art is a teachable skill. Here’s what she said:

Has art been part of your life from the beginning?
I’ve made toys to entertain myself since I was little. I grew up in the country in Sebastopol, California. I couldn’t easily get to friends’ houses, or downtown, and there was no TV reception. So I wandered around the yard, garage, and creek and made things. I did draw and paint but it wasn’t rendering, it was more decorative.

Did you always plan to have a career in art, or did you transition into it?
I worked in restaurants and clothing stores through high school and college. I did have an interest in art, but it was propelled by the fact that I couldn’t get into any other school. Once in, I got serious and ended up doing well with a BFA in printmaking from CCA and an MFA in painting from Cal. I started painting for a living right after undergraduate. I did faux finishes, murals, and other decorative painting, as well as gallery paintings.

How is your process different when working on a standalone piece, such as a painting, compared to one of your instructional kits?
I like to keep a balance between craft and fine art. Making my kits and products involves a lot of problem solving, which I like—figuring out the simplest way to make things, sizes, sourcing materials, and designing the covers. Production involves repetitive cutting and gluing and it’s while keeping my hands busy that I get my best ideas.

Painting is more intense. There is a bit of procrastination, like circling a cold pool before jumping in. Every brushstroke is another decision to make. And every painting goes through an ugly phase and many do-overs before it’s right. I need a bigger chunk of time to paint because it’s unsettling when I have to run out the door to do a school pick-up and leave a painting in the middle of the ugly phase.

How did the kits come about?
I did the Tiny Paintings Project on my blog, in which every week for a year I posted a new DIY craft project made from a postcard-sized painting. There are about 50 free art downloads on my website, each with step-by-step instructions. The craft kits are a way that people can easily get the materials in one place without having to print the art. I spent a lot of time designing the packaging because I wanted to make a keepsake and a lovely gift. People don’t know that I print all those labels on my home computer and cut and glue them all by hand.

What can people expect when they open one?
A postcard of my art to cut and use, instructions with one of my plaid paintings on the back—I hope that people find their own way to re-use the plaid art—some of Castle in the Air’s beautiful crepe paper and some other ingredients like wire and templates specific to the craft.


Practicality seems to be a theme in your work. You wrote a novella peppered with advice for cooking and life ("Cook Until Desired Tenderness") and now you have your craft kits. Which elements of art can be taught, and which ones come from the artist?
I definitely think people can be naturally creative and that helps. But practice is very important. I wasn’t a naturally good drawer but learned to be, through learning observation and doing a ton of bad drawings until I got good. I also never let fear of doing bad art stop me. You don’t have to show anything you don’t want to.

I hear people say to me all the time, “I wish I was creative like you. I can’t draw a stick figure.” But I’ve been drawing or painting almost every day for thirty years. And because crafty things are my job, everything I see throughout my day I think, “How could I make that into a paper craft?” So I naturally have more ideas. I don’t have particularly good handwriting, so I took lettering classes at Castle in the Air and practiced a lot so I could use it in my book and cards. Art is just like any other exercise—you build muscle by doing it.

What will you be teaching at the make-and-take on March 28?
We will be making jackalope nests. I have postcards of my mama jackalope and nesting material made from shreds of Castle in the Air’s crepe paper. Usually the eggs and antlers are made from nuts, tree pods, or pebbles, but since Easter is coming we will be using chocolate eggs and gold Dresden trim antlers.

Make-and-Take Craft with Cleo Papanikolas
Saturday, March 28, 12 pm to 2 pm
Castle in the Air
1805 Fourth Street, Berkeley
510-204-9801
No cost to participate

You can check out the Cleomade craft kits at the Online Shoppe, and watch Cleo’s tutorial videos on the Castle in the Air YouTube channel.

Wednesday, March 18, 2015

Carnival Adventures in Where Women Create


There are no two ways about it: Jo Packham is a creative catalyzer. She’s thrived as a book and magazine publisher for more than 35 years, championing countless women who make the world more wonderful through their art and businesses. And even with so much on her plate, Jo is always professional, upbeat, and supportive every time we talk.

 I can’t say enough good things about her, which is why it was such an honor when Jo asked to run a story about our Carnival adventure in her flagship magazine, Where Women Create. The spring 2015 issue has six luscious pages of photos and a narrative of our journey to Venice last spring.

 Beyond the thrill of reliving that magical trip, I love leafing through the rest of the issue and reading about other women’s creative triumphs. This kind of sharing creates a social space that’s easy to forget about when we’re focused on our own worlds. Each of us is doing our own thing, but what Where Women Create reminds me is that we all have the chance to lift each other up by sharing ideas and rubbing elbows, whether we’re all sat at a party in Venice or side by side in the pages of such a fantastic magazine. Thank you, Jo!


Wednesday, March 11, 2015

An Origami Treasure Trove Giveaway


Talk about bringing imagination to life—we’re giving away a stack of six amazing origami books and kits that can help you turn simple pieces of paper into everything from flowers to animals to airplanes that really fly!

The books are a gift from Tuttle Publishing, and represent part of their range of papercrafting instruction. Here are the titles we’re giving away via raffle:

Origami Ikebana, by Benjamin John Coleman. Ikebana is the Japanese art of floral arrangement, and the wonderworking hands of Benjamin John Coleman take it to new heights by merging it with origami. Learning paperfolding from a book can be daunting, but Coleman’s step-by-step photo instructions help me visualize the projects to the point I feel I can create anything using paper and paint (two of my favorite mediums). This book even comes complete with an instructional DVD with videos to follow.

Another book-and-DVD set, John Szinger’s Origami: Animal Sculpture is delightful for its variety, from foxes to lizards to ten-tentacled giant squid. I’ve got a soft spot for the paper narwhal, and the inchworm looks right at home among the paper flowers at Castle in the Air. To turn this into a true nature-lover’s dream, Szinger prefaces his “Adirondack Animals” chapter with instructions for folding your own campsite with a lean-to, canoe, and Adirondack chair. Make a wilderness escape without even leaving the room!

Japanese Paper Crafting, by Michael G. LaFosse with Richard L. Alexander and Greg Mudarri, expands the art of paperfolding to show how it can be used to add beauty to unexpected parts of our lives. The 17 projects in this book stem from washi papercraft techniques, and guide you in the creation of such wonders as a paper clutch purse, a gorgeous vase cover, a whimsical sailboat envelope, and a sewn washi book printed with your own poems or whatever you’d like. The introductory chapter on papermaking is just one of the examples of the book’s reverence for the history and practice of this exquisite art.

LaFosse and Alexander team up again to present Origami Flowers, a kit that includes 180 colorful sheets of folding paper, 18 designs, a book, and an instructional DVD. These two origami geniuses use the book to teach their original blossom designs—ranging in complexity from easy to advanced—and then direct you to the video so you can learn how to add leaves and stems for making bouquets. The bright colors and friendly instructions make this a terrific introduction to the art of paper flowermaking.

If you’re like me, you often return home from a trip with many extra pieces of paper, such as brochures, currency, and yes even the occasional shopping bag. Cindy Ng’s lighthearted Travel Origami lets you repurpose this ephemera into simple gifts of one-of-a-kind mementos of your journey. Even the lowliest of objects is elevated under Ng’s care. Who knew that gum wrappers could make an adorable picture frame, or that drinking straws could be wound together to make miniature rosebuds?

And for paperfolders who are really on the go, it’s hard to top One Minute Paper Airplanes, by Andrew Dewar. This kit contains a dozen paper airplanes you pop out from perforated pages, a set of full-color instructions, and a specialized rubber-band powered catapult launcher to set them soaring. Even though the “craft” is all prepackaged in this kit, I’ve got to admit that the variety of flyers—from the prehistoric archaeopteryx to modern jets—makes it a lot of fun.

Would you like to win these incredible papercrafting books and kits? Just enter below and we’ll pull names from a paper hat on April 1st and announce the winner here. Good luck!

a Rafflecopter giveaway