Friday, February 27, 2009


...Commonplace Mouse! I've made a new friend, and I want you all to meet him. Commonplace Mouse has been sharing his story with me for a while now, and just last night I put the final touches on a book of watercolors illustrating them. The book is dedicated to my younger daughter, as she and Mr. Mouse have a lot in common.

In the not-too-distant future, Commonplace Mouse will be the second title from the Castle in the Air publishing imprint, Dromedary Press.

Thursday, February 26, 2009

Delightful Downloads

The nice people over at
Where Women Create have just posted 18 free image downloads on their website -- including seven of my illustrations and photographs. Take a look over at the Where Women Create website.

Wednesday, February 25, 2009

"Shaking their milk-white feet in a ring."

"The wind blows out of the gates of the day,
The wind blows over the lonely of heart
And the lonely of heart is withered away,
While the faeries dance in a place apart,
Shaking their milk-white feet in a ring."
--William Butler Yeats, The Land of Heart’s Desire

As John was showing us his Wardian case replicas yesterday, we commented on how much we liked the miniature fairy ring he’d made in one of them. Careful countryside walkers have known for centuries that these circular formations of mushrooms are formed by the midnight gambols of the elves and pixies, and if a mortal should step into one, they may be whisked away to Fairyland, not to return for hours or even years. John admitted that the fairy ring’s magic had caused him to lose track of time, too, as he researched all there is to know about these mysterious circles.

Did you know that…
…the Dutch say that fairy rings show where the Devil has set his milk churn?
…some scientists think that each fairy ring with all its mushrooms might be made of a single cell?
…the notorious red and white fly agaric mushroom can often be found growing in such a ring?
…people trapped inside a fairy ring may be compelled by the elves to dance until they go mad, or die?
…fairy rings in forests are connected to nearby tree roots, but when found in meadows the fairy rings are independent and called “free?”
…one of the largest fairy rings is an 800-meter formation found in France, and is thought to be at least seven centuries old?
…in Devon, England, there are also sightings of rings made of supernatural black chickens?

Tuesday, February 24, 2009

The Curious Case of Mr. Ward

When we were drawing up our spring class list for Castle in the Air, John McRae brought in a delightful Victorian book called Window Gardening, and told us how he was so inspired by the pictures and descriptions of the ornate "Wardian case" planters from that era that he wanted to teach a class reproducing some of them with mica, Dresden trim, and trimmed down chess pieces. Of course we said Yes!

From John's book:
"The history of the Wardian or fern case, dates back to 1829, when a gentleman by the name of Ward, of London, first noticed, accidentally, the growth of vegetation under a close glass. He had laid down the chrysalis of an insect with some mould within a glass bottle, and covered it over. A short time afterward, as he describes it, a speck or two of vegetation appeared on the surface of the mould and, to his surprise, turned out to be a fern and a grass. His interest was awakened; he placed the bottle in a favorable situation, and found that the plants continued to grow and maintain a healthy appearance."

John will also teach you how to make captivating botanical scenes inside from vintage velvet fern fronds, handmade clay flowers and mushrooms, cork and foam, and other materials. We can't think of a better hothouse for your imagination. Interested? Register for the Wardian "Glazed Glass" Garden class through the Castle in the Air Online Shoppe.

Monday, February 23, 2009

Cutie Cut-Ups

Today's special: European paper dolls! These British and Continental cuties are from my vintage paper doll collection. We feature them on cards at Castle in the Air, but I wanted to share them with everyone who's unable to make it to the store.

Just download these .pdf sheets (click to open in your browser or save them to your computer) and grab your scissors:
Paper Dolls of Germany, Canada, and Holland
Paper Dolls of England, Scotland, and Ireland

Friday, February 20, 2009

"As easy as ABC (again!)"

Although we love to play at Castle in the Air, when we say "Yoyo on a String" or "Kaleidoscope in a Plastic Bag," we're not talking toys. These are techniques that will be taught by our paper-crafting pearl of a teacher, Ulla Milbrath, next weekend at her "More ABCs of Altered Books" class. The two-day course picks up where Ulla's first "ABCs" class left off, introducing more than 26 new fun ways to add excitement to your book arts project.

"More ABCs" is the first class to be added to the Castle in the Air Online Shoppe. Visit "Castle Classes" for more information or to sign up.

Thursday, February 19, 2009

"Here today, gone tomorrow..."

By definition, ephemera is printed material with a very short shelf life. It's here one day, gone the next. But Castle in the Air has never been one to play by the book, and that's probably why so many bits of ephemera take an extended sojourn here at the shop. We're swimming in bits of Dresden trim, patches of crepe paper, silk f
lowers who've strayed from the bouquet, canceled postage stamps, tags that haven't yet found their string, and wandering spun cotton mushrooms. And we've just put together a new batch of packs of all these ephemeral orphans -- maybe they can find a home in your projects!

Wednesday, February 18, 2009

"A happy place in a sunny, fairy land..."

This little fairytale creature greeted me first thing this morning when I arrived at the Castle. She calls herself
Thumbelina but I prefer to call her perfection. She is the work of Caron Dunn, the Castle's own master of needle felting. What I particularly love about Caron's work is her attention to the small details. Out of mere bits of fluff she is able to conjure the most sweet, delicate and detailed characters.

When I was a girl I used to listen to the story of
Thumbelina on a Golden Book 45 rpm record. I knelt in front of the Fischer Price player in much the same position as our dear friend is posed here. Listening raptly I imagined a world where I was able to sleep in a walnut shell and sail in a flower boat all day. I longed to fly on the back of a sparrow. I think what I love about my art is that it allows me to return to that fairy land of the imagination. I imagine that I will be spending a splendid Tuesday, March 31st, in lost in reverie with Caron in her Thumbelina felting class. I look forward to the journey.

Tuesday, February 17, 2009

The Treasured Trove

One of our favorite pirate queens dug up a fabulous treasure chest brimming with antique goodies. Come by to find some baubles and trinkets for your own trove!

Monday, February 16, 2009

A Booked Schedule

Bay Area book-lovers have had the privilege of being able to attend not one but two world-class book expos over the past few weeks. I visited the second biennial Codex International Book Fair just a week ago in Berkeley, and over the weekend I went to San Francisco to take in the 42nd California International Antiquarian Book Fair.

The Codex Fair, led by letterpress ringmaster Peter Koch, hosted nearly 150 book artists and small presses, and their works are simply amazing. The book arts medium continues to develop well into the digital age, and it almost seems to me that the growth of online publishing (Hello, Blogger!) has encouraged artists to go even further with innovative printing and binding in the world of paper and ink.

The Antiquarian Book Fair was a fabulous horse of a different color, with almost 250 dealers in antique, fine press, and collectible books. It was astounding to be able to walk from booth to booth there and hold Renaissance-era tomes, see book projects from favorite artists (I have a weakness for Warhol), and find copies of treasured books from childhood. I went with my family, and my little girls ended up talking shop with some of the vendors about woodblock printing and special kinds of paper. A family favorite that we didn't end up bringing home was a series of tiny books recounting Japanese fairy tales, printed on fantastic crepe paper.

Friday, February 13, 2009

The Thief of Love

Calla Editions just keeps amazing me. We carry their amazing line of illustrated classics at Castle in the Air, and their latest -- Louise Saunders and Maxfield Parrish's The Knave of Hearts -- sang its love song to me from the shelf this week.

I remember reading an earlier edition of this fable as a child, each of Parrish's timeless, lush illustrations drawing me deeper into the whimsical and dramatic world of the King and Queen of Hearts. Whether or not someone's stolen your tarts, you can dive in and lose yourself there, too.

Happy Valentine's Day!

Thursday, February 12, 2009

We have a winner!

Congratulations go to Keron Lee, of Melbourne, Australia, who won our One World - One Heart offering. She was the lucky reader whose name I found when I pulled the winning entry out of my hat.

One World - One Heart has been a delightful journey. I have enjoyed visiting so many of the weblogs. I regret only that I didn't make it through the entire 911 sites on the list before the big giveaway. That said I shall be visiting the rest in the days to come.

Thanks go to all of you who have left comments on my site. It has been a wonderful experience building a stronger online community and I am grateful for all of the friends I have made.

I am looking forward having many more adventures together!

Tuesday, February 10, 2009

Gnome King Abducted!

Do you know someone whose cow has died recently? Perhaps they have fallen victim of the Awful Curse of the King of the Gnomes. His royal gnomeness was last seen on Friday sitting on his throne atop Mount Broadbark at Castle in the Air. Now he and his lieutenant Mosstoe are missing and we are assuming the worst. Why is it that bandits think this sort of violation doesn't hurt them as much as it hurts us?

Monday, February 9, 2009

The sweet smell

"What's in a name? That which we call a rose
By any other name would smell as sweet."
– Shakespeare, Romeo and Juliet

Unless of course the rose is made of crepe paper!

Last week our wonderful double-sided crepe paper had the honor of being featured on Martha Stewart. The project was the creation of lush over-sized rose blossoms by the talented Morgan Levine. We've been supplying Martha Stewart's many departments with crepe paper for years, and we're glad to now be supplying so many of Martha's fans with materials for their crafts. It is indeed a rare and wonderful craft supply and I am overjoyed that it is enjoying a little blip in popularity.

In the spirit of promoting this lovely material I wanted to share a set of instructions from the early 1920s (click on the image to enlarge). The blooms made by these instructions are quite life-like and would make a special gift for a Valentine. Spray it with perfume and even this rose will smell as sweet!

Our gorgeous doublette crepe is available in a rainbow of colors from our Online Shoppe.

A trip in a tea cup

"Each cup of tea represents an imaginary voyage." ~Catherine Douzel

This quote proved especially true at my dear friend Laurey's birthday party this past Sunday. Her invitation to a ladies' tea party featured these images of Welsh women drinking tea. Ever one to love a challenge, I tried my best to recreate one of these divine outfits. I think that I succeeded. Alas, there are no photos to prove it but I can say that the effect was very Mother Goose!

tea leaves
tea loves
loves tea
lives tea
leaves tea?
~Uniek Swain

Thursday, February 5, 2009

Be Mine

There is just over a week left until Valentine's Day -- are you sending any cards this year? We found several vintage Valentines during a recent dig through our postcard collection. Here are some of the ones we've reproduced to add to the Castle in the Air postcard rack this year. In my opinion, the old card-makers had more fun!

Which key will open the lock?

I've always preferred Cupid's use of his arrows to that of his keyring -- gotta love the direct approach.

This one is sweet, and of course I love it all the more because of its nods to Fairyland.

I can figure out the significance of the Two of Hearts, but one shudders to think what this fellow might be suggesting here.

And just like at Christmas, all our nears and dears can join in the fun of Valentine's Day.

Wednesday, February 4, 2009

Taking the Waters

All good things must come to an end, and that applies to my short, sweet trip to Germany. I’ll spend most of today on a plane, but if I could, I’d take the waters at one of Allemagne’s famous spas.

The town of Baden-Baden is perhaps the most famous of all the German “spa towns,” and has a history of therapeutic mineral baths beginning during the days of the Roman Empire. Europe’s upper crust convened in Baden-Baden in the 18th and 19th centuries to take the waters, and now this is something that everyone can enjoy, as there are more than 900 spa resorts in the country.

Perhaps this egalitarianism is what I loved most about the times I’ve been to the baths in Germany. Young people, elders, and everyone in between come for the relaxation and rejuvenation. Last year, I took a day at the baths with my dad, my husband, and our two little girls. Coming back to the States, I wondered why this sort of recreation isn’t as prevalent in America. There are plenty of hot springs and spas around the country, but the idea of public baths never caught on to the extent it did in Europe. San Francisco is just across the Bay from my hometown of Berkeley, and used to have the incredible Sutro Baths, which offered fresh water and salt water pools (hot and cold) from the late Victorian era until it was destroyed by fire in 1966. Must all good things come to an end?

Tuesday, February 3, 2009

"Mr. Postman, look and see..."

What is a blog, anyway? For many artists, it’s the online equivalent of leaving their studio curtains open after dark, so passersby can peek in and see the creative process in action. And in a way, blogs are also like the typed form letters we all get at Christmas from distant relatives, telling us all the news of the year in little bite-sized portions.

As impersonal and corny as those form letters can be, it’s sometimes the only piece of written correspondence we might get from that particular aunt or cousin in a given year.

Maybe it was this that inspired Victoria Heifner of Milkfed Press to start her “Letterwriting Campaign.” We got one of her lovely invitations recently in our mailbox at Castle in the Air. The regular card-sized envelope contained a small blank envelope and blank card, along with a letterpress note from Victoria:

Hello! I hope that this little note finds you and your loved ones happy and healthy in the New Year!

In an effort to spread the good word on the fun and fine art of correspondence, I thought I’d put thoughts into action and simply send out some pretty things that might inspire people to reach out to their loved ones.

Please enjoy this little package and write a note to someone today.

xoxo Victoria

Monday, February 2, 2009

It Takes Two

Duncan and I are having a sehr gut time in Germany, a place that always makes me think of another of the great loves in my life—the bandoneón. (Sorry, honey.) I've spent some time trying to play this German descendent of the accordion, and dancing the tango, which is inseparable from the bandoneón. This past year I took up the instrument again. It’s been so satisfying to pick up an old pastime and rediscover its history, culture, music, and all the other reasons I loved it in the first place.

The 19th-century inventor Heinrich Band created the bandoneón to accompany choral church music in his native Germany. His invention replaced the accordion’s keys with buttons, and produced different notes depending on whether it was being opened or closed. It’s easy to see why this instrument, with its emphasis on chords and the way it “breathes” air past reeds on its inside, was a natural partner to a choir. When Germans brought the bandoneón to Argentina around the turn of the century, however, it took on a more colorful role among the Buenos Aires brothels, places where even the disenfranchised could earn a living. Now the chords had a more melancholy tone, reflecting the desperation and hard truths of prostitution, and the “breath” had a sexier edge to it.

As time went by, Argentinean politics granted people greater social parity, then took it away, then gave it back again, and then took it once more. Another breathing was happening, and the bandoneón breathed with it. With each surge of equality, tango gained acceptance among the upper classes. Once the music’s popularity helped it reach listeners in Paris, France, tango (and the bandoneón) were given a place in high society that couldn’t be taken away. These days, nearly everyone’s heard bandoneón music through composer and performer Ástor Piazzolla, and we’re all richer for it.

As great as my love for this sexy instrument is, my husband doesn't have anything to worry about. After all, as they say, "It takes two!"