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AN Awareness Week 2019

PSA: this post is not craft related.

Acoustic neuromas are slow growing benign tumors that develop on the main nerve leading from your inner ear to your brain. This nerve influences your balance and hearing; pressure from the tumor can cause hearing loss, tinnitus (ringing in the ear), balance trouble, and problems with facial paralysis. ANs account for 8% of all brain tumors.

If you know me personally then you know that a little over two years ago I was diagnosed with an acoustic neuroma (also called a vestibular schwannoma). I previously had a blog devoted to all things Acoustic Neuroma and then I deleted it. I felt like I was dwelling by having the blog. I’ve struggled with having a “diagnosis” that I don’t want, I imagine that’s most likely the case for anyone. I try to hide from it by pretending it doesn’t exist but then things like “Acoustic Neuroma Awareness Week” happen and it’s in my face all day every day for at least a week in May. May is also Brain Tumor Awareness month so once AN week is over, there’s still the blanket brain tumor awareness month to get through. That’s not to say that I’m ungrateful for having a community of people with the same diagnosis. It’s incredibly helpful to know there are others going through what I’ve been through and continue to experience.

Once I committed to a treatment I think I thought it would all be over after that. I would have the procedure and then I would be “normal” again. But let’s be honest, was I ever really “normal”??? I had stereotactic radio surgery (radiation). The idea behind radiation is that it will ideally stop the tumor from growing any further and possibly shrink it. My most recent MRI showed that the tumor had pulled away from my brain stem a bit so that was super exciting.

Symptoms or side-effects or super inconvenient annoyances (why romanticize it) have continued and increased. In November I got a hearing aid for my right ear. However, I very much still struggle with hearing speech. I’m someone who says “I’m sorry, what?” over and over in a conversation. I feel rude and embarrassed and it annoys my kids and people forget that I can’t hear well and will talk to me from another room or across a room. It doesn’t seem like a big deal but it leaves a feeling of isolation and defectiveness. If I’m in a crowded restaurant or some other place where lots of people are talking, I can’t hear the person/people I’m with. The sound all blurs together with the background noise. It’s embarrassing.

I wanted to post something positive for AN Week but it’s just not where I am this month. I’m happy to feel like I’m on the other side of this but I’m still learning how to deal with it. Hopefully next May and the May after that, and the one after that will be a bit easier than the one before.

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What I’m Proud Of–By Matt

Anyone who has spent time making art knows that it’s really hard to be proud of something that you’ve made. For example, I have a pen sitting by my keyboard that I made. It looks kind of stunning from this distance, but if I pick it up and look at it closely, the imperfections jump out. Even though the connections between the wood and the pen kit are almost perfect, I can hold it up and see a scratch on the black finish of the nib from where my hand slipped during the sand papering process and a tiny crack in the wood up closer to the top where I got a little too forceful with the reamer. It’s a pen I would have listed at $40 minimum, but because of these mistakes, it’s one of my personal pens that no one else will ever see.

Actually, there are a bunch of pens that I’ve made that have similar fates.

Artists are often their own harshest critics. And in a way, that’s good. Art needs a filter before it is released into the wild. One of the fears that was unleashed when Amazon made self-publishing a reality for so many writers is that the gatekeeper to the publishing industry was removed. Who’s going to figure out what’s worthy of being read now? How will you be able to sort through all the garbage to find a good book?

This tiny imperfection on the wood ruins an otherwise beautiful pen.

In a way, that fear never really manifested. Sure, loads of bad books were (and are) published on the Amazon format, but lots of newer good books were, too. I discovered a lot of great writers that just never had the interest of waiting for years to get their books published traditionally through this format–and a lot of awful writers. Eventually, the bad was weeded out of my reading library and the good remained.

The gatekeeper wasn’t removed, he just moved to a different place. Instead of the publishing houses, the market is the gatekeeper. It’s opened up a lot of awesome possibilities for more people.

So, what does this have to do with art?

In one way, there’s never been a traditional gatekeeper in the art world. For centuries, artists would need some sort of patron or benefactor to really devote themselves to their work. But unknown names (like Van Gogh) had the potential to work in obscurity and even if it took decades, their work was eventually recognized for the greatness that it held. The market decided, not the museums.

That’s why someone like Banksy can be so popular, yet museums turn down the art. The gatekeeper isn’t always right.

What am I proud of in my work? I am proud that it has made me pay attention to detail. I’m not good at that in real life. I can overlook the little things and focus on the big. But that’s not what art is. That’s not what relationships with others are. That’s not what a good book is. The little things are what separates good from great. I’m proud that my work has helped me to learn this and to keep striving to see those little things in whatever venue I’m in, whether it’s a conversation with my wife, reading a book, or rejecting a project to my “personal use only” stash. I’m proud that I’m seeing how to be a better, more compassionate person through my art–even if my art itself never sees the light of day as a result of that.

A Mistake that I Keep Making–by Matt

Beth has a list of blog topics that she wants to cover during the month of March, and the topic for today (March 18th) is “Mistake or Lesson.” Since I have the time and Beth is not yet up and Youba-ing about, I figured I would take a little of her blogging burden off her shoulders for the time being.

The biggest mistake that I have made in my crafting process is impatience. It’s a mistake that I return to time and time (and time!) again, and it’s one that is constantly frustrating to me.

In woodworking, there are a lot of things that you need patience for. If I use a wood that hasn’t been sufficiently dried, there’s a chance that it can explode on me on the lathe or warp years after I finish it, ruining what was supposed to be a beautiful project. This means drying wood properly in the oven (usually a bare minimum of 12 hours), or even letting it sit for a year out in the shed. Right from the beginning, patience is necessary.

Full disclosure: I try to skip this step as much as possible by buying previously dried wood.

Pen mistake
That little red part sticking out should not be visible!


Next, I need to be patient while turning. If I push too hard with the chisel to take off more than just a few slivers of wood at a time, there’s a chance that the project will shatter. I have ruined more than a few really cool projects by rushing the shaping process. Patience is needed if I want to have anything left to show for my work.

And that doesn’t even take into account the whole setup process. I need to take the time to ensure that the tools are sharpened and that my work area is not too messy and that I have everything where it’s supposed to be. If I don’t have the patience to take care of these things and pay attention to detail, whatever I’m working on will be negatively impacted.

Then, there’s the finishing process. Applying stain to a table top, or polyacrylic to an ornament, or CA or oil to a pen is not an instantaneous thing. To get a table looking right, I usually need three layers of stain and three layers of poly at the bare minimum. Stain takes about 4 hours to dry between layers and poly takes a minimum of 2. This is not a process that can be rushed or little bubbles appear in the finish and the final project looks awful.

And then there’s the waiting as you hope someone will buy what you made.

I am not a patient person, but woodworking is trying to change that. At the least, I’ve realized that a good project–whatever it is–takes time to happen. You can’t cut some wood and drill some holes and slap some finish on it and expect anyone to buy it. It can be frustrating to be patient, but no one’s going to know how many hours something took me to make. They will hold the final product in their hand and hopefully it will be a blessing to them. They don’t see the patience, but they can certainly appreciate the fruit of it.

This extends far beyond woodworking, of course. It applies to just about anything that’s worth doing, including friendships, relationships, your career, and more. This is a crafting blog though, so I will let you contemplate those things on your own.

Wednesday Thoughts by Matt

When I was a kid, one of my chores was to mow the lawns. I mowed my immediate family’s lawn, my grandma’s (who lived next door), and my grandpa’s (who lived down the street from us). In total, it was probably about four acres of grass that I would cut on a weekly basis. By the time that I would get to the end of the last lawn—usually my grandpa’s—I would be exhausted. There was always the temptation to put the mower in a high gear and just do it as quickly as possible.

One day, shortly after some rain had fallen, I decided to do just that. It was a miserable type of day, and I would not have been outside if I didn’t have to do the mowing. I sped through my grandpa’s lawn in record time. On a normal day, it would take about two hours to do his lawn. On this magnificently miserable day, I did it in almost half that time. 

Well, at first.

Once my grandpa saw how bad of a job I did, he made me do the whole thing over again. There were chunks of grass that had been missed because of the mower clogging on the wet grass and pieces I had missed altogether. It looked awful.

Two hours after that, I was done for real. And really unhappy.

But I learned something that day that I have never forgotten. When I finished my grandpa sat me down and said, “No one will remember how fast you did something. They will only remember how good of a job you did.”

As a 12 year old, this meant nothing to me. As a 36 year old, it’s one of the most important things I have ever been taught. No one cares how fast I can make a pen, create a lesson plan for an English lesson, or fix the sump pump in my basement. They remember the quality of the job that was done.

This extends way beyond crafting or making of any sort. It’s a principle that applies to everything we do. No one cares how quickly you do your job, just that you do it well. We all have different gifts and abilities and we are called to use those as best as we can. We’re not perfect and we’ll make mistakes. Sometimes, no one even will notice that you do something unless you mess it up. That can be frustrating. But there are not many things that are better than taking pride in what we do and ensuring that we do the very best that we can, every time we do it.

Do You Make What Makes You Happy?

I’ve been following along with the #MarchMeetTheMaker challenge by @JOANNEHAWKER. It’s been super fun and inspiring to see all the things that people have come up with. The talent from one person to the next is fascinating.

Day one of the challenge was to tell about your favorite thing to make; I make a lot of things. When I started Youba Handmade in 2012, I started by making rice bags. For those that don’t know what a rice bag is, it’s basically like a pillow that’s filled with rice and you can heat it or freeze it and use it on your body as you would use a heating pad or an ice pack. For me this came about because I had recently had all of my wisdom teeth extracted. I was on pain meds, lying in bed, and completely miserable. Several years before when I was having tooth pain, someone had loaned me this rice sock thing and it was MAGICAL. So, under the influence of pain medicine and delirium, I went on Amazon and bought a sewing machine, a massive pack of men’s tube socks, and a twenty pound bag of rice. Thus, Youba Handmade was born.

But what is my favorite thing to make? It’s not rice bags. I like rice bags just fine. Rice bags helped me to start this adventure and for that I am eternally grateful. My favorite part about rice bags is the fabric. I had a revelation shortly after buying the tube socks that people would probably appreciate something a bit prettier, so I started to make rice bags from regular quilting fabric. I love fabric. There are so many prints and amazing designers. It’s art on fabric.

Presently, my favorite things to make are stationery and stickers. I love drawing something and having a place to put it. This is not to say that I don’t appreciate hanging things on the refrigerator, but past age ten one desires a larger audience than the refrigerator brings.

When you have a small business I think you’re supposed to focus that business on a central idea. The problem I have is that I love making all of the things. I love stationery, stickers, sewing, painting, drawing, gluing popsicle sticks, and making macaroni necklaces (I definitely have not made a macaroni necklace since I was five.). I want to make what I’m passionate about and my passion has ADD. I can’t imagine that I’m alone in feeling this way. If you’re a maker that sells what they make, do you focus on one particular type of thing that you make or do you just put it all out there and hope that people aren’t overwhelmed? Let me know what you think.

About Last Night

Something you should know about me is that I love drawing books. If you give me a book on how to draw something/anything, I will react like the stereotypical female would react if you gave her a piece of jewelry. Drawing books are gold.

I have purchased several types of drawing books for my kids, and exactly zero percent of my offspring are interested in drawing or creating in any form. Feels great. So I steal the books back and use them myself. In retrospect, I wonder if I’m just buying books for myself under the guise of “gifting”…hmm. Who knew blogging would be an introspective look at how subtly selfish I am?

The interesting part of my children having no interest in drawing is that in the rare event when they do finally succumb to my nagging to draw or color with me, they complain, “how come you’re so good at drawing __________ and I’m not”? My answer is always the same, “you are good at drawing this, however, I’m 38 and I’ve been drawing as far back as I can remember so I’ve had a ton of practice. Drawing is just like anything else you want to do well, you need to practice”. Insert child sigh and eye roll here ____.

Last night, surrounded by a bunch of drawing books, trying to muster some inspiration, I was doodling on my tablet. I was drawing some cutesy doodles and thinking about my youngest’s self esteem when it comes to drawing, reading, and writing. I think often times when he sees something that he perceives as “better than his” he’s only seeing the final product. When I draw, I am constantly erasing or scribbling and redoing something. When he draws, it’s a one and done deal. He draws the thing and the thing is complete. With this in mind, I did a time lapse recording from my tablet and I drew a couple of doodles. You can see in the video that I scribble over stuff, clean up messy spots, and make careless lines. I’m not messy because I don’t care but because being meticulous would suck the fun right out of doodling. Anyway, my hope is to try and erase some of that illusion of perfection that my kiddo sees when he looks at what I do. The end product is cool to look at but the process is where you’re learning and changing and fixing so you can do better next time. Here’s a link to my doodling YouTube video: https://youtu.be/MKWyPCskHUQ

p.s. Here are a few of my favorite drawing books:

  1. Illustration School: Let’s Draw a Story by Sachiko Umoto (aff. link: https://amzn.to/2BMKRfa ): – Sachiko Umoto has a ton of drawing books and they’re all fun and carefree. Let’s Draw Happy People is super fun too. I think I have three or four of their books.
  2. 20 Ways to Draw a Dress by Julia Kuo (aff. link: https://amzn.to/2EsJt3c) – There are several “20 Ways to Draw” books available and I love them all.
  3. How to Draw Pokémon by Tracey West (aff. link: https://amzn.to/2U5tbCP) – This is how I woo my littles to draw with me.

Quick & Easy Office Art Tutorial

Watch the 2 minute video tutorial here:
https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=ZZ-SyExiGTA

Is that glitter?! It sure is, friends. It’s that micro super fine kind of glitter. Its power of stickiness is even stronger than that of regular glitter! I expect to be seeing this on my skin for centuries to come.

I had a square canvas laying around that was looking a bit banged up. Rather than throw it out, I decided to make a quick little something to hang on my office wall. Quick, fun, and easy were my “must haves” for this painting.

Below, I’ve listed the items you will need and coordinating affiliate links to products that I think are cost effective and fit the needs for this project and projects similar to this one.

Supplies:

A canvas (any size, I used 8″) – https://amzn.to/2tsOpyN

White acrylic paint – https://amzn.to/2Nhh82z 

A second color of acrylic paint (I used two shades of pink)

paint brush – https://amzn.to/2ElvUT2

Sponge brush – (PSA: sponge brushes are crazy cheap; do not pay more than $5.00 for a package of them). https://amzn.to/2XfJjng

white glue (I used Elmer’s Craft Bond) – https://amzn.to/2XeDoPa

a small dish with about 2 tsp. of water in it

Directions:

  1. Paint your entire canvas white.
  2. Paint half of your canvas the second color you’ve chosen. I used two shades of pink to give it a more streaky look. This absolutely does not need to be done neatly. I think mine isn’t messy enough and could use some splatter.
  3. Add about 1 Tbsp. of white glue to a small dish and mix in 2 tsp of water. Thoroughly mix this until you have a runny glue.
  4. Using a sponge brush, apply your glue mixture to the middle of your canvas.
  5. While the glue is still wet, add glitter. The amount of glue you add is entirely up to you. I used a decent amount because I wanted a lot of sparkle. If you’ve committed to using glitter, you’ve accepted that it’s going to be messy, so go big!
  6. Let your painting dry completely.

You can leave your painting as is or add a monogram with some vinyl or paint. I will do a tutorial on this in the future.

Let me know if you tried this and how you liked it. I think it would be a great project to do with the kiddos as it provides relatively immediate project gratification. My eight inch square canvas took me approximately ten to fifteen minutes to complete.

Don’t forget to check out my YouTube video for the tutorial here: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=ZZ-SyExiGTA

Presidents Day Musings

I am not a political person. When friends on social media start talking about what the President did or did not do, I just skip right over it.  I definitely don’t feel like political people are “my people”.  That’s why it was so surprising when I found out that many political leaders—both present and past—were very talented artists!

Take former President George W. Bush, for example. His paintings of war veterans received a lot of press about a year ago, but what was the most surprising part of all of this was how incredibly talented he is. He even had a book published that highlighted his work called, Portraits of Courage.

Bush has said that Sir Winston Churchill, the Prime Minister of England during World War II, was his inspiration for getting into painting. Churchill was a skilled politician, but also an award winning painter. He would enter contests anonymously and would occasionally win. He devoted the last several years of his life to his painting and achieved tremendous results.

Bush was not the only President inspired by Churchill. President Eisenhower began experimenting with painting after developing a friendship with Churchill. As you can see, Eisenhower was quite talented in this field, too.

One of the paintings displayed at Eisenhower’s farm in Gettysburg, PA. Photo credit: Matt Young

The link between the arts and politics goes back even further. In Medieval Europe, it was the kings, religious authorities, and the nobility that pumped money into the arts and helped to bring about the Renaissance. Without politicians that were interested in the arts, we’d never have the Mona Lisa, the Sistine Chapel, or the Palace of Versailles.

What is it about art that captures our attention and imagination? It’s certainly not something that’s necessary to live. It’s just something extra that makes life a little bit better. Like music, there’s something about good art that builds us up and inspires us. The fact that it has had such a profound impact on so many important people cannot be coincidental.

That’s what I’m thinking about this Presidents Day. What about you?

My Desk

My desk.

So, this is my desk. This is my desk when it’s clean. I cleaned it yesterday. It seems as though this may be some kind of metaphor for my mind. There’s six thousand things happening all at once and crowned on top is a giant doll house and a Jane Austen action figure. There’s comedy in there somewhere, right? I just can’t nail it down.

This space strikes me more as a page from an I Spy book than a nucleus for a small business. When I scroll Pinterest for work spaces, I drool over the bright and dreamy organized rooms that I see. Do you think the neatly organized, color coordinated spaces are real or are they just Pinterest propaganda? This is a good spot to stop and point out my LOVE for alliteration and praise Jesus for autocorrect because no matter how many times I try to spell “alliteration” it takes a solid three tries to get it right.

Here’s the kicker, the mess makes me unhappy but I feel like I create more easily in a bit of mayhem than I do in a sterile, white glove tested room. If a room is super clean, I am distracted by the fact that I need to keep it super clean. I’m uncomfortable because I’m stressing about whether or not I have made a mess somewhere. I have three boys, so there is always a mess being made somewhere. Maybe chaos is my resting rate and that’s where I’m most comfortable?

I crave, with every fiber of my being, to be an organized person and it just doesn’t seem to be in the cards for me. To say that I’m just going to accept that this is me feels like I’m being a quitter. Perhaps though, after 38 years of being some version of this catastrophe, I need to accept it and work with it. I could have my own show, “I Spy, Real Life”! ….Uhhh, Beth, pretty sure that show exists already, it’s called “Hoarders”.

Dear Creatives, here are my questions for you: what does your creative space (or living space) look like? Is it mayhem or are you a Neat-O Nancy? Is there such a thing as something in between those two options? Does your space affect how and what you create?

The Reluctant Artist

I’m not artistic. I’m not crafty. I am not the kind of person who writes blogs for a crafting website.

I teach Junior High English, History, and Bible at a tiny private school. Before that, I worked as a freelance writer for various blogs and publications. Writing is what I do. If I ever wanted to make something, I did it with words. Not with my hands.

I’ve always had a deep admiration for art and a deep admiration for the people that make it. My wife is one of the most talented people I’ve ever met in this regard. I took a few art classes in college and familiarized myself with some of the great pieces of artwork and the great artists, but no matter how much I tried, I never found something that I could do well. I never even found a type of art that was fun for me.

The table I made Beth.

That started changing a few years ago when I was forced to learn how to fix a few things around our house. Our home is over 100 years old and as you might expect from anything that old, it needs a lot of love. I learned how to fix and install toilets, sinks, shelves, flooring, walls, and more.

Suddenly, I found myself looking for projects to do and things to fix. I built an end table for my wife. I was exploring woodworking blogs and actually using Pinterest. It was fun. And I found myself wanting to make a lot of new stuff. Turning wood was especially interesting, and I eventually found myself buying a used wood lathe at a yard sale my childhood church had over the summer.

I’m still a teacher. I love teaching others and the fact that we are all so different and approach learning and complex tasks in unique ways makes this a great challenge. But as a teacher, I also find myself thinking, “how can I help others learn woodworking skills?” I’m definitely not a pro here, but one of the best ways to learn something is to teach it. As I launch my YouTube channel, I’m finding that it’s pushed me to want to learn more and to make sure that the things I think I know are actually correct. It’s awesome and scary and fun all at the same time.

My first pen. It now sits on Beth’s worktable.

I’m still reluctant to call myself an artist, even if Beth says that I must. I think that this is a title that would be disrespectful to other artists if I bestowed it upon myself. But I also think that we need to realize that we’re capable of so much more than what we currently are doing. I never thought that I would make something that someone else would voluntarily want to put on display in their home. It was a surprise when I received that validation from someone else that I had a talent or skill that was worthwhile to them. It encouraged me to grow.

Outside validation isn’t necessary, though. If there’s something that you enjoy in the crafting world, it’s worth pursuing. You have that interest for a reason. Our interests (along with talent, experience, background, etc.) are part of what makes each of us unique. You might just find that you have this specific interest for a reason, and that it brings you and others great joy as you explore the gifts and talents that you’ve been given.

  -Matt-