Friday, October 31, 2008

Gocco Dancing

The French might claim to speak the world's most beautiful language, but when it comes to accents, Bernadette Sipkes has them beat. The art of Sugarloop, rather presciently premised on the idea that a work of art need not necessarily be steeped in excessive gravitas to be effective , uses giclée and gocco media to create perfect complementary pieces for any room in the house. In an era in which far too much of the art we enjoy is obscured by some political or social agenda, Sipkes instead themes her work upon refreshingly positive elements that suggest a peaceful, reflective relationship with the world around us: A Green Nesting Bird, for example, or a pair of Blue Powder Deer grazing contentedly around a tree in bloom. A duo of glorious cranes in either orange or chartreuse. A barrel-chested Metallic Turquoise Rooster calmly surveying the world from a lofty perch.

The poise and balance of each piece is, in fact, as Nordic as the region that inspired much of it. Like the Finnish highway sign that translates to "Drive Quietly Over the Bridge," an understated sense of deeply appreciative nature-wonder undergirds the entire gallery, and Sipkes makes no attempt to conceal her northerly inspiration as she acknowledges design giant Marimekko freely in the gallery. The flow of her art is effortless, and the arrangements subtle and charming. The question, in the end, is not whether a Sugarloop work is the ideal art piece for your freshly painted room; the question is whether you'll be satisfied with only one. To view Bernadette's gallery in full, visit her shop Sugarloop on Etsy.

Thursday, October 30, 2008

Treating Your #2s Like Number One

If ever there was a match made in Etsy heaven, it’s the combination of fresh, fun fabrics with pencil case practicality. Literally. And heaven knows it’s about time. Unless you were the one kid in elementary school savvy enough to bring a mechanical pencil to class, you know the chagrin of reaching into your backpack to find only a sad scattering of chipped, blunted, and cracked #2s at your disposal. You whittled them back to form with your thimble-sized sharpener, but what you really needed was a pencil case. Well, now’s the time to redeem yourself, with a fashion-forward twist. Allie of Alliebeans, perhaps in memoriam of those vexing childhood moments, but more likely in recognition of the basic needs of pencil-wielding artists all over the Etsyverse, has come through for us with a deliciously diverse and delightful gallery of pencil cases and other fabric accessories in retro-modern themes.

Now, lest one think we’ve lost our staples, we know Allie didn’t invent the pencil case. It’s just that it’s hard to imagine that anyone has ever taken more time to fine-tune the presentation of these items, not to mention that of the darling box pouches and wristlets that flesh out her collection. From the streamlined, classic cylindrical shapes she employs to the snappy intuition of designs like Tangerine Sprouts or Pig Silhouettes on Red, there’s a scheme for every sketcher, and the “flip side” of her products are just as pretty. The glee of a Chicken Dance, grace of an Autumn Breeze, and sense of completion in the Peapods with Green Herb Lining. The practicality of the Criss Cross coaster and the pizzazz of the Red Hippo Tissue Case. Whatever your pleasure, Alliebeans is there for you, and who knows? You just might get your first sample “on the house,” because the winner of today’s giveaway will receive the Keychain Pouch of his or her choice. To qualify, visit Alliebeans, then come back here to tell us about your favorite product. Tell us in a second post if you happen to subscribe to Wishing Willow, since our subscribers receive an extra entry in the contest. To post without a Google account, just click “anonymous.” Be sure to also leave your email address. The winner will be chosen randomly. Contest ends 11/7/08.

**We have a winner! blueviolet who said,"I like the Criss Cross Fabric Coaster - Green Hippo and Daisies set. Those are awfully cute."***

Wednesday, October 29, 2008

Feast of Evocations

To one, it’s a confederacy of marine organisms, a reef habitat teeming with bright, lustrous coral, pulsating jellyfish, and mysterious translucent beings. To another, it’s Georgia O’Keefe on mind-altering drugs, a mosaic of amazing orchid patterns pressed into congress with cellular silhouettes and the fibrous underbellies of wild mushroom caps. To still another, it’s a single living creature suspended malignantly from above, each astonishing aspect of its person networked to the others by fine vesicle-like filaments that might transmit blood, energy, or otherworldly intelligence. Whatever it is, I prefer to think of the art of Yellena James less as a Rorschach test and more as a skylight forcing open the closed mind. Can an artist go about depicting things this radically amorphous, albeit suggestive, and actually find a niche in the finicky world of gallery art? She can if she has the talent of Yellena James.

Our survey of Yellena’s work began, of course, with a piece that exemplified all the distinctive qualities of her style: the radiantly image-saturated, fittingly named Allusion. The artist, however, didn’t stop there. She fetes a festive gathering of mitochondrial revelers in Masquerade, infuses her Honeydew forest with a spectrum of summery pastels, loops up a swirling tempest in Cloudburst and celebrates simple Wonder with a print of the same name. One after another, her drawings delight us, and here’s one especially delightful “drawing” to top it off: the winner of today’s giveaway will win the Yellena James print of his or her choice, up to $20 in value. To enter, visit Yellena's Etsy Shop, then come back here to tell us about your favorite print. Wishing Willow subscribers earn an extra entry; be sure to let us know in a second post if you’re a subscriber. To post without a Google account, just click “anonymous.” Be sure to also leave your email address. The winner will be chosen randomly. Contest ends 11/6/08. Best of Luck!

**We have a winner! Mommyhood is Thankless who said, "Allusion is my favorite I really love the detail! In the interest of making it look like I actually visited the etsy shop full or gorgeous art work, I also like Starlight and Maybe too! If I won, I seriously would have a rough time picking!"**

Tuesday, October 28, 2008

Authentic Amazing

Ever since hearing a few years back that grunge/chick rock titan Alanis Morrisette’s record label was furnishing the singer with a stripped-down urban apartment in the hopes that such austerity might reignite the creative spirit of her early bohemian years, I’ve wondered at the lengths some artists will go to try to shake the commercial trap. In a world in which money almost invariably corrupts the creative process, it’s comforting to know that there exists, in the invisible middle earth of everyday artisans, an industry in which exceptionally talented craft professionals such as Katie, of New Zealand's In My Backyard, can make a name shaping distinctive brooches, handbags, scarves and the like in the comfort of, well, their backyards.

The charm of the ever-present bug-eyed bird caught immobilized in the logo that adorns so many of these products is really emblematic of the brand’s appeal in general. Be it the Little Bird fabric pin, the Lancewood Notebooks, the Little Bird Keyring or the Bird Zippered Pouch, the sort of items that make up this accessory line simply don’t need to fake the feel of earthiness, originality, and authenticity for which so many high-end apparel companies strive in vain by rolling out artificially distressed or “pre-weathered” merchandise. Put another way, this stuff’s audaciously, beautifully real, and that’s just one more quality that renders it special. With a little luck, you might even see this characteristic for yourself: The winner of today’s giveaway will receive a Little Bird Pin in their fabric color of choice. To qualify, visit In My Backyard, then come back here to tell us about your favorite product. Tell us in a second post if you happen to subscribe to Wishing Willow, since our subscribers receive an extra entry in the contest. To post without a Google account, just click “anonymous.” Be sure to also leave your email address. The winner will be chosen randomly. Contest ends 11/5/08.

**We have a winner! gkstratos who said, "I like the Birdy Black Fleece Scarf."***

Monday, October 27, 2008

A New Economy of Glamour

A Western folk tale speaks of two purses set before a shopper from the East: a sleek, oversized leather name-brand bag; and a small, modest hemp version hand-printed by an independent artisan. The first purse promises to inspire adulation and envy from others, and a heightened sense of position in society. “The catch,” the shopper is told, “is that it costs more than a small car, clashes with almost anything but expensive clothes, must be frequently pampered with oil and protected from scratches, and loses 50% of its value the moment is no longer brand new.” The story stops there. After all, some endings are obvious. We didn’t choose to feature Mingus Designs simply for the eco-friendly organic composition, adorably rustic-modern design, and obvious practicality of its purses and other products. We’ve turned our spotlight on this ahead-of-the-curve accessory artist for our own collective illumination.

Without a doubt, this is one designer tailor-made for a global economy that is gradually turning all of us into smarter, more intuitive and less superficial shoppers. And the kicker is, considering its uniqueness and considerable charm, a screen-printed Mingus purse will turn heads much the way a more expensive purse might without saddling its wearer with even of smidgeon of that pretentious show-off stigma. Should nature themes catch your fancy, the agrarian goodness of The Waves is a must. Animal lovers will clutch closely the Armadillo at Sea, Rabbit Pile or Hummingbird version. And for those who celebrate craftiness itself, images such as the Origami Plane are positively perfect. But generosity may well be the greatest virtue of all, and Mingus Designs proves to have this quality in abundance as well: The winner of today’s giveaway will receive an Elephant Origami organic purse in black, courtesy of the purse’s maker. To qualify, visit Mingus Designs, then come back here to tell us about your favorite product. Mention in a second post if you happen to subscribe to Wishing Willow, since our subscribers receive an extra entry in the contest. To post without a Google account, just click “anonymous.” Be sure to also leave your email address. The winner will be chosen randomly. Contest ends 11/4/08

**We have a winner! Ann who said, "My favorite product is the Hummingbird Organic Purse, really nice. Thanks for the great giveaway!"**

Friday, October 24, 2008

Migratory Muses

Each of us, at some point, has envied a bird. I can not escape the memory of a certain robin to this very day. As a child I watched as she clicked around her nest in a drizzling rain just outside my bedroom window, her oiled feathers easily slicking the downpour, her spirit unflappable. It was the beginning of bird envy for me. Some of us recover from the disappointment of our earthbound, ambulatory existence in time to lead adult lives in which these delicate darlings of the air are largely taken for granted; others, like the namesake of Gennine’s Art Store, enshrine their bird aspirations in art as a lever against forgetting nature’s beauty. On the wings of such lovely subjects as Bird Number 21 (an addendum to the stunning 20 Birds series) and in the handsome dusk tones of the Three Little Birds, her details bring to life a creature whose sonorous presence leaves the day “clean and fresh washed…resounding like a green dulcimer” (Neruda). She leads us to a bygone landscape in Homage to Chagall, then channels Warhol’s forward thinking in the composition of Together.

Gennine doesn’t stop with avian art, however. Her paintings of boats perched on used postcards, as in Ahoy and Fishing, troll the waters of imagination and haul in preposterously large catch. Her plant life in one print rises from Botanical Gardens moonstruck with night magic, and in another, Flower Party, lies etched against a tapestry of bright desert colors. In fact, in surveying Gennine’s Etsy gallery one comes away with the distinct impression that she really does love to surprise us. And if surprises are your thing, a bit of good luck might bring you another: The winner of today’s giveaway will win a Limited Edition Print of Three Little Birds courtesy of the artist. To qualify, visit Gennine’s Art Store, then come back here to tell us about your favorite print. Tell us in a second post if you happen to subscribe to Wishing Willow, since our subscribers receive an extra entry in the contest. To post without a Google account, just click “anonymous.” Be sure to also leave your email address. The winner will be chosen randomly. Contest ends 11/1/08.

**We have a winner! Annie who said, "I love Pile o Wood, its so special! Thanks."**

Thursday, October 23, 2008

Color Me Happy

If there’s one driving ambition behind this blog, it’s to find those creative spirits who bloom just off the beaten path, and to transplant them into the lives of the many readers out there who need a fresh touch of color to get through the day. More often than not, the subject matter inspires a little healthy reflection, but every once in a while, we happen upon something that radiates pure joy…something like the playful, vigorous visions of Zukzuk. While the artist, Helen Acraman, can slog weighty themes with the best of them, as evidenced in This is Where You Live or perhaps the darkly satirical Zukzuk Cow, it’s her sunny side that sets her apart. Grinning bears and random mood bubbles sparkle throughout her work, to the point that the unbridled mirth of pieces like I Run to You and Sugar Drop Baby becomes quite contagious, and the mischief of Masked Bear and others just adds to the innocently utopian ethos.

Though the themes might seem refreshingly cheery, however, there’s no denying that a grown-up soul guides the direction of the art. Acraman’s fascinating family portraits, such as Older and Bolder, Family Tree and Zukzuk Family with a Small Footprint, acknowledge the fact that life is lived in community, none more important than the one closest to us. And if her festively plumed Peacocks or Jelly Bean Birds say anything to us, it’s that color is more a state of mind than an element of art, and that what brightens Acraman’s canvas is simply the overflow of what’s already in her heart. Oh, and by the way, in case you’re interested in bringing a little of this goodness home with you, here’s a jolly bit of news: Helen will be giving you any $20 print of your choice, should you be lucky enough to win today’s giveaway. To qualify, visit the Zukzuk Gallery, then come back here to tell us about your favorite print. Wishing Willow subscribers earn an extra entry; be sure to let us know in a second post if you’re a subscriber. To post without a Google account, just click “anonymous.” Be sure to also leave your email address. The winner will be chosen randomly. Contest ends 10/31/08. Best of Luck!

**We have a winner! Abby who said, "My favorite is definitely Homage, though I loved a lot of her pieces. Really beautiful work.**

Wednesday, October 22, 2008

The Secret Life of Living Room Chairs

Ah, suburbia. Land of quietly bloated mortgages, neatly kept lawns, and the tyranny of unspoken codes of conduct. I heard of a subdivision once that banned homeowners from working on their own cars in their own driveways. Sends the wrong message was the company line, thus confirming the presence of weird pseudo-elitists among even the middle class. It takes a real artist to successfully capitalize on the tensions of relationships among average people in average neighborhoods; thankfully, Melissa Bryant is a real artist. Her favorite metaphors? Chairs, imaginary monsters, and intersections. Of the three, the power of the chairs, arranged always with a subtle but deliberate spacing that creates personal energy in the composition, may be the most mystifying. Family Portraits 2 and 3 represent this effect nicely, though each of the chair portraits is effective in its own right. (For a great conversation starter, place a print of Group Therapy in front of your guests and ask each person to identify the chair they think is moderating the discussion.)

Bryant’s creatures of fantasy, however, are no less figurative than the chairs. In Dryer Monster, a familiar snapshot of the ubiquitous “kid-eater” that every child imagines lurking just behind the dryer door, a familiar irony similarly surfaces in the idea that where we hide our unmentionables, other unmentionable things have a tendency to hide as well. And then there are the intersections. As mentioned earlier, suburban streets aren’t typically considered image fodder as powerful, as say, the concrete jungle of Harlem, but then again, none of Melissa Bryant’s art is typical. These are textured illustrations intentionally bereft of a human subject, encouraging society, as the famously de-populated draft of La Grande Jatte did two centuries ago, to seek meaning from the very environment it takes for granted. (And meaning you will certainly find.) Love this stuff yet? If you do, you’ll be thrilled to know the winner of today’s giveaway will receive the Melissa Bryant print ($20 or less) of his or her choice. To enter, visit Melissa's gallery here, then come back here to tell us about your favorite print. Wishing Willow subscribers earn an extra entry; be sure to let us know in a second post if you’re a subscriber. To post without a Google account, just click “anonymous.” Be sure to also leave your email address. The winner will be chosen randomly. Contest ends 10/30/08. Best of Luck!

**We have a winner! Jingle who said, "Okay, I have two that I love! LOL! Circle Time with the red chairs is amazing, but I like the Modern Chair print, too! I love all the reds!"**

Tuesday, October 21, 2008

Mess Gets a Makeover

A forensic investigator snooping around our vehicle’s interior could probably piece together a picture of our family’s entire lifestyle just from the trash tucked into various crevices. That crushed Starbucks cup? A remnant of Monday. The empty Ben 10 Alien Force package? Just a little “guilt shopping” last September. The waxy orange substance stuck to the bottom of the cup holder? We pretend it isn’t there. When did our vehicle become the Little Van O’ Horrors? More to the point, what are we going to do about it? Mercifully, these questions that haunt us have finally been answered, thanks to the ingenuity of Allyson Hill and The Mod Mobile. By clothing a simple black garbage bag in something far more tasteful, the style limitations of bag noir have been swiftly overcome, and while we’re a long way from sartorial splendor, we certainly wouldn’t be embarrassed to tell Martha Stewart where to put her used muffin cup now, should she ever need to hitch a ride with us to the fabric store.

Some inventions reflect the necessities of our culture; others, like the Auto Trash litter bag, create a culture of their own. From the minimalist Optic Bloom to the cherubic Rocket Pals floating across a Golden Books-era space set; from the avant-garde Tokyo Swirl to the sweetly bold Ginger Tile, Allyson has covered a wide spectrum of themes and designs to fit the most finicky of trash-hoarders. Looking for something a little less feminine? Give your alpha male the gift of Camo, or the rad power of streaking Flames, and his breakfast burrito wrapper will find its way to the bag quicker than you can say “behavior modification.” Just don’t forget to give yourself an Allyson Hill gift as well. If you’re the fortunate type, you might just get one “on the house”: the winner of today’s giveaway will win a fashionably discreet, oh-so-handy Auto Sneeze tissue cozy of his or her choice. To qualify, visit The Mod Mobile and peruse Allyson's many products, then return here to tell us about your favorite. Let us know in a second post if you to subscribe to Wishing Willow, since our subscribers receive an extra entry in the contest. (If you don't have a Google account, just click “anonymous” or "name" to leave a post. Please be sure to also leave your email address.) The winner will be chosen randomly. Contest ends 10/29/08.

**We have a winner! Super Blogger Girl! who said,"I like the camo tissue cady! I got camo tissues for husband last year for hunting and he loves them, i bet they would look cute in this, with my camo diaper bag too!"***

Tipping Point

Predictable. Boring. Cliche. Tired of worrying what the gifts you give this Holiday Season will say about you? Not to worry! Tip Junkie's Mom-Preneuers Shop-A-Thon is the perfect place to find something unique for once in your life.

Laurie, tipster extraordinaire, has provided a lovely list of women-owned businesses that will meet your every shopping need. From jewelry to handmade sewn goods, you'll find everything you need for your loved ones here. Happy hunting!

Monday, October 20, 2008

Thinking Concretely

Run your finger around the rim of a Lulu Bug pendant, and you’ll hear the unmistakable lyrics of a protest anthem emanating from its finely wrought form. Concrete, a plaque-like symbol of urban sprawl, an indissoluble preservative of man’s footprint on the earth, wasn’t supposed to be transformed into something so incredibly pretty. And yet, here it is: boldly as a bush springing up through pavement cracks, Lulu Bug Jewelry turns all the old assumptions upside down and combines silver, resin, amazonite and other materials with tinted concrete to craft an ode to nature that plays close to the heart. Though the Oak Tree Necklace, its generous coloring rich against the silver backdrop, might be the most visually striking piece in the collection, one couldn’t be faulted for gravitating toward such lovely interpretations as the Concrete Flowers Necklace, Little Bird Necklace, or even something as delicate and understated as the Tiny Blackbird Earrings. The substance is trustworthy, the art painstaking, and the feel a whole lotta fun: You may not, after all, have ever thought of concrete as a medium for artistic expression, but it's never too late for a revolution. Visit Lulu Bug Jewelry on Etsy and see these for yourself.

Friday, October 17, 2008

Creatures of Refinement

William Wegman made a splash in the 1980s when his Weimaraners, Man Ray and Fay Ray, starred in a series of coffee table books about dogs posing as humans. The books enjoyed a honeymoon of brief popularity, of course, but among some critics, whispers surfaced that the novelty of the idea had obscured an inherent limitation in the photography: No matter how beautiful his compositions, Wegman never could make his dogs look like anything other than dogs in human clothing. Fortunately, artist Ryan Berkley at Berkley Illustration knows no such ceiling. With uncanny portraiture and a style sense that would make Tim Gunn swoon, Berkley has made a name for himself by giving us such luminaries as the bowtied Blue Jay and the buckaroo T-Rex, the pipe-puffing Panda in Oxford smoking jacket and the sophomoric, sweater-vested Frog whose endearing look of naivetĂ© gives new meaning to “green around the gills.” Consistent with the clothing-model sobriety of their expressions, Berkley also fits each animal with a description that is every bit as smart as the Windsor knot or bowler hat the animal proudly wears.

Some artists find a way to make the most of a moment. Berkley doesn’t have to—not when his portfolio is populated by so many classic characters. Heck, you might even find your own kin in this gallery: the Painted Turtle, perhaps, whose fez-tooned pragmatism reminds you of that feisty old uncle in the Shriners; or the Squirrel Lady, maybe, whose silk-and-bow self-confidence stirs memories of the big sister you had who’d sooner send a suitor packing than let him get fresh with her on a date. To anyone intent on picking one favorite, I can only say good luck. The good news if you do, however, is that Berkley Illustration just might let you have it. The winner of today’s giveaway will receive the print of his/her choice. To qualify, visit Berkley Illustration, then come back here to tell us about your favorite. Let us know in a second post if you to subscribe to Wishing Willow, since our subscribers receive an extra entry in the contest. (If you don't have a Google account, just click “anonymous” or "name" to leave a post. Please be sure to also leave your email address.) The winner will be chosen randomly. Contest ends 10/24/08.

**We have a winner! Mannequin who said, "EEEKKK. I don't believe it! I've had this bookmarked and I'm sure he has detected my drool all over his shoppe. I absolutely adore Billy Goat. What insight! What creativity! I am smitten." Congrats!***

Thursday, October 16, 2008

Blood on the Canvas

When Tolstoy wasn’t deriding Nietzsche’s cynicism or plumbing the depths of his own spirituality, he observed, often and with great fascination, the mechanics of the creative spirit. “Art,” he said, “is not a handicraft; it is the transmission of feeling the artist has experienced.” For me at least, the lucid visions of Sara Harvey, owner of Multiple Personality, make a fine case in point. Take a look at some of her more poignant snapshots of womanhood, as in the mesmerizing Blue, and you’ll find that the artist’s soul—the essence of her being—is so obviously impressed upon the canvas that try as you might, you won’t be able to easily turn away. Pain, or something like it, seems to radiate from the eyes of the subject, a chilling pathos from skin “blue like the winter snow,” to borrow a Natalie Merchant lyric. It is so immediately compelling that to ignore it would be to excuse one’s self while someone else is in the middle of telling a great story.

Our reaction to art like this actually, is a lot like encountering a thoughtful bit of poetry: the minute we leave it, believing we’ve got a handle on it, the meaning eludes us in some inscrutable way and we have to go right back to it. To make matters even more slippery, there’s no real context: Harvey can just as easily evoke laughs with the playful Gnomes as she can capture raw angst via the vascular shapes of Disconnected. In Deceleration her color scheme recalls Remy Charlip, yet in Head Parade there’s a hint of Roald Dahl-like humor. It is fitting, then, that today’s giveaway would honor that quality of versatility we so often encounter among Etsy-dwelling artists. For one randomly-selected champ, any Sara Harvey print priced at $18 or less will be yours to keep. To qualify, simply go to Sara’s gallery here, then come back here to tell us about your favorite print. Let us know in a second post if you to subscribe to Wishing Willow, since our subscribers receive an extra entry in the contest. (If you don't have a Google account, just click “anonymous” to leave a post. Be sure to also leave your email address.) The winner will be chosen randomly. Contest ends 10/23/08.

**We have a winner! Kt who said "'s a difficult choice...i think my fav is Roots!"***

Wednesday, October 15, 2008

Class In Session

The jeweler allows me to wear the sapphire blue lake on my finger, the emerald green leaves around my neck, and take the citrine sunset with me wherever I go. Jewelry has become my daytime link to nature in an office with no windows.

-Astrid Alauda,

Office with No Windows

Anyone who’s ever ventured into the shallow fringes of a lake and felt the smooth perfection of a rounded stone between the toes knows the penchant of nature for surprising us: gold sifted from sand, diamonds peeled from cave walls, a pearl growing in the hardened bowels of some salty clam half-buried on the ocean floor. The trick, however, is not in birthing precious or semi-precious stones from nature’s womb, but persuading the rest of the world to adopt them and acknowledge that they have worth far beyond that which can be measured in dollar signs. Kenton Beadworks, maker of handcrafted jewelry that features flawless stonework such as the Acacia Necklace, is one artisan that seems to understand. By eschewing stereotypical high-end cookie cutter accessory forms in favor of an organic, natural form, these pieces show off the stone itself rather than the setting—and in the process, exude absolute class. Bleeding-heart romantics might reach for the deep turquoise potency of the Willamette; a more poised lady might slip on the elegant Elle for a night out on the town. Whatever your preference, however, the goal of Kenton Beadwork's one-woman operation is to outfit you with classic jewelry that says graceful, not gaudy. Showing restraint, after all, has always been more ladylike than showing off.

Tuesday, October 14, 2008

Life at the End of the World

A Finnish friend of mine once refused to describe his experience growing up in far northern Lapland, where in winter man lives in perpetual darkness, and even in summer trees literally twist themselves trying to chase the sun’s fleeting circuit across the sky. “That,” he said with a dismissive shrug, “was life.” I’ve tried often to remember those words when attempting to interpret unique and offbeat artistic themes such as Sara Broski’s positioning of animals against largely empty backdrops, as typified in Polar Opposites. I’d like to think there is a suggestion here, in the polar bears’ amble over the barren ice toward each other, that life at the end of the world is not so lonely after all. Similarly, in Unfinished, to employ another example, I’m just presumptuous enough to see more than a shark without a fin. Maybe this is a picture of identity confusion. Maybe it’s deeper than that. Or perhaps, at the end of the day, the creative force behind Hisss Illustration is just painting “life.”

Whatever the case, one can’t help but be impressed with the clever juxtapositions and even wittier titles particular to her work—Newly Webbed being an apt example. (The humor is so perfectly placed, in fact, that I wonder sometimes which came first, the art or the title.) But whether you gravitate toward her still life portraits of ships or skulls, her ironically manipulated animal life, her faux-portraits ranging from Lincoln to Blanche (of Golden Girls fame, for the unitiated), or any of a dozen other themes, you’re sure to find something to like in the Hisss repertoire. You might even be lucky to win a print for yourself. For the winner of this giveaway, Sara Broski is offering a print of the reader's choice. To qualify, visit Hisss Illustration, then return here to tell us about your favorite print. Wishing Willow subscribers receive a second entry, so be sure to let us know in a second post that you subscribe. (If you don't have a Google account, just click “anonymous” to leave a post. Be sure to also leave your email address.) The winner will be chosen randomly. Contest ends 10/21/08.

**We have a winner! Cindi who said "Hello, What unusual and eclectic paintings! We had a pet fox and I really like the "Faux Fox" painting!"Another favorite of mine is the "Gerber Daisies!" Please enter me in your delightful drawing. I love to use paintings/prints in our home. Many thanks.**

Monday, October 13, 2008

Yarning One's Keep

Crochet might not be as “comfort food” as biscuits and gravy, but it’s darned close. The reasons are obvious. First, it’s a classic gift choice warmly suggestive of an investment of time, or at the very least thoughtfulness on the part of the owner; and second, let’s face it, it’s a lost art that our grandmothers practiced expertly and often—and who doesn’t love a grandma? The assumption that knit socks can’t be rocked by a younger crowd, however has finally met its match. Meet Caiti of Caitijo Crochet, an 18-year-old Georgia-based independent crafter whose marriage to the art of crochet is one of the most refreshing collaborations since Georgia’s most famous college band, R.E.M., tapped 70-year-old preacher-folk artist Howard Finster to paint its album covers.

Caiti’s work is original, made-to-order, and quietly stylish without a whiff of pretense. And as for cozy, if this designer could be persuaded to crochet a sleeping bag, you’d probably winter in it, emerging only for cocoa breaks, reruns of The Sound of Music, and the eventual return of spring. In addition to her bestselling Sunshiney Slipper Socks, which are every bit as effervescent and charming as the name implies, Caiti’s craftsmanship forays into footwear for children such as the Girly Girl Slippers, hand-pampering apparel such as her Bashful in Black Gloves, and to grace the neck, a variety of long and lovely Scarflings. And for the participant fortunate enough to win today’s giveaway, Caiti will also be hand-crafting one Kelly Green Beanie Hat (like the one in Caiti's profile picture) for your pleasure. To enter, just visit CaitiJo Crochet, then come back here to tell us about your favorite product. Wishing Willow subscribers earn an extra entry; be sure to let us know in a second post if you’re a subscriber. To post without a Google account, just click “anonymous.” The winner will be chosen randomly. Contest ends 10/20/08. Best of Luck!

**We have a winner! cathyhall who said...I am in love with those slippers, girly girl, sunshine or pixie. Too cute. Thanks wishing Willow!***

Friday, October 10, 2008

Kozy Kool

As the ghostwriter behind these features I endeavor to follow the unwritten laws of anonymity: Never step out of character. Be heard and not seen. Keep Oz behind the curtain at all costs. In this case, however, I’m making an exception. “Get over yourself,” my wife told me today. “I need an intervention, and you know it.” And so, for the first and probably last time, I will shift to the first-person, husband form to tell you all the truth: Tara has a coffee problem. This addiction is the primary reason I hesitate to extol the all-too-charming, frighteningly practical, earth-loving virtues of the Cup Kozy. You see, I know where this will lead. “We need to stop by Starbucks for a sec,” I can hear her saying. “I’ve got to see if my Cup Kozy fits their grande cups.” It won’t stop there, either. “Coffee Girls downtown uses a cup with a narrow contour,” she’ll ruminate casually the moment we hit the road. “Would you have thirty minutes to cross the bridge and back?”

And on it will go, and on and on until she has experimentally sleeved every cup in Kansas City from the Westport Coffeehouse to the kiosk manned by that hooded shot-pulling bean pusher just off the Bottoms. But alas, I am an enabler. And so I must admit, I’ll probably take her wherever she wants to go to prove the character of these fuzzy, formidable little hand savers. The Cup Kozy’s insulating fabric is light and sustainable, and even the tags and handy keyring hooked into it are made from recyclable materials. If earth-conscious were a fashion quality, these babies would steal the runway—but the truth is, they’re awfully cute in their own right. And since free is the only way to top fabulous, you’ll be thrilled to know that the makers of this product are giving away a free Cup Kozy in any non-printed color variety (Heather Grey, Moss Green, or Black ) to three lucky winners. To enter, view the many styles of Cup Kozy here, then come back here to tell us about your favorite. Wishing Willow subscribers earn a second entry; let us know in a second post if you subscribe. You don't have to have a Google account to participate. Click "anonymous" or "name" to enter. The winners will be chosen randomly. Contest ends 10/17/08.

**This contest is over. We have our winners! Anonymous who said: "Heather/Grey/Orange is definitely my style!" Samantha P. who said "I really like the Black/Lime/Pink Cup Print! so cute!" and Croasla0 who said "I like the pink one. This is the best idea ever. I have been wanting one of these for awhile."***

Thursday, October 9, 2008

A Forest of Infinite Meaning

Tis the last rose of summer left blooming alone; All her lovely companions have faded and gone. -Thomas Moore

Not unlike the silent yearnings that encamp along the edges of her art, Shira Sela has a way of invading our hearts through the gateway of our minds. This not to say there is nothing lovely to be found in her work. If anything, the depth and radiance of her subjects—a late blooming tree’s life exposed, resplendent against the verdant darkness of a troubled night sky, for example—are illustrative of the magic that stirs when a beautiful spirit brushes up against an unmistakable artistic gift. It’s the psyche, however, that is most immediately pricked by Sela’s surreal images. Does the young lady in Reading know she is figuratively marooned on a floating bed of thorns, or is such isolation a means to an end? And then there’s foreshadowing: Does the innocent wanderer facing down The Choice pause for reassurance, or does she even break stride on the forked path of flowering moss before her?

In some traditions, of course, such questions are the point of the art itself. Sela’s gallery of both Western and Eastern themes, however, resists easy categorization. The gentle suggestiveness and sparse, strategically colored landscape of Never Alone, for example, might be mistaken for an Asian commentary on our mortality—until one realizes that the symbol of safety/masculinity to which the girl clings is actually an African zebra, and that her restfulness could just as easily be interpreted as contentedness. Art criticism, after all, is nothing if not an exercise in subjectivity. But be your own judge: We are excited to announce that for the winner of today’s giveaway, this gorgeous print will be yours to keep. To win Never Alone, simply visit Shira Sela’s collection, then return here to tell us about your favorite print. Wishing Willow subscribers receive a second entry, so let us know in a second post if you subscribe. (If you do not have a Google account, just click “anonymous” to leave a post.) Contest ends 10/16/08. Best of luck to you all.

**We have a winner! ky2here who said, "Late Bloomer because of the richness of the varying greens - it really stands out from the rest of the wonderful collection. much more intense and less whimsical." Congratulations!

Wednesday, October 8, 2008

Rubbing Out The Blues

There are few balms as therapeutic to the spirit as the scents that grow wild on a spring day. Clover and chamomile; lilacs, honeysuckle, jasmine and hyacinth; the litany of living fragrances climbs off the tongue like wandering wisteria. We know, instinctively, that the mood-enhancing power of a plant’s essential oils is best received through the portal of smell, but scent enthusiasts like Kelly Barlow, owner of Moody Girl Aromatherapy, understand that touch can play a vital role in the therapy process as well. Let’s face it, we’ve moved beyond the age of stress-relieving squeezable hackysack bags. Moody Girl is grown-up stuff: From Lemon Verbena to the bueno Mojito-Lime Spearmint (my favorite), these products create a sensory effect no less wondrous than the first time you placed a seashell to your ear as a child and swore you heard waves crashing.

When poet Luci Shaw describes the bouquet of her favorite neighborhood tree, she notes foremost its invigorating properties: Just now the buoyant scent of eucalyptus oil/ begins to lift the air to life/ and stings into my nose the need/ to breathe its healing in. Well, we’ve hand-tested these products, and can vouch for their splash effect. And lucky you, Kelly is also offering you the chance to test her original creations for yourself. The winner of this giveaway will receive the choice of any one Sugar Scrub, as well as any one Bath Taffy offered at Moody Girl. To enter, visit Moody Girl Aromatherapy, then come back here to tell us about your favorite product and scent offered. Wishing Willow subscribers receive a second entry, so remember to let us know in a second post that you subscribe. (If you don't have a Google account, just click “anonymous” to leave a post.) Contest ends 10/15/08. Good luck!

**We have a winner! Imanoptimisticbeauty who said "Oh my! My choice would be BATH TAFFY-Solid Bubble Bath-- Lavender Mint... what a great combination of scents!"***

For those who didn't win - Not to worry! Enjoy 10% off the product price from Moody Girl Aromatherapy. Be sure to mention Wishing Willow to get your discount. Discount expires 12/31.

Tuesday, October 7, 2008

Playing in Shadows

Like many women of her day, my mother kept bundles of stationery on hand at all times because, as she would say, “you just never know.” Births, deaths, marriages and divorces, cancers and Christmases and kindnesses that no self-respecting lady would leave uncarded; the endless rotation of these constants, like a fine office whirlwind, spun my mother into action. Those memories of finding her so often at her desk, head bowed as if in observance of sacred liturgy, her hand scripting a letter of encouragement on thick-stock paper or a thank-you in some elegantly embossed notecard, have always made me wonder what happened to the practice of card-giving. I suppose, like most things, it has gone the way of specialization—an obligatory discipline still practiced at gift showers, but widely considered no more than a cute hobby preserved by Emily Post groupies. Frankly, I think it’s a shame that we’ve forgotten what a thoughtfully-composed card can really accomplish.

Fortunately, however, not all have forgotten. Thanks to Megan Nutley, creator of Silhouette Blue Stationery, it’s still possible to find that darling card that says “I’m thinking of you.” Illustrated from vintage photographs, these tastefully-designed cards present simple, rustic and recognizable silhouette images of everyday life, with the options of personalization and custom color available on almost every design. Bicycles or popsicles, birdcages or tree etchings, the choices are many and the appeal consistent. The only challenge is deciding which design best suits the occasion. And speaking of occasions, Megan is committed to making sure you never forget another one—so much so that she will present a beautiful 2009 Silhouette Desk Calendar, featuring her artwork, to the winner of this giveaway. To qualify, visit Silhouette Blue, then return here to tell us about your favorite product. Wishing Willow subscribers receive a second entry, so be sure to let us know in a second post that you subscribe. (If you do not have a Google account, just click “anonymous” to leave a post.) Contest ends 10/14/08. Happy posting!

**We have a winner! Ms-Texas who said "Very lovely items - I like the Morocco Personalized Stationery Set. Very unique." Please email us to claim your prize.

Monday, October 6, 2008

What The World Kneads Now

Whether it’s melamine-tainted infant formula, chili peppers corrupted by e-coli, or playpens that go splat in the night, hazardous products seem to be sprouting like wild mushrooms in our stores these days. It’s reached the point at which I even question staple goods—after all, who’s to really know whether my sugar has been cut with Splenda? What a blessing to remember that when customer confidence in our commercial goods plummets, however, a revival of homemade goodies has a way of rising up—no better exemplified than by the work of Cynthia, maker of Do Si Dough and icon of the homemade playdough movement. Cynthia’s quest to offer the world a trustworthy fingermash blended from 100% natural ingredients has resulted in the birth of one very timely, charming, and affordable product. Moms who fret over FDA warnings can finally rest their worried heads for a moment (or for hours, depending on how long your child plays).

Peruse the Do Si Dough gallery, and you’ll find sorbet orange, green glitter, bubblegum pink and a host of other kid-friendly varieties from which to choose. Spend enough time clicking the thumbnails, and you’ll probably find yourself wandering back to your own schoolyard days, too—and wondering if that same instinct that makes certain grownups want to ride their shopping carts downhill in sloped parking lots is responsible for the sudden giddiness you feel as you imagine squeezing this stuff between your palms. Well, whether you’re a youngster or just young at heart, you’ll like hearing this: To one fortunate giveaway winner, Cynthia will be sending a prize package that includes (1) any two four ounce tins of Do Si Dough, your choice and (2) a “secret” product that she is working on presently. To qualify, visit Do Si Dough, then come back here to tell us your two favorite color options in Cynthia's shop. As always, subscribers to Wishing Willow will receive an extra entry (Leave a second comment, and confirm your subscription. The winner will be chosen randomly.) You don't have to have a Google account to participate. Click "anonymous" to enter. The contest will end 10/13/08. Best of luck!

**We have a winner! LadyBug-Kellie who said "I like the green glitter playdough! It's such a vibrant color, and the glitter gives it some extra fun!"

Saturday, October 4, 2008

Uncommon Commonality

Remember the good old days, when dolls were assembled from felt and flannel rather than from skin-toned plastic and tiny screws? OK, neither do I. That’s precisely why the warm, undeniable “dollishness” of Simpli Jesssi’s eclectic and ever-sanguine handmade figures of everyday people and animals is such an irresistible quality. Characters like these are virtual antiques, being that ever since the dawn of the long-legged, ultra-humanoid, ridiculously glam Barbie, hardly any dollmaker relies on imagination anymore (except in deciding which leather miniskirt ensemble would be sufficiently trashy for Barbie this Christmas season). Frankly, it’s a whole lot easier to feel kinship to the ruddy-cheeked Astrid, the irascible Ulf, the urbanesque, mustachioed Juan or the phlegmatic Timo than it is to connect with supermodel figurines anyway. Dolls like these may never find their way to a Walmart shelf (a compliment in itself), but they’ll cuddle their way into any kid’s heart. In the end, of course, it’s the cozy factor: When it comes to which doll my children will hold close on a cold night, you can keep your idols of bronzed Californians. The soft comfort of a Scandinavian in plaid will do just fine.

Thursday, October 2, 2008

Animals Inimitable

“In painting,” said Degas, “you must give the idea of the true by means of the false.” Appreciating the talent behind Amber Alexander’s satirical animal portraits in watercolor requires that one constantly be reminded of this fact: true is quite different from real, or logical, or cognitively harmonious. Only a few of us would ever imagine our pets bedecked in such archetypically human garb or wearing such disconcertingly personal expressions—the halting melancholy of Lovey the rabbit, the coy smile of little Mademoiselle the fox, the knowing gaze of Victoria the high-society doe—but we can not deny that these images convey intangible truths. Alexander’s animals are, in some ways, more truthful than we are. Take Les Mews, for example. Perhaps the idea of a cat as a smartly smocked Frenchman isn’t an incredible stretch, but to add the element of Revolutionary history, and a locked-in feline stare that could be construed as suspicion or pride or both, well, those kinds of layers create an image that lingers with us long after we’ve forgotten where we saw the picture in the first place.

Of course, painting these people-pets with such jarring authenticity doesn’t preclude the idea of having a little fun with it, too. If you can’t enjoy the delicious wit of a wary-eyed squirrel pausing from her attic scurrying to try on a bit of domestic attire in A New Apron, you’ve probably missed the point altogether. It is also worth mentioning that Alexander’s fare isn’t limited to modestly costumed mammals. Somehow an amphibian (Burp) or two made it into the gallery, as did an invertebrate (Octo), neither of these being any less delightful than the other subjects, which include birds, bats, and insects in addition to the creatures already mentioned. And since this writer had such a difficult time choosing a favorite, it’s likely you will, too—but you’ll have to do just that when you enter this giveaway. In a wonderful gesture to our readers, Amber Alexander is giving away the Print of Your Choice to one winner. As with past giveaways, participating is painless: Visit Amber Alexander’s shop on Etsy, choose your favorite print, and then come back here to tell us about it in a comment. You may receive an extra entry for subscribing to our newsletter; mention your subscription in a second post and confirm your subscription. You don't have to have a Google account to participate. Click "anonymous" or "name" to enter. The winner will be chosen randomly. Contest ends 10/10/08. Best of luck!

**We have a winner. Melanie who said "My favorite is the Little Burp - Print Reproduction of watercolor." Congratulations!

Wednesday, October 1, 2008

Wish Bravely, Shop Simply

In this political season in which the notion of a free-world-commanding, do-it-all mom sparks applause from some and derision from others, it seems a provocative choice to highlight a businesswoman/mother of three who quietly goes about, well, doing it all. When today's featured individual isn’t chasing her boys or playing chauffeur, she maintains not one, but two popular websites, Simple Me Boutique and Simple Finds, catered to the one-stop shopping mom. The range of products offered speaks for itself, but that isn’t the whole story. Our experience with Christie has not only left us highly satisfied with her service and impressed with her savvy; we’ve found ourselves taken with her engaging and down-to-earth personality as well. (While the latter may seem an irrelevant detail, it isn’t: Empirical studies show that when two businesses offer a similar product, the business perceived as “friendlier” wins more customers just about every time. Go figure :)

One of the more bewitching offerings available at Simple Me Boutique is the Grayc Coral Rectangle Cocktail Ring. Striking enough in its shining citrus-amber complexity and intriguing depth, this ring is even more compelling given the unique process required to produce it. By fusing glass fragments of various colors together in a kiln, then melting them over a mold for shape, the designer, Courtney Gray, renders an entirely new material, aptly named “grayc.” Mounted on a sterling silver adjustable band, the finished glass seems almost to beam with pride—as you will the moment you try it on. Devotees of this art form would do well to check out the Antique Ocean Cocktail Ring as well, a no-less-fascinating creation that swims with aristocratic blue tones and gathers light in dramatic fashion.

For a limited time, any purchases over $50 at Simple Me Boutique can be had at a 15% discount. Just plug in the discount code WILLOW, and let the fun begin in earnest.