Book Review - The Joy of Acrylic Painting: Expressive Painting Techniques for Beginners


The Joy of Acrylic Painting: Expressive Painting Techniques for Beginners by Annie O'Brien Gonzalez, although stated as being geared towards beginners, includes ideas and information that can be also useful for more experienced artists.

In this book, Gonzalez focuses on inspiration and technique.  A wide range of projects based on ways to find inspiration and on a variety of techniques are detailed throughout the book.  

The first project is a Painting Notes Sketchbook.  The author goes into detail on making and using one.  A Painting Notes Sketchbook differs from a regular sketchbook as its purpose is to serve as a place for collecting ideas, patterns, textures, photo inspiration, and plans for paintings rather than for general sketching.  She calls it “a working reference stuffed with ideas for paintings”.

Painting Notes Sketchbook

Painting Notes Sketchbook

Gonzalez talks about getting started with painting, finding the time and motivation, and finding inspiration. She discusses creating your own style, ways to use marks and symbols, and finding inspiration from favorite artists.

Collecting Ellements: color, shape, textures

Collecting Ellements: color, shape, textures

She has projects throughout the book ranging from “Create A Line And Shape Library” to “Paint An Imaginary Landscape”  and creating your own collage materials and technique sections that include setting up your space to get ready to paint, using color and value, and making marks.  

Making marks

Making marks

Working on a mixed-media collage painting

Working on a mixed-media collage painting

I found the inspiration ideas interesting and motivating, the techniques sections useful and the project ideas interesting.  I think any artists who are looking for inspiration, motivation, and techniques will find this a useful and engaging book.  The Joy of Acrylic Painting: Expressive Painting Techniques for Beginners is available at Amazon and other booksellers.

The opinions in this review are my own and without compensation.


My Japanese Craft Books II - Sewing Handbags

Japanese Craft Book - making bags My collection of Japanese Craft Books is now taking up a whole shelf on one of my bookcases.  (And I am waiting for the arrival of two more I bought just this week.)  I have so many of the books that I have arranged them into categories.  I have sewing/clothing, sewing/accessories, patchwork, wet felting, needlefelting, teddy bears and other critters, embroidery, fabric flowers, handbags, and interior decorating.

On my Japanese Craft Books bookshelf, I have several books on sewing handbags.  The photography, as in all the Japanese Craft Books I have seen, is yummy and the designs range from simple and pretty to inventive craft pieces.  I love the wonderful fabrics used for the bags - my favorite fabrics are  ones with writing on them and ones that look like abstract paintings.   Because of the growing popularity of the Japanese Craft Books, the distinctive Japanese fabrics are becoming easier to find here in the US.  And I have been amassing a small collection of these, also.

The imaginative shapes and surface designs of the bags are intriguing.  There are geometric shapes such as circles and pyramids and doll and animal shaped bags.  The designs  are imaginative, but avoid being cutesy.  Several of the bags incorporate unusual surface design that elevates them from handmade bag to an art/craft piece.  Hand-painted, appliqued, stamped, and embroidered animals and everyday objects add to the whimsy and uniqueness of the bags.

These books have patterns in the back with instructions in Japanese.  Some of the books have step by step how-to photographs for a few of the patterns.  While it can be daunting when you first look at the directions, once you cut out the patterns and start following the diagrams, they start to make more sense.  Usually I can figure out how the bags are made from the drawings in the pattern section of the books, but others are more difficult to decipher.  I look at these as ones as a puzzle challenge.  Some sewing experience though, is definitely helpful for figuring out how the pieces go together. and YesAsia are two online resources for Japanese Craft books.

Kinokuniya Bookstore is a great U.S. resource for ordering Japanese craft books. They have a huge two-story store in New York City and one in Seattle.   It is a lot of fun to visit. They also have a website which I found very difficult to navigate as it is in Japanese.   However, if you have the ISBN number or can email them a photo of the cover of the book you want, they can order most books in print. The sales people are gracious and helpful.  This site has the addresses and phone numbers for the Kinokuniya stores in the US, Asia, and Australia.

The book above with the little girl peering into an inside-out bag has wonderful, creative bag designs incorporating everything from embroidery to applique, slit designs, geometric felt handles, and fun shapes including snails and birds.

This bag, the right side out version of the cover bag, utilizes appliqued rabbits and frayed edges to create a charming total effect.  It even has interior sashes (seen in the cover photo of the book) to keep the bag closed.

Japanese Craft Book - interior

This is another book on bag making that has lovely, unusual designs.  It is currently out-of-print.  Sometimes Kinokuniya will have copies of out-of-print books left in their store in Japan and will do special orders for them.  Ebay is another option to try for out-of-print titles.


The first page below from the interior of this book shows horse feedbag-shaped patchwork bags.  These bags are some of my favorites with their unusual shape juxtaposed with the beautiful, classic fabrics.  The second page shows a black bag with cotton fabric strips dyed with various teas.   I love the use of handwritten labels with the type of tea hand-stitched below each tea-dyed sample.  It is similar to the way a dyeing notebook might be laid out.

Japanese Craft Book - interior

Japanese Craft Book - interior

The book shown below is full of unusual designs made from reconstructed clothing.  The cover bag is a doll bag.  The arms reaching up with hands clasped together make up the handle.  There is a tiny head sticking up above the top of the bag, and two flat, yellow feet.  The doll bag is made from a sweater.


The  page below shows a bag with a cardboard handle hand-sewn to the fabric bag adorned with raw-edged circles and feathers.  I love the idea of this, even though it isn't very practical.  With its cardboard handle, feathers, and raw-edged appliqued circles, the impractical quality of the bag is part of its charm.  It makes a fun accessory for a special occasion (when it's not raining!).

Japanese Craft Book - interior

The page below has two bags made from reconstructed shirt and jacket sleeves.  The shirt bag with the flowered fabric and fringe is not one of my favorites because of  its  print, color and fringe, but the idea is quite clever.  I do love the jacket-sleeve bag, with it's proper grey striped suit fabric and three small buttons on the flap.  It has a whimsical, yet sophisticated look.

Japanese Craft Book - interior

If you would like to read about more of my Japanese Craft Books and resources for where and how to buy them, please see my previous post, My Japanese Craft Books I - Reconstructing Clothing .


Stuffed - New Stampington & Co. Magazine


Stuffed magazine published by Stampington and Co., pieces on front cover by Susan Mitchel (Sweet Pea of It's a Whimsical Life)


I just bought an issue of the new Stuffed magazine published by Stampington & Co. The publisher also publishes a variety of beautiful magazines such as Somerset Studio, Artful Blogging, Art Doll Quarterly, and Somerset Life.   Stuffed, like the other Stampington & Co. publications, is full of yummy eye-candy and lots of inspiration.

Stuffed includes articles by several talented artists including Pamela Overmeier of Kingfisher Farm, Q. D. Patooties,  and Susan Mitchel, Sweet Pea of It's a Whimsical Life.  In the articles, artists talk about their work and share their techniques.   Patterns are interspersed throughout the magazine.  There is also a fascinating article about, a group blog maintained by softie artists.

I first found the magazine mentioned on Sweet Pea's blog, It's a Whimsical Life.   In her January 17 post, she talks a little about the magazine.  Two of her pieces grace the cover of the magazine.    She has a shop on Etsy where she sells prints of her illustrations (as she is also a talented freelance children's book illustrator) and her softies.   Sweet Pea  is a very talented artist who makes endearing children's book illustrations and who also makes adorable, huggable softies.  Please check out her charming blog, too.

My Japanese Craft Books I - Reconstructing Clothing

ISBN # 978-4-7966-5419-7

ISBN # 978-4-7966-5419-7

I just received another wonderful Japanese craft book in the mail. The aesthetic sensibility of these books in general is so appealing -- clean and beautiful with lovely color schemes. The writing in the books is in Japanese, but there are clear how-to diagrams making the projects fairly easy to follow. Japanese craft books can be found online at , YesAsiaeBay, and now there are several shops on Etsy that also sell them. (On you can use a credit card, but to actually see how much you are spending, the site Universal Currency Converter is very helpful.) and YesAsia both have English shopping options. If you put in an ISBN number in a search, the book page will come up if it is available. For eBay and Etsy, do a search for "Japanese craft books" to find the sellers. Shipping can be expensive because many times they are coming directly from Japan, but YesAsia has free shipping for orders over $39.00

Here are a few of my favorites on reconstructing clothing. The one at the beginning of the post and the one below have examples of new clothing designs created from old clothing, scarves, t-shirts. The ingenuity used in the reconstructions is fun and inspiring. My favorite section is the way the author approached reconstructing sweaters.

ISBN #4-579-11025-0

ISBN #4-579-11025-0

This photo is from the interior of the above book. It shows two versions for wearing the same reconstructed pullover. One is worn upside-down.

Japanese craft book - two versions of reconstructed sweater

The third book shows how to make wonderful stuffed animals from socks and gloves. It has also been translated into an English version, Sock and Glove: Creating Charming Softy Friends from Cast-Off Socks and Gloves, which is available here.


ISBN #4-579-11061-7

The original Japanese book can be bought here.

Below is Riina, a red plaid dog I made from a pair of socks. I followed the diagrams in the Japanese version. I made her as a sample for a Renagade Sewing class I was teaching.

Riina -stuffed sock dog

Here is Riina wearing one of my daughter's American Girl doll dresses (one of Addy's dresses).

Riina - stuffed sock dog wearing doll dress

For some more on reconstructing clothing, please see previous post on the  “Renegade Sewing” class I taught to a group of teenage girls.


Making Bread - "Artisan Bread in Five Minutes a Day" Book


 Deli rye loaf

One day at Barnes and Noble I found this book, Artisan Bread in Five Minutes a Day: The Discovery That Revolutionizes Home Baking, by Jeff Hertzberg and Zoe Francois.  I thought the idea was exciting and purchased a copy. 

We have used the recipes from the book several times now, making both the master recipe which is a type of peasant soughdough bread, and the rye deli bread.  The concept is that you make a large quantity of dough by throwing flour, salt, and water into a large container, mix it a little, let it sit in the fridge for several hours or overnight where it rises. Then you pullout a small loaf-sized amount, stretch and shape it into a ballish form, let it sit for a while, then transfer it to a pizza stone in the oven to cook.  The recipe makes enough for three  loaves.

Double recipe of Deli Rye bread - dough has risen in refrigerator 

We love the idea of the very easy and quite yummy peasant-type breads, but were having some problems.  We only got two loaves instead of three from the recipe.  The dough did not rise very much before baking.  Because we were concerned that our container might be airtight, we just laid the lid on top loosely and it kept sliding off, so that the dough inside developed a hardish crust. 

Dough is bubbly and has a sourdough-like texture

Finally I did a Google search and found that the book had a website with a lot of information, a page of errors, and a page of questions and answers.  We found that the amount of yeast and salt stated in the book is not enough, and that the lid should be closed on the container.   Just adjusting these two things gave us a bigger loaf of bread that rises better and has a more dough-like texture when raw, and we don't have the problem of a hard crust forming on the refrigerated dough.  We also realized we were making the loaves a little larger than required which made it harder to get nice loaves.

The book gives you a fun, easy way to make your own artisan-like bread with yummy results.  The next one I want to try is the olive bread.

Homeschooling and Reading Together


Daughter (age 5) and mom reading favorite "vampire" book together.

Like many parents, we read to our daughter from the time she was a baby.  She always loved books.  As a  one-year-old, she would toddle over to her low bookshelf, pick out a favorite book, and bring it to me to read to her (over and over).  Reading together was a frequent activity throughout the day, and she spent as much time with her books as her toys.

When we started homeschooling, reading together became part of our "curriculum".  If I was reading to her, we could read books of a higher level than she could read on her own because her comprehension level was ahead of her reading level.  If we were learning about Colonial America, we read books about life in colonial times instead of text books - and always with lots of pictures.  I also introduced her to cherished favorites from my childhood.

Even as our daughter grew older and became a voracious reader on her own, we still found time to read together.  We read history and did French together.  She or I would pick out novels that I read to her.  We would sit sideways together on a sofa while we read, and it felt like a special time of the day.

The last couple of years, we decided to read plays and short stories together.  We would take turns reading, switching turns with character changes in the plays and after several paragraphs with the short stories.  We still do this, although, our time at home together becomes less and less as she grows older.

We are currently reading our way through The Haunted Looking Glass edited by Edward Gorey.  This collection of horror stories selected by Edward Gorey was a favorite of mine when I was young.  I couldn't remember the title, but was able to find it by searching horror story collections through our library consortium.  I remember thinking this book was so scary when I was little.  It had enough creepiness to it, that it gave me nightmares.  So far my daughter thinks it is good, but pretty tame compared to some other books she has read.  We'll see how it goes.   I'm also interested to see if the same stories that were so scary when I was a girl feel as scary now.

GuruLib -- Online Book and Games Cataloging

GuruLib my teddy bear books shelf

GuruLib example of book shelf large thumbnail view

GuruLib is a free site where you can catalog your books.  There are some other similar online sites such as LibraryThing and Shelfari, but there were two features that made me decide to go with GuruLib.  Unlike the other book cataloging sites I found, GuruLib has an HTML code for their widgets, so GuruLib widgets can be used in the sidebars of blogs that don't allow JavaScript.  The other feature that helped me choose GuruLib was the ability to catalog your games.  I am a board game fanatic, and the idea of cataloging and sharing game titles with others was very appealing.  Besides books and games, you can also catalog your music, movies, and software.

I am having a blast with GuruLib.  It is quite flexible.  You can add your own custom category shelves.  I have added mystery, reference, literature, French, teddy bear, and doll book shelves to my GuruLib library.  There is cross-referencing so that you can put a French movie under videos and also in a French shelf.  It will show up in both places.  You can organize your items by title, author (or director, developer, etc. depending on the medium), rating, publish date, and more.

GuruLib details coverflow option

GuruLib details cover flow option

There are also several options for viewing the items on a shelf or in your entire library including two sizes of cover photos, a simple listing with a small graphic to indicate if the item is a book, movie, software, music, or game.  A fourth option, the details view, gives all item information including author, publisher, publish date, your rating if any, and the genre of the item.  A new feature of the detail view is "cover flow". In the cover flow option of the details view, the details list moves half way down the page and the top of the page shows large cover photos of the books in that shelf with the center image the largest.  If you scroll your mouse wheel away from you, the covers move right and back as if on a lazy susan.   If you scroll the mouse wheel towards you the covers move left and back.  It's a nice feature.

If you have a collection of rare or out-of-print books (or games or movies), they can be added manually.  You can add your own photos of the covers by scanning, uploading pictures you have taken, or capturing them with a webcam that connects to GuruLib.  There is also a borrow and lend feature where you can keep track of items lent or borrowed, to whom, and due dates.  overdue items are marked "overdue".

The support was very quick, friendly, and efficient.  I was even sent screen shots with text explaining how to perform various functions.  Mohammad Rana Basheer has a blog that can be accessed from the GuruLib site.  He uses it to talk about updates and new features explaining how to use them.

I am quite happy with GuruLib.  The only issue I have noticed is not being able to set the default image view to Large Thumbnail.  As the cover photos in Large Thumbnail are bigger, clearer, and less distorted, I like to change to that view for every visit.   But I feel this detail is just a small inconvenience.

GuruLib was started by two University of Missouri, Rolla graduate students, Christina Leung and Mohammed Rana Basheer.

Christina Leung and Mohammad Rana Basheer

Christina Leung and Mohammed Rana Basheer

A short interview with Mohammed Rana Basheer:

When and why did you and Christina Leung start GuruLib? Were there other online options at the time that you could have used instead?

GuruLib was the brain child of Christina. Before GuruLib, she used to maintain our collection of books, movies, games etc. on an excel sheet. The problem with that was every time we buy a new movie or a book, she had to search several online resources to collect the cataloging information. Additionally, if we wanted to find a movie or book there was no way to search through the list. The excel sheet was also not suitable for keeping track of books that we loaned/borrowed from friends. Since we were both students, borrowing from friends and public libraries was the main source for feeding our avid interest in books and movies. Very quickly keeping track of our collection and borrowed list became an overwhelming task. So we decided to search for an online free tool to help us organize our collection. The closest we could find was "Delicious Monster" which was a Mac application. We found some online tools for only books ( but our home library had books, movies, music, games and software. Moreover, None of the solutions had a way to check for a book/movies in  your local library. We had to individually register with our local libraries and search through their web pages separately. We were totally surprised that nobody thought of providing a one stop solution for organizing a home library. So Christina suggested that we build a tool to do exactly what we want and hence GuruLib started.

Why did you add some of your unique features?

Every feature in GuruLib is the result of trying to solve our home library cataloging and tracking needs. Very early on we were blessed with a core group of GuruLib users who provide us with feedbacks, new feature suggestions and bug reports. This has helped GuruLib feature list to grow organically over the years while solving day-to-day organizational problems in a home library.

We run this website as a hobby and and we resisted several early offers to go big. We believe that once our livelihood is depended on GuruLib then we will be forced to push more advertisements and hence reduce the overall experience of this website. Nevertheless we do receive commissions on books, movies, music or games purchased through GuruLib and also from Google Ads. These revenue help us offset some of the cost associated with internet hosting and bandwidth.

What does GuruLib do to update and improve the site and how do you decide which features should be changed or added?

We try to put in approximately 30 hour/week on GuruLib related work. I mostly handle fixing bugs and adding new feature code while Christina works on graphic design, testing and conceptual designs. From August of 2007, a fellow MST student Jordan Varble has been helping us with web design. When we get a feature request, our first question is do we need that for our home library? If the answer is yes then we go ahead and implement that feature. Else we will contact the person who suggested the feature to provide us some more information about the usability of this new feature. We have implemented close to 96% of requested features. Sometime we had to turn down some requested features because of the lack of man power. For e.g. We had several requests to make GuruLib multi-lingual but the effort to maintain multiple languages and the time to make our existing code multilingual has prevented us from venturing into that. Another example is to provide "GuruLib groups" and a forum for listing old books/movies etc. for sale.

Thank you, Rana.


Edit:  correction.  I heard from Rana that you can set the view to the default you want.  Here is what he said.  "One thing I could like to clarify is that if you would like to change your default view to "Large Thumbnail", you may do that from your "Settings" page. Attached screenshot might give you an idea about the location of the default view selection menu in the settings page. You need to be logged into GuruLib to access the settings page.  Thanks and Regards    Rana Basheer"

Homeschooling -- Comic books and Learning to read

vintage comic covers

As a kid, I collected comic books.  We had a big painted cabinet in the over-sized hallway of our St. Louis duplex with two shelves stuffed with over 200 comic books.  When friends came over we hung out on the hallway floor and spent the day reading and playing board games (our other obsessive pastime).  My comic book addict friends also had large comic book collections.  When I visited their homes our usual activity was reading and discussing comics.

Little Lulu and Tubby Summer camp

When our daughter was learning to read, I started searching out sources for comic books.  My only favorites that were still being published were the Archie and Betty and Veronica series.  I could also find the Disney Donald Duck comics.  Their forms had changed to fat, little mini books.   I got some of these, and my daughter loved them.  But, I wanted to share with her the comics I loved most as a child, Little Lulu.  A search at local book and comic stores turned up an expensive hard-cover book.  I wanted the originals though.  This lead me to a search on eBay where I was able to find some of my favorites -- the Giants, big, thick 25¢ specials like Little Lulu Goes to Camp and Little Lulu Halloween. The 25¢ specials now ran $30.00 and more a piece.  I also found some original Betty and Veronica and Little Richie Rich which were much more affordable.  I bought some of each, and Little Lulu also became one of my daughter's favorites.  Michele Maki has a wonderful Little Lulu history and information section on her homepage website here. The Little Lulu stories have been reprinted in a series of books still available, Little Lulu series.

sample pages Little Lulu Summer Camp

The nice thing about comic books for kids is the format; the pictures drive the story and can be followed even if the reading level is very low.  The humor and drawings are so engaging that kids will pore over them, trying to get as much of the reading as they can because they want to.  I never worried about comic books not being suitable reading material for my young daughter.  My main concerns were for her to enjoy reading and to read a lot.