29 March 2012

Real Post Packages for Imaginary Wizards: First of Five

Image source

A few of the cast from this past summer's wizarding event got together for Movie Night recently.  We thought it would be fun to attend in costume. (I came in my incarnation as the Irish Scholar Lady descended from the Travellers of Eire.)  Which made me think that it would be even more fun if there were an Owl Post delivery at some point during the evening.

First, there was a message from the wizarding event's Pony Express courierSince I was sitting right there in my "Irish Scholar" persona, I had to come up with some way of delivering the message without having to change costumes. 

 (L) as Irish Scholar (R) as Pony Express courier

So after dinner and before dessert, I brought out the wee hand-held digital recorder I used to record my eLearning lectures when I taught Information Organization at the University of Pittsburgh. Earlier in the day, sitting in my car in the parking lot of a nearby Walgreens, I created a greeting from my courier character.  Scholar-Me announced to my wizardy colleagues that I had been asked to share something and turned on the recorder.

This is my recorder (SONY ICD-P520). 
A newer version has come out since.

In the message Courier-Me apologized for missing "the evening's fancy soiree" but that I was "at that moment enroute on an express delivery" to our Wandmaster with "critical components" for his work. (Our Wandmaster, played by my brother Woodcrafter, lives in the Pacific Northwest.) I noted that I had, in fact, been by the Headmaster's residence earlier in the day and, via the wonders of magic, left their mail delivery in a bag underneath the futon couch in the main room. 

Much delight ensued as the mail I -- now back in my Irish Scholar role -- retrieved the mailbag and handed out the its contents. One of the recipients was "Madame P" (as I shall refer to her here).  Here was her letter.  

The envelope & letter were typed on an Olivetti Traveller Deluxe.
(To see the typewriter I used, look at the 4th image at this post - titled "Mr. Bond".)

All five letters delivered came from various international divisions of the ACME Corporation.  The name "ACME" was inspired by the company of the same name from which Wiley the Coyote of the Roadrunner cartoons always received his extravagant contraptions.  I named each division according to the type of item in each person's postal package.

I created the letterhead using Microsoft Word. (In a new series beginning in April -- on the creation of Fictional Correspondences -- I will demo how to make this style of letterhead stationery.)


ACME Portraitmaster Limner Extraordinaire Company
Sait Paprika Plaze
17.3 Vajdahunyad Street
Budapest 1057, Magyarorszag

Madame B--------- P---------
Trolley Cart - Main Hall
The North American School -- W----------- --- W-----------
Middle Region of the Northern Western Hemisphere

10 March 2012

Dear Madame P---------:

The limners of the ACME Portrait Master Division (Magyar) are pleased to send you (via separate OWL POST delivery) the first-ever, wizard-crafted faux mugglesque daguerreotype.  This framed collectible is the result of technological innovations in the creation of photograms at the labs of ACME and the KODAK-FUJI companies.

Should you have any questions about your daguerreotype or wish to register for certification by our ACME Official Photograms Department, please complete the online form at our website: http://ACME*Images.org/Magyar.

Very truly yours,

Andrea Baranyat
Limner, 3rd Class

And here is Madame P's package.  Note the postage stamps; just like those on her letter, from Magyar (aka Hungary).

And here is Madame P's formal portrait itself.


How I Made It

Picture frame image from ShopGoodwill

 STEP 1: The Frame

Knowing I wanted to make the image look old fashioned, I first went to Goodwill (several times, actually) to find a suitable frame.  I had no idea what I'd find, of course, but hoped I would find something elaborate.  I saw several (which I bought for later projects) but none quite fit my idea.  Then I lucked out, and found the one you see in the completed portrait image. Perfect! In good condition and only $2.99!  It was missing its glass, but I traded out a pane from one of the other frames.

STEP 2: Coloring the Image

Now that I had the frame, and knew it's color, I could proceed with creating the portrait.  I had the image file that had been created midsummer 2011 when we were taking our imaginary faculty's formal pictures.

Here's the original pic.

All the rest of the magic happened using a combination of Microsoft Word's Pictures Function and a free program called Pixlr-o-Matic. I first changed the image color to brown by inserting it into a Word document and using the Picture Tools. (No doubt Adobe Photoshop could be used for this, but as it is an expensive program, I do my little workarounds with the software I have!)

 Here you can see where I clicked to change the image color.

Here you can see how to save the image as a picture file 
(right click on the image to get this drop down menu).

 STEP 2: Altering the Image

I used Pixlr-o-Matic, a web or downloadable app that lets you turn your photos into cool looking retro snapshots, to further enhance the portrait of Madame P.  It has three options - you can use one, two, or all three.  

I opened the portrait pic and played with the color (in these examples I am using the original image as it is easier to show what Pixlr-o-Matic does). 

 Moving the picture bar below the photo tray alters the image.

In Step 2 you can add special effects.  Some are designed to look like old camera effects such as a light leaking onto the film.  Other options add sparkles and such. 

In the final option, Pixlr-o-Matic lets you add retro framing.

Here are two versions of Madame P's portrait that I worked up but decided not to use.

The left image looked good on a small scale, but when enlarged to an 8x10 print, the effect was too "cartoony."  The right image, when enlarged, looked too faded and bright for the dark wooden frame.

In the end, I used the brown-tinted image and only the first and third steps of the Pixlr-o-Matic options.  The result was an antiqued image with some wizardry flourishes and spiderwebs around the outer edges of Madame's face.  

The actor, herself, was utterly delighted when she opened the package.  It seemed to capture Madame P's personality, she thought, as well as echo the woodsy and sprite-like aspects of the back story the actor had invented for her.

25 March 2012

COOL BOOK: Dragon Eggs and Other Fine Things

I got this very neat book the other day: Dragonolia by Chris Barnardo, creator of the intensely creative and practically wise parenting website DadCanDo.*  Assuming his alter ego as "Sir Richard Baron," Barnardo compiled his website's "best dragonry projects with Sir Richard Baron’s fantastical adventure stories."  The site's blurb for the book is spot on: 
"Gorgeously designed to recapture traditional Victorian values of quality and story telling, Dragonolia is a collection of 14 short stories each one wrapped around a uniquely inventive craft project."
Dragonolia is superbly crafted and presented. Each chapter is a story that includes directions on making something.

The Antique Chart project includes the link to a downloadable map template. 

The Dragon's Egg story contains instructions on making a "real dragon egg" using the age old craft of egg blowing.

The book's website (as gorgeously crafted as the book) contains a few freebies which letter-writing aficionados will enjoy including dragon faux postage. The antique map template is here as well as some amusing potion bottle labels.

The Dadcando site contains some freebie projects but the pay-for-use version permits access to a great deal more, such as a page of DragonMail post labels.  The so-called Dragonry section includes the items from the book and a great many more. (Membership means you can download the PDF files for the project.**)

While I prefer to craft my own fictional postal letters and packages, the Antique Mailing Box project looks pretty neat.  It includes the printout sheet for making the above box.


The Dragon Journal project provides a blank book page file.

I bought my copy from the UK Amazon; buying internationally proved to be less expensive! £8.99 = $14.25 in USD.  It arrived about 9 days after I ordered it. Amazon US has it marked at $52 and (gasp) $110 - only 3 copies available.  Here is the link to the UK Amazon listing for the book.


* [from the website]: "Dadcando.com is intended to be a resource for all dads, but with a special emphasis on helping the single and or non-resident fathers who have contact with their children (non-resident fathers are those who are separated, divorced or widowed, who live apart from their partner and do not have their children to live with them)."

** FYI: While I am glad I became a member, I will probably not renew my membership next year.  The projects are quite good; it was worth paying for the initial access.  But as I am not a parent, most of the projects I won't use.

21 March 2012

A Costumed Affair

It all began so innocently with the idea of a Movie Night over at Architect's house. He has a wall-sized, pull-down screen at one end of his main room and a digital projector on the opposite wall.  And a boatload of speakers.  Watching flicks there is fun.  

We all enjoy making meals, so we decided to make it a shared dinner as well. Then, since the 5 people in attendance had all played characters at this past summer's wizarding event we thought it might be fun to make it a costumed affair!  And so it went.

Prior to the day of the wizarding event, a monthly newspaper went out six times to the 19 "incoming First Year Students." So it seemed apt that there be a newspaper published that very evening about our soiree. As guests arrived they found their copies of the broadsheet publication on the dining table.

Front and back  of the newspaper
(printed on parchment cardstock)


We are all a bit Hobbitish in our love of food; our menu was varied and most flavorful.  We had and did much enjoy
  • in honor of the Irish holiday, a meaty casserole of beef, cabbage, pastrami, onions, and tasty herbs served with a dilled buttermilk sauce;
  • a plate of fresh sugar peas, sliced apples, several cheeses, and sweet raspberries;
  • rosemary bread and herbed biscuits served with rhubarb butter;
  • homemade applesauce (a blend of 5 different apples seasoned with cloves, cinnamon, and ginger);
  • a tossed salad of mixed greens with red and orange grape tomatoes;
  • a bottle of Yellow Tail (Australian) Merlot; and
  • for dessert, a freshly-made pumpkin pie with pecans and a whole wheat crust topped with whipped cream.
During the break between the two movies*, we noshed on a Wisconsin delicacy: frozen custard from Michael's Frozen Custard, a restaurant as dear to Madisonians as Gilles Frozen Custard is to Milwaukeeans!


As there was no moon that night and the sky was beautiful and clear, we also took the opportunity to go out and view Jupiter and Venus in conjunction. 

This image, however, was the view from France this week.
Photograph by Laurent Laveder

As it was ostensibly spring break for our magical faculty (and one visiting scholar), our dress was of a more festive and casual sort.


Professor W. (right in all 3 pics above) commented to our photographer that 
"The purpose of smiling to show all of one's teeth." 

 Our Headmaster and his current "research project."

An unexpected surprise was the delivery by a Pony Express rider for the Western Division of the Owl Post: letters and packages!

(What the letters said and what these delightful packages contained shall be reported upon in future posts!)

The evening began early and ran late, with the last guests leaving at 1 a.m.  Stories, creative ideas, and much mirth were shared. My thanks to my wizardly colleagues for permission to use their photo-likenesses in today's blog.


* The movies we watched:

13 March 2012

It Was a Dark and Stormy . . . Typewriter

This post is heavy into typewriter geekdom!

Word on the wizarding street is that we may be getting the band back together.  That is, there is talk among the folk who put together last summer's Wizarding Event that they might do a new one in 2013. To that end, new props are being created and new and improved sets designed.

One important set is the Headmaster's Office.  Each actor will be responsible for his or her main set.  In this case, the Headmaster actor (my brother Architect) is thinking that a few old and funky desktop typewriters might heighten the entertainment and curiosity levels of the wizarding students.  So I was asked to keep my eyes peeled for unusual and/or weird, and preferably inexpensive, machines.  The Gods of the Typosphere were with me; I recently found two acceptable items.

The first was a real bruiser: a 1940s-era IBM Electromatic, also called the IBM Model 01.  It came from the household belongings of my Dad's two sisters.  They both worked as secretaries and we think this is one of the machines they used along the way. The very eclectic "Mr. Martin" includes a well-written history of this machine along with some useful links at his site.

 Image source*

Because Architect is not formally a typospherian, I created an information document about the Electromatic that contained pics of old ads and the PDF of a service manual I found for this line of machines (a very lucky find).  This was important because the Aunties' machine was thickly covered with cobwebs and dust and not working.  (I plugged it in when I got it home . . . can you say arc-of-blue-white-sparks, boys and girls?)  Part of that info included these wonderful comments from  my colleagues over on the Yahoo Typerwriter Forum:
"There is no other machine that evokes industrial brutalism quite like this one."

"That's one huge, bulbous, era-specific, overpowered typewriter."
Architect took some lovely pictures of the machine. (He cleaned it up and installed a new power cord. He reports that, unfortunately, it now hums mightily but the keys do not work. Any ideas as to why this might be, oh readers who geek out on such matters?)

The second machine I found at a local antiques store while on the hunt with my mother for a small writing desk for her apartment.  It was the only typewriter in the place.  I immediately called Architect for a confabulation.  My phone is old school -- no camera -- so we did it the fun way:
Me:  Are you near The Internets?
Architect: Give me 30 seconds . . . okay, shoot.
Me:  Search Remington Rand Model Seventeen on Google Images.
Architect:  (after a few moments) Oh yeah, this looks like a possible!
Dear Reader, it was not only possible, it was cheap ($35)!  It was also ugly, but in a nice way; the way we wanted it to look: unusual and a tad otherworldly.

I've suggested to Architect that he might -- in the interest of a wizardly theater ambience -- want to change the look completely by painting the Rem and, perhaps, add some decorative decals or handpainted designs. Actually, I believe the words I used were tarted up. (I referred him to the Flickrstream of mpclemens of Clickthing who has also been known to dunk-n-wash old typewriters in soapy water!** The Clemens is an intrepid soul!)  This has led to an interesting philosophical and art-making discussion on the nature of old things and whether/if/how they should be altered and to what degree.


*  I failed to note where I found this image and have been unable to re-find it.  It it is yours or you know from whence it came, please let me know.  

** Please note, the 1957 article to which this link connects should be read in tandem with a Letter to the Editor, published here in a later issue of the magazine, which vehemently disagrees with this cleaning approach. Mr. Clemens has reported success and no problems with the method.  Note, while he may be intrepid, Mr. Clemens is also meticulous and careful in his work.

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