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Another month, another ATC swap! Artist Trading Cards (ATCs) are small crafts that are freely exchanged between individuals, around the world, usually via snail mail, as an exercise to interact with other artists and experience/collect samples of their work. Basically, you "claim" the most recent participant before you, select one of their listed themes as the subject matter for the card that you'll subsequently make for them, and then post your own preferences for an ATC, so that the next person who comes along can do the same for you.

For Craftster's June 2016 ATC exchange I claimed two women, "rockingbearranch" from Texas (I picked her twice in fact) and "geekgirl1000100" from North Carolina. I chose "artist's choice" for both ladies, because, as I've often mentioned before, I have great difficulty in making up my mind, so, selecting that "anything goes" option gives me all the time in the world to decide on the subject matter for the card(s) that I'm going to make, with little in the way of limitations (well, the deadline to send out cards is too weeks after the claim date, but you know what I mean). I ultimately went with "a mashup, Hello Kitty or Minion especially" and "beatnik cigarette holder" for rockingbearranch and "fantasy - specifically dragons and fairies" for geekgirl1000100.

At first, I tried to come up with some of my own ideas for Minion and Hello Kitty mashups, but nothing particularly compelling came to mind, thus, I went online and did a Google search to see what other artists had done before me. Once I found this Mr. T image, by artist "Manospd", and the accompanying "Kitty the fool" pun (he used to say "I pity the fool" all the time on the A-Team television show), I knew I had struck gold . . . literally, we all know how much Mr. T likes his bling! FUN FACT: When he worked as a bouncer, Mr. T used to collect, and wear, the gold jewelry that patrons left or dropped at the bar when they were asked, or forced, to leave the building. If they came back and wanted their missing property, he returned it to them, if not, he kept it, and ended up with a huge amount of the stuff.

I doubt I could ever come up with anything even half as cool as Mr. T Hello Kitty! Rather than directly copying the original artist's work, I did my own design, using an official illustration of her, from one of my Hello Kitty books, as my model for the pose. Oh, and if you're wondering why it's also a postage stamp, that was one of rockingbearranch's other listed ATC themes, so, I decided to incorporate that motif as well.

And here's the back of the card:

We had a little going-away party for feline Mr. T just before he departed for his new home in Texas too!

For rockingbearranch's second card, I decided to go with "beatnik cigarette holder". The cigarette holder by itself wouldn't have been very exciting in my opinion (they are just simple sticks after all), so, I illustrated a beatnik woman holding it too. I used several photographs of real ladies smoking, that I found online, as reference models when I made this card.

I (very) briefly tried puffing on cigarettes in my early teens, but, I hated it and swore off them almost immediately, and I also despise the smell of the smoke, but, depicting said activity in a drawing certainly won't do me any harm.

I also made a quick little sketch of a woman's hand with a cigarette holder on the back too:

I went with geekgirl1000100's "fantasy - specifically dragons and fairies" theme for her card, and the latter instead of the former. Again, I used a photograph of a real woman as my still life reference model, but, of course, I added the pointed ears, antennae, and wings, as she didn't have those! I didn't quite get the anatomy and pose right, but, it's passable enough I guess. This is what the inked line art looked like before I painted/colored it (part of me wishes that I had just left the card like this):

And this is what she looks like colored:

Here's the back of the card. I added another fairy, in ink, at the bottom, based on a fairy dragon polymer clay pendant made by DeviantArt artist "AngeniaC". To be honest, I kind of like her better than the larger one on the front of the card!

"Pottermouth", a woman from Georgia, chose to swap with me and picked my "an ATC that's also some kind of art project for me to do" theme. I received a small package from her in the mail on 6/20/16. Inside of said parcel was this colorful box. In the accompanying note pottermouth sent, she wrote that she hoped to humor me with what she had made--what on earth could be inside?

Pottermouth put together an awesome My Little Pony Headband Set for me! Now, for the briefest of moments, before I opened up the next, even smaller, ornate box, and inspected its contents, I thought that maybe she meant for me to construct a human-sized headband, and I was wondering how that was going to work, but, no, I soon saw that they were scaled for dolls, not full-sized dorks like me (I don't wear them anyway, and I keep my hair cut way too short for a headband to be of any practical use). The smaller box and the instructional sheet are ATC-sized, so, as far as the swap's parameters are concerned, both meet the height and width criteria for an ATC.

First, let's look at said sheet. One side has a pretty MLP print pattern, featuring all of the "Mane Six" fillies: Twilight Sparkle (in her original unicorn form, prior to becoming a winged alicorn princess), Applejack, Pinkie Pie, Fluttershy, Rarity, and, of course, the best pony of all, Rainbow Dash! But, then, I'm biased, so, you may not agree with me on just how super special the equine goddess of rainbows really is!

The reverse side of the card has the 5-step, hand-drawn instructions for crafting the pony headbands. The process looked pretty easy to do, but, more on that in a bit.

Underneath the pink ribbon and the instructional sheet, the smaller box has a reflective mirror attached to one side, which pottermouth thoughtfully included so that my dollies could admire themselves while wearing their colorful pony hairbands. I somehow failed to notice (probably because I was too distracted by the contents of the box), but pottermouth kindly informed me that the mirror actually folds upwards, in an easel-like fashion, to become a 3-dimensional construct. How cool is that? It's definitely a neat and creative way to turn a package into a functional piece of furniture for play/display purposes!

Inside of the box were three small plastic Ziploc baggies that contained all of the components needed to assemble a trio of hair accessories: Three pairs of felt ears; three metal headbands; and an assortment of yarn in a variety of colors (conveniently already cut to the proper length--thanks!) The ear and yarn hues suggested to me that I should create Rainbow Dash, Twilight Sparkle, and Pinkie Pie headbands, so, that's exactly what I did.

I did end up making some changes to pottermouth's instructions while I worked. First, I put the yarn tresses on the headband first, not the ears, because I was afraid that the knotting/handling process would dislodge the glued ears. Second, I glued the ears directly onto the outermost yarn knots, not the headband itself, because I know, from experience, that white glue does not adhere well to metal (I imagine that other types of glues might, but, all I have in the house right now are white glue, hot glue, and super glue, and I didn't feel that the other two options would be better for this type of project, although I could be wrong). Attaching the ears to the yarn also has the advantage of allowing you to slide them up-and-down the headband as needed, much like beads on a string, which, in addition to making adjustments to their positioning possible, also makes the ears less likely to tear or come unglued when subjected to stress, as they can move with the force being applied to them. Third, I used both single and double strands of yarn to tie my knots to vary the thickness/appearance of the tresses a bit. And, finally, I added a unicorn horn to my Twilight Sparkle headband (that's required by law, and Rainbow Dash is a stickler for enforcing the rules, especially when they apply to everypony but her). I modeled said horn out of papier-mâché, using a sewing needle as a form, and wrapped a piece of bendable wire around the center of the headband, leaving a projecting twist of wire that I then slipped the hollow horn over and glued into place. I also found that it was easier and more convenient to use clothespins/clamps to hold the ears and headband while the glue on them was drying, rather than my fingers (I tried it both ways), especially if you're making multiple headbands like this. All that said, there's nothing wrong with the methodology pottermouth provided me with on her instructional card, particularly if you do have an adhesive that sticks well to metal, but, as I didn't feel that I did, my primary concern was making sure that those ears weren't going to come off on me during the construction process or when I was putting them on, and taking them off, my doll models.

I did have one (minor) disaster. It was both really hot and windy on the evening/night that I made them, so, I had my window open to enjoy the relief said breezes provided while I was working. Sure enough, after a particularly big gust went through the room, I discovered that all of the horse ears, and their accompanying Ziploc baggy, had blown away on me. Fortunately, with a little hunting, I was able to track them down again and resume my labors.

Here are the three completed headbands: (left-to-right) Rainbow Dash, Twilight Sparkle, and Pinkie Pie. You may have noticed that the hair accessories are all different sizes, which is good, as there's a lot of variation in the dimensions of the noggins in my doll collection (plus the metal is also bendy, as such, they can be reshaped to fit different-sized melons). I used every yarn color in the bag at least once, but I still had several pieces left over when I was finished (better too much than too little), which I'll hang onto, as they might be useful for another art project someday. (Hoarder!)

Some of my Barbie: Fashionista dolls modeling (cosplaying?) them:

These headbands are pretty quick and easy to make (only waiting for the glue to dry slows things down, and even that doesn't take too long). That said, the construction process did take me much longer than it would for most people, but that's only because I was also simultaneously shooting/manipulating photographs, scanning, and typing up and editing this text. I imagine that many MLP and doll enthusiasts would get a kick out of crafting these and the design could easily be modified into cat, dog, or some other animal, headbands too.

Pottermouth, this was a very fun and entertaining project and I truly appreciate all of the time, work, and thought that went into putting the whole thing together, including the multiple boxes--you went way above and beyond the call of duty for this swap! I shall be proudly displaying my pony-fied (that's totally a word, and if it isn't, it should be) dollies to friends and family, both online and in person!

"Rockingbearranch", the woman from Texas that I made the first two cards above for, selected my "TLC (the musical group) members [T-Boz, Left Eye (deceased), and Chilli]" theme. I received my letter from her on 6/24/16 (and it took me three more days to post photos of it here, and you'll see why shortly). Inside of said envelope was this pretty Bella Ink floral card. I was a chronic truant in high school, so, I only showed up for my French class a grand total of maybe four or five times (and I seem to recall that my too-forgiving teacher still didn't flunk me--God Bless the high standards of our American education system!), but even an incorrigible delinquent like myself knows that "Merci" is French for "Thank you"!

Rockingbearranch actually combined said TLC ladies with my "an ATC that's also some kind of art project for me to do" theme and created a little TLC paint-by-number exercise--that's pretty cool! She wrote that she drew this freehand on her art pad (and I presume she later added the color guide and numbers with a computer program). Rockingbearranch sent me two copies of the project to boot, one on card stock, the other on paper. I liked that, because I could paint one and still keep the other in its original condition, for comparison/reference purposes, plus it was nice to have an extra just in case I screwed up (which I didn't)! The card is actually double the standard ATC size, which was fine by me, as that just made it easier to paint, and, it doesn't matter to me what dimensions my incoming ATCs are, because variety is the spice of life and I don't keep them in an album or anything like that anyway, just the envelope or box that they arrived in.

You know, it just occurred to me that, someday, a comedian might take my "an ATC that's also some kind of art project for me to do" theme to the logical extreme and just send me nothing but a blank card. Easiest swap ever, right?

Anyhoo, TLC is the best-selling American R&B/Hip Hop girl group of all time (they've accumulated an impressive 65 million record sales, worldwide, to date). While still active, their peak years were in the 1990s and early 2000s. TLC was originally composed of T-Boz (Tionne Watkins), Left Eye (Lisa Lopes), and Chilli (Rozonda Thomas), but, sadly, Lisa died in a car accident in Honduras in 2002 at the young age of 30. Watkins and Thomas have continued on without Lopes as a duo, but, thus far, they haven't been as successful without Lisa. Rockingbearranch's card depicts the group in their earlier 90s years, when they typically wore very colorful urban fashions (Lisa apparently really loved those big, crazy hats). If you're wondering, the circle over Lisa's left eye is an unopened condom. TLC are advocates for safe sex, so, back in the day, they often had condoms pinned to their outfits, and, of course, playful Lisa had to be clever and use hers as an eye patch to complement her stage name!

Rockingbearranch also included this little square of cardstock that depicts a bear's head over a rocker (because I'm painfully oblivious to the obvious, I initially thought that said curved line was a smiley mouth, until she explained). That's a neat little symbol to represent her username!

Here's what the card looked like late Friday night, after I got done laying down the first layer of acrylic paint. It was mostly just solid colors at this point, as such, I still had a lot of shadows, highlights, etc. left to apply to the three women.

And this is the finished card, on Sunday evening, after it had been sealed, pressed, and dried (I elected to paint the paper one and keep the cardstock version in its original state, so, to improve its durability and make it more rigid, I glued said paper one onto heavier stock too). As I am wont to do, I also applied ink and colored pencil on top of my acrylics. All together, I'd say this took me about eight hours to paint/embellish, and I went back and changed/tweaked small things several times too, both before, and during, the sealing process.

Remember when I typed above that I didn't screw up? I lied. Sunday was hot and sunny, so, I left the card's sealed surface to dry in the window while I went downstairs to attend to other business. Shortly thereafter, I came back upstairs to find the TLC girls cheerfully plastered to the mesh window screen! You know how the wind blowing sometimes creates a vacuum, sucking your curtains into the window frame, rather than blowing them outwards into the room? Well, that's exactly what happened while I was gone. Thankfully, the card was almost dry when that happened, so, I only had to do an emergency fix on the bottom area around Lisa's left pants leg and Rozonda's right suspender. Note to self: Close the window next time!

Finally, here's the back of the (cardstock) original:

I don't think I've ever worked on a paint-by-number project before, or, if I have, I just can't remember doing so, but I found it to be an enjoyable process. It's nice to be able to just paint with all the elements already in place so that you don't have to worry too much about the arrangement of the composition. The only similar item I can recall ever making was one of those plastic sun catcher things (a butterfly I believe) where you color the individual panes with translucent paint to get a stained-glass-like effect. Many thanks for this do-it-yourself portrait of the lovely TLC ladies, rockingbearranch!

"P_E_S_T", a woman from England, picked my "a paper doll (preferably a girl/woman or an animal, but it's up to you)" theme. I received my letter from her on 7/7/16, which had to be signed for, and it so happened that I had just gotten home about five minutes before the mailman showed up, so, the timing worked out perfectly (other than the dog having one of his psychotic barking fits, like he usually does, whenever he sees anyone at the front door that he doesn't recognize). This was only the second time in my life that I've ever gotten mail from Great Britain too!

Inside of the padded envelope was this piece of white paper, folded around the cards (that's right, she went the extra mile and made me two of them!), and held shut with a colorful piece of speckled tape:

Sadly, bad things happened to the pair of ATC dolls during transit. Whatever the substance was that P_E_S_T used for the dolls' surfaces, the sticky/tacky coating adhered to the paper, preventing me from removing the cards from said covering. I could be wrong, but it looks like it might be nail polish. The cards themselves, which have a different finish, didn't stick, just the dolls. Upon opening it, this was as far as I could peel back the paper, for fear of tearing or destroying the cards inside:

The red doll was stuck worse than the blue one. In this side view, after cutting the covering open, you can see the right arm and leg firmly glued to the white paper:

After carefully prying apart everything that I could with my fingers, I cut away all of the white paper possible, with scissors, freeing most of the cards' surfaces:

Now, how am I going to get the rest of that paper off?

I considered various approaches (besides dynamite) to removing the remaining white paper and the two best ideas that I could come up with were either water or steam. As a lad, I used to collect stamps, and soaking letters was a great way to get canceled ones off of envelopes, so, I figured I'd give that a try here. My initial plan was to immerse the cards entirely in water, but, upon further consideration, that seemed excessive and potentially disastrous, so, instead, I wet my fingertip with a little bit of water and carefully rubbed the liquid onto all of the remaining bits of white paper until they were fully saturated. Then, I let them sit for a bit before proceeding to gently roll/scrape the dampened paper off with a finger, which worked out surprisingly well. I did end up with some minor damage to the surface of the dolls, but it's barely noticeable. However, I presume that both dolls' limbs and heads are supposed to be movable, but, alas, said appendages and their wire joints are completely gummed up and fused together, so they don't rotate at all like I'm thinking that they should. While it might be possible to free them up, I didn't want to press my luck any further than I already had, and decided to leave well enough alone and quit while I was ahead (which is a small feat in itself for me, as I usually overdo it, and later regret my actions, when it comes to fixing things). Immobile ATCs are far better than ruined ones.

Finally, here are the liberated cards. I really dig the dotted and striped patterns running over the bodies, which, coupled with the somewhat abstract design, gives them a primal or cosmic flair to my eyes. I like to think of the red one as being female, and the blue twin as male, and they also remind me of oxygen rich (red) and depleted (blue) blood. Strawberries and blueberries, fire and water, anger and sadness--those kinds of things. Also, when I first opened these up, my initial impression was that, rather than joints, the coiled gold wires were attachment points for clothing, which is something that I've never seen on a paper doll, design-wise--I wonder if that would actually work to hold garments in place?

This is the back of the red doll card (they're both more-or-less identical in that respect, which is why I'm only showing one of them). Judging from the shape, heft/feel, and underlying stars pattern, it appears that this set of ATCs are modified/customized playing cards, which is neat. I pixellated P_E_S_T's real name for privacy purposes.

It's too bad that the cards ending up getting stuck like that, but, despite one's best intentions, things like that happen to all of us from time-to-time. Besides, even immobile, they still look cool, and I appreciate that P_E_S_T put in the extra effort to make me two of them too. Just to be on the safe side, I think I'm going to store these ATCs, long term, with their fronts covered with either wax paper or plastic cling wrap to prevent the pair from sticking to each other or anything else. Thank you for the doll card duo, P_E_S_T!

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