Frosty Morning – part 6 (wee folk)

This 6th and final part in the Frosty Morning series is about making the wee folk characters who live in the winter landscape. All of the other stuff, the trees, the icy snow cover and the sparkling sky are just meant to set the stage for the little people to frolic in. While I worked on this piece, I thought about what the wee folk would look like and what they would be doing. Adding a narrative element with human (or animal) faces helps me fall in love with what I’m making. The scenery may be lovely, but without play actors, there is no story. And without that, what’s the point?

This year, I’m working on a group of seasonal landscapes that capture the wonder and magic of the natural world, both real and imagined. Frosty Morning is the first completed scene in the series. Note cards are available in my Etsy Shop. 

You can follow the progress of the other 3 seasons on Facebook and Instagram.

The full figures are about 2″ tall, with smaller ones peeking out of the holes in the shelters. To make them, I used the same basic techniques that I teach in my how-to book Felt Wee Folk, with some adjustments in the armature material and clothing.

I used wool tapestry yarn or mending wool to stitch and wrap their winter clothing. Whenever I share photos showing dolls wearing sweaters, people actually think I knit them! For something this small it’s much easier to create the allusion of knitting with rows of chain stitches. For other examples of faux knitted outfits, see Polly Doll‘s Irish knit sweater here and her Fair Isle vest here.

When making people, I always start by painting their faces on wooden beads. Then, after meeting them, I feel motivated to bring them to life.

I’ve been saving some really small acorn caps for just this kind of project.

Instead of pipe cleaners, which would be too bulky, I formed the body armature out of 24 gauge jewelry wire. The bead heads were glued to the wire neck at the very end, when the clothing was finished. I glued small pieces of felt onto the top of the bead heads, in a kind of Mohawk. Later, when I added yarn hair, the felt gave the threaded needle something to catch onto.

Miraculously, this old mending wool from my collection of deceased relatives’ ephemera escaped being eaten my moths. It was the perfect weight with which to stitch miniature clothing.

In this sequence of photos, you can see how I wrapped and stitched yarn around the wire arms and legs and then made a separate faux knitted coat to go on top. I completed the look with French knot buttons, striped leggings, wool hair, and a glued on acorn cap.

The group of little people grew and grew until there seemed to be the right amount.

The sled is made from a pod I found so long ago that I can’t remember where it came from. An image search identified it as a coming from a Foxglove tree.

With just a few stitches, I sewed the characters in place – pulling the sled, looking out from shelters and climbing along tree branches.

When all of the parts were finished, it was time to mount the piece.

I made a border frame by padding and covering a wooden stretcher with upholstery fabric. I then hand sewed the layered background fabrics to the back of the stretcher, making it as taught as possible. After that, I sewed the different landscape sections to the background surface, starting with the lace snow cover, stone wall and driftwood house and ending with the trees.

To help prop up the tree limbs, I sewed beads to the back and stitched them to the background fabric.

I hope that you’ve enjoyed this close look at the process of making Frosty Morning. When the Spring scene is finished, I’ll write about it as well.

Part 1 shows how I made the tree trunks.
Part 2 gives a close look at how I formed and wrapped the wire tree branches. Part 3 is about constructing the rounded shelters.
Part 4 is about making the stone wall and the ice covered bush in front of it.
Part 5 is about adding sparkle to the scene.

Frosty Morning and the other 3 yet-to-be finished pieces in the 4 Seasons series will have their premiere showing in my retrospective exhibition next year.
What a Relief: The Art of Salley Mavor
June 3 – Sept. 11, 2022.
Brick Store Museum in Kennebunk, ME

There will be more opportunities to see the 4 Seasons series in 2023. They will be included in the following exhibitions:
Salley Mavor: Once Upon a Stitch
Feb. 18 – June 4, 2023, Upcountry History Museum, Greenville, SC
Salley Mavor: Bedtime Stitches and Social Fabric
Fall 2023, Southern Vermont Arts Center, Manchester, VT

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making Face Time (part 1)

Face_TimeUPDATE: Face Time is part of my exhibit, Salley Mavor: Social Fabric, at the Upcoumtry History Museum in Greenville, SC, April 3 – Sept. 5, 2021.

This post was first published in 2015.

About a year ago, my newest piece, Face Time started taking shape. I took pictures along the way, during the many months that its collection of little heads occupied my work table. The piece was completed this past winter after about 6 months of work.

I’m often asked how long it takes to make a large piece like this (24″ x 30″). It’s hard to say for sure, because my days are interspersed with so many other activities (and distractions) having to do with the business side of being an artist. Of course, I’d rather be stitching every day in my studio, but I fear that would lead to an obscure life, without a presence beyond my studio walls. I’d guess that at least 50% of my work time is spent promoting my art in some way; e-mails, interviews and other publicity, Etsy Shop, editors and publishers, social media, entering and arranging exhibits, etc. OK, that’s enough of a reality check–shall we stick with the romantic notion of spending all day stitching in a window seat?

family tree-2I’d like to take you through the making of Face Time, so you can have a sense of what’s involved.  If you’ve read my post, When to tell how and when not to, you’ll know that I don’t always show my process, but this is one of those instances when I’ve taken enough photos to warrant a 3 part series. I’m excited to share the new direction my work has taken!

For Face Time, I started in the usual way, thinking about the idea for a long time before jotting down tiny drawings in my sketch book. While I work, the concept remains strong and constant, while the overall design changes with time. I also consider how the parts will be rendered in embroidery and 3 dimensional needlework.

FaceTime-2051

I wanted to show different people from all over, evolving through time, from long ago civilizations at the bottom, to present day people at the top. I wasn’t so interested in making a personal family tree, but a depiction of the world’s collective heritage. I envisioned a group of faces from a variety of backgrounds and cultures peeking out of the greenery, all linked to a tree-like form.

FaceTimeWM-9573

FaceTime-9577

Researching fashion history was very fun! Online, I found pictures of hair styles, beards, hats and garments. In addition to wigs and painted facial features, each wooden head had a bit of clothing showing at the neck and shoulders. They expand on the wee folk doll projects from my how-to book, Felt Wee Folk – New Adventures. Wire glasses were something new, which I thought contributed to the individuality of some characters.

FaceTimeWM-9612

Over a period of many weeks, the heads grew in number, filling my modest work table.

FaceTimeworktable-1

IMG_9725

There ended up being 41 heads in all, covering many centuries. Here they are, in a group shot, before they were separated by leaves and branches in the finished piece. I will show more about that in part 2.

To be continued…FaceTimegroupWM-

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Doll house stories – all moved in

In this final part 5 in the Doll House Stories series, you will see the completed rooms in my newly refurbished doll house, along with its wee folk inhabitants. The house, which I built in 1975 while in art school, is on view in the exhibition “Bedtime Stitches” at the Cahoon Museum in Cotuit, MA through Dec. 19, 2020.

In addition to showing the original illustrations for my new picture book MY BED, the Cahoon Museum is displaying many rarely seen creations from my art school days to the present, including this doll house. These extra items are only included in the Cahoon Museum show and will not travel in the touring exhibition.

Since “Bedtime Stitches” opened in mid-September, I’ve heard from many people who’ve gone to see the exhibition with their children, grandchildren, parents and friends. One woman said, “After our visit, my husband said it was the best day of 2020.” Another wrote to say, “It feels like your art is the antidote to, I don’t know, maybe most of the rest of the world.”

I’m so glad the show will be up for another 6 weeks (through Dec 19), so that more folks can make the trip to see it. Not only has the Cahoon Museum done a beautiful job presenting my work in the gallery, they have protocols in place to ensure a safe and welcoming experience for their visitors, with timed entry in 1 hour intervals and required face coverings. Click here for hours, registration and Covid safely information.

For the past few weeks, you’ve seen several posts about the doll house. Here’s a list if you’d like to review them:
How the house was used over the past 45 years – part 1 (history)
Before and after shots of wallpapering – part 2 (wall-papering)
The process of making wee folk characters – part 3 (kitchen)
How I re-upholstered a 1930’s era sofa – part 4 (re-upholstery).

After arranging the furniture and figuring out who would live in the house, I moved the whole setup into the basement so that Rob could photograph it. He also made a little film, which pans from room to room throughout the house.

For the soundtrack, Rob recorded crickets and other night sounds outside. In the middle of summer, he sat on our patio with a microphone and headphones, listening in the dark, with the moon above.

I hope you enjoy this little house tour.

It was so much fun working on the house over the summer! I probably wouldn’t have taken the time to indulge in something so seemingly unimportant, if not for the deadline to get it fixed up for the “Bedtime Stitches” exhibition. But, after allowing myself the luxury of “playing house” again, I feel connected to my younger self – The child who spent blissful hours engrossed in creative play, the 13 year old who kept her love of dolls a secret and the self-conscious art student who lay in bed thinking about decorating her new doll house. Throughout my life, I’ve been on the same search – to find ways to make what I imagine into something real to share. And it makes me happy to share it with you!

What are they making in the kitchen? Cheese Straws! This cozy scene is printed on a card with my family recipe for cheese straws on the back. Cards are available in my shop.

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Doll house stories: kitchen

This part 3 in the Doll House Stories series shows how I made the family of dolls who are gathered around the kitchen table in my newly renovated doll house. The house, which I built in 1975 while in art school, is on view in my exhibition, “Bedtime Stitches” at the Cahoon Museum in Cotuit, MA through Dec. 19, 2020. Other posts in this series: part 1, part 2 (wallpapering), part 4 (re-upholstery.

Here’s a short video of the kitchen scene.

I suppose the boy could be rolling out dough for lots of different baked treats, but I imagined them making cheese straws, which is a family tradition going back several generations. In the past, I’ve shared the recipe for the best cheese straws in the world on this blog.

Since so many of you’ve enjoyed the recipe over the years, I decided to make a card with the cozy kitchen scene (above) on the front and the recipe for making cheese straws printed on the back. That way, it’s a greeting card (or Christmas card) and recipe card all in one.

The Cheese Straws card is available in my shop in packs of 4 or 8.

To make the figures in this scene, I started by painting their faces on wooden beads. After seeing their personalities come to life, I’m motivated to make the rest of their bodies. The doll making process is based on the instructions and patterns in my how-to book, Felt Wee Folk – New Adventures.

I glued felt wigs to the crown of the bead heads, making a surface that a needle can grab onto. Then, I stitched their hair with mending wool, which is just the right weight for this kind of detailed work. It seems like all of my relatives kept cards of wool to mend sweaters, so I now have a nice supply of browns and grays to choose from.

I bent wire in the shape of hands and wrapped the fingers and palms with embroidery floss. I’m frequently asked to show in detail how I make hands, but I choose to keep that process private.

Just like I teach in Felt Wee Folk, their bodies are constructed with pipe cleaners.

Here, you can see how the skirt fabric is gathered and sewn to her waist. It can be messy because it will be covered by a sweater.

Since their clothes are sewn on, these dolls can’t change outfits very easily.

I used a chain stitch to sew stripes on this shirt.

To give this character a womanly shape, I sewed beads to her chest.

To finish off her cooking outfit, I made a little apron.

The dough is made with polymer clay. To give it a more realistic color, I kneaded in dried mustard, which is an ingredient in the cheese straws recipe. As mentioned earlier, Cheese Straws cards are available in my shop here.

Stay tuned for part 4 in the Doll House Stories series. I will share how I re-upholstered a vintage 1930’s miniature sofa.

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Doll house stories – history

This past summer, I renovated my 45 year old doll house, to get it ready to display in my exhibition, “Bedtime Stitches”, which is on view at the Cahoon Museum in Cotuit, MA through Dec. 19, 2020.

In addition to showing the original illustrations for my new picture book MY BED, the Cahoon Museum is displaying many rarely seen creations from my art school days to the present, including this doll house. These extra items are only included in the Cahoon Museum show and will not travel in the touring exhibition.

There are so many pictures and stories to tell about redecorating, re-wallpapering and re-upholstering furniture for the house, that I’ll be writing several posts about it. I thought I’d begin by giving a little history of when it was first constructed and how it’s been used up until now. Other posts in this series: part 2 (wall-papering)part 3 (kitchen)part 4 (re-upholstery).

I built the doll house in the summer of 1975, after taking a wood working class. I can remember using my father’s tools and workbench and later obsessing over the wall paper choices and other architectural details. To me, this was just another art project, but I knew enough not to talk about it with people who wouldn’t understand how a 20 year old young woman would rather construct and decorate a doll house than go out partying.

in subsequent years, the doll house has moved around with my family and me, from house to house, along with all of our other stuff. For a long time it sat neglected in the corner and my boys weren’t interested in playing with it. Then, a few years ago, my interest was renewed when some real live children visited my studio and made a beeline for it.

I looked at the house with new eyes and decided to spiff it up. I added some green molding here and there and painted leafy branches on the plain pink gable.

An opportunity to display the house at Highfield Hall’s Holiday event came up, so I decked it out in a Christmas theme. I went through my old family Christmas ornaments and spun cotton Santas and set them up in the rooms, together with the doll house family. There were Santa’s hanging out everywhere – even in the bathtub and sitting on the toilet. I found miniature lights and pine boughs at Michael’s and strung them up. To keep eager fingers out of the rooms, I covered the openings with Plexiglas. People really got a kick of peeking inside!

The house was also used in a photographic set-up that shows the doll house family project in my how-to book, Felt Wee Folk – New Adventures.

Then, after the 2016 election, the Wee Folk Players theater troupe took over the house and staged their series of politically satirical scenarios. They ruthlessly rearranged the furniture and transformed the rooms into the White House and a Royal Palace, among other set-ups.

Women’s March

The doll house, along with characters from the Wee Folk Players was part of my exhibition, “Liberty and Justice” at the New England Quilt Museum in 2018.

During their month’s-long occupation, the theater troupe pretty much trashed the place, so when another opportunity to show the doll house came up this year, I decided to fix it up first. Stay tuned for more stories about the renovation. Other posts in this Doll house series: part 2, part 3.

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RIP R.B.G.

Ruth Bader Ginsburg 1933- 2020

On Friday night, when I heard about the passing of Supreme Court Justice Ruth Bader Ginsburg, I felt heavy with sorrow and trepidation about the future of our country. The next morning I pushed aside everything on my schedule and started making a mini tribute to the Notorious R.G.B., as she was affectionately named. To learn about her ground breaking contributions to civil rights and women’s equality in America, please read her obituary.

A high resolution file of the memorial photo above can be downloaded.

For me, the process of depicting Ruth in doll form was pure therapy – painting her face, stitching her hair, bending her glasses. Just holding her in the palm of my hand brought a sense of peace. For the past few days, I’ve been sharing the different steps along the way on Facebook and Instagram and the response has been overwhelming. This project has hit a chord with my followers in a way that goes beyond a focus on and curiosity about my techniques. Followers wrote to say that seeing the photos “made me catch my breath” and “made me smile and my heart calm.”

The finished R.G.B. doll will be on display in my show, Salley Mavor: Bedtime Stitches at the Cahoon Museum of American Art in Cotuit MA until Dec. 19, 2020.

To measure Ruth’s arm length, I used Greta as a model.

She had many collars to choose from, but I made a simple lace variety.

Ruth Bader Ginsburg 1933- 2020. May she rest in power.

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Hand-painted wee folk faces

Recently, I’ve felt an urge to paint doll faces on wooden beads. Not just a few, but lots and lots of them. Like stitching, I find the repetitive process calming. This compulsion, or meditation practice, depending on how you look at it, has led to a new offering in my Etsy Shop.

Many of you who’ve made fairies and other wee folk dolls from my how-to book, Felt Wee Folk, mention how frustrating it can be to paint the dolls’ faces. Now, with the option of buying painted doll heads, you can relax and concentrate on the stitching and wrapping part.

Hand-painted wooden doll heads and acorn cap hats

It all started while tidying up my studio, when I found myself confronted by baskets brimming with acorn caps and bags full of wooden beads. I used to collect acorn caps by the thousands when my fairy kit business was going strong in the early 2000’s. It was always a rush every Fall to harvest enough of the right size and type to fit the different bead head sizes. Even though I stopped making kits years ago, I haven’t broken the habit of scanning the ground under oak trees and picking up acorn caps. Just because they could be the perfect size and shape to top off some little character. So, I figured that I’d paint wooden doll heads to sell along with the caps.

Some of you were introduced to my work through the kits, which I made for 10 years from 1998 – 2008. They were mostly available through catalogs and Waldorf School stores.

Bud & Ivy Kit

As I culled through piles of acorn caps, separating them by size and quality, I had flashbacks to the time of my life when every spare moment was devoted to designing, sourcing materials, mass-producing and marketing these kits. The memory gave me pause to think about what I was getting into.

So, before deciding to mass-produce painted heads again, I convinced myself that this time was different. I told myself that I’ll just paint heads until I don’t want to anymore or when the acorn caps are used up.

Wee Folk Studio Kits 1998 – 2008

Actually, designing and figuring out directions for the kits gave me the experience and ability to write my how-to book Felt Wee Folk. In the 17 years since the first edition came out, many of you’ve written to say how much pleasure you’ve gotten out of making these little dolls. You also mention how habit forming they can be, so maybe the book should come with a warning! I love seeing and hearing about how you’ve adapted the patterns to personalize your own wee worlds. It was always my intention to introduce projects that encouraged imaginative exploration and I’m happy that you are doing just that!

In addition to the Felt Wee Folk book, flower petal skirts & wings and wool fleece fairy hair, my Etsy shop now has hand-painted wooden doll heads for sale.

hand painted wooden doll heads and acorn cap hats

Wooden bead doll heads with hand-painted faces and fitted acorn cap hats are available in my Etsy shop. A range of skin tones are grouped together in different size assortments of 12mm, 14mm and 16mm beads.

I just restocked the shop with packs of flower petals, which you can watch me assemble in this time lapse video.

I’m also selling naturally dyed wool fleece fairy hair, which was left over from the kit making days.

Wool Fleece Fairy Hair

Blueberry Blossom Fairy was one of the most popular kits. She still lives on as a note card in my shop. I hope that you find these supplies useful. As for other wee folk necessities, such as wool felt, I recommend A Child’s Dream, which has a great selection.

Blueberry Blossom Fairy Note Card

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bed book peek – Ghana (part 2)

This is Part 2 in a series of posts about how I made the stitched bas-relief scene set in the West African country of Ghana. The piece will be reproduced in my upcoming picture book, MY BED: Enchanting Ways to Fall Asleep around the World.

Here are links to posts showing other finished illustrations for the book: South America, JapanIndiaAfghanistanRussiaNorth AfricaNorth AmericaScandinavia and Iran. To see a list of all my books, click here.

Update: Signed copies of My Bed can ordered in my shop here. 40 pages, 9″ x 9″, words by Rebecca Bond, pictures by Salley Mavor, published by Houghton Mifflin Harcourt. ISBN 978-0-544-94906-5

In Part 1, I showed the process of making the house and the small figure in the background. Now, I will concentrate on the house and child in the foreground.

Way back in the beginning, after my sketches were approved by Houghton Mifflin’s editorial team and before I started working on the finished scenes, I made heads of all of the children who would inhabit the pages of the book. I wanted to meet the children before embarking on what I knew would be at least a 2 year commitment. After falling in love with them, it didn’t matter how long it would take to make the places they call home.

Except for the fingers and toes, the children’s bodies are basically made the same way as the dolls in my how-to book, Felt Wee Folk. I painted their faces on wooden beads and made wigs by gluing on a piece of felt to the crown of the head, which acts as a needle friendly surface to sew on thread hair.

I dressed the Ghanaian boy in cotton shorts and a shirt.

He needed a woven sleeping mat, so I blanket stitched rows of “weaving’ on a piece of felt with variegated pima cotton thread.

To help make it look like the boy is inside the porch, I built a 1/2″ deep box out of balsa wood that I covered with felt. I’ve also used this method in other scenes for the book to create more depth, such as the inside of the house boat in the scene from Holland. It takes advantage of the space inside the stretcher, behind the background fabric. The box is inserted in a hole cut out of the stretched fabric. Objects recede (about 1/2″), as well as protrude (about 3/4′), making the piece more spatially dynamic.

To replicate the stone and mud texture on the house, I appliqued pieces of felt with blanket stitches. For extra structure, the window frame is outlined with wire.

I also chain-stitched spirals to look like stones in the wall and sewed a row of over-lapping bone bead shingles to the roof.

I stitched silk ribbon on felt to create the texture of a straw roof for the porch.

I made a mud and stone wall out of felt to go along the back of the property.

This photo gives an idea of how the box in the porch area recedes.

In future posts, I will show the process of making plants, the shade tree, the bird, and other parts of the scene.

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Polly travels close to home

Always patient and quiet, Polly Doll has been standing watch in the studio for almost a year, wondering what her next adventure will be. Since she came into being in 2012, she’s been all over the place, sporting a new outfit for each location. To see her complete travel log and wardrobe, go here.

Times being what they are, Polly has opted to stay close to home and explore the coming of Spring just outside her front door. It’s been the most hassle-free kind of travel without the usual plane, train, car or boat rides. She didn’t even bother with coming up with a new outfit, but mixed and matched clothing from previous trips. Though, she did spiff up her straw hat with silk ribbon flowers, in honor of the season.

Polly has been exploring the lawn and has taken an interest in the vegetable garden, especially the pea plants, which are as tall as she is.

She took this opportunity to go through her wardrobe and air her skirts and tops outside.

There was a perfect spot under a tall oak tree to set up the clothes line.

Staying close to home has its advantages, like the convenience of having all the necessary equipment close by for photo shoots. Polly liked having her picture taken so much that she posed for a series of environmental photographs, which are immortalized on note cards.

POLLY NOTE CARDS

Polly is featured in a series of note cards, which are available in my shop here.
Free shipping in the USA.
Polly in the Periwinkle – 4 note cards – $10.00 – Buy Here
Polly in the Daffodils – 4 note cards – $10.00 – Buy Here
Polly’s Washing Day – 4 note cards – $10.00 – Buy Here
6 Card Variety Pack – $14.99 – Buy Here

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a virus-free wee world

Fairy_Family-1767-2

Are you wondering what to do while you’re hunkered down at home, staying away from crowds?  I must admit that the concept of “social distancing” isn’t very different from my normal life, so it’s not much of an adjustment. But, I realize that closed schools and work places, as well as travel and event cancellations, is a hardship for many of you. So, to help keep your mind off the worrisome situation, how about immersing yourself in the virus-free fairy and wee folk world? In this post you will find a source list of materials to make projects from my how-to book, Felt Wee Folk. There are also lots of photos and videos that I hope will inspire you to make your own wee world!

When I posted this idea on Instagram, several people, including a self-described introvert, commented that they were already in making mode:

  • “‘I adore your wee felt folk book and actually hunkered down yesterday and made a little jester. I’ve decided to make more to give to friends during this crazy time💕
  • ‘What a lovely idea! I admit, I’m more worried about craft supplies than toilet paper.”
  • “Introvert here reporting from a cozy studio! I secretly love a good excuse to stay in. I’ve got your book and will be making some fairies while we bunker down!!” 

Many of the supplies needed to make the dolls, such as embroidery floss, paint, brushes, unvarnished wood beads, pipe cleaners and faux flowers can be found at craft stores. Online sources for the book, wool felt, acorn caps, and other materials are listed below:

Felt Wee Folk: New Adventures, with bonus playing cards and flower skirts & wings

I’m keeping my Etsy shop stocked with wool fleece fairy hair and flower skirts & wings.

The dolls and their clothing are portable, so you can bring them where ever you want to settle in.

This is my work table on a random day, the way it really looks.

My Work Table on a random day

I made the Frost Family for a benefit raffle a few years ago. See more details here.

This is a little experimental video from a few years ago.

Of course, all of the dolls pictured in this post were made years ago and the raffles are long past. I just wanted to show you a variety of possibilities.

The Oakley Family was made for another benefit raffle. See the process of making them here.

And yet another fairy family raffle, which you see in more detail here.

I hope that the wee folk help keep your spirits up through this ordeal. Please stay safe!

To keep up with new posts, please subscribe to this blog (top right column on the home page). Your contact info will not be sold or shared. If you’d like to see more frequent photos tracking the projects in my studio, please follow me on Facebook and/or Instagram