Sunday, August 31, 2014

Plan D

When I was a kid growing up in California, I was always reminded of my grandfathers Swedish heritage. He came from a family of immigrants who had come through Ellis Island and made a life out of nothing. But my baseball loving, cocktail drinking, poker playing grandmother was English and German, a fact that was rarely mentioned. In her sewing room sat an old blue Carr's biscuit tin covered with drawings of English royalty. Queen Elizabeth the First stared off into the distance while fat King Henry and prissy Sir Walter Raleigh glared from the sides. 


Full of buttons, I found it fascinating and would pour over the contents, always looking for something new. After my grandmother died, the button tin moved into my mothers craft room and when she died onto my shelf.

This winter I became convinced I had an ugly pot problem that could only be fixed by creating something with all those buttons. Maybe I've just spent too much time at my favorite DC art gallery drooling over the mixed media art, but at no point during my delusion did it ever occur to me that I have no ability to create anything artistic. I just knew I was one button away from absolute amazingness.



Game Fish by Larry Fuentes, created using found objects,
 is one of my favorite pieces of art.

I spent my weekends and snow days pouring over my grandmother's buttons, ordering more when the tin didn't offer what I felt I needed. Grand designs began to hatch and my latest project soon migrated to the dining room, where it stayed for months. At some point my confidence should have wavered, stumbled, and crashed, tumbling into the black depths of self awareness. But it didn't. 

Artistic Fantasy



Auguste Renior's Luncheon of the Boating Party

Harsh Reality



Just to clarify - I rarely work topless.

When Plan A, a design that required hours of wire wrapping, only looked good while lying flat on the table but resembled Kindergarten Craft Hour when placed on the planter, I knew I had to start over. Super Simple Plan B worked well for a few weeks but soon fell apart and Plan C never made it past the mental design stage before I finally realized I had zero ability to create it.


Plan B originally called for three button swags of varying sizes. But several of the buttons cracked and faded in the sun before falling apart so I never added the additional strands. 

With the new school year fast approaching and my free time shrinking, I knew I had to face up to the fact that I have only two artistic skills: 1) making a huge mess and 2) sticking stuff to other stuff. Since I have only ever successfully made one thing, it seemed wise to replicate it - with buttons.

So I did.




Using tile mosaic mortar, I covered an old metal birdbath with buttons and beads and then coated it with marine-grade epoxy resin.


I also used beads and charms that say "Be Yourself".


I created the design as I went along. 
Many of the buttons are reminders of people I love.


My birdbath reflects me: quirky and colorful.


Considering the recent shootings in Ferguson, Missouri, I paused before adding the Pittsburgh Police button. The mystery of why my grandmother kept this uniform button intrigued me, but adding it to the mosaic served to remind me that the actions of a few do not define the whole. It helped turn an old birdbath into my own time capsule and political statement, even if the only person reading between the lines was me.


Once I had finished the design, I was ready to paint the bird and coat it in resin.


I used blue exterior spray paint.


 The entire design has been coated in resin. A thicker layer covers the bottom of the bowl to protect the design from standing water. This waterproof resin is designed for boats and is UV-resistant to prevent yellowing and cracking.

My design is safe under a layer of resin.

How to make a bird bath mosaic:

1. Find a metal birdbath and clean it off.

2. Mix up a batch of Mosaic and Glass Mortar until it's the consistency of cake frosting.
3. Spread it on the birdbath.
4. Stick stuff in it the mortar.
5. Coat it in resin.
6. That's it.


This was a really easy project.



85 comments:

  1. Looks good, I wonder if the birds will try to pry loose any of the buttons or beads? Does the epoxy stay clear? It would be a shame to have it become cloudy or yellow with exposure to the elements.

    Good luck back at school.

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    1. Hi Jim,

      Thanks! The epoxy should stay completely clear. The resin is thick and hard so a bird would have to work over time to pry anything off. I'm going to bring it inside this winter to protect from freezing.

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  2. That is fabulous! You do indeed have artistic talent. Have you ever read the Fairegarden post from a few years ago called "I Can't Art"? You'll find it here: http://fairegarden.wordpress.com/2011/11/04/i-cant-art/ There's lots of wisdom in it.

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    1. I just read that post. So true!! I can't draw to save my life but my funky creations are art to me and that's all that truly matters.

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  3. Holy doodle, your birdbath is fantastic!!! I love love love it! It's so cool. I like looking at all your interesting buttons, I love buttons. This is such a great way to use them., otherwise they will sit in a tin or box for years till our kids chuck them out . I have a habit of saving things for another day. I love this kind of art, it's original, thoughtful and useable. And you say you have no artistic talent.....piffle! Wowsers! I checked your post on your mosaic pot, it's pretty awesome too! Love your bluebird too!!!

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    1. I am creative and that's all this project required. I have a soft spot for buttons and any other type of everyday item that typifies functional beauty. It didn't occur to me to paint the bird until I realized it had been accidentally smeared with mortar. But I love the bright pop it offers. Thanks for your kind words! :o)

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  4. Your birdbath is wonderful. It's practical and attractive and I'm sure the birds will love it too.

    You and I harbor the same grand delusions. I'm always tickled when something turns out well. I'm glad you were able to turn your buttons into a piece of art that has history as well as beauty.

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    1. This piece does have history, doesn't it? I think my grandma would love it, too. I tend to dream big and knew if I just kept going I'd figure out a way to use my buttons. I like knowing I can see them every time I'm in the garden. :o)

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  5. Very artistic! A great idea. Your Grandmother & Mother had some pretty unusual buttons! The birdbath wouldn't be the same with plain grey plastic buttons, would it?

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    1. Thanks, Mark! Most of the really unique buttons were purchased, although I did find some really cool beads in with my jewelry making materials. I think a birdbath covered in grey suit buttons would be too boring for even the birds. ;o)

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  6. It looks fantastic!!! I've been collecting stuff to do mosaic of some sort, but haven't had the courage yet to actually move from the "collecting stuff" stage to the "using stuff" stage. You are inspiring! Cynthia

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    1. Do it!! Do it do it do it do it!!! It's so easy and rewarding. I bought the mortar at Lowe's and the resin through Amazon.com. I could have grouted it if everything was level. Grout is cheaper than marine resin. The mortar is pliable for about an hour so there's plenty of time to move stuff around if you don't like it. Just give it a try!

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  7. Wonderful use of your special buttons. Looks great and I love that the buttons remind you of special people. susie

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    1. I like that, too. It makes it more personal. :o)

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  8. You do realize you could make these and sell them to garden centers and fund your retirement easily. People would pay for such quirky, fun ornaments and they would pay a lot!

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    1. They'd have to pay a lot because I would charge a ton! I've always wanted a garden with cool, funky art items that all had a story behind them that didn't start or end with "Made in China". I've had this bird bath for ages and had already spray painted it once to try and revive it. But the paint bubbled when it was filled with water so it was the perfect stage for all those buttons and beads. But I have lots of resin left over so who knows what I may talk myself into this winter....

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  9. Love, love, love your birdbath! It's every bit as wonderful as you are! Everyone can make stuff, it's just a matter of finding the right technique for the materials and you did that beautifully! Congratulations on getting your creation done before school starts!

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    1. Thanks a zillion! I agree we all have more artistic ability than we give ourselves credit for. I was determined to get this done before Tuesday. Feels good to have met my deadline and to have created something so funky. I love it!

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  10. This birdbath is a work of art and I love it. Plan D worked. I am glad you persevered when Plan A, B and C didn't work. I would even consider hanging the top decorated part on a wall, as a sculpted art work. Fabulous.

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    1. Wow! Thanks! I have another metal bird bath bowl that has separated from the base and is just collecting dust in my basement. I love throwing stuff out or giving it away but it seems so full of potential that I still have it. I may have to find a way to create something with it.

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  11. Looks pretty damn good. Pat yourself on the back. In fact, given your artistic talents, I recommend that you consider joining the Royal Society for Putting Things on Top of Other Things.

    http://youtube.com/watch?v=qRNP-BoaGo8

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    1. When I read your comment I thought, "That sound like a Monty Python skit." I love Monty Python! Genius comedy! :o)

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  12. www.youtube.com/watch?v=qRNP-BoaGo8

    Let's try that again.

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  13. Oh, your birdbath is so lovely, I remember your mosaic pot too, I have had in mind for a long time to make something similar but this has been such a busy year and the list of projects I am working on seem endless at the moment. I like buttons too and I have a sizable collection that one day will end up into something, not sure what yet! I hope the birds appreciate your work :-)

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    1. There's something about buttons that makes it so easy to just stash them away. They're necessary and functional but many are also so beautiful. I still have a hard time throwing them away.

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  14. It's really beautiful Tammy! Wherever did you find all those amazing buttons? Best of luck beginning your new school year. It sure was great meeting you this summer. I would like to take a quick snap of the progress of the Heirloom Cinderella pumpkins as they just begin to turn that wonderful red/orange. I remember you said you were interested...ciao, Susie

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    1. Only about 25% of the buttons came from the tin. Once I realized how many I needed to finish the birdbath, I raided my jewelry making supplies and purchased the rest. I am looking forward to seeing those pumpkins. :o)

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  15. I am not even kidding when I say first of all I loved hearing about you as a child admiring that tin in your grandmother's sewing room. Something so magical about that...and then to see this beautiful piece come to life years later is like it all came full circle! Tammy.....is is stunning...my eyes welled up because I am just over the moon for what you created here! Man....it just rocks! Hands down fantastic!!! I would love to do something like this with my little people! I have a jar of cherished buttons that were my grandmother's....you have inspired me! BEAUTIFUL!!! Nicole xoxo

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    1. Thank you! I thought about you a lot when I was making this because I knew this was your kind of project. :o) I think kids would love making something like this or anything that involves squishing stuff into mortar. Plus, playing with buttons is just plain fun!

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  16. Plan D is absolutely wonderful, Tammy! Perhaps the accumulated stress of plans A-C drove your creative juices to new heights. I, too, have a box full of buttons, collected from the time (many, many years ago) when I actually had the patience to make my own clothes. I've always thought I should/will do something with them but inspiration has never struck with the force that it did for you. Coincidentally, a friend recently referred me to the blog of an associate of hers who also created art from buttons (http://saltairandpistachios.com/2014/08/in-the-eye-of-the-beholder/) so perhaps the universe is trying to tell me something.

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    1. I was starting to get worried that I wouldn't be able to make anything. I'd decided my pot wasn't as ugly as I thought it was and didn't need to be covered with buttons. But by then I was determined to make something, I just didn't know what. Once I decided to make another mosaic, it felt right and the undesign came together very quickly. Just focusing on putting the right button in the right place was soothing and allowed me to forget whatever else I was thinking about.

      I'd definitely think about what you want to do with all those buttons and then just go for it!

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  17. That is so beautiful and a wonderful way to see all those buttons displayed. Well done you.

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  18. Well I am impressed, it looks great. How creative. I have a tin of buttons which belonged to my grandmother. It is an old gas mask tin from the war. What did our grandmothers collect all these buttons for I wonder?

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    1. Thanks! What a powerful reminder of how fragile peace can be. Buttons are necessary and easy to stash away so they were easy to keep. Plus, so many women used to sew that keeping buttons was practical.

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  19. Wow Tammy, that looks absolutely amazing. I hate to think of what the birds will be doing to it though, if they're anything like the ones we have here (swoop and poop come to mind). I love the "fantasy" and "reality" comparisons - that's something I encounter quite a lot. Well done, you're so creative!

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    1. Thanks, Sunil. :o) All the swoopers and poopers need to visit another garden! I just hope I don't get a crazy bird that tries to rip any buttons off.

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  20. I love it. I, too, used to go through my grandmother's button container and I have it, minus the buttons. Her's was a chaffing dish, maybe? A metal container with fancy little feet and a lid. I have since lost the lid, and it does not hold my button collection. I use a lot of buttons for scrapbooking and card making, but I love your birdbath. And you have a great assortment of really good buttons.

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    1. Thanks! It was wonderful to go through all the buttons. It was like being a kid again. :o)

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  21. That's super interesting and a great way to have your family always with you. I have a lot of my grandmother's buttons in different clear jars around my house. What interesting keepsakes our grandmothers passed down.

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    1. It's interesting how each generation keeps different things. It makes me wonder what daily ephemera my generation will leave behind.

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  22. Lovely idea Tammy, it looks , as you say, quirky and colourful. Button boxes assume meteoric interest when you are a child, and I can remember many of the buttons in our box at home. How lovely that you can look at yours anytime you choose and dip into those memories.

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    1. Even the tin seem exotic to me as a kid because it came from another country. I still love buttons and love that I can see them every day instead of having to dig through a shelf to find my tin.

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  23. I love it! I was going to say it would be a great butterfly resting spot, too, with the raised buttons, but you mentioned you coated it in resin? But it looks like the edges are still different levels? I wouldn't be surprised if you have some butterfly visitors to that beautiful work of art, too. Nicely, done, Tammy!

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    1. Thanks! It is coated in resin but there is a wonderful textural quality to it since the buttons and beads are all different heights. It might be too slippery for a butterfly, though.

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  24. Oh wow!!! I'd pay a FORTUNE for something like that, how true, it is just like you....totally unique!
    Well I have to say I absolutely loved this post and can't get over how simply gorgeous that bird bath is and to think those buttons span three generations! What a wonderful mixture of nationalities you are too.
    Lovely that the police button represents the good in us...and now your buttons are immortalized....you'll have to start a new collection now for the tin. Loved seeing the kids enjoying real freedom in art. Yes....a BRILLIANT post!xxx

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    1. When I was a kid my aunts - who were 100% Swedish - always told me I looked Swedish/European, whatever that means. :o) My son who is 6'5" looks like a one-man Viking invasion. I love that the piece has a personal family history. It just makes it so much more meaningful.

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  25. Beautiful bird bath! What a great idea, and you make it seem so easy. Hope you have a great school year.

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    1. It was very easy! There was nothing hard at all about this project. :o)

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  26. Beautiful Tammy. Some of these buttons are very interesting. I like the one with small round faces. It is a bit like a quilt, isn't it? Instead of recognizing pieces of fabric, it is buttons from your past!

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    1. It is exactly like a quilt! I hadn't thought about it like that but that's such a great analogy. Perfect connection! :o)

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  27. Plan D worked like a charm.

    Why doesn't anyone ever *start* with Plan D?? ;-)

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    1. From now on my back up plan needs to be my main plan!

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  28. I was laughing right along with you through the first part of this, Tammy, and planning to tell you that I could empathize with you. I am probably the least artistic person I know, and the results made in various craft classes I've taken looked like something a kindergartener would have made. But then I got to your finished birdbath--wow! I love this! You are definitely an official mixed-media artist now!

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    1. I tried to find a Google Images pic of a kid covered in craft supplies and glue because that would be me completely. Sticking stuff to stuff is my only talent. I love the unexpectedness of mixed media. I have more resin so there's always the possibility I'll get the itch to make something this winter when I'm going nuts.

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  29. There was a shabby looking birdbath on our local swap and shop site. I got all excited thinking I might be able to recreate yours. Unfortunately someone beat me to it. Meanwhile there is someone selling a whole bunch of buttons.....I'll keep looking.

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    1. Keep your eyes peeled at yard sales and thrift shops. You might be able to find both birdbath and buttons/beads. I think a birdbath decorated with old skeleton keys would be super cool, too.

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  30. Super freaking cute! I'm normally not a fan of mosaic stuff but this looks fabulous.

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    1. Thanks!! A lot of mosaics are too tidy and linear for me. I like the funky ones I make because they don't follow any rules or expectations. If I had to line everything up, I wouldn't like it.

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  31. That is absolutely gorgeous......loved all those beautiful unique buttons, especially the Hug Your Dog button....well done Tammy!
    You're lucky I'm not traveling to VA this year, if not that bird bath may have made its way into my suitcase....maybe next year.

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    1. That button I purchased off Etsy. I just couldn't resist it. My garden and art isn't complete without a connection to my dogs. :o) Next time you're in VA, stop by!

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  32. Unlike children, adults bring to many expectations to the process of creating art. As far as I can see, everyone has creative talents and is more than capable of making artistic things. They just have to relax and let go like you did.
    I love your colorful birdbath Tammy. It's great that it sprung from a button box that was your grandmas and includes buttons that are sentimental.

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    1. Thanks, Jennifer. I like that it has a history and meaning to it and wasn't make in China.

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  33. So I'd say you are VERY creative! What a wonderful and unique piece, great work Tammy :-) .

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    1. Thanks! I am a pretty creative person but as far as true artistic talent such as painting, drawing, etc I have the skills of a chimp. But coming up with creative solutions is easy for me. :o)

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  34. Wow! This really looks super cool, jazzy, colourful and 100% unique. I like it even more after hearing its creation story :)

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    1. Thanks!! I keep going outside to look at it. It makes me happy. :o)

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  35. Tammy .. Ms. Colourfully-Funky ! ...
    I fell in love with your previous project the mosaic pot, it is beautiful !!
    And now this ? you are very artistic and let no one tell you otherwise girl ;-)
    To have pieces in your garden that you made yourself is such a wonderful "piece" of yourself out there in the garden.
    I have nothing from my extended family to do something like that but yes going to thrift shops is a wonderful option as you illustrated with that mosaic pot !
    You are unique and your projects are totally unique and I think that is a wonderful gift .. never sell yourself short girl !
    Thanks for stopping by my blog ... I have been off kilter lately so blog and garden are neglected .. it was so nice to see your comments there : )
    Joy
    PS
    Tiger Eye Sumac is like a poor man's Japanese maple .. I like to mix it up with those and my Japanese maples : )

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    1. I love your blog! You can always count on me to pop by, even if it takes a while. I like art that has a story. My family is very small and fragmented so these buttons are important to me. That tin is a treasure. :o)

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  36. congrats Tammy, what a successful project, that birdbath looks great, and such fun to make. And thks for the how-to-do-it info. I have always loved buttons,and now I have an idea of making something with them. Thank goodness not everything is velcro today.

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    1. This project was so insanely easy. It really truly was. I despise Velcro. I love the artistic simplicity and functionality of a button.

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  37. You know the adage, if at first you don't succeed…Your new bird bath is spectacular, though I think it would be hard to turn it over to the birds! The assortment of buttons is fascinating. You are very creative, as your blog posts always demonstrate. And you have a wonderful sense of humor. By the way, I smiled at the painting of the boating party. It reminded me of friends and me on a riverboat cruise a few years ago. Of course, our costumes were different!

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    1. Thanks!! I have the tenacity of a rat terrier. I just don't give up. I don't see the point. There's always a creative solution, it just takes a while to discover them sometimes. I love that Renior. :o) It's on permanent display at one of my favorite DC art galleries.

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  38. First of all, I LOVE the look of it! What a gorgeous birdbath! Do the birds like it? I'd love to see a photo of them bathing in it. But, even more I love what you wrote: "At some point my confidence should have wavered, stumbled, and crashed, tumbling into the black depths of self awareness. But it didn't." Ah yes "the black depths of self awareness." Know it well. So terribly effective at stopping most of my creative projects as well as almost all my blogs. I laughed and nodded. But Tammy, you appear to have that beastie well under control!

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    1. The birds aren't sure what to do with it. Mostly, they've been ignoring it but that's ok. It's still on my patio. When I move it into the garden next summer, I hope they take a chance on it. As far as dealing with self awareness, I'm a pretty confident person. Life's too short to second guess ourselves to death and talk ourselves out of taking a risk, even if it's as small as a post we're not sure about. Love yourself and be brave. :o)

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  39. This is beautiful. Really and truly. I love it. You have a creative touch whether you believe it or not. That tin just screams treasure to me, you just know you're going to find something awesome and inspiring inside of it.

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    1. Thanks! I am creative. I'm just not sure how artistic I am, if you think about real artists like your husband. But I do have a fondness for antique boxes full of little bits and bobs. I just love opening them to see what's inside.

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  40. Wow, that is really beautiful! I'm so glad you didn't stop after plan B! Such a nice, one-of-a-kind garden accent piece!

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  41. I love this project...a beautiful way to use these gorgeous buttons. I am not artsy or crafty but I really like the idea of this...perhaps there is a project in my future. :)

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    1. No talent is needed for this project. :o)

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  42. I'd say you have more than 2 simple artistic skills! Lovely work on the birdbath. Good luck in the school year ahead!

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  43. It looks great! And your ability to tell a funny story is a great talent.

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  44. Great work, that is gorgeous!!

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