Character Design: Under the Sea

I posted recently about a new children’s book Jonathan was working on with some plucky sea creatures. The good news is that he’s finished the coloring (the illustrations I posted were in black and white). Now, it’s with his agent and we could not be more thrilled. Someone, somewhere will fall in love with this new story. We just know it (the dolphins told us).

We’re Denver-based illustrator and character designer Jonathan Fenske and Jennifer Manske Fenske. Check out Fat and Appy, our online store for modern art for kids featuring Jonathan’s illustrations. 

 

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Purple Man, King of the Suburbs

Do you have sign spinners where you live? You know, those people who twirl signs at street corners advertising local businesses. Jonathan and I had never seen so many until we moved to Colorado. They are everywhere: signs flipping and spinning, earbuds shoved in ears, jug of drinking water on the ground nearby.

The BEST sign spinner worked the street in front of the Thornton Fazolis a few years ago. Our eldest daughter dubbed him “Purple Man.” He was majestic: animated sign style, flowing cape, masked face. This is no overstatement: Purple Man rocked the ‘burbs.

One day, we pulled over. You might say we were compelled to. Who was this guy? Jonathan asked him if we could take a picture and we expressed our sincere admiration. THIS IS WHY THE WORLD IS AWESOME. Of course, Purple Man posed for us.

Later, Jonathan made this illustration. Purple Man, wherever you may roam, we salute you.

An illustration by Denver illustrator Jonathan Fenske of a sign spinning Purple Man

The Purple Man worked the Thornton streets. We chatted with him near the Fazolis. He was awesome. 

Thanks for visiting I Love Your Work, Jonathan Fenske. If you like Jonathan’s illustrations, you can see more at www.jonathanfenske.com

Giveaway Winner & When Things Break

Congratulations to @beingkeri for winning a copy of Jonathan’s children’s book Woodward and McTwee! Keri, just send your address to Jennifer (jennifer AT fatandappy DOT com) and I will send a hardcover copy to your attention. Thanks to those who shared, followed and tweeted!

On a completely different topic…

Are you experiencing broken things? We feel you. We know your pain.

A few months ago, we unwittingly entered a season of broken things. And we’re not talking about small items. In no particular order, this is what failed, broke or burned in the last few months:

> Car AC (our mechanic broke it when he repaired something else but we still had to take the car back to be fixed, gratis. This involved Jonathan biking forty miles back and forth from the repair place in Denver in one day since we car share.)

> House AC. Not even kidding. This is a BIG expense. Currently, we are saving to replace the unit. So, this summer, we enjoy the great outdoors, indoors. All of our windows look like this:

An open window in a suburban house

This also means we buy allergy medicine. Having a lot of open windows is actually kind of fun; it’s not too hot here in Colorado and you can hear the kids playing outside. You can also hear your neighbors discussing trimming their hedges; yelling at their dogs; and jumping on trampolines. This part is a little weird.

As a southerner, not having air conditioning seems like not having a lung. Or a dinner table. It just feels like a major THING is missing. But once we realized that saving up for the replacement compressor unit was really the only option, well, I just kind of accepted it. And cranked open sixteen windows.

> Garage Door. The torsion springs were apparently put in by the neighborhood builder using the cheapest product available. So, along with all of our neighbors, our garage door broke down like an old donkey.

> Dryer. When we moved into this house almost seven years ago, we purchased a very pretty middle-of-the-line Whirlpool washer/dryer combo. At some point, the heating coils overheated, tripping every fail safe inside the dryer. Melting ensued. Jonathan YouTubed the heck out of that thing and then ordered $125 worth of parts online. After watching videos over and over, he was able to get the dryer back on its feet.

> Dishwasher. Again, another nice Whirlpool appliance. Something plugged and whatever…I stopped listening. A few dollars online, another YouTube video and Jonathan had the dishwasher up and running again.

I know these are all first-world problems. I know I am blessed to have a newish house filled with modern conveniences. I know all of this. And hopefully, things are about to stop breaking down around here. 

But when you are facing hundreds or thousands of dollars of repairs you weren’t expecting, it can get a little panicky. So, if this is you, take heart. We’re going through a Season of Broken Things. It’s not fun and it’s not cheap. I hope that your brokeness passes quickly. And I hope our story encourages someone, somewhere.

Also this: if you stop by for a visit, dress in layers.

A Life at 3:42 p.m.

This afternoon, my writing was done and the house slept quietly. I even had a dinner plan that would be pretty simple (pasta, parmesan, crumbled bacon with broiled asparagus). Feeling a little creative, I decided to take some shots with my Nikon that captured the suburban experience. No posing, no cleaning, no editing. Just fast shooting in about six minutes. (And Phoenix followed me upstairs, downstairs and outside, of course.)

It’s been about seven months since I quit my corporate social media job and I have happily and sometimes clumsily adjusted to the rhythms of my new role that puts me at the center of the home, where I long wanted to be: wife/mother/homekeeper/small business owner/creative writer. I’ve learned to embrace clutter (as long as I know it can be cleaned up!); uncertainty;  the joy of creekwalking in the middle of the day; multiple kid school and babysitter pick ups; and the unbridled excitement I have to be working on a novel again.

Here is our house at 3:42 p.m. How grateful I am to God for these small moments of a simple life. (Caveat: Sometimes, it’s not so simple, but today, it is.)

A silver dish of oranges

A picture of a girl's cardigan

An Australian shepherd and sleeping child

I Love Your Work Jonathan Fenske

A child's illustration

A picture of an Australian Shepherd

The True Tale of the Millionaire’s Silver Chandelier

Our story begins like all good tales do: with a mystery.

What would await us at the millionaire’s home?

A little backstory: Three Thanksgivings ago, my brother and sister-in-law invited us to their house in Santa Fe for the holiday. We love visiting their very lively family which includes my three young nephews. There is always punishing physical activity to enjoy: hikes, skiiing, mountain biking; even one year, hula hooping.

As we prepared to leave our Denver suburb, my brother Eric casually informed us by phone that he had found us a really great place to stay. We were intrigued because normally we would crash at his house (at that time, four of us plus dog). It turned out that Eric’s wife had family who were leaving town for Thanksgiving but really wanted someone in their house to keep an eye on it. We would be that someone, and I was happy to help. Eric said only: “They have a really nice house. We don’t bring the boys over.”

{We made the trip to Santa Fe, stopping as we normally did for the girls: sippy cups, potty breaks, screaming breaks (us, not them). Looking back, we thought two kids were hard, hah!}

We followed the directions to a swanky area of Santa Fe and then turned into the drive of a lovely home. The houses in Santa Fe kind of run together in my head (adobe, adobe, blue gate, adobe) but I could tell this home was gorgeous and a cut above the rest. But it was when we walked inside that we did the jaw-drop thing. The house was a stunner. A huge, long gallery connected both wings of the house. The gallery was like an art museum with paintings, southwestern artifacts, indigenous instruments. We broke into an immediate sweat, glancing down at our two little wild-child girls (who were 3 and 1 at the time).

The zebra-striped leather chair: off limits.

The fragile glass vase on the coffee table: super off limits.

The 100-year-old drum skinned with something priceless: so, so off-limits.

The master bedroom was huge, spa-like and uber gorgeous. The two pre-teen girls rooms were fantastic and gave me ideas for our girls for the future. The garage floor was heated and painted. I couldn’t figure out how to use the coffee maker. Our absent hosts thoughtfully left us the password for their Mac. All in all, it was a wonderful, pampering and out-of-this world experience. Miraculously, we broke nothing.

Our second day there, we drove away from the house and spied something plopped on top of a neighbor’s trash can. We’re frugal people, so we did the usual double-take and discovered some swanky-type neighbor had thrown out a silver chandelier. Brakes applied, Jonathan got out and gave me the thumbs’ up. The chandelier was dirty, but we could see it was very, very pretty. We decided to grab it, and none too soon, as a garbage truck rumbled down the street toward us.

It’s been almost three-and-a-half years and this week, we finally decided to hang the chandelier. I had almost forgotten what it looked like. When Jonathan got it out of the basement, I was dazzled. It’s really, really lovely with curved arms, delicate-yet-strong decorative finishes and a luminous silver glow. Jonathan took it apart, rewired it, added a chain and the chandelier was ready to go.

But first, we had to say goodbye to the chandelier that came with the house six years ago. Nothing against this light fixture, but it’s not really our style.

Jonathan on ladder

Then Jonathan spent a little time getting the new chandelier to hang just right. It reminds me of old Hollywood glamour. Kind of fun for our suburban home.

Silver chandelier

The chandelier is really well made. The screws are straight screws and the UL tag looked very vintagey. Anyone know how old it might be?

Detail of a silver vintage chandelier

At our next house (someday, the Dream House!), I want to hang this in our bedroom. It wouldn’t work there now—there is no light installed in the ceiling and to do it retroactively would be kind of nuts (we’ve looked into it).

Silver vintage chandelier

And, so there you have it: a true tale of a chandelier destined for the trash heap but recycled into a certainly more humble abode. We love  it, every sweet silver curve.

Cost of chandelier project: 

Chandelier: Free

Assorted parts to rebuild chandelier including six new socket covers, six bulbs, wiring kit with silver chain: $32

Ladder: Borrowed from neighbor, free

Oh Windy Day!

Today is a windy day. I did not know wind until I moved out West. The wind here can blow and blow and somehow, you are supposed to function like normal. And our neighbor Wyoming to the north has it way worse.

I took the middle girl to the new amazing Margaret Carpenter Park and Open Space today. I put on a brave face, but the wind was fierce and cold. My daughter asked if we could go after 45 minutes.

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Back in the house, I found Jonathan sketching a fun cartoon fox for the upcoming Westgate Community School 5K. He did the design for the inaugural run last year, too. I personally love foxes. I had an encounter with one years ago during an early morning hike in Yellowstone. The image of the silent, running fox has stayed with me.

RUN_WILD

Jonathan was also working on Fat and Appy, our online shop for modern children’s art. We’ve been adding the canvases in 3D, so you can see how the art will look. He just uploaded this cute Fisher Price car print.

Fisher Price Car Painting by Jonathan Fenske

As always, thanks for stopping by! Come back tomorrow for the true tale of the Millionaire’s Silver Chandelier. Intrigued? I hope so!

We’re Jennifer and Jonathan, and we make modern art for kids, in addition to some other projects. Subscribe to our blog at left, or sign up for our emails and receive 15% off of your next Fat and Appy purchase.

Art on a Budget: 6 Ways to Find Art That’s Affordable

Jonathan and I love art, and we share our home with paintings and other special one-of-a-kind pieces that mean a lot to us. I know from talking with friends who come over that they often want original art—but don’t know where to start. It’s too expensive, right?

Well, of course, it can be. But it doesn’t always have to. With a little work, Googling and luck, you can have beautiful art, all for not much money. We’re living proof!

Okay, if you’re still with me, read on for a few tips on buying art on a budget. (Or finding art on a budget…but we’re getting ahead of ourselves!)

Art on a Budget Tip #1: Find An Artist You Love and Then Figure Out How to Buy from Them

I’ll let you in on a secret: artists like to sell their work. And they usually do it with a smile on their face. So, get out and meet artists. You’ll be collecting on the cheap, so head to undergraduate art openings at a college or university near you. Stopping in at the local yogurt shop? Chances are, there’s an artist on the walls that month. Even Barnes and Noble displays art on the hall leading to the bathroom. Look for artist “studio tours” in nice weather. Go on gallery crawls where there are pop-up exhibitions happening on nearby streets.

Use Twitter to find artists by following hashtags such as #illustrator and #artist. Strike up Twitter friendships with artists and visit their websites. Often, artists will set up online stores where they offer paintings, prints and even pillows of their work. Want something different but completely cool? DENY Designs based in Denver sells home decor goods printed with amazing art, including stretched canvas.

Become friends with your new favorite artist. Get on their email list. Comment on their blog. Be supportive and introduce them to other potential collectors. They’ll be grateful and when you commission them to paint the perfect 24″x24″ piece for your foyer, they’ll gratefully move you to the top of the list.

Once you find something that’s in your budget, ask yourself just one question: Do I like this piece? If you do, buy it. This is where you decide to part with cold cash: if you like it, it’s yours.

When I was in high school, I was really into Georgia folk artists. I adored R.A. Miller and found out a cool gallery in my hometown of Greenville, S.C. carried a few of his pieces. I walked in the door (probably decked out in a vintage dress and humming an R.E.M. song) and trotted out a few minutes later with this tin cut (below) for $40. (The painting on the left was purchased in Nicaragua off the street for less than $20. It has a cardboard frame…isn’t it the coolest?)

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Pro Tip: When buying art from a cafe or bookstore, it’s a universal truth that the frames will be atrocious. Look past it—it’s okay. Head over to Dick Blick and re-frame your sweet new piece of art.

Art on a Budget Tip #2: Trade Something

From time to time, Jonathan (who is an artist and children’s book author/illustrator, if you are a new reader to this blog) will trade with another artist he admires. It’s how we got this piece by David Nielson when we lived in Atlanta a few years before we moved out West.

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If you aren’t an artist with another painting to trade, maybe you are a graphic designer and can trade a website design. Or maybe you’re an attorney who can give some contract advice to an artist. Stay-at-home mom? What about babysitting for an artist who needs help watching kids so she can work? Trading works best if you have a relationship already established with the artist. So, I say ask–you never know what you might be able to arrange. Back in Atlanta, we once traded a painting for a Danish Modern dining room table and chairs. (If you want to see that painting, “Chivalry Is Dead,” click here. It’s peeking over the shoulder of our friend Brian.)

Art on a Budget Tip #3: Troll Etsy

There are some amazing artists on Etsy.  It’s like an art fair on your laptop. You’ll have to sift and sort but when you do, slap a heart on shops you love and come back again and again. We purchased this print from 12fifteen and then framed it with a Target matte/frame combo. I love prints and think they are a great way to collect someone you love…even if more than one person has the same one you do. Total cost: $47.50.

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Art on a Budget Tip #4: Ask an Artist to Paint Your Walls

This one takes a little more coordination, but you probably won’t be turned down. As long as you are not asking the artist to paint a Disney character (blech), most early-career artists will happily come over and draw something special on your wall and then paint it. Jonathan got his start doing murals all over the Upstate of South Carolina. Send a friendly email…what do you have to lose?

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Art on a Budget Tip #5: Don’t Forget Sculpture

An often less-expensive path to an art-filled home is to remember sculpture, vases, birdhouses, lamps…anything that you love and expresses who you are.

This TimeStone clock makes me happy every time I walk downstairs for a badly-needed cup of coffee in the morning. The bright yellow bird slides back and forth. We found this at a thrift store for less than $5.

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These blocks were a gift for the new baby. They are fresh, modern and so pretty. From tiny giraffe on Etsy.

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Art on a Budget Tip #6: Make Friends with Your Local Thrift Store

Every thrift store in America has a huge bin of mouldering frames, 1970’s owl art and assorted motivational posters housed in gold-tone frames. You, dear reader, are going deeper. Remember to disregard the frames and the cleanliness of the art. Pounce on anything that is clearly original and well done. Jonathan rescued this awesome 1982 painting from a thrift store down the street. It’s by Denver artist Bruce Clark and I can’t imagine what happened so that it ended up where it did, but we couldn’t be more thrilled to be the new owners.

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I should definitely add that many quality galleries offer paintings in the low hundreds. Some even may have very small works for less than $200 if the artist is just starting out. Or they may sell high-quality prints that cost around $100. But if those prices are too steep for your budget, then I hope some of my ideas may help. Good luck and happy hunting!
Do you have a fun art collecting story? Share it in the comments!  And don’t forget to subscribe to more Fenske art news by scrolling to the bottom of the blog and entering your email. Keep up with Jen and Jonathan on Twitter, too: @jenmanskefenske