Buzzy Buzzy Creative Hive

Things are a little quiet on the blog lately. That’s because Jonathan and I have both entered a season of writing and illustration projects. We’re cranking to meet completely self-imposed deadlines for our literary pursuits. I am back at work, six days per week, on Magical Raintree Daughters, a middle grade (ages 8-12) fantasy adventure novel. I’m about halfway through with it. I’ll be finished at the end of the month. I posted the first two chapters on the blog a while back. They have been revised a good bit but you can see where I am going. Here’s a little hook I am working on:

Cassiopeia Raintree can cheat death with her hands and feet. The middle child of three magical sisters, Cassie is a climber. But she’s always had to hide that gift until the night a smoak kidnaps and drags her to the land of the evil Aramynes. That’s when Cassie finds out the Aramynes were turned to monsters years ago…and it’s all the magical children’s fault.

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I love writing again in novel form. As much as I enjoyed writing my first two novels (and publishing them..that’s really fun!), writing for a middle grade audience is completely a blast. Each day, when my eldest daughter comes home from school, she reads the latest bit and tells me her thoughts and offers suggestions.

Some people have asked if I am going to post more of the book. I plan to sell it (hopefully) so at this point, I’ll probably bring it back inside the studio and not post more of it for now.

Jonathan is working on a new children’s picture book. He’s not ready to release the title yet, so I’ll just include one illustration here. I love this book and can’t wait to share more with you. That hyena illustration really cracks me up. He is also excited to finish the illustrations for Poor Peter Burke (the manuscript is complete).

An illustration by Denver illustrator Jonathan Fenske

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When Life Punches Your Pumpkins

Someone out there needs to read this, right now: your creative dream is worth it. We believe in you, even though it seems no one else does. 

A picture of some rotting pumpkins in Colorado

These are some of our poor porch pumpkins that have frozen, thawed and yes, been punched, by sweet little girl hands.

What you paint or draw or write matters. It’s creation, it’s beauty, it’s art.

The world needs what you make. Otherwise, the cesspool that is currently passing for our entertainment culture will continue to devolve. You need to fight the good fight.

So, hear these words, friend: Lift up your head and keep going. Write another page. Sketch another character. Write another verse. All of us in the creative community, we’re rooting for you.

Jonathan and I know creative disappointment. People ignore our emails; editors take months to respond to proposals; often the answer to our labors of love is “no.” We get it. But we keep going, and you need to, too. Even when you are exhausted and discouraged.

Take a deep breath. We recommend a good walk (Jen) or a thrashing run (Jonathan) and then get back at it—-the screenplay, the novel, the poem, the picture. Your dream is so valuable to this world.

Don’t hide it; keep going, dear dreamer. We’re with you, all the way.

Love,

Jennifer & Jonathan

We’re Jennifer and Jonathan Fenske and we write children’s books and novels, and once, we made an app for iPad. We also make baby girls, with some regularity. Visit our online store for modern art for kids, FatandAppy.com. 

Buy Brick: A Jonathan Fenske Illustration

Jonathan has always been fascinated with fairy tales. Here’s a recent illustration of the Three Little Pigs, with both the industrious Pig #3 and the Big Bad Wolf thinking that bricks come in pretty handy.

An illustration of the Three Little Pigs by Jonathan Fenske

Jonathan is a Penguin USA children’s book author and illustrator available for commissioned work. He’s collaborated with some fabulous agencies and creative firms. For more information: jonathan (AT) jonathanfenske (DOT) com. 

Family Room Makeover: It’s An “After”

We’re done with our DIY family room makeover! Well, I guess you can never say “done” because there’s always something, right? We would loooove to install hardwoods one day. And we’ll always arrange art around our house. And I did just order a Threshold side table on Target’s “Clearance on Clearance” online sale. Target, you vixen! Anyway, we all know decorating a home is an ongoing process. This summer’s project, however, has come to a close.

You can get caught up on the beginning and our open shelf building and even our desk construction. Other readers will remember this is where we started in June: too much kid clutter, a green wall color I was beginning to loathe and bookshelves that were falling apart:

A family room

And here we are now. This is our “After.”

A modern family room

We arranged the chairs and couch to create (we hope) a welcoming space that says, “Sit down and relax.” Before, the couch faced all of the toy mess and I always felt like sitting down was something to do in a hurry, on my way to pick up a toy. I rarely ever sat on my couch (that I love!). I would despair of the kid junk, too. We don’t have a toy room or spare room for kiddie flotsam. I just couldn’t figure out how to fix it. And then I did.

Two orange chairs with a yellow coffee table

We ended up donating most of the baby’s toy bin. Rattles and teethers were all tossed, since she’s past that stage. Toys she never played with (even if I thought they were so cute or so German or so eco-friendly….all donated because if a child doesn’t play with a toy, then why keep it?) After all of that purging, we were left with a basket worth of awesome baby toys. Then, we sold the bins on Craigslist. The second toy bin was curated down in the same manner, although our 4 and 7-year-olds had veto power over most of the save-toss decisions. We placed that bin in the basement and if they want a toy that they can’t live without, they can go down there and get it. This has happened exactly once.

Pillows from HomeGoods

The yellow table was a surprise. I originally wanted an ottoman in front of the couch and even started a jam jar fund (when I want something that’s outside the household budget, I start a glass jar with a picture of the thing I desire. I sell stuff on CL until I have enough funds.) Anyway, as the jar fund began to grow, the ottoman started looking pretty indulgent. For the cost of a well-built fabric ottoman, I could do a lot more with my decor budget. So, I shifted gears and went the coffee table route. But I wanted rounded edges, no cold stone or rough wood. I found an inexpensive Queen Anne-style coffee table for $40 on CL and then purchased about $21 in paint. I used Valspar’s Oatland Daisy after I sanded the table and did some very minor repairs.

A living room makeover with Petrie sofa

The open gray shelving combined with the mid-mod dresser is definitely my favorite part of the entire room. You know how you want something to go in your head sometimes? And it hardly ever turns out that way? Well, color me happy, because this time, what I envisioned actually worked out. I hope I’m on a roll.

Modern shelves with wooden shelf brackets

I won’t lie, the baby knocked over this vase of zinnias after she woke up from her nap. We do not keep anything delicate at her height. (I held back the other two girls by drawing an imaginary line behind the couch while I took pictures.) I’m just keeping it real, folks. This room does not look like this now. It won’t ever look this way again. That’s why there’s a stack of library books in the next picture. The only thing we can keep down low are books and usually, they are strewn around the room. We don’t do knick-knacks. Or balls of pretty HomeGoods twine. Or jars of sea urchin skeletons. Are you kidding me?

A vase of zinnias on a coffee table painted with Valspar Oatland Daisy

The art on this wall is work by (clockwise from top); Robert Matre, Matre Gallery, Atlanta; Near and Deer from Fat and Appy; and Katie Fenske Bridges. You can see her amazing Etsy jewelry shop here. The chair is vintage.

Jonathan Fenske art and other artists

I posted this picture the other day (it’s from last week). I love my desk and I’m thrilled it cost a fraction of a store-bought desk. Hurray!

A picture of a family room makeover with Jonathan Fenske art

A DIY wooden desk

I thought the coffee table might be too hard at first for our rough-and-tumble girls. All of the girls have rolled off the couch and hit it at least once. But they are learning to avoid it. And I placed a few extra pillows under the coffee table for fort building. It’s funny…now that they don’t have all of their broken and abandoned toys living in the family room, they use my stuff to play: baskets, pillows, blankets, cushions.

A Petrie couch with a yellow coffee table

Whew, that was some summer! You can’t see it, but the girls are panting around the corner, dying to be released to trash the room once more. But that’s living with kids and I’ll take it every day of the week. The best part of the new room? I “enter” by walking past the couch and snuggle into the cushions. Within minutes, at least one child has piled on top of me. Babies climb up, 4-year-olds nap and 7-year-olds talk theology and pranks on that couch with their mama. It’s heaven. So, I would say my main goal of making the room fit our family better has been achieved. And I don’t have to paint anything anymore…at least for a while. Happiness!

Sources:

Wall paint: Benjamin Moore “Moonshine” color-matched to Olympic’s No-VOC in satin; Couch: “Petrie,” Crate and Barrel; Mid-mod dresser: Mod Mid Century; Orange chairs, ottomans: Storehouse; Wooden desk: custom; Open shelves: “Straight 10” shelf brackets by Tyler Morris Woodworking, Fort Collins, CO; Paint on desk and open shelves: Benjamin Moore “Storm Cloud Gray” color-matched to Olympic’s No-VOC in semi-gloss; Rocking chair: vintage; Coffee table: Craigslist, painted with Valspar “Oatland Daisy” spray paint in flat (legs and sides) and same color but with liquid paint in satin (top); desk chair: a store in Atlanta, I’ve forgotten the name, sorry!; Media cart, curtains, trash can and silver shelf: IKEA; Pillows: HomeGoods; White pouf: Crate and Barrel; Art: most is FatandAppy.com or Jonathan Fenske; also, Robert Matre, Katie Fenske Bridges; Bruce Clark; Emma Klingbeil.
We’re Jennifer and Jonathan. And we’re parenting three girls and making art. Thank you for visiting our blog! Please stop by again. 

A New Wooden Desk in the Family Room

I’m happy to report our family room makeover is complete. Today, I’ll show you the corner desk Jonathan and I collaborated on. A little backstory: I don’t have a proper desk in our house. We have a desk in the living room where Jonathan works, and I mooch off of his space when he’s not working. It’s an arrangement that we started once I quit my social media job back in April. So, we’ve kind of limped along, me working when he’s not. We know we need a permanent solution (finish the basement? rent a studio offsite?) but for now, we’re winging it.

That’s how I came to the “what should I do with that corner in the family room?” You might remember that the “Before” family room looked like this:

A family room

Check out the back corner on the right—that space to the right of the red rocking chair. I knew I could put something there special, and it finally hit me: a DESK! My own desk, lah.

Jonathan is Mr. Frugal and when he heard I was looking at $300 West Elm Parsons desks (he heard because I said, “Honey, I think I’ll put a Parsons desk here!”), he went into DIY mode. Love my man.

We picked up a cheap piece of oak plywood from Lowes (about $15) and some thin oak strips to give the cheapie board a nice edge. Then, we used the paint we had for the open bookshelves, Benjamin Moore Storm Cloud Gray color matched to Olympic No-VOC Premiere paint in semi-gloss. (You can read all about those shelves in our recent shelf bracket DIY post.)

First, Jonathan attached the thin trim strips to the front and one side of the desk (the back and other side would touch the wall, so they didn’t need trim.) He pre-drilled the holes (to keep the wood from splitting) and used deck screws and wood glue. Then, he propped it up in our indoor/outdoor woodworking shop. (Otherwise known as a “garage.”) It was now my turn!

A picture of a DIY wooden desk being built

Jonathan countersunk the screws for me, leaving a little hole to fill with Plastic Wood. I scooped some up with a spackle knife and swiped it on. The Plastic Wood tends to sink, so I did this twice after letting the first application dry. We did all of this so the trim edge would be smooth with no bumpiness from the nails.

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After that second application, the hole was nice and flush. I sanded it well.

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I then brought the desk top into the house and primed it, using the Valspar Bare Wood primer we used for the open shelves. I also primed the two Parson legs I bought from Lowes. They were about $9 a piece and are made of a solid hardwood. Pretty and simple. We just needed two because the back of the desk was designed to rest on little rails. More on that later.

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The next day, I moved on, painting the legs with the gray paint. This is my favorite picture. Of course, we have peanut butter on the floor. Don’t you? (True story: Our 17-month-old toddler will go into the pantry, take out food and leave it on the floor. She’ll sit down beside it, as if to say, “I like to eat, people. So, why aren’t you feeding me NOW?”)

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I painted the desk top, using the roller. I like the even coverage and it’s faster (for me, anyway). Gray happiness!

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At this point, Jonathan jumped back in and attached the leg brackets. This was pretty cheap—I think a few dollars each. We bought two, of course.

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And here’s a shot of the table leg, masterfully painted, don’t you think?

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Jonathan carefully measured and mounted the poplar support rails, pre-drilling the holes before attaching them to the wall.

A how-to-DIY desk project from I Love Your Work, Jonathan Fenske

Using a level, he made sure the desk top was level before attaching the desk to the rails (from underneath, so the screws wouldn’t show, and, once again pre-drilling the holes).

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And after drying and arranging, here it is:

A picture of a family room makeover with Jonathan Fenske art

Sources:

Orange chair: Storehouse

Desk, custom: (read this post!)

Art: Sweet Pea in Blue and Fast Car, both by Fat and Appy™ Modern Art for Children (this is our line of modern art prints on canvas). Canvas of rock and tree with silver frame: original still-life painted by Jonathan Fenske.

Paint: Benjamin Moore Storm Cloud Gray color-matched to Olympic Premiere No-VOC in semi-gloss.

Chair: Modern furniture store in Atlanta—can’t remember the name

Trashcan, curtains, silver shelf: IKEA

White porcelain votive holders: Target

Sitting fox: Zsolnay

Stained glass window: Vintage

And another shot, from the left.

A corner wooden desk tutorial from I Love Your Work, Jonathan Fenske

You know me, I like to get all artsy.

A picture of a colorful birdhouse from I Love Your Work, Jonathan Fenske

This is a tincut from the Georgia folk artist R.A. Miller. This is the first piece of art I ever bought. I was 18. I still adore it.

An RA Miller tincut in artist Jonathan Fenske's family room

So, that’s the path from boring blah spot to my own little corner and my own little chair! I’m really happy to sit there, work, organize and kind of just daydream sometime.

What’s next? Pictures of the entire room so you can see how our family room makeover turned out! I was held up a little by some long days of cloud coverage (photos with a flash drive me crazy, and I wanted to spare you that). Also: I picked up a Queen Anne-style coffee table and painted it, so that took a few days. It’s in the new room and I wanted to debut that cutie pie table here. So, soon and very soon!

Darling Gray: In Which I Ask Way Too Much From A Can of Paint

We painted our family room and kitchen (they are one continuous room) a seedling green in 2007. I was into gradients back then, so the color in the family room was lighter and the kitchen was a darker version of the green. I liked the color for years, but lately, I knew I wanted to go gray. At first, I was thinking a dark gray but Jonathan said that would be like living in a storm cloud in the most used room in our house. I knew he was right, so I went on the hunt for the perfect gray.

Sadly for the gray color chips of the world, I was asking a lot. I needed the Perfect Gray to be smart, sophisticated, not purple, not blue-gray, unassuming, farm house honest, city loft cool, reassuring, a little brash, not too arrogant and neutrally neutral. That’s not too much to ask out of a gallon of paint, right?

I have a bad habit of picking a paint off of a swatch, painting a room and later ending up hating it. So, this time around, I knew I needed to pony up a little money for paint samples. I headed to Lowes with three kids in tow. I poured over a lot of paint cards while piloting one of those ridiculous race car carts. The girls were their usual rambunctious selves, so I just threw fruit snacks at them from time to time. Luckily, Lowes is huge, so my children were able to blend in a little bit more.

Not so much at Benjamin Moore. It’s a standalone store, and since I wanted to see their colors (I’d never used them, but had heard good things about their paint on Young House Love), we headed over there. I met the coolest mom who was also looking for her perfect gray, so we bonded over that while her girls played with mine. Sadly, my loud, boisterous and hungry children (it was near lunchtime) were a little much for the staff there, so we made a hasty retreat after I paid for two paint samples.

Now that I’ve gone the paint sample route, I have to say I will always do it this way. A sample is $2.98 and I ended up purchasing a total of four. The samples at Lowes are larger, but even Benjamin Moore’s smaller samples give you enough to paint a huge section of wall if you want to.

Here’s what we ended up with:

A selection of gray wall paint from Fat and Appy Modern Art for Children

The pattern thingie at right is our hanging panels over the sliding glass door.

At first, I was sure Gray Horse was my dream color. But then I remembered Jonathan’s storm cloud warning. I think he was right—it would be too dark. So then I fell in love with Silver Spoon because I felt it gave the the punch I wanted. I painted Silver Spoon everywhere. And then I returned to it over and over, like a hopeful lover. We had to be together, right?

Alas, it was not to be. Silver Spoon was, well, kind of a Purple Spoon. And I knew if the wall looked purple, I would despise it with a white-hot fury.

So, I turned to Moonshine and you know what? It is a genius paint color. Absolutely perfect. Really. I first read about it on Young House Love and didn’t think it would work because we have trim that’s a warm putty, not white like  YHL ‘s John and Sherry. Their Moonshine pops with that white trim. But Moonshine being the lovely lover that it is…well, it did the trick. And I do feel more sophisticated. And about five pounds thinner. This is some paint, I have to tell you.

Here’s the week’s most unflattering picture. And this is the best painting pic we have. Egad.

Jennifer paints the walls gray with Benjamin Moore Moonshine

I love, love, love this gray! For the record, we color-matched Moonshine by Benjamin Moore to Olympic’s Premium No VOC in satin. I have painted a lot over the years, and I have to tell you, this paint doesn’t smell at all. There is zero odor or “new paint smell.” As a mom of three small children, I blow kisses to Olympic. It’s like we never painted. But oh, yes, we did.

Moonshine on kitchen walls

The kitchen picture looks a little shiny…I think I took the pic when the walls were still wet.

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So, I’m really happy with our new gray. I’ve also been busy grabbing a few things here and there, stretching my makeover budget. I bought pillows and baskets for throws at HomeGoods. Oh dear, I love me some HomeGoods.

A bag of items from Home Goods

We’re getting there! Little by little. Can’t wait to show you the shelves…I’m over the moon about them. Love how they turned out.

We’re Jennifer (novelist, mom, blogger) and Jonathan (children’s book author/illustrator, dad, runner and artist). We also have a line of affordable modern art canvases for children. Thanks for stopping by! 

The Magical Wood Shop: Tyler Morris Woodworking

For our family room makeover, I knew I wanted gorgeous new bookshelves to replace the battle-scarred, petulant unit that we placed on Craigslist last week. (Update: it’s sold!  Score one for Team Honest. We told it like it was and still, a really sweet lady bought it. I think of her every day. Did she get home and as various parts fell off of it, did she slap her forehead and say, “Oh, now I get it!” I hope not. Maybe the old bookshelves got their act together after I publicly shamed them. Maybe? Probably not.)

Anyway, back to the bookshelves. We didn’t have the stomach (or budget) to purchase another set of bookshelves, so I decided to make them. I read a ton of blogs and settled on open wooden shelves with wooden shelf brackets. After checking out the shelf brackets at Lowes, I felt there was something else out there. I didn’t know what, exactly, was out there, but I figured Mr. Google would tell me.

My searching led me to Tyler Morris Woodworking in Fort Collins, less than an hour’s drive from our home. Tyler makes gorgeous shelf brackets and so I called him (probably babbling) about how I loved his brackets and I couldn’t wait for the mail and could I drive up there today, like in four hours, and oh yeah, I’m bringing three children under age eight to your workshop filled with dangerous tools?

Tyler graciously agreed to allow us to crash his woodworking shop. The first thing I noticed: it’s really clean and organized. I thought to myself: Jonathan would loooove this place. My man is so organized and the chaos of four women drives him crazy. True story: he just bought a plastic tub for all of our shoes we kick off in the garage. Our scattered shoe piles were pushing him over the edge. So now we have a shiny new tub that is brimming with eighteen colors of Crocs.

But anyway, back to the wood shop:

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Tyler and his team make shelf brackets, corbels (a fancier bracket for countertops), recipe boxes, serving trays, cutting boards and a branch tray that is out-of-this-world pretty. This is the cabinet where he grabbed our order. Look at that neatness!

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While we were in the wood shop, my two older girls made up a gruesome game why the baby wasn’t allowed out of her stroller. Basically, the game was all of the ways Baby Fenske could be injured if she were to climb out of her stroller and toddle around. (Of course, everything in the shop was safety protected, turned off and otherwise harmless to well-behaved children. My girls were, thankfully and unexplainably, good for our visit.)

Tyler Morris Woodworking

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Tyler Morris Woodworking Fort Collins CO

We chose the “Straight 10 Wood Shelf Bracket” which is gorgeous. There are four woods to choose from: Oak, Maple, Cherry and Paint Grade (which is American Poplar). Since we planned to paint our brackets, our choice was easy: Paint Grade. They are $18 a piece and feel like a mini-woodworking miracle. I had to restrain myself from petting the bracket and calling it “My Precious.”

Saturday, I lined up the shelf brackets for painting. They come pre-sanded, so it was a pretty easy job to cover the kitchen table with newspaper, grab the primer, brush and go.

Tyler Morris Straight 10 shelf brackets

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I applied one coat of Valspar Bare Wood Primer to each bracket. It was a little tricky getting under each part of the bracket. You also have to hold the bracket, so that part doesn’t get painted at first. I ended up laying each bracket down and painting over the part that my hand covered. I’m sure there’s some more proper woodworking way of doing this, but I just went with it.

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I let the brackets dry and then lightly sanded them. I took a damp cloth and wiped off any sanding debris. Now it was time to paint!

I chose a deep gray because I wanted contrast with the new wall color which will be a light gray. (I’ll do another blog post on the gray wall color.)

Straight 10 shelf brackets from Tyler Morris Woodworking

This gray is “Storm Cloud Gray” by Benjamin Moore, color matched to Olympic’s no-VOC Premium in semi-gloss. I love the way they turned out. As I went, I would sometimes miss a spot and the white primer would blaze on through. I got better as I painted all nine brackets, but it was dicey at the beginning. If you look carefully at left (above), you can see one of our gray paints we sampled on the wall.

Straight 10 shelf bracket by Tyler Morris Woodworking

I adore these shelf brackets and can’t wait to see them on the wall of the family room. Thanks so much to Tyler for his good-natured patience with our visit (and my pesky questions). We’ll post more pictures soon!

Next up: Can a gray wall color battle insecurities, make me feel designer-ish and generally produce a peaceful feeling of well being? I certainly hope so!