Thursday, June 4, 2009

Happy Little Trees

I've been having the urge to make something lately. I'm usually not a crafty person (in the sense of creating things, anyway), but every once in a while, I have a need to creatively do something. My problem is, having not been a craft-oriented person for much of my life, I'm not good at very much in that realm. I can muddle along, but I don't have the practice to bring most things from a visualization to reality. I've been successful in the past when directing layout and designs for others; my mind's eye is very aesthetically developed. It's my hands that don't do what I want. I think that's part of the reason I collect gems and jewelry; if I can't create beautiful things, I can at least accumulate and admire them.

Given my limitations, I've found that there are a few creative enterprises that I'm pretty good with. My wife enjoys bead work and jewelry-making, and that's a realm where design and end product translate pretty easily. Even the wire work isn't terribly complicated, though I still need practice, and the design and assembly is something that is fairly easy to work with. A second thing I enjoy is cooking; I love to create with ingredients. I get to practice it fairly often, as well, so I'm pretty proficient. The restraints there tend to be expense, waste, and cleanup. Ingredients cost, people aren't necessarily going to eat what I make, and the cleanup (which I hate) often tempers the enjoyment I get out of a complex and successful dish. As I get to scratch the cooking urge relatively often, it generally doesn't mitigate the urge to make. Occasionally, when I do something unusual or special (I'm planning on doing some rock candy this weekend with my son, assuming he behaves at school), it helps more, but not usually enough.

What I'm most likely to do this time around is make soap. Decorative soap. Yes. Working in the industry I do, the compounding of products has been of great interest to me. My company hasn't done a lot of solids, but I understand the additives fairly well, and understand the process. Small-scale craft soaps are easy. You don't even have to "make" the soap; basic glycerin soap stock is available in a variety of forms and levels of clarity. The crafting comes with the additives, process, and shapes. It takes relatively little time to blend and mold soaps with varying colors, scents, scrubs, emollients, and vitamins, and the end results are beautiful and functional. All these things are factors that I can control to manage an end product that I find attractive. I've got dedicated equipment that's easy to clean, so that's not a big factor. I enjoy it, and don't do it as often as I'd like. Frankly, we've got a lot of my soaps already sitting around; we need to get rid of some, especially if I do more with the new supplies I bought a while back.

I've got to find other things, though, because I'll tire of doing soap if I do it too often. I've got a paper-making kit (a plastic kids kit, but it was $5); that's another process I've loved for a while (I learned to make rag-bond paper from Mr. Wizard back in the day; Don Herbert is missed). That's very messy and takes a lot of practice, though. Recently, I've found myself looking at homebrew kits and what it takes to grow hops. I don't even drink, but that whole process is a combination of my favorite things; it's recipe cooking, it's has an end product that is heavily dependent on the particular additives used, it's got the whole "kid-with-a-chemistry-set" feel, and it's a craft with an end product that I can share with my friends. It's also bloody expensive, and unlikely to happen anytime soon. Still, the itch is there; time will determine if I scratch it.

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