Making Halloween Memories: A Guide to a Season of Fun for your Child

Baby PumpkinAre you like me? Does Halloween form the basis of many of your favorite childhood memories? It was absolutely magical for me as a child. Now that I’m a parent, I try to bring that level of excitement to my own munchkins. I’m no craft-happy homemaker (don’t I wish?!) but I do try to piece together some special times during the season. Traditions form the fabric which weaves the happiest, richest holiday memories. I know, I know. Life is insane. There’s so much to do and so little time in which to do it. Work. PTA. Household chores. Community functions. Volunteering. Same here. The key is to plan a few simple things that will stay in your little ones’ hearts forever. Here are a few ideas that we use in our household to make it a memorable Halloween holiday season:

Gather Leaves as a Family and Decorate your Home!

Hunt for that perfect pumpkin… and take pictures!
Hunt for that perfect pumpkin… and take pictures!

The first event every year is to go on a long walk and gather fall leaves. Do this as a family. The leaves become decorations and crafts in my house. I do the old “wax-paper-with-iron” trick and make sure the prettiest leaves are “preserved” for the whole autumn season. They decorate my mantle, some bookshelves, and our dining room table. We do this at the beginning of October when the leaves are starting to turn and, again, closer to Halloween. It gives the family a chance to get some fresh air and exercise together. We also have occasion to see the progression of the season in the most concrete of ways.

Pick the Perfect Pumpkin

We also make an event out of pumpkin picking. Whether you go to a local farmer’s market, a pumpkin patch, or even your neighborhood grocery store, make it a real event. I have pictures of this yearly undertaking and cherish them. My children wear autumn colors or actual Halloween-themed clothing. What a blast we have! Each child gets to pick out their favorite pumpkin, be it large or small, perfectly round or as crooked as a gourd. Take pictures! It’s fun to see how the childrens’ tastes change over the years. After, we come home, enjoy warm apple cider and hot cocoa, and place the pumpkins prominently as indoor decorations while awaiting Halloween-Eve carving.

The Halloween “Advent” Calendar

Every year in September, we make our annual Halloween “Advent” calendar. We make it together as a family (yes, even Dad gets drafted to make a few days’ add-ons to the calendar!) Our calendar-making ritual allows us to keep the anticipation of Halloween at the forefront every day of October. Because we start in September, the season stretches just a bit longer as well.

Bringing Home the Pumpkins!
Bringing Home the Pumpkins!
Even Baby gets into the act!
Even Baby gets into the act!

Halloween Snacks and Meals

Because free time is sparse with the start of the school year and all that comes along with it, I buy round, ready-made sugar cookies. Add a touch of orange tint and some candies for the face — and you have precious pumpkin cookies that take no time to create! Finally, we always have the same kids-favorite meal on Halloween itself, before we head out for Trick or Treating fun. I make a homemade vegetable beef soup that’s warm and cozy (my delicious recipe is below.) You can make any dish your family particularly enjoys. The key is to have it be your annual tradition, much like ham at Easter or (gag me!) fruitcake at Christmas. With just a few events, you can turn a one-day holiday into a season of joy for your family. Plan just a few yearly rituals and you can ensure your children remember Halloween with a warm glow, too. Happy Halloween!

Bubble Bubble Goes the Cauldron: Vegetable Beef Soup

One package beef short ribs (4 or more ribs)

  • Six beef bouillon cubes
  • One large red onion, finely chopped
  • 2 stalks celery, chopped
  • 25 oz. can of diced tomatoes with 1/2 the juice
  • Tiny alphabet pasta – 3 oz.
  • 2 packages of frozen mixed vegetables
  • 2 bay leaves
  • Salt to taste
  • Freshly ground pepper

Place the ribs in a large soup pot with water, celery, half the onion, and the bouillon cubes. Boil gently for at least 3 hours. This brings out the flavor in the ribs. Remove ribs, allow to cool, and shred the meat off the bones. Discard the fat, and skim the soup base to remove the fat. I often put the soup pot in the refrigerator for a few minutes to allow the fat to congeal, making for easier removal. Return the pot to the stove and add the chopped meat. Add the remaining half of the onion, tomato with 1/2 the juice from the can, the frozen veggies, salt & pepper to taste, and the bay leaves. Cook together for an hour. Add the pasta during the last 15 minutes of cooking, bringing the soup to a boil to cook the pasta well. Enjoy!

The Author’s Happy Halloween memories!
The Author’s Happy Halloween memories!

Scary “Blair Witch” Icons Made from Sticks

 

The following contribution is from the spooky Screaming Scarecrow Studios. Thanks as always, fellas – stay scary!

When building your Halloween setup, we recommend keeping the traditional, but bring in a bite of the new – “new” if you lived in the 1700s, that is!

A movie that I suspect most of the scare fans here have seen is the The Blair Witch Project. It’s based on a legend that reportedly occurred in the 18th century.

A major factor in the movie that generates fear and suspense is the inclusion of “stick figures,” which hang from trees around the hikers’ tent. They are, presumably, the icons of murdered children, some even dressed in scraps made from the children’s clothing. (Did somebody say “nightmares”?)

To capture the terror the hikers felt when first viewingg the stick figures, try this: as trick-or-treaters approach your front door, make the kiddies walk through a maze of these icons. Hang them from tree limbs or from the tunnel or walk-through.

Ready? Let’s get scary! Here’s the project.

Your Own Blair Witch Project

  • To start, you’ll need are a 6-8 inch square cloth (we like to use cut and “distressed” burlap material for the effect, but any cloth with a little “blood” will do; distress the edges by pulling at them).
  • You’ll need a material to make lashings (such as dried vines or some twine), or use hot gun glue if you are “knot” challenged (see what we did there?).
  • Finally, you’ll need two sticks. One can be forked, but you can also lash two straight sticks together for this effect. “Straight” is a relative term here; a little crooked makes it scarier, we think. Collect branches from your own yard or buy craft natural sticks.

01-blair-witch-sticks

First, you are going to lash or tack the sticks parallel to each other, the straight stick about one to two inches down from the top of the forked stick. To learn about tying a lashing, visit http://www.inquiry.net/outdoor/skills/b-p/wb/lashings.

Start the lashing with a clove hitch and then cross the “arms” stick perpendicular to the “body” and tie the lashing.

02-blair-witch-sticks 03-blair-witch-sticks

Size the burlap: Set one corner at the fork, and measure the diagonal along the arm.

04-blair-witch-sticks 05-blair-witch-sticks

Once that is done, take the cloth and fold it diagonally from corner to corner. Repeat so the cloth is folded into quarters.

Using scissors, snip the apex of the triangle you’ve formed to make a small hole in the cloth, big enough to slip the “head” of the stick figure through, and unfold the cloth.

06-blair-witch-sticks

Cut a slit toward one of the corners for the front of the “dress”.

07-blair-witch-sticks

Now you’re ready to slip the cloth over the head of the stick. You’ll want to adjust the cloth so that the apex of the triangular cloth touches the split in the forked stick. Tack this down by tying it with the root material or string, or simply tack it with hot gun glue.

08-blair-witch-sticks 09-blair-witch-sticks

Now all you have to do is make a noose to hang the figure, and find an appropriate tree to hang it from!

10-blair-witch-sticks

You can make all kinds of versions of the stick figure. If you want to make the exact copy of the Blair Witch icon, you’ll need four straight sticks:

Two to make and “X”, one to tie to two tips of the “X”, and one to make the “head”.

Tie the “X” a little above center to give the “legs” a longer length.

Tie the “head” to the cross piece and to the intercept of the “X”. These don’t have any cloth, and you have to do a lot more tying.

11-blair-witch-sticks

Be creative and Happy Haunting!

Halloween Clock – Repurposed Home Decor

The following spooky tutorial was submitted by artist Cindy Tevis. Enjoy!

What a better way to create Halloween décor than by digging something up and reviving it? (Dr. Frankenstein would be proud!) Take some of your old discarded items and bring them “back to life” with the following tutorial.

Making Your Vintage “Haunted” Clock

This old plastic barometer is about to become a vintage-syle Halloween clock. Find an old timepiece of your own at a garage sale or thrift shop (or look online for a starter piece):

Old plastic barometer

After finding your treasure, you must disassemble the piece. I took the back off, and pulled all of the “barometer” coils, and such out. I found that I needed to replace the plexiglass, since it had a hole in it to allow the dial to stick out. This only cost a couple of dollars at the hardware store.

Disassembling the barometer

Choose Your Colors

Next I painted the entire surface orange. I usually do not use primers. Priming first makes the item appear
new, and I am going for an “old as the hills” look. Another option is “distress paint,” which gives a weathered, slightly haunted look.

For this project, I found a simple color scheme worked best for me. I chose three colors – orange, black and off-white.

Apply several coats of base color, and sand between each coat. If you are as impatient as I am (guilty as charged), you may use a hairdryer between coats to speed the drying time.

orange Halloween clock frame   Halloween clock, with painted decor

Make sure you allow the paint to cool before sanding, because warm paint will pull from the surface.

Sand the last coat rather roughly around the edges to remove paint in select spots, to age the piece. After achieving the desired result, you can begin to decorate your creation.

I was lucky to have the designs already raised on the surface of this clock. That made it much easier to decide how to detail it. If this is the case with your timepiece, take advantage of this in the following or a similar way:

I painted the raised areas in either black or white (as shown). I also painted in some bat silhouettes. You can create your own stencil by cutting out the shape of a bat you had traced, then placing the paper (not the cutout) on the clock. Then, simply paint! Easy, even for the novice painter.

Then I added the Halloween phrase “There is always time for Halloween.”

Finishing the Transformation

This clock face was painted on balsa wood, and a hole drilled in the center. You can use a printed image for the face, if you like.

Attach it with glue dots. Do not try to glue it completely down on the surface, or it WILL bubble. On the other hand, if you’re looking for a warped, distressed look, this effect along with your distress paint can be an eerily cool effect.

I myself ran into a slight problem when assembling this finished clock. Being a barometer in its first life, this clock had very little space between the face and the glass. There just wasn’t enough room for clock hands.

But I turned lemon into gristly demon blood…er, I turned lemon into lemonade in the following way (you too may run into glitches; use them to make your clock even cooler!):

I epoxy-glued square wood pieces on the edges of the surface that the face was going to lie over. This brought the face back enough to allow the hands to turn freely. I then reattached the original back
and voila! A very nice Halloween décor item for less than ten dollars

TIP: It is sometimes difficult for novice crafters to find designs to paint. Look up vintage Halloween images, or novelties online. You will find many ideas that way. You can trace around most images, and use them as silhouettes. A lot of royalty free vintage Halloween designs are available.

Do not be afraid to mess up, and do not try to paint too perfectly. Flaws are a charming addition to a primitive
style fold art painting. Start with simple designs, black cats, bats, and spiders are good.

Finished Halloween clock - Looks like a vintage antique!

My creature … I mean creation! It lives!

About the Author: My name is Cindy Tevis. I am a Halloween artist. I re-paint vintage décor in a style that I call “ShabbyHag”
You can find my art on ebay, under the ID “halloweenspirit01”

I also have a showcase blog here: http://www.shabbyhagdecor.blogspot.com

I also create Halloween poetry at http://www.idreamofhalloween.blogspot.com

 

Thank you, Cindy, for your excellent submission!

Interview with Lew Lehrman – Painter of the Dark

 

We recently had a chat with Lewis Lehrman, professional watercolor artist, teacher, author and Halloween painter who showcases his work on  a dedicated Facebook page.

Mr. Lehrman has created an incredibly rewarding niche for himself, working one-on-one to recreate clients’ memories.

From these recollections or entirely from the client’s and artist’s imagination, Lew creates a custom spooky painting, complete with a haunting backdrop, pets, hidden ghosts, people and decor. So cool!

His trademarked self-moniker is “Painter of Dark”, and that is exactly what this awesomely dark artist is! We were honored to have Lew for an interview here at Halloween Alliance. Here’s what he had to say.

HA: Your first commissioned work was to paint a Halloween scene as your client recalled it as a child. This looks to be a recurring theme in your work. Does your inspiration come from your own memories? 

Lew: From as early as I can remember, I have always been an artist. Even before my kindergarten and first-grade years, when a very special teacher, Mrs. Levy, encouraged my art, I found approval, and my parents were supportive, and my interest grew as the years went by.

When I was in the fifth grade, my teacher took a group of her students to visit her sister, who was a watercolorist and whose home and studio were located high overlooking New York City’s Central Park. I watched, entranced, as she created a sailboat on blue water on a blank piece of paper. I was hooked!

A year later, in 1944, I was 11 years old, and my parents entrusted me to a Pullman car porter aboard The Wolverine Limited, en route to Battle Creek, Michigan where I was to meet my aunt and uncle. I spent a month at the farmhouse where they were staying while my uncle was enrolled in a special training program.

It was pretty special, but what really stays with me to this day, and directly answers your question, was that night in the Pullman berth, where I spent the night staring out of the window, watching the lights in farm house windows as they glided past in the indigo darkness. There was something in those lonely windows that touched me deeply, and I have never forgotten that night. I can still picture it clearly.

Tilted Angel by Lew LehrmanIt was years before I was able to devote any serious time to watercolor. Oh, maybe I did three or four paintings a year… high school, then college, then a couple of years in the army, then establishing a business, then a family. By the late 1950’s I had begun a freelance art business, and grew it into a substantial business over the years until 1984, when my wife and I decided upon pursuing a new life (another long story for another day) in which I could become a full-time professional artist.

Through all those tumultuous years, I had always nibbled around the edges of art. And night scenes, some of which were Halloween scenes, were a recurrent theme.

By the late 80’s, I was on my way to becoming a serious watercolorist. We had moved in ’84 to the Berkshires of western Massachusetts, buying and rehabbing a 200 year old Colonial, and turning our barn into a dream studio and gallery. My art began selling well, and when color Xeroxing came in, I made a few prints of a Halloween painting (which I had borrowed back from its purchaser, a friend).

I sold a few prints at the Gallery, where Halloween paintings were always popular, but when we decided to sell our Mass. home and move to Arizona, where we’d been wintering, those unsold prints came with me.

Then one day I decided to see if I could sell them on eBay. Each time I listed one, it received a load of bids, and the price shot way up. I knew I was on to something, and so The Haunted Studio was born.

But to anwer your question, which I realize I’ve completely bypassed:

Honestly, though I did enjoy the spectator aspects of Halloween, it was never a big participatory holiday when I was a kid. That was left to the rowdier element of my contemporaries, but it just wasn’t me, nor the kids I ran with. Occasional trick-or-treating with friends, or doing spooky stuff to other kids who came to our house, but nothing more. I don’t think my mother approved.

HA: How does the surrounding environment affect your paintings? Now that you reside in Scottsdale, how does this affect your work?

Lew: We discovered Scottsdale in 1987, when (my wife) Lola and I decided to get away for a month from another long, cold, snowy Massachusetts winter. Arizona was our choice. We fell in love with the light, the weather, the arts community, and everything else here. We “snow-birded” for six years, and moved here full-time in 1993.

Though cacti rarely show up in my spooky paintings, I did create a very spooky stand of sahuaros as landscaping for a commission from a fan west of Phoenix. But you’re correct: the great majority of my work shows a strong eastern influence.

HA: Have you always been interested in Halloween? Have you seen a change in Halloween from your childhood to today?

Lew: For people who love Halloween, their interest withstands time, as they’re usually based on a tradition of celebrating this holiday that goes back at least a generation, sometimes two or more.

As one of my fans told me, “It’s the only holiday that’s pure fun! You don’t have to buy gifts. You get to dress up in a crazy costume and go out and scare people! You go to fun parties with friends! And there’s all that candy!”

HA: That perfectly describes Halloween! Also, each of your paintings have a backstory, which really brings them to life. Do you think of a story first, and paint the scene, or is there another “kernel” that inspires you? A single scene, an emotion, a mood, a dream?

Lew: Sometimes there’s a story I want to tell, but more often, the painting tells me all I need to know. It’s strange. I may start with an inspiration because I’ve seen a spooky photo, or maybe a painting or a photo with peculiar lighting I’ve encountered in a museum or gallery. It could be a poem, or a photo and story a fan has sent me.

Or I might select a picture of an old Victorian, or a castle, or some other resource from our travels, and start painting it to see what develops. Or maybe just to express a mood, like “The Last Witness” or “Phantoms.”

It can begin with a kind of crazy “What if?” For example: What if there were a haunted tree house to frighten the kids? Or – What if all the movie monsters we feared as kids assembled for a reunion?

“What’s going on here?” Is a question that’s always in my mind as I work on a painting, so it’s not always under my control. Sometimes, in a way, the painting paints me.

HA: “The painting paints me” – I like that. What painting techniques do you use to create the “Gothic feel” in your works?

The Enduring Mysteries Of The McPike MansionLew: I use one of two painting techniques, each of them a different approach to watercolor.

Traditional watercolor, for me, is a very intellectual and controlled medium. I plan, and execute, each painting in a very specific way that has been used by American and European watercolorists for centuries.

Then there is an Oriental-based approach I learned from a master of the technique a dozen years ago, and which is much more emotionally satisfying. It requires a risky entrusting of what emerges to the vagaries of water on paper.

It’s very exciting, with an element of happenstance that appeals to me. I don’t usually know how the painting will look until I’m finished, though I’m never disappointed. And I love the look.

HA: How do you create a work of art for a client? When listening to clients describe what they would like to see in a painting, what cues and techniques do you practice to render what is in their imagination?

Lew: Most commissions begin with a fairly detailed email, or a package in the mail, describing what makes my client emotional about Halloweens of his/her own childhood, or of his or her experience with their own children’s Halloweens. Or of their own love of decorating the lawn and having great, fun parties.

Sometimes it has nothing to do with memories of a specific Halloween at all. They just want to see their home as a spooky, haunted, maybe ramshackle wreck at some time in the future. Some people are quite specific. Some have no idea. When that happens, I help them with suggestions

Other than Halloween, each commission seems to tap into deep feelings for the occult, or personal memories, or a personal vision they’d like to see brought to life. It’s my task to bring out their wishes, desires, and images, and express them in paint. I love providing a treasured heirloom – and making new Halloween memories for my fans through art.

*

 

Book Review: How to Haunt Your House

How to Haunt Your House

How to Haunt Your House

By Shawn and Lynne Mitchell

Sometimes, just sometimes, a book comes across your altar that makes your hands go clammy, that sets your heart racing, that makes your eyes go bug wide in wonder. How to Haunt Your House is such a book.

Its deceptively simple title sets the stage (literally) for what the book is about – a visual feast of step-by-step techniques on, well, how to haunt your house! I have never come across such effective, clear-cut pages of just how to create the fantastic props and effects that home haunters create for that one, single, magically, horribly satisfying night of the year!

Everything you need to know about building a haunt is here – starting with recipes for monster mud to working with Styrofoam, and effective spray paint applications to create that 200 year old marble tombstone.

From these basic but extremely effective tutorials, the authors plunge you into the real WOW factors that impress even jaded adults – floating heads and illusionary figures using television projections (“Pepper’s Ghost”), mausoleums that look endless by using trick mirrors, gothic fence-building techniques, 8 foot tall monster props, and eerie lighting effects.

Throughout, the authors guide you on how to put everything together into one fantastic, spooky presentation –  from your front yard and exterior of your house up the steps to your door, integrating delightfully spooky scares along the way.

This book is a must for not only the beginning home haunter, but for the advanced ones as well. There’s more than a few techniques that had me going “Good Lord! I never thought of creating fog that way. How so much easier!” Heck, I never even thought of creating moss for my tombstones using ordinary dryer lint and spray paint!

You can tell Shawn and Lynne Mitchell put a lot of care and work into this book – each page of their step-by-step instructions are also visually stunning masterpieces of art. Everything is clearly detailed, and nothing is left out.

Anybody should be able to share in the fun of “haunting out” their houses, and this book makes it extremely accessible to all Halloween lovers. The title says this is Book One, so I certainly can’t wait for the sequel!