Put a Bird on It: Thomas Bewick




Image via Source

Can you imagine drawing something as intricate as the bird above? What about drawing it on a piece of wood and then cutting it out and it still being a crisp, clear image, even after printing? That’s exactly what Thomas Bewick did in the late 18th and 19th century.

Thomas Bewick was an English engraver and naturalist. He was extremely skilled at drawing and wood cutting; well-known for his woodcutting illustrations for childrens’ books as well as books on animals and nature. He was especially famous for his work on birds, A History on British Birds. Viewers loved how accurately he depicted the birds and captured their character. His skill came from an innate talent but also from the constant habit of drawing as a child, his work as an apprentice, and the work he continued to hone over the years.

Printing from woodblocks is the oldest printing technology, predating Gutenberg’s moveable type. Text for books and broadsheets were written on wood in reverse, then someone would painstakingly cut around the letters, dab the block with ink, then press the paper on top. After the use of metal type became more common, wood blocks were still used but mainly for illustrations. A single block could be used over and over again, on different pages, in different books. Thomas Bewick worked on boxwood and hundreds of his woodblocks survive, the scenes as sharp as the day he cut them. You can try your hand at a similar process by doing linocutting. Tutorials here or here.


Image via Source

Thomas Bewick started as an apprentice and continued to train and nurture apprentices. Apprentices generally signed on for a seven year term of work with wages for only the last three. In return for training and lodging, the apprentice agreed to work and was held to certain ethical standards. Artists of this time often adapted current designs and did not view this as imitation or plagiarism but as a way of upholding tradition. While Bewick’s designs may have imitated those of others, his unique talent and ability to bring the characters to life distinguished his work from others.

Bewick was talented and nurtured his talent with practice. Bewick’s books were greatly treasured and delighted readers with descriptions and pictures. He concentrated on birds local to his area so that he could draw from stuffed birds or live ones. Many who knew of his quest to draw all the local birds would send him samples, live or dead, to use as models for his renditions. In addition to his attention to detail, his work was novel for showing animals and birds in their natural settings.

He was also fortunate to be creating books on animals and birds in a time when interest in the natural world and science was increasingly popular. The 1750s saw an explosion of interest and development in the natural world. Instead of defining plants and animals in terms of their symbolic value, they began to be examined for their own sake. Men across the nation collected and classified all sorts of natural objects and started charting rainfall and seasonal habits of birds. New expeditions to distant lands also provided information on new animals. Notably, the modern binomial system for animal classification was introduced by Carl Linnaeus.

Bewick worked on these books in addition to running a workshop and it often took him years to compile these books as he had to continue work on his commission projects to support his family and the workshop. The workshop became increasingly busy, with a steady flow of orders until his death; the estimated number of books published between 1770 and 1830 and illustrated with cuts from the workshop and its pupils are quite prolific. Although woodcutting was a dying art when Bewick started (thanks to more modern printing technology), his popularity boosted the demand for wood engravings such that publishers began to hire artists to make drawings that engravers then reproduced. There is even a bird named in Bewick’s honor, Cygnus bewickii, ‘Bewick’s Swan.’

Stop and smell the roses. Draw something yourself. As they say, practice makes perfect. If you need extra motivation, you can even join a daily drawing challenge, such as this one! Or read a book on an artist, past or present, to learn more about their way of life and their art.

For more information on Thomas Bewick and his life, check out the following book (my source for much of this information) – Uglow, Jenny. Nature’s Engraver: A Life of Thomas Bewick. New York: Farrar, Straus and Giroux, 2006. Print.

View From the Top (of the Washington Monument)

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Did you know you can go to the top of the Washington Monument? Despite all my previous research and earlier visits to DC, I’m not sure I realized this was an option! Luckily, a local DC cousin had taken the tour himself and highly recommended it! Although tickets can be hard to come by, especially during peak season of June-August, you can reserve them online ahead here or try going up the morning of.

Once you have a ticket, you show up for the appointed time and go through security. Then wait for the elevator and hop in! It’s a 70 second elevator ride to the 500-foot viewing level of the Monument. The Monument is 555 feet total, so you are as close to the top as you can get (without being on the outside with lots of climbing gear!).

And at one point, the original steam-generated elevator was only used for workers and stones. In the past, the ride took 12 minutes! It was deemed unsafe for women; if they wanted to see the views, they had to climb all the stairs! You can still take the stairs today, at least on the way down. This is only an option at certain times for special tours. Check into it if you feel like climbing down over 900 steps.

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Not only is the exterior a visible monument to George Washington but there are touches within to honor him. From a bronze statue to commemorative stones only visible from the inside of the elevator during the descent.

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Check it out next time you’re in Washington D.C.!


Flora Fridays: Deep in the Heart of Texas


There are many things I love about living in Texas but seeing the bluebonnets every spring is definitely one of the highlights. Every year, around March through May, the bluebonnets and other wild flowers start peeking out from the fresh grass. For a brief time, they put on a stunning display unlike any other.

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It’s the one time of year I truly love (or at least don’t mind) my commute as I get to see an ever-changing display of bluebonnets, morning glories, Indian and Texas paintbrushes and more


I also find it quite amusing to see all the people stopped on the side of the road, taking pictures of their children in the flowers.


Although these pictures were taken this spring, it seems fitting to share them now since this week’s posts featured a classic, casual country-themed shower.

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Howdy from Texas!

Gingham Invitations


Making invitations yourself is easy and fun. Once you settle on your design, it’s easy to start making the number you need for guests. I use Powerpoint to make my invitation template. It’s easy to set up the parameters and move the text. You can also use PicMonkey.com or even Photoshop.

Step 1: Find the Right Words

An invitation can be beautiful, eye-catching, or unique but if it doesn’t convey the essential information, it’s pretty useless. Make sure to include the who, what, where, when, and why. Although you can add fun embellishments and language, be sure the essential information isn’t buried in fancy fonts or a confusing layout.

  • Name of the Guest of Honor – first and last name
  • What the event is celebrating – engagement, birthday, baby on the way
  • Date and time of the event – day of the week, date, and time with a.m./p.m.
  • Location of the event – full address
  • RSVP information – RSVP details with name, contact, info and deadline for reply or write “regrets only” with the same information
  • Any additional necessary information – if it’s a surprise party (see this post for tips), registry information (check etiquette books or sites for specific types of parties), host(s) names
  • If you need ideas or inspiration on wording invitations for specific parties, check out your favorite stationery websites. Decide whether you like language “honoring,” “celebrating,” etc.

Step 2: Layout the Words & Play With the Fonts

Once you’ve decided on the basic words, it’s time to start laying them out on your invitation template. Be sure to break the items up into different lines and emphasize important or special information (such as the guest of honor’s name). This can be done by adding extra space around those elements, using different color font, using larger or different fonts, and more.

Overall, you want the words on the invite to form a cohesive whole that flows together and doesn’t overwhelm the viewer. I often opt for a more simple layout of the words with up to 3-4 fonts so I can have more fun with the embellishing.

Step 3: Print a Test Copy and Play With Embellishments

Once you have the information laid out, print a test copy on your invitation paper and make sure you like how it looks. This test copy can be used to play with different ideas for embellishment such as washi tape, stickers, or other elements. I like to take a picture of each version I create on my phone so I can look back through all of them later to determine my favorite version.

Paper quality is key, especially if you are flat printing the invitations at home (or even at an office supply store). You can find nice, thick, textured flat notes at many stationery and craft stores. Don’t scrimp on paper quality. This also goes for the envelopes and any elements you are adding to the flat note.

For the gingham shower, I started with a nice quality flat note. Once I had the text layout, I played with washi tape and printable kraft paper labels. Although this invitation is pretty simple, the envelope liner really adds a nice touch without much additional effort. Stationery and craft stores sell easy-to-use envelope and envelope liner templates.

Step 4: Finalize Your Design & Start Making the Invitations

Once you have finalized the design, put it all together. Be sure to consider the envelopes, how you will address them, and if you will line them. There are many inexpensive and easy ways to really make an invitation stand out whether it’s lining the envelope, outlining the envelope edges, throwing some confetti in, and more. Really use the invitation to delight and dazzle your guests. You want them to be excited to attend, after all!


Bridal Shower – Gingham Style

Recently, a friend picked my brain for ideas for a bridal shower; of course, my mind started racing with thoughts. The bride is very laid back and a native Texan, so we thought this shower would be a fun way to celebrate her. Ultimately, she loved the idea of a casual, country chic theme. Here’s some inspiration for your next celebration!

I pulled together some ideas based on decorations I already had, as well as others that were easy and fun to execute. From DIY invitations to chocolate chip cookie favors, the key to this party (and many), is in the details. So often, it’s easy to get lost in the big picture of the theme, or even bogged down by a lot of small items that you’ve collected along the way. Instead, emphasize the little details that make an impact. The overall goal here is not more, but better.

For me, invitations are one of the most important components of any celebration (for more on selecting the best ones for your event, check out this post.) I’ll admit, I’m totally an invitation snob. But I don’t think it takes a lot of money, or even time, to make something really wonderful.


Whether you order the invitations or create them yourself, be sure to take a step back and decide if the design is visually appealing to you. While several fonts is excellent, the more you add the busier it gets. Don’t distract from the event details and overall look by going overboard.


Like I said, details are key. Adding some washi tape, printed labels with the couple’s initials and wedding date, as well as lining the envelope really take this invitation from bland to a party I would want to attend!

As with invitations, decorations can be simple and still make an impact. I love using paper (or even fabric) bunting. For this theme, I wanted a mix of patterns and solids so it didn’t get too busy. Attaching the pennants with twine adds a nice touch, and bonus – it’s super inexpensive!


A few years ago, I was on a paper flower kick. Looking back at this post earlier this year I guess you could say I still am! I made this wreath by attaching coffee filter flowers to a cardboard wreath frame. You can buy large packs of kraft and white coffee filters for a dollar and create a fun wreath in little to no time.


I’m definitely a fan of edible favors or even no favors! Consider what you would want to take home from an event and decide what works best with your theme and budget. Homemade, classic, chocolate chip cookies seemed perfect for a casual, country shower. Let guests nosh on them at the party, and prepare a few as favors as well.


Simply grab some Glassine Bags at your local craft of specialty baking store, some washi tape (which you may have also used on the invites), and some more kraft-colored labels with the couple’s details. Makes for a simply sweet favor!


Drink tags are always nice at a party, even just ones with different patterns. They add a little bit of festivity and make guests feel even more special without spending a lot of time or money. Grab some skewers and some wash tape and get to work. I know I keep hammering on about “details, details” but as you can see as this theme progresses, everything ties together nicely and you are able to overlap a lot of supplies. The goal is to achieve a seamless look without being too match-matchy.


What shower would be complete without a photo display (for more ideas, go herehere, or here). While I originally wanted a lattice wall of burlap ribbon, the execution was going to be more expensive than I anticipated. Instead, I improvised with some white butcher paper and craft paper I had on hand.


Using washi tape (I know, I think I have a problem! Confession – I had never used it before this.), I was able to personalize the couple’s name and create some fun clothes pins to attach their pictures to the board.


Even a framed bulletin board or other item with rustic charm could work great!


Last but not least, flowers! For me, flowers are almost as important as invitations or food. Oh, I don’t know…it’s all up there. Can they all be my favorite?

What casual country shower would be complete without a galvanized pail or mason jars? Take your pick. Even if you don’t use the mason jars for the flowers, you can use them for the drinks or for serving some of the food, or even for floating candles or votives. Just go on Pinterest – the possibilities are endless!

Would you, or have you, hosted a country chic shower?