Wednesday, May 27, 2015

Photography Class: Getting to the Basics

I've had a good beginner's DSLR for awhile, a Canon EOS Rebel T3i with an 18-55 mm lens. It's got good reviews as hobbyist camera, and even without any real knowledge of photography, I've managed to get some pretty good shots out of it, like here:

And here: 

But I had a lot of mess-ups and a lot of "meh" shots (if we were still shooting film it would have been a lot of expensive "meh"), and I knew for certain I wasn't using nearly all the features that the camera was capable of. I wanted better pictures at personal events. I wanted better pictures for the blog. Also, I work in public relations. It's fairly typical for an organization to have outrageously expensive photography equipment around with no one who can use it, and to refuse to hire a photographer. I can't even begin to count the number of times I've been at an event as a writer, had someone shove an $8,000 camera in my hand, and say, "here, you can take the pictures." As if they assume an expensive camera operated by an idiot will still guarantee fabulous photos. Um. Sure. 

It took a while to find a photography class I could handle. By that I mean the time commitment and cost. There were several expensive, semester long, three times a week, graded classes around at our local university and community college, but I didn't want to dive in quite that deep at first. Finally I located a 4-week, one night a week class hosted at our local botanical center. It was taught by a freelance professional, and was limited to 12 people per class. I was sold. 

The instructor was excellent, and he had such a great way of breaking down all the individual technical components of a good photo, that suddenly, all the dials and buttons on my camera started to make sense to me. That's a lot of progress in my book. 

He spent a lot of time explaining to us the function of f-stops, or aperture, and it's effect on depth of field. In our homework assignment above you can see how, with increasing f-stops, the background comes more and more into focus. For some reason, just learning this one function was the great "A-ha" moment for me with the rest of the camera. I'm still a beginner, definitely, with lots left to learn, but this one piece of information has me off and running, and I feel as though my photos got a lot better. 

The photos in this post are not post-processed or cropped. While I realize they are far from technically perfect, they're better, and I know what to do to improve them. That's a good thing to learn from any class like this. 

And since we were taking our class at a botanical center, of course the photos assignments were all nature shots. Not a bad thing, though I'd like to learn better indoor photography for the blog too. I realize that's a different animal entirely. 

The only negative thing I learned through taking the class is that my ability to commit to this sort of thing outside work and family responsibilities is minimal. It took a lot of juggling elsewhere to get to a 2 1/2 hour class every week. And do the homework. That part was disappointing, since I've been considering some bigger commitments, like graduate school. Clearly I'm not cut out for being spread thin. Maybe it's my current stage in life, but the thought of taking on anything bigger than this is overwhelming. 

That said, I'm still looking to sign up for the intermediate version of this class, which starts in August. I'm so glad I took the chance on learning something new.

Friday, May 22, 2015

Bedroom and Bathroom Update, Part III

When I last left readers, I promised I'd have a third and last update on the bedroom and bathroom.

While it looks a bit spare in the bedroom yet, I've been enjoying the awesome feeling of having finished walls in the majority of it.

But I've got this one wall left to tackle, that had to be completely demolished due to a slow leak left to spread when the previous owners improperly winterized the plumbing pipes in the bathroom.

That's the common thread between the bedroom and bathroom. They share this wall. On the other side, my looking-much-better sink and vanity: 

But also an ugly medicine cabinet mirror:

That lighter material in the inner frame is fabric. It catches dust and grime, toothpaste and makeup, and is pretty unspeakably gross most of the time. It also has no design relation to the awesome chrome sconces.

I have a better one that I picked up at a flea market for $20. I love the etching at the top, it fits the era of the house (late '30s) much better, and it's going to go great with the sconces.

The interior medicine cabinet part is a bit bigger than the old mirror, but without the frame, the replacement mirror is narrower on the wall. Which will make the sconces look less crowded than they do now.

And what better time to replace the medicine cabinet when you've got the entire wall behind it missing?

The top two arrows show the back and interior framing of the medicine cabinet.

The bottom left arrow shows where the leak was, and the plumbing repair. And the bottom right arrow shows an awkwardly sawed-off ventilation duct.

This is where I call in the troops. Or in this case, the handyman. I've decided I'm hiring it done. I've got three main reasons why.

1. Lugging sheets of drywall single-handedly up my narrow and contorted stairwell seems like a good way to injure myself, cuss myself all the way to damnation, and dent/crack said drywall. Mostly likely all three.

2. I don't know wth is going on here, I don't know how to fix it, I don't have sheet metal tools to fix it, and I don't want to know how to fix it.

3. It frees me up for more pressing work, exterior painting and landscaping, that I should be doing right now and am capable of making good headway on immediately.

There's also a sense of just wanting to be able to make some great progress in both rooms by simply signing a check. I've been a bit overwhelmed lately, both with house projects and stuff going on in my family life. I know when assistance, even if I have to pay for it, is going to make a big difference in my mental well-being. This is one of those times.

I'll be back next month with some progress reports for both rooms; in the meantime, I'm going to enjoy the start of summer break with my boys for awhile.  Time for books and popsicles!

Tuesday, May 19, 2015

Bedroom and Bathroom Update, Part II: The Bathroom

Last weekend was a long one, where I spent the entirety of three days in stinky paint clothes, cramming peanut-butter sandwiches in my face without washing my hands, standing over the kitchen sink. I didn't comb my hair. The rest of the housework went completely to hell.

Six weeks ago (in this post) I explained the wretchedly ugly state of my upstairs 3/4 bath, and also that I had a very small budget for fixing it. People gave me some awesome ideas in the comments, and while I can't execute any of them yet, I'm still grateful for all of them because it gave me some radically new ways of thinking about some old problems. While what I'm doing today is the "Good Enough For Now" version of fixing up the bathroom, the ideas readers gave me will be the fuel for the "The Real Deal" renovation. So, thank you!

Living in an old house with a small budget, I've discovered that there are two weapons in the arsenal of home renovators that don't get talked about much on home improvement shows. And of course they wouldn't, because it doesn't involve ripping everything out and spending thousands of dollars on products advertised on their programs.

One of them is cleaning thoroughly. I certainly did that in this bathroom, scrubbing walls, vanity, and rehabilitating a toilet that, while not old, certainly needed some serious cleaning attention after years of neglect from the previous owners (please let me pause for a moment so I can shudder. THAT was a gross day. A gross, gross day.)

The other is paint. If you can't replace surfaces, paint them. Paint products have improved to the point you can paint nearly every surface you can think of: cabinets, floors, even tile and countertops. While quality paint is not cheap, it's still a far better per square foot bargain than replacement. Especially if you haven't completely decided what you want to do with a space, need time to save dollars for what you really want, or would rather brighten up worn but quality surfaces rather than replacing them with sub-par builder's grade stuff.

That's the route I went with this bathroom for the "Good Enough For Now" renovation. Cleaning and paint. Lots and lots of paint. In fact, I feel as though I stood at the doorway of this bathroom and threw gallon after gallon in there. And it's such a small room.

While I'm far from finished, here's the so-far progress.  Here's a before shot:

And here's a progress shot:

The vanity went from this:

To this:

The vanity got a top-to-bottom coat of a Valspar color called Cream Delight, made in Sherwin Williams Cashmere low-lustre finish. While I'm not necessarily a huge fan of the trend in white cabinets, in this case the color seemed to tone the sink top way down. It seems far less objectionable on top of a white vanity.

I like that SW's low-lustre hits a sheen somewhere between satin and semi-gloss. Valspar used to make a similar finish called Kitchen & Bath, but they have discontinued it. I am anti-semi-gloss paint. Unless it's sprayed onto new and perfectly joined wood, it doesn't look right to me. In an older house where finishes have seen some love, it seems to highlight every ding and imperfection.

The cabinets got some funky knobs. These were less expensive than the old fashioned glass knobs (which are out in the hallway in the linen built-in) but the geometic shape echoes their facets. Also, shiny. Which makes my inner glitter raccoon happy. And a gap that existed between the wall and the vanity has been properly caulked, making it look more finished than it did before.

The walls got a coat of Valspar's Pale Oak Grove, a very soft pale green, again in SW's Cashmere low-lustre. The attic door is also in Valspar Cream Delight. The floor is not anywhere near as dark as it is showing in this photo, though the wall color is very true.

The floor got sanded, cleaned and primed. I really didn't mind the pattern, square-and quatrefoil, but it was worn and dirt-stained, and the color was not my favorite.

Look how classy I am, using the sink as my temporary tool box!

I painted it with a satin latex paint that I picked up from the mistint shelf at Lowe's for $5. It's a very basic taupe color, and finding it was one way I tried to squeeze a few dollars out of the overall bottom line. I also figured out, from a stack of paint chips I had laying around, that the color is nearly exactly Pantone Oxford Tan, if anyone is interested. I'll be keeping everyone out of there until the paint has had several days to cure, and I can put a coat of clearcoat sealer on it.

Here I've propped up some scraps of basebord trim, to give an idea of a finished space:

I've got more to do, like replacing the faucet, painting the ceiling in the shower stall, installing the trim and priming and painting the door. Sharp eyes may have noticed the wall the vanity is on is not yet painted. I've got some issues I'll cover in the third post, coming soon. Stay tuned!

Sunday, May 17, 2015

Bedroom and Bathroom Update, Part I: the Bedroom

I've been slowly making progress in my bedroom over the winter and spring. It's been slow because it's plaster work, which seems like an endless round of plaster-dry-sand-plaster-dry-sand-plaster-dry-sand. Okay, it doesn't seem like. It IS. You do it until you begin to shake drywall dust off your underpants when you pick them up off the floor, and then you start to carry beers up to your bedroom to drink while you work. And then maybe you decide that perfection is kind of a bitch and "good enough" is easier to live with. I live in an older home, so imperfect walls make it "quaint and cottage-like," right?


Again for those who are just joining us, this is what the space looked like in 2011:

That view above in more recent months became this:

And then we continued on around the corner:

It's also been tedious because I've been doing a section at a time, by hand, and cleaning up after each step to keep the dust way down. I don't have the room to move all the way out of my bedroom while this is going on, so it's been a lot of months of making little messes, cleaning them up, scooting furniture this way and that, and doing it again. It's been a little crazy making. But progress has been ongoing.

The color is Valspar Bay Waves. It's actually a bit darker than it shows in the photos, but it's still a very soft, dove-like gray. I like how soothing it is. The brown-painted window is now white, after about eleventy-billion coats of primer and paint.

I've primed the floor, and moved the dressers into position for the next stage.

The color on the walls is actually the same, though it appears darker in the nook. I love comparing these photos to the very first one! And if you're alarmed by the difference of floor color in the nook versus the rest of the room, don't be. That's just a primer coat, and they got it as dark as they could to make for easier coverage when the paint goes down, but it isn't as dark as the actual floor paint. That'll go down last, when I'm completely finished with wall work.

You can just see, on the bottom left edge of the photo above, the unframed doorway to my closet. That is a whole other can of....well, not worms. More like a pile of shoes on the floor and tangles of bras on hooks. But definitely a whole other can of project.

Now I'm done with all of the walls except this one, the Wall of Tragedy:

It used to be a wall of shelves made (badly) out of particle board and faux wood vinyl panelling, that got pulled apart when a plumbing leak was discovered in the wall when we moved in. There are some other issues with this wall, which I'll discuss in Part III. Stay tuned for that. That's my floor stencil hanging up there. It seems like as good of a place as any. To the left is the nook again (we've come full circle around the room). And to the right is the door out into the hallway. My bedroom door opens out into the hallway rather than in, due to crazy roof lines.

There's a ton of small things left to do. I need to clean up the window panes from the painting job, and there's also still a broken pane here, which I will get to next summer when I reglaze from the outside. There is a missing sash lift and I need to clean up the lock. I need to touch up paint dings and drips here and there. I need to find the plate covers for the outlets (they're around here somewhere....).  And of course there's still trim work. I feel closer to done, though. It's a good feeling.

As the post implies, there's two other renovation updates coming soon, next time on the upstairs bathroom. Stay tuned!

Saturday, May 2, 2015

Outdoor Painting Season 2015 has Begun

Last summer I did a commando paint project, the front of my garage, just to not have to look at mauve paint out my kitchen window. This spring it was good to drag out my garden stuff, and hang my green man. 

I also posted a similar photo to this one below, letting you know that it was very illusory, with more mauve paint just around the corner: 

(And weeds. And random rocks. And some scraps of rabbit fencing.)

I do intend to make progress on the house as well, but as my inaugural project, while I'm finishing up some indoor projects, I decided to do the north garage wall. It'll be a relatively easy incremental project while I'm juggling several different things (though this begs the question: When am I not?)

Here's a before:

That entry door? It's a hollow-core interior grade closet door. What's left of it. It has literally rotted straight off the hinges. I have no idea why the previous owners chose to install this. I have it nailed into the door frame to keep it up, and so it's non-functional at the moment. The light fixture is nailed into the siding rather than screwed. It's wiring is a mystery. I'm not sure whether it's wired to a switch in the kitchen near the sliding patio door (possible), or to the switch near the door on the inside of the garage (which also turns on an overhead light in the garage).

Here's how it looked after about 3 hours of scraping:

The mauve paint went over both bare wood and the remainder of that yellow paint without any primer. So it's very unstable. In some areas it peels off in big strips, in other areas you really have to put your back into the scraping. I'll be using the peel-bond primer on this side of the garage too, so I hope we'll have a good solid paint surface to paint when I'm done with all my prep.

We'll see how much we get done before November 1!