Toasty the Shark: an Origin Story

Toasty the Shark was born of a desire to create something handmade to add to my gift bag for my workplace Secret Santa. My giftee was formerly afraid of sharks but has since embraced her fear and taken them as her spirit animal(s) and roller derby persona - Suzi Sharknado. She has also amassed a collection of shark paraphernalia at her desk.

In the back SolidWorks corner, we have a common problem in work offices - inconsistent HVAC/AC systems. As a result, the back corner can be arctic while our primary desks are balmy. Sharkie has been spending more time designing with us in the tundra corner lately so I thought it'd be nice to give her a way to keep her warm - microwaveable heat pack!

Last year, I created a functional heat pack and sash design. This year, I decided to go for some shark-themed whimsy. I found a suitable pattern for a pencil case online (shout out to that I could alter and update for my needs. I thought I had appropriately patterned fat quarters to use but nothing sparked my fancy so I took a trip to Joann's Fabric and there, in the front entry way, was a table full of grey cotton patterns - fate! 

As many before me have discovered, paying attention to the finishing and details really elevates the finished product. I flattened seams and took my time closing up the opening by hand with a hidden stitch instead of going with a much faster whip stitch. 

I didn't want this gift to feel too DIY (a major give away to my Secret Santa identity) so I made a fake tag for it as well with microwaving directions. I even faked the lamination with some well placed packing tape.

Critical Reception

Sharky enjoyed the gift and didn't realize that it was handmade by me until I told her (Secret Santa success!). I was also finally able to post Toasty to Instagram/Facebook and my social network expressed their delight. In response to calls for me to create an Etsy Storefront, The Happiness Field will be going live shortly - time to see if friends or strangers will pony up when a purchasing decision is actually being made. #etsyresolution

Life as a Design Problem: Making/Do

Being attached to a photographer has its amusing moments - tripping over a forest of light stands is not one of them. It also comes with a unique set of project requests. Recently, Nils asked for a better way to transport and carry his beauty dish that he often uses on location for portraits. There are existing specialized bags to carry beauty dishes, but as he pointed out, they cost about 10x the cost of his modifier. This became an opportunity for me to use my skills to solve a personal-adjacent problem (and also get back to making things with a purpose).


  • Beauty Dishes are awkward to carry due to size and shape
  • Susceptible to damage that affects performance
  • Currently stored haphazardly in the closet, hoping for the best.


  • Easy carrying points so he can trust others to move gear for him
  • Protection against bumps and dings to the shape and surface of the dish - affecting the quality of the light bounce.
  • A home for the beauty dish that makes is easier to grab and go on location.


The bag was inspired by a hatbox and made use of repurposed materials. Coroplast boards were used to protect the dish and duck canvas to hold it all together. Along the way, the full circle panels became half circles that folded out of the way due to fabrication constraints - this had the added benefit of making the beauty dish easier to place in the bag.


I consider this weekend project successful. My sewing machine was pushed to its limits trying to sew through and around the coroplast boards. The beauty dish can now be stored vertically or hung on the wall, taking up much less usable storage space. Future iterations would include an internal pocket for the diffusion cloth. The panelling also provides an opportunity to get creative with styling. For now, function over form is satisfactory.


Sew What? Pt2

Soft goods is an area in which I wish I had more experience. My mom put me in sewing lessons as a young child because she figured that would be a good skill to have (and I think she was tired of me handing her weird scraps of fabric to assemble weird clothes for dolls that I didn't even play with regularly).

Fast forward 20 years - I bought a sewing machine for some class project involving a lamp shade and I also use it to fix my pants occasionally. Looks like my mom was right in thinking sewing would be a useful skill for me to have.

Now that I'm a "working creative," as they say, I feel the need to diversify and hone some my skills outside of work. Yay sewing practice! what better time to practice than as gifts!

Several years ago, I purchased a microwaveable heat bag for a lovely lady to keep her cozy through winter. Although well loved, it became musty because it lived in a damp environment. Inspired by that and a casual comment about how she used to tuck it in her skirt to hold it in place on her back, I dreamed up a new and improved heat pack for her: a tied sash with a removable and easily replaced heat pack! 

File_003 (1).jpeg

The sewing for this was actually pretty straight forward. The slight challenge was figuring out the optimal order for sewing the different patterns together in the prettiest way. I could have cut one long piece and do a series of running stitches but the contrasting patterns made it more interesting and contemporary. 

Sew What? Pt1

We have Spirit Days at work. The holiday objective this year was "Creative Santa Hats." What's more creative that making your own from scratch?! (ok, several things but this was a chance to play around with my sewing machine)

Thinking back to a Christmas wreath I made as a child in Girl Scouts, I planned out the fuzzy bit of the hat to be made of ruffled scraps. The fur trim would be translated to a ruffled border. I also had some nice, mainly-red batik from Nigeria that my mom had gotten for me to use as the hat bit of the hat.

Here are a couple images of the project. Click through for more.

Here are a few things I discovered and learned:

-My pinking shears are really tight. Cut thinner stacks of fabric to prevent numb thumb.
-My scraps were cut too short to knot them around a cord as originally planned and envisioned based on the childhood project. Instead, I had to sew the strips together and string them on the cord before scrunching them. This may have actually helped with the volume on the ruffled trim.
-Sewing the red bit of the hat was the easiest bit. I should use my pretty fabrics more often.

When it comes to sewing projects, one thing leads to another once my machine is out of it's box and on my desk. Stay tuned for Part 2 of Sew What?

Life as Design Problem: Sentimental Somethings

Problem: Bathroom Sink Clutter

Nils uses a classic safety razor with a brush and cream cup that he's had for years when he decides to clean up his manly scruff. I can appreciate the ritual behind shaving with these objects - however, sharing a smaller bathroom counter with these items is less fun; the razor lays on its side, the brush needs space to dry, and the cream cup sits nearby - just observing and contributing to the chaos in the space.

After a cursory look at available brush and razor stands online and in stores, I decided that it would be more fun and meaningful to design and make a custom one. Ones available in store were either cheaply made and felt cheap or more expensive than what I wanted and not necessarily cooler. Nils' brush is also oddly sized (something I realized in measuring his brush when he wasn't looking) so there was no guarantee that it would hang nicely.

Decisions, Decisions: 3D Print Vs Laser Cutting

Some initial sketching gave me two directions - a solid stand that I could 3D print online via Shapeways or a flat pattern one I could make from acrylic and have a friend laser cut at TechShop. 

 super quick idea-to-paper sketch and some measurements

super quick idea-to-paper sketch and some measurements

The flat pattern version seemed more economical but would have that specific feeling of being laser cut. I wanted to create something that felt less like an afternoon DIY. 3D printing officially won out when I found out that Shapeways could now print porcelain.

I did a rough volume model of Nils' oddly sized brush and razor to make sure that my design didn't have any interference issues - good thing I checked. (Measure twice, print once...that's how the saying goes right?)


I wish I could claim that the design was fully planned when I started modeling but then I'm not giving chance and exploration enough credit. The stand ended up with a really sweet hug gesture when I added the loft and fillet features of the brush hook. The topper was initially supposed to be a space for a custom monogram but I couldn't bring myself to decapitate or flatten the head of the hugging figure. 

Fabrication: Send to Print

After some nerves about having the measurements/tolerances just right - trying to take into account shrinkage and glaze thickness, I thought I was going to do a test print with a typical plastic 3D print. When I input the model, I was surprised to discover that going straight to porcelain was actually the more cost effective option. Jumping straight into the deep end!

It arrived! Although shrinkage got in the way of my original plan, the arms are still able to lift the brush and securely hold it above the counter to drip dry. The part even shipped 10 days early from Shapeways! 

If you're interested in helping me figure out the shop aspect of Shapeways, feel free to look into purchasing this stand for you or a special someone: I'm working on figuring out a better way to customize future orders as opposed to making everyone commit to the initials NC.

For the Niece-y Poos.

When Niece 1 was born, I made her a banner with her name (in Pink).

When Niece 2 was born, I made a limited edition wood block print in her honor.

Along comes Niece 3. An official request was submitted by her mother to match Niece 1's name banner - also match her rug (in Lavender). There were a couple ways I could approach this request:

  1. repeat what I did for Niece 1   ( \a/\b/\c/ etc.)
  2. create a print with her name, similar in style to Niece 2
  3. something else.

My initial response was to go with #2 for printmaking practice. Then I realized the bit I enjoyed most about woodcut printmaking wasn't the printing, but the carving. So I pivoted and went with option 3 - something else. After a couple false starts trying to lay out a design on wood, I decided to treat each letter as it's own block, which naturally lead to a Alphabet Blocks for Abby - individually painted to match her rug.

Challenge Acknowledged.

Occasionally I come across design challenges that intrigue me. 

The Unbranded Designs x Loewenstein challenge from July/August was focused on designing for the "Third Space" which falls somewhere between home and work / private and public.

My entry focused on the problem of working in a public space and knowing when or who to approach for conversation/collaboration/distraction and who to leave alone. The classic indicator of non-availability is hood up and headphones on, but what if people have neither hood or headphones?

Here are some quick images of my proposed solution. Not a winning solution but feedback from jury of the competition said it was an intriguing idea for the public space and could be used to address a different problem scope. I'm not discouraged.

Woodcut Printmaking Pt 1.

Back in April, I took my first carving course where I decided that I liked carving and subtractive art. Wanting to explore this some more, I signed up for another excellent Cabrillo College art workshop where I would be working with wood - woodcut printmaking.

The workshop group was larger than the relief carving group with more self-proclaimed artists looking to explore new avenues for their art. I typically declare myself an industrial designer during the name/about-me game but for some reason people think this translates to being a graphic designer (no it does not), which has led to some *interesting* comments from peers that try to justify my work in relation to theirs. I'm not sure why that bothered me, I should be flattered that they liked it and noted how I work. But no, I don't "do this for a living so that's why [I] carved and printed more." That was an actual comment I heard from someone in the class talking to another lady about me. Thanks?

In short, I realize that I trust my cutting instincts more than my drawings (and perhaps more than others might trust their own cuts).  I have the most fun with my carvings and subsequent prints when I'm not quite sure what cut to make next - I definitely was the only one that showed up to the workshop without a clue to imagery I wanted to create. Some people had wonderful sketches that they were able to translate to woodcut and line - maybe someday, I'll figure out that part of the process before showing up to these workshops. 

The process is simple enough: cut design/image out of wood. ink. print.

Update: Most of this post was written in August but I hadn't pulled the photos off my phone until more recently.

Early explorations playing with the tools and wood cuts.

Single block process and print based off a photo assignment that Nils did while at school.

I like subtractive arts. Pt2.

continued from "l like subtractive arts. Pt1"

Session 2 of the two-part workshop. Bring in a project if you have one...

Internal Dialogue:

Oh, ok. I can do anything? hmmmm.....or I could just use one of the provided templates. But I won't have access to tools again.* I should do something unique to me. hmm...what would that be? I don't have a superhero symbol or anything (yet). I like animal carvings....I like the traditional look of carving but I don't know what to carve...ahhh...Oh! ok got it.

Phew. Making decisions can be silly.

I like to dream about the near-ish future where the Significant Other and I have a van for our many adventures. So I figured I would dream about said-van while carving.

Here is the documented progress of my third carving:

I had some time to spare after I finished my van carving. So I picked out a fish image. It looks like a happy fish.

I was pretty pleased with my first Cabrillo College Extension Program workshop. It was a great way to spend two Sundays. So much so, that I've signed up for another workshop in August.


After the workshop, I was sad that I wouldn't be able to carve more things....then, my birthday came around and my wonderful brother got me a sweet set of hand carving tools. Yay! So more carving for me I just need to figure out a good way to secure the pieces to the lightweight IKEA table in my city apartment.

I like subtractive arts. Pt1.

One of the things I was most excited about finishing school was that I would now have the ability to TAKE MORE CLASSES! WHEEE…

"What?!" you say. For the first time in more than two decades of uninterrupted school, I'm no longer a full time student and I want to take classes? 


To be fair, many classes I want to take are more like workshops. Short periods of time where I can learn skills that I've wanted to learn for a long time. Top of that list is glassblowing…and still is. 

However, I got to try something new recently... 

Back in February, I signed up for a 2-part wood carving workshop at Cabrillo College as part of their SpringArts Extension Programs. Then I forgot when the date was for 2 months. I got to be happily surprised when my phone reminded me that I had class. This was 2 weeks ago.

Going into the workshop, I didn't know what to expect. Just some wood carving. I didn't know what type of carving or with what type of tools we'd be doing or using (Answers: relief carving, hand/palm chisels). I didn't know what I wanted to carve. My workshop-mates mostly retired and had hobby experience and/or were given tools by their fathers when they were young'ns. What did I have to say? I'm good with an X-acto blade on foam core?

I happy to report that Ron Cook, the instructor, was a wonderful teacher and let us learn about the tools and wood at our own pace and gave pointers when he sensed they were needed. We started off with a simple leaf carving. I think I chose an oak leaf (Nature has never really been a strong point of knowledge for me).

Then I decided I didn't want to do another leaf for my second carving so I used one of the templates that Ron had brought for follow up work. I picked the Celtic knot/dragon. That was a fun one where I tested out some of my fine motor skills and patience. It was nice to have another student working on the same carving too - emotional support. This was my second relief carving. 

Sadly the class was only 6 hours long. What would next week result it?

continued in "I like subtractive arts. Pt2."

Quirky Habits

I like citrus fruits, specifically Cuties aka clementines.

Since I can remember, I have been compelled to peel each one while keeping the skin in one piece. One day I decided to photograph a bunch of my peels. They remind me of seahorses.

Here's a collection of Cutie Peel Pictures.

...and here are the seahorses they inspired.

 Cutie-inspired Seahorses

Cutie-inspired Seahorses