Tuesday, August 23, 2011

My favorite online games (with great art communities)

As you know, I love anything to do with art, especially the community surrounding it. One of the main sources I've used to interact with other like minded individuals over the years has been online gaming and playing free MMORPGs. There have been a few that really stuck with me, and I found many close friends and good experiences through these sites. The following MMORPG / MMOSG games are completely free to use and they have a great emphasis on art, either through direct game play or a dedicated flock of talented fan artists. They all come highly recommended if you're searching for huge online communities of artsy fartsy free spirit types. Plus, these games are just fun to play!

Transformice is a great up and coming online multiplayer game where you play as a mouse trying to get cheese to the hole first. Seems simple, but its a lot trickier than you think! I consider this an artsy fartsy game because the concept is certainly offbeat. You have to build hilariously unstable bridges, use crazy mouse-made contraptions, and you get to dress up your mouse sprite in a ridiculous outfits, too. Because of its quirkiness, it seems to attract the artistic minds like a magnet. The game is only a little more than a year old and already has several servers in different languages and tens of thousands 5.5 million players. I truly believe this game is going to really blow up soon, if you know what I mean. It already has a  great following and a growing collection of charming fan art done by professional and amateur alike.
The game's community is colorful, to say the least. It's an eclectic mix of kids and young adults, sprinkled with a ton of good ol' fashioned mousey profanity. Besides frequent updates, they also do great holiday events giving you the opportunity to get exclusive items and play mini games for limited amounts of time. These events often lead to exciting game-wide pandemonium including random snowball fights, flying on broomsticks and being shot by cupid mice.
Status: Free to play as much as you want.

When this game is downloaded to your desktop (dont worry, its light weight) it unleashes a hugely detailed, beautiful fantasy 2D world to your fingertips. It's like you're transported to a massive and complex city of anthropomorphic creatures including weirdly interesting horses, cats, dragons and even odd ferret things. They have self proclaimed themselves as the oldest "MMO" (mass multiplayer online) and they have a very established and active community to prove it.
The game emphasizes user built content called "Dreams" where you can design your own fancy levels complete with downloadable patches and their own "Dragonspeak" code to enchance your maps even more. I remember seeing some very clever creations back when I played.. people can get so complex with Dreams that they can design extremely creative functioning mini games (bomberman! texas chainsaw!) and wonderfully scenic works of art, including customized sprite making. For the most part, the community here is extremely nice and supportive. These guys are also very into text based roleplaying, which is great if you're a writer looking to conjure up inspiration or maybe just into that kind of nerdy stuff ;)
Status: Free to play as much as you want. Fancy (and tempting) add-ons that cost extra.

Groupboard isn't really a game, but more of a online whiteboard that people can draw on simultaneously. It's very similar to paintchat, but it's less demanding on your computer and doesn't have as many "special effects." It strips you down to bare necessities, and sometimes it's impressive to see what kind of work artists can do without any fancy tools. The groupboard community used to be a lot more active, but lately it seems to be an obscure treat that is fun to play around with every now and then. There are dedicated groupboard sites out there with talented graphic artists, but it would take some work to find them. If you do happen to find a secluded group, you'll really be in for a pleasant surprise. I've forged quite a few friends through groupboards, including Natasha and Courtney who I also mentioned in this blog.

Groupboard is now dominated mainly by the Graffiti artist crowd. There are tons of websites with groupboards dedicated to writing graffiti. These guys are serious artists, it's really cool quickly watching them scrawl out their geometrically complex tags...just check it out for yourself. The link goes to a list of currently active groupboards, which is probably the best way to utilize this game.

Status: Free to play as much as you want. Free to have your own tiny groupboard, or you can buy a larger one, but you need a site to host it on either way. @Groupboard says: "The free groupboard is now large, and you don't really need a website (we give you a link)" That sounds like a great improvement! I had a Geocities site specifically for my groupboard :P

Isketch is similar to groupboard, but it's a more structured game and people take turns drawing. It's basically Pictionary online, but it's easy to get addicted!  The game is available in 20 different languages and tons of different game categories and difficulties. They also have non-game rooms where users can take turns freestyle drawing on the canvas and just casually chat with other members. Honestly, I used the standalone chat rooms just as much as I played the actual game! If you have a tablet and you're looking to practice your object sketching skills, this is the place to do it. Not only will you have to speed sketch, but you get instant feedback from the other players on if your drawings or coherent or not. The free drawing rooms also have a pretty cool group of regular artists that love showing off their skills. They worship the most talented users.
The community is kind of the crazy, I'm not going to lie. It's nearly impossible to get banned from this game as there is very few administrators, leaving this game to be truly one of the "wild wests" of the internet. However, there is a voting system, and if you cheat on the game the room will not hesitate to strike you down! If you can withstand a little bit of the "crude and rude," this place can really grow on you.
 Status: Free to play as much as you want.

Wolfhome is as old as Furcadia, and probably has just as many furres, too. This place is great if you love drawing wolves and felines. You are in a graphical chat with a changable avatar of an animal, either a wolf, fox, dingo, bat, tiger or other creatures.. I don't know all of them for sure because when I went to this chat only wolves were allowed!
Over the years its been insanely popular at points and almost dropped off into obscurity at other times, but its resilience shows that there is a solid core community that won't abandon this place. The most exciting thing about this game is it's "customizable poses," or the avatars that represent you during chat. You can submit your own poses or commission other artists to draw one for you. I think this is probably one of the few places out there that's still buying works of art! If you're talented, you can definitely make a little bit of cash here. Or, maybe just enough to support your "Wolfhome Habit." Like Furcadia, Wolfhome is really dedicated and helpful to new comers, and has a huge supply of very talented individuals driving the community. Some of the co founders, Goldenwolf and Kyoht, are incredible artists. I will admit I spent hours drooling over their fantastic art sites, just amazed by their sheer amount of talent and dedication. 

Because of the huge expense it is to run this site, it has become more subscription based than it was in the past. This game is completely free to use and chat on, but you have limited rooms you can go to and you can't have any customized poses. To pay for Wolfhome is very easy and cheap, however, as you're able to buy "Delta Credits" and spend literally a few cents a day to play. Just try it out for free first, you'll be pleasantly surprised by this artsty fartsy community.
Also, apparently they've started a "cats only" Wolfhome, called Cats Paw Island. Be a pioneer and try it for yourself, I have no idea what it's like.
Status: Free to play as much as you want but subscribers get many more desirable features.

A new game has emerged. Introducing.. Paint Acquaint!  

Recently I got an e-mail from Tim Nuwin that said this:
"I was wondering if you could promote this drawing website I made. It's kind of like chatroulette or omegle in the sense it pairs up people 1-on-1 to draw with but there's no camera or chat. 
I made the site originally to kill time during lecture. It kinda stinks cause there isn't too much activity on the site yet :("

Paint Acquaint in action.
Well, sir, I for one think you have a really cool idea. To me it comes across as a mix of Chatroulette and Groupboard. I checked it out and this idea really has potential, and enough people using it to enjoy it from time to time. I'm really excited to see how it ends up... good luck Paint Acquaint!
Status: Free to play... give it a try.

Well there you have it folks, my guilty pleasures all listed out for you. These sites are established underground art communities that have continued to thrive for years, even after I myself grew out of them. I can honestly admit I've wasted hundreds of hours playing these online games and pushing my artsitic skills to the outer limits because of them. I wouldn't be the artist I am today without being motivated by such unusual means. Definitely let me know what you think of them if you try one out, or tell me about some other free artsy fartsy MMORPGs! I'm always on the look out for a new internet addiction...

Sunday, August 21, 2011

All Smiles

This is a still life I did in colored pencils. Yes, I have skulls just randomly lying around!

This is a relatively small artwork with a huge amount of detail. It's a still life done on a textured piece of black matte board. I wanted show off my technical skills with colors and shading in colored pencils in this piece. The plaid was a real pain.. I didn't realize exactly what all went into that busy plaid pattern until I had to recreate it! Even so, I had a lot of fun doing it and it reflects in the quality of this piece.

If you're interested in buying the original, contact me for a negotiation of price.
Prints are also available here..  


Friday, August 19, 2011

Advice on surviving the AP Studio Art portfolio

School's back in session, so I have decided to give a little bit of advice on those of you taking "advanced" high school art class!

My senior year of high school I took Advanced Placement Studio Art. Some of you will know what I'm talking about, many art students across the nation challenge themselves to take this taxing year long class. Basically taking the class in school guides you through creating a 3 part portfolio (breadth, concentration and 5 pieces you mail in) for the College Board.

The college board, as much as I can gather, is this shadowy league of "professional art educators" that anonymously (and somewhat harshly) judge your work and decide your fate of passing the class by giving you an AP grade of a 1, 2, 3, 4 or (rarely) 5. The guidelines for their portfolio seems skimpy at best. They never directly tell you what they want to see, besides lengthy lists describing design terms and art principles.

Since I'm a perfectionist, I tried to go "all out" when it came to my portfolio. I wanted the highest score I could get. I also didn't want to fail, since passing the class meant also getting a "credit for college." And I'm all about free college credits.

The problem was, I completely over thought the assignment and stressed myself out to insane means. I feel sorry for my classmates, I was a mess most of the time and always behind on my projects. I didn't know the things that I know now, and I really wish I did. It would've saved me a LOT of frustration, and I may have gotten a better score! For the record, I got a 3 on the 2D Design portfolio, which apparently is "a portfolio of moderate quality" and is at least a passing grade.

Fortunately for you, I can share things I've learned since completing this course and sort through all the "hubbub" surrounding this program. And also, for your viewing pleasure, the following images are sampled from my actual AP portfolio:

If only I had more time..
 Don't kill yourself trying to get "x amount" of pieces done.
This is what I did, so don't make my mistake! I was given the impression that you needed at least 10 or 11 pieces to have a strong concentration. In reality, that's probably the MAX you should be doing. It seems that the "shadowy league of college board judges" are looking for quality not quantity. Instead of rushing through 10 sketchy artworks, take the time and get a strong core of 6 to 8 good pieces. They want to see your concept, not how many artworks you can poop out in a 18 week period.

The college credit you receive isn't as fancy as you think.
 Like with all AP classes, it's true that you'll get a college credit for passing this class. This is useful, don't get me wrong. But it isn't that big of a deal if you end up not getting it. Most of the time, it's an entry level art class credit, and like in my case it didn't even count towards the major I was perusing. So basically it just took away one of my electives which I could've used on a cool and fun class.

Don't confuse what they mean by Breadth.
Here is a quote taken from the AP Studio Art Student Performance Q&A for 2010:
My take on the design issue "emphasis"
"Similar to previous years, some students did not fully engage with a sufficient range of
design issues...often students did not display breadth in design issues. Instead they sometimes showed many different works, or works in a variety of media... a broad range of design issues is one of the main requirements of this section of the portfolio.
 When you're choosing your breadth pieces, keep in mind that they don't care what kind of media you're using. It's not about showing off your variety as an artist by demonstrating your painting skills and your drawing skills. They want to know how much you know about the theory of design. In reality, you could do your breadth in all the same media, as long as the work illustrates a variety of "design issues" (aka emphasis, line, texture, unity, balance, ect.) Luckily, the principles of design never change, so there's a lot of information out there about it. Here's a simple website to get you started on figuring out what principles of design to use. It has pictures!

 Be careful what pieces you send them in the mail.
The portfolio requires you to send them 5 of your best pieces through the mail. But keep in mind these pieces should also be some of your most sturdy works. You don't want  to choose anything fragile because it has a high chance of being damaged during shipment. Also, the college board's policy is to view the works "as is."  For example, I sent in one of my concentration works (pictured left), and to my horror when it was returned to me I discovered that a huge chunk of wood from one of my other canvas had become entangled in the threads of this piece. I'm assuming the college board judged my piece with the horrible wood shard still sloppily hanging on...how embarrassing! Also, remember to mat all the pieces you're sending in. Make them presentable, and this will give you an few extra "brownie points" with the judges.

Most importantly, don't get stressed out.
 If you don't listen to anything else I've said here, at least read this part: You won't be able to produce the amount of quality work you need for this portfolio if you're freaked out and stressed all the time. Take your time with your work and enjoy the process. This doesn't mean procrastinate til the last minute of course, pace yourself with your work and follow deadlines. Don't be intimidated by the requirements, and don't over think things. Art is simple, and if you're loving what you're doing then you're doing it right. Just remember to make work that feels right to you, and the rest will fall into place.
Oh, by the way, if you're interested in learning more about my all fabric concentration click here.
Of course anyone who has an opinion on this matter, by all means give us your two cents! There can never be enough information out there about the sketchy College board AP studio art portfolio. Who else can describe their experience in this program? What scores did you receive?

      Monday, August 8, 2011

      Portable Disguise Mustache Keychains

      A funny mustache keychain that will be the perfect portable disguise.

      Skull Guy Keychain

      This weird little skull guy would add some edginess to any purse or book bag.
        At a glance:
      • Handmade keychain
      • Available in red, light blue, dark blue, yellow, brown, and orange.
      • Skull shape
      • Hand stenciled bones with acrylics on back and front
      • Teeth painted on separately
      • Circular key ring with suede or leather like twine
      • Filled with store grade sand
      • Heat pressed
      • Each skull is slightly different

      The Skull Guy Keychain....

      The skull itself is made of felt.  The felt is hand stenciled with a bone design in either black acrylic paint or white gesso. The teeth are then all painted on one by one. The painted felt is later heat pressed for permanence and aesthetics.

      The key ring is attached by brown or black suede like twine.

      This keychain has been filled with store grand sand as opposed to poly fiber stuffing. It remains light weight and sturdy while giving the piece a unique feel

       Because they’re all different, each skull keychain’s measurements vary slightly. The skulls themselves span approximately 2 inches long and are around 1 ½ inches wide. The length of the key ring and twine are 2-3 inches on average.

      This Skull Guy felt keychain is perfect for:
      • Interesting gift for birthdays and holidays
      • Adding personal style to a boring set of keys
      • Showing someone your appreciation
      • Sprucing up your purse or school bag

      Sunday, August 7, 2011

      Fishy Bone Keychain

      This unusual fish keychain will gladly keep watch over your keys for you.
         At a glance: 
      • Handmade keychain
      • Fish shape
      • Available in red, green, yellow, red, grey, orange, blue and purple. (Contact me to query about additional colors)
      • Hand stenciled “fish bones” with acrylics
      • 2 neon googly eyes
      • Circular key ring with suede like twine
      • Filled with store grade sand
      • Heat pressed
      • Each fish is slightly different

      The Fishy Bone Keychain...

      The fish itself is made of felt.  The felt is hand stenciled with a “fish bone” design in black acrylic paint. The stencil is later heat pressed for permanence and aesthetics.

      The key ring is attached by black suede like twine, which is then sewn securely inside the felt.This piece is machine sewn around the edges with invisible thread. It has two neon colored googly eyes, one on either side of the fish. 

      This keychain has been filled with store grand sand as opposed to poly fiber stuffing. It remains light weight and sturdy while giving the piece a unique feel. However, I would gladly make a fish with cotton stuffing upon request.

       Because they’re all different, each fish keychain’s measurements vary slightly. The fish themselves span approximately 4 inches long and are around 1 inch wide. The length of the key ring and twine are 2-3 inches on average.

      This fish felt keychain is perfect for:
      • Interesting gift for birthdays and holidays
      • Adding personal style to a boring set of keys
      • Showing someone your appreciation
      • Sprucing up your purse or school bag


      Other posts where this item is mentioned...Here! and here!

      Heart and Button Keychain

      Wearing your heart on your sleeve is so last year. Now you can attach it to your keys, lanyard, bag and more!

      At a glance:
      • Handmade Keychain
      • Heart shape
      • Red felt
      • Lanyard clip with loopy silver string
      • Filled with store grade sand
      • Button color varies (contact me for specific color requests)
      • Each heart is slightly different

       The Heart and Button Keychain...
      This darling little thing is made of red felt.  It’s cut out by hand, making it a completely unique piece. No patterns were used in the making of this item.

      The lanyard clip is attached by a shiny silver string that has a loop like texture, which is then sewn securely inside the felt.
      This piece is machine sewn “haphazardly” around the edges with invisible thread to give another interesting texture. A single colorful button is sewn on with embroidery floss.
      This keychain has been filled with store grand sand as opposed to poly fiber stuffing. It remains light weight and sturdy while giving the piece a unique feel. 
      However, I would gladly make a heart with cotton stuffing upon request.

      Because they’re all different, each heart keychain’s measurements vary slightly. The hearts themselves span approximately 1 to 1 ½ inches. The length of the lanyard and string are on average 1 to 2 inches.

      This red heart felt keychain is perfect for:
      • Interesting gift for birthdays and holidays
      • Adding personal style to a boring set of keys
      • Showing someone your appreciation
      • Sprucing up your purse or school bag

      Saturday, August 6, 2011

      The "art" of people watching

        Have you ever "People Watched?" It's fun, you can do it nearly anywhere, and its free. Just sit down where some people are and casually look around. It's fascinating observing people's behavior when they think no one's watching them. They aren't posing to look good or saying things to impress you. They're just being natural.
        Artists are able to take "people watching" to the next level when they sketch the life they see around them. In my opinion, the most powerful life drawings are the ones that are spontaneous, when their subjects are unaware they're being drawn. In this way artists are able to capture tiny snapshots of "mundane" every day life. These are things that are rarely officially documented but the very things we're dying to know about a decade or two later.
        The following images are drawings from my sketchbook I've from life done over the past few years. Almost none of my subjects knew I was drawing them while I was doing it, not at first at least. I love the element of surprise. It left my subjects loose and natural, just going on doing what they do best, whatever that was. What results is an intimate glimpse into my youth, the people and places I went and experienced. If you look carefully, on some of the sketches I jotted down what they were saying as I drew them.
      By the way, they're all in order of the date in which I drew them. Do you think I improved any over time?

      Highschool Sketches

      A "friendly caricature" of my freshmen science teacher.

      The old man who babysat us in study hall.
      Bob can't draw

      "One Eyed Jake" got shot in the eye with a roman candle. I think he's all healed up now though believe it or not.
      I called this kid Mouse Man. It was his birthday when I drew this. He was usually very shy but that day we had a long conversation. He was oblivious that I was drawing him the entire time.
      A left and right view from my desk in Spanish class.

      College Sketches

      Various people from the lobby. The eyepatch guy was a real person but I screwed up on drawing him :P

       dirty hippie loves being a model 

      I love her enthusiasm for life! (And Lionel Richie)

      He's mad. The school wouldn't let him use his hookah.

      So, now that you've peeked into my sketchbook, does anyone want to share what's in theirs?

      Monday, August 1, 2011

      How to get art supplies on a budget

      The thing that bothers me the most about the art world is how disgustingly expensive all the art supplies are. There is a reason that artists are starving, and its because mainstream craft suppliers are ripping them off. Unfortunately some artists aren't aware that there are plenty of cheap or even free alternatives to those pricy name brand products that we all kind of despise buying. Let me help you save a few bucks with a couple of these easy suggestions. I use all of these items in my projects regularly and I hardly ever have to go out and spend money on materials anymore.

      Acrylics v.s Fabric Paint / Screen printing ink
       Acrylic paint used on a fish stencil
      Have you ever wanted to stencil or draw a design onto a t-shirt? You goto the store and ask the clerk for help and the steer you right towards the "fabric paint." To your dismay, it is outrageously priced and you only need it for a few projects anyways. You might wonder, why cant I just use regular paint? What's the difference? There really isn't one. Anyone who has ruined their favorite shirt on "acrylic paint day" in art class can attest that acrylic paint does NOT come out of fabric. This one's pretty much a no brainer- unless you're a fine artist and you're getting paid to use professional grade products, you can skip the fancy "fabric paint" that they try to sell you at the store. A decent acrylic paint will get you through almost any art project involving paint. It's a jack of all trades. The trick for using acrylics on fabrics is that you must heat press the paint after it has dried. This is a basic rule for any painting medium used on fabric, even the professional printing inks.

      Gesso, Mod Podge, and Gloss Medium
      You will be addicted to these items once you start using them, and they last for ages. They're essential to preparing your materials and creating a studier surface. They can be found at most local craft stores for under $10 a piece. Mod Podge is so common you can even buy it from Wal-Mart now.
      Gesso shows up on anything, including brown felt skulls.
      According to Wikipedia, Gesso "is a white paint mixture consisting of a binder mixed with chalk, gypsum, pigment or any combination of these." It is a permanent primer you can use to prepare any surface for artistic use. You can use gesso on pretty much any item you can think of. I've seen the strangest things gesso'd in order to make them workable. For example, one of my college professors assigned us a project where we had to paint an imagine onto a  three dimensional object. The class gesso'd a huge variety of items including of shoes, flower vases, boxes, milk cartons, and even an old TV! Gesso is essential if you're painting as well. You can save a considerable amount of paint by coating your canvas with gesso first. Paints can be built up with less layers this way, saving time and money.

      Mod Podge, also known as matte medium, will make you swear off Elmer's glue forever. It is a sealant and a glue, and can even be used as a primer in some projects. The substance appears milky white when it's wet but dries completely clear. It comes in a few different styles, like Gloss, Matte and even "Sparkle Glitter." Slathering a layer of mod podge over your next collage or craft will seal it together and assure that no edges are coming up. It can be used to protect painted surfaces from being scratched or damaged. Did I mention it's an amazing glue yet? For example, the textured surface of the picture on the right was achieved by mod podging pieces of scrapped burlap onto a plank of wood. The burlap became hard, sturdy and workable.

      Another example on the left will show a regular piece of paper that has been coated with mod podge. The bananas have been painted with oil paints, and there is no signs of warped paper in sight. Mod podging a project can leave it with the extra "finishing touch" that is easy to achieve and impressive to look at. While researching for this post I found a wonderful blog dedicated to the many uses of Mod Podge. Check them out, they have a great list of fun craft ideas and it really illustrates how versatile this product is.

      Gloss Medium and cheap acrylic paint
      Good acrylic paints are expensive. Name brands can run up to eight dollars a tube. The cheap kind is half the price, but it tends to be chalky, brittle and lack luster. But don't toss your crappy Apple Barrel acrylics just yet. Instead, invest in a bottle of gloss medium for your acrylic paint. Just a little squirt of the stuff mixed in with your paint will make a world of difference. Not only will it make your cheap paints look glossy, it subtly changes it's overall consistency and texture and just looks more aesthetically pleasing.

      Store bought canvas VS cardboard and wood
      I never buy any of those cheesy canvas from the store. Do you know why? Essentially, the store brand "hard back" canvas is just a piece of grainy fabric stretched over a piece of cheap cardboard. You can do that at home for free. All you need to do is find some scrap wood or cardboard. It's a lot easier than you think. Get into a scavenger state of mind. Scrapped cuts of wood can be found anywhere, even in your own back yard. Neighbors, friends, maybe your dad can have some old pieces of wood they aren't using that they'd donate if you just asked. If all else fails you can find wood behind dumpsters (sometimes not even inside the dumpster!) or near construction sites. If you collect it when you see it, you'll have tons of great cuts to choose from in no time.
      They're perfect bases for canvas because they're sturdy and can accept an array of different medias and techniques. Try gessoing the wood's surface, or mod podging white sheet/muslin fabric onto it. You can even use the texture and natural look of the wood to your advantage, like I how did in my "hipster skeleton" piece pictured left.
      I also have found collecting cardboard to be very useful for my work. Cardboard is great for when you're working on a piece that doesn't need to be as "heavy duty" (something you'd use wood for.) Depending on the quality of cardboard you can find, it's great for mounting pieces or decently sturdy surfaces for to work on. It's great for bookmaking and countless school projects. Once again like with the wood, ask your friends and family first for scraps or anything they might have lying around. You can also check with retail and grocery stores to see if they had any extra boxes. Liquor stores, for example will gladly give you an endless supply of boxes as they get all their products this way and find them a pain to dispose of. (This is a great tip if you're moving any time soon, by the way. FREE boxes.)

      Fabric- apparently useless to everyone else in the world
      When people who know me find out I'm doing fiber art now, it surprises me how quickly they say "Would you like my big bin of fabric scraps?" In my opinion, fabric is one of the most underrated art supplies around. People don't realize it's versatility, and they forget how expensive it can get! That spells good news for us scavenging artists. It can be stretched over a canvas frame, drawn on, painted on, sewn up or cut to pieces. Fabric is great with mod podge and gesso. For my AP Art concentration, I utilized fabric in many different ways. Each one of these those pieces (one pictured right) was gessoed on the back in order to make it accept paint and pencil easier. It made the fabric almost like a high quality canvas paper. This particular piece was made completely out of "trashed" and recycled fabric scraps. It's scratched in with an india ink pen and black acrylic paint, and was mod podged onto a piece of scrap wood.

      Ok, that's all for now you guys. There's ton more to say about this subject but I will leave that for another blog post. In the mean time, do you have any "essential" art supplies that I forgot to mention here? Where do you go to find free and cheap supplies? Stay tuned for more suggestions and tips!