Holiday traditions are part of what it means to be “home.” They are the sights, smells, rituals that spark a memory of childhood. We grow up, life changes, dynamics fluctuate…perhaps we have families and children of our own, starting new traditions. Whatever changes occur, traditions (new and old) are part of our heritage. Looking back, I realize that my heritage has been richly blessed by my grandma. Every Christmas morning Grandma would wake the household by playing “Joy to the World” as loudly as possible on the piano. If I woke up before she’d begun playing, I’d lay in bed listening and waiting for the chords to ring out: “Joy to the world, the Lord is come! Let earth receive her King!” It ushered in a morning of stockings, advent readings, carol singing, and all the chaotic excitement of opening gifts. Grandma and Grandpa never had a lot of money. But we didn’t mind because their lack of funds led to two other favorite Christmas traditions: fudge and sweatshirts. Grandma would spend all morning on Christmas Eve making batches of fudge. Grandpa was the tester (aka – he got to lick the pan when she was done). She’d make batch after batch; a plate for each person, labeled with our name on the gift tag. Then, our main gift from her would be a sweatshirt painted with one of our favorite cartoon characters or a fun design. Most of the sweatshirts we wore until worn out. I’ve kept a few of my favorites through the years. My very favorite is actually one of the first she ever did for me. It’s green with navy blue cuffs and has three rag dolls holding hands, painted across the front. If I have a daughter some day, I’ll pass it along to her.
Age and arthritis are catching up to my grandma these days. But one way and another her traditions are passing down to the next generation. This Christmas my oldest nephew (age 9) told us he’d been practicing “Joy to the World”. By special request, he took Grandma’s place at the piano. New fingers, new chords, but the same joyous melody ringing through the house on Christmas morning. His sister (age 13) loves to cook and determined last year that she would master “Great Grandma’s” touch with homemade fudge. Many years ago, I took on the tradition of painting sweatshirts and T-shirts for my nieces and nephews. This year it was time to paint a Minion. I found a neon yellow T-shirt as the backdrop for a purple Minion…and the caption “Wild Thing!” perfectly fit my youngest nephew’s energy level. Needless to say, the design was a hit. As soon as he unwrapped it, he stripped off the shirt he’d been wearing, asking mommy to help him put the new one on!
T-shirts are a unique canvas. If you decide to do one yourself, place cardboard inside to stiffen the shirt, then stretch and tape the shirt taught to keep the fabric from moving while you paint. Sketch your design in pencil or ballpoint pen on the fabric. Plan to do multiple coats (the first acts as a primer and will quickly soak through to the cardboard beneath). Once the first coat is dry, you can add more detail and brighten colors with the second coat of paint. One downside is that there is no room for error. Your image is a vignette with little or no background, so be careful around the edges of the main character! A stiff flat-head brush with a good tip to it works best for clean lines around your vignetted form. Even then, you may end up with a few fuzzy edges. Acrylic paints are permanent when they dry. Your finished shirt can be washed and worn for years to come. Eventually the image begins to fade, the paint slowly wears off. That’s part of the uniqueness of the art form. It means your shirt has been well-loved!
As a side note, shirt painting is NOT something I do as a free-lance illustrator, so don’t get any ideas about ordering shirts from me! The art form is simply something I’ve inherited from my grandma – a tradition I enjoy sharing with my family during the holidays. This blog post is meant to give you a glimpse of one of the fun ways I use acrylic paints in my spare time. Canvas and paper aren’t the only things you can paint on! Feel free to try this at home with your kids some time. If drawing isn’t your strong suit, you could trace a picture onto your shirt and paint that.
~ Mollie B.