The Art of Darkness

Paper and Salt

February 25th, 2014 by Cobwebs

Shelley and KaleWhat a neat idea to hang a site on: Paper and Salt seeks to re-create (and sometimes reinterpret) “dishes that iconic authors discuss in their letters, diaries and fiction.” Nicole, the site’s author, describes it as, “part historical discussion, part food and recipe blog, part literary fangirl-ing.”

It’s a fascinating look at authors, the edibles with which they were familiar, and their eating habits. A recent post about Mary Shelley, for instance, points out that Modern Superfood kale used to be a common comfort food. The entry includes a yummy-sounding kale-and-egg tartine which would be a lovely breakfast dish.

The site’s archives are broken out by both recipe category and time period, so you can browse the 18th Century and find a molten chocolate cake inspired by the Marquis de Sade or look through Drinks for Edgar Allan Poe’s eggnog.

Some of the relationships between author and recipe seem rather thin (“Jane Austen once mentioned cheesecake, so here’s a custard tart“), but the mini-history lessons more than make up for it.

There are the makings of an interesting themed dinner party here as well: A meal with each course inspired by a different author. It’d be fun to start with a soup mentioned by Bram Stoker and end with a Stephen King-inspired dessert.

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Semi Sweet Designs

February 20th, 2014 by Cobwebs

Skull CookiesClear your schedule before clicking any of these links, because you’re going to be browsing for a while.

I discovered Semi Sweet Designs a couple of days before Valentine’s Day, when ThinkGeek pointed to these awesome Star Trek Valentine Cookies. It turns out that those were just the tip of the frosting-covered iceberg.

The site is the brainchild of Mike, an aerospace engineer who discovered cookie art a couple of years ago when he was looking for a unique gift idea for a friend. He notes that he is, “constantly imaging ways to turn my love of TV, Sci-Fi movies, and pop culture into cookie form,” and from the stuff he’s created I’d say he’s succeeding admirably: When he isn’t making Game of Thrones-inspired dragon eggs, he’s ringing in the new year with steampunk gauges.

There are loads of Halloweeny projects, from elegant fall leaf cupcake toppers to spooky skulls-with-candles sugar cookies. He includes plenty of recipes and step-by-step instructions, plus great tips like adding ghosts to any cookie.

Some of the designs are (obviously) detailed and time-consuming, which makes me wonder about the possibility of making them from polymer clay and turning them into pendants, brooches, or even Christmas tree ornaments. Faux sugar cookies seem to be a fairly widespread thing, and there are plenty of tutorials which provide tips on materials and techniques.

Do check out the site; his enthusiasm is infectious, so don’t be surprised if you find yourself surrounded by sugar cookies in the near future.

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Disney Villain Cocktails

February 18th, 2014 by Cobwebs

Sea Witch

Mixologist “Cody” of has created a collection of Disney character-themed cocktails: Several princesses and heroes, sure, but also plenty of villains. There are photos of many of his concoctions, along with their inspiration, at Incredible Things and more on his Facebook page.

I love how well he’s matched the colors and garnishes to the characters: The “Hades Hatred” is black, blue, and on fire; the “Grand Vizier” is crowned with a piece of orange peel reminiscent of Jafar’s staff; and the “Sea Witch,” well, just look at it.

He’s working with Tipsy Bartender to create how-to videos of each of the drinks, but until then the ingredients listed on each cocktail should be enough to get you started.

These could be the basis of a fun themed cocktail party; you could also make “virgin” versions using fruit juice or food coloring for a kid’s party.

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Interesting Party Idea

February 6th, 2014 by Cobwebs

Just throwing this out here because it’s a cool idea and I don’t know what else to do with it:

Last year webcomic artist Kate Leth (site NSFW) threw a party with the theme of “Elseworlds: Come As Yourself From A Different Timeline.”

Elseworlds is an imprint of DC Comics which presents stories that take place outside of canon, placing existing characters in alternate realities or imaginary stories which don’t impact the “real” continuity; one example is Gotham by Gaslight, which featured a Victorian-era Batman fighting Jack the Ripper.

The party idea is sort of brilliant, and so many things could be done with it. I love the idea of, instead of coming as somebody else, you come as yourself…who happens to be somebody else. There are a zillion science fiction stories which explore what the world would be like if major historical events had worked out differently: What if Hitler hadn’t gone into politics (The Iron Dream)? What if the South had won the American Civil War (Bring the Jubilee)? And so on. This party would instead focus on what might have happened in your own personal timeline if things had worked out differently.

The changes could be major (What if the Axis had won WWII?) or minor (What if you’d chosen a different major in college?) but in either case you’d want to think about how those things would have impacted you personally and what that “other” you would be like. You certainly don’t have to confine yourself to current reality; you could also consider what things would be like if witchcraft really worked or if we’d recently made first contact with aliens.

Depending upon how you wanted to theme the party, you could either ask your guests to choose whatever alternate reality they wanted and then explain who their alternate self is, or give them the parameters of your other timeline (“We live in a world where vampires really exist,” or “Columbus was lost at sea, the empires in South America flourished, and eventually their sailors discovered Europe”) and ask them to come as whoever they think they would be in those different circumstances.

A “Come As You Aren’t” party is a refreshing change from standard costume parties, and the theme possibilities are limitless. This will definitely be on my shortlist of party ideas.

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Incredible Image Resource

January 30th, 2014 by Cobwebs

Image from British LibraryThe British Library has released over a million images onto Flickr Commons, free for any use. They’re hoping to crowdsource the image descriptions, making them easier to search, and are asking for help.

In a post titled A Million First Steps, project director Ben O’Steen announced:

We have released over a million images onto Flickr Commons for anyone to use, remix and repurpose. These images were taken from the pages of 17th, 18th and 19th century books digitised by Microsoft who then generously gifted the scanned images to us, allowing us to release them back into the Public Domain. The images themselves cover a startling mix of subjects: There are maps, geological diagrams, beautiful illustrations, comical satire, illuminated and decorative letters, colourful illustrations, landscapes, wall-paintings and so much more that even we are not aware of.

Which brings me to the point of this release. We are looking for new, inventive ways to navigate, find and display these ‘unseen illustrations’. The images were plucked from the pages as part of the ‘Mechanical Curator’, a creation of the British Library Labs project. Each image is individually addressible, online, and Flickr provides an API to access it and the image’s associated description.

The full photosteam is here. This is an amazing resource for all sorts of art projects. There are vintage zoological woodcuts and illustrations from fairy tales and religious memento mori and loads and loads (indeed, more than a million) other interesting images. You can volunteer to help tag and describe them, or just raid the repository for your own use. Great stuff.

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Costumer’s Fantasy Vacation

January 28th, 2014 by Cobwebs

Trystan (of Gothic Martha Stewart fame) is a costumer of some note, and has a brilliant idea for an offbeat vacation: Get together with a group of friends, rent a historical home, and dress in period costume for a couple of weeks. So far she’s done Blo Norton in the U.K., Colonial Williamsburg in Virginia, and Chateau de Pys in France.

She stresses that these trips do not require enormous amounts of money and time to accomplish, so they’re within the realm of possibility for us normal folks. She’s written a how-to guide for planning a similar vacation (it was done for the online costuming magazine “Your Wardrobe Unlock’d” and requires a subscription to read, but access is only $5.97 for the first month and the back issues should make that cost worthwhile).

There’s also a documentary about the Blo Norton trip, available on DVD. Here’s a trailer:

If you’re a history or costuming buff, this would be a fascinating way to engage in a little faux time travel with like-minded friends. You could content yourself with dressing the part or go even further and try to live the period: Cooking from historical recipes, using only candles or oil lamps for light, and so forth. (I’d recommend drawing the line at the use of chamber pots.)

Bonus link: Check out Trystan’s 18th Century Queen of Hearts.

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Scary Short Films

December 19th, 2013 by Cobwebs

Need a short break from all that holiday cheer? ScreenCrave has a great roundup of the scariest short internet films which will make you a little less certain that the thumping sound on the roof is reindeer. Here’s another as a bonus, the wonderfully understated Ten Steps:

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The Oddities Blog

December 4th, 2013 by Cobwebs

Taxidermied Two-Headed RatYou’d better clear your calendar before clicking this link because you’re going to be browsing for a while.

With a tagline of “Stay weird,” The Oddities Blog’s purpose is “to celebrate the weird and wild eccentricities throughout history.” It’s part medical curiosities in the vein of the Mütter Museum, part historical peculiarities, and part your crazy aunt’s attic.

Not only is this material fascinating for its own sake, much of it is a fantastic source of inspiration for art or props. There’s a lovely miniature curiosity collection which would be an amazing display piece or gift; it’d be fun to browse antique shops and thrift stores for treasures to display. There are lots of vintage medical illustrations and unusual woodcuts like this leaf from The Nuremberg Chronicle which would be great as part of a collage or scrapbook. And there are historical oddities like the relic which is purported to be the head of a possessed nun; a prop version would be a marvelous addition to a wunderkammer, particularly if you rigged it so that the eyes would occasionally glow red.

Note that a few of the images are technically NSFW, and more than a few are kind of squicky, so browse accordingly.

(Hat tip to pdq)

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November 21st, 2013 by Cobwebs

Bat PatternJust in time for the holidays, here’s a site to spend a whole bunch of money! Woo-hoo!

EvaDress specializes in creating reproductions of patterns dating from the 1860s through the 1950s, including several interesting designs that I haven’t seen on other vintage pattern sites (the single caveat being the same one I have about most pattern vendors, in that men and children tend to be underrepresented). The prices are quite reasonable for repro patterns, and the styles are very goth-friendly: Of particular interest, obviously, is the Bat Dress dating from the 1880s. I’ve seen the drawing elsewhere and have always been struck by how adorably vintage it looked. (There are a couple more photos of the reproduction here.)

The site also has a companion blog with loads of photos and build notes, which are either an excellent source of inspiration or (if you’re like me) a super-fast way to feel really inadequate about your sewing skills.

There’s some gorgeous, really unique designs–go take a look!

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Ghostly “Bab Ballads”

November 12th, 2013 by Cobwebs

Courting GhostsW. S. Gilbert (of Gilbert and Sullivan fame) wrote a large number of poems, ballads, and “funny articles” for the magazine Fun under the pen-name “Bab.” These came to be known as “Bab Ballads,” and in addition to being famous in their own right some were the source for plots and songs for the G&S operas.

This one, The Ghost to His Ladye Love, would be a fine addition to a wedding invitation.

Fair Phantom, come! The moon’s awake,
The owl hoots gaily from its brake,
     The blithesome bat’s a-wing.
Come, soar to yonder silent clouds;
The ether teems with peopled shrouds:
We’ll fly the lightsome spectre crowds,
     Thou cloudy, clammy thing!

Though there are others, spectre mine,
With eyes as hollow, quite, as thine,
     That thrill me from above —
Whose lips are quite as deathly pale,
Whose voices rival thine in wail
When, riding on the joyous gale,
     They breathe sepulchral love.

Still, there’s a modest charm in thee,
That causes thee to seem to be
     More pure than others are —
Though rich in calico and bone,
Thou art not beautiful alone —
For thou art also good, my own!
     And that is better, far.

United, we’ll defy alarms:
A death-time in each other’s arms
We’ll pass — and fear no dearth
     Of jollity: when Morpheus flits
O’er mortal eyes, we’ll whet our wits,
And frighten people into fits
     Who did us harm on earth!

Come, essence of a slumb’ring soul,
Throw off thy maidenly control
     Un-shroud thy ghastly face!
Give me thy foggy lips divine,
And let me press my mist to thine,
And fold thy nothingness in mine,
     In one long damp embrace.

And here’s another, The Ghosts’ High Noon, which would be great as part of a party invitation.

When the night wind howls in the chimney cowls,
and the bat in the moonlight flies,
And inky clouds, like funeral shrouds,
sail over the midnight skies -
When the footpads quail at the night-bird’s wail,
and black dogs bay the moon,
Then is the spectres’ holiday -
then is the ghosts’ high noon!

As the sob of the breeze sweeps over the trees,
and the mists lie low on the fen,
From grey tombstones are gathered the bones
that once were women and men,
And away they go, with a mop and a mow,
to the revel that ends too soon,
For cockcrow limits our holiday -
the dead of the night’s high noon!

And then each ghost with his ladye-toast
to their churchyard beds take flight,
With a kiss, perhaps, on her lantern chaps,
and a grisly grim “good night”;
Till the welcome knell of the midnight bell
rings forth its jolliest tune,
And ushers our next high holiday -
the dead of the night’s high noon!

(via SheWalksSoftly)

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