DIY Pop Art Masterpiece

Hello and welcome to Week 16! We’re heading down an interesting road this week, and indulging my longstanding fascination with Andy Warhol.

It all started in the summer of 1983, when I read “Edie”, George Plimpton’s gossipy biography of the late Edie Sedgewick, an heiress who spent most of the late 1960’s hanging out at Andy Warhol’s studio in New York.

A decade later, I passed several weeks glued to the 500+ pages of Bob Colacello’s “Holy Terror”, the story of Colacello’s years as the editor of Warhol’s magazine “Interview”. Then in 2009, I picked up Richard Polsky’s “I Bought Andy Warhol”, the chronicle of Polsky’s twelve-year quest to buy a Warhol artwork of his very own.

DIY With Daniel Douke
I was fascinated by the chapter in “I Bought Andy Warhol” where one of Polsky’s clients, an artist named Daniel Douke, tries creating his own version of the legendary Warhol silkscreen paintings of Marilyn Monroe.

Douke found the original still photo that the Marilyn screens were made from (now in the public domain) and realized that with some basic silkscreening skills, he could create the same paintings. I was awestruck by this — it had never occurred to me, but Douke was right. From a technical perspective, the “Marilyns” aren’t highly sophisticated. Someone with a little bit of art training could make a reasonably good copy. In other words, could I actually create my own “Marilyn”?

Elizabeth Taylor Makes Up My Mind
In 2011, I got to see “Silver Liz”, another famous Warhol silkscreen, up close and personal. This sealed the deal. I could tell that these were not precision artworks — in fact, the placement of color behind the final black screen on “Silver Liz” was pretty rough.

I hit up my home library for some books on beginner’s silkscreening. One of them, “Simple Screenprinting” actually had a Warholesque project in it. I had some learning ahead of me, but re-creating a Warhol “Marilyn” looked like it might be do-able.

Until I Got to the Equipment List …
“Basic Equipment” was a list of 35 items. I estimated that I’d be into this for over $250 just to get started.


My little project had just become much too expensive to be considered a life hack — especially for a single print. I put Miss Monroe away as an idea that I might try sometime in the future.

Children’s Art Book to the Rescue!
And then I stumbled onto an alternate idea in a children’s art book. To teach Andy Warhol’s basic style to children, the book has them take individual photos of themselves against a white backdrop and make a super high-contrast black-and-white photocopy onto a transparency. Using colored paper, the kids create their own vividly colored pop art background and glue the transparency on top. So clever — I loved it!

Here’s Some Instructions
I took this idea and adapted it to create my own little 4-inch “Marilyn” canvas. Here are the step-by-step instructions, in case you want to try creating an Andy Warhol-style canvas for yourself.


Step 1 Buy yourself a canvas, up to 8″ x 10″.
Step 2 Find your photo — something with little or no background is ideal. Bring it into a photo-editing program like Photoshop if you need to adjust the size to fit your canvas. (If you don’t need any size adjustment, skip straight to Step Four.)
Step 3 Once your size is adjusted, jack up the contrast until you have a photo that’s pure black and white with almost no gray and no background color.
Step 4 Experiment with high-contrast photocopies or black-and-white laser print-outs until you have a photo that’s pure black and white with almost no gray and no background color.
Step 5 Run this off onto full-sheet transparent label paper.
Step 6 Take a print of your original photo and put it up against a window. Use a pencil to rub around the major outlines.
Step 7 Flip the print over and tape it to your canvas. This is where you need to get creative. Trace over the places where you want to place major blocks of color.
Step 8 Take off the print and color in the blocks with whatever art materials you have available: watercolor paints, tempera paints, pencil crayons, you name it. There’s lots of latitude here.
Step 9 When your paint has dried, erase your pencil lines and then use an x-acto knife to cut out your label.
Step 10 Place your label on the top of your canvas and admire your fabulous work of art!
The finished project, on a nice little wooden stand that I picked up at Michael's for $7.00

The finished project, on a nice little stand that I picked up at Michael’s for $7.00

We used two books in finding the way to this week’s library life hack:

Simple Screenprinting:
Basic Techniques & Creative Projects
Written by Annie Stromquist
Published by Lark Crafts
Released Aug 1 2005
ISBN 1579906648

My Art Book
Published by Dorling Kindersley
Released April 26 2011
ISBN 0756675820

A Little Bit of Happy
Allow me a moment to gush about “My Art Book”! What a wonderful way to teach children about the history of art. It also exposes them to a whole variety of artistic styles by giving them creative hands-on projects. With a few adaptations, these could easily be used for adults. In fact, I want to try out their Van Gogh project.

The Numbers
Between and, “Simple Screenprinting” sells for an average of $13.30 and “My Art Book” averages out to $13.33. That’s a total of $26.63.

Now as to the value of the art … well … the original 16”x20” Marilyn canvases by Andy Warhol now sell for well into the millions. So, technically, my library card has saved me at least five million dollars. (This argument sort of falls apart when you realize that we’re comparing the work of an artistic genius vs. a knockoff created by a complete nobody, with two years of design school, watercolors and some transparent sheet labels. But it’s kind of fun, isn’t it?)

And that’s all for this week. I’m going to challenge you to try this out, and send me a photo of your results. Then tune in next week, when we take a culinary trip to the U.K. while I look for the perfect genoa cake recipe. Remember, your comments and questions are always welcome – thank you for reading this post and see you next week!


Wine 101

Welcome back! It’s Week 15 here at Library Life Hack and we’re going to learn about all about wine.

Now, before we hit the vineyard, let me tell you about this week’s check-back: a follow-up on my Week 13 poetry hack. I read my own poem in public — and lived to tell the tale! Get the details here.

Not Very Good at Buying Wine
For a long time I had a dismal lack of knowledge about wine. I learned a little more by drinking quite a lot of it, although that’s not necessarily a path I’d recommend. I’ve also gone to tastings – if you pay attention, this is a good way to pick up bits and pieces of knowledge.

But I’m still something of a dunce. Sometimes I score – and sometimes I show up at dinner parties with wine that makes my more cultured friends roll their eyes and sigh quietly. What’s worse is that the groaners can cost just as much as the hits.

Perhaps We Can Fix This
It would be great to go into a wine store and not have it become a game of “Prettiest Label Roulette”. I took this challenge to my home library to see what could be done. There were many, many books on wine, but I was more intrigued by the DVDs. Like yoga, wine tasting is a physical skill — one that might be better addressed in video, rather than on paper. The two resources I checked out were polar opposites in their approach, but well worth the time.

The Monty Python Method
The first DVD is titled “Wine for the Confused” and features British comic actor John Cleese. As odd as that might sound, this is a great little video.

John Cleese’s method is brilliantly simple:
1. Figure out what you like.
2. Find the right words to describe what you like (plummy, jammy, spicy, fruity …)
3. Take your new vocabulary to a good wine store, tell them your budget, and give them the words for what you like.

Cast in this light, it really is that easy. As well, he gives you a short foundation in how wine is grown and produced, how to store it and how to serve it. In 92 minutes, you can walk away from the TV and have everything you need to embark on a lifetime of enjoying wine.Seriously, does it get any easier than this?

Wine Education in a Small Box
Thanks to John Cleese, I know how to find what I like, but what about when I have to take wine to the homes of my friends? This is where Jennifer Simonetti-Bryan comes in. She’s the author and expert host of “The Everyday Guide to Wine”.

This set of six DVDs has 24 half-hour lectures that will take you through each of the major wine types (white, red, sparkling and fortified), each major wine-making region, how to buy, and how to match wine with food. When Jennifer Simonetti-Bryan is done with you, you’ll have some impressive knowledge indeed.

What I liked about this series was that after the first few lectures, she asks you to start buying particular wines in advance of the next lecture (for example a Chablis and a Chardonnay). In that lecture, you actually taste those wines — with her guidance about what to look for, etc. I thought this interactive angle was really smart. Instead of just absorbing dry knowledge, you’re actually learning by doing.

Turn it Into a Party
Can you imagine how much fun it would be to watch these DVDs with a few friends, taking turns buying the wines and tasting them together?

A Secret For You
There’s just one small hitch. In many libraries, DVD loans expire after a week. Ah, but me tell you a little secret. In my home library (Strathcona County), you can renew this loan period up to two more times. That leaves the DVDs in your hands for three weeks. (21 days for 24 half-hour lectures. I think you can handle it.) Check with your own library about renewals or extended loan periods.

The Numbers
Between and, “Wine for the Confused” averages out to $15.68. “The Everyday Guide to Wine” is only available through a company called The Great Courses ( and costs $US 254.95 plus $US 30.00 US shipping. In Canadian dollars, that’s $292.56. Add the two together, and that’s $308.24 saved this week by using your library card. Cha-ching!

Late Breaking News!
This morning, I received a tweet from Jennifer Simonetti-Bryan. In the true spirit of life hacking, she pointed me to a link where you can purchase “The Everyday Guide to Wine” for just $49.95. Frugal friends, you can find out more here and thank you to to Jennifer for pointing the way!

Here’s the lowdown on this week’s resources:

Wine for the Confused
Hosted by John Cleese
Published by Paradox Studios
Released Aug 23, 2005

The Everyday Guide to Wine
Created and hosted by Jennifer Simonetti-Bryan
Published by The Teaching Company
ISBN 1598036475

And that’s it! Tune in next week, when we have some fun with do-it-yourself art forgery. But until then, a question:

How are You Using Your Library?
I know that there must be people out there besides me who are using library materials for their own life hacks. Are you one of them? Have you learned how to fix something, cook something, create something? I want to hear from you! Send me a message at LibraryLifeHack [at] gmail dot com. (Or leave a comment below.) And have a terrific week!


Let Them Eat Cake

Hello and welcome to Week 14! This week we’re looking into French pastry, specifically chocolate croissants.

Before We Get Started
It’s time to check in on our imaginary stock portfolio. The results are impressive, and you can find them here. I’m cautiously going to say that I think Jason Kelly’s book may well be worth the purchase price – and then some. But enough about money. Let’s bake!

First, a Small Confession
When I started this week’s little project, I was pretty convinced that there was no fast, easy way to make French pastry. But … five years ago, I spent two weeks roaming around southern France and fell in love with pain au chocolat (in English, chocolate croissants). Since then, I’ve wanted to try making them myself. And so, when one of my colleagues suggested that I look into life hacking French pastry, I knew exactly what I wanted to do. Even though I didn’t think I’d be successful.

Finding a Recipe
Now that’s off my chest, I can tell you how I went about investigating the making of chocolate croissants. First I needed a recipe. Since this was French cuisine, I went straight to the master: Julia Child. My home library has a big book on baking, based Julia Child’s PBS baking show. Of course, she had one master recipe for croissants and several different variations.

But there was one problem. She wanted me to use a stand mixer. I needed a croissant recipe that could be made by hand. (Don’t get me wrong. I’d love a good excuse to buy a Kitchen Aid mixer. But that’s not why we’re here. )

A little more digging and I found “Pastries” by Pierre Hermé. Ta dah! He had a croissant recipe that was made entirely by hand. In the end, I combined his recipe and Julia Child’s method. (Her instructions for “making the turns” were much more straightforward. More about that later.)

A Word of Caution
My personal philosophy on recipes is that the first time you try one, you follow it to the letter. Next time, you can fiddle and adjust.

If you’re going to try making croissants by hand, give yourself an entire day. I’m not joking. I could not believe how time-consuming the whole process is.

Here’s the short story:

Mix up the dough.
Let it rise for 90 minutes.
Punch it down and put it in the fridge to rise for 60 minutes.
Punch it down again and put it in the freezer for 30 minutes.
Roll out the dough and incorporate the butter.
Fold it up, following Julia Child’s instructions.
Put it in the freezer for 30 minutes, and then in the fridge for 60 minutes.
Roll out the dough and fold it up, following Julia Child’s instructions.
Put it in the freezer for 30 minutes, and then in the fridge for 60 minutes.
Repeat this step two more times.
Begin swearing and wonder how much longer this is going to take.
Roll it out and do one last final extra-special folding job, following Julia Child’s instructions.
Put it in the fridge, have a glass of sherry and go to bed.
Get up early the next morning, roll out the dough, cut it into rectangles, and roll those around three pieces of dark chocolate.
Be astonished that all this effort only produced a dozen croissants.
Put the rolled-up croissants on a parchment-covered baking sheet.
Let them rise for at least the next two hours (they should triple in volume).
Brush them with an egg glaze.
Put the croissants in a hot oven for 20 minutes.
Taste them. Swoon at how incredibly good they are and immediately forget the herculean effort that it took to bring them to life. In your delirium, tell people that you can’t wait to do this again.

How Do You Hack?
The process of rolling out and folding up the dough is called “making the turns”. In essence, you are rolling out the croissant dough, folding it, turning it 90 degrees and repeating the process. This is what gives croissants their flaky layers and is not the place to scrimp.

I’m sure that there’s a classical French reason for all of the bobbing in and out of the fridge and freezer. But I don’t think it’s absolutely necessary, unless your dough gets too soft to work with, or the butter starts to melt.

So this is my advice for life hacking chocolate croissants:

  • First, make up a batch the old-fashioned way, just so you understand what you’re doing.
  • The next time, cut back your dough-chilling time (except for that first hour in the fridge). Then, just dive right in and do all your turns at once. Your prep time will shrink by almost 50%.

This week, we used two books:

Baking with Julia
Written by Dorie Greenspan
Published by William Morrow and Company
Released Nov 4, 1996
ISBN 0688146570

Written by Pierre Hermé
Published by Stewart, Tabori and Chang
Released Oct 9, 2012
ISBN 1617690279

The Numbers
Between and, “Baking with Julia” averages out to $28.32 and “Pastries” costs an average of $37.00.

Chocolate croissants use very basic ingredients: flour, sugar, salt, yeast, butter and dark chocolate. Price-wise, it costs about the same to make them as it does to buy them in a supermarket. But there is absolutely no comparison on taste. Even your worst homemade croissants will be way better than supermarket ones.

But we can’t really put a price on taste, so that makes this week’s library life hack worth $65.32. Cha-ching!

A Moment of Random Fandom
I loved both of these books, for entirely different reasons.

I adore Julia Child. There is, in her writing and her cooking, a sensible but joyful affirmation of life that is so completely authentic, you can’t help but love it. She was joyful and life-affirming long before it was cool to use words like that.

“Pastries” is a huge, shamelessly gorgeous book, with glorious full-color photos on every other page. This is food porn on a scale that would make Jamie Oliver blush.  It’s worth your while to take this book out of the library, just to breathe in these beautiful pictures.

And that’s it! Thank you for reading all the way to the bottom of this very long blog post. I mean that. If you like, leave a comment and if you have a life hack you want to see me try out, drop me a line at LibraryLifeHack [at] Tune in next week, when we get an education on wine from the hilarious John Cleese. And until then, have a great week!


“there was an old man from Nantucket …”

Ahoy there, mateys! It’s Week 13 here at Library Life Hack and we’re setting sail on a wacky adventure with the English language. I’m learning to write poetry with the help of Jack Prelutsky, American Children’s Poet Laureate.

April marks the start of National Poetry Month, and this seemed like a great way to celebrate. Last April, I set out to write a poem on Facebook — one line each day — using a box of those funny little poetry fridge magnets. Each day, I pulled out twenty magnets at random and challenged myself to use at least seven of them in the next line of the poem.

I soon figured out that this rigid little rule made for a pretty disjointed narrative. One of my cousins commented that the poem sounded like “the lyrics from the lost Doors album”, which eventually became the title. The finished product could have been called interesting, provided that your definition of “interesting” is “sounds like it was written by someone who has been abusing hallucinogens for a long time”. In case you think I’m being modest, here it is in full:


But it’s a brand new April, and I’m picking up the pen again. This time, though, I got smart and looked for some professional guidance. Since I couldn’t find books designed to teach adults how to write poetry, I went looking in the children’s department of my home library.

Jack Prelutsky is a best-selling children’s poet and his book “Pizza, Pigs and Poetry” looked like a lot of fun. Prelutsky’s poems are interwoven with stories about his childhood (he grew up in the Bronx) and twenty different tips designed to get you writing. Here’s a smattering of my exercises. Most of it is written about my editorial assistant, Jack the Cat:

Tip #11
Write a Haiku

Jack has a few peculiar habits. For example, as soon as he’s finished using his catbox, he takes a victory lap around the house, running pell-mell through the rooms. Then he comes to an abrupt halt and calmly starts to groom. This seemed like the perfect subject for a haiku:

jack the cat
small feet dash about
my litterbox warrior
triumphant again

Tip #17
Write From An Unusual Point of View

This was a good one. I wrote from the point of view of my car. (While you’re reading it, you can imagine it has a really whiny voice — like C3PO from the Star Wars movies.)

PT Cruiser’s Lament
Foolish woman, forever riding my clutch.
Who taught her to drive?
I mean, really.
Lets my radiator leak for months;
And don’t get me started on my spark plugs.
You’d think she had a phobia of car washes.
And her taste in music!
I cannot imagine what other drivers think
When she pulls up alongside them,
Screeching the opening song from
“Jesus Christ Superstar”.
Her only saving grace
Is that she was smart enough
To find a good mechanic.

Tip #16
Start With a Single Word and Construct a Poem With Rhyming Words

Of course, I started with “cat”.

Jack the Cat
I have a cat.
His name is Jack.
He likes to snack,
So he’s a little bit fat.
I think Jack should wear a hat
But he’d rather steal my yoga mat.
Jack’s teeth chatter
When he sees a bird.
It doesn’t matter
That the bird is outside, and hasn’t heard.
If you sit with my cat,
Whose name is Jack;
And give him a pat
On his little back,
He will be your friend.

(Don’t you like how I gave the poem a surprise ending with a word that doesn’t rhyme?)

I hope I’m adequately conveying how much fun this has been. Really, it’s a silly, creative hoot.

Putting on Serious Shoes
Now libraries are, of course, not all about static resources like books, CDs and DVDs. They also offer programs. On April 12, my home library is hosting an “Evening of Poetry”, starring real poets giving real readings — and offering open mike time for poets who want to just give it a go. So … having had some fun writing terrible off-the-cuff practice poetry, I’m challenging myself to try and create a reasonably good poem with my favourite line out of the “Lyrics from the Lost Doors Album”:

“Open empty deep green smoke
& paint that absurd soft picture to me.”

It always sounded to my ears like a jazz club in 1920’s Paris.

I can only hope that they don’t throw things. Or throw up.

And I’ll keep you posted.

The Numbers
Now, as silly and fun as all of this has been, people do pay real money to be taught how to write poetry. And having been through Jack Prelutsky’s book, I think it would make a perfectly terrific first poetry course for an adult. The twenty exercises (disguised as tips) would unleash the creative spark in any of us.

For example, Metro College in my hometown of Edmonton offers a six-week, 12-lesson online poetry course for $139. I checked out the syllabus and it doesn’t look nearly as comprehensive as “Pizza, Pigs and Poetry”. I also think that the book is infinitely more practical, with a “get down to it” approach — as opposed to a lot of theory.

“Pizza, Pigs and Poetry” is not available on, but it’s priced at $17.10 on Add to that the $139 you’ve saved by learning poetry from Jack Prelutsky and this week’s life hack is worth $156.10. Cha-ching!

Here’s the scoop on this week’s book:

Pizza Pigs And Poetry:
How to Write a Poem
Written by Jack Prelutsky
Published by Harper Collins
Released Feb 14, 2008
ISBN 0061434493

And Here’s a Challenge for You
Thank you for reading all the way down here. Here’s your reward, faithful reader!

A haiku is a poem with exactly seventeen syllables. They’re fast and easy to write, so I’ll challenge you to take the most unlikely topic you can think of and write a haiku about it — in ten minutes or less. I bet you can do it. In fact, if you do it and post it in the comments below, I’ll send the first person who posts a haiku their very own copy of “Pizza, Pigs and Poetry”.

And that’s it! Join us next week, when we investigate whether or not it’s possible to life hack French pastry.

And if you’re interested in seeing what other people are doing to celebrate National Poetry Month, check out Have a great week!

P.S. Update on the now-infamous Week 8 sweater: I finished the front! That means the two biggest pieces are done. Next up are the sleeves – stay tuned.