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It’s a bit past the holidays, but I wanted to share the Christmas present I received.  A plush catfish!  Look at how endearing it is.  There are too few catfish toys. This is a blue catfish (Ictalurus furcatus), the largest species of north American catfish, which reached sizes of up to 165 cm (65 in) can weigh more than 68 kg (150 lb).  The blue catfish does not just make a captivating plush toy, its success in the competitive real world also illustrates why the siluriformes are such formidable lifeforms.

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Although blue catfish can eat almost anything, they are highly competent and aggressive predators (look at its predatory lines). They are capable of living in fresh fast water or in torpid brackish water and they possess all the myriad astonishing senses of the catfish in order to master their river home.    This is a problem in the real world.  The fish was originally native to the Mississippi river and most of its tributaries, but, aided by the fell hand of man, the blue catfish was introduced into the rivers and estuaries of Virginia where it has swiftly displaced native life.  Because of its ability to survive brackish water, the mighty catfish of the Mississippi has been taking over parts of the Chesapeake Bay.  Hopefully it wasn’t a mistake to bring one into the house.

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Apollo and Marsyas Toy Theater (Wayne Ferrebee, mixed media, 2015)

Apollo and Marsyas Toy Theater (Wayne Ferrebee, mixed media, 2015)

OK, I promised everyone a Halloween treat, and here it is.  This past year I spent some time (ahem, well, actually hundreds and hundreds of hours) working on an art toy–a 19th century-style miniature theater for action figures!  It is sized for four inch tall action figures because I grew up with Kenner’s “Star Wars” figures.  I made the toy with a jigsaw, a lathe, and plywood. I painted/drew the images with watercolors, color pencils, markers, and Photoshop!  Since I used Photoshop I can print eveything up and make as many as I like! However I haven’t finished scanning all of the backgrounds in yet and altering them (and I still have a couple more backgrounds I want to make).

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The proscenium arch shows the musical competition between Apollo and Marsyas, an evocative tale which reveals dark truths about art.  I have showed the contest instead of the outcome. On the left a nesting swan is left bereft because a cruel cupid has stolen her mate and shackled him to a chariot (he is flying away at the top). marsyas has heartbroken love and the muses behind him.  Apollo has his dead python and a cold white temple  The farms and cities of humankind can be barely glimpsed in the background behind them. Shears, a wineskin, shackles, and a flaying knife hint at the future.

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On either side of the stage are great mock-Egyptian columns which support the aristocrats and rich folks in the top boxes. The best seat in the house go to the state–which I have represented on one side as a beautiful princess and on the other as an evil inquisitor (although if you look closely you will see they are the same person). The orchestra is filled with musicians and music makers from around the world like a serpent player, the devil with his fiddle, a splendid lyrebird, a ponce with a triangle, a vaudeville ukulele player in pancake makeup, and a toy monkey with some cymbals.  
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The wings of the theater fold out to show all of society.  On the bottom are various groundlings like the shouting lout, the woman with her stupid iphone, my crooked ex business partner (with his vodka bottle), and a hungry walrus watching the fish tray above him. A couple of witches have slipped in without anyone noticing (Terry Pratchett would understand).  The middle level is filled with thieves, lovers, merchants, and clergy people.  The top level is filled with faceless shadow-folk on one side, and noble heroes on the other (notice the lady scientist, the luchador, and the martial arts master). The enraged colossal squid in the lower right was added expressly for this blog (although dedicated readers will notice many familiar elements).

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I have placed some action figures from my collection inside the theater to give you a sense of scale–and of the play operas you could invent with your own action figures and toys!

Clever viewers will note that this is really a fancy frame with footlights.  The real purpose is the interchangable sets–a collection of strange artworks featuring imaginary scenes from throughout history and the imagination.  There is an ancient churchyard in front of a medieval church (notice the undead form and the megaliths on the moor beyond).

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Here is French Colonial Timbuktu.  Effete er…elite officers ride by on a half-track as cobras and scorpions prowl the thronging marketplace.

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Regular readers will remember this seascape of adventure and excitement.  Perhaps it is showing a scene from the spice wars!

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I spent a long time drawing Hell. I was really afraid of hell when I was a child and I tried to capture some of those concepts in these horrible monsters and gruesome punishments.  It is unclear whether it is hell or Diyu (if there is a difference).  I wanted it to be beautiful in its depraved horror.  There are burning cities and red deserts yearning for water…but the aqueducts are broken. There are churches everywhere because I figure hell will be full of the devout.  After all, people who believe in Hell worship evil deities–gods who purposely created flawed spirits just to torture them forever.  But maybe I am just angry about being scared so badly when I was little.  I added pterosaurs because I like them, not because I think they were especially evil.

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My favorite scene is the garden aviary (pictured in the first picture at the top).  It is filled with beautiful flowering trees, spring bulbs, and birds from around the world.  I put the tropical jungle half-set in front of it (see the arborial marsupials), but it sort of blocks the scenic vista.  In fact I had all sorts of trouble photographing this.  I am a better toymaker than photographer.  Also some scenes are not finished (like the future city filled with post-humans and sentient robots, below).  I also left the secret door on the back unphotographed.  I will save it for a later day (but it is really cool and it also unifies the toy greatly). More to follow.  In the mean time get out there and enjoy Halloween (oh, and direct some traffic over here, if you have a moment–I have been working hard making things for you to enjoy!).

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If you are like me, you yearn for the color-changing abilities of an octopus or a flamboyant cuttlefish. It’s going to be a long time before we have such capabilities ourselves, but surely technology can let us change the color of our surroundings and effects without repainting them. For a while now, the great laboratories and technology gurus have been promising us color-changing paint–where you walk into a room and turn a dial to change the wall color from green to pink to yellow to blue. I had a friend who shot some ads for GE who swore that this technology was about to hit markets (although since those ads were ten years ago, I am starting to have my doubts).

The Mood Ring!

The Mood Ring!

What we do have is color changing chemicals which alter their tone based on temperature or light. The compounds that change color based on temperature were used for “mood-rings” back in my parents’ day.  Then by the time I was a kid in the 80’s we had light-sensitive polymers.

Zartan, the ultra-mercenary

Zartan, the ultra-mercenary

There was a GI Joe toy–Zartan the super mercenary–which was featured in a series of jaw-dropping animated commercials. In the ads, Zartan was a color-changing mercenary with super-ninja skills–a formidable chameleon of death! However the actual doll looked more like a middle-aged professional wrestler heading off to KISS night at Fire Island. Also Zartan did not change color very rapidly. One of my friends had the figurine and it engendered lots of dubious phrases like “look his arm is already turning a little bit gray….I’m sure of it.” Zartan’s legacy was not dissimilar from that of “The Diving Dolphin” a way to teach kids that ads do not necessarily reflect reality.

Anyway, all of this is to introduce the fact that I won a minor bet with my roommate! In a fog of victory, I jokingly asked for a jet (assuming that this was a way to permanently dismiss the subject) but she went online and bought me a super-awesome color-changing toy plane! It has been sitting next to me at the office as the seasons change and the Heating/Air-Conditioning goes haywire in various colleague-enraging ways. Here, therefore are actual photos of this astonishing color changing jet still in its original packaging.

Neutral Jet

Neutral Jet

The jet’s ambient color at neutral office temperatures is bright mauve. When the pilot flies his craft into the cold temperature of the upper atmosphere (or alternately, into the freezer next to the frozen peas) the plane turns dark puce and then dark brown!

Cold Jet

Cold Jet

Flying out of the freezer, this experimental craft next landed on the sweltering environs atop of a huge mug of hot coffee. Soon the brown faded back to purple and then to blotchy magenta, and finally to pure US Air Force gray.

Hot Jet!

Hot Jet!

Mattel really outdid itself–this is a great toy! Zartan would be green with envy…eventually…well, maybe a little bit by his elbow? Let’s hope GE gets its act together so we can change our walls from bright magenta to gray to chocolate brown. That will be a future worth having!

Crochet Squid (by Ruby Submarine from Craftsy)

Crochet Squid (by Ruby Submarine from Craftsy)

It has been a long time since we had a mollusk post, so today let’s enjoy a post about squid, octopuses, and extinct nautiloids…and knitting. Apparently the characteristic tubes and whorls formed by knitting can be easily adapted to produce lovely tentacled plush characters. Sadly, I am a terrible knitter (or, more accurately, not a knitter) but I appreciate the art. Also, as a toy maker I have a professional interest in these plush toys, even if they are not necessarily in my own area of specialty.

Knitted Nautiloid by cobrajs (Deviantart)

Knitted Nautiloid
by cobrajs (Deviantart)

Knitted Ammonite and Orthocone (from Knitty.com)

Knitted Ammonite and Orthocone (from Knitty.com)

An exceptionally pretty nautiloid (by Chantal)

An exceptionally pretty nautiloid (by Chantal)

Naughty Nautiloid for Knitwits (Knitty.com)

Naughty Nautiloid for Knitwits (Knitty.com)

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Under the sea (by onblueberryhill)

Under the sea (by onblueberryhill)

Look at how cute the squids and extinct cephalopods are. Some of these designs are truly ingenious, like the red squid at the top, or the belemnites immediately below. I wish I had had some of these as a child to pair with my beloved dinosaur stuffed animals and toys. When I was young, I was unhappy that it was so difficult to get toys of prehistoric ocean creatures other than plesiosaurs (and frankly even those were hard to come by). Even if it is still hard to get mass-produced orthocones and ammonites, these beautiful hand-made pieces certainly help fill the gap. Now your plush ichthyosaur will have something to predate! Or, if your toy collection is more modern, you will have the right character for stinging the Australian PM.

Wooly Belemnites (Found on juniorgeo.co.uk)

Wooly Belemnites (Found on juniorgeo.co.uk)

Ollie the Octopus (Lion Brand® Vanna's Choice® Baby Pattern)

Ollie the Octopus
(Lion Brand® Vanna’s Choice® Baby
Pattern)

knit Octopus (found on craftster.org)

knit Octopus (found on craftster.org)

Felted Squiddy by Denise (from "knitting")

Felted Squiddy by Denise (from “knitting”)

felted squid flash drive (NifNaks)

felted squid flash drive (NifNaks)

I wish I could tell you more about how these are made and where you could get the patterns, but it seems like a certain expertise in the textile arts is required. I only know the difference between what is felted and what is knitted. My mother, however, has a lovely yarn store in Parkersburg, West Virginia and she is an expert at every aspect of knitting, crocheting, weaving, and sewing. I am sure she could explain to you how to make any of these creatures (or any other lovable knitted or felted animal toys)…provided you bought the yarn from her store.

Ax Wielding Octopus (Hiné Mizushima, ca. present, needle-felted sculpture)

Ax Wielding Octopus (Hiné Mizushima, ca. present, needle-felted sculpture)

Needle-felted Bobtail Squid by crocodiledreams

Needle-felted Bobtail Squid by crocodiledreams

Aren’t these all adorable.  They make me want to get back into toy making and create “My Little Squiddy.”

Too late...here are the "My Little Cephalopod" series of "My Little Pony" Themed Squid Plushies (from Laughing Squid)

Too late…here are the “My Little Cephalopod” series of “My Little Pony” Themed Squid Plushies (from Laughing Squid)

 

Today’s post seems like it concerns exceedingly trivial matters from a bygone age, but it is actually of much larger import. When I was five, I had the most delightful birthday!  It was a splendid August day with the barest hint of coming autumn in the forget-me-not sky.  There was every food I like.  My mother made a special unlicensed Star Wars cake and, though chocolate Vader looked a bit blobby and brown he tasted amazing.  There were astonishing presents, games with friends, and my splendid loving family telling me how wonderful I was.  There was only one stain upon the luminous day and it came at breakfast through the black-and-white TV screen.

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I was only allowed to watch limited amounts of TV (it makes me feel like some nineteenth century fogy to talk about having one (1) tiny mono-color viewscreen in a whole house), but even in the innocent (?) world of the seventies there were ads everywhere, fiendishly concocted to sink their razor sharp hooks into desires you did not even know you had.  One of these was an ad for a cereal which featured the most miraculous toy—a swimming dolphin which actually dove down into the darkened abyss and then playfully rose back up with an enigmatic dolphin smile.

Through the dark magic of contemporary media saturation, the original ad is available on Youtube. Here it is!

Perhaps the four-year-old me was emotionally moved by the lumbering tragicomic figure of Smeadley the elephant, however I confess I did not remember him until seeing the clip.  But the toy dolphins were magical!  The only thing which could have been better would have been an ichthyosaur. There was a problem—we were not allowed to have sugared breakfast cereal, which my mother regarded as a dangerous abomination (as an aside: I was raised so well…how did I go so wrong?).  The only chances for such a treat were trips to visit grandparents and birthdays—the one day on the calendar where requests for sugared cereal were countenanced in-house.

Maybe don't trust people who have their eyebrows on their hat...

Maybe don’t trust people who have their eyebrows on their hat…

My poor parents were forced to turn down requests for Cap’n Crunch for weeks until the big day finally arrived.  The first thing that went awry was the cereal–I guess Cap’n Crunch is supposed to be artificial peanut butter maybe? But whatever that unearthly bletted corn flavor is supposed to be, I found it vile.  The year before I had had Alphabits when I turned four and they were amazing!  Cap’n Crunch was a real disappointment. No matter—the important thing was the toy. We were supposed to wait to eat down to the bottom of the box to retrieve toys, but I abused my birthday privilege to stick my arm through the crunch and finally extract the coveted dolphin!

The only picture I could find of an original Cap'n Crunch

The only picture I could find of an original Cap’n Crunch “Diving Dolphin” toy (I think this might BE the actual size)

Sadly the actual toy was also a disappointing thing, much smaller and more colorless than it was on TV (and, again, the TV was black and white!).  The dolphin came horrifyingly bisected in a little plastic bag and had to be assembled and filled up with sodium hydrogen carbonate (not included), an operation which involved my father and much muttering and forcing of poorly molded plastic injection joints.

Pictured: Fun

Pictured: Fun

We did not have a perfectly shaped transparent toy dolphin tank as pictured in the ad (not included) so the dolphin went into an opaque gray plastic mop bucket.  It sank to the bottom and fell over on its side.  We all stood there for a while as it was gradually wreathed in a milky cloud. Boring, boring time passed—five-year old 1979 time which I will never recover!  About an hour later, the dolphin began to imperceptibly rise (according to my eagle-eyed mother) whereupon I raced off, and the dolphin was pushed into a corner.  Later we looked at it—and it was floating at the top, on its side like a dead goldfish.

The bad toy was swiftly forgotten…except I have not forgotten it.  I remember it more clearly than many of the awesome beautiful thoughtful toys I received later that day.  It was a harbinger—and a warning.

...junk you don't need

…junk you don’t need

Ninety-five percent of consumer products ARE the diving dolphin. They are cheaply made, poorly conceived and useless except for marketing/merchandising purposes.  Most of what you are looking at on the web and on the news are diving dolphins. So is most of what politicians say.  It was hard for me to recognize so much of human endeavor in a little plastic sack beneath the corn-syrup and artificial flavor, but I assure you it is so. Just put any of that junk in a bucket and watch it sink forlornly to the bottom…

Fake peanut butter Flavor Not included

Fake peanut butter Flavor Not included

Of course diving dolphins do not detract from the real things—happiness, friendship, good memories, family, and love. Not unless you let them.

The author and his sister, 1979

The author and his sister, 1979

Whimsical Seascape (Wayne Ferrebee. 2015, watercolor, ink, and colored pencils on paper)

Whimsical Seascape (Wayne Ferrebee. 2015, watercolor, ink, and colored pencils on paper)

My New Year’s resolution wayyyy back in January was to show more of my art.  As with most New Year’s resolutions, I am having a pretty mixed record with that, but at least I have made a great deal more art, and I even had a couple of small local shows.  Anyway, to get back on track, I thought I would show you a piece from a big exciting project I have been working on.  I have been making an ornate & intricate art toy: this is one of the illustrations that goes with it.

I didn’t scan or format this properly. As you can see it’s just lying on my bedspread (I think my cat is just off screen waiting to pounce up and down on it).  However it should interest you because it has a surprising number of Ferrebeekeeper themes which got included by accident because they are always on my mind. A galleon is cutting through the azure waters off of some colonial trading post (probably in Indonesia, though this is really a fantasy piece, and it is hard to say anything for certain).  The European ship is passing a Chinese junk.  Both craft are menaced by a passing colossal squid as an oarfish undulates decoratively in the background.

The principle drama of the composition comes from a volcanic eruption which threatens the trading colony.  The spume of lava and dust from within the Earth is faintly echoed by a passing whale.  My favorite part of the composition is the pelican gobbling up a displaced moth (or maybe a fluttering soul expelled from the fires of the underworld by the eruption).  It is hard to tell whether this is a white pelican or a brown pelican—just like that infernal dress which took over the internet a few weeks ago.

I have no commentary on the frigate bird, the flying fish, or the canoe filled with hapless people being attacked by a giant shark.  You will have to find your own meaning for them.  Likewise, the Easter-egg colored balloon filled with aeronauts is a whimsical and fun addition.  Although I will say that maybe we, the viewers, are meant to identify most with the travelers in the balloon’s basket who are being whirled through this fabulous fantasy landscapes for pure amusement and delight.

Update: The way this is published hideously crops off the right side of my picture! I presume this is part of WordPress’ ongoing quest to make blogging a baffling anti-aesthetic nightmare (seriously, what is up with this new-ish GUI, “beep beep boop”?). Anyway, you can see the actual image (and bigger!) by clicking on it. Sigh…

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Ah the magnificent platypus! I told you the other day that there were other mammals on the list of Ferrebeekeeper top ten blog posts and here is one right now…barely. With its duck-like beak, beaver-like physique (& fur), and egg-based reproduction, the lovable monotreme platypus has been capturing hearts and provoking perplexity ever since it was first discovered by European natural scientists.

The platypus (Ornithorhynchus anatinus)

The platypus (Ornithorhynchus anatinus)

Here at Ferrebeekeeper we concentrated on one of the platypus’ lesser known weird attributes—his scary venomous spur! (I say “he” not to encourage gender stereotypes, but because only the male platypus has venom glands). Of course platypuses are remarkable in so many other ways. Genetic evidence suggests that monotreme lineage dates back to the dawn of the Mesozoic era! These adorable furry egg-laying rapscallions split from early mammalian ancestors back before the ascendancy of the dinosaurs.

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Of course it isn’t just zoologists and paleontologists who are fascinated by platypuses, In my former life as a toymaker, I noticed that all sorts of toys and toy retailer names involved platypuses. Not only was there was “The Purple Platypus” a stylish independent toy store, there were also multitudinous platypus plush creatures. A platypus is the hero of the popular animated show “Phineas and Ferb” (ostensibly a lovable family pet, Perry the platypus is actually “Agent P.”, an international special operative working for OWCA—the Organization Without a Cool Acronym). There was even a platypus figure in the extremely rare “Deluxemorphs” toy set of the now defunct Zoomorphs.

Perry the Platypus AKA "Agent P"

Perry the Platypus AKA “Agent P”

So that our top ten list does not become a stale list of links to old (albeit extremely popular) posts, here is a galley of platypus mascots and adorable platypus cartoons.

Some sort of Business Platypus?

Some sort of Business Platypus?

platypus_logo images Paulie FB PaulieThePlatypusSm platypus46442 platypus

A Platypus was one of the mascots of the Australian Olympics!

A Platypus was one of the mascots of the Australian Olympics!

Look at all of the adorable beaks and flippers! It’s amazing that all mascots aren’t platypuses…

Hey! That's not a mascot--it's original Aboriginal art!

Hey! That’s not a mascot–it’s original Aboriginal art!

 

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