I know it’s nearly Spring Break, but since we are still catching up with the end of 2022, here’s something that took up a lot of my time last November. Every year, I make an advent calendar for my son, and every year I feel like I have to outdo the previous year, or if not outdo, then at least do something different. Last year I didn’t make a calendar so much as painted Studio Ghibli images onto 24 round plastic baubles, filled with coloured paper and candy, and placed them on a small tinsel tree. This year, my son has gotten into playing the ukulele in a big way, so I decided that would be the theme for this year. I would make a ukulele shaped calendar. Then as that idea got itself into complicated knots, I realized, why not make an advent calendar out of a real ukulele? I had a cheap one lying in the cupboard that I bought at an ABC store on Maui a few years ago, when I was desperate for a ukulele to play on the beach but had left my nice Luna one at home. I think it was about $25. It plays fine too. I thought about putting an LED light inside and covering the palm-tree shaped opening with a coloured gel, so that it would act like a lamp when hung on the wall. I tried that out, but in the end never added the LED due. It’s an idea I’ll still explore though, I like the idea of hanging playable ukuleles on the wall that can also act as colourful lamps. Now because I’d had so much fun last year painting with acrylics in tiny detail on curved plastic surfaces, I just knew that was the way to go with this project. It was still trial and error though, and the smooth lacquered wooden surface, once painted over, never got as smooth again, though I did add layers of acrylic varnish to make it shine a bit. This was a lot of work, but a lot of fun.
But an Advent Calendar needs windows, and how was I going to do that by just painting the wood? I didn’t want to cut windows into the uke – it’s a soprano, small enough already, windows would basically destroy it. What would be behind the windows? When my son was little I would add in pictures of the things he was interested in that year, TV shows, our cats, places we had been. I’ve created a few with candies and stuff inside window boxes, impossible on this one. I decided I would do two things: add scenes from our favourite Christmas movies and shows, the ones we always watch, but painted on in acrylic rather than stuck on. I would also, around the edge, add in the names of Christmas songs that could be learned and played on the ukulele. That meant this would take aaaaages, but that was a lot of fun. In the end I decided to do a third thing – there would be a holiday song to play for every day, 24 in total, with chords and lyrics printed onto a small piece of paper that would also be behind the window, whatever the window itself would be. I spent a lot of time making those, figuring out the chords, getting them in the right key. But how will those go behind windows? I decided to use round stickers, with little tabs beneath them to easily pull them off. The stickers should stick easily to the acrylic and be removable without peeling off any paint (ever tried to remove acrylic paint from a plastic palette? That takes a bit more effort than a little sticker). That totally worked. However, try as I might, I could not add the songs, no matter how small I printed them, with those behind the stickers the sticker would not stay in place, especially on the curved edges. So, I decided to put the songs, along with a little candy snack, into the windows of the old 2020 advent calendar, the one designed to be a model of our house. For the ukulele, it would just be the reveal of the images, but I really had fun painting those. I’m not going to show you all those (I always keep them just for us!) but here are some of them. I loved doing the Home Alone window, with the iron mark on one of the Wet Bandit’s face, and I was dreading attempting to draw the flippin’ Polar Express onto a tiny little circle, but I was really pleased with the result. The Feliz Navidad image was nice and simple, and also based on the logo of Red Star Paris (and my wife got me a Red Star Paris football shirt for Christmas). You can see below also the in-progress painting of the front, which I did last, but started with all the Hawaiian hibiscus flowers, and there are the snow-people on the beach, who first made an appearance in the hastily-drawn 2019 Hawaiian advent calendar (drawn on my iPad on a flight back from England).
It was a success, and my son and wife both loved it. And yes, we even played some festive songs on it, though I’m not sure how many of the Christmas tunes my son actually learned, but he’s getting really good at the ukulele, and is now getting pretty skilled with the guitar too. It’s good to have a bit of music and a bit of Hawaii in your life.