yuletide ukelele


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.


fake plastic tree

Xmas Living Room 2019
Different times, before the Shelter-in-Place, before the downstairs flood, before a lot of things, last Christmas in the living room. Our little fake plastic Christmas tree. Drawn on the iPad which is the first time I can draw the tree and not have to leave little spaces for the lights and ornaments, I just draw them on top digitally. One of my cats looks on. The cats aren’t talking at the moment; one of them got sick last week (he actually had to go to hospital overnight, poor thing), and now the other one won’t go near him without hissing. Hopefully once the house is back in shape they can all get along nicely again. Cats eh, it’s almost like they’re a whole different species. On the wall in the background you can make out the various advent calendars I have made over the years for my son. I made another one last Christmas, this year it was Hawaii themed, because we were going to spend Christmas in Hawaii. Those sketches will be posted soon. Seems like a million years ago. Anyway, the Hawaii advent calendar is below. I drew it on the iPad while flying back from England at the start of December (so it was a couple of days late), trying to grapple with Procreate while squeezed into a narrow seat in the dark with a large man with big elbows sat to my right, while also suffering with a stinging nose. I was looking forward to Hawaii! Be nice to be there now, with a Mai Tai and my ukulele. IMG_6385

I wish I had an advent calendar counting down the days until the Shelter-In-Place is over. Actually I now call it the “Global Coronavirus Shared Experience”, or “GCSE”.


Harry Christmas!


Each year, I make my son an advent calendar. They have been getting more elaborate each year, and always themed differently. Behind each window I put a selection of images of things that he has been interested in during that year – the one when he was three for example had Bob the Builder, Fireman Sam, Poppy Cat etc, while now it’s more Minecraft, Pokemon, Harry Potter etc. We read the Harry Potter books together this year, one after the other, followed by the movies, and he is a huge Potter fan now; we even visited the Warner Bros Studios “Harry Potter Tour” outside London last month, touring the sets where they filmed the movies, which was amazing. So it made sense then that this year I should make a Harry Potter themed advent calendar. And here it is!

This one was bigger and more complicated than I have made before, drawn in pen and coloured with a mixture of watercolour. As you can see, it opens out into a larger scene with Hogwarts in the background. The first panel, when it’s all closed up, is the Hogwarts Express, opening up to then reveal Hogsmeade, opening up to reveal the Forbidden Forest, the Black Lake, and a magical view of the Great Hall. I started drawing this at the beginning of November, and had about four fifths of it drawn before taking a break for our Thanksgiving trip to London. I finished it when I got back, painting it physically, scanning it, colouring part of it digitally and stitching it together, before printing it, cutting the windows with a perforator, adding the images behind each window (oh, and it does have a window nine-and-three-quarters between windows 9 and 10), gluing it onto some left over mat board from another project, and managing somehow to get it all done for December 1st. Well, about 2am on December 2nd. Yeah, it took a while and was ultimately a day late but it was well worth it. My son loved it, and was totally surprised, having not seen it at all in progress. This is the sixth advent calendar I have made for him, and already I’m thinking about next year…


christmas is coming…

advent calendar 2011

This year I drew an Advent Calendar for my son. It’s approximately 13″ x 11″ in size, and was drawn on the saturday after Thanksgiving when we got back to Davis, and were feeling all Christmassy. It has been a big hit, to say the least! Behind the windows are pictures of my son’s favourite things (tv characters, cartoons etc). I drew it on two or three sheets of watercolour paper which I then cut and collaged togather, against a background of black construction paper. It’s all coloured with watercolours and drawn in uniball vision micro pen.

Merry Christmas!!