I recently took another intensive, two-day class at Castle in the Air with John McRae and Ulla Milbrath. This time it was for their Nutcracker Sweets theater class, in which we created a wonderland of all kinds of candies and sweet treats for the Mouse King and Sugar Plum Fairy.
The first day started with a large papier mache shell that we draped with brown crepe paper to create the giant bonbon with a bite taken out of it.
The base of the theater was a 16-inch cardboard round, which John and Ulla had covered in decorative silver paper.
We were each given a goody bag filled with all kinds of bits and pieces and spent the first day making all the faux candies and treats for our theater out of them. Ulla and John showed us how to make some basic pieces with spun cotton balls and then we were given free reign to use our imagination to create all kinds of candy. I must say, I was a bit overwhelmed by how much stuff we were given, from assorted spun cotton pieces, to plastic fruit, to wooden chipboard pieces, to cardboard tubes, etc. I am one of those people who do better when given limited supplies than when I’m given lots of supplies. After making a few sweets, I needed to step back and take a look around at what the other students were doing to drum up more ideas for candy.
John helped each of us make this large swirly chocolate candy out of brown velvet cloth draped over a cardboard dome:
I realized after studying John and Ulla’s class sample theater, that the key to adding interesting depth and dimension to my theater would be to vary the textures, colors, heights, and sizes of the faux candies. I started by building pieces up to create skewer-like towers of candy.
Ulla made this one for me:
Some of the spun cotton pieces reminded me of marshmallows, so I made a marshmallow skewer, complete with a pink chick peep.
John had shown us how to create a lollipop by covering a spun cotton ball in colorful velvet and wrapping it in cellophane.
We had Christmas tree-shaped paper cones, which we wrapped in colored foil and decorated.
I didn’t like how the seam for the wrap for this cone looked, so I decided to cover it and decorate the tree with green and red twisted pipe cleaners:
I really liked how the pipe cleaners gave the tree a fun, whimsical look. I realized upon creating this tree that it would be fun to add some more whimsy to the look of my theater. John and Ulla’s sample was very sophisticated in how they decorated it and made the candies. But the addition of the colorful pipe cleaners gave my theater a childlike quality, so I decided to play around with the juxtaposition of sophistication and whimsy – kind of like what would happen if a bunch of Skittles got mixed in with a box of Godiva chocolates :0)
(You know how each person has a signature style that is uniquely hers? Well, after so many years of taking Castle classes, I’ve come to realize that my signature style is childlike and whimsical, so I try to embrace that in all my creative projects).
I think this lollipop is a good example of this juxtaposition. The lollipop is red velvet, and it’s stuck on a gold foil covered base trimmed in red beading, which gives it an elegant presentation. But the lollipop stem is wrapped with a bright green pipe cleaner, which gives the piece a fun, fantasy-land kind of look.
I liked the whole wrapped piped cleaner look so much, that I kind of got carried away with it.
To vary the look a bit, I glittered some of the pipe cleaners I had twisted together into candy canes.
Some of the more “Godiva-looking” candies:
Foil-wrapped chocolates, made with spun cotton balls.
Candy wrapped in metallic paper and cellophane.
Candied fruit made with white glitter and plastic fruit.
When I got home that evening after the first day of class, my mind cleared up a bit and I experimented with some styrofoam balls I had on hand and made a coconut ball and a chocolate truffle.
The coconut ball was a styrofoam ball covered with Golden’s light molding paste, which has a creamy look and consistency. The flakes of coconut were actually shreds of white crepe paper.
The chocolate truffle was actually a styrofoam ball coated with a concoction I had created last year while trying to make fake frosting using spackling compound. It’s a mixture of spackle, craft glue, and paint. I didn’t add enough paint to get the right shade of chocolate brown initially, and the sheen on the truffle looked too matte, so I ended up painting over my truffle with the right shade of brown, which also gave it some sheen.
John had shown us earlier in class how to make a chocolate macaron with the caps of spun cotton mushrooms for the meringues and shredded crepe paper for the filling. I decided to recreate it using some of the brown spackle I had used for my truffle for the filling.
Doesn’t it sort of look like a hamburger?
The next day when we got to class, one of the students, Michelle, showed up with a cake pan full of candies she had spent the night making. They were beautiful and really impressive with all her attention to detail.
I realized upon looking at her tray of candies that Michelle had decorated them with a lot of little flourishes that made them look professionally done.
We all decided as a class that we would continue working on our theaters at home and would not finish putting everything together and gluing all the different elements down, as many of us still had things we wanted to add to our theaters.
We then proceeded to create the rim for our base by gluing a thin strip of wood around the edge of our cardboard round and covering it with trim. I decided to decorate my rim by gluing on some scrapbook paper that I had purchased that morning that had a mint candy pattern on it, instead of using the Dresden trim that everyone else was using. I figured this would be in line with my childlike and playful theme.
The only problem with using the scrapbook paper was that it created visible seams and breaks in the pattern where I had to attach additional strips of paper to make it all the way around the rim.
We then focused on dressing our mice. As they had in their Emperor and Nightingale shadow box class, Ulla and John had made a bunch of mice dolls from old fur coats for us, so that we could concentrate on dressing them.
The Mouse King had a red tailcoat that Ulla cut out for us. We sewed the sleeves on, added the trim, and gathered the waist.
John gave each of us a sword for the King, which I ended up gluing to his left hand. I probably should have glued it to his right hand, as I’m guessing you’re supposed to fence with your right hand rather than with your left.
Ulla had made a pair of glasses out of green wire that I confiscated and placed on my Mouse King. I mean after all, given my purple glasses, shouldn’t my mouse be wearing green glasses?
A king’s gotta see who he’s impaling!
I decided to go for a floral look for my Sugar Plum Fairy. Her dress was a deconstructed silk flower, which I thought went perfectly with the floral trim she’s holding in her hands. I decided not to make ballet slippers for her. But she is standing en pointe in her bare feet.
Since I didn’t finish making all the sweets I wanted to before the class was over, I ended up making a few more pieces at home, including this buche de Noel:
I had taken some brown crepe paper home to use it to wrap some of the other elements I had made for my theater and had noticed that it resembled bark, given its striations. Then when I was looking through my goody bag, I found a couple of mini plastic mushrooms and thought, hey, I can make a buche de Noel. There were some small cardboard tubes that were included in the goody bag which I had used earlier as stands to add height to some of my candies. I took one of the larger ones and used that as the trunk. I trimmed one of the smaller tubes into branches. I then wrapped the trunk and branches separately in the brown crepe paper and painted the paper a chocolate brown color to look like chocolate icing. I glued the branches onto the trunk and then painted the pink-capped plastic mushrooms white to look like meringue and glittered the caps before gluing them onto the yule log.
John and Ulla’s class sample included a stack of chocolate bars for one of the candies. I decided to copy that idea by covering pieces of cardboard rectangles with brown crepe paper, which I then painted a dark brown to mimic the color of chocolate. I wrapped the stack of bars in cardstock that I had punched out in a lace design.
I took two more of the larger cardboard tubes that were in our goody bag and painted them chocolate brown. Then I filled them with a cream filling made with some more of the light molding paste I had used to make the coconut ball earlier. After the filling dried, I wrapped each “cookie” in clear cellophane and decorated the wrapper.
I also decided to wrap some more of my candies in cellophane to mix up the textures.
During class John had continued working on the theater he and Ulla had made as the class sample. I had seen him adding subtle streaks of chocolate brown paint to his giant bonbon shell and had decided to copy him to give my bonbon more depth. Well, what I ended up with was a bonbon that had a leopard print of dark brown spots. So not subtle and looking nothing like John’s! I decided when I was working on my theater at home to paint the entire outside shell of the bonbon the same chocolate brown color. I’m glad I did because it looks a heck of a lot more like a chocolate bonbon than it did with all those leopard spots!
When all the components of my theater was complete, I played around with the placement of the candy and treats. My first attempt ended up looking like a crazy candy hoarder’s stash had exploded onto the theater. I ended up removing some of the candy and rearranging everything until there was a bit of empty space around the feet of the mice. That made a marked difference in the appearance.
Given all the separate components of my theater and the fact that I would be moving my theater in and out of storage, I decided to glue down most of the component pieces to make the whole thing easier to transport. But before I did so, I needed to cut a hole for the light inside the bonbon. John had given each student a Christmas village light cord and had told us to add it to our theater. Leaving the white coating on the bulb would create a cool glow. I wanted a warm glow to emanate from my bonbon, so I scraped off the white coating.
Thankfully, since I had taken a few other classes of John’s in which we had to fit a light cord into our project, I knew what to do. I figured out where I wanted the light to shine and removed everything off the cardboard base of the theater. I cut a hole just big enough for the light bulb to slip through from the bottom.
Then I glued all the different components of my theater down, including the bonbon shell. I decided to leave the mice and a few of the sweets unglued so that they could be picked up and examined, but the majority of the pieces were glued down.
Finally, my Nutcracker Sweets theater is done. With this being the piece de resistance of my Christmas décor, I can now start my holiday decorating!
This was absolutely one of the most fun classes I have ever taken at Castle in the Air. Thank you, Ulla and John, for gracing us with your wonderful imagination and inspiration!
What handmade pieces will you be adding to your holiday décor? Please leave a comment.
(Please note: I have not been paid, nor will I be paid for mentioning Castle in the Air or any of the people in this post. All thoughts and opinions expressed are completely my own).