Autodidact: self-taught


Hocus Pocus – I Put a Spell On You

by V. L. Craven
'Yay! It's my favourite book!'

‘Yay! It’s my favourite book!’

I was a little out of the intended age-range for Hocus Pocus when it was released,but I still enjoyed it. Particularly the party scene.

Bonus random fact time:

Kathy Najimi is always delightful, of course, and she was in Sister Act. Bette was considered for the role that eventually went to Whoopi Goldberg.

Sarah Jessica Parker and Stephen Collins were in Hocus Pocus and First Wives Club with Bette. Parker played Bette’s husband’s new girlfriend. Collins played Diane Keaton’s ex.

Dame Maggie Smith was also in The First Wives Club (and Sister Act) and would go on to play kick-ass witch Professor McGonagall.

At one point in Hocus Pocus Penny and Gary Marshall play a married couple (they’re real-life siblings). Gary Marshall directed Bette in Beaches.

Penny and Gary Marshall

Rosie O’Donnell is a huge Bette Midler fan, as well as a friend of hers. Rosie was directed in A League of Their Own by Penny Marshall and Exit to Eden by Gary Marshall.

Each year Bette also hosts Hulaween, which raises money for the New York Restoration Project and  inspires loads of incredible costumes .


Chocolate Rabbit

by V. L. Craven

Chocolate Rabbit Logo

From the first time I read the opening scene of the fourth act  of Macbeth I’ve always wanted a shelf a dusty vials and jars of questionable contents, labelled with the sorts of things that would make a serial killer blanch. I wanted something unique, but since I have the graphic design skills of a drunken three year old, I figured it would have to exist in the one of the terrifying recesses of my mind. So when I discovered Chocolate Rabbit on Etsy , oh but my dark little heart skipped a few beats.

After looking through her shop I simply had to contact the creator of the labels. Happily, the designer, Betsy, agreed to an interview.

Belladonna Brew

How did you become interested in vintage labels, in general, and designing them, specifically?

I discovered vintage Halloween imagery about 8 years ago and fell in love with how the old stuff was so dark and scary. This was back when Halloween was a holiday for adults. Beistle’s illustrations especially caught my eye with their imps and haggard, fanged witches all done with pen and ink. From there I started really looking at all kinds of colorful ephemera specifically for ornate typography, and the beautiful litho illustrations. The majority was from old holiday postcards and advertising. Even the bad rhymes fascinate me. I’ve always been an artist and have loved beautifully drawn images, pen and ink work, and hand lettering.

I have a rather warped view of things and thought I’d like to experiment at making my own advertisements using the notion that witches and mountebanks were mainstream, and you could buy supplies and their wares in a regular market. I loved the idea of these empowered wise women as entrepreneurs, opening their own companies and producing the old recipes for modern witches in a busy world. it was a fascinating idea, and I started with potion bottle labels. I love the dark, mysterious world. I’ve studied paganism, I’ve researched the ‘old ways’, and have a great deal of respect for men and women who live this passion. I think I must have been a hedge witch in a past life. My current life doesn’t allow me to brew my own potions although I do dance under the moon from time to time.

Witch's Powder

Though the Halloween labels are my favs (obviously) you have an eye for all sorts of designs–do you do graphic design in your professional life or is it something you do for fun?

I’ve done a few custom designs for people. I was asked to make something for the Salem Witch’s Ball. That was pretty cool! Most of my work is for fun though, and the fact that people buy it is really nice.

What are your favourite types of things to design?

My favorites are the Halloween labels. It is the perfect opportunity to mix up the dark and strange with some silliness. I also love the pseudo-Victorian advertisements that I’ve made. The old ads for patent medicines really make me laugh, and I try to incorporate some of that craziness but like to keep the label looking like it could almost be real.

Moonbeam Potion Powders

My husband is a graphic designer–a visual person–while I’m a word person so I can’t picture the process of designing something new. Where do you find inspiration? What’s your creative process look like?

I’m definitely a visual person. When I’m browsing pictures of old labels or advertisements there will be some that just stick out and hit me in the nose…and I think things like “Strichnyne Syllibub…Nettle Nostrum…Hemlock Hotpot…” I know it’s weird. Using the structure of the old labels gives me a great starting off point for my own strange visions.

Something that I enjoy are the names of some of the witches–they’re perfect! How do you come up with them? Do you keep a list of ideas or do they just come to you when designing something?

The witch! I try to use old fashioned Victorian names. It just makes sense to me that the witch next door would be named Hortense or Esme. I think a witch would be more likely to choose something a little dark as a last name. It just goes with the profession…like Grimraven, or maybe she’s just called “Granny so and so” or “Auntie”. My husband had an Aunt Prim. I just love that. My Great Grandmother was Fannie Mayberry – awesome!

Witch Potion Bottle

When you’re being creative do you listen to music?

When I work I listen to audiobooks. My favorites are anything by Dickens, and my favorite but sadly departed Jack Vance the master of SF.

I have to geek out for a second: Dickens is one of my fav authors! Bleak House is my second favourite book ever. Do you have a number one fav?

I LOVE Bleak House. I have to listen to that one again. I also have to confess that I love Mrs. Gamp in Martin Chuzzlewit and her “cowcumbers with vinegar”. My ultimate favorite is anything by Jack Vance. He was an artist at turn of phrase, developing outstanding character machinations, and ending his stories with very satisfying justice for the hero. The Lyonesse Trilogy, and the Dying Earth are favorites. Dickens rocks though and is a very close second.

Blood Plasma Infuser

Does every single thing in your house have an incredible label on it? I’d bet so.

Too funny about the labels! Actually no. My house is more like a work that is most likely not going to progress. I have 2 teenage boys and a husband. That should explain everything.

That’s kind of a bummer. I liked the idea of the dog being labelled ‘Dog’. Do you at least have your own little shelf of odd-looking bottles of potions and tinctures in the house? 

I actually have a collection of ratty looking potion bottles that I made several years ago. I would love to live in a cottage in the woods with a cauldron on the hearth and a few cats. It would have to have air conditioning and and Internet though… I’d label everything if I had a cottage.

Betsy's tins

Tins from Betsy’s house

Your font collection must be impressive. (I love fonts.) How many do you have? Ditto for clipart.

Font hunting is a favorite sport. I have just about every free Victorian-esque font available. My dream is to make my own because it is so hard to find that perfect one when you need it. My image collection is probably more than 50GB worth on my computer and there are more coming in every day. There are some great ephemera groups on Flickr and sometimes the owner of the image lets you play. My laptop is sick and I haven’t been able to open Photoshop for several days. I’m getting shaky and scared.

Just thinking about not being able to use my computer gives me the jim jams. What else is in your digital toolkit?

My tool kit is mostly Photoshop. Sadly it is the wimpy version and not the full strength playground of digital delight. I also have Inkscape the free vector program but I’m trying hard to not hate it so much. If I didn’t have a Mac I’d also run SAI. Oh…and a pair of glasses 🙂

Bottles first set

I used acrylic matte spray to finish them and it aged/bleached the colours on the last three.

I think the first time I came across the idea of ‘eye of newt and toe of frog,’ etc was in the first scene of the second act of Macbeth, where the three witches are doing an extended potion-making. Have you ever considered doing a sort of Weird Sisters Pack of labels with a bunch of things a witch would need for that spell?

The Weird Sisters idea is great and I’m going to get right on it as soon as I get my computer back! [Note: Since this interview was completed, Betsy’s computer has been repaired and the labels have been created and they are fabulous .]

Macbeth Weird Sisters Potions

It’s very cool that you allow people to use your labels on items they sell–your work is such high quality that it alone could be the tipping point for something. Do people ever send you photos of things they’ve put your labels on? If so, what have been the coolest uses of your labels that you’ve seen?

I so wish that people would send me pictures. I hear occasionally what people are going to do with them but never get to see the final product. So sad.

Well, thanks to you, I’ve finally started my first curiosities cabinet –something I’ve wanted to do for ages–and I’ll be posting photos of the potions and such I make using your labels. 

Since you’re into the potions, are you a Slytherin, or would you just do really well in that class? What would your worse class be at Hogwarts (and don’t try to tell me you didn’t attend).

Ah Hogwarts! Slytherin sounds so appealing but I have an annoying sense of honor and need to do the right thing so I probably would have been sorted into Gryffindor or Ravenclaw.
I would have excelled at potions. History of Magic would have been too dry and dusty for me.

History of Magic would have been my worst subject, as well. Thank you for your time. Keep making great art!

You can check out more of Betsy’s incredible art at the links below. And you should. Because it’s awesome.
Etsy Shop


Candy by Katy Towell

by V. L. Craven

It’s Halloween and a child in an angel outfit shows up looking for candy, as you do. The woman who answers the door doesn’t have candy. It’s only two minutes long so I don’t want to ruin the plot, but that lady should have had some candy. The animation is really a precautionary tale about being properly prepared for Halloween.

And I laughed out loud at the end. But I’m demented, so that’s not surprising.

Check out more at . Her creepy cute style makes me happy.


Happy Spooky Day 2012!

by V. L. Craven

Basement Cat Says Happy Halloween


Every Day is Halloween

by V. L. Craven


Well I live with snakes and lizards
And other things that go bump in the night
Cos to me everyday is halloween
I have given up hiding and started to fight
I have started to fight

Well any time, any place, anywhere that I go
All the people seem to stop and stare
They say ‘why are you dressed like it’s halloween?
You look so absurd, you look so obscene’

O, why can’t I live a life for me?
Why should I take the abuse that’s served?
Why can’t they see they’re just like me
It’s the same, it’s the same in the whole wide world
Well I let their teeny minds think
That they’re dealing with someone who is over the brink
And I dress this way just to keep them at bay
Cos halloween is everyday
It’s everyday

O, why can’t I live a life for me?
Why should I take the abuse that’s served?
Why can’t they see they’re just like me
It’s the same, it’s the same in the whole wide world

O, why can’t I live a life for me?
Why should I take the abuse that’s served?
Why can’t they see they’re just like me
I’m not the one that’s so absurd

Why hide it?
Why fight it?
Hurt feelings
Best to stop feeling hurt
From denials, reprisals
It’s the same it’s the same in the whole wide world

© Warner/Chappell Music, Inc.

**I’ve changed the name of the song in the title, because the correct wording is ‘every day’, meaning each day, rather than the actual title of the song, which is ‘everyday’ meaning commonplace.


Best Places to Visit with the Dead

by V. L. Craven

These links miss out the Necropolis in Glasgow, but it’s definitely worth the trip.

From National Geographic: Top 10 Cemeteries (in the world)

Merry Cemetery, Romania

Xoxocotlan, Oaxaca, Mexico: Where Day of the Dead celebrations are held October 31.

Old Jewish Cemetery , Prague. There are so many headstones because people are buried several deep and has been in use since the 15th century. Here’s a wallpaper-sized photo for you:

Several of these appear on the following list, as well.

From 15 Must-See Historic Cemeteries Across the U.S.

An excellent article on the whole (there are some technical difficulties, and you may have to manually change the page number in your address bar, but it’s worth it), it includes Mount Auburn Cemetery in Cambridge, Massachusetts, which is very Victorian in design and would therefore delight Goths. Surrounded by gardens and ornamentation, it’s the sort of place one could go for a peaceful picnic or a bit of reading.

Oakland Cemetery in Atlanta, Georgia has what you’d expect in a world-class cemetery–above-ground vaults and impressive sculpture, but what really makes it stand out is that at Halloween, they hold candle-lit night-time tours for three nights.

If you’re closer to New York than Atlanta, another cemetery that has late-night tours you may stop by Woodlawn Cemetery in the Bronx.

Graceland Cemetery , Chicago, Illinois. Victorian-esque again, but this one is home to one of my favourite sculptures, ‘Eternal Silence’

The tomb of Dexter Graves, also known as ‘Statue of Death’, though heavens knows why.

Green-Wood Cemetery , Brooklyn, NY Holy Gothic-Architecture, Batman! If I lived anywhere near this place, I’d dress as an Edward Gorey character and drape myself along a wall or five and have photos taken.

Sleepy Hollow Cemetery , Concord, Massachusetts. It’s in Sleepy Hollow.


Fun Films for October 2

by V. L. Craven

If gore and abject terror aren’t to your taste–if you only need a murky atmosphere and a castle to get you in the spooky mood, then here are a few films perfect for October.

Haunted Honeymoon is a classic. Gene Wilder, Gilda Radner, Dom Deluise and several others are members of a radio show called Manhattan Mystery Theatre. Since Wilder and Radner became engaged, Wilder has developed a stutter brought on by fear of matrimony after his mother’s death at her second marriage. A stutter and uncontrollable laughing or crying is a career killer for a radio actor who has finally caught a break.

But! A psychiatrist has a plan–to scare the bejeezus out of Wilder. Overloading the circuits, as it were. The couple is going to Wilder’s family home to meet everyone at the weekend and the psychiatrist plans to use the scary-ass atmosphere to ‘fix’ his problem.

Simultaneously, Aunt Kate–the matriarch of the family–has changed her will to benefit Wilder. This is supposed to be a secret, but of course someone finds out. Both of Wilder’s brothers need money desperately and have excellent motif for killing him and the women in their lives do, as well… how much of the creepiness is the psychiatrist trying to help and how much is someone trying to off the poor schlub in order to get his money?

Though the entire movie is great fun, this is my favourite part:

This was my first exposure to the concept of sound effects–you get to see how radio technicians work–and it holds up remarkably well for something I found enormously entertaining when I was eight. This one is good for the entire family.




Fun Facts: The woman who plays the wife of the magician, Jo Ross, played Camilla in a TV mini-series about Charles and Diana that was made in 1982.

Haunted Honeymoon was filmed at Knebworth House. Knebworth? Really? Look at this place:

‘Knebworth’ is the name of the spotty kid who got wedgied every day until he went to university, not the physical manifestation of ‘I have money and I’m staying right here’.


Fun Films for October 1

by V. L. Craven

Halloween been my favourite time of year since I was small. One of my earliest film obsessions (meaning I watched it at least a dozen times each October) was The Worst Witch. Diana Rigg, Charlotte Rae (Mrs. Garrett from Facts of Life) and Tim Curry, along with a very young Fairuza Balk are brilliant in this campy tale of a hopeless young witch.

J.K. Rowling must have seen this movie at least once before writing Harry Potter, as the similarities are obvious.

And of course, one can’t talk about The Worst Witch without mentioning the best scene:


Apparently, all she needed was a little confidence because Fairuza grew out of her awkward witch phase into a quite competent, if terrifying, witch as seen in The Craft, another fun film for October.

Besides her smashing Goth sense of fashion, Miss Balk owns this role as the leader of a trio of girls at a Catholic High School dabbling in witchcraft who bring into the group a new girl with a dark past. Sort of Mean Girls with pentagrams.


…As I Pondered, Weak and Weary

by V. L. Craven

Since it’s the beginning of October, I thought I’d tell you about Dahlia Jane.

Dahlia Jane is a warped young woman who likes creepy things, black and white stripes and keeping a blog.

For Dahlia Jane every day is Halloween.

Her site is Upon a Midnight Dreary . It is a blog devoted to all things gothic and macabre.

She posts about gothy clothes , decor and clothing the Addams family would love, goes to art shows , special effects exhibits and other great places like Alcatraz . Then she writes about it and shares it with us lucky people.

I’ve purchased several things she’s posted (my wallet does not thank you, Madam) and love being able to virtually visit places I’d never be able to on my own. It was her post about Dearly Departed Hollywood Tragical History Tour that led me to Six Degrees of Helter Skelter. I have no strong feelings about Charles Manson one way or another, but the documentary was still excellent.

And she has a countdown to Halloween on her blog. Year round.

So you should go there and be delighted.


Spooky Kitty

by V. L. Craven

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