Monday, October 5, 2015

Last Week

I spent a pretty productive week in the studio, still exploring encaustic wax and paints.

I'm experimenting with color and moving the wax, seeing what kinds of effects I can achieve with the application of heat.

Trying out inks underneath and on top of the wax.

Layering Stacked Journaling by painting it and then burying it under layers of encaustic medium (clear wax.)

All of my encaustic work lately has been on cradled wooden boards, which I absolutely love. Some are more perfect than others, however. Recently, I scored a huge box full of unfinished maple blocks of wood that are normally used to mount rubber stamps. My neighbor had them (and many more that I didn't buy) for 5.00.

I've found them to be incredibly smooth and receptive to the wax, with a beautiful grain running through them, and lovely curved edges.

They are all small, meant to be hand-held, and should make for some interesting modular paintings. They're going to be a blast to work with, which will be this week's task.

Until next time, create with fun!

Wednesday, September 16, 2015

Ver. 2.0

Last year, I sold this piece.

A 12"x24" painting on paper, mounted on a wooden cradleboard, painted with acrylics. I loved it. So did my husband, who- while happy for me- was a little crushed that it would be leaving us. It was also a fan favorite, and inquired about frequently. I loved having it in my collection, but what's the point of making art if you're not going to let anyone else own it?

I had sold it to a local gentleman though my blog. He sent his wife to pay me and collect the work. On the day she arrived, I had my studio thrown wide open and my husband and I were both puttering around the space. The woman pulled up in front, got out of her truck, and stomped up to the studio, 5-year-old ankle biter in tow. She didn't look happy. In her hand was a wad of cash.

My husband and I, tireless curators and referees of my work, looked at each other, and yellow flags started flying onto the field between us: she looked like she was arriving at a garage sale.

I took her over to where the painting hung, and she frowned at it- not exactly the reaction an artist hopes to get, but it happens from time to time.

"It's so small," she said. Her frown deepened. Her brat, meanwhile, was all over the studio, touching everything and spreading his little boy germs everywhere.

"I didn't expect it to be so small!" She turned to me like I'd kicked her. I could see her thoughts as if they were flashing in neon, nailed to her forehead: 'Why does something so small cost so much??' This was not an art lover- this was a bargain hunter, proud of her ability to suss out a good deal from a bad one. This, in her mind, was clearly a bad deal.

"I told your husband the dimensions when I sold it to him." I refused to apologize for one of the coolest, and most popular, paintings I'd done all year.

She just kept frowning, looking at it. Frowning.

My husband and I exchanged glances again. Red flags now, all over the field.

Hoping she would take the chance to flee, I asked her if she'd like to think about it. Maybe talk to her husband again.

Snatching up her sprog's hand, she stomped back to her truck and got in. Minutes passed. More. More. My hopes began to rise that she would just start her vehicle and drive off in it. I was really beginning to regret selling my work to these people.

Maybe 15 minutes later, she got out of the truck, stomped back to me, shoved the money into my hand and grabbed the painting off the wall.

Desperate, I said to her retreating back, "If you ever decide you don't want it anymore, PLEASE don't throw it away, call me and I will buy it back from you!" And she was gone. I've never heard another word from either she or her husband but I suspect that one day soon, my painting will wind up in a garage sale. She'll feel fortunate to get 2.00 for it.

After that nasty episode, I decided I wanted to recreate the work- maybe not exactly, but certainly I hoped to make a piece of art that evoked the original. Only, I wanted this one to be bigger.

Enter this massive bad boy.

All 48"x60"x2.5" of it. I'd started it, worked on it, hated it, abandoned it. Every time I had to move it out of the way, I hated it a little more. Finally, I reached critical mass on the hatred, and back up onto the painting wall it went.

I lightly washed it with gesso, not wanting to totally obliterate what was underneath. (My color palette? Yes! My Stacked Journaling? Yes! What's not to like?) Then I began applying color.

(I love the way the text keeps insisting on peeking through.)

I began applying the bold strokes of color with a large paint brush and then refined the edges by dabbing paint onto damp baby wipes and buffing that into the canvas. That allowed me to get soft color transitions, as well as to mix the paint directly onto the canvas. I was both removing and adding paint at the same time. The whole piece got several layers of paint in this way, building up texture and interest.

Then, using a photo of the original work as a reference, I began creating bold line work.

I didn't want an exact replica of the smaller piece, but again, I wanted to evoke the same feeling. I'm not gonna lie to you- on this scale, it got a little tedious and my arms became achy and tired (the painting hung on the wall the entire time I was painting it.)

Finally, the black line work was complete.

I could have left it at that, and certainly my arms and shoulders voted for that, too, but I wasn't satisfied. I wanted to pop both the line work and the color palette with white accents.

If you're wondering if I flipped the painting upside down, you're perceptive- I did, several times. With a canvas this large, it tends to hang almost to the floor and physically becomes awkward to paint on. I often paint for a while, turn the canvas, paint for a while longer, and so on.

Finally, to give the canvas a little finesse, I added smaller line work in black.

("Ver. 2.0", acrylic paint on stretched canvas, 48"x60"x2.5")

Here are a couple of close-ups so you can see the detail.

I've had my nose pressed up against this painting for days and I still love it. It was a lot of fun seeing and highlighting the way the colors combined on the canvas- acrylic paint is always a surprise to me, no matter how many years I work with it.

This piece is for sale, and I'm willing to ship it within the US (I'm sorry, the shipping overseas would cost as much as the painting alone would!) Please contact me privately, if interested.

And no, I haven't forgotten or abandoned encaustics! Here is a piece I've recently completed. Encaustic paint on wooden cradled hardboard, 12"x24".

It's time to take the rest of the week and the weekend off! Until next time, create with large fun!

Wednesday, August 12, 2015

Family By The Numbers

Last week and this week, I've been working on a bunch of 12"x12" cradled panels.

When my father died, I inherited some documentation that my grandmother saved- a bunch of deeds and old hand-written letters, tax records, and accounting books she kept when she was a grocer back in the 40's-50's-60's.

I began collaging bits and pieces of the financial documents into clear encaustic medium, building up layers and letting the old paper become transparent with the application of heated wax. I spent a lot of time thinking about these documents as I worked with them, wondering why my grandmother had kept them for so many decades. Was it pride? A sense of the need to preserve family history? Was it simply that she believed they may be important to some government agency in the future? And why give them to my father, the one son she raised who couldn't hold onto a dime long enough to put it in the bank? Was she sending a message to him or was it mere coincidence that he wound up with them and not one of his brothers?

I'll never know the answer to any of these questions, but building work around them was fascinating and something I will continue to do.

This is the first piece in what will probably become a small series. In it, I finished off the work with a hand-written letter from to my daughter, as well as a replica of schematics from my husband's profession. This is meant to be a present for our daughter and her husband to hang in their new home.

Truthfully, though, I'm not crazy about the composition or the color, which masks too much of the lovely patina of the original documents.

So I tightened up the composition on the next piece, cutting the accounting pages into narrow strips and adhering them to a piece of painted printmaker's paper. I then adhered the collage to a cradled birch board, and began applying layers of encaustic medium (clear). I'm much happier with this piece.

I love that the collage has so much of my grandmother's handwriting captured in it.

I also played some with trying to create imagery with alcohol inks buried inside of, and laying on top of, encaustic paintings.

Ever critical of my own work (and no, I don't think that's a bad thing- I give myself constructive criticism, something I feel is important), this piece is a little busy... while I love the top motif, the encaustic wax didn't bury the background imagery nearly as deeply as I'd hoped. Something to work on in the future!

Lastly, an experiment in a new (for me) medium, called Crack!

This is a super-hard encaustic medium by Evans Encaustics that will form cracks and crevasses on the surface of an encaustic painting.  It is meant to be the last layer of wax applied to a given piece of art. In this piece, I used rusted tissue and glazes of encaustic paint to create my substrate, and then applied a lightly colored layer of Crack! before fusing the whole thing and letting it cool to allow the cracks to form. Then I buffed phthalo turquoise pigment stick into the surface to make the cracks pop.


I'm pleased with the result. 

Hopefully, I'll have more completed work to show you next week! In the meantime, paint your history! 

Saturday, July 25, 2015

Working, Waiting, Wishing

It's only July and I can tell you with full authority that it's been a long year. That's partially the reason for my absence from my much-beloved blogging, but there are other, more artistic reasons for my silence, as well.

(Note: if you're only interested in the artsy eye candy, I totally get you... feel free to scroll down!)

In early May, we hosted a large party for our daughter, one that we had been planning for many, many months. Fun, food, family and friendship, all in one happy package.

Losing my dad on January 1 was the end of a long journey of caring for him and worrying about his future. We concluded our responsibility to him in May: we took him back to his home state of Pennsylvania and buried him in a small, remote, family cemetery.

We returned home and I took up my yearly watch for spring, which came very late in Texas. I revitalize in spring and summer. I need the sunshine and fresh air and bright colors of summer to pull me through the gray, wet winters, and like a watched pot that refuses to boil, spring waited me out. Finally, several weeks ago, bypassing spring altogether, the weather went directly into hot, sultry summer and I rejoiced by spending time in the pool and having fun with my hubby on the weekends.

And then a couple of weeks ago, I sprung a leak. So to speak. I've developed a large umbilical hernia which needs surgery to repair. It's not a big, scary kind of surgery, the complications are almost non-existent even with someone my age (51) and weight (none of yer damned business!) but it's still abdominal surgery and I'll have a long recovery afterwards.

All of that leads me to the fun stuff... the art! As I've discussed before, back at the beginning of the year, I received my Christmas present to myself: a whole new medium to try out and a new way of looking at art through encaustic (melted, pigmented wax) and oil paint.

This is a deep learning curve for me (as evidenced by the three bad burns I've already given myself since January!) and that is my main reason for not posting much on my blog anymore: I really just want time to learn and play and make without having to spend too much time talking about it. At some point when I start to feel comfortable with the medium, I will talk more about it, show process photos, and maybe even offer a basic tutorial or two, but in the meantime, I'm just working and enjoying the process.

A few weeks back (maybe the beginnings of my hernia problems? Hmm...) I finally put aside all the acrylic paints and tools and gave encaustics and oils my full attention. The studio conversion took a couple of days but was a badly needed step to committing to this new medium.

Before... crowded and not very functional...

After... wide open, well organized spaces!

The work itself has been fun, refreshing, and inspiring. I've been testing out all kinds of techniques and using new tools to achieve pattern, texture, and movement. Here are some of the pieces I've completed.

A few works on small canvas panels that experiment with tissue collage, India inks, and oil pastels, as well as encaustic paint. 

A black and white series, again on the small canvas substrates.

Bringing my beloved color palette back with alcohol ink and jumbo-sized Stacked Journaling...

And finally, some larger work on cradled birch panels incorporating oil sticks and pages from my grandmother's accounting journals (she was a grocer back in the 50's)...

In preparation for my surgery and recovery, I've ordered quite a lot of supplies to tide me over... more cradled panels, a pack of "patina" paints I hope to incorporate, an encaustic "crackle" medium, and some new carving tools for making stencils. I'm really looking forward to having time to spend playing and learning, and I appreciate everyone's patience (and your continued interest in this mostly quiet blog!) as I explore this new passion.

Happy painting!

Thursday, July 23, 2015

Treasure Hunt: Stamp-Making Tutorial!

 (Hearts Afire, 12" x 12", hand-carved stamps on heavy watercolor paper, 2007)

Seth Apter, of The Altered page, is hosting his annual event, "Treasure Hunt", today. The idea is that bloggers dig up their favorite posts from the past and repost them today. Please pop by his page today and check out all the other bloggers who are participating! 

This tutorial- now just over 5 years old- is one of my enduring favorites and still the one that gets the most hits, year in and year out. With over 100K hits, and thousands of copies sold online, I thought it would be appropriate to repost it today. I hope you enjoy! 

(This tutorial can also be purchased as an e-book from both and Barnes and Nobel.)

Every artist needs primary source material. Primary source material is original images, sketches, drawings and photographs that the artist herself has generated without the aid of any outside sources. In other words, the shot you snapped of light reflecting off water, the sketch you made of your kitty, or the watercolor landscape you painted a few years ago is your primary source material.

Finding PSM becomes challenging (and often disheartening) if you're an artist like me who doesn't draw. I probably could draw. I've certainly doodled enough; I even took a face-painting class once and wasn't utterly mortified by my results. But generally speaking, I know next to nothing about drawing, shading, light sources and all the other mysterious, magical elements figurative artists must understand to create art capable of moving us.

That very fact alone nearly stopped me dead in my tracks years ago, when the desire for making art began to bubble inside me in earnest. I knew I needed original source material, I wanted it; from the beginning, I have been loathe to use anyone else's images or ideas in my own work. It feels wrong to me on a profound level, despite the intellectual understanding that there are "angel" companies out there that invite you to use their images, designs and artwork in your own artwork.

So how does an artist who can't, don't, or won't draw get original imagery into their art? Stamps, of course. And the best part is that they're easy to make, use and clean. Storing all the wonderful stamps you're likely to create in your lifetime is up to you, though- it's still something I struggle with myself!

Let's get to it. We'll start with one of the easiest and cheapest stamping materials you can use... 

Corrugated Cardboard Stamps

What You'll Need:
- 3-ply corrugated cardboard, recycled from old boxes or purchased in cut sheets at a local shipping store.

My favorite cardboard to work with for making stamps is 3-ply, which means it has three layers of flat, brown paper sandwiched between two layers of corrugation.

What You'll Do:

- For simple, clean line work, carefully peel off all the paper from one side of the cardboard only, revealing the corrugation underneath. For something a little messy and edgy, leave some areas of the paper intact and unearth only a little of the corrugation.
- To preserve these stamps for years (yes, literally years), paint them on all sides with a couple of thin coats of Gesso or acrylic craft paint. It will help stiffen the cardboard and also make the stamps cleanable with a slightly damp cloth (I keep baby wipes next to me in the studio at all time for jobs like this- and don't throw them out when you're done cleaning up- treat them as any other painted textile and use them in your work!) When the stamps eventually start to break down, celebrate their noble disintegration and continue using them... these are texture tools and any texture they give is a gift.
- To use: with a craft stick load a small sponge with craft or textile paint and gently pat the paint into the stamp. (The best sponges for this are sold in the automotive department and are usually large- use scissors to cut them down to any size you want- and yellow. These sponges can be important tools in your arsenal because they stay soft when dry despite repeated usage, but can also be used very effectively when damp.)

- Press firmly onto dry or damp paper or fabric and lift straight up. If you want a less crisp image, use your sponge to blur the image a little, rubbing over it very lightly until you're satisfied.
-Try using the backs and the edges or your cardboard stamp, too!

- And for something really fun, cut out simple shapes from cardstock or copy paper and place them down on the paper or fabric you're going to stamp. Load your stamp with paint as described above and then stamp on top of the shapes. The shapes will probably stick to the stamp, so peel them off, turn them over onto your fabric, and use them to take a "monoprint"!

To Clean: wipe gently with a damp cloth

Continuous Roller Stamps

Some of my favorite stamps to make and use are continuous roller stamps. A continuous roller stamp can be made out of any sturdy cylindrical object (except glass, please- safety first!)

What You'll Need:
- "Fun Foam" self-adhesive sheets
- "Fun Foam" self-adhesive shapes (sold in buckets in the childrens' aisle at the craft store.

- Scissors, sharp craft or utility knife, hole punches with various shapes.
- Cardboard mailing tubes, old acrylic brayers and rollers (used for rolling out poly clay), recycled lint rollers, wallpaper seam rollers, even old rolling pins from the thrift store!

What You'll Do:

- Make sure your roller is free of dust and lint by wiping with a damp cloth.
- For pre-cut shapes: peel the paper backing off the shape, exposing the adhesive, and press onto your roller in any pattern or configuration you like. Press firmly to ensure adhesion. I know it seems like these little foam bits will never remain stuck to your roller stamp, and on rare occasions one will pop off, but in general they adhere incredibly well and will stay put for years of usage.
- For fun foam self-adhesive sheets, simply cut any shape you like and stick it to your roller, pressing firmly. You can get remarkably fine detail and narrow shapes with the foam if you cut it with a very sharp blade.
- For use with hole punches, simply cut off a piece of fun foam from a sheet and start punching holes into it. Preserve each small piece as it comes out of the punch, peel the backing off each one, and firmly press them onto your roller.

- I use tweezers to pull the release paper off the back of the fun foam shapes. And if getting the tiny shapes out of your hole punch is as much as a challenge for you as it always is for me, use a pair of pliers to snap off the "lid" of the chamber that holds the scraps.

- And don't forget to save the fun foam out of which you punched your shapes! Adhere it to a piece of cardboard or foamcore and you have a whole other stamp!

- To "ink" these stamps up, load a dry sponge with paint as described above and then "roller" over it until your stamp is wet with paint. 

To Clean: roller gently on a damp cloth

Foam Printing Plates

What You'll Need:

- Scrap foam core board OR,
- Recycled styrene meat plates
- Pencil or ball-point pen
- Sharp craft or utility knife

What You'll Do:

- If using foam core (recommended for its durability and strength), cut a piece the size of the stamp you want to carve and remove the paper from ONE side only of the foam core. If the paper is stubborn, you can soak it with a little water, but usually the paper just peels right off. You'll be cutting into the foam side of your altered foam core board.


- If using a foam meat plate (the kind the grocery stores use under hamburger meat and steaks, etc), cut the plate to the desired size.
- Once your foam plate or foam core board is prepared, use a pen or pencil to lightly score the surface of the foam in the design you want. You can do this freehand, or you can print your favorite design on copy paper, cut it to the same size as your foam plate and hold it on top of the plate and score lightly through the lines into the foam below. If using a template, remove it and using your score lines as a guide, carefully cut with the craft knife into the foam along your score lines, deepening them. Be very careful not to cut all the way through the foam core paper backing or the stamp may fall apart!
- Load with paint and stamp!

To Clean: wipe gently with a damp cloth

Foam Core And Fun Foam Stamp


What You'll Need:

- foam core board, OR heavy cardboard, OR heavy bookboard, cut to any size and shape you like
- sharp scissors or craft knife

What You'll Do:

- When using pre-cut shapes, press shapes firmly onto form core board or cardboard. That's it! 
-Remember: you can cut up the pre-cut shapes and configure them in any way you like- a heart doesn't have to be a heart, it can be a curvy abstract shape... and large shapes can be "hollowed out" by cutting into them with a sharp craft knife and removing some of the foam!
- When using sheets of fun foam, cut any shape or design you like, and press them firmly to the foam core board or cardboard.
- If you like, you can prime these stamps with Gesso to help with their longevity, but I've always found that just using them with acrylic paints is enough to strengthen them.

To Clean: wipe gently with a damp cloth

Foam Core and Hot Glue Stamps:

What You'll Need: 
- Foam Core Board or Cardboard
- Hot Glue Gun (low melt is also fine)

What You'll Do:
- Cut foam core or cardboard to any shape and size.
- Heat hot glue gun and load with a glue stick. (NEVER TOUCH THE BUSINESS END OF A GLUE GUN WHEN IT'S HOT!)
- If you prefer, sketch or transfer a design on the foam core.
- Once the glue is molten and flowing easily, slowly trace your sketch lines, or free-hand a design in glue onto the foam core. 
- Let cool until set and use!

To Clean: wipe gently with a damp cloth 

Magic Foam Stamps

What You'll Need:

- Magic Foam Sheets OR Magic Foam Shapes (Please note! This is NOT the same product as Fun Foam! Magic Foam and Fun Foam are NOT interchangeable!)
- Craft Heat Gun
- Sharp Scissors
- rubber bands, twist ties, bubble wrap, plastic mesh, or anything you can think of! 


What You'll Do:
- If cutting Magic Foam sheets, use sharp scissors to create any size or shape you like.
- On a solid surface, arrange your rubber bands or other items in whatever way pleases you.
- CAREFULLY warm the Magic Foam with the heat gun. I move the heat around on the Magic Foam for about 30 seconds.
- Without delay, press into your arranged items with the warmed side of the foam. Hold the foam in place, keeping steady, strong pressure on it without shifting it around (which would create hesitant, insipid marks), for about 20-30 seconds.
- Lift Magic Foam off arranged items. Your stamp is now ready to use.

- The wonderful thing about this product is that when it's re-warmed, the impression on it will disappear, leaving you with a fresh surface on which to impress another design! They can be re-used like this endlessly.
- Try impressing the magic foam with one of your own carved stamps for a reverse image!


-Here I started with an old Magic Foam impression I was ready to change. I heated the foam and pressed it into the wood block stamp.


Voila! A new stamp!

To Clean: wipe gently with a damp cloth

Wood Block And Fun Foam Stamps

What You'll Need: 
- plywood scraps in any shape or size
- Fun Foam self-adhesive sheets or shapes
- Sharp craft blade

What You'll Do:
- If using foam shapes, simply place the shapes in any configuration you like. The stamp is ready to use!
- If using foam sheets, peel the release paper off the back to reveal the adhesive and adhere to the wood block. The wood doesn't need to be sanded or primed for this, but it should be dust-free.
- Carve into the foam, creating any design or shape you like, and peel off any unwanted pieces of foam. This will dull your blade after a while so if you're doing a large stamp, you may need to change blades!

- If at any time you want to change your image (and I've even done this YEARS after creating a stamp), use a new, sharp blade and cut away any of the image you don't want. Peel off the unwanted bits and discard. 

To Clean: wipe gently with a damp cloth.

MasterCarve Stamps

What You'll Need:

- MasterCarve Artist Carving Blocks, OR Lino Printing Blocks, OR inexpensive gum erasers in any size or shape.
- Carving tools or a sharp craft knife.


What You'll Do:

- Sketch or transfer an image to the Carving block using pencil or pen. 

- IMPORTANT! Read the material packaged with your cutting tools to learn how to change blades safely! They are incredibly sharp tools that can cut very deeply, very quickly!
- Using a "V-shaped" cutting blade and being very careful to always PUSH the tool away from you rather than pulling it towards you, sink the blade into the rubber block and begin carving. If you want to print an image of the negative space around your design, cut along the lines. If you want a positive image of your design, cut outside the lines and remove all excess material. 

-(Here, of course, I carved a stamp to print the negative space around my design.)
- If you want to carve letters and words, be sure to transfer the design (or sketch it) onto your block backwards!

To Clean: wipe gently with a damp cloth.

Helpful Tips

- Take care of your stamps, but don't obsess about keeping every speck of paint or ink off of them. The more acrylic that builds on them, the more interesting the texture they produce. Just keep the negative spaces clear of paint build-up!
- I demo'd all these stamps on white paper, but they work beautifully on fabric, as well- even already printed commercial fabrics!
- Try spritzing your paint-loaded stamp (or even your paint-loaded sponge) with a little water and see what kind of image you get.
- Try NOT re-loading your stamp with paint in between impressions. Some of the neatest texture comes from stamps that have almost no paint on them.
- Do NOT worry if you don't get crisp, clear images on every stamp- the idea is to add texture and build layers with these stamps. If you want clean images, go for it, but mostly, use these freely and stress as little as possible about making something "perfect".
- Layer your stamping and change colors frequently. Work intuitively and with a sense of fun and curiosity.
- Create masks with cut shapes, flat items, or masking tape and stamp on TOP of them. When you remove the masks, you'll have interesting effects.
- Use your stamps with thickened MX dyes on soda-soaked, dry fabric.
- Play, have fun and worry less- you can't make mistakes here because all you're really looking for are more tools in your arsenal that create depth and texture with paint, dyes and ink!

I hope this tutorial helps to fire your imagination. The possibilities for stamp creation are endless, once you realize that nearly everything can be turned into a stamp!

Happy stamping!