Tuesday, January 6, 2015

Bad To Worse

Shortly after my previous post, my husband and I started our annual December staycation. This year, we'd carved out 19 days for ourselves, and we were very much looking forward to long days of relaxing and spending time together.

Best laid plans.

From the very start of our staycation, things starting going wrong. I won't go into detail, but suffice it to say that these bumps in our road were large, and painful, and some of them are still not resolved. We faced them as a team, my husband and I, as we always do. We were determined to ride out the turbulence.

And then, on January 1st, my father suddenly died.

He was alive and then he wasn't and though his death was quick, and unexpected, by the look of his room, it probably wasn't an easy transition for him. Stroke, most likely. He'd spoken to the nurse a few minutes before. Then someone went to check on him to bring him to lunch. He'd sent them away before they could come into his room, saying he was getting dressed and that he'd be right there. When he didn't show up, an aide was sent to check on him and found him dead.

I'd spoken to him the day before. He'd called to wish me a happy new year, and to tell me that his chair was broken, and asked if could I get him a new one. We chatted a few more minutes, and then hung up. And that was it, he was gone.

As many of you know, my relationship with my father was a difficult one. Still, I grieve.

I'm dealing with it the best way I know how: I'm taking to the studio and painting.

(8"x10" panel, Encaustic paint and alcohol-based inks)

(Watercolor paper mounted on18"x24" cradled panel, encaustic paint, oil paint, alcohol-based inks)

Despite the cheery colors on both these panels, they accurately reflect my state of mind, with dark, bruised colors peeking out from underneath. 

Until next time, create like today could be your last. 

Monday, December 15, 2014

And This

This is a piece I forgot to post back when I finished it in August. This is acrylic on cradleboard, 30"x40".

Wednesday, December 3, 2014


Well, I am, anyway.

Yes, hello, I know I haven't posted to my blog since mid-August, but I have a good reason, really.

I've changed mediums almost entirely, and there's a learning curve to it that I really just want to explore without worrying overmuch about having to talk about it.

See, one of the things I loved so dearly about becoming an artist, the key element that kept me awake until 3 am experimenting, and had me bounding out of bed just a few hours later to sequester myself in my studio for hours on end, was the simple process of learning. As I explored mediums and substrates, taught myself new techniques, plumbed the depths of my creativity, always overwhelmed by that, "Ohmigod, holy cow!" moment of discovery, I felt as if I was soaring through the sky on a perfect, cloudless day. It was exhilarating, just the act of learning. But quite frankly, I've lost that... maybe there's a lot more out there for me to learn about mixed-media, but if there is, I'm not finding it (and trust me, I've looked!)

So after more than a decade in this field, and growing bored with my chosen medium, acrylic painting, I knew it was time to shake things up, and not just in a small way. Taking another mixed-media or painting workshop, while appealing, might inspire me for a short time once I got back into my own studio, but it wasn't likely to teach me a whole lot of new techniques, nor would it keep me going month after month while I grow increasingly frustrated, feeling as if I'm just doing the same thing over and over again.

So I turned my eye towards a couple of mediums I've played with briefly over the years, but shied away from getting too involved in: encaustics and oils.

Encaustic painting is a centuries-old technique of painting with melted, pigmented wax. Encaustic wax and oil paints blend beautifully together, so after a lot of discussions with my husband, and a lot of research and thinking of my own, I made a large investment in encaustic paints, tools, and materials, as well as in oil paints and pigment sticks. And I started playing.

I started small, using paper...

... and cardboard...

I also used small substrates I'd picked up in a local art thrift store (yes, such a thing really exists and it's magnificent)... wooden panels...

... and small, cradled canvases...

Finally, I moved on to something larger, an 18"x24" cradled birch panel to which I'd attached a piece of watercolor paper.

The work is engrossing, and the joy of learning and exploring brings back to me, once again and in a huge rush, how much fun it is to make art.

I won't be talking a lot about it, here. I will post photos now and then, but don't look for any tutorials on this subject for a very long time- if ever: the medium is still so new to me that I'd be a fool to try and teach you all something that I barely understand myself. Stopping at every step to take professional step-by-step photos is also out of the question. I work too spontaneously for that, and stymieing that process would go against exactly what I'm trying to achieve.

Know this: my color palette is alive and kicking in wax and oils; my abiding love of texture and depth has found nirvana; and my passion for working in layers is so deeply satisfied that I find it difficult to stop.

This is big, for me. I'm very excited.

Have a wonderful holiday season and until I see you again, create by the seat of your pants!

Tuesday, August 12, 2014

I Love Big Art And I Cannot Lie!

Lots happening in the studio the last couple of weeks!

For one, both of these beasties...

... two 30"x40" deep cradled wooden panels got covered with absolutely lovely, heavy Canson printmaking paper that measured 31"x44". I'm crazy about working with this paper, and knew I wanted it to cover these two cradleboards.

I demonstrated in detail how to laminate paper onto wooden cradleboards in this post, but basically it means using gel medium on the wood to adhere the paper. With paper and a cradleboard of this size, I was a little worried that it would prove to be too fiddly to laminate by myself and kept my husband on stand-by just in case I needed another pair of hands. Fortunately, it wasn't as difficult as I thought it would be. The hardest part was laying the large sheet of plywood on top by myself! Here you can see that I use it to weigh down the paper as it dries.

The edges of the paper hung over the edges of the cradleboard just slightly (enough to give me some room to be sure the whole board was covered!), and those edges needed to be cleanly removed. I have this annoying habit, when trying to use a sharp blade to cut away excess paper from a cradleboard, of actually slicing into the wood, itself. Even when I don't, the edges I cut are almost always wavy and uneven. So this time, I tried something different.

Once the paper and board were fully dry, I creased the paper sharply along all four edges...

...and then - using a watercolor brush - soaked them with water.

After giving the water a couple of minutes to saturate the paper, I used a rough sanding block to sand the excess paper away.

It worked like a charm, and left me with a sharp, clean edge all the way around the cradleboard.

Ready for paint!

The first cradleboard got treated with many layers of acrylic paint. I painted, and removed paint, and painted, and removed paint, until I was happy with the result. Then the entire surface was covered with a large monoprint of Stacked Journaling. Sorry, but I didn't get photos of that process. It involved cutting a sheet of plastic larger than the cradleboard and covering it with one giant block of SJ by squeezing black paint from a narrow-tipped bottle. Once I had the paint onto the plastic, I had to move fast to keep from allowing the paint to dry, so I didn't stop to take any pictures. I overturned the cradle board onto the plastic with the painted SJ and pressed down to make sure I was transferring the paint, and then peeled away the sheet of plastic. After the whole thing had dried, I modified the SJ by tracing its negative spaces with a refillable paint pen filled with Golden hi-flow acrylic in white. Again, the entire process can be found in great detail with many photos on this blog post.

Once I finished the entire piece, I sealed it with a coat of fluid matte medium, and buried it in about half a bottle of pouring medium to give it a high gloss surface.

This photo was taken right after applying the pouring medium, and you can see that it goes on milky, but will dry to a clear, hard, glossy finish.

Here is the finished work.

(Acrylic on wooden cradleboard, 30"x40", currently for sale)

Also on the table in the studio this week were these little guys...

These are copper oil lanterns to go around the pool and they needed a few coasts of clear Rustoleum before they could hazard the fierce Texas weather.

After three coats and time to dry, they sat their shiny selves on the water wall.

Oh, I do love summer!

Next week, I'll tell you about some neat little paper samples I received from a company in Spain!

In the meantime, paint with a lust for life.

Rest in sweet peace, Robin Williams, you will be sorely missed. 

Thursday, July 31, 2014

Summer Fun!

Guess where I've been??

If you guessed Guadalajara based on the photo above, you can be forgiven, but I've actually been in Florida on a much-needed vaccay with my husband!

First we hit Key West.


And then Miami. We were so busy in Miami that I barely got my camera out and took photos. However, we did a little drinking at the Eden Roc bar...

... and a little gambling at the Hard Rock Casino...

... and won 1000.00 at 3-card poker! So yeah, it was a great trip.

But now it's back to reality, and back to the studio. I left the place in a complete shambles before going on vacation, and when we got home, sunburned and exhausted, it took me a week before I could even open the door and face it. But after a full day of reorganizing, throwing things out and putting things away, it's clean, it's clean, it's clean!! 

Before leaving for Florida, I had gone a little bananas with an online, 50% off coupon (plus free shipping!) and did a little paint shopping. While browsing the site (I wish I could remember which one it was, but it was either Michael's or JoAnn's), I came across some of these cool paint bottle toppers that allow you to use the bottles as paint "writers". With my obsession with painted Stacked Jouranling, the fit seemed obvious. 

I also dashed over to DickBlick.com and bought some spray bottles with the intention of using them with Golden's hi-flow acrylics. This whole haul cost me about 50.00! 

Usually, I'll admit it, I'm a bit of a snob when it comes to the paint I use. I prefer to use the best paint I can afford in my paintings- which usually doesn't include "craft" paint- because I feel that those who invest in my work deserve it. But when it comes to painted and monoprinted Stacked Journaling, the expensive, high-pigment load paints just aren't necessary, and all those lovely little bottles of vibrant color are so hard to pass up.

Of course, I needed to store all that paint, and that was suddenly a problem. After a lot of wrangling of my supplies, and a lot of rearranging, I finally dedicated and entire drawer to these little bottles of love.

While cleaning the studio, I banged up against an ongoing issue for me: how to easily store my handmade stencils. For so long, these babies have been sitting out on my workspace, getting shifted from this end of the table to the other, because I just haven't found the perfect storage solution for them.

But as I uncovered layers of supplies and materials in my clean-up, I ran across these sheets of paper that had arrived in the box of a very inexpensive shelving unit my husband bought a couple of months ago. There was a stack of them, and my husband, by now well aware of my loathing for throwing out anything that has a potential use in my studio, asked me if I wanted them. 

They're large- 11" x 15"- and I thought they would make an interesting journal. There must be 20 of these sheets! Clearly, the packing machine in the factory went a little gonzo and accidentally dumped them all into one box. Fortunately for me, that box found the right home. 

Looking at their size and at the smaller size of my collection of stencils, I realized that I could make a quick folder to hold my stencils out of two of these sheets and some washi tape.

First, I grabbed some of my painted papers and collaged on top of the sheets, to give them more stability and strength. Then I just taped them together on three sides.


 Presto! Instant stencil storage!

I love simple, free storage solutions!

But wait, there's more! Some actual art really did get made this week, too. I know, I'm Wonder Woman, it's true; you can stop applauding, now. No, really, it's embarrassing. Oh, ok, I'll wait, go ahead and clap.

My husband has been transferred to yet another location (thank freakin' whoever that this transfer didn't require a move!) and his new office has several rather empty walls. So I went to work and created this piece for him, another in my series of altered Stacked Journaling.


This piece started as much of my current work does: with a wooden cradled panel to which I've adhered a piece of printmaking paper. I paint the paper, then add monoprinted SJ to it, and then using a refillable marker with more Golden hi-flow acrylics in white, I outline the negative spaces. (The entire process is detailed, with lots of photos and instruction, here.)

This process fascinates me no end, and leads me to my next project.

Remember when I bought these beasties a few months back?


The plan was and is to mount paper onto them and then paint on them, but it took me a while to find and have shipped to me artist paper this large (30" x 40".)

Well, I have, and it arrived today!

I obviously haven't unpacked it, yet, but it's a beautiful printmaking paper by Canson. Mounting it on my cradle boards will take four hands, so my husband has agreed been cajoled into helping, and once that is finished, I'll post here to show how we did it. 

In the meantime, create a happy summer!

Thursday, July 3, 2014

Asking, "Am I Good Enough?"

There are various things in progress in the studio this week but nothing I'm ready to show, so today I'd like to take a minute and talk about something I've been rolling around in my mind for a while.

This post could also be titled, "The Need For Approval".

"Social media" has been incredibly effective in bringing together artists who, for so many years before its advent, toiled alone in their studios, unaware that there were others who shared their passions and artsy obsessions. I was one of those people, working day and night for years in a vacuum, without any contact with other artists. For a very long time, I didn't even know there were others out there interested in the exact same things I was playing with and teaching to myself.

This was both a blessing and a curse. A blessing, because I learned my skills without the well meaning but persuasive voices of my peers guiding me and changing my work. A curse because not only was I lonely for the company of other artists, I was deeply uncertain about the validity of my work. Was it good? Would it hold up to the market? Did it have meaning to anyone but myself?

I was lucky enough to be alone long enough to solve most of these mysteries for myself, to find my own answers without outside influences moving me in one direction or another.

Things are different now. So often, I see artists, particularly those new to art but sometimes from veterans as well, post a photograph of their work in progress and ask others, "What should I do next?"

This question actually takes many forms: "I know this isn't very good, but..." and "Should I place this here and that there?" and "Would you use more <insert favorite color here> or <insert favorite collage element here>?" All of these inquiries really boil down to one question: am I good enough?

The impulse to seek out the opinions of other artists seems to be hardwired in our genetics, and in certain situations, can actually be a boon to our work. Honest critique is essential for learning whether we're ready to jump off the cliff into a new direction or if we need to spend more time standing in place, working on what's in front of us. It can offer insight and inspiration, knowledge and the experience of others, and can even help us move off square one when our work has stalled and we can't exactly pin down why.

Our task in navigating online social media as artists requires us to know the difference between asking for a critique, and asking for a direction.

"Does this work impact you emotionally, and if so, how?" will produce a far different (and more useful) answer than, "Should I have used more red?" Yet as a new or emerging artist, we often find it daunting to answer for ourselves whether this piece or that should have more red or less, this collage piece or another, be displayed vertically or horizontally, be abstract or contain imagery.

Asking these types of questions in our online art communities is intensely tempting, but will garner as many different answers as there are people willing to reply. Then the outpouring of opinions of other artists can become overwhelming and confusing, and will almost always prove ultimately to be worth not much more than a grain of salt. And the reason is simple: there's only one person whose opinion matters- our own.

While asking for advice on your next step in a particular piece of work can be valuable, it also has the potential to profoundly impact not only the art you're currently working through, but your future work, as well. Getting into the habit of needing someone else's opinion before you can continue may cause you to alter your work to suit the needs and desires of others, and you may never give yourself the opportunity to reach your own conclusions, depend on your own vision, or learn your own lessons. You could wind up with a dreadful question always hovering at the edges of everything you create: "What would the public think of this??" And trying to please everyone, to make work that you hope will always be universally accepted with a, "Wow, LOVE it!" will force you into a box that will keep your work unfocused, unimaginative, and finally, looking like everyone else's.

Think of it in this way: we can demonstrate to our children how to walk through example, and encourage them with gentle cheerleading, but we can't teach them how it feels to place one foot in front of another, balance just so, and move ourselves forward. Only by learning how to walk on their own can they experience it for themselves and become comfortable and confident in their ability to do it without our help. Otherwise their desire to continue, to expand on the concept of walking by later attempting to run and jump, will be lost. We all know that a parent who carries their child everywhere is robbing that child of a life lesson they require in order to become their true, independent, empowered selves. A good parent understands that there will be stumbles and falls, bruises and scrapes, tears and frustration. But the final goal is always to allow the child to walk unassisted with the confidence that only the experience of doing so creates.

The same is true for making art. Advice and critiques can and should only take us so far in our journey towards becoming independent and empowered artists. Eventually, we all have to take the stumbles and falls, become bruised and banged up, feel the frustration, and shed the tears.

It's the only way to learn.

Until next week, create alone (for a while, anyway!)

Thursday, June 26, 2014

Layering and Stacked Journaling

After a lovely 10-day staycation, I took to the studio on Monday morning with a desire for hot colors, complex texture, and layers of delicious pattern.

As I've stated on this blog before, when I first conceived of and began using Stacked Journaling, I had modest aspirations for it: I was seeking an interesting and unique background texture. After working with it for only a few weeks, however, it began to overtake everything in the studio.

Such is the case now, too.

I'm content with this development because it means that I'm beginning to hit my stride again with this technique, one of my main goals for the next year and beyond.

This week, starting occasionally with blank paper, and occasionally with painted or otherwise already printed paper, my self-assigned task was to use SJ to develop rich, layered work.

On some sheets of paper, I began by stenciling.

On others, by brayering color.


I moved from one sheet to the next, working about a dozen pieces of paper at the same time, setting aside each one to dry after a layer was completed. 

Occasionally, I'd stop and do some SJ with a squeezie bottle filled with paint and then take a print of that fresh paint onto another piece in progress. 

Back and forth I went all week, back and forth, back and forth, until finally, with many of these pieces, I had to force myself to stop.

I used stencils. 

And stamps.


And broke out my paint markers to enhance the SJ on a few. 

Looking for finer detail, I even used my dip pen with hi-flow acrylics.


Seeking subtlety (yes, again).


And uncovering bolder images.

I thought it would be difficult, after such a long vacation, to get back into the swing of things, but I found it to be joyfully effortless (this time!)

Until next week, create in layers!