23 September 2014

Art in Trade

"I Believe in Magic" Artist Trading Card, 2.5" x 3.5"
A grand welcome to the harvest season of Autumn!

While I did love the unusually mild weather this Summer, I am very pleased that Fall is here. It is always my most favorite season of the year.

Since the beginning of Summer I have spent a lot of time contemplating what I will "do" with my art. I have been engaged in asking myself, "What form of art do I want to send out into the world?" It's not any easy question to answer. I love making art, but for the most part I have made it to give as gifts to friends or for my own simple pleasure of manifesting an idea into reality.

In late August, I decided to join several art swapping groups with other mixed media artists. One of them is a closed group on Facebook, to which I was invited, the Artful Mail Groupies. You can join, but they have certain rules to help keep the group active and friendly. (Note: Send me a personal message if you are desperate to learn more about this group.) 

The other swap group is part of an online artist community that I joined in 2013 run by the amazing artist-extraordinaire Tamara Laporte over at willowing.org. Tam is the originator of the amazing year-long online art course Life Book.

I love these online communities of artists. They inspire and amaze me everyday. I really find a lot of solace and comfort sharing my process of becoming an artist with these wonderful people.

The Art Swaps are a great way to send your work out into the world and get another person's art in trade.

Autumn Moon Artist Trading Cards made for Artful Mail Groupies Swap

One way that many artists are sharing these days is to create very small-scaled art works -- the size of a baseball or playing card: 2.5" by 3.5". The small size makes projects easier to complete although there is a real art to using a tiny space well. I have been learning from some talented people. I decided that I am ready to throw my art out into the unknown and receive other art and feedback in exchange. Plus, receiving mail from a person far away is fun! (I always enjoyed having pen pals in other countries as a kid.)

My first swap was the Autumn Moon ATC (ATC = Artist Trading Card) swap with the Artful Mail Groupies on Facebook.  I had so much fun inventing a way to use the Martha Stewart silhouettes of owls, ravens and spooky things for my moonlight purpose. I wanted to create a Harvest Moon shining behind each silhouette. I created all of the moons from cardstock or hand-painted (by me) papers. I added some additional collage elements.

The second way that I'm exploring for spreading my art out into the world is that I'm trying to find a way to make art books that are not so labor-intensive as professional book-binding. I have several friends who are paper conservators and book-binders for a living, so I know very well just how much time and energy goes into creating most books that are bound by hand.

I recently took a workshop at the Queen's Ink with artist Terry Quinn on printing techniques for the Gelli Arts monoprinting plate.  The class is taught periodically and called "50 Shades of Play." Terry took the guesswork out of the workshop by selecting your pattern tools and colors for you, so that our minds were free to play and explore. She taught me that there is no such thing as an ugly monoprint because you can always add another layer if you don't particularly like the color or design that you used. That is a really significant lesson to learn.

Monoprinted Index Card book that I made in Terry Quinn's "50 Shades of Play" workshop
I was able to produce two sets of monoprinted index cards in the class which will become tiny books. Not sure what I will put on the pages yet because I like the patterns and colors so much just as they are. Each page is unique, and that was true of the 50 pages that each of the students made in the workshop also.
Detail, front cover, monoprinted book from "50 Shades of Play"
I discovered, for example, that my new favorite color is called Gunmetal Gray; it offsets bright colors like these golds and oranges so well. I wouldn't have known that if I wasn't limited to a palette within that session of Terry's workshop.  Don't you think this mini-book cover turned out pretty well?  The book measures only 2.5" by 3" -- one half the size of a folded 3x5 index card.

I cannot wait to put my second book together and experiment in collage on these pages! Promise that I'll share.

Wishing you joy in this season of harvest! (Or of new life if you are living in the Southern Hemisphere!)

16 September 2014

A Drawing In

Summer Fades

I love summer most as it is fading away.  There is a pause like the hush of an audience before a stage curtain lifts waiting for the magic to appear on stage.  I was blessed a full evening this past weekend surrounded by peaceful countryside, allowing me the opportunity to watch the sun slowly set on the final days of the season.  In contrast, the previous day had been a sauna of summer heat and humidity as you come to expect when you live near the Chesapeake Bay. 

This day, somehow, had a sudden crispness to the air with breezes finding their strength. The sunlight had a palette not quite golden, but certainly warmer in hue. The billowing clouds helped to create the atmosphere.  We drove well around Baltimore City to avoid the giant blow-out festival in the Inner Harbor celebrating the 200th anniversary of the British attempt to blast their way around Fort McHenry. Instead we opted for winding roads and retro 1980s tunes, as we drove northward and away from the urbs and suburbs to tranquil farmland.  The stated purpose of our mission was to attend a fundraiser dinner for the Creative Alliance, but I had only the urge to be surrounded by Summer's full bounty on my mind. 

And there is no time like the present, because the seasons are changing. . .

I think of this moment between Summer and Autumn as a time of Drawing In.

It is a lull in the seasons to pause and cherish all of the energetic growth and ecstatic wildness of the warmest months of the year.  Even though I am not a farmer as my hosts are, the harvest that I see spread before me is all of the activities and accomplishments of my creative endeavors. You do not have to work on the land in order to appreciate the importance of harvest time.

My host expressed a similar thought when he sat at his dining table. For him, the idea behind hosting a party immediately before the Fall of the year is a conscious choice. He knows that he has a lot of work in store for the harvests and preparations for winter, but this is his time to kick
back and reward himself for all of the labor of the year.  The food served at the table came from his land and his wife's amazing feast.

Here then are some of my impressions of the landscape that I saw during this enchanted evening.

In the farm yard.

Baby Turkeys!

Big, bad turkey!

Honey, the Herder

The Trickster Goats

In the nearby woodlands. 

There are mists rising even as the daylight begins to fade.  The Jewelweed has grown so tall and bushy. It's orange blooms stand out like flags in the twilight.

Jewelweed Glowing in Twilight

08 September 2014

Summer Siren

Summer Siren by ~runningwave~
I have finished my first work of mixed media art on canvas. Woot! I finally did it. She's turned out quite lovely. I am so new to all of this painting-figures-on-canvas thing, but I am loving it.  The mermaid was inspired by a lesson taught by my art guru, Effy Wild in her year-long online Moonshine 2014 course.  This was a pretty intense lesson. Here are some photographs showing the creation of this piece.

Step 1, paint the mermaid in acrylic colors

I drew the figure on a 12 by 9 inch canvas board, outlining first in pencil. I intended her to look like she was floating peacefully in her aquatic home, carried by the currents. Once I had painted the general shape of the mermaid and added in her facial features I let the whole canvas dry. Effy's lesson called for three-dimensional hair. She chose cheesecloth to approximate the look of seaweed-like hair. I love the effect she achieved so it was off to the grocery for me.

Step 2, glue cheesecloth hair onto the canvas
Here's what the canvas looked like after I glued layers of cheesecloth onto it using artist's matte medium.  This turned out beautifully. I wanted her tresses to look like they were floating in a radial spray from her head in the waves.

Detail of the face and hair in step 2.

Step 3, Detail of the face, mostly complete.
To paint color in her hair I mixed PearlEx metallic powders with my acrylic Titanium White paint. The Sea Green colored powder worked best for the palette. My experiments with the PearlEx resulted in some very pleasing colors and I intend to keep playing with them. I had purchased them years ago to use as embossing colors for rubber stamping, but their effect when mixed with acrylic paints is stunning.
You will notice the detail of eye lashes in Sakura Gelly Roll metallic blue Glaze. Her lips and necklace were painted with Jacquard Copper Lumiere acrylic. The necklace got some finishing contours added in a dimensional ink brand called irRESISTible Pico Embellisher by Tsukineko.

Detail. Completed mermaid tail under the hair.
There are more coppery details on her fishtail and also in the shadow on the left side of the canvas to counterbalance the visual "weight" of the tail and out-of-control hair.
Summer Siren, completed September 6, 2014.
I think there are three very important lessons that I learned from this exercise. One: I'm perfectly capable of creating fine art on canvas. Two: I can, in fact, paint faces. Three: This was a LOT of FUN and I want to paint more canvases with mixed media.

22 August 2014

Growth Happens . . .

New Oak Moon art journal spread
This abstract oak tree is the result of an art journaling exercise facilitated by Effy Wild's Moonshine 2014 course.  We are making art inspired by the seasons and cycles of the moon all year long. She provided the course content in June, but it took me a while to get started. And then it took me weeks to finish. This is the most intricate art journal spread I've ever undertaken, but I'm really pleased with my results.

While I was working on it, I never thought it would look cohesive. There are many layers to this page. The very first is a background layer of color painted onto the paper with Gelato pigments, giving the whole page a softer, nearly pastel feel.
New Oak Moon - detail
Effy's lesson recommended a collage layer next that would create a mosaic feel. I was skeptical about how mine would turn out, but there are enough greens and earth tones to off-set that energetic paint layer with Summer colors of oranges and reds.  Next came the tree, painted in acrylic and then detailed with "bark" lines of Black Pitt pen and Sakura metallic gold ink.  Then I drew in each oak leaf and filled them in with various gel inks. The metallic just jump off the page. Finally, I used a paint pen to make all of the green circles with the final touch of outlines around them in black ink.

I worked on this piece off and on between other projects over a period of three weeks. I had to practice drawing the tree a number of times to get a trunk and branches that I liked. I also had to teach myself to draw abstract oak leaves, so I filled an entire sketchbook page with them drawing slow at first and then speeding up. It was time-consuming to create all of tree's detail, but the detail is what brought together the living-tree shape.

I used to prefer to keep backgrounds very simple if the main focus of the piece was going to be an illustration (rather than pure abstract collage). But now I think that this tree would look very different on a plain background. The effect was worth the effort.

In the meantime, I have devised several ways to recycle my own art.

I shared a page of watercolor lines in my last blog post.  I have several of these pages of watercolor lines because I practiced the same blending exercise several times.  I took giant hole punches yesterday and punched out 2" inch and 1 3/4" inch circles from one of the practice pages. It's very likely that these circles will begin to appear in different collage pieces I create in the near future.

Collage circles punched out from a watercolor practice page.
Each circle has its own character. I like how some have more curvy lines than others. The colors (even in the page made with cheap watercolor paints from a classroom set) are cheery and take on a whole new appearance when they are liberated from the rectangular parent-page.

Finally, I had been debating what to do about the cover for my recently-begun art journal. The book is an 11 3/8" inch by 8 1/4" inch bound Dylusions journal book specifically made for mixed media creating. I love the size of it and the fact that the pages are bound to open completely flat, making painting and drawing easier.  The cover is just craft-paper brown, and it kept staring at me asking, "when are you going to cover me with art?" But I could not decide what to do.

I debated for days. Maybe I should just paint it a color so it's not blank. No, maybe I should collage it. Then it hit me, I had a favorite 4x6 index card piece of the full moon in July.
Brand new cover for my art journal.

I used the book cover as a frame for my index card art, by painting around it in acrylic and ink layers. I taped a starry-night washi tape border along the book's spine so that it matched the night sky theme. And I glued on mylar stars surrounding the picture and an arrow with my title and the date to remind me of when I created the hand-moon picture.

Now it is happily situated on the front cover of my journal so that I can look at it and let it inspire me all of the time.

11 August 2014

Training for the Big Leagues

"Blend" experiment from Tammy Garcia's "Watercolor Playground" Class
I've had some wonderful opportunities lately to learn art techniques from different teachers. I recently decided that I wanted to focus on art journaling. I am becoming fairly comfortable with acrylic paining, but my watercolor technique is fairly amateurish. Watercolor -- for those of you who have not played with it since art class in a K-12 environment -- is a very difficult medium. Just how much water to use or not use is always tricky. And you cannot truly control watercolor, so you have to practice to understand its limitations and benefits. This I know from my brief Intro to Art 101 in college where I got to experiment with new art media every two weeks. I really want to get to know watercolor at a whole new level, so I chose to enroll in Tammy Garcia's online course called Watercolor Playground.  

My first project was Blend, or an experiment in blending pigments painted adjacent to each other in a whole page of lines. I am posting the most successful of my Blend painting so far. This one was done with my very first set of professional grade watercolors which I purchased for taking this class. It was amazing to me how vivid these paints are, after years of using a cheap set that can be bought at any craft store for under $10.  You really get what you pay for when purchasing paints.  While I can see that I still need more practice with blending, I'm definitely improving.  I plan to cut up the practice pages for collages or backgrounds for other artwork.

I also had the good fortune to take a live class taught by Kass Hall, who is an amazing art journal guru hailing from Down Under. What a treat to take two workshops in a day from an artist who lives on the other side of the Globe at my favorite local paper-obsession store, The Queen's Ink. Truly a privilege. What I loved most about taking Kass' workshops is that she did not dictate what the final product should be. She gave us some very good layering techniques to build an effective art journal spread and taught us her secrets of making legible lettering.

Desert Rose, left page, made in Kass Hall's "Lyrically Speaking" class
Kass asked the class to find lyrics to a song or lines from a poem that really inspired us for the first workshop of the day. I chose Sting's "Desert Rose," because it's a favorite of mine and also because Sting's words evoke so many images for me. I brought some collage papers with me that I knew I would want to use, and found elements among those Kass passed out -- clip art from websites and swatches from her own art journal pages scanned at high res. I am pretty pleased with how these turned out.
Desert Rose, right page, made in Kass Hall's "Lyrically Speaking" class
I also took an afternoon workshop with Kass, where she included her technique for drawing faces. I am still working on that spread and will post photos when I feel it's in a more finished state. I am so pleased with my results. I had been avoiding painting in an art journal in favor of separate pages, concerned that I'd mess up a page. I am beginning to feel more confident about what I'm doing after a whole year of concentrated mixed media practice. And if I come up with really ugly pages, I'll just paint over them. I'm okay with that.

So now I have an art journal that will travel with me throughout the next phase of my artistic journey. I hope that it becomes a more frequent practice. I am making plans to incorporate my journaling into my daily life, so stay tuned for more.

Even when I'm away from home, I am still thinking about art. My husband and I visited New York City last weekend to catch the fabulous exhibition on the Italian Futurists at the Guggenheim.  I admired the brash and colorful Futurist paintings when I was taking art history classes, but I had never heard about women being involved in the Futurist movement. In fact the Futurist Manifesto of 1909 is decidedly anti-feminist. Apparently that did not deter Italian women artists from participating in the movement. Benedetta Cappa's work is featured in the Guggenheim's exhibit, and her massive mural scheme for a Post Office in Palermo, Sicily (1933-1934) was the capstone of the whole exhibit.  There's a New York Times article interviewing the show's curator who talks about the work of this amazing artist.

Studio of Andrew Wyeth, Chadd's Ford, PA, Brandywine River Museum
Then, in contrast, we switched from the bombastic Futurist expressions to the more pastoral scenes of days of yore and country life painted by the various artists of the Wyeth family in their studios near Chadd's Ford, PA. The Brandywine River Museum preserves the homes and studios of the Wyeths and offers guided tours. Given how spartan Andrew Wyeth's paintings often are, I was amazed by the chaos in which he enjoyed working. The museum has recreated the whole ambiance with copies. I'm including a photograph of his studio that I took since our tour guide allowed us to take photographs. Apparently he drew many sketches for major works, but then let them fall to the floor of his studio and did not consult them much while he was working. He had already drawn the subject, you see, so the drawings were only the means to his end product.

His father's, N.C. Wyeth's studio was filled with props befitting a practitioner of swashbuckling illustration art: canoes, costumes, marble busts, weaponry and arms, helmets, etc. There is a copy of his final, unfinished illustration of George Washington on his easel, much has he must have left it on the day he died in 1945. I loved N.C. Wyeth's study for a mural of his whole family that the Museum is featuring in the Wyeths' large parlor. It must have been a small space for such a large family, but given how many creative people lived and were raised there it could not have been too distracting.

It is always so interesting to see how other artists work. Studios are a product of the individual who works in them.

01 August 2014

Grand Finale!

Solstice Heat, June 21, 2014

I am very nostalgic and emotional about fireworks.  I associate them with happy memories of Summer evenings.

Do you know that moment in a fireworks display when you can hear the the swizzle sound of many rockets rising into the sky at once?

There is excitement, yes, anticipation, but also a nanosecond of wistfulness. Because you know you've reached the final minute of the display. Soon it will be over. 

I am feeling a bit that way tonight. Sixty-one days of thinking about and making art as part of Tammy Garcia's ICAD 2014 challenge are drawing to a close. I am looking back on the small, yet powerful set index cards that I've drawn on, painted on, glued on, and experimented on during the past two months.

I really made some serious attempts to use the challenge as an opportunity to try new things. I tested the waters on some new media. At the beginning, I worked very hard to stay on the daily prompt. After a while, I made up my own prompts or more often found sources of inspiration out around me.

When I created something that I thought was ugly or messy or not what was in my head, I tried to rework it or recycle it into something I did like.
Super Moon, July 11, 2014
My Super Moon card turned out exactly the way I had intended, but getting the ink spray background right took quite a few tries. My first few spray ink attempts were downright ugly. One of my glimmer misters doesn't seem to be working the way it should and the ink comes out in giant drips. I kept the card anyway thinking that I would eventually cut it apart for collage.

Turquoise Dragonflies, July 27, 2014
Later in the challenge, I found that the messy glimmer mist drips card actually made the perfect "landscape" for my dragonflies.  I gessoed over the ink to tone down the background. The other collage elements are glued on top of the gesso layer.

Golden Mushroom, stamp on Gelli plate print, July 23, 2013
The challenge also encouraged me to attempt some media that I had been admiring for a while. I first learned about Gelli Arts plates last year, and saw videos of the technique back in the Spring. I kept meaning to get the supplies and try it.

Finally, I bought myself a 5 x 7 Gelli plate and began printing acrylic backgrounds. My Golden Mushroom card made use of monoprints for the background and frame. The rubber stamp (embellished with ink) is one that I traced from a printed design and cut myself with a carving tool and Speedball printing plate.  I hadn't carved my own stamp since I was a teenager!

Any Route Permitted July 8, 2014
I love the layering effects that you can easily obtain by printing more than one Gelli plate background.  I know this is a media that I will work on again and again, and I've only printed in two sessions with my plate.  I made a dozen different layered prints each time.

Other days, I enjoyed recycling bits of ephemera from my trip to England this summer. I could not help including tickets, cut-outs from Time Out Magazine and other papers in my daily collages.

Now the ICAD 2014 Challenge is drawing to a close, but the effects are lingering. 

I am grateful for the support of other artists out there like me who are part of the Daisy Yellow community.  I was inspired by your work and I hope you found something interesting about mine in exchange. It's wonderful to send a tiny bit of art out into the world and receive a trickle of "likes" and comments almost instantaneously. It's nice to know that I'm not alone in wanting to make art a part of my busy life. 

Well, the last crackles and shimmers of fireworks are fading away tonight. Tomorrow's a new day. I'm feeling motivated and excited. I have a number of other art classes and projects out there waiting for me just over the horizon. 

Grand Finale, July 31, 2014, sari silk, collage, and ink on paper

07 June 2014

Practicing with an Index Card Challenge

I've been very productive this week, making small 4 x 6 inch pieces everyday for the past seven days.

June 1 is the beginning of an annual challenge for artists called ICAD = Index Card A Day. The Mistress of Ceremonies is Tammy Garcia over at Daisy Yellow.

Tammy is a-mazing at watercolor and drawing techniques and her index card challenge is so simple that children can follow along -- just find an index card and paint, draw, glitter, sew or do whatever visual art you do on it's surface. Just one card each day from June 1 to the end of July, or 61 cards.

There are prompts for each day and weekly themes if you need inspiration. Sometimes I'll use them and sometimes I may go off on my own.

I am still trying to discover if I have a "style" or what makes my particular art unique.

An abstract watercolor background becomes the sun and a beach.
I have been dabbling in rubber stamping, collage, drawing with pen and pencil for several years. More recently, I've explored acrylic paint and tried to be more serious about watercolors.  Now I'm trying to figure out which techniques work best for me. The only way to do that is practice.

My favorite ICAD that I've made so far. Prompts: Text + Puzzle.  India ink, pen and watercolor over a page from an illustrated edition of The Arabian Nights.  I decorated first, then cut up the paper into puzzle pieces and arranged them so that you could see the spaces in between just a bit.
The idea with this art challenge is not to make "finished" works of art, but just to make art.  I am working on figuring out how to make the idea in my mind manifest on the paper.  If this ends up being messy: fine. If this results in something that looks good: great!

Prompts: Text + Galaxy. I made dots and circles on this card, way before I thought of turning them into planets. When I got to the prompt "galaxy" I thought of a watercolor resist painting that I made a few years ago.

01 June 2014

Turning My Face Towards the Light

Last winter was a long and cold season. I had to fight hard in order to keep the winter blues away.  I am now fully aware that I experience a dramatic shift in mood and energy once autumn rolls around. It has been a struggle to educate myself on how to deal with this mental roller coaster.

I bought a blue light box in late November and began using it every morning at the recommendation of a medical practitioner. I reminded myself to take walks outside in the sunlight on my lunch breaks whenever the weather wasn't too bitter. I sat near any windows I found. My daily routine included opening the shades in my apartment early every morning (I know, it seems obvious that the shades should be open, but I like it in my cave when my winter mood is upon me.)

The one fully-realized painting I did was of a sleeping girl and her guardian wolf in the winter woods. I was actually quite pleased with how the vision in my head was realized on the page. The painting is actually proof that I managed to gather some energy for art-making even in the darkest month. Too late, I realized that I had already planned another project to distract myself again from art-making.

Fearing the mental stagnation that I felt during the winter 2013, I had enrolled myself in an intellectually challenging, paralegal class that began in January. It was a test, really, to figure out if I wanted to expand my career horizons. I worked hard all semester, and did well in the course, and the information will be useful. I also learned that I don't want to go in that career direction. A useful thing to learn.  I had a sinking suspicion that as easy as it is for me to do well in a field where brain-power is key, focusing on adding facts to my brain at this point in my life is kind of like running on a treadmill. True, it is good exercise, but it is at odds with a need to expand and vary my training. Especially, if I have a goal to think beyond the boundaries of my life as it has been until now.   Taking the law class helped me to decide that making art is what I need to be doing with my spare time.

I recognized this because as I began the climb back out into the full light of day, my mind and my mood cleared again. Slowly I was able to push the cobwebs away.  I discovered that I wanted to be outside. I wanted to do something more active.  The old me would have found engaging in class work productive, but studying did not give me the same feeling of satisfaction as painting or mixed-media creating. While being engaged mentally in a class did help me mentally, it dawned on me that I was craving something not purely about filling my mind with facts.

April rolled around and I was using my weekend time to draft legal briefs and memoranda, when there was something inside me nearly bursting to create visual art.  Just as soon as my class began to wind down, began to include painting in my routine again.

I am part of a year-long group working with artist Effy Wild on imagery relating to the lunar cycles. I'm very glad that I chose to begin working again on journal paintings on her May flower-themed prompts. I learned a great method for creating idealized feminine faces from Effy's online tutorials.  I find faces so difficult, but when the prompt came, I took the plunge and worked in acrylics to create this Forest Sprite surrounded by blooming flowers, with inspiration from the iconic gold backgrounds with spirals and halos of blossoms favored by Gustav Klimt.

 I look at her and still see all of the problems, the lines that didn't quite go where my mind willed them.  I am trying to also see that my practice is leading somewhere, I only I am brave enough to continue trying to draw and paint.  The violet tucked behind her elfin ear, just felt right to me.

It is clear to me now that the work I am doing in attempt to be more balanced and creative year-around is slowly happening. I have no idea how I am going to keep my creative juices flowing during the darker months later in the year, but I realize now it is the path I'm on.

I don't have any difficulty with it at all in the warm months, and now the height of summer is coming.  And now my face is turned like a flower to soak up those sunbeams.