Thursday, January 29, 2015

When Forgotten Supplies Come 'Round Again

Last fall, I won the opportunity to take Tracy Verdugo's Paint Mojo class; it was an excellent experience full of inspiration & ideas and I continue to explore the concepts, techniques, and materials discussed in that class. The class is expensive and not something I could have ever afforded but in my opinion, it really is worth every dime if Tracy's style/working method is something that interests you. Most importantly, the material presented is information that can be easily folded into your own art practice so that you can create art that is unique to you and not just a mimic of the instructor's work.

One of the supplies that I rediscovered through Paint Mojo is scratch art foam board. I was first introduced to this product way back in 2000 during art school when my bookmaking teacher, the incredible Shereen LaPlantz, handed out samples in one of her classes. I think many of you can relate to what happened next: I played with it, I loved it, I tucked it away in favor of the next, exciting thing, and promptly forgot all about it. Fast forward fifteen years and an "old" favorite becomes new again. 

Scratch art foam boards are very thin sheets of styrofoam that can be used as inexpensive printing plates. You lightly draw an image (ballpoint pen works best), deboss the drawing (again ballpoint pens seem to be the best tool for this process), paint the board, flip over onto paper, rub the back, and lift to reveal the print. With care, the plates can be used over and over again.
Some tips for using this product:

1) I found that fluid acrylics worked best for printing. The debossed lines aren't super deep or detailed; ink tends to fill in your printing lines while craft acrylics dry too quickly. Heavy body acrylics work similarly to inks as it tends to squish into the lines you are trying to print.

2) It takes practice to know how much paint to apply to the plate: too little and you won't get much of a print...too much and the excess paint will blur your image. The amount of pressure you apply to the back of the plate also affects the final result. Be patient and just play. "Oopsy" prints can be cropped and used in other projects so don't be too hasty and ruthless with your "mistakes."

3) I really felt the prints showed up best as light colors on a dark background but this may be just a matter of personal preference. 

4) If your lines are not printing clearly, try deepening your debossing. You don't want to poke through to the back of the board but you can get a surprisingly deep mark without piercing the styrofoam.

5) As with any monoprinting, reverse any lettering before printing.

6) Clean the plates immediately after printing; the paint seems to dry very quickly on the foam.

7) You can add additional coloring and details to the final prints; the material isn't fabulous for super-refined lines so I add that after the fact.

8) Since paint does dry fast on this stuff, I found that smaller plates were easier to handle. I cut larger sheets (9x12-inch) into the smaller pieces that I needed. This extends the value of the product.
As an alternative, you can use very clean meat packaging trays in the same manner. If you're worried about getting those trays as clean as needed, just ask the meat manager in your local supermarket if you could have a few unused trays. In my experience, most managers will happily give you what you need just for the asking. 

Tuesday, January 27, 2015

A Single Candle

...for Holocaust Remembrance Day 2015

Sunday, January 25, 2015

Snippets: Weeks 3 and 4

Little bit of everything in this spread from my new Snippets journal: altered classic art, photocopies and originals of my own art, collage, micro-journaling, quotes (stamped and found), gouache painting and doodles directly on the page...love, love, love this process! So easy and yet so engaging! For more information on how and why this 2015 journal project got started, go to this post.

And here's the spread for January 26 through February 8 all prepped and ready for me to begin the Snippets process:

Thursday, January 22, 2015

Life in Crazy Town and Robot Heads

For me, the new year has roared forth like a rabid lion, filled to the brim with top level chaos including (but not limited to) a work schedule that changed five times in a week and a flood of raw sewage in my son's room from an improperly installed toilet. Throw in the winter blues and PD tremors made worse by dipping temperatures and my days have been a mess. I'm keeping up with my new journal project but not much else. I'm hoping things will start to settle down soon because I'm not designed to manage sustained insanity. I have a grand art project wish list but little time or energy to bring those ideas into reality. The new semester of teaching begins next week (something my boss neglected to tell me until last week) so right now, every spare moment is spent lesson planning. I'll be teaching cartooning again (that class is in its ninth year but gets revised & updated every year) and a new class in writing and illustrating children's books. I'm already coveting the arrival of June!


Anyway, enough boo-hooing...I'm lucky to have what I have and to do what I do so I'll just ride this crazy train all white-knuckled and such until it pulls into the Station of Not-So-Crazy. Once that happens, I'll get back to my regularly-scheduled painting, illustrating, and sculpting. Speaking of sculpture (see what I did there?) today's post features photos of a couple of pencil cups I made as Christmas gifts. I lucked out and found two squared-off mugs in a local thrift shop; I knew as soon as I saw them that they'd be perfect as robot heads. They look a little bit how I feel...

Sunday, January 18, 2015

Presto Change-O!

File the following under "Why didn't I think of this before??" and "How fun is this?!"

This may look like an ordinary sheet of serendipity paper...interesting and useful all on its own. However, I realized that I could create my very own hand-painted stickers by embellishing a blank sheet of computer labels. 

Paint, stencil, stamp, doodle in whatever order and color scheme that tickles your fancy...repeat until you are happy with what you see. I learned after my first sheet that I needed to work in quadrants so I wouldn't end up with a bunch of stickers that looked the same. If you want to further extend the variety of results, work in even smaller sections, doing something different in each section. Try not to think about where the stickers are on the paper...no planning here, just random play.

Let the sticker paper dry completely and peel back the excess very carefully (sometimes the stickers don't want to separate from the surrounding paper because of all the painty layers.) Be patient and go slow and steady...

Presto change-o! Zippity zap! Now you have a unique set of stickers to use in your journal work or wherever you need a little spot of serendipity joy. I've seen pretty printed art stickers for sale on Etsy but I wanted something that would be all mine. This is my solution.

Thursday, January 15, 2015

Following the Whisper of an Idea

Before the holiday chaos of 2014 descended upon my life last year, an idea for a new project popped into my head and henceforth, bringing this idea to fruition occupied every quiet moment in November and December. Furthermore, given a delightful recent development, it looks like I'll be continuing this project well into the new year.
I wanted to create some unique pencil cups to display art supplies on my studio table. My studio has decorative mugs sitting on every available surface, containing pencils, pens, and brushes...LOTS of brushes! I'm always looking for artsy mugs but really wanted something I couldn't buy in a store. So I sacrificed a couple mugs from the kitchen, covered them in clay, and sculpted some monster faces. Once they air-dried, I painted and glazed the result. I love what I came up with in the end! These cups take days to complete given all the steps and drying time of both clay and paint but I love the process. I find that sculpture transports me out of time and my comfort zone. I definitely see much more three-dimensional work in my future.

Happily, my son encouraged me to take a couple of samples into my local art store and to my surprise, the owner agreed to let me sell these fancy pencil cups in her shop (without taking commission!) Wow! Once again, it pays to take a breath, gather some courage, follow the whisper of an idea, and the roar of outside encouragement.  

Sunday, January 11, 2015

The Snippets Journal Begins

Aside from a series of sketchbook pages done this summer whilst convalescing from foot surgery, I've been away from regular art journaling for some time now...maybe at least two years. I don't see many people out there mention this but for me, journaling is what my son would call a "time suck." Once I fall down the journaling rabbit hole, there usually remains little time & energy in the day for any other type of art. Because I have so much left to accomplish on my life list of art projects, I set journaling aside and pursued other interests. However, I've really missed the ritual of journaling; it makes such a good beginning point for each day. It is also illuminating to have a record of my days over a period of time. Thus, I decided to try to develop a project that would allow me to indulge my journaling passion while keeping the reins tight on the time it consumes.
The result of my brainstorming is my new daily journal for 2015 called "Snippets." I removed all the white drawing paper from a large Dylusions journal (leaving the sturdy manila tag pages behind.) I also ripped the journal right out of that unwieldy cardboard cover. Once the deconstruction was complete, I collaged both front and back in pretty bits of this and that.


Next I prepared 52 spreads with pastel color blocking: one strip across the top of each page for the date and seven boxes of varying size, color, and layout to represent the days of the week. I typically stayed with the same eight colors for a month at a time with special color schemes for "holiday weeks" like Halloween, Thanksgiving, and Christmas. There were some pages left over after all 52 weeks had been accounted for so I left room for resolution and check-in spreads periodically throughout the year.
Every two weeks, on Sundays, I do a few things to prepare for the following two weeks of journaling. I mask off each individual box in turn and stencil, stamp, collage or paint so that each day's section is now embellished with a bit of background pattern. I write the dates across the top. Finally, I stuff an envelope full of images and paper bits that spark my interest in the moment. For the entire two weeks, I pull almost completely from that envelope so that I don't have to waste time searching for material to use. When those two weeks are complete, I empty the remains of the envelope back into my stash and gather fresh inspiration.


Here is the resulting spread for the first two weeks of the new year. I take it just one day at a time. Some days, I work for a couple of minutes and on other days, it can take almost an hour to figure out what I want to do in that day's given space. I've stamped or handwritten favorite quotes, created mini collages, attached newspaper clippings, hand-painted doodles, added cropped photos and pieces of old artwork. I am completing a visual puzzle each week, piecing together seven snapshots of my brain over and over again. By the end of 2015, if everything proceeds as planned, I'll have a pretty patchwork record of what occupied my thoughts or tickled my fancy every day of the year. 

Wednesday, January 7, 2015

For the Love of Bear

I've been sharing my studio with an enormous marmalade cat for almost nine years. His official name is Marley Bear but more often, he is simply Bear (or sometimes Bear Bear, Mr. Bear, or Lover Bear.) You see, Marley is quite unlike any cat I've ever known. He certainly isn't anything like my other cat, Tuscany, who embodies everything cat haters hate about cats: Tuscany is self-centered, moody, ill-tempered on a whim, aloof, manipulative. I love Tuscany in spite of her personality quirks but I absolutely adore Marley and to me, Marley isn't really a cat. He isn't a dog, of course. No, appearances to the contrary, I think the only explanation is that Marley is a Bear, twenty pounds of thick, soft orange fur that can drive you crazy while stealing your heart. People laugh when we call him a Bear but then they meet him and say "Wow! He really is a bear!"
Bear is all about connecting. He loves to be kissed on the nose and his first "I'm so happy to see you again" gesture is often to lean his nose towards my face so I can give him a kiss. He hates to be separated from either myself or my son. He howls at the door if he sees either one of us leave. He bounds down the stairs when he hears me come home and then circles my legs, kneading the air with alternate paws as he prances in joy at my arrival. (I get this same reception when I get up in the morning and when I get out of the shower.) When my son Daniel comes home, Bear waits to be picked up so he can lick my son's face and nuzzle his neck. After cat naps, Bear hops up onto my studio table, purring, meowing, head-butting, and reaching for me with one paw, reconnecting after his "time away." If I'm busy working and art supplies stand between me and him, Bear will sit at the edge of the table, moaning softly until I clear a path to my arms. He'll turn round and round and finally settle down, curled up against me, using my arm as a pillow. He'll sigh deeply and drift back to sleep, contented by my presence. This break in my artistic momentum used to annoy me but now I embrace it. There's nothing quite like a Bear sleeping in your arms.
Bear spends a lot of time up on my studio table. This can be very inconvenient as he takes up quite a bit of space. Fur and paint are never compatible. However, I've learned how to gently push him to one side so I have enough room to work. In nine years, I've never seen Bear not look angelic when sleeping and I've literally taken hundreds of photos of him sleeping. When he rolls onto his back, snoring softly, it is impossible to resist rubbing his substantial and sumptuous belly. Sometimes, I stop what I'm doing all together and lay my head on his chest, listening to his heart. 
I could go on and on. (I've written about Marley Bear before so if you want more pics check out this post.) I feel a deep sense of connection with this creature. He just loves to be loved and I am happy to oblige. Lately, Bear has found his way into my sketchbook. His constant presence, amusing antics, and precious personality are an inspiration and I think that eventually, with some drawing practice, Bear will be starring in a children's book or two. For now, he's starring in my studio, demanding kisses and cuddles and snuggles and giving as good as he gets. How lucky am I!

Monday, January 5, 2015

The Year of the Story

Here we are: first Monday of the new year and time to put into practice any resolutions, commitments, or goals we set for ourselves as 2014 slipped away. I know many despise the practice of resolution-making but for me, it is an incredibly important and useful tool. I create very detailed resolution lists and check in periodically throughout the year to keep myself on track.

I also used to choose a word for the year but discovered that didn't really work for me so for the last three years, I've chosen one or more "The Year Of..." phrases to inspire me in the studio. Last year was "The Year of Illustration" and "The Year of Watercolor" and I think I made great strides in both throughout 2014.

2015 is "The Year of the Story." It is time to start taking my illustrations to the next level. I want to begin to more fully develop characters so they can begin to tell the jokes and stories rattling around my brain. I want to pull those creatures off paper and into the 3-D world by doing more in sculpture and assemblage, whether it be in clay, fabric, paper mache, found objects or fabric. And speaking of fabric, I want to accomplish a lot more sewing. Fabric projects, especially ones that get passed down family lines, definitely tell and hold stories in their threads.

Even with my Parkinson's slowly advancing and the possibility of another foot surgery this summer, I am beginning 2015 practically floating with optimism, enthusiasm, and inspiration. I think there are many wonderful creative days ahead.

As far as this space is concerned, I am hoping to get back to posting at least twice a week (Mondays and Thursdays.) You might even see a series of Saturday posts. This is my ninth year of blogging and although I often question whether or not to continue Lost Coast Post in the face of the shrinking world of art blogging, I am definitely committed to posting throughout 2015. I hope you'll join me (and perhaps send your friends this way.) As usual, I have no doubt there's a wild ride ahead...Happy New Year to all! Let's get this party started!  

Friday, January 2, 2015

A Christmas Dolly for Samantha

The new year is upon us and while this last week has been full to the brim with looking ahead, I wanted to post about my favorite moment of this Christmas Newly Past.

On a whim, I decided that this Christmas I would make a doll for my three-year old niece Samantha. Never mind that it's been nearly 20 years since I've made a doll completely from scratch or that I have a shaky, hit & miss relationship with my sewing machine: once I get a crazy notion in my head, I am determined to see that idea through to its end. 


I hauled my three-inch thick binder full of doll-making ideas and patterns off the shelf (I've been collecting inspiration for a very long time) and began my project. After cobbling together three or four patterns and two days of cursing like a sailor, I created this Raggedy Anne doll.


Once the doll was finished, wrapped, and stashed under the tree, I felt sure that, given the avalanche of shiny, plastic, multi-part toys coming her way, Samantha would give my humble, homemade doll a passing glance, toss it over her shoulder and plow forward into the next gift. So I handed my present to Samantha at the beginning of the evening so that I might catch her in the best mood of the night.


To my utter delight, Samantha ripped off the wrapping, pulled back the tissue and shrieked - as only little girls can shriek - "Dolly!!!" She yanked Anne out of the box by her arm and hugged that doll as tight as she could. For the entire evening, Samantha carried Anne around, sometimes by her hair, often by one of her gangly limbs. (I am so glad I triple-reinforced all the joints and hair segments.) Anne's presence was required at the opening of each subsequent package. Anne survived an apple pie break unscathed, and as Samantha's energy (and temperament) began to wane, Anne remained firmly clutched in her arms. Finally, exhausted by the total wonderment of the entire evening, Samantha drifted off to sleep as her mom bundled her into the car for the ride home. However, she woke long enough to scream "Dolly!" when my sister-in-law took Anne away so she could buckle the car seat.

I was so touched by this outcome. I'm not sure how long Anne will remain in Samantha's favor; little kids tend to obsess over certain toys for a period of time and then move on to something else. However, on Christmas Day 2014, I know that that doll I made was loved as intensely as any toy can be. Inspired now to explore those ideas I've hoarded, I suspect that I'll be venturing further into the realm of doll-making in 2015.

Saturday, December 27, 2014

Magic Hour of the Year

Wikipedia defines the "magic" or "golden" hour as a period shortly after sunrise or before sunset during which light is redder and softer compared to when the sun is higher in the sky." Photographers and film makers often take advantage of this time because highlights and shadows are less intense.

I consider this last week of the year to be seven days' worth of magic hours. As the old year closes and the door to the new year opens, I hunker down at home. I reflect on what was and ponder what might be. I make copious resolution lists that I will refer back to all throughout the year. I reprioritize, reorganize, and reenergize. The struggles of the previous year fade away and I look forward with optimism and enthusiasm (even if future struggles have already revealed themselves.) In short, this is my absolute favorite time of year and I'm going to disappear until after the first week in January so I can bask in the soft warmth of hope and plan my heart out. Adieu dear readers until we meet again in this small space of mine. As always, thank you for your readership no matter the publishing lulls. I wish you and yours a wonderful new year!

Monday, December 15, 2014

Soothing My Cranky Christmas Self

I'm still here, swinging between grouchy and grateful as the season grinds towards its conclusion. November and December are my two most hated months of the year and yet contain within their scope some of my most favorite times as well. As of today, I have just two more teaching days and I will be released into the blissful freedom of winter break. However, with a Christmas present budget of absolutely zero dollars, I'll be hunkering down in the studio to make a sleigh full of gifts so I anticipate my daily schedule won't actually slow down until after Christmas Day.  I really do try not to be Grinchy but the relentless drumbeat of "Buy! Buy! Buy!" combined with clingy wet, cold, gray weather often conspires to make me grumpy. I have been soothing my cranky self the only way I know how: gallons of hot chocolate and monster creation.

I've drawn or sculpted 89 creatures since November 9th. Let this be a lesson to you: if you decide to finally open the door to your secret passion - I mean really swing it wide and spread your arms in welcome - be prepared to be trampled when all that has been long hidden bursts into the light. When I concluded about a month ago to get out of my own way, the imagination floodgates crumbled like walls of straw. I can't stop doodling and painting all manner of monsters, robots, aliens, and mutant life forms vaguely recognizable as Earth fauna. It is wondrous and glorious and I hope this wave of creativity washes over me long into the new year.  

Saturday, November 22, 2014

Product Review: Stillman & Birn Journals

"You're only given a little spark of madness. You mustn't lose it."
                                              Robin Williams

For me, brand-new journals are an incredible sensory experience before they ever see a drop of paint or glue or ink: the smell of fresh, clean paper, the sound of a crisp spine cracking open, the feel of pristine pages under my fingers! I also love blank journals for their potentiality, the promise they hold for future art projects, ideas and imagination brought forth into the real world. 

I'll be honest though: I am a paper snob. I decided long ago that life is too short for cheap paper. I like the paper in my journals and sketchbooks to be courageous, to stand up to any media I might throw at it without warping or bleed-through. I want to be able to scrub the surface repeatedly without deterioration and I want my tools to glide effortlessly across the page without skipping or dragging.


Enter what I consider to be the Cadillac of journals: the Stillman & Birn Beta series sketchbook. I purchased an 8-1/2 x 11", hardbound Beta several months ago. After it arrived in the mail, I spent time simply running my hand over the pages, marveling over the quality of the paper. I confess that initially, I spent a lot of time stroking the paper but zero time working on it. It seemed too precious; I couldn't imagine any work of mine worthy of such a lovely substrate. So this beautiful journal sat on my shelf, empty, a monument to both quality journals and my abject fear of ruining said journals.

Finally, after a long time of contemplation and bravery-building, I cracked that journal open and began a new project I titled "A Little Spark of Madness." I am using this journal to open the door for all the creatures and critters in my head who are clamoring for the light of day. 


The Stillman & Birn Beta journal features 180 lb natural white, cold press paper that has held up to watercolor, gouache, paper collage, markers, pen & ink, acrylics, and colored pencils. (Here you can see that I am experimenting with different media, trying to find the illustration style I like best.) The journal is hardbound and unlike so many other hardbound journals on the market, this one lies flat when open! Awesome! (The spine will feel tight when you first open the journal but as time goes on, the spine loosens up and the book lies flat easily which is handy if you need to photograph or scan your work.)  

In fact, Stillman & Birn offers all of their journals in hardbound and wirebound styles. Their journals feature either 100 or 180 lb paper and you can also choose between natural white or ivory-colored pages and three different surfaces: vellum, cold press, and smooth. Check out this link for a handy chart of the technical details for each journal series. 

Whenever I post a product review, I like to present both pros and cons. Clearly, I love the Beta series journal but here's what you also need to consider.


These journals are not cheap. I paid $24.95 for this 8-1/2 x 11-inch journal on Ebay and I think that was pure luck (both finding it & the price.) Currently, there a couple of Ebay listings for the Beta ranging from $33.59 to $42.98. Yikes! On Amazon, a 5-1/2 x 8-1/2-inch Beta is going for $27.61 right now (with free shipping if you're an Prime member.) I'm an Amazon affiliate but I'd recommend caution when shopping for Stillman & Birn journals there and thus, I'm not including an affiliate link; the prices on Amazon & Ebay are high compared to other shopping options. Instead, try an art supply store like Dick Blick. They carry all of the Stillman & Birn journals except....

...the hardbound version of the Beta journal! I've found that the hardbound Beta, particularly the larger size, is sort of like the unicorn of journals. After much searching, I was finally ordered my journal through Ebay and a stationery store in New York that no longer exists. The seeming rarity of the hardbound Beta is a mark against it for me simply because it makes me scared to work in it for fear of using it up and not being able to find another! I've fallen in love and I am terrified that I might get my heart broken when I'm ready to move into another volume of my illustration work. Still, I'll carry on and tackle that issue when the last page in my Beta looms large.

So in summary...

PROS:
Superior quality, heavyweight paper that withstands multiple media without warping, bleed-through, or "pilling." Hardbound style lies flat when open (as does the wirebound version obviously.) Extra sturdy black covers are easy to alter with collage and paint. 

CONS:
These journals are costly and that, combined with the quality of the journal itself, can be an intimidating one-two punch. In my personal experience, the hardbound version of the Beta series can be hard to find; watch out for price gouging. I advise checking Dick Blick (or similiar source) for best selection and price. (If you want to buy elsewhere, at least use Blick's catalog to get a good idea what these journals cost on average so you don't pay more than the list price.)

Overall, I consider paying a little bit more money for a lot more quality a great trade-off. Stillman & Birn journals are the premium option for commercially-produced journals. And just a heads-up: if you love to make your own journals, Stillman & Birn is now offering the paper from their fabulous journals in 22 x 30-inch sheets!       

Monday, November 3, 2014

A Bit of Poetic Beauty for Ugly Days

"Luke's Junkyard Song"
by Mary Oliver
from her book Dog Songs

I was born in a junkyard,
not even on a bundle of rags
or the seat of an old wrecked car
but the dust below.

But when my eyes opened
I could crawl to the edge and see
the moving grass and the trees
and this I began to dream on,
though the worms were eating me.

And at night through the twists of metal
I could see a single star -- one, not even two.
Its light was a thing of wonder,
and I learned something precious
that would also be good for you.

Though the worms kept biting and pinching
I fell in love with this star.
I stared at it every night --
that light so clear and far.

Listen, a junkyard puppy
learns quickly how to dream.
Listen, whatever you see and love --
that's where you are.

Friday, October 31, 2014

Sugar Skull Scalawags

I actually created these sugar skull characters last year but I thought they might be too weird to post. However, since it's Halloween and, in the interest of embracing the strange side of myself and my art, I dug their container out of the pantry yesterday and aimed my camera in their direction. The skulls themselves are made of molded and hardened white sugar so I'm not sure how long they'll actually last. They've made it a year intact and free of mold...so far so good. I have stored them in an airtight container nestled amid those little packages of silica gel (you know the ones stamped "Do Not Eat"?) that come with a new pair of shoes or anything other product that needs to remain dry within its packaging before it gets into the hands of the consumer. I save every one of those packets I come across and toss them in with the skulls to keep my skeletal friends nice and moisture-free. By their smiles, it seems that all is well. 
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