Alice's Caterpillar: Step-By-Step

Many of you have asked to see more step-by-step or how-to posts so here you go! Heads-up: This blog entry is really, really long and image heavy so pace yourselves; I personally recommend accompanying this post with the hot, comforting beverage of your choice.

This is another page in my Tribe storybooking journal. If the the previous four pages were signposts, this is the "X Marks the Spot" page, the one where the light bulb finally went off. While I broke this page into 10 steps, you'll see that each step actually represents several actions. I work in "technique clusters," applying a set of techniques/colors and then falling back on the previous set of actions to continually integrate each action into the whole so the page is cohesive. Read on...I think you'll see what I mean...

STEP 1: I'm working in an old children's encyclopedia. This page began with a layer of pink acrylic paint, topped with a collage of torn wrapping paper. I used a foam brush to scrub on some white acrylic to tame the brightness and busyness of all the color & pattern. This helps integrate the layers. I have no idea the end game...just playing at this point.

STEP 2: Turquoise acrylic rubbed in by hand plus brush marks; red acrylic scraped on with a palette knife; yellow stencilled on as well as applied with a flat brush; little "X's" made with a black ballpoint pen. I push and pull with these colors and techniques until I end up with something I like.

STEP 3: Lots of mark-making - small gold paint pen circles; tiny, repetitive turquoise marks made with a round brush; concentric circles made by dipping a potato masher in grey acrylic; stamping with grey Staz-On ink. Again, I push/pull with these marks as well as the colors/techniques I used previously.

STEP 4: Taming all that pattern with finger-applied white acrylic. I make more "Xs" and journal in ballpoint pen, apply more white and even make marks in the wet paint with the end of my brush. The ballpoint pen and Staz-On ink bleeds through subsequent paint layers, an effect I love.

STEP 5: I drip watered down quinacridone magenta over the entire page and let dry overnight. When I finish working in the studio for the day, I still have no idea what this page is going to be about...I let my subconscious work on that puzzle while I sleep.

STEP 6: Wake up, look at this page and think "Wonderland" and more specifically, Alice's encounter with the caterpillar. I do a quick sketch (that's the actual sketch in the photo) and then cut shapes (freehand) from scrapbook paper, book paper, and an old how-to painting book. Glue everything in place.

STEP 7: Scrub on a very light layer of acrylics in the appropriate colors. Dig through my collage stash and find a magazine photo of a rose that I shape to make the caterpillar's turban. Lightly draw in and then gesso his hands. Gesso his face. Add some long, yellow marks with a wood skewer dipped in paint.

STEP 8: Detail the caterpillar with paint pens, colored pencils, and permanent black pen. This adds shading and volume to the character.

STEP 9: More detailing: Subtle contour lines on the turban; red paint pen dots on the mushroom and lines for gills under the cap; shading on the stem.

STEP 10: Time to bring the character and the background together. Add pieces of washi tape; repeat previous mark-making and color applications; add "bumps" to the mushroom to make it more interesting; add a vintage ad that happened to slip out of my collage stash when I was digging for that rose turban (love serendipity!)

THE FINAL PAGE: To bring this page all together, I added a found phrase, "hung" some map paper stars, and shadowed under the caterpillar's rear. In the future, I may try and integrate that vintage ad a bit more; it feels stuck on to me. I often go back and tweak pages in small ways if the inspiration strikes. For now, I'm calling this page done.

As a final note, I wanted to point out a little virtual wave to reader Özge in Izmir, Turkey. When I pulled out map paper to punch out the stars for my page, I saw her hometown and decided to have it shine over the caterpillar. See her there in the uppermost star?


gretchen said…
thank you, michelle. i know that a post like this is time-consuming and i appreciate the gift that you've given. the page is wonderful and the process description very helpful. have a wonderful day!
Dear Michelle, i can't tell how much you made me happy :) I was reading joyfully through this process post when i reached the end and saw the map stars.This is so very nice of you :)Today was a very spring like winter day in Izmir.Sending warm hugs to your way...Thank you very much and cheers to your creativity.(and Alice is still one of my favourite books to date :)
Ryusho 龍昇 said…
I'll add my appreciation for this post to those others have expressed. I am thankful for the posts of your beautiful creations and the journey they document. With gratitude, I read the story of the discovery and the delight you experience as the unknown which lies within slowly gives away its little clues. Those alone are priceless, and then today happens. Well, what can one say that would adequately express the level of appreciation for sharing the creation process step by step. The amount of time you took to document your process to which you added detailed explanations of what you did is a gift you give which leaves me in debt to you.

Thank you. The little tip I left in your jar is hardly adequate, yet if I waited until an adequate amount were available it would do you no good. So please accept it as a meager token representing a larger expression.

With appreciation and Gassho (a term used which represents the physical act of bowing, or Namaste) it is the mudra of the expression. (Buddhist priests are notoriously wordy)

Loulou in Texas said…
I found it really interesting to see how your Alice's Caterpillar piece came together. Thank you for taking the time to post and explain all your steps. Hope you have a great week ahead!
Chris Tessnear said…
love this. your layers are great. so nice to find a recent pin on Pinterest.