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Monday, January 24, 2011

Back to Rudy

I was going to finish the fairy gourd today but I needed E6000 glue and the hardware store I went to didn't carry it.  Rather than checking other stores I decided to get it tomorrow at the bead store.  So the fairy gourd still isn't finished.

Instead I went back to this pastel portrait of Rudy that I started at a demo in December.  It was difficult to get to it because it made me so sad.  Rudy is deceased and I took this photo on the last day of his life.  Soon after I took it I really liked the photo because I thought it captured him seeing angels.  But today it was just difficult.  I really want to do the best work I can to "do right" by this special soul.

Up until today I had been working with my harder pastels and a limited palette of Rembrants.  But today I broke out the relatively large number of Rembrandts that I had purchased since - many "animal colors."  It was such a joy to work with series of anywhere from 3 to 5 grradations of a single color.   Previously, to get a lighter color I just used less pressure and applied less pigment.  But today I could just pick up a lighter pastel and I think it works much better to have more pigment on the painting.  So from now on when I buy more pastels I will buy them in that way - a series of 3 to 5 rather than just a single color.  Anyway, Rembrandts are classified as "medium" pastels but, aside from the Giraults, they are the softest pastels I owned.  The way they laid down the pigment was wonderful and I like that they have wrappers as I can't stand getting really dirty with pastel dust!  I still like the harder pastels for the beginning phases, but these really brighten up the painting.

Since I am working on a piece of velour paper that is anywhere from 4 to 6 inches bigger all around than what the finished painting will be, I was getting a little confused about where the edge of the painting was.  I was concerned that when I went to crop it I would find that I hadn't finished to what should be the edges in some places.  So I got out some strips of paper. laid them out on the pastel, and marked where the edge will be.  Now I'm more grounded.

My plan was to work from the eyes outward, but I ended up working randomly here and there as I saw places I needed to either fix or detail.  The place I had the most difficulty was the tongue.  It seemed that it needed to be warmer, so I glazed a very little bit of bright orange over the highlights and that seemed to help.  There is a lot of splotchy detail in the photo around the gums, but I don't know what it is and am reluctant to simply copy what I see without understanding it.  So I'll revisit that problem tomorrow when I hope to finish it except for the final final touches which will require looking at the painting for a few days.

Sunday, January 23, 2011

Finishing the Fairy's Outfit

 Today I worked more on the fairy and I'm close to completing her and the project as a whole.  The first priority was finishing the outfit.  I was waiting for some silk that I had ordered to arrive and it did.  I chose a beautiful pear green from the pieces I had ordered, but when I was putting the rest of the silk away I ran across some Ultrasuede and decided to add it instead.  Using the patterns for the bodice front and back that I had made from a soft paper towel, I cut the pieces out of the Ultrasuede then sewed pearl color seed beads along the neck, arm, and bottom edges.  The soft paper towel was good for making patterns because I could press it in place then mark the outline with a pencil.  Gluing the Ultrasuede pieces in place with a little Alene's Fast Grab was easy.  I began with the back piece, anchoring it with dabs of glue at the shoulders and sides of the waist.  Then, with the back in place, I glued the front on, wrapping the shoulder pieces over those on the back and anchoring it in place, again with dabs of glue at the waist and ends of the shoulder pieces.  The "off the shoulder" look hides the seams in the clay where the arms attach to the body.  I really liked the look of the Ultrasuede bodice with the mulberry bark skirt - very "woodsy" looking. 

I looked through my glass cabochons and brass stampings for something to decorate the bodice with and decided on this glass Celtic knot piece.  Also in the running was a beautiful brass dragonfly stamping, but I liked the round shape of the glass cabochon better and I also thought that the black background was a good touch.

Painting her face was difficult because the clay surface was not very even around the eyes.  I used acrylic paint and a small liner brush, painting the eyeshadow, eyeliner, eyebrows, lips, and fingernails.

Her hair is "eyelash" style yarn with some Angelina fiber mixed in.  I made a long tassle, wrapping the yarn around a file card and tying it together with a piece of yarn.  The knot is at the top of the headl glued in place with some E6000 glue.  I cut the ends and separated a small clump which I tied about an inch from the center knot.  I then swept this clump to the side and glued it in place behind its knot.  Later, I'll probably trim the hair a bit.

Her wings are Fantasy Fiber with skeleton leaves and glitter.  I'll attach those last, once the fairy and all the items inside the gourd are in place.
I made one of her companions the other day - a fairy rabbit.  I'm planning for three of them, one with celery color wings, the second with lavendar wings, and the third with yellow-orange wings.  My original plan was to have one of the rabbits peeking out of the knot hole on the side of the gourd, but now I see that the knot hole is too small.  I can't enlarge it without eliminating the painted edge around it which I think wouldn't be a good idea.  So perhaps it will just act as a little window for seeing what's going on inside the gourd without taking the lid off.

Anyway, so far, so good.

Friday, January 21, 2011

The Fairy Home Gets a Roof


 Once the painting was done, it was time for fun with the Dremel rotary tool.  I had big plans for carving the background to look like bark, but carving turned out to be much more difficult than it sounded.  After I removed the hard "skin" from the background with a rough diamond ball, I decided to leave it at that.  The gourd was pretty hard, but actually uneven in hardness.  I suspect that is quite normal, but it makes it difficult to do any sort of precise carving and since I am a novice, I decided that the texture was good enough.  I sealed the textured portion with a clear acrylic brush-on sealer then proceeded to the next part - the roof.

In preparationn for the roof, I shaped a mound at the front to suggest a little porch roof over the entry hole.  Apoxie Sculpt worked very well for this purpose.  It stuck to the gourd and was easy to work with.

I thought I had sugar pine cones that I remembered ordering on e-bay a few years ago.  When I found the cones they were smaller than I thought, and so the cone "petals" for the individual shingles were also smaller than I expected.

 Removing the "petals" from the cones was a challenge.  The first few rows at the base snapped off pretty easily with just my fingers, but after that they just wouldn't budge.  I didn't have a small saw that would fit in the space and a craft knife was too unwieldy and seemed a bit dangerous on the slippery uneven surface.  So I got out gardening clippers and clipped them off.  I couldn't get very close to the core, so the "shingles" were not very deep.  This meant that the rows needed to be pretty close together.

I attached the pine cone shingles with E6000 glue, choosing that glue because it is thick and doesn't run very much.  But I needed thick blobs of glue because the back surface of the shingles was so uneven.  Inevitably, some of the glue dripped and shows as shiny clear blobs.  I'm hoping that finishing the roof with satin varnish will help disguise the glue by covering its shininess.

Since the top of the gourd narrows so much, I used narrower shingles here - the narrower ones that I was able to snap off at the base of the pine cones.  This gave me longer shingles, so the upper rows can be farther apart.

When I was done with the roof, I was disappointed with it.  Visually, it seemed too small.  Then I remembered another wild flower from my youth - the May Apple. 

I made a fairly large one from polymer clay to add to the roof.  It will appear to be poking through the roof and hopefully solve my roof problem.

For strength, I used wire mesh between the upper and lower clay layers of the leaves and wire in the stems.  When I've used wire before it's been frustrating because the clay doesn't stick to it.  This time, I used electrical wire which is covered with plastic.  And for the stem, I wrapped three lengths of wire together - for the two leaves and the flower - with florist tape.  The clay stuck and it cured just fine at 265 degrees.  I'll use this technique in the future for armatures.

Sunday, January 16, 2011

Break out the Good Brushes

Buying new brushes then putting them away for "later" seems to be a common practice among my painting friends, but perhaps not very practical.  I have a small drawer full of such brushes still in their packaging, waiting for that special painting task.  Today I finally broke through the barrier and got out several new brushes - #s 2, 4, 6, 8, 10, 14, and 16 flats - as I started painting this gourd.  What a difference it made!  The paint went on so smoothly.

In addition to breaking out the new brushes, I actually threw the old ones away!  This is definitely a new leaf!

I would say that the painting I'm doing on this project is decorative painting, and it's really fun to get back to it.  No color mixing with the myriad of decorative acrylic colors, and all that fun floating - just like the old days.  This gourd is proving to be a delightful surface to paint on.  The ferns were a little daunting, but when I was done with them, I had enjoyed them so much that I wished I had sketched more than one clump.  But my design is pretty much set since I carved out the outline at the top of the painting area.  This was also a little bit new of a procedure as I didn't draw the design out first and then trace it onto the gourd.  I just went for it, right on the gourd - so bold!

The purples and blues I'm working with are downright luscious!  Can't wait for tomorrow's painting session.

Saturday, January 15, 2011

Beginning the Fairy Gourd

 Starting a new project is always exciting, and this one will be both fun and a challenge.  It will include several media and techniques - polymer clay sculpture, painting, carving, and assemblage.  Unlike with previous fairies whose "clothes" I made from polymer clay, this one will have fabric clothes that I will sew.  I have ordered a few different colors of silk velvet and Dupoini silk and can't wait for them to arrive so I can get started on designing her fairy dress!  She will have the usual Fantasy Film wings and probably yarn hair.  The blob sitting on her head isn't attached - it's just there for me to decide whether or not I like the color and since I'm a sucker for red hair, I do like it.  
    
Here's a photo of her head and shoulders.  I baked this part first then added the body, arms, and legs.  The wires are to let me get a good bond between the different parts.  I'm not worried about the sculpting on the body because it will be covered with her dress.
 
My concept for this piece is that gourd will be like a little natural "house."  I will paint the bottom part with trilliums, violets, and ferns.  The roof will probably be "petals" from pine cones that I will glue on individually.  I will paint the area right around the opening like the scar around a knot hole.  And my plan is to cut away the skin from the mid section of the gourd and carve it to look like tree bark.  So many plans!  What will the reality turn out to be?

Wednesday, January 12, 2011

All Nine and Looking Good

Here are the nine, together in Parliament.  I took this photo last Friday then spent Saturday finishing the backs and edges and adding the hanging hardware to be ready for show intake on Sunday.  Monday we hung the show - which looks really good - and yesterday I began a gourd.  More about that tomorrow.

Looking back on it, despite all my complaining about colored pencil, this has been an inspiring project to work on.  As far as multiples go, I think 9 is a very good number.  Enough to establish a theme and get good practice on any new techniques.  But not so many as to be overwhelming or lose interest in the subject.

Today I learned that one has sold - the one on the center right - the first one I did.  I spent more time on that one than on any other except for the one in the middle, and I think the work paid off.  So now I must begin doing a replacement.  I'll work on that between tasks on the gourd, but would like to have the new owl by Tuesday (gallery closed Sunday and Monday).

Friday, January 7, 2011

A Parliament

Parliament (the term for a group of owls) is now called to order with the arrival of Owl Number 9, a Saw Whet owl.

It's amazing how a photo of a piece I've worked on all afternoon looks different than I thought it did.  I now realize that the eyes need correction.  I think his left eye needs to be set into the head more with some shadows.  The shapes of the two eyes need to be brought more into synch, especially along the tops.  And the beak looks off center.  So, there's a lot to try to correct - after all, he needs to be at his best for Parliament.  I also think I'll make the top of the sky darker, which must mean grayer as I've deepened the purple about as much as I can.  And the shadows of the trees need to be strengthened and the snow could be darker except right by the moon.  I suppose while I'm at it I should add stronger shadows to the feet and legs to make them rounder looking.  Hmmmm.  Lots more left to do, and I thought I was done!

I still have to make final corrections on all the pieces, finish the sides and backs, and attach the hardware - all tasks for tomorrow as then need to be delivered to the show on Sunday.

Thursday, January 6, 2011

Owl the Eighth

Here's Henry, the eighth owl for the series - another barn owl because they're my favorite.  Apropos of that, here's what I wrote about the inspiration for this series, a blurb that will appear in a book of artists' statements at the show:

For many years I lived in the countryside between Livermore and Danville in an old school house that had been built in 1922. One of its loveliest features was a two-story well house. The first floor housed the well head, but the second-floor water tank was long gone and there were several openings in this beautiful weathered wood building. The well house was a quiet place, and a favorite roost for barn owls. We could reliably see them by visiting the well house and looking up through the gaps in the second story floor. In the spring we were treated with the sight of the babies.



In my current home in Shingle Springs I often hear the owls’ calls, but do not see them. I miss the sight of these majestic birds and this series is dedicated to them.

I had the same problem with this piece as with all the othesr - an inconsistency between the light source and the lighting on the owl.  Of course with the moon as the light source, the owl would be in deep shadow with a halo effect.  And then I'd miss the detail in the owl.  So I had to get used to the idea of using my artistic license and simply making the lighting deliberately wrong.  Here at owl number 8, it finally no longer bothers me!  Perhaps in the future I'll do an owl and moon painting with correct lighting.  It would be pretty dramatic, but I think there would have to be more interesting backgrounds than what I've included with these.

Wednesday, January 5, 2011

Something New

Shelley and I spent an afternoon playing with image transfer.  It's a technique that had interested both of us and we finally set aside a bit of time to try it.  Cursory researchoin the internet provided the information we needed to get started and we were fortunate to already have the materials we needed.

We worked on white Stonehenge drawing paper.  I was also going to try illustration board, but I didn't get further than the Stonehenge in this first attempt.  We used Golden Clear Gel Medium (Glossy) for the transfer medium and images from magazines and greeting cards.

The basic process is to coat the image you're transfering with the gel medium then burnish the image right side down into the Stonehenge.  Once the gel dries, you dampen the back of the paper with the original image and gently rub it away.  The idea is that the ink adheres to the gel medium and the paper can be rubbed completely away leaving the image.  The image transfers in reverse, so if you're transferring anything with letters or numbers and you don't want them to be backwards you need to reverse your image on the computer first.

The image I tried from a greeting card was printed on very heavy and textured paper and I wasn't successful in removing all the paper.  Perhaps it would have worked if I had made a copy and worked with that.

For magazine images we selected magazines printed on nice heavy paper, specifically Martha Stewart and Architectural Digest.  These images transferred quite well.  The biggest problem I had was rubbing parts of the image away with the paper.  I think this was because I didn't get a good bond between the gel medium and the image.  This may have been because the image tended to buckle once it got "wet" with the medium or it could have been due to brushstrokes in the medium.  I tried putting gel medium on both the Stonehenge and the image.  I got a more even transfer, but when I was burnishing the image to the Sonehenge, I inevitably got gel medium on the back of the image which made it harder to rub the paper away.  I don't know what to do about the buckling paper.  On the other hand, I like the look when some of the image rubs off.

On the piece in the photo, I painted interference paints and sprinkled mica powders on the Stonehenge before I did the transfer.  I wanted to see if the iridescence would should through, and it did - especially where the colors were lighter (and the ink presumably thinner).  This is a look I really like.

Shelley did better than I did in getting evenly transferred images.  We're not sure what her secret was! 

We didn't try transfering any photocopies or injet printer copies and the ink would be completely different from the magazine inks.  Also, some of the internet articles I read suggesting using self-leveling gel for a more even coat. I didn't think we had any, but later we found some in with mother's art supplies so we'll have to remember to try it. 

I don't know what, if anything, we will do with image transfer in the future, but it was fun and definitely worth playing with some more.  Shelley's interested in mixed media and collage so I think she may be more likely to use it than I will,  But you neveer know when you're going to use a technique that you have learned. 

Saturday, January 1, 2011

Building on Something Old

Last summer, in preparation for a workshop I was going to teach on polymer clay mosaics, I began this piece as a sample.  At that point, the serpent wasn.t there.  The two panels to the sides of the angel were hinged and in a position angled up from the base.

I didn't do anything more with it  - just put it aside where it kicked around in the studio rubble for several months.  A few weeks ago when I was cleaning up a pile of stuff, I found this piece buried in a stack of photos and clippings.  The hinged side panels as well as the center angel panel had come loose.  I put the pieces aside, not sure what to do with them.

But then I became inspired to repair the piece and enter it in the 3D show that Placerville Arts Association is putting on.  Intake is a week from tomorrow, in fact.

As I looked at it, I felt that I wanted to do more with the piece and that I also wanted to move a bit away from the straight-forward icon look.  My inspiration was to put a serpent emerging from behind the hinged panels - temptation always lurks in the background!  He was quite fun to make.

I used metal foil on polymer clay for the upper side of the body - laying the leaf on a sheet of clay then rolling it thinner and thinner.  That breaks up the leaf as the clay beneath it stretches and yields a look a bit like reptile skin.  For the belly, which shows only a little, I made a Skinner Blend from very dark brown and white.  I then cut thin strips from the blend and arranged them on end, side to side, and alternating the dark end on the left, then on the right, and so on.  After pressing the strips firmly together, I rolled the resulting slab through the pasta machine at successively thinner settings.  By rolling the stripes perpendicular to the machine, the strips retained their width as the sheet of clay got thinner and thinner.  I used the center part of the thinned sheet for the belly - very cool!  I used marvelous glass eyes from http://www.glasseyesonline.com/, a stryle with a marquis shapes pupil - just like a serpent's eyes.  This is a generic serpent - looking very much like a snake but with legs.  I cured the fangs and claws separately then set them into the uncured serpent and settled them in with a little liquid clay.

The serpent clutches a peach in the coil of his tail.  Tempting, right!  More so, for me anyway, than an apple.

I still have farther to go before I'm finished.  I'm going to float this panel above a slightly larger one.  The back, larger panel will be painted like a night sky, dark at the top and lightening toward the bottos, with an owl flying the the upper left corner.  By the way, this piece has a nice metallic finish.  I used mica powders on the polymer clay and metallic and interference paints on the painted areas. 

I think I've improved the piece by adding more symbolism and achieving a bit of an air of mystery.