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Thursday, March 29, 2012

Needle Felting? Why not?

About a year ago I came across some wonderful little needle-felted animals on eBay.  They were created by an incredibly talented Russian artist, and I was immediately enchanted.  A while later I found a great website for getting the supplies, and ordered what I thought would be the basics.  But then that was it for several - too many - months.  I just didn't know where to start.

Than last month I saw a fellow Placerville Art Association artist's sweet little needle-felted camel and was inspired all over again.  Patty is going to teach a workshop in August, but that's just too long to wait.  So the other day, I plunged in.  This is the result - "Alberta," and Albert's squirrel complete with adorable and totally out of control ear tufts.

She basically created herself and turned out to be about 6" tall.  It seemed like a corner of this vintage handkerchief would make a perfect shawl, and, of course she needed a ribbon around her neck.  So she's all dressed up and ready to go!

For years now I've wanted to create a "doll" house with a hollow tree stump as the house and a squirrel family as the "dolls" but had no idea how to even begin.  So now I have a starting placing - making the little squirrels with needle felting.

Tuesday, March 27, 2012

Tinkerbelle Fully Furred

Miss Tinkerbelle now has all her fur and, although I could continue fussing, I'm going to declare this painting finished. 

There are many things I could have - and should have - done better.  Probably the most important is establishing shadows behind her at the beginning.  Running a close second is that I should have had a good understanding of what was going on with her belly fur before I began painting.  The third thing is a detail, but an important one.  The base of the masked hairs in her ears are too thick, and they are not well "seated."  Overall, I could have made this a more interesting painting with some sort of background.

But on the positive side, after talking with Carel and trying, as he suggested, my paint not quite so thinned down, I was able to get satisfactory light hairs over the darker background.

My goal with this painting was to see if I could paint convincing fur with this technique.  I think I managed that, but the jury's still out on this technique for me - purely because of the light-over-dark limitations.  My alternatives are either oil or a final layer of oil over the acrylic.

All things said, I'm satisfied that this is an respectable effort.

Monday, March 26, 2012

The Belly Fur Begins to Emerge

Yesterday I really screwed up with the masking fluid.  I laid a thick line of it down along the right edge of the belly hairs so that I could work on the dark areas of the left shoulder and leg.  But then I discovered I had created a problem for myself when I prepared to work on the belly fur - I didn't want the masking action of that thick line and I couldn't remove the thick line without also removing the little hairs that it crossed.

In the end, I removed all the masking fluid and just told myself I'd have to figure out a way to make it work.  I even called Carel for some advice.  He thought I was probably working with the acrylic too thinned down and that with it thicker - and a lot of work - I could make light over dark work out after all.  And if not, I could try switching to oil at the very end since it doesn't dry as translucent as acrylic does.

So, onward!  And here's where I am now.  I find the fur on the back so confusing.  So many wisps of belly fur come up over it that it's not clear what the pattern is in the underlying coat.  I was definitely struggling, and guessing a lot.  But now that I look at the photo of the painting I see some pattern emerging and feel that there is hope after all.  Back to it tomorrow!

Sunday, March 25, 2012

The Problem with Impatience

I spent a few hours this afternoon continuing to work on Tinkerbelle's fur and then I just couldn't resist removing the masking fluid I had on her face and chest.  I wish I could use the excuse that I was worried about leaving the mask on the illustration board too long, but it was actually just impatience to see how it would look.  And now I've created a problem for myself.

In my source photo, she is lying on a bed, on a dark flowered coverlet.  Since I wanted to empahsize her fur I decided to leave the background out and didn't realize that I would then have a problem portraying that she is laying on her side.  I will surely need shadows around her to do that, and I've made shadows nearly impossible (with paint, at least) to portray without the masking fluid.  And, I't's nearly impossible to put more masking fluid over where it was originally.  Hmmmm.  Now what?

Thursday, March 22, 2012

Beginning Tinkerbelle

After much fussing around with beads, wire, gourds, and polymer clay I am finally back to painting.   This is the beginning of what I hope will be my entry in this year's Society of Feline Artists show.

The show is in London and that fact has definitely affected my choice of medium.  This shot of Tinkerbelle shows her fabulous fur with light guard hairs crossing and re-crossing from her belly poof (technical term for fluffy belly hair) over  her shoulder, legs, and cheek.  Ordinarilly I would chose pastel for this portrait because it lends itself so well to drawing those light hairs over darker backgrounds.  And despite its opacity, pastel colors are gorgeously rich.

But if all goes according to plan I will be shipping this painting to London and I would be fearful of the condition in which a pastel painting would arrive at its destination.  So, I've settled on the acrylic technique I learned in Carel Brest van Kempen's class last October.  Actually, I shouldn't presume to say I've "learned" the technique - I'm just in the process of learnig it.  The more I work with this technique the more it seems like drawing in paint since so much of the work is done with a tiny liner brush.

My first painting step was the background and I had a terrible time with it.  I wanted to build up beautiful color with transparent washes, but the paper (I'm using illustration board) took the paint soooo unevenly.  I had a splotchy mess.  Adding more glazes just seemed to make the splotches even more pronounced.  Although I really wanted transparent color I felt I really had no choice but to try to cover up the splotches with more opaque paint.  Here's where I ended up.  The splotches still show through, but they are subdued and, in the end, I like the look - accident though it was.

I am working this painting differently than I usually do.  Rather than working the first layer over the entire piece, then the second layer over the entire piece, and so on, I'm working one section to near completion before starting on the next.  That's because of how the fine fur overlays itself.  So I am working in sections beginning with the one farthest from the viewer.  This way the hairs on the edges of a forward section (such as the shoulder) will be painted over the section "behind" it (such as the face).

So far so good, I think, but it's quite challenging!  

Friday, March 16, 2012


I finally finished this little commissioned portrait of a beloved canine - Winston.  The woman who commissioned it saw my series of nine dogs in our club's show and wanted a portrait of her dog in the same style.  I'm happy to have done this painting because the money I receive from it will become a donation to the local animal shelter and it always feels good to help the animals.  But also, it was just fun painting this fine looking dog and an opportunity to continue working on my mixed media technique based on graphite.

I began the piece with a graphite drawing.  After "fixing" it, I added several washes of light body acrylics over the dog, then turned to the background, which is colored pencil blended with solvent.  The finishing touch is a "finger edge" of iridescent bronze acrylic.

I hope Winston's mom will be pleased!

Wednesday, March 14, 2012

A Rat is Born

There has been a lot of rat news around here lately and as a result I have been inspired to do rat art.  So here's the beginning of a new gourd which will have a rat theme.

I don't have it planned out, but the design is generally this:  The gourd itself will become a ball of leaves - the rats' nest!  Some of the leaves will be delineated by cutting and the resulting spaces will allow seeing into the inside of the gourd where there will a group of rats snug in its nest.  Beyond this general idea, the details remain unresolved, and will be so until they just emerge as the piece progresses.

By the way, it's really handy that polymer clay cures at such a low temperature.  I was able to cure this little guy in place on the gourd by simply putting the gourd with the rat on it in my kitchen oven.  The temperature isn't high enough to affect the gourd.  So the "fit" between rat and gourd can be precise.  I've outlined his paws on the gourd in pencil so that I'll be able to replace him in the exact right spot.

The next step is to pencil in the leaves on the gourd and do the cutting - my favorite part!

Monday, March 12, 2012

A Wirework Interlude

I saw a heart similar to this in a bead store in Sacramento and recognized it as a variation on the "Tree of Life" wire wrap piece that I have seen several times.  I liked it, and decided to see if I could figure out how to make one.  This is the result.

The wire is a gorgeous pink gold color and the beads are just a mix of items from my extensive "stash."  Of coures, in the end I just couldn't resist adding some polymer clay so I made these two little birds.  Making the chain was somewhat tedious, but also rewarding.  And I also made the clasp.  A pretty glass drop adds a nice finishing touch near the clasp.

Diane at Basically Beads liked this piece so much that I'll be teaching a workshop on it next month.  And I liked it so much that I made two more.  These are fun! and a great way to use bead odds and ends.  The colored wires now on the market provide many exciting possibilites!

Saturday, March 10, 2012

A Labor of Love

One day I wanted to make a polymer clay otter and things just sort of happened from there!  I didn't keep track of how many hours I spent on this, or how many of those little beads I sewed on one-by-one.  But it was all worth it.  Generally speaking, I just don't mind spending a lot of time on a project - in honor of hand work which is too rapidly becoming a thing of the past.

These two otters are in love!  As you can see, he is bringing his beloved a gift of a fish.  Such a thoughtful boy!  Such a lucky girl!

I don't plan to ever wear this elaborate (perhaps overdone?) necklace.  In fact, I will make a nice display for it so that it can hang on the wall as "art."

When I started beading, I couldn't find the exact colors or finishes I wanted, so I opted for the colors I needed which resulted in what turned out to be a nice mix of finishes, from transparent, to ceylon, to satin, to opal, and so on.  If I had really been able to plan it, I don't think it would have turned out as nice.

The gemstone beads include pearls, kyanite, blue chalcedony, and prehnite.

Monday, March 5, 2012

A Tuscon Portrait

 When I visited Tuscon last October I was captivated by civets.  Also called ring-tail cats (not to be confused with ring-tail lemurs), they are engaging little raccoon relatives.  When I returned, I decided to sculpt one at our local bead shop Clay Play Day.  Then the project just grew from there - into a southwest scene, complete with civets, branches, brambles, cactus, and a flock of little birds.  I meant the birds to be cactus wrens, but they are awfully small to be identifiable.  Nonetheless, I tried to accurately portray their shapes in hopes that someone might actually recognize them!

I enjoyed all aspects of this project - the design, the sculpting, and the beading.  The coralling technique that I used for the branch dangles is one of my favorite beading techniques.

Surprisingly, even with the branch on the left protruding towards the interior of the necklace, it fits rather nicely!