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Monday, June 25, 2012

My Summer Project

This summer I will be painting four murals, each of the same landscape but in a different season.  They will each be 4'x12' and will be, by far, the largest paintings I've ever done.  This is the initial sketch.  The murals are  for the Agriculture building at the fairgrounds in Bloomsburg, PA. I'll paint them here at home on canvas and will roll and ship the painted canvas to Pennsylvania where they will stretch and hang the paintings. It will be a fun, interesting, and challenging project, and I need to be done with all four by September 1.   Yikes!  I'd better get started!

Sunday, June 24, 2012

Progress on the Kookaburras

Here are the kookaburras nearly finished.  I took the photo at an angle so I could get a little hint of the gold.  The background was a multi-step process.  First was a layer of burnt ochre watercolor pencil.  I applied it as smoothly as I could and then dampened it with a wet brush.  Unfortunately the paint slid around on the fixative, so I couldn't get a smooth look.  To mask the problem, I blotted it with a tissue and got a mottled look that I rather liked.  Then I put on a second layer of watercolor pencil, this time a little darker - bistre.  As before, I dampened it and blotted it with a tissue.  The final step was dry-brushing gold acrylic down from the top and up from the bottom with a fan brush.  I used Liquitex Interference Gold and Golden Bright Gold (which is very yellow looking).  I tried a bit of copper but it was too much so I removed it as best I could.

The one change I'd like to make is to re-do the lettering.  The lines should be spaced more evenly, and I'd like to see it in a dark red.

Saturday, June 23, 2012

Wonderful Kookaburras

Drawing is still my favorite technique, and I expect it always will be.  There's something magical about bringing things to life with such a humble tool and no color.

I have long admired kookaburras and when I prepared to draw these guys I did a little research and found out that there are three varieties.  I think the most beautiful is the spangled kookaburra, but I chose to draw these more common ones.

As always when I draw birds I am fascinated with how much expression they  can convey with body language despite the "handicaps" of having no hands and limited motion in their bodies (their skeletons are fused between shoulder and hip).  But they do have quite a large number of vertebrae (16 or 19, I think) in their necks so can place their heads in seemingly endless positions.

Tomorrow I want to finish this drawing by adding just a tiny bit of color.  I'd like to tint the background either with tea, acrylic washes, or colored pencil, and perhaps add some drybrush streaks of interference gold.  As I see the drawing once it's photographed, I realize that it needs a bit more pencil work in the right bird and the right part of the branch.

I originally began this piece as a line drawing, intending to do a painting with soft body acrylics.  But I got so caught up with the drawing that I just kept going and the drawing will be my finished piece.  It's too bad I didn't do it on better paper.

Thursday, June 21, 2012

Confessions of a Gourdomaniac

Actually, I have nothing to confess - I'm a gourdomaniac and proud of it!

Here's my latest.  It's small (the gourd is 4" tall) and the gourd plays a minor role, really serving only as a base for the polymer clay otters.

The gourd doesn't open.  But I did cut it in half at the "waist" so that I could remove the seeds and add ballast then glued the two halves back together.  For ballast, I mixed sand with acrylic pouring medium and put about 1 1/2" in the bottom.  The base of the gourd is small (I sanded it flat, by the way) and the otters are relatively big so I was concerned about stability.

This is one HARD gourd.  Carving the grooves for the strands of beads was a real challenge.  I started with hand tools - a knife and a small gouge - because I thought I would have better control of them. But after struggling for an hour or so, I realized I'd need power, so I got out the Dremel tool.  It was difficult to control, especially over the uneven extra-hard patches of the gourd's surface, but I didn't have a choice if I wanted grooves.

Before the carving, I had painted the entire gourd with an interference green acrylic but once I did the carving, I didn't like the paint.  It made the uneven edges of the grooves too obvious.  When I tried to sand the paint off it was highly resistent.  But I realized that I liked the mottled look and left it at that.

The silver spot is metal leaf.  It's supposed to represent the reflection of the moon in the water.

I think the bead "coralling" is a pretty good suggestion of water.

I'd like to put a fish in her mouth.  (She's the one at the top, with the gold necklace.)  I have a nice little Swarovski crystal one and could glue it on a wire ending in her mouth.  But I'm hoping to find some very stiff plastic line (fishing line, maybe) that will be less obvious.  So that's a detail for the future.

Meanwhile, I think this is a fun little piece.

Wednesday, June 20, 2012

Another Gourd

I've had this gourd sitting on a cabinet in my studio for about a year, and have had these three bear heads for at least that long.  I couldn't figure out what to do with either the gourd or the bear heads.  Then one day it seemed that they all belonged together and here is the result. 

After taking Lucia's calligraphy class I find myself incorporating more lettering, and I particularly like the older-looking scripts.  On this gourd I've written three letters in a medieval script: 'A', 'R', and the 'TH' dipthong (for which I fudged the script).  'ARTH' is an old English word for bear, and bear is one of the most revered animals of the ancient world and the hero King Arthur is his namesake. 

After pencilling in the lettering, I began to sketch the bears and found that I really liked the look of the graphite on the gourd.  Especially since this gourd has a particularly beautiful natural honey color as well as interesting mottling.  In an attempt to continue an Old English look, I added the scroll work. 

Originally I was planning to paint the bears but decided to leave them as drawings.  The graphite was a bit too light, so I went over the whole thing with a .005 Micron pen.

 Amber beads are the final touch.  Baltic amber is well known, and the bear is a familiar symbol in the Baltic region, so it all fits together (for those very few who will understand the symbolism).

Saturday, June 16, 2012

The Bunny Project

Here's the third project I did for my book proposal on polymer clay animals.  I'm happy with it for several reasons.  First, it uses a different technique than my usual for the clay colors.  And I'm using found objects - pieces of orphaned sterling earrings - in the piece.  I also think the combination of the sterling metal, black and white clay, and rock crystal is a nice one.

When I first finished the rabbit I was all set to construct a necklace with my antique copper or gold stuff.  But that's what I always do and I wanted to try something different.  I usually don't wear silver but I know that a lot of people do and since I wanted the book proposal to have a wide appeal, I went with it.  I'm glad I did.  I like this little piece very much and wear it often.

A Place I'd Like to Be

It was such a fun experience to create this gourd.  And there are a couple of firsts for me in it.  For one thing, the cutting was more complicated than I'd done before.  But my trusty gourd saw did the job just fine.  It scared me a bit, though, with that blade unprotected and zipping along on the rounded surface, but "all's well that ends well!"

The painting was a challenge because of using all green but still having the leaves distinct from each other.  The shading went really well - I think because I used a coat of Liquitex clear gesso which gives a wonderfule surface for my brushes.
I sculpted the polymer clay mice (actually, they started out as rats but I'm not sure what they ended up as) one at a time, and the scene unfolded as the dramatis personae appeared.  First on stage was dad, followed by mom, the infant, the toddler, then the older child.  Of course this is a mirror of my own family with me being the oldest of three girls.  (My sister figured that one out a lot earlier in the process than I did!)  The toughest part was to figure out what to have mom sitting in.  I settled on a jack-in-the-pulpit flower.  I used Kato Polyclay for the jack-in-the-pulpit and mushroom, but Fimo Soft for the mice and other leaves on the inside.

One of my best finds has been 32 gauge white coated wire which I use for the whiskers.  It's actually an off-white.  It's "para wire" and I think I got it at  After I have all the mica powders on I just poke in a few lengths of wire and add a small drop of liquid clay to secure them.

By the way, the milkweed seeds are tufts of felting fur glued to "seeds" made from polymer clay.
The most exciting first, and the most fun of the whole thing was adding the light.  I love a little engineering challenge now and then and it took me much searching the internet and then much brain-wracking to figure this out. 

Check out the LEDs on  They have a variety of colors, both flashing and solid, and they're easy to install with their great battery holders complete with a switch.  I used just one warm white led for the candle flame.  The wires go down through the polymer clay candle, real acorn cap (candle holder) and polymer clay mushroom table.  Then the attach to the wires at the switch.  I glued the swith to the inside of the gourd and hid it, and the battery with some ultrasuede.  With the ultrasuede in place they are hidden, but you can lift the edge of the ultrasuede to turn the switch on or off or change the battery.

I can't wait to make more gourds and use more of these lights.  They're wonderful!  Thanks, Evan Designs!