Category Archives: mixed media

Revisiting the Unknown Family

About a year ago I began a project that involved unlabeled family photos. I envisioned a three part series featuring groups of people, women, and children; all with no identifying names. After finishing one with groups of people I stopped working on the series as I hit a mental block. I just couldn’t make them into art quilts, and the colors were very muted. That was understandable as I was working with old linens. However, I wasn’t ready to take on a huge amount of embroidery to add color, and I wanted to keep the vintage theme.

All I know is that the people in the photos lived in Ireland or Manitoba.

A week ago I hauled out the remaining women and children photos and set to work on developing visually pleasing layouts. I realized that these won’t be art quilts, but are more fabric scrapbook pages. Once I made my peace with that I was able to find a way forward.

The women piece features a wallpaper sample, a linen napkin, pillowcase ends, a hankie, lace, old photos, and crocheted pins.

I had done natural dying on the old pillowcase some years ago, so I was stuck with the muck green color. The central photo may be one of my mother’s cousins. I know it’s not as old as the surrounding photos, which were probably taken in Ireland. The original of the stern matron has the name of a photographer in Letterkenny, Donegal, at the bottom. The crocheted pins were made by a friend of my parents, while the flower filled oval came from a scrap I was given.

I’m not thrilled with how dark some of the photos are, but I don’t have the originals to scan in and edit.

While I still have some hand tacking of edges to do, in my book the women are done.

I can’t say the same for the children. The photos are a mix of studio portraits and casual snapshots. The latter are under or over exposed, but again I don’t have the negatives. The fabrics here are another linen napkin, an embroidered small pillowcase given to me by a friend, hand knit mittens and a hand embroidered bib that may have been made for me. There’s no one left I can ask.

I think it needs an edge treatment but I have nothing suitable.

So, one will go back in my undone pile, while two will go in the completed pile. These aren’t works to be entered in a show. For one thing, shipping would be difficult as they can’t be rolled up or folded. For another, they aren’t works of art, but family mementos. Maybe I can convince one of my cousins they are perfect for their family photo wall.

I’m linking to Off The Wall Friday.

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Filed under In Process, mixed media

Another Stash

So far my goal to not buy fabric is holding up well and I’ve been patting myself on the back for my restraint. I don’t count fabric I’m given as that’s simply recycling. Then I look around my studio and notice that I have substituted mixed media supplies for fabric accumulation. Oh dear.

It began with paint and a bit of glue. I already had fabric paint, but I got serious about decent acrylic paint for gelli printing. Since different collage artists use different glues I added several types to my stash to see if I liked them better than matte medium. Then of course I needed different types of paper (sulfite, mixed media, watercolor, bristol.) Followed by markers – Posca, india ink, Stabilo; I had inherited colored pencils and an assortment of drawing pencils, but found I needed markers that could work on different surfaces. And speaking of surfaces, I learned about white, black and clear gessos; and what they could do. Then came good watercolors and good watercolor brushes. Supply accumulation was somewhat easy on my purse as my family was happy to give me Dick Blick gift cards and I was happy to use them. Also, a friend generously shared her extras with me.

By this time I had swapped a small chest of drawers for rolling supply carts, and built up a stash of collage papers. Some are paintings and prints that aren’t works of art but are starting points for more work. Others are old books and music scores to print on and children’s board books to use as journals. I scrutinize all our mail for collage possibilities.

I also have magazine holders filled with fodder.

I found there are whole classes devoted to creating collage fodder. That’s one area I don’t need help with as fodder creation is the easy part. The good thing about paint and collage is that the work goes fast; the bad thing is it can go wrong really fast. Of course painting or pasting over such areas is easier than ripping out seams as long as you let the paint dry enough.

My latest mixed media forays attempt to blend fabric with paper. I enjoy all the work on paper, but so far I don’t think the compositions are as strong as my fabric work. Of course I haven’t been at it as long.

Bottom layer is a thermofax print, next layer is book page with watercolor and bits from a gelli print, next layer is fabric scraps from a curtain, final layer is markers and colored pencils

I’m linking to Off The Wall Friday.

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Filed under collage, Commentary, mixed media, Techniques

Paper Work

While I’m resting up my arms and shoulders from a quilt wrestling project (why did I choose a circular quilting design?) I’ve been playing with paper. Some efforts I’ve framed, and some I’ve created as part of Willa Wanders‘ free Fodder Challenge lessons.

After living with so-so framed art for many years I decided new art in the frames would be nice. One is a collage, two are gel plate monoprints, and one is a weaving of collaged strips sewn onto paper. I had forgotten what a pain it is to frame stuff.

In between faulty measurements, I watched several Fodder Challenge lessons. Many were too cute for me. I cannot collage inspirational sayings with a straight face. However, I tackled three projects in my own way.

First I used Drew Steinbrecher‘s collage methods for gel plate printed papers, where you create one large collage and then cut it into several smaller collages, which you work on individually. The last work was done in a board book, and uses illegible words stenciled with modeling paste on tissue paper.

Next I tackled paper strip weaving with Rebecca Sower, an easy way to use collaged papers. Besides the framed weaving shown above, I wove another with strips leftover from that one, and yet one more that used a quilt calendar photo as the base. Some challenge participants wove cool diagonal versions.

My last challenge project involved Jane Chipp‘s button collage with printed tissue paper. The instructor used vintage photos printed on tissue with a home printer, and her results were charming. However, I found that my glue would smear the ink from my printer, so I used a sheet of deli paper I had brayered off on and then drawn and stenciled on. You need large, flat-back buttons, printed tissue, gesso, and matte medium (plus patience) to do this.

Finally, since I had all my collage supplies out, I made two more mixed media pieces from previous starts. My goal was to see how far I could go before the piece was overworked. I toned down some of the black on the left hand piece, which helped pull it back a bit from the overworked edge. The right hand piece began with gold blobs and ink lines on watercolor paper, got some paper glued on and cording sewed on, and ended with Posca pens and acrylic ink.

Now that I have gotten almost all the matte medium off my fingers, I hope to return to quilting in the round. Maybe next week I’ll have a finished quilt to show you.

I’m linking to Off The Wall Fridays.

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Filed under collage, In Process, mixed media, Project Ideas

Why Do You Take Classes?

In the week since I wrote about the Map Play class I took with Valerie Goodwin, I read two posts about art classes. The first by Jane Davies responds to a student’s comments that she wanted to play and have fun at a workshop and then had a meltdown when she was asked to dig deeper.

From Jane Davies’ blog.

Making art IS about play and it IS fun, but that is not all it is, usually. If you are always playing and having fun, with no angst or frustration, and you are also generating images that really speak to you, that you find compelling, then that is just GREAT! Congratulations. Most of us also have moments of frustration and occasional meltdowns or at least self-doubt. Learning how to navigate these skillfully is part of the process.

The second, Chris’ Quilting Universe post, Am I Addicted to Taking Classes?, reviews all the quilt related classes Chris has taken and the work that resulted from them. She has taken a wide variety of classes, ranging from year long master classes to online multi-lessons to one shot workshops.

Do you take classes to learn a process or leave with a product? Do you want to learn to make art like that made by the instructor? Do you want a two hour class at a quilt show or a five day immersive course? Do you want a deep dive into one teacher’s methods or a potpourri of many teachers’ approaches?

A further permutation is in-person versus online classes, and a distinction between live online and prerecorded. An additional nuance with any online class is the amount of interaction possible with the teacher and other students. I have taken classes where I had access to videos with no interaction, to videos with a class blog, and to videos with some sort of proprietary discussion forum. Some classes use Facebook.

These are very different animals, and I believe one’s expectations should reflect the differences. For example, I took a three hour Zoom class on sewing paper collage with David Owen Hastings. I learned a well explained technique that required a minimal amount of supplies. All interactions occurred during the class, with no subsequent followup.

I love using the curved bits from monoprints.

I also took Elizabeth Barton’s year long master class that required a deep commitment to developing designs and executing them each month. While the students could and did comment on each others work, the main focus of the class was improving our designs through Elizabeth’s critiques, which were copious. Each month we developed sketches in response to a theme, chose one to turn into a quilt, and then made the quilt.

“Mean Streets” was made in Elizabeth Barton’s master class

Right now I’m taking a year long set of mixed media classes called Wanderlust. The classes are loosely organized around basic art supplies like gesso, acrylic paint, modeling paste, etc., but each instructor pretty much presents her own thing. (I have yet to see a male instructor.) While I have learned a lot about materials and techniques, I find some of the instruction to be overly focused on “playing and having fun” and what I call greeting card art. To me the missing element is learning to evaluate your work. With so many instructors and students, comments on anyone’s work is pretty much limited to “great,” “nice,” “how sweet,” etc. It’s hit or miss whether the instructor comments on student work.

“An Octopus’ Garden” made for a modeling paste segment of Wanderlust

Such an approach is great if your goal is to play. I have to say I had hoped for less overlap of techniques and more building on previous techniques. Again, that’s probably not doable with so many instructors. I have learned there are as many ways to glue paper as there are teachers.

This week I’ve reflected on all the quilt/art related classes I’ve taken thanks to Jane and Chris, and decided that the ones I benefited most from were process related, with a critique/feedback component. The absolute worst class I ever took was on paper and cloth marbling. All the students shared one container for marbling and we were to take turns. Let’s just say there were some interpersonal issues. I figured the two fat quarters I marbled cost $25 each, and they were ugly. I won’t try to name the best class I ever took as there are too many candidates.

I’d love to hear about your experiences with art classes, both in person and online. Do you have any recommendations for outstanding classes/teachers?

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Filed under Art quilts, collage, Commentary, mixed media, Techniques

A Lovely Parting Gift

It’s hard to say goodbye to a friend who is moving many hours away. I know, it could be much further away, with visits possible only by cross country or ocean trek. Still, the easy spontaneity of living a mere 20 minutes from each other will be gone.

Since we are both arty types of course we gave each other handmade farewell gifts. I created (with the help of Shutterfly) a book of my friend’s photos she had shared with me. In return she created a mixed media piece she called “Expecting to Fly.”

“Expecting to Fly”

And it was accompanied by a handmade card.

Thank heavens email and Instagram make it easily possible to continue to share our artistic journeys. Alas, they aren’t so good for seeing shows in person and talking over each piece. I’ll miss you P.

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Filed under Commentary, mixed media

A Finger In Every Pot

The past week I’ve dabbled in quite a mix of projects and techniques, probably revealing I’m a Jill of all work but mistress of none. (I don’t get the they/them thing, so I went the old fashioned route. Though I could say I contain multitudes and use they/them.) Since I often work on more than one project at a time, sometimes they all mature at once.

My Spoonflower printed trees and wall fabric has been sewn together and I’m now experimenting with different embroidery stitches and threads to enhance the tree area. The printed fabric is less intensely colored than the hand painted and dyed fabrics, so I want to bring it out more. Right now it’s called “Along Portage Path.”

I went with five panels, a left to right gradient, and no top or bottom strips. It’s spray basted on batting. I will embroider it at this stage and then add a backing before machine quilting it.

I pulled out an unquilted top and finished it through the hanging sleeve stage. Put on your sunglasses at it’s bright.

“Teetering” is 21.5″ wide by 27″ high. I combined straight stitch and zigzag in the acid green lines.

I returned to “The Memory Jar,” an old project I was never satisfied with and added paint and oil pastels. Now it better expresses my intention to show the breakdown of memories with age, but I’m still not wild about it.

Revised version
Original version

Not to ignore my paper projects, I sewed several small collages onto a large printed piece of sewing stabilizer, and tried to mesh them into a coherent whole. I ended up changing the look of most of the original collages. This was a great way to reinforce the lesson that nothing should be viewed as too precious to change.

Untitled, 16.5″ wide by 19.5″ high. Backed with felt.

Finally, I finished up a magazine image collage that emphasizes a subdued color palette. I will most likely make a few more changes in a week or so, as a distraction from any other project I’m stuck on.

Untitled. 12″ high by 14″ high

I’m linking to Off The Wall Fridays.

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Filed under Art quilts, Completed Projects, mixed media

Playing With A New To Me Supply

I’ve mentioned before that I’m enrolled in a mixed media class called Wanderlust. The idea is to learn to use several mixed media materials that are considered staples. We’ve run through gessos and image transfers. Now we’re doing modeling paste.

While I had seen modeling paste mentioned in more craft oriented mixed media publications, I had ignored it. I didn’t see it being applicable to fabric (in all senses.) Now that I’ve expanded my universe to paper I’m trying it out.

Of course there are several weights of the stuff – light, regular, heavy. No art supply is ever simple. Since the class focuses on art journals we need to use the lighter weight. Otherwise no one could close their journal. All the instructors compare it to cake icing in terms of texture and spreadability. In a nutshell, you spread it on paper with something like a palette knife and then stamp on it or score it with tools. You can also apply it through a stencil. The base color is white, but it can be tinted with about any kind of paint – acrylic, watercolor, gouache, or ink.

Here are my efforts so far.

Watercolor paper, cocktail napkin, tinted modeling paste, cheesecloth, acrylic paint.
Prestretched canvas, modeling paste applied through two stencils, collaged paper, Posca pens, acrylic paint
Gel plate image transfers, acrylic ink, collage papers, modeling paste stamped with foam stamp

I’m working now on tinting the paste, and stamping it with watercolor painted stamps. You get an impressionistic effect. Here’s a trial sample.

Maybe I’ll try it on fabric, though I think a heavier type like canvas would be best. You certainly couldn’t stitch over it as it dries hard, so perhaps it could be a final layer. More discoveries await me.

I’m linking to Off The Wall Fridays.

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Filed under collage, mixed media, Techniques