Category Archives: Techniques

The Original Selfies

It seems you can’t escape people posing for selfies wherever you go. Most selfies show a fish eye lens view of their subjects, often in carefully rehearsed poses. I have run into this celebration-of-self behavior at restaurants, museums, hiking trails, and tourist attractions. I even saw one mother trying to take one of herself and her child on top of a wild buffalo in South Dakota. The buffalo didn’t cooperate.

But my snobbishness was brought up short when I realized that artists have been producing selfies for centuries. They’re called self portraits. One of my favorites is by Elizabeth Louise Vigee LeBrun, an 18th century French portrait painter. I love it because it is by a successful female artist from a time when such creatures were as rare as unicorns. Then there’s such panache in her hat, though her hair looks a bit unkempt. Finally, she proclaims her calling by showing her palette and brushes.

Painted in 1782

I am not someone who takes selfies, in part because I hate to have my picture taken even by myself, but I needed one for a Wanderlust class exercise. We were to paint self portraits using the three primary colors plus white. To give us a start, we were to take a selfie, posterize it to get the main blocks of values in our face, and trace the outline of our face onto paper or canvas.

At first I thought I’d skip this exercise, but then I changed my mind. It didn’t require butterflies, birds, or inspirational sayings, so it stood out from many other assignments. I duly took a selfie, posterized it in PhotoShop Elements, and transferred an outline to watercolor paper.

I used the high tech window method to transfer the outlines.

Then I began to mix skin tones from my four paint colors. My initial doubt turned to amazement when I saw how to do that thanks to teacher Christa Forrest. In fact, after a while my paint palette looked like I had been smearing it with makeup samples.

A coffee filter I used to clean my brushes.

The first passes were crude, with uneven skin tones.

The eyes are so wrong

Looks like I was rubbing bronzer on my chin and neck.

Once I was satisfied with my skin, I added collage paper to the page bottom and coated everything with clear gesso. After that dried I used colored pencils to fine tune details. The gesso gives enough tooth to grab the pencil lead and add texture.

Finished portrait. My eyes aren’t really that green. My hair is that gray.

I spent more time on this exercise than on any other ones to date, but the teacher broke down the process and made it doable. To judge from the work posted in the course forum, I don’t think as many students did this exercise compared with others. As was noted in last week’s discussion about classes, sometimes you learn more when you reach beyond just having fun.

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Filed under Commentary, Completed Projects, Techniques

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

Map Play

Last week I took a Zoom Virtual Schoolhouse Map Play class from Valerie Goodwin. She is known for quilts that map real and imaginary places, and taught architecture for many years. The class I took was a speeded up, 6 hour version of a one to two day class of the same name.

I began the class with crinoline, MistyFuse, a bunch of fabric scraps, organza, and paint. I ended the class with two finished small maps and the start of two others. In between Valerie showed us her base construction techniques, reviewed design principles and elements, and guided us in constructing our own maps. She also critiqued our finished efforts with an eye to our possible next steps. That’s a lot in 6 hours.

All our maps were developed from a base of fabric scraps sewn to a 7 inch by 24 inch piece of crinoline (JoAnn’s sells it.) Then, we used paint (either fabric or acrylic) to blend the joins between the scraps and did a bit of hand stitching to hold down raw edges.

My scraps sewn to base. We were encouraged to not create a checkerboard, but to overlap scraps and have raw edges.

My base after painting. My paint was watery so I added white acrylic to it.

Then, we added organza shapes for more blending, and selected areas to cut into 5 by 7 inch pieces for our imaginary maps.

Before we began construction of our maps, Valerie reviewed elements and principles of design. I liked that she illustrated the principles with photos of architectural examples. It was fun to figure out which principles each used – certainly more thought provoking than the simplified graphics often used (i.e., a seesaw with different weights at each end.)

We ended up with about 45 minutes to finish a few of our maps. I got one done and began another, and then Valerie critiqued our work with an eye to further development.

Valerie suggested I extend the line of trees. I was trying to illustrate the design principles of asymmetrical balance and movement.

I hope to turn this into a representation of the southwest. Valerie liked the lines and colors, but there was little else to critique.

I did do one more last weekend.

I chose a focal point as my design principle. Let me know what you think it represents.

Overall, my class experience was positive. My only suggestions for improvement would be to have students prep their organza for fusing and to watch the base construction video before class. That took a bit of time that I certainly needed for map making. However, I’m sure teachers learn from experience that sometimes students don’t do the prep work and the class has to spend time on it anyway.

If this approach appeals to you, Valerie offers a virtual class through C & T’s Creative Spark that covers much of what I learned in her class. I think she’s also working up a class in using laser cutting machines to create intricate, lacy maps. I know she uses a cutter brand called Glow Forge, and has done extensive testing of cutting fabric with it. The results look enticing, but I know I won’t be investing in a laser cutter so will resist the temptation.

I’m linking to Off The Wall Fridays.

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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

Always Something New To Learn

Sometimes I like a continuing program of classes rather than a one shot deal, and Everything Arts’ Wanderlust lessons in mixed media and art journaling are delivering weekly doses of something new. Since I started exploring mixed media in 2020 I have learned much about paper and fabric collage, monoprinting, and even painting. But I don’t have a broad exposure to all the materials and techniques possible in mixed media.

From the video lessons so far I’ve learned about clear and black gesso (who knew there was more than white?), compressed charcoal pencils, and modeling paste, to name a few materials. As lessons are given by different teachers, most new to me, I am seeing diverse ways to approach the same materials and techniques.

Confession time: I don’t really follow the lessons, but I do try out the materials and techniques. The broad idea of the class is to create your work in an art journal. At the end of the course you have a consolidated arrangement of all you’ve created. I grab whatever’s on hand and work on that. So far I’ve used wallpaper samples, old pre-stretched canvases, children’s board books, and watercolor paper. I do indeed have nice unblemished paper, but somehow I feel constrained to reuse stuff. It must be the result of a childhood of saving the “good” dishes for company.

None of what I’ve made is finished work, but messing around is lots of fun.

Mixed media in a board book. Tried acrylic ink for the first time.
Another board book spread with lots of white gesso. That stuff really covers up whatever is beneath it.
First steps for the above two pieces

More gesso over cardboard, thread, and cloth bits with acrylic paint and stencils. Wallpaper samples hold up well.
Modeling paste applied through stencils, collaged and painted over, done on canvas
Gessoed wallpaper with collage and white pen
Inked in cartoon faces over watercolor (this was a bonus video)

The next lessons will delve more into modeling paste, so who knows what I’ll make. If I don’t like this week’s lesson there always will be a new one next week for the next few months.

I am linking to Off The Wall Fridays.

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More Ironed Collage

Apparently I was overly enthusiastic in coating magazine pages with gloss medium for ironed collages. I had lots of colorful pages left so I created a few more collages, using the technique I mentioned earlier from Gerald Brommer’s book, “Collage Techniques.” This time of year around the winter solstice I need all the brightness I can get.

I combined a fashion photo shoot (I have no idea why only the women’s feet show) with rugs, desert scenes, and bits of ads.
Stamped brown bag and painted scraps joined bits from outdoor clothing ads to form a rocky terrain.
An Armani ad with a quilt by Eleanor McCain, a travel photo, and bits left from other collages.

And I still have a few bits left, though my inspiration will have quite a stretch to make anything coherent from them. I realize some of you may think I’ve already reached incoherence in the above work.

Why make these? I find them helpful exercises in composition as colors and some shapes are predetermined. They also help me learn to step away from the original photo subjects to create a new context. Finally, they scratch my scrap itch, only with paper.

I’m linking to Off The Wall Friday.

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Idiosyncratic Quilting

It’s been a while since I bought a quilting related book, but I decided to spring for Paula Kovarik’s “At Play in the Garden of Stitch: thoughts that come while eyeing the needle.” Like the capitalization in the title, Paula’s work goes counter to standard practice. There are no feathers or flowers, lines are usually spiky, and her motifs often display a subversive sense of humor. In other words, she’s not to everyone’s taste.

I first saw her work at Quilt National in 2015, and again in 2017. Both entries are done on old linens and are whole cloth.

Paula Kovarik, Quilt National 2015
Paula Kovarik, “His and Hers Insomnia” Quilt National 2017

But, back to the book. First, let me tell you what this book is not about – specific FMQ patterns, step by step instructions, or student work. Instead, it’s about how Paula works and specifics of some pieces she’s made.

She doesn’t use fancy equipment. I didn’t see a longarm in the photo of her studio. She uses basic fabrics and old linens, and sews mostly with black and white thread. Her approach is process oriented – lots of practice that begins with working out design ideas on paper and proceeds to building up a story in stitch on cloth.

Doodling practice for “Glyphs”
Paula Kovarik, “Glyphs”

The book includes exercises to do on fabric squares after first working up ideas on paper. Other exercises address how to create focal points in the quilting (Paula calls them heroes,) add a bump, and one line drawing with thread. From what I gather, the last is best done after lots of practice on paper. Here’s my go at the fenceposts exercise. It was kind of fun, not something I often say about FMQ.

My thread doodling

I think the piece below is an example of one line drawing.

Paula Kovarik, “Do The Doodle”

I was surprised that Paula quilts with her feed dogs up. I tried it and found I needed to set the stitch length to at least 3; otherwise the resistance was too much for me. Another surprise was that Paula cut up one of her Quilt National quilts and used the pieces to make other work, including decorative masks. I have cut up quilts that didn’t work or I didn’t like, but if one of my pieces was in Quilt National I’d construct a shrine for it in my living room. I guess I’m not evolved enough to have such a “kill your darlings” attitude.

To sum up, this book can encourage you to jump in and take risks, and see quilting as process rather than product. It actually has specific ideas I hope to use in future quilting. I don’t think it will appeal to everyone, but sometimes it’s stimulating to see how a quilter can jump the tracks and live to tell the tale.

I’m linking to Off The Wall Friday.

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Filed under Art quilts, Books, Inspiration, Techniques

Really Cheap Art Journals

A quick browse of Etsy for art journals will reveal a dizzying choice of journals that range in price from $15 to $150 plus. Some are so gorgeous that I would be afraid to even write my name in them for fear of sullying their loveliness.

For those of you who have yet to encounter the art journal, here’s a quick rundown. They are a way to express yourself visually in a blank book with no rules and no judgment. Some art journaling proponents claim that doing it will help you realize you’ve always been an artist. Whatever. Many descriptions of the process begin with the all important physical journal. It can be bought or hand made. There are many blogs and websites that will tell you how to make one and give you ideas for content.

Obviously the type of paper in one’s art journal depends on the medium you want to use. I decided to use collage simply because I have lots of papers thanks to all the less than stellar monoprints I’ve made and the papers I used to clean my brayer. My journal of choice? Used children’s board books.

I got the idea from Drew Steinbrecher who often features collaged board books on his Instagram feed.

One of Drew Steinbrecher’s Instagram pages.

I thought it was a great idea and scoured my local library’s book sale for such books. I bought six for a quarter each, and am now sorry I didn’t buy more. Some of my purchases looked brand new.

Yesterday my friend Penny and I began our collaged board books. Supplies were simple – board books, papers, matte medium, brushes, and some kind of nonstick paper to keep the finished pages apart. The process was simple, too. Design a layout and glue the pieces down. No prep needed. In an hour and a half I managed to create three full page spreads.

I’ll trim the edges once the book is full and everything is dry. That might take a while as the heavy board can absorb a lot of moisture.

Earlier in the week I dry collaged two more pieces made with papers coated with gloss gel medium. You can see the sheen from the medium in the first one.

I have no idea why the women are completely covered. It’s from a fashion magazine.
I even put a bit of text in this one.

I’ve have fun playing with glue and paper, but my excuse for not working on the quilt now on my design wall is gone. I just got the fabric I ordered for it. It even came early, drat it.

I’m linking to Off The Wall Friday.

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A Different Way To Collage

Almost all paper collage techniques involve glue – gel medium, glue stick, Sobo, wheat paste, rice paste, etc. Because my fine motor skills are subpar I usually end up with glue, and sometimes bits of paper, all over my fingers. So I was intrigued to read about another way to collage, thanks to Julie Fei-Fan Balzer. She hosts an online monthly art book club, and one of her picks was Gerald Brommer’s “Collage Techniques.” Her review highlighted a different kind of adhering process Brommer describes.

The secret to the process is gloss acrylic medium. You coat both sides of your papers with the medium, allow them to dry, arrange them to your satisfaction, and then iron them down using release paper between the iron and paper. The iron melts the medium. The joy is once you’re happy with your composition you don’t have to take it apart to glue it down.

Yes, it has to be gloss medium because it gives paper a sticky surface, and you’d better use release paper if you value your iron.

I coated many magazine pages with medium (it dries fast) and made several compositions on watercolor paper and bristol board. The base also needs to have a gloss medium coat. The finished product has a glossy finish and is best stored covered with a nonstick sheet like wax paper.

I have several coated pages left for still more compositions. Goody, yet another form of scraps.

I can recommend Brommer’s book for serious explorations of collage. It is old, published in 1994, and the author is no longer with us; but it brims with wonderful examples of all kinds of art collages. It covers design, approaches, and specific techniques. I consider it well worth the $12 I spent for a used copy.

I’m linking to Off The Wall Friday.

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File, Act, Toss

One of the few staff development seminars I recall was F.A.T, or file, act, toss. The idea was to clear your overflowing desk by going through all the paperwork on it and decide whether to keep it (file,) respond to it (act,) or throw it out (toss.) I used the process with my pile of surface design experiments when said pile fell to the closet floor. The pile is now smaller and neater.

Once I threw out experiments that were beyond help – too overworked, just not appealing, etc. – I chose two to act on. The first is a painting experiment with an empty toilet paper roll cut to flare out. You dip the flared out end in paint and dab it onto fabric. I used it for free motion practice, and gingered up the color with oil pastels. It may become a pillow cover.

Next, I finished quilting an ancient sampler from about 2005. It was made from scraps left from an Amish type wall hanging, and I had hand quilted about half of it. Knowing I would never finish the hand quilting, I completed it with machine quilting and bound it.

With some actions under my belt, next I turned to the file pile. I tend to have groups of experiments in similar colors or themes as they were done in one session. Here are a few of those groups.

Finally, I decided to keep pieces of dropcloths that could make good backgrounds and a screened linen piece that I just don’t know what to do with.

Both are old cotton sheets that have a lovely hand.
This suffers from fold lines that took the spray paint differently.

I didn’t photograph my discards, though some of you may think I still have plenty to toss. I have lots more in my pile, but those bits are cut into squares in anticipation of a future project.

Are you a hoarder of such experiments or are you more ruthless than I am?

I am linking to Off The Wall Friday.

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Filed under Fabric Printing, In Process, Techniques