The past week has felt rather strange to me. It’s reminiscent of how I felt after all my final projects were turned in while I was an art student so many years ago. Suddenly, after so much work and very little sleep, everything was completed. My projects turned in. Or my artwork hanging in an art show. A once completely packed schedule of so much work is now empty. It all takes a while to get used to.
Creative palate cleanser:
Jumping directly into the creation of another complicated piece of artwork did not appeal to me. I wanted (needed) to create artwork. But I didn’t want to start something big. Making something smaller sounded good to me. It sounded easy-going. Just what the doctor ordered!
While cleaning up my work area, I’d discovered a few dolls that had yet to have their clothing or hair styles created. These dolls seemed like the perfect small pieces to work on while I got back into the swing of my regular schedule. And before I started adding the new business tasks that I have had to back-burner for a while.
Large is relative:
The first doll I began working on was Mielitietty. I chose colours and a theme I liked and started working on her. Her clothing wasn’t too creatively strenuous. Because I had already created the patterns for her clothing. As always, I had to give myself a challenge. With Mielitietty, it was her hair. I tried some new things. Some worked. Others didn’t. And again, I learned a lot from the mistakes I made.
The one thing I found incredibly interesting is how working on Mielitietty felt. She seemed gargantuan to me! HUGE! And she’s only around 27 cm (around 12 in.) tall! I’ve become so used to working on very small dolls over the past year. Any doll over 12 cm tall is Godzilla-sized to me right now!
Pastelli Pastel is the second doll I worked on. In addition to challenging myself with her hair, I also decided to use some unconventional felt as well. Her dress is made from a type of felt cleaning cloth sold here in Finland. (I could not remember the brand name) I wanted to know if I could create larger pieces using this felt. Pastelli is proof that I can.
Pastelli Pastel is what I call an alpha-version of a doll pattern. The alphas are my first try at a doll pattern. The beta-versions are the dolls that are sold. My alpha dolls are usually kept for myself.
I decided to offer both of these creative palate cleanser dolls for sale in my shop. Like I said, I usually don’t do this. As always, they are each a completely one-of-a-kind creation. I will never make another doll exactly like them. Nor will I ever name another doll Mietitietty or Pastelli Pastel.
I do have one more alpha doll. It’s also a Dia de los Muertos doll. I’m still thinking about what I would like to do with her clothing and hair. This doll, when finished will be put in the shop as well.
So, now what?
There are already ideas that I’ve begun to sketch out for the artwork I want to create for the Käsintyön Museo. In fact, a few of the challenges I had creating Meilitietty and Pastelli Pastel will aid me in creating some of the new artwork. I know that the Käsityön Museo exhibit is a long way off, but as I learned with the Matara exhibit; it’s not that far away. Work needs to begin now!
Thanks for reading, and I’ll see you again Friday.
PS: If you are interested in purchasing Mielitietty or Pastelli Pastel, please note that the shipping parcel post costs from Finland (2 week shipping) may be less than what is displayed. I’m still trying to work out the problems with this. And am refunding unused shipping monies to customers when they have overpaid for shipping. If you have any questions, please contact me though the Contact page.
Hello everyone! I’ve been absent from my regular Friday blog posts for a little while haven’t I? There are some extremely good reasons for this. ‘Busy’ doesn’t come close to describing it. However, my brain is still tired and my thoughts a tad on the mushy-side. So please bear with me as I attempt to explain my short absence.
Work, work, work:
December 2020 and these first two weeks of January 2021 turned into some kind of ‘perfect storm’ of many, many important deadlines and events for myself and my husband. Some of them were the regular holiday-related events. Others were a bit more complicated. Involving a lot of paperwork and scheduling. Oh! And I forgot that I decided to run a sale at my website shop.
I had begun the physical work or creating several entirely new pieces for an art exhibit at the Käytävä Galleria at Matara here in Jyväskylä in October 2020. By December, I was working non-stop at finishing the artwork for the show. Working on them occupied all of my time. It’s all I did from the time by rear-end hit my desk chair in the morning, until my husband told me it was time for bed.
It needs to be noted that I could not have completed the artwork for the exhibit without the tireless mental and physical support of my husband. He absolutely did yeoman’s duty in getting his own work (business, creative and the running of the household) done. In addition to the additional paperwork. AND taking care of me while I created artwork!
Then he went and helped me hang the exhibit! Damn. I knew I married the right man.
The artwork I created for Käytävä Galleria at Matara will be on exhibit until 5 February 2021. All of the pieces are for sale except for two. I plan on adding the pieces to my online shop the week after I take the exhibit down in February. The two pieces that are not for sale are ones that I feel additional work completed before I could offer them for sale.
I will be returning to Matara on Monday 18 January to complete a few repairs to a piece that was damaged slightly in transport. Pictures and videos of my artwork will be added to my Instagram and my website, so that those who are unable to see the exhibit in person.
First, let me say, DAMN. Creating a body of new artwork for an art exhibit is hard work! I’m no stranger to creating pieces of artwork for exhibits either. I
specifically decided to create all new pieces of artwork for this exhibit. Initially because any artwork displayed needed to be hung on the wall. This alone would have been enough of a creative challenge. But there were additional challenges that I had no readily been aware of.
There were two major differences in the way in which I found myself thinking and physically working on the artwork. #1) I was creating an entirely new body of artwork from scratch. #2) I am the only artist being shown in the exhibit.
Clearly there were going to be some lessons to be learned. Important lessons that will potentially aide me in the creation of additional artwork for subsequent art exhibits in my future.
Let’s look at #1:
Being a solo art exhibit, there was a great sense of freedom and control. I could create whatever I wanted! Creating entirely new pieces of artwork would be fantastic! Ideas that I had been putting off, or pushing to the side could be explored. New materials and techniques could be utilized too. Whoo-hoo! Cool! Let’s get started!
One of the largest challenges for me from the beginning of the physical art creation was the fact that I was working on multiple large pieces at the same time. Over the past few years, I’d unconsciously continued utilizing one of the parameters of the Creative Experiment: Do not start a piece of artwork until the one you are working on is completed.
This became problematic, as each of the pieces of art I was working on for the exhibit needed to be worked on simultaneously. I managed to work on several pieces at the same time during some of the initial stages of construction. Mostly during the cardboard, newsprint and glue portions of creation.
As time wore on, and I was working on more details for each individual piece. I was having a harder and harder time putting one piece down to work on one of the other pieces. My mind would become so wrapped-up in working on a single piece of artwork, that I would spend too much time working on it. While leaving the other pieces alone.
To combat this, I created a graph with a section for each piece of artwork. The graph detailed the specific work that needed to be completed for each individual piece until it was finished. This did help quite a bit. But I think how I used the graph requires some finer tuning to be more effective for me as a creative.
I plan on working on these challenges while creating the artwork for an art exhibit that is a little less than a year in the future. The different challenges that I experienced creating my most recent artwork and readying it for exhibition will no doubt be of help!
And now, #2:
Showing my artwork in a solo exhibit is something I’ve only done once in the past. That was at the Jyväskylä Kaupuniginkirjasto (translation: city library). That exhibit contained pieces that I’d spent the better part of two years creating. The fact that it was only my work displayed was new to me.
Prior to the exhibit at the library, I’d only participated in art shows in which I was one of many artists showing their artwork. One of the more comforting emotional aspects of a group show is that you’re not alone. There are other artists there showing their work. You don’t have to shoulder the success or failure of a group art exhibit alone.
While my husband was helping me hang my work yesterday, all I could think about was how panicked I felt about showing my artwork. It went beyond “Will people like my artwork?” and on to “What if my artwork falls off the walls?” and then further on to “What if people purposefully damage my artwork?” and then finally, “What if people who dislike my artwork then start telling other people how much they think my artwork sucks?!”
It may sound strange to someone who doesn’t create artwork on a regular basis. But taking my artwork and hanging it up on a wall and letting other people look at it can be an emotionally terrifying experience. When I say that there are parts of me across town hanging on a wall for people to look at and judge. I’m not kidding around. It makes me feel very vulnerable. And at a loss of control.
If you’ve been reading my blog posts for any length of time, you know that the challenges of detailed above will be more closely examined over the coming weeks. Coping strategies will be formulated and practiced so that I won’t feel at the mercy of my emotional and physical responses.
Methods of planning out my physical art creation and work will also be implemented. In fact, I was outlining what I wanted to start working on earlier this afternoon. I spent a half an hour running them by my husband before I took a much needed nap under layers of warm, toasty blankets while I watched more snow fall outside the window.
So now what?
Well, I have a lot to do! There is now the time to start implementing some changes I want to make in how I create my artwork. In addition, there are things that I have been pushing back that I can now start outlining and working on. I’m looking forward to seeing how everything pans out muself.
Thanks for reading, and I’ll see you again next Friday.
I’m having a super-duper big sale to kick-off the new year! If there are any pieces of my artwork that you have been wanting to purchase now is the time! There will be pieces of my artwork pulled from my online shop on January 11, 2021 and no longer offered for sale. So, to reiterate, if you’ve been wanting to purchase a specific piece, you have ten days to do it!
Every piece of artwork in my online shop will be 50% off from 12 (Eastern European Standard Time) January 1, 2021 until 12 (EEST) January 10, 2021. Prices for pieces of artwork remaining in my shop will then revert to their previous prices.
All sales must be made through my online store. The discount applies only to the total cost of the items purchased. Shipping and handling are not discounted. Given the current states of international shipping, please know that there may be some delays in shipping that are completely out of my hands. Package tracking is available. If interested, please contact me directly for details. All purchases shipped through Finnish Posti.
If you have any questions at all, send me a message through my Contact page!
Thank you for reading, and I’ll talk to you again Friday,
The past week has been a blur of work for me. There are so many things to do and not nearly enough time in which to do it. Or at least sometimes so I think. Most of the time, those thoughts come to me as I’m trying to go to sleep. I’m seized with a momentary thunder bolt of cold, stomach-twisting panic. Usually something along the lines of “OH GOD! I WILL NEVER GET THIS ALL DONE BY 11 JANUARY!”
After the panic wains, I drift off to sleep thinking about what I plan on doing the next day.
Where I am at in the creation of this artwork for Matara is exceedingly un-exciting, all told. Today, I’m finishing up the last of the paint work on a few pieces. Most of the work that I’ve been doing for the past four or five days is the application of sealant to each of the painted pieces.
Dozens and dozens of coats of sealant are applied to my painted pieces. It’s not exciting work at all. Well, not exciting for me until I get past say about five coats. Then the surface starts looking the way that I want it too. It’s strange. There is no specific number of coats of sealant. It’s done when I know it’s done.
Paint, repeat (x3 to 5):
The past week has contained a lot of painting. Painting for me is much more challenging during the long stretches of darkness in Central Finland. My general rule is that I do not mix any new paint colors once the sun goes down. The greater part of one day (around four hours of decent light) was devoted to simply mixing paint!
Once the paint was mixed, I did a few swatches on the pieces to be painted. I had to remix the pinks I used for the doll I’m calling Pink Paddle Cake doll twice. It may sound strange, but I wanted to get a pink that was close to the shade of the pink Necco wafer candies.
The doll I call #10 and another doll that is simply being called the organic one, have been painted as well. The paint was applied in a similar way on both of them. The first layer is an abstract application of four shades of paint (blue for one doll, and violets for the other). Once that layer was dry, sponges were used to add more visual interest and texture to the surface of the piece. The final layer was applied using either aluminum foil, a foam fruit wrapper or bubble wrap.
Antlers or horns:
I never know what to call them. Are they horns? They are kind of antler-ish too I think. I have no idea. I use wood that I find outside near our home. It’s almost impossible for me to come home without some interesting looking stick to add to my collection of art materials.
#10 and the organic doll both have antler-horns. #10 has three and organic doll has two. These pieces don’t get a coat of gesso, just a coat or two of white. Then the color I want them to be. They do get sealant as well. But nowhere near the number of coats that the dolls get.
I’m still creating for my Go Marielle account on Instagram. A new post each day, as well as a longer story on Wednesday. Every work day begins with creating the Go Marielle Advent Calendar posts that I’ve been posting this month. All of my other online/social media work is done in the morning too. Two to three hours is spent on this every morning.
I feel as though I’m failing though. I keep a close eye on my traffic on my website and online store. As well as my numbers of views, likes, followers, etc., on Instagram. My numbers are just not good. In many areas, they are falling. I’m still not using hashtags for Instagram after my shadow ban. I’ve begun using Instagram Stories more. I make sure that I post every single day on my personal Instagram account as well.
Aaaand my numbers keep falling. I try not to let it get to me. What I’m creating right now does not make for terrifically exciting pictorial posts. I’ve not been able to update my shop offerings because I’m working on artwork for an upcoming art show. It is inevitable that some plates are going to crash to the floor while I’m trying to keep them all spinning.
The world is going through a lot right now. My numbers stink right now. I’ll get through it. One foot in front of the other.
Thank you for reading, and I’ll see you again next Friday.
This was a lot harder than I anticipated. Well, not exactly harder. Because I know how to use the tools and the materials. I’m not unacquainted with creating patterns for tiny pieces of furniture. However, I am unaccustomed to creating upholstered tiny furniture.
There were some rookie/newbie mistakes made on my part that I feel will be easily addressed in subsequent attempts at creating tiny upholstered arm chairs. Most of my mistakes had to do with the materials I used.
As always, I tend to work with the materials I have on hand first. Instead of using foamcore, I used corrugated cardboard instead. As I stated, I use what I have on hand during initial attempts at a new technique. I’m not exactly sure where I might procure foam core here in Finland either. Perhaps at Artlo? I’ll have to check. (I checked. They have it.)
I have a few reasons for using carton and cardboard in the creation of my artwork. The first is that it’s free. It’s considered a waste material suitable for chucking in the recycling bin. The second reason I use carton and cardboard is because they are biodegradable. Foam core has a polystyrene center core.
Polystyrene is recyclable. But there is a part of me that doesn’t want to buy the stuff in the first place and create a greater need to figure out how, where, when and how it’s recycled. I live in central Finland, where recycling is the norm. We separate our waste into recycling bins with little extra efforts made. We also recycle our plastic and metal drink bottles and cans at the grocery store to get our deposits back.
At least 90% of the fabric I use in the creation of my artwork is recycled. The second hand shops here are fabulous! Sometimes I buy items that I pick apart, like blouses or pillow slips, and use the fabric to create tiny outfits for my dolls. There are other times when I simply buy excess fabric that was donated by a person who was making their own clothing.
The fabric I chose for the arm chairs was from a lavender pillow slip. The fabric type was all wrong for the application. It was much too thick. The fact that there wasn’t a pattern on the fabric didn’t help me either. The single shade does little to hide the mistakes with the glue, or the lumpy bits of fabric being glued over fabric.
If you’ve read any of my social media, you know I worship at the Church of Eri-Keeper Universal Glue. While this glue is FABULOUS for gluing together the carton and cardboard components, as well as the wooden parts. It sucked at gluing together the fabric and acrylic felt pieces!
Eri-Keeper is very strong glue. While using it, I noticed that it kind of ‘lumped-up’ and dried in hard nodules, even when I made a point of spreading it out to combat this happening. These hard nodules can be felt in the layers of acrylic felt that I used in lieu of quilt batting.
I had no quilt batting, so I used some rather unspectacular, very loose and fluffy, white, acrylic felt instead. I still think this is a viable option for me, but I am going to need to alter how I create the padded bits on the chair so it looks better.
Acrylic felt is another one of those products that I don’t like having to use. I would much rather prefer to use a wool or at least a wool blend felt in the creation of my artwork. But at the present time, it’s just not an option for me. It’s cost prohibitive.
Brexit is also messing with some of my felt supply as well. As I had finally found suppliers of viscose and wool and wool blend felts in the UK that were just inside my budget allowances. Viscose has it’s good and bad points, just like every other art material I use. But I’ve discovered I like working with it, and wish that I could get it more easily, in a variety of colors here in Finland.
I opted to create my own pattern for the arm chairs I made. While I like curves that I put on the arms, I think they were a bit aggressively curvy for the technique I was using. The pattern will be altered for any chairs that I make in the future.
There are elements that I want to add to a new chair pattern as well. Those need to be completely sorted out in the pattern making phase for me. I know what I want to do. The materials are at hand. For me, part of ‘sorting it out’ is landing on the correct sequences for construction. This kind of preparation before hand means less cursing as a piece is taken apart or redone.
Make more upholstered furniture. Just because I made some mistakes doesn’t mean that I won’t make a second attempt. What use is learning from a mistake if I don’t readily apply that new knowledge to subsequent creations? This could be part of why I create so much artwork. There are always mistakes made and lessons to learn.
Thank you for reading, and I’ll see you next Friday.
One day seems to blend a bit into the next one during this part of the year in central Finland. Sunrise was at 9:22 and sunset was at 14.54 today. We’ve had six years to get used to it. That doesn’t mean that I have to necessarily like it though. The fairy lights, coupled with lovely candles make things cozy. But it doesn’t always help to distinguish the day from the night time.
Daytime, night time, it really doesn’t matter a whole lot to me right now. At any given point of the day or night, I’m usually planted at my desk working on art for the upcoming exhibit in January.
Finalized dates, etc.:
The dates for my exhibit at Matara have been finalized. My artwork will be hung on 11 January and come down on 5 February 2021.
There are all kinds of things that I need to sort out and finish prior to getting to the point in which the work is actually up and on the walls. This time around, I will be taking a taxi instead of riding the bus with my artwork. While I love the busses here, my work did suffer some damage in getting it to a prior show when I took the bus.
I still have no real idea of what I want to call the exhibit either. It will come to me at some point. But as of right now, I just have no flippin’ idea.
Work of the past week:
I’ve spent the greater part of the past week working on a doll I’m calling #10. And finishing up some doll housed sized furniture for my Go Marielle series.
#10 is at the point in which I’m adding layer after layer after layer of gesso to the surfaces of the piece. The head and torso are one piece. The legs are two separate pieces. And the legs are ten small cylinders, about the size of large, American-style Jet Puffed marshmallows. Every one of these pieces gets coated with gesso several dozen times over.
In addition to the gesso work, I’ve also been working on some carved wood antler/horn like elements for #10 and another doll for the show, who at present is nameless. At best I am an amateur at wood carving. The wood I use is what I find laying around outside on the ground.
#10 has some additional wooden elements, inside the square opening in her torso. She also is getting some wooden finger-like appendages on the ends of her marshmallow cylinder arms. You can take a look at the pictures here.
During the times in which I found myself waiting for the gesso on #10 to dry, I began painting the bedroom furniture for my Go Marielle series. I’ve been wanting to create a bedroom set for Marielle for quite a while. The furniture was started when I was waiting for gesso to dry on two other dolls.
All of the furniture that I’ve finished has been painted and sealed. You can see what it looked like prior to painting here. I still need to create a mattress and pillow for the bed. And I have an idea of some nifty little draperies for the bed that I got from Bentley House Minis. I’ve been enjoying her videos so much over the past few months. Especially the cardboard house and furniture.
Seriously. Ara is amazing. The Adams Family doll house she made is just insanely cool!
I’ll be working on a bedroom set for Marielle while I’m still working away on the pieces of art for the exhibit at Matara.
What’s with the title of this post?
It’s my birthday today.
Thanks for reading, and I’ll see you again next Friday.
There was no regular Friday blog post last week. Part of that was due to being mentally a day behind. Another part of that was from being so focused on the artwork I was creating. As I sit perched on the beginning of December, I foresee many instances of forgetfulness like this one.
There are thirty one days left for me to complete the new body of artwork that will be exhibited at Matara in January. All of my attention needs to be focused on finishing the ten pieces of artwork. There’s also a lot of peripheral work to do as well. Signage needs to be written. An artist statement. The artwork also needs to be kitted-out correctly so it can be hung on a wall. Oh, and lots of “Please Do Not Touch” signs to be made.
There’s more to do. But right now. My brain is a little glob of newsprint and glue.
Why I blog:
The two blog post a week that I post are mostly done for myself. It’s a place to put my thoughts about whatever is running rough-shod through them. It’s nice to know that some people do read my blog. And maybe even enjoy it a little. Although sometimes, I think it’s in more a rubber-necking kind of way! Ha! “Look at that crazed woman! She’s so messed-up!”
Writing and posting twice a week during the month of December is just not do-able for me. Looking at everything else I have on my plate, letting go of one of the blog posts a week would allow me a little breathing room. Changing the remaining blog post into an update on the progress I’m making in the creation of the artwork for Matara seems logical to me.
So, for the month of December 2020, I will only post on Fridays. And those blog posts will be an update on my artwork creation and preparations for the January 2021 Matara art exhibit.
What I’m working on right now:
I know it’s not Friday, but I’ll give an update anyway. Currently, I’m working on a doll I’m calling #10. She’s come together quite quickly. I’m already at the point in which I’m adding several layers of newsprint and glue. I would like to be painting her white by tomorrow evening. And have her gessoed and prepped for a finished surface by the end of the week.
Unlike many of my other dolls, she ‘came together’ in the oddest way. I made her legs first. I used an Erittäin Hieno Suomalainen shampoo and conditioner bottles. We’ve used their shampoo and conditioner since moving here. The blueberry is the one we use. It smells wonderful!
There was a little question in my mind that the newsprint and glue might not adhere to the plastic bottle the way I would need it to. Creating the legs first made sense. If it worked, I could continue. If it didn’t, I’d have to come up with something else.
You can take a look at my progress in my Instagram.
So what now?
Well, right now, I have to get back to work. There is so much artwork to make. So many things to write. Insane amounts of things to do. As you can see, I do not take the offer of showing my artwork to the public lightly!
Thank you for reading, and I will see you again on Friday…and several Fridays after that.
Over the past few days, I’ve been thinking about how my personal artistic media choices can be interpreted as a self portrait in and of themselves. These tools, techniques and materials anchor me firmly in my own past as well. It’s interesting how they all are shaped into the artwork that I create.
Overthink something? Me?
Initially, the metaphor came to me while I was waiting for the bus sometime last week. The metaphor being, that I am much like the artwork that I create.
I’m a bunch of (seemingly) haphazardly selected bits of cardboard. That are cut and glued together in <almost> a symmetrical manner. Then covered with loads of old, torn newspapers and glue. Then slathered in layer after layer after layer of gesso, paint and sealant. And finally decorated in a way that would make an ancient Roman think, “Hmmm…perhaps a little less would be better?”
Please allow me pick-apart and explain my own clumsy metaphor.
Used for the substructure. Never, ever meant by me to be seen, much less understood completely. Seen by most people as trash. Or perhaps something that needs to be put out and recycled into something better.
Even when I’m making a concerted effort to be symmetrical in the creation of my artwork, it is almost never quite correct. It’s never completely even. Exact symmetry makes me uneasy in that lizard-like part of my brain.
Again, something that most people see as trash or recycling or both. However, a newspaper has an original purpose. It delivers the news and information that a community needs to know. From the weather report, to cultural events, to major decisions made in all levels of government, all the way back to movie times and advertisements for local businesses. Newspapers are meant to teach and inform.
Layer after layer after layer:
Even to me, this seems a rather good stand-in for the physical human form. Tendons, muscles, veins, fat, skin, bone, teeth, etc.
Yes. I do seem to fear an undecorated square centimeter in my finished artwork. To me, decoration is like Jell-o, ‘there’s always room for more‘ as I see things. It keeps the viewers eyes moving from here to there. If their eyes stop, they might see a flaw.
This is very much a fear-generated coping mechanism of my own psyche. Rooted in the intense and sometimes debilitating fear that I am completely unworthy of any kind of friendship, love or admiration in any way, shape or form by those around me.
So what does this mean?
In a nutshell, it means that my choice of artistic media and accompanying techniques are right for me. Mediums like clay and wood are ones that I find very attractive. They each have their own unique ways in which an artist can express themselves. However much I love working in them, they don’t fit me like the paper mâché work I have been creating fits me.
I derive a similar level of personal creative satisfaction from paper mâché as I do from sewing and doing needle work by hand. My aforementioned clumsy metaphor regarding my utilization of a paper mâché technique gives me something to anchor that sense of creative satisfaction to.
Thanks for reading, and I’ll see you again on Friday.
In the previous two blog posts, I’ve discussed how I personally work creatively in paper mâché. One of the blog posts concerned the tools and materials I use. While the other one dealt with how I personally go about creating a finished paper mâché piece.
While working the most recent paper mâché piece, I found my mind wandering back to the my own personal artistic insecurities regarding the medium in which I have chosen to work for the last few years. Some of the questions were untangled. But as Reverend Mother Gaius Helen Mohaim once said, “Answers only breed more questions.”
I did a little online reading about the history of paper mâché. Wikipedia had a pretty good entry on paper mâché. You can find it here. Paper mâché has been used by many different cultures around the world. Some mummies from ancient Egypt had their outer casings made of paper mâché!
One of the historical points that I found very interesting was that paper mâché became popular in the 1700’s as an inexpensive substitute for plaster moulds that were traditionally used for gilt work in all kinds of decoration from coaches to churches to homes.
Most people are familiar with paper mâché. I lived in the New Mexico for almost twenty years. The tradition of working in paper mâché for important holidays like Dia de los Muertos, as well as religious decoration in churches was well known to me. I have already spoken of my love for the Lupita dolls in blog posts.
It is without doubt that the paper mâché traditions of Mexico have influenced my personal artistic style and expression.
What’s the difference?
Many of the people working in paper mâché, who are utilizing a vast cultural history, are making objects that are devised more for mass production.
The piñata maker that I drove by in Albuquerque several times a week was always making new piñatas. ALWAYS. Many were the same. You could see the rows of Sponge Bobs and Spider Mans and Princess Peaches hanging out underneath the awnings at the front of the business.
The Lupita dolls that I love so much, are created using a mould. This way, many, many dolls can be made utilizing a singular mould. Each doll is relatively similar to the ones made before and after it. (Of course, allowing for variances in the paint and decoration.)
The two aforementioned types of paper mâché art aren’t necessarily meant to last forever either. A piñata gets stuffed with all kinds of goodies and treats, then bashed open at a celebration. Lupita dolls will gradually be loved to death by any little person who plays with them on a regular basis.
I love Lupita dolls and piñatas, and admire the artistic efficacy that goes into their creation by those who are making them. But I need to recognize that what I create out of paper mâché and what they create out of paper mâché are inherently different.
One of these things is not like the other:
One biggest differences between my paper mâché artwork is that I don’t bash my finished artwork to bits with a stick until candy falls out it. (Pedro Martin, who writes a fabulous comic called Mexikid Stories has an hilarious story about piñatas called Holy Piñata. Read it here on Instagram. Remember! It’s in two parts!)
Another big difference is that the paper mâché artwork I create isn’t necessarily meant to be played with. Or perhaps, just not played with by a child. And when I say “played with” I mean, carefully moving the pieces. Maybe setting them up a little differently than I have. Perhaps sitting the large jointed doll in a different position. On a pillow. In a room where the dog and small children won’t be able to touch it. So yeah, with the door closed. Yeah.
I make one-of-a-kind pieces. I will not make a six-tiered cake doll with drawers and an aurora/halo of smaller dolls around it’s head. There will be one, and only one of these paper máché dolls ever made by me. This doesn’t make the piñata maker or the Lupita doll maker any less by comparison. Just different.
My objective is not to create many pieces that are either similar or the same so that I can sell them to as many customers as I can get. I want to express myself on a very personal level through the creation of my artwork.
Where knowledge and experience ends:
What I find curious is that while there are many, many, many people from throughout history that have worked in the medium of paper mâché, it’s still relegated to a folk art or a craft. Not an art form. Perhaps this harkens back to the 1700’s, when it was used as an inexpensive alternative to plaster or wood.
That seems to me to be part and parcel of the fact that most people, once they leave public school, never practice any kind of art themselves at any point after they graduate. The sum total of their artistic knowledge is book-ended with pre-school and high school graduation. Paper mâché is that messy stuff that a person may have worked with that one time in 2nd grade, or perhaps again in 8th grade. And that’s it.
So when I relay to someone that I’m an artist, and I work in paper mâché, their understanding of what type of artwork I create is somewhat limited.
So, now what?
Well, I don’t think it’s really that important for me to necessarily change around what I’m already doing. The understanding of what may be happening within the mind of the person I’m talking to is more important. This means that I have to be able to discuss my artwork in such a way that the people I’m talking to better understand what the difference is between the paper mâché rabbit they made in the 3rd grade and the pieces of artwork that I create.
Thank you for reading, and I will see you again on Monday.
I keep a sketchbook for all of my ideas. It’s not expensive. In fact, it’s about twelve pages of A4 paper, folded over and saddle stitched together. Usually, I make three or four with graph paper, and then two or three with inexpensive white drawing paper. This type of sketchbook works well for me.
A great deal of my sketching is more mental than physical. There is a lot of time spent thinking about the ideas. Moving it around inside my head. Looking at it from different angles. Deciding on themes, colors, sizes, etc.. prior to any serious sketches being made. Sometimes, more thinking and more sketches are required.
What I try hard to keep in the forefront of my mind is to allow the artwork to be itself. If I feel as though I’m forcing an idea or a concept, I drop it for a while. Ideas can always be returned to in the future. Describing how I know when I’m forcing an idea is difficult to pin down. I suppose that at this point in my artistic career; I just know.
Once the idea is decided upon, it’s time to start putting it together in real life.
Some pieces require me to create pattern to ensure adherence to a specific size or shape. An inexpensive school-grade graphed paper is used for this. One of the pieces that I’m currently working on required me to create six tiered half circled forms. The patterns I created made sure that the finished tiers were uniform from top to bottom.
There are times that a pattern piece needs to be heavier, because it’s going to be traced many times. I transfer these types of patterns to carton board. It’s easy to trace around and stands up to more abuse.
Some pattern pieces are organically shaped. Making patterns for those also helps in construction. Especially if the organic shape is complicated. Or it needs to fit into a very specific place within a larger, paper mâché piece.
It should be noted that as I have continued working in paper mâché, I don’t cut out patterns for every single piece of cardboard and carton board. In the beginning, I measured every tiny little piece and had a pattern piece for EVERYTHING!
When all needed pattern pieces are completed, then it’s on to cutting out the card and carton board.
Cutting it all out
When using patterns, it’s fairly easy to get started. Pencil or ballpoint pen work well for tracing pattern pieces onto the cardboard. When I’m choosing the corrugated cardboard for a piece, I look for the stronger cardboard for the outer portions of the piece. Weaker, flimsier cardboard I can use within the structure to give it more strength.
The weaker, slightly flimsier corrugated cardboard works well for creating curves. For tight curves, I score the corrugated cardboard so it bends a bit easier. For bigger curves, I usually roll the corrugated cardboard over a cylindrical form. It holds the shape just fine.
For the large, six tiered doll that I have been working on, I did have to sit down and do a little math to figure out how tall I wanted the finished piece to be. Would 7 or 9 cm in height for each tier work better? The drawers needed to be taken into account as well as the space around them. Again, my personal time and experience factors into a lot of my decisions. In the end, I go with what I think and feel is “correct”.
Now to the glue!
Attaching the pieces
Once I have the main corrugated cardboard structure the way that I want it, I begin gluing it together. In my previous post, I mentioned the glue that I use, Eri-Keeper. I have a deep and abiding love for this glue. It does exactly what I want and need it to do. I understand that I’m also a person who doesn’t mind getting my hands messy and sticky as well. So I understand when someone might rather use a glue gun!
If you would like to see some of the work I have been putting together using my own paper mâché construction methods and techniques, take a look at my Instagram here. When working with a very symmetrical piece like this one, I made sure throughout the entire construction process, that I kept the center (90 degree) marked so I could see it.
This six tiered doll was constructed in sections. Each tier was completely separate until I put it together using the bamboo skewers and wooden plant stakes. The construction was planned this way, so that I would be more easily able to create the drawers within three of the tiers.
The drawer holes were measured and cut out of the corrugated cardboard. Then the inside walls were added. They’re not hard to create. The space from top to bottom of the drawer space was measured. Pieces of corrugated cardboard (with the corrugation running vertically) were cut. They were put into the space and marked for length. Then cut to fit then glued in place.
Now, I may be just a little paranoid about my finished paper mâché artwork falling apart. So I add a lot of structurally stabilizing corrugated cardboard to my artwork. In the pictures you can see here of a pervious piece, there are so many little pieces of corrugated cardboard!
Remember that flimsy corrugated cardboard I mentioned above? I use a lot of this inside the cardboard structures. Sometimes it’s used to shim-up a wall or to support a very thin dividing wall. Sometimes it’s little rectangles that I glue in between an internal structure (like a drawer) and the outer wall. This is done so that the outer and inner walls don’t buckle or bow while drying.
This buckling and bowing will happen when you begin adding the newspaper and the PVA glue to the outside of the cardboard structure.
Corrugated cardboard isn’t the strongest material on the planet. When it gets wet, it begins to come apart. This has a lot to do with the kinds of paper fibers and the way the corrugated cardboard is created. When newsprint and the PVA glue are attached to it’s surface, it will get squishy. Then when the piece as dried, more often than not, the corrugations (ripples) can be seen through the layers of newspaper and PVA glue.
Again, I’m a little nit-picky about certain things. This ripply surface makes me nuts. I solved the problem by using carton board as a veneer over the top of the corrugated cardboard. The entire surface of the six tiered doll was covered in cookie and porridge cartons, as well as some toilet paper rolls.
Measuring wasn’t really required. I just laid the pieces onto the cardboard and traced them. There were some spots in which the carton board didn’t match. It was more important for the thickness of the carton board matched.
And anyway! It’s all going to get covered with newsprint and PVA glue anyway!
Prep that newsprint!
The size and complexity of a piece I’m creating determines the size of the newsprint pieces that I need, as well as the way that I tear them. Any kind of newsprint will work, as long as the paper isn’t glossy. Glossy papers don’t work! Save those for paper collage work and book making projects!
If you’ve followed my paper mâché artwork for a while now, you know that some of the pieces I create have all kinds of oddly shaped elements. Each of them use a differently torn paper. It’s important to note that the newsprint needs to be torn, not cut with scissors or a utility knife.
For the internal parts of drawers, and where legs are attached, I use thin strips of newspaper. They are about .5 cm wide by about 3 cm long depending upon the specific piece. Larger, flat areas I use 2 cm wide by 3 cm (approximate!) pieces of paper. There are some really tiny pieces I’ve created in which I needed a 1 cm by 1 cm or smaller pieces of torn newsprint to work with.
For some pieces that are not flat, I will tear the newsprint into strips and then again, against the grain of the paper. Giving the paper a somewhat jagged looking shape. This allows the newsprint to adhere to an irregular surface better. I used this kind of paper a lot while creating the head pictured here.
Attaching the newsprint and glue
In the previous post, I mentioned that I use an inexpensive white PVA glue to attach the newsprint to the cardboard forms. A little water is sometimes required to thin the glue a bit. I buy Memoris-Precious Askarteluliima (Craft/Hobby Glue) in 500g bottles. The amount of water needed to thin it a bit, is about 5 to 10 ml. for the entire 500g bottle.
I’m not a person who minds getting her hands messy. For large areas, I usually just use my hands. When there are smaller areas, or I just cannot get my hands into a space to attach the newspaper and glue, I use an old #6 watercolor paint brush. First, I paint down a little glue, then pick up a piece of newsprint with the same sticky brush. I place the newsprint where I want it, then paint it down with a little more glue.
This method sounds time-consuming. And it is. Or perhaps I should say, ‘and it can be’. However, it gets me the results that I want. For pieces that I will be adding gesso, paint and sealant to, three or four layers of newsprint and glue are enough. I make sure to alter the direction of the newsprint in each layer. This helps the surface to be stronger.
For pieces like this one, a finished thickness of 1 to 1.5 mm is enough. There will be additional structures placed inside this piece. So the thinness of the surface is okay.
This and that
While adding newsprint and glue to a piece, I do make corrections as I go. There may be a place where it seems a bit crooked, or too thin. Added layers of paper and glue can help to disguise that. You can see in this piece, where I will have to do some creative paper applications to cover this up!
Sometimes, the time it takes for individual pieces to dry makes me impatient. This isn’t surprising. I’m an incredibly impatient artist. Some paper mâché artists use a hairdryer to speed up the drying process. Personally, I’m not a fan of doing this. It’s possible to dry out one spot a lot, while another spot may still be really squishy. I prefer to let pieces dry overnight before I continue working on them.
There are a lot of essential parts of my personal creative process and how it interacts with the paper mâché techniques I use. To be honest, most of the time while I’m working on a piece, I’m so focused on what I’m doing that even I may not be completely aware that I’m actually doing a specific thing at a specific time.
An example of this would be how I plan out the sequences of work during the creation of a paper mâché piece. Some things must happen before others. And I just ‘know’ how to do it. There’s not a tremendous amount of thinking done regarding this. Again, this is just time and experience at work for me.
Anyone reading this two part blog post now has an idea of the tools, materials, preparations and work (mental and physical) that go into how I create my artwork. As I said previously, I know that I’ve left all kinds of stuff out. If I wrote a totally faithful step=by-step account of what I do, the blog posts would be the length of a book!
Thanks for reading, and I will see you again on Friday,
I’m a visual artist living in central Finland. I create surrealistic dolls utilizing a variety of materials and techniques.