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Challenges Not Anticipated by the Artist

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.

Art exhibit:

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.

Important lessons:

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.

Endless juggling:

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.

Closer examination:

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.

 

 

 

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Spinning Plates

Outright panic:

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.

Terribly dull:

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.

Full plate:

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.

 

 

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Mistakes Were Made

Creating small upholstered, arm chairs

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.

Cardboard

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.

Fabric

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.

Glue

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.

Stuffing

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.

My pattern

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.

Now what?

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.

 

 

 

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50th Trip

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.

Miniature furniture:

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!

ANYWAY…

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.

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Goodbye November

Where I am right now:

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.

 

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Artistic Medium

Preconceived notions:

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.”

Research:

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.

Anyway…

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.

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Paper Mâché: Beginning the Work

Beginning

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.

Patterns

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.

Adding stability

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.

Veneering

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.

Now what?

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,

 

 

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Paper Mâché

This post became very large, very quickly. Because of this, I’ve divided it into two parts. Part one is this following post and the second part of the post will be posted on 16 November 2020.

In this post, I’ll be discussing why and how I began working in paper mâché, as well as the materials and tools that I use regularly in the creation of my own artwork.

Isn’t paper mâché for little kids?

Prior to moving to Finland, I had never created any of my own artwork using paper mâché. As an elementary art teacher I had taught a few lessons over the years that utilized the art form and accompanying techniques.

My personal use of the paper and glue method is partially inspired by some of my former students with allergies. Specifically, allergies to wheat, requiring me to find a substitute for the flour and water paste commonly used for paper mâché elementary school art projects.

It should be known that I have never had anyone sit down and teach me how to work with paper mâché. What I know is what I learned from personal experience as a child, then as an art teacher, and now as a practicing artist. YouTube, as always, has been instructional, as well as various personal art websites detailing paper mâché materials, tools and techniques.

The remainder of my paper mâché education has been gained by creating my artwork. In the rest of this blog post, I will detail, as best I can, my personal paper mâché tools, materials, techniques, as well as any tricks I’ve found along the way.

Materials: Corrugated Cardboard

Part of the reason I began using paper mâché was because a great deal of the materials are free or incredibly low cost. In addition to being low cost, the materials are incredibly common. The two main materials I use are newsprint and cardboard. Both of these materials are quite easy to lay your hands on most of the time.

Most of the cardboard, specifically, the corrugated cardboard, that I use I pick up at the Lidl. Lidl staff stock the shelves in a particular way, having large rolling bins that they chuck empty cardboard boxes into. The staff at the Lidl I shop at are so used to me picking (neatly) through the bins that I don’t get a second look.

Time and experience has taught me what corrugated cardboards work the best for my own particular creative needs. Corrugated cardboard from cookie box shipments (Sondey brand) are one of my favourites. The corrugation is small and strong. Most of the time, it’s two layers of corrugated cardboard, laminated together. The box usually has a heavier glossy paper finish too. These features make it good for what and how I create my artwork.

I take a retractable box cutter with me to Lidl. Any box or carton that is large or oddly shaped I can break down quickly. Again, at this point, none of the staff at Lidl seems to be bothered with this. The smaller pieces just go in my shopping bags for the trip home.

Materials: Carton Board

Carton board is different from corrugated cardboard. Carton board is the lightweight, kind of grey-ish-brown-ish papery-card-stock used in packaging like cereal boxes or frozen pizza boxes. My husband does all the meal planning and cooking for us, and knows when I might like a carton or box. I trim-off the bits I don’t want from these cartons and store them in a reusable shopping bag.

Most of the carton board is used to veneer the underlying corrugated cardboard structure. Some smaller elements of a larger paper mâché piece may be constructed completely out of carton board that I have laminated together using glue to give more strength to the piece.

I will talk more specifically about how I veneer the corrugated cardboard structures with carton board in the second part of this blog post on Monday. Wood veneer is very common. My technique is similar. I just use carton board instead of wood.

Materials: Newspaper

We don’t get the newspaper, but we do get a small free city newspaper every week or so by mail. They are saved in much the same manner as the cardboard and carton board. Several months ago, while putting the recycling into the bins, I came across several bunches of newspapers (that we don’t receive) still in zip tied bundles. Several of them came home with me.

Materials: Glue

There are two glues that I use. Each having a different purpose at different times during the construction of a piece. For gluing cardboard pieces together, I use Eri Keeper. It’s a Finnish brand of all-purpose glue that has a strong hold, especially with cardboard. A glue gun can be used. I just find them expensive, messy and cumbersome.

The glue I use when applying the newsprint to the surface of the cardboard form is an inexpensive white PVA craft glue, thinned with a little water. I don’t like using this kind of glue for anything other than paper mâché. White, PVA craft glue has a bond I find too weak. However, when used with newsprint, in many consecutive layers, it works extremely well.

Tools

For the type of artwork that I create, several tools are used. But you really don’t need incredibly specialized tools to work with paper mâché. A ruler, pencil, cutting blade and a safe surface to cut it on is enough to start out with. Metal rulers are better than plastic or wood though.

There are also several other tools that I use. A compass, a protractor, a multi-use piercing tool and a self-healing cutting mat are also useful. For small pieces that I’m applying newspaper to, I use an old paint brush instead of my fingers as well.

Tools: Cutting Blade

Since I was a freshman in art school, I’ve used an X-Acto knives. An X-Acto knife and replacement blades even came with me to Finland! The blades are a little expensive here, and frankly aren’t what most people use. Retractable cutting blades, the kind you can snap the dull bit of the blade off, are much more common here in Finland. They’re also much less expensive!

It took me a little time to get used to using this kind of cutting blade. But I like it a great deal. My index finger of my right hand doesn’t ache after using them. Plus, they are retractable, so I’m much less likely to cut myself. Personally, I use the cheapest ones from Flying Tiger and the slightly more expensive ones from Motonet.

What’s important is to find the type of cutting blade that works the best for you. One that you’re most comfortable using. And remember to be safe! Never, ever cut toward anything that might bleed! The latter being a reminder to my students when they used anything sharp to cut in the art room.

Even more supplies and materials

There are other tools and materials that I utilize when working in paper mâché. Bamboo skewers in different sizes, small wooden plant stakes, toothpicks, pens, pencils, erasers, markers, scissors, various plastic containers (recycled) to hold torn paper, glue and other supplies, just to name a few. There will be more about these incidental types of tools and materials in Monday’s blog post.

Hmmm…

Wow. This post got very long, very quickly! And I haven’t even gotten to my personal creative paper mâché techniques! Don’t miss the second part of this blog post on 16 November 2020!

Thank you for reading, and I will see you again on Monday.

 

 

 

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Two Art Exhibits

Exhibiting my artwork:

2021 is going to be a busy year for me.

Not long after I had announced that I would be taking a short break from blogging, something unexpected happened. I was contacted by the Suomen Käsityön Museo regarding my artwork. More specifically, I was asked if I would like to exhibit my artwork in a window gallery that the museum has.

It took me a few minutes to mentally digest the invitation offered to me by the museum. Part of me thought that perhaps I was reading it incorrectly. Another part of me thought that I was sent the invitation by mistake. But it was a real, sincere invitation to exhibit my artwork! Cool!

So, long story somewhat longer, I will be exhibiting my artwork in the window gallery of the Suomen Käsityön Museo in Jyväskylä during December 2021 until February 2022. I know that it seems like a long time off in the future. But from where I see it, it’s right around the corner!

Matara exhibit:

Part of what I think is incredibly cool about the Suomen Käsityön Museo exhibit, is that it is at the end of 2021. I am exhibiting my artwork at Matara in January 2021. My year begins and ends with me exhibiting my artwork! Honestly, part of me is a little scared by both of these exhibits. It’s kind of a ‘put-up or shut-up’ set of circumstances for me as a working artist.

Communicating my ideas:

I have been working steadily over the past few months on the new pieces of artwork that I will be exhibiting at Matara in January. What I’ve discovered that creating a cohesive body of artwork is a much different experience than creating a single, stand-alone piece of artwork.

The Creative Experiment was one in which I worked on one piece until it was finished. Once finished, I started another. No piece of artwork was left unfinished. And no new piece of artwork was started until the previous one had been completely finished. This experiment had many different goals. But focusing on one piece of artwork at a time became increasingly important as the experiment progressed.

A different point of view:

When I sat down and started planning the pieces that I wanted to create for the Matara exhibit, I couldn’t just think about one piece of artwork at a time. A theme needed to be chosen and woven through all of the artwork that was to be created. The theme could vary in the degree to which it applied to each individual piece of art. But it needed to be present.

There was also the interesting creative challenge of creating new pieces of artwork that would be displayed on a vertical surface to consider. How would the themes I had chosen to with translate well in a vertical format? Would the themes be apparent to the viewer?

A big question for me was; what if the themes began to change as I worked on the individual pieces of art? This is an extremely frequent occurrence for me while I’m creating my artwork. Could the changes of theme in individual pieces of art alter the entire exhibit?

Organization:

To make sure that I wasn’t overwhelming myself with the endless possibilities of ‘what if’ questions, I needed to give myself a mental structure to adhere to. Something that wasn’t too confining. That could change according to my individual creative mental requirements.

A book format seemed logical to me. The exhibit is a story. The theme is the subject of the exhibit. Each piece of artwork is a chapter in the story. Additional themes and ideas can be woven in to each individual piece of artwork. A beginning and end of the exhibition are required as well. Even if that ‘ending’ requires a sequel.

Once I had decided on the book metaphor, I just needed to adjust where I wanted to put pieces of artwork in the exhibit. There’s also been some tweaking to each piece of artwork here and there. This was done to make sure that my artwork was accurately telling the story I needed it to tell.

Nothing is set in stone:

The aforementioned mental (and creative) organizational methodology may seem a little rigid. But I don’t see it that way. Changes in how I work creatively are always, always, always on the table for me.  Nothing is ever set or carved in stone for me!

There are parts of my personality that are super-flexible and this helps me to evaluate what working methods are beneficial, and which ones that aren’t. If the book metaphor ceases to give me the creative results and mental security that I need, then I’ll change it.

So, now what?

I will continue working on the pieces that I will be exhibiting at Matara in January 2021. As well as formulating new ideas and exploring new themes, materials and techniques for pieces that I will exhibit in December 2021-February 2022. Along the way, I will continue creating Go Marielle stories and posts. And creating and adding new items for sale in my online shop. And then there are the weekly blog posts…and Patreon that I want to get started.

Yeah. I have plenty to keep me busy.

Thank you for reading, and I’ll see you again next Monday,

 

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How I Create Go Marielle

Why did I create Go Marielle?

I’d been thinking about doing something like Go Marielle for quite a long time. Simply put, I wanted to combine my original doll artwork with a story telling medium. When I began thinking about the idea, it seemed large and kind of un-doable to me. There were so many moving parts to the project.

I worried that I didn’t have the right computer programs or technical know-how. And that my camera skills and equipment were sorely lacking.  To be honest, all those things were true. They weren’t going to change any time soon either. But the idea still wouldn’t leave me along. So I wanted to give it a try.

What’s the worst thing that could happen? No one would like what I made?

Getting started

A central character was needed. The 12 cm tall dolls with boots I’d been making seemed a good choice. Their size made them easy to transport. I had made their faces very simple, so altering the photos as I had planned, would be easier.

Interestingly, I chose another doll for the central character while I was in the planning stages. Malvi was the doll I had chosen initially. But by the time she was finished, I had created several additional 12 cm dolls. Marielle was one of them. She just seemed…I don’t know, right for the role? Marielle had a je ne sais quoi that Malvi didn’t.

My husband helped me to come up with the title Go Marielle! I liked the translation into Finnish, Mene Marielle! as well. It has good alliteration, which is something I like a great deal.

I now had my main character created, as well as a name for her stories. Now to get some pictures taken.

Always taking pictures

I now never leave the house now without Marielle in my bag. Or more often, just tucked  inside my jacket pocket. Traveling with her this way means that I can take pictures on the fly. When-ever and where-ever I feel like. On the bus. Taking a walk. Looking at nature. Reading a book.

I may take a series of pictures for a longer story, or I may just get one or two pictures for a single daily post. There is some longer-term planning done for specific longer stories. In these cases, I need more detailed plans for when and where I will be taking photos with Marielle.

So far, the vast majority of the photos have been taken outside, or in stores and other public places. Natural light is the best for an amateur photographer like me. There are plans for a bedroom for Marielle in the works. I just need to find the time to build it!

Computer based programs

Remember, I’m a one-horse operation with a shoe-string budget! I have two different cameras that I can use to take photos, but the vast majority of the Go Marielle photos are taken using my Samsung mobile phone. It’s just convenient to the way in which I structure the Go Marielle stories. I can take pictures quickly and conveniently.

My computer is an older MacBook Pro. I use the Preview feature for the viewing, sorting, renaming and resizing of the photos. Adobe Photoshop is not something I can’t afford right now, so I’m using GIMP 2.10. There are some parts of GIMP that are less than intuitive. But I’ve been fortunate that there are YouTubers with good tutorials that have helped me quite a bit. It’s an excellent alternative to Photoshop.

To put the stories together, I’m using Canva. My husband had been using it for quite a while. He suggested that I give it a try. There are parts of Canva that I find really, really frustrating. It makes me wish that I could just magically have Adobe Illustrator at my disposal at times.

For me, the lack of finesse with the fiddly bits, like color, text and layering is what I find the most frustrating. But I know that’s because I have experience and training with more creatively flexible types of programs. Canva is a great tool though. With a price that is more easily absorbed for me at present.

Processing photos

I’ve begun to wear a path in the creation of the different daily and twice weekly longer story Go Marielle posts. All photos need to be uploaded to my computer. There are some days that I upload 60 to 80 photos, then others when I may upload 2 to 3 photos. I never completely know how many photos I will take on a given outing.

I sort them into two categories; longer stories and daily posts. I then go through all the photos, discarding ones that are duplicates, or blurry, etc. I resize and rename the remaining photos. Then it’s time to sort the photos into sequences that make sense for the longer stories.

My aim is for 10 photos, as Instagram posts have a limit on how many photos can be posted at once. More often than not, the stories either fall well short (around 6 to 7 panels) or well over (12-18 panels). Instagram has stories that I think I may look into for posting some of these longer stories.

Once the photos are chosen, sized, named and sequenced, they need to be color corrected. I admit, this is something I do not enjoy. My color correction skills are at best a bit ham-fisted. And I am painfully aware of this. Once they are all color corrected, I need to go through and remove the faces embroidered on the doll in GIMP. This can take anywhere from 10 minutes for a couple of photos, to almost an hour for a longer story.

Once the photos are completely processed, I upload them to Canva and begin putting all the pieces (photos, faces, text) together into a cohesive story.

Creating the faces

All of the pieces of Marielles face need to be dropped in and placed individually. Each piece of the face is drawn by hand. I don’t have a printer or scanner, so I photograph them instead. These photos also require photo processing on my computer (Back to Preview and GIMP!). The style in which I’ve drawn them is incredibly simple. So my rather clumsy work around of photographing my drawings doesn’t suffer too much through the photo processing.

Each of the facial elements has the backgrounds cleared, so they can be easily placed into an existing photo. Each of these facial elements are uploaded to Canva. I can then pick and choose from them after I finish writing the story.

Writing the story or text

Once the photos are sequenced in Canva, I drop in the text. I have an idea of what I want the story to be while I’m taking the initial photos, but nothing is ever carved in stone. Decisions regarding the final story aren’t made until I have the sequence of photos finalized. And even then, I sometimes pull out or add photos, as the story dictates.

The rough draft of the story is left at least overnight, so that I can edit it with a clear mind the next day. Usually it takes one or two story edits before I land on the story I want. Even then, I know I’m no great writer. There is a lot that I still have to learn. Fortune has graced me with a husband who’s a writer, so he’s there to help!

I have established days in which I work on the stories and the daily posts, so that I can leave them alone for a while before editing them prior to publication on Instagram. My Tuesdays and Fridays are largely spent working on computer on Go Marielle and other things, like blog posts.

All of the stories so far have been a learning lab of sorts for me. Discovering what works, what doesn’t. As well as finding the direction of the whole idea itself. I feel as though I’m getting closer to figuring out what I want Marielle herself to sound like. But again, I’m still in the discovery phase of this whole creation.

Adding the personality

The story dictates the facial expressions that Marielle will have. Happiness, shock, anger, frustration, surprise, etc. I want to show the emotion without being too complicated in the final product. Eyebrows are essential! So much emotion can be conveyed with an eyebrow!

There are times in which the angle of the photos makes it challenging to add the correct type of face. Especially when it comes to the eyes. I’m just kind of plowing ahead and trying to not let myself think too much about some of the really wonky angles and perspective that some of the finished stories have. I keep telling myself that the fantasy element of my storytelling and art creation allow for some of this wonkiness.

There are times while working that I need a new facial feature. My clumsy ‘draw and photograph’ method makes quick work of this. However, it should be noted that even the most simplistic facial feature usually requires two or three drawings on my part in pencil and pen, then looking at it on computer before I make a decision regarding which ones to keep and continue processing by removing the backgrounds, color correcting and resizing.

Finishing work

Once the photos, faces and story are completed. Then it’s ready to download from Canva. Each of the longer stories and the daily photos are downloaded so that I can give them a last look before posting them. If I’ve forgotten a face, or there is a spelling error. It’s caught at this point.

Now, here is where Canva becomes frustrating for me. I have had difficulties getting the smart phone version of the program to work on my phone. A work-around was required. The longer story and daily Go Marielle posts for Instagram are then sent to myself via Gmail. They can then be downloaded from my Gmail to my phone. I know this a clunky solution. But for now, it works.

I usually ‘batch’ my daily Go Marielle posts, and send myself several daily posts at once. Then I download each daily post as needed. There is a part of me that is always terrified that somehow my files are going to get lost or corrupted. Having a copy hanging around in my Gmail for a little while quells those fears. Yeah. I’m weird.

Hashtags

Hashtags are a bit of a headache for me right now. I’m doing some experimenting with them. They don’t seem to be working the way in which I would like them to. Well, the English language hashtags aren’t working as intended. The Finnish ones are fine. But this is an entirely different post!

The take away

What I have learned so far is that there is a lot more work in creating the daily and longer story Go Marielle pieces for Instagram. It’s not that I don’t enjoy the creative work a great deal. It’s just a lot of work! There are long-term plans that I have for Go Marielle. So I know that the investment of time and energy into building the foundations of the project are well worth the effort.

The take-away for those people who read and enjoy the Go Marielle posts that I post each week is that there is much, much more work going on behind the scenes than perhaps non-creatives know about.

Thank you for reading, and I will see you again next Friday.