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Workspace Cleaning

With the arrival of spring in Finland, comes the ever-increasing amount of daylight every day. From the end of November through to the end of February, the amount of sunlight we get isn’t great by any stretch of the imagination. Consequently, accumulated dust isn’t necessarily visible, or perhaps better said, not bothersome, during the long, dark days of winter. The arrival of spring changes all of that. Now we I can see the dust-bunnies the size of some of the hares out in the fields!

Winter creative nesting:

I spent a lot of last autumn and winter creating artwork that would be in a public exhibition space. Once the artwork was taken down, most of it returned to our small apartment. Everything felt a bit more crowded after this. The creative mess accumulated during the creation of the artwork was now living side by side with the finished artwork.

My creating continued, even though my work space was becoming increasingly difficult to work in. At one point, I honestly felt like I was just tossing recyclables onto an ever-growing pile that had taken over a corner of my workspace. There was no way that this could go on much longer.

Small creative workspace:

It’s been mentioned here quite a few times, that the space in which I’m creating my artwork is not big. It’s more of less one third of our living room. My husband works in the kitchen, with his own desk and shelves. As a writer, he doesn’t require the amount of space for tools, materials and supplies that I do.

I try very hard to keep all of my creative workspace as neat and orderly as possible. My husband’s a very understanding man though. He knows that my work requires more space. When the majority of those materials are recyclables, storage can become a bit midden-like.

Cardboard and carton board:

I use a lot of recycled materials that I’ve scavenged from communal recycling bins, or our own recycling. Knowing that a certain percentage of my artwork was once something that was tossed out as trash or recycling is something that I absolutely love. Not only does it help cut the cost of materials for me, it also lends meaning to my work, by way of metaphor.

These materials take up a lot of space and can quickly get out of hand if you’re not keeping on top of them. The vast majority of the recycled materials that I had to clean up was my cardboard and carton board. Most of what I had on hand consisted of  cardboards in the form of small, oddly shaped pieces of that were not usable for my larger work.

The better part of a day was taken sorting through the mountain of cardboard and carton board that I had on hand. An entire large, Ikea bag was needed for the cardboard and carton board scraps that went into the recycling bins.

Plastics:

Our apartment complex now has plastics recycling. I felt a little better the fact that plastics that I had been keeping for my artwork could be recycled if I decided that I didn’t want or need them. Over the past year, I have been pointedly trying to not purchase items with too much plastic packaging, while at the same time trying to use more recyclable plastics in my artwork.

Some plastics have gone into recycling during the cleaning and organizing. While others have gone into an “I’m not sure” bag. This bag will need to be gone through once more, so that I can make final decisions about specific pieces of plastic.

There’s a large part of me that is still very much an art teacher. I was always on the look-out for plastic tubs with lids that I could put art supplies in, or mix paints in. For me as an art teacher, those are gold! That being said, I will still go through the “I’m not sure” bag and recycle what I cannot immediately use.

Sewing materials:

My sewing materials, especially my threads had gotten scarily out of control over the past few months. I went through everything. All of my threads were consolidated. Making sure that I had them all stored in the same place. Getting rid of useless scraps that I would never be able to use. Happily discovering another spool of white thread too!

A lot of my sewing materials, notions, buttons, etc., have now been organized neatly and stored in those lovely (and free!) clear, plastic, bulk candy tubs from the grocery store. Each of the plastic tubs in see through, and labeled on the side and the top. This is so that I’m able to quickly identify by sight what’s in each individual storage tub.

Lots of odds and ends:

In addition to all the cardboards and sewing materials, I needed to sort through all of my odd bits of materials too. Some of my materials, like wooden components, were stored in three different places on my desk and in un-labeled boxes. Yuck! I now have a single box for my wooden components. My glitter, wiggly eyes and sequins are all in a separate box. Pom-pom makers are in a box next to my small store-bought acrylic and wool pom-poms.

Each of the labeled boxes is within a step or two of my desk, and is clearly labeled. My sewing storage is on one shelf. I put my painting supplies on another. All of my glues now in two places (down from four!). Big bottles in a tray I can pull off the shelf, and my tiny bottles of Loc Tite type glues, glue sticks and rarely used glue gun are in a drawer at my desk.

Lost and found:

During my cleaning, I found dolls that I had completed, but for some reason hadn’t put in my shop. Quite a few of them need only a few small things completed to be finished too. I think that the reason that I (more or less) forgot about these dolls is because I was trying out some new clothing patterns on them. Most of the time, these sorts of dolls are not usually offered for sale. These dolls don’t have any glaring flaws, so I can see them going into the shop.

More things to make into art:

There were other items that I discovered during my cleaning that I’d like to find a way to use or finish-up. Sometimes I make multiple components, like buttons, beads or drawer pulls, out of air dry clay or paper mâché. I do this just in case something breaks or warps weirdly to the point that I cannot use it. When this doesn’t occur, I’m left with little extra bits from finished pieces.

I found some air dry doll blanks that I experimented with, but for some reason, never finished. There’s also a spare set of doll arms and legs that look a lot like the dolls Turk Tank, Piiing Tree, and Purple Fork. I’m looking forward to what I can do with these, and all the other small pieces and components that I found.

So, what now?

Well, back to work for me. Now that I have enough space to work in, and the ability to find everything that I need to work, I can’t wait!

Thanks for reading, and I’ll see you again next Tuesday.

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The Art of Failure

No one enjoys failure. Frankly, it sucks. A lot. It’s something that everyone avoids as much as humanly possible.Living a life free of failure isn’t at all possible. As much as failure sucks, it can be an extremely good teacher. Even if the lessons are hard to completely understand.

One of the many things that I like about being an artist is that it’s taught me to be okay with failure. I have no problem failing at getting an idea to work. Sometimes, the failure is an incomplete understanding of how the materials will work, or work together. This kind of failure is small. It takes place on my desk. Where no one is watching. So no one ever has to know. My failures can remain just between me and the failure.

Social media:

I create a lot of artwork. My husband describes me as ‘prolific’ when it comes to creating my artwork. During the past three years, social media has become in increasingly important part of the overall creating and marketing of my artwork. I post every day on social media sites like Instagram. And a little less often on sites like Imgur. I have come to rely on social media to advertise when I have new items in my shop, new blog posts to read, as well as when I have a sale.

My main Instagram page is dedicated to showing my art creating processes. Even though I show a great deal of my creative process, I never show everything. These photos are curated to a certain extent. Thought given to exactly which photos I think will show my artwork or artistic process in the best possible light before posting.

I have several different series of pieces going right now. A series of brooches that have tiny dolls in them. Another small series of four 12 cm dolls that will be displayed in small niche-like frames. And a series I’ve simply been calling ‘the bottle dolls’, which are larger, and more complicated paper mâché dolls, with lots of moving parts. Of the three series, I’ve been seeing the brooches as a creative failure.

What initially went wrong:

It’s not that one big element during the creation of the brooches went wrong. Rather, it was a series of smaller failures that, as they began to accumulate, began making me interpret them as a failure. Each of the failures required me to create a solution that would either fix or hid the failure.

Right out of the gate, the first failure was a design flaw. Originally, I wanted to have the lids of the brooches swivel on a wooden peg to open and close. Laminated carton board was what I planned on using for the swiveling lid. The carton board was too thin, even when laminated to five layers thick. It just tore apart when I attempted to put a hole in it for the wooden peg. The key problem was that even when laminated, the carton board wasn’t strong enough at .5 mm width.

I changed the design of the lids to a lid with a lip that would be more secure. It’s second nature to me to leave about .2 mm between moving elements of my paper mâché artwork. So this is what I did for the new lid design for the brooch. But, I had absolutely no intentions of using paper mâché on surfaces of the brooches. I was only going to use gesso. The finished lids were too big. They wouldn’t stay on the brooch base.

Fixing the problems:

Okay. I needed to fix the lids so that they would stay on the brooch. Initially, I didn’t think this was a big problem. My first solution was to simply attach a thin (.2 mm) strip of felt to the inside of the lid. With this added, the lid should have stayed on the brooch.

Well, that didn’t happen. The lids just kept falling off. With no lid, the teeny- tiny dolls inside the brooch just fell out. This problem was insanely frustrating to me. I set aside the brooches for more than a week to think about possible solutions. There was only one option; I had to remove the felt that I had glued inside the lid.

I used new X-acto blades, a pair of tweezers to remove the felt and glue from the inside of the brooch lids. Doing this created another problem. There were bits of felt that I couldn’t get off of the painted surface of the lid, no matter how much I scraped and tweezed. Sanding would have been an option, had the plastic window not already been attached to the inside of the lid.

Quickly multiplying problems:

At this point, the insides of the lids looked like absolute garbage. I was seriously ready to make a tiny bonfire out of the lot of them. Part of me thinks it was sheer stubbornness that kept me from doing exactly that. If I were to give up at this point, I wouldn’t have learned anything from the mistakes. And there was the time and materials wasted. That all just chaps my butt something fierce.

My next solution was to glue in thin strips of paper, where the thin strips of felt had been. The paper and glue would add a little thickness and hopefully the lids would stay on. Nope. Didn’t work. The lids still fell off. And the glued in paper looked so absolutely disgustingly horrible that I thought I might actually cry.

I had mixed a lot of the paint colours for the brooches in air-tight containers. I decided to use the paint to hide the lumpy, horrible looking paper inside the brooch lids. After three coats of paint, they started looking better. I think that each lid needed between four and six coats of paint before I was pleased with the look.

Tiny windows:

Originally, the plastic window of the brooch was designed to be sandwiched between layers of carton board. I put this aside with the swivel lid design. Instead, I had cut the plastic sheeting to size and simply popped it into the underside of the brooch. Part of me thought that perhaps it could be free-floating inside the lid. But I soon saw that I needed to permanently attach them with glue.

I chose Gorilla glue to attach the windows into place. It was so, so, so the wrong choice! As the glue dried, it formed tiny, frothy, orange-tinted bubbles that I could see! It looked disgusting! While using the paint to try and hide how horrible the glue and paint looked, I accidentally smudged some of the paint over the plastic. The horrible glue mess was covered up! It looked pretty okay. So I painted over the plastic to hide the ugly glue on all of the brooch lids.

Problems with plastic:

Again, I feel as though I was going from one problem to another with these brooches. When I cut the plastic for the brooch lids, I made sure that each piece of plastic fit snuggly inside the lid. Once each lid had a piece of plastic, the Gorilla glue was added and the plastic popped-into the lid. It should have been easy.

What I didn’t realize until the Gorilla glue was already set, was that in about four of the brooch lids, the plastic didn’t lay completely flat up against the lid opening. This meant that the lid would sit crooked on the top of the brooch. So now, I had crooked plastic, weird, frothy, orange-tinted glue visible, and the lids would still not stay on the brooches.

What the in the cinnamon-toast-hell do I do now?!

Honestly, I just was so mad at myself. I made so many extremely stupid mistakes with these brooches. There were parts that looked great. The dolls were super-cute. I liked how the inside linings in felt looked. Decorative elements on the surfaces of the brooches I drew in coloured pencil looked exactly how I wanted them to look.

Those stinkin’ brooch lids though! They looked so amateurish to me. Somehow, they didn’t feel up to the caliber of my previous artwork. But as much as the brooch lids were frustrating the hell out of me, I just kept working on them. There had to be a solution to the problems that I had created myself.

The first stage is acceptance:

I accepted that there was no way to completely solve all of the problems that I saw in the artwork. There are flaws in all of my artwork that only I see. I had to allow myself to finish the ten teeny-tiny doll brooches and then to move on. Otherwise, I was going to trap myself in a negative feedback loop.

Yeah, the lids do not look like I planned them to look. On the positive side of things, the part that I feel doesn’t look great is on the inside of the closed brooch. And after all of the problem solving I went through, all the lids stay on the brooches now. That was the biggest problem I was solving for after all.

Lessons learned:

As I said at the very beginning of this blog post, failure sucks. No one likes failing. Especially when it’s in front of a lot of people. Perhaps on social media? It’s embarrassing. These mistakes made me feel like I knew absolutely nothing about how to create artwork. But, perhaps that’s a good thing. We all need a little dose of humble pie now and again.

Each of the problems, failures, etc., that were made during the creation of the teeny-tiny doll brooches taught me something about my materials and techniques. And also a lot about the questions I need to ask myself while still in the early design phases of any new kind of construction technique.

I also had to try and cut myself some slack regarding some of the specific problems like the plastic.  I haven’t been using plastic for very long in my artwork. There is still more to learn regarding its’ use. In retrospect, I should have used at least one layer of newsprint and glue on the surfaces of the brooch and lid as well. This would have made sanding a must, giving me a smoother surface to work on. Giving myself some slack sounds easy, but it’s harder than it sounds. I’ll get there, eventually.

Shop worthy?

I’m a working artist. My artwork needs to be sold so that I can pay my bills. The time, energy and materials that went into creating the teeny-tiny doll brooches would be wasted (in a monetary sense) if they were not to be put into my shop. Knowing that there was one element (the underside of the lid) that still makes me roll my eyes while sighing heavily meant that I had to come up with a middle-of-the-road solution.

My solution is to reduce the price. You can see each of the brooches in my shop here. They are each one-of-a-kind, tiny pieces of completely imperfect, handmade artwork, based on specific objects, people, history and culture that goes into all of the artwork I create.

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

 

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Material Challenges

Long time readers of my blog know that in addition to being an artist, I’m also an art teacher. As an art teacher with a finite budget, I almost never turned down anything that I thought could be used in my classroom. Either as a tool or a material. It could become quite challenging to store them. Most being of irregular shapes, sizes and amounts. And even more confusing, of unknown usability.

There is a large swath of my inner-being that, through nature and nurture, collects all manner of supplies and materials that some people might think of as needing to go into the recycling or trash bin. Keeping it even remotely organized is difficult most of the time. Extremely challenging at other times.

So, how do I try to keep it all in some semblance or order?

What do I use?

In reality, just about everything I come across in any given day is something I could use to make art. There are some items that I’m always on the look-out for. Fibers and fabrics, newsprint, product packaging, plastics, corrugated cardboard, carton board, wrapping, containers from food and other purchased items (for storage and for usage in art making) plastic bottles and liquid containers.

Really, anything that I would have included in my “crap bags” I had as an art teacher. I kept glue stick and marker caps, because it was useful to have an extra one on hand in case one was lost or misplaced during an art lesson. Sometimes, the contents of a crap bag were just interesting bits and bobs. Paper scraps, wire, beads, caps from different art supplies (paint, glue, etc.) Again, it was always handy to have them around.

Then what?

These crap bags were just extra-large resealable, clear plastic bags. Every time I came across something interesting, or a stray cap from a glue stick or pen, it went right into the bag. When they were filled. I sealed them and put them into a larger cardboard box. Most of the time, I would go through the bags myself. Sorting the contents into categories. Then re-bagging them and placing them in the correct art supply category.

I had art lessons in which many of these found crap-bag objects would be used. Most of them were collage and sculptural lessons. As a working artist now, I employ this same technique for choosing, sorting, storing and using of the objects I collect. Instead of going into cardboard boxes, the sorted, clear, plastic bags go into a large reusable grocery bags.

How about larger things?

To keep my corrugated cardboard and carton board stored in a fairly organized manner, I also use large reusable grocery bags. Using these bags keeps me from having stacks of cardboards sliding all over the place. And it keeps me from collecting too much cardboard.

In fact, I really need to go through both of my bags of cardboard soon. They’re both a bit clutter with scraps I cannot use. And which take-up too much valuable storage space. The storage space of which I speak is directly underneath and to the back of my desk area. Right next to my feet.

Other larger objects that I’ve decided to keep and use in the creation of my art are stowed and stashed where-ever I have space left. To be honest, most of my personal closet space in the bedroom is devoted to materials and finished artwork storage.

Deck chairs on the Titanic:

Never do I feel as though I’ve gotten myself as organized as I would like to be regarding my materials and supplies. The problem being that I am always getting in and out of the supplies while at the same time working on a piece of artwork. Some tools, supplies or materials have to be out an on my desk to use. This all results in a lot of clutter.

Presently, I’m working on finishing up the gesso on several small pieces, and adding the base paint coats to several others. Because of this, my desk area is a total mess. When I’m painting or working with anything wet, I do not do any sewing. Because I don’t want to ruin a cloth project.

This is all part of creating artwork in a very confined amount of space. In the home studio I had prior to moving to Finland, I had multiple work areas set up. Paints or clay could be left out in one work area, while I sewed or embroidered in another. Someday I would like to have something similar to that again. But for now, I work with what I have and am thankful for it!

So…now what?

The methods I use to store tools, materials and supplies for my art-making isn’t perfect. It’s just the way that I do things. Hopefully there is something here or there that I talked about that you can use for yourself. Or perhaps something that I mentioned that gave you your own good idea!

I had hoped to have done some spring cleaning and organizing by the time of this blog post. But I didn’t quite get there. The Midden has begun to grow more around my desk and work area again. To the point where it’s beginning to bug me. Which means that it must be really bugging the crud out of my husband!

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

 

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Important Parts

There are a myriad of components, mental and physical, that I enjoy during the creation of my artwork. The interesting part is that not all of these parts are enjoyable. But that’s life, isn’t it? To me, what’s the most important is that I learn something valuable during the creating my art. The physical artwork may be sold. But the experience is mine.

No one likes to make mistakes. They are time and materials wasted. As an artist that posts a lot of art-in-process pictures on my Instagram account, showing a failure is embarrassing. It’s humanizing, but still embarrassing.

(To see pictures of my work in progress, you can check out my Instagram account here.)

Brooches:

If you’re a reader of my blogs, you know that there is a certain amount of creating that I do mentally. The ideas go back and forth between paper and my brain until I sit down and begin creating. A great deal of the materials I use are ones that I’m very familiar with. So it’s not difficult for me to mentally turn the piece around in my head; creating it virtually.

My problems with the design were three fold. First being that I didn’t take into account how small I was working. Methods of laminating carton board with glue work well when creating larger work. Lids for the brooches were 5.5 to 6 cm long with a frame of between .4 to .6 mm. The laminated carton board was so difficult to cut cleanly with an X-Acto knife. And it wouldn’t stand up to sanding either. It just smushed-up and fell apart.

Second, the super-simple peg hinge was just not robust enough to handle having the lid slid back and forth repeatedly. This movement also highlighted the fragility of the laminated carton board. Two of the lids simply tore at the hole made for the peg hinge. And there was no way to mend them satisfactorily.

The third and last design problem was that I hadn’t taken into account what the finished pieces were intended to be. Brooches are meant to be worn. And they will get a certain amount of jostling around when worn. My original lid design was not secure enough to prevent the tiny doll inside from potentially falling out and being lost.

Fixing the brooches:

For a while I toyed around with ways in which I could repair the flimsy lids and peg hinges. All of them would result in creating more work to cover for the mistakes I made. To make matters worse, these cover-ups were just not any good. From a design and engineering perspective.

I had some book board left-over from a class I took last autumn. It’s .2 mm thick and stands-up to sanding. Cutting the board was a bit of a challenge. So many curves! I made sure to take my time, as well as several breaks when I found myself getting frustrated. I added a lip around the outside edges of the lids as well. So in the finished product, the lids will stay put. No little lost dolls will occur!

Large rectangular boxes:

Yes. I made a mistake with these four pieces as well. While the mistake won’t require a tremendous amount of additional work. Part of me is just angry that I made such a stupid mistake. Especially since it was one of the very first of the lessons I learned working with cardboard and carton board!

I use carton board as a veneer over the corrugated cardboard in my work. The reason being is that when corrugated cardboard gets wet, it begins to break down. It gets ripply, and stays that way even after drying. My theory is that the gesso I make kind of freezes the rippling into place when drying. Seeing the rippling surface is distracting.

Adding the carton board veneer just keeps the underlying corrugated cardboard from getting too wet. And it preserves a (relatively) flat surface to paint and draw on. My plan for these four boxes is to line them with felt. Veneering them seemed a waste of time and materials. Long story longer, I should have veneered them.

Why? Because in addition to being ripply, they took twice as long to dry than if I had veneered them. Each of the boxes has around eight layers of newsprint and glue on top of the cardboard. The glue saturated the un-veneered corrugated cardboard and took twice as long to dry completely. Around 48 hours.

Fixing the boxes:

Well, there’s nothing much to fix at this point. I still intend to cover the insides with felt. There will still be a plastic window over each of the fronts of the boxes. I have several different designs I want to try for the boxes. These boxes are meant to protect and display the doll. But I would like to make the doll removable as well.

My bigger problem with these pieces is what to call these specific types of boxes. The design of the box is influenced by action figures (dolls) that can be purchased at stores. The hang tab isn’t meant to be used as a hanger. A separate hanger will be added to the back of the finished piece.

Are they shadow boxes? Box frames? Just frames? Display frames? Packaging? It really bugs me that I can’t settle on a name. They are an integral part of the finished piece. Not simply a frame to display it on a wall. Even though that is one of the things it can do. Weird.

New gesso recipe:

I’m also trying out a new gesso ingredient. Chalk. To be specific, ground-up sticks of chalk I purchased at the store. The reason I’m experimenting with chalk is because I’ve been having problems with the plaster forming nodules within the liquid gesso. I tried sieving it. I also tried squeezing it through cheese cloth. Both had limited success.

The nodules that the plaster formed made sanding miserable at times. I couldn’t quite get rid of all them either. Meaning that I had to figure out how to either make it part of the surface texture, or minimize it through the painting and surface decoration.

I’m still trying to get the chalk ground the way that I want it to be. A mortar and pestle has been cobbled together, utilizing a thick, clear glass container and an empty bottle. The coarsely crushed chalk is added to the glass container and ground finer with the bottle. Any small nodules of chalk that do make it through the process can be easily crushed with my finger while wet. Or sanded off when dry, leaving little evidence of their existence on the surface of the art.

Now what?

Well, I’m at that monotonous stage of adding layer after layer of gesso on each piece. It’s not a whole lot of fun. Usually, it takes about ten minutes before I find a working groove, and can just pick-up, paint, put-down and repeat over and over again. The lessons I learned with regard to the brooches will be very helpful to me in the future. Especially considering that I’m having a lot of fun creating the teensie-tiny, itty-bitty dolls. And see more of them in my immediate creative future.

(I kid you not. I just got an insanely cute idea for these teensie dolls. Damn. How did I NOT see that idea before!)

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

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A Place for Everything

There are several times during any given day in which I find myself muttering, “Now where did I put that…

It’s been said that artists and creative types of people require a certain amount of mess, clutter and decrepitude in their environment to adequately be able to make their art. I don’t know that I totally agree or disagree with that statement. What I know for sure is that I have A LOT of tools, materials and supplies to keep organized. And relatively easy to locate.

My training:

When I was working as an elementary art teacher with a pretty large staff of visual art teachers, mine was one of the names given to new teachers who wanted to learn how to better organize the tools, materials and supplies that they had in their inventories. Organization of a visual art classroom can seem a bit overwhelming. Creating a system for organizing everything just made the job a little easier.

Part of my organizational methodologies regarding tools, materials and supplies had to do with categories and frequency of use within the art classroom. Another part was containers and labeling. It’s a simple and flexible way or getting as little or as much organization to suit your own personal needs.

As a working artist, I rely on the aforementioned methods to keep my personal studio space as organized as possible. These methods feel more important for me at present, because my “studio” is actually just a portion of my living room. Less space requires a few tweaks to my methods. But they still work.

Categories:

My artwork is comprised of several different mediums, with accompanying tools. Storage and organization is required for painting, sewing, paper mâché, wood carving, drawing, jewelry, collage and embroidery just to name a few! There are some categories that have overlap with others as well.

When new materials and supplies are used. And the amount of the supply small. I usually store it with an overlapping category. An example: wire. Until recently, the wire that I was using was simply stored with my jewelry supplies. More wire has been acquired, and now wire has its’ own storage container.

To create your own categories, just stop and take a look at what you have. Break them down into specific categories. This can be done easily during a cleaning of your work area or studio space. You may discover that you have a lot more of some materials and supplies than you thought you did!

Frequency of use:

The more I use a tool, supply or material, the closer it is to my immediate work area. There are eleven containers on my desktop holding pens, markers, pencils, scissors, knives, measuring tools, etc. But the two to my right, containing specific pens (ballpoint and permanent) and a craft knife, small ruler, bodkin (x2), needle nose pliers, a bone folder, a doll needle and a plastic spatula type tool are the ones that I use dozens and dozens of times a day. The other nine  are a little further away.

My paints are stored off my desk. All of my newspaper (for paper mâché) are in a small cubby of a bookcase, as are my buttons, part of my beads, intaglio supplies and empty water containers. Each of these tools or supplies is used at a specific time. Meaning that I need to have something that I need to use them on to need them on my desk. My eleven containers of drawing materials and tools are better kept on my desk than on a bookcase further from my work area.

The right side of my desk is ‘temporary housing’ for some supplies. Right now, I need to have some larger bottles of white glue and paint on my desk while creating some new work. When I finish with them, they go right back to their storage places.

Labeling:

Paint is a large category that requires subcategories. I have acrylic, watercolor (pan and liquid), tempera paints that I use. Each of them is stored slightly differently. Acrylics in cardboard pallets (trays) that can be easily stacked in a storage shelf by my desk. The watercolor and tempera paints are housed in little cases. The liquid watercolor tubes are in an old cookie tin. Each are labeled with what they contain. All are kept in close proximity to one another.

I have an extraordinarily large collection of buttons. They are each stored in second hand metal tins. The buttons themselves are sorted into subcategories of color, material and vintage. Each tin is labeled with what they contain, not just on the top, but on the side so I can easily see them.

The types of labels needed need not be complicated or expensive either. Use whatever small piece of paper I have at hand, including sticky notes. What remains the same is that I use a black permanent marker to write with and I tape the label to the container.

Containers:

With the exception of a few containers, the vast majority that I have are either second hand or recycled. For smaller bits and bobs, like all those buttons I mentioned, second hand metal tins are used. I also have quite a few second hand cookie tins as well. They’re rigid and stack nicely.

I like using clear containers to store my supplies and materials. When I was teaching art, I used the largest clear plastic tubs with lids for most of the supplies for my classroom, as well as my personal studio. One look and you know what’s inside! My work space is much smaller than my previous studio. So large plastic bins just are not practical.

However, I do have dozens of clear plastic bins with lids holding a lot of my art supplies and materials. How did I get them? Easy! Bin candy is very popular here in Finland. The candy is shipped to the stores in clear plastic cube-like, lidded boxes. These boxes are left by the stocking people at the fronts of the store. They’re free for the taking. At most, they require a washing in the sink with some dish soap. The labels are just ignored, or covered with paper and the contents written on with a black permanent marker.

Conclusions:

I’m not perfect. In fact, as I type this blog post, the area around and under my desk has become what my husband calls a “crap slide”. This occurs when my recycled art materials (mostly cardboards and plastics) over-flow their containers (flat bottomed recycled grocery bags) onto the surrounding floor. And yes, I really need to do a major cleaning of my desk and workspace. As well as my supplies and materials. Sorting needs to be done with regard to my supplies and materials. A lot of sorting. So. Much. Sorting.

Guess what I’m doing later this week?!

Thank you for reading, and I will see you again next Tuesday!

 

 

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A Place for My Brain

(Update: I have created an Instagram Highlights containing photos with captions of my Daily Journal, as well as my sketchbooks and gallery notebooks. You can find them under the title Sketchbooks.)

Using a sketchbook is something that I’ve done since I was in high school. The way in which I use them has changed as I’v changed at a person, as well as an artist. A sketchbook, in my view is like any other tool that an artist might use. My use of sketchbooks has been is something I keep flexible, so that it can continue to be functional for the ways in which I create my artwork.

The type of book:

To be honest, expensive sketchbooks, filled with lovely white paper make me extremely nervous. There is something about them that just makes my brain shut itself off. I can never seem to relax and just draw in them. There is this feeling that I’m going to somehow ruin them by using them.

For many years, I used a small, spiral bound Mead brand notebook. It had lined pages and a few pockets that I could put things in. The large spiral was handy for keeping a pen clipped inside. So I always had something to draw or write with. The covers always had to be dark green too.

I filled these sketchbooks with an endless stream of sketches and ideas. My sketchbooks became even more personal as I also used them for a tremendous amount of personal diary-type entries. The writings fed the artwork, and the sketches fed the writing. Showing my sketchbook to anyone was far too risky a proposition. So it was off-limits to everyone. Even my friends.

Evolving tool:

After becoming an art teacher, I began keeping separate sketchbooks. One for my personal artwork. And another for the ideas I had for potential student art lessons. Dividing the sketchbooks into two distinct entities kept my personal artwork a personal expression of myself as an artist.

The sketchbook for potential student art lessons was something that I could easily share with fellow teachers. Most of the time, this art teacher sketchbook was also crammed full of articles, snippets of this or that, sometimes even partially completed art lessons.

My personal artwork has been greatly influenced by my work as an art teacher, and vice versa. There were ideas that migrated from my art teacher sketchbook to my personal sketchbook, and the other way around as well. I didn’t want to limit myself. Sometimes ideas died after transfer. While others found a creative place to grow.

Currently:

After moving to Finland, money was a little tight. I was surprised at how much the type of notebooks I wanted to purchase to use as a sketchbook cost. Loose-leaf, gridded notebook paper was much more affordable. My knowledge of book binding, as well as some rudimentary sewing tools, went a long way in helping me to create my own sketchbooks.

My sketchbooks aren’t complicated. They’re simple saddle-stitched, pamphlet books. I found an inexpensive brand of large-format, colorful card stock to use for covers. Recycled carton board is used to reinforce the front and back covers. Each of the sketchbooks I make have around 30 pieces of loose-leaf paper folded in half (A4 folded to A5). If I use an inexpensive white drawing paper, 15 pieces of paper are used.

Multiple books:

I have several different small books, some for sketching, some for writing and yet another daily journal. At this point, I’m in the process of figuring out how I want all these books to work together. Presently, in addition to my sketchbook, I also have a book of the same size that I’m using to plan exhibits of my artwork.

Most of the time, I use a few large rubber bands to hold these books closed and together. Especially when I take them outside of the apartment. Making some sort of folio-type cover, perhaps with some elastic bands inside of the folio, is something that I’ve been wanting to make. It seems a little more professional than the wad of rubber bands alone!

The design for this imagined folio isn’t anything extremely fancy either. A cover that will protect the enclosed books. As well as something that allows me to easily swap in and out different books is what I want. Because I like using as many recycled and up-cycled art materials, I’ve been looking around at the second hand stores I frequent. Hopefully I will find something before long.

So, now what?

It’s important to have a place to put your thoughts and ideas. The older that I’ve gotten, the more I believe this to be true. Being able to write and draw and be alone with your own thoughts is important. Writing and drawing allows an individual to reflect, as well as react to the events occurring in their lives. It’s can be quite therapeutic, as well as possibly a lot of fun. The drawing part I mean!

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

 

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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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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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Not a Piñata

The two Aino jaatelo containers are there in place of the second piece that will be created for this doll to sit on. I’m not making a chair. It’s not any kind of piece of furniture.

I’ve been working on a large, papier maché doll during the past week or so (Actually around ten days). I tend to lose track of time while working on a piece. It’s flow state in action. Social distancing and being isolating has just meant that I have had even longer stretches of time in which to immerse myself completely and totally into the artwork that I am making. It’s also that time of year in which I look out the window and think, “Oh. It must be around 18:00 or 19:00.” when in actuality, it’s closer to 23:00. I usually start work between 9 and 10 and only break for meals. I’m insanely fortunate as I have a husband who does all the cooking. He’s the one who makes me stop and eat a real meal. (Lunch today is left over sweet and sour pork!)

While working, I’m not only actively working with, and reacting to, the tools and materials directly in front of me. I’m talking to my work and myself then entire time. This on-going dialogue is an integral part of my entire creative process. I cannot imagine creating artwork without it. These artist journal posts are more or less a neater and tidier second draft of the dialogues going on in my head while I am actively creating artwork.

Many of the questions I ask myself are fairly easy to parse out and resolve either on my own, or with the help of a discussion with my husband or a fellow doll artist online. Talking to others when I cannot come to a conclusion myself is a much needed element. Without it, I would become what my husband calls “axel-wrapped” and make myself miserable. Sometimes, there are questions that I have to become a little axel-wrapped over, before I talk to anyone. I think the questions that have been coming to the forefront of my thoughts over the past week or so are those kinds of thoughts. I think because they each speak to the uniqueness of each artist. And that sometimes, there just may be no easy, clear-cut answers to some questions.

The arm mounts look like little rocket-type booster thingies to me.

Here are the questions that have been banging around inside my flow-states while working:

What do my choices of materials say about me as an artist?

If I were being cheeky, I’d say that my choice of materials says, “Yes. I’m poor.” but I don’t think it’s quite as easy as that. These larger dolls are made with papier maché, using newsprint and PVA glue instead of wheat paste. I use a lot of corrugated cardboard and carton board. I make my own gesso. I use inexpensive things like bamboo meat skewers and toothpicks. I use paint and pencil to decorate the surfaces, along with embroidered elements on felt.

I often wonder if my artwork would be taken more seriously if I just stopped after creating the cardboard substructure covered with newsprint and glue. Or what if I just stopped after covering the components with gesso and sanding them. Maybe if I carved words in surfaces? What if I covered the surfaces with used bits of trash I find when out walking? Maybe I could light the piece on fire and then film it? Perhaps I’m just thinking too much. Maybe I should just make the entire doll out of wood, like a puppet? Or stone, make it a “Why Not Sneeze, Rose Sélavy” kind of homage?

The short answer to that is, “Because I don’t want to.” I’ve had some people tell me that they like my large papier maché dolls when they are left white, with no further work done to them. I’ve had others tell me that they don’t understand why I make them moveable. I should just make them static, like a statue. Some have said that the large dolls are a bit of a visual overload for them, and maybe I should just do less embellishment work on them. When confronted with these sorts of comments or unsolicited advice, I remind myself of Bowie Rule #1 for Making Art: Make your art for yourself and no one else.

So. No. I won’t do any of those things, because I’m making my artwork for myself first and foremost. This still doesn’t answer my question though. What do my choice of materials say about me as an artist?

Let’s start unpacking it.

The first thing they say is that I’m resourceful. I cannot work in ceramics right now, or in woodworking, both being mediums that require more expensive materials, more space and more tools that are all way outside my ability to pay for them at present. I’m resourceful because I’m not looking at what I don’t have to make art with and being depressed about it. I’m looking at my environment and see what I do have and designing ways to make it do what I want it to do.

My choice of materials says that I can look at the potential of seemingly unrelated items and imagine how I can bend them to my own creative will to make art. In the creation of the large papier maché doll I’m currently working on, I needed a spheroid piece for the upper part of the leg where the legs are attached to the torso. I had nothing on hand that even remotely fulfilled my need. I could have altered the structure of the torso and created flatter joints, but I didn’t want to. Instead, I created two cubes of corrugated cardboard and carved the spheroid forms with blade. The other option I had was to create the spheroid forms using a paper fiber and glue. I thought that the form I needed was too large for it to dry completely, so I went with the corrugated cardboard option.

When using materials that are not necessarily standard art-making materials, I’m required to use my accumulated knowledge of art production, including my time as an art teacher, as an art student in the early 1990’s to guide my art practice. Gesso in Finland is more expensive, so I make my own. I’ve found two of the required components that I can easily acquire for less than 8€, and they’ll make a lot of gesso. The white paint that I get at a local art supply store is a little more expensive, but since I’m saving money on the vast majority of my materials (some being free), I feel as though the expense is well worth it.

I also shop a lot at second hand stores. This again requires me to look at an object and not just see what it is, but imagine what it could possibly be made into. I also pick up a lot of threads, yarns, fabric and storage containers (so many tins!) at second hand stores as well. Yeah, the tin used to be for a Russian made loose tea, now it holds some of my art supplies.

What this all says about me is that I can take objects from my immediate environment and shape them to my personal creative will. I can imagine things and make them with my own two hands. So yeah. I’m poor as in, I have less cash to work with, but I’m certainly not poor in ideas for creating my own personal artwork with the things around me.

Knee joint assembled. There are around five coats of gesso on this. I’ll sand it down prior to painting it.

My second question (related to my first question):

What to the techniques I employ with regard to those materials say about my art?

I kind of addressed this above, through the, ‘Why don’t I just leave the large papier maché dolls as is with newsprint or gesso showing?‘ Again, uh…because I don’t want to…? No. That’s too easy. I paint the surfaces of the dolls, sometimes using different painting and simple printmaking techniques. I draw on the surfaces of the dolls. I add a significant amount of embroidery to the surface of the dolls. I add elements that move, or can be discovered. I hide things in the drawers of the dolls.

Why do I do all of these things?

The short answer is that I like to sew by hand. I find it exceedingly enjoyable to create my own embroidery elements to add to my the larger papier maché dolls. I come from a long line of women who sew, and I’m continuing this tradition, just in a slightly different way. I also have experience in fine art printmaking, and bookbinding, jewelry making, crocheting and knitting and other artistic mediums that require a modicum of knowledge and experience to utilize their techniques correctly. I love mixing my mediums and my techniques. I’m just not one static thing, so why should my artwork be one, static thing? I often feel as though my education and experience as a graphic designer and illustrator (largely two-dimensional) is just as important during the creation of my personal artwork as any of my experiences as an art teacher (working in two and three-dimensions).

The question of technique, brings me to craftsmanship. I know what the average person thinks of papier maché as a medium. It’s something that little kids do in elementary school. They make volcanos out of it. There is a ‘lesser than’ idea about it. I think part of the reason I like using papier maché is because of some of these erroneous beliefs. I want to show people what can be achieved with the medium through attention to detail and craftsmanship. Craftsmanship and technique go hand-in-hand I think.

Anyone can mix up some water and glue and apply it to a form, making it look the way that you want it to, that’s a different matter entirely. Getting the paper to lay flat and adhere to the layer beneath it. Do I use a brush or my fingers. Which fingers? Index? Middle? Thumb? How much glue do I use? Should all the newspaper go the same way, or should just paste it on all willy-nilly? Through time, and attention, and repetition, I have refined my personal papier maché techniques. I know when I should create separate components, and attach them at a later date with papier maché. Some components I create entirely separately, and only join them after painting and finishing the surfaces of them. Some components remain completely removable. No one taught me this. I learned it through my personal art practice.

That to me says that I like problem solving. I like being challenged. I love gaining the knowledge and experience through encountering these problems in my art creation so that I can keep building upon them as a practicing artist. I think one of the questions on the Proust Questionnaire is something like, ‘What do you regard as the lowest depth of misery?’ Boredom always comes to mind for me (among many other things). I do not like being bored, and being that I’m a fairly self-contained person, I can spend endless hours creating artwork by myself. (Who am I kidding? I can spend weeks making artwork on my own.)

These two questions can be answered sarcastically by me, and dismissively by those who see my artwork. Those who dismiss me and my work perhaps are leaning on their own preconceived notions regarding what they think art is and isn’t. Perhaps they think my choice of theme is juvenile, or they think dolls are creepy, so they just don’t even stop to look. For those who stop and look and then think about my medium and technique choices, they will find that they each say a lot about who I am as a person as well as an artist.

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

 

Links:

Vanity Fair, Proust Questionnaire

Marcel Duchamp, Artist (creator of ‘Why Not Sneeze, Rose Selavy’) He’s one of my favourite artists. Dada and Surrealism shape a great deal of the artist I am today.

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Tuesday for Monday

This is a dry-fit of the papier mache doll that I’m currently working on. Needed to see if the arms, legs and neck all fit correctly and were in the positions I wanted them to be in.

I started working on a larger papier maché doll during the past week. It’s a piece that’s been getting noisier and noisier inside my brain for quite a while. The doll itself is one component of how I imagine the completed piece. This second component I won’t start until I’ve completed the doll first. I don’t have the work space to start the second component now anyway. I also think that my attentions would be divided by attempting to work on two fairly large pieces at the same time too. The second component could go a couple of different ways. I feel as though I need to think more about it more before starting it as well.

Pineapple does belong on pizza. Ham, pineapple and blue cheese on pizza is one of my favourites!

I used a balloon to create the torso for this doll. It’s a simple technique. Blow up balloon to the desired size. Cover it with layers of papier maché. I’ve never attempted this method of papier maché construction before. It seems a pretty common form to use for this medium, especially for school aged children. I never did any kind of papier maché during my time in public school or university. Perhaps this is a contributing factor in my fascination with it.

The pictures above are of the torso insert. I made it completely separate, so that I could more easily attach the newsprint to the inner cavities. I’m not sure if they will be drawers or cabinets or maybe just completely open. At this stage, they could easily be any of them. I think it’s interesting to see what the under side of my artwork looks like. It reminds me of a description of a duck: all placid gliding on the surface of still water, while at the same time, there’s wild, furious paddling going on just below the surface of the water. All the pretty stuff is on the surface of my work, while the backside is just a total mess of cardboard shims and up-cycled frozen pizza cartons. It looks like a shanty town from the Great Depression if you ask me.

To make these large, papier maché dolls, I use some pretty simple tools and materials. The newsprint and cardboards are free. I get most of my corrugated cardboard at Lidl. None of the stock workers bat an eyelash at me when they see me pawing through the cages of cardboard. I always carry a utility knife with me, so I can break down more oddly sized boxes into more manageable pieces. Again, no one looks at me weird when I spend a few minutes at an empty cashier stand breaking the boxes down either. I use scissors, a couple different utility knives, ball point pens, a triangle, a straight edge, a few coloured pencils, an awl and PVA glue and Eri-Keeper all purpose glue. Eri-Keeper is like if Aleene’s Tacky Glue and Gorilla Glue had a baby.

There is also carton board packaging from items we regularly purchase that I use in my artwork a lot. Frozen pizza cartons are one of my favourites. It’s flexible and somewhat malleable, once the glue has been applied. I hit the shiny, printed surface of the carton with some 240 grit sandpaper to rough-up the surface, to give the glue a more secure attachment when gluing pieces together. I tend to layer the carton board as well, altering the lay of the fibers, so that when dried, it’s very sturdy and strong.

I do the same kind of altering with corrugated cardboards as well. A lot of this depends on the quality of the corrugated cardboard. Cheap cardboard, with loose fiber and a lot of acid content is what I use to shim things, like the backside of the cavities for the torso. This kind of cheap cardboard crushes easily and I can worm and wiggle it into tight spaces. Stronger corrugated cardboard is what I use for things like the joints for the tops of the legs on this doll. The stronger cardboard, coupled with the Eri-Keeper glue and some added wooden pins for stability, make the form very strong and stable. I’ll add papier maché around the entire piece and do additional sanding and light carving as needed. Some of the best corrugated cardboard is from the boxes for reams of paper or from the boxes that canned and jared foods are shipped in.

I just made two cubes with the stronger corrugated cardboard and started carving with a new utility knife. I changed blades often because as anyone who uses cutting tools knows, you tend to cut yourself more easily with a dull blade than a sharp one. I managed to only give myself a blister and suffered no cuts at all while working on these ovoid forms for the leg/hip joint.

I constructed the head out of the stronger corrugated cardboard, but then covered the surface with some gray carton board. I do this because no matter how good the corrugated cardboard is, and no matter how many layers of newsprint, gesso, paint and sealant is put on top of it, the corrugation always, always, always shows through. This bugs me so much. The veneer of carton board over the corrugated cardboard solves this problem nicely, and only adds a few millimeters to the size of the specific body components of a doll.

When I started creating papier maché dolls, I did so much measuring. I wanted everything to to be “correct”. After creating quite a few of them, I now rarely measure anything. Most of the time, the measuring I do is to make sure that my proportions of a piece are correct. I do a lot of ‘eyeballing’ measurements too. I do use a straight edge for cutting, however when the materials kind of start going a little cock-eyed, I don’t loose my mind. I just go with it. I do a lot of marking pieces to keep components facing the right way, or so that they will be attached to the correct side or portion of the doll I’m working on. You can see in the picture above the ‘R’ on the side of the head. The head is about 2 mm off square on one side, so to make sure that the frame I added to the face fits correctly, I make the sides so I know which side goes where. You could also see a red A and a blue B on the corrugated cardboard pieces I carved. Each of the legs has a corresponding A and B, along with marks to make sure that the front of the legs faces the front.

The picture above is of the two arm mounts. I think they look like tiny hammers. You can see where the A and B are marked. I use a colored pencil for this, because sometimes markers can bleed through newsprint and gesso and even give a paint layer a weird cast depending upon the type of paint and tint or shade of paint chosen. Coloured pencil is also easier to sand off in case I need to make changes with placement of components as well.

I made the arm mounts out of toilet paper rolls. You can see that I laminated them together with glue for the smaller parts. I added a heavy-duty bamboo skewer through the center of the smaller cylinder and used some of that more easily crushable corrugated cardboard with Eri-Keeper to stabilize it. The arm mounts will be papier maché’d, then attached to the torso with Eri-Keeper, then the seams papier maché’d over to hid them. I will use Eri-Keeper, watered down, instead of the regular PVA glue for the seam-hiding papier maché.

The legs are also toilet paper rolls. I used eight total. I just taped them together and added a couple layers of newsprint and glue for strength. I added some circular pieces to the insides to stabilize the leg forms too. I made the knee joints first. They’re super-simple. I didn’t add a knee-cap stop on them, so they will bend forwards and backwards right now. I’m still mulling over adding those stops. There are pros and cons to adding these stops. I added the cavities in the bottoms of the feet because I have plans for them.

The cavities in the bottoms of the legs, as well as the frame piece for the dolls face were two things that I created on the fly as I was working on this doll. I didn’t have anything in my rudimentary sketches about these features. They just seemed to be ‘right’ as I was working on the piece. Each of them are rooted in something that is from my distant and more recent past. I liked the ideas and added them to the piece. These kinds of changes aren’t something that I can necessarily plan. There comes a point while I’m working when the artwork begins to take over and I, to a certain extent become the one with the eyes and the thumbs. The artwork is going to be what it wants to be.

Which brings me to something I’ve been thinking about for more than a week. People who copy another persons artwork. Or, those who try to copy an artists artwork.

I just wrote a fairly detailed account of how I’m creating this papier maché doll. I talked a lot about the tools, materials, and techniques that I’m using and why I use them. I detailed where I get most of my materials, at least the free ones. I suppose that a person who wanted to copy my artwork could quite easily look at the pictures of my artwork in process, gather the same or similar-enough materials, tools, etc., and attempt to make a doll like the one that I’m currently creating. Or for that matter, a person could go through my entire Instagram account and save pictures and posts and try making those dolls as well. The patterns I create for the felt and fabric dolls I make are rock-stupidly simple. Anyone with eyes and hands could make them if they tried to.

I recently had a back and forth with an artist and a doll maker about this same subject; people copying artwork. This artists makes amazing dolls. One look at them and you can see how much time, effort, creativity and love goes into each and every doll they make. This doll maker doesn’t sell patterns of their work, nor do they create what I would call a ‘lower price point’ doll for persons who might think their doll work is on the expensive end. They recently had a person contact them with what I think were intrusive questions regarding specifics (materials, techniques) on how they created their dolls. It was obvious that this person was wanting specifics so that they could create a doll like this doll artist, without having to pay her for it. This person was effectively wanted to steal the creation of a practicing artist.

Why would anyone do that?

To merely say that this was annoying is an understatement if you ask me. I’ve gotten some strange inquiries regarding the potential purchase of my artwork along with questions about the techniques and materials I use to create them. I trusted my gut, and stopped communicating with these particular people. I didn’t sell my work to them either. Questions like, “How do I get the material do the same thing yours does?” or “Where do you get that kind of (insert item here)?” are the types of inquiries from an unknown entity, (Read: “Not a Known to Me Artist or Creator”) that sets the alarm bells ringing in my mind. When another artist or creator asks these kinds of questions, I’m much more likely to discuss it with them, or even show them how I actually do the technique.

“DANGER! DANGER WILL ROBINSON! DANGER! DANGER!”

I sometimes wonder about why there are people who think they can just take another artists creation without paying for it. I wonder if it has anything to do with the fact that doll makers (among the myriad of other fiber and textile artists and creators out there!) utilize patterns in the creation of their artwork. Does the idea of a pattern to some mean that the artwork created from it is ‘less than’ other art? Would these kinds of people ask the sculptor or painter for directions and lists of materials needed to re-create their artwork? (Sadly, I think the answer may be yes.) Do they think that artwork, “real” Art (with that capital A qualifier) is only the work in galleries, museums or rich peoples houses and yachts? That somehow, a doll maker, who uses patterns, isn’t creating unique, one-of-a-kind pieces of artwork? That their materials, tools and techniques are something that can be easily replicated by just anyone who thinks that the artwork must be ‘easy’ because a pattern in used?

A pattern doesn’t make a piece of artwork ‘easy’. A pattern is just a tool that many artists working in a variety of different mediums utilize. The pattern doesn’t ‘make’ the artwork. The artists’ skills, knowledge, curiosity and imagination make the artwork, in tandem with the tools and materials, all of which are driven by the intrinsic need to create. Those are the things that create the artwork, regardless of whether the artwork is a painting or a doll. We’ve all seen knock-off products. Don’t tell me that you can’t see the difference. The knock-off is a poorly constructed facsimile lacking true creativity and originality. What burns is when the person who is trying to copy your work actively seeks you out and effectively tells you about what they’re doing. I wonder if this person thought they were giving the doll maker a compliment? “I like your art so much, I will copy it and tell you about it! Isn’t that just the coolest!” This takes passive-aggressive behavior and elevates it to almost a god-like level.

As an art teacher, I never wanted my students to copy my artwork examples, or to copy from their fellow students either. I had some lessons in which I would actually take down my examples, because the urge to copy could get strong for some students. This is not to say that a student of visual art cannot learn from copying. That kind of practice has it’s place within the education of any artist. This kind of artistic practice work is not meant to be an expression of the art student. It’s not to be signed and displayed as their original artwork either. That’s called stealing, and I learned a lot about it as a graphic design student. Copyright and Trademark exist for everyone, including artists.

A persons artwork should be a true expression of who they are as a person. It should be as unique as they are. Knowingly copying someone else’s art is to sell yourself short as an artist and as a human being. If this person wants to make dolls, then yes, at some point, they may follow other peoples patterns. At some point though, they begin to alter how they create the doll. Choose the colors and textures they want to use. Add in new elements. These choices are their creative contribution to the creation of a doll using someone else’s pattern. I would hope that this happens organically, allowing the person creating the dolls to take a great deal of satisfaction from their work. At a point, perhaps they decide to start making alterations to the pattern. Perhaps they decide to create their own pattern to fulfill their own personal needs/wants. But to just say, “Oh. You’re doll is better. Mine’s bad. I want to copy yours.” that’s just…no. Don’t do that. No. It’s just so wrong.

Artists spend decades honing their skills and their craft. It’s truly insulting to have someone ignore all of that expertise and hard-won knowledge and think they can just take a pattern and copy what the artist does.

ANYWAY…

This post got a little long and a a lot preachier than I had originally intended.

Be inspired to create art the artists you see, read, and listen to, but don’t copy them. Go and make your own artwork. It’ll be much more satisfying for you as an individual.

Thank you for reading, and I’ll see you again next Monday (even through I know it’s Tuesday),

Links:

Lost in Space 1965

Lost in Space 2018

Alan Alda and Marlo Thomas. “William Wants and Doll.” Free to Be You and Me. 1972

The New Seekers. “Free to Be You and Me.” Free to Be You and Me. 1972