Posted on

Personal Artistic Efficacy: Part 2

What brought me here today:

This is the part two of my personal artistic efficacy post. If you haven’t read part one, you can find it here. The original post just became too long to be read in blog post form. I’m not a spring chicken age-wise. The amount of accumilated artistic knowlege and experience that directly relates to my personal artistic efficacy is much more voluminus than I thought.

Edit: This post got longer and longer and longer as I edited it. This kind of seems like it goes against the whole editing process. I could have cut this post in two again. But having a part three to this subject just seem a little too much

Book binding:

I began to learn about book binding while still in art school. One of my instructors created a course in book binding. It was a awesome course too. We used this book. I loved getting to design and then physically create books. In this course, my education in graphic design, printmaking, and illustration all began coming together. A friend of mind at Herron took the course and wrote his own book about book binding!

I spent a large chunk of time creating handmade books. The coptic stitch quickly became my favourite way to create journals and sketchbooks. In my middle 20’s I was selling the books I created. I never made much money at it though. There were workshops that I taught at a small art paper store. And I did help the owner to create some packaging for some of her products. But the relationship soured and I stopped teaching for her.

What serves me now:

I still make my own sketch and notebooks. They’re incredibly simple saddle stitched little books. But they serve my purposes. There are times in which I do get a little more creative with my sketch and notebooks, but not often. The books I make for myself are much more utilitarian than my previous creations.

I do think that the time that I spent working with a needle and linen thread has served me well. Creating folios and precisely placing the holes, along with careful stitching, taught me a lot of patience. I had to be in the right fame of mind to put a book together. Rushing could result in split papers and warped book covers.

Jewelry:

I have only ever taken one jewelry making course. It was a silver clay workshop many years ago. I had a fabulous teacher who was certified in the teaching of the techniques of silver clay jewelry making. The course was so good that I bought my own tools to create more silver clay pieces. Some of the tools and materials were a little pricey, but worth it. I even managed to work with a small hand held torch without burning my house down!

The vast majority of my jewelry making knowledge comes from watching online tutorials and reading books. There was a lot of trial and error involved in my accumulation of knowledge regarding jewelry making. I also had an excellent friend who is way more talented and knowledgable about jewelry making that helped me when I had questions. The efficacy I have isn’t anywhere near what a professional has in this art form.

What serves me now:

One thing jewelry making taught me to pay close attention to the details. I had made up my mind to learn how to create a beaded chain. The kind with loops and wraps. Here’s a good tutorial for it. To create decent chain required a lot of practice. Even with the tutorials, I had to come up with my own way of working so that the beaded chain looked the way I wanted it to.

The other thing jewelry making gave me was the tools. I use my jewelry tools on a daily basis as a doll maker. My needle nose pliers come in all kinds of handly when I need to bend wire parts for the insides of dolls. Or for pulling a needle through a thick part of material. I also use my jewelry making tools while constructing my larger, paper mache dolls. Knowing how to use these tools has been a life-saver for me many times while creating artwork.

Ceramics:

Like book binding, I do have some professional instruction in this art medium. I didn’t take any ceramics while at Herron. The first ceramics course I took was when I was getting my art education degree at the University of New Mexico in the early 2000’s. I enjoyed the course and began connecting with that part of myself that enjoyed making little dolls and animals again.

During the last year of the program I was required to complete a year of student teaching. One semester was high school, and another in elementary school. A classmate and I were assigned to the same elementary school. We had agreed to help each other with firing the kiln. I didn’t feel like I was knowledgable enough to do it on my own. My short stature made it almost impossible for me to prep and load the kiln myself as well.

On the day that I needed to prep and load the kiln, my classmate bailed on me. She said she was busy. I attempted to get the kiln turned on and loaded myself. Long story somewhat shorter, one tearful call to my professor accompanied by one flash-burned right hand and arm later, I managed to get everything done. After this incident, I was terrified of kilns.

Baby-steps:

While still teaching art in the elementary school, I was fortunate to be assigned to a school that had a licensed therapist who was also a special eduction teacher. He had asked me if I could fire some of the work his students had created in class. I told him about my fear of the kiln. He came up with a series of exercises that would help me through my fears. It took an entire semester, but I did it!

I cannot adequately convey to you how scared I was of kilns at this point in my life. The teacher who helped me said he could see me start to shake when talking about using a kiln! Being able to use a kiln was such an important part of my job as an elementary art teacher. I had to try and get past my fear.

The next year, I took a ceramics workshop with a retired art teacher. He taught me even more about how to work with clay and kilns safely. This means, safe for the students and safe for me! During this ceramics course, I actually participated in a raku firing. The instructor made sure I was comfortable and felt in control during the entire firing.

What serves me now:

Up until my trauma with the kiln burning me badly, I had never had a powerfully scary experience creating art. Making art was a space in which I felt completely safe. Getting burned so badly made me suddenly unsure and unsafe. The teacher who helped me work past my fears, and the teacher of the ceramics work shop helped me to work through my fears. Then I had no problems working with ceramics and kilns.

My own fears highlighted for me how some students might feel in my art classroom. I could better recognise when as student was in a place of fear, and help them to work through it as well. The fact that my fear was specifically related to a kiln, helped me to see that a student may be fine with drawing, but painting may scare them.

Polymer clay:

I had been messing around with polymer clay since Sculpey became widely available in the early 80’s. Before Sculpey arrived, I would make and use salt dough to create little pieces of work. As a miniature hobbyist, I delighted in how easy it was to create realistic foods for my doll houses with it. The early form of Sculpey only came in white. This meant that all the finished pieces required painting. I didn’t mind. It was nice to be able to create tiny objects for my doll houses.

When I was much older, I did a great deal of experimentation with other polymer clays. Mostly Fimo. It was a little harder to work with. The clay took a while to warm up. But the colours were fantastic! Everything that I know about working with polymer clay I learned from a series of books whose titles completely escape my mind right now. But again, I am self taught.

I did make a lot of polymer beads that I used in my jewelry making. Several techniques that I learned from the aforementioned books created some amazing beads. While living in FInland, I didn’t do any work with polymer clays. Polymer clays should always be baked in an oven that is dedicated to non-food use. And I wasn’t comfortable with the off-gassing that would occur within our apartment oven.

Time to burn the house down:

While I was at UNM, I took a puppets and masks course. One of our assignments was to create a puppet show. I wrote a small skit, and then created four rod puppets. The heads and hands of the puppets were sculpted using Sculpey. I created all of the parts. Then turned on the oven to bake them. I remember sitting down on the sofa to watch something on TV. And then woke-up to my upstairs neighbour banging on my front door.

The entire apartment was filled with smoke. Black smoke was accumulating at the ceiling, and pouring out of my cracked kitchen window. My polymer clay was on fire in the oven. My upstairs neighbour saved my life. Once he was satisfied I was okay, he helped me open the windows and set up some fans to pull the smoke and smell out of my tiny apartment.

The happy ending to this was that I actually used the burned puppet parts. There was a lot of sanding and a tonne of paint needed though. After this scary experience, I never have put polymner clay in a regular oven. I bough a toaster oven. New Mexico is a warm, dry place. I used the toaster oven to bake my polymer clay in a well ventilated classroom or outside on the patio at home.

What serves me now:

Not falling asleep while baking polymer clay is one of the biggest lessons. Sometimes, even the simplest steps can go horribly sideways. In addition to using a dedicated toaster oven for all subsequent ploymer clay projects, a timer was also implemented as well.

I do love the colour and detail that polymer clays can offer. But I’m also aware that they are plastic. Plastic use is something that I’m trying to reduce within my art practice. In Finland, I began experimenting with creating my own paper clay. It was much more economical. I could use recycled paper and just a few items from the store to create the clay. The end product is biodegradable as well. Win-win.

The paper clay that I can make, or purchase also works much better in conjunction with paper mache. It’s light weight and sands well. I usually add several coats of my own homemade gesso to the surface before paining. And sand after the last coats are applied. That way I can get a more cohesive surface layer to the entire piece.

Crochet:

I started learning to crochet in my middle 30’s. There had been several previous attempts to learn how to either knit or crochet. They ended in a lot of knots and extremely sore hands and wrists. When I had to have some major surgery that would leave me in bed for an extended period of time, I decided to give crochet a try again.

There was a fantastic store called Village Wools in Albuqueruque, New Mexico where I bought yarn for doll hair. I picked up some beginner booklets, some yarn and a few hooks. The first thing I tried to crochet was a square. I made a triangle because I forgot to add the extra stitches when I turned the piece. Eventually, I figured it all out.

I didn’t really crochet in earnest until moving to Finland. It’s a very knitting and crochet friendly culture! So many people knit and/or crochet too. I learned how to create more intricate squares and then join them all together to make large afghans. Among the few things I brough back with me from Finland, includes several warm, crocheted hats and scarves.

Sewing:

I come from a family of women who sew. Most of my clothing as an infant, toddler and small child was handmade. All of my clothes were tailored to fit my body as a kid. Going to the ‘yardgood store’ was something I enjoyed a great deal when I was little. It always seemed to be quiet and weirdly good-smelling, or so I thought. The pattern books were so much fun to look through too!

There was no sewing machine that I could use in the house I grew up in. Which was probably a good idea. I would have probably broken it if given the chance. So I didn’t take a sewing course until I was in the six or seventh grade. And I hated every single second of it. Every. Single. Second.

An ill fit:

There was some kind of animal shaped pillow that all the students were supposed to make. My mother bought a pattern for a skirt and made sure the teacher taught me how to make a skirt instead. I hated how it singled me out from the other students. It made me feel like a freak. The fabric was nice, but the skirt I made just…was not good. This experience coloured my view of sewing machines for the decade or so.

Detente was achieved in my late 20’s with the gift of a Kenmore sewing machine from my parents. That machine was a tank! It wasn’t fancy, but it got the job done. The Kenmore machine was used when creating some of the larger, fabric and felt dolls I made prior to 2014. When we moved to Finland, I gifted the Kenmore machine to a friends daughters. I hoped that this solid, easy-to-use machine would help them learn to sew.

Embroidery work:

I create a metric tonne of embroidery work on a weekly basis, but I have never taken a single class, workshop, or online tutorial to learn how to do it. There was a book that I picked out of a public library discard box, published in the 60’s that I read. It had a lot of history of Nordic needlework traditions in it. Alone with some good pictures of what the stictches looked like.

I’ve only actually done needlework in front of a person once in my life. She was a skilled needle worker too. Her advice to me was to make sure that the back of my embroidery projects were as neat and tidy as the front.

Patterns a no-go in sewing and embroidery:

I concider myself to be an idiot in several distinct ways. One of the ways I’m an idiot regards my complete and utter inability to follow a pattern that was created by someone other than myself. I can sit down and create a set of patterns for a complete outfit for a large doll. While at the same time, I cannot understand a pre-made pattern for doll clothing that I might purchase.

The same goes for embroidery work. My sister is very good at creating counted cross stitch pieces. I gave it a try once and did not last more than a few minutes before I was completely disinterested with the whole concept. The pictures that I could create with the technique did not appeal to me in the slightest. Creating my own pictures. That appealed to me.

How has this served me?

Not being able to use pre-made patterns means that I can create my own unique artwork. I’m not using someone elses creative output as a starting point for my own creative expression. If I want to make a green doll with three heads, four arms and tremendously long legs. I can do that. There’s not fiddling around trying to retro-fit an existing pattern with my own ideas.

Creating my own patterns leaves me beholden to no one but myself. If a pattern works, that’s great. Sometimes a pattern doesn’t work. But that’s okay too, because I learned something while I was making the mistake. There have been some patterns by talented creators that I’ve been able to follow. What I’ve noticed about these patterns is that they all use the same materials and techniques that I use. So I suppose these patterns put me at ease from the start.

What does all of this mean?

Efficacy is built over time, practice and accumulated knowledge. Sometimes the knowledge comes from direct instruction. Other times, it’s self-guided. I’m naturally an intrinsically motivated person. Especially when the subject matter is of interest to me. If there’s a technique or material that I want to know more about, I have no problem seeking out information or people who can assist my learning.

I don’t easily give up on learning a technique either. More often than not, once I’ve learned a technique, pysanky for example, I move on to a new technique that I want to learn. Each subsequent technique adds to my overall artistic efficacy. This adds to my skill sets as an art teacher. Having working knowledge of a wide variety of tools, materials, and techniques gives me greater freedom to create my own artwork as well.

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

Posted on

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.

 

Posted on 2 Comments

New Daily Journal

In the first blog post of this series detailing how I organize my time, materials and ideas for art making, I wrote about the daily journal that I maintain. Having my daily journal keeps me mentally focused and moving in one direction. At a glance, I can easily see what I’ve gotten done, and where I need to apply more of my time and energies.

My daily journal is last thing that I touch on my desk at night, and the first thing I touch in the morning. It’s important that it be at my right hand when I sit down to work in the morning. This morning, I finally had to come to terms with the fact that my current daily journal will ‘run out’ as of the 31st of March. My new daily journal would have to be put together. The sooner the better!

New daily journal:

A few weeks ago, I picked up a new blank journal at Suomalainen Kirjakauppa. It’s a little different from my current daily journal. The book itself is a little larger. The paper is thicker, nicer paper too. There’s also a dot graph, instead of a grid on the pages.

The covers are hard book board, with a large wire spiral as a binding. The spiral is large enough for a pen to fit into, which I like. There are red roses illustrated in red ink on the covers, which I’m not fond of. But, it’s not a big deal, because I can just cover it with something I like better.

Large wire spiral bindings aren’t everyone’s cup of tea. My husband detests all spiral bindings. He’s left-handed, so they can be terrifically frustrating for him to write in. I like how the spiral binding allows the book to lay completely flat. I just can’t seem to trust the bullet journals bindings. There’s a part of me that feels as though it’s going to snap shut while I’m writing in it.

Additional parts:

This particular blank journal holds only four months of the year. Believe it or not, this was a point in the books favour. I knew that I would be adding a few new features within my daily journal. These four months give me some time to see if I like the new categories and slightly altered layouts without committing to an entire year.

I’ve added a page at the beginning of each month that is simply a list of the days of the month. There’s also a sticker with the month for 2021 for reference as well. One of the things that I wanted to become better at was long-term planning for the different projects that I work on. This page will let me know (again, at a glance) when I need to post the twice weekly blogs, Go Marielle, a new monthly newsletter as well as other yet to be revealed projects.

The layout for each individual day has also been altered. I’ve added new, separate sections for Go Marielle and the monthly newsletter. And I’ve changed around some headings for each of the different sections so that they better reflect what they actually are about. “Computer Work” was too broad a term. It’s now “Social Media and Marketing”. This just makes more sense.

Colour coding:

Colour coding has always been something that I delight in creating. My favourite element of art is colour. I know when I see green in my daily journal, it has to do with art production. I’ve made yellow the colour for the blog entry category. There are a few new colours have been added for the new categories too.

When putting together my new daily journal, one thing that I wanted to make neater was the colour coding for my categories. My previous daily journal was a little scribbly and less precise than I wanted it to be. I use Stabilo highlighters to colour code my daily journal. Sometimes the highlighters smear the ink if I write first, then highlight.

The solution was to create a template that I would use to add the coloured highlights to each individual page first. Creating the template wasn’t difficult. A page from the back of the new journal was removed. The grid on the page allowed me to easily see where I wanted to create the rectangular holes in the template. The paper template was transferred to a heavier piece of paper and was ready to use.

Blue, green, purple, pink, yellow, yellow, repeat:

The template came together quickly. It took much longer to add each colour to four months of pages. The template was cut so that I just had to align the bottom edge and the first vertical row of dots. Then I added the highlighter colours. While the colours are applied in a much neater manner than my current daily journal, it doesn’t bother me that they aren’t perfect.

The paper is thicker in this new daily journal, so the highlighter doesn’t show through. This made me happier than I thought it would. I use the bright shades of Stabilo highlighters. Sometimes the ink can pop-through the paper a little, especially when you go over something twice or more.

Writing in everything:

By the time I had finished using the template to add in my colours for different sections, they were dry enough to write on. Here again, I decided to make some changes. Stabilo Point 88 Fine Line pens in colour are being used to write over top of the highlighter in each section.

I’ve written each individual day of the month at the top of each page in black permanent fine line pen. I’m also using this same pen to write the list of days as well. I need to add the numbers of the week on the individual pages. As of the time that I’m writing this blog post, I have a lot to write into my new daily journal still!

So, now what?

Well, I need to finish all of the writing for starters! There are also some additional design elements that I want to add, like divider lines between different categories for one. I’m confident that I’ll be ready to use my new daily journal on 1 April 2021!

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

Posted on

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!

 

Posted on

Time and Organization

I’ve been wanting to have a dedicated series of blog posts that talk about making art for quite a while. There just hasn’t been enough time. Well, actually, there was time. It was just being used up on other endeavors. But that’s just life I suppose. Having lots of ideas of what you want to do. And discovering that allotting the time do accomplish them two very different things.

Time and organization:

Those two terms may not be ones that one would naturally attach to an artist. Or for that matter, any kind of creative person. But I can tell you from personal and professional experience, my ability to manage both of these concepts have proved incredibly beneficial to me.

Part of my genetic inheritance from my father is a fairly good sense of time. I’m one of those annoying sorts of people who can look at the sun and tell you what time it is. As well as being able to basically tell myself what time to wake up in the morning. While my intrinsic sense of the passage of linear time is a handy ability, it does nothing to help me manage my time during any given day of the week.

Keeping track of my time and my artwork is done using a daily journal.

Daily journal:

My daily journal isn’t fancy. And it didn’t cost a lot of money. It’s a small, spiral bound A5 (5-7/8 x 8-1/4 in.) notebook that I picked up cheap in a store bin somewhere in town. The paper is graphed. Which I like quite a bit. As a right handed person, the spiral binding doesn’t bug me like it can bother a left handed person.

Each page is a day. The date and day of the week I write at the top. Each page is divided into three sections. Computer based work, art production and blog. Within each of the three sections, I write it the tasks I want to accomplish that day. In addition, I write in any tasks that get accomplished that I hadn’t intended to do that day.

I’ve used this particular break down for about a year now. And it’s worked well. However, I’m going to be making some small changes and creating additional sections to better fit what I will be working on during the coming months.

What’s included in ‘Computer Work’:

This section contains the most regular daily tasks. This is where I list the platforms that I need to post on daily, like Instagram. I also post to Imgur, but on a weekly basis. My website also needs to be checked on daily. If not several times a day. Staying on top of website updates and shop sales are very important.

Keeping track of my website traffic, as well as my other platforms I frequent are tallied in this section as well. I can track what is working and what’s not working. Sometimes, I get a surge of traffic seemingly out of the blue. Having this section to my daily journal is going a long way in aiding me to discover what works and what doesn’t work from an advertising/social media platform kind of way.

Email and DM information is also noted in this section. I make sure to note when and to whom I have communicated. This may seem a little over the top. But for me, it helps me keep track of what I’m doing and on what day. When I write something down, I remember it. It’s just how my brain works.

What’s included in ‘Art Production’:

Art making, of course! I tend to reference this section in the mornings and evenings the most. In the morning, when I write down what I want to accomplish during the day. And at the end of the day, so that anything I haven’t finished can be moved to the next day.

In recent months, I’ve been working on several different pieces of art at the same time. Having this section of my daily journal helps me to plan out what I’m working on and when. There are times when clay, glue or paint requires time to cure thoroughly before the artwork can be worked on again. While waiting for pieces to cure, I can work on other parts of the piece, so time isn’t wasted.

A new section I’m going to add to this section is computer-based art production. In the past, I tried to accomplish all my computer-based art production on one day. It never worked well. There are several times during the week that I need to work on photo processing, advertising creation and the like. It’s simply easier to include it in the Art Production section. And track it like the other artwork I create.

What’s included in ‘Blog’:

More often then not, it’s a lot of notations about what I might like to blog about. Presently, the way that I’ve been utilizing this section has just fallen incredibly short of what I want them to be. It’s as if I’m throwing jello at the wall and hoping something sticks. I don’t like that. So I’m going to change it.

The first change I’m making is adding a second blog post to each week. Tuesday blog posts will be about the nuts and bolts of being an artist. Something as mundane as how I organize my days to take full advantage of my time is a blog post that will be published on Tuesdays.

In addition, I would also like to write blog posts about materials and techniques. As well as my personal methods of creativity, and/or the methods of other artists and creative people. This will include artists like myself, artists I find inspiring as well as artists from an historical standpoint.

So what does this have to do with Time?

A lot. Working from home requires me to be incredibly aware of on what and how I spend my time working. It’s easy for me to refer to an earlier date(s) to see how long it took me to accomplish a particular task. Or if I had problems with getting something to work the way that I wanted it to.

Journaling has been something I’ve done since I was in high school. It makes sense to me to have a book to keep all of my thoughts and ideas together in. For me, the idea occurs. Then it’s written down, and sometimes elaborated on. And THEN it’s either created as artwork, or made manifest. Mine is just one of many different ways of working.

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

Posted on

Inspiration

“Where did you get that idea from?”

“What was your inspiration for this artwork here?”

Inspiration:

I’ve always felt incredibly fortunate as an artist to never run out of ideas. There always seems to be something I want to try or explore. Fortune has seen fit to grant me with far more things that I want to create, than things than I have time to create.

Part of any perceived fortune is completely by design. I have structured my life around the creating of my artwork. Right down to choosing a husband who recognizes how important this is to me. And leaves me to do my own thing, as it were.

For several months, I’ve had this itch to create a larger, paper mâché piece using a chess and/or checkerboard as a base. Both literally and figuratively. I started putting those ideas down onto paper and fleshing them out last week.

Combined ideas:

This may not sound intrinsically interesting. Big deal. I want to create artwork with a checkerboard pattern. Whoop-dee-doo. But inspiration for my artwork is never neat, tidy to to the point. Ever.

Thought processes:

Most of the time, while I’m working on a task, my mind is wandering all over the place. Thoughts and ideas rise and fall in my consciousness. Some stick around for longer than others. There are some that are quickly sketched down, for fear they might be lost. Some of the ideas just will not leave, for whatever the reason.

Everyone does this. Letting your mind wander isn’t uncommon. It’s not some ultra-special, unique ability. People who are not artists might not pay a whole lot of attention to where their mind wanders off to. Or take the time to write down interesting inspirations. They may feel no need to do so. You could say that paying attention to what your mind is getting up to is a thing that a lot of many creative people do.

Dada has had a great deal to do with how I process my ideas and inspirations regarding the creation of my artwork. Nothing is disregarded. I mentally sift through all of the information I come across. Odd juxtapositions have always fascinated me. Couple that with my constantly asking “WHY?!” and it’s no wonder I create art.

Different ideas; same container:

What begins to happen, is that different ideas and inspirations start mixing and mingling with one another. Those that that I might think wouldn’t necessarily ‘go together’ do in fact, go together. They morph. Growing larger and  become more plastic. And before I know it, they’re all smashed together into a final idea for a piece of artwork.

Chess:

Let me walk you through this chess/checkerboard piece I’m currently working on. I couldn’t creatively shake the pattern of a chess board from my thoughts. Ignoring it simply made it far more insistent and even a little angry at me. So, I started sketching.

By sketching either the idea is purged from my mind. Or it becomes a full-fledged piece of artwork that needs to be created.

Many, many years ago, while I was in art school, I had used checkerboard patterns in my lithographs, etchings and woodcuts. It was nigh-on one of my most consistent visual themes. Like any imagery utilized by an artist. It ran it’s course and I stopped using it. That is, until last week.

I found myself returning to some of the ways in which I had drawn those checkerboard patterns. But this time around, I knew it was a chessboard. Not a checkerboard. Huh. I’ve never played chess. I know nothing about it other than the names of the pieces, and Bobby Fischer was really good at it. Oh, the queen can move anywhere in a straight line on black. So I know a teensie bit.

Dolls:

Part of the reason I think I’d been thinking about chessboards or checkerboards, is that the miniature dolls I make, each have their own stand mounts. They do resemble chess pieces. So…I did a little research about chess. (Thank you Kathy for teaching me to do research as an illustrator.)

I now know more about the regulation sizes for chessboards and chess pieces. Again. I still cannot play chess. Nor do I have any inclination to learn to play chess.

Getting messy:

Okay. This is where things start getting messy and weird. And hard to adequately describe. Anyone who has seen my artwork knows that I have a distinct style. Not so much creepy-cute, but weird-cute. To put a finer point on it, it’s really Dada-cute if you ask me.

My ideas and inspiration so far are chessboards and chess pieces, my own miniature doll creations, as well as my own particular style of artistic expression. Enter inspiration #3E, The Yes Album.

The Yes Album was released in 1971. When I was one year old. Some of the songs were recorded the year I was born. It’s easily one of my favourite albums of all time. It’s one of those albums that I can turn on and off in my head at will. Perhaps I’ve burned it into my synapses?

Your Move‘ and ‘Perpetual Change’ were running through my head while I began my sketches for this piece. I’m not an idiot. Your Move has a chess theme in the lyrics. So, I suppose that this is where the chessboard/chess theme may have come from. To be honest, it could be something completely different that inspired the imagery.

Then it all gets way more confusing:

My personal artistic style is very much influenced by objects and toys from my early childhood. Fisher-Price toys, Liddle Kiddle dolls, paper dolls, etc. Sesame Street, The Muppets, The Electric Company, were also major contributors to my artistic style.

Once I had the main two basic visual themes — the dolls and the chessboard. I started to mess around with the three-dimensional visual expression of that. Because, honestly, a chessboard with my dolls isn’t at all interesting to me. It doesn’t make me want to learn to play chess.

I started adding things. Creating recesses. Round pegs. Square pegs. Then I added some cake. And some flesh. Then some dirt. And grass. Flush parts. Hidden parts. Wheels. A pull string. A drawer to store the pieces in.

And still weirder yet:

This part is the hardest to explain or describe, because I don’t really know exactly what it is I’m attempting to recount. But, let’s not get ahead of ourselves. So, I’ve started adding all these extras, drawers and cake and grass and dirt, and so forth and so on. Two questions come to mind: why am I doing that, and how do I know what to add and where?

The short, snarky answer is, “Because I just know. That’s why.” Another somewhat less snarky, and even less adequate answer is, “Because I feel it’s right.” Insinuating that there is some semi-emotional component to these additions. Each of these answer dance around the real reason. I’m basing my choices, all those additions to the main visual imagery, on a fleeting pre-language, non-visual ‘sense’ of contentment/pleasure.

Here’s the even weirder part. The ‘feeling’ that I’m taking about isn’t in any way attached to any known memories of mine. But I can physically ‘feel’ it. I know when I’m feeling it. I know the sensations. And I have absolutely no flippin’ idea what is is, where it comes from or what it’s related to.

My working theory is that the ‘feeling’ must come from when I was an infant. My own memories only become fairly solid around the time I turned three. Prior to that, it’s choppy and blurry. There must be some kind of psychological explanation for this ‘feeling’ that’s the result of some study of individuals.

So…?

This piece of artwork that I’m creating isn’t just one thing. It’s many different ideas and inspirations that reach back to when I was a toddler. All of the things that I have named as inspiration are part and parcel of my personal identity and the culmination of my fifty years of experience on the planet. I’m a single, solitary person, with a never-ending stream of conflicting ideas and thoughts. All of whom are smashing together to create new meanings for myself and those who view my artwork.

To merely identify the individual parts that make up the whole piece of artwork is to deny the artist the uniqueness of their own lived experience. These objects as metaphor are alive inside of me. All at the same time. Working in unison to make me who and what I am at this moment in time and space.

In my artwork, a doll is never, ever just a doll.

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

Links

The Yes Album (1971 Original Recording) I love the way that the bass is recorded on this album. There is something about the way that the bass dovetails in with the drumming, especially the snare drum that I just totally floats my boat.

Posted on

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.

 

 

 

Posted on

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,

 

 

Posted on

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.

 

 

 

Posted on

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.