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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

 

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I Detect a Pattern

Teeny, tiny tunics! Now with wing holes!

I’ve been working on three new tiny fairy dolls. Well, I’m not sure as to what I want to call them. The first two of this series that I created I purposefully gave Finnish names to. I found the names Inkeri and Maija online. I’ve found different meanings and origins for each name. Inkeri is a Finnish form of Ingrid, and some sites say it means ‘Heros Daughter’. I picked it because I thought it was pretty. Maija is a variant of Mary/Maria, and could mean ‘bitter’. Again, I picked the name because I thought it sounded pretty. I also have a love for names that have Mary as the root. Marielle, Maya, Maia, Maarit, Marisol, you get the idea. I think it stems in part from the fact that Mary is an anagram for Army, which I think is pretty cool.

Continuing with the Finnish theme I have given to these fairy-like tiny dolls, I thought that maybe I could name the series in Finnish to perhaps ease my weird inner problems with calling them straight-up fairies. A Finnish friend suggested niittykeijuja, meadow fairies or metsäkeijuja, forest fairies. My spelling is in Finnish still isn’t fabulous, so these could be not spelled correctly. I like the idea of a meadow, since I did give them butterfly wings, so for now I’m leaning in the niittykeijuja direction. I had two other friends offer pixie and sprite as options as well. I like pixie, mostly because I’m a Pixies fan. Ha! I like keiju, because it’s similar to kaiju too!

I’ve been thinking a lot about the embroidery work I create. I’m largely self-taught, with help from other needleworkers here and there. Much of what I’ve learned I’ve picked up from YouTube videos and online embroidery sites. There are some amazing needleworkers out there in the world and I tend to consider myself a novice in comparison to many of them.

I started sewing by hand when I was very little, maybe around eight years old or so. Sewing fabric with needle and thread is very different from decorative embroidery. I think a running stitch and a backstitch were all I really needed to know at that time. I didn’t really learn how to operate a sewing machine until I was twelve or thirteen years old, in a sewing class in school. The only think I remember from that class is that I made a skirt I hated and that a boy named Larry sewed through his finger while operating his sewing machine. I didn’t enjoy the class at all, and learned next to nothing.

I come from a family of women who sew. Mostly on machine, using patterns for clothing and other useful household items, like quilts, pillows, curtains, etc. I own a sewing machine and do use it on occasion, mostly for sewing things like curtains and the clothing for some of the dolls that I make. I do like using a sewing machine, especially a well maintained sewing machine. I’ve gotten the chance to use some really chonky metal behemoth sewing machines here in Finland, like Husqvarna’s and Janome’s. I’ve even gotten to use some really nice newer model sergers too. If I had the want or need, I’d love to have any of these sewing machines.

But…there is just something about the feel of pulling a needle and thread through cloth. I don’t know what it is, but it just feels incredibly ‘right’ to me. I cannot adequately explain the sensation, but it’s just right. And in a way that machine sewing just doesn’t (please forgive my turn of phrase) do it for me. I think this is why I enjoy the embroidery work I create so much.

I was looking through my Instagram feed a few days ago and I came across a post by an artist I follow. She’d created a new sewing and embroidery pattern and had posted pictures of the project. I really liked the project a lot and the embroidery pattern was excellent. One of the pictures had a picture of the pattern for the embroidery and my brain just kind of clicked to the off position. I could imagine myself using her pattern to create the object, but somehow not creating the embroidery work.

I’ve always called this the ‘Baroo Look’ from dogs and puppies. It’s when then cock their heads from side to side trying to make sense of something that’s confusing to them.

It wasn’t because I didn’t like the embroidery work that the artist had chosen to use on her work. I think it had something to do with the use of the pattern for placement of the embroidered portions of the piece. I think what was being used was an embroidery stabilizer. The pattern in printed onto the paper and the paper then attached (temporarily) to the fabric being embroidered. I tried imagining stitching through paper stabilizer on fabric. I wasn’t sure that I could create what I would want to create using this method. Even within my own imagination it felt alien and weird.

I was then struck by the thought, “You mean people just don’t think of what they want to embroider and then just do it?” I know. This seems like such an ignorant thought. “There are people OTHER than ME that create ART?” Then my face would look like this:

Sudden realizations require the clutching of pearls, real or imagined.

Yeah. I sound like a total moron. I know this.

I started tugging at this thread to see what would come of it. I could imagine using someone else’s pattern for creating an object, but not for the embroidery work. Huh. Interesting in a kind of ‘what is wrong with me’ kind of way. I had to think about my own process for embroidery work and see how I couldn’t fit someone else’s designs or patterns into them. What’s my embroidery work process?

1. I rarely, if ever make any kind of in-depth sketches for the embroidery work that I do.

Yep. I’m more or less making everything up as I go. Well, no. That’s not totally true. I do make choices regarding color. This starts with the color of the doll, then the clothing, and THEN the embroidery work. I chose the colors I feel will work the best together, or will pop forward, or that will blend well.

The only stitch I know that I will do on every piece is the blanket stitch. I have this incredible unease about what I feel are unfinished edges. Especially regarding felt, which I use the most in my artwork. I start with a blanket stitch around all of the edges of felt. Without the blanket stitch along certain edges, I feel like the piece is just raggedy. I have no idea where this comes from. It’s just there and I go with it.

So, I plan the blanket stitch and that’s it.

2. I don’t know what stitches I will use or in what combination.

Once I complete the blanket stitch around the edges of the piece, I choose the next color or embroidery thread first, then think about the type of stitch I want to do. I have no idea what the final embroidery will look like. I just start working.

I tend to work from the biggest stitches to the smallest stitches in each piece I embroider. I sometimes know that I want to use a chain stitch to create a shape, but I don’t draw it down onto the fabric. I will evaluate the space I’m working within, and there are times in which I do pull a few stitches out because I made something the wrong size or decide I want the shape to go in a different direction.

What the final embroidery looks like is always a surprise to me and I kind of like it that way.

3. I embroider portions that I know will never be seen. I do this on purpose.

It’s a weird idiosyncrasy of mine. Part of me kind of likes knowing that it’s there and I know it, but no one else does. I think I started doing it simply so it didn’t look like I was avoiding spots on a finished piece, because I didn’t want to ‘waste time’ on portions that would never be seen.

4. I don’t like the reverse side of my embroidery to be a knot-filled mess.

Many years ago, when I was part of a local doll making club, I was working on some embroidery and appliqué work while chatting with a woman in the club. She’d had real training as a needle worker and had been working for several decades honing her craftsmanship. She told me that she’s been taught to keep the backs of her pieces as neat as possible. It made for easier repairs and/or additions. I took this to heart and can get positively anal-retentive about how the back sides of my embroidered pieces look.

I still thinks this looks like a rats nest. I don’t like knowing that the mess is there.

As I said earlier, I consider myself a novice at embroidery and needlework. I use basic stitches, and change up the combinations, compositions and the colors. I learn new stitches here and there and add them in when I feel like they would look good, like a herringbone or bullion stitch. There are stitches that I know, but don’t use much, like satin and split stitches.

I know that the reason I can work with a kind of a ‘que sera sera’ attitude is due in large part to my own level of comfort and efficacy as an artist. I know what I know how to do and I just do it. If I mess something up, I know it’s not the end of the world. I can either fix it or disguise it. If I can do neither one of those, I know at least I can gain knowledge from the mistakes made. And I move forward.

I suppose that my inability to understand how to use a pattern, especially for embroidery work is because of two factors: 1. I want to make up my own designs and 2. How can I learn how to do something if I can’t possibly fail miserably? Again, this is due to my own personal efficacy as an artist.

Even after everything I’ve written above, those of you who read my blogs about my art, know that on occasion I do use other doll artists patterns as a means of making myself think differently and work with ideas other than my own. Even with those patterns, I cannot resist adding my own creative twist on the final products. I just can’t help myself. It’s what I do.

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

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Fairy Wings

I started experimenting over the weekend. I didn’t intend to create a bunch of sets of fairy wings. As with most of my artwork, it started out with a me asking a question. I wanted to see if I could take pieces of rigid plastic packaging and make something approximating insect-like wings for the tiny dolls I’ve been working on for since January.

I’m limiting my time out of the house to once a week, so I had to use the art supplies that I have on hand. I didn’t want to order any art supplies, or have to figure out how to combine several errands into one trip that would coincide with the opening hours of a shop, or the specific errands I needed to run either. So, not only have I asked myself one question, but then set up several additional parameters for the project as well.

I like setting up different problems (challenges?) for myself. I feel like it keeps me from getting too stale in my thinking or in the artwork that I produce. At least I hope that it does. It never seems to take the route that I imagined in my head, and it always teaches me something new. Sometimes what it teaches me is that I don’t know nearly as much as I think I do.

In the case of these fairy wings, I did arrive at a product that I like quite a bit. What I found surprising was the fact that what I thought would be a ‘quick and dirty’ method of creating some okay looking wings, turned into a much more complicated and involved creative process that had me reaching into my knowledge of fine art printmaking.

I took a lot of printmaking while I was in art school. I have experience with stone lithography, wood and linoleum cut, etching, and monoprinting processes. I loved the physicality of stone lithography. There was an element of flying by the seat of your pants with wood and linoleum cut, especially since I did a lot of ‘suicide prints’. I was poor and couldn’t afford a separate piece of wood or linoleum for each color run. Etching seemed like magic to me. I loved everything about printmaking. I loved that you could make multiples of the same piece. I loved that you could alter the image or create separate monoprints that you could work back into with other mediums. It was a lot of fun and the processes all made sense to me. They seemed logical and orderly.

Once printing process I never really got into was intaglio. I just couldn’t physically handle the way in which the drawing is created on the matrix. The scratching on the metal or the plastic just makes me nauseated! It feels like the scratching and scraping are being done inside my stomach. Yuck! So it makes perfect sense that intaglio, crossed with a little scrimshawing is the way in which I think I can create fairy wings.

I thought that what I would do is take some of the plastic packaging that I had pulled from the trash for this. My initial idea was that I would take a metal needle tool and quickly scratch some wings onto it. Then I would use paint (in this case, acrylic, because it’s what I have) and paint it onto the surface of the plastic. Then I’d wipe off the excess. The paint would stay in the scratches below the surface. Then I could cut out the wings and attach them to a doll. Easy! Right?

Well…no.

Here is the first set of wings. More of less a ‘proof of concept’ construction. This was to answer the questions: will the plastic I have work? Does the paint stick to the places I scratched? Can I sew the wings together easily?

The first wings were wonky and frankly, sucked. So I went on to the second set of wings. For this set, I created a drawing to work from that was placed beneath the plastic. I taped the plastic down and then scratched the lines on the wings onto the plastic.

This second try was better in that they looked more like butterfly wings, but I just couldn’t get the paint to stick inside the areas that I scratched. I think I’d applied paint and buffed it off three separate times and there were still spaces where the lines were thin and scraggly looking.

On to the third try. This time, I decided to add two more colors. I thought by adding different colors, I could add some dimension to the wings, while at the same time hiding some of the areas where the paint would not adhere to the plastic scratches.

The third try was wonky. I got some better coverage, but the way in which I was removing the second and third colors (robins egg blue and a yellow) were just cruddy. I used too little paint and it dried more quickly that I thought it would and it was hard to wipe down with either paper or even to get off with at a q-tip.

On to the forth try! I used a different plastic for this set of wings. I think the container held some kind of refrigerated pasta salad or something like that. It was slightly thicker, almost spongy compared to the other rigid plastic I had used for the previous three wing attempts.

I feel like I figured out what I wanted to do with the wings by this set. I don’t like the plastic itself. The way the painting turned out, as well as the sealant, I liked very much. I also learned that I need at least two holes poked through the center of the wings so that when I sew them together, they hold well and don’t wobble back and forth too much.

I decided that for the 5th and 6th sets of wings, I would change up the color schemes. One was done with red, orange and yellow(s) and one was done with blues, purples and pinks.

 

I used four colors; red, orange and two different yellows. With the 5th and 6th attempts at these fairy wings, I realized that I needed to scratch the stylus into the plastic much deeper than I had previously done. The plastic is thin, and there are a few places where I kind of started a repoussé technique with the plastic. It’s only visible when you’re really looking closely though.

With the 6th set of wings, I used blues, purples and pinks. I left much, much more of the color on the plastic than I did in in the 1st, 2nd, 3rd and 4th sets of wings.

You can see how much paint I left on the reverse side of the 6th set of wings. I sealed the sides with paint on them with a sealant, which is just Eri-Keeper, slightly modified. I like how it begins to make the see-through portions of the wings look like glass from windows prior to the turn of the 20th century; wavy and uneven. These last two sets of wins I think are the ones that I think I will be using on the two tiny dolls that I intended to have wings.

I had a lot of fun creating these sets of wings. I already have ideas for other techniques I would like to use to create wings for dolls, or just to create interesting surfaces for larger, more complicated pieces of art that I would like to create. I think there is a lot to explore using plastics and paint, as well as the intaglio/scrimshaw treatment of the plastic sheets.

The one thing that is kind of gnawing at me a bit is the fact that I’m not a big fan of fairies per se. I mean, I don’t hate them or anything. They’re just not my thing. Same thing with angels. I tend to root for the monsters and creatures other than fairies. ANYWAY…I’m not sure what possessed me to create fairy wings. The wings I made looks more like butterfly wings, but since they will be attached to tiny dolls, it makes them fairy wings by default.

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