Monday, August 26, 2013

Painting an Artist Trading Card or ACEO with Sponges

Why is it the art I seem to be most satisfied with are the pieces created "off the cuff?" Yesterday was a good example. I had been dipping the ends of some fabric beads in iridescent silver paint. When I finished, there was about a teaspoon of paint left over.

I didn't want to toss it, or wipe it off onto the cloth I was using for a cleanup rag. Instead, I decided to see if I had an old or unfinished painting I could stamp onto with the silver paint. Maybe it could rekindle my enthusiasm for some orphaned project. So I went looking in my stash for a suitable piece to work with.

The perfect candidate turned out to be a 2 1/2x3 1/2" artist trading card my friend Rebecca Salcedo had given me a few years ago. Rebecca is both a decorative artist and a fine artist. She had been experimenting with faux paint treatments for a client's walls, and had created several of these little cards to test various effects and color combinations. One afternoon she had stuck her head in my studio door (at the time we were both tenants in a communal studio space), handed me two of the cards and said, "Here's something to start some tiny paintings with." Intending to do just that, I had placed them in a drawer. Where they languished until yesterday.

One of the cards featured a bit of texture on its surface. It was painted a mid-value grey, lightly glazed with what looked to be a mixture of Pthalo Blue and black, making it an ideal blank slate. Eureka! The leftover silver paint would look great with those colors. I got right to work.

A 2 1/2x3 1/2" abstract, painted entirely with sponges.

Instead of a brush, I decided to use itty-bitty sponges. These were actually pieces of a large sponge I had previously cut up for another project. Back then I had used the pieces to stamp small squares onto a canvas. The biggest of the bunch was about the size of a thumbprint, the smallest about the circumference of my middle finger.

Painting with sponges was a way to leave my comfort zone and give something different a try. It's part of my New Studio Mantra: new digs call for exploring new directions. Since moving into my new space, I've been doing just that and having a ball, inspired in part by a book titled Mixed Media Revolution: Creative Ideas for Reusing Your Art by Darlene Olivia McElroy and Sandra Duran Wilson. Already Sandra and Darlene have led me down several new pathways to creative opportunity.

Doing this little sponge painting was great fun. I held no expectations for its outcome, just allowed myself to play and dabble. In addition to the Iridescent Silver, Carbon Black, Titanium White and Payne's Grey rounded out my palette. I learned quickly to use the very lightest of touches when applying the loaded sponge to the paper, or a big blob would result that had to be covered up. The sponges' textured surfaces created a delicate, yet intricate interplay of colors; layering and veiling and layering some more produced a remarkably detailed level of complexity my clumsy photography can't capture adequately here. Nor can it capture the luminous glow the metallic silver paint infuses.

As I worked on this I was fully in the Zone, dabbing away and enjoying every minute as the painting took shape. When I finished it, I noticed it looks equally good turned in any direction, and because the silver paint is reflective, each orientation looks very different from the others. It's like four unique little paintings in one!
©2013 Lynn Edwards 


Friday, August 23, 2013

Tips for Making Paper Beads

What started out as idle entertainment is now an obsession. To keep my muse from leaving on vacation while the studio was being built, I took up bead making, specifically, making beads from paper and fabric scraps. The materials were readily available and it was something I could do while watching TV in the evening. The simplicity of this activity appealed to me, as did the idea of turning commonplace materials into something attractive and useful. No special equipment was needed other than a ruler, scissors and glue.

Once I had the process down after considerable practice, I started thinking of ways to streamline the mechanics of rolling paper beads so the paper strips would stay centered, resulting in a nice, uniform bead. My bead making endeavor took a big leap forward when I discovered bead rollers while cruising Etsy. A bead roller is a simple hand held tool that grips one end of the paper and holds it in place so you have much better control of the paper as you roll it. (My bead rollers work only with paper. I continue to roll fabric beads entirely by hand. I'll cover making fabric beads in a future post.)

Once you start making paper beads, you become a paper addict. Suddenly you see anything made of paper in a whole new light! Can labels, candy wrappers, old stationery, gift wrap, advertising brochures, junk mail...everything that's paper becomes potential bead making fodder. The prospects are unlimited. But to expand my choices even further, I'm also hand painting my own papers using multiple layers of pattern and color. For these papers I use the same professional quality acrylics and permanent inks that I use for making fine art. The reason? The acrylic paints are the most heavily pigmented, most lightfast paints available, and the inks are equally stable. I'm using them so that the beads will look just as good years from now as they do today.

I've also adopted the practice of double coating the outer surface of each bead, particularly those printed from "found" materials, first with a clear acrylic isolation coat, followed by a polymer varnish with UV protection. The two products work in tandem to protect paper beads from fading, and the varnish provides additional protection from dirt and scratches.

Along the way, I've also made several discoveries through trial and error. I share them with you here:

1.The best looking beads have visual impact. Papers with colorful, complex patterns or images and those with high contrast graphics produce dramatic looking beads. A more understated look can be achieved by using papers with soft, blended colors.

2.A paper cutter can eliminate the tedium of cutting papers with a scissors. I spent about $17 on a Fiskar SureCut paper trimmer and love it. With it I can cut papers faster than the speed of light, and with accuracy, too. You can find these gadgets on Amazon, which is where I bought mine, or in arts and crafts stores.

3.Rushing things can ruin an otherwise well constructed bead. Allow beads to dry thoroughly in between applications of glue, medium and varnish.

4.A storage bin lets you dry many beads at the same time. Mine is an upcycled potato salad container with a couple inches of sand in it. (See photo below.) In place of sand you can use raw rice, dried beans or tiny pebbles. The beads are held upright in the sand on cotton swabs. I snip off one end of the swab to remove one of the cotton tips, but leave the other cotton tip in place because it makes the swab easy to grasp. My favorite bead roller creates a hole in the bead that's the exact diameter of the hollow plastic swabs I buy at Walgreens. So after I've rolled the bead, I carefully remove it from the bead roller and gently slide the bead onto the stick part of a swab. The cotton tip acts as a "handle" for the bead as liquid medium or varnish is applied. Then I push the trimmed end of the swab into the sand to hold the bead upright while it dries.

Cotton tip swabs hold beads upright as they dry in a container filled with sand

For beads with holes that are too large for cotton swabs, I use straws of a corresponding diameter. I cut the straws into 3" pieces and slide a bead onto each one. "Stops" made of masking tape wrapped around the straws, or rubber bands twisted onto the straws keep the beads from sliding downward.

Copyright 2013 Lynn Edwards


Friday, August 16, 2013

Solving Studio Storage Problems

Have finally gotten everything unpacked and have been busy devising functional yet inexpensive ways to store it all. My only "splurge" has been acquiring more shelving to house my books. Once again, I turned to Ikea and purchased two of their Expedit storage units. Stacking them one atop the other allows them to fit perfectly into the corner I'll be using as a reading nook. They're very sturdy and they look great. At just $39 each they were affordable too. These Expedit units hold all my over sized art books with ease because they're slightly over 15" deep. I love 'em!

A Different Angle

One strategy that helped me use the floor space more efficiently was placing some of my furniture perpendicular to the walls. This creates more usable wall space, makes better use of the room's interior square footage, and -- to my eye, anyway -- makes the studio seem larger than it actually is. I've done this with an open plastic shelving unit that houses a collection of lidded boxes containing my art supplies. Placed at a 90 degree angle to the wall, the open-backed shelving unit functions nicely as a room divider, with the work area on one side and "kitchen" area on the other. It effectively keeps the latter somewhat hidden from view, clearly defining the two areas, yet still leaves plenty of "moving around" room. Another advantage is that I can access the boxes on the shelves from both sides. Very handy!

To the left of the shelving unit is an old computer cabinet whose surface now holds a small fridge and microwave (not pictured). The cubbies below hold canvases and wood panels. In the foreground, adjacent to the shelf unit, is my "poor man's wash station." The unsightly electrical box will be concealed by clips attached to the wall holding sheets of watercolor paper.

I've placed my six foot work table perpendicular to the wall as well. This way I can work from either side. I'm really enjoying the versatility of this arrangement. Having easy access to the entire table surface is nice, and when my friend Kathy joins me for our weekly painting session, relocating my chair to the side closest to the door gives us both more room. The table Kathy uses sits several feet away from the 6' table, but we're both capable of making a bit of a mess as we work, so the more space, the better!

My 6' work table placed perpendicular to the wall leaves ample room for storage to both the left and right. That open area now occupied by the trash can is destined be filled with a small 3-shelf bookcase.

Put Up Some Pegboard 


Pegboard painted a cheerful color holds tools that used to take up valuable drawer space.

Another storage tactic that has worked out great was putting up a pegboard panel in the work area to hold everything from brayers and palette knives to rulers, scissors and other frequently used tools. I painted the pegboard a happy shade of lime green in about 30 minutes, using a 4 inch foam roller and latex house paint. (The pegboard I used was pre-primed.) Pegboard is much more attractive when it's painted, and I've been amazed at how many items it holds, even though the panel I used was only 28" wide. Mounted in the space between the two south facing windows, it accommodates a few dozen tools and then some. As you can see in the photo above, it takes up hardly any space but holds a lot!

With all the gear I use routinely on full view, I no longer have to waste valuable time hunting through cabinet drawers trying to find a particular item for making art. Pegboard panels are inexpensive (a 4x8 foot panel is usually less than $20) making this storage space-saver a super bargain. The metal hardware that holds the tools on the pegboard is usually sold separately. I bought a set of hardware -- assorted pieces in a variety of configurations -- at a big box home center for about $9. The set also included the brackets for mounting the pegboard on the wall.

One last item still unaddressed is figuring out what kind of hanging system I'll use for that gallery wall. With so many choices available, that decision will take some homework on my part to get it right. So stay tuned. I'll keep you informed in future posts as I explore my options. Perhaps you have some suggestions or advice as to the kinds of hanging systems for artwork that have worked best for you? If so, I'd really appreciate your sharing it!

Images and text ©2013 Lynn Edwards

Wednesday, August 7, 2013

The New Studio is Up and Running!

Well, not entirely. There's still some unpacking to be done and furniture yet to be moved in, along with some exterior work, but that didn't stop my artists' group from meeting here this past Monday -- the studio's "inauguration day," so to speak. Hubby and I had worked right up til the last minute to get everything ready for the group's arrival. The day was perfect (no rain!!) and even our resident hummingbirds contributed to the occasion by visiting the studio's window boxes during our meeting, which just added to the fun. The deer and the flock of wild turkeys that hang out under our bird feeder made themselves scarce while Carolyn, Rebecca, Dinah, Kathy and Karen were here, but reappeared later that afternoon. It would probably have thrilled everyone no end had they been able to see even more of the amazing wildlife we enjoy so much.
The studio as it appeared mid-construction

As it appears today. A 4x6' entry deck will replace the temporary steps, and lattice skirting will enclose the foundation over the course of the next few weeks. And then we'll finally be able to call it DONE!

Hosting this month's meeting gave me a chance to try out various furniture placement schemes for accommodating several people in the studio at once. The Ikea storage cabinet and the repurposed computer cabinet I'm using to store my canvases and sewing machine are both on casters. This makes scooting those heavy pieces around quite easy. Eventually I'd like to have both work tables, the basket storage unit that holds collage papers, and my armchair equipped with casters so I can reposition everything but the shelving units at will. For artists who are teaching classes or workshops in their studios, or artists like me who create many different types of art, the ability to reconfigure furnishings easily is most helpful.

In the meantime there are other things to be done, like painting a darling little wall cabinet I found at a yard sale to hold my rubber stamps (It cost me just one dollar!) and painting the dark wood table that now functions as a wash station for cleaning brushes. Both will be treated to bright new colors more in keeping with the decor.