Sunday, January 21, 2018

Drink Up! Using Tea Bags in Mixed Media Art

Last fall I became acquainted with tea bag art when I saw Ann Laser's amazing work at a gallery in Santa Fe. She turns lowly used tea bags into fascinating mixed media pieces that are so compelling they stop you in your tracks. Tea bags had never crossed my mind as a potential art material, so when I saw what this artist does with them I decided to learn more about it.

My first ever attempt at making tea bag art. The design was created with Sharpie markers.    ©2018 Lynn Edwards
First, why use tea bags at all? The answer, for me, is the variety of colors that used tea bags offer. Strawberry hibiscus tea yields a delicate rosy-hued paper, while blueberry tea produces a pale bluish-lavender color. The tea bag pictured above was obtained at a restaurant where, unfortunately, I forgot to ask my companion what kind of tea she had ordered. Whatever it was, it imparted the faintest hint of sepia to the paper, whereas the ever-popular black teas yield a darker, more robust sepia tone.

Interesting Looks

I like how the color tends to collect in the creases, and the interesting stains of color that appear randomly here and there. The tea bag paper above isn't especially colorful; I deliberately chose it for my Sharpie drawing to avoid having the marker colors skewed by an underlying hue. Contrast that paper to the one below, made by steeping two Wild Raspberry Hibiscus tea bags from Stash Tea together in a single cup:

Steeping two Wild Raspberry Hibiscus tea bags together resulted in this vivid color. Note how the creases in the tea bag are now clearly visible due to the concentration of color along the folds.           ©2018 Lynn Edwards

Tea Bags' Many Uses

Okay, you're saying, but exactly how do you go about using these tea bags in artwork? Answer: they can be used on their own to make miniature paintings (Etsy has a number of tea bag artists working in miniature scale.). Or, they can be incorporated into larger works by adhering them with an appropriate glue or medium. I've also seen installation art created entirely from tea bags. They can also be used to decorate lampshades and made into purses, among many other things.

There are any number of ways to embellish these tiny beauties: for example you can draw on them with markers, as I've done here. You can also paint on them with acrylics or watercolors. You can stitch on them; stamp or stencil them; glue on embellishments such as ribbons, buttons or charms; collage other papers over them, or use them to "veil" a photo or area in a larger work...basically, whatever your imagination dreams up. Tea bags are surprisingly sturdy, but they aren't indestructible. To avoid tearing them I don't recommend using anything sharp or heavy on them, but if you do want to tear them, the ragged edges can add a intriguing look to a project.

How to Prepare Them

Preparing tea bags for use in art is easy:
1. Brew a cup of tea, using one or two tea bags depending on how strong you want it. Steep for five minutes with the cup covered.
2. Remove the tea bag(s) and place them on a saucer to cool.
3. Park yourself in a comfy chair and enjoy your cup of tea.
4. When the tea bags are cool enough to handle, gently squeeze out as much liquid as you can from them.
5. Allow the bag and its contents to dry thoroughly. (I very gently separate the two sections of the bag to allow for better air flow, and place the tea bag on its side on a clean, dry paper towel.) Depending on temperature and humidity levels, the drying process can take from one to three days.
6. When the bag's contents are completely dry, remove the tiny staple at the top edge of the bag. To do this I VERY CAREFULLY use the tip of an old steak knife to pry open the staple, if there is one. Discard the staple, string and tag.
7. Empty out the dry tea leaves. Add them to your garden, where they will help enrich and condition the soil.
8. Very gently part the "seam" where the edges of the paper meet and slide your finger along the seam to open the bag all the way.
9. Remove any remaining leaf residue by rubbing the paper with your finger.
10. Flatten the paper, if desired, by ironing it between two pieces of parchment paper. Use low heat and turn the steam setting to OFF. Your tea bag is now ready to become art! 😊

I recommend designating one tea bag as a sacrificial "test" tea bag on which you can try out whatever medium you wish to use. For example, I discovered certain Sharpie colors tend to bleed profusely on the porous tea bag paper so I avoid using those colors.

To see more tea bag art, take a look at Pinterest's "tea bag art" section, or do a Google search using that search term or similar terms.

Text and images ©2018 Lynn Edwards

A Thought for Sunday, January 21, 2018

"It is a happy talent to know how to play." -- Ralph Waldo Emerson

Sunday, January 14, 2018

A Thought for Sunday, January 14, 2018

Life would be infinitely happier if we could only be born at the age of 80 and gradually approach 18." -- Mark Twain

Saturday, January 13, 2018

Hot Off My Easel!

This winter I've been working steadily on my pattern series (my goal is to create 50 patterns; I've completed over 30 so far.) It's good to take a break from them now and then since they're highly detailed and intensive to work on. That's when I turn to something larger to give my eyesight a break. In this case, I resumed work on a 24x24 painting I had started a while back, but had temporarily set aside. Now I'm pleased to say that the painting "Wide Open Spaces" is finished!

"Wide Open Spaces" acrylic on 24x24 gallery wrap canvas
©2018 Lynn Edwards

My inspiration for this painting came from my memories of living on the Great Plains, where, as plains inhabitants often quip, "You can watch your dog run away for three days." The terrain may be flatter than a pancake  (a scientific fact!) but the land is rich in history. I wanted to pay homage not only to this vast landscape but also to the animals which played a vital part in shaping that history.  

It's not apparent in the photo but, when looking at the work in person, a viewer sees multiple layers of color and pattern that impart an extraordinary degree of depth and mystery. In a way, the layers represent the prairie's layers of earth that have accumulated over time, burying its ancient secrets and spirits.

"Wide Open Spaces" was already spoken for prior to completion so it's not available to purchase. I'll be sorry to see it leave (it looks sensational in my living room) but I'm confident the collector who laid claim to it will enjoy it even more. Some paintings mean more to an artist than others, and this one falls into that category. But it's not meant to remain with me. When its new owner comes to pick it up, it will mark the beginning of its intended purpose, which is to go out into the world to bring happiness to others. So out into the world it will go!

Text and image ©2018 Lynn Edwards 

Monday, January 8, 2018

Coping with the "Januwearies"

That word certainly sums up the month of January for many of us. The first time I ever heard it was courtesy of talk radio host Neal Boortz. I don't know if Boortz actually coined the word, but whoever did, they certainly hit the nail on the head. January can be a bummer.

The sparkle and merriment of the holidays are behind us, credit card bills are rolling in, and outside it's cold, wet and often miserable...nope, January is rarely anticipated with joy. Unless of course we can spend it on a tropical beach sipping margaritas, then it's not so bad. But most of us aren't so lucky. We stare out our windows at the snow/sleet/ice/freezing rain and yearn with all our hearts for spring.

A gardening catalog arrived in the mail last week. I was entranced with its vivid images of perennial and annual flowers so stunningly beautiful they couldn't possibly be real. Or maybe I should say they couldn't possibly have been grown by mere mortals, flawless as they were in the photos. That thought didn't stop me from drooling over them, picturing in my mind how this variety or that would look in the (still imaginary) flower bed which will someday flank the path to my studio. Some might call perusing a gardening catalog mind candy, but I call it summoning inspiration. It not only presented me with plant combinations I wouldn't have thought of, it reignited my resolve to make the new garden bed a reality.

Encouraging creative inspiration is, I think, the best way to get through this often-gloomy month. Perhaps that's what the Universe had in mind when January was invented. Maybe the purpose of its rotten weather is to induce us to settle in, mug of tea in hand, to dream, plan and imagine what we would like to bring to fruition. Whether it's jotting down new techniques to play with in our studios, envisioning an overhaul of our home's decor, mulling over new marketing strategies or dreaming up layouts for a future garden, maybe January's weather-enforced downtime is actually a gift.

When ice and snow make driving to the office impossible, what better time to follow those subtle inner promptings that hectic schedules tend to drown out? Ever thought you'd like to try your hand at marbling collage papers? Decoupaging the top of that old coffee table? Carving a walking stick? Starting a journal? Now's your chance. So when blizzard conditions threaten, take a little "mind vacation." Settle in, chill out and see where your imagination takes you!

My cat's idea of chilling out. No need to take the concept quite this far!

Text and images ©2018 Lynn Edwards

Sunday, January 7, 2018

A Thought for Sunday, January 7, 2018

"If one says 'Red' (the name of a color) and there are 50 people listening, it can be expected that there will be 50 reds in their minds. And one can be sure that all these reds will be very different." -- Josef Albers