Monday, April 14, 2014

Washi Tape Easter Eggs

Sometimes, I get really excited about a new art material.

This time, it was washi tape - printed translucent tape originating in Japan.  It's not exactly new - but it was new to me when local art store collage started carrying it.

I've been looking at it and drooling every time I go to collage to teach a class - so I finally developed a class to actually use it! Easter eggs with their bold stripes of festive color seemed like the perfect opportunity.

What You Need:

Papier Mache egg shapes
Old egg carton to hold eggs while you work
Craft paints
Washi tapes
Mod Podge
Scissors, xactoor craft knife
Brushes, water, rags

Tiny screw eyes
Thick craft glue
Narrow ribbon

You're Ready to Start:

The egg shapes I used were brown, so I started by painting them with two coats of gesso. Since the tape is relatively translucent, the white background helps the color show more brilliantly. Here's the egg after one coat:

The tape doesn't work well to cover the steep curves of the very ends of the eggs, so I painted the bottom and top 1/4 of the egg, leaving the center of the egg free for washi tape.

Measure the circumference of the egg at the widest point - mine were 6" around.  That helps you determine how much tape to pull off the roll.

Start by wrapping tape around the very center of the egg.

Because of the curve of the egg, the tape won't lay completely flat. It will probably be lifting up along the top edge.  Use your xacto knife to cut tiny slits in the tape every 1/4" to 1/2" along the top edge.  This will create what are essentially darts, and will enable you to press the tape flat. The edges of the cuts will overlap slightly.

Now, you can repeat the process by adding tape on either side of the center stripe, cutting the little darts, and pressing the tape down.

Awesome! You've got stripes!

At this point, you can seal the egg with Mod Podge and call it good - or, you can prepare the eggs for hanging.  Take a small screw eye and dip the end in thick craft glue.  Screw it into the top of the egg and make sure there's a little extra craft glue sealing the hole.

Once the glue has dried, cut 6"-12" worth of narrow ribbon and tie it through the screw eye for hanging.

Here's a few of the ones my students did during the collage workshop last week:

Love the skulls! The possibilities are endless!

Thursday, April 3, 2014

Taking a Second Look at Art You Don't Like

A while back, I did this collage.

It was made as part of a class I was running, using one of the exercises in my book, The Creative Conversation: ArtMaking as Playful Prayer.

The Artful Explorations in that book are all about exploring - not necessarily making an amazing product.  In fact, this exercise is called the "What's Next? Art Jar" and it's all about working within constraints and ultimately, LETTING GO OF THE OUTCOME. 

I had fun doing the exercise.  I  finished the collage, and felt, well, complete. 

And I didn't particularly like the result.

This happens.  And it's ok.  To paraphrase drawing instructor Phil Sylvester, "Everyone's got a lot of bad drawings stuck in their arms.  You've got to make a lot of bad drawings to get to the good ones." 

Fortunately, I wasn't attached to whether the piece was any good or not: I had a good time, learned some interesting things with negative space, and that was enough for me.

But there's always the question:  what do you do with something you're not crazy about it when you're done?  Poets and musicians might keep a line or a phrase from an unsuccessful piece, use it, turn it into something else. 

Even a piece we're not happy with will have interesting moments - bits that shine when you put them in a different context.  To help me find those moment in my own artwork, I use a piece of cardboard with a rectangular shape cut out of the middle.  Like a camera, the cardboard helps me to "frame" a small piece of the total picture, and notice it as its own composition.

I have one the size of an artist's trading card (what better way to use those pieces than to find the good "moments" and share them?) and another that's a small square.

Then, I use the cardboard frame(s) to mark the selected areas with a pencil . . . .

And I cut out the pieces I want to keep!

It's fun to play with the pieces, rearranging them, considering them alone and together.  It gets the creative juices flowing!  I'm really enjoying how these three pieces fit together!

 So, do you have any pieces of art that could use a fresh look?

Wednesday, April 2, 2014

Quick and Easy Vegetable Printing!

I've always loved printmaking - especially using found materials to make impressions and patterns.  Several years ago, I was introduced to nature printing through The Nature Printing Society, and I've been printing with plants, vegetables and other natural found objects ever since!

Usually, when printing from nature, I roll out water soluble printmaking inks, and use a brayer or dauber to apply ink to whatever I'm going to print.  Recently, however, I saw a great shape in a bunch of celery I was getting ready to juice, and wanted a quicker printing option.

Here's What You'll Need:

  • The end of one bunch celery
  • A paper towel or rag
  • A rubber stamp pad - I used Staz-On, a solvent ink pad, but any dye or pigment stamp pad will work
  • Paper to print on - try copy paper, cardstock, or even tissue paper

You're Ready to Get Started!

1.  Blot your celery end with a paper towel or a rag to get up the extra juices - if the celery is too "juicy," it'll cause your print to blur.

2.  Ink up your celery!  Don't just push the celery into the stamp pad - be a bit more gentle and dab the celery with the ink pad.

3.  When the celery looks like this, you'll get a light print.  Keep gently adding ink!

4. Press the celery onto your paper with even pressure.  Voila! See how inky the celery is?

5. Every celery bunch has a different pattern - and each celery end can be used multiple times!  I've had good luck getting up to 30 impressions from a single celery end, but haven't had much luck with storing them overnight for reuse. 

The paper can be used as gift wrap, collaged into encaustic paintings, used for greeting cards - use it anywhere you'd use patterned paper! I used a celery end, but I'm thinking you could use the carved end of a potato, a cross-section of onion, or even a sliced apple!

Friday, February 7, 2014

Loving - and FEEDING - Your Inner Artist

Valentine's Day is a week away.  It's the one day each year that we are reminded to let our sweethearts know that we care, usually with big boxes of candy, flowers, stuffed animals, greeting cards, romantic dinners . . . well, you get the idea.  We have a lot of days like that in the United States: Mother's Day, Father's Day, Veteran's Day.

But for the people who matter to us, we need to show our love more than just once a year.  Chocolate's great (truly - don't get me wrong on that one) but a relationship also needs really nutritious things on a regular basis.

And the same holds true for your relationship with your inner artist. New art supplies that you don't know how to use - yet?  Yummy like candy.  That week-long art retreat?  That's like a once-a-year candlelight dinner extravaganza. But what does your inner artist really need to be cared for on a regular basis?

Probably what most of us need to feel loved. Time. Attention. Affirmation. Encouragement. Support. We need to do things with our inner artist, spend a little quality time.  Make sure the artist feels like a priority.  Engage with it, do projects with it, listen to it. Sure, gifts are awesome, but the artist needs that hands-on time with us. 

So how do we go about doing that?

Over the years, I've tried a lot of different things:
  • Sketching almost every day
  • Making collages a few times a week (the square collages in this post are an example)
  • Spending 5 minutes a day in my studio
  • Committing to spend at least 15 hours a week in the studio
  • Journaling or freewriting almost every morning
  • Taking a photograph almost every day
  • Sharing an image of my art on facebook almost every day
  • Learning a new technique every month
  • Joining in a postcard or ornament swap
  • Making three artist trading cards a week

Some worked better than others, and some have just become part of my regular routine. Of course, my inner artist loves exploring, figuring stuff out, and learning new things, so I switch it up a lot.  I have a hard time doing something every day, so I give myself a break here and there, and I've found I can successfully do something almost every day. Or, I can commit to doing something every week or for a certain amount of time every week. 

Here are a few keys for finding and doing those things that will feed your inner artist:
  • Find a way to be consistent Be realistic about your schedule and what you can fit it in, but find a way to do something on a regular basis.
  • Keep it short and simple to start Make it easy to succeed. Begin with something you can do in 5 minutes, and then build up from there.
  • Go for action not perfection  You just have to do something - it doesn't have to be a great something.
  • Make it a priority put it in your calendar and make it as important as putting out the trash or picking your kids up from school
  • Have accountability tell someone your plan, have a buddy doing the same thing, or post your results on social media. 
  • Do something that meets a need or fulfills a desire  this is key: whatever you decide to do, it needs to be something you actually WANT to do. 

And what happens when you feed your inner artist?  It grows.
If you're interested in getting regular tasty ideas and exercises to nourish your inner artist delivered to your inbox, try my 8-week online class "The Creative Conversation: Finding Your Voice" that opens February 10, 2014.


Tuesday, January 28, 2014

Welcome to the Chinese New Year: Resolutions vs. Mantras

January is almost over, and for many of us, that means our New Year's Resolutions have already cracked or broken under the pressure of everyday life.  
I'm taking solace in two things

First, Chinese New Year is January 31st, which means an opportunity to start fresh!  Hurray for the year of the yang wood horse!

Second, I didn't make any New Year's Resolutions. 
Instead of a list of resolutions, what I have for the new year is a mantra.  I did this in 2013 and it worked.  Really well.  According to Wikipedia, a mantra is a "group of words believed . . .to have psychological and spiritual power. . . The spiritual value of mantra comes when it is audible, visible or present in thought." I think of it as one step more powerful than an intention. 
My 2013 mantra? "I am enough. I have enough."  I wanted to shift that feeling that I needed to do more in order to be good enough.
I would say it to myself when I was falling asleep, standing in line, driving, or restless. And I would say it anytime I realized I was about to do (or had done) something out of insecurity. I never said it out loud, though you certainly could. Eventually, my thinking started to shift. Those words would just pop into my head when I hit an awkward situation: I started to believe the words at a deeper level and they began to impact my actions.  That mantra was a great tool not only for change.

This year, as I looked at things in my life that I wanted to shift, I thought about how much I let myself get distracted from what I'm actually good at - making stuff and helping other people make stuff.  Over the past few years, I've spent a lot of time on non-profit administration and advising entrepreneurs, among other things.  They were worthwhile tasks, and I was ok at doing them, but I wasn't great. I was doing them to make money, or to gain approval, or because I thought people needed me. 

The thing is, they weren't really mine to do.  I'm happiest, most productive, most energetic, most excited, when I'm doing what I'm really meant to do.  Making art, teaching art, facilitating creativity, exploring creativity and sharing those explorations with others. I know what work is mine to do, and I have solid skills that enable to do that work well.  And if I focus on it, all the other things I want come into line.  I've just had a really hard time trusting that, believing it on a gut level.

So the new mantra?  "I know my work. I own my skill."  It's my reminder to stay true to my own creative path.

If you've made a creative commitment to yourself for 2014 - be it to make more art, spend more time in the studio, learn a new technique, let go of perfectionism - having a mantra can help. 

What makes a good mantra?
  • It's short. No more than 8 syllables. Cut out all the non-essentials.
  • It's easy to remember, maybe even a bit poetic or rhythmic.  This is the hard part - I'm still tweaking my current mantra a bit. 

  • You can say it during or around a single deep breath.  
  • It's in the first person, or is a directive.  In other words, you're either saying what you are or you're telling yourself to do something. "Be Bold" and "I'm never in a rush" are both mantras that I've seen other people use successfully.
  • It's a simple action or an attitude. In other words, reminds you of a way that you can be in the moment. It's not dependent on anyone else.
  • It's something you're very close to believing or doing.   Maybe something you accept intellectually, but are having a hard time getting it at an emotional level or following through on in real life. 
  • It's a reminder at decision time. Thinking about whether or not to fit in one last email before you rush out the door to get to that appointment? "I'm never in a rush." Trying to decide whether or not to apply to that art show? "Be Bold." 

Curious about the images?  They were all taken as I worked on the sample for "Make Your Mark!" a full-day workshop that's coming up right after the Chinese New Year. If you're interested in jump-starting your creative 2014, and in exploring personal imagery and your creative mantra, join me for "Make Your Mark!" February 2nd in Milwaukie, OR.