Friday, June 24, 2011

Summer Reading: Plaster Studio

I was so excited to finally get my copy of Plaster Studio! This is a book by two great artists and great teachers - Stephanie Lee and Judy Wise. I've been lucky enough to take a class from Stephanie Lee, and Judy Wise saved my bacon once when I was teaching down in Arizona and ran out of encaustic medium. So, no, I didn't get a free review copy, but am a bit biased in favor of these lovely ladies . . .

I was delighted that the book includes instructions for one of my favorite Stephanie Lee techniques - Cracked Burlap! Part of why I'm so excited to get this book and learn more about working with plaster is that it's a wonderful substrate for encaustic. Once dry, it's rigid and absorbent - the perfect surface for wax.

And the smooth but cracked surface she manages to create are very tempting to me.

And the instructions are really well done - step by step photos, with the written directions right underneath. And the detailed information about different types of plaster and how to use them - AMAZING!

The book even offers ideas for making three-dimensional substrates - cages, nichos, shrines, vessels. And all of them can be decorated with mixed media - I lean towards encaustics, but acrylics can also be used. The book includes ideas for both.

In fact, the only minor complaint I have about this book is that it includes projects with instructions to put wax over acrylic . . . something I've learned to think of as a no-no. (Imagine dripping candle wax on a plastic tablecloth and how easily the wax will chip off when it's cool - encaustic on acrylic doesn't generally create a very stable bond).

That said, a lot of people - including Stephanie Lee and Judy Wise - use encaustic over acrylic all the time very successfully. They use thin coats of acrylic on very absorbent surfaces so that the wax can still penetrate the surface.

Bottom line, I loved the book. I read it cover to cover, and am adding it to my list of "must have" reference books for encaustic - especially for those who are interested in doing dimensional or sculptural work.

Thursday, June 23, 2011

Summer Reading: At Home with Handmade Books

A month or so ago, I got a surprise in the mail: My very first ever freebie crafty item to review! Yup, this is the disclaimer - this book was sent to me to review, completely unsolicited: At Home with Handmade Books by Erin Zamrzla.

I have quite a few books from the publisher, Shambhala. Titles like Art Heals by Shaun McNiff and Art is a Spiritual Path by Pat B. Allen. But I didn't even know they did full color how-to craft books!

But they do, and there is a similar philosophy expressed. The projects are beautiful, simple, practical and useable. The focus of the book is using recycled and reclaimed materials to make new and functional books. At Home with Handmade Books includes projects that use socks, tea bags, and sponges - and includes books that hold recipes, serve as pincushions, and double as sachets.

I loved this recycle-bin book project - it uses old hardback books and turns them into journals with blank interiors and Japanese-style binding. I love changing up the binding from hardback to hand-stitched!

There's also a whole series of travel books that you can make to feature collected postcards or store road trip souvenirs . . .

This though, is my favorite project . . . it's a book made of ziplock bags that you can use to store collage tidbits! I don't do a lot of bookmaking, but this is one I would absolutely make!

And the instructions are very easy to understand . . . something that's a challenge with complicated and precise projects like bookmaking.

Wednesday, June 15, 2011

Making with Heart

The Rebel Craft Rumble is happening tonight - it's a big fundraiser for SCRAP. I'm one of only four contestants competing for the chance to go up against last year's Craft Master, Sister Diane. It's quite an honor - and quite a challenge. One of my competitors, Miss Demeanor of Criminal Craft fame, has been talking some trash on Twitter about me . . . in a friendly, may-the-best-crafter-win, get-my-goat kind of a way. (To be fair, so has Sister Diane. And I haven't exactly been a shy flower). So, now I'm just gonna make it official and throw down the glue gun gauntlet right now.

What the heck makes me think I've got what it takes to compete with the top crafters Portland has to offer? Well, besides an incredible amount of hubris . . . perseverance and a willingness to try a lot of crazy stuff until something works.

A few months ago, I was working on an installation for Mad/50 with the theme "The Commons." I struggled with this thing. I was working with the idea of common space, the spaces and places that we share and hold in common. National parks, sidewalks, monuments, and even churches. I started off with this.

I like the trees and the background maps of Mt. Hood. They set the tone for the kind of common space I was looking for . . .

But it just wasn't workin' for me. The two women talking over the fence? Nope . . . too literal. Cheesy. The big church window? I liked the idea of it and set it aside. What the piece needed was heart, soul, some kind of center.

So I tried to make a heart - home is where the heart is, and that's the real common space. I really went for it . . . I went dimensional, used plaster, paint, cord . . . the whole nine yards.

Yeah. It looks like . . . well. Some kind of dead squid thing. From a bad horror movie. Needless to say, it didn't make it into the final version. I kept trying to work with the church window . . . but it was just too big. In frustration, I went in a completely different direction. Circles, connected.

By a slightly less frightening, but still symbolically open, heart.

And here I am with the final piece where it was installed at SE Madison and 50th in Portland. Yup. I kept at it - through the crazy squid heart phase and all the things that didn't work. I kept at it. So look out, Miss Demeanor. It's you and me in the first round, and I am Gonna. Keep. At. It.

And if I'm lucky, I'll make it work! May the best crafter win.