“Enchanted Forest”

It’s been a long time since my last post, but I haven’t been idle. My art is currently showing at the Root until the end of May, and I have been preparing for the Vermilion Community Art Show which is on Friday April 11th and 12th, as well as an art exhibition in June for the Vermilion Public Library. Since my last post, I have ventured into the world of textured acrylics. Modelling paste, textured mediums and high gloss varnish are my new passion.

Since my mother passed away in 2009, I have been thinking of ways to preserve my Filipino heritage in the lives of my children. Having grown up in Canada all my life, and as close relatives age and pass away, I find that I am missing our big Filipino get family get togethers – the scent of the cooking rice, adobo and frying lumpia; the sounds of Tagalog being spoken throughout the house. Then I remembered a small puppy figurine made from seashells that my godfather gave me as a gift when my family and I visited the Philippines in 1979. Of course, there’s no way to get a hold of the actual seashells required to make such art here in the Prairies! But thinking of these little sculptures inspired a desire to replicate the textures and colors of seashells in my paintings.

As artists, we are continually influenced by the world around us, (or at least I feel that I am), and one of the things that I love to do is to read fairy tales to my children. I love seeing and hearing their reactions to the magical tales of princesses and dragons, magical forests, and haunted castles. So I decided to combine these two important things in my life…the memories of seashell art from my childhood, and the current memories that I am making with my own children through the joy of fairy tales – and thus my most recent collection was born. Imagine magical forested glens teeming with lush foliage, grappling vines, and carnivorous blooms juxtaposed with the rich textures of seashells. “Enchanted Forest” was a labor of love, for which the resulting artwork elicited reactions that varied from wonder, amazement, wrinkled noses and quizzical looks from those close to me who have seen it. I love that these creations are stimulating conversations about art – abstract versus still life, acrylic versus oils, art as something that is just pretty to look at versus art that may not be so pretty but that stimulates the imagination. These conversations have been had in my home with family members and friends ranging in age from three years old to seventy. I am so excited about this collection, and it will make its debut at the Vermilion Art Show this weekend. Here is a sneak peek at my process. It is radically different for me from my more ‘traditional’ floral oils, but they were a joy and an adventure to create. When I first scraped the palette knife across my clean canvas, I felt such a great surge of creative joy and freedom – I hope that you enjoy it too!

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These were the tools that I used for my “Enchanted Forest”. I chose Liquitex Light Modelling Paste for its airy, low weight, high peak properties. It was easy to handle, and I loved the opaque, pure white color of it. I also preferred to use silicone palette knives because the soft flexible heads made it easier to make the petals for each little flower. I used basic professional grade heavy body acrylic paints. I started off of course, by making a background. See the pictures below.

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I then used some of my own “secret” techniques (don’t we all have our own personal styles and processes – just like magicians) to get the textural effects that I wanted. The paint and modelling paste went on in several layers, so the paintings were finished over the course of a week or so with drying time. Here is one of the paintings with the start of the flowers.

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My final products would have been quite heavy if I’d used regular density modelling paste. Here is a couple of pics from the side showing the depth and texture of the paintings.

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And here are pictures of the finished products. I’d added metallic accents because when I think of “enchanted” or ‘magical”, sparkly pixie dust comes to mind…

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I also did a large floral for this collection, textured with modelling paste and beautiful Liquitex Glass Bead Medium. I love how this flower pops out of the canvas. The high gloss varnish I used for all the paintings in this collection added to the depth of the paintings. This flower evokes images of a lush jungle riddled with carnivorous blooms. Perhaps I was thinking of the 8 foot corpse plant we saw in Edmonton last year when I made this! Someone who saw it recently said it reminded them of graffiti (I loved this comparison)…another person said the colors reminded them of copper patina…hence the name of it, “Scarlett Patina”. Below are some photos of it, as well as a close up of the shimmering glass beads.

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Now I’m off to varnish my next painting, “Moon Bloom”, acrylic on 24×36 inch canvas…post to follow.

Pensive Phase 2

Pensive Phase 2

Pensive Phase 2

So I couldn’t wait to paint more of the orchid. While my husband watched “The Conjuring” (which is a very frightening movie in case you haven’t heard of it yet), I decided to work on it a little more. I found that I felt rushed using the acrylics mixed with the Slow-DRI, as compared to when I use oils. While drying time was definitely extended, I had to work a lot quicker to achieve the kind of blending I wanted, but a definite plus was that clean up was much easier. It is turning out a lot better than I expected, with a very similar look to my Funky Orchid which was done in oil. I have a lot more work to do on it, obviously, but I hope you like phase 2!

“Pensive” Phase 1

Pensive phase 1

Pensive phase 1

Here is a picture of the first stage of my next painting. It is on 3×3 foot canvas, and is #2 in my Cymbidium Orchid series, the first of which was “Funky Orchid”. I will be using acrylics for this painting (thanks Sarah Jane). I obtained some Liquitex Slow-DRI Blending Gel, as suggested by Sarah, and it worked like a dream! I didn’t use the heavy matte gel, mostly because it had a warning label on it that said it “contains a known carcinogen”. The label doesn’t disclose what this ingredient is, and I’ll have to do more research to find out what it is, unless someone would like to comment and let me know. Regardless, the slow-DRI works like a dream, the paint has a nice blendability to it, and according to package directions, you can add as much or as little as you want without diluting the paint color too much, or affecting binding. It feels a little different from oils, a bit more slick, and fast, like painting with (pardon this comparison) KY jelly. Over all, the effects were similar, although I can see the brush strokes more than with oils, even when I’ve run the blending brush over it, but that may be the way I paint. I feel the more visible brush strokes will add to this painting anyway, so I am very happy with the way it turned out. I will definitely be using acrylics more in the future! Stay tuned for Phase 2.

Suminagashi Recipes

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Finally the perfect viscosity and dispersion

Finally the perfect viscosity and dispersion

I decided to post some Suminagashi “how to’s” or at least the methods and recipes that I found successful. Suminagashi is the Japanese art of floating ink on water and then transferring the design onto paper. It is similar to paper marbling, and Turkish Ebru. I’ve adapted this tedious process for easy to access modern acrylics and canvases.

The first important “ingredient” is alum, or aluminum sulfate. It is a “mordant” that is very important if you will be marbling onto fabric or paper. Its purpose is to make the paint adhere to the paper or fabric. I found that I didn’t really need it on gesso primed canvas, and whether I sponged it on the canvas beforehand and allowed it to dry before using, didn’t seem to make a difference as to whether the acrylic paint was going to adhere to the canvas. The recipe is 2 TB per pint of water. Just stir it together and sponge it all over the object you want to marble. I had a heck of a time finding alum in my grocery store. I finally found it with the spices as people use it to harden the starch in pickled vegetables so they remain crunchy.

The second important ingredient is “size”, or the medium upon which you float your paint or ink. Suminagashi traditionally used plain water for size, but Turkish Ebru uses thickened water. The water can be thickened with carrageenan, methyl cellulose, or corn starch. Some people even use liquid laundry starch right out of the bottle, although die-hard marblers will use either carrageenan or methyl cellulose. Carrageenan doesn’t keep well, and tends to degenerate in heat or humidity. It is made from sea weed. Methyl cellulose is best, but a little more pricey. Corn starch is harder to wash off the final marbled product. Surprisingly I couldn’t find liquid laundry starch anywhere in my local vicinity! Here are the recipes for carrageenan, methyl cellulose and corn starch size:

Carrageenan size

Marblers say you can get the finest, most detailed marbling from using carrageenan. It must be prepared in a blender. For a half-gallon:
Put 1 level tablespoon plus 1 level teaspoon of carrageenan powder into an empty blender cup. Fill it up to the top with cold water.Blend it on the highest speed for one minute. Then pour this foamy mixture into a half-gallon container (such as an empty plastic milk jug) and fill it on up to the top with water.
Shake it a bit to mix it. Let this mixture stand overnight in the refrigerator, or for at least 4 hours. This is to let the bubbles pop; it comes out of the blender as a mass of foam, and has to sit many hours before it all becomes liquid again. (adapted from marble art.us)

Methyl Cellulose

Methylcellulose Size
• Place 4 Tablespoons methylcellulose in a clean 2+ quart bowl. Pour 4 cups boiling water over the powder and stir gently to completely disperse powder. Do not create bubbles or froth.

• Add 4 cups ice water (can be all or part ice cubes). Stir gently to blend. Within 10 minutes, the liquid will quickly become thick and clear. Pour into clean tray, to a depth of 1-2″. It can be used immediately and, covered with plastic, will keep indefinitely. (Adapted from danielsmith.com)

Cornstarch Size

The following recipe will yield one gallon of stock solution that can be thinned as needed.

MATERIALS:

* Powdered cornstarch * Mixing bowl

* Stove or hot plate

* Measuring cup

* Water

* Slotted spoon or metal whisk

* Large saucepan

DIRECTIONS:

1. Add 1 cup cornstarch to 1 cup cold water in the mixing bowl.

2. Stir until completely dissolved.

3. Bring 3 quarts water to a rolling boil.

4. Add the boiling water to the cornstarch mixture in the mixing bowl.

5. Stir the mixture with a slotted spoon or metal whisk until thick and smooth.

6. When cool, pour into a gallon jug for storage (milk container works well).

7. Add water to equal 1 gallon (about 2-3 cups). The mixture will thicken as it cools. Add water for correct consistency before using as size.

(Adapted from Donald Gruber, Ed.D., 2001)

Obviously, for the purposes of Suminagashi on my large-sized canvases, I had to make gallons of size.

The third important ingredient for Suminagashi is the surfactant, specifically for the acrylic paints. If you are using ink, I’m not sure that you need surfactant. Surfactant makes the paint disperse on the surface of your size, and keeps the colors separate so that they don’t become one muddy brown mess. You can use ox gall, or a couple of drops of dish soap in 1/4 cup of water. The use of soap is controversial, some say the soap breaks down the acrylic paint.

The final important ingredient is the paint! I used fluid acrylics, some swear by airbrush paint, and still others prefer actual marbling paints. I wanted a “dreamy” quality to my paintings, so the light pastel-type colors that I achieved were exactly what I wanted. Other artists prefer very vibrant colors, and those are best achieved with airbrush paints or marbling paints. The secret here is not to over dilute the paints with water or use too much surfactant. Flow Aid, or airbrush medium is a good idea so you don’t overly dilute the binders in the paint.

Well, that is it in a nutshell! All you have to do now is paint on your prepared size, and then transfer it onto your chosen marbled object! The rest is up to you! Good luck with this artistic process, and if you have any tips for me, I’d love to hear them!

On bartering, acrylic and oils

My display at the Vermilion Art Show

My display at the Vermilion Art Show

My commission, and note my adorable assistant standing beside me!

My commission, and note my adorable assistant standing beside me!

Well, today marks the day of my very first post. It is my last day off for a few days, and then we have the May long weekend – Victoria Day here in Canada. It has been a busy few weeks, what with the Vermilion Art Show and Sale, and the children starting new extra curricular activities like outdoor soccer, and new sessions for swimming lessons.

The Art Show was a success for me. I wasn’t sure how my art would be received at a ‘live’ show, having only sold paintings off my old website. But I got generally positive reviews, and just packed and sent away one of my commissions from the show. (Pictures posted).

I am now working on a red Gerbera daisy (oil on 24×36 inch canvas) for a friend in Edmonton. We are actually bartering my painting services for her beautiful knitting. I love the concept of bartering, and I almost feel like we should be doing more of it in this modern day and age, where ‘plastic’ is the new currency. With bartering, ideally, everyone wins because everyone should come away from it with something of value. What are your thoughts on bartering?

When I first started painting I began with acrylics, as they are easy to work with and easy to clean – no truly poisonous chemicals to contend with. But I found that with their quick drying time, blending was a challenge, and even with flow retarder  and extenders, blending was hard to achieve – at least the way I wanted it to look. Does anyone have any suggestions for acrylic paint blending out there, other than working at super fast lightening speed? Lol.

So consequently, I moved to using oils – and never looked back, although cleaning brushes and the like is more tedious. I started off using solvents, but moved to using Murphy’s Oil soap after reading something about it on the net. Any thoughts on this? I have yet to try the water soluble oils I bought last week! I’d love to hear your opinions on this as well!

Anyway…I better fly, my daughter is clamoring to go outside and enjoy the wonderful Spring weather we finally have after 6.5 long months of winter!