Last week’s Art Journal Adventure prompt was to create a mosaic or patchwork design. I have had it in the back of my mind that I need to be making more frequent and better use of my small gelli plate press and I thought this prompt would be a great opportunity to use it.
I painted my art journal page black in the hopes that it would make subsequent layers of colour pop. I then used the small rectangular gelli plate to place oblongs of colour around the page, allow some to overlap. For the first layer, I used just whole blocks of colour. For the next layer of printing, however, I used stencils to create visual texture. Finally, I used ghost prints of leaf shaped masks hoping they would give the piece some focus, some place for the eyes to rest.
Once all the printing was dry, I picked up some black and white paint pens and outlined the leaf shapes and some marks reminiscent of stitching in order to create more of a patchwork feel to the page. The outcome is not great but I enjoyed the process and will definitely try to pick up that small gelli plate for often to create layered backgrounds in mixed media pieces.
This week’s Art Journal Adventure prompt was to use a hand on the page. Well pants! I used my hand shapes a few weeks ago in a different journal page. My challenge, therefore, was to come up with a quick, easy, simple idea that neither duplicated or echoed the page I had created before – or any other journal pages where I had used my hand as inspiration. Since the previous page had started with my hand shape and built up from there – using masses of colourful dots – I had the idea of doing the reverse and starting with the hand silhouette and peeling away a layer. Skeleton hand! I have a bit of a thing for (not anatomically correct) skeleton drawings at the moment so I was enthused by the idea.
I had to create a background for my page. Wanting a bit of a macabre feel for the skeleton hand, I opted for a red and green colour scheme, connotations of flesh, blood, putrefaction, and decay. Having so recently had such a sucky result from using my gelli plate, I decided to give it another whirl and see if I could get a better result. This time I used my miniature gelli-plate in the hopes it would provide me with a bit more control over the placement, slow me down a bit, and make me think. I used it to build up a patchwork of red and green rectangles. The red and green looked a bit bogging together but that was, after all, part of the point and the feel I was aiming for.
When it came to the hand, I drew around my own hand and filled it in with black acrylic paint. I used Dylusions paint as I find that black gives a really rich black, smooth, velvety finish which is ideal for drawing on top of. Once that was dry, it was just a case of using a white paint pen to draw in the bones. I had a quick glance at a photo of a skeletal hand but clearly did not make my drawing anatomically correct.
Some weeks my creative mojo is sorely lacking. There can be many contributing factors, of course, but there are short periods of time where whatever I put my hand to is mediocre at best. Last week was one such week. I do remember the many times I experience success with my art and I also value the calming, restorative, recharging effect of having worked on art even when the outcome isn’t what I would hope for. Nevertheless, last week was one of those weeks where nothing I did in terms of art was pulling together. The pieces never emerged from the ugly phase. They just got uglier.
The first piece was produced in response to a Life Book lesson taken by Jodi Ohl. It was all about adding typography to a colourful, layered background. Layering has long been one of my art nemeses so I knew it was going to be a challenge. Sometimes I rise to the challenge but not this time. The palette of bright colours I added worked with each other for maybe two layers and then they started to fight with each other and then they somehow lost their vibrancy and looked not so much like mud but like sludge. I tried to knock back areas by negative painting in thinned gesso and that only served to make everything look more dull and grey. In a last ditch effort, I added some Neocolor II inside the feather shapes, trying to obliterate the underlying layers. That pop of colour rescued the piece from going into the trash but I still found the whole piece to be unsatisfactory. Having used gritty gesso, I decided not to waste the nib of any pens on this piece and instead stamped out lines from the famous Emily Dickinson poem around the feather shapes. I was glad to see the back of this piece and move on to something else.
Alas, the thing I moved onto was a page in my art journal, a response to the Art Journal Adventure prompt for the week. The idea was to use curvy and round elements. I had not used my gelli plate for a while and the youngest kids were up for having a play with it too so I decided that that would be my tool and technique for this week’s page. I have not experimented much with printing directly into my art journal from the gelli plate so that was my personal challenge. I chose to push the journal down onto the plate. Perhaps things would have worked out better had I flopped the plate onto the paper instead but I doubt it. I cut out some circles and curvy arch shapes from shipping envelopes to use as masks in different layers. The first couple of layers looked pretty good but there was not enough interest for me to quit while I was ahead. I pushed on with a further layer and obliterated what had been a nice little area on the page. That was annoying but I pushed on hoping that subsequent layers would lead to some other interesting shapes and textures and contrasts emerging. Unfortunately, that was not what happened. I think I need more regular practice with gelli printing in order to develop some skill with it, some idea of how to achieve different looks rather than my haphazard, slapdash way of doing things. I got to the point where I was sick of the sight of the page so decided that was a good reason to stop. I finished it all off by gluing down some of the circle masks I had been using.
It was not a good week for art, therefore, but I am choosing to focus on the positive of the flaws and failings being learning opportunities. I have, as stated above, learned that I need to actually plan out what I am doing with the gelli plate rather than just shoving elements together and hoping for the best. The solution is more practice. I have a small gelli plate so perhaps I will keep that to hand and have a play with it more frequently to see if I can develop some sort of process that works for me. I have also learned that layering remains something that I struggle with and I should probably just conclude that it is not my thing and stick to techniques that do work for me. Investing time and energy into approaches that result in pleasing outcomes is ultimately going to be more fulfilling than trying to learn a technique that eludes me. It is OK for me to hone the skills I possess instead of chasing after the ones I don’t. My mojo will return.
I mentioned how rusty my art skills were when posting about Pink Girl. Well, a little bit of drawing and watercolour was not enough to bring my skills back to their former standard. It seems that two weeks of no drawing might necessitate at least two weeks of art practice to restore me to my former ability. I write this by way of introduction to my first Let’s Face It artwork since our road trip because the outcome was hideous.
The lesson was taken by Lucy Brydon and incorporated gelli printing on tissue and painting on top of a tissue background. The current theme being to paint faces and hands, it was necessary to build a hand into the composition. I went wrong in so very many ways. The skin tone is ghastly, almost cadaverous, because I did a terrible job with the underpainting and layering. I tried warming it up by plonking more media on top of the acrylic but that just made her less corpse-like and more deathly ill. I also totally screwed up the proportional relationship between the hand and face. The detail of my gelli prints was entirely lost to the extent that I may as well have skipped that stage of creation, though I do quite like the texture of the background. I like the red hair against the green (though the hair lacks interest and texture) but I think I did a better job with this colour palette way back in the second lesson. In short, this painting is a hot mess. Even my kids, normally my best and most committed cheerleaders, looked at this painting and screwed up their noses and struggled for something positive to say. It was frustrating as I spent more time on this painting than I really had free and it all feels a bit like time wasted but I need to remember that even my most rubbish paintings, even my mistakes, are learning opportunities.
It’s Week 48 on the Life Book course and what a busy week it is. I cannot believe it is Week 48 already. Where on earth has this year gone? It has absolutely whipped by. Aside from everything we have done and accomplished in Pict family life, I have crammed a lot of art into this year. That makes me happy. As this year draws to a close (because – seriously – it is week 48 already!) I am already making plans for the arty bit of my life for next year. I am signed up to do Life Book 2016 and I just learned a few days ago from the lovely Julia Osterc of Loving Road that I have won a place on a Mixed Media Mythology course. How cool is that? I am also considering signing up for another course called Let’s Face It. Meanwhile, I still have my Altered Book of Monsters project on the go and I will probably embark on another 100 Artworks Challenge having completed my Crazy Critters. Hmmmm. That’s quite a lot now that I am looking at it all listed. It’s good to have goals and challenges though, right?
So with the prospect of a busy year of art ahead, this week was a busy week for art. I was playing catch up with Life Book and Week 48 had three elements to it. First up was a lesson with Donna Downey about using what she calls a “smush book”. I have been using one for a few months now but I call it my sidekick journal. It is a small journal in which I smear my unused paint and other media so that they don’t go to waste. I then use that journal for quick wee sketches when I am out and about, such as when I am sitting outside my 8 year old’s guitar lesson. Downey demonstrated using the random smears in her “smush book” through painting in the negative space. Her resulting image was about muses. I used the excess paint from my Autumn Fairy to create a more harmonious random page. I must have still been in a fairy frame of mind as that was the muse figure I carved out when I began painting in the negative space. I like using negative spaces so this was a fun technique and one I am sure I will use again in my “sidekick journal”.
The other two bonus lessons this week were from Lynzee Lynx and Tamara Laporte. Tamara’s lesson was an introduction to gelli plate printing. I don’t get my gelli plate out too often but when I do I really enjoy it and produce print after print after print which I can use as backgrounds in journal pages or as collage papers. I didn’t get my gelli plate out for this Life Book lesson but instead dipped into my file of collage materials and selected a gelli print. It was one I had just filed away, a ghost print from the fish journal page I had just created. I decided to use this gelli print as the background for Lynx’s lesson, thus combining the two, saving me time and helping me catch up a bit with my art projects. Lynx’s lesson was about playfully fusing words to create new, fun words that can be used in art journalling and other creative projects. I am familiar with portmanteau words because my husband and oldest son deploy them all the time, much to their amusement. As I happened to be drinking a mug of tea while I was thinking about art, I decided to fuse the words “Art” and “Tea”, two simple things that make me happy. My definition of “ArTea” is “Tea in which a paint brush has been dunked mistaking the cup for the adjacent jar of water”. That is something I have done several times. I am pretty sure most arty tea drinkers have done the same.
And now I am all caught up in time for the Thanksgiving holiday.
In order to catch up with the Documented Life Project challenges, I decided to combine two together. The challenges involved using a hand carved stamp and using masks. I used the gelli plate to construct a background in my journal page. I cut some chunky, wiggly lines from cardboard and used those as masks on the gelli plate to print on to a page collaged with text pages. By moving them around on the gelli plate with each change of colour, I achieved some nice layering. That gave me some water. Next I needed the fish. I had some scraps of lino so I used those to carve two fish stamps. Using block printing ink and a baren, I printed one fish – different from the rest – swimming in a different direction from the rest of the shoal. I was thinking about the need for each person to find their own way in life, the importance of not just following the herd (or shoal) but making informed and active decisions instead, of celebrating non-conformity, of how life is richer because of diversity and difference. Maybe I should have added a quotation to make the message explicit but I like to think the image, for all its simplicity, conveys the ideas well enough.
Hokusai was the next artist we studied in our History of Art summer project. We looked at his woodblock prints, especially his series The Thirty-Six Views of Mount Fuji. The boys and I all loved a number of the prints but were all drawn to The Great Wave off Kanagawa and declared it to be our favourite. We then discussed why that particular print is not only Hokusai’s most celebrated work but also why it has become so iconic. We personally liked the fact that the print is almost monochrome and that the curving shapes of the waves lead the eye through the image while also framing Mount Fuji. I also like the fact that the wave dominates the image while the tiny figures, clinging to their boats, are almost lost in the composition, suggesting the power of nature versus the powerlessness of humanity. Unsurprisingly, we all chose to create version of the Great Wave in the creative part of the lesson.
You will have noted that it is either Minecraft or penguins with my oldest son so I was not in the least bit surprised when he decided to depict penguins in his drawing. The penguins are surfing and the sun has become some sort of monster. He did manage to include Mount Fuji in his drawing. He had noted Hokusai’s calligraphy in a box within the print so he researched how to write “penguin” in Japanese characters and added that to his drawing. At least, he tells me it says “penguin”.
My 8 year old also went with the surfing idea. I think the figures are either superheroes or ninjas but one is riding a surfboard and one is riding a sea serpent. I like the fact he has turned Mount Fuji into a character.
My 9 year old went a bit mythological with his drawing. He depicted Neptune commanding the waves so that a figure in the foreground can surf.
My 6 year old and I decided to do something a bit different and got out the gelli plate so we could produce some prints. We used paper to create our own wave shaped masks and stencils with mixed results: they worked very effectively at first but soon ripped when they became soggy with paint. My 6 year old achieved some really lovely textures with his print and some pleasing sweeping curves with his wave shapes.
My youngest son’s gelli plate print was actually far more effective than mine. My composition was not as effective and, while I had some areas of lovely texture, there was not enough definition between areas of colour. I decided, therefore, to embellish my print. Oddly this is not something I had done with gelli prints before. I normally use the gelli plate to produce papers for collaging with rather than to produce compositions. I used various shades of blue and white acrylic paint to make the wave shapes more distinctive. I love using dots in my art work so I used different sizes of dots to create a visual echo of surf and white horses capping the waves. I used a metallic blue paint for the dots which, along with a pearlescent blue used in the gelli print, created a nice shimmer to the finished piece.
If you would like to see my Great Wave inspired Crazy Bunny over on my art blog, please click here.