This week’s Documented Life Project prompt was simply “stars”. I immediately thought of Van Gogh’s painting known as ‘Starry Night’, which has been one of my favourite paintings since early childhood and decided to use it as the inspiration for my Art Journal page.
I started by creating a monoprinted background using my gelli plate. I layered up a light blue paint then a mid-blue pearlescent paint in order to create a sheen and lustre to the night sky. I then added a stronger blue and dragged swirling marks through it using a pencil top eraser that I had snipped to turn it into a tiny comb. Added to the previous layers, this then became the swirling sky for my piece. Once dry – because I am learning my lessons about not rushing things – I splattered gold paint onto the background. Having enjoyed the loss of control that came with splattering and splashing to create my Autumn journal page a few weeks ago, I deployed that technique again in order to create the stars. I had so much fun splattering that I did not notice I was spraying not only all over the table but also the kitchen seats and wall. Oops. It all cleaned up OK thankfully but it took a lot of elbow grease. Another lesson learned. It created a lovely, glistering look to my page though. With the bigger blobs, I dragged a toothpick from the centre in order to create rays for the stars.
While the sky was drying, I decided to make some little houses. I followed the steps laid out in a tutorial I watched recently because the houses created by the artist looked cute and naive and I liked the collage element. I gathered together some scraps from gelli prints and also some pages from a book. The little houses were so easy to make that I was able to construct them while watching a movie. Multitasking. I ended up making way more houses than I needed but that meant I could choose the ones that worked best on my page and I also have some spare for another project. I adhered my little row of houses to the bottom of the page to be my little village nestling under the stars.
So here’s my Art Journal page inspired by Van Gogh and created to the tune of Don McLean’s ‘Starry Night’. It’s a big improvement on last week’s terrible DLP page.
This week’s Documented Life Project prompt was to use polka dots. Remember how I felt about neon? Well I feel much the same way about polka dots. I think 1980s ra-ra and puffball skirts killed polka dots for me. I also have an odd visual tic when it comes to dots in that they go blurry or vibrate making it difficult for my eyes to focus on them. That’s one of the reasons why I found it too challenging to learn to read music fluently and why I read the spots on dice through pattern rather than the dots themselves. Polka dots are not my friend.
As I am still embroiled in my drawing a day challenge and also had lots of chores to plough through, I decided to take what I thought would be a quick and easy path to making a polka dot page in my art journal. I decided to create a circle filled gelli plate background which I intended to then collage over with a circles cut from a second, complementary gelli plate. Well, despite sticking to three paint colours – turquoise, lime and hot pink – which looked good together in the bottle, all I managed to make in layering up my prints was mud. It looked like melted ice cream. In the worst way. One gelli print was so ugly, I decided to not waste any more time and paint trying to rescue it. I plumped for using the other print, however, on the basis that I was running short on time. Setting myself up for more disaster, in other words. I cut down the print to page size, thus chopping off the most offensively ugly part of the print. Then I used various discarded household objects – an empty sticky tape roll, the end of a pencil, a wine cork, a pencil top eraser – and used those to stamp on top of the gelli print using black, white, the lime and the pink. My last effort with it was to stick down a piece of dotty washi tape along the edge where I had cut down the print because it was slightly too narrow for my art journal page. Certainly printing with the various circles helped punch back some of the worst effects of the pastel mud I had created but still there is no denying that my response to this week’s challenge is not cutting the mustard.
I am, therefore, chalking up this week to a learning experience. I have learned that polka dots are probably still not my thing but I actually quite like the effect of the circles stamped from all those found objects. I have learned that colours that look lovely together in their bottles don’t necessarily look lovely when layered into a print. I enjoyed having a break from the focused, controlled style of drawing I have been doing for my Greek Mythology challenge by doing something that was just “go with the flow” and an experiment without a vision of the outcome but I have learned that maybe a little more thought is required than the pretty much zero thought I invested if such a freestyle approach is going to ever be successful.
I feel as if I am taking two steps forward and one step back with this year’s foray into art journalling and mixed media but that’s still progress I suppose.
Here’s a photo of my polka dot disaster. In real life it is much brighter and more vivid but for some reason the camera on my phone has made it go more insipid just to rub the salt in.
I was so tardy with last week’s Documented Life Challenge that I had no sooner finished it than I had the prompt for this week. My challenge page last week was a creative muddle because I rushed and did not put enough (or any) thought into what I was doing before I embarked on shoving things together on the page. Lesson learned, this week I gave myself enough time (half an hour) and waited until I had enough inspiration to form a vision of what my finished page might look like. Only then did I start creating.
This week’s prompt was to incorporate a fortune from a fortune cookie. We don’t eat a lot of takeaway generally and when we do we almost never order Chinese food. It’s not that we don’t like Chinese cuisine, because we really do, but Chinese takeaway is so often claggy and heavy and disappointing that we always choose a different option. Usually Mexican or pizza. I also don’t like fortune cookies. Unsurprisingly, therefore, I did not have any fortunes in my small stash of ephemera. Another challenge group member, however, suggested using an online fortune cookie generator so I used that. I confess that the first fortune I received was something so mundane that I immediately hit the button to try again. The second attempt was much better: “Now is the time to try something new”.
When I think of Chinese food, I think of red and gold colours. I think that is probably because it was the decor in my local Chinese restaurant when I was little as much as it is about those being traditional Chinese colours. I also understand that in Chinese culture red is symbolic of good luck and joy and gold signifies wealth so those colours seemed apt for a challenge thatrevolved around “fortune”. I began, therefore, by rummaging through my stash of gelli plate prints to find one that was red in hue and found one that was red and orange. That became the base of my page. I wrote the fortune out on a piece of white paper. It’s still just a neat, controlled version of my own handwriting – I really must take the time to teach myself typography and learn some fonts. After that, I just raked around among my bits and bobs pulling out anything that was red or gold. I had the packaging from an oolong teabag and some postage stamps so I glued those down. Since the fortune was about new things it is probably fortuitous that I picked out some British stamps and some American ones since that could represent my change in location and starting over in line with the fortune’s theme. However, there was no such grand design involved: I just picked them out because of the colour. I may also have committed treason by gluing the Queen’s head upside down on the page. To tie all the disparate elements together, I globbed on some circles of red tempera paint using the end of a wine cork and scraped and blobbed on some gold tempera paint using both ends of an old pencil. Finally, I stamped two gold butterflies onto the page. Again, I could claim that the butterflies communicate with the theme of change implied in the fortune due to the metamorphosis of the butterfly but actually I did it simply because it is one of the few stamps I own and because there was already a butterfly shape on the gelli print.
In contrast with last week’s effort, I was pretty pleased with how this challenge page turned out. The elements harmonised with each other and tied into the theme and I do like how what the translucency of the low quality tempera paints can add to a page to tie elements together without concealing them.
So what are the new things I should be trying? Well this past year, emigrating to a new country, has been about non-stop new experiences. Thinking more creatively, however, I am trying new skills and techniques and materials since I embarked on art journalling. I am also working on some ideas for my first venture into lino block printing in more than one colour, so that’s something new. I am also seriously considering – once we are all settled, the kids are all in school and I have established a decent routine that gives me some free time – setting up an Etsy store as a means of selling my art which will definitely be a new venture. But the immediate “new” on my horizon is another change of house, another house move.
It has emerged that my two youngest sons love to print. As eager as they are to try block printing, at 5 and 7 they are too young to handle the tools plus those materials are expensive. We have, however, been experimenting together with the gelli plate and making oodles of monoprints. I love this because I thoroughly enjoy creating with them. I like to think that I will inspire them to continue being creative throughout their lives, that they will derive pleasure and satisfaction and a sense of calm from the act of creating something, anything, as I do. I also love creating with them because, frankly, it gives me a much-needed opportunity to do something creative myself. Especially during this lengthy school break, time for myself is in very short supply so working with them, all taking turns, affords me the chance to invest in myself with a little bit of art. Finally, I also love creating with them because they inspire me: they don’t worry about end results, technical hitches or over-think things; they just get stuck in and have a go. I need to be more like that. Definitely.
Recently, the three of us decided to get the gelli plate out and make some more monoprints and the two boys hit upon the idea of using leaves from the garden as masks. I remembered seeing a post on Debbie Osborn’s blog where she used plant materials to create charming monoprints so I knew their idea was feasible. Out into the garden we went, gathering our materials. Despite it having been their idea, the boys soon gave up on using plants and used stencils and their fingers to create their prints instead. I, however, persevered. Initially, my prints were truly mediocre as I forgot entirely that the leaves would act as complete masks and leave white paper beneath and that, therefore, a bit of layering was required. Ultimately, I think my post successful prints were actually the ghost prints made when I used paper to pull the marks that were left behind on the plate by the initial print. None of my results were stellar but experimentation is part of the learning process and I certainly enjoyed myself.
My kids gifted me a gelli plate for Mother’s Day so that I could rediscover and relearn monoprinting. However, I had not had time to even open the box until the summer break arrived. A couple of days ago, therefore, my youngest two children and I decided to mess around and have fun with the gelli plate. As we were just messing around and as my youngest children are just 5 and 7, I decided we would just use tempera paint. As long as we worked quickly, the tempera paint worked well. If we left the paint sitting too long on the surface, it would begin to pull away from the surface, creating little freckles of pigment-free space on the surface of the gelli plate. However, the upside of working at high speed is that we didn’t have time to overthink what we were doing or plan; we just had to go for it, be instinctive and decisive and just randomly experiment with ways of masking or mark making.
It was a great success. My boys absolutely loved it. The seven year old said it was the most fun art thing he had ever done. He might be exaggerating but certainly they had great fun printing and were very proud of their results. A lady at the Art Journalling MeetUp group I go along to kindly donated some stencils to me so the boys had a whale of a time playing with those. They also used some die cut shapes to create masks and eventually decided to create marks in the paint using their fingers. The seven year old was most proud of the poster he made of Caesar (from ‘Rise of the Planet of the Apes’) and an abstract landscape. The five year old was most proud of a print he did inspired by brains. Yes, brains. My most successful pieces were actually created by lifting the leftovers from the gelli plate and building up layers of these on one piece of paper and also the paper I used for cleaning the brayer. So happy accidents rather than intentional creations.
We definitely enjoyed using the gelli plate and will experiment with it again.