The first lesson of Life Book 2016 was a warm up exercise taken by Tamara Laporte. It involved lots of layering with different techniques and media and also involved using our word of the year and a symbol that resonated with that word.
Until last year’s Life Book, I had never set a word of the year but it was a concept that intrigued me. Last year I chose Balance as my word and it was interesting how much it helped me to have that as a focus. Every time I, for instance, felt assuaged my guilt over sitting and doing some art rather than dusting I could remind myself that I was striving to build some balance back into my life and that involved making time for myself and investing in myself. I was not striving for anything as ridiculously impossible as a 50/50 balance, was not looking to have more than a reasonable amount of “me time”, nor did I want my investment in myself to impinge on family life, somehow interfere with my role as a wife and mother. However, my life was way out of kilter to a degree that I was discombobulated. Having the word “balance” in mind and setting that as my goal for 2015 really did help me strive to achieve that and ultimately I did attain much better balance in my life. I also realised through that process that even though I am constantly juggling a whole lot of balls and have a whole lot of different things that I am trying to keep in balance, it is absolutely OK for me to drop some of those balls. There are glass balls that are precious and vulnerable and too special to drop so those are the ones to focus on but if a few of those rubber balls fall – if the dusting doesn’t get done, if I make quick and easy pasta for dinner instead of the meal I had intended – that is OK.
This year, therefore, I thought long and hard about the word I wanted to set myself for the year. I thought long and hard and came up with nothing. I knew all of the things I wanted to achieve this year, the things I needed to tackle, overcome, things I needed to develop, but I could not distill that down into one word or even a pithy phrase. Finally, a friend suggested a word for me that encapsulated all of the things I was trying to concentrate into my focal point for the year: Momentum. My focus for this year is about taking the things I started last year, things in several areas of my life, and driving them forwards. There are things I really need to dig deep and fight to achieve, things I need to advocate strongly for, and there are things I want to gradually develop and refine and hone. Momentum works for both those drives and I like that it is a positive word that still chimes with some of the negative stuff I need to battle through. So Momentum it is.
It is interesting for me to compare the warm up piece I did for this year’s Life Book with the piece I did for Life Book last year – my first ever online art lesson indeed. Evidently, layering is something I still struggle with. Stencilling definitely continues to be my nemesis. However, I managed to build up the colours to be much bolder and I have also learned to have a much stronger focal point in much more abstract pieces – even though my arrow symbol went badly wrong because of the spray inks getting under my masked shape and reactivating all over the place. Baby steps is still progress though.
This week’s Life Book lesson was another exploration of layering, this time tutored by Kristin Van Valkenburgh. I took careful notes while watching the videos and followed the directions for each of the layers. I was forced to improvise a little since I do not own all of the materials used. Maybe that is where I went wrong because I did not manage to pull this piece together very effectively. I ended up with what looks like a puddle of brightly coloured ice cream as opposed to the lovely piece Van Valkenburgh ended up with. Oops. That said, the piece is incomplete. I am supposed to add a heart shaped pocket to the background to hold a letter written to my younger self. However, I don’t have any suitable material for constructing the pocket at present so that will have to wait until a future date. This piece, therefore, is the background.
This was a great learning opportunity though and I have a few things I can take away from this piece and apply it to future art projects. One layer involved stamping with and into gesso using a tool constructed from a cardboard tube. That is responsible for the textured circles in this piece and I liked the technique so I can see me using that again. The second layer was a liberal spraying with Dylusions ink and, because it can be reactivated, it was a bit of a pain to work with in subsequent layers. I am sure more experienced mixed media artists can manage with that quality of the product but in my case that is why everything became so overwhelmingly pink. I think, therefore, if I am to use Dylusions ink in a layered piece then it has to be one of the last layers. I feel as though I am taking one step forward and two steps back when it comes to layering but at least that means I am making some gradual progress, however plodding.
This week’s Life Book lesson was entitled “From Here to There”. Taught by Roben-Marie Smith, it was all about her particular process of taking a page from being a daunting blank sheet to being a many layered riot of texture and colour. Smith led we tutees through each mixed media layer, step by step, which I found to be incredibly useful scaffolding since layering does not come easily to me at all. The idea of colourful chaos was emphasised, the need to be playful and intuitive – which I struggle with as much as I do with layering – but I think I slipped out of the realm of aesthetically pleasing chaos and into a hodge-podge of a mess. I managed to avoid making sludgy mud out of all the different colours, which is a definite success story, but I think the whole thing really needed pulling together with a focal point to draw the eye and provide coherence instead of the eye darting around from one area to the next. However, I used many more layers than I usually use and I didn’t create ugly mud so I will still claim this as a small success.
More layering again with The Documented Life Project this week. This time the prompt was to use five layers. The prompts have had me practicing layering for weeks now so I was a bit at a loss as to what to do this time. However, my 7 year old son and I have been wanting to try creating a figure from collaged bits and pieces so we decided that would be the focus of our pages. I also wanted to teach my son a bit more about utilising complementary colours. We talked a bit about the colour wheel and I explained that I was going to try creating a background with yellow and purple. My son decided to use black and white. And then some grey too for good measure. Even though none of those is really a colour. Wee rebel.
We built up our background layers in our journals, working together in the same way. The first layer was ripped book pages collaged into our art journals; layer two was paint scraped across the surface of the collaged text; the third layer was stencilling; and the fourth layer was paint splatter and drips. The final layer was the figure collage. We used scraps of gelli print, washi tape and magazine pages. My 7 year old decided to make his figure look like a funny monster whereas my figure was just monstrous but in a fun way. My son was thrilled to be allowed to use Mummy’s special paint pens to add the finishing details. I wrote “Give yourself a high five” on my page to remind me that the prompt had been to use five layers and also because we had tried something new. Go us!
This is my son’s collage monster on his monochrome background:
And this is my funny faced figure on my yellow and purple background:
Making our collage figures was a total hoot. I think we will definitely create them again and take a bit more time over them so as to build in more variety and more details.
When I was teaching High School English, I found that my lessons would often involve some discussion of a tangent, sometimes a tangent so tenuously linked to the core of the lesson that the discussion would conclude with much head-scratching about how we had ever wandered onto the topic. It was all good, of course, because the students were still learning something plus it was often the memory of the tangent that would trigger them to remember a key detail about the actual lesson. I am connected to many of my former students on Facebook and I find it amusing and interesting to learn what information from my lessons they still remember vividly all of these years on. I have found the same to be true of travel also. The most memorable episodes from our road trips and city wanderings tend not to be the things we planned in advance but the random encounters and the stumbled upon places. I argue, therefore, that tangents have merit, that tangents are worth exploring.
And all of the above is preamble rather than a tangent because it was a tangential thought that led to the creation of this week’s art journal page.
The prompts for the Documented Life Project this week were “cover up good stuff” and “going undercover” as part of the continuing theme of layering. I think the intention was that the group members should take an appealing base layer, something appealing, something effort had been invested in, and that layer would act as inspiration to be built upon through further layers until the original piece was either completely or almost all covered up. I can see that it would be an effective technique and could build a very dynamic page with a lot of depth. However, I am finding that extensive layering is not really my thing and the idea of using art resources for some “good stuff” and then using more resources to cover that up was somewhat anathema to me. That gave me something to ponder…
My mind was wandering along a tangent. The muse of contrariness was singing to me. I had my lightbulb moment. I decided I was going to create a page about animal anatomy involving layers of the body and layers of paper by constructing flaps.
I divided my page into three, cut along the top edge on two of those thirds and folded the left and right sides inwards so as to create three layers. On the top layer, I painted a bunny. A dead bunny. I seem to default to bunnies a lot. I produce a lot of zombie bunnies, whether in a horde of bunnies or among other woodland creatures, and then there was the worried bunny in the woods and the countless bunnies who appear here and there in my art journal, in ATCs, doodles and sketches. I seem to have bunnies on the brain. I was born in the Chinese zodiac year of the rabbit so perhaps the rabbit is my totem animal, to mix cultural traditions. Lifting the dead bunny flap, I drew an exact replica of the dead bunny’s silhouette since I had cut out a template from a scrap of cardboard. I drew internal organs onto the torso of the bunny. This was the muscle and organ layer. Vets and anyone with a grasp of animal biology may be bewildered and disturbed by my knowledge of rabbit anatomy. I did nothing to correct my ignorance, not even a quick google, and instead just shoved some human style organs and a daft love shaped heart into the abdomen. That layer painted, it was time for the final layer. This one was the skeleton layer and again I just drew whatever bones I thought would work for the drawing rather than actually investigating what a rabbit’s skeleton looks like. Daft bunny in all three layers. The final layer was, of course, flanked by the reverse of the other two flaps. I did not like them staying as blank spaces so I wrote “Anatomy of a Bunny” on one side and glued my ticket to the exhibition on the other side so as to document our family day out for the weekend and record an element of my inspiration for the page.
I hope my art journal page has made you smile on this very chilly weekend.
This week’s Documented Life Project challenge was layering and “Don’t Stop Til You Get Enough!” (free earworm) so clearly the idea was to layer a page to the maximum. Layering is something I have struggled with. Finding that balance between creating interest and it tipping over into visually chaotic mess, between colours that chime and sing together and making mud, has been a steep learning curve for me and one where I have yet to reach the summit. Regardless, I decided to amp up the level of difficulty even more by deciding to work with a colour palette I would find difficult to keep from turning into grungy sludge: flamingo pink, bright yellow, turquoise and lime. Alas, my lime acrylic is not quite limey enough so it did get a bit muddy.
I couldn’t embark on a page without having an end goal in mind. I know a lot of art journallers and mixed media artists can just playfully develop a page or piece without having any level of intention in mind but I need to have something I am working towards from the get-go otherwise I stall. Since this week is Valentine’s Day, I thought it would be appropriate to make that the focus. My favourite love song – and one of my very favourite songs generally – is ‘There Is A Light That Never Goes Out’ by The Smiths so that was my inspiration.
Not that I imagine anyone can learn anything from my process but here are the layers involved in creating my page:
Turquoise and lime acrylic scraped on the page with a gift card
Scraps of yellow and pink tissue paper glued onto the page
Strips of washi tape stuck in rows to the page
Yellow paint through a dot / small circle stencil
Large yellow circles stamped on the page with a cork
Turquoise circles stamped onto the page using the end of a wooden utensil
Pink paint through a love heart stencil
Stamped pink circles using the end of a pencil top eraser
Spatter of pink, yellow and turquoise paint
Small dots of lime paint
Dots of white acrylic paint around the edges of the pink love hearts to emphasise the hearts on the page
Stamped the chorus of the song lyrics onto deli paper and adhered that deli paper to the page using gel matte medium
This week’s Life Book lesson was entitled Seeds of Love and was taken by the course organiser, Tamara Laporte. I am particularly enjoying her lessons because she goes into such depth explaining the concepts and techniques being demonstrated. This particular lesson focused on value contrast, layering and whimsical versions of botanical, organic shapes.
This was definitely a piece that required both patience and faith. There were so many steps involved in the process that patience was required to let each layer fully dry and set before progressing. Happily that works for my schedule anyway as I do my arty stuff in bursts between other chores and commitments. Faith was required because my version of this piece went through a definite ugly stage before it all pulled together into something coherent. I had a better experience with the neocolors this time though I could have done a more skillful job of blending them. It was really only when the black and white paint pens were added to reinforce the lines and shapes and create little details with the doodles that the ugly mess I was creating finally looked pleasing. As per the lesson, I added a few words. I chose words that connected to the botanical theme but which also could function as metaphors.
In many ways, the finished piece is reminiscent of the zombie animals I draw with ink. It makes me think about creating a mixed media version of my zombie bunnies.