Sun Printing

You may have noted that when it comes to thinking up activities for my kids to do I definitely lean towards the Arts and Humanities.  My brain is not much capable of STEM learning and, as such, I think it best that I leave much of that to their formal education providers.  Sun printing, therefore, illustrates the proximity to which my activities with the kids broach science learning.  It definitely was an experiment, however, as I have never done sun printing myself.  We were all learning together.

I talked to my kids a bit about cyanotypes, an early form of photography and the process that creates what we think of as blueprints.  I explained that the paper we were using was coated with a photosensitive chemical and that exposure to the sun would cause a reaction.  We would then be developing the resulting print by rinsing it in a solution of water and a little lemon juice.  I told the boys that it reminded me of developing photographs in the dark room back in my High School days to which the oldest remarked, “You are that old?”  I let that one slide.  Science bit over, it was time to get creative and experiment.

First up was my 9 year old who wanted to use a water pistol because it had such a strong, recognisable shape.  We let the water pistol sit between the perspex and the paper for five minutes and then quickly moved it to the solution, which I had set up in the shade of the porch.  It was interesting seeing the colours switch from positive to negative (or vice versa as I am not sure which way they would be categorised).  Not overly happy with his first print, he then did a second using a dollar symbol that was much more flat to the paper.

Sun Print ET 1

Sun Print ET 2

Sun Print ET 3

Sun Print ET 4

Next up, my 13 year old decided to experiment with an Ugly Doll because it had a strong outline but was squishily dimensional.  The result showed the gradiation in colours that occurs when the sun is blocked to varying degrees.

Sun Print AB 1

Sun Print AB 2

Sun Print AB 3

My ten year old tried out a selection of toys from his room.  We assumed that the lizard, being flattest, would create the strongest silhoutte and that Batman would be the blurriest but our thesis turned out to be incorrect.  The Lego man was surprisingly effective as a mask.

Sun Print OA 1

Sun Print OA 2

My 7 year old decided to use items from nature and went hunting and gathering in the garden.  His turned out to be the best idea as his chosen foliage pressed completely flat beneath the perspex and resulted in the most clearly defined shapes.

Sun Print AR 1

Sun Print AR 2

Sun Print AR 3

I took a print from my house and car keys to see how the paper handled the mixture of flat items with slightly more dimensional items, such as the keyrings and car fob.  The photos show the change that occurs before and after the prints are washed in the developing solution.

Sun Print Laura 1

Sun Print Laura 2

Sun printing was a fun activity.  It was refreshing to be doing something together that none of us had any experience with so that we were all experimenting and learning together.  I have a few sheets of photosensitive paper left so we might return to this activity again before the summer is out.


History of Art #5 – Albrecht Durer

From the Italian Renaissance to the German Renaissance, next up in our summer project on the History of Art was Albrecht Durer.  My aim with this project is to give the children an understanding of different eras and movements in art, developments, expose them to different styles and different media, different modes of visual expression.  Therefore, while we did look at Durer’s paintings – especially his striking self-portraits – we mainly focused on his print-making.  The boys were especially impressed with Durer’s rhinoceros woodcut given that he had never even seen an actual rhino.

Then it was time to get printing.  I enjoy lino block printing – though I never seem to get adequate free time in which to develop my skills – so the kids had seen me carving lino before and were, therefore, keen to have a go themselves.  I use unmoounted linoleum for block printing but I had some small pieces of soft carve material that I thought would be perfect for the boys to experiment with.  Although the photos don’t make it clear, they were using a guard to protect their hands from the carving tools.  The boys all found the carving to be harder than they anticipated but they stuck with it and showed improvement.  It was interesting watching them figure out the positive and negative elements within the carving.

5 Durer - Block Printing - Cutting - AB

5 Durer - Block Printing - Cutting - AR

5 Durer - Block Printing - Cutting - E

5 Durer - Block Printing - Cutting - O

My 9 year old decided to keep the design simple and just concentrate on learning the carving so he produced a smiley face.

5 Durer - Block Printing - Smile - O

My 6 year old wanted to create a zombie wandering through the darkness.  Cleverly this meant that all he had to do was carve out the stickman zombie figure.  He insisted on printing it on dark green paper so we used origami paper.  I think it is quite effective.

5 Durer - Block Printing - Zombie - AR

My 12 year old is all about Minecraft (you might have noticed) so he carved a creeper face and printed on bright green origami paper.  He enjoyed working on the whole print, from concept to lifting the print, independently.

5 Durer - Block Printing - Creeper - AB

My 8 year old carved a minion so he was determined to use yellow ink.  The yellow ink is much thinner and more challenging to work with than other colours but we finally got a good print by using our fingers instead of the baren.

5 Durer - Block Printing - Minion - E

Meanwhile, I took my inspiration from Durer’s rhinoceros and decided to carve a rhino myself using a small block of lino.  I borrowed my composition from an ink drawing I had done of a rhino some years ago.  I needed to work the baren across the paper for longer, to press firmer, in order to get a more solid background but otherwise I am pretty chuffed with how this print turned out.

5 Durer - Block Printing - Cutting - Laura

5 Durer - Block Printing - Rhino - Laura

A rhino was consequently the subject of my 82nd Crazy Critter.

New Art Challenge – Into the Woods

I have finally made a decision about my next art challenge.  It is going to be “Into the Woods”.  That theme allows me enough scope to work in different media and cover a wide range of subjects.  Since my last art challenge involved a lot of time pressure, I am not going to impose a timetable or deadline onto it.  I will just create whenever my artistic mojo strikes but I will – mostly – create in response to this theme.

My first work on this theme was a lino block print I have titled “Worried Bunny”.  You can read more about it here.

Worried Bunny - Red and Blue Block Prints - Phase 2

I will be sharing the art I produce in response to this theme on my art blog, Pict Ink, so make sure you visit there if you want to see more.


Starry Night

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.

Week 42 - Stars




Going Polka Dotty

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.

Week 41 - Polka Dots

Monoprinting with Nature

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.

2014-07-24 12.26.08 2014-07-24 12.26.20 2014-07-24 12.26.56 2014-07-24 12.27.07 2014-07-24 12.27.24 2014-07-24 12.27.33 2014-07-24 12.27.42 2014-07-24 12.27.51

Monoprinting with Kids

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.








Whale and Caged Bird Lino Block Prints

I have been trying to grab a little bit of time each week for creativity.  I find that focusing on something artistic for even a short period of time is calming and acts to decompress me.  Art is something I enjoy, love and am passionate about but I am also realising that I find it to also be therapeutic.  In Scotland, I went to my Art Club’s Life Drawing class which meant that at least once a week I was spending time doing something creative just for myself.  I have not found a life class here, unfortunately, but art journalling and participating in the Documented Life Project means that at least once a week I am taking some time out from all of the hustle and bustle of family life to devote to something creative.

I am enjoying mixed media work far more than I expected to and I am enjoying the stimulus of learning new techniques and working with unfamiliar materials or even familiar materials but deployed in a new way.  Nevertheless I am finding that I still revert to drawing and ink work.  I guess that is my comfort zone.  Just before leaving Scotland, I was starting to get back into lino block printing which I had not done since my teens.  That, therefore, is something I am trying to develop again so I am trying to make time to develop designs for block prints and ever so often I even find time to carve a block and print.  I have not discovered a local source of lino blocks yet so I have been working on smaller pieces of lino than I am used to but actually I am enjoying the challenge of that restriction and the smaller scale also makes it easier for me to start and finish a piece within the time I have set aside.

My first two efforts at this smaller scale (15cmx10cm) were of a whale and a bird in a cage.   If you are a regular reader of my blog, you might recognise the bird design from a page I did for the Documented Life Project but I have not shared the whale print on the blog before.  I might experiment with creating a monoprint background for printing the whale onto at some point.  I happen to like the texture that results from the imperfections from my cutting which is why I don’t cut away until every single positive is gone from the negative spaces.  I re-print and re-cut until I get a result that I am happy with.  Perhaps it is because I tend to be very precise with my drawing and ink work that I enjoy the imperfections of the block prints.  In the case of the whale print below, I clearly didn’t use the baren at a consistent enough pressure when pressing the print so there is a patchiness to the ink.  If I was creating that print with a view to selling it then I would print it again but since this print was just for me I actually quite liked the effect as it made me think of the scarred and barnacled surface of a whale’s body.  In any case, I am pretty pleased with how they both turned out.



In Search of a House to call our Home

As you may have ascertained from previous blog entries, the biggest stressor in this whole relocation for me and the aspect that has upset my equilibrium the most has been our limbo situation of waiting for our house in Scotland to sell before we can find a permanent home here in Pennsylvania.

Mr Pict and I have owned property since we were 21 so even switching to being tenants in a rental property once more – something we have not experienced since we were students – has required some adjustment.  However, the most difficult aspect of being in a rental property has been not having a place to call home.  We have the house that we live in but we are all too aware that it is not our home.  We have personalised it to the extent that it is possible, such as by hanging our own art work, but we are always aware that it is someone else’s house that we are living in and that our stay there will be short term.  We do feel very lucky to have found this property and we have loved living here – and the boys love living next door to their school – but we very much need to start putting down established roots here and investing in our future in bricks and mortar.

Of course, we could not start looking to buy until our house in Scotland had sold so that the equity was released.  We loved our house.  We had it built for us so it was very much “our” house.  When we left the maternity hospital with each successive baby, they came back to that home.  It is where all of their childhood memories were based, birthdays, celebrations, achievements, fun, the occasional episode of melodrama or minor catastrophe.  We also had superb neighbours – the best neighbours we had ever had indeed – and were in the middle of a lovely community with a beautiful view down the loch to boot.  In the months running up to leaving that house, knowing it was definitely happening, I had to start mentally and emotionally detaching myself from the house.  I had to keep reminding myself that home is wherever my husband and the kids are, that home is not bricks and mortar but is instead all of the emotional stuff, the joy and the chaos of family life.  It remained a challenge, however, because of course the house reverberated with the memories of all of that emotional stuff.

And then at some stage that house, which we had loved so much and which had so many connotations for us, became an albatross around our necks.

A small community with a tiny population makes for a slow housing market.  Like tortoise sloooooooooooooow.  We had a feeling that our house would either be snapped up quickly or would sit empty for quite a while.  Unfortunately it was the latter.  The house went up for sale when we left our home for the last time in early September and just this last week we finally, finally, after some false starts and false hope, had a formal offer lodged with our lawyer.  If it all goes to plan then the sale will be completed in late June.  We will be so incredibly relieved when it does.  

Meanwhile, since I arrived in America in October, I have been viewing houses online.  I signed up for email alerts so that any new property that has at least four bedrooms and is sited in our school district pings right into my inbox.  It was a knowledge gathering exercise so that I could be as informed as possible when the time came to actually embark on looking for a permanent home.  What I soon realised was that the catchment area for the boys’ elementary school is really rather small and there are not many four bedroom houses within that small geographical area and some houses that are large enough to accommodate a family of six were out of our budget.  So as the months have rolled on, I have become increasingly despondent about our Scottish house still being unsold and increasingly anxious about the prospect of finding the right house to buy and increasingly fretful about our timeline because we really want to avoid getting into another lease period.  We very much want to cease paying both a mortgage and rent because that is a whole other stressor.

Anyway, once the offer on our Scottish house was formally lodged, we decided it might be smart to start properly looking at houses.  I knew there were four on the market that were feasible for us so we contacted a realtor to set up viewings for us.  In the time it took for the realtor to phone the selling agents, two of the houses had sold.  I had noted, through my obsessive real estate stalking, that houses here sold quickly but the pace has clearly picked up since we got into Spring.  I assume everyone wants to move before the next school year commences.  Mr Pict and I quickly realised that there was going to be no being casual about this, viewing houses and pondering and contemplating as such.  We needed to be decisive.  Luckily, we have had to make rapid, immediate and instinctive decisions before when buying property so we have the required skill set if not the nerves for such an undertaking.  I drew up a list, in table form – as I am wont to do – of criteria for our house hunt.  There were things that were essential – such as being in the catchment area of the elementary and having a minimum of four bedrooms – and things that were preferable – such as being within walking distance of school and having a finished basement – and things we really did not want – like a swimming pool or being sited on a busy road.  Being armed with that checklist would keep our heads in the right place and then we could rely on gut feelings about places and a vision for how we could make each place function as our home.

On Friday, therefore, Mr Pict and I went to view two houses.  The first was beautifully presented but was just too small for us and was especially lacking in storage space.  The second, however, ticked all of the boxes – literally all of the boxes on my checklist – and just felt right for us.  We could instantly imagine ourselves living there and could envision how we would transform it into the Pict family home.  To cut an already long story short, we were decisive and lodged an offer and it has been accepted.  Squeal.  The next hurdle is the survey of the house – which I think is called a home inspection here in America – but if nothing untoward is discovered then we should be able to progress with the purchase.  It’s nerve-wracking but for the first time in months the nervous energy is exciting rather than coming from a place of panic and dread.

So keep your fingers crossed, join me in touching wood, send out positive vibes into the cosmos and wish us luck.

With all of these property developments this week, that was what was on my mind when the latest Documented Life Project challenge was posted.  Because I was thinking about what home actually means, that became the theme of the page.  The challenge this week was to incorporate embroidery or embroidery floss onto the page.  I have sewing skills limited to taking up hems, replacing buttons and making sock monkeys and sock monsters.  Embroidery is beyond me.  I, therefore, kept that element of the challenge to a minimum and just ran a tacking stitch around the text.  I created a background using watercolour paint and ink.  One of the creative things I do is carve lino blocks and I had a small one of a bird inside a cage so I utilised that as a stamp and stamped onto a brown paper bag which I then stuck onto the page.  I picked out some of the detail in the printed image with red and white ink.  Although I wish I had used deeper, darker colours for the background, I am quite pleased with how this page turned out.