Occasionally, inspiration strikes me at the oddest times. No, make that USUALLY inspiration strikes me at the oddest times. Like, for instance, this mixed media piece. Last week I was on my way home from an appointment. It was a sunny day, but I was feeling a bit “blah,” if you know what I mean, and my mind was in that place where you know you’re driving but you aren’t really taking in the details around you. Autopilot, really.
Yes, that’s what it was. I was on autopilot and stopped at a long light. While waiting for the green, in my mind’s eye, this piece appeared. It was so vivid an image that I reached my hand out as if to touch it. Thank goodness I was alone or someone might have thought I had gone bonkers.
My heart started to race and my mind followed suit. Is was all I could do not to bounce up and down in my seat and scream at the cars in front of me, “MOVE YOUR BLOODY ASSES! I HAVE ART TO DO!” I remained mostly calm though and kept my tirade to myself. I happened to make it home in one piece as well. Racing into the house, I flew down the basement steps to get started. It took about a week and a half, but I finished it this evening. I call it “Sometimes, She Just Can’t Help But Feel Dead Inside.”
If you would like to know the process that went into making this piece read on.
Now, the thing that struck me most when I saw the image of the art piece in my mind was the texture and brightly colored background. I knew a background with this many layers was going to be heavy, so I chose to use a paint board instead of a canvas. It has a surface like a canvas, but it has several layers of eco-friendly materials that create a solid core. The paint board I use is made by Fredrix and can be found at many online art supply retailers or brick and mortar art supply stores.
I covered the board with a thin layer of YES! paste using a palette knife. Once the glue was in place I took a large piece of black tissue paper, crumpled it nice and good and then opened it up. I laid this gently onto the prepared board and just pressed my fingers across the paper to get it to stick. Resist the urge to smooth the tissue paper down. You want the bumps and wrinkles. Once the tissue paper is fully in contact with the board let the piece dry completely.
Next, trim the excess tissue paper from the edges of the board. You are then ready for the next layer – acrylic paints. I chose a palette of Alizarin Crimson, Primary Red, Deep Violet, Cadmium Orange and Raspberry. I mixed the Alizarin Crimson with heavy gel medium in gloss until I achieved the color density I wanted and making the paint thicker in consistency. I used a palette knife to scrape the paint over the tissue paper. I didn’t worry about direction or getting an even coat. I just ran the palette knife over the entire board and made sure there was some paint in every part. I let this layer dry completely.
The next layer was a combination of adding small bits of Primary Red and Cadmium Orange in different areas of the piece. I mixed each paint with the same heavy gel medium in gloss. I let these dry as well before moving to the third layer. I knew in the third layer I want to increase the texture of the piece. It was already pretty amazing with the various paints captured in the peaks and valleys of the wrinkled tissue paper. Still, I wanted more. I took the Deep Purple paint and mixed it with Liquitex’s White Opaque Flakes medium. This stuff is so cool. It increases the density of the paint, but the white flakes inside the medium never mix with the color and stay white. I used the palette knife to distribute the mixture onto areas of the board. The white flakes immediately pop out at you. It felt that the density of this medium was greater than that of the gloss gel medium I had used, so I got more height with the purple paint. I was digging this unexpected result. Again, I let the layers dry.
For the next layer (I think we’re on four?) I mixed a Raspberry pink paint with Liquitex’s Glass Beads medium. I love the pebbly effect of this medium. Sometimes it looks like the paint has bubbles trapped in it. Once again I used the palette knife to distribute the mixture. Things were looking good, but I was getting a little frustrated because the original layers of red and orange were disappearing more than I had intended. I decided to touch them up a bit with a dab of paint straight from the tube before the pink had even dried. The palette knife became too cumbersome for this delicate task, so I resorted to my favorite tool — my fingers. I dabbed paint here and there. Just when I thought I was getting somewhere I took a look and found that I was completely disgusted with the results. In my frustration I took my open palm and just slide the whole thing across the board, top to bottom. I was about to pitch the whole project when I took another look. I thought to myself, “Yes! That’s better.” Who knew? Sometimes there are happy accidents. So, a couple of more, although careful, swipes of the hand and I felt I achieved what I wanted. I let it dry and then when back to dabbing the reds and orange from their tubes with my fingers. Success!
I often tell people that I am not a drawer. What I mean is that I generally don’t like my results when I try to draw something from thin air. Instead, I use a combination of techniques. To make the skull I employed several of these. First, I went on the Internet and searched for images of human skulls. I probably looked at hundreds before I decided to go with a medical diagram of a skull. I printed the diagram out and cut the skull out with an x-acto knife.
I used vine charcoal to coat the back of the image and then place it where I wanted on the board. Using a dull pencil I traced the major parts of the skull (the eye sockets, teeth and hollows of the jaw. I then used the charcoal to outline the image. I do this to give myself perspective as to where all the big parts are going to go. The rest is all me. I loaded up various sizes and types of paint brushes with Titanium White, Mars Black and combinations of the two to achieve the grays. The wonderful thing about the vine charcoal is that you can paint right over it and it just seems to disappear. I played with the shading of the skull for a couple of days until I felt it was right.
The final steps were to add the embellishments. I did not want to compete with the colors already in the background so I kept these simple using the black, white and gray motif of the skull. First, I started with bottle caps. Any old bottle caps will do. I keep a jar on my kitchen counter to collect all the odds and ends that would otherwise get thrown away and that includes bottle caps. These happened to be Corona. Anywho, I set the bottle caps on a metal block and used a small hammer to flatten the edges outward. Watch your fingers because it is easy to smash them in the process. Once flattened I hit the edges of the metal caps with Adirondack alcohol ink in Red Pepper.
Next, I used a 1/2″ circle cutter to cut out the white cardstock. Using VersaFine black pigment ink and marcasite embossing powder by Stampendous, I stamped the letters for the word “hollow.” Using Yes! paste I adhered the circles to the inside of the bottle caps. Let them dry well. Once dry, I drizzled Inkssentials Glossy Accents over the paper and around the edges of the bottle caps making sure all of the paper was covered. Let the caps dry, undisturbed, for 24 hours. The effect becomes like that of clear resin when the glaze drys and it looks like you have those expensive, fancy craft store embellishments. Using the YES! paste I adhered the bottle caps to the painting.
Next came the paper flowers. I found a nice collection of white paper flowers by Kaiser Craft. The beauty of these is that the flowers can be colored with various spritzes and sprays. I sprayed some of the flowers black using Java Walnut Ink by Tsukineko. A few others I made gray using my own blend of water with a few drops of Adirondack alcohol inks in Pitch Black and Pearl. I mixed this all up in a mini-mister by Ranger Inks. After the flowers dried, I twisted their wire stems into concentric circles around the base of the flower, applied YES! paste and adhered them to the piece.
The final touches came with some cheesecloth, paste and glitter. I unwrapped a few pieces of cheesecloth and arranged them on the board to my liking making sure to wrap some around the edges of the board. When I was happy I took a palette knife and gel medium in matte and adhered the cloth to the edges of the paint board. I dabbed a bit of medium to a few places where the cloth met the face of the painting. I let this dry and then added a few puddles of clear gel glue and then dusting them with Tinsel glitter by Martha Stewart Crafts.
I don’t like framing my pieces much. I like the canvases/boards to stand on their own if possible. Therefore, I trimmed the edge of this board with red satin ribbon. I glued it on with the YES! paste, which has become a favorite product of mine.
Whew! That’s the long and short of it. I hope some of these techniques or product descriptions inspire you to get creative. I know this piece was hugely cathartic for me and I am simply in love with it.