Tuesday, March 6, 2012

Learning to Embrace the Creative Process

Early in 2011, I signed up for a series of online workshops offered by Strathmore Paper to promote their Visual Journal line of sketchbooks. The workshops focused on art journaling, something I had not tried previously, using materials I was unfamiliar with.

Collage. Gesso. Acrylic paint. Scribbling. Doodling. Writing down private thoughts and then covering them up with another layer of paper or paint. More writing. More doodling. I blogged about a few of the exercises last year while I was doing them, but not consistently.

The workshops pulled me completely out of my comfort zone. As I bumbled through the exercises, I discovered that I did not love the process.

And then in finally dawned on me: Art journaling IS all about the PROCESS, not the outcome. My art had always been focused on the OUTCOME -- the finished piece. But I did not love the process.

So, I mixed it up a little bit. I started over, using materials I had on hand that I was more comfortable with -- watercolor paint, Derwent Intense pencils, Caran d’Arche watersoluable crayons, Faber-Castell markers. I scanned and resized my own sketches and photos instead of clipping them from magazines. I learned a little bit more about using matte medium as a glue and preparing a surface with gesso. I experimented with Golden fluid acrylics and Liquitex acrylic inks.

I made a mess. And you know what? I kinda enjoyed it.

Art journal page.

Art journal WIP

I finally recognized that art journaling is just a more elaborate, integrated way of doing something I've been doing in my sketchbooks all along.

Catnip: Joy in a Jar


Pumpkin

I'm still not doing formal art journaling on a consistent basis, but I mess around with it when the muse calls. But, I did start incorporating some of the mixed media techniques into my art. More on that in a future post.

Wednesday, March 9, 2011

Why, ETSY? Why do you forsake us sellers?

As some of you know, I've had an ETSY shop since 2007. Although for me it's a hobby site, rather than a true business, my ETSY shop provides a venue to show my art, share links and widgets to showcase art on Facebook and my websites, and, most importantly, an e-commerce platform to sell my art worldwide.

However, there have been major changes at ETSY, and most likely there are more to come.
ETSY's focus is changing from enabling individuals to sell their handmade and vintage items to creating a new social network, like Facebook. In doing so, they've gutted the functionality that enabled sellers to sell and for their items to be found. 

They've eliminated the popular community forums, regularly feature a small subset of sellers on the front page, removed "shop name" from the search options, broke the search function entirely, subdivided the community and pushed seller interaction into narrowly focused "teams", emphasized building "circles" based on "taste", muted sellers for asking legitimate questions, and enabled mass market resellers to masquerade as artisans of one-of-a-kind handmade items.

As a result, ETSY's changes are making it harder for buyers to find my shop and buy from it.
Success in the new ETSY environment requires a major time commitment to build circles and select favorite items from other shops, build "treasuries" of items from various sellers that are color-coordinated and artfully arranged, and monitor team discussions and off-site blogs and forums to stay current on what's changed and how the changes impact your business.

In essence, to remain visible on ETSY, I need to spend more time chasing my own tail on ETSY than I currently spend actually making art. I'm not willing to go there.

So, current plans are to let my ETSY shop wind down and focus on making art for my next three shows (ConQuesT, SoonerCon, and Archon). I'm also considering ramping up my Zazzle shop to offer more images on more items, and making my originals available for direct sale through my blog.

I'm open to suggestions. Feel free to leave comments.

Tuesday, January 25, 2011

Let that be a lesson to me...

I've been working on both versions of my art journal workshop exercise off and on for the past few days, squeezing in a scribble here, a smudge there, and a swipe of the paintbrush in passing.

Right now my desk is covered in supplies -- my color journal and my art journal, various watercolor pencils and watercolor crayons, pens, brushes, paints, and various other implements of artistic nature. And -- most significantly for this story -- a jar of water to rinse my brushes.

At least, that jar of water HAD been on my desk. When I walked away from the project early last evening, I forgot to empty it. Mayhem (one of my loyal feline studio assistants) took care of that for me.

You know it's a bad thing when you're sitting downstairs and hear a hard clink, a soft thump, and the sound of water hitting a hardwood floor in your office above.

The damage to the desk, floor, and supplies was minimal. (The toe I stubbed on the chair in the dark, however, not so much.)

Let that be a lesson to me: empty the water jar. No exceptions!

Thursday, January 20, 2011

Art Journal Workshop 1: Do-over

My first attempt at the Strathmore Visual Journal workshop exercise was less than satisfying. I didn't like working with the oil pastels. I thought the charcoal dirtied up the page. I didn't have gesso, so I used a semi-opaque watercolor instead.

So I decided I needed a do-over, using materials that I'm more comfortable with. After all, they keep saying it's all about the process, right?

Art Journal Workshop 1.2 - Materials

Steps from Lesson 1
  • I resized the sketches and reformatted the text and printed them out.
  • I prepped a two-page spread with a random application of turquoise watercolor, added texture, stenciled stars, and random sprays of ultramarine blue.
  • Strips of blue metallic tissue paper provided my vertical element.
  • After topping it with my sketches and text, I brushed on a light wash of my turquoise watercolor to tone down the white and darken some of the shadow areas.
Art Journal Workshop 1.2 - Supervisor Art Journal Workshop 1.2 - Lesson 1

Steps from Lesson 2 and Lesson 3
  • I added a few details and "underjournaling" in white crayon, which will provide a resist under the next layer of water-based color.
  • Using Derwent Graphitint and Inktense water-soluable pencils and an unknown brand of watercolor crayon, I added the shading in blue and purple, and highlights in yellow and green.
  • A thin application of white gouache enabled me to smooth out and re-establish the white areas, and to add highlights to the eyes. I then added more shading and color.
  • For the stars, I made a stencil using cardstock and a punch.
  • I used a blue Faber-Castel brush pen to re-darken the text.
Art Journal Workshop 1.2 - Lesson 2 and 3

Lesson 4 is still a mystery. I expect we'll be able to access the video for it this weekend.

Wednesday, January 19, 2011

Artist Journal Workshop 1: Continued

In an earlier post, I shared my work-in-progress for the Strathmore Visual Journal Workshop 1. Picking up where I left off, I began adding other media to the now-dry collage page.

Lesson 2 called for adding more layers and color to the page, such as using gesso to paint over unwanted elements, adding "under-journaling" using graphite, enhancing the depth and shape of the elements using charcoal, adding color with oil pastels, and pulling it all together with a gesso wash.

Lesson 3 called for adding more color and texture to the negative space and image elements with oil pastel, re-doing outlines with pencil, and adding hints of color throughout.

I made an honest attempt to follow instructions, but ultimately my method varied in several respects.

Layer 4 -- The instructions called for adding lines with graphite and then shadows and depth with charcoal. I also added conte' crayon because I liked way the reddish color echoed the layer of scrapbook paper. The charcoal just seems harsh and dirty.
Art Journal Workshop 1.1 - Layer 4

Layer 5 -- The instructions called adding color with oil pastel, and then giving the whole thing a light wash of gesso. I used oil pastels as instructed, but I simply did not like working with them, and I'm unhappy with the effect. (For more on that part of the process, see "Warming up oil pastels: Cup Warmer vs Warm Cat".) I couldn't find my gesso, so I used light washes of white gouche and a mostly-opaque flesh-tone watercolor to tie the elements together.
Art Journal Workshop 1.1 - Layer 5

Layer 6 -- I added more color using watercolor, a step that was not in the original lesson.
Art Journal Workshop 1.1 - Layer 6

Layer 7 -- The graphite disappeared completely into the page, so I used ink where I wanted to see the lines. This is where I stopped, after adding more color, more charcoal, more oil pastel, and ink. I probably should have stopped sooner. Like the page says, you've gotta start somewhere. Knowing where to stop is something entirely different.
Art Journal Workshop 1.1 - Layer 7

I still don't know what Lesson 4 will hold, but I bet it involves adding more layers to this piece. I'd like to try a do-over, using only the materials I'm comfortable with.

Warming up oil pastels: Cup Warmer vs Warm Cat

I've been doing an art journal workshop, which specified oil pastels in the materials list. The object is to add color while also providing a water-resistant quality in the work.

I'm not a fan of oil pastels. I find them greasy and unappealing. I bought a set of Cray-Pas a couple of years ago at Cargo Largo, but I've hardly used them. They are just not "my thing".

Being open to new experiences, I dug out my sad, unloved box of Cray-Pas for this workshop assignment. Due to neglect, or perhaps the chilly room temperature, they were hard, scratchy, and unwilling to blend on the page. I needed to warm them up.

My hands, which are nearly as cold as the room, failed to soften the pastels enough to blend easily. I briefly considered sticking them in the microwave for a few seconds, but decided that may result in failure of epic proportions.

I considered the other two heat sources at hand: a USB-driven cup warmer and a warm cat.

warming pastels 1 - cup warmer warming pastels 2 - warm cat

  • On the cup warmer, I placed several pastels on a scrap of aluminum foil.
  • Under the warm cat, I placed the rest of the pastels, still in their box.
  • After 10 minutes, I tested the results.

The pastels warmed under the cat were only slightly more blendable than the ones at room temperature.

The pastels warmed on the cup warmer were significantly more blendable than the ones at room temperature and the ones at cat temperature. I used these to continue the workshop exercise.

warming pastels 3 - results

I'm still not a fan of oil pastels. They feel like sludge under my fingers, they don't resist the water-based layer as well as pure wax or crayon, they're useless for detail, and they clog up my pens and pencils on subsequent layers. This sad, unloved box of Cray-Pas is going back into my box of seldom-used supplies.

Monday, January 17, 2011

Artist Journal Workshop: Getting Started

I signed up for the Strathmore Visual Journal workshop series. I was intrigued by the idea of working with new media (collage) in a new format (bound journal).

I'm getting a late start because I packed up my office/studio over the holidays so I could remove the carpet. I'm still unpacking, but I'm itching to get caught up on this workshop.

Today I watched the first 3 of the 4 lesson videos in Workshop 1, and I've read many of the discussion forums. I must admit I'm baffled at the concept. The materials and the process I understand. The purpose of doing so, not so much. Then again, the whole reason to take a class in something new is to stretch your mind and your comfort zone, right?

Since I always start a new sketchbook by jotting down "New Sketchbook!" and the date, I took a similar approach to this new project -- but in the spirit of the workshop.

I resized some scans of sketches I did last summer, and manipulated the fonts and font sizes on a few phrases until I had a starting place. I printed them out using my Epson Artisan 710 on plain inkjet paper.

I cut the images apart and moved them around on a blank page until I was satisfied with their placement.

Art Journal Workshop 1.1 - Plan

The arrangement was very horizontal, so I decided it needed a vertical element. I chose a piece of scrapbook paper, mainly because it was a color and design I'm least likely to use in cardmaking. I ripped it into strips, then used YES paste to glue them to the page.

Art Journal Workshop 1.1 - Layer 1

Next, I glued down the sketches and phrases in the arrangement I planned out in Step 1.

Art Journal Workshop 1.1 - Layer 2

From previous experience, I know that YES paste causes my paper to curl, so I've placed a heavy book onto to hold it flat until it dries.

Next up -- add color!

Monday, January 10, 2011

What is an ACEO?

Most of my recent paintings have been in a size format called "ACEO", i.e. "Art Cards Editions and Originals". ACEOs are essentially miniature paintings in a standard size of 2.5 inches by 3.5 inches -- the same size as a trading card or gaming card. Other than that, they can be in any media and on any subject. Some ACEO artists even work in fabric and clay!

My ACEOs are usually created in watercolor and ink. Here is my process:
  • Paper: I start with a 9x12 block of 140 lb. professional-grade acid-free watercolor paper, usually Arches cold pressed or Fabriano rough. The 9x12 block enables me to work on 8 or 9 images at one time. Of the 9, I may get 2 or 3 that I feel are my "best work". (If I only have 8 images, I use the 9th section to test colors and tonal values.)
  • Sketch: Using a 2H pencil, I mark off the boundaries of the individual paintings and sketch an image into each one. Sometimes I work with variations on a theme; sometimes the images are completely random.
  • Underpainting: I add an underpainting using a water-soluble pencil or watercolor paint to establish tonal value.
  • Painting: My next step is to execute the painting. I use Daniel Smith watercolor pigments, which are highly pigmented and so very yummy to use. I love the Daniel Smith PrimaTek mineral pigments, especially those made from gemstones such as lapis, turquois, and amethyst. I've also become quite fond on their iridescent gold, which I've been using on dragon scales and moonbeams.

    When working at this small size, I sometimes use a lighted magnifier to see where to place the tiniest of details, such as the highlight in the eye of this seadragon (pictured). This particular piece was already trimmed out of its 9x12 sheet because I had finished several of its companions and matted them for a show.
  • Inking: After the paint dries, I add a touch of ink to define detail and make the image "pop". I currently use Micron acid-free ink pens, but I've also used Faber Castell and Prismacolor markers. I also add my mark - my stylized initials and the year - in gold ink.
  • Trim: When the art is complete and dry, I remove the page from the watercolor block and trim along the boundary lines, which gives me a final 3" x 4" painting. If I sell the painting as an "ACEO", I trim it down to the official 2.5" x 3.5" size and insert into a hard plastic protective sleeve. (I use the same "toploaders" that card collectors use.) If I mat the painting to display at a show, I leave it untrimmed, and the raw edges are hidden under the mat.
  • Title: On the back of each, in pencil, I add a title, the copyright notice, date of creation, and my signature.
So there you have it. I enjoy working in the ACEO format, as it gives me a chance to play with ideas as well as achieve a sense of completion in a short period of time.

Saturday, January 1, 2011

Goodbye, 2010! Hello, 2011!


Merry Christmas!
Originally uploaded by AllisonStein
Just wanted to share my annual holiday card art, a little late though it may be! This year's art featured Mischief and Mayhem, my loyal studio assistants.

I didn't blog as much as I would have liked in 2010. I intend to be better in 2011.

I made a solid effort to keep my ETSY shop fresh and stocked in 2010. My traffic and page views were up, my sales continued to be abysmal. It did, however, provide discipline to keep creating new art and scanning it into my archives.

I also spent a fair bit of time doodling in my sketchbook, creating new mini-paintings, and looking for inspiration in the blogs of other artists.

Other highlights of my artist life in 2010 included:

February - Kansas City Science Fiction and Fantasy Society's February meeting. Fellow artists Jan Gephart and Robin Bailey and I displayed our worked and talked about our creative process.

April - Sprint's "Art From The Cube" art show. Received a 2nd place ribbon for "Rain Gear" in the Mixed Media category. Also showed "What's For Dinner" and "Kitten and Garlic" in the painting category.

May - Went Steampunk for the ConQuesT art show, with a new display and several new pieces of a steampunky nature, and several pieces that included real gemstone and mineral pigments from Daniel Smith.

June - Soonercon in Oklahoma City. Participated on art panels with fabulous cover artists David Lee Anderson and Bill Hodgson.

October - Busy month, with displays and paneling at Archon (St. Louis), Longview Literary Festival (Lee's Summit, Mo.) and the KaCSFFS writer's workshop (Kansas City).

November - Art at Contra, a small SF relaxacon here in KC.

December - Packed up the chaos and confusion that is my office/studio and removed the carpet. Installed new shelves. Further organization and photos to come.

That's 2010 in a nutshell. I intend to blog more often in 2011.

Monday, May 17, 2010

Demo - Grisaille Using Water-Soluable Pencil - At Loose Ends

I've been working on new art for ConQuesT (Kansas City, Memorial Day Weekend) and SoonerCon (Oklahoma City, first weekend of June). I love a deadline, or as Douglas Adams, one of my favorite authors, said -- "I love the sound a deadline makes as it whooshes by my head." So much to do, so little time.

One of my first steps is the underpainting or "grisaille" -- developing the tonal qualities of the painting in monochrome using a watercolor pencil.  I then go back over the piece with layers of watercolor and, sometimes, ink.

The image at right is an in-progress shot of this process. On this piece, title "At Loose Ends", I used a Faber Castell Albrecht Durer water-soluable color pencil in Mauve, manipulated with a Niji water brush. Later, I applied Daniel Smith watercolors in Rich Green Gold, Quin Burnt Orange, and French Ultramarine.

"At Loose Ends", 2.5 x 3.5 inches, ACEO, watercolor, watercolor pencil, and ink. (c) 2009 Allison Stein