Monday, March 27, 2023

More Art Journaling

I'm somewhere between restless and listless, focused and dreamy. Maybe it's a bit of spring fever, me needing a change of scenery when the scenery isn't seeing much change. However, I was quite delighted last week to see that the access road running from my sidewalk route along the dog park was now free from snow, even the big pile at the entrance gone and I could spend at least part of my daily walk on softer (but not muddy) ground.

Part of my restlessness no doubt is tied to these art journaling spreads I want to complete before clearing the work table so I can cut binding and square up the baby quilt. This first one goes back to the altered book I've been working in, that smaller format that sometimes feels cramped. The theme is the one I thought I was going to use for Laly's retreat but turned out to be unsuitable for that. Still, I had images set aside and a few things I wanted to try out in this place where it doesn't matter. First up, covering the text on the page with teabags. I keep saving them, keep wanting to use them because their color is part of my personal palette, but so far I haven't been terribly happy with what I've tried with them. I had really hoped they would knock back the text more but once the gel medium was dry, they were very transparent.

Next I arranged my images and there went any interesting things the teabags might be adding as my images pretty much covered the spread. I used a pen similar to a Flair pen to write around the images why what they represented would never be pursued. You can probably make out the "Get Real!" I wrote at the top which was the thing that dawned on me after I'd collected them as dreams I could pursue. The image in the lower left is cut from a postcard. I'd wondered if perhaps it was too thick to use, and it definitely was. Now I know. Sorry for the glare.

Now I wanted to see what would happen if I covered the spread with the thin layer of a napkin, something that was shown in one of my handmade book club lessons. In that case, everyone was using white napkins with colorful images. The white turned translucent when adhered with gel medium but I wasn't sure my plain dark teal napkin would still let the things on the page spread show. So I did this small sample and it looked like it would work.

What didn't work well was getting the napkin on the page. I used the suggested ways of gluing a little at a time but a napkin is quite unruly, would not go down where I wanted and I kept pulling it up to rearrange. I think that caused two things to happen: 1) I think the gel medium on the napkin pulled up some of the ink off the images and 2) I think even though I tried hard to get an even application of gel medium over the page, some of it may have dried before the napkin hit or wasn't there at all. Most of the images are very difficult to see and some text showed right through while other didn't - a very uneven application. Well, I DID want to knock things back and give a dreamy quality to it, as evidenced by the two words I added on top of the napkin: Me Dreaming. The camera had a difficult time deciphering all this and I tried to fix it as best I could so you could get the idea. But overall, this was not a successful experiment and I am very unhappy with the result. But now I know - using napkins is not for me! Teabags are still in the mix.

I had better luck moving on to my big art journaling sketchbook. I'd not done anything with the covers initially, but had since come up with an idea for them. I have some spray acrylics and lots of stencils so I went to work. I used a light and a dark blue, repositioning the stencil 180 degrees before spraying with the second color. Very pleased with how this came out. Again, the camera was struggling, making the left edge of the cover much lighter than it really is.

Never one to waste, I decided to see if I could transfer the paint on the top of the stencil after each color application onto the back cover. Not a lot of paint so the transfer is very light but that's ok for the back.

And now while the paint was out, I opened the sketchbook to a blank spread and created my first layer for a new journal page. I'd been thinking of ways I could add paint as a first layer other than with a brush which I'd not enjoyed or had much luck with during the retreat. I had planned on trying a brayering method I've seen but now with the success of the spraying on the cover, I decided to spray away on this spread. And I am SO happy with the look.

That dark blue is just what I wanted to set off that moon image that I'd wanted to use on my retreat page. Now it works perfectly for a new optimistic travel spread and I've started "auditioning" more images. Maybe collage isn't really the look I want, as I find myself reluctant to even think about what could go in the "blank" spaces around my images. We'll have to see how this evolves.

Monday, March 20, 2023

National Quilting Day

So did you remember that Saturday was National Quilting Day? Share with me how you spent it, whether it was working by yourself, with a group or out in public. I used to do the public demos with my quilt group but lately I just make sure I spend at least part of the day in the studio working on a quilt, generally for someone else. This year I used that time to finish the quilting on the border of Naomi's quilt. Now to tear off all that paper!

I did get brave and quilt her name into those four corners of the center area where the quilting design did not reach. Now it is ready to square up and bind. Gotta put away a LOT of art journeling stuff first - the table is still strewn with ephemera and supplies. By the way, are any of you still struggling with the time change? I have enough trouble getting up in the morning as it is without moving the clocks ahead.

Sunday, March 19, 2023

My "Hope and Freedom" Art Journal Page


Well, here it is, finished at last, my rich and image-laden version of Laly Mille's retreat theme of "choosing a focal image evoking a feeling of flight, lightness, hope and freedom in your heart." My "dream" for my page was to revolve around my desire to improve physically enough that I can get back out on the trails and even travel a bit; that's my idea of hope and freedom right now. I'd originally wanted to use a particular moon image, but it ended up being too big and just not right for everything else I was doing. It dawned on me though, as she suggested birds, butterflies, dragonflies, kites or even balloons, or perhaps something that is akin to a talisman, that my encounter with a blue heron when I lived by the lake became a symbol of so many positive things for me. I hunted through my bin of ephemera and came up with a heron to add to my page.

In contrast, I can't help but share with you Laly's finished page, which might help you better understand why this became such a struggle for me. I honestly didn't care for it very much, not nearly like I cared for other of her pages I'd seen. There were so many things I couldn't buy into for my own page. Like those flowers, growing from the "seeds of our dreams" represented by dots of paint in the ground portion. I did however extend the reeds stamped on my "ground" papers where they had been cut off.

In her wrap up session, Laly summarized the three steps she'd taken us through: working intuitively (I'm so poor at that - I usually have concrete ideas in my head), working intentionally (that's more me and this part went better), and finishing touches (a chance to step back and see what needs fixing, adding details and magic, no more big decisions - well, I'm not sure I was there yet on the no more big decisions). The first thing I realized when I stepped back was that she had worked all the way out to the edge of the page and I had not. It was a place I could add light as she encouraged, framing a bit with the bright green on two sides and the ocher yellow on the other two sides. Then I inspected the images I'd laid down, noting that even the ones with torn edges (which I never thought I'd do but really grew to like the look) did not look integrated, but just stood out too much. I worked a little green around the edges of the heron image (and also went over the gray lines of heron itself to help it show more, ditto on the legs and reeds) and got very brave in trying my hand at extending out the waterfall with acrylic paint. Somewhat successful.

On the other side of the page, I had that square of the hiker standing between two trees and my attempt at blending with paint wasn't getting me anywhere. Then while watching that extra page Laly timelapsed for us, I saw how she dealt with the same thing by collaging along the edges. Shortly after, I came across some pictures in one of my magazines that had ferns just like the ones in my image. Sure enough, I could tear portions of them to add on two sides to extend out my image and blend it better into the background. If you look closely at the larger image, you can just see the torn edges of what was added. Hard to believe that little bit of added fern made so much difference.

Here's that timelapse page of Laly's, much more of the style I like and what I'd hoped she'd be teaching. I don't so much need lessons on art journaling as I need more help with the technique of collaging. But one of her bits of encouragement to just walk away when stuck and come back later with fresh eyes turned out to be very valuable as my time "ignoring" what had become a frustration became time when new ideas and solutions like this one presented themselves.

Another example: Perhaps my favorite part of art journaling is adding text, and I was chomping at the bit to do so. While waiting for the retreat videos to be posted, I'd torn some pages out of the altered book I've been working in, laying them on the table (cardinal rule of multi-media work apparently is throw nothing away). In one of those serendipity moments, I looked down at the page on top to see the first sentence of the first paragraph starting with the words you see above. Oh yes, this was going to be the central text of my page. It really spoke to me of changing attitudes and seasons and how soon the snow will suddenly be gone and it will be warm enough to hike. The flower from the tissue paper I'd glued in the middle of the page for some reason but never got covered up as I'd hoped now became the sun with the addition of the collaged swirl, outlining of the petals and some yellow paint. But I'd not settled on anything else for text.

And then during a break in working on my page, there I was in the car, listening to a Moody Blues cd and I heard the perfect words for the rest of my text additions, and the perfect encouragement for my slightly gloomy demeanor lately as I wait for healing and good weather. A few more "fixes" with colored pencil here and there and I decided I was done.

In the end, I did much of this my way, but really did appreciate what Laly had to offer. I took the plunge to try incorporating a lot of different mediums to learn more about them and if I liked them (I still really like those Marabu Art Crayons, need to learn a different approach to acrylic paints, love how much better gel medium works as an adhesive than the thinner matte medium, enjoy Art Graf water soluble blocks over watercolor paint, never would have thought to use colored pencils had she not mentioned them, was pleased with the way both Micron pens and my fountain pen worked over the gel medium but drops of either ink or Dynaflow paint took forever to dry). I laughed at her description of that middle stage when you get stuck as the "awkward teenage stage" and that you just have to quit listening to the inner critic and either focus on what IS working or just go away for awhile. And ultimately remember that "art journaling is a time for learning and for growth. It will make you a better artist." I will have to add that to my reasons for art journaling, which have been mostly to get a thought or concern onto the page with something other than writing. Finally she stressed that these pages are not for masterpieces (and mine surely are never that, even when successful).

I'm sure you've run into plenty of references to the inner critic, but I'd not heard it described quite this way before and loved the image it evoked: 

"Sweet voice of the inner critic! This little gremlin is the part of your brain whose job it is to keep you safe from change, ANY change, even positive change. The best way to silence it is to keep going, keep showing up, take action and get creating."

Oh my gosh, the gremlin sure has my number because I really do hate change! Pretty evident during this retreat too, as I kept fighting against suggestions and directions I didn't want to take. It was all better when I took a break and quit fighting back. Will try to keep everything in mind that I experienced and learned when I dive into my next art journaling page.

Monday, March 13, 2023

Progress and Some Theories


My first layers "hot mess"
“I begin with an idea and then it becomes something else.”
― Pablo Picasso
So encouraging to run across this. It definitely describes my creative process. And it particularly seems to be true about my art journaling. I've been mulling over an idea for a page in the altered book I've been working in, collecting a few images and words, wanting to try something for the background layer and then topping it all with a translucent napkin layer like was taught in my Handmade Book Club recently. It's kind of a negative theme, a group of things that I think I want to buy, would look good in, an opportunity to travel. And then I realized, none of this is going to happen so I might as well be realistic about it. A case of who am I kidding. Thought I'd use this for my retreat art journaling page. But wait, Laly wants us to dream, dream big, bring light to our pages and maybe surprise ourselves when the dream comes true. Ugh. Not the mood I'm in at the moment, but I resolve to play her game. I think about being able to get out on the trails again, and even to travel a bit now that I've had some work done on my back. Spring is not here yet so I still have time to heal more, hoping I can indeed do some of these things I did all the time before the pain stopped me.

Example of painted and stamped papers, only willing to spatter with ink

But as you can see, even following her bright and supportive and inspirational guidance, I ended up with the same dark overall appearance that shows up in a lot of my work instead of a more light and airy look. (She kept saying not to worry at this stage - if it looked like a hot mess, then you were where you were supposed to be!) And as I progressed through the videos I realized I'd been adding steps before they were presented, an overlapping of instructions. And both made everything else about working on this page harder. For instance, my chosen collage papers made a lovely little vignette across the lower half of the page when I was supposed to be choosing strips and bits to create "texture" and then paint and draw over them. I do not want to paint over these nor add much over them. (A big thanks to Kathy Loomis for her comment on the last post mirroring my own feelings about this practice of "disappearing" beautiful papers and images.)  Her own page was so different from others I've seen her do and I didn't care for it much, but I still let her get into my head, influenced by the composition she was developing even though she kept saying not to copy her exactly. My original idea envisioned multiple images clipped from magazines scattered over the page; she only required we use a single focal image pretty much centered. Ah me. So it was a frustrating week that at times left me totally undone and the page is still not totally finished.

A saving grace: in her wrap up video, she showed a time lapse of another page she'd just done and it was exactly what I thought she was going to teach but hadn't (perhaps she felt that technique would be too complicated for many of the students trying out art journaling for the first time?), and I picked up a few ideas of how I can improve the things about my spread that are still bothering me. And she has this thing about wings representing your creativity taking flight, so her last little ritual was having us close our eyes, focus on our shoulder blades, and feel our wings. "Are they starting to flutter a bit, open up?" she asked. Ironic smile from me. I didn't want to make her feel bad by responding that my wings felt a bit crumpled, maybe even with a few holes in them. ;-) But learning has happened, sparks and epiphanies emerged seemingly from nowhere, soaked up her positivity and encouragement, and I'll be showing the results soon.

Before I ran across the Picasso quotation, I'd been over on Austin Kleon's tumblr where he posted an "In Conversation" video you might find interesting and talked about The Centre For The Less Good Idea, pulling this quotation off its website:

"Often, you start with a good idea, It might seem crystal clear at first, but when you take it off the proverbial drawing board, cracks and fissures emerge in its surface, and they cannot be ignored. It is in following the secondary ideas, those less good ideas coined to address the first idea’s cracks, that the Centre nurtures, arguing that in the act of playing with an idea, you can recognise those things you didn’t know in advance but knew somewhere inside of you."
And yeah, this has always happened to me and I used to fight it, determined to make that good idea work even when I could see it wasn't. A longer version of what Picasso said. And I am hoping this is what's happening with my journal page and the others that are already brewing in the back of my mind.
I also found interesting because it happens to me all the time, his post about "We all have three voices." How often does the voice inside your head (the thinking voice) compose a perfect few sentences but when you go to write them (your writing voice) or speak them (your speaking voice, you can't capture those exact thoughts in those words again? I can definitely see how this relates to the difference between your good idea for a work of art and what actually tumbles out into reality. Funny things, our brains.

Monday, March 06, 2023

More Diversions

There was more motorcycle racing this weekend so the stitch camp piece got a few more lines of whipped running stitch added. I did quilt the top border of Naomi's quilt to see how the way I ended up turning the corner looked and it looks pretty good. Click on the photo for a larger view. I thought I'd get at least one more side quilted before the weekend and spend the race watching time tearing off the paper, but a bigger diversion arose keeping me from any more quilting. What might that be, you ask?

Another free class. Actually, this was billed as an online retreat which started on Friday. Laly Mille was offering this opportunity to create your own weekend retreat and learn how she approaches creating her lovely art journaling pages. I've admired these ever since she was one of the Sketchbook Revival teachers my first go round. But I've never figured out how to make my art journal pages look blended and ethereal like hers so here's a chance to learn how she does it. Leading up to Friday there were things to gather and think about and one of the things I decided was that I've been trying to do this journaling in a small space while she works in a large sketchbook she makes herself. Well, I know how to make sketchbooks now, and I had the size watercolor paper she uses to make her sketchbooks so I spent quite a bit of time cutting and folding and sewing together my big 3 signature coverless book to work in. The picture above shows my setup and some of the supplies I started to gather. I only made it through day one of the retreat, watching the "first layers" video and feeling very uncomfortable and out of my depth adding paint to the pages and totally freezing up when the next step was to collage a few things on the page. Not your main images which I had at the ready but background things that may end up being covered in the end. I struggle with this concept - spending time and thought to put things down only to have them disappear. What's the point? Guess I'll learn. I couldn't quit thinking about this though and between races, I kept popping into the studio as I thought of something else I had that might work, finding some papers I'd painted that could be collaged, adding a little gesso over the swaths of paint I'd applied (which helped more than I could have imagined). Laly warned not to be discouraged at this point if you thought your piece was a hot mess because it probably is, but it will get better. Thanks for saying that - I definitely relate to the hot mess! The good thing is though that she is giving us all this week to catch up, work through the videos, add touches to the page before a wrap-up session this Friday. So much for quilting . . .

While digging out my big pads of watercolor and multi-media paper, I stumbled upon yet another set of directions for a book from the Handmade Book Club, paper clipped to one of the pads so decided to cut the paper to size while I was in a cutting mood - more diversions!. I can't believe how many books I now have lined up to make, directions paired with paper. Of course, I want to know how I got so behind on the club projects, but I'm pretty sure it was the two years in succession of surgeries - first for cataracts and then for back. I don't want to put any of this back in the closet, so once I'm done with the art journaling retreat and the baby quilt, I may have to go on a bookmaking binge.

I noticed when I popped into Laly's website that she is still encouraging people to sign up for this retreat. See her blog here if you are curious.