During a routine dental check-up some years ago, my Greek dentist once caused me some alarm by announcing that he was going to begin his autopsy. Noticing my rabbit-in-headlights expression, he calmly explained the etymology – the Greek translation of the word is something like ‘seen for myself’. I’m not the most relaxed dental patient and it was helpful to have this (slightly nervous) laugh at the time.
And of course, seeing for yourself is always the best way to learn. I drew some masking fluid on a page of my colour palettes sketchbook before adding watercolour. And – surprise – it doesn’t work.
You can see where it was, and it does act as a resist of sorts, but it doesn’t rub off in the normal way when the paint is dry. It lies underneath as a separate layer and sinks into the paper rather than sitting on the surface. I’ve added some pen marks over the top to enhance the effect here and there. I don’t know if it’s because this paper hasn’t been sized, or whether the surface is just too soft. The reason doesn’t really matter; the fact is it doesn’t work as I’d expected. But now I know, having seen for myself.
As always, I can see some of these designs working in textiles with stitch, but for now it’s just an exercise on paper. It’s been a hectic week, and paint on paper is one of my best ways to relax and recover some equilibrium.
I use a separate small square sketchbook for testing paint colours before committing to the thing in progress, and I really like the little abstract compositions that happen purely by accident:
Another long bank holiday weekend here in the UK – whatever your plans are, enjoy some time out.
One of those strange conundrums – the older I get, the slower I become, but the faster time passes. That makes a net loss multiplied by two, according to my flawed logic.
There is no rush, of course, and everything takes as long as it takes. There just never seems to be enough time to do all the things I want to do.
So I am still on paper and got distracted by noticing I was running low on collage paper, so had to stop and paint some more. Actually this is one of my favourite activities. I use inks, paints and mark-making tools of various kinds to liven up old book pages, envelopes, junk mail etc. Loosening up and splashing some colour around makes for a very happy (slightly messy) afternoon.
The sketchbooks I made for the shop last week disappeared in about an hour, so I’ve made a few more – these are the last of them, for now at least.
And finally, in what’s turning out to be more of a news roundup than any kind of meaningful post, I’m really happy to have had my work featured by My Modern Met. You can read the article here.
Sketchbook-making, obviously. I prefer to make my own because I like to vary the paper content and size of the pages. Readymade sketchbooks are usually variations on A4 and I don’t always like the proportions.
The little book with the wraparound cover below is for experimenting with various forms of ink. I have acrylic ink, ink/stamp pads, inktense blocks, and a few distress crayons, plus the more obvious drawing pens etc.
Just somewhere to try dripping, blotting, stamping, stencilling etc with various kinds of ink. My favourite thing so far is drawing with a little twig dipped in ink.
The spread below was made by sponging yellow/purple ink onto damp paper and then using the twig to draw in the green marks. A few random splatters is always very satisfying.
I also quite like the distress crayons, which you can smudge with a bit of water. This is the wrong kind of paper really (it’s very soft cotton rag), as it won’t stand up to too much rubbing. I’ll probably try this again on more robust paper.
I made more sketchbooks than I will use, so I’ve added a handful or so to the shop.
Daily paint doodles have produced these little pictograms, influenced by prehistoric art and the images found on rocks and in caves everywhere in the ancient world:
Prehistoric art is something I’ve always found really interesting. Not so much the figurative drawings of the various beasts fleeing from human hunters, but more the abstract mark-making and simple patterns. They seem to crop up everywhere from the same kind of time. Shapes like circles, spirals, wavy lines, squares, short lines – basic marks. These are the marks I make most often in my sketchbooks too, and a lot of the shapes will translate very effectively from pen to needle and thread.
I’ve prepared a few long cloths, about 10” x 40-ish”, for adding timeless marks with thread. Just to see where it goes. I’m using linen or cotton as the backing fabric, and brushed cotton in place of batting. The top layers are strips of hand-dyed silk, cotton, and linen.
I’m beginning with circular blanket stitch on hand-dyed textured silk fabric and looking forward to following the thread.
I’ve been looking for a set of good quality watercolours but haven’t been able to find anything that doesn’t include a lot of colours I would never use. After falling down a few online watercolour rabbit holes, I found that you can make your own half-pan set from tubes.
Imagine the possibilities! I have quite a few little tubes already – probably far too many, but colour is too enticing to resist, and I will use it all eventually. I’m not a painter, but I do like to paint. Getting all the tubes out feels like too much hassle and mess for a quick sketchbook page, so making a pan set with the colours I’ve already got is the perfect solution.
You can buy empty watercolour tins quite cheaply, and many of them come with empty half pans ready to fill from tubes.
The result is a perfect set of watercolours, conveniently in a metal box that takes seconds to set up.
There’s a lot of green, but then that’s what I like. There’s a mix of brands here – mostly Daniel Smith, with some Winsor & Newton, Schmincke, and Jacksons. They all sit quite happily together and mix well. Some set harder than others, but it seems to make no difference to the paint itself. The Jacksons paints still haven’t set hard after a few days, but this palette lives in a drawer and won’t be carried around, so I don’t think it matters if it doesn’t set.
I’d like to spend a bit of each day on sketchbook work, and this convenient set-up will make it so much easier to restart a daily practice. I’ve been doing some doodles just to see what happens and already they look like possible textile/stitch samples.
This week I’ve made a notebook using some light weight cotton rag paper – somewhere to collect colour palettes, swatches, and notes about colour.
The paper signatures were easy enough – just folded pairs that could be stitched to the spine of a cover. The cover itself literally dropped through the letter box one day. I cut a corrugated cardboard mailer box to size and painted it white:
The depth of the box turned out to be exactly the right size for a spine to fit the pile of signatures:
I painted some abaca tissue paper with acrylic inks and collaged/stencilled it a bit and used that to cover the white cardboard. I’ve reinforced the spine with another layer of painted tissue.
You can still see the texture of corrugated cardboard underneath the colour but it’s functioning pretty well as a book.
Next job this week is to find a way through these, when they’re dry:
If I can get through them all (and if I can stop myself from keeping them!) they’ll be available from next week.
In my new life of freedom from the nine to five treadmill, I’m trying to set aside Fridays for research and development (AKA playing).
I was given these beautiful super-granulation Schmincke watercolours for Christmas but have been really busy since January and I’ve been trying to set aside some time to try them. It turns out today was the day.
I’m no great watercolourist but what I like most about watercolour paints is that it’s quite hard to make anything look ugly. I really like the granulation effect.
Imposter Syndrome, inner critic, Captain Failure, whatever you call it – I feel as if I finally understand it, and this understanding has truly changed my life. It’s one of the many amazing things I’m learning from the incredible Stacie Bloomfield and her Leverage Your Art online course.
Having been beaten down countless times (for decades) by the inner critic’s ‘you’re not good enough’ mantra, I now understand it for what it is. It’s just a part of my brain that doesn’t like change and is frightened by risk-taking. It comes up with what it thinks are valid reasons to prevent my doing something that doesn’t feel safe.
In a real life-or-death situation that’s immensely useful, and the inner critic is actually your greatest protector if it tells you that you really shouldn’t jump out of a tenth floor window. The problem is that the inner critic can’t always tell the difference between a genuine life-threatening change and a personal challenge, so it tells you the same limiting things over and over again until you can no longer tell the difference either. It seems to me that you and the inner critic grow together and you just get used to not questioning its advice.
I’ve nearly finished the right-brain business plan, and am including the inner critic just so I don’t forget that sometimes it tells me things that may not be true.
Underneath all of those life-limiting nonsense messages is the truth – that somewhere in there, a part of your brain is afraid that you will die if you change. You can’t grow if you don’t take occasional considered risks. It’s not natural to stand still or stay the same. Everything changes eventually.
So finally I’m recognising that messages like ‘you don’t deserve this’ and ‘this will never work’ are just really, really silly.
Settle down with a cup of tea or something because there are lots of pictures today.
You might recall I enrolled on the Heart of Soil online workshop last month – you can see my earlier post about it here. I collected all the lessons into a little sketchbook, and it’s been a lot of fun to revisit some techniques I haven’t used for a while. I particularly liked the limited colour palette – just blues and yellows – and the pages in the resulting book are nicely coordinated.
I went a bit off-piste with some of these and added some lines from a vintage poetry anthology to some of the pages, and I added a teabag pocket to this one too. I made a stencil from Tyvek for the background leaf and flower images.
The lines of poetry on the page below are from a Rupert Brooke poem, mixed up to create a found poem.
Of course the sketchbook itself is based on the one-page sketchbook technique (you fold a single sheet of paper, cut it strategically and fold it into an eight-page booklet) but I thought it would be fun to make a tiny sketchbook to tuck inside the bigger one. The smaller version is made from a sheet of A4 paper; just me enjoying myself, really.
I thought it might be fun to include a little video run-through but then I noticed the colour of my hands and thought I ought to explain. I did some dyeing this morning and – I do it every time – forgot to put the gloves back on when rinsing. My hands are not normally purple, just in case anyone is worried.
A very happy collection of classes and I enjoyed them immensely. Next up, I’m doing the Traveller Blanket course with the lovely Dijanne Cevaal and am looking forward to that. Next year I hope to be teaching online classes myself, and I’ve figured that the best way to see what works is to sign up for a few myself. And of course there is always something new to learn.
Still having lots of creative fun with paint and paper in the Heart of Soil class – it’s a lovely course and for an excellent cause – there is still time to sign up, which you can do here.
Accidental discovery of the day is that you can very easily make your own stencils from Tyvek. Apparently Tyvek is used for making envelopes in the US but you’re more likely to find it in a DIY shop in the UK – I think it’s used in building/construction and in PPE, but it’s also been used in mixed media art for several years now for its propensity to shrink and bubble when heated. It’s about as thick as copy paper but is much more durable, and very easy to cut with a craft knife.
This page is based on a technique taught by Michelle Schratz (if you’re an Instagram person you can find her here.)
I found a couple of lines of poetry (Rupert Brooke, from a vintage anthology) and used an old teabag as the pocket for the cut-out flowers.
The yellow ribbon, saved from something many years ago, is exactly the right colour, which is proof that you should Keep All Your Collage Supplies For Ever. One of these days I will need a bigger house.
I am really enjoying the limited palette and am already thinking way ahead with ideas to try this in various other colours and media. Also it’s immensely enjoyable to make something just for the fun of it, without any pressure for it to turn out ‘right’, whatever that is. Wishing everyone a happy week.