The Joys of Teaching Mixed Media: Part 6 Be Brave and Layer!

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This is the final post in a series about teaching a mixed media workshop at the Arkansas Arts Center. So far, we’ve covered the use of stencils and stamps, image transfer, collage, language and text, and drawing. Finally, to pull it all together, we will focus on one overarching goal of every workshop: a willingness and ability to work in layers (as seen in the slideshow above).

IMG_4972The benefits of layering our mixed media pieces are numerous. For starters, a rich history is built into the composition. Intrigue is created with areas that become partially hidden or obscured. Layering creates an interesting surface, one that is dynamic and deep. During the layering process, we can develop texture. Finally, a willingness to cover up our work allows for the unexpected….the happy accident. If we see each mark as precious, we tend to get attached to mediocre work and wonder why our art isn’t growing or why we can’t seem to get to the next level. The “next level” requires a fearlessness and ability to paint over, to abolish, to cover our work in a constant exploration of style, material use and composition development.

Remember, whether you are on your first layer or your tenth, there are many ways to get the paint on the paper:

  • Large brush blob with drips (hold up and tap on table)photo 2 (1)IMG_0267
  • Straw blowing or blow dryer
  • Scraper with paint
  • Sponge on paint
  • Splatter paint with toothbrush and paint brush
  • Medicine dropper or spray bottle
  • Drip painting

Building a pattern in at least one of the layers is a strong visual tool. Patterns can be implemented using countless methods, for example:

  • Use acrylic gel in paint and create texture and pattern (the gel will add body to the paint and then you can press a tool into the gel; for example, drag a comb through the gel to create a striped pattern)
  • Make or buy stamps to create pattern (ie the end of an eraser can be used to stamp a dot pattern)
  • Use stencils for pattern
  • Use language for pattern by handwriting, collage, stencils or image transfer
  • Tear painter’s tape into shapes, or use it “as is” for a bold stripe pattern

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The student on the left is cutting out a tree shape from wallpaper to use as a stencil. In the piece above, the student made a hummingbird stencil and used painters tape to create pattern.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

One challenge many of the students face after days of fearless experimentation, is their work sometimes lacks a focal point – a place for the eye to land. When critiquing, we often express a need to “calm down” certain areas of the painting or a need to guide the eye. There are many ways to resolve this issue when applying a final layer:

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“Dissolve II” by Raphaëlle Goethals

1. Paint over everything (students are often resistant to this suggestion but once you learn to paint over your work, you are set free!). You can use a semi-transparent paint layer so the marks and patterns underneath remain somewhat visible.

2. Along the lines of painting over everything, you can choose areas to save and not paint over. One way to do this is to lightly draw shapes where you do not plan to put the final layer of paint. Another way is to use a stencil or stencils to block out areas.

Version 23. You can also use acrylic gel medium to create windows to the layers underneath the final layer. Paint the gel medium thickly in whatever shape(s) you choose, let the medium completely dry, then paint over the entire piece. Using a damp rag or paper towel, wipe IMG_0262back the paint from the areas where there is medium and you will have created a window. If the paint dries and seems stuck to the medium, use a razor blade to scrape paint off, which creates an interesting texture. Other resists that are fun to try include candle wax and one of my favorites: rubber cement.

You can also create a focal point by adding a dominant feature such as a collage item, an image transfer, a pop of color, text, a bold mark…anything that stands out among it’s surroundings. While figuring out what to do for your focal point, consider the previously mentioned design element: CONTRAST.

For example, below on the left, Robert Rauschenberg pushes some of the collaged text back by painting over sections with a thin white paint. The inclusion of thick red marks among the neutral color palette allows the red to become a focal point. On the right, artist Sigmar Polke uses white to paint around a stencil among dark colors. While the white is transparent, allowing the patterns beneath to show through, it is still a strong contrast to the heavy colors. Additionally, the patterns are detailed and meticulous which contrast the organic application of the ethereal white layer.
DSC_0842thWhether your work includes representational imagery, or is purely abstract, learning to work with layers will provide you with a strong tool to develop intriguing compositions. Especially freeing is the idea that any marks can be covered, any mistakes can be altered or hidden. Once we learn this lesson with the use of layers, we are more willing to take risks, experiment, and push our work in a new direction. I hope you have enjoyed the mixed media blog series. If you are in Central Arkansas, please check out the Arkansas Arts Center schedule of classes by visiting: http://www.arkarts.com/

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Laura Raborn, “Mixed Messages,” 2015, fabric, image transfer, collage, acrylic, and oil on wood panel, 16×20″

Thank you for reading!

Laura

The Joys of Teaching Mixed Media: Part 5 Drawing

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David Bailin, detail of “Papers,” 2013, charcoal, oil, pastel and coffee on prepared paper

Throughout my time as a student and an artist, I frequently notice an assumption we make: we assume artistic talent correlates with an ability to draw representationally. I can’t count the number of times I’ve heard statements like, “Oh, I’m not artistic at all…I can hardly draw a stick figure.” I take issue with this false assumption. Drawing is only one of many ways to create art. Furthermore, I believe most people CAN draw. I used to not be able to draw – seriously, I was terrible at it. With practice and instruction, now I can. I certainly have plenty of room for improvement, but I’m getting better. Sure, some people have a natural aptitude for it. They make it look effortless. For those who believe they “can’t draw,” sometimes it just takes a few tips and some patience.

Today’s post will introduce drawing tips, as well as ways to incorporate drawing into your mixed media artwork. When teaching workshops at the Arkansas Arts Center, we spend about 30 minutes on drawing by focusing on:

  1. contour studies
  2. value studies
  3. mass studies

We also spend a few minutes looking at an important element of drawing: line. Line quality and variety is an essential tool when it comes to drawing. It can guide the eye, build a pattern, and emphasize an area of an abstract piece. Line can turn into all sorts of doodles and shapes. Best of all, you don’t have to know how to “draw” in a traditional sense to create lines. Before we review the specific drawing lessons, let’s take a moment to look closely at this Jean-Michel Basquiat painting:

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Untitled, 1982, acrylic and oil on linen, 76×94″

Do you think it is well drawn? Are there recognizable objects and figures? Is this more or less interesting to you than a highly realistic figure painting? Take note of the lines and shapes. If you get out a piece of paper right now, are you able to make the wavy lines such as those on the far right and the far left sides? Notice the variety of circles – on top of the skull, in place of the hands, inside the rectangular body. Can you draw circles like this? I am not asking that anyone imitate Basquiat. Simply allow yourself to notice the drawn line in the work of other artists. I can’t imagine that Basquiat asked himself if the figure is “good” or “well-drawn.” He freely works with expressive line. He paints over areas constantly experimenting with adding and subtracting information. Often, as artists and students, we do not allow ourselves this freedom based on the belief that we “can’t draw” or our drawings aren’t “good.” Well, enough is enough. You can draw and here are a few exercises to get you started.

  1. Blind contour: photo 4 (2)this is when you look at an object and draw it’s outline without looking at your paper or pencil. Just stare at the object and let your hand put down a line. By not looking at the paper, we are able to let go of perfection.
  2. Value: this is when you look closely at the light and dark areas of the object. You can include an outline but unlike the conphoto 5 (1)tour studies, you are not searching for the edges of the object or trying to get the outline just right. Instead, concentrate on light and dark using a simplified scale of three shades in a range: lightest, middle, and darkest. Often when we admire painters for their loose brushwork, their successful rendering comes from a masterful use of value to create an object and not necessarily a well executed outline.
  3. Mass: this technique, which I learned from artist David Bailin, is like magic and has probably improved my drawing skills more than anyphoto 3 (1) other. Using rapid back and forth sketch marks, try to fill in the inside of the object without accidentally adding an outline. You can include value if you choose. Initially difficult, as our eyes and hands want to concentrate on the edge of the object, this technique forces us to see how the object takes up space in an environment. Once you have the general mass filled in, take a step back and compare it to the object. After making adjustments by erasing or adding mass, you can outline the object. The magic happens when you notice your drawing is, perhaps, superior to a drawing that started with an outline. I have found this exercise particularly helpful when drawing complex forms such as the human figure.

There are many more drawing techniques than can provide all artists, no matter what level, with immediate improvement. If drawing interests you, check out the drawing classes at the Arkansas Arts Center. In the meantime, back to how drawing can be a valuable tool in your mixed media work. Remember the Basquiat painting? Let’s talk a moment about doodles. Sometimes we need a little nudge toward how to make a mark on paper. Look around you at the multitude of designs and lines. You can make designs on paper based on fabric on your couch, or lines on a garden gate. You can look at brochures, magazines and all sorts of pieces of paper. Below, I used a padded envelope that came in the mail and a brochure from a vacation to inspire doodles.

Using a pencil, conte crayon or charcoal, let the images you see in life work their way onto your paper. If you get in the habit of doodling in a sketchbook, these marks can become a treasure trove for layers in your mixed media paintings. You can also look up doodles in books and online for inspiration. Below is a piece by Parisian artist, Marcus McAllister (who originally hails from Little Rock, AR!). He beautifully arranges a drawing of a bird with abstract elements such as layers of dripping green and blue paint, a layer of creamy white using a stencil, and a pattern of yellow circles along the upper part of the composition.

Marcus

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Laura Raborn, detail of mixed media study

Whether you doodle, practice drawing from life, use printed material for design inspiration or choose a child-like approach to draw shapes resembling recognizable imagery, please have faith in your ability to add drawing to your mixed media work. Remember, any failed attempts can be obliterated with stencils, words, collage or any of the materials and methods from the last few posts.

Next, I’ll wrap up the mixed media workshop series with a final discussion on layering. Until then, thank you for reading!   Laura

 

 

 

The Joys of Teaching Mixed Media: Part 4 Language and Letters

Raborn, “Notice,” 2014, acrylic and charcoal on panel, 25×25″

There are many reasons and ways to add language to our work. While teaching a mixed media workshop at the Arkansas Arts Center, I always wish we could spend more time on language, letters, and words.

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Raborn, “The Code Breaker,” 2015, mixed media on panel, 18×24″

Words can be the focus of the artwork, the complete purpose of the piece. Or words can be subtly buried within the work. We can add thoughts, names, lyrics, accomplishments, names of places, religious passages, historic quotes, dates, poems, all sorts of words. Words can be used to set a mood, or can be used to contrast something in the piece. They can be unclear and confusing; they can be mysterious. They can be filled with meaning or completely meaningless. Letters can be used to establish a pattern, where the letter loses meaning and is simply a chosen shape for the composition, as seen in the work of Robert Rauschenberg. Words can be borrowed from the media or from a product to reference popular culture. There must be countless motives to incorporate words into artwork; I’ve listed just a fraction of the reasons.

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detail of demo from Arkansas Arts Center workshop

If you are considering adding language to your work, here are a few methods. First, you can simply hand write on a painting. Try charcoal (use a spray fixative – even hair spray will work in a pinch), pencil, markers, paint….just about any mark making tool will work for handwriting on a water based paint such as acrylics or water color. You can also use all these mediums with letter and number stencils or stamps. Stencils and stamps produce a mechanical look with a hard edge which can be a stark contrast to loosely painted areas of a composition. Look at this Richard Prince piece (below) I had the joy of finding at the National Portrait Gallery in Washington, D.C. Notice the loose brushwork and monochromatic layers of paint. Notice the drips and the splotchy paint under the letters. The mechanical lettering highly contrasts the surrounding and underlying space which is a bit jarring for the viewer. Another contrast is set up conceptually: there is an odd humor among the dark palette. The disjointed messages are confusing and dark while simultaneously comical.

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Richard Prince, “In Morning,” 2002, acrylic and oil on canvas, 89×75″

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Detail from demo

Using collage by cutting letters out of old books, magazines or any printed material works well and is one of my favorite ways to add words, particularly when I plan to add more layers on top of the collaged letters. In the example on the left, I first glued color copies of a map on a gessoed canvas. After the glued paper was totally dry, I then added acrylic gel medium on top of the maps. While the medium was wet (and slightly thick), I raked a comb through the medium to create lined texture. After the medium dried, I painted over the entire piece with the light blue acrylic paint. In order to re-expose the map, I wiped back some blue paint with a damp paper towel (NOTE: in the last post of this workshop series, I will talk more about acrylic gel medium layers and about the yellow drippy layer).

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Raborn, detail from “Mixed Messages,” 2015, mixed media on panel, 16×20″

Remember the recent post about image transfer? The transfer method is an excellent way to add language because the letters look embedded into the artwork instead of added on top.

While this sounds counter intuitive, I try not to think too literally when considering language in my work. I recall comments professor Taimur Cleary frequently made during grad school critiques. He pointed

Raborn, Untitled, 2014, acrylic and charcoal on panel, 32×24″

out that sometimes my marks resemble language. He allowed me to see the potential in creating marks that remind the viewer of letters and words but are meaningless (in terms of legibility). But the marks can still have a desired effect: making the viewer lean in and WANT to read the work. The IDEA of language as a form of communication can exist in a work without any actual letters or words! Following are two examples of the incorporation of words into paintings. They make it look so easy!

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Robert Rauschenberg, “Dam,” 1959

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Christopher Wool, The Harder You Look

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

If you’re still not feelin’ it and want to hear an inspiring lecture about the importance of words in every aspect of our lives, check out the TED Talk by writer Kelly Corrigan. It might initially seem unrelated to a mixed media workshop post, but opportunities like listening to Kelly’s talk is one of the many rudders that steers the direction of my artwork. I think you’ll find her inspiring, too.

http://tedxtalks.ted.com/video/More-Reading-Kelly-Corrigan-at

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Next up: You think you can’t draw? Oh, yes you can! We’ll review several approaches to drawing and how to include the drawn line in your mixed media artwork. Thank you for reading!  Laura

 

Hanging out with David Bailin, artist and drawing teacher extraordinare

 

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The Joys of Teaching Mixed Media: Part 3 Collage

Confession: Until I started teaching a Mixed Media workshop at the Arkansas Arts Center, I failed to see the value in collage. In my mind, collage reeked of the 1970’s decoupage trend combined with my memories of glue sticks in the 1st grade.

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Laura Raborn, detail of Untitled (workshop experiment), 2015, mixed media on paper

I had a total change of heart during a recent workshop, when gluing images of women from a fashion magazine on a heavily textured painting. Like many of the methods I describe in this series of posts, collage works well in the layering process. Images can be altered to create or emphasize a concept that has no association with the original meaning of the collaged image. It is simply a tool to CONTRAST other marks in the piece or a tool to allude to an idea. In the example to the left, the female figure is barely visible, as it has been sanded, painted, and scrubbed. Once the eye finds the figure, it is as if a discovery has been made and the search for recognizable imagery among the abstraction and texture is part of the allure.

The tools you need are minimal: any type of glue (acrylic gel medium is my favorite) plus text, photos, magazine images, or whatever you can cut out and glue down. Remember, you can also appropriate from your own photos or artwork – just incorporate them into a larger piece. I’ve used my hand-drawn stencils as collage pieces and it is now one of my favorite techniques. In the painting below, can you see the strip of fabric that runs vertically on the right side? And the cut out male figure behind the girl’s eye? The collage item can be embedded into the painting and does not have to be highly visible or representational. It can help build the surface, establish a pattern, or support an idea presented elsewhere in the piece.

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Laura Raborn, “Girl Looking Outward”, 2015, mixed media on wood panel, 16 x 20″

IMG_4803As I’ve stated about many mixed media methods, collage is a method that CONTRASTS hand drawn or painted areas. This juxtaposition makes engaging composition. Take for example the work of Tyler Hildebrand, seen here on the left. The highly recognizable Waffle House signage contrasts the childlike drawings. Had the Waffle House sign been hand drawn or painted, the acute idea of American food signage would be diminished. The collage material makes the viewer go back and consider the sign again and again.

IMG_4805In another Hildebrand painting, the artist uses a drawing from his childhood and with painted line, tethers the drawing to the bulbous male form. Including the actual paper drawing in the composition conveys history. It doesn’t just allude to keepsakes – the dinosaur drawing on notebook paper IS a keepsake. The collage item encourages the viewer to ponder ideas about memory or childhood experiences traveling with us throughout adulthood.

When considering various images to appropriate, remember the collage item(s) can become your surface under other media, as seen in the work of German artist, Sigmar Polke. Seen below, Polke draws scenes and uses stencils on top of fabric swatches. If you are a mixed media artist, it would be worth your time to further investigate the work of Sigmar Polke. As an experimental painter and photographer, he brilliantly used all of the techniques (plus some) we explore in the mixed media class at the Arkansas Arts Center – including image transfer, the use of language, collage, stencils, stamps, drawing, layers, patterns and textures. He was ferociously experimental with all materials, allowing for the accident to coincide with concept.

Lastly, another effective way to alter the meaning of the original collage item, is to merge photos in order to create something else altogether. Is there something you are passionate about but feel unable to convey through painting and drawing? Communicate your ideas through a creative fusing of photographic imagery. Let’s say my goal is to create a piece about sea turtles and human activity. After printing photos I found online, I am playing with various combinations (please note this is not a well thought out example – just a moderately successful demo):

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Searching for photos online to fit the sea turtle idea, and trying to guess about scale while printing was fairly time consuming. Many collage artists  keep organized files to store interesting images they come across in the mail, catalogs, magazines, and any other printed material. Then they just search their own categorized files when starting a project. Artist Holly Roberts does an excellent job explaining her process – and her work is inspirational for those trying to learn more about collage.

To see her work, visit http://www.hollyrobertsstudio.com/
For a short informative video about her methods, visit: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=Z5dqxGVI4sA

Next up in the mixed media workshop series: Incorporating text and language into compositphoto 2 (1)ions. Until then, thank you for reading….and a Happy Healthy New Year to all!

 

 

The Joys of Teaching Mixed Media: Part 2 Image Transfer

DSC_0031In the last post, I described a workshop I periodically teach at the Arkansas Arts Center. The focus of that article shifted from the purpose and joy of teaching to a specific technique from the workshop: the use of stencils and stamps. This second post of the series focuses on a technique we explore in class called Image Transfer. First I’ll describe HOW to do image transfer, then I’ll talk about WHY. As with most art materials, there are countless ways to use this technique and, of course, reasons abound.

Here is what you need: any type of gel medium (as long as the words “gel medium” are in the name of the product), a paint brush (a 1″ flat bristle brush works well), and an image you want to transfer onto your work surface. This technique works on paper, canvas, wood panels, lamp shades, fabric…just about any surface with a little tooth to it. As far as the image options to transfer, you can use photos and text from magazines, newspaper, or your printer. Thick paper such as photos from a calendar are difficult and processed photography does not release the ink well. As you will see, we will rub off the paper as a final step and thick paper is much more laborious. So, magazine, newspaper and images on printer paper (at home or at stores such as Staples) work well.

For this example, let’s say you are working on a paper surface and using magazines for your image source. Once you have your image cut out, apply a liberal amount of gel medium to your paper surface (this is the surface RECEIVING the ink from your image), slightly dampen the surface of the image you want to apply, and press it face down on the paper. Apply pressure in the middle of the image and gently smooth out the air bubbles, pushing them outward toward the edges. Wherever there are air bubbles, the ink will not adhere to your paper surface. A roller or brayer works well to remove air bubbles and helps press the image ink into your paper surface which will be a new home for the ink.

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Apply a liberal amount of gel medium to the receiving surface

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Press your magazine image face down into the layer of gel medium and gently push out air bubbles using your finger or a brayer

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

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Remove excess gel medium with a damp paper towel

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Some people let the image dry for a few hours and have success with the transfer. However, many artists (myself included) insist that waiting 24 hours for the image to dry and set increases the success rate. So, put the piece aside and work on something else until tomorrow!

Here is another example – this time with text on canvas. Please note that when transferring text, the letters will be reversed in the end. I like the reverse text because it obscures the meaning of the words but if you want the letters to come out legibly, you can print text on your home printer. Just flip the text box in your document so you are printing backwards letters that will be reversed again in the image transfer process and will come out legibly. If this is confusing, the photos below might clarify:

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Here are the letters I want to use (from a magazine) but I need to turn them over face down

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Here are the letters attached to the canvas in gel medium face down. When I remove the paper pulp tomorrow, the face down ink will remain and the letters will be backwards

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THE NEXT DAY:

First apply water to the transfer. Don’t be stingy with the water. It will not hurt your artwork. The more water, the more it assists in breaking down the paper pulp. Using fine grain sandpaper, gently sand the back of the image transfer paper. Once you have the paper roughed up, apply more water. If it gets lots of pulp balls, just clean the surface with a damp paper towel and apply more water. Using your fingers, gently rub the paper pulp and wipe it away. Some paper is more stubborn (aka high quality) than others and the amount of time on this step can vary greatly. Be sure not to sand too hard or rub too vigorously or you might remove some of the ink that you are trying to transfer. Here are photos demonstrating the steps:

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You can use a brush to apply water to the transfer, better yet, dump water on with your hands.

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Let the water soak in and lightly sand the back of the transfer. Do not over sand or you might accidentally remove the ink.

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Once the pulp is roughed up, use wet fingers and remove layers of the pulp by rubbing the transfer in a circular motion.

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The are many reasons and uses for image transfer. Like collage, transferring commercially produced imagery CONTRASTS drawn line and paint. Unlike collage, transferred images attach seamlessly to the paper (or canvas or whatever you are working on) so the image integrates with other areas of the composition. Instead of looking added on top or glued on, the transferred photo or text appears to be embedded into the design. This is particularly effective when building a surface with layers under as well as over the image transfer.

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A NOTE ABOUT ETHICS AND IMAGE USE:

Copyright laws and image use laws seem to change daily and it is becoming increasingly difficult to determine what images you can ethically use in your artwork. With social media and a plethora of photo apps, millions of people are publicly sharing their images while signing away ownership. In considering what images to use, I ask myself, is this photo a work of art that another artist created? How would I feel if one of my paintings appeared in another person’s artwork, and how would I feel if their art (using my work) were for sale and publicly displayed? I do not have a “one size fits all” answer; however, I believe the purpose of image transfer is to use commercially produced images in an heavily altered way. In my own work, an emphasis on layering helps alter and sometimes obliterate the transferred image. So enjoy experimenting with this technique, but always be thoughtful about the images you choose. For more information about copyright and fair use of imagery, there are many online resources such as:
http://www.collageart.org/copyright_and_fair_use/

Speaking of appropriating imagery, next up in this mixed media series is COLLAGE!

Thank you for reading!
Laura

The Joys of Teaching Mixed Media

DSC_0029This is Part 1 of a series on teaching mixed media

A rewarding result of going back to school was my exposure to many great teachers. Their technical knowledge, teaching styles, communication, critiques, and guidance helped me become a better artist. One consequence I did not foresee, was these teachers would also help me become a teacher. I suppose it is deep gratitude toward these people that makes me want to share what they have shared. As a way of honoring and thanking such talented professionals, I strive to be a great teacher.

Teaching the “Happy Accidents” mixed media class at the Arkansas Arts Center provides me with an opportunity to channel my former teachers. Students see me at the front of the room lecturing through a demo, but they are actually getting a David Bailin inspired drawing lesson. Or as I circle the room with individual instruction, the students are experiencing the questioning technique of DavIMG_6106id Clemons who taught me that listening is essential in critiques and often more important than talking. I’m finding as I teach workshops, most students want to learn new techniques but most of all, they want to be heard and want to use the workshop, and their art making to help them communicate. And people want to experience moments of success and joy that art can bring. As abstract artist Pinkney Herbert (as seen at an Arrowmont workshop on the left) taught me, kindness and caring about students can go a long way in helping them learn.

How does a mixed media class meet these needs? Well, for starters, I ask the IMG_0249students to leave their fear at the door. The class is a place to try new techniques, to experiment, to focus on method and not on results. This is a chance to stop trying so dang hard to achieve and stop comparing ourselves to others. What a relief! The more students are able to take this advice, the more they accidentally create amazing pieces of art.

In this series of posts, I’ll describe the workshop and outline specific techniques in case you want to try them at home, or share them with a friend. Perhaps you can sign up for a workshop at the Arkansas Arts Center. Over the next three weeks, I’ll post five or six entries discussing:

1. stencils and stamps
2. image transfer
3. collage
4. text and language
5. drawing
6. building texture and layering

So, to get started during Day 1, using acrylic paint we quickly add a ground layer to two pieces of paper. The paper must be heavier than drawing paper in order to handle the multiple layers to come. As the paint dries, students answer a few questions that are meant to prompt them throughout the three day workshop, and offer ideas if they feel stuck. I ask questions such as, “What is your favorite place to spend time?” “If you had a completely free week, what would you do with your time?” and “Do you have any favorite words, quotes, poems, lyrics?”

IMG_0267And then the action really starts. We cover various tools and ways to apply paint to paper. A paint brush works fine, of course, but imagine the marks made when dragging the paint with a squeegee? Or using a straw to blow paint around, or dabbing paint on with a sponge, or splattering with a toothbrush?

While that layer dries, we review compositional guidelines and elements of design. Version 2Throughout the workshop, students can look at the terms on the chalkboard and learn to self direct and analyze their work.  We discuss scale, value, contrast, line, the color wheel, texture, and pattern. We discuss how to abstractly represent an idea and how to simplify subject matter. And one of my favorites – we discuss layering, and how the additive and subtractive process of layering builds an alluring surface that is rich with information and history. Though we could spend days on these lessons, the 20 minute discussion helps students learn language and methods that quickly improve the quality of their work. To really drive the key terms home, and get a deeper understanding, we watch a few short videos on artists such as Chris Wool, Joan Mitchell, and Sigmar Polke. The work of these iconic artist leads to many “Ah-ha” moments and the students rush to get back to their work stations.

STENCILS AND STAMPS

DSC_0411In the next layer, we work with stencils and stamps while considering pattern. Artist Traci Bautista has fabulous demonstrations on the website Stampington.com and we all agreed that this is not stenciling as we remember from childhood. While places like Michael’s Arts and Crafts carry beautifully designed stencils, you can make your own for free. Using parchment paper, drawing paper or cardboard, you can cut all kinds of shapes, patterns, and letters for one-of-a-kind stencils. Notice that when cutting your own stencils, you will end up with two pieces: a negative (the hole that remains in the paper where the shape used to be) and a positive (the shape you cut and removed from the paper). Both pieces can be used for stenciling. Additionally, instead of laying the stencil on your surface and painting around it, you can paint directly on the stencil, flip it over and press it into the surface where it acts as a stamp (styrofoam works really well). Once you start stenciling and stamping, and get a handle on all the possibilities, you might notice all sorts of products in your trashcan that add pattern and shapes to your paintings.

photo 1For example, pictured to the left are two store bought stencils and two from my trashcan (one piece of cardboard and one styrofoam tray that I cut a leafy pattern into with an exacto-knife). These four items were used to add the pink and white layers to the green and yellow background seen below.

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Using hand drawn stencils cut from drawing paper (which I stick on the window for possible future use), my goal in the painting below was to create a dream-like Venice inspired arrangement. First, with a large brush, I applied brown loose brushstrokes. Then I applied a muted watery green partially covering some of the brown. Next, came the stencils. Using a thin consistency of off-white paint, I painted around the stencils, repeating the architectural forms and the horse shapes that were each based on images from Piazza San Marco in Venice.

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So, what’s the point of using stencils? When creating a painting, I think often about CONTRAST. Work that has contrasting colors, subjects, shapes, or brushwork, for example, tends to engage the viewer. Stencils allow an artist to contrast hard edged shapes with loose brushwork, as seen in the above example. They also allow for recognizable imagery to contrast abstracted areas. One artist who provocatively contrasts stamped or stenciled images with loose abstracted areas is Firelei Báez.

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Detail, The Last One Who Remembers It, 2015 by Firelei Báez

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Detail, Trust Memory Over History, 2015 by Firelei Báez

Her exhibit, currently showing at the Perez Museum in Miami, explores identity of a group of people. Initially, many of the pieces appear to be organic and bright, with perhaps a focus on animal life and the natural world. However, once the viewer’s eye lands on stamped chains, fists, foot prints, and hair picks, we begin to see much more than nature, pattern, color and abstraction. We see symbols, shapes, stereotypes and history associated with a group of people. Suddenly, our minds are forced to acknowledge a darkness amongst the beauty presented by Báez. Again, CONTRAST is an important element used by the artist. And stencils and stamps are one of the tools she uses to create powerful contrasts.

Next up, a student favorite: Image Transfer. Until then, cut out some stencils and experiment!