The art of “what if”…

This week, since my last post, has been busy with work. Those who work as a cashier where standing on your feet for an 8 hour shift is part of their job, know how exhausting it can be. In four days, I worked three 8 hour shifts. Going into my 8th month my body is finally becoming accustomed to it. My feet ached but only for a couple hours after getting home. My energy levels were fine which meant cooking dinner wasn’t an impossible chore and my muscles and tendons didn’t lock up on me after sitting for thirty minutes at a time. In those 8 months I have gradually lost 15 pounds. This is all wonderful, exciting and a testament to the resilient nature of our bodies, minds and spirits.

These 8 months have also taught me the importance of making time for what is important in our lives. It has also taught me to allow my fifteen year old daughter to find her own way while still being the parent she needs.

This week I started just watching the videos for the art classes I have, mainly the videos in Life Book 2018 and stop trying to do every lesson. I watch the videos and think about how I can incorporate some of the techniques into my own artwork. With this in mind I decided to play a bit. One of the questions I like to play around with is how watercolor and acrylic paint can work together.

I love watercolor. I love seeing how watercolor flows on the paper and observe the colors bleed and blend into one another. Unfortunately I didn’t take pictures of the different steps I took on this page:

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I did start another one where I am taking pictures which I’ll talk about shortly.

This page started with a background in watercolor. The colors that resulted are what you see in the flowers. I let the page dry completely. The page was overly dark/bright and I knew trying to do any tangles would be difficult to see. I decided to try and tone down areas by applying white acrylic paint. I watered down the white acrylic paint a bit and applied it. When I did, of course, the watercolor reactivated and blended with the acrylic paint. In some places it became muddy. I continued to work leaving some spaces untouched which I planned to make into abstract flowers.

As the mixture of acrylic and watercolor paints started drying I continued applying acrylic paint selecting some other colors, like yellow, orange, and green. In some cases, I mixed some of the colors together, like yellow and green, orange and yellow, sometimes adding white to lighten the colors and adding water when I wanted to thin the paint. Sometimes I would mix it in a bowl and sometimes I would mix it on the page. I continued this process until I had a background I loved and the untouched areas popped more off the page. I let this completely dry.

The next step involved a Uni-ball Signo black pen. This isn’t permanent even when dry but that was okay because I wanted to use water to create some shading effects after I put down the ink. I used the pen to roughly sketch around the watercolor areas that were untouched by the acrylic paint. Then created sketchy stems and leaves. I let the ink dry a bit then took a water brush to the ink. I didn’t want to completely erase the dark lines so I just touched upon the ink enough to cause it to bleed a bit creating some shading. Again I let it dry.

Another “what if” question came up. What if I put watercolor over top of the dry acrylic. I’ve done this before and in some cases it would bead up because it doesn’t absorb into the substrate. The acrylic paint I used was a cheap craft paint called Craft Smart. It leaves an almost chalky appearance and feel which is why I think beading wasn’t a huge issue. Where it did bead up I didn’t mind. I used watercolor to color in the leaves, except for the rare blue ones on the top left flower stem. The bluish leaves are actually an area from the first layer of watercolor background which wasn’t touched by acrylic paint. One of the few places where the paint was a soft pastel color. The color in the rest of the leaves are a result of watercolor on top of the dry acrylic paint. I added watercolor down the stems, at the bottom of the page for grass, in the petals of the flowers, using a variety of colors to create the effect I wanted. I let this dry completely.

Most of these steps done between the drying periods were done before or after work when I had an hour or two. Today, I added just a touch of more watercolor in a few areas just to add some additional shading and a bit more grass on the bottom of the page.

I’m not done with this page yet. I have plans to add some white highlights but I’m waiting for a set of detail brushes I ordered. I am pretty much done with trying to find paint pens that work for fine details. I have gone through several varieties of paint pens, Posca, Painters, Sakura Permapaque, and Craftsmart, just to name a few. All of them have failed me in various ways for what I need when I want to add white details. They either let the background color bleed through them so the white isn’t bright enough, or the tips have issues like leaving blobs of paint where I don’t want it, or they clog or fall out completely. With my strict budget I can’t keep buying products hoping they will work so I’m going to rely on the old faithful brush which can be used with paint and ink.

One of the issues I had when working on this page was at the very start. I added too many different colors for the background which is why in a few areas when I added the watered down acrylic white paint it became muddy. On the page next to the one above I started a new page and decided to limit my colors to yellow, oranges and reds for the first layer. Here is what I have so far:

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There is blue around the edge, that came from paint when I was working on a previous page when I failed to put paper towel under the page I was working on. It looks like there is blue in the background of the page but that is actually white. It is untouched by any paint at this point. Interesting that it looks blue in the picture. I kind of like it so after this layer is dry I may try adding some light blue in watercolor.

I tried to go lighter with the watercolors on this page. I get too heavy handed when I work with the Prang watercolors. I love how vibrant they are. As much as I love the vibrancy it is an issue when I want to add any details, plus I want to learn how to get a more pastel effect which is another reason why I’m playing the “what if” strategy with my journal right now.

The rest of my life is also a “what if” sort of game. “What if” I do this or that, or think this or that, or…. and it goes on. I want to understand why life works one way for some people and another way for other people. It is an interesting experiment in both art and life. I entered into Life Book because I felt a need to find a way to heal. Even so, I felt something was still lacking. Don’t get me wrong. I love the lessons. I love what I’m learning. I love that I can use art IN THE MOMENT to release, to let go, and to alter negative into positive. I wanted to expand on this further and this is where I felt the lessons stopped, at least for someone like me who can sometimes have trouble using lessons as a base or foundation and then expanding upon them. It has taken me a while to find what I was looking for but without these lessons and life experiences over the past ten or fifteen years I would not have come up with what I’m experimenting with now.

There are many different processes being shared in the world today. Some of them are about how to become successful, others about how to attract what you desire, or how to be happy and so on. I believe it is important to share all of this with each other. However, as a person who has been trying to find her own way in life, these processes have one thing in common. They work for the person sharing it and may work for others but it doesn’t work for everyone.

I’ve been struggling with understanding why that is. I have come to a sort of conclusion today. It is probably only a partial understanding or conclusion. My conclusion so far is this. Everyone has to understand how they interact and connect with the Universe.

It is very much like working with various artist supplies and tools. What works for one in a certain way doesn’t necessarily mean it will work that way for someone else. To make it work for me, I had to find my connection with the Universe. For some people it is praying. For others it is meditating. For me, it is how I have always seen things with my mind since before I can remember.

I was led to understand this today. I read something that resonated with me, which opened me up to listening to a recording made years ago in which someone was explaining how they understood something. This person is the only person who explained things in the way I understood as well. I know I’m being vague about this. I don’t generally share my beliefs with the world. It isn’t my beliefs that I want to share anyway. The fact that after all these years, and at my age, I have only found one person who has expressed an understanding so very similar to mine is an important thing in and of itself.  It means everyone has their own truth to understand and that truth isn’t the same for everyone. In fact it might be very rare indeed.

What I want to share is this. When I stopped fighting against the Universe and it’s way of interacting with me is when I gain the most understanding. When I stopped fighting against the way art supplies and tools interact with me is when I learn the most about what works for me and what doesn’t. When I leave myself open to the connection I have where information flows and utilize this to explore is when the world changes around me. But more importantly it changes through me first. You can’t change the world around you without first changing something inside of you.

I am a member of a lot of art groups on Facebook. In every single one of them, there are people who ask for set answers to their questions. What is the right product to use for this or that lesson? What is the right pen… What is the right paper… What should I do first… What…. How…. When should I do such and such…. and so on. The questions are good. It is good to question. Don’t ever think I’m criticizing someone for asking questions. I’m not. Some people are limited financially so they need to know what product works best so they aren’t spending money on a product only to find out it doesn’t work and then having to spend more money on another product and so on. I get that.

What I’ve learned over the past couple of years but more importantly what I learned most recently is this. You will always be seeking answers from someone else until something changes inside of you. “What if” there is a knowledge base we are all connected to and that knowledge base is updated from every single person’s conscious and subconscious mind? “What if” we are able to connect to it and by just listening and experimenting with what we hear, we are able to learn everything we ever needed to know? “What if” that connection is different for everyone? For someone, it could be in story telling. For someone else it might be in creating art. For someone else it might be working with numbers. For some it might be prayer, or meditation. Or for others it might be by visualizing a connection to everything and anything.

I don’t know where it comes from but I like the phrase “Fabric of the Universe” or “Fabric of Time”. The use of the word Fabric in both phrases make me visualize the Universe or time as a woven fabric but not as a single layer but multiple layers in all directions. In that fabric everything exists and is connected otherwise it would all fall apart. If one part becomes torn, lost or worn out, it can weaken and cause the rest to start to unravel. This is why it is important for all of us to find that connection, open ourselves up to it and allow knowledge to flow through us and out into the world. When that connection is broken is when we find ourselves fighting, struggling and falling apart. When that connection is made it brings strength and flexibility to the Fabric.

It is amazing to me how allowing creativity into my life is slowly altering my perception of reality. I have read where some artists use acrylics and oils together, two mediums I never thought could work together in one piece of art. If this is possible in art, then what are we capable of in this world if we just stop thinking things are impossible and start playing “what if”?

“What if” I create a force of energy around me that attracts beauty, love, abundance and harmony? “What if” I create a shield which repels hate, anger, toxicity and destruction? “What if”…. fill in the blanks. Find what works for you. Share in the comments, maybe it will spark something in someone else. Nature doesn’t hold back on the “what if”. It doesn’t ask “what if” I mix red and blue. It just does it. It does it so well we see a never ending kaleidoscope of purple hues in this world. Think about that for a moment. If nature or God (depending on your belief) had stopped with the “what if” or limited the “what if” then maybe humans wouldn’t have existed.

Only you can decide if you want to play “what if”…

Garden Fairy from Life Book 2018 week 1

I chose to take a slightly different approach to Tam’s lesson for Life Book 2018 week 1 Tending to Your Dreams (Garden Fairy). I took some cues from her lesson and incorporated them into my page trying to make it my own.

Her lesson was about what to leave behind and what to bring forward from the previous year or years. I never really thought about it before other than, I just wanted the new year to be better than the year before. Especially if the year before had been a particularly rough year. If the previous year had been a really good one then I would just hope it would continue. Purposefully looking at what had been in my life and making a thoughtful choice on what to bring forward or leave behind had not been a process for me.  So, this was new to me.

With that said, I found this lesson interesting in that respect. Last year started out rough but did get better a little over half way through the year. I started to see changes I never expected but was very grateful to have happen. I chose to approach this lesson with care, thoughtfulness and purpose, therefore it took a great deal of time. I’m glad it did. If I learned nothing else from this lesson, I have learned I can create a piece of art that is loaded with personal meaning for me.

I made some other decisions. The first one was to not “copy” Tam’s drawings or even her techniques. When I copy a lesson as close to exacting as I can get with the materials I have, which is what I did last year, I discovered when I try to do my own artwork I have no idea what to do. This is because I’m not really learning other than I can copy someone’s work. I needed to allow myself to experiment on my own and learn from my own mistakes. The good I did learn from copying was just seeing how different products worked so I had an idea of how to use them. I just wasn’t learning how to incorporate colors and elements that worked for me.

The next thing I chose to do was to try working mostly in one medium. I know this is a  mixed media lesson but working with a lot of different mediums confuses my learning process. I’m not learning what a particular medium is capable of doing. I read an article about the best way to learn art and the different mediums is to focus on one medium at a time. Not only will it help with learning what that particular medium can do all on its own but integrating that learning is usually faster. Then I can switch to a different medium once I reach a level I am comfortable with and feel ready to move on. I’m fascinated with watercolor so I chose this as my main medium for this lesson.

The next decision was to allow my intuition to come forward to inform me of what elements I wanted on my page. I chose elements that would support the choices of what I wanted to bring forward or work on this year. I had already chosen the word BALANCE as my year word to focus on what I needed in my life. I incorporated the Yin Yang symbol to represent balance. I not only want a balance of my light and dark sides/nature, I want balance in all things in my life. It felt appropriate to place the symbol on my Elfin girl’s forehead located just above the third eye, to remind me I need balance not just in my thoughts but also in mental, emotional and spiritual realms.

In my meditation at the beginning of the year a dragon appeared. I understood what the dragon represented, strength, cunning and perseverance. These three things brought me out of a very rough period in my life and I wanted… needed to bring these things forward.

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This was the beginning of my sketch for the lesson. The Elfin girl just appeared as I worked on drawing my girl. The dragon took some time to figure out which I wrote about in my previous post. I wanted something to represent the garden she is tending but the flowers didn’t feel right.

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I erased the flowers and thought about what else I wanted to bring forward. I draw mandalas when I feel the need to become centered. I definitely wanted to continue this practice but I also wanted to incorporate them into my artwork. It seemed right to include one on this page.

I wanted something to represent harmony and happiness which is something I really need to manifest in my life. Tulips are my favorite flower. After rescuing some tulip bulbs that had been accidentally dug up by someone repairing our fence in our complex, I thought a couple of them would fit well not only in representing harmony and happiness but to honor those that were rescued.

I added some clouds to represent what I wanted to let go of. I had written in them those negative things that had been a major consumption of my energies last year. Then erased them but chose to keep the clouds. Too often, I suppress the negative emotions trying to forget they exist. I needed a reminder that I choose to let them go and not suppress them thus I chose to keep the clouds.

My ugly stage always begins with the skin tones. The skin tones never look right until I add hair color. I don’t have skin tone in my watercolors which means I have to mix it. My skin tones never come out the same but I’m okay with that. This is my first couple of layers.

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I tried to take pictures periodically as I progress with my painting with watercolors. It is obvious I missed taking some photos of a few layers but I did most of what you see in the picture below, in one sitting after the first layers above had dried.

I took my time letting some layers dry while I worked in other areas. I added some more shading first, then the colors to the eyes and mouth, then went back to add some more color to the skin by adding some yellow. The last thing I did was the hair. It was tricky. I started with red, blue and purple, doing a wet on wet technique to let it blend together and adding layer onto layer to get the color a bit brighter. After the hair dried I added some black layered on top, adding water to thin it out in places so the colors underneath would show through. In the skin tone I added some purple, blues and pinks. Purple and blue to add depth to the shading and pink to give depth to the lighter areas, along with a bit more yellow. The trick is to try and not make her look jaundiced.

I worked on the dragon next and chose a bit of turquoise green, adding yellow for highlights and some blues to darken the shaded areas. I let this all dry.

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In this next picture, I worked on the center of the mandala. I wanted it to have a bit of a gem appearance. Then I added the sun, some light blue for the sky, and light green for the ground. I chose not to do any collage but I wanted a layered look so I took some stencils and chose two different colors of blue (yes, watercolors), used a makeup sponge and dabbed on the colors through my stencils. I chose a darker green for the grass area and used another stencil. I added some light grey shading to the clouds. I let the paint dry between layers, and added some red and bit of brown to the sun to give it some texture too.

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Below is my finished page. I added some yellow to the clouds, a bit more grey and some blue through a stencil, then some white acrylic paint over top the clouds after the watercolor was dry. The black dots were made through a stencil using black watercolor paint. I had a homemade dragonfly stencil and dabbed purple, magenta and red watercolor paint through it. All the stencils I used on this page, except two (the two in the grass) were handmade by me including the flower.  I chose these because I wanted more layers on my background. I didn’t outline them or add any detail to them because I wanted them to blend into the background.

I painted my mandala and flowers with watercolors. Once all the watercolor paint was completely dry, I decided to use some different mediums for the details.

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I’m not adept enough with watercolor yet to make fine details which is why I said I would work MOSTLY in one medium. I knew for the details I would use other tools, other mediums. This is what I used:

  1. Prisma colored pencils, in the hair, over the watercolor paint in the mandala, flowers, dragon, clouds and her face.
  2. Gel pens, black and white, for some of the outlining and highlights.
  3. Acrylic paint for highlights, the swan, the white beads and a bit in the Yin Yang symbol.

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I didn’t mention the swan. I decided to add the swan. It has always been a favorite of mine and one of the first things I learned to draw by using the number 2 to start the sketch. Swans have always held a fascination for me. They represent grace and when I learned they mate for life, they became a symbol for me in regards to the kind of love I wanted to attract in my life.

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I am thrilled with my page. It has depth of meaning for me. It encompasses all that I hope for this year and in coming years. Most of all, it has shown me I am growing as an artist.

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I wanted to write about my experiences in between the different layers when I decided to make my own gelli plate but I’m going to save that for my next post. I think this one needs to be devoted to this project. She was such a pleasure to create. She deserves to have this post all to herself.

I have never spent so much time on one piece of art. At no time did I feel like I needed to rush so I could complete it. As I watched the weeks go by, as each week’s lesson was posted and others completing them within days, sometimes hours of them going up, I was satisfied to still be working on week one. Seeing what everyone else was creating just wets my appetite for the coming lessons which I know I will enjoy. Hopefully in the same way I enjoyed this one.

I did not feel compelled to start another lesson, although reading all the posts about one lesson using a gelli plate and people deciding whether to buy one or make one inspired me to consider what I would do. I then played around with options while I waited for layers to dry or during periods when I didn’t have time to work on my Garden Fairy between chores, work and just life but did have short periods to do other things. I will write about that soon in my next post.

Working this way was so very relaxing, no pressure, no guilt about not “keeping up”, even my inner critic was peaceful for the most part. She did surface occasionally, like during the ugly stages, or when I thought I had totally messed up when trying to add the swan.

Now that she is done, I’m looking forward to the next lesson and and can’t wait to see what develops from it.