This week, I want to talk about stepping out of your comfort zone. I know, I know, it can be scary to attempt something you’ve never done before–and in my case, there’s the added pressure of the entire internet being able to see whether you sink or swim… But, it’s also exhilarating!
See, I was taught that “good art” is recreating something exactly as it is seen. That if your proportions are off, or if you didn’t mix the right color, or if you didn’t center the subject, that it was wrong. (I think this is partially why I never understood Picasso as a kid–no one has 3 eyes and 5 noses!) The saddest part of this method of thinking is that it really wore me down as an artist. If you constantly think to yourself, “No, that looks wrong. I need to try again,” you’re probably going to want to stop trying rather than keep working.
It wasn’t until college that I could fully comprehend letting your emotions drive your work. (Yes, unfortunately, it took THAT long…) My professor explained that Van Gogh painted his subjects the way that he felt. I had been so caught up in making sure my art looked realistic, I could not fathom changing your subject at all.
Since then, I have been attempting to deviate from my comfort zone (photo-realism) and into something much more…freeing. And that’s what I went for with this week’s project!
My mother recently requested some new art for her office because all she has now is what I did in high school. This was the perfect opportunity to give her something completely different from what she already has AND for me to practice expression in my art.
I knew I wanted to do something big, so I got the idea to take several Joe’s Prime Extra Fine Art Boards in a myriad of sizes and stick them together!
I think I got a pretty good spread, don’t you?
The next step was deciding how I wanted to arrange them.
After about half a million different positions that I didn’t like, I finally landed on this one:
I felt that it was free-flowing enough to accomplish my task, but structured enough that it wasn’t a total shock to my system.
I already knew I wanted a TON of different mediums for this project, so I grabbed a little bit of everything I had:
Acrylic paints, gel mediums, alcohol inks, screen-printing inks, watercolors, watercolor paper, glitter, yarn…
I also knew I wanted to use some handmade paper, so I picked from my hoard:
Handmade papers are a very easy way to cover surface area if you don’t feel like using paint–or just don’t have ANY clue what you want to do with a background.
So, naturally, I started by priming a few of the boards with white gesso and gel mediums.
I chose the boards at random because, again, I wanted this to be very loose. I was flying by the seat of my pants!
I liked the idea of leaving some of the unprimed art board showing, just to change the depth up a little bit, but I also went NUTS with texture on the boards with gel medium.
As great as gel mediums are, when you cake the texture on as much as the bulls-eye one up there, they take forever and a half to dry. So while those babies were sitting in front of my space heater, I went ahead and worked on the primed and unprimed boards.
For two of the larger rectangles, I adhered big pieces of my paper to them with pH neutral glue (a must-have if you work with paper a lot because it guarantees that your paper won’t yellow or dissolve over time. It’s also pretty great because you can paint it on with a brush and make sure it only gets where you want it to).
For two of the smaller squares, I delved right in with some of Joe’s Prime Lightfast Acrylic!
I used Neon Purple and Neon Blue. I love using neon colors as a base layer because you can always build on them and tone them down if you decide the color is too harsh.
In this case, I did a solid later of purple and a streaky later of blue.
I am still experimenting with alcohol inks and figuring out which surfaces they do and do not work on, so I dripped a few drops of Baja Blue onto the purple board and spread it out by blowing on it. (I had to do this quickly because the combination of these super-absorbent art boards mixed with the evaporation rate of the alcohol inks makes for an INSANE drying time.)
Once the gel medium dried on the other three boards, I dove straight into them with whatever I was feeling inspired by.
Because the horizontal lines I made were a little shallow, I wanted the design I went with to accentuate them.
I love love love gradients and making them, so I picked two contrasting colors within the same color scheme and painted the gradation vertically. Not only did it give me more room to mix the colors, but it really played up the horizontal lines!
As simple as it is, this board ended up being one of my favorites.
For the bulls-eye, I wanted to do some more work with the alcohol inks. I dampened the rings and dripped alternating colors (Baja Blue, Passion Purple, and Senorita Magenta). The colors were very, very bold and perhaps a little too loud for everything this board already had going on in it, so I wiped some of the ink off and painted a thinned-out coat of this sort-of sky blue over it. The addition of the blue really brought unity to the piece as well as repressed its intensity.
By this time, I was beginning to run out of ideas for how to make each board unique.
Unfortunately, the idea that I went with for the third gelled board was…a bad one…
Hey, I’m not afraid to admit when I’m wrong or have made mistakes. And this board was a biiiig mistake.
I had the swish of gel medium going across it, so I wanted to do something contrasting but consistent–how that translated into dripping two extremely unflattering tones down the board, I don’t know. Thankfully, the metallic properties in the silver made it peel away very easily (the green just needed a good butter knife), and I was able to start over with just that shimmery purple.
After a few cover coats of shimmery purple and swishes of similar hues, I was very happy to end up with this:
Unless you had seen the first draft, you’d have no idea how ugly this board used to be!
The drip stains now just look like additional texture, and I was able to work the gel medium’s shape into the new design!
(Phew, that was a close one…)
Thankfully, the rest of my boards were a lot smoother sailing.
I loved the base color that the neon blue gave me, so I decided to keep it and only add a few strips of washi tape and strands of yarn to finish this board.
The alcohol ink splotches, though awkward at first, ended up being great to build on!
I used magenta screen-printing ink (because of its incredible opacity) to cover parts of the splotches, and then sprinkled red dye over them and activated it with a few drops of water. Once all of that was dry, I went over parts with some pink glitter paint to really drive the dimension home.
As invigorating–though challenging–as the previous boards were, the boards I used the paper on were probably the most fun!
I was lucky enough to have a tube of Golden Open that was an identical shade of burgundy in the flower I cut from my paper, so I painted a solid coat (let it dry) and then a textured coat on top of it.
Once the second coat was dry, I cut strips of another sheet of paper to add vertical lines and balance out the flower.
I finished the board off by adding a layer of gold trim around the flower to accent the colors in both of the papers. (It may be hard to see in the photograph, but both papers had metallic gold accents! I’m such a sucker for gold accents…)
This board ended up being my favorite.
The last board–the one that would go in the middle of the finished piece–was a real test of ingenuity.
Even though the paper I covered this board with is my favorite piece of handmade paper I’ve ever seen, I knew that alone wasn’t enough to bring this piece together. Rather than paint directly onto the board, I painted small pieces of Kilimanjaro 140lb watercolor paper and simply glued them on using the same pH neutral glue I’ve been using all along!
For the top piece of paper, I painted a solid wash of American Journey Blue Stone mixed with a tiny bit of Joe’s Red and, while it was still wet, let a piece of yarn and some salt granules absorb a bit of the color–a technique I always forget about!
The small rectangle is a wash of A.J. Viridian with Lime Green and Sunbright Yellow alcohol inks dripped over it.
The small square beneath it is simply a few piece of washi tape wrapped around a piece of paper, again I used contrasting horizontal lines here to break away from the vertical lines on the paper.
The bottom right corner is a wash of Joe’s Blue and, while it was still wet, I painted swishes with Golden Interference Blue/Green. I absolutely love using interference colors, and they stand out so brilliantly against dark hues!
Once all of the boards dried, I glued them together according to the positions I decided earlier. Kind of…
I opted to move the bottom two boards to the right a little bit, to give it a more congruent feeling.
I absolutely love the way everything turned out, and how surprisingly harmonious it is.
Once the glue dried, I flipped it over and used a staple gun to connect the boards.
Because of how heavy the boards are when you get seven of them stuck together with a bunch of layers of paint and paper and glue on top of them, I thought a little added security wouldn’t be too bad.
It’s not very pretty, but at least it’s just the back!
While the boards are made with slots to easily hang them, that pretty much went out the window when I flipped them all around and haphazardly stuck them together.
Now I’ve never put framing wire on anything before, so I apologize for how ridiculous this looks.
But I found that a strand of hemp going through a maze of 8 staples holds this piece up pretty well.
Ultimately, the back ended up looking like this:
Again, not the cleanest finished product ever, but this was my first experience doing anything like this!
Let’s just take another look at the front of it…
There we go. That’s much better.
My main point in this post is…it’s very easy to get comfortable in your artistic process. And while I agree that it’s great to have a signature style, I feel it is equally important to test out other mediums. Who knows, you may like the change more than the routine!
So if your art is feeling boring or monotonous, try something else! Try anything else!
Only ever done acrylic? Give oils a shot!
Always been curious about dry media? A beginner set of pastels costs next to nothing! Go for it!
Attempted watercolors unsuccessfully a long time ago? Surely you’ve grown as an artist and can tackle it now!
If it helps, know that I believe in you