Session Three of the Write Into Light course is about to start, and I promised myself I would publish more of my writing here, so I’m diving in to share one of the pieces with you that was a BIG challenge, before I launch into the final session. The image above is from one of my art journals – her eye leaked, and she cried an unplanned and unexpected tear. And don’t we all do that on our way to knowing ourselves and learning to love the flawed humans we are?
This particular assignment was to write a sonnet. Yes, like Shakespeare. My initial thought was something along the lines of: “You’ve got to be kidding.” (Something along those lines, with perhaps an expletive in there for emphasis).
Armed with the technical requirements: iambic pentameter, rhyming couplets – all the sonnet rules and regulations – I set about counting syllables and weaving words. Not sure if Shakespeare would approve, but if felt pretty bloody good to bend an idea into such a regimented shape!
During art journal classes, the one thing that everyone seems to have great fun with is stencils. Spraying ink over stencils, and rubbing back paint through stencils is one of the first lessons I teach in art journal class. It’s quick, easy, effective and seems to unleash our inner child faster than anything.
There are endless suppliers of ready-made stencils – just Google ‘stencils’ and you could disappear for a week checking them all out, and still not have exhausted the possibilities. But, for artwork that is uniquely yours, with the fun level only stencils can provide, cutting your own is the way to go.
I’ve tried all sorts of material to cut stencils from, some more successful than others. Template plastic (a refugee from my patchwork days) worked well, but was murder on the fingers to cut, and so hard to get a knife through, crisp detail was hard to achieve. Manila folders work OK for one or two uses. Much easier to cut, but once they’re wet with ink or paint, the light cardboard buckles and tends to fall apart pretty quickly.
Enter laminated copy paper! I guess I must have been doing a bunch of laminating for something, and I wondered if maybe this might work well? Turns out it does. I’m not sure how long these will last, I suspect that ultimately the laminate may let go, but they’ve survived one round of art journal classes in tact, so I’m feeling hopeful.
How It’s Done
Grab a sheet of ordinary copy paper
Draw your design – make it simple, and remember that you need to leave some ‘veins’ or connecting pieces, or you’ll just end up with one big hole. A series of simple shapes – squares, triangles, circles – repeated many times are some of the most effective stencils you can use.
Whack the sheet with your hand drawn design through the laminator. I’m lucky to have one here in my office. If you are seriously deprived and don’t own one, try an office supply store or perhaps your local school or printing works. They’ll probably have a small charge, but it will be pittance compared to buying ready-made stencils.
Grab a Stanley knife, self-healing mat and a cuppa (probably not a wine – though I have done that, and the stencil and I lived to tell the tale) and settle in to cut out all the little pieces of your design. Remember – you need to leave little ‘bridges’ in more intricate designs.
Give your fingers a bit of a massage. While the laminated sheet is much easier to cut through than some stencil material, by the time you carefully cut out all the bits, you’ll still be a little tender in the digits
Pull out the spray inks and paints and get cracking on experimenting with your new hand cut stencil, by laying the stencil down over your page which has a bit of background colour on it, and spraying some ink over the stencil onto the page. Carefully lift off the stencil, and Viola! (Have a spare sheet or journal handy to mop up the ink from the stencil after you remove it)
A Mask is a Stencil in Reverse
Silhouettes make great stencils, too. As well as eliminating the anxiety about leaving little bridges and connecting bits, if you are careful as you cut, you will end up not only with a stencil, but also the piece you cut out ever so carefully, which can be used a mask. For this one of Payton and Pa, I printed a photo onto copy paper, laminated it and cut out around the outline, yielding a positive and negative image. A stencil and a mask. Lay the mask (the cutout piece) over a page with a background already laid down, spritz spray ink over the mask, carefully lift the mask off, and there you have it – Payton’s first horse ride with her Pa frozen in time, and spray ink!
There’s a bunch of ways you can incorporate stencils into your creations… this is just the tip of the proverbial iceberg. You can give yourself a little detective challenge and see if you can spot where I’ve used stencils on the works in the Art Journal Pages Gallery. Or, have some fun in an Art Journaling Workshop with me!
People often ask “What is art journaling?” Good question! I do my best to explain, but sometimes it’s easier to show you.
First you need a journal
Let’s start with the journal. You can use anything! This pile represents a fraction of the sketchbooks and journals I have accumulated – collecting journals and art supplies is my guilty pleasure! An assortment of paper types, sizes, page counts and constructions, there’s something I love about each of them. My favourites though will lie flat on the bench when opened to work in, and have a weighty paper that can withstand wet media (like watercolour, spray inks and paint). Other features that rate high for appeal are pockets in the covers – you never know what bits of flotsam and jetsam you might find to keep for addition to your journal ‘later’ – page marker ribbons, and elastic bands to keep the book from flying open as it expands from the inevitable addition of collage and tape and ephemera.
What goes in the journal?
The real fun begins when you start to do stuff in the journals! What goes into them? Anything at all! I tend to describe art journaling as the intersection of keeping a written diary with keeping a sketchbook. There are journals like this one with a bit of writing and reflection for each day, and some colour and sketching or scribbling – playing, really. This particular spread is in a cheap visual art diary. The paper is pretty flimsy, so there’s a coat of gesso on the paper to give it a bit more substance, followed by collaged papers, washi tape hand carved stamps, water soluble pencil and watercolour paint.
Then there are the more ‘traditional’ artist sketchbooks where reference sketches are made, and ideas are given a trial run before the detail is worked into a final piece. These snazzy arrows to mark North were explorations before committing the compass direction to a map created in a collaborative artists book.
My favourite art journal is one where I experiment with ideas and media. Sometimes these pages end up a muddy mess, and that’s OK, because the purpose of it is to explore, to see what works and what doesn’t, and it’s this absence of pressure to produce something ‘worthy’ that is the best part of all. My brain knows I’m just mucking around, so it’s low stakes and no expectation.
The spread above is a great example. I’d been mucking around with spray inks and stencils, and the page was pretty ‘blah’. I had been reading about using indian ink in an aqua brush, and this ugly page was a very safe place to try that out – it couldn’t get any worse! The face happened with the inky brush, a bit of extra colour popped into the eyes, mouth and hair with coloured pencil and a white Sharpie marker, and although she has a somewhat alien complexion, there’s something kinda cool about it.
That sense of freedom to play and explore because there is no pressure for a dazzling outcome is what makes me believe that art journaling is a wonderful way for anyone to begin to dabble in something creative, to learn a few techniques, to follow your imagination and let the hidden parts of yourself surface and come up for air in safety. Don’t ask me what hidden part of myself came up for air with a green eyed, green faced martian lady… reminds me a little of Salvador Dali’s Mum who said after looking at his paintings “I don’t know what what in his head, but I’m glad he got it out”!
Right now, I’m exploring and experimenting in a different format again – the Disc A Day journal. Which is my own promise to myself that I’ll do something small every day (well, ok… I can’t honestly say that I’ve added to it every day, but I have added to it most days, and right now, I’m happy with that). This little journal is made from a large sheet of hot pressed watercolour paper, cut into three sheets and folded and stitched together, which is great for the wet media I mentioned earlier. What I love most about this little disc, is what the washi tape beside it says: “Make Time”. We’ve talked before about how important it is to make time for creativity, rather than wait till you find time.
That awesome tape, by the way, is designed by Kal Barteski and came from You Are Awesome Co, who are sadly wrapping up trading at the end of September, but they have some great bargains going on there for the next couple days.
So, there you have it. Art Journaling 101. Art journaling is my favourite thing to teach – if you’d like to know a little more about classes, check out my Art Journaling Workshop page.
The past year has seen me drift away a little from my brushes and paints. Not intentionally, not even all that willingly, but still, for one reason and another it has happened.
In the meantime, I have come to enjoy Instagram – I love scrolling the feed of gorgeous, creative outpourings of colour and beauty. Recently, I happened across Lou Adira @adiraphoto, and a post she made about a project she created for herself after losing her Grandmother – a loss she felt keenly. Something about the idea whispered to me, and I now find myself with a handmade watercolour paper journal, filled with the feint outline of many, many, small circles. Discs, into which I am putting some colour, some lines, some puddled watercolour, and whatever else takes my fancy, almost every day. It’s a small commitment, which feels sane and sensible right now, but what feels even better is picking up a brush and spending ten or fifteen minutes focusing on nothing but creating a tiny patch of beauty in that small disc shaped space.
As you can see from the photo, I’ve only just begun, and have no idea how many discs this journal will hold! I figure I have enough circles in there for me to fill one a day till Christmas, at least! And while I am enjoying that this is just for me and has no particular outcome or purpose other than to get me into a better creative routine; it feels like this could be a fun project to share. So… would you like to join me? I’m already noticing some patterns and themes evolving in these little circles, and it’s going to be interesting to see what is revealed as time passes.
You can be as elaborate or ordinary as you like – a scrap piece of paper, a full-on journal, or anything on between will work. Just grab something disc shaped (circular, really, but ‘disc a day’ sounds kind of funkier than ‘circle a day’) – I’m using a roll of washi tape – and draw very light pencil outlines in a grid on your page/s. Once a day, set aside a few minutes to put something in a disc. Maybe grab a pencil and draw your coffee mug, or your dog. Perhaps glue down a scrap of brightly coloured paper and some printed words torn from your junk mail. Maybe pick up your pen and write a tiny poem. Or grab a coloured pencil and play with colour combinations…. You get the idea – explore, play, and fiddle and use whatever supplies you have access to. A feather dipped in ink is wonderful fun to make marks with!
It will be great to see what you come up with! I’d love for you to share here on the blog comments, or on my Facebook page, or on Instagram with the hashtag #discaday. I’ll share my pages as I fill them. You can share at whatever point you feel moved to do so! These little pops of creativity don’t need to be complete works of art. Simply an opportunity for you to choose creativity for a few moments in your day, and a few moments of creativity will always make any day better!
Later this year, my creative efforts and I are off to Bush Christmas – an exhibition showcasing the work of rural and remote artists and artisans, held in Toowoomba in December, and I’m pretty stoked to announce that yours truly is to be the Featured Exhibitor for Day One of the exhibition.
What that means, is that I’ll be there, set up with some goodies from my studio, ready to chat with anyone who is prepared to stand still for a minute, and share the delight of colourful, fun materials. There is potentially going to be a product addition to my offerings this year… There is a book in the pipeline! But more about that, later.
For now, the fabulous Bush Christmas organisers need photos and information to update their website and begin promotion.
This is my least favourite part of this job. As a model, I make a good cook; and I agonise for hours over what to write about myself that people will find interesting to read. Thankfully, my daughter-in-law, Caitlyn, knows her way around a camera, and proved skillful in sneaking some shots of “the artist at work in her studio” that didn’t leave me feeling awkward.
I think she did a great job, and I particularly love this photo, with DO IT NOW on the inspiration board behind me. Not only because the kick-in-the-pants directive is helpful; but the focus is off me!
When our “photo shoot” was finished, I bit the bullet and wrote the ‘about me’ piece to accompany the profile picture:
In between knocking up mustering smokos, doing budgets and bookwork, and managing the office for our Central Queensland family farming business; I create artwork, write, and prepare art journaling classes for people who are keen to flex their creativity, but aren’t sure where or how to start. I believe every human possesses an innate desire and capability to create, and have made it my business to help others unearth and explore that desire. Their eyes light up, shoulders loosen and they smile. A lot. I have a passionate belief in the transformative power of creativity.
Gleefully abandoning an art teaching degree in the 80’s to marry my salt of the earth farmer, my city upbringing gave way to the adventure of country life, where I’ve spent thirty years raising three high spirited sons, while fine tuning my skills in fine art, photography, writing and textiles. Ironically, the art teaching I was anxious to flee from has become a source of delight and fulfilment.
I have a tendency to think a lot more than I speak – there’s lots going on in my head. I have a thing for funky cowgirl boots, yoga, and soulful conversations; and my grandbabies think I sing the best “Incy Wincy Spider” the world has ever heard. Others might disagree.
Over the years, Bush Christmas has been a catalyst for a lot of amazing opportunities for me, along with the many other talented artists and artisans who exhibit there. You can follow Bush Christmas on Facebook for a look at some of the clever work happening in sheds and studios all over rural Queensland, and New South Wales.
I’m off to the studio to get busy… safe and secure in the knowledge that I won’t need to smile for the camera for a couple more years!
For some inexplicable reason – known only to the Gods of confusion – things have been chaotic here for the past couple of weeks. New babies, growing babies, special visitors, annual reviews, feeding the multitudes, tax provisions, weaning calves, birthdays, unexpected departures, physiotherapy, coaching sessions, and home butchering – are just a few of the things that have landed on my plate lately.
So it felt really wonderful to claim an hour in the studio and let it all pour out onto the page.
This little lovely has a background of acrylic paint and torn book pages on watercolour paper, while she herself has been brought to life with Prismacolour Pencils.
Sometimes, when I feel like I’m done with the drawing, some words will want to be added to the page.
“She could be anywhere… and she chooses here… with her heart in her throat”
are the words that fell out of the white paint pen and onto the page. (Have I ever told you how much I adore that Sharpie white paint marker pen? It’s a cracker!) And, while this face was never intended to be me; those words feel like they belong to me this week. Of all the places I might ever have ended up; I am here. I choose here. Even when things are hectic and demanding. Even when I struggle to find time for the things I need to do; much less the things I long to do. Here is where I choose to be.
Even when my heart is in my throat. I still choose here.
This little tin came into our lives as the packaging for a rally car drive gift certificate. And no, it wasn’t me doing the rally driving! I leave that thrill seeking stuff to the man in my life (the one I married – though the ones I gave birth to are all up for that as well, as I think about it!) I was, however, quick to grab the tin, and squirrel it away in the studio, because, really…what could be better than to open your traveling art supplies tin and be reminded that what you’re doing is Serious Fun?
There is a group of Serious Fun seekers hanging out here with me on a Sunday afternoon lately… I’m teaching them the basics of art journaling (and art, as well, with a focus on low pressure and low anxiety) and, as is inevitable when one teaches, they teach me things as well. One of the important things I keep discovering is what a great benefit it is for grown up women (and men!) to set aside their responsibilities and obligations for a couple of hours and just muck about and have some fun. To play. They leave looking somehow lighter, and brighter; and seeing that is Serious Fun for me.
This trolley (which my Dad made for me many years ago) has seen duty in my life for all manner of purposes. It’s current role is by far my favourite. All those drawers are chock full of inks, sprays, pens, pencils, pastels, paints, stencils, stamps, watercolours, tapes….. so many opportunities for Serious Fun in there; and it can wheel out of the studio and onto the verandah, where all my Serious Fun seeking companions can dip in and share in the fun with me.
Play is recognised as being critical to childrens development… and there’s more and more evidence that it has powerful importance for adults as well. (Check out the writing of Brene Brown if you need any convincing). I know for sure that I’ve got more to give and am much nicer to be around if there’s been a little play time in my day. How about you? What counts as Serious Fun in your world? I’m always on the lookout for an opportunity to have fun – tell me what works for you!
Say Hello to Casper. He’s an old man now – by cat standards, at least. Well into his sixteenth year, he – along with his brother Garfield – has been part of our lives for over half of our kids lives. He’s an introvert. He hates lots of people, and new people freak him out so much, he’s been known to quietly disappear to the shed when visitors arrive, only to return after three or four weeks living on mice and sleeping in the hay when he’s sure the intruders have departed. Unlike Garfield, he is NOT fond of cuddles (or BBQ chips, but that’s another story for another day), and might choose to come and sit close beside you if it’s cold; or, if you’re trying to perform a task which is made much more difficult by the appearance of a cat under your arm!
Casper pretty much does his own thing- as is the want of most felines – and provided he is fed frequently (he isn’t actually all that good at catching mice) mostly keeps to himself and out of my way. Most of the time…
Which brings me to this:
This is my Peerless Watercolour Palette. See how the left side is all crisp and white looking? And how muddied and watery and splotchy looking it gets towards the left side? I guess it’s my own fault, but, is the weird green pond water in my paintbrush water jar really more appealing than the fresh, clean water in your cat bowl, Casper? Apparently. So much more appealing in fact, that he not only drinks out of it, but knocks it over, all over the studio bench, drenching my journal, causing pages to run, and – most alarmingly – drowning my favourite watercolour palette and discharging all that delicious colour.
As you might have guessed, I was pretty bummed about this. Actually, “bummed’ doesn’t put near a fine enough point on it, but it’s somewhat unladylike and undignified to swear about it and put into print the words I uttered at the time.
Casper has done this before – numerous times, but, I’d been lucky that nothing got damaged – usually just a puddle of nasty greeny looking water on the bench, and me muttering to myself that I need to learn not to leave the water jar full when I’m done in the studio, before the spill wreaks havoc with something special.
Sometimes, we seem to have to learn things the hard way. Reminds me of that John Wayne quote.
“Life is tough. It’s tougher if you’re stupid.”
I’m off right now to empty that bloody brush water jar, before Casper decides he’s a feline Michelangelo.
There’s been a lot going on here over the past week. Most dramatically, a shed fire. Another one. It’s been a while since the hay shed went up in flames – seven years, I think – but, surely one shed fire in a lifetime is enough for anyone – right? Maybe not. This one had no hay in it… but it did have an old Toyota, a ride on lawnmower, and a few other very useful bits and pieces; as well as a tractor parked right beside it. Not anymore. That thing’s now a pile of molten metal and ash.
However, my precious daughter-in-law and granddaughter, who were the only ones around for quite a distance when they noticed they had an ENORMOUS campfire – and no marshmallows – are safe and unharmed. Their house, which was closer than any of us would have liked to the fire, is also safe and sound. Bullet dodged, fire out, and heavy sighs of relief heaved.
The fire has nothing to do with the next thing on the agenda – but everything to do with this journal page – which is teaching another round of ArtJournaling classes, which might be some of the best fun it’s possible to have! The page you see here is the result of some preparation sample and demo pieces for the classes. It also started with some writing about that fire. This is what is so transformative about the Art Journaling process (well, really about any creative process, but I love art journaling, because it truly is accessible to anyone). You can write out your worries and your woes, get lots of crap off your chest, and proceed to obliterate it with funky colours, patterns and scribbles, transforming that icky experience completely. You can still see snippets of the writing in odd places, which ultimately become just another layer of line and form.
Detail: Sometimes, You Just Have To Do It Your Own Way
This was put together using mostly spray inks, stencils, and a mask I cut based on a photo of Keelan on his wedding day, as he was walking toward the altar. (Or, to be more precise, the gate and arch set up in front of the garden bed in our backyard for the ceremony.)
The stencil had been cut, waiting to be used for a while, and I grabbed it without thinking too much – just needed to get the page done, and I was keen to see how this mask would come up. It morphed from an account of blazing destruction; to cool, strong colours carrying a great sense of independence and hope for the future. I don’t know about you, but that feels pretty transformative to me.