Blending With Watercolors – Stained Glass Ocean Project

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Hello! Today I want to show you a fun beginner project you can do to practice blending colors with watercolor paints and markers. If you are a complete beginner to color mixing, it is easiest to stick to either all warm colors (red, yellow, pink, orange …) or all cool colors like I did (blue, green, violet …). Some colors when blended together turn into “mud”, making a neutral like brown or gray. This is where understanding the color wheel comes in handy! For more about the color wheel, visit my earlier post Colors Aren’t Scary :). For this project, we will try out both flat brushes and round brushes. Round brushes have a teardrop shaped bristle that comes to a point at the end, and flat brushes have rectangular shaped bristles that are, well, flat on the end. Pretty easy to remember! It’s good to have a variety of sizes of each. Your brush size depends on the size of the area you are filling in. If your brush is too big, you risk getting paint where you don’t want it  but if your brush is too small, you will see all the little strokes and the paint won’t cover evenly.

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I started first with an outline, drawing my design in pencil on watercolor paper and then tracing over it with a waterproof black fine-liner pen (Sharpie fine points will work – You do not necessarily need a fancy art pen, though my preference when I do watercolor and ink work are these bad boys by Staedler.). You can draw your design however you want, or if you want to practice this technique without the added pressure of drawing, feel free to print this outline out and use graphite paper to transfer it right onto a piece of watercolor paper (Don’t have graphite paper on hand? Just shade over the back of your printout with a pencil, lay it on top of your watercolor paper, and trace over the lines and it will work the same way, though a bit more labor intensive.).

 

With watercolor, you want to start with the background and move to the foreground, and you always want to work lightest to darkest. It’s all about layering and building up colors since the paints themselves are translucent. In this more simplified project, we will be focusing just on blending this time, not layering. Still, working with the background first ensures that if any background color does find its way into the waves, which it inevitably will, we can just work right over it later and you won’t even notice by the end. Starting with the background, you want to choose a couple of colors (I used a cornflower blue and a cerulean blue.) and water them down so that they are consisting of mainly water with a small amount of pigment. Then you want to use a larger round brush and start filling in the space using circular motions. This will give our background wash a bit of texture, so that it has a hazy, cloud-like appearance rather than just flat streaks. I applied the cornflower blue on the bottom half of my sky and the cerulean on the top. Because both colors are wet, they should bleed into each other and blend together in a pretty seamless gradation. Be sure to overlap the two colors slightly where they meet. If they aren’t blending enough, you may also rinse off your brush and using the same circular motion run over the line where they touch with your damp brush to work them together further.

Color blending is one of the foundation skills of painting with watercolors, but it takes a lot of practice. Good thing you are about to get a lot of it! We did a textured blend for the background, but within an individual space inside our waves, we are now going to practice some flat blending with the goal of getting our colors to merge into as smooth of a gradation as possible. Now we are going to use a medium sized flat brush. A flat brush will be perfect for the smooth effect we need and will also be easier to keep inside the edges of our geometric shapes. You can tilt the brush so you are only using the tip rather than the whole side for narrower areas. Pick 2 different colors, and start painting one color on one end until you’ve gotten to about halfway across. Rinse your brush, and paint in another color starting on the opposite end, overlapping in the middle. A unique quality watercolor has is that when one color touches another while it is still wet, they WILL bleed into each other. In this case, that is a good thing as using wet-on-wet color with watercolors makes for some pretty low-effort, seamless blending. Still, watercolor can be finicky and things don’t always go as planned. I purposely filled the shape in so that there are darker, patchy areas and a harsh transition between the two colors. This happens sometimes, but can be easily rectified by going back over the uneven area with a damp brush. Be sure to always paint in the same direction, following the length of your shape.

Blending with watercolor markers is a similar process, but you need to be a bit more controlled with your water application so that you don’t completely lose the effect of the ink. I love watercolor markers because you can get such bold contrast, but a little bit of ink goes a long way, and with too much water your separate colors will just swim all together into one mass.  I cannot emphasize enough, quality also matters. If you get cheap markers, chances are they won’t blend nicely no matter how skillful the artist. They don’t need to be officially called “watercolor markers”, they just need to be water soluble so they will run when wet. I love using Tombow’s water soluble brush markers. You also need to think about the values of the markers you are using. Deeper colors will spread a lot farther than paler colors, and can overpower. I have started with a darker color, a royal blue, and a lighter more muted color, a sage green. Start by scribbling a bit of each color on opposite ends of your shape. You do NOT want to shade the entire area in. Again, a little bit of ink goes a long way when water is added. Then, still using a flat brush you want to dip your brush in some water, tapping off the extra on a nearby paper towel. Wet the ink on one side and work it into the middle of the shape. Rinse off your brush, and wet the ink on the other side, again working towards the middle where they will meet. The wet colors will again, flow together and seamlessly blend pretty much on their own once they meet, staying darkest where you first laid down the ink. You can see above that a gradation is apparent, but the blue has pretty much taken over as the main color you see.

Trying the process again using the same 2 colors, but shading in only a tiny bit of blue and more of the green, you can see we get a more balanced effect where the pure green color is still highly visible.

 

You can also create a gradation with only one color. The beauty of watercolor is the depth of value that can be captured from one single hue, simply by adjusting the amount of water added. To do this you would apply a bit of the same color on each end in a darker or medium value (mixing less water with your paint). Then, rinsing off your brush, add some water to the edge of the area of color on each side, again spreading towards the center from each end. The color will remain most saturated at the ends, and will be the lightest (most watered down) in the center.

If at any point you add too much water, your gradation is in danger of all just running together into one flat tone. If this happens, you can blot the area with a paper towel to lift the excess water (and some of the pigment), and then blend right over again. You don’t want to see any “puddles” pooling on your paper … that is a sign there is too much water being used. Also keep in mind damp is ok, but if you are filling in a new area next to an old one that is still very wet, the colors will bleed together over your lines. Sometimes it helps to use a blow-dryer to speed along the drying process. Or, you could just work on filling in areas that aren’t touching each other until each spot dries. The paint air dries pretty quick.

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Here is a reminder of the final image! It is the same blending process for each section, which is what makes it good practice. I filled in some spaces using the markers, and some with paint. I kept lighter colors on the crests of the waves, and alternated medium and dark tones throughout the body of water, making sure not to fill in too many of the same colors right next to each other. It always feels good to still have some sort of finished product after practicing techniques, and I guarantee you will start to see a difference in the first couple spaces you fill in versus the last! Remember, it’s all about playing with color. Have fun!

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Piet Mondrian – Creative Minds Art History Project

piet.mondrianI promised I’d catch up in posting all my Creative Minds art history projects from the Fall and Winter semesters!

You may not recognize the name “Piet Mondrian“, but I guarantee you’ll recognize his imagery. Mondrian was interested in simplifying art down to its basic essence, and creating a type of universal design that could be used for everything: visual art, furniture, architecture, clothing … I’d say he was pretty successful, as his primary colored designs composed out of different sized squares and rectangles bordered by bold black lines can be found covering posters, furniture, jewelry, shirts, and the pair of Nikes I would buy if I were rich.

We do a lot of painting in the Express Yourself Artshop program, so though we easily could have done the whole “make a grid on canvas with blue painter’s tape” thing, I wanted to try something more original – transferring a Mondrian design onto glass. The glass we used was just glass from the inside of an inexpensive frame. This could be done in any size. The actual frame could easily be used on a future project. We used primarily colored tissue paper for our rectangles, though we happened to have a bit of patterned and textured vellum on hand that can be found in the scrapbooking section of craft stores and is great for mixed media art. The goal is to use thin, transparent paper so light can shine through the glass. I cut a variety of different sized rectangles and squares out of scrap cardboard for students to use as a pattern. Students chose their colors, and then traced different shapes using the patterns until they had a good pile to choose from. They then laid out their shapes on the glass to create the desired pattern. After they were happy with their design, it was time to glue. We just used traditional liquid school glue, but squeezed the glue out on a piece of foil and used a crappy paint brush to paint the glue on the back of the paper so it didn’t get too saturated.

 

The front of the finished product is going to be the glass side without anything glued to it, so if you do end up using papers with a one-sided pattern, you need to glue the side you want to see face down. Once the paper dried, we trimmed any paper that was hanging off of the glass and used a ruler to draw on the glass side (NOT the side the paper was glued on to) with a black, medium tip paint marker. This sharpens and finishes the design, and also disguises any uneven edges.

These can be as simple or as intricate as you want, and are a fun project with a beautiful end result that can be completed fairly independently by all ages and abilities. My students with disabilities who struggle with dexterity were still able to do this on their own and end up with a piece of art they were proud of. Display in a clear plastic plate stand … It would be especially cool in front of a window or other lighted area. Have fun creating :)!

Alexander Calder – Creative Minds Art History Project

09e5c065d1594c85473cc0f55bc4e082I’m a bit behind on sharing my art history projects from Express Yourself Artshop … This one is from the first 5 weeks of the Fall semester! But, never fear, they will all be posted in due time! I am not really a 3D art person (love looking at it, hate creating it!) but even I enjoyed coming up with this upcycling activity based on Alexander Calder, the inventor of mobiles.

The great thing about this project is you can use scraps of literal junk that you have just sitting around the house (or if you are super cleanly and don’t let junk collect, start saving with this idea in mind 😉 ). We used primarily painted embroidery hoops, shower curtain rings, hardware odds and ends, painted toilet paper rolls, and the cardboard part that is left when you’ve finished a roll of colored duck tape!

Students were instructed to pick out a variety of small, medium, and large items that struck their fancy from the pile of supplies, and then start laying them out flat in front of them on the table so that they could plan the basic composition they wanted. Calder’s big focus was kinetic sculptures, which led to his eventual mobiles. These babies are meant to shift and move as they hang (part of why I couldn’t get very clear pictures … That and the fact that there is NO dead space to use as a backdrop in our art studio!). Once they had a layout they liked, they could start tying their most prominent “anchor” pieces together using fishing line with a dot of hot glue on the knot to secure it. After the main components were attached, they could focus on adding smaller pieces both to achieve the balance and/or movement they wanted and add visual interest.

If you have a spare hanger or anything else that you can hang your mobile on to step back and look at how it’s hanging while you create, this helps a lot. As they held it up, it bobbed and shifted and was a great opportunity to play around with some simple physics, adding different smaller weighted objects to either balance or cause purposeful imbalance to their growing mobile. Glass beads attached by making eye-hooks through them with jewelry wire made great counterweights if a student didn’t want to add anymore major elements to their design, but wanted to adjust how the mobile hung.

I work with adults with disabilities and some have dexterity issues and needed a bit of help from time to time with the knots, but this project is for the most part something that all ages can do relatively independently.  When you are done, you will have a dynamic piece of modern art that you’d never guess was made out of castaways!

On Creativity & Leadership: New Year New Perspective

Though new year’s resolutions can be cliche and oft forgotten, using the turning of a year as an opportunity to refocus can’t hurt. My ongoing goal for this year is to not let the fear of others’ perceptions make me question my decisions either in art or as a leader. Not that I should never question why I am doing what I’m doing; questioning oneself is healthy and necessary, but only if done for the right reasons.

A quick background blurb for those new to the blog – My day job is running an inclusive creative classes program geared towards adults with disabilities and mental health, and I am also a freelance artist.

I was hit with this the other day when I came home from the first week of the program’s new semester on a high, because a new student had taken me aside and let me know that they had not been out in public to participate in group activities in a long time, and that I had been a stabilizing presence that kept them calm and made them feel safe. As I was browsing through facebook while waiting for dinner to cook, I came across an article (mainly aimed at women) that stated that being called reliable, stabilizing, nice, or accommodating were not compliments and were basically code for being a complete doormat. As an independent minded person, this horrified me. Immediately, every time I’d been called any of those adjectives by others rushed through my head and halfway through creating a plan to deconstruct and rebuild my entire personality, I suddenly stopped and asked myself why I was doing this. I don’t know the person who wrote this article personally, nor do they know me. Why does this opinion suddenly hold so much weight? Should I instead be unkind, stubborn, leave a path of division and stress in my wake? It makes no sense for either women or men to live their life that way.

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Though it may not be fierce or glamorous or fit neatly within an awe-inspiring superhero persona, I don’t really want to be the leader who is kicking ass and taking names ;). I don’t want to be the leader that refuses to see the progress and can only focus on past mistakes in the people I work with. I don’t want to be the leader that kicks an employee when they’re down; I don’t want people to come to me with vulnerability, saying “Hey, I may need some extra support this week because I’m having a tough time with____________, or this hard thing just happened in my life, or I’m having this mental health struggle right now,” etc. and my response is, “That’s not my problem, leave your issues at home.” I can still hold people accountable without tearing down their self worth, and I don’t need the approval of those that are on the outside looking in that don’t know my group like I do.

I realized that without knowing it, I’d slipped into these same bad habits with my art … I’ve mentioned before how it was hard knowing what direction to go in after completing my last big 12 part series I’d worked on for around 2 years. When trying to come up with new concepts, I found myself constantly questioning myself based on how a new project may be perceived, and getting nowhere. If I start using more bright colors than usual will people think I’ve lost my edge, if I use my more dark imagery will I come across as an aging Hot Topic shopper, Will men feel left out since I draw mostly women, If I draw men will they think I’m trying to speak for them … ??? I’d gotten a lot of commissions done in the time since and some just-for-fun personal projects, but nothing with a strong direction.

When beginning your next creative endeavor for 2019, whether on your own or leading/educating a group, keep yourself in check by asking the right questions:

What kind of creator do I want to be? This question sounds simple, but is an ongoing process. I remember taking a fascinating hybrid philosophy/law class in college to fulfill one of my freshman year gen eds, and we started by discussing the tombstone question, basically when you’re gone, what do you want written on your tombstone? How do you want to be remembered? Now let that answer be in the back of your mind and guide your decisions, because our daily choices determine who we will become. Once you decide what kind of creator you want to be, the steps you need to take as a creative, the events you need to participate in, the programs you need to donate your time to, will no longer seem so up in the air, and won’t be so susceptible to changing with the wind the minute you hear a bit of noise.

Who am I trying to reach with this project? Oftentimes creative projects won’t be all about you, so there are indeed times you need to consider others’ possible responses to your work. But, if you are trying to appease everyone you will end up running yourself in circles, leading to a sub-par result that in trying to say everything to everyone, says nothing. Think of who you want to speak to with your project – It’s ok for you to create something that isn’t intended to resonate with everyone. Chances are, there will be others outside of your target that will end up getting something out of it, too.

What experiences am I drawing my ideas from? Creation flows most easily when it comes from the fount of something that the creator is passionate or knowledgeable about. Think about what in the world gets you stirred up, either positively or negatively. Think about what experiences you’ve had that have impacted you, that you remember every detail of; again, positive or negative. There may be an artist out there whose aesthetic and ideas you really admire, an artist you wish you could create exactly like, but it likely isn’t possible since they have a different story than you. Find your own voice rather than trying to retell another person’s story. And, if in the end you do want to use your voice to tell the stories of others, make sure you do your research and ask questions!

How would I want to be guided? Methods of leadership or teaching aren’t one size fits all as different styles are more effective for certain personality types, but this question is a good starting point. It pretty much boils down to the golden rule, and asking in each situation, “How would I want to be treated?” I’ve heard horror stories of art instructors sending students away in tears after a critique of their work. Yes, the work of a student or a fellow artist you are collaborating with may not meet your expectations, but how is destroying their enthusiasm for creation or any hope in them that they can improve going to help them get to where you want them to be? In leadership, treat others how you would hope they’d treat you, it’s really that simple.

What is distracting me from my purpose right now? Be mindful of what is going on when you feel yourself getting derailed like I described happening to me earlier … Stop yourself and note what activity was going on when the switch occurred, and what stimuli you were taking in. Is it criticism from toxic people in your life, comparing yourself to others on social media, taking opposing views personally without the lens of evaluation, forcing yourself into a box that is antithetical to who you are … Write it down if you have to, and when you start to notice a pattern do your best to remove or lessen that thing in your life, whether it means taking a break from certain friends or family members or spending less time putzing about online.

I have to decide for myself what kind of leader, and what type of creator I want to be… and so do you!

 

Salvador Dali – Creative Minds Art History Project

Yikes, it’s been a whole month since posting last! My blog isn’t the only thing I’ve neglected … I must tattle on myself and admit that I gave up on Inktober after week 15! A half marathon if you will … perhaps I should have only committed to every other day! I have kept up with doing art every day though, which was the entire goal of Inktober to begin with. I was finding myself in the sticky situation of having to de-prioritize commissions and actual projects with deadlines in order to get my Inktober illustration finished for each day, which seemed counterproductive in the end. I do have a lot of fun art history based projects queuing up to share with you, and today our inspiration is an artist from my favorite genre of art: surrealism … Salvador Dali!salvadore-dali-simpsons-persistence-of-memory

Dali is best known as “that melting clock guy” from his famous piece “The Persistence of Memory” that has now become a part of popular culture, parodied regularly. However, he also had a thing for tall and spindly creatures as evidenced from two more of his more well known works, “The Elephants” and “The Eye of Surrealist Time”.

tall frameMy students in the Artshop Program love drawing animals, and the idea of depicting real things in a distorted way by stretching out their features was a concept that would be easy for everyone to grasp, so this seemed like a great jumping off point for making Dali’s work accessible.
Every work of art looks better behind glass, from works created by a master to works created by someone who specializes in stick figures. Though not every drawing or painting has to be framed especially in a classroom/learning setting, it’s nice every once in awhile. Pro-tip! Frames are expensive, but often times nice frames with ugly artwork in them can be snagged for cheaper than so-so frames that are empty at your local art supply store. These long, framed pastel-dyed crinkly paper guys were clearanced out, because this dentist-office-esque art is really bland and kind of hideous, not something that people would be racing to put on their wall at home. So, we got some custom dimension frames perfect for this tall animals project for super cheap, and just discarded the mass produced “art” inside! This project could be executed with any drawing or painting materials, but I had my students use watercolor markers because it was a medium not all of them had the opportunity to try before,  and the markers would allow us to get bright, saturated, unnatural colors like the deep reds and golds behind Dali’s elephants.

They found a photographic reference of an animal they liked for their subject, and then were encouraged to sketch on scrap paper and brainstorm how they could distort the image. They then made a pencil drawing on watercolor paper pre-cut to size, and used a sharpie pen to outline over the pencil so they wouldn’t lose their guide as they added the ink. The images were filled in with color and water, and there you have it! A simple, yet beautiful and intriguing end result where students had to challenge themselves to distort reality in an effective way. All ages and abilities could take this project in their own direction.

Happy creating! Remember, you are the artist, so you get to determine how you portray your world. Don’t be afraid to play with reality a bit ;).

 

Gustav Klimt – Creative Minds Art History Project

I got a bit behind on sharing my projects, but have now caught the awful Fall cold that is going around, so no better time than the present to sit and type with a hot cup of tea at my side. Gustav Klimt’s work, like that of the earlier covered Van Gogh, is one of those bodies of historical work that is recognizable even by non-artists because of his unique style that has been made readily available in print form to this day, and is appropriated and referenced constantly in new art. Though I’ve never experienced an emotional connection to his work, I love the use of metallics and vivid, overwhelming detail of his pieces as well as the merging of both realistic and painterly elements.

gustav-klimt-klimts-collages-images-via-principlegallerycom

Klimt began as a decorative painter under the belief that art’s true purpose was to show viewers something beautiful, and got his start painting murals on the walls and stairways of lavish, wealthy homes. His personal work was charged with an eroticism that was not present in art at that time, and it earned him a good deal of disdain but he remained committed to depicting the beauty of the world as he saw it. His pieces have resonated and stood the test of time, enough that virtual immersive experiences of his work were made available this year in Paris and Austria.

Not all of his work is sensual in nature or contains nudity, and there are plenty of other examples to show as inspiration if you are doing this project with younger audiences.

The-Tree-Of-Life

Klimt’s work incorporated figures and portraits, but learning how to draw faces and the human body properly is a whole semester of lessons within itself! To make a Klimt project that was accessible to all skill levels, fun, experimental, and stress free, we used collage. Some of Klimt’s portrait work does remind me of a very early form of fashion editorials, so we cut out models and celebrities from Elle and Vogue magazines to become the subjects in our Klimt inspired artworks.

Students were then encouraged to place their magazine cutout where they wanted it on the page, and trace around it with pencil to save the space. I recommend gluing the magazine cutout on last so it doesn’t accidentally get smeared with paint. After outlining, students could add on and sketch the outfit of their dreams with pencil. Once the basic outline was complete, students filled in the background and clothing in different shades of metallic paint first, and then could add detail overtop with pattern. As I’ve mentioned before, I work with a lot of adults with disabilities and seniors in my art program. Painting small patterns with a brush can be hard for some depending on their dexterity level so we made this project more accessible by also introducing the use of ink stamps for those who were struggling with fine motor skill. Innovation can lead to some simply amazing results, as can be seen by the work-in-progress above! Be sure to check back soon for more artist-inspired project ideas!

Henri Matisse – Creative Minds Art History Project

Another week, another artist! I shared my Van Gogh project last week. In week 2 we covered Henri Matisse. His personal story really resonated with the students, being a group of adults with varying disabilities.

Matisse spent the majority of his artistic career as a painter, being one of the leaders of the Fauvism movement in the early 1900s. Fauvism is characterized by a painterly, non-realistic representation of people and objects and a strong use of bold “crayola crayon” colors. Unblended strokes of pure color divide objects from their background rather than shading. He wanted his art to be calming and cheerful, an escape from the world’s troubles. In 1941, everything changed when Matisse was diagnosed with cancer and had to have surgery. His life was saved, but from that point forward he required the use of a wheelchair for mobility, and struggled with dexterity. Matisse famously said, “Creativity takes courage“, and at the age of 72 no matter how he had changed physically, he refused to give up on creating. He shifted gears to a cut paper collage format for his work as painting was harder to manage with his dexterity changes, creating yet another influential body of work. He ended up liking this new, modern style even better than what he had been working on before, and you can still see similar shapes, styles, and color schemes taken from his paintings and applied to his collage works, such as the organic leaf shapes. His final project was stained glass windows for the Chapelle du Rosaire de Vence as seen pictured above, designed in his iconic collage style.

Though the term disability pride wasn’t part of our vocabulary at the time Matisse was alive, I think his legacy perfectly embodies this concept. He did not look at disability as a barrier, but an opportunity to innovate.

matisse bowls 2

For our project, we created beautiful decoupage bowls inspired by Matisse’s paper cut works. I chose to focus specifically on shapes present in his chapel design, though if you do an image search of his collage work you could find many other ideas. I cut patterns out of some scrap matte board for the students to trace. We used colored printer paper for the cutouts – It is thin enough to be able to bend along the round shape of the bowl without popping back up or creating massive wrinkles, but thick enough that the color of the bowl won’t show through. We used matte Mod Podge to apply and seal the shapes onto the bowl, and the bowls themselves were picked up at the dollar store, making this a ridiculously inexpensive project with beautiful results.

This would be a fun project to do with all ages from kids to seniors, and makes for a great gift idea if planned closer to the holidays or Mother’s Day. Since Mod Podge is not food safe, obviously you do not want to try to eat cereal out of these or something ;), but they are a perfect catch all for jewelry, keys, pens pencils and paperclips, or change. Also a cute decoration when filled with decorative orbs, glass marbles, or stones. I love color, and may just have to make one of these for myself at home!