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Opposites Attract

IMG_5013I’m sure you’ve heard the old saying that opposites attract. When it comes to art, Andrew and I certainly meet that criteria. He paints in oils while I continue to embrace the lowly acrylic. He hand draws and paints all his colour and imagery, while I will steal from any collage source available. He paints figures which are proportionally and tonally correct, while my figures are anatomically challenged.

This is all because we perhaps seek opposites things from art. Andrew has a drive to paint the perfect image. He has complete ideas in his head which he aims to translate onto the canvas. My only drive is to express what I feel like expressing in that moment. Unfortunately that moment is often fleeting and consequently I have many pieces which have a slightly unfinished feel to them – such as this one. It’s been hanging around for a few weeks. The top of the painting is incredibly raw. I’m not sure there’s any paint up there… just collage material. After several weeks of floating around the art table, I’ve decided that it is finished even if that means it looks unfinished. I cannot recreate an idea that was a moment in time and, in this case, I cannot extend it because I don’t want to destroy that which is core to this piece.

This would drive Andrew batty. In fact in most areas of my life it would annoy me too. I hate doing a task at work and people seeing it half-finished. Even when things are complete, I will sometimes look back at them later and wonder what on earth possessed me to think that it was ‘good enough.’ Such is the way of the perfectionist. Art is one of the few places where I can buck that voice that says it’s not good enough and it’s not right. I think that is in part because Art has no right or wrong. It isn’t like sport where you either win or lose. Or like sewing a dress – it either hangs together and fits, or it doesn’t. Sure, in art, certain things seem more valued than others. (And if I were in a cynical mood I’d say that appears to be either skill, or bullshit, or both). But value is not right or wrong. And provided something can’t be wrong, then perfectionism loses for once and the older I get, the more delight I take in that.

Rusty Paintings

The Fish CrownIt’s been a while since I posted an artwork and certainly not one with a fish on my head before.

The base of this piece is all newspaper from last Saturday’s Sydney Morning Herald. I bought the paper thinking that I would do something else entirely. As I flipped through it there were a number of articles on bushfires including photos. I picked these out and then started to select any photograph that had a warm ‘glow.’

After creating a background, the piece hung around for a few days before I decided to draw a woman with a fish on her head (based on a blend of two drawings from a Dover Pictorial Archive book of 1930s Spot Illustrations). Unfortunately I’m very rusty. The fish was fine. The woman’s head was not.

And so it was that I fell back to my collage materials to find a head that would fit under the fish… which as it turned out was mine!

I did make some attempt to blend the photo in to the background with paint but my ear and hair remain untouched.

I wouldn’t call it a great piece, but it’s finished just the same. I of course had cat assistance throughout. This time mainly from Saffron who seems to think the art table is her table (photographic evidence below to support this accusation). There’s so much junk on the art table it’s a wonder that she fits at all.
Art help from Saff

What to do with an applicut besides applique

Sometimes I love getting an ‘art material’ and using it in a way it wasn’t intended! I know that many artists do this; it’s why both ends of the paintbrush get dirty; why happy accidents turn into techniques.

Applicut used in the intended way!

Applicut used in the intended way!

Lately I’ve been playing around with applicuts. An applicut is a fabric shape/image cut using a laser which is intending for applique work on quilts. It comes with a sticky ‘fusible’ backing so you can iron it down first and then stitch. Whether you use satin stitch, straight stitch, a decorative machine stitch or even hand stitching is really up to you. I recently hand-cut a shape with scissors. As I was applique-ing (if that is a word!) it down, I had problems with it fraying. I think I’ve been spoilt by using applicuts as the laser almost ‘seals’ the edges so it seems to fray less.

A friend of mine (the daughter of my dressmaking teacher) makes these applicuts. She hasn’t asked me to write this post and may just shudder at some of the things I’ve been doing with her materials!

Applicut as a stencil

Applicut as a stencil

Applicut as a stencil – Pitt waterproof pen on hand painted quilting fabric.

When I started the art quilt I knew that I wanted to include some birds in it as Andrew loves painting pigeons. I also wanted a squirrel (one of our nicknames for Gesso). A small squirrel. I got some left facing and right facing doves. At first everywhere I put the dove in it’s ‘true applicut’ form seemed to stand out more than I wanted. My idea was to have a few doves over the quilt but integrated within it, rather than looking like items I added later.

I was getting nowhere until I was messing around with handpainting fabric (I’ve become a little bit of a painting fabric-holic) and decided to add a subtle outline of a dove by tracing around the applicut with a Pitt pen. It was subtle. I was happy.

But what would happen if instead of putting it on after the fabric was painted, I used it during the painting process?

Applicut as a mask

Under the screen went the applicut. It was going to get paint all over it. Hmm… nah… who cares. I had a spare one!

Applicut as a mask

Applicut as a mask

It shifted a little as I did it. Sometimes I think that would be annoying but in this case I didn’t mind that it was a little fuzzy. I did a monoprint with the lighter copper colour on a piece of perspex and then defined him a little more once again using a Pitt pen.

Piecing the handmade fabric into the quilt

Applicut as a ‘stamp’

Applicut as ‘stamp’

After doing a few of these, my applicut was more than a little wet. I flipped him over (something I’d seen Kerr Grabowski do with paper she’d been using under her screenprints) and rubbed a little . I must have also had gold/copper paint on my hands because even outside the bird I got some added colour. This is one of my favourites birds in the quilt. He sits in the top right hand corner.

Applicut for ‘pattern’

My applicut had started to curl up. I think all the moisture was getting to it. So I just plonked it down without worrying whether it was straight or not. I then got a pallette knife and dragged some copper paint over the top and then removed the applicut.

Applicut using to create pattern only

Applicut used to create pattern only

It looked nothing like a bird but I still liked it. At this stage my applicut looked decidedly dirty and sick. I had a couple so I wasn’t fussed if that was the end of this particular applicut. I’d had some fun with it!

Initially I’d tried using the ‘paper’ backing as a stencil tool. Unfortunately it’s slightly ‘waxy’ and after one use it ‘recoiled’ itself into an unusable state. When I try to unfurl it to stick it under the screen, it springs back and I can’t get it flat.

About a week later, I was painting fabric again. (Yes I know, it’s a little addictive!). Anyway, I was looking at the poor applicut which was once purple. Now mottled on both sides I could still see residue of the fusible backing. I decided to give it a shot and see whether it would stick.

Remarkably – it did!

A decorated applicut

The applicut after it had been through a screenprint as a mask; used as a stamp, traced around and generally abused… yet it still stuck down!

Yesterday, I finally put a purple bird on the quilt.
Clipped applicutThey were always supposed to be purple – not gold and copper. I didn’t do anything untoward to this particular applicut besides clipping his wings a little. I wanted to make it look like it was behind the other shape (at this stage marked out by the temporary white tacking line). I intend to quilt along that line so hopefully it will look like the bird is in the background.

I’m not sure that I’m done with the applicuts just yet. If anyone has any other ideas how to get a little more mileage out of this one art material, let me know.

Hand painted quilt fabric

Handpainted quilting fabric: what not to do!

Piecing the handmade fabric into the quilt

Silk screen printing, hand carved spiral stamp and bird created by covering an applicut in lumiere paint and then pressing into fabric. (Applicuts are made for easy applique to a quilt – see

I think I’ve finally cracked it! I’ve tried a number of different mediums to combine with my regular acrylic paint to make them into ‘fabric paints’ with very mixed success. At last, I have found that print paste is my new best friend.

If you are thinking of creating your fabric for quilting then here’s a few of my ‘what not to do tips.’

Golden GAC 900

You can have too much of a good thing! I found that when I combined my paint with GAC 900, the result was often sticky. Perhaps I put too much but it seemed to be a fine line. For me, I want something that’s not as sensitive. That I didn’t have great success with this Golden product really surprised me. I am very attached to my golden paints and many of their mediums – they are simply a joy to use! However GAC 900 is being crossed off my list. Others my get it to work. I’m not that patient!

Permaset Supercover

Supercover = supertacky! I actually didn’t realise when I bought my black permaset textile paint that I had chosen Supercover. (Their paints come in standard and supercover). I think the idea is for a product which has a greater opacity. Unfortunately it gets a tacky feel which I really don’t like.

Believe your silk screen will stay clean

Every site I’ve read says it – don’t let your paint dry on your screen; clean it quickly. Well, it doesn’t seem to matter how speedy gonzales I am at getting the silk screen washed, my screen is not ‘clean’. What I soon discovered (after fretting I’d ruined my screen) is that it is more stained than dirty. I can still get really clear prints through it but I do have marks – particularly from phthalo green!

Believe you can stop at just one piece!

Piecing the handmade fabric into the quilt IIOriginally I’d only planned to put a small piece of my handpainted fabric into the quilt. I thought given I hadn’t put pieces in the centre parts that it would look like I’d tacked them on! With a dwindling supply of the fabrics already in the quilt, I’ve had to supplement. (At least that’s my excuse!)

Thinking starting with coloured fabric is a good idea! 

There are fiber artists out there who like to start with fabric which is already coloured – Lynn Krawczyk is one. She says she got tired of filling in the white spots! Perhaps it is because I’ve painted on paper and canvas first and fabric second, that I seem very attached to starting on white. I know how one colour layered on top of another will behave when I’m using paint. When I’m starting with a fabric colour, I’ve taken my art colour theory and adapted it – with very mixed results. I think it is because it’s hard to know the properties of the colour you are painting on. I stared at it for a while trying to decide whether it was a green or purple leaning blue; I deliberately chose a red loaded with crimson as usually you can make a beautiful purple out of a blue and red where each leans towards purple in it’s colour. I got dark mud instead! So, I’m sticking to start on white.

Forget to put gloves on

A lot of people recommend gloves whenever using any kind of paint for health reasons. In the case of silk screen printing, I’ve discovered that for reasons of ‘messiness’, the gloves are essentially. Somehow I regress back to a 2 year old and get it not only on my fingers but up my arms, elbows and on my clothes.

Think the cat will leave you alone

Wait until your cat is in a very deep sleep or suffer their curiousity you will!

So what is working?

Permaset Print Paste in combination with any of my acrylic paints seems to be producing a very consistent result. I like the Golden Fluid Acrylics the best but I think that’s just a result of my passion for them generally! Thicker paint does work and other brands seem fine – e.g. Matisse.

Lumiere Paints

As you need a fair bit of paint for silk screening, I’ve taken to using the lumieres for some embellishment on the top (see bird at top of this post) rather than using them through the screen. They do work beautifully as a screen print; it’s just me being stingy on my paint!

Waterproof Calligraphy pens

I’m loving the nice crisp line I can introduce with a calligraphy pen – especially amid the chaos that is my painting style! Now my quilt has the words ‘mad as a hatter’ up one side. It’s subtle enough that you can’ easily read it however still detectable.

I’m trying a few other things but I’ve yet to wash them so will let you know if they are a success!

Saffron and Yellow Handpainted and silkscreened fabric

Still in progress

Enough with the painting Gesso

White Gesso wearing his new patch of black Gesso

Yup. Regular readers will know what this ones about. The little furry bugger did it again.

This time, he’s opted for black paint not red. Actually he’s chosen more wisely. This time it is acrylic not oil paint. Why the cat has such an obsession with paint, I do not know. All our cats have done it at one point or another but not to the extent of this little guy.

Perhaps when we named him Gesso, after the white chalk-like paint used as a ground in art, we cursed him to forever have a fascination with paint.

So once again tonight, white Gesso met black Gesso and ended up as grey Gesso (after I washed him that is). He’s remarkably tolerant when being washed. I know many a cat who would tear me to shreds. He protests and tonight he bit me once but I escaped with no scratches. Evidently he bore no grudge against me, for about 30 minutes later he came and sat in my lap.

Perhaps we should rename this guy so he stops thinking Gesso is a good thing! Hmm… what would you call him?

Self Portraits

Sketched with paint

A portrait of an old man

My father asked me whether one of my portraits I posted recently was a self portrait. It made me question how bad my wrinkles were getting as it was a portrait inspired by a photograph of a man of about 102 years.

Dad says that my self portraits are quite unflattering. I know that they are indeed not always life-like! I actually never worry about them being life like. I’m sure in some circles that’s an oxymoron: surely a self-portrait should bear some resemblance to the person? Well, I think that depends on what the ‘likeness’ is. I think one can paint an entirely abstract painting and it could still be a self-portrait if it suitably capture one’s mood or personality.

Below is probably the most life like portrait of me: it was drawn by Andrew on a canvas that I had painted. I then continued to paint after Andrew had ‘sketched me in.’

An artistic collaboration

As for a self-portrait, here’s my latest effort. It’s mixed media with the face mainly in pen and the other areas in acrylic, pen and caran d’ache neocolor I’s (fancy crayons). The original is actually rectangular and reasonably brightly coloured. As it wasn’t quite working for me, I photographed it and then played around with that. I like the end result – reminiscent of humpty dumpty in Alice in Wonderland – and we all know that I can’t but fall in love with something which reminds me of Alice.

Mixed Media Artwork photographed in sepia

Mixed Media Self Portrait ala Alice's Humpty Dumpty

Gesso’s rite of passage

I is cute

Gesso, I would never do anything naughty, Grant

I’m trying to imagine the scene. My partner has set himself up for a relaxing night of painting. He’s squeezed out a little of all the colours he needs onto his palette. He starts to paint.

Who knows how far he got into the painting zone before the 5 month old white kitten decided to leap onto the paint palette.

I think someone must have told Gesso that it’s customary to get your paws wet from time to time. Chilli, Licorice, Saffron and Pickle have all done it before him.

Unlike his brothers and sisters in crime, Gesso chooses a nice muddy earth pigment to squish his paw in. This is good news for the cleaner-upper-er. Previous kitty cats have chosen something high staining like phthalo blue or quin crimson.

So, white paw goes into raw umber. Andrew has to quickly catch him before he leaps off and takes that glob of brown paint with him onto the carpet. Catch him he does. Well done. Perhaps I can get Andrew into a cricket team and he can cover the Silly Point position.

Slippery cat in hand, now what?

I’m trying to picture how he managed to wheel anywhere while still trying to hold on to Gesso. I’m guessing he tried one handed, which is a good way to direct oneself quickly into the wall. Trying to move the wheelchair with one hand reminds me of playing Wii Canoe – frequent side swapping required if you don’t want to go in circles!

Of course it wasn’t that simple. The little white rascal, now proudly sporting one brown paw, escaped. He took off, running the length of the house.

Somewhere in the ensuing moments Andrew got red oil paint on his hands; when he caught the little white devil, he was now a white and red devil.

More laughable than a guy trying to hold on to a cat covered in paint and push a wheelchair is the idea of him giving same cat a bath in the laundry tub! Would pandemonium adequately describe the scene?

It’s like one of those bad jokes:

What’s worse than bathing a cat?

Bathing a cat covered in red oil paint.

Gesso's new colour This is the result.

Gesso in a pretty shade of pink neckwear.

While part of me wants to have been witness to havoc and lawlessness Gesso imposed on the house for the briefest of moments, the other part is happy to be in my own little unit, with my own furry friends who have never got quite so dirty in paint that they have required more than a sponge-off.

I know that the Cat Protection Society (where Licorice, Saffron, Pickle and Gesso all came from) has an ‘art’ auction annually and gets their residents of the day to do some of the artwork. I think Andrew and I could save them the effort and just collate Gesso’s work through the next year. This is the second time in less than a month that he’s made contact with wet paint. It won’t take long to get an exhibition worth!

There’s cat hair in my paint!

Paint tube no close-up filter

Photograph without close up filter

I recently acquired three close up filters for my Canon 550D: a +1, +2 and a +4. When I ordered them I have visions of taking beautiful close up images of flowers or insects. Instead, Andrew has used the +4 filter to take close up images of a tube of oil paint. This first image is the tube of paint without any filter attached. At this level, it’s still possible to see the shrek-esque green oozing from beneath the cap. I can even spy several white cat hairs, no doubt from Gesso, stuck to the congealed glob of paint.

Add the +4 filter and the truly disgusting nature of the paint spillage reveals itself. It is not just paint but a cocktail of brown gunge (a new word!) and cat hair. This little test has proven to me that a cheap close up filter is a worthy investment for someone like me. I imagine that serious photographers would find a macro lens to be preferable, however for an amateur like me the filter rings are an affordable substitute.

Paint tube +4 close-up filter

Same tube with +4 close up filter used

Now that I’ve satisfied my curiousity using a paint tube, I’ll try to find more visually appealing subject matter!

Like this little rascal…
Sleeping deaf kittenOne of the advantages in having a deaf cat is that it will stay asleep through rattling of dishes, or in this case, while I fiddled with the settings on my camera to get a close up shot.

Of course, this makes him look enormous. While I have little doubt that Gesso will grow up to be plump, he is for the moment an average sized kitten. It is surprising that his head has not grown to epic proportions, such is the frequency in which he is photographed. Sadly for poor Pickle, Gesso knows he’s cute and is learning young how to hog the limelight.

Black Gesso Art by White Gesso

Gesso and his pink paws

Yesterday I got a text message.
It read:

White gesso + black gesso = grey wet sorry looking gesso

Gesso's not so pink paws

Upon receiving that photo I replied.

Prints eh? What’s he under arrest for?

The answer came back:

Trespassing Belgian Linen

Gesso's art work

A tale of two cadmiums

Last week I was doing data entry work while Andrew got to watch a colour mixing demonstration. I was more than a little jealous to say the least. Poor Andrew then was quizzed on the presentation on the way home. Chief focus of my inquisition was the presenters ‘exposure of the shortcomings of a limited pallete.’ This got my attention because I am, at heart, a cynic. When I hear a rep from a paint company promoting the purchase of MORE colours, my sceptical nature comes into play.

Andrew explained how the guy had done a demonstration of trying to mix a bright orange. His argument was that while you could mix a ‘warm yellow’ and a ‘warm red’ together you would not get something with the brightness of a cadmium orange. After all, cadmium Orange is a different pigment. This makes sense. If I buy apple, pear and guava juice and mix them together it will not taste the same as a tropical juice that also has passionfruit therein. My question is, how different is the pigment cadmium Orange from something I can mix?

The picture to the above right are the results of my attempts to ‘match’ cadmium Orange. I will admit that the one straight from the tube is the brightest (and slightly more so in real life that in this photograph. However for me, this isn’t enough of a difference to warrant abandoning my limited pallette. I remain a fan for a number of reasons.

  1. It’s far less confusing. When you work with a limited pallette of colours (typically 6 – 12), if I want to recreate a colour I’ve previously mixed, the potential combinations are far less! Most of the time, I can reliably recreate a colour I’ve previously mixed.
  2. Better understanding of your colours. I know my 12 colours intimately. As I use each of them often, I know which are opaque, which are high staining and which glaze beautifully.
  3. Harmony in your pictures. Using a limited pallette – I think – brings a painting together far better.
  4. Fewer tubes = less storage space required.
  5. Last but not least, it’s far cheaper.
For what it’s worth, my advice before buying a new colour is to read the pigment label. If you are thinking you need say – payne’s grey – you will discover that it is usually a mix of ultramarine and carbon black. If you own both those colours, then you now have a choice. You can buy it, or you can mix it.
In some cases, I still buy a colour outside my limited pallette. Golden’s Nickel Azo Gold is an example. I adore it and use it so often that I just want to squeeze it from the bottle and go. I have also found it a difficult colour to match. In contrast, most of the turquoises on the market (which are nearly always a combination of phthalo blue and green), I don’t use often enough to warrant buying one and I find relatively easy to mix something I’m happy with.
Having said all that, I guess I’m about to find out whether people’s opinions of the above is as controversial as say, whether to use black in your paintings or not?