Saturday, June 23, 2012


"Use it up, wear it out, make it do, or do without."
~Old English Proverb~
One of the things I have become increasingly mindful of lately is the amount of trash I have left over after an art project is finished.  While I do have a couple of ideas in place that I regularly implement to cut down on what is actually thrown out, I still have quite a few leftover bits to contend with.  The other day I was in a cleaning frenzy trying to get the studio back in order.  During the process I kept tossing everything that needed to be thrown out into one heap on the counter rather than in the trash bin.  It turned out to be a magical "aHa!" artful moment.

With everything back in place and all the tidying up finished I turned my attention to the trash and suddenly saw studio stash!  With a few simple supplies: wallpaper paste, gesso, heavy and medium matte gel, modeling paste, paint brush, pallet knife, and my fingers, I set out to recycle every one of those cast offs, up-cycling them from trash to studio stash!

My trash heap was composed of a large cardboard mailer that I had received a gift from a friend in as well as some random piece of cardboard cut from a box.  
 Two lunch sized paper bags, one brown and one white, from recent flea market purchases.  A miscellaneous mash of various fibers and odd fabric scraps.  
 Two sleeves and surged seams from a t-shirt I cut up for a project.   Various paper scraps: crumpled wax paper, bits of handmade paper, a stray coffee filter, a piece of brown pinstriped wrapping paper from my birthday gift, etc. 
 There were also boxes, one from a recent Amazon book purchase and one from an Etsy purchase.
Normally I would have been fed up and finished at this point and just tossed the random items out and called it a day, but, I have started to challenge myself to see how I can reduce the amount of things I actually throw out and to see exactly how creative I can get with all my leftovers.  I can blame my current craze on Beth (Gathering Dust).  She gave out one of my all time favorite tips for using up scrap paper bits and that is what got my mind whirling about how to use up other studio leftovers.

Beth's tip:
Keep a piece of blank card stock and a glue stick handy as you paper craft.  As you are working or at the end of your project randomly glue all those snippets of paper onto the piece of card stock in an overlapping collage like fashion.   It will look like a hot mess but do not despair!  Use a paper punch, stencil, or free form cut out tag shapes.  You will have some super amazing tag bases to embellish!
In addition to Beth's tip, I keep a pretty bowl near my workspace.  It is my leftover bowl.  As I work on a project I might select various items that are either accepted or rejected to include in a piece.  I may snip this or tear away that.  
 Everything related to that project gets tossed into the bowl, originally I did this to curb what was going onto my work surface, to be sorted and put away later.  I began to see additional projects with the rejects and leftover snippets.  I use a simple piece of muslin and layer all those paper and fabric bits onto the surface and then stitch them into backgrounds for later use either by hand or using my sewing machine incorporating decorative stitching.  Here are a few recent examples:
 I also keep a  couple of small vintage sewing machine parts tins beside my sewing machine.  As I clip away excess threads I put them in the tins, one for neutral threads and one for colored threads.  
 I used these thread snippets to create fiber art embellishments for enhancing larger projects.  Some examples are my fiber birds, small background or accent embellishments:
 So, my scraps have evolved from simple tag bases, to fiber/paper backgrounds, fiber embellishments, and now to artist "canvas".  Here is how I used my haphazard heap, all of these are in their rawest form but ready for paint, wax, or collage...

Etsy box lid, 1/2 crumpled white paper bag, and matte gel medium...
(Super simple even looks like a regular textured canvas)

Etsy box bottom, crumpled brown paper bag, and matte gel medium...
(Yes, I am leaving the rumpled edges as they are)

Cardboard box piece, 1/2 crumpled white paper bag, matte gel medium, modeling paste...
(I love the irregular random shape of this one)

Cardboard box piece, modeling paste, surged t-shirt seams...
(A fun textural background all ready for paint and embellishment or might be added to a larger piece, but I think I feel an encaustic moment coming on with this one)

Cardboard box piece, twisted paper strips, various fibers, crumpled wax paper, fabric and paper scraps, wallpaper paste, gesso...
  (TIP: I often use wallpaper paste on large pieces to adhere things.  It is very cost effective and I have found it to hold up well.  Have you ever tried to strip wall paper off a wall?  Need I say more ;c)

WARNING: The only thing you need to know about using the wallpaper paste is that it can sometime yellow over time, since I often want an aged antique look to my work the extra age does not bother me.

Amazon book box, t-shirt sleeves, fabric strips, gesso, modeling paste...
(This made a thick really sturdy textural "canvas" to be used as is or layered over with thin artist tissue or paints.)

Large cardboard mailer, paper and fabric scraps, fibers, coffee filter, handmade paper scraps, crumpled wax paper, pin stripe gift wrap, wallpaper paste, heavy matte gel medium, gesso...
 (I glued these things on randomly with the intention of applying gesso over the whole thing for just a textural background but changed my mind after hitting the surface with a dry brush of gesso.  It kind of came out looking like a piece of abstract art.  Pretty cool!)

Some of these need to be weighted and flattened or backed for extra stability and then they are ready to use as stand in "canvas"!  I have another stack of thick square boxes ready to cover with plaster wrap as soon as I have time and my heap with be depleted!  

Right now, with the level of attention dedicated to my mother's care, I don't have much studio time to spare so I am focusing my energies on little creative snippets like turning trash into studio stash, storing up for future projects.  I may also use some of these "canvas" as art kit bases to place in my defunct Etsy shop in the future.

I would love to hear any up-cycling tips you have for your project left overs!

Monday, June 18, 2012


Heliography (in French, héliographie) is the photographic process invented by Joseph Nic'ephore Ni'ece around 1822, which he used to make the earliest known permanent photograph from nature.
Some time ago I promised a tutorial on sun printing fabrics and at long last I have it complete!  This method of sun printing requires very few supplies and a nice sunny day.  This technique will offer you a very subtle print that can be used as is printed or enhanced by paint or ink.  Along with the fabric technique I will show you some results on other substrates like painted book pages, canvas, and plaster paper.   Each application was the same but with very differing results.

Sun Printing (various printing techniques which use sunlight as a developing or fixative agent) or Heliographic Art is a process where a wet medium is applied to damp fabric, in this case we are using strong coffee, while still wet, objects like stencils, cutouts, natural elements, etc. are placed on the wet fabric.  It is then placed in full sunlight.  As the fabric dries the outlines of the objects are transferred onto the fabric surface, in an essence, the sun is photographing the outline of the image onto the substrate.  There are two methods of this fabric process, printing and painting, in this tutorial I will show you the printing method.

*100 % cotton fabric, white will give you a more crisp visible print - A blend of cotton and synthetic (containing at least 50% cotton) will give you good results but the colors will be less vibrant and the design not as resistant to washing.  I used a 100% cotton medium weight off white muslin, I wanted more of a tone on tone subtle print for the project I have in mind.
*Spray Bottle
*2 Tablespoons Instant Coffee
*1 Cup hot water
*2 teaspoons alum OR 2 Tablespoons Vinegar
*Nature Finds - Leaves, flowers, grasses, feathers, etc.
*Small pebbles to use as weights
*Sturdy cardboard or piece of wood covered with a plastic trash bag or wax paper - tape down trash bag or wax paper so it does not slide or lift in the printing process.  This will provide you with a smooth waterproof surface for the wet material to "stick" to which is needed for this process.  I use the back of some old corrugated weather proof signs compliments of Handy Hubby.
*Bowl of water
* A sunny but still day, wind is not your friend for this printing process ;c)

*Machine wash your fabric to remove sizing, dry in dryer, once dry iron smooth.
*Gather nature printing supplies:  leaves, petals, flowers, grasses, twigs, stones, feathers, etc.
*Mix 1 cup hot water with 2 Tablespoons instant coffee and 2 teaspoons alum OR 2 Tablespoons Vinegar, once thoroughly mixed pour into spray bottle.
*Dip fabric into a bowl of water, wring out, smooth onto wax paper covered cardboard, wet material will "stick" to the waterproof surface.
*Place your nature finds in a pleasing arrangement on your damp fabric
*Spray with coffee mixture pressings nature items down as they become wet
*Place the board/cardboard which includes your finished piece in full sun - printing time can take as little as 15 minutes up to 1 hour, to check process gently lift the edge of nature item and check the strength of the print underneath.  I usually set a timer and check mine in 30 minutes but generally I have found the complete printing/drying process to be about an hour.
*Before placing nature items on damp fabric surface, spritz lightly with coffee mixture
*Place your nature finds in a pleasing arrangement on your coffee damp fabric
*Spray coffee mixture over nature finds, pressing them down as they become wet
*Place the board/cardboard which included your finished piece in full sun to print/dry as described above.
 *Once print has reached the desired effect you want, remove the nature elements.
*Heat set the fabric by ironing for 2 to 3 minutes on the "cotton" setting of a hot dry iron.

NOTE:  light weight or even thicker foliage might need to be weighted down with pebbles to get a good outline and to prevent being swept away by a rouge puff of wind. 
*Once dry and heat set, the fabric should be treated like any piece of cotton, heat set with iron, rinse fabric lightly, put in clothes dryer at hottest setting, ans if desired once dry iron as an additional heat set. It is machine washable (without bleach!) and can be dry cleaned.

*Leaves on 100% cotton off white muslin:
*Leaves on 100% cotton fabric with a tone on tone bark like print:
*Fern and Dried Grass on 100% cotton off white muslin:
*Feathers on 100% cotton off white muslin:
Your fabric is now ready for use in your artwork!

If the sun is not reliable there are other printing options:
*  Heat lamps, like the ones used in restaurants to keep food warm work well (this needs to be watched very carefully as they get EXTREMELY hot!) 
* A UV light such as the kind used to grow indoor plants will work.
* Also, if weather is not cooperating you can place the fabric in front of a large window until completely dry, although the results are faster if the piece can be placed in direct sunlight.

SEMI-USELESS TIP:  Now you might or might not need this tip but just in case you might want to make sure your dog is put away, your cat is not lurking nearby, and there are no scampering squirrels in the vicinity to disrupt your printing process but just in case...

While your back is turned your cat might be stalking a scampering squirrel.  Your dog might just see the cat and the squirrel and decided to give a yapping chase that might accidentally just take place in the path of drying projects.  You glance back just in time to witness the commotion.  A scared scampering squirrel is making a leap for higher ground only higher ground happens to be your cardboard on the edge of a small table and is not so solid after all.  It tips and flips flinging your half baked project onto one very startled cat who is hunchbacked and hissing at yapping dog while you gape in astonishment and wonder if you are living in a Tom and Jerry cartoon.   I am just saying, it can happen!  This explains why you don't see some of the results featured in the photos...only at the Quill!

*Leaf Print on Acrylic Painted Dictionary Page:
*Leaf Print on Plaster Paper:
*Leaf Print on Primed Canvas:
SECOND SEMI-USELESS TIP:  If you receive a phone call that requires you to leave during the printing process you might want to scrap the project, baked on plant matter is a bear to scrape off of a primed canvas...again...I am just saying...it could happen...here at the Quill!

THIRD SEMI-USELESS TIP:  If by chance while you are called away one very small rain cloud in an otherwise brilliant blue sky might scud by and spit on your canvas!  Those spots you see were not on purpose.  Seriously, I drove up to find it sprinkling ONLY over my project!  

Now, say you really, really, really want those spots, not a problem:  While your project is wet sprinkle table salt over it for fine spots or rock salt for bigger spots.  When dry simply brush salt off and spots will remain.  OR after project has thoroughly dried but before heat setting, flick water onto surface to make coffee bleed, allow to dry again, then heat set.

I hope you enjoy trying this tutorial to make your own unique fabrics to enhance your artwork! 

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