Category Archives: Brush painting

That thing that I made you that you don’t know what it is–I don’t know what it is either, but isn’t it awesome?

About this time last year I bought a gigantic plastic storage container at Goodwill. It was filled to the brim with those wonderful plain wooden building blocks for kids.  The old school kind that last forever. Rectangles, squares, cylinders, arches, and those cool wedge-of-cheese shaped blocks. I stowed them in the way-back of my 14 year old Subaru wagon, and didn’t really think of them again until the fates decided about 6 weeks ago that the Subaru’s time had come (I can’t complain: it hit the 250,000 thousand mile mark in June and had never, but never let me down). But it had to be cleaned out in preparation for moving to its new home, and the blocks came to light again and started nagging at me.

And then I needed a present for someone special.  And this was born:

Inspired by a number of different projects, I pulled together various tools and decorated papers–monoprinted, stamped, brush painted, watercolored and so on.  You can actually get a better look at the kind of things that ended up papering the block in these shots. I quite like the little green bit of paper with the fish and tadpoles on it–it has a wonderful (IIDSSM) 3-D look to it, but I assure you, it’s perfectly flat.

And these–the stamp of the little person in the hat was made for another project, but it makes a credible appearance here, I think.

On this block printed strip, which ended up on the front of the bridge, a recently carved fish stamp and a poem by Issa:

fish frolicking
on foot…

I assembled it all with Golden semigloss gel, let it dry (hurrying it along a bit with a heat gun) then covered the whole with a layer of natural colored encaustic medium.  Then I sat watching Top Gear (British version, of course) while I buffed all the surfaces to a nice low-level gloss, kissed it goodbye, and packed it for shipping to the birthday girl.

It’s called Chrysanthemum bridge, but I  still don’t know what it us. Maybe she will.


Notecard tutorial: Tiptoe through the tulips

I had a birthday last month and was well and truly feted. Among my gifts were a lovely bouquet of pink tulips, and a copy of this fabulous book by the wonderful and talented Alisa Golden:

Actually, when my birthday came around, I already had a copy of this book at home, one from the library that I had already renewed as many times as I was allowed, and which I had briefly considered simply . . . forgetting to return.  A little birthday gift card from my favorite sister made that bit of miscreance unnecessary, and now I have my very own copy. Which is already getting dog-eared and paint-spotty.

After a while the pink tulips began to look as old as–well, as old as I now am (NOT complaining–I’ve been on this side of the hill for a while now and I love it).By the time I got the notion to preserve my last tulip blooms by painting them, they were wearing their age in a wabi-sabi kind of way.

It was one of those everything-comes-neatly-together projects. I needed notecards on which to write my birthday thank you notes.  I happened to have some LOOOOONG pieces of watercolor paper, part of a stash I scored when a print shop and paper warehouse not too far from me closed (to becom a block of condominiums–a moment of silence, please). And I had this Golden (in all senses of the word) book containing just the right project.

As I said, this is Alisa’s (may I call you Alisa?) project, but this is my take on it.

Make a painting. Mine ended up being of the pink tulips. Watercolors, a little sumi ink, a big dry brush and a little wet brush. Dash it out–don’t think too much. Some of my tulips got deconstructed just a little, but I liked them that way.

So did second child. She loved them. The painting stayed around on my kitchen wall clothesline gallery overnight.

Then the guillotine fell. Literally. Second child was mightily annoyed with me.

I’m the fortunate, temporary guardian of a fabulous, heavy, sharp, old school guillotine-style paper cutter. I walk around looking for things to cut up with it. I’m thinking of using it to make cole slaw.

Anyway, take a deep breath and cut your painting up, too.  Cut it into squares or rectangles a bit smaller than the dimensions of the front of your blank note cards. Attach the now smaller, more concentrated mini paintings to the fronts of your note cards, using your adhesive of choice. I used Zots adhesive dots–they make the card stand out a little, like a painting on a wall.

It’s a little like quilting in reverse. I love how each one expresses its pinky tulip-ness in a different way.  And when I sent out the thank you notes, it was like sending the people I love their own spring tulips.

Semi-tutorial: Spiffy quick birthday banner

Second child celebrated a birthday recently, and invited 46,342 45 friends to her party (ok, not even quite that many, but several brought dates and possibly several wandered in off the street, so that’s more or less the actual head count). Given the square footage of our house, that’s . . . well, by my calculation, that was about 5 teenagers per square foot.

Happily, they were all reasonably well behaved, and polite, and most of them brought something yummy to eat to add to what we’d prepared (I’d show you pictures, but . . . 46,342 kids versus a number of pans of pasta and chili and ravioli and mac and cheese and pie and cookies and cupcakes and so on, not to mention an ocean of soda and enough chips and candies to pave the way to the moon and . . .the math will clearly demonstrate why there’s nothing left to photograph).

Anyway, about 2 hours before the party I got it into my head that there should be some kind of birthday souvenir for the guest of honor to keep, so I whipped up the banner you see above–neatly hung across the stone face of the kitchen fireplace. Yeah, it gets a little messy over to the right, when it has to pass by and over a hanging bag of onions and a big box of cat food.

I grabbed a yard of lightweight canvas and laid it out across the washer and dryer in the mud room (after pinning a note on the door warning her highness to keep out). I folded it as you see here, so that there would be two fold edges from which to cut pennant shapes.

I quickly gathered up some gesso and several tubes of cheap watercolor, a brayer, a big old paintbrush, and some odds and ends (soda bottle caps, some of those fake credit cards they send you in the mail, a paper plate) and set about painting the canvas in broad strokes, adding some imprints in contrasting colors of the bottle caps and making lines and squiggles with the cards. This is what I got–you can see it here having a quick dry on the clothesline (hint: a windy day is a boon)

Now back to the cutting table (aka the washer and dryer), where I cut the canvas into pennants. The more geometry savvy among you will have figured out that this left me with a bunch of triangles with an edge fold that would drape nicely over the 5 yards of cotton cording I bought for hanging them up but also with some pizza slice shaped pieces with no backs, and some backs with no painted fronts.

Remember, though, this was a quick-and-dirty operation–a few deft moves with a stapler connected the pizza slices to their backs, and I was able to drape all of the pennant shapes over the line. Where they looked like the top photo above.

I brought out markers and pens and crayons and interrupted the din merriment several times to ask everyone to–at some point in the evening–come and leave their mark–a message, a piece of art, a scribbled birthday greeting–and spread the banner on the kitchen table. Kids wandered in and out all night and had a great time signing and drawing and writing poems and advice and loving words, and the birthday girl had a great time the next morning reading and oohing and ahhing over all that love.

I knew I would not be allowed to photograph the thus-embellished banner after it was done, so I was glad I got a few detail shots of the painted fabric before I cut it up. Here are a couple–you can see more (and slightly more detail about making the banner) on my flickr site.

Now, what can we celebrate next so I have an excuse to make another one?

Take heed

This guy (why do we always assume that bare bones folks are all guys?) didn’t quite make it in time to be the Halloween greeting I was counting on, but he was fun to whip up.

The vintage skeleton image came from The Graphics Fairy‘s wonderful blog. You want treasures? She’s got you covered–free vintage and antique images (copyright free!) of everything you can imagine. So that’s that part.

The background is a page from a discarded book on which I’d done some brush paintings of a tea bowl. The painting didn’t really work out, so it went into the scrap pile. At the wonderful ATC party I attended a couple of weeks ago, the pieces all came together.


Weeks ago I got an order of neat art stuff from one of my favorite suppliers. I’d been terribly eager to get these things, so, of course, as soon as the box arrived, STUFF started happening to take me away from them. Second Child’s birthday celebration, First Child’s last few days at home before the end of his spring break, a scary medical moment (lasting 5 days) for Crispin dog (which I’ll post about on their blog once I get caught up here). Three weekends in a row with things to do (most of them good things, though).

Finally I got a bit of time to get out my new toys and play. A three day weekend, everyone else off doing their own thing, and the house quiet. I got out a bag of 75 one inch pieces of Stampbord, a new thing to me. These are little pieces of kaolin clay covered masonite–one side masonite and one side clay, smooth and dry and enticingly white. You can do almost anything with them, say they folks who make it, and I’ve only just begun to play with it.

For my first foray I pulled out stamp inks, watercolors, a black fine-line sketching pen, and a white fine-line pen.  An hour or so later I had these:

and these (the fern stamps on the top two are a little too subtle, but it’s a start):


and this:

Then, combining my new surfaces with the images I made earlier, and adding a little gold edging, I got these:

I can already tell that a bag of 75 of these isn’t even going to last me through the weekend (though one nice thing about these tiny blanks is that if you decide you don’t like what you’ve done, a few light passes with some medium grit sandpaper erases them so you can start again).

I’m thinking about

  • drilling through them so I can attach beads or charms (or other pieces of stampboard)
  • using them as tiny collage canvases
  • doing some encaustic work on them
  • painting and then scratching through the surface of the clay
  • finding a fine and flexible brush and trying some brush painting on them
  • buying another couple of bags of these right away!

I’m being held captive . . .

. . . in my own office. Second child is hosting her sweet sixteen party in the living room. And the kitchen. And the den. So My Better Half and I are making occasional forays into their territory to make sure that everyone’s holding their pinky out while they drink their tea, but otherwise, we are a room away listening to the din dulcet tones of high school students celebrating a birthday as only they can. Pizza is on its way.

How did we get here? Not only, I mean, to the 16th birthday of our younger child (but, really, how do these things happen?), but also to the middle of March with nary a blog post.

Actually, pretty much art-making has been going on. I will post tomorrow (really) about an amazing art day I spent with friends recently, but right now I’m working on an assignment, approaching it in baby steps. So far it’s taken the shape of . . . well, imagine the child of a quilt and a page of postage stamps.

My goal is to create a tiny painting every day for 90 days. A painting of something so quotidian that it tends to get overlooked–like a perfect, full March moon, or my trusty steel sports bottle. Or a painting of something so astonishing and unexpected that it whacks me upside the head, like a flock of bright green parrots–parrots, for heaven’s sake–in a tree at the New England shoreline.

So far, just a few days. I tried, really I did, to paint every single day. But what seems to be happening is that I make a little sketch every day, and once a week transfer these images to the quilt. Here’s where we are so far:

And here’s a detail. Stay tuned for more.


Over the summer, Second Child got to be fond of taking long walks; she often brought home things she found that she thought I would like. Among them were the dried husks of several cicadas. And a wonderful intact–though dead–dragonfly that still retains much of its iridescent brilliance. The cicadas live on the top shelf of my desk. All summer they’ve been looking down at me while I’ve been looking up at them. Here is one of them, perched atop a discarded bit of nice wood left over from a fly-rod handle turned by my Better Half; it sits next to a little origami Jizo and a wonderful sculpture by Second Child.

Tonight I set up shop in my studio (i.e., our kitchen table) to play with painting them.

A sumi ink cicada:

And another:

The dragonfly in watercolor. I’m trying to work in monochrome:

Ditto for a katydid we found last week. Its body looks more like a leaf than a leaf does. But its face is ghostly:

The katydid had to be put outside immediately after its sitting–it smelled horrible. But the others are back on my shelf. I think I’m going to want to keep working on those cicadas.