Friday, April 13, 2018

Steampunk Subway Portal

Art Deco designs make me sigh with happiness. There's something so magical about structured and mathematical, yet so curvy and fluid at the same time. The Art Deco stencils designed by Gwen Lafluer for StencilGirl capture that magic.

Like many of my art pieces, this Steampunk Portal emerged as I went along. I started with no plan other than to experiment with some of the Art Deco Stencils. I started by painting a big piece of heavy watercolor paper in one of my favorite colors--light aqua--and once it was dry, I used some molding paste through the two Art Deco Bookplate stencils. The one on the right became the piece I called "Yearn - Dare" which you can see here. The one on the left became the "Steampunk Subway Portal."
Gwen's Deco Bookplate stencil pair was printed with molding paste onto a painted aqua background.
My worktable, covered with various deco stencils and prints.
The effect of the white molding paste on the aqua background was pretty, but I knew it needed more. So, I took out my Derwent Inktense Blocks and added more color. They go on like a chalky crayon, but when you add water, the colors pop, intensify, melt, blend and get really delicious.
The first few strokes of Derwent Inktense Blocks were applied to the painted, stenciled design.
Once water was added, the Inktense colors intensified.
More color was added with the Inktense blocks until the design was ready for embellishment.
I added shades of indigo and moss green and brown until I had an effect I liked. Then I set about deciding how to embellish the background. I had a set of Tim Holtz compass coins that had been in my stash for about a year, and one was just the right size and color for the center circle of the design. I auditioned some of Gwen's Turkmen Jewelry Parts and Dresden Trim to see what would compliment the compass coin.
The chain was too long and the Dresden trim corner pieces too small on this "audition."
The big Dresden corners were gorgeous, but too bold for the background, and they overpowered the central elements.
A smaller piece of Turkmen jewelry was too short and bulky for the background.
 I liked the long chain with a dangling diamond-shaped end-piece, but it was a little too long. I also liked some Dresden corners that I had cut from a bigger piece of a Dresden Medallion, but they were too shiny. I decided to grunge up the gold corner pieces with Seth Apter's chalk paints, and once the paint was dry, added a layer of black ink.
A Dresden medallion was cut apart to make the deco corner fan shapes.
Chalk paints and black ink gave an aged effect to the Dresden corners.
 I felt that the Turkmen chain was too long and considered cutting it. But even if I cut it, dangling it from the center of the compass seemed too boring. I didn't really want to cut it, so I decided to anchor the coin with a large brass brad and then wrap the chain around the top of the coin. I used some thread to stitch it in place and a little heavy gel medium for extra holding power.
It seemed to need words, so I found a Rumi quote that I had printed on a clear Avery mailing label, carefully trimmed away the excess, and adhered it to the top and bottom. The words are: "Let yourself be silently drawn by the strange pull of what you really love. It will not lead you astray."

Once the words were on, I knew I was almost done, but still felt it needed more. I put away my art supplies for the night and slept on it.

The next day I was thinking about how to finish the piece, and realized it was looking pretty Steampunk. It also occurred to me that it looked like a magical door or portal. As I was riding the subway on my way home from work, I realized that a few months before I had taken a photo of the sign in the station of my new work stop--149th Street in the Bronx--and that the photo would go nicely with my work-in-progress. The colors in the photo were greenish and old, and the mosaic tiles, the design of the sign and the font--as on much of the old signage in the NYC subway system--are authentically early 20th century.
Subway sign over the tracks at the Bronx 149th Street station
I shrunk the photo down to the right size and printed it, then cropped it so only the number showed. My color printer was a little off and it looked dull printed on ordinary copy paper, so I covered the little sign with some of Seth Apter's Baked Texture Beeswax embossing powder, which greatly enhanced the image. I also edged the little sign with sepia archival ink and added a touch of Lumiere gold paint, then used heavy gel medium to adhere it to the stenciled background design. Last, I strategically added some little square brass brads, which echoed the mosaic of the subway sign and complimented the deco geometry.
I realized that the NYC subway system really is my daily portal. I get on the subway every weekday morning by going through the lobby, and then through the basement, of the gorgeous Art Deco Chrysler Building. So,  I have my "aaaah" moment of beauty twice a day as I am going to work and coming home. During my commute, I love looking at all variations in the designs and colors of the old deco tiles signs along the way, which makes what could be a long, boring ride a little more interesting.

Friday, April 6, 2018

Yearn - Dare

This art piece is an unexpected combination of a Gwen Lafluer Art Deco stencil with a self portrait, printed words, square mini-brads, and a real snakeskin. The elements shouldn't work together, but yet somehow they do.

I have always loved Art Deco. I fell in love with the period when I was a college student. When I got my hands on Gwen's Art Deco collection of stencils, I couldn't wait to try them out. I used my favorite go to color--pale aqua--which I painted onto smooth watercolor paper. Once it was dry, I carefully pulled some molding paste through two of the stencils.
Two Art Deco stencils by Gwen Lafluer with molding paste on a painted background.
As an experiment, I decided to add some color to one of them to see how which colors worked and what kind of paint covered the molding paste. At this point it was still just an experiment.
Color was added over the molding paste with assorted acrylic paints and inks.
The color looked pretty good, but the three circles seemed to need something different, so I tried some crackle paint on top.
Crackle paste was applied to the three circles.
I liked the effect, but didn't know where to go from here. So, I put it to the side and worked on some other projects. I kept looking at it and wondering what to do next. That wondering went on for almost three months.
The painted Art Deco background surrounded by sari scraps, Turkmen jewelry parts and other art supplies.
When I received a new shipment from Gwen's shop, I thought some Turkmen Jewelry Parts or Sari Scraps might work with the deco background that had been hanging around in my unfinished art pile, so I "auditioned" some elements. I auditioned old photos and various combinations of metal, coins, photos, and sari scraps. I also darkened some of the color and added spots of brown chalk ink to both the background and in the crevices of the crackle paste.

Audition of carefully trimmed sari scraps on the Deco background.
Audition of sari scraps and old photos with the Deco background. Can you guess who the baby is?
More sari scraps and vintage photo printouts.
A vintage headshot of my mother with sari scrap pearl flowers didn't quite work.
Assorted sari scraps had the right colors, but didn't work well with the background.
A stamped and painted image with Turkmen jewelry parts gave a Medieval feel, but still wasn't quite right.
A Victorian woman plus sari scraps looked interesting.
The Victorian woman with a sari scrap hat and gold Dresden trim also looked good.
Some were so-so, some were dreadful but none wowed me. The Victorian woman with sari scraps and Dresden trim was almost the winner, but the design seemed too safe, too sweet, to cute for that moment.

I started thinking about Gwen's 2018 stencil release and got really inspired by the words on one of the stencils: "What could I do if I wasn't afraid to try?" Although her new stencil was not available at the time I was creating this piece, the words stuck in my head.

With those words in my mind, I threw caution to the wind and grabbed an ATC-size printout of one of my own self-portraits and placed it in the center of the deco background. The printout had been created in Photoshop, using half of a scanned, original oil self portrait placed next to the same portrait with computer-designed enhancements. Weird, but interesting. Kind of fearless. I liked it. I liked the way it didn't go at all with the background. It wasn't at all deco. It wasn't pastel. It looked, on the background, the way I was feeling at that moment, so I trimmed it and glued it on.

The contrast of the self portrait with the Deco background was interesting,
but the beautiful Turkmen circles made it look like a lightswitch plate.
 I didn't love the Turkmen parts combined with the self portrait (although I do adore Turkmen parts!) so I decided to try some words on top of the crackled circles. I rummaged through my collection of printed words and found two that echoed the sentiments that I was feeling: yearn and dare. They were printed on clear Avery mailing labels, so trimmed them and carefully placed them on the top and bottom circles. I liked it, so I peeled away the backing and adhered them to the center of the circles.

The design seemed to need a little something more. I was feeling fearless and a little weird, so I rummaged through my stash of organic supplies (compliments of nature-love and ArtistTribe sister Jackie Neal) and found the skin of a garter snake. It called out to be part of the design, so I glued it on with gel medium. I didn't want it to crumble or fall off so I covered it with matte medium and added some random stamps of an old Julie Balzer stamp with embossing ink, then sprinkled on Seth Apter's Beeswax Baked Texture and heated it until the embossing powder melted.
The snakeskin and part of the background with granular Beeswax embossing powder, just before heating.
The heated Beeswax embossing powder worked, but the design needed just a little something extra.
The piece seemed almost done, so I left it alone. But it also seemed to need just a little something more, so I slept on it.

In the morning, I added three square metal mini-brads on the left top to balance the snakeskin on the right side. The color and shape of the brads enhanced the piece's balance, and the squareness and metal echoed the strength of the words yearn and dare.

While I was making this piece, Gwen's words had me thinking about what I dreamed of when I was younger, and how fear held me back. I remembered that as a teenager I dreamed of being a fashion designer, but I was afraid that I wasn't a good enough seamstress to be accepted in design school. I was also overwhelmed by the application process, and by the idea of creating a portfolio. So, I studied the field that my parents thought was a good choice, and got a degree in a subject that I didn't like. I was yearning for an art career. After getting my bachelor's degree, I decided to apply to a special one-year program at FIT. It took me an extra four years to believe in myself, but the yearning was there, and I finally did dare to go after the career I wanted. I studied fabric design, then became a fabric designer and print stylist, happily working on New York's famous 7th Avenue for many years.

Thursday, March 22, 2018

Well, Hello Dollies!

Dolls are dear to the hearts of  many people. As much as I love three-dimensional dolls, I have always loved paper dolls even more. I have fond memories of receiving new paper dolls on special occasions, and of seeing the Betsy McCall paper dolls in the McCalls magazines at my grandmother's house. So, it's no surprise that as an adult, I am especially enchanted with making arty paper dolls. One of my friends recently started an online art paper doll trading group, so I got to work right away.

The first theme is "artists choice," so I started rummaging through my scrap papers looking at them with a new eye to see how each scrap would translate into an arm, leg or torso. I also spent some time rifling through fashion magazines for interesting heads, printing and painting my own heads with stencils, stamps, and watercolors. My dolls usually cry out for wings and crowns, funky shoes and skirts too.
My work table with assorted doll parts and heads to choose from.
Left: Paper Doll body from Retro Cafe Arts; Right: head stamp from Lynne Perrella plus assorted body pieces.
For most of the body parts, I used a template from Retro Cafe Arts. Reprints of vintage paper doll parts are also fun to use, and available on the internet from many sources, such as The Graphics Fairy.
A face stencil from StencilGirl was used for some of the doll heads.
A stencil from Stencil Girl had nine heads that were just the right size for my template. I dabbed black ink through the stencil, and also flipped the stencil and made nine more.
Color was added with Derwent Inktense Blocks.
I added hair, ears, and more color to the stenciled faces.
  I added my own lines for the hair and ears. With Derwent Inktense Blocks and water-soluble colored pencils, I added details. After they dried, I carefully cut out the ones I liked best.

Some of the faces were very close together on the stencil, leaving little room for hair so those faces needed hats and crowns.
 For wings, I used a large butterfly stamp that was purchased at Ink Pad NYC. A magical effect was achieved using the stamp with Seth Apter's Baked Texture embossing powder. I used a variety of embossing powder and background colors for the wings. For more subtle dolls, I used a mini wing set and small crown stamp designed by Birgit Koopsen. German Dresden Trim Gold Bourbon Crowns from Gwen Lafluer's website topped several heads--some distressed, some left shiny.

This was a test page leftover from creating grunge-effect backgrounds painted on a recycled manila file folder. I used the left side to make butterfly wings and the right side for body parts.
Once I got started, my worktable looked like a doll factory. I had an assortment of body parts scattered around, and kept mixing and matching them. I like to use mini brads to assemble the dolls; the brads allow the dolls to be posed, and also makes it easy to tuck the arms and legs up and down so they fold up very small for storage. Unlike three-dimensional dolls, 20, 30 or more paper dolls can easily be arranged to fit inside a shoebox for storage.
A folding tray table was used to try out different combinations of body parts
before mini brads were added to hold the dolls together and make them poseable.
This green-toned doll has a supermodel's magazine photo face, mail art scrap body parts, embossed wings
and a Dresden Trim Bourbon Crown.
 On another, I used a Dresden Trim gold medallion and distressed it to look like an ancient warrior's helmet. To enhance the warrior/goddess effect, I added little gold wings on her feet. Later, I gave her a gossamer ice blue skirt, made from a sheer fabric gift bag with the bottom cut off.
This doll has the feel of a female warrior, with her elaborate Dresden Trim crown, embossed wings and winged boots.
Washi tape and a downloadable rose from Gwen's collection were added to enhance some of the body parts. The large and small wings have added bling with embossing powder from Emerald Creek.
Two different floral washi tapes were added in a cross design to enhance a body made from commercial scrapbook paper.
This doll has a small downloadable rose and several washi tapes on a collaged body.
Four of my favorite dolls--I couldn't quite part with any of them.
It was hard to decide which to keep and which to trade. Once I made a doll that I loved, I didn't want to part with it. Finally I created one that was perfect for my trade partner: a hipster fashionista steampunk-inspired doll. She has a magazine face, big embossed wings, distressed rust body parts made with Seth Apter's chalk paints, and most magical of all--a skirt made from an embellished Silk Sari scrap--one of the new items on Gwen Lafluer's website.
The word "seek" was made from an Artistcellar pocket stencil used with chalk paints and Baked Texture Patina Oxide, and the clock parts were gifted to me in an art trade.
On a background of chalk paint layered to imitate a rusty surface, I stenciled and embossed the word SEEK,
and also flipped the pocket stencil to get the opposite image.
This detail shot shows the embellished sari scrap skirt and clock parts.
It was hard to part with this very special doll, but I received something wonderful in exchange.
In the first trade, in exchange for my "seek" doll, I received a fabulous creation from artist Ann Sullivan Barnes. She used components from Character Construction to make this fabulous doll, which she named Liberty. Liberty also came with a beautiful red, white and blue carrying case.
"Liberty" by Ann Sullivan Barnes
"Liberty" detail shot
These type of paper dolls can also be a great shared project with children, and, depending on how they are decorated, make great additions to seasonal displays. Imagine Halloween paper dolls in scary witch costumes riding a broom or lucky leprechauns with a pot of gold!

Here are some of my favorite creative dolls I have received in trades over the years. I hope they inspire you to give paper doll making a try.
Teapot/geisha doll by Leah (last name unknown)
Mythical, magical midnight ball "Bartholomew Badger," by Joann Robinson
Turn of the century Zetti bather "Liam," by Joann Robinson
Turn of the century Zetti bather by Jeanne Draachreider
Tea party/geisha "Mi'" by Joann Robinson
Marie Antoinette theme: Madame DuBouffant, by Deb Benedict
Steampunk Doll by Kay Milam
Mizz Prissy BuZahrd by Jeanne Draachreider
Mermaids and Mermen theme; Stan the Toucan Man by Marilou Bain

Congratulations to Gwen Lafluer! Her online shop has just turned one year old. To celebrate, she is offering a really great discount--15% off Mixed Media supplies and downloads. She has a really unique and inspiring collection...I really want everything on her site! Happy shopping!