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When Cameron was still two years old and I asked him what kind of book he’d like next, he answered “Cameron Can Count”. To fulfill his wishes, and my own for a clearer direction since that was the book he got last year, the compromise is a ‘backwards edition’ in the form of an interactive pop-up book. Searching the internet, there are a whole spectrum of paper-oriented art forms, from the craftiest, stamp-iest, cutsey Kricut machine-cut pop up cards to stunning, intricately engineered paper sculptures. The best website sharing easy-to-learn pop-up basics is Extreme Cards and Papercrafting.
Starting with research and experimentation, I spent a couple of weeks making prototypes out of plain card stock. There are fantastic selections of decorative paper, tapes and trim designs available in craft stores now, and purchasing these things helped spark imagination and theme visualization. Supplies can be pricey, but less so if using coupons and waiting for sales. There were plenty of miscellaneous materials already on-hand, and the dollar store is always a good resource for finding things like the magnetic car game which was pulled apart and reassembled into a name-spelling activity.
After the initial creative buzz, somewhere along the way a certain amount of restraint is called for, not just in shopping, but in choosing which pop-up tricks to put where. For me, this stalled the process quite a bit. I was fairly overwhelmed by wanting to include all the bells and whistles, but it’s just not feasible to do every idea that “pops up”. Not only will the pages seem muddled by too many ideas, but increasing the mass presents a super challenge when binding the whole thing together. Mechanisms also need space to work properly, and a book like this needs to be comfortable to read. These were things that only experience could teach. Admittedly, there are a few clunky pages with things falling out of this book. Perhaps with the next book I’ll be able to exercise more of that restraint. Ah, realistically, probably not!
Balanced with the fun, more ornate facets of book-making, particularly with a pop-up / interactive book, learning and perfecting the basic structural elements cannot be overemphasized. The mathematics of paper mechanisms are unforgiving, and a millimeter off at the start can add up if things are not corrected as much as possible before going forward. Some of the folds are tricky, especially with pop-out lettering. Clean hands and work surfaces are extra important. Some papers show finger marks or buckle too easily, not practical for pop-ups or for children’s books. It becomes necessary to slow down, simplify, think ahead, see how things work, take extra care, and find the kind of patience you didn’t even think was obtainable.
Translating the 2 dimensional into 3 dimensional can be frustrating, but as is repeated so often in my blog articles about creating anything, mistakes are a beneficial part of the learning process. It’s definitely hard to have faith in that when pages have to be redone several times though, and some papers are pretty expensive or hard to find again. Well, experience and confidence are earned, and it ain’t cheap!
Each year my books for Cameron will be age-appropriate. He and his little visitor-friends are likely to turn pages harshly and press books open beyond stress points, that’s to be expected. These pages are made primarily with card stock and paper, and some have delicate parts far from durable or practical in a three-year-old’s hands, but young children already know about special things, and if they don’t, it’s the best age to guide them to treat things respectfully. Books are not like toy cars, and Cameron knows the difference. This will be more fun to read with an adult anyway, and it will be given a safe spot on a shelf until it’s time to read.
‘Cameron Can Count Backwards’ was started in July 2014 and just needs finishing touches. It’s March 2015 as this is written, and the book has been bound, but fairly ineffectively. The spine is not wide enough to open pages effectively. It could pass, but why do all this work to have it not open adequately? This setback offers a chance to sew the cover in soft faux leather and improve the overall quality. I’d like it to look like a very old, important, expensive book.
There is a title cover page, then a page is made for each separate word in the title, ‘Cameron’, Can’, and ‘Count Backwards’… three extra pages because I absolutely had to make that can! Throughout there are interactive components, and on each page a mouse is hidden somewhere. It took so long to perfect each page, by the time the last pages were under construction the first ones already seemed amateur and needed to be re-done, either by disassembling parts or completely starting over. A person could forever be perfecting one book, but it’s time to finish this one and start the next for Cameron’s fourth birthday.
April 2014: Cameron Can Count to 30
8 x 8 inches markers, watercolors and fixative on canvas. Thinking that acrylics paint would make pages stick together even when dry, I chose watercolors on primed canvas instead, barely diluting the paint so the colors are dense. Krylon workable fixative works best to protect the work, as it brings out the colors very nicely and it doesn’t hold the caustic smell that regular varnish does.
Each page has a hole peeking through to the next page and the one before, where colors match up in such a way that the hole may only be noticed when the page is turned. The holes were filled in for the sake of aesthetics in the images shown here. This peek-hole detail was an afterthought, and since I had already painted most of the pages I was committed to using certain colors, which made the process take longer than it had to. When using this idea next time, the peek-holes will be larger and be the main focus of the book. Large binder rings through grommets on each page hold the book together, so the pages are fairly easy to turn and the book can start anywhere.
Colours For Cameron, 24L x 8H x 6D inches, mixed media on quilted muslin over cardboard pages
“Colours For Cameron” (Canadian spelling!) is composed over five deconstructed heavy-duty cardboard children’s books bought at a dollar store. The Monte head-templates were covered with inexpensive everyday items, so I splurged on unique notions like the $10 monkey button sewn on the ‘Brown’ page, and the cute little cars and tractors that Cameron loves. Some of the fabrics were fairly expensive, but there are enough remnants to make other similar-style projects in the future.
Each page is a quilted muslin sleeve pulled over the cardboard, and colored fabrics divide each page at the base, where they are all sewn and glued together. Rubber letters were covered with various fabrics, and each page has stuffed colored pockets on the outer edge, inviting chubby little fingers to open them..
When my grandson was born in 2011, I had already decided to make him a book every year for his birthday. One-year-olds are receptive to colors and textures, so a soft book for Cameron at this age was perfect. Using Monte as my muse, the work evolved into a sort of stuffed toy-book hybrid that is much bigger than was initially planned, but it’s quirky, fun to read, and Cameron likes it. Each 6 x 6 inch page is quilted unbleached cotton sewn over heavy cardboard from a disassembled book purchased at the dollar store. I bought a lot of the things there actually, like many of the textured materials, including a dog toy with the squeaker removed and incorporated into the last page. The savings were spent on tractor buttons and more costly embellishments I knew he would like.
Each page has quilted appliques of Monte in different colors, with big googly eyes. The outer edges of each page have shallow pockets to grab the page, covered whatever textile corresponds to each Monte. The ten or so chubby pages are sewn together – 2 inches of fabric were left on the book’s spine-side for that purpose. The combination was then attached to a sturdy cardboard spine with a glue gun. No turning back after that, because hot glue is permanent on fabric. The entire cover of black linen wraps around with straps that Velcro together, creating a handle. Little button-vehicles adorn the handle area – he loves tractors and cars. I’m happy with the finished piece, and so is Cameron. It’s one of a kind, like him.
Monte rocks! Who is he?
“Necessity is the mother of invention.”
Oak Leaf bedside tables, 24H x 12D with a 20 inch glass top, crinkled brown craft paper over heavy cardboard tubes. The tubes are available in a variety of dimensions, sold in hardware stores as use for cement-pouring re: fence building.
I’ve had this idea to make bedside tables for a few years now, and selling the house has motivated me to finally make them. I have not been able to find any in the stores that I like. Faux suede effects were the intention here, but whether or not that was successful, I’m pleased with the results. A brown circular woven mat was purchased for $2, finishing the look.
These bedside tables coordinate the oak leaves on the oak headboard that was carved and given to us by my Dad.
Zen Garden 10, 40 x 60 x 3 inches mixed media on canvas.
The final stages of paintings are often finished as they hang on a wall. As seen in a realistic room setting, it will be easier to spot a clearer path for the eyes to follow and make the composition more interesting. Some colors need to be re-enhanced to add more depth and definition. The texture continues around all 3″D edges. All paintings in the Zen garden series are wired to hang in any of 4 orientations; vertically or horizontally. Below: details of left central portion as seen in the above .
Zen Garden 09 work in progress, 48 x 21 x 2 inches Mixed Media on canvas
The perfect painting in a room can elevate the atmosphere of the whole floor, and sets the tone for showing off the entire house. With selling the house in mind, I’m trying to choose a decent painting for our living room, but the only one that really looked good there was Zen Garden #2. It sold, so I decided it’s worthwhile to make two more for the series - even though painting walls is the order of the day.
Zen Garden 10 outline, 40 x 60 x 3 inches Mixed Media on canvas
Painting is always meditative, but I find it especially so when creating pieces in the Zen Garden series. This kind of work does not present the same kind of emotional concentration or intellectual challenges that other paintings do. There are few struggles and hardly any decisions to make, except to find cooperative materials. Once the outline is accomplished it’s pretty straightforward compared to other forms of painting. The outstanding difference is that each stage in these 3D paintings requires time and patience to allow areas to dry before proceeding. The Zen Gardens can be drying in stages while other work gets done too, and the multi-tasker in me is quite happy to be accomplishing many things at once!
Art supplies are expensive. Most will last long enough to justify purchases, and much of the time you get what you pay for, but some items are ridiculously overpriced. Keeping material costs down is essential so they aren’t reflected in the final price, but quality should never be compromised. Still, there are ways to get around any dilemma, and there are alternatives for everything.
When I started the Zen Garden series ten years ago using modeling paste and textured gels, jars were about $15 for 250 ml. Since then I’ve experimented with various unusual materials, and shopped everywhere to compare prices. It’s still more economical to purchase brand-name products in larger quantities – if you can find them. There are some fun mediums available now too, like gel with tiny glass beads in it. Prices for art supplies do not seem to waver over time in either Canada or the U.S., so I reserve the brand-name mediums to sculpt the rocks and highest quality paints do the finishing touches. Here I’ll share a few of the trade secrets I’ve discovered over the years, and you can create your own Zen garden painting.
As a base for the raked sand mixture, it’s worth purchasing a large 2 gallon (7.58 L) pail of textured paint. I purchased Behrs at Home Depot in Canada, and it looks like Ralph Loren has the market cornered in the States. Watered-down drywall plaster can be used also, but I recommend attention to how heavy the piece may be when it’s finished. Mix in copious quantities of white glue, large containers of white or light-colored acrylic craft paints, and anything water-based that will extend the liquid mixture and bind well with the dry ingredients. Sand, even popcorn kernals and/or rice can be added for texture. Other objects can be incorporated too…just use your imagination. For example, and this is my most valuable secret, unscented kitty litter from the dollar store, the non-absorbant kind, looks exactly like tiny stones and is light in weight.
Zen Garden 09 details: applying mixture with a knife, sculpting rows
The mixture can be put in a ziplock bag with one corner cut out, but I discovered that it’s more efficient – however messy – to spread small portions out onto the surface with a knife and hand-mold it. Keep a wet cloth handy to wipe your hands and the utensil often.
Drywall plaster makes nice-looking rocks, plus it cracks well for a parched-earth look, use sparingly because of added weight. Wood filler is a lighter alternative, much less expensive than professional brand gels and mediums. Modeling pastes do not lend well to sanding or carving when dry, but wood filler can be sanded and re-shaped. Also, if it dries out completely, chop it up, add water then seal the container for a day or so. This is where you can experiment with whatever helps acheive 3D effects. Art, craft, hardware, department stores and dollar stores carry generic brand basics, so it’s worth researching and shopping around.
When it’s all dry, rocks and other details are outlined and painted with pure colors, then all covered with a coat of primer. The colors are all reapplied to further enhance rocks, then brushed white, skimming across the entire surface. This process is repeated until you are pleased with the results by a final coat of white with remnants of the layers of colors poking through underneath. As far as acrylic paints, you do get what you pay for, but price differences are mostly due to pigment quality and viscosity, which, until final stages is not really an issue. Inexpensive acrylic craft paints are perfect as a filler (only).
Zen Garden #10 (above and left) is already quite heavy, so about 1/4 of it will be painted rocks, keeping the sand patterns to a minimum. There is enough mixture that could dry out if it’s not used right away, plus it’s great to make multiples while all the mess, materials and utensils and are out, so I’m doing two simultaneously. There may even be enough for 3!
The neccessity of work, especially if it’s at home, seems less like a chore if you dangle some kind of carrot for yourself every day. Sometimes having too much to do is more exhillerating than exhausting. Each day, though work as an artist can be considered by others as play, the energy, motivation and circumstances are unpredictable.. It takes self-discipline to find a way to go with the flow and still get work done. The good thing about this occupation is that it is flexible in every way. The creative compulsion seeps into every other activity, and there is almost no way to not add a little something extra.
“This could be your last chance, Sweets. I’m moving on up to Oregon.”
That’s right, me and all the skeletons in my closet are moving to Oregon, so the painting now is all about walls. I’ve bought a small 4 x 6 sketchbook, hoping to sneak in some time to do a few thumbnail drawings of my travels this year.
The past six months: starting with driving up to Madison, Wisconsin at the end of April to set up the Dancing With Trees Exhibition, after the show opening, it was back to Dallas then shortly afterward to Singapore for 3 weeks (amazing!). Two days after returning from Singapore I drove up to Ottawa, Ontario. At the end of June, the drive back down through Michegan.to meet my internet artist-friend, Virginia Wieringa (triple amazing!) then across to Wisconsin to pick up the DWT show, then down through Chicago to drop off Morning Light 01, through the U.S. midwest back to Dallas.
Two weeks later I drove up through OK and North Dakota into Saskatchewan,. then into Alberta. I took so many photos (that still need sorting) on the drive across Canada through the prairies two weeks later, and the Great Lakes region back to Ontario, where I stayed for another 2 weeks. Back down to Dallas! During September we found out that my husband is transferred to Portland, OR for work. So here we go again. The first week of October we both drove west in separate cars, across the Continental Divide, the red rocks and incredible geography in Utah, finally reaching our future home just outside of the Columbia River Gorge, and on the other side: the Pacific Ocean shores and the Sequoia and Redwood forests. I drove back to Dallas with a truck and trailer to refill, and will make the trip across only one more time before winter – hopefully the weather holds up. I’m excited to get to work again after the move..
“Oh well, maybe she still needs more time… guess I’ll jus’ hang around here for a while.”
…well, just a twist of waxed paper actually. The leaf-shaped cookie dough was laid gently over twisted pieces of waxed paper. After the cookies baked and cooled the waxed paper was removed, so they’re a little more interesting than flat cookies. The Sugar Cookies recipe is the same as used for Culture Cookies, at the end of that article, which you can go back and read while you’re munching on the cookies you bake!« Previous Entries