Sunday, April 6, 2014

Cheap Ways to Art Journal Part 3

Art Journal page from my Kid's Made Modern watercolor paper journal (see Part 1), craft paints, simple ephemera

And here we go, Part 3, where we're going to get into things like Gesso, Watercolors, and Water-Soluable products (like Portfolio's, Gelato's, etc).

  1. Gesso

    Gesso was one of those products that continually frustrated me, because it seemed no matter where I went, it was expensive.  I was even going to attempt to make my own with talc and white paint at one point (er, don't do this), because that's pretty much what it is - chalk, titanium white pigment (or black/gray/brown, depending on the brand and color) and acrylic binder.  I didn't use any for a few years, because I wasn't gonna pay $15 for 8 ounces of chalky paint.  But oy, I broke down, waited for a sale, and tried Golden's Gesso.  And it's lovely, and feels lovely to the touch, and only covers previous layers slightly, so there's this mystery peeking out from behind it.  But, alas, it's too much to keep up that habit.

    Then I found Martha Stewart's Gesso (sold at Michael's with her paint line, in the craft paint aisle), for $7 for 6 ounces.  So, with a 40% off coupon, that's about $4.  And it's wonderful stuff.  It's slightly thicker than Golden's gesso, so you can lay it on thick and then texturize it (write in it, stamp into it, create designs in it).  It comes in a pourable squeeze bottle, too, which I find a plus.  It's got this wonderful, fine tooth to it.  It's the closest I've come to Golden's Gesso, at a price that doesn't make me gulp.

    I will just say this about Liquitex BASICS Gesso - I love all of Liquitex's products I've tried, except this one.  This gesso is not just toothy - it's actually gritty, bumpy even.  So, if you try to glue down anything on top of it, the grit will prevent the piece from adhering completely.  It's the kind of gesso that needs to be sanded down between layers.  This goes for their Clear Gesso, too - same texture.  For some people, this isn't a deal-breaker, but for me, it is.  If I want a clear gesso, I'll just stick to Matte Medium - it's clear and has tooth to it - problem solved.  (Tip from the pro, Less Herger of Comfortable Shoes Studios - The professional gesso of the Liquitex line is smooth as silk.  What I'm talking about is their BASICS line).
  2. Watercolors

    Lots of people in the mixed-media world use watercolors, both tube and pan varieties, in their art journals.  I've seen people mix watercolors with acrylic/craft paints, with delightful results.  I've also seen art journals that are all pen-and-ink work, with watercolors for color.  I use watercolors on the faces of the girls I draw, because it lets the graphite shading I've worked on shine through.  But, for the most part, I consider watercolor paints to be an add-on with my pages, not the "main event" (like my craft paints), so my research on this is pretty slim.

    In this arena, I will just say this - buy what you can afford.  What you're paying for is quality/amount of pigment (just like with artist quality acrylic paint vs. craft paint).  I would say if you're just starting out, and really want to try out watercolors, but are on a budget, then head to Michael's, and get the $5 Artist Loft set.  They're actually a little opaque, closer to a gouache-type paint, but the set has fun colors, and you'll get to see if watercolors are something you really want to work with.  If they captivate you, then consider saving up for a good, artist-quality set of watercolor (either pan or tubes).
  3. Water-Soluable Oil Pastels/Gelatos/Watercolor Crayons/Twist Stix

    I've grouped these together, because you can achieve similar looks with all four of these products, with only slight differences in what they each do.  I just don't want you to feel like, if you watch a technique video using Gelato's, that you need to run out and buy those, when you're sitting on a set of Portfolio Water-Soluable Oil Pastels at home.  Or if you see that really pretty set of NeoColor II Watercolor Crayons, to pine away for them, when you can work the same magic with a set of Crayola Twists Slick Stix.

    What each of these products will do is lay down a thick, slick, smooth layer of color, that can also then be activated with water, for all kinds of fun effects.  They range from oily to waxy in their finishes, but many techniques between them overlap.  Here is how I break them down:
  • Portfolio Water-Soluable Oil Pastels:  Oil-based, they have a wonderful smooth creamy finish to them.  They lay down thick color, and are finger-blendable, for soft effects.  You can get a set of 24 colors for $10 at Staples.
  • Crayola Twist Slick Stix:  I found these at Joann's, in their kids' aisle, where a set of 12 was $10 (used a coupon - that's pretty pricey in my book).  They come in a thick tube, and lay down thick, blendable color.  They are water-soluable, too, and have the added bonus of coming with a metallic silver and metallic gold color.  I would say their finish is like Gelato's, somewhere between oily and waxy - right in the middle.  Like lipstick.
  • Gelato's (or Faber-Castell Gel Sticks, for the budget conscious):  I pined for Gelato's for about a millisecond, when I realized that they're Faber-Castell's answer to water-soluable crayons, and do the same thing as all the other products.  They come in "chapstick" form, and go on just like lipstick.  If you have your heart set on a set, try out the Faber-Castell Gel Sticks, in the kids' aisle of Joann's - same stuff, different marketing.  I believe it's again, $10 for a set of 10 (use your coupon!).
  • Caran D'Ache Neocolor II Watercolor Crayons: These are priciest ones of all - $18 for a set of 10 from Dick Blick (and that's the best price I've found).  They have a definite waxy-finish, and are not as finger-blendable as the other products.  When laid down, the color is muted, but when activated with water - oh wow - bright and vibrant color!  They are a lovely product, but if they're just accents for your art journal, and you're on a budget, then I'd go for one of the other products.  Or, if you can, I'd go to a local art store, and buy a couple in colors you like, to try them out, before investing in a whole set.

Next up, we'll wrap up this series, and go into things like washi tape and ephemera, and how the more you art journal, the more you'll have an eye for things to use in your art journal.

Thursday, April 3, 2014

Cheap Ways to Art Journal Part 2

This is Part 2 of my series of blog posts, on how to Art Journal on a budget.  Here is Part 1.

Let's jump right into glue, pens, stencils and spray inks.

  1. Glue 

    I have found the most economical solution for gluing stuff down into your art journal are glue sticks and tape runners.  A liberal application of a glue stick onto the back of your item, along with burnishing it well with an old credit card/hotel key, will prevent it from curling back up (even if you apply a wet medium on top of it, like acrylic paint or watercolors).  Added bonus: No wrinkles!  And glue sticks are very affordable - my favorite is the big Elmer's glue stick.  I've heard other people swear by UHU glue sticks, too.  Tape runners are slightly more expensive, but the Elmer's tape runners they sell at Walmart are priced right and work well.

    If you really have your heart set on a wet medium as your glue, then the most affordable option is Mod Podge.  I would recommend getting it at Michael's or Hobby Lobby with a coupon, however.  For some reason, the price on Mod Podge has gone up, so while they sell it at Walmart, I wouldn't pay the extra money, if you have other options.  I also recommend getting it in the Matte version - the Glossy version will cause your pages to stick like nobody's business.

    Another option is Traci Bautista's Collage Pauge (available at Hobby Lobby).  It's priced about the same as Mod Podge, comes in various finishes and is another item I'd use a coupon on.  It works well.

    After that, it's into the land of expensive items, like Matte Medium and Gel Medium, or expensive glues like Yes! paste.  Unless you see yourself doing tons of image transfers (gel medium), or using matte medium like a clear gesso, too (it works well for that), I'd skip these and go for the Mod Podge.  Like I said in my previous post, it's important to regularly use Gel Medium, because it will dry out on you if you don't.
  2. Pens

    This is an area where you can go a little bit crazy, if you're anything like me.  I spent a long time, trying to find the perfect, thin-nibbed pen that would write over acrylic paints well.  Imagine my surprise when I discovered Bic Crystal ball-point pens.  They're $1.47 at Walmart, for 10 pens, in a variety of fun colors.  They write really well over layers of stuff.

    Another option is Sakura Gelly Roll pens, in ever flavor they come in (Souffles, Glaze, Glitter, Shadow, etc.).  Not as cheap as the Bic Crystal, but definitely something you can affordably get a few of at a time.  The nibs seem to stand up well to everything, and you can buy them individually at Michael's (or check out your local art supply store, if you have one). is another way to get them.  Be careful at JetPens, though - it's so easy to get sucked in there!

    For a white pen, white corrector pens work great.  This is something, though, that I'd spring the $2-3 for one at an office supply store, or Walmart, versus the ones they sell at the dollar stores.  The dollar store ones just frustrated me by globbing up, blooping out paint and not working at all. 

    Another affordable option are dip pens.  If you're lucky enough to live near an art supply store, it's easy to buy the holder and a few nibs in widths of your choice, for about $6-$10.  That's the equivalent of 3-4 pens for that price.  Ink can be a little more expensive (about $5-6/bottle, depending on the brand), but it's a lot of bang for your buck.  You can then try painting with the ink with a brush, too, or using it in a spray bottle as a spray ink.  There are so many fun colors of inks out there, too, and oh how luscious your handwriting looks written with a dip pen.  Even Walmart sells a set of dip pens, for a reasonable price - you just don't have a choice of what nibs you're going to get.

    By far, the pens I reach out for over and over again, are my Sharpie Water-Based Poster Paint pens, in the extra-fine nib.  These are not regular Sharpies (which I have used, and seen die on me, from using them over dry paint - the nib just gets clogged).  They're more expensive for just a marker (about $2.50), but since they're acrylic paint in pen form, they write over everything.  They're available at Michael's, last time I checked.  I keep a white one and a black one, and don't have to worry about them not showing up, getting clogged, the nib wearing out - any of that.  The only thing is that when you first open them, you have to hold them upright (nib pointing up), and "burp" them - push the nib down to let the air out.  If you don't, and try to push the nib down with the nib on a surface, you will get paint gushing out of it.

    Highlighter pens are a really fun option, too, especially for wide-nib work.  I've written with these several times, and then gone around my letters in a black pen - really makes the letters stand out.  And hey, neon is hot right now!

    I've tried several other lines of pens and markers, including a few Copics.  While Copics come in so many lovely colors, they are just completely out of my price range ($7/marker).  They also bleed through paper, as they're alcohol-based.  There is a line of alcohol-based markers out there called Spectrum Noir, which are much more affordable ($12 for 6 pens, versus $40 for 6 of the Copics).

    I'd really recommend looking at Kelly Kilmer's post on her favorite pens - it's an excellent resource.  She does an extensive review, and it's a great place to start, before picking out a pen to try. 

    Pens I avoid, because I've killed them - Pitt Pens, the fine points.  The brush point Pitt pens work great over acrylics and gesso, but the finer point pens - the nibs clogged on me, from residue from the paint.  Sharpies are another one - it's the felt tips on them.  I also won't buy Uni-Ball Signo pens in white (available online and at Michael's).  I know some people swear by them, and when they work, they're opaque and lovely.  My problem is that either I go through the ink way too quickly, or they've quit working on me, half-way through.  They're a little pricey, so I just gave up on them.
  3. Stencils

    Oh, when the stencil craze hit, I thought I was going to go crazy, too, because stenciling can get really expensive, really quick.  Then I stumbled upon die-cut scrapbook paper at Hobby Lobby and Michael's.   For $1-$2 per sheet, I found a delightful array of patterns and designs to use in my art journal.  A word to the wise, however - if you're going to use non-permanent inks on them, then I'd invest in some Krylon spray sealer, and spray them on both sides.  Otherwise, the inks will sink into the paper, and then transfer onto your next project (since you can't rinse these stencils with water).  When they're sealed, it's easier to wipe them over with a baby wipe.

    Hobby Lobby also sells a brand of stencils called "Show-Off", and they are surprisingly affordable.  Just another word to the wise - they're also pretty flimsy, so be careful how you store them.  It's very easy to get them tangled and bent, if you're not careful.  But they have lots of fun shapes, for $3-4 per stencil.

    Dollar Stores also tend to carry lettering stencils - I found a pack of 5 lettering stencils in 5 different sizes for $1.  Keep an eye out at thrift stores, garage sales and estate sales, too - and not just for traditional stencils, but really, anything with texture and holes in it.  I've taken apart dollar store silk flowers for the pattern the petals create (a great mask), and used dollar store doilies, crocheted and paper, for stencils.

    You can also make your own stencils, using relatively simple shapes (like silhouettes of images from a magazine), some manila folders, and an X-acto knife.  I just cut a manila folder in half (to get two pieces), glued down the magazine page (the whole page - no point in trying to cut it out if you're going to go over it with an X-acto knife) to the manila background, and then cut out the image with an X-acto knife.  The bonus is that you end up with a stencil and a mask.
  4. Spray Inks

    I have searched high and low for an affordable option for spray inks, and again, was delighted to find my solution: dollar store Bingo Markers.  Dollar Tree sells them at the end of their kids' toy aisle.  They come with a pop-off top, and you can then pour the ink into a spray bottle (again, very affordable).  The colors are vibrant, but they are water-soluable, so just keep that in mind when you're layering.  They also have the added bonus of forming perfect little polka dots, if you use the bingo marker as intended. 

    Here's an example of the blue bingo marker (left), sprayed through a stencil on plain drawing paper, versus Dylusions spray ink in Turquoise (right):

    Blue Bingo Marker on the left, Dylusions in Turquoise on the right

    From there, it seems all spray inks get pricey (around $5/bottle or more, and little bottles).  I have used ink meant for pen work in spray bottles too, with mixed success.  Some inks are actually acrylic-based, and I've found they can clog up spray bottles if not diluted enough, or used often.  I had a horrible time with Dr. Marten's pH inks (sold as a set of 12 at Hobby Lobby) clogging up my sprayers.  But the ink also smelled bad, so the inks may have "gone bad".  It was disappointing however, for the friend and I that purchased the set together (another great way to save money!).

    Now-a-days, when I have an extra $5, I just pick up a bottle of Dylusions in a color I don't have, and have been slowly building my collection.  Dylusions is also sold at Hobby Lobby in 2-packs, so another chance to use their coupons.  The only downside, for me, to Dylusions is that they're water-soluable, so if I paint over them, it picks up the color from the spray ink.   For some people, though, this is a fun bonus, so it just depends on what you like.  I will spray a page with Krylon sealer after spray work, if I want the color to stay put.

    Next post, we'll get into Gesso, and various sundry items, like ephemera (if you're so inclined), washi tape, watercolors and oil pastels.

Wednesday, April 2, 2014

Cheap Ways to Art Journal Part 1

(Art Journal page in my Strathmore Mixed-Media Visual Journal)
I've been on a tight budget for years, and realized recently that there's a real lack of attention for how to play in your art journal without breaking the bank.  It can be an expensive hobby, or, at least, it can appear that way.  So, I wanted to share with you the tips and tricks I've discovered for how to maintain an art journal on the cheap.

Before I jump into my list, though, I want to say something I consider very important about art journaling and supplies.  It's this:

"Mediums and brushes aren't as important as the techniques.  Give a true artist some crayons and you can't limit him."  - Author Unknown

If you are new to art journaling, you most likely will be lured in to the product-driven culture of it.  I know I was.  It's very hard to resist.  It's the thought that "Hey, if I just had product _________ (fill in the blank), then I could create something as cool as they did." or "If I get everything on this teacher's supply list, then I'll make art like she does."

It took me years of being frustrated, of looking with longing at Golden paints, of feeling left out, to realize that it's not true.  It's not about having the latest and greatest art supply out there  - it's about what the process of making art does to you, how it can transform you.  Some of the most beautiful art journals I've seen have been made with cheap paper and a ballpoint pen.

For me, there's also a dark side to purchasing expensive supplies.  If it's something I won't be able to easily replace (Gel Medium, I'm looking at you), then I tend not to use it, to "save it" for "something special".  That puts a LOT of pressure on me, to then come up with that something special, to justify the expense of buying it in the first place.  Not something I need when I'm trying to engage my creative side.  I've had Gel Medium dry out on me, waiting for me to deem something worthy enough to actually use it on.  I'm much freer with my inexpensive supplies, because I know if I like it and use it up, I can easily get more.

But, that's also not to say that trying out new supplies isn't a lot of fun, because it is.  Trying out a new medium, testing it out and seeing what it does, is part of the joy of working with mixed-media.  But, if you're on a tight budget, just know that you don't have to be left out of what all the "cool kids" are doing.  You can be creative and enjoy yourself as you commence your art journaling journey, with limited funds.

Also, a little disclaimer:  These are the tips and tricks I've discovered, living in a large-ish city in the US.  I wish I knew more about what to do if you live in a rural area, or outside of the US.  I'm hoping that if you do, maybe some of these ideas will translate over into where you live, but unfortunately, some of them won't.

On with the show!
  1. Paint

    I was overjoyed to find that craft paints are the way to go in my art journal.  Golden and Liquitex paints are great (vibrant, mostly lightfast, clean color-mixing), but since I write over my painted backgrounds, they don't work as well as craft paints do.  Craft paints have more fillers in them than artist grade paints do, and tend to have a matte, chalky finish that is just perfect for me.  Golden and Liquitex paints (especially the heavy-bodied ones) dry to a slick, glossy finish, which means pages sticking together, and having to buy special markers/pens to write over the paint film.

    My two favorite craft paints are Ceramcoat and Martha Stewart Satin paints.  These are the most expensive craft paints, but we're talking pennies here, not dollars.  $1.47 for Delta's Ceramcoat at Hobby Lobby, $1.99 for Martha Stewart paints at Michael's.  I have not had the problems with separation of binders/pigment with these two lines, and they come in such bright, beautiful colors.  Also, with the Martha Stewart paints, because the line is constantly swapping out colors, I've found them in the clearance aisle of Michael's for a penny.
  2. Journal

    This is an area where it's easy to spend a lot of money, looking for the right paper to art journal on.  It's difficult, too, because ask any art journaler "What's your favorite journal?" and everyone will give a different answer.   Daisy Yellow has a wonderful blog post about what papers work best for what mediums you tend to use.  I just want to cover what's cheap and actually works, especially if you layer a lot.

    • Samie Harding's Easy Peasy Journal.  Take a dollar store composition book, some dollar store manila folders and voila!  A homemade art journal that really stands up to abuse.
    • Canson's Mix Media spiral-bound journal at Walmart.  Last I looked, they were $6 for the 9" x 12" one. The only downside to these journals are that the pages are perforated - I've found I needed to tape the spiral side first, to prevent it from tearing out later
    • Target has a brand of kids art supplies called "Kid Made Modern".  They have a tablet of watercolor paper, and what's called their "Heavy Weight Mixed Paper".  I've used both of these tablets to make Easy Peasy Journals, and the paper holds up well.  Not bad for $5.
    • Old books from thrift stores.  I've found that fiction books published in the '50's and '60's have a thicker paper that holds up surprisingly well.  They also are mostly sewn-bound instead of glue-bound, which is important in using an old book as an art journal.  There's some prep work that goes into using old books, and fortunately, there's lots of free resources on how to do this online.
    • A plain composition notebook.  It will warp and get very thick if you use water-based media in it (acrylic paints, watercolors, gesso, mod podge), but this can be a fun thing, to watch the transformation.
    • Teesha Moore's Amazing 16-page Journal.  In the video, she's using Fabriano's Hot Press watercolor paper, but it's easy to substitute Dollar Tree poster board for this.  The Dollar Tree poster board is also matte, not glossy, which makes using it easier than regular poster board.  Also, for both Samie's and Teesha's journals, they use waxed thread to bind the journals.  I've actually used dental floss, and it works great!
    • Strathmore's Visual Journal.  Ok, this is not cheap, but both Hobby Lobby and Michael's sell them, and they either go on sale regularly, or you can use a coupon (check the website for both what's on sale as well as their coupons), either of which will bring it back down into the affordable range.  I only spent $6 on my last one from Michael's.
      (Art Journal cover, made using the Kid Made Modern line of watercolor paper from Target, and an adapted coptic stitch that Samie Harding shows how to do in her Easy-Peasy journal)
  3. Images

    There are so many sources out there of free, copyright-free images to use in your art, I'm going to let Google be your guide.  Flickr and the Library of Congress are great resources.  Thrift store books and magazines, or if your library has sales on old materials, are also great ways to build up a repertoire of images.  This is also an area where junk-mail is your friend.  I also like Dover books, but I have to be really drawn to the set of images to spring for one.  While you're at it, check out Sarah Ovenall's post about how to safely use images in your art journal, without getting in trouble for copyright infringement. 

I'm going to stop here for now - in my next blog post, we'll talk about glue, pens, stencils and spray inks!

Wednesday, August 15, 2012

Finished Art Journal Page and a bit about Casein paint

A couple of posts ago, I detailed my go-to art journal background technique.  Here, I wanted to show you the finished page:

Ok, so barring that her hair is totally, totally off, I really love how the whole page came out.  On the recommendation of a friend (Zura at, I decided to sketch her out on the right, and then paint over her with titanium white, to give me a blank white surface to work on.  But, I also happen to have a tube of Titanium White Casein paint by Shiva (recommended by Amy over at Flutterbye Art), so I thought I'd try that, and be able to test it out at the same time.

Casein (pronounced kay-Seen, as my art dealer told me - and by that, I mean my art addict dealer at H. R. Meininger's, the local art supply store) - is a milk-protein based paint.  We're talking old school here - ancient Egyptians used to use this kind of paint.  It dries to a wonderful matte finish.  From what I had read, over time, it will become permanent.

What I didn't realize is that "over time" means it takes a while to dry to the point that it's not rewettable.  Oh, don't get me wrong - it feels dry, it looks dry - but woo-hoo!  You can rewet it and move it around, even after it's dry.  It behaves a bit like acrylic paint, except it's matte.  It behaves a bit like watercolors and gouache, except it's really opaque.  It behaves a bit like oil paint, except it's not quite as "movable" as oil paint is.  It's just it's own medium.

So, I painted the underpainting white, redrew in my girl, and then went over her with the new watercolor crayons that I got from Dick Blick.  I attempted the watercolor crayons in layers, and that's when I discovered that the white Casein paint will re-wet and move around again when water is applied.  Which is actually really cool.  For my next portrait, I'm going to try the Casein white underpainting again, but do all the shading at once with my watercolor crayons, and then wet the whole thing with my waterbrush.  See if the shading is a bit more smooth.

Oh, and the Casein totally sucked up the water-soluable dye inks I'd sprayed underneath (the Dylusions in Bubblegum Pink).  Meaning, it pulled the ink right on up into the white, and where I re-wet it, actually brought pink into the portrait.  Not bad, but it did happen.  Just an FYI.

Also - the Casein paint from Shiva totally smells like Pine-sol.  I think it's an additive to prevent mold or something, because it is a milk-based paint.  But still really cool for playing around.

Also, also - if you order the color "Cocoa" from Dick Blick, in the Caran D'Ache Neocolor II watercolor crayons, you will get a color called "Dunkelbeige".  It's not a mistake - they're the same color number.  But, yeah, I'd call Dunkelbeige "Cocoa" any day of the week.  Just try saying it out loud and not giggling - I dare ya. :D

Monday, August 13, 2012

Fun with Dick Blick - Experiment Time!

Julie Prichard of The Land of Lost Luggage held a giveaway last month for her newsletter subscribers, and woo-hoo!  I won!  It was a gift certificate to Dick Blick, and I gleefully spent it last week.  If you aren't signed up for Julie's newsletter, get on over there.  She is an absolutely wonderful teacher of online mixed-media classes - I took her Art Journaling Super Nova class, Part 2, a couple of years ago, and was so impressed with how available she is to her students.  The content was fabulous and I learned so much.  You need to know what she's up to.

Anyways, here's what I got from Dick Blick (thank you Julie!!):
I'm linking to all this stuff at Dick Blick, because I know you can get it there.  I'm not an affiliate or anything - just want you to be able to see what I'm talking about.

First, holy cow, the Liquid Watercolor!  Forget Glimmer Mists, forget Perfect Pearls - I have found my gold spray ink!!  It is a true metallic gold, shimmery and bright.  It's relatively thick, and I found that I had to add equal parts water to watercolor in my spray bottle, to get it to spray as a mist - otherwise, it was coming out as a steady stream.  It is just lovely - of course, the shimmer won't show up on the scanner, but trust me, it's shiny.  Also, my theory is that because it's watercolor, it won't clog up the spray bottle like acrylics will.  I will let you know after it's been sitting for a bit.

Next, let's talk about the Strathmore Mixed-Media paper.  I've heard rave reviews of this paper from Samantha Kira - she shows in one of her videos how it remains flat, even with all of her paint layers (and that's just a miracle in my book - a paper that remains flat under mixed-media duress?  No way!).  I was excited to see how this paper held up.

It looks a little like cold-press watercolor paper - the surface is slightly textured, but not as textured as most watercolor papers.   I painted a section with Martha Stewart Gesso, another section with Golden Soft Matte Gel, and then left the last section plain.  I used some of my new toys over the top - the watercolor crayons, the Letraset Aquamarkers, and then the Fine Painting Pen.  I also used plenty of water as part of my tests.  Here's the results (click on image to enlarge):

The paper slightly curled at the corners where I laid down the gesso, but otherwise, it's flat as a pancake.  I couldn't believe it - even where I added water to the watercolor crayon and marker, it stayed flat!  

I think, since it curled slightly with the gesso (and I do mean slightly), it might curl up some with acrylic paints.  But I'll have to test that out when I make an art journal out of the pad.  I would have gotten the actual spiral pad of Strathmore Mixed-Media paper, but they perforated the pages in those, and I know I'd have pages falling out all over the place.

As for my new Neocolor II watercolor crayon, it behaved as I expected it to.  It's more "slidey" over gesso and gel medium (it moves easier with water) than on plain paper.  What I was really interested in was the color.  It's called Beige, but the crayon looks pretty gray to me.  The color turns out to be a grayish brown when water is added.  Sigh.  I was looking for a Titan Buff kind of color, and this is not it.  Oh well, it will be great for shading faces.

Next - squeee!  The Letraset Aquamarkers!  Rhomany of Rhomany's Realm recommends these markers (and she's not a brands kind of person, so if she recommends a product, she's got good reasons).  I was so excited to try these out.  They're watercolor-esque markers, meaning, water will move the pigment.  Rhomany had said they behave in an interesting way over gesso, and she's right.  The pigment moves some over gesso, while still maintaining the original marks.  In my test, you can see where I colored with the fine tip, the broad tip and then the broad tip again, but with water brushed over it.   Over gel medium, they behave more like a true watercolor than over the gesso (which makes sense, gel medium being more plastic than gesso).  On the plain paper, the pigment absorbs more into the paper, but is still slightly activated by the water.

I can easily see these markers going into my portrait arsenal, for easy shading and blending.  They also work over acrylics and gesso, so I can use them for writing and doodling over backgrounds.  

By the way, these are not brush-tip markers - they have a firm, felt-tip point to them.  And, considering that these are water-based, I doubt they're permanent when dry (just something to consider for those that like to layer).  Also, for some reason, the fine tip seems to lay down a brighter blue than the broad tip.  Can you see it in the photograph above?  I can't for the life of me figure out why that would be.  Any ideas?

Now, for the piece de resistance!  The Loew-Cornell Fine Painting Pen - I am in love.  It's a metal contraption (for lack of a better word), where you can add inks or paints to the well, and the ink/paint comes out of a fine point on the end.  No more messing around with a fine brush for details or writing.  I can just add some fluid acrylics into the well of this pen, and voila!  Details!  In any color I want!  

I found that with fluid acrylics, it's best to add just a touch of water before adding it into the well of this pen - otherwise, there's a lot of tapping involved, to get the paint to come out.  Clean-up is a cinch (just rinse it out with water), and it even comes with a fine-needle cleaning tool.

Thank you again, Julie, for my fun time at Dick Blick!  I love being able to test out new toys!

Saturday, August 11, 2012

Art Geeks - My Favorite Background Technique

This last week, Gulfsprite (aka, Christy Sobolewski) posted a video on YouTube for the Art Geeks, detailing her go-to background technique.  It's a question that's come up in the Art Geeks Facebook Group - what are your favorite background techniques?  What technique do tend to do the most?  And would you share your technique, for those that are new to art journaling?

I answer a resounding "Yes" to that last question!  What I do is not super-original, but it's what I tend to do the most.  It's actually very easy, and incorporates my favorite play items - namely, paint, spray inks and collage.  It gives a very layered look, without spending hours on it.  This type of background gives me plenty of room to either work on a portrait, or do a lot of writing.

So, here's where we start - my blank page:

I put masking tape down the center, to help protect the spine and give it some strength.  As this is an altered book art journal, I tore out every other page, to give the book some room for my layered pages.  I taped where a page had been torn out.

Next, I picked three colors of craft paint, and just painted swatches of color.  I scrub the colors in with my brush, so that it feathers out at the edges.  I use cheap craft paints, Martha Stewart paints, Golden paints - for me, it's not about the brand, it's about the color.  I will say that I love how craft paints give a matte, chalky finish, and prefer them for my art journal (they're easier to write over, too - glossy paints are pen killers).

Now it's time for the spray inks.  I have a variety of stencils, and am always looking at anything with holes in it as a possibility for spraying.  This stencil is a piece of die-cut scrapbook paper (found in the specialty scrapbook paper section of Hobby Lobby).  With paper stencils, it's important to lift them up right away after spraying - otherwise, they will become a part of your background, stuck forever.  

First, I sprayed Tulip Fabric Paint Spray in White (it's wonderful!  It's an opaque white and is a dream to work with), then immediately layered that with Dylusions Spray in Bubblegum Pink.  I sprayed randomly, but focused the color in the blue and green areas (as the pink wouldn't show as well over the baby pink paint).  Then I grabbed my Tulip Glitter Paint spray in Red and sprayed over the whole stencil.  

I love how this came out!  You can't see it in the picture, but it's very glittery.  Now, it would be easy and quick to just stop right here.  And sometimes, I will stop here, because I love the background as is.  But I also love collage, so I decided to add some into the lower left-hand corner.

There's usually no rhyme or reason to what images I choose to use in my collages.  I have several Zip-Loc Freezer bags, filled with scraps of papers, separated into categories that makes sense to me (neutrals, colors, images, etc.).  I just grab my bags and start picking out papers.  I also tend to collage in a square format.  Squares and rectangles really appeal to me, and so that's how my collages are shaped.

I used Matte Gel Medium to glue down this collage, but I've also used Matte Medium, Collage Pauge, Decopauge, and Mod Podge (in Matte - the Glossy version will make your pages stick horribly).  Basically, whatever's on sale (or whenever I have a coupon).  There are blank areas on the collage that I'll probably use later as a journaling spot, and I can doodle and color around the images of the flower and the camera.  The area on the right is ready for journaling or a portrait, which is what I've been practicing lately.

Sometimes, I will add paint over the collage - usually I will brayer over the whole page in a new color, or in white.  The result is a cohesive page, with lots of layers peeking through.  Other times, I'll get my stamps out, and stamp over a very neutral collage, as a focal image.  It all depends on my mood.

Lastly, I've added a simple border on the bottom.  I just like how a border contains a page.  It's that square/rectangle thing again.

And that's it!  This is my go-to way of doing backgrounds for my art journal.  If you're new to art journaling, I hope this gives you some ideas for ways to use your fun art supplies.

Thursday, August 2, 2012

My Book House - Altering Books for Art Journals

I was at the library last night, turning in my overdue books and paying off my fines.  My library has a "Friends of the Library" area, where people donate books, and then the Friends sell them, to help support the library.  And lookie what I found!

They're called "My Book House", and from my Google learnings, I have found that this is 11 volumes of a 12 volume set.  I didn't see Volume 12 at the library, but I'm going to go back and look, in case it's been misplaced.  They were edited by Olive Beaupre Miller, and each book contains children's stories, poems and illustrations.  As you go through each book, the stories become progressively more challenging, to track a child's reading development.  They are gorgeously illustrated.

The first thing I saw, when I saw this set, was the beautiful pastel colors of the covers, and my first thought was to have them sitting on my shelf, each one altered into an art journal.  An 11 volume art journal, if you will.

However, then I went and looked them up on Google.  I always do this with old books, just to make sure I'm not altering some rare, one-of-a-kind book that people want for ridiculous sums of money.  

Sigh - and what did I find?  That these books are worth something.  Not a lot - these are reprints of the first "My Book House" 6-Volume set that was originally published in 1920.  But a 12-volume set of this 1971 reprint, in good condition, goes for about $75 on

This put me in a quandary.  Usually, I pick up old books because I like the cover, or the title is clever, or the paper inside is thick and a little bit toothy.  But they never turn out to be rare, or worth anything, other than maybe $2 at Alibris.  So, I alter them with zero guilt - no one else wants the book, so what's wrong with me altering it?

And this is the argument I use with people that freak out over people altering books - what's wrong with re-purposing a book that no one else wants, into something the artist will enjoy and use?  I don't think books are sacred, unless again, we're talking about rare first editions and such.  They are meant to be enjoyed, in whatever format that happens to be, reading and/or altering.

But in this case, these books turn out to be beloved by many, and are worth something to other people, as they are.

So, I've had to make a choice here.  They are worth something to me, as alterable books, and I want to use them as art journals.  I want to see them on my shelf, and know they contain my journey as a person and artist.  But, they are also worth something to others, as nostalgic reminders of childhood stories, or as something to be given to their children and grandchildren to enjoy.  And I've decided that what they are worth to me, as an artist, is more important than what they are worth to a stranger who may pay that $75 for what I've got.   I've decided that being worried about their monetary value to someone else is pretty materialistic, and I'm choosing the aesthetic route.

As an art journaler, what would you do?  Would you sell the books to someone else, just because someone might be willing to pay something for them?  Or would you do as I'm going to do, and alter them to your heart's content, because you want to?

Sunday, July 22, 2012 Review - Iwako Giraffe Eraser

A few weeks ago, (whom I adore, as a complete pen junkie), put out a call for reviewers of their products.  No one had to ask me twice, I signed up right away.  About two weeks ago, I received this:

Isn't he cute??  It's the Iwako Giraffe Eraser, part of the Iwako Zoo collection of animal erasers.  His head even turns.  I was skeptical that it would erase, but it did, while not even making a dent in his wee nose.

Iwako makes all kinds of novelty erasers - from an American Fast Food lunch collection (including the little tray to put them on), to a Sushi Bento Box!  They're very affordable (the Sushi Bento Box, which includes a little yellow box for the erasers, is $5.50 USD), and very well made.  These are not going to fall apart the minute the eraser touches a pencil mark.

I ran this Giraffe Eraser by my two nieces and nephew, because really, that seems the target audience for this kind of product.  Here were my responses:

Me:  "What do you think of this Giraffe Eraser?"

James (age 6):  "Cool, can I have it?"

Elizabeth (age 7):  "Ooooo, can I have it?"

Hellen (age 2):  "Me want."

There you have it folks - perfect for kids and for adults who like Kawaii stuff.  

I honestly can't recommend enough.  I ordered a set of Gelly Roll Stardust pens from them, as well as a bunch of Pentel Metallic Sunburst pens, and not only was it affordable, but they shipped right away, and the pens are a dream to use on my art journal pages (they write well on acrylic paint!).  They stock pens that are hard to get and fun to use (like the infamous Uniball Signo White Gel pen - the one made in Japan, not the one made in the US, that seems to work better and last longer).  Plus, it's just fun to go shopping on their site - pages and pages of pens to consider and ponder and lust after.  

If you're interested in learning more about specific pens for art journaling (most sold at, then I recommend Kelly Kilmer's post, here:  She's been art journaling for many years, and has done the testing for you when it comes to pens that work.

Tuesday, July 10, 2012

Online Classes for Art Journaling - Just Be Careful

I've noticed lately a rise in the number of people teaching self-exploration art journaling, and it's got me a bit worried.  Let me explain why.

It's one thing for you to use your art journal for self-exploration.  You can explore into the depths you want, pull back when it's too much - really take your time on your journey.  Art journaling really is a perfect vehicle for self-exploration and process work.

Here's the problem, though, with someone teaching you to use art journaling for self-exploration - you are paying them to take you on a journey, and therefore, you are entering into a form of therapy.  And from what I've seen, it's all artists teaching these classes, not therapists, counselors or social workers.  In other words, they have ZERO qualifications to walk you through what is essentially a therapeutic process.

I took an on-line class a couple of years ago that was purported to take you into the depths of yourself, using art journaling.  This teacher advertised that she would be there every step of the way, and would work her magic on the spreads you produced.  I trusted that.  Well, on the third lesson, we were diving into our origins, family stuff, heavy stuff, and I was feeling pretty vulnerable and raw.  I posted my spread, and waited for her to comment.  And then I waited some more.  And the other women waited.  It took a week for her to get back to any of our pages.  That in itself was painful.  But then, she did something completely unexpected - she totally invalidated my experience.  She told me it was an "old story", and that I needed to move on.

I was deeply hurt and confused.  When she told me it was an old story, I felt slapped in the face.  We were asked to talk about our origins, I did, and I felt like the teacher stuck her fingers in her ears and said "Lalalala, I don't want to hear this."  I feel I need to add that I wasn’t whining, I wasn’t asking for sympathy – I was just as honest as I could be about where I came from.  That was what was asked of us for the lesson, that's what I did.  But this teacher did NOT know how to handle traumatic experiences, at all.  Not only were we all left hanging, me with my soul raw and exposed to a stranger (and on the third lesson - there was no time to ease into it), but then I was completely invalidated.  Validation is one of the most important therapeutic tools there is.  It's a necessary process in a therapeutic relationship - it builds trust and helps a person move on from the experience. I had shared something very deep and painful, in a group setting, and the teacher trampled on my experience.

However, I was also lucky.  I happened to be in real therapy at the time, and was able to be validated there - not only about my experience with my origins, but that an artist with no training in therapy had no business to be practicing it.  My therapist was pissed, actually, because it's just so dangerous.

See, what happens to the women in these classes, who aren't in therapy, that trust like I did, and then aren't helped?  What happens when a meltdown occurs, and the teacher has no idea how to handle it?  What happens when several women meltdown?  What happens when someone sends out a cry for help, on-line, because they’ve just been completely triggered?  It’s dangerous, to try to lead people on the path of self-exploration, without any training.  That's what therapy is for.

And please, don't get me wrong - like I said above, art journaling is a perfect vehicle for probing the depths of yourself and your soul.  But you can do that, without paying someone else to teach you how.  Only you know what's safe and what isn't.  Only you know your triggers and outcomes.  You don't have to follow someone's outline to do soul-work in your art journal.  In fact, you probably shouldn't - they may ask you to go somewhere you're not ready to go.  No one can cookie-cutter, one-size-fits-all when it comes to self-exploration.

I learned a powerful lesson, by taking one of these classes, and that was if I want therapy, I'll pay a therapist.  If I want to explore myself, there are a million-and-one prompts out there, in Google-land, that are free for the asking.  But I will never put my trust into an artist trying to pretend to be a therapist again.  

So, please, just be careful out there. 

Saturday, June 30, 2012

I didn't lose anything... the Waldo Canyon Fire.  I am safe, my family is safe, no material possessions or homes have been lost, for me and mine.  We are so, so blessed.

You may have heard about it on the news.  Last Tuesday, June 26, 2012, the wildfire that had been burning outside of Colorado Springs decided to jump right outta Queen's Canyon, and into a neighborhood called Mountain Shadows.

I remember sometime in the middle '80's, when Mountain Shadows was the location of the annual Parade of Homes.  We went, my family and I, and ooo-ed and ahh-ed at the posh living quarters that were being shown off.  It was considered a far outskirt of Colorado Springs, unincorporated at that point, I imagine.  I remember begging my mom, please, puh-leeeeze, let us live here, in one of these beautiful, perfect homes.  I didn't understand then that we couldn't afford it - all I knew is that I had walked into a real-life Barbie dream home (well, mountain chalet, at least).  My, how I and my little town have grown.

But that subdivision has been decimated.  Destroyed.  Devastated.  There aren't enough of, or the right kind of, words, to describe the level of destruction there.  354 homes, gone.  Burned down to the ground.  It's just, well, honestly, when I see the pictures of it and the flyovers, I'm speechless.  I know it's cliche, but it's true - it's like a horrific war movie, only no, this is real, this really happened.  It's overwhelming.

And 2 people are gone.  No one knows right now why, why they were in their home when the evacuations went out, why they didn't leave, why they didn't or couldn't get out.  I don't know who they are - I'm sure that information won't be released for weeks - but the family knows.  And my heart is floating somewhere out there, seeking them out, wishing I could say or do anything that would lighten the burden for them, the pain they feel.

It's seeking out the policeman or policewoman that had to track that family down, in all the chaos of the evacuations, to tell them the news.  It's seeking out the firefighters, who faced an unconquerable monster, who stood as David against 1000 Goliaths, hoping that everyone had gotten out alright, only to find out that no, for 2 people, they didn't.  It continues to seek out those same firefighters, and Army men, and Guardsmen, and Air Force personnel, and everyone who has come to help, who refuse to succumb to grief, for now, just for now, so that they can continue to protect us.

And it's seeking out the people that are still under mandatory evacuation, who are tired, frustrated, and lost right now, because the future of their home, their rock, is still uncertain.  They are drifters at the moment, and completely at the mercy of the fire.  That's a horrible place to be.

My heart is flying all over this city of mine, with love, with grief, with tears, with complete and utter gratitude.

I did an art journal page about this.  It's not good art, but somehow, painting homes, painting trees, painting fire, painting smoke, it helped a little.  Next, I will paint rain, and pray that it will wash over us all.