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!