For the Love of Color

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I love color. You would never know it from the neutrals in my house, but my brain is FULL of color. All. the.time. My kids joke that they stopped asking me my favorite color, because I could never give them an answer. I just can’t choose and it would change everyday anyway. Instead they started asking me, “What’s your favorite color right now?” Yes, it’s that bad. I love them all.

It turns out that although humans have probably loved color since God created the rainbow, real evidence of the analysis of color isn’t found until the 15th-century writings of Leonardo daVinci and Leon Battista Alberti. Later, Isaac Newton would pen his color theories dealing  mostly with primary colors from a scientific standpoint in his book entitled Opticks. While art and color (or lack of color) have always been part and parcel of the artistic process, the invention of synthetic pigments in the 19th century changed the course of art forever.

As chemists began creating synthetic pigments, colors changed. New vibrant hues, not created from herbs or flowers or natural minerals, began showing up on canvases and while the established art society wasn’t super delighted about it, many newer artists and others who wanted to push the envelope saw it as a new world to explore. How would the use of new, vibrant color change the impact of the art they were creating?

Many artists took these new colors as an opportunity to “stick it to the establishment” of the traditional and elitist Salon and Académie des Beaux-Arts.  When these artists, who were later given the title of Impressionists, began employing these colors in their works, many viewers and potential buyers were shocked. A few of them were even outraged and called them gaudy, but the Impressionists were undaunted and let the colors speak. They rejected the final washes of thick varnish to tone down their colors and used vibrant colors to indicate light and shadows. Renoir was famous for saying,“No shadow is black. It always has a color. Nature knows only colors … white and black are not colors.”

Here is a great article on the pigments that were created during this period that would change the course of art history. Many of the pigments developed during this time period  like Cerulean Blue, synthetic Ultramarine Blue, Mars Red, Lemon Yellow, and Viridian Green are in my palette today, and I am thankful. Some of the new pigments didn’t last the test of time because they were either toxic or unethically produced, but these innovations paved the way for artists to use color to express their emotions and to evoke similar emotions in the viewer. It is hard to imagine from my viewpoint in history that all these colors were new and exciting. Artists were not only creating, they were innovating. They were exploring uncharted territory and putting these new colors through their paces and figuring out what would work and what wouldn’t.

During this time period a theory about color usage called Simultaneous Contrast noted that colors placed in proximity to one another change the way we perceive those colors. This was an exciting discovery for artists who were searching for new ways to express themselves. For example, complimentary colors placed next to one another make each color seem more vibrant and other colors placed in proximity change the viewer’s perception of those colors.

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This painting by Matisse is a perfect example of this color theory in practice.

Pisarro, Degas, Van Gogh, Signac, Seurat and their contemporaries employed these techniques to draw the viewers attention to certain focal points and to evoke an emotional response.

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Artists began using these techniques and color theories in their works. A good article that explains this in more detail with examples can be found here. I took the above photo at a recent Degas exhibition. This picture doesn’t do justice to the vibrancy of these colors. The orange-red makes the complimentary blue color sing and was, literally, awe-inspiring.

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This Van Gogh draws the viewer ‘s eye immediately into the cafe with his usage of color. I could stare at this for hours.

So, as I pick up my brush and sit down to paint again and I consider the juicy colors that fill my palette, I am grateful to those who paved the way and changed the course of art history. Thanks to them, and the development of so many gorgeous pigments, my inability to pick a favorite seems terminal.

 

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Open

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A new year, a new word, a new intention. This year is dedicated to being open and seeing what that means. The introvert in me recoils at the thought, but since I am almost an even split (so says Meyers-Briggs) there is a part of me yearning for connection with others. It is a strange dichotomy, but it usually means I dread being with people, then I have an AMAZING time with them and can’t wait to do it again, but I am drained when it’s over and need a few days of solitude afterward to regroup. So this year I am silencing that voice that never wants to leave the comfort of my nest and saying yes to more things and people. Already I feel the change and see the connections forming. This post is the most personal post so far and really out of my comfort zone, but I am learning to let that go and be open in this arena as well.

It has been far too long since I have posted anything here! The holidays and then the flu and then an amazing long girl’s weekend retreat and then life just did it’s thing and now it’s almost half-way through February and I am finally catching my breath. Whew!

It has been a whirlwind of a year already and it is only February. I can’t wait to see what the rest of the year holds. Part of being open for me has meant opening up as many pathways to creativity as I can. This means trying everything that inspires me and seeing what has resonance and what feels right…trusting the intuitive process…finding my voice and being comfortable sharing it…letting go of the idea of a perfect result and being open to embracing the act of creating. I am discovering that under all my colorful flowers lies so much more I want to say. Getting in touch with that and really expressing all that lies beneath is an intimidating process for a girl who perfected people-pleasing.

I have decided to shift gears a bit on this blog. I will still share recipes and great stuff that I find, but I am going to include more of my art adventures. I have another blog (that is being neglected) so maybe I will put recipes over there. I am spending a lot of time experimenting with different media and substrates as part of being open to finding my artistic voice, so maybe my experiments will help someone else along their journey. I have learned so much from others who have been generous with their experience, so in that same spirit I hope to inspire others.

I found a quote that I will be carrying with me on my journey this year. I share in in the hope that it may encourage you, too.

“At any given moment we have two options: to step forward into growth, to to step back into safety.” –Abraham Maslow

Custom Art Journal or Book Cover

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Art journals are meant to be looked at and enjoyed. They are meant to be shared with others and touched, but they need to be protected. Pre-made covers are available online , but I have made a few journals in odd sizes, so I was wondering how to protect those. My time spent scrapbooking came in handy and gave me a lightbulb moment that not only solved the problem, but is a simple and inexpensive solution for all my albums and journals. To make your cover, you will only need a few supplies.

You’ll need:

16 gauge clear vinyl sheet (I bought 3 yards at Joann Fabric at $6.99/yd and used my 60% off coupon so it only cost me $8.39 for 3 yards or $2.80 per yard–I’ll have enough to cover lots of journals!)

A Fuse tool (these retail for $29.99 at Michaels, but I used a 50% off coupon)

Scissors

Pencil

Lay out plastic sheeting on a large surface with the paper backing facing up and lay your journal open on top. If either cover has a fold-out on it, be sure to open the fold-out completely so that your sleeve fits around the farthest edges of the journal.

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If you’ve never used a fuse tool before, the pointed tip is for cutting vinyl and the spoked-wheel tip is for fusing plastic.

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Screw the wheel tip on the tool for this project.

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Plug in your Fuse tool–it will take 10 minutes for it to heat up enough to fuse the vinyl.

Use your pencil to trace around the open journal leaving 1/4 inch allowance on the top and bottom and 2-3 inches on the sides to create the flaps.

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Cut the vinyl using your scissors and fold plastic over the ends of the journal to create a flap. Press firmly to crease the plastic. I used my pencil, but a bone folder would be great for this.

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Place the metal ruler over one end of the flap and line up the open slot in the ruler with the edge of the journal. Be sure to keep the paper journal inside so you allow enough room for the journal to slide into the flap easily, but snug enough so that it won’t fall off. Place the wheel of the Fuse tool in the slot of the ruler and roll it slowly, but steadily back and forth to seal the vinyl. Fuse BOTH ends (top and bottom) on one side of your cover. Watch out, the ruler gets hot too! Don’t ask me how I know this–I just do. :-/

***Before you fuse the other end, make the crease while your journal is SHUT. Otherwise, you may not make the sleeve long enough to accommodate the journal when it’s shut and it will buckle your journal. Don’t ask me how I know this, I just do 🙂 I’m not perfect, remember?

Fuse the remaining end and you’re done 🙂 The best part is that you can make these in any size and for any purpose. I love this little tool!! I can tell this is going to come in handy for making lots of projects. It will also be great for creating wipe-able worksheets for my little guy so he can practice letters and numbers (even tic-tac-toe) using dry-erase markers.

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Hope you found this useful. Follow my blog for updates and new projects and recipes coming soon.

Handmade Art Journal Binding Project

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As I mentioned in my first post on this blog, my artistic pursuits began as part of a challenge this year. Since April, I have made several of my own art journals. Most of them for various classes I have taken, but this one is just for me–no theme, no purpose other than play. You can use any paper you choose, depending on the the type of media you want to work with, I am making mine from various heavy watercolor papers. They are thick and sturdy and they can handle a variety of types of supplies. I tend to use watercolors, gouache, colored pencils, pen, and sometimes acrylics. This paper is great for that. If I decide to play with pastels, I will need to apply a layer of pastel primer or gesso to the page first, but it still works really well. You can use this same method for creating a journal or sketchbook for any medium by changing the paper.

An empty art journal is a beautiful gift for the artist in your life. They will love it even more when they know you made it just for them 🙂

This is a super simple journal that is perfect for beginners.

You’ll Need:

Large sheet(s) of heavy paper. I used 30×22 sheets of 140lb Arches and Fabriano watercolor paper in hot press (smooth finish) and cold press (rough finish) One large sheet of watercolor paper, when cut and folded will make 12 pages that measure 10 inches high by 11 inches wide if the strip are only folded in half.

Awl or other pointed instrument to poke the holes. A Japanese Screw punch is great, but I don’t have one yet.

Waxed Linen Thread (or embroidery floss or dental floss) You can usually find this is the binding/leather-working section of the craft store or on Amazon.

Bookbinding needle

a sheet of something thick like cardboard or a cutting mat to lay your book on to punch the holes–you won’t love having holes in your table :-/

Begin by cutting down your large sheet(s) into the size you want your journal to be. I cut each large sheet into thirds, making each smaller sheet 22×10.

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When folded, the pages (or folios) will be approximately 11×10. Using this method, one large sheet of paper cut down and folded this way will give you a journal with 12 pages. Each page will be 11×10. I bought this paper on a great sale at my local art supply store for $5 per sheet, so this journal will be inexpensive and handmade (which is the best part).

Here is an awesome tutorial by Teesha Moore that shows her method of making an art journal. She also folds each folio into three sections so that pages have fold-outs on them. This is hard to describe, but here is a picture from one of my journals that shows this technique.

Teesha also covers this in her tutorials. You can make your journal however is best for your purposes.

Once you have your large sheet cut into thirds, fold each of the cut pieces in half or in three sections–however you like them. Then, lay them on top of one another making sure the edges are somewhat straight. Mostly, just be sure the middle seem is lined up with the layers underneath. Don’t get too caught up in making it perfect. I personally don’t do perfect. Part of its charm is the handmade feel it has ❤

Holding your pages securely, lay them on a sheet of cardboard or your cutting mat and poke 5 holes along the center seam.

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The center hole should be equidistant from each end and fall in the very center if you measure top-to-bottom. Punch 2 holes about an inch from the top and bottom edges. Lastly, punch the last two holes between the middle hole and the top and bottom holes. I didn’t measure mine, it’s really not necessary.

Once you have your holes punched you will begin the binding process. You can paperclip or use binder clips to hold your sheets while you work, but if you use heavy watercolor papers, they shouldn’t shift much. Once you have your papers secure, thread your binding needle with the waxed thread.

You can think of your holes as being numbered from #1 at the very top to #5 at the very bottom.

Here is a graphic to guide your stitching:

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Here are a series of pictures that show the binding stitch steps:

1. Begin by threading your needle from the middle hole (#3)–moving from the outside through to the inside. Leave a three inch tail hanging on the outside. You will use this to tie off at the very last step. I like to tie off outside so the knot isn’t inside my journal, but you can make yours any way you want.

2. Bring your needle back OUT through the #2 hole. Your needle is now on the  outside of your journal.

3. Thread your needle back IN through the second (#1) hole and pull thread snug. Your needle is now inside.

4. Push your needle back OUT through the #2 hole and pull the thread snug. Your needle is now outside.

5. Thread needle back IN through hole #4 and pull thread snug.

6. Push needle back OUT through #5 and snug your thread.

7. Go back IN through #4 and pull thread snug again.

8. Finally, push the thread out through #3 the center hole and tie off to the tail you left on step 1.

That’s it!! You did it! Simple AND beautiful. It will be even more beautiful when it is full of your gorgeous art work.

Here’s a peek at one of my hand-bound journals. This one was created for a gouache class taught by Mary Ann Moss. This was a super fun class. I love Mary Ann’s style and sense of humor. I found myself laughing out loud a lot. For this journal we did a more complex binding stitch. This was a real challenge since I hadn’t ever done any binding before and it uses several signatures (sets of pages) and handmade covers. I made the covers using 8×10 canvas board and a paint by numbers canvas board. I painted the front cover and used scrapbook papers to line the inside covers.

 

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Here are some snippets from one of my other hand-bound journals.

How to Paint a Watercolor Rose

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Obviously, this is not a tutorial about how to paint realistic rose. My art tends to be very gestural and loose. This is mostly because with two homeschooled teenagers and a toddler running around I only have small increments of time to work with. It is also because it appeals to me more than highly detailed realistic representations. I love Impressionism and the notion of “seeing” the mind of the artist and how they envision the world. I love abstraction and letting the viewer participate in the meaning of art. That’s just me.

I’ve had a few people ask me to show my process, so I created a time-lapse video to show what the process looks like and you can see it on my Instagram feed at https://instagram.com/_txlnstr_  I thought I could post it here, but that would require a significant upgrade to my account. :-/ You can also see it on my Facebook page here:

https://www.facebook.com/LarissaWestArt

Here is step-by-step instruction:

Begin with the center as a sort of small circular shape-your deepest values will go here, but you can drop in extra color at the end (as long as the surface is still wet).

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Build petal layers out from the center. Wider petals give the impression of fuller blooms. This part just takes practice. Pull up some pictures of real roses to study. Notice that petals are not all round and when they curl, they make pointed edges. Leave a bit of white space between some of your petals so that your blossom has a few defined leaves.

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I just noticed there is a tiny piece of lint in my paint! There’s that NOT perfect part again! Ahh well, if this happens to you just wait until it dries completely and brush it off. I used three different colors for the blooms. I started with a first wash of a blend made with Quinacridone Coral and Quinacridone Gold to make a peach. I added a pure Quinacridone Coral wash, in select places, over the top while the first wash was still wet and then dropped in a tiny bit of Quinacridone Gold to finish it.

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Dropping more pigment onto a wash that is still wet is called wet-on-wet painting. This type of painting gives beautiful results if you love color.

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The best part is watching the colors play and blend as they settle and change as they dry. It’s always a bit of a surprise to see the final result. Some colors play and blend better than others. Discovering which are your favorites is just a matter of experimenting.

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Get out some watercolors and have some fun trying this out. Here is a photo of some of my first flowers I ever painted. You don’t have to have expensive paint–just have fun with what you have. These flowers were painted with a set that my kids used when they were very little.

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I have learned a lot about what I like and don’t like in the months between then and now, but art is a process. The key is to ENJOY the process. Hope you have fun creating!

Paper Doll Project

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I have fond memories of playing with paper dolls as a young girl. There was something about them that was so captivating, so when a paper doll swap was introduced in a class I am taking, I jumped at the chance. Our swap members are from all over the world which just adds to the fun and excitement of the whole thing. Our class has a mermaid theme, so we decided to make mermaids, but you can make fairies, or even regular dolls. Here are the links to the patterns for the dolls and the mermaids and fairies. They are a fun project and make sweet gifts for the little (or big) girls in your life.

You can make these with lots of different types of supplies and use whatever you might have on hand, so don’t feel like you HAVE to use what I did, but I will tell you how I made them 🙂

You will need:

white watercolor paper or cardstock (just be sure it’s smooth paper)

a copy of the patterns (from the links above) printed out

graphite transfer paper (I used pencil rubbing on the back for this)

small brads

paint or markers or whatever you choose to color them with

bleed proof pen–I used Jane Davenport‘s Epic pen-the best pen ever!

small scissors or cutting knife (I use this one)

an awl or pointed object to pierce heavy paper

The first step is to print a copy of the pattern you want to use. Then choose which pieces you want to make up your doll. Now it’s time to trace your pattern onto your heavy blank paper.

Once you’ve chosen the pieces you want to use to make up your doll, flip the pattern page over and rub a pencil over the outline on the back side of your chosen pieces. Make sure to do this to EACH part of your doll (the head, upper arms, lower arms, body, and tail).

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Turn your pattern back over (facing up) and lay it on top of your heavy paper or cardstock. I recommend taping the sheets together at the top to prevent slipping as you trace your design onto your white paper. Be sure to press firmly as you trace your body parts so that the transfer is dark enough to see. You can also use this transfer paper.

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Once you have your pattern traced, I recommend drawing the features on the face and painting BEFORE cutting them out. It is much easier to paint on a larger surface than trying to create small details on tiny pieces. Be sure to use a bleed proof pen when creating facial features so they don’t smear when you add color with paint or markers.

Be sure your paint is DRY before cutting out your pieces. I have made the mistake of trying to cut prematurely and it almost ruined one of my pieces. Did I mention I’m impatient? Fortunately, watercolor is pretty forgiving and I was able to save the piece. It’s not perfect, but I’m okay with that. It’s art, right? I honestly love to see the hand of the artist in handmade things. It’s the tiny imperfections of handmade items that give them charm and beauty. Be okay with imperfect–really–you will be happier and the people around you will be happier.

Once you are SURE it’s dry cut the pieces out. This is probably the most time consuming part. I use this amazing little finger cutter that works really well. If you use this guy, be sure you use a cutting mat or thick cardboard under your project as you cut.

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To assemble your doll, line up the pieces where you want them to join and use your awl to poke a hole through BOTH pieces.

Push a brad through each joint to secure them.

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Have fun embellishing your doll, you can give it jewelry, a pet, or even a party hat 🙂

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Enjoy your new doll–these make a sweet gift, too!

Never Perfect

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Life isn’t perfect, but it is SO blindingly beautiful. I love my life, I really do. Making beautiful things doesn’t make life perfect, it makes it pretty. So I’m always making something. Always. I honestly don’t know how to NOT make stuff. I get inspiration everywhere. Colors inspire me, other artists inspire me, and nature inspires me. Sometimes just letting my imagination run wild will lead to sketching or painting at odd hours. But those things are all new.

This year, I took Ali Edward’s One Little Word class online for the first time. If you haven’t taken this class, or any class with Ali, I highly recommend it. The gist is that you choose a word to live with for the year that will inspire you and keep you moving toward your goals. Each month, Ali gives prompts to focus on different aspects of our word. The February prompt changed my life. My word for this year was “embrace.” My goal was to lean into the changes in my life instead of resisting them. My goal was to embrace all of life–even the painful, difficult, and not-perfect parts and to embrace all of the different parts of myself that had been neglected as a busy Momma. In February, Ali challenged us to do something related to our word for 30 days–to practice everyday. I chose to embrace my creativity and to draw or paint something everyday for 30 days. This was not an easy challenge. I have a toddler who is NEVER still unless in his highchair, so I started using his meal times to practice. Even if it was a few minutes, I was learning something, right?

I have always thought of myself as crafty. I was scrapbooking before scrapbooking was a thing. My college roommate and I raided the bordered paper section at the office supply store and used deckled-edged scissors to mutilate our pictures before decorating our pages with markers. I know, right???? After college and two babies I started making custom scrapbooks for people and opened my etsy shop making handmade mini albums and banners. This kept me as busy as I wanted to be for several years. I had several local clients that kept me very busy. Through the years I have cross-stitched, attempted knitting and failed miserably, sewed, papier-mâchéd, refinished furniture, and baked, but drawing and painting were for artists. I was crafty.

February changed all that. I began to sketch and sketch and doodle, and draw. I found a video on youtube that really caught my attention. Jane Davenport was drawing effortlessly and creating the most beautiful, whimsical art and I was hooked. When I discovered that she offered classes that promised to teach people to draw even if they didn’t think they could, I thought she was speaking to me. I took one of her classes and fell in love with drawing. I have taken several of her classes and I have drawn or painted SOMETHING everyday since February. I just never stopped. You know that “Run, Forrest, run” thing? Well, it’s kinda like that. I just kept on drawing and drawing and drawing! You just read that  in Forrest’s voice didn’t you? I heard him as I was typing!!

I painted that picture at the top 🙂 In January of this year I couldn’t even draw a stick figure that looked human. Most of them looked like extras from The Walking Dead. Practice, perseverance, great teachers and inspiration go a long way. I am now creating art that I love.

I still have so much to learn but I love doing things just for the process. I really wish I had gone to art school instead of my traditional four-year college. Yes, I have used the degrees I earned, but art is where my heART is. It just makes me happy. I still love crafting and cooking and I’m trying to get healthy again after giving birth again at 44–yep, I’m nuts–so this is my spot to share all my crazy adventures with you. Some days I craft, some days I paint, some days I fall flat on my face. Nothing I do is perfect, and I’m cool with that, but it’s ALL real. I’m not one to sugar-coat anything. I love life and all things creative, so if you’re still with me, then let’s have FUN!