It started with a visit from my friend Sarah, her book recommendation ("Making Ink; A Forager's Guide to Natural Inkmaking" by Jason Logan), and a walk up the butte behind our new house. (We've moved back to Montana since my last entry). The hills around us are covered in a yellow flowering shrub called Rabbitbrush that Sarah said was sometimes used to dye wool and cotton. So we picked some of the flowers, and I started experimenting. First with inks (which are basically natural dyes that you concentrate by evaporating off the water). I made ink from the rabbitbrush, from cotoneaster berries, crab apple bark and the mapleseed pods in our back yard. I kept a notebook:
and painted and used dip pens:
You can get amazing colors from plants. Avocado seeds and skins make the most incredible blood red. The problem with getting dye colors from plants is that many of them are not stable. They are often pH sensitive (the cotoneaster berry ink is a lovely purple in the bottle, but turns grey as soon as it hits the paper) and they can also be fugitive (which means they fade in the light). The yellow rabbitbrush ink test strip I have in my sunny studio window has faded to about half of its original color. Avocado is also a fugitive color, unfortunately. But so far, the mapleseed pod ink is staying strong.
But here's the cool thing - you can turn your plant dyes into something called lake pigments - which are solid pigments that you can grind and turn into watercolor paint, or oil paint, or egg tempera. And sometimes the lake pigment of a particular color is more stable than the dye is. More on that in the next post!
A move across the country, and a rediscovery of an old medium.
Storm Clouds, Aroostook County Pastel on paper 7" x 8"
Sunset, Aroostook County Pastel on paper 11" x 11"
My friend sarah has a coloring page you can dowload and print. It was a fun way to spend a cold and snowy afteroon.
A recent watercolor commission for a friend:
And a video experiment from photographs taken during the process:
Found a small inexpensive wooden box that seemed perfect for some miniature art supplies. Not sure how functional it will be (a true Pochade box carries all your supplies and allows you to work on the inside of the lid), but I'm giving it a shot!
Just had to carve out a place for the waterbrush to fit.
Those tiny artist trading card blanks fit perfectly in one of the spaces. (you can buy them in packs or cut your own, these are made watercolor paper, and are in individual plastic sleeves)
Added heavier hinges, gave the inside a coating of wax and rubbed some old oil paint and varnish on the outside.
Combining calligraphy practice with one of the mini watercolor palettes I've been creating. (Small tins and different kinds of oven baked and air dry clay) "Quin" stands for Quinacridone, a wonderfully vibrant pigment family.
I found the empty tin at the natural foods store, it is meant to hold homemade lip balm. I painted the colors on watercolor paper and glued and decoupaged the paper onto the lid.
Then I went a little overboard and made it all into a card...
Several others in progress. The little Altoids tins are great, and you can find all sorts of vintage tins at antique and junk stores. I've used Sculpey (which turns out nice and smooth, but it needs to be baked in the oven) and DAS, which is an air dry clay - it shrinks a little and has to be glued into the tin to keep it in place. A white glossy spray paint made for metal applied to the inside of the lid creates a nice white mixing surface (it helps to rough the surface up a little with fine steel wool first).
Took my mom's 1950's -ish Winsor Newton Watercolor palette camping with us on the Stillwater River a few weeks ago. Did some sketches by the river while Steve fished.
Still life sketch using pencil, a copic multiliner and some watercolors. The sketchbook is 6" x 4"