I had one of those days recently when I walked into my studio and thought, I need to shake things up with an art supply challenge. The same materials were showing up in my artwork again and again, and I was neglecting some that I was too tired/busy/lazy to haul out and work with. No more. The results? I got a lot more than I bargained for.
I kept the challenge simple: Feature two neglected supplies and a underused technique. The supplies were molding paste and acrylic ink, and the technique was working in a series. There are lots of imaginative ways to approach an art supply challenge: Write your supplies and techniques on slips of paper and pull them out at random. Put several supplies on a tray, close your eyes, and grab a few jars and bottles. Carolyn Dube created prompts on dice for a fun challenge, which you can read about in the article “Roll the Dice” in the November/December 2014 issue of Cloth Paper Scissors.
For my substrates I chose 4″ x 6″ pieces of 300 lb. watercolor paper, which is super hefty and can take a lot of moisture without buckling. I chose a few elements to use besides the ink and molding paste, which would give the artwork some cohesion: a photograph as a focal image, a piece of ephemera, a black and white stamp image taken from a book, a black Caran d’Ache Neocolor II crayon, and a white paint pen. With only a few components to start with, the collages came together quickly.
The molding paste layer came next. Molding paste (or modeling paste) comes in a variety of weights, textures, and hardnesses; I chose light (Golden Artist Colors brand) for its shorter dry time. This material lends itself to a number of creative techniques, and it’s incredibly fun to experiment with. In my desire to get reacquainted with it, I first used it with a stencil, pushing it through the design with a palette knife:
I applied some molding paste to another collage with a piece of cardboard trimmed with pinking shears, dragging the cardboard through the paste while it was still wet to create a wavy design.
Here I applied the paste randomly with a palette knife, roughly spackling it on:
The paste dried a semi-translucent white. I went over each piece with a little white gesso, choosing arbitrary spots and using a paintbrush and my fingers to apply it. The gesso helped integrate the photos to the background, and added a little more interest. I could already tell that each application of the molding paste added so much great texture and pattern. This art supply challenge was getting fun.
Quick tip: Let the paste dry at least overnight—24 hours is better. Weather conditions will affect the dry time.
Time for part two of this art supply challenge. Digging into my acrylic ink stash, I found Liquitex Ink! in Muted Pink and Vivid Lime Green, and Daler-Rowney FW Acrylic Artists Ink in Turquoise. Wanting a neutral gray-ish, I mixed all three colors together, diluted the mixture with water, and got something close. Using a paintbrush, I dripped the inks down the front of each piece, diluting some colors with water to get different gradations of color. My inspiration for this was Laly Mille’s beautiful abstract floral art journal spread in the March/April 2018 issue of Cloth Paper Scissors. Her technique makes her artwork so dreamy and ethereal, and I wanted to try to capture some of that feeling.
Seeing the results reminded me of how much I love working with acrylic ink. You can water down acrylic paint to the consistency of ink, but nothing gives you the beautiful transparency that inks do.
The colors layer so beautifully. You can’t really control ink, which is another reason why I like working with it. Unpredictability can be a good thing.
I then began the push and pull of adding and subtracting color with the inks, and adding depth and design elements with the crayon and paint pen.
This is often when artists smash head-on with the hot mess stage of their artwork. I liked what I had done so far, so I thought I’d be able to avoid that dreaded phase. Not so much. The collage with the photograph of the tree started to go off the rails, becoming too busy and lacking contrast. I put it aside for a while, went back to it, knocked back some of the busyness with white paint, added back the strip of sheet music that had gotten lost, and created a dark border with the crayon.
Other unifying elements were added, including spattered white and dark gray paint, and circles printed with a paint tube lid dipped in white paint (a favorite technique I learned from Dina Wakley). As I worked on the pieces I recalled Seth Apter’s sage advice not to get too caught up on a single layer, and to not be afraid to push your artwork by adding another layer or trying another technique. That might just be when the magic happens.
This challenge was one of the best things I’ve done for myself and my artwork in a really long time. Rediscovering some fantastic art supplies pushed me in new directions, and working in a series allowed me to practice techniques, giving me a chance to try a variation or repeat something I really liked.
Here’s a little bonus: You can make molded embellishments with molding paste! I pressed some paste into a Prima Marketing IOD Vintage Art Decor Mould and leveled it with a gift card.
When it was dry (this took a couple of days) I eased it out of the silicone mold, painted it with acrylic paint, then hit the highlights with some Prima Finnabair Art Alchemy Metallique wax rub in Aged Brass. A small vintage metal button was glued into the center. The piece is extremely lightweight and flexible, and would work well as a decoration on a book, collage, or tag.
What’s in your stash that you haven’t used in a while? Maybe it’s time to set up a mixed-media art supply challenge for yourself.
Read Robyn McClendon’s fascinating story of how she created a collage-a-day challenge in this Technique Tuesday post!