Who’s Up for an Art Supply Challenge?

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.

Art supply challenge
An art supply challenge can make you a more confident and well-rounded artist.

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.

Starting an art supply challenge with a collage layer
Keeping an art supply challenge simple ensures you won’t feel overwhelmed.

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:

Using molding paste with a stencil
Using molding paste with a stencil ensures instant texture and pattern.

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.

Using a texture tool with molding paste
Texture tools work great with molding paste.

Here I applied the paste randomly with a palette knife, roughly spackling it on:

Using molding paste with a palette knife
Working in a series for an art supply challenge allows you to try a variety of techniques.

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.

Dripping acrylic ink
Dripping ink creates beautiful random patterns and layers of color.

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.

Ink dripped onto collages
Gray ink, in addition to other colors, was dripped onto each collage.

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.

Layered drips of acrylic ink
The randomness of ink lends an organic look to artwork.

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.

Water-soluble crayon added for shading and depth.
Water-soluble crayons are great for adding shading and depth.

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.

Results from an art supply challenge
I’m already planning my next art supply challenge. Pastels, I’m looking in your direction.

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.

Pressing lightweight molding paste into a silicone mold
When doing an art supply challenge, see how far your materials will go!

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.

Painted molded embellishment made from lightweight molding paste
A little paint and this embellishment is ready to go.

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!

Cloth Paper Scissors Art Lessons 2014 Collection Supply Stash by Jane Davenport
Before you start your art supply challenge, let Jane Davenport take you on a guided tour of tons of mixed-media supplies in her Supply Stash Collector’s Edition Art Lessons.
The Mixed Media Handbook by Kimberly Santiago
The MIxed Media Handbook eBook by Kimberly Santiago is a must for understanding your supplies and how to use them.
Cloth Paper Scissors Art Lessons Volume 11: Adding Dimension with Fiber Paste and Paper Clay by Darlene Olivia McElroy
Discover exciting ways to add dimension to artwork with Fiber Paste and Paper Clay in Art Lessons Volume 11 by Darlene Olivia McElroy.


Blog, Mixed-Media Techniques

One thought on “Who’s Up for an Art Supply Challenge?

  1. Thank you for this great demo, Jeannine! I love the images you created and the methods you use. I, too, have SO MANY supplies that I don’t use on a regular basis (and are pretty much forgotten unless I do a deep dive into my stash for some reason). You’ve inspired me to start a new intention: start every new project with two supplies I’ve neglected. I also like to keep more than one project going at a time–sometimes because I just get stuck in the middle and can’t figure out what to do next, so I put it aside for later and fresh eyes. Now I’ll go back to take a look at them to see if I might continue the process with a tool or supply I hadn’t considered before. Great content, CPS!


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