Thursday, January 27, 2011

Behind The Scenes.....

I'm in the midst of a new experiment this week.  I've had thoughts about doing this, swirling in my head for several months, not knowing if I really wanted to tackle it or not.  But, this week, I finally decided to take the plunge and delve in.  After all, I would never know if it would work or not until I tried, right?

Painting a needlepoint canvas is not an easy endeavor.  Among many factors, one has to make sure the paint consistency is right...thin, but still thick and on the creamy side.  One has to have the right most useful ones are worn out, short haired, with stiff stubby bristles, good for scrubbing the paint into the canvas.  'Scrubbing' is a technical term, in case you didn't realize!  Of course, nice pointy round brushes of various sizes are equally important, and the type of bristle is key on those too. They can't be too soft or too stiff.  And usually, my brushes have all the enamel paint chipped off the wood handles from sitting in my jar of rinse water a tad too long.  That said, I think that the deteriorated condition of the paint handles is also an important component as well!

The experiment I took upon this week was to create paper masks for all the design motifs in my  composition.  My normal way of painting this piece, (and the way I did the original) is to paint the design elements, and then paint in the background, carefully painting around each element.  This is painstakingly labor intensive, but necessary.  The idea of using paper masks and then painting in the background over the masks is something I learned about from the quilting world.  Quilt artists who paint fabric often use this technique, making masks out of freezer paper.  I have long wondered if it would work on needlepoint canvas.

First, I had to trace the components onto tracing paper and rough cut them out.  Next, I pinned them onto the matte side of freezer paper with tiny stainless quilting pins used for applique.  Then came the cutting out of the shapes with scissors and an exacto knife for the more detailed and delicate parts.  I spent several days tracing and cutting, tracing and cutting.  It was a nice change of pace, actually.

Today, I laid out my canvas on top of a sheet, on my bedroom carpet.  Then, I began to lay out all the masks in the proper positions.  As I would lay a few down, I took my steam iron on a hot setting, and ironed the paper to the canvas.  It adhered quite nicely, although I did have to go back over some of the pieces several times throughout the process.  Finally, after I got all the pieces ironed down, I took the canvas to my easel and hung it up.

I added additional paper to the sides to make sure all the canvas that I didn't want painted was covered and protected.  Next, I mixed my paint color for the background and attached a little bottle of it to my airbrush.  A note here about my airbrush:  A few years ago, we were having some remodeling done in our home.  Our carpenter was extremely interested in seeing me work on my needlepoint canvas painting, but he felt very sorry for me.   He was always trying to come up with ways to make the work easier and faster.  One day, he presented me with a cheap little airbrush he had bought at the hardware store.  I didn't have a compressor though, and couldn't use it or try it out.  He encouraged me to get one.

The carpenter's gift to me got me to thinking about purchasing a good airbrush system, and one day, I did!  It was expensive for sure, but I can't tell you how thrilled I have been to use it in many instances.  What previously would take me hours and hours can be accomplished in mere minutes.  That doesn't take into account the prep time it takes for these 'mere minutes' to occur, but I will say again, that I have been utterly thrilled with the time saving it has afforded me.

The above photo of cut out masks represents about 3 days of cutting...that is, working on it for 3 days, but not the whole days.  I think I can narrow it down to 2 if I stick to task.  But back to the next step of my experiment....

Today, as I mentioned, I ironed on all the paper masks.  By the time I finished, it was 5:00pm...the time I normally wind up my work and think about preparing supper for my husband and myself.  But, I was at a crucial point...I wanted to get the painting done while the masks were adhered to the canvas.  I was unsure how long they would stay put!  So...I flipped the switch on my compressor, and pushed the trigger on my airbrush.  By darn, I had the background painted by 5:03pm!  Wahoo!  I knew it would be fast, but not that fast!  What a thrill indeed! 
There were a few glitches, but this was a learning curve for me.  When I removed the masks, guess what!  The paint went through each tiny pin hole that occurred when I pinned the tracing to the freezer paper.  I really didn't think that would happen but it did. 

That's ok though, because I know how to fix it.  I also know how to avoid this problem next time.  For me, my experiment was a total success.   I'm free'd up to paint all the details without worrying about filling in the fussy background.  Just thought I'd share!

Saturday, January 15, 2011

New Beginnings

The title of my blog entry has been applied to many situations.  For my purpose of using it here, it implies exciting stitching and other artistic endeavors to engage in this year.

I just returned from The National Needle Arts 2011 tradeshow in Long Beach, CA. where one always gets pumped up and inspired by the glorious array of new designs, colors, threads, stitching, and finishing techniques...all the very best work of designers in the industry.  It is nothing less than a treasure trove of all the things I love and can't get enough of!

I'm fortunate to be associated with Sundance Designs, my friends and colleagues of the past 20 years.  They have been supportive and helpful to me in every way, and I hope the feeling is mutual.  I travel with them, exhibit with them, and share adventures with them....some wild and crazy.   Dare I mention Cassie and I went chasing a robber down some alley ways?  No..I think I'll skip that one!

Instead, I'll just post some of my new designs which were introduced at the show.

Here is my latest fantasy chandelier.  This one is entitled:  The Mad Hatter's Chandelier.  It is a large piece:  24"X26" on 18 mesh.  Every time I design one of these, I DO want to start stitching on it.  This one is no exception.  Just imagine the possibilities for stitching fun!  And when I do stitch it...maybe not even completely stitched...I'm going to hang it over my turquoise side board in my informal dining room.  Maybe I'll arrange some special little tea pots and cups on a tray underneath.  Is that not a dear idea? 

Let me just insert here a word about stitching a painted canvas.  Part of the appeal and beauty of a painted canvas is that one does not have to cover the entire thing with stitches.  In fact, if you do, you might be covering up some of the best parts.  I suggest that one could just stitch a few items spectacularly with great materials and a few decorative stitches.  Then, rather than agonize over all the spaces to stitch, you have instead, just highlighted some of the more important and interesting features of the design.  Open stitches are particularly perfect for painted canvas work.  Take a class at your local shop with a teacher who can guide you, if you are hesitant to try it on your own.  Or, get a great new book like Sharon G's Needlepoint SENSE.  Really, truly, as Ruth Schmuff says, "This is NOT your grandmother's needlepoint!"

As further proof of that, here are my 6 inch Miniature Collectible Shoes, all needlepointed.  They have been residing for the past year or so in Cinderella's Closet, exclusively at The Needle Nook of La Jolla as part of a canvas of the month club series.  (Thank You Needle Nook of LJ for hosting my shoes and sharing them with your internet and local customers!)  Now they will be distributed by Sundance Designs, and I've renamed them as a 'new beginning' for them. 

                                                                    Winter Slippers

                                                           Valentine Dancing Shoes

                                                              St. Patrick's Day Shoes
                                                              Spring Flowers Shoes
                                                              The Early Bird Shoes

   I have to show you the heel of this is a brass wire tree!

                                                                Beautiful Bees Shoe
 (ok..we don't like bee stings, but we love the bee motif, don't we?
There's just something endearing about the busy little bee!)
 A closeup view of a 'flying bee' hovering on DMC memory wire!

I have a couple other new designs which were introduced, but in my haste to get them finished for market, I didn't photograph them.  I'll save those for my next entry.  In the mean time, I hope you are all inspired to begin anew with fresh ideas and projects in your stitching life.  And don't can never have too many!