Wednesday, September 23, 2015

Hand-carved Stamps on Furniture

When we bought our house we inherited some pieces of furniture from the previous owners including the rustic shelves in the basement (shown below).  For twelve years now I have wanted to paint these shelves and I finally did it!  And not only did I paint them but I stamped them and added cupboard doors to the top shelf with matching stamped curtains!  Sometimes I get a vision in my head of what I want to do and come hell or high water I am going to do it.  This was one of those occasions. 

I began by priming and painting the shelves with a white semi-gloss.  While waiting for paint to dry I worked on coming up with a design in Illustrator.  (For those graphic designers out there I used the polar grid to draw the seven petaled flower and it worked great.)  After printing out the design I transferred it to the Safety-Kut carving material.

Next I carved my design into the Safety-Kut.

I then cut the designs out to form my individual stamps.

Below you can see I rolled out the paint onto plexi-glass and used my brayer to roll the paint onto my stamp.  I used the same acrylic semi-gloss paint that I used to paint the white base of the shelves and I had to keep rolling fairly often because the paint would start to dry if I let it go too long. 

As you can see below the stamp gives a rough effect.  I wasn't so sure I liked it in the beginning and was very nervous to continue. 

But after I added the blue leaves it started to look better. 

I also stamped fabric for the cupboard curtains.  I used cotton and it took the stamp beautifully.

The hard part was making sure I stamped my design to perfectly fit inside my cupboard windows.  I ended up drawing the windows in Illustrator to scale which then helped me figure out where to place my stamps.  Even though I meticulously measured and used my specially-made template, it took me about four times measuring and re-measuring out from the prints for me to end up with a rectangle with the same dimensions top and bottom.  I was ready to pull my hair out.  Then my bobbin thread ran out and I couldn't unscrew the sewing arm.  At times like that I start to question my sanity but I just keep pushing through. 

I had to be extra careful when sewing the curtains to allow enough room for dowel rod pockets.  I carefully measured around the dowel and gave myself extra for the seam.  I always carefully figure it all out on paper and then somehow reality is never quite the same.  This time, after I sewed the dowel rod pocket I had a little too much extra fabric and was worried you could see the extra seam through the fabric.  But luckily it stopped right above the window.  

I planned on hanging the dowel rods from cupboard hooks both at the top and bottom.  I was a bit frazzled after my sewing experience and was not very happy when I realized I didn't buy enough hooks.  And on top of that the drill broke.  So after another run to Home Depot I was super thankful that George attached the hinges, cupboard hooks and magnetic closures.  I also want to thank my neighbor John for giving me these doors.  They have been sitting in the basement for a decade waiting to be used for some project and it makes me super happy to finally use them.

Below you can see a close-up of the final shelves.  The shelves are still full of pock marks, old nail holes, hinge depressions, and gloppy paint but the painting and stamping has breathed new life into these old shelves.  When we attached the final door and stood back I was grinning from ear to ear.  

As you can see I went a little crazy with the stamping on the piece of furniture shown below.  This was another inherited piece from the previous owners.  Luckily I had painted it white years ago so all I had to do was stamp it.  If I had to do it again I would probably only stamp the top. 

I also ended up stamping a bench we have on the back porch.  It is dangerous to have a wet stamp in your hand!  You start to wander around the house looking for anything that might take a stamp!

I don't know why I started obsessing about painting the crappiest piece of furniture in the house.  I think I liked the idea of it being crappy because I wasn't afraid to ruin it.  I started off wanting to try rosemaling (the art of Scandinavian folk painting) and decided it would be easier to carve some stamps since I had all the tools from my printmaking projects.  Although I didn't know how the stamps would work on furniture it was a good experiment and I am happy with the rough-looking result.  This was also a test project because I would like to do some folk painting on our basement stairs.  Give me enough time and the whole house will be covered in joyful folk designs!

“Be brave enough to live creatively. The creative is the place where no one else has ever been. You have to leave the city of your comfort and go into the wilderness of your intuition. You cannot get there by bus, only by hard work, risking and by not quite knowing what you are doing. What you will discover will be wonderful: What you will discover is Yourself.”  ― Alan Alda

Tuesday, September 15, 2015

Wise Temple Sketch

A couple weekends ago a small but intrepid group from the Cincinnati Illustrators decided to brave the heat and sketch Wise Temple.  I first noticed the amazing architecture of this building when my dad and I sat on its steps and sketched City Hall a couple months ago.  The building is wrapped in two impressive lines of cornices and has two slender minarets with windows that make me wonder if a person can climb up and look out.  According to the website, the building was built in 1866 at a cost of $263,525 and is described as being built in a Byzantine-Moorish style.  From the photos on their website the interior is just as impressive as the outside, if not more-so. 

The architecture of downtown Cincinnati never ceases to amaze me and I don't think we will ever run out of interesting subjects to sketch.  You can see everyone's sketches here on the illustrator blog.

Tuesday, September 8, 2015

Maple Helicopter Block Print

I am so excited to finally share this print with you!  It has been over a year since I took a walk and came across these beautiful lime green maple helicopters in my neighbors yard.  I clearly remember looking down at the helicopters, being amazed at their perfect composition, and thinking that I would make a print of them some day.

I began working on this print three months ago and it has been quite a journey.  I knew it would be more difficult than my last print because I wanted to use color.  I decided I wanted to have the option of printing a background in a different color, but also not wanting to carve the background away after printing that color.  That meant I had to separate the background from the foreground and print them separately. Below you will see what I am talking about.

I began by sketching my subject to size.  The print is 26''x 30'' and I chose this size because that is the size of safety-kut's monster sheet.  (I wanted to work larger but I didn't want to tile it like last time.)

After finishing the sketch I transferred the image to the saftey-kut by laying it down and rubbing the back side with a credit card.  The image should be reversed as you can see below.

The next step was to carve the wavy background lines.  I forgot to take a photo of that part so you will have to imagine it.  I then cut the helicopter shape out from the background as you can see below.  Technically speaking this photo should be two photos down because I had to print the solid shape of the helicopters first.

Below you can see the wavy line background that was printed first.  Sometimes people will print the background and then carve it away but I wanted to have the option to change the color and to make prints with or without the background.

After letting the wavy background prints dry I printed the green background of the helicopters.  I use oil-based ink so it took at least a week for the first round to dry before I could move on to this step.  I also had to be VERY careful with my registration.  I knew it would not be easy so I tried to carve a little extra white space around the helicopters.

The final step was printing the helicopter detail on top of the green layer.  I was super nervous about my registration but it all worked out remarkably well!

Below is a video of me pulling a print.  Although it looks like I am doing it by myself my infinitely patient husband George helped me burnish and pull every single print.  I cannot even put into words how grateful I am for his help, support and love with this crazy printmaking project.  When I told him I wanted to print three colors and I had to cut the plate apart and we had to perfectly align everything he didn't even flinch!

As you can see below I made some prints with the wavy background and some without.  I also made some prints with and without color behind the helicopters.

I ended up with the four variations below.  The fourth option was made by painting one of the black and white prints with watercolor.

I had to wait two to three weeks for the final layer to dry.  I think it took so long because it was ink on top of ink.  And the very last step is to stamp all of the prints with my chop mark.  It is a bit nerve-wracking to stamp the prints after putting so much time and effort into them, but I think the chop adds a nice finished element to the whole piece.

Below are some close-up photos I took of the prints.  Sometimes I end up liking the photos as much as the prints.

The last two photos are close-ups of the watercolor version.  So far I only painted one this way and I liked the way I could control the gradients of the greens.

If you are interested in purchasing a print visit

Tuesday, September 1, 2015

Succulent Love - Echeveria elegans

Last week I was visiting my dad and was pleased at how the succulent pots I made him for Father's Day were doing.  I became especially intrigued by the flower above.  I believe it is Echeveria elegans and you can see the base of the plant in the left photo below (it is the blueish, pointy lotus-looking one).  The flower stalks were so long it was difficult to get the whole plant in one photo.

I love how the repetitive leaves and spent flowers look like the scales along a dragon's spine.  And the color combination of the dusty blue-greens and pinks with the orange interior is striking in the most lovely, soft way. 

As you can see above I made two pots.  I originally thought I would put all the plants in one but I ran out of room and ended up planting the Echeveria in a strawberry pot with the head of St. Francis.  St. Francis came back with me from a trip to Santa Fe one year and he must have worked his magic on the Echeveria plant because it produced two beautiful, long stalks with blooms.

I don't know the name of the plant below but I almost called this post, "Succulent Ombre" because of the gorgeous color gradations.  This plant was quite stunning also because it was about the size of a dinner plate.  If you know what it is please let me know in the comments.

The plant below was not the mother of these flower but I just couldn't resist including it. 

Below you can get a sense of how long the stalk was.  I would guess it was about two feet long.  Each individual flower was only about the size of a fingernail.

Each blog post I struggle to describe my delight with these small finds in a different way.  I found this quote and thought it was perfect:

"One way can be learned by starting to see the magic in everything. Sometimes it seems to be hiding but it is always there. The more we can see the magic in one thing, a tiny flower, a mango, someone we love, then the more we are able to see the magic in everything and in everyone. Where does the mango stop and the sky begin?" - Joshua Kadison