Ornamental Plaster Sculpting, Mural Painting, Faux Finishing, and Imaginative Interior Design.

Ornamental Plaster Sculpting, Mural Painting, Faux Finishing, and Imaginative Interior Design.
CLICK ON THE RABBIT ( yes, those are cabinets) TO SEE MY PORTFOLIO, AND LEARN MORE ABOUT MY SERVICES...theartofthehome.com

Thursday, September 3, 2015

Rather Magical Herb Jars (with instructions, if not actual spells)

You've seen these spice jars on the blog before, and I was sure I had posted instructions at some point, but I can't find 'em, so apparently that was one of those things I imagined so often, I actually thought I did it.  Anyway, since they are featured in a little spread of my kitchen in Faerie Magazine's autumn issue, which hits stores and mailboxes this week, I guess it's a good time to actually write that post.

These are pretty simple, but time consuming.  I made most of my set of 16 (so far) several years ago, inspired by the first Harry Potter book, to create some witchy whimsy in my kitchen.  Every few years I get around to adding another.  My friends Mary and Kit have both been after me to teach this as a class, so at our last (literally last, but that's a happy story for next week) Second Saturday Soup & Studio gathering, I pulled out the supplies. 

Mary getting serious about this project.  Mary is a seriously fine friend.  You know the type.  She never forgets a birthday; she always shows up for gatherings, and always brings food or a hostess gift; she often makes time to connect old friends with new ones; and she never bats an eye at those of us who don't quite manage to be so perfectly thoughtful.  She's also responsible for a weekly delivery of garden goodies appearing on my front porch all summer long.  I hope you have a Mary in your gathering of goddesses.
 The first step in creating these jars is to indulge yourself, and give in to the urge to buy gourmet goodies in interesting glass jars with metal lids.  Either that or live your inner Bond, James Bond, and consume daily dirty martinis, thereby accumulating appropriately sized jars.  You can always tell people they are maraschino cherry jars.  Wash the jars, removing all labels, and once dry, wipe them down well with denatured or rubbing alcohol.  I'm not sure if gin works as well, so maybe save that for the martinis...and maybe save the martinis for after you finish this project, as a steady hand is involved in places.

To paint these jars, I use Pebeo Porcelaine paints and outliners.  Pebeo makes several other paints, all packaged in the same type of bottle, so be sure to read the label.  Porcelaine used to be commonly sold at craft stores, but lately I've only been finding it at (Dick) Blick Art Materials.  If you cannot find them at your local art supply store, find them online by clicking here: Pebeo at Blick  Blick recommends soft natural brushes, like those used for water color.  I've had good results with brushes designed for decorative painting with acrylics, as well.  You will want a one half inch wide, flat one for covering large areas, and a few small flat and round tipped brushes for painting checks, dots, and small areas.

For my jars, I chose a mix of magical colors, including Olivine, Amber, Turquoise, Garnet Red (plummy magenta), Amethyst Purple, and white (for some labels), plus both black and gold outliners.   It does not work well to brush one color over another with these paints, so plan out your color placement in advance.  I mostly follow any lines molded or embossed into the jar, often adding an oval or a fancy shape for a label.  Brush strokes will show, but you can wash off and repaint until you are either satisfied, or give up.  I've played around with stippling and basket weave patterns, but in the grand scheme of things, it doesn't really matter.  People ooh and ah over my spice jars all the time, and if you look closely at all, every one is most definitely "perfectly imperfect".  

After the base colors are dry, details and letters can be added with the outliners.  Most of my detail work consists of scrolling combinations of S, C, Dot, and Comma strokes.  Just like in decorative painting, there's a bit of press-and-pull-and-lift action to this.  Practice on a tile or plate until you get the hang of it.  Again, until it's baked, this paint can be washed off of glass and ceramics.  On your jar, wipe off anything you don't love immediately, or you will likely wipe off your base color, as well.  

Allow your finished jar to cure for at least 24 hours, then bake the jars for 35 minutes at 300 degrees.

Now, for the lids...
 The lids are done by covering the metal jar lid with polymer clay, which you can get in any art or craft store.  There are various brands, including Sculpey, Fimo, and Premo.  I don't recommend the ones marked "Soft", but sometimes, that's all that is available.  By the same token, if you squeeze a package of clay, and it's rock hard, don't buy it.  You can easily reconstitute dried out clay, but if this is your first PC project, you don't need that hassle.  Clay that is too soft can be rolled out flat and laid on a sheet of copy paper for a few hours to blot out some of the oil, which will firm it up. 

If you want colors like mine, you will have to mix them.  My olive green, persimmon orange, dark raspberry, and peacock blue are very bright colors mixed with metallic gold.  I like my colors overripe, and with depth. You can also use a little black or a complimentary color blended in to mute or soften a color.  I mix little sample balls to figure out what works, then do my best to remember what I just did, to mix a big enough batch to cover a lid.

There are a few basic tricks and tools for working with this clay...
  • Most important:  Even if your clay is soft, knead it for a few minutes.  This wakes up its molecules and will make for a stronger finished product.  You can use your hands, or if you are going to get into polymer clay, buy a pasta machine and crank your clay through this, folding it in half and reinserting it multiple times.  
  • For this project, the only important tool to buy is a tissue blade.  This is a thin, flat metal blade that makes very precise, clean cuts.  
  • The rest of my tools consist of a cheap little paring knife, a corsage pin, and a few nails with different sized heads, for which you can make polymer clay handles, as shown in the photo above.  
  • You will need to roll out your clay, so if you don't have a pasta machine (dedicated to clay), buy an acrylic rod roller, or find a 6' length of smooth 1" dowel or other cylindrical object.  
  • A little container of cornstarch and a soft brush to dust it on your work surface is going to be mecessary.  
  • I use a plain 12 inch ceramic tile as a working and baking surface.  You can work on your table top, and bake on an old ceramic plate.

To cover the lid,  dust your surface with cornstarch, roll out a thin sheet if clay, lay your lid on it, and cut around it, leaving enough overlap to cover the sides.  Carefully lift the clay up, turn it over, and starting in the center, press the clay down, easing air bubbles out the edges.  Prick any remaining air bubbles with a pin, press out the air, and gently feather the pin hole closed with your fingertip.  Then ease the edges into place and smooth them, wrapping them just around.  Use your tissue blade to cleanly cut the clay flush with the bottom edge of the lid, then use your fingers to feather the clay to the metal.  You don't want a bulky lip down here.

All smoothed, and ready to flip over and trim flush with the lid, using the tissue blade.

To decorate the lid, you can use ropes, twisted ropes, balls, dots, teardrops, and anything else you desire, layered until it looks finished to you.  If your clay is too soft, these little bits will be sticky and especially the twisted ropes may not hold shape well.  If this happens to you, work on a piece of copy paper, to help blot out the excess oil, leaving things there for a bit, if it gets frustrating.  I forgot to tell Mary this, and she did have a booger of a time getting a twisted rope to come out nicely, and finally gave up.  Not until I was proofing this post did I remember Maureen or Renee Carlson teaching me this.  Oops.  Sorry Mary, darlin'.

On my thyme jar I did use a plain rope, pressing a nailhead into it to create the scallop effect.  Mary used this technique on her jar, too.  If you are doing a directional design, or putting a letter on the top, gently screw the lid onto the jar, to be sure your placement will line up with the front of your jar.  Once you determine and discreetly mark your center front spot, take the lid off to finish working on it.  Otherwise, you risk squishing your finished work, trying to take the lid off for baking.  I probably remembered to do this on at least one of the fifteen I've made.  The most important thing in decorating the top is to be sure your little bits are pressed in firmly enough to stay stuck after baking, when the lid is handled.

Bake your finished lids according to the manufacturer's directions, adding about ten minutes to the baking time.  If you've mixed brands and types, you'll probably find there are different temperatures listed.  Use the highest temperature, usually 285 degrees. 

Your Rather Magical Herb Jars are fully washable, by hand.  I occasionally take an old toothbrush gently to the tops of mine, to get any cooking crud out of the crevices.  Some of these are at least fifteen years old, and have held up just fine.  I use a lot of herbs in my every day cooking, which is why I needed larger than normal jars to hold the spices I buy in bulk, so I can safely say this is one well-tested project.

If you want to learn more about working with polymer clay, my teacher, mentor, and Gatekeeper to the World of Polymer Clay is Maureen Carlson.  You can find her books, molds, and more at Maureencarlson.com.  Sign up for her newsletter, follow her professional page on facebook, and look for her pins on Pinterest.   You can also check out Cynthia Tinapple's phenomenal blog, Polymer Clay Daily, polymerclaydaily.com, for an ongoing feed of inspiration from around the world.  Oh, and don't forget to order your subscription to Faerie Magazine, if you didn't find your way here by way of them, to begin with!

It's a magical world, and I lead a magical life, for which I am enormously grateful.  I hope you will check back next week for news on the newest chapter of my life, which I'm just beginning to write.  Big exciting changes are underway!  Wishing you hugs and happiness, and oodles of creatively fulfilling time spent doing whatever you love best.

The nice photo of all the jars at the top of this post is by Toni Fogarty, frontporchphotos.com.  The less than spectacular shots that follow are all mine.  Yes, it's beyond time for a decent camera, but for now, perfectly imperfect will have to be perfectly fine.  

Saturday, March 28, 2015

You Can Take it With You

One of the most unique techniques I do for customers is sculpting plaster, actually Italian paper clay, onto walls.  I've done variations of this over arched doorways and on column tops, above kitchen cabinets, spanning bay windows where curtains and pelmet aren't needed, and even tumbling across a master bedroom wall over a massive Tuscan bed.  I also have it in my own home, bordering my dining room in a gilded swag of fruits and leaves, and surrounding my bathroom mirror, in a slightly more Art Nouveau style.  I never get tired of the process of modeling these dimensional pictures.

In addition to the chickadee and hummingbird here, the panel has two more hummers in the vinery, and a dove at the base.  The dove was originally a rabbit, but it somehow wasn't quite right, and after a few hours of sleep, I awoke knowing it had to be a dove, so I scraped off the bunny and started over.  Since the circle starts there and the whole story comes back around to that point, and since Sharron is deeply spiritual, anchoring the piece with a dove not only looked right, it "felt" right. 
Recently, a woman who had seen the plaster in my bathroom during a tour of my home, asked if it had to be done on a wall.  Sharron really wanted something very much like what I have, but she's likely to downsize from the home in which she raised her children, to a condo, in a few years, and she wouldn't be willing to invest her heart and money in this, and then leave it behind.  Since I use paper clay for all kinds of art, I could tell her for certain that it is most certainly possible to do it on anything from wooden panels to plaster urns. (Look to the sidebar on this blog for the urn.)  That was all she needed to hear, and after I made a quick visit to her home to get a feel for her personal style, she gave an enthusiastic green light to my sketches, and the fun began.

Oh, wait, no, the fun did not exactly begin.  The process of creating a stable, arched, seven and one half foot tall panel began.  This is Minnesota, and it was February.  No possibility of doing woodworking outdoors.  No possibility of calling in my regular carpenter, as he was wisely on his annual Mexico vacation, and hadn't left me the key to his shop, which he'd have happily done, if he'd known I needed it.  No possibility of fitting this large a project in my tiny basement workshop, which is sized for things like picture frames and footstool repairs.  Nope, this one had to be built in that art room annex formerly known as my dining room.

Sure, I still serve dinner in this room, just not every day.  Note the gilded fruit border to either side of the doorway in which the panel leaned while I worked on it.  Same technique, different finish.
I can't claim this is totally unusual.  I often do quick bits of woodworking in here.  I don't usually do quite this much cutting, though, and by the time I'd jig-sawed out all the curved pieces, and there are more than meets the eye, as there's a 2-by structure backing the plywood face, I was really wishing I'd closed more doors, and hauled out some dust sheets.  It's not the end of my world, but let's just say my once every month or two dusting habit is not gettin' the job done these days. 

 So, once I had the panel built, I was able to start slinging paint.  Oh, wait, no, once I had the panel built, I got to spend a few days doing a gesso-like process of turning the grainy plywood into a smooth surface, using a mixture of primer and joint compound, and sanding it (oh, joy, more dust), repeatedly.  Then I got to start slinging paint.  The background color is made up of five shades of blue, ranging from periwinkle to teal, plus a little bit of dark purple and deep rose.  The palette was taken from favorite fabrics in Sharron's quilting stash.  

(Oooh, you might like to see her quilts, huh?  I'll see if I can get some pictures this weekend or next, and do a post on her!)

Instead of painting the color on the background with a brush, I troweled it on with a six inch taping knife, of the type used for drywall finishing, and an old credit card, of the type used for everything except actually purchasing things, plus a sponge, to soften and blend a bit, as needed.  It's a very imprecise wet-on-wet technique, and I work and rework it until I like it.  Sometimes it's quick, sometimes it takes awhile to "feel" finished.  Finally, with the background paint done, I could attach the face frame, and  begin sculpting.
In addition to this iris, the panel features delicate branches of wild rose blossoms and buds, and of course, a dandelion.  Why a dandelion?  Because.
People are often surprised to learn that this is not created on a table, allowed to dry, and then glued on,.  It isn't.  The modeling of the clay happens directly onto the wall or object.  Hmmm, instead of rewriting that whole technique though, let me go search the archives, and see if I can locate the post that shows it (now is the moment I regret witty blog post titles that don't actually say what the post is about)...  

Aha!  Here you go.  If you want to see how it gets sculpted wet onto a wall, a wooden panel, or whatever, click here:  sculpting scrolls, and to see that project completed, click here:  Peacocks and periwinkle  
The placement of the art high on the panel was so that it can be used as a headboard.  Sharron and I also planned for the  option of using it behind a dresser, or a demilune table.  The face frame was intentionally scaled to match the width of standard trim, so that depending on where it is placed, it can appear at first glance to be part of the original architecture of most any home.  Even the logistics of the future move were planned for during the design phase, so this piece is fully mobile.

Sculpting in paper clay is truly one of my favorite techniques, and this piece is most definitely my current favorite thing.  One of my other favorite things?  Finding a way for a client to have their heart's desire.  I so love saying "Yes!"

There's lots more in my portfolio of paint and plaster on my website, at theartofthehome.com, and of course, as you now know, if you see something you like, but you need it done a different way, just ask.  Best way to reach me is via email, here:  Just Ask

Wednesday, January 21, 2015

Build it yourself, Babycakes.

"To invent, you need a good imagination and a pile of junk." ~Thomas Edison 

    I've been meaning to put a sign on the basement door that says "Dragon's Stash", but maybe "Edison's Heap" would make more sense.  I mean, while there is a lot of jewel toned glass and several pounds of glitter neatly shelved down there, there's also one room devoted to salvaged furniture bits, old hardware, and scraps of trim, which I suppose no self-respecting dragon would be caught dead with, except as fire pit fodder.  I've tried thinning it out over the years, but it seems for every piece I give away or use, some friend brings me a replacement.  Sadly, I've never met an antique radio cabinet I didn't like, nor a vintage headboard that couldn't be repurposed.
What do you do when you're not quite 13, and you can't just go buy the desk you want?  You build it yourself, of course.  ArtGirl is also ToolGirl.
    Sometimes I even threaten to haul the lot up and put it on the curb with a FREE sign, but my Saturdays (the friends who come once a month to eat soup and raid my stash to make projects) cry out in not-so-mock horror, and I am rather too easily convinced that my curating this collection is a valuable service.  Hey, my favorite teenager thinks so.  She loves my basement, and really, why wouldn't she?  No matter what she wants to build, she always finds what she needs in my magic supply cupboard.  Take this desk, for example:
Everything is assembled with screws, and this photo, with the desk top and shelves removed for painting, pretty much shows everything you need to know for construction.  Just remember to use a square and pre-drill your screw holes.
    Faithie picked out a desk from Ikea for her bedroom, but after waiting a year for her parents to purchase it, she gave up and asked if we could just build one.  She drew a sketch of what she wanted, we talked about how it needed to function, revised the sketch, and raided the basement.  We came up with a storm door missing the window panel (That's because she used that as a door on the fort she built the summer before, which you can see if you CLICK HERE), a headboard, two pre-cut shelves, a pair of brackets, a scrap of chicken wire, and a 2x2 fence picket. 
    The top shelf is stationary, but the other small shelf can sit above the desktop to hold supplies, or slip down below to act as a book shelf.  Although hard to see in these photos, the open area of the door is filled with chicken wire, which makes a great bulletin board (CLICK HERE for another example of that).  Faithie's creation actually functions better than the Ikea desk would have, and fits into her bedroom better, and she especially likes the chicken wire bulletin board, as it doesn't block the mural she painted on her walls.

    Working with salvaged materials is such a great celebration of abundance, and a fabulous way to create really personal and functional items.  Even if you aren't 13, and can drive yourself to the mall, may I suggest you hit a few garage sales instead?  ArtGirl and I absolutely promise you that building stuff is way more fun than buying it.

How to find me:
Need wonderful walls to go with your clever creations?  Check out my portfolio at theartofthehome.com .
You can read my musings on spirituality and creativity on my other blog, Creative Soul.
If you have questions or comments you don't want to leave below, you can EMAIL me.
And, you can find me on facebook, and pinterest.