ArtResin and My Tiny Cameo Process

Okay, so who *doesn’t* love tiny handmade things? (This blog post probably isn’t for you.)

If you’ve ever wondered how my tiny cameos come into existence, you are definitely in the right place! In this post I will be talking about my process for the frames and paintings that go in them, from designing and sculpting to the finished little treasures that I never want to let go of! Bare with me here, as the actual process bit is a little long.

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Before I begin, I would like to thank ArtResin who has graciously sent me a kit to write my post with. I currently use their resin exclusively for my pieces, as through many trials and errors with other brands I’ve found it’s the easiest, most predictable resin to use that has a super clean finish, and blends really well with colors.

These little guys have been a passion project of mine for the last five years or so. I was inspired by Mab Graves and her miniature paintings, as well as a gothic jewelry line called Dahlia Deranged that has rather large cameos with little resin skulls and bugs on them. My first few frames were fairly crude, but I’ve never been much of a sculptor so I was happy with them none the less. I also didn’t know how to go about encasing them when they were finished, so they were left with a thick coat of varnish and that was that. The beginnings were very humble, but most things seem to start that way.

I had stopped working on them for a while, feeling discouraged with my skill and the fact that there wasn’t much interest in them yet. But perseverance pays off! With a lot of practice and patience my sculpting and painting have improved, and now I can say I really do love these cameos. Don’t ever let skill discourage you, it’s something that you can fix with time and energy!

Now, to the good part! How they’re made:

To start, I like to sketch up little ideas for the frames. I use a lot of vintage cameo frames as inspiration, but as I am a little more weird I also tend to add a Tim Burton-esque feel to them. When I am happy with the sketch I move straight to sculpting. I used to use sculpey clay, but I found that it shrank during the curing process a little and that would mess up my final painting dimensions, so I switched to using monster clay. It can be weird to work with at first since you have to heat it up to soften it and work, but it’s actually really great to use.

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When I’m ready to make my mold I like to spray a light coat of varnish on the clay, just to ensure nothing weird happens with the clay and the silicone. From what I gather it would be fine to use monster clay without varnish to make molds, but I like to be extra. I use old legos to build a little rectangle wall around the cameo about 2″ taller than the cameo to ensure I get a deep enough mold. For silicone I generally use oomoo 30 as it’s one of the more inexpensive and easy silicones to use and I don’t put super heavy use on them. I can get a solid amount of casts out of the mold before it starts to deteriorate. As always, when pouring stuff I like to go for the high and slow method that produces a thin stream of product to reduce bubbles.

After the molds are set (I like to take out the original the next day, then let them sit for another day just to be sure it’s really cured well), it’s time to cast!

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Casting with ArtResin is super easy. It uses a 50/50 ratio of resin and hardener and has a lovely, slightly thick consistency. To prep the molds I use a mold release spray (the resin can stick to the mold a little otherwise, making it hard to pull them out, this can really ruin molds fast!) as the instructions on the can say. Then, I use a metallic powder and dust the inside of the mold. I like to be fairly generous but make sure there’s nothing loose in there afterwards.

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I’ll mix up the resin usually right before I dust the molds with the powder, so after mixing it has time to sit for a minute and start doing it’s thing. To get the black I like I use a resin specific color additive, and literally only put like 2-3 drops in the resin part for a nice, opaque black. Do this before mixing in the hardener! I also like to listen to music when I mix, because I try to stir the resin and hardener together for the duration of a song to really make sure it’s all blended well. Badly blended resin can be a sticky disaster.

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Once again, to pour I try to have a slow, high, small stream to reduce bubbles. I pour enough resin in each mold so it’s exactly level with the top of the mold, maybe a *hair* more, as with ArtResin it really sticks together well and doesn’t tend to run a lot. Sometimes I overfill too much, but as long as there’s enough resin for all the cameos I’m casting I’m not usually concerned about that, and just clean up the overflow as it happens.

After 24 hours of cure time, we have little cameos! I gently break the seal around the edges first, then carefully pull them out. Sometimes the edges aren’t entirely clean, so I use a dremel with a little sanding bit on it to smooth them out. Use a mask if you do this, resin particles are no good for your lungs!

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Assembly time! To assemble the final pieces I usually save up a few paintings, as it’s easier to do a few at a time than just one. I’ll cut the paintings to size, then pick which cameos I think will look best with them color and theme wise. This is one of my favorite parts, to watch all the work come together is really magical!

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I use an epoxy glue to adhere the paintings to the cameos, and once that’s dry (usually over night) I’ll then make up a batch of clear resin to pour over the top. Make sure your paintings are sealed well, because weird things can happen with the pigments if not! I like to try to get a nice dome effect with the clear coat, so my cameos all have a little bit of a lip to hold the resin in. Once poured, one of the most satisfying parts happens. Usually the resin has lots of little bubbles in it, so I take a little kitchen torch to them (just barely kissing the surface), and they almost instantly disappear! It’s really addicting to watch.

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Once that layer cures, they’re all done! Now we have lovely little cameos to share with the world.

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If you made it this far, thank you for bearing with me through that! Whew! That was a lot of explanation.

Want to check out my current cameo selection? Look no further!

If you have any questions, I’d be happy to answer them! ūüôā

Thanks for reading!

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The Evolution of Tiny Tapestries

I seem to have slacked on my desires to post more art rantings and long winded descriptions of processes, but let’s see if I can’t resurrect it once more!

 

This is a topic I’ve been meaning to breach for a while now, my tiny tapestries!

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They were kind of an accidental idea to begin with, stemming from wanting to make patches of my work to sell as an extra on a booth table or what have you. As most of you probably know, I currently work at a screen printing shop, so it’s kind of a big part of my life working with printmaking. While I don’t really do a lot of creative work during the day, I’ve always wanted to marry my art and my work. It just kind of fit.

While I was brainstorming for this project, I had happened on a picture of a printed pennant with some crazy artwork on it, and I fell in love. So that afternoon I came home and made the first tapestry! It was a crude little thing, and I will forever treasure it in my closet.

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For the process, it’s fairly straightforward. I use 100% cotton fabric, and I start by cutting it into squares of 4 tapestries. I set up my screens to print four at a time to save screen space, as well as time (printing 4>1 at a time). I print the fronts and backs, and then take them home for assembly!

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Once home, I get back to the cutting board and cut everything out, fronts, backs, and the little tabby things (that’s a technical term, right?). I like to have everything cut out before I start sewing them because it’s SO much easier to piece work them together then doing one at a time. It sounds like this all is a lot of work (and when you’re doing 100+ it definitely is), but I’ve learned how to break it all up so it isn’t so bad to do.

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I’ve completed my largest project so far with these tapestries, all of the Zodiac signs! I’m hoping to eventually make larger, taller ones as well, and possibly even custom ones! I have a feeling these little guys are going to evolve a few more times into something more exciting.

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If you’d like to check them out, I have all twenty (yes, 20!) designs up in my etsy shop, and will be happily carrying them with me to the Mutton and Mead Ren Faire in June, and the Massachusetts Ren Faire in July! Huzzah!

A Bit of Process – Usurpers

img_2552It would seem that one of the most mystifying aspects of being an artist is “How did you make¬†that?”, and with good reason. For each artist it is a completely personal and variable matter, especially for different types of creators. While I can’t say the same for most artists, my process tends to be long and drawn out, but in the end it becomes worth it.

To explain a little of how I work, I’ve tried to document every step of the way for one of my most recent paintings ‘Usurpers’. Which is almost¬†ironic since the painting itself was actually only a small part of another, larger work and was meant only to be an exploratory piece to figure out how the hell I’m supposed to paint monkeys. Most of my time seems to be spent in some strange paint-ception loop lately.

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Sketchbook scribbles

All of my work as of the last two years starts in the sketchbook with a simple, messy thumbnail. Sometimes it can take a page or two of thumbnails to get the composition exactly right, but I was lucky with this painting and was happy with the first idea. There’s a general¬†triangle shaped composition¬†going on, which I enjoyed because it went with the concept of having many enslaved, but only one who rules. I reminisced about Egypt and the pyramids, so the composition works.

Once I have my composition, before I get into the ‘good stuff’, especially on subjects I don’t often use, I have a phase of drawing studies from random photo references.¬†For this particular piece I focused on the lilies and the monkeys, so I drew a lot of lilies and many monkeys, until I was satisfied that I could execute them confidently on the final drawing.¬†This would be the part where I start an exploratory piece such as this one if I really want to be thorough and make sure I can paint them the way I’d like as well. I often tend to do small¬†color studies at this point as well, especially if there isn’t a plan for an exploratory piece.

 

I’d like to take a moment here to emphasize the importance of preliminary work. I’ve learnt through the years and from some great teachers that the base of any excellent painting is having an excellent base. So if you spend the time to figure out your composition, and draw all the studies until your eyes bleed and it becomes boring (because that means you’re confident with it!), your final painting will thank you by being the best it can possibly be. While this might not apply to abstract art, as someone with an illustrative tendency it is crucial for everything to work as planned.

 

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My friend Bob likes to watch sometimes.

And now begins the ‘good stuff’! By this point most things are smooth sailing, and the final drawing begins. I like to typically start off with red erasable pencil to block everything in, then I slowly dig into the details and nitty-gritty of the drawing. I find it easier to erase and blend in stuff with the red pencil when shit goes wrong.

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Ignore the extra r in usurpers, I was tired.

After the red pencil comes graphite. This particular piece I started with graphite powder to quickly fill in the shadow areas and create some depth. This part is fairly straight forward, I just ‘paint’ the graphite powder on with an old crappy brush and use¬†a kneaded eraser to clean up any edges that I want to be more sharp.

When I’m in a real hurry sometimes I skip the graphite phase and just noodle the red pencil farther than I normally do, which saves some time. But as I said before, a solid base makes for a solid painting so I try to do this step as often as I can.

Typically all I really use is a mechanical pencil, an eraser pencil, a kneaded eraser (not shown), a blending stub, and the red pencil. I also have a mechanical pencil with red lead in it for those times where I refine the red drawing instead of using graphite for cleaner line work.

When I am satisfied with the final drawing, I move on to transfer it to watercolor paper with a light table, then I mount the paper with gesso¬†to either illustration board or a cradled wood panel depending on how I want to finish it (framed or not). Mounting the paper to something isn’t necessary, but it significantly reduces buckling and warping which is something that’s pretty important for me.

Once¬†the paper¬†is good and stuck to it’s stiffer counterpart, I then go over everything with pen and ink to clarify the line work and begin shading. I also like to add in some light ink washes to further begin the shaping of everything before I add color. It really helps on complicated pieces where I might accidentally put a shadow in the wrong spot if I’m not paying attention.

Finally! We have color! My favorite part of art is the painting in colors. It’s where everything comes together and breathes in life. I do color in stages, starting with the background and larger, light washes, then gradually becoming more saturated and adding in the darks. Typically the very last thing I do is add in highlights or details¬†with gouache. This particular piece was just slightly off-white highlights, but in some pieces I like to have whole objects like bugs or flowers painted in gouache, and I like to do that bit last to prevent any mishaps with the watercolor.

 

It can be a long, tedious process sometimes, but in the end it is all worth it. Generally speaking, on anything over 6″ dimensionally either way it takes me¬†a minimum of 10 hours of work. It can take upwards of 50 hours on even larger pieces! Usurpers was around 20 or so¬†hours from sketch to finished painting.

 

How do you paint? If you have any questions about my process, I’d love to hear them!