Saturday, December 18, 2010

One

"Two can be as bad as one...it's the loneliest number since the number one."  (Harry Nilsson)


There is no perfect season for difficult choices but winter is a good time to reflect and plan and look forward to a new year and new beginnings.

Wishing you all a wonderful holiday season. 

Thursday, November 18, 2010

I don't want to lose you...

Birch, 8x10, Encaustic on cradled board
...so I hope you'll be patient with my absence for a little while.  Life is complicated but I'll be back as soon as I can.

Sunday, October 31, 2010

Encaustic Garden Party

I recently discovered a Canadian shop on Etsy that makes and sells beautiful encaustic paints.  The Bees Knees is located in Ontario.   My first order arrived this week so I squeezed in some time to play yesterday.

Just a few of the luscious colours the Bees Knees carries.
 I use a warming tray that I picked up at Valu Village for $3.99 and melt the paints in a muffin tin.  This electric tray doesn't have variable settings but I checked and it keeps the melted wax at close to 200 degrees F.  The muffin tin fits perfectly on the surface and it's nice and stable.

Melting down the encaustic paints
For my support, I like the cradled wood panels that I can purchase from Opus Framing and Art, a supplier in Vancouver, BC.  These panels are also made from a readily renewable resource, as the hardwood is from the fast growing Paulownia tree. The Paulownia tree can grow from 10 to 20 feet in a season — an entire tree can even regrow in one season after being severely cut back.  The panels come in a variety of sizes and depths.  They also carry great front loading wood frames in black that compliment the encaustic paintings very well.

I like to finish the sides with acrylic paint so I cover them in blue painters tape while I complete the encaustic painting so I don't have to clean up drips later.
And here is my finished piece!  'Garden Party' is an expression of the happy feeling of celebration I get whenever I look at my beautiful summer flowers.

Garden Party, 6x6", encaustic on cradled board

Monday, October 11, 2010

Form or Function?

I have spent the past week, and most of this long weekend, trying to restore order to my studio.  After several months of preparing for a group show as well as creating work for our artisan cooperative, my space was in drastic need of an overhaul.  But what could I do to keep it from getting into this state again?

I want my creative space to look nice but I want it to work for me.  So I had to address some issues.

Do I really need all this stuff or can I let some of it go?  Yes, I need it.  No, I'm keeping all of it!!
Can I finish one project before starting on another one?  Not likely.  One idea always leads to another and usually in a completely different medium.
Will I put everything away from one project before starting on another?  Well, let's see...I'm over half a century old and I haven't trained myself to do this yet...so I have to say, probably not!

It's pretty clear that, in my case, function overrules form.  For form to be the primary consideration, one should be able to actually see the aesthetically pleasing arrangement.  So, in consideration of my rather chaotic style of working, I have reorganized my space for function.

Art Zone

Everything in my art zone is now within easy reach, including all of my different collage elements, paints, printing supplies, and mediums.  The smaller desk is dedicated to encaustic painting since the plugs for the elements, stylus and heat gun are right there.

Encaustic painting area
I liked the flow of the room better before without the rather large cubby unit dissecting the room but, in order to have all of my supplies at hand, it had to be.


I wasn't really keen about adding a table for sewing between the armoire and the bookcase because it's a small area but, I knew if I relied on using my painting table to sew at, it wouldn't happen.  My mom sewed at this table for many years and when it comes to sewing, I could use some of her good karma.


The rest of the studio should function better now that it won't be heaped with the piles that needed a temporary home when I had to clear space on the art table.  So that's the theory.  Now for the practice!

Sunday, October 10, 2010

I saved my paint brush!

The other day I discovered that I had left my favourite #8 bright on the table in my studio covered in a big glob of  hardened burnt umber acrylic paint!  I should have taken a 'before' picture.

This brush belonged to my daughter-in-law's grandfather and she gave it to me so I was really sad when I thought I had ruined it.  I put it to soak in some rubbing alcohol over night to try to dissolve the acrylic paint and it worked!  It broke it down enough that with the help of some mild handmade soap and a nailbrush, I was able to remove all but a slight stain left from the paint.

This is a really cool new "team" idea on Etsy!

Dottyral from Etsy came up with a fun idea for a team that exists just to create treasuries and promote shops.  The challenge is to use a predetermined inspiration item to create your treasury.  The winner gets to choose the inspiration for the next challenge from their shop so that item then appears in everyone's treasuries. 

The first inspiration item will be chosen from the comments on October 13th.  See Dotty's post for the guidelines for participation. 

Sunday, September 19, 2010

Follow the Sun

Encaustic painting offers the perfect opportunity for control freaks like myself to let go.


Follow the Sun - Encaustic on cradled board - 11x14


As I learn more about ways to control the medium, I also find myself working out ways to to let the paint do what it wants to do to take advantage of its special qualities.  If I want a painting with perfect control, I can use my acrylics or oils.  I want something different from my encaustic paintings.

Monday, September 6, 2010

Beautiful Body Butter

This is my own special recipe for a really delightful body butter.


The ingredients can be varied according to your personal tastes and skin care requirements.  Just stick to the amount of beeswax called for and the same proportions of solids and liquids.  Add your own special blend of pure essential oils for natural fragrance and special skin care properties.


Body Butter Ingredients  (this recipe makes about 31/2 - 4 cups):

225 gm solid fats (cocoa butter, shea nut butter, mango butter, etc.)
50 gm pure natural beeswax
250 gm liquid oils (olive oil, jojoba oil, sweet almond oil, avocado oil - there are so many to choose from)
5 ml Vitamin E oil
Optional:  5-10 ml pure essential oils (depends on how strong you like your fragrance)


Melt your beeswax and fats (except the vit E oil and pure essential oils) together in a double boiler.  When they are melted, add the Vit E oil and pure essential oils.



Pour your melted fats into a bowl and let cool until the mix starts to solidify.  If your room is very warm, you can put the mix into the fridge.  Don't let it get too solid or you'll end up with small lumps of solid fat in your body butter.  You can always remelt and start over.

I recommend setting the bowl in a large box or plastic bin to whip so you don't get fat everywhere.  When the mix holds it's shape but the peaks aren't too stiff, spoon into containers.  Tap the container on the counter lightly to settle out air pockets.  Cover with a lid, store in a cool place, and enjoy!


Paired together with a lip balm, this makes a luxurious gift for someone special!

Friday, September 3, 2010

Sun Worshiper (Encaustic)

Once again, the road in my journey was twisting and winding so I got a bit lost but then found myself somewhere I liked better than my originally planned destination.

Sun Worshiper - Mixed Media Encaustic -12x12 on cradled board
 This is a mixed media piece using both encaustic and oil stick.  It was a challenge to both let go and keep control.  I think in my next painting I'm going to drop the control part and see what happens.

Our New Artisan Centre

We have moved to our new location!

Lakes Artisan Centre, 586 Highway 16, Burns Lake, BC
On June 1st, a group of Lakes District artists and artisans joined together in a spirit of cooperation to open an artisan centre on main street.  After a 3 month trial period, and encouraged by local community support, we are taking the next step and forming a cooperative.  This beautiful building is our new home.

I am very excited to be a part of this group and look forward to the year ahead. For more pictures,  information and updates on what's happening at the centre, please become a fan of our Facebook page.

Monday, August 30, 2010

Melange Team on You Tube

Melange Team member Indira, from Dharma Karma Arts, puts together a monthly You Tube video of members' work.  Lots of diversity in this little group!

Altered Art Upcycled Glass Jar by Whyte

If you have a spare minute, we'd be thrilled if you would check it out and leave a comment.

Saturday, August 28, 2010

Trying Out Photo Transfers with Encaustic

This was another new technique for me with encaustic.  Actually I tried out a couple of new techniques in these two pieces.

Yawn of Fire - 6x8" Encaustic on cradled board


I had copies made of my poppy photos on a colour copier at the local stationery store.  The transfer is done by burnishing the photo, right side down, on to the warm wax.   After carefully removing the paper by gently rubbing with my fingertips and water and letting it dry, I heat fused the transfer to the layer of wax below.  This part is tricky because if you over do it, the toner dissolves away in the wax.

Papaver - 6x8" Encaustic on cradled board
Another technique I used in these two pieces was leaf printing.  After painting on a couple of layers of encaustic paint and fusing them to the layer below, I used poppy leaves to make impressions into the warm wax.  After painting over the leaves with another colour of encaustic paint and then fusing that layer, I removed the leaves from the still warm wax and then carefully fused the leaf prints.  Both pieces are embellished with poppy centres that I had pressed and dried in the spring.

Monday, August 23, 2010

Melange Team Monthly Challenge (Rain)

This month's challenge prompt on the Melange Team blog is "Rain."  My ideas for this one were as dried up as our forests right now but while creating a different piece yesterday, this one evolved.

MacArthur Park - Encaustic Mixed Media - 8x8 cradled board

This is my favourite encaustic painting so far.  I want to sing MacArthur Park every time I look at it but hopefully I get that out of my system before I show it anywhere!

Sunday, August 22, 2010

Binta Fire (Encaustic)

For most of August we have been plagued with the constant smoke from fires to the west and east of us.  The sun in late afternoon and early evening was often a blazing ball of red.

Binta Fire - Encaustic  on cradled board - 12x12    
Encaustic was a natural choice for this painting, both for its association to heat and fire and for its unpredictable nature.

Wednesday, August 18, 2010

Maids and Music (More Encaustic)

I found an old set of photo prints of famous paintings at an antique mall last spring.  Most of the prints were missing from the set and the remaining ones are brittle and foxing.  I used one in 'Playmates' a few days ago (John S. Sargent's Carnation, Lily, Lily, Rose).  I really liked the way the encaustic medium made the image translucent and brought out the sepia tones in it so I tried another one yesterday.  In this piece, Maids and Music, I used the print of The Golden Stairs by Sir Edward Burne-Jones.

Encaustic collage. 8x10 on cradled board.         
I included music, a decorative strip cut from kraft paper and lightly touched with gold pigment ink, mulberry paper with a gold pattern, a Japanese maple leaf and Love-in-a-mist blossom, and burnt umber encaustic paint.  The layers of encaustic medium give the piece a dreamy quality and some depth so it's like looking into the past.

Sunday, August 15, 2010

Another Day...the same painting...sort of

Today I touched up the piece I started on Friday.  I think I went a little far.  I do prefer the end result though.

Before






After (Playmates)
I haven't figured out how to do encaustics and keep my space tidy.  Who am I kidding?  I haven't figured out how to do anything and keep my space tidy.  It's just not in my nature.  But this is pretty bad, even for me.  I have wax everywhere.


Friday, August 13, 2010

Encaustic Day 3, still having fun...

...but I have to admit, I'm a wee bit frustrated, too.  The learning curve is climbing.  I would sure love a workshop right about now!

The first thing I did was 'fix' my Dream piece from yesterday.  I could see that the balance wasn't right as soon as I posted it so here are the before and after.



















This next piece is a mixed media collage.  It's not the piece I started out doing.  The gummy heap of wax from that effort is set aside for another day.  For this one  I used music, end paper from an old book, pressed flowers, handmade papers and a tjap impressed into the wax.  I coloured the incised lines with oil stick and wiped away the excess.  Clear encaustic medium was used on each  layer.


I can already see some changes I'd like to make but not today and maybe not at all.  We'll see.

Thursday, August 12, 2010

Playing with Fire

I am learning very quickly that encaustic is not an easy medium to master.  But it sure is exciting!  These two very different pieces each started out as sunsets.  They each changed direction dramatically after about 5 minutes.


Encaustic Collage ACEO - 2 1/2" x 3 1/2" - Dousing the Flame


Encaustic collage 8x10 on cradled board - Dream

Wednesday, August 11, 2010

Fun Day with Encaustic

This is definitely not a tutorial!  I just want to share my fun day in the studio playing with this really cool medium.


I took a class on craftedu.com from Glenda Bailey a few months ago and that got me started.  She does beautiful collages using encaustic medium.  I was inspired to create these five ACEOs for a Melange Team swap. 


So today I warmed up with a few more ACEOs and then I brought  out the colour!  While I was on holidays I used some of my hard earned art and craft sale money to buy some new encaustic paints.


They aren't cheap but a little goes a long way I discovered.  I also discovered that I need a better system!


"Storm" was today's creation.  6x8" on cradled board.  Can't wait to get started on the next one!

Sunday, August 1, 2010

How to Make Handmade Soap

I've been making my own soap for over 30 years, starting with the birth of my youngest child.  These were the back-to-the-land days and we had just bought our dream property, 80 acres with a very rustic old shack and a spectacular view.


We had no telephone and had to haul our water from a lake 3 miles away but we were so happy to have a place of our own.  We raised pigs, chickens, a couple of cows and 3 children there.  We hunted moose (one year it was me who bagged our moose), grouse and deer, caught fish, chopped wood, raised a garden and learned old-fashioned home arts with the help of my in-laws, our rural neighbours and some good books.


My first soaps were made with the lard and tallow I rendered from our pigs and cows.  I would grate it up to wash diapers in the old wringer/washer and delight in the fresh, clean smell of the sparkling white diapers coming off the clothes line.  Those really were my good old days.

Well, life has changed and so has my soap.  I still use only natural ingredients but no animal products.  My oils are all vegetable based and I use pure essential oils for their scent and beneficial properties.  The colours come from herbs, spices, or cosmetic grade clays.


The single best thing about making your own natural soaps is that you are in control of the ingredients that go into something you use on your skin every day.  Superfatting the soaps, leaving excess oil in the bars, adds further benefits to your skin.  The shelf  life of natural soaps is limited due to the absence of artificial preservatives but the trade off is worth it!  You can use natural preservatives with limited effect but 6-12 months is the normal shelf life for superfatted, natural soap.


Soap is a salt produced by combining an acid (the fatty acids in your oils) with an alkali (the sodium hydroxide) in solution through a chemical reaction called saponification.  In cold process soapmaking, glycerine is the byproduct but it remains in the soap adding its own beneficial properties to your natural soap.

Since each type of fat has its own unique molecular structure, different amounts of alkali are required to saponify different fats.  This is why you can't just arbitrarily substitute one fat for another. 


Making up your own soap recipes, taking into account the properties you want your soap to have, is the really fun part.   You can combine as many different oils as you wish as long as you adjust your sodium hydroxide accordingly.   Smaller test batches are a good idea when first trying out a new formula.  I love creating a sensuous new blend of pure essential oils and then picking a great name for my new creation.

I will list some resources for free lye calculators at the end of this post.  Using these calculators you can easily design your own unique soap formulae with the qualities that you desire, including the quantity of free fat you want the soap to contain.  I like to work with 5-6% superfatting but you can use more.  I don't recommend less.

SAFETY FIRST
Don't skip these important precautions.  Raw soap, and the sodium hydroxide used to make the soap, are extremely caustic.  They will burn holes in most surfaces including your skin, clothes and furnishings.  Before starting, always:
- wear safety goggles
- wear protective clothing such as a big old shirt that covers your other clothing and your arms
- wear long pants, shoes and socks (no open toes)
- wear latex or nitrile gloves
- cover all surfaces that may be damaged by spills, including flooring.  Be sure that there are no obstacles that you might trip over while handling caustic materials
- work in a well ventilated area
- do not allow children or pets in the room while soapmaking is taking place or when the raw soap is initially curing.
- familiarize yourself with treatment for ingestion or burns from lye before starting


Do not inhale fumes from the lye while mixing it with the water.  I recommend using a chemical respirator to handle caustic fumes but  here is the method I use, as suggested in my favourite soapmaking book.  Hold your breath and stir while adding the lye to the water (never add water to the lye as it will spit).  After the initial stir to keep the crystals from solidifying to the bottom of the bowl, leave the room to breathe, then return after a few minutes to finish stirring until the crystals have dissolved.  You'll see some little floaty bits that are not lye and will not affect your soap. 

Soapmaking is not recommended for children.  (Not recommended for adults with a limited attention span, either!).


SUPPLIES AND MATERIALS
Don't use the same tools that you use for soapmaking for food preparation.

Materials
- an accurate scale that weighs in grams.  Spring loaded kitchen scales are generally not accurate enough.  Measurements need to be precise.
- measuring spoons
- a candy thermometer
- plastic containers for weighing the fats, the lye, and the water
- a large mixing bowl - glass, ceramic or stainless steel
- a smaller stainless steel or glass bowl for mixing the lye
- a stainless steel or wooden spoon for stirring the lye
- a stainless steel pot for melting fats
- a plastic tub or cardbox box for setting your bowl in for mixing to contain some of the mess
- a hand held electric mixer (works so much better than a wooden spoon for mixing the soap)
- waxed butcher wrap for lining your mold (regular waxed paper is too flimsy)
- a wooden or pyrex mold - a 9x13 pyrex dish will work for a single batch (about 15 bars)
- blankets or towels to keep soap warm during the initial cure
- heavy cardboard or a board to cover the mold

The following two recipes each make about 15 regular sized bars of soap.

Supplies for a 6% superfatted Olive Oil Soap
The lather from this soap is very silky and fine and it's a lovely creamy colour.  It's beautiful as is so I don't add any colour or scent to my olive oil soap (also known as Castile soap for its origins in Spain).
-1200 gm pomace olive oil (not virgin or extra virgin)
-152.79 gm NaOH (sodium hydroxide = lye)
- 356.51 gm water (distilled water is recommended because of impurities in well or tap water)

Supplies for a 5% superfatted Vegetable Oil Soap
- 500 gm pomace olive oil
- 350 gm coconut oil
- 350 gm palm oil
- 174.99 gm NaOH (lye)
- 409 gm water
- 6 tsp (30 ml) pure essential oils (optional)
- natural colour (optional)

Instructions (These are basic instructions for all cold process soap.  I use the terms oil or fat interchangeably.)
 
1.  Line your soap mold with the waxed butcher wrap and set aside on a blanket or towel on a sturdy flat surface.


2.  Carefully weigh out your fats and melt them together in a stainless steel pot.  Don't forget to add on the weight of your container!


Set fat aside to cool to 100 degrees F.  Your ingredients have to be warm enough (I usually aim for 100 to 105 degrees F) to initiate the chemical reaction.  As the reaction continues, it generates its own heat so that even after the raw soap has been in the mold for several hours, it will be very hot. 

3.  While your fats/oils are heating, weigh out your water and pour it into a stainless steel or heavy glass bowl.

4.  Wearing gloves and goggles, weigh out your lye crystals.

5.  Slowly add your lye crystals to the water following the method and recommendations in the above safety precautions (very important!!)


The lye solution now needs to cool to 100 degrees F, while your fats are also cooling (as the lye reacts with the water, a lot of heat is generated).  Some reheating may be required if one or the other cools too much.


6.  When the temperature of both the fat and the lye are at 100 degrees F, set your large mixing bowl in the containment area (box or tub) and pour in the fats.  Wear gloves and goggles! While mixing on the low speed of your electric mixer, slowly pour the lye solution into the oil.  Continue mixing thoroughly (bottom, sides) at medium to high speed.


After 5 to 10 minutes usually,  the soap will have reached "the trace".  This means that it has thickened enough that if you drizzle a small amount back into the bowl, it will form a pudding-like trail on the surface.  Once you can see this trail, the soap is ready to be carefully poured into the mold.  If you are using pure essential oils and/or natural colour, mix them in thoroughly at the trace, before pouring into the mold.


7.  After pouring, cover the mold with heavy cardboard or a board, leaving a little opening for moisture to escape.  Cover with more blankets or towels and leave at room temperature for 24 hours.  The soap is kept warm with blankets in a warm room because if it cools too quickly and the reaction is cut short, your soap will be ruined.  You cannot use a soap that has not fully reacted as it will remain caustic. 

8.  After 24 hours, the soap should be fairly hard and can now be removed from the mold.  Remove the waxed paper and cut into bars.


9.  Stack the bars brick-style or on racks so that air can flow around the bars to finish curing for a minimum of 2 weeks before using; preferably 4-6 weeks.  As your soap continues to cure, it will get milder.   More water evaporates making the bars harder and longer lasting.  The trays that bedding plants come on in the spring work great and if you are doing several batches of soap at a time they can be staggered and stacked.

It is best to store soaps in a moderate, dry environment.  Continuous exposure to heat and moisture will cause the fats in the soap to break down and become rancid more quickly. 

I have given you enough information to get started but there is so much more to know.  I recommend further reading, especially if you plan to make soaps to sell.  Have fun!

Resources and Suppliers:

The Web is full of wonderful resources and generous people willing to share their knowledge.  Just put in a search for natural soapmaking and you'll be amazed at what you can find - recipes, packaging ideas, ideas for colour and design, and mold-making are just some of the many ideas you'll find.

I have a lot of books on natural soapmaking but I am recommending just one, The Soapmaker's Companion by Susan Miller Cavitch.  As far as I'm concerned, Ms. Cavitch is the guru of natural soapmaking and this book is very thorough, covering everything from the chemistry of soapmaking to trouble shooting.

Voyageur Soap and Candle (located in Surrey, BC, Canada)
Cranberry Lane (located in Port Coquitlam, BC, Canada) - has a free lye calculator
Majestic Mountain Sage (located in Nibley, Utah, USA) - has a free lye calculator