An ancient pottery technique interpreted with modern stamps

“Synchronicity” is having a field day with me these days – it seems as if everything I come across relates to something else I’m working on.

Case in point: I’ve been researching pottery shards (or “sherds,” as they are often called in archeological reports) found near a burial site near Olmos Basin and have discovered that some really beautiful versions of black-on-white designs existed in this area and farther west and north.

Flafstaff Black on White Bowl – Date Range: Kayenta Heartland: A.D. 1130-1230 (Christenson 1994), Flagstaff Region: A.D. 1140-1225

Tularosa Black and White

If you’re interested in the historical details, here’s an excerpt from a 1959 paper on the subject:

About this same time, it so happened that I was supposed to design a bowl for the Empty Bowls fundraiser that’s held every year for SAMMinistries (which helps the homeless).

When I saw those ancient black-and-white pot shards, I was totally inspired. I wanted make a bowl to pay homage to that work, but time was of the essence and I couldn’t spend many hours hand-painting the intricate designs.Then I remembered that I had purchased a Potter’s Stamp from Road Runner Clay last year.

I got out my flexible clay texture stamps and the Potter’s Pad. This works just like a regular stamp pad, but it contains an underglaze for clay surfaces.

You can use any craft stamp to apply the underglaze to bisqueware (clay that has been fired once, but not glazed). Once the piece has been stamped, clear glaze is put over the surface as a top coat, and the pot is fired again.

Here is my stamped bowl – not quite Anasazi, but it does have that look, with a contemporary twist. I also used an underglaze pencil to do some asemic writing on the first layer.

Bowl with Stamped Underglaze, Lyn Belisle

Here’s what the underside of the bowl looks like.

Several other artists in the San Antonio Art League also painted underglaze designs for the Empty Bowls fundraiser. They were gorgeous! These artists were braver than I was, and used colored underglaze, which really change when fired. Here are photos of Dona Walston’s bowl before and after firing.

BEFORE FIRING:

AFTER CLEAR GLAZE & FIRING:

Underglazes, whether painted or stamped, are a wonderful way for a painter to experiment with pottery!

I encourage everyone to come to the Empty Bowls Event on March 3rd at the SW School of Art.

And for a sneak preview, click on the video below with more bowl photos from SAALM artists.

SAALM & SAPG partner for EMPTY BOWLS 2019 from Lyn Belisle on Vimeo.

 

Screens and shelters as art

archaeological excavation shelter

screen panels of heavy paper and sticks

As part of my work with the “Unearthed” series, I’ve been working with panels of paper, wax, sticks and silk to construct three-dimensional sculptural objects that can be configured in different ways.

This has become a very exciting project for me, informed and inspired by shelters and screens for archaeological excavations as well as the idea of versatile art panels that can be viewed from many perspectives to conceal and reveal.

Here’s one that is almost finished. It is large, about four feet long and two feet high.

Lyn Belisle, Shelter Screen #1, 48″ x 36″ Paper, wax, silk, pigment, and sticks

This is a close-up of the surface of one of the panels – torn silk is adhered with beeswax to squares of archeological symbols printed on paper. It’s multilayered and complex. The surface is meant to suggest ancient shards and scraps that have been collected and stuck to experimental surfaces for further study.

Detail, “Shelter Screen #2”

Another great thing about working with these kinds of panels is that each panel has two sides. Here is the reverse side of that piece.

“Shelter Screen #2”, reverse side

The artwork can be displayed on a wall as a four-panel work, or it can be configured on a pedestal or table as a three-dimensional object.

Here is another Shelter Screen in the series that also has two different-sided surfaces. This one is slightly smaller, about 3.5′ long.

Lyn Belisle, “Shelter Screen #3”, Paper, wax, sticks, acrylic, pigment

The back of this screen features photos of one of my earthenware face shards in a series of altered photographs.

“Shelter Screen #3”, reverse side

And it can be hung, or folded or tied into a square with either side out!

Because I have very limited studio time these days with all of the Art League duties, I find that working with these shelter panels is like meditation. Each one that I construct is slightly different, and when they are stitched or hinged together, their possibilities are endless.

I love the way this process grounds me back to the basics of building. And the fact that they are inspired by archeological screen and shelters gives them a deeper meaning.

Here is my second “Unearthed” sculpture displayed in front of a Shelter Screen – they were obviously meant to be together!

It’s as if the past is reaching out into the present, giving me guidance. Maybe “Nine Antlers” has a hand in all of this!

“I held my breath as we do sometimes to stop time when something wonderful has touched us…” ~ Mary Oliver

RIP

 

Unearthed

“Unearthed”- Lyn Belisle – Mixed Media Sculpture – 18″x 8″x 6″- 2019

Much of my new work is influenced by the Archaeological Investigations report which describes the 1979-80 research and discovery of 13 Archaic period human burials removed from a prehistoric cemetery by Olmos Dam. The investigation provided important information on the cultural practices during that period among people who lived almost exactly where I live now.

I call this new sculpture “Unearthed because I deliberately followed a process by which the clay shards that I created were fired in pieces that would be assembled like an unearthed archaeological puzzle – I did not have a plan about how they would go together, but rather worked on instinct. I let the piece “tell” me how it wanted to be built.

Clay shard pieces at the bottom of the kiln

It was harder than I thought. First of all, engineering a stable form from diverse clay pieces was a challenge. I used a combination of wood, plaster gauze (a gift from Shannon Weber) and a product called Platinum Patch in a few places where stability was critical.

Creating in three dimensions means paying as much attention to the sides and back as the front. The back of the piece shows the intricate textures pressed into the clay shard.

Here’s a detail of the texture on the front. I really like the way the plaster gauze looks like aged fabric remains.

I actually created two heads for this piece and ended up using the larger one.

A large head suggests child-like proportions, while this body suggests armor, so the whole piece resembles an ancient child warrior. Again, when I started out, I had no idea what this creature wanted or how to get there, but — trust the process!

You’ll be able to see this guy (and more of my brand new 3-D work) at  St Mary’s University Library in February as part of the exhibition called  “Naturally Inspired: works by Sabra Booth, Lyn Belisle, Jesus Toro Martinez, and Tim McMeans.” 

It’s gonna be a creative new year!

Resolving to sell more of your art this year? How about Etsy?

“Earthshards,” my Etsy shop for small earthenware faces, reached a milestone in 2018.

I opened the shop in February of 2012 and made my first sale at 08:52 p.m. on Saturday, March 31st, 2012 to Andrea Veldhoff in Newark, Ohio – thanks, Andrea! (This is what she ordered – they are definitely “shards,” not complete faces.)

By December of 2012, I had sold 83 orders and earned $1500. That was so exciting!

Six years later, there’s even more exciting news – for the first time, in 2018, my annual Etsy revenue exceeded $10,000. Woohoo! Honestly, I didn’t set out with that goal in mind, but it’s a proud moment.

Last year I sold 466 orders to people all over the world and earned $10,239.74! That’s not exactly a living wage, but it’s a lot of little faces – and I am grateful to every buyer for finding me. I’m also grateful to Etsy for keeping all the stats on every order. They really make it easy and fun to track sales.

For example, here’s where some of those faces went:

Plus, I get fantastic pictures from buyers showing me how they use the faces – they inspire me!

Spirit doll photo from a creative buyer

Reaching this milestone just kind of crept up on me. Filling Etsy orders has become such a part of my routine that I don’t think about it much. I spend one or two days a month making a hundred or so faces and firing them, and then I custom-finish them as the orders come in.

I’ve learned what buyers like (full faces, open eyes, holes at the top) and I’ve learned to wrap the orders attractively and stamp the mailers with my logo. While I don’t really advertise, word of mouth and persistence has paid off.

So what?? This isn’t just patting myself on the back – it’s mostly to say that if your New Year’s Resolutions include getting your art out there in the new year, opening an Etsy shop is one way to do that.

Some tips:

Find a niche that relates to your own art style.

I was lucky. There were no other sellers making the small clay faces which I was also using in my own work. Now there are lots of small faces, but most of the sellers are using polymer or air dry clay and commercial molds.

Show how the buyer might use the artwork.

I was able to post photos of the faces being used in my Spirit Doll workshops so buyers could see how the faces might work for them. I also showed them as pendants and talismans.

Think about how you will ship your work

If you can come up with artworks that are variations of pieces that are all about the same size and weight, it’s a lot easier than trying to figure out how to wrap and ship a bunch of different sized pieces. For example, if you are making Day of the Dead milagro-embedded candles, keep them all the same size, but use different scents and colors. (Etsy creates downloadable shipping labels for you, so that part is easy).

Make sure you like doing it!

If you can’t stand scented oils that go into candles, don’t make those Day of the Dead candles even if you’re selling like crazy. You’ll start to hate it.

Be specific/original in your approach

Let’s say you’re a fiber artist who does needle felting – don’t open a needle-felted whatever shop. Narrow it down to small needle-felted pouches for your grandkids’ baby teeth. Well, maybe not THAT specific, but you get the idea.

Here are some good articles if you’re interested in thinking more about this . . .

The Most Successful Art-Related Etsy Shops – with advice

Tips from Three Successful Artists about Selling on Etsy

And finally, the Etsy site has great guides to opening your own shop!

The Etsy Seller’s Handbook

Thanks for reading SHARDS, and Happy (and prosperous) New Year!!

 

 

 

 

Art from 40 years ago – and a lesson about archival media

I just came across a portfolio of old mixed media drawings that I hadn’t seen in decades. The year was 1978. I was teaching art at MacArthur High School and working part-time as an illustrator.

Even though these nine pieces are 40 years old, I can still see my style in development – narrative work, limited palette, graphite. And there are lots of Jasper Johns and Larry Rivers influences, which I cherish today.

Each piece is fairly large, 18″x24″. The are done with Ebony pencil, watercolor, even spray paint. Most of the drawings are in good shape – however . . . .

This slideshow requires JavaScript.

One of my favorite pieces is the mixed media drawing titled “Delta Dawn,” from the Tanya Tucker song:

“She’s forty-one and her daddy still calls her “baby”
All the folks around Brownsville say she’s crazy
‘Cause she walks downtown with a suitcase in her hand
Looking for a mysterious dark-haired man. . .”

Unfortunately, I created this layered piece on manilla paper, which is made from wood fiber and is anything but archival – you can see on the left side how it’s crumbling and disintegrating.

More severe deterioration can be seen in this untitled piece of a mysterious guy floating on what appears to be a dream-catcher:

In 1978, I had no idea that I’d be looking at this work 40 years later, but I’ve certainly learned a lesson about archival paper! These days, we can photograph old works and “repair” them digitally, but it’s always a good idea to think ahead and use a substrate that will stand up to time.

Here is a great article on archival paper from Making a Mark blog – I wish I had read it 40 years ago. Oh, wait, there was no Internet back them . . . .

 

Holiday eye-candy – with fiber!

The 44th Annual Juried Fiber Arts Exhibition at SAY Si is a holiday treat for any art lover. It’s surprising, innovative, and inspiring. The theme, ‘All Things Possible in Fiber Art’, called on artists to explore boundaries beyond their normal comfort zones. All types of fiber art were eligible, including 3-D, free standing, and art-to-wear.

Juror Alana J Coates, a gallerist, educator, and curator who is academically trained in Art History, Museum Studies, and Nonprofit Leadership, made some intriguing choices for both inclusions and awards.The back-stories are important – read on.

First place went to fiber artist Kathy Puente for her piece titled Flight 1380, a hand-embroidered homage to the April 17, 2018 Southwest Airlines tragedy in which the plane’s left engine exploded after one of its fan blades broke off. A gust of shrapnel blew out a window, partly sucking one passenger in Row 14 headfirst into the sky.

Katy Puente, Flight 1380

Second place went to veteran artist and designer Caryl Gaubatz for her garment titled #MeToo. Subtle details like the uneven hemline with its metaphoric cutouts are clarified in the machine-embroidered dialog on sexual harassment contained in the fabric.

Caryl Gaubatz. #MeToo

It’s a meticulous art piece that requires close examination to fully appreciate its impact.

Detail, Caryl Gaubatz, #MeToo

And I’m happy to report that “Nine Antlers,” my piece inspired by the prehistoric archaeological remains of a young woman near Olmos Basin, won the Mixed Fiber Award.

Lyn Belisle, Nine Antlers

You can view the entire catalog here – food for thought, delights for the artistic spirit, inspiration for the new year.

The FASA 44th Annual Fiber Art Exhibit 2018 opened at SAY Si on December 7th, 2018 and will show until January 25th, 2019. The SAY Si Gallery is located at 1518 S. Alamo St., San Antonio, TX 78204.

Reindeer really know how to fly . . .

Rare Reindeer Feather ornament

Of course, reindeer have feathers – how else could they fly? Occasionally, you will find a few of these feathers stuck in trees or in a corner by your back door after Christmas. Collect them, and save them in a lucky ornament for your tree.

OK, well, that’s my story and I’m sticking to it. I’m always thinking up artistic projects to share with you (and any assorted kids). Here’s one that just (*eureka*) came to me when I saw some clear plastic ornament with removable tops that were on sale yesterday at Michaels. Get a few of these:

Top is removable, globe is unbreakable

The only other thing you will need is a feather duster (with reindeer feathers, of course – ahem), and a pair of small, sharp scissors. Dusters are available at most home stores.

Carefully take the top off the ornament. With small scissors, snip a 2-3″ feather tip.

Insert it into the top of the ornament. The natural curve of the feather will help it conform to the side of the ornament.

Keep adding feathers, turning the ornament so all sides have a bit of feather showing. You can use a toothpick to help poke them down if you need to.

Don’t overfill – there should be some clear airy space between the feathers.

This is such a pretty object – you don’t have to make these just for a Christmas tree. They would look lovely hanging in a window all year around.

During the holiday season, however,  they prove that “reindeer really know how to fly.” Right? <wink>

 

 

 

November? Vanished!

Eek! How the heck did it get to be December? I don’t think I posted one thing to SHARDS in November. Sure, there is always a lot going on at the San Antonio Art League where I work these days, and we did take a quick trip to Charleston, where I got to research South Carolina Indigo plantations, but still . . . shame on me for slacking.

The problem is that I always want to wait to post until something is finished, or new, or spectacular, but most of us just don’t produce like that. We squeeze in time for our art when we can, and most of it is simply ongoing work in progress, either for an event or for our own exploration.

Work in progress – this one has been around a couple of months!

Have you ever read Jude Hill’s blog, Sprint Cloth? She posts almost every day, even if it’s just a photo of a small patch of fabric she’s working on, or a picture of her cat. She doesn’t wait till something is finished – she posts her daily practice. Kinda brave, since who knows how things will turn out. I’ve had plenty of good ideas crash and burn while trying to create them.

Jude Hill – Spirit Cloth

So, just to check back in with you, with nothing finished or spectacular, here’s what I’m working on right now even though it’s still in baby steps. It’s a project for an exhibit at St. Mary’s University coming in February, “Naturally Inspired: Works by Sabra Booth, Lyn Belisle, Jesus Toro Martinez, and Tim McMeans.” The other three artists are amazing – I’m grateful to be in their company.

Curator Brian St. John has tasked me with making 3D work for the exhibit, and I am building three or four free-standing screens with twig supports and panels of 300# watercolor paper. Some of the images will be photos of my clay work, enhanced with natural beeswax and walnut ink.

Initial planning layout – 24″ x 50″

Single panel prototype

Double panel

The panels are coming along well – just gotta figure out how they are going to go together, and whether to use two or four panels in each screen. I like the idea that they can be configured in different ways with different sides showing. And the engineering is challenging, but fun. Hopefully, I’ll have a final product to who you soon.

I did finish this piece (below) recently and may use the idea of a free-standing clay structure with branches similar to this one in the St, Mary’s show – we will see.

“Grace and Deliverance” Clay, Wax, Silk

One of the reasons I miss teaching workshops so much is that in a three-hour block of time, projects were finished, and results were ready to show-and-tell. But with my volunteer day job at the Art League, it’s just not possible right now. Sigh.

Coincidentally, Laura George, a business consultant for artists, just posted an article called “Productivity hacks for artists with day jobs.” Here’s the link – definitely worth a read.

I hope all is well with all of you, and that you are happy and busy. Thanks for reading SHARDS. Let me know what you’re working on!

 

Ancient indigo, heroic weeds, and instant rust

But make no mistake: the weeds will win; nature bats last. ~Robert M. Pyle

“Indigo Weeds: Elegant”
6×6″
Lyn Belisle 2018

Weeds are my heroes. They are tenacious, enduring, simple, and elegant. “Indigo Weeds” is my new series of small works celebrating these wild, determined plants that are the ultimate survivors.

Here is the series of four finished pieces:

Process: I made enhanced photographs of weeds, then phototransferred them onto sections of torn canvas dropcloth from my studio.They were designed to be stitched into place on a cloth-covered stretched canvas.

It seemed appropriate to build these little fiber works on canvases covered with fabric that was hand-dyed with indigo (a plant related to beans) and then rusted with common metal objects. I liked the nature-inspired symbolism.

Hand-dyed indigo cloth for the covering was no problem – I had plenty left from teaching previous workshops on dyeing with indigo. Remember this one?

But rusting the cloth afterwards can be tedious. It has to be done after the indigo dyeing so it won’t corrupt the indigo vat. I first tried my usual method – wrapping rusted objects in the vinegar-soaked indigo cloth after sprinkling a layer of salt on everything, then leaving it overnight sealed in a plastic bag. Time-consuming . . . .

As always, the results are unpredictable, but that’s part of the appeal of the process.

However, I had a real AHA! moment in the middle of all this – wouldn’t terra cotta walnut ink mimic the rust effect? And it might be an even more appropriate material to use because it is plant-based!

Here are photos of the walnut ink being sprayed onto the indigo cloth – I used rust objects and found objects to create patterns.

TIP: If you scrunch up the walnut-ink-sprayed fabric while it is still damp, it will soften the pattern edges and give a more natural result.

Side by side, fabric rusted with oxidized iron objects (left) and fabric “rusted” with plant-based walnut ink (right):

The walnut ink finish is not a washable process for garments and will fade (as will “real” rust) but I love it because it is fast, engaging, slightly more controllable, and – plant-based!

For my purpose – celebrating the tenacious, adaptable, unbeatable weeds of the world  – it’s perfect!

The Indigo Weeds series will be available at the Pop-Up Gallery at SAY Si during the 44th Juried Fiber Arts Exhibit at Say Si Art Gallery, located at 1518 S. Alamo St., San Antonio, TX 78204. Art will hang December 7, 2018 to January 25, 2019.

Oh, and guess who got into the show?? Yep, Boro Horse! You can see him, too, when you come to the FASA exhibit! 

Happy trails!

Lyn Belisle
“Boro Horse” 2018

 

 

 

 

20-minute tune-up kit for busy artists

Have you ever felt guilty about not doing any art for a while? Do you buy cool art materials and never seen to have time to actually open and use them? Do you get all sorts of ideas from Pinterest, then think about all the stuff it would take, so you just forget it?

Auntie Lyn has a solution!  Put together a little creativity tune-up kit with simple materials and pre-cut 5×7″ substrates for mixed-media collages to kick-start your ideas and quell the non-productive guilt – you’ll have some finished artwork in 20 minutes.

There’s something magic about a 5×7″ blank surface – not too big to be intimidating, not too small to be insignificant. And you can do so much with work this size (see the journal cover video, below). Plus, you can put together a pretty cool collage in about 20 minutes, including getting out the stuff out and putting it back.

Here’s what’s in your 20- Minute Tune-up kit (and it fits in one box):

IMPORTANT – SET A TIMER FOR 20 MINUTES

You don’t have to limit yourself to 20 minutes (or force yourself to work for 20 minutes if you want to stop before that), but you’ll be surprised at what you can accomplish if you set  a 20-minute deadline and go for it.

My process:

I keep a stack of 5×7″ archival mat board handy for my own personal kick-start “meditations.”  I grab one, find a central image from a magazine that I like, tear or cut it out, see what it tells me to add, then just build quickly and intuitively using glue stick to adhere.

I sometimes add white paint to veil and coalesce the images, and sometimes add matte medium to seal the surface. I scribble with graphite, make lines with Sharpie, and often add a bit of color with the water-soluble oil pastels. DING!! (that’s the timer going off).

Example of 20-minute 5×7″ collage

So now I’ll share a personal story about how I know this works. When I started teaching in the Computer Science Department at Trinity University fifteen years ago, it was an impossibly steep learning curve for me and I had no time for anything, much less art. After three or four years, I started making “therapeutic” 5×7″ collages in a very limited time just to save my sanity.

These morphed into journal covers, which morphed into my first Etsy shop. I sold over 200 hand-made journals in that shop, some with rather weird custom requests! Making those small collages turned things around for me as an artist and gave me a much-needed tune-up and kick start.

Here is a video of 200 of those 5×7″ covers from that first Etsy shop. From that small-format beginning, I learned about composition, about marketing, and about how much you can get done in 20-minute segments, even if you have a challenging life. Click on the image below to see the video.

Now gather your 20-Minute Tune Up kit together and get busy – a cold front is coming and you can certainly find 20 minutes to hunker down and create!

Thanks, as always, for reading SHARDS.