Wednesday, December 11, 2013

How Doth I Burnish, Let Me Count The Ways

Lyra's Splender Blender
A colorless pencil used to burnish/blend colored pencils on paper.

Help my aching arm!

I had been trying all kinds of solvents in a colored pencil class I was teaching, just so students had an arsenal of everything and anything as a way to burnish/blend. For me, I love the look of burnishing as it makes a colored pencil 'drawing' look more like a painting. FYI – The CP (that would be Colored Pencil) world refer to work as paintings. They look like them and take as much time, I guess that's why!

Why Burnish?

Colored pencil artists are a sneaky bunch. We like to fool people with making our little colors on paper look like oil paintings on canvas! Part of this wonderful illusion is getting rid of specs of white that are left when a pencil glides across paper and only touch the's the surface ridges of the paper.

with the ridges of the paper showing how colored pencil only hits the top of it leaving white areas exposed.
The ridges of the paper show how colored pencil only hits the top of it leaving white areas exposed.

Burnishing, using a white pencil or colorless blender, I can force the color into the divots of the paper. This is also a great way to get tennis elbow! It is not a good idea to do this on large surfaces, or for long periods of time!!! I had been laid up due to this. Not worth the pain, but, there is a better way. Do this only for little things.
We have options such as brushes and solvents as well!

What's a Solvent?

Solvents are, a water-like substance that can dissolve a solid. So, basically, anything that dissolves a solid is a "solvent." This is heaven when you find the perfect one for you. I can't tell you which one is the right one. You have to find one you like. I think I am going to give you the most comprehensive unbiased list on the web! I really haven't found the holy grail of lists, but this might be it!

My Bias

Personally, I want one that doesn't smell, blends decently and fills in white 'holes' of my paper. All I want is for the colored pencils to be allowed to do their job of being a transparent/translucent medium with visual blending over those base 'fill' layers.

Denatured Alcohol

91% alcohol. It's cheap, available and works.

I haven't used the now common and cheap 50%. I assume the rest is 50% water. I don't want anything but the solvent on my paper so the paper doesn't buckle too much. Especially if the paper is fairly thin. Stick to 91% alcohol or switch to another solvent. I don't use what is called 'Rubbing Alcohol' either. They add an oil and I'm not sure what that adds to the paper.
I apply this with a Q-Tip, blending stomp, or brush. Note: It does eventually eat away at your brushes. Buy cheap ones if you use them.

Micro Brushes!

I found these itty, bitty brushes made for train models, but I see they use these for eyelash extensions, so check out beauty stores to get a ton of them for cheap!
It's a cross between a Q-tip and a brush. They last pretty long and I have been able to dip it in solvents and brush across a painting using very tiny motions of blending. It can get into the tiniest crevices. I wouldn't use it on large areas as it's hard to control the smoothness of a finish. It's a wonderful find, and I will need to get more of these.

Prisma Colorless Markers

Same thing as alcohol, but more precise than a Q-Tip, needs a little more pressure than a paintbrush. These markers have two tips, one broad, one narrow. The Prismacolor markers can be expensive, but if you are smart you can buy in bulk at some of the art supply stores online or use your weekly free coupons from Hobby Lobby or Michaels! I use these the most as they are very portable and I will have to see, but I believe I can refill it with a little alcohol. Just a bit of advice, if you use this, make sure to have a scrap of paper or paper towel so you wipe off your dark color before working on a light area, or it will add color you can't remove!

Odorless Mineral Spirits (OMS)

A favorite of most CP artists, very cheap, and is also a very easy one to get. This is now one I think I favor outside of the marker due to it's "no smell" factor. I might load this up in one of my water brushes and see what it does. Not sure I want it eating away at my brushes though! Do invest in these brushes though! They are worth having for other techniques (see watercolor color pencils/InkTense.)


A natural substance from trees. I can't and won't use this. The smell quite literally makes me sick, thanks to using it extensively in college! This is an option and acts like OMS.

Rubber Cement Thinner

There is another option of rubber cement thinner if you really want to stink up the place! I remember how much it smells, I won't go there unless I need to. I might just because of Gary Greene.

The CP artist Gary Greene uses that all the time in his demos. That's harsh stuff, and dissolves... well... rubber. I may just get some to see how quickly it works. He swears by it's smoothness in melting wax-based pencils like the Prismacolors. It might be worth the trouble. I am wary of using this, but I will so I can say I did!

UPDATE: I went there. Had gotten some because a place went out of business and I got some very cheap. It dissolves wax like no ones business and I think I'm going to use this for a while. It smells horrible and should be used with serious ventillation. I haven't played with it enough to know it's true powers and I will have to do a real painting to see what it can do. I don't think I will have to put any effort into dissolving any of the pencil where I do with alcohol. 

Blending/Burnishing Pencils

White Pencils – with good-ole elbow grease, a great way to get tendonitis! This again is great if:

  1. You have nothing else
  2. You want to do small areas

The white can't be beat or even a light blue for the illusion of an atmospheric background perspective technique. Just be careful not to press too hard with your delicate muscles in your hands/arms. You can really mess yourself up!

Colorless Pencil Blenders

Lyra Splender Blender, Prismacolor Colorless Blender

These were invented to replace the use of white pencils to accomplish blending one color to another and getting rid of white from the paper. It's basically a pencil that has no color. Just the binder.

The Lyra Splender blender is oil based, the Prismacolor Colorless Blender is wax based, like it's colored counterparts. Great thing is, they can be used interchangeably, which is another reason colored pencils are a popular medium!

Colored Pencil on Illustration Board 10x8

Past their Prime

Colored Pencil on Illustration Board – Amy Rebella
10"x8" (I hand burnished this and had really bad tendonitis from it!)

Hand Burnishing

This is a little different since we are using objects rather than solvents or colored pencils to achieve blending here.

Hogs Hair Brushes
Especially on sanded paper has yielded beautiful results for some artists. This is good on hearty papers such as Stonehenge Rising. I have cut the brights, don't use rounds! Or better yet, if you have a brush that is used for stenciling, use that, they are pretty stiff and can take the abuse.

(Not a sham-wow) Usually a tanned deer hide with no colorant added, will also give a similar result. The chamois can be a bit labor intensive, depends on the effect you want. It's great for very large areas.

Blending Stomp/Stump
Is a good alternative to these two, gets right in the tiny little crevices and you could dip it into a solvent.

Tissue | Kleenex
This also works in a pinch, except it can leave residue. Use something that has no chemicals in it and isn't too scratchy or the paper surface you are burnishing can have it's fibers torn up a bit.

But, Wait! There's More!

We haven't even gotten into the watercolor pencil and Inktense options yet! Let's make that part 2!

Saturday, January 5, 2013

Faster, Faster, Faster!

(As of yet, unidentified Polyporales Mushroom) on a Beech Log Graphite on Paper 2012

I am working on these mushrooms...

my favorite things to run around and hunt in the woods... mushrooms. How I miss them this time of year. 

I am an amateur mycologist. I love to say that, sounds so formal and makes me feel like a scientist. Even though I did lousy in school chemistry, I did very well in biology. I know most of my local mushrooms, though this one has me stumped, pardon the pun. I will figure it out when I have a chance. 

I did this specimen after taking a master botanical drawing class with Wendy Brockman this summer. I had a whole week to learn from her. It was a dream come true. This I feel is my calling! I get to combine my love of mushrooms with my love of detailed drawing and painting! 

Best part is the subject matter. I chose mushrooms in the fall that preserve very well, looking as they did when they were alive. In fact, they dry out, and if I wet them again, they just continue on their merry way in their life-cycle. It's how these are used to being.

Academy Drawing is Not Dead, the 'shrooms Are

I pick these particular 'shrooms because I know I can't work faster... yet. I have never had such a challenging... wait... I have. Sight-size method. Takes FOREVER to finish a drawing but you will be the best at drawing a figure or object EXACTLY as you see it.

I took a class with Philip Salamone who taught me how to do something like sight-size. This is how it was taught in the academies and was almost a lost art. It's making a comeback and was very helpful.

Anyway, I still have to draw faster because time is short and fleeting! Mushrooms don't last forever and neither does my time without people around! Having someone around does make a difference. I sure get a lot less done.

So, back to the drawing board with me. I will post some more later...

Friday, January 4, 2013

No Go


Well, didn't get to go to Mexico. :(  Maybe the artist's statement didn't do it. Maybe my artwork didn't do it. I am bummed out, but like all artists, we just persevere. Why are we like that? It's in our blood. We have no choice really. That's how we are made.
Artists are a different breed of human. I believe it's a compulsion to create, to just go on.

I found a quote that made me chuckle. It was from a book called "Taking the Leap – Building a Career as a Visual Artist" by Cay Lang. A great book by the way. I had it forever and finally while cleaning out a room, I decided to read it.

"There is nothing fiercer than a failed artist. The energy remains, but, having no outlet, it implodes in a great black fart of rage which smokes up all the inner windows of the soul."

~Erica Jong

This is about right, if I don't have some kind of creative outlet, be it graphic design, playing 'cello or fine art, even teaching art, I just about implode! I can't function, I get ornery. It's not a choice.

Vincent Van Gogh had the same problem (no, I'm not comparing myself to him, except the crazy) and was prescribed to paint by Dr. Gachet. Nowadays, It's a common prescription as art therapy. So, there is something to it!

We must go on, even if we don't get into the show, or the artist's retreat or whatever it might be. It's just part of the game.

I never shed a tear, we all have to have thick skins or we just will fail as artists and will implode. Being told something we create is not good enough, even though we sweat to make it. We fell in love with our baby and then someone else says, no, not good enough. It's our work! No, we have to be tough, building up that shell over the years.

I credit my first art professor Dick Dahle with helping build that up, the blister, the callous to not cry, even though he sure made a lot of girls cry and quit! 

Sunday, November 18, 2012


Yes, I wrote one. I feel dirty. Was it truthful. I don't really know. I feel like it sort of leaves me vulnerable to everyone knowing too much about me, like I'm standing naked in front of everyone giving a speech. Now I'm doing the same damn thing again, except in a blog.

We as artists are supposed to have résumé's at the ready, not only our regular work résumé's, (yes, there are two thingy's about the e's) but, we also need an artist's résumé, which describes what shows we were in, anything we were published in, any lectures we gave anyone we studied under or artist's retreat we went to. THEN, we also need to have an artist's statement which is the dreaded thing I had to do tonight. It describes everything you are, who, what, why, how, where, when, anything else you can think of about your work and you, without your saying "Me, I, I'm trying to, I wanted to, I'm hoping I" and to top it off, this one was supposed to encompass my life's work, only show 3 items and describe who I am and what I'm trying to accomplish.  WHAT?!?! So, I took a stiff drink, aaaaannnd, started writing.

I don't do this for just anyone mind you.

I'm so desperate to get out of increasingly dark and cold deer hunter's delight, Wisconsin, that I want to do whatever it takes by writing this piece to enter what I call the artist's lotto to Mexico. An all expenses paid trip to do an artist's residency for a full month in the cold of winter here to sunny and hopefully a drug cartel-free Mexico. I just want out of here in the winter.

I'll work my butt off down there as an artist like I do here, I just need to get to a place that would let me be myself, spread out, do my thing and not make me write another artist's statement or perform other acts of vulnerability to be able to stay there for the whole month. I have a feeling though, that's the deal with the devil that has to be made.

Okay, I'll write. I'll do whatever. Please let me go down there!! I can't handle winter up here. 

Friday, May 20, 2011

That Handy Dandy Sketchbook!

'Remembering Billy'
Pen and colored pencil on paper

Sketching to Keep Busy

One thing I have been doing on a regular basis has been keeping my sketchbook with me at all times! There is no excuse to not have one, that's what I tell myself anyway. Especially when I forget it! :) If I can remember to put one in my scooter, then I'll have one with me at all times.

I have several. One is a tiny little thing, no bigger than an iPhone (which I don't own), and can be taken out whenever I'm in a situation where I'm bored -- which happens too often. The other is a Moleskin Watercolor Notebook which can withstand some abuse and is not too large. This one is my new favorite and the one I have used for my newest sketches.

You never know what you'll end up drawing, it might be worth saving.
I learned that from a very wise teacher, Miss Mularkey, who made me realize that we may as well draw on the good stuff! You can always buy more paper or use the back of it if your work doesn't turn out.

My old favorite is the Canson Field Drawing Hardcover Ringed Book. It has a heavy paper, cream colored but it is a real drawing paper, not sketch paper and holds up to massive abuses. Not that I'm a paper abuser mind you, but I don't want my paper to buckle or rip if I have to erase or do something nasty to it to fix a mistake. I also want good paper if it's something I want to frame or sell later.

Pens and Pencils

I had thrown in my purse a Micron India ink pen, .005 mm, I also have used a Zig Millennium .05 since they are pretty cheap too (look at fabric stores or Michael's), so I can get really fine lines since the book is so small. This is where it is proportionately appropriate to use this small of a pen tip. I also throw in 3 sharpened colored pencils... a light yellow, magenta and a cyan. Later, I ended up adding a few greens and darker colors to make it easier for myself, but actually I was able to get all my range with just those three colors. This is a good challenge though! Three colors acts like a printing press. Throw that black pen in there sparingly and cleverly and you can draw the world.

When I'm sitting there at a park with my kids, or in the Dr.'s waiting room, or even just sitting at the family farm, I haul out that little sketchbook and start doodling. It makes me feel like I'm accomplishing something and puts me in my happy place!

Saturday, December 18, 2010

My Time


Not doing a lot of posting. Typical! There is a lull here which is good. I have been very busy working most of the year. Lots of freelancing, lots of teaching at the CVA, some private teaching here at the house. It's been a good year!

My Stuff
What I should be doing now is working on MY stuff. First, I need to clear out a space to work, then, I need to figure out the greatest question while I do that...what is my stuff? When an artist works so long on everyone's projects for so long, they lose sight of what their style is and what their voice is. Or, at least it has happened to me.

A friend of mine has my artwork from when I was in college. She is just in love with my stuff and asked me what was my motivation and how did I come up with the colors and ideas? It's actually part of the header on my blog (which I need to resize!)

I had to tell her, it was for my senior show, I had a deadline and I had to crank out some shit as fast as I could... that was my motivation and muse. I don't think she cared for that answer, but it was the honest truth. Sometimes the truth isn't what people want to hear, especially in art.

I do have to say, I think it's good, some of my best work. Art doesn't have to necessarily mean anything, but people want to hear a good story, so we do as artists need to come up with B.S. story sometimes. :)

Green Cutter 2010 Acrylic on Canvas 12"x12"

Where am I going with this?
I think the one thing that I feel is driving me at this point is the farm stuff I'm doing. The rust and equipment from my family farm. That does mean something to me. Too bad I gave my art away. I'll have to recreate some of it and keep it this time.

Well, my husband is home for a good week, I should have no excuses for cleaning up my studio space and at least getting a canvas going. Let's see how far I get. Maybe I'll post before the year is up!

Tuesday, December 8, 2009

It's been a while!

Things have been pretty crazy on the home front. Our little guy is now 4 months old and has been a very easy baby. The upside is that I have been able to do some artwork, but I can see that when he's about 6 months, that will come to a screeching halt again as he will be mobile. Not sure how I'll deal with two kids under 3 and do artwork. I do rely on daily naps to get through the daytime so I can work at night. What I won't do for art!

I had to have Maggie go to daycare and have anyone who could watch her take over for a few days while I worked. When it rains, it pours! I was very, very busy last month!

I had a freelance gig with a Department Store which came and went just as quickly. Lots of late nights and sleepy days, but it was worth it. I should have a line of plates, cups, kitchen towels and placemats coming out next Christmas. I'll have to post how things look!

Just on the last day, I barely got things out. My G4 laptop (6 years old) died on me. It was dead. I couldn't start the computer, the battery was also dead since it was so old. I decided that having a freelance gig was a sign I should just get a new computer and have the G4 as my backup. I also had to get all new software since the new operating system was Intel based and the old stuff won't port over. So, I am excited about what I can do now.

I'm not so excited about why my old laptop died.
I didn't realize it was just the power cord until my husband "tested" it with his tongue. So with a new power supply, it's working, though it's not totally reliable. I can't burn DVD's, the cover doesn't shut, the keys are wearing off and lots of other things aren't working due to it's age.

Teaching my first Acrylics Class
I had just got done teaching my first painting class at the Center for Visual Arts in Wausau, WI. It was a basic Acrylics class. I had 5 students, which was a good amount for both of us being beginners! I feel it went pretty well, everyone seemed to learn a lot and gained confidence in what they were doing.

It strikes me how afraid people are to try painting, as if it's so mysterious that they can't possibly do it. When they find out how easy it really is to just apply the paint to the canvas, they blossom. It's not that they don't have ideas on what to paint, it's the actual application of paint that is the scary part. I personally have the opposite problem, it's the idea that is difficult and the paint application that's easy!

As I expected, I learned a great deal on using Acrylics from the students and just my research. It's really opened up a new world on how I approach painting as well. Working with an extremely limited palette has made me realize I really don't need more than primaries, black and white. Even black is optional! We never painted that way at college, I wish we did.

Acrylics class online
I do plan on posting (not sure when) how I went about doing the Acrylics class so maybe other who are thinking of teaching will possibly pick up something. I really couldn't find anything online on how to come up with a beginner's curriculum, how to teach and what seems to be expected of students and the instructor.

Drawing Class in March
I'll be doing the drawing class at the CVA in the spring and as far as I have understood, it's mine if I want it. I'll have to write how I got this class when I have more time. It's a sad story, but I know it was meant to be. I already have one or two students signed up, my Dad and possibly my Aunt. I told them they need to be my guinea pigs so I can develop the class ahead of time!