Tuesday, August 28, 2012

Custom Connection

Mmmkay, I've been busy with things, but, well, it's time for me to pause and post, because sharing is caring, right? So I wanted to share a part of my work that offers me yet another facet of joy and fulfillment.
I often get requests from customers who've seen something in my Etsy shop, or my home website store that excites or inspires them, and they begin to think "what if?" As an artist, who wants to stir up the imagination of others, I love that! Sometimes people will ask for something in a different color, or something totally different from what they see, but in the same style. What follows is typically a few messages back and forth between myself and the customer, sometimes with pictures or sketches attached, to help their vison connect with mine. Once we're on the same page, I begin work.
I seem to get the best feedback from this type of order. Better than when folks just click "add to cart", it seems to be a great experience for all involved. Maybe it's because they get something made to their own specifications, and I get to make what they envision real. Having some customer service background, I think it's the "human touch". I mean, I am a real, breathing person with a working studio beyond this computer, and I don't employ any robots, lol.
Anyway, there's a little thrill involved, at least for me. Maybe it's the drive to really "get" what they want and exceed what they expect, or prove I can. I recently experienced that when a new customer purchased a necklace I made with my papier mache beads, then came back, thrilled with her first purchase, to order another in the shop and request a third made to resemble a decor item I had elsewhere in my shop. I loved her idea, and was excited to create it. Sometimes I like to think of it like I'm lending customers my hands and techniques to make what they would. Here's the finished piece:

a papier mache "painted stones" necklace with
ribbon tie
 I shipped this and her other piece off today. I hope she's as happy as she was with the first! And now, I'm gearing these hands up to create another special request, but I'll be back soon. I still have a few more posts to share before summer slips away!

Thursday, August 9, 2012

Sweet Summer

With a little over a month left of this summer season, I'm trying to maximize every moment and fit in assorted memorable fun, big and small. Something I feel no summer should be without, especially in the Southern U.S., is some good old fashioned funnel cake. Most of us, at one time or another have had the priviledge of partaking in this yummy treat, whether at carnivals or ice cream shops, but almost always during the hot summer months, where it is enjoyed piping hot with either confectioner's sugar or a host of other toppings piled on high.

This summer, for the first time, it occured to me to try making funnel cake from scratch. I found a super easy recipe online that I wanted to share.
  • 1 egg
  • 2/3 cup milk
  • 2 tablespoons of sugar
  • 1 1/4 cup of flour
  • 1/4 teaspoon of salt
  • 1 teaspoon of baking powder
  • vegetable oil
Mix ingredients with a whisk. Heat vegetable oil in a pan (at least 1/2 in deep for frying). Drizzle batter into hot oil. Create shapes if you like. Flip once when the edges brown. Remove from the pan and drain on a paper towel. Add powdered sugar or topping of choice if desired.


Here's what mine looked like.
And voila! You've made a classic treat right at home. Hope you try it out :o)

Wednesday, August 1, 2012

The Big Secret

A favorite medium of mine is papier mache. I create in both the strip method (layering glue soaked strips of paper onto a shape) and with pulp (a mash of paper broken down in water to function like clay). I use these simple, centuries-old techniques, and then I finish them off with my own modern visions for surface treatments, often taking a cue from ceramics, stone, wood, metal, and other materials. I think I take a sort of trompe l'oeil approach, because I like people to be surprised when they discover a piece is made of salvaged paper.

That being said, I sometimes get the impression that some people are skeptical about how simple and basic the mache aspect of my pieces is. I've read about and seen plenty of methods that incorporate emulsifiers, fillers, etc., and I have even tried some of those techniques. But I always gravitate back to the purest, simplest way to make papier mache (because the surfaces are where I get really complicated, not the forms!). So I wanted to share the steps to make the pulp I use to make many of the things you'll find in my online galleries and shops. Maybe you (yes you!) can give this a try yourself. It's not a state secret, and it's super simple!

You need: newspaper, water, white glue*

First thing's first. I start by hand tearing the newspaper into skinny strips, dropping them into a big paint pail. When I first started making pulp years ago, I followed someone else's instructions to tear into 1in squares. All that is really not necessary, lol.

I like to fill the pail up as full as possible, and if I'm short on newspaper, I will mix in white paper from the shredder, no biggie. I will note, however, that my preference is newspaper, because it's softer and easier to pound into a fine pulp. But shredded junk mail will do in a pinch.

Once I've torn enough paper to fill the pail, I start pouring water in over the paper. The temperature doesn't really matter, room temp. is fine. Some resources will tell you to boil the paper in water on the stove to break down the fibers better, but again, not really necessary, especially if you're okay with putting a lid on it and letting it soak for a couple days. Don't be in a hurry with this. If you're in a hurry, go to the store and buy mache mix or paperclay.

I make sure that there's enough water to cover all the paper, then slap the lid on and forget about it for a few days while I do other stuff. When I return, PRESTO!!!
Looks the same as before I put the lid on, lolol.

Now is the point where I would recommend you've had your Wheeties for breakfast and done some stretches, because this stage calls for some gusto. Now that the paper has soaked and softened, I sink my hands in and start tossing, kneading, pounding and mixing. You really have to put some muscle into it, like you're kneading dough, washing clothes the old fashioned way, or grinding corn. It's called pulp for a reason, lol, so beat it into one! The more time and energy you invest in this stage, the finer, softer, and more clay-like the end result will be. As you knead and pound, the mix will begin to look like this:

Notice the excess water in the pail. I've got two solutions for that. Either drain most of the excess water out, leaving enough to keep the pulp malleable, or do as I've started doing more recently: as I'm kneading, I will continue to sprinkle shredded office paper into the mix and kneading it in. This absorbs the extra water and makes an even bigger batch of pulp, which is great, because I always have a cue of assorted projects going at one time. Either way, the more water that is absorbed or removed, the less shrinkage your pieces with exhibit as they are drying. The water makes the paper puffy, then as it evaporates, the paper fibers shrink and harden. The lower the water content, the less correcting up in size you will have to do to your pieces to allow for shrinkage. 

The last step is to add glue. I don't add a specific, measured amount.

I just add a generous amount, then mix it in with my hands. I know I've added enough when the pulp feels smoother and begins to hold shapes, or hold together like clay. At this stage, it's like mixing up a meatloaf.

More energetic kneading (this is a great thing to make when you've had a bad day, need to blow off steam, or just burn calories, lol.), and I arrive at this:

I harp on spending plenty of time on kneading because the finer the texture of the pulp, the finer the details you can achieve when you sculpt with it.

paper fiber and glue: a fine texture can be achieved

And there you have it. That is my one and only papier mache pulp recipe. You can use pulp to make all kinds of awesome things, limited only by your imagination. Give it a try!

*The only way I ever deviate from this recipe is to sometimes add baking soda. Paper, after all, tends to take on a strong *ahem* "character" after soaking for a few days, so I sometimes toss some baking soda in to alleviate the smell. I don't think it really makes a difference to any other aspect of the pulp.

UPDATE: Be sure to check out my YouTube channel for video tutorials on topics like this. Subscribe to see more!