The Bookshelf: inspiration, evolution and experimentation

Sometimes you start a project with a vision, a plan of how it will go and then as you proceed that plan evolves, you start to experiment and before you know it you are inspired in a completely different direction. This is what happened with this bookshelf. It became a reflection of my evolution as an artist and my joy in realizing that I can make it whatever I want it to be. As a result it is a mish-mash of styles and tastes and yet is also something that is completely unique and perfect for me.

The base structure was provided to me by a friend, Cork Rockingham is how he wants to be known. (His wife has chosen Jorquelin). Cork and Jorquelin are great friends of ours and when I heard that Cork made furniture I was all in, especially as I kept hearing about all the wonderful pieces he had made for Jorquelin. I was even more excited when he agreed to let me take over his creative project and let me style it as I pleased. Thank you to you both!!!!

When the bookshelf arrived I was deep into my glass/tile mosaic period. Using some tiles I had purchased that had proved difficult to use in mosaics, I began decorating. My vision was to turn it into a mosaic masterpiece. Nearly every surface would be covered in tile and/or glass. It would be grouted and would reflect my latest passion and hobby. I continued with this vision while tiling two sides and adding tile coasters to the top. I then began to realize that if I continued it would be so heavy it would fall through the floor, or at least could never be moved.

Tiling the sides. My first step!

So it sat for a long time while I wondered about the best way to continue. My interests evolved while it sat there forlornly in my oh so white former studio. Finally I had enough and said it had to move to its final location as it could no longer clutter up unnecessary space. Just moving it to where it was supposed to be gave me the inspirational nudge I needed.

By this time I was fully into bead mosaics. As a result I decided to experiment with using beads as grout. This was not a totally successful experiment in my opinion as I could not get the beads to lie in perfectly flat straight rows – put it down to the difficulty in getting those porcelain tiles to cut in a perfectly straight line or my inability to lay them exactly equally apart. However I love the shine the beads bring to the bookshelf’s surface and they are far more interesting than the grey grout I had intended to use!

The grouting/beading is still in progress. This bit will take a while, but I find it fun and rewarding to do.
The top is also being grouted with beads. I love the look, although the perfectionist in me wants… perfection! This part is nearly done.

I then decided finally on a backing for my bookshelf. I had dithered between wediboard and plywood (during my tile/glass mosaic period), then I contemplated beads but balked at the huge number that would require. I finally settled on a plain rustic framed mirror which I happily attached to the bookshelf using several screws through the frame. It was a great pick, not only do you get to see your legs advancing down the hallway, but it has the added benefit of reflecting a large amount of light into what used to be a dark area!

The mirror install in progress!

By choosing a mirror I had created a new problem for myself. How to make it look like it belonged to the bookshelf rather than looking like it was slapped on the back. (Some people would tell me that seeing your legs everyday would be their major problem, but I have to confess I do not mind it, especially as I now get to see the faces of my pets as they run backwards and forwards!). I decided that as the mirror was flimsy I needed something to make it sturdy and stable. My thoughts immediately turned to Apoxy Sculpt. That stuff sets rock hard and yet also allows one to paint it, use different colors and be creative! I love nature so I decided to invite it in, in a controlled manner of course!!!!

I loved the color so much that I was inspired to change the slipcover on the couch!

Above is the back, finally finished and complete. A mix of apoxy sculpt, acrylic paint and varnish. It always makes me smile whenever I walk down that main hallway!

So all that remained now was to decide what to do with the inside of the bookshelf, or the shelves. Way back at the beginning I had intended to create a tier of sea creatures on the bookshelf back. I decided to transfer these to the shelves and instead of doing them as a mosaic I would do them with simple paint and a coat of varnish! Easier and would help to disguise the various materials that made up the shelves.

Unfortunately the backing of the mirror was a thick paper that crinkled when painted. However strangely enough for me, I like it as it makes it feel more watery to me.

I love how the shelves are turning out. I am still to do an octopus on the bottom. The edging is being done with an array of beads that ties the bookshelf to the top. I can’t wait for that bit to be finished!

As you can see, it is a totally unique piece with different things happening all over its surface and yet it seems totally appropriate for the spot where it is. It ties together our room and the adjoining rooms in a wonderful way and makes me smile every time I see it. It has quickly become my favorite piece of furniture in the house. So much so that I want to repeat the creative experience with a side table. I have no idea what the side table will become. I am sure it will be totally different to this bookshelf. But I know that I will enjoy the creative process and watching my vision of how it should be change and evolve as I change and evolve.

An Artist’s Workspace: my studio

For the last two weeks I was cleaning up and organizing my studio prior to starting on my next big piece – actually make that two big pieces that I have lined myself up to do!

It made me think about studios or in my case the 5×5 space where I now work in our basement and how personal it is to each and every person. We organize our spaces so that the things we love to use the most are in easy reach and so that we are in a space that is conducive for us to create.

Mid-2020 I got excited about studio space and had a room painted the whitest of whites. Those who know me will know it is my least preferred room color. My house is a riot of different shades from yellow, jade greens, pale greens, orange-red through to many differing shades of blue. I chose white because I felt that it would interfere with the artistic color choices the least. I chose that room because it had lots of light, a window with a lovely view of trees and grass and my garden. I did not use that room as I felt separated from the things I loved, being with my family as we relaxed in an evening. My studio had no space for my significant other or my pets and there was nothing to do there except create.

My studio in one of many layouts I tried. Nice and spacious, a lovely room, but separated from the life of the house.

Needless to say, the white room is no longer in use as a studio, long since converted to multiple other uses – including a sewing room for the occasion when I sew myself or my significant other a new top or pants. I have now moved myself to a small square in the basement which has become the entertainment complex in our house. My significant other has room for his hobbies, there is an old big tv and I have positioned my desk such that I can watch while working should I so desire. The room is the darkest color I have used in the house – a nice boathouse blue and thus I find it restful and calming.

There is a spot on the floor for the dog and spots on the daybed positioned against the wall for the cats. There is even room for a small office for myself.

My tiny work studio. I love it! It has everything I need close by and I am with my family as they do their own things.

I love working here. It is cramped and tiny but everyone can join me and we can be together while I work. The nice thing about using beads is that the materials I use can be used around others as long as I take the appropriate precautions – windows open and air purifier on should I use silicone. Gloves when using apoxy sculpt and tacky glue – no particular precautions required as I use non-toxic glue.

Initially when I moved down to the basement I had items strewn everywhere. But this is slowly changing! My drawing materials are under my desk. The beads are organized in rows on the wall using a system I designed to keep them there. My substrates are in a box stored elsewhere as they need infrequent access.

For those who are interested in how I created my bead storage system: steel wire attached to nails embedded in studs. Beads were then packed into ziploc bags and attached to the wire using thick jumbo paperclips.

My bead wall! My significant other did not mind when I commandeered the wall. I think he was happy they were off the floor.

In a small bookshelf to the side are my many colors of apoxy sculpt and my original jewelry making tools and beads I used when making peyote stitch bracelets – these often come in handy in all sorts of new ways!

You can see a collection of acrylic paints spilling out below, still to be homed.

And in a small container on my desk are the tools I use every day. Screw drivers, tweezers, exacto knives, scissors and pens and pencils, not to mention what I will require for my latest project, beads loose and strung. I usually only do one project at a time so this set-up provides me with all I need to happily create!

Until next time….

Maximilian: My first commission piece

Let me introduce Maximilian the 11 x 14 inch bead mosaic. He is based on Max, a most famous Pug and is my first dog bead mosaic. Max the Pug is the wonderful companion of two friends of myself and my significant other. Last year, our friends came to visit, saw my bead mosaics and mentioned how special they were. I mentioned that one day I would have to make one for them. Shortly after, they sent me a picture of their pug and Maximilian the bead mosaic was born. I have done my best to do justice to Max’s spirit, and feel that I have captured at least one of his expressions (green beans anyone!), even if my mosaic is not an exact replica of the Max I know.

I asked member’s of my bead mosaic group on Facebook what things they would like me to discuss regarding how Max was made. Three elements were mentioned over and over: shading and values, bead placement and my use of 3D components. I will address each of these below. But first I am going to start first with how Maximilian came to life.

Maximilian was created based on the original photo of Max that was shared with me (it will not be posted here as it is not my photo and I do not have copyright). It is not a great drawing, but it was good enough for me to get an understanding of how Max’s shape flowed and the key elements that are Max and to give me the base plan on which my mosaic could be created. It also captured the element that to me was the most important part of the piece: an expression that was part of Max’s personality. By drawing I gained an understanding of the subject matter and how I wanted to treat it when creating the mosaic, and intend to do this for all my major pieces going forward.

I wanted to give Maximilian a 3D component to make him seem like he was jumping from the page and looking at you directly. I had done this before and liked the style. Before I placed anything on the glass substrate, I took the time to explore the elements that I wanted to make 3D. The most successful method I found for this was using tin foil. That’s right, easily molded, it allows you to see how various components would look if raised from the page. Once happy with my selection, I recreated the look using Apoxy Sculpt, adding in any corrections I wanted to make based on errors in the original drawing. I actually succeeded better than I anticipated and have included images of the finished work on the side so you can see how the 3D elements worked out side on.

With my bead color selection I did my best to select a palette of colors for Maximilian, but as always I was limited to what I had available in my collection and what was available to purchase. The palette was chosen by picking a color that I wanted to use for the “sunny” side of Maximilian and the best corresponding color I could find that would be used for the “shady” side of Maximilian. This meant that when referring to the photo (and that is all I had to refer to), I would know which colors to use when.

In addition I broke colors down into light, medium and dark values – I think of this as the depth of grey present in a black and white photo. A dark value would be for elements of dark shading and the lighter values for lighter elements in the photo. This imbued Maximilian with depth and perspective.

I used color also as a perspective element for the background. I wanted to make Maximilian look like he was in the foreground with mountains and a time-lapsed star scape behind him, yet to do this I needed to create a sense of distance. Based on paper mosaics I had done previously (see below!) I knew that color can successfully be used to provide a sense of distance. So I used the same technique with Maximilian, darker in the foreground, lighter in the background.

Finally I angled the lines of the plain so that it created a sense of perspective and a line to the horizon. (Another technique used by artists to create a sense of distance).

Which brings us to the idea of bead placement. How did I determine which way the beads should go. For this I let Max be the guide! His fur all grows in a certain direction, and I knew that if the beads followed his fur I would give him heft and definition, making him come alive and letting the sparkle of the beads help give that gleam of life that might otherwise have been missing. And thus Maximilian was born.

If you need further details, still have questions, please leave a comment below and I will address them in a new blog post! However, tomorrow Maximilian the bead mosaic goes to his new home, which is why I am writing this tonight (just in case there were any last minute photos I needed to take). I will miss him. I have had much fun creating Maximilian the bead mosaic and I hope he gives his new owners much joy!

The Blue Jay and Licensing

Through my memberships in various mosaic groups and bead mosaic groups I have seen much discussion about copyright and licensing of images. If you base your artwork off another’s image/work/style when do you need to acknowledge this fact? It is often a heated discussion with many viewpoints on the issue, and much ignorance too about copyright law and how it pertains to art and artists.

When I started I would look at all these lovely photos on the internet. I loved the pose of the bird, the angle of the beak, the lighting, the detail. I wanted to draw them. However I was always unsure of how much of the photo was under copyright. Some people quote this magic percentage, others say that the drawing they would create would look nothing like the original because they don’t draw that well. However, for me I felt uncomfortable as that photo was someone else’s work and I wanted to know when I could legitimately use that photo and when I could not.

I started researching copyright law using what I found on the internet. Remarkably the information I came across was very consistent. (There might be opposing views out there but I did not find them). Basically they said copying any part of the photo/artwork, even if just an outline was a questionable act, unless you had received the artist’s permission or license for its use. They also pointed out how easy it was to trace a derivative back to the original. I would agree. There are so many artwork images online and as I researched I knew exactly which photo/artwork/artist’s style they had come from, even if changes were made.

I also learnt things I had not known. Photos/artwork published in reference books and magazines were also under license. Those books and magazines paid for the rights to use those images, and thus we have to too.

So how do you get the images you want to use as the base of a piece of work? Create it yourself from the source – draw the tiger at the Zoo! Take a photo of the subject you want to use. (You then own the licensing rights and are free to do with it as you choose). Or, if getting to the Atacama desert in Chile to get that perfect shot is beyond you right now, the next step is to either pay for the licensing rights to the photo, obtain written permission from the artist themselves or look for a database that provides photos/artwork that is in the public domain. I.e.it is outside of copyright, or the artist has released it without the copyright attached so that others can use it for their own benefit as they see fit.

The Blue Jay in my latest piece, pictured at the start of this blog is a licensed image. I purchased a license to use the image from iStock by Getty Images. This gives me the ability to use it for personal, commercial and business use unless otherwise restricted by the terms of the license. The only part of the licensed image I ended up using was the bird and the branch. However, if you search for Blue Jays on Google you will quickly spot the photo I used. The piece I have created is now also a copyrighted image. So one could argue that if you copy my piece you would have to pay me a licensing fee to use the parts that are original to myself and a licensing fee for the parts that are original to the photo. As you see, based on my limited understanding of this area, and it is limited, copyright can get complicated!

This and the Red Cardinal are the only pieces I will create using a licensed image done by others. Going forward I either will be provided the image (for commission work) or I will be using my own creations. I gain much pleasure now from exploring my own house and backyard with a camera and looking at old photos. I also find that it helps my artistic vision and my photography as I am looking at the camera through the artist’s lens. It will also make my future works more personal as I photograph items and subjects that grab my attention.

To me the Blue Jay is personal because of when I created it, not how it was created. The Blue Jay started as an exercise in backgrounds. I wanted to see if I could use a busy background in a neutral color that would not overpower the bird. It is an important piece to me as it connects old life with new life. I began it when my first dog’s health was deteriorating rapidly. I continued it while I grieved his passing and then finished it up after the arrival of our newest family member: a small little rescue dog from Egypt. So when I see this piece I remember two special animals in my life and the love they brought/bring to it.

If in reading this blog you find my understanding or interpretation of copyright simplistic please feel free to comment below. I know I and others who read this blog would love to learn more.

Until next time…!

My Next Piece: The Pale Comparison

Let me tell you a story. Many years ago there was a period in my adult life when I transitioned back and forth between two countries, eventually picking one location and settling in. However all my childhood belongings were packed away in a storage shed in the other country, and there they remained for ten long years. So long in fact that I no longer remembered what I owned. I often wondered what treasures I had stored away there but no longer knew.

During those ten years I spent time asking myself what it was I enjoyed doing when I wasn’t working, what hobbies would keep those evening hours full and occupied. I liked reading, and still do, but there was only so much I could read. So I looked around for hobbies to keep me entertained. I tried many things during this period, needlepoint, cross-stitch, sewing, journaling, writing, tv. Nothing seemed to suit. Finally there came a time when that storage shed was closed and my childhood belongings were placed on a ship and sent on their merry way across the ocean to my front door.

The day they arrived was like my birthday and greeting old friends mixed into one! My childhood books (my best companions), my favorite china and sentimental jewelry and ornaments. However the greatest surprise for me on opening those boxes was the fact that I had kept every single artistic gift given to me since I was the tiniest of kids. I had crayons and pencils from kindergarten, even though I stopped drawing when still in elementary school. I had artist quality paper, watercolors that one gets when a child, pencils that I’d never used that I had saved for the day I would want them. It was on that day I realized that I loved art and that as a child, this is how I had occupied my evenings when the day was done and my eyes worn out from reading.

Soon after the arrival of that box, my significant other and I went on a trip to see my sister in Santa Monica. As part of this trip, I packed those watercolors, the pencils and the artist quality paper found in my childhood treasures and went to Santa Monica.

I am an early riser. My significant other and my sister are not. So I had many mornings to myself to enjoy the sea breeze and the view and to look at the photos I had taken the day before. And thus I bring your attention to the watercolor at the top of this post. This is one of the first watercolor paintings I did as an adult. I did not think it particularly great, and was ready to bin it, but my sister, always a believer in my creativity, wanted to keep my firsts so that she could say she knew me when! (Not that I think the when she referred to will actually arrive). So this picture of Santa Monica now resides with her wherever she goes. It is there to remind her of the fun trip we had together back when I first started on my new artistic adventures.

Fast forward to last year. I am new to bead mosaics and trying to learn this new technique and how it works. My sister asked if I could re-create the painting I had done all those years ago as a bead mosaic for her. (Please see the second image at the top of the post). I did my best to achieve this goal. I made this piece four to five times using different methods and bead colors. Eventually I decided that I could not capture the essence of that first piece, because the watercolor was translucent and soft, and the beads appeared hard and solid. So, although it shines on its own, together, the bead mosaic looks like a pale comparison to the original work. As a consequence, I could not give it to my sister, even though I had made it for her. Having the bead mosaic in the same room as the watercolor would not make the mosaic shine. So I kept it for myself and gave my sister the Dolphin (mentioned in my earlier post) as it was a superior and far more important piece in my mind.

Now when I look at it, I am glad I kept it. I think of the original artwork with my sister and remember our trip to Santa Monica. It reminds me that no matter how far apart we are, we will always be connected, by tangible and intangible ties and memories. It makes me smile to think that we have something that we both share, two pieces of art, made at different times, but united by their common image.

Dear reader, until next time…!