Trying Times

My art world right now sometimes seems a bit crazy. I’ve been bouncing around with ups and downs, feeling good about my art at times, and at other times wallowing in despair and wondering what on earth I think I’m doing!

I’ve let my “inner child” out to play and sometimes it’s been fun. Sometimes, though, it’s been little short of traumatic — as you’ve seen from my “art therapy” posts.

Definitely I’m going through a lot of “trying times” — and I mean that quite literally. I am trying many different things, trying out different media, trying new techniques. Today I’m sharing one of the more experimental projects I’ve been working on. In every way, this qualifies as a trying work of art.

Do you remember Rick Cheadle? He is the author of a book I read recently on alcohol ink art. I followed along with many of his ideas and suggestions as I learned to create different effects with my inks.

Now, I’m reading another of his books, this one on acrylic pouring, or, more to the point, on re-doing acrylic pourings. It’s inevitable, I think, that the more we pour, the more often we come up with something we’re just not crazy about. It happens, and as we learn more techniques and improve our design capabilities, maybe we tend to set higher standards for art even when it’s fluid and essentially random.

Over the last few months, I’ve built up quite a display of acrylic pouring art. I’ve been working on 10″ x 10″ stretched canvases for almost all of my projects, and while there are several I plan to hang in our home — they’ll look great in our spa — that still leaves quite a collection.

I’ve gone through all these “acrylic abstracts” and have marked the ones I want to keep. These will be varnished, hung on our walls, or sold. The others — the ones I’m not fond of — will be recycled in one way or another.

This is where Rick Cheadle and After the Pour comes in. He lists dozens of materials that can be used to transform old acrylic art into something new and different. With several old pourings in need of a transformation, I jumped eagerly into the first project — Flowers in a Vase.

I chose one of my “Christmas Colors” pourings. I’d done this while playing with complementary color schemes for acrylic pourings.  Here is how the canvas looked before I began this “transformation” project.

Step one was to apply white gesso “where desired”. Well, where did I desire and why? I wasn’t sure, but I tried to keep in mind what I was creating, thinking about the shapes of a vase and flowers. I still wasn’t sure where I should apply gesso, but I figured, “No harm in trying, right?” The instructions were to then wrap the canvas in plastic wrap. Fine. Will do.

Cheadle says to let the plastic-wrapped, gessoed canvas dry overnight. I had a lot going on, so I allowed mine to dry for nearly a full 48 hours. Yikes! Peeling off the plastic wrap was a lot trickier than I’d expected, but little by little, I managed to remove it all.

The next step was to use bits of scrap paper, tissue paper, collage paper — whatever — to shape the still life floral arrangement. I had recently worked on a Sketchbook Revival project that turned out so awful I tore it up and tossed it all into the scrap bin, so my first thought was to salvage what I could from it and re-cycle the scraps as part of this floral piece.

But then, I changed my mind and began making better decisions about my art and how I approach it. I’ve been learning a lot lately about myself as an artist, about how I so often sabotage art projects — and why. Much of the playful, experimental art I’m now doing is designed to help me connect more fully with the creative aspects of who I am and to leave behind all the negative “art attachments” I’ve built up over the years.

The first important decision I made was to consider the colors. While it might have felt good to recycle those old scraps, they wouldn’t have fit with the existing color scheme of reds and greens. Rather than make a deliberately wrong choice — just to spite myself — I decided to do what I knew was right. I set aside the ugly scraps and rummaged a bit deeper into the scrap bin. There I found about a half-sheet of a reddish scrapbooking paper, leftover from my journal-making project.

I made another decision then. I wasn’t going to approach this project with my usual “willy-nilly, who cares” attitude. I take that attitude often as a pre-emptive defense against possible failure. Maybe I would fail with this “Flowers in a Vase” project, and if I did, so be it. It would not be for lack of trying. For once, I was truly going to do my best to follow the directions and complete the project as instructed.

So I did a little planning. I considered what the end result should be, and gave some thought to how to make it happen. With a pencil, I began marking “flower circles” on the canvas, keeping in mind, all the while, the various design principles I’ve been learning.

Again, wanting to work carefully, I used a stencil to neatly draw my circles on the scrapbooking paper. I made a variety of sizes, and then I patiently cut them out. I still “don’t do well with scissors” — but I did my best. Maybe my circles aren’t perfect, but then, neither are flowers in nature. A little imperfection is good.

Here is how the piece began “shaping up” after I added the different circles. So far, so good.

It was at this point that I began doubting myself. I liked what I was doing but worried that whatever I did next would surely be wrong. I would end up — as I so often do — ruining the project.

Cheadle suggests working next with alcohol inks, and I decided to give it a try as part of this transformation. I imagined each of my flowers with black centers, so that’s how I used mantilla black alcohol ink. I knew it wouldn’t react well on the scrapbooking paper, but I knew, too, that perfection wasn’t the point here. I still had a lot I could do with this project. So, I dropped on the ink:

Again I was beset by doubts. I still liked what was happening, but where would I go from here? Cheadle’s suggestion was to use drops of alcohol along with the inks, but that wouldn’t really work on this project, would it?

That was when I made another good decision. A huge part of what it means to be an artist is to recognize our own creative impulses. This was my project, not Richard Cheadle’s. Yes, I was following his guidance, reading his suggestions, and working from a project he had completed. That didn’t mean my project would — or should — resemble his.

So, in a sense, I went rogue. With a shrug, I poured on various colors of alcohol ink, added additional alcohol, and let the colors run a bit. I liked it. I liked it a lot.

Cheadle gives many, many more steps to follow for his “Flowers in a Vase” project, but I was happy with what I’d created. I didn’t want to add anything more to it. Oh, I considered several things, but each time I looked at my “transformed” painting, I liked it, and that’s what matters most in the art we create.

Day by day, I’m learning to quit while I’m still ahead, learning to stop and walk away from an art project once I’m feeling happy with what I’m seeing. So, here is how my project turned out:

I like this. I like that I was able to take an old acrylic pouring that I didn’t care for, and turn it into something fresh and whimsical, something that makes me smile. I’m going to give it a good coat of varnish and find a home for it here in the studio.

I hope you like this too!

NOTE: I did find a place for this. It’s at the very entrance to the studio. As I come down the stairs each morning I see this little bouquet. It reminds me that art is a process, and so is life. Even things we might not like can be changed. Transformation is possible.


  1. Good for you! You took a thoughtful, considered approach and made some good decisions here AND didn’t let yourself self-sabotage. That’s not easy, but give yourself some credit and keep it up. 👍

    Liked by 1 person

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