Artistcellar Blog

Imagine. Create. Enjoy.

As I was putting away various supplies from my daughters' recent school projects I came across a small white gift box we picked up at a dollar store that was part of a package of three (My daughter used one to create a sarcophagus for her Egypt diorama). I figured I could use some stencils and paint to transform it's plain exterior into something more colorful and fun. 

Here is what I used:

I started with a thin layer of gesso and then put a few drops of a few colors of acrylic ink on the top of the lid and the bottom of the box and then smooshed (yes, technical term) the two surfaces together to mix the inks. Before the inks were completely dry I placed a stencil onto the surface and used a baby wipe to rub off excess ink. It left a beautiful texture.

After tearing a page from an old dictionary into strips I used gel medium to glue them to the edges of both the lid and the main box.

I wanted to create a more weathered appearance so I used a resist technique I learned from artist Claudine Hellmuth. I used my finger to gently rub petroleum jelly onto the surfaces in thin loose lines. Don't cover the entire surface, just in a few places you want the original surface to show. Then I took white paint and watered it down to a milk-like consistency. Lightly brush this over the entire surface and you will see the petroleum resisting the paint. After the paint is completely dry take a baby wipe and rub off the petroleum. It will look like your surface is old with peeled paint! In the picture the surface on the left was left to dry longer than the one on the right so the white is more vibrant after I wiped off the petroleum.

To finish the design I added more layers and marks with a homemade foam stamp, the side of an old gift card and a small paintbrush. When everything was dry I brushed a thin layer of fluid matte medium to seal it and give it a uniform finish.

Lastly I cut a few rectangles from some of my homemade collage papers and glued them to the inside of the box and lid with the fluid matte medium to give the finished gift box a little more flair. 

I don't know about you, but I think I'm going to have to make a little book to go in this little gift box! Please share with us if you make one of your own.

This week's project is inspired by a mantra that I have been saying to my elementary students more and more in art class. 

Progress, not Perfection

The younger students are still filled with the wonders of being creative and don't get hung up on perfection. They are excited to try new things and love their results no matter what. I have noticed that starting in 3rd and 4th grade the doubts start creeping in and they are more and more unwilling to take risks and do something they don't already know how to do. There is much discussion on having a mindset that allows them to grow and that making mistakes is part of that growth. I try to make my classroom a space where they don't feel like I am constantly judging or comparing them to their classmates. I found myself repeating "Progress, not Perfection" over and over throughout the day and found most students began to relax and feel proud of the work they are doing right now. 

How true this is for all of us. The act of creation does come with feelings of vulnerability and when we start to compare our NOW with others' NOW it can be daunting. When my students see my project examples they proclaim that they want their art to have that same quality. I remind them that I have been creating for over 30 years and if they put the time in to work on their craft they will improve but they do not need to be perfect now. I want them to try their best and make it their goal to have each project improve in some way from the previous one. 

I wanted to make this mantra into a permanent art piece to hang in my classroom so my students (and myself!) can be reminded that progress is the goal right now, not perfection. 

I found a canvas in my studio that had a start of a background made from various printed papers. I don't care too much for the prints now but the subtle texture from the papers will be a nice foundation. 

Using light molding paste, a palette knife, the Shadow halftone dots stencil and the X's from the Marked series I created a raised pattern around the outside perimeter of the canvas. 

While that dried I pulled out my collection of chipboard letters (from my scrapbookin' days!) and spelled out my mantra. When the molding paste was dry I used regular gel matte medium to glue the letters in place in the center-ish of my canvas.  I carefully flipped my canvas face down on my non-stick craft mat and placed heavy beanbags in the center and edges of the canvas to make sure the surface was flat to the table to as the gel medium dries everything stays flat.

When I was sure everything was dry it was time to give the entire surface a coat of paint and I chose Night from Dina Wakley Media. Again, wait for paint to dry. I then used a piece of sandpaper (a fine-ish grit) to sand off the paint from the surface of the letters and some from the perimeter of the canvas where I put the modeling paste with the stencils. This step really helps the raised surfaces stand out from the background. 

After brushing off the dust from the sanding I used Ocean and Evergreen paints to give some color to the canvas but not the lettering. As a finishing touch I painted the outside edges of the canvas red. 

Ta-Da! I love the way it turned out and look forward to displaying it in my classroom.

Have a creative week!


I have a little primer on how to use clear gesso. Haha. See what I did there?

I used to have a love/hate relationship with clear gesso. I first heard about it when I took classes with Suzi Blu a few years back. Great for layering colored pencils and such. But whenever I used it (and I can't remember the brand) it would EAT UP my markers and pencils. I don't know how many marker tips I ruined trying to write over it.

Fast forward a few years and let me introduce you to... Dina Wakley's Media line of Gessoes. Artistcellar has the black and white versions, I just added the Clear Gesso to the shelves because.... LOVE! A lot of gessoes have a very rough gritty feel to them. This one is much smoother to the touch and still does the job! It still has some grit, but it's more like a chalkboard than sandpaper.

I went ahead and did a comparison between the Media Clear Gesso and a matte Gel medium (which has many merits of it's own!) in my art journal.

I grabbed as many art journaling tools that I could think of: watercolor, Neo2 watercolor crayon, water soluble graphite pencil, watercolor pencil, inktense, sharpie, india ink, permopaque marker, prismacolor marker, fude ball pen, pitt pen, pastel chalk...

Just looking over the pages as a whole, I can see that the gessoed page, on the right, has more intense colors. It was especially apparent in the area of the watercolor and the water soluble writing tools.

I glued book pages down in the journal to give some idea of how translucent the colors are. The picture below shows the page with the matte gel medium background. It's respectable and perfectly doable. It has a nice, subtle watercolorey look to it. From top to bottom is Neocolor2 crayons in purple, Water soluble graphite in gray, watercolor pencil in red, and inktense in green.

Now compare the clear gessoed page with the same colors below. MUCH more intense and vibrant. That gesso just grabbed onto the color.

I also tested a bunch of different pens and markers. India ink looked the same over both surfaces, but the others worked a lot better on the gessoed surface than the gel medium. Below is the mark test with gel medium:

It's okay. It gets a little smudgy. Below is the page with the gesso base.

Definitely has more intensity to it. And it wasn't so gritty as to chew up the tips of my markers. The sharpie marker really stood out, as well as the Fude Ball pen. The pan pastel chalk (blue in the corner) really did a LOT better over the gesso, chalk needs something to cling to.

One thing to remember is that ALL water soluble mediums (pens, paints, dyes) will smear if you put gel medium OR clear gesso over the top. Anything wet will smudge them. I had a page in my art journal that I had sprayed with Dylusions Black Marble ink spray and did a little stenciling to give it some depth and texture. I wanted to use the background for a Journal52 prompt "a tribute to David Bowie" but I knew that if I tried to write with white paint pens over Dylusions Ink spray I would get a muddy gray mess, because the ink spray would migrate into the white paint pen on top. This is a perfect example of how to use the clear gesso. I simple brushed a layer of clear gesso over the ink spray to seal it without changing the background much. Because my background was abstract more or less, I didn't mind that it smudged with the brush strokes. If you don't want it to smudge, use a makeup sponge and DAB the clear gesso on top without rubbing it. Let it dry thoroughly before adding anything on top.

I got nice and clear, WHITE lettering with a paint pen, no bleed through. (The white you see behind is a stabilo pencil I first wrote lightly with, to grunge up the piece a little.)

Something else to note, is that if you use a clear gesso over a page, then write on top with a water soluble medium like a neo2 crayon, it WILL continue to be water soluble, until you seal it again. Both gel medium and gesso are water proof and will hold that medium on TOP of the surface. Simply seal with another (dabbed) layer of clear gesso, or a spray sealant. Or don't seal it at all, consider it a top final layer and you're done!

Thanks for reading, see you next time!