How I created it

This is a photo of a piece I’ve entered in the InterUrban ArtHouse “12 x 12” show, which begins May 17 in Overland Park, Kansas.

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I thought I’d take you through the steps that it took to arrive at this stage. These things don’t just create themselves, you know. Well, in a way, they do, but that’s another story.

Anyway, this piece is acrylic and paper mache on canvas. The dimensions of the entries in the show were required to be 12” x 12”. All media were accepted: painting, sculpture, photography, prints. I’ve done painting on canvas, paper and hardboard before, but this is the first time I’ve attempted to use paper mache.

There are lots of formulae for paper mache, but I decided to use something called Elmer’s Art Paste as the “glue” for the paper mache.

Elmer's Art Past

After doing some research, I concluded that this is maybe the least problematic of the types of glue commonly used to make paper mache, not having the issues with mold that flour and water has, for example. Plus it is inexpensive. A 2 oz. package cost $5 and it makes enough for lots and lots of paper mache. An ounce makes about two quarts of the stuff and I used maybe a fifth of that for the three pieces I created. Testimonials on YouTube said that the stuff lasts nearly forever after it’s mixed, so I’ve got enough for the foreseeable future.

Every time I shred a bunch of paper, I always think that there must be a better end for it than just going to the landfill or recycling station. I just finished shredding several years worth of old tax forms and it occurred to me that those would a great base for this project.

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I soaked a bunch of the paper for a couple of days, shredded it even finer with my electric mixing wand, and squeezed out the water. Here’s what it looked like compressed as much as I could.

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These I “decompressed” and mixed with the glue to make a kind of thick paste, which I applied to the canvasses. Here’s photo of what that looked like.

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Initially, I formed the shape by hand and then used trowels and an old knife to create the ridges and indentations. I’ve done this a lot with plaster on hardboard and that gives a much smoother finish, but I like the texture that the paper mache produced. After a couple of coats of gesso to seal the the surface, I started applying the layers of acrylic. The base layer was a cadmium yellow to highlight the indentations.

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Next came mixture of yellow and Windsor blue to create a blue-green undercoat.

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I applied several mixtures of cad yellow, raw umber, Windsor blue and white to get the final overall effect and followed that with a wash of purple.

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One of the challenges of non-objective art is knowing when to stop painting. The temptation is always to do just a little bit more. “Maybe that area needs a little more blue or a streak of red.” “What would more yellow look like over there?” As the Hollies sang, “Stop, Stop, Stop.”

This piece (entitled “More by Less” from a letter to Time magazine by an architectural critic who was praising a review of a New York building) will be available for $100 at the show. I hope you will be able to join us.