Saturday, September 29, 2018

Large Scale Watercolors: Part 3, trimming the stretched paper

We finished building the substrates for the huge watercolors! Thanks to Aspen Ski Co for letting me build in the Pines Locker Room at Highlands, we could not have even contemplated this project without the gift of a clean, dry, large, open space.

Here are the final touches to finish stretching watercolor paper onto a 4' x 7' substrate, and a tally of cost, days and man hours. To see the entire process, scroll down for the previous two posts.

After pulling the plastic off of the top sheet, offset the top board by 2" at least on two sides so you can cut cleanly. When we pulled the plastic off, the paper was still damp in the center, but was dry around the edges, so it could be cut. 

Press the paper down along the edges to make the crease into a guide that you will cut along.

Cut a notch out of one side so you have a clean edge to follow. Use a NEW blade every TWO cuts to get the best, cleanest cut possible. 

With medium speed consistent movement, cut along the edge of the substrate following the crease you made in the paper. The trick to a clean cut is getting the knife to run in one long smooth movement. 

The finished product! Clean, crisp, supported watercolor paper trimmed neatly to the edges.
We ended up with seven usable panels, only TWO of which were flawless, the rest have corners here and there which pulled up and which will need re-soaking, gluing and pressing. The trick to this one is to make sure that the paper is trimmed to within 2" once it is mounted and before it dries. Excess paper curling off the edge made the corners and edges peel away even in the press. The other problem we encountered was not making the paper wet enough. The two panels which were perfect were the last two we mounted paper to, and the paper was very wet.

Final Expenses:

$240 MDF
$256 Sheet Metal
$325 Paper
$200 Misc Supplies at ACE Hardware (drop cloths, painter's tape, exacto and blades, rollers, trays, bondo, sandpaper, shop towels etc)
$35 gesso
$29 PVA glue

Total expenses: $1085 (not including paint, brushes and stuff to make the actual art work)
Per panel: $136

Man Hours: about 46 hours of work spread over four sessions spanning two weeks. (Two 48 hour drying times for metal to wood and paper to gesso'd metal, plus life interrupting.)

I would like to say a HUGE thank you to Megan and Hags and Katie for putting their heads together to come up with a space for me to work, to Tom and Carlie for donating over 20 hours of work to this project, to Ethan and Bodhi for diligently helping lift, cary, sort, sand, spray and what have you. This project took five of us to do easily and was a lot of fun.

Pros: This is about 1/3 of the cost of doing this on large pre-fabbed aluminum substrate panels.
Cons: Time is double the investment at least, the panels are about twice as heavy as they would be if they were aluminum composite.

Did you give this a try in your own work? Let us know what you did and how it went!

Tuesday, September 25, 2018

It's SNOWING in BC! From Anchor to Feather, Powder 101 is on! January 9th - 14th 2019


I remember the first day I truly needed powder skiing skills. I was visiting Aspen (where I now work), and they were having one of the most epic seasons ever. The snow was so continuous that they had to close Temerity (our double black diamond side). They opened it for their level 3 instructors and above to ski, creating some skier compaction and adding to the stability. I remember standing at the top of Mushroom, which was covered in about three feet of snow, and watching this group of ripping skiers take off after their patroller with whoops and hollers of glee. I stood there, disappointed in myself, knowing what was about to happen. I could ski cut up crud, bumps and steeps, but I just had not had enough time in deep untracked snow to understand how to make the skis turn when it felt like there was no bottom. What was there to push against?

Squatty Schuller, a former freestyle champion, Examiner and trainer extraordinaire (who had over two million vertical feet in deep powder by this time), looked at me and said, "Don't worry, I'll pick all your stuff up for you. Let's go." And that's what he did. He patiently taught me how to ski virgin snow on top of massive bumps on a double black run. By the end of the day, I was starting to understand. We dug for my ski more than once that day.

That was a day of exhaustion and bliss, and I learned some valuable things... Skiing powder looked like it could be the most effortless, beautiful, blissful body and soul experience ever. I learned that by watching Squatty float effortlessly in front of me, and from the squeals of joy from more accomplished instructors as they laughed their way down steep, untracked, private powder in the resort, a once in a lifetime experience.

I learned that falling and getting up in powder is hard, and there are techniques which make it MUCH easier. I learned that it helped EVERYTHING to have a patient, accomplished instructor and friend by my side to help me get through it, keep trying, keep reaching for the bliss. I learned that there is a technique to skiing powder, and once it clicks, life is gooooooood. And finally I learned that it doesn't hurt, generally, to fall down in powder. Patience and persistence along with good instruction turned what started as a stressful day where I didn't want to disappoint my friends into one of the days in my career that made me want to become a Squatty. He handed me bliss. I've never forgotten it, and I think of him every single time the helicopter takes me to untracked snow.
To learn more about Kate’s coaching philosophy, check out this article in MisAdventures Magazine.
Jennifer and I want to give this to you. Let us be your Squatty. Come, join us and learn how to bliss out in the pow. Fall down, get up, find stuff, get back on your feet and laugh while doing it. Learn how to bounce, to float, to turn, to stop to let speed be your friend. AND BONUS, you don't have to learn on a double black on moguls. We will take you to appropriate teaching terrain, and we will have your back....and you will have the time of your life! So, how do you go from novice "anchor" to competent pow skier?

Come with us to Powder 101 taught by myself, PSIA-RM Examiner, Kate Howe, and 3 term PSIA National Alpine Team member Jennifer Simpson, and you can plan to have a bast while leaving your worries behind.

WHERE: Big Red Cats, Rossland, BC is one of the biggest cat skiing operations on the planet with six cats, over 500 runs, eight mountains, and more than 20,000 acres! The Big Red team has been busy working on the runs and sculpting out new adventures for you. The 5 bedroom lodge is amazing and after a day of skiing POW you will be ready to get a massage, hit the hot tub, have a delicious dinner and do it all again the next day!


Ready to join us January 9th - 14th for a true powder adventure?  You will find the details here:

Friday, September 21, 2018

Large Scale Water Colors Underway at Highlands Part 2

It's time for the last steps! This is the best and scariest part, stretching the paper to the substrate. For the building and prepping of substrate on which to stretch watercolor paper, see the post below. Why are we doing this?? Because when you paint on watercolor paper, it wrinkles both as it gets wet and more so when it dries. To avoid this, we soak and stretch the paper to something rigid and archival. 

Day 4, step 22: One side of the paper probably has light sizing on it, and this is the side you want to paint on. Dribble a little water on each side. The side which bubbles up and absorbs slower is the side you want UP, the side with sizing that you will paint on. Mark that side with an x in pencil. 

Day 4, step 23: spray the watercolor paper THOROUGHLY. Not damp, wet. Especially if you are working with large paper, as it will absorb and dry as you go. 

Day 4, Step 24: flip the paper, keeping track of what side is UP, and soak the other side evenly as well. 
Day 4, Step 25: check the prepared surface of your substrate: are there any lumps, bumps, dust, gloppy gesso? If so, lightly and carefully sand these areas with a sanding block. Then wipe the surface down to make sure it is free from all dust and debris. 

Day 4, Step 26: Pour PVA size on the prepared, clean surface of your substrate. We got six paintings worth out of this 32 oz bottle. (The paintings are 4' x 7')

Day 4, Step 27: Roll out PVA evenly on surface, it should not be pooling once you roll it, but it should be as thick as it can be without pooling. Be generous along the edges.
Day 4, Step 28: Place wet but not dripping, pooling, or soaking paper onto PVA sizing on substrate. Pull paper FLAT not TIGHT. 
Day 4, Step 29: roll paper out from center to edge in a star pattern, but in the same way you would tighten lug nuts on your car. This keeps the paper from twisting, which will create wrinkles. Use firm pressure. This presses the PVA into the paper from the back and also pulls excess water out of the paper.

If you don't use the X pattern first, you will get large bubbles. Removing the bubbles is possible by lifting the paper and re positioning it, or by rolling quickly toward the edge, but remember, the paper is drying fast. You want it to be damp, firm, secure, with no bubbles when you finish. 
Day 4, Step 30: When you are finished with the star pattern, roll firmly from center to edge as you move around the paper, stretching the paper like a pie crust over the edge of the substrate and removing all the excess water you can.
Day 4: Step 31: Make sure you put drop cloths on the floor, and wipe them clean as you go (we had one person rolling and one person wiping down the drop cloth.) Why you ask? Because if PVA size gets on the front of the paper, it will dry clear, but your paper will have a resist to it in the areas where the PVA touched it. Neat and tidy is the name of the game in watercolors. 
Day 4, Step 32: Turn off the lights and shine a flashlight sideways at the paper. Is it fully adhered? Are there any bubbles? Roll the bubbles out from center to edge so the air can escape. Water and PVA will pour out from under the paper, be prepared for this and DO NOT get it on your roller!

Day 4, Step 33: Paper is white, clean, stretched, smooth and overhanging on all edges. Awesome! Layer a thin drop cloth on top of the paper to slow the drying and protect the paper from the paper press. Make sure there are no wrinkles in the drop cloth or they will emboss the paper. 

Day 4, Step 34: Put the next substrate on top of the paper and drop cloth. Line it up as best you can with corners so that the edges adhere well. 

Day 4, Step 35: Repeat the process!

This is how wet the paper should be.

Day 4, Step 25: Add a piece of MDF on the top and place weights on the top of the whole shebang. Leave to dry for 36 - 48 hours. 

Journaling and Journeying Retreat in Wallowa, OR Now Available at a Special Price

Exciting news!!!   Journaling has been such an important part of my life and my healing, and I'm committed to spreading the message to ensure as many people as possible have access to this transformative practice.  

After receiving so many compelling emails, I have decided to lower the Wallowa Oregon "Journaling and Journeying" trip to cost!  Now you pay $775.00 and it includes a yoga mat, strap, block, all meals, and lodging...everything that is listed on the trip information page, here:

We have limited spots available at this new price, so we hope you'll join us on our upcoming Journaling and Journeying trip  Oct 24th - 28th.


Saturday, September 8, 2018

Large scale watercolors underway at the Highlands

Last summer, after not having a regular painting practice for more than 15 years, I went to Paris for the first time with my sons Ethan and Bodhi and our friend Richard. Since then, I can't stop painting and dreaming of making work.

Mural at Cloud 9 charcoal, shellac and oil on rough plywood at the restaurant atop Aspen Highlands. 2013

This summer, recovering from Breast Cancer, I took some painting classes at Anderson Ranch in Snowmass, right near where I live. For the first time ever, I painted using something other than oils. We worked in Sumi-e ink, watercolor, dye, and acrylics.

I became fascinated (in spite of myself) with watercolors, and I started dreaming about making a large scale series using this amazing, versatile paint which, honestly, had intimidated me until now.

I had to do some research on how to work with large paper (although of course the first thing I did was save up $162 and bought a huge role of beautiful Arches hot press watercolor paper... nothing motivates me like having a blank canvas begging to be painted on.

"Otto is Sorry" 19" x 24" watercolor on paper 2018

It turns out that in order to work really well on large paper, you have to anchor it to a substrate which will not warp or bend as the water becomes saturated. Down the rabbit hole of construction and cost I went. Many people stretch paper over an aluminum composite board, which you can buy at Jerry's Art A Rama for $300 for 2 pieces, and spend an additional $300 getting it shipped to Aspen where I live. This puts my series of six paintings, and the beginnings of a second abstracted series out of reach for me. I want to make EIGHT monumental sized water colors.

We settled for EIGHT large sized water colors. Monumental will have to wait. (I'd have to cleat the substrate and collage the paper, it's a whole process, and would double the cost).

Here, for your pleasure, is the method we came up with, and how we are building them. I will update the blog as we go along to show you how it works out for us.

First, I texted my friend Kipp, who can build a house out of duct tape and chewing gum on the top of a hill and the moment you see it, you will want to live in it. I was looking for sheet metal, thinking we might build our own substrate. It won't be as light as aluminum, but it will be stable and much cheaper. For $600 (without box frames on the back yet), I can make all eight pieces at 4' x 7' (as opposed to the 5' x 8' I was shooting for, or the 8' x 10' I hope to move into).

Playing with technique in small studies. This is practice for the materials I'm using, not for the subject, although I kind of like this one and I am beginning to wonder what it would look like really large.
"Losing Track" Sept 2018 19" x 24" watercolor and pencil on paper.

He gave me a couple of suggestions, and we ended up finding what we needed at a reasonable price right here in at TE on the Frying Pan in Basalt. Chris at TE (who was amazing and helpful and not at all construction elitist, which I have encountered at building supplies where I'm like "I'm an artist, and I want to build...) suggested that we do not get sheet metal any thinner than 26 guage as it turns into a virtual razor blade for anyone handling it. Remembering that in a previous installation piece which Tom and I built into the side of a hill at Art Center College of Design in Pasadena in 2003, I had cut rriiiiight up to the tendon of my thumb on just such a piece of sheet metal, I took Chris's advice and we went with thicker, safer, heavier.

My friend Carlie suggested that we adhere the sheet metal to MDF, as it is smooth, cheap and easy to work with, although it can also be heavy and it can break when you move it. Putting the sheet metal on top of it should cure the brittleness issue.

I started out with a small piece of sheet metal and a study sized piece of watercolor paper just to see if it would work. I cleaned the sheet metal of grease, forgot to sand it lightly, and applied two layers of gesso to it. Once the gesso had dried, I spread PVC glue onto the gesso, soaked my paper until it was damp through, laid the paper down onto the glue, rolled it out smooth and stacked books on it for 24 hours while it all dried.

When it was all said and done, I had a beautiful piece of paper which would take lots of water without wrinkling. I did a small study of the llamas on the ranch where we live because they are funny to paint and will stare at you for hours, and it all worked out okay.

Llamas, 9" x 19" watercolor on paper. The stripes on the right side of the paper are a result of me experimenting with collaging scraps of paper onto the sheetmetal substrate to see if the edges would adhere nicely. The black lines are from the edges of the watercolor block, and so I used them to put the goat behind it's own fence. 

The next issue I had to tackle was building the pieces and then painting on them. My studio is a 7' x 8' box with a 7' ceiling, and it is completely full of books, paintings, supplies and an easel that we had to chop the top off of to make it fit into the space. These large watercolors need to be painted laying flat. I do not have a safe, clean space that is 4' x 7' in my life, and I set out on a quest to find one.

Here's the issue, I live in Aspen, Colorado. While it's one of the most beautiful places I've ever been in the world, it is also one of the most expensive. For instance, I pay $400 a month plus utilities for my studio box with heat and electricity but no running water. This is on the ranch where I've lived since 2007, so I know the owners and they are cutting me a deal. I couldn't even find a place to lay out my paper so it could uncurl so I could mount it, let alone a place to build and paint.

Highlands to the rescue! I did three large murals for Highlands, two in the conference area downstairs and one at Cloud 9 when they wanted to extend their remodel timeline. I got paid expenses for one of them, I didn't charge anything at all for the other two, I was just so stoked to be able to paint again. They are oil on the wall, or on mahogany.

I contacted my friend Megan, who called her sister Katie, who suggested I talk to Hags, who I already had done a mural for. They ended up finding me some temporary space in the corner of a locker room which we don't think anyone is going to come into for the next two weeks or so, as it's September. (You never know, though... people might come to town and drop off their skis. So we have to keep it super duper neat.)

The space is perfect. I had the paper, a place to roll it out, and space to paint. Now we just had to pick up the materials and make a plan.

Here's the plan:

Kate Howe’s Giant Watercolor project 4’ x 7’ 
eight paintings total

The order of operations is (as far as we’ve worked it out)

Notes: watercolor paper must stay pristine and clean through process

1. Cut MDF
2. Clean the pre-cut metal
3. Lightly sand metal on both sides
3.5 clean metal again 
4. Glue metal to MDF with contact cement 
5. Let metal/MDF cure (# of hours?)
6. Meanwhile unroll paper for 24 hours in a clean space with weights to flatten
7. Measure and Cut paper
8. Gesso steel, let dry, 3-4 coats, one day total dry time (about 1 hour per coat and 3-4 hours for full dry)
9. Soak paper front and back
10. Pva glue on gesso
11. Place damp paper right side UP on wet glued surface
12. Roll paper with roller to remove air bubbles and smooth surface
13. Stack all boards and papers on top of each other with plastic drop cloths in between
14. Cover with drop cloth and one extra MDF board
15. Weight with cinder blocks
16. Let dry 24 hours
17. Cut excess paper flush to edges
18. Build floating box frame on back, in-set a few inches
19. Let dry overnight with clamps

Painting process: 10 days - 2 weeks max

And here we go: 
Day One: Drop cloth and saw horses in place, 6 sheets of MDF and 8 pieces of Sheet metal. Yes, this means we have to go back and get three more pieces of MDF. 2 for painting substrate and one for pressure clamping. 

Day 2: I finally got to unroll it! 10 meters of 52" Arches Hot Press water color paper, baybee. You can see it in the above image sandwiched between the MDF boards. Weighting the paper for 24 hours still didn't flatten it all the way. 

Day 2, Step 2: Measuring the sheet metal to make sure the sizes are all consistent. Of course they aren't. They differ by about a 16th of an inch. Carlie suggests we cut the wood proud to the metal and use a belt sander to bring it back in to reduce the risk of getting cut while transporting or hanging these pieces. 

Day 2, Step 3: Cutting the MDF to size, preferably just a hair larger than the sheet metal.
Day 2, Step 4: lightly sand sheet metal on one side

Day 2, Step 5 Clean one side of sheet metal with lacquer thinner
Day 2, Step 6: Apply contact cement to clean side of sheet metal
Day 2, Step 7: Flip sheet metal onto dusted off surface of MDF
Day 2, Step 8: Register edges of metal to wood as closely as possible

Day 2, Step 9: Clamp edge

Day 2, Step 10: Peel back the sheet metal

Day 2, Step 11: Pour contact cement onto the MDF, you'll need a lot and you need to work fast because it soaks in. We used about 1 1/2 gallons of contact cement for eight panels

Day 2, Step 12: roll out the excess contact cement and scrape it into the bucket for further use
Day 2, Step 13: (no photo): lay down sheet metal and smooth out with body weight, rubbing it down all over with force with a rag to help adhesion, especially along edges.

Day 3, Step 14: Grind the panels with a belt sander to knock back any overhangs on metal or wood

Day 3, Step 15: Steel wool lightly sand entire surface of sheet metal adhered to panel. Make sure to scratch up every part of the sheet metal or the Gesso won't stick well. 
Day 3, Step 16: Clean entire surface of sheet metal with lacquer thinner really thoroughly. If it's not degreased well, the Gesso won't stick. 

Day 3, Step 17: Add Bondo to any areas in the sheet metal which are dented or not perfectly smooth, any dimples and imperfections may show through the paper

Day 3, Step 18: Sand Down the set-up Bondo

Day 3, Step 19: Apply gesso to clean surface

Day 3, Step 20: Apply a second coat of Gesso
Day 3, Step 21: Stack and pack, we have to leave the space as tidy as possible just in case someone wants to put their skis in their locker in September! You never know... Today took about 2 and a half hours with four people working. (I don't count, I was supervising after having about a pint of blood drawn this afternoon. Ugh.)