To be an observer

Jen Cushman Breaking Out of the Mold Class Sample

I have a fully developed observer side to me. It’s an inherent trait I possess and it’s one of my qualities that made me a good reporter and also serves me now as an artist.

I’m keenly aware of details. How my children are doing when they come home from school each day, what color people are wearing or other outwardly ways they choose to express themselves. I notice body language. I notice facial expressions, like a slight down turned mouth or knitted eyebrows — both which tell me something about what’s going on inside the person. I always make a mental note to myself when teaching to be aware of micro expressions so I can look for clues as to what my students are experiencing and if I can possibly help them through any bumps in the class — emotional or technical. Art is an expression of one’s soul and, sometimes, it’s messy in there!

I also notice shapes and colors and oddities - natural or man made.  I love to see shapes layered on top of each other, like the way leaves on a tree are all similar but still unique and the depth and dimension they have when the sunlight filters through them. While I have never had any formal training in drawing (yet!), I taught myself to sketch by breaking the whole into individual shapes and building from there. It’s the way I look at an art piece. I see the whole and then begin breaking it down to the details. Once I’ve seen every small mark and studied it. I zoom back to the whole picture so I can fully appreciate the work and thought that the artist has put into his or her work.

My husband says my brain never stops. It’s true. Life is just too interesting and there are too many details.

Recognizing this inherent trait has allowed me to hone it over the years. Like a muscle one builds. I want to keep my brain sharp, and I believe that noticing and remembering details is a way to accomplish this. I even do it with my children. Not so much my son any more because he’s not into my “pretending” games that we did when he was younger, but my little one is all for it. When she notices something in the store and says, “Mama, I like that lady’s pink shirt.” I respond with a question that makes her study further. “Do you like it because of the color, or is it the lace detail on the sleeves you like? What else do you see in this store that you like?”

I want her to see that color, shape, form and beauty are everywhere. When she grows up and people ask where she gets her inspiration, I hope she replies “everywhere.” It doesn’t matter if she chooses to be an artist or a teacher or truck driver or an at-home mommy. What I want her to understand is that happiness is found in the details.

I’m sure most of you can relate. Being an observer of life is not a unique trait to anyone who makes art. While it’s always been part of me, I sincerely believe it’s a skill, and a vital one at that if you work in a creative field. Being a good artist, or dancer or musician means doing your craft so well that micro details are executed so seamlessly that the big picture of your work is ultimately flawless. Not perfect, but flawless. Perfection is overrated. A technically perfect piece with no soul can leave one feeling as cold and flat inside as a three-day-old dead fish.

If this is a new concept for you, think about it. Try it on for size. On days that might be a bit slower, use the extra moments to flex your observation muscle. Take a new route home from work, try a little harder to notice your coworkers’ expressions. Take a few more minutes to be fully present in whatever mundane task you always perform and notice how expertly you’re executing the details. If you’re not already doing this, it will become second nature if you wish it to be. Soon, you’ll notice the integration of this into your art. Trust me, it’s a very cool thing!

I’m curious. Do you consider yourself an observer? What are your favorite things to notice?

JenSig

 

Mixed media art journal with Tombow XTREME

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I think I told you about Tombow’s Sticky U program where the company contacted various artists and asked them to participate in a new marketing campaign using the Xtreme glue runner. For a quick refresher, here’s the post I wrote a few weeks ago on it.

Well the deadline has come and I’m excited to share my mixed-media art journal on my blog and also over on Tombow’s blog.

A couple weeks ago I was teaching in Dallas, Texas at a CREATE event. One of my workshops was my Art Journal Jewelry one, where we explore collage, color and mark making and then turn them into one-of-a-kind art jewelry. These images were the pages I created throughout the day as I demoed the techniques and each step in the process.

As I was unpacking my instructor’s box and repacking for my next art retreat in Seattle (Oct. 22-26), I came across my class samples. It seemed the perfect art focal as my Sticky University thesis.

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A plain black Moleskein journal became the substrate. I cut down the collage painting on the left of the beautiful Geisha and then attached it quick and easy with the Xtreme glue runner. Wanting to test the company’s marketing information that this new glue is 5x stronger than standard tape runners and will work on everything from wood to acrylic to metal, I cut a strip of vintage measuring tape and glued it down.

Next, I wanted to test the boundaries of this glue with delicate objects so I pulled some beautiful Guinea Hen feathers a student of mine in Dallas gave me and attached them with Xtreme too. The feathers are perfectly adhered and there is zero glue showing through, which is pretty cool if you ask me. I’ve worked with real feathers quite a bit and they are a pain to get right with wet medium.

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One quick tip: When using the tape runner be sure to end the gluing motion with a side swipe. This stuff is so wonderfully sticky that if you just lift it off your substrate, the glue will pull up and you’ll have strings to deal with. A quick side swipe cleanly breaks the sticky film. Here’s a good video from Tombow showing how to use it if you’re interested in seeing more.

So now that I’ve had time to play with the product my conclusion is that the Xtreme really is perfect for mixed-media artists. I give it two thumbs up and will continue to use it in my work and keep it as an adhesive staple in my studio.  Sure, it’s nice to be a Sticky University graduate, but, really this is a product review and what’s most important to you is to know that it’s simple, easy and works.

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Tell me, are you a glue aficionado? What’s you favorite adhesive for your mixed-media work?

JenSig

Sweet Halloween Necklace

Halloween is one of my kids’ favorite times of year. My teenage son is into scary movies (yikes!) and my little one keeps asking me how many days until she gets to wear her Elsa costume from Frozen. I’m going public with a confession right now; I bought my daughter a costume because refashioning a dress seemed like too much work for this non-sewing mama.

People think because I have the crafty gene that means my kids get handmade costumes every year. I have hot glued like a banshee in past years, particularly the year my son was in sixth-grade and saw a DIY costume idea online to dress up as a used Q tip (it involves batting, yellow paint for ear wax and white sweat pants/sweatshirt). This year, however, I can say that I’m using my crafting skills for good and not evil to make a few sweet Halloween necklaces.

Here’s a quick tutorial to make this vintage little girl necklace when you want to be Halloween festive but not too over the top.

Jen Cushman Halloween necklace

Supplies:

Filigree brass stamping (my friend Brenda Sue from B’Sue Boutiques has a lovely collection of stampings and jewelry findings on her website. Here is a similar stamping to what I used.)

Art Mechanique Long Rectangle Hobnail Bezel

Silver German Glass Glitter

Clear Brads

ICE Resin

Brass chain

Vintage Halloween image (The Graphics Fairy has some nice images) As always, please review copyright laws regarding images if you are selling your work. You will want to ensure royalty free or check out a company’s Angel policy.

Directions:

Size and print image using a photo manipulation program. I happen to use Photoshop Elements but there is a great online website called PicMonkey that I use for frames and other quick effects. There are some frightful Halloween features on the site right now. As a matter of fact,  I used the little spider and ghoul images to dress up my photo above.

Copy images onto toner based paper at your local print center.

Cut image to fit inside your bezel. Seal front, back, sides with a paper sealant or white glue and let dry.

Place image inside bezel and add a sprinkle of silver glass glitter

Mix up half a calibrated mixing cup (1/2 ounce) of ICE Resin and then slowly drip mixed resin into bezel. Let dry 8-12 hours.

When your bezel is dry to the touch, use crystal brads to attach it to the filigree brass stamping.

Attach a rhinestone or another spooky charm to the bottom with a jump ring.

Attach pendant to brass chain with a jump ring. Keep the chain long so you can pull over your head and eliminate the need for a clasp. If you want a shorter necklace, attach clasp to chain using jump rings.

Put on a cute top, a pair of orange or black earrings and your new necklace and you are tres festive!

Hope you are having a very Artful week!

JenSig

 

I’m a Sticky U graduate

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I love good marketing. Seriously, I luurrrvvvvvveeeee it. Because I do the marketing for ICE Resin with my business partner Susan Lenart Kazmer, I’m always studying companies that manage to capture my attention. It’s not an easy thing to do these days — be heard and break out from the din when information is coming at us 24/7. I’ve found that companies that do stand out are doing something clever to express their vision.

Good marketing, in my humble opinion, is like making a good roux. You take the essential elements, add them together in the correct order and right timing, give it your proper care and attention (don’t walk away from the stove for goodness sakes!) and ultimately create something so simple and delicious that your customers line up for a taste.

Stay with me here. I’m going to jump from food to glue.

American Tombow Inc. recently captured my attention. Their social media specialist found my blog and sent me an email. As someone who’s involved in the crafts industry, you bet I know Tombow. I have dozens of their fab tape runners in my studio and I pull them out every time I need a quick stick. Clean, reliable, refillable and perfectly sticky every time. A staple amongst my adhesives.

However, I admit it, I tend to forget about my glue. I mean, it’s glue, right? Like salt for my roux, my work wouldn’t be the same without it because it’s an absolutely essential flavor. But it’s a connection of one element to another. It’s not something I think about. Just something I keep stocked in my pantry and wouldn’t want to live without.

So imagine my surprise to get an email saying, “Hey Jen, I love your work. We have a brand new thing we’re doing called Sticky U and I’d love for you to be a graduate.” I looked at my computer, did a double take and broke out in a grin. Hand to forehead: What?? Why?? Ok Tombow, you got my attention.

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I enrolled in Sticky U. Kasey sent me a welcome letter outlining the steps to take for my diploma, included the honorary university T-shirt and a sample of the new Xtreme permanent adhesive. I’m seriously excited to try it out because it works on paper, wood, fabric, plastic and rubber. A mixed-media artist’s dream. I have until Oct. 15th to complete my homework assignment (a DIY project) and then they’ll share it on Tombow’s social media channels. I even get an exclusive blog button that is only for Sticky U graduates. Good little motivation — like a Gold Star I got on my elementary school papers that says I’m special.

There are a lot of things I like about this campaign:

It’s clever. If Tombow had taken the traditional route, it’s marketing manager would have simply sent me an XTREME tape runner to use along with the obligatory info sheet. I would have used it. I certainly would source it in my magazine articles/blog hops/etc., but I wouldn’t have gotten overly excited.

It’s essential. Tombow folks made me think about glue and remember how important it is to my art. It’s not just glue. It’s the sticky stuff that holds everything together. Why, without Tombow, my collages would be a hot mess!

It’s fun. Without a lot of effort on my part, I get to be one of the company’s inaugural Sticky U graduates. I even get a diploma and a badge to show loyalty to my alma matter. I get bragging rights.

And the best part, in my opinion, it’s just plain out-of-the-box thinking and I like that. I like it a lot.

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Stay tuned to see what I make for my Sticky U thesis.

JenSig

 

Collage Class with Crystal Neubauer

Crystal Neubauer, Jen CushmanThe Mixed Media Art Retreat Art Unraveled happens every August in my hometown. I’ve been hanging out at AU for a long time. Not as long as Linda Young has been organizing it, but since I first learned about it in 2005. As an educator myself, I rarely ever get the time to take an art class from the amazing instructors at the retreats I’m at. We’re all too busy working and teaching, usually on the same days! I didn’t teach this year at AU other than a mini class for Iced Enamels. I’ve been looking at the lineup of classes since the schedule came out, secretly wishing I could sneak away for a day to simply fill my own well.

One of the classes that I kept going back to every time I had to look AU up on the Internet for work was Crystal Neubauer’s intuitive Drawing and Mark Making with College. Of course, I know of Crystal as an instructor because she teaches some of the same retreats, but it wasn’t until Seth Apter’s book The Mixed Media Artist; Art Tips, Tricks, Secrets and Dreams came out that I really got to see her work, which is spectacular. There is something about her organic color palette and the way she uses her lines in her composition that gives her work beautiful visual breath and space. I’m drawn to it.

Life is a little sped up busy more than normal right now because Arizona kids go back to school early. AU always hits at back to school time. Work, deadlines, back to school, leaving for Chicago next week to teach at CREATE all made it seem like taking a class was a pipe dream this year. But then, something amazing happened. I managed to finish all my deadline things and I just knew I’d be able to sneak away Wednesday. I literally took the last spot in her workshop at the last-minute (by the way, teachers really dislike this sort of thing because last-minute sign ups can wreak havoc on supplies/kits and one’s overall sense of peace and wellbeing. I’m just sayin’ (wink)).

My workshop with Crystal was exactly what I needed, though not what I expected. I planned to go in with an open heart and mind, to be quiet and just learn her process for art making. I expected my work to be loose and languid. After all, I was a collage and assemblage artist before I started making mixed media jewelry. Easy peasy, right? Nope. Crystal started us with small 4 inch by 4 inch pieces of 100 lb cold press watercolor paper. Since I work small and collage bezels all the time, this should have been slam dunk. For some reason, I just couldn’t loosen up. My first collage was tight with A LOT going on (below). There was no breath, just busy.

Jen Cushman Trptich Detail 4

I felt my shoulders tighten, my fists clench, my belly constrict. This was all ME. Crystal was calm and peaceful and so supportive of everyone. As an instructor, she was nothing of what was going on inside of me. Luckily, I’ve been doing this long enough that I suspected what was happening. I decided to take a break. Walk away. Use the restroom, wander in another classroom for a quick hug and hello to a fellow instructor (NOT when they were demoing of course). I loosened my shoulders, rolled my head back and forth, took deeps breaths and placed my hand on my heart to center myself. Then I walked back into the classroom after a 15-minute cooling off period and calmly sat down at my table.

Jen Cushman College Tryptich detail 2

 

I began again and reminded myself that I was here to learn and enjoy Crystal’s process. Honestly, I was not caring about how my collages looked. I had no problem that if, at the end of the day, I took them home and put them away to get turned into work later. The pressure I was putting on myself was not about the work. It was about being out of my comfort zone and allowing myself to just not know any answers. The odd part is that even when I was stressed, I was happy. Just happy being there and doing something 100% for ME.

Jen Cushman Tryptich 1

In between the exercises Crystal planned for her class — which were FANTASTIC by the way, but that I won’t go into because they are her class and her story to tell — I kept doing collage. By lunchtime, I had a lovely triptych that I didn’t initially intend to go together, but related because my inspiration for all three was a colorful piece of old wallpaper and old magazine ad for trim in the same color family. Always inspired by color, I was happy I had thrown into my bag my watercolor sticks at the last minute so I could give shading to my pieces.

Jen Cushman Good Night Nurse Detail 3

 

Jen Cushman Good Night Nurse Detail 2

After lunch, Crystal gave us an 8×10 sheet of watercolor paper (I let out a sign of relief and a happy dance to get a larger canvas to work with) as we embarked on more mark making exercises and practicing figurative drawing. It felt like coming home. I was back in my comfort zone and my creative juices were flowing. I had a piece of old sheet music in my kit that said Good Night Nurse. This reminds be of my mother-in-law. I built a college around the love story of my in-laws. She is a nurse and he was her patient. The fell deeply in love. Six weeks later married. Nine months later their son (my husband) was born and the love affair continued until his death five years ago. I thought of her sleeping alone after a lifetime of marriage and how melancholy it must be. She floating, dreaming of being in her beloved’s arms. My collage intuitively came out as the story ran in my head like a movie. I love this piece.

Good Night Nurse by Jen Cushman

Over the weekend I went to Target and bought frames for the work I made in Crystal’s class. The small collages did not work visually with the frame I chose, but I liked the bullnose clips on the black cord. I needed to mount the collages on a larger piece of paper. I burned the watercolor paper as I wanted irregular edges, and quickly clipped them up. Take a look at the piece, which is now hanging in my guest bedroom.

JenCushman Collage Tryptich

While I wanted to write a blog post telling everyone how wonderful Crystal is (Take a class from her. She’s worth every penny!) What I really wanted to do was share my day with you. My take away lesson in this is that we must make time for ourselves to do things that make us happy. Life is sometimes so difficult to juggle, but there is no personal growth without a little discomfort. I felt like I grew as a human being as well as an artist last week. I’m grateful, once again, for this journey and for having some tangible reminders of it along the way.

JenSig

Happy Independence Day!

fourth of july inspired necklace with ICE Resin and Craft Attitude

Here’s wishing you a Happy 4th of July. I hope you are getting a long weekend to have some good quality time for family, creating, art, friendship or even just enjoying the warm summer days.

We’ve got people coming to the cabin this weekend, so I’m all ready for a house full of family and friends. I so love days like this; BBQs, mojitos with fresh mint that I’ve grown, homemade potato salad and lots of yummy fresh-picked corn and sweet watermelon.

I’ve been looking forward to our town’s July 4th celebration for weeks. It’s a total small town party! We head down to the community park, spread out blankets, bring our picnic basket and then listen to the band play live music while the kids run around at our feet playing with each other and all the new friends they just met and formed instant bonds with.

Weekends like this I forget all about work. I don’t even think about art or crafting. Deadlines just have to wait. Is it like that for you too? Or are you like some of my fellow artist friends who juggle day jobs and art and use these long weekends to “catch up” on their creative work?

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Just a quick little note on the necklace above. I recently participated in a blog hop with Craft Attitude and made some fab pendants using their film that I printed on my home ink jet printer in ICE Resin. In case you missed the post, here is the free tutorial. Because I tend to work on multiple bezels at once, I had quite a few finished focals. I finished this one into this patriotic necklace using a vintage World War 2 poster image along with some of our glass glitter, crystal beads and bronze wire. This is the necklace I’ll be wearing for tonight’s festivities.

 

I’m an honorary Stencil Girl today

I’m thrilled to be a Guest Artist today over on the Stencil Girl Products blog. (NOTE: I was originally scheduled for press today but the post was inadvertently published last Wednesday while I was teaching in Miami. Below is the permalink to it though!) I did a little tutorial and made a mixed-media collage piece. I challenged myself to move a little bit outside my comfort zone for this post by working in a more neutral color palette and using a soothing nature themed stencil. I’m pretty happy with the results.

Here’s a quick sneak peek. To read the full post, hop on over to Stencil Girl Talk now.

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