Two drawers, each 45x95x25mm internal diameter, in a sturdy case. All made from the same layered-painted-and-varnished paper I use for jewellery.
I & some friends recently spent a weekend acting some classic murder mysteries for our own entertainment. For various reasons, we needed to produce scripts for them – private use only, so this isn’t a copyright issue – and it would have been a shame not to do our own cover designs with original artwork. This is mine, for Dorothy L Sayers’ Gaudy Night (the radio version, adapted by Mary Cutler) and I wanted to share it. (Mine bar the face sketch; that was done by my partner, because I’m truly appalling at faces.)
The text is my own handwriting; the brick wall is local London Stock, a few doors down from me; the dress pattern & book cover were taken from Lost & Taken; everything else is done in acrylics & assembled in Inkscape.
Lleu Llaw Gyffes was cursed by his reluctant mother – he could never have weapons & armour, a bride, or even a name until she gave them to him. His foster-father, Gwydion ap Dôn, tricked her into bestowing the first and the last, but there’s nothing she could do about the second, and frankly that family was screwed up enough already.
So Gwydion and his uncle, Math ap Mathonwy, made a bride for him out of flowers. This branch of the Mabinogion is usually told as Gwydion’s story, and to an extent Lleu’s, but I’m not the only one with a lot of sympathy for Blodeuwedd. She didn’t ask to be made, or to be married to Lleu. When she falls in love with Gronw Bebyr, she tricks Lleu into revealing the arcane way he can be killed (it involves taking a bath with a goat) and then murdering him. It’s a bit extreme, but then so is everything else in that drama-laden family.
And she really didn’t ask to be turned into an owl by Gwydion.
I had a lot of fun making this. It started out by working out what kind of owl she was (I decided on the secretive and nocturnal long-eared owl, widely hated in the avian world) and as you’ll see took a lot of liberties with the design. The text panels are from the portions of the Fourth Branch that deal with her directly, in both English and modern Welsh. I’d originally intended them to show up more clearly, but this dense green works well with the brown – which I’d planned to be lighter, but the technique I’d been envisaging didn’t work out the way I’d thought it would! The rose is adapted from a jewellery design I’ve been playing with, using hand-assembled lasercut petals.
I’m rather pleased with this paint job, so I wanted to post a tutorial on how to do it. It’s done on artist’s mountboard (I’m making a display case for jewellery, for me to use when selling my work) but any smooth surface will work.
The first thing to do is to paint it black, paint it black again, and then drybrush red over it. I use System 3 Mars Black acrylic – any black will work, but you’ll probably want to use acrylic rather than anything that might be picked up, redissolved, or smeared around by the next layer, like poster paint (gouache) or watercolour. You’ll want a medium-smooth finish on the black, finding a compromise between roughness (to hold specks of the red) and smoothness (so that the red beads interestingly rather than coating it evenly) but that’s easy to get.
The red I use is Winsor & Newton Galeria Cadmium Red Hue, but any warmish medium red will do. Dry-brushing is just what it sounds like: painting with practically nothing on your brush. It helps to have a crap brush here – that’s mine on the right, after something like six years of generalised abuse. I use it for dry-brushing because it’s not much good for anything else, and because the accumulated crap in the body of the bristles means it can’t hold much paint at all. I like to think of this technique as polishing the red on, rather than painting with it. You’ll want to brush mostly along one axis, to keep the “grain direction”, but a bit of messing around is entirely encouraged. If you get actual deep-red spots, take a bit more black and dry-brush over the red with that. You can’t really ruin the finish by doing that – if you get too much black, put more red on!
When it’s done, varnish it as usual – I use matte Mod Podge as an all-purpose sealant & to bring out the colours & highlights. The picture at the top shows it after the first coat, but I’ll normally do three or so, for strength and water resistance.
I always keep an A4 hardback sketchbook with me for ideas, brainstorming, notes on events, and general Everything purposes. They’ve been getting more & more ornate with each one, partly so I can see how new designs stand up to daily wear & tear, but mostly just because. The nori-collage one flaked off badly enough that I had to retire it halfway through, but the one after that had a spraypainted stencil made from one of my relief prints, and that’s lasted perfectly. Next time, though, I’m either going to try something less ornate than this, or start much earlier, because I’ve been scraping up space in the last one ever since the empty shop conference.
It’s basically done being painted now, though, and just waiting for a few coats of varnish.
These are what I’ve been working on over the last week or two – they’re made entirely of paper & glue, painted & varnished. The handmade original (below) was sitting around for a few months, while I kept picking it up and thinking “must do an improved version of this”, and then shortly after that I got access to a working laser cutter again. This is ten teardrop-shaped petals, a small central circle, and a more or less key-shaped back piece – the loop is integral, bent back on itself & glued in place.
Here’s another version, in malachite because I’m still not quite up to tackling proper York, Lancaster, or Tudor roses. The design still needs more work – something about the shape of the petals, mostly – and I’m still trying to sort out an efficient way to deal with the assembly process.
I’d been wondering where this was for a month or so, and it turned out it had been in an inner pocket of my belt pouch all along, with the leather cord wrapped around it. The continual pressure (and probably the warmth) has pulled off a little of the paint, but that’s all. I’m fairly encouraged, overall!
This is seasoned holly, cut from a tree in my garden a few months back when a branch was threatening the elder across the way. I need a new short-bladed carving knife with a full-sized handle, so this is the first step towards that. For the blade, I’m going to use a dismounted Opinel No. 2.
These are always popular, but painting curves on the satin ribbon is awkward enough that I have terrible trouble getting around to finishing them off. One’s spoken for already, but the other will be up for sale when it’s done.
Like the Twelfth Night jewellery I made, these are cut from an old and much-used play script. They’re going to be quite a lot more ornate, though, using the text more as a background than a main feature, and I’m looking forward to seeing how they turn out.
I’ve added some new jewellery to my Etsy shop. This set are double-layered artist’s mountboard, cross-grained for strength & stiffness, and reinforced with a total of five or six layers of paint & varnish. I’ll put them up for strength against most metal jewellery, and I inadvertently managed to prove that they’re waterproof by leaving one in the pocket of my jeans before laundry day.
Because I’m nice, and because it’s quite thoroughly springtime (as opposed to the freak mini-summer we had last week) the code SUNSHINE will get you free shipping for a week or two.
There’s something quite special about varnishing a piece. On the one hand, it makes the colours glow and shine, jump out at you and grab the eye. On the other, it’s the no-changes-now point—once the varnish goes on, there’s not much you can do to change any problems.
Rationally, of course, that’s false – this varnish needs three coats to get the effect I want, and it’s easy enough to intersperse a correction. But it’s still a powerful state-change.
I’m doing this for a craft fair I’m attending—the Mad March Fair, at the Queen’s Head pub in Rye. If you’re in the right part of South-East England on Saturday 26th March, drop by and say hi! I’m taking prints, jewellery, masks, and some of these notebooks along, and I know there will be a lot of other amazing craftspeople there too.
Sounds like a silly idea, but it’s actually a really good material—tough, lightweight, and durable. That black & silver choker is made from Fabriano Tiziano pastel paper, folded & laminated, and then very thoroughly varnished. It ends up very like thin leather, but it’s entirely vegan. (Not all papers are; most art paper uses animal gelatin for sizing. Fabriano use acrylic sizing, though.)
I’d made a couple of these already, without having had the time, or a model, to show them off properly, but these two were done (and put into my intermittent prototype giveaway bonanza) as an experiment to see whether I could attach a D-ring to the underside in a secure and decorative fashion. The answer, it turns out, is “yes”—the knot at the back isn’t going to be proof against a hard tug, if any of my customers were prone to do such things, but even if I’d put a buckle in the D-ring and strap would still be quite strong enough.
I’ve also been making more of these pendants—they’re artist’s mountboard with a ribbon loop, very light (barely a gram each) and rather tough. The design is Roberson liquid metal ink, done with a No. 6 italic nib.