Monday, May 30, 2016

The Oddball Art Laboratory

I have no idea what I’m doing, but a thousand ways to do it: I’m equal parts Artist and Mad Scientist. I’m making this up as I go along, not only creating art, but also the tools and materials I use to make it.

I’ve spent sixteen years collecting and preparing colorful mineral samples to use as a rough pigment for highly textured paintings on canvas with surprising natural color, made using a variety of acrylic gel mediums.

It is unlike any other art medium I’ve used: its unusual challenges have led to the invention of some strange tools and equipment, mostly from an oddball assortment of found metal and plastic objects, re-purposed household items, and packaging scraps that could qualify me for an episode of Hoarders.

Fine grains of mineral sand eat paintbrushes for breakfast - it's like painting with concrete - so I had to get creative.

Ridiculously creative.

Obsessed, really: I’m fully aware of how strange it must look.

Is that a pot of soup on the stove?
Better ask: maybe I’m boiling some beach sand to remove decaying organic matter.

Is she casting a spell? Why is there sparkly dust everywhere?
I’m just grinding mica in my granite mortar and pestle, then processing it with water, a baby medicine dropper, several mason jars, a wire strainer and maybe some pantyhose.

This is normal, right?

And then there’s the Weirdo Toolbox.

There are few commercially available tools that fit my needs, so invention is an integral part of my creative process. Most of my tools come from a neurotic assortment of random weirdness.

I've long collected strange little doodads like plastic and cardboard packaging scraps, or small mechanical components from broken appliances or discarded car parts.

A pen with no ink is a sublime little piece of trash that can always find new life in the Oddball Art Laboratory.

Not everything works like I intend, and sometimes I just have to laugh at myself, imagining what a stranger would think of the ridiculous activities that have become my daily routine.

My artistic process is extremely odd and quirky, but it works (most of the time). I get a childish joy from fusing random elements to create the perfect specialty tool.

Who knew gluing plastic collar stays to a popsicle stick could make me so happy?

I love flowers as much as any girl, but my sweetie knows the way to my heart: he brings me adhesives.

I get as much delight from these peculiar little inventions as I do from the art I make with them.

Along with painting tools, I've also created some custom equipment and storage solutions, mostly using materials I've rescued from the landfill.

My Mobile Magnetic Studio is a work of art on its own: my best and brightest mineral pigments in small containers, organized by color on a metal rack for displaying brochures (also reclaimed trash).

My Mobile Magnetic Studio 

I can easily select the pigments I need, so it is highly functional when I am painting, and a beautiful way to showcase (or transport) my colorful labor of love when I'm not.

Each container is labeled with the name of the mineral (when available) and a small swatch in acrylic medium. This is essential because the minerals are light in color when dry, but the clear mediums, especially gloss finishes, bring out the vibrant natural colors. Some mediums will produce a color that is closer to the dry minerals, while other formulas enhance the natural sparkle of reflective material like mica or crystals.

This is all by trial and error - this blog is the culmination of years of experimentation: I keep a painting journal to record results, develop ideas for new techniques or tools, and explore my evolving personal aesthetic.
In my studio, art is also a nerdy, ongoing science project.

My magnetic Easel / Palette 

Innovation is essential when working in a made-up medium like mine.

Some construction tools can be adapted to suit my needs, and many household items like medicine droppers, tiny measuring spoons, tweezers, or makeup brushes and applicators find their way to my studio.

Most of the time I just make something new: if I need a tool that hasn't been invented, The Weirdo Toolbox delivers.

All this auxiliary activity can sometimes feel like a distraction from the actual artwork, but it also puts me in a constant state of creative problem-solving.

It keeps the water running so the pipes don’t freeze.

It's perfect for those off-days when I feel uninspired or I'm frustrated with a work-in-progress - I've learned not to force it but to step back and return later with fresh eyes.

There are always rocks to grind, tools to make, a blog to update, or a messy studio in need of a little TLC.

My side projects often address problems with organization, a skill that does not come to me naturally, but which I am finding necessary for my artistic well-being.

I'm learning how to maintain a functional work space that is conducive to creativity, and making tools is a fun, pressure-free activity - even when a little experiment doesn't work, it was already trash, so there's nothing to lose but time.

Improvisational tool-building is not without its frustrations - I have a tempestuous love/hate relationship with tape and other adhesives - but I love what it teaches me about patience and the creative process.

For these activities the stakes are low - not like when I risk ruining a painting by trying out a new technique, or waste precious crushed gemstones on a piece that doesn't quite work. Mostly it's pure fun, and I end up with some really great tools.

It reminds me not to take myself too seriously - it's hard not to laugh at myself when I'm assembling tools out of peculiar little whatchamacallits in the Oddball Art Laboratory.

My Improvised Tools (from left to right):

1. This is a funneling tool made from the corner of a cigarette box, for returning unused mineral sand into small containers2. This tool is for gently pressing dry mineral sand into wet acrylic medium under it. It's a little plastic circle (leftover packaging) with a small rubber tube for a handle.3. This is a silicon eye shadow applicator I extended with a bamboo skewer and electrical tape.4. This double ended tool has a nib from an empty pen and a tiny fine-tipped electrical component.5. My favorite tool: two plastic collar stays on popsicle sticks, one of them cut to a fine point.6. A piece of fabricated stainless steel wire I attached to an old pen barrel: one end has a rounded tip, and the other a flat edge.
7. I used bristles from a rubber basting brush, one long and one short.
8. I don't know what this little metal piece on the end is, but it is a perfect application tool for a medium-thick line of paint or ink.
9. Plastic trays from disposable contact lenses are perfect for mixing small amounts of blended material.

Most of these tools have been finished with adhesive foam sheets for comfortable grip, and of course all of them have magnets so they don't grow legs and play hide-and-seek.

Inside the Weirdo Toolbox

Follow the links below to see the various Galleries of  my original Artworks 

EarthPaint: Nature Snapshots Small, de-contextualized nature studies in mineral paint
Expressions in EarthPaint More expressive, abstract works
Gallery of Works: Weirdo Edition - Mixed Media

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