Sunday, 28 June 2015

The Month of Forgotten Projects

Its been bears all the way for the last few months as I worked towards a show at the end of May. Some of the bears who still need homes are now on the Ursa Minor Facebook Page The link should take you straight to the photographs. You don't need to be a member of Facebook or log in to see them. If you want to know more about any of them and don't have a Facebook account you can email me instead at ursaminor{at}blueyonder{dot}co{dot}uk.

With my bear-making frenzy over and the 'craftermath' dealt with (sort of) I decided that June should be The Month of Forgotten Projects. I scoured every box, cupboard and drawer for unfinished and forgotten things, and found, well, LOTS. Everything from these Mister Finch inspired toadstools that had been waiting for the embroidery on the base for over a year, (definitely going to be making more of these to scatter around the house)

to cushion covers, some of last year's Christmas decoration designs that never got finished in time and numerous bears, cross stitch and needlepoint pieces, brooches and wall hangings.

In truth there were too many to reasonably finish in one month, not least the pile of unfinished embroideries I got from my Grandma earlier in the year, so I've worked on the things that were closest to being finished and I've managed to complete quite a few:

A birdie applique cushion cover

Little hessian heart decorations

white felt Christmas decorations

A Christmas THING!!

Now July is almost here and I've named it The Month of Experimentation. I'm so excited about the idea of spending the whole month trying out new techniques, crafts and ideas. I've got loads of things planned - wire and beady things, faery wing things, needle-felty things, embroidery things, polymer clay things, wand-making and lots of new bear and rabbit pattern ideas. It's a very long list.

I'm also continuing to scavenge for bobbins and other needle craft bits and bobs from markets and vintage shops. I found this poor mousie pincushion and scissor holder at Tynemouth Market .

 Missing both her eyes and looking a bit grubby round the edges I just had to take her home and get her restored to her former self. I tried sponge cleaning her dress and hat a little with not much success but at least she now has some eyes and whiskers. 

Saturday, 4 April 2015

it was a crazy idea...

I get ideas all the time. I never know when something will just pop into my head so I have numerous notebooks scattered around the house, in hand-bags and coat pockets so I'll always have somewhere to write them down. If I don't write an idea down as soon as possible it's all too easy to forget what it was or to recall it with clarity later on.

Some ideas stay in my notebook for years before I finally work on them. Others I lose enthusiasm for and just forget about. And some of the more bizarre or massively complicated ideas are dismissed immediately with a "I'd never be able to do that" or a "that'd take far too long" or a "I don't even know where to start making that!". But once in a while one of those instantly dismissable ideas just plain refuses to go away. It just sits there in my brain gnawing away, poking the inside of my head with a stick and generally interfering with everything else I might be thinking about.

That's what happened to me about 18 months ago. I don't remember now what I was doing at the time but suddenly 'bink!' an idea just popped in there and wouldn't leave. It sounded simple on the surface - make all of the Avengers from the Marvel comics and films as miniature teddy bears. I've been making bears for over 18 years now, so that wasn't really so much of a challenge. But the bear I could see in my mind's eye, the one that set the whole thing rolling, and my particular favourite character and super hero, was the Iron Man bear. And in my mind, just like in the films, he lit up. "That's bonkers", I thought, and tried to forget about it. But I'd set myself a challenge now - figure out how to put lights into the eyes, paws, feet and chest of a 3 inch bear...

Like Deep Thought my brain had to chew all of this over for a very long time. I made Captain America first, so that I could get the project started. The only problem I had there was finding some metallic red paint that wasn't just all pink looking.

The hulk came next with a chance to do a little bit of toe and finger sculpting. The first one I made looked too small so I made a bigger 6 inch bear.

Then I went back to Iron Man. I had worked out some things fairly quickly - all the easy stuff. The basic pattern pieces were done and tested on some scraps - that was Iron Bear MkI. But as I hit each problem I just left it to stew in my head, hoping answers would come to me in time. I discovered some tiny micro LED lights. I figured out I could sew little clear polythene discs into the paws, feet and chest for the lights to shine through - that was Iron Bear MkII.

I realized that I was going to have to line the whole of the inside of each piece with black felt to stop it all just glowing through the fabric, which made sewing alot more difficult.  That was Iron Bear MkIII.
Then I had to work out the route of the lights and wires through the body, and especially how I was going to put the eyes in place. All of these problems turned my usual bear-making routine on its head. I could witter on for hours about needle-sculpting, neck joints, how many packs of lights I ruined....but I'm sure if you've read this far you're getting bored now and just want to see the pics. This (and as a geek-girl, it makes me so happy to say it) is Iron Bear MkIV. :D

I don't mind telling you when I finally switched those lights on on the completed bear I was bouncing off the walls and grinning like a loon.

I was on such a high finishing this piece that I just sailed through making Thor's costume in a matter of days - it all just seemed to fall into place.

So, 18 months in the making and my four main guys are all completed. Hawkeye and Black Widow are nearly ready to be photographed and now I'm really looking forward to Age of Ultron opening in a few weeks time so I can see the new characters (I've been avoiding all the trailers and clips cos I hate spoilers) and I'm also working on an Agent Coulson because he may only wear a regular suit but he is totally cool too. :)

Sunday, 8 February 2015

Still Alive

I had hoped to bounce into 2015 with the same energy I had as we finished 2014 but I was flattened by a cold virus in January that put me off my stride a bit. But I'm feeling much better now and working on all sorts of new things. As usual I'm flitting from one piece of work to another and only have 'work in progress' shots to post.

I'm sketching lots of mice, building up a sketch book of poses and ideas for more Little Mouse paintings

My bobbin collecting frenzy continues. The old Silko threads are so much nicer to sew with than modern ones, and the 'Bobbin Man' at Tynemouth market always smiles now when he sees me because he knows I can't resist adding to my collection every time I visit.

I'm working on lots of new bears for the Teddy Bearzaar show in May (the site is currently showing last year's details but I'm sure they'll update it soon). I didn't realize quite how many bears I had 'on the go' at one time until I lined them all up to be jointed and have their noses varnished.

That's all for now. I hope to get some painting done this month. It feels like an age since I last finished a watercolor so I'm treating myself to some new quinacridone colors to inspire me back to my brushes. I've also got some 'experiments' planned for new things I want to make, and what has turned out to be the most difficult single bear I have ever made - more of that next time, assuming it doesn't fail in the final stages. :)

Oooh, nearly forgot!! I've listed 10 THINGS for sale in my new Etsy store. Each one is unique and labeled with its own number. These are some of the first THINGS I made including number 001 so get 'em while you can :)

Sunday, 3 August 2014

Busy, busy, busy (no, really I am...)

So very long since I last posted anything here. You could be forgiven for thinking I'd disappeared in Faeryland but I have been working on a whole lot of things. A whole lot of things that I just haven't quite finished yet. And a few things that I have. I'm so rubbish at keeping all these web pages updated. I had a little exhibition of paintings at the MADE Cafe in Whitley Bay throughout July. I probably should've mentioned that. Told you I was rubbish.

I've started making THINGS and set up a facebook page for them HereBeThings I probably should've mentioned that too. They look like this (though as you can see, every one is different)

But I seem to have spent the best part of the year thinking about what I want to create and trying to gather around me all the tools and materials I might need. My workroom is bursting at the seams but I'm hoping my strategy is going to work because there's nothing that kills my enthusiasm for a project more than not being able to try out my ideas straight away to see if there's a chance they'll work. So if I just absolutely need felting wool or florists' wire at 2 in the morning, I know now that I've got it.

Now it's time to really start work. I've got lists, scribbled ideas, construction notes, patterns and sketches all waiting to go. No sleep till bedtime for me.

First up, as it's only 6 weeks away I've been making some new bears for the Hugglets show in Kensington next month. Following on its heels is Miniatura in Birmingham. Now I make small bears - usually between 3 and 6 inches tall - but at Miniatura they like them as small as we can get 'em. So, with this in mind I decided to miniaturize my current pattern. I was aiming for an approximation of this little fella. He's called Little Blue and he's 3 inches tall:

So I shrunk the pattern down a bit and created Littler Blue who is 2 inches tall:

Then I shrunk it down again and created this guy. He's 1.5 inches tall and at this point I ran out of talent so he is called Littlest Blue because I can't make 'em any smaller that this:

And here are all three of them together:

Just another half dozen to make - if my eyes last that long :)

Finally, and most importantly, I've opened an Etsy store. I'm just getting started and have only listed one item so I can get things set up but I'll be selling paintings, bears, polymer clay sculpts and all kinds of random sewn stuff there from now on. I hope you can stop by and have a look. I'll get the link added to the side bar soon but for now its at TheWildwoodArtCo (yes, I know, but all the best names were taken already....)

Wednesday, 8 January 2014

Way overdue an update

It was the height of summer last time I wrote. Unbelievably for the UK we were sweltering away in a heatwave and I was in a post-acrylic weird place, trying to figure out which direction to take. Six months on and I'm kind of resigned to the idea that I will NEVER figure it out. I love to paint but I also love to sculpt and at times I love making bears and sewing things. I've been like that most of my life - drawing, painting, making things - so I don't feel able to give up one for the sake of another, even if it means never being truly successful in any of them.

So, now we're into another new year and I have lots of ideas for new pieces of work of all kinds. I want to open an Etsy store this year, I hope to have a small exhibition of my work at some point this year too, and, having cut out as many bears as I could from all of my remaining mohair stash, I have about 90 bears to complete. And I've even made a start at being organized:

The top of the dresser in my studio is now displaying a large selection of my sewing materials. This makes me very, very happy. No more rummaging in bags or through drawers and cupboards looking for that thing I'm sure I've got but don't know where. Ribbons are in rainbow color order (of course), bobbins of twine neatly arranged and there are just, well, lots of pretty colors :) and a big basket of buttons (£3 for half a pound at Boundary Mill stores).

Okay, so enough waffling - on to some actual stuff I've been doing. Aside from the bears I've started some more pencil drawings.

 Not sure how this happened but at some point I realised I was drawing every stitch!!

I have some Daniel Smith watercolors so there will be iridescent faeries.

 Some of the 'practise' heads I sculpted last year got turned into baby Christmas elves.

There are more faery creatures on the way.

 Some will be complete figures with hands and feet and clothes.

There may be some oil painting.

There will definitely be more bears.

On to less fun things...
As those of you who use Facebook probably know, the new 'pay to promote' system is driving people away, especially artists and craftspeople who simply can't afford it and have seem the number of people they reach per post shrinking to next to nothing. With that in mind, I'll probably be using this Blog and Twitter more ( @shonammacdonald  ), I'm sorting out a Tumblr account, a Pintrest account and may even venture into Google+. I'll post all the links as I create them and will add them to the side bar too. The facebook page will be staying but it just won't be the first place I post anymore.

 Please feel free to comment or ask any questions about my work. 

Thanks for reading.


Sunday, 28 July 2013

Bits and pieces

I should really post more often, with deviantart and facebook I tend to forget that I've got a website too.
A few little snippets of bits and pieces to show you this time. Having recovered from my acrylic brain fog I completed a new painting in watercolor just to get myself back into the idea of not failing :). It's called The Shaman's Child and is a combination of two sketches. I just love painting rocks!

The Shaman's Child © Shona M MacDonald 2013
All Rights Reserved

Next up is a little bit of scupley-ing and fimo-ing. I bought a big chunk of flesh-colored fimo, hoping to avoid the 15 minutes per quarter inch sculpey complications I had with my troll. But I've found I'm not so keen on sculpting with it. It has a springy-ness to it that makes it harder to shape tiny details so I went back to the sculpey in the end. I'm wondering if a combination of the two blended together might work - that's an experiment for another time. So, anyway, I made a bunch of heads, just for practise really and to try a different painting technique to the 'cover it all in thick paint' method I ended up using on Troll. Using a very watery mix of acrylic and wiping most of it off between layers I managed to keep some of the translucency of the sculpey's flesh tones which made me very happy. I did complete a couple of fimo heads too but I haven't baked those yet


Other things I'm working on include a companion piece to the 3 Hares Yuletide painting I did in December. This one is for Lughnassadh (or Lammas) and celebrates the first grain and fruit harvest of the year. I've sketched out a further three 3 Hares pieces and intend to create 8 in total for the eight festivals of the wheel of the year. Or perhaps 12 and make it into a calender, I guess it depends on whether I can cope with painting 36 hares :D

And finally, the thing that's been occupying my brain for the last week, was the sudden urge to paint some ACEOs (an excuse not to paint another hare, I think. At first anyway.) It started innocently enough. A little 2.5 x 3.5 inch bear on an off-cut of watercolor paper. I tried out some new white gel pens I bought, and dusted off a tube of metallic gouache tempera I'd forgotten I had. One became six and now I'm seriously considering the idea of making an oracle deck - bigger paintings, more details, but based on these little ACEOs at least in part. It's another mad idea that will probably never get finished (I know what I'm like with things like thing only too well), but I always think, with things like this, that while it may start off as a grand 'big' idea, even if I don't finish it, at least I'll probably get a couple of decent paintings out of it...

Wednesday, 12 June 2013

I'm an idiot!

You might have noticed that I haven't written a blog post for quite a while. I took a long break from the web starting in February because I was feeling directionless and overwhelmed by too much imagery and information, unable to concentrate. I wanted to spend some quiet time, to think about my art and what I wanted to do with it. I had also decided, for a lot of stupid reasons as it turns out, that I was going to learn to paint with oils.

But, y'see, I have a watercolor brain. Years and years of working with my W&N paints and I know every pigment in my palette like the back of my hand - which ones stain and which can be lifted out; which ones granulate, which ones streak; the opaque; the transparent; the best mixes. I know just how much water to hold in each brush. And I know which brush strokes to use to create the effects I want. When I look at one of my drawings on the paper I know how to start painting it. I'm by no means a master of my craft but I'm fairly proficient, I think.

When it comes to oil painting however I know very little. I did a couple of oil paintings when I was in high school - they were terrible - and in the following twenty-odd years I've never used them again. But, undaunted, driven by all the wrong reasons, I started finding out about oil painting. It has RULES that I didn't know about before, rules you can't really ignore unless you want your paintings to crack, dull and yellow in a few years time. And you have to plan your work. Oil paintings take a long time to dry. You can't just keep noodling away at them or you'll end up with a smeary mush of color. Which means waiting for days for layers to dry before moving on. My watercolor brain isn't used to that. It isn't used to any of it.

But despite returning to Deviant Art and announcing (rather prematurely as I since realised) that I had found my focus again, I was determined to perservere with this new oil painting thing. I cut and primed some boards and began a series of four little paintings. But I had to let the backgrounds dry before continuing. 2-12 days it says in the books, depending on the pigments used. So what to do in the meantime? I turned to the acrylic paints I have stored away, thinking they would be good practice for me in blending, getting used to the consistency of the paint, working with white as a pigment. For a week I worked and worked every spare moment I had. I must've painted the sky six or seven times. Once or twice I thought I might be getting somewhere, most of the time I just despaired of ever figuring it out.

Then late one night, trawling the web for tutorials, I found another artist's blog, an artist who does the most exquisite acrylic paintings, and began reading. But it wasn't advice on technique that I found. Instead I read her story of dreaming of being a successful artist, her struggle to find her way and the advice given to her by one of her friends. That advice was quite simple - learn one thing well. Those four words got stored away in my brain as I went back to the painting, to work on that damn sky for the eighth time. They took a few days to really sink in but then the full force of them hit me.

So you see, good people of the blogosphere, I am an idiot. I mean, seriously, WHAT was I thinking. I've invested years in learning to paint with watercolors and I was going to put it all aside to start at the beginning again for no other reason than because I'd seen some artworks in oils that were so enchanting and beautiful, created by artists who no doubt spent at least as long as I have learning their craft. The little trickster voice that lives in my head had whispered to me, "You could do that. You could learn to oil paint." This is the same voice that is now laughing at me. "It was only a suggestion," it tells me. "I didn't mean for you to get in such a mess with it. You didn't have to listen."

The acrylics have now been consigned to a drawer, where they belong. The oil paintings are still unfinished and drying. I haven't decided what I'll do with them yet. Perhaps I'll photograph and post them one day so you can have a good laugh. And if you ever see me threatening to divert from my beloved watercolors again you have my permission to yell at me and call me an idiot.

Because that is what I've been.

As a result of all of this stupidity I have no finished pieces to show you so instead I urge you to visit Ravynne Phelan's website and emmerse yourself in her beautiful art and wise words.