Tag Archives: abstract art

Paste Papers and Paste Painting

You may remember I’ve taken a couple of Zoom classes at the Kalamazoo (MI) Book Arts Center with Lorrie Grainger Abdo. She’s a great teacher, informative and fun to learn from. I also like the subject matter she presents – topics that stem from her work in book arts but are applicable to any artist’s work. (Look here for posts I’ve written on mark-making and circles/squares.

So when I saw that the Smithsonian was offering a Zoom class on paste papers and paste painting, taught by Lorrie, I was ready to sign up for two reasons. One, the teacher! and Two – I’ve wanted to try this technique ever since some students I taught in college classes showed me paste papers they had made. They were beautiful and quite different from the collage papers I make by simply painting with acrylic paints. I’d never had the chance to try the technique and now, here it was right in front of me.

All right. What is paste painting? Basically, it’s a surface decoration process that involves using a mix of paste and paint, applied to paper. It’s very amenable to layering and to texturing. I won’t go into much more detail since information is readily available on the internet. Let me tell you how we did things in the class.

The paste used is this product, Elmer’s Art Paste. It’s readily available and very inexpensive. This whole box can go through quite a few painting sessions, and once water is added, it lasts a very long time, so you don’t have to use it all up right away.

We needed to prepare the paste a day before the class, and it must be made with refrigerated cold water (to avoid lumps), which should chill overnight at least. For the class on Thursday, I started cooling the water on Tuesday and made the paste on Wednesday.

Here are Lorrie’s full directions on how to prepare the paste. I appreciated her thorough explanation.

I made half a box of paste and it just fit into a large plastic multi-serving container. I thought the paste would be white, but it’s actually clear. In fact I thought my paste had not gelled until I stuck my finger into it, between that and it not being opaque white, I had a bit of a fright, thinking I’d have to start over.

All right. Next, I gathered my materials and set up my work space. Lorrie had sent us a photo of how the materials might be arranged, along with written notes as to what was needed. Here is my set-up with her photo in the middle of the picture.

You see that I have craft acrylic paints for this session. Craft paints work perfectly well, but they have less pigment than better paints, so that you would use more paint. However, since I didn’t know if I’d ever do this process again, I just grabbed my existing assortment of $1.19 paint bottles and it worked out fine. For future reference, Lorrie used a student grade acrylic and I would think that if I kept up with paste painting I would do so as well.

You also see

  • plastic tubs to mix the paint and paste;
  • a variety of texturing tools;
  • foam brushes to spread the paste paint on the papers;
  • sketch papers, which is what I used in this session;
  • rags and water (the brushes and so on will get glued up if they don’t stand in water when not in use).
  • And of course the paste, in the yogurt container to the back right.

OK. After Lorrie explained the process to us, we got to work (our class was a group of about 10, and we were from all over the US). Basically, you glop paste into your container, then add paint until you like the opacity (this is where the use of better paints comes into play). If you want to mix a custom color, you just get the paints you want, mix the color, and add it to the paste.

Or, if you are me, you use up some of your color, red, let’s say, and then you add more paste and some blue paint and you get purple. Use that up, add more paste, add white, now you have lavender…

Once you have your colors, you spread paste paint on the paper with your foam brush (for overall coverage) or maybe with a palette knife or other tool (for mark making, usually in later layers, but…no rules! ).

The paste paint dries pretty quickly, so you can layer another color on not too much later. You can also paint in stripes, or blobs of color randomly scattered, or…really, do whatever you like.

All along the way, you can use your tools for texture. I was astounded by the transparency of layering possible, and the dimensionality this paste paint gives. You can scrape into the paint or you can add on to the top layer with stamps or a paintbrush, etc.

Let me just show you want I mean rather than using words.

The class focused on painting for the purpose of making collage papers or paper to be used in bookmaking. I also experimented with painting a “scene”:

I love the transparency and the layering. I’d like to try more things like this image. There is an ethereal quality to this image that I really enjoy. What did I use to make this image?

  • /Foam brush, both for spreading paint and for daubing straight lines with the end of the brush
  • plastic spackle tool
  • pencil eraser (at the end of a pencil)
  • plastic soap holder, flexible and grooved
  • plastic grout spreader
  • rubber-tipped tools intended for making marks into clay (I have a variety with different tips that make different marks)


Well, that’s pretty much it. I’m thrilled to have learned this process, and I can see I will be experimenting with it and finding uses for it as time goes on.

Thank you to Lorrie Grainger Abdo and my classmates for a very informative and fun session!

Mark-making and where it led

Back in February, I took a Zoom workshop on mark-making. One topic that came up was neurographic art.

Our instructor, Lorrie Grainger Abdo, explained it as an art therapy that follows a specific set of instructions that the individual can use to reduce stress, work out problems, etc. In our session, she focused on explaining the actual mark-making that is used to accomplish it in showing us the technique.

Basically, you make a scribbly or swirling line on your paper, with crossings and intersections. Your paper can be plain or have colors or designs already on it.

Where those crossings occur, you fill them in to round them off. You extend any dangling lines to the edge of the paper. Then you do whatever you want with the result – fill in with color, with marks, add or subtract items, whatever you like.

This technique intrigued me as another example of providing artistic freedom within boundaries to guide me. Often, I want to paint, to let out feelings, but I need a place to start. For me, this idea really was exciting. I tried it out right away.

I had a masonite board 14″ x 11″ that I had painted with some colors. I drew in my lines and went from there. Here is the result.

I called it “Woman” because that was what first ocurred to me when I stopped working and looked at it as a whole.

I really enjoyed this process of working and it’s perfect for opening a door to an abstract painting, I think. I will be doing it again.

Leftover from class: Not Angry

Remember my class from this winter/spring? I had a couple more paintings in progress as the class finished, both one hundred percent to the abstract side of the scale. As a reminder, the class was about exploring the continuum of doing art from abstract to realistic (or vice versa) – the idea being that every work exists somewhere on this spectrum.

This one is called “Not Angry” and it’s 18″ x 24″ on masonite, done in acrylics.

The Boy on the Bridge

I created an illustration used to accompany a story on Fictive Dream, the online fiction magazine. And oops…I neglected to post it on the same day the story came out, as I usually do. My apologies to Fictive Dream and editor Laura Black.

But…that doesn’t mean I can’t catch things up. It’s not too late. I’ll show you the illustration and then I hope you’ll visit Fictive Dream and read the story it goes with.

The story is: The Boy on the Bridge, by Kate Mahony

And here is the picture:

A Month of Artwork Coming Up. A Month of Stories Coming Up.

It’s almost February. And what is so special about that, you may say?

Well, it’s time for Flash Fiction February 2021, that’s what!

For me, this February marks the third year that I have done illustrations for Flash Fiction February at Fictive Dream, an online magazine focusing on the short story. FFF21, as I call this year’s event, is just what it sounds like: a whole month of flash fiction, one story a day, throughout the month of February.

In the past, I’ve created illustrations specifically for each story. This year, for a lot of reasons, I was able to continue that approach. There is a tight timeframe and a lot of work to do in a short period, and it was just not possible this year.

But – I love working with editor Laura Black and I love the event itself. I did not want to leave this experience. In thinking about it, I came up with the idea of creating a body of artwork from which Laura could then select appropriate illustrations.

To my happiness, Laura agreed, and I set to work. Eventually I made 102 small abstract paintings, far more than I usually would do for a project needing 28 final images, but because the work process was different, it fit my schedule and abilities, and it was a pleasure to do. For all of this I am so grateful to Laura for making it possible.

To create the illustrations, without a story reference, I reflected on a variety of themes, emotions, and moods. I think that all writing, however specific it is within its own framework, touches on universally true and recurring ideas, feelings, and behaviors. Fiction examines and reveals these elements through word selection, sentence structure, choice of subject, and in many other ways. I wanted to use color, line, shape, and form to do the same.

My hope was that Laura could “read” my visual stories and match them to the written stories. This did turn out to be the case – each story found its picture.

In this time of upheaval, chaos, and disorder, making art is for me a chance to bring meaning to what is ocurring in my life or in the world, to make a statement, to define things, or to agree that some things remain undefined. I think writers do the same thing with words. Communication and connection.

Each day, I will post the artwork for the story and provide a link to Fictive Dream. It is my hope that you will look at the art, think about what impression it makes on you, what its story might be. And then that you will read the story and see the artwork in that context.

About the artwork:

Each image is approximately 7″ x 10″, a size dictated by the requirements of the magazine’s layout online. I worked in acrylic paints and inks on watercolor paper or Bristol board.

In composing the pictures, I needed to be aware of how the art would look in the thumbnail image, meaning no essential elements could be set close to the bottom and top edges. I also had to leave room for the “Flash Fiction February 2021 “banner”, which was inserted digitally on the scanned artwork, and which needed to be visible in both thumbnail and full-size views.

Once I finished an artwork, I scanned it, added the banner, and sent the image to Laura in the correct size for her to use.

All 102 artworks:

If you do the math, there are a LOT of artworks that didn’t get used: 102-28=74, to be specific. I will post them on the blog as time goes on. Some of them illustrate this post, in fact.

I think all of them would be happy to pose for a story idea…go ahead! Why not?

Classwork: Painting #5

I took an online class in abstract painting during November/December 2020. For more info, see the introduction in this post featuring the first painting I did in the class.

The class was structured with a short lecture at the beginning of class covering an abstract painter’s work and using it as a springboard to discuss abstract art principles. Then we students painted at our individual studios.

Thank you to my fellow students and my teacher, Kassem Amoudi.

Here is the next painting in this series. It’s called Hurry and it’s 20″ x 16″, done in acrylics.

And here is the progression as it went through its creation:

This painting did not change much over the couple of weeks I worked on it after it got to a near-finished stage. I kept adding or substracting a little here or there. Finally I just stopped. It was fine. Let it be.

Classwork: Painting #4

I took an online class in abstract painting during November/December 2020. For more info, see the introduction in this post featuring the first painting I did in the class.

The class was structured with a short lecture at the beginning of class covering an abstract painter’s work and using it as a springboard to discuss abstract art principles. Then we students painted at our individual studios.

Thank you to my fellow students and my teacher, Kassem Amoudi.

Here is another painting from the series of works done in class. This one is called Ascend, and it is 20″ x 16″, done in acrylics.

You may notice the drawn lines in this painting – there have been similar marks in earlier ones, too. They are made with acrylic paint markers. I have always used white and black markers of this type, but sparingly. The instructor mentioned them in one of the lectures and I realized, in a belated light-bulb moment, that they came in all colors, and that I would really like to have a selection.

I ordered some and I’ve been using them. I really like the effect they give.

And, as you know, there are multiple stages to a painting, some of which I recorded when I emailed photos of WIP for the instructor’s examination. Here is what I can show you of the image’s process, earlier stages going to the later ones.

As a note, the colors are not corrected so that the images match each other as they should – I didn’t take the time. The final image is the one that most looks like the painting as it is.

Classwork: Painting #3

I took an online class in abstract painting during November/December 2020. For more info, see the introduction in this post featuring the first painting I did in the class.

The class was structured with a short lecture at the beginning of class covering an abstract painter’s work and using it as a springboard to discuss abstract art principles. Then we students painted at our individual studios.

Thank you to my fellow students and my teacher, Kassem Amoudi.

Here’s another painting in this series of work – it’s called Ghost Table. It’s 20″ x 16″.

In the class, we paint as we go, and when we want some help or advice, we email a photo to the instructor, who shows it on the screen. A by-product of this process is that I have WIP photos to show you. So, here is the progression:

Classwork: Painting #2

Here is the second painting I did in the class. It’s called We Don’t Judge, and it is 20″ x 16″, painted in acrylics on canvas. Originally, there was a wide swath of yellow at the bottom of the picture. At my teacher’s suggestion, I changed it to this darker color. It really helped in defining the image of the flowers in the pot, gave the picture some weight it needed to make it feel balanced, I think.