Minding My Beeswax!

I’m working on some art credits in Painting, and really, really, REALLY wanted to find some time to try out the set of Encaustic Paints I bought this winter before submitting my portfolio for the class. I finally found a few hours to play with the paint, and thought I’d share the experience!

I read about encaustic painting last year in my art history textbook, and have been intrigued ever since. Pigment suspended in beeswax that creates luminescent paintings. The Fayum mummy portraits and early Christian icons painted with beeswax are absolutely beautiful…

Of course, I didn’t think I’d be able to come up with something that pretty the first time around! I did have somewhat of a plan for a painting, and started sketching it on the EncausticBord. I was thinking beeswax… bees… honeycomb… neat “Bee” quote.

My first thought was how to melt the wax and keep it melted. The woodstove is going, why not use it? So all the materials were quickly gathered into the living room, and I went right into “melt the wax” mode. I found out that wax melts quickly on the stove, and hardens quickly off the stove, so I spent about two hours standing within a foot of our crankin’-out-heat woodstove. It was HOT. A base coat of gold was applied with a bit of difficulty, but I got it on there. Then I tried to paint the little honeycomb pattern…

…And that wax hardened way too fast! So I pulled out the heat gun (from my rubber stamp embossing days!) and tried to melt it a bit to smooth out the glumpiness…

…And quickly created a honey-colored puddle.


After that, I resolved myself to the fact that this painting would indeed be rather abstract. So, instead of being super concerned about lots of perfectionistic detail, I just enjoyed playing with the stuff. Things went a little too quickly to take pictures… and I was a bit too messy to touch a camera… but it was fun, and I actually liked the results. I outlined the honeycomb cells with a purplish color, and then dabbed on the outline of a bee. Fortunately, I had the forethought to print out the quote ahead of time, and I cut that up into pieces and melted it on. The painting still needed a little something, so I added some gold leaf flakes and iridescent ultra-fine black glitter. And then gave the whole thing a coat of melted wax with a tiny bit of color…

All in all, it was a fun project. It was relaxing to not worry about being precise. It was messy. It was sticky. It involved a frantic run for potholders at one point. It smelled HEAVENLY. At least until I melted a plastic lid on the woodstove. I’ll try it again… and will be prepared next time around.

A Small Token…

I’ve been working on this year’s Valentine designs, and thought I’d share with you the process of doing a papercutting from start to finish! It takes a bit of inspiration to get ideas for a historic-style papercutting. I usually spend a few hours going through reference books on early fraktur. I rarely do exact reproductions of historic pieces, but instead, try to get a feel for the layout of antique papercuts. I’ll also doodle a bit, trying to create birds and flowers that look like they were drawn a couple hundred years ago. And, I’ll read through the translations of the German sayings to find an inspiring phrase or verse.

The Gift is Small, The Love is Great is one of my favorite resources for Pennsylvania German fraktur. It focuses on small works of art, such as the Vorschrift (writing samples), Book Plates, and Rewards of Merit that teachers once gave to their students. The Gift is Small also includes little love notes and tokens of remembrance given between sweethearts and friends, as well as other little fraktur-style drawings. None of the artwork in this book is particularly elaborate, but mostly just small tokens made by simple folk.

In coming up with new designs, other
sources of inspiration are also required…

(My art kiddos have asked about those little dishes of
chocolate chips hanging around the art room!)

And when the internal balance between visual references, doodling, coffee (or tea), and chocolate has reached the appropriate settings, I’ll start sketching. I start with a piece of paper cut to the size I need for the frame I want to use. I was trying to use two 6″ x 7″ frames that I had “ready-to-go,” so these cuttings are 4 & 1/2″ x 5 1/2″. However, there is actually a “historically correct” size that these little tokens should be! In the 18th and 19th centuries, “standard” sheets of paper were usually 13″ x 16″. Fraktur makers used either full sheets, half sheets, quarter sheets or eighth sheets to do artwork on, getting their finished size by simply carefully folding and tearing the paper. These tiny tokens were usually done on an eighth of a sheet of paper.

I almost always start my sketches from the outside in, establishing my borders by measuring carefully. Did you know there’s a correct way to make a square or rectangle? After years of being a frustrated young artist, I learned a few technical drawing skills in a college cartography class. Drawing “square” was one of them… Maybe that would make a Really Helpful Upcoming Post!

This will be the back of the papercutting. I have to keep reminding myself that everything will be backward on the finished piece. My originals will also get pretty smudgy from all the graphite dust, but it’s a necessary evil to designing. I keep trying to sketch on my Wacom tablet or my iPad, and I’m starting to get the hang of it, but there’s nothing like a real pencil and a kneaded eraser! Once I have the sketch close to how I want it, I start cutting…

I use a rubber-coated X-Acto knife with #11 blades. Any sort of padding or rubber on the handle is a HUGE help when doing lots of papercutting. Hand fatigue happens very quickly without it. I also go through blades like crazy… I cut mostly with the very tip edge of the blade, and curvy designs seem to snap them pretty quickly. Buy them in bulk! My knife… or my pair of scissors… are sort of like a second pencil to me. That’s what I use to straighten out my sketch lines and create the final design.

Once I have the original cut, I make a copy of it and use the copy to make a pattern for duplicate cuttings. As you can see, this is a relatively simple design… much of the artwork will be added in the painting process. But first, I’ll stain it to add some age. I make a strong solution of instant coffee and boiling water, and apply it to the papercutting with a natural sponge.

I’ll actually soak up the excess coffee with the sponge so the paper isn’t sitting in puddles of water. I let the paper dry naturally (Usually… sometimes impatience gets the best of me!) and then iron it between two sheets of white paper to smooth out any wrinkles. Here are the two new Valentine designs once they are stained…

And… although I had every intention of showing the painting and inking process, I got into painting and forgot to take pictures. So, here’s what they look like AFTER they’re painted…

I went with rather bright colors on these, which believe it or not, is quite true to history. The Pennsylvania Germans LOVED color. The colors in most of the antique artworks we see today have lost a lot of their original vibrancy due to sunlight and time. So I sort of compromise a bit… adding staining to make them look old, but also pumping up the color to make them look new. Artistic license.

Once they’re framed, they look like this…

I should be adding them to our shop’s Sweet Remembrances page very soon… Keep an eye out for them! We’re going to make a limited supply of each for this year due to time constraints, so if you need one let me know!

A Date with my Sweetie, Part One…

Last week, Hubby and I took a day to go exploring. We don’t do that often enough, but have resolved to try to go “do something” at least once a month. So we headed North, and ended up at the Delaware Art Museum for the first part of the day. Which actually ended up being pretty much the whole day, because one of us likes to read Every Single Plaque when in museums. (Name withheld to protect the guilty party.) However, the other one of us really likes art museums, so that person didn’t complain. Not one bit. We ended up seeing about half of the museum, and helped them close up. So that means we need to go back and see the other half, right?


One part of the museum focused on early American artists…

Still Life with Fruit by Severin Roesen

…And I can’t believe they let me take pictures!

I wrote a paper on Frederic Church last
year for an art history class…

South American Landscape by Frederic Church

…the paper also included Benjamin West!

The Return of Tobias by Benjamin West

There was a beautiful sculpture by John Rogers…

Coming to the Parson by John Rogers

And there was an exhibit of works on paper by a
twentieth-century Color Field artist…
I recognized her from my Art Appreciation textbook
and thought I’d better take a look…

Work on Paper by Anne Truitt

 It was definitely an exhibit that made you stand back and say “Hmmm…”
I took a picture of this one because green is my favorite color.

A guard came in and explained to my dear perplexed
Hubby that the exhibit was “Arty.”

There was a momentary bonding between the two guys.


The Delaware Art Museum has a wonderful
collection of Pre-Raphaelite art,
like this painting that illustrates a scene from
Briar Rose, or The Sleeping Beauty

The Council Chamber by Sir Edward Burne-Jones

 And an allegorical painting depicting the
composition of music…

Veronica Veronese by Dante Gabriel Rossetti

 The Pre-Raphaelites produced beautiful paintings that focused on nature, literature, and the Middle Ages. Early Pre-Raphaelite paintings had a Christian emphasis, but unfortunately as they grew toward a more aesthetic approach, they veered away from their origins. (If you read all the little plaques about them, you may get a bit disillusioned.) However, their illustrative style greatly influenced the artists of the next generation…

The Storyteller’s Art:
ReImagining America through Illustration

What a great exhibit.

Of course, Howard Pyle was the star.
He’s just plain incredible.

This is Hubby’s favorite…

The Fight on Lexington by Howard Pyle

 I liked his black & white pen drawings
that look like old woodcuts…

Lady of the Lake by Howard Pyle

 I also loved this poster for the very first
Children’s Book Week by Jessie Willcox Smith…

Illustration for Children’s Book Week poster, 1919 by Jessie Willcox Smith

And I discovered a new female illustrator…
I LOVE this picture…

She Loved to Have the Children About Her by Eugenie Wireman

 Howard Pyle operated a school for illustrators in Wilmington, Delaware in the early 1900’s, and N.C. Wyeth was one of his students! What I found to be really amazing was that about a third of his students were young women! There were some beautiful illustrations at the Delaware Art Museum by these talented ladies. Go see them if you get a chance!

And of course, we had to leave because they
were starting the turn out the lights…

The Crying Giant by Tom Otterness

And it’s the end of the post too…
but Part Two is coming soon!

The End by a member of Pyle’s weekly sketching club

“They were never so finely told in prose before.
And then the pictures – one can never tire of
examining them & studying them.”
~ Mark Twain, in a letter to Howard Pyle,
on Pyle’s The Story of King Arthur and his Knights~ 


A Proper Visage…

I’ve been filling silhouette orders, and one that I’ve snipped away at the past couple of days was…

A Proper Visage
(Available on our Traditional Silhouettes page!)

… And I thought that maybe it would be fun to chat a bit about what a “proper visage” is. Or was.

In the colonial period, young ladies were trained to have a proper visage. Your “visage” was your face and upper body… the part of you that might be painted in a portrait. And it was proper to keep your visage portrait-like at all times. Ladies’ faces were to be serene and have a pleasant expression. Anything that might spoil your visage, like a sour expression, was discouraged. Even your shoulders and arms were to be kept in a lady-like position, and the cut of colonial gowns helped maintain proper form, as it was difficult to raise one’s arms in a properly fitted shortgown.

The idea of maintaining a proper visage even extended to the musical instruments a lady was allowed to play. Woodwinds were definitely out, because they caused a lady’s cheeks to puff out while she was playing. And no violins either… it was considered vulgar to see a lady with her arms raised, and elbows pointed out in an awkward position. (In Europe, the Italian composer Vivaldi taught orphan girls to play violin, but they had to perform behind a modesty screen.) Playing the cello was not allowed, also because of the elbows jutting outward, but it was considered proper for ladies to play the viola da gamba, because the bow was held underhanded.

Anyway, I thought that might be an interesting tidbit of information to share with you! We learned about having a proper visage on a trip to Williamsburg when our girls were going through their “American Girls” phase. We had great fun giving them a colonial reminder whenever we saw a cranky face! The thrill did not last long for some unknown reason. I wonder why…


Have a great Friday!

Hot, Hot Hot… American Folk Art Update!

We are officially having a heat wave here on Delmarva!  We really can’t complain, since we’ve had such a lovely summer, but the past week has been HOT. The stay inside and crank the AC sort of HOT. Which is a perfect opportunity to work on papercuttings. My current work station is sitting on a little kid’s stool at our coffee table…


The air conditioner is in the window six feet behind me, and I alternate between having in on and freezing my back, and having it off and getting HOT. (Note the air conditioner remote control thingie sitting right in the middle of the muddle.) It’s a delicate balance. Just ask my family.

Kate’s little corner of the world is across from me at the other end of the coffee table. She’s working on some cute fall stitchings to put in the store…


Perched between us is a stack of inspiring magazines… we’re currently into self-sufficiency sorts of magazines. Most likely because we know the electric meter is spinning around in furious circles as I flip the AC on and off. Maybe we can come up with a solar-powered air conditioner. Hmmm….

Of interest on this HOT day… today at noon, American Folk Art is updating it’s theme! The theme of the day is Dog Days of Summer, which I think is incredibly appropriate. Pop on over and check it out!

A peek inside… or art on the go…

Yesterday I got one of Cathy Johnson’s Art Tip Newsletters, and it had some interesting tips and links for making your own traveling watercolor boxes! Cathy’s incredibly wonderful book Living History: Drawing on the Past  sent me in the direction of being a living history artist, and was also the inspiration for my tiny watercolor box… it’s not terribly grand or exciting, but at shows or reenactments, somebody always asks to take a peek inside! In case anyone needs to create a small “on the go” art kit that wouldn’t stand out like a sore thumb at historic events, here’s an idea…

I found an old oil pastel box while cleaning out boxes of art supplies. I chunked the oil pastels in a jar with a bunch of others, and started doodling on the box lid… sort of a “schoolgirl” type of drawing. (If I wasn’t in such a hurry, I might’ve tried using a wood burning tool to etch the design, but alas, this was most likely done at midnight the night before a reenactment, so quick and fast was the goal!) Then I just painted the design a bit with watercolors. I already had two commercial travel watercolor sets that I had never used, and coincidentally the pans fit in perfectly! (Coincidences are especially appreciated at midnight the night before a reenactment.) When they’re used up, or if I ever make another, I’ll look for some metal watercolor pans, or make some homemade ones.

Anyways, here’s the cute little box… It works wonderfully for 19th century events. Probably pushing it a bit for 18th century, but it’s better than modern!


And a peek inside…


And my “historic-art-box-to-go”…


The watercolor box fits in my art box if I arrange things just so. Another greatly appreciated coincidence.

Meekness ~ Innocence ~ Liberty… and Peace


Finished her today! Not exactly sure what I’m going to do with her, but the papercut version is hot on her heels! This Lady Liberty is taken from a motif on Edward Hicks’ Peaceable Kingdoms… I gave her a flag because I thought she needed one.

My mind keeps returning to the subject of peace… and it’s come up quite often in our conversations lately, both at home and with others. Peace on this earth is not easy to come by, but knowing that our heavenly Father is in charge of our lives gives us a peace beyond human reasoning. He can redeem any situation and use it for His glory. He can make beauty out of ashes. He can create something out of nothing. As humans, we’re looking at the bottom of a beautiful tapestry. From our side, we see a bunch of tangled threads and knots… but some day we’ll see eternity from God’s perspective and truly understand the concept of a Peaceable Kingdom.

Peace I leave with you, my peace I give unto you:
not as the world giveth, give I unto you.
Let not your heart be troubled, neither let it be afraid.
~ John 14:27 ~ 

Sweet and Sour…

Hello folks! Still plugging away with papercuttings, and my head is full of paper snips! So… I took a break from regular duties the other day and drew a lemon…


Sometimes it’s fun to do something that is not on your “to-do” list. I got inspired by the latest issue of Victoria magazine… there was a great article about Catherine Watter’s Botanical Illustration. If you love pretty things, you will love her artwork! I want to draw like that when I grow up. But for now, I’ll have to be satisfied with a lemon.

Lemons are sour, but if you click here you will see something really sweet! Jackson is 18 months old!

And a new project… In Edward Hicks’ later Peaceable Kingdom paintings, there are these interesting girls sort of in the background. Some are more visible than others, but they usually have a dove and eagle with them, and sometimes there’s a sheep as well. I really like this version, where Hicks explained the symbolism…


She’s going to be a papercutting in the next few days, but she’s also on her way to being a watercolor painting… that is if she turns out! Here’s a start…


A little bit of a re-make. I want her to be pretty, and sometimes Hicks’ faces weren’t that pretty! Couldn’t figure out what she was holding, so she’s getting an olive branch. And a Federal-looking drape just because. Can’t wait to spend a little more time on her!

And a little child shall lead them…


Good morning folks! Just wanted to let you know that American Folk Art is highlighting Lions & Lambs in folk art! The theme will be updated today at noon… be sure to check it out! The Peaceable Kingdom is one of my favorite folk themes. No, it IS my favorite. And Edward Hicks is one of my very favorite artists of all time. For a little bit of history on him, check out this old post! I often yearn for a peaceable kingdom… don’t you?

Oh… and Kate created a very gaudy, really cool, pretty/ugly (or pretty ugly?) messenger bag sort of thing yesterday afternoon. You’ve got to go take a peek. I’ll bet you dollars to donuts, that if she wears it today, somebody will ask where she got it!

Hope you all have a great Monday!

Behind the scenes… Adventures in Papercutting, Part 4

To continue from the last post…

My all-time-favorite-most exciting-inspiring part of our days in Lancaster was getting to see the Pennsylvania German papercuts and fraktur in the collections of both Landis Valley Museum and the Lancaster Cultural History Museum. In two areas, we were allowed to bring our cameras, and in another our sketchbooks were okay, but the camera wasn’t allowed. Either way was fine for me… I was just thrilled to see the stuff up close! Landis also mounted a special exhibit in their Visitor Center because the Guild was coming, but I think it’s going to be up for a while, so if anyone has a chance to visit, make sure you go in and see the papercuts. You won’t believe how intricate they are! We also had special presentations by Sukey Harris, focussing on the heart in papercutting, and by Dr. Robert Kline on fraktur, giving special attention to the tulip. (He also pointed out quite a few “Tree of Life” depictions, Penn-German style!) My only wish was that I could have stayed longer, just me and my sketchbook, and maybe some watercolor pencils and a brush. (However, I think the curators would have gotten rather nervous, had any of us whipped out watercolors!)

The information about the fraktur and papercuts was very interesting. It was neat to see the copying the artists did… the printed copies mirrored the early hand-drawn fraktur, and then later on, folk artists imitated the printed fraktur while making home-made versions again. The artists also drew what they saw… from thistle finches (the “distelfink”) and the now extinct Carolina Parrot, to etchings they saw in the family Bible and designs on various other items… textiles, quilts, butter prints, pottery, etc. Inspiration was all around them, in every day life. One artist even used the English coat-of-arms as a design, but replaced the official English shield with a parrot. After all, the fraktur was made just after the Revolutionary War, so a parrot just seemed more appropriate. (Okay, wow.)

I did have to respectfully disagree with something said concerning the symbolism of Pennsylvania German folk art. The copying of a great variety of artworks and designs was pointed out, as mentioned above. The fact that nobody ever wrote down that they were using a specific symbol to signify a specific meaning was pointed out. It was pointed out that the current meanings of the symbols may have been construed by 20th century scholars. Okay, I understand all that about the symbolism… or the lack thereof. However, the main comment I disagreed with was this…

…it’s highly unlikely that a housewife with children tugging at her knee would have taken the time to think about the meaning of the things she was drawing or the decorations she was creating for her home in her spare time…

Not an exact quote, but more of a paraphrase, and I honestly don’t think it was meant with evil intentions or a demeaning attitude toward housewives. However, when I started papercutting, I was a housewife with children tugging at my knee. And when I got a few minutes to draw, paint, or papercut, I DID put a lot of thought into what I wanted my artwork to portray… what I wanted it to say. Yes, sometimes I did just doodle or copy a pretty design, but I was also thrilled to think my art might have multiple layers of meaning. Not that I was a terribly deep thinker or that I was into superstitious beliefs, but I did know what I was thinking when I designed my papercuttings. I thought about how much joy I hoped they would bring to the home they ended up in, and I really enjoyed adding Christian symbolism to them. Having a place to express my thoughts meant a lot to me as a young mom with children tugging at my knee. And I’ll bet those housewives (and schoolmasters, and schoolchildren, and itinerant artists) thought about their artwork too.

One thing I do know about folk art, is that a lot of skills and meaning weren’t written down, but were passed down by word of mouth, or by working alongside an older artisan. Artists themselves tend to express themselves visually rather than verbally, and it’s very unlikely that they would pick up a pen to write down why they drew a heart or a tulip on something, especially if it was generally understood by everyone around them. As a homeschool family, we once studied the meanings of the symbols and colors in coats-of-arms, and the girls designed their own personal coats-of-arms, using symbols that were important to them. Last summer, I met a older gentleman who was a Schwenkfelder, and he told me about all their fraktur, and that it was filled with their beliefs. When Ester Shilo gave me a Jewish papercut at Collection, she pointed out to me several symbolic elements in it, and told me what they meant. When our Chinese visitors gave their presentation, it was full of symbolism. And when we came back from the last museum visit, I went to Trudy Kauffman’s workshop on making a Haus Segan (a Pennsylvania-German House Blessing… thanks Trudy for helping me learn how to pronouce that word!!!), and right there in the packet was a list of symbolic meanings! See, somebody DID write it down!

And besides… symbolism in art is just plain fun.

Okay… I’ll step off my folk art soapbox now, and show you a few pictures!

Here’s how close we were to the real thing…

My favorite…

And we had a wonderful Pennsylvania German picnic dinner in the Yellow Barn…

And couple of things that resulted from sketchbook sketches… not quite finished, but they seemed to fit with this post!

Let’s see… for future scholarly reference, the heart symbolizes God’s love and protection on those inscribed therein, the doves symbolize peace, but also love and union between two, the berries symbolize fruitfulness, and the vine symbolizes that we’re grafted into God’s family!