birds

Negative to Positive

(posted 05/11/2024)

Untamed is the best way to describe my process of creating cyanotypes. Sources for the images I develop outside with sunlight are quite varied, and the possibilities are so endless that I really have to reign it in every time I work on these. My cyanotypes are not just created with found objects like leaves and flowers, but I also create photo negatives from various digital images and then make the sun prints using the negatives instead. These negatives can start as photos I’ve taken with both my phone and digital camera, images of my finished art works, and some scanned images of antique ephemera. I also recently began to use photographs rendered with Midjourney Ai.

To make the process even more complex, each time a cyanotype is made from a negative, I usually change up the sun exposure time and/or the treatment of the paper. Manipulating the surface of the watercolor paper with additives like soap, salt, or vinegar can create really cool textures and effects. There is risk with additives though, since I don’t use them often I’m less sure of how the images will turn out. But that certainly adds to the fun of it all!

My creative process tends to be more intuitive than scientific, so I rarely keep detailed records when I change things up. “Mistakes” don’t bother me a bit. I’ve had several instances where I take a “bad” cyanotype and after adding beeswax and pigments it becomes a favorite Suncaustic piece. I scan most of my cyanotypes too, so that I can digitally alter them and use in other composite or mixed-media works. I’ve built up quite an interesting collection of digital images on my laptop over the years. You might even notice some of my favorite images show up time and again in different pieces.

Several of my recent cyanotypes began as digital negatives I made from Midjourney Ai images. I recently learned the technical term for creating these synthetic pictures using Ai: synthography aka synthetic photographs. My turning them into negatives and letting sunlight develop them gives them new life as cyanotypes. I like to think of it as a reincarnation of the Ai generated art when I take those images and put them through the age old cyanotype development process.

Here’s a sample piece I’m currently working on. It’s a self-portrait, inspired by how I felt as a young girl. Here’s the original photo I directed Midjourney Ai to generate:

Here’s the image after I digitally altered it on my computer. I flipped the image horizontally, cropped out some branches, added more cattails and the blue heron, and changed the whole color scheme.

This is the negative image I printed on a special translucent film:

And finally, the cyanotype image developed by the sun in 5 minutes just the other day.

The setting is similar to a pond we had on our property when I was young. It was always a big deal when we saw blue herons or cranes flying over the house on the way to the pond. I can still recall the stillness experienced whilst gazing up at the long, quiet flight of a crane over the meadow toward the welcoming water.

Holly Days 2023 at The West Woods

(posted 11/15/2023)

On November 3rd & 4th, I was busy selling my art and jewelry during the Holly Days Artisan Boutique held at the West Woods in Geauga County, Ohio. I have done a couple markets per year since 2021, and this was another success!

The event ran a few hours on Friday evening and most of Saturday. This was the first time I used my new gallery wall (a white folding pegboard) which held many of my original pieces on cradled wood canvas. The table was then freed up to hold a few more larger works, some jewelry, and a white lighted tree decorated with ornaments.

All around me the other vendors had beautiful displays of some art and lots of Christmas themed decor and candy. It was great to get the holiday season rolling so soon after Halloween. My husband was kind enough to come along and help me unload, set up, and make small talk with everyone. He even picked me up a delicious burger from Manna Food Truck at the end of the night. He’s a trooper and I’m always so thankful for his help!

I debuted all thirty-one birds of the Birdtober 2023 project at the event and sold twelve of them. I even got some orders for more ornaments including a bluebird, two herons, and a monarch butterfly. Since I was asked to create these birds, I decided to list them on Etsy – currently there you can find the bluebird, the blue heron, and the hummingbird in the Ornaments section of the shop. They are made to order so if you want them for gifts, get your orders in soon!

I ran another art giveaway at this event. Two of those who signed up for my email updates got the chance to win their choice of Birdtober ornaments. One winner chose the common tailorbird, and the other chose the goldfinch. I sent those out this week. If you’re interested in getting my studio update emails (about one per month), click here to sign up. If you change your mind, it’s easy to unsubscribe.

Art that Sold

The art pieces that sold at Holly Days were quite varied in subject and process. Following is the bulk of them with a comment on each one – they are in no particular order.

“Woodland Raccoon,” 8×8 in. wood canvas. This is the 2nd or 3rd version I’ve done. People fall in love with the face of this masked creature.

“Generations,” 10×10 in. wood canvas. I like this one so much I want to do more versions of it in the future. Ever since I read about “Hibaku,” the ginkgo has been a favorite tree of mine. Click here to read more about Hibaku.

encaustic wax painting ginkgo leaves

“Hinterland No. 7,” 8×8 in. wood canvas. This is not a picture of the exact one that sold, but it is another one of which I’ve made multiple versions. I like to place the fox in different settings and keep it somewhat transparent and ghostlike.

“Lilies of the Valley III,” 8×8 in. wood canvas. This is a piece done with Midjourney AI. After covering it with wax, I embellished it with some oil pastel. I did a similar one which is quite popular on Etsy.

“Orphic Landscape I,” 10 in. round wood canvas. This was an encaustic painting I did using a Midjourney AI image as a reference. A lot of AI looks surreal and I think that aesthetic comes through clearly in this one.

“Summer’s Edge,” 8×10 framed. This one was hard to let go. It ended up selling before the show even opened! I absolutely love making suncaustic works and plan to do many more – they always seem to bring out the best of my creativity.

“Moreland Meadow No. 8,” 9×12 in. wood canvas. This landscape always made me think of Ireland since it somewhat mimics the colors of the flag. It’s got some gold and it’s just about to reveal a rainbow. Moreland Meadow was a favorite place of mine that was captured in a few photos in 2020.

These last three on 6 in. round wood canvas were part of a Female Bird Series I did last year. I painted them with watercolor, then covered them with encaustic medium.

As always, I’m very happy when people stop by and look and ask about my work. I’m so grateful to those of you who liked my work enough to take it home. If you ever see a piece you’d like me to recreate, or have a request for something new, please reach out to me via email: rachel@wolfpupstudio.com

For the Birds

(posted 09/14/2023)

I have done a lot of bird art over the past few years. Why the birds? Whenever I think of my first drawings I’m always taken back to my grandparent’s house in Chardon, Ohio. They were bird watchers, and the couple always had full feeders outside the window and bird books on the shelf. In their bathroom behind the door was a huge poster entitled “Birds of North America.” It felt as if I was in a museum when I gazed up at all the colorful illustrations. 

I recall watching my brother place a piece of carbon paper under an illustration in one of the bird books, then trace it with a pen to draw an outline of the bird underneath. It was pure magic to me. I eagerly tried the trick too of course, and that seems to be where my love of drawing began. Most often, my subjects were houses, horses, butterflies, and birds. Whenever I went to their house as a young child, I would sit on the floor and pull open the bottom desk drawer which always held a stack of gleaming white paper. The top drawer held a collection of pencils and pens and a big, well worn eraser. I remember also drawing cross sections of houses too of all things while I sat on the floor – I think stemming from my love of doll houses and/or Richard Scarry books. 

So now that I think of it, that explains why I made an image of a bird the first time I ever tried encaustic medium. And I go back to them as a space of comfort and unending inspiration. The shape of birds is such a familiar, simple, curved form. It makes me think of stylistic cursive writing, in a way. Their color palettes can be simple or complex and vary as much as a bouquet of flowers. When I don’t know what else to draw, I draw birds. Here’s my first attempt at encaustic. It’s oil pastel covered with clear encaustic medium. I keep this little piece of wood on my shelf in my studio. It’s a reminder of 1) how nervous and unsure I felt when I first tried it; and 2) that trying something different can end up changing the direction of my life and revealing what’s important to me.

Of course the symbolism of birds appeals to a lot of people too. The meanings and feelings that come with images of eagles, owls, peacocks, storks, crows, swans, and doves are strongly attached. I like bluebirds and goldfinches the most, since every now and then I’ll see a bright blue or yellow one darting about our yard in the summer, my favorite time of year.

In October 2021, I embarked on an Instagram challenge called Birdtober. The directions were to follow a list made by a Texas artist, Andrea Holmes, and create art pieces of each bird for every day of the month of October. I gained a lot from the experience, and you can read about it here if you missed that post. After two years, I feel ready to take the challenge again and have started some preliminary work on the 31 birds. Next month I’ll be able to show you the complete collection of these one-of-a-kind creations. As they’re finished, they’ll be listed on my Etsy site linked here, along with some 2021 editions currently there too. I will be making the round ornaments again since they allow me to work more quickly and keep up with the daily goals.

AI Meets Encaustic, Part III

(posted 05/14/2023)

If you have followed me at all lately, you can tell I am having a lot of fun working with the AI system called Midjourney. I’ve “conjured” well over 200 images using it. I’ve had it create patterns, botanicals, landscapes, round images, abstract art, portraits, and the list goes on. Quantity over quality is definitely where I’m at in the process. I have experimented enough to find a niche of a certain style that feels right, for now.

Painting with words is how I can best describe the process. You type in descriptive words on your own or copy those of the art pieces you like – they are constantly being produced by other subscribers out of the general system. Most of what I see on Midjourney when I scroll through other artists’ work has a futuristic/science fiction look similar to the first one below, but I do my best to avoid those results because my goal is to be unique of course. Overall, Midjourney is to an artist a brilliant way to quickly draft an image of a piece one is thinking of, but can be frustrating when the words aren’t interpreted the same way by AI.

Midjourney Images

What makes AI fun, but like a roller coaster, is the rapid pace at which I can create images. But, to make art that truly represents my purpose and aesthetic has taken me a very long time and quite a few errors. I’m excited to continue to share what I’ve conjured using AI. The work I’ve done lately has a strong visual presence. I don’t like these enough to use them in my encaustic, but they’re quite appealing and show yet another avenue of my individual creativity.

Related Stuff

Midjourney AI Meets Encaustic Wax Part I
Midjourney AI Meets Encaustic Wax Part II

January Blues (and Reds and Yellows, etc.)

(posted 01/23/2022)

January is not one of my favorite times of year as a resident of the Snow Belt in Ohio. Cleaning up the holiday decorations, shoveling snow, and struggling to zip up my pants are just not very uplifting moments in my opinion. Observing nature has always been my respite for when I need a boost. A walk in the park, a drive down a country road, looking out the window at the birds or even just watching the snow drifting and falling as the sun rises brings a sense of wonder and excitement to my hibernating state.

I bought a nice digital camera many years ago. I also bought several books on how to use it but honestly never learned about all of its functions. I do like taking photos with it and manipulating them digitally, though. Photopea is an excellent, free web-based photo editor. Since I discovered it, I’ve used it dozens of times. Try it out if you are ever looking for basically a free version of Photoshop. It even has templates for creating banners for social media sites which is always a help when you need to create the best size image for those platforms.

Here are some examples of the types of changes I make to my photos. These pictures were taken from my kitchen window over the last few days. I keep my camera on the counter in case I see some interesting birds when I’m there. I cropped and slightly edited the photos, adjusting mostly size, hue and color saturation. The picture with the black and white bird had a branch in front of the bird’s head, so I used the clone tool to cover the branch with pieces of the surrounding image.

In the next example, I cropped the bird so it was in a more interesting position on the canvas. I also played with saturation and brightness to make it more appealing to my eye.

I plan to use these in encaustic pieces, so you’ll probably see them again in the future. Thanks for looking at one part of my artistic process!

I hope you enjoy the season in whatever way you can. I’ll continue to take photos from the window until the temperature is above freezing.

Lessons from Birdtober

(posted 10/30/2021)

I am happy to announce I have completed my final bird of Birdtober 2021, a chance for artists of Instagram to show off and/or improve their bird art skills for each day of the month of October. This challenge came from a super talented Texas artist who has my gratitude for the inspiration and education: Andrea Holmes, whose web site is linked here. She brought awareness to the TCA Texas Lights Out for Wildlife campaign, which encourages turning off non-essential lights from overnight during the four months of peak migration, September, October, April, and May. More information can be found at tcatexas.org.

If you are interested in purchasing any of my encaustic birds done on 3 inch wood ornaments, you can find the remaining few in my Etsy shop linked here. Encaustic is something that is far more interesting to experience in person. It has a glow, texture, and scent you obviously don’t glean online.

Here are the 31 birds, keep in mind the photos are in descending order:

Artist choices: 2. Painted Bunting; 9. Short-Eared Owl; 16. Oriole; 23. Piping Plover; 30. Cardinal

Thank you for looking! This ended up being a super rewarding challenge, and I will probably do another one next year. Here are some of the valuable lessons I took from the month’s work –

Work at art. I often create new pieces just as experiment or “playing” in the studio. It’s quite different in a good way for me to have assignments. I’m not often motivated to create lots of art, so this has helped me generate a lot more items to sell than I normally would in a month’s time. I think I should pay attention to that and set more goals for myself in order to bulk up my inventory.

Don’t rush. I didn’t make many mistakes, but I did when I rushed through the work and/or was not “in the moment” but thinking of something else. This proves the fact for me once again that multitasking does not work, and the ability to focus is a wonderful asset. Lists help me stay on track and not forget steps such as signing my drawings. Yes, I forgot to sign one before applying the wax – hopefully just one. I also forgot to paint the edges black on a few.

Be prepared. This was probably my biggest lesson learned. In order to post daily, I created a system to work on groups of birds, usually four at a time. The encaustic ornaments required several steps, including drying time for the paste, so it was always better for me to repeat each step four times in a row rather than work on the entire process at once. My brain is wired that way and I work efficiently like this at my day job, so it was easy for me to create a system and follow it. Giving myself the time to do it was the challenge. I had to look at my calendar weekly and plan which days were available to spend a few hours at a time in the studio.

Don’t compare. If you search the hashtag #birdtober or #birdtober2021 you can see the beautiful work posted by all the participating artists. I’m not the best and I’m not the worst. Where I fall in the middle does not matter to me because when someone looks at the work I create I know mine stands out as unique. Encaustic medium also gives the pieces distinction. I think most encaustic artists have their own unique style and process and that’s one of the reasons I love the medium. My pieces are truly one-of-a-kind.

Birdtober

(posted 09/30/2021)

I’ve been taking a bit of time off from creating new work, and I have just the project to get me back in the swing. I follow many artists on Instagram, dating back a few years when I first began to work in encaustic. One recently posted a challenge she calls Birdtober in which every day for the month of October she is asking everyone to create a work based on her list of birds. I don’t know her or a lot about her, but she is Andrea Holmes, her Instagram is @aholmesartstudio, and she lives in Texas. I’m thankful she has created the challenge and I’m eager to officially get started tomorrow!

I’ve done a few preliminary sketches this past week. I originally wanted to put them all on watercolor paper, but after a few tries, I realized the paper is too unstable, resisting in some areas, while completely soaking up the wax in others. Then, I had the brilliant idea of putting them all on bamboo cutting boards I picked up at the dollar store, but they are too big and I fear the size will be too difficult to finish a piece every day. I had some flat wooden circles left over from my previous ornaments series and figured that will be a great canvas to work on with these birds.

Stay tuned, I’ll be posting some progress photos over the next few weeks. If you want to follow along on Instagram, find me @rachel.rivasplata.