Shopping For Paint With Your Phone

Like many artists, I go through art supplies like water. I’m constantly shopping to keep my paint stash stocked, so I don’t run out of my favorite Sunflower Yellow right in the middle of a project.

paintAI store my paint in plastic shoe box sized drawers, which are the perfect height for craft paint bottles. I have three drawers right now, sorted by colors: red/pink/purple; yellow/orange/earth tones; blues and greens. As you can see, I store them upside-down. This helps keep the binder from rising to the top, and reminds me to shake each bottle well before using it.

paintBWhen I feel a craft store run coming on, I grab my phone, open each drawer, and snap a photo of the bottles. Storing the bottles upside-down shows me the actual paint color, rather than the printed dot on top of the bottle, or the color on the label.

Now, I have a photo image of all the paints I already have, to carry with me when I shop.

paintFIf I’m running low on a specific color, I take a close-up photo, showing the brand and color name. This one happens to be Americana Tuscan Red, my favorite red.

paintDWhen I’m out shopping, these photos help me figure out which colors I don’t have, but should. For example, it looks as though I don’t really have a good, dark purple. I have one, but it’s on the blue side. Maybe I should look for one that’s less blue. On the flip side, I do not need another bottle of primary red paint.

paintEI also use these photos to help me from buying the same five colors over and over again. (Hello, Anita’s Heather, Hot Pink, Tangerine, and Island Blue.) I can zoom in on the photo, and match the bottom of the bottle in the drawer to the one I’ve chosen. It looks like I don’t really need this bottle right now, since I already have two bottles of pretty much the same color in the drawer.

This idea can work with all sorts of supplies:

  • Can’t remember which brand of gesso you really love? Take a photo of the label, and carry it with you, so when you see a sale, you buy the right one.
  • Want to expand your selection of brushes? Take photos of the ones you use most, so you can see the name and size number. That way, you won’t buy a brush you already have.

How will you use this tip when you’re shopping for supplies?

Hand Carved Stamp Lessons


While I was making 30 of these postcards for a swap here at Mixed Media Club, I shot a lot of video. Below are some short lessons on the various things I did to put them together.


I carve stamps on an assortment of materials, with minimal tools. Here’s a quick look:

Transferring the Design

There are a variety of ways to transfer a design to the rubber. Here are a few suggestions:

Carving the Stamp

Once you have the right tools, carving a stamp is pretty straightforward. Here’s how I carved this stamp:

Printing the Design

Once the stamp is carved, it’s time to pull a test print, and then print the finished design. Here’s how I did that:

Adding Color

I wanted to add a little color to the design after it was printed. Here’s a look at the media I tried, and what worked:

Watercolor Pencils


You’ve probably played with watercolor pencils at one point or another. There are a lot of different brands on the market, and they have a wide range of properties. Like any art pencil, watercolor pencils come in varying degrees of hardness, and very often, you have to test out one or two brands to figure out which ones are hard, and which are soft.

I started at the low end when I purchased mine, and bought a set of Sargent pencils at my local craft store. I think this set of 24 cost less than $10. This particular brand of pencil is quite hard, and the color range is a little limited, but the price was right for playing with a new medium.

What can you do with watercolor pencils?

  • You can color with them on dry paper just like you can with any colored pencil. Because this brand was so hard, I wasn’t able to get anything really dark by just coloring. On the plus side, they held up well to pressure, and didn’t crumble when I colored really hard.
  • You can use a paintbrush or waterbrush to paint over the places you’ve colored with the pencils. The color moves easily, but doesn’t lift off completely, so it’s easy to go from pencil coloring to water coloring with just a few swipes of the brush. I find brushing over pencils much easier to blend and contain than using traditional watercolors.
  • You can wet your paper, then color over it. Because these pencils were so hard, I only had very poor results with this technique. A softer watercolor pencil might do better.
  • You can dip your pencil in water, and use it as a brush to apply color. I used this technique to get the really dark tones I couldn’t achieve with a dry pencil. The water softens the pencil lead, but only a tiny bit of it at a time. This technique does eat up the pencils faster, because you’re essentially laying down a thicker coat of color, but it did a great job of turning a very washed out coloring job into something that had more pop.
  • Alternately, you can use a waterbrush directly on the tip of the pencil to pick up pigment, and apply it to your surface.
  • You can spray water over coloring or writing done with the pencils, and let it bleed a bit.
 One of the best ways of using watercolor pencils is to color a drawing, and then use a waterbrush to turn the pencil to watercolor.

One of the best ways of using watercolor pencils is to color a drawing, and then use a waterbrush to turn the pencil to watercolor.

pencil-hs01I find it easiest to select three or four pencils, and test them on a scrap of paper before I dive in. Seeing what they look like scribbled, and then wet, can help when planning how to approach coloring.

pencil-hs02I started by using the dry pencils on dry paper, coloring in the various sections. I colored harder towards the bases of flowers and stems, tapering off to nothing at the tips, knowing I’d spread the color with a brush.

pencil-hs03Next, I used a waterbrush to gently move a little color outward. I worked on one color at a time, first creating pale purple edges on the irises, then greener tips on the leaves. I let the drawing sit for a few minutes to let some of the water dry.

pencil-hs04To add really dark darks, I dipped the tip of my pencils into a cup of water, and stroked on a thicker layer of color. I did this mostly at the bases, or in areas I wanted to recede. I used the waterbrush again to blend the color into the previous layer.

pencil-hs05The background looked a little stark, so I used the flat side of a blue pencil to add very pale strokes of color, then blended them across the paper to create a sort of pale sky effect. When the paper dried, I applied glue stick to the back, and use a brayer to flatten it onto cardstock.

I collaged some black and white prints onto gessoed cardboard, and used watercolor pencils to add color to the figure. I’ll add a background with another medium later.

I collaged some black and white prints onto gessoed cardboard, and used watercolor pencils to add color to the figure. I’ll add a background with another medium later.

pencil2-hs01To create the pale skin tones, I used a waterbrush to pick up pigment from the tip of a pale orange and pale yellow pencil, and blended them with water on the figure.

pencil2-hs02To get the color on the hair, headpiece and dress, I colored with pencils on the dry surface. It’s really easy to add very fine details with pencils.

pencil2-hs03I blended and shaded using a water brush.

This article was originally published in the July 2012 issue of The Monthly Muse.

Stencils & Masks

Stencils and masks allow you to apply your own patterns to pages, in the colors of your choosing. They’re great for breaking up solid sections, or layering over each other to create depth.

First, some stencil and mask basics:

stencil-lowresThis piece was created almost entirely with stencils. The Frida stencil is hand cut; the background flower stencils were punched using paper punches; the letter and rose stencils are purchased, and the lines were added using tape. Watch the video below to see how it went together:

When the piece is viewed in person, there are places where you can see all the way down to the first text page layer. That’s some serious transparent layering!

More Stencils & Masks in Action


This piece was also made almost completely with stenciling. The Poe and crow figures are hand cut; the lettering stencils were purchased; the background texture is done using sequin waste as a stencil.


This set of altered book pages was done using a hand cut positive and negative mask. I simply cut the contour of the profile down the center of a piece of manila file folder, to create a positive and negative, and used the two pieces to block in the faces. I think I show this mask set in the first video, at the top of the page.


This set of altered book pages is made using a mask. I painted the page pink, and then used gesso around the mask to get the pink figure. Then, I traced around the mask, slightly offset, with a black pen.

I teach an online class at Ten Two Studios, all about stenciling. Check out Quick Stenciled Pages to learn how to cut and use your own stencils.

Paint & Glaze

I can’t possibly put everything there is to know about paint in mixed-media work into one page. Instead, this page will give you a quick rundown on different grades of paint, and a crash course in making your own glazes.

On the left, Plaid FolkArt craft acrylic paint in yellow ochre. On the right, Golden glaze in yellow ochre.

On the left, glaze made from Plaid FolkArt craft acrylic in yellow ochre, and liquid matte medium. On the right the same glaze, dabbed with undiluted paint leftover from making the glaze.

This is one of my favorite things to do with glaze: these are modern map pages and ledger sheets, aged with a layer of burnt sienna glaze. The glaze knocks the color right down, and shifts the pages to a sort of grungy/vintage version.

Paint Applicators

So, now that you know everything about paint and glaze, let’s talk about some different ways to apply it to the page.

On the left, yellow dry brushed base coat, orange dry brushed top coat. On the right, yellow base coat applied with a makeup sponge, orange brayered top coat.


On the left, orange paint brayered onto waxed paper, and pressed onto the page. On the right the same effect with a yellow glaze top coat.


Slate glaze applied with a damp sea sponge over gesso.

White Sakura Gelly Roll


I’m not usually big on pens and markers. I have two or three I like, but I generally skip the pen and marker section of the store when I shop for supplies. For some reason, I got a wild hair about finding a white opaque marker, and ended up buying a two-pack of Sakura Gelly Roll pens at Hobby Lobby. I’ve used them a couple of times, and they seemed acceptable, but nothing to write about.

Fast forward to last week, when I was feeling lazy about adding white highlights to a photo of Kate Winslet with paint and a minuscule brush. I grabbed a white pen, and did the highlights on several photos with it. Lovely, and a perfect fit for the sort of doodling I’d been doing elsewhere on the images.

UPDATE: I’ve enjoyed using these pens so much that I purchased a pack of black ones, as well. They’re slowly edging my Copic Multiliners out as my favorite black pens.

Punched Paper Pieces

I imagine many of you have paper punches or die cut machines, and, like me, are always looking for ways to get more use from them. This lesson is all about using punched paper shapes as part of your layer building.


Let’s start with something simple and subtle. The layered background above was created with two sizes of floral punches, two colors of paper, and one tube of paint. This video will show you how it all goes together.

The pattern made using this technique, and this tight color palette, results in a monochrome background. What if we used a slightly bolder combination?


This background was made using punched magazine paper circles, gesso, and paint, over text pages. Here’s how it all went together:

For an even bolder background, you could skip the gesso layer, and go straight for the paint over the text pages and punched circles.

Text Pages

Text pages offer an easy, inexpensive way to add visual interest to your page before you lay down a single drop of paint or glaze. This video will show you what they are, where to find them, and offer a few ways to apply them.

Now, let’s take a look at some ways you can start integrating text pages into your layering.


This sample was made for the following video, which shows how to combine gesso, text pages, and glaze, plus a little cardboard tearing, to create the background for a piece.

More Examples of Text Pages in Action…


Text pages with gesso. I applied text pages from a Spanish novel, using some liquid matte medium, to start the piece shown above. I layered gesso over some of the pages, but you can still see them glowing through parts of the figure.


Text pages covered with glaze. I used bits of Asian text, sheet music, and dictionary pages to create the base layer for this set of altered book pages, then covered them with a coat of purple glaze.


Gesso is one of the handiest tools in my layering arsenal, because it can do so many things. This video will give you a rundown of the basics: what it is, what it's for, and a couple of ways to use it.

Stencil with it. Above, the flowers on the left side were applied by stenciling with gesso over a bare book page, and then glazing over the whole thing. This exploits the difference in the way the gessoed and ungessoed area grabs onto the glaze. The gessoed areas are also slightly dimensional. I did the same thing with a brocade stencil below, and some really old, thick gesso. The effect is similar to that of texture paste.

Paint with it. Using gesso instead of paint will give you blindingly white whites, and deep, dark blacks. All the circles on the page above were done with black and white gesso. I often use black and white gesso when I'm painting eyes, to give a very dark pupil, and a bright highlight.

Make magazine images accept paint. The face above started life as a magazine ad. I often apply magazine images, and then gesso over the top of them, leaving just the faintest amount of the original image showing through. That gives me a nice facial structure on which to paint my own faces. The black blacks in this pieces were done with black gesso, and the face was painted out with white gesso.

Water Soluble Oil Pastels

When I was in college, I took a class that was a sort of crash course in media. For three months, my subject was a bell pepper. I drew it in pencil, in charcoal and in pen and ink. I painted it in acrylics, watercolors, and gouache. I rendered that bell pepper in colored pencils, in colored India inks, and in solvent-based markers. I did bell peppers in oil pastels, chalk pastels, and conte pencils. By the end of that three months, I’d spent a fortune in art supplies, and knew the basics of using all of them. I haven’t eaten a bell pepper since.

Over the years, I’ve continued to try new media whenever I have the opportunity. One of the things I enjoy most is finding inexpensive tools that work well, to add to my usual assortment of mixed-media tools. It’s good to change things up, and throw something new into the mix every so often.

Soft & Blendable

About four years ago, someone in one of my online art groups mentioned Portfolio Water Soluble Oil Pastels, and my ears perked up. Water soluble oil pastels? That sounds like something sort of impossible, doesn’t it? We all know that oil and water don’t mix, so how could water blend an oil pastel?

I ordered a little set of Portfolios, and tried them. They were blendable like traditional oil pastels, and very soft, which I liked very much, because I was struggling with my regular set of pastels that were too hard. I couldn’t quite get the hang of the water soluble part, though. I kept lifting the color right off the surface with my brush, rather than turning them into a watercolor. After a couple of tries, I set the Portfolios aside, thinking they probably weren’t for me.

da Vinci Inspiration Book

This is a flip-through of one of the books I designed for the da Vinci Inspiration Book class I teach online. The color work in this book is done entirely with Portfolio pastels.

As Traditional Oil Pastels

Two years ago, I took an online art journaling class. The instructor used pastels on one of her pages, so I hauled out my stash of pastel-like supplies: chalk pastels, oil pastels, and the Porfolio Water Soluble Oil Pastels. Because I still liked the softness of the Portfolios, I used them as traditional pastels, blending them with my finger. I did some decent pages with them, and that made me think I should keep working with them.

So, I did a lot more art journal pages with them. In fact, I ended up doing an entire book for The Sketchbook Project with them.

My Book From the 2012 Sketchbook Project
(Click thumbnail to view full-size)


These images show some of the pages I did in my book for The Sketchbook Project. They’re worked in mixed-media, with most of the color work done in Portfolio Water Soluble Oil Pastels.

Used With Acrylic Mediums

At some point, I mentioned my struggle with using Portfolio pastels to another artist, and admitted that I really wasn’t using water with them. She said that she never used water with hers either, but she did use acrylic mediums with them.

Acrylic mediums? That changed everything.

I started doing some pieces with the pastels that were a little less blended with my fingers, and added brush work with liquid matte medium. Eventually, I was getting the more painterly look from them I desired, by exploiting their water soluble aspects without using water. The effect was lovely, easy and fun. I finally loved my water soluble pastels. Now, they’re my go-to media for most of my art journaling.

Just 10 Pages Journal


The page shown above is from the Just 10 Pages journal project. Most of the color work is done with Portfolio pastels. The video below shows a fast-motion capture of how I created these pages.

Inexpensive & Portable

A big plus to using Portfolio Water Soluble Oil Pastels is that they are relatively inexpensive. They only come in sets, so I buy the set of 24, which is packaged in a box that folds in half, and is very portable. It tucks into my traveling art bag nicely.