A few months ago, I had the pleasure of working on a commissioned painting—something I don’t do that often since I have been funneling all of my time and energy into drawing designs, working on books, and going to lots of my daughter’s volleyball games. But when Vanessa reached out to me about this project, I couldn’t resist. I wanted a break from drawing black lines, so mixing up some colors to splash on a canvas was just what I needed. And it was a secret project since it was going to be a surprise for Vanessa’s daughter, Elizabeth, and her business partner, Shaelene, who were getting ready to open a brand new salon in Lethbridge, Alberta, called Rebel. Vanessa wanted a piece that would complement the colors they had planned for the salon and tie in with some of their personal interests.
I pulled together some swatches that might work with the photos and description Vanessa gave me of their colors, we messaged one another back and forth on ideas, and the image I wanted to paint took shape fairly quickly. Off to the art store for a new canvas and extra paints.
One of the ideas that came up was to incorporate a pair of scissors in the painting—hidden just enough that they didn’t dominate the painting, but instead, offered a little ah-ha moment for those who looked closely enough. After a few sketches, I decided the scissors would fit nicely into the tail of this rather extravagant moth I had sketched. And they had to be gold.
Once I had the design transferred to my canvas, I stated laying down blocks of color starting with the gold scissors. The first coat was a bit translucent, so I had to keep building up my layers until I was happy with the outcome.
I’ve long been keen on incorporating found objects into my beading and embroidery projects and wanted to do the same on this canvas to give it more depth and interest. I dug through my boxes of buttons, metal, jewelry and beading bits and settled on a number of pieces that would work including a large wood circle that would work as a focal point.
And here it is in its new home at the Rebel Salon with Shaelene (left) and Elizabeth (right). Cheers to these lovely rebels and their new business venture! Congratulations, and I wish you both so much success!
And last but not least, cheers and a very special thank you to Vanessa for bringing us all together in a creative way. I love knowing my moth is north of the border and with fabulous company—the best to you always, Vanessa!
A little about the Rebel Salon from their Instagram feed:
* A person who rises in opposition that defies rules and norms. They value spontaneity and their freedom, and are independent-minded. They want their lives to be a true expression of their values •
When we were trying to name our salon, we easily went back and forth for about a month on different ideas! We wanted something that spoke to us, had meaning, and represented our journey/ who we are!🌟
And then came REBEL⚡️ Immediately we both knew this was it! We look up to strong, independent-minded women both within our industry and outside of it, and wanted our salon to be a collective of women who embody these characteristics. So here we are, taking our shot at our dream for a space where creativity can flow and we can share our passion with you all!
Love this so much. Keep creating, stay smart and strong my friends!
While waiting for the book to go through the review stages, I was able to pick up my art supplies and do a little coloring for a new mini-project, and I thought this would be a great opportunity to put together a tutorial demonstrating some of the tips I talked about on pages 12-13 of the book.
We all have our own style of coloring, so the tips here may or may not be of use to you, but at the very least, they will show you how I do what I do. And it’s not always perfect and I am still experimenting and trying to refine my own coloring style when I am not busy drawing the lines for the coloring pages.
I originally printed this image (which is featured as one of the decorative opening and closing pages in Insectimaginary) on 110 lb Recollections grey-tinted card stock (from Michaels) and, since I wasn’t paying attention to my printer settings, it came out too enlarged. No worries. I used it as a test page and got out my Caran d’Ache Museum watercolor pencils and my mica paints made by Karen Spencer to play around with some color combo ideas. I colored with the Museums in small circles and overlapped a few areas of cool colors, then did the same with warm colors.
My messy test page
I also used my watercolor pencils to draw a few leaves, and then used a mister to spray water on my page. The watercolor pencils blurred nicely, and I used a waterbrush to add some of the mica paints in places, and used more watercolor pencils to add some squiggle designs. Just playing and experimenting. And once bone dry, I added some gel pen embellishments.
Once I had an idea where I wanted the final piece to go (though I rarely stick to set plans when it comes to art), I reprinted the design and made sure it fit my paper this time, and taped it down to my art board since I planned to use water and didn’t want it to warp too much.
I spent about an hour filling in the background (using small, fairly light circular motions with my Museums—lots of greens, blues and a little violet—and I varied my colors within different areas of the background to give it color variation and interest.
Caran d’Ache Museum watercolor pencils used for the background
Maybe it took more like an hour and half to fill the entire background in. I easily lose track of time when I am working.
Page filled with background colors
Once I had the page filled with my overlapping layers of color, I drew leafy vines with a sharpened Moss Museum watercolor pencil, and filled them in with a little Light Olive.
Added leafy vines to the bottom half of the page
Once I was content with the vines and leaves, it was time to mist the page (and bite my nails). I started with small sections at first. And then disaster struck. My colors were not blending as easily as they had before on the test page—and the paper was soaking up too much water and getting all blotchy.
I realized I had printed on the wrong card stock!
Water soaking into the paper too fast caused these dark splotches
While not a bad stock to color on, the 65lb Recollections paper has just enough difference in texture and weight to affect how the watercolors work. I could still see my small circles even after using a waterbrush to blend and add in some mica paints. Happy with the violet mica paints, disappointed in the paper. I was careful not to overwork it with my brush because I didn’t want to cause “pills” (those little globs of paper mush that pull off the paper when the fibers are too lose) or holes in my art.
This is why I stress the importance of knowing your paper—each type will cause your media to react differently. I just wasn’t paying attention as I fed more card stock into my printer.
Slow down, mama.
Gah! This looks really awful!
I did what I could and set it aside for a day or so to dry. I even considered junking it and reprinting the art on the heavier card stock.
A few days later it was bone dry and I weighed my options: use this piece so I could avoid losing time on the new mini-project (I’ll tell you what it is soon, promise) or start completely over.
Paper is dry, fairly flat and salvageable. All the splotches are gone.
I decided to keep going figuring I could use light layers of colored pencils to help smooth over the rough areas that hadn’t blended properly, and it seemed to be working.
Side note: I really like the hard, melamine surface art board I bought back in college long ago. In addition to having a really smooth surface, I can mix watercolors on it off to the side if needed. And scribble notes in pencil. It all wipes off with a damp cloth.
Once I had enough pencil pigment on the paper (mostly a mix of Luminance, Polychromos and Prismacolor Premier pencils), I used a Derwent blender (and my Prisma blender, too) to smooth everything out, section by section, for the bottom half of the background. I also used my Irojiten pencils (with nice sharp points) to add a little definition and more color to my leafy vines. I then used the Caran d’Ache Blender Bright to do a final blend and smoothing, but just for the areas I knew were finished. I only worked on the bottom part of the coloring so far.
I could not wait to start coloring the bugs and started with the bee. Luminance and Polychromos pencils for the body (blended with the Blender Bright) and then, the shimmery mica paints! And Sakura Souffle gel pens for the embellishments, of course.
You know I love my dots.
Instead of using just black and yellow for the bee, I used a mix of Yellow and Burnt Ochre and a few different browns. I used Blanco as my base mica with a little touch of the brush in a few other colors to tint the silvery-white.
The next video demonstrates my point on page 12 of Insectimaginary about coloring symmetrical designs. Bug wings are balanced for the most part, and so when you are working with colors, you’ll want to move back and forth from wing section to wing section. For example, color one area on the left, then move to that same area on the right with your same color to keep everything balanced. This is especially important when working with multiple colors and blending. If you have to take a break, it will be a lot easier to pick up where you left off and remember which colors you need to keep the balance or symmetry going. You do not have to keep your insect wings balanced, of course, but if that is your goal, it can help to work this way.
Also, since Insectimaginary is formatted in the art journal style, you can easily write down your color combos if needed on the journal pages facing the main plates.
In addition to pencil, I used mica paints on the wings and burnished what I could (pencil areas only) with the Blender bright. (And yep, that’s my first healing blister on the inside of my thumb from raking leaves).
I had to stop working for a day or so and when I came back to it, I only had time for something small. The ladybug was perfect.
I used a blend of Luminance Crimson Alzarin, Permanent Red and Perylene Brown (which looks more like a deep rich red than brown), blended my layers with the Derwent blender, then the Blender Bright to lock it all in. I’ve found I really like using the more “scratchy” Derwent and Prismacolor blender pencils to move my colors around initially, then when I follow up with the Caran d”ache Blender Bright stick, my colors become more saturated and the waxy surface provides a better seal. Black Irojiten for the spots, then the XS black Pitt pen to darken the spots and add details in the face and legs. I also used a white Gellyroll for the eye and nose dots.
Here’s a shot of my messy space and where I am so far overall. That odd-looking contraption at the top center of the photo is my iphone clip on a beandable arm. I use it to lock in my phone so I can take videos. It is not ideal (half of the time it’s so close to my face I have to lean around it to see what I am doing. And I have a few small goose-neck lamps on my desk, but the lighting is still not ideal for filming.
A day or so later, I was able to work on the Suvi beetle in the top right corner (also Plate 20 in the book) and started with a mix of purples. This next video shows more back and forth symmetrical coloring with blues and purples.
And here is the Suvi beetle almost done. I added mica paints for the flowers and gold stripes on the legs, and a few gel pen embellishments so far. I’ll probably go back and add more.
Next up is the wing of the beetle on the far left edge of the piece. Here, I lightly colored a mix of blues and greens over the little patterns I drew with the Indigo Irojiten pencil.
After my light layers were down, I used the Caran d’Ache Buff Titanium Luminance pencil to (with quite a bit of pressure) to move those colors around and soften them up up. I’m not sure that it really looks like fabric, but that’s what I’ve been calling in in past tutorials and in my books.
I really love how the Buff lifts the colors. Once I had this part of the wing blended, I used the Blender Bright again to lock it all in.
I never used to understand what all the fuss was about regarding gel pens until I got my hands on the Sakura Souffles. I used them along with Gellyroll Moonlight and metallic UBRANDS gel pens to add decorations to the wings.
Having that coat of wax from the Blender Bright underneath helps to keep the ink from spreading. Instead, it “floats” on top of the surface and mostly stays where you want it. When I am working with gel pens, I keep a scrap of cardboard nearby to wipe the tips of the pens off when needed. They do have a tendency to pick up wax and pigments if you press too hard, so getting that gunk off the rollerball frequently (and using light pressure while drawing and dotting) is key. Brushing the crud off your coloring before using pens is important, too.
Dots are easy. I’ve yet to master perfect lines with gel pens.
And I haven’t mastered being patient enough to let my ink fully dry before coloring nearby. I really need to try the blow-dryer trick someday and keep one in my studio.
This is where I have to leave off for now.
Aside from finishing the last few insects (the dragonfly will be a doozie with all those details), I need to address the top half of the background. Not sure yet but it will likely be a little darker—a night sky with a peppering of dots for stars, perhaps?
I’ll be using the same techniques I described above, and once it is done, I will scan it into Photoshop so I can use it for a little upcoming project. More details on that to come!
In the meantime, happy coloring and never be afraid to experiment!
Sometimes I spend so much time drawing designs for my coloring books that I get a real urge to splash a little color around and have to take a break from the lines. I was only going to spend a little time with this cat (still pushing for my new book deadline), but I couldn’t stop myself.
I used the wax-resist technique I also talked about here and here for the base layer of the cat: a Naples yellow Holbein pencil for the lines along with a quick wash of Karen Spencer‘s handmade watercolors (Carrie B., Brown Eyes, Brown World, Leroy Brown and Potters Brown). I then worked in gold and Ruby Charm (a deep ruby red) mica with the browns, and then Shy Violet for the eyes.
Shy Violet and other handmade mica paints by Karen Spencer
The neat thing about Shy Violet? It looks purple in the pan, but when it hits the paper, it develops a rich blue undertone. And depending on the angle of your lighting, it color-shifts between blue and purple. Many of her mica paints have this lovely color-shift effect, and all of them shimmer beautifully. You can find Karen’s paints in her Etsy shop, and she is known as @indigoartgb on Instagram.
On a side note … I had taken my personal copy of the Creative Companion apart (cut off the spine) so I could punch holes in the pages and put them into a ring binder (a little ordeal but great move) and that made it a lot easier to work with the page. My cat’s not completely done (still a little more fine-tuning) but back in the binder it goes for now. Time to get back to my lines!
Have questions about the techniques or tools I use? Don’t be shy about asking in the comments (or on IG or Facebook) – I love hearing from people!
It’s been a busy past few weeks in the studio and I’ve been diligently working on a coloring book filled with funky insects (and a few other smaller projects), but I also put together a Bunny Bundle for the RubyCharmColors Etsy shop to help my coloring friends usher in Spring and celebrate Easter. And truthfully, I could use a little Spring magic myself as there’s still snow on the ground here in northern Michigan. Will winter ever end? At least the robins are returning, so there is hope.
The Bunny Bundle on Etsy consists of two coloring pages with bunny designs: one in a circle with a few happy bumblebees, and one in a patch of fiddle-head ferns and flowers. There are also two different greeting cards that can be printed and colored—one with a “happy Easter” greeting and one with just the bunny in the circle design. I also included a full color copy of the bunny in ferns I colored just for kicks.
I had the help of colorist Betty Hung (who is one of my coloring team members) to test out the design for the bunny with bees in the circle. I am always amazed by the illusion of brushstrokes she manages to create using colored pencils, and by her stunning, playful use of color. This girl is on fire!
Betty also colored the bunny in the patch of fiddle-head ferns not too long ago (which is also included in the bundle). If you haven’t followed Betty on Instagram yet, be sure to check out her account as well as her website.
Yesterday, while working on my Etsy listing, I printed out a card and did a fairly quick coloring of it using first, a layer of Karen Spencer‘s beautiful handmade watercolors.
I’ve been storing my pans in Van Gogh “Starry Night” tins which I found on Amazon not too long ago. Nice tight-fitting lids that will help keep the paints semi-soft when not in use.
I started charting out all of Karen’s paints in my copy of the Creative Companion but need to add a few more and do a little reorganizing. Warning: these paints are addictive. You will eventually want them all! And Karen is so terrific to work with as an Etsy Seller.
Did you know she designed a beautiful ruby red mica and named it Ruby Charm? Be still my heart!
In addition to mica paints, Karen has flat watercolors, too, which give me a nice base layer to use under my colored pencils. This often gives my colorings more depth.
Unfortunately, the card stock I used to print this card was a little too toothy (not crazy about Staples 67 lb card stock for coloring). And since I was in a hurry, I was not totally satisfied with my results. My printer was misbehaving, too, and spat out inky black blotches on my page) but I managed to finish it all up with a mix of Caran d’Ache Luminance and Irojiten colored pencils, plus a few Sakura Souffle gel pens and UBRANDS metallic pens that I picked up at Target. Decent pens and economical (a pack of 30 for around $13) but they take forever to dry and are prone to smudging.
What I like best about my card is the mica paints I used for the orange flowers, the “dark blue DA” background, and the “Blanco” I used for the wings of the bees on this card. Hard to see the shimmers in photos, but in person? Wow! In anticipation of the insect book coming out, I would suggest grabbing a few of Karen’s micas—the Blanco and some of the lighter colors can be absolutely magical when it comes to painting and coloring insect wings!
If you purchase the Bunny Bundle, you can print and color a few cards and then make copies of them to send to friends and family for Easter, or just to say hi. Or, send out your original coloring! In this time of endless texts and email, it’s always nice to get something handmade through good old snail-mail. Sorta romantically thoughtful and personal, yes?
In addition to including my coloring of the bunny in the fiddle-head patch in the Bunny Bundle, I also used for a few products through my Threadless shop.
In addition to stickers, a zip pouch (2 sizes), a tote bag (3 sizes), and a cute drawstring bag, I also put the image on pillows. I am hoping to have coffee mugs and maybe even coasters available soon, too.
If you receive something from them that you aren’t happy with, just send it back and they will refund or replace your purchase, no questions asked!
I ordered a pillow and stickers and hope to have them in my hands soon. I’ll let you know how they turned out!
That’s all I’ve got for today! Thank you for supporting an independent artist, and I hope you all have time to do a little something fun and creative. Get some paint under your fingernails and spill a few pencil shavings on the floor.
It’s been really cold here the past few days in Michigan, and combined with new, heavy snowfall, I have cabin-fever and am craving Spring more than ever. And that’s what inspired the Verdigris Rabbit—I need some greenery!
This little fellow is a single illustration on page 23 of the Ruby Charm Colors Creative Companion for 2019. I won’t go through the tedious step-by-step process of the whole coloring, but will point out a few things that might help you explore (or avoid!) in your own colorings with a little mixed media including the wax-resist technique in some small areas.
I started out with several light layers and shades of Caran d’Ache Luminance and Pablo colored pencils for the base greens of the body. Most all of the greens were in the Olive family, though I also used Moss, Titanium Buff (one of my “can’t live without” pencils), and Ocher Brown 10%. I used a few blues as well—Luminance Steel Grey (which has blue overtones) and Prussian blue, plus Pablo Bluish Grey. Lots of light layers, and once I got my colors where I wanted them, I burnished those areas with the Caran d’Ache Blender Bright and a Prismacolor colorless blender.
For the left ear, I used the Indigo Irojiten pencil to outline the stars and draw small circles. I like the Irojiten pencils for detail work because they are fairly hard and I can get the points nice and sharp. I also used a little Titanium Buff inside the stars, then blended with the Blender Bright to soften the Irojiten lines.
For the blue areas (the stripes, inside of the ear, and parts of the flower design, I used the wax resist technique. The Prismacolor Sky Blue light was used for the circle shapes first. Once I had them all drawn, I used the Indigo mica paint (handmade by Karen Spencer) with a Caran d’Ache water brush to paint over the areas. The paint soaked into the paper leaving the waxy Sky Blue circles exposed. I had to swipe over them a little with a semi-dry brush in areas where the paint was a little too thick and stuck to the wax.
I have noticed that mica (and metallic or pearlescent) paints are a little less inclined to “break away” from the wax than solid (non-mica or metallic) watercolors. My guess is that the actual mica fragments are naturally “sticky” because they are composed of tiny bits of mineral. But, if you give the paint a chance to soak into the paper for a few seconds, it’s fairly easy to gently brush it off your designs with a damp (even almost dry) brush. Once the Indigo was nearly dry, I dabbed a little gold mica paint into the center of each circle. Once these areas were bone dry, I then used an extra fine black Pitt pen to give the circles a little more definition.
Another note about the wax-resist method … the wax from the pencils has to be thick enough to truly resist the liquid (paint) you brush over it. It works fairly well on the paper in my books on Amazon, but even better on card stock if you print copies of the designs at home on your own paper. Experiment on different different paper types if you want to explore this technique. Also, try going over your pencil lines a few times (pretty hard) so you get good wax buildup, and choose the right pencil. In my experience, the Prismacolors, Pablos and Holbeins seem to work the best. Your wax designs must be impermeable enough to push the water away.
I used a white Sakura Souffle gel pen for all my dots. What I like about the Souffle pens is that once dry they puff up a little bit, and they dry with a somewhat matte surface. When my white dots dried, I used a darker blue metallic UBRANDS gel pen to dab in the middle of a number of the white dots. The UBRANDS gel pens took forever to dry!
I had to go over my blue dots again in the morning because I left a piece of scrap paper between my pages while it dried overnight. When I color something in my art journal, I close the book and keep it under my laptop so the pages flatten out a bit. It usually works pretty well, but this morning when I pulled the scrap paper off my bunny, a few of the blue dots went with it! And I smudged a few of the coppery colored dots I put down in places.
Up close and personal, things look a little sloppy, but from a distance it looks pretty okay. Aside from the terrible lighting in my studio today.
The UBRANDS gel pens are fairly inexpensive (I got a pack of 30 at Target for under $15) and I like them, but they do take a while to completely dry—especially the metallics. Also, they don’t have the best reviews due to leakage. I haven’t had that happen yet but I store mine in their case, horizontally. There is a nice mix of metallic, clear and opaque pens, and so far they seem to work fairly well. The opaque pens are great on the black pages of the Creative Companion (like the calendars) and are fun to use on the black art pages as embellishments. A little blobbing and skipping now and then, but that’s to be expected with nearly all gel pens in my experience. Be aware of how you store them, keep the tips clean, and the caps on for longer life.
Below is a pic of the primary pencils I used for the rabbit. Far left is the Caran d’Ache Blender Bright (and the dark one next to it is a Polychromos Sepia). And my Prismacolor blender is getting too short to comfortably work with.
I may have mentioned this about the Caran d’Ache Luminance before, but I really do love them. They are expensive, yes, but I only buy the colors I need/want from Blick through open-stock. I can’t afford the full set yet, but they will always be a coveted part of my coloring toolbox. Same with the Pablos and the Polychromos which are more affordable but perform so beautifully.
That’s all for now! I am going back to my line drawings for the rest of the weekend. More fanciful insects in the works for an upcoming book, and a little surprise in the Ruby Charm Colors Etsy shop to celebrate the upcoming Chinese New Year starting Feb. 5. More on that later!
Happy coloring! And if you have questions, please feel free to leave them in the comments!
Art has the power to bring people together from all over the world, and since starting the Ruby Charm Colors project, I’ve met a few that have made my world a better place. Someone who has inspired me recently is Karen Spencer, also known as @indigoartgb on Instagram.
Karen hand-crafts absolutely gorgeous watercolors that have comfortably nestled their way into my collection of art supplies and I just adore them. Not only are they high-quality and an absolute dream to use, but I love knowing they are made by a real person—an independent artist who struggles and finds joy in art just like me.
Originally from Carlisle, Cumbria, Karen was adopted and brought to Blackpool where she has lived her whole life. Blackpool is on the Lancashire coast in northwest England, and is a lively seaside resort town with piers, amusement parks, and casinos. It also hosts the annual Punk rock Rebellion Festival and one of the most famous light shows on earth, Blackpool Illuminations.
Growing up in such a vibrant and colorful place likely had some influence on Karen’s artistic nature. As a child, she was drawn to music and the arts and dreamed of illustrating books for children. She went to art collage but money was tight at the age of 18, so she worked nights at a rest home and started making her own acrylic paints to help pay the rent on her first flat.
Holding down several jobs while trying to get through classes took it’s toll and Karen had to leave college before she got her degree. But, she worked at a number of jobs that allowed her to keep honing her artistic skills. Since the promenade along Blackpool always has room for artisans, she worked as a glass engraver and as a candle carver, and was an acrylic nail artist, too—for 20 years!
Following a few life-altering experiences, Karen took stock of what she really wanted to do. After noticing artists in the YouTube videos she watched were making a living, she opened her Etsy shop, KJDesignByKaren, in 2016 to sell handmade earrings and hand-printed totes (which she also sold on eBay). Around that same time, she noticed handmade watercolors appearing on the market. Since she had already been collecting a variety of pigments over the years to make acrylic, oil paint, and egg tempura gouache paints, she decided to give it a try.
Karen’s beautiful paints started selling, and as she attracted more customers and followers, her business gained traction. She introduced mica paints to her lineup, and her rich, shimmery tones caught the attention of artists and adult coloring books fans who craved unique, high-quality paint, and who wanted something extra with her new mica paints to spice up their work.
I was introduced to Karen through a dear friend who sent me a set of Karen’s micas. They were a surprise gift, and as I opened each carefully wax-paper wrapped rectangular pan, I felt like I was opening the world’s most special piece of candy. Seriously. Little pans of delicious jewel tones. Not runny like honey or molasses, but viscous enough to easily leave a fingerprint when pressed. Each pan made me gasp and ooooh and ahhh (just ask my daughter) and I couldn’t wait to grab my brushes. I was immediately struck by the creamy texture of the paints and I am now hooked.
And Karen has been coloring and painting my illustrations! In addition to being a skilled paint-maker, she is also a very talented artist. The first coloring she posted on Instagram took my breath away. Against a gold background, she worked some major magic on my “Cicadas” line art using a mix of Faber-Castell Polychromos colored pencils and her handmade watercolors:
She also colored (and painted) “Mice in Freesia” and blew people away with her blending skills and color choices using the Polychromos pencils again with her watercolors. Just look at those rich orange hues of the flowers against the deep blue ground and the delicate greens tinged with yellows and purples—lovely:
So what about Karen’s paints? Why are they so special?
Paints generally contain a basic mix of superfine pigment particles (which gives the paint its color) along with a liquid “vehicle” that suspends and binds the pigment in such a way we can use it as paint. Different paint makers use different combinations of pigments from natural and synthetic sources and vehicles (like humectants which attract and hold moisture) in their mixtures, and many are kept under lock and key.
Karen’s paint-making is a labor of love. She told me that single-pigment, artist quality paints take longer to make, and that every pigment she uses for her colors reacts differently with the special humectant she uses.
Her top-secret humectant is what makes her paint exceptional. It is a recipe she got from a friend a long time ago when she was making gouache paints. As far as she knows, nobody else is using this recipe, and it’s why her paints re-wet so effortlessly. One of the first things I noticed about Karen’s paints was that one touch of my wet brush instantly brought the paint to life. Compared to traditional dry pans of watercolor that require a good bit of “scrubbing” with a brush before the pigment lets loose, the difference was immediately noticeable.
Once she blends her pigments with her special humectant, she waits a few days until most of the water evaporates. Some of her pigments take several weeks. And then she pours them again.
“My paints contain no fillers whatsoever—they are pure pigments and humectant, unlike the bigger commercial brands.”
The mica watercolors are a lot quicker in comparison, although some of the colors “shrink back” during the evaporation process and she has to top them up.
The pigments Karen uses are all high quality, artist grade from a nearly 200 year old shop in London. (For a good primer on pigments, click here). Aside from Alizarin crimson (which was originally made from the madder plant and likely to fade over time), Karen’s pigments have the highest light-fastness rating so they should stand the test of time and not fade in the light.
“I have no idea how lightfast the mica paints are, as they are a new thing” she told me. “I don’t use cosmetic grade micas—only art and crafts micas (so the sellers tell me)” and she sources them from all over the world.
My understanding is that iridescent or pearlescent mica paints are pretty stable since they are made from mica which is a mineral that reflects light and gives paints that shimmery look. My guess is that the pigments used with the mica is what affects the lightfast quality of the end product, so if you are using high quality pigments and humectants, the mica paints should be high quality (and lightfast) as well.
Karen’s secret laboratory and workspace
Karen said she wants to continue doing what she does. “It’s very hard work and sometimes I’m up till 4 in the morning, but I don’t mind—I love it. I’d like to employ a couple of like minded people maybe in the future. I don’t want to be rich, I just want to be able to support myself without having to slog it out for someone else.”
That sounds very familiar.
In our back and forth notes the past few weeks, I realized I found a kindred spirit in Karen. Like me, she surrounds herself with color and said that her house looks like a mad woman decorated it. “I believe colours can affect your mood,” and I agree.
“When I start a piece I can see the end result in my mind’s eye, so I just start with a colour then pick up the next colour I think will compliment it. I do try to limit myself to 5 colours though (you can have as many shades of that colour you like, in my 5 colour rule).”
And have you seen the pic I posted on Instagram of the gorgeous red mica paint she sent along? She labeled it “Ruby Charm.” Be still my heart!
In addition to art having the ability to bring people together, it also has healing powers. “I’m a great believer in the healing that comes from art and being able to express yourself when words fail,” said Karen. And she knows from experience. She volunteered doing art therapy classes at a drop-in center for the homeless and drug and alcohol addicts, and will be returning this year to volunteer again. Blackpool “has a massive drug and alcohol problem here (like many places) with a lot of hurting and broken people.” If art can play a role in helping people refocus and heal, that’s a very good thing.
I am looking forward to seeing what Karen does in the future, and am excited to try out her single-pigment paints when I add them to my collection of micas. Keep your eyes on her: check out her Etsy shop and give her a follow on Instagram, and if you try her paints, I’d love to hear what you think in the comments.
Cheers to art and the artists who make our world a better place, and thank you, Karen, for sharing your craft and artistry with us!
UPDATE! To see a full review of these mica paints by the talented Colour with Claire, check out this helpful review on YouTube:
You can also see Karen’s paints in action in this great review by Hungry for Paint on YouTube: