passion, prudence and practice

I recently watched an accomplished artist on YouTube creating her illustrious florals in a meager composition book she purchased from a dollar store.  While the medium was thin and flimsy, it was far from wanting under the hands of such a skilled artist, which prompted this article about a subject I’m passionate about: the art supply does not make the artist.  I want to open your eyes to the prospect of creating gratifying pages with minimal, inexpensive materials, which can be easily found at unconventional budget and thrift stores.

While there are many extravagant art supplies that beautifully deliver what they promise, we have to realize that not every paint, for instance, finely ground to perfection by hand in Paris has the abilty to match our current strengths and weaknesses.  After all, we are for the most part, novice and intermediate level art enthusiasts, distinct from the adept Cezanne and Matisse.  The key is to experiment for ourselves what works best for us as individuals.  Cost-effective paints can easily meet our expectations and match our knack, particularly for art journaling.  While we can watch hundreds of YouTube tutorials, what may work well for an instructor might not work well for us.  For example, if you’re one who loves a paint’s opaqueness, a luxury brand will do nothing for you if it’s transparent.  Here, reading a product’s labels is a must.  Many inexpensive paints will deliver for you if they’re marked, “opaque.” 

On the other hand, I’ve discovered some of my favorite art supplies in the school aisle at the Dollar Tree.  They carry some wonderful neon-colored paints that are advertised to be opaque, but because of their low budget quality, their watered-down consistency is exactly what I needed as a wash over journaling and collage.  The best paints I’ve found are under fifty cents at Walmart.  It never ceases to amaze me the pigment in the Apple Barrel brand of fluid acrylics.  Have you tried their Flamenco Red?   You could paint a barn with one coat if you had enough of it!  And their large bottles of fluid white are highly pigmented and thick enough to pass for some of the most expensive white gessoes.  I believe we’re drawn to many expensive paints because of the beautiful hues that have been pre-mixed for us, but I believe we can create the same shades with a color wheel and a palette board.  

As for collage, if your preference is to attach and seal both the undersides and tops of your papers, no doubt you’re going through a lot of sealants, and an expensive, thick gel medium endorsed by many skilled artists may not be for you.  Fluid decoupage is available in many inexpensive brands and can save you hundreds over the course of a year.  Beautiful collage papers can be found in the gift aisle at dollar stores and are available at a fraction of the cost of trendy ones that lure you in at fancy boutiques. Most of the time you’re using them for background and are going to see a small portion of the print anyway.

Washi tapes for the most part are hit or miss, and they’re expensive, and I think that’s why many artists are making their own.  We are drawn to some of the prettiest tapes and are disappointed when they don’t stick well and curl up the moment you apply them.  Yet, the Dollar Tree hardware aisle carries some of the stickiest masking and printed work tapes that can be cut down or torn to size.  You really have to use your imagination in your trial and error analysis until you uncover what you love using, no matter what it is, because art is truly meant to be enjoyed.  

As a white gel pen afficionado, I’ve tried many an expensive pen to write in my journal.  While a number of gel pens are made for doodling, they may not give you the smooth effect you crave for cursive writing in your journal.  I can’t tell you how many times I’ve indulged in those expensive writing tools that are locked behind glass cases, only to have them skip and run out far too soon. I tried far too many luxury brand writers before discovering my favorite white, Uniball Signo pen that can be purchased just about anywhere for a couple of dollars apiece.  I’ve found some of the best black mega bold ink pens from the Dollar Tree; they write like butter and last for months.  

I believe there are some amazing art supplies you’re drawn to that are one of a kind gems. Save your money for those pieces, such as that gorgeous yard of vintage wallpaper on Etsy that can’t be found anywhere else.  That brayer that silently flattens wrinkles and rolls paint on like butter.  The spray fixative you can use indoors because it doesn’t smell or contain toxins, but really works – all priceless!  Again, you just have to experiment and discover what suits your style of art, which in my opinion, has nothing to do with cost.

My point is you don’t have to go broke to become a good artist.  Your creative talents are not contained in a fancy bottle or overpriced brush, but will rise up out of passion, prudence and practice.

Happy arting!



If you don’t want your journal pages to stick together, use acrylic paints that are marked, “matte.” 

Leverage your favorite art journal pages by photocopying them and laying them down with decoupage as a background.

Organizing or cleaning your kitchen utensil drawer?  Instead of throwing away or donating unused, odd tools, use them as mark-makers in your journal.  Just dip in paint or ink and experiment – such fun!

Can’t squeeze out any more paint from your tube?  Cut it in half and the amount of paint left will surprise you!

goldmine of possibilities

Mixed Media Art Journal, Handbound

I recently read a New York Times article about a hidden stash of valuable drawings found in the walls of Idahoan artist James Castle’s home. (James Charles Castle, 1899-1977).  The sketches were difficult to date because Castle would often hold onto his works for long periods of time, but they think they were created between 1930 and 1950.

It made me think of the dozens of papers, sketchbooks and journals I’ve filled and stockpiled away over the years. Not long ago, I unearthed a portfolio brimming with mixed media papers I’d created and was inspired to convert one of my found pieces of art into a journal. Once my first journal was completed, I envisioned all the possibilities for the remaining pieces in the stack – pieces waiting to emerge from their hiding place and be put into practicable use. 

I’m happy to report that many of my “reprocessed art” journals have been sold at local art shows, through my Etsy shop and by word of mouth.  While my works aren’t worth the thousands Castle’s is, the art I brought to light became a rich source of supply for me after returning to it years later.  Besides offering my journals for sale, I’ve come to love creating in them myself rather than in store-bought ones, because I love the look of the custom pages and can make them any size I want to take and create while traveling.

What treasure trove is hidden in your stash?  Now and again, return to your storehouse of color and texture to uncover your own goldmine of possibilities!


1.      From your stash, select the piece of art you want to use as the journal cover as well as the paper you’ll be using for the “signatures” (pages inside the journal).

2.      Decide on the size of your journal, and using a paper cutter, cut both the cover and signatures the same size. I suggest not using more than six pieces of paper (12 pages), as it will make it difficult to push your awl through.

3.      After combining and lining up the cover with the signatures, fold the assemblage in half and run the bone folder firmly over the fold.  With the book open, attach the binder clips to the top of each side of the stack to hold everything in place.

4.      With an awl, poke holes into the center of the assemblage; one approximately a half-inch from the top, another approximately a half-inch from the bottom and one in the center.  This allows the threaded needle to easily slide through.

5.      Thread your needle with a sufficient amount of ribbon or string, but don’t tie a knot in the end of your thread.  Insert your threaded needle into the middle hole, going from the inside of the book to the outside, leaving enough of a tail to tie a knot at the end of the process. Then you’ll go into the top hole from the outside to the inside, the bottom hole from the inside to the outside, and back into the middle hole from the outside to the inside. Tie the two ends together into a knot and trim the ends.


A piece of your artwork you’d like to use as your journal cover.  Choose something sturdy with a lot of texture, but not so thick that you can’t get your needle through it and the signatures.

A collection of various papers and/or fabrics for the signatures.

Paper cutter

Bone folder


Binder clips

Wide-eyed tapestry or finishing needle

Waxed bookbinding or burlap thread, sari ribbon or any type of string that will fit through the eye of the needle

Paints, inks, pens, pencils and ephemera for additional embellishing on your journal cover


Before assembly and binding, embellish your journal cover further by adding machine or hand stitching.  Use paints, inks, pens and pencils to add color and create marks.

Get creative with your signatures!  Think of the variety of papers and fabrics you can find at tag sales.  Get your inspiration from vintage books, interesting magazines, envelopes, greeting cards, wrapping, and packaging.  Shop the book section of thrift stores to find unique items to spark your imagination!

If you don’t want the signatures to be visible outside of the cover, cut them slightly smaller. If you want a jam-packed look, overflowing with ephemera, tags and stitching that will be visible when the journal is closed, cut the signatures slightly bigger than the cover.


oh, gouache!

Gouache Over Black Gesso in a Dylusions Art Journal

Deep in the lonely bottom shelves of our cherished arts and crafts stores exists what I believe is a supply often forgotten by the mixed media community.  This past year, I discovered the remarkable qualities of this hidden gem, not by mistake but by purposely setting out to research and experiment with this mostly overlooked resource.

Gouache, I discovered, is made of all natural pigments and is comparable to watercolor, but has a chalk-like binding agent added, which makes it opaque.  It’s similar to watercolor in that, unlike acrylic paint, you can re-wet it after it dries and it will move again.  In addition to its opaqueness, its pigments are intense and are highly reflective, and verily, who doesn’t want intense pigment?

Over the years, I’ve seen a few mixed media artists use gouache in their work, but as I learned, it’s used mostly by commercial artists in design work such as illustrations and the like. Traditional gouache has been around for over a dozen centuries, but today artists are using a somewhat new variation called, “acrylic gouache.”  Its highly concentrated pigment is similar to historical gouache, but it’s mixed with an acrylic-based binder that makes it water-soluble when wet and dries to a matte, opaque and water-resistant surface. Acrylic gouache differs from pure acrylic in that it contains additives to secure a matte finish.

Now, we all know that one of the biggest marketing ploys today is pop-up advertising following our internet searches for specific products.  Consequently, my online research for gouache produced a barrage of ads by various manufacturers, including Arteza. I gave in and ordered their artist’s starter set of 24 small tubes of acrylic gouache in various colors to see if I would like it, and I did so love it for many reasons!  First, the colors truly are intense and highly pigmented; the deeper tones dry brighter and the brighter tones deeper.  The matte finish is perfect for book art in that dried pages don’t stick together the way acrylic-painted pages do.  And layering with these paints was a dream, as each color maintained its original brilliance.  What a revelation for art journalists!


The work you see in this Stampington’s “Art Journaling” article was done in a Dylusions Art Journal by Ranger, which contains card stock, and was a perfect pairing because the page strength held up to the wet texture of the acrylic gouache.  Since I had read that gouache holds onto its original pigment even over a dark surface, I used the Arteza “Noir” for my first background.  Truly, the layers of color I added remained vivid against the jet black.  If you’re familiar with my work you know I love a white gel pen against a darker tone, and the gouache made it even more distinct.

All in all, my experiment with this age-old invention was revealing, and I’m now using it regularly to add incredible color to my journals, paper and linen canvases.


As always, prepare your pages with gesso before adding mixed media of any kind.  Use black gesso instead of white under black acrylic gouache to achieve a super dark background.

Patience is everything when it comes to dry time.  A white Uniball Signo gel pen will glide over a completely dried surface no matter what medium was used, while a wet or even damp surface may ruin your pen entirely.

Happy arting!


Gouache over Black Gesso on Cardstock

complete joy

Art and article published in a recent Stampington’s Art Journal magazine

Complete joy sounds unattainable in today’s world; after all, who really has it?  People do.  I’ve learned that joy doesn’t simply happen to us, but that we have to choose it, and keep choosing it every day.  “You will show me the path of life.  In your presence is the fullness of joy.” – Psalm 16:11

When it comes to art I think, joy rises to the surface in the present moment, when we let go and paint intuitively.  Once we stop adding rules of composition and such, we destroy our preconceived notions and begin to create solely for self-expression.

Normally I will approach my studio with somewhat of a plan, pulling up to my table with a clean open journal, a palette choice, a few chosen supplies and somewhat of a purpose for a thought-out page.

But this time, I had no plan, not even an idea of what might transpire.  Realizing this, I decided to take a fun approach to my creative session.  I threw a plastic tablecloth onto my studio floor, grabbed my largest storage box of paints and inks, my envelope of stencils and a large stack of watercolor paper and went to work (play!).

My back and forth method was about the extent of my plan, since I didn’t want my beautiful colors to turn into mud.  I laid down as many papers as would fit in front of me within reach and I started adding colors with my traditional and foam brushes.  While yellows were drying on one page, reds would go down on the next; blues on the next and so on until the first layers were dry and I’d start over again.  Stencils became a part of the next layer process and I was thrilled that I was using many of the supplies we as artists tend to stock up on but seldom use.  I pulled out my mark making tools and used them all.  What transpired on my pages were beautiful splats, areas of color and abstract shapes that cheered me on to make more.  Layers and layers ensued and within a couple of hours I was filled with the joy such an intuitive process had claimed to bring.


The journal that’s the subject of this article is one that came about during that expressive art session; one that looked quite different than any I’d experienced in the past. By the time I’d finished with my newfound process, I’d collected a nice stack of vibrant papers.  Wanting to bring all of that color together, I gathered them into a book, matching up pages that mingled well, joined them with masking tape, retaining their large, 9” x 12” size. 

Keeping momentum, I took a handful of writing tools; pens and pencils that had been sitting unused in pretty coffee mugs and clay pots.  Page by page, I began writing erratically, journaling to my heart’s content, not knowing or caring what might appear on my impromptu painted pages.  Jet black and stark white scribbles against such lively colors made my heart sing, and I realized that joy is what happens to us when we stop looking back, but actually remain in our moments.

“In introspection we try to look “inside ourselves” and see what is going on.  But nearly everything that was going on a moment before is stopped by the very act of our turning to look at it.” – C. S. Lewis


Put on your favorite music while you create and discover the difference it makes in your art experience.

Embrace layers, letting each session fully dry before going on to the next to avoid making “mud.”

Dip a large foam brush into three or more colors of paint for a fun, multicolor effect.

As a final layer, make dramatic marks using household items such as toothbrushes or hairbrushes dipped in waterproof, black India ink.   Use the dropper to your ink bottle to write out words and phrases.  Use different sized jar lids dipped in paint to create colorful circles across a page.

Use a water soluble, black Stabilo All pencil to scrawl out several lines of journaling and then spritz down the center of it with a spray bottle filled with water.

Use the opposite end of your paint brush, or a skewer to scrape off wet mediums you’ve already laid down.

she loves her flowers, but not in vases

Acrylics and Inks on Stretched Canvas

There’s no doubt my love of flowers and of painting them were great gifts from my beautiful Mom.  In the Summer, you could look out any one of our Michigan farmhouse windows and see rows and mounds of color reaching up toward the sun.  If you were lucky enough to have chosen the right window, you might see her bent down amidst the glorious color, weeding or transplanting her precious gifts.  She couldn’t get enough of the miracle of their growth and would spend hours in the sunshine along with the butterflies, tending to each variety of daisy, cosmos, poppy and zinnia, not to mention her enormous sunflower and herb gardens.  Hummingbirds regarded her as one of the flowers and would often perch on her shoulder and rest awhile.  

Despite my Mom’s love for flowers, we never had them in the house.  She kept them intact in the garden to breathe the heavenly air in their dwelling as long as God deemed fit.  Conversely, I’ve always loved a cutting garden and adore having fresh flowers in my home regularly.

I remember one of my last visits to the farm in late Autumn when my Mom still had her sight and could enjoy the late blooming orange marigolds that had persisted through Fall to keep her garden looking bright.  It was my birthday and as always when I pulled up into the yard, she was in the house at the kitchen table painting flowers.  She came out to greet me with open arms.  As I followed her through the back door and up the two steps to the kitchen, I spied a flower arrangement on the kitchen table amongst her paints and brushes.  She had picked them early and put them in a simple jar with curled ribbon.

“These miracles are for you,” she said.  I thought she had said “Miracles.”  “Marigolds, she smiled.”  She handed me the jar and I was overjoyed by the thought of her cutting her garden flowers especially for me.

She loves her flowers, but not in vases; trusts they’ll thrive from our Lord’s gazes.

I love my flowers in simple vases, with curled ribbon for special places.

She knows I do.

* * *

Mother’s Day love to you in Heaven, Mom. I miss you more with each new day. Thank you for your love and the gift of my life. Thank you for friendship, eternal and true.

Acrylic and Ink on Wood Block Canvas – 8″ x 8″ x 1 3/4″

unframed, a vintage art journaling course

UNFRAMED Introduction

My First Online Course is Here!

Unwrap your gifts of self-assurance and joy!

Practically speaking, we as artists are constantly engineering, using our stash of supplies and techniques to construct something fresh and unique. But we’re also revealing – boldly giving our inner selves over to the structures and habits of our work, not knowing where it will take us or how it will expose our identities.  In fact this week on social media, a follower commented, “I love your work, but I’m not brave enough to post mine.”

Presenting art to the public takes baring our souls, which for me was a process that took a while to become, as my commenter described, “brave enough,” even to the smallest art community.  For some individuals the process is a snap; for others, almost incomprehensible.  But if our objective is to grow and perhaps market our art, we must first come to a place where displaying it becomes immaterial to promoting it.  How do we do that?

We learn which techniques and supplies work for us and then we practice until what we generate is something we are proud to reveal.  As an artist and teacher, I’m here to help you do that. In my classes, I help you sharpen your skills using my thirteen years of tried and true techniques, tips and tricks that will help you come to love your own work.  I believe that at the heart of creating is the discovery and joyful unwrapping of God’s gifts of self-assurance and joy.  I believe this process is crucial, because once we entrust to something larger than ourselves, we begin to take on the vibrant spirit of our work. 

In my first art journaling course Unframed, I disassemble and transform an old, broken, framed print into a hand-bound art journal, using as many of its beautifully aged components as I can creatively bring forth.

While dismantling the frame, I found it was stuffed with newspaper and some interesting looking cardboard as padding to hold the piece in place.  As I uncovered each layer, I considered how I could use the intensely aged elements in an art journal and I wanted to share the process with you.  

I created Unframed mainly to encourage you to be on the lookout for unconventional materials at antique and thrift shops that you might use to build and adorn your art journals.

In this course, I disassemble the frame, construct an art journal from its parts, prepare the pages and embellish a few of those pages with vintage elements and mediums such as acrylic paints, inks and pastels. 

I’m so grateful you’re here to share my first Teachable art course with me and I look forward to creating many more!



Register here!

painting al fresco

As I write this in late March, I ‘m savoring the early signs of Spring, taking in the abundance of visual material for my current project.  Trees are in full bloom, flowers are breaking through their buds, butterflies are soaring and fiddlehead ferns are unfurling en masse in our Florida backyard.  The anticipated season of warmth is delivering a flourishing scene of palpable shapes and colors to inspire me to get out of the house and create something as unprocessed and fresh as the Spring air.

There’s much more inspiration in nature than within the walls of a studio.  Uplifting images are everywhere you look and you can paint what you see instead of relying on your imagination or a concept in a book.  At our disposal are hues of quinacrodone red, pyrrole orange and chromium oxide green just the way God made them.  Authentic patterns and contours of plants and flowers become our models, their postures so genuine and true.

My intention was to paint a background of botanicals over a collage I’d created, incorporating the stark, cool tones of the Ixoras that had been flowering in our yard.  But what I ended up with was a girl donned with a crown of pink roses, inspired by the Madonna statue that kept diverting me, posing among the tall blooms.  The morning ultimately became sort of an unofficial, early May crowning; the only guests in attendance were the procession of insects, twittering birds and me with my easel near.

I pledged that day that notwithstanding Spring showers, I would leave conventional indoor painting for the cool season and continue to take advantage of our extravagant natural resources, where studio light runs solely on sunshine. E.

from my heart to yours

Love and hearts…I’m all about them!  When I create with my heart in prayer, love always follows, presenting a beautiful way of recording forever my conversations with God.  Leaving my heart on canvas allows me to return to my work years later and recall exactly how I felt.

Developing our creative talents challenge us to be who God intended us to be, but at times can be difficult, especially when our vision is unclear because our graces have run short.  But God is always near.  We’re the ones who turn away from His favors and inspiration.  By deepening our relationship with Him through the creative process, we receive the blessings of His gifts in the finished product of our work, every single time.

Marc Chagall thrived in nearly every artistic style and medium, yet he played against the same obstacles we do.  He said it neatly when faced with a blank easel, “If I create from the heart, nearly everything works; if from the head, almost nothing.”

From my heart to yours…

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