Book Review: Art Journal Kickstarter

In the first of what I hope to be regular book reviews, I’d like to offer my thoughts on:


Art Journal Kickstarter: Pages and Prompts to Energize Your Art Journals (2015)
Kristy Conlin (ed.). North Light Books. 144pp.

First off, it’s good to find a book on art journaling that doesn’t regurgitate the various way of working with mixed media in a book. This one is illustrated with  ‘back-to-back journal pages’, each accompanied with a Q&A summary with the artist. The questions tend to follow a pro forma – what was your inspiration; which mixed media artists inspire you; what interesting or unique techniques did you apply to this work. Alongside these ‘interviews’ are quotes and sayings that are more than suitable to include in your own work, or to stimulate creative juices. There are also some gems, suggesting the artist was less than impressed with the interview questions – such as describing art journaling as their ‘yoga mat’.

There are 99 contributing artists, resulting in a true variety of styles, subjects and techniques. Just about every mixed media technique is covered, including watercolour, collage, image transfer, acrylics, stamping and inks. It’s also nice to see carefully assembled pages alongside cathartic explosions of emotion, exploring the range of uses of an art journal from experimenting with materials through diarising one’s day to illustrated quotes and expressions. There are also various sizes and types of journal leaving the reader no excuse when trying to find a suitable book to work in.

The illustrations are in rich colour (as they need to be) and aren’t annoyingly cropped to fit the page. This does result in loss of detail on some of the larger spreads, but this doesn’t detract from the overall impact of the featured journal page. Each image is also accompanied by a short summary of materials used, which is often enough to work out the techniques used if this isn’t included in the Q&A section.

If one were to follow up all the artists who have inspired, many months could be lost online – and would be a great way of using the book as a further reference for art journaling inspiration. The advice to other art journal makers are pretty much of a muchness: it’s your book, your own artistic expression, and don’t let anyone else tell you otherwise, including yourself. This in turn does lead to the implied rule: don’t compare your own pages to those featured in the book – that’s not what it’s for!

One other thing I noted – certainly less than 10%, and may be even just 5% of the featured artists are male based on the names. Is this because few men journal, or are less likely to submit work for publication, or some other reason? I’d love to follow one piece of advice given, which was to form a group to journal with – so if you’re a male art journaler, please get in touch!

Am I glad I bought it:
Yes, definitely.

Who’s it for:
Someone already used to working in mixed media, looking for inspiration.

Estimated time spent reading:
Three to four hours – a fascinating insight into the artists, as well as the art.

Overall rating: 5/5


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Silhouette Cameo PixScan – first glance review

For those with a Silhouette Cameo (or Portrait), you may have seen that they have released a new update to their Design software to complement the new PixScan mat. This mat has the registration marks already printed on the mat so you can now have items printed across the whole of the page for cutting out (rather than in between printed registration marks). It also allows for areas of pre-printed papers to be cut out as well, such as specific elements from a scrapbook paper.

I got hold of the mat two days ago, and had a very quick play with it to see how good it is. I do recommend calibrating your cutter, following the instructions that came with the machine, as my first cuts were disappointing until I realised the registration was off kilter due to poor calibration. You will also need to calibrate the software to the camera that you are using – this is explained in the File>Open PixScan Image… sidebar under the Import from file and Camera Calibration drop menu.

The process is fairly straight forward. Start by sticking your printed item within the box on the mat. Here I am wanting to cut out some jar labels for some home dried herbs:IMG_5147

The mat should be evenly and reasonably well lit, and the whole of the mat needs to be in shot. The black squares around the edge are what the software uses to square everything up. Transfer your image from the camera to your computer and then select File>Open PixScan Image… in the Silhouette Studio software (v3.1 and above). In the right side bar, click on Import from File and then click on the button. The file reads in, and if there are errors, messages will be shown telling you what you need to fix. If all imports well, your image appears in the window, and you can add cut lines manually or using the trace function.IMG_5148

Load the mat (without moving your work!) into the machine. I’ve noticed that if the edge of the mat is too far (even a couple of millimetres) to the left, registration fails at the cutting stage. Send the cut to the Silhouette, and the machine will scan three corners of the mat before cutting round the shapes you’ve set.IMG_5149

And here are my cut labels. Registration, whilst not precisely spot on, seems to be far far better than if I had printed the registration marks onto my page. Given this is from a less than perfect photograph, I am staggered and impressed at how clever the programming is behind the import process.

I decided to give the system a little bit more of a workout. I used a page from the Craftwork Cards Potting Shed collection, and selected several of the page elements to cut out. The results speak for themselves. There does appear to have been a little bit of vertical distortion between the page and the import, but for my purposes, this is fine – and soooo much quicker and neater than I manage with scissors!IMG_5150

And in a real trial of the system, and my settings for the trace function, I attempted to cut out some of the frames in the Craftwork Cards Paper Couture collection – I did learn that you can tweak the camera image in other software (e.g. Photoshop) to aid the tracing. If you do this, only edit the area of the picture that contains your artwork, and leave the rest of the mat unedited.IMG_5151

In summary – what was already a well-used and useful machine has now been improved with some clever software programming algorithms and a great cutting mat. All I need to see now is a 12×12″ cutting area on a PixScan mat and I’ll be very, very happy.

Crackle Effect Mediums – putting them to the test

EffektCrocoDistressPVAAleene'sCrackle Accents

I love a decent crackle effect, but it’s a notoriously difficult thing to get ‘right’ and nigh on impossible to get the same results every time. I noticed I have collected a number of different crackle effect mediums over time and thought it was time to do a side by side trial.

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Beaded Wire Coil Necklace

This is a beginner’s kit from Bojangle Beads in Loughborough, which is quite an Aladdin’s Cave if you happen to be in the area. I bought it at Christmas, but it’s been languishing unmade since then, and in a spurt of creativity yesterday I got it done 🙂

The kit contains all you need (apart from pliers) including plenty of beads, and the coil section is ready made. There are instructions included, though these need editing, don’t contain any illustrations, and aren’t all that intuitive for a first timer to follow.

And I’m having fun with my new camera trying out all the different ways to photograph products! Seems shiny things, as I’ve discovered before, can be quite tricky, but dialling down the auto-exposure has helped a lot 🙂

Letraset Neon Markers – review

I’ve just received a complimentary set of the new Letraset Neon Markers (6 set), on sale from 1st September 2012. According to the information sent with them, they are twin tip fluorescent markers offering water-based pigment ink which is lightfast and ‘perfect for adding vibrant highlights to art and design work’.

I decided to put them through their paces. Firstly – colour on white, and then because they are pigment inks, on black too, and across text:


Allowing for poor colour reproduction of fluorescents, the colours are what you’d expect to see on white – vibrant and in your face. The ‘spark red’ isn’t all that sparky, but I guess it joined in to make the six pack… On the black, there’s going to be a colour shift, and I put three layers of ink on each of the blocks to get enough pigment on to show up – all but the ‘Luminous Yellow’ have good coverage, and may well have a role to play on dark backgrounds. They clearly work well as regular highlighter pens.

Do they blend? I love to use Letraset ProMarkers as they blend so well together. The AquaMarkers also blend and merge nicely. So I put the new Neon markers to the test, and since they are water-based, I used them on a good quality watercolour paper:


Well, I’m not so impressed. Direct blending from the pen didn’t really happen – it rucked up the paper, and the colours tended to keep distinct from one another. Adding water caused the crossover to become blotchy and granulated. Washing out with a wet brush was slightly better, but the colours behaved differently, some moving readily, others less so.

I can’t see these markers making their way into my artwork – I don’t think they have the flexibility of use I enjoy from the ProMarkers or AquaMarkers, and I already have highlighter pens around the house that do the same job. I think Letraset have missed a trick here – the Neon Markers don’t seem to be either ProMarkers or AquaMarkers and that’s a pity.


Which watercolour effect?

I’ve been playing with various watercolour effects, out of curiosity more than any thing! Thought I’d share the results, just in case someone else might be interested… All of them feature a Stampendous stamp (Cling Poppy Scene #CRM234).

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