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Funny sort-of Valentine – Tim Holtz February Tag

When I was in college, my friends and I were part of the medieval club. And in someone’s strange humor, Valentine’s day was dubbed “Gargoyle Day”. As I recall it, regardless of dating status we celebrated with break-up comedy movies, chocolate, and gargoyle crafts. There was also a “Black & White Ball” around mid-February as an official club activity which involved modern formal apparel and medieval-style group dances. Yeah, I’m a big nerd, I own this.

Gargoyle Day and the Black & White Ball were my favorite versions of Valentine’s Day. I didn’t mind the kiddie version of passing Valentine’s to every fellow student and making our own mailboxes. And I remember my parents giving me candy and toys. But I guess I don’t remember seeing big romantic displays of chocolates and roses. If my parents did a romantic dinner or something, either I didn’t know, or it didn’t make an impression on me. I do remember them showing each other love and kindness all along the way, and making time for each other on a regular basis.

So in my own dating life, I’ve voted for regular displays of affection over big romantic gestures. Don’t get me wrong, I like the opportunities for creativity inspired by every holiday. And I’m impressed by the romantic efforts other people go to for their loved ones. And maybe, just maybe I’m looking forward to making pink heart-shaped pancakes and other silly gestures for my little boy in a few years. But otherwise, Valentine’s Day just isn’t my holiday.

So that’s a long preamble for my take on the February Tim Holtz tag. But I felt the gargoyle required some serious explanation! I loved the look of his background of embossed hearts that call to mind vintage enameled heart jewelry. I loved the little Industrial sticker details. I’m not sold on the popular chalkboard look, yet. Maybe it will grab my imagination at some point, but for now I’m skipping that technique.

So then the other thing this Gargoyle Day tag needed was a gargoyle! I drew a gargoyle as Cupid, colored it with Distress markers, and pinked up the edges of the circle diecut with Distress ink.

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Ingredients: Watercolor paper, #8 Manila tag, Industrial border stickers, Distress markers, Distress ink pads, Sizzix Movers & Shapers hearts, Distress rock candy glitter, Seasonal chitchat stickers, Sizzix decorative strip ticket die, Grunge board, Stampers Anonymous Odds & Ends stamp, glitter glue, foil tape

Learning: I feel like I barely squeeked by with the hearts. I had cut them last month from foil-covered Grunge board that was left from the previous tag. I had hoped that I could cover them with red glitter glue and have a cool, mirrored, slightly glittery surface, but I had trouble getting good coverage with the glitter glue. So then I tried to cover with Distress glitter and go with the technique in Tim’s tag tutorial, but I should have just pulled off the foil or removed the glitter glue to switch Glossy Accents, because the glitter glue didn’t hold the glitter on very well when I inked it. Glossy Accents seems to be a really strong adhesive. I did like how easily the Distress glitter dyed with the Distress ink – that is a good trick to remember!

Something I tried with much more success was masking off part of a stamp. I don’t know if other people do this, and maybe there is a better way, but this is the method I came up with. I used bits of painter’s tape to mask off a section of the stamp I didn’t want to print, inked the stamp, pulled off the tape and stamped it. This gave me a nice blank space to scrawl “Gargoyle Day” instead of Valentine’s day.
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My lettering on the ticket is kind of primitive, and I like to think that my gargoyle was taking over Valentine’s day, like maybe Cupid needed a day off or something. I think I could have pushed that idea a little more, but I didn’t have any other ideas.

Loving: I may have said this before, but I really like how the Odds & Ends stamps go with the Ticket Strip die. It’s just really cool to stamp a custom ticket, and I’m getting a lot of mileage from the concept.

I like the background every bit as much as I imagined, and despite the minor glitter losses I like how the Grunge board hearts came out. I like my gargoyle Cupid too, at least conceptually. I still haven’t decided if I like my “cartooning” style. But that is an issue for a different time.

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Distress test pattern and labels

Last night I got a chance to sit down and play with some Distress inks and markers.  First, I tackled a labeling project that I’ve wanted to do for a while.  I got this idea because StAz-On comes with little labels for the sides of their inkpads, and I felt like my Distress inks really need side labels too.  Besides, because Distress is water-reactive, I wanted a label that showed the real ink as it prints, and as it looks wetted.  The retail labels on the top are nice, but I don’t feel like they really depict the ink color well – this happens because the label-manufacturer’s colors may not be an exact match for the inks.  Color matching is pretty tricky across media.

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Labeled Distress inks

So I sat down with a sheet of return-address labels (Avery 8195 was what I had on hand).  Without removing them from the label sheet, I wrote the color name on the labels first in waterproof Micron.  Then I swiped the bottom of each label with the corresponding ink pad.

Finally, I used a wet paintbrush inked with the same ink pad to paint a watercolor sweep across each label.  I let them dry and stuck them to the sides of the ink pads.

The label size was almost perfect, but they were just a teeny bit tall, so I folded the top and adhered to the horizontal surface as well.  Some of them started peeling back up on the top a bit, so next time I might just trim them.

I’m so excited about how nice they look all stacked up!  I also think this will make it so much easier to reference the real color instantly.  The labelstock handled the water brushing surprisingly well!

My next little studio-reference project was to fill in a color chart.  I found that the MarkerPOP! blog has nice color reference tools including blank color charts for their markers including Distress.  So I printed a blank chart on a linen-finish bond paper.  Part of my goal was to have a real-color reference chart – again, manufacturers have a hard time matching color, so retail labels and plastic caps may not be the best color guide.

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My Distress ink color chart

I also wanted to have a reference to compare Distress ink pads to Distress markers.  I know they are supposed to be a coordinated palette, but do they really match exactly?

I’m also curious about how they blend with water.  Does water shift the color?  Do the ink pads and markers blend differently when wetted?

For this little experiment I got to play with my new Ranger waterbrushes.  You can see them along the right side of the color test pic.  Basically, they are a brush with an attached cartridge that you can fill with water.  I have to say they are pretty neat to work with and the ink cleans off of them very well.  I’m looking forward to doing some coloring during my lunch breaks and the waterbrushes should make my operation more portable.  I think with practice I can probably get as much control over the flow as if I use a regular wet brush.

Back to my color chart: On the left side of each square of the grid is the Distress marker swatch, and on the right is the ink pad swatch.  Interestingly, the Fired Brick, Brushed Corduroy, and Walnut Stain colors shifted a little when wet.  Also, some of the colors were pretty hard to spread (it might be the paper).  This isn’t a criticism, just media behavior I need to be aware of so that I can compensate if needed.  I’m going to keep this chart handy when I color as a good reference.

I haven’t filled in all of the stamp pad colors on my chart because I own just a small selection of those right now.  I recently got the full basic line of the markers (the 36 colors shown above, plus white), but I will probably prioritize getting reinkers over getting the full line of ink pads, simply because there are more distress and splash techniques that can be done with reinkers.  Right now, I prefer to stamp in Sepia or Black Archival ink and then color with watercolor.

Until next time, keep it inky…

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Tropical blue

A while back, my group of work friends decided that we should bring back magnets as souvenirs whenever one of us went on a cool vacation. Just something to bring a little fun decoration to the ubiquitous metal filing cabinet. Since I had a baby over the summer, vacations aren’t really on my horizon for a little while. So I’ve had in mind making my own cool artsy magnets for my friends.

At first the question was format. The tag dies that I have are pretty small, so I decided an Artist Trading Card (ATC) would be a good size. I picked up some watercolor paper recently, thinking that might be a preferable medium for using Distress inks.

I started by doing some drawings, first in pencil, then in Micron. I don’t think of myself as much of a line art illustrator, my preferred drawing style is more about realistic shading, but sometimes I surprise myself with some decent cartooning. Maybe I’m getting better as I get older, or maybe I’m just starting to accept that my style is somehow cutesier than I intend!  Whichever it is, I think these came out really great! I colored them with distress inks (using a paintbrush on the stamp pad) and distress markers.

After that, I started inking up the background in zones of color, and sprinkling with water.

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I used the outside of a previously cut ATC as kind of a viewfinder to decide just where to die cut my four cards.  After I cut apart the four sections, but before I die cut, I used Perfect Pearls mist to add a bit of glimmer (I don’t think you can tell from the photos).

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I fussy cut my three drawings (the fourth friend’s card was based on a stamped sentiment rather than a “favorite thing” drawing). Then I inked along the cut edges with the side of the brush end of a black distress marker to take care of any imperfect cutting. Do other people do that? I know some people leave a stylish white border, but I felt like that wasn’t really me. I can’t be the only person to black ink the edges, but I haven’t seen other people mention it.

The rest was a matter of stamping and gluing. I put magnetic strips on the back when all else was finished. And there we have it, four ATC magnets!

Ingredients:    Watercolor paper, Distress ink pads, Distress markers, Archival ink, Micron pen (liner), white acrylic paint, Harlequin Tim Holtz layering stamp, Perfect Pearls mist, tiny key from 7 gypsies, fastener/brad from Tim Holtz

Stamps from: Tim Holtz Visual Artistry City Central (creativity sentiment, cityscape, stars), Scrappy Cat (travel/adventure sentiments) , Flourishes (flowers, distressed flourish pattern and “be happy” sentiment), Bo Bunny (French background text)

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Learning:  After doing such a vast quantity of holiday cards in such a short time, it was really refreshing to tackle something with more creative freedom.  I really enjoyed trying to capture my friends’ interests in a tiny art card.  I feel that using the watercolor paper was a big breakthrough since I have been gravitating towards wet techniques.  I love a good Clean & Simple card, but for non-card applications I am really enjoying the texture that can be achieved by layering inks, water, mists, dry-brushed paints, stamps, and so forth.  I feel like I am still finding my paper-crafting voice, but I think that this project has taken me a long way towards refining my style.

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Loving:  I really feel like this project made a lot of things “click” for me!  I can’t wait to do more artsy ATCs, they are such a fun size!  Also, I feel like for the first time, I got some of these cool Tim Holtz techniques to really work for me.  I really enjoyed the watercoloring with the Distress inks and markers.  I just loved watching the colors come together!

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Challenge:  Because of how well the beautiful blues turned out in my tropical vacation ATC, I feel compelled to enter this one in the “Blues” Challenge at the Simon Says Stamp Monday Challenge blog.  I loved looking at all the design team inspiration, because blue is my favorite color!!  This one is for a coworker who plans great vacations like a skilled travel agent.  I feel like I really nailed that tropical turquoise blue.  I hope it inspires her to dream of the next great destination!

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Clear stamps: techniques and tips

In a previous post, I was lamenting the difficulty I was having in getting good stamp impressions out of some of my cling stamps.  I did some research across various forums and websites, and here are some tips I ran across.  I haven’t had time to try all of them, but my results are improving, and I am highly optimistic that after some experimentation I will find a method that works consistently for me.

20131208-215358.jpgStamp Quality:

  • Not all clear stamps are the same.
  • Photopolymer process stamps tend to be easier to ink, and work with, but also more expensive (e.g., Flourishes, Simon Says Stamp brand, My Favorite Things).
  • Cheaper silicone or acrylic clear stamps might take more experimenting to get a good impression (e.g., Scrappy Cat, Inkadinkado).  However, not all “acrylic” stamps are equal either.  There are reports that a few brands (e.g., Penny Black, Recollections, Martha Stewart, Fiskars), are acrylic but are less squishable and less prone to image quality problems.
  • Photopolymer stamps often have a weird initial smell, in case that helps identify what you have.
  • Now that I know there is a difference, I realize that I haven’t had a problem so far with the photopolymer clear stamps, just the acrylic ones.  And I’m curious now to try the “better quality acrylic” stamps, like the Martha Stewart ones I have picked up, to see if they less troublesome than other acrylic brands.

Stamping Surface and pressure:

  • Many users recommend using a mousepad, a pad of papers, or some other cushioning under the paper for a good impression.
  • Make a test stamp on scrap paper, and try different paper types as well if image quality is a problem.
  • Be careful not to use too much pressure, as some clear stamps, especially smaller designs, can be squished out of shape causing a blurred impression.  I have seen this problem on some small snowflakes that I have!
  • There are some acrylic blocks that have foam feet that are meant to both give cushion and even pressure, although they seem like they would be annoying to ink to me!

Inks:

  • Of course, everyone has different favorite brands.  But it seems that the acrylic stamps do better with types that are pigment-based, or water-resistant “archival” inks.
  • Dye-based (e.g., Distress inks) tend to bead up on the surface of clear acrylic stamps, giving a poor impression.  I have certainly experienced this, as most of the ink colors that I have are dye-based.  I never realized there was so much variation in ink types!
  • Solvent-based inks (e.g., StazOn) are supposed to lead to deterioration of clear stamps, although I’m not sure if this includes acrylic as well as photo-polymer stamps.  It make sense to my mind that solvents would be bad on photopolymer, as I think it’s more chemically fragile.  I would be surprised if the acrylic stamps were as susceptible to damage from solvent-based inks.
  • A lot of people in forums specifically mentioned having good luck with Colorbox Chalks on clear acrylic stamps.  Although both Colorbox and Colorbox Chalks are pigment-based, the Colorbox Chalks are considered quick-drying while regular Colorbox have glycerin-extended drying times to make them better for embossing.  I suspect the glycerin would cause beading up just like water-based dye pads.

Cleaning the Stamp:

  • The manufacturing process may leave residues on the acrylic stamp.  Supposedly this is not an issue with photopolymer.  Washing clear stamps with mild soap and warm water may help and certainly won’t hurt.
  • After reading this tip, I used a strong light and looked at some of the stamps that I hadn’t used yet (and had never cleaned).  I noticed that the unused acrylic stamps did seem to have a bit of slightly yellowish residue on the surface.  Cleaning the stamps well did seem to help the impressions a bit, but alone did not seem to be enough to get a perfect image.
  • Beware of lint.
  • Avoid using solvent-based cleaners and cleaners meant for removing solvent-based inks, as these may lead to deterioration of clear stamps.

The Stamp’s Surface (*WARNING: none of these tips are universally recommended, use extreme caution because these methods may ruin the stamp):

I am providing these tips, with warnings, because sometimes it’s better to use a potentially tool-destructive method than not be able to use a tool at all.  I am optimistic that these won’t be necessary if some of the other methods are employed first.

  • SEE ABOVE WARNING*: Some users recommend scuffing the surface of the acrylic stamp with a pink or white eraser.  More recommended the pink.
    • UPDATE:  I have discovered that Bo Bunny Stamps recommend on their packaging to rub their stamps with a pink eraser before each use for better inking.  So maybe this is not such a dangerous idea after all.
  • SEE ABOVE WARNING*: Even more scary, some users had success scuffing the surface of the acrylic stamp with very fine sandpaper!  I would say this should be a last resort.
  • SEE ABOVE WARNING*:  Some users had positive results by inking the stamp first in an archival or solvent-based, letting it dry, and then inking in the desired manner.  As an added step, some of these users recommend never cleaning off that initial layer of ink.  Again, not recommended because of the risk of the stamp chemically deteriorating over time.

Stamps Losing their Adhesion to the Acrylic Block:

  • Double stick tape, or Aleene’s Tack it Over & Over will get the job done.

So that’s what I’ve learned over the past few days!  I’ll try some of these methods out over the next several days as I finish up my holiday card-making.  I have to say it’s a little frustrating to find that these acrylic stamps are so fiddly, since I have a few of them around.  Hopefully, I will get a good solution worked out.

Until next time, keep those fingers inky…