Engaging with the process?

I may have come to a mini-breakthrough.  Is that called a realization?  Maybe that’s called a realization.  😉


Today I was getting into gear to take my origami paper off of my desk in the bedroom if I wasn’t going to use it.  Then, I was looking at one of my sets, which I picked up because I liked the patterning on the paper.  This, and it is almost (but not quite) 6″ square.  When I got it, I was planning to (and did) use it for mandala generation.  (The patterns on the papers didn’t help, there.)

So anyway, I was getting ready to put this stuff away, and then I realized I wasn’t even using the origami paper for its intended purpose.  I got the brief flash of trying to fold something out of the small, pretty paper; and then also got the brief flash of “what will I do with it once I fold it?”  But then, that’s not really a thought that will get any paper folded, right?

So, I started out with this little one.  It’s just a standard crane with some minor modifications (I used to know a way to make them into dragons, but then forgot)…and I came to the realization that with origami, the end result is not as much the point as the process.  If the process is not careful, though, what you get at the end shows it.

After that was done, I was minorly lamenting having gone out today instead of staying in and doing some art.  But there was my little pad of hemp-blend paper, and a piece of vine charcoal on my desk.  Then I thought to myself, “but I don’t know what to draw!”  Then I thought back to myself, “just draw what’s in front of you.  What you see.”  And I got this:


Sorry about the lighting; I had two of three lamps on in the room, plus my halogen desk lamp, and things still turned out a bit dim.  I might be able to fix that by messing with the exposure time, though…maybe?

In any case, a quick view of Auto Levels in Photoshop just made it look artificial (there were no pure white tones anywhere, here), so I left it alone…as versus try and tinker with the color channels.  It might have been easier if I had the option of CMYK (subtractive color) alterations, but all I’ve got with my version is RGB (additive color)…which is still kind of a mystery to me.

The carton used to contain coconut water (I drank it); what it’s sitting on is the tin that contains my Monolith graphite sticks.  Behind it is said halogen desk lamp.  Lower right corner?  That’s a drawing from an earlier post.  😛  But I’ve found that I make more interesting drawings when I try and draw (or interpret) things that I actually see, as versus things that I totally make up.

Then there is the feeling I get when I am literally letting other people see what I see, and how intimate that is.  It is kind of scary, especially when you really don’t want to be famous, and get kind of paranoid that people will know where you are if they know what you see (no).

Basically everything you see in the upper left photograph is from one stick of vine charcoal, a paper, my fingers, and a kneaded eraser.  I know I have said I hate charcoal, but it’s really not terrible when I don’t deal with any white tones.  Using white means that I either have to use a white pastel, the White Charcoal which is notoriously of unknown composition (but which works, arguably, very well if not best — I’m not sure why), or a white Conté crayon (which won’t blend as well as the White Charcoal, as it has more wax or oil or something in it — it binds to the paper more directly and makes a more permanent mark).

White pencils are kind of not in the same category, which I know now.  Even a General’s White Charcoal pencil will make a narrow mark which can be hard to see from a distance; and building up a drawing using something like a Derwent White Drawing pencil is an entirely different process than using chunks of pigment which can be applied in broad swaths instead of points and lines.  But — both white pencils and charcoal pencils are excellent for fine detail and intense tone (a small point of contact means that more pressure is applied [force per unit area] to the juncture between pencil tip and paper, than would occur with a larger point of contact — unless you seriously lean into that charcoal).

Any of the above non-pencil options will expose me to Titanium Dioxide (a standard white pigment), which is relatively safe — unless you breathe it in (and even then, I think this is a chronic exposure risk), or it moves into your body through your skin (a more recent hazard indicated specifically with nanoparticles — which are transparent).

And what that means is that I probably don’t want to introduce white pastel dust into my sleeping quarters.  Which is kind of …well, when it’s right next to my bed, I am more likely to use it, and I am not in the habit of utilizing the drawing table…it’s probably outside the range of my “territory.”

Speaking of drawing tables — I now have an easel.  A very light — aluminum — easel.  I haven’t unpacked it yet to make sure it’s undamaged, but if it’s in good condition, it will be a very cool thing to work with.  I went out there with the thought in mind of spending around $120 for an easel, so when I found this one for about $60, and it will support anything up to 34″ tall…not a bad thing.  I can imagine working up to 24″x36″, but not with that oriented vertically!  If I get much bigger than that, I will need bigger brushes!

I think the largest canvas I’ve ever used was 24″x30″; mostly, in class, we were working with a max size of 18″x24″ for both drawings and paintings.  Then again, we also had to carry these things back and forth between classroom and home.  24″x30″ was about the most I could do without falling over myself.

But the nice thing now, yes, is that I can paint and draw while standing (or sitting), and not have to make weird adjustments to my arm movements because some parts of the drawing or painting are farther away (or distorted because I see them as receding).  I’m fairly certain that this will make it easier to paint on canvas — if not make large drawings, more generally.

I also saw more Daniel Smith watercolor paints at that store, today, whereas I thought they were on closeout — maybe they’re just so desired that they’re almost never there?  Maybe someone is buying them in bulk and peddling them on the street?  I don’t know.

In any case, I think that if I’m going to continue to make art, the motivation for doing so needs to come from wanting to engage with the process, rather than wanting to have a “good” work to show off, later.  Charcoal actually really helps with this.  I’m not totally sure if newsprint does; but I have at least one pad of Sketch paper I can use to draw with, which is otherwise being used as a tablecloth, right now.

It’s kind of funny, how much I’ve migrated away from colored pencils…

Engaging with the process?

The mystery white pastel issue is solved:

The people at Blick got back to me (!!!).  Long story short, the white in the Blick square pastels is Titanium White; the CL is there because they’re concerned about nanoparticles.

Pastels use a larger particle size than that found in mineral sunscreens (which is where the data about exposure is coming from).  Though unlikely, there’s enough of a chance of nanoparticles being in the Blick square pastels that the Caution Label is placed on the product.  Nanoparticles of Titanium Dioxide are transparent; can be absorbed transdermally; and can be harmful if inhaled.  Washing regularly during and after using these pastels should minimize any transdermal absorption.  Gloves are recommended if there are cuts or sores on the hands…the other precautions, I already take:

  • don’t eat or drink in the same area as you’re working, or with dirty hands
  • don’t blow pastel dust up into the air (tap it off of your image)
  • use an air purifier if you will be working for long periods of time

In addition, I’d add this:

  • if possible, wet-mop up any dust, instead of using a vacuum
  • if you use a vacuum, use one with a HEPA filter
  • if concerned, wear a dust mask to trap particles before they get to your lungs (though if nanoparticles are an issue, a respirator might be a better option).

I feel so much friggin’ better, now.  I can actually use these.

I felt the need to update this because of speculations posted earlier (which now seem unfair), and not being able to find this information anywhere else online.  Nor has anyone in any store had this information to give to me (I’ve asked in multiple places, before).

Thank you, kind person from Blick!  🙂

The mystery white pastel issue is solved:

This project is nearly finished, thank the spirits.

Quick note:

I realized that it was my method of application, and not the inherent opacity or translucency of the Titanium White that pretty much made the difference as to whether my whites-over-Slate-Grey turned out weak and thinned, or dense and opaque.

I used a hog-bristle flat brush which was between 3/4″ and 7/8″ long, yesterday, and a different method of application.  I wet the brush, then picked up the white, then worked the pigment on the palette so that it wasn’t goopy (I have Heavy Body acrylics), then applied the paint, then repeated the process once the brush ran dry.

The hog bristle was much softer and more absorbent than the synthetic I was using the previous day (I think it was my 1/2″ flat), and because the bristles were longer and more flexible, they held a better pigment load.  The only drawback is that that brush is better used in a more expressive and loose manner; because of the flexibility of the bristles, the flat fanned out relatively easily, when pressure was applied to it.

I’ve also found that acrylics don’t like to come out of the “flags” (split tips) of hog-bristle brush hairs.  I’m told to save hog bristle brushes for oil painting, because acrylics eat up the brushes, but I’m not sure if the person telling me this differentiated between the ground being painted on (she favors plywood and murals) as versus the formulation of the paint used.  Time will tell, I guess — because I’m not jumping to oil paints any time soon, unless they’re water-soluble oils.  (Such a thing does exist!)

I am very nearly finished with this painting.  The only things left to do are to add a highlight where I forgot to replace it after overpainting, and to continue the painting around the sides of the canvas.  Originally, I was irritated when I gessoed this canvas, because I was a bit too fast and flipped it over while the gesso was still damp.  This caused debris from the school easel to become permanently affixed to one edge of the canvas.  However, after painting over the edges of the thing, I also painted over the debris, so it really isn’t visible anymore, anyway.

I would have taken a photo, but the paint was still too wet, and I’m kind of not loving this project.  In the next project we get to use color again, though, so there is that.  Sometime later this week, I will definitely have to photograph my work, and at this point I’m not feeling too bad about it (unlike when I brought the sketch to work on it in the studio, on Monday).

I also got my image transfer worked out where it comes to my next mandala; I can work on inking it after dinner, I think.

This project is nearly finished, thank the spirits.

Artist type realizing the impact of consumerism on themselves.

Taking my medication earlier on in the night helps tons where it comes to energy and motivation.

I’ve also found that my time is better spent on reading actual books and making actual art than it is, when I’m on the Internet.  As things stand, I was able to work for at least three or four hours today, which is in keeping with what I have to do in order to stay afloat in my classes.  I was thinking about doing more, but I reach a point about two hours in where I have to take a break, so I headed out.

And I’ve got to remember not to eat large quantities of roasted garlic; apparently I smelled pretty bad, earlier.  (I’m not sure whether I’m smelling again now through my skin, or whether I’m just rubbing the remains of dinner off my lip.)

I haven’t been taking too many photos of my work in progress, though today I was able to attempt a final repair on my first large mandala, take it off the watercolor block, and get the underdrawing of the painting which is due next Thursday, drafted out.  It’s a bit annoying because I’m painting Titanium White over this slate-grey color (Mars Black diluted in white gesso), and even though I’m using Golden acrylic (which is the highest-quality acrylic brand on the market, I’m told), I still need to go over and over and over areas which I want to be (actually) white, as the grey shows through.  I’m not entirely sure why I’m working in chiaroscuro when I don’t have to, but it was a requirement.

I also stopped by an art supply store; though I need to be sure to avoid conflating “got art supplies” with “did art work.”  The brush type I was thinking of getting — a large pointed round suitable for fine details and large washes — averages about $35 there, though.  I had a bit of sticker shock.  I’ll keep looking, and give some thought to whether I actually need it, or whether it would just “be nice.”  The reason I even went to check, though, is that I have a filbert wash brush which is about 3/4″ across…which was extremely helpful when coloring my last mandala.  The major problem with that brush, though, is that it can’t form a point, so details are a bit beyond it.

The money issue is a bit…interesting to me.  It actually seems to show the impact of a commercial consumer capitalistic mindset on what is otherwise…less impeded.  (It’s easy to say that one’s materials make one’s art, but really, that art can’t come into being without an artist.  Of course, quality supplies help, and to a large extent influence or constrict what we can make; but we are not reducible down to Golden acrylic paint, for example.)  Recently, I went on a field trip to a local garden where we were provided with bamboo stalks from which to make dip pens.  I’ve got to say that the pens I made worked better for me than the bamboo pens I’ve bought at art supply stores.

I think that largely this came from the fact that I didn’t clear away material from beneath the pen point (this bamboo had one flat side and one round side, and I cut the point to be flat), which enabled large swaths of color to be painted, rather like a brush.  I also sanded the nibs so that they would flow across the paper more easily and be less “scratchy.”  It was basically a custom job, customized to me and my way of working.  And it was free.  It was really interesting.

The person who supplied the bamboo said to get used to using tools if we wanted to be artists.  Well, at least so if we want to spend less money for better quality.  And, of course, someone cut themselves very early into the day.  Of course.

And, yeah, the Blick stores near me have begun charging extra for shipping on top of the items we buy in the stores.  I have started seeking out other outlets.  They didn’t have to buy Utrecht (they recently did a horizontal merger with said), and now that they have, their discounts are not as good.  We’re getting weird surcharges worked into the purchase price of what we would have spent, should we have bought the materials on their website and had them shipped.

That is:  the prices on the website do not match the prices in the store.  The prices in the store have leaped up to nearly (or entirely) encompass the amount of what we would have paid, had we bought the items online (at a greater discount, sometimes an unbelievably high discount) and then had them shipped to us.  (Recently, I had something like a $20+ “shipping rate” worked in to what I bought [as versus the prior “web price matching” which did not include shipping], even though the only “shipping” they had to do was stock the shelves).

I don’t really feel this is fair, unless they are intending on going fully online.  It’s more like asking for an extra $20 just because they can, because now they’re almost a monopoly.  I am wondering if their partnership with Amazon has anything to do with it.

I’m thinking that I need to get away from the idea of “intended use,” except where it comes to safety.  Like, I may not know the intended use of Layout paper, or why it’s called, “Layout paper,” but maybe that doesn’t matter if it works for me in whatever way I’m using it.  This is as I’ve found that the adage, “they didn’t tell me I couldn’t do it” is seeming to be a refrain which works quite successfully where it comes to making art that I’d not feel bad showing, and in using materials to make art in unconventional manners.

But then, I’ve been questioning a bunch of status-quo stuff, recently.  From how I relate to my body as a person who is usually assumed by others to be a woman (my sexed characteristics don’t define me), to how I want my life to be as regards having a loving partner (I’m after intimacy, not getting off), to — of course — the politics stuff and the possibility of having a socialist — or, alternately, a might-as-well-be-fascist — President.  And then there’s the entire gender identity thing, which has really flowed into “third gender” territory, especially with the idea of having a secure career path where this isn’t frowned upon.  I’m not sure if it’s the extra medication enabling my brain to uncover areas which might otherwise remain safely buried, or if it has to do with the art and the writing (but moreso, the art).

I’ve found that it’s better to do things than to write about doing things, which is a thought that seems to have been missing in my life, earlier on.  The writing helps, but really, my art projects are like testaments to where I’ve been, just from a more deeply encoded and felt place, as versus a linear one.

I’m not sure as to whether I should show what I’m doing here, before turning it in.  Of course, upon seeing any photo of my work and having the actual art object, it would be obvious to my profs that I made it.  The major problem is one of relative privacy…

Artist type realizing the impact of consumerism on themselves.

I replaced my Rembrandt white pastel!

Aww, you guyz!

My aunt and uncle gave me $50 for Xmas, so today we went and dropped by my art store.  I went and got an ArtBin for my markers, the Lyra graphite crayons I didn’t get before, some tinted papers, and a Rembrandt white pastel.  That pastel ran me $4, but it was OK because I know it’s worth it.  In total this ran me about $30.

What’s cool is that the Rembrandt pastels list the codes of the pigments right on the sticks.  I got a “100,5” which is code for White, and the pigment code of which is PW6.  On my smartphone I was able to search for PW6 and confirm that it is, in fact, Titanium White.  This helped put my mind at ease, because the pastel is creamier than I remember it being, and was drawing on me and the inside of my ArtBin wherever it touched.

There was a carcinogenicity warning in front of all the pastels, and a little warning sticker on the one pastel I got.  Now that I know what it’s referring to, though, I feel a lot better.  As long as I don’t grind it up and snuff it, I’ll probably be fine.  🙂

Now the hard part!  Using it!  😀

I replaced my Rembrandt white pastel!

More info on that Lead White thing…

I’ve been doing a bit more digging, trying to see if I can find any more evidence that the white pigment in my pastels is not Lead White — given that the word of any one person, even someone beloved, is not proof.

This (eventually) lead me to a document called Where Lead Hides.  If that link is unavailable, there is a mirror, here, with a slightly different attribution.  I’ve found that Lead White is actually not lead oxide, but a different compound.  If you search “lead white” on Google (without quotations), you’ll find a lot of links.  In my case, the chemical composition of Lead White is not really what I’m looking for, so a lot of those links, I haven’t read.

In any case, I followed a couple of links from the above PDF(s).  One of them was dead and led me back to a page at a different URL, where I didn’t immediately see a substitute for the article mentioned in said PDF (which was dated 2006, I believe?)

Apparently it was supposed to mention how “asbestos, contaminated talc, lead and cadmium pigments” were used in pastels.  I already knew about asbestos — the old pigment made from ground malachite (which I don’t know the name of; “malachite green” likely refers to a different chemical compound), I’d grown up thinking contained asbestos fibers (like Falcon’s Eye and Tiger Eye — or so I thought), but trueart.info doesn’t list this as a particular reason to avoid it.  Instead, they cite the possible toxicity of the copper content (in the vein of lapidary/sculpture though, not as a pigment).  Talc is something that at this point I’m not using on my skin, because I know there’s a salient danger of asbestos contamination.  Cadmium, I know about — cadmium pigments (not their replacements, or “Hues,” but e.g. Cadmium Red as versus Cadmium Red Hue) are toxic and can be absorbed through skin.

This is why I’m leaning toward the Rembrandt brand of pastels, should I really get into pastel painting or drawing; they use no cadmium, cobalt, or lead pigments, and say so.  Plus, I used (and loved) their White for a class a long time ago (2008 or so) and was just a little heartbroken when I tested it out this year and it shattered in my hand.

Lead is what I was searching for, though.

The other link given in the PDF, hit pay dirt.  That link is here:


…where it is stated that Lead White is illegal to use in pastels.  This was a big relief for me, because I had found that Flake White, or Lead White, is still in use in oil paints.  However, someone had a brain and excluded them from use in pastels, probably because it’s too easy for the particles to become airborne and travel everywhere.

In any case…it looks like I’ve got all the links worked out so they’re functional, hopefully.  I’m going to go on the belief that my white pastels are likely Titanium White and not Lead White, and that likely, the white that is used in my tints are Titanium, not Lead, White.  I should be able to keep digging, though.


Update on the “Occupational Hazards” track…

It’s been a while since I last mentioned occupational hazards as relating to art.  I’ve got some new information that I dug up over the holiday, which, at least, puts my mind more at ease.

For Xmas, I wanted a set of chalk pastels.  A senior student in my last drawing class recommended a certain store brand as a starter set — though at this point I am unclear whether she specifically recommended the harder, square pastels, or the soft chalk pastels.  I ended up getting the harder ones because of the color range and the price…

…I tried to write the math up here, but I’m concerned that it’s just confusing me, so I’ll hold off on that for now.  But — I got 48 pastels for about $15, as versus 12 for about $30.  So you can do the math, if you would like…

In any case, any art store I’ve gone to recently has a carcinogenicity warning on the pastels.  It started with the cadmium thing and has not gone away (though I have seen no more cadmium warnings, just generic fear-cancer warnings).

Luckily, the place I was buying my pastels from posts the MSDS (Materials Safety Data Sheets) on their site, and lists the colors affected.  The pastels I got had a Caution Label (CL) warning on them, saying that the color White was affected.

I looked up the MSDS when I got home, hoping that the pigment used in the pastels was not Lead White — but I heard from a relative that Lead White (lead oxide) would be illegal in my state.  Which is a good thing, because I think that lead oxide can be absorbed through the skin, though don’t quote me on that.

In any case, the MSDS given doesn’t state what the white pigment is, in the white pastels.  However, on doing some more digging, I found this link:


…which talks about the carcinogenicity warning being linked to Titanium Dioxide as a (white) pigment.  This is a forum link, but the members there are talking about the difference between “bound” and “unbound” Titanium Dioxide, and routes of exposure — apparently, “unbound” Titanium Dioxide is a carcinogen, when it is inhaled.  But if I don’t blow the pastel dust up into the air, and if I wear a particle mask and wet-mop up the dust, I’m probably fine.  No one go and blame me if you get cancer from following that protocol, I’m not a doctor, but — seriously?!  Titanium Dioxide?

I was concerned up until the point at which it was said the toxin was Titanium Dioxide.  This stuff is used in cosmetics, including face powders.  I used to use it all the time as a sunscreen.  Now whether that’s bound or unbound, I don’t know — but it does explain why my sunscreens now tend to say not to apply them to damaged skin.

So now that I know that the big baddie is Titanium Dioxide, which can’t be absorbed through intact skin, I think I can breathe a bit easier.  What seems to be the case is that anything which has been shown to have any carcinogenicity under any conditions at all, is labeled with a Prop 65 warning if any of it is in any art material, regardless of whether it is safe to work with under reasonable conditions.

I do know that many people blow pastel dust up into the air, but — this is a dangerous practice in general.  Pigments aren’t necessarily safe to breathe or ingest, especially when it’s considered that some traditional pigments (like that made of ground malachite) may contain things like asbestos fibers (malachite is carcinogenic because of this, regardless of the beauty of its hue).  When you blow pastel dust up into the air, it’s like asking it to get inside your lungs (or inside the lungs of the person downwind from you).  And once it gets in, it doesn’t necessarily get out.

Charcoal, being an organic pigment, is a bit safer, but inorganic compounds may not be able to be broken down by the body.

I just thought I’d update this track, because I especially pay attention to these warnings of potential carcinogens and toxins.  However, it doesn’t help to make people scared about things that they may be otherwise exposed to every day and which they can avoid exposure to with a bit of respect, and let other toxins go unlabeled because they’re under a daily exposure threshold which is determined I-don’t-know-how (I’m thinking here of those xylene-based markers that I love but don’t use because I know they’re toxic [I’ve gotten headaches from them before], and I don’t want to have to open all the windows to use them).

And while I’m on the subject of pastels — I should mention, at least for my own records, that the Krylon Workable Fixatif MSDS is available directly from Krylon…and used also with a modicum of respect, it also appears relatively OK.  Just don’t spray it in an enclosed space with no ventilation, or next to a heat source.  Clearly.  Just reasonable precautions should be enough.

With that, I’m being called away.  I thought though that I should add in another:  “I’m not a doctor, and this is not advice that should be relied upon for one’s safety.  Do the research yourself, and take necessary precautions.  No one is responsible for your health but you.”

It’s just that in my case, I’ve found that the law cannot always be relied upon to give a good sense of the relative hazards of materials…