Thursday, February 26, 2015

The Top Five

Everyone has favorite tools and materials, but sometimes we take them for granted.  Since we use them every day, we don't actually notice them specifically, and we certainly don't give them the credit they deserve.  Here is my attempt to remedy that oversight.  These are my five favorite tools and materials, as of today, in no particular order of importance:

1.  Mod Podge.  Despite its unfortunate, cutsey name, this stuff is amazing.  It is a glue and a sealant.
It's water-based, and it's also nontoxic.  The matte MP, which is what I use 99% of the time, has no appreciable odor at all.  It goes on white, dries clear.  It adheres over almost any surface material, and all the other materials I use adhere to it.  MP is very useful in collage.  A layer of it over an image just adhered (with MP, of course), when dry, seals and protects the image from being ruined by any succeeding layers of stain or sealant.  MP is not water-resistant, but the things I make shouldn't get wet.

MP comes in different varieties.  Many people say they prefer the gloss MP, claiming it is clearer when dry than the matte.  I've never found this to be the case, and the gloss stinks to high heaven.  It is a heavy, plastic yeasty smell, and is just as objectionable as it sounds.  There is a satin MP which can sometimes be found, and I prefer it when I need just a bit of shine - but it has the same rank odor as the gloss.  I don't do a lot of gloss work, anyway.

I use so much MP that I pour it off into a container with a flip top.  That way, if I somehow dip a dirty brush into it, the entire bottle isn't ruined.

2.  Annealed steel wire.  When I started making jewelry, I went to the craft store and got some pretty wire on small spools.  It turned out to be aluminum, sometimes coated with a painted finish that
flaked off.  It was horribly soft and good for almost nothing.  I still am not sure why it's sold, because I can't think of any use it could be put to.  I still have it in a drawer somewhere, in case I find a use for it.  I then switched to copper, and while I liked it for the ease of working it, I did not like the color of it one little bit.  I mean, orange?  I was able to dull it down a little bit with sanding and judicious use of purchased tarnishers, but I was always going to be fighting the orange.

(The standard oxidizer for copper is liver of sulfur.  But  stinks to high heaven, and it is toxic.)

I was introduced to steel wire by a book I found which touted its use.  The book said I could find it in any hardware store, so off I went.  At first I bought small packages, reminiscent of the packaging at the craft store.  After using it a few times, I splurged and bought a huge spool.  I believe it cost less than $15.  I've been using it for over a year, and I'm just now thinking of buying another spool.

I've settled on 18 gauge wire.  This is about the thickest wire I can work with and not break my wrists.  It's small enough to go through a lot of bead holes, and yet strong enough (when work-hardened) to hold as an eye pin without being wrapped.  I make all my chain and jump rings from this wire.

The thing about steel wire is that it's filthy.  It comes that way.  It's black and gritty and greasy, and you have to run each piece you cut from the spool through sand paper several times to get the black stuff off.  At the end of each session my fingers look like I've been playing with dirty metal.  Forget the fingernails.  (If you want your fingernails to be clean, wash your hair.)  But under that black gunk is the lovely, dull silver of steel.  It doesn't need to be oxidized, because it's just the right color.  It somehow feels warm to me, and it loves to be worked.  Note the beaded chain and the hook and eye on "Steamship Brand" at right.

3.  Bamboo skewers.  These are a true workhorse in the studio.  When I saw my first package at a
thrift store for 50 cents, I thought "why not?" They looked useful.  I had no idea.  These guys are very strong, as bamboo is by nature.  They have a pointy end and blunt end, which are useful for poking and pushing, respectively.  I usually have something drying or curing, and that thing cannot lie down.  It has to hang, and it hangs suspended from a bamboo skewer over a deep vase or other contraption.  I use these over and over, and most of the skewers currently in the skewer container are stained and gnarled.  But they still work.  And one day I'll probably notice that some of them are so gunked up that they're gorgeous, and use them in a piece of jewelry or assemblage.

4.  Walnut ink crystals.  I bought my first jar of these from Sara at Manto Fev.  (She doesn't have
any more at the present time.)  I wasn't sure what they were or what I was going to do with them, and they sat on the shelf for a while.  Then one day I decided to play with them.  They are magic.

Walnut ink crystals are exactly what they sound like.  The ink is made from walnut shells, and if I had a walnut forest I could probably make a cup or two of ink from it and maybe a tablespoon of crystals.  So why not let other people do it for me?  The crystals are soluble in water and - here's the kicker - just about any other liquid!  So far I've used them straight from the jar in ModPodge, Diamond Glaze, and with Ice Resin.  They are very concentrated and produce spectacular results.  I've made up a little spray bottle of walnut ink solution that I keep at my workstation.  One time, when I was playing around, I found that if I painted a heavy glaze of walnut ink onto strong watercolor paper and then spritzed alcohol onto it, a fascinating marbling effect happened right before my eyes.

Walnut ink is a major ingredient in my proprietary glazes.  I love its warm, brown color, and the fact that it is totally and completely natural.

These crystals go a long way.  If you use them, add them very gradually to liquid.  They are strong.  They are powerful.  And they are available on Amazon, last I checked.

5.  Inktense pencils.  You've tried the other coloring pencils.  They are all fun.  Now try Intense, and that's all you'll use.  These are wonderful.  Are they paint?  Are they ink?  Who knows.  Who cares.
Inktense pencils are soluble in water when wet, but they dry to a rock hard but soft-looking impermeable finish.  They have the best properties of acrylic and watercolors combined, in that they can be diluted to a vague wash, but they also provide the most intense translucent color with a heavy application.  I often paint with them, which is to say I load up a damp brush right from the pencil.  That gives me a lot of control and I can choose the brush size.  Then, if I need a bolder color application, I draw on my project with the Inktense pencil and immediately wash it down with the brush.  Fun with both hands at once!

I noodled along with a basic set of Inktense for over two years, but I recently sprung for a 24-pencil set when there was a sale at the art store. These are not cheap, but they last forever and they are worth every penny.  They are also available singly - at least at my local store - so you could dip your feet in the Inktense puddle gradually if you wanted.

So, for today, those are my five favorite things.  I use each of these in every project.  I wouldn't want to be without them.