Lean on fat

Posted in painting on August 7, 2016 by Betsy Lahaussois

The Art2Life Visonary Path came to a close, after an intense and interesting three months, and to encourage the community to keep sharing inspirations and successes and cries for help, Nick created a subscription website, which has recently opened for business. Under a thread called Your Favorite Finishes, I asked if anyone knew a good way to finish a mostly acrylic panel ending with a layer of oil pastels.


I already knew from Googling the question that this is risky territory, because oil pastels never dry completely. (Oh!) Though there is a Sennelier spray that dries the surface enough to make it dust resistant, most people choose to frame oil pastels under glass.

Ignoring the age-old recommendation never to put acrylics (AKA lean) over oil (AKA fat), I went ahead and applied a final layer of matte medium, hoping to encase and stabilize the gooey surface.

Yikes! This was not at all what I had in mind!


Disgusted, I threw it straight into the trash can, but then fished it out again the next morning to post as a warning to my A2L community.

There are always one or two people in a supportive group who chime in with, “but I kind of LIKE the texture of disaster! Could you capitalize on this?”

I often do love textured surfaces. Look at this nice rowboat I photographed on a beach in Puglia a few years ago!


However the peeling on my own piece was NOT beautiful, and I wasn’t willing to muck up my new orbital sander with flaps of goo. But after another night’s sleep, I retrieved it from the garbage can a second time, and went at it with scrapers and gouges, getting back down to a more stable layer. Glued on some bits of Amazon Prime tape (of which I have an embarrassing supply lying around!), and renamed it “My summer of shopping dangerously”! I think that will do for now, and I have put it back on my shelf of works in progress.


What I have learned: if in doubt, just try it anyway! Nothing is precious, and layers of history on a panel sometimes make for interesting surprises.

Painting for painting’s sake

Posted in painting on June 10, 2016 by Betsy Lahaussois

I surprised myself this spring by signing up for an online painting course called Art2Life Creative Visionary Path, taught by Nicholas Wilton and his team. Though I am a little wary of Visionary Paths,  I decided to take the leap after watching a couple of Nick’s promotional tutorials, and finding them fascinating.

I took my supplies list to Poggi in the center of Rome, and filled my shopping cart with such an extravagant pile of paints that Mimmo, the boss, came out of his inner sanctum to greet the big spender. Luckily I had sent Jacques–who doesn’t need to know how expensive “my hobby” is– off to the Ghetto to buy macaroons, but he was back in time to carry the heavy carton to the car. We went on to a lecture, where a new acquaintance asked, “Are you an artist?” Thinking of my whopping paint bill, I was able to answer with confidence, “You bet!”

The course has been everything Nick promised, and the 200-plus participants have been working hard. We had to join Facebook to post our homework, and this worried me a little. I was once a member of Facebook for five minutes, before realizing it was no place for the likes of me, and I didn’t look forward to having to tell everyone in my address book all over again, “No, thank you, I don’t want to be your friend!” (My apologies to anyone I have offended by just ignoring your request–the solution proposed by the support team!) I have to admit FB is a good vehicle for what has turned into an impressive community and support group…

Another few weeks to go, but I thought I would post some of my 30×30 cm panels, which we work on again and again, and which will no longer be recognizable a week from now. Next week’s module, I think, is called Risk, something we have all gotten pretty comfortable with! I may or may not go back to painting ladders and Ikea trays when this is over, but it continues to be an exciting and deeply engaging adventure.

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Rolling the dice

Posted in "Found objects"/articles, mixed media, recycling, stitches, textiles on May 1, 2016 by Betsy Lahaussois

I have just been off on an extraordinary course with Matthew Harris, called From Parts to a Whole. Each of us brought along something with soft and hard elements to deconstruct, play with using “chance operations”, draw around and print with, and finally to make into something else. It was liberating putting aside our usual decision making habits, not to mention media, and taking orders from the dice!

I’d found a couple of cheap plastic cameras at the flea market, and borrowed a set of mechanic’s tools from my grandson for taking them apart. It took all of the first morning to locate and remove the tiny screws,  disassemble, and sort the contents into piles.


Here is a much used “thing” made of several dice-selected camera elements including film cover, film, tiny screws and printed circuits.


After a day or two I got tired of inky fingernails and tiny plastic parts, and started investigating the other “found object” I’d brought along –a friend’s well worn Chinese slippers.



It was clear they had potential–look at the colorful cloth layers making up the shredded sole! I almost hesitated to take such beautiful objects apart.




But the dice said, “DO it!”. Leslie lent me a seam ripper, and friends from neighboring tables offered clippers, pliers, threads and a wicked needle, bandaids (!)….


I distributed the contents of both soles on a well used linen tea towel, and “trapped” them on the surface with rows of running stitch. This–like removing the paint from an old door–always takes much more time than you expected, but I enjoyed the next couple of “down days”, stitching back and forth, listening to the chatter around me, catching whiffs of garlic as Jude made lunch…


As the end approached, Matthew helped me rip off the linen hem still partly visible at the edges–there is a not so fine line between Art Brut and Home Decorating!

I am home now after an extremely interesting five days, looking at the stuff in our recycling bin with a new eye, and eager to give Chance a more decisive role in my art making! Inspired by Richard Serra, I am thinking of assigning an “action” (tear, rumple, print, fold, reverse, etc) to each of the 52 cards in a deck, and just drawing a card next time I get to a creative impasse.

If you have a chance to go to a Matthew Harris workshop, don’t miss it!…


Last year’s “harvest” revisited

Posted in stitches, textiles on February 24, 2016 by Betsy Lahaussois


Last autumn, when it was still warm enough to work outside at a big table in front of my studio, I made a wonderful mess printing with corn on the cob. It seemed like a good idea at the time, but revisiting these pieces in February, I see more background texture than Iowa Farm Girl imagery!

This apron is the exception; it definitely evokes Mary’s Corn-Corns, complete with cast iron pan! Nothing left to the imagination….


The other samples have more of an allover smudgey texture, not as clearly focussed as I would have liked. I think this is because the more I leaned on the ears of corn, the more they oozed liquid corn starch, diluting the dye mixture. Never mind, it is always useful having a jumping off place for a rainy winter day.

Here are the samples after their February face lift. I added some machine and hand stitching and a few fabric dye marks. How do you like my “rice stitch”?…losing patience with the stitched version, I glued actual grains of rice onto a block, and just printed them!

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And here are four more harvest pieces, which started with a print of one of Remi and Marie Pier’s fennel plants from the vegetable patch, and evolved in the usual ways…

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Beatbox Birdie

Posted in "video" on February 20, 2016 by Betsy Lahaussois


We have been having a lot of fun messing around with drums, ever since we bought a handsome pair of African djembe at the street market in Paris. Drumming is a great way of getting to know some new people, and unlike a dinner party, dispenses with the chitchat, and burns more calories than you have time to consume!


As spring approaches here in Umbria, it sometimes feels as if we are living inside the drum. As usual, Nature’s percussionists, tapping rhythmically as they bounce up and down on our window ledges, make our own attempts seem laughable! We are on the “beat” of this small fellow, who usually chooses the window in my music room for his routine. Have a look at this morning’s performance--this bird is a natural!

Another book!…

Posted in A drawing a day, artists books on October 2, 2015 by Betsy Lahaussois

The pages of this book are torn from old monoprints from my recycling pile, assembled randomly, and bound with the usual Coptic binding. They have been a comforting– because not precious– jumping off place for daily improv exercises… this year’s version of the “drawing a day” project I assigned myself a while back. Great ploy to get my reluctant self out to the studio! I rediscovered some twenty year old oil crayons with such hardened surfaces that it took a mosaic hammer to get to their soft center, and gave them one last outing before pitching them!…liquid watercolor inks, graphite crayons, joint compound, glue, Dremel tool, liquid acrylics, bleach…the whole dusty arsenal.

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“Little books” are getting bigger

Posted in artists books, little books on July 22, 2015 by Betsy Lahaussois

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I love it when a small idea takes on a life of its own, and starts to deviate from the expected path. Lately I have moved on from “little books” to manically assembling samples and experimental pages into bound books, while buffing up the Coptic stitch, my favorite book binding technique of the moment.  I like its unfussy chain-stitched construction, and how flat the pages lie when the book is opened.

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Do you want to know how to do it? Here is the clearest tutorial I have found on the Coptic stitch. I have mostly been using blank note cards with a horizontal orientation (Fabriano’s Antiqua), which have a nice surface and are of good enough quality to put up with the usual abuse (stitches, tearing, glue, pools of ink). For covers, I am using precut plywood rectangles, because I like them, and because I happen to have a pile left over from another project…. It is fun making a bunch of marks, with a more or less unified palette, putting them together, and declaring them a book. And I am enjoying organizing and binding together things with stitching, or things with collage, rippled surfaces, bits of old document, etc. But maybe the time has come to think more about content. As the collections become more and more abstract, how can I avoid falling into the trap of over familiar marks and gestures and even color schemes? A girl doesn’t want to repeat herself!

Here is my first book from a few years ago–thirty sneezes worth of crumpled kleenexes. That was a clear case of content, but I wonder if it always has to be so explicit!….

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Perhaps I have just found a way of making the content more subliminal…. The other day, I was scooping old sketchbooks off the shelves and into the garbage can. If I can hardly bear to look at them myself, went my thinking, the kindest thing would be to destroy them and spare my kids guilty indecision in the future. Sometimes it is good to wait 24 hours before lighting the match. (See Bonfire of the Vanities post!)  When I fished a random sketchbook back out of the garbage can the next morning for another look, I couldn’t help but feel tenderness for my 25-years-younger self, a frustrated artist/housewife, not at all resigned to living in Rome, looking desperately for ways to keep art making alive in a seemingly boxed in life. (Hey! Content?) My inner Recycler, cat-napping in the corner, opened her eyes and slowly rose to her feet. Over in the “recycle or pitch” pile, which continues to grow in spite of my best intentions to make it disappear, I found a stack of unsuccessful monoprints on good quality paper, and tore them into page sized strips.

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I thought  of my deceased friend Linda, who advocated cooking pointed messages into the casserole to serve the houseguests who won’t leave, as I tore out page after page, and started gluing them onto the recycled monoprints. A subliminal message has to add content, doesn’t it!? What is a brainstorming spiderweb on how to get back to work, if not a temperature reading of the moment (and a recurring one at that!) The words don’t matter–they are always more or less the same anyway. Lose the words. Might as well lose the image while I’m at it… The pages got quite heavy with torn bits of drawing and personal associations, and a bit chaotic, although I thought I was proceeding in a methodical way! A sanding machine helped level and unify them, once the matt medium and the adrenalin rush had settled.

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Finally, I didn’t save much shelf space–the new 1991 sketchbook is almost as fat as the old one–and the results “are what they are”, but it was a satisfying, rather liberating project, and I will probably keep picking at these weather beaten but tough pages. Even though they have become rather abstract, I know their content is still there, “baked into the casserole”!


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