The Struggle |
The Struggle by Heather Miller

Title: The Struggle
Year: 2016
Size: 20″ x 24″ x 1.25″

The Struggle was made using Paperclay, acrylic paints, glass beads, glass tiles, and polyurethane on canvas.

The Story:

The Struggle was an idea born from a Call for Entry at a local gallery.  The gallery was doing a show called “Sea Creatures.”  By the time I thought of something to do it was too late to enter that show.  However, it ended up being a really nice piece to use for a texture demonstration.  In preparation for that demo, I photographed every single stage of creation for this piece.  This helped me to clearly identify my process so I could talk about it for the demo.

The octopus is made of Paperclay.  It’s an unusual, but super fun, air-drying clay made of paper pulp, volcanic ash, & other materials.  It dries hard so it’s a durable medium.  I had never worked with it on this scale but the manufacturer’s website had detailed instructions for working with it this way.  I’ve also seen many artists create large sculptures with it so I decided to try my hand at it.  For those who are curious, it cost about $11 a package & it took 2 packages to complete.

In the slide show below, you’ll see that I used PVA glue, mini popsicle sticks, & ribbons of hot glue on the canvas just before I applied the Paperclay.  The popsicle sticks & ribbons of hot glue were applied first.  This gave the clay something more to adhere to & helps prevent gravity from causing the piece to slide off over time.  Over the top of all that, I applied the PVA glue.  It’s a special type of acid-free glue used in book binding & mixed media art.  It’s more expensive than the white glue (Aleene’s, Elmer’s, etc) but it is archival.  Since Paperclay is, well, made of paper, I decided to buy the better glue.

The background is made of many layers of acrylic paint & polyurethane.  The little bumps you see are tiny glass beads.  There is an acrylic medium from Liquitex that suspends the beads in a clear-drying gel.  I applied them with a palette knife after the base coat of blue paint dried.  There’s almost 2 full jars of the glass bead medium on The Struggle.  It’s a medium that is really beautiful but also a bit expensive.  A single jar can run between $10-$15 depending on where you buy it.

The piece is called The Struggle but is not a reference to the octopus itself.  Instead it’s a reference to the struggle I had in painting it.  I had a very clear idea of what colors I wanted to use but when it came time to lay the first coat of paint I messed up.  I chose a dark magenta color.  Normally, by the time I finish painting a textured piece you don’t really see much of base coat color.  For example, the ‘water’ in the background started with a base coat of dark blue but almost none of that is visible.  That magenta threw me off and caused the metallic paints to all look silver rather than the range of metallic purples I used.  The texture on the octopus didn’t lend itself well to the paint method I had planned on using which was the other part of the problem. Many layers of paint later, however, I finally ended up where I thought I would.

The total creation time for this piece was about a week & a half.  This includes the drying time for the glass beads (24 hours) and the Paperclay (several days).

Here’s a slide show of all the images I took for the creation of The Struggle.  I’m sharing this because it helps to demystify the process of creating art.  Sometimes artists make mistakes, or as Bob Ross would say, “happy accidents.”   All the images were taken with my iPhone.