The Struggle

The Struggle |

The Struggle by Heather Miller

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.


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