Wednesday, September 21, 2016

Mixed Media Pocket Shrine with StencilGirl Stencils

My Emily Pocket Shrine
“I took my power in my hand
and went against the world
’twas not so much as David had
but I was trice as bold."

Hi, everyone! Jennifer Armstrong here to share a fun and easy process to make a pocket shrine so that you can keep your favorite muse close at hand.  I have been struggling for some time to find an appropriate medium to use for glazing small windows, and cold wax is the answer I am happiest with.  Here are all the materials you will need.  I love projects that let me use nearly every tool and type of supply in my studio!
*chipboard microscope slide holder
*photo or other paper scrap art image for front
*Earth Safe cold wax (gel medium can substitute but you get a very different effect)
*Mylar sheet or transparency film (available from office supply store)
*colored tissue paper (or use white tissue and paint or stain it)
*acrylic ink, paints, gesso - you can use my color palette or choose your own, but keep it simple, since this is a very small piece
*rubber stamps, archival ink pad
*favorite quote or poem, printed how you like, but scaled to fit
*waxed thread
*brad, long reach hole punch or awl
*small, flattish treasures, glitter
*Soho studio wipes or baby wipes
*metal findings or beads
*small scale stencils

Preparation: The microscope slide holder is a special item you’ll have to hunt for on-line unless you’ve got access to a science lab!
I’ve had a stack of these for some time, and tried a variety of unsatisfying ways to glaze the inside niches to hold little treasures.   Begin by punching a small hole in the front cover, being sure that it aligns with the inside of one of the niches, so that any additional thickness added by the brad won’t keep the shrine from closing fully.
If you have block-carving tools, use a small v-gouge to dig out a shallow groove on the inside of the front cover so the arms of the brad will lie flush with the surface.  We’ll be hiding this later, so it doesn’t have to be particularly neat.  Use white gesso or white paint to seal the front, back, inside and edges of the shrine. 
Front Cover: I brushed on a thin coat of Transparent Yellow Iron Oxide fluid acrylic, and when that was dry, I used a small mesh stencil and pounced the front and back with Quinacridone Nickel Yellow Azo.
Using the same stencil, I added white gouache (you could use white gesso) to a piece of maroon tissue, and then decoupaged it to the front cover with a very thin application of the cold wax, and when that was dry I toned it with a bit more Transparent Yellow Iron Oxide, and decoupaged on my image with more cold wax.
This is an ink-jet photo of my favorite poet, Emily Dickinson.  The beauty of this cold wax is that it doesn’t activate the ink from my home printer the way gel medium does, so I get a nice seal without any smearing or discoloration.  The wax also has a softer and more organic feeling when it’s dry than gel medium does.   From my collection of text rubber stamps I chose the word “vision” and stamped that onto some cream tissue, and glued that on with the wax. The tissue just melts into the wax, but you have time to get it nice and smooth.  Let dry/harden completely before moving on to the inside. Poke your hole open at this point if it has been covered up.

Inside Front Cover:  I laid on a bit of Quin Nickel Yellow Azo on the inside edge, and then a patch of Manganese Blue Hue.  I next used a small scale stencil with blobby holes to do some reductive and additive layers with the blue and with some white paint.  I used a Soho studio wipe, which is similar to a baby wipe but much stronger - in other words, you wouldn’t use these on your baby! -  and it will work even on dry paint. But if you work fast enough, a baby wipe will do the job as well.  You want to remove paint through the stencil, and add paint through the stencil, in alternating layers to achieve a mottled effect.  I took some white dots across to the niche side of the shrine as well.
While those layers are drying, stencil a small scale pattern onto some cream-colored tissue in Yellow Iron Oxide.  Now, before going any further, get your little brad and put it through from the front.  Don’t make it tight, because you’ll need to wrap twine around it later; a good technique is to get your fingernails under the head of the brad to hold the space while you spread and flatten the arms and press them down into the groove you made.  With more cold wax, decoupage torn fragments of the stenciled tissue onto the inside of the cover, covering up the arms of the brad, which you can just barely see through the tissue and wax.
When that’s dry, do the same with your quote or poem (mine is by Emily, of course).  Torn edges are better than cut edges, by the way, as that exposes more paper fibers and gives the wax more to grip.  I stained a “bird guts” swallow with some Pam Carriker acrylic ink in this gorgeous blue color called Rain, and adhered it with more wax.  A few delicate splatters of Rain ink, and that side is done. 
Niches:  Cut two strips of Mylar, approximately 1 x 3 inches (this is the size of microscope slides). Here’s a lesson I learned the hard way: once you cut your Mylar, put those pieces down in the same spot every time.  I lost at least three pieces because I simply couldn’t find them on my cluttered table!
Into one of  the niches I put a beautiful spotted feather I found some time ago, and into the other side I put a piece of tissue stained with the Rain ink and stenciled with brown spots, and then added the word “PEEK” and a very small sprinkling of turquoise glitter.  A this point, whatever you choose to put inside the niches is entirely  up to you, but for obvious reasons they have to be almost completely flat because the niches are very shallow.  Drop in the Mylar cover sheets, and then seal the niches with cold wax.  The wax will dry more or less clear, but try to scrape the wax away from the center of the niches and more to the edges with a palette knife, so that you’ll have less wax obscuring the contents.  Leave to dry for several hours, or overnight. I don’t mind if the contents are slightly hidden, since I think that adds interest.
Back Cover and Tie:  At this point, my Emily Dickinson shrine included references to vision and observation (the mind), and the power of the hand, and to soaring imagination with the bird and feather.  I thought a heart would make it complete.  I stained some cream tissue with the Rain ink, and then tore it into a heart and adhered it to the back with wax.  Once that was dry (a thin coat dries pretty fast) I decided I wanted it to have a more tactile quality, since this is a piece of art to hold and handle.  I went back to the original mesh stencil and stenciled the wax through it.  If you find there are little bubbles you can pop them with a pin before the wax hardens.
Wash the stencil out right away to get the wax off.  When the back was dry I dry-brushed a little bit of the Rain ink across it in a few spots.   Cut a length of waxed black twine and tie it around the brad - you remembered to leave space, right?  I dug around in my metal findings stash and found a Tim Holtz word token that says “Muse,” which is perfect for Emily.  I also found an old rusty keyhole guard.
You could decorate your tie with beads, or make knots or leave the ends plain.  Now my shrine is done, and I can pick it up and consider its many meanings any time I need inspiration.
The wax will continue to dry over time, becoming more translucent.

All best,
Jennifer Armstrong


  1. Hi -- I'm a bit late to this party... but I have a question about the cold wax, which I have never before used. It appears to come in blocks for those who surf ( couldn't find the earth safe ). Do I melt it to apply it? Please advise. Thanks! This looks to be a fabulous project! -Kathleen


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