I finished the vintage Hokusai bunka kit today. The ocean horizon line is crooked because it was still tacked in the frame when I took the picture. This type of embroidery may be a little dated, but I liked it so much I’ve been bidding on bunka yarn to try an original design.
Bunka is a style of embroidery from Japan using a tightly-woven polyester backing and a four-ply rayon yarn (chainette). The yarn is unraveled before punching it into the canvas with a punch needle. Unlike other punch needle projects I’ve done, the goal isn’t to cluster many loops in a small space; rather, the threads can be extended up to about a half-inch. They lay flatter against the surface, although there’s definitely a dimensional result that’s fascinating to look at. The kinks left in the yarn after unraveling keep the loops secure on the backside of the fabric. Because bunka is stitched face forward after tacking it on a frame, it feels much more like painting on a canvas. However, the final product is not sturdy like a punch needle or hooked rug or even stitched embroidery. In fact, I think a bunka painting is meant to be just that–a painting.
I bought a vintage bunka kit off Etsy. It came with a design on the backing–a lovely woodcut by Hokusai–the bunka yarn, and a small printout, one side with a color painting and the other with a lined drawing of the project with numbers written in that correspond to the yarn colors. It’s exactly like a paint-by-number kit. With instructions in Japanese and only a handful of instructional videos available on Youtube, however, I’m fumbling my way through this, but I’m enjoying it tremendously. The wavy rayon thread and synthetic backing give the piece a unique shimmery, dimensional feeling. I love the look of bunka.
Bunka gained popularity in the 1960s but it may have seen its heyday, although there are a few companies out there as well as an organization or two devoted to it. I’m on the hunt to find supplies in order to try a few designs of my own.
…I’ve been painting, mostly watercolor. But I’ve also tried Inktense (blocks and pencils), water soluble graphite pencils, oil pastel, and soft pastel. These all needed a certain amount of experimenting. They’re all wonderful, by the way. Here’s a sampling of what I produced this year.
The more I paint on Terraskin and Yasutomo, the more I like it. There’s no need to stretch the paper because it never buckles. I can simply start painting, so I seem to be painting more than ever. Joy!
Painting water is especially fun because adding water to the paint creates, well, a watery effect. Above are some waves, below a moody lighthouse. I followed Nita Engle for the waves and a highly modified YouTube tutorial for below.
My smaller Terraskin journal is a good size for quick sketches. Below is a second lighthouse painted during a hurried lunch break.
Using crinkled up plastic wrap on wet paint creates wild textures. I thought it would take forever to dry on mineral paper as it doesn’t absorb water, but it only took about 45 minutes. My goldfish were far too dark. I like the flowers better.
I bought a DVD by artist Ann Pember, Painting in the Flow of Watercolor, where she paints a beautiful watercolor on a smooth illustration board. I’ve been using 140 lb. Arches, and I haven’t had an urge to change paper other than trying 300 lb., but I was up for painting on a totally different surface, hoping I could find one that wasn’t terribly expensive. On her website, she mentioned that Yupo, a synthetic paper, could give a similar effect to the board she uses. I wasn’t taken in by a 100% plastic paper, but I did bump into stone paper products, which haven’t been around all that long, and felt they could be interesting. Made of crushed stone and 20% plastic resin, there are no trees used. The surface is slick, the paper is very light and flexible, and it needs no stretching. It’s also fairly inexpensive to try.
I bought a Terraskin notebook, which has a strange quality. Paint adheres on the back side of the page but not the front. It’s sold in rolls and large sheets of varying thicknesses, so I don’t know if that’s always the case. Here’s a look at a few quick tests.
Pigments settle on the surface, and granulating colors leave either dark or light flecks. It’s hard to get a smooth wash with granulating pigments. However, the dreamy effect that takes place is really wonderful. Spritzing water creates a instant salt effect that I used heavily.
I then bought a pad of another brand, Yasutomo. It works very similarly. I’ve found that painting on this surface makes me slow down as the drying takes a very long time (and you can’t use heat to speed it up). I’m content to see what the paint will do. Also, layering is possible, but pigment dries very bright so it may not be necessary.
Here’s the Ann Pember tutorial painting done on the larger Yasutomo on top, where I took a few hours to complete it, and the smaller Terraskin on bottom, which I did quickly, in less than an hour. They don’t really resemble the original, but they were delightful to paint. I can see how I need to spend more time with shadows to create depth. The speckled sky on the bottom is how cobalt blue dries on the Terraskin notebook. Also, on the top painting, I followed Ann’s advice and used a limited palette. I chose French ultramarine, burnt sienna, transparent yellow oxide, and a small amount of cobalt blue. I’m really pleased with the variety of mixes I achieved.
These are 4″x6″ cards that I’ll give to people this year. I watched a lesson by Kathy Kovala, who did a demo with some of her students. Fun!
Watercolor is amazingly portable. I enjoy casein, but I don’t have a portable kit that folds up to the size of a phone like I do with watercolor. Casein dries out quickly like acrylic, and it spoils, too, so my choice for everyday painting is watercolor.
I’ve painted this doorway twice. On the left is a 3.5″x5″ painting, while in the center is a 9″x12″. Both have their pluses and minuses. The left is too dark, and some of the color became muddy, while the center has nicer color variation, detail, and value. However, I think the overhang is far better on the left than the center. It’s interesting that I failed to capture perspective with both. I loved painting with this method, however. It involves layering in primary colors to gain luminosity and depth.
On a whim, I bought a child’s Melissa & Doug watercolor kit. After trying the colors, I emptied it and replaced them with my six Daniel Smith Essentials kit, which consists of warm and cool blues, reds, and yellows. You can see how I put the pigments into the left, center, and right circles on both lines, and created a mix of two in between. The single circles on the bottom have all three warm on the left, which made brown, and all three cools on the right, which made black. I didn’t mix greens because I like to vary them so much–plus, I ran out of room. This was super fun. I hadn’t thought about pre-mixing my commonly mixed colors before, if that makes any sense.
Here’s my former Melissa & Doug kit with it’s new Daniel Smith pigments. Don’t they look awesome? I now have four palettes I use regularly.
Below are two attempts at painting barges on the Mississippi River. Both are from photos. My goal was to use the brush in a way that leaves sparkles on water.
Little landscapes from my mind and a few plein air attempts on the bottom.
Water, bridges, water sparkles… and grapes.
I painted three 5″x8″ casein pages in my journal. The 140 lb. paper buckles a little with the paint. I’ve tried 300 lb. on a block, and it worked out much better, so I may need to swap over. This journals works okay for a journal, which is something I enjoy having, but I don’t think I can find one with 300 lb. paper.
With casein, I have to think differently than when I use watercolor. I find myself making some really muddy areas when I don’t wait for the paint to dry–it takes longer than you think, maybe up to an hour for some areas. I also highlight poorly. Another key difference is how different casein looks when dry–it can change the painting entirely. Learning all of those differences makes it super hard to swap back and forth, but I still try. I love casein and would like to paint with it more often.
A Bob Ross attempt, Bridge to Autumn. I had painted it in watercolor months ago, using an inexpensive, little paint kit that was sitting in my closet. In fact, it was my very first watercolor attempt when this art craze hit me. This painting looks block-ish. I’m most pleased with the background tall trees, but their vivid color ended up making it the focal point. The highlighting with white paint is kind of heavy.
In casein, I also painted this landscape based on a photo. I enjoy painting the clouds, even though I got heavy with the highlights. Grass remains a challenge.
And this casein, my favorite of the three, is based on another photo of barges on the Mississippi River. My husband took the photo. Using a ruler for the barges would have been smart.
Here’s a similar shot that I painted with watercolor en plein air.
All in my little Pentalic journal. I’ve been trying some realism. The plant on the second row is kind of awful. The final row are experiments with a new paintbrush, the Escoda synthetic Versatil. It’s a #6 portable. It’s a nice brush, but I’m hooked on using my Caran d’Ache Aquarelle brush when I’m out and about. I use the medium size.
A bright blue sky and an old antique store. The sky was done by wetting the cloud area and painting the blue in the dry sections, letting the edges blur. My lettering on the antique store sign was sloppy:
Flowers, using a very loose effect. This is a super fun way to paint:
And, using a photo of a doorway, I tried to use layering to create an interesting background. I followed some videos by artist Laurel Hart. She has two wonderful tutorials on painting a colorful background and having a focal point. Obviously, I need to practice this more.
All of these are painted in my 3.5″x5″ Pentalic sketchbook or on 4″x6″ postcards from a block of Fluid 140 lb. cards. The second set and the farm scenes were painted en plain air.
Here’s the only casein painting I’ve done recently. It’s also 4″x6″ and on a postcard block of 300 lb. paper by Fluid.
No casein this week, but I’ve painted watercolor en plein air (3.5″x5″):
I’ve also painted in my 9″x12″ journal quite a bit over the past week. This one I did en plein air:
The one on the left was done in a very dimly-lit room while a storm rolled in. I find the colors strange and moody:
This is based on a picture my husband took:
And here are four seasons:
I ordered the color theory six pack of Richeson casein, even though it included orange and violet, two colors I can mix. The other four colors made the price a bargain, since purchasing each tube individually would run nearly double the cost. Those four colors are Shiva phthalo green, ultramarine blue, cad yellow, and rose red.
The wonder of mixing greens! Plus, my all-time favorite color is probably ultramarine blue. So, now I have two blues, yellows, and reds. Those, plus white, black, orange, and violet, will keep me happy for a long time.
Here’s an older journal page with the original James Gurney six pack. You can see how many shades of green I achieved with all variations of yellow ochre, cobalt blue, raw umber, and white.
This is a barn I’ve painted in watercolor twice before. The beautiful, old silo has been removed since the last one.