Surface Prep Demo — R.U.S.H


Carol Hall ~ 484-228-1232 ~

While I don’t have any rules about making art, I have collected some indispensable knowledge to share.

Surface Prep – Remember not to “RUSH” your Surface Prep, for the best outcome:

R – Raise the grain if you plan to embellish your work with paint. By wetting the entire piece and then completing your final sanding, you will minimize getting a fuzzy surface.
U – Use Wet Water.
S – Shellac the piece with a 1 lb cut of flake shellac, which doesn’t have wax in it like many premixes. After it dries, thoroughly de-gloss the piece with acetone on a paper towel, so that the grain is sealed but the top surface is receptive to the paint.
H – Heat Lamps will ramp up you wait time between coats.

Inspiration – Pinterest can be a great springboard for your ideas and can provide the details needed to make your images pop. By Googling “Clip Art” (followed by your choice of topic) you can see copyright free art with many artistic interpretations on any subject. That way you can easily decide what details you do and don’t want to include. Zentangle books are also a great source of inspiration. Journaling your narratives in a sketchbook, on a tablet, or a phone is a great way to curate your ideas. Repeating those ideas across several pieces isn’t copying or redundant, it is rendering a body of work.

Image Transfer Tips – It’s tricky to transfer an image you have drawn on a flat piece of paper to a 3-D form. Crumpling the paper up to break down the fibers (until it gets a softened, sueded feel) will allow it to arc across a dimensional surface. You can then attach it with tape or Zots (adhesive dots found in the scrapbooking section of your local art store). Re-draw the lines with carbon paper, or transfer using Xylene. For a Xylene Transfer, make a reversed copy of your art on a toner copier. With the toner side of the paper toward your wood, lightly brush on a thin coating of Xylene, and rub with a hard surface (like a credit card). Peel back the paper and let dry. Tada!

Wrap Your Bottom – Composition is how your eye moves across a piece. It is your job to engage people as long as possible. I like to wrap my narratives around the piece, guiding the viewer to flip it over, with a surprise to be discovered on the other side. The more you immerse your audience in your imagery, the more they will interact with your work.

Pyrography is Addictive! – Think about it…it’s a fire pen! I have burned out several units with my enthusiasm. Buying the best and strongest unit possible makes all the difference. I use a Burnmaster Hawk set up, because you can literally turn it up to 11 by using the secret Allen wrench hole that gives you even more power. Recovery time on this pen is super fast, which accounts for the smooth, consistent burning it produces. The pen also allows you to make your own tips out of nichrome wire (available on Amazon – I recommend 18, 20 and 22 guage). That’s when your window of possibilities. is a great source for Swanstrom Pliers and Xyron Cutters. Euro Tool makes the best Mandrel Pliers. Keep a wire brush handy so you can scrape the ash off your tips, which makes them better at burning and gives them longer lives. Making flowing lines takes practice. Keep in mind that interrupting your burn stroke will impart a dot-dash look. Going across grain, spanning several densities, requires finesse. Burning with the grain usually has a more even glide. Burn over paper, to create a buffer zone that evens out the glide of your pen over these transitions

Paint – You will see a huge difference in your work using the correct paint. I like to work wet on wood, because I can’t stand a plasticy looking surface. Golden Fluid or Liquitex Soft Body Acrylic Paints are wonderful because they immediately emulsify when thinned down, but retain strong pigment density. Another great option is to use Com-Art Colours by Medea (intensely pigmented airbrush paints) with an airbrush, paint brush or Molotow Refillable Markers. They have a lot more binder than watered down acrylics. You can always bump up your binder for greater adhesion by mixing in a drop of Minwax Polycrylic into your blend.

Brushes – Most of the time I use a 1/2″ square brushes. Turn it on it’s side and it’s a 1/4″ brush – it’s a twofer! When I paint large, I use a nylon Purdy 2″ Angled Sash Brush. Same deal, only bigger. You can bust out those tiny three hair brushes to tickle in a tiny bit of color sometimes, but mostly it’s finesse and practice with those few brushes. Get white nylon….always white nylon. My friends and I laugh over people buying expensive brushes – we all use the cheap ones sold in the hobby aisle (not the art section). I remember saving to buy a $50 red sable brush once. I was so scared I was going to ruin it that it made me paint worse. When brushes get ratty, they are great for creating scumbled & stippled surfaces, so enjoy them for the whole curve of their lifespan. There’s a metaphor in there somewhere…

“Wet Water” – Because I work very wet, there are always spray bottles on hand and a heat lamp to set the color quickly. Some spray bottles have tap water, others have alcohol (because the paint will run from it, not to it). But the most useful one is filled with “Wet Water”. This is 100 parts tap water mixed with 1 part Dawn Dish Soap. The soap breaks the surface tension of the water, allowing your paint to have exponentially more flow. You can also add 1 part PVA (white glue) for a bit more stick. Wet water is a game changer if you want soft edges and filmy color changes. You can also purchase pre-made Wet Water (Liquitex Flow Aid or Edwards Condition Air), but we are makers, and this is about a penny worth of material.

Clean H2O = Pure Color – It’s never too soon to change out the water you use to clean your brushes. Keep in mind that if it is dirty, it’s going to impart that color to your paint.

Color Means Something – Everyone has “Go To” colors – a personal palette of colors that pleases and has meaning to them. It is important to understand that certain colors emote feelings for people. For instance, it is difficult to combine red and green on a piece and not have people think “Christmas”. But that is the job of an artist. For me, Prussian Blue is the color of air. I have learned that by glazing this color over a surface it will make that area recede. Red is powerful and screams for the viewer to pay attention. I make my blacks richer by combining opposite colors (Alizarin Crimson and Terra Vert make the most dense, alive black) instead of relying on manufactured blacks that are flatter and can make everything appear more muddy. Bear in mind, your colors have a vocabulary.

Commit to the Mistake – I have painted with people who just couldn’t bring themselves to boldly lay down a color. Better to commit and be wrong than never to have tried. If you are really stymied, paint your piece upside down. This will point out composition problems very swiftly and help you create a balanced finish product. Spinning your angle of attack (left, right or upside down) or looking at your work in the mirror will also help you discover issues. You may notice that because you use a dominant hand that all your work has a slant to it. I fixed this by learning to use both hands when I work. I had a wise teacher point out that my right hand did all it’s moves on autopilot, with a full bag of tricks already in place – so he made me paint left handed. Then I really had to consider my choices. That’s the best advice I ever got. Now I can swap hands when I get tired or to better reach a tricky area.

Un Painting – When your paint goes astray, un-paint it before it dries. Lift the paint with a barely damp, clean brush and wipe the paint off on a paper towel. Rinse, wipe excess water off on a paper towel, repeat. Un-painting allows you to control your edges.

Paint & Release – Most Saturdays I paint with my friend Mike. Initially, he came over for several weeks in a row with the same bowl. He isn’t a slow painter, nor does he lack commitment. What he does do is practice what he calls “Paint & Release”. When he isn’t happy with his work, he goes home and sands it off so he can try again. No stress or castigating – just another go at it. I think that’s much better than nagging a piece into submission.

Paint “Not Your Image” – Many artists spend so much time massaging & rendering the main object in their design and they never even consider the area around it. Painting your surroundings can liberate and add huge depth to your work. I am often reminded that some of my most successful paint moments are not those used for my main topic. Sometimes, painting the area around your subject can define it’s edges better than focusing on delineating it directly.

Colored Pencils – Using a pencil can be more natural than using a brush,. Because we have all been writing our whole lives, it is a familiar tool. There are 3 kinds of Colored Pencils on the market – Polycore, Watercolor, & Inktense. Polycore are oil & wax based and are soluble with solvents, like Mineral Spirits. Watercolor are water soluble. Both of these need to be tacked down with layers of fixative to avoid smearing before applying mutiple layers or your final finish. Hairspray (Aquanet) is the same as expensive Artist Fixative, and when sprayed on in thin coats will keep your pencils from smudging. They can get “Wax Bloom” if too many layers are applied, resulting in white, cloudy colors. Inktense Pencils (by Derwent) are water soluble ink pencils. Once wet and dried, each layer is sealed and will not move. Multiple layers can be applied over top of each other. Because of this, I am only using Inktense pencils now.

Flaws are Design Opportunities – When I first started collaborating, I got mostly cast-off pieces that had flaws. Cracks, blemishes and other problems can become your chance to really push the envelope. Stitch them, fill them with an unexpected material, or practice Kintsugi and bring attention to them. A flaw can be the defining quality that makes your piece dazzling.

Make Art Like It’s Your Job – It can be a part time job, but the biggest stumbling block for many is just taking the time to be in your studio (or workspace of any sort). Be present. Schedule your time to create, then show up.

Marketing, You Idiot – This was a phrase that my father said to me again & again. If you do not spend time regularly marketing your art, how is anyone to know what you are doing, or better yet, how to purchase your work. Everyday you can make little advancements in this by posting on social media (Pinterest, FB, Instagram, WOW, AAW Forum), calling galleries, looking into shows, taking photos, and submitting articles and images to journals. Marketing is like a shark. If you are not moving, you are drowning.

Support Other Living Artists – The satisfaction of purchasing art is real & rare. People will feel that when they buy your work. You should enjoy that feeling too, by filling your life with art that moves you. You will not regret the art you buy, only the art you think about the rest of your life, but don’t get to see anymore.

Create, Destroy, Create – Not everything you make is a wonder. There is joy in releasing it into a bonfire. Thank it for teaching you new skills (the most important being: It is not worth keeping this one) and set it ablaze. Or let another artist cut it in half and paint it purple. Sometimes pushing things to their limits will give you new vision. Permission to fail will set you free!