Category: Tips


Just a few ideas I found on Pinterest for gardening with recycled materials. I always believed I was cack-handed when it came to gardening…my idea of gardening has always been to “Just stick it in the ground and water it”. I’m clueless about perennials vs annuals, and about when to plant what and where. I live in Australia, most books on gardening relate to the Northern Hemisphere, our seasons are just as topsy turvy as our geography and this only adds to the confusion.

But, that said, many of my “Just stick it in the ground and water it” experiments have actually worked. I have had particular success with succulents, and they are my favourites.

I’m also a fan of recycling or repurposing objects. To combine the two, here are some ideas from Pinterest that you might want to try your hand at:

image Greenhouse or wind shelter made out of old drink bottles, plastic sheeting and a metal frame.

image Mini greenhouse made out of old picture frames.

image Bicycle tyre rims as a trellis for plants.

image Cut a drinks bottle in half and upturn the bottom half over a potted seedling, to use as a cloche.

image Stopped eating cakes? Turn an old glass cake stand into a terrarium.

image An old glass teapot adds interest to a terrarium.

image Find a use for CD spindles as a terrarium or mini greenhouse.

image Got an old chair that has lost its seat? Turn it into a pretty planter.

image The red of this old toy truck contrasts beautifully with the greens of the succulents.

image Even an old cake tin can become a lush mini garden.

image Row, row, row your boat. Or not, as the case may be.

image Old boots can still be useful.

image Retired! ;)

image Cut a drinks bottle in half. Fill the bottom half with water. Turn the top half upside down, with the cap off, and put it into the bottom half. Place compost into the top half, add plant. Self-watering planter.

image Got an old chest of drawers that you don’t use anymore? Turn it into this pretty tiered planter.

image Turn a broken vase or pot into a cascading garden.

image An old water cistern or toilet tank can be decorated with mosaic, or painted, and used as a pretty flower trough.

image If you have a transparent, deep umbrella or parasol and some stakes, you could make this greenhouse.

image An open-wire basket can be turned into a pretty mini garden.

image Old tea tins, biscuit tins, etc make pretty planters.

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MOO is an English company specialising in primarily printing business cards, though they also make postcards, “mini” business cards, flyers, stickers, labels etc. The main website is MOO, however there are regional, geographical differences, in terms of currency displays, depending on which country you are in. For example, if you choose Europe, the site will show you MOO’s prices in Euros.

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MOO’s blurb:


MOO makes life a little less virtual.
We help our customers print things like Business Cards, Postcards and MiniCards, making it easy for them to share information about themselves or their business in the real world.

Print is simple and wonderful. We love it.

We’re a new kind of online printing business
MOO was born out of a love of beautiful, high-quality print.

Printing has been around for centuries, and we’re certainly not the first printer on the web. But, whilst many other printers have chosen to use new technologies to simply reduce the costs of printing (and often the quality), we strive to make print not only cost-effective but better than ever before.

We want to set a new standard for print, with remarkable new products that bring great design and uncompromising, high standards to the web. We’re only young, but when we grow up we want to be the best printer on the internet.

We believe in the power of great design
Design is key to everything MOO does.

Design helps us stand out: from the clothes we wear, to the homes we live in, to the business cards we use. Design tells a story about us and what we stand for.

But professional-quality design has traditionally been expensive or out of reach for most people; we want to change this. We’re passionate about helping people of all abilities design the best looking and highest quality print products: products that will help them or their business look great.

Our company vision is simple but ambitious: “great design for everyone”.

More about MOO…
MOO is an award-winning online print business.

Founded in 2006, MOO aims to disrupt the $100 billion global print industry by combining professional design with the accessibility and reach of the web.

MOO prints millions of cards a month and has hundreds of thousands of customers in over 180 countries. MOO has also become a much-loved brand, with a 75% NetPromoter rating.

The company has won 3 Webby awards (the web’s Oscars), has been profiled in the Financial Times, and was ranked in the top 10 UK start-up companies by the Guardian Newspaper. MOO has offices in London, UK as well as Providence and Boston, USA.

MOO has also raised over $5m in venture capital from the Accelerator Group, Index Ventures and Atlas Venture, the investors behind Skype, Betfair, Lovefilm, Last.fm and MySQL.

My post today is about Printfinity. Printfinity is MOO’s word for a very unique service, one I haven’t come across with other printers.

http://eu.moo.com/about/printfinity.html


What is Printfinity?
It’s the word we invented for a technology that’s completely unique to MOO. With Printfinity you can print a different photo or design on every Business Card, Sticker or Postcard in a pack. It’s a real conversation starter that means you can carry your portfolio in your pocket, show off your favourite products and help people remember your business.

As an artist, I just love the whole idea of Printfinity. For example, instead of printing 10 designs of 100 cards each, and then separating and sorting them into 100 packs of 10 designs, MOO’s Printfinity technology lets me upload my 10 designs onto their template, and then I simply have to specify whether I want 50 or 100 cards. If 50 cards, I will receive 5 of each of the 10 designs. If 100, I will receive 10 of each of the 10 designs. So I end up with just 1 pack of 100 cards, rather than 10 packs of 100 cards. Do the maths.

I have used MOO’s services a few times, primarily to get business cards made up using Printfinity. I recently ran another batch of 100 cards, using 25 different designs. I got an email from MOO offering me 50% off my next purchase, so I decided to use the same designs and have 100 “mini” cards made up as well. “Mini” cards are, half the size of business cards – 2 of them, placed side by side, make up the size of a normal business card.

Printfinity is a great way of seeing how my art looks on a product, plus I have something to show or give away to customers or potential customers too, like a pocket portfolio. I might get some flyers made up next…

MOO offers a range of different papers and finishes for their products, from a basic, everyday range to a high-end “luxe” range. This suits every budget.

The templates provided by MOO are really easy to use. For text, you get a good choice of fonts and font sizes. Simply write your text, then flip the template over to upload your images.

Delivery costs depend on the country you live in. I ordered mine and received them within 10 days, pretty good for UK to Australia these days. Each set of cards comes in its own robust cardboard box, a nice classy touch, great for presentations.

So, if you’re looking for something different, with a good range of paper options and pricing, ease of use, user-friendly templates, easy repeat ordering, a great customer service and delivery, innovative packaging, then MOO’s the one for you.

Below are examples from Google images of what others have used MOO for:

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I used to have a Basil plant, and high aspirations of making my own pesto sauce for pasta. Sadly, I only ever used a few leaves here and there when making spaghetti meatballs (the kid’s favourite dish). So Basil my Basil (yes, really) sat on my kitchen windowsill and just grew and grew. Eventually he reached the top of the window, had flowers which bloomed and died, and leaves which dried and were shed willy nilly all over my kitchen sink.

One day I brutally trimmed Basil down to nothing but 2 shoots. I threw these shoots into a bowl of water and hoped for the best. Luckily, one of the shoots took root. I then decided to re-pot my next generation Basil.

On one of my thrift shop expeditions I’d bought a large Spanish/Portuguese-inspired square bowl for the princely sum of $5.25. I decided this would make a suitable container for Basil my basil.

But when I showed Basil his new home, he looked at me sadly and said, “I’m going to be lonely here all by myself”…so what’s a girl to do but go to her local garden centre to look for some suitable playmates for her lonely basil plant.

I bought a pack of Italian herbs, namely Parsley, Basil and Oregano. (More aspirations of making beautiful Italian dishes SIGH). Now we were ready to begin.

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I’d no intention of making holes in the bottom of my Hispanic bowl, so instead I decided to treat my herb planting like I would a terrarium. Firstly, I filled the bottom of the bowl with some large pebbles. Then with aquarium gravel. Then I put in some aquarium carbon. These would provide the neccessary aeration/filtration for my new herb garden.

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Then, I put in a mixture of general compost, wetting agent, sand and fertiliser.

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Here are the herbs I bought:

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I removed the little plants from their tray, and transplanted them to my prepared Hispanic bowl. I stuck in a rooted Rosemary sprig as well, to add variety.

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Ok, looking good. I spritzed the whole thing well and tamped down the soil around the plants. Then I decided to look through my bag of little toy creatures that I keep meaning to make something with…and decided it was time I released my polar bears into the wild.

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It might not be the North Pole. It might not even be cold. But my 3 transplanted Polar Bears look happy enough. As does Basil, surrounded by his new friends.

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For those of you interested in designing and printing wallpapers, or indeed any kind of surface design, Pattern Observer is an invaluable resource. I cannot praise it highly enough. It offers an insight into the burgeoning surface pattern design industry, you can subscribe to their regular email updates (I do), join their Textile Design Lab to enter into discussion with fellow likeminded artists, keep up to date with the latest news and trends in the industry. There are even e-courses you can sign up for to improve and hone your designing skills, learn new techniques and improve your own sales and marketing.

If you are the least bit serious about becoming a surface pattern designer, or even if you just want to investigate the ins and outs of surface design before you decide, you simply MUST join or follow Pattern Observer.

I love the layout of the blog, which can be used as a launchpad to visit other areas of the Pattern Observer microcosmos, all neatly organised and categorised for your benefit. Use the drop down menu there and you’ll see what I mean.

Pattern Observer can also be found on Facebook. So you can keep abreast of the latest news without even having to leave your favourite social media platform.

One of the many highlights of following Pattern Observer is that each week a different artist is showcased, providing insight into their processes, techniques, business practice, etc. Very useful and inspiring for aspiring designers.

Here I’m simply posting the links to bring together Parts 1 and 2 of Pattern Observer’s primers on wallpaper printing techniques through the ages. A potted history, if you will, for your enjoyment.

http://patternobserver.com/2014/05/05/wallpaper-printing-methods-part/

http://patternobserver.com/2014/06/02/wallpaper-printing-methods-part-ii/

For those wanting to take the guesswork out of designing pattern repeats, check out Pattern Observer’s 5 week self-study e-course, The Ultimate Guide to Repeats. Be aware though, this course assumes some prior knowledge of, and experience with, Adobe Illustrator and Photoshop.

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(Photo taken from the blog’s “About” page shows Pattern Observer founder Michelle Fifis and her family.)

Posted from WordPress for Android.

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Feeling creative or artistic but can’t draw to save your life? Join the club! Fear not, though. Here is an App that will entertain as well as educate you at the same time.

It’s called Kinetica. Put simply, it’s an app that plays with shapes and elements of different artists’ techniques and produces random configurations of it that can be saved and used on your mobile device as backgrounds, to create your own arty cards, share with friends etc.

The 12 different styles highlighted by Kinetica are:

(Shapes)
Circles
Spirals
Florals
Glyphs
Science
Palettes
Bulbs
Triangles

(Artists)
Mondrian
Miro
Kandinsky
Calder

Here’s the educational part. While exploring each individual artist’s style, (see above), tapping on the “i” button on the bottom right corner of the page brings you to the Wikipedia page dedicated to that particular artist.

The App developer, Alex Lamb, says this of Kinetica: (screenshot taken from within the App itself)

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Using Kinetica is really easy and intuitive. Across the top and bottom of the page are icons that control various aspects, such as background colour, dots that can be used to rearrange your configuration, a randomization button, a freeze/unfreeze frame icon, a button to change from one style or colourpath to another, a > button to Play or put your configuration in motion.

Here are a few screenshots to show you what playing with Kinetica can result in:

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Now go have fun!

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Alas, alack! Now that I am on Android KitKat 4.4.2 (ominous drum roll, please), 2 of my must-have Apps for “harmonious blending”, namely Blend Collage and Photo Tangler, have stopped saving my work, rendering themselves essentially useless. I have contacted both App developers, and to date have not gotten any acknowledgement or response. So, all day yesterday and today I have been searching on Android’s Google Play Store for alternatives.

One after another, I discarded all potential replacement Apps for my beloved, newly departed Blend Collage and Photo Tangler. What I wanted was an App with that feathered edges look, so I could collage different backgrounds together seamlessly without any hard edges.

I do have a back-up, thankfully. My Samsung Note 10.1 2014 edition has not been updated to KitKat 4.4.2, so both Blend Collage and Photo Tangler still work on it. Problem is, I don’t tend to carry the Note around with me, and all my photos are on my S4. I have transferred the bulk of my background images over to the Note now, so, if I have no other alternative, I will process my background collages on the Note, then transfer them back to the S4 for further processing. Pain in the proverbial, though!

As I tried and discarded App after App today, something at the back of my mind niggled me. At the last hour, literally, just before midnight last night, I decided to test out my theory…

…which was to utilise an App that I’ve only ever used for one thing – cutting out images. I figured if that App could cut out images for me, it MUST have a collage function somewhere to paste all those cutouts.

Yes!!! My hunch was correct. Face palm I have been so silly to have ignored that little niggling voice in my head all day…The App is my beloved AThumb Cut. And it gives me the all-important feathering of the edges. Hurrah!

Some screenshots to show you the pathway on AThumb Cut. And just so I remember the steps myself. Remember: the key is the Jigsaw icon.

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With AThumb Cut’s “Jigsaw” collage function, I am able to manipulate each component image individually. I am not limited as to how many images I want to cobble together. I can resize, twist or distort up to a complete 360° rotation, freeze/unfreeze in place, I can tweak the opacity or transparency of each individual component image, and most importantly, use the “Edge Transparency” and “Edge Colour” sliders to create the feathering of the edges.

Here are a few more “collaged backgrounds” I’ve created:

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So, who’s a happy bunny again? I shook my fist at the sky and yelled “I’ll never give up!”…and my efforts were rewarded.

This famous Anonymous poem sums it up perfectly:

Everyone of us sometimes learns,
And many a failure turns about
When they might have won, had they stuck it out.
Don’t give up though the pace seems slow,
You may succeed with another blow.

Often the goal is nearer than,
It seems to a faint and faltering man,
Often the struggler has given up
When he might have captured the victor’s cup;
And he learned too late when the night came down,
How close he was to the golden crown.

Success is failure turned inside out
The silver tint of the clouds of doubt
And you never can tell how close you are,
It may be near when it seems so far;
So stick to the fight when you’re hardest hit,
It’s when things seem worst that you must not quit!

Posted from WordPress for Android.

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…continuing from yesterday’s new trick learnt, I went exploring further. I knew I wanted an App that does blending of images, collage-style, but with a “harmonious” feel. By this I mean the feathering and softening of edges where the blended images meet, rather than solid, straight grid lines between images. Now, I know some of you already collage your holiday/wedding/birthday etc snapshots likewise, and this is old news…but it’s new to this old dog, so bear with me ;-).

My Samsung Galaxy S4’s native camera’s in-roll editor gives me a rudimentary “harmonious” collage, as you would have read in my previous post. And that was what started me on my quest. Now I needed to find an App that satisfied the following criteria:

1. The ability to blend as many images as I want, at the same time, without having to save and reload.

2. The ability to move, rotate and resize images on the screen easily.

3. The ability to sort the layers of photos, to bring one above or below another.

4. The ability to add backgrounds or textures to the overall image, as a unifying factor.

5. The ability to change the ratio of the resulting collaged image, i.e 1:1 for square format, to vertical or horizontal rectangles, etc.

I know. Tall order, right? It would be an additional Plus if I could find an App that does all the above And More.

Guess what? I did! It’s on the Google Play Store, and it’s called “Blend Collage“. There’s a Free and a Paid version, I tested out the free version first and was impressed enough to purchase the full version, I believe it cost me AU$2.25. The full version lets you save at maximum resolution. The free version would be fine if you’re just doing collages for fun or for your own photo albums, but for my purposes, I need my images to be at the highest resolutions possible.

Screenshots showing the in-app how-to tutorial (self-explanatory, really):

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I had a good play with the App and found it intuitive to use, with no indecipherable icons. There is no Undo button as such. However, until you actually click on the “Save” button, you may go back to each individual image in your collage and change their position, size, orientation, amount of blurring or feathering, even delete images or add new ones.

Blend Collage certainly ticks all the boxes outlined above, and then some. The bonuses I found were that you can add Text and Clipart from within the App itself, without having to export your work into another App. There’s also the choice of numerous backgrounds and textures to add to your work, without having to go outside the App. It’s quite a comprehensive App and I’m glad I found it.

The masking lasso (the icon labelled “Mask”) is particularly useful, as it can be used to mask each image individually. You can adjust the amount of blurring around the edges of each image to your heart’s content; as long as you haven’t clicked on “Save”, you will be able to go back and tweak the effects. To toggle between one function or filter and another, just click on the button at the top left corner. It functions somewhat like a Back button.

Also, in the Settings (cogwheel icon at the top right corner), my S4 had images saving at 9/10 quality, presumably to save on storage space. You can easily set this to save at 10/10 i.e 100%. This may well make saving your work take a tad longer, but it will be worth it if high resolutions are a must, like they are for my own work.

I’m still playing with Blend Collage, figuring out how I’m going to incorporate it with my projects. But so far, it’s exceeded my expectations. Here is a collage I threw together the first time I tried the App out. As you can tell, it’s only a rough estimate. I haven’t found the ideal amount of blurring/feathering/fogging around the edges of my mask yet, but that will come with practice, I’m sure.

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And here is another example, only this time I’ve not done any blurring of the edges, but instead have chosen to play around with the layers of butterflies and I also added a background taken from within the App itself. The butterflies came out blurry, I enlarged them too much…however, I like how easy it is to simply lay one image over another and alter the order of the layers. Hmmm…I think this is worth exploring further.

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Here are some more images which I have run through other Apps after forming the initial collage in Blend Collage.

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And these two, where I think I’m finally getting the hang of the blurring-of-the-edges look.

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UPDATE 3rd June 2014:
Sad to report that, after updating my Samsung Galaxy S4 to Android 4.4.2 KitKat, Blend Collage can no longer save my work. At all. I have written to the developers but it’s been a week now and I’ve had no response. If your Android device is not yet on 4.4.2, you will probably still be able to use this App.

Posted from WordPress for Android.

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For a while now, I have been searching for the perfect gloss varnish to seal and protect my artwork. My regular readers will remember my preferred printing method, that of printing onto tissue paper or baking parchment, then adhering that to my substrate, which could be a boxed canvas or cradled wooden panel.

Two-part Resin failed to hit the targets for me. I could never get the surface completely free of bubbles. It was also a messy affair and I always ended up mixing too much or too little of it. And it was over $20 for very little. So that was the Resin idea out the door.

I turned to varnishes instead. I first tried Art shop gloss varnish in liquid form. I wasn’t happy with the results as my efforts did not turn out glossy or smooth enough. The ones applied with a brush showed up brush strokes, the ones applied with a sponge applicator had traces of bubbles.

Art shop gloss varnish spray was my next try. It was better, but somehow did not have the high glossiness I wanted. I was going for an almost lacquered look. All I was getting was an almost matte look when applied on canvas, no matter how many layers I’d applied.

On a visit to our local hardware store, I picked up a furniture-grade high gloss spray varnish. Now this DID work, but it was rather expensive, a small can of it cost as much as a large can of Art shop gloss varnish spray. It also smelled very strong, and took hours to dry in between applications.

And then I decided to think outside the box. I popped into an auto accessories shop. And I found the Perfect Acrylic Gloss Varnish Spray. At last!

It does the job marvellously, it’s water-based so it dries quickly, it gives the final product an even, glossy sheen, and it’s cheaper than the Art shop varnishes or the one from the hardware shop. I like how it feels under my fingers, it’s not quite lacquer or mirror glossy, but I figure if I were to give it 4-5 coats, followed by a light sanding, then a couple more coats, that would do the trick. But right now I’m happy enough with the even sheen I get from just 2 coats of it, with a drying time of about 4 hours in-between. It’s also UV resistant, which means it will not only seal my artwork but also protect it from fading, for many years to come.

And…here it is, the unlikely Hero of the Day!
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So there I was standing in the Salvo’s thrift shop in Subiaco not 2 weeks ago, going through the shelves of books and bric-a-brac. My eyes passed over a stack of old dressmaking patterns lying in a basket on one of the shelves, but my hands stopped. A ludicrous idea popped unannounced into my head. I’m rather prone to these flights of fancy, but this particular one was exemplary.

I opened up one of the printed envelopes containing patterns for a dress. I expected cut pieces to fall out, but instead the pattern was completely intact. Which meant it had never been used. Hooray for me!

Wait, no, I’m not about to dive into dressmaking. I could never make out what was what, and besides, I have a love-hate relationship with my sewing machine. I keep it locked up in the shed. It is so well hidden I can’t remember where I put it.

No, the ludicrous idea that popped into my head then asked these questions:

1) would dressmaking paper take inkjet printing well? It is after all made of tissue paper.
2) would the tissue be strong enough to take the weight of inkjet inks?
3) The pattern designs could make for interesting mixed media art when combined with my own photographic manipulations. Or would they look too weird?
4) would the yellow tint on the aging paper detract from my images?
5) how many A4 and A3 pieces could I possibly cut from one packet of patterns?

Having asked myself these questions, and having filed them away in my internal “Find Out” list, I proceeded to sift through the dressmaking packets. I struck gold with a couple that contained 3 or even 4 folded up designs inside the one envelope. All in all, I bought 5 packets at $1.99 each.

Back home, I spent a few minutes trying to figure out the best way to cut the tissue paper to size. I could use an A4 piece of cardboard as a template and cut around it, or I could fold the paper into roughly A4 shapes and cut along the folds. The former was going to be time-consuming. The latter appealed more to me, as it had elements of surprise and randomness in it. I love random.

imageOne of the cut tissue paper sheets.

imageI taped the cut tissue paper to my A4 canvas carrier sheet. There was quite a lot of overhang, so I taped that down at the back. After printing, I will simply slide a blade along the sides to free the paper from the carrier sheet. (The marks and splodges you see are only on the carrier sheet, from many passes through my printers, which sometimes misbehave and streak, and the wiggly lines down the middle are from the repositionable gluestick I use to tack the tissue paper to the carrier sheet. Incidentally, I use both sides of the carrier sheet interchangeably).

imageOne of the printed sheets and a gessoed wooden cradled board ready to receive it. I will use a combination of gesso and acrylic gel medium to adhere the tissue to the board. (I used to use Mod Podge but it worked out too expensive).

imageHere are 5 that I printed earlier. I sprayed them with workable fixative to prevent the inks from straying off the paper.

imageI had 3 gessoed boards prepared already, so I chose 3 of the printed images to adhere to the boards.

☆★☆★☆★☆★☆★☆★☆★☆★☆

The following show the digital images followed by their mixed media results on board:

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And, to answer my questions above:
1. Yes, dressmaking pattern tissue paper takes inkjet printing exceptionally well.
2. Yes, the tissue is thin yet robust enough to handle the weight of inks.
3. I love the randomness of the results, the text and diagrams on the tissue paper add heaps of appeal to the mixed media look.
4. The yellowness of the tissue paper is hardly noticeable, apart from imparting a vintage tint to the overall look. I shall compensate by adjusting my processed images to contain brighter colours.
5. I got 16 approximately A4 sized sheets from 1 packet of dressmaking patterns.

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Mariposa is Spanish for Butterfly. Azul is Spanish for Blue. I was on Pinterest the day I created this, gathering images of the Principality of Asturias in Spain where I’d lived from 2005-2007, and I guess my mind must have still been on Spain. I hope some day to be able to go back to visit my beloved Asturias, with her fabulous mountain scenery, historical architecture, culture, music, gaita bagpipes, fabada, cheeses and apple cider, and the friendliest people I’ve ever met. Maybe someday I’ll camp again at that campsite opposite the private zoo in my adopted hometown of Cangas de Onis, just so I can hear the dawn and dusk chorus of the wolves there. Or visit the beautiful basilica of Covadonga, which is postcard perfect and the birthplace of the Spanish Reconquista.

I must write about my Adventures in Asturias soon, but for now here is my workflow describing how I created MARIPOSA AZUL.

I used these 2 photos of scrapbooking papers the basis for the image. Notice that the 1st image contains part of a map with the words “Spanish” on it.

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I used the App “Smoothie” to increase the brightness, saturation, sharpness and contrast of both images. I also changed the hues of both images, and rotated the 2nd image.

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Next, I used the App “PicsArt” to blend the two images together.
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I then added the blue butterfly wing. (I’d just prepared over 150 new butterfly clipart using photos of taxidermy butterflies from the natural history section of the Museum of Western Australia in Perth). After adding the butterfly, I tweaked the brightness, contrast and saturation of the image some more.

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Using the App “Repix”, I obliterated the entire image using the Drips, Daubs, Chalk, Hollywood, Vintage and Freshen brushes. And then excavated and revealed it back again using the Undoer brush. I deliberately left some drip marks behind, to impart a painterly feel.
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I processed the image once more using “Smoothie” to add saturation, bringing out the blues of the butterfly wing more. And here we have it: MARIPOSA AZUL. My tribute to Asturias.

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