Moving around is also an art!

Acrylic on canvas, 5″ x 5″
© Xan Blackburn

Welcome to the latest version of my website, complete with integrated blog!  Whoo hoo.  I am so cool.

What?  Huh?  Wordpress isn’t new, and my site isn’t even that cool?

Oh, nice.  Way to pop my bubble, you tech-savvy meany-pants!  😛  Ah well.  I’m happy, anyway.  I still have to go through my vast library of images and give them all proper names and captions (I need an intern!), but hey, what are nights and weekends for, anyway, right?  And check my awesome galleries!  FINALLY!  You should have seen what I had to do before, with my creaky old Kompozer-built galleries!  😛  No, I do not know how to code css!  Yes, I am practically as old as dirt (54, after all!), and my computer is more than two years old.  So, really, pretty decent, considering, eh?  😀

Let’s talk Commissions

Progress of a portrait: Tuck
acrylic on canvas
© Xan Blackburn 2012

I recently sent out a Commission Alert, letting my list members know that I had some openings on my Commission List.

Thanks to the feedback I’ve received, I’ve done a little tweaking on my policies and prices.  That always means I go flying all over the internet seeing what other artists are doing with their prices, comparing my work to theirs (as much as is possible), and getting great ideas from what others have come up with.

Here’s my favorite, which I just this minute added to my website’s Commission page.

A Collector’s Discount!

Yeah, that’s what I said!  Some of you who have already bought portraits from me in the past, I’m talking to you, as well as to anyone who might want to have more than one portrait from me.  Check this out.
If you would like multiple portraits, you will be given a 20% discount after your first.  If you order more than one at a time, you will be given a 20% discount on the entire order.

Since we all like that word “discount”, I thought I’d throw it in here as well:

Additional subjects can be added, human or pet!  The first additional subject is discounted 50%, and each additional subject after that can be added at a 70% discount. 

See what I did there?  With that fun word?

So, I’ll leave you with that thought for the moment.  Don’t forget to sign up for my Commission Alert List, so you know when I have an opening.

Keeping it fresh!

See a difference around here?
I just finished my web re-design.  Tell me what you think!  Go take a look at my website and give me some feedback, okay?

Okay, now I can work on Petey some more!

Reminder!  Make sure you’re ready to bid on the SEVEN ARTIST Pet Portrait Artist Auction starting on April 20th at 9am Pacific time!

Okay, Petey instead!

Jean has decided she’d prefer to have her dog Petey’s portrait done, so the large painting of Niccolo and MaeBella will go back on the shelf.  We’re still negotiating the PERFECT choice for reference, so in the mean time, I’m working on my website, which is due for a major overhaul.

Yeah, it looks okay, but it’s apparently invisible to search engines.  Or, my art is, more to the point.  Not so good!  So, since I’m not a programming whiz, it’s back to my wysiwyg web editor, Kompozer.  After searching for days for a free image gallery that I thought I both liked and could figure out, I gave up, so now I’ll be spending days making individual pages linked to each thumbnail, and to each other, so that I can have what will approximate a slideshow effect.

My new website banner.  Actually, I changed it a little
after this version.  

I had fun designing the new banner, and the background look.  I hope it’s not too busy, but at least that part is easy to change if I decide to later.  Relatively!

How often do you re-vamp your website, or blog, if you have one?  I seem to do it about every year and a half or two years.

Busy Day!

Fluffy, Work in progress. 8″ x 10″ acrylic on panel. ©Xan Blackburn 2011

Fluffy’s portrait is coming along nicely.  As usual, I was a little afraid of messing it up.  Again.  But just pushed on forward.

The background is looking intriguingly like leather, somehow.  I didn’t mean it to, exactly, but I like it.  Fluffy is looking less amorphous, though he does need to stay at least a little amorphous!  Glazing in his soft swirly hair is just the perfect way to control how fuzzy he stays, especially at the edges. 

There’s a lot of raw umber and raw sienna, with a bit of white, worked into that background, as well as glazed into the fur.  The play of the warm and cool tones keeps him from becoming a fuzzy ice-sculpture, and unites him with his background.  The white fur would reflect some of whatever color was around him, besides just letting it show through at the frilly edges.  I’m really enjoying his flyaway twists of fur!

This is how we left him last time you saw him. 

Fluffy, earlier. ©Xan Blackburn 2011

Shows up a bit more now, eh?  I can see finishing this up in the next couple days.  I’m pretty sure his owner will be happy to finally have his portrait!

I’ve been asking for reference photos for my demo portraits, and have received some great ones!  So far, I’ve got a Berger Picard, a Cardigan Welsh Corgi, and a Miniature Aussie.  I just need one more.  I’d love to do a smooth dog, like a Xolo.  But I’m open to anything on the ICKC breed list, at this point. 

You can now sign up to get my Xan’s Art Friends Newsletter, and/or to be on the Commission Alert List by following This Linky.  Some of you are probably already on my list, in which case you’ll still be signed up.  But if you’re not, and want to get the highlights, it’s a good way not to miss the most important stuff (like, sign-ups for Portrait Marathons, upcoming events that might bring me to your area, stuff like that).  I’m trying to get more business-like around here!  The link will stay in my sidebar, up at the top, and in a few places on my website, too.  I have a newsletter all set to go, but I’ll give you a day or two to sign up first.

Another Little NEWS FLASH:
Since I’ve started taking commissions again, I’ve updated my website with the info, including my price list.  So you can start planning your gift list for the year.  😉

That’s been my day!  Does that seem like a lot or a little?  You wouldn’t believe how long it took me to set up my newsletter thingamabob! 

Hand-made blank books

Whew!  Well, it took some jiggering and figgering, but I worked out how to make my cards into truly neat little perfect-bound blank books!

I wanted to expand what I could do with my eco-friendly greeting cards, and expand my line at Stroke of Green.  I brain-stormed for months, and finally hit on these little guys.  But, how to make them books?

I studied up a bit on book-binding possibilities.  I knew I wanted to do it myself.  I explored various sewing options, and other binding possibilities, but they all cut into the images too much, or would mean buying job-specific tools and supplies, which I wanted to avoid, to keep the affordability in line, and the learning curve fairly easy.

Eventually, I wound my way around to perfect binding, which basically means clamping and glueing the books together.  That seems pretty straight-forward, right?  I looked around online to see how to make a binding jig, to clamp the books during glueing, and alerted H that he’d be helping me make this thing, and gave him this sketch.

The idea is to plonk all the pages and one side of the cover in against that right angle in the lower left corner, against two pieces of wood, to align them all nice and square.  Then you tighten the clamp down using the wing nuts (across the top), which leaves just about an eighth of an inch of page edges exposed so you can glue them.

In the end, that looked like this:

As you can see, we used bits of scrap that happened to be within reach in the shop, some Gorilla Glue, bolts and wing-nuts.

Now, of course, it’s not ever as easy as you think, right?

First I had to figure out how to size the books, based on available paper, source and order the paper, cut it and trim the covers, score and fold the covers, figure out how many pages, try various glues to see which one worked ……….

I ended up buying sugar cane paper (a.k.a. bagasse), which is made from a waste product of the sugar industry (sweet!) I ordered just one ream to begin with, and, after messing around unsuccessfully with my rotary paper cutter, I took it all to Kinko’s to use their guillotine cutters.  The helpful guy at the counter informed me he’d do the whole thing with his big machine for $4, so guess what I did?  Yeah.  That was the easiest part of the whole project!

I figured I’d need to trim both the cards and the paper to make 4″x5.5″ booklets, to get the most out of each.  I still had to trim the covers myself.  The rotary cutter worked alright for that.  Besides, each design is different, so I wanted to be able to trim so that the designs didn’t get important stuff cut off.  Then I needed to score the covers, so they’d fold neatly around the pages.  I tried this and that, and ended up making a simple jig on the edge of my cutting mat, like this.  –>>
I taped one trimmed card to the edge (very securely) so I can tuck the card to be scored under it just so,  place a piece of scrap paper over the cover, fold down the taped card, line up my ruler, flap back the taped card, and use a ball point pen to run along the ruler over the scrap paper and the cover.  Sound like a lot of steps?  Well, kind of!  But it keeps things consistent, and the scrap paper keeps the pen from marking up the cover, or tearing it.

Then there was the glue question.  I wanted to use Gorilla Glue, because it’s a little more earth-friendly.  Sadly, it also has the tendency to foam up and dry hard as rock, making bumpy edged, inflexible spines. No good.  Then I read that white glue (like Elmer’s) would work.  Well, not really.  Pages just popped out.  Then I read that contact cement should work, drying quickly and flexibly.  That worked!  My little books came out like “real” books!  Yeay!

It was during the glue experiments that I had to solve the mystery of why some pages wanted to pop out more than others.  I saw that, even machine-cut, all nicely stacked up, clamped page edges were not making a flat surface.  Can you see that in this really bad picture?  (Someday, I’ll figure out how to take decent pictures!)
Some websites talked about sanding the edges of the paper, to make it more receptive to the glue.  I had done that, with varying success, but I decided to sand them down ’til they were all flush.  That took a little elbow grease, but I need the exercise, so that’s alright.  Once they’re all sanded flush, dusted off, and then glued, everything comes together smoothly, and stays that way.

So; trimmed, scored, folded, stacked, clamped, sanded, and ready for glue.  I glob on the contact cement all along the page edges, and onto the spine of the cover.  The first layer, I really massage into the paper edges with the brush, and it pretty much absorbs.  Then I lay another layer on, nice and thick, which stays on the surface.  I let this cure for 15 minutes, then go back and take it carefully out of the jig.  Ever so carefully, I fold the spine down over the glued edges, knowing that if I get it wrong, that’s it, since you can’t un-stick it once it’s down.  Then I burnish the edge with the smooth side of a box cutter (it’s handy, what can I say!), and set it aside for a few hours.

Voila!  Easy as pie!

I’m really enchanted by these little books, I have to say.  And I made them all by myself!  They have a substantial feel, the covers are nice, colorful and smooth, all those blank pages are so inspiring … Yeah.  I now have one by my bed to take down those midnight inspirations or weird dreams, one in the kitchen to jot down cooking experiments that actually worked, or grocery lists, one on my computer desk for the never-ending notes I’m always needing to put somewhere right this second, and one in my purse for those many times I need a bit of paper, either to leave a note or make one for myself (inspiration tends to hit me at odd moments).  I’ve been stuck waiting, for planes or busses or whatever, and wished I’d had a journal to blab to.  Now I’m all set!

You can get your blank books for a tidy $10 at Stroke of Green.  Choose your own cover from my available cards (leave me a message in the order form if you want one I haven’t listed).  They make nice little gifts, too.  Hm!  Mother’s Day is coming soon, isn’t it?

Holy Moley!

Life is change, so they say.  Well then, Xan’s Art is alive and kickin’! 

I’ve spent the last several days, and a good part of the nights, getting my site re-worked.  It needed some freshening up anyway, and I never had gotten around to filling up some of my portfolio pages, but the catalyst for getting it done now was so I could put up a bunch of prints for sale, hopefully to inspire some holiday giving. 

Technology is my frenemy!  😛  I am not code-savvy, my friends.  Nope.  So, I’ve been using Kompozer to design my sites.  I’m sure there’s a lot more it can do than I know how to make it, but all my web design ended up looking clunky, table-y, and static.  Then I tried using the WordPress blog provided on my domain, after searching for and installing a gallery-friendly theme.  I got that almost done, but the images in the gallery page were all cropped weird, and I was not happy with it at all.  My hubby, H, had iWeb on his Mac, which he used to re-do his own site.  I’d watched over his shoulder jealously, as he set up gallery pages with abandon.  That’s what I need, I decided! 

Unfortunately, my Mac is more, shall we say, mature.  His copy of iWeb wouldn’t install on my operating system.  So, first I had to upgrade to Leopard.  I nervously went through all that that implies (would everything on my computer be lost?  Why, oh why, do I not do regular back-ups?  How, oh how, is it that I have this many hundreds of gigs of stuff I do not want to lose??), only to find that it still wasn’t up-to-date enough.

So then I had to download the latest updates.  Have I mentioned we’re a bit out in the boonies?  We have satellite internet here, which is … just passable, but our bandwidth is limited in a 24 hour period, which I rapidly exceeded.  Actually, I did that just by forwarding my couple years of gmail account to my regular email account on the same day.  That means our internet is slowed to a crawl for the next 24 hours. 


So, I gave up until about 11pm, after which we are allowed to do large downloads for a few hours by our ISP.  I got the download of the updates started and went to bed, setting the alarm for 3:30am, so I could keep the download from overflowing into our next day’s bandwidth, if necessary.  My alarm didn’t go off, but the kitties woke me up anyway, so that’s alright.  The download was complete, but needed to be installed, so I got that started, saw it was going to take quite awhile, and went to stare out the window for awhile, kneeling backwards on the couch with my chin on the back, hands and feet tucked in for warmth.

That was actually kind of nice.  The moon had recently set, but had left a bit of glow behind, which picked up a wavey serpent of mist in the meadow by the pond.  It looked a bit like Nessie’s ghost, and I watched as the wind caused it to undulate slowly. 

I checked back, and saw the installation was going to take way too long, so I went back to bed.  A couple hours later, I was able to re-start the computer, and install iWeb, which also took a few hours! 

Finally, I was able to start working on my site.  Only to find that, typical of Mac software, it looks slick, but there’s only so much you’re allowed to get in and mess with the way things look or work.  In other words, I couldn’t make a sales page out of the fancy gallery pages.  I had to jimmy together a separate sales page with a good ol’ fashioned table inserted as an “html snippet”. 

Oh well.  It works.  And, it does look much slicker!  Go take a look and tell me what you think!

I’m going to bed.  It’s now 2:30am.