Moleskine Techniques from Hollis Brown Thornton

April 22, 2008

March 24, 2008

Artist  Hollis Brown Thornton has kindly shared the techniques used in those  stunning artworks:

My Moleskine drawings are pages I take out of the 5 x 8 inch sketchbooks, which makes pages 8 1/4 x 10 1/4 inches. I simply cut the threads that hold the grouped pages in the book and gently pull them out.  Every third group of pages is glued, so I don’t use them.  I began doing this basically as a way to frame and show this paper work.  I couldn’t find a paper with a similar smoothness and yellow tone.

I currently do two types of drawings on this Moleskine paper.  The first is a standard ink/graphite combination. Sometimes I print onto the paper with an ink jet printer by taping the paper to computer paper and sending it through the printer.  The graphite is 0.5mm BIC mechanical pencils and the permanent markers are a combination of Sharpie, Prismacolor, and Copic.  One trick I use with the ink is to draw on the back of the page, allowing the ink to bleed through.  This often creates a more atmospheric/hazy
effect.  Copic works best for this effect.

The other type of drawing is a transfer process.  The first step is creating the image on the computer, in Photoshop.  I scan family photos (CanoScan LiDE 80) as well as various other doodle/scribble drawings.  I combine these drawings and photographs in Photoshop.  I use the wand and erase tools in Photoshop to make other erasure manipulations to the image.

Once that image is created, I burn the image to a disk and take it to a photocopy store (a Kinko’s or Staples).  They create the photocopies and I then transfer the image.  What follows is a step by step of the transfer process:

1.  Begin with either a black & white or color photocopy, on plain paper. (Laser prints will also work.  Ink jet
prints, however, will not work, you will loose about 80% of the color intensity, resulting in a very faint image.)

2.  Staple the photocopy, print surface up, to a flat surface.  This prevents the paper from wrinkling from the
expanding and shrinking process the paper goes through while wet and drying.  Just put one staple in each corner, about 1/4 inch from the edge.

3.  Paint 2 or 3 layers of acrylic medium onto the print surface of the photocopy (you may also use gesso to transfer, and it works perfectly fine, but you receive a fainter image, and the darks are not as dark as they are with the acrylic medium transfer).  Allow each layer to completely dry before applying the next.   Speed up the drying process by using a fan.

4.  Now, you are about to attach your image to your transfer surface.  I recommend using either wood or canvas your first several attempts.  This process can be done on paper, but it’s very delicate.  If canvas, either attach the canvas to a wall (unstretched) or build a plywood surface the size of your actual stretcher.  You need a resistant surface once you remove the paper after the next few steps.

5.  Once the layers are dry, apply a thin layer of water with a spray bottle or a brush.  You don’t want the image soaked, just damp.  This step allows the paper to expand. Let is stay damp for 2 or 3 minutes.  Apply a layer of the acrylic medium to the surface you are transferring to and then place your image, face down (face down is with image that you have painted down onto the surface, into the wet paint, with the unpainted side of the paper facing up).

6. Place the center of the image down first and work the air bubbles out to the edge.  Be gentle, you can either tear or distort the paper pushing the air bubbles out, especially if the paper is wet or if there is humidity. For large transfers, I use a screen-print squeegee.  You can also remove air bubbles by taking an x-acto knife, cutting a small 1/8 or 1/16 inch slit in the middle of the air bubble, and pushing the air out the small hole.

7.  Let the paint completely dry.  The transfer will dry fastest in hot, dry environments and slowest in cold or
humid environments.  You will be able to feel moisture on the back of the photocopy paper, as well as feel the softness of the drying paint when the transfer is still wet.  12 – 24 hours is a safe dry time.  Be sure to use a fan while drying the transfer.  This keeps the paper from wrinkling during the drying (the wrinkled paper is a great effect, so you may also want to take advantage of it…. if this is the case, do not wet the paper before you transfer, the wrinkles are caused by the paper expanding when wet, as well as moisture sitting on the surface of the paper while drying).

8.  Once the transfer is dry, take a spray water bottle and wet the paper.  Take any type of stiff-bristle brush.  I use a plastic brush made by a company Quickie, which they sell at any grocery store.  It is about 4 inches long, has a handle, and 2-3 inch plastic bristles.

9.  Scrub the wet paper.  This is why you need a resistant surface.  You simply can’t do this on a stretched canvas, unless it has a lot of paint.  You begin by scrubbing as hard as you can and, as you remove the layers, begin scrubbing more delicately.  I typically scrub a layer, wipe off the excess with my hand, rewet, scrub again, wipe off, rewet, take an old t-shirt and get the small particles left behind.  Then I will just barely rewet and use my fingers to get any tiny bits of paper left behind.  You want to remove all of the paper.  On a small 10 x 10 inch transfer on canvas, it typically takes about 10 minutes to remove all of the paper.

10.  You should now have a complete transfer of your original image to the new surface.  The acrylic medium you used for the transfer creates a stronger bond than that of the binder that holds the pigment to the original piece of paper. Sometimes, during the scrubbing process, areas of the photocopy will rub off.  This can be caused by large air bubbles drying under the surface of the photocopy, not allowing the acrylic medium or gesso to dry to the transfer surface.  You can save these areas from rubbing off by being very delicate.  The initial layers of acrylic medium or gesso act to prevent this.  Try a few transfers without the initial layers and you will understand.  You can also scrub the pigment off by scrubbing too hard.  Another problem comes from textured surfaces, where a certain area of the transfer is more worn in the paper removal process.  Once you do a few transfers, you will be able to predict problem areas.  Almost always, it is a matter of being very careful while removing the paper and knowing how to recognize the problem areas.

View Hollis Brown Thornton’s FLICKR photostream

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