From managing a creative roadblock

Two Fish: learn from mistakes

Two Shiny Fish
Two Shiny Fish


How was it made?

I made this image my Facebook profile picture, and (thank you) got lots of “likes” and some queries about how it was made.

STEP 1. I started with one of the 8″ rounds from the pile that has aged like fine wine under my staircase for 17 years. I used gesso to attach a piece of round watercolor paper, penciled in the tiny box design, painted it with my double zero brush.

STEP 2: I then covered it with an acrylic medium to make it shiny.

Gasp. Screams. Pain.

It dried and I learned a very hard lesson. Just plain watercolor will melt and blur if you fail to apply a protective coating before splodging on layers of acrylic medium.

Starting over.

STEP 1. I did it again. I gesso’d another piece of paper onto the round and made the painting again. When it was finished, I applied layer after layer of fancy French fixative before laying on the acrylic medium to make it shiny. I was going for REALLY shiny.

STEP 2.  After carefully layering the acrylic medium, I kept my own fingers and Max The Cat’s paws away from the piece while it dried.

STEP 3.  Not enough fixative. No “gasp-screams-pain,” just a grim determination to make something of this exercise.

STEP 4:  Calling on my heretofore unknown Inner-Princess, I turned to glitter — specifically Golden Brand Pearl Mica Flake — which covered the blurred spots.

STEP 5:  Glitter wasn’t enough. I consulted with one of my favorite characters from The Small Friends’ Chronicles, Harry Herringbone Fish, to finish the piece. Glad to do something useful in addition to appearing in prints and cards, and co-starring in the book with other fish based on Uncle Leon’s Pewter ashtray, he was eager to make this piece work.


Harry Herringbone Fish
Harry Herringbone Fish

Harry and I tried out three versions, and settled on two fish. I applied the fish with very permanent glue and, finally, covered the piece with the shiny clear acrylic that had been the goal in the first place.  There is just one of these, and it is $60 plus shipping directly from me (, payable through PayPal.

5 ways manage a creative roadblock

Fingerprint Dots Orange
Fingerprint Dots Orange
Fingerprint Dots Blue
Fingerprint Dots Blue

I made art at 90 miles an hour for two years — even making left-handed thumb print paintings during a three-month post-surgical medication-addled interlude.

Having come close to a creative wall, I am going to take my own advice with these 5 ways to manage a creative roadblock. They are low-effort and high-impact, and I’m looking forward to completing them.

  1. Clean my workspace. I am notoriously able to work around stuff that has been sitting in what a normal person would call “in my way.”  I will find the floor, the bottom of the book and magazine piles, clear the painting table, and review all of the pieces-in-progress that are on the easel. I promise to toss dried out paint tubes and bits of paper that have no possible use. Apparently, I am two weeks into this project, because I just washed all of my watercolor palettes, and filled them with new paint.
  2. Review my “inspiration” files. After cleaning my workspace, the paper “inspiration” files should surface. Next, I will dig around in my computer for the digital “inspiration” files including images, essays, and blog posts. Because “finding” is not “reading,” I will read this material, keep the good stuff, and ditch the trash.
  3. Forgive myself and work on a comfort zone-project for a little while. Must forgive myself for not embarking on a brand new project right away. Because I can’t sit in front of blank paper and do nothing, painting a stained-glass animal or working on a paper mosaic will be a fine way to spend time.
  4. Get out of the studio (what was once my living room and dining room) and look at someone else’s art. Fun!
  5. Have an adventure. A visit to Ax-Man is always an inspiration.