Category Archives: Artistic Process

Making Your Mark: It’s all About the Wax

Making Your Mark

In 2012 I was taking a printmaking class and one of the assignments was to do something with batik. To me, at the time, that meant fabric and special dyes. I didn’t want to add more supplies to my art making collection so I went searching for an alternative. I found Kathie George and her beautiful watercolour batiks! From there I completed one of her online tutorials, and I was hooked!

After more than 4 years of my own watercolour batik journey I was finally able to attend one of Kathie’s workshops in Edmonton. I was surprised to see see how much my process had evolved from hers. Kathie invited me to write about that for her blog so here is a sampling of what you will find in: “It’s All About the Wax … making your mark” 


Kathie uses wax pots for melting her wax and brushes or tjaps for applying it. I use a flat encaustic iron to melt my wax and sponges, mesh, cardboard and whatever else I can find to apply my wax.

A key feature of the batik process is that making your mark with the wax is what determines the outcome of the piece. The wax preserves whatever is already there and is the key to the finished piece.

Making Your Mark Sampler

Making Your Mark Sampler


My Guest Post on Kathie George’s Blog

You can read about my discoveries on her blog:

While you are there, look around and enjoy all that she shares!



As always, thanks for reading!


Flock of birds now in my studio

Flock of Birds October 2016 ©Paige Mortensen

Flock of Birds October 2016 ©Paige Mortensen

My fireplace gallery now has a flock of birds – part of the work I am doing for the  Artisans’ Fine Craft Market coming up on November 4 & 5, 2016. The white papers behind them have been hanging empty for a few days so it feels good to have some colour there again.

It was our grandson’s 7th birthday at the end of September so we went to help celebrate.  They live on an acreage with a beautiful view of the lake and the birds were plentiful.  The weather was great and our grandchildren were happily jumping on the trampoline. I took some time with my camera to capture some reference images. I am thankful for every one of these special days spent with family.

Things to do:

Over the last week I have been keeping the memories of the day alive by working on some small watercolour batik pieces.  This batik process I use uses wax as a resist so I always work on wax paper (or in this case the liners out of cereal boxes).  These waxy papers stop the wax from sticking to whatever else might be underneath.  Here are some of the flock, finished and waiting for the wax to be ironed off. I did that this morning.


Flock of birds ready to iron

The next steps are to:

  • sign them
  • photograph them
  • mount them onto canvas
  • attach hangers
  • add labels to the back

Enjoy the birds you see today!


A Glimpse into My Watercolour Batik Process

This glimpse into my watercolour batik process is for the curious artists out there who keep asking how I do it … and for anyone else who is just curious.

Watercolour Batik Process


Watercolour Batik Process Tools

My supplies include:

  • Ginwashi paper – notice the obvious fibres in it – they help create the texture!
  • A paint tray and brushes – I just use a small, inexpensive brush to mix the colour and one of these large hake brushes to apply the paint to the paper
  • Watercolour paints
  • Paraffin wax
  • An encaustic iron to melt the wax
  • Sponges, stamps, tiny brushes, etc to apply the wax

Watercolour Batik Process - Encaustic Iron


Watercolour Batik Process - Under the Bridge Drawing

First, I edit and crop photos I have taken to decide on the composition. Then I draw the basic image the size I want the finished piece to be. When I am happy with that I go over the lines of my drawing with a back marker.

The Ginwashi paper is quite transparent so I can then trace the drawing onto it with a Micron pen (permanent and waterproof).

Adding a Layer of Wax

Watercolour Batik Process - Step 1 Add Some Wax

Here, the Ginwashi paper is set on top of a piece of wax paper – so the wax doesn’t stick to whatever is underneath it. When I am adding wax I also put a black paper underneath so I can see where it is going.

The purpose of the wax is to preserve the colour of the paper at a given point in time…so, anything that needs to stay white needs to have wax put over it before any paint is applied. In this case I just put a bit of wax in a couple of spots on the water to create some highlights.

Building Up the Colour

Watercolour Batik Process - Under The Bridge - Step 2 - Adding Paint

Now, I can add the first layer of light colour. Some of the things I think about:

  • This is very watery paint and will very quickly run uncontrollably across the paper
  • These are transparent watercolours so every layer will show through to the top
  • The colour will dry much lighter than it looks going on
  • What colours can I layer to get the right colours at the darker layers

Mostly, the goal is just to get the first light colours on there and see where they go. Letting them run into each other creates softer edges and unity of colour in the finished piece.

This then needs to dry before the next wax and watercolour layers can go on.

The Ugly Phase

Watercolour Batik Process - Under The Bridge - Adding More Wax

More wax … you can see how much lighter the colours are now that it has dried.

Watercolour Batik Process - Under The Bridge - Ugly Phase

More paint … and so on. In these early stages it can get to look quite ugly.  Everything has the same value, the drawn lines are disappearing and there is little definition.

Adding Darks

Watercolour Batik Process - Under The Bridge - Darks

Five or six layers of wax and watercolour later, the darks get dark enough that I once again begin to feel like there is hope for a successful piece.

Iron off the Wax

When I feel like the piece is finished I make sure the entire surface is covered with wax then place it between layers of newsprint and iron it. The wax comes off onto the newsprint and the image emerges in its finished form! This is my favourite step in the process – and the only thing I like to iron!

Finished Piece

Under the Bridge Watercolour Batik ©Paige Mortensen 10x20" March 25, 2016

Under the Bridge ©Paige Mortensen Watercolour Batik 10×20″

See more about two Saskatoon bridges I did in these blog posts:
– the Broadway Bridge
   – the Traffic Bridge

Or, watch a time lapse video of my watercolour batik process.

Thanks for reading!



Show Preparation Time

Tall Taller Tallest ©Paige Mortensen Watercolour Batik 12x36"

Tall Taller Tallest ©Paige Mortensen Watercolour Batik 12×36″

The show preparations have begun!  I have finished lots of pieces and yet that is only the beginning. They need to be mounted onto canvas or framed before they are ready for the show.  As you probably know I work on Ginwashi paper which is an oriental paper – thin like tissue paper yet sturdy with small threads in it. You can watch a time-lapse video of my batik-like process on my website –

03-MountingProcessMounting these on canvas is a multi-step process. First I need to paint the edges of the canvas to give them a crisp finished look. Then I cover the canvas with a layer of acrylic medium and attach the piece using a brayer to smooth it down and ensure that it is well attached. I chose to mount this bird with the torn edges showing.

Often though I wrap it around the edge of the canvas, and sometimes the darker colours run into the medium. So…the edges need to be painted again.

This collection of pieces are mounted and ready for the next step in the process which is to spray them with an archival UV protective varnish that seals the entire piece and ensures that the colours are permanent. After that there will be hangers and information labels to attach and paperwork to prepare.

These are just some of the pieces I will have in the show and there are 10 other artists working on their own. Together, the works will make a great show. We hope you can make it!

2016 aw invite sm



Memories of Bouquets

Fond Farewell ©Paige Mortensen Watercolour Batik 12x24"

Fond Farewell ©Paige Mortensen Watercolour Batik 12×24″

As the saying goes, “Pictures are worth a thousand words”…and they bring back so many memories. Looking at some photos recently I came across some from a farewell party for a friend and co-worker. They brought back many memories of working with this amazing, dedicated person. Another co-worker had put together this small bouquet in an office mug reminding me of the special talents every person has. Working on this piece was a joyful opportunity to remember those connections.


Healing & Protea ©Paige Mortensen Watercolour Batik each 8×24″

These two also have memories. The daisies were a gift from family when I broke my ankle in 2014. I don’t really want to remember the broken ankle but I am always thankful for my awesome family and their support in everything. The orange flower in the second one one is a Protea (or Pin Cushion) and the arrangement includes some Eryngium and Eucalyptus. These I gave to my sister for her birthday. The vase she used was a plastic one that folds flat. Once filled with water it created some very interesting shapes and colours.

Just over a month until the Artists’ Workshop Show & Sale.  Hope to see you there!

2016 aw invite sm



Explorations to Start 2016

January, a month for new explorations! I have been sewing on my paper batiks, sketching and adding charcoal to my batik-like process.

Sewing on my paper batiks

I have been admiring the work of some amazing thread painters and wanted to try combining stitching with my batiks. My first project involved creating a number of papers of coloured batiks, cutting them up and sewing them back together.  I had had a lovely bouquet of daisies and as they were nearing their end I cut the blossoms off and put them in a bowl of water.  This really perked them up. I loved the look and used it as inspiration for this mini-paper batik quilt!


Daisy Bowl ©Paige Mortensen Mixed Media 12×12″

Then I had done a batik of a lovely little outdoor cafe we saw in Sarlat, France and I decided to see what some stitching would do for it.  I didn’t cut it apart, just added details with various colours of threads. My goal was to keep it about the batik, just enhance the look.  It was a lot of fun!

Sarlat Cafe

Sarlat Cafe ©Paige Mortensen Mixed Media 12×18″

Here is some of the detail:

Sarlat Cafe Detail

Sarlat Cafe Detail ©Paige Mortensen


January has become an annual month of daily sketching and this year I have been working on people and fabric.  There have been some great tips and exercises in this book “Drawing Realistic Clothing & People” by Lee Hammond.  Exploring and learning!


Adding Charcoal

It was back to our weekly painting day with the Artists’ Workshop group and time to explore something new! Rather than just work from light to dark I decided to start with the darks by using charcoal for the initial design and then build the colours onto that.  These landscapes are the result of this week’s experimentation.  They are both inspired by spots at Emma Lake close to our cabin. Awesome to think about warm summer days!

©Paige Mortensen

Evening at Emma ©Paige Mortensen Mixed Media 16×16″

Emma Mystery

Emma Mystery ©Paige Mortensen Mixed Media 16×16″

I wonder where this exploration will take me? What about you?  What are you exploring these days?




Getting Things Done

Thanksgiving was on Monday but even with the short week I feel like I am getting things done.  Yes, I have finished some new pieces and yet I have still been able to work on the business side of being an artist.  I am thankful that I have the opportunity to do both!

Last week I talked about venturing off into the unknown and just letting a piece of art evolve as it will.  This was done in that way – no planning or drawing just letting it come together.


Blooming ©Paige Mortensen Watercolour Batik 10×14″

We are having some incredible fall weather and as you can see the beavers are sure busy along the Saskatchewan river. I wonder if they are coming back for those last beautiful branches.  What a wonderful day it was for a walk!

There was also another fun morning painting with the group of women at the assisted living facility.  They sure enjoyed the bright colours of parrots!

And some time writing, organizing and getting ready to send a gallery exhibition proposal!

My sunflowers are still blooming – in the garden and the house!


Sunflower ©Paige Mortensen Watercolour Batik 10×14″

There are also lots of wonderful coloured leaves that need raking.  It seems like record numbers of ladybugs too.


Falling Leaves ©Paige Mortensen Watercolour Batik

Isn’t it nice when you have a week where you are “getting things done”?  I hope you have one too!



Knowing and Creating

The link between knowing and creating has been a topic that seems to keep recurring in my work and life lately. What do those words mean and how do they relate to each other and the way I experience my art?

Beauty Behind ©Paige Mortensen Watercolour Batik 10x14" $225

Beauty Behind ©Paige Mortensen Watercolour Batik 10×14″

I know that I chose this subject because it was friendly and familiar.  I was working in a new environment with the Artists’ Workshop painting group and wanted to be working on something comfortable.  Keeping as many variables in the ‘knowing’ category allowed me to put my emotions into the piece creatively.

In the August 2015 Leading Edge newsletter Louise Hall included some painting tips from a workshop with Gerald Brommer.  They included: ” …the four skills or levels in the process of learning to create art – technique, drawing, design and feeling. …  With practise of technique, drawing and design we can do all of this automatically, and then we are free to put our feelings and spirit into our art.”

Then, I came across Laureen Marchand’s Blog post from September 9th.  It was an interview with Lori-Ann Claerhout about Whims and Ideas.  Laureen thinks of whims as being “like good ideas that float by.” She talked about how painting is a series of unconscious whims because, in her words, “I never know where I’m going for sure.”  She goes on to say: “I think that’s how creativity works …[pause]… because you get to the point where you do know, and then you have to change it.  Because, if you just kept doing what you know it would stop being creativity.  It would just become a repeated action.”  Lori-Ann’s interpretation of Laureen’s process was:
“It sounds a lot like you have a knowing…it is your knowing that tells you how to make it work.” 

About the same time my sister asked me if I could create a piece that had been in her mind for a long time.  She did send a line drawing of a tree truck, branch and circles indicating ‘fluffy birds”, mentioned charcoal and said “which somehow remind me of a card Grandma would have sent”.  To most people that wouldn’t have meant anything but we always knew which birthday card came from Grandma.  I pulled out the charcoal and did a quick sketch to see if I was getting her thoughts.


Now to create the watercolour batik version. I didn’t want to loose the rough tree bark created with charcoal so my next ‘whim’ was to try it in on the Ginwashi paper.  I generally work from light to dark but for this piece I started boldly with the charcoal drawing.  I then used the wax to seal the strong, dark areas in but left some of the looser charcoal to blend with the layers of watercolour.


This was a whole new way of working for me.  Having those really dark areas from the beginning gave a totally different frame of reference for the rest of the process. Every step was one of ‘not knowing’ and yet being excited about creating the “card from Grandma” feel.  I really noticed how knowing and creating were linked throughout this process.


Togetherness ©Paige Mortensen Watercolour Batik 12 x 36″

My sister hasn’t seen it in person yet but her response to the image was: “OH MY  — I don’t know what to say.  I want to see it in person — but I think it is pretty darn amazing!!!!! ”  

How are you letting your knowing guide your creativity in art or in life?



Exploring Wabi-sabi and Boro – Part 2/2

This is the second part of  my exploration of the concepts of wabi-sabi and boro.  This exploration was inspired by Donna Watson‘s article “The Zen of Discovery” in the August 2015 issue of Watercolor Artist.

For the first part of my story click here.

In Part 1 I explained how I had created the ‘scraps’ I would need to create my finished piece.  Now I was ready to put them together.

The Patching Process

I wanted to bring the concepts of wabi-sabi and boro together with the thought that water and warmth are needed to sustain life. Working within this framework it was important to me to limit my materials to the pieces I had created, treat each ‘scrap’ as precious and ensure that I wasn’t wasting anything.


As I laid them out it became apparent that this was going to be a 18 x 24” ‘quilt’. None of this was planned out in advance so placing the patches was a process of trial and error. As the composition came together I pinned the pieces in place and began hand stitching it together.



The Finished Quilt

I offer this piece as reminder to us all to bring the concepts of wabi-sabi and boro into our everyday lives. Wabi-sabi to help us accept and celebrate the imperfections in our lives – both in the things we own and the people we love. Boro to remember that the smallest everyday things are the most precious.


©Paige Mortensen Sustaining 18×24″ Mixed Media

How will you explore wabi-sabi and boro in your life?




Exploring wabi-sabi and boro – Part 1/2


Summer is a time for breaking out of habits and trying something new.  My inspiration came from Donna Watson‘s article, “The Zen of Discovery” in the August 2015 issue of Watercolour Artist. The article featured her work inspired by two Japanese aesthetics, wabi-sabi and boro and I knew I had to go exploring.

First some Background

The concept of wabi-sabi has been on my mind for a number of years. Donna describes it as “the Zen appreciation of things incomplete, imperfect and impermanent” and “an appreciation of things humble, modest, simple and minimal”. For me it has been about embracing imperfections – in my art and my life.

Boro was a new concept for me. Donna describes it as “patched and mended rags” created out of necessity by north-eastern Japanese farmers in the 19th and 20th centuries. Small scraps of cloth, generally died with Indigo became very precious as the necessities of mending created quilt-like clothing and blankets.

Washi is another Japanese term; ‘wa’ is Japanese, ‘shi’ is paper. Ginwashi paper is a very thin, strong paper with long fibres and I regularly use it for my watercolours. I also had some scraps of other Japanese papers, which I used to bring different textures into the finished piece.


My favourite way of working involves layers of wax and watercolour. The watercolour layers are applied from light to dark with wax applied between layers to preserve the colour and value at that particular point. Once the wax is ironed off the finished piece has a textile quality that seems to be asking to be quilted or stitched. This was something I had only thought about doing and now was the perfect opportunity to do some experimentation.

Creating the Boro ‘Scraps’

PaigeMortensen_WaterJug_Torn copy.jpgMy first step was to recreate the concept of scraps. Recognizing that the peasants were only allowed to wear blue brown, black and gray limited my palette.

I had recently completed a not so successful piece with a beaten up water jug in it so I tore the jug out of it and there was the focus piece for mypaper ‘quilt’. Yes, the jug has some purple in it. Could that have been the result of aging? Or maybe I just took some artistic license here.

Out came the Indigo tube of Qor watercolour paint and I got to work creating textures. The first step was simply to paint all of the pieces with diluted Indigo watercolour paint. Once these dried it was time to add some wax with various sponges and stamps to preserve this shade and value of Indigo and create texture.

02_PaigeMortensen_IndigoWatercolourCropped_QOR  03_PaigeMortensen_FirstLayerCropped 04_PaigeMortensen_WaxingMaterials

These are the tools I used and the pieces with the wax applied. In order to create a worn and stained look I added Qor Burnt Sienna, Quinacridon Gold and Paynes Gray to my palette. Once I was satisfied with the scraps I coated the pieces completely with wax to give them an even translucency and seal the pigment into the paper. The last step was to iron these between layers of newsprint to remove the wax.

06_PaigeMortensen_MoreColourCloseUp 08_PaigeMortensen_Ironing

Next week I will tell you about how these ‘scraps’ came together to express my interactions with the terms wabi-wabi and boro.

In the meantime I invite you to consider how you too can explore wabi-sabi and boro in your lives.