Art and Paint, Layers and Life: Stringing Along the Words

paint layersBy Sue Pelletier

I have always felt that numbers in a painting tend to ground a piece. As with anything you add to a painting or a piece of art, everything has meaning. I add the number 3 into a lot of my pieces, because my kids and me are a strong tribe of 3. It is an important number. It makes sense to me.

Adding words to a painting is a bit different for me because I often let humor and a bit of randomness take over. Years ago I came across a huge box of vintage flash cards for teaching the proverbial grammar. Going through the cards, I could not help but laugh at some the “sentences.”  “The mother darned (darned?) the sock.” “The boy ran down the hill.” Going through the cards I realized I loved the little stringing together of words, thoughts, nouns and verbs. Going over these cards, I would immediately get a visual image in my head. It may be quirky or humorous, but it was always clear to me. Theirs was a painted story to be told. It was usually about whatever first image popped into my head.

I do the same with vintage children’s books. I get them at flea markets and pour over the stories and illustrations. Usually something comes up that will interest me to create a small series of paintings, most likely incorporating some words into the piece.

My friend shared a photo with me of her daughter. The girl is about 4 and the photo shows her flying high on a swing, ponytails flying back, a pair of overalls with bright red scruffy Mary Jane shoes, and with the swagger only a four-year-old beautiful tomboy can muster. I loved the picture because I recognized the spirit and energy in the girl. In the photo she was wearing a pair of well-loved and worn red party shoes. Immediately I knew I wanted to create a painting of those shoes and the little girl who wore them or who would wear them. So in this instance the shoe imagery came first, but the story about the shoes came up as I was creating the painting. I felt the shoes belonged to a little girl who could tackle the world, who was a free spirit, who could indeed in her mind save the world.

paint layersThe shoes were drawn and then stitched on my favorite material to paint on utility crinoline from the fabric store. Again I love the fact that when I think of crinoline, I think of vintage dresses with layers of crinoline, but it is actually sold in the utility fabric section right next to burlap (another painting favorite). I drew the shoes loosely, almost a contour line drawing, and then in with a bit of stitching. There was never any other color for the shoes to be except red­––a well-loved, favorite pair of shoes should be red. I wanted those shoes to pop so it made sense to paint the background of each shoe an apple green, complementary colors.

paint layersThe story with the painting was always: she wore girly shoes but only when they were scruffy. She was saving the world because when I saw the photo that inspired the painting. I knew that little girl, flying high in that swing, well, she was, is and should be ready to save and conquer the world. I wish every little girl had a pair of those shoes. I wish every woman I knew had the grown-up version of those shoes. I wish a few years ago I had those shoes. I have them now. They are paint splattered Dansko clogs, but I’ve got them. Oh man do I have them.

paint layersFor this piece, stringing along the story by incorporating it into the piece, the words become a valuable focal point. For the words I used a pipette and black India ink on white tissue paper (several layers of paper). I did the script very loose and it did get a little blobby, so I learned that you need to keep the pipette moving. I am sure you could use a Sharpie on the tissue paper but often I just like to push the boundaries of what can be used. I actually liked the flow of the ink on the paper. Anything that got too inky I knew I could go in a touch up with white gesso. The great thing about doing words on white tissue paper is that after your ink dries you use a matte gel medium to collage the strips of worded tissue on your paper. The tissue paper becomes almost transparent, allowing your words to float wherever you want on your painting. Once the words were on and dry I just went in with acrylic paint layers and did my paint thing. Oh man, I love the paint thing.

There is always a story when you create a piece of art. Sometimes you share the story right there on the canvas or on the piece. If it brings a smile to myself or a laugh, I often like to have that be part of the piece…stringing along the words.

Words, whimsy and humor inspire her art because that is how Sue approaches life. Drawn to collage and painterly surfaces, her art has naturally progressed into a combination of both. She works with images that are true to her—the house form, childhood toys, vintage dresses—because as an artist and a mother it is what she holds near and dear to her, her kids and the day-to-day journey of life. Sue’s work has been published numerous times in Cloth Paper Scissors and Somerset Studio. She has an MFA from Pratt Institute and teaches elementary school art. She is most happy walking around in paint-splattered clothes, drinking an iced coffee. She has two teenagers, Harly and Connor, who make her laugh each day. She lives in an antique farmhouse in New England with purple shutters. Sue has two painting DVDs from Interweave: Textures for Collage and Preparing to Paint. She can be found on her blog at and facebook at Sue Pelletier art.

W8864_CM_AcrylTech_revised.inddYou might also enjoy, Acrylic Techniques in Mixed Media: Layer, Scribble, Stencil Stamp by Roxanne Padgett.






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