Art and Paint, Layers and Life: Symbols in Art

A new guest blog column by Sue Pelletier

Hello and thanks for checking out my new column—Art and Paint, Layers and Life! Each month I’m going to share with you some thoughts and techniques for creating scrumptious layers in your art that are inspired by the layers in your life.

I have come to realize as an artist that whatever I paint has to come from my soul, which is why I often repeat imagery that represents symbols for me: a house, a childhood dress, numbers, chairs, ladders . . . images that I hold near and dear.

symbols in art

Remember years ago (some longer than others) how our English teachers and college professors told us to write about what we know? Well, painting what we know holds true also. While there may then be similar imagery in nearly every piece I create, each image has such a powerful meaning to me. I can’t seem to let go of the simple symbols that remind me of childhood and when my own kids were young.

I love teaching. I teach elementary school art and I teach mixed-media classes for adults. I believe kids have a natural ability to create and it comes from within, because they are pure and simple. Kids paint what they know naturally, because it is so straight forward. Adults on the other hand, often want their work to look like an instructor’s—which is fine—but I believe if you paint what is in your heart—what you feel from within—you will make it your own and it will have something that no one else’s work can have, and that is you. Paint what you love . . . Love what you paint!

As I mentioned, I want to share with you the process of layering. I love to layer. I layer fabric, paint, mediums. My life is made up of layers: kids, teaching, creating . . . laughing out loud . . .  Sometimes one of these elements shines through fiercely, but they are all always there. It’s the same with painting. You can’t rush life and you can’t rush the layering. As subtle as they may be, they are part of the process and need to happen. Layering a painting, layering your life, I like that.

The imagery in this painting detail is simple and pure: a ladder for climbing. Unbeknownst to me a few years back, I needed to do some climbing, to move from one life situation to another. I began adding ladder imagery to my work. I love the lines—vertical and horizontal—leaving perfect little spaces to add words and writing. For me it is never all about the writing, but the scribbling of the handwriting takes on its own painterly quality and perhaps the viewer can pick a word out here and there; perhaps they come up with their own story when they view the art?

Here is a simple way to build up an image with dimension. I use a bottle of squeeze paint to draw/paint with.

symbols in art

Allow the paint to dry. Go back and use graphite crayon to rub over the texture (in this case, over the ladder). The raised paint texture will pick up the graphite. Try writing words on paintings this way also—very loose, gestural words or stories. Remember, not every word needs to be readable or legible.

symbols in art

Another symbol I see repeating often in my art is the heart. It surprises me the amount of hearts I put in my work. I am not a girly girl, and my hearts usually have a bit of grittiness to them or an edge.  I must say, I love a gritty little heart somewhere on a piece.

A simple way to add a dimensional heart (or other object) to your piece is to use Model Magic. It dries incredibly light and is easy to shape and form. For this heart, I shaped the Model Magic and then covered it in Ridged Wrap—a plaster product that I love and could focus an entire column on! This is a product that will change your life.

symbols in art

To use the plaster wrap, begin by getting it wet, then form it around your desire shape. Here you can see, I shaped the wet plaster wrap around my heart. I left it a bit askew on purpose. (Isn’t life a bit askew?)

When your plaster is dry, you go in with some paints. I like to mix heavy matte gel medium with the paints to increase adhesion to the plaster surface. (Matte gel medium is one art medium I have to have at all times. If you do not own any, I suggest you run—do not walk—to the store and pick some up right now.)

Rub a graphite crayon over the heart to create some depth by enhancing the texture of the plaster. (So simple, but allows for a nice pop on your piece.)

Think beyond paint and mediums when you are creating a painting. Just when you thought you could not possibly add anything else to a piece, put down another layer. Layer your art to reflect your layers of life!


About Sue Pelletier

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.”

W8864_CM_AcrylTech_revised.inddIf you love to add layers to your artwork, check out Acrylic Techniques in Mixed Media: Layer, Scribble, Stencil, Stamp by Roxanne Padgett.






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2 Responses to Art and Paint, Layers and Life: Symbols in Art

  1. Sue – thanks for sharing your background and effective techniques!

  2. Seth says:

    Thanks Sue! Great way to look at the layers of art. And love your unique process to create the layers as well.