Breakthrough Shrines – Notes

My Artfest 2004 workshop, Breakthrough Shrines, was very controversial.

In fact, I’d say it was an absolute disaster for many of my students. (The troll sitting in the back of the room, contributing snarky comments as we worked… that didn’t help.)

This workshop showed me that the audience at Artfest had changed, abruptly and radically.  That year, they wanted “safe” workshops and “cute” art. Though I take delight in cute and happy art, and often create it myself… it’s not what I usually teach.

In fact, I was locked out of my next classroom until my students insisted the organizers open the room. And then my third workshop that year… the room wasn’t set up and we had to wait an hour for enough chairs for students.

I was not prepared for that kind of disapproval – especially at the expense of my students – and, by mutual agreement, I did not teach at later Artfests.

So, with that as background, I’ll admit that you may not like the following class notes and tutorials.

The class had been designed as a process-based experiment to push students towards artistic expressions that were new and different… and perhaps uncomfortable.

There was nothing “safe” about this class.  Students either loved it or hated it.  Some caught the spirit of the exercise and produced amazing work.  Others sat there and stared at me.

Would I teach that class again?  Maybe.  If I did, it would be only for extreme, process-oriented, experimental artists.  And, I’d teach it very differently.

These following notes reflect what I taught during the class, and at the pre-class meeting the night before.

Step one: Add texture to your shrine container

To get the most from this shrine-creation process, start with a box or other paper-like container. Basically, the surface has to be something that plaster and gauze will stick to. (If the container is slick, painted, or metal, you may need to sand it and/or coat it with gesso.)

Drape the outside first, using plaster and gauze. My directions are in: Adding texture with plaster and gauze, two pages of step-by-step instructions.

Step two: Rubbings & mixed-media collage

After waiting for the outside the of the shrine to dry – usually overnight – it’s time to create the interior.

I recommend using rubbings for your backgrounds. They’re a fast way to cover a lot of the surface, uniquely.

You’ll create the rubbings on any kind of paper, from printer paper to tracing paper to… well, whatever comes to mind and is thin enough to pick up details on whatever’s below it.

Although my class examples were very gothic in nature (and too creepy for some), they were intended to challenge students with unfamiliar motifs.

In real life, any rubbings will work.

Try rubbings from:

  • a screen door
  • the sidewalk outside your home
  • the numbers from your front door
  • objects in your jewelry case or from your kitchen tools
  • keys and coins in your wallet, and
  • rubbings made with rubber stamps.

You can add collage art or mixed-media embellishments over the rubbings/background, either before or after cutting the rubbings to size and gluing them in place.

In-class work:

I’d brought a collection of castings from 18th century (and earlier) New England memorials. Many were gothic artwork from grave markers. (Note: They were responsibly cast, using techniques that risked no damage to the original art and carvings.)

Some students used them for rubbings. Others were, frankly, creeped-out. (The class subtitle had been “Art Shrines from Dark to Light.” I guess they weren’t expecting to start with anything that dark.)

A few tips for rubbings:

After completing the inside of the shrine, finish the outside by layering paint and polyurethane to add color and depth to the gauze. (Or, if you were aiming for a “mummy” effect, perhaps tea stain it?)

I like to add elegance, so the following finishing tips include my “easy antiquities” ideas.

Step three: Easy antiquities and other finishing techniques