One of the things you will find as you read through my new book is a collection of canvases that open each chapter. While I was working on them early last year I took some photos of the process so I could share how they all came together.


I started with blank 8x10 canvases that you can get at any craft store (your local scrapbook store may have some too) and a bunch of different colors of acrylic paint and some foam brushes.

There were a few things I knew from the beginning:

1. I wanted to work on them all at the same time - meaning I wanted to see them all as individuals and as a group. The dining room table turned out to be the spot I could spread out best.

2. I knew that each one would have a theme and that I wanted to have some consistency between them (ended up mainly being size and a bit of color). I also knew that I wanted the creation to match the theme at least a bit.

3. I knew that I was going to need to be flexible and open as I worked through the process - experimentation was the name of the game. That some of them I wouldn't like as I was working on them and I would need to be ready to change, adapt, or start over (on top of the same canvas).


I started off by painting each of them a base color - two coats. An easy first step. And as you can see above I like to just pour some right out onto the canvas.  


Next I started working on the individual canvases. Most of them came together in bits and pieces. I would work on one, adding this and that, and then switch to another one. I liked that movement.

For some of the canvases I used found (junk) pieces to create patterns. This is a left-over after a print job that I picked up at a store in Vancouver, Canada.


I also used scrapbook items such as a Heidi Swapp mask or circle punches with patterned paper.


For the patterned paper (and paper such as this below) I used gel medium to adhere it to the canvas. Here's some info about using gel medium. I first learned about it from Claudine Hellmuth's book Collage Discovery Workshop.


I liked having them all laid out together and working on them all at once. I think it is similar to why I like to stand-up to scrapbook - I like to look down on the work at hand and have a view of the whole from above.


In addition to paints and papers and templates and masks I added rub ons, letter stickers, acrylic accents, stamps, and handwriting with black and white pens. I kept things consistent from one to the next with bits of color added here and there. 

Lots of layers. Lots of moving from one to the next. Loved the process. Hope to do some more again sometime.

In the meantime I am super inspired by this guy: Rex Ray and this book: Artist to Artist that I found in the kids section at the bookstore. Some great words of wisdom in there. I loved Cathy's post about her 25 Most Played: my top song is Time After Time by Cindi Lauper + Sarah McLaughlin and my #13 is Jackson by Johnny Cash & June Carter. And you may already know I am a fan of Zen Habits, but I really loved his simple post yesterday: The Four Laws of Simplicity. So many of us seem to have simplicity on our minds (I definitely do after putting all the holiday stuff away today).

And finally, I loved one of the comments yesterday on the really long word post about taking all those words + using them as the basis of some sort of project. Maybe a journal, a word of the week, a prompt for something creative. Definitely something to consider.

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121 thoughts

  1. moon says…

    i just got your new book from a friend! (i live in taiwan...:D)
    and all i wanna say is that you are so great and i really love your book~~~(i got all your books!)

    Reply 0 Replies
  2. Julie says…

    Great post. You mention you listen to music. There was an Ali McBeal episode where she meets with the psychiatrist who tells her she needs a theme song. I never really watched the show at that time. But needing to have a theme song really stuck with me. By theme song, it's a song that you listen to, love and really want to base your life on it. It can change easily, maybe depending on your mood or longer term reasons. My "theme song" is "The Best of My Love" by The Emotions. I love that song and think it really is the focus of my life right now.

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  3. Signe Nagly says…

    Dear Ali, Thank you so much for sharing your process regarding the canvas-art. I´ve been wanting to do something similar since I ´ve read you latest book, and this definitely helped me get into the mood of things. Great inspiration be the way, your new book :-) Really liked it.

    Reply 0 Replies
  4. bettyannmanghi says…

    AmaZing! Great post ! Thanks for sharing ! Hope we get to see them when they're up on the wall too! Love them! Fabulous!

    Reply 0 Replies
  5. alyssa says…

    Way cool, and thanks for all the links. I just picked up Claudine's book (I had it on my Christmas wish list for 2 years and apparently it was a gift I just needed to get myself) ... gel medium is good.

    Reply 0 Replies
  6. mireia says…

    I was so excited to see this post, I just bought your new book last week and have been enjoying those canvases you did.
    thanks so much for share!

    Reply 0 Replies
  7. Mandy says…

    Why is it that red blob of paint on that white canvas makes me so incredibly happy?

    Reply 0 Replies
  8. Jac says…

    Hey Ali,
    this is awesome.. thanks for sharing this project step by step... it's really inspiring... i will give it a shot in this soon... :D
    Thanks again!

    Reply 0 Replies
  9. Pineconegirl says…

    The title of your post gave me quite a start as "process" is the word I chose for 2008. Seeing your process just confirmed what I envision focusing on "process" in the coming year achieves in my life. Timely and serendipitious. Thank you.

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  10. laurence says…

    I was so hoping a message like this one today, I almost shouted "yeah !" when I read the first lines of this post. Thanks a lot !

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  11. Sue says…

    My teenager recently had some "teenage issues" and was making bad decisions. It never seemed to be his fault.
    He is now working with a fabulous counselor and guess what his assignment was the first week in January? --- to pick a word. But his word isn't just for the year - it's for life.
    So the word he picked was ACCOUNTABILITY. I wanted to add it to your list because learning about the word and what it means has made my son look at his life and make many positive changes. It is truly AMAZING how one word can make such a difference!

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  12. ruth says…

    With more than a hundred comments, I'm not sure if you'll even see this one (but since it's been several days since I've read this post & I still feel compelled to comment, here it goes). THANK YOU for this post & your blog. I've been wondering about the size of the canvases in your books & I love seeing & reading about your process. I created a canvas this summer & it was a completely liberating process. I appreciate the way you have inspired me to allow the artist-girl inside of me OUT. (Unfortunately I buried her after high school when I somehow had the impression that art wasn't important -- bizzar-o world, I know). Thanks for be willing to share with the world & change lives of strangers for the better. :)

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  13. daniellemarieclaire says…

    THank you so much for sharing your process, Ali ! I was wondering about it when I first looked through your book ! I want to try some myself and show it to my visual arts students !

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  14. September says…

    Thanks for this! I've been wanting to try a canvas or two and been kind of stymied by the process. My dad was an oil painter and I know there are different types of canvasses so I wasn't sure which was appropriate. Now I know! I think this will be my "project" for this year....
    Oh and my word is GRATITUDE. I've been offline for a week because of a death of a very much loved Grandma, but I've made myself work on my gratitude journal for this year, and love it. LOVE it. :)

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  15. kelly says…

    i'd love to see a "where are they now" on where these cool pieces ended up ;)

    Reply 0 Replies
  16. cris says…
    01/17/2008 découvre ton blog avec plaisir...un coucou du sud de la France

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  17. Mellisa Ross says…

    GEL MEDIUM FYI ---> I used the Tri Art version of Matte Gel Meduim and it is, BY FAR, the best thing I have ever used to adhere my Heidi Swapp Ghost embellishments. Sometimes it takes a while (overnight) for it to dry completely, but it leaves absolutely no trace of it under there when it is dry. A friend also used it to adhere her giant HS clock to an oversized canvas she was doing mixed media on. Both top and bottom, no trace of the medium. Now, that being said ... lol
    Those canvases are a great concept. Can I ask what you did with them? Are they hanging as art work in your house somewhere? It would definately be a great addition to home decor.

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  18. Sonia **Sony** says…

    Hello Ali
    Thanks for all info here.. is help me right now, I'm working on my firt art journal and searching all king ideas. Simplify is one of my word when I start on my hobby, lol! something I change my confort zone but I return to be more simple.
    Right now may be is not simple doing a journal with mixed media but I enjoy and learn more every day.

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    Reply 0 Replies
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