Soy Wax, Paint and Teaching: Craft Napa

I will be teaching, You Can’t Resist This, a soy wax resist and paint class at Craft Napa in coming January 7-9, and I would love for you to join me. In this class we will explore what resists mean, how to layer and build color stories that work with your chosen motifs, and we will explore differing methods of working with paint to achieve pretty, layered, vibrant, unique and textural results. 

You Cant Resist This!

You may wonder what the differences are between paint and dye. A basic definition is that dyes bond with the very fibers of the cloth, while paint sits atop those fibers. Both are a good way to apply color to cloth, the biggest difference between the two being that with dye, the original feel or ‘hand’ of the cloth is retained because the dye binds with the fiber of the cloth at a molecular level. Paint, on the other hand, needs binders to adhere to the cloth, these binders can lend a stiff or heavy ‘hand’.

Oh, that green!

Paint binders have improved tremendously over the years and there are some paints out there that are really quite good. Paint also allows for easier access to workable, beautiful cloth without the learning curve associate with the use of dye. Don’t get me wrong, I love dye, it is my medium of choice, but as a teacher I understand that paint is a great entry into making original surface designed cloth, and that students have great success in using it.

Reminds me of eggs.


A video posted by Melanie Testa (@mellytesta) on



I will be teaching:

You Can’t Resist This, where we will use soy wax as a resist along with paint on cotton fabric.

Small Works, Big Impact, where we will make small works while exploring the use of the sewing machine and some pretty nifty techniques.

Journaling with Embroidery, where we will make a Gather your Sew-plies!! purse, so you can sew, wherever you go!



Flashcard Friday-A Wash.

Creating a wash, or in the case of this flashcard in particular, a wash gradation in two colors, is both easy and fun. The challenge is to prepare your work surface with everything you need so that when it comes time to paint your wash, you can quickly grab whatever you need. I like to use a wide, cheap, bristle brush to lay the paint down. There are elegant brushes for this purpose, but I don’t own one.

On this journal page, I combined gradation wash with the use of paper frisket, (a flashcard for another day). There are some techniques that  can or should be used in combination with other techniques. You can do a wash on the page to lay color down-then start working the page, or you can mask an area and paint over it, reserving a portion and coloring the ground. It is up to you.

On another note, I have been speaking with Diana from M. Graham paints. Diana has been gracious and is answering some questions about her paints and we wanted to share information with you. M. Graham are my paint of choice in all mediums-watercolor, gouache and acrylic. I started using her paints because the gouache formulation is such that it can be parsed out in a travel palette and allowed to ‘dry’. Not all gouache can be rewet, but M. Graham paints can. This is a boon for artists like me, who enjoy painting on the go!


Diana, I have been using your paints for a few years, I was turned onto them by Roz Stendahl, a blogger and artist whom I greatly admire. The selling point for me was the fact that you use honey in your formulation and that your gouache paints do not use opacifiers-making them able to travel in a travel palette. Will you talk about this? Why honey? Why no opacifiers?

The gouache story is that “designers” gouache that most people are familiar with was created for fashion, etc. designing. The artwork was created, reproduced and discarded.  Because the original art was not to be retained, the permanency of the color was not an issue.  Many of the hues are purples, reds and fluorescents which are available in beautiful pigment or dyes-few  of which are lightfast.  We chose to use the same pigments as our other lines (all rated lightfast I or II except Alizarin which remains by popular demand).
While gouache is like watercolor (and can be thinned and used as washes), the usual application is a thick, flat layer or layers.  This requires a media that is film forming and resistant to cracking.  The use of honey in ours creates a more flexible film and better adhesion.
Most brands add chalks or whiteners to make the color opaque.  While some prefer this in design work, it detracts fro the brilliant liveliness in a fine art piece.  We chose to leave the mixing to the artist so either technique can be used.  Each color is as opaque as the pigment allows.  Some colors, like Quinacridone Red, are like layering transparent colored glass trying to get opacity.  No matter how much pigment you add, it is simply more transparent by nature than other pigments.
Some watercolorists apply transparent watercolor thickly, straight from the tube.  Our watercolors are formulated for more traditional dilution and application and they may not dry if painted out thickly.  For this technique, the gouache is the perfect solution.
I’ll try to talk about honey next.

Traveling with Paint

During the webinar a few weeks back, Barbara asked what I would carry were I to travel to France. And while I have no plans to travel to France (though I would love to), I do know what I would carry were I to do so. The above palettes, as I talked about before, are really a child’s toy. But even still, they are metal, measure perhaps 1.25×2″ and have individual wells that hold 8 colors of paint. The lid closes nicely and this kids toy can become a great adult toy with some modification.

The paint that comes in these palettes are not great, but luckily, easy to remove. I am sorry I don’t have photos of the process but it is easy enough to describe. Using a tweezer or a pick, while the paint is dry, wedge the tool between the edge of the paint and the plastic well. The paints are glued in there and are easy to pop out. Clean all of the glue out of the well so that you have as much space as possible for your chosen paints.

Then line up the tube style watercolors you would like to put in your travel palette and start dispensing one color per well. I have been loyal to M. Graham paints lately. So I put Quinacridone Violet, Napthol Red, Ultramarine blue, Turquoise, Gamboge yellow, Azo Yellow, Yellow Ochre, and Payne’s grey in my palettes.

I have given these palettes to friends as a fun gift and one friend said she has a hard time using this palette because it is so small. She likes to mix a fair amount of paint and do washes, so this palette is not suited to that type of work. Assess how you think you would use paints while working on the go. Wrap the palette in saran wrap for an easy ‘mixing tray’, nab a paper coffee cup as a rinsing cup after breakfast in the morning, tuck a small paper towel into the lid of the travel palette to help dry it out when you are ready to pack up your supplies and dump them into you back pack.

Working on the go is much different than working at home with your favorite supplies. So when you are home and have all of your supplies in front of you, daydream about what you will need to make painting in France an easy reality.

I will post the link to what I carry when I travel again, just in case you missed it or want to know. Have fun Barbara and Shirley (both are traveling abroad). I look forward to seeing what artwork your travel stirs up.

From Messy to Clean and Back

6x6 Journal, hot press watercolor paper

I don’t know how it works for you but at Casa Melly, the studio gets messy as all get out, I can’t stand it anymore, I can’t clean while in the middle of project. Then, just when it is driving me batty, I clean it up, spic and span. 

Highline Drawings

While my studio was clean and approachable, I opened a journal to find gentle little drawings that I did while walking the High Line. I drew this last fall, while I was going through radiation treatment, I had gotten to the cancer care center too early and so took a walk on the High Line. The great thing about New York City is that New Yorkers are not generally, morning people, but I am. So I sat down next to some pretty flowers and drew. I drew in pencil and painted when I got home. I used pen later still. My journal pages are completed over time, not in one sitting or in one place. I don’t think this page is complete even still.

JJ Made these.

I asked a friend to make me a set of tiny sanding blocks and this is what she came up with. It turns out, when I paint with acrylics on pine board that I love debride, sand and deconstruct the surface of my work. What better way to get in small places than with tiny little sanding blocks? Super cute, right?