Uncommon Materials to draw or paint with

Do you paint with acrylics and salt? Watercolours and red wine? Tea and pencils? Inks and lemon? Then this is the right place for you!

The Uncommon Materials April 2012 How-To: Joel Armstrong – Painting with rust

Ina Mar Ina Mar 176 posts

This month’s How-To is about painting with rust. We are proud to count Joel Armstrong among the members of the Uncommon Materials to draw or paint with group and invite you to visit his wired and rusted universe, to learn about his fascinating creative process, but above all to get inspired by this artist’s Mind.

Artist Joel Armstrong was raised in Corpus Christi, TX, where he grew to love fishing, salt air, humidity and rust. He attended Texas Tech University, and spent over 20 years as both an illustrator and graphic designer. While art director of Group, a magazine for youth ministers, at the age of 39, Joel returned to College to receive his MFA in drawing from Colorado State University (2001). At CSU, Joel began to work in wire, and then became interested in installation art. He has continued to do wire installation 10 years after graduation. He uses baler wire, and has been rusting the wire since he first began bending and twisting the medium. He currently teaches drawing and illustration at John Brown University in Siloam Springs, Arkansas. He is married, and is father of 3.

Take a look at:

joel armstrong joel armstrong 2 posts

(Joel Armstrong interviewed by Ina Mar)

When did you start painting with rust? How did the idea occur to you to use rust?
I started rusting my wire drawings around 1998. In order to rust the wire, I had to lay the drawings onto a surface…usually just butcher paper. For years, I would use the butcher paper in collage or assemblage work, while ignoring its own intrinsic beauty.

Do you buy articles in garage sales in order to use the rust for painting or do you use found objects?
The garage sale items that are being shown are from my most recent installation…that was appropriately called “Garage Sale”. These items were all purchased at local garage sales where I also gathered stories about the objects. I spent several years on the project, collecting the objects and stories, doing the wire drawings, and finally finishing up the wire paintings. What kinds of objects are these? Objects with a history, with stories to be shared.

How to you gather the rust?
The rusting process is actually divided into two parts. First, the wire drawings (which is first and foremost what I am rusting) is coated with a Modern Options product called “Instant Iron”. This metallic paint is brushed on with a brush. The surface I work on is a sturdy water color paper. I’m quite intentional with my brush strokes, and work to make sure the wire stays in the same place throughout the process. The second part is called “Instant Rust”. This patina is a blue acid based liquid, and is brushed on after the first coat of the iron is dry. Applied liberally, I allow it to puddle or splatter knowing that where it puddles will create the brighter colors. Once both are dry, I remove the newly rusted wire, and it leaves the beautiful rust painting below.

Do you also purchase conventional art supplies?
Not much of what I do is very conventional. After all, I draw three-dimensional objects in a two-dimensional format with a three dimensional object. As long as I wash out my brushes well, I find quality brushes are best for making marks.

Are you the first one or only one who uses this material or have you seen other artwork painted with rust?
I know that the Modern Option products are used quite often with assemblage artists and also many craft artists. There is a website that features rust painters…but I’ve been turned down because I use a commercial product to create the rust.

Why did you choose this material?
I grew up in Corpus Christi, Texas, on the coast of the Gulf of Mexico. The salt air is quite harsh on metals, and I remember many toys that were left outside overnight, not to mention the damage it does to automobiles. My first installation dealt with a days worth of laundry from our home, and it seemed appropriate when searching my past, that the wire clothing should be rusted. Since most of my work is autobiographical, the meaning of the rust was two fold…(1) a symbol of my childhood, and (2) a much more personal representation of depression. Credit given to Andrew Solomon in “The Noonday Demon.”

What can you tell us about the conservation of this material?
There is a third part to the rusting process. Modern Options provides a sealer that is intended to keep the rust from continuing the rust process, or to save its color. I have found the product provides a heavy rubber feel, which is not the look or feel of what I am wanting. Have you noticed any changes in time (eg. hue, texture, intensity)? I’ve been using the product for over 12 years now, and most of the change is due to layering of dust. The paintings, when put behind glass don’t have that problem.

Do you store the artworks in particular conditions in order to conserve them better?
When not being shown, I keep the rusted wire pieces in boxes to prevent exposure to dust.

Why did you choose to paint with an uncommon material / with a recycled material?
The rust paintings came as part of the process, so maybe you can say it chose me.

What is the resonance of your uncommon material to other artists / to the public / to your family and friends…
I would say that audiences come away pleasantly surprised, especially since they are able to see two pieces of artwork that depend on the other in their creation.

Have you already had any exhibitions with rust artworks or any publications?
I have had quite a few installations and showing of my rusted wire. It was in 2007 that I first showed the paintings as part of an installation. You can see my installations, several in video format on my website. I have several books published that also feature the work and are available on Blurb.com: Garage Sale, and WIRED!. Both feature my installations.

Give one last useful advice to artists you would like to experiment with rust!
Don’t go into it thinking that you can control the process, or the look. Every brushstroke is unpredictable as to how it will react to the instant rust. Enjoy the mystery and process.

Lace gloves
by joel armstrong

Stainless Tea Pot, painting with rust
by joel armstrong

Violin/rust painting
by joel armstrong

by joel armstrong

Big Wheel
by joel armstrong

Child's Drum Set
by joel armstrong

Installation view with “Garage Sale” (Foto: Copyright Joel Armstrong)

Installation view with “Garage Sale” (Foto: Copyright Joel Armstrong)

Installation view with “Garage Sale” (Foto: Copyright Joel Armstrong)

Garage Sale items mixed in with “rust paintings” of the objects (Foto: Copyright Joel Armstrong)

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