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  • Writer's pictureKaaren Poole

Enthusiastic Polar Bears

Ninety-five percent of this art journal post journey was discouraging and difficult. Here’s how it started. I wanted to do polar bears. Sketching two of them was an easy enough beginning. And I decided on a green, which I thought of as ‘sea green,’ as a background.

The green became the sea and the sky, and I thought the sky could be the Northern Lights. Great idea! But how would I pull it off?

Recalling the relatively few photos I’ve seen of the Northern Lights, I realized that they look sort of like glowing, diaphanous curtains hanging in the sky. OK. So how would I do that?

For a start, while the background paint was still wet, I sprayed it with water then began to rub out rough, vertical-ish stripes, going back nearly to the white of the paper. And then, in a few areas, I used the tip of my palette knife to actually scratch away the top layer of the paper, leaving really white bits. But I didn’t do much of that because I didn’t want to weaken the paper or, worse yet, scratch through it, ruining whatever was on the other side.

Sadly, I neglected to take interim photos, so all I can show you is where I ended up.

Although I can’t show you the phases this went through, I can tell you about them.

After the green background, including the waves in the ocean which I painted with a mix of the green and some blue, I simply added more colors with acrylic. This was just since I didn’t know what else to do. I added a few layers this way, blobbing on paint and pulling the blobs out with a scraper. I also lifted color with a damp paper towel. All through the scraping and lifting processes, I was thinking of vertical curtains.

Then I added vertical-ish streams of small white dots (with a Posca paint pen) for some sparkle. I used the same white pen to add chunks of ice forming in the water.

I still hadn’t achieved a look I liked, so, in desperation, I turned to my mica powders.

I’d seen a video on mixing mica powders with gel medium and using the mixture as a paint. So that’s what I did. It was disappointing. It didn't look like much of anything, much less something exciting. But then I remembered a caution from the video. The gel medium is milky white when it’s wet. It’s only when it dries that it turns clear and the color and sparkle of the mica powders shows. And that’s what happened.

Just an aside about mica powders. I used to use them a lot with polymer clay, but it’s been a few years since I’ve worked with them. When I went on the internet to look at what’s available now, I saw that they’re a popular with resin. In fact, one of the apparently big brands is called “Let’s Resin.” And there was a kind that was new to me: chameleon mica powders. These powders have a color shift quality, appearing to be different colors when viewed from different angles. Of course, I had to acquire some.

Here’s a photo I took that shows the yellow-green shift of the powders I used. Excuse the shadows from me holding the camera above the spread. This was the only way I could get the color to show. Isn’t it amazing?


Having used the mica powders in gel medium once, I now know a few things I didn’t know before: you need much less mica powder than you think, and patience is important because you don’t see the sparkle until the mixture is thoroughly dry. I’ll use the technique again. It can give beautiful results, and there’s much to learn.

I’m happy to report that mica powders are inexpensive and widely available. They’re fine powders, so using a mask when working with them is probably a good idea. If you’re like me and haven’t worked with them in this way, I encourage you to give it a try!

My final step was to paint the polar bears. There wasn’t much to paint as I left so much of the white paper showing through. But trying to get their expressions right took some work!

By the way, the text across the bottom says: “It’s perfect! The ice is forming, and the sky is spectacular this time of year.”

So, after a long, rough journey, I finally met up with my polar bear friends, and now I'm happy!


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1 Comment

Judy Buskirk
Judy Buskirk
May 23

The sparkle in the eyes and contrast in the teeth and nose bring these beautiful bears to life!

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