15" x 15" collage on matboard
sewing, hand printed and painted papers
15" x 15" paper collage on board
thread, paint, printing, frottage
I have been working away on collages based on the grid (what I think of as "geometric" in nature). To me, they are reminiscent of traditional quilts with their orderliness, separate blocks and geometric shapes. They aren't perfect though, not lined up with straight lines, and I am trying to decide of this is something that will bother me or if I can just make it part of the piece. I think it fits with the idea of everyday life not being perfect, it's a metaphor for that, but still. I don't think things like this should hinge on perfection though. It's really not the point for me when being creative. For now though, this is how it is going to be.
What is exciting for me though is the sewing. If the viewer zooms in on the photo they can see that I have taken to sewing the borders of the paper blocks. This is very new for me. The blocks themselves are not sewn together to make one big block. The edges are simply stitched. I should say that for the most part the blocks are individual. There are some though that are taped together on the back. This is new for me too. And the biggest new thing is how I am now adhering the blocks to the board via double sided tape. Previously I had been using rice based glue which I really love. But when gluing multiple pieces of layered paper together it doesn't really work well. (It gets very lumpy.) This is all technical type stuff (who cares right?) but it is part of what allows me to make something that I want. You really do have to learn what your materials do and how to work them.
The last thing is that I have started a project. I made myself a sketchbook using my painted papers and two boards covered with my papers. I used some special stitching (coptic stitching) to pull everything together. There are about 40 blank pages inside to fill. I have been taking the remnants of my papers and doing small 4" x 6" collages. I am trying to test out different ideas like color combinations, varied print scales, varied pattern scales and embroidery and stitching. I do one nearly every day which is great. They are quick and fun and I don't have too many rules other than to try something new. I am extremely pleased so far. The first collage shown above is an "adaptation" of one of the practice collages in my sketchbook. The title is called "Adaptations" because the piece is really just one interpretation of the original collage. I had to adjust or adapt my thinking to not copy the original collage completely. Something in a small format doesn't always work good in a larger format. The title also reminded me of course with how in nature, in real life, creatures adapt and evolve every day as well as over long periods of time. Humans included!
In any case, I will need to decide how to share the book when I am done. Stay tuned!
Thanks for reading and email a comment if you would like to.
River Walk 1
16" x 16"
collage on board
As 2023 came to a close, I found myself wanting to switch the way that I make art. During 2023, I had explored the use of found images and different papers: free web based photographs, vintage family photos, and some specialty papers purchased online. Many of the collages had to do with my interior life and how I expressed those feelings and ideas with different materials. Truthfully though, my art making became very dependent on finding photos, scanning and editing them, and then printing them. As much as I loved the photos and the resulting work, I was sick of being on the computer! What a grind. And to make things worse, my computer crashed and some of my source photos were lost. It was then that I realized that I was perhaps working in the wrong direction and with the wrong tools for my temperament.
So, I slowly began to pivot. I thought of ways to make art that didn't involve the computer so much. I unearthed my printing plate (gelli plate) from the closet and started to mess around with it. I also broke out my artist grade crayons, my colored pencils and my sewing machine. Going low tech never felt so good!
To begin things, I chose to work on two themes that have been reoccurring in my work for awhile now: nature and nurture. I have worked on both ideas separately. What would happen if I tried to combine them in a more purposeful way?
With the images I print and the colors that I select, I am trying to focus on what I see around me on my walks and sporadic hikes. At the same time, I have quilts on my mind: The patterns, the colors, and their history: Quilts are the ultimate in nurturing. They keep us warm and are given to us in love and friendship. Maybe I am drawing a tenuous attachment here but I see nature as nurturing and the quilts as nurturing in the same sort of way. Quilts too are very reassuring with their grid like construction and block repetition. There is an orderliness there that is similar to what you find in nature. For the first time too I am stitching the pieces together with my sewing machine. I see this as an active and tangible way to fuse the two ideas of nature and nurture together.
One thing is sure. As the year progresses I will continue to put these two ideas together. For now I am actively fleshing them out, as they say. Nature and nurture are part of my experience in the world. They are both pieces of the puzzle that I try to solve every day. It's my hope that as I work, the materials and format will tell me what I need to know.
Do No Harm
16" x 16" collage on board
It's been a few minutes, as they say, since I have written a post talking about my work. I stopped writing because it seemed futile since really no one seemed to be reading and commenting. Isn't that one of the purposes of blogging? People read your thoughts and then write in to tell you something about those thoughts, good or bad. Even without that back and forth, I know that the writing is part of the art making for me, somehow, and I should really keep that up in order to help stay connected to the work. Even if no one reads that writing I am still reading it myself.
For this latest piece, I drew on my recent experience with reading two separate works. The first work is by Charlotte Perkins Gilman. It's called The Yellow Wallpaper and it chronicles the rather quick descent into madness of a young and well-to-do wife and new mother, possibly called Jane. The second work is a play by Henrik Ibsen called A Doll's House. The play tells the story of Nora and her husband and Nora's rather rude awakening to the reality of her marriage and relationship. I read the works back to back and they became entwined in my mind. Both characters are women living in a time when women's rights weren't terribly robust. Choices weren't abundant and men tended to be in control. When both women could really use some help, their husbands make bad decisions which end up having negative consequences for the women. Of the two, the character of Nora in the Ibsen play does better. She at least is able to leave the marriage but even so, at what cost? The other, Jane, cannot physically leave. Because she is confined by her husband to bedrest and cannot thrive, she has a nervous breakdown. She mentally checks out, in a sense.
Not exactly cheerful subject matter I know but still. It made me think. I also remembered (and this brought it all together for me) a Wallace Stevens poem called The Emperor of Ice Cream. One of the final sentences of the poem is "Let the lamp affix its beam..." I just love this. Using a modern term, that is a call to bring it on! Do your worst! Shine a light on everything, the line seems to say, and I will still surpass the trouble and embarrassment of whatever you choose to uncover. The truth cannot hurt me. There is just a finality about things I guess. That may not be how Stevens exactly meant it but it's how I imagined it. And, circling back to the two works I read, I think those ideas apply to both women. Both women escape their situation in a fashion but at what cost? Ultimately, they can't escape their fate.
I know that it's impossible to take all of what I read and what I thought about the two works and the poem and reflect that back in my collage. I can't possibly represent those ideas (I don't have the skills for that). But, I chose images that I thought would be supportive (which is different than strict representation). The woman in the dress to the right is the main character, sort of rolling her eyes heavenward in a "now what?" kind of way. I feel that she looks polite and is possibly the master of forbearance. The Ouija board image reflects back to The Yellow Wall Paper story. Jane's husband doesn't believe in the supernatural (Jane does). It's one more way that he dismisses her. (Nora is dismissed by her husband in numerous ways as well, through his use of a pet name for her as well as telling her how simple and child like she is.) Jane also locks herself in her room and tosses the key into the garden (hence the key imagery). Moreover, both women eventually arrive at the "key" or solution to their particular dilemmas. Both women are in a "cage" of sorts so I included that imagery as well. There is the image of the three blindfolded men (self explanatory I think. Just because a man tells you what to do doesn't mean that is the correct thing. Even men can't know everything.) I chose the butterflies because I see them as a symbol of transformation and freedom. I also took some effort to select a good printed background. The flowered designs are from a William Morris book of papers. I thought that would be appropriate for the time period of both works. Plus, Morris's patterns are so detailed and intense- a person could get bogged down or lost, mentally, by them. The colors are a kind of yellowish gold. And lastly, there is the structure of the piece itself. I meant the whole image to look like Lucy at her help booth in a Charlie Brown episode. The top and sides of the piece (dark flowered paper) are the top and sides of the booth while the bottom of the booth is the lighter colored gold paper. Lucy always charges 5 cents a session for psychiatric help so I used the number 5 and the cents symbol in the background paper.
I originally intended that this piece be a commentary of my views on the availability of mental health help and medical help in general (hence the title of the piece). I know from news stories that the need for healthcare has skyrocketed. Doctors, nurses and other medical professionals are in dire need here in the US. It's much worse in other countries. I also know that many people simply don't have health care or what they have is inadequate. My own experience in the medical system has been very mixed. For a few life threatening things, I got the care I needed to save my life. For the other more mundane and chronic problems, help has been very poor. I should say that getting my problems resolved (which they haven't been) and being churned up by the system in the process has taken a real toll on my mental health. One result is that my view of medical care has changed completely particularly as it relates to the management of chronic medical conditions. Not only is our system set up poorly to handle chronic ailments but the cures are often worse than the ailment itself. I can't tell you the number of times the side effects were more objectionable than the original problem. It's clear to me now why the supplement business is so lucrative.
In any case, these were my initial thoughts as I started the piece. Things morphed, obviously, as I read a few books and a poem. I think that is how my art works though. It's very in-the-moment and reflects what I am currently thinking but it also takes in my past experiences and ideas. . It isn't a straight forward linear thing. It's very circular and almost like an Apollonian circle, with many ideas intersecting around a central point.
I am very pleased with the results of this piece. I know however that not everyone will see things my way. Interpretations will be varied and maybe not what I had intended. That's just fine with me. I have medication and meditation for that!
Thanks to anyone who has read the post. Send me an email if you like.
The above images should be clickable for a better look.
They are about 10" x 10", photos, text, and transparent deli wrap!
For a long time now, on and off, I have wanted to use my own photos in my artwork. I just couldn't see how to do it. I have tried using them for reference material when developing shapes for my abstract collages and of course I used them very literally when I was painting landscapes. These ways were pretty unsatisfactory, however. So, I put the idea aside.
I suppose that the right moment and idea must present themselves and that one has to wait patiently for that to happen. I have seen work over the years that seems to use actual photos with other ephemera rather successfully. Taking those ideas as the basis for your own interpretations could be a gateway in to doing something different. So, that is what I did. I started with the Barbie piece shown in the lower right corner. That is my own photo of my own Barbie doll. Those photos shown on the borders are from my high school yearbook. I like the piece a lot though poor Barbie seems to not have an outfit, as improbable as that may seem. From this piece, sprang the others.
My idea was to use images of people, of places, and of things. I wanted some blurred backgrounds and some crisp closeups to play with perspective. I wanted to layer some transparent printed papers (the deli wrap) to enhance colors and to present layering. I also wanted to bring together nature, (both people and other creatures), science and the numinous (spiritual).
For the piece in the lower left corner, I wrote my own love letter from the woman to the man that I imagined she was waiting for. The bottom middle piece is another love story founded on a poem in the public domain. The top middle piece is about the book called The Electricity of All Living Things, by Katherine May. And the piece in the far left upper corner, called Rachel, is about Rachel Carson, the late writer, naturalist and biologist. Except for the Barbie piece, all of the backgrounds shown are my own photos. The flower images (vertical borders) are mine as well. The people and animals are all images from my own books or from online (from the public domain). I used just three colors of copy paper and some brown "cardstock". I also used the white semi transparent deli paper (both undyed and tea stained) as well as a brown coffee filter that I printed the electrical equation on. I used colored pencils to enhance some of the black and white images.
This is about as "mixed media" as I get. I am very pleased with myself for having tried something new. I am a real stick in the mud about things so this was a big leap. I like the ideas and effects. I would also add that I abandoned all remaining notions of using "neutral" colors. What a bunch of nonsense that is. I really want to emphasize this. All color, even white and black, has something to it: under color (red, yellow, or blue), contrast (dark or light), temperature, and chroma (how saturated the color is). And these are all relative things meaning that once you start to mix and match, things can change. Neutral indeed!
Lastly, I really want to recommend a book that I am reading. It's called Always, Rachel: The Letters of Rachel Carson and Dorothy Freeman edited by Martha Freeman. It's been a rather profound awakening for me. That two people could love each other so deeply AND be able to express that love fully in person and via letters is a real miracle. It's extra incredible because they are women (one of whom was married). And it's the 50's. And did I mention those letters? Wow. At times, it feels very voyeuristic, as if you are reading something incredibly private though the letters are simply intimate in a non sexual way. And at first it was difficult for me, a heterosexual woman, to understand. Were these ladies lesbians? What category did they fall into? I thought of myself too as very accepting of many types of relationships so what was my question exactly? It didn't take long to adjust my thinking, however. There is no category except that which describes two human beings that love each other deeply and express that love over and over again. The details don't matter, just the love. I am new to reading epistolary writing so it's an adjustment to read someone else's thoughts. As I said, it feels like an intrusion. But so far, the reading has been a wonderful lesson for me. It's never too late to expand your thinking. And how dare anyone rush to judgement concerning another human being. How ungenerous and unkind we can be. Now, go read that book and be transformed!
Alright, as always, email if you have thoughts.