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Category: Collage

Trying to Shift Gears

Trying to Shift Gears

While making breakfast on Sunday, my mind was busy pulling up ideas about what images I wanted to use in a series of three collages I’m making as part of an online course. I started with some background papers of colored tissue paper and neutral scraps.

Since this was a class project, I couldn’t tell what the instructor was planning from what she had shown at that point. Maybe I could use some pictures of birds or flowers was my first thought.

That thought got me thinking about my yard and all the unwelcome volunteers (plants) I’m in the process of digging up on the side yard. (Yes, I’m still weeding—after all, that is my “word for the year”.) I have hundreds of tiny three inch privet trees, palm trees, Pyracantha bushes, woody bushes I don’t know the names of, run-a-way ajuga, and of course patches of Bermuda grass in the regular grass under my large tree.

Next, my mind reflected on how quickly summer left and fall took over, even though the days are still warm. It is suddenly dark before 7:00 p.m. The house is cold at night. I need to shift gears so that I’m out in the yard in early afternoon instead of between five and seven.

And, I want to shift my thinking to more of what I want to do creatively instead of reviewing what has already happened. I find this incredibly difficult. It is so much easier to rehearse what went wrong, what I said, or what someone didn’t do, than to make mental space for what I could be doing now.

I understand why established artists and writers go to retreat places with meals provided for a few weeks or a month to concentrate on their work. I understand why artists, who can afford it, have a studio separate from their living place.

When I’m not reviewing the past, I frequently get involved in small projects. Sunday evening as I was preparing dinner, I needed brown sugar for a sauce. I have plenty of brown sugar but I couldn’t measure it because it was hard as a rock. I removed what I didn’t need from its package into a jar, went outside to the apple tree, picked a small apple, and placed a piece of it in the jar to soften the sugar.

A second small project was to soften hand soap scraps, collected over several years, so I can make round bars which I use for cleaning my brushes after painting or mixed media. Detours like these get things done that nag at me when I encounter them, but add up to chunks of time spent while creative projects wait to be completed.

Sometime Sunday evening, I recalled a suggestion I read last week in a library book which suggested looking at your own previous work when you need a new idea, and maybe that will trigger something. I also had the thought that I didn’t necessarily need to use an actual image of something for the class projects; I could use a color or texture for a focal point. I looked through some papers my art group did a few years ago and found some boiled books with colors that I liked which might go with what I already had.

In the process of this course, I’m using different adhesives, different paper, and a different way of thinking about images from the last class I worked through. I find that I’m not learning new techniques so much as comparing and evaluating the materials and processes and deciding which I prefer and what works best for me.

Instead of a finished project, this is what the three collages looked like at the beginning of this week. The dark shapes are scraps of a boiled book page.

Beginning of three collages for online class.

Obviously, I have a lot more work to do on them. Stay tuned.

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Chasing Smoke and Mirrors

Chasing Smoke and Mirrors

In an online collage making class the instructor suggested we go through our box of images,

Are We Abandoning Our Birthright for Smoke and Mirrors?

and pull out those that catch our interest on an emotional level, even if the images don’t seem to relate to the idea we hope to express.

I selected photos of a campground being left by two figures, some odd land formations, and some light and dark patterns. On the bottom right side, I added a pile of rocks with part of our flag on the ground.

Like anyone who has even a minimal exposure to the news this summer, I’m exhausted from the nonsense.

There were the problems with the children being separated from their parents at the border. Then we had the fires all over California, and other western states, that were choking us with smoke.

We’ve had daily updates on the fallout from the never-ending Muller investigation of everything, which is turning out to be nothing.

Two weeks ago we had the hurricane, the effects of which are still unfolding along the rivers. Now last week and this, the unbelievable spectacle of the Supreme Court nomination.

We seem to go from crisis to crisis with little new followup on the previous incidents. All of this has me wanting to express my feeling that our government is abandoning our heritage for a display of smoke and mirrors.

This collage was made entirely from magazine pictures that were torn or cut and adhered to a cardboard substrate with “Yes” paste.

Detail Showing the Maze

My main image is what appeared to be a campsite that was being abandoned by two people walking away. I moved them further out onto some barren ground with streams of water. The people are looking into a maze that is surrounded by hazy black and gray patterns. They are surrounded by black, brown, and white patterns that don’t make sense.

 

 

Over the collage I added two coats of encaustic wax which adds a little haze and blurs the edges of the torn paper.  I’m pleased with the results – overall this is a dark piece – but I feel it expresses my feelings and concerns.

Are We Abandoning Our Birthright for Smoke and Mirrors?
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More about Paper, Bark, and Wire

More about Paper, Bark, and Wire

Plaited paper with palm-bark 3-D view

One of my readers last week, Don, commented that he would like to see photos that showed more of the 3-D aspect of my experiments with handmade paper, palm-bark, and wire. I appreciated his suggestion because I was taking the photo straight on, like I would with a painting, and I had not thought about an angle that showed the elements that are not flat.

So here is the plaited piece mounted on a small, barely seen, square canvas.

3-D view

 

In the work that combines a painted piece that has cut-outs along with the paper and bark, the painted paper is secured flat onto the black backing. The handmade paper is mostly flat, but the edges curl up from the board and there is a part of the paper that arches over the painted piece and leaves a shadow.

3-D view handmade paper, bark, with cut painted paper

 

 

The bark-cloth is attached to the handmade paper in only a few places, allowing the way it dried when I collected it, to provide all the action in this work.

 

 

The third item made this summer, started out with a large handmade paper with extremely irregular edges, probably made with the last of the pulp on a large oval shaped screen.

Handmade paper, bark, wire mounted on watercolor paper

There wasn’t enough pulp to cover the screen. Being larger than the other paper I made, this piece has been sitting on top of the box for a very long time.

I threaded three lengths of thin copper wire across the paper so that I could shape the paper by bending the wire. I rolled up the two sides toward each other sort of like a scroll. In the lower center, I glued on a small wind-lashed piece of bark. This bark is all connected together by strong fibers even though it appears to be three small pieces.

Cleaning up under a crape myrtle tree a few days before starting this series, I had brought into the studio feathers and rolls of bark found under this tree.  Since I hadn’t put these things away, and I was cleaning up the work table, they were added to the piece.

3-D view

Of course, this item was too fragile to remain unmounted. I went on a search for something to use for a background. A piece of watercolor paper I had played with using a stencil and sponge painting caught my attention as I rummaged for something blue among sheets of past experiments.

I glued the blue paper to some heavy cardboard, and the handmade paper with its wire and bark was attached with gel medium.

The really fun part of all this is getting to use all the old, used, anybody else would have thrown it away, stuff I have in my stash!

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What Can I Make with Paper, Bark, & Wire ?

What Can I Make with Paper, Bark, & Wire ?

Early in the summer, I thought I was ready to have some daily studio time. I had completed some unfinished projects, and weeded my book cases. I decided to play a bit, and see what I could do with three materials I have in abundance.

Paper, Bark, & Wire

During the winter, the neighbor’s palm trees are constantly dropping in my yard, what I call “bark-cloth”, and I can’t resist picking it up. I have boxes of this dark brown material that is thin, light weight, and flexible like cloth, but is also tough. It has openings, strings, and ripples in pieces large and small.

In 2005, when I was newly retired from my full-time position at the VA, I spent a week or so making handmade paper on my patio. I used junk mail as my base and added onion skins, asparagus, and other similar ingredients to the pulp. I used old embroidery hoops with screen cloth to drain the pulp. Thirteen years later, I still have most of these circular paper sheets.

My father, a ham radio operator, started building radios, televisions, and other rigs before there were transistors. When I moved my parents to California in 1996, he could no longer do this work, but had a large selection of copper wire which I added to my growing stash of art materials.

So I set out a small supply of these three on my work table.

Painted paper and hand made paper woven, with bark-cloth

My first action was to tear one of the paper circles in half, and slice one half into strips with my paper cutter. I plaited them together diagonally with some strips of painted paper I had left over from a basketry project. I tied a small, unruly piece of bark-cloth to the plaiting with some wire. Now what?  It sat on my table for a few days before I mounted it to a small, five-inch canvass with a mottled, neutral color.

That left me with a half circle of handmade paper, to which I secured a larger piece of bark-cloth with some wire. This sat on my table for several months until the week before my San Diego trip. This had now become another unfinished project.

A few weeks ago at my local art meeting we tried making cut-outs in paintings we had made earlier in the year. I used a small mixed media sample from earlier experiments. This was also now sitting on the work table. I decided to merge these two items and mount them on black cardboard.

Paper and bark collage with cutouts

I added a piece of aluminum foil with a wheelchair tire imprint which I found in the garage, and a leaf I had picked up last fall.

It’s not great art, but at least I’m doing something, which hopefully will continue. More on this playing with materials next week.

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Dad’s Barometer

Dad’s Barometer

Dad’s barometer from his basement workshop

I don’t know how many barometers my father had, but I know he liked them because three of them came with him to California in 1996, when I moved my parents here for their final years. Of course, living along Lake Erie which is known for its quickly generated summer afternoon storms, may have been the reason he kept an eye on them. And as those things go, his barometers eventually took up residence at my house.

My dad was a “ham”, an amateur radio operator for 65 years. On the wall above his desk in the basement where his rig was set up, on which he talked to other “hams” all over the world, hung a wood plaque with a seven inch round barometer made in England. Below the dial, Dad had pasted a center slice of ham covering the name of some company. My father was always trading electronic equipment and supplies with his buddies, and he acquired this handsome barometer somewhere along the way.

Not surprisingly, I like barometers too, although one hardly needs one in California’s central valley. One of Dad’s bigger barometers decorated my garage next to the side door for about ten years until it became so weathered I couldn’t read the dial anymore.

I wanted to hang up the one with the ham picture in my computer/ shell collection room, but I didn’t want to look at that ham slice everyday. When I removed the ham, the wood underneath it had some painted writing partially scratched off. The only practical solution was to make a collage over the mess.

I could have covered it with flowers, birds, or butterflies, but I really wanted to have something that honored those traits I share with my dad: trading supplies and equipment with my friends, picking up treasure out of other people’s junk, and giving new life to odd, useful things.

Detail of collage on Dad’s barometer

I covered the writing with a grass-cloth wallpaper sample. The two metal stars at the top corners are part of the plaque, and I had to carefully cut the wallpaper to fit around them. The tan mesh in front of the gold foil is a chair caning material I have a roll of. The round grey/white thing in the center is a burned out light bulb socket. Other ephemera include an old buckle on a strap, a cruddy penny, and a wadded up piece of rusty barbed wire.

I used fine copper wire twisted to suspend a Tim Holtz blurb from the barbed wire which reads: “reality is limited, imagination is limitless.”

Detail of the quote
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Catching Up on History

Catching Up on History

Old National Geographic Magazines

One of my impulsive “finds” at an estate sale a few years ago was a stash of National Geographic magazines. At the time, one of the members in my local mixed media art group was doing some interesting things with Nat Geo pages.

I go to estate sales on Sunday, when things are half-price, and I go at about 12:30 p.m. so I avoid the rush of all the folks who looked on Saturday and are back to grab their “must have.”  What’s left is the odd papers, rusty junk, fabric scraps, and home-made contraptions that nobody wants.

At this particular sale there must have been an entire collection of Geographics.

They were tumbling out of boxes on a small patio where people had been going through them. By this time, the women running the sale were having concerns about how they would dispose of them later in the day, and were encouraging people to just take what ever they wanted. They even provided bags for them.

So, I proceeded to fill up three or four bags of the ones that were easiest to reach. This was something I would get to “someday.” Since I didn’t have room for them in my house, I cleared space for them in the back of a cabinet in the garage. I stacked them neatly in order by the date of publication, which I noted was quite a while back.

When Robert moved into the apartment behind the garage, they were still there and I had other boxes of materials in front of them. Two years ago, when I reorganized the garage to give Robert more space for his photos, I moved the boxes, but left the magazines stacked up because he can’t reach that space anyway.

I hadn’t forgotten them, but this year when I started weeding my bookcases, and then began harvesting images from my magazine stash, I knew I needed to make a decision about this secret in the garage. Before Robert came back from Florida last month, I brought them into the house and installed them in some of the space I had cleared.

At the end of most evenings, I’m looking through one or two of these old magazines and cutting out images of interest. I’ve started with the oldest which was early in 1941 about the time my parents got married. I love seeing the old hand drawn ads. My boss at the printing company where I worked in 1964 drew like that.

I estimate I have about 138 of these magazines published between 1941 and 1960. I’ve never been

May 1942 – 2000 Ships

much interested in history, but suddenly I’m seeing photos of how the US is building 2000 ships in two years, how the women took over technical jobs and agricultural duties.

I’m looking forward to seeing what was happening in the world while I was a child. I’ll probably cut out things that catch my attention and do a project with those images.

 

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Ephemera

Ephemera

In the middle of May, I needed to get my work tables cleared off so I could have space to sort the ephemera I have collected over the last two years. Ephemera— I just looked the word up in the dictionary—means “for the day, short lived,” and is also the name of a group of insects like May flies.

Mixed media artists use the word to refer to odd things that are attached to art pieces to add interest, texture, and complexity, fill in spaces, and give the work a personal touch. Some things that are commonly used are small artificial flowers, plastic gear shapes, beads, and ribbons.

For me and my collage artist friends, ephemera is anything we find that catches our interest, and appears to have been abandoned or no longer needed. For instance, I have acquired frames from glasses that have been driven over numerous times in parking lots, which are easy to use because they are so flat.

Ephemera & glasses frame on book cover

My favorite place to acquire and enlarge my stash is in the garages of estate sales. Dusty box lids or jars with odd nuts, bolts, washers, screws, extra pieces of things—junk to most normal people—can be had for small change. I also find all sorts of junk in my yard, even after twenty-one years. Rusty wire, nails, shoe cleats, hooks, as well as bird feathers, seed pods, butterfly wings, palm bark fiber, and termite sculptured wood pieces, to name just a few.

On my “To Do” list for May 15, was to put away the junk on the drawing board. I had been dropping things here all though March, intending to make a collage as soon as I could get to it. By May, I’d rather lost the “want to” feeling, but when I looked at the items, I quickly decided it would take longer to put each of them away in their designated container than to assemble the collage.

Collage: March 2018

The large yellow sales receipt is from the mattress I bought in December, 1996, which I had just replaced with a new one. I have been cutting up old magazines for months, and found an article about the San Joaquin Delta, just west of here, with a nice map, as well as the two square photos of animals.

The odd dark shape in the lower right is some palm bark fiber which landed in my driveway. The half circle next to it was found on my lawn. It is half of a label from a spool of wire . The twig in the center is from the birch tree outside my dining room. I don’t know which bird left me the orange and black feather. The rusty nail is the latest one I found.

This 10” x 10” collage is glued to watercolor paper, but still needs to be mounted on a stiffer surface to keep it flat.

Over the holiday weekend I sorted my metal ephemera, including some weird things in the garage that came with the house. I have it all in same size plastic containers, arranged so I can see what I have at a glance. Ah, the satisfaction of a project completed.

Until last Friday, when I went looking for a sprinkler part in the garage, and discovered a drawer of pieces for things that I no longer know what they came with. Some of them look very much like what I was sorting. More ephemera.

 

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Using Art and Writing to Find the Source of Complex Emotions

Using Art and Writing to Find the Source of Complex Emotions

At my local art group last Thursday, we made little fabric collages called Stitch Meditations. They are meant to be a relaxing activity, one with no right or wrong way to do it, and shouldn’t be turned into a “project.” I selected fabrics with similar colors, and I thought it looked okay as I was working on it.

Fabric collage, 4×4 inches

I ran two errands on the way home. I had purchased a few plants but had no desire to go out and put them in the ground. When I unpacked my stitching later that afternoon, one glance was enough to dismiss it as wasted effort. I wasted more time on Facebook and email that evening.

Before going to sleep I wrote in my journal to try to understand my less than happy feelings.

I wrote:

“I’m so disgusted with the yard that I’d like to pick up my house and go somewhere else.  I’m wanting to just sit and read and eat chocolate. And I’m not very excited with what I’m reading either.”

At this time of year my yard has millions of tiny wildflowers all blooming all at once, then going to seed and drying up – this is normal. Most of them burn up and quickly disappear as soon as we get our first really hot day. But this year, that amount of debris won’t disappear on its own.

My yard is dominated by a huge sycamore tree next to the house. It is my air-conditioning system all summer. But it sheds stuff constantly. First it drops yellow petals about the size of a dime releasing tiny pollen balls. Next come the fuzzies, 3/8 inch long sharp splinters, pointed at one end with a plume of fine hair and a tiny dagger at the other. Millions of them, mounding up all over the yard, in drifts on the roof, coming inside on my shoes.

Fussies shed by sycamore tree

Before the fuzzies stop falling, the new green leaves mildew from the cold damp nights and start to drop off the tree. If the wind is blowing it looks like a snow storm. This year it is like autumn with piles of leaves and fuzzies everywhere. In twenty years I have never seen it this bad. Both the garbage bin and the green waste bin are full of this stuff.

The leaves and fuzz are stuck in the Jade plant, adorning my roses, and cuddling my strawberries. If I want to plant seeds or something new, I have to clean up this mess to find the soil so I can dig. I’m envisioning weeks of work to get rid of it.

As an art therapist, I could understand a lot about my patients just by looking at their art. My stitching told me a lot about what I was feeling, but I needed to write about those feelings to discover what was triggering them.

Normally I’d rather be working in the yard than anywhere else, but this spring, not so much. Eventually, I’ll get out of my funk and love my yard again. Meanwhile, I’ll indulge in chocolate and read more fiction.

 

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Making “Myself as Artist” Collage

Making “Myself as Artist” Collage

I retired from my full-time Creative Arts Therapy position at the VA in Livermore, California, at the end of 2004, but wasn’t able to settle into a way of working in my studio on a regular basis. In 2006, I was learning my new part-time job at the University of the Pacific (UOP), and preparing for a trip to Australia in October. Now that the trip was behind me, I was trying to decide what kind of art I wanted to do.

During the 2006 holiday break from my library job at UOP, I started planning a large collage project composed of photos of the art I had made since I was a child.

I had moved my mother to an assisted living facility near my home early that summer. Under her bed was a large box she had moved here to Stockton from Ohio in 1996. It was tied up with string and she had refused to tell me what was in it when I moved her to Lodi in May of 1998. In 2006, she told me to throw the box away because she didn’t care about it any more.

When I opened the box at my house, I discovered it was full of photographs, some many years old, of her parents, aunts, uncles, and my brother and me. Some of them I remembered, some I had never seen. Now I had duplicates of paintings I made and gifts I’d given.

I decided on a collage of photos of my art to see where I had been, hoping to find the next step. It would be fourteen sections with each one covering five years. Each block was twelve inches square and I planned to arrange them in a square with four across the top and bottom and two going up each side, with the last two in the center somehow. To keep things manageable to work on, I drew out six panels of two blocks on heavy corrugated cardboard with half inch boarders on each square.

Each section represented five years in my life. The first one is photos of me and a drawing of a horse and my baby brother. I made color copies of my early art which I still have in a scrap book. The second block has drawings of a farm, my doll, a large chicken, and a butterfly.

Detail of collage showing first three blocks.

When I finished all the panels, I stapled them to the wall of my studio which was in a mother-in-law type unit behind my garage. I added lace between the panels. It was finished in June of 2008, and hung there for a year, until I decided to move my art studio into my house. My son Chris was going to remodel the unit for my boyfriend, who wanted to live there.

I didn’t have a wall in the house for this collage. Fortunately, because it was on cardboard and each block twelve inches square, I could reassemble it into a straight line. In the room where my looms were in the house, there is a beam going across the room coming down twenty-four inches from the ceiling where the collage fits perfectly.

Self as Artist Collage installed in my house.

After it was up, I was able to see how my work developed and changed over the years. I could see things that were good and some that were not so good.

At the end of 2013 when I began to write my memoir, I used this collage to recall what art I was making during the different seasons of my life. At one point, I concluded that possibly my best work had already been done. But I didn’t like the idea that my best creative days were behind me.

Now I’m trying to challenge that. I’m starting to play with materials I haven’t known what to do with, like things I pick up in my yard.

I’m still spending time organizing materials I haven’t used yet, so I see them more often. I’m harvesting photos out of old magazines so I can find images more quickly than leafing through a book, hoping to find the right thing.

On my drawing board table, I’m depositing whatever has caught my attention in the yard each day – so far I have two bent nails from repairing the fence on Sunday, three feathers, a label that fell off a spool of wire in the garage, something off the palm tree next door, and a photo cut from one of the magazines.

The components of the next collage are assembling themselves as I go through the week. I have a little feeling of excitement when I walk past them. For me, this is a whole new way to begin a piece of work.

 

 

 

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Giving an Old Chair a New Personality

Giving an Old Chair a New Personality

After I made the fabric collage sample (last week’s blog), I was ready to get started on recovering the chair, but I didn’t have a clear idea of how I wanted it to look. This chair is a swivel rocker from the 1980’s with discolored orange velvet upholstery, which has been slip-covered for at least fifteen years. I wanted to keep this chair because it fits my body better than the chairs in the stores these days.

I’m not a big fan of floral upholstery or tiny overall patterns, but I didn’t want a plain color either –     I wanted to do something different and unusual.

Then I saw a photo of Cinque Terra, Italy, in the AAA Magazine. What a great scene to depict on this chair, I thought. I can have the tiny buildings going up the chair back on the front side, the water in the harbor on the seat cushion, with a marina, boats, and stonework. A flower garden can be made on each side. The outside back can be a green meadow area with a few giraffes. One can never have too many giraffes, if they are your favorite animal.

The next day, when I walk in the door of the fabric store, looking for a way to create the scene in my mind, the first display table I see has a sheer fabric that will be perfect for the buildings. By making very careful measurements, I create pattern pieces for each section of the chair. I cut each piece I need from a heavy cotton upholstery cloth that I picked up at an estate sale. This serves as a backing for the fabrics I have collected. I decide to sew each section of the scene separately. I plan to assemble the scene onto the chair, using hand stitching to attach each section to the old upholstery which will remain on the chair under this new fabric.

Cinque Terra

The front of the chair with the houses going up the cliff is assembled first. I create the scene as I go along. The sheer fabric is printed with inch by half-inch rectangles in brown, tan, and burgundy colors. I scrunch it up in various places to give the appearance of small houses built wall-to-wall, into the cliff. I use fabric from a mottled green velour shirt to simulate trees and foliage above the houses. A pale blue printed fabric, for the sky with clouds, is attached to the top. I continue to create scenes for each section of the chair in a similar manner. I measure carefully many times.

When I have the outside back sewn together, I realize I can attach the side flower garden scenes to

Side view of chair

the back, using the sewing machine. It is amazing how one idea follows the next, and how perfectly it all works. I see that the arms can be attached to the sides. Somehow, each next step comes into my mind just before I need it. The lower front part below the cushion can be sewn to the two sides.

The way the chair is made, I can tuck most of the edges down into the chair or under the sides of the back cushion. The whole cover, except for the inside front with the houses on the cliff, fits on the chair like putting on a T-shirt. I only need to stitch across the top of the chair, connecting the back to the front, with a minimum of hand sewing.

YES! This is how the creative process is supposed to work. This is flow. This is so much fun. This creates energy inside me. Once I got started on this project, it was easy to keep going.

How did this happen? I don’t know. But, I did have a clear image I was trying to produce. The sewing skills I’ve used for years allowed me to see the next logical step.

A week or so after the chair was completed, I sat down in it to read the mail. A few minutes later, I realized I was sitting in the marina! What a laugh I had.

Parts of this blog are excerpts from my memoir, “Looking for Connection,” available on Amazon here.

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