Exhibition News!

Many thanks to The Arts Center in Orange for inviting me to exhibit my yearlong collage project, My Suburban Life. The exhibition will include all 52 collages plus selected text from the accompanying essays that reveal my process, inquiry, and inspiration.

art in the burbs postcard cover

My Suburban Life: A Year in Collage by Laura Edwards Wooten

Curated by Pam Black & Theo van Groll
Opening Reception: Thursday, April 4 from 5-7pm
Exhibit Dates: April 4 – 30, 2013
In the Morin Gallery at The Arts Center In Orange
129 East Main Street, Orange, VA, Hours: 10-5, Mon-Sat
www.artscenterinorange.com

Cover work: The Snowy Walk (Detail), 2012, mixed media collage, 12 x 12 inches

Laura Wooten presents her yearlong project of creating a collage every week for the year of 2012. As an artist living in the Virginia suburbs, Wooten seeks to both confront and integrate her multiple identities of artist, wife, mother, and suburbanite. Breaking from her previous body of work, depicting imaginary landscapes, Wooten finds inspiration in the details of her everyday life. Juggling a busy schedule of art, work and family, the steady practice of making small drawings becomes the foundation for the collages. A commitment to weekly creativity brings a new momentum and spirit of discovery to her work, resulting in a heightened sense of curiosity, gratitude, and the ability to find the extraordinary in the ordinary. This project explores what is achievable in tiny increments over time, by committing to small consistent actions and an attitude of openness to what is here now in the present.

Week 20: The Blue Egg

Robin’s nest in the cherry tree, moments after Mother Bird flew away.

This collage is about hope and possibility– inspired by the robins nesting in my neighborhood, but driven by my feelings about home, motherhood and personal aspirations. I look at the tiny blue egg and it holds all the dreams and possibilities for my own child. My son is my only egg. He hatched into a wonderful boy. Ten more years before he leaves the nest. My task is to love and appreciate every detail of every age, be there for him in every moment, while letting go a little more each year as it passes.

I look at the egg again and it holds all the dreams and possibilities for me and my creative work. Can I hatch my plan to build a full-time creative career? The egg is so fragile. Can I tend to my nest like the mother robin: weaving a miracle out of twigs, lovingly guarding my most precious possession, hatching a dream, pushing it out of the nest, having the faith that it will fly?

Wave Pattern

I began this collage with paper eggs. I decided to use a wave pattern that I designed about a year ago. The wave motif has been an important theme in my paintings for several years, suggesting creative momentum. The meditative quality of the ocean’s powerful and continuous rhythm became a metaphor for creative flow and the practice of art-making.  (Take a look at the Momentum Series on my website to see more of this work.) It felt appropriate to use this pattern for the egg, adding two different layers of meaning. First, it seems to fit the spirit of my young boy- joyful, dynamic, and immersed in the flow of childhood. Secondly, it is a remnant of my early efforts to transition from drawing and painting to learning Illustrator and digital pattern design, as I began to find a new rhythm in my work, and formulate my goal to build a creative career. I saw this collage as an opportunity for me to bring together drawing, painting and pattern in one piece. Ultimately, that is the goal in the life of my work: to integrate my different modes of art and design in a way that can support me financially and fulfill me creatively.

Paper Eggs with Wave Pattern

In the final piece, I chose to include just one egg, centered in a scribbly nest, balanced in the crook of a tree branch, sheltered by leaves. Here is the final work with some close-up images of the details.

Nest, acrylic collage, 12 x 12

Nest Detail

Nest Detail

Nest, Detail with Bird

Nesting

The daily activities of creatures in the neighborhood continue to fascinate me. While minivans come and go, children ride their bikes, and lawn mowers buzz around our lots, layers and layers of diverse societies carry out their own rituals.  Recently my husband and I witnessed a tiny ant dragging an old dried up worm up a steep stretch of sidewalk. It was amazing that he could haul this heavy load so many times his own weight. We saw him get stuck in the joint of the sidewalk, cleverly adjust his grip to leverage himself out with his prize, then continue on his way.  A study in strength, ingenuity, and perseverance.

Empty Robin’s Nest

Empty Robin’s Nest

I have been particularly interested in the nesting of the robins.  There are nests in many of the cherry trees that line our streets. Just last week I peeked inside the ones I could discreetly reach with a stretch of my arm and a camera, and discovered that many had single blue eggs. Today I checked two of the nests again and the eggs were gone. This was a bit upsetting since foul play may have been a factor.

Baby robins will stay in the nest for about  two weeks after hatching, so their sudden absence is not a good sign. In another nearby tree, I witnessed two robins frantically driving off a mischievous squirrel with high-pitched chirps and threatening swoops. Do squirrels eat eggs? The nest was too high up for me to see, but I hope their eggs are still safe.

With Mother’s Day just here, and the activities of the robins all around me, I have been moved to contemplate my own nesting behavior.  While I love to travel, I have always strongly identified with the idea of home. I am not the free-spirited type who travels the world with a backpack. I need to build a nest.  I see this nest-building as an extension of my creativity and imagination– an opportunity to create a special place for my family that both shelters and inspires us. My husband feels the same way, and our home has evolved into a reflection of us both over the last four+ years that we have lived here. We intend to stay here for at least the next ten years, and probably longer. This long term commitment to our nest allows us to invest in fully customizing it. Here is a picture of an outdoor space that has become our own backyard “nest.”

Backyard Nest for Humans

Sketchbook page with nests

Week 19: Mockingbirds in the Pear Tree

Assembling the drawings and collage elements

This week’s collage is inspired by the birds of our neighborhood. Once I made a conscious effort to be aware of their presence, I began to notice more and more interesting details about their habits. Each day as I strolled around our yard or walked my dog through the neighborhood, I watched and listened for the birds instead of getting lost in my thoughts. Tiny hummingbirds buzz around the flowers on our deck. Robins nest in the cherry trees along the sidewalks. Mockingbirds chastise the cat from the pear tree. A variety of small songbirds twitter to each other on the rooftops, while hawks glide and circle high above it all.

I decided to focus on the mockingbird, one of whom has become somewhat of an overlord of our front yard, perching in the pear tree and announcing its presence with an admonishing “Chuh Chuh Chuh!”  My son named this bird “Chuh” and he became loosely regarded as an extended family member- not quite a pet, but a part of our local clan. Intrigued by this bird, I have enjoyed observing its antics and listening to its rich and varied song. In reading up on the mockingbird, I learned that they tend to be either solitary or in a small family unit, but in my collage I filled the pear tree with a whole chorus of mockingbirds. Maybe this is a picture of many mockingbirds, or maybe it is the same mockingbird, seemingly everywhere at once, which is true to its insistent nature.

After assembling all my drawings of the birds, I scanned the originals and re-sized them in Illustrator. This digital step has become an important part of my process. It allows me to scale down or enlarge the images, flip their orientation, and make multiples. I can also use the digital images later in patterns or illustrations.  I printed this collection of birds onto natural fiber collage paper, tearing out each bird to create a soft-edged shape.  I also used some drawings of the rose bushes from last week to complete the scene of the front yard. (A great example of the advantage of having digital copies of all my drawings saved to print out again later.)

Here is the final piece: a pear tree full of mockingbirds. Olivia, the cat, hides under the rose bush, while Holly, the dog, wags her tail in the front yard. The perspective is a topsy-turvy view from above, perhaps how the mockingbird would see the scene, swooping down from the sky.

Mockingbirds in the Pear Tree, acrylic collage, 12 x 12

Detail

Detail

Detail

Birds

Neighborhood resident perched in a tree

There are layers of secret sub-cultures in our neighborhood that will reveal themselves to the patient observer. Deer roam the forests behind our houses and sneak up into our yards at night to nibble the shrubs and flowers. A red fox flashes across the ravine at the edge of the woods. Squirrels chatter away, chasing each other through the tree tops and then disappear into a small round hole in an old birch tree. Worms and slugs do what they do in the low-down unseen realms of grasses, mulch and mud. Whole societies coexist side by side on every block, as we come and go, largely oblivious.

Hatched Robin’s egg found on the ground.

And then there are the birds! They are harder to miss. If only I could know all their secrets. I have been listening to their songs and observing them closely this Spring. I found a tiny blue egg-shell on the ground, discarded by its inhabitant, hopefully in birth and not death. (My cat, Olivia, slinks under the rose bush, avoiding my eye.) After I found the egg, I began noticing that robins are building lots of small nests in the cherry trees along the sidewalks. One day I was lucky enough to have my camera with me when I saw a Mother Robin sitting in her nest. I snapped a quick picture before startling her into flight.  Guiltily, I stood on tiptoe, raised my camera above my head, leaned into the branches and took a blind shot of the nest from above. The photo revealed one perfect blue egg.

Mother Robin in her nest

Robin’s nest in the cherry tree, moments after Mother flew away.

“Chuh” surveys his kingdom from a rooftop.

We have a favorite grey bird that we often see around our yard, one of whom entertained us once by swooping down from the pear tree and dive bombing our menacing cat.  My son nicknamed the bird “Chuh.” Not the most charming moniker, but this is the sound that it makes, “Chuh! Chuh! Chuh!” as if furiously admonishing someone. Then, in sudden forgiveness, it breaks into more varied and lyrical cries, as if it had so much more to say. One early morning I saw Chuh perched in my neighbor’s birch tree. I crept in very close, til I was only a few feet away. He didn’t move, but began to sing. I was astounded by the variety of beautiful sounds that he could make. What does it mean? I stood very still, watching and listening for a long time, until he finished his soliloquy and flew away.

I decided I had to identify Chuh. After some online research, I discovered the fantastic website, WhatBird.com.  It has a search database that allows you to plug in different characteristics to identify your bird. It turns out that Chuh is a Northern Mockingbird. I had to laugh when the description said, “The Northern Mockingbird voraciously defends its territory, attacking intruders including house pets and even people.” So homeownership in suburbia does not preclude other creatures from making their own claims.  Look out, Olivia!

Olivia and the Mockingbird

Mockingbird Sketches

Week 18: The Path of Roses

Roses drawings, scanned and re-scaled on the Mac

Inspired by the blooming roses along my front walkway, my creative process for this piece began with simple ink drawings done from life. Drawing is not just a means to an end, but an activity that opens up opportunities for new understanding through careful observation. I noticed that the blooms on some shrubs have three rows of petals while others have five. I saw exactly how the petals are shaped, and how they whorl together in a spiral. The fuller flowers are more lush and visually exciting, but have almost no fragrance, while the simpler flowers have a gorgeous scent. This was an interesting discovery, considering how often I have walked down the path to my own front door, and just now really noticed these differences. Maybe I did notice all these things when I first planted them, but had since forgotten… Drawing gladly brought it all back to me. The fragrance seems to hang in the air along the passage way between the tall shrubs, so that stopping to sniff an individual flower has become almost unnecessary, especially when one is hurrying along to the next task. One of the goals of this project was to allow my art-making to lead to a more intimate knowledge and appreciation of the simple things around me in my daily life. I have been reminded to stop and smell the roses.

Beginning the collage with ink drawings

After completing a small group of ink drawings, I scanned and vectorized the images in Illustrator using the Live Trace function. I could then re-size each element, scaling them up and down to create a variety of forms for the collage. The re-sized drawings were then printed on Gampi, my favorite natural fiber collage paper.  Here is a photo that shows an original drawing (colored with india ink after scanning), collage pieces printed on Gampi paper and torn into individual shapes, and the collage in process with paper elements and acrylic paint.

Palette for Roses

I mixed up a palette of rich magentas, reds, and purples, complimented by deep earthy greens. I wanted to both capture the intense color of the roses, while also allowing the ink drawings to express the exquisite detail of the flowers in black and white. The color adds the weight of atmosphere and light, while the black ink line tells the story of intimate observation or unfettered imagination. The imagery evolved beyond a literal depiction of my front walk, and became an expanded glimpse of my personal experience in this place. Something magical happens along this path. Everyday reality converges with imaginative leaps: I walk my dog calmly across the street while a riotous rose bush bursts forth, like a scene from Jack and the Beanstalk. A cat crouches in the shadows. I follow a garden path that ends at a front door. But to where does that door lead?  (For insight into the meaning of the secret doorway, please check out my post, The Woods with Secret Doorways.) Here is the finished work with details of my favorite passages:

The Path of Roses, acrylic collage, 12 x 12

Detail of collage in process: Ink drawings with acrylic paint.

Detail with crouching cat.

Detail with Secret Doorway

Detail with the Dog Walker (that’s me and Holly!)

Roses

Shrub Roses in May bloom

My roses are in bloom!  I planted these hearty shrub roses along our front walk about four years ago. They require almost no special care, and provide months of enjoyment, blooming throughout the Spring and Summer and even into the Fall.  At the height of the summer heat, the blooms take a break, then come back again in a fiery flush when the weather cools a bit. In milder years we have had flowers up until Thanksgiving. They require no pruning to flourish, although they grow so vigorously I need to cut them back several times throughout the season to prevent them from closing off the path to the front door! It has been warm and a bit humid the last couple days, which tends to amplify their lovely fragrance. When I come home from a walk, I like to just pause on the path before entering the house, inhale the perfumed air, and look closely at the intricate magenta petals. In these moments, there are no deadlines, no pressing tasks. There are no past regrets, or doubts about the future. Just the blaze of the roses and me. This is the elusive place I sometimes reach when I am drawing or painting, centered in the spacious awareness of the present moment. Sometimes the distractions and anxieties of life seem to barricade me from this place, but then I remember to just open my eyes. Wherever I may be, it is as close as my own front door.