Week 21: Neighborhood Pets

Collage papers and drawings

This week’s collage is a playful exploration of the neighborhood pets and their relationships. As I walk my dog, Holly, around the cul-de-sac and up and down our quiet streets, we often encounter other animals, sometimes from a distance, and sometimes nose to nose.  As short barks or sniffs are exchanged, I wonder about their communications and understanding of one another.  Through many small drawings, I tried to capture the personalities of actual pets in the neighborhood, as well as drawing new characters of my own invention. My approach allowed for simple cartoon-like animals, as well as more realized renderings. I borrowed leftover paper elements from previous collages and combined them with new drawings. The process was fun, light-hearted and maybe a little bit silly at moments. Welcoming this attitude in my work felt great. Here is the final collage, followed by favorite details.

Neighborhood Pets, acrylic collage, 12 x 12

Detail, Neighborhood Pets- The Nest, Olivia and the Mocking Bird

Detail, Neighborhood Pets- Holly and the Mocking Bird

Detail, Neighborhood Pets- A cat crosses the cul-de-sac

Detail, Neighborhood Pets- This is their neighborhood too!


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

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




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!)

Week 16: Lacrosse Kids

Sketches: Scanned, manipulated and printed on collage paper

This week I had a lot of fun sketching my 8-year-old son and his teammates at lacrosse practice. To provide some more versatility, I scanned the drawings and vectorized them in Illustrator. I could then scale them up and down, flip or reflect the images, and move them around to fill the page.  When I had a good variety of figures in different sizes, I printed them out onto various natural fiber collage papers.  I saved the digital file to be manipulated later for pattern design applications.

Beginning the collage with a painted ground

Next I prepared a painted ground for the collage, using colors inspired by the playing fields: the bright spring greens and yellows of new grass, the red-brown of the Virginia clay, and the deep green of the established turf.  I let the color push and pull the space around to create a place for the figures to play. I used fluid acrylics and kept it loose and playful. Observing kids is always a great reminder to just have fun and be in the moment, no matter what you are doing.

Playing with the placement of paper figures

Once the ground was dry, I began playing with the placement of figures. I like to tear the collage elements rather than using scissors, to create more organic and interesting shapes. I also chose to use two different colored papers this time. This brilliant orange paper is similar to the color I always use as an underpainting on the panels. Often you will see this orange underpainting showing through the paint layers as a warm glow.

In the final composition, I added jersey numbers. To keep the piece more personal, I actually went up to my son’s closet and pulled out all his old jerseys from the last three seasons of football and lacrosse (First through Third Grade), and used the numbers he had actually worn. I could still hear myself cheering for him, “Go Number 9!”

Lacrosse Kids, acrylic collage, 12 x 12

Here is a detail that shows the loosely painted surface with its drips and smears, the ragged edges of the torn paper, sketches of players and numbers, plus the diagram of the playing field articulated by ink lines drawn right onto the panel.

Detail, Lacrosse Kids, acrylic collage, 12 x 12

After working through the handmade collage, I switched gears and got back on the computer. In Illustrator, I cleaned up the sketchy figures just slightly to make them a bit more legible and simplified, while still retaining the hand-drawn feel.  I then added some red jerseys, more numbers, and played with the size and scale of the motifs. If I were to develop this further (which I plan to do!), I might experiment with a wider color palette and more depth and layers to the background. Here is the start of a pattern design that might be great for bedding in my kid’s room or maybe boy’s pajamas!

A first draft for Lacrosse Kids pattern design

Week 15: My Neighbor’s Garden

This week’s collage was inspired by my neighbor’s garden, a special place that I pass by regularly on my daily walks with my dog, Holly. After several years of admiring this yard from the sidewalk in front of the house, I was lucky enough to get a close-up tour from its generous creator.  I wanted to capture the distinct sense of place this garden has achieved, mediating between the wooded natural landscape around it and the careful orchestration of plants by human hands. There is an emphasis on structure over flowers and frills: evergreens, handsome shrubs and small trees of many colors and textures define the garden. At the same time, there are exquisite blooms thoughtfully placed at specific moments: the clematis “Josephine” entwined on the lattice by the mailbox, and the unusual grafted lilac that displays its fragrant purple flowers in the form of a small ornamental tree, centered in the front yard.

I began this piece by first painting a varied ground onto my panel, allowing the free flow of colors to guide the composition. I then gathered my drawings done earlier in the week, copied them onto translucent Gampi paper with an inkjet printer, and began placing them in the collage. I also brought back some drawings of small dogwood trees from Week 14, since my neighbor uses dogwoods to great effect on the edge of the woods.  One advantage of scanning and copying my drawings is the ability to use them again in new ways, either in hand-made collages or in digital illustrations or patterns.  In addition to using ink drawings as collage elements, I also drew directly on the panel with archival ink pens. More paint was worked in around the drawings to develop the atmosphere and bring out details like the deep pink blooming cherry trees on our street.

I combined aerial map-like views, traditional landscape vistas, and close-ups of interesting details to create an experiential montage of the garden. My layered experience of this place is a combination of all these perspectives. The garden has different meanings for me in different contexts. It has a place in the physical neighborhood as well as in my own memory and imagination. My love for this garden merges with my love for all the gardens of my past, present and future.  Each tree merges with all the trees that grew up through my history: the towering tulip poplars from my childhood home, my grandmother’s elegant red maples, the golden fringed Japanese maple we got as a wedding gift, the weeping cherry we planted when we bought our first house, the patio peach tree from the summer when I was pregnant, and the young Black Gum with its promising horizontal branches that will one day hold a swing for our backyard.  This collage is as much about all these moments as it is about my neighbor’s garden. I am grateful for them all.

Here is the finished work:

My Neighbor's Garden, acrylic collage, 12 x 12

Week 14: Cascading Spring

Palette of Spring Greens

I was inspired this week by the flowering dogwood, a symbol of our community that is now in bloom all over town. I was also interested in capturing the range of beautiful Spring greens emerging in the landscape, from lawns and fields to fresh young foliage in the trees. First I mixed up some acrylic paint to lay out the color scheme for this week’s collage. I actually started this piece by jumping right in with the color, without first thinking about the composition or how I would incorporate the collaged paper pieces. I like to switch up my process whenever I feel I have been over-thinking things, to gain a fresh perspective and avoid being too formulaic. I painted a very loose background using the fresh greens and sky blue, then returned to my ink drawings of the dogwood trees and flowers done earlier in the week. Next I copied my drawings onto Japanese Gampi paper, using an ink jet printer.  This allowed me to use the same elements multiple times, in keeping with my interest in pattern and repeating motifs. Gampi is a beautiful lightweight and translucent paper, with natural fibers running through it. I prefer to tear the motifs out rather than using scissors to create a softer edge to the forms. Here is the work in its early stages, with the background painted and collage elements beginning to be placed:

As I worked on the collage, a landscape of cascading dogwoods began to come together. I was interested in creating a layered structure to the work that reflects both the branching pattern of the individual trees as well as the overlapping groupings of trees typically seen in the landscape. As I arranged the paper elements, I added more paint to help merge the trees into the background. I was not aiming to create a realistic scene, but rather a kind of dream-like homage to one of my favorite trees and this special time of year.

Dogwoods, acrylic collage, 12 x 12

Detail, Dogwoods, acrylic collage, 12 x 12