Reflections

My workspace in the studio.

My workspace in the studio.

Reflecting on my year of weekly collage-making, the one realization that I keep coming back to is this: When I am too tired, too busy, totally lacking in inspiration or over-whelmed with too many ideas at once, I just need to sit down to work, and something will happen. I must simply pick up the pen and move my hand across the page. It’s like turning on a tap and waiting for the water to warm up; it always does. Learning to trust in this process has been the greatest gift to myself. Just begin. Take the first step, then the second, then the third. Baby steps evolve into long strides, then big leaps. At the beginning of 2012 I asked the question, “What is achievable in tiny increments over time?” To answer this question it was necessary to make a commitment to create each week, every week. This process continues for me, and commitment is the foundation.

Hold On, 2009, oil on panel,12 in x 12 in

Hold On, 2009, oil on panel, 12 in x 12 in

Another important challenge of the project was to open up my subject matter to the real stuff of every day life. My previous body of work portrayed imaginary landscapes that provided me a kind of escapism. A small boat navigated a world of high seas and safe harbors, open vistas and dark caves, dense forests and lonely islands. These paintings were my vehicle for exploring different ways of being in the world, and creating visual metaphors for a continuum of emotional needs: the desire for community and solitude, contentment and ambition, safety and risk. In my collage series, I wanted to confront these themes more directly, pulling back the curtain on the imaginary landscape and allowing myself to find imagery directly from the details of everyday life. The imaginary landscapes had no cul-de-sacs and tidy yards, no family members or week night suppers. But this suburban landscape was the reality behind my invented worlds, and their true source of meaning. I wanted to get closer to this truth and see what I might find.

Detail, Everyday Miracles, Week 35

Detail, Everyday Miracles, Week 35

Once I had decided that anything in my everyday life was potential subject matter, my days became infused with a new curiosity and constant observation. I experienced incredible joy in allowing myself to be fully present long enough to capture an image in minute detail. I became enamored with the practice of painstaking drawing. It could be something as mundane as a pile of laundry, or as beautiful as a rose blooming in my garden. I began noticing spider webs and mushrooms, birds nests and clouds, and I couldn’t wait to draw them. I began thinking more deeply about the people I love, and the kaleidoscope of color and imagery that each person conjures for me. Everyday routines like reading to my son at bedtime became as precious and important as recording events like birthdays and holidays. I gave myself permission to explore both humor and sentimentality, allowing the cute and the silly to sit comfortably with more serious and even melancholy themes. This attitude of openness and curiosity brought a new breadth and richness to the playing field of my work, where all emotions and all parts of myself were allowed to play.

Detail, Winters Past and Present, Week 8

Detail, Winters Past and Present, Week 8

As daily observation became an habitual practice, I found myself more able to enjoy being in the present moment, rather than constantly fixating on the past or worrying about the future. At the same time, however, I continued to explore my long time interest in the role of memory in image-making. A close observation of the present often brings with it vivid memories of the past. Allowing themes from the past to bubble up into my work enriched my experience of the present. Images from my childhood surfaced throughout the year, and took a place right beside the images of our present life: my sled and my son’s sled, my childhood home and our home now, my late mother and my own motherhood, and of course, the Christmas ornaments that each tell a story from a different time. Similarly, images of the future were conjured: the black gum grows big enough to hold the swing I dream of having for my grandchildren, and the fantasy of a hot air balloon ride in July becomes a reality in December.

I extended my attitude of openness and inclusion to stylistic choices as well. I allowed myself to make things that I enjoy making, freely combining aesthetics from such divergent genres as scrap-booking, painting, design, and children’s book illustration. It was important for me to break down those divisions and allow all of my influences to come together in my own way. I embraced my love of picture-making, inspired by such diverse influences as Islamic Miniatures, 14th century Sienese painting, Bonnard and Vuillard, Miró, Bemelmans, and E. H. Shepard’s original illustrations for Winnie the Pooh. Collage was the best medium for me to explore the layering of diverse imagery and multiple techniques, fusing the parts into a unique whole.

Grid installation in the studio.

Grid installation in the studio.

The most dramatic change over the course of the project was my idea of how the finished piece would look as a whole, and how it would be presented. My original intention was that the 12 x 12 inch panels would be displayed in a large grid, four panels high and thirteen panels across. I planned on a tightly controlled palette that would read as vertical bands of color that changed with the seasons from left to right as the months progressed. But as I got deeper into the project, I began thinking less and less about the appearance of the panels all together. Each panel became its own intricate world, and I allowed myself to fall deeply down the rabbit hole of each work. Creative decisions were made more in service to the needs of each small panel, rather than forcing it to fit into the larger scheme of the grid. The imagery became so tiny and detailed, I realized that the top rows would not be sufficiently visible if displayed four panels high! Each work begged to be seen close up and at eye level. It became more about viewing each panel at close range and less about how the group appeared from a distance.

Detail, Holly's Escape, Week 38

Detail, Holly’s Escape, Week 38. She makes many appearances in the collages throughout the year.

While the concept of the giant grid fell by the wayside, new ideas about continuity emerged. I still thought of the 52 panels as essentially one large work that needed to be seen together, like a collection of short stories that could be read individually or even out-of-order, but would have the most impact when read from beginning to end. Visual motifs emerged that would be repeated throughout the series: the Lego Spaceship, our dog Holly and Olivia the cat, the mockingbirds, the wild geese, the dogwoods and the rose bushes, my husband and child. I found different ways to make the individual panels relate, connect, and lead the viewer through the narrative, by repeating motifs, extending color palettes across multiple panels, or by using the same textures or collage materials multiple times throughout the series.

Whether displayed in a grid, hung in small groups, or spaced out singly along a wall, the fifty-two collages tell a story that reveals itself slowly, over time. When I look at the panels all together, I quite literally see a year of my life. I see my child growing up and my life evolving. I see moments that I will never experience again. I feel grateful that I have managed to “capture” this year of my life, and yet I also feel more able to accept the passing of time. I know exactly how long a year lasts, in a way I did not know before. I know how many hours of art-making can be gleaned from seven days. I know how the seconds pass when the tiny point of a pen touches the paper, stretching into hours and days, weeks and months, square foot upon square foot, adding up to a whole that is larger than the sum of its parts.

Week 25: Happy Birthday to Me

The birthday collage in process

I made myself a birthday cake. There is no egg, flour, or sugary frosting… just paper, ink, and some fluffy white paint. I painted the basic form of my cake directly onto the panel, then began playing with paper collage elements for all the decorations. I drew forty-one candles, and carefully tore out each one, adding some color with a liner brush and India inks. I searched back through my piles of drawings from previous collages and pulled out some of my favorite images for decorating: roses, dogwood blossoms, garden seedlings, olive branches, a mockingbird or two.  I also re-used some of the most personal motifs from past collages such as my little white cardigan that I wrote about in Ode to My Mother.  A Secret Doorway makes another appearance, as does the Dream Boat and Lego Spaceship.  Since it is my birthday cake, I allowed it to be as self-indulgent as I dared, getting into all the nooks and crannies of my life. It became a celebration of not only my birthday, but the world of imagery and meaning that has evolved over the past six months of this project. The final cake holds many contradictions, but makes perfect sense to me. Can a birthday cake be both silly and sincere, light-hearted and full of striving, as unreal as a dream and as concrete as the cul-de-sac of My Suburban Life?

Birthday Cake, acrylic collage, 12 x 12

Birthday Cake detail

Birthday cake detail

Birthday Cake detail

Birthday cake detail

Birthday cake detail

Birthday cake detail

41 Candles

I just celebrated my 41st birthday. I’m so glad I was born. Here are 41 things I am thankful for in my life:

  1. The opportunity to be the Mom of the greatest little boy I could ever imagine.
  2. My husband and soul mate who continues to blow my mind.
  3. My very loving and supportive extended family who have freely offered their unconditional love.
  4. The foundation of a happy childhood with super hero parents, and the memories of that time that never leave me.
  5. My dear friends who never miss a beat, no matter how long it has been since we caught up.
  6. My teachers and mentors who pointed me on the path to my best work.
  7. Our happy shaggy labradoodle, Holly.
  8. Our sly little lady-like cat, Olivia.
  9. A house that feels like a home.
  10. A backyard full of flowers, vegetables, herbs, shrubs, and trees that inspire me daily.
  11. A safe neighborhood full of friendly people where my kid can ride his bike and play outside with other children.
  12. Access to clean water and plenty to eat.
  13. Access to fresh, local, natural and organic food.
  14. My education. 
  15. Novels, Cookbooks, Art Books, and The New Yorker.
  16. My studio space with a view of the woods.
  17. My Mac with the gigantic screen, and my Wacom drawing tablet.
  18. The opportunity to pursue my creative ideas.
  19. My Vitamix and the discovery of the Green Smoothie.
  20. Learning to keep my body healthy and strong.
  21. The internet, where I can find an answer to any question, at any time.
  22. My iPhone, where I can find an answer to any question, at any time, no matter where I might be.
  23. A steady supply of sketchbooks and Uni-ball Vision ink pens.
  24. The success of my family’s restaurant business and all those who have contributed to it, including our amazing partners who have remained our best friends.
  25. Yoga and long walks.
  26. The ability to work from home part-time for my day-job, so there is still time for my art and my family.
  27. The opportunity to work for a business with a respectful, fun, and supportive company culture, and the highest quality standards.
  28. Awesome co-workers.
  29. All the people in the art and design world who are generous with their knowledge and are willing to share their journeys and experience in the industry.
  30. All the people in the blog-o-sphere who are sharing their personal stories.
  31. My art-escapes to Whidbey Island and the fairy godmother who invited me there.
  32. When I can hear the Universe whispering “Yes, you can.”
  33. When inspiration strikes and I have the courage to act on it.
  34. When inspiration does not come and I have the courage to keep working anyway.
  35. Discovering the power of taking the next small step.
  36. Learning to trust myself and knowing I am capable of more than I once believed.
  37. Music.
  38. Colors.
  39. Rain, Sun, Clouds, Wind, Landscapes, Oceans and all the fascinating creatures of the natural world.  
  40. Lemon, Olive Oil, Herbs, Garlic, Sea Salt, and seasonal produce. And chocolate.
  41. All those who have touched my life, in ways big or small, bringing joy, wonder, and new discoveries about the world that we share.