Tuesday, February 24, 2009

When Time Disappears

What makes time disappear for you? What makes it stretch out and out and out until one afternoon feels as if it's a week long and then -- snap! -- a whole day has gone by and it felt like five minutes? Nothing does that quite so deeply for me as creative work, the work of my heart and hands. 

Lately I've been juggling half a dozen or more projects at once. That's not all that unusual for me, as I'm almost always working on multiple pieces, but right now I'm also taking an online class (more about that in a minute), working through all the visual journal exercises in an incredible book (THE CREATIVE ENTREPRENEUR by Lisa Sonora Beam, Quarry Books, 2008), and trying to get better at using Photoshop. Add in several textile art pieces and I think it's safe to say "half a dozen" was a low estimate.

For "Carnival Girl" I digitally altered a failed 9X12 mixed media collage, creating several different versions and learning a few things in the process. Is today Fat Tuesday? She looks like she's ready and wishes herself on Bourbon Street, doesn't she?  Whichever century she ends up hailing from.

"She Says No" is another digitally altered mixed media collage.  The vintage photo of the sulky girl standing by a small table is an image that finds its way into my work over and over again. The girl happens to be my mother, and I'd give a lot to be able to ask her what was making her so cranky that day. Since that window of opportunity closed 30 years ago, instead I use the image to make up all the "What if . . ." stories that flow from putting that image into different contexts. Was she saying no? Probably not.  But if she WAS . . . I wonder what she was saying no to . . . I wonder who . . .

What's kept me busiest the past couple weeks has been an online class I'm taking, Transformative Doll-Making, taught by Pamela Hastings (www.pamelahastings.com). The class, now in it's fourth session of five, is offered at one of my favorite online stores: www.joggles.com, where I spend way too much money on art supplies and books (and now CLASSES). Check out Pamela's website to see her incredible work and read about her process. I'm posting two examples of the dolls I've done in her workshop so far, one a paper doll, the other fabric and twigs.

I would be embarrassed about them both being self-portraits but as it turns out, I can use that to tell you about another book I'm enjoying right now (MIXED MEDIA SELF-PORTRAITS by Cate Coulacos Prato, Interweave, 2008).  It's a gorgeous book filled from cover to cover with inspiring ideas and techniques.

As our third Minnesota winter begins ever-so-gently to shift gears in preparation for its end, I'm realizing that this hibernation thing is turning out to be a great time for learning and experimentation, for writing and playing with all the art stuff I gathered at yard sales and thrift stores, for researching and exploring the scary world of marketing and art as a business.  That said, I also know I'm going to be ready to fling doors and windows open at the first real sign of spring! 

Monday, February 9, 2009

Gathering Branches

I've become obsessed with branches.  It started harmlessly enough in a couple of small mixed media pieces I did using old family photos adding sticks and wire as a means of hanging them.  The next thing I knew I was doing another and another, each one larger and more complex (and using more branches).  Maybe I should say it's an obsession with wood, because I've added in driftwood and bamboo and big old sheets of plywood.  I even took apart an old shelf unit and nailed it to this one.  And don't get me started about how much I love the bark of trees.  (Don't worry -- I don't strip the bark from the tree.  I only pick up dead wood!) 

I'm sure this will run its course, but in the meantime, I'm working on a series of Family Tree collages, searching as always for the stories hidden in familiar photos and behind the surface in other people's family pictures. 

This one is titled:  What She Said, What She Did
It's 2ftX3ft (plywood, canvas board, repurposed shelving, branches, wire, beads, vintage hardware, vintage lace, ribbons, digitally altered vintage photos,  acrylic paint, handmade and decorative papers). 

Family stories are what I write about, too.  And they're what I gravitate to in the books I read, whether poetry, fiction, or memoir.  Nothing fascinates me as much as the complexity of family relationships and the stories that are either passed from generation to generation or are suppressed until someone with a lot of curiosity (sometimes called being really nosey) comes along to dig them out or make them up as she goes along. 

This piece, titled "Leaving Camp" uses some of my husband's family photos to explore the experience of the Japanese American internment camps in this country during WWII.  

I don't just gather tree branches. I also love to rescue vintage photos from yard sales and estate sales and thrift stores. At first, it broke my heart to think such a personal thing as a family photo album could end up on a sale table. But after I started working with them, I realized that each photograph of people I've never met has multiple stories to show and tell, a wealth of material I use over and over in my collages and assemblages as well as in my poems and stories.

I am always deeply grateful when people let me use their family photos in my artwork.  It feels risky, even dangerous at times, because unless I'm doing a commissioned work, I'm not really thinking about telling their story. But there are countless stories embedded in the richness of the old photographs, and I always hope to uncover some kind of emotional truth as I work and play with the images.