Peace of mind

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It is difficult to get a good scan of my art in the spiral-bound art journal I use.  But – it lays flat for working on.  So I’m not sure how to fix this, or if I need to.

 

Created 7-10-16.  Magazine images and words, fortune cookie message.

 

A meditation on how I need to break out of my comfort zone, and how I want to walk the Camino de Santiago de Compostella soon – next year is the goal.  I cannot wait until I retire to start living my life.  I may not have the energy or physical ability – or even be alive.  Life is short and unpredictable.  Better to start doing the “bucket list” things ASAP.

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Bridges and mountains

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Created around 07-05-16

Stamp, fortune cookie message, images and words from a AAA travel magazine.

 

I’ve not made anything new for the art journal in a while.  I’ve not been writing as much either.  Perhaps this is part of why I’ve felt so spacy and disconnected.

Layered art

I just realized that I can create art by painting or drawing in layers, like Tibetan sand paintings. I saw a Thomas Kinkade painting with beautiful light in the windows. I felt like there was no way I could paint that perfectly – especially with a frame and panes. There is too much detail in too tight a space.
Then I saw the answer. Paint the background first. I never knew how useful that idea would be, and that I’d be inspired by a Thomas Kinkade painting, or figure out a technique from Tibetan sand paintings.
Those “paintings” aren’t flat. They are three dimensional. There are layers that the final viewer can’t see. The only way to see them is to be one of the people creating it.
I like that idea. Hidden art. Layers of art beneath art. This takes collage to a whole new level. I can put down a layer, and put another layer on top of it, with bits cut out to reveal the under-layer.
Life is like that – with layer upon layer creating a whole. You often can’t see all the work that went on to get to the finished product. Yet the starting work had to be there in order to get to the end.

Collage, not painting

          I finally figured something out.  I don’t have to paint fine details.  I can do collage.  I can draw what I want separately, using watercolor pencils on watercolor paper.  Then I cut it out and glue it to the painting.  This is such a relief.

          One of my problems is that my ideas far outstretch my abilities.  I’m not very good at painting yet.  I’m trying, but it is going to take a while.  Meanwhile all these ideas keep coming that would work best using painting.

          I have taken only one art class, and that was in high school.  I don’t really know what I’m doing.  I feel like a feral child, wanting to communicate but I don’t have a language.  So I’m making it up as I go.

          One of my fears with painting is there is no “undo” button.  If I make a mistake, it is hard to fix.  It isn’t like working digitally.  Plus, it doesn’t work well with my schedule.  If I only have 20 minutes to work on art, there isn’t really enough time to paint and clean up.

          I have a space painting I was working on.  I’d created the black background earlier.  Just remembering to paint the background first was a big deal.  I thought I was going to paint planets and stars on it.  In the meantime, I started sorting stamps and fortune cookie messages, and came across an old packet of just space stamps.  They are pretty awesome, and I thought I should use them here.  But since they are so rare and I’m so unsure of my abilities, I went ahead and color copied them.

          Yes, I wrote a whole blog post about not doing that.  Yes, I did it.  Whatever makes the art happen counts.  I used funny scrap-booking scissors to cut the edges.  It is more interesting than a plain square cut, and it sort-of gives the impression that it is a stamp.  I looked for scrap-booking scissors that cut like stamp edges, but I didn’t find them.  I had these, and I used them.

          I really liked one stamp of a lady astronaut.   I plan on mixing in other stamps and calling this piece something like “Can’t we all get along / In Space” and having Space be the place where women and men are finally equal and respected.

          The stamp is a bit disembodied though.  I didn’t want just her head floating around.  So I wanted to paint a body for her, but again I felt like I would mess it up.   Then I had a flash.  Draw it separately using watercolor pencils and cut it out.   I put the stamp on the paper for scale and drew around it.  It worked great.

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I’ve been using watercolor pencils for a year now, so I’m comfortable with them.  I pulled out an older piece that I don’t really like and tested the fixatives on it.   I used decoupage glue on one section, and matte medium on another.  From that I learned what will work best and how to apply it.  I also used some of the matte medium on a color copied stamp to see if it would affect it.  I know it works great on real stamps, but this is different.  So I put it together and I can’t be more pleased.

          I don’t really know why I didn’t think of this sooner.  Matisse did something like this in his later years.  He cut out construction paper and glued it together.  Eric Carle does this – he paints big pieces of paper and cuts them out.  This isn’t quite the same, but in a way it is.

          I am also working on a painting with inuksuit – the Inuit rock sculptures.   They aren’t just sculptures – they provide direction and tell something about the area.  One will indicate a good place to hunt.  One will indicate a beautiful thing to look at in the distance.  One will mark an initiation area.  Each different shape has meaning, and is often the only way to navigate in a snowy land.

          Here is a picture of one that indicates a direction to travel. It reminds me of a Japanese torii gate.

 

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I was going to draw the whole thing with this new technique and then I had another idea. Draw the stones separately, and assemble them.

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Sure, I’ll work on getting better at painting using brushes. That is the only way to get in any detail. But in the meantime, I’m glad I’ve discovered this.

Real art versus copy

I really like Nick Bantock’s art in the “Griffin and Sabine” series. Something I like about it is it seems so dreamy and ethereal. He uses bits of photographs and stamps and other ephemera in order to create his art. There is acrylic paint, certainly, and tissue paper as well. But the most important part to me is that he uses objects.
I read his book “Urgent 2nd Class” about how he makes his art. He says to make color photocopies of everything you use and not use the originals. I felt cheated when I read that. I thought that everything he was using in his artwork was real. It gave it all a magical, totemic quality, a sense of risk. Now, not so much. Sure, it is beautiful, but it isn’t the same to me.
I’ve been making collage art, inspired by him and others. I’m torn as to whether to use copies or originals. I can see the points for both sides.
It might be easier to not use the real thing because then there’s not as much pressure. If I make a mistake with the real thing, I’m in trouble. There is no going back like with beads or with digital manipulation. Paint is permanent, and so are scissors. One wrong blob or cut and I’ll have to figure out a way around it or scrap the whole thing.
I could certainly play around with a copy first while I figure it out. Then I could make the final version with the real stuff. But I don’t really have time to make multiple versions of the same things, and I know from all my other forays into creating art that whatever I think it is going to be, it never is. So even if I get it “perfect” with the copies, it will look different when I use the real stuff. Plus, half of the reason I create is the discovery. It is nice to get what I see in my head, but it is also nice to be surprised when something works out better than I planned.
Well, I’ll be honest. It wasn’t nice at first to have things not come out the way I’d imagined. But I’ve learned to like it. At first I was pretty upset that what I was aiming for just wouldn’t materialize. I had all the pieces – how come they won’t go together like I think they should? But sometimes what results is far more interesting. Sometimes it isn’t, but then I just don’t tell people what I was aiming for. I act like I meant it to look like that. Even if it does look like what I was planning for, they wouldn’t know anyway.
Using the real thing could certainly be intimidating. It might make me not even start on the piece.
Sometimes when creating art you have to think about what will make the art happen. Sometimes having limits helps, and sometimes it hurts. Sometimes having limits on what tools or techniques you can use will actually make you more creative. Sometimes it might stop you before you even begin.
For now, I’m using originals, but I’m doing it carefully. I’ll try out something with a real piece (like a stamp, or a foreign bank note, or a fortune from a cookie) but maybe it isn’t “the” piece. I’m learning how that kind of paper works with the glue and the paint I’m using. Then I can use that knowledge for when I make a “real” piece, with more meaningful ephemera.
I can see another advantage to using copies – the paper is always the same. So there is no adjustment to be made for different textures or absorption rates. If the materials are all the same, it frees you up to work on composition and style.
But I still feel like that is cheating the audience. I like the idea that what they are looking at can’t be replicated. If there are copies of the ephemera being used, then another copy of the artwork can be made. Sure, it won’t look the same – that is part of the nature of art in general and painting in specific, but it will be close. Part of what I like about creating artwork is that each piece is unique.
A painting that has real things in it has an energy to it, like a shaman’s necklace. Each item has a story, a background, a history. Each piece adds to the song. They aren’t just images, but the actual thing. A picture of a shell isn’t the same as a shell itself. And just any old shell isn’t the same as a special one – say the one you found on your anniversary trip. It is that kind of energy that I’m talking about. You just can’t get that from a copy.

These are some examples of what I’m making.
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side view –
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Memory postcard – me and my grandmother

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This is a “postcard” of me and my grandmother. She is the only grandmother that I knew. She was my father’s mother, and her name was Mary Frances. I called her Mama. My mother’s mother died before I was born.

My aunt sent me this picture recently. I’d never seen it, but I knew when it was taken. There is another picture of me from that same day, wearing those same clothes. It, however, has all of me and not just half. I’m not sure where that picture is anymore. Probably in a box in a closet. I’d had this picture sitting out for a while. It needed to be put in a frame of some sort. It needed something.

Here’s a closer picture of the photo that started it all.

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The back of the picture says “Betsy and me at the Holiday Inn, Chattanooga”. It is written in blue ballpoint pen in my grandmother’s handwriting. The printing on the side of the picture says “Jun 71”, so I was two years old. I’d been swimming – my hair is wet. I was cold, and my grandmother has put her ever-present white sweater on me to keep me warm. Yes, my hair is wet, and I’m not wearing a swimsuit. So that means I was changed into normal clothes and nobody dried my hair. My grandmother has her handbag nearby. This is big and stiff and white, like all of her purses. The one I remember the most was a white wicker contraption. It was fascinating.

I spent most of yesterday sorting my stamp collection and my collection of fortunes from fortune cookies. I have a slightly disturbing amount of both. Fortunately they are tiny paper things, so having a lot of them doesn’t take up a lot of space. I pulled out ones I liked as I was sorting, with no particular idea what I was going to do with them. At night I knew – put some of them together with this picture. It is like a postcard of memories.

The fortunes all have meanings for me. They are like pithy snapshots all to themselves.

Here’s a closer picture of the first three.

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“Travelling to the south will bring you unexpected happiness.”
There were two of these fortunes in the collection, and I’m amused by how specific they are. The south – not the north, not just traveling, but the south. I found it interesting, so I pulled them aside. Now I know why. I went south to visit my grandparents every summer for two weeks while I was growing up. We’d drive down as a family to meet up with my grandparents in Gadsden, Alabama and go to Noccalula Falls. It was halfway. Then my parents would drive back home, and my grandparents would drive the rest of the way to Birmingham with me in the car. Two weeks later they would reverse the procedure to return me.

Was it unexpected happiness? It was certainly different from the norm. My grandparents slept in separate rooms. My grandmother had two single beds in her room. I’d sleep in the one closest to the wall. The blankets were white with pom poms on them. The “Birmingham fairy” would visit and there would be a present under my pillow. Was it every night? Or just the first night? I don’t remember. No teeth had to fall out to get a present. It was just for being there. I remember being stunned how it happened. I’d see something I liked at a store we would visit and it would show up under my pillow the next morning. It was magic. I never saw my grandmother buy anything that I later got under my pillow. She was part elf, I think. She taught me how to palm money, but that is another story.

At night she would give me chocolate milk to drink, and in the morning she would put sugar in my orange juice. She’d also put a packet of sugar in my applesauce when we went out to eat. We went out to eat every meal. Really. Every meal. “Grandmother’s cooking” means nothing to me. When I think of food associated with my grandmother, I think of the Piccadilly café. Buffet lines were the norm. She didn’t cook. The only time I saw her use the stove was to dry of my shoes if I’d played outside in the rain, or to heat up mud pies that I made in little cast iron skillets.

Real mud. In the stove. Why she didn’t insist that I put them outside in the sun to dry is beyond me. That was my grandmother.

We slept with the windows open. There was no central air in that house. That wasn’t a problem for me because I grew up that way. I’d go to sleep listening to the sound of the train whistles nearby. It is part of why I got a house close to trains. I love that sound. It reminds me of those summers, sleeping in her room, getting presents under my pillow.

“You have at your command the wisdom of the ages”
I bought my first real computer, a Gateway, with the money from my grandparent’s estate. I’d gotten this Chinese fortune around the same time. It seemed an appropriate thing to tape to the monitor. I also taped my grandmother’s name to it, as a reminder of who to be thankful to. I wrote it out in a fancy old script.

“You will discover the truth in time.”
I feel there are a lot of things I don’t know about my family. Something about this speaks to me. I’m uncovering and recovering a lot about my history through writing, art, and prayer. Things are coming back to me, things I never knew were lost. It is beautiful and difficult at the same time. There is a lot that is hidden, that I intentionally forgot. I ask Jesus into it, and it helps.

Here’s a closer picture of the last ones.

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“You find beauty in ordinary things. Do not lose this ability.”
My grandmother was very child-like. Not childish. She knew how to play. She was clever and creative and fun and whimsical. She wasn’t an adult, really, but I don’t know whether that was intentional or was the result of my grandfather’s overbearing nature. Or, was that simply the side of her that I saw?

I like this fortune because it speaks to how I make jewelry, seeing beauty in the everyday. I make treasures out of things that other people see as trash or overlook. Alchemy is part of it – turning lead into gold.

“Choosing what you want to do, and when to do it, is an act of creation.”
I feel this is a message to me from my grandmother. It and the stamp speak to me about the same thing.

Here’s a closer picture of the stamp.

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The stamp is a French stamp, and it reminds me that my grandmother was fluent in French and German, and taught both of them before she got married. When she got married, her husband insisted that she not work. He felt it was shameful to him for his wife to have to work- that it said that he was not a good provider.

Problem is, she liked teaching. She liked translating. She wanted to. But he didn’t want her to, and he won.

This reminds me of the fact that her mother wasn’t allowed to be who she wanted to be either. She wasn’t allowed to work or even to cook. It too was seen as shameful for the woman of the house to work, outside or inside the house. Her husband owned several pipe foundries and made lots of money. He hired cooks and maids. She was allowed to do needlepoint. It wasn’t pretty. It was brittle, and stiff. I feel like she was that way too. A person’s art tells you a lot about the person.

They both were stunted. It was a bonsai kind of a life. But not beautiful, like a bonsai.

This is interesting to me to realize. Both women were “free” of the traditional roles of women, and they suffered because of it. One wanted to work outside of the home. One wanted to cook and take care of the house. Neither woman was allowed to, because it would hurt the pride of their husbands.

This is what I mean about how I’m uncovering the truth through my artwork. I’ve learned quite a bit and put together quite a number of pieces this way. Things make more sense.

So then I look up how to spell Noccalula, and I find out more about the story. This is from Wikipedia. She was a “Cherokee maiden who, according to local legends, plunged to her death after being ordered by her father to marry a man she didn’t love.” Fascinating. It ties into these other women -my grandmother, and her mother. They didn’t kill themselves, but they let a part of themselves die when they got married.

I’m not anti-marriage at all. And I’m not saying that women need to work or cook to feel fulfilled. But what I am saying is that people should feel free to be who they are, and do what they want. Other people should not make decisions for them as to what they think is best for them. This applies to parents and spouses, regardless of gender. To suppress yourself in order to appease a family member is the most damaging thing you can do. It is the heart of codependency.

(I have this collage framed in a simple pop-together frame. I’ve taken it out of the frame for the pictures.)