When putting collages together, I have a few “tools” that find their way regularly into my work. Of course, I consider balance within the composition and the colors used. I like the mix of organic and geometric shapes, torn edges and straight edges, man-made and machine-made elements. While some sections remain very clean and crisp, I also appreciate the added dimension contributed by smudging an area.
Placement of colors and shapes works to guide the viewer around the surface. Some elements encourage the eyes to move from one area to another. Some areas invite closer inspection, or give the eyes a place to rest; others shout, “look at me!”
I balance large blocks of color with smaller details. Often, I use portions of my own painted papers, juxtaposed with bits of manufactured pattern or lettering. I often use strips of paper, marching in a row, to ease transitions from one area to another.
Zig-zags function in a similar way, and also act like arrows, pointing the way back from the edge. It’s a good thing! If zig-zags weren’t so useful to me, in assembling collages, I might have been hard pressed to come up with an art topic for the letter Z!
When I’m trying to come up with a topic for a particular letter, I often read the dictionary. It’s not such a big deal; sometimes I read the dictionary for no reason at all. When Z is the letter, though, Webster’s is not as helpful as you’d think. Instead, I went to good old Google. I typed Z into the search line, and chose zodiac as my subject. Over “zillow,” “zoom” and “zappos,” I might add.
Since I was already in a search engine, and figuring I’d might as well get a little help, I clicked on the link for zodiac. I read a brief overview of the zodiac, then clicked on my own sign, to see what it had to say. Well, because I couldn’t possibly summarize it better than they did, or perhaps just because I’ve gotten lazy here at the end of the alphabet, I decided to just copy their information. So, according to astrology-zodiac-signs.com, this is typical Virgo:
Virgo dislikes: Rudeness, asking for help, taking center stage
“Virgos are always paying attention to the smallest details and their deep sense of humanity makes them one of the most careful signs of the zodiac. Their methodical approach to life ensures that nothing is left to chance, and although they are often tender, their heart might be closed for the outer world. This is a sign often misunderstood, not because they lack the ability to express, but because they won’t accept their feelings as valid, true, or even relevant when opposed to reason. The symbolism behind the name speaks well of their nature, born with a feeling they are experiencing everything for the first time.
Virgo is an Earth sign, fitting perfectly between Taurus and Capricorn. This will lead to a strong character, but one that prefers conservative, well-organized things and a lot of practicality in their everyday life. These individuals have an organized life, and even when they let go to chaos, their goals and dreams still have strictly defined borders in their mind. Constantly worried that they missed a detail that will be impossible to fix, they can get stuck in details, becoming overly critical and concerned about matters that nobody else seems to care much about.
Since Mercury is the ruling planet of this sign, its representatives have a well-developed sense of speech and writing, as well as all other forms of communication. Many Virgos may choose to pursue a career as writers, journalists, and typists, but their need to serve others makes them feel good as caregivers, on a clear mission to help.
Virgo – the Disappointed Goddess Seeking goodness in humankind is the story of Virgo, and disappointment seems to be inevitable from their point of view. The first time they came from their cloud and jumped onto planet Earth, it felt like their mission is to use their existence for good, discovering ways of justice and purity in other people. Once they fail to find it too many times, Virgos will pull away, get lost, turn to substance abuse, or simply separate from other people to sit on the bench, criticize and judge.”
I think it’s pretty accurate! So, that’s my zodiac post, and this wraps up this month-long A to Z challenge!
“Yellow is one of the most ambiguous colors,” according to Dr. Betty Edwards in her book, Color. She goes on to explain that it is ‘the color of sunlight, gold and happiness, of intellect and enlightenment, but also the color of envy, disgrace, deceit, betrayal, and cowardice.”
In his book, The Primary Colors, Alexander Theroux says, “So few colors give the viewer such a feeling of ambivalence or leave in one such powerful, viscerally enforced connotations and contradictions. Desire and renunciation. Dreams and decadence. Shining light and shallowness. Gold here. Grief there.”
We see yellow in sunshine and bright flowers. Yellow is the color of gold. It is said that Judas wore a yellow cloak when he betrayed Jesus with a kiss. In Islam, golden yellow is the color of wisdom. In the Chinese Ch’ing dynasty, only the emperor was allowed to wear yellow. In Jungian psychology, yellow symbolizes the flash of insight called intuition. Yellow turns up in all of its symbolic splendor in L. Frank Baum’s The Wonderful Wizard of Oz, and in the Beatles’ animated film, Yellow Submarine.
Yellow is not my favorite color, but I use it frequently as a bright point of contrast to darker, moodier tones.
Looking backward for inspiration, I found the blog that I wrote two years ago, while doing this same A to Z challenge. “X is a Verb” was my title.
I posted some photos of my lists. I make lists all the time, for just about everything. Here’s a list, just as one more example, of some of the things that I put on lists:
daily, weekly and monthly chores
groceries to buy
letters to write
bills to pay
future art projects
current art projects
artists that I admire
home improvement projects
things I accomplish at work
books I’ve read
books I want to read
authors that I like
special dates to remember
…and on, and on.
When I complete items on any list, I put an X beside it, making it “done.” I call it “X-ing things off.” That’s where the letter becomes an action word. Other people, I have noticed, cross items off. I gasp at the thought! I like to see what I’ve accomplished! I would never put a line through it, obliterating my achievement! That’s what the X is for!
It wasn’t long ago that I was going on and on about all the work I have to do in my studio: printmaking, matting, mounting and framing. So, why have I started a side project?
Printmaking is a lengthy and somewhat complicated process. First the plate has to be designed, made and sealed. The printing press has to be oiled and maintained, tensions adjusted and regulated, felts cleaned. Printing papers have to be dampened and stacked between blotter papers about 24 hours before use.
On printing day, the ink has to be mixed, and slightly softened by working it back and forth with a palette knife. It is then applied to and across the entire surface of the plate with a sturdy square of mat board. Excess is scraped away. The plate is then wiped with a series of starched cheesecloths, beginning with one that is heavily starched and fairly encrusted with ink, working down to a lightly starched, nearly pristine one. The goal is to fill every texture, all cracks, crevices and interstices with ink so that it will release it onto the dampened paper as it is run through the press.
The raised surfaces of the plate can be treated like a relief print. Sometimes I use small brushes or brayers to add color to those areas before printing. After the plate is run through the press, providing one image on paper, it needs to be cleaned with solvents and rags, so that residual ink will not dry on the plate, obscuring the image. The print will be placed between layers of newsprint, to dry. To make another print, this entire process has to be repeated.
After my prints have dried, I usually hand color them with opaque Japanese watercolors. The print is then carefully re-dampened, the plate is re-inked and wiped, and both are run through the press again, to seal all the colors and complete the image.
Matting and framing is not nearly as complicated. It is fussy work, though, and demands a clean space for doing it. There is nothing more frustrating than getting a mounted, matted piece of art under plexiglas and slid into its newly assembled frame, the frame finished, hanging wire and corner bumpers added…only to notice that a lone strand of dog hair is resting comfortably right on the face of the artwork. Then, in order to correct that problem, the whole thing has to be disassembled.
I do not mind matting and framing. I love the printmaking process. Still, either of these tasks can be a bit tedious, long, and with necessary pauses between steps. It’s nice to have a not-too-serious project to turn to, just for a break. So, I usually have a side hustle. It should be something I can work on fairly mindlessly, but that will demand enough attention to take my mind off other things. It has to be simple to access, and easy to put away. Before it is completed, a side hustle may demand more attention, some hard decisions, and serious consideration. For right now, though, it mainly needs to just be fun.
It’s that time of year, again. Deadlines fly at me from every front. I have too much to do!
There is a narrow window, before summer’s craziness, to get things done. Soon, tourists and the summer projects of home-owners will make my job at the hardware store more exhausting then ever. In June, I add a second job. In July, there will be a third. Family and friends, who come to visit in the warm season, are a welcome but time-consuming diversion. Soon, the yard and garden will add to the number of home maintenance chores to be accomplished each week. Time is short! The time is now!
When cold weather comes, and the boat stops running, the pace is slow on Beaver Island. When the island slows, so do I. When January arrives, with all of the promise a new year brings, I look ahead at future obligations and deadlines with calm. I allow distractions; I lose sight of priorities; I am too quick to take on new commitments. It seems like I have all the time in the world. Until, without warning, I don’t. Suddenly, April is here. Our ferry boat has started it’s regular schedule of runs back and forth to the mainland, bringing supplies, and people. Memorial Day, which marks the start of our busy season, is right around the corner.
A phone call the other day reminded me of a looming deadline. I have to complete a chapter on my family history for the latest Journal of Beaver Island History before the end of May. Yikes! I’ve done a little research, and compiled some notes. I’ve had communication with several cousins who have offered to review my pages before submission, to check for accuracy. I’ve put a few sentences together in my head. Still, I have not yet put a single thing on paper. That needs to be done immediately.
I have completed a dozen new works for the Beaver Island Gallery, a half-dozen pieces for the Museum Week Art Show, and thirty new collages for my up-coming art show in October. That sounds like a big accomplishment, but I know how much is yet to be done! All of the frames for the completed works have been ordered, as have mat boards, plexiglas and backer boards where necessary. Some have arrived; some have not. When everything gets here, the studio has to be given over to “clean work,” while I mount work, assemble frames, and put everything together.
I intend to have about 75 new pieces for the October art show, to fill the gallery space provided to me. With 30 pieces completed (though not yet mounted, matted and framed!), that leaves lots more to be done! The unfinished works are collagraph prints. The printmaking process is long, multi-faceted and time-consuming. There are lots of things that can go wrong. At this point, I have left myself very little room for error. Barely enough time.
The snow is gone, opening up a world of things to do in the yard and garden. My seeds are here, and plants are ordered, yet I haven’t done a single thing to get the garden ready. The list of chores is long. Snow and ice have once again pulled down the deer fence that surrounds my garden. The compost bin needs to be emptied. The soil has to be turned over and enriched, the beds laid out and, before long, planted. The flower beds need to be cleared of leaves. Spring transplanting has to be done. Winds have left plenty of branches to be gathered throughout the yard before I can mow, and the time for mowing is coming fast.
What happened to all those long, slow days of fall and winter? How did that time, that seemed, at its start, to stretch out forever in front of me, disappear so abruptly? Where has the time gone? And where will I find the time to do everything I need to do? Swiftly, the deadlines approach. Quick, has to be my response!
Focus is necessary when starting a creative project. I’ve talked about narrowing my attention, putting away side projects, and clearing the space. The next major issue is momentum. Beginning is the hardest part.
Once again, just when I need it, the right advice comes to me, this time, in a newsletter that I subscribe to. Canadian artist, Ruth Maude regularly posts about her art process at http://www.allthingsencaustic.com. I’m trying to learn as much as possible about the encaustic process, and how it can be used in collage, painting and printmaking, and often gain helpful information and inspiration in her posts. In February, she wrote a piece titled “When it’s Hard to Make Art/Finding Momentum,” and it addressed the exact things I was dealing with.
For content, she referred to another artist who offers good instruction and advise. Nicholas Wilton is the founder of Art2Life Creativity workshops and classes. Maude draws from one of Wilton’s videos for his “Three Tips that Really Work to Get Your Momentum Back.”
The more you do, the more you do.
Little and often.
Don’t start. Play instead.
She expands on each of these pointers with quotes from Wilton, expounding on the importance of making time each day to show up, even if just for non-art-related activities like cleaning or planning, of giving it a few minutes each day, rather than waiting for a large block of time on the weekend, and – most crucial, in my mind – finding the fun in the project.
Maude also explains the importance of having an accountability partner, and making a plan for what you hope to accomplish in a given work session. All advise was very pertinent to my situation, and gave me a way to get started.
“Focus is a matter of deciding what things you’re not going to do.” ~John Carmack
I came upon this quote in the book that is currently taking my morning study time: The Power of Creativity by Bryan Collins. In a bit of synchronicity that happens so regularly, it rarely surprises me anymore, I found it just when I needed to hear it.
Focus has always been difficult for me. It’s more common to find me juggling twenty wide-ranging projects, than ever concentrating on just one. The time has come though, at least temporarily, to restrict my activities. I’m about to start printing.
I’ve delayed the process as long as possible. I finished a few new plates and carefully examined all of the others, making sure they are free of flaws, sealed, and ready to go. I tested my inks, to make sure they hadn’t hardened in their tins. I ordered new printing papers so that I’d have enough identical sheets for the entire series. I examined my blotters, brushes and felts to make sure they were all in good condition. I bought a new box of Sumi watercolors, so that my colors will be fresh. Now, it’s time.
So, I have to narrow my focus. I have a small studio. It’s always difficult to have multiple projects going at once. When I’m printing, it’s almost impossible. The printing press, which at other times, felts and blankets protected by a cover, becomes one more horizontal surface to hold other materials, has to remain clear and accessible. The same for the long, low table tucked under the eaves that I use for inking the plates.
The long shelf that runs under the eaves on the other side of the room will now be home to the papers at various stages of use. There will be one large stack of dampened papers, layered between blotter papers and encased in a big plastic bag. Next to that, a large newsprint tablet is ready to protect the fresh prints papers between the pages, while they wait to be painted or printed again.
The drafting table has to give up the clutter of collage materials, adhesives, pencils and papers that usually reside there. It’s designated purpose, for the next several weeks, will be for adding color to the collagraph prints. I’ve already arranged the shelves there, to bring my paints and brushes front and center. The very limited available floor space holds a wooden tote filled with hardboard plates waiting to be printed.
I enjoy the every aspect of the printmaking process; my delaying tactics are not to avoid making prints. What i find difficult is the focus!
Last year, when I started the “April A to Z Challenge,” I was in Hawaii, and my title was “Aloha.” I was, in fact, stranded in Hawaii by shut-downs associated with the – then brand new – Corona Virus. What a year it has been! What a time we have all been through! Today, beginning on this first day of April, I feel that this last year has got to take center stage.
First of all, let me remind you what the April A to Z challenge is. Through this month, I’ll post one blog every day except Sunday, based on the letters of the alphabet. I don’t have a particular theme in mind; maybe one will develop as I move through the letters. For now, it’s just the commitment. During this month, I am setting aside the list of blog topics that I’ve been writing about on Sundays, based on David Whyte’s book, Consolations. I plan to take Sundays off from blogging in April; I’ll pick that up again in May. I’m also changing my “Timeout for Art” blog. I’ve been working my way through the alphabet with that, too, and had just gotten to those difficult few letters at the end…I’m happy for the interruption there! Though art will still turn up as a topic, this month it will have to fall in to whatever letters turn up mid-week..
I should clarify that “stranded in Hawaii” sounds a lot more dire than it actually was. My older daughter and I had travelled together for a visit to my younger daughter and her family. Our one week planned vacation was extended to almost a month. Truly, it was quite wonderful! The weather, of course, was fabulous. We always felt safe. We were comfortable and well taken care of in my daughters house. Until last spring, I hadn’t had more than a couple days at a time with my two daughters together in at least thirty years. So, though there were concerns about our jobs and pets, and our lives were put on hold, I feel blessed to have experienced that special time.
By the time I got home, and finished my mandatory self-quarantine, I had been replaced in my job at the hardware store. That was, without a doubt, challenging in many ways. Still, it offered me several weeks OFF, in the spring and summer, on Beaver Island, for the very first time since I moved here in 1978! My vegetable and flower beds were never so well-tended. My lawn got mowed before it looked like a field. My dogs basked in the attention. And I loved it!
Since last year at this time, I started a new, seasonal job at the Beaver Island Golf Course. I began volunteering at the Island Treasures Resale Shop. I worked out the details for an art show next October. I read at least one book each week. I continued and expanded on a rewarding morning routine. I took care of several long-neglected medical procedures. I found and enjoyed quite a few new recipes. I walked almost every day.
It’s not possible, though, to look back on this year without acknowledging the tremendous devastation caused by Covid-19. How many lives have changed? How many jobs have been lost? How many businesses have closed? How many have died? Everyone knows someone lost to the disease. Everyone has been affected by it. This virus has touched all of us, in the entire world, in one way or another. We are experiencing trepidation and fear, trauma, and grief on a scale never experienced in my lifetime. This year has altered our thinking, and our behavior. I think, as humans, we are forever changed.
That’s the crux of it, I guess. This last year has been defined by the ways that the virus has changed our lives. Everything else seems unimportant in comparison. That makes it all the more necessary, I think, to continue to notice all the little pleasures along the way. As long as I’m here to appreciate them, they still matter!
When I use the term “work” when talking about art, it is often a noun. I’ve talked about current work, old work, new work and body of work. Artwork, as a noun, is the product of my efforts. It’s the result of the verb, art work. Lately, it’s the action word I’ve been concentrating on.
The gallery that carries my art here on Beaver Island will be opening soon, for the season. I always like to have new pieces to show. The Museum Week Art Show, in July, is also on my calendar. I have an art show coming up in October, in my home town of Lapeer, Michigan. I plan to have about seventy-five new works for that show. And, it’s already March.
The busy summer season here on Beaver Island is right around the corner. The hardware store business is picking up each week, and will only get busier as the weather gets warmer. In June, I’ll start my job at the golf course, which will fill my summer weekends. Soon, I’ll add gardening and mowing to my household chores. It won’t be long before I have neither time or energy for studio work, so the pressure is on right now.
Last weekend, I spent three long days on studio work. Activities included coating collages, sealing collagraph plates, priming surfaces for new paintings, varnishing finished paintings, and much-needed cleaning. I picked up an order of paper for a collagraph series, and ordered blotter paper and ink for the same series. I measured finished paintings and started to put together a list of frames to order for them. I ordered mats, backer board, plexiglas and frames for thirty collages.
As always happens this time of year, I worry about the amount of money going out, with no guarantee of return on my investment. Also as usually happens, when I’m putting finishing touches on some work, fresh variations and new ideas come to me. I have to constantly remind myself to stick to the program at hand, not go off in a brand new direction. The trouble is, that sounds like play to me, where what I am doing feels so much like…WORK!