I planned to lead-off my inspirational posts with this project but I couldn't find it after searching in all the logical and likely spots. Definitely wasn't up for tearing more of my studio apart and then putting it back together. So I rifled around in my art journals and you got my tribute to Howard Zinn instead. Kind of an upgrade, really, in terms of illustrating how you can take collage as far as you're willing to let collage take you in return.
Except. This is the only made-by-me example I have of a completed no-thoughts-just play gluebook. I made it in order to have something on hand once its prototype had been taken to the library for display in advertisement of the collage lab. It's made of torn national geographic paper interspersed with a few sheets comprised of graph paper/buff and hot pink cardstock. The cover is cardstock layered with decorative paper a central focal image and a few little scatterings. It's sewn together with the world's most perfect beading thread. No longer available so let's just call this stuff the harem cloth of making little pamphlet stitched booklets.
dimensions: 4.5 x 6
Because this is indeed a "real" gluebook - without adding layers of personal interpretation beyond the collages themselves - I'm going to make three consecutive posts and share every page of the book. If it happens none of the inspirational posts rang your chimes in a personally creative way perhaps this one will.
Most. Fun. Creative. Project. Ever.
May the will of providence allow us to share much joy, laughter, paper madness, and creative ecstasy with each other in the year to come.
In the late spring of '18 I filled the last inside cover of the 4* small spiral bristol board art journals I'd had on hand. Attempted to order more and learned that particular size had been phased out. So I decided to size up to the 5.5 x 8 version of the same product. The first larger-sized collage I made is pictured above. I challenged myself to create in landscape format because I had an iron-clad aversion to working in books sideways. Don't know why. Glad it's no longer an issue. When I was building the narrative above I thought I felt frightened. But maybe what I felt is more accurately described as a disembodied ooze of potent uncertainty.
I understood something really strong was shifting within my creative nature without knowing how to define or direct the process. When I look at the page's image on my screen I can mentally see myself leaning forward over the coffee table in suspended motion right before I glued the owl into place. I almost didn't. Like that brief in-action would somehow stop my inner sea change. Or confirm I wasn't experiencing an inevitable life process that no single gluing or not-gluing choice could prevent or forestall. Simply by changing the size of both the page and the images used I also changed my inner creative directive. The shift winged itself home from left field with me a blank slate Unknowing of what it would mean.
Later that week we had our first reports of kids in cages at the border. It really knocked the stuffing out of me for an hour or so and then I started working a slow burn of anger that could have turned significant chunks of my psyche and soul and a lot of rational brain space to ash. But instead I retreated to the sanctuary of my studio couch and coffee table. I sat with my head in my hands for awhile. It may have been an even longer while than it felt. Just sitting there. Numb with grief and rage and a rising awareness this was actually just the beginning of how things go when they go really dark and ugly. I sat with my head in my hands and didn't think or feel anything at all for however long I did that. When I was as ready as I was likely to get I sat up straight and addressed the air in a calm matter of fact voice:
This regime is going to attempt to cage and break every last one of us if nothing stops them. What am I personally supposed to do to prevent what's coming?
I felt my question was performative at best and most likely entirely rhetorical. Then I sat forward, shook out part of a fodder ziplock, and very carefully and precisely put together the above collage. The following day without preamble I moved directly from yoga practice to the couch and coffee table. During the swift but inevitable Western unquiet brain portions of yoga practice I'd been poking at the edges of: how on earth one took the dreams of yesterday's world and translated them into viable terms for this one. Without consciously thinking about that I shook out some fodder and put this together with even less conscious mind-influence than the previous day:
There's no need to go on giving the backstory for this post's images. But it's important to convey that this is the single most committed way I've been working with collage for the last 17 months. It's the most frank and literal answer I can give to a question people sometimes ask me: how do you do it. They mean it in terms of really asking how anyone lives in today's world with an authentically sunny inner core. I "do it" - and largely against all manner of odds and obstacles - by allowing myself to consistently and gratefully accept direction from my higher self. Proceeding in this manner has become one of my favorite personal growth endeavors. I don't have many other ongoing experiences that can adequately compare to consistently showing up for myself in order to embrace a cosmically personal daily take on how I can best navigate any given news cycle and/or personally overwhelming situation.
At a linear and highly practical level I love this size sketchbook because - in either landscape or portrait orientation - the pages and covers are substantial enough to facilitate using the individual collages as a miniaturized daily affirmation/inspiration/illumination billboard. No matter how slow or distracted my mind feels once I hit the first floor of my home my feet are already moving in perfect step with Mama cat's brisk trotting beeline for the studio. She proceeds to munch with atavistic pseudo-growls on one of two lemongrass plants she systematically defoliates over our long winter season. I make sure she has clean water, maybe remember to shrug off my jacket, and shake out some fodder so I can discover more particles of what my deepest wise-healing brain already understands and wishes to convey.
This is the last of my pre-scheduled inspirational posts. I'll post a quick check-in sometime later on New Year's Eve or before our Eating Event on New Year's day. If you go to the grocery store before that, and you don't have any wax paper already in the house, pick up a roll.
Because: freshly made collages often require a period of flattening before they look and feel satisfactory to individual preference points. Placing wax paper on top of your newest creation before you put it under a heavy object prevents any ooze of glue or paste from mucking up the collage or inadvertently sealing pages together. It's also super dreamy to use a flat river stone as a brayer on top of the wax paper.
pro-tip: If your booklet is a compatible size consider getting a box of wax paper treat/lunch bags instead. You can slip both full and blank portions of your book into the bags for more thorough protection from accidental spills or smears. If/When you need more coverage space you can cut open two sides of a bag to increase its protective 'mileage'.
In the early '90's I made a diligent habit of filling a relatively thick 6 x 6 lined-paper journal with my thoughts and feelings. This is a fact I accurately remembered but I'd presumed to add a third component this journal contained: authentic (if at times ruefully acquired) Experiential Wisdom. Alas there was not a drop of that except in the ways I instinctively reworked the journal in an ongoing project of soothing a younger version of myself with a whole slew of Just You Wait & See's using collage to talk to this former wired-super-tightly iteration:
The above fragment is highly revealing and I left it in tact without a lot of alteration or second-guessing. A major part of our Family Legend is that it was J. and J. alone who needed to get out of the city in order to live deliberately among as many trees as possible. In this oft-reflected version of how things apparently never happened -- I was thriving as never before in the city. It's how I remember things being so clearly but - SO CLEARLY - only in retrospect.
Once I let-in the awareness I'd been just as edgy to leave - in favor of trees and ponds and maybe even a nearby river and mile after mile of organically rural landscapes - as he was, a great many dominoes fell perceptually. All I had to do was start turning them around to some Deep Work of great value to me. I saw and seized the unique opportunity to dialogue back and forth with myself in a way I understood would bring more peace and understanding. Maybe even some sustainable healing.
[spoiler alert: it brought TONS of healing as well as tons of respect for the truly limitless work and play collage offers us if we're of a mind to test pretty much any pet or spontaneously healing theory we may embrace.]
In the old days when I excelled at just going so much it often startled me that people even had a name for Doing It - All I had to do was have a tiny spark of a notion and BAM an entire river's rushing waterfall of Ideas was mine for the picking & choosing. I understood the value of covering 3/4's of the content because most of it related to ENDLESS bitching and legit yet overly lengthy frustration about an inter-city educational liaison committee I was part of for - according to my hyperbolic venting of the time - about three thousand eternities in a bureaucratic circle of hell. It was actually a period of three and a half months according to the entries' timeline.
live and learn. in oh so many ways. In my efforts I worked with papers I'd made in a Cambridge adult education class during the time frame in which I'd kept this journal. Within its original pages I expressed Very Upset-ness that I hadn't enjoyed said workshop and that its unpleasantly messy nature was compounded by my good neighborliness helping out the teacher for 20 crucial opening minutes that left me and another oh-sure amiable classmate SOL when it came to working with the "good" color dyeing options. Nonetheless I persevered in re-writing even that undeniable shard of reality - thrilled that I'd kept these papers for so long even though every time I came across them I curled inward with dislike and silently urged myself to toss 'em and be glad. Because now I had walnut ink spray inks to alter the colors. And lordy lou - I had me a mess of stencils as well.
I wound up equally thrilled that i could never convince myself to trade-away my few remaining scraps of a fabric I used to make trousers I wore to the point of shredding 14 years later. I also commemorated an event this journal time frame didn't include but it WOULD happen right on the cusp of my feeling so unEmpowered and trapped in place: a carefully planned creative celebration I co-hosted there in the same space where I cried the blues about people I wrote of endlessly then but now cannot pull up a face or any other detail about a single one of their names.
Many of the papers and images, as well as the interests and fascinations implied by both colors and content, were collected and saved/initiated in the time frame I'd been so startled and ultimately disappointed to realize I wasn't very much enjoying - allowing myself to enjoy - knowing HOW to enjoy - while being smack-dab in middle of the supposedly best years of my life. I recall fully realizing I should be enjoying them. I also didn't go much more than a couple of hours without considering myself immeasurably fortunate and blessed. but I was so freakin' frustrated, concurrently, by so many things involved with big city reality that I am not sure why I contributed heavily to our Legend's narrative of having been thriving there.
Things I instinctively saved from that time now mingle freely with representations, and materials, from the present tense. I focused on things Back Then me would have loved too much to let terminal over-stimulation and circumstantial overwhelm keep me from smiling and playing. Are you kidding me? I would have bucked-up ten ways from Sunday if I'd had even a glimmer of knowing what was in store when I was moving in on being twice the age I was then.
Above: a close-up shot of a still unfinished page. The gift paper was saved from my birthday. I remember quite clearly how thrilled I was to see the wrapping - already planning to squirrel-aside a section before the package was directly offered to me. Have zero recall what the gift was or who gave it to me. The paper Thing was already quite well established and I'm glad because it's enriched my ongoing collaging experience.
Unfortunately a lot of broad strokes weren't destined to be hunky dory for Future me because, of course, I live on this planet in these times. It took me a long while to decide exactly what kind of warning/check I might have wished I could receive if I could have seen what was coming clearly enough to realize I really needed to pay a lot more attention to things Beyond.
This post features one of my favorite long-term/ongoing collage endeavors. I created the bare structure for this project in late 2015. Back then my instinctive impulse to love it up collage-wise in a no holds barred fashion struck me as impractical, overwrought, and silly. I felt strongly about the matter - in my [cement] mind a studio-based notebook geared towards catching all the bits and pieces I might otherwise misplace or forget needed to be very simply kept only and ever as a no-frills organizer. I genuinely saw no reason to decorate something assigned this specific task in my life. We're talking about (why is it always so clear in retrospect alone?) a brain-to-soul disconnect of epic proportions. Before the car accident I never noticed the absurdity of keeping an inspiration journal - for a person who loves to decorate mostly all unclaimed surfaces - that in no way hinted at (let alone nourished) unrehearsed/spontaneous manifestation of that love
And so upon my slow dawning I went back through this cheaply produced 3 to a pack worst paper ever 6 x 8 jotter from CVS and pretty much pasted down anything I thought I'd like to look at later. My only self-imposed guideline was that I rely on images I felt certain I'd continue to cherish with my eyes over the few years span of time it was likely to take me to fill the blank spaces with written notes. Previously I'd allowed myself only collage out-cuts and nubbins scattered here and there throughout the pages. I thought of this as being sensibly tidy rather than creative. On accounta the creative vibe was 'supposed' to be attached to whatever I manifested as a result of whatever I had un-dramatically and without fanfare set down for myself in the book.
A lively and personally liberating change in attitude, approach, plus playing joyfully with my supplies and established intentions found me in a way I neither recommend nor endorse. While in the throes of fairly challenging brain trauma/neuroplasticity turmoil I found I needed to write down pretty much everything if I planned to recall the info at a later point. So I'd write it down on the nearest available surface. And forget about it as well as, more often that not - also forgetting-to-recall the actual meaning/purpose of whatever I'd scrawled. Because at that point my memory chain was approximately two and half minutes long. No exaggeration there btw. Two and a half minutes. Tops.
[I timed myself on any number of occasions - and even took notes from time to time - mainly as a way to do something concrete that didn't involve overt panic over what a shambles my mind had become quite literally overnight.]
My husband - whom I love dearly but would previously not have described/viewed in saintly terms - became one during the starker time frame(s) of my recovery process. Two and a half minutes. That's how often I'd ask the same legitimately necessary question. For months. About everything. The page below represents the moment when I realized I could use this particular catch-all to catch-some for un-coached recall of at least a few stray details along the way. I wasn't up for Having Ideas much but I was definitely learning how to re-navigate with to-do lists. Grasping that I'd formerly hated them with a passion and found I accomplished far less when I was at their mercy - I now loved them to pieces. They were a sort of emotional teddy bear that never got lost. Unless of course I lost the list itself. Hence I got myself in the habit of corralling stray memory prompts into this book's pages.
[In the present tense, any time I have a day where I feel overwhelmed by what hasn't made its way Back brain-wise, I come to this book and look at the list I felt obliged to make when my son moved back home with a fifty gallon tank and four fresh-water residents. I was a scant year into recovery and fully realized that in living under the same roof he was going to see a level of change and disruption to 'Who Mom Is Now' that had been easily covered-over within weekend afternoon visits/Sunday dinner length timeframes and an occasional restaurant meal together. I caught myself asking him the fishes' scientific/given names a few times in a single weekend so I made myself a list. I later took the precaution of recording which pair of the four subsequently died so I didn't unnecessarily reference them in confusion.
I look at that tiny fragment of a far larger process and feel gratitude, sure, to be in much better shape and fully confident moving forward with my life and its discombobulated assortment of Plans. But far more than thankfulness - I feel extremely tender towards and a little bit in awe of myself. Because my memory's pretty sharp and full these days. I actively recall, on all sorts of levels, that I was scared out of my mind back then pretty much any time I was awake. And yet as big as my fear was I was even MORE determined to build myself methods of functioning well irrespective of whatever level recovery I did or didn't make. And I was absolutely dead-set to avoid freaking out my kid whenever I could find ways of not needing to do that. I was still me in other words. Miraculously.]
On the bottom half of the image above you see evidence of how I painstakingly developed visual means to problem solve. I didn't completely grasp that about my process until I was cognitively rewired for detail and related perception levels. It's really kind of amazing how steadfastly I trusted that what I was doing was important BUT not at all understanding why until I was able to step back and examine what I was, in fact, doing all along. I allowed myself sufficient trust (tinged admittedly with desperation and the sense I'd never get anywhere significant recovery-wise if I didn't learn how to somehow play to my ingrained strengths) to Just Go - relying primarily on whatever was in front of me on the coffee table here in the studio to build a thought-chaining process that couldn't seem to happen without copious amounts of visual aid. My previous less-important leaning towards visual thinking had become a constant cornerstone in my problem-solving, plan-making, and general reasoning capabilities.
I grasped as much instinctively even though it would take me another five or six months to begin to have the language/cognitive insight for it. My memory length at that earlier point of instinctual awareness was about 15-20 minutes. I still had zero brain-to-mouth filter which could be inherently (and sometimes exhaustively) problematic but I could at least hold single relatively simple thoughts/information nuggets in my head for a significantly longer amount of time. I quickly discovered it was long enough to solve simple problems like one-step-at-a-timing myself through chores I needed to remember/accomplish in order to facilitate daily life in the household. It was also enough time to sort through/implement separate instincts related to feeding my uncertain brain creative/visual nourishment.
The first detailed intimate-inside thoughts and feelings I recalled of the immediate past - meaning my internal landscape right before the car accident - related to my understanding that I'd almost not pasted-in a snippet of the famous designer's gardens because it embarrassed me that I found such sustained visual and aesthetic pleasure in surveying luxurious surroundings both inside and outside of a 'way over the top residence with a capital R. Post car accident I thought that enjoyment was weak socio-politically for sure but since there was nothing whatsoever aspirational about my gaze my newly reforming brain thought that 'weakness' might be candidly dismissed as contextually irrelevant. I also thought my former unwillingness to even consider what was now crystal clear to me was far sillier than any of the things I could recall finding silly per my former thought patterns.
Any time I'm struggling with some part of 'being myself' in the creative sense here in the present moment I reach for this book and look at the page above. I remember how clear it was to me on that particular day that nothing happening within the sanctuary and work-terrain of a creative person's ... creative space, of whatever size or context...is silly.
The two spreads above may well be destined for images only.
Above is my current page in progress. Below my two favorites vis a vis whatever's coming next.
As the book grew in thickness it popped through its original stapled binding and two more that I administered before I realized more drastic measures were needed. I wasn't sure what that would entail until I undid my bun so I could rub my head (it still at that point literally hurt to think critically and with a more complicated chain serving both memory and reason) while I puzzled it through. But then I didn't have to think I just had to act. The journal now has a sturdiness it never did. Hence I've added a few hair ties to my book-making/repair kit.
note: my use of a vintage we'moon bumper sticker represents the first time I personally raided the important/most meaningful portions of my stash in order to use something perceived as precious in a way that overlooked or nullified the musn't ever squander/misuse reflex. I could have gone on saving it forever. It would have stayed pristine and periodically cherished on the occasions when I rifled through that level of my don't-actually-use-this-ever-EVER stash and looked at it. Now, in its tossed around and ink-speckled incarnation, I see it all the time since it's on the cover of something that lives directly in front of me on the coffee table. And I get to actively love it as an ongoing part of my daily routine.
When historian and organizing rabble-rouser Howard Zinn died I was both shocked and devastated. Like so many others I felt the loss to be irreplacable. To this day I think of him frequently in the specific context of wishing he was around to explainify the far from fine Mess in which we find ourselves embroiled. Loved this guy as a human being, teacher, and massive inspiration for how to live an actively deliberate life.
My coping instincts had me reaching for my art journal. I quickly devised and then feverishly worked to execute a triptych of spreads. In the first I paid tribute to the man I feel authentically blessed to have known; writing down a wealth of personal memories shaped around washi taped initials and one of his last official portraits very slightly and poignantly embellished on a fast whim (photo credit: Robin Holland).
In the third spread of the triptych I expressed my sense of his legacy as well as the disembodied collective grief I perceived from so many writers and long-time personal friends of mine.
in between these two HZ-oriented spreads I tucked a sprawling uncensored collage-ode to the period of my life when I knew Zinn and first became aware of his activism as well as his writing catalogue.
This cumulative endeavor helped me gain perspective on my young adulthood as well as facilitating a tangible level of grief clarification and resolution.
This post focuses on elements from a different pair of small-scale daily collage journals. I've selected examples that illustrate two shifts in my focus: Instead of sitting down every morning to let "whatever" unfold on the fly I began to pair visual morning page creation with morning meditation so that I arrived at my dining room table actively asking what I wanted to tell/remind myself about my dreams and waking creative compulsion to isolate and define tiny little worlds of potentiality. The spread above captures my a-ha moment of understanding how I wanted to shift my collage approach and become a more active participant in terms of structure and design.
This awareness dovetailed powerfully with a second conscious shift of creative perspective: the linear time frame covered by these little journals coincides with the very first phases of actively coping with brain trauma fallout. Although I in no way grasped as much at the time - I achieved an ongoing sense of authentic calm and sustainable focus by growing evermore immersed and mindful about how I could use creativity to stay somewhat calm and grounded. Collage, by definition, involves picking up diverse pieces and forming cogent relationships so I feel very lucky I shifted an existing practice into something that now stands as a record of the way my brain had changed and what I sought from the solace and free zone of art journaling in this particular way.
... and a word narrative about them. The examples in this post, which I teased the other day, come from my Alchemical Rituals art journal. You can read more about that project by clicking on the so-named category in the sidebar. In the month of April our focal expressive technique was collage. I was determined to collage EVERYTHING including the elemental symbols and the month/theme title bars.
Above is the heart of the month's solar spread. For its expressive frame we were asked to create our idealized secret garden and how we'd feel to spend time there. Having just given myself permission to speak freely - I resisted the idea and precisely how it was expressed in the videos but then I did what I'd been doing since the very first video - I actively pushed aside my resistance by diving directly into the part of the lesson that evoked the strongest feeling of no I'm not doing that. And when I look back on it the thing that consistently made this year long endeavor compelling to me was my ongoing and ultimately unwavering commitment to making the class material compelling to myself rather than relying on the instructor to take me to the same level of personalized satisfaction without much effort on my part. I realize that's not an inspirational model for successfully unleashing a lot of specific creative motivations but it's the way I got something inherently challenging and twice as meaningful fully manifested so that the challenge-meaning ratio was more than sufficiently satisfying to me.
Because I chose to Say No to NO itself - I wound up concluding the assignment, just as it was, held its own weight in the fun and self-introspection departments once I got out of my own way. I liked where I was going as soon as that happened but things really got cooking for me once I happened upon a large scale statue fragment that fit perfectly into the blank space within a different fragment of espalier examples. Hades was in the house just like that (I had been worried for almost two months about where I might find a place to "put" him within the journal's over-arching narrative) and shaking the tree even if Persephone - radiant in her full flowering as mythological Queen of the Flowers - is not yet aware. She is simply full of her own ripe agency and its blissful harmony with her array of petal'd subjects. All the same there He is and there are the fateful pomegranate seeds - some falling as tears from his stony eye. I consciously softened the seeds' message by adding a magical protective number of fat pink lotus seeds scattered throughout the spread. Various protective words and symbols are drawn upon their undersides.
Loved the way a clipped luxurious ornament so strongly resembled the outline shape of a pomegranate. And just the faint foreshadowing of marigolds that will proliferate on the Lunar Spread.
For the lunar spread we were asked to depict what happens when we "neglect" to weed our sacred garden. For me that would probably be the idealized condition I set out to foster out in our little field so I went with that along the bottom of the entire spread. The next thing to develop allowed me to address the interest said field attracts. Once people caught on that I/we were up to something deliberate rather than neglectful nearly everyone involved swung from reproving and DISapproving to naked curiosity and more unsolicited shouted-out questions than I was initially comfortable managing.
This was somewhere in the back of my mind but it leapt right into the foreground when I looked at the underside of scraps left over from the enormous ancient looking gate at an Italian vineyard. In the original image the open gates frame the proud vinter's family marching out to invite the townspeople into the property for a yearly ceremonial grape stomping event. The slivers of beaming onlookers wielding all manner of image recording devices served as an accurate model of how I felt as if I'd been under forms of scrutiny so beyond what I was actually experiencing (some of this, too, was an admittedly toxic reaction to my two month Instagram foray) that I couldn't help smiling at the way I was overplaying it. I decided to stop deciding things and simply play, period. The Invasion of the Looky Loos became the official title of my lunar spread depicting unexpected perils of Failure to Weed.
Following this clarification of my expressive intentions I "suddenly" warmed to including an element that had insisted on my attention from the jump I just kept thinking Why?? NO. WHY!! But then once I chose to symbolically deal with my angst to the point of feeling actively ready to make fun of it I didn't think no or why anymore. Especially after I'd I looked up mystical/healing correspondences for both alligators and crocodiles since I wasn't sure which one this was. Then it made complete and total sense, either way.
I posted about this specific representation of Persephone at the gates of the Underworld, ready to return to her role as its queen, in a more general introductory post about this particular art journal.
all the examples used in this post are taken from two small 3 x 5 bristol board journals in which I began my day's 'dressed and ready' aspects by filling a spread with a single narrative OR two separate yet connected visual stories. I built the pages in a mindful way while drinking my morning tea and deciding what I'd like for breakfast. Eventually the routine became as grounding and central to my mornings as my mug of tea, flower essences, yoga practice, and my written morning pages. All collages were created from fodder accumulated over time in a quart size ziplock. Any time it ran low enough to feel picked-over and uninspiring I simply nipped up to the studio and retrieved a fresh ziplock to enliven things considerably.