creative cautionary tales

.8 back to the future, baby


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. 


reality checks are important


So it's bothered me that I was unwilling to document and post pictures related to my moment of clarity concerning my paper accumulation.  I'm not the sort to project only the clean-edged parts of how I operate in such a purely personal creative environment.  So it nagged at me enough that I wound up taking pictures.  I thought I'd study them to mentally isolate the parts that were most cringe inducing to me and then set about changing those areas.   But I never got that far. 

Instead I jumped all-in to a sensible reorganization of my large sheets of drawing and watercolor paper, plus a bit of decorative paper 'overflow' related to last year's birthday happening after I'd sorted and reorganized my large paper shelf for the year.  These sheets are crucial to my sketchbook making activities so they're always out.  But now I've managed to find a place that makes sense at a practical level.  The flow of the room is improved greatly and it's much easier to prioritize my next group of clearing out and consolidation actions.   Things got even more pleasant in that portion of the space when I took everything out of my "overflow" fabric storage cabinet and had a proper sorting and clearing out.   The task isn't quite complete but it will be by year's end.

And so.  Above is what my work desk currently looks like - has looked like (although the components have changed and moved around a great deal) for the better part of a week.   Poor Sekhmet has been stranded twice as long without proper Elevation (although I might keep her on the desk and thus only slightly elevated by the base of my desk lap) - ever since she nearly crashed down from her perch while Mama cat was sleeping directly underneath. 


When I climbed up to see what the what it was obvious at a glance that the topmost window ledge is no longer level.   That's resulted in the sun goddess' stone and crystal retinue being likewise stranded behind the stack of sketchbooks and my recently consolidated life-long postcard collection. For my most preferred comfort zone the desk felt overcrowded with the arrival of a few unnecessary jars of milk paints.  So I could work with what the instructor for the online class I'm using as a winter Learning Project is using, sure.  But mostly because the paint was previously unknown to me and I really loved the way the muted flat-finish Earth palette looked - especially mixed with gesso in her first few demo videos.  When my selections arrived I lined them up in an inspirational row and then fretted they were consuming too much space. At the moment they're barely visible.

But I'm authentically okay with it for now.  I know this end of year eruptive blizzard is temporary.   Under what shows most obviously is a system of organizational checks and balancing acts that work pretty well for me now that I've effectively retrofitted most everything on the other side of brain trauma recovery.  I would be okay with welcoming guests to the space just as is for tea and chatting on the dreaming couch with a wonderful view of the tree canopy.  If I had an hour's notice to prep by clearing the couch's coffee table and my desk top I'd be downright delighted.


[earlier today I put together my collage challenge booklet.  It's gone through some evolution since I last posted.  Much of that took me by surprise but I'm now quite happy with it.  Have secured plenty of step-out pics so I can build a post for Wednesday or thereabouts.  It will be the last prep-related post before the challenge starts unless feedback/questions dictate otherwise. 


Anything else I post of a collage-based nature between now and the start of the challenge will be related more to inspiration and things you might play with/practice as time in your end-of-year/celebratory schedule allows.  If you can make time even just once or twice before the challenge begins - it will help your collage mind get limber around the edges. 

The more you can play/dream/arrange tiny sample layouts from the paper stuff in your pocket, purse, nightstand, etc. the more confidence you'll feel when the challenge begins.   The more you learn about what you you like and/or definitely don't - and how you're most comfortable using this kind of time for yourself - the more you also discover about how you want to express yourself through your assembled fodder and any additional inclusions you're moved to incorporate along the way.]


getting things together .1

Wildrosethicketnote:  I added a new category working together to begin a thread of posts based on Liz's suggestion that we might as a group create a disembodied collage table to share together.  I also added creative cautionary tales.  Because I am full of them. 


One of my favorite parts about the long Thanksgiving weekend:  Taking breathers from group activities in order to privately inventory and evaluate my creative landscape on the brink of another calendar year's end.  Don't mind admitting it feels like six months, tops, since I last engaged with myself in this way.  A long time ago somebody who drew their intelligence from equal parts sciencey realism and Celtic mysticism explained, on several concurrent levels, why it is that time does for-real speed up mightily the more we age.  I don't remember any of it.  Nor do I tend to remember simple Organization 101 tenets as every year ends only for another to begin and commence un-spooling faster and faster.  Right about now my studio is a paper blizzard I won't share mainly because I'm self-conscious, as I've absolutely never been in the past, about how much collage fodder I've managed to amass since moving here.  So in place of gritty realism we're going metaphorical at the visual lede level.

Above is a sectional close-up of an enormous wild rose thicket which I intentionally encouraged at the edge of our little field.  Inside the thicket  are three now-deceased high bush blueberries I'm assuming somebody once planted on purpose even though they chose a location with insufficient light or think-ahead space for mature bushes to thrive.  In the metaphor - a viable and widely varied collage fodder collection would be the long-gone blueberry bushes and their unseeable skeleton forms in the image above. The nearly maniacal decade-in-the-making inter-lacings of wild rose canes would be the amount of collage fodder I've amassed over the same ten years.   During which I've had the kind of set-apart/close the door dedicated creative space that's allowed me to collect quite consciously thematically and economically but without due notice given to the eventual consequence of over-diligence in the hunting and gathering departments. Think it says any and everything else you need to know that I didn't feel the need to clock in enough to see what was happening simply because I knew exactly where all the paper is/was and not a single scrap of it was lying on the floor where somebody could slip and get hurt.  I mean, I've got eyes and so I sort of knew.  And yet I didn't let myself know why I knew.   Not until literally yesterday.


A week or so ago when I was not yet consciously aware holy crap I have entirely too much paper up in here I optimistically imagined I was pretty well sorted in both the moment and moving forward.  Above is my oversized oak desk/work table of 37 years.  The specific definition of "work" has been  flexible over time but it's always creatively based.  When I took this picture I imagined my biggest unaddressed problem was how many journals I was quite content to work in at one time.  And how it might be time to focus on practicality long enough to follow through on my completion plan. I took pictures of the evidence before me and loosely planned a post to explain the methodology standing in for madness. 

  Yesterday afternoon, before our Eating Event began, I learned what madness really is, at least when it comes to gathering over-reach because that's when I began pulling together the just-for-her cache of collage fodder I offered to create for Grace once she mentioned in comments missing her former collage supply stash.  Because she's, well, Grace I didn't just stick to what was out and in play from my own stash or the box on my desk that was meant to infuse the stashes of a few local ladies.  I also combed through several of my collections of archived fodder options that seemed most Grace-relevant. Every time I noticed how vast those options were all I really thought about that was be very careful not to create overwhelm rather than joy.

Am having the time of my life finishing up with the endeavor - slightly more than I promised Grace but still taking up roughly the space of a single national geographic at a fraction of the weight.  And a wealth of potential to keep her going indefinitely.   But not even a drop in the bucket in terms of getting my own situation modified and authentically sensible in scope.  Luckily I'm the sort who [usually] enjoys quandry resolution.  So I have confidence I can create more ... conscious cohesion amidst the inevitable chaos that is an actively working collection of collage fodder.  Meanwhile, I wanted to set the stage for a couple of intro posts aimed at detailing a you-set-the-rules 30 Days of Collage creative commitment we might embrace. The intro posts are meant to provide a bit of framework and also spark ideas about how you might want to assemble a structure that supports and inspires the very best of what these type of challenges can bring to virtually anyone's individual creative practice.


On the day I amassed and mentally organized a plan of action where my over-abundance of journals in progress is concerned I also completely cleared and wiped-down the scavenged coffee table where I do what I think of as non-specific (meaning daily as an ongoing just-for-me thing rather than technique-driven additions to an existing art journal project) collage work.   But there's actually quite a specific purpose to this ongoing part of my studio life and it means a great deal to me:  off and on for about six years I've created collages in a kind of visual morning pages fashion.  Instead of a brain dump I create a conscious healing and illumination context for what I hope to carry with me throughout the day.  Or personify some kind of emotional/reactive conundrum that's got me uncertain (as my mother's godmother used to put it) whether to scream or fly.  Or document in an intuitive flashpoint way: this is today and what I think/feel about it.


  Once the scrubbed table was dry I brought back a mix of practical, inspirational and talismanic items so I could immediately make good use of the free-moving energy this clearing-out created.  What do I want and need the space to contain?  I like to ask this question as one time frame ends and a new one begins because over the course of time in between the most relevant question to keep in mind becomes: what am I keeping close simply because I'm used to seeing/having it here in this particular space?  It's a key question for any creative to periodically ask themselves but an absolutely crucial ongoing interrogative to apply to collage fodder and its scope.

I arranged the table in a way that will allow me to see the various things I consider relevant enough that I keep them, always, on the table's top.  Right NOW it doesn't look this specifically geared towards collage endeavors.  And it isn't anywhere near this cohesively organized.   But it IS filled with things I love/find inspiring and an ample easy-to-clear-and keep-that-way central work space.  I am intent to bring a routine of weekly clearing and re-evaluating into the coming year's creative cycle.  Think I'll have to be that stringent with it as an ongoing effort for now - in order to make an engaged shift in relationship to filling space with supplies, more and more of them, simply because I've scored them for free or mere pennies and there's space to do it.  Need to stop operating that way and think instead about enough.  Like really enough instead of:  having extra is still enough of a novelty that I'm enjoying what it feels like more than I ever would have imagined possible before I found myself here with Room to Grow.

Some Suggestions Related to Getting Ready for Working Together:

Start considering the individual components of any paper troves you might possess.  

If you have a small or non-existent collection of paper: 

Let those in your first and second circles of relationship know you're on the lookout for old magazines and calendars.  This is an excellent time of the year for such announcements!   They'll be thrilled to relieve themselves of a specific and for many overwhelming yearly task of Clearing Out the Pretty Recyclables.  So Pretty!  But I'm Never Going to Do Anything With Them!  (ask me, as the coy blogging technique used to go, how I know about this methodology and how flawlessly it's quite likely to work)

But maybe it won't work even a little.  You might not know anybody with contributions to make. Or you're given unworkable magazines (fair warning:  if this happens you'll probably receive far too many of same)  In that case:

Scavenge wrapping paper during holiday gatherings. 

Look twice at any junk mail you receive.  set up a small cache of different patterned security envelope scraps

Save stamps from any mail you receive.  (Tell others you'd like their stamps as well.)

Go to a hardware store and snag a few paint chip cards in colors that look good together right there in that moment. 

pro tip:  You can use the combined palette as a guide to help you search for visually pleasing color-based choices while scanning and clipping your way through any magazines/calendars you received.

If you have a mid-range paper-stash that's a mixture of memorabilia, found paper, and carefully curated magazine/wrapping/art papers

You are perfect.  Don't ever change.  And seriously consider giving lessons. 

Dip into what you've got just enough to set aside a workable pile that speaks to you.  See what else comes your way over the course of the next month that fits the vibe and color palette you've gathered.

If you have an oversized collection; perhaps even an authentically bewildering level of choice. 

rule number one first and always for this particular kinda 30 Day caper: banish any potential crazytrain/overwhelm creative derails before they occur!

In other words set an ahead-of-time limit concerning how much fodder you're going to scan/audition with this challenge in mind. 

For example I often use a four-fold rule to keep my own scanning and audition process manageable.  I select one (and only one) sandwich baggie moderately full of previously created fodder; one magazine or catalog to jump-start fresh and frequently random visual/color palette inspiration; one gutted book's contents  (generally used over several project's span of time and frequently related to - guess what - flowers and/or birds); one loose handful of ongoing household paper-based recycling material. 

Usually I don't need more than one go-round of a QUICK all-over scan to find I've provided myself with an elegant sufficiency.  But if something about the fodder you've chosen whets your appetite to sift through more  of your stuff proceed with caution.  Remember you're only committing to doing this for 30 days not the rest of our combined lifetimes. Am not really a reflexively less is more person when it comes to creative back-up supplies but in this case more is definitely a whole lot less when it comes to the spiraling ratio between creative ingenuity/ignition and option overdose. 

Learn from my mistake concerning the drawbacks of getting out and sorting through too much of my paper stash at one time!  

Once you've done that you might well decide as I did to consolidate ASAP.  Maybe even in the impulsive manner I'm attempting to do it - as something i'd like to get partway (if not completely) finished before I feel obliged to make it a New Year's Resolution.  Am in the strategy process of taking this one right now because I know it's a decision well worth the thought time and organizational effort involved.  But say you're not wired like me and thus don't really need to have rectifying that particular reality check added to the mix at this time of year.  Particularly when it could well complicate the process of setting up something fun and easy to add to your life just long enough to know if maybe you'd like to keep going with the process as an ongoing part of your expressive life practice. 

And speaking of option overwhelm:

If you just don't know where to start narrowing things down begin simply.  Focus first on the stashiest of all your stash stuff:  that extra special cache you really love but consistently stop yourself from using 'frivolously'.  See if you can successfully challenge yourself to pull at least twenty percent of your working base for this project from the level of special For Later things you'd normally save/hoard waiting for an equally special way to use it.  Line everything up in a makeshift grid; preferably on stark or natural white paper.  Let you eye start to find the commonality points in what you've assembled.  Where are the visual themes?  Image repetitions?  Color palette suggestions?  Sort, reject, replace, refine. 

Sorry I am falling behind on my intended creation of a Beautiful Moments process/instructional post.  Getting it manifested, as I'd originally planned by this time on Sunday, involves pulling out and visually auditioning/gathering even more specific to the moment paper-based supplies for photoshoot purposes.  And I just can't go there and process smoothly - visually or more broadly - without getting stuck right now.  cannot cannot cannot.  But soon.  Definitely in time for the next set of holidays.