Sunday, November 27, 2011

Creating time for the unexpected (part two)

Meanwhile ... back at my art retreat and the "short story" that wouldn't go away ...

So ... there I was ... completely unable to concentrate on the project I'd brought to work on, and significantly distracted by the short story that had just fallen out of my head when I woke that morning. But having written it, there was really nowhere to take it, except perhaps to an editor (if I only I knew one!). Creatively speaking, I needed a fresh direction to travel in ...

In the last few years, several of us have been fortunate enough to have taken classes with Roxanne Padgett, and pretty much we all agree that she's one of the most inspiring and generous teachers we've had. Her recent Journalfest class on faces inspired some of us to make multi-plate prints at the retreat.

I'm just gonna say outright that I was a little intimidated to try this, but since everyone else was having a go at it, I thought I'd join in. I've noticed there's a kind of energy about doing things in groups that I can't replicate at home. Not to mention that if I was at home I would have found a zillion other things I "ought" to have been doing and therefore print-making just wouldn't have happened. But since the materials are so darn cheap (Sticky foam sheet + thrift store board book: $2. Acrylic paints: $5. Making your own amazing multi-colour prints? Priceless) this was obviously both the time and the place to do it.

I started with a simple sketch of a woman's head, then I redrew it using wide sharpie on the sticky foam. The process of visualizing and cutting the separate layers of colour in the foam was a bit of a mind twister. It looks easy (once it's done), but actually cutting the layers? You really have to concentrate. And positioning them on the board book so they would be in register? Sheesh! It occurred to me while trying to position everything that working on plexiglass sheets would make lining things up easier, but hey - who randomly throws some plexiglass into their art bag "just in case they need it"? Okay, some people might actually do that, but I hadn't, so I worked with what I had. And it all worked out okay in the end ~ I actually think the non-perfect register of these prints is what makes them look more interesting.

I wanted to record the separate stages of the process, so I decided to stamp each "plate" into my journal, and hey - it just so happened that I had 7 blank pages ready and waiting (opposite that darn short story!). So I carefully stamped and labeled each of the 3 separate plates in my journal, and filled up the following 4 pages with various combinations ... plates 1 & 2 together, plates 2 & 3 together, all plates together, etc, etc . Done!

But not done. It kind of bugged me that the pages were still so empty ... just a single, boring print on each page. Hmphf. Fortunately, what I *had* thrown into my art bag was some really really fun washi tape. I, like many of my arty friends, have recently fallen under the spell of washi tape. I've even been making my own custom washi tape. Maybe I'll tell you about it some time ...

So I decided to put a washi tape border around each of the prints, and added a bit of colour here and there using caran d'ache crayons. And since that still left an empty box under each print, I also hand wrote or stamped a few lines from the bit of the story on the facing page. Now I was done. Every single page was as thoroughly visually covered as the scribbly written page that faced it. And yet again I'd had the experience of the retreat giving me an extraordinary gift - a complete package - a story, plus the perfect visual component to go with it. Will wonders never cease? I hope not.

Friday, November 18, 2011

I'm with you, little guy ...

Last night it snowed here. Snow was not forecast on the radio. I mentioned this to Mr B. on our way to dinner.

"Snow wasn't forecast on the radio," I said. "Time for a new radio," said Mr B. in his usual deadpan English way.

In the 15 minutes it took us to find a restaurant, it went from light drizzly rain to huge splatting flakes the size of quarters. In the half hour it took to have dinner (the restaurant was nearly empty), it seemed to have given up and gone back to being cold and dark, but not wet.

After dinner, Mr. B dropped me at the Richmond Art Gallery, where I met up with my friend Catherine for the opening of their mail art exhibit (we both had work in the show). Well worth a look, by the way, if you're in the neighbourhood ~ it'll be on display till January 15th.

Anyway ... we thought we'd better get home sooner rather than later as more people came into the gallery saying (cheerfully!) that it was "snowing out there". Good thing we did ~ it had returned to the huge splatting flakes again ~ and they were starting to pile up. The closer we got to home, the more snow there was, until the sidewalks were white, and the wipers were actually pushing slush out of their way. By the time Catherine dropped me at home, my lawn and sidewalk were not only completely white, but also distressingly crunchy. Ick.

And then, this morning, as Mr. B dropped me off at work, we saw this lovely little snowman hailing a bus outside my building, and I couldn't resist taking a picture. I know it's just a snowman, but I absolutely identified with that hopefully raised twiggy arm ... get me out of here, it seemed to say. Oh yeah, I'm with you, little guy ... I'm not ready for winter, either.

Tuesday, November 15, 2011

Creating time for the unexpected (part one)

Just back from another weekend away with my favourite art journaling group at the Red Farmhouse. Unlike art retreats with classes, teachers and schedules, our little group arrives with a whack of supplies and (usually) no specific goal in mind except to create a space where we can work on (play with?) whatever projects, materials and tools are taking our fancy at the moment. One of the many things that amaze me on our quarterly retreats is that I always seem to come home with something that wasn't even in my mind when I set out. And unlike at home, the projects I work on at the Red Farmhouse arrive almost as a package ~ and while there, I'm pretty driven to get them as complete as they can be, knowing that when I go home, I'll be pulled away to other responsibilities and I worry that I'll lose the thread, and they'll never be completed.

All my life, I've had strange dreams, and sleeping in strange places gives me even stranger dreams. Stranger, more vivid, live-it-like-you-were-there kind of vividness. This happens every time I go to the Red Farmhouse. I wake up one morning with *something* unusual spilling out of my head and onto my journal pages (usually verbal), and somehow over the course of the next few days I'm able to turn it into something visual that I wouldn't have created any other time. This weekend's experience was no exception ... Saturday morning, I woke from a dream about a wonderful creative relationship that comes up against an all too familiar obstacle.

But I'd (foolish
ly!) left my journal downstairs Friday night, so the trick was to stay sleepy enough to keep all the details in my head, but awake enough to maneuver the stairs down and then back up to my room where I could write everything down. Seven pages and an hour or so later, it was all spilled messily out onto the page. Satisfied, I went downstairs to see what was sort of creative stuff was cooking at the big art table, but for some reason the story just wouldn't leave me. I kept falling back into the environment, the characters, the events. The project I'd intended to work on seemed flat and distant compared to the brightness of the dream. But, at the same time, I didn't know what to do next. It was obviously just a short story. Funny ... I say that like I write short stories all the time ... trust me, I don't. Well, not short stories that *other* people would recognize as short stories. This one I could almost imagine reading in a real book.

By lunchtime I still couldn't shake the story. As we sat in the kitchen after lunch, I asked if anyone would mind if I read my story, and they were all up for it. I was pretty nervous, I'm not the kind of person who enjoys reading my work aloud. And what's really weird is that I realized I wanted to read it to them almost because I wanted witnesses to the fact that this extraordinary thing had fallen out of my head only hours before. I was afraid if I took it away "under wraps" that something bad would happen to it in the editing stage and I might never share it with anyone. Ever. And that seemed like a shame, not because it's such a marvelous story (hard to tell what it might be once properly edited), but because it's existence seemed as much about our being all together in that space as it was about the original dream. Like it kind of belonged to all of us, and I was just the channel it came in through.

The story continued to stay with me all that day, and the next, and in fact, here is it Tuesday and it's still with me. I think this is because it badly needs editing, and I'm afraid to get too far away from it before I do that. Or maybe I'm afraid to be too close. Or something. I've put one of the unedited sections of the story here for you so you'll see something of it's current state.
I know soon I'll be brave enough to edit it. I know it'll find the right form eventually. In my next post, I'll show you what happened next, and for that too I credit my friends at the Red Farmhouse.