16 January 2009

In Process with "War" Project

Last weekend I had to attend a mandatory parent seminar at my son's school, and while listening to an extremely enthusiastic person expound on the benefits of kale smoothies and hemp seeds, I started writing about the "war" challenge. Just writing out the idea I had, which was good, but not a spark, really. And then the spark came, and I couldn't write fast enough to get all the thoughts and vision in my head down on the paper. I never thought that would happen to me! And yet there I was, sitting on the third floor of the school building, and I knew exactly what I wanted to do and how to do it. Magical.

Now I'm about a third of the way through, and as plans do, mine is changing. And also, as it usually happens, it is changing because something didn't work out like I thought it would. Turns out it's really NOT possible to collage magazine pictures onto a stretched canvas without them wrinkling . . . at least not the way I did it. But that's getting ahead of myself.

I gessoed an 18x24" stretched canvas twice, then I took strips of bleeding art tissue (Spectrum, available at Teacher Heaven and Jerry's Artarama) and added them on with matte gel medium. I did it in an abstract landscape fashion, with greens and browns at the bottom and blues with a few reds and oranges at the top. Mainly my objective was to have the sides of the frame covered, and it was an opportunity to play and experiment since my plan was to cover the front completely with magazine pictures. I was delighted with how the tissue paper turned out.

My overall idea was to put lots of pictures of the earth in beauty on the collage, following a general landscape layout--rocks and trees on the bottom, oceans and sunsets on top, mountains in the middle. That way when one first glanced at it, the impression would be one of peace and grandeur. But a second glance would reveal that in places the paint was cracking (use crackle paint); I had thought about using the peeled paint technique detailed in Christine Hellmuth's Collage Discovery Workshop in a few places, but since I've never experimented with it before I'm not going to do it for the first time on this piece. So I need to age it a little, not noticeably but somehow, in a couple of other ways. Maybe lightly sand a couple of areas, rub Distress Ink over a couple of bits.

Then what I wanted to do is to place magnifying glasses in various spots on the collage, and the picture in the magnifying glass would be one of the destruction and devastation the human race is waging on the earth--birds covered in oil from a spill, dead coral reefs, clear-cutting in the Amazon rainforest, etc. I thought of tying a single metallic embroidery thread between all the glasses, partly to contribute to the misleading initial impression that it's just about the earth's beauty, but it occurs to me now that it would also bring out the theme that everything on the earth is connected, and sometimes that connection is quite fragile indeed. So maybe I will still find a way to work that in.

The reason I have stopped and haven't done anything for a couple of days now is the wrinkled pictures. It actually gave me a great idea because the wrinkles remind me of one of those relief globes, where the mountains are really raised. Would have been neat to figure out how to do that underneath and then have the pictures on top of that (although I can see that would be tough in practice because the paper wouldn't go on evenly over a raised mini-mountain). But that then led to the idea of getting some small, teeny mountains--and maybe also some forests--from somewhere like a hobby shop that sells that kind of stuff for train sets. Their mountains might be too big for my scale of picture though . . . just not sure what I want to do about this and how to work the wrinkles in. I actually kind of like the wrinkles because it's the beginning of showing that all is not perfection, but I need to make sure it looks purposeful and not just like my pictures wrinkled during the adhering process!

At any rate, I'm having quite a lot of fun with this. I was delighted to find a way to do something on war that wasn't going to be immediately depressing to look at--it can carry a message and be serious, but it's also still pleasing to the eye. Hopefully it will all work out in the end.

06 January 2009

What to Do about War

So our topic for the January challenge is "war". No limits--could be conflict on a national level such as the current Israeli/Gaza issue, internal conflict such as that between person and role (self and wife/mother), a battle such as the battle against cancer--anything viewed, I guess, as one force opposing another. That's really what war is on the simplest level--two or more forces in opposition that do not compromise and seek to gain leverage over the other(s).

My challenge especially is going to be how to approach this and make a piece that isn't troubling for me to create and that is still something I wouldn't mind having in my house (along lines of last post about what my personal criteria are for my artwork). And I do think that it would be easy to create a piece on war that is disturbing to look at and hard to make. Perhaps the real challenge is finding a way to do a piece on war that is not personally difficult to create and one that is not something the viewer wishes to turn away from upon seeing it.

Not sure yet on which level I wish to approach this. H., who came up with the topic, said she did so because of what is going on in the Isreali/Palestinian conflict at the moment. I thought of something on WWI, with the poppies and headstones of family members who fought in WWI, but as far as I know I have none and Dale has only one, and that just feels a bit pretentious or saccharine anyway. This afternoon I remembered that last summer I'd had thoughts of doing something to illustrate that continual struggle between self and wife/mother roles, so maybe I'll go back and look at that post if I can find it. The personal war--not to illustrate a resolution, just to acknowledge and give voice to the conflict itself.

I am finding it hard to think about this in a way that doesn't feel fake or self-important. Perhaps this might be a good month to do a couple of different pieces for the challenge to see how each comes out and what I think about them. I don't even know how I want to do anything yet. I could maybe use the ration book I got from Duxford last summer--do heat transfer and put multiple copies on a background . . . it just seems that what comes to mind at the moment is "clever" but not honest somehow. Will keep thinking about it and trusting that I will get through to the honesty.

02 January 2009

My Goals for Finished Pieces

The more I think about what to make for my challenge pieces with my local friend, the more I find myself thinking about what I like and do not like in my own finished pieces. Even just thinking about what I'm creating has helped me think differently about the pieces I see in a museum. I think I'm broadening my horizons!

One thing I am definitely becoming certain of is that I am firmly in the mixed-media category. Anything else would bore me, but this offers such a wide variety and the potential to keep learning new skills. I also am increasingly that I want all my pieces to have dimension to them. This began even over a year ago when I was still in my homegrown cardmaking workshop year, learning a different technique for each card I made. Just adhering something with foam tape so that it was on a different level than the rest of the piece was brilliant, I thought, and I am now finding that I am always looking for a way to add some dimension or extend something across a border.

Tonight I was contemplating the piece I'm working on for our "beginnings" challenge. It is certainly my most ambitious and I am not at all certain it's going to work out, but even if it doesn't I should learn something from it, so on at least one level it will be a success. Anyway, I realized that it is a personal requirement of mine that first and foremost, I want what I make to be pleasing to the eye. I'm not sure how to put it in any more exact terms--harmonious? pretty? [no, not that]? But some artists want their work to be disturbing on first glance, and I guess that at least at this point, I'm not one of those people. I want what I make to be something I or anyone would want to look at, something that if glanced upon on one's way from room to room, it would give a smile, a sigh of appreciation/pleasure, something like that.

Secondly, after one has simply found the viewing to be pleasing, I'd like the details of the work to be interesting for those (like myself) who find that intriguing. So there needs to be a backstory or amplification of the work that if explored is also satisfying in some way.

I still find great resistance in myself to having words on my pieces (seems way too twee), but this evening I read about Soul Soup and loved some of her poetry that is on her paintings. So maybe sometime in the next two or three months, I will add my own personal stipulation to our monthly challenge that I have to include words on my piece. It would be good for me!