Downsizing


It started innocently enough. A neat little object here, an interesting box there. “I could use that in my art,” I thought. Over and over I thought that, until I had a studio busting at the seams with neat and interesting objects. So many in fact that they spilled off of the shelves and out of the closet. Working on any project involved a balancing act of pulling out tools and supplies while trying not to tip off an avalanche. This is no way to work and it was starting to become a deterrent to working.

I decided to practice radical downsizing. Many neat and interesting things are now in a pile headed for a yard sale. It wasn’t easy to part with some of this stuff, but once I got started I was on a roll. Throwing things out became exciting, even empowering. Heck, the cat is lucky she is not on that pile!

Visual clutter, for me anyway, becomes mental clutter. It got to the point in the studio where I couldn’t think straight, much less get motivated to make art. I knew I had hit the danger point when the studio became a place to avoid. Action was called for. Now the containers are back in their proper places, organized by size and type and neatly labeled of course. There is even, gasp!, open shelf space. The work table is still covered with paperwork that I need to sort through, but no longer will it be a storage place. I have a cabinet full of glue and paint and one full of beeswax collage supplies and tools. All the power tools are in the closet and easily accessible. Beads and sewing supplies have their spots on the shelves and the sewing machine even has its very own shelf now. All the books got moved to another room and all the old art therapy journals and articles are in the yard sale pile.

It feels great to walk in here now. I know exactly what I have and exactly where it is. I feel inspired to work now. It is a clean, well-lighted place. A room of my own. This is the pile of everything that is headed out the door. Hallelujah!

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Beeswax Collage


Now where do I put it all? Thanks to the largesse of some friends who were clearing out their own stashes, my stash has just multiplied dramatically. I have enough plaster cast to make masks for the next 30 years. I got an airbrush, compressor, paints and instruction manuals. Contact paper, glue, Mod Podge, fabric samples, black and white gesso, gel medium, canvas pliers, brayers, three Alvin cutting mats and adhesive film-oh my! The find that is inspiring me the most right now is  two 12″ x 24″ gallery profile stretched canvases.

One of my favorite mediums is beeswax collage. Similar to working in encaustic, beeswax collage involves melted wax and creating layered, translucent assemblages. I prefer to work on unprimed stretched canvas, but I am going to try to work with the prepared canvases. I have a big crock pot that I melt bricks of beeswax in. Color is added to the wax by melting in crayons with a quilting iron and heat gun. Layers of fabric and paper are added and then the wax is melted in with the heat gun. 3D objects such as beads, small stones and toys are adhered with a puddle of beeswax. I am experimenting with ways to add text directly to the wax without using magazine or book cut-outs.  I have had some success with carving into the warm wax and then filling in the outline with liquid watercolor when the wax has cooled. I also used stencils to carve out letters from the warm wax. The carved out areas easily peeled off, leaving a relief of the letter.

Beeswax is archival, so it won’t yellow or crack over time. This process cannot be done with candle wax as it gets too hard when it dries and it flakes right off. The beeswax can be found at most craft stores and comes in a natural light brown/yellow color or white. It can also be ordered online. If you don’t want to make a big commitment, you can get a mini crock pot and buy beeswax pellets instead of the bricks. Once you have melted beeswax in a crock pot, you can’t use the pot for anything else. Brushes also become forever dedicated to the cause. A quilting iron is a tool with a tiny triangular head that is great for melting drops of crayon and for blending areas on the canvas and it can be found at a fabric store. I use a small heat gun also known as an embossing tool. I hope it is obvious that these are not tools for children to use. I also don’t do this process with clients because of the safety issues. I will try to post some photos later. It is hard to get good shots because the wax surface is reflective.

Thanks to my bountiful harvest and generous friends, I will be heating up the crock pot and trying not to catch the studio on fire with all of these heat tools. Keep your eyes and ears open for people who are moving and/or cleaning-you never not what you might find for your own stash. Happy Art-Making to you!

The Eleventh Idea


Swirling blurred colors in a giant slice of petrified wood. A music-making sculpture of Rube Goldberg proportions. Esoteric collections of Pez dispensers, autographed baseballs, and butterflies. Mathematical formulas brought to life in 3D models (so that people like me might have a shot at understanding them.) The frenzy of being inside a tornado. All of this and more filled my senses yesterday at the Museum of Science in Boston.

The petrified wood looked like the surface of a modernist painting. I am tempted to try to replicate the painting style of Mother Nature! Inspiration happens when we are open to taking in all that we can with all of our senses. We do not have to have a fully formed idea when we sit down to work. If I bounce off of this idea of petrified wood, I can go a thousand directions with it. I can work with the idea of something ephemeral (a tree in this case) being transformed into something permanent. I can experiment with the blending of colors that I see in the wood. I can work with the larger concept of what it means to be petrified or I can try to replicate the wood. Then I can start bouncing off ideas about areas in my life where I feel petrified. What does that feel and look like? Is it possible to reverse the process? Does being stagnant lead to petrification? As you can see, there are many directions I can go from the starting point of seeing something that inspires me.

When I was in art school, I had a drawing teacher who gave me an excellent piece of advice. Whenever he gave an assignment, he told us to immediately write down our first ten ideas. And then throw them away. Start with your eleventh idea. I think about this all the time. It helps me to avoid the obvious solution to a creative problem and I think it enriches the work. Sources of inspiration are all around us. It can come from a trip to museum but it can also be found in the pattern at the bottom of your tea cup. Open yourself to the flood of inspiration and get started on that eleventh idea.

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