I'm a little worried that I talk about my quiet & dark little cave retreat too often. It's the same as my worry that you might misinterpet my shyness and introversion as aloofness and unfriendliness. It's just that as an introvert working in retail, I do have my moments where I'd like to just lock the door and turn out the lights and be alone in my little space. I think I'm still working out the tempo of my days, figuring out what work needs to be done, feeling pressure to work to make the business a success. I'm not quite sure I have scheduled myself for enough quiet time. Naturally, I am thankful for my customers and like everyone pretty well on an individual basis; collectively, being an introverted control freak and not knowing from minute to minute who will walk into the store does present a bit of a challenge for me. I'm not complaining in the sense of needing to make changes; these are just the particular challengs that come for me as I pursue this path. Being in the public setting has brought so much to my life that I wouldn't have had otherwise (had I stayed in my dark little cave). I'll still pay the price of forced extroversion and a few disinterested time-killers to be able to share so much creative inspiration with so many.
I return to a quotation I found on Pinterest:
"I'm not telling you it is going to be easy - I'm telling you it's going to be worth it" - Art Williams
That said, I truly did not realize how much I needed my weekend away at Valley Ridge Art Studio. There were several moments where I got choked-up - something about the intensity of the experience, the depth of the caring that everyone exhibits, the slight exhaustion that comes from focusing on art projects for the whole day (and into the night).
I know I always heap praise upon Valley Ridge, but each time I go there, I find nothing to retract. There were moments when I totally forgot what day it was, what time it was, even that I should have been tending the shop. And to be able to lose oneself so completely in art-making, to know that someone would come and tell you when lunch was ready, that someone was there to troubleshoot when you got stuck, that someone was there to bounce ideas off of and share inspiration with, all of these things are very precious to the experience. I've also been keenly aware of the ways that the workshops I've taken over the years have contributed to where I am as an artist - when I sit down to create, it's like all my teachers are standing there behind me (So I hope you'll forgive me for the name-dropping in this post, it's just that I do truly have these instructors in my head).
And did I mention the setting? We spent some time on our second day, walking around the property and finding shapes to inspire us. There was plenty to choose from. The enforced break into nature and away from ordinary routine (strengthened by the fact that I camped there overnight), is yet another way that the experience is so unique. I'm a city girl, no doubt about that, and as a result tend to forget to give myself time to rest and be in nature.
For the introvert, Valley Ridge presents its own share of issues. Ordinarily, I go to my little cave to create - sitting on the floor in my living room, working alone on a project while watching a movie. There is something a little intimidating about making mistakes in a room full of fellow artists. And yet, we are all there together, making our own mistakes and attempts, sharing our successes and our questions, as well as our creative inspiration. This group aspect of a Valley Ridge workshop is a very valuable part of the whole experience - it is not just what you learn from the instructor, but what you learn from your fellow classmates. And for the same reason I opened a brick & mortar shop, I think there is something you get from Valley Ridge that you can't get from an online workshop. Online, you definitely don't get to see a dozen other people as they go through the creative process, nor eye, somewhat jealously, their workspaces & supplies & creations.
This particular weekend, my classmates and I were fortunate to spend the days with Michelle Ward, working on collage and painting. Michelle is a great teacher, very warm and totally willing to share all the various tips and techniques she knows. It was also great to see some of her work in person, after eyeing things in print and online. Michelle was one of the artists in the True Colors book, which really got me started on the whole collage/art journal path.
I had some ideas in advance as far as themes for my collage, so that helped keep my focus. We learned some different ways to get paint on the page, ways to create our own stencils, and many other techniques, but the workshop was also about infusing work with your own meaning, something which really speaks to me. Even though I like the shortcuts of purchased stamps, stencils, paper and other elements, I am also finding that I am less and less interested in incorporating other people's work into my own artwork. That is, the only way I can truly express what I want to say, is with my own artistic expression. Duh, I know.
Over the course of 3 days, we worked on three pieces of 11" x 14" watercolor paper. When I first saw the three pages, I was a little disappointed, but then three pieces of paper turned into 6 sides, which turned into 12 pages, each of which will eventually have their own collage. So, um, yeah, that was plenty.
A lot of the focus in the workshop was on painting. I still need to work a bit more on that end. It seemed like everything that I did, while enjoyable and not half-bad to look at, didn't really stand on its own as a painting, so I pretty much converted everything to background, upon which I layered my collage pieces. Still, I was quite pleased with my backgrounds (see above). Some of them would have been lovely for wrapping paper or wallpaper. Background, that is. That said, when I took a workshop with Claudine Hellmuth, she talked a lot about the complexity of backgrounds and they way they add history to a piece. Even if the viewer doesn't immediately know how much effort went into a background, they register, if only on a subconscious level, the complexity and history, and that adds to the piece in a way a wash of a single color wouldn't have.
Michelle talked a lot about adding layers of meaning to your own work but that is something that I've been going about in a somewhat backwards manner of late. After my Juliana Coles workshop, I have been working more intuitively, trusting in whatever it was that caused me to pick up one collage element over another. Maybe the meaning isn't immediately obvious, but I've found that it makes itself known - and usually the art goes together more easily this way, than if I start out with a meaning and try to find things to fit what I wanted.
So, my process. Deandra up in Minnesota has got me thinking about terrariums. That's about as far as I've gotten because I'm really not good with plants. But she has reminded me that I love those little hens and chicks. I decided that was going to be one of the main images that I'd work with so I searched on Pinterest in the weeks before the workshop, and also went to the library to check out some books. All right, hens and chicks, it is.
But Michelle also told us that one of the themes we'd work with would be birds so we could bring some bird imagery to work with and share. Now, just to be clear, I am not a chicken person so, no, I was not going down the chicken route with my hens and chicks theme. Since I'm trying to incorporate more of my own imagery, and since I think collages are more interesting with people in them, my first collage with the bird theme included a picture of the adorable girl. So, one page bird & girl. Another page hens & chicks with kind of a party feeling... hmm, where am I going with this? But when I woke up on the second morning, it suddenly hit me - it's a hen & chick party for my maternal line - which lets me keep the chandelier and the cake, the bird, the girl. And add in a page about the guest list (the lineage), a page with a collage of my mom and her mom, a page with myself and one with my sister too!
I'm still working out some text and some imagery but I think I might actually complete this book by the end of the week.
COVER, started like this, playing around with positive/negative space, stencils that I made myself...
ended up like this:
First: setting the stage for the party. The cake. The chandelier. Layers of paint underneath include sequin waste printing, my carved stamp of a succulent, my cut stencils of succulent shapes.
Second page: Mom, then & now. The start of the maternal line. Still needs work. I used melted wax to adhere the various elements because I like the translucent effect, but the photo of Mom and Grandma kind of fades into the background too much.
Third: The current end of the maternal line, little bird. As an example of meaning coming in later, I used that fragment of paper tape "7 8" to attach the photo of the girl at the beach. It looked rather lonely and random, until I added the rest of the number series and made a little rhyme: "1 2 what do you do" "3 4 on the shore" "5 6 pick up sticks (and stones and shells)" "7 8 don't make me wait." The column of moons on the left margin also have text from the Owl and the Pussycat: "hand in hand on the edge of the sand, they danced by the light of the moon," calling up the party theme.
Fourth: The guest list. My mom actually has a rather complicated family (birth family, foster family, adopted family, half siblings all around). Unfortunately I already waxed this page so my options for gluing and painting are limited. In hindsight, I would have made that egg piece a pocket so I could tuck in a little blurb about my mom's story. As it is, I have only hinted at it with all the women's names on the eggs.
Last: Me, and the colophon.
Michelle is big on collecting the evidence of your work. Sharing all those little pieces and scraps that you generate in the process. You know, all those pieces that you allowed yourself to throw away at the end of the day? Turns out that piece of newsprint that you paint on ends up with some interesting painting... Anyway, my last page has tags with the evidence of my work: the sequin waste stencil, fragments of the attempts to carve my own stamp...
I've been home for two days now. Staying up late each night to add little finishing touches. There's always that challenge of knowing when something is done and not going too far past that point. We'll see how that works out this time. I'm really close. And starting to feel a little groggy from the late nights.