Friday, December 31, 2010

Transfiguring the World with Scissors and Glue

Making collages is something I have greatly enjoyed doing for years.  I love the whole process, the  intuitiveness and magic of it.  I love making meaning out of randomness, taking images that seem to have nothing to do with each other and interlacing them.

I don't consider myself an Artist, and it's unlikely that my collages would ever be gallery quality, but their value to me is greater than any fine work of art.  I love it when other people appreciate them, but unlike my writing, they are made mainly for my own viewing.  I do enjoy sharing them though, and especially turning people on to the joys of collage-making.  If you've never done it, give it a try! 

I start by picking a theme and motifs; it has to be something fairly loose so that I'll be open to what unexpected images reveal themselves.  The collage I started yesterday afternoon and finished this morning is my 2011 collage, with the primary themes/motifs of the color green and its associations, the heart, earth and air.

I also choose a background "canvas" right away too, as it will obviously determine how many images I can use, but it defines the collage in other ways too.  I've done several collages on mirrors, for instance.  I did one on a piece of a brown paper grocery bag, which I then burned around the edges.  I think I want to get into shadow boxes next, try some 3D stuff.  The only 3D collage I've ever done was actually more like a mosaic and was on a pencil box.  I used keys and large glass beads, and pennies.

Next I heft a stack of magazines, and sometimes old books and calendars, to my bedroom, most of which I choose randomly, but with my themes in mind I might deliberately pick some types that will be more likely to contain related images.  I then try to stick to only the stack I've chosen, although at the end of the process, if there's a gap in the collage that needs filling by something of a particular color or size, I might go look at a few others.  I didn't have to do that this time, though.

The stack I ended up with consisted of many copies of Oprah's magazine, a couple of Vogues, a jewelry-maker's catalogue, a little book about Zen called The Art of Happiness, a couple of New Mexico magazines, a couple of issues each of National Geographic, Spirituality & Health, and Garden Design, a tiny book called Roman Wisdom, and one copy of Martha Stewart's Living.

I love the indulgence of closing myself in my room and flipping through magazines with scissors in hand.  A friend once gave me an X-Acto knife for collage use as a gift; I gave it a try but found that I much more enjoy using scissors, and I'm pretty darn good with them.

So I cut out a bunch of stuff I think might work, and once I've gone through all the magazines I start laying out pieces on the background.  It's really like putting a puzzle together, and I'm always amazed how certain things fit together as though they were made for each other.  Other pieces are trickier, and sometimes I have to just put one aside and realize it's not going to work.  But if there's a piece I really want in there, I'll find a way to fit it.

This is what my bedroom looks like when I'm in the middle of a collage:

Once it's all arranged the way I want, I usually leave it overnight.  I think of this as a steeping or gelling process.  The pieces need time to get to know each other and see if they're going to ultimately be compatible. And I need to be able to come back to it with fresh eyes.

Then the gluing begins.  This is the trickiest part, because the puzzle can become extremely intricate, where several pieces have to be joined very precisely or they won't blend in a way that looks organic.  And so a big part of this step is figuring out what order everything needs to be glued in.  I have tried different glues, but always use good old glue sticks these days, because they cause the least possible amount of air bubbles and wrinkles.  They're also easier and less messy.

Once it's done, I'll prop it up somewhere and gaze at it for a ridiculously long time.  Then I'll go have a cup of coffee or something, and come back and gaze some more.  I begin to see patterns I hadn't intended.  I tell myself a story about it, interpret it.  In the past few years I have more consciously created collages as a sort of prophecy, a picture of my intentions.  It's rather like spellcasting, really; or prayer.  And then the finished collage becomes an ongoing meditation as well as a way of tracking my progress.  There is a poetry and fluidity and mystery to a collage that opens me into deep self-discovery.  The meaning sometimes seems to make itself.  To make me.

The collage below I made shortly after my 13-year-old son was born.  It hangs in my living room and I still muse upon it:  where I was then, where I am now, what has been fulfilled, what is timeless and essential in it and becomes more obviously so over time.

One of my favorite collages because it was so fun and felt so deliciously subversive to do was on a print of Van Gogh's Starry Night.  I call it The Starry Kosmos.

  And here's the one I finished today.  Out of all my collages, I think this one inspires the most joy in me to look at.

Wednesday, December 29, 2010

The End of the Orange

So wow.  After months of being mostly absent from the blogosphere, this will be my third post in the past week or so.  Why?  Because a) my van has been in the shop for two weeks and I've been mostly housebound, b) teaching for the semester is over and I'm on break from grantwriting this week, and last but most certainly not least c) I'm actually inspired to write again.  (Well, let me clarify that:  I'm inspired to write my OWN stuff again.  Since I write a weekly column now, most of my writing juice goes to that and I find little left for my personal writing.  Not that I'm complaining; I LOVE writing my column.)    

This is the third year in a row that I've felt a strong sense of inspiration and magic in the post-Christmas season.  Last year, my immersion in the blogging community greatly enhanced that.  For one thing, I was turned on to the idea of picking a word for the year to reflect on, and that evolved into also picking a color.  (Although it really felt like the color picked me.)  

Now I'm coming to the end of my orange year of "quiet love" (yes - I picked two words instead of one).  I have discovered that for 2011 my word will be "bless," and the color will be green, and I'm so excited to begin this new journey that I've been consciously restraining myself from jumping ahead too fast.  I want to properly finish the old year before I throw myself completely into the new.  I want to make sure I've really learned the year's lessons, integrated its spirit, before I march off on a new adventure.  And so I'm reflecting more on the orange nature of the past year than I have in a while, letting the orange seep into my soul and steep there for these last few days of 2010.  It's been wonderful to be able to go back to old blog posts and track my path.  I clicked on "orange" in my labels section and went back and read those posts, and am gratified to see that the directions I felt led by my orange ruminations bore fruit. 

For instance, I wrote the following in one of those posts:  "What happens when the second chakra [whose color is orange] is too open (overly emotionally reactive, too absorptive of others' emotions) and too closed (shut down, apathetic, cold)  both fit me.  I go back and forth between these states."  Well, I'm thrilled to report that this year has found me finally balanced in this regard.  

I also wrote:  "I need to be able to feel the people around me without drowning in it or shutting myself down when it's all too much.  I need a vibrancy and vitality that flows out of me and doesn't just get stuck in my head."  I have actually learned this year to tap into such a flowing vibrancy and vitality within myself, which is exactly what has gotten me unstuck out of my head and brought balance between being too open and too closed.


May your old year end in peace and your new one begin with inspiration!

The orange flower lights June Amber gave me for my birthday this past year

Tuesday, December 28, 2010

The Journey of the Three Giant Aliens

On the day after Christmas, I ventured into a big box McStore to take advantage of 50% off on all holiday items.  I was specifically looking for wise men, because my nativity set is lacking these, and I've been trying to find some for years, but they never seem to be "sold separately." I've seen many wonderful nativity sets that include wise men, and have often been tempted to just get a new one, but the one I have, while not the finest to be had, has great sentimental value to me, as I've had it since childhood.

Here it is, in all its plastic, badly-painted glory:

You may notice that we added a nursing cow a couple of years ago.  This was when June Amber was going through a cow phase, and it just seemed appropriate to have a mama and her calf at the nativity.  You may also notice that under the angel's outstretched foot is evidence of a roof fire.  This was from the year that I placed a candle just a little too far inside the stable.

What you do not see here is wise men (or shepherds, for that matter).  So joy of joys!  I found three individually sold wise men between the big red bows and the four-packs of plastic Santa cups.  It was even worth waiting behind a woman and her young child who held up the checkout line for a price check on a singing Justin Bieber doll.

So here they are, set up on my dining table and on their way to the manger:

Aren't they handsome?

When I got them home and started playing with them, I noticed this on their (literal not figurative) bottoms:

The fact that they're from China made me wonder where my own nativity set is from, and lo and behold, I inspected it and discovered it's actually from Depose, Italy.  Huh.

But what really interested me on this label is the whole concept of the difference between a "decoration" and a "toy," and why the manufacturers felt it necessary to make such a distinction.  Are there only two categories for what these figures can be?  And what does that even mean, that they should be used ONLY for decoration and not for playing?

After I took the above photos, June Amber came home, and she played with them too, and accidentally knocked one over, resulting in his hand being broken off at the wrist.  Now the "not a toy" warning made some sense.

I decided not to glue the hand back on because it seemed fitting to me that during a long and arduous pilgrimage, there would be such trial and loss.  If you take Eliot's The Journey of the Magi to heart, a much deeper brokenness was experienced by the wise men.  And at least it wasn't the hand he was using to carry his gift to the Christ child.  

Other than that, there was really only one minor issue with my beautiful new magi - they are not quite to the scale of everyone else at the manger.  They are, in fact, twice as big as Mary and Joseph.  But I figure that's okay, because they were supposed to be from a strange land anyway, so who says they couldn't have been giants? (Although I suppose if they're from China, that would be unlikely.)  Also, if you look at it from their perspective of distance, it works.

Only when they reach the stable on Epiphany, will their size seem shocking, and perhaps that's as it should be.  Besides, with a giant benevolent Santa watching over the whole thing, it's all relative.

Thursday, December 23, 2010

Saying Yes to the Impossible

Because my free time has been very limited over the past months, and because I am now writing for a living, I have been spending far more time on Facebook than on Blogger.  When I'm sitting at my computer, working on an article or a grant, I can flip over to Facebook for a five minute break, and happily, I've been able to keep up with some of my blogging friends this way.  One of those friends is Claire, of A Seat at the Table.  Today she has shared several wonderful ruminations on Advent and Christmas, which I have been so inspired by that I had to come blog about it, even though a huge pile of laundry, an unwritten article, and unbaked goodies await my attention.

One of the links she shared was a post called Annunciations All the Time, at dotMagis.  The author shares the poem, "Annunciation," by Denise Levertov (one of my favorite poets).  This poem deals with the idea that we are always being presented with things to say "yes" to the way Mary said yes to the angel.  And this brought me back to something I've been ruminating about this Advent, which is the part of Mary's 'yes' that included giving birth away from home, in a stable (or cave, as I hear is more accurate).

It seems to me that if an angel came to me and told me I was going to give birth to the son of God, saying yes would be a no-brainer.  But then if the time came to give birth and I found myself far from home and family, in a dirty stable, I'd be questioning if it really was God after all.  I'd be thinking, "This can't be right, this can't be the way such a one should be born."

Last year, I blogged about the messiness of Christmas.  This year, I am deeper in the messiness, not just of Christmas but of life.  How is it that my most cherished notions of the way things should be can be so far from reality?  It helps me to think of Mary in the stable, saying Yes.

Claire shared another poem by Denise Levertov, on her own blog today, and this one is about the importance of welcoming grief when it comes.  I can't help but put this together with my Mary rumination.  When we think of grief, we usually think of the big losses, of people we love dying, but there are so many little losses.  So many.  And some losses we experience as big even when they might not seem so to others.  I think again of Mary in the stable, of reconciling with the loss of an imagined experience of giving birth surrounded by the comfort and familiarity of home and loved ones.  For me, this would likely bring a sense of great loss, and I would grieve.  For Mary, it was the introduction to a life of losses around her son.  And for all of us with children, we know that the moment we give birth, we begin to lose them.

To allow grief is to say yes to the loss that has caused the grief, and then to open up a new and more abundant set of possibilities.  This is what I continue to learn at deeper and deeper levels, or actually, in more and more circumstances, even the ones that have seemed impossible to accept.

The third link Claire has shared today is to a post called The Christmas We Are Waiting For, by Sister Joan Chittister, and it reflects upon the Advent theme of waiting.  Chittister comments that Christ's birth was really about establishing a whole new order, which in many ways, disappointed those who were waiting for a Messiah.  She asks, "For what have we been waiting...For the restoration of the old order or for the creation of the new?"

The creation of the new may be very different from what I had imagined and thought right, and I will grieve the loss of the old, but doing so may be the only way to really let go of it and welcome true freedom, peace, and joy.

May we all be awake to the blessings of the season, in whatever messy form they come.


Related Posts with Thumbnails

Search This Blog