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Playing With Garbage

- - a modified 100 day challenge - -

This is the time of year when 100 day challenges begin and I think they’re a fabulous idea only I’ve never made it to 100. Since I’ve journaled every day for almost thirty years, spend an hour in my studio every morning, and work steady on my business, I know it’s not that I can’t do 100 in a row but more that I haven’t found the right 100 for me yet.

My accountability partner and I were discussing this a couple weeks ago after she’d returned from a retreat where she made some absolutely gorgeous collage pieces. I wondered if collage was something we could do to make sure we remembered to play and not just work. I’ve made small collages in the past and really enjoyed it so I committed to one a day, which would have been six before our next conversation. I made five, which is my revised goal. Five a week.

My collages are layered with a very thin cotton, some fusible fleece, and then the design layer. They start slightly bigger and are trimmed to 5 x 7” and stitched to watercolour paper. I find it helpful to work with a picture mat with a 5 x 7” opening which is not actually 5 x 7”. It’s slightly smaller so the edges of the picture… or collage… are covered.

The collage is built on top of 6 x 8” pieces of the backing and fusible fleece, which seems to be a fabulous size to pull out of scraps. The design layer is garbage… all the bits and pieces of potential that are cut off bigger projects, just waiting to be played with. The three collages above were made with cotton scraps and the two below with painted scraps. All of them are a combination of hand and machine stitching.

I am taking a polymer clay workshop and was gelli printing some pieces of clay for this week’s class. After spreading the paint on the plate, I cleaned off the brayer on a piece of cotton… that turned out gorgeous. Apparently, surface design is showing up here as well as with mark making. So interesting. Next time I paint clay, I plan to clean the brayer onto the scraps of watercolour paper that were trimmed away around the collages and make them into product tags.

The fundamentals of design fascinate me. It’s a workshop I taught previously and will most likely develop again. All of these pieces feature asymmetrical design with a primary and secondary focal point. That’s my favourite type of balance and tension. Small pieces like these were where I first started practicing the design elements. It’s like playing piano scales. The elements and principles are the foundation of my “music” and it’s not nearly as complicated as many make it out to be. Like anything else, awareness and practice make it come together. It’s been a while since I taught the workshop but one thing I found in every class was that each of us has some aspect of design that comes quite easily and so we tend to second guess it. I am quite comfortable with my sense of balance but I have to work really hard at varying rhythm and repetition. None of the hand stitches in these pieces were measured. I’m so good at even repetition that I’d need a ruler to make the spacing uneven. I remember taking a design workshop with Liz Berg where she encouraged me to vary the distance between elements. I’d push them around and around and around only to realize I’d returned them to perfectly even. There comes a time to embrace. One of my favourite books about design is called The Simple Secret to Better Painting by Greg Albert. He taught me about primary and secondary focal points which have become a fun element of my pieces. I would curl up in the chair in my then studio and look between the book and the design wall putting into place the secret - make no two intervals the same. SUCH a good read. One of those pivotal books that stays on my shelf no matter what else gets tossed. I pulled it out again for a refresher with the collages. What could you make with your garbage? Have a comment to share? Email me at Talk soon

Edit: This post was originally published on Substack on February 24, 2023 and has been republished here.

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