We spiral around to explore the same inspirations and concerns in our process again and again. I find this to be true personally, and have many artist friends who do as well. Each time we come back to an idea or approach, though, it is with an experiential shift in perspective. There’s such richness for our practice in that.
When I turned away from art and toward nursing, there were many factors that influenced moving toward a more “practical,” service-oriented profession. One of those factors that fed my rationale came from a heightened sense of awakening about the resources we use to create art. As my awareness about the packaging, shipping, mining, environmental and even health footprint expanded, I became disillusioned as I questioned a calling that can seem so consumer-dependent and product oriented. Let’s be honest, as lifelong creatives, lots of our art becomes clutter in our spaces and destined for the landfill. There is evidence of our process to contend with long after the process has served its internal purpose.
As a ceramicist who also dabbled in painting and photography back then, I had a hard time reconciling the footprint I was leaving with deeper ecological values that I was forming. In retrospect – and on a healing note, I can say I also did not entirely believe I was worthy of taking up so much space and resources, let alone that I deserved to love what I do or create evidence of my unique voice in the world.
At the time, I craved simpler, subtler, LESS production, more organic ways of being and contributing. I desperately needed a different perspective and wasn’t finding it in art-making at the time.
Having ventured away from my art for years to work as a nurse, and now back again to my spirit’s calling, I can say that my interest in our physical footprint hasn’t changed much – I’m just applying more creativity to how I find comfort with where my calling and values meet.
At the beginning of this year, I began to revisit this awareness about resources and art-making, and made a more conscious commitment to myself to explore buying less supplies. To see what I could do with what I already have or have access to. To stretch my creativity toward re-using and re-purposing rather than just ordering or buying a pre-made ideal. Even if there’s a sale… even a really good sale (yikes). It’s easy to get hooked – and while fun, sometimes I find it is also a distraction from really being in my practice – which doesn’t take anything fancy at all when you get right down to it. I love challenging myself to remember that.
Shortly after declaring that commitment in my journal in January, I met artist Alma Stoller on a Skype call and we got to chatting about letting go of this idea of needing fancy stuff, and just working with what you have – just getting to the practice and play of it. She is such an enthusiastic creative, and her perspective really inspired and validated my own resolve. So right after our call, I signed up for her 101 Mixed Media Techniques online class (a steal, by the way) – which is packed with short videos to inspire a resourceful attitude toward process and supplies.
I had been wanting to break out my sewing machine for some mixed media art for awhile, but Alma’s videos turned that curiosity into action – with what she calls recycled canvases. (Note: I’ve actually done this before, way back in art school with photos… it’s one of those returning interests for me! Do you notice what yours are?)
Last week, I tore up lots of paintings, prints and paper fodder, and glued and sewed them into new surfaces to play on. I found the assembling process to be so cathartic to the part of me that loves tactility with a dash of DIY. I plan to try her recipes for gesso and gel medium, among others, just as soon as I run out of what I have, too.
I feel a freshness about playing on these surfaces. In the picture above are some of the ‘canvases’ I made. The one on the top of this post is a piece of large cardboard turned canvas. I thought I would hate the corrugation – but it turns out I loved the effect after I started scraping and smearing some paint, and balanced out the texture with some collage.
Not spending extra money on painting surfaces (which often just sit in my studio for months before I get to them) not only minimized additional clutter in my space, but is also liberating to the authenticity of my process. I LOVE seeing stuff transform, and how new combinations create texture, pattern, timelessness for me, inspiration and more ideas for a vital practice. I get excited that what I’ve created before can be re-arranged to capture new insight and inspire fresh vision.
There’s a palpability to working with what I have, in an intuitive way, to create space for my practice, that I just love. And those ‘canvases’ made from previous art are de-licious to hold – especially with more paint on them. I actually began several paintings on these surfaces, and I’ll share how those are going later this week.