Fly your own bird

“Be yourself. Everyone else is already taken.” — Oscar Wilde

DSCN0126One of my favorite episodes on the hilarious Portlandia series is the one that popularized the phrase: “Put a bird on it.” Now listed in urban dictionaries, the expression refers to any creative trend that’s become so common that it’s a cliche. If you haven’t seen the episode, think of the times you’ve visited a boutique or gallery and noticed how many items are embellished with a bird. You get the idea.

On the topic of originality, freelance writer Pam Houghton recently posted several excellent tips on building a satisfying career. For me, the tip that resonated most was the one emphasizing the importance of listening to your own voice — instead of following trends.

“Some people make success look easy,” Pam wrote. “The times I tried to imitate them never worked even after repeated attempts….I had no choice then but to step back and ask, what is it that I do well?”

Pam’s post got me thinking about my early years as a journalist in the 1980s. I was a huge fan of New York Times columnist Anna Quindlen, whose “Life in the Thirties” pieces were so fresh that I wished I’d written them. I wanted to draw “aha!” moments from my readers, like Quindlen did every week. I wanted to be a family columnist, but how could I hold a candle to Anna Quindlen?

Then there was Anne Lamott, who wrote the exquisite memoir, Operating Instructions: A Journal of My Son’s First Year, and lots of juicy essays for Salon. Add to the fact that I also admired essayist Annie Dillard, and you’ll get why I considered adopting my middle name, Anne, as a pen name. The Annes and Annas were rocking the writing world.

On one hand, I learned something about my own taste — and writing goals — when I examined the nuts and bolts of their work. Quindlen spun the personal into the political; Dillard brought both depth and poetry to her nonfiction; Lamott broke rules and made me laugh out loud.

Luckily, I stopped short of stealing their pet adjectives or mimicking their styles. But it took a while to feel confident in my own voice.

It’s tempting to reach for something quick and easy — a bird? someone else’s idea? — when we’re timid or lazy. (As a mixed-media artist, I’ve been guilty of pasting too many birds on my collages.) Of course, it’s natural to follow trends when we’re starting out, whether we’re designing furniture or writing poetry. And while it’s true that we learn by observation, the trick is to avoid getting stuck in copycat mode. (Plagiarism is illegal, period.)

Being an original is twice as hard in the digital age. Everyone is chirping for attention, building a platform, following trends. The biggest challenge is to keep stretching your wingspan, then landing on something that’s truly your own.

— Artwork by Cindy La Ferle; copyright 2012 —  

Creative obsession

"Becoming" by Cindy La Ferle

“Becoming” by Cindy La Ferle

No, I haven’t gone missing — it’s just that I’ve been lured “off-campus” by my other blog. This year, I finally gathered a portfolio of my artwork and started building a separate site for it. I’ve created the new art blog by myself — no help from the family geeks — and I’m having a blast learning how to build and customize the pages. I just added a separate page of quotes on creativity and links to my favorite artists. Too much fun!

Once traffic builds there, I’ll post regular updates. And, if there’s enough interest, I’ll include a few tutorials on mixed-media art projects you can make at home. Meanwhile, here’s the new link: Cindy La Ferle’s Mixed-Media. I hope you’ll visit the site and subscribe for updates. (It might be the only place to find me until spring break.)

P.S.: My art is featured this week in The Oakland Press and The Macomb Daily(4/14). Click here to see it.

“Fairy Tale” won 1st prize

DSCN4436Several years ago, I stumbled on collage as a way to conquer writer’s block. It still works like magic.

While I love being a journalist, sometimes I’m restricted by editorial guidelines and word counts, not to mention deadlines. But my altered art projects are crafted freely from my own imagination, at my own pace. I like to think of them as another form of storytelling.

Inspired by art and craft magazines, I started experimenting with a variety of mixed-media techniques and entering juried competitions.

It doesn’t matter if my work is selected or not; I take pleasure in making art from things that other people discard. Given that I’m such a magpie, it’s not unusual for rusty hardware, religious medals, recycled greeting cards, vintage fabrics, feathers, and broken costume jewelry to find their way into my mixed-media pieces.

DSCN4430Last week, I was happy to learn that “Fairy Tale” — one of my new altered art pieces — was chosen for Anton Art Center’s Michigan Annual XLI competition (Gilda Snowden, juror). Opening this Friday, the statewide exhibition showcases a variety of media and a display of Michigan art history. (UPDATE: “Fairy Tale” won the First Place award in the exhibition.)

This piece is my homage to childhood vacations with my maternal grandparents. My Granny Bee, a believer in magic, was the first to introduce me to the wonder of fireflies glowing on hot summer nights in southern Indiana. She knew how to spark a child’s imagination — and knew how to conjure happy memories from ordinary experiences.

DSCN4368We’d often explore the woods near my grandparents’ house. To keep me busy while the grown-ups scouted for edible mushrooms, Granny Bee would give me a small birdcage for capturing elves and fairies. (I never caught very many.)

I made “Fairy Tale” from a promotional whiskey box. Drained of its original contents, the wooden box had found its way to a flea market in downtown Clawson, where I purchased it for five dollars. Stamped with the words, “The Glenlivet Scotch Story,” the front cover opened like an old-fashioned storybook and was ready to tell a different tale.

The leather covers (on the back and front of the piece) were rescued from Granny Bee’s Victorian family photo album — a brittle relic that was literally falling apart at the seams. Before attaching the covers to the box, I repaired the tooled leather and preserved it with a matte coating.

DSCN4988The woodland “fairy” inside the box was borrowed from Botticelli’s “Primavera” — a favorite image of mine — and is dressed in vintage found objects and fabrics. For a closer look, click on all the photos in this post.

The Michigan Annual XLI runs from Jan. 24 through Feb. 21. Anton Art Center is located at 125 Macomb Place, Mount Clemens, Michigan. Please visit the Web site for hours and directions. 

To view a gallery of my artwork, please visit my new art site: Cindy La Ferle’s Mixed-Media.

My art in a magazine

Your art is what you do when no one can tell you exactly how to do it. Your art is the act of taking personal responsibility, challenging the status quo, and changing people.” — Seth Godin 

DSCN4958I’ve been publishing my essays and articles since I was in college, yet I still get that little thrill each time I see my byline in a glossy magazine or a newspaper. Until this year, though, I didn’t have the nerve to submit my artwork to publishers — so I was honored when two of my pieces were chosen to illustrate the Rust Belt Rising Almanac this spring.

DSCN4954

Another exciting “first” for me: getting my work published in Cloth, Paper, Scissors, a full-color national magazine for mixed-media and collage artists.

The January/February 2014 issue of CPS includes my essay on struggling to call myself an “artist” — a theme that speaks to writers and artists alike. My essay is illustrated with a full-page color photo of “The Importance of Ancestors,” a mixed-media piece of mine that’s been displayed in juried art competitions in Michigan. You’ll find the magazine at Michaels craft stores or Barnes & Noble, in the art magazine section.

TO SEE MORE OF MY MIXED-MEDIA ARTWORK, PLEASE VISIT MY new ONLINE GALLERY 

Plastic surgery face-off

“Welcome to the Great Plastic Surgery Debate — between women who do and women who don’t, and between the pressure to look 25 no matter the cost and our desire to be true to ourselves.” — Jane Ganahl

IMG_0349Timing is everything, isn’t it?  This week I’ve reached the two-month anniversary of the Mohs skin cancer surgery on my right cheek. As I mentioned in my essay on this topic for Michigan Prime, the five-hour procedure included plastic surgery reconstruction techniques to repair the three-inch incision.

Calling it an ordeal would be an understatement, but the pain and numbness are improving now, and the scar is healing … slooowly but surely. And there’s comfort in knowing the cancer was successfully removed.

Yesterday, the September/October issue of Spirituality & Health arrived in my mail, and the cover story caught my eye immediately. Written by veteran journalist and author Jane Ganahl, “Staring Plastic Surgery in the Face” delves beneath the surface (pardon the pun) of this controversial topic. The excellent piece shines a light on the spiritual and psychological aspects of aging — and why so many women go under the knife in order to meet the beauty standards of our youth-obsessed culture. Ganahl approaches the topic even-handedly, admitting she used to “judge” women who paid surgeons to tighten sagging jawlines and erase wrinkles.

Ganahl’s debate got me thinking. After undergoing Mohs surgery to repair a potentially disfiguring skin cancer, I’m not sure, now, if I’d submit myself to a facelift or cosmetic fillers to “fight” aging. For now, I’m grateful to be healing, and hoping to remain skin-cancer free while my new scar slowly blends into the laugh lines on my cheek.

What’s your opinion on this topic? Would you consider cosmetic surgery?

— Collage image by Cindy La Ferle —