“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.

Telling stories with art

“Life beats down and crushes the soul and art reminds you that you have one” — Stella Adler

DSCN3582Not long ago, a friend asked: Which came first — making art or writing stories? Her question got me thinking about the new direction my creative life is taking.

Looking back on my childhood, I recall watching my mother as she mixed her oil paints on a glass palette. In those days Mom worked at home as a color artist, tinting portraits of brides and high school students for local photography studios.

Like most kids, I was fascinated with art supplies, and seized every opportunity to make a mess. There’s an old family story about the time I grabbed one of Mom’s paint brushes, then somehow ended up in the emergency room with the brush stuck in my nose. I was barely a year old — but the accident never discouraged my urge to dabble in art.

Over the years, however, my interest in books and writing grew stronger. And while I always managed to take art classes, even in college, I was discouraged from trying a career in art. How many artists make a living selling their work?

My college professors urged me to pursue writing. I could argue my way through any topic, and was even advised to consider law school. (I know … I can hear you laughing.) After college, the field of journalism wasn’t exactly wide open, but I managed to find interesting work at publishing companies, magazines, and newspapers.

But I shouldn’t have been so surprised to learn that making art gave me the creative freedom I’d been missing from the calculated process of writing and editing.”

After I married and became a mother, freelance writing provided the flexible schedule I needed. The writing life was near-perfect for two decades, in fact, and I loved it.
Circus

By the time my son left for college, however, freelance budgets began evaporating. Publications folded up and disappeared like traveling circuses. And while I didn’t suffer a full-blown midlife crisis in my empty nest, I desperately needed to be excited about something again.

Why not art? Heading to the local craft supply store, I felt my heart lift for the first time in ages. I started making cards and notepads for friends, then tried bigger projects — altered books, shrines, and mixed-media assemblages. I made mistakes; I learned new skills.

All along, it occurred to me that I was still telling stories — just using different materials. But I shouldn’t have been so surprised to learn that making art gave me the pure creative freedom that I’d been missing from the calculated process of writing and editing.

Not that I’m giving up the writing life entirely — but I’ve decided to make 2013 my official “Art Year.”  I’ve promised myself to create at least one new art project a week, whether it’s a birthday box for a friend or an entry for an art competition.

Though I’ve had several of my altered books and collages accepted in Michigan art competitions, one of my long-range goals is to have enough quality work for a solo art show. And I’d like to start selling a few of my pieces. Maybe I won’t make a living as an artist, but my soul is telling me to follow my heart — before any more time gets away from me.

So far, I’m off to a great start. Two of my pieces were selected for the Anton Art Center’s 40 Michigan Annual (through February 23), and I recently learned that several photographs of my pieces were accepted for publication in a new anthology showcasing writing and artwork from the Midwest.

If you’d like to have a look at what I’ve been up to in my studio, please click here to visit my project gallery on Facebook. For regular updates on all of my projects, please “like” Cindy La Ferle’s Home Office and Studio on Facebook.— Cindy La Ferle

— Original artwork by Cindy La Ferle. For a larger view of both art pieces shown in this post, please click on each photo. —

Ancestor art

I found I could say things with color and shapes that I couldn’t say any other way — things I had no words for.”  ~Georgia O’Keeffe

One of the many things I appreciate about my artist-architect husband is that he’s always encouraging me to push my own artwork to the next level. Given that our family has been in a crisis mode (my mother’s health) for the past year, it’s not easy to make time for art, let alone enter our work in competitions.

Regardless, earlier this month Doug printed out the forms for the Anton Art Center‘s 38th Michigan Annual Art Exhibition and nudged me to enter one of my new pieces.

I’d been working on a mixed-media assemblage (mounted on canvas) that was inspired by a post-Civil War photograph I found in my Granny Bee’s family album. The woman in the photograph isn’t identified, so, sadly, I have no idea who she is. Yet her pensive expression and confident pose always intrigued me.

In my assemblage, the woman’s photo is surrounded by found objects — twigs, feathers, part of an old leather Bible cover, and vintage fabrics. In the background, you’ll also see a scrap from a notebook of shorthand that Doug brought home from a thrift shop.

Titled “The Importance of Ancestors,” this piece pays homage to the “stuff” we leave behind — and how tokens from the past can influence our memories of a person. It also plays with the idea of having roots and family trees.

Thanks to Doug, I entered the piece in the Michigan Annual Exhibition, and was pleased to learn this week that it was accepted. The opening reception is on January 27th, 6 – 9pm. The exhibit runs through February 24th.

One final thought: Athletes typically have their own cheering sections, but most artists and writers labor in solitude. If you practice any of the arts for business or pleasure, it’s important to have close friends and advocates who keep you encouraged and inspired. (Of course, a supportive spouse is invaluable.) Cherish those people — and try to schedule more time with them. Avoid the naysayers who trample your dreams or spend most of their free time watching mindless games and shows on TV.

Seek out the company of other creatives, and be sure to applaud their efforts and talents.  — Cindy La Ferle

— For a larger view, please click on each photo. —

The chemistry of memory

Though I’ve been writing professionally for nearly 30 years, there are times when I find it easier to express myself through the visual arts. Especially when I’m struggling to come to terms with a difficult or painful topic.

One of my mixed-media constructions, “What We Remember,” is a case in point.

I began working on this piece two years ago, not long after my mother was officially diagnosed with early stage dementia. My father-in-law died of Alzheimer’s last June, so the theme of “remembering” has special significance to me — aside from the fact that memoir has always been my favorite genre in creative writing.

“What We Remember” was a toy chemistry kit in its previous life. Doug and I discovered it in a Good Will thrift shop in St. Joseph. Aged and loaded with character, the kit was irresistible, even though it was missing its containers and chemicals. We knew immediately that one of us would use it for an art project.

“It’s surprising how much memory is built around things unnoticed at the time.” — Barbara Kingsolver

Over a period of several weeks, I collaged the interior of the box with vintage dress patterns, old sheet music, and photo reproductions. I added found objects that play loosely on the theme of memories and souvenirs — shells gathered from a beach; twigs and feathers from hikes in the woods.

The small glass bottle on the bottom shelf contains a tiny printed copy of the dictionary definition of “memoir,” while the wine corks on the middle shelf suggest good times that may or may not be remembered — depending, of course, on how much wine was consumed. The bird on the top shelf perches above a vintage fountain pen that could have been used for recording entries in a diary.

I was pleased to learn that “What We Remember” was accepted for the Michigan Annual XXXVII Art Competition. Detroit art critic Vince Carducci served as juror. The exhibition runs from January 28 through February 25 at the Anton Art Center in Mount Clemens, and is free to the public. — CL

— For a larger view of the artwork, please click on each photo —

Michigan art show

Art is the only way to run away without leaving home.”  ~Twyla Tharp

Two of my art pieces are in the Michigan Annual art exhibition through Feb. 27 at the Anton Art Center in Mount Clemens. A link to an Oakland Press article on the show includes a photo of one of the pieces, “Shrine to Mary: Our Lady of the Lost & Found.”

The other piece (at left) is an altered book titled “Nature.” A tribute to Thoreau’s Walden, it was made from a vintage insurance ledger and embellished with things I collected on long walks and bike rides.

Most of my artwork features found objects or recycled materials. I’m drawn to the rusty, ragged beauty of broken things. (I’ve been caught going through trash and pocketing rusty bottle caps littering the curbs in my neighborhood on trash day.) Most of my pieces are personal tributes to favorite works of literature or poems.  –CL