Creative obsession

"Becoming" by Cindy La Ferle

“Becoming” by Cindy La Ferle

No, I havent gone missing — its just that Ive 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. Ive 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, Ill post regular updates. And, if there’s enough interest, Ill include a few tutorials on mixed-media art projects you can make at home. Meanwhile, heres the new link: Cindy La Ferles Mixed-Media. I hope youll 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.

Memoir on Canvas: Part 3

Every artist dips his brush in his own soul, and paints his own nature into his pictures.  ~Henry Ward Beecher

This the last of a three-part series on this project …

At this point, the portrait finally gains a three-dimensional layer. It’s the most enjoyable step in the process, giving the imagination free reign and a permission slip to have fun.

For this step youll need an industrial-strength glue to secure the heavier objects to the piece. I use E-6000 on most mixed-media projects.

To create the headdress, I combed through several boxes of treasure Ive collected from thrift stores, garage sales, craft stores and flea markets.  Old rhinestone jewelry, vintage hardware, buttons, sewing notions. … You name it, I collect it. And when Im out walking or riding my bike, I often stop to pocket bottle caps, gears, and rusted can lids. Finding soulful beauty in these found objects, I often make a home for them in my artwork. To me, the broken or damaged items have more character — their own backstory — and I love how they add an air of intrigue to any piece of artwork.

For this self-portrait project, I let my mind wander as I selected items to build the headdress. Think of it as free association.

It struck me that the headdress could double as an expression of whats going on inside my head while Im dreaming or working out a problem, for instance. I thought about the goals I‘d scripted for my life when I was young — and where the journey has taken me since.

Rust and rhinestones

Picking through my button collection, I found a small copper button engraved with a locomotive. This item appealed to me instantly, reminding me of my sons boyhood fascination with trains and all the lovely times we spent walking the railroad tracks at a local park. (Some of the rusty iron and tin scraps used in this piece were collected near those same tracks.)

Likewise, the old fountain pen nibs honor my writing career, so I inserted them at the lower right side of the headdress. The weathered faucet grips (pilfered from my husbands hardware stash in the basment) and the twigs (from our back yard) salute my interest in gardening and the natural world.

Because I was born in Detroit — and my Scottish-immigrant grandfather had a tool and die shop — I wanted the headdress to have some edgy, industrial components. So, I included small gears and rusty machine parts along with the sparkling rhinestone jewelry. The Celtic knot triangle at the top of the headdress represents my beloved Scots-Irish heritage, while the stars sprinkled in the background suggest the night sky, when we’re all dreaming.

Most important of all, the butterfly – floating in three different places – has been my personal totem for many years. During the roughest times in my life, including my two hip-replacement surgeries, the butterfly served as a reminder of transformation, hope, and recovery.

Lastly, in the “necklace” I created, youll see a remnant of costume jewelry, missing its original stone, which I refashioned to contain the photograph of an eye. Flipping through a fashion magazine, I found a photo of a female celebrity whose eye color looked fairly close to mine. (Can you guess whose eye it is?) The eye detail borrows from the mythology of the “all-seeing” eye, but also plays as a pun on the word “I” – all in good fun and just right for a self-portrait like this.

Once I adhered my chosen objects to the canvas, I applied another wash of black paint and antiquing glaze around the items that needed to be toned down.

I can hear some of you asking: Why bother with the background layer, given that it barely shows beneath the other layers? In a nutshell, making a collage is a process of trial-and-error. It’s all about discovery and surprise — a lot like crafting a life. The past – our base layer – informs the life we have now, no matter how much we’ve morphed and changed in the process.  Along the way, we keep adding little gems of experience and a few hard-as-metal lessons. – Cindy La Ferle

— For a larger view, please click on each photograph; it will enlarge a couple of times if you click on a section of interest. If you missed the first two parts of this series, simply scroll down to the posts following this one. — 

All photos copyrighted by Cindy La Ferle

Memoir on Canvas: Part 2

“Creativity always takes courage. — Henri Matisse

This is part two of a three-part series …

Bring on the acrylic paints! Adding more texture and brighter color to the background layer is the next step before adhering a photo of myself to the center.

Not unlike adolescence, this part of the process can be a little scary, not to mention messy.

As Matisse pointed out, creativity demands our courage. Having learned this lesson the hard way over the years, I keep trying to push myself out of my comfort zone, whether I’m working on an article or an art project.

You’ll recall from yesterday’s post that I was pleased with the fresh look of my first background layer — and was tempted to leave it alone.

Instead, I asked myself which areas of the layered canvas I wanted to show through – even slightly – in the final piece. From the start, I wanted the red-haired Renaissance child to show through the additional layers of acrylic paint and stain — plus I wanted to retain a few letters of the alphabet. So, I made sure I didnt cover too much of those areas when I layered more paint on the canvas.

Why the bright splashes of red and neon pink? I wanted some color to warm up the darker “antiqued” palette I’d planned for the portrait. These colorful, random splashes will almost disappear once I layer a thin wash of sepia-toned acrylic stain over the entire background layer. (Please click on the photos for a larger view.)

I’m drawn to things that have a patina or a worn, “aged” appearance — they carry a certain mystery and romance. Of course, that’s simply a matter of personal style and taste. This might not appeal to you, so it you prefer a brighter palette, go for it. There’s not a “right way” to do this, so it’s best to leave any trace of perfectionism at the back door.

Next, for heavier texture, I squeezed generous amounts of tacky craft glue (Elmers is one choice) on the corners and swirled them into circular shapes. My goal was to imitate the look of an ornate picture frame at the edges.

Later, as you will see below, I added touches of metallic gold and bronze paint to these areas after the glue dried.

Next step:  Toning it down, adding the photograph

Once the glue dried, I began the process of toning down the background layers, to make them recede behind the photo to be added at the next stage. To do this, I thinned deeper shades of brown and charcoal paint with a glazing medium, then dabbed it over the canvas with a sponge or paper toweling. Again, my goal was to create depth and texture; to make the piece three-dimensional.

Now, to make this a real self-portrait, I placed a copy of a vintage black-and-white photograph in the center of my layered canvas. (I was about 25 years old in this photo, so it qualifies as “vintage” — right?)

As noted earlier, I wanted the painting of the Renaissance child to show in the portrait, so I positioned my own photo in such a way that the child appears to be looking over my shoulder.

I liked the way this plays on the idea that “the past” is always behind as an influence, and that my younger self is still part of me.

Again, I used gel medium to adhere my black-and-white photo, then let it dry. Then — using a lot of Mod Podge — I added a few scraps of old lace at the neckline to create a collar. After it dried, I layered several washes of stain over the lace.

While I wanted to “tone down” the background layers, I decided not to antique the photo of myself. With the darker palette I envisioned for the final version, I knew that I’d want the face to “pop” from the background. But my “Memoir on Canvas” is nowhere near completion here — and the fun part is next. Stay tuned …

TOMORROW: Adding found objects and finishing the portrait

 — All photos and material copyrighted by Cindy La Ferle —

Memoir on Canvas: Part 1

“Art enables us to find ourselves and lose ourselves at the same time.” — Thomas Merton

The first week of the new year always invites introspection, making it the perfect time to start the mixed-media self-portrait I’ve been putting off for years.

I enjoyed it so much that I hope you’ll be inspired to try a self-portrait too. I can promise this much: Youll unearth buried treasure in your own heart — if not your junk drawers — as you cut, paste, paint, and dabble along. Consider it art therapy, if you must, or a chance to re-imagine your goals and dreams.

So what possessed me to give this project a whirl?

Throughout my writing career, Ive specialized in memoir, telling my “story” in bits and pieces through newspaper columns, magazine essays, and blog posts. And while the mixed-media artwork I do is another form of self-expression, Ive never attempted to do anything quite as personal as a self-portrait. My assemblages, for instance, are typically focused on nature, my ancestors, spiritual themes, or even favorite authors. And I’ve never included a photo of myself in my work.

Inspired by the cover story of the November/December issue of Somerset Studio last year — featuring an awesome mixed-media self-portrait by artist Anna Dabrowska-Pecocka — I fetched a fresh 16″ x 20″ canvas and got to work on my “Memoir on Canvas” project.

Youll unearth buried treasure in your own heart — if not your junk drawers — as you cut, paste, paint, and dabble along.

In the process, I discovered that creating a self-portrait has a great deal in common with writing a memoir. Collage is another form of storytelling, of course, but it relies more on intuition than literal memories. Like life itself, a mixed-media piece is assembled one layer at a time. I prefer clean, uncluttered paragraphs in my essays, but tend to go for a richer, more complex “vocabulary” in my artwork. Best of all, artwork wakes up the right side of my brain and urges me to put my inner editor and critic to sleep.

Over the next few days, Ill be posting a mini tutorial on this project, showing you photos of my portrait in its various stages. What you’re viewing here is only the start. Please remember to click on the photographs for a much larger view.

Step 1: An intuitive background layer

This step is a chance to play freely. Like a child with a new box of crayons, you grab all materials that immediately appeal to you. Never over-think what you “should” use for your base layer. The possibilities are limitless, although it’s important to ensure that you can adhere everything securely to the canvas. Explore the variety of strong adhesives at your local craft store.

Tissue, wallpaper samples, newspaper photos and clippings, fabric or magazine scraps … I chose intuitively, for the most part, although I did make a point of including letters of the alphabet to honor my love of the written word. At the same time, I deliberately included a print of a Renaissance painting of an auburn-haired child, to represent my much-younger self and to serve as a nod to a period of history that always appealed to me — a period of creative discovery in art and science.

For this step, I also added scraps of fabric as well as vintage lace Ive collected from thrift stores. These choices reflect my interest in textiles and fashion, and will do their part to add some interesting texture when paint is added later. After using Golden Gel Medium and Mod Podge (matte finish) to adhere my base layer to the canvas, I put the project aside for a day to dry thoroughly.

Though I hadnt even added my own photograph to the center of the piece yet, I was tempted to leave the background layer “as is” because I liked its composition. But this first layer is merely the rough outline (or draft) for my “story” – and, as you’ll see over the next couple of days, it still needs a narrative.

Tomorrow’s post: Adding more texture, color, and a photograph of me.

Gotta have 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

Until recently, I was a bit shy about entering my altered art pieces in contests and competitions. More complex than my writing, my artwork is intensely personal — a messier way of making sense of my fantasies, doubts, fears, and dreams.

Writing is work. When people ask me what I “do,” or if they insist on labeling me by career or profession, I usually tell them I’m a writer or a journalist. While I dearly love to write, I also admit that it’s incredibly hard work. The business savvy required to get published and paid for it — pitching new material, marketing, promoting, building a platform, facing rejection, and starting over again — is enough to make me seriously doubt my sanity for choosing a writing career after college.

But making art is pure pleasure, my recreational sport. Of course, there’s a huge difference between a viable profession and a crazy good hobby. And I know that if I ever opt to sell my artwork or get it published, I’d have to add yet another layer of complexity to the whole collage. So, what I’m really trying to say is this: I’m incredibly stingy with my artwork.

My artist-husband, whose paintings have been accepted in many top competitions, is my biggest cheerleader. He pushes me out of my comfort zone. At his urging, this year I entered the 28th annual Michigan Fine Arts Competition at the Birmingham Bloomfield Art Center — and two of my pieces were accepted. When this sort of thing happens, I’m always honored and surprised.

Becoming,” one of the pieces in the show, was inspired by May Sarton’s poem, “Now I Become Myself.” If you’ve been following my poetry series, you know what an uplifting and validating poem it is.

“Becoming” originally served as a greeting card box. I altered the interior and exterior of the box with layers of acrylic paint, prints, tissue paper, and “found objects” from my flea market raids. I added a copy of May Sarton’s poem to the back of the piece.

Using more found objects — junk jewelry, sea shells, old buttons, a religious medal, and my old Girl Scout pin — I created a 3-D collage inside the box. Botticelli’s “Venus” was clipped from a magazine print to represent the self reborn. Just as we’re all the sum of our life experiences, Venus rises from a pile of junk and treasure and becomes herself. Life, like art, is all about working with what you’ve got, and sometimes mining gold from the broken parts.

The other piece in the show, “Renaissance Woman” (top and bottom photos) is an altered children’s board book collaged with vintage dress patterns, sewing notions, broken costume jewelry, feathers, and old prints. I’m thrilled that both of these pieces were chosen for the show, as together they work as a tribute to all creative women.

The BBAC exhibit runs from April 2 through May 7 and is open to the public. For exhibit hours and directions to the BBAC, please visit the Web site.

— Cindy La Ferle

–For a larger view of these art pieces, please click on each image. Photos and artwork are copyrighted (2010) by Cindy La Ferle. —