Posts Tagged ‘arts and crafts’
Cindy La Ferle on February 2nd, 2013
“Life beats down and crushes the soul and art reminds you that you have one” – Stella Adler
Not 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.
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. –
Cindy La Ferle on January 10th, 2013
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 you’ll 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 I’ve 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 I’m 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 what’s going on inside my head while I’m 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 son’s 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 husband’s 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, you’ll 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
Cindy La Ferle on January 9th, 2013
“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 didn’t 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 (Elmer’s 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 –
Cindy La Ferle on June 5th, 2012
Every artist was first an amateur.” — Ralph Waldo Emerson
Shopping at Michael’s last summer, I was paying for an armload of craft supplies when a chatty customer behind me asked what I was planning to make.
“You must be an artist,” she said, after I told her I was starting a new collage.
Me, an artist?
I’d been fooling around with altered books and other paper arts for several months, but never used the word artist to describe myself. Art was just a diversion — something I did for fun when I wasn’t writing magazine articles or cleaning house. “Artist” was a title I reserved for the seriously gifted creator. It evoked poetic images of men and women laboring in light-filled studios, producing museum-quality masterpieces. Most artists I knew had fine arts degrees and exhibited their work in galleries. Like Benedictine monks, artists occupied sacred space in another world.
So I blushed when I told the other customer that, no, I’m not really an artist. Just a person who dabbles. A crafter.
Labels of any kind, social or political, make me nervous. Driving home with my new art supplies that afternoon, I remembered how long it had taken me to call myself a writer. I’d worked five years for a reference book publisher before I sold my first review to a local newspaper. Several freelance assignments followed; then I published the first of several essays in a national magazine. Even then, I felt like a fraud whenever I used the word writer to describe myself in social situations. Real writers and authors wrote critically acclaimed bestsellers. They had agents in New York and regaled Terry Gross with clever anecdotes on NPR. Journalists like me wrote pieces that ended up as birdcage liner (or scraps in a collage).
At some point, every writer struggles with the same identity crisis. As Anne Lamott notes in Bird by Bird: Some Instructions on Writing and Life (Pantheon Books), there is “something noble and mysterious about writing, about the people who could do it well, who could create a world as if they were little gods or sorcerers.” But whether we write or paint, sew or sketch, what we call ourselves is far less important than honoring — and believing in — our own creativity.
In his landmark bestseller, Care of the Soul (HarperCollins Publishers), Thomas Moore insists that art is our birthright. He urges all of us to pull ”The Arts” down from the pedestal that renders them too precious. He reminds us that everyone is an artist when his or her work is crafted with soul and passion.
“Art is not found only in the painter’s studio or in the halls of a museum,” Moore writes. “In fact, when art is reserved as the province of professional artists, a dangerous gulf develops between the fine arts and the everyday arts.”
I often remind students in my writing workshops that every art or craft is as much about process as it is about product. It’s not about marketing or publishing or making a name for yourself. When you’re totally engaged in the act of creating something you love – whether you’re searching for the perfect word for a sentence or a luminous shade of blue for a watercolor background — you know you’re on the right path. Meanwhile, removing the pressure to produce a masterpiece makes the process even more fun.
These days I head for my art studio whenever I’m blocked or need a creative nudge. And when my life feels like a series of disparate parts that don’t make sense, the paper arts are wonderfully therapeutic. Crafting a collage, like writing an essay, requires that I look at my world in new ways. I hunt for beauty in places I’ve overlooked before: tool boxes; hardware stores; recycle bins. I delve for possibilities in thrift shops and my own junk drawers. Every object is sacred, and even my junk mail is worthy of a second look. Everything has a story waiting to be told – not necessarily in words, but in shape, form, texture, and color.
Am I an artist? Maybe that’s not for me to say. Today, when people ask what I do, I tell them I love making art — and encourage them to do the same. — CL
How about you? Do you enjoy an art, a craft, or other creative activities on a regular basis? Which “art” would you practice if you had more time?
– Both photos with this essay were taken (by me) in the art studio I share with my husband, Doug La Ferle, who is rightfully proud to call himself an artist. A slightly different version of this essay was published in Strut, which is now out of print. –
Cindy La Ferle on February 5th, 2012
Who was she? I have no idea. But I was inexplicably drawn to her photograph (at left) in an album that once belonged to my mom’s stepmother, affectionately known as Granny Bee.
When Bee died, my mother inherited this magnificent album of sepia-toned photographs — some dating back to the Civil War. Many are marked with the names of photography studios in Chicago or Aurora, Illinois; others are from studios in New Hampshire. Sadly, the folks in the photographs are not identified. Not a single name, event, or date is penciled anywhere.
Bee had no children of her own. I’m her only “grandchild” by marriage — so the fate of this antique album now rests in my hands. And while Bee’s ancestors aren’t technically mine, I feel a certain responsibility toward them.
As it happens, I often use vintage photographs in my mixed-media artwork. (I typically make high-quality copies and preserve the originals.) In particular, the dour-looking mystery woman in Bee’s album has become a perennial favorite. Her deadpan expression is so priceless — and so versatile — that I’ve put her to work in several projects, including greeting cards. She’s worn a red poinsettia on her head for Christmas cards, for instance, and a witch hat on Halloween party invitations.
This week I finished a more fitting tribute to her: a mixed-media “reliquary” of found objects. (Please click the image at the far left for a larger view.) The word remember is incorporated throughout the piece, along with scraps from an old hymnal, sewing notions, vintage fabrics, feathers and twigs. The door to the piece opens to reveal a small collection of old bottles filled with found objects.
“I like photographs that leave something to the imagination.” — Fay Godwin
I’ve even tried to give my mystery woman a proper name. “Isabel” or “Esmeralda” both seem to suit her — yet somehow I sense I’m on the wrong track. Early on, I tried to investigate. But even before her memory was fogged by dementia, my mother couldn’t recall the name of the relative in the photo — nor could she determine her kinship to our beloved Granny Bee. So I’ll have to settle for the stories conjured by my own imagination.
All said and done, crafting something with my hands sets my mind whirling in a thousand different directions. Making art is another way of telling stories. And I love how the process has created my special relationship with the incomparable “Isabel Esmeralda” — a relationship that reaches across time and never stops delighting me.
If she were alive today, would the Victorian mystery woman be honored — or appalled — at being the center of attention in my art pieces? I wonder if I could make her smile. — Cindy La Ferle
“Remember” was chosen for the 2012 All-Media exhibit at the Ann Arbor Art Center, opening September 7, 2012. To view more photos of the piece on Facebook, click here.