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. —

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

Circus act

img_1209

“Damn everything but the circus!” — e.e. cummings

March really did come in like a lion. For starters, daily doses of economic bad news are dumping more black paint on our national angst and depression. On a personal level, my widowed mother has been wrestling with worrisome health issues all week. So I’ve been spending a lot more time in medical waiting rooms than I’d like.

Following the advice I usually give my writing students, I try to relieve stress and worries by working on creative projects. I type, paint, scribble, collage, or print my way out of whatever’s gnawing at my peace of mind. To cheer myself this week, I completed a new altered art project.

Inspired by an e.e. cummings poem, my new altered board book (featured in the photo above) pays tribute to circus nostalgia. Just thinking about the circus makes me smile. To create the piece, I collaged an old children’s board book with circus ephemera, vintage photos, tissue paper, stamps, glitter, and metallic paints. Then I embellished it with cheerful, fun stuff — feathers, sequins, carnival tickets, broken costume jewelry, and shiny foil stars (like the ones our teachers used to stick on our spelling tests). Here’s the poem that inspired it:

Damn everything but the circus!
…damn everything that is grim, dull,
motionless, unrisking, inward turning,
damn everything that won’t get into the
circle, that won’t enjoy, that won’t throw
its heart into the tension, surprise, fear
and delight of the circus, the round
world, the full existence …
–e.e. cummings

To view an album of my altered art pieces on Facebook, click here.