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

23 thoughts on “Memoir on Canvas: Part 3

  1. WoW, this is absolutely gorgeous. Thank you for sharing the process, I had no idea how these pieces are created. Will this be on display or online with other entry’s? I hope we can vote!


  2. Wow, Cindy. That is just awesome…love it! I really have loved reading your process, and feel like I can understand and enjoy the collage even more! Can’t wait to see more of your art! I will never look at “found objects” in the same way again!

  3. Thanks so much, Lynne, Sharon, and Nancy! Your comments on the piece help me learn too. I created this piece, as noted in Part 1, after being inspired by a similar project in Somerset Studio magazine, which is available in larger bookstores. I do think I will enter it in one of the upcoming art shows this year. It was my “launch” project for the New Year … something to get me warmed up for other art projects I am working on now. Thank you again!

  4. Wow! I am blown away by this, it turned out beautiful! Just like you. I am inspired and will start by designating a box to hold my trinkets for my collage.

  5. Sam, thank you! And starting a box of trinkets and found objects is the right place to start. Go through your jewelry boxes, kitchen drawers, tool boxes … look for what sparks your imagination or appeals to you immediately and set it aside.

    Additionally, craft stores like Michael’s — or Munro Craft in Berkley — have a lot of cool things that might work as well. It also helps to decide on a color palette — preferably your favorite color(s) — to guide your choices early on, too.

  6. This is amazing. I loved reading about the process and especially the significance of the items. You certainly are spreading your wings!

  7. I love this! Knowing the significance of each piece in the collage gives it an additional depth and dimension. It is beautiful and so are you!

  8. As I read your article and followed along with the process involved I played “hidden objects” (a game I love). I had to find each object that you mentioned, it was like a treasure hunt! It all reminds me of just how talented you are. Your finished memoir is a beautiful as you are!

  9. Linda, when Nate was small, we had a couple of books called “I Spy”, which contained photos of dozens of objects. You had to hunt for the objects as part of a game on each page. As I built this collage, I remembered “I Spy” — and wondered if anyone else would think of it.

    I should add that the piece wasn’t totally finished when I took the photo detail of headdress (at top of post) for this. I hadn’t added the gears, twigs, or the copper locomotive button yet. I had to let the glue dry thoroughly between each layer of items. At the last stage, I also added a few more rhinestones and feathers. The bottom photo shows the completed piece (although I am not sure if you can see the small gears in this shot).

    Thanks for your nice comments, Linda!

  10. Absolutely breath taking. I would never have dreamed that any thing so fascinating could also tell many tales about a person’s life. There are not enough words to express your creativity!

  11. Kate Winslet. Or Angelina Jolie. But I think it’s more Kateish, and I’d rather think it’s her.
    Your work is beautiful! No surprise.

    • Betty — you win the prize for guessing Angelina Jolie! I will send you a free copy of Writing Home 🙂 Along with the right eye color, the photo of the eye had to be the proper size to fit the center of the necklace. I found the omnipresent Angelina in a fashion magazine I was getting ready to toss. Thanks for your nice comments, Betty, much appreciated!

  12. I’ve spent the last 20 minutes studying the photo and I’m even more in love with it. The richness of your life shows through in every detail. You are so incredibly talented, Cindy…and an inspiration to those of us who are not.

  13. Debra Davenport, while I want to thank you for your wonderful comments, I have to say that I believe everyone has talent and gifts … but not everyone knows what steps to take to use their creative gifts and ideas. That’s why I love to share this sort of thing, hoping that others will be “nudged” into trying … I know YOU have many gifts, my friend!

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