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 —

Do what you love

It’s a DIY world, but you can’t do it alone. Build your team as wisely as you would choose typefaces or words for lyrics. Embrace your place on earth as creative. Give thanks you were given this gift to share. Turn a deaf ear to those who say the path of art is hard. Doing something you don’t love is a much harder path.” — Patti Digh, from What I Wish for You

— Original mixed-media art by Cindy La Ferle —

Art and soul

The eye is meant to see things. The soul is here for its own joy.” –Rumi

RumibetterFor collectors of inspirational quotes, the ecstatic poems of the Persian mystic Rumi are pure gold. I find most of my favorites in one of the finest anthologies of Rumi’s work, The Soul of Rumi, translated by the incredible Coleman Barks. “The Soul is here for its own joy” is such a powerful line that I just had to use it in a collage earlier this year.

Click on the images for a detailed view. You’ll note that the dress was assembled from magazine ads and scraps of wrapping paper. The word “ops” appears on the elbow of the figure. This was totally unintentional; I didn’t notice it until after I layered another coat of glaze on the piece. Talk about a message for a recovering perfectionist!

Being still

“Lent is the time for trimming the soul and scraping the sludge off a life turned slipshod. It is about taking stock of time….Lent is the time to make new efforts to be what we say we want to be.” — Joan Chittister

Variations on the theme of rebirth and transformation — waiting for spring and learning to overcome impatience — have always fascinated me. Today I’m running an excerpt from a column that was first published on April 4, 2004, in the Daily Tribune of Royal Oak. The complete piece is reprinted in Writing Home. As the Lenten season begins, what are your challenges? Are you letting go of grudges or foolish expectations? Surrendering an old habit? Using the season to take stock of your life?


Being Still

One of my favorite traditions at First Congregational Church of Royal Oak is the silent meditation service held the week prior to Easter. The midweek candlelit service is led by parishioners, and this year its my turn to help open it. The service is offered during Lent because it is, as T.S. Eliot wrote in his poem, Ash Wednesday, “a time of tension between dying and birth.” It is the perfect opportunity for reflection; a time to meditate on the fearsome darkness of the tomb and the pending miracle of Easter.

While a silent service is simple enough to plan, it isnt as easy to carry out. Few of us are comfortable “being still” in a sanctuary with other people sitting near us. We expect to be enlightened, educated, entertained, preached to, or otherwise distracted from the white noise in our heads. Meditation makes us fidgety. We fear what might be revealed in the pauses and blank spaces.

As Sue Monk Kidd notes in her midlife memoir, When the Heart Waits, one of the guiding principles of American culture is “All lines must keep moving.” Even when were home alone, we rush to fill the void with mindless activity or television. Kidd says we resist getting quiet because were afraid to confront our own darkness.

Yet real miracles occur during moments of being still – and waiting in the dark. Spring bulbs do their hardest labor underground before blooming. Likewise, the work of spiritual growth and healing is done in silence.

The time I woke up alone in a dark hospital room, two years ago, immediately comes to mind.

It was just past midnight, a few hours after my second hip surgery. Barely conscious, I awoke to discover my legs were strapped to a large foam wedge to keep me from moving. While I realized this was essential to my recovery, I still felt trapped and terrified.  Equally scary was the sensation of waking up alone in a strange room. (I didnt recall being wheeled in after surgery, of course.) And while most hospitals are buzzing with activity during the day and evening, the earliest hours of the morning are eerily quiet.

Breaking the silence, I shouted for help and pushed every button within reach. It was the first time Id experienced a full-blown panic attack. When my nurse arrived, she explained that my panic was probably triggered by withdrawal from the anesthesia. She promised to check back periodically.  Meanwhile, I kept a light on above my bed. Afraid to fall asleep, I kept vigil for daybreak.

By the time the sun rose, Id finally calmed down and accepted my temporary state of immobility. And in a luminous moment of grace, I suddenly knew Id been given a second chance. I knew that I would heal and walk again. It would take time, but everything would be okay. And it was. Three days later, I was released early from the hospital to recover in bed at home.

A week before that last surgery, my friend Jenny had sent me a note of encouragement, which included a quote from Patrick Overton. Heres how it begins:

“When you come to the edge of all the light you have and must take a step into the darkness of the unknown, believe that one of two things will happen to you: Either there will be something solid for you to stand on, or, you will be taught how to fly.”

Ive posted that quote where I can see it on my desk every day. Its the one I like to remember when Im stumbling in the dark or feeling stuck — or waiting impatiently for a new season to begin. — Cindy La Ferle

–Top photo: Detail from a mixed-media collage: “Birthing a Soul” by Cindy La Ferle. Please click on the image for a larger view. —

Circus act


“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.