Sometimes I wonder if making things is just an excuse to gather things. This is what is on my jewelry work table right now. Pretty cool, huh?
I can’t stop running my fingers over these glass pieces. Their satin surfaces invite touch, and I hold them up to the light to peer through them with squinted eyes. How can I use these? Will I wire wrap them? What color wire will I use? Will I use them as a focal or as something else? That skinny cobalt blue piece looks more like a closure for a book. I’ll move it to the book work table.
And then there are these brass stampings. Out comes the magnifying glass to examine them. How will these surfaces catch and hold colors applied to them? What parts should I emphasize? How will I make these uniquely mine?
Do I need to keep that beetle for me? I think so.
And what about these papers – a minuscule part of what I’ve collected. Will these be useful in my project or should I put them aside for others? Do the textures play to what I want to create?
I like these tags; some have been filled with resin. Can I use them for this project? How?
When you buy something handmade, it’s easy to see the raw materials that were used but impossible to know all the decisions that went into making the piece. And the most difficult decision of any project is saying “This is where I’ll start.”
For today, I’ll choose one of those spotted blue pieces of glass in the top photo. It’s going to get two holes drilled into it. Maybe it will be a bracelet; maybe a pendant. This is where I’ll start.
Several years ago, I took a collage workshop taught by Jonathan Talbot at Artiscape in Columbus, OH. Talbot began the class by handing around a piece of paper and telling us to tear off a small piece to use in class. He then asked us how old we thought the paper was. It was thick with a beautiful feel like old cotton. It showed some foxing – brown spots – that can form on paper, and it was printed in an old font that had left deep impressions. I knew from my experience as a book dealer that this paper was very old. Guesses for its age ranged from 50 – 250 years old. When Talbot told us that the paper was a page from a book printed in the 1600s, there was an audible gasp from everyone.
How could we dare to tear this up and use it? Wasn’t this something precious? Never be afraid, Talbot told us, to use your best materials in your work. There were knowing nods around the room. Each of us had precious supplies that sat unused. We needed to give ourselves permission, the consensus seemed to say, to use what we’d been hoarding.
I put my little scrap of 400 year-old paper into my work that day. You can see it in part of my collage below. It’s small and unremarkable. It took many months for me to realize, though, that the lesson was not that I was giving myself permission to use my best supplies, but that I was giving myself permission to thoroughly screw them up.
I have to understand and acknowledge that when I take the first cut in a piece of gorgeous, hand-marbled Italian paper I might possibly turn the whole project into a piece of garbage. Not through intent, but because that is the way art and learning work. What we set out to do isn’t always what we end up with. And that’s OK. What ends up in the garbage bin is sometimes just as valuable as what ends up on the wall or in the showcase.