Sometimes a new piece of paper can suggest a new direction, or a new way of seeing things. Such is the case with a gift of the most delicate pale blue translucent paper my daughter Laurel brought me from Toronto. For a while I just admired it hanging in the window with other strips of translucent paper being hung over it for effect. Eventually, two new pieces took shape.
I love flocks of rice paper birds. Playing with such sheer papers encouraged me to focus more on the abstract shapes of birds and the spaces between them (and less on the individual birds).
The birds don’t alter space.
They reveal it. The sky
never fills with any
leftover flying. They leave
nothing to trace. It is our own
in chill air. Be glad
(Li-Young Lee ‘Praise Them’)
An order for something, especially a work of art, to be produced specially:
Mozart at last received a commission to write an opera
A mission which is shared by 2 or more people, with one being the co-creator or maker and the others having creative imput. Sue at last received a commission to create a rice paper panel in consultation with those who commissioned it.
To create a beautiful rice paper plexiglass panel for a bathroom window that would serve as a kind of “curtain” or blind so that people outdoors could not see in to the bathroom.
How we worked together:
We knew two things at the beginning – the size of the window (which suggested the size of the plexiglass panel) and that we wanted colourful rice paper birds to be a part of it. Because the window looks out to trees (bare branches in winter), we decided to create branches for the birds. The branches would be bare in winter while in spring they would be enlivened with the green foliage that could be seen through the clear parts of the plexiglass.
Time to Consult:
I taped the branch and some birds to the plexiglass and brought a whole handful of extra rice paper birds. The couple I was working wanted more birds, especially at the bottom, and especially more birds with red on them to pick up the colour of the bathroom walls. We also hit a problem: you could see through the panel into the bathroom. We hoped that more birds clustered at the bottom would help solve this problem.
The next part is the finnicky part. The branches and the birds need to be affixed to the plexiglass. I do this using “zots” – tiny glue spots. The design of the branches that overlaps with the bird is cut out so that the overall design is not too intricate and each birds colour shows well. A few birds, such as the red one, on the bottom left, are left with the branches criss crossing their colour. It takes a couple of hours and a lot of patience for this stage.
Then the 2 panels of plexiglass are screwed together, fishing line is attached to the top screws so that the piece can be hung and it is ready for delivery. Because plexiglass panels shift in different lights and through different seasons, they need be lived with for a while to be truly appreciated.
Some of the challenges in creating rice paper collages in plexi glass are:
- Can the two pieces of plexi glass be sealed so that there is no condensation in a bathroom? Someone has suggested using acetone and I am going to try this.
- A plexi panel is like a see through shirt- not everything is hidden. I have used rice paper backgrounds but then you lose the beauty of seeing what is really beyond the window.We did cluster birds at the bottom, but this did not work as well as we had hoped.
- Plexiglass is great stuff but it picks up dust and tiny bits of whatever – how to reduce its static qualities?
Each new art piece is an adventure for me. I welcome any knowledge or insights. To see more panels, check out http://poachedeggwoman.ca/galleries/rice-paper-glass-collages/
Having just spent two days playing with paper with others, one day being a collage PLAYshop at the Qu’Appelle Valley Centre for the Arts, and the second day taking place here at the farm (Scrap basket free for all), I can honestly say, I would love to spend a whole week like this. Except I might not still be married! My patient husband had to borrow a chair to sit down to eat lunch, his current reading material was hidden under a scrap basket and his usual paths had detours but he managed with good humour. It is all cleaned up now and I am still married.
Following are photos from the PLAYshop and scrap basket adventure. A few highlights first:
- I liked that we had people from age 9 to over 70, grandmothers and granddaughters, mothers and daughters, aunties and nieces, good friends, people who had come before and people who gave it their first try.
- Joanne brought a beautiful paper wasps nest, and this paper was used for many creations. See if you can spot them.
- We visited but sometimes were so absorbed and other than music in the background all you could hear were so many pairs of scissors as they cut through paper.
- It was November 7th and 8th and “the sun poured in like butterscotch and stuck to all our senses .” (thanks Joni Mitchell). Who could believe this weather in November? The sun was so bright I was uanble to get a picture of Sunday morning’s scrap basket crew.
- On Saturday, we got to pop in at the pop up market!!
I recently had someone ask me if my art PLAYshops were for adults. Most definitely, they are for adults. Sometimes they are also for all ages and at other times exclusively for children and youth. Most often I tell people that PLAYshops are like WORKshops, only we play instead of work. I offer PLAYshops in paper collage and watercolour painting, but the spirit of playful exploration is possible for so many endeavours. People do learn techniques at a PLAYshop but almost by accident as they ask themselves “what if I tried this?” It strikes me as a sad commentary that “play” for adults is often the domain of adult only sexshops or professional football. The recent popularity of adult colouring books is one sign of how hungry we are for pure play in these busy and often serious times.
Here is what I notice about those who attend my art PLAYshops. Many of us learned in elementary school that there are one or two “artists” in the class and that that artist is not us! No wonder there is often initial concern about “getting it right”. Part of my job as a leader is the open up the space for experimentation, exploration, skylarking* and simple play. Once people get past “getting it right”, and they usually do, I notice the great comfort that comes with the simple act of cutting with scissors, tearing paper with fingers or wielding a glue stick. The same is true of dipping a brush in a tray of pure colour, dipping it again in water and applying it to paper. Many of us have not enjoyed these simple activities since we were in school, or perhaps when we sat down to show a child how to cut or paint. It is as if by cutting or gluing, we are remembering something, some pleasure, that we long since forgot. We feel that pleasure deep in our bodies.
Although there is sometimes chatter as we create and experiment, there are also often periods of silence, when participants are so absorbed and focused in what they are doing that they forget to drink their coffee or go to the bathroom or worry about when they will buy groceries. I love this feeling of a group of people being being wholly absorbed in what they are doing. I sense a sort of “hum” of contentment in the room.
I have just started taking an art class based on learning some very specific techniques. I feel excitement about trying out new things. What I noticed right away though, is how frequently those of us in the room criticize and put down our own work, even though we are there to learn something new. We can’t help ourselves. We are afraid to make mistakes. We take ourselves pretty seriously.
I understand this terror of creating visual art a little because I am terrified to dance in the same kind of way. I don’t seem to have natural rhythm, I trip over my feet, I try to take the lead. I need to draw on this sense of play and fun when I hit the dance floor. Well, actually, first I need to get near a dance floor!!
Part of the appeal of the PLAYshops is the “play” part but another part of the pleasure is returning to work with our hands. We can get this same kind of tactile pleasure in a myriad of ways – carving wood, sewing by hand, kneading dough, painting a piece of furniture, raking leaves, polishing silver or leather. In an era when our fingers and thumbs are so busy sending messages via screens, we crave this ability to touch something real, something not virtual, something that we can transform and something that will transform us, even in the smallest of ways.
the common European lark, 1680s, from sky (n.) + lark (n.1). So called because it sings as it mounts toward the sky in flight.
“to frolic or play,” 1809, originally nautical, in reference to “wanton play about the rigging, and tops,” probably from skylark (n.), influenced by (or from) lark (n.2). Related: Skylarked ; skylarking.
Online Etymology Dictionary, © 2010 Douglas Harper
During “Immersed in Nature: A Retreat at Valley View Farm“, a weekend hosted by my friend Debra and I in late August, we considered and explored line, shape and colour. The lines, shapes and colours that called to us as we explored the natural world.
Much of my preparation for this weekend took place at Pheasant Creek Coulee, a few miles south of our farm. As I sit by the large stone I have come to know as “Grandfather Rock”, I am drawn by the shape of the creek, by the way that it winds and weaves. Again and again, I have drawn or painted or sketched the creek as it sings and curls its way through the coulee and the hills in which it resides.
During our retreat, I began to play with the shape of the creek, starting with watercolours and eventually adding metallic papers – candy and chocolate wrappers, cigarette foils, origami paper. And there my own simple exploration of line, shape and colour sat for several weeks. I kept thinking “song line”…. it seemed the curves and rhythms of the creek were both outside me and singing deep within my body.
I knew that I wanted the feeling of hills around the creek but not necessarily something representational. I began to play with shapes and contours, with different shades of rusts, browns, coppers, gold…..I wanted to capture the feel of the place, the movement of the hills, the way that this place sings within me, how it feels like treasure.
Once finished, I took this piece to the place that inspired it to photograph it. Seeing it in the coulee, amidst the rust of the little bluestem grasses, the gold of the aspen leaves, the shadows of the hawthorn and birch seemed somehow right, plus felt incredibly goofy (in a good way) and was just a lot of fun.
At a collage PLAYshop, paper is everywhere. Large sheets are displayed on laundry racks, rolls on window sills, trays of coordinated colours – old wrapping paper, candy wrappers, envelope linings, you name it. Some of the paper is textured, some translucent, some brilliant and many hued, some flecked with gold, some shiny, some thin as tissue. The people who come to a PLAYshop already love paper. I ask them to begin by picking the paper that calls their name, the paper that brings their hand to their heart, the paper that won’t leave them alone…Sometimes people come with a plan but a piece of paper takes them in another direction. Occasionally, two pieces of paper lying in a particular suggest idea. Magical scrap baskets which contains yesterday’s rejected bits of paper are somebody else’s inspiration.
Tania started with transluscent paper but found she could not stay away from bold and brilliant colours. As she created whimsical jars of preserves to keep her spirit strong over winter, she asked us all “What would you preserve?” A prairie fall day, the hope of a rainbow, saskatoon berries, the buzzing of bees on sunshine… sometimes just a brilliant colour (the new green of spring) or a piece of paper that simply could not be resisted.
I have enjoyed thinking about what we preserve and what we let go. Just today, I dug carrots – some will go in the cold room and we will enjoy this delicious root vegetable in another season. Maybe I will think of the smell of rotting apples and freshly turned over soil which I enjoyed as I dug them. Some of the carrots, I ate raw today, with a little dirt clinging to them, the freshness of their taste mouthwatering, their crunch loud!!
Preserves are meant to be tasted and enjoyed at some point. They are not meant to stay in their jars forever. Jellies and relishes, jams and salsas…. their colours, tastes, smells take us back to the warmth and abundance of late August.
Much of the paper collage art I create will not endure – the paper will fade, disintegrate, get torn. What matters most to me is the completely absorbed and happy world I inhabit while creating. Added benefit: Maybe for a few days or a few years, the piece will give someone pleasure.
Sometimes the art we hang becomes so familiar that we no longer really see it. The rice paper pieces are often in flux – they catch our attention as the light changes during the day, as the colours outside our windows change from green to oranges and yellows, browns and finally dazzling whites and purples and blues. The translucence of the rice paper sends shadows to our walls as the sun moves across the sky. They look completely different at night, especially from the outside of your home. The art itself is ephemeral, a glimmer, a sheen, always shifting.
In a sense each of us who created something at the PLAYshop were “putting up preserves” for a winter day. For Janet, the vision of dragonflies on a summer day.
For Liz and Karen, a flower garden that can offer light and colour on winter’s coldest day.
For Darlene, the elegance of a tiny perfect golden flower and birds in flight.
For Jocelyn, a fanciful hummingbird.
For Tania, the abundance of her own amazing imagination – taking form in jars of preserves., some of the jars unable to contain all their contents, bursting with possibility, and sometimes even with flight…
Do you have the patience to wait
Till your mud settles and the water is clear?
Can you remain unmoving
Till the right action arises by itself?
Tao Te Ching
a joint blog entry by Sue Bland and Debra Brown
Sue : I am not a patient person. Mostly, I do not have the patience to wait until my mud settles and the water is clear. To remain unmoving is very difficult for me. More often than not, I rush ahead with plans and lists and schemes. The wisdom of the twenty seven words above seems written for me.
Last year, when I was searching for venues to hold my art retreats and PLAYshops and my friend Debra was considering opening her farm home in the Eastern Qu’Appelle Valley for retreats, we wondered, slowly, tentatively…is this something we could do together?
This simple question, and the eventual answer to it, has taken us on a journey together , something we both came to see as a ceremony of sorts.
We talked about the question, let it rest, dreamed about it and slept on it. In time, the answer to our question arose, and it was YES. When would we hold it? We thought about May, dilly dallied, rejected May. Somehow, late August felt exactly right to both of us.
Together we came up with the title – Immersed in Nature: An Art Retreat at Valley View Farm.
We prepared, each in our own way.
Debra: I sorted, cleared, reorganized more layers of 75+ years of family habitation. While this challenged me on many levels, I never lost the clear knowing that offering this retreat with Sue was a gift, the right “next step” to explore the long-held dream of offering sacred space for people at the farm.
Sue: I am so moved by the beautiful hills and valleys, grasses, woods and wetlands at Valley View Farm. How could this sacred place change and inform the way I offered a PLAYshop or an art retreat? If I truly listened, what did the natural world have to say about how we might approach our time together? I wanted our art to emerge from the nature were were immersed in. I wanted to offer exercises that might shift, ever so slightly, the way we see, experience and respond to the natural world. I practised close to home – in my beloved Pheasant Creek Coulee. There I sketched and painted, or simply sat and took in the beauty. There, I considered the visual elements of line, shape and colour.
Our enthusiasms and efforts were buoyed by registrations and expressions of interest. As we got closer to the weekend, a few people cancelled. Should we go ahead? Doubts surfaced. What if everybody cancelled? We determined that we would go ahead, no matter what. The ceremony of this joint venture was well underway, and even if it was just the two of us, we would see it through until the end because we very much wanted to.
Happily, we had three participants, each of who brought her own special gifts and interests to our shared weekend. What follows are some “moments” that stood out for each of us.
Sue: Coming downstairs to see guests each with a dark coffee in tow in the sunporch, a book or journal nearby; companionable silence.
Debra: the land being received with such appreciation and delight on our introductory misty-wet walk up the hill, and throughout the weekend
Sue: a silent walk, sharing wonder and delight with others, but not using words
Debra: women moving and creating in their own rhythms, filling the house with waves of peaceful silence and rich conversation
Sue: the smells coming from the kitchen, as Debra created magic… with plates of such aesthetic beauty and such fresh taste, you could die and go to heaven
Debra: the radiance of one participant, after a final pre-departure walk (and drenching) in the hills
Sue: the sound of charcoal on paper as we drew
Debra: the insistent presence of Nature throughout the program. ‘Immersed’ we were [or was that baptized and blessed?] by the rain, the shimmering dew on the grasses and verdant forest
Would we do it again? When the weekend was over, we really weren’t sure. A week later we met and talked about all we had learned, what we would change, what we would celebrate. Then, with the need to follow the insistent thrum in her core, Debra said, “There is something new rising in me”. That insistent rising is the seed of Sweet Darkness: A Mid-Winter Silent Retreat . And so, this ‘ceremony’ continues to ripple through our lives and into the world.
My summer plan was to stop creating collages for a while, and focus a little more on watercolour painting. Then, this beautiful blue lining from an envelope Jessie received with a grad card captured my heart. The paper is silky, the geometric patterns simple, the different blues thrill me. The envelope lining is almost perfect – just a slight tear. It beckons me from my work table every time I pass. It wants to be a house. So, I put the watercolours aside and pull out my scissors.
I try the house with the roof on and it doesn’t look right. So I raise the roof a bit…. suddenly in the new space created I can see that a tree wants to grow – a golden tree. I find the perfect gold foil – the wrapper from an expensive chocolate bar.
A few days later, rectangles of the original envelope lining plus a new piece of purple paper from the Paper Umbrella inspire me – this one is about RAIN, I think, and responds to the deluge of rain we got in early July that caused flooding in much of Southeastern Saskatchewan.
As I accept invitations to create art with different groups of people, I notice that I am really exploring. I am trying to figure out the ways that I want to move art out and into the world, and to learn which ways don’t work so well for me.
Take the recent Cathedral Village Arts Festival. I had a sense that I wanted to be a part of it somehow and an even stronger sense that I did not want to be a vendor and have a booth. So, I invited myself to two different places.
The first was Westminster United Church, located on 13th Avenue and a vital part of the Saturday street fair, hosting the first ever Saskatchewan on line art auction, 5 musical concerts and a pancake breakfast. Minister Darrell Reine offered me the “multi purpose room” and I liked the feel of it and decided to show some art and have a space for people to play with paper, called “PaPer Play”. The second place I invited myself was the Paper Umbrella, that beautiful and inspiring shop on 13th Avenue. Some of my rice paper bird panels hang in the windows there, so owners Theresa and Brad, said I could come between 2 and 4 to create paper birds with anyone who wished to stop by.
a panda, a bat and a bird
All in all, about 100 people came, only a fraction of the mobs out on the street. Some of them were indeed able to take their time looking at the art. A few surprised themselves by creating paper creatures. A man with a headache came in to rest while his teenage children created birds. Another person came in and said… “Phewf, an art haven.” People came to rest while an energetic spouse checked out the Art Auction. Our small corner did have a haven like feel about it.
Early in the afternoon, I made my way down to the Paper Umbrella with my basket of paper scraps, scissors and glue.I could barely make my way through the crowd!! It was a beautiful day and it was wonderful to see so much colour, collective joy, occasional exhaustion, so much life on the street. Brad set me up at a table with – yes, an umbrella, but not a paper one – at the Paper Umbrella. A few stools, a very comfortable office chair with wheels that had me rolling backwards. This kept things exciting!! I began to do what I love to do – make paper birds. The river of people flowed by. Would anyone stop, I wondered? Maybe not….That’s okay, I told myself. You can be zen, and in this street of constant motion and stimulus, that could be a good thing. Then, a couple of families stopped by. They were totally keen to create paper birds, and so they did, happily, standing up, sitting on high stools, sharing glue and scissors. It briefly rained. The sun shone again. The wind blew some scraps down the street. More families stopped. To my great delight, my friend Cindy and her daughter Anieka’s found us. They had wheeled through the throngs all the way from Westminster Church where Cindy had expected to find me. It got really hot. The glue in the glue sticks melted. So after one hour in the limelight, with glue that was no longer serviceable, I made my way back to the calm and quiet art haven at Westminster Church. Grateful for the quiet. Happy to be far from the crowd. Happy also about the crowd and high spirits.
The day wasn’t totally successful – at least not according to my expressed hopes. I did not get as much exposure as I hoped. It was a learning day, with much to reveal about how I am most comfortable moving my art into the world. For a number of people of all ages, the room in the church was a place for focused and quiet play, a place to sit and rest, a contemplative space, a bit of an escape. I wondered if that was exactly right, and if next year, providing a quiet space in all the hubbub might be my best contribution?
The small write up in the packed Cathedral Village Arts Festival booklet might read something like this: Sue’s Art Haven: Step off the beaten track and away from the crowd for a few moments. Enjoy soft music in a room filled with art to nurture the soul. Come simply to sit and relax or come and create a paper creature from Sue’s extensive collection of wonderful papers- washi, tissue, candy wrappers, cigarette foils, wrapping paper. For all ages. Free. At Westminster Church, go south on Cameron Street and take the first door in. Up the stairs and you are there.