Aug 16 2009

Five Days of Focus

(my discoveries at art camp)

For the past month, my energy has been consumed by creating websites, teaching classes, and cranking out jewelry and reproductions for art fairs. In the first week of August alone, I did 3 fairs (in Portland, Sellwood, and on the Oregon coast, in Yachats). Summer is the time for this and I’ve met lots of wonderful people through it, but production work is exhausting, so when the time came for my week of art camp at Menucha, I was ready for five days of focus on nothing but art!


I had learned about the Arts at Menucha programs through Susan Schenck, a student from last semester.  She was solving a color theory assignment with a remarkable collage technique that she said she learned from a class with Linda Berkley.  I knew Linda some 15 years ago when we were both “artists in residence” at Anderson Ranch Arts Center, in Colorado.  I decided to take Linda’s collage class offered through the Arts at Menucha program.  The workshops are located along the beautiful Columbia River Gorge, in Corbett, Oregon.  The name Menucha has Hebrew roots, meaning something similar to “place of still waters”, and the motto of the Menucha community is “Sacred Space, Purposeful Work”.  The place lives up to its motto, as the environment encourages both creative and spiritual growth.

tree-womb-thumb tree-womb-bw-collage

One of my primary intentions in working with collage was to use it as a means of working out compositions for my paintings.  My first experiment was to try to resolve a nearly completed painting of a woman curled up at the roots of a mossy tree. (I’ll share more process photos of this as my painting reaches completion in another  post, since there were many steps involved in its creation before the collage exploration).  One of my dilemmas was that I felt that the painting was too similar to the photograph I had taken for its inspiration.  I wanted to add some more abstract elements, but didn’t know which direction to take it.  Linda suggested that I create a small thumbnail drawing of the painting, then do a quick collage using black and white paper, followed by a color collage of magazine scraps:

tree-womb-collage tree-womb

The operative word here was “quick”, as she wanted to push me towards my own expressed intention of making more spontaneous choices.  When she said I had “5 more minutes” to finish my color collage,  I hadn’t even found all the colors I needed to complete it.  It was partly from the frustration of not finding the right color that I ended up creating the purple branch that surrounds the shape of the figure.  This part of the painting originally had more grayish tones.  When I changed the branch to blue-purple in the painting, there was an “AHA” moment, in the realization that what it needed was a more saturated color in this area.  I feel that it brings out the yin-yang relationship between the upward-reaching (cool) blue branches vs. the downward flow of the (warmer) mossy green branches.

On the second day of class, it was suggested that we create a collage based on a thumbnail sketch of something drawn from observation.  Linda gave the example of using a plant in the room, looking out the window, or going outside into the landscape.  I decided to go outside since we were in such a beautiful natural setting.  I found a tree that interested me and made a few small thumbnails, followed by a longer study.  I then went about painting papers in the color scheme that I’d conceived (instead of hunting for specific colors in magazines).  Originally, the tree was going to be in blues and purples, with a reddish sky.  I started with the sky but was disappointed when I tried to build the tree with the blue papers.


By the next morning I had another idea when I saw some textured paper sitting on the top of my stack of collage materials.  It was actually a monoprint made with inked aluminum foil.  I didn’t have enough of this texture to complete my design, so I brought it to the copy machine, creating a range of values and magnifications of the texture.  I tinted the ground in green, to differentiate it from the roots somewhat.  I later added a photo of an owl (after creating another collage which included an owl).  It seems to complete the piece, suggesting more of  a narrative.

Our next assignment was to collaborate with a student in the writing class.  We were asked to give one of our collages to the writing department, where it would be randomly paired with a student. We were also given a randomly selected piece of writing to respond to.  We had 5 students, whereas the writing class had 4, so the teacher also participated.   I later found out that the poem that was given to me was by the writing teacher, Ann Staley.

“Ars Poetica” (on the nature of poetry)

It was all fading,
the dream hitchiked to Kansas.
Hot water, eyes closed –
everything too fast.
Six unknowns,
the refrain.
Lovefest in a sacred place.
But, of course,
the fragments in the desert:
broken down truck &
3-legged table,
bicycle tires, mismatched:
what is abandoned,
reclaimed by attention
and her cousin, purposeful work.

I took my direction from the dreamy feeling, and particularly the phrases, “eyes closed”, and “Lovefest in a sacred place”.  I had brought an image of a painting by one of my favorite artists, Odilon Redon, so I decided to quote it in my collage.   The suggestion of a desert prompted me to create a turban from magazine fragments of cloth.  I then made use of my painted papers and xeroxed fragments of my monoprint texture.  I played with putting a pressed flower in the corner opposite the face, but couldn’t commit to it, so off I went to the copy machine again.


At this time, I discovered that the laser copier was also capable of making color copies and reverse images, so I decided to play with a symmetrical composition.  The idea of adding an owl came from the fact that I had a dream that an owl flew at my face.  The dream occurred the morning I left for Menucha, and since I had a difficult time removing the owl from my face, I decided she had a strong desire to be included in my experiments.  I first painted the owl on vellum, then photocopied it in a few sizes to find the right relationship with the composition.  This is, for me, one of the most wonderful aspects of  using collage: the fact that you can choose to move things around, which is not possible once you’ve committed to an image in painting.


The pressed spray of Queene Anne’s lace flowers ended up being a “nest” for the baby owl crying for its mother.  (I realize that I need to add some color to differentiate this from its textured background). If I end up making a painted version of this collage, the 2 dreaming figures will have clasped hands holding the nest. They may transform into a man and a woman with similar features.

On the fourth day, we displayed our collaborative collages and writings where the rest of the Menucha community could see them, in the cafeteria.  My collage was placed underneath Ann’s poem.  Coincidentally, I found that the collage that I gave to the writing class was paired with a response by the same writer (Ann Staley).  Since my collage was not signed, she had no indicator as to its orientation, and ended up responding to the image on its side.  Once I saw it totally divorced from its relationship to my painting, I also saw it with new eyes.  I’ve included her poetic response below:



I was particularly struck by the fact that my absent figure became a rock, and that she even made mention of “who is missing from this collage, and why are they missing?”  I also contemplate the scraps and bits I didn’t use, and the fact that they might be reincarnated into yet another collage or painting.  Perhaps I’ll continue the process and create another collage based on her poem.  Maybe this time I’ll consider the presence of the wind.  Perhaps this is just another new beginning.


With 1/2 day of my class remaining,   I decided to make use of the leftover copies of the dreaming faces.  Again, I played with symmetry, this time creating a triangular composition.  The effect is a bit more abstract.  It takes a moment to even recognize that these are mirrored fragments of a person (it’s difficult to discern the gender, which is my preference).


Now home, I continue to play with my collage experiments by cropping and changing the hues of some of my compositions in Photoshop.  I went with the intention to finish some unresolved paintings, but instead came back with more ideas to generate into new paintings.  I also feel that I have found a new way of working, and a few more tools to explore.

On the morning that I left for art camp, there were a couple other dreams that bear mentioning.  In the first place, I knew within the dream that I was at Menucha , as I was surrounded by a group of people when the owl flew at me.  Although the owl would not get off of my face, I wasn’t horrified by it.  As I struggled to remove it, I told the others to throw some water on its head (I have a vague memory that someone at the center had instructed me to do this if ever the situation should occur, as if it were a likely possibility).  I then went out to my car and found a blue bird flying in it.  At this point, I remember  that that earlier in the day I’d seen a bird on my palette, on the table next to my easel. It was a dream within a dream… not too disimilar to the process of creating in collage.  I still ponder what it all means and what the birds have to say to me.  Rather than answering the question, I prefer to suggest the mystery.

3 responses so far

3 Responses to “Five Days of Focus”

  1. Sandy Coleman says:

    Thanks so much for sharing all of this. Your experiments are so beautiful and intriguing. What a great art camp!

  2. […] It was fortunate that I happened to take a collage class at this point. Creating a small collage helped me to decide that I needed to create a color shift of the branches, changing the grayish limbs to a purplish blue brought out more of the fantasy element that this scene inspired within me. (I make more specific mention of the collage process in a previous post). […]

  3. […] It’s been several years since I’ve been compelled to write poetry, and I’m finding myself slowly returning to it.  Many poets have asked to use images of my paintings to accompany their poems (or as covers for their publications), and this has given me the idea to also publish a volume of illustrated poems in the future. So, for now I will occasionally release a pairing of poems and images that go well together.  (This poem was written in May 2001 and the painting was created in 2009.  It’s process of creation is documented here.) […]

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