Finding Happiness – Torn Paper Collage

Unlike most of my collages, this is about place. It has no people in it. Not even a hint of one.

It’s because place was on my mind when I woke up this morning.

  • Places where I fit in.  That’s New England. Mostly Boston and coastal Maine, NH, and Massachusetts. And almost any arts community.
  • Places where I can tweak how I talk and act, so I’m a comfortable fit with a slightly different culture. That’s L.A., where my complete disinterest in being in IMDb makes me a bit of an anomaly, but – with my background and skills – I’m useful. Maybe even fun. And definitely not competition.
  • Places where I don’t fit it. Oh my. That’s a long list, with Illinois, Florida, and a lot of Texas near the top of it. Utah was awkward but okay, up to a point. Interior Maine, ditto.

Yes, I’ve moved a lot. Lived in lots of states. Traveled a lot, too, and I keep returning to specific places like Portsmouth (NH) and Stratford-upon-Avon (England).

This morning, defining that, clearly… it was a breakthrough. I can quit trying to “fit in,” here. I don’t speak my neighbors’ languages. (And since Disney’s layoffs, that’s literally true.)

Expecting to find a sense of place – a sense of “home” – here…? Connecting with a network of like-minded people…?

It’s not impossible, but it’s like paddling a boat against the current.

And now I have a to-do list to shift gears, a little radically, to get back to shore. Pun intended: New England shore.

So, with that on my mind, today’s collage was going to be different. It’s about symbols that represent home-and-comfort.

Size: 8.5″ x 11″

Materials: Torn magazine pages, and Yes Paste, on acid-free art paper.

Almost all the images are from Yankee magazine. The exception is the vertical strip along the left side, with evergreens reflected in water. That’s one of my own photos from Lake Winnisquam (NH).

And yes, some of the tears are untidy. Life is like that, and I wanted that to be part of this piece. Especially what follows the word “Happiness,” that’s just a hint of something else.

Better Starts Now – Torn-Paper Collage

Most of my collages flow almost effortlessly as I create them. This one challenged me at several points.

Sometimes when I work, I lay out all of the pieces before I start gluing them in place.

At other times, I glue pieces as I tear them to size.

Most of the time, it’s a little of both. That is, I look at part of the collage and know that I love it, so I start gluing those pieces in place. I’m trusting the rest of the pieces to fit in place – and look good – as I find and tear them.

This collage was one of the latter, and – at a certain point – I wasn’t certain I could complete the piece. (Now and then, one just doesn’t work. I put it aside in case it “sings” to me at a future time. <– When a piece works, I’ll often talk about it “lighting up” or “singing” to me. I don’t actually hear anything; it’s just a feeling that the piece works.)

In this case, I liked the text lines at the top of the page, and the blue background beneath them. I liked the power in the model’s face, and I knew I wanted the brocade gown* in the lower right. So, I glued all of them – except the face – in place.

For the next hour, I shuffled a variety of “maybe” collage elements, until I glommed onto the magazine ad with the forest-y images. That’s when I said aloud, “Right. Mother Nature.”

With those pieces glued in place, I knew “Be open to change” had to be part of the message.

And then… I stalled again.

When the pearl necklace got my attention, I was back on track. For me, that image is about women’s power. Pearls have always seemed an iconic sign of quality and quiet strength. (I still have the pearl necklace my mother gave me when I was around 12.)

Then, the words “Better starts” leaped off the magazine page, and… I stalled again.

When I found the word “NOW” in an article headline, I knew it was exactly right.

But… I’ll admit I completed the collage with some uncertainty. It had been through so many changes, I wasn’t entirely certain what the work meant, if anything.

This morning, looking at it fresh, I’m very pleased with it. It’s exactly what I wanted to say. I just didn’t realize it until the piece was completed, and I had some mental distance from it.

Size: 8.5″ x 11″

Materials: Torn magazine pages, Yes Paste, and acid-free art paper.

*The brocade gown element remained from my work on a recent piece, Now Is The Time. In that collage, the related brocade element is at the lower right side.

 

Now Is The Time – Torn Paper Collage with Artist’s Notes

What now…? I doubt that I’m the only one asking this question, as we head into the uncharted territories of 2021.

But, because we forging a fresh, new path, perhaps we get to make the rules. We can invent our new world, and make it better than before.

The flaws of the past are coming to light. Those rules may have served our ancestors well. They may have worked for many of us, as recently as 1995 or even 2005.

But, in recent years, they’ve become a game to beat.  We can’t rely on civility or even common sense, in all settings.

We can’t trust that laws enacted in the 1960s and 70s were actually respected. Worse, their intent may have been clear to those of us in the hippie movement, but not to others. Or perhaps others just shrugged them off, as we thought we’d put things in motion and could trust them to run on auto-pilot.

Clearly, we couldn’t. And, in some cases, our decisions were made in the shadows of our parents’ and grandparents’ choices. We could see ahead to “better,” but perhaps no farther.

So, this collage has a fairly staid background, referencing the past.

“Now is the time… to INVENT” is over a window with drawn – but sheer – curtains.

The finger points to an outspoken woman, but it might also point to the figure in a somewhat Victorian gown, with hands on hips. Is she encouraging us, or stunned at how forthright we are, now?

The lower part of the collage, with “THE RULES” in text, is deliberately fractured. To me, they represent the random pieces of the past that we’re choosing to build upon. And, there’s a certain watery, fluid quality, because boundaries are changing. Certainties may not be so certain, after all.

That can feel destabilizing, but it also presents us with freedom.

I like to think we’ll make better decisions now.

Size: 8.5″ x 11″

Materials: Torn magazine pages and Yes Paste on acid-free art paper.

 

 

Dare to Be – 2002 Torn-Paper Collage

This is among my favorite sets of daily collage pages in my “Looking for a Fairy Tale” art journal.

The scan is as good as it’s going to get, for now. (I’ll see if I can get better photos when the new camera hardware arrives.)

My (current*) husband suggested that – perhaps – the pages should look buckled and shadowed. It’s part of the authenticity of the work.

Then again, he’s an artist. For him, the initial impression is as important as the technical details. I love how well he understands the process-v-product aspects of our respective art projects.

The actual pages are heavily collaged and glittered. I created them in a moment (one of many) of frustration and anger. I was at least as angry myself as at my (in 2002)  soon-to-be-ex.

These pages were about speaking up. Being myself. Not explaining who I was, what I was doing, or why. Just being. And just to be.

Whether anyone else saw me – or what I did – as “brilliant” wasn’t as important as creating.

Doing the things that I do well. Things unique to me.

So there it is. Raw and a little frantic, and an emotional explosion in progress.

But also the recognition that I’m an artist. A creator. And maybe nobody else will “get” my art. But maybe a few will.

Scanning this journal is a deeply emotional process for me. Looking at these pages, it’s impossible not to see what was going on at the time I created them. And how I got there, a little at a time.

I’m glad that’s behind me.

I’m also glad I documented it in raw and passionate art.

I need to do more of this.

These are two pages in a 5″ x 8.5″ spiral-bound art notebook. Materials: Torn pages from magazines, colored tissue paper, glitter, and Golden Gel Medium.


* It seems utterly absurd to have to differentiate my husbands. Much of my life has been about raising my family, baking chocolate chip cookies, and going for lovely, long walks on the beach on foggy days. I have no way to explain – even to myself – the many extraordinary things I’ve done (and continue to do), in a life that I otherwise think of as quite tame and average.

But, yes, some things in my life were (and still are) unexpected.  Now…? I wouldn’t have it any other way.

Looking Back – Two Collages: 2002 and 2021

Working on a book based on my 2002 “Looking for a Fairy Tale” art journal, I was struck by an image I’d used on May 4th, 2002 and a similar one in yesterday’s collage.

It’s the tiger’s eyes.

At the top of this page, you’ll see the 2002 collage – admittedly a scan that needs improvement. (The original journal is buckled and warped after being carried to – and passed around at – arts events where I taught, throughout the U.S. and Canada. So, I may have to photograph some of the pages instead of scanning them.)

The 2002 Journal – “Looking for a Fairy Tale”

I created the 2002 journal when I was going through a difficult divorce. From the start, the marriage had challenges. For me, it was rebound, but I wanted to believe I could make it work, anyway.

For him…? I’m still not sure.

But, by 2002, he said he wanted a divorce. After over 15 years, he saw no point in trying to reconcile.

I insisted on staying until our youngest was ready to leave for college. With some persuasion by our marriage counsellor, my husband reluctantly agreed.

The interim period was difficult, to put it mildly. To get through it, I journaled daily. Each was a torn-paper collage.

Day by day, I poured my heartache onto the pages, in words and images, mostly from magazines.

During that year+, my soon-to-be-ex- met a local woman he later married. As far as I know, it was a true love match and they’re still together, smiling. I’m glad that worked out.

I also met someone, online, but he was thousands of miles away and much younger than me. So, it took me a very long time to understand he was interested in me, romantically.

Frankly, I wasn’t confident we were a good match. That uncertainty, and related ups & downs in our long-distance conversations, were reflected in my 2002 journal.

A few months before the divorce, my online friend and I met in real life. Now, nearly 20 years later, he and I are still together, married and smiling, and laughing every day. I can’t imagine what this journey would have been like, without his continued support.

The Newest Collage (2021)

Dance to a Different Beat - 500 wide

This collage – assembled yesterday (1 Feb 2021) – has some resonance with the 2002, if only in the tiger’s eyes.

You can read about it at my previous article, Dance to a Different Beat.

The 2002 collage is approximately 5″ x 8.5″ and created with torn magazine pages, copper foil, copper marker scribbles, and Golden Gel Medium in a spiral-bound sketchbook.

The new collage (Dance to a Different Beat) is 8.5″ x 11″ and created with torn magazine pages, on acid-free art paper.

 

 

Dance to a Different Beat – Torn Paper Collage and Artist’s Comments

Some of my collages start with very odd inspirations. This one began with three images: First, the classical figure in the upper right. Then, the woman with the sunglasses. And finally, a photo of a wall with a large window and a translucent, folded shade. (The latter is at the left side of the collage, with a tree image over the middle of it.)

As I’m working on these collages, I see my voice – as a powerful woman – emerging. The images I choose are about a wide range of women representing a variety of backgrounds. Sweet models discovering their options. Strong women of color. Women emerging from the shadows, and finding their voices, too.

We’ve always been strong. Queen Boudica. Joan of Arc. Tashenamani (Moving Robe). Matilda of Tuscany. Agustina de Aragón. In the Bible: Deborah. And so on.

But now, having to rise to challenges of the current era, I feel as if we’re claiming our power in more forthright ways.

Stepping out of the shadows. Not accepting the raised eyebrow and “trophy wife” dismissal, or the diminutive “little woman” description.

That’s not limited to one gender. It’s a wave – perhaps a building tidal wave – gathering force, regardless of how society labels us… or how we describe ourselves, in the moment.

We’re speaking truth to power because (a) someone has to, and (b) we’re not just functional, decorative accessories. We’re demanding our voices as equals in global society.

It’s a clear theme in this collage, and one that I see throughout much of my recent work.

Size: 8.5″ x 11″

Materials: Acid-free art paper, torn magazine images, Yes Paste.

 

St. George – All In! Mixed Media Collage

It’s time to try some different techniques. Not necessarily mixed media, though this one is clearly that.

Mostly, I want to go beyond the edges of my “tidy” impulses.

The question is: Will my work still retain its artistic vision and integrity? And, will these nudges into somewhat-unfamiliar realms take my art in a new, more expressive direction?

That remains to be seen. (No pun intended.)

Today’s theme was shades of blue and St. George, patron saint of England. It’s the next country we’d like to explore, as a possible place to put down roots. Frankly, we’re ready for our own home. And a garden. And so on.

The vision of that is, indeed, “brighter than ever.” And we are “all in” on this as a 2021 goal… at least for a visit. (My husband has never been to England. I have, several times, usually for extended visits. In fact, I’ve travelled all over the U.K. and find something to love in every nook, cranny, hill, and valley.)

In this collage, I like the determination in Reese Witherspoon’s eyes, at the top of the page. When I saw them, I saw what’s in my own mirror (virtual and in-real-life), too.

The other woman is wearing glasses that slightly mask the expression in her eyes. I identified with her, too, as I don’t always show people what I’m thinking. In our society, it can be the safest route for women who are – in Blues Brothers’ terms – on a mission.

Also, I left a little extra space on the lower right side of the collage. That’s room for wonderful things ahead.

Size: 8.5″ x 11″

Materials: Acid-free heavyweight paper, torn magazine images, a printed image with watercolor & colored pencil, and Yes Paste.

 

Live Well – La Vie Est Belle – Artist’s Comments

The past three mornings, I’ve woken up smiling. That’s refreshing, and this collage reflects that. (The photo is a little blurry as I photographed it in early morning, low-light conditions. I’ll replace this photo later in the day.)

Life isn’t perfect. (Is it, ever…?) But, after a good night’s sleep, and with an increasingly clear vision of the immediate future, I’m pleased.

This collage started with the phrase “Live Well,” and a glittery version of the Eiffel Tower. Then, two juxtapositioned images (people wearing pearls) – advertisements on two sides of the same magazine page – seemed perfect. A luxury home, and a series of women – each with a distinctly different personal style – added to the foundation of this piece.

We all deserve to live well. There should be no barriers. (I thought about listing the most prevalent current barriers. Then I decided, No, there should be no barriers at all. Articulating them just endows them with a bit more energy and – today, anyway – I choose not to do that.)

It’s a good day. Life is moving in a positive direction. Let’s keep looking forward.

Size: 8.5″ x 11″

Materials: Acid-free, heavyweight art paper; torn magazine images and text; and Yes Paste

And Carry On – Trusting the Light – Collage

This collage, “And carry on,” is about darkness, the light ahead, and the path from here to there.

It’s about where we are as a country (in the U.S.), as a world, and as individuals. And what’s immediately ahead of us.

It may not be tidy.

Challenges may await.

We’ve seen the darkness. It may take us a while to shake it off.

It might be easier to pretend that everything is fine. As if everything is nice, normal, and… bland.

We have a better choice.

The light guides us forward, and we can get there.

It’s about embracing the wonderful things in our lives. The things that are true, and represent the very best of who we are… each of us.

That’s the important part.

We just need to carry on. And trust.

To create the rough effect, I deliberately “aged” the finished collage using wax paper with a bit of Yes Paste on it. I repeatedly rolled wax paper onto the image, and then lifted it off. Each time, fine lines of the collage lifted off with the wax paper, until the piece looked the way I wanted it to.

Size: 8.5″ x 11″

Materials: Poster board, torn magazine images and text, and Yes Paste

Shine – Collage About Authenticity and Confidence

Shine is about us. It’s about who we are, inside, and who (or what) we’ve pretended to be.

Yes, sometimes pretense is about privacy and a sense of personal safety. It feels like protection.

Sometimes, pretense is just for fun. The aspects – or even complete identities we adopt, even briefly – can actually reveal nuances others might not have seen. (Or perhaps they saw glimmers of them, and weren’t sure what they were seeing.)

We’re multi-dimensional people. Sometimes one side is highlighted while another is hidden, accidentally or on purpose.

I like to think that the world is changing. I want to believe we’re emerging from the default of categorizing people with tidy labels.

There’s no time in which a single label reflects the full person – their strengths and vulnerabilities, and their uniqueness. Labels prevent us from learning from one another and experiencing true connections.

Some people step onto the stage and embrace the attention. They can read the audience and respond. Is there such a thing as “authentic pretense”?

Perhaps.

Others, including me, know we’ll be judged, and perhaps unfairly. We adopt stage personas, muttering, It’s show time, before we step into the spotlight. And then, after the performance, we bolt to the safety of a green room or dressing room.

Many of the elements in this collage were chosen deliberately. Others were entirely intuitive.

The makeup tray is about race and equality.

The woman, looking slightly timid, and the lower legs in the red image to the left of her… that’s about finding courage. Not staying hidden.

The rest, and how you interpret this, is up to you.

It’s one of those days when I realize my art may reveal more about me than most people will see, if they meet me in real life.

Size: 8.5″ x 11″

Materials: Poster board, torn magazine images and words, Yes Paste

In Search Of – A Whimsical Collage

I think many of us are searching for something in our lives. (And yes, as I’m writing this, the Eurythmics’ song is in my head.)

Perhaps the more serious you make the search, the less likely you are to find what you truly want.

That’s the message of this collage, and it’s another one I’m looking at, daily.

No doubt it sounds woo-woo, in a way, but I believe life operates along different frequencies.  If one is angry, they find things to be angry about. If you’re frantic, maybe you encounter more frustrations.

But, if you go into it like Alice, “curiouser and curiouser,” your sense of whimsy may lead you to a delightful range of experiences.

That’s the way I’m looking at life, right now.

And that’s what this collage says to me.

Size: 8.5″ x 11″

Materials: Poster board, torn magazine images and text, pen-and-ink accents, and Yes Paste.

Voice – The Time is Now – Torn-Paper Collage

Voice. It’s not about noise, but self-expression and authenticity.

That’s the essence behind this collage.

Now is the time to move beyond monochromatic living and tidy, clasped hands.

It’s about travel and adventure and exploring our boundaries.

It’s a simple, straightforward collage.

[Note: After photographing it, I saw that part of one image hadn’t adhered properly. I fixed it, and will replace this photo, later.]

Size: 8.5″ x 11″

Materials: Poster board, torn magazine images and text, Yes Paste