Behind the Scenes: Phalanges

Introducing something new! For now, I’m calling these “Phalanges”…I often work with mixed media and found objects – recycled artwork, packaging, various papers, and more. These are small (3″ x 3”), unfinished mixed media collages. I set aside 10 to give away at February’s Art Attack, and I’ll do it again in March.

Pick your favorite, and write your name, mailing address and email on the back. When I finish the collage in the coming days, I’ll mail it to you! If you’d prefer your collage to arrive in a frame, I can do that for $25.

PS: your contact information won’t be shared with anyone, ever!

This project grew out of my experience with a significant injury to my right (dominant) hand.

I was dismayed (understatement!) to find that the injury left me without the ability to legibly write my own name, or take the cap off of a pen or tube of paint by myself – to say nothing of everyday tasks like getting dressed, using the bathroom, and cooking my own meals on the stove.

I tried to be patient while waiting for the healing process to take hold. I tried to return to the studio and do left-handed drawings and paintings, as I’d done in art school. The thing no one told you then is that experimenting with your non-dominant hand as a warm-up is one thing, but when it’s all you have, it’s murder on your identity and sense of pride. I had to abandon those drawings because it was sending me deeper into depression. I tried making some collages, but using a blade with my left hand was scary and begging for another accident. I was unable to use scissors.

Out of sheer desperation and the need to make something (anything!), I started tearing bits of paper and old collages, whatever I had. I bought a sewing machine because shoving papers through it didn’t require any fine motor skills, or strength, or finesse. I made greeting cards with sewn collage items on the front, and on the inside, sewed a hopeful message that I’d printed out, and that I didn’t really feel. I stamped the greeting and everything else, and got away with block-printing my name. I mailed a card to just about everyone I knew. It took me about six months because I was so slow, but that’s what I had to do to stay sane.

The reaction I got was amazing. People called, and messaged me. They cried. They said I’d surprised them, and made their day. They shared stories about the first time they met me, or what they were currently dealing with. Most importantly, they said the cards meant something, that they’d brought something hopeful and special to them.

They may or may not have needed this – but I sure did.

Nobody ever gets real mail anymore…it’s email, which is great, but you can’t hold it in your hands. Or on those rare occasions when you do get mail, it’s junk (at best), or something you just don’t want to deal with (at worst). I wanted to bring a little bit of joy where it doesn’t seem to exist anymore.

So I adapted these little Phalanges that can go out in the mail and surprise a few more people. They’re fun for me to make, and I hear they’re fun to receive. I plan on continuing this sharing as long as it’s still fun for everyone.

If you’d like to receive one, message me with your address and I’ll get to work.

Cut Up Cut Out

Charles Clary, Double Diddle Daddle Bereavement Movement # 1

I have a soft spot for paper. While my hand was injured, I kept sane by sewing papers together with a sewing machine, and this show at Bellevue Art Museum, about all the ways you never thought to use cut paper, really spoke to me.

I’ve been thinking about how to expand my paintings as I move forward, and this show was certainly full of options. The piece above was one of my favorites, and gave me something to think about, as I consider adding dimension and edges to my works.

Donna Ruff, 10.28.13

It took me a few moments to realize all of Ruff’s work are front pages from The New York Times.

Simone Lourenço, My Universe, Blue

Simone Lourenço uses thread (a love of mine) along with her papers. This, along with the explosion of color and edges, was one of my favorite pieces.

Adam Feibelman, Security (detail)

More sewing here (love!), with multiple sheets of paper making a detailed whole. A true depth and elegance.

Just wanted to share

New Year's card, 2017, mixed media
New Year’s card, 2017, mixed media

At the height of my hand injury, I was going stir crazy about not making art, not knowing when I would be able to make art, not having control with my painting hand, and not even being able to write properly. My writing looked like a child’s.

I decided to keep busy making things, in whatever way that was possible. I tried opposite-hand drawing (for me, that’s left), which is supposed to be liberating. I’ve used it as a technique in my own classes to encourage students to loosen up, yet also delight in the resulting drawing. Well, I reached the conclusion that it’s all well and good when you’re simply taking a break from your self-critical ways, but when it’s all you’ve got, it stinks. It’s fairly demoralizing, in fact. I quickly moved on from the left-handed drawings.

I tried a few other things, eventually settling on the idea of using a sewing machine to continue making mixed media works. Why a sewing machine…in college, I had occasionally used hand sewing in pieces as a repetitive, anxious, angry technique (which was echoed years later when I saw a woman embroider a protest message that said something to the effect of “I just made this so I could stab something 38,000 times”)…although hand sewing wasn’t an option due to the state of my hand…the feminine history of sewing appeals to me at this point in time, and I figured I didn’t need any finesse or precision to shove some things through a sewing machine. Whatever happened, happened. I think also, I felt like mending things metaphorically. I was certainly broken; the country felt broken. So I decided to sew. At this point, I couldn’t even use a pair of scissors, and didn’t trust my hand to cooperate in making new work that was good, so I found old show invitations, paintings, and pieces of this-and-that in drawers.

I needed cheering up after a pretty difficult, by any measure, year. I heard lots of people expressing the same feeling, so I decided to make cards to mark the new year with a hopeful new start.

True to my word, I began shoving things through a sewing machine I bought used in a parking lot (it was speckled in glitter). I loved the messiness and jumbles of thread that revealed themselves. I made ten or so cards and the machine stopped doing anything. I could settle for messy and jumbled, but not nothing.

I got another machine. I took a sort-of beginner’s lesson. I sort of broke the second machine, but it’s still with me. I’m still slowly making New Year’s cards, even though the worst of my injury is behind me now.

This is one of the first batch of cards. I think this one went to my kindergarten teacher, who sees me just as I am.

365 Days of Art: April 20 – Rothko Suffers Aneurysm

Mark Rothko, Untitled, 1968

April 20, 1968

Mark Rothko suffers an aneurysm. He’s told by his doctor to exercise, eat more heathily, slow down on drinking and smoking…he does none of this. His one concession is to work on smaller paintings, and he switches to acrylics on paper. His poor health after the aneurysm contributes to marital stress, and he and his wife separate less than eight months later. In another year, he will kill himself.