Monday, July 11, 2011

Papier-Mache Art Bowls 11: Paper, Pencils, Fractals, Talismans

After drying the latest batch in the sun, and looking it over, I think this group is of mixed success. One or two experimental ideas produced lovely results, and one or two were acceptable if not first-rate. Not every experiment succeeds, after all: but the definition of an experiment, in both science and art, is that you learn as much from the failures as from the successes.

This particular experiment was of mixed quality. The idea was simple: I had recently purchased some beautiful hand-made marbled art paper at Wet Paint in St. Paul, a terrific art supply store that I visit every time I'm in the Twin Cities. When I lived in St. Paul, this was my primary source for all my art supplies. I purchased several sheets of beautiful hand-made papers, with the intention of using them for papier-maché projects, but perhaps also for hand-made books. Some of the sheets are sewable with thread, which sparks some interesting ideas combining multi-media, paper, and fiber art.

I made extensive photos of each of the sheets of art paper before filing them away, to be used for art projects.

I took a few of these art-paper photos and layered them in Photoshop, to make a more complex paper. I then printed that out as laser prints, and used the prints to make this bowl.

It's very pretty, visually, as it reflects the source material. The only thing lacking, I feel, is the texture of the hand-made papers. This is laser-printed photographs, which in many cases is terrific material for a papier-maché piece with a specific theme. I feel that some of my art bowls made from my prints have been like illustrations, in three-dimensional form rather than in book form. But this is pictures of paper, used as paper. So it's a bit "virtual," a bit removed from the original. As I said, visually it looks great; but tactilely it is a bit disappointing. Still, it might be a nice bowl to keep some other art supplies in, on my art desk.

So, an interesting experiment that almost works. What might work with this kind of collaged print paper in future is to use it as a background behind other papier-maché layered projects. For example, a tableau or vignette background framing photographs or illustrations; like a framed matte.

This is my favorite piece from this session of making papier-maché. I really enjoy its whimsy and color. It looks good from any angle, and is bright and colorful in the sunlight.

The process of making this bowl began with an experiment with colored pencils. I made random areas of color on a fibrous, dense paper that I knew would tear easily, and be good for papier-maché. I filled the sheet with colored pencil shapes, mostly rough triangles, then tore the sheet into other random shapes with no regard for where the colors were placed. In other words, the patches of color were themselves broken up by being torn up without regard to their forms. Then I assembled the bowl in another random order with no regard for color placements. What results is a pleasing riot of randomized color shapes, all hand-sketched using pencils. So for me this bowl feels more organic, more like an actual drawing, more "purely artistic."

This art bowl a bit of an homage to Henri Matisse, whose late-in-life works made with colored paper and scissors I admire greatly. Matisse is one of my artistic heroes precisely because he never stopped exploring and experimenting; he rarely repeated something once he had mastered it, and continually looked to new materials for inspiration. Towards the end of his life, when illness confined him to a wheelchair, and he was unable to paint, he had an assistant cover sheets of paper with solid washes of gouache, then cut out shapes with scissors and assembled them to make art. His illustrated book Jazz is a masterpiece made in this manner. Both whimsical and grand, humorous and serious, Jazz set a high standard for hand-made art books to follow. (The complete book is available in scale reproduction as a book, from publisher George Braziller.)

The colored pencils used here are mostly water-proof, although some colors did run a little when they were still wet. I daubed up the excess with a paper towel, as I usually do, and when the bowl dried everything looked smooth and solid again. It's a denser paper, absorbent like water-color paper, thicker and rougher of texture. This bowl actually dried faster than any of the others, in the sunlight. I am very pleased with how the color shapes came out; I'll probably try this technique again later. I might also try it with water-soluble colored pencils, which when wetted in the papier-maché matrix might run and blur into interesting solid colors.

This is a relatively large bowl made using paper prints of Photoshop pieces I had made a few years ago.

I have in the past designed gift-wrapping and other papers, patterns that could also be used for fabrics or wallpapers, based on fractal art generated from the Mandelbrot Set. I designed and collaged these forms in Photoshop, and printed sheets of paper via laser and inkjet printers. I have actually used these papers myself to wrap presents for family and friends.

This bowl was envisioned to use a colorful fractal pattern on the exterior, and a related fractal pattern on the interior, but in grayscale and B&W. The contrast between the almost painfully colorful exterior, and the serene, staid interior is intentional.

Fractals fascinate me, both for their elegant mathematical simplicity, and the beautiful, complex visual graphics that can be generated from those elegant mathematical formulae. I am certainly not the first artist to be fascinated by fractals—I have a special section on my bookshelves just for books on fractals and chaos theory, many of which are gorgeously illustrated—yet the infinite possibilities inherent in fractal-generated visual art make it possible for every artist to do something very different with the same materials.

My intent here was to make an illustrated art bowl using some of my fractal wrapping paper. I made a fairly large bowl, thinking it would interesting to use it as a container for other fractal-based art I might make later on. For now, it's just loud and fun to look at.

Marigold Shamanic Healing Bowl

This bowl I made purely for myself, and was the reason I began this current session of making papier-maché. Prior to going in for surgery, I had made a piece of visual art for myself, to use an invocation for healing. I combined a photo I had made of a field of marigolds with the image of my most recent EKG. I made a print of this piece and took it with me during surgery, to place in my hospital room where I could look at it every day and remind myself to heal, to get better, and to overcome.

The day I made this current group of papier-maché pieces was the first day since I had returned home from the hospital that I had felt run down, tired, and upset, out-of-sorts, and just plain icky. I was feeling a lot of emotions from the surgery and the hospital stay, and my body was likewise complaining of the traumas it had been put through.

As I have said many times before, sometimes the best thing to do, on such dismal days, is make art. When I make art, as I've also said before, I forget about everything else, and think only about what I'm doing. So even though I felt fairly lousy that morning, I made these papier-maché pieces. This Healing Bowl, made entirely for myself, was the only art I intentionally set out to make that morning. I am pleased with the results on several levels. The bowl was made to be another reminder to continue my healing journey, evoking once again the many healing properties of marigolds, and it sits now on the table in my bedroom.

Marigolds were also a favorite flower from my childhood in India. They grow prolifically there, and are used in many rituals, from weddings to temple offerings, from funerals to bouquets offered to the person you love. Their fragrance is wonderful, they are edible, and they are used in many healing potions and as a cooking herb. I love marigolds in every shape and variety, and I grow them now in my own garden.

This bowl uses my marigold/EKG image on its exterior, for color and to evoke a restoration of perfect health. The interior of the bowl uses several repeated copies of a drawing I made of the Horned God last autumn, which I scanned into the computer, then manipulated in Photoshop.

For my recovery from this traumatic, high-risk major surgery, for my journey through to new health, for the next surgery and recovery that I must still endure—for all that and more, I will invoke every Power that I can think of, summon all the help I can get, and rely on my family and friends for their support, both practically and in terms of prayers, good thoughts, wishes for well-being, or anything else that is offered. I am going through a major life-changing experience here, and I'll take all the help I can get, in whatever form it's offered! And I am and will remain eternally grateful for all of it. Beyond the gratitude, also, is a new life, which remains still a Mystery to me for now, but which I do know will be worth going through all the pain and suffering I have been going through now, including the surgery and recovery. It's all worth it in the end.

I put all of these thoughts into this Healing Bowl as I made it, channelling my intentions and hopes and prayers into my art-making. A ritual of art-making, an intention for the art that is made. Therefore, I don't really care if someone thinks this bowl is not as aesthetically beautiful as some other art I've made before. That's not the point. The purpose here is to focus my thoughts on my own healing, to remind myself that this process is going to take some time, and to be patient with that—and I can be patient, knowing that everyone I love is thinking of me, and wishing me well.

And art is one way to help me stay focused on that, and one way to make it manifest.

So Mote It Be!

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