Sunday, October 4, 2020

The Challenges of Art

This is a gratitude blog. Two weeks ago, I was abysmally [my word] grieving Ruth Bader Ginsburg’s death and the potential end of the world. I was a blob of despair…, yet hours later, I managed to sit at my computer with a burst of creative energy. What sparked it?

My Bricolage art challenge group. Bricolage means “something created from a variety of available things.” Five of us meet regularly to draw another creative challenge from our Ziploc bag of challenges.

Jinnie convened us and then moved to Idaho, but we’re still here. So first, I’m grateful to Jinnie for getting us together, for reintroducing me to Art as Play.

We used to meet indoors, but when Covid-19 happened, we had to come up with something else. We brought our chairs to the huge lawn in front of the closed universities and spread ourselves out very far apart. We were so happy! It was our first chance to see faces and bodies in real life.

We’ve become a little nervous about the weather going bad on us, but last week, it didn’t rain, and we’re determined. We’re checking out overhangs.

The challenge this time was “weaving.” Jane (who shared her art with photographs) wove gold-flecked paper and embroidery thread through paper. Pam wove yarn into the Y of a branch and covered the branch in yarn. Betty made a frame of four branches with jute and wove in natural items – feathers, flowers, even a wasp’s nest. I made two branch pieces; the big one is now on the living room wall. This is the little one.

Usually, Cathy is there, but she couldn’t make it this time. Both Cathy and Betty know about materials. I may have ideas, but I don’t know what kind of paint, what kind of coating, what kind of ink, etc etc. They are my go-to resources. But hints come from everyone. Pam kept her weaving tight by using a fork to squeeze her rows together – a fork! That would have made my weaving much easier! Now I know.

In my very first blog post, I asked myself, “How do I re-insert creativity into my life?” I’ve taken art classes, but it’s been the Bricolage group that has consistently kept me thinking and percolating over my creative choices. The challenges stew in my head till they take shape.

When confronted with the “playing cards” challenge, I turned it into painting a card on a rock and a whole book of face card characters and their royal scandals. When the challenge was “postcard,” it turned into a transparent, multi-layered postcard to the poet, Billy Collins. “Tea bags” became Happy Uterus Tea. “Paper dolls” is a continuing project as my protesting Barbara still has lots and lots to protest.

Jinnie reintroduced me to Art as Play, but I still cling to Art as Project: I visualize an idea or concept before I create something. And then I have to figure out how to make it difficult challenging.

So when the challenge was “envelopes,” I decided I would learn how to do curved piece quilting.

There have been a few duds. “Upcycling” occurred when our house was overflowing with brown paper bags from curbside grocery pickups. I happened to be at the Recycling Center when two guys were unloading cartons. They discovered the cartons were filled with packing material they didn’t know what to do with. “I’ll take it,” I said, “for an art project.”

So now I had brown paper bags and packing material. I read that you could make faux leather by wetting the bags, crumpling them up, then ironing them and varnishing them. If I stuffed them with packing material, I’d have trivets! Or, as the group dubbed them, “cow pies.” Fortunately, I got rid of all that packing material by standing outside the UPS Store and offering it for free. I’m still loaded with paper bags….

I really like the cards I made for “ravens,” but “leaves” is a project I haven’t let go. I keep making pressed, dried leaf notecards. Now’s the perfect time to collect more leaves.

“Plastic” meant a stained glass window for our bathroom. It’s colored plastic bags glue-sticked onto clear plastic. I’d wanted to do that ever since I took a workshop during one of my months in New York City, but it would have sat in the “someday” pile of ideas if it weren’t for my Bricolage group.

I often suffer from some creative paralysis, creative lethargy. I’m an in-the-mood creator, not a disciplined one. But if any creative juices flow, it’s usually sparked by a current challenge picked out of a Ziploc bag. The new one: “wire or metal.” I’ve had an unrealized metal idea since high school. Maybe now?

I am so very thankful that I am part of a warm, supportive circle of artists who inspire, challenge, and educate me. That’s why this is a gratitude blog.


  1. Just reading your post cheered me up!

  2. Thank you so very much for this positive/gratitude post.

    1. And thank you for your thank you! It adds to the grateful karma in the world...

  3. you need to look for paper bag weaving - like this my sister made a basket from paper bags and it was beautiful.

    1. You're right, but after going down the rabbit hole of websites on paper bag weaving ... that's why I ended up with trivets. One of the trivets is woven, but all those baskets proved the undoing of me!

  4. Dear CloudyinAK, You are a talented artist, w creative ideas about Ziplock bags, gives me an idea about other things. I love all your art, but especially about colored leaves note cards. My daughter LOVES Ravens!


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