It's been a week of bird sightings and activity.
I found a nest in the yard the other day. It was after a few days of strong winds ... winds that must have released it from its perch.
This morning we walked through the park and saw a group of people (a gaggle, or maybe it was a congregation) grouped together, all facing the same direction, looking up at a pine tree.
They were mesmerized by the great horned owl perched high above, with her two owlets(!) all fuzzy and huddled close together. In other words, a parliament of owls. Amazing.
And then there was the paddling of ducks down at the pond.
What's gathering in your neck of the woods?
- a convocation of eagles?
- a stand of flamingos?
- an ostentation of peacocks?
- a wake of buzzards?
- a peep of chickens?
- a muster of storks?
- a host of sparrows?
- an exaltation of larks?
- a colony of penguins?
- a wedge of swans?
- a party of jays?
I made this collage from old maps and a cancelled stamp. It occurred to me that when we look at a map, it's like looking at the world with a bird's eye view. I think we'll always need paper maps ... after all, what if there's no wifi?
A while ago I was feeling out of sorts, a bit edgy, and bored with myself. I didn’t know why and I didn’t know what to do about it.
All I knew was I wanted to shift my mood and stop the creep ... I’d already spent much of the day feeling off and I didn’t want it to creep into what remained of the day.
So I decided to do something. Something I enjoy. I sat at my desk with my collage materials. I like collage work because it’s easy to pick up and put down without taking up a lot of space or having to do a lot of preparation.
After I got going, I realized, once again, it feels good to do.
Was it because I was working with my hands? That may be part of it, but I think it’s more.
I think the doing activates a shift.
A shift from a passive, unsettled state of mind to a state of being active and engaged. It's why I'm such a fan of having hobbies, passions, and pastimes.
It works when I write letters, when I clean, or cook ... just about any activity, really. The challenge, always, is getting started. For the collage work, I started by sitting at the table. I didn’t know what I would do or create, but knew just pulling out the materials would help. And it did.
It's so simple ... yet so hard sometimes.
Why is it so hard? Sometimes it’s because we’re so busy doing for others we forget to tend to ourselves. To take some time (not a lot of time, just some time) to do what we want, instead of what everyone else wants or needs, or demands. Other times, we're just overwhelmed. By our work, our circumstances, and these days, the pandemic.
When I sat down, I wasn't sure what I'd collage, but felt better just sitting with my materials. It was then I realized, it feels good to do. So I made this collage.
This is not the first time I’ve written about stopping the creep. Read my post about the recipe that saved my life and let me know what you do to stop the creep.
A different way to connect
We won't be visiting in person this Thanksgiving, so I'm serving up a side of snail mail.
I've decided to make a small batch of handmade collage cards to send and give thanks (there's still plenty to be thankful for, even if we're apart). Now that I have the design figured out, it's a matter of cut and paste.
The process is a meditation of sorts. Cutting and arranging, cutting and arranging some more. It's the mindless act of doing that's relaxing. I sometimes work with no background sound, other times there's the television in the background, or music, and sometimes there's a conversation happening.
These patterns happened by chance. Well, at least the first set. I was trying to keep count of how many pomegranates I'd cut, so I started lining them up. I liked the pattern and took a photo.
The first image was so compelling, I decided to do it with the next batch. The green leaves were all a jumble until I thought to arrange them in a sunburst pattern. Much better.
This is interesting ... creating parallel designs as I work. It's also a good way to visualize my progress.
Are you a pattern maker? Do you have ways to track your progress on projects?
A less intimidating approach to journaling
This is my second hand-made journal. The first was the October journal - 10 pages folded in half to make 40 pages. At least one page for every day of the month.
I decided to create my own journal book because big, blank journal books are intimidating. So many pages to fill compounded with the idea that the pages should look good, my handwriting should be at it's best, and what I write should matter.
But I've discovered those things don't matter. With a small, monthly journal, the pressure is off.
Why have a journal?
My goal is to write once a day. To mull over what I'm trying to get done, how it's going, and what I need to do next. To ask questions of myself. Writing helps me work through the tough stuff, make sense of what's baffling, and record my progress...and success. However small.
And I get to create a new cover design each month.
In the front of last month's journal I wrote two goals for the month. To finish my letter writing book and a book about birds and birding.
I accomplished the first. Still working on the second.
To be honest, I forgot that I wrote my goals in the front of the book. When I flipped through the book at the end of the month, it caught me by surprise. The other thing that caught me by surprise was that I wasn't disappointed that I hadn't completed both.
I'm thrilled that I completed my first goal (I'm waiting for the final proof of A Snail Mail Guide to Cursive Writing Practice to arrive in the mail today(!)), and I'm working on the second.
The second book is underway, but far from complete. I think the reason I felt okay about it all was that I've been working on it. Making steady progress.
It's hard to know exactly how long it will take, but I do want to push myself and try to finish it by the end of the month.
What I'm discovering, though, is that working toward something is just as important as finishing it by a certain date. The work is the reward. It makes me feel productive, engaged, and ... just better.
And that's why I wrote, "Just the beginning..." on the cover of this month's journal. Because after I finish the birds and birding book, I've got another idea, and another. And that means beginning ... all over again.
Every day is the beginning of something. Maybe it's because something ended yesterday, maybe it's because we discover a new approach, trick, or method, and we're starting in a new direction.
The key is to keep going. Plugging away at things. It's amazing what can get done.
Every day we begin. We can toss aside a bad habit or distraction and focus on something we deem more important. Or not.
If it doesn't work today because you're tired, or not feeling well, or someone needs something you can't put off, you can begin again tomorrow.
It's up to us to do what we tell ourselves we're going to do. Because in the end that's what matters most. I don't want to disappoint anyone ... but most of all, I don't want to disappoint myself.
What are you beginning?
Starting something new
A few weeks ago I stumbled on a post about paint by number kits and it got me thinking. What if I could create a collage by number kit? A collage that could be used for handmade cards, stationery, and journaling.
Would people like the idea?
I posted the image above on Instagram and asked. The positive feedback gave me the boost I needed to move forward with the idea.
It's still a work in progress. Here is how it started and where I am.
November is Pomegranate Month, so I thought a pomegranate (or three) would be a good start. I've always loved a nice botanical illustration and decided to go in that direction.
This is the first illustration. Not one pomegranate, but three.
Figuring it out
You can see by the numbers, it was fairly complicated. I decided to create the template, cut the pieces, and do a test collage. I cut the pieces and used color pencil to add the color, just as a trial. That was my second mistake.
Persistence and testing
It was way, way too complicated. With more than 30 pieces - small pieces - I realized it was just too much. I overwhelmed myself, never mind anyone else trying to figure it out. That was my first mistake.
The second mistake was not using the materials I would normally use to create a collage. I always use painted sheet music. This time I printed the sheet with shapes and added the color with colored pencil. It didn't work. Partly because it doesn't look any of my other collage work.
When I work with the sheet music, what I pick is influenced by the color on the sheet, the music notes that show through, and the textures that come from brush strokes and density. I lost all of that when I tried to use the color pencil.
Back to the drawing board - literally. I decided to simplify the image. I created a new sketch (which is always how I start a collage). Then I cut the shapes from the painted sheet music. It still took a bit of trial and error to figure out the best shapes and sizes, but the process was closer to my usual process, and I think that's why it works.
I still have to figure out a few things, but I'm excited to move forward. Is it a good idea to provide the shapes and instructions rather than let people create their own?
Sharing my collage work is a way to help others start. The idea is to provide the framework. Each person can add or subtract elements and make it their own.
At a letter writing workshop years ago, I provided the template for a birthday cake collage. At the start of the workshop, I wondered if it was a good idea. I thought they'd all look the same when we were done. They didn't! I was remarkable. Everyone started with the same materials, but there were no two alike.
Collage is a forgiving form. It's where I've found my comfortable place. I tried watercolor and other forms, but felt constrained to make things perfect. Collage is perfectly imperfect.
The first kit will be ready soon. I hope you'll give it a try and give me feedback. My test is one thing. How it works for you is what matters most.
The coolest cat of all
It was a stare down and the cat with the green eyes didn't blink.
Twice now we've seen it, always slinking through the tall grass in front of the house two blocks down, one over.
It never moves when we pass by. Just stares at us, drawing us in, compelling us to stare back. It never blinks. Do cats blink?
It's the coolest cat I've ever seen.
This is a new entry in the I Write Letters to Say series. Today is Letter Writing Day. Letters are really just another way to say hello. To tell a story, to write about something that catches your attention. There's no need to write a two-page essay or worry about anyone correcting your grammar or criticizing your handwriting. They'll just be glad to hear from you and happy to get some mail ... good mail.
Really. People love getting mail and writing can make you feel closer to them.
Give it a go: be the coolest cat in mailbox and make it a good mail day for someone you know.
Here's some stationery to get you started.
Last night we saw fireflies in the corner lot where the grass grows tall.
We stopped so we could see more, and again and again, we pointed and said, "There's one. Over there." And, "Wow!"
Now I want to go back and see them again.
At the end of the block on the corner there's a garden planted on the edge of the road. It's tucked between the street and a stockade fence. It's so small, and jammed into such a small space, it seems more than a garden. It's a declaration. A fertile sign of determination and grit.
Someone wanted a garden and they were not to be deterred.
They wanted to grow peas, and tomatoes, and peppers. We know that's what's growing because they impaled the empty seed packets on sticks to mark what was in the ground. And we've watch them grow for weeks now.
There's a tradition in New England ... peas and salmon on the Fourth of July. Why? The salmon swim upstream this time of year, just when the peas begin to sprout.
I'm not sure the neighbors will pair salmon with their peas, but the garden's bounty is proof there's plenty to be savored when the seed of determination is planted.
Figuring out what works Collage work has become my go-to art form. After trying a bit of watercolor, line drawing, pencil, and more, collage is it.
It's the perfectly imperfect nature of collage that works for me.
It's not that things are sloppy or unfinished. No, I pay attention to detail and form, but its more conceptual than precise.
Finding the rhythm
All of my collage work is done with painted sheet music. No other papers: no book pages, receipts, or found paper. Just sheet music.
That, too, took a while to figure out.
There are no distracting words on the page and I like how the music adds texture to the pieces I cut.
And I've learned it best to keep a supply on hand. A stack of painted sheets. An assortment of reds and yellows, blacks, grays, and greens. Blues, purples, and pinks. Each with varied amounts of paint, rough edges, and dry brush strokes.
Ready when the ideas are
If I have an idea, I like to sit down and start in. If I have to begin from scratch, to paint the colors I want or need, I risk losing some of my enthusiasm, some of the spark that comes with having a new idea.
Having an assortment of colors on hand helps me stay with the idea, to keep my momentum.
I've been running on scraps for a few weeks now and I can feel it holding me back. Little bits of paper cut from larger sheets. Yesterday I ran out of the green I wanted. Lots of scraps, but not enough to finish what I started.
It's time to take stock ... and restock.
Painting the sheets has become part of the process. Part of the preparation.
Be sure you've got what you need to get started. It could make all the difference.
What came first, the shovel or the pine cone?
I can’t say how many times I’ve been down the road where we found the pine cones, but I’ve always been in a car, never on foot.
Last weekend in search of new walking routes, we set out early for downtown Westbrook. There’s a lovely river walk that beckoned and on Main Street, in the middle of town, a sculpture garden.
That’s where we found these particularly large pine cones. It was only when we got close, really close, we saw the pine cones were made from shovels. They are the work of artist Patrick Plourde.
It made me wonder, what came first, the shovel or the pine cone?
Though my collage work is on a much, much(!) smaller scale, they, too are made from repurposed materials, paper after page of sheet music.
I came to use sheet music after stopping at a yard sale. It was the end of the day and there were three big books of sheet music. As I was looking them, the woman who owned them said, "Twenty-five cents each. Otherwise they're headed to the dump."
Well, I wasn't looking for sheet music, but I was looking for was collage papers I could paint, cut, and make something from. I decided to give it a try.
Don't let a lack of supplies hold you back. Dig a little deeper and use some of this to make some of that.
p.s. Yes, pine cone is two words ... should have looked that up before I did the lettering. Grrrrrr.