Musings on Van Gogh

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I am seeking, I am stirring, I am in it with all my heart.

– Vincent Van Gogh

Starry Night by Vincent Van Gogh

One day I hope to see “Starry Night” in person rather than on a computer screen or in an art book.  It’s my favorite of Van Gogh’s works as there is something dreamlike and magical about his view of the night sky.   I’ve been fortunate to see some of his other works in a few museums throughout my travels, but “Starry Night” remains on my bucket list.

The National Gallery in London has a beautiful collection of Van Gogh paintings and I make it a point to visit them whenever I wander into Trafalgar Square.  The first time I saw “Sunflowers” in person, I literally forgot how to breathe. I’d seen postcards and images in books, but nothing compares to personally witnessing the broad brushstrokes that define his unique style.  The paint jumps up from the canvas and gives even the most ordinary objects incredible flare.   I’ve spent hours staring at his paintings as they evoke powerful emotions and inspire fascinating trains of thought.

Van Gogh lead an interesting life filled with bouts of illness and insanity, but no one can deny he lived with passion.  Something beautiful lived inside of him and it came out of his paintbrush, with purpose and chaos. Perhaps it was his way of sorting out the mess in his head, where everything splintered between reality and imagination.  Somehow the two sides of him collide in erratic mosaics in bold colors.  Each stroke is a mad dash that makes no sense, but when it connects to the rest, a cascade of wonder fills the canvas.

Call it insanity, creativity, passion, or art, Van Gogh showed the world what it means to live out loud and in color.  We may sometimes be broken, weak, and fractured, but we are beautiful when all the pieces come together.  Van Gogh chose to seek when nothing made sense. He stirred when everyone told him to stay still.  He was in it with all his heart, even when it hurt.  We should all be so bold.

Van Gogh's "Wheat Field With Cypresses" re-imagined with live greenery. National Gallery, London, June 2011, c.b.w.

I’ve posted this image before, but its still one of the more interesting things I saw in London last summer.  Outside the National Gallery, a wall of live greenery created a garden representation of “Wheat Field With Cypresses.” It’s fun to compare it to the actual painting:

Wheat Field With Cypresses by Vincent Van Gogh

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c.b. 2012

Thinking of Wallace

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The truth will set you free.  But not until it is finished with you.

– David Foster Wallace

As I sat with my cup of coffee this morning, this quote popped into my mind and hasn’t left since.  I suppose there is a reason for it, (my muse is behind it most likely), but for the moment I’m just going to enjoy the wisdom of Wallace’s words.

And then I’m going to laugh . . .

I do things like get in a taxi and say, “The library, and step on it.”

– David Foster Wallace

Perhaps Wallace is lingering in my mind because of a prompt in my writer’s group this week.  If you could meet someone who was dead, who it would be and why?  I immediately thought of Wallace, as I always wish he was still around dispensing his humor and wisdom.  I’d love to shake his hand and ask him about the ending of The Pale King. 

Who would you want to meet?

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c.b. 2012

Project Art Journal: Page 2

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After my flaming experience with Wreck This Journal, (See Ignite the Spark), I thought my days of playing with fire were over, but I was wrong.  It turns out a match is a fantastic craft tool for an art journal!  This week’s page utilizes a number of techniques, including singed edges and a little paper stitching.  I have to say this is one of my favorite pages!

Click for full-size image

Supplies:

  • card stock
  • pages from old travel books
  • crafter’s chalk (my favorite is Craf-T Decorating Chalk)
  • mini brads
  • rubber stamps (words or alphabet)
  • black ink pad
  • jewelry tube or bottle
  • metallic thread
  • match or lighter
  • marker
  • paper piercer
  • cross stitch needle
  • matte finish sealer (aerosol spray)
  • double-stick tape
  • Glue Dots

Layer 1: Foundation

Cut a piece of brown card stock into a square slightly smaller than the paper bag journal page.  Set it aside.

Layer 2: Background

The background for this page is created by using three pages from an old travel book.  I used pages from a 1999 tour book for Ireland.  Libraries and use book stores often have these obsolete editions for a bargain price (mine was $1).  The way I see it, the book may out of its intended use, but it still has a purpose in the craft world.

Use a foam applicator to smear chalk over each of the three travel book pages.  To create a textured look, vary the pressure used to spread the chalk.  Choose a color that has at least three shades in the palette.  I used three shades of brown that compliment each other and the card stock foundation.  Tip: Foam eye shadow applicators work really well with crafter’s chalk.  They are larger than the applicators that typically come in a set of chalk and they are inexpensive.

To seal the chalk, use a matte finish spray sealer, (an easy thing to find in the art section of most craft stores). Spray from at least 6 inches if not further to prevent moisture spots.

Once the pages are dry to the touch, grab a match or a lighter.  Very carefully, burn one edge on each page.  It only takes a few seconds so be ready to blow out the fire before it eats up the whole page.  Tip: Complete this step over the kitchen sink for quick access to water in case something goes wrong.

Use double stick tape to layer the pages one on top of the other, leaving about an inch and a half to two inches of space between each layer.  Be sure to arrange the layers so they will fit the width of Layer 1’s card stock square. Measure and cut the layers to a size that is a little smaller than the card stock square.  Attach Layer 2 to Layer 1.

Layer 3: Spiral Stitch

I used a stencil to create the spiral on this page, but it’s just as easy to free hand a design.  With a paper piercer poke a series of holes along the design as evenly as possible.  Eyeball the spacing between the holes to the size of a basic stitch.

Thread a cross stitch needle (with a thin eye) with metallic thread.  Push the needle up through the first hole and then down through the second, up through the third hold and back down into the second, then back up through the fourth.  Repeat this pattern for the whole design and tape the ends down on the back.  It takes a little time, but the result is worth the work. Tip:  Paper stitching is a lot like back stitching in cross stitch.

Choose a quote to incorporate into the spiral design and pencil it in before using a marker.

Layer 4: Embellishments

Pull another page out of an old travel book and chalk it up with a new shade.  Slice a strip off the page and cut it to fit the size of Layer 1.  Use rubber stamps to add words or phrases to the strip. Stick the strip down using double stick tape.

With a paper piercer poke holes along the strip and add mini brads.

The little tube along the right hand side is something I picked up in the jewelry/bead aisle at my local craft store.  Cut another strip from the last travel book page and stamp a new word or phrase. Roll it up and slide it into the tube, so the word is visible.  Secure the ends of the tube with small glue dots.

Attach the tube by tying metallic thread to the end loops, (leave long tails).  Lay the tube on the page and pierce holes through all layers at each end of the tube.  The thread should go right into the hole easily, but the cross stitch needle can also be used to pull the thread through.  Tape the ends down on the back.

Attach the whole thing to the paper bag journal page, using double stick tape along the edges and over any thread tails to keep them firmly in place.

Whew!  Sit back and enjoy your beautiful page.

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Next time, it’s all about collage and hardware.  Stay inspired!

c.b. 2011

Project Art Journal: Page 1

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Project Art Journal is all about creating  a representation of my passion for traveling.  The world is a beautiful place with so much to discover, which meant the pages I created had to be just as eclectic. Page one is very simple at first glance, but there are a number of little surprises hiding in every corner.

Click for full-size image

Supplies:

  • Card stock
  • printed paper
  • postage stamps or general ephemera
  • rubber stamps
  • ink pad
  • gesso
  • acrylic paint
  • foam brush
  • decorative string
  • marker
  • double-stick tape

Just like the cover, page designs are completed in a series of layers.  Like any work of art, each layer builds on another until you get a finished piece.

Layer 1: Card stock foundation

I like to create a thin frame around each page to set off the artwork, but also to serve as a foundation.  Start by cutting a square out of black card stock that’s a hair smaller than the journal page.  This is the base that will be used to support subsequent layers.  Don’t attach it to the journal just yet!

Layer 2: Background

To create the green background,  cut a square out white card stock that is slightly smaller than the black.  Using a foam brush, cover the square with gesso using broad, sweeping strokes.  Go in all different directions to create a strong texture.  Wait a few minutes for the gesso to dry.

Dab a clean foam brush into the acrylic paint and slather it over the gesso with broad strokes.  The color should settle into the gesso texture in a cool way.  If it’s too thick, add a tiny bit of water to the paint.  When the square is covered, set it aside to dry.

Once the paint is dry, it’s time to stamp some text into the background.  My journal is dedicated to travel quotations, so I used a stamp with the same theme, but any text will do.  To make it interesting, try stamping the design in various directions.  Tip: Avoid pigment ink as it sometimes doesn’t dry completely when used on acrylic paint or gesso.

Layer 3: Quote Square

Cut a smaller square or rectangle out of card stock or printed paper.  I chose something that had minimal design so there would be room to write the quotation.  The quotation I used on this page is one I’ve always loved.  I’ve written about what it means to me in The Art of Wandering.  Tip: Map out the location of the words and lines in pencil before whipping out that marker!

To give the space a little more ooomph, I stamped a compass with the same ink I used in Layer 2. A vellum sticker would probably work just as well.

If the ink is dry on Layer 2, attach the quote square using double-stick tape.  Then attach the whole piece to Layer 1, (the black square).

Layer 4: Embellishments

At this point, it’s all about adding flare and filling in the bald spots. Stickers, stamped squares you create, or any other piece of ephemera will work for this process.   I used a combination of postage stamps and stamped paper.  The woman’s face is a stamp that I inked and cut out for dramatic effect.

So, pick out some fun pieces and start playing!  This is my favorite part of the process because its so much fun to experiment with different shapes and placements. Once you figure out where everything should go, a little double-stick tape is all you need!

Lastly, I added some sparkle with a fancy piece of string I found in my embellishment box.  If you use string, be careful not to pull it to tightly.  Instead of tying, tape the ends to the back.

When Layer 4 is complete, its time to adhere the whole piece to the journal.  Use long strips of double-stick tape along the edges on the back.  I even throw in a few diagonal strips in the middle for good measure.  Stick it down to the paper bag page and press all corners and edges with your fingers.

Now, sit back and admire your work!

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Next week there will be chalk, fire, and gold thread.  Until then, stay inspired!

c.b. 2011

The Art of Wandering

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Recently, someone asked me what I was planning to do during a visit London this summer.  I laughed and said, “Plan?  There is no plan!  I’m going to wander.”  The woman looked at me like she wanted to commit me to a mental institution.  It’s not the first time I’ve been on the receiving end of a “you’re nuts” look, (and it won’t be the last).  I wander a lot.  Just about everything I do involves at least a little detour off the well-trod path.  If that makes me weird, then so be it.

Wandering doesn’t mean there’s a lack of focus.  It’s a form of learning that inspires creativity in multiple realms.  This is no secret as countless individuals from Da Vinci to Edison have proven it over and over again.  They had the ability to see the world without limitation and we laude them for it to this day.  Yet, there remains a stigma over the art of wandering.   It’s considered eccentric.  Or crazy.

One writer in particular touted the virtues of wandering and I often look to him as a reminder that life is much too big for a narrow view.  Johann Wolfgang von Goethe was unquestionably a pretty serious and intelligent guy as he dabbled in various fields of study from politics, the law, science, art, and literature. He even played with the study of color.  Some would call him indecisive, but Goethe was simply wandering.  He had the will to be curious of more than one calling and he gave himself the freedom to explore.   In four small lines, he offers inspiration to do the same:

Keep not standing,
fixed and rooted
Briskly venture,
briskly roam.

Funny how no one ever wanted to put him in the nut house.

Sometimes it feels like the whole point of life is to get lost just so I can find my way back.  Wandering is essentially curiosity without boundaries – there’s no endpoint or timeframe.  It’s just the moment and me having an intimate conversation.  Whether it be down the streets of an unfamiliar city, between the pages of a random book by an unknown author, or among the words of a story I’m writing there is always something to discover.  That something would be bypassed if I only followed the perfectly drawn lines of a plan.  There is magic out there, but it purposely hides in the most unexpected places.  And it can only be found through the act of wandering.

Perhaps it is easier to travel with a roadmap, but where is the spirit of living when every step is carefully choreographed?  Failure to wander is the same as standing still.  The scenery never changes and new possibilities die before they can live.   Given the choice to wander or stagnate, I’m with Goethe.

c.b. 2011