This week in the studio: how many balls can one gal juggle and not completely lose her head? 
Today I’m gearing up for a week of papermaking at Longwood University. I’m not due there until February 5, but I’ve already started the seemingly endless task of cutting jeans and shirts into tiny squares. Time always seems to be flying these days, but since I’m teaching at Penland starting March 8, I’m certain the faster it approaches, the faster time will move. It’ll be like the Venturi effect in that way, and I’ll be hurtling through calendar pages and lying awake at night wondering how I ever thought all of this was possible.
But for now, I’m trying to slow the days down, and cutting ugly shirts into tiny pieces is remarkably effective.  
On Friday I’m headed to the Morris Museum down in Augusta, where I’m giving a presentation on “Books as Art Objects.” Then I’m off for an informal writing retreat with my writing buddy Katie, where we will get together a master plan for finishing our novels and getting them to agents and/or publishers (or more accurately, Katie will be sharing with me how her strategies are working and remind me I need to get my hindquarters in gear). Then it’s on to Longwood where I’ll do some demos and a couple of classes for students, and make a pile of paper for a project that has to be submitted to a show in Atlanta before I embark on the Penland Adventure in March. 
So this is me trying to get my ducks in a row. Have I mentioned how stubborn my ducks are? They don’t really like being herded. 

daily drawing practice


The Daily Drawing challenge continues, but I admit I’ve fallen off the wagon a few days. I spent last week making demo books and handouts (beautiful, detailed handouts!) for a workshop that was cancelled at the last minute, and attempted to draw a little now and then, in the midst of binding books. So I have amended my challenge to this: I will make something every day. Sometimes it will be a drawing, sometimes it will be a book. Maybe a print. Sometimes it will be a pie. (Just kidding about the pie, although that sounds like an excellent compromise, and technically, delicious pie is an art unto itself.) 

So can I plan a workshop, finish a novel, plan a new body of work, and make paper for said body of work all before March 8?  

Ugh. In the spirit of “one day at a time,” I’m concentrating on making paper today. The good news is that I dug out a laundry basket full of shirts and jeans that are perfect for transforming into luxe sheets of paper. The bad news is that each item has to be cut into tiny 1.5″ squares that will be chucked into a massive paper beater come February. Luckily I remembered the rotary cutter and cutting mat, which made life phenomenally easier. Gone are the days of cutting up old clothes with scissors! This method will change your life, paper makers. If you recycle your clothes the way I do, you need one of these ASAP. 

behold! the magic wand of pulping

behold! the magic wand of pulping

So where do the tiny squares lead? The upcoming show in Atlanta is called “Paper Narratives.” I’ll be making a series of prints and tunnel books that explore how landscape is entwined with who we are, and thinking of why place is so important to who we are. I’ll be incorporating drawings and photos that I made while working in the national park last year, and I’ll be exploring certain patterns in landscape and vanishing species. The paper for this project will be made from my old clothing, which I have worn in various parts of the country in various times in my life–it seemed logical to pulp my own clothes, since in some ways they record landscape and experience the same way scars are recorded on our skin. The paper will dictate where this project goes from there–whether I’ll draw or print (or maybe even do pulp-painting) is TBD at this point. Sometimes it’s more fun not to plan the whole project from start to finish, but to let one step inform the next, and allow some space for creative inspiration. I’ve had some lucky accidents this way that completely changed the direction of a project, so I’m interested to see where this goes.  Hopefully it’ll lead to a nice variety of paper, like so: 

The papers pictured at left were made from cotton, abaca, and kozo. Some were pigmented green to create a family of colors to be used in Migration: A Field Guide to Love That Was and Might Have Been This time, I’ll be relying solely on clothes to make paper. There are a few wild shirts in my wardrobe that I’m confident even Goodwill and the like would give right back to me, and since different blends behave differently when they’re pulped, there’s really no telling what some of those fibers will do. Rayon, it turns out, can sometimes leave rogue fibers in the pulp that look a lot like silk inclusions. As a general rule, I find it best to use natural fibers (beware of what you put in that expensive beater), but the occasional shirt that is 5% spandex or 10% rayon can leave some interesting surprises. And surprises are part of the fun, right? I must say, it was quite enjoyable to shred some of these clothes, like shedding parts of my life I’d prefer to forget. And of course, it’s a great way to clean out the closets (art leads to tidiness!). But I had to draw the line at my old Pearl Jam concert tee shirt. Obviously. There’s no need for sacrilege.  

So this new body of work will be similar in nature to a previous project called Indigenous. 

 Indigenous is an exploration of the recurring patterns of natural forms that are rooted in my own memories. I’ve lived in a variety of climates in the last decade–sometimes feeling right at home, sometimes feeling like I didn’t belong at all. I’d always loved to travel, and never felt a homesickness for landscape until I left the South and moved to Iowa. Often, the things that provided the most comfort were familiar plants and wildlife that I could locate in the unfamiliar landscape. Something as simple as hearing a whip-poor-whill would remind me that not everything was alien after all: if a bird could thrive in two vastly different climates, then so could I. The two years I spent in Iowa showed me how connected I have become to landscape, how it is tied with memory and family. On its own, each piece provides a snapshot of place; when viewed together, the patterns emerge. The cell-like shapes allude to the depth of these patterns, these ties to nature that feel so strong. People often speak of certain behaviors being “ingrained in them” or “in their DNA”; we talk about muscle memory and feelings that seem like a reflex we can’t quite explain. This series explores those connections between ourselves, our memories, and the habitat we call home. The Paper Narratives project will explore similar themes. I’ll post updates of the project here, but in the meantime, I could use some thoughts from you, folks. Tell me in the comments–how do you feel that landscape or geography has shaped who you are? What are the things about a place that you most cherish or miss?