Inspiration comes in many forms and can strike at any time. For me it came from a series of handmade dolls, one made every day for a year. Yes, 365 dolls, most with a written observation or poem. This was an art project my friend Amy Egenberger created. At the end of the year, Amy’s beautiful project was featured at Homewood Studios, Minneapolis. (https://spiritout.com/365blog/exhibits) Amy’s show was amazing. I loved the audacious concept, the wide variety of dolls, the simplicity of the idea and the fact that she made something creative every day for a year.
Skip forward several years. This idea of a one-year project creating something every day stayed in the back of my mind for some time. Every time I stumbled across it, I felt the same curiosity. How did she create a new piece, a little doll, every day? I was about to find out because I set myself a similar task: Make one little (3” x 5” index card) collage every day for a year.
March 24, 2022: The first little collage, a gathering of cats, is completed. My experience at collage making was slim. Each year for seven years I have met with like-minded women at the end of the year to set my Intentions for the coming year. This workshop, led by my friend Amy Egenberger (see more information about Amy below), includes the creation of a collage around a word you select that embodies your personal and/or artistic intentions for the coming year. (My word for 2023 is “Flow.”) Seven collages, you might say, is a nice number. But what did I really know about making them?
Not very much. In fact you might call this endeavor a “learn as you go” project because each day I made a tiny collage, I adhered to the only rule I knew: It needs to please me. Sometimes I grabbed a magazine and searched for images and words that grabbed my attention. Sometimes I selected from a growing collection of images and words. Some days I chose a word first and then picked images. Occasionally I found pictures and colors and patterns I liked first. Whichever way the process happened, I adhered to my one steady rule: As long as it pleases me, it's good.
While searching for instructions for collage-making, I found lots of YouTube videos about other projects that used random scraps of paper. These are called Junk Journals or Glue Books or Art Journals. From these I learned that a successful collage needs a focal point. My creations could not be said to have such a thing most of the time. So I persisted.
All of this research has been so satisfying. Plus there’s the added pleasure of finding creative ways to recycle and reuse stuff that previously might have been thrown away. I can no longer look at an empty cereal box, for instance, and not think about how to use those big pieces of cardboard for a journal cover, or a Master Board, or a little treasure box, or . . . you get my point.
I should add here that, unlike Amy, I didn’t strictly stick to the rule of one collage every day. Early into the project I realized there would be days when I wouldn’t be able to make something. For instance, when we were traveling to the East Coast and moving every day, I gave myself permission to tape two (or three, sometimes as many as 5) cards together, one for each missed day, and then make a larger collage. My reasoning? Since I’m making the rules, I can make this one of them. An unexpected bonus was how the slightly bigger space allowed for different approaches and the use of larger images.
March 24, 2023: I completed the final collage for the year. I have LOVED making these little collages! Now I am asking myself what I have learned during this year of collages. Why has it been so pleasurable? One thought I have is how small a composition each collage is. Small could be complete. Done. Move on to a new one tomorrow. This is not what writing is like, and I liked this simplicity so very much.
As time passed, I also learned that the first layout of pictures and images changed their impact when they were shifted around. This sounds obvious, but it surprised me. Sometimes I made half a dozen versions of one collage before gluing everything down. Even though I know that changing your point of view or looking at something from a different perspective is useful, this hands-on, literal moving of images around viscerally brought that lesson home to me.
Another lesson from this project grew over time. Because my rule was to create something that pleased me, which is rather vague, anything was OK as long as I liked it. No critic sat on my shoulder, no agent said my work didn’t fit their needs, no grammar had to be checked, no spelling—all I needed were magazine pictures and words to fit in a way that made me happy. And, I should add, it didn’t take much to please me. Success and happiness came from each endeavor, no matter how small.
As I reviewed the year’s collages, I expected the earlier ones to be less polished and probably less pleasing. But honestly, I love as many of the early ones as I do the later ones. Not every collage pleases in the same way, of course. This, too, has been a learning experience. It freed me to try something different if I wished. For instance, the first time I cut a picture I loved in half and placed the two halves in different parts of the collage, my heart stopped. You can’t destroy that image! But I did, and the results were wonderful. Maybe the best part was allowing myself to break the rules and still feel successful.
What else did I learn from this experience? When I started this project on that March day over a year ago, I felt lost, out of my depth, unconvinced that (a) I could make collages at all, and (b) I could sustain the effort for a week, let along a year. That day I could not have guessed that pulling together random images and words would satisfy something deep inside of me. All my life I have wanted to be an artist, but I simply don’t have the skills. Making a collage, however, uses found images, i.e. others’ work. All I need to provide for creating something are scissors, index cards, tape, glue, a pen or pencil, old magazines, and trust that I can create something new from randomly selected items.
To summarize, the lessons from this year-long project have been multiple, unexpected, challenging to my sense of “the way things are supposed to look,” and lots of fun. And the cost was minimal. My friends, even a stranger at a garage sale one day last summer, have been so generous giving me their used magazines and calendars and catalogs. School glue isn’t too expensive, (plus the first purple looks so great) and Dollar Tree has great supplies for only $1.25!
Each collage was an individual and complete statement. Every day was a fresh start. Every one I completed was a success.
I love these collages, and I hope you will enjoy them as well. Here are a few from this last year. Leave a comment and let me know what you think!
*Amy Egenberger is offering a great class this spring using Elizabeth Gilbert’s BIG MAGIC. For more information see https://spiritout.com/classes-and-coaching#group_classes