Biography of a Paper Lantern
My extendo-family does an annual reunion at The Outer Banks, NC, and as we packed up the car for the trip, I felt a tug for something creative to occupy my hands and brain. It's a 6 hour drive and I was just itching for something to be busy with. All of my own art supplies being packed away, I raided my mother's well-stocked art room for something- ANYTHING- creative to do with my time.
Mom handed me a couple of swatches of muslin that she'd printed on using Lazertran paper. Assuring me that the pieces were scraps and I could do whatever I wanted with them, she opened up her fabric drawers (sorted by color family, no less) and let me loose. I grabbed pieces of this and pieces of that. Interesting patterns or colors that appealed to my eyes. I had absolutely no idea what I was going to do with all the scraps I chose, so it freed me to choose anything. Knowing I had to keep it contained in the minivan though, I limited myself to only the things I could carry in my hand. A fistful of fabric, a sewing needle and black thread, and a pair of embroidery scissors later, I was climbing into our beach-bound caravan. Still no vision for a masterpiece.
I played with my goodies for over an hour. Folding, scrunching, wadding, stretching, and juxtaposing different colors and patterns. Nothing was coming to me. No lightbulbs lit up. Well, one of the kids asked me for a drink. Someone else got upset because they dropped their book in the crevasse between the van seat and the door. But no artistic epiphanies.
* A friend and I joke each other that art is it's own creature. "I am ART, I don't need you," it seems to say. An artist can't force her art to do anything. It decides what it's going to become. It is the thing that, in the end, calls the shots. As the artist, you just have to start with a concept and then hang on for the ride. (We came up with this "art motto" at 2AM in the midst of a flurrious artistic weekend get together. We were sleep deprived, loopy from ink vapors, and intrigued that our creative visions seemed to be taking a different route from what we'd set out to do. This concept is not gospel- just the rantings of two art-high women in the wee hours of the night.*
So... I was riding to the beach, waiting for these scraps of fabric to tell me what they wanted to become. I finally just began stitching pieces in layers. One scrap of muslin over another piece of polka-dotted cotton. Sandwiching that on top of a larger piece of turquoise. I liked the way the colors and textures harmonized. Without any direction other than visual pleasure, I made 2 or 3 of these "fabric sandwiches."
Mom also let me grab an old chenille glove she had lying around. Upside down, it looked like a guy walking and carrying something in his arms. I stitched his arms together to form a cradle for an object that was TBD. I had no idea what.
The guy is holding a green plaid heart- does it represent the things I hold dearest?
The fabric hasn't told me yet.
The fabric sandwiches, now stuffed with their own scraps to make them puff out a bit, reminded me of Chinese paper lanterns. Aha! The fabric was beginning to tell me what it wanted to do. As I stitched a few more newly identified "paper lanterns," I contemplated. (When I focus on a creative project my synapses seem to fire better. I think of and about things that I normally don't have time to stop and consider.) And here's what I came up with:
I love art. I love literature. I love music and culture. I love to travel. I'm a wife. I'm a mother. I'm not rich in money, talent or time. I'm not highly educated. I know a little bit about a lot, but a lot about very little. I'm in serious need of expanding my horizons. There are so many things I want to do. Both specific projects I have on hold and just a general lingering urge to go, see, do, experience. All these desires in my spirit... they hang like paper lanterns. (You can read my sentiments on this in my very first post, Grasping at a Straw of Creativity.)
"They Hang Like Paper Lanterns"
I had never put imagery to my creative dreams and wanderlust. I just sorta let them be what they were and adopted the menatality that "this is not the season." Which has some truth to it. BUT, I'm feeling so much more at ease now that I have an image in my head rather than just a pithy saying.
Now, I envision each idea and dream that is unfulfilled as a lovely paper lantern above my head. They aren't bearing down on me and hovering accusingly (as in, my third child's baby book that I feel guilty about never finishing and barely even STARTING), but now they provide a soft glow on the activity in my life. The more paper lanterns that hang up there in my "someday" sky, the more romantic and atmospheric their light in my life becomes. The future is full of possibilites, all strung together to softly illuminate the dance in the garden called "Present."
Over time, my main goal with the Paper Lanterns fabric collage became: keep it simple, use supplies I already have, and give it away when I am done. Oh, and GET IT DONE! I didn't want the collage itself to become another "paper lantern." Too ironic. So it became my in-the-car-and-I-need-something-to-do project. I took it on the plane to my church's Women's retreat, I took it on our 8 hour drive to Gatlinburg for T'giving, I sat and watched movies with my husband while I stitched away at it.
The fabric told me it wanted beads on it. So I added beads. It wanted the lantern poles to be on grassy hills. So I used a few strips of VERY old green fabric my mom used for a dress in 1974. Then the art asked for some metallic touches, so I wound some stylized curls of thin copper wire and stitched them on. The art said it wanted something 3-dimensional for the lantern poles. I tried sticks from my yard but they broke. I tried a few other things, but nothing worked well. The fabric and I settled on black denim, cut in spiraling strips then rolled and sewn onto the collage. It provided a little bit of texture but was still flexible enough to move with the rest of the collage. Hopefully the fabric was alright with my compromise.
Beads, black denim and 1970's green flowery hills.
Hey, the ART asked for it, it wasn't my idea!