Imagining Forth!

As both a poet and an artist, I tend to wander back and forth, crossing the invisible line between the two like a drunk on a bicycle.

I give many of my paintings poetic titles and I write poems about art.  I’m not the only one who does this.  One of my favorite books on the practice of writing is titled The Writer on His Own, and much of what’s here applies just as well to my painting.

Take this one, for instance, one of the many short bits of advice from author David Greenhood:

“Our main effort should be to imagine forth, rather than to be always backtracking.  Ruing. Picking up stuff that fell off because we were overloaded or so badly loaded that we couldn’t carry it.”

I like this thought a great deal – for art, for writing, for life.  “Imagining forth” strikes me as just the thing to keep the energy and excitement of the work, any work, going.  And in my head it goes nicely with the great line from one of the songs in A Chorus Line:  “Keep the best of you, do the rest of you.”

As we work in any creative arena, we learn new things all the time – at least we hope to if we’re creative and not robotic.  Our work builds on these new things, and we either figure how to incorporate the old with the new or we drop the old.  We “imagine forth” instead of backtracking.

It’s pretty simple, really.  We start with our ABCs, but once we can read poetry and novels, we don’t backtrack to saying our ABCs every morning.  Art, writing and life are about building, incorporating, imagining forth.

When I got back to my art a few years ago, I did collages.  I’ve liked collages since I first saw those done by Picasso and Braque, so it seemed a good place to start – tissue paper, recycled images, a little paint.  I gradually moved on to more paint and less paper, finally going full tilt with paint.

This week I decided to “imagine forth” about what would happen if I combined the paint with paper but in a new way, so I gave it a try.  At the top of the page are four images of the result from start to finish.  The piece looks nothing like my old collages or my newer paintings either.   And it sure doesn’t look like Picasso or Braque.  It was an experiment.  And every time I try a new experiment, I am a happy fledgling again!

I really want an “Imagine Forth!” tee-shirt now.




A Body for My Body of Work

Since my last post regarding the need for a body of work, I’ve had a conversation with an artist/instructor who gave me some much-needed feedback on what I’ve done so far.  He also introduced me to new materials and techniques.

Before we finished the conversation he let me see pieces of an exercise for one of his classes, not unlike the exercises I remember from art school.  I haven’t done anything like this for a while, but I liked what I was seeing.

A couple of days later, I did my own version of the exercise which meant creating six different papers – four of mine were hand painted or stamped on plain white paper and two were modifications of already printed paper with stamps or pen and ink.  After everything was dry, I got out my paper cutter and cut each piece of paper into a lot of strips and other rectangles in a variety of sizes.

I used a sheet of Bristol board for six 7″x7″ supports.  Bristol board is not really heavy enough, but I was vamping and it was handy. Then I started to play.  The goal was to use at least a small piece of each of the six papers in each of the six collages.  It was rather like doing six jigsaw puzzles, each different.  I was pleased with the results and especially with the cleaner lines than most of what I’ve been doing.

My favorite piece of advice from an instructor at Maine College of Art was:  “Rich and complex, not complicated and confusing.”  I’ve held those words as a measure of my writing over the years and even of life in general.  Now I was applying it again to the art.  But the pieces seemed perhaps too clean, a little sterile and I wanted more richness, more complexity.

I’ve had a wonderful little image of a nude woman sitting on a stack of books, back view, for some time now and I realized she was the right image for these pieces.  A single image on each of the six pieces.

They’re finished now.  I like them and I laugh to think I have a start on my “body of work” with a real body in the picture. Honestly, a writer’s mind never stops…!

A "body of work..." Molly Larson Cook
A “body of work…”
Molly Larson Cook

The Map and the Body

Work in progress.
Work in progress.

I love maps.  One of my uncles was a surveyor and he taught me a lot about them when I was a child, made up map games and generally instilled in me a love of these beautiful and useful tools for finding one’s way.

A couple of weeks ago, I attended a workshop at The Studio Door in San Diego, a wonderful, relatively new gallery/studio/workshop space.  The workshop, titled Art To Market Road Map and led by owner/artist Patric Stillman, was exactly that.

I came away with pages of information and ideas especially helpful to the fledgling that I am.  I keep thinking of the wise words of an artist friend I knew years ago:  “We are all richly gifted with inexperience.”

Believe me, I’m incredibly wealthy when it comes to inexperience!

One of the pieces of information/advice from the workshop that rang a serious bell for me was the notion of developing a body of work.  I’ve done a number of collages over the past couple of years, many that I like a lot, a few that I’ve put into gallery shows elsewhere, most of them stacked against the wall, but a body of work is something different.  Even with all these pieces I realized, alas, that like the old song says, “I ain’t got no body…”

The notion stopped me for several days as I considered how I wanted to approach developing a body of work.  I’m an eclectic thinker and writer and now artist, and I tend to wander hither and yon, experimenting with this, trying out that.  A body of work means at least a semblance of commitment to a subject or form or idea.

After several days I settled on an image I’ve used more than once in my work – that fact alone led me to understand that the image was important to me in ways I had not yet considered.

I was in the middle of another piece that I’m in the process of completing and when I do, I’ll move on to explore the beginnings of my body of work feeling confident that it’s not only possible but the first step in a great adventure.  Ideas are churning all the time.

I’ll still experiment and try new ideas, but the very notion of the body of work has provided a much-needed anchor for all that experimenting.  I don’t feel constrained. I feel freed up.

And I have a good idea where I am on the map.

Now That I Found It, Where Do I Put It?

"Oh no, not again." Molly Larson Cook, 2014
“Oh no, not again.”
Molly Larson Cook, 2014


Working as I do in mixed-media collage, I’m an avid ripper and clipper and scanner – old magazines and books, old photos, images I love and want to use more than once, things I pick up on my walks – most recently a beautifully dried and partially shredded shiny brown palm frond.  I am a keeper of the scraps.

Like others of my ilk, I have boxes filled with bits and pieces, remnants along with books and magazines still intact but with pages ripped out for my arcane purposes.  When I buy used picture books, the sellers often note how beautiful the pictures are.  I hate to break their hearts by telling them I’m going to rip them up for art.

The upshot of all this is that about once a month I decide to organize my collections.  I have boxes and files and little drawers and all manner of places to store my bits, but I never get it right.  “Put all the people in one place,” I tell myself, “and all the plant material in another,” but as soon as I begin, I know I’m in trouble.  So I regroup and decide to sort by color.  This leads me nowhere as well.

The problem for me is that my mind and creative spirit don’t put the pieces together this way.  Other collage artists may be more organized or know exactly where they’re going, but I’m not there.  My eclectic mind wants to have fun with the work and I don’t know when I begin what I might want to put with what.  I work slowly and add images and color a little at a time.

Case in point:  I have a small collage in the works. I prepped the background in a new way to get some color combinations I haven’t tried before, rather quiet combinations, then I added the tissue scraps I use, a scrap of a dress pattern and then a bird I’d had in mind for this piece.  All in all a pleasant little piece, but I’m not about pleasant little pieces and something was missing in the upper left space.

While going through one of my boxes, I found just the thing and have now added a smallish image of a happy accordian player behind a row of red geraniums. I had no idea he’d show up here, but he’s quite perfect and it makes me laugh to see this guy with the lovely bird.

I realize once again that I can continue to buy boxes and drawers for all my treasures, but my collection will still be stored in my quirky random way because I never know what’s going to inspire what.  Or make me laugh.

My world has never been perfectly organized like some cosmic underwear drawer.  My boxes of treasures are, in my old professor’s words,  rich and complex to me, not complicated or confusing.  And that’s good enough for this fledgling.


The Riches of the City

It is only fitting
“It is only fitting…”

I can’t say I wasn’t warned.  Friends from many places told me I was going to find a spiritual home in San Diego – a home for my creative spirit – and sure enough I have.

When I look through the local newspapers, my one lament is “so much to do, so little time.”  Of course, I’m not a participant in all those activities.  I don’t play an instrument or sing (except in the car, alone), I’m not a dancer (except late at night in my living room, alone), and I’m no longer on any stage (except the private theatre of my mind, alone).  But I’m a writer and a fledgling artist.

These days I lean toward gallery openings and art classes and conversations with working artists whenever possible.  To my great pleasure, this is indeed a city of riches.  To paraphrase Alexandra del Lago in Tennessee Williams’ Sweet Bird of Youth, I’m not old, but I’m no longer young, “not young, young” anymore.  So the pressure is on to work at the visual art as much as possible, and there are so many ways to do that here.

I’m exploring all possible avenues and finding much encouragement in the city in which I now find myself.  Add to that my own late-hour willingness to explore and experiment, my new-found willingness to make mistakes and hope for “happy accidents,” and my memory of the words of an artist friend from many years ago:  “We are all richly gifted with inexperience.”

I remember those words every day, including the days when nothing goes right, but then again, nothing goes really wrong.  Learning to be a collage/mixed media artist is much bigger than simply putting pieces together.  I’m learning a whole new philosophy of life.

For a collage artist, every misbegotten scrap of paper or picture or tiny leaf or bit of detritus can be used to make something new – with luck something beautiful.  If that isn’t a life lesson, I don’t know what is.





“But What Does It Mean?”

'You can run but you can't hide."
“You can run but you can’t hide.”                Molly Larson Cook

This past week I was subjected to the question many of us hope never to hear about our work:  “But what does it mean?”

My collage work is generally abstract.  I’ve been doing more painting and less pasting recently and the more I do this, the more abstract things become.  But even when I’m using images in the work – cut, pasted, pasted over, pieces of this and that – the work never approaches realism.  In fact, I look at the collages the way I look at dreams – recognizable objects, people, words, places – juxtaposed in odd and unexpected ways.

They’re like the dream about your grandmother when her kitchen table turns into a swimming pool and your granny is really Esther Williams who swims away while your car gets stuck on a mountain of ice and the telephones don’t work no matter how hard you try to talk to the Dean of your college.  Like that.

So I was reluctant to take on the question, but when I did I learned some things about my work that I had not known before.  It was a little like E.M. Forster’s line:  “How do I know what I think ’til I see what I say.”  I don’t know that my work is “about” anything.  Maybe this is because I’m still a fledgling artist or maybe it’s because I like what Sam Goldwyn said about motion pictures that wanted to be more than motion pictures:

“If you want to send a message, call Western Union.”

So far, that works great for me.

Ruts Are for Wagon Wheels

"An exuberant city" Molly Larson Cook
“An exuberant city”
copyright 2014, Molly Larson Cook

I realized the other day that I’ve been working on my mixed media collages for a couple of years now and that I’m in a rut.  Or was in a rut.  I climbed out of it today.

When I started the collages after years away from doing art, I took the safe way, and I think that’s a fine way to begin.  I didn’t want to spend good money on supplies that might or might not lead me anywhere. I dug into my boxes of pastels and small tubes of paint and watercolors and charcoal sticks I’d carried around for longer than I want to admit.

I don’t regret carrying all that “art freight” through one move or another because it was the realization that of all the things I’d paid to have shipped from place to place, the art freight always came with me. I figured it meant a lot to me.  And I was right.

But just as I wanted to economize on supplies, I economized on supports.  Collage is a great way to reuse all kinds of things, and it’s conducive to all kinds of supports, but I’ve reached a time when cutting up and covering pieces of old cardboard boxes is just not as charming or rewarding as it once was.

It’s time to pull on my big girl paint-covered sweatshirt and go long.  Today, I visited the art supply store and brought home a beautiful gallery wrapped heavy duty canvas, 18 x 24. Canvas costs way lots more than old cardboard boxes. I’m not ready to use it yet, but that white surface reminds me of things to come and inspires me to be brave.  I do know buying it ready-made from the art store separates me from the harder working real artists who build their frames and buy the canvas and stretch it themselves.  I’ll get there.

Artists will tell you that the blank canvas is as daunting as the blank page to a writer.  They’ll also tell you to just begin.  Put a mark on it – or a word on the page – and something will happen.

This week, I just want to look at the lovely white canvas. Next week I’ll be ready to make a mark.  I can’t wait to see what happens.