The art professor asks, “why did you pick these materials?” and your response is, “these are the materials I had.”
If you have ever said this to your professor, you have committed the first Cardinal Sin in art school. This unforgivable laps in judgement happened to me often in my early art school days, but I soon learned to hear the response only in my head while my mouth wove a very different tale about the intent and meaning that these materials bring to whatever piece I happened to be making. Did they buy it? Most of the time, probably not. Did I buy it? No.
Now to be fair, this question was almost never raised unless the outcome of whatever project I was working on happened to fail miserably. And so, I found the loop-hole in the system; I could use whatever materials I wanted (i.e. materials that were cheep, free, or lying around) as long as I made them work in my favor. Hmm… now I was getting somewhere.
My very first project in my very first design class was called a transformation project. In a nutshell, each week we had to make something using 12 (or a multiple of 12) of something to create something else, transforming it in such a way as to make it either extremely interesting or completely unrecognizable (or both). The object that I chose to transform was a humble paper bag and for my first project from this series I made a teddy bear. Though I had never really had any particular interest in sewing up until that point (I had gone into art school loving to paint), I somehow ended up making this bear using nothing more than the travel sewing kit my mom packed in my college dorm supplies*. To my relief the teacher loved it. I had discovered Fiber and a whole other side of craft that I never knew existed.
Though this first project was a success, I had many, many more failures in turning humble materials into artistic and academic gold, but that didn’t stop me from trying.
Now, nearly eleven years removed from my first day of art school, I am reminded of this “Cardinal Sin” because of what I find myself doing on a daily basis; I make things out of the materials that I have. If I don’t have it, I don’t make it. Period. It’s kind of worked into my newly found business model of using primarily recycled/repurposed/reused materials. To me, it’s a challenge of having a material and then finding a new use for it. It’s exciting. It’s fun. It’s me.
I’ve recently realized that I’m an adult now and I live in that place that adults used to talk about incessantly while I was in college called “the real world.” And, in the real world, one does not need to follow the rules of the “art world.” That said, I very much enjoyed my time in art school and I really did learn a lot from my professors. Namely, I learned about construction, craftsmanship, and intent and how these elements are important to think about when creating something.
My intent is to use materials in such a way as to give them new life. In the most basic and conventional sense I am making these objects useful again, but really I’m trying to take this work to the next step and move beyond recycling or upcycling. What this means, I’m not really sure. (Transforming maybe?)
Throughout this post are photos of some projects that I’ve been working on recently. There’s origami gift boxes made from junk mail, old calendars, and magazines. There’s earrings made from recycled buttons (yes, every one). There’s greeting cards with funny sayings made from cereal boxes. These objects are where I am right now in my quest to figure out where I’m going. To see them (or better yet, buy them!) and me in person, I invite you to come out to the Rowdy Indie Craft Fair this Sunday. I’d love to chat with you!
*If you look closely at the bears eyes you can see that they are buttons, but since my cheep sewing kit didn’t include black buttons I just painted them.