In Show Your Work! I wrote about a way of working I call “chain smoking”: lighting the beginning of one project up with the end of another.
“We work because it’s a chain reaction,” Charles Eames said.
Each piece leads to the next.
One thing leads to another.
I wanted to show you four collages I made in sequence to show how my chain smoking actually plays out.
The collage on the above right, “Get Back,” began with the old image of Circleville, my hometown, which was ripped from a box of Wittich’s chocolates my mom brought for Christmas. I made it on New Year’s Eve.
(I don’t usually give my collages titles, but I am in this case, just for clarity.)
This next collage, “Go,” was made in my diary on the page facing “Get Back” a few hours later. It started as scraps of tape I didn’t use in “Get Back, ” then I added the security envelope pattern to match, and found some old onion prints I had made on newsprint that seemed to echo the wheel of Circleville.
I much prefer “Go” to “Get Back” — it’s looser, more visually interesting.
I wasn’t trying too hard.
I made this piece, “10-2-4,” on New Year’s Day, with the label from the box of a 4-pack of Dr. Pepper my son Owen got for Christmas. (10, 2, and 4 are the times of day the Dr. Pepper company research showed that people needed a pick-me-up.) I added even more onion prints from the newsprint I’d pulled out for “Go.”
The afternoon after I made “10-2-4,” I started the piece on the left, “Waves.” What’s interesting is that the beginning of the piece doesn’t actually show up in the finished piece: I had started with Sinclair Lewis’s head from the NYTimes Book Review, and thought it’d be cool to have the onion prints exploding out of his head:
I didn’t think this was very interesting at all, but I liked the way the waves looked — they reminded me of Hokusai — so I simply covered up the head:
I should note that almost none of this was planned out, and I wasn’t conscious of this chain when it was happening. When I make these pieces, I’m in a flow zone, working with mostly just instinct, moving things around on the page.
What’s remarkable to me is that in each pairing, it was the piece made of “leftovers” that led me to the most interesting place.
That’s the beauty of collage and working with real materials: when you don’t have a plan, when you don’t know where you’re going, you end up somewhere you didn’t anticipate.
It’s real discovery.
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