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The Number One Reason to Pass on Your Unused Art Supplies

May 30, 2009

Sears1

Above: Collage buttons ©2009 Rachel Nusbaum. Rachel used my old Sears Catalog for portions of these buttons. Click on the image for an enlargement. Read on for information on where to buy these buttons.

For many years I’ve taught bookbinding and journaling classes. We always make a book of some sort that is suited to the type of creative work we’ll be doing in the book. For awhile a lot of those classes involved mixed media and collage techniques. While I still teach such classes I find that rather than bringing the collage materials to the class for the students I prefer to encourage students to collect their own collage items. I still bring decorative papers and odds and ends, as well as threads and notions, but I’ve phased out other materials.

In my own collage work I’ll use 19th century illustrations and early 20th century print materials, so I don’t have a prejudice against such items and their place in visual journaling. What I noticed, however, with my students is that when given such materials they tended to focus on the materials rather than on the content of what they wanted to say visually.

My goal in teaching journaling is always to help the student bring out what is personal and authentic to his life, while at the same time teaching a variety of methods and materials that can help students achieve a personal vision that generates individual satisfaction. The same three people, given the same collage items can tweak things in such a way that the results aren’t even similar. I love seeing students create unique pieces from similar bits of collage material. But when I have the students bring their own collage materials they all have immediate access to their own color palette, imagery, and visual style. They aren’t hampered by my interests in collecting ephemera which speaks to my sense of style or imagery. I want to encourage students to find and explore a visual vocabulary that holds meaning for them.

My move away from supplying these items has proved more satisfying to the students (based on their comments) and to me as a teacher and mentor.

It has left me, however, with lots of materials that have been sitting in boxes. I have a lifetime supply of images that mean something to me. I’ve been collecting them. Now that I no longer bring the surplus materials to class they have been taking up space in my very limited storage areas.

I hate to see this. I hate to see unused art materials. In a recent bout of clearing out I gave a bunch of old printed magazines and an ancient Sears Catalog to my favorite emerging artist Rachel Nusbaum. Then the other day I received an email from Rachel with images of the current button series she is working on. There were those familiar faces from the catalog all married by her wit and intellect to phrases she’d cut out from the catalog. The buttons are fun, sharp, and eye catching. Equally important Rachel is using materials that were dormant. (And using them up at a delicious pace.)

If you have neglected materials in your storage area, take a moment this weekend to pass them on to your favorite emerging artist. You’ll have more clear space for storage, and more clear space for your own thoughts to develop (clutter and unused materials pull our energy just by their very presence). And you’ll be giving raw materials a new life in the creative hands of another artist.

When you do this, be aware that the moment you do, chances are a project idea will come to you that could have incorporated those materials. (Every time I clear out the studio and get rid of something I haven’t used for 5 years it seems the next day someone calls and asks for something related to that item!) Don’t worry. I think this is the universe checking to see if we really have decided to give up oil paints and focus on watercolors as we have told ourselves over and over for weeks. It’s one last test.

If you find you suddenly “need” that stuff, here’s what you do: you use your creative mind to think up an alternate way to get the new art project done! That’s the beauty of this system. You are also forcing yourself to think in new ways. Chances are if you had left those materials in your storage they would have languished there for another 2 or 3 or more years. That’s sad. Let them move on, and let yourself move on. You will be pleasantly surprised with what your brain comes up with to work on now that there is new space.

And you will be very thrilled and excited to see what the other artist did with those materials when she incorporates them into her projects! It’s as if the oxygen content of the air suddenly increased, or  you remembered to take your vitamins. The benefits back to you are enormous!

Note: If you love Rachel’s buttons as much as I do you should know that you will be able to buy then at the Grand Hand Gallery, in St. Paul, shortly. (Other button series by Rachel have been on sale there for quite some time already.)

    • Miki Willa
    • May 30, 2009
    Reply

    Oh, for a friend like you. I have recently begun exploring collage after many years of pastel painting. It has been a challenge to gather materials for this new endeavor on a very limited budget. Your emerging artist friend is very lucky to have you in their life. Your generosity is most extraordinary.

    • bill burrell
    • May 30, 2009
    Reply

    Love the idea of moving it along, material things that is. A great fear comes from watching friends (artists and others) owned by their possessions, as they age. I fear that I could be overtaken by the need for ownership of things. In “A Thread of Grace,” Mary Doria Russell describes the attitude of Italian nuns during WWII. They took in Jewish children to hide them from the Nazis. Their attitude was that material things were given “for their use.” When they were through with them, or no longer really needed them, they were given back, to pass on to others. I like that. I take great comfort in giving my art books to the library, where I can check them out, and passing unused supplies to students. Sometimes it is harder to find individuals to give things to. When stuff I have remains unused for too long I begin to look at it with an eye toward “moving it along.”
    cheers, bill b.

    • Roz
    • May 30, 2009
    Reply

    Miki, I don’t really think my generosity is extraordinary. I think I’m fortunate to be surrounded in my life with people who pass things along and so it’s a habit with me. Start a group of artist friends and create a culture of passing along things that aren’t needed or wanted. It’s totally creatable (probably not a word).

    And as for collage, you can do it with anything. One of the participants in the Minneota Journal Project 2000 did her entire journal with collected bits of trash made into daily collages!!!

    Let people at your work know that you are collaging and ask them to save things for your like mail order catalogs and magazines and newspapers. You’ll have a ton of stuff in no time!

    • Roz
    • May 30, 2009
    Reply

    You Bet Kelly!!! And another thought, there are always grade school teachers who need stuff. They spend their OWN money out of their already ridiculously LOW salaries to give kids things to work with. We can all help out if we give stuff to school teachers!

    • Roz
    • May 30, 2009
    Reply

    Bill, those nuns had the right idea, not held up by scarcity at all, pass stuff along. It’s like blank books, sad and unused, same thing with art supplies. Thanks for bringing up the nuns.

    • mary hanson
    • May 31, 2009
    Reply

    I don’t know a great deal about feng shui but one of the theories is that energy gets “stuck” in clutter. So the back of a closet filled with unused stuff is a great energy vacuum. One of the best ways I know of to get some new energy and creativity flowing is to clear out some of that dusty “stuff”!

    • Roz
    • May 31, 2009
    Reply

    Mary, I totally agree, even if I’m not always current!

    • Jana Bouc
    • June 1, 2009
    Reply

    Being easily influenced by seeing other artists’ explorations with new media, I’m always buying and trying things. I really appreciate good tools and enjoy working with stuff I love. What I buy and try and don’t love I give away. When I decided I didn’t like working in soft pastels (I love the way they look but can’t stand the dust) I gave them to my sister. Two second-grade young artists are the beneficiaries of various journals and colored pencil sets I’ve tried. And when, every couple years, I buy a new little digital camera, I give my old one to my friend Barbara (who says about the last one: “It changed my life!” because it allowed her to start a blog to post her ceramic art) and then she gives the old one to her daughter. Which reminds me — I have a another large digital camera I never use…time to find a good home for it.

    • Roz
    • June 1, 2009
    Reply

    Great idea on those camera’s Jana! Keep passing those supplies on.

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