I turned 50 last month. I know most people celebrate “the big one” with black balloons or some trip with girl friends, or some bucket list activity – not me. I wanted to celebrate the people who had invested in me in the past 50 years…so I invented the 50 for 50 project. My goal was to show thanks to 50 people who had made a difference in my life and whose generous gifts of love and faith have formed me into the woman I am today.
So, what did I do? I created 50 original works of art and sent them out across the globe as a thank you gift. Who made the list, here are a few examples:
…the guy who bought me my first drafting table as a Christmas present – the baby sitters who were there for my first big dance in junior high (and told me I looked great and ANY boy would be lucky to dance with me) – the friends in high school who were in an early morning bible study with me – the sorority sister who was the only other one who didn’t drink beer – the college roommate who was my first college friend – the artist who gave me my first sketch book to “keep and preserve” my great ideas – by best friend when I moved to Atlanta over twenty years ago – the friend who introduced me to my husband…
You get the idea! What a fun time I have had deciding on the piece I wanted to create and narrowing my list down to only fifty people. The final work of art turned out to be a version of my work, in a variety of colors to suit each person’s personality and favorite color. Once I decided what I wanted to write, I went into production mode.
My process is the create the mats first. So I spent many hours creating 50 mats, all different combinations of paper scraps from all my previous projects. I even took blanks mats and boxes of paper scraps with me on a couple of business trips to get all fifty done, try explaining THAT to the person on duty at the airport scanning machine!
I then moved on to the actual thought(s) I wanted included in the center of each mat. I toyed around with several ideas, until I landed on the size and layout I wanted.
As you can see from this shot, I wrote it 50 times (actually 54) to create the center for each piece. I made a couple extra in case I messed up. I used a brush pen I bought in Tokyo on my last trip there, which provided a smooth look and a font that could be duplicated easily. Knowing I had to do 50, I went for ease of lettering over detail. I let these dry for a couple of days just to be safe.
Once the center was done, I moved to the edges. I utilized a blank sample of the finished mats to makes sure my text for each piece fit properly.
I then worked the two bible verses I wanted to include around the four inside edges. I started at the bottom of the piece, so at least the beginning would be easy to find. I utilized a blank mat to write the each line to make sure each would fit into a completed mat. My method is to work the text around each piece, one at a time. After about the third one I had a rhythm going.
These four shots show each section of the inside text as I wrote it. Notice that I flip the mat for each side to ease writing and fit the text for each line on each mat. Once the inside text was done on all 50 pieces, I set them aside to dry. This also allowed me to ponder how I wanted to finish each piece. Here is the finished inside piece.
Next, match each piece between a completed mat. I cut down each original to fit into each individual mat, then attached the mat, the artwork, and a piece of adhesive foam core together via our book press. This is a bit nerve-racking because if anything goes wrong, I have to create another mat and original writing. I have learned to be patient and just look at each one as an individual work, not part of an assembly line – even though after the tenth one I was tired of cutting a pressing.
Now that each mat had its own original in the middle, I had the finishing details to complete. I love calligraphy and I love color. I find that I like more color on my work than just lettering supplies, so I often color in the negative space to add more spice.
In the example here, you can see the array of markers and pens I use to add spice. I spread across my work space all the pens I think I might use, then pull the colors for each individual mat and fill in the negative space of vowels and consonants.
Notice in the shot to the left that the small text on the inside edge is only black and white. The shot on the right shows this same piece once I finish embellishing. In this example I pulled two or three difference shades of pink, orange and yellow to pull the may colors from the mat papers into the words. And yes, I did this fifty times, each work is original and unique. I also add a touch of highlighting to each center text to add shadow and depth to each final product.
I taped a copy of my business card and a brief description of the project on the back of each one, as some of the people receiving them may not have seen me of heard from me in decades.
The final stage was to pick which piece went to which person, and to pack them up and mail them out. I had about 70% of the addresses for the people I had on my list, but that meant 30% had to be found. This is when I was thankful for social media. After a solid couple hours on my laptop, I was able to find every person and a physical mailing address for each one…how cool and creepy is that!?!
This has been a real labor of love and a real journey down memory lane. My life really did flash before my eyes, and I have been VERY blessed. I sent one to people I can remember from the time I was ten or eleven, to those precious people I still interact with today. I had four famous people on my list (who shall remain nameless), people who were my college professors, and people who taught me valuable lessons in life and business. I think the words “thank you” are often lost in the shuffle of our busy lives, and the people who have invested in us all too often never understand how they impacted our lives. So for those of you who read this who actually received a piece of this project, all I can say is thank you for investing in me along these fifty years. Happy birthday to me and you!
Let’s hope I have the energy for another one of these, maybe 100 for 100 in five more decades. Whew, maybe I should start that project now!