I recently finished a piece that had been in my mind for years…many, many years. I first heard this poem when I was 13. It was delivered by John Denver (yes, I realize how I am dating myself) on his television show in 1977. The words were written by a Frenchman and the poem is called The Box. I remember listening to the poem and it made me tear up. That’s the beginning of the back story. Here’s where it becomes relative to my recent activities.
I have a journal/book where I keep all my thoughts, ideas, texts that have sparked something within my creativity. It helps to store them in a single place, so I can go back and reference them when I want something new to work on or feel bored and want to develop a new piece. The Box was one of those texts. I had found it online and saved it in my journal. You can see here a picture of the text as I had it saved in my journal. Pretty straight forward text and pretty boring. It is a long poem about war.
I save only the text in my journal, usually taped or written on a single page, then I use the facing page for my ideas or thoughts about the piece. Sometimes that includes colors, the text I want to highlight or even the theme/idea that I have in my head around the text. I learned long ago to write down my idea s much as I can – the emotion I want to piece to emit, the colors, where I was when I got the idea and WHY I want to do the piece. Once I have that written in my journal, the idea is safe and I can move onto another idea or piece. If I tried to store in my head all my ideas, I would go crazy.
I am working on an application for a national show, and I wanted a different piece for my portfolio. I scanned through the ideas in my journal, and The Box popped back into my head. I wanted something different that brought a different look into the pieces I was submitting for the show. So began writing the text as my original notes suggested. Bad Idea.
I wanted a large piece where I could crowd the text together and then highlight the negative space in each letter. I began with a dark marker as the text has a thought evoking theme. As you can see to the left, it was okay but not emitting the feeling I wanted, nor did it provide much interest. I had a hard time getting it to flow, creating any sort of symmetry with the text, and it just looked blah.
So I tried again and wrote the text a bit smaller, still it wasn’t working. I tried adding as you can see in the picture below, a dot at the end of each line to emphasize where the new lines began, still not working. I also tested filling in the negative space with red ink, too much and too distracting. The text looked crowded and my original was now one big flop. Ugh! The original idea I wrote down was now at an end.
The timeline here was about two weeks. I had been working on the text trying to get it to lay right, then would leave it on my drafting table and ponder. When I came back, each time I was frustrated and a bit disgusted with myself that I could not get this right. I knew in my mind what I wanted, but it wasn’t turning out on paper.
Let’s be real. I heard the poem over thirty years ago, it struck a chord, and now I was trying to execute an idea from my adolescence. When I originally heard the poem, I didn’t even know calligraphy existed, let alone how to do it. The only clear thought was that I wanted to do a piece using this text.
Time to think differently. Time to let the idea progress beyond what I had written down to where it REALLY wanted to go. Which meant letting go of my original thoughts and moving out of my comfort zone. I had to abandon my regular process and the normal path by which I create, and move into new thoughts. I looked at each test piece (there were about ten in total) and see what I really didn’t like about them. To me they were just like every other poem on paper, very similar to the boring text in my journal, and nothing caught my eye. I half thought about putting this one into my rough draft drawer and walking away…glad I didn’t.
So I changed several things, and those simple things worked. I went smaller, much smaller that the original idea. The text is now 7x 14. Instead of writing the text flush left, I wrote it flush left AND right. Instead of using red ink, I used shades of grey to fill in the negative space. Ta Da!!! THAT worked. You can see to the left how the final text appeared once it was finished. At the bottom I went back to the original idea and highlighted the last line with the red ink for emphasis. Whew! I liked it and was ready to move onto the mat.
As the original piece turned out smaller and more boxey than I had originally imagined I had to approach the mat from a new perspective. I usually complete the mat first, then write the text to match the colors of the mat. In this case, I was so frustrated by trying to get the text correct that I had not even attempted the mat. The text is somber. It describes war as a bouncing ball of destruction that we need to get back into the box. As a result, I wanted a mat that was different and looked like a wall. I cut the mat board and began working.
As usual mat takes me between 2-4 hours to complete, larger sizes obviously take longer. This mat is on the smaller size and it took over eight hours. MUCH longer than normal. To the right you can see the layers move vertically, which is not like any other mat I have created AND the colors are very somber (that was my husband’s word, I think it fits). I also incorporated in news clipping photos from the Wallstreet Journal. In the photo to the right if you look in the bottom right corner you can see a soldier holding a gun. I have never used newspaper clippings before, again I think it fits very well into the overall paper selections. It is subtle and most people don’t notice it until I point it out.
To the left is a shot of the final piece. It measures 15×22 and has not been framed yet. The original idea was to create a piece that covered the wall and allowed people to read it clearly and dramatically. This one works because it is subtle, yet dramatic, somber and thought-provoking. With the left and right alignment the same, I actually wrapped the text on each line by letter not by word, so there are words that are cut off in the middle to wrap to the next line. It makes it a bit harder to read, however I think it compliments the piece. War is a somber and hard topic to understand, and I feel this piece reflects those complexities.
The lesson I learned here was that I had to stop trying to think of this new piece the same way I did all my other work. I had to step way out of my original thought, go smaller to end up with something more dramatic. I had to think differently and be willing to make bad work in order to get to the good work.
Sometimes artists get in a creative rut and continue to produce work like all their other work, because it sells, or they can do it quickly, or it’s easy and gratifying. This one stretched me and I ended up with a piece to submit to the jury that is very different from my other work. I’ll keep you posted on whether or not I get accepted into the show…either way, I am glad I thought outside The Box…and yes, that pun was intended!