I have followed the advice of two authors on this point: Sue Monk Kidd and Julia Cameron. One of my favorite books ever is Traveling With Pomegranates. This is a memoir by Sue Monk Kidd and her daughter Ann Kidd Taylor. I believe this book found me at a critical time: I was about to tackle a huge creative project – taking me in a new direction – which I found bewildering and scary. I related to Sue’s fear of writing her first novel, The Secret Life of Bees, after years as a successful nonfiction writer. I made my first collage after reading about her experience in the Traveling with Pomegranates memoir:
“I started the collage soon after returning from Greece, searching through magazines, catalogs, postcards, photos and prints, cutting out whatever inspired me. I was supposed to be writing an outline for the novel, and I was cutting out pictures. It didn’t seem to matter whether I understood what the pictures meant or how they fit into the novel; it was enough to be drawn to them in some deep, evocative way. It was pretty much an unconscious process. I told myself I was being creative, turning my play instinct loose to roam around and find what fascinated it. Inside I was thinking: This is nuts.”
Nuts or not, the random assemblage of images helped guide her writing. She elaborates further on her website:
“I had a big notebook where I worked out the underlying structure of the book. I relied more heavily, however, on trying to conjure ‘madness,’ which I think of as an inexplicable and infectious magic that somehow flows into the work. [The] collage of images vividly caught my attention. They included a pink house, a trio of African-American women, and a wailing wall. I propped the collage on my desk with no idea how, or even whether, these things would turn up in the novel.”
We could all use a little more madness in our lives. The unstructured play kind. When I recently found myself frustrated creatively, I turned to another source of inspiration, Julia Cameron. You may know of Julia’s famous book, The Artist’s Way (initially self-published, it has become a lasting best-seller). Lately I’ve been drawn to the sequel, Walking in This World. Just like The Artist’s Way, it is designed as a 12-week course to break through creative blocks.
While this is my second time through Walking in This World, I never actually completed the assigned tasks. Last week I decided to go back and tackle them one by one. Fortunately this included making another collage.
Task: You Want to Make Something of It?
“Set aside a stack of magazines with pictures. Buy a piece of poster board and some glue. Locate a scissors, tape if you want it, and give yourself a full hour’s time. Scan your consciousness for a situation you would like to understand more fully….Holding this theme loosely in mind, [pull] images that attract you and may feel connected to your theme.”
I find this process immensely satisfying. I can’t say why, exactly. Maybe for the same reason that coloring books were cited as a relaxation technique for adults in a recent Huffington Post article. Not only is collaging an aesthetically pleasing de-stressor, the finished product has a lasting, ameliorative impact.
That first collage I made years ago (which, by the way, is the banner for this website) contains visual cues about my past, present and future. For instance, I randomly pulled a photo of the Pyramids, then got to visit there a few years later. I also ended up with a picture of a sculpture created by an artist who later helped me score an interview with a national arts magazine. See, this collage is prophetic and powerful.
As of today I have my own sequel, and I love it. At first I thought I would be like the monks with their sand mandalas – I arranged the pieces on the floor, took a photo, and planned on dismantling the collage. Who has room in this tiny apartment for another playful “school time” art project? But much like the first one, I love staring at this new bright and mysterious collage.
So up it goes on the back of the closet door, right underneath the original. My clothes closet/sewing room/office is the perfect place for me to have some communing time with my new personal piece of inspiration. Who knows what it will teach me? I’m glad to go a little mad like Sue Monk Kidd and “make something of it” like Julia Cameron – two very inspiring women, indeed.
I’ll end with these words from Julia and I hope you will be encouraged to try your own collage. Remember, go nuts! Ripping up paper is fun! Make a mess with glue!
“What you discover through this process may surprise and intrigue you….what you find through making a collage may not even address the specific topic you ‘worked’ on. Instead, a far larger and more holistic sense of healing may emerge.”