INTO THE STUDIO
Journal of a Mixed Media Photographer
I was delighted to be invited to write a guest post for Britt Bravo, who has always been so supportive of my creative projects. This post was originally published on her Big Vision Consulting Blog, on October 6, 2016.
Today I want to share two strategies I use when initiating a new creative project.
1. Create a project bulletin board
I always begin a new creative project by clearing the bulletin board over the primary worktable in my studio. Over time, I fill this board with my own notes, author quotes, single words, images, and small objects – all of which are connected to the new series. It grows and changes with the project. New items are added, some things are removed, and everything gets reorganized. I love the immediate visibility of the bulletin board. It provides a strong anchor of meaning and inspiration.
Pictured here is my bulletin board as it looks today. There are quotes by Rumi, Terry Tempest Williams, David Whyte, Martha Graham, a feather, a set of angel wings, title ideas scrawled onto Post-its, and more. All of these are fueling my latest series of collages, called Invocations, about the benevolence found in darkness.
2. Find an object that represents your project
I will often select an object that becomes a symbol for the entire series I am working on. That object keeps my artwork in the forefront of my mind. For example, with the Invocations series, it is a feather (often propped up inside a nest). In my studio, I have a gold painted feather standing up inside a real bird’s nest in a corner near my main workspace. I also have a little felted nest (pictured here) filled with wooden eggs and a white feather on the ledge above the kitchen sink in my house, where I can see it every time I do the dishes. Even if I can’t be in the studio all the time, this object inspires me to think about my creative work. In the past, I have enhanced the symbol further by wearing jewelry with that symbol, or using a rubber stamp with that symbol — basically finding easy ways to keep that symbol close by, and thereby keep the project near me.
I share my thoughts here with the hope that they will be helpful for anyone who is initiating any kind of long-term project. I would love to hear your own ideas too. Please share them in the comments!
“How do you know what happens to you isn’t good?”
So ends the spare and elegant short story by Amy Hempel, titled The Man in Bogotá. I first read this story as a teenager, and its final note left a deep impression on me. So when I got a phone call a few months ago from my father who asked to use 6 of my new collages to accompany this story in a limited-edition artist book he was making, I got goosebumps. Of course, I said yes. Now the book is complete. I am happy to share some photos of it here.
Here are some technical notes from the colophon:
“The Man in Bogotá has been made as a limited edition of forty copies in the summer and fall of 2015. The photo collages are by Mary Daniel Hobson and have been printed as high-resolution digital prints on Entrada 300 rag paper by Rhiannon Alpers at the San Francisco Art Institute. Rhiannon Alpers also printed the text in Adobe Garamond by letterpress on Coronado SST paper. The circular holes in the pages were laser cut at Magnolia Editions in Oakland and the covers and slipcases have been made at the studio of John DeMerritt, Emeryville, California. Charles Hobson designed the edition and painted the night sky for the covers and the insets with acrylic paint on Canson Mi-Tientes paper. Charles Hobson assembled and bound the edition with the assistance of Alice Shaw.”
“This book began with a question – one familiar to most parents. “Can you tell me a story?” My daughter Anna has always loved stories, and this question floated constantly through our lives together, surfacing most often while driving. We live in Muir Beach, and almost everywhere we go includes a 12-minute car ride over a curvy mountain road. At 3.5 years old, Anna would call that question from the back seat on our way to preschool in Mill Valley, “Mommy, can you tell me a story?” And I would say, “Yes, if you can help me. Once upon a time, there was a….” She would fill in, “A wolf.” Then I would add, “And this wolf was…,” and she would say, “Hungry!”
From there I would start a story, pausing throughout the tale to have her add in details. The basic plot would come out quick and fast, off the top of my head with Anna’s help. In The Wolf Who Ate the Sky, a wolf goes to bed so hungry that when he wakes in the morning he eats the first thing he sees – the sky – and the world goes black. Undaunted by darkness, a young boy with a flashlight and a team of animals sets out to recover the sky and bring back the light.
Anna and I made many stories in this manner – most were only told once. But there was something about The Wolf Who Ate the Sky that caught our imagination.”
Photo above: Anna at our first booksigning
If you are in the area, I hope you will come by. This event offers a nice chance to learn more about my creative process and see a wide selection of my mixed media photography. In addition, I am going to have art activities for kids, notecards for sale, and tea & treats for everyone.
This time, you can also purchase signed copies of The Wolf Who Ate the Sky. This children’s book was co-authored by me and my daughter, Anna. It was illustrated and designed by my father, Charles Hobson. Heyday Books has just published it! Anna and I will be around all weekend to inscribe copies upon request.
At the same time, my neighbors, Wendy Johnson & Peter Rudnick, will also be having an Open Garden and Spring Plant Sale, including drought tolerant plants and information about water-wise gardening.
Please feel free to invite friends. Kids are most welcome. Please park along Muir Woods Road.
When my daughter Anna was 3.5 years old, we created this story together during car rides to and from preschool. In telling it again and again, it grew into the story that is now in this book. My father, artist Charles Hobson, did a fabulous job illustrating and designing it. This 3-generation project is now on Amazon, heydaybooks.com, and in local bookstores. Signed copies will also be at my next Open Studio on April 25 & 26 in Muir Beach.
Here is a taste of the plot: “A very hungry wolf eats the sky, plunging the whole world into darkness, but a brave boy and a menagerie of animals are determined to bring back the light.”
To learn more about the book and the process in creating it, please read this interview with me and my father by Mariko Conner at Heyday.
The book trailer video features Anna at 3.5 years old telling a version of the story. Enjoy!
In this talk, I start with my photography background and how my graduate studies of Surrealism led me to work in mixed media. Then I share the stories, inspirations and techniques behind the six different series on view at Gallery 291 – from the layered collage of Mapping the Body and Milagros, to the sculptures of Bottle Dreams and the still lives of Sanctuary and Evocations. I conclude with my newest work, mixed media collages that are about reaching into the darkness and finding an unexpected gift or blessing.
You can watch the video here on Vimeo:
I would love to know what you think.