Saturday, February 1, 2014

and what a gift it was...

the piece as I thought it was done...but it had other ideas
I have been making art in one form or another my whole life and professionally for seventeen years or so and there are some days that being an artist almost feels routine. There are also days when the act of being an artist gets all shaken up and in the best possible way. That was my experience this past week as I was making a small piece of art for an upcoming exhibition inspired by maps. Just my cup of tea, where's the challenge in that you might even say?

Well, this piece threw me for a proper loop and not once but again and again. As many of you know I love the thrill of a challenge. I also love solving problems and I love when the problems inspire the next movements and changes to a piece. A small 6x6" work became a teacher this week, presenting me with a lesson of impermanence, perseverance, attention, acceptance and love. Can you imagine? I am just minding my business, trying to make a little piece of art and I get slapped in the face with all that? Well, it happened and what a gift it was. I'll break it down for you.

First, making the work seemed simple enough. I thought to myself, there will be a bit of map, some sewing, some words and probably some paint (since I am a painter after all). I got my sewing machine out, threaded the bobbin with uncharacteristic ease, did that bit and then found my words. Words from another piece long sold that I still liked with words that resonated. Good enough, I thought and I will put this here and that there and do this and that and bam, Art! Easy peasy! But it didn't have the right feeling exactly, it didn't have the depth I was after and why would it? However, I ignored those feelings, called it done and coated it in a gel medium and waited for it to dry. I walked away and busied myself with other important things (hello, facebook).

When I looked back over at my work table, the medium wasn't self leveling as it ought and what I was seeing was this lumpy, bumpy, gooey mess on the surface of the piece that I had once quite liked. This was a disaster! Perhaps I could scrape off the goo and save the piece. As I started scraping, I was relieved that the medium had not yet completely set and it was coming off with ease. However, I also noticed that the words I had put on the piece were coming off too! This is truly a disaster I thought again and then I remembered I hadn't really liked the way the words had covered the blonde wood with a plastic film, more opaque than I had hoped for. I kept scraping the film off the piece anyway even though now I considered it ruined. Next, I started using steel wool on the wood and of course then I saw bit of the map being roughed away into oblivion. Why had I used steel wool? Didn't I know that would happen? Lastly, I covered the ravaged piece with turpentine to "melt" off the rest of the sticky substance and then I walked away for the day disappointed. I vowed to just get up the next day and start again, reminding myself that I could virtually recreate the piece if I wanted.

The next morning I got up and I couldn't find the motivation for a long while to start again, I was still bummed out about the previous outcome and not trusting my skills or judgement. I went to get a cup of tea and walked past the piece in the kitchen by the sink where it had last been tortured. I picked it up and realized there was a lot about it that I still liked. Perhaps I could paint over the scoured bits or put some new words somewhere else to hide the damage? There were actually parts of the piece still covered in the waxy goo that had hardened especially around the stitching that I particularly liked. I also decided I liked the wounded map in the top left corner, maybe I didn't need to hide anything with paint after all. Now the piece seemed to have a care worn patina that made it seem real and not easy peasy or superficial, it had earned it's scars and was more beautiful for them.

I found a new printout of the same words as before and stuck them on the piece, I was determined to make it work. This time I would try to make the plastic backing transparent. As I was coating it with turpentine half the words rubbed off again. I couldn't believe it! This time though I gave into it and saw that I was quite pleased with the words that had remained and that they were transparent! I will, I will, I will was all that remained. I thought about how fitting it all was and that the new sentiment was even more meaningful than the original. Suddenly things were really coming together and this piece was finally heading where I had wanted it to in my heart all along. I decided I wanted to just coat the piece with walnut oil to bring out the warmth and to give it a slight sheen but nothing as heavy as before. I coated the work and watched it pop and come to life! I was so pleased that I put the piece in the sun and took a quick photo of it to share on facebook. We had been through so much together that I needed it to be seen. I couldn't wait to share the piece with Stewart when he got home! Look what I made! As well as the story behind the work, the ebb and flow of creation, the looking and learning, the lessons and the old work from the University of Oregon that was still playing a hand in what I was doing today, full circle thoughts, the materials I use out of necessity and what they give me in return, the feeling behind the work, there were so many thoughts that had rushed out to shake me during the making of this 6x6" piece that contained no painting. I was so excited!

And then everything changed. Again. The walnut oil had crept through the fibers of the map paper changing the shape and colors within the piece. I was crest fallen. I had already shared it with those close to me, facebook and even the gallery where it was being shipped! Oh no! Finally, I would have to accept defeat but I didn't. I coated the piece with baking soda to soak up the excess oil to stop the spread, I blotted it with paper and I let it rest to see if the creeping oil lines would creep further. They did not. I looked at the piece again and again as it told me more secrets and let me discover and accept it's changed beauty. I varnished the piece and let it rest again for the night before I documented it, this time satisfied and complete. The beauty was in the change, the decay, the layers, the scars, the struggle, the lessons and in my loyalty to the work.

I will
I will
I will

I will

mixed media 
6x6" wood panel
©2014 Megan Chapman

This is the finished piece and will be flying to Scotland soon to be part of an exhibition inspired by old maps at Little Ox gallery in Edinburgh. Stay tuned for more details...


  1. AH! Megan - this is why I love it when artists have blogs. This is exactly what I want to read about - the process. The questioning, the mistakes that lead to breakthroughs. The seemingly mundane details that reveal so much. You are also a gifted writer. I followed along on this journey and was so, so happy to do so.

    1. Alannah- it is always a gift when you stop by this old blog of mine. Don't ever forget it was you who got me blogging in the first place and I am so grateful! I am glad you enjoy the process. This was a fun blog to write, thanks for the compliment on my writing too. I was proud of this. I really appreciate your comments.