One of the projects I began in October when my friend Gail Rieke gave a workshop here was a little collage piece made by pasting bits of marbleized paper on a black background. When we have workshops everyone brings something to share, and there were many scraps of these bright papers to choose from. I find them so attractive.

At another workshop some years ago, I brought a stack of pastel portraits to play with. I explained to Gail that there were parts of each that I liked but that in general not many of the faces satisfied me completely. She suggested that I cut them up and work only with the parts that pleased me, so I created a little book.

Once I had sliced up all the portraits I had lots of little abstract blocks left on the cutting room floor. I began to play with those and came up with a grid that I liked a lot. I pasted them onto the black paper and framed it. It still hangs in our house and I still enjoy looking at it

Since then I have enjoyed the idea of making collage pieces in a grid pattern. Something about the geometric layout made with brightly colored forms and abstract imagery appeals to me. Working with black paper has its challenges. Although I do like the way it makes colors pop, it’s not a very friendly surface. It’s difficult to draw on to make a framework to follow for pasting, and any extra glue is very visible. My grids therefore are a little wonky, but that doesn’t bother me. I accept the handmade quality.

I have a big cupboard with several baskets of collage materials all nicely organized and ready to be used. Old papers and stamps are readily available at vide greniers (garage sales) or brocantes (junk shops). I have a large collection, so I like to find ways to incorporate them into projects. After a couple of tries I was able to get the marbleized paper glued down neatly enough, so I decided to make a little book of similar bits, paste them down in little grids and call the book Collections.

Quite an array of random faces in various colors from several countries, from the past and near present. The famous and infamous included.

I completed eight pages with various arrangements of stamps and papers and then put them into my drawer. I have a big stack of pages from several projects which are waiting to be put together into little books.

Perhaps in the dead of winter I will find the time and space to finish them.

Artist as traveler

In early October we had a workshop with the inimitable Gail Rieke. She is a collage and assemblage artist who lives in Santa Fe, New Mexico. Her Suitcase Wall is so famous that once while she was visiting us a few years ago, and we went together to a shop not far away, the shop owner recognized it from the photo on the business card she gave him. Her home/studio is her biggest installation.

Gail Rieke’s studio as featured on this month’s front and back covers of Where Women Create magazine

I first met Gail almost twenty years ago in San Francisco when I took one of her classes at the San Francisco Center for the book. Later, when we moved to France, I invited her to give a workshop in our atelier. Since then she has come five times. It is always such a pleasure for me to welcome Gail and with her the very interesting students she attracts.

Having a house full of talented and creative people is a wonderful inspiration to me for months afterwards. I am still feeling the after-glow. In the mornings Gail gave us instructions and projects that generally were designed to make us see things from a fresh perspective, and in the afternoons we worked on our individual creations which Gail supported and encouraged but did not dictate. It is always difficult to describe exactly what a course with Gail is like, because she never has a prefigured product that we are all meant to imitate. She wants instead for us each to find our own way as she has always done. I used the adjective inimitable to describe Gail very deliberately. Although I think there are some who might try to imitate her work, I don’t think it is quite possible. She is a true original.

The other women who came, two from England, two from the U.S. and one from France, were also very talented and accomplished artists from various disciplines. Ann, from eastern England, had some ideas that really tickled my fancy. She likes to write secret and revealing stories on bits of paper which she then distresses to the point where even though expressed, the sentiments are not revealed. She also inspired me with stories of her travel journal pages, which she purposefully stains with food, drink, soil and even rain from the places she visits to literally capture the place.

My good friend Nelly is a teacher and graphic artist of some renown in France. She has published several children’s books. She is also a collector and very generous sharer of old papers, documents, maps and other treasures which she puts to good effect in her collage work. She brought many pages to share from early last century when official papers were hand written.

I was very delighted to meet Jen, Ann’s English travel companion. She does eco-dyeing, and, being an accomplished gardener, was able to give me lots of advice about plant varieties and best practices when it comes to extracting color from leaves. I have done a lot of reading on this subject, since discovering it last year, but Jen was the first actual human I’d ever met with some experience in this process that I currently find so intriguing.

We all shared ideas and techniques, Many of us enjoyed making a book form that does not require any sewing or gluing.

For this particular workshop we added an extra day to allow us to have a field trip. Luckily the weather was beautiful all week. We did walk through the village and adjacent forest collecting various natural materials all week long, but on the last day, we piled into cars and went a bit further afield, into the Parc Naturel du Perche. We lunched at an extremely kitsch restaurant in the charming village of La Perrière.

We stopped at Le Manior du Lormarin, a beautiful old property with a lovely brocante (antique store) attached. Almost everyone found something to take home.

It was a fitting ending to a week of creative discovery and fun.