A Love Affair: Making of My World Map of Tiny Treasures

As an artist, I am constantly having to conquer my fears. Over and over and over again. I love it. I think that’s why I have chosen to make art the way that I do… sort of backwards. Most artists that I meet have become masters of their materials and often of their subjects too. One may do landscapes in oils while the other does abstracts in acrylics… and that is what they have done for years. They become intimate with their art, exploring all the intricacies of the medium, color, light, form, composition. The artwork is expertly executed because they have spent a lot of time getting to know one another – the art and the artist. They have this beautiful committed relationship.

The way I approach my art is a little more like my days of traveling the world in my twenties, when I would find a new lover in each place that I visited. There was passion, excitement, exploration and fear. I’d find someone new, get to know the city or country through his eyes and before we got too comfortable, it was time for me to move on. It may sound shallow but it didn’t feel like it. It was scary and fun and made us feel alive. These are the same feelings I seek with each new map that I create, that’s why I am always using new materials. But let me tell you, it can be super scary at times. I almost always experience a moment where I am totally and utterly paralyzed. Like when I spotted that cute guy on the piazza in Rome and had to decide whether to make eye contact or not.

I experienced this with my Tiny Treasures map. It took me a year to finally finish this thing. Why? A fear of commitment, a fear of the unknown and the perfectionist in me fearing that it wasn’t going to be good enough.

Many of these tiny treasures were saved as far back as my childhood (read all about the story behind this map in a previous post). I knew I wanted to glue them down, but to what and with what kind of glue? Many of these objects were the most fragile things imaginable, like dragonfly wings and quail eggs. How was I going to preserve them and make them into archival art. What was the end product going to look like? I had no idea so I just did nothing.

I have learned that the best way to conquer fear is to take tiny steps. Action cures fear. One step at a time. So I placed the tiny treasures on a white background (in the shape of a world map, of course). And I photographed it that way knowing it would look amazing as an image printed on canvas. It stayed that way, untouched, for months.

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Then last summer, our family visited the Museum of Natural History in New York City and I saw this wall in the photograph below. That was it! Inspiration hit. I had made eye contact.

 

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I was going to glue my tiny treasures to a huge piece of plexiglass and then pour a thick layer of resin over the entire thing, giving the illusion that the continents were submerged in an ocean of fluid liquid. The piece would be framed and hang on a wall, the transparent background allowing for shadows of each treasure to be seen on the wall behind, encouraging the viewer to look closely, explore and wonder how it’s all put together.

I came back from our trip and did absolutely nothing. Where do you get plexiglass? What kind of glue should I use? How do you work with resin? What if I screw the whole thing up?!

Four months later, I joined the Foothills Art Center Open Studio group and the first project I brought with me was this one. I brought the plexiglass (turns out you can buy it at Home Depot), a glue gun, glue sticks and my treasures. Within three hours I had everything glued down. All the other artists, many of whom had been meeting every Friday for the past 15 years, were kind, welcoming, curious and supportive. I knew immediately I wanted in with this amazing community.

Since that day in November, I have made it a point to join my new friends at Foothills every Friday from 10-2. They teach me, they inspire me, they give me life advice and we’ve even gone on a couple fun field trips together – to the Degas exhibit at Denver Art Museum and more recently to see a play called Sunday in the Park with George, about French pointillist artist, George Seurat.

But still… my piece sat around unfinished for another four months. I couldn’t make the next move.

Our upcoming Foothills Open Studio show (opening reception is this Friday, May 11) is what finally motivated me to finish my piece. I couldn’t hold back any longer. I made a move. I bought $250 of Art Resin, I mixed it, I poured it, I heated it, I let it harden and I did that over again three or four times to get the ideal thickness. I worked with my carpenter to build a custom frame out of beetle kill pine – the artwork made that move, told me it was what it needed. I’m going to say it without shame, but the last year and especially the last few weeks of working with this piece of art has been as passionate and exciting as any love affair I had back in my twenties. And the beauty of it is, I think this is the start of a wonderful new relationship. Art Resin and I got to know each other, intimately. We are going to make beautiful things together. I just know it.

World Map of Tiny Treasures at Foothills Art Center
I dropped off my finished artwork yesterday before any the rest of the show was hung. Stay tuned for up-close images (this is a tough one to photograph and I didn’t have my good camera with me).
Prepping work
Here I am peeling off the protective plastic on the back of the plexiglass. Eventually this piece will hang on a wall in my house but for this show it made sense to display it this way because I didn’t want to take away wall space from the other Open Studio artists.

 

The Story : World Map of Tiny Treasures

Remember being a kid and finding a baby blue broken eggshell beneath a tree in your backyard. Remember the story it told of a life growing inside it. The image of a tiny bird pecking its way out, then nestled and squished beside its siblings, mouth agape waiting for a worm from mama bird. Days or weeks later that same baby bird flittering atop a branch, listening to chirps and squawks from both mom and dad encouraging it to fledge. Fly. Be free. Baby bird apprehensive and scared but then doing it, going for it! I was going to call it courage, but really it’s just trust. Trusting that nature knows what is and isn’t possible. Trust in what you are meant to do. Trust in your calling.

You would pick up the eggshell with the utmost care, bring it inside and put it safely on a shelf in your room, where it would be kept company by your collection of rocks, sticks and other tiny treasures.

What’s the story behind a smooth piece of sea glass found washed up on shore or a tiny snail-like fossil? An arrowhead, a geode, a feather, a snake’s skin, a wasp’s nest? Each one filled with beauty and a sense of wonder. 

My kids say I’m no fun. I don’t know how to play. They’re right. As a grown up I don’t love pretending I’m a dragon, I don’t enjoy tickle-fests (all that squealing, ugh) and I leave the fort-building to the kids. But I will argue, that being an artist has allowed me to stay in touch with my inner-child by focusing on the beauty that surrounds me, by being in the present moment, by finding amazement in nature’s treasures.

This project in particular allowed me to connect with my kids because we did it together. We went treasure-hunting. We collected. We filled the ‘Nature Box’ that hung in our kitchen for two, three years. I knew all along I would make a map out of all our findings. I wasn’t sure how but I knew they would all end up immortalized in a work of art.

You know what the craziest thing is? There are pieces in this map that I collected when I was my daughters’ ages – tiny ceramic mice, itty bitty sea shells saved in a vile that I found with my cousin on the beach in France when the tide was low… when I was five years old. There are beads from when I worked with my best friends in a jewelry store as a teenager; sea glass I found with those same friends, growing up on the island of Martha’s Vineyard. And pieces I collected in my 20s when I traveled the world – seashells from Fiji and a little brass Ganesha from India. The fact is, there are hundreds of tiny treasures in this piece and they each have a story.

I thought this work of art was a tribute to wandering, wondering and the joy of collecting. I thought it was an excuse to do something fun with my daughters, even if it isn’t their definition of ‘fun’. I didn’t know it would turn out to be a portrait of my life. Isn’t that the beauty of art – finding the unexpected, telling stories you didn’t know you intended to tell – the big treasure among the tiny ones. 

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Finding inspiration in Taos, New Mexico

I’m enjoying this spring break with my kids, my sister and her daughter in New Mexico. I came here without much of an agenda, other then the knowledge that this place inspires artists and is surrounded by beautiful nature and so I loved the idea of being creative while I’m here. In the past couple days I’ve found the time to redesign my Wander + Wonder World Maps website (www.wanderandwonder.org), edit a little video of me in my art studio working on a map as the seasons change, started a new Instagram account specific to my art, took a bunch of photos and started this new blog! Not to mention, exploring Taos, Santa Fe and spending quality time with family.

Enjoy some photos of the area:

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You can view the entire album of photos of this trip on my Flickr account.

And that little video I put together: