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).
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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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Every Person Has A Story

every_one_has_a_storyLook what Lucy’s 2nd grade class, the Mitchell Elementary School librarians and I created in just one week! When the librarians learned that I am an artist who creates world maps, they asked me if I would be interested in working with the second graders who were doing a unit on recycling, to create a map out of outdated text books. I jumped at the opportunity and suggested we attempt to get it done before Multicultural Night in mid-April (our initial meeting was in mid-March and we had to schedule around spring break). Amazingly, we did it!

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Up-cycled Text Book World Map: The Making Of

Over the course of a week, I visited with Lucy’s class for an hour on Monday, Wednesday and Friday. By Friday I had the finished piece sent off to be framed!

On Monday, the kids, teachers and I tore all our favorite images and words out of about 20 books. These were text books for young elementary readers filled with rich material and beautiful imagery with titles like Don’t Forget to FlySing It to the Sea, and Window to the Sky – not at all what you imagine when you think back to the text books we had in high school.

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Back at home, I went through all the torn images – there was a plethora of subject matter: animals, plants, planets, dinosaurs, landscapes, people. When I make my maps I like to focus on messages of diversity, inclusivity, and unity among humans – acknowledging our differences and celebrating them! Remember that’s why I never include political boundaries. For that reason, I decided it made sense for our final work of art to focus on images of people. The 4-foot piece would hang in the library, be titled Every Person Has a Story, and would be dedicated to the kids’ amazing teacher, Mrs. Kirlin, who is retiring this year.

On Wednesday we spent an hour gluing in the library – some kids worked on words, the others on images. Back at home, I used my big map template to cut out the continents and glued them onto the background. I Modge Podged the whole thing and on Friday we just hung the finished piece up in the library and talked about what we learned.

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What the Kids Learned

• Recycling helps save our planet and up-cycling is a great way to make art!

• You can accomplish SO much when you work as a team. Mrs. Kirlin helped them do the math and we figured out that what they accomplished in 2 hours would have taken me, an artist on her own, 48 hours (or more)!

• There are lots of different people who live on this planet – we may look different, eat different foods, make different music and tell different stories, but we all have the same desires: to feel safe, to be loved and accepted, to learn and to grow.

• When they see the final piece framed and hanging in the library I hope they get a sense of accomplishment and pride from getting to share their hard work with the world. Perhaps there’s a budding artist or two among them who has been left with the inspiration to grow up and make this world a more beautiful place.

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What I Learned

• A paradox: working with children is exhausting and invigorating at the same time.

• There is satisfaction in getting my message of world peace and acceptance across to a group of school children whose minds are open to learning and willing to listen. However much I hope that my art can help towards making positive change in this world, I know that there are grown-ups out there who will never get it.

• I am so grateful that I had the opportunity to give back, in my own special way, to this amazing school that is working so hard to build a strong educational foundation for both my daughters!

• I have said it before and I will say it again, but Sophie and Lucy really do have a love/hate relationship with my art. Sometimes I think they see it as a third child that they have to compete with for my attention. But they also understand the joy of making and being creative and I can tell that there are moments when they feel proud of what I do. It was so AMAZING to include Lucy and her classmates in the process of making this piece. Although, I did put my signature on it (just to make if feel like a piece of Fine Art), the piece isn’t mine at all… it’s theirs.

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100Days100Maps : Looking Back

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Why Make 100 World Maps in 100 Days?

• Fear of procrastination/laziness – knowing I need accountability to get things done. (Ala Gretchen Rubin’s 4 tendencies – I am an obliger) and I knew social media could help me with this.

• Fear that freelance opportunities and Athena Project volunteer work would take precedence over making my maps – that’s not why I quit my job. I quit my job to be an artist and I was afraid it would end up on the bottom of my priority list.

• For years my mind was overflowing with map ideas but I just didn’t have the time, suddenly I did and I wanted to hurry up and get those ideas out… to make room for others, maybe better ones.

• I wanted to LET GO. My maps in the past took so much time and were detailed and precise. That was great but I wanted this adventure to allow me to let loose, let go, get messy, experiment.

What I Learned

• It felt really good to produce so much even if I didn’t love every one

• I learned that people have different tastes – some of the maps that I liked least were the ones that others liked most. I always enjoyed the process of making my maps so it’s good to accept that the final product doesn’t really matter – someone might love it. Just do the work and enjoy the process. There is a higher power at work here. It isn’t just about me and my preferences. The artist as a vessel (I’ll have to explore this in a future blog). Once the art is made, it isn’t mine anymore. I make art for others.

• I learned that my favorite maps to make are those that use organic materials. Their shapes generally lend themselves to the shapes of the continents (like flowers, leaves, sticks, rocks and food items). And it made me feel earthy, connected. That’s hard to describe but I loved the feeling. I was channeling my inner Andy Goldsworthy (if you don’t know of him, look him up – what he creates with nature is incredible).

• I was also surprised at how much I enjoyed sitting at the computer and doing digital maps. I never did them before because I spent so many hours in front of the computer when I was working as a web/graphic designer and when I got home I just wanted to use my hands. Now, I was happy to have an excuse to sit and use the software I know so well, with which I feel I can make magic happen.

• I still feel like I have to explore paint. I did some nice watercolors but I have much more to do when it comes to paint. I thought I would paint more but I have a block, a fear… I’m scared it’s going to be bad. I hope now that I will purchase a few canvases and I will paint and no one says I have to show it to anyone. Just keep working it until I feel happy with it. Maybe add in bits of pieces of collage – call it mixed media instead of just paint. That seems more up my alley.

• I did feel good when I made a map that had more of an activist message. Like finding the message that I purposefully don’t add political boundaries in my maps because it’s important to me that I get across that we are humans sharing this planet with cultural differences but a common tie as humans (gotta work on that messaging). Also the rice map about world hunger or the handprint map about peace. There’s an activist in me and since I don’t feel comfortable talking politics, I really could use my art to make statements. I should explore that more. I think I’m stopping myself because of my rebelling against the intellectualism I experienced in college which just annoyed me. But the truth is, last years elections were what motivated me to get my art out there. I felt the world needed my art, not just for the beauty but there are deeper messages there and it’s not just about the fact that travel is fun. It’s about what we learn through travel – to be open-minded, accepting of other cultures, to connect and to be present.

• I will never be at a loss of ideas. I still feel like I have so many more and not enough time. That is a good thing.

• I am eager to spend more time on one map now that I am not doing them daily. I’m excited to focus on quality rather than quantity. Next I want to work on 10-15 maps that I would be happy to hang in my house and that in a year or two I hang as a solo art show.

When you’re not prepared to give a speech and you cry while doing it.

I wasn’t crying because I was scared or nervous. I was crying because I was truly moved. Did I really deserve all this attention? All this validation? Less than 2 months ago I made the decision that it was time to share my art with the world beginning by submitting four pieces to the Brookfield Arts Tenant Show in the Republic Plaza building in downtown Denver. Imagine my shock when I saw all four maps hanging front and center as you enter the building from 16th Street Mall (see photos to understand why I was so excited). Just that was enough recognition to last me a lifetime – hundreds if not thousands of people walk through that lobby every day! Winning ‘Best of Show’ was just gravy.

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At the opening reception 15 of my friends and family came to see my art, to see all the other wonderful submissions and ultimately to support me. We rolled in from an earlier after-work-happy-hour just in time for the start of the awards ceremony. We stood through numerous categories and ribbon presentations, honestly, ready for it to be over soon after it started. I admit that I leaned over and told a friend “this is going to be really embarrassing if I don’t win anything” — it wasn’t the most thrilling awards ceremony and I felt guilty that all my friends were having to sit through it, especially since all the free wine and food had run out. Until, of course, I won! And had to give a speech – eek!

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Andra Archer, the curator, had these kind words to say before handing me the microphone, “Creating a series of art that features the same subject while still having each piece stand alone in its uniqueness is the work of a true artist.” She said so much more but it’s all a blur. That statement stood out to me because she had just put to rest my biggest insecurity about my art. “I just make world maps,” my inner critic would say, “what’s so creative about that?” I LOVE making world maps. All I want to do is make world maps. So F-U, inner critic! Andra says that’s the work of a true artist! Seriously, though it was that statement that made me cry. Unfortunately, an artist putting her work out there for the first time, needs that encouragement and validation. At least just a little to keep on going.

“We all want to know what gave you the idea to make these maps?” Andra asked.

[Note: You are about to read the speech I did NOT give. Because I wasn’t prepared to give a speech so instead I cried and rambled on. If I had been prepared, maybe it would have sounded a little bit like this]:

I came up with the idea 12 years ago after I moved to Denver from Australia, soon after having met my husband on a plane. I was a traveler in my 20s and a student. I spent a decade traveling around the world, being ‘irresponsible’ in the eyes of the people back home. When I arrived in Denver, I moved in with Scott, I got my first 9-5 job as a web designer and became very ‘responsible’. I also experienced boredom for the first time – both at work and after work. In the past, as a student I always had a project I was procrastinating on; as a traveler my days were filled with exploring new cities, meeting people, speaking foreign languages, tasting new foods. It felt like I had never before experienced a moment of boredom.

In this new life, I didn’t know what to do with myself when I got home from work every evening. My only options seemed to be going to a restaurant where I would inevitably eat and drink too much or else just sit and watch tv. I could exercise but I was too tired at the end of the day. I was coming to terms with the fact that it was going to be a while before I would travel again. Scott had just returned from a trip around the world when I met him and we were doing a lot of serious talk about marriage and children. It was time to settle down. But what about this boredom I was faced with; what about feeling that I had to stay true to myself, the vagabond who was now homebound? I was worried and Scott probably was too. I had an ex-boyfriend in Italy that told me, while breaking up, that “even if you were chained to the ground, still you would find a way to fly.” It sounds more poetic in Italian. He knew me so well. Maybe I just couldn’t take this new stable life and I’d wake up one day, pack my bags, and walk out the door saying “Sayonara, Scott.” Or “Adios, au revoir, ciao! I’m off to see the world, again.”

That’s when the idea of making art came to me. World maps to be specific. Studying art in college had turned me off from it, but that was because I was making art for other people – as assignments to impress and appease my feminist/gotta-be-controversial art school professors. Then, I was making art for all the wrong reasons. Now, I was truly inspired. I felt this need to create, not just to fill time, but because it was a way for me to fly while simultaneously choosing to settle and stay grounded (or in my ex-boyfriend’s words “chained to the ground”).

I suddenly saw this time at the end of the day as a gift. I could use it to make art. Making world maps would keep me connected to the rest of the world in some weird way, remind me of past travels and allow me to dream of places yet to visit. It would give me strict parameters which as an artist I needed. The empty canvas was way too intimidating. The fear of endless possibilities was paralyzing to me. But, I knew I was making world maps and that had meaning to me. Where my creativity could let loose was with what I chose to fill those world maps – old favorites like collages and doodles, new materials I had never worked with like burlap and rose petals. Travel taught me to have courage, to be continuously curious, to explore and to be open minded. Creating art allowed me to continue down that path and it let me do it in one place – actually, it required that I do it in one place because these maps are huge! Suddenly, settling down didn’t feel so scary.

So, put simply I started making these maps twelves years ago to satisfy the adventurer in me and to feel 100% confident saying yes when Scott asked me to marry him (on a plane, by the way). This is my first time exhibiting my art in 12 years! I’ve given some maps away to friends, done a few commissioned pieces but mostly they’ve just sat flat, piled atop one another, under my bed. The fact is that putting your art out there, putting yourself out there, is super scary. Honestly, I’m not sure what takes more courage committing to one person for the rest of your life or showing your art! That’s why I’m standing here in tears. Not because I’m scared, but because I am moved by Andra’s kind words reassuring me as an artist; I am overwhelmed by the love I feel from all the people who are here to support me tonight, including my husband; and I am truly honored to be presented with this award. Thank you.

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A Map for My Niece

One of my first posts to this blog was last spring when I was being creative in New Mexico. I was making one of my quilt maps on wood for my niece Lyla. I recently took Sophie and Lucy to visit my sister, Emilie, and her family in Colorado Springs and got to take photos of the map hanging in Lyla’s big girl room. Emilie did a beautiful job decorating Lyla’s room and I love how the framed Wander + Wonder World Map fits right in with the rest of the decor. Enjoy these photos!

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For the Love of Bikes and Horses

The June wedding came and went and my commissioned piece was far from finished. Oh, the guilt! As a reminder the map I was creating was supposed to be a wedding gift for a couple that loves bikes and horses – check out my original post. Fortunately my client (patron? that’s more appropriate for someone purchasing art, right?)… yeah, patron. Fortunately my patron was understanding. I love making art but sadly it is low on my priority list behind my kids, my husband, my full time job and, alas, exercising. I’m proud that I make time for it at all!

Also, there were materials and processes I’d never worked with in this map and at times that had me at a standstill. Fear is the biggest procrastinator. I knew I wanted to work with bike chain and I knew I needed to glue metal to wood. Both were new to me and scary. I had spent so much time already drawing the gears with graphite and I loved the map as it was, so I was scared to screw it up. But I also knew I wanted to incorporate that rusty bike chain. And I needed to include some sort of reference to horses.

This is where the map was when I got stuck. It probably sat in my art studio like this for at least a month!

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Then… I finally got to work. I bought three different kinds of glue and did tests to see what would work best. I also realized I would have to separate the chain in smaller pieces and then nail them in at smaller intervals. Just deciding what nails to use took time and research. I settled on small black carpet tacks and the best glue was E6000 because it dried clear. Best part of this process… getting my hands dirty.

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The finishing touches were adding a little horseshoe over Colorado where the wedding took place and the couple call home. A little symbol of good luck for a happy marriage. And lastly, I used my wood burner to burn in their wedding date in the bottom right hand corner – 6.11.16. I hope this map brings happiness to the new couple and inspires them to wander and wonder.

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