Yesterday, I spent a wonderful day at Egress Studio in a workshop led by Nance Van Winckel. She has augmented her work as a poet by venturing into the visual arts, most notably photo-collage, in which she embeds her poems into her photographs, often integrating public-domain images as well. The results are colorful and kinetic. She says she challenges herself to create work that will be as inviting to image-oriented viewers as it is to text-oriented readers. The key, she explains, is to incorporate the text in such as way as to make it seem that the visual medium itself is speaking. As a comparatist/multi-field wanderer/genre-crossover geek myself, I must say that this type of artistic hybridization completely floats my boat. It whets–and, happily, sates–my hunger to connect image-based with text-based systems of symbol: to combine visual and verbal vocabularies to enhance (or question) meaning. Plus, it gives me an opportunity to make trees.
Have I mentioned trees yet? If not, please know, Reader, that they are right up there with horses and hiking among my obsessions. My attraction to them is horticultural, yes, and spiritual/symbolic, definitely–but most of all, aesthetic. I love to LOOK at trees. Trees are so visually elegant to me that I want to draw them and paint them decorate my universe with them. But since drawing and painting trees is beyond the slim range of my artistic skills, I draw and paint leaves. Leaves in oil, leaves in acrylic, leaves in acrylic ink, leaves in watercolor, leaves in watercolor pencil, leaves in colored pencil, leaves in black pencil, leaves in my five year old’s chewed and broken Crayolas. In short, I am a fan of leaves.
I’ve attempted to write about trees, and my aesthetic passion for them, but my efforts have fallen far short of my hopes for conveying what I perceive of them visually. Imagine my delight, then, in being directed to Make Something that integrates text and image, and being given numerous materials for doing so, by a generous and encouraging teacher. I knew immediately that I was going to make leaves, and then make them into a tree. Freed from my usual expectation that I should try to make a realistic representation of a tree (and from my inevitable disappointment at not having the technical ability to do it very well), I set about constructing a more abstract tree.
First, I chose pages from an antique book on mechanical engineering that Nance Van Winckel brought for workshop members to mine text from and collage with. Overcoming my resistance to scissoring up a gorgeous old book, I cut out leaf shapes, choosing passages titled with such tasty phrases as “Elementary Theory of the Dynamo” and “Separately-Excited Machines.” After glueing the leaf cut-outs into double layers, I used a permanent ink pen to write the text of my little poem on them. Then I painted both sides of all the leaves with Mod Podge (an all-purpose gluey-glazey stuff that dries clear). I also cut out some small captions of diagrams and illustrations of dynamos to glue on as “fruit.”While all those were drying, I began constructing the base and branches of the tree using an intriguing dried seed pod that Nance had brought and two lengths of black wire. Having noticed that the seed pod, which was delicate but fairly rigid and had a dark brown color with the appearance of polished leather, was curved in the middle and level on both ends, I decided to make it the “ground” for my little tree sculpture. Two natural indentations in its raised center were perfect places to wrap the wire around; pointing upward, they became the branches. With the four holes of a button holding the wires in place, I began to experiment with how to attach the leaves to the ends.Even when dry, the paper stems of the heavier leaves proved too floppy to withstand having the wires wrapped around them, so I began to consider other adhesive options. Nance recommended the perfect solution: threading the wires through holes in the leaves. She also suggested including some beads for added color, so after some work with needle, thread, and more glue, I was ready to place the leaves onto the wire branches. Finally, noticing how well the lilac stamp-ink appeared on a fellow workshopper’s dark-brown seed pod, I used the same shade to stamp a title onto my pod: “Go To See.” (And you WILL see that I am not above the occasional groaner pun.)
Nance’s workshop did a terrific job providing us participants with numerous examples of exciting ways to propel poems “Off the Page,” and getting to practice was even more fun! I certainly will be doing more experiments with poems in visual mediums.