Friday, December 28, 2012

Fifty Away

This week I've been working on an art project I started back in January, which involves making artist trading cards. ATCs are basically any sort of art which measures 2.5" X 3.5". Here's one I quilted out of batik cloth, batting, copper holographic thread and some beads; all material and scraps leftover from other projects.

This quilted card took about an hour and a half to make. It was too cold to work out on the porch, so I sat in the garage and listened to some music while I sewed. I let the card come together as it wanted to; I didn't have any specific design in mind. I also thought about an upcoming road trip, plans for my kid's birthday and visualized a few scenes for my next novel.

Seems like a lot of effort for such a small piece of art. By itself the ATC barely covers half the palm on my hand. It's a little crooked at the corners and a couple of the quilting stitches are skewed. When I look at it I see another three projects I made but no one else will make that connection. I like how the thread catches the light, but I probably could have done something fancier with the beading. Luckily I'm more into expression than perfection.

On the back of my ATC I wrote a few things: a title, the date I made it, the name of the project, the card's number, my signature and the category it belongs to. The title of this one was inspired by the card's number.

Once I finished the card I added it to this little box in which I'm keeping all the cards I've made in December. Most of them are made from recycled materials like gift wrap, old calendars, Christmas cards from last year and the like. A friend sent me some cute little scented stickers; those are decorating a couple of cards and make my box smell deliciously of chocolate. In that pouch are cards with all of my favorite Asian poems collaged on my old 2012 desk calendar. For this month I also used an old letter I wrote to Santa, a dinged-up copy of my favorite quotation of all time, and two pieces of music my daughter was going to toss in the garbage. It doesn't look like much, I know, but it's just one month's worth of cards.

I don't often think about the rest of the project. I photograph whatever I have finished once a month and then stow it away in a trunk. Mostly I think about the art I'm going to create today because that's the work I have to do. When I finish I do plan to take out everything and photograph the lot. Which is a lot; as of tonight 950 ATCs. I'm fifty cards away from my goal of making 1000 cards in a year. To give you some idea of how much art that is, if you wanted to lay out my cards end to end in a straight line you'd need to use a football field to do it.

I know, to you they're just a bunch of cards. To me they're my art, my paintings, my quilting, my poetry, my sculptures, my collages, my letters, my creations. My wisdom and my stupidity. My failures and my triumphs. A year of my life spent immersed in beauty whenever possible. My heart in (almost) a thousand pieces.

I've never made a thousand of anything, and I probably put a couple thousand hours of hand work into it. There were times this year when I was ready give up on it, too. Twice I gave myself a month off from it; once so I could mourn a friend, and the second time so I could write a book. This project has reduced me to tears, spawned more than one temper tantrum and made me face all my inadequacies as an artist. It's also been with me every single day of 2012, either in my hands or in my thoughts, and pushed me to try things I might never have otherwise attempted. I've called myself an artist before now -- once already in this paragraph, but this past year is the first time I've really felt it was true. And that's why I did it -- not merely to challenge myself, learn new techniques or create something the size of a football field, but to discover who I am as an artist. Now, after a year, after making almost a thousand pieces of art, I can honestly say I'm just beginning to know.

I'm showing this to you because I know there is something inside you, something like my project, something waiting to be discovered. It could be a painting or a song or a story. It could be a lot of them. It's in that place where you keep your dreams, where you hold onto them and promise yourself that someday you will get to them. There is a new year just around the corner, and it's filled with 365 somedays. My wish for you in 2013 is that you keep one of those promises, and make one of your dreams happen.


  1. Lovely, inspiring post

  2. Congratulations on your accomplishment! I really love this post, as 2013 is THAT year for me. I recently decided that a masters in European History wasn't the way for me to go, finally faced my demons creatively (at least the first battle), and decided to devote myself to my music and writing seriously this year. We'll see where it takes me!

  3. Good luck on finishing the Final Fifty!! What an amazing challenge. Can't wait to see the end result.

  4. These are so beautiful and so inspiring. Thanks for sharing glimpses of this project.

  5. lost my first post.
    When I made ATCs a while back I made sets using elemental colors/symbols. I loved making them, perhaps I will revive that again this year. I received a set of needle felting tools for Yule, I bet I can have fun using those in small scale :-} I also want to make somewhat larger collages out of all sorts of materials. I have a small set of plastic drawers with objects I've been saving that caught my eye.

  6. They're fascinating and amazing and beautiful and it makes me shake my head that you can come up with that many designs. I don't know that I could.

    I mentioned before that when my girls were little and 101 Dalmations was the rage, Micky D's gave dalmations away in happy meals. I had two complete sets plus and since I had no clue what to do with them, I decorated my Christmas tree in them that year. I think you should do that this next year. Do your tree with these. What an accomplishment and way to enjoy them.

  7. Fran K5:25 PM

    A magnificant achievement, congratulations. My challenge for next year is to learn how to use my second hand sewing machine and make myself some interesting things. Happy New Year x