I made this collage on canvas last week at our Gaian Soul Retreat under the guidance of the lovely Lyn Belisle. I want to share a bit about the process, and also explain the significance of the imagery.
Every time I look at this collage hanging on my studio wall, I start to weep.
Lyn had instructed us to bring a few photos that we liked with us, to work into the collage. As I was going through photos and considering what I might want to bring, I suddenly had one of those Lightning-like, Tower-like bolts of insight. I’ve been working on writing memoir, and ruminating on the different stages of my life and the roles I have inhabited. I dug up a favorite photograph of my mother and me, my favorite photo of my boys and me, and a photo from last summer of my granddaughter Grace and me.
Lyn gave us some instruction about painting the background of the canvas with three colors only — a cool color, a warm color, and white — and also some guidelines for composition. I had already put a sepia tone on all three photos before printing them out, as I wanted to take them back into mythic time, and it was also a good way to unify two color photos with a black-and-white photo.
As I put the photos down on canvas, I could see a circle in my mind’s eye, moving clockwise. It flowed from me as a little girl gazing up in adoration at my mommy; to me as a young mother with my two boys on a camping trip, our arms supporting each other; then to me as a grandmother with my arm around my beloved granddaughter. And back to me and my mom.
Daughter, Mother, Grandmother.
Maiden, Mother, Crone.
The circle turning.
Lyn had us do a bit of bibliomancy by encouraging us to choose pages from a vintage dictionary at random, then see what messages we might find in the words. We then embedded torn pieces of the pages into our collages. I picked up a page of E’s and was amused and delighted to find the words eccentric, ecclesiastical, Easter, and eastward. Yep, that sums me up, I thought. I’m an eccentric ecclesiastical, facing eastward to cast a circle at Eastertide in this most sacred land of Aldermarsh.
Lyn had also suggested that we bring a poem with us to include in the collage. I had at first thought of Joni Mitchell’s Circle Game, one of my favorite songs as a teenager. But when I listened to lyrics again, I realized I could not agree less with the line “We’re captive on the carousel of time,” and I did not want that phrase in my collage.
Then I recalled a favorite chant by Libana, and I scratched it with a pencil into the paint on an early layer of the collage:
Round and round the earth is turning,
Turning always round ’til morning,
And from morning round ’til night.
We sang that song one night in the sauna.
I started playing around with the ideas of veils . . . as two of the people in these photos are dead, and three are alive. My mother and my first born son are on the other side of the veil, only a thought away. And the bloodlines run through all five of us who appear in this collage.
So I attached cheesecloth in a few places, which gave me the veil. I also attached an owl feather in the lower left corner that I picked up on my first visit to Aldermarsh several years ago. (I don’t always associate owls with death, as some cultures do, but it seemed appropriate in this case.)
At one point, working on her own collage, Lyn took a cup and painted the rim of it with paint, then used it as a stamp to put circles into her piece. “Circles unify,” she commented, speaking of composition. And so much more.
So of course I had to try the technique on my piece, but I only painted part of the cup rim, so that it became more crescent-like, leaving part of the circle open to the rest of the collage.
I also stamped a spiral (one of my favorite symbols) into the upper right part of the collage, over the photo of Gracie and me. (Another Lyn-taught technique: Make a design with a glue gun onto deli paper, let it cool, and voila! your very own stencil and/or stamp.)
One of the other women had a jar of Glass Bead Gel, and I used it liberally, adding texture and a bit of dazzle to the nearly-finished piece. (It dries clear, with a bit of sparkle.)
I wasn’t sure if I was going to use Lyn’s EarthShard face, and I moved it around the canvas, seeing how it looked here and there. Finally I put it right next to the photo of me and my boys, and all of a sudden she became the Lady of Compassion, gazing out at me with sorrow and understanding. I sewed the face shard on with sinew. Lyn suggested that I paint just the lower right side of the face with light ochre, so that it would like light was shining on it from the photo of my mother and me. I love how that looks.
Finally, I added a crow feather that I had picked up on the beach some time ago, and found in my car as I left for the retreat. At first I thought the feather was too dark and too large, but I loved having corvid energy in the piece. Plus, the feather points right at my mom, making her the focal point. And the other four of us would not have lived on this precious earth, if it had not been for her. So the feather stayed.
Bloodlines. Circles turning.
Life, death, and renewal.
It is good.