Let Me Do It My Way

November 3, 2010

I teach collage to teens and adults. In July I was really worried that my workshop Mo-Jo lost its luster. Some students told me they didn’t understand the class projects; some told me they weren’t happy with their own work. People have different skill levels. I thought everyone was doing great work, but the group dynamic felt flat.

We did a different collage each week inspired by a famous modern artist. What if everyone just wanted to play with paint and papers, make their own collage, and not have to think too hard about any famous artist or his/her styles and media? Was I being too controlling?

Everyone wants choices. That’s the new paradigm.

The image at left is called “Serendipity.” It’s inspired by a print by Jean Dubuffet (French, 1901-1985).

Serendipity has movable pieces – I made it that way. The eyes, nose, mouth, hands and hat are not glued down. The face changes as pieces get moved around, and when pieces are turned over, the texture and colors are different on the reverse side. Collage (and serendipity) is all about welcome surprises. You may like the back of the piece better than the front!

An art teacher in my class at the Pelham Art Center (Pelham, NY) loved the Serendipity project. She worked in her own style – and riffed on the sample for the project.

My new mantra: Don’t try and direct people – especially young people.

Young people don’t want to hear you talk. I learned this from pre-teen girls who visited my studio recently.

The visit was organized by the STRIVE program in New Rochelle, NY. The adult leader told me to speak about what it was like to be an artist. I didn’t get too far into my talk. A girl raised her hand, pointed to my printmaking press and asked – Can I make a print? How direct. What a great interruption!

All the girls wanted hands-on, so I got out a Plexiglas® plate and let them brayer layers of purple ink onto the plate. I shared my oil pastels so they could draw multi-colored squiggles and hearts and write their names (backward) on the plate. I set the inked, embellished plate on the press bed, placed a sheet of good paper over the plate, put protective papers on top, then the press blankets, and then each girl took a turn with the star wheel and moved the image through the press (back and forth), and everyone got a mini turn at the star wheel.

I recently led a workshop for young adults at Bloomfield College in Bloomfield, NJ. (invited by Rosalind Nzinga Nichol, who teaches the class at the College). The assigned theme was narrative portrait collage. I planned to start with a short talk and then a demonstration. I changed the plan. They already knew what a narrative portrait collage should look like. We started by searching for magazine images.

The collage nearby is remarkable for the way it’s assembled. I observed the student as he looked through countless magazines to find exactly the images he wanted. We all thought it was great.

The image below is titled Girls Just Want To Have Fun. The figure is in multiple pieces and its organization is very sophisticated. Each letter is a magazine cut out, placed perfectly.

I spoke only a little at the workshop, gave quick instructions on how to tear pages out of magazines, and how to cut out images and leave a tiny border. I brought photocopies of hats, stripes and patterns in black and white and colors to share. While they were tearing and cutting up magazines, I walked around and showed samples of narrative portraits and talked about layering background papers and figure images.

I showed everyone how to apply glue up to the edges, and demonstrated how to get papers glued down clean and flat using a wood seam roller and plastic squeegee.

Let Me Do It My Way – again – Let Me Do It My Way

I like the fact that the words “Let Me Do It My Way” can mean two things. That was my intention. It can refer to me directing (it’s my way!). It can also refer to you ignoring my directions and doing it your own way.

I have a lot of information to share about collage. Now I understand I need to accommodate people when they want to push away from my ideas and explore their own ideas.

I wrote this blog for Lesson#2 at Blog Triage, an on-line workshop for artists coordinated by Alyson B. Stanfield and Cynthia Morris.

Lesson #2 was about finding your own “voice.” It asked us to develop a topic  and edit and post a blog that best represented our voice.

I know my voice – I’m conversational. I am in love with words (and images!), and love everything in layers. I actually am a member of the Society of Layerists in Multi-Media (SLMM is based in Albuquerque, NM).

A friend says I should make things simple (simple is better). Another friend says I should say everything in fewer words.

The issue in this blog is the struggle of independence vs. control. That’s why I titled is “Let Me Do It My Way. I believe there should never be a power struggle when it comes to making art.

Did you think this was an engaging topic?

Do you think people prefer (do you prefer) to learn by jumping right in and doing it – or do you think people prefer (do you prefer) direction from a teacher (or another person) who’s planned the project?

This subject is very important to me. It took me a while to figure it out. Now I know that most people prefer to jump right in.

Were you inspired by the workshop student images in this blog? They are similar to those created by adults in my Conjur Woman Portrait Collage workshops (inspired by Romare Bearden, African American, 1911-1988).

Did you check out the link to Jean Dubuffet? He is one of the most important artists of the 20th century. His work is known as Arte Brut.

Rosalind Nzinga Nichol, professor at Bloomfield College wrote about the workshop and added a nice compliment in her blog PAPERGIRL. Thank you Rosalind. I love paper too. She is a wonderful artist and teacher.

Thank you for reading this long blog, and for adding your comments below.

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7 Responses to “Let Me Do It My Way”


  1. Nancy: I love the stories and the collages. As a museum educator, I found that kids like the freedom, but once they get to high school, they don’t know what to do with freedom. They don’t want to do anything wrong, so instructions are good.

    And adults? If they’re not artists by temperament, they’re totally lost without a direction.

    Of course, if they have the artist in them, let ’em loose!

    • nikkal Says:

      Thanks for your comments. You’re absolutely right. Kids are the most free. They can’t wait to create. With adults, I have to figure out how much freedom or how much direction they want and then hope I get it right (at every new workshop!).

  2. Susan Boyes Says:

    Hi,
    I’m a SLMMer, too. And an art therapist by training and profession. Your workshop awareness brings to mind the recent book by Daniel Pink, “Drive: the surprising truth about what really motivates us” He posits the 3 pillars of motivation (and especially creative motivation) are
    mastery,
    autonomy, and
    purpose. So when you have a group, you show them how, tell them why, and let them go.
    There was a sign in one of the classrooms where I went to school (Southwestern College in Santa Fe) that said: “Show up, Pay attention, Tell the truth, and Don’t be attached to the results” (to which someone had penciled the addendum -“or the process”)
    You seem to be getting an education in art therapy there Nancy!
    Best wishes,
    Susan

    • nikkal Says:

      Hi Susan,

      Thanks for all your comments. I have Daniel Pink’s book Drive and NOW I will read it! My collage workshops are all variations on a theme. I never know who will participate and what they expect, even we do email dialog in advance. I just did a workshop with adults (including 3 in their 80s) and everyone was at a different level with different expectations (and the 3 seniors are artists with experience in collage) I have to write about it and post the images of works they did. What suggestions do you have for creatives in their 80s?

      • Susan Boyes Says:

        Wow. Creatives in their 80s. That’s a demographic with which I am largely unfamiliar. Out of respect for their experience and talent, if it were me, I would aim to mostly listen and support.
        A lot of times the art therapy approach with older people is to do life review kinds of things. But that’s mostly with people that have issues of mental decline.
        The only thing I might be able to offer an artist is a new material or technique for her to incorporate. I might learn from how they make use of something that’s new to them. The fact that they’re signing up, showing up and communicating means they DO want to learn something.
        Other that that, the direct approach would be most useful. (What are you here to learn? What can I do for you?) Then at the end you could ask, did you get what you needed? What would have made this better for you?
        I donno. Sounds like a complex group to set before yourself. And fun. I will want to see the images.

      • nikkal Says:

        Hi Susan, Thanks for your comments on creatives in their 80s. You have lots of good suggestions. I visited your website @center for creative growth, and now I know more about your expertise. I will email and dialog with the elderly creatives. It should be interesting. My next blog will be called I’LL DO IT MY WAY – because they always do!


  3. […] November I wrote LET ME DO IT MY WAY about how the people who attend my workshops push away from my ideas and explore their own ideas. I […]


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