In early July, I assisted Linda Novick in teaching the program “Unmasking Your Soul: Renew Yourself Through Painting and Collage” at Kripalu. I have taken many classes at Kripalu (most of them with Linda!), but this was my first experience assisting in one, and I loved it. The other assistant was a seasoned “veteran”, Lesli Lang, who also teaches at Kripalu and assists Linda often. I looked to Lesli for guidance when I was unsure of what to do or how to do it. Our role was to support Linda and the participants in logistical matters (set up the room, organize materials, find supplies, etc.), facilitate lessons, listen, and help to create a safe, comfortable, creative space.
Linda, Lesli, and I met before each session to check in with one another, discuss Linda’s ideas and plans, and set our intentions. I found these meetings to be very reassuring, since I like to know what will happen and what’s expected of me. It was also good to share what we were thinking and feeling, because it helped shed away anything that might interfere with our ability to be fully present with the class.
On the very first evening, we welcomed people into the class, sat in a circle, and made brief introductions. Linda got us moving with some gentle yoga, then led us through a guided meditation to encourage us to think about our intentions for the weekend. A few key phrases emerged for me: experiment, play, try new things. We were then told to express those intentions in a collage. Pastels are my primary and preferred art medium. Neither painting nor collage are in my comfort zone. Or so I thought. Once I started gathering interesting, disparate materials, including feathers, napkins and unusual packing paper, things changed: my mind relaxed into the notion that it’s ok to not have a exact plan. I entered play mode.
Everyone pinned their collage onto a cork wall. I was captivated by the diverse, creative art. So many different approaches, methods, colors, and materials! It was exciting and inspiring!
The next morning, Linda showed us how to use cray-pas (oil pastel) as a resist tool with watercolor. The theory is simple: oil and water do not mix, so the cray-pas areas of the paper will repel the watercolor. In “Coral Waves,” my pointy orange and wavey green shapes were drawn with cray-pas. I then used a flat brush to apply a watercolor wash. You can see that the edges of the cray-pas and watercolor meet, but there is no overlap except in areas that are lightly drawn with cray-pas.
Toward the end of the morning, Linda demonstrated a watercolor still life, emphasizing how the natural looseness of the medium lends itself to capturing the essence of the subject. Let go of the details, allow the watercolor to interact with the paper. Wet on wet results in untamed colors intersecting in beautifully unscripted ways. Wet on dry provides a more controlled shape. I have a resistance to watercolor because I struggle to control it. Irony! But, seeing others trying watercolor inspired me to try. I wasn’t entirely happy with the results, so I painted another still life. The second attempt was worse; even though I was consciously trying to “let go”, I was in fact resisting the process and the painting had lost all spontaneity. I threw it away!
Here’s a connection I didn’t make until later that day: rather than throw away a painting you don’t like, use it in a collage.
After lunch (and I’ll take a moment here to say how excellent the vegetarian food is at Kripalu!), Linda introduced another painting technique to us: sgraffito.
Begin by ripping out magazine pages with words and pictures on them. Create a palette using acrylic paints (paper plates work well). Squeeze out some colors that call to you: white, silver gold, turquoise, red, orange…. Try mixing colors too. Scrape into the paint before it dries using plastic forks, or other scraping tools. Have fun scraping. Sgraffito means to carve or scrape. You can use this type of painting in collage projects.” — Linda Novick
During my first attempt at sgraffito, I was totally engrossed in the acrylic paint. I was singing out loud and literally dancing in my seat. Right away, I realized that my entire body language had changed from the watercolor stillness and tense concentration. Clearly, acrylics resonated with me. The enthusiasm that I felt spoke to a deeper level that I can only describe as authenticity. When something feels right, it is in balance with our inner self.
I was so involved with the acrylics that I forgot the sgraffito part! No problem, I simply painted on top of what had already dried, then scraped the newly wet areas with an exacto knife. I experimented with degrees of wetness and thickness, and learned a lot in the process. Instead of discarding my first attempt (which was a mishmash of experimentation), I put it in my pile of collage materials to be used later.
Our program room was used solely by us during the weekend. We could come to it anytime to work on our projects, even when our class wasn’t officially in session. I came each evening and it was wonderful to share that period of time with several other participants. One young woman, Liza, an art student, brought her mother (who was taking another workshop at Kripalu) so that they do collage and painting together. Cheryl, an interior designer, had such passion and total focus that I was truly moved and delighted.
By the second day, we were integrating all of the painting techniques with collage. As on the first night, I entered play mode, just letting myself be drawn to whatever objects I found interesting. I approached the actual layout of the objects as I do when designing a website or brochure: I used 1 item as the focus and experimented with various compositions. During this non-linear process, other ideas evolved and I explored them. In “La Passion”, the blue section on the right side was torn from the first sgraffito I did the previous day.
One of my goals for the workshop was to create a collage as a tribute to my mother, who passed away in 2012. I brought pictures of her and fabric remnants from an upholstery store where she worked. Things my mother loved were incorporated into the piece: butterflies and the color purple. The first sgraffito appears again in this collage, at the top and left sides. Lesli found the butterfly rubber stamp.
Joy and Appreciation
This workshop renewed my joy in collage and inspired me to experiment. I have found a new winter art activity! Pastels are so dusty that I only use them outdoors. But, collage is very flexible. There are many ideas swirling around in my head that I can’t wait to try out!
Being with Linda in a class again refreshed my appreciation of her as a teacher. The way she builds the group dynamic of support and collaboration is special. She is a gifted listener, energetic giver, and compassionate human being. Her workshops are about so much more than art. The art serves as the method through which you discover yourself. I am so fortunate that she is my friend. And what an absolute treat it was to work with Lesli! She is, quite simply, a beautiful person.
The participants were fantastic, too! What a great group of people. I felt honored to be a witness to their process and to be of some assistance to them. Thank you all!
A special thank you to Lisa for sharing this beautiful quote with us:
“To be an artist it is not necessary to make a living from our creations. Nor is it necessary to have work hanging in fine museums or the praise of critics. It is not necessary that we are published or that famous people own our work. To be an artist it is necessary to live with our eyes wide open, to breathe in the colors of mountain and sky, to know the sound of leaves rustling, the smell of snow, the texture of bark. It is necessary to rub our hands all over life, to sing when and where we want, to take in every detail, and to jump when we get to the edge of the cliff. To be an artist is to notice every beautiful and tragic thing, to cry freely, to collect experience and shape it into forms that others can share.” – Jan Phillips, Marry Your Muse