While I wait for other’s stories to come in–and it will take a while, I know–I thought I’d tell you about some of my own creative sparks in the way of making stuff. “Making stuff” is how I think of it; I don’t call myself an artist. I write. That’s what I do. But I also make stuff, and I’ve had the fierce need to make stuff since I was a kid. I’ve never been interested in craft things–kits and quick-n-easy projects and things made from patterns. Oh, no: that would be too easy! I could actually DO those! I have to have something that takes about a million years and is kind of beyond my current skill level, something that will give my brain something to chew on and keep it occupied so it doesn’t drive me crazy with the whisperings about termites and terrorism and periodontal disease. I have to give it Problems to Solve, and that’s what makes it interesting for me: solving the problems, figuring out how to get the results I want, bringing to life something I imagined.
For me, lots of the things I made start out, pathetically, as something I want to find to buy, and that’s true with the voodoo dolls. On our first trip to New Orleans, I had it in my head that I was going to buy “an authentic voodoo doll.” Now, I have no idea what I thought I was going to find there. Maybe some mysterious old woman lurking on the street corner, beckoning me over and offering me the doll hidden in her coat in exchange for one of my teeth and a hank of my hair (this was when I still had lots of hair)? I don’t know. I can be kind of naive and single-minded both when I’m On a Mission.
And a mission it was. I looked everywhere in the French Quarter–the tacky shops, the fancy boutiques, the French Market. And I found a ton of voodoo dolls, of course. I even watched women making them in their booths–Spanish moss wrapped in a piece of black fabric with a face painted on with slick paint.
Ick. I have to admit I have no fondness for slick paint. Not what I had in mind. I found a doll in a little shop that seemed closer to what I had imagined, but when I turned it over, it had a tag on the back: Made in China. I was ready to give up and assume I was just looking in all the wrong places, something was pretty unlikely, really, since I had looked EVERYWHERE. Finally, in a high-end doll shop on Royal Street, I found this one:
I think it was $75, which was kind of a lot for something that’s less than 3″ tall and has almost nothing on it that’s not made from plastic. Looking at it, though, was what ignited The Spark: I realized that I could do better. “Better” meaning something closer to what I had in mind. This little doll was the closest thing I’d found, but in the searching and hunting and walking from shop to shop and looking at what other people had made, I’d had time to refine my ideas about what I wanted. I looked at this little thing, with no real face and nothing intrigueing (I’m not a huge fan of plastic), that vinyl-esque wig hair. And I knew: I could do better.
For me, that’s almost always what happens. I think of something I want: a blank book or a piece of jewelry or a skirt. Or a voodoo doll. And then I set out on The Search, looking for it. Because at that point, I’m not thinking about making it. During this whole Voodoo Doll search in New Orleans, my studio back home was filled with whatever I had been obsessed with up until that point–I think it was during the huge bookbinding phase, where I learned to bind books The Real Way and worked on them every day for over a year and had every available surface covered with books in various stages of creation. Because, of course, I also had to learn to make paper for the end sheets, right? And how to cover the boards with leather. Of course. I had no interest in anything but books. Books all the time, books every day.
Anyway, so I had no thought of making voodoo dolls UNTIL I found this one and said to myself, “I can do better than that.” I bought it, brought it home, set it on the shelf, and got to work. This, for me, is the entrancing part, the part where you have no idea how it’s going to work out and have to start from scratch. I wanted to make An Authentic [looking] Voodoo Doll. What fabric would work? Not polyester, that’s for sure. How big would it be? Definitely bigger than this little pin one. What would I use to stuff it? What kind of face, and made out of what material? There were so many choices in getting from what I imagined in my head to something I could hold in my hands.
Yikes. I see from the word count that I’ve once again crossed into the no-man’s land of Too Many Words, so I’m going to continue this story in the next post. You think one of these days I’ll learn how to be short and sweet?
Nah, me, neither.
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