For most people, it’s the season to hit the gym. Or at least make a stab at hitting the gym, as in “put it on their list of New Year’s Resolutions and then transfer it to their monthly to-do list and their weekly to-do list and then their daily to-do lists until, along about the middle of February, they finally admit that maybe they should just put it off until summer, when it’s warmer.” Or maybe next fall, when school starts back up and there’s more time. Or, gee, why not just wait until the new year? 2015 sounds like a *really* good year for getting back to the gym.
But for us, for the other ones (although, admittedly, there’s some overlap), this is the season of Organizing the Studio, of sorting and weeding out and cleaning up. Actually, we’re kind of the opposite of the people who put off going to the gym: we tend to see every season as a good season for organizing our (rather hefty amount of) stuff, and the Post-Holiday Season is one of the very best. Maybe you were given (or gave yourself) new supplies, or maybe it’s just that it’s too cold (or too hot, if you’re in, say, Australia) to spend much time outside. Whatever: you decide to get in there and purge. I’ve been clearing out—and writing about it—for a while now, but last week I tackled something I usually avoid: the bags of projects that have been started and then set aside.
When I begin a new project, I get everything I’ll need—fabric, thread, needle, beads, sequins, whatever—and put it in a zipper bag, often one of the extra large ones. Sometimes I write notes on the outside with a Sharpie—what I plan to do, or what I need to buy to complete it. For the most part, I’m pretty good about finishing things I start, but not always. Sometimes I work on things for a while, and then something else grabs me and I have to tackle it, and whatever I was working on gets shunted aside. Sometimes I go back to it, and sometimes that bag kind of falls in a crack (i.e., gets dropped in one of the big plastic storage bins that are sort of The Black Hole of Projects).
I tackled a bunch of those. Some of the projects were really cool, things I’d still like to finish. Others were of the What Was I Thinking? variety, and those are the ones I want to talk about. It’s always painful to admit that you made a truly false start, that you planned something and gathered the supplies and even got a good beginning to it, only to realize later that it’s just never going to happen. If you’re like me and have all the components together, the first thing to do is spread them all out on a table and put stuff back where it belongs. I hate this part: sorting the skeins of floss and bags of beads back into the proper drawers, filing the unused fabric back into the color-coded bins in the storage building. Once that’s done, you’ll be left with the project itself in whatever stage it’s stuck in. Sometimes you can salvage it: you can gesso over a partially painted canvas or melt down wax or reuse metal. If the paper or fabric is something special—beautiful silk or sumptuous velvet—you might want to pick apart whatever you can so you can reuse the paper or fabric for something else. If it’s a collage, maybe you can cut it apart for fodder for your art journal or another collage or, in a pinch, for bookmarks.
Maybe not, though. Maybe you don’t want to bother, maybe the vibes are so bad (the colors turned muddy, the substrate puckered, the clay cracked) you just want to get it out of the studio. Can you cut it up, break it apart, use it for stuffing or ballast? Is it the kind of thing one of your fellow artists might want to use as a part of something they’re doing, an assemblage or a quilt or a mosaic (what looks like a cracked pot to you might make perfectly-colored pieces for something they’re working on)? Even if it’s something you never want to see again, maybe there’s a way to keep from having to toss it and feeling wasteful. If not, though, sometimes you just have to salvage the bits you can (the stretcher bars, the thread, the wire) and let the rest go.
For ideas about reusing your art, try Mixed Media Revolution by Darlene Olivia McElroy and Sandra Duran Wilson.
MORE RESOURCES FOR MIXED MEDIA ARTISTS