Last year, I was introduced to the bowerbird through Sibella Court’s book The Life of a Bowerbird. It’s a gorgeous book about creating beautiful interiors with collected items. As someone who loves collecting, hunting, pecking, and curating, that book was right up my alley. But, I recently did more research on the bowerbird and realized I have more in common with this bird than I knew. The bowerbird goes beyond collection and creating, but collects and creates very specifically. The satin bowerbird collects and decorates only with things that are a specific shade of blue. He’ll even go so far as to pick things out of his surrounding area that are colors he doesn’t like (reds and pinks specifically.) If you’ve read my blog for a while, my de-redding things will have a familiar ring.
In my personal creative time (creative work that isn’t specifically for creating profit but is just to play for the benefit of my own heart), I have been taking a class called The Magpie’s Nest by Aimee Bishop on Jeanne Oliver’s site. It’s not the kind of art course I would normally take, but I’ve learned that taking classes from people who create work that is very different from my own is a wonderful way to find new inspiration and push my work beyond its current boundaries. I tend to be tidy and orderly in my creating and Aimee is sloshing tea and dripping wax all over papers and fabrics, just letting things develop. I was half horrified and half intrigued! She didn’t get me sloshing, but she did get me working with my hands in new ways and digging through my fabric scraps and paper drawers.
Her class is about creating a book inspired by the rebellious magpie. As I was starting to gather my items to make my own book, the bowerbird kept coming to mind…collector of blue, creator of very specific sculptural shapes. I think I’ll make a bowerbird book instead.
So, for the past couple of weeks, I’ve been sneaking away time here and there to create, collect, and curate.
Just the process of rummaging through my own stash gets the wheels turning. A few months ago, I put bags of fabric scraps in the garage to donate, but I found myself reluctant to take them to the thrift store or mail them out to friends who said they would put them to use. I just had this feeling I wasn’t done with them yet and I would regret my enthusiasm to get rid of things in this case. Instead, I sorted through them carefully, folded and organized them, and put them in a pretty basket to use when I was ready. I am so glad I kept them because there were some pieces perfect to use for this project and others.
I also rummaged through my paper drawer to pick out old pieces of ephemera…
Some of them I’ll use and some of them I’ll make copies of.
Of course, the kitties have been incredibly involved in the process. They’ve been making sure everything smells okay, testing out the texture, seeing if it might be good to commandeer to use as a cat toy…
I cut the fabrics down to a few different sizes…ones that could be used as book “signatures”, ones that could be sewn onto a page, and then I cut the rest down into rag ribbons.
I ended up with a few neat piles, enough to make several bowerbird books if I wanted to.
Let me insert here that this kind of creating isn’t always easy for me. I am someone who loves productivity and I don’t exactly see the point of spending time doing work that isn’t for any real purpose. What will I do with a bowerbird book? It’s not something to use as decor or to sell. I have to keep reminding myself that it’s for my own creative growth. It’s a kind of self-care that makes creating about the process, discovery, curiosity, learning, and not about simply producing something. Yes, it feels a little pointless, but it also feels deeply worthwhile. I’ll share some ways this has been helping me grow later in this post.
Once I had a nice collection, I started creating things.
I made some “soda can dip pens” out of aluminum cans, duct tape, and old brush handles. Let me say, this ended up being a favorite project from the online class. I have some very nice dip pens, so I almost skipped making ones out of aluminum cans, but these make the most interesting marks!
And then I drew bowerbirds with a deep blue ink and my DIY dip pens.
I mixed up my own dark blue gesso (instead of white or black) and gessoed some old papers and some canvas fabric…
And I did lino printing on fabric and paper…
(You can read more about my lino block cutting & printing HERE.)
I knitted up swatches while I was watching TV in the evening and then added some loose embroidery to them…
I even made a monogram with yarn on a piece of burlap mounted on paper…
I cut and collected, gathered and grouped…
I tea-stained new and old papers and baked them in the oven.
I just played…working with my hands and I’m still unsure of how it will all come together. But, I know the whole is worth more than the sum of its parts.
I’m excited about starting to put my pages together to see how my bowerbird book turns out. With all of these beautiful items, it can’t be bad.
While I think the book will be pretty and perhaps something I reference in the future, I think the real value is in the ripple of ideas that have come from dropping this “pointless” pebble into the creative waters.
I love the little knit and crochet swatches I made. How can those become products?
I am in love with the lino prints on linen. Can I produce some of my own fabric patterns using this method? Maybe prints, clothing, or papers?
And those soda can dip pen creations…I need to play with drawing more shapes and explore what that tool can do in my hands.
The ripples are seemingly endless and I find myself excited to see how far they will go.
As a little gift to those who might be inspired by this project or even aspects of this project, I scanned the little antique pocket book with cross-stitch monogram patterns to share. This is a little book that was sent to me by my friend Julia of Ponder & Purchase.
Feel free to download these, print them, and use them for your own projects…