The Working Waterfront

Adventures in art

Exploring a new medium invigorates

By Barbara Fernald
Posted 2023-05-10
Last Modified 2023-05-10

As I sit in my 8-foot by 10-foot studio on a sunny afternoon in the fourth week of February I think about the strange winter we’ve experienced. The islands have not had more than 3 inches of snow at a time and that hasn’t lasted.

There have been days in the 40s and even some 50 degree days. The mild weather has been peppered with wind, cold, drizzle, and clouds, but it seems we’ve had fewer storms than other years. The storms we experienced have been powerful, though. The high winds and dangerous temperatures packed a wallop, causing power outages, frozen pipes, and canceled boats.

In my garden a few crocus shoots are now showing above the leaves. It feels too early. I cross my fingers that the 84 bulbs I planted last fall have been OK without a cover of snow. Now it looks like we’ll get 4 to 8 inches in late February as I write. This winter has been a real weather salad. All bits and pieces.

Collage seems to be my theme this winter, whether it’s jigsaw puzzles, the weather, or the art form I’ve chosen to explore more deeply.

I’ve spent a good part of the quiet season in my tiny studio, surrounded by scraps of colored paper, having a wonderful time putting them together to make a whole.

I took home a diverse collection of scraps along with some of the heaviest watercolor paper I’ve ever seen.

When my desire to make jewelry waned during the COVID years, I found other ways to keep connected to my studio. Last year I joined a “drawing-a-day” group on-line for February and it helped so much, I did it again.

This year I’ve made more collages than drawings. Lines are lines whether drawn with a pencil or created by the edges of paper. The group doesn’t seem to mind and many of my collages include some drawing as I experiment with metallic pens and acrylic paint markers.

I first learned about tissue paper collage in 6th grade and I’ve collected scraps of paper for years. The tin of Swiss watercolor crayons I’m using dates back to my time in college 48 years ago. As I work, I appreciate the connection to my 12-year-old self, my college self, and the fact that I rarely throw out art supplies. I think I’ve just been waiting for this line up of stars to get me going.

Last June, I had the privilege of spending a few creative sessions with my friend Miklos as he marked his last days on Islesford, still making art when he felt up to it. I worked with tissue as we talked about life and death while he reworked some pieces for an upcoming show. In August he passed away quietly, surrounded by close family.

In the fall, his widow, Clare, invited me to look through one of the drawers in his studio. It contained torn prints and experiments with paint. Pieces of pieces he had set aside for collage.

I took home a diverse collection of scraps along with some of the heaviest watercolor paper I’ve ever seen. I couldn’t wait to just pick a piece and see where it led me. Every time I thought I was going to work on some jewelry, I’d be drawn to the work area with the cool paper and pens. It makes me really happy.

I’m trying hard to follow a one-day-at-a-time attitude and trusting that it’s leading me in a positive direction. Design ideas pop up when I’m working on something totally different so the collage work has helped me find my way back to jewelry work as well.

After almost three years of COVID with its fears, limitations, and (for me) the depression, I’m feeling more positive and paying more attention to the good times which will piece together the “new normal” collage of my life.

Last week, I started work on an owl collage in honor of Miklos. After a few hours Bruce and I went for a walk. At one point he stopped and quietly pointed up. A barred owl sat on a low tree branch about 15 feet away. We all stayed still and watched each other for a good five minutes. Sometimes the stars just line up.

Barbara Fernald lives and writes on Islesford (Little Cranberry Island). She may be reached at