Tuesday, February 23, 2010

Cry ~ Feb Bead Journal Project ~ Finished!

detail, bead embroidery collage, bead journal project for February, by Robin Atkins
I look at magazines like the Feb. issue of Cloth Paper Scissors and think "I'll never be able to do collage well, especially collage with words." Then I have to remind myself about "baby steps" and about how learning takes time and practice.

OK. That's the program for this year's BJP... one piece at a time... just do it... see how it grows (or doesn't)! My piece for February is finished and at least I like it better than the one for January. Here's how it looks (click picture to see detail).

bead embroidery collage, bead journal project for February, by Robin Atkins
Originally, when I spontaneously chose six words for the month, I didn't have any sense that they were related. The word I circled as the most compelling at that moment was cry. Immediately I wanted to change my mind, to circle play or any of the other words. Three weeks later, with my piece complete, I'm so glad I stuck with my original choice because, little by little, I realized that all six of my words are about my Mom and our relationship.

bead embroidery by Robin Atkins, heart
I wrote about my tear in the center of the beaded heart holding a picture of Mom and about my love surrounding her in my previous post here. Now, looking at the completed piece, so many associations and memories of Mom (some recent, some in the distant past of childhood) are unfolding... triggered by all six of the words!

When I view it, not as attempted collage, not as art, but as a story about my Mom and me, it's a delight and a treasure! Maybe that's a lesson for us with our art... to view (and to value) it from the standpoint of what it tells us. Just a thought...

The technical and design issue for me about collage with paper, cloth and beads is how to make all the elements interconnected and whole. To make the words for this piece, I created them in Photoshop and then printed them on fabric (poplin) with my inkjet printer. The heart is beaded on felt. The background is drawing paper painted with acrylic paints.

When I first laid out the three elements, the paper and heart looked OK together, but the words looked dull and unrelated. What could I do to make them come forward a little, but not so much as to overpower the heart? The answer came in steps and with trial and error...

First I stitched beads around the borders of each word. That helped a little, but not enough. I needed some way to enhance the edges of the words, bring the color and texture of them more in line with the little edge of felt showing around the beading on the heart. I tried crocheting a scalloped edge with a single strand of embroidery floss. Yuk! I tried drawing around the edges with marking pen. Yuk! Finally I got the idea of couching a six-strand length of embroidery floss around the edge. That worked pretty well... the color was right and it gave a slightly uneven texture, similar to the felt. Here's a picture of the three steps... 1- plain, 2- with beads and 3- with a couched edge.

embellished words and border treatments
I'm looking forward to March and already curious about what six words will pop into my mind on March 1st! It's a fantastic pleasure to look at all the juicy, creative, fun, stimulating pieces being done by this year's BJP participants. OMG!!! We are soooooooooooooo way cool!

Thanks to everyone who commented on my previous post about Mom and me and crying... I really appreciate your kindness and encouragement!

Technical information:
  • Black background paper - 8.5 x 11 inches
  • Painted background paper - 7 x 7 inches
  • Beading - completed on red wool felt, then stitched to background paper
  • Words - created in Photoshop, printed on fabric, glued to paper with bookbinder's glue


  1. This seems like a very courageous piece to me. I think some of the best art tells a story, to the artist and to the viewer. I also think that the tear in the middle of your heart is not always a tear of sadness. Thank you for sharing a little of the story of you and your mom.

  2. Oh Robin, this piece is so precious it brought tears to my eyes! It is very encouraging to a starter like myself to read that you too are struggling with new techniques, ideas that don't come out of your hands the way they are formed in your mind...
    I totally agree with:
    "(...) not as art, but as a story (...), it's a delight and a treasure! Maybe that's a lesson for us with our art... to view (and to value) it from the standpoint of what it tells us. (...)"
    I too am experiencing the same marvel at what I am told through my work with beads, cloth and floss.
    Thank you so much again for sharing your life's stories with us.

  3. What a wonderful collection of words to express your love for your Mother. Thanks for sharing her story with us!

    The way you are treating collage it WAY better than you give yourself credit for!

    An I especially like the combination of beads and couching around your words!

  4. Anonymous2:34 AM

    Absolutely stunning. I love the beading which I am so interested in learning. The words framed in boxes makes it complete. Wow, your work is so beautiful. I love looking at it.

    What a wonderful job for Feb!!!!

    Ann Flowers

  5. Hi Robin
    I am in total agreement with your thought..Our lesson in our art is in viewing what our creation tells about us. Maybe not so much while you are creating, but when you are done and think about your thoughts while creating it, you see how you transfered your thoughts to your art. This is what the BJP has taught me. Self Therapy isn't it?

    I love your beading of course, but mating it with collage is pretty cool!

  6. One of the most challenging and important steps top take when we are working on a project that involves a new technique , is to BANISH our Inner Critic!!! Good job you!!! the meaning of this piece is very obvious to you now and it is not about the process- the maning is what is important hereand of course the glorious inpirational technique and bead choices !!!
    LOve this piece!!!

  7. It's a lovely piece. You are being too hard on yourself-you do collage very well.

  8. I agree with everyone's comments and like Carol said 'Self-Therapy'! It's amazing what beading ends up telling us if we just let it. This is a beautiful piece. Thanks for sharing your thoughts about your Mom and what this means to you. And for the technical details - good to know that everyone struggles with how to make their piece look 'right'!

  9. Robin you hit every feeling and emotion right on. I am in the process of creating a piece that represents me and my sister who passed 7 weeks ago. It will never heal my broken heart, however, it allows me to carry on.

    This piece offers so much more than just art.


  10. I'm sorry that you're not totally satisfied with your January piece! I loved it. But today as I read through your post, I realized that part of the reason I had such a strong reaction to it was because it reflected MY life at this moment :-)

    So there you have it. My reaction was totally personal, as was yours. I could just echo what everyone else has said about this lovely February piece, but I thought you might like to know more about last month's piece too. xoxo Cyndi

  11. Robin, I love reading about how your project evolved. The end result is very touching. I lost my mother many years ago but still want to show her things that I've created. She was always so pleased with what I was making. I too can't wait to see March's words. Gita

  12. Robin, this is an amazing piece.

  13. your work always inspires me. i'm totally amazed at how quickly you can learn and be on your way to mastering a new form of art with your beads. i spent some time reflecting on your words for this month and thought about how they applied to my mother as well. thank you for sharing your story and your art because it has meaning for me too.

  14. What a great idea!!! Isn't it surprising that the works all come together with the art piece. Your mother would be so proud. Lise

  15. I have to admit I was curious to find out where you'd go with your words this month. And cry was an unexpected choice for me to see you use. That word just didn't seem to fit....but seeing your finished piece, WOW! It certainly couldn't have been a better choice! I love this piece, it's meaning and the journey you took with it!

    Therapy, learning, emotion...it's all a part of the artful journey we take.

  16. Thank you, everyone, for your wonderful, supportive comments. Your encouragement makes it easier for me to work outside of my comfort zone and try new things and even post the results. I really appreciate the time it takes for you to read and comment!

  17. As always, Robin, I am in awe of your work. And you have a way of getting to the heart (if you will excuse the pun) of the matter. Your explanation of your work tells us of your feelings about it, but leaves the way open for us to interpret it on our own also. You always encourage us to take that one more step forward into new areas, previously unexplored. Brava for you!

  18. Well Robin for being a beginner at collage, I think you did an amazing job. I love your teardop photo of your Mom. I think it is so sweet that you have so many memories of growing up being loved by this wonderful woman. I dont know her personally but it seems she has had a profound effect on your life and I envy that. I grew up with an alcoholic mother and I have lived my life being a much better Mother to my children than my own was to me. I think you are both lucky to have each other. Your beadwork, as always, is lovely. Great work my friend.

  19. Anonymous1:48 PM

    This piece has so much meaning that it's impossible to comment in a way that does it justice, but what went into it is appreciated immeasurably.
    The multiple media you used to create this one is a challenge to all -- grow, grow, and grow some more. I can see so much more in this one than the last one, but I still love that one too! Each one has it's own merits, impossible to pick a favorite.

  20. There is no such thing as not doing collage well! :D

  21. I was just thinking today...that THE number one thing that the bead journal project has taught me...is about STORY...

    The story of the materials used...the story of the emotions that surfaced while stitching..the story that evolves as we create each piece. my needlework has taken on so much more meaning because of these stories.

    And your story this month...the one told in words and in beads and collage...is very beautiful. And I don't think the edges of those words could have been finished more perfectly...xo Susan

  22. Wow...I love the heart and addition of the way you printed and beaded the words adds so much! I'm sure you noted before what size your pieces are. I have to check that out! I've been behind in checking my dashboard on blogger for the past few days...just too busy in sunny Florida!

  23. Love your work, you are an inspiration. I am working on this years pieces, but never received the e-mail to link me to the blog for 2010 so cannot post my thoughts there. Have tried several e-mails, but no replies. i will keep working,hoping someone will send me the link. Love your books also.

  24. Well I'm very impressed with your beginning collage efforts! This is such a pretty piece. I especially like the teardrop in the middle, the white looks so pretty and contrasts with the bright colors. This is such an enduring way to honor your mother and your relationship with her.

  25. The heart is exquisite! I've realized I need to buy your books and start learning how bead embroidery is really done. :) (Getting them in Switzerland is the challenge!) And I think the text and embroidery work together much better in this piece than the last. I also love the colors and textures of the fabric.

    Since you're a collage beginner, I hope you don't mind a constructive critique. (I'd welcome the same on my beading projects!)

    Text collage is particularly difficult to pull off because words and images have such different valences, and one needs to worry about both visual composition and textual composition. Folks in advertising have a ton of experience doing this, and so it can help to analyze effective text & image ads (sheerly for aesthetic value) to see how they pull it off. There are also wonderful artists who combine text and image, and they're worth studying too. My all time favorite is Magritte's "Ceci n'est pas une pipe," where image, text and concept all hang in exquisite balance. Check out Lichtenstein, Sue Coe, Hanna Hoch, Raoul Hausmann, Jasper Johns, Ed Fella, Tanya Hartman, Cindy Kane, Lois Main Templeton. Even Picasso tried his hand at it.

    The "packaging" of the word tags (framing, edging, little tails) overwhelms the words themselves, especially since the words are printed on such a busy background. Altogether, the words + packages overpower the heart, and make the composition feel like it wants to tilt counterclockwise. (This could be countered by pushing the heart further to the right, breaking the frame with almost half the heart, and that would also give it a more spacious feeling. As it is, the words are crowding the heart.)

    I spent many years designing books and journals, and I learned from typography experts that it's best to mix no more than two different typefaces on a page, and to stick with one headline typeface. You've got a little more freedom in typographic art, but the principle still holds. Once you start mixing a lot of different styles of title font, you wind up diminishing the impact of each font, rather than enhancing it. Sometimes that's an artist's goal, but I don't think it is here. I would have suggested breaking this piece into multiple frames, and doing one heart associated with one word in the typeface you feel suits it, and combining in an installation where a viewer could wander and experience each aspect fully and separately, as well as seeing them as part of whole. But there are many ways to achieve the same end.

    I love watching experts in one area start to venture into another -- you'll learn very quickly and soon you'll forget you were ever a beginner at collage!


  26. Excellent tute on the use of words in artworks by Kali above. And Mum looks content surrounded by a lovely flower garden. K.

  27. Your February piece is lovely. I'm so sorry to hear your mother is not doing well. I've been thinking about you and your mom and I'm remembering that although my mom died in 1977, we still talk to each other.

    I am amazed at how the Bead Journal Project is lifting my spirits. The days I work on my pieces are "red letter days," You are a wonderful mentor and friend. Your comments about my first piece were a wonderful gift.


  28. To Kali ~ Thank you so much for taking the time to write a thoughtful comment and give me such great feedback. I appreciate and understand the points you make. In fact, it's stimulating a lot of thinking and internet research... ;>} Robin A.

  29. The beaded heart is beautiful. Great work!

  30. Once again you make a project that not only pleases my eyes, but touches my heart. I love the picture of your mother in the middle and the beads seem to caress her and hold her with love. And, you've used buttons! I've inherited my mother's lovely button stash and have wondered how to work it into my bjp pieces. Now you have given me some ideas!Its a beautiful piece and I thank you for sharing so much of the back story that goes with it.


Thanks you for joining the discussion on this post today!