by Fran Simone
If you are not prepared to be wrong, you will never create anything original.
– Sir Kenneth Robinson
Several years ago I signed up for a class in collage because I felt the need to stretch beyond the familiar, never mind that my artistic talent (or lack of) consists of drawing lopsided stick figures. In elementary school I couldn’t stay within the lines of a coloring book, and a painting class in college was a disaster.
The class met for five sessions in the messy studio of Marc, a gifted artist and enthusiastic teacher. My four classmates were repeats with Marc. Each was talented with a flair for style as evidenced by their bright colors, bold jewelry, and eye-catching hats. What am I doing here? Should I bolt out the door? But I had paid my money and set myself a challenge.
Session one. Marc talked about the elements of collage and turned us loose to page through old magazines and “cut out or tear out whatever strikes your fancy.” I looked, cut and tore, and wound up with a pile of flowers, birds, trees, and clouds. Well, maybe a nature theme.
Session two. More of the same: look, cut, tear, and puzzle over ways to arrange disparate pieces.. My classmates were way ahead. Two had already chosen themes, farm and music, and had begun arranging pieces on their canvasses. One sketched a design. I was still undecided.
Session three. Again, not a clue. Then, I stumbled across a picture of Michelangelo’s magnificent statue of David, which I had marveled at while visiting Florence. Eureka. My theme. Italy.
Session four. I located pictures of the Ponte Vecchio Bridge and Tower of Pisa.
“Great,” Marc said, “now tear pieces to represent the sky and the earth. Then begin to lay out your design.”
My first attempt was as out of proportion as an unassembled puzzle. Marc patiently showed me how to divide the canvas into three spaces. He penciled in three parallel lines in equal proportions.
“Now place the sky above, the objects in the middle, and the earth below.”
I devised various combinations and consulted with Marc and my classmates.
Final session. I carefully positioned my clouds and sky, statue, bridge, tower, and earth in various combinations. Running out of time and patience, I had to plunge right in like a swimmer jumping off a high diving board. Here goes. Glue pieces on canvas. No turning back. Hope for the best.
A month later we were invited to exhibit our creations with students in Marc’s art class at a local college. While the students’ works weren’t as magnificent as Michelangelo’s, they were pretty darn good. Although out of my league, I wasn’t embarrassed.
Today, my Italy collage is displayed on a book shelf in the office where I write. It reminds me to stretch beyond my comfort zone.
Fran Simone is a Professor Emeritus at Marshall University, South Charleston, WV, campus. She directed the West Virginia Writing Project and taught classes and conducted workshops in personal narrative, memoir and creative non-fiction. Her memoir, Dark Wine Waters: a Husband of a Thousand Joys and Sorrows was published last year.