Processing Grief with Art

Jun 30, 2021

As an artist, I explore seasons of the human experience. My botanical work delights in the beauty of nature’s seasons. And my conceptual work explores the more personal and inward seasons of life. Usually, my conceptual work is prompted by a season I am personally experiencing. Last year I created “A Stirring” Collection as I processed a time of withdrawal and limitation. And this year, after my father passed away, I began creating a collection that would help me process my grief.

 

The Inspiration

I’m focusing on the metaphor of grief and the ocean. This concept first came to me spring of 2020 as a way to understand my emotions and communicate them to others. I was sad and grieving in a similar but lesser degree than I am now. My father was just diagnosed with incurable cancer and give a year to live and my husband and I were suddenly displaced from our home. It was then that I realized grief and sadness came in waves and that all I could do was accept them as they came. My dad died just over a year later on the first day of spring 2021. This metaphor has helped me navigate the depths of my grief. And the process of creating this collection has given me a safe space to process and turn these hard and often ugly feelings into something beautiful.

I knew I wanted this collection to be abstract, have visual echos of the ocean, and have some sort of limitations as my conceptual collections always do. These thoughts and concepts came to me right after we found out my dad’s cancer has metastasized and that he, realistically, had weeks left to live. I did a few experiments with this concept on the rare days I was in the studio. Even then I was grieving what I knew would come. After he passed away, my darkroom became a safe space to grieve freely and I created the process and parameters of the collection intuitively.

 

The Process

Every piece has five layers. And each layer is given 24 hours to fully dry in the darkroom. So each piece is in the darkroom for at least five days before exposure. The first layer is a circle made with cyanotype sensitizer. The second layer is created by dropping sensitizer from the brush onto the pre-painted circle. The brush is not allowed to touch the page but I can alter the composition by tilting the paper causing the new drops of sensitizer to flow across the paper. The third layer is essentially the same but with water.

What is magical about this layer is that the water will pick up tiny bits of the thick drops of sensitizer from the second layer causing them to drift across the channels of water. This creates beautiful texture in the water as well as in the drops from the second layer. The fourth layer is made with diluted sensitizer and the brush is finally allowed to touch the paper again. The fifth and final layer is similar to the fourth but with water. My brushwork in the fourth layer tends to be rather heavy but in the fifth it is light.

These layers build up and break down. The process forces me to let go of control and embrace working with the ebbs and flows of the liquid.

After the last layer is finished, I then expose and wash the piece. Both of which take 2-3 times longer than my botanical pieces because of the thick layers. The wash phase isn’t just a simple part of the process anymore but it takes an active role in the composition. As the water washes away the cyanotype sensitizer, it also lifts bits of the heavily caked parts of the piece away. It reveals the most wonderful patterns and details.

Because of this, I never know how a piece will look until the very end. The unpredictable nature of this process is very fitting to represent the experience of grief.

The Collection

I was nervous and hesitant when exposing the first pieces. They were so meaningful but I had no idea what they were going to look like. I hoped they would be beautiful. But because I formed the process and parameters intuitively rather than strategically for aesthetics, there was a large chance they would turn out terrible. They didn’t. And I love making them.

At first, I thought I would keep the pieces rather small, imagining I would want the collection to feel very manageable. But by the middle of June, I had made 25 small and medium pieces with this process. I wanted to keep making them. And to go bigger. I may create a few smaller pieces in the future but for the next few weeks, I am focusing on large ones. Right now, I’m working with 22×30 paper. Because I am limited by the size of my darkroom, I can only work on one piece at a time. Which means I can only create one of these large pieces per week. I love the slowness and gentleness of it.

And I have no intention of rushing this process. I am aiming to release these pieces by the end of summer but we will see. In the meantime, I will keep my collectors updated on the progression of the Current Collection in my weekly studio updates via email newsletter.

I want to take a moment to say thank you. Many of you have been on this journey with me and have shared such kind words and support. And they have meant more to me than I can say. Thank you for sharing your empathy and your own stories with me. I hope that by sharing about this collection and process, those of us grieving in one way or another can connect, feel a little less alone, and find hope and beauty even here.

 

You might be interested in:

Processing Greif with Art

The Ocean Taught Me to Grieve

Inventing the Layered Process

Current Collection Playlist

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