Inspiration in a box

A few months ago, one of my older sisters sent me a box of scraps of paper, fabric, stickers, glass vials, and all sorts of oddments. A literal box of potential. She’s a wizard at artistic transmutation, so to have a box of stuff she chose for me that she would use in her own artistic endeavors is a little bit like being given a glimpse into how she sees the world and what she finds interesting.

This collection of stuff (for lack of a better word) made me think about how I can fall into the habit of seeing things on a macro level…where an object is already fully realized with form, color, texture, size and purpose. Where it is itself the destination, rather than a starting point. An end, versus a potential beginning.

So a few days ago, after a conversation with my baby sister about art and using it to connect with people and feel less isolated, I hauled out the box, determined to let whatever was inside inspire me in whatever direction it went. To try on my older sister’s artistic perspective by pawing through it all, unfocused on the specifics of what the stuff is or was, and instead on the texture and color. The feel. What it could become.


It felt awkward, at first. The colors were muted, and in a range of golds, blues, browns, and grays that are outside of where I tend to feel most comfortable. The textures, too, were different: glass, cork, repurposed tissues, cardstock, foil coated cupcake liners, scraps of maps and sheet music and foreign language newspapers.

Without the context for an object — the entirety of the package, the ability to read the language it features, the purpose of the item — the object itself became something that needed other objects in order to have meaning again. I guess that’s the whole point of collage, right? But collage isn’t a medium I work with very often, so to me it was a sort of revelation.

As I sat in front of all those bits and bobs, moving things on top of and around each other, seeing which items seem to say more together than they did alone, I could feel that I was building something. It turned out to be a new front cover for my current journal.

Journal cover (outside). Failed painting background, paper packaging, National Geographic chameleon cutout, foil coated cupcake paper, paper scraps, and a playing card.
Journal cover (inside). Failed painting background, newspaper clipping, sheet music scrap, washi tape, paper packaging, paper and map scraps, and a flower made from cupcake papers.

I love how this turned out. I don’t know if I have any more insight into my sisters’ artistic processes, but I do feel a little closer to them. And that was the point. 🙂

What do you think? Do you ever collage? What does it make you feel? How do you know if it’s going in an interesting direction?

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