Monthly Archives: March 2014

Collecting as an art process

Many of us collect things, all kinds of things. Some people love to display their collections. For others, it’s more about classifying and arranging, maybe a way of making sense of the world around them.

And then there are artists for whom the collecting is a central part of the art process. Photographer Barry Rosenthal is a junk collector after my own heart, but he takes collecting to a new level in his series Found In Nature.

Green Containers

Straws, Brooklyn, NY

In an interview with Feature Shoot, he said this about his creative process:

From collecting comes inspiration for new ideas and pieces. Collecting is the foundation of the project. I collect everything myself. I collect only from coastal areas that have an immediate connection to the ocean. Periodic collecting is a means of renewing the project. I seem to pick up energy from collecting to carry me further with my work.

Blue Ocean

Collecting is the first step in a creative cycle. Finding a theme, sorting the objects, combining objects, building a composition, filling a space, and finding a lighting solution are steps I go through to make a piece. At some point in building the composition or sculpture some intangible emotional feeling is imparted to the piece. There is an intimacy between the objects and myself. Intimacy transforms into soul.


Forks Knives Spoons

I have learned that plastic is forever. Breaking down plastic pollution into ever smaller bits is not a solution. Plastic must be removed from the environment and not allowed to cover the oceans and land. The oceans need advocates. I do a small part to further the visibility of ocean-borne pollution. Education is important in showing what is already in the environment. I’m an artist. I didn’t start out to make a political statement with my work. I was attracted to these ‘lost’ objects. The work continues to evolve. I want to make a statement about contemporary archeology. We are what we produce.

Oil, Alcohol and Drugs

You can find more of Rosenthal’s Found in Nature series here.

Barry Rosenthal

Junk sculptures

I’m someone who loves to collect discarded stuff to use for art materials.  The fact that I find these things in the course of my everyday life gives my work another layer of personal meaning. The ingredients in my work tend to have some history: the wrapping paper from a friend’s baby shower, the abandoned nest from under the eave, the wires collected on dog walks in Central Park.

Over the years, I have encouraged kids that I’ve worked with to collect things that they find in the course of their days, and they have created some beautiful works with those materials. Here are two of my favorites.


The Lonely Sailor 

AT collage2170


The bling thing


Being a child art therapist and an arts & crafts counselor has involved a fair amount of jewelry-making over the years. There are a lot of things to recommend jewelry-making as an activity in both situations.

  • This activity is festive and fun, like playing dress-up or getting ready for Halloween.
  • Hand-made jewelry tends to become a symbol of identity that is proudly worn.
  • Jewelry styles are so diverse that anything goes, and kids can forget about the creativity-crushing idea of right and wrong.
  • Materials are cheap or free and easy to come by. Whatever materials you have around are enough to come up with some kind of jewelry project.
  • Stringing beads and objects is meditative and calming and promotes easy companionship.
  • Because this activity involves many small items, there is usually a sharing of materials in a group. These shared elements connect the varied finished pieces, a nice metaphor for group connectedness.
  • Kids love to make presents for friends and family, and in our culture a gift of jewelry is associated with love.

Pretty much anything you have on hand for stringing works fine. Ribbon, telephone wire, lanyard, or shoelaces are good bets. The ball chains pictured were donated for camp arts & crafts, and I can personally guarantee that they are universally loved, no matter the age or gender. You can buy them here.

What to put on the strings? Beads, buttons, decorated cardboard pendants, wooden spools, styrofoam peanuts, paper, found objects, anything. Sculpey and Model Magic are great for making beads. And remember: you can make a bead out of anything you can punch a hole in. Paint and decorate freely!

Below are some examples of materials and of jewelry created in art therapy sessions, in the camp arts & crafts room, and in my very own basement studio.

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Some art therapy clients benefit from working within a frame. If they have difficulty containing their feelings and behavior and lose control easily, they will most likely have trouble controlling art materials too. So it’s important to provide them with boundaries in the form of materials which can help them to feel more self-contained, organized, safe, and successful.

A frame can be as simple as a circle drawn on a piece of paper, but sometimes an actual physical boundary is more helpful to clients who are struggling with self-control. Cardboard berry flats make great readymade frames or shadowboxes, perfect for both 2-D and 3-D work. They come in several sizes and some even have handles that can be slipped through the holes to make a hanger.




If you have it in your mind to look for frames, you will find them everywhere. Thrift shops are loaded with them. But you don’t really need to spend any money. Any supermarket is glad to have you take those berry flats off their hands and save them the work of breaking them down for disposal. You can also make simple frames yourself. And never underestimate the great possibilities of scavenging. Below: different-sized old white drawer fronts that were left out on the street for trash pickup; a black thrift shop frame; a small corrugated packing box; and donated pre-cut oak tag frames.


Here is the work of a child who was given a paper-lined wooden cigar boxtop to work with. She used paints and Sculpey polymer clay to create her 3-D Rainbow Girl self-portrait.





Inspiration: Sol LeWitt at Mass MoCA

If you’ve never been to the Museum of Contemporary Art in North Adams, MA, known as Mass MoCA, put it on your to-do list. It’s a large complex of twenty-six 19th-century factory buildings which opened in 1990 to exhibit large works of contemporary art and provide performance spaces. The entire complex is so magnificent that it’s well worth visiting just to see the buildings, with their brick facades and interiors, courtyards, passageways, bridges, and elevated walkways. On a bright day, the sun pours through long windows and paints the floors with light. Even the restrooms, which preserve the original architectural elements and fixtures, are amazing.

There’s a fantastic show at Mass MoCA right now. Sol LeWitt: A Wall Drawing Retrospective opened in 2008, many years in the planning. One hundred and five of LeWitt’s large-scale wall drawings, spanning the artist’s career, grace nearly an acre of walls that have been installed, per LeWitt’s own specifications, over three stories of Building #7, which was fully restored for the show.

Two very Renaissance things about these majestic works:

  • They are frescoes!
  • LeWitt plans them out very methodically and meticulously. But he leaves the actual execution to apprentices. A team of sixty-five artists and art students drafted and painted for six months according to his diagrams and instructions.

This show is a real treat. It pulses with color and energy. Exhilarating, grand, and fun. The process by which the works were conceived and brought to life is fascinating and thought-provoking. LeWitt’s work is rooted in basic geometry, and the materials are simple: pencils, colored inks, crayons, brushes. He provided detailed instructions to his apprentices, so the works can be reproduced anywhere. But LeWitt knew that there will always be subtle differences in each reproduction. There are some great videos of the six-month creation process. The interplay between the works, the building, and the light is gorgeous. Take a look below. If you respond the way I did and you’re within striking distance, try and make some plans to get there. Good news: the show will run for 25 years (yes, that’s TWENTY-FIVE), until 2033. So you have plenty of time.

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As a result of this show, I have a new item on my bucket list: a chapel that’s part of LeWitt’s Wall Drawings series called the Cappella delle Brunate in Piedmont, Italy. It’s quite a bit further afield than Mass MoCA. But it’s on the list…