I sit scrunched down on the old rough boards of the front porch cutting out clothes for my paper doll. My tongue is curled tense against the corner of my mouth trying to be helpful, as I carefully manipulate the stupid blunt-nosed scissors. My thumb keeps getting stuck in the stupid hole, and the stupid rounded tips keep tearing the paper. The scissors are so awful, dull and cranky to use. They are covered in dried glue, so after every single cut I have to take the stupid things off, and reopen them using both hands to pry them apart. The pages of the catalog blow around and get in the way so I can’t see what I am doing. And then, just as I am almost done, I remember I have not left the little side tabs to fold over the doll, and so have wasted all my time. Plus, there are no more really pretty dresses left to cut out, only stupid pajamas and housecoats. I have ruined the best pictures and have no more good ones left for my paper doll. So stupid. STUPID SCISSORS!

I’m pretty sure it was at that point I took up the option to play exclusively with modeling-clay and crayons. I gave up using scissors and other snarky tools. Give me hands-on things to do and I am your kid. But all this fiddling about with tiny little pleated skirts, and sleeves, and straps, and tabs is for the birds! I would much rather be direct … just draw it on paper or make it with clay. Planning ahead, using tools and having patience … not my thing.

This vivid memory of my childhood frustration came flooding back during a recent studio day spent with my friend Ashby, a fellow artist. We had chosen to photocopy some of my old family pictures and were using them to create new images. As I watched, she built a wonderful picture of childhood by meticulously cutting out her selected images, replicating them, and juxtaposing them one on top of another. Her process created a wonderful narrative image … a newly conceived garden from summer days long gone. It was marvelous to watch her intricate creation of a new world. She spent the few hours we worked together happily snipping away using two or three different sizes of scissors, and leaving a floating world of negative cutouts and scraps of paper strewn about her person.

As I watched her use those scissors, I was transported back to the porch of our old Iowa City house. And once again, just like before, I found myself the victim of my own impatience. The whole idea of using the stupid scissors to carefully cut and paste the photographs was way too tedious for me. Instead, I went with chop, slash, and paste, thus producing an entirely different type of image than I had thought to create when I started. Not wrong … just a surprise.

Both Ashby and I created images impacted by our past experiences. Those early influences are reflected in our differing artistic skills. History gave her one thing, and I another. Whereas she is comfortable conceiving, planning and patiently executing her ideas, I am most often left to discover, uncover, renovate, and be surprised by events. I am never quite sure from whence cometh my finished work. I only know for sure it will be nothing like what I had thought it would be when I started. But such is the process I have come to recognize as my own. Just get started and switch it up as you go.

And as for the paper dolls that might have lived had I had more patience? Well, all I can say is I became an ace sculptor of tiny furniture made with modeling clay, and all my little toy animal friends lived in high style as a result. And I can’t say I was ever much of a doll person anyway.



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