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BookSmithStudio.com | Nikki Smith Book & Visual Artist

Handmade books and various art explorations

Only as high as I reach can I GROW…

January 9th, 2010 by Nikki Smith

I lost a (silly) bet with my husband and he challenged me to create a piece of artwork with a poem as his reward.  What a thoughtful way to reward me, too!  Below is the poem (by Karen Ravn) and the four collages I created, one for each sentiment in the poem:

Only as high as I reach can I GROW

Only as high

as I reach

Can I GROW

Only as far

as I seek

Can I GO

Only as far as I seek can I GO
Only as deep as I look can I SEE

Only as deep

as I look

Can I SEE

Only as much

as I dream

Can I BE

Only as much as I dream can I BE
Gold leaf tree detail

I chose this poem to inspire my husband.  We both continually strive to improve ourselves and to stretch our horizons.  We challenge each other to grow and to think and to do and to learn.  This poem and the artwork I’ve created around it reflect that creative spirit of curiosity, growth and boundless potential that I see every day in the two loves of my life.

The tree is a common element among all four collages to tie them together visually.  The first panel (GROW) has a silver-leafed matboard tree on top of an altered photo of the sky with a seagull.  The second panel (GO) uses copper leaf and an old map with the legend/poem raised as well.  The third panel (SEE) has the tree cut-out and is mounted above a mirror (for self-reflection).  The photo is a macro shot that I took of dew drops on a spiderweb in the grass.  The final panel (BE) is a mixed gold leaf tree on a beautiful photo of the heavens.  All four collages measure 6 x 8″ each.

The process:

After deciding on the poem and spending many nights thinking about it and jotting down ideas for techniques and subject matter for each of the stanzas, I finally had an idea that I wanted to try.  First, let me list a few of the varied ideas that I set aside.  I may use these on a future project someday.

  • Idea 1: Collaged backgrounds of vintage illustrations from old books or manuals, all tinted to the same color – perhaps dyed with coffee or tea for a sepia tone.  For example, for “high” the images could be astronomical instruments, diagrams of the movements of the heavens, blueprints for airplanes, etc.  For “far” it would be maps or modes of transportation.  For “deep” it could be drawings to do with the sea, the human eye, or microscopic cells/germs.  For “dream” it would be mind-maps and brain diagrams.
  • Idea 2: Simple color scheme of black, white and green.  Zentangles for the tree elements, varying the color positions.
  • Idea 3: Fabric over the matboard and beneath the photo, showing though a cut-out tree shape in the photo for a raised, fabric-covered tree.
  • Idea 4: Impressed and painted copper foil; embossed mirror; swirls or designs worked into the leaf…
  • And a dozen other ideas, no two alike.

My first step was to locate/create imagery that spoke to me for each of the panels.  I found some vintage illustrations that I liked, but not enough.  I eventually chose photography for the backgrounds rather than illustrations.  I poured through my own photos, my collection of old books and creative commons photos on the web.  I found and altered the perfect images and then added the text for each part of the poem.

I then cut the tree out of the SEE photo, as well as out of a plain piece of card stock.  I used the back side of this template to trace the tree segments onto mat board, three copies of each piece.  As I went, I numbered both the template and each piece so that I could later reassemble them.  I painstakingly cut the shapes with an exacto knife, learning that I had to always go counter-clockwise around each shape (I’m a lefty) to keep the angles right.  I had to re-cut several shapes as I learned what worked and what didn’t, especially on the itty-bitty ones.  I spent so many hours on this step that I lost feeling in the tip of one finger tip for several weeks after!

Once the pieces were ready, I added metal leaf to them.  Not as easy as it sounds!  The first time I didn’t use enough spray adhesive and had to spend days filling in the gaps on the edges.  I was wiser on the last tree, which was a relative breeze to do.  When complete, I sealed the leaf.

Finally, I mounted the SEE photo face-down as a template on a block of wood with a piece of paper to protect the front of the photo.  I applied Terrifically Tacky Tape (which is wonderful, I might add) to the backs of the tree pieces.  I then laid down one or two pieces at a time in the template, sticky side up.  I taped each of the three collages (with invisible gift wrap tape) temporarily to a piece of matboard to keep the pages stiff.  Then I lined up the top of the page with the top of the template and pressed it face-down on top.  This adhered the tree to the collage, bit-by-bit.  It was so exciting to see the pieces finally coming together after all of the time I had invested in this project!

The last step will be to double-mat and frame the collages.  I haven’t yet decided whether to do so four-across in a row, or 2 x 2 in a grid…Hmmm…  I can’t wait to see it on the wall!  =)

Detail: Only as far as I seek can I goWith this project, I’ve also challenged myself to present my art more, well, artistically.  In the past, I’ve usually taken a face-on photo of the artwork showing the whole piece, and maybe edited out the distracting background and adjusted the brightness.  However, I’ve been paying more attention to the images that catch my eye in magazines and on the web and I’ve noticed that the shots I like best are rarely so static.  They draw the eye, show an unusual angle, focus on detail, show depth and texture and even leave something to the imagination by how the shot is framed and cropped.  The art seems more touchable and real in these photos.

I hope that I have captured the essence of the artwork and the soul of the poem for you, and maybe inspired you to reach a bit higher, step out on your journey, reflect and grow and most of all, dream bigger dreams.

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7 Responses to “Only as high as I reach can I GROW…”

  1. Kathy says:

    This is absolutely amazing. How very talented you are. And I absolutely love the poem. May I use the poem to make a graduation gift for my son? It will be in fabric, as I am a quilter, but it is just so amazing, I really want to share it with him.
    I will be visiting often, as I have added your blog to my list. You are amazing.

  2. Carol Hansen says:

    What a fabulous challenge your husband set yo with glorious results. Thank you for sharing your thought and work process I learned a lot from it.

  3. Intriguing! I love your art and this poem is fascinating! Great blog! ♥

  4. Aunty Val says:

    Not only are you amazing, but your husband is too to encourage and support you.

  5. […] I’ve also had two projects of my own published on CraftGawker to-date: a close-up of my copper tree collage, and a mini-booklace with sheet music pages.  It’s neat to see my mini-book on the […]

  6. Tina says:

    your art work is wonderful…thank you for sharing.

  7. Anna says:

    This is beautiful! I was wondering if you would be willing to take front-facing pictures of these 4 pieces of art and e-mail them to me (for a price, of course)? I would really like to use them in a personal art project that I am making for my apartment. I have admired these for years 🙂

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