Iteration = Inspiration

My respected colleague Iskra Johnson recently posed a question in her blog, “Who Is Your Muse?” in which she tags her mother as an ongoing source of inspiration.

I found myself thinking of my inspiration as coming from multiple gods rather than a single muse—that is, each work in a series builds on the previous one. When I worked with a team of program managers and software developers, at the end of every project we held a post mortem in hopes of gaining even better results on the next project. While every project had different parameters — context, deadline, team members, audience and so on — one finding was always the same: “I wish we had/allowed/planned for more time at the end so we could make more than only “must-do” fixes.  We didn’t know we’d have these better ideas until we saw the first (alpha), second (beta), third (final or release) version…”

The practice of iteration is sorely underrated. Defining imagination as an ability to envision that which doesn’t yet exist, most people — even artists — have less imagination than they think do. But the great thing about the self-directed practice of fine art is that you can keep iterating, if you acknowledge it as your muse

Seeing how the last creation came out is often the prompt for the next idea… 

Sometimes those ideas never seem to stop! Below you see my third artist book made from bark-beetle damaged wood and my twenty-fifth…. This video explains some of my inspiration, process and collaborations.

Bark Beetle Book Vol III: Bug Ruts

Bark Beetle Book Vol. III: Bug Ruts. Pine-beetle-bored bark in epoxy resin, laser-cut iron-oxide dyed felt pages, wire-edge bound with wooden “worry” beads. 9.25″L x 5″W x 2.5″H plus strings

vol xxiv composite (764x1024)

Bark Beetle Book Vol. XXV: What the Beetles Wrote. Wood with mountain pine beetle galleries, hand-made paper-cast from mountain pine beetle and other beetle galleries; iron-oxide dyed non-woven viscose book cloth. 11″H x 9.5″W x 7.5″D

A long time learning

Apologies for the lengthy silence. There are several reasons – I’ve used my blog mostly to describe my Artist-in-Residence voyages and explorations, and I’ve been at home for the last 8 months. And the most recent residency, at Zion National Park, was such an apex of personal and artistic experience that everything else has felt un-newsworthy.

However I have recently had a long exploration come to a fruition worth sharing. In 2011 I heard Simon Starling talk at the Banff Centre. A high-wattage light bulb went off for me then that I have been thinking about ever since: how can the creative process be as much of the meaning as the resulting artifact? That is, how you make something can be as important as the appearance of what you made. While still at that Banff residency, and with some debt to Etsuko Ichikawa, this took me down the path of drawing with wood burning tools and soldering irons.

Suze's Piece Group Show

Another version of What the Fire Wrote – now titled Book of Fire

I also began to wonder about paper as one of many wood products, and how to might it lend meaning to representations of burned trees. I’ve been painting and drawing burned trees for more than five years; I have gradually come to realize that it’s the charred, fire-scarred, semi-regular, chunked leftovers that excite my visual neurons the most, and I have increasingly focused in on those patterns in my paintings. Fire-scarring is my landscape.

A portion of a Suze Woolf painting, Partial Scar

A portion of Partial Scar

A portion of a Suze Woolf painting  The Topography of Fire

A portion of The Topography of Fire

A portion of Northgate Casualty

A portion of Northgate Casualty

Somewhere along this fascination I realized I wanted to make dimensional casts of these patterns. In 2012 I took a class on plaster molds from the late Susan Balshor. Each iteration I learned something more about what worked and what didn’t (I learned you can’t, for example, pour india ink into the paper pulp and except to pull it out of a plaster mold intact. I didn’t dare use strengthening additives like matte medium or methyl cellulose, as recommended by the experts at  Carriage House Paper, for fear it would stick to the detailed plaster molds. I gained patience waiting until the pulp is really dry and beginning to shrink away from the sides. Sometimes my pulp was too thick and wouldn’t dry, or too thin, and too fragile…)

Then I got some help with silicon molds (thanks Mark Walker), and the learning curve began all over again. It was great being able to peel back the mold from deep undercuts and out of small cracks. The original didn’t crumble to pieces while being extricated from the mold. But my paper pulp never dried. I made it thinner and added lots of methyl cellulose, less afraid of the pulp adhering to the slippery silicon molds. I found the “Drying” cycle on my home oven, intended for making fruit leathers. I learned that 140 degrees scorches the paper but 10-12 hours at 120 degrees with the convection fan going and the door open worked quite well.

Here at last, then, two years’ worth of learning, artifacts of a strange beauty and a process related to their meaning.

Assemblage by Suze Woolf

Obverse: Paper casts, pyrography on shaped paper and watercolor on paper, 32 x 22

Assemblage by Suze Woolf

Inverse: Watercolor on shaped paper, paper casts, 32 x 11