Timeout for Art: Generating, Appropriating and Revisiting Ideas

by Cindy Ricksgers

This is an old xerox color copy of an early collagraph of mine.

It was late winter. I was in East Lansing, Michigan, working on a graduate degree at Michigan State University. “Topper” McDonough had sent me a Valentine card, with a nice letter including all the news and gossip from Beaver Island. I had it hanging in my ceramics studio. On a whim one day, I dismantled the card and---combined with a photograph and some torn bits of sandpaper---put together a collagraph plate that resulted in this image.

The heart is one of those universal symbols that comes wrapped up with all of its own meanings. Often I avoid things like that, as it seems to define the piece beyond my interpretation. Other times it works as a means of shorthand.

In this case, I felt it had power beyond the symbol, and beyond my take on it. It had energy derived from the sweet note from a friend, that had brightened a dark and lonesome time.

I like the heart surrounded by other bits, as if it’s on stage. It was one of my most popular original prints, and I literally wore out the plate from printing it. Unlike intaglio plates of copper or zinc, the collagraph plate is generally made of softer materials, and has a short life. This particular plate was on a piece of cardboard gleaned from the back of a sketchbook. It’s pretty surprising that it lasted through printing almost fifty images.

I used a different palette for each image, and loved showing them side-by-side with all the different colors. Sometimes the background would pop, other times the heart shape would stand out. Though the image was the same, every one was unique.

I am using the heart symbol again, in a couple new projects.

This time, it was inspired by the image of a small heart---a pendant to be worn as a necklace---that was built out of the inner workings of a wristwatch.

That image sparked ideas for one hundred different variations in my mind.

I’ve been making handmade papers, cutting fabric and felt, pulling out scraps of painted papers, rick-rack and foil and "going to town" with this idea. My plan is a series of collagraph prints, and also a series of low relief collages set into shadow boxes. The static, predictable imagery will allow me to explore colors, textures and combinations with abandon.

I worry, as most artists do, where influence becomes appropriation, and where appropriation is stealing. We all want our ideas to be our own.

To pay attention to the inspiration....then delve into the process....is the best way, in my humble opinion, to remain true to your work.