WHAT: If you have ordered something from my Etsy store recently, or if you get a Christmas card from me, you will find inside one or both of the following invitations for #12daysoftomsbeard.
These tags are intended for drawing on or decorating, then sending back to me, so that I can hang them on Tom’s beard each day from December 25 to January 6. During that time I will take a crazy picture of the results to put on social media for people to find when they search for the hashtag #12daysoftomsbeard. Last year Tom and I experimented with different lighting effects, backgrounds and filters to come up with something unusual each day. Last year I tried to group the beard art items, background and filters by color because bright colors usually go far toward cheering and inspiring me.
Here are some examples of tags I decorated last year, a couple that people sent in to me, and a few images that resulted.
WHY: We mostly like to do this because it’s a lot of fun, and it makes us laugh! You should have seen my MIL’s reaction when she saw the orange picture of Tom! “What have you done to my son!!!” We could do this without any participation from others, but we appreciate it whenever anyone wants to join in. It’s an extra creative challenge to use something someone else sent in, and it’s a way to connect with people who are sometimes separated by distance or who I don’t even know in “real life”.
Why do people paint rocks and leave them for others to find? Why do Jeep owners put rubber ducks on random other Jeeps? Why did I put a banana peel on my head earlier this year and have my picture taken with it on? Why did people in Toronto make a memorial display for a dead raccoon and share it on social media? Group activities and performance art projects are a satisfying activity for some reason, for quite a few people. I will probably write more later about the psychological reasons why that is the case.
Earlier this year I started a SWOT analysis of #12daysoftomsbeard to try to use some of what I learned in marketing class to try to increase participation this year. I didn’t finish the analysis yet, but I will keep adding onto it in the future as I finish sections. Here it is if you want to read what I have written so far – SWOT Analysis of #12daysoftomsbeard.
HOW – One idea I want to try for increasing participation is to provide some more specific instructions. The wording on the invitations reads: “To play, color, glue, punch, stamp or otherwise decorate this tag.” For some people, that will be enough guidance, others might feel comfortable with something more specific.
I am going to suggest techniques to try, and post examples here on this page. Watch this space as I add them! Since I like to use mixed media a lot, it will be a challenge for me to use just one technique at a time, so maybe I’ll try that. Enjoy!
?????????? – What other techniques could be used?
Here is a link to a slideshow of images from the web page of IUOMA – The International Union of Mail Artists. I’ve been uploading the beard pictures to this gallery as I go. Intermixed are images that other people are uploading of conceptual art that they are both sending and receiving. This slide show changes daily as new images get added and older ones drop off. It might give you some ideas! Sometimes I put this slideshow on the screen while I’m working for extra inspiration!
I fell down the stairs and bent my foot the wrong way. I might have two broken toes, I realize it could have been a lot worse. The pain is way down today so my head is more clear and I can actually write something! I don’t have to spend 100% of my time off of my foot until I have a follow up appointment with an orthopedic doctor, but I will have to spend the majority of my time with it elevated, at least for awhile. Not sure for how long, but in the meantime I’m taking the opportunity to study my art therapy book and my horticultural therapy books to see if there is anything I can do to cope better with the fear and frustration of being temporarily unable to move around much. I’d also like to help my stressed out family cope with helping me with my injury while dealing with other severe recent losses. What can I learn while I study and try things out?
Having Some Fun With Negative Space
I started out by working on some collages I began during #virtualartparty number 4, an online session my husband and I hosted to help our friends and family do a little art and hopefully feel less lonely during the pandemic. I’ll write more about the collages later, but for now I want to write about the leftover cut away paper pieces I was dropping in the waste basket to be composted. The shapes were interesting, and reminded me of something. What was it? Why were these scraps interesting? Then I remembered this really cool architecture photo I had put on an Architecture Pinterest board. And some sketches I’d done for a ceramics class in the spring of 1990. Good memories of one of those times when I couldn’t stop the ideas from coming, and a pretty good percentage of them still seem exciting to me.
What I was noticing was the shapes made by the negative space – the parts I cut away – and how they reminded me of positive and negative shapes that I responded strongly to. I took the most interesting white paper scraps back out of the waste basket and glued them down on black paper. I scanned them into the computer to make these positive and negative images to see if they inspired me to make something with them.
Using Photoshop, I made selection outlines out of the white shapes, stroked them in black, and printed out the results as coloring pages so I can try to encourage myself and other people to enjoy the benefits of coloring and art making. There is enough going on to get people started – sometimes a blank page is intimidating if people don’t know what to draw or color – that’s a tip I learned long ago in Drawing 1. There is still room for individual creativity in these and other coloring pages I’ve made available for free download.
The shapes that resulted from the paper cutting do somewhat resemble natural forms, but the overall design so far is abstract. Is abstract art good for therapeutic purposes?
I often encourage people to try making some abstract art in a project that is relatively low stakes such as an art journal page, because my reasoning has been that many untrained artists are afraid that they can’t draw and therefore are discouraged from making art that attempts to be representational. If I can show them how to make art from found papers and found objects, maybe that will help them become less inhibited and just have fun.
My favorite kind of art is abstract and if need be I can keep myself entertained with shapes, colors, textures and lines for hours if not days on end. Even if I think it’s fascinating and fun, abstract art is likely going to be a hard sell for most people. Those who appreciate abstract art the most are often art and design professionals or people very knowledgeable about art, such as patrons or collectors. The general population is mostly not that big of a fan and prefers recognizable nature-based images (Marcus and Sachs 15). We know from reactions to modern art and modern public sculpture how wide the gulf can be between the tastes of art and design professionals and the general public. If this sounds elitist, it’s not meant to be, it’s just a fact pointed out in a therapy book to help practitioners offer projects that are most helpful to the patient (Marcus and Sachs 15).
Abstract art isn’t necessarily therapeutic to people with certain conditions or states of mind. Experiments on physically or emotionally stressed patients revealed not only an affinity toward nature imagery but hostility to abstract art – even to the point of attacking the abstract pieces in some cases. The same artwork often prompted positive reactions from the staff, showing how the varying states of mind of individuals influenced how the artwork was perceived (Marcus and Sachs 30-31).
Practitioners intending to use art to facilitate health should keep the client’s needs in mind above their own personal tastes (Marcus and Sachs 15). Stress is detrimental to healing, both mentally and physically (Marcus and Sachs 25), so the last thing I would want to do is add to someone’s stress if I was trying to help them.
What could I add to my abstract background to make a project that is more soothing to the general public? My project is aimed at people who want to color but don’t necessarily want to draw. I have several stencils in my collection with botanical imagery that will appeal to the universal human need for nature-based imagery. I can use colors that are soothing and also found in nature. I chose blues and greens for this demo because hot colors might aggravate certain conditions and interfere with wellness (Winterbottom and Wagenfeld 182).
Art Journal Page
Here is an art journal page I made with one of my abstract printouts and a botanical themed stencil.
Marcus, Clare Cooper and Naomi A. Sachs. Therapeutic Landscapes: An Evidence-Based Approach to Designing Healing Gardens and Restorative Outdoor Spaces. Wiley, 2014.
Winterbottom, Daniel and Amy Wagenfeld. Therapeutic Gardens: Design for Healing Spaces. Timber Press, 2015.
My Dad and I are making Thank You cards following the funerals of my uncle Dave and brother Larry. Tom helped a lot too with the gluing. I’m feeling the effects that a lot of people feel after serious grief and trauma: disrupted sleep, fatigue, brain fog, joint pain, muscle pain, etc. These symptoms are normal for some people after trauma and severe stress, apparently, but of course make everyday functioning relatively difficult for a time. A bike ride on Sunday with friends helped a lot. I asked Tom to be my coach and help encourage me to do the ride. He pumped up the bike tires and pumped me up emotionally and took a hot epsom salt bath with me before we got dressed for the ride to help loosen up my stiff and sore body. With that I didn’t need any pain meds like ibuprofen which I had taken from time to time the previous week. He helped me break through a big barrier and function better. I was really discouraged and scared by how sore I was and how bad I felt. I’m very grateful to have a loving husband to help me get over some rough spots and build on little victories to gradually improve over time. This is extremely hard even with help. I hope and pray that people out there who need support can get it from somewhere. As I find grieving and mental health resources online I’ll keep adding them to my self care Pinterest board.
In the meantime, Dad and I are extending the effort to make cards because we have abundant supplies on hand we enjoy using and we find the activity healing and therapeutic. But with not feeling terribly well I had to come up with a card design that was relatively simple so that we would not tax ourselves beyond our current abilities to make them. They are just challenging enough to force us to concentrate a bit but not so hard we want to give up in frustration. I have to take a lot of breaks, but I’m not giving up! Of course if you want to make your own similar cards you could use any suitable sentiment in place of “Thank You” to fit any message you want to send.
Supplies You’ll Need
Blank cards with envelopes – Dad had a whole bunch of envelopes in different sizes already on hand, so we cut plain white paper to the envelope width and folded the pieces in half to fit. If you prefer, you can buy blank cards with matching envelopes at craft stores.
Assorted papers in light, neutral colors for the two largest areas on the card, with subtle patterns on them. The design on the paper should be light enough to stamp on in medium to dark colors.
Assorted papers in more contrasting neutral colors and patterns for the narrow stripe on the front of each card.
Rubber stamping ink in a “harvest gold” color, a taupe color, and black.
Clean scrap paper to help with gluing
Optional – interesting die cuts, design tape (also known a paper tape or washi tape) and stickers for extra interest
Tools You’ll Need
Metal ruler for tearing paper
Squeegee, bone folder or burnishing tool
Rubber stamps. My friend Kate recently gave me a large collection of pre-owned stamps. I will gradually be offering some for sale in my online shop as I have time to get them listed. I did set aside some of my favorites to keep for my own collection (of course). To start out my Dad and I selected for these cards two Thank You stamps, two postage related designs, and three wildflower silhouette stamps. Unfortunately I’m not selling the exact stamps I used in this card because I really love them and there were no duplicates in the pre-owned collection Kate gave me, but you can use similar stamps in their place.
Glue a narrow strip of paper that is from the higher-contrast selections about 1/3 from either the left or right from the side of the card.
2. Cut and tear out pieces of paper in light neutral colors with subtle background patterns and glue them to the fronts of the cards on either side of the strip you glued down previously. I tore the edges that overlap the central stripes for visual interest. On some of the cards I added some stickers and design tape for a little extra interest if I thought it was needed. As you’ll see in the final graphic featuring variations on the original design, I added some hexagon die cuts I had made some time ago. When I was designing the prototype card, I asked Dad to pick out stamps he liked from my collection, and he also took out these hexagons, so I looked for ways to use a few and I liked them on some of the cards. Trim the paper to the edges of the card front when done gluing.
3. Stamp three flower stamps on the wider background side of the card in harvest gold or similar ink color. My Dad switched to a red-brown ink later in the process which also looked very good.
4. Stamp a Thank You stamp in black, and if you think the card needs a little more interest, stamp postage related designs or some other accent stamps of your choice in a taupe ink color as in my example at the top of this article. You might decide your card needs more or less done to it depending on what background papers you choose. See the graphic below for a bunch of variations that we made.
With more time and energy, I probably would have created a card that uses stamps that I actually sell, some of which I designed. For now the important thing was to make something nice that is also fast and easy. But if you want to browse my collection of stamps in my Etsy shop here it is: Stamping
Trigger warning: this blog post deals with the topic of suicide. Please get professional help if you are suffering from mental health issues. If you are afraid that you might harm yourself, please call 911 or a suicide hotline immediately. Here is the National Suicide Prevention Lifeline phone number – 1-800-273-8255.
Knowing how to make memory craft projects and having memory craft materials around is most helpful when going through something like my remaining family and I just went through. My uncle Dave was discovered deceased on August 27, 2021 and my brother Larry died from suicide on September 4, 2021.
I think some people were taken aback that I was open about my brother dying from suicide almost immediately after hearing the news. No one gave me flak over it, but I do think a few people were surprised. I did ask my Dad for permission before I posted the cause of death. My Dad and I are the two remaining from our original nuclear family of four.
There are reasons why I wanted people to know the truth right away. For one thing I wanted people to know exactly what horror we were dealing with because it’s not likely that our lives will be “back to normal” any time soon, if ever. We will be needing and asking for some leeway in meeting some of our obligations as we try to figure out what our lives are going to look like now and decide how to prioritize tasks.
Another reason is that my brother fought to overcome bipolar disorder for over 20 years, and my late uncle did as well. My brother’s illness affected our family greatly even well before it was diagnosed because there were serious symptoms that made all of our lives challenging at times, even if we didn’t yet understand what they meant. I have done volunteer work from time to time over the years to help people with mental illness, mental disabilities, or are just going through a tough time as the result of a normal grieving process. In the past I taught workshops at the former Open Door Art Studio and a few years back I donated a few days work and a lot of supplies to Artists First studio with the hope of someday doing more work there. When the COVID-19 pandemic started, my husband Tom and I did a series of eight webcasts we called #virtualartparty to help people enjoy art and craft activities to help avoid mental health problems that could result from anxiety and isolation.
I knew my brother’s suffering had increased quite a bit over the last few months. I tried to show I cared and encourage him a little by doing a couple of “art therapy” projects with him and my Dad, and with a few other people who were also going through a hard time. I was planning to do more whenever I was able. I put “art therapy” in quotes here because while I’m a trained artist I’m not a formally trained art therapist – but since all art is therapeutic, my philosophy is it’s better to do something than nothing. Even if it doesn’t work, at least you have tried. And a few minutes of distraction from misery is better than nothing as well. I have to look for something good where I can in order to go on.
I have been through a course of therapy myself to recover from an abusive relationship and the resulting serious trauma. Even though I have great empathy for sufferers I know there is a limited amount I can do to help someone else recover from severe mental illness. My Dad and I know we tried everything that we could think of to save our loved ones but we could not do it. Dave and Larry were both under medical care and as far as we know fighting hard for many years. Our help and the work of many doctors and therapists was not enough to save them. I’m grateful for the people who can be saved and sad about the ones that can’t. There is a need out there for compassion and understanding to aid others in helping their loved ones with mental illness or consoling them if the outcome turns out tragic. That’s something I can help with in a little way perhaps by writing about it and continuing to make small contributions to the general cause of mental health whenever I can. I think dealing with reality head-on is more useful for this goal than trying to cover it up. I feel devastated over what happened but it’s based on sadness, not shame. I don’t want other mourners affected by mental illness or suicide to feel shame either. So I’m trying to contribute by setting an example of frankness and truth. I am not judging others who choose a different way – we all have our reasons for how we grieve and how we process our situations.
It comforts me to try to find answers and explanations to find meaning in overwhelming situations. Right now I’m more consumed with questions than in a state of readiness for trying to find answers. That’s where the memory crafts come in. I made a few things for the funerals in a hurry, which served the purposes of mourning the dead, comforting others, and providing a needed distraction and creative outlet for myself to help me cope. Following are some pictures. It’s my way to mark just about any important occasion with art and crafts – both celebratory and mournful.
We used the same tape on Larry’s boards but I painted it a black/bronze color before we started gluing down the torn paper. This is only a tiny percentage of all the photos we would have liked to show but Larry’s friend Tim and others helped put together a digital slide show as well that was greatly appreciated by all of us.
Sometimes I find and save advertising materials printed on nice paper. I might like part of the imagery, or be attracted to the weight and feel of the paper, or both. It’s sometimes less intimidating to start an art journal page on paper that already has something on it than a blank piece of paper. In this article I’ll show you two ways to creatively alter found papers with text on them.
Tools and Materials Assorted found papers and scrap papers Clean scrap paper Stencils Markers and other drawing and coloring implements of choice Painter’s tape or masking tape Scissors Glue stick Burnishing tool
First, select a piece of paper with text on it, and a stencil. Tape the stencil in place over the text. Using the marking implement of your choice, outline the openings in the stencil only in the spots where there is text to cover.
This results in an interesting effect. The text turns into a texture rather than something you read, and the resulting graphic effect might suggest what to do next to finish the composition. You might decide to color in some or all of the outlines you just traced over the text.
In the example above, since I’ve used permanent black Sharpie markers, I can use almost any medium I want to add color if I want to.
There is no need to restrict yourself to using a black marker. My brother got off to a very good start on this page. He took advantage of the pale text to use colored Sharpie markers. If he wants to work on this page more it has a lot of potential.
I have a real weakness for amoeba shapes and any graphics that suggest mid-century modern imagery. I cut these blocks of text from a magazine because of the pretty shapes and colors backing some of the text.
The article I took these cutouts from was about work-life balance. There are some words in these paragraphs that would be good to have in my art journal, which I use as a self-care tool as well as for creative expression. I covered up the words I didn’t want to see with strips of scrap paper and left exposed the words I did want to see. When the glue was dry enough to handle, I trimmed the shapes. Toward the end, I got tired of gluing paper strips and for the last few lines I wanted to cover, I used a yellow opaque paint marker to finish off these pieces.
Some people compose prose or poetry this way, by removing words instead of writing them to make new compositions. In this sample I was mainly interested in making a visual statement, and I treated the words as random elements. But if you wanted to, you could make a carefully considered visual AND literary statement by selectively covering words.
Here is a two-page spread using both techniques from this article together. I think these two pages are almost complete. I’ll think about them for awhile before doing anything else to them, if I decide they need more.
It helps that these two found pages here were already strong graphically, which was part of the reason why I was attracted to them in the first place.
I’m happy with how this two-page spread for my art journal turned out, even though it is kind of messy. Sometimes in the morning Tom will make the coffee before leaving for work and often he’ll leave a love note for me with good wishes for the day if I’m not awake yet. He uses paper left over from me printing out shipping labels for my online store. The leftovers just happen to be the size of my journal and planner pages. I punch holes in a lot of them and write on the other side when I want to take notes or record thoughts. Often either he or I will get coffee stains on the notes as you see here. Since I’m not starting with a pristine piece of high quality paper, there is no pressure on me to make a craft demo worthy effort every time I use these to make an art journal page. I did however greatly enjoy using stencils and stickers in the rough but satisfying example shown above to record a few thoughts about sharing morning coffee with my loved ones and having a healthy weekend.
In my last blog post, I wrote about the acronym G.R.A.P.E.S. and how the G stands for “Be gentle with yourself”. One way to do that is to take a little time to journal and let yourself off the hook if it doesn’t look like a brand ambassador did it. The activity itself is beneficial in many ways.
Stencils and stickers are real time savers when you want to slap something together without having to make a major art or design statement. I have a lot of supplies, but also I have a basic portable kit that includes some of my favorite stencils, a folio of colored pencils, gel pens, a few planner-friendly design tapes and some basic pencils and markers for writing and outlining. There are a few frequently used paper crafting tools in that kit like a burnisher, glue stick, hole punch, scissors, ruler and utility knife for cutting and sharpening pencils. I can get a lot done with that kit, and if I want to add more to the pages when I’m home, I have many more paper crafting supplies I can utilize.
The stencils I used in the two-page spread above are available in my online shop:
I have a couple of Pinterest boards full of more of my own examples along with samples, inspiration and tips from others on the topics of Art Journaling, Planners, Albums, Homemade Books and Scrapbooks. Enjoy!
I know several people who could use some encouragement right about now, including myself. I decided this week to get out my paper craft supplies to have a bit of creative fun and make supportive cards to use and more to give to people I know.
First I’ll explain what both self-care cards and Project Life cards are. Self care could be considered the practice of maintaining your physical and mental health in order to prevent burnout and breakdowns. While looking for some resources for my Self Care Pinterest board that I use for reference, I found some specifically aimed at caregivers of different kinds. Even if one chooses from their own free will to be a caregiver, it’s still a tough job. As these resources I found mention, one should not feel guilty for practicing self care even if you are naturally inclined to be giving – a burned out or broken down person is not in a good position to help others. We are able to be of much better service when we are strong. We are often socially engineered by individuals and institutions to sacrifice our own agency to serve interests not our own or of our own choice. I think it’s a beautiful thing to voluntarily share but not to be manipulated or coerced into it. The latter is just being a victim of people who choose to live a parasitic lifestyle.
So what are self-care cards and where do they fit in? There are many types of cards with different information that people have used over the years as reminders or teaching tools. Small cards are portable and fit in a wallet, a planner, a journal, a pocket or wherever so that you can access reminders on the go or wherever it’s convenient. When learning new life habits we might need a touchstone of sorts to keep us on track. Self care cards are just cards with self-care content. They can be purchased, downloaded for printing, or handmade. I often like to use a combination of desktop printing and paper crafting methods to make or decorate self care cards for myself.
What are Project Life cards? Project Life is a commercial product developed by designer Becky Higgins intended to make scrapbooking and related memory crafts easier and less time consuming, and to relate the activity to living well and positive personal goals. Pocket scrapbooking is a generic term for using clear pocket album pages to organize cards and various paper items. Like a lot of people, I picked up the modern form of the hobby of scrapbooking in the 1990s. When I first heard of pocket scrapbooking I was intrigued and purchased some cards to use in conjunction with with my “conventional” scrapbook pages and also in other paper crafts.
Several years ago I purchased the Project Life Cinnamon Core Kit and the Road Trip Theme Pack. These sets featured lots of colors I used a lot, and graphic themes that were complementary to a number of products I already owned.
I’ve used a lot of the cards in scrapbooks and other paper projects over the years but still have a good quantity left. Because some of the Project Life cards feature positive messages and others contain grids or lines to help with journaling or record keeping of various kinds, they are well-suited to use as a base to make self care cards. If you want to make these of course the bases of your cards don’t have to be specifically from Project Life – a variety of products could be used.
One activity that I learned a few years back from a depression support group web page is the acronym G.R.A.P.E.S. It stands for:
Being Gentle with yourself
The idea behind using this acronym is to try to do one activity on the list from each category every day. From my own experience and from what others have told me who have tried it, even if it isn’t possible to do each category each and every day, striving to do it and tracking the activities each day to make sure one is continually improving does result in better mood and health. It helps you “social engineer” yourself into having a better life. This is anecdotal information of course, but if you delve into scientific research on mental health you will find out why it’s effective. In this project, I’ll show how I made self care cards track the use of activities from the G.R.A.P.E.S. categories. I put more “decoration” on these cards than is strictly needed but it’s fun to use up paper scraps while making cards that fit my own personality. And paper crafting itself is a great way to get the Pleasure “task” checked off for the day!
Tools and Materials
Project Life or other cards Scrap papers in harmonious colors Scissors Paper cutter Glue sticks Thin markers in black and colors harmonious with chosen color scheme Small letter stencils Small letter stickers Assorted encouraging stickers, die cuts, paper scraps featuring helpful sayings or sentiments, or other appropriate embellishments Rubber stamping ink – black and harmonious colors Rubber stamps Hole punch Cord or string to loop through hole
First I added paper scraps to the existing Project Life cards I had whenever I wanted to make the existing designs more to my taste. Mostly this consisted of adding paper scrap strips to the borders on some of the cards, leaving the grids or lines in view. Some of the cards were fine the way they were.
Next I assembled a variety of letter stickers from my collection that spelled G.R.A.P.E.S. For more variety, I drew some letters with marker through alphabet stencils and cut those pieces of paper out. I added the letters G.R.A.P.E.S. along the side on on side of the card. Since these cards came with designs on both sides, I used the other sides for spaces to take notes, or for making a mini encouraging collage with stickers and paper ephemera.
When necessary to make a grid to keep track of activities, I added vertical lines with thin markers.
I punched a hole at the top and added some string with a lark’s head knot so that I can use these cards as bookmarks also.
I thought some of the cards needed just a little bit more added to make them looked finished, so I stamped here and there with assorted rubber stamps and added a few more stickers.
As I complete daily activities that fit one of the G.R.A.P.E.S. categories, I’ll put a checkmark in the proper spot on the grid.
Art journaling is an activity that helps me a lot with self care, artistic expression and just general management of life. Lately I’ve been experimenting with combining some artistic expression with material I’m learning in Social Engineering class. There are a lot of acronyms and concepts to remember – things that lend themselves well to bullet journals, art journals and chart and graph type graphics.
These pairs of pages you will see are in progress. I made them to have something to do adult coloring and other paper craft based activities on when I want to relax and be creative for a bit. As I work I can study and memorize the “bullet points”. I’m going to erase some of these pencil lines as I go. For a couple of the more complicated layouts I made drawings on tracing paper and chipboard templates to help cut the paper pieces to the right sizes and shapes.
Some of the stencils I used are commercial products I sell in my online Etsy shop. If you would like to see the selection, it’s at this link: Stencils and Stenciling Supplies.
I hope these pages in progress will give you some ideas for organizing information in a creative and fun way!
A SWOT Analysis is a Strength, Weakness, Opportunity, and Threat Analysis. Here I am using an outline partly based on an unpublished paper I wrote for Marketing 5000 class last spring to create a SWOT analysis for the #12daysoftomsbeard project. My unpublished paper, titled “(Name of Fantasy Company) Marketing Plan” was based on an assignment and outline given to us by Webster University professor Dr. John Jinkner.
I’m going to publish a small portion at a time, because it will take some time to write. I hope you enjoy it!
I. Executive Summary
#12daysoftomsbeard is a conceptual art project engaged in by Carolyn (Me) and Tom Winkelmann as part of our annual Christmas tradition. This is a young tradition for us, having been recently practiced for only the second year in a row.
The activity was inspired by several things. I have a long history of engaging in conceptual art through Mail Art, the ‘zine scene, and various art experiments involving photography, handmade books, ephemeral art installations, Pop Art, Dadaism, and more. There are two definitions of conceptual art in an interesting article I found, “If You Don’t Understand Conceptual Art, It’s Not Your Fault”. One definition, the one I gave to my husband off the top of my head while I explained why I wanted to take pictures of him with things in his beard, is that conceptual art is a form of art where the idea is the art and the tangible object created is not considered important. The other definition in the article is that conceptual art is a set of plans or strategies (Kaplan).
Tom has been letting his beard grow more often and is frequently teased about his beard by his family. Last year I decided it would be fun to turn the teasing into humor and art so I showed up at Christmas Day celebrations with colorful paper circles and squares with a few collage elements on them and writing implements for family members to color and draw on to put in Tom’s beard to take pictures of. The idea for hanging paper or art items from a beard is not original with me, there are people who use their beards as mini art galleries and vehicles for Christmas decorations.
I invited family members, many who I know like to paint and color, to use pens and markers to add to the paper pieces, which I then clipped to Tom’s beard with mini clothespins. Then I took photos for Instagram and posted one each day for 12 days, with the hashtag #12daysoftomsbeard. The idea for hanging paper or art items from a beard is not original with me, there are people who use their beards as mini art galleries and vehicles for Christmas decorations.
Since I like to art journal as a creative development and self-care activity, when I was done taking pictures of the paper pieces in Tom’s beard, I mounted them on art journal pages, some of which I planned to exhibit in the then upcoming art show, Back To Our Roots which opened in February 2020 at the historic Arcade building in downtown St. Louis.
II. Environmental Analysis
There were several parts to the #12daysoftomsbeard project as executed in the 2020-21 holiday season. Since I was anticipating only distance Christmas activities due to the pandemic, I decided to send out tags and invite people to alter them and send them back to take picture of in Tom’s beard.
1. I made a black and white version of collages that Tom and I made together to use in our Christmas cards, then had copies printed out on white cardstock. I traced shapes from Christmas cookie cutters onto the back of the cardstock and cut out shaped tags. I made stickers for the backs of the tags that explained the project and featured a QR code so that people could easily check the results of the #12daysoftomsbeard Instagram feed with smartphones if they wanted to.
2. I put tags in most of the Christmas cards we sent out. I also included in many of cards some scrap paper pieces and examples of faux postage that Tom and I made to use in Christmas artwork, for people who might want to join in but don’t have a ready supply of art materials around. Some of the paper scraps were examples of Christmas faux postage that I’ve made on my own and with my husband so if people didn’t end up using them in the project they might want them for some other craft or just something to look at as part of a Christmas greeting. For a few of the people that we hand-delivered cards and gifts to, we punched a hole at the top of a tag, attached a loop of cord for hanging, and put one on their doorknob.
3. I made a graphic to use as a social media header that included the QR code and images from last year’s beard series to raise anticipation and awareness. I also wanted to cheer people up with some bright colors since I knew a lot of people who were feeling sadness over separation from loved ones and the loss of loved ones during the holidays. I know from personal experience that the holidays and winter are often difficult for many people even in more typical years depending on their current situation in life.
4. To help people get started sooner if they were eager, since we weren’t as early as I would have liked getting our cards mailed, I made graphic that people could download and print out that had tag templates on it, instructions and the QR code.
I posted the template graphic in social media for download, and mailed and emailed a few copies to people I thought might be particularly interested.
5. In keeping with the theme of bright rainbow colors I had started, I prepared 12 little collages made from colorful upcycled hardware store paint sample cards so that I would have something to put in Tom’s beard if no one sent me any art pieces to use. On some days I made extra items to fit the color theme of the day and also incorporated found objects if I was inspired. For example, those two guys in the right picture above were cut out from a piece of junk mail. Some of the paper pieces there were parts from older Christmas card designs.
6. When taking the pictures, I had a lot of fun experimenting with different eyeglasses on Tom and taping things to the lenses of my clear protective goggles to make crazy compositions. I installed some new photo filters on my smartphone to make the pictures even more fun and colorful before I posted them to Instagram.
7. Tom and I were feeling lonely over the holidays and thought that since we were staying home, it might be fun to have a New Year’s Eve themed #virtualartparty, an ongoing series of online meetings I started when the pandemic began, with the purpose of cheering people up who were missing out on their usual social activities.
We ended up cancelling the New Year’s Eve edition of #virtualartpary because our cat Griffin was terribly ill that day and we were sure we were going to lose her. Griffin has been with my husband for 21 years and Tom needed my support and attention so he could be with Griffin, and I thought we were going to be dealing with grief on New Year’s Eve and not in the mood for a party. But to our grateful surprise, Griffin recovered and is doing very well now. At her age we know she won’t be around that much longer, but we aren’t eager to lose her any earlier than we have to.
I had been planning to talk about #12daysoftomsbeard on December 31 as part of the #virtualartparty, the timing made sense since I was taking a daily photo from December 25 through January 6. I made some sequential social media header graphics with colorful beard pictures and the hash tag #virtualartparty to help build interest. I didn’t have time to make a header graphic for each of the 12 days, but maybe next year I should.
A. The Marketing Environment
Even though #12daysoftomsbeard is not a commercial activity, we do need to market the project in order to persuade people to participate.
1. Competitive forces. Other sources of entertainment, amusement or hobby activities are the main competition for the attention and time that potential participants might allow for just understanding what our #12daysoftomsbeard project is, much less time to participate. With the amount of time that people spend in front of a screen or with a smart device in their hand, it is difficult to get anyone’s attention away from anything that isn’t corporate in origin. As Dr. Jim Taylor lamented in an article for Psychology Today, the nations of the former Soviet Union, Italy, Spain, Germany and nations conquered by the NAZIs, Cuba and North Korea have experienced decades of suffering because aspects of their authentic culture were abusively removed and replaced with a synthesized totalitarian culture (Taylor, “Popular Culture: We…”). I would add China and the United States to that list also. Dr. Taylor’s article reminds us why there are so many organizations throughout the world dedicated to cultural heritage and cultural preservation. I quote Dr. Taylor in this excerpt:
“As individuals, a genuine popular culture instills a sense of ownership and empowerment in our society because each of us knows that we contribute to that culture. We are more likely to act in our society’s best interests because we know that those best interests are also our own. An authentic popular culture also gives us a sense of shared identity, meaning, and purpose that transcends differences in geography, race, ethnicity, religion, or politics. All of these then encourage us to lead a life in accordance with our culture’s values and norms because they are our own (Taylor, ‘Popular Culture: We…’)”
In other words, if we throw away our authentic culture for synthesized corporate culture we should not have to wonder why so many of our citizens have been programmed to serve the interests of large corporations so thoroughly that they are literally waging war on their behalf with people that they formerly were able to co-exist with. Many people trust screens far more than they trust friends, neighbors and even family members that they have known for decades. The manner in which many people experience the world is corporate-based with life beyond a screen regarded as if it is fiction. They allow corporations to tell them what the world outside is like instead of going out and finding out for themselves. People are told that their own judgement is not to be trusted and they need corporate “fact-checkers” to tell them what is ok to read or hear about. I overheard art teachers as far back as the 1980s trying to urge some of my fellow art students to use their own authentic experiences and senses of self to create art instead of just drawing corporate cartoon characters and corporate based entertainment characters and content. I know so many people, who if you removed corporate consumer culture from the topics they could talk or think about, there would be almost nothing there. Teaching art or trying to market an art activity without corporate branding attached to it is inherently very difficult. We know that children can’t distinguish advertising from entertainment, that is widely acknowledged, but I don’t know many people who admit that a lot of adults can’t either. Most people I know aren’t aware that when they are entertained they are actually being marketed to and they are not the customer for the entertainment – the advertisers are the actual customer.
The #12daysoftomsbeard project is not completely devoid of corporate content because it includes found objects and some clothing with logos. However, by basing it on the universal human experience of personal grooming and running it from December 25 to the Feast of the Epiphany (the day we Catholics observe it, my understanding is it varies depending on tradition), I intended to bring attention to authentic human and authentic Christian culture and away from the corporate way of celebrating Christmas for just a little while, just to give Tom and I and others a break and a reason to look at each other while really seeing and interacting each other. What would my slightly weird Christmas cards look like next to other cards designed by corporations? What do people think when they see the resulting pictures? What did they think about while making an art piece to send back?
Kaplan, Isaac. “f You Don’t Understand Conceptual Art, It’s Not Your Fault.” Artsy, 2016, www.artsy.net/article/artsy-editorial-if-you-don-t-understand-conceptual-art-it-s-not-your-fault. Accessed 22 January 2021.
Mitchell, Grant. “Strength, Weakness, Opportunity, and Threat (SWOT) Analysis.” Dotdash, 2020, https://www.investopedia.com/terms/s/swot.asp. Accessed 15 January 2020.
Taylor, Dr. Jim. “Popular Culture: Too Much Time On Our Hands.” Psychology Today, 2009, www.psychologytoday.com/us/blog/the-power-prime/200909/popular-culture-too-much-time-our-hands. Accessed 15 December 2020.
—. “Popular Culture: We Are What We Consume.” Psychology Today, 2009, www.psychologytoday.com/us/blog/the-power-prime/200912/popular-culture-we-are-what-we-consume. Accessed 15 December 2020.
This year I made two Christmas card designs. This first version started out as a mixed media art journal page. I scanned it and used Photoshop to add background shapes, manipulate colors and to add details. I started it two years ago, and got it out again last year, but I just didn’t get it to where I wanted it until the third try. I added in some of the faux postage designs Tom and I made a few weeks ago and that was finally the finishing touch it needed!
As often happens, while scanning in and manipulating the faux postage designs to use as accents, I got another idea and was in the mood for some brighter colors so I made another card design. I had both cards printed and sent one design to half the Christmas card list and the other to the remainder.
Besides the digital manipulation, the art and craft media and techniques that went into this card design consist of the following: rubber stamps, hole punches, collage, stickers, design tape (washi tape), and image transfers.
The picture on the left shows how a lot of our Christmas cards went out. We each made two sheets of faux postage. Tom didn’t care about having color copies made of his or displaying them as full sheets, so I scanned his two faux postage sheets to make black and white versions for coloring. Last year we were able to invite family members to help color in and draw on paper items for Tom’s beard in person but this year we are not doing gatherings in person so we are encouraging people to mail things in for Tom’s beard. We made the black and white shaped tags to give people something to color on in case they are stuck for an idea.
For those who got a little envelope of paper bits, those are for designing and collaging with if you choose, or you can just enjoy them in different paper projects if you have any. I made a Pinterest board on which I collect ideas for things to make with scraps. Scraps and paper ephemera are endlessly inspiring to me.
Tom is a good sport and is having fun thinking of places to take the photos each day and also helping pick out filters. I downloaded a couple of new phone apps that have some crazy filters in them and I’m enjoying using them to help make an art statement.
Here are the results for Day 1. I added a hint of a grunge frame, the hashtag in text and a border in Photoshop after sharing it on a couple of social media sites first. As I get used to how the sharing process works with the new filter apps I’m trying out, this part should run more smoothly.
#12dayoftomsbeard lasts until January 6, so there is still plenty of time if you want to send something in! Some people probably don’t even have their greeting cards yet since I was a bit late getting them out due to school. I’m used to having to throw together holiday themed promotions at the last minute because often when working for a company or clients we would not have much time available to plan so we’d have to wait until client work slowed down right before Christmas to even start. It was and is frustrating to have to hurry through the planning and execution because we could have been so much more effective with more strategy and care. It was good practice for doing things fast though – I had to work fast once again this year because I’m in graduate school and there is very little time between the end of class and Christmas to work with. I don’t have much time to make gifts so a little fun activity and putting some extra work into the cards is the best I can do. I’m having fun with it – I hope other people do too!