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  • Writer's pictureAllison Stratton

Final Breadcrumbs: Significant breakthrough and an intimate hug in the forest

Updated: Jan 24, 2023

As I participated in Lynn's Mark Making class at the Grand Marais Art Colony, I felt like that little fingerprint icon on Apple devices - bits of information I always needed started to fully integrate my soul. I know, that's a lofty, woo-woo sentence. Here's how I got there:

The class brought us back to the basics of art school, such as blind contour (drawing a subject without looking down at the paper) and negative space (drawing only the spaces between subjects) exercises. In between those, Lynn would play some videos and teach a couple concepts of mark-making.

She described different Surrealist techniques, or games, used to find new inspiration and ways to structure a piece. The description of playing with textures from rubbings brought tears to my eyes and I wanted to jump up and shout and dance and scream all at the same time. I HAVE BEEN DOING THIS ALL MY LIFE!!

Above is an image of a little doodle thing I used to do in the margins of my notes in middle school and high school. I knew it was weird. I knew it was messy and made my fingers black and blue. Yet every day, I would color the clip of my pen with the gel ink, then rub the clip onto my paper. I would then outline the shapes it would create. Thinking about that now, I could totally create a compelling piece with this idea!

Now, I feel almost a spiritual connection with my Surrealist ancestors. I love picturing 3-4 artists hanging out in a French cafe, rolling dice to pick their medium, and doing a round of Exquisite Corpse to get their creative juices flowing.

During one of the exercises, I spilled a whole bottle of India Ink on the pristine, white wall of the church-turned-studio. I felt so awful. Lynn's response? "It's actually kind of beautiful." And it was.

Finally, Lynn had us take birch bark, a match, and a large piece of Strathmore paper taped to cardboard outside. She had a bucket of water ready. We took turns lighting the birch bark and letting the flames and smoke lick the paper, which Lynn held against the wind for us. The fire created this uncontrollable visual force across the paper. When done, we dropped the birch bark in the bucket, and sprayed our works with fixative.

The technique is called "fumage", and it changed my whole world. Suddenly, my previous notion that abstract expression was magic and you either had the magic or you didn't and came up out of thin air, went out the stained glass window. It was like a blindfold was taken off and I could see that abstract art has a framework, a structure, behind it to hold it up and give it life. For me, fumage was that scaffold to let out all my energy, colors, and expression onto the page or canvas.

One of the afternoons after class, I took a hike in the beautiful Lake Superior forest landscape. At one point, I found myself stopping amonst the ancient trees and giving myself a long, loving hug. I am not someone who would do this unless spiritually provoked. Super cheesy. But I was hugging all my younger selves who dismissed her weird ticks and obsessions and kept the artist within her locked up and limited.

Welcome back, young, wild and free Allison. Let's play.


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