Wednesday, January 21, 2009

An Art Journey Into Family History Part 2

I don’t know about you but I don’t make New Year’s resolutions. I am too much of a free spirit to be boxed in by some goal I think I should go after. I gave up “resolutions” years ago. Fraught with resistance from the “get-go”, they are doomed for early failure even before the ink on my page (yep, I use a fountain pen) is dry!

OOPS! You’re probably wondering already what New Year resolutions have to do with my art and this blog post. I confess! I am about to digress. Just a tad. Bear with me. I promise it won’t take long. There is a rhyme and reason to this brief, little “side trip”…


In January of any given year, I watch how my water aerobics group suddenly gets very large as folks flock to the pool to fulfill some New Year resolution of losing weight or getting more exercise. Occasionally, some of these folks last through March but the majority have all but disappeared by the end of the shortest month of the year. March always comes in like a lamb… our group becomes manageable again. I often wonder how many of them have abandoned a resolution they made. Something that seemed like a great idea on Jan. 1 that quickly deteriorated into a lot of hard work until finally they just gave up! We’ve all been there… Giving up is a crappy feeling …

Well if there is one thing I hate, it’s feeling crappy! After the umpteenth time of doing the same ole thing expecting different results, I banished resolutions and came up with a deviously simple way to go after stuff I determine is truly important to me. A simple solution that makes me feel good and for years now, has never let me down. Yep, I am about to share it with you…are you ready?

Getting Serious…

Sometime in January, preferably on a day when the sun is shining, I get serious I swing by my favourite coffee bar (aptly named “Serious Coffee”… LOL... a Vancouver Island based coffee chain) and get a BIG cup of coffee “to go”. Armed with my daytimer, my pen and a warm, comfy quilt, I head to a sheltered spot on the beach for a chat with ME, MYSELF and I. The only question on my mind is this very simple one: “What three things do you want to focus on this year?”

I rarely have any trouble coming up with an answer. As a matter of fact, I find it pretty darn easy coming up with lots of ideas that makes my heart go pitter patter. The hard part is sorting through all of the possibilities that dance in my head to settle on only three. In spite of being wrapped up in my beach quilt, the cold, north wind blowing along the beach on a January day definitely speeds up the decision making.

Once I know what they are, I whip out my trusty pen and write “the chosen” down in the first pages of my daytimer. I don’t spend any time making a plan, setting “goals” or “soul searching”. It’s too darn cold down there LOL. I just get on with my life and let whatever I write down percolate in the background trusting that when the time is right, it will surface for attention.

In 2007, “ART” … in its many forms (computer and otherwise) was something I felt personally important for me to focus on and wrote it down.

OK, end of digression. That wasn’t so bad now, was it? LOL

A Serendipitous Moment...

A few mere days after writing down my three focuses for 2007, I overheard one of the women in my water aerobics group talking about the “scrapbooking memory program” she had received for Christmas. My ears perked up and my curiosity GPS kicked in.

“What the heck is a scrapbooking memory program?” I wondered out loud. “BOY! I must really be behind the times.” I said quietly to myself.

Well… I didn’t get a satisfactory answer but then again that’s what we have the Internet for isn’t it? I fired up the computer when I got home and went surfing.

It didn’t take me long to figure out that it was “digital graphics made easy” through templates, etc…she was talking about. Hmmm…some ideas for how I could use this in my art started floating through my mind.

To make a long story short and so as not bore you to death with trivial details, I decided, in the end that a “canned” program was not for me. I absolutely did not want yet another program taking up precious space on my computer!

Now, as many of you already know, I like a good challenge and the thought occurred to me that perhaps this “new bit of information” was really an invitation to get "down and dirty" learning some graphic techniques. It was, after all, right in line with one of my “focuses” for 2007!

I had an old copy of Paint Shop Pro installed on my computer. Even though I dabbled with it from time to time, I rarely spent a concentrated block of time finding out what I could really do with it.

My research into “scrapbooking” had uncovered some free PSP tutorials that looked interesting. I took a crack at trying some of them out. Well WHOOPEE… they were both challenging and fun! Aaah… two experiences that will snag me in a heartbeat!

I upgraded to the latest and greatest version of PSP. Set some time aside every day to mess with it. Hey, I learned how to play piano by setting aside 15 minutes every day to practice. I could do the same with this!

Fast Forward…My First Pages…

As I sat at the computer looking at the photos of gramma’s grave, the farmhouse, barn and old school that Jackie sent me, I contemplated how I would set up the graphics pages for the photos. My initial thought was to try a design out digitally before I committed to creating it on “paper”.

Heck, I had all the time in the world. I was only going to do, at the most, four or five pages. I had already decided that they would make a lovely little Christmas gift for my aunt.

I popped a chocolate in my mouth.

Hmmm… I do love those Roger’s Victoria Creams,” I thought to myself.

Hubby, bless him, surprises me with some on occasion during the year. It’s just one of his sweet ways (no pun intended LOL) of letting me know he loves me.

“I wonder if gramma liked chocolate as much as auntie Flo and I do?”

I laughed to myself at the thought that perhaps her mother and my grandmother had passed down a “chocolate gene” of her own to both of us.

EUREKA!!! It was perfect. A “chocolate” coloured background. The colour for the background of my first graphic would be chocolate. I chuckled. My dear auntie would roar laughing when I told her how I came up with it. At 86, she deserved some good chuckles!

The graphics for the page with gramma’s grave photos came together in the wink of an eye! I “doctored” the photo… adding some calla lilies to her headstone. Flowers that (to me) mean simplicity and beauty. I was sure gramma would be pleased to have flowers placed on her headstone again.. even if it was digitally!

The quote between the photos reads: "Death leaves a heartache that no one can heal but love leaves a memory no one can steal." The photo of my paternal grandmother was digitally placed inside a scan of a gold watch case that belonged to my maternal grandmother. I just thought that was rather fitting!

Even though you can see the narrative section on these first pages I created with the photos from Jackie, the “story” part actually was added later on in the process.

A number of questions arose as I thought about what was to go in this section.

Who was my grandmother? What was she like? Who were her parents? What was important to her? What had happened to cause her death at 34? What must it have been like for these young children to lose their mother?

Questions… floating through my brain demanding an answer. Answers I wanted to have before even attempting to write anything in that blank section. Some of those questions eventually received an answer. Some could never be answered. It still brings tears to my eyes just thinking about some of them.

The BIG Nudge…

I didn’t know it at the time but these few pages and the questions swirling around in my head formed THE nudge towards researching the genealogy of the Burnett family. I love historical research. I jumped at the chance to indulge myself in it… Time well spent of course… it was, after all, for a good cause. LOL

I was amazed and fascinated by what I found on the Internet. It was a treasure trove of digitally scanned original documents from U.S. border crossings filled out in the hand of an ancestor to handwritten census reports, death, birth and marriage records and actual scans of certificates.

Imagine how excited I was to find newspaper clippings about long ago members of the family. A little bit of long forgotten (and new to me) family members scandal spiced it right up!

Here's the newspaper page I created, fashioned after a newspaper of the day, to record some of clippings I found from the 1890's....

I was absolutely flabbergasted the day I discovered that our ancestors are listed in the “First Families of New Brunswick” publication in the New Brunswick Provincial Archives. Our family roots are planted among some of the oldest families in Canada long before Canada became a nation in 1867.

The road ahead…

What you will discover in subsequent posts, will be many of the “story art” pages (now you know where the name of my blog came from LOL) I created as I researched our family heritage over a five month period in 2007. The “story” of getting there and the publication of the pages I created into an actual book for current members of our “far flung” family.

My aunt, of course, did not know that I was creating these pages for her. But my sister and some of my cousins were “in the know” keeping it a secret. It was easier than what you might think. My aunt lived in sunny California and the rest of us are scattered… miles upon miles apart… all over Canada, the U.S. and England.

When some of my family members saw a few of the first results, they began “hinting” (in a very good natured way) at the possibility of making more than one copy of each page. They wanted pages too! Well so much for doing "one off" art on paper. I decided I would continue creating the pages digitally so I could share them with those relatives who wanted a peek!

As I neared completion of the graphic and photo phase of the initial pages and was knee deep in the research end of this “project”, I had an experience that pointed out to me that the countless hours of research and art so far, sometimes working from early morning to well into the night, but never less than eight hours a day, deserved to be acknowledged and shared. The thought of just putting all the information, photos, and mementos I had gathered thus far in a binder and squirreling it away in a filing cabinet to be forgotten just didn’t cut it with me. It was important for me to somehow honour my own process of doing the work to get to this point but how? I really didn’t have an answer.

One morning I woke up at the crack of dawn with an “itch” on the brain. Something in my psyche was bugging me, demanding my undivided attention. As I lay quietly in bed, it bubbled up into consciousness. It was my creative muse. Dropping by to remind me that it was important for me to honour my own process of creating as well as producing a result. These pages deserved to be published on the best paper I could find with the finest binding available.

“Probably end up being one of the shortest, most expensive books ever published!” I thought, laughing to myself.

My next thought came like a jolt of lightning out of nowhere. The name of the book just tumbled forth. I started to argue with my muse about the time and work that would be involved in expanding the pages to include my aunt’s siblings, maybe her grandparents. We argued back and forth… but in the end, my muse won. OK. I got it. You win. Fine. Let’s get on with it. I got out of bed. I knew exactly what I needed to do next.

Join me again next week, as I continue the “show and tell” journey of “Scraps of Memories, Slices of Life”.

Yep, that’s the name my muse gave our family book that morning! Little devil. it neglected to put the years in the ”from and to” spaces. BOY was I in for a surprise.