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  • Kim Van Sandt

The Method to My Art Madness

Some people seem to be interested in the “process” of art. And I figured out a while ago that there was a strange method within my art madness that I had not anticipated, but I am realizing it is an integral part of my art. And when you look in my little art studio-slash-spare bedroom, it does look like a lot of concentrated madness. There are maybe 17 clear plastic containers with driftwood (labeled for the various shapes and sizes of wood). There are about 28 baskets of rocks, shells, beach glass, beach china, and more (labeled one way or another). It spills over to industrial sized sets of shelves in the garage and to my husband’s dismay my chaos even lands in the corners of his barn too.

Now in case you doubt my chaos you have to see me just now giggling as I get off the floor from being under my table counting baskets, as I have to pick a stray post it note off my sleeve and determine if it is needed or ready for the circular file.

My little studio is forever messy. So I straighten it up. It seems like it takes me 5 minutes to mess it up again. And then I straighten it up again. And about every 3rd time I straighten it up, I reorganize a little something. About every 5th straightening I end up with some major organizational project. Each time I organize, my hands touch something that starts me thinking. It’s a small space so the more organized it is, the better I can work. But that trigger of thought will mull around a few days and eventually it will often become an idea.

And if you haven’t picked up yet, I like categories. I have lots of things categorized. Stones are categorized into baskets of pretty stones, black stones, heart shaped stones, quartz/quartzite ones, fat ones, striped ones, flower petal shapes, square and triangle shapes, just plain odd shapes, stackable pillow shapes, fossils (the fossils are in categories too), and more.

As I worked on projects I realized that I needed to get most of the rocks organized by size too. But as I “sized”, I couldn’t remember exactly how small the small were? Or how big did they have to be before they went into the bigger baggie? I kept confusing myself. So as I sorted one pile of rocks, I decided to set aside a couple of them. If they were smaller than one, they were “tiny” and got sorted with the tiny ones. And you get the idea, if they were bigger than the tiny one but not bigger than the next size, they were “small”, etc. But then I lost those sample rocks. And so I lost my scale for sizing. It took a little bit before I was back to sorting sizes again.

But that day came. I was sorting sizes again. I can’t remember if it was the pretty baskets or the heart shaped rock baskets or maybe back and forth between them. But I was sorting sizes again. I found a new set of size examples. So I taped them to the table - otherwise they’d get mixed in with the rest and I lose them again. Then after a bit I decided I needed to keep them together, but I needed to move them around too. They ended up taped to a piece of cardstock with size labels. And now my size-baskets and Ziploc bags (another of my favorite organizational tools) were closer to consistent. Ahh. Feels better. And if you haven’t put a name to this yet, it might be a little bit OCD.

But in the middle of some of my little OCD moments I find ideas. I think about strange things. Like, while sorting heart shaped rocks, some of them are crazy shapes. And then in my head I put together the phrase “crazy heart”. I know soon, or at least I have the idea that this will be the beginning of a project. A little more development of the thought and it becomes “Flutterby Crazy Heart Beach Stone Wall Hanging” (see for photos of this and other pieces for purchase).

I ran across another OCD idea while working with kids and markers. I came across a bunch of markers where some didn’t work. So during a slow time, I proceeded to test them. But not just test them via scribbles on a piece of paper… nope - series of straight lines testing each of the markers, across a column down the page. Eventually it spanned from the very top to the bottom of the page. Different colors of lines, different widths of lines. Contrasting lines. Complimentary lines. Overall just a really soothing variety of colors. Not rainbow organized, but random values and intensities. It was one of those strangely satisfying things. The kids would come by for something, and they’d see it and I kept hearing, “Oooh, what are you doing?” Their response told me they saw it as more than just randomly testing markers too. So this eventually became the project “Crazy Striped Driftwood” to be posted on Etsy soon.

Now to be fair you need to know a few things about this process. The first is, not everything turns into a valid project. Some ideas bomb. Even more so, some OCD activity is simply my little brain trying to control my big environment and circumstances. So for example, in the course of writing this post I have for some reason been distracted and have organized my tabletop stacking baskets of tools, including incorporating a few little multi-compartment containers to condense the many tiny individual containers of a few different kinds of wall hanging brackets, a few different kinds of straight pins and needles, a few different kinds of tacks, and then paper clips and binder clips by size. And I have to admit I am not in the least bit inspired by clips, pins, and tacks. BUT – I do feel better that they are more organized and easier to access.

The other thing is, this is my process and will not necessarily help someone else. I have seen others who confess to excessively collecting craft supplies and perhaps that is part of their process? And I don’t know a lot of other artists, so I cannot say for sure if this happens with many others? It seems like other artists seem so much more refined so my self-critical nature wants to say it’s only my silliness.

Last is, my crazy OCD process is not the only source of ideas for me. Ideas may be triggered by pinterest, other visual cues, random thoughts, and many other sources. Probably the most prolific source for me is the materials themselves. It’s one thing if your materials come from Hobby Lobby or somewhere else, you might find some inspiration there. My materials come from the beach, which, in and of itself, is inspiring. But the materials themselves will often inspire and trigger trains of thought that lead to art projects. A rock will so obviously need to become a turtle. Stray, empty, but nicely white sandbags, will definitely become sailboat sails. Almost every trip to the beach, if it doesn’t bring new ideas it will at least focus me in an area, or further develop a prior idea.

It does kind of remind me that in general each little struggle to get control of our chaos can further develop us or it could bring us down. It just really depends on how we approach it all and who/what we access for help in the process. If you have read my stuff before you know my main source for help is the creator of us all. He helps me to approach the situation properly. Organizing some but not taking it too far. As long as I let him help me maintain a good balance I think he may also be helping me more than I bargain for in these silly processes, and in my life in general.

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