Order vs. Disorder, part II

In the studio today, all I wanted was stripes, vertical stripes. I always do this.  After working with a lot of white space and balance, I just want a rest from all that and come back to stripes.  Today my work was reminding me of an artist I really like, Sunny Taylor. She did a series of collages using, *I think*, painted papers cut into strips and sanded. She seems to begin with a structure (rows of stripes) similar to Lance Letscher but moves in such a different direction.

I am fascinated by these pieces because of how they balance unity and variety, or order and disorder. Complete order, just in terms of shape and proportion, would be 3 rows of equal width stripes with nice clean edges. But too much order is boring, right? So how does she mix it up? She varies the width (not wildly, but some), some stripes are two rows long, and the 3rd row is further subdivided into two rows part way through. NOTE: if you rotate the 2nd piece 180deg, the two structures are mostly the same. The second piece goes a little farther, where the upper right gets more chunky and even a splash of horizontal strips are included.

I like this idea of taking a closely defined structure and keep reworking it.


The other thing to notice about these is her color palette which I find very interesting. The colors are analogous, versions of green and blue, and complex hues that have been carefully mixed. These are not colors that immediately go with each other. They fight a little and this adds to the disorder and tension.

So what brings unity? What helps these strangers stay together? First, the presence of a strong structure. Our eye comprehends that immediately.  Analogous colors, a pleasing movement of darks and lights. And then a certain sameness to the materials which are textured and sanded in a unifying way.

Here are two more pieces in the same vein. More variety in some ways, more unity in others. The second one here is particularly subtle and intriguing. She really gets you to notice her choices.

b8e7144c0098aa9c2a1418c7286cb665          407b0a35b433a5a93bfffcd8e37ebe26

Sunny also takes these ideas to sculpture. Here are a couple of more recent works.


The play of order vs. disorder here is a fun dialogue. Colors are playful, the shapes are rectilinear but of different proportions, some surfaces are distressed, some are painted cleanly.

This next piece has so much order, so much sameness, that I cannot believe it works. If I were making this I would be hearing in my head: Use odd numbers, not even. You can’t just have a bunch of perfect rectangles all the same size. You must have more variety in color. Where are the darks and lights??? This is gonna be super boring!

But its not, and that surprise is so delightful. The breaks in the pattern are so slight, but obvious, that somehow it engages your mind just perfectly. Instead of being boring it is calming.



While Lance’s work keeps growing toward complexity and chaos, Sunny is moving more toward simplicity and order. Interesting contrast between the two.

So, following a strong structure like this. How does that mesh with your studio practice? Do you like the more minimal work or the more diverse?

Thanks for reading. Please share you thoughts!










Order vs. Disorder

Here is something I think about a lot in life. I notice how much I like order around me, and how I like to organize things. Some of it is just clean vs. messy, but it goes deeper than that. It is rationality: calming, reassuring, relaxing.  It lets you rest. And, it helps you find what you’re looking for in less than a week!  But in art, too much order feels lifeless to me.  I like an over-arching order to a piece, but then I want the irrational, the uncontrollable, to show its illegible hand. There is something irresistible about disorder.

Like when I go to the book recyclers, the sense of diversity is almost overwhelming, especially if they have very old, very used, books. Books are innately so linear and rational and organized. When they are new, they are neatly shelved according to genre in clean new uniform bookcases. Discarded books are what happens after. They are torn and creased and spilled on, faded, maybe falling apart. Many of them are obviously from a different time, you notice by the cover design, illustrations, etc.  And then the age of the reader. You cannot help but think about all the people who owned all these books at different times in their lives. And all the books you owned at different times in your life. Its not neat and tidy anymore. Disorder has flung them in all directions and some completely random process has compiled them together here.

Whats weirder is how much I LIKE this dis-ordered-ness. Its fascinating.

But I digress. Back to order vs. disorder in art.

Who could illustrate this dynamic better than Lance Letscher? Letscher is a collage artist who, like myself, began with a fascination for paperback book covers.  Now, book covers, of all ages and genres and levels of wear, bring a lot of disorder to the table right away (see above digression).  What is genius, is how Lance can highlight all that wild diversity and yet bring it together into a unified piece.

In these first two early pieces, we notice a lot of different fonts, colors of fonts, sizes of fonts. We can see these are pieces of many different book covers. But with similar color and an underlying grid structure, the pieces really hold together. Notice that his cuts are not perfect, he is not strictly adhering to the cells of a grid, and how this gives his work a much more human feeling, which is echoed by the wear and tear of his materials. I love these because you really get the sense of all the different voices of used books.

letscher4.jpg                  letscher5.jpg

In these next pieces, Letscher’s use of color is much more disordered and creating strange rhythms. His alignments are less straight and there is more value punctuation. Less and less he is following a pattern and the work feels more energetic and unstable. For the adventurous, give this a try. Its very difficult to pull off the tame-but-wild quality he achieves here.  They feel as if they are barely holding it together.




This later piece is where even the grid order really starts to break down. The colors are scattered without reason, whole stacks are teetering. He brings a TON of disorder, of the irrational, but it is still holding together. It still reads as an intricate, alive, maybe tortured, whole. Pretty amazing.


To see more about Letschers work go to his website.  There is also a documentary titled The Secret Life of Lance Letscher coming out soon. Website for the documentary is here.

How do you play with order and disorder in your work?  In which direction do you like to lean?

Please share you thoughts!









Hacking the Hardback

Sorry for the late blog post, we just got over two weekends of the Santa Fe Studio Tour, which is a fair amount of work to host.  We meet so many interesting people, and this year I was more proactive in explaining my work. Turns out most people don’t know I am working with books, and what is paperback, what is hardback, etc.  I was really reminded of how fun it is to build collages onto hardback book covers.  I get to spend a whole day on this in my upcoming workshops, so I was showing my guests the fun possibilities of hacking into the hardback book cover.



Here is the basic toolkit: needles and thread, knives to cut with, an awl to make holes. I also recommend a chop saw (not shown due to the condition of my husband’s workshop at present). You can also add in things like a drill, wire, waxed linen thread, a dremmel tool. And if you have a woodshop available to you, a drill press, a jigsaw, etc.

So lets look at some work. This is an early piece I did in a Lisa Kokin workshop.

110101_grid 03_8x10.5_web1k_MelindaTidwell.jpg

I began with the front and back covers taped together for the substrate. Lisa had distributed bundles of paper made by cutting an old math book using a chop saw (by the fabulous Tools Diva, Lia Roozendaal).  This is where my love of books began, with little pieces of truncated sentences: 23. Mass, 24. Weight. (I studied a lot of math and physics at college, maybe this is why it amuses me).

The grid is a nice stable structure to begin from, but quite soon Lisa and Lia were urging me to disrupt its order and break outside the squares.  And so the fun began. In fact, as I look at it, this may well be the story of how I left Math (serious) and went for Art (fun). Punctures, stitching, and a little paint set me free.

110901_Secrets, A love Story_8.25x5.25_1200M_web1k_MelindaTidwell.jpg
In “Secrets”, I carve into the book with an exacto knife. You can go all the way through the book board and make a hole, or just cut away a few layers, as you see with the stripes. There have been several different man-images in this piece, but I kept covering over them so now we just have The Absent Man, which sorta works for me, actually.


Another grid piece, this time working with more open space and asymmetry. The piece begins with the outside of the hardback book, where the fabric has been peeled away exposing a surface of textured, dried, adhesive.  I like how it looks like a cement wall.

Besides the carving and the stitching, I have glued other sawn chunks of hardbacks onto the substrate (you won’t believe how fun it is to saw a book into pieces like this). The small chunk in the upper right is a piece of book pages, cut about an inch from the spine.  The spine material was torn off leaving some glue and string. This little chunk juts out about an inch.  It is secured by a generous dollop of PVA glue. The stiffness of the book board, as well as its ability to absorb the glue and make a strong bond, allows you to get more dimensional  in your collages. It can be a very refreshing change from your normal work.

So give this a try, I promise you will enjoy it.  And if you need a little more guidance, come to a workshop and play with us!

Happy Creating,