Blessed Are The Broken Bricks And Branches

A brick broke in my sidewalk and I’m ecstatic. Granted, crumbling landscape features aren’t usually a cause for celebration, but I’m on the hunt for all things pigmented and organic so – yay! – lemons will be turned into lemonade. More specifically, brick chucks will be crushed into dust.


Crazy? Possibly, but let me explain.

Like most artists, I “collect” art supplies – paints, brushes, mediums, canvas, pens, pencils, pastels, etc. Horde is more like it, but when driven to create on a near constant basis, the last thing I want is to lose focus over an empty tube of burnt umber. So, imagine my glee when I stumbled upon Nick Neddo’s book, The Organic Artist. This sweet little gem walks one through the very real prospect of making art supplies at home. Now, thanks to Nick, I’m whittling pointy ends on sticks – and occasionally my fingers –  to use as dip pens, I’m soaking walnut husks in water for ink, I’m collecting broken branches to turn into charcoal, I’m watching YouTube videos on sourcing my own clays for itty bitty half pans to hold watercolors, and I’m only just getting started.

Regarding the brick chunks, they will be ground into as fine a powder as possible for use as pigment in homemade paints. I’m still torn whether to start with watercolors or oil-based paint, but with any luck another brick will break and I’ll have pigment coming out of my ears, meaning, I won’t have to choose.

As fun as that prospect is, what truly excites me about this project is that I’m not just making art supplies, I’m collecting memories. That broken brick which I plan to smash into powder? It came from a weekend excursion to a local farm nearly two decades ago when my children were young and we picked through a massive pile of freebies that once stood tall as a late 19th century farmhouse. Long since abandoned, the brick home was bulldozed to the ground to make room for yet more corn at which point the owner then listed the brick for free in the local newspaper back with communities had things like local papers that local people used to advertise local opportunities on a daily basis.

But I digress.

During that weekend trip for a future free sidewalk, the elderly owner told us the brick in the house had been cast on the spot as it was being built. In those long-ago times, Menards, Lowes, and Home Depot were few and far between – ok, nonexistent – so making and baking your own brick was a necessity. In short, it means my well-worn sidewalk is built from local clay.

Now, over 170 years later, one of those bricks is crumbling to the ground, and I’m going to turn its powdered remnants into paint born from pigment that once housed a family through all of its joys and sorrows after being pulled from the ground by hard-working hands when our nation was still healing from the Civil War.

I can’t wait.

And there-in lies the thrill. Painting called to me as a child as a way to capture feelings I couldn’t yet put into words as well as memories I didn’t want to forget. Now, I have a way to capture even more memory and even greater feeling through the discovery of materials that come with a story more extensive than I ordered it from Amazon. Two weekends ago, I scoured a beach near and dear to my heart for seagull feathers to use as quills. On a bookcase in my art studio rests a small sandwich baggie of black magnetite-tinted sands collected from a family camping trip. Beside it sits another filled with reddish black hematite sands from the same trip. Each holds a memory of family and friends and a time when we could be children together again on a warm beach in the hot sun.

I’m entranced with the idea of creating new memories with these new materials. They’re already blessed with stories. What more could an artist ask?

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