When I was growing up, we had special tablecloths, china and crystal. We used them so seldom, I don’t remember what they looked like. We had everyday china and table linens, too. Those I remember well, with all their stains and chips. The good china and linens were used when someone died, which seems sort of a waste.
For years, I followed this pattern, until I realized I did not want my hand-embroidered linens, the ones I cried bitter tears over, to be found in their sharp original folds after I die. I pulled them out and used them on Saturdays, birthdays, Thanksgiving. Wine was spilled on them, and if the stains didn’t come out all the way, it reminded me of a wonderful meal with friends. There were food stains, too–beets, rhubarb, cherries, and curry, often washed, never gone. Before I forgot, I made a template and marked the stains, the dates they happened, and who was around the table.
A few days ago, someone mentioned in the comments that nothing was too good not to be used in art. It was a real aha! moment. I’ve saved expensive paints till they dried in the tube, squirreled away paper clay until it hardens, and saved brayers till they crack from age. But most of all, I have boxes of letters, papers, and notes that I cherish and that will mean nothing to anyone else. I’m the last generation that can read my mother’s script in her love letters.
The horror I had of destroying the letters can turn to joy when I think of preserving them in artwork. Creativity can make old letter fresh, give them a new life, a life in which they can be appreciated for what they aren’t–unreadable, handwritten papers, and for what they are–beautiful memories that don’t belong to me, but could take on a new life in a collage.
Nothing is too good to use in your art. Make meaning by using the most precious things for your deep-felt creative work. It will make your art so much more beautiful.
—Quinn McDonald has cleaned out the studio and everything left is beautiful. Nothing is so precious it won’t be used up in art.