A Bump in the Road

 In Guest Blogs

Ann Grasso Pattern Art introduces guest blogger Shu-Ju Wang.

Shu-Ju Wang and I first collided through a books arts exchange group over ten years ago. At that time, Shu-Ju was working primarily with Gocco printing and I am pleased to own a number of books from that exchange. The exchange ran its course, and we lost touch until a couple years ago when I happened on some paintings she had completed. We remain in FB touch and I wish I had more wall space to enjoy her beautiful work. Adding to her artistic talent is a thoughtful way of being overlaid with a huge dose of humor.

And now the page is hers.


A Bump in the Road, Shu-Ju Wong


We come across those often enough, literally and figuratively. In both cases, we proceed with a change in our behavior–a physical bump in the road forces us to slow down, that is its purpose. But a metaphorical bump in the road can be harder to get past…we don’t understand its purpose (if there is one), and we can’t see to the other side, so it’s hard to know how to proceed. This is true in art-making, too. And this is when a practiced set of problem-solving methods can be helpful.

Each of us collect a few problem-solving tools as we learn and make art. And my go-to tools are to come at something obliquely, orthogonally, or turn it 180 degrees and go in the opposite direction.

I find working obliquely the most natural way of working. In my paintings and book arts, almost nothing is ever quite what it seems at first glance. I think this is probably true for many artists. These are a bit like puns, they can be fun and serious at the same time. For me, this is not so much a problem-solving tool as much as a way of working. There’s a long history of this way of making art, particularly in Chinese political art. All those beautiful traditional flower and bird ink brush paintings? Yes, most are political criticisms or commentaries.

Orthogonally–not just to come at something at 90 degrees literally, but of course, that can work beautifully, too. Here’s the same bump on the road, but turned 90 degrees (and on a different day) from the typical approach as one would drive or walk down the street.

A Bump in the Road

But conceptually, this also means you can start with 2 seemingly unrelated ideas, and make them intersect at a single point, or converge into a single thread. You can see an example of this in my artist’s books Calypso.

Turning 180 degrees to resolve a problem is counterintuitive. It might seem like you’re just turning away, but there’s that old adage–for every force, there is an opposing force; or that there are two sides to every coin.

But I find it hard for another reason–most of us make art from our own individual point of view. It’s our way of looking at the world. And yes, that makes a “self-portrait” of sorts, but turning something 180 degrees can mean that we must look directly at ourselves and make a well-examined self-portrait. And it can take a long time to come to that solution. (Selfies aside.)

I am a packrat of half-formed ideas. Some ideas wait just a few weeks to be resolved, some wait for years while I work through other projects. Not surprisingly, those where I am forced to look at myself take the longest.

The most recent example of this is an idea that finally found its solution earlier this spring–what to do with a collection of letters from an old boyfriend. It was a tumultuous time of my life, and I kept these letters as a reminder of what to avoid.

Although I’ve always itched to do something with them, that presents a quandary, too. To “make something” with them, to preserve them in a transformed way, can imbue the letters with significance in ways that I don’t intend. These were kept not as treasured memento, but more as a warning. A talisman.

Throughout this spring, I’d been preparing for house projects. There were floor contractors to meet, samples to look at, and things to purchase. On my way to to the store one afternoon, I thought to myself “add doormat to the shopping list.” Then something fell into place, like it often does when I’m not thinking about making art but somewhere in my head, I am anyhow.

Doormat: a submissive person who allows others to dominate them. That was the person these letters were written to, the person that I was but wish to not be again. Thus, the idea for a new artist’s book, The Biography of a Doormat, was born on my way to Costco.

What are your problem-solving tools? I find that making them explicit helps me remember and use these tools when I need them. That doesn’t mean I’ll always use these tried and true methods–one hopes to continually come up with new ways of thinking–but when I’m stuck, knowing that I have a potential solution frees me from frustrations. That then allows me to think and work more clearly. Although I might eventually abandon this potential solution for something different (better and more creative, I hope), knowing that I CAN get over the bump is a battle 90% won. Well, ok, maybe 75%.

Shu-Ju Wang

Learn more about Shu Ju on her website and Facebook.

Showing 4 comments
  • Steve Lovelace

    Love the packrat notion! I’ve always felt most of us follow another type of “80/20 rule”, where we might walk around with 80% of a finished idea or plan, but we rely on someone else for the remaining 20%. And maybe *we* become the missing 20% for the other person. It’s why great stuff rarely happens in a vacuum, let alone by oneself.

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      Ann Grasso

      Exactly! One of the reasons for this website is to bring people together.

  • Jeanne Hewell-Chambers

    Coming at things from a different perspective is a good way to approach personal relationships, disagreements, and art. What an enjoyable, thought-provoking post this is.

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      Ann Grasso

      If you consider following Shu-Ju, you will find her most thoughtful, often hidden under a wonderful layer of humor. I suspect you might sisters of from different cultures.

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