Where Artists Get Inspiration: The Spark for The Purses Project

In my very first blog post I wrote about my wonderful grandmother and her untimely death to cancer as the inspiration for The Purses Project. Artists are inspired by so many things from the things we see to the experiences we go through or the injustice we notice. I’ve compared “inspiration” for artwork coming as a spark and (for me at least) it’s like a movie about painting starts playing in my head but with no sound only colors, forms, lines, etc. Ultimately, most artists are using color, line and form to SAY something of importance about the world they live in. Even if it’s just a quiet reminder to “notice”.

The Prince of Flowers ,Painting by Jamie Howell

The Prince of Flowers, Painting by Jamie Howell

I notice lots of things, especially the little unimportant things. I love to notice things in nature like dandelions or the metallic shell of a June bug. Not from a distance mind you, but very close up. I have always loved being in nature since my childhood in Tennessee.
detail of painting by Jamie Howell

detail of painting by Jamie Howell

A reminder to look up and “notice” people began with my graduate thesis and a field trip.
As part of our Art & Community class, our professor proposed a field trip to The Names Project in Atlanta. The Names Project is also commonly known as the Aids Memorial Quilt. I was not excited about trekking through downtown Atlanta traffic, but this field trip impacted me and was a creative spark for The Purses Project. The quilt is a monumental artwork that honors the significance of each person’s life lost to AIDS and the beautifully creative ways people heal from loss and grief. At the end of our tour, regardless of our different views or backgrounds, my classmates and I left saddened, reflective and deeply moved by this exhibit.
a quilt panel of the Aids Memorial Quilt

a quilt panel of the Aids Memorial Quilt

As we moved to the back where the squares are stored and sewn, a reverent silence fell among the staggering view of shelves. The warehouse room was lined with shelf after shelf of quilt squares and deep storage containers-everywhere. Every open space of the tall shelves held hand-crafted quilt squares tightly stacked together and quietly waiting. Each quilt square waiting for a volunteer seamstress to sew various squares together into a 3×6 ft. quilt panel–and more squares will arrive almost daily to be added to these.
the aids quilt for notice blog post
aids quilt containers for notice blog post
As I stopped in front of a shelf, I realized each brightly colored fabric represented a life, not a statistic. As a mother, I knew that each square represented a child that a mother once held in her arms or someone’s grandchild or brother and so on. Each square is as uniquely different as the life is represents and sewn by family members or loved ones in a creative outpouring of love and grief. According to the http://www.aidsquilt.org, the colorful tapestry of 48,000 quilt panels serves as “a memorial for those who had died of AIDS, and to thereby help people understand the devastating impact of the disease”.
Shelf of quilt squares

Shelf of quilt squares

As I drove home, I reflected on the Aids Quilt and the loss represented. For some reason, the loss of my grandmother to cancer nearly 20 years earlier began to resurface. I re-felt that pain in ways I had forgotten and ways I hadn’t given myself previous permission or time to feel. I realized that each panel maker of the AIDS Quilt had used art-making as a way to tell the story of their loved one and the devastation of AIDS but also as a courageous act to heal from their own grief. Over the next few weeks, through many other conversations, events and research that would make this a more lengthy post; the Purses Project was born.
This quilt maker creatively used the actual clothing and hospital bracelet belonging to their loved one lost to AIDS

This quilt maker creatively used the actual clothing and hospital bracelet belonging to their loved one lost to AIDS

The focus of the project is the cancer epidemic among women. The feminine tool, the purse, is transformed into memorial art to honor individual women lost to cancer. The surface of a purse is “altered” with mixed media techniques to tell each woman’s unique story. Like the AIDS Quilt, this project is only possible through community involvement; individuals choosing to make an altered purse for their own female family member or loved one lost to cancer. As community members create purses in honor of their significant woman lost to cancer they will find empowerment and healing for their own grief. The ultimate goal for the project is a gallery exhibit of altered purses which lifts women out of the anonymity of statistics and signifies the ripple effect of each female life. Like the Aids Quilt, the true impact of cancer will be seen with the visual representation of many purses shown in mass number.

This was my most lengthy post to date and I appreciate your wading through the words and listening to my heart. If you have a lost a significant female in your life to cancer, please consider joining The Purses Project by making a purse.

Live Creatively,


Second Purse Finished–Help Me Decide?

Sometimes we don’t need to know all the answers, we just need to START. I started this project trusting that the answers would come if I would just begin. The Purses Project has been an exciting journey into social media, blogging and new art techniques. I still have a long way to go, but I learn something new every day by people sharing their advice and knowledge via blogs, videos, podcasts, twitter, etc.

I currently have a handful of women in the process of making purses for their significant female lost to cancer. I’ve tried to be their faithful guide/encourager through the process but I realized I had a problem. The purse I created for my grandmother was a wooden cigar box purse and NOT the typical leather purse that most women are using for the project. The beauty of this project is there is no right or wrong way to do the purses, but I still felt like I needed to try my hand at painting a leather purse.

Goodwill purse

Goodwill purse

I decided to paint a leather purse so I could know first hand how leather would respond to paint, mediums, glues, etc. Here’s the second purse I created in memory of my grandmother for The Purses Project.

mixed media/altered purse by Jamie Howell for The Purses Project

mixed media/altered purse by Jamie Howell for The Purses Project

This purse has some of the same references as the first purse but there are new images like her car (vintage Falcon), hand stitching, and the powder puffs from the Coty face powder that used to sit on her makeup table. I didn’t add as many photos of her but added more objects that reflect who she was.

Detail of portrait. Mixed media/altered art purse by Jamie Howell for The Purses Project

Detail of portrait. Mixed media/altered art purse by Jamie Howell for The Purses Project

I learned a lot by painting this leather purse and will detail some of the how-to’s in next week’s posts. But first, I need your help–I like both purses, each for different reasons and can’t decide which one to use for the project.

My completed purse for The Purses Project (Jamie Howell)

My completed purse for The Purses Project (Jamie Howell)

mixed media/altered purse by Jamie Howell for The Purses Project

mixed media/altered purse by Jamie Howell for The Purses Project

I appreciate your time to comment

Her personal objects as a Life Map

After you’ve collected your photos and sparked your memories with the Life Imprints questions (https://thepursesproject.wordpress.com/category/recalling-memories-life-imprints/), NOW WHAT?
Adding personal objects belonging to your significant female can help to create a life map revealing more about her character, culture, career, passions, beliefs, etc.
Consider adding 3D objects and/or photocopied items such as:
personal items for purse
-Handwriting from documents, letters, cards, recipes, etc.
-Pieces of her favorite clothing or fashion accessories
-Pieces of home textiles such as bedding, tablecloths, doiles, lace sheers, etc.
-Jewelry or bits of broken jewelry
-Pages from her favorite book
-Keys to important places (home, vacation home, etc.)
-Awards, degrees, honors, etc.
-Pieces of her favorite game
-Her favorite song or poem
-Map of her favorite place, where she was born, etc.
-The container of her favorite cosmetic item (emptied of any remaining product that could melt or spill)
-Objects found in her purse (the contents of a woman’s purse are highly personal and can reveal much)
-Her favorite trinket or decorative item
-Her favorite flower or nature item (the scrapbook section of Michael’s has great 3D flowers)
-Travel mementoes
-Her favorite saying, mantra, etc.
The list could go on and on, but you get the idea–not just her life in pictures but the things she touched and treasured as a woman.
All these items can be attached to the purse by using Mod Podge (lighter items), gel mediums or the ever awesome E6000 (heavier items)Here are some things I collected for my grandmother’s purse

My collection of objects that represent my grandmother

My collection of objects that represent my grandmother

As you can see, there’s everything from old lace sheers, scrapbook paper, keys, trim, roses, etc. I didn’t pick any items carelessly and each one signifies something about her life. For instance, the keys on her purse signify her role as a landlord, the roses were her favorite color and flower, the typewriter keys (spelling out her name) remind me of the old typewriter I played on at her house, and the restaurant receipt points to her job as a waitress.

Here they are on the completed purse

My completed purse for The Purses Project (Jamie Howell)

My completed purse for The Purses Project (Jamie Howell)

A note about adding things you truly love and want to keep:
The objects that remain after someone has passed often bear new meaning and serve as relics. These are objects we want to preserve, pass down or simply keep for our own memories. Don’t include these lovely items on your purse, instead think how you could buy a reproduction, recreate a copy, photocopy or photograph it. I had a beautiful cameo that my grandmother gave me that I couldn’t find and if I could find it, not sure I wanted to give it up. As fate would have it, I was wandering the aisles at Michael’s and I found this great embellishment kit at Michael’s in the scrapbook section. It had buttons and a small cameo (missing from kit, but see it on the finished purse).

Embellishments found at Michael's A&C

Embellishments found at Michael’s A&C

Inside was almost an exact copy of the cameo my grandmother gave me! I have a little life mantra that goes like this: “Exactly what you need will be there exactly when you need it” and such was the case here. I attached this replica to the purse instead of the actual cameo and found it was a better size for the purse. As you begin your purse, keep your eyes open for the possibilities and let the process lead you where it may.
Detail of the cameo, dolies, and typewriter keys.

Detail of the cameo, dolies, and typewriter keys.

I welcome any suggestions or comments about this post. What would you add if you were making a purse?

Life Imprints Activity: Recalling Memories of your Significant Female

blog pic  may 16 IMG_20130427_121452
On Grief and Life Imprints
During my graduate studies for this project, I found a technique used in grief therapy called Life Imprints. Life Imprints works on the basis of recalling memories and giving honor to what we have experienced in loss and transition. Many times loss happens quickly or in a way that we are in a heightened coping state and we are not aware of how we are being affected in the moments of the process. Women especially are not given adequate time to grieve as responsibilities to family and career take importance over self-care.
Bearing witness and telling our story is powerful for both us and the significant woman we’ve lost to cancer. In this process, I wanted to tell my grandmother’s story in a way that would honor all that she was, even the parts of her I didn’t fully know. I answered the Life Imprint questions to help me retrace my memories and begin my grandmother’s purse. I “rediscovered” my grandmother and gained confidence in my legacy of womanhood. While making my grandmother’s purse, I experienced the power of art to heal in that I started remembering things about my grandmother that were lost in my memory. Suddenly, I could remember with accurate detail her facial expressions, the smell of her house, the violets she kept in the kitchen window and so many other sweet things. Those sweet memories reclaimed began to replace the memories of her last days with cancer and I began to focus on identifying her without cancer.
If you are starting a purse for the project, consider taking a few moments privately to trace the imprint of your significant female in your life by answering these Life Imprints questions in a journal or notebook:

The person whose imprint I want to trace is:
This person has had the following impact on:
My mannerisms or gestures:
My ways of speaking and communicating:
My work and pastime activities:
My feelings about myself and others:
My basic personality:
My values and beliefs:
The imprints I would most like to affirm and develop are:
The imprints I would most like to relinquish or change are:

Altered Purse Artists: Inspiration for The Purses Project

Isn’t the web such a great place to find inspiration? Pinterest made it so easy for me to put together a board devoted to The Purses Project (http://pinterest.com/jamiehowell2/the-purses-project/) with altered purses, art techniques, videos and alternative purses such as book purses! You can see my completed altered purse at the “Getting Started on a Purse” (link to the right). I’ve also found two fantastic blogs with great altered purses and clear how to’s. Follow the links under their photos to see how they created their masterpieces and get your own creative juices flowing for your purse. REMEMBER, don’t forget to add the full name of the woman you are honoring as well as your own name as the purse maker. (see details on category: Getting started on a Purse)

Altered purse by Penny Richards  http://www.flickr.com/ pennyrichardsca

Altered purse by Penny Richards
http://www.flickr.com/ pennyrichardsca

http://sarabatkin.blogspot.com/2010/08/zippedee-altered-purse.html Altered purse by Sara Batkin's Legacy of Love

Altered purse by Sara Batkin’s Legacy of Love

Where do I find a purse?

A woman’s purse is a personal statement and a functional feminine tool. Since my grandmother died over 20 years ago, I did not have her purse to use for this project and I’m sure others of you are in the same situation. It may take a little searching, but it is easy to find a purse that will suit your needs for this project. Ideally, a purse that belonged to the significant female would be best but if a purse is not available, consider these options:

Goodwill purse

Goodwill purse

• Thrift stores such as Goodwill. Remember, you will be changing the surface of the purse with photos, paint, etc. so a few scratches or fade spots won’t matter once the purse is finished.
• Online sources such as EBay
• Clearance sales at stores such as Ross, Target or Marshalls.
• Michael’s Arts & Crafts had great unfinished wooden cigar boxes that I easily transformed into a purse. Check with your local cigar shop or cigar enthusiast for these boxes.
• Yard sales or raid your family/friends closets for unwanted purses
• Be creative, there are lots of internet sources for DIY purses that you can sew or make from common or recycled materials.

How do I begin a purse for the project?

The Purses Project is only in the beginning stages and needs your unique story to grow and become a powerful message concerning significant women lost to cancer and the grief we share. If it’s time to tell your story of the remarkable woman you’ve lost to cancer, here’s how you can begin.
• Gather photos, personal items, letters or mementos that belonged to or represent the significant female (photo/color copy the originals). Find a purse that belonged to your significant female or buy a purse that would match her style or taste.

• Clean the purse with alcohol and a cotton ball and then prime the purse with gesso (found at Michael’s Arts&Crafts). You can skip the priming step if you want to keep the original purse color.



• Now, let your creativity rule—Paint the background if you wish, and decoupage photos and personal items to the purse surface. Paper items can be easily attached with Mod Podge and heavier items with adhesive such as E6000 (available at Michael’s Arts & Crafts or Home Depot). The purse can be altered or embellished with paint, stamps, stencils, mixed media objects, collage, drawing, sewing and many other art tools and techniques.
blog version blog pic  may 16 IMG_20130427_121452

• Names are important in this project, so the full name of the significant female should be in a prominent position on the purse, creatively displayed and easy to read from a viewing distance. Also, the full name of the purse maker should be included on the back of the purse.
blog version completed purse
blog version of name on back
• The purse is open to personal interpretation and should be a visual celebration of the life of the significant woman. Consider not only her family roles but her significance in her culture, community and world.
• When you have finished your purse, please consider submitting the purse for future exhibit purposes or simply upload a picture to the online gallery (under construction). Our goal is to obtain 50 completed purses and seek a gallery for an exhibit.
purse complete for blog
Thank you for embarking on this journey. Please contact me if you need support, advice, tips or tricks for completing your purse.
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NEXT BLOG POST: Options for finding a purse