In the Art Studio: Mixed Media Art Inspired by The Purses Project

Detail of painted purse on Her Story Matters, mixed media painting by Jamie Howell

Detail of painted purse on Her Story Matters, mixed media painting by Jamie Howell

Over the weekend, I turned on some tunes with Spotify and painted my heart out! It was a fun combination of mixed media, Mumford & Sons blaring and paint splattering. I worked on several different canvases over the weekend, some are finished but many are still a work in progress. I did complete a set of whimsical painted birds (Sing & Soar) and a 12×12 mixed media painting of a purse inspired by (of course) The Purses Project. The painting, Her Story Matters, is a visual reminder of the true purpose of The Purses Project; to share her story (the life story of women lost to cancer) through the creative efforts of her loved ones. In sharing and creating, we can change the story of cancer and grief.
Here’s a few photos of my weekend in the art studio:
Her Story Matters, Mixed Media painting by Jamie Howell

Her Story Matters, Mixed Media painting by Jamie Howell

The purse painting combined acrylic paint, scrapbook papers, book pages and bits of my grandmother’s vintage lace slips
lace detail of Her Story Matters, mixed media painting by Jamie Howell

lace detail of Her Story Matters, mixed media painting by Jamie Howell

Sing & Soar, mixed media painting by Jamie Howell

Sing & Soar, mixed media painting by Jamie Howell

detail of Soar, mixed media on canvas by Jamie Howell

detail of Soar, mixed media on canvas by Jamie Howell

I’m also working on an altered book so while the purse painting was drying, I ran over and put gesso on the book pages.
Gesso prepares the altered book for painting

Gesso prepares the altered book for painting

My paint palette

My paint palette

I so love my little studio and the freedom it gives me to create. Most of all, being in my art studio makes me feel energized and alive. I hope today you have a place and a time when you create something that makes your heart full. Your studio could be in a kitchen, your backyard project, a classroom or the nursing home you visit. Your unique touch in even the simple things, can make all the difference.

Many thanks for your time with me today.

Live Creatively,


Life Imprints Activity: Recalling Memories of your Significant Female

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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:

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.
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• 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

In a nutshell . . .

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Hello! Now that I’ve introduced the project and my inspiration, maybe I should introduce myself. My name is Jamie Howell. I am an art teacher, artist, mom, UT football fan (originally from east TN) and enthusiastic lover nature, Starbucks and this crazy thing called life. I’m certainly no one special, never considered a community leader or radical but I have an idea that could possibly be “something”, but only with your help. I’m inviting anyone who has lost a beloved woman to cancer to participate in a community arts project where participants creatively transform a purse into a memorial art form. All of our voices together can create a new conversation around the topic of cancer and bring awareness to the lasting impact of just one woman lost to cancer. We can transform the story of cancer beyond the suffering and loss and into a beautiful legacy of how women shape our families, community and world. Please be patient with me, I’m not a clever or witty blogger or a social media guru, but I do know about losing my grandmother to cancer and I have seen some healing come from art making as an art teacher and artist. This project is a platform for your story to become part of OUR story of beautiful, powerful women who were truly alive and continue to influence this world through their abiding legacy.

Next blog post:some Q&A on getting started with your purse.

The Beginning

My Nanny, Clara Elizabeth Guider

My Nanny, Clara Elizabeth Guider

The beginning of this blog begins with an ending. It is an ending that I know many of us share and it becomes part of our unique story. The story of loss related to cancer seems to be a common story we’ve all heard and sadly, experienced. As an artist, I am proposing a community arts project for us–for all of us who have lost a significant woman to cancer. The Purses Project celebrates and memoralizes women lost to cancer through the feminine tool of the purse. Purses can be altered, painted, collaged, stamped, sewn, etc. to become a 3D art form that celebrates the unique stories of so many beautiful women we’ve lost to cancer. The sweet woman in the photograph is my grandmother who died of ovarian cancer many years ago. She was a struggling single mom and a waitress in Loudon, Tennessee and in the eyes of the world didn’t accomplish big feats, but the life of this one woman changed everything for me and her community. You see, this woman gave me a new name and a wonderful future when her son (my dad) adopted me. She served her family and community with selfless love and her children carried on her legacy by assuming service careers such as pediatrician and sheriff. Every woman has a ripple effect that extends past herself and her family and into the community at large. I’m inviting you to join me in telling the story of your remarkable woman lost to cancer and let’s watch as one life becomes a voice of many. I will detail everything from “how to” and future goals to exhibit the purses but for now, let’s end on this quote by Diane Mariechild: “A woman is the full circle. Within her is the power to create, nurture and transform.”