All posts by Abigail Cole

Faded glory

After a recent busy spell, I spent a morning clearing-up our very full and cluttered art corner that was overflowing with projects both past and present, as well as all kinds of random objects and the paperwork of daily life. Wanting to make the most of our time whilst the industrious mood was in full flow, everything had been left out, and as with all things that have seasons and cycles, we had reached peak fullness and it was time for a satisfying tidy-up, in order to make way for new projects and the next cycle to begin.

It was a sunny, clear morning giving an added sense of urgency to my desire to uncover the white of the crafting table cloth beneath; I wanted the fresh, crispness of the white to match the energy of the day. Needless to say, our crafting materials and remnants of activities had also reached the point of overflowing into the furthest reaches of the room. As I was collecting something we had made a while ago from the window, I noticed how faded it was, and how really, it was no longer intact as the original thing we had made. I was sad for a fleeting moment, and then paused for a breath and thought that actually, it was sort of lovely to hold something in its former beauty – it pulled me back into the past moments when we were actually making the piece and reminded me of other things we’d made and done around the same time, as well as the projects that came after. I thought more about the fun we’d had than the fact that this piece was no more – a moment of gentle nostalgia. It got me thinking about the way in which some pieces of art seem to have a timelessness and endure indefinitely, whilst others, by their very nature are more ephemeral in essence.

The things we keep…

Over the course of our crafty days, I think we’ve developed an almost subconscious preference for small-ish, ‘keepable’ crafts, and I personally like to make things that can either easily hang somewhere, or be worn, or used and that don’t take up a great deal of space. I always loved the words of William Morris, founder of the Arts and Crafts movement, who advised to “If you want a golden rule that will fit everybody, this is it: Have nothing in your houses that you do not know to be useful, or believe to be beautiful” and I love to incorporate the spirit of those ideas into our family creations wherever possible.  I very much view many of the things we’ve made together as ‘family treasures’ and I enjoy having them around our home, so it can be a bonus if we manage to make something that we can keep and use or display.  I think, also, the intention to make things that will last a while, can be something of a quiet rebellion against the constant change inherent in our fast-paced world, where so many things break or are thrown away or are out of fashion very quickly.  

It is impossible to keep everything however, and the practical need to conserve space has undoubtedly become more persistent the more and more we make. Discovering the faded creation in the window has reminded me that it is also OK to make things that don’t last, and really are just for the moment. The process will still have been an important part of creative growth and development but I also think that there’s an added kind of beauty to creative acts that are intentionally ephemeral…

The things we let go…

By intentionally ephemeral, I mean things that we know will eventually fade away on their own after we have created them (rather than simply being discarded to… erm, the bin), or things that we eventually dismantle because they have their own rhythm or inbuilt timing – for example, a beautifully decorated table with flowers and other seasonal objects gathered for a family celebration. Ephemeral creative acts also invite a kind of spontaneity and come from the moment – like drawing on a napkin in a restaurant before a meal or making sandcastles on the beach. They can be planned in advance, of course, but don’t have to be, and often involve minimal materials.  When our children were little, we used to love making nature mandalas in the park in the autumn once a number of leaves of different shapes, sizes and colours had fallen. Each one would be different, depending on the location and what was to hand. Each one would take different amounts of time to make, and we could never predict how long each one would last. It was sometimes just as much fun to go back after a windy day to see what was left, as it was to make them in the first place.

A long time ago now, when my son was really small, we made a ‘birds’ nest’ in our local park on one of our outings. Over the course of the next few days, little (human made) bird’s nest ‘sculptures’, similar to ours, popped up all around the park… we had so much fun spotting them over the course of a few weeks – each new discovery a total delight to my toddler son, and then eventually, I don’t really remember when… they just sort of faded away and we didn’t see them anymore. Life moved on, seasons changed, my son was a little more grown and we were in a new moment entirely. At the time though, those little nests were intrinsic to our explorations of our park in that moment, and through the game of spotting new nests popping up all over, we gained a sense of community with people we never met – similar perhaps to graffiti art appearing overnight and a whole wall of art emerging and changing over time with many individual voices sharing the same communal space. Those little creative acts playfully connected us to our surroundings and brought our senses to life in a vary particular way. Later, when my daughter was in her toddler years, the ‘birds’ nests’ we made from fallen twigs became ‘fairy nests’ and we were exploring a new park, in a totally new way. Young children especially, are often so absorbed in the moment that they are not always concerned with the endurance of the things they make…

There are plenty of examples of ephemeral creativity enjoyed by young children (and adults!), in the family context: ice sculptures in summer, chalk drawings on the walls, patio or pavement outside, nature crafts, sand castles or sand sculptures on the beach, fairy crafts, sensory or seasonal play tables where the objects are constantly being moved about and played with giving different ‘scenes’ from one day to the next, carved pumpkins in the autumn, beautiful baked cakes, flower crowns or flower displays using cut/collected flowers, painted rocks left in a park for others to find, making daisy chains or even pressing flowers (although these can endure depending on how they are stored). All of these simple acts of creativity are transient in essence but no less fun or meaningful!

Connecting to the moment and inviting in the new

Making intentionally ephemeral crafts is also a wonderful way of getting comfortable with the idea of being able to let things go, cycles and seasons of change, and of things not lasting forever. I’m reminded of Lego and the dilemma of whether to keep or recycle all those amazing, fantastical constructions. Some Lego sets of course are designed to be kept as a finished piece, and sometimes the pleasure comes from building with instructions, but a major part of the fun of Lego is in letting the imagination play freely in an open-ended way – a good variety of Lego pieces and quite a lot of them are usually needed for this – but if all the creations are kept instead of dismantled and recycled, you soon run out, and all the potential fun is just sitting on a shelf!  

Perhaps there can even be an added sense of joy in creations that are ‘just for now’; without the pressure of a creation enduring for eternity, things can be made just for the fun of it, or just because we feel like it… quick sketches in a small pocket journal that will soon be filled and set aside, might have a sense of freedom about them, different to that of working on a full-scale painting to be displayed.

The ephemeral beauty throughout nature is especially vivid at this time of year where we live in the UK, as the daffodils spring up so quickly – the world is painted yellow, joyfully uplifting the collective mood, for these few short weeks of the year. It echoes the feeling that getting comfortable with creating things that are temporary – either because they will only be on display temporarily, or because they will naturally decompose, can also be helpful when it comes to living with uncertainty, and knowing that there will be a new (creative) opportunity at some point, even after projects come to an end, or naturally fall away.  Sometimes nature will take care of the process quite effortlessly, like when beautifully carved pumpkins begin to decompose, and at other times, it might be necessary to spell out that the Lego masterpiece will have to be deconstructed after a certain time. Either way, I think there is value to be found in appreciating the fun and inherent beauty in ephemeral creative acts that so often mirror fleeting moments in life.

Meanwhile, back to our inviting craft table… it is clear right now, all spacious and bright with its white table cloths, but I know it won’t be so for long… and in a way, it is a mini gallery of ‘ephemeral art’ in its own right as projects come and go – sometimes lingering for days, sometimes just hours, with colours, materials, and ideas entwining themselves to make different compositions, sometimes serendipitously harmonious, and sometimes more of an ‘artful mess’ 😊 – but always reflecting back to us moments in time and our creative explorations of the world around us.  


If I could choose music to accompany the feeling of ephemeral beauty, top of my list would be anything by the Italian pianist and composer Luduvico Eiunaudi, and might also make a soothing and inspiring background accompaniment to any family craft sessions over the holidays.  


© 2022 Abigail Cole

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