Spirit Dolls with Tina Hoff
In this episode, I've invited my friend Tina to come up with a theme or project that we could do together. We decided to each make a Spirit Doll for our respective studio spaces. I hope you will enjoy hearing about our project as much as we did doing it.
Links mentioned in this podcast
Griffin and Sabine: An Extraordinary Correspondence by Nick Bantock
They Might Be Giants
Some of these links are affiliate links and I may earn a small commission from them.
Tina's spirit doll Cosmos
Thomas' spirit doll Perserverance
Thomas: My guest today is Tina Hoff. Welcome to the podcast, Tina.
Tina: Thanks, Thomas. It's good to be here.
Thomas: I am happy that you're here. Tina is a creative writer, a poet and a playwright, and she practices art journaling. Tina recently introduced me to the concept of the six-word story. The idea is to find six words that can tell a complete story. It's harder than it sounds, but it's really quite fun.
Tina, when I sent you this invitation to You And I Make A Thing you wrote back, "This sounds fun and I'm honored that you would ask. It also terrifies me, which is probably why I should try it."
I'm wondering if you could elaborate what you mean by that, what you were feeling when you got the invitation?
Tina: Well, I guess I should start off by saying I'm usually terrified by new things. So I'm an introvert and, stepping out of my comfort zone is not easy. But you know, you and I talk regularly, and talk about creativity and share things. And that's easy because it's one-on-one.
But I don't really feel comfortable talking about all this as if I'm an artist, talking about my work outside of just close friends. And also I think, even that introduction you gave me, I think, “Am I all those things?”
Because I definitely suffer from imposter syndrome, you know? And over the last, oh, however many years, however old my kids are, I haven't done a whole lot of those things.
And so, although I really feel like that's who I am deep down, calling me those things is a little bit strange to me. I think also Thomas, knowing you, you've tried so many different things and I am sort of just a writer by nature and that's where I kind of stay. I stay in that lane and it's a very solitary thing. And you sit there and you write something out and then maybe you share it.
And even though I've done playwriting with a playwrights group and we did have our scenes performed for an audience at two different festivals that we held, which is fun, but you know, I get actors to do that for me, right? And we talked a little bit afterwards, took audience questions, which was fine.
You've tried so many different things. When you talked about us trying to come up with something that we could both try that we hadn't, I thought, wow, I could try almost anything and I haven't done it before. But coming up with something that maybe you have not done, would probably be difficult.
Thomas: I think we're gonna come up with something. There are so many things I'd like to try, so, but thank you for saying that. I really appreciate it.
You mentioned, imposter syndrome and my gosh, I feel that all the time. And you know, part of doing this You And I Make A Thing and trying something that we've never done before, is really a part of trying to deal with that, right?
At least the way I feel is, the more that I try new things, I still bump up against imposter syndrome every single time. But it becomes like a practice, or a dance I should say. So that's really why I'm trying to do this, is to dance well with my imposter, I guess is the way to put it.
Tina: Well, I think that's what your invitation felt like to me. And also I think my imposter syndrome comes from a place where it comes from for a lot of people, which is, well, I only do it sporadically in little spurts. You know, it's not a daily practice, it's not a regular thing.
I fight with myself about wanting to do it badly and not finding time or being afraid it's not going to be good when I finally sit down because I haven't made it a regular practice.
So actually having this event between us happening gives me a reason to do it and a timeframe to do it in. So that's probably good.
Thomas: Well, let's jump in and find a thing to make.
Tina: All right. Sounds good.
Thomas: So Tina and I have not decided on something of ahead of time, right? The point of what we're doing right now is to be in the moment and to improvise an idea. So I've asked Tina to come up with three things that she might like to do, and I also have a list here of three things. So let's jump right in, Tina.
Do you want to go first or do you want me to go first?
Tina: I'll go first. So again, because I'm a writer and it's just a solitary thing in your head that you put down on paper, I don't tend to do a lot with my hands or rely on my hands to make art. That's kind of why I think I took up art journaling. It's just kind of free up that part of myself and be like the little kids scribbling in the coloring book again. And not worry about whether my hands do the right thing.
So, I thought maybe trying something that uses my hands. And I have seen this before when I've been surfing around, watching videos and it's making a spirit doll.
Thomas: A spirit doll?
Tina: Yes. So it's sort of a spiritual exercise, but a creative exercise too, where you go out in nature and you find maybe some branches or twigs. And that's where you start. And they could be from a tree that you have in your yard or a place that you go that's sacred to you.
And basically you form them into the shape of a body. And then you start decorating and making a real, 3D body out of that.
So it might be strips of fabric or anything else you might have lying around. And you build up the body and make it a body. You might add a face of some sort, which could be just a disk of some sort, like out of wood.
Tina: Some people make a clay face and paint it. Whatever it is, arms which might be other twigs or branches that you find. And then you can just decorate it with anything that feels right to you.
And then it can become a symbolic sort of figure for yourself or for your spiritual path or whatever, whatever calls to you. And then it's something you can keep on, if you have an altar, something that you keep sacred things on, or maybe just on your art table to remind you that you are a creative spirit, and you're connected to all these things.
Thomas: Wow. I love that. And you know, there's a part of me that's really smiling because I have bags of twigs in my garage here. Because I make trees for my model railroad. So I probably have a hundred candidate branches already in my garage for this.
I've never heard of this before. This is actually really great. I can imagine it coming together. I mean, I know that my spirit doll would be totally wild. I'm just imagining wild colors and stuff like that. I love that.
Thomas: I love that.
Tina: And of course it's unique to each person, so that'd be fun. No rules. Except what feels good?
Thomas: Right, right.
Thomas: All right, well thank you for that. Let's bookmark that one, and let's bounce back and forth with our ideas.
So I'm gonna, say one right now that I've been sort of thinking about for a while. Are you familiar with the Mayan hieroglyphs?
Tina: No, I don't think I am.
Thomas: So what's interesting about the Mayan hieroglyphs or the glyph system that they use is that they're sort of square and they have some sort of image in it, and they put them on these, they're called stelae. It's like these upright pillars or whatever that they write, they also have the books that they wrote in, on bark I believe.
And what's unique about their writing system is that the hieroglyph can represent either a phoneme or an actual idea, concept, or a word.
But when they were drawing it, they had a great amount of freedom in how to express a particular glyph. So for instance, let's say a glyph consisted of a mouth and an arm and a couple of eyes, right? And that meant something. Let's say that meant, I'm just picking a word, like “tree”.
The writer had complete freedom in deciding where to put the eyes and where to put the arm and where to put the mouth.
And this is what stumped people for the longest time, because they would see all these different glyphs and they all kind of looked different. But what they finally realized is that as long as the glyph had an arm and eyes and mouth, it didn't matter what position they were in, it was the same concept. It was the same word.
The reason I mention all of this is because to me, there's something like beautiful about being able to take a word and have total freedom in the way you design it.
So let's say you take the word, love, okay. L O V E, right? You could take the letters, L O V E and you can just put them in, different orders or different places within the square, but it would always mean the same thing.
So I was thinking to come up with some sort of a word picture using glyphs. Sort of inspired by the Mayan glyphs, but using English words or English letters or something like that.
It's not an entirely well-formed idea, but that would be something that we could work on and how to, flesh it out and, and make something with it.
Tina: Yeah. That's interesting. It just reminds me of writers can write a whole page about loneliness, but there's different words on every page for every writer about what loneliness is.
Thomas: Right, right.
Tina: That's interesting.
Thomas: Yeah. All right. what's your next idea?
Tina: Well, I've always loved pop-up books, and I've never tried to make a pop-up spread. And it fascinates me. So I would love to sort of learn how those are put together.
You know, obviously we couldn't do a whole book, Thomas. We would be here for a year, but maybe one spread just to try it out.
I have an idea that is actually, sort of builds on that.
Tina: Oh, nice.
Thomas: Do you want to hear it?
Tina: I do, I do.
Thomas: So I've mentioned this in a previous episode of my podcast and there's this wonderful book, Griffin and Sabine. Have you read it?
Tina: Oh, I have, yes. I have that from long ago and I do love it.
Thomas: And the idea is that it's two people that were mailing each other cards and letters. And the book itself, it is sort of like a pop-up book. There are actually envelopes inside and you can pull out the letters.
And the twist that I'm thinking about is, what would the story be like if there were like a magical mailbox, then two people could be communicating to each other over time. Like, you know, one person in the 19th century and the other person's in the 21st century. Right?
Thomas: And what would the tension be there? Like the, the person in the 21st century might not want to reveal things to the person in the 19th century. You know, things like that.
Tina: That could be fun,
Tina: Yeah. Hmm. Now you have me thinking.
Thomas: What's your third idea?
Tina: So, you know, I have a son who makes films and he likes to write scripts too. He takes after mom, which is great. I love that he takes after me a little bit. But I think trying to make a mini film, that's a lot of things to learn.
So I thought instead, could you create a graphic novel?
And since I don't draw very well, I thought, I wonder if you can make a graphic novel out of photographs.
And I actually just googled it a little bit because I thought, “Hmm, I'm sure someone's done that.” And I found that, I think it said in the forties, and then it moved through fifties, sixties. I think there was more some in the seventies, all the way up to the nineties that some people had done this, from film stills.
I think it was an Italian artist and a French artist were the first ones I saw. And they literally just used photographs and it was people in all of them.
And a lot of them were romantic stories, which we don't have to do that theme at all. But I was always thinking, it's almost like creating a storyboard for a movie without making the movie, and without having to draw it.
Thomas: Because it's photographs you're using. Sort of a found object, yeah.
Tina: Yeah. So, that was an idea that I had too.
Thomas: You know where that takes me? Tina, there's this wonderful store that we have here in San Francisco called ScrapSF. And people come and donate art supplies to it. Literally, you just go and you donate stuff that you can't use anymore. And then it's sold for very little to teachers and artists and all that.
And one of the things they have there is they have this huge bin of photographic slides. And they even have a little light table so you can look at what's there.
And I've stood there for like half an hour at a time, just staring at these slides. You know, some of them are like from the 1950s, people visiting Italy.
And, and then there's more personal stuff. It's family photos and all that. That's, that's sort of what it reminds me of.
Tina: Mm-hmm. I found a store, it's actually an antique store in Ithaca, New York, which is where my son ended up going to college, and we were there visiting.
And they had of course a whole cart outside the store that was piled with boxes and it was all old photographs. Some of them going back to the early 19 hundreds, some even earlier than that.
And some of them were from old photo studios that had been privately owned around, I guess, upper New York state over the years that it closed.
So they were like the photo cards that they would use for their marketing, some of them. But some of them had personal notes written on them when the person gave the photo to someone else.
And I did end up buying some to use for art journaling as well. You know, not to cut them, because that would break my heart. But to scan them and use images of them.
So, yeah, I also sat in front of that cart for hours. Actually, I stood, there was no chair, but I stood and I kept making little piles and more little piles of the ones I was interested in.
It took quite a while for me to narrow down my options there. So I'm like you, I could definitely get lost in images in a little store somewhere.
Thomas: Wow. I have one more thing to go, but I have to say is like, I want to do all of these at, at some point I want to do all of these. Right.
Tina: That's the problem.
Thomas: It's great!
Tina: It's a good problem to have, yeah.
Thomas: Well, my last idea is to write a song in the style of They Might Be Giants. I love They Might Be Giants.
The words that they use or the phrases are, I guess the idea that comes up for me is like non-sequitur. They come up with words that are so weird and crazy.
I mean, like this phrase from Anna Ing, “I don't want the world, I just want your half.”
Yeah. So anyway, that's my third idea, to write a song.
There’s so much here. I like the spirit doll. I like the idea of popup books.
And also creating a storyboard from found photographs. Sounds good too.
What are you thinking? Has anything come up for you as like, “yeah, let's try that!”
Tina: Well, of course the writer in me loves the Griffin and Sabine idea.
The writing a song in the style of They Might Be Giants, terrifies me. Well, it could be, I guess it could be like writing a poem, right? I guess it's the music part that I think, oh, I would be terrible at that. But yeah, I might be able to write lyrics.
The Mayan hieroglyphs sound interesting to me too.
So I don't know that I can make a clear decision.
Thomas, you know, I am feeling a little drawn to the spirit doll, I have to say. And then I think second in line might be Griffin and Sabine, or the graphic novel or maybe a weird combination of the two. I don't know.
Thomas: Yeah, let's think about what a weird combination might be.
Tina: Hmm. Yeah.
Thomas: I'm trying to think of how the spirit doll might fit into any of the others.
Tina: Yeah. That's an interesting idea Thomas.
Thomas: Well, let's do this, Tina. What do you think about this idea?
I'd love to make a spirit doll. I love the hands on, just making something, and also making something that sort of represents creativity and the muses that seem to be swirling around.
And, and I like the idea of storytelling, Griffin and Sabine style. So there might be something where we can just combine the two.
Maybe the spirit doll will point us in that direction? What do you think?
Tina: I think anything's possible with the spirit doll.
Thomas: Yeah. well, let's try that. I think we have our idea, Tina.
Tina: Yeah, I think that, could work Thomas.
Thomas: Yeah, in fact, let's do this. Let's go ahead and both you and I can start working on the spirit doll and start building it.
And as we build it, we can be communicating back and forth and we'll get some clarity about how we want to use that in a Griffin and Sabine style storytelling. How about that?
Tina: That works for me. Let the spirit be our guide, Thomas.
Thomas: Exactly. Yeah.
I like that it includes a storytelling element to it because I'm always interested in learning more about that and experiencing it. Experiencing the creating of stories,
Tina: Well, that's right up my alley, Thomas. So we're going to get a piece of each other's worlds here.
Thomas: Yeah. I'm excited!
Tina: Yeah, I'm excited too now!
Thomas: Both Tina and I were genuinely excited when we recorded the first part of our Spirit Doll journey in March. Little did we know that it would take us the better of five months to complete our project. As you will hear in the second part of our conversation, sometimes it just takes time gestate an idea before it can be fully expressed…
Thomas: So, Tina, welcome back. It's so good to have you back. It's been a while since we've spoken last. And I’m just wondering how are you doing?
Tina: Well, thanks, Thomas. It's good to hang out with you again. It has been quite a while. It took us a while to do this project, didn't it?
Thomas: It sure did, and I wanted to ask you about that. It's like sometimes, we have our intentions and, then things happen. We just have to set aside what our project is.
So first of all, I have to say that I'm just super impressed with both of our spirit dolls. They're beautiful. And I'm excited with my spirit doll. It's going to be basically in my studio space going forward, and I know that you have your spirit doll in your studio space as well.
Tina: Yeah, she's right behind me, and I love seeing yours as well, Thomas, when we talk.
Thomas: Let's start by describing our dolls and then we can go into what it was like to make them. How about that?
Tina: Okay, that works.
Thomas: Why don't you describe yours?
Tina: So my doll is made of some branches, or I guess maybe twigs from a really big old tree in the yard next door, which has special meaning to me. And then some branches from our grape arbor that's in our yard that's also very ancient.
And I bound them together. Has a very feminine shape in the body. And some fabric wrapped around and it looks like a dress.
The body has some curves to it. That was intentional. I wanted it to be very female.
Thomas: Mm hmm.
Tina: And then, at first I had some sort of curved branches coming out the top. They were connected to the branches inside the body and I envisioned wings for that.
So they are still there, but at one point I actually cut them off and then made them detachable. She does have wings that are removable.
And then I sculpted a face out of, I think polymer clay. And I have more of the pieces of branches around her face, sort of like rays of the sun, I guess, and sort of some crown like adornments on the top.
So I have some dried sage that I had in my yard. And then some feathers, some pine cones, some seed pods from a tree. I have all kinds of things as part of her.
And then I also fashioned a spear out of a broken piece of a crystal I had and another piece of branch and some feathers. So that's what she looks like.
Thomas: And I notice the arms are pretty much straight out, like in a very welcoming pose.
Thomas: You mentioned that it is a very female figure. Can you, tell us a little bit of what you were wanting to express with that?
Tina: So I'm at a stage in my life where there's a lot of transition, so I'm in that, menopausal stage, I guess. I have a son who's left home for college and another one that will leave soon. And so I think when we started talking about the spirit doll, my intention was to find that I guess wholeness in myself.
Thomas: Mm hmm.
Tina: I feel life is lacking right now because everything's in flux, everything's changing. I feel like at this stage I'm getting rid of a lot of stuff that I don't want anymore, but I haven't quite gathered up what I do want or figured all of that out yet.
So I thought if I can make this female figure that embodies the unity of all those parts of us, the parts we love and don't love and the parts we struggle with and the parts we wish we had more of, if I could make this doll that had all those things in one place and was a very unified sort of goddess like figure, that that would make me, I guess, trust that that will happen for me too at some point.
So that was sort of the feeling I went into it with. Of finding that purpose and that unity in myself again, somehow,
Thomas: That's a very powerful figure.
Tina: Yeah, I didn't know how she would turn out, but she feels that way to me. Yes.
Thomas: I can see that. Well, my, spirit do started out as basically some things that I found on the beach. I was beach combing and I found, of all things, some palm fronds and the stems of where the palm dates, you know, palms have flowers and then they produce dates.
And these stems are very, um, zigzaggy, if I can say, sort of clustered and zigzaggy.
And I knew right away when I found it that I wanted to do something with that. So the stems became the hair, it's almost like hair, but it's also a symbolic crown, if you will.
And the rest of it is made with some branches that came from the backyard. I bound them together with some string.
And I fashioned the face, it's out of paper mache actually and painted it sort of a light blue.
And then I covered the body with some old faux fur and some other fabric strips. There's a lot of sewing that goes on in my family here. A lot of costumes are being made. And so, so almost every week there's bags of little strips and and leftovers and I snag those out of the garbage.
Sometimes they're sparkly like the strips that I have on my spirit doll are red and gold. They come from sort of a Asian or Chinese fabric.
What else can I say about my spirit doll? Like we were saying it took a long time for us to finish our dolls and part of it is, I just had to sit with it, and understand like, what is this doll becoming and what is it telling me?
And in the, it basically, there was a strong message. I was watching a documentary of something. And what came through for me was this idea of perseverance, of just sticking with it.
And even though the project took a long, long time, I just got this overwhelming sense of sticking with it and perseverance.
And so that's what I named my spirit doll, Perseverance.
The doll itself has some female features and some male features. I have not assigned it a gender. It is more of a spirit to me. So it's more of something that's going to remind me to stick with my projects, my many, many projects.
And so in that sense, I'm really happy to have made it and to have it as a part of my studio space.
And one thing I have to say is, the stems that go up that are the hair or the crown above the head… I painted them in such a way to look like a flame. At the bottom it's sort of blue, in the middle it's red, and the top it's yellow.
And that was intentional because I am always coming up with new ideas of stuff to do. And I wanted Perseverance to sort of embody that as well, as an acknowledgement that it's okay to have ideas, even as I endeavor to not be distracted with lots of new ideas, and stick with the projects that I'm already doing.
Tina: One, what I love about your flame that's coming out… Well, first of all, I love the palm fronds, and I thought it was cool that we both live in very different places. So you had materials where you live that I would never find here, you know? So you have very different looking materials for your spirit doll than I would have here. So I love that.
But every time I look at yours, I literally hear and feel the sense of that whoosh sound that happens when you light a match, you know what I mean?
And I get this feeling like, here we go, right? But then it's constant too. It's not just the ignition, it's that glorious shock of stuff above the head that's just there, you know?
So, Perseverance is a great name for your figure. I love it.
Thomas: Thank you.
Tina: And the open arms. You have the branches that look like open hands up to the sky. Like, hey, I'm gonna catch everything that's coming, you know?
Thomas: Yup. How did it feel to make the spirit doll to actually work with your hands?
Tina: Well, I had a lot of fear about that in the beginning and sort of throughout that came back, because I'm a writer by nature and the extent of how a writer uses their body as their brain and their fingers for typing.
So there's not a lot of, you know, forming things with your hands. And so I'm sort of uncomfortable with that idea. I don't feel good at it. I don't feel mechanically inclined.
And so I thought, “How am I going to make this?” I don't even know how to put things together, you know.
But what kept happening, and I guess it's good that it happened, there were big, like you said, we had big breaks in between in our process.
And I remember getting the materials together that I wanted to use for the body and getting some other stuff that I thought I might want to use. And then when I started, I was sort of a deer in headlights, like, how do I even start?
But I would just start and every time my brain would be like, wait, wait, what if this doesn't work? Oh, when I'm trying to attach things and they're not attaching well, or the, the substance, you know, I was using hot glue and other things.
And I'm like, okay, that really didn't hold the way I thought that was going to hold. And instead of letting myself sort of panic about that, I would just be like, well, just keep figuring it out. You know, just keep doing it.
And I would just shut that voice up and, keep going and it became, I realized, it became instinctual. So it was just like at every point when I'd finish doing one piece or attaching something, I would look over and, you know, feel my pieces or pick up certain things and it would just feel like, oh, this should go here. This should go there. And I just kept going with that.
And that actually became the process each time I sat down with it. So I would I would literally work on it for a couple of hours at a time, usually, and then get tired and stop.
And then there would be a long period of just letting it sit on the table and the fear would come back because I'd look at it and I'd be like, Oh my goodness, what am I going to do next? And how am I going to put these other pieces together that I have ideas for?
And especially when we got to things like the face. Which I have never made a face before, and I've never, I have tried to draw in my lifetime, and I like the idea of drawing, and I've learned to draw some things, but I'm not great at it, and I love, I'm fascinated by faces.
So the idea, though, of making a three dimensional face was terrifying too. So, that's probably a long answer to what you asked, but that became my process every time I sat down, was to panic first, then just start doing it, and then just keep following my instincts.
And, you know, it seemed that at each point I somehow figured it out, somehow figured out how to make things stick together, how to make things, attach to each other, where to place things, what things to place where. A
And then when I made the face, I don't know, I watched a couple YouTube videos, I looked up some things, but in the end I just sculpted it till it felt right, and it worked. So, yeah.
Thomas: So how did you feel once you saw that face, when it took form?
Tina: Well, I got excited, but what I usually do, this is just being inside my head, is anytime I get really excited about something, especially if it's art related, is there's a voice that immediately wants to tamp that down.
And I think it's like the fear of disappointment, like don't get too excited because the disappointment will hurt more, you know, and so I would get excited in the midst of it and then try to calm that down. Like, okay, just calm down. Don't think about that right now. Just keep going, you know. B
But when I got done, I remember we were actually on a little trip away from home. So I had to transport the face back home, and it needed to be baked. And I thought, oh, it's going to get ruined on the way home, you know, and it didn't.
And then I got home, and I had to read about baking it, and I thought, oh, there's all kinds of things that could go wrong in the oven, right? And none of those things happened.
So I guess at every step, I kept thinking maybe it's okay to get excited because it seems that if you just let yourself go with the instinct that you will figure it out.
And even if there's a problem, like I had minor issues when I was doing that, it's like, well, who cares if it still works? If you can find a way to make it work, it'll still work. It'll be fine.
And so that was my experience, especially with the face as well.
Thomas: Yeah, mine came together fairly quickly. Well, the initial part, the branches. And you had sent me some resources on spirit dolls, and there was a particular face that I saw in there that I used as a pattern.
But then it sat forever. The next step for me was to do painting and to make the cloak with the fabric and stuff. And that sort of stumped me for a while. It just was sitting there with this Ziploc bag full of fabrics and was sitting in the basement just sort of staring at me and it's like, hmm.
But I was fairly pleased with how the face turned out. I've never done that before. I've never molded a face like that before, but I just worked at it. A
And because it's paper mache, what I like about it is it's a slow medium. You can work it and you can change it and because it takes three, four, five days for it to really harden.
But it did take forever for me to finally get to it and say, okay, this is what I'm going to do in terms of actually making the cloak around it.
So how did you feel when it was all finished?
Tina: Actually, I'm trying to think. I think I was a little sad it was over, to be honest. I guess “over” in quotes, right? It doesn't have to be over, but, I was excited at how it came out because I did have a couple issues on the way that I had to figure out, like, once I got done the face.
I had a whole idea of how I wanted the head to be and realized that with the branches sticking out that were making wings, here's where I was learning my mechanical skills, I guess.
Some of these things are just in slightly the wrong place, you know, they just don't quite work where they are. So at one point I had to make a decision to cut the wings or cut the branches coming out of the top that were going to be my wings. And then I also had to figure out a way to attach that base that it was in the right spot.
And that took some figuring out. So I think I was also just excited that all those different pieces did come together, and it's a coherent piece, and it actually looks right. And “right” in quotes.
It looks like a figure. It looks like I imagined that it might look, with some surprises along the way, because I don't think you ever really know how it's going to look from the beginning. I don't think we planned that out, Thomas, each little piece, right? It just sort of happens along the way. So that was kind of fun.
That was kind of exciting when you get done and you stand back and you look at the whole thing and you're like, wow, how did that even happen? You know, how did that even come together?
And somehow I think when you look at it, and I think you probably feel this way about yours is, well, it came together exactly as it should have.
Thomas: Mm hmm. Yeah, there wasn't a plan, like I didn't draw anything for it. I was literally just starting to put things together and sort of seeing in relation how they look.
And, you know, I still wasn't quite sure how that thing on the top of his head, all those branches coming out of the top of his head, how that would eventually look. I didn't go into it thinking, oh, yeah, there's going to be a flame,
Tina: Mm hmm.
Thomas: But at some point I looked at it and said, that sort of looks like a flame and it has the right energy of a flame, you know, in terms of what I was trying to do.
I was just really happy when it was finished. I looked at it and said, yeah, this is, this is exactly what it needs to be, you know?
Tina: Well after it was finished, I did sit down and sort of write out some of my experiences. Because, of course, that's how I make sense of the world is writing.
And it occurred to me that the structure of the spirit doll is like layers, you know, like you build that core body, whatever you want to call it, that figure. And then you just layer on top the figure of clothes or body and then the face and head and all these things.
And what I wrote down was, the structure is stronger the more layers it has. just like our years of experience and wisdom that we wrap around ourselves give us strength and confidence. The confidence that things will hold together, even if things change or fall apart.
And I wrote that out and then looked at it and said, well that feels so right. Because, you know, at every stage when I'm trying to attach things and thinking this is going to fall apart, right? This is not going to work. It didn't, it all held together and it makes sense and like we just talked about you stand back and look at it and you say, “Oh, well it came out as it should,” or “This is as it should be, it just feels right.”
So when I wrote that out after looking at it after it was done, it felt like sort of a closure for me or a that that unified thing I was trying to find. I did find it through this process. I feel like on some level just sitting with that and sitting with the figure and then writing that down made me feel that really deeply.
Thomas: I'm glad to hear that. And there's also another layer that we can sort of speak to here and that this is now going to be a part of us going forward, right? It's part of our studios. It's another layer, if you will, of our creativity that we've built. And now it's going to be with us going forward.
Tina: Yeah, and you named yours Perseverance, but I feel like when I look at mine, I see that too, because that was the experience of the project right just sticking with it through the doubt and the uncertainty. I'd also occurred to me that.
So one of my favorite quotes is from Flannery O'Connor. And she said, the basis of art is truth, both in matter and in mode.
And I feel like making art, this happens with writing for me, but I didn't, I guess I didn't realize it would also happen with something like this. Where, in the process of making art you're taking the truth of things that you know and putting it together so that you can see and hear it. You know, out loud in some way.
So it's like, you know it inside, but you don't really know it until you produce it and make it and look at it. And if it's music, listen to it. And so it's like the truth is made conscious for you. So I feel like, Oh, there's this figure on the wall, you know, that's a truth I came to.
It was in there, I just didn't know it until she came out, you know? So that's comforting to me too, the way things all sort of eventually tie together in some way.
Thomas: We had also spoken about having a writing element as part of this project, and eventually what we decided to do was to write in the voice of our spirit dolls to the other spirit doll. And I found that to be an absolutely wonderful experience. How did you experience that?
Tina: Well, I think I didn't quite know what her voice should be. Then I got your note from Perseverance and actually you inspired me to find her voice and write back to you. So it was, I kind of had to wait for you, Thomas, to spark that for me, which is weird because that was the writing element, which I thought I felt so comfortable with
And that was the part that I was kind of just a little bit blank on by the end, you know, and maybe it was because this was a more of a hands on process and not writing. So maybe I just had trouble switching gears back, you know, to the writing piece. I don't know.
Thomas: It took me a while to sort of understand it is what Perseverance wanted to say, but then as I sat with it, I just realized it really was more about acknowledgment, really.
Tina: Mm hmm.
Thomas: That's sort of the direction it took. I'm glad we did that. I'm glad we added that element to it. Because I think it provided a certain amount of closure to the process of making the spirit dolls.
Tina: Mm hmm.
Thomas: Not that it needed closure, but it was sort of a nice little final note to it.
Tina: Yeah, I think acknowledgement, like the word you used, acknowledgement fits because it was almost like the spirit doll saying, I see you, you know, this thing that came out of nothing that was created. I see you and I understand who you are,
Thomas: Mm hmm. Yeah.
Tina: Kind of, kind of cool that way. Yeah.
Tina: So did you come to any truth, Thomas, through this process, or the truth made conscious? Did you discover a truth you already knew by hand?
Thomas: That's a great question. I liked what you said about being both mode and matter. And what I went right to was mode.
Tina: Mm hmm.
Thomas: As you know, I really like to make things with my hands. So, for me, a lot of that truth is in the mode, is in the making. and I guess what I can say about that is that for me, making is about discovery.
Because I don't hesitate when I start making stuff. I just say, okay, well, what am I going to do? Okay, I'm going to get some rope or I'm going to get some string, or let's see, what's the best way to attach this?
Or, you know, all of those questions are answered in the moment of making. So I guess for me that the truth is really more in that moment of making, in a moment of working with my hands.
And at the point that's kind of hard to describe actually as I'm trying to describe it but, it's who I am. In terms of the type of art that I want to make and what I want to do going forward. There's something about working with my hands and, and seeing something in my hands. That's where my truth is actually, even more so than the final product often times.
Tina: Mm hmm.
Thomas: It's those moments of creation, I guess is the best way to put it.
Tina: Yeah, I feel like I got to experience that for the first time, you know. It's familiar to me when I'm writing, and it is hard to describe, you're right, but what you described in the making, the physical part, yeah, I experienced that a little bit, too, for the first time.
Thomas: And that's why I think it's important for all of us as artists to try all these different modes. You know, writing for me is a... I was going to say struggle. It's not a struggle, but it's, it's definitely not as fluid as making something with my hands. And yet it is, as you say, it's creating in exactly the same way.
And that's why I like trying so many different things, whether it's printing or drawing or gluing or writing. Those are all ways of being with truth in the moment.
Tina: Yeah, yeah, it's like a form of meditation, sort of, you know.
Thomas: It really is. Well, Tina, this has been so wonderful, and, uh, I really want to thank you for being my partner in making spirit dolls. And just your willingness to try something that you've never done before. So thank you for that.
Tina: You know I love hanging out with you and talking about this stuff, but, I think this is the first time that you've given me a project. And I love it because you nurtured that along and let me experience this for the first time, so that was very wonderful. Thank you.
Thomas: Thanks, Tina. Okay, take care.
Tina: Thank you. Bye.
It is Free