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  • Writer's pictureShannon Heibler

Alice in Wonderland (1951)

I had, like I think so many people who've felt lost in their lives, a pretty serious Alice in Wonderland phase. Scratch that. I had several. It started with the book. I was wild about the illustrations. I liked that it felt like orderly and proper nonsense. It had a sense of decorum about it and, as I've come to understand about my personal aesthetic, a deep sense of melancholy and longing (sup, Mock Turtle). I performed Jabberwocky and The Walrus and the Carpenter for middle school forensics. I don't remember this movie in my life a whole lot before high school or even college. In college, a renewed sense of being adrift in the world that previously made so much sense, I rediscovered Alice. I tried to make the chaos of my life match the orderly nonsense of Carroll's writing, trying to assign characters to my friends. Wanting art based on those pairings, with myself as Alice at the center. I imagined I was holding court when really I was drowning in my tears.



That was something that stood out to me in this viewing. Alice is an agent of chaos, upending much of this surreal world in her attempt to understand it. She is oddly calm in the face of singing flowers and parliamentary dodos but she does expect this world to bend to her sense of what is normal and correct which... oh Alice. I never really appreciated the juxtaposition of this with her daydreaming a world that makes no sense. When she finds exactly that world, she wants the world she was bored by. Something something metaphor for my life.


I really got into this particular Wonderland when I started daydreaming about being an Imagineer. Two of my favorite all time Imagineers worked on this one: Mary Blair and Marc Davis. Her use of color and his use of line. My god. I have so much to learn.


I thought a lot about color and play while watching this. I was a "mature" child with "an old soul" and I think that mostly meant that I kept playing into those labels. It was 'good' that I was reserved and quiet and not 'wild' like those other children. But I wish I would have had a wild streak. It's so hard for me to just play. To let go. Lower my guard. Learn to be free. Maybe if you whistle, whistle for me. (That tangent reminds me, yes it was supposed to be Into the Woods this week but golly I just did not feel like it.) Those were lyrics from my soul song from Sondheim's only real failure, "Anyone Can Whistle." If you want to understand me, listen to that song. Sometimes it makes me sad to think about a childhood made small for the comfort and convenience of others (not that I think anyone was consciously doing that to me), but there's not a lot I can do about it now. I can only try to let myself play now.


I hope Bill the Lizard is okay.


I am curious (ha) about the decision to change the Cheshire Cat's line from "we're all mad here" to "we're almost all mad here." It softens the blow so much.


Gouache and pyrography on wood. (And gouache on paper.)





Takeaways:

-After a few weeks of feeling really blocked and knowing that this week's project was so based in a sense of play and being free and loose with my art, I started by messing around with gouache on paper. No plans, no sketching, just me listening to a documentary on Mary Blair (and watching a little too - gotta see those colors!) and throwing the gouache on black paper like Mary did. I thought I would hate the results (no planning!?!?) but I was honestly really charmed by the work and the result. It makes me want to try this medium more!

-This movie and the source material feel like they're etched into my personal history. Things aren't easy now (are they ever?) but I'm happier than I've ever been. God I used to plan so much. BIG, set in stone plans and YIKES. It feels like all that led to was disappointment. "If I followed all the rules, why aren't things going my way? I sacrificed fun and relaxation for stress and disappointment?" I'm still struggling to follow the advice that I give my students every day, telling them that mistakes are okay, and (I need to tell them this part more often) the best way to discover yourself and learn your craft. And this is that. An attempt to welcome my younger self to a more poorly defined but brighter future.

-I tried more of the nibs(? tips?) for my wood burning tool. I've been too scared to switch out mid piece before and it was great! Big fun! But next time, I need to make a little saturation/contrast rubric for myself so I can map out those tones in advance. I kind of flew by the seat of my pants (whaaaat) and the result, I think, is that it lacks a little clarity, particularly in its depth. I'd like clearer gradients of burning.

-When I started this, if you had asked me which part would be hardest, I'd have said the gouache part. WRONG! That came so easily and joyfully. I just had to keep myself from correcting it. I wanted it to be a little rough. I love it. I really struggled to get started on the wood burning. Huh! I blame the excellent exercise of playing with paint before getting started. I might need to make that a habit.


Next week is the first of five curated (but still randomized) Spooky Season appropriate flicks: Beetlejuice! I've been dying to revisit this one so I'm glad it came up first.


God, I hope this week is gentle. For all of us. In the meantime, I'm going to welcome my favorite month with Halloween decorations, warm & comforting foods, and spooky movies.

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