How to Creatively Collaborate

with artist Tria Wood

This weekend, four pieces of erasure poetry / visual art I created in collaboration with local Houston artist Tria Wood will be on sale at the Hardy and Nance Studios event "Mashed” (February 17, 5-9pm, 902 Hardy St, Houston, TX 77020). 

This post is really two posts in one! In part one, I share my thoughts on collaboration, and in part two, Tria shares hers!

Collaborating with others is one way to motivate yourself to achieve a goal. Lately, I've struggled to complete writing or art projects because creativity is often self-generated. In the past, I've tricked myself into finishing a story by, say, writing a story geared toward a particular submission call. While this can work, another way to stay on track is through finding someone to be your creative partner.

I've been interested in creative collaborations for a while now, but when I saw a local call for artists to create collaborative work, I knew I wanted to try it out. In fact, I also knew right away that I wanted to work with fellow artist-writer Tria Wood.

How do you collaborate with another artist? You make friends with artists! As an erasure poetry artist, I create paintings using old books. Tria is a visual artist who creates collages using vintage magazines and other ephemera. I'd seen Tria's work on Instagram, and Tria happens to be in my writing group, so I knew we would work well together. I also had an idea of what text I wanted to use. Since Tria’s work is feminist in nature, I knew that picking vintage texts that were central to women’s history would be a great idea. I chose texts like Sara Coleridge’s "Phantasmion”—an 1874 book often considered the first fantasy novel ever written. I chose this text because Tria and I both also write fantasy. Two of my other texts were from ladies’ etiquette guides of the 1700s. I knew Tria would get a kick out of the “etiquette” required of women from the time.

What Are the Steps to a Great Creative Collaboration?

  1. Find Someone You Trust: It’s not easy to find the right collaborative partner. You want someone who can challenge you a little, but not too much, and whose work makes sense with yours. I know Tria through writing, but we rarely get to talk about our art. Because I was familiar with Tria's work, I knew our art would go well together. You can also approach a creative collaboration by diversifying your work. Is there something new you want to learn? Do you want to branch out into new genres or styles? 

  2. Start with a Clear Goal: It can be hard to finish a project when two people are involved. After all, a lot of creative people are also procrastinators. I knew what I wanted to apply for and who I wanted to do it with. The show also had a built-in deadline. This made for the perfect "SMART" goal—it was specific, measurable, achievable, relevant, and time-bound! We both understood what was needed and when it was needed.

  3. Brainstorm: I reached out to Tria and said, "Do you want to create a piece of art with me for this show?" The show had clear guidelines: We could submit up to four art pieces. So we knew we had to make four pieces. We decided to split those pieces in half, so Tria would create two pieces in her style and then give them to me to add onto, and vice-versa. This helped shape our approach. I made two erasure poems and gave Tria permission to cut them up or do whatever she wanted with them. Since Tria works on wood panels, she agreed to make two wood-panel pieces that would be the base for our collaborative art. 

  4. Stay Open to New Ideas and Conversations: It's useful to keep an open line of communication throughout the process of collaborating. Tria and I texted each other every few days, sending pictures of our in-progress work. It was fun seeing another artist's process. 

  5. Be Willing to Learn: You'll learn something new by working with another creator. That is the value of this whole experiment. One thing I learned during the process was that I'm a chaotic art creator! Tria is meticulous, ensuring each collage piece is perfectly flattened and smooth. My pieces tend to be far messier. The collaboration taught me a lot about how to flatten and smooth my pages. I also learned why I love using Gauche paint so much—its matte texture mimics book pages.

  6. Consider Marketing: In today's creative world, the reality is that you often have to not just make art but also figure out how to sell it. One of my marketing processes is to post videos of my creations. I asked Tria to try to video her work as she went so we could collaborate on the art and how we would market it. We talked about the price and titles for each piece. 

  7. Have Fun: The key to a collaboration is that if it doesn't feel fun, it's not worthwhile. I had a blast working with Tria, learning about her techniques, and expanding my artistic practice. I’m stoked that our work was accepted by the art show, and the process made me feel like I can hold my own as an artist-writer.

I reached out to ask Tria her thoughts on collaborating, and she was kind enough to share her process with me. Read on to hear what she has to say about collaging, grief, and the meditative practice of collaboration:

My recent focus in artwork has been on making collages. I like the tension created by juxtaposing different found images and materials. My collage journey began in late 2020, when the pandemic was in full swing, and my beloved dog Cosmo suddenly passed away. I'm primarily a writer, but in my grief, I found that the words just weren't coming.

What I could do, however, was cut paper, so I began to make collages. The act of carefully trimming images from old books and vintage magazines is calming and meditative for me, and it helped me through an extraordinarily difficult time. Soon, I felt the need to move from pure collage and into new territory. I like the luxurious feel of thick acrylic paints, and I experimented until something clicked.

Soon, I was using paint I had on hand from my earlier dabbling, along with cardboard I cut from cracker and tissue boxes, to create backgrounds for my collage work. I like to think that I'm creating a new world for whichever figures I'm going to collage onto my painted backgrounds. Hopefully, these worlds offer more interest and opportunity than the pages I found them frozen in.

For this collaboration, I created two backgrounds with figures for Holly to add erasure poetry to, and she created two erasure poems for me to create backgrounds for. As soon as I saw "The Lady" with its reds and pinks, I knew exactly which image from my collection would work best for it: a model from a late 1960s women's magazine, shot from a low angle that made her appear to tower over the viewer. The red and gold background alludes to ancient religious iconography, which I thought made an interesting pairing with what was once a commercial work. It also celebrated this "odious Madam" ready to use the power of her "Rage and Anger," as described in Holly's erasure. "The Witch's Head" erasure in blues and greens (one of my current color obsessions) made me think of magical gemstones. I created an extremely layered background, using foil fragments and thin metallic gold lines to achieve a mineral effect. The public domain illustration of a woman being ceremoniously dressed in sheer fabric by another woman in a dark cloak seemed to hint at an initiation, which paired well with the cautionary and instructional tone of Holly's erasure.

For the two pieces I gave Holly, I let myself play freely with color and shape, with the goal of creating two very different moods for her to work with. I set a public domain illustration of a robed figure gesturing as if to summon a spirit on an indigo background with bright blue and green ovoid shapes that could be perceived as magical bubbles or as punctures in reality. Holly paired this with an erasure called "Phantasmion," which enhanced the mysterious figure and created a narrative for its gesture.

I chose an early 1970s magazine advertisement for the other piece: a woman leaning on the fender of a convertible, a notepad and pen in her hands. This image led me to use colors and lines that referenced old road maps, something I pushed further with a wobbly grid to show that this map might be unreliable. The erasure Holly created for this, "General Observations," seems to be what this woman is jotting on her notepad, text that is set in a Mondrian-like collection of white and yellow rectangles outlined in black. These strong black lines define a more reliable space than the background "map" depicts, adding weight to the text.

Tria Wood is a writer, educator, and self-taught artist who has worked as a writer-in-residence, an arts magazine editor, a community college English professor, and an instructional designer. Her fiction and poetry have been published in literary journals like Cheap Pop, Pithead Chapel, Necessary Fiction, and Corvid Queen. Her work, whether written or visual, explores issues of gender, power, popular culture, and folklore. 

The creative mind is always in need of inspiration. My favorite form of inspiration comes from other writers and artists. As creative people, we have to feed our brains so that our well never runs dry.

If you’ve been thinking about collaborating with someone else to spark your creativity, consider this your little nudge to get started. You won’t regret it!

Check out our final creations, on display in Houston 2/17 at Hardy & Nance Studios:

“Phantasmion” by Tria Wood and Holly Lyn Walrath. For this piece, Tria supplied the background (painted in acrylic), and I supplied the poem (painted in Gauche).

“The Lady” by Tria Wood and Holly Lyn Walrath. For this one, I chose red and pink specifically because I knew they were colors Tria doesn’t use often. She usually gravitates to greens, yellows, and blues.

“General Observations” by Tria Wood and Holly Lyn Walrath. I struggled so much with the pages on this one! I finally added some background painted texture so that I could get the effect I want. I like how it blends into Tria’s already created squares.

“The WItch’s Head” by Tria Wood and Holly Lyn Walrath. The erasure poem on this page is one I gave to Tria. She created this collage in response to it, using it as a cut-up erasure poem.

Holly Lyn Walrath is a writer, editor, and publisher. Her poetry and short fiction has appeared in Strange Horizons, Fireside Fiction, Analog, and Flash Fiction Online. She is the author of several books of poetry including Glimmerglass Girl (2018), Numinose Lapidi (2020), and The Smallest of Bones (2021). She holds a B.A. in English from The University of Texas and a Master’s in Creative Writing from the University of Denver. In 2019, she launched Interstellar Flight Press, an indie SFF publisher dedicated to publishing underrepresented genres and voices. As a freelance editor, she provides editing services for writers and organizations of all genres, experiences, and backgrounds, but enjoys working with new writers best.

Upcoming Workshops from Holly Lyn Walrath

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