When I was six, I began to collect words. Other kids collected Barbie dolls and postcards. I liked words.
The first one was Heiss—hot in German. I liked the sizzling sound at the end. I liked that it was written with the German Ess-Zet, or S/Z, a funny letter that looked like a Greek beta—an upper case B with a long stem. There were a whole string of words that seemed to come in colors—Schadenfreude, the German word for taking pleasure in the misfortune of others, seemed to come dressed in black robes. Misanthrope was an orange hunchback. Filigree had wings.
Words Turn into Codes
In elementary school, my friends and I would design elaborate code alphabets. Not just letter-exchanges, where the letter ‘a ‘would stand for the letter ‘m,’ we invented whole new designs of squares, squiggles and dots. We spent hours designing secret codes just for love notes, angry messages, and news. We designed for those purposes, but quickly grew tired of writing with them. Invention was the fun; writing the tedium. The curse of the inventor: practical applications.
By high school, collecting words wasn’t enough. It grew to include letterforms. Chinese characters, Cyrillic letters, Japanese kanjis all held supreme joy in their discovery.
Codes Develop into Languages
It was inevitable that the collection grew to include made up words. That continued into adulthood. When my son was small, he put a paper towel into his waistband when we sat down to eat. That was a ‘lapkin.’ It made more sense than napkin. The square of cloth you used to take a pan off the stove was a ‘hotholder.’ The sticks you used to propel a boat with were “rows.
Words Come First, then Design
The love of letterforms and words has grown for more than 50 years. My first collages included words as part of the design. Now the words give the design direction and meaning. Words are an important part of my definition of collage as an art medium.
I have long ago conceded that each person who views my collages sees them differently. I feel deeply satisfied when someone says, “These are so wonderful! They speak to me!” Perhaps they do, but in my world, they write to me. And the vocabulary of meaning is in code.
– Quinn McDonald is a certified creativity coach and writer. See her work at quinncreative.com
(c) QuinnCreative. 2008 All rights reserved. Stones carved by Maggie Roe, photograph by Quinn McDonald.