Interview with Anna Corba:

"Thus began my true love of paper..."

Anna Corba photo"People standing next to me at sales will sometimes ask, 'What do you collect?'" muses artist Anna Corba. "I never have much of an answer for them. I don't look for anything specific, I just know 'it' when I see it. That said, I do tend to gravitate to vintage sheet music, grade school grammar books, and all things French. I like pages yellowed with age and books with pencil notes in the margins." With these revealing words, Anna Corba introduces her book of Vintage Paper Crafts. Her distinctive style and love of antique ephemera comes through as she describes the materials, tools and techniques she uses, as well as her instructions for 37 artistic projects. Anna jokes that "we don't know where my creative gene came from," but it is hardly a recessive one. She has written five books on crafting and scrapbooking; Making Memory Boxes, Vintage Paper Crafts, Memories of a Lifetime™: Alphabets and Ornaments, and Instant Memories™ Travel and French Pages: Ready-to-Use Scrapbook Pages, as well as designing a set of vintage rubber stamp designs, all available from Stampington & Company. On her website, annacorbastudio.com, she offers an array of hand-crafted treasures; vintage bottles, notebooks, candle jars, shipping tags, paperweights, postcards, framed collages, and miniatures and ornaments of all varieties. Each is a tribute to her creative mind and to the vintage article on which she builds.

For those that love creating with vintage images, Anna Corba’s work is exhilarating. Vintage Paper Crafts was one of the reasons we launched Vintage Image Craft, so it was very exciting to talk with Anna in February 2009 about her books and her inspirations:

VIC: Reading through "Vintage Paper Crafts" is like wandering through your studio. Every page is a miniature collage, with artful ephemera embellishing the text. How did you set out to create a craft book that was a craft in itself?

© Anna Corba
Vintage Paper Crafts by Anna Corba
"For Vintage Paper Crafts I was lucky enough to be working with a book producer and editor who wanted the book to look 'like me' as much as possible and gave me enormous freedom, which came as a very pleasant surprise. I was prepared to take art direction, but ended up styling every shot myself. I was so thankful that I had space in my own studio to set everything up because this gave the book a much more personal and authentic feel. Beyond that, I can't take credit for the layout...I sent the producers ephemera from my studio and they painstakingly laid each page out to have the feel of one of my collages. I was blown away by their expertise and attention to detail...truly so honored and pleased!"

VIC: You've said you love "all things French," and this romantic theme colors so many of your designs. Tell us about your early influences that helped you develop your dream-like style.

© Anna Corba
French Pages by Anna Corba
"Well, this is such a great question because I really didn't have early influences that anyone would have guessed would lead me to where I am today! No flea markets, no crafting classes after school, my parents weren't artistic. I didn't spend hours drawing or fantasizing about art. This is what I can say....we lived in England for a few years when I was a little girl and I think there was something about their general aesthetic that seeped in somewhere....a more disciplined education, field trips to the ballet, piano lessons and poetry reciting at school, and French being taught in the second grade. We traveled throughout Europe in the summers and I think that just a little of that foreign mystique imprinted on me. By the time I was in college, France just seemed familiar to me on some level and I have returned many times."

VIC: Your approach to altering artwork is subtle, often resulting from washes of subdued color and aging techniques. How would you describe the color palette of your work, and what role does color play in your design?

©Anna Corba
Anna Corba sage green craft pallette
"My palette changes with the seasons, where I am living and how I am influenced by everyday culture. I often have an internal battle going between 'pretty' and 'muddy'. Both palettes feel authentic to me, but I often feel I need to just choose and stick to one! Particularly with my product line....how to make it all work together can be a challenge. When I lived back east I was more drawn to mustards and olives as the seasons changed...living in California with abundant sunshine, blues and pinks have been evident in my work for years now. That said...I will NEVER abandon sage green....it is truly my color of all colors!"

VIC: You often layer text and image ephemera in a way that tells a story or creates a mood. How would you advise a crafter to evaluate and incorporate text or graphics like music for a project?

"So much of what I do is intuitive that it is hard to narrow it down to an identifiable technique. I actually very seldom think of telling a story with my work. I am usually merely looking for interesting imagery to combine in a way that brings new insight into the beauty of the individual pieces. For me, it is important to be surrounded with real and authentic images, papers and embellishments to choose from....this way most of my work is done for me...it is just up to me to do justice to their arrangement! It is not so much a cognitive process as a willingness to fall into the arms of the unknown... I simply begin by experimenting with arrangement. It is important to remain soft during this process, not insisting that it all gets figured out immediately. An art piece will begin to have a dialogue with you if you allow it."

VIC: From your work, something tells us you always have what you need at your fingertips. How do you organize and store your huge ephemera collection, and what insights can you offer the less-organized among us?

© Anna Corba
Anna Corba in her studio
"Ahhhhh... now THIS is what I learned in childhood... organizational skills! My mother is a very neat homemaker and my dad is great with numbers and engineering. The tone around my house growing up was very accountable and dependable. Things got put away and there was always back stock available for when something ran out. I have carried this way of life over into my studio, and as a collage artist who doesn't like clutter, it comes in very handy! My studio is arranged like an old time bakery or apothecary... lots of muffin tins and cake stands, glass jars and wooden boxes. These all hold my various collections and much of it is in plain view so that I can be inspired throughout the day. To me, what I choose to hold my objects are as important as the objects themselves. It all feels very seamless. I am also a sucker for furniture with many drawers, and I label them all. I try not to let my collections get too large...this simply becomes overwhelming and serves to stop me in my tracks as opposed to energize me. Not everything needs to come home!"

VIC: You are famous for creating brand-new old things. Tell us about some of your favorite aging techniques and finishes that add vintage patina to your work.

© Anna Corba
Anna Corba martini glasses
"The most simple techniques are the most appealing to me. I don't own jars and bottles of stuff where I need to read labels to get some sort of desired effect. I prefer naturally aged pieces most of all. I've been known to bury things in dirt, leave them out in the rain to be wrinkled, leave them in the sun to be bleached, throw my ribbons in the bathtub, drain my coffee grounds over parchment and, of course, dye my tags with leftover tea bags. I also love the use of melted beeswax as a muted soft patina over general collage work."

VIC: In "Making Memory Boxes", you show how to compose vintage fragments and findings into evocative, three-dimensional collages. The objective, in the words of featured artist Suzanne Young, is a piece of art where “the collected items draw the viewer in and stimulate their own memories and feelings from the past.” In classic "chicken or egg" style, tell us how you conceive memory boxes: what comes first, the personal memory you want to distill, or the ephemera that evokes it? What creative exercises would you recommend to a crafter who is intrigued by your book but doesn't know where to start?

"Unlike many artists that I know, I actually prefer to not have a particular story or memory in mind when I begin a project. I am motivated by the materials themselves, and a mood or narrative begins to evolve in a very loose way. I prefer to think of any boxes I choose, be they cigar boxes or old drawers or metal first aid kits as anonymous historical figures... I am attracted to the fact they have lived a life before I met them but I'm not actually that interested in what that life was! I am more drawn to creating its new life rather than replicating its imagined past. This feels the most creatively free to me and that's where I find my energy.

© Anna Corba
Anna Corba Memory Boxes craft
"For those who are more interested in preserving specific memories, I would suggest taking out a journal and list some favorite and most endearing life episodes. These can be small details... the way a certain pattern of starlings impressed on your vision or large events... the surprise party you pulled off for your husband. I would begin to look through my collections and see if there are objects or ephemera that seem to match the feelings conjured by these memories. Think of photographs, poetry, invitations, or imagery which evokes rather than having to capture something in a literal manner. These may simply be stored in a beautiful box or used as a starting point for embellishing a box that you are interested in transforming."

VIC: Finding authentic vintage text is a challenge, which is why your book of "Alphabets and Ornaments" is such a treasure. How did this book come about and how do you see people using it?

© Anna Corba
Alphabets and Ornaments by Anna Corba
"Alphabets and Ornaments came about as a result of my publisher wanting to put out a series that could compete with and compliment the Dover© clip art publications. I felt this series could be useful to a huge audience and I had great fun collecting the ephemera and literally pasting it all together. None of the layout was done on computer... I sent in a stack of cut and paste pages a mile high, all of which were painstakingly photographed by the producer. There has been great feedback on this series, and I feel that for those of us who don't have the time or inclination to wander flea markets tirelessly looking for just the right thing, these books are a really great resource. And such a deal..."

VIC: Just leafing through your "French Pages" scrapbook designs is like a vacation. Now that you've given us your dream travelogue to inspire us, where else would you like to take us in your next few books?

"Well let's see....I'd love to do a flea market book...twelve markets in twelve months and some goodies thrown in that are created from what is found. I'd love to do this with some friends of mine. We'll see. Texas is good, Michigan is good. And so is Brussels! I've also had images dancing in my head for quite awhile now about an ornament how-to book, with a French flair bien sur! To be honest, the outlets for publishing are not as prolific as they have been in the past due to economic concerns. I feel it's important to keep dreams tended however, even in small ways... so I allow the ideas to have breathing room, sort of like letting them grow in an incubator until it is their time. I seldom feel that anything is impossible... so much is about timing and being patient around the cultivation and arrival of opportunities.
"

VIC: Many of us dream of creating and selling crafts, as you are doing at Found Cat Studio. Tell us about your daily work and how you manage your creative demands.

© Anna Corba
Anna Corba Memory Boxes craft
"Creating my product line is perhaps the most satisfying of all the balls I juggle as a working artist. It truly is a reflection of my innermost desires...putting my hands in the middle of all the beautiful things I am able to collect and bring to the surface new ideas and applications. I love that I get to spend so many hours in this manner; it feels very grounding and nourishing.

"A typical work day begins with some sort of body movement...yoga or swimming. I linger over breakfast, reading style magazines for inspiration and to keep up with the latest. Eventually I make my way out to my studio, light a candle and choose the music for the day. A couple deep breaths and I begin. I consult my daily schedule... It may be a few dozen candles and twenty paperweights or it may be covering composition books and stamping tags. I like to change up between projects all afternoon...this way, what is essentially production work doesn't get too monotonous. I stack orders in really beautiful shopping bags from some of my favorite stores and at the end of each week my husband and I pack them up. On Monday mornings I go to UPS... then home again to start a new week.

© Anna Corba
Anna Corba fruit photo
"My line began very serendipitously, by having a few products featured in Country Living and Home Companion. I got so many phone calls from shops that within a year I had taken a booth at the San Francisco gift show. Eight years later I still attend, as well as have reps at other national shows. My little enterprise has never gotten so large that it's become unruly. I still like making most of the items myself and I have one part-time assistant. Truly a cottage industry... very personal while also sustaining me monetarily... and I feel good about that.

"I would tell anyone who dreams of selling their art or crafts that it is indeed possible. It is also very hard work, and you must be very passionate about it in order to persevere through the financial uncertainty. There is a lot of trial and error involved; you need to have a firm and true love for and belief in what you do and keep moving forward, because the road signs in the arts are not always that clear!"


Anna Corba Found Cat Studio imageAnna Corba's books are available from bookstores, craft stores, and at Amazon.com and other online retailers. Learn more about Anna's vast repertoire of vintage-look artwork at Anna Corba's Found Cat Studio!

 

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