Interview with Anna Corba:
"Thus began my true love of paper..."
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
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;
of a Lifetime™: Alphabets and Ornaments
, and Instant Memories™ Travel
and French 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
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:
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?
"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!"
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.
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."
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?
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!"
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."
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?
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.
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."
"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?
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.
"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."
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?
"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..."
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."
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.
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.
"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
"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!"
Corba's books are available from
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