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A Conversation with Amber Button

Updated: Aug 19, 2023

MADCOLLAGE: Hello. Welcome once again to Six Impossible Things. I hope everyone is surviving this atrocious heat. In order to help a little bit, today we have with us a very cool artist. She's going to spend a bit of time talking about creativity, art and a few other topics. Hello, Amber. Welcome. How are you today?

AMBER BUTTON: Doing good. Surviving the heat myself!

MADCOLLAGE: Indeed! Surviving the heat like everyone else. I was just telling you before we started recording that we have a lot of storms around here, but that doesn't mean that it isn't hot because it's been very humid and very hot as well. How is it in your area?

AMBER BUTTON: Well, we don't have some of the major heat here in Seattle like they have all over the country right now. So, we are lucky. But we do have fans on and air conditioning and we stay out of the heat. It's not too bad, though.

MADCOLLAGE: Well, not too bad is all that we can hope for these days. Right. It's a very good bar. Not too bad. Okay then. So, you just told us that you're in Seattle and following up with that, why don't you introduce yourself to everyone and tell us what you want people to know about you?

AMBER BUTTON: Well, my name is Amber Button and I am a mixed media artist and I dabble in writing and graphic design. And I do lots of crafts like mixed media weaving and candle making. And I try to bring art into everything, into all of those things that I do. And I try to really bring creativity into all parts of my life. And yes, I live in Seattle. We've lived here for about five years. Prior to that, we were in Oregon. And I live here with my husband Joel and our four kids and numerous animals.

MADCOLLAGE: Numerous animals! I was going to ask you a bit later about one in particular that I saw on your IG feed. I'm just going to ask you now about Loki.

AMBER BUTTON: Yeah, Loki is our newest animal. He is a husky mix. I'm not sure what he's mixed with because they told us perhaps corgi but he's way too big.

MADCOLLAGE: Oh, he has beautiful eyes. Yeah, he's a gorgeous dog.

AMBER BUTTON: He does! His eyes are stunning! When I first saw a picture of him, his eyes stood out so much.

MADCOLLAGE: Yes. Lovely eyes. And talking about Loki, animals are one of my favorite things to talk about! I can go on for ages talking about all kinds of creatures. Instead, let's go back for a moment. You seem very well rounded. You can do many different things. I admire that.

AMBER BUTTON: Thank you. I have help from my husband. He is an IT guy.

MADCOLLAGE: Well, I always need an IT guy around, and nothing better than having him at home because it can get a little bit expensive when things go wrong. I know that from experience because I am terrible at it. Truly and absolutely useless when it comes to anything that has to do with computers and technology. So, I'm glad to know that you have reinforcements if you need them. That's good. I guess Loki is there for moral support rather than technical! I appreciate that too!

AMBER BUTTON: Yeah. I love animals. Our Loki's favorite thing to do is go to the dog park and play with other animals, other dogs. We have a few dogs. He's a husky mix and we've had him for about six months now and my teenage son spends all his time with him. They're like best friends. One funny thing that Loki does is my son will put him on his lap facing outward and he'll just lay with his head backward and kiss my son and they'll watch TV like that for an hour.

MADCOLLAGE: Oh, he has the sweetest face. I just couldn't help but asking about him! He's completely aware that somebody's taking a picture of him and he’s camera ready.

AMBER BUTTON: Yeah. If you say we're going to take a picture, he knows what you're talking about. And if I start to position him and hold the camera or the phone, he'll kind of pose.

MADCOLLAGE: I think you have a devoted helper. I think he's very aware of his role. Well, I guess we have to move on from talking about pets because I could go on and start talking about mine and then we will be here for hours and hours. So instead of that, let's move on to talking about your practice, your art practice. And again, you mentioned that you do a number of different things and you kind of like overlap and move from one to the other. So, you have a very diverse practice. What was your entry point into art making?

AMBER BUTTON: Well, I've been doing art since I was a kid. I never really stopped. There are artists in my family and I was always encouraged to take classes and do art. And in high school, back in the 90s, I took a watercolor painting class and an acrylic painting class from this art studio. And I loved it, but I kind of wished that I could mix the two. And they were always very clear about that point: if we're drawing, we're drawing. If we're using this medium, we're using this medium. No mixing! It kind of turned me off from art for a couple of years. And then I found Tim Holtz supplies and mixed medium supplies in general in arts and craft stores. I didn't really know what I was doing, but I just started to play with them. I was trying over and over again, seeing what mediums play well with each other and how they work together. And you never know what you're going to get. It's like experimentation. It's my favorite thing.

MADCOLLAGE: I am all for experimenting and even failing sometimes, at least in a safe environment like the studio. It's a very good thing in the end.

AMBER BUTTON: Oh, yes! You're not going to end up with your masterpiece if you haven't made many failed ones first, because you have to learn what not to do in order to learn what works for you. Then, you have to eliminate what doesn't.

MADCOLLAGE: That's true. And in following up with that idea, I'm trying to picture where you work. I mean, you told us you have a very full house, really. And that working can be a little bit challenging. I imagine finding a place and setting up and keeping everything out, or perhaps putting everything away after each session is time consuming. It’s challenging, at least for me, having to constantly clean up after myself. I'm a terrible at it. I never clean up much after myself. I have to confess. I'm wondering what the studio looks like, or the area where you set up a space. What does it look like?

AMBER BUTTON: Yes. I agree. I’m right there with you about cleaning up. Well, right now it's a corner in the master bedroom, and it's got a loft cut out that’s a little weird. It's like a cut out of the wall so you can see down into the dining room and the rest of the house from it. I can kind of keep an eye on the whole house and still be in my studio, and share what's going on with the kids and the animals because it is sometimes chaos while I am working. So, I'm upstairs in the corner of our room and I have a drafting desk, a big old wooden drafting desk that can be vertical so you can attach a canvas and paint like an easel. And I have stuff everywhere. I have carts from Ikea. And numerous drawers. I usually leave out what I'm doing because I like to work five to ten minutes at a time. So, if I can get an hour or two, sometimes that's great, but I can't always. And I learned that not making art because I don't have enough time is not an option. I'm going to make art every time I can. Those bits of time really add up, and you can really make full bodies of work like four journal pages at once. I have them all out and I go back and forth. So, I'm able to get a lot accomplished in a little bit of time and I always leave everything out so that I can just go back to where I left off.

MADCOLLAGE: I like how you describe your Ikea storage. Yeah, those are the best because they move around with you. You can take them anywhere. And I found, I mean, I have a closet in the room where I work upstairs. I have a studio outside, but it's become very impractical with the rain and it was damaged a little bit with the enormous amount of water we’re getting. And I moved a lot of things upstairs and I have a closet where I keep supplies, but it has become like a comedy closet because I opened the doors, and everything falls on me all the time. Things fall out like, you know, brushes and stacks of paper. Every time I pull the door open, I expect something is going to fall on my face. I know it. I prepare for that. And it's a little bit like a bad sitcom all the time. It happens every single time. So, finding proper storage is an issue.

So you mentioned earlier that you like to mix different media, and that you actually were a little bit turned off by not being able to do that when you were in school and that kind of gave you pause, which is something that I've heard before as well. What is it that you start with? What supply do you go for first? For instance, when I make collage, I start with a particular image. It could be a face. It could be a piece of paper. It could be a circle. It could be, you know, a scrap of paper with an interesting design or motif. Is there something that sparks the whole piece for you? Is there something that triggers it?

AMBER BUTTON: I'm not sure exactly. The way that I start a collage, is always with a first layer and I don't cover up the whole page, but maybe half of the space. And I'll randomly glue down ephemera from my various bins I collect. I have a large collection of ephemera, in different baskets. And so I'll just grab something. Usually that piece will have a color or words or something that inspires me. So I definitely start pretty randomly so that it comes out organically and not me picking out something very specific. What I've been doing for my journal pages for about a year now, is after the collage layer, I'll add a layer of super heavy gesso around the collage. And that is my base layer for my color. So then when I add watercolor or acrylics or pastels, it'll all stick to this heavy texture of gesso. That makes for very interesting texture. And you can stamp things into the gesso. Sometimes I'll put some of that drywall tape, you know, that has lines on it. I'll dip that in there, or a stencil, and I'll push it in and pull it off. And you get an interesting texture that the watercolor or acrylics will stick to.

MADCOLLAGE: That will look really interesting. So you give us a little bit, a little glimpse of what happens while you're working. You have a lot going on outside of your practice. You have the kids and you have your animals and I'm sure there's a million things going on all at once. I imagine that it is difficult sometimes to find time to work. How do you advance your pieces? Do you have planned ideas of what you will do or what you will add to this or that? Or do you show up and you see what happens for those fifteen minutes that you have available to you?

AMBER BUTTON: I pretty much show up and see what happens. Even if it is a bigger canvas. I just started making one in the same kind of style. I do large collages. I've started doing some canvases and I was going to share some photos this weekend on Instagram. But when I'm working on a big piece, I usually do have more of a plan in mind. But when I'm just practicing and it's mostly art journals, I just sit, show up and I'll put out all my journals. I'll kind of see when I'm inspired and see what I grab. I've made it so that I use pretty much the first thing I grab so that I'm not thinking too much. I used to be very analytical about my art because I'm an over thinker. I've tried to loosen up over the years and just show up and do as much as I can in that time available to me. I just grab that inspiration right then, when I can.

MADCOLLAGE: Well, it makes sense, and that way of working fits right in with your lifestyle. It flows into your day fairly naturally, right? I think that's great. You don't seem to have any anxiety around it because I think it would be easier to give up on it sometimes. I mean, it did happen to me, when my children were little, and I lacked any kind of support. Just putting everything aside to dedicate time to make art. It was so incompatible with my life at the time. Not being able to work was a real source of stress for me and a source of great sadness. So, I personally couldn’t do it, and I think you're doing a stellar job. It's true.

So, now let's get into exactly what it is that you do. You've mentioned that you do a lot of journaling, and I know that you are most prolific as a journal artist. So why is that format so compelling to you?

AMBER BUTTON: It didn't used to be. I used to think that if you did art, if I put it in a book I would never see it again. I thought that art always had to be this complete thing that you do. So, I had a couple of art shows in Portland and Seattle, where I had my all my finished pieces, watercolors for instance. And still I thought that you had to have a finished piece that you could put in a frame. It took me probably a year to change my thinking. I got into a spot where I had a new baby at the time, and I didn't really have the time to finish pieces. A year later I decided, I'm just going to play. I'm not going to try and make anything finished. I don't have to post it. I was posting everything. I can just do it for me. Let me just try this. So I took classes from different mixed media artists I love, and was inspired and started to just play with it. Honestly, that worked. I sometimes cannibalize the journals I made before, and grab a portrait I did out of one, and put it into a mixed media piece and use it again. Recently somebody commented on something I did and said it was like collaborating with your past self, which I think is such a cool way to put it. But I love journaling because it is as personal as you want it to be or as public as you want it to be. And nothing ever has to be finished. You could just do a background and go to the next page because you like that background. Nothing has to be complete or frameable. I've really come to embrace the process and how cathartic it is.

MADCOLLAGE: So it's really fluid and it keeps moving, and it moves with you. You can go back and work a specific page if you wish to, or you can just leave it the way it is and you are perfectly happy with that. It takes a special person, I think, to use this very specific approach. You must be able to let go of things without anxiety. I see a lot of people who are very much into controlling what they do and working very rigidly. It would be impossible to get through a journal in that manner. I guess it is time for a confession on my part: it would be more than a little bit difficult for me to do that at this stage as well. When I feel that I am drifting, that I'm confused, I tend to be quite rigid. So, how did you become comfortable with this way of art making? How did you become comfortable with it?

AMBER BUTTON: To be honest, it kind of came from a place of needing it because I do have anxiety issues and overthinking issues. My kids were probably three, five and seven at the time. They needed all of my time and attention, and then eleven years ago was diagnosed with an autoimmune disease so I couldn't work anymore. And so physical work is impossible for me. So, I was in this place where I was young and with three kids and disabled, but I didn't want that to be the end of my story. I didn’t want it to be just retiring or stopping work and doing nothing but taking care of kids. So, I needed an outlet and I tried my first dabble into the images with bottle cap magnets. I used to make them in my house. I would take bottle and put images in them. I had to learn Photoshop to put the vintage images together. And I would basically make a little collage on the computer with different images that was in a circle shape, cut it out, put it in the bottle cap and put resin on top. Resin is now in every craft store really easy to use and everybody uses it, but back then I had to buy it from a special store and wear a mask and it was like industrial strength. It was a mess. I played with little collages on the computer and images and put them in these bottle cap magnets and sold them at like crafts fairs. After that, I went to school online to do graphic art and design for a couple of years. Unfortunately, I was really missing the hands-on art and between school and the kids. I did not have enough time to do art. I'm a very anxious person. I realized that art making is my one place where I can let go of all that and just create and just be inspired. So it's really cathartic for me and I really needed it in my life. If I don't do art for a couple days for whatever reason, I start to get cranky.

MADCOLLAGE: Well, it's a very brave decision to move forward with creativity when you have all kinds of different obstacles. It takes determination and it takes persistence, and it takes all that good stuff. I don't know where it comes from, but it's in there. If it's not there innately, you have to grow it and use it, I suppose. But that makes me want to talk a little bit about those moments that sometimes define the direction that we take or the work that we do in this case. And you mentioned that you were diagnosed with a chronic autoimmune disease and I am in the same boat as you are. I have suffered from autoimmune conditions from birth, and then some as I got older, because they never come alone. The bastards cluster together (excuse my language). I'm always thinking: hopefully no more. Please no more. I've had enough. But the point is that they drive the narrative. And they drive you to do certain things and perhaps to avoid other things. It's interesting that sometimes they just take the wheel, and you are resigned to go where they take you. And it can be a bad place at times. It seems to me that you used your situation very wisely, and kind of doubled down on the art making which was a fantastic decision. I don't know how much of it you're willing to share with us. Of course, it's private, but it seems to me that that was a defining issue for you. How did it affect your work? Because there are a lot of artists who have health issues, but some use their circumstances very deliberately in their artwork, and some choose to move in the opposite direction and keep it under wraps. Do you fall in either one of those camps?

AMBER BUTTON: I don't use it directly the way that some people use their obstacles and their physical challenges and their chronic illnesses in their arts. I've definitely seen great examples of that from other artists. I've seen one artist who uses her childhood traumas and her mental health, and she makes these gorgeous paintings and they show her facial expression and refer to what she was dealing with at the time. I think that's beautiful. I've never been able to quite capture things like that in my art, whereas I use the art to escape from things like that. I prefer not to really explore it. I mean, I do explore the mental side in that I often use a lot of affirmations and quotes and words. I often will make little journals that are just words I needed to hear, and that definitely helps my mental health and keeps me going. Sometimes quotes about how you might be broken but you can keep on swimming. So there's all these different quotes and I’m expressing my emotions through words. I love to use the words cathartically and very purposefully in my art and I think that's one way that I kind of explore any trauma or mental health or physical health issues. I've seen people make collages specifically about their ailments and I don’t do that.

MADCOLLAGE: I've never done anything direct, explicit like that either. I'm not able to do it. I think there are references, you know, I think everything inevitably is reflected to a degree, right? You can't make artistic decisions in a vacuum really. So, I mean, if the illness is part of your life, particularly if it's a chronic lifelong illness, it's going to be part of you when you're creating something. It's going to be there somewhere in the background. It's up to you whether you run towards the trauma or away from the trauma when you're being creative. So, both obviously are valid options. But you know, one of the things that I feel as an artist who deals with chronic pain, chronic illnesses, is that I have a sense of urgency when I work, and I always wonder if other artists who are not in ill health feel the same. I wonder if they feel something similar or if it's different for them. Do you have that sense of urgency? Do you have that sense of maybe I could be doing more? I don't know. There is that touch of, how would it be if this was not my reality, right? Does that ever happen to you?

AMBER BUTTON: Definitely, I think anybody with a chronic illness or something they have to deal with for their whole life, mental or physical, feels it. It changes your life so drastically that it's hard to even put into words how radically it's changed every part of your life. You know, one of the reasons that I do five minutes at a time is not just that I'm busy, but that my back can't take it if I'm sitting in my chair for hours. I have to get up and stretch, and I have to lay down and I have to change positions. So, I think that, you know, we think about our illness wondering how would life be if I didn’t have this, but I think that it's a blessing and a curse. Of course, I wish I didn't have this illness. At the same time, if I didn't have it, I might not have found my art. And I might have, you know, continued to go down a career path and that I wasn't happy with. So, I think it's a double-edged sword. I've really worked hard despite my illness, but I wouldn't change the outcome, you know, for anything. I wish it was less hard, but I think that it shapes so much of your life that it's tangled in with every decision.

MADCOLLAGE: Yeah, when I was thinking about it, when you mentioned that initially, I thought that it’s a game of adaptation, right? Because life throws you a curve ball and you try to adapt to the new circumstances the best way that you can. And I was saying earlier that it's a very brave thing to face it with creativity and with ingenuity, right? And it's difficult. It's not the easiest thing to do. So, I think the key word is adaptation and being able to do the best you can with the cards that you've been dealt is the only way forward. But, you know, for people who are listening who don't have chronic health issues, what do you think would be important for them to understand about an artist who does? What would surprise them about a person who works in spite of illness, and who works regularly and is out there sharing their artwork? What do you think they should consider?

AMBER BUTTON: Well, I think the first thing anybody should consider is that not everybody who has chronic health problems is in a wheelchair or is obviously disabled or visibly going through something. You never know who is facing something and who has chronic health issues. I used to be in a wheelchair for a while and on crutches for a while, but not for many years. And so you wouldn't be able to guess by me walking around at the grocery store or whatever, even though I am ill. So I think the first thing I would say is don't judge somebody just because they look like they're fine. But the other thing I would say is that, I could have said well, I'm disabled. I have support, so that’s it. My husband works. I could have said, that's all I can do. I don't need to go to school. I don’t need to try. What's the point? I could have easily fallen into that trap and just, you know, done nothing. So I think that you're absolutely right. It's very hard and it’s a very brave thing to do. I didn't used to see it that way when I was in it, but I see it now. Making that decision to further my education was key. I left school when I got married and had kids. So making the decision to go back, even though I was disabled, was important. Maybe I can contribute something to this world in a different way. Through my art, instead of through the workforce. There are different ways to share yourself with the world and to contribute.

MADCOLLAGE: That's very well put. And it's true that there are different kinds of ability. And I am remembering when you were talking about the journaling, and how you move through the journal as you work. You create a background or you add some text and then you move on to something else that's new. The act of just turning the page and having a clean slate, right? It's a good metaphor for what we're talking about. It's controlling the little things that you can control, right? When you have a chronic illness and you are, you know, having to deal with the ramifications of having a chronic illness, there is a lot out of your control. There's a lot of exhaustion. There's a lot of despair. There's a lot of things that happen, and destructive feelings that can overtake you. But then there are little things that you find that give you back a sense of control that you're lacking at times, such as you turning the page voluntarily. You're aware of what you're doing and you decide, you make the decision to turn that page and move on and do something else. And it sounds to me by your description that that's what you did. Again, that was an extremely brave thing to do.

Sometimes when I talk to other artists, and even when I talk to people who are not artists, and it comes up that I have health problems they are taken aback. They usually find out in a very roundabout way because that’s never my opening line. We would go to have a meal and I’d have a lot of restrictions, for instance. That would be the first time that they realize something’s up. It would trigger questions and there's a cascade effect, you know, the domino effect. They want to know more. It's awkward to explain in a succinct way. Interestingly, I usually get the same reactions: something between disbelief and pity. Most people try to minimize it or compare it to something they know that’s in no way related. Explaining is exhausting. And the worst moment of defeat is when they express shock at my attitude and my willingness to still joke around. Once they know, they expect I'm going to be a puddle on the ground all the time. I’m going to be pounding my chest and crying and rolling on the ground. No. I do that privately, thank you. But I don't do it all the time either. And there is this misconception, that an artist who is suffering from an ongoing illness has a bleak, gray existence all the time. And I think if you scratch the surface a little bit more and get to know people who are in those circumstances, you will find out that they are the most resourceful, most persistent, most gracious people that you’ll ever have the fortune to know. Those are my two cents and that's what I want people to know as well. So sorry for the speech.

AMBER BUTTON: No, it's a good thing to put it out there because you're absolutely right. When people find out they will say you don't look sick. That's the first thing they always say. When I was diagnosed, well, you said you've had your conditions since you were born, but I was diagnosed in my 20s and people would always say, but you're so young. And so I would go to appointments and to the rheumatologist and everybody would be in their 60s to 80s and I was there in my 20s. It just hit me like a ton of bricks out of nowhere. So you never know. It's really important for other people to understand because they feel like you're ok. There are misconceptions, and they think that anybody with a chronic illness must be in their bed, watching TV all the time, depressed, you can't do anything. People have to do everything for you. They don't realize that there are athletes and actors and artists and lawyers and people of all walks of life who have different physical ailments or are dealing with mental health. And then, like you said, they persevere. They adapt. They're very brave. You have to make a choice. Am I going to feel sorry for myself and not to care myself? Or am I going to persevere?

MADCOLLAGE: That's true. And one must be very deliberate. That was the word that I was looking for earlier. Do you deliberately choose to turn that page and move on? At some point, you must. These misconceptions are so pervasive. I was being wheeled into the operating room once, and still then somebody told me it was strange because I wasn't in the “risk group”. And I was thinking that it didn’t matter anymore, to be honest. It doesn't matter whether I tick the boxes or not. Here I am. So, don't put ill people in boxes. I guess that's the lesson. Don’t. Because people who are dealing with these issues are from all backgrounds. They look different. Their lives are different. And we're all dealing with things.

The fascinating thing to me is that art is often a common denominator for people who are suffering from an illness, whether it is an illness that is self-contained, like an acute thing and it just passes, or it's a chronic condition. Art seems to be something that people resort to at times of crisis. And I hear that's something similar to what happened to you as well. Was art-making something that you rediscovered when you were initially diagnosed?

AMBER BUTTON: Yes. I was in a hospital bed at home, in our living room. My husband gave me a laptop at this time and I was writing short stories. I had nothing to do sitting there because smartphones weren't really huge yet. I didn't have one. I didn't want to watch TV all time, and I couldn't really get up or do much outside of the hospital bed for about a year. So, I was writing and then as I started to do physical therapy and was able to get around the house a bit, that's when I started using the computer for Photoshop and making those bottle caps. It gave me something to do that wasn't about my illness and something that would distract me and bring me joy. I rediscovered my art at that point for sure. It makes me think of Frida Kahlo and how she was in a hospital bed in a much worse situation. All she had was her father's painting supplies and a mirror. So, she just painted herself over and over. And she went through so much. And, like you said, she used her art to really express that. She and others like Van Gogh were able to take something so terrible that they were going through, whether it was mental illness or physical, and they were able to channel it into something so beautiful and something that maybe wasn't always dark. It was flowers or landscapes. The ability to take something dark and turn it into something outwardly beautiful. It's just amazing. And it's something that I aspire to do.

MADCOLLAGE: It is very difficult. It is not an easy thing to do at all. Because it turns you inside out, and you're already vulnerable. There are buzz words that are going around all the time, like self-help and being kind to yourself and all those things. And all that is absolutely wonderful and great. But there are times where you find yourself unable to do that at all. It's not as easy as just pulling yourself up from your bootstraps sometimes. And it is a process. It takes time. It takes a lot of failure. I'm feeling like this is never going to gel for me, right? And then you go and you do it again. And finally, something happens that pulls you out of that spin cycle, right? It's interesting. And I can see why journaling is a very well suited medium for somebody who's going through something like this. It is very freeing. It is private if you wish it to be. And that gives you a lot of peace of mind. You can create anything that you want. And it's not necessarily something that's going to be for public consumption. I was thinking when you were talking that it's a little bit like a longhand selfie. It takes shape slowly overtime. You're writing a different narrative, a different story, but with images. What is it that you put the most between the covers of your journals? Is it wishes? Is it memories? Is it a blend of both?

AMBER BUTTON: I would say it's a combination for sure. Because there are times when it's definitely about wishes, because the world is not a perfect place. And particularly in our country, which is what I experience. And we're going through a lot in this country. There's a lot of hate and a lot of horrible things happening as well. Sometimes in my art, I wish for an ideal world or a better world. You want to make something beautiful because things around you, like especially during COVID, are so bleak. I did a lot of art during COVID and not just because I had time, but because it was a way to channel how you wish things were. More colorful and bright, and beautiful and try and block out and get away from reality because the ugliness was everywhere. And I wanted to have a place that was hopeful. And then as far as memories, I had kind of an art childhood because my parents were divorced and with one parent, I had a very idyllic childhood and very loving and old-fashioned kind of growing up and very safe. Then the other part of my childhood was traumatic and harder. That definitely turned into memories good and bad. Sometimes, I'm not even trying and then I'll find a quote from my basket of quotes that's about sisters or sisterhood and I'll use colors for my childhood. And then it's done. I realize I must be thinking of my sister.

MADCOLLAGE: There's a lot of intuition in the way that you work. I imagine that it is quite the thing with journaling, obviously, just like it happens when you're writing.

AMBER BUTTON: Yeah. Just write, just create, uninterrupted, just create. Then you should edit mercilessly, it's what I meant to say. You create, you write everything, just let it spill out, but then you go back and you edit and you kind of make the part that you like shine a little brighter. I do that with my art journal pages when they're done. I will tweak something. And I think that something's missing, or I'm going to add something. Maybe I need to outline that collage because it doesn't pop out enough, so I'm going to put black outline around it. First, I'll just let it all go out, I don't correct grammar or anything at first, I just let it all come out and then I go back and kind of rethink things.

MADCOLLAGE: Well, I was just considering what you mentioned about the world being a hard place and yes, it's not just here, it's everywhere, I'm afraid. Yeah. And it's curious when it intersects with art making because the world is a prickly place but it's also a place full of beautiful things and people, and a lot of good things, but it is a prickly kind of beauty, it has its thorns, right? And what I find is that artists get hurt very easily and they feel very deeply. And I think in general, they’re very perceptive and they're delicate people. Not delicate in the sense of somebody who gives up and fades at every bad turn. Not in the sense of weak. Delicate yet strong, resilient. It reminds me of flowers, because flowers seem in appearance quite delicate, right? And I've said in the past that everybody thinks about flowers being very feminine and very delicate with soft petals and all these things. In fact, they are pretty brutal in the way they behave, just plants in general, you know, they are gorgeous, beautiful, pleasing to the eye, they have wonderful scents, colors, but they are relentless in the way they grow. Their ultimate goal is reproduction and they're going to do that. I mean, it's a do or die situation, right? And they do it. And I like to think of artists a little bit like flowers. They are in appearance delicate, but they have a lot of resilience inside.

As far as the blend of wishes and memories that you have in your journals, it was very interesting to look through your feed and see the quotes that you choose for your images and the pairings that you make. It's interesting that you were saying that you might be working with an image and all the sudden, something pops up and you think that it’s perfect. Is that something that happens all the time? Do you always work with that openness that allows for happenstance?

AMBER BUTTON: Yes, definitely. It’s about failures and learning. After working for a while I found that I was treating everything as precious and sometimes I wasn't using stuff. Sometimes I’d forget I had this or that. I realized I had to take everything out. I had to change the way that I kept everything. I had to take it all out of its packaging. So, the stuff that I use the most is on my desk and closest to me in my carts, where I can, from my chair, turn around and grab it. And I think that was really important as far as mixed media work, because you can grab a pastel from this jar and you can grab then a stick of glue from over there. You are mixing media without having to go and dig something out. If you have everything handy, it's a lot easier to create organically and intuitively.

There are some images I'll come across at times, because I collect real photographs. I have shoe boxes of cabinet card photos from the 1800s and 1900s. I won't use them in just any art journal page because that is something that I keep that is precious, but everything else is not.

I'll do a few layers with collage and then the gesso, and then the color. I'll go and look for my focal image afterwards. That is when I'll go through my bin that has all the old photos that I've copied or printed out and I'll find one that I think goes with the page. Only after I have done all that I'll go and grab a quote that goes with the character. So that's how I intuitively create. I do have a kind of a formula I use most of the time but I'm very open and creative with it.

MADCOLLAGE: And you're mentioning that you use all kinds of different tools and you have them available to you right there on your desk. What are your favorite tools to use?

AMBER BUTTON: Good question. The super heavy gesso has become really important. I feel like watercolor is tricky to use sometimes, and doing mixed media is challenging unless you're using watercolor paper. Since I make my books out of junk paper and random sketch paper, I need a way to get the watercolor to hold the color. I've learned that that super heavy gesso goes like plaster on a wall or frosting on a cake, and whatever grooves you make in it stay. It holds the watercolor in a cool way. That technique is my favorite. I have a giant jar in one of my carts. A smaller jar goes on my desk and I use it all the time. I use that with a spatula. As far as the watercolors I have three palettes that I made out of little Altoids tins. I just take the tubes and I squirt them into the pans. So, I create my own palettes and they're really easy for travel that way too. An important part is that without adding in the collage bits, I feel like my art looks like it’s unfinished. I feel it would just be backgrounds. It wouldn't have any focus or any character, or any story behind it. That’s why I use these old newspapers or old book pages, and every receipt. They kind of tell a story in themselves too.

MADCOLLAGE: And since we're onto technical issues, how do you make your journals?

AMBER BUTTON: Oh, all different ways. I used to be so afraid of journal making. It looked so hard. I just had to watch YouTube videos and really learn how to do it. I had to fail and make a bunch of books that fell apart, you know? Now when I make them, I usually use a pamphlet stitch, which as you probably know, it's three to five holes and it's very simple. I will start from my cover, I'll tape the two pieces of my cover, the front and the back, I'll tape them together with book binding tape. Nowadays they make really cool book binding tape that's got designs on it. So, I'll tape it together so it's one piece. And then I will take my signatures and I will sew them right into that tape, into the spine, and align them up so they all stick into the spine. That's one way I bind books, especially mini books and little books, my favorite thing to do and it is really easy. I just use tape. I don't use washi tape because it doesn't stick. I use regular packing tape and that other packing tape that you have to get wet on one side, the gummy one. Do you know what I'm talking about? I'll cut that into strips. I'll attach the spine, or the cover to the first page, and then the first page to the second page, the second page to the third page, until you get to the end, and then you attach it to the cover. And that's very quick, very easy. I can make a book in five minutes that way.

MADCOLLAGE: I need to try that. That sounds fascinating. And really immediate, which I like, I love it. Sometimes I do fast work too. Shocking, right? And then I sit on it for a long, long time. It's like I get through certain parts really quickly, and I'm very happy about that. And I'm like, okay, now what? And then two weeks pass where I'm just looking at it and nothing is happening, and I'm thinking, why did I make that in the first place? I'm not quite sure. For me things go in a cycle. All of it goes in cycles, and sometimes I’m all productive and working like a little ant and just getting things done. One thing after the next and tasks, one right after another. But all the sudden I turn into a grasshopper, and I do nothing but sit in the sun and look at the wall, which is what I do. It usually corresponds with episodes of intense pain that lingers. I’d like to think that both parts of the cycle are useful in the end. That's just the way things go. In your case, when you look at your work after the fact, you're saying that you see things that you didn't realize were happening as you were working on them. And I wonder if when you get to the end of a journal and you're ready to make another one, a separate one, do you go back on it in chronological order and realize that there is a story to it?

AMBER BUTTON: I don't know that I've ever done that in a deliberate way. However, I think you're absolutely right. I think that they do tell a story. I would say the ones that I finished quickly, like the little ones, they definitely tell a story. You can definitely see like the ones I make in wintertime are going to have different colors than the ones I make in the summer. And that's totally not deliberate. Also you can see the frame of mind I was in. Sometimes I'll finish the journal and I'll go ask my husband. I realize I must have been sad for the past month because every quote is depressing. I’m thinking, I was dark for a while, wasn't it? I don't always recognize when I'm in a place like that, but I'll do less art and I might use darker images, pictures of men and women that are emotional. I think you’re correct. I definitely will tell a story. You can look back to the journals and think, okay, I can totally see where I was at that point in my life.

MADCOLLAGE: That's interesting. In addition, I noticed that the word messy keeps appearing on a lot of the pages. I was wondering if you find chaos productive. Is it controlled chaos? Is it fertile chaos?

AMBER BUTTON: Well, I know how my husband would answer that question. I would say I thrive on chaos. He’s always tried to, you know, keep things neater and he’s one of those people who, if things are too cluttered or too chaotic, he can't relax. And I'm like the opposite. Those people always marry each other, right? When it comes to my art and my desk, I definitely have a bit of chaos because I like to pick up where I left off. Whereas my husband would love it if my desk was neat and as nice as his, it doesn’t happen. But if it was that way, then I wouldn't be able to work so fluidly and work in five-minute increments. I wouldn't be able to work the way that I work. Instead, I have an ordered chaos, and I definitely try to keep my chaos to my corner, and not let it leak into the rest of the house. Sometimes it does in the end.

MADCOLLAGE: Well, inevitably it does. I am one of those people who feel completely anxious when they're surrounded by chaos. Ironically, I am the only one who creates chaos around the house. In the end, I make myself stressed out because I make a mess and then I feel really bad about it.

AMBER BUTTON: Me too! I've seen memes where women sit on a couch, and it's like, I'm totally stressed out by the mess in the house and I'm just going to sit on the couch and look at it. Yes, exactly. You're just stressed about it.

MADCOLLAGE: But I'm going to go ahead and open that closet and let everything fall out. It’ll be a mess, I know. Nevertheless, that's what I usually do. I'm of the opinion that when everything's really messy, well, you know, in for a penny, in for a pound. You might as well just take everything that you have in storage and just add it to the mess.

I was just thinking, when you were mentioning intuition and how your work flows, it's all painting a very interesting picture. Both your method and the resulting product it's all very coherent and it's interesting. It reminds me, for lack of a better analogy, of making a delicious smoothie. You start putting things into the blender, and then you put it on high and you end up with this tasty thing. And your journals are definitely delicious to look at. I was wondering, you know, if you work intuitively for the most part, you have a method behind the madness. So does it all come from the brain? Does it all come from the heart? Is it a combination again? Does it come from the soul? Where does it come from?

AMBER BUTTON: When I'm in the creating mode, I’m fluid and intuitive. Maybe I've got four journals out and I'm going back and forth. Then it definitely comes from the soul. Like if I haven't talked to my sister in a while, it'll be sisters. And so clearly things are seeping into the work from way deep within. I may not be conscious of it until it comes out in my art. I see that as soul.

There's something you said that I really liked, which is you turn yourself inside out. You have to in order to portray what you're going through. You're going to turn yourself inside out and put your soul into it. When I'm done and I'm editing things and tweaking them, I think that's more the brain because I will think of things that I've learned like contrast, for instance. I will think about the work being asymmetrical or symmetrical, and the golden ratio and color theory, that kind of stuff comes out when I'm editing. Now I feel like I've learned enough that I feel like I want to do my own thing and not be committed to something else. Specifically, classes. I want to pursue what I want to pursue.

MADCOLLAGE: Absolutely. There are different stages to art making. I like that approach because I don't like things to be super linear or super restrained either.

I was going to ask one last question. Do you have any suggestions for somebody who perhaps has seen journals before and they wish to start art journaling but they don't know how to go about it, what would you tell them?

AMBER BUTTON: Well, I'm sure they've heard this before, but I think it can't be said often enough: work with what you got. In the beginning, I was obsessed with getting this brand of paint, or whatever. I can't do anything till I have all of those supplies. And I think that's a big mistake because it doesn't allow you to create and you're spending money that you might not have. You cannot create intuitively like that. So use what you've got. For instance, I have some Crayola crayons on my desk that I use for mark making. I have a spatula from the Dollar Tree, which I use for gesso. I use old papers that a lot of people would call trash. It's sacred to me, it's important to me. So be creative and that is the important part, not what you use to get there. Also, if you're doing an art journal, I wouldn't start with a blank journal for your first one. You don't know what to do because especially the first page is so clean and perfect. And any mark you make might mess it up. That’s why I love using journals that are made of a mix of different kinds of papers. A blank page might mess with your head, you know?

MADCOLLAGE: Those are very good suggestions. I've experienced that fear of the blank page. It’s rough to have it staring back at you. It is unnerving, particular for a beginner. And if you can get past that, you will be all right. So, use things that are not very precious. That's my little suggestion too, because you won't regret it if it goes wrong. You can have fun and just play with it. Just use anything that you have around the house. I saw that you made a journal with paper bags, which I thought was really cool.

AMBER BUTTON: Yeah, lunch bags, absolutely. We had a bunch and we didn't know what to do with them. We were going to recycle them or something. And I thought, you know what? I can make a good journal out of them.

MADCOLLAGE: Exactly. And I think that's a fabulous thing for anybody who's getting started and you don't want to spend a lot of money. Don’t treat things like they're too precious. That's wonderful advice. Well, Amber, I think we're on the last page of this conversation. And I just hope it reads like a love letter because that's what the episodes are. They really are love letters to people who appreciate the arts, people who love to make art. Anyone who pulls up a chair and spends some time making art in whichever form. Makes for a better world.

I just have to thank you for being here today and I’d like to say to everyone listening to please check the notes for more information on Amber's work. I will see you next week. Bye bye.

AMBER BUTTON: Thank you.


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