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Beach Reading—Eliza's Self Portrait

Beach Reading—Eliza's Self Portrait


For my eighth grade project, I used pages of my favorite books and photos from the beaches where I grew up, in a way, to create a sandy beach full of things that are important to me. I collected sand from one beach and shells, rocks, and sea glass from many others. Together these elements create my own beach that combines the things that make me me.

I went through a lot of different variations of this idea before deciding on this particular one. I knew from the beginning that I wanted to include elements of the beaches in Maine. They have been an extremely important part of my life; in a way I feel that I grew up on the beach, having lived on the coast of Maine for the first ten years of my life. I was actually standing in the water of a beach in Kennebunk, Maine, with my mom and my uncle when my ideas for this project really started coming together. We were all talking about my project and brainstorming ideas, when I decided I wanted to collect sand and other things from my favorite beaches to create my own. I brainstormed lots of ideas for how to make the water look realistic when I thought, “Why not use the actual water?” I took pictures of the water of Willard Beach, and my grandfather helped me by printing them for me. I love photography, so this was a great way to include one of my interests in my project. I thought for a long time about other interests of mine that I might include when I hit on the most obvious one: reading. I love to read and I always have, so I included pages from some of my favorite books. It was really hard to choose which books to use. I started out with almost twenty books I wanted to use, then narrowed it down to a solid fifteen. I ended up with pages from eight carefully chosen books that I feel represent my interests and who I am. They include Harry Potter, The Little Prince, Walk Two Moons, and two books from the The Penderwicks series. Walk Two Moons was the first book by Sharon Creech that I read. She was my favorite author in fourth grade. Although I have always loved to read, fourth grade was the year I really found myself through books. The Penderwicks is a series I read with my mom when I was about nine. The evenings she spent reading to me are some of my favorite memories with her. It is still one of my all-time favorite series. The third book in the series actually takes place on the coast of Maine.

The idea for the collage-like style of my project came from a piece of art that a friend of my parents made. I was sitting downstairs eating a snack late one night and looking at this piece of art, when I got the idea to do a collage. I struggled at first with how my collage was actually going to look, but after many different versions I finally settled on my simplest idea, just a piece of plywood with the pages and photos glued down and a layer of sand with the shells and such on top of that. I wasn’t so sure about it when I first started working, I thought it was too boring, but as I continued to work, it grew on me and I ended up really liking the simplicity of it. I carefully laid out each page of the books, making sure certain quotations and passages were clearly displayed. I then figured out the way I wanted the photos of the water to be shown. I took pictures of where everything was placed, removed everything, and then cut the board down to size. I glued down everything and then added the sand, rocks, shells, and sea glass.

While working on this project, I really learned to trust my gut and not to overthink things. When I started to get frustrated about the artistic details, I would focus on a more technical element. My dad helped me by reminding me that you can make progress on a technical problem by thinking about it, but usually a creative problem requires you to take time to focus on something else, and the solution will come later. I learned to trust myself when I had an idea. I often doubted my ideas when they first started to play out, but I often found that I really liked whatever ended up doing. I tried to keep in mind that this project is about who I am, so there were no limits to what I could do. As long as it was authentic, it was exactly right. Reminding myself of those things helped me to let go and go with my gut, and I ended up loving everything I decided to do, although the project turned out nothing like I originally expected it to.

My beach represents all the important things about who I am and who I want to be. The beach itself represents my life as a whole, past, present, and future. I grew up going to the beach and my family goes back to Maine every summer. I hope we can continue that tradition, because some of my absolute favorite memories are from the beach in Maine, and I want to make even more. The books represent my love of reading. I tried to include books from all different parts of my life, and I also included pages with specific quotations or passages that mean something to me. The actual photographs of the water represent my love of photography. The water represents me as a person; the tide is always moving it in and out from the shore, but it always comes back. I am constantly growing and changing as a person, but I feel tied to the place where I was born and where I grew up, and I always come back to books, my shore.

I look forward to making even more memories over the next four years at City College High School.