Last night I was flipping through my journal – the journal that I haven’t opened in months – and came across an entry from the full moon in June. I had drawn a spiral, starting in the middle and moving outward with maybe 20 layers, which ended in a straight line pointing up, symbolically to the North.
At the time, I felt lost in the labyrinth of family problems and was struggling to find my bearings and keep moving forward. The trouble with a labyrinth is that while inside, you have no idea where you are in the process, and it seems like you are dealing with the same issues over and over again, albeit from slightly different perspectives. The journey is long, the end is not visible.
I’ve found that over the summer, I have learned to be more patient with my painting - “Love is Patient” took me over three months to complete, with layers and layers of color and patterns, re-drawing, adding and subtracting until she felt “done.” In many ways the painting is a meditation on love, acceptance, patience, strength and wisdom.
In my Totem animal paintings, I start with a loose, intuitive, abstract painting, adding calligraphic marks, organic shapes and color until I am able to see the hint of an animal. I then block in the background negative space, and spend many hours “meditatively doodling” in the shape of the animal. In these paintings, the focus is on the power of the animal guide, and on the lessons we learn by holding the vision in our mind. The abstract patterns within allow the viewer to bring his or her own story to the painting. I’ve been told – and in fact notice it myself – that at different times I discover new “paintings within the painting”.
Paintings such as “Eve,” (above) take the concept of intuitive painting and approach it from a different angle. The start is similar, but instead of creating an animal with a defined space, these more narrative paintings evolve in harmony with the background. These paintings tend to have human figures in them – sometimes the figures are prominent, such as in “Totem Woman” and sometimes they are hidden as in “If You Could Read My Mind”.
Although these paintings are deeply personal in nature, my hope is that through the use of iconic figures, they will connect in a spiritual way with my fellow travelers.
A month and a half after my father's death, I am still struggling. I thought I was prepared, but I wasn't - not for the emotional upheaval, the feelings of being adrift without an anchor, the sadness of my loss mingled with the happiness of knowing that he no longer suffers in a body and mind that were failing. I guess I didn't expect to feel such a profound sense of loss. The waves of grief wash over me, sometimes leaving me unable to breathe, sometimes leaving me cleansed and at peace. I hear his voice in my mind; I know he is ok. And I know I'll be ok. But it still hurts.
In August my daughter and my grandbabies moved into their own home an hour awy. They have lived with Dave and I for two years, since Kolby was 18 months old. Kora was born here. And even though having two little ones in the house curtailed my painting time - and certainly sapped my energy - the joy of being intimately involved in their everyday lives in many ways made up for it. Now we see them once a week at most, and I miss them terribly. There is a hole in my heart.
Painting helps put things in perspective for me. It gives me an outlet for emotions when words can't. That, more than anything, is why I paint. Matters of the heart are often obtuse, and the more I try to define them within the contest of spoken language, the farther I get from what I actually feel. Part of the problem is I don't always know what I'm feeling.
A few years ago I came upon an interview with Lance Green, a colorist and expressionistic painter. The interview brought me to tears, because it was the first time I had ever heard anyone describe their painting process that sounded even remotely like my process. Most painting classes and workshops teach the "correct" way to paint is through careful planning: preliminary sketches and studies and neatly laid out palettes. In other words, before putting brush to canvas, you should know where you were going to end up. I tried and tried to paint that way. To my eye, everything I painted ended up looking stiff, devoid of emotion.
And then I heard Lance, and decided if I ever got a chance, I would take a workshop with him. That chance came just a week after my Dad passed. Without grandchildren in the house to worry about, I was free to take a Saturday to drive to Littleton and take the class. I have to admit I was pretty nervous about the whole thing. I'm used to painting at night, in the sanctuary of my studio, with my Gypsy music and sleeping dogs. The prospect of painting in a room full of other artists was daunting. What if I couldn't paint at all, couldn't get into a groove?
Lance gave a great demo and reminded us that we might or might not come up with a "great" painting that day - but that wasn't the goal. Opening our minds to a new approach to painting was the goal. For me, it wasn't so much a new approach, as it was confirming the validity of my own process. Letting the canvas and the paint draw out the images residing in my subconscious mind. No, I didn't end up with a great painting, or even a good one. I was too distracted by the hub-bub of the workshop to focus and let my mind float freely and creatively. Although I tried not to be, I was embarrassed by what I ended up with at the end of the day.
That night in my studio I had a bit of a melt down. I completely destroyed the painting, covering it with a coat of gesso, knowing that was the only way to save it. A few days later I reworked an old canvas that had been in my studio for 2 or 3 years, thick with the history of a half dozen or so failed paintings. "The Healer" is the painting that finally emerged.
In this painting, it is unclear who the Healer is. Is it the horse or the human?
Today is the Winter Solstice, the perfect day to present “Waboose: Spirit Keeper of the North.”
According to the Sun Bear Medicine Wheel, “Waboose's time starts with the Winter Solstice, when Father Sun is at the southernmost point of his journey, the shortest day of the year. Her times are midnight to dawn, Winter, the elder time of life and around to birth or rebirth.
The most honored White Buffalo is the animal manifestation of Waboose.”
You can read more about Waboose here. http://www.wolfcreekarts.com/waboose.htm
This painting has an interesting history, as it started out about three years ago as an Elk painting, which was based upon a dream I had of walking through the woods at night and feeling a presence to my right. I came over a hill and saw a circle of tipis, all glowing from fires within. As I stopped to look at the tipis, a huge Bull Elk stepped out of the brush and regarded me, blocking my view of the tipis. Then he turned and vanished into the darkness. The tipis were gone.
The more I tried to paint this vision, the more it slipped away – and so I abandoned the canvas for well over a year. Then near the time of last year’s Winter Solstice, at a time when I was painting over many of my failed works, I felt compelled to paint over the Elk. At the time, I had no preconceived idea of how I would rework the painting – I just trusted my intuition and let the paint fly. I worked quickly and almost ferverishly, as if there was something that needed to reveal itself before I got too literal. As usual, I was painting at night, and when I finished, I went to bed, exhausted.
In the morning, I peeked into my studio to see what had transpired the night before – I was a bit taken aback. Who was this white buffalo? I set the painting aside in my studio for a year, unwilling or unable to deal with the power of the white buffalo, unable to explain the meaning, unsure of the composition, insecure about the buffalo, with the strange patches of red showing through her white coat.
And then, two weeks ago, I decided to bring the buffalo upstairs to hang in my livingroom. And a funny thing happened – all the indecision I had about the piece vanished, and I began to love the mystery of the white buffalo, the white crow and the shooting star.
Last week I happened to go into Boutique Bravo, a cool little clothing store in Fort Collins, Colorado that also sells interesting books and found the book “Medicine Wheel.” In reading this book, “Waboose” was mentioned. Not knowing what “Waboose” meant, I googled the term and suddenly I understood what my painting was all about.
As for the original Elk painting, I believe that vision was just a gateway for me to begin my journey to paint “Waboose: Spirit Keeper of the North”.
Sacred Places: Fox
Much of my work over the summer has been experimental in nature, pushing past what I see into what I believe. My trip to Taos with my friends Carolyn and Susie provided the key to open a door in my mind. Much is written about the magic of Taos – I concur that there is a palpable energy there unlike anything I have felt before. We all felt it the day we found a little-known morada. As we walked into view of the old adobe structure with the calvery cross (the very one Georgia O’Keefe painted!) three turkey vultures circled overhead. All three of us welled up with tears, so moving and beautiful was the experience. We painted for hours, with two stray dogs being the only other visitors that day.
Later that day, we strolled through the galleries on Kit Carson Rd. I was happy to see my friend Marie Massey's colorful paintings at Walden Fine Arts, along with work by one of my favorite artists, Lance Green. And I got to see three magnificient sculptures by my buddy Chester Armstrong at Old World Fine Art - the three raven sculpture just blew me away. I spent quite a bit of time visiting with Joshua Franco, an artist whose surrealist work intrigues me - not only for his compelling compositions, but for the iconoclastic nature of his imagery.
Since returning, my paintings seem to come from somewhere deep inside; the memories of places where I felt connected to spirit percolating to the surface.
This piece started out as a plein air landscape, but once I got it home into my studio, Fox showed up with a couple of her buddies.
This is my first completed painting of 2011. Hopefully an omen of good things to come, as the bison brings abundance to those she chooses to walk beside. The underpainting for this painting was another bison that I painted a couple of years ago, but it had issues and I knew I had to pretty much start over. Some of the original painting peeps through, but for the most part it is a completely different composition.
I've been thinking alot lately about perceptions, and how they color the world we see. I think in this painting, Bison rushes in to remind us that there is plenty for all, we just have to open our eyes and the doors of perception to see the abundance all around us.
But it is not enough to just see the abundance with our eyes, we have to be truly grateful for all we have been given to feel the abundance with our hearts. As our hearts swell with gratitude, we make room and attract more.
Bison reminds us of this important relationship between abundance and gratitude.
The title for this painting was inspired by a poem by Lloyd Michael Lohr, called "A Doorway of Perception".
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Back in 2008, a tornado swept through our neighborhood, and I created a painting of the dark, swirling clouds. I used that as an under painting for this piece, which captures some of the same ominous and unsettling feelings.
In this piece, I was concerned mostly about creating a harmonic tension between dark and light - the bird underneath could be a companion to the white bird, or perhaps merely a shadow. In either case, they are closely related and joined for this part of the journey. The fields of gold could be actual fields, water or even clouds - I've left that up to the viewer to interpret in a way that is meaningful.
It has been said that this piece has a spiritual feel - perhaps it does. This is certainly a painting that came out of the "zone" - that intuitive and creative space that could be likened to meditation. The brush strokes are energetic; the colors, muted. It feels almost like a dream; a place where the conscious mind and the unconscious mind meet and form visual and emotional impressions.
This is the time of the year I start “taking stock” of where I am at in life. How close am I to accomplishing my goals for the year? What things went according to plan? And what was changed subtlety – or dramatically – by the surprises that life threw in my path?
The most dramatic unplanned event of the year happened during the summer when my daughter and 16 month old grandson moved in with Dave and I. Lots of change to our routine – I wouldn’t be truthful if I said it was all seamless and smooth sailing. But whatever inconvenience occurs is offset by the joy that Kolby brings into our lives. I know it is a cliché, but it is true: the world is a wondrous place seen through the eyes of a child. Navigating through the tall grass in our horse pasture, discovering butterflies and grasshoppers; marveling at the huge flocks of black birds covering the sky overhead; finding the moon each night, wondering at it’s changing shape and location; dancing to the music on a silly commercial; “wowing” at the Christmas lights outside… all the things that we may ignore are rediscovered and given their proper attention. For life is miraculous, and love is all - encompassing, and we are, in our essence, joyous beings.
As an artist, life’s events have a way of showing up in my artwork. We are essentially students, soaking up what we experience and then sharing with others, through our art, what we have learned. At the beginning of the year, I decided to spend 52 days creating one painting a day. That was a wonderful experience – since the works were small, I didn’t have the “space” to get too fussy – and since I was committed to a painting each day, I didn’t belabor – I was on to the next painting.
The experience of daily painting helped me in March, when I was asked to be a “quick-draw” artist at the Western Spirit Art Show in Cheyenne, WY. With Quick Draw, you have to complete a painting, start to finish, in 45 minutes. In front of hundreds of people. And then the painting is live-auctioned. I wrote about the experience in a previous blog.
After I finished the 50 or so daily paintings, I got a commission from the Ritz Carlton in Vail, Colorado, to create four wildlife paintings, which they had made into prints for 32 rooms. Working on a commission is a bit nerve-wracking, especially when you are under a tight deadline. Always, in the back of your head, you’re wondering, “are they gonna like it?” It takes a lot of will-power not to let thoughts of approval mess with the process.
By the end of the summer, with new members of our household settling in, my painting time was curtailed. But I had two plein-air events to paint for. Again, a bit stressful – deadlines and a minimum number of paintings to complete. But, during one painting trip in Medicine Bow National Park, I discovered the use of the palette knife as a painting tool. The resulting painting was an “aha” moment for me.
After that, given my shortened painting time, I decided to experiment a bit with palette knife and acrylic paints – the combination cut down my clean up time to almost nothing. (Oil paints and brushes take a while to clean up after a painting session.) One of the things I discovered with acrylic paints is their quick drying time – within 10 minutes or so, the paint is dry and you can layer over with more paint. This is very freeing – with oils, the dry time can be any where from 24 hours to two weeks, depending on the colors used and the thickness of the paint. And what I discovered in this experimentation, is that I love what happens when you layer paint and allow the bottom layers to show through in places. It creates an energy, a spontaneity, a freshness.
And then came the day when I had no more new canvas to paint on. So I looked around my studio at the growing mound of paintings that were never finished, never resolved – or that I just felt weren’t “saying” what I wanted to say. And they became the under paintings for the work I am doing now.
In so many ways, this new work feels “right.” I am back using oils again, mostly because the under paintings are in oil, and you can’t paint acrylic over oil. And I am back to using brushes, having learned how to make bold passages by using the palette knife. But, perhaps most importantly, I am painting with the joy and abandon of a child, letting the paint drip, staying away from being too literal, too critical, too “grown up.”
These paintings, while in some ways are very child-like, are shaped by my vision of the world and our place in it. The older I get, the more I look to my childhood for clues to my true nature.
Another in my series of renewal paintings - this one was a challenge because the under painting had such strong horizontal lines (it was a plein air landscape done with palette knife.) I turned the panel on its side so that my mind could be freed from "landscape" mode.
Because the paint was so textural underneath, when I applied more paint, it wanted to run in rivers, creating interesting patterns. I also used a rag to wipe out areas to allow the underpainting to show trough. After a couple of hours of playing around - adding, subtracting, turning - I finally decided I'd had enough and walked away and made myself a cup of tea. When I re-entered my studio, I was surprized by what had "emerged" on the panel.
I could see my guide, the Bear, had decided to join me on the journey, and she carried with her a white dove. In the shadows, other figures remain more ambiguous - perhaps they are there, perhaps not.
I named the painting "Emergence", because I feel this piece really emerged out of my subconscious. Although Bear has shown herself to me on many occasions, I find it interesting that in this painting, she holds a Dove.
The Dove has been respected and revered throughout the ages by ancient and modern Indian tribes and their Shamans. Doves are diplomatic, legendary animals that own many admirable virtues. The Dove represents the feminine power of giving, prophecy, and the hope a new beginning. The Dove shows and reveals the veils between the spiritual and physical worlds.
The Dove returned to Noah’s Ark to tell all aboard that land was found; in the Dove’s beak was an olive branch, which was the symbol of peace. It is believed that the Dove’s nature is so pure that even Satan himself cannot shape-shift into its form. The Dove is also the symbol for the Holy Spirit, the third "aspect" of the Trinity. It is my guess that the Dove represents not only higher consciousness, but feminine energy.
It is not known in this painting whether Bear is coming out of sleep or returning to her meditative state. One of Bear's attributes is nurturing and protection - perhaps by her alliance with Dove she seeks to nurture and protect peace on earth.
Still in my renewal mode...this time with an older oil painting. It's not that I didn't like the original painting - I just felt that it was unfinished.
(The Universe is Infinite - underpainting for The New Day)
So far I've just played with acrylic over acrylic in my renewal paintings - but the truth is I have a LOT more oil paintings stacked up in my studio. So I decided to see what would happen painting loose oil over oil, and am really excited over the result.
Normally I have a concept or a story that I start out with. In this case, I just slopped on some yellow ochre and titanium white with a big brush. The horse figure was the first to emerge, then the wolf. I love the way the drips work to create texture and movement, and how the old painting shows through in unexpected ways. I guess the element of surprize is what excites me about these paintings.
For me, The New Day retains the original concept of the underpainting while taking it to a more esoteric level.
Inspired by the white crows of Vancouver, British Columbia. This abstract bird painting asks the question - is the white crow a sign of the end of life on earth, or the beginning of a new consciousness? Or both?
As I was painting, I listened to the R.E.M. song, "It's the End of the World As We Know It" and tried to keep my mind open to the exploration of the rather abstract idea of the end of a way of life and the beginning of a new way. This painting is different than the last three that I've done, in that I started with a fresh canvas. I wanted to see if I could translate the loose, "devil may care" attitude I have when painting over something I've already let go of in my mind.
The trap I tried to be mindful of was becoming too literal in my interpretation of the concept. I purposely avoided turning shapes into "things" and just concentrated on creating an overall design and emotion. When I stepped back to check on my progress I was surprised to see the large crow shape on the left and the small crow shape to its upper right. These shapes are places where the canvas is showing through (not white paint.) It took just a few quick strokes on the larger shape to finish, put the brush down and walk away.
This painting started it's life as autumn aspens. Then the snow came, and with it the wolf.
In full experimental mode right now... and no painting in my studio is safe! Actually, I've got a bunch of canvases in my studio that have unresolved paintings on them. I decided to try to resurrect my daily paintings and see if I could ressurect some paintings as well - give them new life.
In this piece, the old painting can be seen in the body of the wolf. I really had no preconceived notions when I started slapping some cad red and white onto the very textured (palette knife) aspen trees, using a large brush. I wanted to see if something would emerge, and today it was my old friend, the wolf. Wolf seems to show up when I am learning something new, pushing the boundries of my comfort zone. That makes sense, as one of wolf's roles as a guide or totem animal is to teach.
The process of painting intuitively and abstractly is a journey into the unknown. I guess I would liken it to improvisational playing in jazz music. What makes the musicians able to successfully play outside the box of meter and melody is their knowledge of both. I am thinking about this because there is a misconception among both artists and non-artists that abstract works are somehow a cop-out. That people paint abstractly because they don't know how to paint "realistic" or representational paintings.
One only has to study the works of artists like Franz Marc to see that although his greatest work was abstracted, he very much understood and was masterful at classical painting. He knew how to paint realistically, so he knew when he could "color outside the lines" (as my friend, sculptor Timothy Nimmo, likes to put it.)
So I am having a blast, learning the rules so I can break them.
24x36 acrylic on canvas
This is a work in progress - perhaps nearly finished, perhaps not. It's kind of an experimental piece, in that I've used both brush and palette knife, and even some spattering, to get it to where it is right now. This is one of those paintings that started out one way - as a portrait of a horse - and then changed into something completely different than my original idea.
One of the advantages, for me, of working in acrylic is the fast drying time. Courses can be changed in a matter of minutes. Whole areas can be whited out and then repainted. Bits of the original concept can peak through, creating texture and depth. Lance Green is a contemporary artist whose process and paintings intrigue me. "The Dawn of a New Era" is a bit of an homage to him, for studying his works gave me the courage to paint directly from my intuition and not completely freak out when the painting "got away from me." I don't know how successful this piece is, but I am happy with the concept and the freedom I allowed myself when painting.
One of the hurdles I had to overcome was the voice in my head that told me I should choose between painting with the brush or the palette knife. That mixing them is somehow not "right" (although I've done a bit of mixing, starting with the painting I call "Glory Daze.") I literally had to say out loud, "who cares?" I think part of my angst is the feeling I get that I need to "settle" - maybe stop experimenting so much and just choose a technique.
I have to admit, the rational, analytical side of myself presents a pretty strong case for that tack. A straight line gets you from A to B faster than a line that zig zags and loops back on itself. But then my intuitive, creative side reminds me of the crow I was watching the other day. It was windy, and I watched as the crow rode the wind first to the right, then up, over to the left, and then down to the ground, a perfect landing next to her mate on the ground. In that case, the circuitous route was the most efficient way to get where she wanted to go, given the strong, erratic winds with which she had to contend.
Although I alternate between more "realistic" works and more "imaginative", I think each side informs the other. Will I ever get to a balance point between the two? Hard to say. I'm a Libra: I strive for balance. But life rarely allows perfect balance. Perhaps it is impossible to stay in the zone. I was just thinking that Nature stays in balance, but even that is not true all of the time. Over a continuum, yes, but certainly there are many inbalances. Floods, droughts, overabundance of one species, extinction of another, heat, cold... Nature is in a continuous state of flux, striving for balance but always teeter-tottering on either side of that sweet spot.
One of my mentors, Clive Tyler, told me a painting should always have a story. "The Dawn of a New Era" is about the changes that occured with the arrival of Europeans in the New World. Prior to that, the human inhabitants of what was to become North America practiced various forms of animism - the belief that "everything is conscious" or that "everything has a soul."
In this painting, the bison and the horse overlook the ocean, where a ship bearing the Christian symbol of the cross can be seen on the horizon. (I realize I've taken liberties here, since horses aren't truly indigineous to the Americas, but for the purpose of this painting, I've used the horse and the bison to symbolize the native peoples.) A wolf lopes across the canvas, perhaps on his way to warn others. An inidentified figure crests the hill, silhouetted by the rising sun.
Much is left to the viewer's own interpretation. Is the arrival of the "rising son" a good thing or a bad thing? Perhaps there is even deeper meaning...
As the name implies, this painting is about balance. I challenged myself to combine some realism within an abstract design, and am pleased with the results. I am going to enter this one into a few shows and see what happens.
I find myself wavering between abstract design and realism - and as is my nature, try to strike a balance between the two. In this piece, I knew I wanted to paint waxwings - the top bird is a bohemian waxwing, the bottom one is a cedar. In researching the birds, I found that they often intermingle in flocks. The background design is purposefully left very graphic. When I first started the painting, I painted in the lines to get a feel for how the eye would travel around the painting... but I liked the stark contrast to the birds, so I left the lines visible, and even accentuated them. I also purposefully left the two circular elements rather ambiguous - is that bright orb the sun or the moon? Is the shape on the right a bush or a planet? Does it really matter?
Lately I have been challenging myself to not overwork pieces - to leave some areas unfinished. Not everything in life has to be sewn up tight - in reality, nothing really is set in stone. We exist in a constantly changing and evolving universe - and that is what I want my paintings to embrace. The ebb and flow of life.
"South by Southwest"
One of the reasons I love where I live is the incredible views we have from our deck. On a lazy summer afternoon, clouds building silently in the azure sky, a soft breeze whispering through the trees and fields, a meadowlark singing in the distance...all is well with the world!
I am involved in two plein air events this summer, so thought I'd better practice my "on location" painting skills. One of the pitfalls of painting from life is that you are painting a constantly moving target. Oh sure, the lay of the land stays the same, the trees don't (usually!) jump up and move off...but the clouds move, the shadows move, the colors shift as the day progresses...and, of course, if you are painting animals in the scene, they DO move!
One of the biggest challenges in plein air painting is to rough in the "design" of the painting: where are the shadows and sunlight? What "story" are you trying to tell about the scene you are painting? I pretty much have to get everything down in about a half hour, and then force myself not to look at the scene again, except to define rock formations, trees, mountains - in other words, to refine the drawing part but NOT the colors and values. Those I refine only by what is working/not working as I tell my story.
For instance, in this painting, the focus in on that beautiful golden yellow field glowing in the afternoon sun. Everything else in the painting has to support that. As I was painting, the shadows shifted, the clouds built up and actually muted the yellow field. At one point the clouds were quite dynamic - and I almost "lost my head" and started painting them - but as I did so, I realized that I was taking the emphasis away from the field and putting it in the sky. So I had to refocus and remember not to change my story mid-painting!
For me, painting is like meditating. As I practice mindfulness, I find my mind starts to wander. Instead of just "being," I am making mental lists, thinking ahead to something I have to do later. When I find myself doing that, I gently refocus on my breathing, which brings me back into the present. When painting outdoors, the "present" is the painting itself, the emotion and mood I wish to evoke. Everything else is distraction - the things that change outside of the painting have to be let go, as I breath in the experience of being outdoors in nature: the warmth of the sun, the buzz of insects, the stillness...or perhaps the rush of the wind, the dance of trees, the swirl of clouds...and breath out, reaching further.
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TC Barn, Joseph, Oregon
I recently returned from a short visit with my daughter, son-in-law and grandchildren. They live in a tiny town in a tiny county (population: 7,000) whose claim to fame is that they have no traffic lights. Or big box stores. Or fast food franchises.
Shannon and Dave bought an old house, built in 1910, which they are in the process of renovating. The house is about three blocks from town. Arek and Aimee, (10 and 8) can ride their bikes anywhere in town: to the little grocery store, to the fishing pond, to school, to the bakery, to their friend’s houses.
One weekend they went to a neighboring ranch to help with branding. Other weekends find them snowmobiling in the national forest, or up skiing/snowboarding at the small volunteer run ski slope, or camping, or hunting for morels.
The economy in their small town is what we would consider bad. It’s never been a great economy there – no industry to speak of. The largest employers are the forest service (my son-in-law is a wild land fire fighter), the school system and the hospital.
But, and here is my reason for rambling on…entrepreneurship is alive and well in Wallowa County (northeastern corner of Oregon if you are curious). Most of Shannon and Dave’s friends, if not employed by the forest service or hospital, own their own businesses. The restaurants are family owned and run. The hardware store is family owned and run. The coffee shop (Gypsy Java – if you are ever in Enterprise, you must stop in!) is owned by two friends. There’s a micro-brewery/restaurant called Terminal Gravity that serves up delicious brews and delectable gourmet meals.
At TG’s, regulars have their own beer glasses – all made by local glass artists. No plastic cups – regulars purchase their glasses and the brewery washes them and puts them on the shelf for next time.
Which leads me to my next point. Because of the lack of big box stores and fast food franchises, artists, crafters, restaurateurs and other small businesses thrive. You need soap? You want to give a gift? You don’t run into Walmart. You wander into BeeCrowBee in Joseph (an up and coming arts destination one town away from Enterprise) and purchase some lovely locally made soap or lotion. Or you saunter through To Zion and find one-of-a-kind locally created jewelry.
Such is life in a tiny town in a tiny county, 90 minutes away from the nearest Starbuck’s. And life is good.
In my dream I am standing on a narrow path through a forest. It is winter time – no, it is the time when autumn still glows like the dying embers of a campfire. A time of letting go, winding down, entering the realm of darkness and dreams. A fresh blanket of snow covers the ground and I notice how it glistens in the moonlight.
The woods are silent as I drink in the scent of the coming season. I am aware of the cold as I look up through the trees at the night sky; deep ocean blue gradating into a glowing turquoise. Stars dance against the backdrop of infinity.
As I start to walk, I realize I am headed north. I begin to be aware of the eyes of those who watch, hidden, from beyond the path I travel. And I understand without question that these are my guides, and that they mean me no harm. And so I walk, my guides – unseen – and me – a dream. Cresting a hill, a clearing appears before me, and I slow my pace.
A magnificent Elk steps out from the brambles, silent as the snow. Time suspends, my breathing all but stops. He regards me fearlessly, his eyes bore into mine for what seems an eternity. Slowly, like a yoga master, he stretches his head back, and I notice his swirling antlers, glowing like ancient antennas. And then he opens his mouth and releases the most hauntingly beautiful sound…a song unlike anything I have ever heard. Wild, primal, melancholy, visceral; the words to describe the sound do not exist in my vocabulary.
I know in the core of my being that I am listening to the anthem of the earth, the song of Nature, the Voice of the Universe. The sound resonates through my body, and I feel enveloped by an energy which comes simultaneously from within and from outside of me. I suddenly know the fundamental Truth; the connection of all things, seen and unseen.
As soon as I become aware, Elk lowers his head and steps silently back into the brush, disappearing into a shroud of mist. It was then that I notice snow-capped mountains rising from beyond the edge of the clearing. The sparkle of a gold talisman wrapped on a branch where Elk had stood catches my eye. When I look back at the mountains I see they are not mountains at all, but tipis, their painted outer walls glowing. I smell burning cedar and sage. I turn around and begin the walk back home.
As I sit here typing, I hear the beautiful song of a Meadowlark. It fills my soul with joy and peace. My life gets so hectic sometimes, it seems I even forget to breathe. But this morning, I am soaking in the quiet music of the fields; a symphonic blend of crickets and songbirds, woven together with the soft rustle of tall grasses, occasionally punctuated by the lowing of cattle and the bray of a neighboring donkey.
I just returned last evening from a trip out to San Diego to attend the Women Artists of the West show, which was held at the Olaf Wieghorst Museum in El Cajon. The opening reception took place last Friday night – the museum and community really made us feel welcome and the show was well attended. Although I didn’t win an award, I felt honored just to be in the company of such talented women artists. The show is incredible – take a look!
The other reason for my trip was to visit with my family…and I was thrilled to have the opportunity to visit with my niece who was in San Diego (sadly, for a funeral) for a few days. Laurel was in Ukraine for two years with the Peace Corps and then was accepted into the master’s program at George Washington University. This summer she is working in Senegal, Africa, with the 10,000 Girls program. Although we tend to hear more about the next generation being disconnected and self-absorbed, my niece and the many of young adults like her, are proof that the caring, giving side of human nature is alive and growing. There is hope for the world!
Although my trip was short – slightly less than a week, I was able to relax a bit. I stayed with my parents, who are in their 80’s. Much of their days consist of un-rushed routine. My father raises the flag each morning, then feeds the birds and reads the newspaper while sipping a cup of coffee and listening to classical music. My mother prepares breakfast for them. Most of the day is spent reading and watching the birds that come to their feeder. Sparrows, doves, finches – sometimes unusual birds (for San Diego!) like Baltimore orioles and downy woodpeckers. And last week, a green parakeet! Most entertaining is the Crow family. My parents put out table scraps for the crows, who arrive each morning in a family unit: mother, father and two “babies” (who are as big as the parents!) The babies still want to be fed though, and carry on like spoiled brats when Mom doesn’t feed them fast enough. And they are picky, too! The pieces of bread have to be dunked in the birdbath first before Mom shoves them into their open mouths.
The sparrows flock in, filling the branches of the trees and oleander bushes in the backyard. Then they take turns, in batches of six or seven, landing on the bird feeder or on the ground below, pecking and scratching until, as one, they fly back to the safety of the bushes and another batch swoops in. It is like watching a ballet, so choreographed and seemingly effortless.
Sometimes there are skirmishes: the little hummingbirds get feisty when they want to drink sugar water and find another hummer at the feeder. The ring-necked doves and the crows squabble over table scraps. But mostly it is peaceful co-existence among variations of birds. We humans could learn a thing or two about taking what you need and leaving the rest for someone else. Settling arguments with a show of feathers and some squawking, then going about your business without thoughts of revenge.
Sitting on my parents’ back porch, watching the birds, feeling the heat of the day, sketching, reading, enjoying just being – no place to go, nothing to do, no pressure, no deadlines, no stress – reminded me of the summers of my childhood, spent watching the birds at our feeder, the clouds passing by overhead, listening to the buzz of cicadas, learning the songs of different birds, reading library books, taking a walk with my sisters, drawing, creating forts and trails in the woods. Each minute lived in the present.
The process of painting, for me, is one of discovery and intuition. I start out with a basic concept, find photo or shoot photo reference if needed, choose a canvas and set out my palette and brushes. I usually set up my full palette each time – one of the joys of oil painting is that, if you cover the palette when not using it, the blobs of paint stay wet. Sometimes a skin will form over the top, but that can be removed, and the paint underneath used. At any rate, I thought I’d show my latest painting from initial reference photo (courtesy of Donna Nayduch of W.O.L.F.) to the finished painting.
The story of this painting begins last year, when I met Donna through my job at Fine Print. She needed art copy for a painting that an artist did for the upcoming W.O.L.F. benefit, “Waltzing with Wolves.” Because I believe in what W.O.L.F. is doing, I told her I’d be interested in donating a painting the next year. Early this Spring, Donna gave me reference photos of Shaman, a full Artic Wolf who had lived at the sanctuary for many years, and was one of the best ambassadors they have ever had.
(reference photo courtesy: Donna Nayduch)
After some consideration, I decided on the photo that shows Shaman howling. One of the reasons is that a howling wolf is an iconic image, one which stirs emotion. I wanted the viewer to connect with the wild side of Shaman, the part that is intrinsically tied to nature. The other reason is I had done a small study of this image as one of my daily paintings, and I wanted to see if I could capture the essence of that smaller painting in a large one.
Study: Shaman, 4x4"
And so I started the painting by sketching in paint directly onto the 20x20”canvas. I don’t often do preliminary drawings – although sometimes I’ll do a couple of quick thumbnail sketches to figure out my lights and darks. In this case, I had both the photo and the study for reference.
I felt connected to Shaman from the get go. He is a very powerful presence, and had strong feelings about how he wanted to be painted. I suppose I should explain that a bit. There are some paintings that seem to want to paint themselves. I am just along for the ride, so to speak. This was one of them. I did get hung up on his nose and mouth, and had to wipe out that entire area. I redrew and quit for the night.
When I returned to paint the next night, I was able to connect again almost immediately. I felt the colors were a bit more grayed out than I was comfortable with – as you know, I love bright, clear colors. But I decided to stay with the more grayed out palette for awhile – mostly because Shaman was pretty insistent and the toned down color did let me concentrate on values.
Sometimes when painting I let my mind wander – its not the same as not paying attention to what I’m doing, rather it is like reverse doodling. I just let my mind go where it wants to, this time imagining conversations with Shaman. It’s the reason many artists (including me) listen to music when painting. By engaging the analytical part of your brain in listening (or in thinking about something else) the intuitive part of the brain takes over, and makes choices based on what it knows, rather than what the analytical side thinks it knows.
The next night, painting was a struggle. I couldn’t seem to get into the groove, very left brain heavy! This is a dangerous time to paint – because if I’m not careful, I can completely ruin a painting by over-thinking and overworking. Half the battle on this is recognizing what is happening – paying attention to my posture, my breathing and my self talk. Once I consciously relax, breath, turn off my critical chatter, then I can paint.
One of the hardest parts of painting is knowing when you are finished. Accepting that the painting is not perfect, but nonetheless, done. I am at that stage now: I feel the painting is working as a whole and so I will set it aside to dry a bit, then look at it again with fresh eyes in a few days. Maybe make a few minor adjustments then, maybe just sign it.
This piece will be auctioned on Saturday, June 19, 2010, during the annual Waltz for Wolves dinner/dance/auction. Click here for more info.
Polar-ity is a study for a larger painting that I am working on. The polar bear is a fearless animal with no known enemies except the human hunter. The color of her coat suggests purity of spirit. Since energy of spirit only flows when fear is absent, the polar serves as a valuable ally in overcoming fear, both physical and mental. The swirling designs in the background suggest the northern lights, or aurora borealis. The Aurora Borealis was named after the Roman goddess of the dawn, Aurora, and the Greek name for the north wind, Boreus. The Cree people called the northern lights "Dance of the Spirits." And many peoples have thought this phenomenon was a sign from God.
In my mind, I see Polar Bear as a messenger from the Universe that the time is here to put aside our differences and dance together in the Spirit.
This is a painting that came together rather quickly - maybe because it is a study I didn't overthink the process; just painted what felt right. From experience, I know when I paint the full-sized piece, certain elements will change.
With the moon setting in the background, the Sacred Warrior watches the dawning of a new era, when the balance of nature will be restored and the sacredness of all forms of life will be understood and celebrated.
The following story doesn't have a lot to do with this painting, at least not in an obvious way. But there are things at work in the spiritual realm and I haven't connected all the dots yet. But I know Buffalo is teaches some pretty important things:
To remain well grounded
To provide abundantly for others
To find the strength to carry on our path
To be in harmony with Mother Earth
To give selflessly from the heart with pure intent
To learn the meaning of sacrifice
To understand the sacredness of life
So here's my story:
I can’t explain the tears that welled up in my eyes and spilled over onto my cheeks as I drove away, leaving the ragged man standing on the corner, holding his hand written plea for help in the cold. I had felt compelled to roll down my passenger window and beckon him over while I opened my wallet to give him a couple of bucks. Except the only thing in my wallet was a twenty dollar bill. I gave it to him and chuckled to myself. That twenty dollars was destined to end up as a gift to a stranger.
The story really began the night before when I thought the bill had fallen out of my pocket somewhere on the sidewalk as I enjoyed First Friday Gallery Walk. I was going to buy something for myself when I discovered the money missing. I had chastised myself for being careless, then resigned myself to the fact that it would be a welcome gift to some unknown recipient.
When I told a friend what had happened, he said that I would probably end up finding a C-note. I laughed. Throw $20 bucks into the universe and get $100 back. Pretty good return on my investment. I was even a little disappointed when I got home and realized that the $20 was in my wallet – I hadn’t lost it after all.
Fast forward to this afternoon, when I was at JC Penney’s. I was shopping for myself, but couldn’t find anything that I couldn’t live without. So I left the store empty-handed. That’s when I saw the man and “lost” the $20 for the second time.
And I chastised myself a second time, too. “He’s probably just going to spend it on booze,” I thought. “You are an idiot,” I told myself. “You can’t afford to be giving away $20!” And then I thought of my father. He has always been the first one to reach out his hand to a stranger, to give when he can’t afford to, to help when he himself needed help. Sometimes those he has given to show their appreciation, sometimes they don’t. And sometimes he has given to con artists who prey upon the good intentions of others.
But I realized that giving is not about the recipient. How they use what you have given is not important. The importance is in the giving, the sacrifice of your own desires and possessions – putting someone else’s needs in front of your own. And if that someone else is a stranger, then the giving is even purer. To expect nothing in return. To know with certainty that there will be no reciprocal action. No thanks, no favors, no deduction on your tax return. To be satisfied that the gift was just that – a gift. No strings attached. A random act of kindness.
I write this not because I want anyone to think I am a good person, or because I want anything at all. I write this because I want to share how wonderful it was to give enough that I questioned the gift. Because my friend was right. The joy I feel right now is worth at least five twenty dollar bills.
Pass it on.
Today's blog has little to do with Art - although one could make a case that the same principals that apply to traditions apply to the process of creating Art. Today I am thinking about traditions, and how important they are – collectively as a culture, within families, and individually. This morning I’ve been contemplating putting up our Christmas decorations. There is a part of me that groans, thinking about the work of going through the strings of lights to make sure they are working (at least I’ve finally figured out to do that BEFORE wrapping them around each post on our deck, or BEFORE stringing them on the Christmas tree!), getting out the wreaths and hanging them, changing out tablecloths and kitchen towels and table decorations. After 27 years of marriage, two children and now six grandchildren, my husband and I have amassed a veritable cornucopia of holiday knick-knacks, riff-raff and hand-made treasures. Each lovingly wrapped up in January for safe storage, and re-discovered each December.
But some years are harder than others to summon the energy for traditions. I was thinking this morning about the December four years ago when our family experienced a profound tragedy. That year I felt I couldn’t possibly face the task of Christmas lights and Christmas trees, presents and laughter. But somehow we did. “For the children” we said, as we placed each treasured ornament on the tree, tears streaming down our cheeks. “For the children” we carefully wrapped gifts with beautiful papers, ribbons and bows, our hearts bursting inside. “For the children” we watched “How the Grinch Stole Christmas” and “Rudolf the Red-Nosed Reindeer” and “Frosty the Snowman.” “For the children,” we opened our family gifts on Christmas Eve. “For the children,” we read “The Night Before Christmas” and set out cookies and milk for Santa, and 12 carrots for the reindeer “oops, don’t forget one more in case Santa needs Rudolf to lead his sleigh tonight.” “For the children” we went through the motions of our Christmas traditions. And somewhere in the familiar routines, we felt it. The joy, the comfort, the peace of Christmas. We knew that no matter how bad things seemed, we would survive, one tradition at a time. For although we summoned the energy “for the children” it was in fact the children who saved us that Christmas, by forcing us to keep living.
This year is a rough one for many. It almost seems counter-intuitive to make ourselves go through the motions of our winter traditions. Whether we celebrate Christmas, Hanukah or Festivus, what we are celebrating all emanates from the same principal: that the days of darkness have run their course, and that there is a light that shines and guides us in our journey on earth. Putting lights on the Christmas tree, lighting the candles of the Menorah, dancing around the lighted Festivus pole – each ritual reminds us that Light will always fill Darkness, Hope will give us courage, and Love will conquer all.
This morning nature has gifted us with sunlight filtering through a light mist. Each blade of grass in the pasture turns to face the warmth, while drops of dew sparkle and dance. This is a time I feel at peace, when I have the time – when I make the time – to observe the subtle beauty in nature. And not just to notice, but to breathe it in, the cool crisp air scented with the faint smell of plant decomposition.
According to Wikipedia, “decomposition refers to the process by which tissues of a dead organism break down into simpler forms of matter. Such a breakdown of dead organisms is essential for new growth and development of living organisms because it recycles the finite matter that occupies physical space in the biome.”
As humans, we also go through periods of decomposition. Not just of our physical bodies when we die, but in our spiritual and emotional lives, as we shed old thoughts and habits in order to encourage – and feed – the growth of new. Many of us fear death, or decomposition, in any form. Because it means trading the known for the unknown. The known, even if we hate it, is a safe place. The unknown, even if we crave it, is scary.
In painting, decomposition is taking all the complex elements of a scene or a concept, and breaking down those elements to their simpler forms. A thousand hairs on the hide of a buffalo become a stroke of paint on the canvas. In my paintings, I try to convey a concept using as simple a composition as possible. In my painting process, I sometimes start out rather complex and then simplify as the painting progresses, as I become more aware of the essence of the painting. Sometimes I wipe out a whole hour or two of work if what I have painted adds to the clutter but not to the meaning of the painting.
I am getting better at doing that – of “letting go” of what I have put on the canvas. My tendency as an emerging artist has been to put too much importance on this element or that within a painting, often at the sacrifice of the whole. As I become more aware, and continue on my journey to master the art of painting, I feel more confident in eliminating areas that aren’t adding to the strength of the painting. But in order to do that, I have to understand the painting.
What do I mean by that – understand the painting? For the artist, painting is a way to communicate a concept or an emotion. More than just crafting a “pretty picture,” the artist tries to share her passion; whether the artist uses landscapes, wildlife, horses, city scenes or swirls of abstract color to express that passion doesn’t matter. You hear a lot of artists say, “I paint light.” Okay, so what? Pressed further, the artist might say, “I’m excited by the way the early morning sunlight bounces off the leaves and grasses, making them glow.” Now we’re getting closer. Pressed even further, the artist might say “When I see the early morning sunlight bouncing off the leaves and grasses, it fills me with an unspeakable joy, a feeling of connectedness to nature, a sense of well-being and happiness.” Okay, that is what the artist is communicating.
So when painting this scene of early morning sunlight bouncing off the leaves and grasses, the artist must keep the focus of what she is truly communicating in her mind, and make all painting decisions based on, does this support or does this detract from the true essence of this painting. The painting works when a viewer can look at it and say, “This painting fills me with joy and a feeling of connectedness to nature, a sense of well-being and happiness.”
A little about the painting pictured above. It's working title is "Complete Honesty." This is how it looks after I played around with it in Photoshop (a tool I sometimes use when deciding what should go and what should stay.) The way it looks on my easel is at the top of the blog.
I was working on some commissioned birth totem paintings and had started a kestrel, but every time I looked at my preliminary drawing I kept seeing an Owl, so I decided to restart the kestrel on a new canvas and paint the owl. I've been wanting to paint a Great Horned Owl since my encounter with one a few weeks ago. I received an incredible gift from Owl, and decided I needed to honor her with a painting. In the painting I've included the moon, since Owl is a bird of the night. She stands on the planet Pluto, with whom she is closely aligned. In her talon she holds a sprig of Rosemary.
I wrote this poem the day Owl and I met:
Owl found me, not in a dream
But in death. Sacrificing herself
So that I might live.
Going against the law of Man
I chose the law of Nature
And honored her Great Gift.
She flies beside me now into Eternity.
Acknowledging the tang of Death -
Of things that must be left behind,
Owl travels light on silent wings.
Gliding through the Veil of darkness;
The Great Mystery unseen by those eyes
Accustomed only to the blinding light
Of forced (forged?) Reality.
I buried you in a secret place, deep within
The womb of Earth. Away from the eyes
Of those who don’t understand.
Away from the law that says I can’t
Honor your spirit or keep your feathers
But can throw your body into a dumpster;
Dispose of you like garbage.
As if your feathers have no meaning.
As if your life has no significance.
As if denying your power would keep you from
Soaring into your new life.
Ti mah su.*
I'm working on the fourth in my series of 12 Birth Totem animal paintings. Salmon is the guide for people born July 22 through August 21.
Salmon, despite strong river currents, will always return to the place of its creation. Its determination is driven by the wisdom of instinct and inner-knowing, which yields a sense of purpose that cannot be stopped by outside forces. Salmon tells us to trust our gut feelings and inner-knowing.
Salmon teaches us to see every bend in the river as a new adventure, with a lesson we need to learn to grow, even when the flow of life seems to push us back, we can tap the hidden resources of our human spirit. - excerpts from "Medicine Cards" by Jamie Sams.
This is how Salmon looked after Session 1
Painting Salmon went well - I had anticipated a struggle and was pleasantly surprised. It took awhile to decide on the attitude I wanted Salmon to have, but finally settled on Salmon rising up out of the depths of the water. I had to also research the different varieties of Salmon, and settled on the Steelhead Salmon which, I discovered, is the same as a Rainbow Trout, except that Steelheads go to sea and Rainbows stay in fresh water. I find that fascinating, that you can have fish of the same species act in such different ways. It's also interesting to me that a fish can live in both salt and fresh water. Quite adaptable! That charavcteristic reminds me of the Salmon people I know. Resilient and adaptable.
I haven't finished this painting yet, partly because I haven't become in tune with the heart of Salmon. Perhaps it is resilient and adaptable. I may find out tonight when I return to the studio to paint.
Salmon after session 2
June 21 - July 21
Flicker is a challenge for me. I’ve had to dig deep within myself to understand the heart of this birth totem animal. I thought of people I know who are Flicker people (those born between June 21 and July 21) – my Dad, my friends Jan and Jeff, and one trait that leapt out was that they have a lot of pride in their homes. They are always working on projects to make their homes safer, more functional, more beautiful. Much of their identity is wrapped up in their home, and it seems to be the outward shell that protects the sensitive and vulnerable part of their self. The Northern Flicker, being a woodpecker, is an industrious bird, and is considered a “keystone” species, in that the nest cavities they excavate are often used by other bird species. I guess they are the home builders of the bird world! It is this attribute of Flicker people that the words, “The Heart of Flicker is close to Home” describes.
Northern Flickers have two main variations – red-shafted in the west and yellow-shafted in the east. (Shafts refer to the underside of tail and wing feathers.) The red-shafted Flickers have a red “moustache” on their faces and a plain grayish-green crown. The yellow-shafted have black moustaches and a red “nape patch” on their heads. There are also hybrid variations between the western and eastern varieties that display characteristics of both. Learn more about Northern Flickers here.
The Flicker in this painting is a bit of a hybrid, with the black moustache and red nape patch of the eastern Flicker and the redder shafts of the western.
This poor painting has gone through numerous name changes on its journey to completion...and I'm not quite done yet! But last night I finally felt like I'd resolved the issues I was having - by going back to the original study and getting back that "out of the mist" feeling. Before I went down to my studio to paint, I watched the trailer to a documentary called Lords of Nature which talks about the role predators have in the balance of nature. So I had in my mind thoughts of how important wolves and other predators are in keeping the world in sync. If you watch the trailer, or get a chance to see the documentary, my friend Janet's sheep and LGD's (Livestock Guardian Dogs) have a cameo role.
Anyway, back to the painting of Wolf...getting the background to look misty was a bit challenging, as I wanted it to feel like light was breaking through. Like this Wolf, I hope someday wolves will be able to come out of the cloak of myth and fear that surrounds them and understood and respected for the important role they play in nature. We humans could learn a lot about ourselves by studying their ways.
I find it interesting that I've been compelled to write words on my paintings. I did a little of this when I was painting my Equine Spirit series, but in those the writing was obscured - you really have to look to find them. And I was using quotes from books I was reading at the time. Starting with my series of Birth Totem paintings, "The Heart of..." , the words are mine and are an integral part of the painting. I also wrote on Kestrel Weathers the Storm, which isn't part of that series.
In writing "The Way of Wolf is the Way of the World" I returned to my first working title for my study painting. And so the painting comes full circle. This mixing of words and imagery just seems right, as it is a way of returning to using words as a part of my creative process. I am excited to see where this road leads.
I finished Deer in Session 3 - painting over the areas I wiped out with semi transparent and opaque passages of sap green, cadmium green and cad. orange and cad. yellow. Then I hit the highlights on belly, tail, legs and face pure titanium white and added a couple of highlights of cad. green and radiant turquoise.
The Heart of Deer is the third painting in my Birth Totem Animal series. Deer is the birth totem animal for those born between May 20 and June 21. This original paintings in this series will not be available for sale until the series is complete; however, 8x8 gallery-wrapped canvas giclees are available for individual purchase. Contact me if you are interested.
The Heart of Deer - session II
I’m not talking about the song recorded by the Surfaris back in 1962. I’m not even referring to “fall badly and painfully.” Nope, I’m talking about the technique of using a rag to wipe out passages in a painting that aren’t working, to get back down to the texture of the canvas. It’s a technique I used last night during Session II of painting “The Heart of Deer.”
The session started well. I knew from looking at the photo I took of Deer after Session I that I needed to go back in and soften her ears, redefine her face, redraw her back leg, warm up the background and “carve” out her neck and chest. I was also bothered by the dark patch on her back and sides; the shape seemed too regular, too sharp-edged. I also noticed some areas where the color had gotten a bit muddy.
At some point in my learning process working in oils, I switched from using Viva paper towels to wipe my brushes with to soft cotton painter’s rags. My initial reason for doing that was to save money; it seemed like I went through an inordinate number of rolls of paper towels! But then, because of an “accident” where I had to wipe out a good portion of a painting, I discovered that the rags did a great job lifting the paint without leaving behind fibers like paper towel does. And, once I let the rags dry, I can wash them and reuse them, which appeals to both my penny-pinching side and my “green” side.
As I looked at Deer last night, I knew I would have to go backwards before going forward, and would have to wipe out some of the painting I’d done in Session I. This is always a scary thing to do – I want to leave what is working and wipe out what’s not, but sometimes it is difficult to determine which is which. In this case I knew that dark patch was calling way too much attention to itself, and it had to be take down a notch or two. I also needed to wipe out some areas on the neck that had gotten muddy looking. And I needed to do something about the legs. In my reference photo, the deer is standing in deep snow, so her feet are hidden. But I didn’t like the way they just faded out in the painting. As I was wiping, I decided to wipe out the legs, pulling them down off the bottom of the canvas, exaggerating their spindly nature and partially obscuring the words written on the bottom. As soon as I did that, I knew it was the right move. The painting felt more pulled together. I have to admit that sometimes I get attached to my reference photo and let it be more important than the actual painting. This was a case where I was able to subjugate the “reality” of the photo and paint the reality of the painting.
I finished this session feeling satisfied with the progress made. Deer is revealing herself slowly, cautiously – different than Wolf with her confidence and desire to impart knowledge. With Deer, the message is about containing nervous energy, holding the heart still long enough to let the mind assess the situation. And then taking appropriate action.
The Heart of Deer
I wondered last night when I went down to my studio what inspiration I would find after over a week of not painting. So I went through my usual rituals: I put on my painting shirt, opened up the container of my “secret blend” painting medium, scraped away old, dried paint from my palette and added light cadmium red, cadmium orange, cadmium yellow, cadmium green, sap green, ultramarine blue, radiant blue, brown-pink, quinacridone violet, brown-pink and titanium white. Before my week of not painting, I had done the preliminary sketch for Deer on the 10x10 canvas using quinacridone violet. I kept my mind open to the possibility that I would not find inspiration in Deer, but as soon as I saw the drawing I could hardly get my palette set up fast enough! The paint seemed to flow off the brush with a mind of its own; my job was to let it be.
When I paint, I usually listen to music: my current favorite is Loreena McKennitt’s “An Ancient Muse.” But some nights, and last night was one of them, I’m treated to live music. My husband’s band, Trash Kings of the South, was practicing, and much of what they play could be considered “head” music, in that it is improvisational and full of interesting space. Perfect music to paint to! Listening to music seems to click off my fussy, analytical mind and let the intuitive side play.
In an earlier journal entry, I think I wrote about how important it is for me to get the eye of the animal correct, so that it has a personality on which I can focus. Sometimes I hear words in my head as I paint. These words also help me to focus on the essence of the painting, and reveal something about the nature of the Animal. Sometimes the words become the title. In this series I’ve been painting the words on the canvas.
“The heart of Deer shows its true colors.” As I was painting, I thought about the nature of Deer, and how that corresponds to people born between May 21 and June 20. Think of Deer as she moves quietly through the forest, ever alert for the subtlest of movements, the slightest of sounds that will warn her of impending danger, and yet her own flightiness often leads her straight into the sights of the Hunter. One who has Deer as her Birth Totem must learn to calm her restless nature and quiet her frantically beating heart which sometimes causes her to get into the very situation her nature wants to avoid. By first accepting herself, embracing her “true colors,” she can then spread this acceptance and begin the manifestation of an Integrated Universe.
I was almost able to finish this painting last night – and maybe I did. I’ll have to look again tonight with fresh eyes. I’ll let you know…
A Deer study
For the past week, I have not been in my studio to paint. Nor have I written in my Art Journal. A weeklong visit with my youngest daughter and my two-month old grandson kept me happily preoccupied. But that is not to say I haven’t been thinking of painting; I’ve snuck into my studio a few times and looked at the Wolf painting, which waits patiently for me to be ready. I don’t feel ready though. The work I need to do with Wolf requires limber creative muscles! So tonight, my first night back to brushes and paints, palette and canvas, I’ll start a new painting and wait until Wolf howls with clarity.
My plan is to continue with my Birth Totem paintings. Deer has been wandering through my dreams and emerging from the shadows of my peripheral vision. Perhaps Deer will materialize tonight on my canvas. As I write this, I have to chuckle a little, having just read Keith Bond’s latest article in Fine Art Views about being so focused on what you think you are inspired to paint that you miss the opportunity to paint what truly inspires you. So I’ll make a promise to myself to not have tunnel vision, and to let myself be open to possibilities.
I’ll let you know how it goes!
Abundance, prosperity, standing one’s ground and protection of resources are just part of what Buffalo represents on an energy level. In Ted Andrews book Animal Speak he says in reference to Buffalo that “The Lord helps those who help themselves” and that the Lakota Sioux believed that right action combined with right prayer resulted in the manifestation of all that is wanted or needed. How many times has anyone heard that someone wants something, be it money, a new relationship, a new job, etc. and yet the person wants someone else to do it all for them! When Buffalo appears to us, it is at this time that we ourselves need to take action on our own behalf and then and only then can we provide a channel for the manifestation to flow through to us from the Universe.
“The Heart of Raven” is the first of a series of twelve paintings depicting the twelve birth totems. They will be posted on my website and displayed at the Collective until the series is complete. When all twelve are finished, they’ll be for sale as a complete set of 12-10x10 originals. I may also have limited edition hand embellished canvas giclées available for individual purchase if there is interest.
The birth totem embodies the innate characteristics of the dominant forces operating in nature at the time of your birth. The animal aspect of the totem acts as a guide or teacher. Its a good idea keep something representing your birth totem animal in your home so that you can meditate on its characteristics and so learn how those same characteristics help shape the person you are meant to be.
This series came about because I was called to create it when meditating on my birth totem guide, Raven. When I started painting “The Heart of Raven” I had no idea I would end up writing words on the canvas. As I painted, the words came to me as clearly as if Raven herself were speaking directly to me. As I continue the series, I will try to let the animal speak both through my painting and the words that are written.
These are the totem animals that will be in the series. Look for your birth totem painting soon!
21 March - 19 April - Falcon - Awaken.
20 April - 20 May - Beaver - Grow.
21 May - 20 June - Deer - Flower.
21 June - 21 July - Woodpecker - Rhythm.
22 July - 21 August Salmon - Ripen.
22 August - 21 September - Brown Bear - Harvest.
22 September - 22 October – Crow/Raven - Create.
23 October - 22 November - Snake - Transition.
23 November - 21 December - Owl - Silence.
22 December - 19 January - Goose - Renew.
20 January - 18 Febuary Otter - Cleanse.
19 Febuary - 20 March - Wolf - Evolve.
I've been asked how people acquire their birth totem. My simplistic answer follows. I am not, and don't claim to be, an expert in totem animals, rather, I am a student. Having said that, here is my understanding. Much like the astrological signs, which most people think originated with the Greeks (but I've read that the study of astrology actually began in Egypt around 4000 BC) your birth totem is associated with your time of birth, and it roughly coincides with your astrological sign.
Most Native American cultures have some form belief in totem animals - calling them by different names, but the concept is the same. According to a workshop I took a while back, you are born with a certain animal as a totem - this animal has attributes that mirror your general way of approaching things. By studying the animal, you can learn things about yourself and how you can learn to adapt your "style of being" (for lack of a better way to phrase that!) to live a healthier, happier, more creative, more satisfying life.
For instance, my birth totem animal is the crow or raven. Even before I was aware of totem animals, I had an affinity for birds in the crow family. When I was a young girl playing in the woods behind my family home, it was the crows and ravens who I listened to and tried to emulate with "caw! caw!" I have always been attracted to images of ravens - photographs, paintings, woodcuts. I even purchased a raven fetish at a gallery in Wyoming. All before I knew. In learning about the raven, I learn something about myself. According to one interpretation, Raven people are sociable, talkative folks, full of nervous energy and fluctuating moods. They are usually very
flexible and adapt well to new environments and circumstances.
According to many schools of thought, you actually have at least seven totem animals at work in your life, and it may take a lifetime for them to reveal themselves to you. A great resouirce for learning more about Totem, or Spirit Animals, is the book by Ted Anrews called "Animal Speak."
The buffalo reminds us to give thanks for what we have, to respect all life forms and to honor the integrity of our own divine essence. It is a symbol of equality, sacrifice and service and can show us how to live in a state of understanding, acceptance and joy. It helps us release our self pity and awakens abundance within our consciousness. Buffalo is a powerful medicine to have and serves as a stepping stone towards healing our imperfections and reconnecting with mother earth and father sky.
What is your face? Your identity...at least the one you show to the world. A mask, covering the tender spirit within. When your mask is stolen, what is left? The spirit that is you. The spirit that has always been and will always be.
Thursday dawned misty and cool , with a wind out of the east, announced melodically by the chimes on my deck.. A weird vibe in the air; somehow unsettling. By late morning, storm clouds hung low, gray and menacing over much of the area. By noon, the first reports of tornadoes hit the airwaves. By all accounts a most unusual occurance for these parts - we in the Fort Collins area are usually protected from tornadoes by our close proximity to the Rocky Mountains. Our prevailing northwesterly winds are usually too far aloft over our town - the storms that spawn tornadoes grow and explode to our east, over the plains. But on Thursday the winds came from the southeast, and like the Wizard of Oz's Wicked Witch of the East, brought with it a storm that gave birth to several tornadoes - one that was reported to be nearly a mile wide, packing 168 mph winds and several smaller but destructive funnels. One came within 800 feet of my home, destroying farm buildings and the roof of the fire station as it blew blindly to the west. Compared to the disasters in Burma and China, our storm was just a tiny blip on the radar screen. And yet, there is something about the power of Mother Nature, with her random fury and equally random mercy that reminds me that we, as humans, are not as in control of things as we like to believe.
According to some Native American traditions, May’s Moon is the Corn Planting moon. It's meditation is Acceptance. Why waste time stressing over things you cannot change? In a year, will what’s upsetting you now still matter? Or will it have resolved itself? I know myself that I waste a lot of energy stressing over things that will work themselves out on their own. I worry about my children, things going on in the world, money – the list goes on and on. But if I think back on what I was worried about last year, or even last month, I can see that what I stressed over either happened or it didn’t. My worrying made no impact: everything has worked itself out in its own way. Maybe not the way I had wanted, but in many cases better than I could have imagined. It is hard for me to accept that most things are out of my control. The only things I can control are my actions and my reactions.
Driving on a country road on a Sunday, I noticed a small flock of sparrows in the road ahead of me, picking up seeds that had dropped from the trees lining the road. As I got closer, the birds flew up into the air. All, except one, who needed to grab one last tasty morsel. I swerved to miss her, but she flew right up under my car. A quick check in the rear view mirror confirmed I had hit her. Now I know most people would feel bad, but drive on. But something made me turn my car around and go check the tiny creature who certainly was lying dead in the road.
As I drove up, I could see her tiny body, seemingly lifeless on the road. As I approached her, I noticed one small wing spread out as if in flight, the other folded back, her head tilted at a terrible angle. As I picked her up, I was amazed to feel the beating of her heart in my cupped hand. Her eyes were closed, her body limp. And yet her heart beat furiously. So I took her back to my car, expecting to hold her until she died.
But after a few minutes, a wonderful thing happened. Her eyes opened, and she looked up at me with some bewilderment, turning her head and trying to open her wings in the cocoon of my hand. For a brief moment our eyes locked, and there was some sort of visceral communication between us. I got out of my car and opened my hand and she flew up into the trees, rejoining her flock.
The experience filled me with overwhelming joy and I am thankful that I had listened to the little voice in my head, that child-like voice that begged me to turn around and check on the welfare of a tiny sparrow. The voice that didn’t care that I was running late, that didn’t believe that the bird was dead, that understood that saving the life of one small sparrow was the most important thing I would do that day. The voice that gave me the gift of holding a beautiful little bird in my hand until it was strong enough to fly, then opening my hand a watching it fly, on wings that were steady and sure.
It made we wonder how many times I’ve quieted my inner child. The one who wants to wander through fields, studying the insects and birds, the rabbits and the foxes. The child who wants to exist in a less structured world; to slow down the pace, take the time to really see, really hear, really live. I think I quiet that child all too often, and therefore miss what is really important. I am too often “going” to something, and too infrequently “being.”
In painting, that translates to worrying about the outcome; painting for "a show" or painting what I think people want, instead of painting what my heart tells me to paint. The paintings I am exhibiting in the show, "The Muse Unleashed" which opens this Friday, June 1st at Timeless Creations are paintings from the heart. Painted in the here and now.
Someone asked me recently about my new paintings, whether I felt they were a departure from my previous works. I wouldn't call it a departure, more a more heightened state of awareness of the path I'm on. In my current series on The Horse, I seek to move beyond the obvious, the flesh and bone, and explore the spiritual nature of the relationship between human and horse, a relationship that has been the subject of artists, writers and storytellers the world over.