Who Are You?

A journal page is meant for exploration.  Yes, you can explore the existential questions in your journal.  It is a place to explore techniques as well as for self-discovery.
I wonder, at times, about the influence of place on person.
Having grown up a few blocks from the ocean in San Francisco,
how did that form me?  I lived there, beside the sea, for forty-nine years before moving to the mountains.  Who was I then “living beside the ocean?”

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Moving to the
mountains, what in me has been influenced and changed by this place?

This journal page was inspired by a class taught by Ivy Newport, Sacred Landscapes.

The consideration of the placement of a horizon line is an interesting aspect of a painting.  A decision is made where to place the figure in relation to that line.  Dividing the page into three sections, the horizon line is in the top third on this page.

The figure is placed in the forefront of the study…she could have been standing, reclining.  I chose sitting.

Figure drawing is a whole other form of artistic expression.  I took one other class in sketching figures.  We also practiced drawing figures in relation to one another and intimated body language between the two figures.  In drawing and painting, there are lifetimes of worlds to be explored.

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Perhaps a larger and more expanded question is “Who am I during this pivotal time in history?”  or “Who am I in the light of a global pandemic?”  It is astonishing, really, to have such a cataclysmic, unifying event across the planet.  It’s hard to put the proverbial head in the sand at such a time.  It feels to me like we are being called to take a stand on behalf of our earth and the unsustainable ways that we’ve been living up to now.  What are your thoughts?

 

Female Buddha

buddha
Splashes of acrylic inks on a 140# weight watercolor sheet of paper.  Purposeful play to see how the ink flows when sprayed with water.  What images emerge from this play?

She emerged.  A feminine buddha angel in prayer.  She stayed like this, filed away in a pile of other such paintings for a few years.  Then, one day, the time had come.  I chose her from the pile and gave her a face.  I added a complementary background color.  Studying the color wheel, learning how to use and apply it to a work in progress is yet another learning experience.  Primary colors, then secondary colors, finally tertiary colors.  Complementary colors, analogous, monochromatic, triads, tetrads, etc.  Then, there are hues, values, tints, tones and shades.  I had no idea!  So much to learn.

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Facial expression is another practiced technique.  Sometimes, the angle of the eyebrows can create an expression of alarm, surprise or worry.  The intensity of the eyes, the poise of the mouth–there are many other tools that help to give expression to a face .  I don’t know enough about this to claim expertise.  I would say that the feeling behind this piece fits with the energy of the painting.  A contemplative face showing some concern.  Before the facial features were emphasized, there was a solemnity and sense of deep quiet.

Then, you could read this differently than I do.

 

 

Everyone Needs an Ally

angel

This painting was prompted by a class in Paint Your Heart and Soul. Not initially knowing what a painting wants to express, I allow the images to show their presence.
I added the wolf and turned the figure into an angel.

What was new to me in this class was learning how to paint a lacy dress.  I couldn’t imagine how an artist could imply lace fabric.  I’m not 100% pleased and I appreciated acquiring a new art tool.  Another painting challenge for the artist is PAINTING HANDS!  I remember the painstaking effort to paint this one arm and hand.  I was pretty pleased at the time and by no means have I come close to mastering hands.  Sometimes an artist, not wanting to take the time and effort it requires to paint a hand let’s it disappear off the page, in a pocket, or hidden behind a skirt or another shielding object–a bouquet of flowers, a table or anything that fits with the painting.

This angel has an ally.  He is an ethereal wolf…part of the night, yet real to her as she is real to him.

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In 2018, I encountered a gray wolf as I was driving down the mountain from Bunny Flat.  I had visited a new friend who was camping there.  We spent a sweet time together getting to know each other.  The vista was smudged by smoke from surrounding fires.  At this higher elevation, the air was breathable.  At one point she offered to lead me through a qigong set.  I agreed.  For the next twenty minutes, we moved our bodies in harmony with the nature around us.  A magical time.

I left her well before the sun set.  As I was rounding a curve in the road, I spied a large animal not very far ahead.  He seemed to be in no great hurry.  I slowed the car.  As happens, my brain tried to comprehend what this creature was.  Bear, no.  Dog, no.  What’s that in his mouth?  Finally, as I drew closer, my mind settled on a gray wolf with another rather large animal in his mouth!  He slipped down the side of a slight slope.  I pulled my car into the space beside the road.  I got out of the car, no fear only wonder.  I watched as he slowly meandered off into the shrubbery and trees.

The sense of wonder I felt stayed with me for a long time.  A visitation from a rare animal has meaning for me.  In the Native American Tradition, wolf is a teacher.  From Jamie Sams book, Medicine Cards:  “Wolf is the pathfinder, the forerunner of new ideas who returns to the clan to teach and share medicine.”

When I returned home, I googled the Gray Wolf.  I remembered reading that the Gray Wolf had crossed the border into northern California a couple of years before.  They were being tracked and protected by a team of rangers.  Their exact whereabouts were kept a secret so as to avoid hunters.  Then the team lost track of the sly wolves.   How fortunate I was to see one of these amazing beings that memorable day.

The Walkaway

In the face of Covid 19, the United Nations Secretary-General, in one of his speeches,  declared that war is obsolete!  In these times of the pandemic, war seems to be a non-sequitur.  A virus is now “the enemy”.  Can we stop the nonsense and focus on what’s at hand, like the virus, global warming, overpopulation…and start addressing the real issues of a planet at risk?  Aren’t people experiencing enough trauma without having to contend with war?  We know which people are the first to be attacked during warfare–women and children.  Time for a serious time out!

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This painting and poem were first published on this blog in November of 2017.  This painting originated from a poem I wrote several years before.   He is walking away preparing to board a naval ship, shipping out to Vietnam.  Is he going to return?  If he does return, how is war going to change him…hence the refrain “Did anyone ever come back from Vietnam, I wondered.”

When I was eighteen years old, a girlfriend and I volunteered at the USO club on Market Street in San Francisco.  This was in 1967-1968, during the Vietnam War.  One night a week, we showed up to dance with the sailors and soldiers.  To sit and talk or play games like chess or checkers.  It was an intense time as these young men were either preparing to ship out overseas or had just returned from a stint overseas.  The poem tells the story of one young man who took a liking to me.

The poem:

Circulation
by Christine O’Brien

Don’t dance with just one boy,
make the rounds–
circulate.
Play chess and checkers
card games
no dating them outside of here.

The USO–
we’re here to
provide a home
away from home.
You are the girl next door
…a reputation to uphold
no loose behavior.

His name was Mickey
–from Mississippi.
He wanted a girl
more than anything.
He was being sent off to Vietnam.

Did anyone ever come back from
Vietnam
I wondered?

He claimed me;
threatened all the other soldiers
to stay away.
But I’m supposed to circulate,
I said.
He picked me up after work,
treated me to a soda,
rode home with me on the bus,
met my family,
even loaned my dad a book.
He was scheduled to ship out
in two weeks.

Did anyone ever come back from
Vietnam
I wondered?

His friend drove him to my house.
We kissed in the back seat of the car.
Hard kisses
from him who wanted
to know a kiss
before lips grew cold.
My lips were uncertain
but compliant.
Suddenly I pulled away,
fearful
withdrew into my house
tossing him a good night.

Did anyone ever come back from
Vietnam
I wondered?

He had been so cool
on the dance floor
smooth, sexy dancer.
In his dress blues
bell bottoms
swishing the slippery floor.
I could never attract
a guy like that
I thought.

He wanted to marry me NOW!
The urgency of youth
the uncertainty of undeclared war
leading one to declare love.
I cried all the way home on the bus.
He comforted me
not knowing that I was trying to
break up with him.
He threatened suicide
wasn’t going to Vietnam
suicide enough?

I wondered,
did anyone ever come back
from Vietnam?

the walkaway.

 

 

The Koala

koala61

What inspires you to paint an animal?  Especially one who isn’t native to your place on the planet?  Where does that inspiration come from?

Regarding this painting, the image of the Koala arose from creating a background first.  This painting was definitely intuitive.  I believe that when we are tuned in, things show themselves to us or want to be seen by us.  That is what I would say about this Koala Bear.  He literally showed himself to me, arising from the background and wanting to be seen and painted.

As an artist, it is my responsibility to respond to what is asked of me.  Yes, in this case, to paint a Koala Bear.  In one sense then, this little koala bear image floating out in the larger world beyond my art studio becomes an ambassador for all Koala Bears.  Whoever happens upon this painting is reminded that we share the planet with many other amazing creatures.

If I were to paint this again, with what I’ve learned since, I’d define the image of the Koala Bear by employing light and dark values.  This would give emphasis where it is needed.  I’d also probably paint over some of the background.

Regardless, I like imagining him in his Australian forest, likely in a Gum Tree.  As seems to be the case with many of our planet’s precious animals, the Koala Bear is considered to be vulnerable to extinction.  This is supposed to be one step above endangered.  Yikes!  The threats to their survival comes from habitat destruction, bushfires, dog attacks and accidents on the road.

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I wonder how many animals have to go extinct in our lifetime before we change our ways of harvesting and using resources.  When do we begin to value, through our actions, all of our relations and the earth herself?

Horse

This horse painting appears to be total whimsy.  However, it appeared at a time when I felt the wind had been knocked out of me, out of many of us.  It was the occasion of the 2016 presidential election in the United States.  The helplessness and shock that I felt with the election of someone whose values were so opposite to my own, to so many of us.

The one word on this mixed media piece is WISDOM.  I felt that this was what was needed more than anything.  This seemed to be lacking in the newly elected administration.  I painted and collaged this white whimsical horse as a way to cope with what was ahead.  As I prayed for a leader who loves the earth, mankind and all of our relations.

Horse1

In one sense, this could be seen as a political cartoon or a bit of satire.  After the election of 2016, things were (and continue to be) extremely serious.

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Picking up a brush, pencil, paints, clay, charcoal, pastels, watercolors–any creative tool can help you to cope with what is challenging.  It can give you a field of expression when you feel powerless or without a voice.

I have several art journals.  They are a private expression of things that seem too large to manage; the word could be unwieldy.  Words and images blend on these pages to express what I feel and have trouble sharing with others.  Or understanding myself.

What about you?  Do you have a journal for your writing and art?  Or several?  Use them.

The Hawk

This painting went through many transformations, layers, additions, subtractions.  An artist friend liked the original design and put my hawk painting on earrings…on guitar picks.  Quite creative.  hawkearrings

In the Native American tradition, as I understand it, because Hawk flies high above everything below, he has a larger perspective.  I can get so caught in my small story that I lose sight of what’s beyond and larger than this small mind and the concerns of the moment.

When I’m out hiking on a mountain trail and I see the hawk gliding overhead, I am reminded to step back for a more expansive view of what I’m calling my reality.  There is relief in that.

Hawk.1

I don’t remember exactly why I chose to paint the hawk.  Perhaps there was a real need to see things from a different perspective.

I appreciated the development of this painting over time.  I continually tried to perfect the hawk.  And to emphasize him emanating from the background.  It’s one of my favorite paintings.  The frame of the canvas became warped so that it doesn’t sit flat on the wall.  Yet, I have it where I see it daily.  It has a meaning to me that I can’t put into words.

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Today, in a time when we can get very caught up in our small frame of life, when it’s hard to see beyond the moment or to feel safe, is there some perspective you can take if you look over the whole of your life so far?  Imagine yourself hovering over the landscape of your life…can you see a pattern, an abiding theme?  Is there something that is apparent that weaves this life of yours together?  Can it support you in some way today?

Grouse

Why Grouse?  This bird signifies the Sacred Spiral Dance in the Native American Tradition.  According to author, Jamie Sams in her book, Medicine Cards:

“Many spiritual disciplines ask that you cease all external movement in order to recognize the inner life.  Grouse medicine, however, is an invitation to the dance.  Grouse celebrates the Divine Source through its sacred spiral dance…you can spend a lifetime learning…how to harmonize your dance with…” the cycles of the earth.

Jamie Sams recommends that you “Analyze the way you move through your world…In the final analysis, is your movement compatible with your greatest desires and goals?”

It is interesting to consider these things in this time of slowing down and sheltering in place.  How do I conduct my dance when I’m at home, alone?  Or in relation to my
family or housemates?  Or out in nature?  Or when social distancing with a friend on a trail?  Or when on a Zoom Call?  Or when in conversation over the telephone?  This forced slowing down is an opportunity for me, for you to observe how we move in the world in the midst of a pandemic.  And, how are we going to choose to move in the world when the virus has run its course?  Is it going to be different?  Reverential perhaps?

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What did this painting mean to me?  At the time I painted it?  Of course, it’s whimsical.  I typically use an actual image, or several images, of who or what I’m painting to ground it in some recognizable reality.  Then, it becomes fanciful.  I call this Grouse Takes a Walk.  Doesn’t he look purposeful.  And even like he himself is a celebration of being.

grouse1

Thomas Berry talks about The Great Story.  He talks about life celebrating itself.  The universe loving expressiveness through all of its variety of manifestations.  That’s what I feel when I look at this grouse!  CELEBRATION.

The question for me is how am I harmonizing with a celebratory universe?  Or, am I adding to the devastation of our earth home within the universe?  I feel that these are the questions that are before us in this time of pandemic.  What am I going to do differently to preserve our earth home for future generations?  I feel that this is our job at this time, to give this some serious thought.

“…the universe, by definition, is a single gorgeous celebratory event.”

THOMAS BERRY,

from “Returning to Our Native Place,” in The Dream of the Earth p. 5

Gazing

This painting feels like something we’re getting accustomed to as we shelter at home.  It’s such a challenging time for many of us, each for our own reasons.

I call it Gazing…living in the mountains when the snow is heavy on the road and there really is no place you can go, you look out from the inside.  The snowplow hasn’t come and you can’t get your car out of the garage.  Time fades away…what day is it, what time of day?  Where was I supposed to be?  This might be comparable to some of the feelings that you’re having now.

The painting is mixed media.  It began as a copycat painting following the style of the Japanese artist, Yoshiro Tachibana.  I love his art!

Over time, this painting morphed into something that made it more my own.  An online artist/teacher invited us to look at other contemporary artists and to choose one of their paintings to inspire our own art.  It was fun for me to emulate his style…and challenging.  I had difficulty getting the window frame looking correct.  And her hands, and elbow…the candle sitting on the ledge.  Afterwards, I set the piece aside as it felt like it didn’t belong to me.  A year later, I revisited the painting and made it mine with collage and whimsy.

 

Gazing.

As a beginning painter, studying the art of other artists, copying is a way of learning about colors that work together, the placement of objects and other creative design details.  Through initial imitation, you can then branch off into your own style.

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Find a contemporary artist whose art you like.  Choose a piece and copy it to the best of your ability.  Spend time with it.  Don’t rush it.  Walk away, return, walk away.  Once you feel satisfied (not looking for perfection here), stylize it to make it more your own.

Always, always give credit to the original artist.  

Duck Whimsy

I love this painting even today.  It touches me in a way that I don’t expect.  The original image was in a nature magazine.  I portray it in my own whimsical style.  The black and white of the duck, the furry duckling going for a ride, the shadow on the water and the background of total colorful whimsy–I find them entrancing…and fun.

When you enter into a painting, when you are so engaged that everything else in your life and the world falls away, if only for a few moments, you are in the creative vein.  What a special timeless place to dwell.  What a gift.  This is something artists and writers share and understand deeply.  Everyone has the ability to enter, but not everyone does.  It saddens me to hear someone say that they don’t have a creative bone in their body.  I know otherwise.  I truly do.  Many of us over the course of our lives stand on the precipice of our own creative vein.  But we don’t take the leap.  Why not?  “I’m not an artist,” is the refrain.  Or, “I’m not good at that.”  I disagree.

duckfour (1)

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If you dare to take my dare…find a magazine with images.  Choose one that you like.  Start with something easy.  Trace over the image a few times.  Get a sense of what it feels like to trace this particular image.  Then, draw the image on a piece of paper, in a notebook, whatever you have.  Draw it today, draw it tomorrow, draw it everyday for one or two weeks.  Notice the lines in the image.  See if you can spot shapes.  Notice the lines and shapes in relation to one another.  Let your hand practice drawing what you see.  For it is in showing up and practicing that we get good at something.  Don’t strive for perfection.  Let it be your perspective, the way that only you see it, that guides your hand.

Engage with it and notice where you go.

Stay safe and healthy.