Drawing Hands

dandelion

Drawing and painting hands can be one of the banes of an artist.  Urgh, she says, as she works intently to make a hand that looks like a hand.  Even drawing this very basic hand was challenging.  The fingers, in relation to one another, folded over the palm.  The palm, the wrist, the forearm.  Not so easy as it might appear in this photo.

I find it interesting that an artist, who draws portraits or any aspect of the human figure, does a study of a particular feature if she wants to improve her craft.  She could spend years, literally, and not have mastered the hand, the eye, the ear!  An artist can decide to render certain features of the face or aspects of the body in an abstract way.  And that’s acceptable too if it fits with the mood of a piece.

Or hands can disappear beneath a fold of fabric, into a pocket, overhead into the ethers or off the edge of the substrate, imagined.  If need be, you can resort to collaging them in if you can make it work.

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Really, though, an artist wants to gain some mastery of hands and that comes with making studies, giving them attention.  At this time, that’s not what I want to give my attention to.

At any given time, we are called, as artists, to sort of follow our bliss or in these precarious times, to sense what the need is.  Artists, poets, writers, musicians have a calling and that seems to be to tend to the times in which they live.  Sometimes, they hold the conscience and the consciousness for their particular generation(s).  In fact, we all do…but artists have a way of tapping into that which begs to be seen and heard.

 

Becoming a Painting

Another painting of a landscape prompted by Sherry Lynch Woodward.

There isn’t much to say.  Lay down colors.  Then add other colors, shapes, textures in a randomly “planned” way.  Then hone in a little.  Add horizon lines, the building, the island, the sky, water, boats, some farther away, some nearby.  That’s what I seem to remember when crafting this painting early last year.

It’s isn’t nearly “perfect”.  In fact, it’s practice.  Reminder to self:  practice is important…it’s how we get better at something.  Let there be plenty of practice as you learn something new.  No judgment.  Noticing what works, what doesn’t work, following your inclinations.  Stepping away from the painting to get an overview.  I find when working on a landscape that when I’m too close, I can’t see how things are working together.  Stepping back, ah, yes, now I see.

If I were to address this painting today, I’d make some changes.

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When I wrote the word, changes, I thought of “ch…ch…changes” a song by David Bowie.  I’ve always liked the melody but missed most of the lyrics.  Living in this time of flux and change, I honestly find that there is less to rely upon–the things that we once thought were stable are less so.  Today, I give myself permission to be flaky.

Remind me, one day, to tell you the story of going to see David Bowie with my sister–his Serious Moonlight Tour at the Oakland Coliseum.

A Painting Odyssey

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Embarking upon a journey is one way to look at creating a painting.  The artist begins with inspiration!  Inspiration can lead to action or non-action.  Preferably, it’s action.

When I take a class, I am provided with the inspiration and instruction.  And, of course, at some point, my own inner guidance takes over.

This abstract is prompted by fine artist, Sherry Lynch Woodward’s expert and fun lesson.  It is the beginnings of a landscape painting.

Sherry makes brilliant use of color and she enjoys mark-making and using tools that add texture and interest to a piece.

When I look at this abstract today, I can imagine going in many different directions with it.  I see a shoreline, an ocean, or a lake, maybe a building.  What do you see?

I also decided not to go any further with this piece…the journey concluded early because I liked it as is…the inference of images gives me a pleasing feeling.  I like the way the colors work together.  I don’t need to define anything further.

I don’t paint many abstract paintings.  When I first started painting in 2014, I searched for recognizable images in a mishmash of colors and marks on a canvas, I wanted to define an image…and quickly.  Today, I’m beginning to feel a bit differently about that.

I think that abstract accesses a different part of the brain.  The part that can’t quite see what the future is going to be.  And with that, there is a way of meeting what is to come with curiosity, acceptance and yes, grace.  Abstract, the unknown, have a unique appeal for me at this time.

The Backstory

The elephant shows up in my art more and more frequently.  I’ve posted this mixed media painting from 2018 a few times.  I don’t think that I mentioned the entire backstory for this piece.

I cut my little purple elephant from a photocopy of an earlier painting.  Whimsical, right?  But the actual photo of an elephant that I used as a model was an orphan in Dame Daphne Sheldrick’s Wildlife Refuge for traumatized baby elephants.  Many of them were orphaned due to poachers taking down their mothers and harvesting the ivory tusks for profit.  A very sad story that continues to this day!

I could see the trauma in the eyes of the little elephant.  A glazed, dazed look of dread.  For he had witnessed the violent death of his mother.  And then, he was left to wander in this confused and fearful state until he was rescued by a helicopter team and brought to the sanctuary.  Once there, it took these tender experts time to help him overcome the initial effects of the trauma.  Gradually, he was integrated in with a group of older elephants to help him with further recovery…to the degree that he could recover.

Dame Daphne Sheldrick and her husband, David, started the shelter for orphaned animals, especially elephants, many years ago.  He passed away in 1977 and Dame Daphne  continued the trust in his name.  She died in 2018.  I wondered if the work that she and her husband had so passionately lived was being carried on.  I am relieved to see that their daughter, Angela, who worked alongside her mother for twenty years, continues this heroic work with the help of her husband, their children and the Sheldrick Wildlife Trust team.  This is really a huge task as the poaching continues.  It occurs to me (and to others) that if there wasn’t a market for ivory, then the elephants might have a chance.  However, there is a market.  How does one address such greed?  I read recently that if someone is bragging to you about their ivory collection or even a trinket that they have…show them a few photos of whose life was taken to add ivory to their collection.  In other words, shame them.

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There are 415,000 elephants remaining in Africa.  Recently 350 elephants died in Botswana.  Cause unknown.  So far, these deaths have not been connected to poaching–no tusks were removed.  Elephants are deeply feeling animals.  Some have said that they are mourning the loss of lives in their community.  I can believe this to be true.

 

The Need for Change

“The need for change
bulldozed a road down
the center of my mind. ”
Maya Angelou

This quote from Maya Angelou is likely something we can relate to at different times in our lives.  I know that it has been true for me over the course of my life.

Personally, I recognize the too tight box I’m living in.  Or the habit that persists that really wants to be let go of.  Sometimes it’s a closet of clothes that I no longer wear.  Other times, it’s a deep desire for something different than the same old, same old.  Shifting a perspective can be, as one of my sister’s said, like bending steel.

Whatever it is, how do I allow change in?  How do you invite or choose necessary change?

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At this time, change is thrust upon us externally.  Any external change is going to cause whatever complacency we might have to be disrupted.  We have become aware of that in these uncertain days.  What is within that hasn’t really been working is called to the forefront and we have to DEAL WITH IT.  Whatever it is.

I’m not sure when Maya Angelou said the above quote…and what was exactly going on in her life.  Years ago, I read one of her biographies, I Know Why the Caged Bird Sings.  I remember it being about her early years, childhood and young womanhood.  It entailed her reaction to a childhood where she experienced some of the cruelties of life.  A period where she didn’t speak for five years after a horrific event occurred. She was pregnant at 17 with her one and only child, a son.  She lead a chaotic life for awhile–was a prostitute, owned a brothel, ran wild.  At some point, she pursued higher education and eventually became a scholar, a professor, writer and poet and rubbed elbows with some of the amazing people of our times including Nelson Mandela.

If you don’t know Maya Angelou, if you don’t know of the rich tapestry of her life, I encourage you to read one of her several chronological autobiographies.  And, you would discover how she made pivotal choices that changed the course of her life.  I also encourage you to read some of her poetry which is typically about a woman’s self-discovery and identity.  Her poetry is something that I connect with–it reaches beyond any differences of race, creed or color.

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All of that to ask “What in your life needs to be changed?”  When faced with this question, I sometimes begin by clearing some clutter, cleaning out a drawer or a closet, journaling about a mindset, writing a poem that releases something old (or several) and writing poetry that invites in something new.  Painting can also foster the change you want to make in the outer world.  There are other supports for the changes you want to make.  A circle of friends, sharing and talking about something new that you and they want to bring about helps.  Prayers for guidance helps.  Consider the supports and resources that are available as you choose to change something.  You’re not alone, truly.

Always, be gentle with yourself during the process.  It’s often about recognition.  And then we go from there.

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I had to post this poem written and read by Maya Angelou because all I see is a woman of power.  She was forty years old when she spoke this poem.  Her voice, wow!  Her presence, wow!  The way that she occupies the poem as she recites it, wow!

Paint Whimsy

When a painting asserts itself, there is no fighting with it.  Let it come forward.  As far-fetched or unrealistic, other-worldly or alien as it might be…let it come forward.  Are those antennas on top of her head?  Sobeit then.  She gets to have antennas.  The subconscious gets to have her field day.  The artist obeys.

That’s what I’m feeling when I look at this painting today.  I can’t remember my exact state of being when she presented herself.  Or what was going on in my life at the time.  Her expression captivates me today.  I think it’s because she has both whimsy and looks as if what she sees is hopeful.

The caption could read “Humankind, despite their ignorance, greed and selfish ways, is going to be saved…from themselves”  Perhaps because they have enough redeeming qualities or something greater has had compassion for them.

artasprocess.2018

Then again, she could be a fairy roaming through the meadows.  What does she spy?  Some new delight!

Whoever she is, whatever part of my subconscious she arose from, I’m sure there is more.  Yours too!  What’s hiding in there?  In you?

The thing about whimsical art is that in creating it, there is freedom for the artist.  She/he doesn’t have to measure up to any other standards of fine art.  The artist gets to be surprised as a painting evolves.  She is open to whoever shows up on the canvas.  And whatever direction it wants to go.  She experiments–for that is what play is.  It is serious business, this type of play.

So don’t delay, get down to the business of play!  What might you discover?

VOTE!

This painting was a passionate plea for women to vote in the 2016 election.  I had been painting for nearly two years.  I’m thinking of revising this piece with what I’ve learned since then.  Regardless, the message is the same.  The woman in the lower right hand corner represents the women who were part of the women’s suffrage movement in the early 1900’s in this country.  We are a melting pot of many nationalities.  Women united in the vote are a powerful force for change.

 

vote

Here we are coming up on another election this year.  How are we going to vote?  Are we going to consciously exercise this hard won right?  The American film, Iron Jawed Angels was released in 2004.  I don’t remember it receiving a lot of press.  When I first viewed it about five years ago, I wondered why I hadn’t heard of Alice Paul when I was in school.

 

This is a powerful film about our own suffragettes and the fight that they fought for us, the future generations.

Reminder to self:  Don’t waste your vote.

Backgrounds

angel2.

Backgrounds…creating one can be a boon or a bane to an artist.  Do you create the background first and let the image arise from that?  Or do you begin by painting your subject first and then try to figure out a background to support and enhance the central image?  This painting was all about designing a background first.  As taught by a wonderful artist, Jenny Grant.  PAINT BIG is her way of painting on a large cotton canvas (from a roll) that you later cut into portions and then paint the canvases individually.  You extract a central image from each canvas and embellish it.  Interesting process.  Really!

Creating the background first can be a fun and freeing exercise.  Almost anything goes…except perhaps that you try to use colors that are complementary to one another… or not.  Collage is part of the process as is stamping, mark-making, stenciling, writing, etc.  Once the background is to your liking, you might get an impression of an image that wants to come forward or you might decide to impose an image on the painting.  You don’t typically start off with a subject in mind.  That central figure or image emerges once the background is complete.  This is very much an intuitive process.

Then, there are those who are fearless when it comes to painting a background.  They start with the blank canvas, paint the central image, portrait, figure, whatever it may be. Afterwards, they develop the background around it…again, it could be anything, a complementary or contrasting color, symbols, stenciling, stamping, mark-making, abstractions, etc.

Do I have a preference?  For me, it sometimes depends on what I want to convey.  Creating a background first, in a sense, is easier for me.  The blank canvas is intimidating to many.  And then, sometimes I want the challenge of diving right in to that white of white that is a blank canvas, taking the dare to start there.

Try both and see what your preference is.

As far as this particular painting goes, I was in my painting angels phase.  And they don’t always have to wear white draping garments.  And their wings can be cloaked under a royal purple cape.  I want to stress the freedom to follow your own bliss as an artist.

Enjoy.

The Dowry–Part Two

Pap comes home after a day’s work, after a visit to Flanagan’s Pub.  He trips over two wooden chairs, staggering through the small, crowded parlor to get to the bedroom that he and Mum and Willy share.

He mutters as my mum says, “Senior, couldn’t you come home sober one night a week!  If there was any of me dowry left, I’d divorce you!”

My younger sister, Patticake cries “We’ll be orphans.”

Willy harmonizes with Patticake, “I don’t want to be no orphan.”

“Wipe  your noses and pipe down.  I ain’t got no more dowry since  your pap drank it up.  So I ain’t going nowhere now am I?”

A grunt comes from the bedroom as Pap falls onto the squeaky bed.

“Colleen, go help your pap take his boots off so’s he doesn’t get me own Mum’s rose quilt dirty,” Mum yells at me.

“I hear you, Mum,” I snap back as I run to the bedroom.

Pap is already snoring.  His breathing is deep and the stench of whiskey makes me want to be sick.  Pap doesn’t budge an inch when I tug mightily to get first his left boot and then his right boot off.  I’m thinking I could jump full hard on his belly and he wouldn’t wake up.

I look at his grizzled face.  The deep scar on his upper left cheek looks like a cleared ditch bordered with stubble.  He was handsome once.  From the tintype on the dresser he stares, a dark-eyed man with wavy black hair parted in the middle and slicked down.  Now he looks worn from work, hard living, hard drinking.  He doesn’t know what to do with us kids, especially the girls.  He roughhouses with Willy some, but he leaves us girls to Mum.  I feel sorry for my pap and pat his arm tenderly.

“Colleen,” Mum calls.  “Get out here and snap the green beans for supper.”

“Coming, Mum.”

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I sit at the knotty wood table, hands washed, sleeves rolled, opposite Kathleen and Louise.  Kathleen peels potatoes with expertise.  Her face is satisfied.  She is going to be James Flynn’s wife.  Louise is slicing the carrots intently.  She doesn’t have a beau yet.  But she’s pretty enough and Mrs. Donovan, the matchmaker, is always looking for the right fella.  The little ones are napping after their hard play today.

Mum stands at the wood-fed stove, stirring the broth, sweat beading on her forehead.  I snap off the tough ends of the green beans and pull out the string as I was taught to do.  In this rare moment of suspended silence, my mind wanders to my 18th birthday.  I don’t talk back anymore when Mum says that I’m going to have to go into the convent.  I’ve read about some girls who ran away from their families.  They bought their passage and emigrated to Australia.  A girl doesn’t need a dowry there and there’s plenty of men who want a good wife.  The day after I turn eighteen, I’m packing my few belongings, taking the money Mum has stashed in the cookie jar with my name on it and getting on a boat to Australia.

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The Dowry–Part One

Have you done it?  Have you had your DNA tested to see the percentages of your ancestry?  If so, were there any surprises?

My biggest percentage was Italian on my mother’s side.  Followed by Irish on my father’s side.  Then there are the lesser percentages of surprising origins.  And the curiosity around how did that get in there.

All of this to say that a few years ago, I wrote a short story for an assignment in a Creative Writing class.  One can’t always know where their inspiration comes from or how it is going to express through words or art.  Perhaps it is rooted in the DNA and that cellular memory.  Perhaps I channeled one of my Irish ancestors.    There is some historical significance.  It is presented here in two parts.  I hope you enjoy it.

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The Dowry
©by Christine O’Brien

“Cursed we is,” Mum says, “to have so many survivin’ daughters…seven girls and one blessed boy.  If not for young William, we’d have no one to leave the farm to.”

Mum’s voice scratches like grainy sand across a washboard.

My older sister, Kathleen, is getting married in a month.  Mum has saved and put together a dowry for her and one for my second sister, Louise.  The chances of a girl getting a match are next to zero unless she has a dowry.  Kathleen says she loves James Flynn, but love isn’t what’s important.

“A girl has to have something to offer besides what’s under her petticoat,” Mum says often enough.

With a good dowry, she’s more likely to get a decent home.  She should be strong of leg too, not sickly, like my youngest sister, Patticake.  She’s got to be able to get out in the field and work beside her mate when times are tough, which times normally are.

Mum just started putting away for my dowry.  I’m three years from being 18–the marrying age around here.  Mum says she doesn’t see how she’s going to save enough to attract a mate for me.

“Chances are,” she says, “you’re going to have to go into the convent.  Father Cullen says he’ll kindly take you and your younger sisters if I can save ten pounds for the lot of you.  You’ll be provided for then and you can pray for all of us.”

“I don’t want to go to no convent!  I don’t want my head shaved!  I won’t wear those ugly black dresses and stupid veils!” I blubbered.

When I first stood up and said this to Mum, she slapped me hard.

“Be grateful you’re going to have a home and God’s own priests to look after you.  You get to do good works.”

“It’s nothin’ but slavin’,” I said, my nose red and running, a fresh welt on my cheek.

“Who’d want a red-faced girl like you anyway?”  Mum yelled.

Yelling is Mum’s forte.  Forte is my new word this week.  I’ve taught myself to read.  Mum knows I read but it’s a secret from my pap.

“A girl readin’ can make a man feel small,” says Mum.

Mum sticks the bible under my nose and points to the tiny print,
“What’s it say?” she crows.

“And why be anxious about a garment?  Consider the lilies of the field how they grow; they toil not nor spin, but I say to you that not even Solomon in all his glory was arrayed as one of these,” I read.

“Ah,” she says, “the lilies.  Ah well they do not have ten mouths to feed, now do they?  Get back to your work,” she says slamming the book closed and dropping it heavily on the splintered wooden bible stand.

I gather my mending from the willow basket.  I’m the third eldest girl with my share of chores.  The five younger children leave me with a pile of well-worn skirts and knickers.  My brother, Willy, is the worst on socks.  Every day I stitch up the holes in a pair of his socks and every day, there’s two more socks to mend!

“Willy,” I say sounding a bit like Mum, “Willy, can’t you for once keep your shoes on and stay out of the brambles?”

Willy looks at me with a crooked grin and long-lashed blue eyes.  He slowly shakes his towhead “no.”

(To be continued)