Blog on Hiatus

Hi Everyone Who Reads My Blog…

I hope that you’ve appreciated my art, poetry and essays over these past five years. I’ve taken short breaks at times, but mostly I’ve been here. As a writer, it’s been a good thing for me to show up to this writing space daily.

Life is certainly giving us challenges by the truckload these days. Sometimes, there is the need for quiet contemplation and introspection. It’s been forced on many by social distancing and sheltering at home during the pandemic.

There is so much going on in the realm of politics. In the US, it consumes the media and our minds if we listen to it for very long. There is such a basis of fear in the way the media delivers the news. The most immediate concern to me is Climate Change. We are each individually and collectively affected by this across the planet. I don’t know what has to happen before humans begin to relate to the earth in a more reciprocal way. Heaven help us.

We have leaders, outside of politicians, to guide us in accommodating the changes we need to make in order to survive beyond the next twenty years. There are solutions that can be implemented now. These are covered quite effectively in this book edited by Paul Hawken, Drawdown: The Most Comprehensive Plan Ever Proposed To Reverse Global Warming. I might have mentioned this book in an earlier blog, but it bears repeating. My 25-year old granddaughter and her boyfriend were visiting recently. I handed the book to them to browse through. My granddaughter looked directly at me and said “I’m going to give this book as a gift to everyone that I know!”

It is a book that offers precise information about what we can do NOW to change course. It’s going to take strong leadership to do this. However, behind that leadership it’s going to take each and every person to line up across the earth. Forget the idea of different countries, cultures, religions, beliefs, skin colors, foreign languages–we need to unify to save our earth, which is saving ourselves and all the other amazing species in this one ecosystem.

Blessings to everyone

Christine
Mt. Shasta, CA, USA

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 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.

****
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)

 

Butterfly Offering

Butterfly

Once upon a time, I walked along a sandy beach, depressed and not clearly seeing the way through.  The proprietor of the motel where I was staying happened upon me in this state of being.  He said to me “We’re here this long,” gesturing a miniscule amount between his thumb and forefinger.  “We’re as insignificant as a grain of sand on this beach, so enjoy your time here [on the planet].”

For me, in the moment, that was what I needed to hear to bolster myself.  And, it was only part of the story.

I love the principle of the butterfly effect.  “The Butterfly Effect” is not a thing in and of itself. It is just a metaphor for the principle of Chaos Theory.”

Following is an excerpt from Wikipedia:

The term is often ascribed to Edward Lorenz who wrote about it in a 1963 paper in the New York Academy of Sciences.”

“Chaos theory is an interdisciplinary theory stating that, within the apparent randomness of chaotic complex systems, there are underlying patterns, interconnectedness, constant feedback loops, repetition, self-similarity, fractals and self-organization.  The butterfly effect, an underlying principle of chaos, describes how a small change in one state of a deterministic nonlinear system can result in large differences in a later state (meaning that there is sensitive dependence on initial conditions).  A metaphor for this behavior is that a butterfly flapping its wings in China can cause a hurricane in Texas.”

…In The Vocation of Man (1800), Johann Gottlieb Fichte says “you could not remove a single grain of sand from its place without thereby … changing something throughout all parts of the immeasurable whole”…

****
We are all looking for meaning to our lives, singly and collectively.  That “a very small change in initial conditions [even from a far away location] had created a significantly different outcome,” gives me hope somehow.   Considering the times that we are living in and that we cannot see the whole that is unfolding, how can we find comfort in considering The Butterfly Effect?

We cannot know the effect we have on others, on life, on weather patterns, planetary momentum, even politics.  On a microcosmic level, was there someone along your life path who said just the right thing at the right time in a moment of your life where their words caught somewhere in your psyche and turned you around?  Was there an action you took one day, that looking back, was pivotal in the whole of your life?  And then, you cannot determine how a word you spoke or an action you took affected another person or perhaps a weather system.  What is true for us personally, is true for the macrocosm.

Everything is connected in such an intricate way that it is hard for the mind to comprehend.  It’s truly beyond logic and has been labelled quantum physics.  To my way of seeing, that’s another term for mystery.

Mastery of Illusion

Art is that, the mastery of illusion.  You’ve created a world on a canvas.  Can you get your audience to believe it?

When I look at my paintings, I realize that this is exactly what I’m doing.  I inhabit the canvas for awhile creating a story.  Whether it’s from an actual photo or my imagination is irrelevant.  In any painting that is being viewed, there is a sense of being transported.  If you love where you go, if you have the purchasing power, if you deeply desire recreating this experience and the concurrent feeling again and again, you buy the painting and place it in your home or office where you can see it regularly and renew the feeling that you enjoy and the illusion that it implies.

In any painting, there are things that are left to the imagination.  For example, I could paint a landscape and the viewer automatically extends the landscape beyond the canvas and sees more.  If I decide to only draw or paint a portion of the human face, the viewer completes the face in their mind’s eye.  When there is an imperfection, the human eye makes the correction in some way.  It’s interesting to witness myself doing this and to consider that you, the viewer, also do this.

lost in the woods.final

The title of this painting is Lost in the Woods.  The story is based in fact of a time when I was literally lost in the woods on the mountain.  It’s also about the ways we get lost in our own inner worlds at times, in our thoughts, in our fears, in our own self-doubt.  I created this illusion on a small substrate, a wood panel.  Your imagination takes over when you see this piece and you add to the illusion or story that I’ve initiated.  Can you find the three figures as she makes her way through the woods?

Fascinating that we embellish what we see, don’t you think?  In your own life, in what other illusions are you participating?

The Dive

A couple of years ago, I was invited by a local art gallery to preview an art exhibit, choose a painting and write a poem referencing that painting.  The painting that spoke to me was of an adolescent girl wearing a swimsuit, standing at the end of a diving board, preparing to dive.  Her body looked rigid, almost like the diving board itself.  Shoulders were raised nearly to her ears; her mouth was tense and straight.  Below is the poem I wrote.

I am not there to read this poem to you.  I’d like you to read it quietly once.  And then, read it aloud to yourself or to someone else.  Feel the poem.  Pretend that you are the diver.

The Dive
©by Christine O’Brien

Feet plugged into the
sticky resin springboard,
I note the space between me and
the crushing water below.
The form I hold.
Buddha stillness.
The grace I invoke
as I design form
gliding through space.
The breath I hold.
The breath I take
like thunder in a canyon
fills my ears.
The shadow of fear
remains at the other end
of the platform
while I stand on the edge
in focused repose.

This is not my first dive
though my raised shoulders,
clamped mouth and clenched jaw
could be interpreted as fear.
There is always that
but with prayer and practice
it quickly transforms
as there is no turning back now.
The dive grooms the diver
in this conspiracy of grace, form and space.
Originally, it was a dare from friends
that sent me up the hot aluminum ladder
on that sweaty summer day.
Now, it’s a drive from within,
not towards perfection
or for judges’ scores.
There is no competition.

It is the ecstasy of flight
that sends me to this precipice.
Neither bird nor stone falling through space,
I am a wingless angel
who rejoices in
those few seconds of airtime.
Body imprinting space
air molecules conforming, buoyant.
I visualize the flex, fold, arc,
the straightening as
I neatly incise the water with my hands,
barely a splash.
I surface a few feet away,
victorious,
a different sort of Phoenix rising.

****
And then I made my own painting of another sort of dive by another sort of creature.

card27

 

Try Something New

landscapea

Being an artist who is committed to growth, it helps to try something new and different.  In this painting, I completely surrendered to Nicole Wikman’s process to paint a landscape.  I love the outcome.  Although it isn’t my style, I learned several very helpful techniques that I can apply elsewhere.

She reiterates the value of a horizon line.  She has a unique technique of laying down a colorful sky.  The brush dances between colors in the sky to reflections of those colors in the water.  The way in which the land and trees are placed establishes perspective and lends depth to the painting.  These are valuable techniques to practice and learn.

That said, I love this piece, and it doesn’t feel like me.

****
Land and Sea are big themes for artists.  A contemporary artist, Janette Kerr is known as the “foul weather” painter.  It seems that she spends weeks on boats heading into storms.  There are so-called adrenaline junkies out there and while I’m not one, I applaud the curious nature that leads one into the eye of the storm.  Her work is phenomenal!

 

 

Sonnet Two

Not that we shouldn’t desire more
of that which feeds the hungering soul
for such yearning, it seems, opens the door
as we stare out upon a distant knoll.

“Comfortable complacency” is fine
–we all need pauses in our quest for more–
Grateful for the banquet on which we dine
fingers laced, beside the fireplace, shut the door.

But when the bell tolls the eleventh hour
mustn’t we from our sedentary rise?
Step into our uncomfortable power–
this before our comforts become a vise.

The hungering soul feasts on freedom.
Quick!  They are capturing the kingdom.

 

sonnet2

I wrote this poem a couple of years ago and again tried to merge poetry with imagery.  I’m not really pleased with the painting…but I think the message is current.  Truly, it doesn’t seem like we can hide behind our “comfortable” doors any longer although we mostly shelter in place.  I think that we are asked to be activists in a way that is true to our nature.

When any one of our freedoms is infringed upon, we are called to stand up against injustice.  When our neighbor’s freedom is infringed upon, we are called to stand up against injustice.  For truly, if my neighbor isn’t well-cared for by our society, then I’m affected too.  We’re in this together.

Remember, Spaceship Earth, so-named by Buckminster Fuller?  We’re all here together riding around on this very small planet.

“How can I serve?”

I frequently ask this question of myself.

 

Adrift

lostatsea

2018 was the year that if anything in my personal life could go wrong…it did.

I had my first tooth pulled in January.  One sister began chemotherapy in January.  A month later, a second sister started chemotherapy.  My best friend became gravely ill.  One of my daughters faced a serious issue that took months to resolve.  We experienced a summer of smoke and encroaching forest fires in the surrounding mountains where I live.  I took a short trip and ended up in a hospital away from home with a kidney stone.  My ex-husband had a major stroke.  My sister and best friend died in December.  There was more but you get the gist, right?

I painted this piece in my journal as this torrent of challenges was only starting.  Already, I was feeling lost at sea.  Without a paddle.

Seeing this painting, one of my daughters thought I should call it The Bell Peppers…as their clothing is the color of bell peppers.

I appreciate when my art gives me an outlet for feelings.  Sometimes I’m overwrought and life is just too much for me to even consider putting brush or pen to page.  Most of the time, it’s the best elixir for the despair or trauma or whatever is at hand that seems too big to handle.

****
These days we feel things coming at us right and left.  Top it off with a pandemic!  Yet, there has always been an undercurrent of unrest with social injustices, political and corporate greed, economic inequities, media manipulation, repercussions of climate change.  The list goes on.  What’s been undercover is now on the surface.  I’m told that this is good because now we know what we’re dealing with.  Now, we can begin to address these inequities and other imperative issues.

What is your way of dealing with “TOO MUCH?”

 

The Ugly Stage

When painting a portrait…you soon arrive at THE UGLY STAGE!  That is when your mettle as an artist is tested.  You don’t see how you can possibly convert this ugly piece into a thing of beauty.  This is the time–you’ve been working on this for awhile already–when you want to walk away and abandon the piece.  It’s hard to imagine something
“pretty” coming out of this.

That said, experience has taught you that this is only a stage.  Stay with it.  Don’t give up too soon.  So you go forward in conversation with the piece to see what’s next. Then, what follows that?  You step back and then forward and bring this being forth to become who she is determined to be.

****
Sometimes, often or always, there is a message in a painting.  The artist may have a clue  before she begins painting.  Then again,  it could emerge during her process with a piece.  Blending words with art is often an intriguing way of stating the message.  The word that sits in the lower right corner of the piece is “STORY.”  Like each one of us, the subject of this painting has a story to tell.  While we may not have a sense of her exact story, we get the idea that she has a depth of experience.  Those eyes convey something.  The mouth, neither smiling nor smirking, shows determination.  There is character in her chin…and so on.

If she were the heroine of your short story, who would she be?  That’s the thing about art, each person views a piece and then their imagination begins to conjecture a story.  We do that when we meet someone new also.  “Who are you?”  “Where are you from?”  “What brought you here?”  Then our judgments and old information come in and create a story before we even really know who we’ve actually met.  Interesting that we do this.  Make up stories all of the time.