The Ballerinas

In these uncertain times, we strive for balance, meaning, purpose.  We hope for the safety and health of ourselves and those we love…and we extend that prayer for our entire family, neighbors, community, state, country, neighboring countries, the earth.  We are in this together.  We always have been.

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I honestly don’t know why I started to paint ballerinas.  Perhaps it is their perfection of form–the way their bodies stand tall and poised, their mastery of graceful movement.  Perhaps it was the memory of a fleeting girlhood fantasy of being a ballerina.  Perhaps it is their delicate beauty.

I began painting ballerinas, several of them, one after the other.  This first painting was a total surprise to me.  It’s one that started out as something else, a compassionate feminine Buddha portrait, and then, it turned into the ballerinas.  At first, the central ballerina was a flower, the bleeding heart.  However, all around her, other ballerina figures were developing.  Suddenly, the bleeding heart no longer fit.  The flower became the central ballerina and she too changed over time.

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Sometimes, the way in which the paint or acrylic ink  “dripped” prompted a new figure.  I limited the color palette.

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Today is a good day to notice beauty.

On the Trail

Awhile ago, I took of a photo of an old oak tree that was perhaps misshapen by the elements and because of this, it was fascinating, beautiful to my eye.  I loved the way it bent and twisted and yet reached towards the sky.  Gnarly could be a word to describe it.  I could see the beauty in gnarly although the word, gnarly, doesn’t have a great connotation.

That said, my mind equated it to beauty.  I am neither an experienced nor representational painter.  Yet, this photo image of the tree spoke to me.  I used it as inspiration for my painting of a stylized Tree.  Too many of us think of trees as inanimate, as non-communicative, as unfeeling.

I’m reading a book, Braiding Sweetgrass, by the author, Robin Wall Kimmerer.  She is Native American and her family was shifted from reservation to reservation.  She remembers the Pecan Trees in the various places where she and her family have lived over the generations.  The Pecan Trees–no matter where they are physically located across the country–all produce the fruit, the pecan nut, at the same time.  And, then, they don’t produce for years at a time.  What is gleaned from this fact, is that there is an underground communication system among the pecan trees whereby they concur, regardless of climatic conditions and local geographic factors, to produce fruit.

Fascinating, right?  So walking on a trail by the lake yesterday, I encountered a friend riding his bicycle.  We chatted briefly in a casual way.  Then, out of the blue, he says that he communicates with the trees during his seven mile bike ride around the lake.  That when he moved here many years ago, he was impressed with the trees, their beingness.  That he felt he could turn to them for counsel.
Haven’t some of them, the old growth, been standing here for years?”  He added, “Haven’t they seen the whole human play unfold?”

I was shocked by the synchronicity of my painting and his thoughts on trees.  I responded, “You are weird.”  By that I meant wow, how can it be that we’re both on this tree wavelength.  Today it occured to me how the earth, trees, nature, etc. infiltrate our thoughts and beings when we are receptive.  How they speak through us about what is needed to preserve life on earth.  The conservation efforts, the environmental impetus of a world in jeopardy.  Are these quests all earth and nature-instigated?  Humans think they have these brilliant ideas…but who is our coach and guide?  The earth herself, perhaps.

At some point, maybe we realize that we are the spokespersons for our planet.  At some point, we might remember that we are visitors here. We hope to leave this earth home that we’ve only borrowed, intact and viable for future generations.  And, for the other life forms that exist, survive and thrive here besides humans.

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Changing Colors

In her memoir, An Unfinished Woman:  A Memoir, Lilian Hellman writes:

“I do regret that I have spent too much of my life trying to find what I called ‘truth,’ trying to find what I called ‘sense.’  I never knew what I meant by truth, never made the sense I hoped for.  All I mean is that I left too much of me unfinished because, I wasted too much time.”

I haven’t read her memoir…I’ve held onto this quote of hers for years.  Perhaps I clipped this from an article I read because I wondered if it was true for me.  Have I quested after the truth long and hard and what do I have to show for it?  Have I fruitlessly tried to make some sense of nonsense to no avail?

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Changing Colors
© by Christine O’Brien

The Goddess is the mistress of these cycles.
“I’ve found a sense of my place in the world,” I say.
as we share a pot of milky oolong tea on the deck of the boat.
The early evening sky is bathed in sunset hues.

“Sharing your gifts is the path to enlightenment,” you say.

We sail our boat in the protected bay.
“If you want, coast when the wind is right,” I offer.

Red and gold tint the sky.
“There is no black and white pendulum of truth,” you say.
“Crystal clarity is rare.”

Our wisest thoughts dissipate into the blue serenity of water
and the dove peace of this day.

The yet to be lived is our uncertain map.

“People’s dreams are where the nectar is,” you say dreamily.

Colors change regardless.

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Being in the Creative Stew

Sometimes, I make a request into the ethers, “Which direction do I pursue in my life/career?” or “What is the next step with this short story I’m writing?”  or “Where do I go now with this painting in process?”

The next uncomfortable position is to find myself in the creative stew!  For awhile, I simmer there without understanding what is going on.  Feelings of uncertainty, doubt, discomfort arise and I probe these feelings.  “What?  What?”  I forget that I asked the question(s) or invoked help and that I’m on the edge of unknowing, the precipice of what’s next.

I have been known to call this the “fertile void”.  Though there is nothing apparent on the horizon, I have invoked the powers that be to show me a direction, how to proceed.  Inwardly, I churn.  I feel discomfort.  An inner edginess.  And resistance too.  All these things and feelings bubbling in the cauldron of “where do I go from here?”  Sometimes, the harder you push, the more elusive the answer.

When a writer, poet, artist is creating something…there are bound to be times when they are stuck and can’t see the next step.  They’ve been deep in process, things seemed to be flowing and then…nothing.  Flat out, nothing.  Whether at the desk or canvas, they are inwardly working something out.  When I remember that this is what is going on, there is some relief.  “Ah, yes, I’m in that disconcerting void place.  It looks like there is no forward movement.  How long is it going to last?  Is there something that I need to do to get unstuck!!??

At these times, I’ve found, the best thing to do is to walk away for awhile, literally and figuratively.  The impasse is in place.  Do something to take your mind off of it.  Dance, do the laundry, get out in nature, do something you are good at.  Anything that isn’t related to the dilemma.

Simultaneously, it’s a time of deep listening and seeing.  Sometimes, answers come to us indirectly, through metaphor.  Other times, someone says something like “You are really good at painting portraits.”  or “I appreciate your sensitivity.  It comes through in your poetry.”  During this time of uncertainty, it pays to be alert to clues as to what the next step is.  Sometimes, a direction presents  in a dream.  You might wake up one morning and know exactly what to do next.

Regardless, this gestation period is part of the creative process, not separate from it.  We ride it out.  We trust.  The flow returns.

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Collage

There is a technique to collage and yet, is there?

I collage on a 6″ by 6″ wood birch panel.  I choose from papers that I have on hand.  I had painted mini mandalas on these papers previously.  I cut or tear and paste, randomly arranging scraps of paper on the panel.  The plan is to collage a purple elephant that I painted a few years ago on this background.  The purple elephant is then to be the featured piece around which I build and complete this little work of art.

Against this backdrop of semi-circle suns and cresting mountains, I see a face.  A face that resembles a Maori woman or is she Swahili?  Or neither.  Anyway, that’s what occurs to me.  I bring her forth; the intuitive artist’s task is to follow where one is lead.  At first, she’s only a face floating at the top of the tiny piece, asserting herself.  Looking further, I see it is an entire person–there’s her neck and she’s wearing a dress of varied fabrics.  Earlier, I had done some silver leafing.  Using teal paint, I push the entire figure forward.

I stand back to see what else presents itself.  Is there anything more that wants to be seen and expressed?  I see that half of the elephant is another figure with a wildly striped tiger face wearing a purple garment.  This figure is standing and facing the first woman.  Now I have a decision to make.  Do I scrap my prized elephant and bring the second figure forward?  According to what I’ve experienced in the creative process, it appears that I do have to scrap the elephant to move this piece along.  Bye bye to the purple elephant–another time, another art piece perhaps.

Art can teach the artist about impermanence.  Non-attachment.  That my own desires and designs are secondary to an unfolding and evolving plan.

Ultimately, I forced my own desire and design and decided to keep the elephant.  It’s all been part of my process and this mixed media piece’s evolution.

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Lost at Sea

When I painted this piece in my journal, I was feeling adrift.  So much was out of my hands in regards to the well-being of those I love.

I wrote:

I cannot pretend anything–neither false affection nor that I am practicing a devotion except for this writing and this painting.

Rain today, rain tomorrow.  They’ve colored the sky gray.  The optimism of our generation is deflated.  We wanted to hold up banners of “BRAVA!”  But we are too wise to think that things could be different, better.  We are humans, only humans.  Only that…is that true?  or only an excuse?  We are each the chosen one.  The nadis–weave them all together–then, there’s a wholeness.  In our disconnect, we are adrift in our own limited consciousness.  Out at sea, each in his/her own skincraft.  Aren’t we always looking for a friendly shore upon which to land.  A welcome home sign, a cry of recognition–

“Yay, you’re here.”

 

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In the New Year

2020 feels auspicious.  In the mountains, we are expecting snow and rain, that wintry mix.  I am appreciating winter for a good winter promises an abundant spring.  These days, I am also grateful for the inward time that winter proffers.  Did I use that word correctly?

A little poem, a couplet, that I came across in one of my journals:

A bed of earth below which lays
a startle of forceful green relays
the message that beneath tamped earth
there is the promise of rebirth.

 

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I’ve been painting again.  I wasn’t painting for awhile.  I’ve been grieving three intimate losses in a ten month period.  You might know that grief is it’s own country.  When you go there, everyday life takes on a different sheen.

Anyway, this painting began with a large sheet of watercolor paper (18″ x 24″).  I wrote down my feelings about grief.  Then, surprisingly, emerging from this came my version of “Puss n’ Boots.”  See below.

Blessings to everyone as we go forth.

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Remembering the Connection

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This is another theme of mine that replays itself.  Truly, I don’t understand how anyone (me included at times) canNOT see that everything affects everything.  When my daughters were young and watching Sesame Street, there was a cartoon that they replayed frequently.  It went something like this…If I pop my little brother’s balloon, he’s going to cry.  Mommy is going to come running.  He’s going to point his finger at me.  I’m going to get into trouble.

An effective example of actions with consequences.  So it is with our earth.  We are invited to share in the beauty and the bounty provided by nature.  And, it’s a wise thing to live sustainably and reciprocate in ways that we are able.  How we impact our planet, “our carbon footprint” for one, affects not only us, but the other creatures with whom we share this earth home.  And also, the generations to come.

This painting invites us into the forest and to receive the healing salve of being in nature.  It is an invitation requiring reciprocity.  Please respect this earth–home to many.

 

Painting as a Personal Process Facilitator

I received one of those dreaded phone calls.  My ex-husband had a stroke!  It wasn’t looking good.  A surge of helplessness arose in me.  And fear.  I live a distance from where he lives.  I needed to do something while waiting for news.  This painting is by no means a work of art.  However, this is what I was prompted to paint.  I call it “Prayer.”

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When I first began painting in 2014, it was all about following my intuition.  As I added marks to the canvas, I noticed images.  I defined some of those images.  My expertise at drawing, combining colors and making a painting cohesive didn’t exist.  However, intuitive painting was a good way for me to begin this artistic journey.

I quickly discovered, that like poetry and journal writing, painting facilitated my personal process.  In this particular instance, painting helped me to handle the big emotions and the feelings of helplessness.  (It has been a long road for my ex-husband, but he did recover from the stroke.)

Contemplation:
Have you noticed how your creative practice facilitates your personal life process?  Can you think of specific instances where you turned to your creative practice to support you in some way?

Appreciate your art-making.

In Service…

While I believe everyone is an artist (sometimes hidden), writing and creating art are also callings.  As a writer who has journaled for many years, I have conducted a self-exploration that perhaps few people conduct over the course of their lives.

Does there come a time when this type of self-exploration becomes wearisome?  And then what?  Is there a point when the inward journey shifts to outward service? Or, perhaps it is a simultaneous venture–personal discovery and then expanding that into “How can I serve?”

Writing Prompt:
Do you translate your creative pursuit into service?  What does that look like?