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.

 

Backgrounds

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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.

Collage 2

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What I like about collage is that while there is an element of play, there is also a sense of a hidden meaning.  The subconscious is directing the show from its off-stage balcony.  You could look at this piece and see it as pure abstract.  Or a compilation of scraps of paper with a bit of integration through the central figure.  But it doesn’t really matter how anyone else sees this.  The artist is taking disparate parts and making them work together.  In that way, she’s also reassembling things in her psyche that she didn’t seem to know how to sort.  Collage is similar to dream work.  The work of dreams, in my humble opinion, is to help integrate complex elements that you can’t work out with the conscious mind.

You don’t even have to consider yourself an artist to do collage!  Anyone of any age at any time can create a collage.

Here’s how you go about it.

  • Gather papers.  Magazines.  Some of your writing.  Anything that speaks to you that can be glued on a substrate.  Tear or cut images or words that appeal to you in the moment.  I like to tear a paper as I prefer  the uneven edge.
  • Choose your substrate.  Heavy cardboard, cereal box panel, canvas, mixed media paper, watercolor paper (140# weight), whatever you have.
  • Matte medium is a good paste.  Or YES brand of paste.  Or Mod Podge if there is nothing else.
  • Brushes that you don’t care about.
  • Water to clean the brushes.
  • A paper towel.
  • Paints, I prefer acrylics…but gouache works or oil pastels.  I like Caran D’Ache Neocolor II water soluble wax pastels.

Give yourself time apart.  Put on some music if you like.  Arrange the torn or cut papers on your substrate in a way that is pleasing to you.  Take a picture with your camera.  Remove the papers and then glue them on the substrate according to your photo.  Splash or brush on color as you are inclined to (or not).  Let yourself get lost in the process.  Don’t hurry it.  Don’t let anyone or anything infringe upon this time and space.  Getting lost in this process is part of the benefits of this collage journey into yourself.  Don’t be afraid of it, surrender to it.  Let it take you deep and deeper into the unknown.  It is like walking into one of your dreams, only it’s a waking dream.  Trust yourself to go there.  Trust that you’re going to return.

Water, Water Everywhere…

Water,Water Everywhere

She does look a bit parched, doesn’t she?  This painting was exhibited in a local art show with the theme of WATER.  Water–not that long ago, living in San Francisco, we could drink tap water.  Bottled water was unheard of.  Now it’s commonplace.

Rather than root out and respond to the cause of impurities in our water, we bottle and ship water from sources that we hope are not contaminated.  We buy water!

I notice how we adapt to the changing circumstances that are caused by our improper use of the earth.

The way that we extract resources–detrimental to the earth and the inhabitants of that land.

The way that we dispose of waste…detrimental to the land and sea and its inhabitants.

The way we package products–detrimental to our health and the environment.

The way we ship products long distances–detrimental to air quality.

What is causing cancer rates to increase?  What is it in our external environment that contributes to this?  The way we eat, drink, the contaminants in our food, our clothing, the air?

STOP!  When do we begin to reverse what we’ve discovered is messing up our environment.  What animal trashes home the way that humans do?

As we tamper with our ecosystems, there is going to be less potable water and more saltwater, undrinkable.  I don’t understand the science of it…but things are heading in that direction.  Neither do I know the timeframe.  That premise is what informed this painting.  It doesn’t have to be this way…but it’s not going to change until human beings gather and stand together to change things for the better.

Earth wants to work with us.  Let’s not ignore the call.

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A few years ago, I watched a full-length video (it’s about twenty-one minutes long) on The Story of Stuff as presented by Annie Leonard.  Following is a two-minute segment that begins to give you an idea of how we make, distribute, use and dispose of stuff.  If you are interested in seeing the entire video, you can find it on YouTube.  I highly recommend it.

 

 

I’d love to hear your thoughts on this.

 

She Stewards the Earth

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Do you upcycle your art?  Valuing her face, her direct look, her expression, I wanted to utilize her in a new painting.  This then became a mixed media piece.  I collaged her face, painted her dress with an earthy color and added symbols.  I did some texturing on the canvas prior to drawing and painting the buffalo.  I also used some “resist” to have the underpainting show through.

All of this to symbolize White Buffalo Calf Woman.

There are many tellings of this story.  Here is one.  (It’s one-and-a-half minutes long.)

I titled this piece “She Stewards the Earth,”
because I believe that women have a deep
connection to the earth.  That in some ways,
we are more deeply aligned with the earth
than men.  That perhaps we are an avenue of
communication between humankind and the earth.
I feel that our bodies are sensors to the disharmony
that the earth is experiencing due to our misuse.

What do you think?

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.

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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.

Red

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The story of Little Red Riding Hood wasn’t one of my favorites…however, it did impact me.  Early on, I rewrote the ending…the wolf was a good guy and everyone sat around together having tea in my final scene.

This painting was inspired by a class called Barn Painting, taught by Alissa Millsap in Paint Your Heart and Soul, 2017.  Entering the realm of this piece, it was painted on an 8″x8″ birch panel, I quickly decided that it wasn’t going to be a barn.  It was going to be  grandma’s cottage in the woods.  And then, in the forefront, I placed Little Red Riding Hood and her companion/friend the wolf.  I just realized that here I go again, making the wolf an ally.

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Taking a class from a fellow artist, I am presented with a formula of sorts.  This artist showed me the techniques and tools that she used to create a barn on a substrate.  I was guided through her process.  While I borrowed techniques and used the tools, I diverted and made different choices, incorporated my own style and personal perspective to create an original painting.  I was relatively new at painting faces, so this Red Riding Hood’s face is rather juvenile.  Yet, I like her and think that she works with the piece.  I love the wolf…a friendly fellow (so long as he’s well-fed).  The wolf is made whimsical and less frightening with the wisps of pastel colors in his coat.

In direct contrast, the color RED is dramatic and immediately eye-catching.  Some artists love the drama of red while others hide from it, modify it or use it sparingly if at all.  I’m learning to have a liking for a true red.  Used without apology.

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If you are familiar with the chakra energy system, you probably remember that red symbolizes the root chakra located at the base of the spine.  The root chakra can represent our origins, our quality of feeling grounded in present reality, living in connection to the earth and our core self.  We cultivate this connection by the choices we make in our lives.  Many people have a need for healing their family history–yes, root chakra taps into that.  To support this energetic healing, a person might eat red foods, wear red clothing, carry a red stone or crystal, write or make art around their family history, and if necessary, see a therapist and work on that early family bond.

When I wear red, it seems that I want to be noticed.  Red is not for wallflowers.

What’s your experience with the color red?

 

 

Butterfly Dreams

In 2017, for the first time, I signed up for a one year course, Paint Your Heart and Soul, facilitated by fine artist, Olga Furman.  She gathered several amazing artists together.  Each artist supplied one or two lessons over the course of the year.  A new lesson was delivered on a weekly basis.  This was an opportunity to encounter other artists, to learn their techniques and to practice.  This year-long course encouraged the ongoing flow of creativity.

This particular class was taught by Olga Furman, herself.  It became one of my favorites.  One that I returned to again and then morphed into my own works of art.

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There is some collage work in this piece and more practice in drawing and painting a face.

What is interesting about collage is that you use it with discretion.  You also embellish it to make it more your own and to integrate it into the whole painting.

Since butterfly is about transformation, metamorphosis, it holds special meaning for many.  Especially in these times when change feels imminent.  There are the changes that are forced upon us and the changes we choose.  We’ve all heard “The only constant is change.”  Realizing this, we typically resist anyway.  Resistance seems to be built into change.  I do wonder if there is a stage where the butterfly-to-be in the chrysalis resists this transformation.  Did it dream of itself as a butterfly before it emerged as one?

This 8″x10″ painting was sold in a local art gallery.  I found myself missing her.  I remember someone saying once “Never let go of anything sooner than you are ready…” Of course, I can get over it.  But there is a bit of nostalgia over her, my first butterfly fairy.

My Mother’s Hands

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This mixed media piece was to be my entry in an upcoming art show.

It was also a challenge to myself to integrate poetry with paint.  In some way, it was a homage to my mother’s life.  The photo is of her at age seventeen.  She was a beauty.  My mother died in 2011 at age 91.  From my perspective, her life had been a long, hard road. I’ve written so much about her, about our relationship, about her relationship with my father.

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One of the layers of this painting is a poem, My Mother’s Hands.   After writing the poem  on the canvas, I remember feeling vulnerable.  I was revealing her story to an audience who might not understand the battered wife syndrome.

The poem begins:

I wonder if a palm reader back then would have foretold
–a long life
–an unloving marriage
–an abusive spouse…

…and then I smudged some of the words with gesso and paint.

In the last three years of their lives, my parents were in a care home, a house in a neighborhood with eight elderly residents.  Another sister and I alternated visiting them during the week.  Two other sisters orchestrated their care from afar.  The brothers remained aloof until the very end as they didn’t feel at ease with our father.

In her later years, my mother’s hands were contorted with arthritis.   Her fingers had trouble gripping a spoon and then navigating it to her mouth.  But she had lost so many of her abilities that I didn’t want to help her too much.  I watched as the spoon wobbled towards her mouth.  Her mouth like a quivering bird anticipating food.

My father in the background would say “These are not the golden years.”  I could see that.

One sunny day, we were sitting outdoors under fruit-laden orange trees.  My mother said “I wonder where we go from here.”

“What do you mean, Mom?” I asked.

“After we die.” she said.

“I thought you believed in heaven,” I said, trying to offer comforting words.

My father said “There’s nothing.”

“Dad,” I said, “I thought you had a dream of heaven.  You said it was beautiful.”

My father said, “It was lonely.  I was the only one there.”

In slow motion, my mother reached for my hand and held it–an unfamiliar gesture.

Yesterday was Mother’s Day.  I’m sure thoughts of my mother weave through my mind on any given day.  For one reason or another.

I wonder what she’d be thinking about the state of the world today.  She once asked me to write her story…I’m not sure which one…the one of the devoted wife who stood by her husband no matter what abuse.  Or the possible woman who hid herself away and didn’t have an opportunity to blossom.

Following a Feeling–Home

This abstract collage painting…inspired by a feeling of what it is to come home.  I shelter at home now.  And my home is also inside of me.  I leave home, walk a path in the world.  There is a sense of the path unfolding as I take the next step.  Walking into what isn’t known.  I go so far and then, I turn around and return home.

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Home is a word that evokes strong feelings for many of us.  The home of my childhood, the home of my body, the house or dwelling where I live now.  The home of my community, the home of my state, the country…the neighboring countries, the earth, in this galaxy, universe.  Home is both provincial and expansive.

I crafted and facilitated a creative writing workshop on homecoming in order to deeply explore this theme.

One story goes that Winnie the Pooh was lost in the woods with Piglet and Rabbit.  They wandered in circles for quite some time.  Rabbit got impatient and left Winnie the Pooh and Piglet to find their own way home.   Winnie the Pooh had a north star sort of experience.  He heard his twelve honey pots calling him…when things got very quiet (rabbit’s incessant talk had ceased), Pooh heard the calling and followed it home to the sweetness in his cupboards.

pooh, piglet, rabbit

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We’re in a state of suspension with sheltering at home.  There are times we experience anxiety, stress, frustration, impatience.  There are many levels of  coming home.  How do you bring yourself to a deeper level of homecoming (the home within) when you are compelled by challenging thoughts and uncomfortable feelings?

Clarissa Pinkola Estes says that returning home “is not necessarily an overland and arduous journey.“  Some ways of going home are mundane, some are divine.  She cites a few examples “…Rereading passages of books and single poems that have touched (you).  Spending even a few minutes near a river, a stream, a creek.  Lying on the ground in dappled light.  Being with a loved one…Sitting on the porch shelling something,  knitting something, peeling something.  Walking or driving for an hour, any direction, then returning.  Getting on a bus, destination unknown…”

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What are five things that call  you home or return you to your center when you are lost in the woods?