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.

Ocean in Abstract

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This abstract was done in a class with artist, Laly Mille.  I divided the 9″x12″ 140# watercolor paper into four triangles.  They can be cut into individual paintings if I so choose.  When I look at this abstract painting today, I think I would leave it as an ocean study.  In my thinking, abstract equals the artist’s impressions of a subject.

There are the colors that I’ve associated with the ocean.  There is, perhaps, a horizon line.  There could be rock formations not far from the shoreline.  And there is definitely sky.  With clouds.  A mood is created.

When I present an abstract painting, I don’t like to discuss it very much.  I like it to stand alone, to represent what it represents and to allow the viewer to be drawn into it and have their own interpretation.  To encourage the viewer to fabricate a story around my impressions of the ocean.

 

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)

 

Ladder to Heaven

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With the guidance of artist, Marie Ndolo, I continued to work on the human face.  So much to learn.  And hair, how to paint hair that looks sort of real.

She appears contemplative.  She is pondering the higher realms.  In this painting, the color red is an earthy color, keeping her grounded.  The blue is more ethereal and the image of the ladder floating in space is definitely other-worldly.

Tilting a face, drawing and painting the angle of a face is a challenge.  And, doesn’t a tilted head give a whole other tone to the painting.  Do you think so?  A tilted head is almost like floating a question in the air.  Or listening for an answer, perhaps.

I’ve always liked the image of a ladder floating in space.  Ladders, we climb them to get to something up higher, out of our reach.  It seems like a good symbol for this painting.  Sometimes a stairway suffices.  But no, I like ladders.

Like the one that Georgia O’Keeffe painted, Ladder to the Moon (1958).  The painting is of  a wooden ladder suspended in a turquoise sky.  I wondered what prompted her to paint that?

Here’s what I found out…

“A long, homemade ladder used to lean against Georgia’s house at Ghost Ranch so that she could climb up onto the roof and gaze out at the vast desert landscapes. Sometimes she would even climb up there several times a day. At night she would climb up on the roof if she wanted to gaze and fall asleep under the stars.”

 

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“In the picture, a large wooden ladder is leaned against an outer wall of a patio from where it rises up into the sky with the Pedernal Mountains in the background. Some say her immediate surroundings at Ghost Ranch were the inspiration of this piece of art. Others interpret the painting as a religious work. In Pueblo culture the ladder is used to symbolize the link between the Pueblos and cosmic forces. The fact that the ladder is pointed up in the sky may represent the link between nature and the cosmos”

Standing Rock

Remember Standing Rock?  That protest was the inspiration for this painting.  Across the world, many were outraged when reading the news about the proposed Dakota Access Pipeline that would run beneath the Missouri River and through reservation land.  This was a direct threat to the region’s drinking water, as well as to the water supply used to irrigate surrounding farmlands. The construction would disturb ancient burial grounds and cultural sites of historic importance.

When I was 16-years old, attending an all-girl Catholic High School in San Francisco, we were required to choose a research project.  I chose to investigate the status of Native American Tribes across the United States.  I sent letters off to the Bureau of Indian Affairs and various tribal affiliates.  I received lots of mail in return.  And reading material.  I was shocked to realize the poverty that our First Citizens were living in.  And to read about the high rate of alcoholism was upsetting.  Also, it struck me that a salesman would visit a tribe and sell them refrigerators when he knew full well that they didn’t even have electricity!

Doing this research, the Native American Peoples found a place in my heart.

How many times do the powers that be violate a treaty, withdraw support, move tribes around, encroach on Native American lands and lives before they realize that it’s morally wrong and stop doing it?  Here is one question to be asked in such instances:  “How would I feel if it was happening to me and my family?”

If your answer is something like “I would protest!”  Or “That’s not right!”  Then, why should it be different for the tribes of Standing Rock (or any other group of people)?  Don’t they want to protect their families like I do?  Don’t they deserve respect like I do?  Why do their rights matter less than mine or yours?  Is it too late to make amends?

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Today, I read a recent article on the present day state of affairs around the DAPL–Dakota Access Pipeline…

Standing Rock Sioux Tribe Prevails
  as Federal Judge Strikes Down DAPL Permits

This is a victory, but the battle isn’t over.  One cannot assume that once a right is won, it is forever sealed and held sacred.  But for now, a victory.

A dear friend traveled to standing rock and stood with the people in solidarity in opposition to DAPL.  She expressed that there were other benefits of being there.  To witness the tribes who had once opposed each other, here, standing together for a common cause was powerful in and of itself.  Something for all of us who find ourselves in such oppositions today to learn from.  The expression “United we stand.  Divided we fall” was directly experienced.

“Pray under the sky
bare feet on the ground, 
humbly.  That you may 
feel the connection with
all that is and live from
this understanding.
It is so.”

I believe that this prayer is from Dr. Clarissa Pinkola Estes.

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?

 

 

Everyone Needs an Ally

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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 Koala

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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?

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.

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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.

The Dreamcatcher

Years ago, I wove hundreds of dreamcatchers.  It was a very challenging time in my life.  I don’t remember how I discovered the dreamcatcher…but when I did, I found that designing and weaving them was healing and engaging in a way that I hadn’t expected.  I gathered supplies, hoops, twigs, willow, waxed threads, leather strips, feathers and beads.  Each dream catcher was a unique creation.  For me, this indigenous craft held deep meaning…and they were to be shared.  I gave one to each of my family members.  A man I met had a booth at a local flea market.  He sold them, keeping a profit for himself.  What they provided for me in the moment was without price.

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Tracy Verdugo taught a class on painting dream catchers.  And then invited us to write a poem.  This poem is written around the outside circle of the dreamcatcher.

Destiny

Lace and ribbons
decorate the frock.
“Forget the dreams.
Get back to the kitchen
and bake me a pie!”
Banish your fantasy of
happy couples and
floral bouquet apologies.

Re-enter the Goddess–
no partial woman is she!
So, you are somebody
after all.
Tell us what you know.
Emergence is what you requested–
sit down and let’s talk over tea.

A wedge of lemon?  Honey?
Ah, the bitter with the sweet.
This you must experience
for yourself.

Lace and ribbons,
wedding day vows–
disguise your sovereign destiny.

 

 

dreamcatcher

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A dreamcatcher is an indigenous symbol–a web, often with a hole in the center.  It is intended to let the bad dreams pass through and to catch the good dreams.  The dreams that guide you towards your highest visions.

There is both power and presence when we create.  What is the dream of the future that you’d like to paint, color, draw, sculpt or weave?  Make your own dream catcher using collage and paint.  Are there words or poetry that go with it?  Write them on your work of art.  Get lost in this process.  Invite others to participate in making their own dreamcatchers.  Share in ways that are available to you at this time.

Stay healthy and safe.