Look Up!

Living in the mountains, I have an opportunity to see the stars at night.  This is an advantage over living in a big, artificially lit city.  When I lived in San Francisco, beside the ocean and not the inner city, I could occasionally see the stars at night…when it wasn’t foggy.

Looking up at the night sky, I get a sense of both my smallness and my connection to something greater.

card17

Ever since I learned Nikol Wilman’s technique of painting a sky, I adapted it to create the background for a few of my paintings.

Drawing and painting a face looking upwards proved to be very challenging.  Yet it was what I envisioned and I forged on to make it happen.

****
How often do you look up?  While walking in nature, I’m frequently looking down in order to see where I’m stepping especially if the terrain is rocky or has tree roots.  On such walks I find that it’s important to stop and take time to look out and to look up.  Expanding my field of vision in this way, I get out of my small mind thinking.  It’s certainly not all about me!

****
I love this creation story as told by Wilfred Buck.  We have such a connection to and longing for the stars.  This story is not so far-fetched.  Our lives here are more mystery than certainty.

 

Wilfred is from Lake Winnipeg in rural Manitoba, Canada.  His tribe affiliation is Cree, also known as Ininew, one of Canada’s largest First Nations groups. He is an amazing storyteller.  If you have six minutes to listen, I think you’re going to appreciate this lovely creation Story.  Try closing your eyes as you listen and imagine.

“We come from the stars,” Buck says.

Abstracting

cairnfinal

This painting evolved from a fun process developed by artist, Basia Zielinska.  It involved a large canvas or sheet of watercolor paper.  Acrylic paint in colors that play well together.  Spraying water and dripping paint.  Line work.  Layering and allowing to dry between some of the layers to avoid making mud.   And then, I wanted the image of cairns.  It seems that I typically want to bring an image into an abstraction.  I’ve always been attracted to cairns, so cairns it was.

“A cairn is a man-made pile of stones. The word cairn comes from the Scottish Gaelic: càrn. Cairns have been and are used for a broad variety of purposes, from prehistoric times to the present. In modern times, cairns are often erected as landmarks, a use they have had since ancient times.” (Wikipedia)

We occasionally see cairns while hiking in the mountains here where I live.  They signify that you are on the right track or if there is a fork in the road, they mark the correct trail to follow.  Basically, they are trail markers guiding you in cases where navigation becomes difficult and the trail may easily be lost.

****
Wouldn’t it be cool if we had cairns along our life path as signposts to the best way to proceed when faced with a life choice?  In a sense, we do.  But we don’t always listen to our intuition, do we?  What is that strange human capacity, like the Vasilisa Doll story as told by Clarissa Pinkola Estes in her book,  Women Who Run With the Wolves“Go left, go right, don’t go that way, do go this way”.  Why are we so suspicious or doubtful when it comes to our own intuition?  Do we associate it with the occult or witchcraft or is it so demeaned in a rational patriarchal system that we don’t trust it?

I remember a film with Brendan Fraser, Still Breathing, where he created cairns.  It’s also very much about following one’s deep intuition and guidance.  It’s a quirky and  captivating film.  It’s one that I’ve seen several times.

Who Are You?

A journal page is meant for exploration.  Yes, you can explore the existential questions in your journal.  It is a place to explore techniques as well as for self-discovery.
I wonder, at times, about the influence of place on person.
Having grown up a few blocks from the ocean in San Francisco,
how did that form me?  I lived there, beside the sea, for forty-nine years before moving to the mountains.  Who was I then “living beside the ocean?”

besidetheocean1

Moving to the
mountains, what in me has been influenced and changed by this place?

This journal page was inspired by a class taught by Ivy Newport, Sacred Landscapes.

The consideration of the placement of a horizon line is an interesting aspect of a painting.  A decision is made where to place the figure in relation to that line.  Dividing the page into three sections, the horizon line is in the top third on this page.

The figure is placed in the forefront of the study…she could have been standing, reclining.  I chose sitting.

Figure drawing is a whole other form of artistic expression.  I took one other class in sketching figures.  We also practiced drawing figures in relation to one another and intimated body language between the two figures.  In drawing and painting, there are lifetimes of worlds to be explored.

***
Perhaps a larger and more expanded question is “Who am I during this pivotal time in history?”  or “Who am I in the light of a global pandemic?”  It is astonishing, really, to have such a cataclysmic, unifying event across the planet.  It’s hard to put the proverbial head in the sand at such a time.  It feels to me like we are being called to take a stand on behalf of our earth and the unsustainable ways that we’ve been living up to now.  What are your thoughts?

 

Gazing

This painting feels like something we’re getting accustomed to as we shelter at home.  It’s such a challenging time for many of us, each for our own reasons.

I call it Gazing…living in the mountains when the snow is heavy on the road and there really is no place you can go, you look out from the inside.  The snowplow hasn’t come and you can’t get your car out of the garage.  Time fades away…what day is it, what time of day?  Where was I supposed to be?  This might be comparable to some of the feelings that you’re having now.

The painting is mixed media.  It began as a copycat painting following the style of the Japanese artist, Yoshiro Tachibana.  I love his art!

Over time, this painting morphed into something that made it more my own.  An online artist/teacher invited us to look at other contemporary artists and to choose one of their paintings to inspire our own art.  It was fun for me to emulate his style…and challenging.  I had difficulty getting the window frame looking correct.  And her hands, and elbow…the candle sitting on the ledge.  Afterwards, I set the piece aside as it felt like it didn’t belong to me.  A year later, I revisited the painting and made it mine with collage and whimsy.

 

Gazing.

As a beginning painter, studying the art of other artists, copying is a way of learning about colors that work together, the placement of objects and other creative design details.  Through initial imitation, you can then branch off into your own style.

****
Find a contemporary artist whose art you like.  Choose a piece and copy it to the best of your ability.  Spend time with it.  Don’t rush it.  Walk away, return, walk away.  Once you feel satisfied (not looking for perfection here), stylize it to make it more your own.

Always, always give credit to the original artist.  

Alone Doesn’t Have to be Lonely

I don’t remember exactly what inspired this mixed media painting.  Except that it was another intuitive journey and continued to shift over time.  Putting down colors that I was drawn to, seeing images within the evolving piece, deciding which ones to elaborate on and which ones to let go.

****
It was a cold, winter’s night in the mountains where I live.  There was the early dark of winter and a blizzard outside.  There was nowhere to go and no friend to meet.  An existential loneliness settled in around me.  Resistance is the first response when an uncomfortable feeling presents.  Feet dug in…”I don’t want to go there.”  But it persisted and I needed to be with it.  I’d been working on a painting of a polar bear in the Arctic.  I’d been trying to paint the aurora borealis.  Good luck with that!  That sky went through so many changes.

aurora

What prompted me to paint a polar bear in the Arctic, that I can’t really say except that as I created the background, his image hovered in the painting.  I brought him forward.

polarbear1

That night of extreme loneliness, staring at this painting in process, imagining the polar bear as his world disappears, I wrote the poem that I’ve already shared in this blog earlier.  It begins like this…

It’s cold and I’m alone again at night
The stars so far away, no comfort there
Is the polar bear aware of his plight?
Ice floes are melting, does anyone care?

Painting this piece, writing the poem, helped to shift my energy.  The poem and painting connected me to something outside of myself, bigger than my small life and this moment of loneliness.

****
To be human is to feel loneliness at times.  In this time of the pandemic, social isolation and uncertainty, find a way to either write, draw or paint or any other creative activity.
One exploration could involve color.  Color crayons, watercolors, acrylics, colored pencils…any of these work.  On a piece of paper, put down colors that you feel particularly attracted to.  Place them side by side, at different angles to each other.  If you are using paints, notice which colors make other colors “pop” forward and which colors recede.  Let yourself play with color.

 

 

Poetry in Perilous Times (3)

We have not had very much precipitation in the mountains this winter.  We’ve had three big storms that deposited a lot of snow in the city proper and on the mountain.  However, it was quickly washed away with rain at the lower elevations.  February brought idyllic spring-like weather.  While we enjoyed it, we also felt some trepidation.  The summer and fall of 2018 were frightening to us living in this highly forested area.  Fires sprung up in every direction around us.  We were told to be packed and ready to evacuate…but where to, we wondered.  Some of us stashed non-perishable food staples in the car, packed a suitcase, a tent, sleeping bag, bottled water, clothing, important papers, etc.

The smoky skies extended throughout the summer months starting in early July through October.  It was an intense panorama of smoke-filled days and nights.  We wore masks when we ventured out.  Typically, summer is a time to appreciate the lakes and hiking trails, to walk briskly, climb, swim and breathe deeply the fresh mountain air.  Not then.  Honestly, there is a certain dread of the coming summer.  Without a winter of sufficient rain and snow, we pray for our own safety and that of our forests and forest creatures.

I wrote this poem in September of 2018…

When the not-so-far ridges have been obscured
by smoke for months…
When your mind is clouded with confusing thoughts…
When what you once perceived proves to be false
or limiting…
When you sip your morning
cup of tea and place one foot
in front of the other
and say yes to this new day,
you have learned faith.

The smoke hangs on the ridge waiting for
directions from the wind.
The firefighters are out there
day and night manning
bulldozers, helicopters, heavy machinery–
we trust them to do their jobs–
to be wisely directed by those
who understand the nature
of fighting fire in a heavily forested area
with up and down rugged terrain.  We
have to trust them.  We have to trust
and to hold onto faith that everything is
going to be alright…
and until then,
that we can bear it–
be strong
be patient
and live our lives truly
and boldly.

We have to trust that we have
sufficient courage,
to share our gifts and
to proceed
into this new day.
We go forward into the uncertainty
on wings of prayer, hope and trust
and faith
and whatever love looks like today.

Then, I go into the garden to harvest tomatillos.

tomatillos

As of this moment, it is snowing and accumulating.  Yay!  And the rest of March might bring more precipitation.  We hope so.

 

Freedom…

Freedom is a choice.  Is it?  Stand beside the ocean in your birthday suit.  Or walk into that floral painting .  Daffodils?  Delphiniums?  Crocus?  Lupine?  Horizon lines.  Yesterday, someone said that as artists, we are fascinated with painting horizon lines.  The sky meets the sea.  The land touches the water.  I roll in flowers in fields of forever, at least in some dreams.  If I ruled the world…every day might be the first day of spring.  That jubilant season.

Truly, in the mountains I don’t want spring to come too soon.  I want the deep cold that encourages spring flowering and summer fruiting.  I whisper to the cherry tree and the bulbs beneath the earth, if they are listening, don’t blossom too soon.  The deceit of a false spring could halt the blossoming and inhibit the bees when temperatures fall to freezing again.  I wonder if the trees can understand my language–if they know I care.  Do they witness my own wishy-washiness when it comes to not using plastic?

Is this a fantasy that I’m living?  Is this reality a tiny wedge (Kathy would ask “a wedge of cheese”) in an orgasmic universe?  I want to say omniverse although I’m not sure why.  Is that what the big bang means–one giant orgasm that sprung the worlds into being?  Can I say that here?  Freedom to write what I want, to have my own secular thoughts.  The ones that were forbidden by a childhood of too little freedom with an autocratic ruler.

It occurred to me again, that I really only found my voice recently.  No wonder I save volumes of my writing.  I won’t say everything on this blog.  Some things I hold sacred, private.  Having freedom entitles one not to speak when one chooses.

Yesterday, at the lake, I noticed the sky.  The clouds were reflected in the water.  I thought I could dive into the sky.

Freedom, claiming it, takes courage especially if you’ve been oppressed.

Freedom’s close companion is responsibility.

Castle Lake.1a

A New Relationship to Snow

I live in the mountains, but I haven’t always.  I spent most of my life living beside the ocean.  When I moved to the mountains twenty years ago, I had very little familiarity with snow.  Those first few winters, I was immersed and quickly educated on the reality of snow.  “Pretty on a postcard, but practically problematic” (from a poem I wrote).  Mine has been an evolving relationship with snow.  At first, I found it exciting, then daunting.  Beautiful and restrictive.  Enchanting and unpleasant.

Today, it is welcome (though not to the point of overwhelm) and appreciated.  For I understand the wisdom of snow.  How it coaches us to quiet ourselves, to slow our pace, to go within.  How it frosts the trees, covers the earth, seeps into the ground.  How it facilitates the fruiting of trees and the flowering of plants and the impetus of underground bulbs.  Is everything a metaphor?  Do we make it so?

There is poetic beauty in the first light snowfall, the large unique flakes that sift like fairy feathers lit by the back porch light.  That mesmerizing whirl of flakes that can put one into a trancelike state.  The deep quiet that is induced when the snow is softly falling. The first waking to a snow-blanketed world, the sweet shock of it all.

Then there is the impasse that deep snow creates.  The waiting for the snowplow to clear the roads.  More waiting for the men to come and shovel my driveway and pathways.  There is no going anywhere fast.  And if you dare to walk when its icy, be sure to wear your shoe chains.  Once, despite wearing shoe chains, I slipped.  I was carrying a cup of coffee from the local cafe.  I held that cup high in the air as I slid and fell to my knees.  I did not spill one single drop of that cup of coffee.

Hot foods, soups, warm grogs, hot chocolate are appreciated more when the weather is cold and there is confining snow.  Soup sipped and bread broken with friends adds to the warmth of the wood fire.

These days, the wisdom of snow supersedes everything for me. Following the last several summers of smoke and fires, I’m so grateful for the snow that soaks, saturates, nourishes the trees and the earth and every living creature.  The snowmelt that feeds our springs, raises our water table.  While there have been times that I desired an “easy winter,” now I’m grateful when winter behaves like winter.

Winter is a time of gestation on many levels.  We aren’t meant to plunge on ahead and force growth.  It is wise to slow down, integrate our experiences and be present with the slow growth of our own wisdom.

****
thoughts on snow from an early journal:

Today, there is finally snow!  I have to say that my whole body has been waiting for the relief of snow.  Something in me was holding my breath, waiting, anticipating, leaning into as if I were frozen in the form of someone about to dive, but unable to.  Not until that first exhale of new snow falling–then I could breathe deeply once again.  I appreciate that there’s nowhere to get to this morning.  That I don’t need an excuse to stay in and cook, or paint (or if I get to it, sorting and organizing).  Maybe I’ll begin writing that book that I want to write…or daydream a bit.

 

“Truth”

I live in the mountains of northern California.  In early 2018, my sister, Kathy, moved one hour south of me at at a lower elevation.  Prior to moving, Kathy had fought cancer for several years.  She followed her own instincts in treating it.  In January, 2018, she opted for chemotherapy.

Following is an excerpt from my journal at this time.

Angels meet and greet.  Glances exchanged, hearts engaged, hands touch–sisters–when the end is near, the truth becomes clearer.  I couldn’t drive her to her first chemo appointment.  It was yesterday.  It was rescheduled from last week.  Last week, I had a good excuse–a big snowstorm.  My sister, lymphedema in her right arm–swollen beyond recognition.  A warrioress with literal wounds.  A bandage is swathed under her arm and across her chest.  This wound that hasn’t healed–the bandages need to be changed daily.

My word today is truth.  Her word is courage.

I told her that I couldn’t drive her because I couldn’t sit there beside her in the hospital as she underwent this intravenous process.  I wouldn’t have been the best support.  She thanked me for telling her my truth.  If we can’t be straight with one another now, when?

She got her hair cut short.  She asked me to knit her a hat, which I began working on immediately.  I painted her a picture of a woman surrounded by butterflies.  I think that she’s going to make it.  We need optimism.  Truth is, I don’t know very much.  The mystery is here, is in us, is around us, is us.  Nature helps.  I send her daily photos of the nature where I live to calm and center her.  To support her with beauty.

Truth is, some days I think that she’s doing better than me.  Truth is, love is a strange animal–she is always showing up at odd times, giving us opportunities.

Like that night I sat on a log beside my driveway, stargazing.  It was so peaceful, I shut my eyes.  A visiting cat sat beside me.  Out of the shrubbery beside me, a rustle. Opening my eyes, I see a creature emerging.  I can’t name it immediately.  And then,
Skunk.  A few feet apart, we stare at one another.  Neither of us felt threatened.  I watched him waddle away.  Truth is, it felt like love.  Does recognition equal love?

Truth as an expression of love.  I love you enough to tell you the truth.  Is there something that stands in the way of truth?  At least, I can try telling it to myself.  When my parents were in their declining years and the family was in chaos, I began a poem with this line:

“Truth lies in a shallow grave
while perspectives hang out everywhere…”

transformation.

 

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.

 

****
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.

pussn'boots3