Author: Susan Cornelis

The Energy Required for Change

We don’t generally look at a beautiful butterfly like this Gulf Fritillary, fluttering fairy-like on my studio wall, and think about what it takes for this creature to get to this point in their life cycle. But yesterday I was treated to a partial metamorphosis in progress – the part where the caterpillar stops munching the passion vine leaves and turns itself into a paper sack.

It was an extremely windy afternoon, so you can hear the moan of the wind in the (one minute) video I took, but don’t be fooled. The movement of the caterpillar is not the effect of the wind blowing it, though I couldn’t help but worry that the tender filament by which it had attached its entire body to the wood was extremely slender.

I watched transfixed and imagined what it must take in the way of energy and endurance for this little creature to so thoroughly surrender itself to its transition to the paper body (chrysalid).

In some ways it’s not entirely dissimilar to spending ones days as I have lately, wrapping my life in paper and boxes for a move, not really knowing how it will be on the other – unwrapping – end. It’s a kind of temporary stasis.

Will that fragile casing of the caterpillar be strong enough for it to endure the upcoming change? And what about my own fragile casing? Will I have enough energy to see me through? Haha! Of course I will! But oh, so much still to pack before the truck arrives Tuesday morning. . .

and I take the big leap!  Hopefully with elegance and abandon, like this dancer I sketched for practice last week!

Back to packing now. See you on the other side. . .the next post will be from Olympia!

The Narrator

Posing on her stage

In front of the curtain

Profile to audience, she is

Actress? Director?

Narrator, yes,

Of changing times

She waits

Hoping the seas will give up their secrets

Share a rosier picture of planetary change

If she could shapeshift

She might discover things

Why the solitary gull flies against the flock

For now though

She remains

Trapped on a stage

Helpless

Awestruck

Most of the mixed media paints and tools are packed away now, not to be opened until some time after “the move”. (The big truck comes next Tuesday and doesn’t arrive at our new home until the 21st.) But I’ve reserved lots of pieces of old paintings/demos/goofs to be mined for these new Muse works.

Years ago I painted moody ocean scenes in watercolor, then switched to fluid acrylics, throwing out the “rules” I’d learned. This one is a combination of both. I’ve come to rely on the words that come as I work on the “construction” of these works, which come together seemingly randomly. It’s all very personal of course, but at this stage of life, there’s nothing to hide. Wouldn’t you agree? Except for the social security number of course. Haha!

Packing Memories

I’ve had the strangest feeling about moving lately, that I’m not so much packing belongings as memories and layers of personal and shared history. And if I had a more efficient/useful/reliable way to accomplish the memory thing, there would not be so many things to find boxes for!

For instance, the wind chime, a gift made by my friend Ellyn that reminds me of her warm and wonderful heart every time I see and hear it. Or the beaded talisman made by Muriel to guard my studio door. Or the metal frog fountain-head from our pond in our Albany home, dating back to when the boys were into tadpole-ing and bringing critters home to take up residence there.

The boys (well men now) are a great deal less in need of these reminders of childhood than I.  They are too busy writing the big scripts of their lives, while I am enjoying the reruns.

So these things got packed today along with birdhouses and nests and rocks from my collection. The nests that were too fragile to pack have been distributed to key locations in the yard.

This one is my favorite, nestled in the bosom of the old apple tree behind my studio, inches from the tiny new apples. The history that I leave behind is somehow as essential as that which I take with me to re-plant in the fresh soil of the north. I can finally imagine how all these mini tasks are the structure of ceremony, that of continuance as well as rebirth.

Meanwhile the evening portrait painting continues, as I pursue a variety of poses on Sktchy and much needed practice with gouache.

I have more control and dexterity with watercolor, but love coming in with the opaque white gouache at the end to perk up the toned paper and make the eyes sparkle.

A Home of My Om

One of the great things about being an artist, i guess, is that after a certain number of years you begin to see that you have a lot to show for your time. It never seems like that when you’re in the trenches of your art making, listening to the inner critic tear you down, or when the sales or positive feedback thins to a trickle. But when you’re a visual artist and you are moving your residence/studio, and packing it all up. . .well if you stacked up my paintings next to me, I would be quite dwarfed. So I guess that means I can account for my time on earth? Ahem!

But then a sizable amount of that painting history has also been sent to its grave in the past month, with the only judge of its worth being myself, the artist and with no ceremonial send off.  Happily there’s another small portion of the otherwise discarded art which has been saved to become collage art. And some of that is what has gone into this tiny “book” art.

one pieces 10″X11″ paper, folded in half, cut to fold out and glued together

The Muses got together last week, and made small art books at Nancy’s home. Being a retired teacher she knew just how to teach us the folding involved in this book making. There was the “hot dog fold”, which you can perhaps picture, and the “hamburger fold”. When we started to get confused, those simple food images were surprisingly comforting.

I had brought with me an old monoprint, some of my son’s architectural drawings, and a variety of other papers with homemade stamps like the bird.

I knew we would be busy chatting while collaging, so starting with an in-progress painting seemed like a good idea.

I often like to put some kind of message in white space, which makes the art feel more intentional. I knew it had to do with moving to a new home, but it wasn’t til I got to the word “home” that I realized it was OM. Om being the primordial sound which connects us to this universe. So, no better home than OM. The bird is the Egyptian bird god Ra who brings the blessings we all need.

Another view of the back side. And I just noticed that Ra is flying from one window, presumably here in our Sebastopol home, north to another in Olympia, where we will be in three weeks time! Haha! And you probably think I planned it that way. This spontaneous art making invites the trickster in for laughs.

This folded book design can result in a folded up book with a front and back, but I was using heavy weight paper, so that didn’t quite work. But what a lovely little table top piece it makes, and I just realized it could also be a desktop pencil/pen holder!

Migration

Sometimes lately it feels like the whole world is migrating. No wonder. My small family are all moving this summer. Bob and I to Olympia, Washington next month. Andrew possibly to Seattle. Ben to Ashville, N.C. Lots of people are also staying put, of course. But there are so many human migrations going on just now. And look at the oceans and the skies!

But before a migration, there’s a certain amount of shaking up that seems necessary to dislodge one. Me, I’ve been in that drink blender for a while now. You know, throw in a bit of this, a bit of that, and turn on the blender. Now i’m sloshing around in the glass and about to spill out. 

acrylic transfer, collage, acrylics on w/c paper

She got all dressed up ready to go. The wind and waves were fierce, and her boat so tiny. Her fish friends were not sure she would take them along. They offered to come along for protection and she said sure, jump in, but they declined. So she jumped into the water with them.

Characters

white pencil and gouache on black toned paper

We all love characters! They wake us up and make us realize that being a human is an amusing business, capable of endless entertainment. And Derek McClure, of Sktchy fame, is one. . .or many as you will see here. I have sketched him in his many personas. He photographs himself at angles that distort and amuse. My lack of skill with gouache and BLACK paper help me to relax a bit and just give it a go. 

watercolor on beige toned paper

Here he is again! eye popping and jaw dropping his challenge to “paint me!!” I draw it with pencil and then just, gulp, dive in anywhere to start painting. Eventually it starts to look like someone, and so I throw caution to the wind, and keep painting, glad that no one’s looking. Telling myself that I don’t HAVE to post this on my blog. The best part is the end, coming in with white gouache for the highlights and white pencil or pastel for the hair. And, well maybe I’ll post it after all. I always do.

The Mothers of Bears Ears Monument

Bears Ears in southeastern Utah is the first national monument ever created at the request of a coalition of Indigenous tribes and is one of the most extensive archaeological areas on Earth. But it is being threatened by fossil fuel development and other uses which do not acknowledge the sacred status of these lands to the indigenous peoples who are fighting to protect these lands. These peoples recognize the authority of their matriarchs and it is these tribal women who are leading the way. 

As I painted them I realized that I am envious of their relationship to the land where they live. Especially perhaps now that I am leaving the home where I have lived the longest (a paltry 21 years!) As a child my family moved every year or more until I was eight and then only somewhat less frequently. Although we always made friends, we never lived near relatives, the people we “belonged” with. And there was no ancestral land I was aware of.

So no wonder I have been so drawn to the words and pictures of these indigenous women and their lands, which I have never visited.  

Mary R. Benally: gouache on beige toned paper

We have been birthed into these lands. The umbilical cords of our ancestors are buried here. Our genealogies are intertwined.”

Cynthia Wilson

“Our histories run deep. We relate to these lands who are alive. We know the names of the mountains, plants and animals who teach us everything we need to know to survive. We have within our cultures a familial bond. We know these lands as a mother knows her child, as a child knows her mother.”

Ahjani Yepa

“We are praying for Bears Ears National Monument and our nonhuman relatives. It’s not just Bears Ears we are praying for. Every tribal nation relates to these sacred mountains and their own ancestral lands. We are praying for them, too.

Please pray with us.

Please pray for us.

The mountains are reaching out to us.

The plants and animals are trying to reach us.”

Elouise Wilson

For more information about the Bears Ears inter-tribal Coalition visit the website. Indigenous peoples have so much to teach about how we may be able to heal our earth by relating to it in a more “familial” way.

To the Birds and Butterflies

It must be a springtime thing, but this year it feels different. There are just so many creatures making themselves known, flying close or settling themselves nearby or even on me with skin contact. Caterpillars, yes, but butterflies and hummingbirds, and bees, and lizards, and dragonflies. A crane fly flew inside my shirt yesterday and could not be coaxed out. And two nights ago I took a walk up the road at dusk and saw a fox wending his way slowly down the road ahead of me, stopping periodically, and was he looking back? And finally just as I got to my property I saw that he’d gone up the neighbor’s driveway across the street and was sitting there looking my way.  

And did I mention the wild turkeys and quail that have startled me by landing practically at my feet, suddenly out of nowhere? Were they always so present in the springtime, or is it just that I have been shining the tractor beam of my awareness on my surroundings here at my home before I leave it, storing up endless mental pictures to take with me?

graphite textures, handmade (by me!) papers and collage on w/c paper

To the birds and the butterflies, the ants and the tree frogs who have tolerated me in their jungle antechambers for all these one and twenty years, I offer up my books of Muse art and word. May you share the bounty of your natural gifts with others as you have with me. And may all bear witness to your unique gifts and strive in every way to protect them. Amen!

RR Square

It was a glorious Saturday at RR Square in Santa Rosa and everyone seemed to be “out”. I was there with so many of my sketch friends for the first meet up since before the pandemic. Local friends, friends from the Bay Area, former students, brand new sketchers . . . and then all those folks who are always drawn to people putting brush to paper out on the street. 

water soluble pencil and watercolor in Field Watercolor Journal

Windy was one of the people who stopped by, and then stayed to pose and tell us about her travels.

I followed friends over to the old graffiti covered brick facade west of the RR track and got that sudden immersion in street traffic noise and pedestrian walk-bys of the kind that one takes for granted as an on-location urban sketcher. A bit of a shock for this pandemic-stay-at-home-and-sketch-from-the computer artist of the past year. Fast and dirty, and it felt wonderful!

I got busy talking to friends though and got behind on sketching. For one, Richard Sheppard, friend of many years who is also moving away, and will be greatly missed by this community! And dear people with whom I share memories. . . Anyway I was too late to try to make out those building structures across the street from the Furniture Depot, so I populated my visual space with friends and got some paint on it. A supremely satisfying day!

If you are interested in joining a sketch group in Sonoma County you can ask to join the Facebook group Ready, Set Sketchers

RR Square’s Charlie Brown, painted by me in 2006

My memories of making art in RR Square go back years. The RR Square Charlie Brown statue I painted back in 2006 still stands at 4th and Davis St. You’ll find more about its creation here on my blog

Mother’s Day Packing

I have now trudged back through three decades of accumulated art, books, and papers, armed with a tape gun, an essential tool these days. Wrap those sturdy boxes up tight, they advise, so even if the movers throw them onto the truck, the contents will land intact.

My flat files are empty, if not flat. My bookshelf is empty except for a cow’s skeletal head, which I want to keep, but haven’t figured out how to pack yet.

And I’m collecting various treasures off the walls, like the art studio quotes which have sustained me through the treacherous narrows of brutal self critique. Here’s one:

When you’re in the studio painting, there are a lot of people in there with you – your teachers, friends, painters from history, critics. . . and one by one, if you’re really painting, they walk out. And if you’re really painting YOU walk out.

-Philip Guston

the pink tape will go on boxes headed for my studio

Notice that although the boxes are filled, I have not finished taping them shut. I have a terrible fear that I will forget something important and be unable to locate it on the other end, or even next week. My memory relies too much on things that I must locate, like keys, and sketchbooks and old paintings.

But you’ll want to know if I will have a studio again in my new home in Olympia, Washington. Yes, but it will be a garage conversion and take a bit of time. And it will be quite lovely and spacious and I will find spaces to make art until it is completed. And thank you for asking!

Sunday was of course Mother’s Day and I was blessed to be able to spend it in person with one son and on the phone with the other. It was a packing day, but ended with martinis and sketching in the garden.

yes, it was my first martini, in memory anyway

This is an old game we play and both enjoy it. Sketching each other quickly. The martini loosens the inhibitions. Whether that helps the result is debatable. Here’s Andrew’s of me.

by Andrew

I was very happy with this one. It was flattering and made me look quite pleasant in the way I like to think of myself!

And then today he sent this picture to his brother Ben (who lives in Nashville) with the message “You’ve ben my muse for so long”

Andy draws Ben on the front step of our house, circa 2001.

We all got a chuckle out of that. I hope I saved the portrait he did in one of the mystery boxes in the garage!

Packing is letting your history sift through your fingers again, losing and finding chunks of memory and having to decide which are important enough to keep. Touch decisions, every one. No wonder I’m so exhausted!