Animals

Attempt at a Conversation with Birds

This blog was titled Conversations With the Muse many years ago, and mainly that’s been happening. I make art, and then I think and write about it. Otherwise it feels so unfinished. With the mixed media expressive art there is often a verbal interaction attempted with the content of the piece, which usually contains a great many unanswered questions. . .like this one.

For my underpainting I used an unfinished experiment with dripping inks and blowing them across the page with a straw. Then I found pieces of deconstructed paintings I’ve been keeping for the collage. The result was something that totally short circuited all the rules of color, design, technique etc that i have been learning and relying on in my art for many years. Thank goodness. My favorite thing is to create something bizarre, unexpected, and fascinating to contemplate. Hopefully it will get me wondering outside the box of my usual thinking.

acrylic inks and fluid paints on w/c paper

You crows, all black and squawky on one side and cooing doves on the other.

You’ve laddered up from the lower realms and found a roost for your pulpit.

Now speak!         

(silence)

How can you be so silent now, as I sit expectant with pen in hand to take dictation?

What do you see and hear and feel in your vast communications network?

Am I too dense to plug into it and understand?

How long would I have to sit and watch and listen to receive even a micron of the information which sails unseen, unheard by us humans, between you  and your avian family each moment of the day.

Surely this painting entitles me to just a bit of all that? . . .a feather dropped that I might keep for a dream catcher? A song that I could learn and sing to myself?

Perhaps when the cawing meets the cooing I may at last get a feel, by audio transmission, for the freedom of flight?

a look at the process of construction from beginnings to placing collage pieces and drawing in the focal bird

Have you had any conversations with your art lately?

In the winter garden

There’s so much going on now in the winter garden. I keep poking my head outside my studio door to see how the Gulf Fritillary chrysalid is coming along with its metamorphosis. Moments ago it was wiggling its wing and two shiny eyes looked back at me from within its leaf-like encasing. Want to see?

I’m hoping it gets on with it before nightfall. It’s not something one wants to miss!

And then those fuzzy little knobs all over the pipevine are starting to plump out into the orchid-like red Dutchmen’s pipes I have sketched so many times. And that means that some time this month the butterflies will also arrive and lay their eggs and. . .well you know the cycle.

And then, since it’s been raining off and on, we have a new crop of ‘shrooms that are particularly lovely as they progress through the stages of their own life cycle.

All this to be enjoyed even without a vaccine!

Caw Caw!

A crow arrived in my meditation, a big black bird body, up close and personal with his back to me – demanding attention like all his cohorts in the skies, on branches and wires, beak open and loudly proclaiming, or was it complaining? I wondered if I could ask for a smattering of blessings from the crow proclaimer, blessings for us earthbound mortals. 

So I did some art and asked.

collaged, hand painted papers

(And Crow spoke)

“Look to each other

be the sentinel at your friend’s gate

stand watch over that which is most precious

to yourself and also to others

listen to others’ voices

and speak your own clearly

base your claim to nobility

on your readiness to share

your own inner wealth.”

Pomegranates and Hummingbirds

I had just picked the miniature pomegranates and found a place in the sun to arrange them, a concrete bench in front of the house, where I could also sit to sketch them. The wee red fruits and even my paints and brush were just an excuse to sit there in the winter sun, next to all the bird feeding activity – mostly goldfinches and chickadees.

But my back was to the hummingbird feeder where a noisy drama was taking place. It sounded like a noisy helicopter propeller, only faster and close enough to cause a breeze on my face and a shiver of danger down my spine. Could these two aggressive hummingbirds actually have in mind attacking me instead of each other? As I turned around, the feeder with its red cap was dancing and a full scale battle was raging over a spot at the feeder. My bucolic setting had turned savage and I hurried to finish up.

Lizard Spirit Speaks

The black and white gecko from my dream last week finally spoke, and just in the nick of time. How does that work? Well, you sit down with a pen and paper, focus your attention on it, and ask it to speak. Then you take dictation. Of course you have to assume the spirit guide has manifested in your dream and in the art because it has a message.

So with paper and pen before me finally Lizard spoke and I wrote.

“Lay low and listen, to music that soothes and restores. Fill your eyes with images that look past the doom and bitterness that still brews, to the fantastical carpet of green velvet and scarlet mushrooms and the visual cadence of shapely trees and bare branches. Feel the warmth of your own skin inside cozy layers and fresh cold air spicing and refreshing your breath, clearing out cobwebs of thought, and making room for a deep contentment beyond all the distressing rumblings of bad news.

Lay low and listen. Be ready to act in a heartbeat when the time is right. Attune with every sensor in every cell of your body, even to the littlest toe. Feel the drumbeat of upcoming events there. . . . and there, but be not alarmed. Embody readiness, and if a tail must be lost, fear not, for you are a lizard and can grow a new one!”

Later that day I watched as the insurgents stormed the citadel in Washington. By the next morning the tail, which had been lost, was already growing back, stronger than ever! 

Last Night I Dreamed. . .

Last night I dreamed of a lizard, a beautiful black and white patterned one. In the dream I was quite excited to find it among some plants in my home. Because you see, when my boys were little, they were really into lizards, and especially a leopard gecko which Ben named Samon. His preschool art was filled with colorful geckos and our house chirped loudly with crickets that had escaped while trying to get them into the cage for Samon’s dinner. Our good friend Maureen, an accomplished photographer, posed Ben with Samon for her project on children and their pets.

photo by Maureen Morrison

So my delight at having a lizard appear in my dream is not a surprise, particularly at a time when I just published a book (for the family) titled The Cornelis Boys and Other Creatures. It’s a collection of stories about my sons’ early years, when I participated in endless expeditions to acquire a managerie of lizards, frogs, toads, caterpillars, butterflies, praying mantises and more. I became as enthralled as the boys with these creatures. 

But I was also delighted with the dream, because my Muse group sisters and I decided to explore the theme of spirit animals/creatures in our art. So today I got out my ink and got started with some Ralph Steadman style splatter to get the imagination opened up to the possibility of another lizard visitation. 

When finished I got out my reference book, Animal Speak: The Spiritual and Magical Powers of Creatures Great and Small by Ted Andrews and looked up Lizard. Here’s what he wrote:

“Keynote: Subtlety of Perception. . .a symbolism associated with the psychic and the intuitive. The ability to  perceive subtle movement – physical and ethereal, waking or sleeping – is what lizard medicine teaches. To some within the Native American tradition, the lizard is associated with dreamtime. Dreams contain some of the subtlest perceptions of the mind of which we may not be conscious. . . listen to your own intuition over anyone else’s. Learning to follow your perceptions is what will enable you to succeed most frequently.”

Sounds like pretty good advise for anyone, whether you’re drawn to the reptile world or not!

I can’t resist leaving you with another lizard family picture, of my other son Andy and his brother Ben. There’s obviously some photoshop going on here, but I suspect not with the lizard! (oh yeah, and then there was the rat chapter. ..)

Bee Doodles

One day a week ago the blazing fall colors were what occupied the art-mind-space, so I squirted fluid acrylics paints on the paper and started finger painting madly with them. Then let the piece incubate a few days and did some drawing with inks. Playing with the inks on another piece of scratch paper (the bee and flowers with white), I ended up cutting them out and collaging them to the painting. A rather riotous garden emerged, and then the words.

I doodle at my table

strewn with pencils,

pens, paints, papers 

scissors. . .

bees doodle too

with pollen pastels

like this bug eyed one

whose trail I follow

to still the swirl of mind

Pet Portraits

I’ve been busy doing some commissioned pet portraits lately, working from pictures provided by the owner. I used to be able to take the picture myself and pose the pet with appropriate lighting. But with Covid I haven’t been making “home visits” so the portraits are a bit more of a challenge.

The main challenge is to get the eyes right so you can see that doggie love manifest. And yes, this one has one blue and one gold eye!

One of my favorite pets to paint is a llama. The eyes are so outrageously large and the long hair is just too gorgeous.

And yes, this is the puppy version of the first dog, already showing signs of great intelligence.

Hidden Creatures

Pat’s garden can be inhabited like a Where’s Waldo picture, where there are creatures everywhere (of the statuary sort) if one slows down enough to look. And slowing down and looking is what we’ve been doing there for the past few weeks in order to sketch.

I sat down to sketch this scene in the afternoon light, which at this time of year dwindles quite rapidly. The light and shadow shapes were what drew me, but minutes into sketching, I looked up to see the light had gone! And remembered that you must always notate the shadow shapes before they change and you lose them!  Consequently I was on my own, making it up and hoping for the best.

The little bunny nearby saved the day.

Fire Evacuations: Donkeys, Goats and Us

Before the fire season got off to a roaring start with lightning strikes and wildland fires all over California, I had been occasionally enjoying the company of the donkeys and goats that live at the bottom of our road. After my dinner I would take a bucket of apples down in the cool of the early evening. They would see me approaching and come running. Did me a world of good to suddenly be so popular.

I’ve tried many times before to sketch them at the fence where they are so adorable and engaging, but it’s impossible with all the movement. So one time I kept them waiting for their apples, while I took pictures.

The donkeys are not that much bigger than the biggest goats and I had to distract the goats who are more aggressive at the fence.

Then last week, as we were packing for a fire evacuation I noticed that the field was empty and the donkeys and goats had beat us to evacuation.

Perhaps they were taken to the county fairgrounds, or perhaps a friend’s pasture, but I hope to see them home soon. It would do my nerves a world of good to have my animal friends gobbling apples from my hands again.

It’s been an exhausting and stressful week of evacuation to three different places in the Bay Area, to friends’ homes and a hotel. But our area was saved, thanks to the tireless efforts of firefighters, police, prison inmate crews, pilots, local authorities, rescuers from far away, and so many more.

We came home yesterday to a yellow ribbon on our mailbox “crime scene” which we figured was placed there when the police made their rounds of mandatory evacuation areas. Otherwise there is a dusting of ash, a lot of fallen apples, neighbors with their own stories to tell, and Sylvester the cat who no longer lives here, but hangs out here all day.

We still have a friend who is waiting for news of whether her house will be saved. And of course there are all the families who have already lost their homes, and that rests heavily on my heart. I’d like to say I’ll get right out and do more fire story sketches as I did in 2017 and 2018, but I haven’t had the extra energy to sketch through this crisis. One spends so much time just making it through the day, calling and texting friends and family, moving possessions in and out of the car.

And now I just want to enjoy home again. After all, that is the greatest gift when you almost lose yours and then don’t.