Art Journals

Precarious

Precarious is the word for the season. It’s how we feel about our health with a new variant blasting its way through our illusions of safety. It’s how I feel when I go outside and encounter the slippy-slide-y snow and ice. It’s the extreme-weather-economic-social angst and a million other things in the news every day.

And it’s what I feel for the birds in their frenzied visits at our feeders.

One day when the birdseed supply had almost run out, I noticed a particular pattern of bird prints in the snow at the edge of our front door portico. Had they seen me emerge from there, even though it’s not visible from the feeders? I got the message and filled the feeders directly. They didn’t wait for me to depart before they started eating.

15 color medium point Posca Pens

So when I finished trying out all the flavors of Posca paint pens in my gift set, the birds outside my window jumped into the picture along with their tracks!

The problem was the hummingbird feeder, which froze solid so the Annas were out of luck. I should have melted it down each morning, but it was so cold I thought it would just freeze back up.

But then I saw a couple Annas on the feeder and realized I’d better try a little harder. Next morning was sunny and when I put the feeder out again with fresh nectar, I had a couple customers.

Next day though I found a one tiny body in the snow below. The heart gone from its 1263 beats per minute to 0, wings no longer beating 80 times per minute but now motionless.

Precarious. . .the life of such a small creature in the frozen world.

one male Annas hummingbird from three angles

Found you,  my tiny iridescent flasher

Beneath the feeder on a pristine pillow.

Did a snow clump fall and knock you out?

Did the cold stop your heart?

Did you, desperate with hunger, drink too much too fast?

Or did it the nectar come too late, after days of starvation and freezing?

My grieving took the form of an afternoon of study of this miraculous little body with the tiniest iridescent feathers that shone electric when in just the right light, but otherwise had become a dull gray. I hoped with my attention to unlock some secret of bird survival in a kind of artful homage to a valiant life.

Or was it a contemplation of the precariousness of life. 

Snowed In

And the snow keeps coming! draping us in a pristine white silence. We walk around the neighborhood in the fresh snow, taking care to avoid the layer of ice underneath. Today our neighbor Margo and I brought our two year old friend Ellis along for a sled ride, then helped older kids build a snowperson family of four on a front lawn. Memories of my childhood in Canada and Connecticut came rushing back. Hours spent absorbed in play and unconcerned as the fingers and toes grew numb with cold.

There’s the backyard discoveries of tracks in the snow – deer and rabbits – and Quon Yin sporting new winter garments. On a walk around the block the discovery of a street-side Christmas tree, labeled “free”, adorned with white and unclaimed. We live in Christmas tree heaven here where all the cut trees in the lot are full and perfectly shaped, with 6 or 7 species to choose from. Bob and I bought the first one we saw when we arrived in the big barn at the Hunter Family Farm.   

With temps in the 20’s the sketching is happening in the upstairs room where my watercolors and sketchbooks live.

It’s a cozy spot with a carpeted floor, a temporary art roosting spot until the garage studio is completed. Yesterday we had the electrical inspection, so things are moving along in spite of the fact that no roads around us are plowed. 

The windows on the left are being enlarged and there’s a door on that wall which looks out on the back garden.

And here’s the opposite view, with a sink going in where the black pipe comes down. And while the work is happening, the majority of my studio supplies have been stashed and unavailable in the rest of the garage. To say I’m excited would be an understatement. Being “snowed in” is highly conducive to art play!

Wishing you a joyful new year with an abundance of creative inspiration, tantalizing art materials, and fellow art lovers to share it all with.

Dream Sofa

acrylic textures and paint, collage on w/c paper 10 X 11″

CREATE your dream sofa

and it’s got to be soft in all the right places, conforming

to the body that needs refuge in a mother’s

acceptance of all the natural

accumulated muscle throbs bone clashes sores weariness

one that naturally listens and accommodates

some evenings giving spine support and others

gobbling up the jutting sharpness of a day’s stress

tenderizing it without comment

without correction

without judgement

it’s time NOW for your dream sofa to hold

you with open arms open palms

soft fingers

Ahhhh!

Grandfather Bunny

Out in the side yard doing some garden trimming I suddenly came eye to eye and inches way from a bunny lying under cover of a plant I was about to trim. When he made no effort to move away. . .well, here’s the art and the story to go with it.

acrylic inks on w/c paper

Found in a tangle of lily fronds, eyes open and question posed in absolute stillness, “if I do nothing will she go away? But from my touching proximity, I knew those deep dark eyes that gazed at me would not spur action. You were waiting for that which my world is trying to escape. I restored your soft shell of leaves around you and was drawn to speak to you as that beloved wildness that I have wished to reclaim for these many years, way back into childhood, standing at its door, impeded by my human-ness.

And so I softly pleaded with you Grandfather Bunny to let me step across the threshold with you, to hop and nibble and land softly with grass stained flower fragrant belly onto the softest spot in the garden. For a few moments I was almost close enough, but could not interrupt your last minutes of life with my human gaze, even though my prayers were to spend time with you in a rabbit warren, in the path of deer and all manner of birds and bugs.

Perhaps you knew that and had already sent blessings back to me from the other side, when I found you an hour later, eyes closed and body left behind, not a scratch on it, and I brought you inside because it was darkening out and I was not ready to abandon you to nature’s hungry reclamation crew. . .yet.

Next day I located a resting place under a conifer, on the far side of the ancestral grove, and the hole dug, filled it first with love and then your perfect wild body.

And the day after I found a fresh hole in the earth above you. I wonder, did someone in your home team come to get you and take you home? Or did you find your way back out and beyond so that now you are munching clover in a sunny field somewhere. . . eternal.

Camouflage

We tend to think of the creatures who eat the vegetation in our gardens as unwelcome intruders. Can you imagine what they must think of us?! Lately I’ve been startling bunnies and deer on a regular basis. One deer family in particular, a mom and two spotted fawns. Their pert heads lift at me with the unuttered challenge of “what the heck do you want?” They pause rather than bolting, unwilling to give up their munching or napping on the soft grass in the shade of the ancestral grove (the back side garden, under the birch trees, where we’ve “installed” the Grandmothers whose ashes we have shepherded since they died less than a decade ago). This deer family knows they are welcome there.

My mother had a very soft spot for creatures like deer, and surely would not mind a all watching the doe jump easily into the fenced-in vegetable garden and help herself to the bean and tomato plants. We can certainly survive without those extra veggies, and the plants of this world are accustomed to being munched on by all manner of creature. 

I did however subject this family to a round of picture taking and exact payment for their “rent” of my garden and its bounty, by including them in my art making.

Daler Rowney inks on w/c paper, 1st layer

Prior to the recent deer sighting, I was actually inspired by the trip to the Japanese Garden and a picture I took of the koi pond.

This image reminded me to play around with the “painting on water shapes” technique I love, as an expressive and highly spontaneous way to achieve nature shapes, especially since I live in an area dominated by trees, trees, trees!

So I started by wetting the paper with lines of water and crosslines connecting them in almost a tangle.

Next step: dropper onto the wet shapes with two different inks, somewhat randomly.

And next: tip the paper and add drops of water into the shapes if necessary, so that the inks mix and move.

Then I dipped a dip pen into the darker ink and added some calligraphy to delineate or suggest tree texture and branches, including dry pen texture.

Lastly I dipped a cotton ball in the inks and dabbed on leaf and bush foliage.

And that’s when the doe found her way in. With a bit more ink she found her place, a native with every right to live here with us and share this fertile ground. She fits right in. I considered adding birds and dragonflies and all manner of other creatures to this Where’s Waldo piece, but decided I’d told the story I wanted to, and time to move on.

Currently I’m reading a book which has had a significant influence on me lately, and I highly recommend it as a great read. . .Martin Marten by Brian Doyle

It’s about a boy coming of age and a marten also coming of age and a million other things to surprise and delight, so that you begin to see the world from the perspective of the non-human creatures, plants, etc which inhabit “our” world while we overlap and inhabit “theirs”.  (As you can see it’s making me more verbose than usual!)

Stuck-in-the-Muck Postscript?

Life has been good here in Olympia AND I miss my friends back in Sonoma County and would love to be able to make art with my Muse Group sisters again. So I did! Spared myself a flight and just sat down to my art table at the same time they were meeting in person to play with wet-on-wet painting, something which we used to do a lot together. Then I got to see them on Facetime and pretend I was there in person. It did me a world of good.

After getting stuck in the muck while kayaking in Woodard Bay the week before, I wanted to make some muck with paint. You know, like a small child will do after it rains. I started out by dropping ink onto wetted shapes and watched the fantastic landscape shapes appear. Then I mixed in some gesso to make the muck with my fingers. Mmmmm.

acrylic inks, gesso, dip pen on w/c paper

I’m still trying to find my footing here in my new home. But aren’t we all? We are all walking on a swinging bridge!

Bunny bunny

In my “old home” I used to spend a great deal of my time in my studio, a modest detached building next to the house surrounded by garden. The deal about moving was that the studio would hopefully have some degree of separation from the house, the washer/dryer and every other manner of house chore interruption. In the “new home”, that separation will be a wall built inside the garage. . .eventually. Apparently there’s a shortage of contractors for that kind of work here.

So I packed up my “old studio” with that delay in mind, and built a sort of wall partition of those boxes here. Then I pulled out just the supplies for mixed media play, otherwise sometimes known as my Conversations With the Muse.

studio in the garage

As you can see there are windows to let in light and even the fluorescents for nighttime and overcast days, and the water is a quick walk across the garage. Who needs more that this?! A fan sometimes, but otherwise I’m good.

torn watercolor painting, cotton balls and bunny painting!

The start here was to tear up an old painting, always a great way to start when you have nothing in mind. A bunny kept hopping through my mind, so I knew to put bunnies in. They wanted to hide, but you know they’re not very good at it. The bunnies in my yard are different shades of brown and buff and easily seen on the green grass which they love to munch. In the bunny world you learn to freeze if a possible predator, like one of those towering humans, gets close. Bunny lore has it that you cannot be seen if you stay still enough.  Haha! But when the big bumbling human reaches for the cell phone to get that coveted picture, the next thing the human sees is the white of the cottontail and startled, drops the phone! So I had to paint some bunnies since I couldn’t get a good enough picture to share with you here! Maybe there’s a hidden teaching here, but I didn’t find it. The bunnies are enough.

It felt good to tear paper and paste and draw and all that. I miss my Muse Group but I can sit at my table among the boxes in the garage and be happy to be at play again. Time to do another now!

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!