A rare treat it was to host my Muse sister-friend-student, Muriel for a few days last week. I met her way back in 2009 when she showed up in one of my early Muse groups. Her first full day here in Olympia it rained all day long, so we happily sequestered in my studio for a Muse group of two, getting out the paints and inks and tools of the trade. Did the whole thing, from poetry reading to meditation to art play to free write and sharing. The sequence works like it always has. She worked throughout the day to finish her stunning piece (and I failed to photograph it!)
Not a Leaf
A stroll in the garden with eyes squinted to discern that which must at first go unnoticed, and even after serious moments of open vision, blank minded thrall, still invisible as isolated things but rather made of ephemerals, glances of leaf skin and petal wisp and fuzzy something and long skinny filaments of ribboned metaphor, not exactly a bird or properly a flower or a dead rodent even, and certainly not a small crowd of people on their way to the scene.
The particulars catch the eye and a story could be told about about them. Here I chose to let the mind keep wandering as it does when the spring garden offers new banquets for the senses each day.
I had more time that day and the gel prints were still out and intriguing, so I did another piece.
On this fine spring afternoon, while I sit idle in the garden, the first white irises, closed this morning, have now fully opened. I, who have scarcely ventured out into the garden for these cold months, go round taking pictures-painting-writing-noticing their return, as if it were their first. Were they really this enthralling last year? this luminescent?
My birds, bees, blooms shown here are not copied from “life”.They are strange visitors from the crowded population of my imaginings. None of them wants to identify with one species, preferring to declare their one-of-a-kind status, even if they sacrifice beauty in the bargain. They mingle with each other in ways that can seem chaotic to the observer.
But ask any one of them a question. Ask for advise. Go on! They will answer at no charge to you, and you may possibly go away the wiser for it.
Listen carefully though, for they all speak different dialects, though of the same language. Bird chirps, sings songs, and can have long conversations. Bee is more prone to whispers, buzzes, bzzzzzzz. And as for Bloom, she holds her tongue out for Bee, who needs no sound from Bloom.
These may actually be my first gel prints. I knew I’d get to it eventually, especially since my husband Bob is a printmaker who uses gel plates along with many other techniques and is always offering to teach me. But my Arts Olympia group, which meets monthly for an art Salon, scheduled a gel printing session led by Diana Fairbanks in her studio last week. What fun! And can you see where the Birds Bees Blooms were hatched?!
How impossible it seems to the winter wearied soul
Who had almost abandoned the thought of a sun
Committed to undressing and warming bare skin and
The petal tender garments encasing the bloom.
And so, while the ink was out, I thought I’d see how it looked in a portrait, as always, from the Sktchy Museum app.
The water shapes did the work of sculpting this wonderful face, starting lightly with a touch of ink and charging in a darker concentration where needed. After the pencil drawing was done, the portrait came together in minutes with the ink. Sepia, after all, the luscious tone of antique portraits in early photography. I call this painting-with-water-shapes though much of water media painting can be viewed in this way.
Have you tried this? Would you like to? What’s your experience?
If you live here in the Pacific Northwest like me, you’re probably watching out, day after day, for new signs of spring. There are some bulbs in my yard that are growing soooooo slowly, holding their bloom-breath, waiting for the sun to shine more than fifteen minutes at a time. The story of spring this year is a long drawn out one requiring some patience. One must let the eye wander slowly enough to catch a certain swelling on that dead looking branch, a subtle color shifting of a branch from brown to red before the green pokes out. You have to keep up the wonder-wandering. The Irish never found the leprechaun and his pot of gold by rushing through the spring woods.
I was tempted to add some blossoms and wildflowers to this scene, to move things along. But this is a magical forest which reveals its secrets to those who deign to sit and rest a while. If you start to see those eyes, don’t be spooked. They mean you no harm. Great them civilly and the inhabitants may even speak to you!
Surely you also hear these voices while working on your art; the cheerleaders? the coaches? the critics? the fear mongers? The ones who showed up here with their warnings and advise, are all familiar. After so many years we’re all one big scrappy family, alternately at war and at peace. Like many families I presume.
When I sit down to create these Muse pieces I cast my eyes around. The words Spotlighton theExtraordinary appeared in a magazine article and the words informed the art. Then the art informed the words! Forming a circle, like this serpent who is going chasing his tail.
This was my second annual Muse Group Reunion since I moved away from Sebastopol and the group of students/friends I’d known for years. They of course had continued to meet and explore all kinds of new mixed media fun without me and grown stronger as a group. Happily my honorary member status lets me slip right back into the group when I’m in town. That Tuesday last week was one of those now familiar downpour days where you wonder if the puddle will follow you inside.
It was the second day of Spring and I shared a technique that works so beautifully to channel that inner spring bloom mania many of us get when, after a long winter, the blooms start to manifest. I call it Painting with Water Shapes. It actually works best, I think, when you apply it to shapes from your imagination. So whatever your imagination is full of at the moment (haha!), which for me is leaves and blooms, can manifest in your water shapes. For some it might be people, or musical instruments, or even cars and airplanes! Here’s my demo from the day.
There’s a carnival going on in this spring garden, and you’re all invited!
Skip over the puddles or splash through and join us.
The seeds have teamed up this season and shared their genes
In passionate coupling under dripping trees
Creating in their dye pots wild alien species
Abandoning all rules of floral etiquette
Falling over each other in a dizzying drama of originality
Twining and turning and popping up their heads
Giggling at the absurdity of it all.
If you want to try this. my advise is to start by painting watery shapes with your brush, maybe with a touch of pigment so you can see them. Then just charge the inks or watercolors (with just enough water to make them fluid) into the water shapes. As soon as you tip the paper to watch the colors blend, the action starts! So be on your toes to connect new water shapes, charge in more pure color, stop inclining the paper and let it dry! Otherwise mud has been known to happen.
And here they are, the Sebastopol Muses, (minus 3). Golly I miss em! Always up for art fun together.
Next day, out on the flooded Laguna de Santa Rosa, the mustard and oxalis were blooming and skies and earth doing that scintillating mirror dance.
And my favorite countryside sketching spots. . .
Those gnarly oaks I struggled for years to paint!
Before leaving Sonoma County for the Bay Area part of my visit, I stopped by our old home on Lewis Dr., talked to a couple neighbors and got a tour of the property from the current (and exceedingly happy) owner, who is turning my art studio into a guest cottage.
My mother’s memorial weeping cherry tree was in bloom! The pipevine, long cultivated by me for the life cycle of the Pipevine Swallowtail butterfly, was displaying its signature Dutchmen’s pipe blossoms, and the lemon bush was blanketed with Meyer lemons.
And then the chicken coop, Bob’s studio, and the interior of my studio was gone, making room for new home owner dreams I guess.
Meanwhile Bob is outside right now securing our vegetable garden here in Olympia so the deer don’t get in when we start planting veggies. The blossoms are popping out everywhere now in Olympia and in my back yard. Changes everywhere every day. Isn’t life a wild ride!?
The Playful Muse workshop series returns for a Spring Session starting April 10! If you’re an Olympia, Washington local, I hope you can join us. If not, I’ll be posting about the lessons here as I’ve been doing for the past, gulp, sixteen years.
Put the PLAY Factor back into your artmaking. Learn to recognize your intuitive voice as it takes you in new directions. Each session adds a new mixed media painting technique to your repertoire, pushing the boundaries of inks and acrylics, adding textures, collage, and more. Meditation and writing are added to the mix to evoke that powerful Muse energy!
All experience levels, beginners to advanced, are welcome.
Six weekly classes and each week an all new lesson. This season will feature new textures, image transfers, Wabi Sabi effects and acrylic skins. Here’s a sampling from previous years!
The last Muse Group lesson of this series last week was the drama of Black and White. We started out making lots of lines and shapes on practice paper using all the fun paint application tools, including fingers of course. As often happens when I’m just trying to demonstrate these techniques without any content in mind, an image jumps out.
The figure. The eye. The choice was to get rid of the eye in the picture, or let it emerge. During the free write session that followed the art making in class, my own writing was aborted when my phone rang. It was a call to move my cataract surgery up a month sooner. By the next day I realized the image of the figure with the eye had something to say. Once again the saga of my failing vision continues. The surgery may or may not help much in my case. So I look to once again adapting myself to what may come. . . as the Master of the skEYES steps in to offer me my brush and paint and remind me of the xray vision. Haha!
Ten years ago I created a mixed media Muse lesson for Valentine’s Day called My Love Relations. Actually it’s has many versions and all of them a lot of mixed media fun. You can pick a lover, spouse, beloved children, mother, father, self love, or love of the divine to focus your feelings. I believe I’ve done all of the above! An easy way to start is with an old love song in sheet music in a book called Magic Melodies of the Gay Nineties (which I picked up years ago at a library sale). Then find a romantic couple in an art history book and make a black and white copy. This couple was in a painting called Street Scene by John Sloan in a compilation of Love artwork in book called LOVE, A celebration in Art and Literature! Cut it out, glue it on with the music and collage the heck out of it!
I’m just wild about Harry/Bob
He’s just wild about me
When I close my eyes we’re
Walking down the promenade
His eyes are on me and my heart
Sways to the song in our hearts
As people in cafes whisper
“Ah yes they’re so in love”
Meanwhile Valentino looks on with envy
then turns his head away
in movie star despair.
And the song continues. . .
The heavenly blisses
Of his kisses
Fill me with ecstasy.
He’s sweet just like chocolate candy
And just like honey from the bee
Postscript: Happy Valentines day! May you have chocolate to enjoy and someone to enjoy it with. Romance is a bit of nonsense, but Love is the best indulgence!
Sometimes when I approach a painting in the Muse fashion. . .starting with a relatively empty mind, being playful and unconcerned with outcome. . . I enter an unknown territory and I am clueless about what to do next. The fun part is messing with the paints. I could do that all day. But then making it into a work of art that I can relate to comfortably can be like groping in the dark on a messy floor. And when I write about it, there’s no telling what’s liable to leak out. I’m stumbling through dream awareness where anything bizarre could and does happen. And then comes an insight like oh yeah, that’s exactly how it is, I have always known that!
Like this piece which, after the free and easy play with color and crinkled Masa paper, I found myself in a chaotic realm.
So I just started writing. (Five minutes usually works best.)
We walk together navigating
barriers, seeing fences
wandering through face-scapes
wondering how They live
on this shared planetary home
Am I one of Them or a different species?
Do we chart our journeys by the stars and planets
or on animal trails through woods?
I am we are in perpetual motion
in a cosmos too old to care.
I am I and we at the same time. Whatever I am or we are is perpetual. It doesn’t work to say Stop the world, I want to get off! It will just keep spinning in unpredictable ways and we’ll look out at it through the bars of our own perception. Different bars for each of us, but we’re still in it together.
If you got this far, thank you for hanging in there. The main thing is to get back to playing at your art spot. It’s the best antidote I know to a perpetually spinning planet! We’re all a bit strange, or at least I hope so. It makes for more interesting art!