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.
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.
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!
this light filled understory and celestial guardian
This rush of stream and floating scaffold
This river sweeping us up, carrying us on
But for now at least
Spectatorship is recommended
And in a soft nesting spot
And preferably with Teddy
Later, in the sun exposed and excited
Earnest to catch memories on light beams
Riding those wave horses in
You don’t have to be an architect to build a home for your dreams, a temple or sanctuary, a place that just feels right. We did this week in Muse Group using paint and textures and collage building materials. That day one student’s home was a wheat field, another involved interplanetary travel and a third placed a lighthouse on the plains. All elicited powerful feelings and memories.
My building materials included the gesso texture from the demo of the week before, pictures from National Geographic that spoke to me, and a scaffolding of textured papers and more clippings, all held together with paint.
I’ve done this lesson many times over the years. If you’d like to give it a try, you might start out by remembering a special place where you felt safe, contented, joyful – a place for your dreams to take hold and grow,- a room, a garden, a temple a forest or beach. Then let it all go and see where your art materials bring you as you explore them playfully!
If you want to see other examples, visit these blog posts, here and here
I was just sitting down to figure out what I would teach for the first lesson of The Playful Muse workshop starting this week. I always like to start a mixed media series with fun paint application techniques to loosen us all up. Drip creatures is one of my favorite lessons because it’s silly and profound at the same time! So I looked up past blog posts on the Drip Creature theme and found this one from seven years ago. Lo and behold, it revealed my uneasiness about recent murky vision. Turns out that once again this is exactly my concern today! So here I am reposting it and letting it both speak to my fears and give me a much needed prayer of hope.
(from the 2016 post) I thought I was just being playful with this one, picking up an old class demo of a kind of ink drip creature. And then, no kidding, it started to talk to me about something I needed to hear!
I can see you sitting there, thinking about your eyes, one clear and one struggling to see through spots and threads and the murky patch.
Look me in the eye and repeat after me: I can see just fine. This cage of one eye is translucent and does not a prison make. I have three eyes to take the place of the one
and the world keeps opening.
Drip creatures tend to be a combination of many species and so they exist outside the realm of waking mind where we have convinced ourselves that things are a certain way that we can explain.
Yes, my left eye has a retinal occlusion for which there is treatment. . . of sorts, and yes I must be reminded not to worry, but to notice all the ways my other senses and brain fill in the blanks, giving me for the most part decent sight. I won’t soon forget this colorful and bizarre image, like something right out of a dream, or perhaps a prayer. (end of 2016 post)
And now (2023!) dealing with cloudy vision again, I feel so comforted, remembering that I have three eyes, and the world keeps opening!
If you want to try your own (prophetic!) drip creatures, look at this post for some simple instructions and give it a try!
Through nourishing rainfall or missiles in skyfall
Expulsion, Exodus, Ejection
Dispossession, Displacement, Dispersion
Extinction. . .
Watch out! This is what can happen when you cut up an old painting that’s going nowhere. It starts to find kinship with this moment in history and acquires a mind of its own. Or so it seems.
Process: I liked the textures and colors of the “old painting” and started cutting out some bird shapes and then one turned into a building and another a kind of avian-human that requested a colorful hat.
The first underpainting was this one, and a storm developed. Not surprising, since we are in the dark stormy part of the year when you’re liable to freeze or blown, or get very wet if you go outside.
It was the scene I needed for the creatures I’d cut out. Some were simply pieces left on the table in the jumble of cuttings. They became a kind of graveyard or decomposing of organic matter, benevolent in itself, but slightly disturbing in context.
I have lived with these pieces for part of a week and am ready to put them to rest now. But you never know what might come next?!
Last week was class three of a three-week series of The Playful Muse mixed media group. We’re adjourning for the holidays and I will be teaching a six week version of (always new) mixed media lessons in January and February. I wanted to share the students’ Wordplay pieces here since each one is not only totally original and unique, but a rich palimpsest of its own! (See yesterday’s post for more on that lesson)
I hope you’ll try it too and would love to hear your experience!
For more on creating a palimpsest as an intention for mixed media pieces, visit this blog post for more.
Here we are in the studio with lesson two of the Playful Muse series: making marks on brown paper with sticks, bamboo pens and strange nibs, fingers, etc. My Muse Group friends in Sebastopol will recognize this lesson from my visit last March! We in the Olympia Muse Group chapter had fun with it too! Just getting started with it in this picture.
Everyone got a long sheet of brown craft paper to make random expressive marks on, the idea being that interesting things would happen spontaneously, and could be cut out and used as collage pieces in another work.
One suggestion was to try writing, preferably with unusual implements, in an invented style. This practice has been called asemic writing, defined as
a wordless open semantic form of writing. The word asemic means “having no specific semantic content”, or “without the smallest unit of meaning”. With the non-specificity of asemic writing there comes a vacuum of meaning, which is left for the reader to fill in and interpret. [Wikipedia]
In other words, Asemic writing is sort of a tease. In wanting to make sense of it, because it is, after all, writing or appears to be, we go out on a limb and come up with some sensation at least, that feels like meaning and we like it!
In preparation for the class I tried a number of mark making approaches with Chinese black ink, charcoal and gesso. I just love the combination of those three. Included is asemic writing. And the general effect is, well, very Wabi Sabi!
Here they are laid out together with some other possible collage pieces tucked in. This shows step two, which is to find some other collage pieces that may interact in some way with the exploratory beginnings on the brown paper. The linear thinking part of the brain goes into overload trying to make sense of all this confusion and blows a fuse.
Now you’re free to cut things out, move them around, and reassemble, still holding off trying to make logical sense of what the poetic pictorial mind, heedless of logic! is constructing.
She speaks with two voices in song
One a night creature on transparent wings
Sprinkling stardust and hooting
The other appearing as a saint
Or a goddess made of saplings and mist
Both writing their names in ancient
Tongues on the forest floor.
I always stick to the 10″X11″ size watercolor paper format for the finished pieces and put them in a loose book format. This archives them with the writing. At this point I have 48 books worth or 760 pieces I call Conversations with the Muse! and all of them archived on this blog. But this format is not for everyone and my students have adopted many different formats.
Here’s some more of the Olympia students’ mark making play. Wouldn’t you love to have at it?!!
The Muse Group is not something I could keep to myself. For sixteen years this mixed media practice I called Conversations With the Muse was a staple of my art life. Emphasis on group here. You can’t have one if you paint alone. The creative energy is far stronger with the muse energy of a group. And I just couldn’t wrap my mind around teaching in front of a computer and camera. So finally next month I’ll be offering The Playful Muse: Mixed Media Painting, a three week series before the holidays ramp up. It will be live, in-person for people in the Olympia area, but I will also be blogging about the lessons if you want to follow along! Here’s the flyer and information about how to register for those of you in the area.
Have you discovered The Dictionary of Obscure Sorrows by John Koenig yet? It’s a marvelously readable “dictionary” for word-lovers, described as “a compendium of new words for emotions, its mission to shine a light on the fundamental strangeness of being a human being – all the aches, demons, vibes, joys, and urges that are humming in the background of everyday life”. I thought I might make use of it in my Conversations with the Muse, for obvious reasons.
I never like to get all heavy at the beginning of art making, preferring the looser, playful, wait-and-see-what-happens approach. So first I did my painting, cutting up pieces of an old painting and and collaging them on. Then found the word to match.
Mithenness: noun, from Middle English mithen, to be hidden away
The unsettling awareness that the rest of the world happily carries on in your absence, that although things only ever seem to change when you check back in for an update, they’re unwilling to wait for you, and undergo massive shifts while your back is turned – your mother getting older, your old friends becoming different people, your hometown losing some of the hallmarks that made it feel like home. . .
To these examples I would add so many garden examples. Like when you go away on a trip of even three days during the growing season and return to riotous growth that seemed to wait on purpose until you went away. Like when your lettuces bolt before you get a chance to pick them and the bugs sneak into the folds in the cabbage in the middle of the night and make holes. These things, and many more about the people who you let out of your sight for a while, these things are unsettling even though you know it’s silly to feel that way.
So, Mithenness is the word of the day! and somehow just knowing there’s a word for it is better than a relief. It’s a bit of a thrill!
And by the way, don’t try to find it in Websters. You’ll have to get the book.