Monday, February 17, 2020

Art is a metaphor for life

Barry Lopez is a hero of mine.  I attribute some of my first glimmerings of coming awake to his early books, especially Of Wolves and Men, and Arctic Dreams. My reading of his new book, Horizon, has coincided with my finishing of the 11th painting in my many-years-long project to paint the 47 dreams that helped create the Journey Oracle

Just as I finished this peculiar composition, I read this: Art's underlying strength is that it does not intend to be literal.  It presents a metaphor and leaves the viewer or listener to interpret.  It is giving in to art, not trying to divine its meaning, that brings the viewer or listener the deepest measures of satisfaction. Art does not aspire to entertain.  It aspires to converse. 

So when I give in to this image, I am struck by its calmness.  There is much at risk, yet no one seems urgent about the fate of the assembled items.  The wind chime is quiet, the delicate shell bowl not cracking in the heat from the wood burning robustly in the stove, 
which is roaring, even though the damper is turned down. 

The feather apparently stuck in the side of the stove 
appears unharmed by its location,

and certainly the turtle is not scampering to escape,
 if indeed turtles ever scamper. 

Most dramatically, the person whose hair is on fire

is making no gesture of alarm.

I notice some apparent safety in 
the otherwise dramatic situation.
The stove seems to have no door so nothing further can be added, 
but neither can it be quenched. 

And who are these people?
Clearly they are engaged with each other 
rather than with the scene inside, 
and their appearance of caring is quite engaging to see. 

Of course, meaning does creep in with the question from the 
Oracle dream
which created the title of the painting:
How is this a gift? 
I cannot resist assembling the following conversation with this art:

We are in a home on this turtle island in which the furnace of our desire for comfort and plenty is now beyond our control, and even our hair is on fire, and yet we inexplicably receive the damage with utter calm. We continue to gaze at each other with kind regard, when maybe
we should at least be breaking in the window,
 to rescue the turtle.  

Saturday, February 8, 2020

Bear Medicine drum

This new drum from the Journey Oracle has layers of story, just as the bear does by healing itself with plants that grow within, and on, and above the ground. Bear medicine brings the strength of introspection, just as the bear goes within the earth for rest and renewal.  The power of bear medicine is in dreams, in guidance that comes from going into solitude to find ego-less confidence and balance.

As I am putting the last wraps of doeskin on the 
interlacing handhold in the back of a new drum,

and oiling the blacktail deer skin surface 
with makwa pemidi, the white gold of bear.


I am taking moments to gaze into the drum face, 
like looking at the shifting flow of dreams
moving through the night sky. 

A creature emerges, a bear.
Gazing away from me 
with an expression at the same time
wise and child-like.

A round shape appears, a drum.
Upon its surface is another bear.  
This one fully engaged in 
confronting the viewer.

And between its paws is a stone figure,
a tiny bear. 

I know this little bear. 
I think I am being shown
it is not alone.
It has never been alone. 

Sometimes I am quite sure it is we humans
who are the drums.

We are bound into the wrap between the 
human world, the spirit world and nature
with knots that can fray but never let go. 

And someone is always watching. 
it's bears all the way down. 

You can hear this drum being played with a felted beater by 
clicking on this youtube link: 

The Bear Medicine drum is offered for sale in my  Etsy webstore. 

Wednesday, January 29, 2020

Paint animals to receive shamanic teaching. Part 2

All animals are shamanic teachers. All creatures are our elders, as they were here first, and so deserve our respect and attention to what they have to show us.  In Part 1 of this blog I wrote about how I created these paintings,  but it is not the painting that makes the teaching, it is how the animals appear in relationship with place, and with each other, that teaches us.

To receive shamanic teaching from animals I have to trust that what I intuit and feel from the interaction is true, and not something I am making up.  This is harder than it seems.  In this western culture we are trained from an early age to believe what our unruly mind tells us, and to not attend to the subtlety of intuition.

So how did these animals come to be in these relationships with each other, and with the places they inhabit?   These paintings are based on dreams I asked for as part of my creating the Journey Oracle divination deck.  The paintings are not illustrations of dream scenes, but composites of all the elements in the dream.  First and most importantly,  I have to trust that the parts are fitting together in a way that is necessary for the meaning to emerge, and not the result of my editorial manipulation. 

In this dream, the geese were definitely taking off to the right, and the storm front was moving from left to right, so the geese are taking off with the wind behind them which is not what they do in ordinary reality.  The woman's hair is blowing up, but the paper is falling straight down.  To me, these are not accidents, but lessons in noticing that we sometimes see what we think is appropriate, rather than see what is actually happening.

In this painting it is easy to see the snake as threatening the pine marten, and the pine marten as being vulnerable,

but a closer look shows the snake to be neutral--curious even--without any evil but what we humans assign to it,

and the marten to be quite animated and engaged, without attending to a threat.  Is the marten just stupid? Or is it we who have unlearned the cues that keep us safe in nature?

It seems we feel we must create barriers to protect us from harm.  Fences and ropes, and stories of their inferiority,  to keep animals where we think they belong.

Yet we are inside the enclosure with the charging horse, who appears to running from fright more than toward harming us,

and the dog may not be tied at all, and certainly has a unsettling curiosity in its gaze.

Do we see an intelligent mind in its investigation of how things are?

Are we willing to receive an appraisal of our valuing the human mind above all else?

These elder brothers and sisters are our shamanic teachers.

When we keep them trapped inside our mental judgments, while we occupy the more spacious terrain of self-importance, we forget the true nature of mind,

What Tenzim Palmo said of love without judgement is equally so of the mind, "it's totally impartial.  It's just love.  It's like the sun--it shines on everyone."

Tuesday, January 21, 2020

Paint animals using pastel and acrylic. Part 1

Several years ago I discovered painting animals using both chalk pastel and acrylic paint together. I had blocked in this Northern Pike using acrylic and then was in a quandary about how to paint the fish in the water. I started dragging chalk pastel over the image, became uncertain about what I was doing, and so used a kneaded eraser to lift off bands of colour.  What a surprise! A fish inside the water.

I discovered I could reverse the process and paint the creature by first working the pastel--which is pure pigment--around the paper with water, and then when satisfied with the detail, enhance the complexity by painting over the chalk with acrylic.

The under-painting of acrylic allowed me to both add pastel, and lift areas of colour with an eraser, on the already lightly painted form to create lost and found edges, which is one of my favorite visual effects.

Lost and found edges allows the viewer 's mind to fill in shapes and spaces, rather than have the artist paint every feather in the wing.

Sometimes the two media go back and forth in many layers: the pastel dragged across the white space to create irregular texture, the acrylic painted as a soft wash to suggest shapes in the texture. Next the pastel is rubbed with a paper stump to further define the detail, whites are reclaimed from the pastel with the eraser, and then the acrylic refines the forms with dramatic contrast.


Of course, some paintings are composed entirely of layers of painted, rubbed and erased chalk pastel

and others have the main subject painted in sharp-edged acrylic and surrounded by rubbed and blended pastel to create drama.

I am not very nice to my painting surfaces.  I can overwork an area until the surface of the illustration board breaks down.  Yet in this combination of pastel, acrylic and eraser I made a discovery.  If the surface is wet the eraser will lift up the top layer of paper holding the acrylic paint. This broken surface then catches the pastel and creates a physical as well as a visual texture.  What a surprise! A bird wing  more complex than I could possibly paint.

This combination of pastel, acrylic and eraser has become more and more compelling in their process. But what has been more of a surprise are these creatures themselves.  Who are they? Why are they in these odd relationships with each other?  Where do these images come from?

These paintings are the result of dreams I asked for when creating the Journey Oracle.  How I work with my dreams, what process originates the creatures in each image, and what they have to tell me is the subject of my next blog: Paint dream animals. Part 2.

Sunday, January 12, 2020

Healing power of animals

Are you willing to trade places with animals? 


Our feelings of losing the dream
of the storm expected,
 are not shared by the other-than-human world. 

 When we truly see their burst of forces, 

We see not the red of anger 
or the tangling touch of  greed
but the truth of life still going on


After all, the goose is dancing
not cooked, 

and nobody even notices the frog.

The power needed to shift our situation
will be a sound of contentment. 

Not the smell of sex
or the taste of famine.
But the skill of recognizing that-- 
like the animals know--
we have enough.

All the italicized phrases in this blog came
from pronouncements by the Journey Oracle
about oracle card #10
whose question, received in a dream,
 inspired this painting. 

Are you willing to trade places?