Monday, March 18, 2019

4 ways to look at art

I love to find new art books.  A new book called Universal Principles of Art begins by saying "the visual arts are unique in that they form a nexus where craft, technology, philosophy and the imagination come together to make something that is both wonderful and necessary."  I have been thinking about these four parts that form a whole, and here are my reflections.

CRAFT in its ancient OE usage meant "strength."  To me this is the sensation of power in a visual image that cannot be explained but can be felt. 

It often emerges from a sensation of ambiguity.  Is the horse aggressive, or frightened? Or both?

TECHNOLOGY from the Indo-European base Tek  means to "shape or make".   For me this is the technical skill of an artwork.

I look for a section of a painting that surprises, as if someone else's mind and hand made the decisions and applied the marks.  And this way of working becomes my teacher for the piece.

PHILOSOPHY is defined as "loving" from the Greek philos and "wisdom" from sophos.  Loving wisdom. To me this refers to the idea or theme that carries the meaning of the work.  In the upper half of this painting the wheelchair is empty and the path disappears either into freedom along the green sward or into calamity in the pond. 

The same theme of dramatic choice is echoed in the lower half--either the bird will be successful or the fish will.  And one or the other will not.

IMAGINATION  is from the Latin verb imaginari "to form an image in one's mind, picture to oneself."  This is perhaps the most praised and pressured aspect of art making. 

Imagination is drama--
the juxtaposition that creates new relationship.

Imagination is a never before seen thing.

But of course these four ways of looking at art do not appear in isolation.  Always they are in effective communion. The strength of the feeling is carried by the match of the  media to its handling, the philosophy is held in view by the imaginative source of all these elements: the artist herself.  

And the source of these paintings is not just from my intention , but also from a series of 47 dreams for the Journey Oracle, asked for when I was creating the divination cards beginning in 1992.  For many years the dreams only existed as the deep source of 47 questions, one for each oracle card.  Decades later I rediscovered the dreams, and decided to paint a image compiled from all the elements in each dream. And so this new journey oracle has begun.  

Sunday, March 10, 2019

A hand drum for the spirit wind

I have just finished for my Journey Oracle Art, 
the making a new style of drum: 
a hand drum for the spirit wind.  

I am exploring how to play song in breath and sound in wind 
as I learn to experience this new spirit companion. 

The  drumhead of goatskin is thin and patterned 
like wind ripples on water.
 I see creatures looking out at me, 
even before I ask them to be in a painting.

The drumhead is sewn onto a 10" yellow cedar frame with stone beads.

The joining of skin and wood is reinforced with pearl hide glue 
and trimmed with doeskin. 

The doeskin braid encircles a surface of sound 
before twining itself around 

the antler handle from a Cortes Island deer.

My favorite embellishment are three micaceous clay beads
enhanced with gypsy caravan bells.  This clay comes
from Felipe Ortega and is all the more precious
knowing he passed away in 2018. 

But what is a spirit wind?  And how does one drum for it?
Or in it?   

I do not think, on reflection, that in the spirit wind
is an easy place to stand. 

Friday, March 1, 2019

How to fire micaceous clay beads

I learned how to fire micaceous clay from Martin Prechtel  and Felipe Ortega while attending Bolad's Kitchen, Martin's  school of spiritual ecology in New Mexico.  The process is a beautiful experience combining practicality and ritual.

I recently made some micaceous clay beads to use as embellishments on several new styles of frame drums that I am making.  The unfired beads are sparkling with hope for a good transformation.

Set up is important because I understand I am building a house for fire to live in, and I want it to be well made.  The ritual tobacco bundle is visible here, and even if it won't be seen in the rest of the story, it will have done its good work to greet fire.

The foundation of the house sits down into the earth, with all the organics and large stones removed, since they did not agree to be part of the kiln.  I am using concrete and fire bricks for the walls, with air spaces at each corner.

The second story of the house is fire brick positioned on two walls, after a mat of paper topped with a grid of cedar kindling is arranged inside.  The paper extends through each corner as these will be what is lit to begin the firing.

Next the beads, which have been drying on lengths of copper wire, are placed across the two fire bricks and held in position by two concrete bricks that are pierced with holes.

The last step in the house construction is the roof, which begins with two pieces of kindling placed through the holes in the concrete brick.  These become the supports across which another layer of kindling is placed.

The micaceous clay beads are small and the risk of this process is to build a fire that is too hot. I make a tobacco offering to the fire to honour its presence and encourage it to be just right: not too hot but not too cold.  Once the paper is alight and the kindling starts to burn, I sing to the fire.  Although I was taught not to fuss with things once the fire enters its house, this time a quick adjustment is necessary.  The roof was too high and so the kindling was repositioned.

It is so exciting, as the fire starts causing the house to collapse, to see a glimpse of the clay beads inside.  They are a rosy colour rather than black, which is a good sign. And I keep singing.

I understand to wait until all the active flame has died back, before I stop singing and remove the beads from their placement on the bricks.

A beautiful experience indeed!  Only a few beads became over-fired; most are a sparkling testimony to my excellent teachers of so many years ago.  Thank you Martin and Felipe from the Journey Oracle.

Wednesday, February 20, 2019

What is a spiritual journey?

A spiritual journey takes us in mysterious ways to unknown destinations. A spiritual journey traverses the most difficult terrain of big questions:  What is the meaning of life?  What is my purpose?  What is worth valuing?


A spiritual journey is not always, or even very often, a religious path.  Religion offers a well defined contract--with God, with what is good, with what are the norms that guide behavior.  So we might agree with Yuval Noah Harari in Homo Deus that the gap between religion and spirituality is much wider than we think.  "Religion is a deal, whereas spirituality is a journey."

If a spiritual journey does not have rigid ideas and fixed laws, what does it have?  Finding one's own truth of experience will likely be lonely.  You may find yourself living neither in the 'village' of human values nor in the 'forest' of natural laws, but someplace between.

When you follow the path of your experiences--which are made of sensations, emotions and thoughts--you begin to develop your attention.

When you pay attention you develop sensitivity.  Harari says that sensitivity "means two things.  Firstly, paying attention to my sensations, emotions and thoughts.  Second, allowing these sensations, emotions and thoughts to influence me."

Perhaps the most important characteristic of a spiritual journey is that it results in practical skills.  Paying attention and developing sensitivity cannot happen in an abstract way from books or lectures or youtube movies.  A spiritual journey is always made of direct experience. 


Direct experience is the only path to inner change.  And when we change ourselves, we change everything.  So how does one begin a spiritual journey?  Decide on something worth valuing because it has mysterious ways: clouds, trees, drums, horses, oracle cards. Ask it to sit with you, bring you an experience, and then--pay attention.

Monday, February 11, 2019

The skill of waiting

I do not wait well.  I am not sure anyone does.  According to Ajahn Sona, the Abbot of Birken Forest Monastery in British Columbia, if one is waiting one is already impatient. 

We have been waiting for the snow to stop, for the temperature to rise at least one more degree in expectation of working on our oyster lease today.  Once we decided that it is too late--the weather is not going to cooperate and we should take the day off--the sun came out for a sparkly afternoon.  So much for that expectation.

I have been waiting for time to keep working on this commission to paint the illustrations for a children's book about Winter Solstice in the north.  Of course I don't know how to paint children's images so everything takes my usual long time.  I keep expecting a painting to take a few hours and then days later--so much for that expectation too.

As if one major art project was not enough, I am continuing to work on my painting series of 47 images from dreams that guided my making the Journey Oracle deck.  A year ago I expected to complete one a month.  Now, one year and 6 paintings later, as I begin painting #7, I am letting that expectation go as well.

I am again teaching drum making to students from St. Michael's University High School in Victoria, but this year I am offering four different styles of construction so students can choose a style of drum based on research about their ancestry.  I expect to make three new drum prototypes and have been waiting for enough warm weather to work in the shop.  So far this expectation has no legs, or in the case of drums, no holes drilled and handles added.

Wait a minute!  Every time I describe waiting, I refer to expectations.  When my expectations are not met I am frustrated and impatient about not receiving a pleasant sensation from satisfying my expectations.  I have been reading Homo Deus by Yuval Noah Harari.  This excellent book has lots to say about our Homo Sapien tendency to constantly expect pleasant sensations, and be constantly dissatisfied when the situation turns out differently, as it almost always does.

I admire the way our cats seem to wait so patiently for whatever is coming next.  Perhaps they are not waiting at all, but merely being in the present moment without any expectations for anything.  Wise kitties.