Monday, December 29, 2014

Decorative leather lacing on a drumstick

This post continues my story of how I felt, wrap and finish a drumstick for my shamanic frame drums.  After the wool felt sleeve is dry I secure it with a band of plant-based glue  in preparation for the next step, which involves a circle of smoke-tanned leather and a pair of very sharp scissors.

The leather needs to be cleaned and well finished on both sides.  Any fiber or irregularities left on the skin will cause the thong to have weak sections, and I will need a length of leather that is thin yet even in thickness and sturdiness.

I cut 10 feet of  thong to cover 5 inches of drumstick.  I learned these calculations from my favorite book of ropework projects:  Des Pawson's Knot Craft.  I am going to use St. Mary's hitching to cover the center section of this drumstick, so I also cut a second thong of 5 feet. 

I begin with a constrictor knot in the middle of the long piece of thong that will also hold the end of the shorter piece of thong in place. 

There are now three lengths of thong on the right side of the stick.  St. Mary's hitching is made by always making the hitch from the top strand, with all hitches going in the same direction.  As I wrap I keep the hitches tight and each strand of leather snug against the previous ones so the resulting pattern is without loose places or gaps. 

I think St. Mary's hitching is the more unusual looking of the two patterns I use: hard to figure out how its done and yet easy to create.  I like that combination.

Moku hitching is made by dividing one thong into two equal lengths, beginning with a constrictor knot, and then hitching alternate strands in opposite directions. 

I'll conclude this photo album another time with a description of how I finish the handle of the drumstick.  You can see these and other drumstick styles by going to the Journey Oracle website or my webstore on Etsy.  

Friday, December 19, 2014

Making decorations for Winter Solstice

For many years I have been making traditions with decorations for Winter Solstice.  For me the beauty of the season is in the magic of snow, even if here on Cortes Island we do not have so much of the real thing.  So I am happy to have received these snowflakes years ago from a student when I was teaching at the Nova Scotia College of Art and Design.

For me the winter solstice is especially an honoring of the birds; those that migrate through chill autumn skies, those that stay year 'round, and those I will never know.

My holiday cooking is also for the birds.  Suet-soaked bread and peanut butter bird seed ornaments instead of cookies and pies.

Even the Italian parsley gets into the act of adding a decorative accent to the window whose lights will help the sun come back.

Birds of blue to represent the spirit reality and red to represent this earth reality frame the three candles which are the three forms of the Divine Feminine in the lunar year: the Maiden of February through May, the Mother of June through September, and the Crone of October through January.

The day of Winter Solstice finds me outside in nature, decorating a young pine tree and enjoying a wilderness feast regardless of the weather.

While it may be hard to distinguish the tree from the surrounding woods, the birds, squirrels, and raccoon certainly can find their presents.

Happy Solstice and a blessed Winter Holiday from the Journey Oracle.

Friday, December 12, 2014

How to make a blog into a book

I want to write a book about how I created the Journey Oracle deck, titled The Journey of the Oracle. And I write a sort-of weekly blog about these oracle cards, my shamanic paintings and my journey drums. I am thinking that I can make my blog into a book, but how to get started?

In my art I love to trick myself with inspired limitations, that cause me to have to be creative to solve the puzzle of how to proceed, like in this painting called Goodness of Fit.  It was painted in 9 panels while leaning over a small lapboard against the dash of our van, as we traveled across Canada in 1985. But how to put it together so the edges of the paper didn't show--how to make a good fit? The answer was in painting the rims of the paper so the image wraps around each edge and no white shows.  The panels where then hung against a foam core backing with rice glue so each piece is still independently itself, and also makes a larger whole.

I decided I would let my paintings be the inspired limitation for how to structure my book.  I divided the short version of the Journey of the Oracle now on my website into 14 paragraphs that could logically be developed into 14 sections of the book.  I then made a chronological list of all the large acrylic paintings I have created since my partner and I moved to Cortes Island in 1990.  And discovered there were 14 paintings. This goodness of fit was a very spirit-directed confirmation for me. I next matched the painting list with the paragraph sections without attempting to calculate why each was paired with the other.  Painting # 3 goes with paragraph #3--how it does is the puzzle.

I next need to understand how each painting will "frame" the writing in each section of the book, and find the voice of the storyteller who will write this story.  Still, discovering goodness of fit between my paintings and the oracle cards is a good beginning.

Thursday, December 4, 2014

Audio instructions for the Journey Oracle cards

I have recently recorded spoken instructions for the Journey Oracle cards, and how this new way of working with the Oracle came about is its own story of a journey.  My friend Oriane Lee Johnston and I were talking about the cards, and although I don't quite remember how the conversation came to this moment--Oriane Lee responded with lots of enthusiasm, "You should make an audio version of these instructions.  People will enjoy hearing you, and besides, it's much easier to work with these cards when listening, better than reading."

Like much of the creation of the Journey Oracle across these past 23 years--it was someone else's inspired moment that moved my effort to the next step. What a good idea Lee has, but how? And so began a journey exploring how to make a recording with no equipment but the Avid microphone I use to record my drums on youtube.  I decided I didn't have the experience or expertise to make the master recording myself so I camped at the studio of my neighbor Bruce Hipkin for three days while he worked some considerable magic with his state of the art computer programs. My speaking was cleared and normalized and put through filters with names like "low shelf" and "high pass."  The result is a remarkable flow of spoken words that are quite hypnotic in their clarity and rhythm.

If you already have a Journey Oracle card set you can choose from several versions for obtaining the audio instructions.  You can go to this link  and download the album, where you can also listen to all the tracks in their entirety for free.  My favorite version is for you to email me with your mailing address and say that you have a Journey Oracle deck.  I will send you a download card that will allow you to put the album on your computer, ipad, phone or m3p player.

 If you are planning to purchase a Journey Oracle card and book set, the download card will be included.  Thanks Lee, it was a great idea!

Saturday, November 29, 2014

How I make a felted drum stick

This photo album will show how I make a felted drumstick for my shamanic frame drums. Unwashed wool that has lots of lanolin works best.  This wool is from the Falkland Islands and some of the best I have used.  Maybe it is because the sheep protect themselves from the cold with lots of oil.

 First I card the wool and peel off each section, setting these aside until I have 6-7 lengths with which to form the head.

Next the wool sections are laid over a hardwood dowel that has its ends rounded and is sanded along its length,  At this stage everything looks quite fragile.

As more and more pieces of wool are added and the wool is pressed with my hands, the shape begins to resemble a drumstick, but of something I would like for a special dinner.

Once the wool is shaped, and I can feel that the thickness on the tip and sides is about the same density, I gather a boiling kettle of water, a stone, dish soap, and the drumstick on a old broiler pan.

This is the scary part!.  It seems that all my hard work to shape the wool has disappeared into soap and water. In fact, this is the scary part.  If the wool wraps around itself and folds over, it will felt to itself instead of into the shape I want--making creases and lines in the finished felt.

As soon as I can tolerate the heat, I use my fingers instead of the stone to push the wool into the stick. The hot water causes the wool to shrink, and the liquid soap causes the fibres to slip past each other.

At some point I cut off the bottom length of wool that stretches down the stick as I squeeze.

A nice shape begins to emerge in the soapy hot water.  Getting to this stage takes me about 1 hour and one full kettle of water. 

The last step is rinsing out the soap with cold water and lots of squeezing, not twisting.  As the soap leaves the felt becomes more and more compressed and tightly fitted to the stick.  

The felt and the stick dry for about two days before I use a felting needle to tighten the fibre even more.  I'll make another photo album of how I use leather and sailor's knot patterns to wrap and decorate the center section of the drumstick.  

Thursday, November 20, 2014

How to paint atmosphere

There is an interesting concept in art called "lost and found edges."  This to me is the secret of how to paint atmosphere.  This concept refers to the fact that our eye will fill in, or complete, ill-defined areas in an image, and in turn our mind will label this area with a motif it recognizes.  When I was painting a southern Oregon seascape, I used this concept to paint the atmosphere of a sunset evening sky with heavy weather approaching.

In order to create the heaviness of the cloud cover, I painted the sky upside down!

This is because my mind "reads" these forms as land in this position, and this in turn influenced how I applied the paint, even when I was trying to be atmospheric.

Lost and found edges can also create the illusion of iridescence.When edges are left indistinct and each shape is shaded very gradually from the lightest color in the center area to the darkest intensity of that color at the outer edge, the affect is a sense of glowing light.

Lost and found edges also create a sensation of movement.  Each form dissolves into the next, and nothing stays fixed and certain.  Just like life.  It feels significant to me that this painting, made with lost and found edges, is titled The Longing of Memory.

Enjoy more of my paintings on

Friday, November 14, 2014

How to market Oracle cards

The Journey Oracle is going out to Bookstores and Metaphysical shops, and I need an answer to my question of how to market Oracle cards. So I decided who better to ask than the Oracle itself? I drew 4 cards while thinking of this question: "How to see the Oracle, so it is seen?"

The first card is a perfect image of the dilemma of helping people see the Journey Oracle who come into Banyen Books in Vancouver, or Gaia Rising Bookstore in Nelson, or Mystic Earth Creations in Campbell River.  It is a never before seen thing.  Just like this creature.  What does this image of Mystery have to tell me?  A glimmering.  What an intriguing suggestion for marketing.  Perhaps when there is a glimmering of something different, if we are courageous we follow it like a hunter.

The second card is an image of my experience of this situation of marketing these oracle cards.   Perhaps this is a root, and I am being shown that creating the Journey Oracle is like growing a root that reaches like a little hook into the Mystery.  This March full moon card, a time on the British Columbia coast of wild wind and chilly shadows on warm days, has this question for me: "Is there another way to get there?"  This reading is becoming more profound, as if calling me to believe in a promise of spring in bleak winter, just as the root must be touching the earth before finding the sun.

The third card is an image of the change that is calling me.  And what creature could this possibly be? My first intuitive impression is of an eagle ready to strike at a fish, like when we sometimes see them fly toward the ocean surface with legs outstretched. This image is from the Celtic tree month of Ivy who represents self-understanding and triumph in adversity.  Certainly I have seen the eagles strike into the ocean again and again and lift back into the sky with empty talons. And yet they do triumph if they do not give up.  This Oracle asks me, "Why did you return?"  Because I also am not giving up.  I believe that truly seeing the spirit power of these Oracle cards will empower their transformation out into the world.

This final card of the Dream Journey reading shows me the face of a beast of some sort, maybe a dog, holding a spider woman in its mouth.  This is the Oracle of the Sun who has this message: "Feeling the truth."  What truth do I need to feel?  That the spirit world is holding this never-before-seen creature called the Journey Oracle, and will be doing the work--helping these cards find their way to help the human family.

Wednesday, November 5, 2014

Symbolic meaning of wolves

This new painted shamanic drum from the Journey Oracle has always been called Old Sister, even before I saw who Old Sister was.  A wolf.  So why is a wolf the Old Sister?  What is the symbolic meaning of wolves?

 I understand that wolves are our oldest companions and teachers.  They symbolize the essence of a wild un-tamed spirit. Wolves are highly intelligent, will avoid aggression if possible, and take care of each other with devoted loyalty.  They are a symbol of an intact wholesome relationship with the wild.

So this is our old sister, singing us back to the mystery of our earliest memories, when humans and creatures sang together.

The interlacement pattern on the back of the drum is also an "old sister."  The Pentacle is the most revered of all esoteric symbols,  and in ancient times meant "life" or "health."  The Earth Mother herself gives us the sign of the pentacle in a transversely cut apple core.

This pattern of sailor's whipping combines French hitching with a sinnet design to create a practical and artful way of holding the interwoven stars.  The smoke-tanned leather brings back ancient memories of campfires in the deep woods.

In the voice of this drum Shamanism and the Old Religion are combined to help us find the way back to our wild and spiritual family.

If this is your Old Sister, visit my Web Store at or contact Kristen at

Listen to this drum being played with a felt covered drumstick by clicking on this link: