Monday, August 15, 2016

Painting a rawhide drum

Here are some visual lessons about several ways I find an image when painting a rawhide drum.  I begin with raw earth pigments from a company like  They have a good website with lots of instruction videos.  Choose a few basic colors to begin: black, brown, yellow, red, blue, green.  I use small inexpensive brushes from an art or hardware store. 

I spend many hours just gazing into the rawhide surface.  I am not trying to find anything so much as I am waiting for something to find me.  

Often I see eyes first.

  I usually start by painting the eyes of the creature.  I go very slowly, using only a tiny amount of color at a time because the picture is difficult to take back off the drum if I don't like where I am going with the image.  This is because the earth pigment mixes with the natural keratin in the deer skin and becomes like a tattoo. I wet the brush and touch it into the pigment on the jar lid, mixing a little of the color into the water.  This I touch onto a paper towel to wipe off most of the color before applying it to the drum head.

When I am all finished I close my eyes and rub with the flat of my hand, palm down, over the entire drum head.  This blurs and shifts and changes what I have done so now the image is coming from Mystery as well as my paintbrush.  

Sometimes I begin by just touching my dry brush into the pigment on the lid of the jar.  A very small amount.  I "dust" around the image I see in the drum like I was painting a faintly colored outline of the creature

I let the image "rest" on the drum for several hours or a day before going back to paint more. This is because I believe the creature is choosing to show me its face, body and mood and so I wait for it to adjust to what I have already painted before doing more.

Remarkable though it seems, almost none of this image of Cloud-Woman-Brings-the-Night is painted by me.  

Sometimes someone will tell me a story about the personal situation that is calling for them to have a drum.  This drum was very compelling to a woman who wanted me to paint it, and then told a story about an ancestor and an unexpected baby.  While I do not decide to paint a particular creature or scene before I start, sometimes a story will guide my eyes.

When I turned the drum head around so the bullet hole was in the lower left, I saw a baby quite clearly. 

A woman of peculiar proportion also emerged. Probably my hardest job when painting a rawhide drum is to not impose my preferences on the image.  You might say I am a secretary who is only noticed when she isn't doing her job. 

I saw a face above the bullet hole.

Defining the figure on the left with the color blue of the spirit world, and the figure on the right with the red of this world caused the two colors to join in the baby, and suddenly there was the story of a Grandmother bringing a child spirit to her Grand-daughter. 

When every part, and every part between the part is whole, I know I could not by myself have invented the elegance and simplicity of the rawhide drum painting.  

Each painted drum image is an oracle of meaning from another reality.  Just like the Journey Oracle cards create a journey into meaning by entering the inner reality of our unconscious wisdom.  But how these oracle cards were painted is another story.