Thursday, April 19, 2018

Painting a frame drum, or the drum that painted itself (almost)

This drum skin was old and scarred and thicker than I like.  I did not at first even want to build a drum from it but I understand it is a gesture of respect to use well what is given from Nature and its creatures.

I tied the back handhold with an octagram, an ancient symbol of regeneration.  I hoped it would help the drum transform into a spirit companion.

When I paint a drum, I usually begin by painting what surrounds what I see, not the creature or story I see.  

This whale kept calling my attention, and so I used raw ultramarine pigment to dust over the area that wasn't the whale.

I added a few marks of black iron oxide.

And look what happened.

The whale was already in the skin in all its detailed magnificence.  All of the light edges of the fins and body, the subtle shading beneath the mouth,  the curve of the underbelly are not painted by me.

I positioned the drum in some late afternoon light to record the width of the frame and the position of the whale.

And it seemed to come alive.  Maybe this is what comes from honouring what is old and scarred and thick from life.  The wisdom shines out.

Monday, April 9, 2018

How to talk to spirits of place

I live in a beautiful place.  It is easy to imagine the light always glowing through stands of ancient cedar,  to delight in the sparkle children made of the sun's dance with mother ocean.

Yet not everyone imagines the same thing for a beautiful place.  Change is coming as new landowners carve driveways through old forest and design docks anchored to headlands of wild stone.  These changes are not necessarily bad--certainly most of us live in clearings that were once deep forest.

But what do the spirits of place want in regard of these changes?  How to talk to spirits of place so I can be awake to the other-than-human-beings when I meet new humans in their place.

I decided to do a Journey Oracle reading--not so much about how to talk to spirits of place, but to explore my hidden biases when I imagine change impacting spirits of place.  Certainly I assume that change is disruptive and dismaying for the creatures and forces that inhabit this land, but is it really?  Am I imposing my own answer even before I frame the question?

This is an image of my situation.  I did not try to focus on one aspect of the change in my neighborhood, I just let my feelings and thoughts circle about me in all their complexity.
My first impression is of a face with indeterminate features and somewhat blank eyes.  A lack of focus.  This is the oracle card representing Teacher.  It's message is "Don't need to know everything."  This creates a frisson of attention, but when I read this statement I feel a chill of recognition and responsibility: The momentum of this situation is fed by hearing the cries of the world. 

This is the oracle card representing my experience in this situation.  A figure partially outlined in blue is carrying a human form while moving up vertically. The blue figure seems to have wings.
When I read the phrases that are part of my situation experienced, they all feel potent:
insights from ancestors 
receiving blessings
the lightness of being in human form, facets, not quitting on relationships
light reflected, a bird is just a bird
giving into weakness
staying centered

When I treat this list as a map of my experience, I feel I am at the location called not quitting on relationships. So what's the next location on this journey?

This is the oracle card of change.  Creatures are watching, waiting, still patient. But the edges are burnt. This is the oracle card representing Halloween.  Its message is spirit prayers answered.  This feels very positive.  A statement from Divine Will is The wisdom of bringing back to life will empower the transformation.  I am beginning to intuit that asking how to help the spirits of place reassemble is the focus of my conversation with them.

This last oracle card in the Journey Oracle reading is an image of the resolution.  Wow.  What a powerful picture.   This is an oracle image of Lammas, sometimes called the holiday of hope and fear.  Feels just right for a situation of dramatic change. I see a skull with rivulets of blood, and also a creature striding along with considerable attitude.

In the Journey Oracle the resolution of the situation is presented as a fairy tale.   In this story a workshop leader finds a remarkable stone that becomes very important to her, but then she realizes that she must give it away in order to behave in an honourable way.  I understand the wild beauty of Cortes Island, and its spirits of place, are like this special stone.  Sometimes we have to give away what is dearest to our heart, in order to receive back its treasure in a new way.  I will ask the spirits of place how I can best support their transformation in this time of human change.

A Journey Oracle fairy tale
Several women were out walking when their leader saw a peculiar stone. It was a small piece of rough rock that looked like a bear, with a dirty piece of string holding a blue plastic bead around its middle. The leader picked it up and the others said “this will be our mascot!” But the leader placed the stone bear back on the trail. When none mentioned the stone bear again upon returning, the leader put it in her pocket.
At their lodging, the leader put the stone bear on a table, but no one mentioned it. Apparently the other women were not attracted to this, and so the leader believed she was receiving rewards for staying mindful, and took it home.
The leader carried the stone bear with her everywhere, and in a measured pace came to a great accomplishment: she could talk to the stone by deciphering the sensations she felt when holding it. The stone bear became a great and mysterious teacher to the leader—her most prized companion, sung to and feasted. But in her heart she had a small place that feels like chaos. The leader knew she had stolen the stone bear from the group.
       The group met again and the leader felt the anticipation and anxiety of Armageddon. She passed the stone to the first woman, telling the story of her caring for it. “Now I withdraw from it, she said, I give this away to the next to care for.” This woman was interested, but did not want to give so much attention. The second was not interested in stones at all. The third supported the leader keeping the stone, and so the bear arrived to the fourth.       
       “Grandmother Bear, I’ve longed to see you again” she said, and the leader felt an emptiness that looks like menstrual blood with no egg to nourish. But the woman said she did not need a symbol of a bear and passed the stone back. And so the leader learned that to receive what is dearest to the heart, she must give away its treasure.

Sunday, April 1, 2018

How to change your art style

I have been a photo-realist painter for 40 years.  And in February I changed my art style.  Not just a little bit but dramatically.  How did this happen?

This piece was done in 1978 and even though it was before I worked with photographs, it already anticipated my attention to natural appearances, to subjects that maintained the illusion of reality.

So where did my wild ride into surrealist painting come from?

In part it came from discovering a new media and technique: painting with chalk pastel.  I have worked with pastel on paper in the past, but never have I added water to the mix.   A remarkable fluidity emerged that was both "realist" and abstract.

This new art style also came from trying another new material: yupo paper.  Which is not really paper at all but a plastic surface that allowed me to lift away, repaint, and lift away again.   Nothing is permanently fixed on this plastic paper, and so some of the rigidity of being "photo-dependent" also lifted away.

Most of this change in my art style came from just following what was happening on the paper and with the materials, rather than having a plan. 

In fact, this new painting is of a dream, and I had no plan.  Only a few cryptic descriptions: of two women in rough water trying to get back to the dock which did not seem to be attached to anything;

and a strong sense of danger in the dream's final question: How safe is this repair?

Although this new style of art is closest to may painted shamanic frame drums, their deer hide surfaces painted with earth pigment do not have the same depth or complexity.

My Journey Oracle deck of divination wisdom cards also have images that well up from the unconscious.

But again, these are nothing like the part of my brain that opened to a new art.  I don't really know where this art style came from.  But I intend to fly with the bird into this new sky.