07 June 2014

Practicing with an Index Card Challenge

I've been very productive this week, making small 4 x 6 inch pieces everyday for the past seven days.

June 1 is the beginning of an annual challenge for artists called ICAD = Index Card A Day. The Mistress of Ceremonies is Tammy Garcia over at Daisy Yellow.

Tammy is a-mazing at watercolor and drawing techniques and her index card challenge is so simple that children can follow along -- just find an index card and paint, draw, glitter, sew or do whatever visual art you do on it's surface. Just one card each day from June 1 to the end of July, or 61 cards.

There are prompts for each day and weekly themes if you need inspiration. Sometimes I'll use them and sometimes I may go off on my own.

I am still trying to discover if I have a "style" or what makes my particular art unique.

An abstract watercolor background becomes the sun and a beach.
I have been dabbling in rubber stamping, collage, drawing with pen and pencil for several years. More recently, I've explored acrylic paint and tried to be more serious about watercolors.  Now I'm trying to figure out which techniques work best for me. The only way to do that is practice.

My favorite ICAD that I've made so far. Prompts: Text + Puzzle.  India ink, pen and watercolor over a page from an illustrated edition of The Arabian Nights.  I decorated first, then cut up the paper into puzzle pieces and arranged them so that you could see the spaces in between just a bit.
The idea with this art challenge is not to make "finished" works of art, but just to make art.  I am working on figuring out how to make the idea in my mind manifest on the paper.  If this ends up being messy: fine. If this results in something that looks good: great!

Prompts: Text + Galaxy. I made dots and circles on this card, way before I thought of turning them into planets. When I got to the prompt "galaxy" I thought of a watercolor resist painting that I made a few years ago.

01 June 2014

Turning My Face Towards the Light

Last winter was a long and cold season. I had to fight hard in order to keep the winter blues away.  I am now fully aware that I experience a dramatic shift in mood and energy once autumn rolls around. It has been a struggle to educate myself on how to deal with this mental roller coaster.

I bought a blue light box in late November and began using it every morning at the recommendation of a medical practitioner. I reminded myself to take walks outside in the sunlight on my lunch breaks whenever the weather wasn't too bitter. I sat near any windows I found. My daily routine included opening the shades in my apartment early every morning (I know, it seems obvious that the shades should be open, but I like it in my cave when my winter mood is upon me.)

The one fully-realized painting I did was of a sleeping girl and her guardian wolf in the winter woods. I was actually quite pleased with how the vision in my head was realized on the page. The painting is actually proof that I managed to gather some energy for art-making even in the darkest month. Too late, I realized that I had already planned another project to distract myself again from art-making.

Fearing the mental stagnation that I felt during the winter 2013, I had enrolled myself in an intellectually challenging, paralegal class that began in January. It was a test, really, to figure out if I wanted to expand my career horizons. I worked hard all semester, and did well in the course, and the information will be useful. I also learned that I don't want to go in that career direction. A useful thing to learn.  I had a sinking suspicion that as easy as it is for me to do well in a field where brain-power is key, focusing on adding facts to my brain at this point in my life is kind of like running on a treadmill. True, it is good exercise, but it is at odds with a need to expand and vary my training. Especially, if I have a goal to think beyond the boundaries of my life as it has been until now.   Taking the law class helped me to decide that making art is what I need to be doing with my spare time.

I recognized this because as I began the climb back out into the full light of day, my mind and my mood cleared again. Slowly I was able to push the cobwebs away.  I discovered that I wanted to be outside. I wanted to do something more active.  The old me would have found engaging in class work productive, but studying did not give me the same feeling of satisfaction as painting or mixed-media creating. While being engaged mentally in a class did help me mentally, it dawned on me that I was craving something not purely about filling my mind with facts.

April rolled around and I was using my weekend time to draft legal briefs and memoranda, when there was something inside me nearly bursting to create visual art.  Just as soon as my class began to wind down, began to include painting in my routine again.

I am part of a year-long group working with artist Effy Wild on imagery relating to the lunar cycles. I'm very glad that I chose to begin working again on journal paintings on her May flower-themed prompts. I learned a great method for creating idealized feminine faces from Effy's online tutorials.  I find faces so difficult, but when the prompt came, I took the plunge and worked in acrylics to create this Forest Sprite surrounded by blooming flowers, with inspiration from the iconic gold backgrounds with spirals and halos of blossoms favored by Gustav Klimt.

 I look at her and still see all of the problems, the lines that didn't quite go where my mind willed them.  I am trying to also see that my practice is leading somewhere, I only I am brave enough to continue trying to draw and paint.  The violet tucked behind her elfin ear, just felt right to me.

It is clear to me now that the work I am doing in attempt to be more balanced and creative year-around is slowly happening. I have no idea how I am going to keep my creative juices flowing during the darker months later in the year, but I realize now it is the path I'm on.

I don't have any difficulty with it at all in the warm months, and now the height of summer is coming.  And now my face is turned like a flower to soak up those sunbeams.

16 October 2013

Stirring the Cauldron

Have you heard the rising wind?

Have you seen the rays of golden light?

Can you smell the musky smell of wet leaves and earth?

Whenever Autumn rolls around to the Chesapeake Bay, I get pictures in my head of magical things, mysterious and not always dark. Sometimes the pictures are of the light.

There was an image of a cauldron in my head but a month ago that would not leave my head. Cauldrons are old-fashioned cooking vessels, but popular culture has vilified a humble, peasant's kitchen instrument into something that it is not.

Or, is it?

Cauldrons also appear in myths, in tales of magic and the supernatural from around the world.  Legends told and re-told across the ages of humankind.

Those Cauldrons are there in our ancestral memories for a reason.

The studio table beckoned that morning and my original intent was to practice drawing patterns on colored background. I never make *anything* simple. That blank page was just too blank, if you know what I mean.

I thought to myself, "Okay, I need a shape. Then the designs will come naturally and I'll color them in. Hmmmm. What shape to draw."

My cauldron -- the one that emerged from that moment at the precipice, was not what I had intended to draw at all.
I was ready to dive into this drawing, but that Cauldron would not stop bugging me until it was starring back at my from a page. I knew one thing about it, and one thing only. "It is not Black."  I knew that because, as my fingers drew the gentle swell of its belly,  the Dream Cauldron piped up, "Oh no, you don't! Put that black marker down! I am a magical Cauldron. I am not plain, nor am I black at all."

And so it was. And colorful bands decorated with patterns came to be.

I am very happy with it.

Even more surprising to me was how echoes of my Dream Cauldron rippled into my reality only a week after I made this drawing.

For several years in late September, I have gone on spiritual retreat with a gathering of friends from around the Eastern half of the US. It's at a picturesque, private camp nestled in the Pocono Mountains not far from the Delaware Water Gap. This year, one of our guests was an English artist, Cerri Lee, who is a ceramic sculptor and, generally, a wise woman. Cerri has made long study of Celtic legend and people, and her sensual clay figures reference symbols and beings drawn from mythic lore.

Cerri's entire workshop centered around the image of the cauldron in culture and history of the British Isles. In the space of an hour, she conveyed more about the symbolism of cauldrons than I had ever heard in the last four decades. I found my jaw dropping when she described the Welsh poet, Taliesin's tale of the Spoils of Annwn, which features strange encounters of King Arthur in the Otherworld. This story can be found in The Book of Taliesin, a poem written down during the first half of the fourteenth century (although its content is an oral traditions much older, from around  AD/CE 900). In the Spoils of Annwn, the Bard recounts a scene where he envisions Nine Maidens standing around their cauldron - the women's fingernails pearl-white, holding the rim.

Here from The Camelot Project are the Middle Welsh and Modern English translations from Preiddeu Annwn: The Spoils of Annwn:
13. yg kenneir
    or peir
     pan leferit.
13. My poetry,
    from the cauldron
    it was uttered.
14. Oanadyl naw morwyn
 14. From the breath of nine maidens
    it was kindled.
15. Neu peir pen annwfyn
    pwy y vynut.
15. The cauldron of the chief of Annwfyn:
    what is its fashion?
16. gwrym am yoror
16. A dark ridge around its border
    and pearls.
Detail, rim, Cauldron of Inspiration by ~runningwave~

Look closely at the cauldron which I drew from pure fancy only a week before this workshop, and you may recognize what it is that amazed me so.  When I drew it, my Cauldron of Inspiration decided that swirls of white lines and roses could be seen all the way around its dark rim.

Although I did know of Taliesin and his bardic tales before, and had even heard of the Spoils of Annwn, I could not in September have described to you anything so specific. Yet there is something in my painting of the Cauldron that well-illustrates the lines of poetry. Coincidence to be sure, but fascinating nonetheless.  

After years of studying Celtic lore, and of loving its poetry and mystery, after imbibing across disciplines of books, music, poetry, and movies, I have begun to create my own visual language. 

I am finding my way slowly towards making art that is truly my own. 

This is all just a bit scary, I mean, to go it on your own as an artist. I've relied very heavily on the talent and encouragement of others for years. And yet, and yet, there's a voice now in my head that wants to express itself and that voice is something new, bold. It's daring me to stare down at blank pages and to fill them with color and line. It's prodding me to finally tell my own tales. 

My Cauldron of Inspiration is boiling. 

                         High time to dive in and taste the hardy brew it's offering me.