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. 

01 September 2013

Challenge: Remember what it was like to be a photographer

20 years. Two decades. Half a life ago.

That's how long it has been since I thought of myself as a photographer. I had just graduated from Art School then, and had decided I needed the intellectual challenge of an academic discipline to counterbalance the associate's degree from a technical college. So I left my "first profession" photography behind and moved to Indiana and art history.

Fast forward a generation. > > > > > 

Most people I know carry a camera with them everywhere, a smart phone that does as much or more than those fictional Tricorders that Doctor McCoy and Spock used to carry around while exploring the universe. Some people use their mobile phones to play games. Some just tweet to their peeps. My dearest Mr. S uses his phone to learn Chinese characters with a sophisticated flash card language learning software. Me, I can't stop taking pictures. 

Through an artistically-minded yoga instructor friend I found Instagram.  Instagram is an amazing community of artists and an app that lets you do extraordinary things with simple and mundane photos. For me it's like candy. 

My phone is a camera that would have been sci-fi to the Midwestern art chic I was in the 1990s. What I wouldn't have given for the opportunity to have an ultra-lightweight device that takes and stores high-res photos and could instantly share them with friends or publish them to the whole planet. Now that's the power I hold in my little hand.

Some of the fine artists who I follow on Instagram participate in a challenge begun by a photographer in Australia. Fat Mum Slim issues a challenge of one idea per day. Your goal is to find that image in your day and snap it. Upload it and hashtag it #FMSphotoaday and you are in.

Today is September the First and I'm going to give this a try.  Fat Mum Slim has posted her September prompts inspired by members of the #FMSphotoaday community.  Those who want to follow my progress may want to check my runningwave Instagram feed, since I won't be blogging here at Pull of the Tides. 

To kick off my photography challenge, however, I will share with you a journey to a quiet, cultured small town in the Blue Ridge. Staunton, Virginia is a picturesque town of that Main Street gentle Victoriana mode. Chock full of elegant buildings, upscale cafes, and antiquey-boutiquey shops, it is a Twenty-first century city of a bygone-era.  It's also home to a repertoire theatre (and I mean theatre and not theater) company that is nationally-acclaimed with some good reason: actors of the American Shakespeare Center will knock your socks off.

Here's a photo essay recap of my recent foray. Enjoy!

I  won't bog down Pull of the Tides with daily photo posts.  I do promise, although, to post my photo-a-day results at the beginning of October. 

Until then, I will keep sharing my mixed media explorations here where the Tide comes in.  I have several art journaling pieces and tags on my studio table in progress at the moment that you'll be seeing soon.

I *love* comments, so if you are stopping by, please drop me a line, or even just a few characters. Thanks so much for reading. Cheers, ~runningwave~ @ Pull of the Tides management.

24 August 2013

Beating the Demon: My Survival Story

An open letter to the amazingly creative gang on Fantastical Crafters Ravelry discussion group.

Reader Be Forewarned
This story contains mentions of demons and demon hunters. If the thought of reading about supernatural creatures or tangled skeins disturbs you, read no further for your own safety.  
If Buffy the Vampire Slayer were here, surely she would cheer on the many of us who arm 
ourselves with (knitting) needles and (crochet) hooks. 

Stick 'em with the pointy end! 

Greetings, Fantastical People!

I've been less active on this board and on Ravelry.com in general during the past year. But now, I'm Baaack! I am so happy to be here again.

I've just survived a crafter's nightmare. A Demon came and crawled into my wrists. He would not let go. I armed myself with every weapon available, and yet still he came. Every time I thought that I had vanquished him, freeing me from my chains, he came back again with a vengeance.

Every day I would get home from work and I wanted to cry because the burning, aching sensation would not stop. I would lie in bed every night with my arms throbbing and pounding. It was only after three months when the Demon's visits became unbearable, that I hauled myself off to get some medical help. Sure enough, that Demon Pain was none other than the terrible Carpal Tunnel Syndrome. I battled with him daily for almost of year and a half.  

Even on the weekends I battled him.  I would begin to chase my Demon away with the help of rest and ice packs, but surely as the sun rises in the East, back he would crawl every Monday like clockwork.  

Meanwhile, my knitting needles and crochet hooks started gathering dust. (I had just learned to crochet the year before this began.) Small armies of mice asked if they could take up residence in my project bag, since I wasn't using it 'n all. My Stashweasel started complaining bitterly about my yarn pile going untouched and she moaned that she was unloved. My heart was breaking. How could I neglect such an important part of my existence? I had to destroy this vile creature, no matter what it took.

My work was suffering too. My day job involves a lot of typing. I am an archivist in charge of historic collections in high demand, so I couldn't just slack off at work to save my soul for Aran and Mohair.  While I was off battling my Demon, I wasn't very communicative online in my personal time because I was trying to avoid the pain by not typing. Occasionally, my Demon would allow me a spare moment's rest to craft something tiny. In fact, the only FO* I knitted in the past year was the item I made for our Bag of Holding Swap. Even bringing this little critter to life was precious time to me. 

To win this epic fight, I had a lot of help. For knowledge, I went to a genius chiropractor-scientist, Mr. Schwartz, who taught me the benefits of certain training exercises and a clever trick with a rubber band that worked like a charm. Demon-Pain Hunter (and massage therapist) Bobbie was often at my side, offering me support, advice, and back-up. I could not have been more fortunate than having divine interventions -- often at just the right moment -- from my Super-Wonder-Goddess acupuncturist Tracy. I am convinced that only She, with her magic needle can set my internal wiring straight after battle.

Whew! It's been a long haul. The Demon is dust, and it's rare now that I even glimpse a pixie-demon-spawn lurking. I am back, baby! I really cannot thank my medical team enough. I have finally conquered this, and learned the importance of using arm rests and buying ergonomic furniture and along the way.

I know that after reading this you might think: This sort of creature always afflicts "old" people. 
Let this be a warning to crafters reading this: I am only in my mid-Forties. There were warning signs of this Demon's presence in my life that I should have paid attention to even earlier. The twinges and creaks haunted my body during my Thirties, but I blew them off as no big deal. “I'm a tough girl. I can stand up to you, Mr. Pain,” I told myself. In fact, my very first evidence of this Demon trying to steal my handwork away was when I was typing my Master's Thesis in my mid-Twenties.

Public Service Announcement:  If you love to knit, crochet, or even just to write things out longhand, please, please learn from my mistake. 

PS. I'm happy to post what I've learned for the benefit of others, so such Demons as Carpal Tunnel will not be able to walk our streets again.

*FO = Finished Object

© Maria Day, 21 August, 2013. All rights reserved.Author's note:  This work of autobiographical satire is posted by the author for your edification and reading pleasure. Please do not reproduce, copy, or borrow portions of this story or illustrations without her express written consent. Thank you! ~runningwave~ @ Pull of the Tides management