29 October 2012

Music of the Spheres, or abstraction with purpose

"Tiger Rag," a blind scribble sketch plus watercolor by ~runningwave~

Earth to runningwave. Come in, please.

I am on week 3 of an intensive online art class with Jane Davies.  The course is immersing me in abstractions. My goal is to learn how to work with a few art media and tools that are completely new for me, while practicing with other media I have not played with for many years.  It seems odd to say, but these abstract explorations are improving my ability to observe the world as an artist and to figure out improved ways to get what I see onto paper. My drawing style is already becoming looser, more free. I am having less trouble squelching the inner critic voice that wants to critique every mark and say, "oh, that doesn't really look like a tree. . ."  I attribute my progress mostly to the fact that my teacher, is a great motivator and fan of other artists.

I admire abstraction very much in other artists' work, but I never could quite get the hang of it. It have found it difficult to draw from life. I'm too easily distracted to sit and observe a thing for a long time. Not such an easy task when your head is too often in the clouds. That part will take a lot of work indeed, the quick sketch techniques that Jane Davies uses are improving my skills.

Approaching art from the abstract side, I find that my mind always seems to find ways to take a shape or line and bring it down to the ground, the real world. I'm practical that way. 

I have been discovering new insights into my creativity in the past few months. For one thing, I have noticed that my creativity is that it is very tied to music. When I hear music, it's impossible for me not to "see" pictures or colors, in my mind's eye. It's rather like a music video. Except that my brain has been doing this since long before MTV existed and music videos hit the mainstream. 

When I think back on it, music is tied to very important moments of my life. Music and my memory are also interconnected. I know that many people do talk about hearing a song and remembering their senior year in high school, or dancing with someone, or their mother singing to them at bedtime.

I realized in talking to my husband about music, that it's more than just music and memory. Most people do not experience music in such a visual way as I do. The vivid pictures I see when a song washes over me are so clear and so compelling. It is like a little movie, with scenes, lighting, stage sets, and dialogue. If the music is vintage jazz, the pictures are very different than if the music is rock or classical. The colors, lighting and mood of the "visuals" in my head change with the type of music.

Then I began thinking about the Russian artist Wassily Kandinsky, who famously wrote about his own experiences with synesthesia, which -- for Kandinsky-- was the fact that sound produced sensations of certain colors. I was fascinated with this subject in college as a budding art history scholar, but I had not yet sat down to think about why Kandinsky's writings on spirituality, art, and color vibrations were such powerful concepts for me in my youth.  I never thought to ask myself why I seemed to innately understand Kandinsky's concepts of the relationship between sound and color .

So, how did I come to the realization that music and my creativity are connected? Bear with me, here, because this may go out on a New Age limb for some of you. I will get back to the ground, I promise you.

Flashback to last summer. There's a Native American shaman who lives in the next town over. He and his family host weekly gatherings at his lovely garden in a quiet suburb. You'd never know about these happenings unless a friend gave you directions, but mine did. 

As with many Native American gatherings, the drumming begins the gathering, just to clear the air. The musicians then play hand-made flutes to call in the spirits. There's a moment of silence, a pause before the shaman begins to play glass crystal bowls of various sizes attuned to different notes. He says each of the bowls represents one of the chakras in Tibetan spirituality. The largest of these bowls is more than a foot in diameter and it sits on the floor. The smaller, higher pitched bowls are hand-held. The folklore is that the crystal bowls help to realign your mind, body, and spirit. A kind of mental, spiritual, physical balancing, like the way you would tune-up a car, according to the shaman.

When I heard the bowls played for the first time I had overpowering sensations of colors. Closing my eyes the colors got brighter, more vivid. The vibration of these crystals at different frequencies changes the colors that I see.  How else can I explain that except synesthesia?

Since that first time hearing the bowls, I've been back to the shaman's gathering several times. And, yep, it happens every time. Sometimes the colors are more clear than others, and I think that may have to do with how mentally focused I am that morning. I decided to do some research and to take a test to learn more about synesthesia. I want to determine if I really do have it.

Even if I don't, I find that my abstract art is better, that I am more effective at working with color and line, if I am listening to music while working. I made the following line sketch, selecting the theme "inspiration" from a list my teacher offered. I worked to a song called "Alive" by Omnia while I drew.

"Inspiration" emotimarks, India ink and watercolor pencil
by ~runningwave~
Another related discovery, is that I tend to create higher-quality abstract art if I take a long, hard look at the first set of doodles, and see what shapes are emerging. What objects can I see in the patterns?

Music of the Spheres, watercolor sketch with wax resist and collage by ~runningwave~
When my art teacher asked me to produce a work of art based upon circles, I knew that I wanted to think about celestial bodies, stars, moons, and comets, as I worked. The result reminds me of Baroque music by Handel, like the Wassermusik suites. Above is my favorite piece from the class so far. I actually gave the sketch to my friend the astrophysicist, who was visiting town for her conference at the National Science Foundation. I was touched when she said she'd give it a place of honor on her office wall.

So far, my forays into mixed media art are taking me some places that I did not expect. Today, I am planning some interesting water & ink paintings using several wet-in-wet techniques that my teacher taught us how to do in an instructional video. 

There is so much more to come. In fact, this is high time that I make a public service announcement.

Those of you who follow me regularly here at Pull of the Tides should be forewarned. 

I am gearing up for Art Everyday Month, which is a November challenge event hosted by Boston-based artist, Leah Piken Kolidas.  I plan to create art, cook, or take photographs everyday this November and to post the results on this blog as often as possible.

I can appreciate the fact that some of you may not like additional spam and bombardment of electronic posts in your life. I plan to post more art and less words, if that helps you decide whether or not to stay tuned.

Still, I hope that one or two of you will continue to follow along. I love the comments I've been getting from fellow art-explorers out there, and I'm glad that you are journeying with me.

If you'd rather not be bothered, that's cool by me. I'll hope to see you again on the flip-side at the beginning of December.

16 October 2012

List-It Tuesday @ Artsyville: What I Love About Where I Live

This post originated with a prompt from Amiee over at Artsyville last week.

I am posting this list to honor that I have lived in Maryland now for *gulp* 20 years and lived in it's capital city Annapolis for eleven of those years.

So, the question is: Now that I've lived here in Maryland longer than the place where I grew up, am I "from" Maryland?

photo by ~runningwave~ 2012

I still sometimes feel like a fish out of water, living on the East Coast. I don't suppose I have ever lived anywhere that I completely "fit in" anyhow.

I am sure of one thing, though. I do love living near the Chesapeake. I relish living near water. (I grew up not far from the Ohio River.) Now I live near a creek that washes into a larger stream, out into the Severn River that flows into one of the earth's largest estuaries, The Chesapeake Bay.

I have grown to love this flat, marshy landscape with all my heart (well, except in the middle of boggy summers when the needle hits 90 and the relative humidity is hovering near 95%). But I have to admit even in the height of mosquito season the Marshes are still beautiful.

But the marshlands come alive in the Autumn.

photo by ~runningwave~ 2012
Autumn in the Marshes
Sailboats, are another reason to love living near Annapolis. The docks are bursting with sails after sail in every color. Creeks are lined with them, parked out in back of the house. Even at dusk the sailboats are always present, hugging the shoreline.

photo by ~runningwave~ 2012
Quiet Waters
It could take quite a while to list all the other reasons why I love living near Annapolis, but it is the History that drew me here. I love the way that strolling down the street I get absorbed by the tiny details in the historic architecture that highlight handiwork from the artisans of long ago. I adore the old-timey seaport atmosphere, and seagulls' cry. I love to glance up at the stately outline of the State House dome, resting there like a crown on the crest of the hill.

photo by ~runningwave~ 2012
Door of the Hammond Harwood House

photo by ~runningwave~ 2012
State House Dome, close-up
photo by ~runningwave~ 2012
Annapolis Skyline from the Dock

photo by ~runningwave~ 2012
McGarvey's Saloon, All Decked Out

11 October 2012

Wake Me Up When September Ends

Summer has come and passed 
      The innocent can never last 
                                Wake me up when September ends 

 --a song by Green Day 

"In Silence" Leaf by ~runningwave~

Autumn, for me, is the time to turn around and to look back at the path behind me that I've been traversing all year long. I ask myself: What has this year meant to me? What bends in the road did I encounter that slowed my momentum? What passersby or fellow travelers did I meet; who are the people who gave their time to share and discuss the moments of their lives with me along my way? Most importantly, I ask myself to ponder what lessons I have learned since the last time paused to look back -- which is almost certainly last Autumn.

This has been a particularly rich and bountiful year for me personally. I am humbled by that because so many people around me are struggling every day. Many of them are people I know who are barely making ends meet; others are just scraping by unscathed in personal battles. I have had my share of struggles in the financial sense and in my personal life, too. So for my friends and acquaintances who are troubled in some way, I feel a sense of empathy. Yet this Autumn, I feel a sense of awe that I've reached a point in my life where I have a measured  place of peace and stability.  

Now it is once again the beginning of my favorite month of the year. Sweet, secret October with its crisp, delicious air and the sounds of geese flying southward. 

All I can think of is the beauty of the falling leaves. It's time to let go, Nature is whispering, if you pause to listen. Silently there is just a bit more darkness creeping forward against the hours of sunlight, and with it, I feel the need to curl up under the covers and sleep a little longer. Time to heed the call of the darkness soon and rest for the winter.

Reverse sides of Leaf Paintings, detail.

Front sides of Leaf Paintings

Before the Winter comes, I will celebrate every delicious Autumn day and make the most of the feeling of dry, coolness that comes with this season of rich hues and abundant harvest. For me, it is pure joy to let go of the light as I look forward to the slower, calmer pace of the months where nurturing and new growth happen. 

I keep hearing a phrase over and over in my head that Philip Carr Gomm said recently to a group of like-minded souls gathered in the mountains of Pennsylvania. As the cycle of the year goes by, he explained, celebrating the seasons allows us to reflect on "the changing and the changeless."  What I think he meant was the fact that we know the seasons will change, one after the other, but there is the expectation that the whole cycle of seasons is itself never ending. The seasonal cycle will continue long after we are around to witness it.

Completed Falling Leaf Paintings by ~runningwave~
About the artwork:  All of the mixed media leaf paintings began with a paper leaf cut-out which I had left over from a project last year (the paper leaves came from Paper Source). I painted layers of ink onto the front and back of Artist Trading Cards (a variety of Strathmore papers): the fronts more bright hues and the reverse sides more brown earth tones, with metallic inks for embellishment on both sides. I attached a charm to each leaf painting and wrote a phrase from Autumn poems that I like across each leaf.  I made sure to fold and bend the paper leaves so that they have creases and scoring like real leaves do.

02 October 2012

Creative Projects To Be Accomplished in Fifteen Minutes or less

Part of my current art-immersion project in the past five months has been about exploring the ways that I can create as part of my daily existence. I am busy -- just like everyone else in this great wide world of 21st century global be-productive-or-die society.

be Extraordinary Tag By ~runningwave~ laid out during
my lunch break in August 2012

I spent all of last winter wondering why I couldn't get myself off my duff and be productive, even while I watched my husband sit every morning in the living room teaching himself to read Chinese with several apps and online web tools. I admit it. I was jealous of his dedicated efforts to better himself and to do something productive with every spare minute of his time. He'd be working on his Chinese character apps in line at the diner for breakfast or riding on the Metro, all because he's love to be able to read Chinese legends and folklore in the original text some day. (By the way, in his not quite two years of doing this he is already up to memorizing 2500 characters -- a person who reads Chinese newspapers needs about 3000 characters. Now, that is dedication for you!)

This listing post was inspired by a fellow artist-blogger, Aimee who over at Artsyville, with her post, "list it tuesday: 15 minute creativity."  I met Artsyville on Facebook due to a post by another web-savvy artist I love, Jill K. Berry.  (I adore how the Internet can bring like-minded people together across time and space, even if they would never perhaps met in real life.)

As I continue with my focus on my artistic life, I am looking to other artists who share their ideas to help me. It is such an inspiration to see other people out there who love their art and who think it's important enough not only to do it every day, but to share it with the world also. So big thank yous to those artists like Aimee, Jill and others who share!  

So here's my list to add to the blog roll:
  ~runningwave's~ Creative Things I Can Do in 15 Minutes Or Less

1) Collage, paint, or draw on an ATC* or other small-scale project during my lunch break
*ATC -- for those of you who don't know it means, "artist trading card"

2) Add a few more pieces to my collage projects begun at the August classes taught by Tim Holtz at Queen's Ink

3) Brainstorm for ideas on my next collage pieces

4) Paint color backgrounds for my next collage art journals

5) Organize bit 'n pieces in my studio area

6) Make Zentangle drawings in my notebook

7) Take Instagram photos or mess around with the filters for my other digital photographs

8) Knit another few rows in my current fiber art project

9) Doodle in my handy journal

10) Rubber stamp some backgrounds to be used later

11) Start making my holiday cards

12) Look around me for artifacts and objects that can be incorporated into a collage

13) Browse the blogs of artists to gain inspiration

14) Finally read a bit more in that book on maps and imagination to insights into my own mapping project agenda.

15) Go outside and enjoy the weather; breathe; observe nature

And, of course, make more lists . . .

I am working on an Autumn project to share very soon.  Stay tuned.