Saturday, December 31, 2011

Kuumba (Creativity)


Today, the sixth day of Kwanzaa, is dedicated to the principle of Kuumba (Creativity).  This is one of the most important of the seven principles to my daily practice and life generally.  Some of my earliest memories involve creativity.  I remember when I was about five, making mud cakes and plaintain sandwiches with grass trimmings with my little friend Joan behind our house in East Orange, NJ. I remember the first day of kindergarten being struck by a beautifully creative fall bulletin board of autumn leaves at school. Creativity has been a sustaining factor in my life since I can remember.  Recently, I joined a challenge to create something every day on a blog www.creativeeveryday.com.  I have already been doing this but it will be very nice to be involved with a community of creative people as I work.  My creativity has typically touched every aspect of my life including hairstyles, cooking (though I plan to leave the vegetable dessert pies alone), exercising (love to belly dance), doodling (particularly during lectures when I should be paying attention), writing, magickal practice and of course art making.  One of the reasons I choose Hoodoo as a spiritual path is because it invites and rewards creativity, at least the way I practice it.  Earth-based spirituality generally, opens the gates of creativity, as you engage the elements in numerous ways and honor the earth and cosmos.  When I wrote, “Sticks, Stones, Roots and Bones” and its companion, “Four Seasons of Mojo,” I felt such excitement because both embody creativity and as I wrote I was also on a journey of discovery in so many different ways.  I am still creating the dream pillows I give recipes for in those books, as well as various types of mojos, sachets and potpourris.  I think when some people look at my potpourri at craft fairs they just see a bag of botanicals but there is so much creativity involved in making a batch of potpourri and some magickal intent as well.  I was describing my process of making potpourri to my mother-in-law and it reminded me of its complexity.  I start by grinding up lavender, juniper berries, and the preservative scents of cinnamon, clove, allspice, and anise stars.  I add these to a corn cob mix that will hold their scent.  I call that the mother batch, once I add the essential oils.  The essential oil blend involves a great deal of complexity and skill in its mixture as well because I usually like to balance the top, middle and base notes, like a perfumer.  Then after the perfumery, comes another fun part of selecting a multitude of dried botanicals, herbs with specific magickal intent and scent qualities, berries of various colors, evocatively shaped pods and leaves.  After I bless and mix the mother batch of scent with the botanicals they sit for a few weeks, usually about a month in a sealed container.  Even the interest in perfumery goes back into my memory bank.  I remember outside of Salem, NJ, there was a little defunct factory and I dreamed since I was a child that that would be the home of my perfume business.  Now, I create the perfumed botanicals out of my home but I still dream of having a small industrial space, most likely in a rural location.  Creating magickal botanicals and soaps activates my gift for healing because you can imbue each step of the creation process with magick, if you are so inclined.  I am so excited that today is devoted to Kuumba. As I light the six candles of Kwanzaa today, I revere this gift bestowed by the Goddess, called Kuumba in Swahili or Creativity in English. Today's image is an ATC, with elements of collage, including a Xerox film transparency, drawing, stamping and embossing.

Thursday, December 29, 2011

Creative Inspirations


After a recent interview on whohub.com, that asked me about the origins of my creative expression, I started to think more deeply about the question posed.  What drove me to want to be an artist?  The question is simple yet the answer is more complex than I can articulate.  To start, I grew up in a creative household within a truly inspirational natural environment.  My mother loved art and was quite creative as was my father.  The two had their own craft store called M & R Handcrafts.  They made and sold ceramic plaques and sculptures and other crafts including decoupage and repose. Their most popular lines dealt with astrology—the Aztec calendar and the zodiac.  I spent many hours with them, working in a log cabin, painting these plaques along with my brothers and sister.  There was a fireplace to keep the space warm and a kerosene stove and knotty pine paneling.  We had the pre-requisite stuffed deer head over the fireplace and a mounted trophy big mouth bass in this homey studio.  My father especially spent many hours in this space pouring plaster and trimming.  Outdoors there was a small lake and a wood, as this cabin, which was next to our house was in the wetlands of the Pine Barrens in southern New Jersey.  Across the lake, off a swampy part of the lake, there lived an elderly, African American landscape painter.  I spent many hours watching her paint and attending her openings in nearby Philadelphia. My uncle who was a musician, playing drums for a time with Sun Ra, came often from Manhattan, staying in a small house near the painter.  He would bring down his creative friends to party, under the moonlight, on the lake. My parents, the painter named Mrs. Kennedy and my Uncle Carl were my earliest influences. I can’t underestimate the power of the lake and surrounding woods.  The magical sounds, year round, emanating from the lake were very powerful influences, as was the ever changing tides and thriving wildlife, including deer, otters, eels, snakes, bull frogs, turtles, fish, tadpoles and ducks.  Following Mrs. Kennedy’s lead, I spent many years painting renditions of the lake, or at least shall I say, attempting to paint the lake and trees.  I also had an excellent, multi-talented art teacher in high school named Mrs. Bilderbach who taught many different media and techniques.  It was a very special gift to have these people, and that particularly vibrant natural environment, in my life as an early artist.  There were so many creative people around in those woods.  There was a poet named Mrs. DuBois who led a poetry reading group in Mantua that I joined, and of course I spent many hours involved with dancing.  Mrs. DuBois’ poetry group stands out in my mind.  In her home, she had very Victorian tastes (we had high tea every Sunday) yet she was African American and especially fond of the 20th century Black poets. In a splendid environment of artistic production in a home studio, an unrivaled natural environment in the Pine Barrens and wetland, inspired by musicians, poets and dancers, I embarked on life as a painter.  Now after many decades of studio practice, I look back on the foundations of my creativity and am considering reviving my early interests in silversmithing under the tutelage of my high school teacher and am planning to create some nature-inspired cloisonne enamel works.  Until I get to the facilities for such an endeavor, I am continuing to work on mixed media ATCS, which are continuously surprising.  Today's ATC is a reflection on creativity and childhood.     

Tuesday, December 27, 2011

Self-Determination


Today I’ve lit two red candles, for the blood of our people in honor of the two Nguzo Sabo considered so far.  Today’s red candle is for Kujichagalia or self –determination.  In many aspects of my life I have instilled and considered self-determination, especially during this past year. I visited self-determination during my extensive job search.  As all of you know, this is no kind of economy to be on a job search but eventually with some intense perseverance I did find a few jobs. The first job really stretched me.  It was with an internet up Start-up Company.  My job was to help build a metasearch engine, specifically related to the topic of health.  I was stretched at this job because it did not feed my artistic self.  Working 40 hours per week,  I found myself too tired to draw or write when I was off from work and relatively obsessed with ways to integrate artmaking and writing back in my life when I was at work.  It was comforting that many people working with me were also writers but that was not enough of the food my soul was seeking.  Several months in, I became terribly ill and that required me to not only quit that job but also to do some soul searching on how I came to be so ill and how I could correct the illness with which my body suffered.  I became ill slowly and by the time I went into hospital I thought I was dying.  My fever was 103.5 and I had incessant bowel movements, probably every 20 minutes.  Terribly anemic and dehydrated I spent many hours hooked up to IVs and eventually had several blood transfusions.  Come to find out, I have one of the irritable bowel diseases called Ulcerative Colitis.  It took weeks and weeks and two visits to the hospital before I recovered.  I can’t remember being as sick as that in my entire life but finally, ever so slowly, I did recover and am in remission.   I began to think of the things that really feed my soul and brighten my spirit--things that have a positive impact on my sense of holistic health and well-being.  Determined to get well and stay well, I changed my diet, studied up on Ulcerative Colitis and joined some online support groups.  I also knew in my heart that I needed to re-activate my studio and begin some new art work for the healing to root.  I also needed to envision and land a creative job that was closely connected to the goings-on in my studio.  Fortunately, I was able to find such a job, teaching elementary and middle school children art, five days a week.  This drawing featured today is one I did a few years back, using colored pencils.  It reminds me of the state I found my colon to be in--perforated, abscessed, swollen and bleeding—when I was diagnosed with Ulcerative Colitis.  Still, there are beautiful, flourishing parts to my internal organs to match the drawing.  I am determined in the coming year to have my organs heal and then remain whole and sound with the vibrant organic wholeness that exists in this Prismacolor pencil drawing.  

Monday, December 26, 2011

Harambee!


Today is the first day of Kwanzaa.  I like this celebration a lot because it is cultural, family and community orientated.  There are the seven principles to revisit and consider each year, since each year their significance and meaning can deepen or vary.  Today that principle is unity or Umoja.  Our son works for an organization called Umoja, which helps underserved urban youth, so it is a word and concept with which we are quite familiar. Dr. Maulana Karenga, a professor in California and founder of Kwanzaa speaks this year about well-being and right-being of and in this world.  The seven principles, or Nguzo Saba, in Swahili are focused this year around the message to walk gently, act justly and relate rightly in and for the world.  Umoja addresses our desire to maintain a sense of oneness, and togetherness in all of the circles of our lives—in family, friendship, community, the world and the universe.  Dr. Karenga urges us to consider principled and peaceful togetherness, centered on mutual respect and equality.  Umoja asks us to stand in solidarity with those that are underserved and oppressed.   This is something I proudly watch my son do on a daily basis.  For him it is not something noble, it is just what he and the other people he works with do every day. I work with the homeless each month through an organization called West Suburban PADS.  I used to work at their main office as a volunteer once a week, helping clients find jobs, housing, transportation, clothing and helping them meet their personal care needs. It was interesting and every day I spent there had its challenges and spiritual rewards but then I had to seek employment so now I only work with the organization once a month as a volunteer. I realize when I am with the homeless clients how similar we all are and how was it not for the grace of the Goddess, I could be homeless.  The organization has a fabulous reputation for placing its clients in permanent housing which is a blessing.  Meanwhile, each day of the month a different church in Oak Park provides beds, a full course dinner and some time for community togetherness and warmth of several different kinds.  Today we should all take a sip from the kikombe cha umoja or unity cup and contemplate how we can be better in community and as supports for those around us. Never a better time for Harambee! (Let’s all pull together)! This image is a 5 by 7 inch art card that strives for unity in its design. It contains embossing, stamping and various elements of collage.

Sunday, December 25, 2011

An Artful Christmas

In the week since I have been away from the computer, I have had time to observe the beauty of the changing of the seasons and celebrate Yule.  Next I set out to create an artful Christmas.  By artful, I mean packing the holiday with as many artistic pleasures as possible.  There is so much artifice today in Christmas that I figured art could counteract. Christmas songs from the 30s until today are quickly becoming the exclusive domain of television and radio commercials.  I tried listening to some "Christmas" music on Pandora and had to stop short because it reminded me of a tacky Old Navy commercial. So, what to do to keep the spirits bright?  First of all, I've watched less television and instead started listening to incense.  I've been listening to a pine blend to see where it takes me and what it has to say to my soul.  It seems to want to take me to a mythical and mystical outdoor wonderland, filled with all sorts of whimsical creatures, trees and mystery-filled forests.  Listening to incense, is an ancient Japanese art form that I have been meditating on for several years.  I set up classical still life set ups of fresh fruits in silver bowls or glass bowls and then put out dried fruit, pods, cinnamon sticks, herbs and berries in a wooden bowl.  According to Feng Shui, I add further earth elements by having a paper white lily growing in soil on the table, reminding all of the coming of spring.  I keep one or two sweetly scented essential oil candles burning along with the pine incense, which is burning in white ash in a handmade ceramic listening bowl.  I've dusted off the photos of the family and ancestors, and turned on all the lights on the douglas fir.  The wooden kinara for Kwanzaa is another little still life with the wooden vessel for libations, waiting for tomorrow.  Medieval, Renaissance and Baroque music with its great complexities sets a musical tone and yes, there is a good wine and a variety of chocolate waiting to serve as a treat.  With all senses fed, Christmas this year is sensual and creatively satisfying and yes--it will be an Artful Christmas.

Sunday, December 18, 2011

By Hand

I remember when I was at Tyler (School of Art), the big discussion in painting was still the effects that photography had on art.  That was a long time ago; the era before computers, long before digital art was even a consideration.  Computers have touched so many intimate aspects of our life, most of all the way we use our hands.  Last night I sat down to write out some Christmas cards.  The card writing was the most handwritten letter work that I have done all year.  I send so many emails each day but only a handful of hand written cards each year.  I remember when I made and sold handmade greeting cards in the 90s, they sold like hotcakes because email hadn’t caught on and people were still writing things by hand.  Now in the 2000s the cards languish in the boxes I put them in, waiting to be held or touched. I don’t mind at all though because whether they sell or not I’ve created them and I can use them to share with my friends.  The people who buy them tend to be of a certain age and they aren’t shy to tell me they still enjoy writing out cards. I was looking at some beautiful journals yesterday at the bookstore as well.  They seem to still be popular but I wonder for how long? I looked at the moleskins that Hemingway made famous and wondered if I would actual use it.  When I write books, I still hold true to the original idea of the manuscript, I write first by hand and then transcribe it onto the computer.  I don’t have a laptop and sitting wherever I want, handwriting draft after draft is sort of cathartic.  I also like to write articles the same way.  My thoughts just seem to flow better on white, lined paper with pen in hand.  I have even gone so far as to buy an old fashioned fountain pen for writing books but never really got the hang of it, though I may try it again.  I noticed when I looked over the art supplies available to my students, with horror, that there was no pen and ink available for drawing.  I may still buy some for them and teach them, what is becoming an old art form.  Not calligraphy, just drawing in the vein of Durer and Van Gogh, among others.  I still enjoy working with ink very much.  Every day, I look up in the kitchen and can see my sumi-e brush and ink drawings on handmade flower petal paper of my prairie flowers.  I love brush and ink.  Rarely, but on occasion, I will use digital media in my artmaking, mostly to create under-paintings to get things started by using Xerox transfers.  I cover the Xeroxes with Golden tar medium and then make transparent acrylic skins from the prints.  This fall when I went to the Illinois Art Education Association’s annual conference, once again, I did hand printmaking. I hadn’t done that since taking lithography at Tyler.  It was so amazing to watch a master printmaker, in this case a very adept woman, pull prints.  Ours came out interesting but we depended on her strength and know-how to pull them off.  I especially enjoyed the monotypes, out of all of my workshops.  I wonder where printmaking fits into the scheme of things with all of the digital art afoot.  Ironically, our guest speaker was a printmaker specializing in silkscreens, who insisted on doing everything by hand and amused us with stories of how low tech he maintains his studio.  His favorite activity, which he depicts in his prints, is riding a bike and cutting wood. Yesterday, for the first time, I listened to the blogger, who became a TV host, the Pioneer Woman, speaking about her lifestyle, as I packed presents, getting them ready to be mailed.  She still maintains as much of the pioneer spirit and lifestyle as possible living in our times.  I found the simplicity to her approach to living inspirational.  She was on the Cooking Chanel, which I love, because everyone is primarily making everything by hand.  The beautiful hands of Persephone were found on a “Sage Woman” cover and added to this collage which graces the back of my sketchbook.

Saturday, December 17, 2011

Christmas Feelings

Christmas shopping can leave you feeling warm or cold, anxious, boxed-in, eager, small, excited, curious, angry, sullen, empty, broke, infuriated, surprised, inflated, humbled, sorry, bland, informed, torn, confused, apathetic, charmed, depressed or even happy.  Every year it creeps up on you.  I expect to keep things simple and then like something stored up in a dark moist place it mushrooms until it is almost out of control.  I don’t think this has to do with the other people in my life.  I think its complexity builds and churns in my head until I’m left beaten and whirled like some kind of human batch of butter. The surprises are always nice.  I get so many different emails all year and one of them is called Found it.  Loved it!  They are supposed to be surprising finds you can look for on the internet. I decided to look at it for once, since I usually admittedly delete them and found this wonderful site www.artoftea.com.  It is all about the artful drinking and preparation of fine teas.  I found myself enjoying the arm chair experience of the somewhat exotic world of teas.  The teas are presented like fine wines, the black teas, oolongs and dessert teas particularly captured my fancy.  A while back, I wrote an extensive article on incense, the Japanese art form and also talked about incense games, in an article for “Llewellyn’s Herbal Almanac.”  They are going to be re-featuring the article next year and while out of ideas for Christmas presents I thought back to that article and thought of the joys incense can bring to the soul.  I went back to visit the Shoyeido incense website and found myself once again captivated.  I ended up ordering up quite a lot of stuff for different people on my list and I must add with some guilt, for my home and studio.  They have incense that goes up to near $2,000. USD--amazing.  They describe those premium incenses as being otherworldly and they must be because while in this world I don’t think I’ll ever experience them unless it’s it a workshop.  I know they usually contain the finest aloeswood available.  I am partial to their pine and outdoor scents as well as the peace meditative blend that contains myrrh.  When I get into burning my collection of frankincense from different areas of the Middle East and the African myrrhs over bamboo charcoal, I find that I get very blissful. I used to have quite a good relationship with the old owner of Scents of the Earth which features many different incenses; some of which are made by the company, now located in my beloved Cape May, NJ. They have some nice ancient spiritual blends.  He is the person that let me in on what richness and delight incense could add to your life and our conversations led to a great deal of research.  I have ordered some white ash and incense bowls, for listening to my Japanese incense.  So that type of Christmas shopping is the type that fills me with anticipation and delight.  I wonder how the recipients of the incense will feel when they experience the gentle music of these very unusual blends. I’m also very into candles and my five office candles I described in a previous post are lit and smelling wonderful.  That will be another type of Christmas present to share with guests that come into our home.  Still, I look forward to the peacefulness of Yule—at the Solstice this coming Thursday--the day of the longest night and shortest day. I have a Yule cauldron-luck to go to tonight and I just can’t wait! Hopefully, by the time Kwanzaa rolls around I won’t be too worn out to celebrate a little more. The drawing above, is a colored pencil drawing from my sketchbook inspired by the rock formations found in parts of Illinois and Wisconsin.

Friday, December 16, 2011

Parkway Garden

This diptych is a large oil on paper called, “Parkway Garden.”  It was done during the fall in plein air during several outdoor painting sessions in my front yard.  Then I took the panels into my studio and finished the painting, looking down on the garden.  That was done in my old studio which had a nice bay of windows that overlooked the gardens and street.  It was a square-shaped studio which I don't think is so good for creative flow. Now my studio is very rectangular and more in the middle of the house, upstairs and still has lots of windows that provide beautiful natural light.  It is under construction, which feels weird.  I like the consistency of having my studio relatively unchanged and everything in the same spot.  But that is the way I’ve worked for years and it is good to change things up.  I also think the rectangular shape helps the work flow better and there is much more room to expand my vision. Now, the studio has been completely dismantled so the ceiling could be refinished.  Previous to the construction, the ceiling would occasionally leak when it rained and it constantly flaked off paint and plaster into my paintings and drawings.  So basically everything has been packed up and removed from the walls, placed either under plastic or in another room while the ceiling is being completely redone.  I can’t wait until it is finished but as we all know construction projects often take much longer than planned.  Meanwhile, I am working on a makeshift table in the old studio, filled with paints, stamps, brushes, papers and so forth.  I find there is precious little time to paint at this time of the year but will try to squeeze in some time over the weekend to finish my latest mandala.  That particular mandala has surprised me because it has more dimension and depth than I planned, which is a pleasant surprise. Meanwhile, I am doing some planning for how I want to re-establish and set up the actual studio, as I maintain this virtual studio.  I wanted to post this particular painting because it was done at a time when nature was in a state of flux.  “Parkway Garden” is in the collection of a private collector in Chicago.  The art consultancy firm I work with, Murphy Rabb, placed it actually in the late fall, shortly after it was completed.

Thursday, December 15, 2011

When Craft Fairs Go Bad

For about five days, I’ve been sitting on uncomfortable feelings raised by the most recent craft fair I attended , which was last Saturday 12/10/11.  Usually the organizers will want you to become successful at their venue because that way we are happy and more willing to come back to support the fair next year, as well as recommending it to other artisans.  So, usually steps are taken to assure the success of the show, advertising, outreach, emails, and good signage and even how the artisans are placed.  This was a brand new fair in the city of Chicago’s north side at a place called Flourish Studios.  It was held in a spectacular store-like space that must have been 10,000 square foot on each floor.  The huge problems for the artisans is that customers would have to walk through a full store of other artists and artisans work on that first floor, find the stairs, walk up the stairs and then come into one of the two small rooms to see what we were offering for sale.  Who would want to go through so much trouble? When they are probably overwhelmed with shopping as it is?  Adventurers, I imagine; those few intrepid souls not put off by the bazaar set up.  Most of us exhibiters were unhappy to varying degrees and we complained to one another all day.  Why had this happened?  We were set up for failure or was it just an accident, the way we were placed? The people organizing the show seem pretty good hearted so I’d have to lean towards the later.  The first hour…no sales.  As the day dragged on ever so slowly gradually a few more people came dribbling by and some did purchase our wares but it was overall an abysmal day.  I learned a few things about craft fairs that day.  1.  Be leery of newly developed craft shows without a track record of any kind. 2.  Placement of the artists and artisans is critical to their success at a venue.  Try to find out where you will be placed in the fair before agreeing to be in it.  Ask for a map. 3.  Try to avoid competing with pre-existing products and books that are not a part of the art fair.  Ask if the customers will see these items first or if they will be introduced to the crafters items directly. 4.  Just ask as many questions as possible in advance.  What type of advertising is being done; what numbers of people are expected to visit, etc., these small steps would have probably convinced me to stay home and not participate in that particular fair.  I wonder how many of you reading this have also had nightmare scenarios present themselves in the form of an art fair or craft show?  Would love to hear from you.  Maybe together we can sort some things out on how to prepare for selecting these shows. I give you the floor…

Wednesday, December 14, 2011

Simple Morning Rituals

Thankfully, I am up again and writing before the sun has risen.  This is a part of my morning ritual that I savor.  Writing can flow beautifully in the early hours of waking, especially if you set the mood for it. It is almost perfectly still and very quiet, except for the patter of rain this morning. It seems, if one were to really focus you can hear your heartbeat. I like to have something to drink, first something cold like water and then a nice cup of South American or African coffee or some sort of tea to start things off.  Before I even have my morning drink, I have to light my candles.  I have 5 votives in little glasses burning.  The patchouli one especially gives off a nice, musty, earthy scent, reminding me of Gaia, whereas the other two are sweeter and more vibrant, a part of the ascended master’s realm.  The trio is complimentary to one another and they warm the spirit and soul which also makes creativity flow.  I also stretch before writing, before I even get out of bed.  Staying limber seems to grow more and more vital each day.  When I am feeling up for it I will also do sun salutations to wake up my body and align my spirit to the universe, getting it ready for what is before me each day.  Ritual and writing seem to go together well and one pulls energy from the other.  When I can get into the rhythm of doing both I find that there isn't much I cannot accomplish.  The morning ritual and writing make way for the painting which follows once the sun has risen.  Today however it will be warm and rainy so I don't expect to see the sun.  For many years now, at least since I was in art school, I have depended on sunlight to motivate, illuminate and in some ways direct my paintings and drawings. When the sun is not out it is harder to get motivated and that is when candles become even more important.  They are little fragrant warming lights that are handy because they are portable.  Each scent offers a different vibrational energy as does each color.  I am using a lot of white candles these days because they offer a high spiritual tonality and seem cleansing which is another important feature of morning rituals. Once I have completed this aspect of my creative ritual I will go near the hearth, I spoke of cleansing the other day, and light three more candles while continuing my preparations for the day with my family.  In that area of the house the narcissus generally colors the room with its hypnotic fragrance, as does the garland and Pacifica candles.  That particular type of candle is rich in essential oils—the aromatherapeutic benefits are out of this world!  They are inspirational, uplifting, vibrational and energetic, all in the form of single three by three inch pillars. This pastel on paper is called "Flowers at Dusk" and it is about 22" x 28."  Ok…it’s coffee time…

Tuesday, December 13, 2011

Mandala Artistic Statement

I started to seriously work the Mandala into my art in late August of 2011.  This painting is one foot square and it explores Wind Energy.  This is my Artistic Statement for this series: My paintings explore natural forms of energy and they employ Islamic patterns and Native American basketry designs which are digitally manipulated and layered starting with a foundation of acrylic skins.  Islamic patterns have many universal themes, while also embodying sacred geometry.  They offer the opportunity to engage with pure abstraction and are open-ended, lending themselves to various interpretations, yielding to the vision of the artist.  Native American basketry designs are powerful circular forms that also utilize patterns that speak to the human condition, life cycles, ceremony and ritual.  Bringing the two diverse iconic cultural expressions together imbues my work with transformative power.  I use the Mandala format because it is healing and soothing to me as an artist on the path to physical and spiritual healing.  Mandala offers a double helix healing because it also offers that same healing potential I derive as an artist to every viewer who takes the time to experience the paintings fully.  Color theory figures prominently into the work.  My paintings hinge on color and shapes to portray various types of natural sunlight, wind, water and other forms of clean energy.  It is my hope that my work will inspire and touch the viewer while also serving as a gentle reminder of all the forms of natural healing energy around us.

Monday, December 12, 2011

Sun Energy

Typically, I like to rise with the sun.  Today I wasn’t so lucky...ugh, it’s Monday!  Still, I generally work with sun magick and my daily activities revolve around the movements of the sun.  I love doing sun salutations in the morning and then painting in the studio using natural sun light.  In this Mandala called “Sun Energy” I utilized a lot of color theory to try to make a very vibrant painting--I wanted it to vibrate.  I see each of the background Islamic pattern flowers as little suns that give off tremendous healing energy.  I think of the early Egyptians because a large part of their ancient spirituality revolved around sun worship. Today is a day for them—the sun is shining this morning in an eye-piercingly bright manner.  While it is not warming up this cold Illinois weather (it is 29 degrees right now), its majestic presence is very warming to the soul.  I am practicing ways of bringing the sun’s warmth into the home.  I bought some patchouli, something called Aspen flower and a bamboo votive candle for my dining room wall; a lovely green garland; some eucalyptus and bittersweet berries for the hearth.  I have repositioned the white poinsettia which seems to throw off a lot of its own natural light and positive energy. The forced narcissus is starting to bloom, releasing its bright, high frequency scent into the living room.  It is almost otherworldly. I like to work the hearth area and am considering hanging a cadmium red abstract painting over it to bring in a fiery feeling, according to the tenets of feng shui.  In fact, today I will completely re-do the hearth because that is the place from which warmth springs.

Sunday, December 11, 2011

Promise of the Full Moon



I'm more of a sun person than a moon but I must admit I was very enriched by this month's full moon. Called many different things from Whirlpool Moon to Long Nights Moon, this full moon was particularly spectacular. I observed it carefully Friday night, driving to a Christmas party, and was mesmerized by its glowing and powerful presence. She called to me, “look this way,” “hear my messages,” “see me,” “feel my transformative power.” According to “Witches' Datebook 2011,” this Whirlpool Moon is a good time for communications, especially dispersing information and wisdom. It is a time for tidying this year's affairs and summarizing the happenings of 2011 especially if you are a part of a spiritual group but if you are solitary there are also many ways of to do the same thing. This year I have been searching out groups that are not online. Don't get my wrong, I love my online groups and am a member of about 53 Yahoo groups, numerous groups on MyHoodooSpace.com, PaganSpace.net and quite a few on Soul Cafe as well as some great Meet Ups--my favorite is Chicago Ringing Anvil. I'm signed up to attend Chicago Ringing Anvil's Yule Potluck which should be a lot of fun next weekend. Online groups are a great way of staying connected with people all over the country and those abroad. I get immense pleasure out of the conversations I read and partake in online. Face-to-face groups are equally important, though I find them more difficult to navigate than online groups. I was a member of a local Dream Medicine Circle for most of this year. We would meet monthly, do a ritual and/or ceremony, discuss our dreams, and work with dream energy in writing and through art. It was powerful but for complicated personal reasons I had to quit the group before the end of the year. I see a pattern in myself wherein I am very sporadic. Doing the same thing every day or on a regular basis does not fit well into my lifestyle. I struggled this year when I had a very regular, 40 hour a week office job at an internet start up in Chicago. Yes, I enjoyed my job as a researcher and editor, especially because I was working on a special project about health but the day in, day out slog eventually got the best of me. As I rested and recuperated from being in hospital I made the decision not to return to that job. Now, once again I work 5 days a week but this time part-time so I have a chance to write in the mornings and to go to my studio and paint before and after work. This Long Nights/Whirlpool Moon I am considering continuity and honoring my commitments. These topics are of vital importance but over the course of this past year, struggles with my health have impaired my ability to stick with things I have committed to. Illness has a language and message of its own and mine has spoken to me about what I can and cannot do; what I should and should not do. With less and less of an opportunity to commune with the sun, I am turning towards the power and wisdom of the Mother Moon to help me connect with what I hold dear. The piece featured on this blog today is from the sketchbook whose inside back cover I shared yesterday. It is a collage with cray-pas pastels and it reminds me very much of full moon energy and how that energy spreads and touches the earth.

Saturday, December 10, 2011

Reflections on Persephone's Landscape



A little over a year ago, when I attended last year's Illinois Art Education Association's annual conference, I purchased a sketchbook. The idea was to pass the sketchbook around to people in other states and countries to see what the sketchbook could become through collaboration. I fully intended to participate in the project but I did it a bit differently. I had not been too active in my studio in 2010 and thought the sketchbook would give me just the right kick in the butt to get working, without the pressure of producing something big. I decided to fill the sketchbook from cover to cover and to even create art on the covers. This image, "Persephone's Landscape" is a collage from the inside back cover of the little black sketchbook which measures about 5" x 8 1/2". I'd say I've worked in this particular sketchbook for at least six months straight and I've made about 40 images. I've worked some and reworked others while a few were cut out and turned into small paintings on board. There is something I really like about the intimacy of a sketchbook that you can pick up and work with anywhere or even work on your lap. I wanted to share "Persephone's Landscape" today because, as Goddess of the Underworld, she holds court during winter, which is the time she is in that particular sphere. I see her world as being lively, mysterious and hauntingly beautiful. Most of all, it is very full of life. My mother, father, grandfather, grandmother, great grandmother and many aunts, uncles, as well as a few cousins have passed on. In dreams, my mother shares her goings on in the next world. She seemed very upset and confused in those first years when she passed; trying to make her way but now she is content. I get the most visits in dreams from her. We were very close and I miss her dearly, especially around the holidays. She loved the holidays and when she died in October she already had hidden numerous presents in the trunk of her car for Christmas. I miss my father, who made his passage on St. Valentine's Day and all of my beloved relatives as well. This is a bittersweet time of the year that we try to make things merry and bright but if we are in tuned, it can be a very dark time in more ways than one.

Friday, December 9, 2011

Size Does Matter







For a while, particularly while in graduate school at the University of California, San Diego, everything about my paintings seemed to have been larger than life. The works, you could walk with them, following their path down the wall to come to understand the piece. I used ladders and step stools and chairs to reach the top of the canvases to apply paint or often worked with the canvas flat on the ground. Tubes of paint where out, instead I used cans of various sizes, mostly pints and quarts. My brushes and palette were enormous and even my drawings took several sheets of 30 x 40 paper to be realized in the form of a diptych or triptych or I used rolls of paper. When I have had some health issues that were quite serious, of one type or another, my work diminished in size dramatically. As of late I’ve come to the belief that it is a good thing for the paintings to take up less and less physical space. Maybe reducing the size of my work is a personal way of lessening my footprint. I have moved from oil, though not necessarily permanently, to water-based media, which at least without the solvents, feels healthier. I have a healthy-sized collection of Daniel Smith paints, I like that he makes them at his factory in the US and I am using some Golden Acrylic products as well. I am thinking of going macro. I am toying with the idea of creating ATCs (Artist Trading Cards) and have some cards waiting to be painted on. I also have a sketchbook which is a work-in-progress that contains miniatures done in mixed media and using digital transfer. These two images connected to this text are two of my favorites. It is a map to a mythical landscape called “Sacred Land 1” and Sacred Land 2” and they are very tiny—pretty much ATC sized. These miniature paintings are done with tempera, something I seldom use but it seems the perfect medium for these pieces. On the Welcome page of this blog I showed a piece called Universal Energy. It is 12” square. That is my preferred size to work these days and it even feels quite large compared to the structures I worked on previously. The regularity of the square has a certain, comforting predictability that I need right now. Squares lend a nice sense of containment. They are dependable shapes that can hold a lot of visual information.

Thursday, December 8, 2011

The Meeting of Writing and Art: Altered Books







Writing brings immense pleasure. It has been an important part of my life since high school when I got seriously involved with poetry. Writing a book is both challenging and pleasurable. It is a daily practice and it requires a great deal of energy and discipline. Typically, I try to write early in the morning, for at least a couple of hours, particularly when I am working on a book project or article. Seeing the finished product, all of your words, folded into the beautiful form of a book that is a precious gift. I love vintage books, first editions, antique hardcovers and finding signed copies of old books. As much as I enjoy creating a written book I also love to deconstruct them, in order to make altered book art. I first started working in that medium about 20 years ago; while teaching at the Art Institute, working with an old volume of faded-denim-blue Shakespeare books that I bought from the farmer’s market in New Jersey called Cow Town. The interior art in the altered books was focused around my very young children and other family members, images were layered to give the illusion of movement, using sun prints (cyanotype) negative film, and transparent Xerox copies. To this day, I still enjoy working with transparent Xerox films and some of the work I’ve shown on this blog, like “Dark Angel Noel” and “Angel Nouveau,” utilize that medium. These pieces I am sharing today are untitled works-in-progress, started about three years ago and yet to be finished. Right now they are separated but eventually they will be bound together. I used a lot of walnut ink to create sepia tones found in antiquities. For the watercolor-like effects I used Golden Fluid Acrylics. I incorporated some found objects, like chewing gum foil, antique lace, buttons, chicken wire, denim rags, and Xerox copies of different types of dancers, western and eastern. I also put some semi-transparent Japanese unryu paper over some areas because it lends a rich texture. I saved some of the text from the original book and incorporated that as well. I’m not a very good seamstress but I enjoy sewing into my books—it is very meditative and it creates a sense of cohesion. I use a waxed thread that I get from our local bead shop, similar to sinew and I sew with metallic thread. I wanted the book to feel like a well-lived in home for the dancers, with aging wallpaper walls and bare plaster in areas that are stained by time.

Wednesday, December 7, 2011

Where the Hell Did that Come From?



Ever wonder what is the true source of your creativity? Do you ever suspect that there are some spiritual underpinnings to your work that have little to do with you? Sometimes I feel as though I am channeling my ancestors when I create. My understanding of this over the years has deepened. Their voices still want to be heard so they come through in both my writing and my art. With ancestral inspiration there are moments of perfect clarity and flow; the art making takes little effort; it is almost automatic in the sense that clairvoyants use the word. I have also witnessed how my body, mind and spirit work as a conduit for spirits of various types to express in a visual format. These entities are most likely water spirits, but might also be fire spirits or earth spirits; conversely at times I am nudged in one direction or another by various Orisha, gods and goddesses. You can often see glimpses of them in the finished work. “In the Pink”, this collage featured today, is one of those pieces whose genesis and process has a spiritual depth and dimension. The process was deeply intuitive and felt automatic, not planned. It came together to exist on its own terms and I was the vessel to help it get there. This is a simple art card on the surface, with an almost mystical spiritual essence, far exceeding the capacity of the materials and methods for creating it.

Tuesday, December 6, 2011

Black Friday vs. Hearth, Home and the Studio



I use to like to buy things a lot when I was younger and I guess I still do but now it's mostly art or paper craft supplies. I didn't do any shopping on Black Friday or Cyber Monday. I don't think I've ever gone shopping on Black Friday, if memory serves correctly. I find that Black Friday is a better time for hearth, home and reflection on what I am thankful for. The thought of facing big crowds after Thanksgiving almost makes me physically sick. For years people have been suggesting that I get an online store on etsy. Finally, yesterday I opened one for my card line which is called Love Bird Designs. I figure, I've made about 175 cards since September and at that rate soon my studio will look like I'm a hoarder so I might as well get rid of some of these cards. I've been making Love Bird Designs since the late 80s but usually only to be given away for Christmas or Yule. I have found some new toys I like to use in the cardmaking over the past year. I added: embossing, die-cutting and my spiffy scissor collection. Someone gave me a demo on embossing at Paper Source. Love that store but need to stay out of there because I end up spending too much money there. In terms of collage techniques, I use to do a lot of burnt edges and sewing into the cards too, and plan to reintegrate that into the work. This image is of one of the cards I made in the fall. It contains banana paper, tobacco paper, some embossing, stamping, die-cut fabric and lots of layers. My etsy store is here: http://www.etsy.com/shop/stephaniebird2

Monday, December 5, 2011

Pinecone Angel



Yesterday was a very good sale at the Oak Park Conservatory, in fact, it was the best one I have had this season. Oak Park Conservatory its a beautiful and spiritually cleansing space, filled with all types of plants. I love the tropical room and it is filled with birds, including my favorite, the African Grey. The conservatory has always been a big part of my life, since moving to Oak Park, and it has influenced both my writing and art. At the sale I sold art cards that are on this blog: "Throw Snowballs" "Dark Angel Noel" and "Angel Nouveau." I always feel ambivalent about selling my art. On the one hand it is flattering and it makes art making sustainable economically. On the other, I will really miss those pieces, holding them, looking at them, having them in my studio. I wonder how other artists and crafts people feel about selling their work? Do you ever feel ambivalent?



One neat thing about selling at fairs is that it is an intimate transaction. You get to meet the person and talk with that person about what they plan to do with the piece and why they want it. I feel fortunate that the lady that bought a lot of my art cards told me a story. She was an older woman and she said that on a blizzard or very snow day she will sit down with the cards and write them out to her friends. Because of our conversation I don't think the cards could have gone to a better home.

Sunday, December 4, 2011

A Pagan Retreat in Appalachia



It wasn't long ago that the furthest south I'd been was Maryland. Then about 11 years ago I met Jannette who lives in the Knoxville area of Tennessee. Jannette is a warm and sunny person who worked very hard with me as the editor for "Sticks, Stones, Roots and Bones" and more recently on "The Big Book of Soul." Yesterday, I was looking in an old sketch book with Nepalese handmade paper in it, when I discovered this lovely landscape of the sacred grounds at Cerren Ered in Cosby TN. Cerren Ered, a pagan community in Appalachia, is home to many pagan festivals, it holds a camp ground, magickally charged trees and natural formations, a bubbling brook that seems to want to speak to you, and for a touch of whimsy, the infamous castle. I went there at not such a good time in my life. What I found was a natural environment that has a strong spiritual energy, almost every where you walk and I made the nicest friends ever. I spent as much time as I could sky clad because the environment invites that type of natural engagement with the elements. The circular stone structure in the drawing is where some important rituals and ceremonies take place. I found the stone circle to be a great place to connect with the earth goddesses and I did my own private ritual there. I wanted this drawing to attempt to capture the vibrancy, magick and mystery of the Great Smoky mountains, which are home to Cerren Ered, as well as the mystical powers of the water and the wood. Truly, I have never before been to a place like Cerren Ered, where the landscape and people are so alive with positive spirit.

Saturday, December 3, 2011

Winter Pointsettia



I've been vibing off plants for quite a long time, really since I was a little girl living in the woods. Plants have such vibrant energy and can be spiritually as well as physically sustaining. Magickal herbalism engages the healing energy of plants and its ability to transform and enlighten. Way before I became involved in magickal herbalism I keyed into plants, transferring their subtle language into my paintings and drawings. This came into full bloom when I was at Tyler School of Art. Now, my house is brimming with such images, dones in sumi-e ink on handmade paper in the kitchen, oil on canvas in the living room and pastels in the dining room. Something about the pastel painting really melds well with depicting plant energy. "Winter Poinsettia" is a painting I did a few years back. I've never gotten poinsettias to live for longer than the holidays so I wanted to capture the power and stateliness of its bearing while I was living. This image is oil on board and is quite small, maybe about 10" on each side.

Friday, December 2, 2011

Angel Nouveau














Hmmm. Don't know what I actually think about angels, whether they exist or not. I like to think they do. I can imagine that they are not all cutesy and sweet like often depicted, rather, they are kind of dark and perhaps conflicted because of the duality in which they exist. Wings are curious things. We companion two winged creatures in our home, an African Grey named Zazu and a screeching Nanday Conure named Chache, that is very beautiful to look at. Some times they like to hang, upside down and just flutter their wings. Can't tell what that means; if they are itchy or need airing out or they are expressing some emotion or what. Maybe it's just fun. Perhaps our angels are ourselves from another dimension in space and time (in the multiverse) who are a little ahead of us with a better perspective on what is going on and what will happen. One of my bird friends is an excellent flyer. He is the little guy--the conure. The Grey seems like he is too fat too fly. He flies like a lead balloon and if he, with his light bones, is too fat to fly what of the weight of a human-sized angel being? Maybe proportionally it works. In any case, I consciously invite angels into my life and await their appearance. Will let you know.

Thursday, December 1, 2011

Throw Snowballs



Yesterday I continued making art cards for the faire on Sunday. I enjoy this Shirley Templeesque little girl with her great shoes that remind me of some I might have worn and her gigantic snowball. Even in my art classes I've had the elementary children this week working with snow flakes and snowmen so I guess I have snow on my mind. I look forward to Yule, Christmas and Kwanzaa. Yule is such a great reflection time and it is very noncommercial. It is a time to pull in and get into your dreams and clear up interior clutter. I like the crossover between Yule and Christmas with the emphasis on evergreens and the notion of birth, only in my belief system it is the birth of Oak King and his triumph over the darkness brought on my Holly King. Kwanzaa is a time of family togetherness and community engagement, while delving into the meaning of the core Swahili concepts.



I love gifting, making things and cooking during this season. I made vegetarian chili and pumpkin bread last night. I must admit the chili was excellent, with its rich variety of peppers and the addition of some soy protein. It was so warming that I broke a sweat and the bread, with the addition of applesauce was very moist.


So Throw Snowballs is my early way of engaging in thoughts of what this season will mean but in a fun, if not goofy way.