Inspiration, Influence and Confluence

Recently I’ve thought about the line between inspiration and influence and when influence can become confluence in art. I wanted to break it down even further so I could understand how these elements operate in my own art making practice.

Last week, I had the chance to explore the thread I call “confluence” following a workshop in botanical contact eco printing.

Examples of botanical eco printing on paper

Examples of botanical eco printing on paper

I love the ethereal effects that I see in eco printing and wanted to see if I could use plant pigments in my own monoprints.

The workshop, led by artist Lotta Helleberg, was challenging and absorbing. Each day we explored the subtle combinations that plants and mordants (fixatives) can create. I tried to keep the various equations in neat columns in my mind’s eye.

My best work came when I threw up my hands and stuck to the basics.

Infinity scarf printed with prunus leaves on silk/wool blend

Infinity scarf printed with prunus leaves on silk/wool blend

The question of inspiration, influence and confluence only truly emerged back in my studio. I work with plant materials, acrylic paints and a gel plate to create botanical monoprints. I wanted to carry over the watery influence of the eco dye baths; the way plants emboss themselves into the paper and leave tangible marks of their presence. I figured this would be easy.

After several printing sessions, I ended up with prints that were neither eco nor mono but a muddle.

Eco prints and monoprints converging

Eco prints and monoprints converging

“What’s going on?” I wondered. “I know how to do this.” I was confused until I received an email from another student. She mentioned how stuck she was following the workshop.

The metaphor of two rivers joining rushed into my mind. When one river joins together with another, it’s called a confluence.

Many things happen when two or three volumes of water with different temperatures, speed and density merge. It’s a messy affair.

The same thing happens when we take part in classes or workshops. The nature of a workshop is immersion; in technique, artwork and the work of other artists. That’s confluence. Once back home, it’s confusing. What’s us? What’s not ours? What marks, patterns or colors looked good but may or may not belong in our work?

Like two rivers converging, it takes time for new material to settle, to allow our unique voice to emerge, hopefully all the stronger for joining with others.

After all, when the Yangtze River absorbs the water from the Jialing, it becomes more powerful and runs for thousands of miles until it meets the South China Sea.

How about you? What’s your experience of confluence in your work?

 

 

Bridging the Gap

I've been tucked into my studio for the last couple months, drawing jade plants, diverse succulents, taking notes and obsessively printing gelli prints. I’ve filled a notebook, and in the process, found a rhythm and perhaps some answers to a problem I've been trying to solve.

For the past couple of years, I've worked on a series called Shift, in which I explored my ecological niche of Davis. As the series progressed, I became more interested in the unusual shapes of plants I found visiting various botanical gardens. I began another series of collage works I called Botanical Dreams, inspired by the 30 paintings in 30 days  challenge presented by Leslie Saeta.

I’ve wanted to continue this series and I wanted to wed the monoprints of Shift with the collage, but after several months of trials and lots of recycled prints, I think I’m trying to make an arranged marriage. Shift needs to be one series and Botanical Dreams another.

As I write this, I realize that actually, I'm the bridge. I think that it's hard to leave the safety of a known series and decamp to another largely unknown territory, but the connection lies simply in my own two hands.

Poppies, Lupines and Printmaking Too!

MOO7 Many years ago in graduate school, I was introduced to a form of printmaking called monoprinting, or sometimes, monotype. I'm a person not well suited to the long and meticulous craft of printmaking. But I did so love the notion of placing paper onto plate, applying pressure and seeing the creation of a whole new piece. It appeals to the alchemist in me.

Through the years I've experimented with different kinds of plates: glass, plexiglass, even the plastic surfaces of cutting boards, but I couldn't find a decent, printable surface that worked without the aid of a press. Then, one day several years ago, I visited an open studio event of a friend. She gave me a tour, and there, in one of the other artist's spaces, it's colorful package glinting in the sun, was a gelli plate.

As I touched its soft yielding surface (much like a batch of jello), I considered the possibilities. My friend offered to show me how it worked and we had several weekend workshops including other interested artists. I was hooked. Now several years and a number of plates later, I'm still experimenting, trying to push the limits of what the plate can do.

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Next month, I'll be teaching a gelli printing workshop at our local Pence Gallery: Saturday, May 14 from 10- 3. There are still a few spots left, so whether you're new to gelli printing, or you'd like to stretch your printmaking  boundaries, I'd love to have you. I'm super excited about the planning--and look forward to sharing what I've learned about the simple beauty of this process.

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Anatomy of an Exhibit

I decided to piece out all the steps (that I could think of) that are included in creating art work for an exhibit. Step one, a sine qua none; Inspiration. Most of the inspiration for the Bloom 2 exhibit at the Pence came from visits to the San Francisco Botanical Gardens.

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Step 2, Experiments. When I started making the prints, eager to see how they might look together, there were lots of false starts.

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Step 3, Hmm. Prints that were good in themselves, but didn't quite fit into the 9 piece format I wanted.

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Step 4, Coalescence. After a couple of months and lots of future collage fodder, I saw possibilities. When this happens, I've reached a certain way of seeing, and mostly, thrown caution to the winds. Solutions come spontaneously, rather than through a forced march.

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Step 5, Documentation and Photographs. If you take good ones yourself, wonderful. I found a most excellent photographer in the artist, Diana Jahns. She finds the best angles, the best light and works until she gets what I want (as well as many options I never considered).

Step 6, Framing. Am I going to do it myself with pre-made frames or pay to have them housed in a nice shadow boxes with precise measurements? What's my investment as a whole? I opted for a framer and they turned out wonderfully.

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Step 7. Getting the word out; time to hit social media.

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Step 8, Delivery! (and Deliverance).

Step 9, The Opening.

Bloom 2 Opening this Friday!

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Bloom II, Pence Gallery

212 D St., Davis, CA March 8-April 19 Opening Reception: March 11, 6-9 pm

Bloom 2 is up and 2nd Friday is around the corner! With an abundance of gallery spots in Davis, there's something for everyone to see. Of course, I'd love to see you at the Pence, where we'll be celebrating the Bloom 2 show. I'll have several of my multiple monoprint works on display including Folia, pictured here.

Come and enjoy a glass of wine, some fresh art chat and lots of gorgeous art for sale!

 

 

25,24,23, 30x30--Counting Down!

I got busy over the weekend with an art therapy project for Wellness Within. They are a wonderful organization in Roseville, CA that works with cancer patients, survivors, their families and caregivers. It's a new job for me and I wanted to do my best for the workshop, so I put the 30x30 on the backburner for that time and let it simmer. In order to catch up and cover the three days, I laid out the ground papers and worked on all three simultaneously. It was fun and gave me some ideas about how to expand aspects of this series into larger pieces.

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Day #22, 30x30, The New Year of the Trees

Tu BiShvat Seder, or the New Year of the Trees is a Jewish holiday that takes place each year at the end of January or beginning of February. There are many different explanations for the holiday, but I'm most fond of the one that expresses gratitude for the quickening of life within the trees, or, in other words, the first invisible signs of spring.

Although it is gray and rainy outside, warm inside my studio, I think of the Dylan Thomas' poem: The force that through the green fuse drives the flower.

#22 celebrates the greening of life, becoming juicy and ready to bloom whatever our age.

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Day 7, 30x30, the challenge continues!

The first few days of a challenge are exhilarating. Pictures emerge, I try out different techniques and there is a splendid newness. The real work begins when the shine wears off. Fortunately, there are also dreams. All last night as I alternately slept and woke, the outlines of leaves and flowers arose before my eyes. I recognized this as the blessing it was, grabbed a pencil and paper and began drawing.

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Day 6, 30x30, the storm is here!

Last night, as I lay in bed, wind lashed at the trees, and sheets  of rain streamed down the windows. "California dreaming indeed!," I thought. And as I thought about "Day 6," and what kind of background I might use, I imagined using my gelli plate to print paper with gray droplets and layer the plant forms on top of that. Gray droplets however, soon shifted to aqua skies and a strange amalgam of a lauhala tree* emerged. Keep the rain coming--I'll create the blue skies in my studio!

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*The lauhala tree is native to Hawaii.

Day 4, 30x30, Into the Rain

Finally today, rain, and we here in the West are truly grateful. As I moved about my studio today, cutting small squares of paper into shapes like large wet drops, this poem from my childhood looped through my mind: The rain is raining all around, / It rains on fields and trees, / It rains on the umbrellas here / And on the ships at sea. ---Robert Louis Stevenson

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30 Days, 30 Paintings

It's not often that I take up a challenge like this but when I heard about the 30x30 challenge from my friend Linda Johnson, I clicked and jumped. I want to try exploring collage in a tactile way with luscious mediums, creamy acrylics and pieced together botanical imagery.  My studio for Day 1 is a dining room table in my friend's San Francisco flat. Compact and perfect, it's just blocks away from the SF Botanical Gardens where I'm gathering inspiration.

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The 30x30 challenge is sponsored by Leslie Saeta. If you have a chance to check it out, there is some amazing work on display. And now, let the wild rumpus begin!

Deep in the Valley of Drawing

Lines, shapes and angles Nature, as people are fond of saying, abhors a vacuum. Now that I no longer have to go to a certain place at the same time every morning, when an opportunity to take a course in "art practice" with Cat Bennett arose, I jumped in. Well, jumped after some encouragement from my friend Beth Rommel.

I've had an on and off relationship with drawing--mostly off. I came to art through the medium of textiles and in art school, recognized the need to learn how to draw. I took classes in figure drawing as well as landscape, but mostly with the feeling of forced march to them. I never understand the simple desire to pick up a pencil and render the world in front of me.

Although it might seem self-evident from years of art therapy that drawing by any means is a form of self-expression, I haven't always practicing internally what I preached. Until. Until.

I've yearned to bring my loves of yoga practice and art together and with that in mind, have signed up for a yoga teacher's training course at my favorite yoga studio, Kaya Yoga.

After taking that step, I began to listen more attentively to the prompts that teachers were giving us. When Kia recently spoke about each pose as a series of patterns, my ears perked up. Hmm, how could I translate that into drawing?

All lines and angles

What if drawing is as transitory as moving into and out of downward dog? Once you've done your series of poses for a class, and felt great or sore afterwards, or simply experienced them, you go off and encounter the rest of the day; the poses having evaporated in the moment. Could I do that with drawing? Just engage and then let go?

With trepidation and some resistance, I began my class "Making Art a Practice". Sure, I confess, I ripped out some of the studies I didn't like, but honestly, once I began to "lean in" as Sheryl Sandburg so pragmatically puts it, the practice began to be fun. I'm stretching my "tolerance for ambiguity" muscle and it definitely relates to yoga.

Two shapes and some lines

It is clear that around any edge my pencil turns, a drawing may collapse, just like I often do in Tree pose. (I love it when my teacher suggests we can be a shrub if we want.) So here I go. I move with my pencil, often ending up in the wrong place and needing to correct my direction. Yet at times, my pencil and I flow with ease. I look forward to the journey ahead and to wherever it takes me.

Pretty Wonderful!

Shift 15, ©2015, 12' x 24, I recently retired from my university job as an art therapist. I decided to do this on my 60th birthday as a great gift to myself. I loved many aspects of the work but years of witnessing trauma, illness and death had taken their toll. Despite all the self-care I engaged in, I found myself prey to a variety of ailments which grew worse over time.

I love art therapy; that desire to heal is an innate part of my personality, but the balance is going to shift. Now, I'm spending most of my days in the studio making art. Occasionally,  I'll still facilitate art therapy groups, in particular the Young Adult Bereavement Art Group, which I helped to initiate.

Friends ask me how retirement is going and I answer--fabulous! I find myself as busy as ever, without having to commute and I get to devote the time I need to the craft and business side of art, as well as to the craft of art therapy.

One of the surprising joys of this transition is the ability to take time for things as simple as washing dishes. What used to be a drag after 10 hours away from home, now feels like playing with bubbles in warm water when I need a break.

In a few weeks, I'll take part in an exhibition curated by Sara Post at the Davis Art Center. Titled "Material Worlds," the exhibit looks at the materials that go into artists' work and the ways in which these materials combine with ideas to bring art into being. An enticing notion, I'm excited to see what will emerge. I'll be showing three different works, which take the botanical monoprints cut into trapezoids, rectangles and squares and piece them together, quilt like, on a hardboard panel.

Although I didn't anticipate it, perhaps the piecing together of these papers is a metaphor for taking my life into my hands and  reshaping it. So far it's working and my ailments are melting away.

Turning Point 6.0

Possibilities aplenty in the box of collage papers I woke up this morning with these lyrics in my head:

I can see clearly now the rain is gone. / I can see all the obstacles in my way. / Gone are the clouds that  had me blind. / It's gonna be a bright (bright)/ bright (bright) sunshiny day. Jimmy Cliff

For someone who, as my husband says, never seemed to pay much attention to rock lyrics, they have an uncanny way of popping up at telling times. I'm a day short of retirement from my long time job as art therapist at UC Davis Children's Hospital.

It's a graduation, a transition I'm making as I round the corner of my 60th year, while year 5776 of the Jewish calendar approaches and school all around the country begins again.

That's how I see it. As I end this chapter of living as art therapist/artist, I'm beginning again. I'm shifting the balance over to artist/art therapist. My collage box is full, my materials are all ready to go and I've got shows lined up through May. Hooray!

Collage boxes waiting expectantly...

But I can't imagine not practicing art therapy; intending to use my skills to help others heal themselves. I'll continue working with people, older ones this time and not primarily children.

I'm thinking about palliative care. I'm considering hospice and thinking about people who are struggling with or have survived cancer. I can't imagine not witnessing the profound delight in someone's eyes or hearing the enthusiasm in their voice as they discover they have the power to convey something powerful; a profound emotion with their own hands...which brings me to the lyrics of Ben Harper's gorgeous song: With My Own Two Hands. Have a listen and let me know what you think. Music starts at 1:26

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