Color: STAT!

Thinking in Stripes (before quilting) ©2011, Hannah K. Hunter

About this time of year, I begin to get a bit squirrelly, especially with the tule fog of January (and February and March).

This dense fog, named for the tule grass wetlands of the California Central Valley, makes me feel cozy at the beginning of the season, all tucked into whatever world I happen to be occupying. But like snow in colder climes, the pleasure soon begins to gray.

I long for big splashes of color, wide skies of brilliant blue and the glowing yellow sunflowers of summer. Looking out the window this morning, I knew it would be awhile.

Of course, there is a cure for this: the studio. I go in and I want to inhale great gulps of color: carmine, fuchsia, tangerine, chartreuse, coral, jade and emerald green.

I've been working on a full size quilt for an upcoming exhibit. As I tried to work out the pattern for it, I began a smaller piece that could capture my color hunger and satiate it at the same time. I wanted the quilt to be irregular, with large "bites" of color, color that could explode inside me when I look at it; the same sensation that a child might have when she pops a Starbursts into her mouth and savors the eruption of harmonic sweetness that follows.

How are you coping with winter in your domain?

For you Dad

My Dad's book

The last couple weeks have been filled with holidays; the brilliant candles of Hanukkah and the pungent sell of the spruce Christmas tree; the combined sensory experiences of an interfaith household. But, as Dickens noted in The Tale of Two Cities, "it was the best of times, it was the worst of times." Sometime between the eight nights of Hanukkah and Christmas Eve, my father was diagnosed with Hodgkin's Lymphoma and began chemotherapy two days later.
A hale 78 year old writer, survivor of a triple by pass, my dad had just had his latest book, The Made-Up Self published in last October. Following its publication, it was reviewed in the New York Times and my father was thrilled. I got to thinking about voice and wrote this post which I never published, but came back to since his diagnosis. I offer it here as a tribute to my dad and his love of voice.

Birds 3, Sara Post ©2009

Voice. The singular thing that beckons us into and sustains us in a piece of writing. Voice tells the story, plays on our emotions, evokes our sympathies. What does this in a piece of visual art?

I struck out one night with my sister Amelia to visit the opening of a show at our local cooperative gallery, The Artery, and find out. I was a bit overexposed from a week of presentations at the hospital, so I didn't expect to be seeing clearly.

You know how it is when you've been teaching and lecturing too much and not writing enough? That's how it was. Fatigue doesn't seem to matter for Amelia. Put her in a gallery and she is immediately absorbed by color and form. I flit from one piece to the next searching for something that calls to me--could it be a"voice" I'm looking for?

Since voice must be embodied to be heard, which piece will speak to me? How will I know when I   see it--what will it look like? Will it be clothed in quiet tones of umber, terracotta or ochre? Or, sparkling with brilliant patterns in red, black and gold? I'm on a blind date arranged by the gallery but I think somehow I'll recognize it when I see it.

And I do. The piece is located in a corner of the gallery and is made out of clay. Clay that is rolled thin like cookie dough and cut into irregular tile forms mounted on a birchwood panel and connected with thin lines of grout. On the tiles, in dark indigo, so dark that  its almost black, are intertwining mandalas, circles with interconnecting lines that form the stamens and pistils of plants and reach towards crows who've alighted on these "circles" of plants.

Here is my friend. I stand for a long time, reading the artist's description and wondering how I can scrape together enough money to take my friend home so we can keep talking? Provocative isn't it?  

New Year's Collaboration

Often, when we think about the end of the year, we simultaneously think ahead to a new year and what we might want to create in the future.

At the beginning of 2010, I took a class with Alyson Stanfield, of The Blast Off course was a fabulous way to begin the new year and led me in a variety of new directions, the likes of which I never imagined. My classmates and I created plans which spanned the entire year and during the last week, I've been going over them to see which intentions came to fruition and which shriveled on the vine.

This process got me thinking. I liked the concreteness of goals and dates, but it occurred to me that I was missing another piece. It came to me when I was reading Gretchen Miller's fantastic post on her altered New Year books. You can check them out here.

Gretchen focused on qualities she wanted to bring into her life in the course of 2010. Words like "balance," "transition," and "sustain" called out to me.

These words spoke to the qualities that often underlay my resolutions; aspects I miss while hurrying to get to the results (e.g.: exercise more,  communicate more carefully, spend more time in the studio...)I forget to savor the experience, which eventually leads to my feeling of accomplishment, once I achieve my goals.

If, however, I focus on the underlying feeling of my goal, I may find that there is more than one way to get there.

In that spirit, I decided to cut to the quick and locate some words for myself. Not hard to do, because they were the feelings I most often find myself lacking.
I decided to start the process while I was at work and pitched the idea to a teen, who had been moved off the pediatric floor and was feeling bored and lonely.
Her disease causes her a great deal of pain and she has a reputation for being a bit ornery.I went in with the sheer enthusiasm I felt for the project, but was still surprised when she agreed.We worked on our pages side by side, giving each other suggestions and checking in on the progress of the television program she enjoyed watching.

We met each day this week and by the end, I'd compiled the six qualities I want to focus on.

My favorite one so far is "forgive." There are
many ways in which I "miss the mark." But most of the time, I haven't--its me wanting more of me than I can give. Thus, forgiveness.

Today, my teenage patient was asleep. It's raining hard outside and the dark gloom is conducive to sleep. We didn't have a chance to put our books together. It's o.k. We'll try again Monday.

In the meantime, I'd love to hear some words that you might be thinking of for the New Year. What are your favorites?

A Seed in Winter

I walked up to the playroom door yesterday morning only to find it locked and empty. Unusual, but so was my being there first thing in the morning. After opening up, I set to work, laying out materials for an ad hoc art group; metallic watercolors, paintbrushes, lots of white paper. Soon enough several patients found their way there too. Andrea, a tall, lovely 14 year old with an endearing smile, announced that she loved winter. She told us it was the bare trees that charmed her. "I think you're channeling the East Coast, Andrea. Many of the trees here still have their leaves," I told her. "Yes," she agreed, "that's what I'm channeling." As I later thought about it, however, as she had checked in for her last in-house chemo, perhaps she was reflecting on the nascent possibility that she could be cancer free. Her body had stored up all the infusions over the last year or so and now having lost her own "leaves," she was there waiting for that inevitable spring.

In an odd way she was exactly right: this is what winter does-strips us of our leaves, our illusions and leaves us with the bare outlines of our inner and outer landscape. We have a chance to reflect on the structure of our lives. Do we want to prune them, encourage growth in a new direction? (Which one of us doesn't want to do that with the alternative being stagnation?)

That means it's time for an accounting, a consideration of the past year; what I've been able to achieve and what was left wanting. And where, after all this looking, do I want to go in my life? Usually, I start this process with a list, but after combing through my iphoto file this morning, I thought it might be fun to select some of my favorite 2010 pieces and share them in a slideshow.

What You Bring Forth

What You Bring Forth, ©1999, H. Hunter, Mixed Media

"Honey, why is it that your memory is so good about unpleasant topics?" my husband asked me this morning. He was speaking about our upcoming biweekly housecleaning, but I think that my habit could be an occupational hazard, the cost of doing business so to speak.

This week however, began with a very pleasant ending, the last meeting of our 8 week Young Adult Bereavement Art Group. I've come to love the kids in the group. Although I stop short of wanting to adopt them all, in the process of following their stories I came to care for them immensely.

My co-facilitator and I sat at the table with group members as they worked on their last project; a memory box. He had inherited a file cabinet filled with wooden boxes similar to a cigar box and they seemed to suggest the perfect container for memories. I was thinking of the traditional art therapy "inside/outside box" where you can put the feelings you share with others on the outside of the box and the feelings you hold close to yourself on the inside. I also thought the boxes could become altars, or, simply a decorated box in which they could place objects reminding them of their loved ones.

Of course the kids surprised me with their own ideas-blew me out of the water in fact. As I sat there observing them, an idea occurred to me: I could take my i-phone and shoot process pictures. I had all their consent forms and if I shot below their faces I could capture some of the magic that was taking place in front of me.

I made my rounds about the table and and saw a confluence of images that I could not have anticipated. One young woman had written "wash away 2010" Another had a found a picture of a heart formed by the thumbs and forefingers of two hands coming together (try that yourself!). Yet another person had glued the traditional "corners" used to hold photographs in an album, back in the days when you would glue these tiny corners in an album and hope that you'd done it right so you could easily slip in the photograph.

I wondered whether this young man would be adding any of his photographs that he'd found of his mother. This would be progress indeed because several weeks before he told us he had them in a box, but could not look at them.

As our time together ended, we went around the table, each sharing a word that expressed our feeling of the moment. I heard words like "blessed",  "understood" and "comforted"--and when they left, they asked us about the reunion in the spring. Unthinkable that two years ago at this time, we were putting together figures and ideas, hoping to get a grant. Today, I am immensely grateful for these young people who have shared their lives with us and for the support of our hospital and hospice, the UC Davis Children's Hospital and the UC Davis Hospice.

A Paradoxical Experience

Writing a blog can be a paradoxical experience. On the one hand, you feel a bit like someone's watching you dress in front of a mirror, and on the other hand, you are by yourself (in your studio, office, cafe, fill in the blank...) and no none, even if they are sitting at the table next to you, can see what you're writing.

I'm often reluctant to write about process, because I'm superstitious. Superstitious. As if I write about art before it's made, it will be jinxed, or or more accurately, I'll feel bound to carry out what I said, rather than follow the ideas that come to me in the moment.
I'm breaking with that belief, because I'm playing with an idea. After listening to some of my friends talk about their grandchildren, I've begun to feel a sense of longing for my own grandchild, similar to what I felt when my friends began to have children some twenty years ago. The fact is though (much to my delight) my two kids in their early twenties show no signs of settling down and creating grandchildren anytime soon. 

I've decided instead to create a piece for an imaginary grandchild, someone yet unborn, someone who in fact may never be born. (I told this to my daughter Lizzie last night and she wrinkled up her face as if to say, "Are you kidding Mom? That's just weird.") Weird or not, I'm pursuing it.

A Young Hannah, Age 1

I've been collecting fabrics; my daughter's old organdy curtain flecked with sequins, some pink polka dot pajama pants (passed on to me when Lizzie got bored with them), and pieces of cloth that are shimmery, and remind me of Lizzie, who's a dancer. Why not my son's castoffs? Honestly, he and I would both agree that polo shirts and wind jackets (he's a golfer) don't make for great quilt material.

Remember Where We Moored the Boats, Jill Ault, River Gallery, Chelsea MI
Jill Ault, Remember Where We Moored the Boats

I began working with the fabrics I'd selected, putting up the organdy curtain on my studio wall, sewing quilted squares, and tacking them on, only to discover when I stepped back, that I'd left my own tastes out of the equation. I thought of an Aikido class I'd taken many years ago from  Wendy Palmer, who helps people examine their lives from a variety of different perspectives using Aikido. She says that Aikido, a martial art, "is the perfect structure in which to learn how build powerful connections...and live life with an open heart." She also spoke frequently about the moment when you grasp your opponent's hand and how that moment becomes a blending of energies--"feel the blend and move from that point" she would say.

"Feel the blend." These words spoke to me. How could I blend my energy, the energies of my children and someone imaginary? I discovered an answer when I found the work of artist, Jill Ault. Ethereal and otherworldly, her work seemed to suggest the presence of something beyond what we can see with our eyes. It reminded me of the obvious: to trust the art making process, to return to my own intuitive way of cutting, painting, pasting and connecting all the pieces. To create connections between myself and others beyond what I can see on the surface, the invisible openings of the hearts and minds. Stay posted.

Healer, Heal Thyself

Mask for a Young Person, ©2005, H. Hunter

I was determined to try and make this week's post about something other than the bereavement group but I underestimated the power of the group to affect me. I thought I'd learned how to leave the group behind me when it was over for the evening, ready to absorb myself in whatever awaited me next. We're such forgetful creatures, we humans.

Forgetful perhaps, but I think something else is at work here. The longer one does this work, the more one tunes in. You learn when to speak, when to wait in silence, when to make eye contact, and when to lay down your tools and acknowledge the force of the wave crashing over you.

This week we made clay grief masks. I love introducing this process. We pound the clay, tear it to bits, reassemble it and poke holes in it. By this time, I'm sure you've guessed we're not following the orthodox method of kneading clay to remove the air bubbles. No matter. People love it. Permission to pound the clay to bits has had tables absolutely vibrating.

Watching their faces last night as they worked affected me deeply;  eye sockets became deeper,  eyebrows arched higher and tears were etched into the clay.

The next day I had a headache of monster proportions. "What's up with this?" I wondered,  checking off my mental "self care" list: eating--check, sleeping--check, exercising--yeah. Nevertheless, cracking a smile seemed like just that. An impossibility.

Halfway into the day, I felt tears stinging my eyes. I sought the refuge of my office and called my husband, wondering between snuffles what was wrong with me. After some probing, oh yeah, the group. That little thing about being gentle, going easy with myself. Permission to cry was what I needed and what I received.

But that was only half of the equation. Today in art group, I found the other half. As we sketched large ghosts on white paper with oil pastels, we drew small things inside the ghosts that move us or scare us. Besides bright purple pigtails, my own ghost had a broken heart and dragged a long set of chains. As heavy as the chains appeared, their acknowledgment lightened my load considerably. Putting the burden of that grief that I was carrying onto paper, gave me comfort in a way I often espouse though perhaps too rarely allow myself to experience.

Mapping the Trail of Grief

After the Fall, H.Hunter ©2007

Last night was the third meeting of our young adult bereavement group. It's an evening where we spend time thinking, talking and drawing out how grief manifests in our bodies. It is one of the most fascinating and potentially powerful nights of the group.

It's typical after the death of someone you love to experience a variety of physical symptoms; lethargy, stomach aches, headaches, exhaustion, lack of appetite, sleeplessness, the list goes on. For me, a particularly powerful moment is when I pass out a list of words, "feeling words", we call them and I ask group members to circle all the words that apply for them at the time. I caution them that many of the feelings may be contradictory and that's o.k.

This circling of the words is a cognitive exercise--it's not too hard, the words are provided, they just have to circle them. Then we take it a step further. I ask them to mark the 4 or 5 strongest feelings. That takes some consideration, but it's somewhat of a relief to circle them. Putting words to feelings makes them more concrete, less nebulous.  I take it one step deeper then, handing them a page with an body outline drawn on it, asking them to chose a color to correspond with each of the feelings--as if they were making the key of a map. Here's where it picks up emotional speed.

After people have selected colors for their feelings, I begin to explain what a metaphor is and how we can use symbols to express feelings. Everyone knows about butterflies in the stomach, how a headache can feel like a hammer and how a heart can be broken. With these simple suggestions, the group takes off.

I never cease to be amazed by the variety of symbols that people come up with; locks on mouths, fire streaming red and hot from out of a pair of hands, gray clouds that encompass the whole body. I become silent in the face of these symbols, which open up doors soundlessly so that people can speak about their grief in a way that would not otherwise be possible.

I have a tendency to want to talk and help. Drawing does the work instead.

"The body weeps the tears the eyes refuse to shed." William Osler

Quilt Road or, Taking the Long Way 'Round

Untitled (as of yet), ©2010, Hannah Hunter, Collage

 I'm setting out on a year long journey. In November of 2011, I'll be participating in a group art quilt exhibit at the Davis Art Center along with seven other wonderful women artists and quilters. It's been awhile since I've been part of a group exhibit in which there is such a long lead time. While short notice provides the challenge of creating under a deadline, this longer advance notice affords an opportunity for a luxurious thought process.

My first reaction to being invited was me, "Me? I know how to quilt, but I've never been one for large scale pieces." One of the seven other quilters, Diana Connolly, creates lively geometric works and doubles as an ER social worker at our hospital. She's used to much tougher cases than my soft skepticism. When I voiced my doubts, she looked at me with an expression which could only mean something like: "Get over it and get on with it!"

So I have, backing into it in my own way. I'm connecting 12" x 12" Ampersand panels (which happen to have gone on sale today at Daniel Smith) and creating large collage pieces with allover patterning and funky quilted borders (I'm having fun stitching together border pieces which play on the idea of the traditional quilt border).  Quilts often tell stories and one of the works in process is an homage to a patient, whom I became close to before she died last year. I spent a lot of time learning her family history, a classic story of immigration from the Far East to America. 


         Composition V11, Deidre Adams, ©2007, Cotton fabrics, rayon and polyester thread, acrylic paint

I also decided to immerse myself in another way. Opening tomorrow at the Pence Gallery in Davis, Ca is a fabulous show entitled: 12 Voices, a collection of art quilts traveling the country and organized by the Studio Art Quilter's Associates. I volunteered to lead some docent tours so that I could learn about the quilts in detail. What a great decision! I was treated to a tour by Pence director, Natalie Nelson, and found my way into pieces that would have remained strangers, without her well informed descriptions of process and extensive information about the artists.


 Truth and Fiction, Joan Schulz ©2008, (48" x 98") Glue transfer process. Pieced, machine quilted

Over the next year, I'll be writing posts about my progress with my "quilts", their inspirations and mediums as well as descriptions of the artists' work (sneak peeks from our monthly meetings...) Hopefully, in the process, we'll be able to engage in a dialogue celebrating creativity of all kinds.

Walking into Autumn

The Visitor, ©2005, Hannah Hunter, SoulCollage®, 8" x 5"

It's Fall again. The students have flowed into our town like salmon swimming upstream to spawn. Its 99 degrees and rising. I drive downtown in search of a icey treat. The frozen yogurt shops have lines streaming backwards all the way to the "tart original." In order to slake my hunger, I grab a couple of the tiny pleated paper cups, fill them up with pecan praline and french vanilla and slurp. 

I'm preparing myself. The next day is the beginning of a group that I help to facilitate each fall and winter, our hospital's "Young Adult Bereavement Group." Tucked into that title and invisible to all except myself and the other facilitator is the word "art." 

When we first conceived of this group back in 2008, we wanted to create a space for people who didn't quite fit into a childrens' bereavement group, nor on the other hand, in an adult group. 

Because the alternating need for privacy and sharing in this age group, 17 to 24, switches on and off like a strobe light, art bridges the gap--literally between silence and speech and figuratively, between childhood and adulthood. 

I approach the group with caution, knowing that for the next 8 weeks, I'm immersing myself in the multiple worlds of these losses--attending to nuances so subtle that they could easily pass unnoticed. It's a prolonged meditation on attachment and the slow, inevitable letting go.

It's exactly this sort of attention to detail, as if we were all creating an exquisite painting, that allows me to follow the thread of each individual story, pulling here, tweaking there, hoping that in some way, the unfolding of their stories slowly, almost imperceptibly, leads to healing. The process reminds me of a biblical quote that I read many years ago in a yoga publication, "faith is the substance of things hoped for, the evidence of things not seen." (Hebrews 11:1)

These words conjure in a haunting way, the reality of loss--that as we make our way through--or perhaps more accurately, fumble our way through, we can only cling to something we cannot see--the hope that there is something on the other side of loss. 

Stitched Identities

Self-Portrait Praying #1
©2008, Jane Zweibel
Oil on sewn and stuffed canvas
40 x 24 x 12

The other week, I received an e-mail with a subject line that was strange to me: "B & B blog tour." A bed and breakfast tour on blogs? I was tempted to delete it right away, but somehow, the name of the person sending the note rang a bell: Kesha Bruce.

As a somewhat suspicious person, I'm inclined to ditch things first and get curious later, but in this case, I'm glad I didn't. It turned out that Kesha, a young artist living in New York City, was organizing a rather unusual series of artist exhibitions and she wanted to know if I'd write something about the artist.

"I don’t if you’ve stopped by my blog lately, but if so, you already know that I’m working on a really exciting project called Baang and Burne Contemporary We’re hosting a series of one-night-only art events where, unlike at a traditional art gallery opening, artists, art collectors, and members of our mailing list are invited to attend a small intimate exhibition event in a private home or a hotel suite. We have events planned for New York, Los Angeles, Chicago, and Portland."

Self-Portrait Praying #2
©2008, Jane Zweibel
Oil on sewn and stuffed canvas
40 x 28 x 12”

"Small and intimate," that got my interest. Now to check out the artist--Stitched Identities by Jane Zweibel is the first in a series of Baang and Burne’s one-night-only art events.

Zweibel's "stuffed paintings" are sewn, stuffed, and lusciously painted sculptural objects that challenge and blur the boundaries of sculpture and painting. The resulting soft sculptures allude to childhood stuffed animals and dolls, while suggesting cartoon figures, spiritual icons, and effigies.

When I looked at Jane's work, I was struck by the strength of the painting countered by the fragility of the pillow form. (How many pillows have you  seen coming unstitched at the edges?) My second sensation was that of discomfort--if I were to lie upon these stuffed sculptures, the surface would be hard, repelling.

Jane speaks to this, saying "these pieces are paradoxical, in that they both invite and repel touch...My hybrid personas embody the conflicts, losses and connections between childhood and adult lives."

Self-Portrait Praying #3
©2008, Jane Zweibel
Oil on sewn and stuffed canvas
48 x 26 x12

Zweibel's work appears to point to harsh and painful truths that we are faced with in urban life; abandoned, decaying buildings (which we can guess house similarly forgotten people) right next to beautifully painted spring flowers, alluding perhaps to flowers planted in a thriving suburb outside of the city where services are alive and tended to--or perhaps an allusion to spring and hope and all that flowers springing up out of the ground suggest.

I was fascinated to find as I read Jane's interview to find out that she works as an creative arts therapist.

"The materials and concepts I develop in my studio transforms into what I do with my clients as an art therapist. Conversely, my creative process is strongly influenced by my work as a mental health professional."

Her work suggests a direction that promises the flowers of hope that she depicts in her paintings; the blending of art and healing.

When Finger Painting Becomes a Rorschach Blot

Trace monoprint, ©2010, Hannah Hunter

Sometimes, you just know it's time for a break. I'd been planning to take some time off when suddenly, the vortex of life began to whirl around me.

A child on our hospital floor who had been hanging on to life for months, died. My son, who'd appeared to be settled nearby, seized an opportunity and drove off to Florida to pursue his career. With characteristic decisiveness, he totally relocated his life within three days.

It all left me a bit breathless and teary. Sad for the patient, happy for my son, sad because after a great run of years, my active role as a mom is coming to a close.

As I stared down at a finger painting I'd done in our pediatric art group, I saw the proverbial writing on the wall. Time for a change. Time for a break.

Time to pick the figs off our tree and dry them, appreciating the slowness of time passing when it's not being calibrated by a Kronos time clock.

figs ready to dry

Time to enjoy these early days of fall with a book in my lap instead of a keyboard beneath my fingers.

 What I'm going to read

Time, most of all, to discover where my intuition has been hiding.  

For much of my life I've operated from that "still small voice within." Working in a hospital run on a 24 hour clock, punctuated by electronic medical record keeping, tends to dull that inner voice over time.

Dream time--quiet time--is exactly what I plan to give myself during the next 10 days. I want to see if by taking some time to listen, I can find that hidden voice.

Last night I dreamed of ocean waves crashing in the distance while I floated in nearby still waters, gray pebbles beneath me and the beach just a short distance away.

I'll be taking a break from my blog for the next week and look forward to checking in with all of you very soon, renewed and refreshed.

Elul, Or, "Back to Our Senses"

Identity Seeker, H.Hunter ©2000

It's that time of year again, the month of Elul. In the Jewish calendar, Elul is the month that comes before Rosh Hoshanah, the Jewish New Year. During Elul, a shofar (an elegantly shaped ram's horn) is blown in synagogues all around the world  announcing the beginning of this time. Its otherworldly sound is said to call us back to our senses--in other words, it's a wake up call.

These next 40 days through Yom Kippur are the season of t'shuvah (or return), of returning to our essential selves by fearlessly examining our lives and choices. In the Jewish mystical tradition, the senses are the gateways to the soul.

...How better to begin the practice of t'shuvah than to mindfully observe our responses to the input of our senses: noticing the bombarding array of sights, sounds, fragrances, touches and thoughts, discerning which ones to attend to and consciously choosing our reactions.  --Rabbi SaraLeya Schley

My approach to practicing Judaism is a spiritual one. I spent many years as an active seeker and my road to Judaism, the religion of my father's family, took me on a journey not unlike that in the movie, Eat, Pray, Love.

Flood, H. Hunter, ©2009

When one takes a roundabout route, it inspires questioning and re-examining everything, which is exactly what Elul is all about. This time of soul searching coincides (in this hemisphere) with the end of summer,  harvest time, when we gather in the yield of all that we've sown and tended over the previous year; whether it is plants in the garden (harvest that basil girl!) or the relationships in our lives, our work or art that we've created. 

Most of my reflections have to do with being an artist. I'm sitting here in the studio of my good friend, Linda Clark Johnson. It's a friendship that's come to fruition over the last year after taking Alyson Stanfield's Blastoff class. After that class, I got out of my studio more often and got to know other artists- meeting for coffee, doing trades, talking about work and exhibits. It is a rich and ongoing process.

Also as result of Alyson's classes (I took both the Blastoff and the Blog class), I've nurtured a regular partnership with an artist in Florida, Beth Rommel, a mutual support system made possible by a handy combo of e-mail, internet and good old fashioned phone talks. We've seen each other through good shows and bad shows, as well as times, also good and bad.

Many Chambered House, H. Hunter, ©2004

A special gift is my blog and my blog friendships with all of you. I've been introduced to artists from around the world and seen a variety of work I could previously only dream of, not to mention having actual conversations with some of you. It's all very exciting to me, a person, who as a five year-old, could not walk across a school stage without bursting into tears of anxiety.

When I began this post, I thought that I was going to write about the process of self-inquiry, looking at where I'd missed the mark. But I do that every day of my life and maybe there is a wider definition for this time of t'shuvah. Perhaps a more generous approach is to appreciate how we did it right, where we were right on target.

The other day in art group I had just one patient, a young boy wearing a leg cast up to his hip. He could move, but just barely. We created a target a la Jasper Johns, with many different, colored concentric circles. Once finished, we put the target on the wall, blindfolded him with a bright bandanna and played "hit the target." The first go around, he missed, placing all the arrows on the outer perimeter. On the second try, he touched the center two out of three times. It strikes me that most of the time, we get second chances to get it right. This is the season to try again...

"Plant Dreaming Deep"

"Plant Dreaming Deep" is the title of a journal by the poet, May Sarton. In it, she details her restoration of a house in New Hampshire where she began planting what turned out to be a series of spectacular gardens.

I read over the lists of flowers and trees she chose, my lips moving silently, as if I was reading over a mouth watering menu. When I first read Plant Dreaming Deep many years ago, it was my safe place to go, my retreat when it seemed like the critiques and sharp barbs of graduate school threatened to tip over my craft.

I'm closer now to May's age when she began her journal and I've turned my mind to a dream of my own planted those many years ago; botanical drawing.

I'd heard of botanical illustration and wanted to take a class, but never did. 30 years later, flipping through our art center catalogue, I read a description for a botanical drawing class. It noted that  "The emphasis will be on careful observation of our subjects with a playful, open-minded approach."

The words playful and joyful hooked me (because who doesn't need more of that?) and I arrived at the first class, my DeYoung tote bag filled with bright and shiny art supplies including sumi ink brushes, bamboo pens, waterproof black ink and a thick black bound journal of creamy watercolor paper.

Our first class began with a blind contour drawing of a flower--a multi-floral rose. Now you need to know that drawing is not my strongest suit. I studied it, took classes in it, but its finer points have always eluded me.

Stacey, my friend and instructor, advised us that we should approach the flower as if we were taking a trip with our pencil, curious about each bend in the road. I gulped, began--and loved it.

Stacey emphasized the practice of non-attachment to the results, straight out of Yoga and Buddhism. I could relate to this. I found my pencil slowly wandering along the petals, getting lost in the contours and subtle serrations of the leaves.

I was surprised how quickly the time passed and surprised too by the result, the wavering lines which overlapped and crossed each other, nonetheless conveying the feeling of a rose.

As my pencil continued to explore, I felt extremely relaxed and peaceful, a kind of peacefulness I hadn't experienced for some time and to which I connect the feeling of meditating. Meditation--one of those activities that I know is "good for me" but is hard to get to. The way my mind can spin! But with this drawing, there was none of that, no swirl of thoughts that accompanied my sitting meditations.

Could it be that I had found my own form of meditation? I'll find out as the class continues, but for now I'm resting my mind in the luxurious feeling of my sumi brush as I slowly brush the ink onto the paper. I've found a retreat. And I think I'm going to go back and reread Plant Dreaming Deep.

Happy the man who can long roaming reap,
Like old Ulysses when he shaped his course
Homeward at last toward the native source,
Seasoned and stretched to plant his dreaming deep.

-May Sarton, after Du Bellay

Sneak Peek and the Last 2 Questions

Here we go: last thoughts on this matter of Lessons from Things.

5.) Can you provide a little information or "sneak peek" on the pieces you've included in the show? (I.e., how long it took to make, what materials you used, etc.)

The Power of Desire, ©2010, collage

I've been working on the pieces in the show for about a month. If I had to break it down, each piece probably took about a week in time, although some came quickly over a number of hours and others over a period of days. Over the years, I've created a studio practice, spending several hours in the studio each morning before I shift identities and change from an artist into an artist therapist.

When Sara asked us to provide an image for the show, I put together a still life of objects from around my home that I love: a white raku vase, a jade-colored porcelain beaker and a palm-sized, brass Aladdin's lamp. Although I began with what I thought was a traditional still life approach, it quickly morphed into an exploration of the shapes through juxtaposition of fabric and paper, trying to create animated but believable forms. It was a lot of fun.

6.) What would you say to all of the other aspiring artists out there?

I had difficulty with this questions because it seems to presume that  I've arrived somewhere when, in fact, I feel like I'm constantly striving myself. The answer below is what I deeply believe.

Persistence, persistence, persistence. Very little happens overnight and real progress occurs over years. Never give up. Always believe that you have a unique voice, unlike any other artist. Have the courage to believe in this voice. Malcolm Gladwell makes this point about persistence in his book The Outliers. In it he talks about the 10,000-Hour Rule, saying that the way to success in many fields is, to a great extent, based on practicing a specific task for a sum total of about 10,000 hours. I haven't been counting--but I may be getting close.

L'Eau de Vie, ©2010, collage

 For the complete article as it appeared in the Monday edition, check out the California Aggie.

Fresh Impressions: Part 2

Today's Part 2 focuses on the exhibit, Lessons from Things and the process of working on the still lifes that are part of it.

3.) What makes this exhibit stand out from others that have happened here locally in Davis?

Sara Post has gathered a wonderful group of artists together and given them a traditional subject, namely, familiar objects, and added a twist that is particularly hers, looking at art-making through the lens of another culture.

"In our object-rich culture, there is a tendency to skim over the presence of things, to cease to see them because of the sometimes overwhelming amount of objects in our lives. This exhibit offers an opportunity to slow down, to focus, to be with and perhaps to add to our understanding and enjoyment of objects that surround us," notes “Lessons” curator Sara Post.

Within the structure of the exhibit, she weaves in an educational component, so that the viewer comes away with more than an encounter with the works of art themselves. The unique quality of Sara's lively and provocative themes set her exhibits apart.

4.) What do you hope to gain from the exhibit (in any aspect, whether, spiritually, emotionally, or if more aimed toward the community)?

Lake Okoboji, ©1977, watercolor

The greatest gift so far took place in my studio. In order to create these still lifes, I've been reaching back into my days as a young student and drawing on my youthful enthusiasm. It was a magical time; so much seemed possible and everything was fair game for the canvas: a plein air landscape, the view from my apartment window, pieces of fruit placed on a worn wooden table.

Recycled take out containers for colored papers

As I've re-explored the subject of still life, I've been able to tap into that enthusiasm and ebullience. But there's a twist. I am older and the experience of the life I've lived since that time filters into these  collages as well. I see it in my approach; the willingness to take the objects I've studied "out of the box" and off of the linear plane. I experiment more freely with media and feel  confident in the way that I handle the colors and patterns; letting them come together in a sort of seeming randomness that is actually the result of working with composition for so many years.

The beige take out container has it all

I also look forward to the reception for the exhibit, to those equally random moments when I watch other people study the artwork on the walls and hear their exclamations as they move around the gallery. I love seeing so many people that I know from so many times of life here in Davis. I've never lived anywhere as long as I lived here: 22 years. That creates a rich tapestry of friends and acquaintances and you never know whom you're going to run into or what you might end up talking about. Perhaps I'll meet a new artist friend or even find the thread for a new series of collages.

First time around...

When my first SoulCollage® class at the UC Davis Medical Center ended, it was time for some reflection. Time to see where we'd gone as a class and where I might steer the class in the future.

It was our last meeting--a makeup class in fact. People came eager to share the vision boards that they had been working on and the cards they'd created in the intervening week.

Our class included women ranging from their late twenties to their early fifties, but despite the age differences they shared something in common.

They were peering around the corner in their lives, seeking the sense of adventure that they sensed lay hidden. Whether it was the courage to recover the brash physicality of girlhood, finding a new direction after divorce, or reconnecting to a rich cultural past, each was searching for a fresh perspective.

 We set out slowly, some of us skeptical of the power of images to guide. Over the weeks we flipped through a virtual surfeit of images, learning how to let our eyes and intuition pick out images rather than just our picky minds.

"... instead of cogitating about familiar images, scout for the unfamiliar. Your mind can't do this. Your animal/angel self can. Just page through a magazine (and walk through the world) noticing things that trigger physical reactions: a heart thump, a double take, a gasp.
The only responses involved should resemble these:

These 'thoughts' register in your stomach, your heart, your lungs—anywhere but your head. You can't produce them in response to cultural clichés or abstract ideas. Nor can you always know why your body reacts to an image." Martha Beck

The women created cards that tugged on my heart in their poignancy and beauty. Toward the end of each group we would surround the cards we'd made, studying and slowly finding our way to the heart of the meanings they contained. At first, some would profess that they had no idea what the card held and as I stared at the images, tears would come to my eyes; there was so much beauty in front of us just waiting to be seen and acknowledged.

 Since it was our last session, I asked those who had finished their vision boards to make a card that they would give to someone else. Little did I know what I had unleashed.

Yesterday, one week later, I met with the director of our Cancer Outreach and Research Program, which had sponsored the class. I'd asked Liza, the volunteer from our group to join us. A bit reticent initially,  Liza warmed up as the meeting went on. Suddenly she piped up, "Hey Hannah, Alisha said to give you a message." Alisha is Liza's good friend from childhood, an engineer who's used to depending on her logical and well organized left brain.

Alisha had spoken frequently throughout the class about her desire to go outside of the prescribed boundaries of her life. She'd also questioned the likelihood that something so seemingly simple as gluing images on a piece of matte board could hold unexpected power. Nonetheless, divers jumping off of high rocks and dancers leaping in a night sky appeared upon her SoulCollage® cards. I wondered at what point she would gather the courage to jump herself.

"So, Hannah, Alisha left this morning and she's on her way to Canada with her vision board in the back and the SoulCollage® card that Anne Marie made her in the front."

"Oh my goodness. Alisha! The one afraid to set sail. "

"And she hasn't made any plans. She's heading to Vancouver." Vancouver, the city she'd made a card for last week: a big bright nightscape of a city. "Vancouver," she told us. "Vancouver is my soul place."

It takes a lot of courage to break out and break away. People asked me afterwards if she could leave her job, "just like that." I'm betting she didn't--that she was just in need of a vacation outside of the lines. She took her SoulCollage® card back to her soul place.

We'll be starting a new class, beginning on Tuesday, September 23rd. For more information about this class, offered free of charge to cancer and cardiac patients in my area (Sacramento, CA), you can e-mail me at

Top image: 4 Fold Path, Amelia McSweeny, ©2010
Middle image: Aloha Nui Loa, Amelia McSweeny, ©2010
Bottom image: Pink Dahlia, Amelia McSweeny, ©2010

Shining Star

Arms filled with supplies for that afternoon's art group, I arrived at our hospital's playroom. Three children and a grandmother were waiting by the door, champing at the bit to come in. Regretfully, I told them it would be a few more minutes, that I had to get some more supplies. They looked at me woefully. And after another few minutes of shuttling supplies, I explained we were short staffed and Grandma explained that they were having a hard time getting through a 10 hour surgery for her grandchild.

"Trumps my story! Come on in!" I said. Seriously though, its a constant balancing act between staff and patients. Shortly after the siblings arrived, in skipped Natasha, nine year old sibling of Jeremy who's been hospitalized for the last several months. It's rare that we have siblings coming daily for several months but it does happen. Natasha is a joyful child, always skipping, looking out for new friends in the children that arrive and depart, and unerring in her observations about me, noting my quirks with a shrewdness often reserved for one's own children.

Because of kids like Natasha, I try to keep the projects for our art groups varied during their stay. This requires some fun sleuthing on my part and I recently discovered the blog creative jewish mom. This former Manhattan designer turned Israeli citizen has a fantastically cross referenced blog, easy to navigate and filled with inspiring and eco-friendly projects for kids (and adults).

I picked out a sunburst project--it seemed day camp like. Although many of our kids may not have been to camp, nevertheless we like to pull in familiar associations to summer; ice cream, water play, lemonade and the like and use these to create experiences that evoke a camp style comaradery and closeness between kids.

With a little fast glue gun work by my colleague and I, we created a series of 10 or so sunbursts and opened up shop. The kids came crowding in, eager to dip their brushes into the paint and cover the rays of their suns in rainbow hues. For one five year old hadn't painted before, the discovery of paint's ability to cover a surface was revolutionary. Another three year old considered each choice of color like a seasoned pro, painting the spokes with his favorite shades of green and blue.

My focus was on Natasha. She takes each project to heart, finding a way to tailor it so that she can later present it to her brother. It tugs on my heart each time I see her brother's initials or name appear. After the initial rush was over, Natasha and I sat together painting. It occurred to me that I knew very little of what she does after the staff and volunteers leave for the day. I don't know why I hadn't asked her before, but I did then.

She told me that she often read to her little brother, or drew in his coloring books for him, or simply watched a movie together. Her words touched me immensely and I woke up this morning thinking of her.

Instead of wondering about "what I had to do today"--or which things might not be going my way, or even what I might be able to accomplish, I thought of this child's courage, her indomitable spirit and her ability to remain hopeful, inspired, inspirational and loving in spite of all that she's seen.

I recently read something the Dalai Llama said, "It is very important to generate a good attitude, a good heart, as much as possible. From this, happiness in both the short term and the long term for both yourself and others will come."*

*Many thanks to Iona Drozda for this quote

SoulCollage® card above by Anonymous

The Birth of Impressionism

No matter what season it is outside, I've learned that after a show, it's time for me and my studio to lie fallow for a bit.

It seems contradictory. Fueled by the adrenaline rush of preparation and the reception, I used to rush back into the studio, but like a cake without the leavening, the work I made fell flat and I learned to say, "Vacation time!"

I'd love two weeks in Paris so I could drink in art and a few cafe au laits, but there's that small matter of my other job and my bank account--so I've been wondering, 

What do you do to refuel? I'd love to hear some of the ways you restore and refuel yourself after an exhibit or teaching a class.

Without the time or the money to visit Paris, I figured the next best thing would be to visit the Birth of Impressionism exhibit, an hour and a half down Interstate 80 in San Francisco.

My sister and I piled into the car with lots of water, and munchies and headed off. It was a beautiful blue sky day and a whopper of an exhibition.

The DeYoung Museum is the only museum in the world to host this show from the Musée d’Orsay in Paris. The exhibit is arranged so that you can trace the artistic movement from the French Realist style (approved by the official Government Salon) to the original and inventive style we now call Impressionism.

My sister and I walked through galleries painted a deep salmon and hung with paintings by Courbet, Manet (that challenger of tradition!),  Pissaro, Monet, Renoir, not to mention Berthe Morisot and Cezanne.

In the past, I've walked through galleries with the feeling that people who lived and worked before me simply belonged to another human race entirely, but this time was different. There's a piece of growing older that helps me to understand my place in the parade of human history and human art history.

As we left the museum, surfeited by our visual feast, we entered out into the brilliant blue San Francisco day. The sound of a brass band issued from a nearby band shell and we went over to investigate. In front of the shell, a couple waltzed and a young child spun around, twirling to the music. The band in their red uniforms with navy blue epaulettes played on.

It was almost unreal, the clarity and perfection of it all. Had I popped up in the middle of Mary Poppins in the park with Burt?

As I look back, it occurs to me that clarity is the gift that paintings offer us. They give us a very personal and distilled view of their world. If we in turn, give the paintings our own sustained looking, we are gifted with this clarity.

I took it in, my invisible gift and carried it home with me to the small Central Valley town where I live, rich with possibility and almost but not quite, ready to begin again.

If you live near San Francisco, or are planning to visit there, The Birth of Impressionism continues until September 6th, If you're not, what visual feast is going on near you?

Pictured above: From the top: The Swing, Pierre Auguste Renoir, View of the DeYoung, Still Life with Soup Tureen, Paul Cezanne, Entrance to the DeYoung with me and a mysterious stranger.

Send in the Archetypes

Do any of you remember that Leonard Cohen song, "Send in the Clowns"  Judy Collins sang in the mid seventies?  It began to play in my ear last week for no reason that I could think of.  I used to listen to Judy Collins as a teenager, but I thought Clowns a mournful, depressing song. What to make of this?

After several days of hearing this soundtrack in my head, I was in the shower (my modern equivalent of a cave in the Himalayas) when I remembered a SoulCollage® class I had taught the previous week on archetypes.

For those of you unfamiliar with this concept, archetype is a word that has been around for a long time, but was popularized by psychologist Carl Jung. He wrote about the muses, guides, challengers and gods who dwell in the realm of the invisible. Present across time and culture, they originate in our collective unconscious.

The best way to give form to these presences is through images-which is what I was telling the class when all of a sudden, mid-sentence, I looked up, towards the "EXIT" sign posted above the door. I could have sworn there were half a dozen invisible presences swooshing through the entrance.

Call me crazy, and I'm sure several students thought that, but I had the idea that we were about to have visitors and I confess, I was very curious to see who might turn up. Have you ever wondered who is dwelling in your inner abode?

Pat B. Allen, in her excellent book Art Is A Spiritual Path, notes that:
Guiding images are waiting for us if we choose to receive them...These images may at first feel unfamiliar and startle us. In fact they come to restore balance...Our task is to learn to dance with, to flow with, these images...The images all arise from the place of infinite possibility, and that place is the core and basic home of every person. 

I asked everyone to browse our collection of magazine images and the thick, fat magazines we'd collected and to let the images choose them rather than the other way around. By holding the simple intention of wanting to discover our internal guides, an amazing thing happened. 

Six distinct archetypes emerged on the cards over the next hour and a half. I was delighted to meet my own Alchemist Buddha (pictured above). As I looked at the others' images and listened to their descriptions, I had the feeling that the class was somewhat shocked. It was a bit like the tale of Aladdin and the Genie. They had no idea that something so powerful would emerge when they glued images to matte board.

One student, Jeanette, who had imaged the Indian goddess Durga, discovered after googling her over and over (just to make sure), that the qualities ascribed to Durga were exactly the qualities that had sent Jeanette back to graduate school and straight into her new career. As I watched Jeanette grab her hair and repeat "WEeeiiirrd..." I had the feeling I was witnessing the beginning of a great new relationship.

I'd love to hear about your experiences with archetypes.

Pictured above: 
Alchemist Buddha, ©2010, Hannah K. Hunter
Mom Goddess, ©2005, Hannah K. Hunter
Seer, ©2008, Hannah K. Hunter