As the challenge continues, I find myself drawn more and more into the multitudinous shapes of the leaves on this island of Kauai. So many of them are palmate, meaning like a hand, and they come in all sizes from half an inch to several feet long. I could spend a long time here, drawing them.
After a day trip to the south shore of Kauai to visit family (and a delicious meal from my chef cousin), I decided it was time to keep it simple on the 30x30 challenge. A night of aloha can mean a morning of, well, you know! Sometime during the evening, my cousin Mike mentioned that on a clear day, he could see to Oahu. His remark stuck in my mind and manifested in these sailboats that I remember from the Honolulu harbor.
I took a break from 30x30 over the weekend to begin my Yoga Teacher Training program at Kaya Yoga in Davis. Not making a collage Saturday and Sunday felt like trying to keep my hand out of the proverbial cookie jar. And then, flying to Kauai on Monday, well how can you argue with that? Now, settled in our home away from home, the colors of #12 surround me.
It's all about the weather here as Beatles lyrics run through my mind in a crazy counterpoint."Here comes the sun...and I say, it's alright" is swiftly followed by "Rain, I don't mind. Shine, the weather is fine." * The weather in our Central Valley is equally capricious. Moments of sparkling azure skies cloud over quickly with a gray mist promising rain. It all comes out in the art.
*Partial lyrics from the songs "Here Comes the Sun," and "Rain" by the Beatles.
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.
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!
*The lauhala tree is native to Hawaii.
Today, I decided to experiment with a background akin to the one outside of my studio: dark, rain soaked and blue gray! I challenged myself to use opaque watercolors on top of the ground, seeing what I could accomplish with layers of paint. I feel that I've made a start and want to investigate further. The delicate nature of the watercolor needs a lighter ground, but I'm game for it, as a much as for a sunny sky--at least for a few minutes.
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
Today after a week in San Francisco, I headed home to Davis in the early morning. As I drove over the Golden Gate bridge and into the green hills of Marin, a rainbow spread itself over the hazy blues and grays of morning. That contrast of brilliant color with gray found its way into this collage.
My husband and I took a walk several days ago in the botanical gardens of Golden Gate Park, both of us absorbed by all of the whimsical and, to my eyes, magical shapes we saw. This collage came about after our outing. It wasn't until later that I looked at it with my art therapist eyes and said "oh my!"
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.
To imagine that I could spend six weeks drawing almost every day is unbelievable. Like a stubborn goat, I pitted my hoofs against the pull of the assignments.Read More
Recently I had an opportunity to teach a master class for the California Art Educator's Association (CAEA), convening in Sacramento for their yearly conference. I'd put together a description for the class months ago when I had some rough ideas of what I might teach. As the time grew closer however, possibilities multiplied like rabbits due to a new book I discovered; Surface Treatment Workshop: Explore 45 Mixed Media Techniques.
Explore I did, buying containers of strange substances and trying them out in the studio. I loved the sound of the different techniques; embossing, embedding, inscribing, faux encaustic.
How to narrow them all down? I did a beta workshop with willing friends to test out my ideas. They dove into the materials with the zest of people who haven't had a meal in days; paint, papers and gels filled the surface of the ground paper. Shapes were torn, embedded, lines inscribed and we discovered the power of used gift cards.
Finally, I chose 3 techniques that I thought would be easy, inexpensive, adaptable and if carried out, would end up in some pretty great compositions.
The winners? Expired plastic cards to spread paint like a palette knife, gesso washing, embedding, and inscribing as well as a nifty technique involving two layers of contrasting paint, topped with a sprinkling of water droplets. (Recipe below.)
The only missing ingredient was a volunteer. I prevailed upon my friend and artist, Linda Clark Johnson, to join me for what I promised would be a good time. She graciously accepted and we set off for our art escapade.
A retired art teacher, Linda knows the ways of the educators. She promptly arranged the room into table groups. The conference room quickly filled to the brim with art teachers and their many bags of paint, paper and tools.
I'd never taught a group of teachers before and was delighted to find that as soon as I gave instructions, they dove in with an enthusiasm that was energizing. Table groups mixed, sharing paint and special papers they'd brought, as well as appreciative glances at each others' work.
I was amazed by the magic that these artists coaxed out of their materials. Although I'd never met any of them previously, looking at the images they'd created, I felt that I knew something about them. And they had acquired some simple tools with which to engage their students artistically and therapeutically.
I like to imagine that they will take these ideas, pop them into their capacious Mary Poppin's bag of tools and share them with their students. Like tiny seeds sprouting, artists will continue to appear.
Water drop recipe courtesy of Linda Clark Johnson
Cover your ground with a brilliant layer of color, allow it to dry, then add an additional layer in a contrasting color. Stick your hand in a bowl of water and sprinkle the wet paint with the droplets, allowing it to sit for several minutes. Finally, wipe the paint with a cloth and the areas covered by water come up revealing a wonderful splash pattern.
People say that there is no fall in California. That's not true. Fall arrives slowly and takes its sweet time once here. Sometime around mid to late October, the leaves begin to turn--first the sycamores fade bronze, the gingkos go yellow and finally the pistache leaves take off like bottle rockets with scarlet, crimson, pumpkin and wine, lighting up the city parkways with their stationary fireworks.
It's a month that calls for poetry and I was lucky enough to receive one of the most exquisite autumnal poems ever.
I was talking with my father. We spoke about our understanding of retirement. His definition, which I love, is that all retirement means is that you have left behind a salaried job with all the fringe benefits. My father has written five books since he retired as an English professor and, in his early eighties, is wading deep into his sixth. As we ended the conversation, he told me that he wanted to share a poem and began to quote from memory, Shakespeare's sonnet Number 73. I share it with you because it says so much about the season of autumn and the turnings in our lives.
That time of year thou may'st in me behold When yellow leaves, or none, or few, do hang Upon those boughs which shake against the cold, Bare ruin'd choirs, where late the sweet birds sang. In me thou see'st the twilight of such day, As after sunset fadeth in the west, Which by-and-by black night doth take away, Death's second self, that seals up all in rest. In me thou see'st the glowing of such fire That on the ashes of his youth doth lie, As the death-bed whereon it must expire Consum'd with that which it was nourish'd by. This thou perceivest, which makes thy love more strong, To love that well which thou must leave ere long.
Perhaps that is the benefit of retirement. If we are lucky, we burn brightly with all of the colors of our life; the complex layers of experience, relationships and gifts which come together to be set out again in any form we choose.
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?
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.
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.
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!
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
I've been working closely with Lisa Call in her Artist's Master Class for the last 6 months. A combination of coaching, goal setting and support from fellow artists, the class has challenged me to examine the parts of my life that do NOT support my art/life.
I've taken classes with Lisa before and the pace, challenges and comradery are exhilarating. I had expected the same approach in the Master Class. But initially, I was frustrated-- I wanted to move full speed ahead with my artwork. Instead, I discovered all the things that got in my way.
On the short list for roadblocks were my health and my job. My health was suffering because I was burning out from the intense pace of hospital art therapy. All the self care that I could muster; yoga, therapy, exercise, massage, you name it, didn't seem to budge my exhaustion or my myriad collection of maladies.
Lisa invited me to slow down and piece together the elements that weren't working. Then, I was to imagine what might help me grow stronger. I put down my ideas: acupuncture, more time with friends and more travel, less time in the studio. A couple of the myriad maladies began to melt away as I put my ideas into action.
My favorite exercise is one that cost nothing in time or money; a values inventory. I thought about the values that circumscribe my life: intuition, stewardship, tikkun o'lam*, healing, acknowledgement, responsibility, respect and compassion.
After coming up with my list, I decided to bring each of these values, one by one, into my art work. I was amazed--because I actually began to relax.
Although I have deadlines for exhibits. I've began to be more thoughtful in my process; less let's get it done! and more what is it that I'm doing?
And slowing down is good. It's hot, it's summer, but beyond that I'm simply enjoying the ride, curious to find out how my ideas about art will change as I do.
How do your values affect the art you make?
*A Jewish principle that means to heal the world, to fit the broken pieces together, and in modern terms to talk about fixing what is broken in society.