Sunday, February 20, 2011

The Moveable Feast in the Forest

"Ridges #2", watercolor on paper, 2011

There is a conversation traveling around weblands about the 
art of blogging. Terri Windling over at The Drawing Board 
referred to it as the "moveable feast", and the name has stuck. 
It has traveled winding paths from John Barleycorn Must Die to 
The Drawing Board, to A Mermaid in the Attic in Australia.
 It started with Howard and Rex of John Barleycorn Must Die 
and their around the table interview with Rima Staines 
of Into The HermitageI invite you to track back along 
the path to find many morsels of inspiration.  

March ninth marks my year anniversary of blogging, and I'm getting
 in on the conversation and telling a bit of my story about how and 
why I blog. Though I set up RavenWood Forest many months
before, I used it only once as an information board for a 
Summer Solstice event here. It sat idle for a long time 
until I had traveled around enough in the world of blogs 
to see the potential. 

When I discovered Rima Staines,Terri Windling, Midori Snyder
and the Journal of Mythic Arts a few years ago while looking
 for mythic artists to show my students, everything changed. 
I was instantly inspired by the beautifully visual worlds
 on each of their blogs, and began a journey down the 
many paths they laid in their link lists. I became quite
obsessed, really, though it was exactly the traveling 
I needed to do to offer my students rich and inspiring 
resources for a new class I was teaching, 
Myth & Symbol. 

"Orange Evening Sky", watercolor on paper, 2011

I'm not sure how it happened, but one day I decided that it 
was time to begin blogging in earnest, and I took the plunge. 
As my one year anniversary approaches, I reflect back that 
I had no idea how much this endeavor would gift me in 
inspiration and connection and how it would support my 
creative process. When I moved to RavenWood from
 Providence in 2003, I left a vibrant arts community, 
my 1100 sq. foot studio, and many, many circles 
of professional artists like myself. Coming here, 
I was making the choice to move close to my source, but 
also to move away from conversations, critiques and a 
community that very much understands creative process. 

"Wet Sky", watercolor on paper, 2011

I've discovered that blogging is an important part of my 
process. Christina over at A Mermaid in the Attic 
writes "I do not live in a close-knit creative community, 
and I can hardly accost a stranger in the street 
and force them to listen to the song I've just 
written or look at the painting I'm working on and expect 
an intelligent coherent comment." Having left my creative 
community behind, I have come to understand that 
blogging, for me, provides a format to write about my 
process and be witnessed. I have looked back at older 
posts and my work and seen threads of connections 
I might not have without the sequential 
nature of blogging.

I find that seeing my artwork online, in a new format, 
is a way of seeing it anew. Like the old trick we professors 
often advise our students - if you have been working so long on
 painting and you no longer really SEE it, look at it in a mirror.
 And, of course, as Christina says above, its also helpful to get 
responses. When I started doing a series of spiral drawings, 
I found the comments quite interesting. They continue 
to give me insights into the spiral form - I love 
the things that people see in them. 

"Afternoon Mists", watercolor on paper, 2011

I'm participating in conversations in several overlapping 
online circles. The mythic artists buzzing around the 
artists and blogs mentioned above, and many of 
you who follow here, and the stitching, dyeing 
circles rippling out from Jude over at Spirit Cloth.
The richly inspiring communities which I now 
touch into not only help me feel connected once 
again to artists, but also continue to support me 
to be a better teacher. I am continually pulling out 
my laptop during class to show a student some 
unusual use of materials. Blogs give my students 
access to artists who are in the trenches and who
 are talking about it and who might not yet 
be published in a major catalog or book. 
This is a gift and an invaluable resource.

There is much more to say, and I'll continue my musings
 another time, as this post is reaching "mermaid proportions!" 
(You'll need to follow the above links to get the reference...)
By the way the heater is working GREAT, I've never been 
warmer in the studio in winter. All the paintings in this 
post were made in the last two weeks, 
I've been in there a LOT!

I'll leave you with some images from my afternoon walk 
with Pasha. The first in many weeks since finally he 
can walk on top of the frozen snow. I sounded like a 
freight train walking in my snowshoes today on crusty, 
icy snow, but it is still necessary as even with much 
melting from last week we still have several feet. 

Pasha was so excited, he raced WAY up these trees,  

and down in a long, gentle slide all the way to 
the ground. I've never seen him do that before! 

Friday, February 11, 2011

Spiraling Deeper

Finally, after over a month of waiting, the studio 
heater was delivered to my front doorstep on Wednesday.
 I arrived home from school, hoping and hoping that it had. 
Yesterday, I spent my first full day in the studio since December!
But it was far from warm. The nights have been frigid, so the studio 
was below freezing when I started work installing the heater, 
putting plastic on windows, weatherstripping the door 
and caulking cracks. I was cold, but inspired. I could 
feel the heat coming on and watched as, 
degree by degree,
the temperature rose. 

After a session with a student this morning,
the wonderful Kim, I stuffed the stove 
with wood and headed out to the studio. 
Sometimes leaving this scene - warm fire, 
snoozing Pasha cat - is challenging, but 
today the call to work was greater than 
the call of fur and fire.  

I packed my basket with water, music, and tea. 

I was greeted with a warm-ish studio. I figured
it needed a long time to heat up the whole space, 
and considering the overnight temperature was -6, the 
45 degrees at 11:30 am seemed reasonable!
A bit of the morning was spent cleaning, 
clearing and organizing.

In a corner of the studio, the new heater 
sits tucked underneath the old, retired one. 

Tables were organized and dusted, a slow
and deliberate re-entering of my creative 
process. After being away from work for 
so long, I needed time for re-rooting 
and re-membering.

I remember a wonderful class called, Finding Form & Inspiration
 I took in graduate school with a special professor and mentor,
Chris Bertoni. She spoke about cleaning and organizing
as way of easing back into work and that the simple act 
of entering the studio, even just to move things around, 
was a part of the working process. If you were really 
stuck, she advised just showing up to the studio daily, 
even for only a few minutes, until something 
happened. I know how wise this advice is, 
it has worked for me many times. 

For resistance is real. No matter that I was 
bursting at the seams with visual stories, 
connections, inspirations, images and 
ideas about materials to explore, I hit 
a moment of resistance at the moment I 
sat down to begin. But I do have 
strategies now, after so many 
years of cyclical creating. 

"Root Person", clay & mixed-media, with bones on shelf.

I sat at my work table, and looked at 
the things that inspire me. 

I began by writing in my journal. And looking 
back at some quick sketches of ravens on a branch 
as I imagined them in the early morning as I lay in bed 
and heard them calling off in the forest. 

Above me on a shelf, more inspiration 
from my grandfather. A striking red 
coral encased in lucite, an octopus 
and a snake. Branching systems and 
spirals... hmmm, familiar. 

So it seemed that to begin with spirals 
was the thing. I begin where I had 
ended, to find a continuum, 
and take off from there. 

I feel I know these spirals better now.
Much musing about them, and seeing them
in the details of nature through my camera 
lens, has deepened my knowing of them. 

And here we find ourselves tonight,
Pasha cat and I, much like we were this morning. 
Sitting by a warm fire, a bit more wood in the bin, 
and a few more spirals drying in the studio.
Some days are really quite perfect,
here in the snowy white 
RavenWood Forest. 

Saturday, February 5, 2011

Seeds of Inspiration

Glowing embers in the blue-black of the fading day. 
Outside, sleet and freezing rain beating on a drum 
of softening snow. Just a brief respite between 
frozen winds and clinking icicles. Late tonight 
 temperatures will drop again and somewhere 
above, the snow maker will sculpt 
crystalline flake-mandalas. 

(do click larger to see the amazing detail in these!)

In a moment of remembering today, I pulled out 
an envelope of treasures. Years ago my father gave 
me two of my grandfather's notebooks, both from his 
work as marine biologist. 

One is a small, handmade folio of card stock 
on which are pasted algae specimens collected 
from Long Island Sound. Delicate branching 
systems, and warm sepia tones: they 
could be drawings of trees. 

A well-spring of inspiration, seeds of  
drawings take root in me. Even the process of scanning 
these few pages have sparked to life some 
sleeping embers in my imagination. 

Obsessed as I am with branching systems, 
this tree caught my attention on a recent snow shoe. 
The lichen and moss patterns: variations of fractal 
patterns in the microcosm.

If ever my studio heater arrives, I think the images 
trapped inside me will explode onto paper. Though 
I've been drawing, what I want is my work table with 
my bones and stones, nests and feathers and the 
freedom to be as messy as I need to be. 

I know there has also been a gift in this time. 
I've been forced to look closely, to step out of routine 
and to let other forms of expression fulfill 
my need to create. 

Above and below, branching systems studies. 

A large wound on a beech tree reminds me that I am 
molded beautifully by the forces that push against me.

Beautiful bark texture on enormous ash tree 
in a nearby old growth forest.

My friend and neighbor, Anneliese and I snow shoed in the 
deep snow on the Rivulet Trail, one of the few remaining 
stands of old growth in New England. The trail is on
the homestead of the poet, William Cullen Bryant,  
 who "helped inspire the 19th-century land conservation 
movement that involved Frederic Law Olmsted and 
Charles Eliot, founder of The Trustees of Reservations." 
(from the Bryant Homestead site link above)
  The pine loop on the trail winds around pine trees 
reaching up to 150 feet. 

 Anneliese enjoys a moment with 
an enormous cherry tree. Its rare 
to find such a huge, straight cherry 
still standing as the wood is prized 
for veneers and furniture. The Rivulet 
Trail has several beautiful old cherry trees. 

At the beginning of our journey, 
we were met by this wonderful forest spirit.
We want to re-visit him in the spring to see 
if his fern-dreads are rooted there or 
somehow found their way onto his crown.  

We are still buried in snow, with no end in site. 
So much so that roofs are collapsing. Everywhere 
around town, roofs were dotted with people throwing 
snow onto huge piles, sometimes covering windows. 

I've been out in many a storm, trying to stay ahead. 
Arctic fashion is somewhat turtle-like. 

I really might have to have a neighbor come over with his 
tractor to move some snow around so I can still shovel 
a path to the studio! 

I decided to head the warnings, and do some 
roof raking yesterday. Tootling around on snowshoes
with a long-poled shovel-thing was amusing. A 
couple of times I dislodged a snow pile onto 
my head, and almost toppled over backwards 
when it let go!  

I decided to leave it to the youth to do the high roofs, 
so Shelby came over and shoveled. Having the two of us 
out and about all day  was great entertainment for Pasha, 
until he realized that our activities resulted in snow avalanches.  

A sense of solidarity came with the snows: 
  all of us engaged in the same chores, passing on  
humorous stories as we passed roof rakes 
one to another. 

I leave you with a recent tree drawing. I'm stuck here 
wondering whether to leave it as is or bring out more 
light. What do you think?