"Cleo and the Reluctant Steed" - mixed media on canvas paper, 16" x 20"
I recently started keeping a sketchbook. Random ideas, drawings and what-nots. Cleo and her giraffe appeared in my sketchbook early one morning, before caffeine had kicked in and while clear thought was still a bit muddy and elusive. I thought they were going to be just one more idea languishing in those pages, but the image of the giraffe kept sneaking back into my mind over several days, so into the studio I went.
As his face began to take shape, I was surprised and a bit tickled by how obviously put out he is by the notion of being ridden. And how unaware of this his heavily-crowned rider seems to be. I wish I could say that I have an exact plan for the personalities of my characters, but I am completely at their mercy. As with my recent comments about abstracts, if I try to paint these characters in a certain way, they completely rebel and refuse to cooperate. It just doesn't work out at all.
I think that's part of the magic of art - I am enthralled by its unpredictability. Ok, enthralled and frustrated sometimes, but I keep coming back. Because really I want to meet all these beasties and their companions. I want to hear about their adventures and watch them ride (or fly or swim or run) off to their forever homes, where they were meant to be before I even drew them in a sketchbook.
Thank goodness all of these creatures are housebroken. Maybe that's part of the magic?
"Her Joy is Unlimited" - mixed media on gallery-wrapped canvas, 30" x 40" x 1.5"
Painting an abstract is always an internal struggle for me. It is the creative equivalent of marathon which spans an area with both freezing rain, blistering heat and a finish line. All I can do is prepare to see it through to the end, because crossing the line at the end makes it all worthwhile. This piece was no different.
There are more than ten layers and multiple concept iterations on this canvas. What I wanted it to be versus what it decided to be; a tug-of-war between the art and me. For awhile, I thought this one had me beat. Seriously! At the third layer, I covered the canvas with words scrawled in charcoal - intention setting that I would be able to "see" what this piece wanted to become, to set aside my preconceptions and relax into it.
In frustration, I walked away from it for three days. And that was the turning point. It came together easily, joyfully and without struggle when I returned. Because I had surrendered my will over to the art. It painted itself, so to speak, as I became merely the hands wielding the scraper, the paint, the brayer. And then it was done. The finished line was crossed, and I was overcome with joy.
This piece had a message for me. Letting go, surrendering, relaxing into the flow of things outside of my control. It isn't the first time life has brought the message to me (and I am pretty sure it won't be the last). But there was so much joy in the flow of this one - it lingers. Each time I pass by it hanging on the wall, I smile.
"Beach Walkers" and "Beach Walkers 2" - watercolor on 140lb cold pressed paper, each 12" x 16" SOLD
This week I went back to my watercolors and those goofy flocks of ibis which I find so entertaining. They are such beautiful birds...until they speak. Which sounds like an out of tune honk. And always makes me laugh.
My dad has a few thoughts on these birds. He calls them the "cattle of Florida". They are always in a herd, take their time when crossing the roads, and graze wherever they go. And, true enough, when I am driving the car or riding my bike and an ibis decides to cross the road, all I can do is stop and wait Eventually it will get to the other side and I can continue on my merry way.
There is a bachelor ibis who frequents our backyard. When he sees one of us out with the corn bucket feeding the ducks and turtles, he comes running. He will dart in and out of ducklings, big muscovy males, turtle hoards and little green herons, grab a bit of food and run off with it. He is too shy to wait at the back door in the morning with the army of ducklings and their mothers. and hovers at the edges of the yard instead.
So what message does the ibis have for us? The ibis spirit animal tells you it is time to expand and explore. Connect with others and seek out opportunities they may bring. Communication and socialization. It is said if the ibis appears and has a red beak and legs, something rich and fertile is coming your way in the next 3-6 weeks. Trust your intuition and watch for new ideas and lessons on the horizon. Wisdom and enlightenment will be yours! And, if you're in our backyard, perhaps a morsel of bread.
"Dragon Rider" - mixed media on canvas paper, 16 x 20. Ready for framing.
I took an online quiz to find out what mythical creature I am...and I am the dragon (I am certain my children would agree! ha ha!) That seemed like reason enough to put a dragon on a piece of art this week. But as things happen, the message from the universe did not end there.
Taking a day trip with my hubby, we got a little car-happy and started singing some old songs. As you might be guessing, "Puff the Magic Dragon" was one of them. Our singing isn't anything to brag about, but the long discussion afterward about the meaning behind the song was pretty interesting, including Vietnam, the 1960's, childhood memories and my inability to get the lyrics right to most songs (doesn't everyone make up words to songs when they aren't sure what the lyric is?)
This song almost always makes me teary. The thought of Jackie Paper forgetting his magical dragon, growing up and passing on while Puff pines away for his boy in Honalee...it is too much for my soft heart. But it did get me to thinking..."dragons live forever, but not so little boys" or little girls. And yet, can't they live forever? Our little boys and girls? I think they can. In our hearts, in our imaginations, in our approach to life. The lesson of Puff the Magic Dragon, for me, is to keep my inner child alive, give her lots of fodder for new imaginings and keep approaching life with a belief in magic. If perception is reality, you will find me living by the sea, riding dragons and frolicking in the mist. Tea and cookies are served at 3 o'clock. Will you join us?
"Ivan, Stilted" - mixed media on gallery-wrapped canvas, 16" x 40" x 1.5". Ready to hang.
Sometimes my characters have their own personality. And no matter how many time I try to modify them, they just re-assert themselves. Ivan is one of those characters. No fluffy snuggle bunny here. This guy is all determination, tenacity, grit and seriousness. And no matter how hard he tries, no matter what outfit he wears, he still manages to look, well, awkward. But it doesn't deter him. Ivan wants to be a stilt-walker, and no one is going to get in his way. I want to be more like Ivan.
Have you ever held back from doing or trying something you were really interested in because you were afraid of looking (or feeling) awkward? I consider myself a fairly brave soul, with a willingness to fall on my face now and again. But there are days here and there where I avoid something potentially great just because I fear awkwardness.
This is truly comical coming from me. I am the epitome of clumsy, and manage to make navigating a sidewalk look awkward. Years ago, when I first took up running, I would come home from my runs with scraped up hands and bloody knees. Why? Because sidewalks are perilous! Well, if you're me they are. And don't get my family started talking abut the time I took out an entire Home Depot checkout lane with a box of door blinds.
Most days I am just fine embracing my inner Ivan, tackling the world with my trusty box of bandaids in my purse. But it would be lovely to ooze grace and elegance for an entire day (or even an hour). In the meantime, I will follow the lead of this scrappy character and embrace who I am with a flourish and a bit of a stumbling curtsy. For safety's sake, however, I might avoid anything involving stilts.
"Cotton Candy Dancer" - mixed media on canvas paper, 16" x 20"
"Tiny Dancer" - mixed media on yupo, 9" x 12"
It's a Monday two-fer! Dancing girls in their party dresses, full of joy...what better way to start the week?
Last week, my goal was to get out of my head and into my body. Now this might sound a bit strange, but it worked. I spend so much time cloistered in my own thoughts, constantly analyzing, mulling over, planning, fretting and wondering. My book appetite is voracious, and I journal every day. Reading, writing, thinking. I decided to spend less time there, and more time in physicality, to give my brain a vacation.
So there were bike rides, long walks and days of super gardening (digging up shrubs and sod, moving rocks and mulch) and some much needed yoga. Throw in some random dance movies in the studio and you get the idea! What I learned was this: my brain needs an occasional vacation.
A recent article in FLOW Magazine about the benefits of daydreaming really caught my attention and helped fuel my determination to take a mental break. In the article, the burden of "shadow work" on modern humans is described. Prior generations learned one phone system (a landline), no computer systems, didn't make their own airline reservations or pump their own gas, There weren't gadgets to learn, software upgrades to manage, grocery store self-serve registers to figure out....all of these things which require your brain to be ON and learning. Think of the amount of information we have access to daily! One statistic was that we view the equivalent content of 175 newspapers in a day. 175! No wonder our brains are tired.
These dancing girls are a reminder to me to give my head a break, get into my body, and maybe bust out a few dance moves now and then. And to be super thankful for the amazing human brain and its seeming endless capacity for learning.
"Transformation" - mixed media on board, 12" x 12". Ready for hanging.
I've spent a lot of time lately thinking about compost. The magical process of taking kitchen trash and yard waste and turning into loamy soil, full of nutrients and rich potential for hearty plants. We aren't permitted compost piles here in the manicured wonderland of south Florida planned communities, but that doesn't mean I cannot apply the same concept to other areas in life.
Take this piece, for example. Another paint over! The piece underneath was never photographed. It just sat in the pile of do-overs. Once I began to add collage layers and paint this week, it took on a completely different vibe and became something I really, really like. So, in art compost terms, the underlying piece was my art trash, which transformed into something full of life and good mojo through the composting (painting over) process.
There is a buddhist philosophy which holds the same to be true for our thoughts. You know, those "junk thoughts" that take up space but aren't really healthy or productive? By observing those thoughts and consciously choosing different ones, we "transform" them into something healthy and positive. Our anger, frustration and sadness can also be compost for personal transformation, helping us to choose a different path, different words or helping us understand ourselves and others more deeply.
So now I am looking at the pile of do-overs in the studio with a fresh eye. No longer cast-offs, they are fodder, compost for new work. Who knows what might be growing in there?
"Chasing Windrows" - mixed media on cradled board, 12" x 12". Ready to hang.
This week in the studio, I'm embracing the mercury retrograde. Finishing up old projects and creating closure. According to the experts, mercury retrograde is not the time to begin new ventures, but to clear out the old, finish those things sitting in a stack on your floor, in your closets, on the shelf...well, that's how my space looks, anyway. How about yours?
So this piece is a paint over. A mixed media project I completed last 30 in 30 challenge. You might remember it?
Mercury retrograde is also the time to clear out your home and workspace...tidying and purging, rearranging and straightening. This weekend I gave my office a complete redo (much to my husband's dismay. He is the muscle behind my furniture moving inspirations!) and I already feel more organized and ready for action.
So although the cable keeps going out, emails are lost in cyber space, messages are misconstrued and schedules are a huge challenge (all hallmarks of mercury's mischief), there is progress being made in other areas and a sense of humor blanketing it all with good mojo.
Maybe this retrograde thing isn't so bad after all?
Jen Walls and her imaJENation