Thursday, October 22, 2009

The Makings of a Wolf Girl

The beginnings of a lovely wolf- or coyote-girl (she hasn't decided yet) in Victorian-inspired riding garb. I think she may be out hunting, we'll see.

This image really shows how I gradually build up layers of subtle texture with the ballpoint pen to develop shading. Everything begins with loose shapes and scribbles (often unintelligible to others) which then become a little more defined as I decide what lines to strengthen and emphasize and what ones will eventually blend into background. I then add in some very sparse crosshatching to suggest depth and determine the general light source for the image. The darker values are developed gradually; it is only very rarely that I will use full pressure of the pen to get a deep gray or black. Ballpoint pen, being the finicky creature that it is, will sometimes decide to randomly spurt out a little blob of ink, and usually I try to camouflage those by darkening a certain area more than I originally intended.

On another note, I wanted to draw attention to a great article which I discovered via Terri Windling's blog: The Value of Fantasy and Mythical Thinking.

Friday, September 18, 2009

Ego Rid, She Inspires

I've always though there was something essential in names and have always mused on their deeper meanings, searching for clues via numerology and etymology. Some ancient cultures also thought names carried a certain importance and that the knowledge of someone's (or something's) true name conferred power over him, hence the tales of Rumpelstiltskin and Tom Tit Tot.

While looking through a notebook of mine, I rediscovered perhaps another interesting route to investigate the inner workings of a name: the Internet Anagram Server of which a telling anagram is "I, Rearrangement Servant." By setting a few basic parameters and entering your name, you might unearth some interesting, if somewhat cryptic and surreal, phrases. Depending upon the length and letters in your name, you could literally spend all day pondering all of the possible rearrangements, but often there are themes which can be derived from the frequency of certain words in the various anagrams. The following are some of my favorite anagrams of my own name (some punctuation was added at my discretion):

ego rid, she inspires
eroded inspire sigh
a deed perishing rejoins
designed Irish rope
I sing spheroid deer
a ridged spine joins here
oh dig, inspired seer!
his red poising deer
heeding a drip, seers join
inspire his deer God
deer herd is poising
re inspire, God hides
a designer's rejoined hip
drips enjoin deer geisha
oh, inspired ridges!
she inspired God ire
a ridged, serene hip joins

Thursday, September 17, 2009

Rabbit Hearted Girl

I caught a fragment from the chorus of Florence & the Machine's "Rabbit Heart(Raise It Up)" on the Y Rock radio show one evening and was pleasantly surprised by the mythic references. Driving home last night I was able to catch the entire song and was further intrigued by the interesting layering of powerful female vocals, snippets of a tinkling harp, and electronic elements (a reviewer on Amazon describes it as a "thunderstorm in a flower garden"). I wasn't sure of the artist or song title, so I googled a lyric from the chorus. Upon discovering the full lyrics and was even more delighted:
Here I am, a rabbit hearted girl
Frozen in the headlights
It seems I've made the final sacrifice

We raise it up, this offering
We raise it up

This is a gift, it comes with a price
Who is the lamb and who is the knife?
Midas is king and he holds me so tight
And turns me to gold in the sunlight
Allusions to literature, a dark transaction, and the shedding of skin — what more could one want in a song? Even the very Pre-Raphaelite influenced video with its frothy whites and thick greens contains the double-edged imagery of the lyrics wherein the feasting table is transformed into a coffin. It's not really surprising to me to find that Florence Welch was an art student prior to initiating her music career.

I was able to download the single via iTunes, but it looks like the full-length CD Lungs has yet to be released in the US. The whole CD seems well worth purchasing after listening to some other songs on her website.

Friday, July 17, 2009

Strange Fairytales on Urban Walls

"Without Their Arms They Were Sisters"

Herakut is the name of the entity created when two street artists chose to merge their talents and create together. Hera + Akut = Herakut. When I first discovered the collaborative work of Herakut in the February 2009 issue of Juxtapoz I was smitten by both their poignant subject matter and the intense contrast between the artists' two styles that somehow still managed to form a remarkable synthesis. Hera's rough, calligraphic strokes are tempered by Akut's smooth and nearly luminescent realism to form figures that seem to simultaneously pool out into the third dimension and etch themselves deep into the surface of a wall or canvas like a neolithic cave painting.

"Streetdart No.2"

The creatures they paint range from the adorable, but often worrysome pug boys to rabbitfolk and even (yay!) wounded deerwomen — and they usually have a tale or piece of social commentary to impart in addition to their visual appeal. They use the animal attributes, masks, and headdresses to symbolize the nature of the figures, and the symbolism is sometimes not what one's initial associations might be: the cute pug boys (and girls?) represent "a street artist in the way that a dog goes around town and shits anywhere he likes. That's real graffiti. That's what dogs do." The rabbits are not just sweet and harmless in their paintings but typically represent an exploited sexuality comparable to the "bunnies" of Playboy notoriety. Their interactions are dystopian fairytales.

Their new book Herakut: The Perfect Merge is a great collection of their work featuring not only finished pieces but preliminary drawings and in-progress photos, allowing one to really appreciate the many layers involved in their art. The following is a quotation from the book about the struggle to retain the initial freshness of a sketch in a finished painting:
Painting from sketch was like copying yourself. Making a bad sequel. Cold coffee. The sketch by itself would always be the fresh spark — but the painting that followed would be like holding your hands to the radiator: it feels like heats but it's no real fire.

But one thought finally opened up the gate to new grounds: (wow, this may sound a little weird but this is how our brains function...) Mary J Blidge — singing about 1st love — album after album after album. How could singers relive this heartfelt experience even decades after they had actually been there? Right there it clicked. A sketch was the tool for capturing a new-born thought, a genuine moment like when you're falling in love. (Intimate, strong, but at the same time fragile and never to be repeated.) [...] So, in the end: a sketch will always be like love at first sight while the pieces that follow make it a love story.

More of Herakut's work can be seen online at:
Herakut (their official website)
Herakut's Dirty Laundry Aired

Friday, July 10, 2009

A Bitty Bat to Steal Your Heart

Last weekend my sister called from my parent's house insisting that I come over in order to see something that I would enjoy. She would not take no for an answer. When I arrived, she and my mom brought me to the deck in the backyard and carefully separated a certain fold in the closed umbrella atop the table to reveal....

the cutest little bat!

He was resting for the day after a long night of insect hunting by the spotlights shining out from the house. According to my mom, he has been coming back to that spot for a few days in a row. I've seen bats fluttering by in the evenings plenty of times, but I've never seen one during the day so close before. It's amazing that their wings fold back into such a small bundle, and the overall size of the bat was even smaller than I expected: he was about two inches in length if that. I wish I could have taken him home, but something tells me that wouldn't have worked out so well.

I have a soft spot in my heart for bats, especially the so-called flying foxes or fruit bats that live in tropical locations around the globe.

Saturday, July 4, 2009

The Storyteller Tree

This image was another trade with Ed Dougherty of Tree of Life Designs in exchange for a Native American Style flute. He had to wait a bit longer for this picture than I did for the flute, but I hope it was worth it. It is actually something of a gift for someone close to him who senses and interacts with various Nature Spirits. He requested a picture of an old, wise tree spirit set in a forest which included flowing water lined with some tall grasses.

I finally got to use the Windsor & Newton drawing inks I was given for Yule on this image and I adore them. I laid out the basic composition in sepia and loved the loose, flowing quality. I found the ink difficult to completely layer over as I didn't want to obscure it, so much more of the groundwork is visible here than in some of my other pieces.

Friday, June 26, 2009

Shifting Consciousness

Wow. It's rare to find something so wonderful and moving on YouTube. The following is a portion of a talk given by Terence McKenna.

Monday, June 22, 2009

Narrow Halls of Pages

It's been many years since I've visited my local library and actually borrowed books (I have been there on a rare occasion to browse and to donate books, but it doesn't seem like a real visit when you leave empty-handed). The library within walking distance from my apartment is the same library I used to walk to more than a decade ago, and visiting seems to call back a ghost of my former self. I enter and can feel some smaller part of me wisp off and eagerly head towards the sections I haunted as a girl, curling up on the floor while eyeing the worn spines and deciding which book to slip off the shelf and into the lap first.

My library card is the very same as the one I carried in those visits, and I'm always a little embarrassed to show it to the librarian. The "signature" in the strip across the front is surely on of my firsts and I can imagine that I wielded the ballpoint pen in my fist like a crayon. It's amazing that all of the lettering was fairly contained in the designated area, but I realize that I've been drawing almost all of my life so I think perhaps I had more manual dexterity than others in my age group. I dusted off that card, metaphorically speaking, and paid the $11.00 fine, literally speaking, I had racked up in late fees which had been stewing in my account all these moons, and got my fix of nepenthe.

This visit I returned home with Tithe by Holly Black and The Onion Girl by Charles DeLint. I just barely have touched on the latter, but I devoured the former in one evening and shortly after did the same with its sequel Ironside.

Black's two novels were just what I was seeking for my recently re-instituted drug habit and as an added bonus provided the brief intellectual satisfaction of being familiar with the fairylore references sprinkled throughout. They were enjoyable in supplying my desired escape, but beyond reveling in the fantasy (Roiben is as drool-worthy as Edward as a male protanganist), I wasn't very compelled by Black's portrayal of faeries. For the most part I felt the faeries were far too human in their actions and squabbles. There is an effort in the books to suggest that the Unseelie Court is not solely comprised of caricatures of villainy and that there is also kindness and wisdom in that realm, as well as treachery and deceit in the opposing Seelie Court, and those who at first seem friends are foes (or vice versa) but I don't feel like that message really saturates deeply into the core of the story.

The faerie character that felt the most true to me was the Kelpie. His "evil" nature seemed to be borne of a fierce, yet innocent fascination with human perishing rather than the contrived malevolence shown by much of the Unseelie Court in the novels who seemed more akin to classic human villains of comic books and cinema, those who know right from wrong and choose their path accordingly: "I wonder about death. I who may never know it. It looks so much like ecstasy, the way they open their mouths as they drown, the way their fingers dig into your skin. Their eyes wide and startled as they thrash in your hands as though with an excess of passion."

Yet, the character of Thistlewitch offers some profound statements on Faery:
So much focus on the egg — it is life, it is food, it is answer to a hundred riddles — but look at its shell. The secrets are writ on its walls. Secrets lie in the entrails of things, in the dregs.

Glamour is the stuff of illusion, but sometimes if deftly woven, it can be more than a mere disguise. Fantastical pockets can actually hold baubles, an illusionary umbrella can protect one from the rain, and magical gold can remain gold, at least until the warmth of the magician's hand fades from the coins.
From these tidbits you can sense Black actually does have a real feel for the Otherworldly, but I suppose it's hard to compose a novel where you can neatly tie in all the loose ends at the end of a few chapters if you're really trying to convey the depth and complexity of Faery (and probably more difficult to market, I imagine).

Monday, June 8, 2009


By the parking area behind my apartment building there is a particular maple tree who has captured my interest. Her figure is not tall and lean as those of her nearby siblings; she is hunched, warped, and turns upon herself at peculiar angles, and yet in my opinion possesses an elegance that her sisters do not. In the frigid days following my own sister's wedding, a bouquet of white carnations lay in my passenger's seat preserved by the cold. It seemed such a waste to throw them away (what good would come of them trapped in black plastic, preventing them from joining the soil?) so I made a gift of them. Hands gnarled like her branches and numbing in the chill night air, I pulled each flower from its crowded foam base and arranged them in one of the maple's holes near the where her roots wind their way into the ground. I smiled and wordlessly thanked her for her company. It was not too long afterwords that this drawing began, and as the unusual features and awkward torsion emerged I recognized the maple tree who greets me everyday when I leave for work and return in the evenings.

A burl is a term used to refer to an abnormal, fast-growing, bulbous arboreal growth — something almost akin to a tumor. They are typically caused by some sort of stress either resulting from fungus, insects, or sometimes by human involvement and disruption. Burls can often grow to be quite large and many times trees die from their burden. Yet what otherwise might be regarded as misshapen and diseased is highly sought by woodworkers, for beneath the crumpled bark covering the burl like a scab is wood whose grain is intricately whorled and nearly liquid with motion. Certain varieties of burl wood can command high prices. It adorns items of expense and opulence, and can often be found in the interiors of luxury cars and as veneers on fine furniture. This contrast of appreciation for its outer and interior forms is represented by the ornate Roccoco border. In a strange reversal of how our society typically operates, it actually is what's inside that counts and the outer form is not usually so well-regarded.

It is also a statement about how we might wish Otherworldy creatures to perpetually appear versus how they tend to truly reveal Themselves. Contrary to today's vision of Faerie as represented by the cherubic winged sprite in the upper right corner, faeries were often strange and grotesque — and yet their homely visage did not preclude them from being respected and revered:
The representations of fairy and demon familiars found in early modern encounter-narratives reflect the animist culture of the rural village, as opposed to the theistic culture of the cloister or oak-panelled study. [...] [A]mong the common folk of this period, the assortment of spirits which came under the umbrella term of fairies — bizarre and sometimes ridiculous-looking as they were — possessed the numen of sacred beings, and as such were objects for devotion. [...] This devotion was not only reserved for the beautiful and/or noble fairy monarchy and other spirits who conformed in some way to stereotypical Christian notions about sacred beings [...].1

I thought it was very important to anchor this piece in the real world where this tree actually grows. The background is very closely based to the actual location where this Maple spreads her branches. She would not hold the same poignancy were I to draw her in some enchanted glade where a glittering unicorn might nibble her leaves as that is not where she belongs. If we cannot find beauty where we are, there is little hope of truly finding it elsewhere.

Media: black ballpoint pen, ink, acrylic, pen & ink
Size: 5.5 x 8.5 inches

Footnotes and Bibliography

1) Wilby, Emma. Cunning Folk and Familiar Spirits. ISBN 1-84519-078-5. 226.

Saturday, June 6, 2009

A Life in Progress

Above is a photo of two pieces in progress. The figure on the left has been in such a state for much longer than the one on the right, which will hopefully be completed in the not-too-distant future. Like these images, my life seems to have been halted mid-course.

For the past year or so it has been a constant struggle to find the hours and energy to delve into the work I feel like I was meant to do. As a result I've found myself in a deep depression which deprives me even of the desire to work, forcing me into a vicious cycle which just keeps pushing me farther and farther away from where I wish to be.

At one point the situation was so bleak I ended up being dependent upon a drug for weeks to make it through (not a drug in the conventional sense as it's perfectly legal, requires no doctor or psychiatrist to prescribe, and the dealers include your friendly neighborhood Barnes & Noble and Borders, but a drug nonetheless). You probably are familiar with it: a hefty series of four books centered on a love triangle between a vampire with a conscience, a werewolf, and a clumsy human. Seriously, this saga, which shall remain unnamed, is a far cry from literature — it is a highly-addictive substance specifically designed to target and mentally incapacitate a select range of females (basically anyone who felt like a social outcast in high school which is a pretty large demographic). It was escapism of the worst kind.

My full-time day job is a necessary evil as it pays the bills, but while it once seemed content to remain in the space allotted to it (approximately forty hours a week in a generic office building) it has grown insatiable in appetite, demanding to take over my attention and identity. It wants to be the sun around which the rest of my life revolves. I'm taking steps to extricate myself from the increasingly hostile environment but I don't know how long it will take to regain some sort of healthy balance. In the meantime I'm trying to find some perspective and inspiration to hold onto so I don't lose myself completely. Mary Oliver's poem "Wild Geese" has become a holy mantra, and I pour over the images in my mind each in turn like the beads of a rosary.

In tribal and pre-literate societies illness was often believed to be a result of a loss of essence. Personal turmoil can entangle the soul or cause it to wander away, but it can also be stolen or deliberately mislead by clever sorcerers. It was one of the shaman's many tasks to journey into the Underworld to retrieve the soul that had been lost (or taken) and reunite it with its waking self, thus restoring a person to wholeness. I need to reweave the connections with my guides so that I can find my soul again.

Friday, May 8, 2009

The Forest Queen

I'm made of the bones of the branches, the boughs, and the brow-beating light
While my feet are the trunks and my head is the canopy high
And my fingers extend to the leaves and the eaves and the bright
brightest shine, it's my shine

And he was a baby abandoned, entombed in a cradle of clay
And I was the one who took pity and stole him away
And gave him the form of a fawn to inhabit by day
Brightest day, it's my day
— "The Queen's Rebuke/The Crossing"

The Decemberists recently released album, The Hazards of Love, was inspired by English folksongs. The entire album is one storyline flowing though different songs, following the tale of two ill-fated lovers. One of the most intriguing characters, voiced by Shara Worden, is the Forest Queen. True to the traditional balladry, she is a mysterious, powerful figure whose morals are ambiguous — she is at times merciful and vengeful, lovely and wicked by turns. Much of the story woven by the album is reminiscent to me of Tam Lin (Offa's Wall does sound similar to Carterhaugh, and there is shape-shifting and an illicit pregnancy to be had), and I think perhaps this Forest Queen may be one and the same as the Faery Queen in that famous folksong.

Tuesday, March 17, 2009

From Having a Genius to Being a Genius

Author Elizabeth Gilbert discusses the nature of creativity and advocates a more ancient mode of understanding which does not place the individual's ego at the center and acknowledges an Otherworldly source for inspiration:

Thanks to Asharah and her blog Bellydance Paladin for exposing me to this wonderful video!

Monday, March 16, 2009

The Makings of an Artist

A man who uses his hands is a laborer.
One who uses his hands and mind is a craftsman.
He who uses his hands, and his mind, and his heart is an artist.
- St. Francis

Some might wish to define an artist based upon how many media in which an individual is proficient or how many years he or she invested in honing their skills. To me those are irrelevant factors. There are those who know they are (or are destined to be) artists from a young age and their lack of years does not disqualify them. There are those too poor to afford sophisticated equipment and expensive materials and that does not prevent them from making art. I've made some of my best pieces with a cheap ballpoint pen (the kind you can buy a bag of at Walmart for about $3.00).

There is much more to being an artist than simply being able accurately reproduce an image, whether from a photo or from life. If that were the case then cameras and Xerox machines in and of themselves would be artists. Sadly most people seem to gauge artistic ability or virtue by how "realistic" a piece of art happens to be, however I've seen many realistic images which clearly display technical prowess yet completely lack the soulful aspect which I think is definitive to art — they were simply pretty pictures. On the other hand I've encountered work which shone with inspiration and yet the technical ability of the artist may have been somewhat lacking. Personally, I prefer the work which shows a real connection with the subject or idea and a less developed skill level to those works which flaunt realism without depth.

Rendering is a skill, a useful and worthy one, but it is nothing without heart, soul, and inspiration. Skill can be taught and acquired, inspiration cannot. While experience and skill in reproducing the work of others is valuable, all of the training in the world with the most expensive materials will not make you a true artist — if your work lacks soul it's just a gratuitous display of your technical proficiency, nothing more.

Personally I believe that the best artists are those that have a great balance of both skill and soul. Skill gives you the dexterity and vocabulary to express your visions with clarity and precision, but without soul you have no real vision to express. Soul gives a purpose to your skills.