I spent the first day of the year working on my my art, my hope was to start the year by finishing a painting. I felt like it would have been a good sign of an artistically productive year ahead. I did not finish one that day, but I am happy to report that I finished several last night in time for them to be taken to the Sautee Nachoochee Center today for the next show. Three new pieces in the first half of the first month of the year seems like a good start.
The first two pieces are part of the Painting Eyeballs on Chaos series I have been working on. Though I have been slowly reading my way through Dogen’s essays I still have not gotten to that passage yet. I find the reading difficult, but it feels important to me to see the phrase in its original context. There is more I need to understand about it. I think I have just barely scratched the surface of what I feel like I need to learn. I already have a new board on the easel with some more eyeballs and chaos starting to get roughed in. This series may go on for a while.
I started the largest painting (Dawn over Chaos) on Christmas in my normal way, drawing in a basic design and then adding solid colors one by one, but before I got very far I had some technique conversations with the illustrious Anthony Coffey. I asked him about how he layers his colors and gets such a nice glow to them. He shared some of his secrets with me that I decided to start experimenting with right away. I took “in progress pictures” all along and the first three (in the gallery below) are my usual technique, then the next three show his influence. The final paintings do not differ hugely from my normal work, but I do think they may glow a bit more. I am going to continue to play with this new way of “glazing” and see where I can go with it.
The last whimsical little piece is more of a drawing than a painting. I have been trying to revisit meditation, but so far blankness of mind has alluded me. The contrast between the calm position of the hand and the swirling mass of colors around it was supposed to be about that, but once my children pointed out that it looks like a picture for the Circle Game I had a hard time continuing to take it seriously. The audience at the SNCA will probably see it as a mudra, but if it ends up hung in the tattoo shop all anyone there will see is the meme.
While driving back and forth to the NC for the holidays (twice) I listened to a novel that included a murder that was solved with the help of Google Time Line. The deceased’s girlfriend logged into his gmail account and was able to trace everywhere he went on his last day finding the clue she needed to what happened to him. Before listening to the story I knew that google was keeping track of where I went, but I don’t think I realized it could be viewed as a time line. I know I should be creeped out by the Big Brother aspect of it, but I am actually more curious about what it can tell me about where I go and how often. On Christmas Eve while sitting at Tallulah Gorge, enjoying the view and trying to draw a bit, I started wondering if Google Time Line could tell me how many times I had been there over the past year. I imagined an end of the year post that included the number of visits and some of the drawings I did while I was there. Turns out it is not that simple. It really is just a time line, it is easy to pick a day and see where you went, but not easy to pick a place and see when you went. I downloaded the JSON file with all my coordinates and times for 2018, but wow, that is a lot of data. I am not curious enough for a project of that scale at this time. Anyway, all this introduction, and all I really want to say is “I went to Tallulah Gorge a lot of times in 2018.”
I was there on New Year’s Day, on Thanksgiving, on Christmas Eve and I would guess several dozen times in between. I went by myself, with family, and took friends. I walked the North Rim Trail, the South Rim Trail, the Terrora Trails, went up and down all those crazy stairs by day and under the full moon, sat by the lake, walked the Short Line trail with Max and Sophie over and over, and did a wonderful Ranger led hike down the short but incredibly steep Sliding Rock Trail. Watching the kayakers come through that day was especially amazing. And it was also that day (in November) near the the trailhead where I found my new favorite place to sit: under the South Wallenda Tower.
I did my my first plein air drawing back in August from Inspiration Point. Since then I hiked to and drew other waterfalls which I have written about, but I have also drawn at the gorge many more times. Before finding my new spot I found it challenging to find a place to sit where I could be comfortable and out of the way of all the the other visitors. There are plenty of benches but, with the exception of the one at Inspiration Point, they just don’t have the views I want to capture on paper. The new spot, out of the way, with a grand view and no guard rail is so perfect. Today instead of oil crayons or colored pencils I took five tubes of acrylic paint. I spent over two hours painting the view of the gorge wall on the other side. It is a lot try and capture on one 9×13″ piece of watercolor paper. I know I would be more successful if I just picked one section at a time, but what thrills me about the gorge is the scale. The expanse and grandeur of it is what I want to try and get down on paper.
I will keep trying, but really, as I have said many times before, for me plein air is so much more about the process than the finished product. It would be nice to have some really striking drawings and paintings of beautiful sites of North Georgia. I have thought about how neat it would be able to sell prints (or originals) to the people who stop and enjoy watching me work, and maybe some day I will get there. But for now the act of being there, sitting in front of such majesty and being 100% focused on it, is exactly what I need.
“My foot slips on a narrow ledge: in that split second, as needles of fear pierce my heart and temples, eternity intersects with present time. Thought and action are not different, and stone, air, ice, sun, fear, and self are one. What is exhilarating is to extend this acute awareness onto ordinary moments, in the moment-by-moment experiencing of the lammergeier and the wolf, which, finding themselves at the center of things, have no need for any secret of true being…To be anywhere else [but the present] is “to paint eyeballs on chaos.””( Dogen Zenji, Shobogenzo) (249)
-Peter Matthiessen The Snow Leopard
It has been over a year since I read Peter Matthiessen’s The Snow Leopard. I have read and listened to many other books since then, but I think more images from his expedition to mountains of Nepal have stayed with me than from the rest of the stories combined. It is a very beautiful book. What he saw, how it affected him, and the words he used to share the experiences really resonated with me. If I was going to write a review of it I would have to keep returning to the thesaurus to find all the possible synonyms for breathtaking.
If it had not been a borrowed book (Thanks, Jim) I would have underlined many passages, but towards the end the phrase “painting eyeballs on chaos” just reached out and grabbed me and I have been exploring it in my mind and in images ever since. Any one who knows my art work knows that for years I have literally been painting eyeballs (and hand and birds) on and in chaos. Depending on the piece, the day and my mood there are many explanations of what all those chaotic swirls of color and pattern might signify. There is not even a consistency within my portfolio as to whether the writhing shapes are positive or negative, internal or external, but they are certainly pervasive. However since spending so much time thinking on this phrase and what it meant to Matthiessen I have wondered how much of what I am trying to express in my art work could be simplified down to the problem of not being in the present and needing to get there.
Sitting down to write this post reminded me that I never read Dogen’s Shobogenzo that Matthiessen is quoting, so I have just ordered a copy. I have read many Christian Mystics whose focus on mindfulness I believe is very close to the Buddhist idea of Zen, but it will be interesting to see if his writing matches what I expect (well, if I can understand a 13th century Zen master at all). Recent correspondence and conversations on meaning with intriguing friends have my thoughts going in many different directions, but I feel like somehow they will all spiral back together to the importance of being present here and now.
Anyway, this post is not a book report, a dissection of the meaning behind my art, and certainly not a dissertation on philosophy or religion. I really just wanted to share that as I continue to explore these ideas I am now not only painting and drawing eyeballs on chaos, but I am tattooing them on as well!
“It took too long for her to realize that what she thought were whispers from deep within the stone were actually just the echoes of her own tangled desires.”
I am so glad to finally be finished with this painting. I have been working on it off and on since May, and honestly it feels even longer. I put the final touches on it this morning in time to take it to the Sautee Nachoochee Center for the next show. It will feel very good to start on something new.
I think today was my most rewarding day in the tattoo shop so far. I got to tattoo two original pieces and they both turned out like I wanted them to.
During October the prompts for Day 14 of Inktober/Drawlloween were Clock and Skeleton. I did a sketch that I posted but I felt like I had done it backwards. The face of the pocket watch should not have been facing the inside of the hand. I kept redrawing it to try and get it right. The new drawing is similar but much more logical. When I finally felt like I had it I added to my little book of flash that I have been working on. What I most want to do as a tattoo artist is create original drawings that people like enough to let me put on their skin.
Jonathan came in today with his wife so she could get a tattoo from Candace, but as she was working on her paperwork he asked if the 1/2 price apprentice tattoos were still available. I told him they were and gave him my book of drawings. I was thrilled when he told me he liked the Time in Hand drawing. We enlarged it 120% so it fit nicely on the side of his leg.
I am still working slower than I would like, but I felt very happy with the quality of my lines and the saturation of the blacks. I know I have said this before, but I think I will keep saying it again and again. It is so amazingly rewarding to be able to put my own drawing on someone’s body. I am so excited. 🙂
Then after Jonathan I got to give my friend Martha her third tattoo. She had actually asked me to do a portrait of her dog Wolfie for her first tattoo but I did not think I was quite ready for that. We did a simple outline to start with but since then I had been working on sketches of her best little buddy. Today we both felt like we were ready and we are both happy with the results.
Of course I will tattoo anything (within reason and my ability) that someone brings into the shop and requests, but I now that I am getting more confident with this medium I hope more and more of my friends will talk to me about their ideas and let me draw up designs for them. And I will keep drawing my own ideas in hopes that as people flip through the book they may find the design they did not even know was what they wanted.
Yesterday I gave my last $10 tattoo. Overall I think I did 9 in the $10 to $20 range over about a month and a half. Though I don’t know that I will ever be able to sit down and make permanent marks on someone else’s skin without feeling nervous I have gotten a whole lot calmer about it. I still have a lot to learn, tons and tons to learn, but my lines are now pretty consistent and smooth and I feel a lot more confident. The pieces that are my original drawings are of course my favorites, but each one is still exciting. The next phase of my apprenticeship will be giving half price tattoos. Right now of course I still need to gain experience doing whatever design someone walks into the shop with, but my hope is to be able to do more and more original pieces. For me that is what this is really about.
October is over, but apparently I still have some halloweenish drawings left in me…
Drawlloween Day 31: Frankenstein
Dr. Victor Frankenstein is a rather sad subject for my final October drawing prompt, but he seemed more interesting to try and capture than his monster. I am going to miss the challenge of trying to complete a drawing every day.
Drawlloween Day 30: Bride
Drawlloween Day 29: Mary Shelley
Drawlloween Day 28: Raven
This one could actually use a bit more tweaking, but I am tired. As the month of October wanes overall I am pleased with the drawings I have created, but there are few I feel like I will revisit and try to improve. This is one of them.
Drawlloween Day 27: Swamp Thing
The little toad from yesterday makes a great hat for my swamp thing.
Drawlloween Day 26: Toad
Today’s prompt was Toad, so I drew one, but I have been wanting to draw a Poisonous Dart Frog since Scott and I talked about them last week, so I drew several of them as well.
Drawlloween Day 25: Dark Forest
Drawlloween Day 24: Hunter’s Moon
This drawing is based on a concept I had in mind for a half tattoo sleeve. I got a little more complicated than I would want to do for a tattoo, but I believe the idea is still a good one. I think it would wrap around an upper arm well and could easily be added on to if a full sleeve was desired later. If the original person I imagined as the canvas for it never comes back around I wonder if I could find someone else who would be interested.
Drawlloween Day 22: Pumpkin
Why do we so often act like we have pumpkins for brains?
Drawlloween Day 21: Alien
I must confess I did not draw this alien today. A couple of weeks ago I had a tattoo client who said he liked aliens, Aztecs and Polynesian designs. So I combined them all into a sketch of this guy. He ended up only wanting a small filler piece, but when I got my light box I redrew him with nice clean lines, and then tonight in honor of the Drawlloween prompt I took him into Photoshop for some quick coloring.
Drawlloween Day 20: Serpent
Inktober Day 19: Scorched
I went ahead and took the whole day off to drive to Tennessee, even though I made the kids go to school for half the day, so I was able to get my drawing for today done early. I had no interest in drawing a seance, especially not while on my way to a Memorial Service. I had some neat ideas about drawing scorched trees, but ended up deciding on a ghost pepper, which I hear will leave one’s mouth quite scorched.
Drawlloween Day 18: Rat
Inktober Day 18: Bottle
Drawlloween Day 17: Werewolf
Drawlloween Day 16: Goblin
(Inktober Day 16: Angular)
This little Goblin just leapt out of my pen this morning. He did not take enough time to be a very good distraction so I decided that he needed an angular environment so I could meet both challenges at once. I googled ‘crystal caves’ to see what kind of source material I might find and I am now pretty fascinated by the extremely hot and humid (like over 130° F) crystal caves below Naica, Chihuahua, Mexico as well as the very different but still interesting Crystal Shrine Grotto at a cemetery in Memphis.
Drawlloween Day 15: Owl
I drew like half a dozen owls today. These three are my favorites.
Inktober Day 14: Clock Drawlloween Day 14: Skeleton
This one does not make sense, but I do not want to skip a day. I will redo it when I am not so very very tired.The view should be of the other side, with the thumb bones on top.
Drawlloween Day 13: Grave(yard)
This intriguing little statue is in the small graveyard in my neighborhood. I wanted to draw it from life but by the time I was home it was getting too dark, so I worked from a photograph I had taken back in March. I would like to try again sitting there in front of it. I think there are more interesting angles to be found.
Inktober Day 12: Whale
I wanted this to look like the swimmer was inside the whale, a Jonah using vast amounts of energy swimming in one direction while the whale took him the opposite way, but it didn’t really work.
Drawlloween Day 11: BatBefore this drawing I don’t think I had ever spent much time considering bats or their anatomy. I am now rather fascinated with the way their wings have an uncanny resemblance to umbrellas.
Inktober Day 10: FlowingAmicalola Falls – Detail
I have visited and drawn many waterfalls this summer and fall. In most of my drawings the water is really just represented by white space, defined by the rocks or foliage around it. I thought that by doing this drawing from a still photo rather than onsite I would be able to capture the water itself more clearly, but I found myself doing the same thing. On my next visit waterfall visit I think I may try to chose a small section and see if I can figure out a way to actually draw the flow of water.
Inktober Day 9: Precious Drawloween Day 9: Spider BabyThis one totally freaks me out. I am so glad the old baby-delivery stories are about storks, not spiders.
Drawloween Day 8: Yōkai
I did not know what Yokai were before this prompt. Turns out they are a class of supernatural monsters, spirits, and demons in Japanese folklore, but many of them are part animal.
Inktober Day 7: Exhausted Drawlloween Day 7: Haunted Object
Drawlloween Day 6: Ghost
Drawlloween Day 5: Labratory
Inktober Day 5: Chicken
Inktober Day 4: Spell
Drawllowen Day 4: Mushroom
Drawloween Day 3: Cryptid Three Yeti Moon
Drawlloween Day 2: Black Cat
Inktober Day 1: Poisonous
Drawlloween Day 1: Witch
Instead of doing Illustration Friday for the month of October I am going to try and do an ink drawing everyday using the prompts from Inktober and/or Drawlloween. Celtic Crow has asked all the artists that work there to also come up with lots of Halloween themed flash for the month, so I will be trying to do drawings that will work for that as well. Rather than create a new post every day for each drawing I will just add them to this post.
I don’t know that I have anything new to say about how much am I enjoying my drawing hikes. Each time I go just reinforces the fact that it has become my favorite thing to do. And I think my most recent drawing is improved over previous attempts.
This past weekend I went home to western North Carolina for a quick visit and to take my niece on a horseback ride around the Moses Cone Estate in Blowing Rock. I had never been on a horse before (don’t think I had ever even touched one) so I excited for a new experience. During my childhood our family walked around Bass Lake on the estate often. I remember not only the walks, but also the sense of magic I felt there. Though I cannot recall the details the feeling and mood of the fanciful stories I would make up about the fairies and other little folk that inhabited the lily pads, moss covered rocks, and trees with perfectly shaped and sized openings for their doorways are still clear. I also remember seeing the horses and their riders pass by on the far side of the lake on their way through the maze and up to Flat Top Manor. As a little girl I wondered what that might be like, now I know. My niece and I had a wonderful time on our 2 1/2 hour ride. The weather was perfect and after I got over my initial nervousness it was nice to watch the scenery as we slowly meandered up the path. But as fun as it was I found I missed the connection with the trail and the sites along it that I feel when walking on my own two feet, as well as the ability to set my own pace.
On my way back to Georgia the next day I decided I should take try and fit in a walk and some drawing. At first it seemed like all the waterfalls were in the opposite direction of my route, or at least required quite the detour, but it turns out that Linville Falls could not have been more on my way. Back in college I went camping in the gorge a couple of times, but I had never been to the falls. They were the perfect choice, a non-strenuous walk on wide well-maintained trails to breathtaking overlooks. I spent about an hour at the Emerson’s View overlook doing a pencil sketch of the falls, then visited the other overlooks and spent another hour working in oil crayons on a drawing of the rock formations at the top of the falls. There were more fellow site-seers than I usually see in Georgia, but once I got in the zone of drawing I did not even notice them. I know I keep saying this, but it really was a perfectly lovely experience. There are two more trails that start at the visitor’s center so next trip to NC I would like to try one or both of them. I may need to start padding all my trips with extra time for walking and drawing.