Sunday, October 19, 2014

"Season of mists and mellow fruitfulness"

My bathroom has the most beautiful view, especially this morning. It looks down on a small, misty pond enclosed, gemlike, within yellow maples, silvery weeping willows, red-brown oaks huge and dominant like cumulus clouds, and an unknown tree bare of leaves but full of dried-up berries and clamorous starlings. Beyond is an old cow pasture richly green, all the greener for a touch of white frost in its shadows, bordered by a wide creek footing the steep, scrubby hill of an old rock quarry. I can see that creek curving away in the bathroom mirror, overhung at its bend with an old oak, and cliche as it may sound, that mirror image always looks to me like a magic portal to another time and place. That sounds so sentimentally cliched I consider leaving it out, but it really does always look like that to me. The whole misty, frosty landscape is crossed with bars of shadow and sunlight. I don't have a working camera right now and, anyway, I don't have the skill to capture that rhythm of light and shadow, glowing color and misty reflection, but I hope my words have put a picture or two in your mind.

I also want to share a few pieces of art from the Tate museum that capture the light and colors of this favorite month of mine.

This 1935 Eliot Hodgkins oil painting is called "October."


Below is "Carrying Corn," by Ford Maddox Brown, 1893. To my American readers, corn here means grain in general, not the particular grain that we call corn. 


"Autumn in the Mountains," a tempera painting by Adrian Stokes, which was first exhibited in 1903, is like nowhere I've actually been. The blues and yellows are the blues and yellows of lowland Octobers distilled to perfect clarity and brilliance in thin pure air, exhilarating and cold.


And then we return to the softer colors and fragrant fruits of lower, cultivated ground. George Lance, "The Autumn Gift,"  1834.


I continue to make little bits of progress on my work in progress. I am working on remembering to set aside fifteen minutes now and then to work a little at a time, rather than hopelessly waiting for the uninterrupted hour. I'm still not in the habit of remembering to do that with creative work, though I have developed that mindset for housekeeping.

Sunday, October 12, 2014

All fairest beauty

The first time I remember going to church I was four years old. The church was relocating from a small city to the nearby countryside, and it was meeting in a tent pavilion. The tent was softly bright underneath, almost shadowless with yellow sunlight diffused through the canvas and reflected up from shiny straw underfoot. That was possibly the first time I consciously experienced beauty. It is the earliest memory of it I can bring to mind. Sadly, the beauty was entirely accidental, and the new building was not beautiful by accident or on purpose. Visual beauty was not valued or connected to worship in any way. Spending anyone's time or money to design a meaningfully beautiful space would, I think, have been considered a sinful extravagance if it had been thought of at all. Any aesthetically pleasing use of Christian symbol would have been misunderstood as irrelevant to true, spiritual worship. None were used except for a "Christian flag" (an ugly thing with ugly implications, in my opinion) and an American flag, which is not a Christian symbol at all. At some point a banner of white paper (I think it was paper) was put up across one side of the cement block sanctuary with the words "For the people had a mind to work" --an uplifting snippet from the Old Testament.

Such obliviousness or ignorance of the power of beauty in church is especially mysterious to me since some of the leading, longtime congregants both appreciated art and were artistically creative in other parts of their lives. I had a wise and gracious junior-high-girls Sunday school teacher, a former fashion model, who invited our class to her home for an event I don't remember. I was impressed with the well-lit refinement of her house's decor, but most of all I remember my discomfiture over her bronze replica of Rodin's Kiss, whose subjects, naked and unashamed, enfolded each other in a graceful embrace. Yet her church, which she faithfully served, was ugly.

For my children, beauty in worship is a weekly experience. Visual, musical, and intellectual beauty are both normal and appreciated, at least by my older two, but below my own current feeling of normal remains a delighted surprise. I have been a part of this church since college oh so many years ago, but for many of those years I benefited from the artistic expression of others without appropriately valuing artistic expression in myself. I felt conflicted over it and neglected the gift that was in me. I only became an artist again because I came upon an opportunity to make money with it. When the money mostly stopped coming in,  I had to figure out what my art's essential value was, which has been an up and down, roundabout kind of journey. The journey grew straight and swift while designing a silver crucifix for the new bishop of our diocese. For much of that process I sat outside in the tall grass and sunlight behind my studio/laundry room, with the wax model and a few small tools. As I reverently, gratefully refined the figure of Jesus on the cross I felt companioned by his love, warmed in my heart. I felt a fracture in me mending. My love for beauty and artistic expression were being integrated into my faith.

This enormous image, an icon of the resurrected Jesus Christ,  which my church uses during our arts filled Saturday night Easter Vigil service was painted mostly by church member Janice Skivington. (The background in this picture is in a rented space, not our own building, because so many people come to the Vigil.)


About halfway through the very long, rich and exciting service, at the liturgical moment of the resurrection, marked by the words "Christ is risen" and the ringing of hundreds of bells, this painting is raised majestically from the floor. It is a time of joy and awe, an appropriately emotional experience and expression of our thoughtfully considered and chosen beliefs. I wish I had more photos from the service to share.

I'm not sure what triggered this post. I've been thinking about art more than I've been doing it this week, but I have to accept weeks like this as a normal part of my life rhythm just now. I expect next week will be better, and I'll have some things of my own making to show you.

Wednesday, October 1, 2014

Prepping for a new mold and a new caster

I have sold almost forty of my silver crucifixes, some locally, some on Etsy, and it's time to get a new casting done. My first caster was cheap but not dependable, so I've spiffed up a wax model, and I'm getting a new mold made by the caster who did a wonderful job with my dove cross.


Working on this cross, both the larger, one-of-kind piece I made for Bishop Stewart Ruch of the Anglican Church in North America and the smaller piece that I sell on Etsy, has been a deep blessing. Since working on these pieces, making meaningful objects, making art, has become a richer, more devotional and more spiritually grounded experience. Soli deo gloria.

Sunday, September 28, 2014

Different kinds of perfectionism, and some da Vinci botanicals

I have a friend who is fighting chronic Lyme disease. Because Lyme bacteria don't like heat, one of her treatments is sitting in an infrared sauna, which kills off  Lyme in her muscle tissue. But the bacteria are tricky. During a sauna treatment, some of them flee her muscles and move to other parts of her body, such as the joints in her hands, causing inflammation there for awhile. I feel as if something like that has been happening with my barely conscious, all-or-nothing, chaos-causing perfectionism as it has given way to simple housekeeping habits that gradually bring order. As the perfectionism has been driven out of my housekeeping, it has been showing up in my spiritual life, for a time unrecognized.

Alongside my pleasure in maintaining an outwardly more ordered life has been a growing feeling of disorientation and disconnection from God and a nagging, guilty sense of neglecting some unknown but crucial spiritual duty. My regular Christian practices of simple, trustful prayer, scripture meditation and church participation have seemed shriveled and inadequate next to the grandiose phantasm of a great, unknown thing that I'm somehow supposed to be doing to relate to God. But God kindly spoke to me about it, I believe, suddenly, unexpectedly and clearly in my mind--not in words but in a rapid series of concepts and images. The phantasm was dismissed and explained. I saw that it was what Christians call a temptation. I saw quite vividly that my small, imperfect prayers and devotion are welcomed. I felt simply and directly that true thing: I am loved by God.

Below are some botanical studies by Leonardo da Vinci. These drawings are some of my very favorite pieces of art in the whole world.








Wednesday, September 17, 2014

Ready for good paper

I sat outside in the afternoon sun today and outlined my design in very soft, dark pencil. I will rub the design onto watercolor paper tomorrow, I hope. 


As I was finishing up, my five-year-old neighbor walked over and watched me with a serious, focussed expression. She is a sturdy little girl, tall for her age with very fine, floaty, white-blonde hair. She was wearing cowboy boots. "I want to learn how to draw careful," she said. I expect I'll give her a lesson or two in drawing careful someday.

Friday, September 12, 2014

A work in progress

I've been brooding over this sketch for, I think, about two years.




I sat down yesterday and plotted out a design I feel really good about. 


I got a lot more done today (sorry, no photos). After I get the design completely figured out, I'm going to transfer it to Arches hot-pressed watercolor paper and finish it in colored pencil and watercolor.

The Flylady is making it all possible. As I follow her instructions day by day, space is opening up in my home and in my time. If you struggle with disorganization and feel overwhelmed with your life, check out her website and follow her babysteps exactly. (I do mean exactly. I've tried to just do it my own way and it didn't work well for very long.) Since I committed, out of desperation, to following her directions as carefully as I could, I feel that I am entering a completely new phase in my life.

Friday, August 29, 2014

For Labor Day: Luke Kelly and Winslow Homer

I love songs about work--about old fashioned, dangerous, beautiful, strenuous toil using skills refined and passed down through generations. The late Irish singer Luke Kelly delivers one of my favorites unsurpassably, I think.


And Winslow Homer's "The Herring Net."