Tuesday, December 6, 2011

Desert Snowflakes

This morning, perfect snowflakes fell like sequins onto the cholla cactus outside my studio window. I went outside and discovered perfect crystalline shapes, and was able to capture a few with my little camera. Welcome, Winter, to our dry land! May these images remind you of the beauty that surrounds us all in this world, and of the peace and true meaning of our holiday season. Blessings to you all.

Saturday, October 1, 2011

Hiking in Ojito WildernessIt's been a while since I posted, so I thought I'd share some pictures that I took on a walk out at Ojito Wilderness yesterday so you can come along with me too. I always take dozens of photos every time I go out anywhere, but sadly, almost none of them make it into this blog. I'll try to remedy that in the future. Generally, given a choice of things to do, I tend to want to spend them in the studio. Creating a blog post takes me most of a work day.

I've been walking in Ojito for over 15 years, way back when it was just a Wilderness Study Area rather than a full-blown wilderness. It's a fairly small area, about 25 miles northwest of us in northwest New Mexico, just at the edge of the Colorado Plateau. But Zia Pueblo land and public lands surround it, and it feels very remote. I took the first image above as I set out from the parking area, and it gives you a good idea of the kind of terrain that's out there: mesas with desert scrub, juniper and pinon, and cholla cactus on the flats. Remember that you can enlarge these pictures by clicking on them, and truly see the details of the place.

Here's a really nice cluster of hedgehog cactus I found on the flats. Maybe Claret Cup, or another variety. I'd have to see it blooming in the spring to know for sure.

One of the things I love about wilderness areas (as opposed to national parks, etc.) is that I can walk anywhere I damn well please. No signs or park nazis ready to pounce and hand out tickets for Walking Where You Shouldn't (this actually happened to me at Chaco once). So anyway I was wandering around looking at things and found this pinon leaking sap out of one side. I hope it's not bark beetles, but the shimmery sap was fascinating.

Junipers are my favorite trees, partly because of the beautiful forms they create while growing in this harsh climate. This one had bent over at about hip-height and had actually twisted around itself. I wonder why? Many years ago, someone had cut a limb off of it for firewood on the other side. I wonder if that had an effect on it taking the shape that it did.

A secret alcove found while exploring a small rock outcrop.

Making my way northward along the east side of the mesa, I came across this tiny patch of badlands. I love the colors and shapes of badlands; these had greenish, rust red and parchment-colored layers of clay.

Not far beyond I discovered a small community of hoodoos and Ponderosa pines. I always feel like I'm in the company of spirits when with hoodoos. There is another area of Ojito that I call the Sanctuary which is similar to this one, but much larger and it takes a longer hike to reach. So I will call this one the Little Sanctuary.

The light was perfect, even though the air was a bit hazy. There was a very light breeze but the sun was warm for the time of year. What I love most about these hikes is the silence. Just the wind in the trees, the occasional raven or jet high above. Silence is necessary for my well-being, but I find when I'm out on a walk like this, my thoughts can start running in infernal loops. So I try to think music rather than words; most of the time it helps.

I do sense presences around me as well, if I can shut down the mental chatter. The plants and earth formations are beings themselves. This area had the feeling of being a community of strong, distinct individuals, all centered around this beautiful large Ponderosa who felt like the leader of the clan.

This and other local pockets of Ponderosas are relict populations, left over from the cooler and wetter Ice Age a few years back, and they are growing at a lower altitude than most Ponderosas in the region. In Ojito they seem to prefer these sandy areas with the yellow-white hoodoos.

One way that you can identify a Ponderosa is by getting right up against a crevice in the bark with your nose and breathing in. It will smell just like vanilla.

This was taken from the shade of that Ponderosa, looking back toward the southeast. This hoodoo was like the fat auntie of the tribe.

Another view of Auntie, looking up at her caprock. The harder layer of caprock over a softer layer of sandstone prevents the soft material from eroding away, which is why they have such wonderful shapes. That, and because they're presences in the land. Do they dance together in the moonlight when no one is watching?

Another member of the hoodoo clan. I admit that I tend to take too many pictures and that this can get in the way of just being in the here and now with the land. But I see so much beauty here everywhere I turn, and forget it so easily after I get home. Hoodoos especially are photogenic. They change dramatically from every angle.

I sat for a while under the big Ponderosa and made a watercolor sketch of this smaller one nearby. There were tiny rodent bones scattered around, probably the remains of an owl's dinner, perfectly bleached by the sun. The shade was deliciously cool, and the wind in the pine needles sounded like forever.

The trail climbed around the side of the mesa to the north and west. This is the view from a ledge on the north edge, looking northwest. The Sanctuary that I was talking about earlier is spread out just below the highest mesa on the horizon over there. Cabezon peak, a huge volcanic plug, can be seen over the horizon on the left. We can also see it from our house, 60 miles away.

I went along a little further to this rock outcrop before turning back. Cabezon is framed between the small juniper and pinyon. Out beyond Cabezon about 50 miles away is Chaco Canyon.

Just a few feet away was the weathered remnant of a juniper. In the distance to the northeast, stormclouds were building over the Jemez range. They've had terrible floods up there since the monsoon rains washed out the huge area burned by the Las Conchas fire last summer. Jemez Pueblo is beyond the long red ridge on the right, and Route 550 heads toward Cuba, Chaco and the Four Corners along the side of the range on the left.

Desert sculpture. Another part of the same tree. Nothing evokes the Southwest like weathered juniper.

There was another smaller tree skeleton nearby. Likely these were struck and killed by lightning since they are on an exposed corner of a ledge. The velvety golden-brown balls in the center of the image are resin from the dead tree. You see these everywhere under dead trees, and I have guessed that they were formed when the trees burned and the heated sap came out in large globules. These were still soft on the inside, but they will harden over time and last for many years. If some is placed on burning charcoal, it makes the most exquisite incense, not unlike copal, but warmer and more balsamic.

Another stunted Ponderosa looks like it's in the process of walking off somewhere. The soft sand has eroded out from under the roots over the years.

I never try to speed through when on a hike. I always meander along, examining everything. Sometimes you don't see things at all until you sit down on the ground. Near the walking Ponderosa I found these two very well-formed rhomboid calcite crystals.

On the return, the light had shifted and I took a few more images of the hoodoo clan at the Little Sanctuary.

Going back by the trail instead of lower down, I came upon this area of golden and white sandstone formations in the slanting afternoon sunlight. One of the best things about Ojito is that there is a tremendous variety of variation in the terrain and I always see something new.

It was a sculpture garden in stone, clay and sand.

The trail homeward. Beyond the mesa on the horizon, another blue ridge can be seen very faintly through the haze: the Sandia mountains, near my home.

Until next time...

Wednesday, May 11, 2011

The 2011 Placitas Studio Tour

Well, I survived another Studio Tour at my home studio in Placitas, New Mexico this past weekend, May 7 & 8. It went pretty well, all things considered. And since I'm such a regular (once every 20 months, like clockwork) poster to this blog, I thought I'd get some photos up for you this time. Here I am, fresh as a daisy, on Sunday morning, ready for Day 2. Experience has taught me that show clothes should be loose and comfortable...and this ensemble is in my beloved cactus green!

Before the tour, the dreaded "To Do" list...with almost everything crossed out. There are always a thousand little things to do and even though I try to pace myself, it always ends up feeling a little stressed at the last minute.

My husband, Michael, lugs a table through the kitchen to the studio during Friday morning setup. He did about half the work, and all the heavy lifting. There's no way I could do shows without him.

This is the part I hate. Everything is piled around in a jumble, and I'm irritable. Eventually all the pieces found their places on the tables, and the corresponding boxes went under the work table, stacked in order, so they could easily be kicked over when we write up a sale.

Our house entry is set up so no one can find their way in without signs, and I decided at the last minute to nail a really colorful Badhani mirrored shawl from India to catch people's attention. It looked amazing, glittering in the sun!

We had great weather for the tour! It was in the 80s, and the nonstop spring winds gave us a break (thank GOD) for most of the weekend...no small thing, considering that a week ago it was blowing 50 mph and snowing. Spring is not the best time to be in New Mexico, trust me. Our Claret Cup Hedgehog Cactus were still in bloom for the tour, which has never happened before. This is a view of the front courtyard, which the guests walked through on their way to the door.

Just before opening on Saturday morning, studio manager Dante gives me a very pointed look, and wonders if this means he's going to be confined in the bedroom with his mortal enemy, Kamikaze, for the duration of the tour. Unfortunately, the answer is yes.

Since it's so different from my other work, I decided to put the Drylands Incantations pieces on my drafting table, along with their labels and boxes, plus a few jars of beads and things to fill it out. I do all of my torch work on this table when I'm making pieces.

One of the two big tables, covered with washed and ironed dropcloths from the hardware store. Mike took a picture of me ironing, but I looked too fat so I deleted it. Anyway, I just left everything as it is in the studio, as much as I could this year. It gave people more of my real working space to look at, and it was less to rearrange in the end. All of the pieces were set out with their labels so folks could see what went into them. I set the signs that go up in my booth at shows on the tables as well. I tried wheat berries instead of sand in my ring bowl, but the rings tended to sink, and the berries were too much contrast, so...back to sand. And wheat berry salad.

The other table, with earrings, short necklaces, baskets of energy bracelets, and prayer beads. I even left my healing crystals uncovered on the shelf to the right, and no one bothered them (well, I had a sign up.) In past years I actually nailed dropcloths over the bookcases to avoid distraction...now I think having people see all my stuff is a great way to start a conversation, and meet like-minded people!

Some of the first customers on Saturday. Most of the time it was a steady flow, with steady sales. Perfect! Then there were other times when ten people were trying to all squeeze into the 11 x 14 foot studio, and ask questions, at once.

Everyone really liked my crystal altar. It's the one fixture in the room that's always remained constant, and I met some fellow crystal lovers because of it. The Tarahumara baskets underneath are full of my supplies. This is early morning, looking into the courtyard, with the Sandias beyond. You can't see the mountains because they're washed out, but it's an incredible view. Later, the sun comes in and hits the crystals and floods the room with light. I think it's really important to have a creative space that's beautiful and energetically supportive, as well as practical.

In full swing on Sunday. Folks who bought at the show didn't get the elaborate wrapping that I like to do with my Etsy orders, but they did get to hold and try on the pieces!

After closing on Saturday. Oh man, I was tired. And hot. But it was a good sales day and already I felt the tour had been worthwhile. We're parked on the futon that usually lives against the wall in the studio, but a table was there instead. We've discovered that if we put the futon across the entrance to the living room, it deters unwanted wandering guests. Plus it's a great place to scope out new arrivals since it faces the front door.

After it was all over on Sunday, I was too cranky to take photos. I just wanted my studio back, so Mike and I were able to clean and put away the jewelry, AND clean and put the studio back together in just 2 hours! And then, time to rest for a day or two...

Till next time, whenever the hell that is...

All the best to you,


Friday, September 11, 2009

Of Painting, Drawing, and Mixed Media

A long time ago I promised that I'd post images of my "other" work: my paintings, drawings and so forth. So at long last here they are! First, please remember that ALL of these images are copyrighted may not be reproduced at all, anywhere, unless I give you my permission. Sorry to have to say that, but people have stolen my work before, alas. Anyway, many of you may already know I was trained as an illustrator. I had my first professional job even before I graduated from art school, and did that for several years in the early 80s.

This first image is from a small (about 20" x 30") oil painting on canvas called Desert Heart. Don't forget that you can click on the images to see them enlarged. It 's my perennially-unfinished piece, begun around 10 years ago, with some lilies and jewelry still waiting for finishing touches. I did it because I wanted to see just how far I could push the detail on the technical end, but it was inspired by Spanish Colonial religious art and the work of Van Eyck (mainly). Pre-Raphaelite, Symbolist, and any lovely, old-fashioned painting has also inspired my work for years. And I wanted to create a kind of contemporary madonna which incorporated all sorts of spiritual symbols from all over the world, sort of a blessing piece for a home altar.

Closer in, you can see her face and halo in greater detail. If you click on this, it will enlarge to about the actual size it is in the painting. The halo was directly modeled after Renaissance European art, but most of the stones are in my own collection. Her opened gown reveals a heart space that is a fusion of the rising sun and an x-ray image of a beryl crystal. I was really pleased with the way her hand turned out (the one holding open her gown). Hands and feet are awfully hard, and this one just went down so beautifully!

Closer in to her face...notice the red and green eyes! I'm not sure why I did them that way, but maybe it's about the inner fire of spirit. There were no preliminary drawings for this painting, and I just intuitively added details as it progressed, according to whatever struck me at the time. When I get to the finest details like these facial feature, her hair, and the trim on her clothes, I'm using an exceedingly fine brush--only a few hairs to it. My paint is very thin and usually translucent, built up in many, many layers.

Onward...here's a more recent oil on masonite painting that did have a preliminary drawing, which is now owned by a friend in Albuquerque. It's called First Blessing, and was inspired by one of my favorite novels, The Wood Wife by Terri Windling. Actually, I think it was that novel that drew me down to the Sonoran Desert so intensively; up until that time I was mainly a high desert-redrock-and-canyon-country sort of desert person. But there are so many different deserts!
Anyway, Terri's story is a very satisfying and fascinating blend of celtic mythic tradition and native american tradition (sort of), melded with the desert landscape around Tucson. And there's a Mexical surrealist artist also, who painted wonderfully-described images. It was those images that inspired this painting.
As you can see, she's a deer woman-spirit, related to the one portrayed in White Deer Woman in my Etsy shop. Because she is a spirit of nature, or the fairy world, her proportions waver and look strange to us. Horns are a symbol of sacred power. Initially, she was going to be all white, but I suddenly realized her face needed to be dark...a reference to the Dark Goddess, or Black Madonnas that I love. More earth power. She appears and pours water from a copper bowl onto the desert floor, where an very large ajo lily bursts into bloom.
Below, a detail of the desert behind her. The time is just before sunrise, and I actually travelled down to Tucson to shoot the bajada at that time of day. That wonderful strip of blue-violet shadow with rose and aqua on the horizon is called the "Belt of Venus".
Next is an unfinished painting called Ceremony. It's an experiment with a feeling and with the deep ultramarine our twilight sky turns around winter solstice.

It's a larger piece, around 2' x 4', oil on masonite. The sky was laid in first, and worked up with many very translucent glazes of pure color. The effect is like stained glass, because the white ground beneath the colored glazes reflects light back through them. You can't do this with anything other than oils. Some kind of ceremony or ritual is taking place with the land and with stones, and everything is luminous, revealing its inner light, or life force.

All of the plants in the painting are finished, along with the sky. Seen here is a detail of the agaves in bloom along with a few boojums (which don't ordinarily grow together as far as I know...artist's prerogative!). My monitor doesn't show the colors very well--they all just look blue, but the plant's glows are all in greens and aquas against the ultramarine of the sky.

Here's another detail of the base of the big agave. The figures are just roughed in and not really begun at all, but will still be shadowy and mysterious, I think. I've learned it's better not to try to work everything out before beginning, but rather to let pieces (jewelry and art) evolve on their own. I really must get this one done, though--it's been sitting for years.

This is Threshold, another oil on canvas, smaller than Ceremony. It hangs in my studio, and is based on the badlands of the Blue Mesa section in Petrified Forest National Park in Arizona. I took many photos there years ago and used them as reference for this "mythic landscape". The cloud, however, was shot right out of my back door one morning.

Detail showing the center of the painting. Like Desert Heart, I fought the nubbly canvas texture every step of the way and afterwards returned to working on masonite. The idea behind the piece is to try and capture a sense of immanence, of an otherworldly or sacred something about to be revealed as one journeys toward the horizon. That's how it feels to walk out in the desert places.

In recent years I've become fascinated by the textures of earth, and worn objects, and ceramic surfaces that come from wood-fired kilns that many potters use here. I wanted my art to look less slick and polished, and more elemental, more like part of the earth. So that was the idea that got me started working on these distressed papers. This is one I'm holding onto for the moment, called Never Look Back. It's another kind of dark fairy tale image, of a girl who's run away from home. She's not a pretty girl at all, just sort of a waif with tangled hair, and she's trying to get far away from some sort of horrible abuse. I know many people who've survived abuse as children, and so this piece is in honor of their struggles.
She's not safe yet, and is traveling through a desert landscape that is full of peril as well as gifts, if she can see them for what they are. The wings of a sandhill crane have sprouted from her back to aid her in her flight--the sandhills are the voice of autumn here in central New Mexico, as they fly to their wintering grounds south of Socorro, down the Rio Grande valley. A figure from old European fairy tales is her guide: a white, crowned snake, who tells her that the past is done, and there's a long way to go still, and she has to keep going no matter what. Snakes, especially in Scandinavia and Lithuania, were traditionally held to be carriers of life force and great wisdom, abundance and blessing. The crowned snake was the greatest of all.
Here's a close-up of the pair. The runaway girl was rendered mostly in Prismacolors, while the snake was mostly painted in white goache.

The lower-right corner, with queen of the night cactus in bloom. They look simultaneously sinister and wildly beautiful, and the flower essence of the queen of the night is taken to help one feel spiritual wholeness, enhance intuition, and put one in touch with deep inner wisdom. So I thought she could use that kind of help. You can see the rough edges I've fallen in love with, and the border I've been putting around all of these drawings as a reference to their storybook-illustration qualities. This one even has a page number stamped below.

Finally, here's a piece, Vigil, I just did very quickly the other day, to show you how things are born with me. This is a large, loose sketch in conte crayon on grey paper, and shows a woman standing in what will probably be granite boulders in the desert, near or just after sundown. When I'm trying to bring an idea through it really is like flying blind, and I just feel my way around most of the time, erasing far more than ends up being on the paper. But with this one, it just looked perfect to me, even without all the drawing problems worked out. Her stance and face were just right, and so I sprayed fixative all over it and there it is. Sometimes the hardest part is leaving it alone!!

She may become a painting herself, some day.
I learned a little about painting while in art school but am mainly self-taught, as with my jewelry. While doing book covers for the fantasy and sci-fi genre in the 80s, I exhibited at a lot of east coast regional conventions and was even asked to be artist guest of honor at a few, and my work won quite a few awards. But commercial work just wasn't for me...and it was the noncommercial work that was winning the awards! I guess the main reason that I switched my focus from 2D to jewelry is that I found I could no longer sit still for hours at a time and work on a piece of art. I got too restless, and bored. Working on the highly-detailed pieces was exhausting and very hard on me physically, especially the neck and shoulders. I found I wanted to make something that I could hold in my hand, rather than just paint it. I can sit for many hours and work on jewelry because so many different activities are involved; with painting, you're just doing the same thing over and over. So now it's become a blend of the two!
If you've stayed with me this far, thanks! I appreciate it, and am happy to share!
Till next time, then,