Thursday, February 15, 2018

Find your artistic flow with an art meditation

Go to a place in nature that has both a grand vista and small details to focus on.  During a week spent hiking near Ucluelet on the west coast of British Columbia, Florencia Bay in the Pacific Rim National Park is a perfect choice.

Find a place to stand that has light and shadow, near details and far views. A rocky beach is just right.
Begin with your head to the far left, then move your head to the right VERY SLOWLY--noticing only the lights.

See the way light defines surfaces and textures. Keep slowly moving your head to the right rather than stopping to study the stones.

Keep trying to see only the lights of each object that your gaze passes over.  Pause when your head is turned far to the right.  Close your eyes for a moment and relax the muscles around your eyes.

Open your eyes and this time turn your head to the left VERY SLOWLY gazing only at the darks. Shadow defines form just as light defines surface.   See only the darks as you keep moving your head.

Notice how the dark gives weight and mass to the textures and surfaces you noticed during the first pass of your head from left to right.  Again close your eyes when your head is turned back fully to the left.  Let your attention rest.

Bring your head to center and turn it down.  Open your eyes and let your gaze fall on something small.  Let your eyes move over the object slowly, observing only the lights, then observing only the darks.

Really look deeply into the lights and shadows.  Find smaller and smaller areas of light and shadow.
Close your eyes and rest for a moment.

Open your eyes and expand your vision to take in the entire vista you originally selected. You will feel an artistic flow of  lights and shadows.  Everything will be more vivid and visually unique when you train your vision with this art meditation.

This is the technique I use when painting the images on the Journey Oracle cards.

For each oracle card I began by letting my gaze pass over a natural object--first slowly to the right seeing only the lights, then slowly to the left seeing only the darks.  I would close my eyes briefly between each pass. I would next look deeply into the object to see the smallest details, and finally let my gaze expand to see the entire surface.  Only then would I begin to paint.

This Oracle card represents the Path in the Journey Oracle deck.  And this art meditation is a path.

Wednesday, February 7, 2018

Developing artistic vision

It is possible to develop artistic vision, and its easier than you might think.  My thoughts on training  artistic vision are illustrated from beach walks while on a winter holiday enjoying the Pacific Rim National Park, between Ucluelet and Tofino on the west coast of British Columbia.

Go for a walk where there is lots of nature and only a few humans.

Do not spend too much time gazing out at the view.

Artistic vision is better developed by finding what is small, ordinary and unremarkable.

 See deeply into the forms and textures.  Take time to really see, not just look.

Developing artistic vision requires curiosity.  Be like Leonardo de Vinci, always observing and then asking questions about the why and how of phenomena so commonplace that most of us don't notice them at all.

How did this rock become such a complex texture and color?  What is the story of its forming in time and temperature that it would be worn by the ocean and elements into such beauty?

Have the patience to bypass the drama that shouts for attention.

And sit instead in front of what is quiet.

Go deeply into the quiet that allows you to experience each tiny life as it burgeons forth, clicking and murmuring toward its destiny.  Why are barnacle shells striped? And why these colours instead of some others?  And what pigments would I use to mix these colours?

One of the stories I wrote for the Journey Oracle divination deck is about a young girl being taught by her mother to sit still enough to really see.  The little girl is our inner artist, and the mother is certainly Nature.

A Journey Oracle fairy tale
There was a young girl who was always moving. She had a determination to be useful and so she moved her hands in purposeful ways, but sometimes to the loss of her eyes and ears, which mostly saw and heard the world in a maze.
As she grew her mother encouraged her to be a student of stillness, and taught her a special way of looking at things. “Do you want to see this eye?” Her mother would ask, which meant do you want to see this object in a way that belongs to the object and not to the human looking at it. She would show her how to look at the surface of something, and then find a smaller space on that surface and look into it, and then find a smaller space in that smaller space, and to do this smaller and smaller looking until finally the young girl was seeing cells of wood and hairs on plants and dust on butterfly wings. And of course her mother knew that to look that closely, one must hold quite still.
The young girl’s mother taught her a special way of listening to things. She said “Be in your heart when you listen.” She told the young girl to sit by water and listen for a small sound, like a gurgle riffling over a stone. And then listen for another, slightly larger sound, like the chuckle of water pouring over a rock—without losing the little gurgling sound, and then listen for another larger sound without losing the two smaller sounds. The young girl practiced listening by holding these separate sounds together. When she was able to hear many at the same time, it seemed her awareness expanded into a vast dreamscape of stillness.
       When the girl was older she still moved her hands in useful ways, but was also able to go inside, meditate, and be still. She would pause in her purposeful work—and see a spider’s eye looking back at her; she would close her eyes, and hear the voices of water.

Sunday, January 28, 2018

Imbolc candle ceremony for setting an intention

Even though the ancient pagan festival of Imbolc begins the evening of February 1st, and marks the heart of winter, it is also a fire ceremony that marks the return of the light.  Because my birthday is in early February, for many years I have honored this cross-quarter day of Imbolc by creating a candle ceremony to set my intention for the year.  Here is how I prepare and what I do.  This year I am sharing my small ceremony with friends, which is why you are seeing nine of everything.

I begin by trimming a birthday candle to a size that will burn for about 5 minutes, and fit this into  a small plastic holder so it will remain upright for the time it is alight.

I want something tasty to "receive" the energy of my intention, so this year I am melting chocolate, oats and honey to fill candy cups. At the conclusion of the ceremony I will certainly eat my good intentions.

The candy cups required a second one for added stiffness, and the chocolate got dribbled around, but most of it made it into the forms.  Jiggling the cups causes everything to settle nicely.

Once the chocolate has begun to stiffen, I press a candle into each center.  Some take a bit of fiddling to keep them nicely vertical until the chocolate is firm.

The next part of the preparation certainly appeals to my inner child.  I purchase a Kinder Surprise chocolate egg with a little toy inside, but I don't open it yet.

I begin the ceremony by clearing my thoughts, bringing my body to quiet, smoothing my emotions.
I light the candle with the sentence:  "This is my intention for the year." (It is also possible to use a different focus for the intention.  You might want to finish the sentence this way:  This is my intention for this relationship or this new job or this next step.)

I meditate gazing at the flame. When the candle goes out--the word, phrase or image I hear in my head or see in the smoke is my intention.  Just that.  No editing, adding or deleting.

The ceremony is as simple as it is profound.  I just watch the candle flame, trying not to anticipate,  project, or plan what will happen.  I only have two requirements:  Don't miss seeing the small puff of white smoke when the candle goes out.  Don't edit whatever I hear or see.

After I write in my journal exactly what I heard or saw, I open the Kinder Surprise.  The little toy is my guidance to realizing my intention.  Its creatures and their actions are a visual oracle telling me how to proceed, and who will help.  And like all oracle cards and processes,  meaning can hide in plain sight.

These two mice on a teeter-totter over a flowing milk jug was an oracle for an Ombolc candle ceremony some time ago, when I asked "What is my intention this year for the Journey Oracle divination deck that I have just completed ?" 

I understood the jug was the Oracle deck itself, and the milk was the nourishing flow of inner wisdom set in motion with oracle card readings.  But who are the mice?  One fat and one thin.  For me these are the successes and anxieties of promoting and marketing the Journey Oracle, the ups and downs of attention and isolation.  The teeter-totter especially seems to represent the emotional highs and lows--because of its bright red color--of trying to bring the Journey Oracle out into the world .  Interesting that the fat mouse is in the narrow seat, and the thin mouse is in the wide seat.

 Keep everything in balance.  Keep moving. Don't fall off.  Pretty good advice from a plastic toy.

Happy Imbolc from the Journey Oracle.

Saturday, January 20, 2018

Can I be an artist if I have Aphantasia?

Pretty word, buAphantasia literally means “no fantasy.”  A person without any pictures in the mind’s eye.  Like me.  When I close my eyes, there is only soft black.  No images, no mental pictures, no visual memories.   And I have been a visual artist for my entire life, childhood included.  So here are some of my ways to be an artist with Aphantasia.

Because I do not have inner sight, I have had to learn "outer sight" --nature in all her myriad detail.  I am a photo-realist painter because I am in love with the colours and shapes and textures around me. The photograph allows me to hold nature still enough to really see.

"There are three classes of people: those who see.  Those who see when they are shown.  Those who do not see."

Because I do not have mental pictures, I am unable to manipulate shapes in space with my inner eye, turning them this way and that to discover the effects of light and shadow.  Although the buffalo in the distance and the birds in flight are from photographs, the only way I could understand the flying boats was to build one.  I filled the paper containers with bird see, just like in the actual experience this image is based on, and then I turned to boat every which way under a bright light, sketching the angles and shadows.   

"One has no right to love or hate anything if one has not acquired a thorough knowledge of its nature. Great love springs fro great knowledge of the beloved object, and if you know it but little you will be able to love it only a little or not at all."  

As an art teacher, first in Junior High School and then at the Nova Scotia College of Art and Design, I know lots of tricks and gimmicks to encourage students to have fun with their creativity.  One of my favorites is "cereal box inspiration."  This technique creates a fantasy image that is not dependent on seeing with the mind's eye.

Find an empty cereal box with a light, unprinted cardboard interior.  Set out an array of particularly messy art materials--acrylic paints, chalk pastels, sharpies, crayons--anything  that will smudge and blur. Invite a circle of friends to participate.  Children are even better.  Start passing the box around the circle, each person reaching inside to make a scribble or swipe or blob. Don't look inside the box.  Keep passing until the art materials are pretty much decorating everyone from elbow to fingers.  Open the box and pin flat to dry.  Make a small frame of stiff paper and begin moving this over the dried interior box surface until a composition presents itself.  Tape the frame in place, then cut out the framed section to use as the image source for a painting.

I use another version of this kind of fantasy sight when I gaze into the textured surface of a common object and see faces or creatures.  Much like seeing fantastic scenes in clouds as they drift by on a summer day.  This is how the Journey Oracle card images were painted: by finding images in stones, agate slices and dried rawhide.


Look at walls splashed with a number of stains, or stones of various mixed colours.  If you have to invent some scene, you can see there resemblances to a number of landscapes, adorned with mountains, rivers, rocks, trees, great plains, valleys and hills, in various ways.  Also you can see various battles, and lively postures of strange figures, expressions on faces, costumes and an infinite number of things, which you can reduce to good integrated form.  I remind you that it should not be hard for you to stop sometimes and look into the stains of walls, or the ashes of a fire, or clouds or mud or like places, in which if you consider them well, you may find really marvelous ideas. The mind of the painter is stimulated to new discoveries."  (all quotes by Leonardo da Vinci)

Aphantasia--is it an obstacle to becoming a visual artist?  Only if I let it be. 

Maybe Leonardo da Vinci had Aphantasia.  If so, I think he did OK.  

Friday, January 12, 2018

Working with the five hindrances

A profound teaching for me in my meditation practice is learning how to clear away the five hindrances.  These states of mind are obstacles to serenity and make concentration difficult in meditation and in everyday life.  Of course I am the poster child for several of these, and so I created some water images as visual metaphors to help me overcome them. The original art is painted chalk on matte board, a technique which creates a shimmer and sparkle just like the surfaces of water.

Skeptical doubt can take over the mind and I wonder, "Am I doing this right?  Why do this at all?" The tiny tree growing in tumultuous water and hard stone is like my struggle for quiet and concentration.

When I think a good thought for myself, it is hard to also think a doubting thought for my progress.

Spiritual torpor is sluggish and cloudy, like stagnant water over mossy rocks. 

When I overcome my drowsiness by focusing on the dazzling light and myriad detail of nature's calm, I understand her instruction: don't be lazy.

Ill will in all its forms, from irritation to anger, destroys my peace. 

The water cannot be released from the boiling cascade of its downward flow, but I can have the patience of the rocks in its path who seem to know that less is more.  

Agitation and restlessness are like water rippling and pouring everywhere at once.  My worry will bubble over everything I have done, and not done.  

This agitation will cease when I just stop.  Breathe.  Be in this moment, because this moment is my life. 

Desire is more than mere liking.  It is the distraction of craving.  

When I understand that naming it makes it so, I can release my wanting by naming, and therefore recognizing, my feelings of contentment with how things are.

A set of five prints of these conversations with water is available in my Etsy webstore.  Perhaps you also have a struggle with doubt, laziness, anger, worry or desire, and would like to contemplate the teachings of water when working with the five hindrances.