Tuesday, October 10, 2017

Thanksgiving blessing from a little deer

I put out a call for deer skins for my drum making on our Cortes island website.  I did not imagine that it would be Nature who would answer my advertisement.  There is an image in this post that may be upsetting for some to see, so please be forewarned. 

Five times I knew about, and yet did not manage to find this little deer I first saw dead beside the road.  I went back and did not locate it.  Then a neighbor called to say there was a little deer by the road.  My partner and I went to look and still we did not find it.  Finally, on my way to do an errand, I noticed a raven near the location we had be searching.  Sure enough, the deer's body had been pulled further back in the bush, either by two- or four-leggeds.

It is very unlike me to try and lift a deer, even a little one, into a car trunk, but there was no one to help, and I did ask for drum skins so how could I give up?

I have only once skinned a deer and so I felt like a student presenting a"how to workshop" and doing a terrible job.  However, just before I began I was thinking of the elder friend who helped me the first time, and while on my errand there he was, walking down the road.  I told him I had a young deer in my trunk ( not a typical greeting) and could he help me remember what to do.  I had good support from his advice. 

This became my first drum skin of the autumn season. I know it may seem grim to some to be showing this effort, but I feel it is important to experience the entire process of my art, so that every part, and every part between the part, receives respect.

Certainly I could start a new university course about ways that people show disrespect for the animals that give themselves to either our intention or inattention.

This tambourine drum was brought to me to repair because it was  left in a garage for years until the skin weakened, and then a child accidentally put her foot through it.

This drum head was rescued from a small dog that was busy trying to swallow it.

I learned I could sew up a tear and it would not affect the drum's voice.

This drum skin had the worst wound I have ever worked with.  Of course there is no way of knowing just how the deer was hurt, but I was amazed at this wild creature's resiliency and will to survive

Perhaps the most beautiful drum I have ever painted arrived in a plastic bag filled with maggots.  The skin looked as if the deer had been dragged through the bush behind a truck since all the hair was worn off the hindquarters.  The dark pattern in the lower part of the painting is where the skin was damaged from abrasion.

And yet Nature's creatures love us still. Like Royalty.  Not in arrogance and privilege, but in their willingness to care for us, and receive us when we call.

Tuesday, October 3, 2017

What makes good or bad art?

I have completed a new series of small paintings on Yupo, a paper-like surface made of 100% polypropylene.  Ink behaves very unpredictably on its smooth finish and so its use can clearly show some qualities of what I think makes good and bad art. 

This painting of sand dollars matches the sensation of walking along the beach and suddenly coming upon a group of sand dollars in shallow sub-tidal waters. The image is immediately recognizable and yet the placement of the main subject is unexpected, which creates an impression of effective surprise.  So good art makes me stop and look more carefully. 

This painting of a Northern Ronquil is not very successful.  The left and right portions of the painting are not handled the same.  The tail of the fish is certainly in water, but the head of the fish is maybe not.  There is not an overall unity to the image.

This image of a small beach crab is one of my favorite in the series.  What an attitude!  The painting captures the feeling these creatures evoke when I see them scurrying on the tidal flats.   Good art evokes feelings as well as visual impressions.

Although Calcareous tube worms are some of the most beautiful and unusual creatures to be seen attached to rocks, floats and the underside of pilings, this painting is confusing and does not show clearly their gracefully meandering shapes.  The painting is more about my indecision than about my subject.

This painting of Spindle Whelks is simple--with clean lines and a good mix of representation and abstraction.  The few areas of dense colour are balanced by the white space in a moving rather than a static way.  It is as much about the easy confidence of the marks as it is about the subject they portray.  Good art feels intentional. 

This Bull Kelp was the first painting in this series, just as the Whelks shown above were the last. The application of the ink feels more tentative in this piece; some areas are almost overworked while others feel incomplete.  This work is more about learning how to put the ink and water on the paper.

Of course in a series, one painting has to stand out as the one that "gets it right."  This Sea Blubber jellyfish image has all the qualities I have been describing: effective surprise,  evocative feelings,  a balance of simplicity and complexity, and especially, confident mark-making. 

Perhaps the best part of understanding what makes good or bad art is the enthusiasm I feel to begin a new series.  I think flowers will be next. 

Look for these sea creatures to become a series of art cards in my Etsy webstore

Monday, September 18, 2017

Make art with oyster shells

I am an oyster farmer as well as a drum maker and visual artist who created the Journey Oracle, so it seems natural that these materials and skills would come together in a new art idea: a rattle made by covering an oyster shell with salmon skin. 

Salmon skin is tough and flexible.  It dries to a beautiful translucent sheen, sparkling with scales that reflect the light.

I understand that a rattle has an inner as well as outer sound and so the shell is filled inside with a bright, steady sound, and the outside is embellished with a moving shifting sound.  This outer sound can be played on either side of the rattle.

The outer design of this rattle is inspired by the "bubble nets" that Humpback whales create around fish when they are feeding.  This rattle of catching salmon will know how to find home.

Sometimes something is left behind.  A swirl of circumstances takes us away from attention, and something small and beautiful leaves our awareness.

This little oyster shell rattle had such a beginning. It was lost and then was found again.  The inner sound is made with every kind of old voice: bone, stone and metal. 

The outer voice came as a surprise in a button box.  A package of abalone shell buttons became became an inspiration for finding beauty in simplicity.

The little rattle of the lost and found also has a sister.  A rattle that was forgotten but then remembered. 

This larger rattle of remembering was resewn with gratitude for the opportunity to be of service.

Its inner sound is made of  a rose quartz bead and a bead that was drilled in more than one direction, just as memory searches in every direction for what it is calling.

And the sound from simple beauty creates its outer voice, just like the simple aah we say when we remember what we have forgotten.

Saturday, September 9, 2017

Spirit companions are family

These two new drums from the Journey Oracle are spirit companions and family.  Both drums came from the same deer hide, which is very rare in my experience as a drum maker.

And so is their numerology and symbolism related like a sister and brother.  Sometimes I think I make these choices with my conscious intention, and sometimes it just happens.

The interlacement patterns are a "knotless" design to prevent negative forces from attaching to the drum or the drummer when being played.

This 14" drum brings energy and inner strength. 

It helps the drummer have courage, strength, and self-control by bringing the power of 11 to being and staying in one's own center. 

The handhold features a 5-pointed star for clarity and illumination.  While drumming, the drummer experiences a harmony and closeness to spirit.  

This 12" drum brings clarity to thought, calms the mind and is a guide for inner peace.  It helps the drummer find new inspiration by bringing the strength of 9 to help one recognize one's talents. 

The handhold features a 9-pointed star for the power of faith and kindness toward oneself.  The cedar withe is wrapped with traditionally prepared smoke-tanned leather.  While drumming, the drummer experiences meditation as sound.

  These drums will be a big or little sister or brother to the drummer in every realm.  Listen to the 14" drum of inner strength being played with a felted beater by clicking on this link: https://youtu.be/sAAwxJWCvn8.  Listen to the 12" drum of calm mind being played with a felted beater by clicking on this link: https://youtu.be/v-JCuOGBuMA.  You can hear the  unique voices of each drum, and also the family resemblance.

It's good to go on a journey with your sister or brother. 

These drums are available for purchase in my webstore, or contact Kristen at journeyoracle@gmail.com for more information.  

Thursday, August 31, 2017

How to set a group intention

I have been part of a shamanic mentoring group for many years and finding the intention for our group’s work is a kind of shamanic work in itself.  I have been reading “What the Robin knows” by Jon Young.  In the introduction, he says that every living being has "a purpose, a mission, a life strategy, a set of gifts, and a set of weaknesses". I thought I would do a different kind of Journey Oracle reading this week, and apply these 5 categories to an oracle card reading for finding an intention for our group’s work.


This is the oracle card I drew to represent the group’s purpose.  I see a face streaked with red, perhaps blood.  The face appears made of stone to me.  The red eyes are looking left—which to me means toward the spirit side. The expression is more determined than alarmed.

Oracle card #35 is the Hunter’s Full moon of October.  It represents finding balance, slowing from growth, protection and release.  Why is this the oracle card of our group purpose?  I receive a hint when I read the Oracle statement for this card: enter at your own risk.  Shamanic work does require balance and protection; a determination to go into the blood pulse of a situation, rather than stay on the surface of the story. 


This is the oracle card I drew to show the group’s mission.  I understand a mission is more overarching than a time- and place-based purpose.  In this oracle card, I see a horizontal figure, reaching down into water and up into fire, with a yellow power center covering most of the body. 

This is the oracle card of the Summer Solstice.  It is the energy of the South, Fire, Birthing. What a powerful life force for a group of women who have been together for many years.  This Oracle card asks a question.  Two questions, actually.  Have you graduated?  Why not be both? What excellent questions to begin our work together.

This oracle card represents our group strategy for accomplishing our purpose.  I see other-world flowers growing through confusion toward the light.  In the same way, I believe we will grow through initial confusion about why we are together and what we are to do, arriving at a light of resolution.

This is the oracle card representing the Moon.  Its qualities are deepening relationships, the cycles of flow, entering the dark.  I especially feel a resonance with the deepening relationships among us.   The Moon’s oracle card also asks a question: Are you creating a hollow space?  My first impression of “hollow space” is of a safe space to inhabit, rather than a space that is lacking and needs filling.


This is the oracle card of our group’s gifts.  The horizontal figure has its right arm under water and seems to be climbing out and up into a clear space.  The heads of two black birds with large eyes are calling to the figure.  There is a sense of concentration in the image. 

This oracle card represents the Ash tree and brings the qualities of initiation, patience, expanding awareness.  We certainly cultivate the strengths of patience and awareness.  I wonder if “initiation” refers back to the question of the Summer Solstice: Have you graduated?” This oracle card has a message about strength: endless dancing.  It is so heartening to be with women who keep showing up, year after year, always willing to ask what needs doing.


Oracle card #7 represents our group’s weaknesses.  I see a strange, parrot-like bird, rather sad looking, surrounded by lots of red. 

This is the oracle card of the Rowan tree and brings psychic protection, boundaries, integrity.  Psychic protection is so critical in this work because it is difficult to sometimes know what needs protecting. Ourselves?  The other?  And often it is the integrity of our boundaries that is the protection.  These are strong messages for paying attention.  This oracle card also has a message for the group:  spirit journey work

In a way I can’t explain, it seems that this message is our intention, our way to strengthen our commitment—do spirit journey work.   

Tuesday, August 22, 2017

Guidance for finding love in your future

Here is a recent Journey Oracle reading that came as guidance for finding love in your future. Imagine that this reading is for you and we begin by my telling you to draw a card and describe what you see without editing or doubting your inner voice.

You see a face with two eyes, a red circle where the nose should be, and no mouth.    I say that this oracle card of your situation represents the August full moon so this reading of your desire to find love in your future is very current.   I read some phrases associated with this oracle card, and you especially resonate with "warmth of the sun" saying you would like to meet someone warm, rather than cold and distant.

This oracle card has the message for you: a safe place, and we both laugh that a good relationship build on trust and shared interest is just that, a safe place.

You draw a second oracle card, this one representing your experience of this desire to find love in your future.  This time you have a harder time describing the oracle card image, slowly turning it around and around trying to find an image that feels correct.  Finally you see two eyes again, in what looks like a snail shell.  

This oracle card has a question for you: Why do you keep dreaming that you've lost your wild soul?
What a powerful, provocative question!  You describe how when you were younger you were not so cautious; you were willing to just jump into an experience without trying to over-control it. We think this might be a good memory to reflect on.  Perhaps when we are younger we don't guard our heart quite so much, but how to learn to do this when we have more maturity and experience with some relationships that go well, and others not so much.

The third oracle card of this reading brings quite a change in direction. You see a figure lying down, arms raised, holding fire.   The qualities associated with this card of the Celtic tree month Holly catch your attention: warrior energy, protection, valor, vitality.  You say that recently you have undergone an experience when you could certainly have used these qualities.  We feel that these qualities may be good homework for you.  This oracle card of change has refocused the reading on building inner strength, rather than looking outside of yourself for fulfillment.

The fourth oracle card, the resolution, is also an image of an eye, but this time you think it is an "I."
This oracle card representing the moon is associated with deepening relationships, the cycles of flow and entering the dark.  We talk about how important it is to enter the dark--and realize that the dark doesn't have to mean the negative but rather can represent the inner journey to one's own true self.

The message from this oracle card is Spiraling into the center.  What good advice for finding love. Spiral into balance with oneself.  Find the true center of self-worth, and others will feel that contentedness, and be attracted to it.

So we conclude this reading by wondering again about finding love in your future, and discover the Journey Oracle has guided you to Love yourself.

Saturday, August 12, 2017

Tips for setting up an art exhibit

 What an adventurous learning experience it is to set up an art exhibit! My acrylic paintings are currently on display at the Old School House Gallery on Cortes Island, and here are some tips from that picture hanging adventure.

Bring what you think is too much work for hanging, so there would be options for displaying and editing.

Bring friends who have a good sense of design.  More than one opinion is invaluable when creating a flow of color and mood along a wall.  Besides, it is difficult to hold a painting up and look at it from a distance at the same time.

Be willing to change the arrangement of works, and your choices about their placement, many times.
Sometimes a piece has to move everywhere, jostling its painting neighbors, until it finds a home that is a perfect fit.

Find themes for groups of pieces--art works that have a level of technical detail or of subject matter in common.The viewer may not consciously recognize that one wall focuses on water and another on earth, but the sensation of connection will be felt.

Set a title for the exhibit that creates an intriguing curiosity for your viewers.

Help your viewers enter a mental space, as well as a visual space, when they approach the exhibit.

Think of the art exhibit as a gesture of gratitude to the work itself, for being willing to come through your hand and eye into the world.

May every moment have art-filled blessings from the Journey Oracle.