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.'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,

Saturday, August 1, 2009

Antique Bottles and Labels: a Tutorial (or, Shiny is Bad)

I realize I haven't posted a thing to this since February--February!!--because I've felt compelled to work on jewelry instead, but where does the time go? Now that my shows are out of the way for the year, I'm taking a breather from all of that, shifting gears and slowing down. Yeah, right.

Actually, for the past three days I've been experimenting in the studio (playing, for me) with creating labels and storage jars for the odds and ends I've collected to use in my work. I have plenty of plastic bins, but prefer to keep them out of sight if possible in favor of more organic containers. And something I've been wanting to do for a while has been to make really interesting labels for my antique bottles, and see if I could make new, shiny jars look old and filthy. Some of the results of that experiment can be seen above, and I thought I'd share the little tricks I learned along the way in case anyone else wants to try it.

First, aging glass bottles: go and buy whatever strikes your fancy, or use what you have on hand. I bought my new ones at craft stores. Get ones with lids or corks, or find corks at the hardware store (bring your bottles to ensure a proper fit). I begin by dry-sanding the glass with 150 grit sandpaper. Wearing a dust mask is a good idea here... Sand inside and out if you can, and focus on corners and raised areas, where the most wear would happen naturally.
Next, use pigments to replicate the appearance of bloom and caked-on dirt. For this, there's nothing like REAL dirt--in my case, some nice brown earth from the bajada on the west side of the Kofa Mountains in Arizona. Sand is great for texture, and I've heard that debris from your vacuum cleaner bag is also great. The other materials I used are pictured above: dry earth pigments, metallic pigments, ink, including walnut ink crystals, and matte acrylic medium to use as a binder. All were obtained at the local art supply or craft store, but you may have to order the walnut ink crystals online.
Before you begin, lay down some old papers or a dropcloth over your work area: this is going to get messy. If it doesn't get messy, you're not doing it right. I also recommend wearing some rubber gloves if you don't want to spend half an hour scrubbing bits of paint off your hands like I did. You can use an old, largish (1" wide or so) paintbrush, paper towels, a sponge and/or rags to apply the paint, and you'll need a container for water, and a plate or paper palette to mix your paint.
It's really helpful, when you're trying to replicate an effect, to have an example of the real thing on hand to refer to. So, if you can, try to get hold of an old, dirty bottle somewhere.
Start mixing your paint by adding the acrylic medium to the same amount of dry pigment and/or dirt. Dirt gives it texture as well as color. Now add water if you like, and just start brushing it into and over the jar at random. You can make it very thin, or thick and lumpy. Now take a damp or dry paper towel, or a damp sponge, and start blotting it up. Remember that dirt tends to accumulate in corners, or at the bottom of a jar, so more paint can go there. You're going to keep doing this sequence of application and blotting several times over, using both dark and light earth colors.
This is an intuitive and in-the-moment process, so it's critical to remember two things: One, don't overthink what you're doing. Just slap the paint on and blot most of it off. Two, removing the paint is just as important as putting it on. You want to leave residue, in random places and colors. Try creating an area with thick, lumpy paint, blot some and let it dry, and then put a thin wash of lighter or darker color over it--this looks great. Manipulate the surface, then manipulate that, and then manipulate that, over and over.
If you have a bottle with a small mouth, make a thin wash of color with some dirt/sand and just dump some in and swirl it around. Shake it back out, or give it a quick rinse and dump it out to leave a thin film of residue. Inside and outside residue looks the most authentic. You can also really cover the outer surface and wait until it's almost dry to begin blotting and rubbing it off. I even had success sanding off some of the paint. Keep going at this, using slightly different colors of paint, over and over, until you like how it looks.

Once the bottles and jars are to your liking, it's time to move on to your labels. I needed to age my paper first and then print the labels, because the ink would run if I got the paper wet after printing. I started with 24lb. Ivory Granite paper by Southworth, because it's what I had on hand, and the speckled ivory tone was a nice base for the antiquing. (For those of you who have ordered jewelry from my Etsy shop, this is what the Artist's Statement is printed on.)

You'll also need a work area with dropcloth, paper towels, some of the walnut ink or other brown ink, diluted to a thin wash and put in a spray bottle, a large (about 1-2") paintbrush, and a nice pot of strong, black tea. I like to do this outside on cement in hot sun...the paper dries FAST in our climate, but you can do it indoors as well. You'll also need some of the walnut ink crystals in a little dish. Pour some crystals into the dish, and then pour most of them back: you'll be left with the tiniest, finest particles of ink, which are the best (see the picture below). This is because they expand and darken dramatically when immersed in water.

Ok, this part's also fun and cathartic, sort of like finger painting. Begin by covering a few pages front and back with the tea, using the brush. Blot some of it off if it puddles too much. Next, you can sprinkle a tiny bit of ink crystals at random locations over the sheets, or spritz them with a little of the ink wash. You'll see the ink particles start to bloom and spread like little flowers. Grab a paper towel and start blotting: they shouldn't get too big or dark or runny. Just as with the glass-antiquing, this is a fast and loose process, with no hard-and-fast rules. I generally make several passes with the tea, crystals and ink spray followed by blotting before the pages look good to me. One suggestion I do have is less is more--don't make your surface too dark or busy, or it will interfere with your print and handwriting. Have fun and don't get cranked up over it!

While the little brown spots made with the ink crystals aren't strictly necessary, they do add a nice dimension to the overall wash, and replicate mildew or "rust", as it's called in the antique trade.

If you have hot sun on your sheets, let them dry in it. Use rocks to weight the pages if there's wind. Or, you can dry them in a warm oven, but you need to keep an eye on them. Remember that magic number, Farenheit 451, which is the combustion point of paper. After the paper is completely dry it will be fairly warped and won't go through your printer (this is the voice of experience here). So you'll need to iron it. Use a dry iron on the wool setting to get it nice and flat, and pay special attention to the edges and corners, where your printer will need to grab hold of it to feed it through. Some of my finished sheets are pictured above, along with an untreated sheet, just to give you an idea of what you're aiming for.

Now for your labels. This is strictly up to you, and I'm no computer genius, so I won't give you a step-by-step description of mine because I don't remember how I did it. I can say I created the documents in Word, just playing with the text and putting a border around it, and using a combination of brown and grey type. Look through what you've got and use an old-fashioned serif face: mine was Modern No. 20. You can look around the Internet at images of antique and vintage labels, or do what I did and go see the latest Harry Potter film 6 times (so far). Besides just loving the story and everyone in it, I am constantly amazed and impressed by the stunning amount of detail and attention to the props and set design, which is what I'm looking at in those repeated viewings. Seeing the Potions classroom and that outrageous portable potion-brewing chest in Slughorn's office galvanized me into doing this little experiment in the first place. These things are all only seen for fleeting seconds in the film, but the artists involved took immense care with even the smallest details, and everything is just spot-on perfect.

So, I ended up going for a kind of alchemical look and actually figured out how to put a half-tone alchemical symbol into the background of my larger labels, visible on my big apothecary jar of feathers a couple of pictures below. I also chose a latin phrase as my studio motto, "Ex Tenebris Lux", which translates as "out of the darkness, light". This refers to the light of spirit emerging from the apparent darkness of matter, as well as the journey of the soul, and is at the bottom of all but the tiniest of my labels. I added some other goodies and lines for contents and provenance, and (after a few bouts of swearing) I had my design.
After the labels were printed on the aged paper, I wrote them out with a nice fountain pen I have with brown ink. Another great type of pen is a glass nib pen, if you're into such things. It's easier to write them out flat than when they're already affixed to the jars.

So the last bit is to put the labels on the jars. Plain old glue is fine, like Elmer's, that's used for crafts and scrapbooking. It doesn't have to be waterproof. Glue your labels where you want them and let them dry. Now, you need to do one last little finishing touch to make them look properly decrepit. Put some ink wash (like in your spray bottle) into a cup and some darker ink in another dish. Use a little brush and have a paper towel on hand for blotting. Dip the brush in the ink wash and go around the outer edge of the label, one side at a time, blotting the ink as soon as it's down. This will moisten the edges and darken them slightly in a random way. Avoid creating a line of wash parallel with the paper edge; think irregular. As soon as you blot the wash up on one side, dip the brush in the dark ink and draw it along the edge, not on top of the paper, but along the glass outside of it, so only the tip of the brush is making contact with the very edge of the paper. If you're doing it right the edge will darken slightly and bleed into the label. Avoid getting the printed section wet unless you want some of it to bleed (which is an option).
This little detail will make a lot of difference, and will prevent your otherwise very old-looking labels from having raw, clean edges. There are a couple of photos here that home in on the edge detail so you can see what I'm talking about.

And that's're good to go! Here's a few of my bottles: the little ones on the basket are antiques, and the long, tall one is a brand-new craft store special.

Here's the big apothecary jar with a half-page-sized label. You can clearly see the round alchemical image with the ouroboros as the background.
Two more antique bottles housing my bead mixes....

...and another closeup of a newly-antiqued bottle. Notice the edge treatment.

So, I hope somebody out there finds some of this helpful and gives it a try! You know, this would be a really fun thing to try with kids (of all ages), especially if they're bored and/or into Harry Potter or other magical fun. If young ones are involved, there are plenty of nontoxic inks and paints out there to choose from. This would also be a great idea for gifts!

Feel free to contact me with questions, and let me know how it works out if you give it a try!!

'Till later,


Saturday, February 28, 2009

My Studio

This is Saltdance Studio, where I spend my days, and where my talismans are made. There's nowhere I'd rather be, actually! It's a little 12' x 13' space full of light and warmth (sometimes too much in the summer!) and I'm surrounded by all the things that evoke the desert and inspire me. Yes, it's pretty neat and clean...I need it that way, as I've learned from experience that walking into a mess first thing in the morning does not make for a good start. So I have a ritual in which I clear away whatever I'm doing nearly every night (there are exceptions!) and if whatever I'm working on isn't complete, I'll stow it in a basket or bowl, ready to be brought out the next day.

That's one of my oil paintings on the wall over the (sadly empty) drafting table, based on the badlands of Blue Mesa in the Petrified Forest. Another piece, a mixed-media drawing, is at the left of my work table.

A random assemblage of stuff on my worktable of Mexican pine. An ever-changing assortment of random objects lives here. I guess it could be referred to in general as "stuff I like to look at", and I keep out whatever is most inspiring to me at the moment so I can see it first thing in the morning. Ahh...mornings. My routine is to get up, shuffle into the studio with coffee and park myself on the futon while I wait for my eyes to open fully, usually with a book or something else to set the tone for the day. Then I get dressed and get to work!

Some of my storage: my rule of thumb is, if I like to look at it, it can be out in view. If not, that's why God created baskets. I use a ton of baskets and bowls as storage, mostly from the Tarahumara of Mexico and from Africa; they're cheap and utilitarian, and evoke the ancient cultures of the desert for me. Plus they're better than plastic.

Way back when I was in art school studying to be an illustrator, I got this image in my head of what a "real" artist's studio was supposed to look like. It generally involved an ugly, dirty, uncomfortable, urban-industrial space in a crummy neighborhood, and I found the whole idea depressing. Instead, from that point over 25 years ago, I always created my own space the way I liked it, which was pretty much the opposite of that original idea. So I had a working environment that I loved, but somehow always felt like a dilettante because it was, well, comfortable. Only recently have I realized that I am one of many who believe a studio can be a work of art in itself! Finally...vindication!!

My crystal altar catches the sunlight and I love it! It evokes the soul of the desert for me. I've been collecting fetish offering bowls by a guy from Cochiti Pueblo, Sal Romero, who looks for stones that already have the animal shape in them, and brings it out with very little carving. On the altar are four spiral snake bowls and a bird, and they have offerings of cornmeal and turquoise in them, for the local spirits and also for the condors. Underneath are storage baskets full of supplies. The shelves are full of more crystals and stones: for several years I studied alternative healing, including crystal healing, because I thought I wanted to work with people on that level. Eventually I realized my true path is through art and jewelry, but the crystals need to stay in the studio, even though they're taking up a lot of space! And they really need dusting.

Out the window, you can see the courtyard with our cane cholla cactus in it. They're kind of droopy now because it's the middle of winter, but you should see the outrageous magenta blossoms they have in June! There's also a spectacular view of the Sandia Mountains, different every day.

Another view, panning to the left. The closet holds a LOT of supplies, including my easel which I'll put on a dropcloth in the middle of the room when painting (something I really must get back to!). The painting above the door is by fantasy writer and editor Terri Windling, of a shamaness...years ago, she traded a drawing I did for the painting, and it's one of my treasures.

Yes, that's white carpet on the floor. White wool carpet. It came with the house. Amazingly, I've been able to keep it pretty clean, through judicious use of dropcloths and generally neat habits. There have been some pretty spectacular exceptions, though! But at about 17 years old it's starting to wear thin, hence the $40 area rug from Home Depot.

More crystals in the afternoon sun...with the window open in the middle of February! I'll have it open anytime I can stand it, and it's been warm this month. Even though this is high desert, at 5500 feet in altitude we do have winter, sometimes with quite a bit of snow, but apparently we were passed over this year. I've set the upright crystals--all quartz, except the big Mexican satin spar gypsum in the triangular vessel--in gypsum sand from down in the White Sands of New Mexico, collected years ago. It brings the energy of the place here. The 3-lobed vessel on the left is by a local South Valley artist. My cats broke it of course, but I was able to piece it back together, with the exception of a hole on one side. I decided to make it into my "earth fetish pot", and there's a pinch of earth or a pebble in there for each place I've been in the southwest.

Here's one of our resident curve-billed thrashers on the cholla outside the window. I actually took this while photographing some work by the front door, when two of the thrashers landed in the cactus. Their nest from last year can be seen at the bottom of the shot. It isn't 6 feet from the studio window, but they built it last spring and raised two families in it, with me banging away in the studio and with music on and everything. I'd open the window every morning and go "Hello, Birds!" and they'd just look at me and carry on. Lately they've been coming back to the nest to rummage around and have discussions about this year's brood(s).

We have great wildlife here. So far we've seen rabbits, jackrabbits, numerous rodents (alas), antelope squirrels, bobcats, coyotes, tons of birds including quail, hawks, hummingbirds, vultures, a great horned owl that hoots down our chimney, rattlesnakes and red coachwhips (not enough--they eat the rodents!), lizards, horned toads, BUGS like tarantualas, scorpions, centipedes (the only things that have ever gotten me to jump on the kitchen counter), and vinegaroons, one of which greeted me in the studio one morning. The white carpet showed it up nicely. Fortunately, I wasn't awake enough to scream. If you've never seen a vinegaroon, look them up and you'll see why.

Anyway, here's more stuff. There's a great discount Mexican furniture place in Tucson and I usually bring something back when I go. More great storage. Also medicine bags on the closet door(the big one's my own) and my big strand of desert spirit beads hanging on the wall. A basket of Gary Wilson's components on top of a piece of coyote fur, and a juniper stick with some of my bead stock on it next to the door. There's a Tohono O'odham cactus rib rasp and a Tarahumara indian girl's hoop game resting between the shelves. The little shelves hold all kinds of stuff.

This is Paloverde, a desert fairy, one of the feral cousins of those fussy little flower fairies you usually see at the bottom of the garden. She watches over all of the proceedings in the studio from high atop a shelf, next to three Tarahumara shaman's baskets that are full of little plastic bags of dozens of types of desert earth, sand and clay. I made her years ago when I was playing around with making art dolls, which I loved, and she was begun in a workshop I took in Albuquerque with Wendy and Brian Froud. Haven't made any more recently, but you never know! Oh, and by the way, desert fairies bite.

OK, this is what it looks like when I'm actually making something. The dropcloth goes on the workbench, the tools come out, and supplies, and I'm ready to go. This is fairly typical for an average work day, but if I'm doing a mixed-media piece the place looks like it exploded. This was kind of a gloomy day since I have my light on, but as a rule I don't work in artificial light. I'm solar powered and work during daylight hours only--and Jeopardy! comes on at 6, so I quit then, if I'm not going into town for dance class or rehearsal that night. Yes, I have a family life, another reason I don't work in the evenings!

A closer view of the stuff on top of my crystal shelves. Mostly it's small baskets full of beads with one full of tiny crystals I dug in Arkansas, and another full of obsidian tears from the Jemez Mountains to our north. There's a coyote skull and something-or-other that was found back east, and an iron snake fetish from Africa. Recently I put my tribal belly dance headpiece up there too--dreads and feathers for my badass alter-ego (see I finally sprung for one of those handmade paper casts of Pueblo Bonito, a gorgeous ruin at Chaco Canyon, last weekend when we went out for a day hike. I like the way it's kind of a subtle ghost-image behind the baskets.

Storage bottles on one of my small shelves. Most of them are antiques and came from the Casa Grande Trading Post, owned by the parents of one of my troupemates in Cerrillos. Todd and Patricia belong to the Bottle Society of New Mexico, and dig them up themselves. You've got to check out their place at ! My bottles are filled with my three main bead mixes, Desert Sand, Borderlands and Sonoran Bajada (I should sell these...!) They're kind of the bead equivalent of sourdough starter...I began with a bunch of beads that harmonized and every time I bought something else that went with it, a few of them were added to the mix. Then I have bottles of bones, rattlesnake skin, cactus spines, vintage hardware, etc. The bones are from near the owl's nest, found on the ground or in owl pellets that I pulled apart (the rest goes in my special chile recipe).

I love to watch the morning sun come in and illuminate everything in my space, and will watch its movement over the course of the year. These baskets are beside my worktable, again full of things I like to look at--crystals, ammonites, wool (some was dyed in neighboring Bernalillo), and petrified wood I've picked up around NW New Mexico. The big basket in the back holds my desert rock "anvils" that are used to texture a lot of my metalwork.

Stuff on my wall over the futon. Couldn't resist the little "nicho shelf" with the tiny drawers full of random bits of flotsam. A couple of my mixed-media drawings are pinned to the wall along with tinwork from a local artist and some neat metal ethnographic pieces. I hate frames, and putting things under glass--it's like imprisoning things, like dead butterflies. I just pin everything straight to the wall, and constantly change things around. As you can imagine, I make liberal use of a can of spackle and paint that I keep on hand!

That's pretty much it. Things constantly flow in and out of my studio as mood dictates, so it's always different, and that keeps the energy fresh, something that's absolutely critical to my ability to work. The studio is my sanctuary and sacred space in the most literal sense of the word, and I'm very careful about who or what comes in here. It's all designed to take me into that desert space that my work comes from as soon as I walk in the door. What the pictures don't convey is the music I have playing, usually Steve Roach. "Early Man" and other of his "desert ambient" works are perennial favorites for holding the space. (..sheesh, this is turning into a plugfest!) And the scent of copal or palo santo, to clear the atmosphere, which I'll often burn in the morning before getting to work.
Thanks for stopping by!
hasta lumbago...

Wednesday, February 18, 2009

Sonoran Sojourn

It happens every year, usually in January: wanderlust sets in and I head down south to the incomparable desert of the Sonora. As I said to my friends, I was going to get in the suv, head southwest and keep going until I got warm. When I was finally able to get away, I was out of here like a shot and got down to Tucson in good time where rained. And rained. With fog one morning, which I've never seen in the desert, and it actually looked pretty cool. But it wasn't what I came for. On the other hand, the indescribable scent of creosote bush was in the air, riding along with the aroma of rain and opening earth, and I wish I could send that over the internet because it's a healing balm to the soul, let me tell you. I was breathing it in deeply as I took this shot, just after I arrived at the eastern unit of Saguaro National Park, nestled between the eastern edge of sprawling Tucson and the Rincon Mountains. Rain in the desert has its own beauty...

... and to console myself for lousy timing I met my second objective for the trip after dry heat, which was to have dinner at Cafe Poca Cosa, my favorite restaurant in Tucson. This is the best real Mexican food you'll find in the southwest, and I think the place has reached cult status--the owner-chef is certainly a saint, and for me it's a spiritual experience. Never mind: if you're in Tucson, just go, and make sure you're hungry when you do!
Anyway, above you can see a view of the bajada west of the Tucson Mountains the following day, after the rain cleared out. This is the western unit of Saguaro National Park, west of the city, across the small, serrated Tucscon Mountains. Saguaros, prickly pear and creosote.

Before that, I was sulking at a trailhead in the back of the X-Terra because it had begun to pour, when I noticed how lovely the droplets of water were as they glimmered on the branches of a paloverde tree. One thing I love about the Sonoran Desert are the lovely, soft greens. By the way, I don't know if you know this, but if you double-click on these photos you can see them much larger, and really see the incredible detail of these plants and places!

This is also on the bajada in Saguaro West atop a small knoll of basaltic boulders. That's a pretty famous petroglyph, the spiral on the central boulder. Just seems to capture the soul of the desert. You know, I just realized that all these pictures look pretty remote, like I hiked out into the screaming wilderness for hours just to get there. Actually, I'm a wuss. I can't take much heat (English ancestry) and usually drive for miles out into the screaming wilderness so I can take a leisurely stroll wherever it looks interesting.

Heading back to town later, I pulled off Gates Pass Road to photograph this beautiful little rainbow over the Tucsons. Such a feeling of benediction comes from rainbows and this land--as harsh as it is, there's a vitality and vibrancy to it that seems to come from the incredible plants. Remember, this is the middle of winter with temps around the 50s to 70s, and there's rain. If you go in June you have relentless sun and temps in the hundreds, for days on end.

The day after that the storm cleared out in earnest and I decided to head over to Ironwood National Monument out to the west. Much more remote here, and a different feel that velvety silence that is the true hallmark of the desert, and all too rare in our lives today. I went out on the dirt road for about 8 miles and could have gone much farther, but didn't want to be out alone after dark (even though this is the most active time for desert life). The bajada and plains here were just gorgeous. I had a hard time selecting just a few photos because they were all incredible.

Mature saguaros, creosote, and the fuzzy, pale cacti are teddy bear or jumping cholla--and they're not fuzzy; those are densely packed, wicked spines. Don't know the name of those mountains out there. You can see how there is plenty of ground between plants: desert plants have a very strong presence and everything here has exactly the right amount of space it needs. The image at the top of this post is also from this part of Ironwood.
Nothing dies quite as spectacularly as a saguaro. They sort of fall apart in slow motion, eventually leaving their ribs exposed in a very picturesque manner. Yes, the sky really is that blue--none of these photos were doctored.

The monster. I don't know how I missed this on the way in, but I did a u-turn when I saw it on the way out just to get a better look. Saguaro cacti can live for 250 years, and if they grow arms, they don't start doing it until they're about 70. And sometimes there are saguaros that become true giants with dozens and dozens of arms...who knows why; it could be the result of any number of factors. But this one looked almost scary, like the wild god of saguaros, and I can't tell you how many arms are growing and budding on it. Wow. I want to visit it again over the years and see how it's doing. Maybe even try to count them. Or leave an offering.

Golden sunset on the Tucson Mountains again, in the clear light of evening. The green of the paloverdes is almost incandescent.

That vivid moment just as the sun sets in the Gates Pass. Dozens of people had come up to watch the show. Orange stone, lavender sky, something primal in the air, despite our proximity to the roaring city beyond. That timeless energy in the land will outlast anything we can build, and I find that a comforting thought.

One last hike, back at Saguaro East the next day--hard to believe this was the grey-green landscape of rain and mist just a few days ago. A classic "candelabra" of an old saguaro towers into the blue. And it was warm. The fiercely rugged granite Santa Catalina Mountains are over there in the northwest, towering 9000 feet over the city (hidden beyond the rise).
Well, I got back home and the weather here (at 5500 feet) turned warm and dry and has stayed that way for the most part, which means the studio windows are open during the day and I'm not getting the winter blues. I promise I'll get that post of my studio and our high desert landscape up soon...
Till then,