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,