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...


stregata said...

I really enjoyed the "tour" of your sanctuary. It looks so tranquil and beautiful. Thank you for sharing this!!

melanie said...

what an absolutely gorgeous space! I could live in that :)

yohopee said...

I love your working and living space. Such an inspiring tour for a desert girl living in the cooooold days of winter up north (ok, semi-north).
Thank you for sharing!

Little Brown Sparrow said...

Dawn, I have been such a big fan of your Etsy shop for so long now, and have only just realised you have a blog! I've spent the best part of an hour getting lost in the serenity here, but this post has taken my breath away. It has reminded me of what my studio used to be before I became 'haunted' (long story) but you've centred me with these pictures so much, thank you. I'm off to clean my studio now, and re-align with my lost self.