Category Archives: Drawing

Painting Eyeballs on Chaos

 

“My foot slips on a narrow ledge: in that split second, as needles of fear pierce my heart and temples, eternity intersects with present time.  Thought and action are not different, and stone, air, ice, sun, fear, and self are one.  What is exhilarating is to extend this acute awareness onto ordinary moments, in the moment-by-moment experiencing of the lammergeier and the wolf, which, finding themselves at the center of things, have no need for any secret of true being…To be anywhere else [but the present] is “to paint eyeballs on chaos.””( Dogen Zenji, Shobogenzo)  (249)

-Peter Matthiessen  The Snow Leopard 

 

It has been over a year since I read Peter Matthiessen’s The Snow Leopard. I have read and listened to many other books since then, but I think more images from his expedition to mountains of Nepal have stayed with me than from the rest of the stories combined. It is a very beautiful book. What he saw, how it affected him, and the words he used to share the experiences really resonated with me. If I was going to write a review of it I would have to keep returning to the thesaurus to find all the possible synonyms for breathtaking.

Journal sketch from 2016

If it had not been a borrowed book (Thanks, Jim) I would have underlined many passages, but towards the end the phrase “painting eyeballs on chaos” just reached out and grabbed me and I have been exploring it in my mind and in images ever since.  Any one who knows my art work knows that for years I have literally been painting eyeballs (and hand and birds) on and in chaos. Depending on the piece, the day and my mood there are many explanations of what all those chaotic swirls of color and pattern might signify. There is not even a consistency within my portfolio as to whether the writhing shapes are positive or negative, internal or external, but they are certainly pervasive. However since spending so much time thinking on this phrase and what it meant to Matthiessen I have wondered how much of what I am trying to express in my art work could be simplified down to the problem of not being in the present and needing to get there.

Sitting down to write this post reminded me that I never read  Dogen’s Shobogenzo that Matthiessen is quoting, so I have just ordered a copy.  I have read many Christian Mystics whose focus on mindfulness I believe is very close to the Buddhist idea of Zen, but it will be interesting to see if his writing matches what I expect (well, if I can understand a 13th century Zen master at all).  Recent correspondence and conversations on meaning with intriguing friends have my thoughts going in many different directions, but I feel like somehow they will all spiral back together to the importance of being present here and now.

Anyway, this post is not a book report, a dissection of the meaning behind my art, and certainly not a dissertation on philosophy or religion.  I really just wanted to share that as I continue to explore these ideas I am now not only painting and drawing eyeballs on chaos, but I am tattooing them on as well!

Chest Tattoo 12/1/18

Colored Pencil, March 2018

Acrylic on Board and Frame, April 2018

Mixed Media on Wood, July 2018

Inktober and Drawlloween

October is over, but apparently I still have some halloweenish drawings left in me…

Drawlloween Day 31: Frankenstein

Dr. Victor Frankenstein is a rather sad subject for my final October drawing prompt, but he seemed more interesting to try and capture than his monster. I am going to miss the challenge of trying to complete a drawing every day.

Drawlloween Day 30: Bride

Drawlloween Day 29: Mary Shelley

Drawlloween Day 28: Raven

This one could actually use a bit more tweaking, but I am tired. As the month of October wanes overall I am pleased with the drawings I have created, but there are few I feel like I will revisit and try to improve. This is one of them.

Drawlloween Day 27: Swamp Thing

The little toad from yesterday makes a great hat for my swamp thing.

Drawlloween Day 26: Toad

Today’s prompt was Toad, so I drew one, but I have been wanting to draw a Poisonous Dart Frog since Scott and I talked about them last week, so I drew several of them as well.

Drawlloween Day 25: Dark Forest

** insert inspiring quote about following the path back to the light here **

Drawlloween Day 24: Hunter’s Moon

This drawing is based on a concept I had in mind for a half tattoo sleeve. I got a little more complicated than I would want to do for a tattoo, but I believe the idea is still a good one. I think it would wrap around an upper arm well and could easily be added on to if a full sleeve was desired later. If the original person I imagined as the canvas for it never comes back around I wonder if I could find someone else who would be interested.

Drawlloween Day 23: Monster

And if the monster’s presence becomes a comfort?

Drawlloween Day 22: Pumpkin

Why do we so often act like we have pumpkins for brains?

Drawlloween Day 21: Alien

I must confess I did not draw this alien today. A couple of weeks ago I had a tattoo client who said he liked aliens, Aztecs and Polynesian designs. So I combined them all into a sketch of this guy. He ended up only wanting a small filler piece, but when I got my light box I redrew him with nice clean lines, and then tonight in honor of the Drawlloween prompt I took him into Photoshop for some quick coloring.

Drawlloween Day 20: Serpent

Inktober Day 19: Scorched

Bhut Jolokia

I went ahead and took the whole day off to drive to Tennessee, even though I made the kids go to school for half the day, so I was able to get my drawing for today done early. I had no interest in drawing a seance, especially not while on my way to a Memorial Service. I had some neat ideas about drawing scorched trees, but ended up deciding on a ghost pepper, which I hear will leave one’s mouth quite scorched.

Drawlloween Day 18: Rat
Inktober Day 18: Bottle

I would rather find a message…

Drawlloween Day 17: Werewolf

No one likes to be backed into a corner

My original werewolf scared me a little so I tried another that flips which parts are human versus wolf. He is sad instead of scary. The middle one is my attempt at making a tattoo-able image.

Drawlloween Day 16: Goblin
(Inktober Day 16: Angular)

The Goblin in his Crystal Cave

This little Goblin just leapt out of my pen this morning. He did not take enough time to be a very good distraction so I decided that he needed an angular environment so I could meet both challenges at once. I googled ‘crystal caves’ to see what kind of source material I might find and I am now pretty fascinated by the extremely hot and humid (like over 130° F) crystal caves below Naica, Chihuahua, Mexico as well as the very different but still interesting Crystal Shrine Grotto at a cemetery in Memphis.

Drawlloween Day 15: Owl

I drew like half a dozen owls today. These three are my favorites.

Inktober Day 14: Clock
Drawlloween Day 14: Skeleton

This one does not make sense, but I do not want to skip a day. I will redo it when I am not so very very tired.The view should be of the other side, with the thumb bones on top.

Drawlloween Day 13: Grave(yard)
This intriguing little statue is in the small graveyard in my neighborhood. I wanted to draw it from life but by the time I was home it was getting too dark, so I worked from a photograph I had taken back in March. I would like to try again sitting there in front of it. I think there are more interesting angles to be found.

Inktober Day 12: Whale

I wanted this to look like the swimmer was inside the whale, a Jonah using vast amounts of energy swimming in one direction while the whale took him the opposite way, but it didn’t really work.

Drawlloween Day 11: BatBefore this drawing I don’t think I had ever spent much time considering bats or their anatomy. I am now rather fascinated with the way their wings have an uncanny resemblance to umbrellas.

Inktober Day 10: FlowingAmicalola Falls – Detail

I have visited and drawn many waterfalls this summer and fall. In most of my drawings the water is really just represented by white space, defined by the rocks or foliage around it. I thought that by doing this drawing from a still photo rather than onsite I would be able to capture the water itself more clearly, but I found myself doing the same thing. On my next visit waterfall visit I think I may try to chose a small section and see if I can figure out a way to actually draw the flow of water.

Inktober Day 9: Precious
Drawloween Day 9: Spider BabyThis one totally freaks me out. I am so glad the old baby-delivery stories are about storks, not spiders.

Drawloween Day 8: Yōkai

I did not know what Yokai were before this prompt. Turns out they are a class of supernatural monsters, spirits, and demons in Japanese folklore, but many of them are part animal.

Inktober Day 7: Exhausted
Drawlloween Day 7: Haunted Object

Self Portrait with Insomnia

Drawlloween Day 6: Ghost

Pencil sketch while listening to a Grateful Dead cover band. Should have made her doing the chicken dance.

Drawlloween Day 5: Labratory

I admit to using photoshop to making this one more dramatic.

Inktober Day 5: Chicken

This prompt seemed like one of the most uninteresting, but somehow ended up being one of my favorite drawings.

Inktober Day 4: Spell
Drawllowen Day 4: Mushroom

One of the things that has been so neat about these drawing prompts is that they allow me to do different kinds of drawings of different sorts of things than I usually do, but this one looks like the majority of my doodles.

Drawloween Day 3: Cryptid Three Yeti Moon

I sketched this over 5 years ago for a friend of a friend, but it was fun to revisit it.

Drawlloween Day 2: Black Cat

Drawlloween Day 2: Black Cat

Inktober Day 1: Poisonous

Drawlloween Day 1: Witch

Drawlloween Day 1: Witch

Instead of doing Illustration Friday for the month of October I am going to try and do an ink drawing everyday using the prompts from Inktober and/or Drawlloween. Celtic Crow has asked all the artists that work there to also come up with lots of Halloween themed flash for the month, so I will be trying to do drawings that will work for that as well. Rather than create a new post every day for each drawing I will just add them to this post.

Drawlloween Prompts

Inktober Prompts

 

 

Walking to Waterfalls: Linville Falls

I don’t know that I have anything new to say about how much am I enjoying my drawing hikes. Each time I go just reinforces the fact that it has become my favorite thing to do. And I think my most recent drawing is improved over previous attempts.

Drawing at the top of Linville Falls

This past weekend I went home to western North Carolina for a quick visit and to take my niece on a horseback ride around the Moses Cone Estate in Blowing Rock. I had never been on a horse before (don’t think I had ever even touched one) so I excited for a new experience. During my childhood our family walked around Bass Lake on the estate often. I remember not only the walks, but also the sense of magic I felt there. Though I cannot recall the details the feeling and mood of the fanciful stories I would make up about the fairies and other little folk that inhabited the lily pads, moss covered rocks, and trees with perfectly shaped and sized openings for their doorways are still clear. I also remember seeing the horses and their riders pass by on the far side of the lake on their way through the maze and up to Flat Top Manor. As a little girl I wondered what that might be like, now I know.  My niece and I had a wonderful time on our 2 1/2 hour ride. The weather was perfect and after I got over my initial nervousness it was nice to watch the scenery as we slowly meandered up the path. But as fun as it was I found I missed the connection with the trail and the sites along it that I feel when walking on my own two feet, as well as the ability to set my own pace.

On my way back to Georgia the next day I decided I should take try and fit in a walk and some drawing. At first it seemed like all the waterfalls were in the opposite direction of my route, or at least required quite the detour, but it turns out that Linville Falls could not have been more on my way. Back in college I went camping in the gorge a couple of times, but I had never been to the falls. They were the perfect choice, a non-strenuous walk on wide well-maintained trails to breathtaking overlooks. I spent about an hour at the Emerson’s View overlook doing a pencil sketch of the falls, then visited the other overlooks and spent another hour working in oil crayons on a drawing of the rock formations at the top of the falls. There were more fellow site-seers than I usually see in Georgia, but once I got in the zone of drawing I did not even notice them. I know I keep saying this, but it really was a perfectly lovely experience. There are two more trails that start at the visitor’s center so next trip to NC I would like to try one or both of them. I may need to start padding all my trips with extra time for walking and drawing.

Illustration Friday: Anonymous

“Despite their near constant use of masks they did not really want to be anonymous.”

For Illustration Friday: Anonymous

 

Viewfinderless at Duke Creek Falls

The summer between my seventh and eighth grade years my father taught a landscape painting workshop as part of Appalachian Summer. I am sure there was a classroom part of the class but my memories are of the time we spent painting outside. I have incredibly clear recollections of a day by the duck pond, an afternoon sitting on the rocks at Howard’s Knob and another at an old farm out in the county somewhere. After a hot water heater leak a few years ago I went through and piles of old art work and found several examples of the paintings I did that summer. Most of them were obviously done by a child. The lines and shapes seem a bit choppy, but some the compositions were actually quite good. This I think is due to the fact that one of the first things Dad had us all do was take a piece of mat board and cut a rectangular window in it. These were our viewfinders and we took them with us on each excursion. Before we ever sketched a single line on our paper we would slowly move our rectangles around the landscape trying to find the perfect slice of the scene from among the limitless possibilities. It made a huge difference. It helped find the right image to start with, but also made sketching the initial lines simpler, and as the painting progressed it could be held up again and again to verify details of the scene.

The first, focal-pointless drawing

I do not often think of the long ago course (could it really have been 30 years ago?) or the lessons I learned in it, but this past Saturday sitting drawing at Duke Creek Falls I realized I should still be trying to apply them. As I set on the steps leading down to observation decks I was overwhelmed by the view in front of me. Duke Creek Falls is not just one waterfall, it really is falls, plural. My eye did not know where to rest, and my first drawing reflects that. There is no focal point, no organization of the composition. It is confusing and lacks a sense of depth. If I had brought a viewfinder with me I think I would have done a much better job. My second drawing I tried to limit myself more, to focus in on one part of the falls. I even used my hands to make a little rectangle to try and plan what I would include. It is a more successful drawing compositionally. I am going to make myself a viewfinder this week and keep it in my hiking backpack. Hopefully next weekend’s drawings will be markedly improved.

Walking this trail was incredibly pleasant

But even though this past Saturday’s drawings were not among my best the walk itself was. Where Panther Creek and Raven Cliffs were true hikes, each several miles in with narrow and steep portions, Duke Creek has a wide and smooth walking path that is just a little over a mile long. There are stairs in the steep places and observation decks around the falls. There was only one other car in the parking lot when Max and I arrived. We made the whole walk down without seeing another soul. Until this week I had never heard of Forest Bathing, but I am in agreement with the adherents and researchers that “if a person simply visits a natural area and walks in a relaxed way there are calming, rejuvenating and restorative benefits to be achieved.”

Falls – plural

When we arrived at the falls there was a couple there with their little dog, who was not fond of Max, so we explored around the observation decks a while. A large portion is blocked off because of storm damage.  The spot where the tree came through the deck would have been the perfect place to sit and draw the dramatic view of the water finding many ways to come down the side of the mountain. If I had not had Max with me I might have sat there anyway. But even though I may be brave enough to climb over barriers and check out the damage I would not want to risk Max getting too close to the edge and falling off, and I wasn’t eager to get fussed at by a ranger either. I do not know if they enforce the $500 fine for getting off the trail, but I do not wish to find out. We took some pictures and then went back to the “safe” areas. The benches on the lower observation decks did not offer the views I wanted to draw. We ended up sitting on the stairs leading down to them which was very comfortable until other folks started arriving. Then we may have been in their way, but I just held Max close to me as they passed and no one complained. There were far fewer people than at either Raven Cliff or Panther Creek. I do not know if it was because the site is not as popular or because it is after Labor Day. I drew for about an hour and twenty minutes then we walked back up at a nice relaxing pace.

Full Moon Hike

It is no secret that Habersham County is not my forever home. I am thankful that the kids attend a school they love and that is preparing them well, but when they finish I do not plan to stick around.  However there are a few things I really will miss. The best thing about living here is our wonderful little church, (I think I love it more every week) and the next best is being so close to Tallulah Gorge.  After my last post, where I mentioned being too late to sign up for their Full Moon Suspension Bridge Hike several months in a row, I made it a point to get myself signed up for the August one. It turns out that the maximum group size they allow is 50, which they hit in July, but for August they only had nine people sign up, myself included. These days I am not much of a fan of calling things “meant to be” but not being able to get signed up for the July hike in time may not have been simply fortuitous. Though the experience would have been neat no matter what I cannot imagine it would have felt quite as magical if there had been five times the people there.

The hike itself is simple. It is really more of a walk than a hike, but darkness made the often traveled paths seem unfamiliar and more dramatic. We all had glow bracelets on so the ranger wouldn’t lose us, and a few people had flashlights, but it really was dark. I like walking in the dark. I like the sense of heightened awareness. The air feels different, the sounds are louder, and each step must be intentional.

Once we got to the outlook the ranger told us about how the Cherokee call the August full moon the Sturgeon Moon because that was the best time to fish for them, and how the Chinese called the August full moon the Ghost Moon because it is the time of the year when ghosts are on the move. As we gazed way down at Hawthorne Pool she she told us about Reverend Hawthorne who would lead people down the steep slopes to baptize people there in the 1800’s before he disappeared into it. (I found his story pretty fascinating so I tried some googling it when I got home to see if I could learn more about him but found this instead which was a bummer.)

The group was chatty in a  subdued way up to this point, only 2 of us had come alone, but once we started down the 310 steps to the suspension bridge it got much quieter. Descending those metal steps in full daylight requires one to pay attention, but in the dark it took my total focus. I had to keep putting my hand with the glowing bracelet behind my back because it messed with my night vision. The evening was neither hot nor cold making the descent comfortable. And our timing was perfect. Right as we reached the suspension bridge the moon was clearing the horizon. There were some scattered clouds but we could see it clear and orange between the steep walls of the gorge. Eighty feet below the water thundered across the rocks, a light contrast to all the dark rocks and trees around us. Again, I am so pleased that I was with a small group. There was plenty of room for us all to spread out across the bridge and have our moment with the moon.

I just stood and took it all in for several minutes. Sometimes creation is so beautiful, so perfect in color and composition, that is seems almost sacrilegious to try and capture it with a human hand. I had no illusion that I was going to be able to create any great piece of art standing in the dark on a swaying bridge. I got out my sketch book because in the act of drawing something I feel like I am able to perceive it in a deeper way. The experience of drawing something or someone from life is an intimate one requiring focus and attention to detail. it is very different from doodling where the hand is more free to wander and mark as it will. Even though with sketches like the ones I drew Sunday night the finished product is not not important, the intention of trying to capture both the view and the essence of what was in front of me seemed critical. Though my mind wandered plenty on the trek down and then back up those 310 stairs, while I was drawing I was 100% present in the moment I was experiencing. 

Unfortunately the clouds that had parted to allow us such a lovely view decided to come back. As the moon rose the clouds descended until we could only see it glowing faintly behind them. We shifted our attention for a while to the spiders spinning large webs between the cables of the bridge, (spiders are artists as well as engineers) and then we started the climb back up. The youngest in the group appeared to sprint up the stairs, while the rest of us took our time. Everyone’s pace was so different that for the majority of the time I could not see or hear anyone else in our group. I liked that. I stopped at several of the landings to rest and take in the feeling of the night, but still was sweaty and thirsty by the time I reached the top. I had about 10 minutes to sit by the outlook, drink my water and relax while waiting for the rest of the group. I tried to take a few pictures with my phone, but it is not made for night photography.  The walk back to the parking lot was quick and we all went our own ways without fanfare. I kept the windows down the whole way home, and about halfway there the moon cleared the top of the clouds and hung huge beside me as I drove. It was a lovely night.  If I am not in NC for the September full moon I very well may try and go again.

“You cannot start the next chapter of your life if you keep re-reading the last one.”     – Michael McMillan

 

 

My Time

As my kids get older and more independent I am discovering I have these blocks of time that are mine to spend as I please. After 17 years of being mainly focused on meeting their needs and wants I am discovering more and more opportunities to be a bit selfish. However I must admit that once I have caught up on my sleep, (and maybe a few shows on Netflix) it can be hard to know what it is I really want to do.  This summer I have tried to be intentional in thinking about what sounds fun, interesting, or otherwise pleasurable and then trying to actually follow through and do it. I have had varying amounts of success with this. Sometimes I am not brave enough to follow through. I have put the Contra Dancing at SNAC on my calendar several times now but when it comes time to go, well, I don’t. Sometimes I do not plan well. For example I keep forgetting to call to sign up for the Gorge’s Full Moon Suspension Bridge Hike until after it is full.

Clarkesville can be hard on a restaurant

And sometimes it is just not meant to be, like this past Friday night when I tried to take myself out to hear some live music. I have been trying to pay attention to local events that seem promising. When I saw that a restaurant/bar in downtown Clarkesville that I had visited before and didn’t find intimidating was going to have a guy with his guitar playing I decided to go. My kids both had plans so I figured I could get a Reuben and a couple of beers and hopefully enjoy the music. I packed some sketching stuff and even put on some lipstick, halfway hoping to be sociable and halfway just wanting to observe. I take myself out to eat often, that is not a big deal, but since this place was a bit more of a bar and there was music I felt like I was pushing myself out of my comfort zone a bit. It could almost have been described as exhilarating. I wasn’t quite sure what to expect but I was totally shocked to arrive and the place and find it completely shut down, like out if business, never coming back shut down. No new adventure for me that evening, but I think I am likely to try again.

And I have had some successes. I have been learning a new art form that has been both challenging and rewarding (more about that soon). But I think the best days I have had this summer have been the hikes I have gone on with drawing materials. My visits to Panther Creek Falls and Raven Cliff Falls were both amazing. I had wanted to plan another waterfall hike for this weekend but I let the weather forecast stop me. Yesterday I spent a lazy morning thinking it was going to rain all day, but by mid afternoon when I realized the sun was still out it was too late for a long hike.

View from the end of the North Rim Trail

I decided to just take Max up to the Gorge instead. We usually just walk the Short Line Trail but since I had brought my oil crayons we did the North Rim instead.

It was incredibly humid as we walked in. The storm that hadn’t shown up yet making the air heavy. We walked briskly to the last outlook you can go to without a permit. By the time we got there I was sweaty and had to drink about half my water to get comfortable enough to feel like I could draw. But the outlook was empty, I got to sit on my favorite bench, and after just a few minutes a breeze came up and the quality of the air changed. I have no problem using the word exhilarating for the feeling of being perched on the side of such grandeur as the light shifted and the cool air swept through. I watched a large bird (I need to learn how to identify them) glide past on the current, and imagined myself along side him. I have been to the gorge so many times but my awe at its breathtaking beauty has not decreased at all.

I think that each time I have visited my eyes have been especially drawn to the red-roofed house visible above the the trees on the other side. When you drive past it on 441 it does not draw much attention, but from the outlook it calls to me. The juxtaposition of the man made structure sitting so close yet somehow seemingly oblivious to nature’s dramatic carving of the earth is captivating. Every time I visit I think about drawing the scene. I have photographed it countless times; I think in every season. Yesterday I was finally prepared, there with paper and oil crayons and no one rushing me to the next view. Max found a shady spot to lay down and for an hour I just sat and drew. I draw all the time, and in all sorts of settings, but there is really something special about drawing in nature. The picture itself turned out okay. It doesn’t quite capture what I wanted to convey, and I rushed a little towards the end when it seemed like the promised storm was finally going to arrive, but the experience was delightful. I am almost glad it is not great because it means I can start planning on when I can go back and try again.

Comparing the view with my interpretation