I am home recovering from a back injury and have turned to a drawing meditation as a way of staying grounded and positive. It is easy to complain when one is in pain or physical discomfort and I decided to focus on an image that represents a moment in time when I felt abundantly filled with love – my wedding day. I did a tentative sketch and then went at it with colored pencils. I have been working on this for the past two weeks in small increments of time as my body allows. I must note that the color palette and some of the symbolism is directly referenced from an original ornament by artist Kate Cartwright. *
This portrait is still in process, but near completion so I thought I’d share. The other inspiration for this idea of self portraiture contemplative drawing came from a friend and fellow art therapy cohort, Linda, who has a very cool directive involving trying on different labels for self descriptors as a way to promote self compassion. This portrait represents my efforts to exchange the label of “in pain and cranky” to ” radiating love and compassion for myself and others.” As I said , it is , and I am, a work in progress.
*you may view Kate’s beautiful art at http://www.katecartwrightart.com
Throughout April there was a nagging, guilty, prodding awareness that I had no postings here. Today, with May tiptoeing in on rays of chilled sunshine, the lines from T.S. Eliot’s Wasteland kept running through my head:
I. THE BURIAL OF THE DEAD
APRIL is the cruellest month, breeding
Lilacs out of the dead land, mixing
Memory and desire, stirring
Dull roots with spring rain.
Winter kept us warm, covering
Earth in forgetful snow, feeding
A little life with dried tubers.
Then I realized that this April marked year three anniversary of “The Deaths” and so I am officially letting myself off the hook. April did have a bit of a bite to her, and I only have images to offer here, not many words. And in anticipation of the warmer spring and summer to come: Images: 1. hibernation mandala in gouache and colored pencil on panel, 2. photo of Mom at 17, 3. chalk pastel meditation on unlined index card in anticipation of summer.
I am thoroughly enjoying collaborative art making, or image dialoguing with friends and colleagues. This is a photo of a healing hand mandala that my colleague, Jacqueline and I made by passing the paper back and forth at various intervals after work one day. Wanted to share it with you – it makes me happy to look at it and reminds me of how rich life can be when you trust the process and the loving, respectful flow of relationships. When you relate to one another in different ways, it’s fun to see what new discoveries arise.
Happy Sunday, Happy March!
Once a month, usually on a Saturday morning, my dear friend Esther and I meet together at a local coffee shop with art materials in hand and set about to have a dialogue in images. What we do is an adaptation of the Open Studio Process I have been studying this past year. We set an intention before we begin, the overall intention is to honor and nourish our relationship through art making. Individual intentions might then be ” I allow myself to be seen and loved through my art making, ” or ” I am open and playful as I explore these art materials” You get the idea.
We each have a paper with an empty mandala or circle drawn in pencil. Then we begin, with each of us adding an element , working for about 20 minutes at a time, then exchanging drawings. Once the exchange happens, we carefully look at one another’s drawing and respond by asking the following questions: What does it need? What does it make me think of? How does it make me feel? or simply by letting our hands follow the process. Esther began her image above with two girls jumping rope, I piped in with the third purple skinned lass and parrot, and so on and so forth. I love how Esther gave the parrot a tree, complete with a Grandmother spirit watching over their antics.
In this image, I began with the bear – I can’t quite tell you why – the girl on an island under a tree, and a colorful little fish, watching with an attentive eye while blowing bubble creatures. Once again Esther gave the girl two friends, a home, a campfire and even a boat as a way to get on and off the island. I love this scene, it’s wildness and it’s protective, fortified enclave, it’s silliness and it’s seriousness. Let me invite you to do a friendhsip mandala with someone in your life with whom you can be seen. I promise it will nourish you and remind you of your riches, over and over again.
On this icy, foggy, frozen in day, I put my energies into Dad’s old moniker: Keep the clean and everything else will fall into place. I’m suspecting that this is a remnant of the Chinese Kitchen God, translated through the heart and hands of my engineer father who always had a word of wisdom, albeight practical and earthbound. Have you ever found that the best ideas come to you when your hands are in hot soapy water? My thoughts turned to a current graduate school project: my cultural self portrait.
The creative problem given was to fashion an aesthetically cohesive self portrait using your choice of media that reflects your cultural identity, values and experience. For those familiar with the multicultural counseling acronym: ADDRESSING, you will know that the following elements are considered:
A for Age and generational influences
D for Developmental and acquired
R for Religion
E for Ethnicity
S for Socioeconomic status
S for Sexual orientation
I for Indigenous heritage
N for National origin
G for Gender (1996, Hays)
Just reading through this acronym, for me, opens up perspectives of the various facets making up the unique identity and experience of any one individual.
For my own portrait, I found that I see myself as heavily impacted by the religious and ethical values of my parents. Mom’s Catholic upbringing resulted in my lifelong education within the Catholic school system with teaching nuns figuring strongly in my learning and academic experiences. Dad’s Confucious based system of ethics was infused in so much of our homelife, this was a silent education communicated through decisions, actions and interactions of daily life. Living in a biracial household with one immigrant parent and one parent living with mental illness was isolating. It is no wonder that my support came from these value based and more or less spiritual elements. To communciate this more directly, and to accentuate the dark figure from the dark background, I surrounded her in phrases that reminded me of my parents, and places with strong personality where my parents lived or where I lived that contributed to my cultural identity.
One thing that did startle me was the appearance of a skull as my artistic process emerged, and in particular its central placement as the face of the figure. Even though I am a person who thinks about death often, one who has experienced loss, and am currently working in a hospice program learning about art therapy with bereaved children and adolescents, I was STILL surprised to see this grinning skull appear. It rather gave me the creeps, the chills and the full on heebie jeebies. This is supposed to be a “Self Portrait” emphasis on self, note the skull face. CREEPY.
But after reflecting and reading up on the archetype of death as transformation, I suddenly felt surprisingly good, warm, even affectionate towards my little skull faced figure. When I view death or ending as creating the space for beginning, as part of a circular cycle of life that happens rather frequently as we grow, explore, learn and change, I feel empowered rather than devastated, interested rather than in despair, hopeful and energized
What would your cultural self portrait look like? Which archetype are you feeling resonance with these days?
Image: by me, rendered in chalk pastel on black drawing paper. words included as follows: Keep the kitchen clean, Joi de vivre, Be kind, Be kind to others, Love you lots, Eat the bitter in bitterness and become man above men. Thank you, world. Places included: Shanghai, Topeka, NYC, Riverside Drive, Chicago, The French Concession, San Francisco, Soo Chow, (and how funny I did not include NJ where I have lived so many years – I must be in denial, ha ha )
Information on the ADDRESSING Acronym : Hays, P.A. (1996) Addressing the complexities of culture and gender in counseling. Journal of Counseling and Development, 74, 332-338.
Intention: I savor the experience of drawing and relax into it.
Witness: Little foxes, there you are again!
I continue to explore the fox symbolism from my dream images , no longer in a snowy venue… Dad’s birthday was November 3rd, he would have been 94. It will be two years since my sister’s death this November 15th. One remembers these anniversaries and takes note of these milestone moments. Drawing helps me slow down and honor the feelings and the memories in the midst of this busy fall season.
This mask was started in Open Studio Process with the intention of opening up my heart and awareness to the strength and beauty of my Mom. We began with plaster strips soaked in water, placed over a premade base, using other materials like foil to build up desired features. One interesting part of the process, was in fashioning the hands, which were aluminum foil cast offs that I found in the studio and then repositioned and stabilized by wrapping with masking tape. The mask’s right hand (to the viewer’s left) gave me a lot of trouble. I had to rework it more than several times; the more I tried to make it anatomically correct, the more this mask seemed to demand that I give it two left hands. So be it. Upon reflection, I like this double leftie set up. For me, it became a statement about trusting my intuiton, my right brained perceptions and conclusions. A definite gift from Mom.The touch of a hand is a powerful memory. Gnarled and warm, Mom’s hands were gentle and practical in all things domestic. One hand holds jewels, there for the taking, the other a broken fragment of pottery, to embrace and include that which is less than perfect.Another significant element is the theme of nature. My perhaps clumsy attempts to render the sacred mountain range of Taos where the eyes should be, and to have the red earth below, by the mouth, for sustenance, and the blue sky fading over the forehead into the starred night sky, was my means to include the universal mother archetype of nature in this mask. There was much that was hard to “see” when Mom was suffering. Somehow the mountains and their patient wisdom make it easier.Finally, the blue feather dripping from the mouth by a string. Inspired by dream catchers that we made that weekend in Evanston, the blue feather is about remembering to consider whether or not speaking my personal truth is a kindness, an agent of healing, or if it is more of a kindness to be silent. Truth is truth, spoken or not, and finds its way to awareness.Notes for my fragonista friends: Fragrances worn while working on this mask included Chanel no. 19, my soul scent of green and rose, Bois de Paradis, a fruity floral with a warm sandalwood base, and white florals like Fracas and Tuberose Criminelle, reminiscent of everyday beauty that surrounded Mom and her cohorts working their way through life in Chicago in the late 1940’s.
My Two Left Hands: Plaster, aluminum foil, masking tape, oil paint, thread, ceramic, beads, feather