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Desert hope

February 11, 2021

pencil sketch of distant trees

The invitation

Hope doesn’t have a time limit and is an inside-out phenomenon. It’s like a soup of possibilities—needing all the ingredients of silence, observation, time, dissolution of self.

When I look around me, walking, out in the desert, I feel that there is an intelligence at work, embodying hope. As if that intelligence is sifting through possibilities and incorporating them into the fabric of the ecosystem—where the junipers place themselves in relationship to each other, how the rocks get gathered in a stream bed because of the force of the water, how the walls of the arroyo crumble away adding dirt that gets placed somewhere else…and often exposing the roots of junipers as they start to hang out in open air. Eventually they fall. They create a space in the dirt for something else to appear. And on it goes.

Poem by Gary Snyder and sketch

Observation of natural things (sketch using rust and watercolor on paper)

Back in the trees

January 26, 2021



Minnesota trees in late autumn

It’s a gray day—clouds bumping around overhead, cold air. A little snow on the ground. It’s difficult to have a sense of time, of moving forward in any capacity—the time equivalent of trying to hear sound in an anechoic chamber. Time is COVID mushy and without boundaries, beginnings or endings.

I was feeling a little out of sync with stuff until I came across this wonderful book: The Night Life of Trees by Bhajju Shyam, Durga Bai, and Ram Singh Urveti. It’s full of amazing images of trees done by Indian artists. The title reminded me of the intelligence of the trees around me and it rekindled my interest in forest bathing. Trees are immersed in their cycle of life, their presence in nature, with little regard for COVID-19, humans, or social distancing. A great example of continuity….

“The destination in forest bathing is “here,” not “there.” The pace is slow. The focus is on connection and relationship.”

M. Amos Clifford, Your Guide to Forest Bathing

Being in the trees (forest bathing) is not about naming anything, identifying or cataloguing. It’s about suspending the need to see things in categories—instead to observe the wholeness of your surroundings and how everything interlocks. It’s something to strive for…or sink into, since striving sounds a little too goal oriented.

Connecting with trees

A Tapestry

January 15, 2021

Continuing with the 100DayProject and my focus on continuity and connectivity…

From what I have been reading in a variety of books, and from my own experiential evidence, I want to try tuning into the landscape here—have an openness to what is around me when I walk or when I stop to listen and look.  And then I want to come back to my studio and “ooze” it out into an art work…as if I could shed my understanding of another dimension. Mulkun Wirrpanda and John Wolseley  have done something akin to that in Australia. Wirrpanda, a Yolngu artist, collaborated with Wolseley to create a unique and beautiful body of work titled Midawarr/Harvest: The Art of Mulkun Wirrpanda and John Wolseley.

They worked directly with natural materials in a “search to discover how we dwell and move within landscape.” Wolseley says:

“I see myself as a hybrid mix of artist and scientist; one who tries to relate the minutiae of the natural world—leaf, feather and beetle wing—to the abstract dimensions of the earth’s dynamic systems.  Using techniques of watercolour, collage, frottage, nature printing and other methods of direct physical or kinetic contact I am finding ways of collaborating with the actual plants, birds, trees, rocks and earth of a particular place.”

Buwakul from Distant glimpses of the great floodplain seen through a veil of trees and hanging vines.  Wirrpanda and Wolseley, 2017.

I thought the pieces Wirrpanda and Wolseley created looked like tapestries, deep and inviting,  and I wanted to play around with visually depicting overlapping sensory experiences that echoed that. I used Photoshop to create these:

To me they feel a bit dreamy with time suspended—how I imagine immersion in nature might be translated to imagery.

100 Days!

January 2, 2021

Crumbling arroyo wall–blocks of dirt fall,  widening the wash

I’ve signed up again this year for The100DayProject. Actually, I’m a little behind in posting, but not in thinking. The launch was the winter solstice, December 21st. I’ve been reading, reading, reading, and trying to sink into understanding a relationship between hope (a suggestion for the project), the span of time between the winter solstice and the spring equinox, COVID-19, and nature. I came up with the idea of connectivity and continuity—a focus that is a vehicle for slowing down and establishing a deeper conversation with my neighborhood:  the arroyos, junipers and piñons, the desert terrain.

Being an artist, is there some way I can create a glimpse of what I observe? Hmmm. I thought of stuff like rocks and dirt or gravel that seems stuck together because of  weather or water uniting them and then erosion returning them to a state of separation. There is a slow measure of time and sense of tranquility:

little pencil drawings from my sketch book trying to wrap my brain around connectivity

Christian McEwen in World Enough & Time  says:

Tranquility belongs to a long list of shadowy essentials to which our culture pays lip service, but to which we are mostly oblivious, among them rest, sleep, silence, stillness, and solitude. What I am describing is a certain vibrant emptiness, what the Japanese call ma. Ma is found in the silences between words, in the white space on a page, in the tacit understanding between two close friends.

 In my case, Ma might be the understanding between me and my desert surroundings.

Where to go? What to do?

June 30, 2020

Doodling with maps in mind

With the pandemic still in full swing, I feel like I’ve come to a full stop. Lack of motion. Lack of motivation.

I’m having a hard time figuring out how I want to express my ideas about mapping. I’m intrigued by maps because they seem like a ticket to a different reality. They suggest that there is a perceivable route to be taken, A to B, and that there is information offered about the route on the map. Distance is “suggested,” as well as boundaries. All very useful!  Take this 16th C map (from You Are Here by Katharine Harmon):

I like it because it conveys a feeling—it’s a presentation of a space that draws me in and makes me want to live in that time period, in that place. Looking at the image brings alive the texture of the paper, the smell of the ink, the sound when it’s picked up and held. Of course, it’s an imaginary experience on my part. I don’t need it to be real, I just need it as a vehicle for cerebral participation.

I’m not going to draw and then paint maps like the 16th C one, but I want to represent how I think about the space and events that happen around me. What grounds me…what gets my attention…the patterns I see. Can I express that somehow?

Some sketches:

“Great art suspends the reverted eye, the lamented past, the anticipated future: we enter with it into the timeless present… it …suspends the desire to be elsewhere.”   Ken Wilbur in The Eye of the Spirit

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