Mindful Eating

Thanks for the Good Lunch

My friend, author and blogger, Amira Makansi recently posted an article about eating lunch alone. Though it really was less about solo eating and more about taking the time to feed yourself and enjoy your food. Taking a break from your work life to really experience your food gives you a moment of pleasure and respite from your day that is missing when we divert our attention from our meal by distractions such as reading, watching media or multi-tasking.  She advised us to slow down and taste our food. Especially if, like us, you work from home and cook for yourself.  (Here’s the link to that article.)

Sentiments I had to agree with, and, being a stay-at-home artist and writer myself, felt compelled to comment upon. I pointed out how appreciating our food can go beyond the taste if you take the time to think about it.  With a little pause for reflection, we can consider where the food came from and how it even got to our plate to begin with. She suggested I blog about this concept and this post and painting are the result. Synergy at its best!

I often start a meal with a silent offering of gratitude. I thank the food, I thank the farmer who grew the lettuce or beans or artichokes. I think of and thank the people who tended the crop, who picked the produce, who put it on the trucks and brought it to the store. Did the produce wind up going to a cannery or plant where it was processed, maybe made into something else, like the coconut yogurt I used to make my creamy vegan dip? If so, then I thank the factory workers too.  I try not to eat a lot of processed foods, but coconut yogurt is clearly in the processed food realm, along with my soy cheese and even my tofu. There are so many plain ingredients that really are part of a process, so it’s impossible to avoid all processed food. I also can’t dodge the packaging, so there goes a thanks to the people who made the can or plastic tub. I also like to remember the people who took it off the truck and stocked it on the store shelf. When I take the time to think of all the hands that were involved in making my food, besides my own, the numbers are staggering.

With every meal, hundreds of people have contributed to get the food from the farmer to my plate. Even the spices and the salt and the condiments add to the party.  Although you may eat your meal by yourself, you never truly eat alone.

In the spirit of gratitude and thanks to all who’ve helped make my meal, I went out into the studio and created, Thanks for the Good Lunch. Earlier in the week, when I had a particularly nice-looking meal, I took a picture. That day I had made a cauliflower crust pizza with artichokes, olives, red onion slivers and spinach. I added cut apple, baby carrots and snap peas. I had a warm cup of chicory coffee with soy milk and an oat flour muffin with cranberries, walnuts, dates and orange zest. See what I mean about ingredients? With each one came hundreds of workers, a veritable army of food workers who collaborated to get their goods to the store where I could buy it and create a healthy lunch. I didn’t even include the woman who posted her cauliflower crust recipe on-line, or the electricity my oven used while I was baking muffins and pizza crusts. The interconnections can go on and on, so I try to keep my thanks to the food itself. Still, there are a lot of people involved in some way.

My food ritual may be time consuming, and yes, sometimes I am thanking the people while I am chewing thoughtfully on my concoction. I’ve taken the time to make this nice meal, it would be a shame to let it get cold while I ran through my mental list. I know I don’t remember everyone, but my point is this; by taking a few moments to remember, it connects me to my food in a very mindful way, my meal becomes a meditation in mindfulness and allows me to nurture my mind and my soul as well as my body. It also serves as a reminder how interconnected we truly are. All the way down to our salt.

And that, makes for one, delicious, mindful lunch.

Art In The Valley

I’ve been walking by this cute Gallery for years now,  a few weeks ago, something steered me inside… where I started up a conversation with one of the artists in this darling cooperative gallery.

Long story short, I’m now a member of Art In The Valley!  So, if you are ever in Corvallis, Oregon and would like to see my work in person, come on by!  It’s on second street in the beautiful downtown area, right by a great bakery, bookstores, great food and boutique shopping. We all take turns working the gallery, so who knows, maybe I’ll even be there that day.  Or, send me an email (Skyevans@me.com) and check with me for a schedule. I’d love to meet my readers.

Two of my horses and an abalone shell.

Alone in a field of Poppies Acrylic on Yupo approx 2′ x 3′

Getting Balanced

I’ve felt somewhat out of sorts lately and have been focusing on getting myself back on even ground.  To do that, I’ve been meditating and learning how to trust my instincts again.  A healthy, mostly vegan diet along with more exercise and physical therapy on old injuries has contributed to getting my  body in better shape. My mind has been occupied with new ideas and philosophies, I’ve been working on old wounds there too, so that just left my soul. Body, mind and spirit are part of the whole and I realized I’ve been neglecting this last part for some time now.

I had been drawing mandalas and coloring intricate patterns as part of a meditative effort to balance my mind. One day I noticed I had used rainbow hues every time I sat down to color; page after page in my book was full of bold and brilliant color.  Suddenly it occurred to me, without even thinking about it, I had been choosing chakra colors. Chakras are thought to be centers of spiritual power within the body; if I ever needed a hint on where to focus my spiritual attention, this seemed a good place to start.

In an effort to blend my art and my soul in a more purposeful way, I set out to paint the 7 chakras. With each one, I focused on the corresponding color and let my muse take ahold of my brush. I really had no idea where I was going with these, but decided to trust the process and see what happened.

I started with the root chakra (red) and progressed upwards from there. Each one became more and more complex, unfolding before me. As I worked through these small canvases, I noticed a change in myself.  I felt lighter, happier, more relaxed. Information came my way and seemed to reinforce what I was learning about myself during the process. Even difficult issues leveled out and didn’t knock me out of balance.

I finished the last one the other day, and as I hung them together for the first time I noticed the changes from one to another.  From simple to more complex, one flows into the next. I think of this series as a personal workshop for my soul, an exercise in returning my energy centers to a state of equilibrium.

But because of the blog scroll, to show them to you in the order in which I painted them would be to misalign them.  So, to counter this, here they are in a top to bottom orientation. Just to note, they are opposite of the order in which they were created.

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In the Eye of the Beholder

Though the artist must remain master of (their) craft, the surface, at times raised to the highest pitch of loveliness, should transmit to the beholder the sensation which possessed the artist.

~Alfred Sisley

I’ve pondered these ideas… is the art in the eye of the beholder, or in the artist’s rendering of that thing, that image, that concept?  Is it both or neither? Is it, as Sisley suggests, a vehicle of transmission?  Art being the thing that carries the sensation, the feeling of the artist to the viewer who can then somehow share in what it was that possessed the artist?

Well, lots to think about there.  And many have.  For me, art is a very personal thing… you, and only you, know what you like.  Sometimes you know right away, and sometimes it grows on you, but regardless which way you fall in the spectrum of like or dislike, no one should tell you what to like.  It’s up to you to decide. For me, I gave up a long time ago trying to please my audience, because that’s an impossible task really, and so, I decided to please myself.

The other side of that same coin is, sometimes, in my own personal work, I may not care for a piece.  If I hate it, I will paint over it so I can get some more miles out of a canvas.  (Most artists are into recycling… even the old masters did it, it’s not a new concept.)  Or I will stash it away as a reminder that not everything I do is gold… far from it!  I really should get rid of some of the old crap, but I’m rather nostalgic about the old stuff… even the bad old stuff.  So, I keep it for me, and show it to no one.

BUT, one day, a friend was in my studio and she gushed over an unfinished piece that I happened to think of as bad enough to recycle. There it was, propped up against the wall waiting for a coat of gesso so I could stop looking at it’s horribleness.  I really disliked it.  However, much to my surprise, she loved it!  Something about the colors spoke to her and when I gave it to her she was thrilled.  I made her day with something that meant very little to me, but meant so much to her.

Now, rather than focus on the part about me handing over something I had no attachment to (as if that makes my gesture less than noble and then less than worthy) focus instead on the part about Maria.  She loved it.  She was happy.  She was so pleased to adopt this little wayward canvas and give it a home.

This was the third time this happened to me.  It took this happening three times before the significance of the act held any meaning.  And that was this: for me, even as a creator of art, am not the sole person to judge the value or beauty of my own work.

While I am making it, while I paint and create, I get something intangible.  And if, at the end, that thing pleases me, then great. If it doesn’t, then that’s ok too.  I still got something from the process.  BUT that thing that I don’t care for aesthetically does not mean that it’s bad.  In fact, someone else may love it.  More than one someone… maybe even lots of someones!

Case in point,  Purple Repose:

Purple repose

Purple repose

I hated this painting.  In fact, I was planning on recycling it but while I was waiting for the paint to dry I changed my mind.  My husband saw it and liked it, so, with a shrug, I kept it.  I hung it in the house and after a while, it grew on me too.  I came to like the blue colors, the broad strokes, the way the horse’s shoulder bumped out.  Later that year, I included it (as a print) in a series of blank greeting cards.  It became one of my best sellers.  People loved it!

The same thing happened with Walker Pass, only in reverse:

North of Walker Pass

North of Walker Pass

By reverse, I mean, this is by far my absolute favorite painting (right now).  I LOVE this piece.  It only got a couple of dozen Facebook “likes”.  Granted, this painting has yet to make it out of the house, but still… my dog snapshots get more “likes”.  I didn’t take it personally, because I truly believe in my heart and soul, that art is a personal thing.  I may take it personally if you tell me you hate it and why it’s awful and say other mean things about the thing I love, but hey, I’m only human and that kind of behavior is mean spirited and small.  You are entitled to your opinion, just keep the details to yourself if you hate something (or someone!) I love.

On the other hand, my next piece, I just didn’t love so much.  It’s not recycle worthy, not by far… you’d never see it if it was.  And I still wouldn’t post or show any piece I found embarrassingly bad, or trite or derivative or unworthy.  So, just because I don’t love it, doesn’t mean I don’t like it.  I may just think of it more as a second runner up.

But, it was a challenge.  I worked hard on this one.  The drawing was complex, the details, intense.  It is the 3rd in my series of images from the wilderness, photos taken by women hikers on the CDT or the PCT.  I’m calling the series, The Wilderness Of Women.  Now, here is where I love social media.  On Facebook, I asked women hikers if they would share with me (for the purpose of painting) photos from their hikes and I got an amazing outpouring of images to choose from.  So, choose one I did (thank YOU, Judy Flexer) and got to work.

Sketch for Spectacle Lake

Sketch for Spectacle Lake

I thanked Judy online and somehow, I don’t recall how it happened, but Judy kindly sent me a high resolution image of her photo.  I thanked her politely, but inside I was worried.  All those details… how was I going to block out all those details?  “Oh, buck up, Sky… you’ll be fine!” I told myself.  But I was worried.

And so, I bucked up and promptly fucked up.  It became a horrid mess of tiny, detailed, muddy strokes of paint.  Not the sure and swift flight of color that signified I was “in the groove.”  I bravely soldiered on, slogged up one muddy hill and down the next… madly mixing, swiping, swooping, adding, subtracting and aaarrrggggg!!!!  Nothing was working.  I was in utter despair.  So I did the only thing I could do.  The thing I have never done before.  I almost couldn’t believe what I was doing.  I took it off my easel, laid it flat, and poured turpentine over the entire painting.  I took a rag and wiped it clean.  All of it.  Even the sketch.  Gone.

I waited two days to go back into the studio.  I just couldn’t bear to look at it.  I had never scrubbed out a canvas before, it felt like a failure.  But two days later, I was ready to get back to work.  I followed the faint leftovers of pencil lines that were under the first orange outline and redrew the sketch.  Instead of the high resolution image, I went back to my original Facebook clipping.  That picture, I altered to be bolder, more saturated in color than the photograph Judy had taken.  I made it small and took off my glasses to blur the details.  I needed to see blocks of colors, not every single rock and tree.  I put on a favorite CD and lost myself in Spectacle Lake.

This second go round was tricky… I still had some issues and some personal demons to slay, but it finally came together and I was satisfied.  I signed it today, so that pretty much means it’s done.  It may not be a favorite, but it’s good, I’ll say that.  And when I posted it to the woman hikers page on Facebook…. well, it got 75 likes, right off the bat.  Goes to show you… beauty is in the eye of the beholder.

Oil on Canvas 14x16

Spectacle Lake on the PCT
Oil on canvas, 14 x 16

 

 

 

My Father’s Shirt

I was sorting through some items stored in a little used corner of the studio when I came across a bundle of paint rags.  I usually air out rags after a few paintings, letting them dry outdoors so the turpentine and oil fumes don’t create a fun little science experiment called spontaneous combustion.  All the rags were dry and stiff and pretty useless.  I wondered why I was even keeping them when out of the pile this little beauty rolled out.

20140912_094455Believe it or not, this old shirt belonged to my dad, circa 1972.  He probably doesn’t even know I have it or that I kept it all this time.  It predates every brush I have.  (The ones I started with were worn out ages ago.)  Somehow I got a hold of my dad’s old shirt and used it to clean my brushes and went on to clean every brush I used for the next few decades.  This shirt has a dollop of paint on it from every painting I made during that time.  I guess I kept it as a good luck charm or something.  After awhile, I made sure I swiped a brush across it even if I had another rag by my easel, you know, for luck.

One day, I aired it out and never put it back where I could use it.  And then I forgot all about it.  Until it was unearthed in an archeological dig of sorts.  I smoothed it out and thought about all the projects we had worked on together.  The trip down memory lane made me smile.  There are a lot of crappy paintings wiped on that shirt, and some that are still pretty good.  Here’s one from the pretty good list:

Full Moon Song Oil on canvas board 18"x24"

Full Moon Song
Oil on canvas board
18″x24″

I have a bit of a rocky history with my dad.  However, through all the years of ups and downs, I still had his shirt to help me clean up my creative mess.   Eventually, we managed to persevere and develop a better “grown up” relationship.  So I guess it really was a lucky shirt after all.

The Inspirational Stretch

Where does inspiration come from?  One can never tell, really.  I like to think of it as weather… a storm that blows in strong and unexpected or a misty rain that slowly seeps into everything.  Sometimes you see it coming and can shape it to bond and meld with your own will.  Sometimes however, there are bolts of lightning that make the hair stand up on your head and scare the bejeezus out of you.  I like those moments of inspiration, they are electrifying, thrilling and exciting.  But I also love the slow seep, where an idea builds and builds and before you know it, you’ve created something magical out of nothing.

Inspiration is where you find it.  this frozen puddle makes a cool fractal!

Inspiration is where you find it. This frozen puddle makes a cool fractal!

But lately, I’ve been all over the weather map.  It’s been raining, sunny, stormy, foggy.  And since our Western Oregon weather pattern has been matching my inspirational mood, I’ve been spending a great deal of time outside.  I’ve been hiking and testing equipment and getting ready for a return to backpacking.

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That’s me in the corner… getting in touch with my hiker self.

Maybe it’s all the hiking… or all the thinking and research I’ve been doing, but my muse has kinda skipped out on me.  It seems as if I didn’t have a single idea.   Well, that’s not exactly right… I have ideas but what I want is lightning  bolts.

So, when in doubt, clean.  I straightened the studio, scraped off the old paint on my palette and checked my inventory.  That’s  when it hit me… I was out of canvas!  How did that happen?!

Ok, so I know how it happened.  I’ve been painting.  Duh.   I thought about getting on line and ordering a new batch but I came across some stretcher bars I bought on sale and decided to do something I hadn’t done in quite some time.  Stretch my own canvas.

What’s that you say?  Stretch… canvas??  Well, well, children, gather round.  Way back when granny was poor as… well, a starving artist, she learned how to stretch her own canvas so she could paint.  Nowadays, she usually buys pre-stretched but she still knows how!  All you need is canvas, a wood frame and a staple gun.  I used to grip my canvas like a mad demon, but then I discovered canvas pliers which made all the difference in the world.

Tools of the trade... so to speak.

Tools of the trade… so to speak.

You can use regular duck canvas you buy at a fabric store (if you can find a heavy enough weight for the job) or you can order specialty artists canvas.  They even make pre-gessoed canvas.  Gesso is the sizing that is painted on a raw canvas to prime the surface for paint.  More about that later.

First things first, the frame.  You can build your own, or buy the premade and ready to put together “in whatever size configuration you like” kind.  These slip together at the ends with some clever tongue in groove joints… a couple of taps with the hammer and you are good to go.  Cut the canvas to size, (larger than you need, obviously) then, starting in the middle, staple to the frame.

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Canvas pliers doing their job.

Canvas pliers have a nice wide mouth and a foot to pry along the edge of a frame or stretcher bar. They grip the canvas, you roll them over the edge of the bar and pulling tight, staple the snot out of it! I couldn’t hold the camera, the canvas and the staple gun all at the same time, so you’ll have to use your imagination.  I staple each middle section, turning the canvas as I go, then work the corners in turn.  To get an even stretch, you need to put in a few staples, turn the canvas, do a few more and so on.  Rotation is the key to an even stretch.

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All finished stapling and trimming the excess canvas. I like to wrap my canvas around the edge of the frame and then paint the edges of my work. Eliminates the need for frames.

Probably the trickiest part besides the stretch is how to fold the corners.  How?  Trial and error, my friend, trial and error.  Just do the same thing on each corner, and make your folds as even as possible.  If you are not handy enough to make a neat corner fold, then canvas stretching may not be for you.  No worries though… it is kinda a pain in the ass to stretch canvas.  There is a reason why I don’t usually do this anymore!

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Next step, Gesso!

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Gesso… two types. Cheap and the not so cheap.

Gesso is just fancy primer. You can use regular wall primer but it is usually very thin unless you buy a top of the line product like Benjamin Moore which has some nice primers. Artist quality gesso is made with high quality materials such as titanium, plaster, clay, gypsum and marble dust suspended in an acrylic polymer emulsion.  They will be thicker, cover better, and have the ability to be tinted.  But several coats of the cheaper stuff will most likely do the job.

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I use a wide brush that is dedicated to primers as the thick material is hard to wash out and will ruin my finer brushes.

If I had ironed the canvas before stretching I probably wouldn’t have this fold shadow in my fabric.  I thought I could stretch it out, but alas, it is still there.  The Gesso process will eliminate it, since as it dries, the sizing (glues and acrylic polymers) will shrink, further tightening the canvas.

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I paint several coats in perpendicular strokes. Even though this image shows a diagonal stroke, it was just to lay down the Gesso before smoothing it left to right. You can see how thick it is.

As I was writing this post, I stopped to do a little online research on Gesso and was surprised to find a number of YouTube sites that showed how to make homemade gesso with white glue, titanium paint, plaster and of all things, baby powder.  You can save $$ by making your own gesso, but I wouldn’t  suggest following unreputable sources.  Some of the videographers couldn’t even read the label on the Plaster of Paris box, which threw all credibility out the window for me.  However, they are on the right track.  Gesso in it’s most simple terms is white stuff and glue… painted on a surface so you can then paint on something white.  Done poorly, it will flake off and ruin your work.  Done well and it will last hundreds of years.  Keep in mind those old masters of yesteryear didn’t have access to the wealth of materials we can find in our local home improvement store.  So, really, in all probability you are going to be ok no matter what you use!

Finished canvas ready to rock and roll!

Finished canvas ready to rock and roll!

Best part of stretching my own canvas… I can make a non standard shape (this one is about 16″ by 34″ something you cannot find anywhere) as well as the satisfaction of DIY.  And I saved about $35.  Ten paintings later, that’s $350 so not too bad in the savings department. Oh yeah, and I also found my inspiration for my next piece! That lightning bolt was lurking about waiting for me to stroll by. So stay tuned!

Aerial Home

A Change In Perspective

Ever since moving to this property I have been obsessed with the idea of an aerial image of the place.  I managed to wrangle a small plane ride over our place early on in our history, and though I took snapshots, they were grainy and awful.  It didn’t matter, I was only going to use the photo to create a map of the land.  The snap shots sat on my drawing table for years… mostly gathering dust, never culminating in any sort of accurate representation of what we had been doing.  Maybe what I had been obsessed with was documenting our progress as we took 10 undeveloped acres and built a shed, a house, a barn, a studio.  Once the record had been made, I relaxed.

Years later, a professional aerial photographer took a nice shot and we bought it, hanging it in a spot of honor in our home.  This fired up the old desire to somehow draw the land myself.  Especially now that I had completed my civil technician program which included mapping software and surveying coursework.  For awhile I thought I should use my newly acquired skills to render a plat map of the place.  But I couldn’t get fired up about actually measuring and then working on the computer.  Finally, I realized it wasn’t what I wanted anyway.  What I wanted was the exercise in thinking about what I liked about our home and aesthetically recreating the features.  I wasn’t going for letter perfect accuracy… I just wanted to use my own two hands to creatively “map” our property.  For fun, for the hell of it, and most importantly, for me.

Aerial Home

Aerial Home (North orientation)