What do we know about creating gods? The ancient Egyptians marveled at the little curiosity of a dung beetle, rolling its portion of what it considered wealth into a perfect sphere to traverse the landscape and be placed in a more opportune local, and were reminded of the sun. They fashioned their Sun god Khepera after this lowly beetle, believing that the sun was pushed across the sky in a similar manner.
From dung sculptor to god is a mighty leap indeed. Maybe it’s no wonder since it can pull over 1,100 times it own body weight, making it the strongest insect on earth. Perhaps that should be “push” since the dung beetle pushes its ball of poo around with its hind feet, periodically stopping and clambering atop to get its bearings. I guess I can see where the Egyptians’ logic might have led them to believe that there must be something fantastically strong to move the sun from one side of the sky to the other.
I’ve taken a mighty leap myself this time around in using acrylic metalic paint to give this little guy some extra glow and invoke the sun. He’s out there searching for his life source unaware of the great import we mere mortals have bestowed upon him.
I’ve managed to fall behind in this blog as usual. But Dave and I put our heads together today and decided to cast off with the old habits of sloth and take charge of our art once more. Nothing like a new year to bring out the resolution-making in all of us, though I’ve never put much stock in that.
In this case it makes a good deal of sense as looking back at this year just come to a close I find I have not nearly the accomplishments I would have liked. No one to blame but myself.
So, off we go. Page turned and heading down a new road.
This little painting was actually completed in the Fall but I’ve been so dilatory that it never got posted. A-hem. This must stop! But however belatedly, it is the first in a new series I got the idea for from a book I read some years ago, The No. 1 Ladies Detective Agency. It made a very scant reference to a belief in Botswana that the first thing one sees upon entering heaven is white cows. The idea struck a cord such that I knew I had to paint it. And then later this past year it dawned on me from another reading reference about animals and myths that this could be a painting series.
I’m still feeling my way as to what the series is all about and what to include. For this initial painting I believe it speaks to me of a curiosity of my search for God. How do others define God and what do they see when they speak of heaven and the divine? White cows immediately brought to mind the Brahmans that we see in Mexico with their soulful eyes and graceful gate. Much larger than the Jersey or Herefords I’m used to from here in the States, they command a presence that I find quite singular and mystical. So I have painted them as my vision of those Botswanian cattle from on high.
I can think of so much worse to find awaiting me on the other side.
We went to the DuQuoin State Fair a couple years ago in southern Illinois. It brought back a lot of fond memories of growing up in Indiana and making the annual trek to their state fair. This one was a much smaller version, but there were still all the animal barns and 4-H competitions for cooking and sewing. The big difference was the emphasis on horses and horse races. We wandered through barn after barn of horses readying for sulky races and waiting inside their stalls for the next big event.
This guy caught my eye immediately for his rich chestnut color. (Yes, I know he’s bay, as evidenced by his mane, but I insist that his red is a chestnut.) I just couldn’t walk past him, he was that striking. His handler standing near by cautioned me that he was a biter, and though I’d never dream of just casually lifting my hand to stroke a strange horse’s nose, he didn’t seem too menacing. I decided to err on the side of caution and just look from afar all the same.
These many months later I wish I’d written down his name and where he came from. He’ll have to remain an unknown champion to me. I can’t imagine him of the devilish grin as anything else.
Fez, Morocco was our last stop on our world tour in 2005 before heading back to reality and our lives. If moving to Mexico could be considered reality. At that point it didn’t seem very real, or sane, for that matter. After two months of constant travel I was tired and weary of ever-changing landscape, customs, food, and trying to find cheap but decent lodgings. Morocco was a bit of a homecoming since we’d been there before, but we’d never been to Fez so it wasn’t familiar territory.
We managed to find a lovely pension on the east side of the Medina, recommended by a Moroccan we’d met on the train. He probably got a fee for finding folks like us but we didn’t mind. It was a nice place with clean rooms and friendly staff. Plus, it was just outside one of the bobs, or gates, to the souk. There was constant foot traffic of laden donkeys and streams of people going to and from the busy souk. It’s hard to describe such a place since the alleys snake endlessly through the old city such that it’s easy to get lost, and most foreigners like us are well advised to hire a guide. Which we did. My only regret, paradoxically, is that I wish we’d just explored on our own and not worried about getting lost. You can always pay some young boy to take you to the nearest bob and then hire a taxi to get back to your hotel.
The second or third evening we did decide to adventure out into the adjacent neighborhood to the east of us. This was reached by way of a winding street through neighboring storefronts that wound up a low hill into a nontourist area of the city. We like to find these spots to see how the locals really live and get a feel for the people. It was early evening, not yet sundown, with people out shopping in open air stalls and visiting. The streets were alive with people strolling and chatting, children playing, and they looked at us, these strangers with strange faces and dress so unaccustomed to their streets. We wandered into a small grouping of stalls selling produce and food to order. At one we stopped to talk with a man making some sort of flat bread to ask what it was, whether sweet or otherwise. He had only to give us a taste to convince us this was something we had to have! Yummy and warm, fresh off the griddle, it was the perfect thing to eat and stroll.
Further along the way we came upon a long line of local women, heads covered in scarves of various design, bodies clothed in kaftans, the traditional garb for women, seated along a sidewalk curb in serious discussions. This was obviously their social time, gathering in the evening to talk about their day or other topics. How familiar it felt, and yet I envied this connection they had with one another, coming together as part of their daily existence while we are stuck behind our computers, televisions, and endless schedules. More than anything else, this line of women spoke to me of community, family, and sisterhood. Though I could not understand their words or begin to know what they talked about, their story reached out to me of this ancient need to connect and share each others’ lives.
I’m in the middle of private lessons for a local woman who’s never painted or drawn except in school way back when. I like her enthusiasm, and she seems to have some natural ability in handling the medium. Our second class is this Saturday when we’ll talk about color and do another small painting.
Last week I did a demo of the two onions you see here. We didn’t have enough time left to have her do a return demo so I’m anxious to see her grape…. That’s what she said she thought she’d do.
I remember taking classes 30 odd years ago and thinking how much there was to take in. I think I’m still taking some of it in.
A couple weeks ago someone asked if I could paint a 4′ X 4′ quilt on a piece of plywood to hang on their barn. Not what I usually do, but I’m always up for a challenge and I figured this would be pretty straightforward. We worked out a deal, and I started on the piece last week.
My first task was to paint the entire board, front and back, several coats of the background color, cream. That’s probably the easiest part of the whole exercise. Kind of like painting a barn. When that looked smooth I begged some help from a true quilter, master fine art quilter, that is, Caryl Fallert, one of my neighbors and a good friend. I needed the use of her overhead projector to get my 5″ X 5″ picture of the quilt to the 4′ X 4′ size I needed. She converted the file to grayscale using some Photoshop magic, and after printing it out on acetate we went to work aligning the image to fit with my panel. A couple hours later I had my outline complete and was ready to start the actual process of painting.
So far, I’ve completed the vine that coils around the border, a meandering undulating cord with loopy leaves and tulips and bud stems. The little isolated yellowish ovals you see are the centers of the roses that make up the middle of the quilt.
You can see more of the vine and tulip detail here:
Stay tuned while I add in rose medallions and fine tune.
I’d lived in and around Chicago for nearly 15 years by the time September 11, 2001 came about. I worked in healthcare, managing a series of community health programs for a local chapter of a national nonprofit, all of them concentrated in the Hispanic and multicultural neighborhoods of Chicago’s west side. Most of my program’s clients were Latino, but Chicago being the cultural microcosm that it is, we experienced a much broader ethnic mix than just Puerto Rican and Mexican. We had blacks, some Polish kids, a smattering of Asians, and even a Palestinian teacher. I loved this cultural stew I found myself in, and I felt I was finally experiencing the real Chicago.
Dave and I lived in a large condo building in Berwyn, a west side suburb adjacent to Chicago, at the time of September 11, 2001. Berwyn is a working class neighborhood with a larger percentage of Mexican immigrants, but there are other groups that live and work there as well. Every morning I’d walk to the gas station next to our building and buy a Chicago Tribune to start my day. The gas station was owned and run by a couple Middle Eastern men. They were efficient, kept the place clean and orderly, and quietly dispensed change to me and standard pleasantries on my daily trips to their business. I never asked them where they were from. It never seemed necessary. They blended in with the rest of my experience.
I began to wonder about the two men after September 11 and hearing reports of incidents of harassment of people locally who looked Muslim. It concerned me that regardless of the atrocities in New York we would indiscriminantly turn on others just because they appeared to be Muslim. A few mornings later, as I handed my money through the safety window at the gas station to one of the Arabic men, I asked him if anyone had given him any trouble. He looked at me ,perhaps a little startled, and said,” Pray for me.”
I told him I would and wished him good day.
He and his partner left several weeks after that, turning the gas station over to someone else. I never heard of what had happened, why they left. But I still pray for him, and all of us, that we look beyond appearances and seek out what lies within each others’ hearts.
This is the beginning of a new series of horse paintings. Not only is it new in the sense that it’s a new painting, but I also decided to finally try the clayboard that I bought last year to see how it worked. It seems a lot like the watercolor canvas I got at the same time. More challenging than paper because the paint moves around much more on this surface. I know some people like it better for that very reason. You can lift off mistakes a heckuva lot easier. I’ll have to use it more to get used to this property.
The horse is Matt, a friend’s quarterhorse who they show regionally and who is revovering from surgery for a problem with his intestines. Dave and I went out to their place in the early Spring to meet him and take pictures. Even though it was a gray, rainy day, I liked the way the light hit him more subtly. He’s a pretty gentleman with a speckled forehead. Thanks, Debbie, for having us.
To give you one small update, I didn’t get awarded the featured artist for the up-coming Bryn Mawr Rehab Hospital Arts Ability show which will be this Fall. I consider it an honor to have been invited to submit just the same. There have been other things, however, that have come along that have been even more rewarding.
Sometime shortly before the Lower Town Arts & Music Festival I received a call from Easter Seals West Kentucky art program manager, Darlene Davenport, asking if I’d be interested in providing a workshop for their adult clients sometime in June. I have a soft spot in my heart for Easter Seals having worked at the Chicago Metro Easter Seals for six years about a decade ago. It remains one of my most memorable and rewarding jobs. So in spite of my trepidation I gave Darlene an enthusiastic YES! and scheduled a time to come tour the studio and discuss my eventual workshop.
The Easter Seal adult program here serves adults of all ages from early 20’s and up. Their disabilities run the gamut from cerebral palsy to autism to traumatic brain injury. They participate in special activities such as the art program, as well as attend adult day care. The facility is bright and open with caring, capable staff. It’s a happy place in spite of what one might think given the seriousness of the disabilities seen among their clients. The art program is managed by Darlene and her assistant, Hope Boone. They’re both friendly, welcoming and infuse the small room with a sense of fun, color, and contagious creativity. When I visited, Hope was working with about 8 clients on a project drawing trees with colorful crayons and paints on muslin to be turned into wall hangings. The pieces were tremendously individual, each with its own strengths and personality — tall, skinny trees, trees with movement, trees of every shape. I went around the table and talked with each of the clients, and I knew immediately that the workshop would be a lot of fun if I could come up with a way to accommodate my watercolor style to their abilities.
The workshop I’d been asked to do is part of a grant program through VSA Arts, an international organization where people with disabilities learn through, participate in, and enjoy the arts. (I happen to be a member and participate in their registry due to my deafness.) Artists are selected to provide workshops with clients developing a collaborative piece of artwork that will then become part of the Easter Seals West Kentucky 5th Annual Heart and Soul Art Celebration. This annual fundraiser features art from clients and local artists, as well the collaborative pieces created through these workshops.
I decided, after a lot of deliberation, that I would simply sketch out the painting I had in mind and then begin working on it while the clients began painting their own “practice” pieces using watercolor paints that I supplied. My choice of subject was a pool of koi because of their colorful nature and fluid, flowing shapes and movement. I figured everyone could related to these fun fish that don’t rely on a lot of detail. The painting would be all about color and movement and hopefully reflect the fun of the workshop.
Once I’d started the two main fish in the composition, and with the six or so clients busy painting their own fish at the main table, I called individuals up to my easel one at a time and asked them to paint sections of the painting on their own.
I chose the colors and dipped the brush in the paint to ensure the right amount of paint and water, but each person was free to paint their area however they chose and to their level of ability. Lines and detail weren’t so important. Dribbles and drips were allowed and not fussed with. The colors washed on and the painting began to come together in a delicious way. I was touched by each person’s concentration and enthusiasm to be part of the painting. I sensed that something more than a painting exercise was going on. A shift in energy within me had transpired as the painting came to life, as it most assuredly did.
My worries had been that something meaningful wouldn’t result from my workshop, that I’d lack the ability to communicate or integrate my experience with that of the clients. Would they be up to it? But I needn’t have worried as each of them approached the work with a calm self-assurance. I was the one who was scared, not them.
So, I made some friends who helped me paint some koi in a way that I would not or could not have done on my own. I had one of the best creative days ever and more than anything felt so lucky to have participated. Afterall, it wasn’t just my painting. It became theirs as well, and that’s reflected in the signature I affixed, “Stefanie Graves & Easter Seals Clients.”
If you’d like to see the finished painting in person and be part of the Heart & Soul Art Celebration, mark you calendar for Thursday, September 16, 6:00pm at Maiden Alley Cinema. Tickets are $20 and can be reserved by calling 443.1200 or 444.9687. I can’t think of a more worthy cause or a better way to spend a Thursday evening this Fall. All proceeds from the art auction benefit Easter Seals Western Kentucky.
By the time I get to the final leg of a painting it sometimes seems to paint itself. That was true in this case. The egret is really only a couple of washes, the last being some finer details to denote feathers and definition of the wings. I added a little permanent rose to the blues to give the shadows a bit of warmth. There’s also a touch of raw umber in there that reflects some of the earth tones of the river this fellow is standing in.
I also went back to the water to add more shadows in the upper right and filled in the one floating leaf as a separate point of interest. A fun final element was painting shadows around the bubble reflections. Kind of squiggly loops.
This one’s photo went out today on a CD along with 5 others for the Bryn Mawr show. I’ll see if I can wait as splendidly as my egret for the answer to my application.