Many artists notice that their best work emerges long after a visit or an experience. Two paintings above are a synthesis of my memories. I did not use a photo reference, preferring instead to see what colors, what shapes emerged just from remembering. I did not use just one scene, Junipers is a composite. The landscape shows a repeating pattern of dotted sagebrush, always a good element for a composition. I have many Juniper stories. I remember the Pariah Canyon country; a juniper loaded with opalescent pale blue berries fluoresced in the starlight. I see junipers as sacred trees and possibly sentient in some way.
Cliff Swallows continue to be a persistent image for many years. We call these long term pictures in our minds Source Imagery. I seem to have a thing for repeating dot patterns. I have seen these nests in Colorado, Utah, Oregon, and Washington. I am not sure why they hold such appeal for me. Cliff Swallows are free and beautiful birds. Their flight pattern is fascinating and they build nests from permanent materials, and high on the cliffs, far from predators. I resonate with that.
In today’s Daily Create, we were asked to draw our childhood home. I have done this drawing many times over the years, and I notice it has gotten less and less specific as time wears away at the bright stones of memory, polishing them down to their glowing centers.
Now it is mountains, trees, tracks, river, house.
I grew up on the Wenatchee River in the foothills of the Enchantments. The image of me upper left is from an underwater shoot a couple of days ago and seems to me a face full of memory.
Even a rudimentary sketch like this seems beautiful to me, and I stare at it falling into a reverie of a time both long ago and yet still a room I can walk into that is as close as breathing.
The Mysterious Night Journal for me used to be gel pens or Prismacolor on black paper, but as I work in my art journal and so often disappear into the many rooms of memory, I see it is the canvas of the soul.
Somewhere far back in my childhood, a visionary teacher asked me to draw around my own hand and color it. I remember feeling delight when I drew my hand and frustration with the blunt and wimpy crayons. Even then I longed for intense color and precise drawing tools.
This morning at 3:20 am, my art naturally gravitated to black paper and gel pen. December 6 is only 17 days from winter solstice and the longest day on planet earth. There is something translucent about winter art. The barrier between waking and sleeping seems sheer. The conscious and the subconscious talk to each other more clearly under the blanket of a dark and rainy night.
Tonight I draw my hand as an elder, many years from the kindergarten art class. I think of it as a secret letter to myself. Who am I now? What have I become since 5 years old? Is this a life well lived so far?
DRAW YOUR HAND EXERCISE
Sometimes the simplest, most childlike art-assignments-to-self can yield the most piercing insights into ourselves. I don’t need to tell you for that for this one, place your hand on your black paper journal and draw its outline. Do you see how that looks like an image on the ancient cave walls? This is a really old art exercise!
Now enter into the drawing trance of childhood, adding words and images to your hand.
DRAW A MAP ON YOUR HAND
Because there is a little cartographer in each of us, an evocative variation of this exercise is to draw a map on your hand, as Gretchen Jones does here:
DRAW A DREAM IMAGE OF YOUR HAND
This is another approach to the hand exercise by Sandy Brown Jensen. This hand appeared to me in a dream where I dreamed the late Tibetan dream yoga master Tarab Tulku placed a very ancient blue agate eye in my palm.
Have you tried drawing your hand and then “entering” it with words and images? What was your experience? Tell us in the Comment field above.
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Before I could talk, even before I could walk, my young mother would scoop me up and dance with me in her arms. By 3 years old, I was her tiny dance partner. I knew all the big band sounds, the crooners and the words to the popular songs of the 1930s and 1940’s. I didn’t learn to dance – it was full immersion from birth.
The Jitterbug Dancer sketch came from a Mysterious Night Vision gel pen scribble. I did it with my eyes closed. The fun and the creativity came when I “saw” something in the scribble. I used Gelly Roll gel pens and Prismacolor colored pencils.
Our mom is now about to turn 90. She still loves Glen Miller and she still dances in place. She is my Jitterbug Dancer.
Last night at the end of a long week that began with a back injury and ended with a headache, with Dead Week grading sandwiched in between, I began to draw shapes only to stop thinking, to bypass the persistent inanities of the day and to live for a frew minutes before sleep in the world of my Mysterious Night Vision Field Journal.
I drew a hill, and I knew it was Dormaier’s Hill, which I climbed and ran upon so often when I was a child. I began to add the colors of balsamroot sunflowers, lupine, the blue bells of mertensia, the energy shock purple blue of larkspur. I remembered my sturdy young legs, how they carried me uphill, how I tried to imitate the deer when I ran down, springing legs together, knees bent, from hummock to hummock. I could feel again the sensation of air beneath my feet, the touching down and springing up, arms outstretched like a newly unfurled butterfly, completely coordinated, athletic, accomplished and free.
When spring comes to that country, whole hillsides tilted to the south are buttered yellow with sunflowers. West-facing slopes run rivers of lupine blue, and it is in the secret hollows and hidden springs of the east and north where I would find the glowing violet wands of larkspur.
From every quadrant, the Western Meadowlark liquefied the air with its fluid multi-note call.
Later that night, I drew in the distant range of the Enchantments, which are not technically so visible from there, but in memory all obstacles are removed, and what is far becomes near. I have been to those remote, bright tarns. The water there melts out of the snowfields under the thin spring sun. It runs through dark moss and through tangled red roots. The current of its falling polishes granite to the white luster of a whale’s earbone—and I have drunk that water; it runs in the deepest chambers of my heart and clarifies my memory tonight.
I Googled Ralph and Rosalie Dormaier; he died February 17, 1993 and is buried in Evergreen Cemetery, East Wenatchee, Douglas Co., Washington, and Rosalie followed him two years later to the week, on February 12, 1995.
Now here we have a stock character that has lived in my imagination for my entire life. I painted him for the first time when I was only 19 when I lived in Memphis, Tennessee. Tristan has the picture – it is most interesting. Oil paint and graphite on paper. It has held up remarkably well.
Anyway, I digress. Our grandparents, Doris and Lester had a small family farm in Mt. Vernon, Washington. As a small child I spent many weekends there with time on my hands. Chickens are entertaining for adults and fascinating for small children. I liked their feathers, the way they had free run of the plowed fields to cluck, peck and scratch for bugs all day. I didn’t understand the roosters; they seemed pushy and demanding and mean to the hens. I told my grandmother she should only have hens but she said, oh no – without a rooster the hens stop laying eggs. I ate grandma’s giant breakfasts of scrambled eggs and biscuits smothered with gravy, so the roosters had to stay. I knew that the roosters did not lay the eggs though, so that seemed odd to me. Strutty rooster showed up in this scribble drawing once again. He is among the oldest of my stock characters.
At any rate, it is 8:30 am, and the snow is coming down at a very brisk pace. We like to be inside and “watch the woods fill up with snow.” Peter is reading bits out from a book on Elizabethan Stratford–that ducks weren’t allowed out into the streets, and to gather goslings in the morning, the goose girl shakes a paper bag with pebbles in it–I didn’t think they had paper bags back then?
I teach a class in Creative Nonfiction, and another in Creative Writing, and journaling is at the heart of these classes. I have been journaling constantly, daily, but in image rather than words. Sometimes my mind has been so full of words that my head rattles with them the way the goose girl shakes a bag of pebbles to call the goslings in the morning.
It has always been my longing to have time to dig deep for a pure language, rich and clear, complex and comprehensible. But so much teaching on a daily basis of language skills of all sorts has obscured the time it takes to find the road of silence that leads to depthful writing.
Cheryl gave me the black journal and showed me how to use colored pencils to keep a journal of “memories, dreams, reflections,” starting with non-threatening scribble art. I still scribble, but I find that less interesting than journaling to active imagination where I let the image emerge on the page, open to the influences of Dali and Kahlo, the greatest autobiographical Surrealists.
I love the way Surrealism takes disparate pieces of memory, image, and emotion, and makes a new landscape of truth. It is a way of representing fractured time and the shifting canopy of memory in art. There is an emotional satisfaction in that.
Lately, I have taken to drawing the landscapes of very specific memories. Like all humans, I suppose, I fear losing my memories, so often are they reduced to fragmented emotion, the flash of image. We are haunted by these every day, as if we walked in the perpetual drifting haze and snow of our own dreams and memories without acknowledging them.
My Mysterious Night Vision Journal is like an infrared camera that sees in the dark. These sketches are snapshots of lost worlds.
T.S. Eliot in “The Wasteland” spoke of his method in that great poem, which was to assemble those “fragments shored against my ruin.” I am a scrap booker, a crazy-quilt maker, a journaler in word and image trying to look past daylight to give life and line to the parts of me that live in the shadows.
I do feel that I live in the eternal Zen present, but that in the present moment are the many wavering veils of the past.
This morning, I remembered sledding with my siblings down the hill in front of our house, and I tried to draw that memory as I sat in front of our big picture window blowing snow and memory…This shows larger and better on the Picasa site at: http://picasaweb.google.com/sandramardene
Jan. 28, 2008
When I look at my picture of us four kids sledding, the small figures of the children become as elements of the landscape. What predominates is what was supposed to be Horse lake Road going down to the bus turn around at the bottom of the hill where the mail boxes, the creek into the hills and road come together. Instead, it looks to me like a terrifying train tunnel through time that pulls the viewer without lingering into its maw.
I had a hard day yesterday, teaching in spite of a bad sinus infection–a student left the room and showed up sobbing in Susan’s office—I got home and it was dark and cold and my arms were full of packages and I couldn’t find my key and the outside light kept going off and on. It was all very disorienting. When it was over and I was in my jams, I drew this picture called “GR-09-01,” which can viewed on my Picasa site also, at: http://picasaweb.google.com/sandramardene
GR-09-01 was our telephone number in1957-58. Animal graveyard, lost in the backroads of Whidby Island, lake reflecting moon, bird with a banner that reads, “Peace, Mercutio, peace. Thou speakst of dreams….”
In the middle of a lecture, I had suddenly thought, “GR 09-01.” The images that emerged with it are of a bird with its head cut off and a snake chopped in two with the axe beside it. There are small animal headstones–all this relates to a really mythic experience I had and subsequently constellated with other images, in Edmonds. My sister Cheryl took me to an animal graveyard she had constructed with other kids her age; she led me up a path in the woods (the stepping stones you and other kids had built are in the picture). She showed me a chicken with its head cut off on the side of the path. At the top of the path was a snake that had just been cut in two–it was still writhing in a terrifying danse macabre, and I saw only the heels of a boy disappearing up the trail ahead into the woods.
On the other side of those woods was a lake that was still wild in those days (a golf course water hazard now), and the moon is reflected there speaking also to the Tarot card called The Moon and its depthful meanings.
When Cheryl and her first husband Frank were living in that cottage on Whidby Island, siblings Lisle, Toren and I were in a car with Mom–she was driving. The road was narrow and winding; the trees closed in on both sides illumined only by the sweep of headlights. We kids were doing “looking for a short-cut they never found,” when Mom cut us off sharply, and we suddenly became aware that she wasn’t sure where we were, so we were afraid, too. There was a double thump and Mom screamed–she had run over a raccoon. I said, “It was just a raccoon,” and Mom said, “Every life is a precious life. I hate killing any living thing.”
At the end of my drawing session (and I really do need to take drawing lessons), I added the bird with the banner in its teeth with a message from Shakespeare:
Peace, peace, Mercutio, peace! Thou talk’st of nothing.
True, I talk of dreams, Which are the children of an idle brain, Begot of nothing but vain fantasy, Which is as thin of substance as the air And more inconstant than the wind, who woos Even now the frozen bosom of the north…
End of my post.
Cheryl e-mailed me, humorously, I hope!
“Well, I am a bad sister and that is for sure. I recall the little animal graveyard with delight because I built it. I do not remember showing it to you or any corpses laying around. I obviously used poor judgment and I traumatized my little sister for life!
Actually, you use everything past and present to make passionate art.”