Thursday, June 2, 2011

Bliss Followed

This brief entry comes to you on the heels of the 20th Orlando International Fringe Festival. What is this? In their words it is: “A 12-day-festival that is founded on the concept of offering 100% unjuried, 100% uncensored, 100% accessible theatre, music, dance, art and madness to all types and ages where 100% of the box office ticket sales go directly back to the artists within The Fringe.” In my words, it is an extremely dense conglomeration of performing and visual art which is allows artists from anywhere in the world to exchange and meld their ideas. There are over 100 different live performances within 10 venues, encompassed by two separate buildings sharing a huge outdoor space they call "The Lawn of Fabulousness" The whole thing is sublime for someone like me.

Lucky for us Orlando artists, this festival comes around once a year, allowing us to prepare works and then look forward to diving in to the madness with everyone else. This was my third year doing so, and I have determined without a doubt that the week and a half of fringe transports an artist creatively further in a short period of time than almost anything else I have experienced. The closest I have felt to this are the weekend outdoor visual arts shows. This festival, however, really allows open creativity and encompasses all the arts. Bottom line is, a real artist always come out somehow different than when she went in.

For the past three years I have submitted visual art, 2 pieces each year, the maximum allowed. Each year the art pieces I submit are chosen thoughtfully, as I believe that the energy involved in them is timely in my life and I want to make a concerted connection with the other art going on. All art shows are spiritual in a sense, and much invisible and unspoken connection happens through them. 

 <Anna McCambridge-Thomas, Director of the Visual portion of Fringe, with me.>

This year I feel so validated because for the first time I sold both of my pieces. The first piece sold, “Bliss”, pictured below, was purchased by Beth Marshall, the Producing Artistic Director of Fringe, which is a huge honor for me. I also feel that it is so incredibly appropriate that this piece sold right off the bat, as its meaning has direct connection with my life as an artist and my time commingling with the other artists at Fringe.

"Bliss", Mixed media 12" x 18", woodburning on pine, acrylic paint, wood.

The theme:
Around the same time this happened, there was a call for art at the Orlando Museum of Art for a show titled, “From Words to Works” , and they wanted pieces that were inspired by literature of any type. I began to think of my art, which then was a girl in the water in the woods in the night sky, and the story of Little Red Riding Hood came to mind. The personal journey I was going through was a kind of 'coming of age' story as well, and I thought it fit. The thinking was, what would have happened if Little Red Riding Hood had 'dawdled' and celebrated her love of the forest, by allowing herself to enjoy a swim? In my story, she was safe, because she had 'followed her bliss' in the correct way. (keep reading, explanation later.) In her perfect timing and quiet connection with the forest, the wolf didn't even hear her and fell asleep. Does she know he's there? Will there be a tragedy when she comes out? We don't know, and it isn't important. All we know is that the moment was meant to happen. The moment before chaos is perfect peace.

The title:
I chose the title “Bliss” as a play on the adage, “Ignorance is bliss”, thinking of ignorance as the innocence of the child, but also the ignorance of the wolf. Only a short while after I had chosen this title, (as usually happens) there was a happy coincidence! A good friend of mine had written an entry in his blog,” on Joseph Campbell's notion of “Following your Bliss”. Then this piece took on a whole new meaning for me. I have included the link here because it is SO WORTH LISTENING TO.... The most powerful truth I believe in this is his thinking that 'following your bliss' means that “we shouldn’t live out of obligation to arbitrary societal standards. Instead, we should follow that which brings us rapture even if we must endure great pain and rejection along the way.” This is a very personal and meaningful statement to anyone who is an artist, who has the courage to bare their heart to the world in their art. 

This year I “followed my bliss” by entering into and following through the fringe festival, allowing myself to laugh and cry and connect with all of the theatre and art and people there. It was not always easy. But I am one step closer to being who I am as an artist, and that, as the Merry Monk calls it, “That is the hero’s journey. That is the transforming monomyth. It’s a journey that requires the celebration of discipline. The greatest bliss is bliss deferred.”

Thursday, April 28, 2011


In my last post I mentioned that I would share with you the story of the art piece “Transfiguration”. Normally I'm going to want to take you on current journeys, and this is a piece I completed a couple of years ago, but I want to feature it up front because I feel it just so clearly exemplifies a process of creation: many pieces of art come to me very quickly from initial impulse to final sketch, but in this case I really had to trust the process and allow the art to take shape without any preconceived notion of what it would end up like. This is a lot like life sometimes. And the more you let go, the better it eventually turns out.

Mozart and Me
First let me tell you a little history- I knew pretty much nothing about making music until I was in my 30's. I could barely carry a tune. Well, I still can't vocally, but I'm better. But around that time in my life I saw a prodigy violinist playing on TV and something just clicked in my head. I saw how her passion was coming out in her music. I FELT how her passion was coming out in her music. Prior to that, my outlet for that creative passion was dance. I needed something more, especially during all my baby-making years, and I decided to learn the violin. Much to my family's (and probably my neighbors') disgust. I think I played “Twinkle Twinkle Little Star” (or scratched it out), religiously, 30 minutes a day for about 6 months before I made a tone that sounded like anything. My goal was to be able to play a piece I loved, “Jesu, Joy of Man's Desiring”, with finesse. When I got there a few years later, I was already in love and clearly couldn't stop. So then it became an obsession, and when I started practicing 3 hours a day for a Mozart concerto while trying to work and raise my kids, something had to give. So now I just play for fun, but I still lust for my one-on-one time with the instrument. I got to the place where I could express my emotion, and the violin gave back to me everything I put into it. Music had become an integral part of my soul.

The doodles
This first sketch happened during the Mozart phase. I was in a point in my life of creative frustration. I was not a composer, but I had an innate sense of how music can 'transform' me, can take all my earthly passion and send it somewhere else, to a place where I felt connected to the universe in a way that almost nothing else could do. I was also just beginning my re-birth as an artist. At the time of the doodle, there was a desire to communicate, to show to my audience what I felt inside, in the way that a perfect rendition of the perfect piece of music would do. I just didn't know how. So maybe you can see the frustration in the doodle, the tension, the need, and the randomness of the thoughts. 

The next step for me was how to somehow bring these thoughts into shape. Part of the initial doodle and thought was inspired by the film “The Red Violin”. This work, if you haven't seen it, is one of the most ingenious stories, layered with brilliance and dripping with beauty. I wish I had written it. In the story, a luthier makes a violin for his unborn son, and the plot shows the journey of the instrument over the decades and the impact it has on the lives of everyone who touches it. I shamelessly admit that I am a hopeless romantic, but when you don't have much of a voice, to me a violin is the next best thing, and when you do learn to play, it feels like an actual part of your body, an extension of your spirit. Not to spoil the ending of the movie, but in the film this notion becomes an actual reality in a very poetic way. I wanted my doodle to end up like this as well.

So, following that idea, I created these next couple of sketches, struggling with how to visually express the connection between the music and the passion of the musician-- through the wood of the violin, the vibrations of the earth and the air - the invisible soundwaves.  The sketch below is my struggle to meld the human body metaphysically with the violin, a spiral of energy from the heart of the bridge, the bones being the wood, the soul as the music. The far below sketch shows a doodle of a hand as the scroll itself, the very sinews of the musician the strings.

In the final sketch below I finally opted to allow the beauty of the violin face and the female figure to reflect each other. I wanted to show two perpendicular axes, with the violin 'suspended' over it in sort of a 'magic moment'....The east-west axis would represent the actual music and the north-south axis would represent the connection between heaven and earth. I really liked the sketch after I drew it. Sometimes that happens and it is great- you sketch something and other meanings come out that you hadn't even thought of...I loved that it showed how music is the 'mediator' or the 'means of transportation'. I knew in the final work that I should play that up.

The lady:
At this point, I began to paint the lady on the violin. However, I really struggled with her. For what reason I am not really sure, but I have since developed a bit of a theory....I think that there is a real element of her that was obviously autobiographical. I decided at that point to name the piece “Transfiguration”, and just accept the fact that the work was not only about transfiguring the listener to heaven through the music, but it was also about transfiguring me through whatever the process was I was experiencing. However, I just couldn't see her. At first she was looking down. I had her arms crossed, at first in modesty. The more I looked it seemed that the pose I chose was more as a symbol of 'transporting', so I decided to have her looking up, since I decided her longing is ultimately for the divine at the particular moment that I wanted to capture. I struggled for literally weeks, months even, going over and over the layers and getting so incredibly frustrated. Maybe I couldn't finish her because I was so early in my journey. I decided to just completely give up and put her aside. She laid inside a cloth on my shelf for over a year, and I honestly thought I would never finish it at that point.

The following spring, something happened- I had an opportunity to present work to a local festival, and that piece just popped into my head. I innately knew in the pit of my gut that it had to be resurrected. Don't even ask me to explain, the best I can do is to tell you that I just knew. It was just complete instinct. I got the lady out in a fit of passion and I swear, she was complete in a matter of a day. That is just how it is sometimes. I have absolutely no control over when and how things happen through me, all I can do is be the best and most honest conduit for the creativity. Now with my joy of having her done, I was pumped up for finishing the piece.

The background:
The music 'wave' became an actual groove in the wood, onto which I decided to add gold leaf (to add brilliance and motion). I decided to add color and texture with acrylic paint for the background to really show a movement from earth to heaven. I chose a very dark sepia brown color that would look like dirt, added a whole bunch of liquin to give it some serious texture, and applied it with a palette knife. Logically I rode up the spectrum of colors to heaven being a blue/indigo, with the warmest colors hugging the music wave. I decided to give that area a hint of the image of fire to express the energy of the soundwave.

Piecing it together:
In placing the lady on the background, there was a bit of debate in my own mind about how to actually suspend the wood and whether to use violin strings. I did want strings because to me as a string player, they are so integral in the physical part of making the music. Not only are they 'what you feel' when you play, but they are the hypothetical vocal chords. They CREATE the vibration in time. I thought of putting the strings behind the wood, thus giving the visual effect of the lady 'suspended' in the moment. This honestly just didn't look right, and I opted to be a bit literal and put the strings in the right order, G,D,A, and E over the face, and the face was simply just glued on to the background with little chunks of wood dowels. Since I didn't have a scroll, I didn't think pegs were necessary to secure the tops of the strings so I just used some simple philips-head screws to represent four 'stars'. At the bottom I had to find some hardware that would mimic the action of the tailpiece and found some fun loops and hooks to attach the bottom.

In the end, she was very well received, both at the initial festival and for the two years following. The biggest fan I have of this piece that I know of is a very interesting fellow I see periodically as I travel with my daughter to anime festivals, a tradesman of articles from Asia, (my daughter and I call him “the Jade dude”). He is actually, I believe, some kind of a priest from that area, and really the only way to describe him is one of the most gracious people I have ever met. I showed him a photo of the piece and it actually brought tears to his eyes. He told me it was one of the most incredible things he'd ever seen and for over an hour explained to me just what I had done, in words and thoughts that I didn't even know I had. For instance, the colors mimic the 'Chakras' and follow the figure of the body, and the sound wave becomes calm as it enters 'the womb of the woman'.....every time I see him he reminds me that he has it printed out and at his desk to see every day.

This is my biggest joy, if I can touch others with my work, if it connects me with them. In this way I am never alone! This original work is still available for purchase- contact me for details!

Thank you again for reading!

Thursday, April 21, 2011

Coming out of Port

 My daughter suggested that I start a blog.  At first I wasn't sure if it meant, “Mom, we've heard your stories a million times...maybe if you flood the internet with them you'll leave us alone.” But she kept on it, and I really value her opinion...Plus, this may actually stop me from bothering my kids.

The purpose of this blog: I am fascinated by processes. Evolutions. How Everything can transform. I think it stems from my days of studying art and especially design in college. Of course, some of you may know how your mind is in college, so open to just about anything, the synapses firing like crazy, and soon I began to see everything in terms of its process, where it was coming from, and how it seemed to be transforming. There are a lot of people who tell me this makes me brilliant and creative. But, There are also a lot of people who tell me it makes me crazy. Nevertheless, enough people are interested in my wacky view of things that I figured I'd share my creative journey with the general population.

The timing of the blog also comes at a really unique point in my life, a creative explosion if you will, in which I was essentially thrust in a rocket out of my own slumber into a colorful world of possibilities. I'm sure I'll see the wizard someday. But part of being true to yourself as an artist is having the courage to follow the yellow brick road no matter where it leads, even if it's not back to Auntie Em. Everyone has their own road, and their own thought process in making the decisions along the way. That's the fun part. Letting it happen, and seeing where you get. I'd love for you to come along on my creative journey with me...

A little warning here: I take no responsibility, none whatsoever, if you become either brilliant or crazy or artistic or eaten by the cowardly lion in the process. Read at your own risk.

Just a bit about me, without getting too longwinded. I am a fun, loving, overly emotional girl who had an amazing couple of parents in a 'Brady Bunch' kind of family, I was the kid Mr&Mrs Brady would've had together -My dad was an artist and taught me to draw, brought me to boat docks and parks where we would sit all day and draw together. As a grown-up, I got a master's in architecture, worked in the field for 20 years, got married and raised 3 great kids. Now my art, which apparently has been waiting a very long time, is busting out like an overflowing dam, and it is all I can do to stop it.

The drawing above happened at a really serendipitous moment a couple of years ago, 20 years after my dad had passed away. I was wandering around the docks at Tarpon Springs, Florida, a Greek community (my Dad was Greek), smelling the Greek food and the salt water, remembering our days at the docks together, and I looked up and happened to see that image. My Dad's name was Charlie.  I had to sit right down where I was and draw it. There were tourists flooding around me watching, and I really had the time of my life, and felt my Dad was sitting right there with me.  I just love it when things like that happen, and I tend to think nothing is an accident.  I started to know right then that the path of my life was changing a bit. 

Truth is, my belief is that everyone is an artist of their own type. Everyone has a creative impulse that comes out in some way, shape or form. For some it's dancing, singing, or even raising a child or baking a cake. The important thing, in my opinion, is to never block one's creative flow with self-doubt, or fear . I recently learned this face-to-face, and just how critical it is to my own life. The degree of your creativity is directly proportional to the deadliness of the poison of doubt. If a creative person cuts off the flow, they can be left in the prison of depression forever. This is not a good place to be.

So people are always asking me when I draw things, “How can you DO that?” and I suppose I always answer with something logical, like explaining how my Dad taught me when I was a kid, or how I have drawn my whole life, but the underlying thing I feel like answering is, “How can you NOT do that”? And I don't mean to say why are you not ABLE to do's more that drawing for me is a necessity, just like breathing in and out. When I see something (or think something) that strikes me there is a craving inside me to render it somehow, to make it mine, to feel it, to become one with it, in a way that drawing does for me. Sometimes it's not the right time to create when I get that craving, and there is sometimes an actual internal pain. I know I have to let go of it so that normal life can go on in its natural rhythm. When this happens, Something dies a little inside. I know that moment will never come again, and I have to just trust that that picture was meant for someone else, that the world will go on, that I will go on breathing, even if I don't create a piece of art from that inspiration.

(I hope from reading this you might be having a little bit of sympathy for me instead of thinking that life with a creative gift is all glamorous and stuff. It's really quite frustrating. I like sympathy. Go ahead and feel sorry for me. Just remember to buy a piece of art as you shed those tears and all will be well.)

Other times, the craving to create actually comes to fruition, and I am gifted with the ability to carve out just enough time and energy to put that inspiration into a work of art. Each piece becomes a snapshot of the moment, where I hope to convey all of my sensual experience in only usually the visual. It's not an easy task. That's where the process comes in. Sometimes the process can take years from thought to art, as it did in this piece:

So the first step, is just draw. Just write ALWAYS. If the idea is meant to turn into something, it will not go away, and it will eventually become something, which in turn may touch those who see it, so that it can find its way through their brain synapses to where it's supposed to go from there. We are all connected through our creative minds, and in my opinion it is precisely this electric current that makes the world go around.

The topics involved as this blog goes along will be stuff that interests me, but maybe you'd like to take a peek as they come out, not only because the creative process affects everyone, but since I'm interested in just about everything, you'll probably find your interest here too at one time or another.

Thank you for reading!