Natural Inspiration

In learning about permaculture in a class I took, a principle that I found intriguing was that of designing systems based on patterns that exist in nature. I haven’t applied these concepts to any attempts to cultivate plants, but I am finding the concept coming back to mind as I create my In an Open Hand deck card illustrations. In essence, I am experimenting with a more abstract form of art that is still rooted in nature.

I succeeded in drawing a pine branch that I found aesthetically-pleasing, but, as soon as I attempted to draw an entire tree, I found myself completely out of my depth and managed to pencil only a very abnormally-shaped and odd Christmas tree. I have plans to take a colored-pencil class next summer which will hopefully help me improve my skills, but, after my trip to the art museum, I started contemplating the idea of capturing nature on a more abstract level. What I’m currently trying out is outlining a natural shape, such as a pine tree, and then filling it in with more abstract forms such as wavy lines. What I’m making looks a bit like a cartoon but at least approaches something that isn’t repulsive to me.

PHysical Patterns

What I love about turning to nature for ideas is that there are many from which to choose. Below are a list of websites that list possibilities for designs based on nature:

A few commonalities among the website suggestions include waves, spirals and web formations. As far as I understand it, permaculture focuses on physical design to benefit both humans and the ecosystem and is not concerned with aesthetics as a core value. However, I like the idea of tapping into the components of the natural system as a source of creativity, rather than limiting myself to a literal (and highly imperfect) representation of what I take in through my senses. To the extent that you spend time outdoors and/or in nature, how do you translate what you see into your creative passions? In terms of artistic creations, where on the spectrum of literal to abstract do you find yourself falling? Why?

A colored pencil drawing of a pine branch with green needles. The branch is drawn from the upper left to the bottom right of the paper.

Needle by Needle

I finally drew something I don’t hate! I created this pine branch using my Faber-Castell colored pencils on Strathmore 400 Series Colored Pencil paper. In addition to two types of green pencils, I used yellow to highlight and blue to shade. All the pencils I used are in the 12 pack starter version of the Faber-Castell (I cannot emphasize enough how helpful it was to limit how many pencils I’m trying to incorporate).

In terms of technique, I first started by looking at a pine tree and realized the needles covered the branch as well. I sketched in the brown wooden part of the branch lightly first. I used green at first to line each branch at an angle with both shades of green. Next, I drew with yellow on the ends I wanted to highlight, and blue closer to the branches on the underside and where they met. Finally, I covered the wooden part in a cross-hatch motion nearly parallel to it with both shades again.

In terms of improvements needed, my color balance is messed up because I added the smaller areas of needles after the first few branches and they got too much blue, and because I rotated the final drawing in my photograph. I have to work on where and how to photograph my drawings as the overall color is too dark as well but I was too lazy to go outside in 20 degree F weather to try there. Finally, I have to consider how to make the branch appear more 3-D–I think the needles are alright for this but the branch itself looks rather flat because of the angle I used on the parts that split off.

I started my colored pencil drawings attempting to draw an entire tree and it did not go well. I think I have to break stimuli into their components in order to be able to have any chance of creating a visual representation I find palatable. Observing what I am trying to draw in person proved very useful so that is something I will be continuing. If you like to draw, what do you find useful in drawing natural objects? To what extent do you focus on realism? What serves as your inspiration?

At the Center (Daily Works of Art)

In the last half-year, there has been an internal shift unlike any I can remember experiencing. I’ve started T during this period of time, so I’m certain that coming into alignment with myself as a non-binary person has played role in this change. My image of myself has been transformed as I’ve created my present.

I’m a relationship disaster. I get close to people, building up connection and hoping that “this time” something will stick and it won’t go sideways. Every single time, though, that there is a breach of trust, when I feel betrayed, used or mistreated, my trauma surfaces to an insurmountable level and the whole thing breaks apart. My deep-rooted attachment issues win the day, no matter, it seems, how much I try to will them into the background or how hard I work in therapy to undo them. I get re-traumatized and cut more deeply after every experience. I do not heal and I do not grow in my capacity to love by failing at it. The only beings I’ve ever loved are my dog and myself. Relationships with others matter and I will continue to engage in them, but they do not complete me.

My career is equally unable to give me a sense of fulfilment or meaning, despite the fact that I know what I’m doing is valuable. Every trigger I experience there makes it harder to show up the next day. I wade through it, but I don’t derive my joy or sense of purpose from it.

I care about the human condition and the planet, but I’m not an activist. Even though topics such as human rights stir my passions and I advocate for equity, I am not enough of a True Believer ™ in any cause to dedicate my life to it. I find meaning here, but it is fraught with disappointment and despair to an intensity where it is not enough, on its own, to sustain me.

I’m left, then, with the possible sources that most people turn to for their deepest nourishment a shallow bowl of thin soup. Finally, after twenty years of suicidality and less-than-ness, knowing myself to be a loner, a Not a True Believer ™ and an unmet career potential achiever, I may have hit on why I’m here. This dish is a rich stew, with layers of flavor and body.

My core is my inner world. I know my interior to a level of detail I’ve rarely encountered in others. And yet, I scrub the corridors of my mind and sweep the reaches of my heart and still I uncover things about myself I didn’t know before. And I refuse to see the gift of self-knowledge through the lens of navel-gazing self-absorption. We die alone. Life is coming to that realization and finding a reason to keep living.

I haven’t found my inner world in order to escape there and shut myself off from reality. Instead, my physical experience is at the center of my inner world. I live embodied. No, I’ve found my core because it is the root of my spirituality and creativity. I have something to honor and something to express because, in knowing myself, I find my entryway to the universe. I do not live to romance a perfect love, to make the world a better place or to achieve a capitalist monument to money, fame or innovation. I exist to live present, sacred and as a witness to the present and the sacred.

I’m a nature photograph of only the trees and the mountain. No caption to draw attention to the threats of the future. No human figure outlined as the subject. No metaphor for the accolades I’ve garnered. Only the holy now and the lens to see it.

My way of being is not the best or the singular way through life. I fully support those whose center is the periphery of my image—the happy family camping, the environmentalist chained to the tree, the goal-setter summiting the peak. There is pain in finding my focus, because I think it is trauma more than biology that has led me to it. A life unspoiled as mine was might have a depth I cannot achieve in which everything I’ve described is blended into a harmonious entree. But my point is simply that I have something for which I exist, even if it isn’t typical, appreciated or noticed. I’ve found my purpose. Attempting to compel myself to locate it elsewhere is a distraction from my fundamental source of joy and hope. I’m in this light, of this breath, reflecting divine presence.

Exploring a New Art Medium (Today’s Simple Pleasure)

After much deliberation, I’ve finally arrived at the medium I am going to use to create my In an Open Hand intuitive deck: colored pencils! I’d spent time reflecting previously and had thought digital art was the way to go. I’d planned to purchase an expensive computer and use Adobe Illustrator to illustrate the cards.

As I sat with the decision, however, I felt more and more uncertain. Specifically, I kept imagining myself dropping a few thousand and then feeling totally overwhelmed by the process and too lazy, frankly, to move to another part of my house to spend time on my artwork. My dog and I have an evening routine of sitting on my couch and I came to see that whatever I do, at least for now, has to be easy to access as well as portable in case I want to work outdoors or in a cafe.

Because of these realizations, I settled on colored pencils. There is a class I can take next summer locally on working with the medium which excites me even more and which made the choice easier. My lack of self-control led me to purchase both the Prismacolor set (wax-based) as well as the Faber-Castell set (oil-based) and lots of accessories. (Side note: it is easy to justify spending a few hundred when you can tell yourself you are “saving” over a thousand dollars 🙂

The colored pencils are scheduled to arrive soon. I plan to start by creating gradients and practicing my technique before trying to actually draw any of the elements of my cards. Luckily, there are lots of Youtube tutorials that have given me a likely exaggerated sense of self-confidence that I can produce beautiful art with this medium. I will eventually have to at least photograph my artwork (if I make it that far) to have the deck printed, and can explore the digital art format if needed. I believe that years of exploring my spirituality and my creativity have led me to this new chapter, and I cannot wait to write it. Which art medium have you been exploring lately? What has it taught you?

Drawing in Season (Today’s Simple Pleasure)

For today’s simple pleasure, I combined photography and drawing to trace and color a leaf* on Adobe Draw (a free phone app). I struggle with fine motor skills and tend to give up on drawings because I have to work from an outline. As I understand copyright law, I don’t think it is legal to trace someone else’s photograph and then draw it as my own if I want to share it. I was excited to realize that I can use my camera and take my own photographs in order to have something from which I can work.

Leaves are turning very colorful and falling from the trees where I live, so using that as my focal point made a lot of sense. My artistic knowledge is pre-K if that is a fair comparison, but one element of drawing to which I’ve been attending is the idea that adding black lines around and within a drawing seems to elevate it. I included several brown and red colors to my leaf and then drew in the veins which made it pop. What is in season where you live? How might you go about drawing it?

*I couldn’t figure out the resolution so unfortunately I am not able to share it here. I cannot wait until I get Adobe Illustrator and am able to include my own artwork!

Tasting Something Flavorful (Today’s Simple Pleasure)

For today’s simple pleasure, I made my own recipe which is an Americanized version of aligot, a French cheese and potatoes dish. I’ve always enriched my mashed potatoes with a lot of butter and milk, but, after adding cheese one day on a whim when I wanted to test my blender capacity, I am hooked on this combination.

Ingredients

4 Russet potatoes, cubed and boiled

1 brick (8 oz.) Monterey Jack cheese, cut into small cubes

1 can evaporated milk

2 TBS butter

Salt and pepper to taste

Steps

Cut up the potatoes and boil in salted water to cover on the stove. As soon as you finish cooking the potatoes (around 30 minutes on the stove), drain and place them into a blender* or food processor along with the rest of the ingredients. If you do not have a high-powered blender, I think you could also melt the cheese into the butter/evaporated milk and then rice the potatoes into the hot liquid before mixing vigorously.

The potatoes will seem a bit loose at first but will firm up quickly. Serve with a protein and greens. Have you ever tried aligot? If so, what is your favorite cheese/potato combo?

*Make sure you have enough liquid as I nearly burned out my blender with this recipe. Leftover potato water can be added as needed.

A photograph of a card with a pomegranate drawing, a bronze meditation bowl with a wooden dowel, a small candle and a gray soapstone in the shape of a heart.

Honoring Each Sense (Today’s Simple Pleasure)

For today’s simple pleasure, I decided to create an altar to sensory experiences. Children are often encouraged to attend exhibits or engage with toys that stimulate each of their senses. As we age, I think we can easily become overly-reliant on one or two senses to the detriment of a full exploration of the world. Not only do our senses diminish with age, but we may experience unexpected life circumstances that reduce or eliminate a sense from our experience. Our sensory world is therefore ever-shifting, so I think that finding the sacred in it is a valuable experience.

I focused on visual, auditory, tactile and olfactory (smell) sensations for my altar. I left off gustatory (taste) and more complex brain-body interactions such as our vestibular system (sense of balance).

For my sense of vision, I included a drawing of a pomegranate tree. I liked this inclusion because it represents both vision in the outer world and the inner world of mentalizing required to create drawings. Vision is the sense on which I am over-reliant. I look much more than I listen or feel or taste or anything else. I would much, much rather read a set of instructions rather than have to hear someone explain something to me, because I can consume visual information much more quickly. Even though I view something, do I really see it?

For my sense of hearing, I included a meditation bowl that a friend gifted me. I appreciate that it can be used to create a short, high-pitched chime or, if the wooden dowel is run along the inner brim, to create a longer, deeper note. I would say hearing is a more difficult sense for me as I have a difficult time screening out or modulating any sounds that bother me. I have tinnitus as well which adds to my distress.

In relation to touch, I included a heart-shaped soapstone. It is cold, heavy and smooth, which is a combination of textures that I find calming. I use my sense of touch as a way to self-soothe quite often, and have to be careful about the amount of jewelry I wear as I am constantly playing with any rings or bracelets I have on. My tactile senses are generally a source of pleasure more than annoyance for me because of this.

The final sense I honored with my altar was smell. I included a beeswax candle and lit it as I complied my creation. Along with hearing, smelling is generally more unpleasant than pleasant for me. I hate “people smells” on the whole and become over-stimulated very quickly in perfume sections of stores. In part, I think I am sensitive to chemicals, and, in part, I have an extremely heightened disgust response which is easily triggered by any odors I deem unpleasant. Add in the occasional migraine and a low-smell environment is definitely more my speed. All that said, certain smells like fresh bread or cookies baking are delightful, and gentle scents like my candle refresh me.

The experience of creating my altar led me to re-examine my relationship with my perception of sensory information. So much of the rigidity with which I order my world as well as the anxiety I experience in public settings can be explained by my relationship with each sense. A smelly, loud environment is inevitably going to stress me out, and a visually and texturally-interesting one is going to draw me in. I absolutely loved going to the fabric store as a child, and now I know why! For yourself, to whatever extent you are able to use each sense, which ones bring you pleasure? How does this show up in your life?

Giving Myself Permission to Hope and Dream (Today’s Simple Pleasure)

Today’s simple pleasure could not have come at a better time. I’m feeling in a negative rut in several areas of my life as of late, so hope has been hard to come by. I keep making attempts to improve my life but have only met with limited success in my vocational and relationship arenas. Every failure and setback leads me to feel like I’ve dug myself deeper into a pit of despair and hopelessness.

One possibility that has been more promising than the rest is the idea that I may not be able to alter certain areas of my life in significant ways, but I can potentially expand my experience and activities in a manner that improves my quality of life. I am opening to more creativity and artistic expression as a means of bringing purpose, intellectual enrichment and challenge into my daily experience. Specifically, I am planning to equip myself with digital tools in the next few months so that I can illustrate the intuitive card deck that I have been working to create for the past few years.

I struggle with judging my time spent being creative as frivolous, and then I have a crummy week like this week where the core importance of grounding myself in my own body as a sensing and expressing being, rather than existing only in my identity as it relates to my occupation and friendships, shines through. So, for today, I hope that I can achieve my creative goals and that I can continue to find new avenues for exploration of the world that excite and interest me. Where might you benefit from giving yourself permission to hope and dream?

Making a Cup of Tea (Today’s Simple Pleasure)

The daily card I draw each day for my simple pleasure has been dovetailing aptly with my needs as of late. The weather dropped at least 30 degrees Fahrenheit in the past week; it’s been a hard fall into winter instead of a gentle glide into autumn. Because of the chill, a cup of tea was the perfect way to enjoy a simple pleasure today.

I selected a ginger-spearmint blend of loose-leaf tea and heated it in my cast-iron tea kettle. I’m not sure if there is a different on a physical level if tea is heated in a cast-iron, but, to my palate, it adds a particular tang and preserves the tea’s delicacy. The Mara mug I used, which is etched with leaping animals, has traveled with me through many seasons of life. I purchased it in a shop years ago in an artsy part of a city, so drinking from it stirs up my creative aspirations. What’s your favorite way to drink tea?

Creating a Design (Today’s Simple Pleasure)

I’ve had an art breakthrough! Well, possibly. Over the years, I have stopped and started more art projects than I can count and have shelves of paint, paper and other supplies sitting idle. I have finally come to recognize that my inertia on being visually creative has to do with form more than substance. I dislike mess and fumes, so the idea of getting out a set of paintbrushes, attempting to paint a creation beyond the scope of my fine motor skills, and, finally, having to clean everything up afterwards taxes me too much. The solution? Digital art!

As soon as I get an idea in my head, I usually want to spend as much money as I can reasonably waste (hence my unused artroom) on accumulating the tools needed to execute my vision. In this situation, however, I’ve decided to proceed more slowly in order to make sure the way of arting that I’ve landed on actually fits me. Specifically, I downloaded a free app version of Adobe Illustrator to try out on my phone with my stylus before I invest in something like a Wacom tablet. Yesterday, I created a candy-corn cartoon, and, for today’s simple pleasure, will be keeping the fall theme going by designing a pumpkin cartoon. I find it hard to follow through with being artistic when it doesn’t feel like it has any utility, but I know that I need ways to occupy my mind that are healthy and safe, so I’m going with it. What is your favorite way to art? What digital tools do you like to use?