March 29, 2012
Posted by request…there is more, but this is enough for now.
Catsoul is vast and mysterious, containing domestic cats as well as the little fierce wild ones, the great lions and panthers, and the ancient sabertooths and their ancestors. It is the tabby kitten curled up on a pillow, the starving stray waiting on the porch, and wary eyeshine in the urban night. It watches. It is the pampered show cat with long glittering fur and a jeweled collar, and the breeder’s castoff with a deformed spine and useless hind legs. It survives. It can see in the dark, and it can leap and hunt and play and dance. It is blind and crippled, deaf and incontinent, feeble of mind and wracked with seizures. It loves. It is the beloved skeleton buried in the garden, wrapped in a fraying blanket under a fragrant flowering bush that gives life to butterflies and hummingbirds. It defines a holy place. It is the ocelot crawling on a jungle vine, the tiger swimming in a muddy river, and the huge ancient fang shining like blue porcelain in the glacial dust. It transforms, yet endures.
A cat is a sacred companion whose presence embodies rest and concentration, affection and obligation, self-sufficiency and mutual dependence. Where cats have skillful, loving care, there is no need for a separate “spiritual practice” because the daily rhythm honors the Catsoul, and even scrubbing litterboxes or washing the floor is “serving in the temple.” An ever-changing maze of interwoven pawprints and handprints records this dance.
No domestic cat, however feral, is truly “wild” or beyond hope of ever forging a connection with a human. Even the shyest is descended from ancestors who purred at the touch of a hand. If they could, these betrayed ones would advise us: “In all of our souls, a place was made for You in the Long Ago, when we left our stripes in the long grass and came to live beside your First Fire. Somewhere between fleeing and clutching, there is a place for all of us to meet.”
A cat keeps and nurtures the soul of a home, and you can follow this subtle watching, resting, and loving presence from one room to another, as the sunlight makes its daily journey across the floor. A house that shelters many cats becomes a sanctuary for humans as well as felines, and here you feel the presence of Catsoul in all its complexity and power. The long-time residents anchor it. Those who will not be touched still give it raw vitality. The kittens renew it and the old and fragile show its precious tenacity. At its heart are the new arrivals, the ill, and those walking their final days on earth. These are held in austere limbo between lives, perhaps even in isolation, and form the stillpoint at the center of the turning wheel. This is a necessary transition that carries the weight of myth. It is an ancient method of initiation, drastic adjustment, and deep healing.
Each cat makes a unique contribution to its home and caretaker. Upon the cat’s death, this special role is lost to the household but enters the enduring secret shrine of Memory. Here, the precious one continues to offer insight and comfort, long past the raw, empty time of grief. Even after decades, you will still recall the way that one looked at you, the precise texture of the fur, the length of the tail, the gait that distinguished those paws from all others, the first meeting that transformed a kitty into My Cat.
February 28, 2012
Two views of the same ancient Live Oak (Quercus virginiana) from Nags Head Woods on North Carolina’s Outer Banks. A third view would have completed the circle and showed the jagged blades of wood in the hollow trunk, but it was impossible to get a photo from that direction, since the tree is growing next to a swamp thicket.
This is one of the illustrations for the Lichen Oracle. I don’t intend to illustrate every glyph (that would defeat the purpose of the oracle, and limit it too much) but the story that goes with them will need a few pictures. This important tree also inspired one of the glyphs.
An ancient live oak anchors the heart of the island. Its hollow trunk is filled with snakes and snails, and booms like a drum. The surface of the wood is storm-polished where the bark has worn away. It feels cool and hard, like a river boulder. The heavy branches arch overhead, some broken and rotting, others still sparkling with leaves and acorns. Water-filled branch scars hold reflections of jellyfish. A sea turtle skull, round and white as the full moon, lies deep below the oldest roots. Rain and starlight fall through the empty trunk and wash like waves over the dreaming bone.
February 25, 2012
I received my Spoonflower fabric order yesterday, which was mostly black and white cat drawings for a wall hanging. But I also had two designs printed in color. All the designs were printed on Kona quilter’s cotton. The swatches are 8×8 inches.
The first swatch is a collage made from four digital photos of copper ore boulders from the mines at Helvetia, Arizona. Minerals shown in the photos include malachite, chrysocolla, turquoise, iron oxides, etc. I was quite happy with this and may try a few other colorful rock textures for jewelry bags, spreadcloths, etc. This one will probably end up on an embroidered cloth for protecting and displaying copper jewelry.
The second swatch is a design based on the flowers and pods of Lacepod (Thysanocarpus curvipes), one of our early spring desert wildflowers. The white flowers are nearly invisible, and the tiny seedpods are only a quarter inch long. The pods on the fabric design are one inch wide. The photo shows the fabric on the left and the actual plant (with nearly-ripe pods) on the right. This swatch will probably end up on an embroidered jewelry bag.
Spoonflower’s printing process allows for crisp, accurate reproduction of extremely detailed designs. Unfortunately, it isn’t durable enough to stand up to repeated washing, which makes it unsuitable for everyday clothing, at least for me. It’s fine for costumes, vests, decorator quilts, and other items that won’t (often) be washed.
February 6, 2012
Two more Tree Book pencil drawings: On the left is Petrophytum caespitosum, Rockmat or Dwarf Spiraea. It’s essentially a miniature tree, only about six inches tall. It is primarily a Rocky Mountain plant, rare in southern Arizona, where it is restricted to ridgetop outcrops of pure limestone and marble in the Huachuca, Whetstone, and Empire Mountains. The drawing shows most of a weathered dead plant, drawn life size. The living plant has rosettes of tiny leaves at the branch tips, and clusters of tiny white flowers that resemble those of its close relative, Ceanothus.
Photos of this species can be seen here:
The drawing on the right is an American beech, Fagus americana, with exposed roots clinging to a clay creekbank. I drew this from a color snapshot that I took in about 1985. It’s in a small wooded creek valley in the northern Virginia neighborhood where I grew up. I played in the creek as a child. In high school I went there nearly every afternoon, and the woods became my refuge and a place to learn and explore. This tree’s roots shaded a pool where a tiny ravine drained into the winding creek. There were many such trees in that place. Their nets of smooth bluish-gray roots, interlaced like fingers or rope, hung cavelike over a trickle of brown water and gravel bars of white quartz pebbles.
January 28, 2012
Tabby is our oldest cat, and the one we’ve had for the longest time. He was a stray that we took in when we lived in Versailles, Kentucky. I first saw him in November 1994 when he took refuge in our backyard shed. He was very friendly and already neutered, so I assumed that this big handsome cat was someone’s pet. He looked to be about 18 months old. I found out that he belonged to a neighbor whose daughter adopted him as a kitten, quickly grew tired of him, and gave him to her mother. The mother didn’t like him because he didn’t match her two gray and white cats, so she dumped him outside. He kept visiting our apartment and the two other rentals in the house, and we all fed him. Finally the neighbor denied ownership and we were able to bring him into our family in August 1998. I have arbitrarily assigned his birthday to January 1993; this is a minimum age, since he was full grown when we met him. So he’s 19 this year, in excellent health (with all his teeth!) and still the same active, friendly cat who loves everyone, although he’s got darkening “old man eyes” and I think feline dementia has begun to set in, since he consistently yowls at his water bowl for several minutes before drinking. Here’s a photo of me holding him in January 2002.
For his birthday, I decide to re-create the photo, even though he’s less cooperative about having his picture taken!
January 17, 2012
I have always wanted to write an illustrated natural history book. It began long ago, when I began to see scientific illustration as more than just an old-fashioned art form, and started to work on it as a spiritual practice.
Science. Nature. Art. Spirit. For me there is no division between these things, although Science typically argues otherwise, and continues to shatter Itself into smaller and more isolated fragments.
“Things just get further and further apart, The head from the hands, and the hands from the heart.”
– Lhasa de Sela (from the album “The Living Road”, 2004).
It recently occurred to me that I have been looking for this book all of my life, subconciously searching for it in libraries, nature centers, bookstores, and even online. But I’ll never find it there, and my unusual combination of interests probably means that it must be purely a personal project. In years past, I’ve made several attempts to plan it, and succeeded only in writing a few disjointed paragraphs to go with a handful of random images. But it began to crystallize about a year ago, as I refined the Lichen Oracle and decided to let it evolve into a larger project. A diverse collection of notes, lists, and drawings – some of them years or decades old – slowly came together, like iron filings drawn by a magnet. I drew a huge diagram that evolved into a tangled net of tiny interconnected sketches and single words. It sat rolled up in my studio for months as I conjured inspiration to fill in the gaps. New sketches accumulated on the shelf above it. One day I unrolled the chart, intending to make a second draft, more organized and detailed. I realized that half of it was sketches for four drawings that I had since finished. I rejected some of it as no longer useful. Only a small piece was left. I added it to the pile of recent sketches, put them all in an empty, newly-prepared drawer of my flatfile cabinet, and went back to work on a pencil drawing.
Slowly and quietly, all the bits and pieces began to speak to each other. Irrelevant or duplicated ideas vanished. Hidden connections surfaced. A simplified structure emerged. I began to see it, like a path through a thicket.
A book of drawings, paintings, illuminations, and writing.
The Graphis Lichen Oracle and the Oracle of Sticks, Stones, and Bones.
A record of sacred natural treasures: trees and precious pebbles, seedpods, shells, fungi, pieces of wood.
How to look at a deer antler, or a desert fern, or a quartz crystal, or a turtle shell.
A Creekwalker’s account of the Gates into the Otherworld:
The Lichen Cloak, the Thorn House, the Wheel of Hawks.
And other pages, still unspoken here…
Of course some of it is already finished. A lot more resides in the drawer of rough drafts, waiting. A new red ochre drawing lays on my desk. One night I saw a version of the book in a dream, a sure sign that the project is well on its way and ready for more energy and a tighter focus. In the dream, the pages held only pencil drawings of sacred native trees and their wood: oak, hackberry, saguaro, swamp tupelo, beech, and others. Its purpose was to “banish the fear of death” in the viewer. (I expect that would take a very special and unusual viewer, given the incomprehension, unease, fear, or hostility with which most people view this type of art). But it was good enough for me. The work continues, more seriously now, as the path rises into the desert oak forest.
O’bon L’Artiste pencils in a Moleskine large sketchbook.
LEFT: weathered live oak wood (Quercus virginiana), Nags Head, NC.
RIGHT: part of a walking stick made from Arizona black oak root (Quercus emoryi), Santa Rita Mountains, AZ.
TOP: saguaro “boot” (scarwood), baldcypress driftwood, and rockmat (Petrophytum caespitosum), a miniature shrub.
January 4, 2012
This Happy New Year Kitten is another ink drawing for the new cat fabric that I’m working on. The final B&W version will probably look like this: