Mica Collage

January 27, 2008

I’m working on several paintings for a poster presentation that I’ll be taking to a botany conference in two weeks.  The poster is mostly about using handground mineral pigments in egg tempera for botanical illustration, but will also include scratchboard art and a couple of craft projects like this:

mica collage

Jaguar Tracks in Blue Oak Canyon  10″x14″

Amate (Mexican bark paper, which represents rocks), muscovite and biotite mica flakes and powdered pearlescent mica pigment (flowing water), copper foil (blue oak leaves), gold metallic powders (acorns), silver scratchboard (forefoot track), red ochre (hind foot track), malachite and azurite pigments (the moon, and the copper ores which are found in the canyon).

TURQUOISE has been turning up more frequently in my art recently, and it looks like that will continue for awhile.  I have an ambivalent relationship with this stone.  I’m not fond of most turquoise jewelry or its various cultural trappings – my attraction to it is much more primitive.  My favorite cuts are the round “donut” discs with a hole in the center, large smooth but irregularly-shaped beads, and some very simple cabochons.  When I use it in jewelry, I’m trying for a look that is primitive but universal – something to display on a blanket on the ground, that could have come out of a trader’s pack yesterday or three thousand years ago.  I just finished this necklace of hammered and hot-forged copper, African cast-glass beads, a Chinese turquoise donut, and an antique Chinese cast-bronze bell (this is OLD, and the subtle design on the surface was worn and obscured long before the beautiful patina developed).  The bell has a lighter, more tinkly sound than my iron bells.

bronze bell necklace

bronze bell necklace

A few days ago, turquoise entered my creative life in a different way when I accepted a commission for a lion doll made with the same pattern as the one on my website.  But this one is to be a Tibetan snow lion, white with a turquoise mane.  I am already having fun planning his blanket and ornaments, even though I won’t be able to start on the project until after the botany conference.


Stick Oracle: Madrone Gate

January 21, 2008

Madrone Gate

For the Waxing Gibbous Moon, the Stick Oracle shows a gate built of two heavy Arizona madrone branches placed in a pile of stones on a small island.  The young bark of madrones is smooth and dark red, so it is shown in black here.  Older bark is nearly white and is broken up into small square blocks.  The poles crossing the forked top are made of peeled branches.  Old stumps, repeatedly healed after fire damage, fade into the background.

stick oracle card

Just in time for the First Quarter Moon – the corresponding card in my Stick Oracle, showing two forked staves marking the confluence of two creeks.  Although carefully sketched before inking, these Stick cards (six so far, with two to go) have had a lot of reworking as each develops on the way to the completed drawing.  When they are done, I will make minor changes in all of them to improve the way they fit together.  All are powerful images for me, from long ago and far away – they seem to have always been with me.  Although several of them have motifs in common with the Wands in the Tarot, they are more complex than that (for example, they have water as well as wood and stone). 

Cranes and Ferns

January 13, 2008

Yesterday we went cranewatching and fernhunting, two activities that have special significance in southeastern Arizona.  Thousands of sandhill cranes spend part of the winter here, drawn to the warm weather, cornfields, and small artificial ponds.  A thousand years ago, they would have come for the natural cienegas (marshes) and grasslands that have now vanished.  Their wild, primitive cries and whistling feathers swirl over us now – voice of the High Plains wind, ice on the Platte River, and that older Ice that never reached the desert, but still colors the feathers of the wildest of birds.

We watched several barn owls fluttering in a willow thicket – pale soft wings flickering among tangled twigs – and found a sleeping long-eared owl nearly invisible beside a willow trunk.  A small flock of snow geese gathered on the pond and a ferruginous hawk – another Plains visitor – hunted in a field.  Then it was time to follow the gravel road over the hills and admire the view of distant mountain ranges while we hunted for two rare ferns among the limestone outcrops.  They are Mexican plants that enter the U.S. only in extreme southeastern Arizona and the Big Bend region of Texas.  I found them and a couple of other ferns, and added all four to my online fern guide.


A couple of days ago I made these simple earrings as a demonstration for a friend, showing two different sizes of copper wire:  14 gauge spirals and 16 gauge loops for the African cast glass beads.

glass and copper earrings

Ice Lamp Moon

January 8, 2008

Today’s New Moon is the Ice Lamp Moon in my personal moon calendar.  I named it when I was 13, in reference to the Winter Orchid or Puttyroot (Aplectrum hyemale) that grew in the woods near my house.  The plant has a single leaf that sprouts in September and persists through the winter, dying back in May as the flowerstalk appears.  I made this painting several years ago to celebrate the plant, and it also appears on the Apprentice of Blades in my tarot deck.

Ice Lamp Moon

This morning’s Dark Moon meditation produced two images that work together, which seems appropriate for the month of Janus, the double-faced Roman guardian of beginnings and doorways.  These are 3″ drawings in Yarka Sauce, which are naturally pigmented, kaolin-based drawing chalks from Russia.  Though messy, they are very inexpensive and nice if you want to work with earth pigments (or just earthy colors) and don’t want to grind your own.  The “Sauce” is an assortment of ten colors (white, black, several shades of gray, and an earthy green, yellow, and blue).  The “Sanguine and Sepia” is 20 sticks in four shades of natural red ochre (not true sepia, which is brown and derived from squid ink).  It’s a beautiful and easy way to use red ochre.  The sticks can be used like pastels or powdered and applied with a brush.  They can be smoothed and blended with water to create many layers, though they don’t work well in egg tempera because of the high clay content and the presence of a binder.

New Moon 1
new moon 2

On recent hikes in the Madrean evergreen oak/pine forest in nearby mountains, we have encountered one of the few absolutes among the natural nourishing and limiting factors that determine our local flora.  When most people think of “desert”, they think of intense summer heat and low rainfall.  But in U.S. deserts, another natural element plays an equally important role:  ice.  Many of our drought-tolerant southern Arizona desert plants – cacti, agaves and yuccas, evergreen oaks and pines, thorny shrubs, and others – have relatives in warmer climates in Mexico, or in California where there is more winter rain, or in Texas where there is more summer rain.  Our species are adapted to frost (several nights a year that are below freezing), high temperatures (several days a year that are over 105), and bi-seasonal rainfall (summer monsoons and winter rain and snow).  I’m reminded of this each year when we experience the various extremes.  Below is ice on weathered granite, with tiny leaves of the evergreen oak Quercus toumeyana.

ice with oak leaves

Silver Scratchboard Wand

January 5, 2008

I bought myself a Winter Solstice present:  silver scratchboard by ScratchArt.  It comes in packages of 10 8″x10″ sheets for about $8.00.  Basically it’s a sheet of smooth aluminum foil laminated to cardstock and coated with a thin layer of black ink.  The ink layer is thinner than the Ampersand Scratchboard (Claybord Black) that I usually use, and is easier to scratch off – but the foil surface quickly dulls the knife edge!  It is better suited to a curved blade rather than a pointed one, though I use both.  I will enjoy using this for crafts, gifts, or personal projects – obviously it doesn’t photograph or print well, but the effect is dramatic and very appropriate for winter.

A year ago I had a dream in which I walked in a dark, windy marsh and was told, “A true healing shaman blows noon, with breath like molten silver.”  This would have been quite inspiring, except that I have hardly had the breath to blow out a candle for the past 25 years – and candle flames seem to get bigger and more stubborn each year!  So what does it mean?  Either I’m attempting spiritual work that I shouldn’t be doing, or I might unlock some healing energy if I work more with a metal that I’ve always approached with some ambivalence.   A reading on the subject gave me the Ore of Spikes/Ace of Wands.  So here on silver scratchboard is an object inspired by an older dream of a split silver wand that sprayed stars when I held it.  Here it’s depicted as the lichen glyph for the day after the Full Moon, which is the day that I had the dream last year.  A way of setting one intention for the year – to forge more silver.  I like using blacksmithing techniques to work with heavy silver rod, but the Moon Metal is less forgiving and more unpredictable than steel – it tends to writhe under the hammer, and can crack or twist without warning.  But it has a lively tension that is not seen in cast or fabricated silver, and it’s a good match with blackened steel.

silver scratchboard wand