Tabby’s Birthday

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. 

Me with Tabby (age 9), January 2002

Me with Tabby (age 9), January 2002

For his birthday, I decide to re-create the photo, even though he’s less cooperative about having his picture taken!

Me with Tabby (age 19), January 2012

Me with Tabby (age 19), January 2012

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Embroidered Cotton Shirt

January 25, 2012

More spiral hook and eyes, smaller than those on the vest.  The clasps on this embroidered cotton shirt are made from 16-gauge yellow brass wire.  I drafted the shirt pattern.  The collar, cuffs, front placket, and back yoke binding are made from tea-dyed muslin secured with handstitched commercial black bias tape.  Sleeves and front placket have pleats, not gathers.  I drew the embroidery motifs to echo the dotted geometric stripe design of the fabric.  I suppose you could call this “pseudo-blackwork” because it’s blackwork-inspired (and uses the same kind of thread) but is more freeform and lacks the precision of counted threadwork.  This is a “special occasion” shirt, very soft and light, with three-quarter length sleeves so I can wear a bracelet with it.  The clasps will soon tarnish to dark brownish-yellow and will look much less gaudy.

Embroidered Cotton Shirt

Embroidered Cotton Shirt

Embroidery Details

Embroidery Details

A Book of Trees in a Dream

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.

Morel - watercolor, 1984

Morel - watercolor, 1984

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.

Tree Book - Wood Drawings

Tree Book - Wood Drawings

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.

Black Steel Wire Necklace

January 14, 2012

This choker-style Black Steel Wire Necklace incorporates many of the wire design motifs that I’ve developed over the years.  I recently returned to steel wirework to regain some strength in my hands, and decided to make an elaborate project that would use up most of my remaining wire.  I’m pretty happy with this, and still have enough wire for a few chain links etc. so now I can focus on new forged iron  and other metalwork.

Black Steel Wire Necklace

Black Steel Wire Necklace

I started with a chain made of two mirror-image trios of graduated double spiral links.  I love the sinuous, flowing look of these, and they were fun to make.  They fit and drape very well, and I may make another set to add to a forged necklace.

Double Spiral Links

Double Spiral Links

Wire “Feather” Fringe:  I used straight, curled, and spiral flattened fringe styles.  I also used three twisted fringe styles:  single twist, reverse twist, and a repeating reverse twist.  These are the only part of the necklace that had to be worked hot (each piece must be carefully twisted in a propane torch flame).  Everything else was done cold.  The difference between the twisted fringe styles are subtle and probably not noticeable to most people, but they do affect the overall look, so I wanted some of each kind.

Single Twist and Flat Fringe

Single Twist and Flat Fringe

Reverse Twist Fringe

Reverse Twist Fringe

Repeated Reverse Twist with Flat Coils

Repeated Reverse Twist with Flat Coils

I connected the pieces with two types of decorative S-links to echo the shape of the double spirals.  These links can be made as short as half an inch or as long as an inch, so they are an easy, unobtrusive way to adjust the length of the necklace and the spacing of the other elements when laying out the design.  The wire is flattened before bending to give it strength and add a bit of 3-D contrast to the round wire used for the spirals.  There are two long links at the front and two short ones at the back.

This necklace has no links that are specially designed as a clasp, since there really wasn’t a good place for them in the design.  Instead, one of the largest double spiral links is slightly opened at the bottom, forming a hidden hook.  It’s just as secure as a hook clasp, and is easier to use since it’s at the front of the necklace.

How long did it take?  You know better than to ask that around here. 🙂

Happy New Year!

January 4, 2012

New Year Black Kitten

New Year Black Kitten

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:

Kitten in Hands

Kitten in Hands