As the moon wanes, I’m selling the last copies of the Ironwing Tarot Major Arcana (two copies left as of this morning), and putting several egg tempera paintings up for sale on my website HERE.  None of them are new (I haven’t done any painting in nearly two years, due to other drawing projects, more metal and lapidary work, and having more cats to care for).  Several, such as Jaguarundi Shaman that appears on my website homepage, have never been offered for sale before now.  I had retired most of my paintings from the website because most people do not find them interesting, and the painting medium (handground mineral pigments in eggyolk/water medium) can be a turnoff, especially for younger people who typically prefer the ultra-saturated colors that they are used to seeing in digital art.  So if I don’t get any inquiries in the next six months or so, I’ll take them down permanently so they’re not cluttering the site.

Cat Eye Moon

The Tucson gem and mineral shows are in town, and I’ve been enjoying the madness for the past week, although I only visited two shows this year.  Now that I have a lapidary machine and am starting to make beads and carvings, I didn’t look at beads or finished stones.  Instead, I bought rough rock (big pile of Madagascar carnelian river pebbles), slabs (picture jasper, blue tigereye, agate, etc.), and various small tools.  The fossil displays were some of the best I’ve ever seen at the show.  I couldn’t resist buying a lower jaw fragment of Megaloceros, the Pleistocene giant deer, that was collected from a gravel bar in the Rhine River, Germany. 

Looks like I’ll be working with a lot of carnelian!  In addition to the lovely Madagascar stones that I just bought, I also have an old stockpile of Oregon material, and a pile of bead-sized pink, orange, and red carnelian pebbles that we collected a few weeks ago in the Empire Mountains.  So I’m looking forward to making more carvings like this one that I finished in December:

A carved mussel shell of Oregon carnelian.


Ironwing Tarot Update

April 6, 2009

Ironwing Tarot  full 78-card deck with book and bag:

SOLD OUT as of today.


22 card MAJOR ARCANA set (square-cornered cards, no book or bag) is STILL AVAILABLE.

How to Draw Fire

April 1, 2009

The title phrase has shown up in my blog stats every day for about a year. 
What does fire look like?  Regardless of the art medium or style that you are using, you need to be familiar with what fire looks like and how it behaves.  Here’s the photo gallery at, the ultimate online resource for PICTURES OF FIRE.  Under the first heading, “Fire Photo Pages”, you’ll find 40 pages, each with several photos.  There are more photos at the bottom of the page under “Incidents by Name and Year”.
Symbols for Fire:  The Ironwing Tarot uses several symbolic techniques to represent fire in small ink drawings.  It shows fire, sparks, or smoke on 27 cards (Major Arcana and Spikes).  Many of these are rather subtle, since fire isn’t usually the main subject of the card.
Painting Fire:  Fire is surprisingly easy to render effectively in mineral pigments, especially against a dark background.   This egg tempera sketch shows a whitetail deer scapula painted in charred bone, with a smoky background painted with forest fire charcoal.  The fiery figure is painted in yellow ochre with red ochre accents.  Commercial transparent watercolor would offer more color options, but the idea is the same – keep it simple, with thin glazes of intense color against a darker, more neutral background.
Scapulimancy Fire

Scapulimancy Fire

Here is a rather stylized egg tempera painting of fire glowing in the earth, surrounded by charred thorns:

Fire and Thorns

Fire and Thorns

Previous posts on this blog that include fire paintings include a painting of an iron pomegranate with fire inside (rendered in realgar, not yellow ochre), and a painting of a pomegranate made of fire.
GREEN fire?  Yes, when copper ore is heated (or copper metal that has developed a green patina), it gives off green flames.  This watercolor miniature was painted in iron oxides and copper ores (red cuprite, green malachite, and blue azurite).
Copper Fire Bowl

Copper Fire Bowl

Moon Turtle Mandalas

February 18, 2009

The circular turtle shell is a motif that I have used in several drawings, the most detailed of which is the scratchboard Tsunami Turtle.  The first time I used it, I painted the Dark Moon Tortoise Mandala in forest fire charcoal, charred bone, and silver metallic powders.  It’s been holding a collection of white chalcedony “moon pebbles”, though now I’m drilling some of the pebbles for other projects.  Here it is with an old pencil drawing, Coyote Imitates Uroboros.

Coyote Imitates Uroboros

Coyote Imitates Uroboros

The design was modified from a realistic drawing of a box turtle shell:
Box Turtle Outline

Box Turtle Outline

I’ve used box turtle shells for several drawings that are inspired by the infinite variety of yellow and brown designs on the shell.  The one below is a fanciful handprint design painted in realistic colors using handground iron oxide mineral pigments (goethite, limonite, hematite, and Fe-Mn oxide).  I have a collection of more than a dozen shells, all with very different patterns.  One is nearly black with only a small brown patch on each scute.  Another is mostly yellow.  Most are about half brown and half yellow, with concentric, radiating, or irregular glyph-like patterns.
Box Turtle Hands

Box Turtle Hands

Download a large printable version of the Box Turtle Outline template  HERE to decorate with your own “cheloglyphs”!
The Turtle Shell as a Moon Calendar:  In most turtles, the carapace (the top half of the shell) has 13 scutes (thin brownish and/or yellowish plates that are made of keratin, the same material as hair) and the plastron usually has 12 (some species have 10).  The scutes cover and protect the bone underneath, and develop concentric ridges as the turtle grows.  The number of marginal scutes (the small rectangular plates around the edge of the shell) varies depending on the species but their are typically 12 to 14 on each side, sometimes with a tiny scute called the nuchal at the center front.
All these divisions make the turtle shell an interesting way to lay out stones or other natural objects, divination spreads, drawings, and similar projects that are based on the lunar calendar.

This Moon Turtle design is a very stylized and fully reversible circular version that I adapted for use with many different media – paper, fabric, metal, etc. :

Small Circular Turtle Template

Small Circular Turtle Template

Download a large printable version for your own project  HERE.
(Downloadable images are for personal use only, not for resale .)

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.

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

Skystone Mineral Pigment

December 6, 2007

copper ore pigment

This is a new mineral pigment for my collection – a tiny piece of greenish-blue copper ore from a local abandoned mine.  It contains malachite, chrysocolla, and probably a bit of turquoise.  I already have several examples of all these pigments in my collection, but this piece was particularly bright and clean, so the paint is clear and (for copper ore) relatively intensely colored.  Sky and water, cool and warm, strong and delicate at the same time, like turquoise. Typical ore like the pieces in the photo is usually a mixture of several greenish or bluish copper minerals, often with dark impurities (cuprite, iron sulfides, and iron and manganese oxides) which make it unsuitable for pigment.  The small pieces are the best – they are the most pure, and usually contain the rarest and most intensely colored minerals.  Now I have the perfect pigment for my Copper Oracle, which is still in the pencil-sketch stage.

I printed the Lichen Oracle as a set of cards so I could learn how to work with it.  I’m finding it much more powerful this way, and the moon and three minor glyphs on each card allow for interesting patterns in a spread – it is an intriguing puzzle, yet the glyphs are good for meditation, and become even better as I grow more familiar with them.  The whole series flows, pauses, and moves very naturally.  Of course the published deck will look quite different – this practice set will help me decide what it should look like.

lichen oracle cards

 small Agave offset

Above is an egg tempera sketch of a 3″ offset (or “pup”) from the agave plant in my front yard.  I nicknamed her “Mother of Thousands” but she actually has about a hundred offsets – which is still amazing since this small variety of Agave palmeri usually has no more than a dozen.  The primary leaf rosette was killed by weevils in 2002, but most of the offsets surved and the largest one is about two feet tall and blooming. The flower spike is over 15 feet tall, and hummingbirds are enjoying the pink and green flowers.  There is a photo on my AGAVE NOTES page (on the cactus homepage).  This particular plant is special because it’s the only wild native agave in my yard.  The other eight species that I planted are native to southern AZ or northern Mexico, but they are nursery plants or gifts from friends.  Weevils attack the Mother every summer but she seems to produce new plants faster than the weevils can breed their creepy, crunching, armored-tank larvae.  As with all agave species, the main rosette dies shortly after the plant blooms, but the offsets survive and the dry stalk (hopefully with a few seedpods) persists for a couple of years to provide high-rise apartments for friendly carpenter bees. 

Walking Close to Home

August 17, 2007

ocotillos on the bajada

Here’s a view from my daily morning walk, a 4.5-mile loop along a dirt road and a rocky, sandy wash.  This area is especially rich in dense forests of very tall ocotillos, which are the intensely green sticks in the photo.

For the last two nights, the moon has been spectacular – a glowing copper crescent falling into blue-gray storm clouds, surrounded by streaking branches of blue-white lighting!  Energizing and life-giving, it is a call to work on what is really important, and to seek out and appreciate all that is living and growing now.  Put aside trivia and idle amusements, touch the living fire and work with it, draw its energy deep and store it.

Pomegranate of the Day:  Fire (yellow and orange ochre, and black manganese oxide).

Fire Pomegranate

This full moon brought rain and green leaves.  A glass sphere, its surface frosted and etched by windblown dust, shattered into glistening streaks and bubbles as it poured waterfalls and tendrils of green light.  Amid thunderclouds, the rising and setting moon shone with a clear warm glow, like the swirling, molten sphere that forms as silver or bronze or gold melts in the crucible.  This feeling – a transparent globe breaking over my head, and a molten ball glowing in my hands – has stayed with me for two days.  Something old has broken, and a new seed is rolling into life.  I have so many projects going or evolving that I’m not sure which one applies here, but this moon is surely significant for one of them. 

The hot dry High Summer has passed, and we are well into the desert’s “fifth season” of the monsoons.  Ferns and oak trees put out new leaves, ocotillos grow leafy new branches, pipevines and devil’s claws bloom, prickly pear fruits ripen, and barrel cacti grow ephemeral “rain roots” and swell before blooming.  This frenzy of growth will last until the equinox, when the sunlight loses its summer intensity, the clouds disappear, and all life dries out and slows down.  For those who celebrate this time of year as Lammas, the beginning of Autumn, I will share a summer project:  a coralbean, two months old, photographed after a thunderstorm.  I scarified/burned the thick red seedcoat on the grinding wheel so they could sprout.  Now I have six tiny trees.


Here’s today’s pomegranate vessel, painted in rare minerals – purpurite, lime green gaspeite, and blue-green dioptase.

purpurite pomegranate