copper cinerary urn

This pomegranate is a shattered copper vessel.  The little green balls (one is hollow) are the glassy phosphate spheres that form in the ashes of funeral pyres (in the Tibetan Book of the Dead they are called “jewel-like relics”).

Eventually, 28 pomegranates will form the series of daily cards for my moon oracle.  That way, every day will hold the promise of the the Ace of Disks.  Each day holds the the infinite creativity of the earth and the faithful yet ever-changing mysteries of the Moon.  This oracle will have sticks, stones, bones, turtle shells…and pomegranates.  Like the ancient shaman’s pebble oracle, it will be flexible, having a usable structure but not a rigid system.  For example, does the image above represent today’s First Quarter Moon?  If not, which day does it fit?  What if it wasn’t assigned a particular day – perhaps it depends on the time of year – and what if you pulled it at random as your daily card?  (Enjoy this game but don’t think too much about it right now.  Until all 28 images are done, you won’t really know how they “work” – and I won’t, either!)

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Chubasco!

July 19, 2007

circle pictograph

This is one of several mysterious pictographs in a rockhouse near the Gila River.  The outer circle is pinkish-white clay or possibly chalk (caliche).  The black circle is actually dark purple and is probably magnetite sand.  The red circle is, of course, hematite (red ochre).  The green is malachite (copper ore).  Upon close examination, it appears that the center of the circle was originally black.  All the pigments could have been collected at the same place, and perhaps the picture means nothing more than that – a simple geologic diagram.  Perhaps it represents the earth, or a spring, or an eye, or mabye it denotes ownership.  Such a basic design, universal and intensely personal at the same time, can surely mean many things.  I offer it here as a cenote – a well or spring – for inspiration.

Tonight we had the real thing – a true Sonoran chubasco, or wild monsoon storm!  This one may indeed be the “magic rain” that brings out the sapos (spadefoot toads), makes several species of cacti bloom and wildflowers grow, and revives the ferns.  In the nearby hills, the washes are running (water pouring over granite outcrops, swirling around mesquite roots, and fanning the sand into new patterns).  Today was hot and sunny, well over 100.  At sunset, dark yellowish-gray clouds swirled over the mountains and a huge dust cloud roared off the bulldozed desert just west of here.  Then a blacker cloud arose and completely swallowed the sunset – lightning travelling ahead of the rain had ignited a grass fire.  Finally the rain arrived, blowing fiercely horizontal at first, later falling calm and steady.  (Somewhere tonight, someone will stumble into a wash and be lost in a torrent.  Somewhere tonight, lives are saved at the last minute – desert wanderers are huddled in a saguaro grove, hiding from the lightning, rain washing heat and fear from their faces and mingling with tears of relief.)  Now it is fully dark, with a pleasant drizzle and still some rumbling and flashing that may continue all night as the storm cells bounce around the mountains.  The air smells like wet smoke, aromatic desert plants, damp earth, and most of all, like RAIN.

Clay, Iron, and Realgar

July 11, 2007

green clay pomegranate

This pomegranate is painted with four kinds of green clay (plus black shale and a bit of charred bone).  Green clays are sticky and always end up looking rather flat.  But the colors are worth it!  Two of these are glauconite (“terre verte”) from sedimentary rock, and two are bentonite and other clays from weathered volcanics.  Black “oil” shale and charred bone provide the dark accents.  For me the green clays have always conjured an image of a smooth round jar with multiple openings.  This represents the living, growing earth, and is connected to the Empress in the Tarot.  So it was a natural choice for this pomegranate design, which could be a storage jar, a pouring vessel, or a flute.

yellow ochre and purpurite

This one is painted in yellow ochre (iron hydroxide) and purpurite (manganese phosphate).  It is meant to be a soft, comforting shape inspired by two fungi:  the puffball Lycoperdon pyriforme, and the cup fungus Sarcosphaera coronaria.  (I have loved fungi since I was ten years old, and many of them have become part of my spirit, even though I rarely see anything but a few weird and rare desert fungi where I live now.)

iron furnace

This one is an iron furnace, and a scanning nightmare!  I’ll have to scan and adjust the orange part separately, and layer them in photoshop, since the original is bright but not as harsh as this picture.  Inspired by my own ironwork and by some Thai cooking pots that I’ve seen – they are nearly spherical and made of forged and riveted heavy scrap iron plate, with ornate handles and chains. (When the oil runs out and civilization falls apart, the blacksmiths of the Lands of the Tiger will rebuild the world out of scrap metal, using charcoal made from shattered houses…but only if the tiger survives.)  The iron is painted in magnetite, manganese oxide, and charred bone, overlain with blue vivianite.  Did I really need THREE black pigments?  Yes.  I have about a dozen in my palette, all different.  The fiery furnace is painted mostly with realgar (arsenic sulfide), a recent gift from a friend.  I am not usually a fan of the toxic pigments, but it’s a very tiny amount and I wanted to see how such a bright, hot color works with the rest of the mineral pigments, which are on the cool side.  The paint is actually a mix of red realgar (AsS) and yellow orpiment (As2S3).  Realgar isn’t stable and changes to orpiment when exposed to light.  That can take months for a crystal, but of course it’s nearly instantaneous with powdered pigment.  Pure orpiment is bright yellow.   Anway, the pigments that darken the edges of the fire are yellow ochre and orange AMD ochre (genuine Acid Mine Drainage iron sulfate from a Pennsylvania coal mine dump, toxic to creeks but not to humans, and a beautiful pigment).

I did work with some real iron today, and made a dozen tiny triangular bells for a shaman’s belt.  They still need clappers and a chain.  And I sketched the next few pomegranates – I already know how many I plan to paint…but how many do YOU think is enough? 🙂

US-MEX boundary marker 130

Today the air is so hot it burns, even in the shade, where it is 105.  Vultures fly higher than usual on the rising thermals.  Over the house, much higher than the vultures, we saw two eagles circling each other, heading south toward the clouds.  A reminder of the two eagles that we saw on Sunday, when we hiked to Boundary Marker 130 on the U.S.-Mexico border in the Pajarito Mountains.  Remote and beautiful on both sides of the border, a land of steep hills and canyons, rugged rhyolite outcrops, rare plants, and two watchful eagles:

US eagleMexcian eagle

Today I finished these two pomegranate paintings.  All of my current projects involve a several images, not isolated drawings.  In finishing the tarot deck, I learned how satisfying it is to create a series of related images and watch them develop into a unified whole.  So I want to do it again!  More to come….

bronze bell pomegranatelapis lazuli and gold pomegranate

One more pomegranate.  I sew most of my own clothes, and today I finished a hiking outfit, an Indian-style salwar kameez made of sturdy hemp/cotton muslin.  The pants are factory-dyed sage green with drawstring waist and cuffs.  Drawstring is an undyed Guatemalan sash.  Scarf is a handwoven cotton rebozo from Mexico.  I used pomegranate husks to dye the fabric for the shirt.  The tannin in the husks gives the fabric the same warm yellowish-brown color as the fallen leaves.

hemp salwar kameez

Tarot Update

June 19, 2007

dried pomegranates

An odd painting for this time of year, but this pomegranate painting shows an ending and the seeds of a new beginning.  I sold the last numbered Ironwing Tarot deck today.  I have a handful of full 78-card decks that are signed but not numbered, which are available for the same price but not advertised on the website.  I also have quite a few 22-card Majors-only decks which are available on my website or through Tarotgarden.  Card XVII – The Star will appear this fall in the We’Moon 2008 Datebook (an annual publication of womyn’s art and writing – I had pieces in the 2002 and 2004 editions).

The seeds are those of a new oracle deck.  More about that later.  For now, like the Tarot High Priestess, I will just show the pomegranate.

 Nostoc cyanobacteria colonymantle minerals under the microscope

Tonight the scrying pool of the Dark Moon is more than a black mirror.  Now the Sun is strong enough to illuminate its shadowy green depths, since this moon will reflect the Summer Solstice light.  At the edge of the pool are tiny bubblelike jelly spheres of Nostoc, the same cyanobacteria (blue-green algae) that color the water.  They are some of the Old Ones, the first life on earth, who still live as though they are floating in the sea, for they brought Ocean with them when they first colonized rock faces, barren pools, and dry dust.  How?  Because the cell colonies, which look like strings of beads, are surrounded by a protective layer of clear jelly that traps water and binds soil and rock.  The Old Ones even make rocks of their own, and it as stromatolite fossils that we know their ancestors as the familiar string of spheres under the microscope.  The spherical shape and the alignment together spell LIFE in the most ancient fossils and in the modern nannobacteria that create rust and desert varnish.  The string of beads is Life’s earliest signature. 

Nostoc forms spherical jelly colonies in the desert soil. Each colony is only a millimeter in diameter, but together they form a black surface crust that fixes nitrogen, absorbs water, and keeps the soil from blowing away.  Their transparent blackish green (from magnesium in chlorophyll) is the same color as the iron-magnesium silicate minerals of the earth’s mantle.  These minerals – olivine, pyroxenes, spinel, and others – usually look black except when the microscope reveals their green radiance.  The first time I saw this, I felt that a window had opened into the deep earth, and the dark mantle-derived stones – peridotite, diamond-bearing kimberlite, serpentine, jade, and many more obscure rock types – have always been my favorites.  They have no connection with Life except color, and they are rare in the earth’s crust, so we forget that they make up most of the planet.  Below them, deep beyond the magnesium and silica, is the swirling magnetic iron of the earth’s metal core.  Like the earth, my heart holds iron, but it is locked in hemoglobin – a molecule very similar to chlorophyll, except that iron takes the place of magnesium – and the oxidized iron gives blood the same color as red ochre, which forms when the dark green mantle minerals oxidize or “rust” at the earth’s surface…often with the help of tiny bacteria.  To smelt iron, the red, brown, and yellow “rust” rocks go into the furnace, where they burn to yield a “bloom” of metal within a mantle of dark green glass, or silica slag.  When the liquid slag pours on the ground, it shatters as it cools into a rain of translucent blackish-green beads.  

The painting of a single Nostoc colony was done entirely with “biogenic” mineral pigments:  glauconite, the green clay that forms from marine worm castings in shallow water mud; charred bone black; blue vivianite that forms when these iron oxides meet phosphatic bone or shell.

The thin-section (transparent slice of rock made for viewing under a petrographic microscope) is a metamorphic rock with several mantle-derived Fe-Mg minerals, including bright green spinel and light green amphibole.

Hello world!

June 8, 2007

Bronze & Glass Pomegranate

Welcome to the Mineralarts blog, where I’ll post occasional flashes of creative inspiration, updates on various projects, and nature notes from the desert.

Here’s a small painting that I finished yesterday – a bronze and glass pomegranate done in iron oxides, green clays, and malachite in egg tempera.  More pomegranates to come!  They are inspired by the tree in my yard, which is now full of half-grown green fruit.

I spent most of the day at the microscope drawing ferns for my newest Big Project.  Frustrated by the lack of books or online information on the subject, I decided to find, photograph, and draw all 35 species of southern Arizona xerophytic ferns.  Eventually I’ll work them into a website and a book.  Anyway it is a perfect excuse to explore some hidden mountain and desert canyons, though most of the work will have to wait until the monsoons, since at this time of year – when the temperature is over 100, the cicadas sing, and the sky turns white with the noon heat – the ferns all curl up and turn brown, and are practically invisible until the summer rains.  For now, I will use the calm focus of the Last Quarter moon to make the first detailed ink/scratchboard illustrations.