March 29, 2012

Posted by request…there is more, but this is enough for now.

Maia (1988-2/15/03)

Maia (1988-2/15/03)

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.

Mountain Lion and Domestic Cat Skulls

Mountain Lion and Domestic Cat Skulls

Yin Yang Cats

Yin Yang Cats


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.

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

Winter Solstice

December 21, 2011

The Winter Solstice is the quietest time of year in the desert.  A deep hush rests on the cool earth, and the pale gold sun warms the air for only a short time at noon.  In lucky years such as this one, this also the time of winter rain.  Of snow on the highest mountains, of water flowing in desert washes and ice rimming secret stone pockets in wooded canyons.  Not everything is dormant at this time, and the rain makes many plants more wakeful.  Young agaves grow larger and tougher, though they will not show new leaves for several months.  Yuccas, desert hackberries, and the evergreen oaks are strengthening their deepest roots.  Cacti swell and store water for April’s flush of new spines.  As befits the time of year, the most mysterious, magical, and spectacular event is completely hidden.  Wrapped in earth’s protective darkness, the seeds of annual wildflowers are  soaking up the water, the tough seedcoats disintegrating and new embryos swelling….and waiting for the new sun.

We stay quiet, too.  We have our own small maze-and-candle rituals, but we are mostly hermits at this time.  Anything else is inappropriate and inauspicious.  When the sun returns and the earth begins to stir a little more, it will be different.  But now we rest, and grateful cats gather around us.

For this week’s Third Quarter Moon, I made this drawing.  It is one of eight pictures in a Stick Oracle that I started a few years ago.  I finished it and decided that two of the pictures didn’t work and needed to be replaced, so I put it aside for awhile.  This drawing of my new oak walking stick is one of the replacements.   Finishing it, and looking at the entire set again, has provided enough inspiration for the other replacement image that I’ve started work on that, too.

Here, two sticks – a saguaro rib topped with a bundle of thorns, and an oak root topped with tangled woody grapevine tendrils – stand in a rocky canyon and mark the place where two tiny streams converge as they sink into the sand.

Stick Oracle - Third Quarter Moon

Stick Oracle - Third Quarter Moon

This antler drawing that I finished several months ago is also appropriate for the Third Quarter Moon before the Winter Solstice.  The left side shows the Carbon Antler Fungus, Xylaria hypoxylon, growing on knotty wood.  The right side shows stylized whitetail deer antlers and the top of the deer’s skull, including sutures.  Uniting the two images are the intricately interlocked branches of Pseudevernia consocians, an antler-like lichen that grows on tree branches.  The circle at the top shows the fungus and antler in reverse colors, drawn extremely stylized to resemble hands.  The rim on the left shows the fungus mycelium (network of threads that fills the rotting wood on which it grows) and the rim on the right shows the porous bony pattern of an antler in cross-section.  (Both drawings are on 6″ scratchboard.)

Antler Fungus

Antler Fungus

Stampbord Drawings

July 29, 2011

I recently bought a package of Ampersand Stampbord tiles.  It contains about 50 assorted tiles in four sizes:  1 x 1 inch, 2 x 2 inches, 1 x 2 inches, and 1.25 x 2.5 inches.  (Stampbord is also available in a business card size, which I may try next time).  As the name suggests, stampbord is sold primarily as a surface for decorative rubber stamp projects, including mixed media collage.  The smaller sizes can even be drilled and made into jewelry.  Although not marketed as a drawing surface, stampbord is nearly identical to Ampersand’s Claybord Smooth, a multimedia artboard that I use for most of my ink drawings.  The only difference is that the stampbord surface is less consistent than claybord.  The stampbord has slight variations from piece to piece in the thickness and hardness of the white clay layer, and many pieces have tiny chips, dings, or discolorations.  None of this would matter for crafts like rubber stamping, or even for pencil drawing or painting.  It is probably only an issue for scratchboard, and even then it’s minor and easy to work around.

These tiles are perfect for tiny drawings and for experimenting with new techniques, media or subjects.  Obviously they are well adapted to any project that calls for multiple drawings.  (Creating a Tarot deck causes a permanent rewiring of the brain, causing some artists to become permanently addicted to working in a series – it’s hard for them to make just one of anything.)

Here are Midnight Louie (left) and Lin (right) as ancient Chinese tomb guardians.  The cats were drawn from photos, and you can see how different they were – ML had a big head, heavy body, and unusually short legs, while Lin was small, wiry, and muscular.  The Chinese tomb guardians, sometimes called “earth spirits”, were clay figures that were supposed to protect the soul of the deceased.  They come in pairs, and often have elaborate wings, horns, hooves, etc.  One is usually stout and seated, with a man’s face with large pointed ears and a single twisted horn, and the other is thinner and more active looking with a feline or canine face with a pair of horns.  A few months ago, I took a photo of Lin with half-closed eyes that reminded me of one of these figures, so it seemed like a natural memorial for him.  These are 2.5 x 1.25 inch tiles.

Tomb Guardians

Tomb Guardians

Here are the smaller 1 x 2 inch boards with feathers from a male Arizona quail (also called Montezuma quail), drawn life size.

Arizona Quail Feathers

Arizona Quail Feathers

Here’s the larger rectangle again, with three similar species of Usnea lichen.  All three are shrubby grayish-green species that grow on twigs and have abundant cuplike apothecia (spore-bearing structures).  These are drawn about twice life size.

LEFT:  Usnea strigosa, Outer Banks, North Carolina.  Apothecia are pinkish on top and have scattered fibrils on the underside.

CENTER:  Usnea intermedia (U. arizonica), southern Arizona.  Apothecia are green on top and have rare elongate fibrils on the underside.

RIGHT:  Usnea cirrosa, southern Arizona.  Apothecia are green on top and have abundant bristly fibrils on the underside.

Usnea Lichen Apothecia

Usnea Lichen Apothecia

I’m still working with the 1 and 2 inch sqares tiles, and plan to try some mixed drawing/painting/metal projects with those.

Just got my first three 8″ test swatches of my original designs from Spoonflower, the fabric printing company.  Spoonflower offers several natural-fiber fabric options.  I chose the two that I thought I’d actually use.  Colors for these three designs were all picked from the “preferred colors” chart that Spoonflower provides in an attempt to help designers choose colors that will print accurately.  Apparently some colors, when printed on fabric, look very different from what is shown on the computer monitor that the designer is working with.  Some of this is inevitable, since color monitors show a much wider variety of colors than printing inks do.

PRINTING QUALITY:  The printing is extremely crisp, quite different from commercial silkscreened fabric, and without the “blurry” look that you get with an inkjet printer on paper.  These designs have laser-printed precision and are very faithful to the original drawings.  So I don’t need to worry about whether I can reproduce small and/or detailed designs!

Tiger Tattoos: Lapis Lazuli

Tiger Tattoos:  Lapis Lazuli is printed on linen/cotton canvas.  Individual motifs are 3″.  This is a midweight fabric, similar to English tea towels but a bit smoother and with a tighter weave.  It is a warm white with a slight sheen and a surpisingly nice drape.  I thought it might work for a jumper (a sleeveless dress that is worn with a shirt underneath).  Linen is cool and comfortable here in the desert, but the sun and dry air make it brittle, so the lifespan of a linen garment that gets regular wear is only about 18 months.  So I’d choose this fabric for a dress that I didn’t wear for hiking.

The color is lapis lazuli or ultramarine (a slightly reddish blue), which is a bit off from the dark greenish-indigo that I chose from the chart.  It is a bit bright for my taste but is fine for non-clothing items.  I bought a “fat quarter” of this since the 8″ swatch wasn’t big enough to show all the motifs.  So I have enough for several nice bags for bells etc.

Tiger Tattoos: Black and Red

Tiger Tattoos:  Black and Red is printed on quilter’s cotton.  Individual motifs are 2″.  This is a smooth, high quality but slightly transparent fabric.  As any crafter knows, quilter’s cottons vary widely in weight, thread thickness, and tightness of weave.  I’d put this one somewhere in the middle – it’s not as coarse as some, and not as fragile as the goods that are often used for commercial “designer” fabrics.  I feel confident about working with it and wearing it.  The skulls do look rather weird in red, and I’ll probably change them to black before I order any more of this, but Spoonflower particularly recommends this color on their chart, and I wanted to see what it looked like.  On the chart, it’s a dark red ochre.  The printed version is brighter, more of a “true” red like a ripe New Mexico chili pepper, but not screaming scarlet.  I was concerned that the designs wouldn’t show all the details at this size, but they are fine.

Kitten with Cat Skulls

Kitten with Cat Skull Checkerboard.  The small checks are 2″ and show realistic domestic cat skulls.  The large squares are 4″ and show a newborn kitten sleeping on a cat skull.  This bold and rather large print shows all the details of the original drawings but I think they’d lose their impact if I made them any smaller.  The color that I chose for the background was a light coral pink, because I have always liked the pink/black/white combination but didn’t want a “strawberry” pink that would make it look like a box of GoodNPlentys.  The printed version is definitely NOT pink, but a light peach (or pale, muted, “baby aspirin” orange).  Unlike the black, the peach isn’t a uniform color, but shows the very faint horizontal banding that is typical of inkjets when printing a large area (more than 1″x1″) in a single color.  Hardly noticeable from a few inches away, but I’ll remember to make the background more multicolored in future designs.  Not exactly the color that I wanted, but probably close enough, and finding just the “right pink” in fabric is notoriously difficult.  Overall it’s a stunning fabric and will be a nice addition to my All Souls Procession costume.

WHAT’S NEXT?  I’ll make some more designs and order more swatches, this time using more colors in each design, and without using Spoonflower’s color chart (which wasn’t useful except for the red).  Ultimately I want to design fabrics for my own dresses and for craft projects such as bags and masks.  I also want to make some spreadcloths and/or altar cloths with centered square or circular designs that fit on a yard of fabric, and a couple of those are already in the works.

The Ironwing Tarot is completely sold out and is officially OOP.  I have had a few people ask if there are any of the original drawings for sale.  This post is in response to those requests.

All of the originals for the Majors and Minors have been sold, traded, given away, or recycled, and I have none left.

The 16 Spirit Guides are all SOLD.

Ironwing Tarot Book

December 2009 is the fifth anniversary of the publication of the Ironwing Tarot.  Although the full 78-card deck/book set sold out 18 months ago, I still get occasional requests for copies of the deck and/or book.  Since I don’t plan to reprint the deck, I’ve decided to make the book available for free download from my website.   

Download the Ironwing Tarot Book HERE.  (.pdf file, 6.7 mb)


The 112-page book is intended to print on half-sheets of 8.5 x 11 inch paper, so you’ll need to cut the printed sheets in half and assemble them.  (A note to collectors:  The version that I sold with the deck had a black spiral binding but otherwise looked no different from what you’d print on a home computer.)  The book includes background material about iron geology, blacksmithing, and shamanism.  There are detailed descriptions and a tiny image for each card, several spreads and creative exercises, a few poems, and some other odds and ends.  All of it is intended to make the deck more interesting and usable.  The entire book is black and white, including the images for the Major Arcana, so you don’t need a color printer.

Needless to say, the Ironwing Tarot deck and book are protected by copyright.  Feel free to download the book for your personal use, but not for publication or resale.

I have NO copies of the 78-card deck available for sale.  Decks can sometimes be found for trade on various Tarot forums and occasionally on Ebay.  I am not currently a member of any online Tarot communities, and have stepped away from that world to work on other things (including the Black Cat Deck, which is non-Tarot).

To everyone who has purchased a deck and/or offered their comments about it, either online or privately:  Thank you very much for your support, interest, and contribution.  It was a great project and I have enjoyed sharing it with everyone.

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