Wednesday, December 31, 2008

December 31, 2008

When, as will happen, we falter, weary,
for now, of even our own small part
in singing perpetual praise
to the patience within sunlight
to the mercy within darkness
to the wisdom within water,
faltering, we still half hear
our own angel sing on,
our own angel who has been singing
forever and is always
just beginning to sing.

James Haba

Tuesday, December 30, 2008

Monday, December 29, 2008

December 29, 2008

A crisp picture. No mist and no setting sun. But even a crisp, clear world can be topsy turvy. What is real and what is illusion? Does it depend on where you look? Or on how much visual information you can process?

Sunday, December 28, 2008

December 28, 2008

The last of the red and green emphasis photos. What elements weight the red and green lights visually, so that the viewer's eyes are sure to continue exploring the picture world?

Saturday, December 27, 2008

December 27, 2008

Prevent trouble before it arises.
Put things in order before they exist.
The giant pine tree 
grows from a tiny sprout.
The journey of a thousand miles
starts from beneath your feet.

Verse 64; Tao te Ching
Stephen Mitchell translation

Friday, December 26, 2008

Thursday, December 25, 2008

Wednesday, December 24, 2008

December 24, 2008

It's all about composition. Where the door into the picture world is placed. Whether color dominates. Whether the human eye projects a story onto the composition, or it remains abstract. The joyful choices afforded those who commit to an art practice.

Tuesday, December 23, 2008

December 23, 2008

The Second Coming

Turning and turning in the widening gyre
The falcon cannot hear the falconer;
Things fall apart; the centre cannot hold;
Mere anarchy is loosed upon the world,
The blood-dimmed tide is loosed, and everywhere
The ceremony of innocence is drowned;
The best lack all conviction, while the worst
Are full of passionate intensity.

Surely some revelation is at hand;
Surely the Second Coming is at hand.
The Second Coming! Hardly are those words out
When a vast image out of Spiritus Mundi
Troubles my sight: somewhere in the sands of the desert
A shape with lion body and the head of a man,
A gaze blank and pitiless as the sun,
Is moving its slow thighs, while all about it
Reel shadows of the indignant desert birds.
The darkness drops again; but now I know
That twenty centuries of stony sleep
Were vexed to nightmare by a rocking cradle,
And what rough beast, its hour come round at last,
Slouches toward Bethlehem to be born?

Yeats' poetry went through a period of stylistic simplification at the midpoint of his life. The prominent Irish poet Seamus Heaney commended Yeats for continually altering and refining his poetic craftsmanship. "He reminds you that revision and slog-work are what you have to undergo if you seek the satisfaction of the finish; he bothers you with the suggestion that if you have managed to do one kind of poem your own way, you should cast off that way and face into another area of your experience until you have learned a new voice to say that area properly."
* click on Yeats' name under the poem for more information about the poem.

Monday, December 22, 2008

December 22, 2008

On December 20th I published this photo of a gate. Somehow, when I was writing the post for the next day, I accidentally deleted it. I am still challenged by this process! In any event, it was such a favorite photo of mine I decided to add it to today's post, so it could still be enjoyed.

Someone commented on the image, inquiring as to whether I was using pictures of red and green that I disliked. On the contrary! Since the red/green complementary combination is my personal least favorite I deliberately set out to find compositions in which I did like the color combination. The gate was one of those images. I thought it interesting that of the comments made, some found the gate welcoming and happy, while others characterized the gate as menacing. Once again, a fascinating sampling of personal response to visual elements. And by the way, I apologize for losing the comments when I lost the post. They were most welcome.

The new image also pleases me. As a fan of Georgia O'Keefe, I love close-up shots of flowers, even if the genre veers toward cliche. And since my primary motivation this week is to share a series of pictures where red and green play effective roles, this picture is worth posting.

Tuesday, December 16, 2008

December 21, 2008

Today is the Winter Solstice. The longest night of the year; when ancient peoples waited for the sun in trepidation - fearful that it would never rise again. Although the sun never failed to rise, the long wait for daylight generated doubt. Human ability to trust is very fragile.

I muse this evening on the similarities of the above experience with being an artist. Art making is a satisfying blend of memorized principles and thoughtful, deliberate application. If I learn why a focal point works, and how asymmetrical balance is achieved, then I can apply what I've learned. If I work with intention, there is always some experimentation and guessing involved, but I trust the principles to guide me. And they usually do.

How many times have I commiserated with an artist friend who's hit a low point - sure that inspiration or direction would never return? The long, dark night when we don't trust the sun will ever rise on our creativity again is painful, terrible. We stop working. We get mad or resentful. Sometimes we even give up.

But consider that trust is in itself an intentional choice. A choice we make in our lives as artists.  When my artistic well is dry, and my creative night is long, I have two choices. I can fret and disengage, or I can show up. Showing up means I go to the studio anyway. Maybe I'll dye cloth. Maybe I'll clean up. But either way, I'm going. I want to be present when inspiration returns. And I choose to believe it will return. I trust that the creative energy fueling me is still in there, even when it is at a low ebb. And as with all cyclical things, if I keep showing up, I do find my creative way again. 

And since I am more than just an artist, the winter solstice also speaks of the symbolic dark night currently being experienced around the globe. Even a cockeyed optimist would be pensive, were she to contemplate the state of world affairs. But remember, trust is in itself an intentional choice. I still have two choices. I can fret and disengage, or I can show up. Showing up means I keep doing what I believe is important. I treat others as I want to be treated. I choose to respond to rudeness with kindness. Not always, but as often as I can. I refuse to criticize presidential appointees who haven't even started their jobs. I want to give them a chance. I eagerly anticipate programs that put people to work cleaning and fixing and thinking. I want to be present as we continue the gradual humankind shift to balance - socially, politically and environmentally. Because as with all cyclical things, if we keep showing up, we'll find our creative way again.

Mine is a fragile trust, but one strengthened by choosing intentionally. I support my intention by attending a small, contemplative service on Sunday mornings. This morning there was no room in the inn, oops, I mean the sanctuary, because a pageant was scheduled for 11:00 am. We gathered in the more intimate parlor, which was perfect for our rather informal group. After our shared singing, and the reading of a scripture passage, we settled into silent meditation. 

There was the bang of a door in the outer hallway. Cheerfully loud voices greeted each other in the vestibule. Oh no! How dare they interrupt our quiet contemplations? I felt my pulse quicken. 

But you know, meditation is easy when no one is around. Much harder when real life inserts itself into the equation. Being present means being present - no matter what.

So the voices in the hall? Just a little reminder that Life is coursing uninvited, all around me. What are my options? Fret and disengage, or show up. On this long day leading into the longest night of the year, I choose trust. And sometimes a leap of faith.

December 19, 2008

The traditional green and red colors we associate with the Christmas holiday season are my least favorite colors. Having written this, I wonder how can anyone dislike a color? Colors, like flowers, just are. Does anyone ever think I don't like the sun or The moon really bothers me.? How peculiar we are, to form preferences for colors and flowers and other elements of the natural world. Human beings love to form opinions.

So red/green is my least favorite complementary color combination. Acknowledging my prejudice has challenged me to spend a few days studying red and green combinations that work. If I can photograph some images I like, maybe my appreciation will shift.

This image doesn't include red, but the green is a good start. This monochromatic study features a gorgeous range of green colors, supported by interesting lines - the contrast of the straight veins in the leaves, with the undulating edge of the individual leaves. I'd love to see it interpreted in cloth.

December 18, 2008

December 17, 2008

San Antonio's Riverwalk is transformed into a glittering, magical fairyland in December. Thousands of twinkling lights transform the huge trees along the river into cascades of colorful light. 

In a recent class we talked about abstraction as an artistic device. Using examples including impressionist painters and also Pablo Picasso, we considered the goal of abstraction - which is to challenge a viewer's experience of visual reality. Abstract images might be recognizable - like pointillist  paintings made from thousands of tiny dots of paint - or so abstract no one but the artist knows what the original image or inspiration was. Sometimes abstracting an image adds a layer of emotional content that wouldn't be there otherwise. It's all about the experience the viewer brings to looking at the picture.

This timed exposure of the holiday lights sets a mood that wouldn't be the same if the lights were crisply focussed. When you look at this photograph, your personal projection  onto the picture will have a lot to do with the story the picture tells!

December 16, 2008

 I went to the post office and the grocery store yesterday, and everyone seemed to be in a bad mood. It was unnerving to push a cart through the aisles, listening to endless holiday carols, while people around me grumbled. I've always wished I had the nerve to break into song, or do a funny dance in the aisle, and invite everyone to join in with a hearty "Sing along with me!" I imagine laughter and loud outbursts of singing - just like in a movie. Perhaps I'll have the courage to try it some day. What would it take to be that confident and daring?

At home, the onions were roasting. Hot from the oven, the simple forms and crisp, papery skins invited study. This season always moves too fast to suit me. Contemplating a simple still life of three onions was the perfect antidote.

Sunday, December 14, 2008

December 15, 2008

December 14, 2008

"I never found a companion that was so companionable as solitude."
Henry David Thoreau

Saturday, December 13, 2008

December 13, 2008

Last night Earth witnessed a full moon that appeared 14% larger and 30% brighter than the usual full moon. This is because the moon was actually closer to the Earth than it usually is. It's  all about the path and rotation and referred to as the perigee moon, which means "closer."

We were eager to see this full moon; which will not be seen again for fifteen years or so. We drove to the top floor of a parking garage in San Antonio, hoping to get the best possible view, and were amply rewarded. 

When a focal point is located in the center of a composition or picture world, the message the artist is sending the viewer is "look here, this is important." The centering device isn't used as much in Western art as it is in Eastern art, where the mandala is a classic example of presenting an image meant to keep the eye moving around and around, captured within the circle. That's the whole point - to center physically and spiritually. My photo struck me as meditative, so I decided to emphasize that feeling. I cropped the image to center the moon in the picture, where it is also visually dominant, because it is so bright against the dark sky.

I left a building in the picture when I cropped it. I could have cropped out everything  and left the moon in all of its glory, but the reference to humans felt important to the picture. No building or artwork, however grand, can match the grandeur of Nature. Retaining the evidence of humans in the picture contrasts the natural and man-made worlds, and is a reminder of the importance of keeping the two spheres in humble balance.  

Friday, December 12, 2008

December 12, 2008

This is the final image in my quartet of human being photographs. The young woman is the door into the picture world. Her white coat and purple leggings stand out against the neutral lines in the bench - lines which are repeated in the shadow on the pavement - building
relationship between those two design elements in the image, and contrasting with the human form.

The linear elements also contrast with the chaotic patterning of the graffiti wall behind the bench. The girl sits a distance removed from the two men, but doesn't look ill at ease. Their dark clothing, and the fact that the men read visually as one form, balances the girl's lighter clothing and placement more toward the center of the composition. If the bench with its occupants was centered in the composition, the message would be very different. Placing the bench left of center hints at the delicate balance of culture alluded to by other parts of the photograph.

I like this picture because it is a story about opposites, but also balance. Traditional culture, represented by the two men sitting on the bench, exists in tandem with change -represented by the girl and the graffiti wall behind her. And in this image at least, the two seem comfortable with each other.

Wednesday, December 10, 2008

December 11, 2008

This photo features a human being as the focal point again, but several things about the composition are different from the photos offered yesterday and the day before. Here's what the picture reveals through use of intentional composition and cropping:

The viewer's eye is drawn to the solitary man - as every human eye goes to a human subject before it goes anywhere else. The placement of the man in the lower third of the picture world, and his relatively small size within the composition, symbolically comment on his literal smallness in the world he occupies. The strong orange of the wall on the left, capped by the same color at the top of the image, visually contains the picture and is another symbolic comment on the man's limited circumstances.

Both the old man in the first photograph, and the boy in yesterday's photograph were thoughtful, pensive or even unhappy, but the relative size and placement in those images indicated they were in control. The man in this image is not in control. Surrounded by busy visual information on the street, he is isolated and alone.

December 10, 2008

This picture is similar to the one I posted yesterday. A human being is once again the door into the picture world, or focal point. Strong diagonals - the stair railing, wall along the steps and the boy's own knees - lead the viewer's eye directly to the boy's face. 

The off center positioning contributes to the picture's feeling of being slightly out of kilter, or moody, or melancholy - all emotions a viewer might project onto the picture, based on the look on the boy's face and his body language.

The window in the top left corner represents a potential design problem. Placing a significant object at the edge or top of a composition runs the risk of leading a viewer's eye right out of the picture world. In this composition the saving factor is the diagonal crosshatching of the window pane. The diagonal lines lead the eye back to the interior of the picture world, and encourage us to study the boy one more time.

Tuesday, December 9, 2008

December 9, 2008

In a recent design class we talked about the focal point as the door into the picture world. Figuring out where the focal point is, is actually easy. It's the place your eye goes first. That's why we think of it as a door. In this picture, the man is the focal point because he is the largest element, but also because his orange sweater is bright and attracts our eyes immediately. The fact that there is a human being in the picture adds to the importance of the design element, because humans can't help but look at other humans first.

Once viewers get inside the picture world, the goal of the artist or maker is to keep us there, exploring. One way to do it is to balance the focal point with other design elements. They may contrast with a focal point's qualities, or they may build relationship, which contributes to the overall cohesiveness of the composition. 

In this picture, the blue bag contrasts with the orange sweater because the colors are complementary. This neatly provides contrast, while also building relationship. The position of the bag at the bottom of the composition adds weight visually, which is useful. 

The position of the man, the pigeon at the end of the bench, and the cement block wall send an emotional message, but different viewers will interpret the message different ways. Is he lonely? Is he resting but contented? Is he impatiently waiting for someone? As human beings we can't help but project our own state of mind onto a composition. This is one aspect of art that lends interest. It is an aspect the maker cannot control. Neither should she want to do so! Every viewer has a right to his or her own interpretation. 

Monday, December 8, 2008

December 8, 2008

The morning light on Jean's kitchen counter bathes tomatoes, rescued from Austin's first frost. The complementary red-orange and yellow green, ripe and unripe tomatoes, glow - enveloped in the striking reflection cast on Jean's marble countertop by a stained glass window. I recall stained glass windows in another post, and those of the churches of my childhood. The interplay of light and color is classic inspiration to artists and spiritual practitioners alike.

The simple setting - lowly tomatoes and colorful window - are my visual prayer. A  reminder that each day provides opportunities for quiet appreciation and thanks. This moment is sacred. 

Sunday, December 7, 2008

Saturday, December 6, 2008

December 6, 2008

Thousands of breath-taking butterflies. Each carefully pinned to the mat and labeled with its identifying number. The width and breadth of their differences - the colors, the patterns and the sizes - boggles my mind in wonder. There is enough design and color information in this collection to inspire a lifetime of creative study.

I pore over the delicate wings, noting color combinations I could try with dyes. I wish a class could stand with me, analyzing the occurrence of complementary color combinations. What natural genius dictated the effective balance of blue and orange, the complex arrangements of beige and taupe and brown?

Friday, December 5, 2008

December 5, 2008

This photo has been on my mind ever since I took it in Perth, at the Natural History Museum there. The stuffed wild animals fascinate and horrify simultaneously. Proof of terrible liberties we've taken with the natural world...

Because of the interplay of glass reflections, the animals look as though they are vanishing or fading away. I study the images - on the verge of figuring out a new series. It would be titled something like vanishing act, or vanishing wilderness...I am still pondering exactly the right title and also the best way to use the images. So different from what I usually do, but very exciting and full of potential.

Wednesday, December 3, 2008

December 3, 2008

The variations of curve and roundness build relationship, while the contrasts of bone, horn and metal horn pique the interest of the viewer. In addition to analyzing form and color - the toned gray and beige of the instrument, the skull and the additional supporting visual characters - I found myself wondering whether music trumps composition. 

And then recalled a line from a Paul Simon song:
"Sometimes even music cannot substitute for tears." 

Tuesday, December 2, 2008

December 2, 2008

Less than a month into this practice, and I am challenged. There are mornings when a photo doesn't appeal to me. Or I don't know what I think about it yet. Why it draws me, or doesn't. As with any practice, I recognize the importance of just doing it, as cliche'd as that phrase has become. Anything worth doing is worth sticking with? So sometimes there is a photo, but no text. No thought yet. The image needs thinking.

Yesterday Niki took me on a walk along the  upper part of the San Antonio River, and we were dismayed to find that the river has dried up. Gone underground; closer to the spring where it originates. Only a dry creek bed where water flowed in June. We were, however, rewarded by the brilliant orange of the Cypress trees. As I poked my camera up through the branches to get a better angle, I started to think about color balance and the optical mix of complements - when one complement must dominate the other in proportion, so that the composition works. I think in this image the bits of blue provide just the right amount of complement to the orange. Imagine how less brilliant - and how different - the image would be, if the background wasn't in such high contrast to the branches.

Monday, December 1, 2008

November 20, 2008

November 20, 2008

November 20, 2008

How does color set a mood? The soft gray and white of the carpet, the cat Marshall, and the sunlit window contribute to to the sense of calm repose. What does blue mean to you or me? We all have symbolic associations for colors; some based on personal experience and some instilled culturally. 

The cobalt blue of the vase provides a point and counterpoint to the composition, in addition to providing elements that balance.
Keeping the cat in the lower third of the composition weights the image and is another visual door into the picture world.

November 19, 2008

November 19, 2008

November 19, 2008

This picture tells several stories. It references the human desire to order the world around us - the lettering on the wall establishes the alley as a No Parking zone, and the broken glass-  jutting out at the top - is another message of fear and frailty. Whoever lives behind this wall wants to be left alone.

But there is beauty in the contrast of the rough brick surface and the smooth translucency of the broken glass bottles. A contrast of textures makes for an interesting composition. And the abstract nature of the printed letters against the structure of the bricks would be worth emulating in another sort of composition.

There is as much beauty in decay as there is in a bouquet of fresh flowers. And aren't decay and fresh growth just two different spots on the same continuum?

November 18, 2008

November 18, 2008

November 18, 2008

The Hydrangeas offer a lesson in the effective use of color. The pale blue and lavender are roughly the same value, so they balance each other beautifully. I am challenged to mimic that combination of analogous colors on silk Habotai!

This photograph would be considered beautiful even without the red-orange and yellow flowers at the bottom. But the addition of the complements to the blue and purple creates a focal point and generates some nice contrast because of the complementary pairing. And imagine how different this composition would be, were the red-orange and yellow at the top instead of at the bottom. The current placement adds important visual weight.

November 17, 2008

November 17, 2008

November 16, 2008

November 16, 2008
Being and Non-being

Substance and Light

November 16, 2008

We join spokes together in a wheel,
but it is the center hole
that makes the wagon move.

We shape clay into a pot,
but it is the emptiness inside 
that holds whatever we want.

We hammer wood for a house,
but it is the space inside
that holds whatever we want.

We work with being,
but non-being is what we use.

Tao te Ching; Verse 11
Stephen Mitchell translation