Not that long ago…was it two summers ago? I watched the summer olympics and dreamt of being on a horse once again. I was quite taken with the eventing, and the fact that some of the riders were in their 50’s and beyond. “Maybe I can do that!” I thought to myself. (Hah!) But then the commentators would mention how this or that rider had suffered a fractured spine and had somehow come back to compete. My arthritic joints spoke up at this point and said, “Um, no.”
My riding days are behind me, but I can still indulge my abiding love for horses by occasionally letting them canter onto a canvas. They are very often present in my thoughts and it is fun to let them out once in awhile. This one, and his rider, trotted right out of my imagination so that will account for any awkward proportions. I hope you like my fiery steed! What lurks in your heart of hearts?
Melissa Blue Fine Art
This painting may not be done yet, but I was eager to share it with you. It recalls a day when my daughter and I were out botanizing in extremely tough terrain. No trails here~just a wet prairie. The moraines and sloughs are like corduroy in this preserve, with tall vegetation that obscures your footing. One minute you’re on a sandy ridge, the next you are plunging into water and black muck, with grasses sawing your skin and biting insects assaulting your senses. Makes me shudder just to think of it, and Katie and I vowed we’d never go back in there no matter what plant might be growing there! However, one of the things nature teaches us is to look up from our trials and tribulations and see what grace notes she has to offer. On this afternoon we looked up to see these fledglings lined up on a dead limb. Aren’t they cute? You birders can set me straight on what they are. Martins? Swallows?
I just finished this painting this afternoon and am pretty excited about it. This is my very first memory. It took place shortly after my mom married my step-dad, and he took us out to the redwood forest that grew behind his little cottage. I will never forget how I felt, standing before that spongy, felty red log sprouting ferns and moss. I felt a Presence there, enveloping me and claiming me. I was flooded with a sense of belonging. Even though that stand of redwoods has been clearcut, never to return, it lives on in my heart. The Presence I felt there has been my guiding light ever since.
It isn’t just trees, with me. There also lurks in my heart a passion for horses, and I am fortunate enough to live near the Temple Lipizzan farm. As a child living in Brazil I saw these horses perform and it made an indelible impression on me. Many years later, when I was expecting my first child, I learned that they would be performing in Peoria where we lived at the time. My son was born shortly before the performance, so off I went, brand new baby in tow! You can imagine my delight then when I realized their home was very near mine when we moved to northern Illinois. I get to drive by and see the mares in their pasture this time of year, and wait with bated breath for the babies to begin to appear. They are born black, and over time turn classic white.
Here I’ve painted a stallion performing a piaffe~a collected trot in place. I’ve placed him next to the pillar on the one side, and indicated a tree beyond him. In the Spanish School of Riding the horses are taught a series of elegant dressage moves as well as “airs above ground” , moves that served to protect a rider in battle. The pillar represents the years of training a horse and rider undergo to be able to perform at this level. The tree represents nature, for these horses are not forced. The people who own Temple Farms are proud that sometimes their gleaming white horses have grass stains, and the movements are stylized versions of actions the horses do naturally. So a beautiful dancing Lipizzan is a wonderful union of nature and human endeavor.
A couple of summers ago the Blazing Stars blazed brightly at Illinois Beach State Park. They made a spectacular show, and I’m so glad I was there to witness it. My soul is happiest when I am able to drink deeply of the beauty I find in one special place, and it has been amazing to see what nature has offered up for me over the past, er, several years. I’ve seen wonders, such as the time the Dead River blew out it’s sand bar, creating sine waves far out into Lake Michigan. Some years one plant is ascendant, other years it might be rare turtles. What a great journey!
I see my life as a quiet one, hunkered down in one spot, learning to see it deeply, celebrating it in paint. Pursuing my career pushes me out into the wider world, however. This doesn’t come easily…I read the business books and quail at the advice. Mailing list? Newsletter? EEK! What I have found is that I can fold my career right into my life until it is a natural extension of myself. Focus, and do the next thing. The next step always appears, as if by magic. It has also become an interesting journey. Most recently, it has led to my being invited to take this painting to the Racine Art Museum to be part of their rental and sales program. I’m so excited!
In my last post I shared my latest pen and ink drawing, of Golden Alexanders. Here, I’ve blended it with an image of a painting I did earlier. I like how it came out, and the words came to me as I worked on it. I’m not sure why it scanned so blue, though. The actual print has a white border.
It seems there are a lot of questions in my life right now and I really hate that. But I realize that really, even when we think we know what is around the next corner, we don’t. A wise person once told me that we must learn to live the question. Furthermore, she pointed out that even if we get answers to current questions, we will certainly be given new questions to live with.
And so, our stories unfold. We each have our own unique story, yet often our threads interweave. Thus the tapestry is woven. This fascinates me and keeps me watching and listening.
This has been an interesting fall in homeschooling. First, I want to share a quick update~ We’ve been doing exercises to make learning disabilities fall away, which is simply amazing. Over the past several weeks I’ve watched my daughter “wake up”, and as I gradually increase the difficulty, her brain zeroes in to the task at hand with increasing accuracy and speed. If I had a whole extra life, I think I’d go into studying the brain because this is simply fascinating. You can see her hit a spot she doesn’t get, and then back up and work it through. She grows still, her face intent, her eyes narrow. She offers an answer, a false start in one direction and then in the other, each try closer to the correct answer, and then bang! She’s got it. SO COOL! and then I get to watch her navigate her world that much more effectively, solving other types of problems by herself! I cannot describe my joy in watching her self-confidence grow. My thanks again to Barbara Arrowsmith for writing her book.
Part of the process is learning to make sense of symbols, so we’ve been re-reading the parables of Jesus. (Interestingly, we are also reading Emerson for our literature book and I’m surprised to find how much they dovetail.)
This leads me to the things I’ve been pondering and what I wanted to write about. I think the conversation about truth begins with a look within one’s heart, and “listening” to what bubbles up to the surface. The best writing, music, and art, I believe, happens when an authentic truth has been tapped into. All the fancy brushstrokes in the world won’t elevate an image that isn’t inspired by something larger than the artist. It is as though the person dives into the world of Spirit and finds a revelation, a bit of the puzzle, as it were. On returning to the surface, pen or paintbrush is taken up first to explain what was found to oneself, and then to share with others. Since we are all given our unique pieces of the puzzle, only when we all share can we put it together and have the truth begin to emerge. I imagine that this is the work of ages, and each of us is contributing what it is given us to contribute.
I hear a disturbing amount of divisiveness these days in our country… I think it is really important for us to listen carefully both to each other and to our own hearts and be careful in deciding what is true. How does it go? “…One nation, indivisible….”
My life is changing lately, and I’m excited to see where my journey will take me next. Well, of course, our lives are always changing. But now I’m learning to do it on purpose, and to conspire with the Universe. It is much more fun.
As I know many of you have also found, inspiration comes from all over the place when you look for it. One of these for me was a book my eye fell on at a checkout…an impulse purchase! 🙂 It isn’t the deepest book I’ve ever read, but there are little gems buried in there. Like this one: “At any given moment, you have the power to begin your next adventure.” -Christine Mason Miller. Well, I’m a little embarrassed to put that one in because it seems so obvious, sitting there in black and white. But I’ve been stuck for a long time and this little line jumped off the page and smacked me right in the forehead.
And here’s another: “You never know when, just by being yourself, you’ll be someone else’s gift.” – Kate Swoboda
Boy, I hope that is true. Many people have been gifts to me, and I’ve been wanting to grow into the person who might be a gift to others and not just a kid who sits in her studio making paintings or dreaming out in the field, soaking up impressions.
As an artist, I’m usually pretty confident. As an entrepreneur, not so much. And this has led me to one of my big insights. I am learning to open my mind and notice what is right in front of me. Instead of, say, what I want or expect to be there and them am frustrated when it isn’t. If it happens to be something that appears “bad”, I can ask it questions and learn more from it than from all the “good” things in the world. When I come to see what appear to be undesirable events or conditions as the gifts they actually are, it is then that I truly feel the love the Universe has for me. I am deeply moved that the Creator of all things cares enough about me to send me lessons crafted in such a way to catch my attention. Sometimes what appears to be a barrier is really a sign post.
And so, with a humbled and lightened heart, it is back into the studio with me, to work on my next painting and to craft my new life as an Expressive Arts Facilitator and Guide.
I love this quote:
“If you’re going through hell, keep going.” – Winston Churchill
On the subject of being a great artist, Martha Beck has this to say: “Great artists embrace the full catastrophe of our condition and find beyond it an even deeper truth of peace, healing, and redemption.”
What a striking thought this is. I remember one time I painted a self portrait immediately after an extremely painful experience. I was hesitant to exhibit this piece, yet over the years this is the one that people will gravitate to. That’s great…except I don’t want to paint this sort of thing. What I want to paint, as I’ll bet you’ve guessed, is nature. What may not be obvious is that the nature I paint has, in fact, gone to hell and back. I am so fortunate to live here in “Chicago-land”. Long ago the men who designed the city had the foresight to set aside large tracts of land, even along the lake front. Over the years we have learned that merely setting it aside is not enough. Many of our preserves have been downstream of pollution, or been used for dumping, off-roading, and a variety of other destructive practices. It is with a sense of celebration that I look at these places now.
Prairies, wetlands, woodlands and savannas still exist here, but not in large enough pieces to be self-sustaining. This brings me to another treasure to be found here in the Chicago area: many, many well-informed people willing to roll up their sleeves. Volunteers work with Forest Preserve Ecologists to keep invasive exotic species at bay, to restore water flow, and maintain the balance of systems. We conduct prescribed burns, cut buckthorn, pull garlic mustard, and collect seed.
Being a part of this for over 20 years has taught me that things can heal. Bird populations can rebound, prairies can reestablish, even a broken heart can learn to feel joy once more.
When I listen to the news it sure sounds like the whole world is going to hell. What a relief to know we can come out the other side, bringing with us new understanding that we can use to lift up others.
My room has become an art gallery by accident. Over time, “This is my favorite I can’t sell it ever!” paintings have landed in here, liberally seasoned with masterpieces from my kids. Now grown, sadly, and not as likely to paint, sculpt, decorate…. but that is ok.
One day I was gazing around and was surprised to notice no two of my paintings really resembled each other. UH-OH! You are SUPPOSED to create a unified body of art. What have I been doing? A horse here, a woodland there, an abstract over there (that one was really fun to do). I even dragged my daughter in here to get her thoughts. We hashed it over, what her favorites were and why. This was invaluable because she matched my Etsy store stats perfectly, without meaning to.
Anyway, I’ve been thinking this over for awhile now and I have realized what the thread is: joy. This isn’t a popular thing to talk about in the Art Establishment. But then again, I’ve never been a real member anyway. So, This is what I have to share with you- whatever you do, find what brings you joy.
I’ll be pursuing a more coherent body of work, going forward. And now I know what the guiding light will be: that which makes my heart skip around. That which lets me feel like I’m in conversation with my Creator. I suspect the particular voice will sort itself out with time.
May your day be filled with joy, and may your pursuits fill you with contentment.