Tuesday, July 25, 2017

Giving Myself Permission to Paint in a Series

Until last week, I was stuck on the same painting for months. My art coach Pattie encouraged me to start a fresh painting, which ended up being this fireworks painting I shared on Instagram a few days ago.

It's still a work in progress, but it was so good to start something new. I think my creativity was starting to grow a little stagnant as I faced one creative block after another, afraid to move forward. Have you ever felt that way?

So, I took her advice, and I bought a brand spankin' new canvas. It sat in the package for a couple weeks, and I finally took it out of the plastic wrapping and gessoed it. Then I proceeded to ignore it for two more weeks as I continued obsessing over my painting that seemed to be taking eons to finish.

I knew early on that I wanted to focus on fireworks, and that I wanted to begin with ink as my first layer. After many days (wasted time?), I came across an inspiring quote by Alan Watts:

 You're not something that is a sort of puppet on the end of the process. You are still the process. You are the big bang, the original force of the universe, coming on as whoever you are. 
Alan Watts compares the Big Bang to a bottle of ink breaking against the wall, and we are complicated human beings found on the fringes of that beautiful ink blot, still in process. As the thunder banged and crashed above my head, I took a risk and laid my ink-splattered canvas on my deck in the rain. I had to trust the process.

This year has been about finding my rhythm, especially in creative work. For many years, I mostly worked on short-term projects, often completing a spontaneous painting or collage in 1-3 sessions. Now I'm taking more time, and the intuitive paintings have a lot of complexity, at least in my process of discovery. Sometimes the painting begins to get a little too dense, like the core of a star . I study so many concepts, different artists, techniques, etc., and then create a little universe in one painting. It's too much.

One piece of advice Pattie has given me numerous times is to try not say everything on one canvas. Share one little piece of that, very simply. And then share another. And another. Don't overwhelm the viewer with too much information.

Now I know this is true, and I've had a few seasons where I was able to let go and produce a lot of stuff, just experimenting and not worrying about creating a masterpiece or sharing some grand message with the world.

But lately I've been holding back. What am I afraid of? Mostly, I'm afraid of wasting a good canvas or materials, which can be expensive. I'm afraid I won't achieve perfection, which could lead to criticism from others (but in reality, is mostly my inner critic speaking).

My four-month painting has surely gone through many changes, and each layer reflects something changing in my spiritual and emotional journey. I've traveled to the Orion Nebula, visited the Egyptian pyramids and now I'm underwater. (You know, maybe that's why this painting is taking so long. All those light years to travel, rented camels and those scuba lessons. It really adds up.) Yet I wonder how this journey would have looked if I allowed each phase or turning point to be reflected on a different canvas. I would have a series of works, and each painting would show a facet of truth connected to the whole.

Exploring the Orion Nebuala

Swimming with Emerging Jellyfish (Yes, same painting)

I'm not saying that a painting can't have many layers, and that layers can't be covered up before revealing the finished composition. Sometimes artwork can be like a film or animation, which many frames per second making up the action. And unless you have access "behind the scenes", you might not know all the creative effort that was put into the final product. I am fortunate to have photos of each stage, so I can see the progress over time.

Speaking of film, I thought of an old sequel recently I watched back in the 80's starring George Burns called Oh God Book II. Here's the synopsis via Wikipedia:

In this sequel, God asks the help of 11-year-old Tracy Richards (Louanne Sirota) to help promote Himself. Tracy creates the slogan "Think God" and soon has her friends spreading the message by posters, graffiti and other ways. But Tracy's parents and psychiatrists think the young girl is just insane. God is the only one that can straighten out the situation. One of the memorable scenes showed God riding a motorcycle, with Tracy riding in the sidecar, where there were scenes that showed nobody on the motorcycle, which baffled the two policemen.

Why did this quirky little film come to mind? I remember after watching this movie, I pretended like I was little Tracy Richards, who was about my age at the time, and I gathered up a big stack of printer paper my stepdad brought home from work for me. I started making my own posters that said "Think God", and I'm pretty sure I was going to try to display them on telephone poles and little shops in my neighborhood. But when my stepdad saw the paper used up with this awkward little phrase on them, he asked me why I had wasted all the paper. Being a highly-sensitive child, I think I was a little stunned, and I don't think I said anything. He wasn't being rude, but probably thought I'd use the paper for more elaborate drawings and not just a simple catchphrase. He didn't really get the reference. But the word WASTE is what stuck in my head. I think I ended up throwing the posters away, or tearing them up, feeling dejected. My stepdad, who champions me in many of my creative pursuits, probably never knew that bothered me so much.

How many times do we keep a new art supply in the box because we are afraid to ruin it or use it up too quickly? I know many artists can relate to this. Maybe we are afraid of wasting these precious materials, or that our results won't measure up. And isn't wasting paper bad for the environment? Don't we also teach kids not to waste their food because "there are starving children in Africa?" But these kinds of warnings, while often well-meaning with the best of intentions, sometimes hamper the creative process. Hamper literally means to hinder, shackle, entangle or restrain. I don't know about you, but I'm ready to let loss some of these shackles and break free of entanglements and creative restraints.

The funny thing about the creative process is that it creates an awful amount of "waste." Think of all the paper Walt Disney and his team of animators "wasted" to produce those delightful animated films? Including all those individual frames of animation, the concept drawings, and even the heaps of crumpled paper they used up in their attempt to achieve technical excellence.

I wanted to be a Disney animator when I was in high school.

I can even look at nature and wonder why there is so much "waste". Why does a carp lay a million eggs a year? Why are there so many stars and galaxies? Isn't that a waste of space? (smile). Yet if the God Almighty sees this as a good use of time and materials, then by golly, so do I. It's in that extravagance and waste that life is sustained, and even enriched.

So as I untangle myself from this creative impediment, I also decided to take a page from one of my favorite mixed media artists, Kelly Rae Roberts...or rather, a permission slip! Kelly urges artists dealing with fears and doubts of their own creative worth to give themselves permission to do the thing they are afraid to do. So if I'm afraid of waste, which hinders my creative flow and productivity, then:

I give myself permission to create with abandon. I give myself permission to make mistakes. I give myself permission to waste as much paper and canvas and paint and pencils as I need to to stay on this creative path. 

I give myself permission to work in a SERIES. 

Hmmm, maybe even a sequel:

 "That's right, I made another movie. You know me, I can't stop creating." ~ Oh God, Book II

Still in Process, 

Sandra xo

Sunday, June 25, 2017

Epic Adventure Painting at the Grand Canyon

Happy Birthday Michael Mayes!
In 2015 and 2016, I spent part of my summer working at Grand Canyon Lodge on the North Rim of the Grand Canyon. Besides the breathtaking views and numerous opportunities to hike, I got to know some great people in this laid-back atmosphere. It was one part summer camp and one part living at a college dorm. Park friends became family in this environment.

One of my beautiful friends from Russia named Ilona commissioned me to do a special portrait of our co-worker Michael. His birthday is on June 25, and she asked me a few days in advance if I thought I might create this surprise birthday gift. Normally, I wouldn't do a portrait at such a short notice, but I agreed and set to work.

Beginnings of an "Epic" Painting

On the tiny table in my employee dorm room, I set up some my art supplies and began a small sketch of Michael looking at the Grand Canyon at sunset. I also began the background of the painting on my XL Canson Mixed Media pad, using a combination of acrylic paint and collage materials. Even though I travel around the country, I try to carry some art supplies with me. It might seem like "too much" to carry bits of collage fodder, but these seemingly insignificant things play an important part of my art journaling process. It feels worth it to carry some of these scraps along with my paints, pencils, art pads, etc.

Old Sheet Music circa 1920's

In the bottom right, I adhered a piece of old sheet music from a song called "Cabin in the Valley of the Pines." I believe it came from an antique hymn book from the 1920's. It was very fitting, since Michael, along with the rest of the housekeeping crew, worked so hard to clean the cabin rentals for Grand Canyon guests each day. Most of these cabins were built in the late 20's .North Rim is unique, as it is considered a "sky island" with a beautiful towering forest of Ponderosa pines, aspens and pinions. All of these magnificent trees are protected within the Kaibab National Forest and GC National Park. They are old growth trees that have never been logged. Although it can get hot in Arizona, we rarely saw the 100+ degree temps that others suffered through in the arid valleys. We also experienced monsoon season, which helped bring much-needed moisture and cooled things off. It also helps that the North Rim is at 8,297 ft elevation!

Towering Ponderosas, Grand Canyon North Rim
Photo by Sandra L. Martin - @creativecurrents
Sky Island of North Rim Grand Canyon, August 2015
Photo by Sandra L. Martin - @creativecurrents

Quivering Aspen in front of Western Cabin at Grand Canyon Lodge, Fall 2015
Photo by Sandra L. Martin - @creativecurrents
Around the horizon line, I added this little worksheet left by a younger guest in one of the cabins we clean. Children can become "junior rangers" by doing different learning activities with the Park Rangers. I also found a poem in some literature that speaks of the mighty Grand Canyon which I cut into a cloud shape and painted pink.
The kid's handwriting adds a lot of character to this mixed media piece. 

At the top left, I added these fun doodles I found in Real Simple magazine. They reminded me of our adventures in housekeeping. The smiley face reminds me of Michael's great attitude. Although managers would lead morning stretches, Michael would often volunteer to lead the housekeeping team. No matter how stressful the day or how tired he was, he always had a smile on his face. Once we were done stretching, he'd clap his hands and say "Let's F**K today UP!" and everyone would laugh. 
More sheet music from an old Exodus worship album that speak of the stars and rising sun - perfect for the sky
I held up my tiny sketch of Michael to see how large to paint the figure in this scene. I had to adjust the composition a little bit from my reference photo, which is at the bottom of this blog post. 
The magic of perspective makes this tiny sketch look much larger. This helped me visualize the final painting. 

Adding color. Same tiny sketch in corner. 

When I paint pictures like this for people, I see it as more than a paid commission. Since I paint intuitively, I focus my energy, prayers and positive thoughts into the painting. As I painted the purple shadows on Michael's back, I actually cried a little bit, full of emotion. I thought of how hard Michael worked, and how he showed not just physical strength but strength of character. I remember how he shared how he also took care of elderly people at times, which showed his love and compassion. Peeking from his shoulders is the word "Unwaivering". As I looked at the purple shadows, they echoed the shape of the Grand Canyon itself. I prayed that Michael would continue to have the strength of the Grand Canyon throughout his life, even as he helped others with the burdens they carry.
Unwaivering devotion

A quick look at more of the collage imagery I chose:
A black and white journal card peeks out of the Canyon with a reminder to "Spread Your Wings" and "Be Adventurers." A line from another vintage hymn speaks of "Traveling On". 

The yellow star ticket came from an employee party or possibly the Chuckwagon Cookout.


In the pic above, you can see the word WILD carved into a wooden table. This reminded me of the picnic table behind housekeeping headquarters (good old 500) where housekeepers over the years have left their mark, carving names, writing quotes and drawing pictures. This includes students from Thailand, Russia, Ukraine, Turkey and many more countries. 

Housekeeping Graffiti behind 500 Building - many memories there

Park Family relaxing after work with hookah and live music

Hiking on Transcept Trail, North Rim - Spring 2016
My "last" sunset before leaving the North Rim one year ago

Me and my best friend/husband Shannan, enjoying our "last" North Rim sunset with friends, June 2016

When I painted this picture of Michael, my husband and I were preparing to leave the Grand Canyon to hike in Maine. All those emotions found their way into the work, and when I handed the finished painting to Ilona, I could barely speak. The painting was birthed quickly, with collage and paint layered on like the rich layers of the Grand Canyon. I thought not only of the past two summers and all the people who I continue to carry in my heart, but also the echoes of Native peoples like the Havasupai who consider the Grand Canyon their sacred home and birthright. Months later, as funding has been cut for National Parks, I worry about the future of the Grand Canyon, 

Michael enjoying the "epic" North Rim sunset with friends - original reference photo

View from Bright Angel Trail, Summer 2015
Photograph by Sandra L. Martin - @creativecurrents

I feel like I've been carrying this great secret for a year now, as I've never shared this painting publicly. It is nice to finally share this picture with you, and also give a little insight into the process. To my Park Family - managers, co-workers, friends - you are part of the layers of my heart and I can never truly be separated from you, no matter the distance or the differences between us. To Ilona, thank you for the opportunity to create this special commission and for your friendship. You are beautiful in every way. And to Michael Mayes, I hope that today your birthday is just as EPIC. Thank you for being an example of unwaivering devotion and making our days a little brighter! 

Happy Birthday!!!

Stay creative!
Sandra xoxo 

Wednesday, March 8, 2017

Self Possession: How a Painting Taught Me to Swim Confidently Towards Love & Acceptance

Self-Possession - Intuitive Art by Sandra L. Martin - AVAILABLE for PURCHASE

It is fitting to share my new painting on International Women's Day 2017, a labor of love I've worked on for the past month which helped me emerge from a dark cocoon of shame and self-doubt with a bit more boldness and confidence - to be an empowered woman who understands her worth and has something valuable to offer the world. This new creation is titled, "Self Possession."

  1. the state or feeling of being calm, confident, and in control of one's feelings; composure.
    synonyms:composureassuranceself-assuranceself-controlself-command, imperturbability, impassivity, equanimitynonchalanceconfidenceself-confidencepoiseaplomb, presence of mind, nervesangfroid;

As a highly-sensitive intuitive artist, I've always struggled with anxiety and worrying about how others perceive me. For most of my teen and adult years, I looked outside for validation from others. This is a precarious place to be for an introverted creative who sometimes feels unsure of herself. When people can react unpredictably, or project their own baggage - their issues and insecurities, how does a person navigate through all that positive and negative energy?

I swim through social media seeking "likes" and acceptance from others, wade through anti-aging and weight loss commercials that make me feel inferior, or look at the lives of successful people from my little fishbowl of a tiny existence, wondering if I will ever make a difference. And that's just it. I've allowed myself to think so small in an age where females are supposed to be empowered and able to do anything they set their mind to. Surely I can't be one of those. I am not smart enough. Rich enough. Beautiful enough. Just not enough.

Around Christmas, I gave myself a gift. For several years, I talked myself out of it. I couldn't possibly afford it. Or maybe I didn't even deserve it. But I took a deep breath, announced my plans to my husband, and hired an art coach for 2017.

I didn't just dip my toes in the water. I took the plunge into self-discovery, and I don't think I've hardly come up for air. My Creative Life Coach Pattie Ann Hale has helped me stay immersed in a daily practice of intuitive doodling, and special homework assignments that are birthed from the symbols and themes that emerge from this consistent practice. I had three choices for art coaches, but I chose Pattie because she works from her incredible intuition and authentic spirituality. I had already "known" her for several years, and also took an online class she co-led called "Unlocking the Heart of the Artist." I am already seeing an unlocking and transformation in my own life - a holistic change that includes a change in my whole perspective and not just my creative process.

For "Self Possession", I first approached this painting in a very abstract way. This is often my approach for intuitive art, allowing the painting to speak to me along the way and unlocking the mystery. Part of my homework to prepare for this painting was to watch two short films on Netflix from the Moving Art series. Moving Art: Oceans and Moving Art: Underwater. The main emphasis was on the underwater ocean life, since there was an underwater and submerging theme in my daily doodles. I took that information to inform my process when I began to lay down blocks of color on the canvas. I could almost feel the ocean waves as I scraped paint on the canvas with a palette knife...back and forth....back and forth. I wondered what mysteries awaited in the deep of the painting.

Beginning the journey into the deep, finding my way through the currents. 
Discussing the work in progress with my art coach, we looked at the painting from a variety of angles, even turning it upside down. In the early stages especially, an intuitive artist has to keep an open mind! We discovered two figures in the painting, shown in blue and in coral, and when I thought about it further, I realized it was a dance of male and female energy. In the original orientation of the painting, the blue figure was actually composed of cascading water, like a waterfall, and this "Living Water" felt alive and energetic. The coral figure had a muscular strength and stretched her arms upwards towards a beautiful cresting wave. Her body appeared to be made of tightly woven DNA. A closer look revealed a yellow birthing sac, and the watery figure appeared to help her in this birthing process with a nurturing, supportive presence. The peachy coral is a color of healing trust in my personal color language. I relate it to the total surrender that happens in the womb, when the baby feels fully loved and protected. It was a "breakout color" in this composition that started out with familiar sea blues and greens, and a declaration that I was trusting this intuitive process in unchartered waters (I learned a couple weeks later that intuition in Icelandic is Inn Saei, literally "the sea within")

The dance of creativity & the birth of something new

By now, I hope you haven't turned away, as I share my "birthing pics" with you. Maybe at the beginning of this painting process, I might have been too embarrassed. But this "birth" was actually the beginning of a wonderful transformation in my life, and I am not ashamed!

My "baby" - aren't all creative works our babies? 

Because I don't have an easel where I currently live, I painted this canvas on the table and sometimes held it on my knees. It felt more intimate painting this way, a deeper connection with my creative offspring.

But from those nurturing beginnings, the painting became a place of darkness. I wrestled with a male figure in an all-night painting session, much like Jacob wrestled with an angel one night long ago. For a little while, the figure actually was an angel with beautiful wings, but as time went on, the figure became more a source of negativity. I felt the shame that comes from being told by the media that I am not good enough, or recalled past instances where I was judged harshly or felt weak and powerless by the "male gaze." A painting often goes through an ugly stage where the artist even loathes it. This was the "dark night of the soul", a dark cocoon that felt oppressive and represented the worst of patriarchal structures (including some found within religion) that have bound women for centuries. A face emerged in the top right corner, with a huge gray tear and a broken butterfly wing, tormented like one of Picasso's weeping women.

Dark Night of the Soul - dealing with shame from the "male gaze"
I had to let the painting rest a couple days before I could work on it. The all-night wrestling left me spent. I felt the loathing strongly, which I knew was part of the loathing I may have felt towards myself all these years. I needed to reconnect with the painting, so I did that through the sense of touch. I touched the painting with hands of love and transferred love back into the painting and the suffering female figures, the sound of my hands moving across the canvas sounding again like waves, bringing back alignment.

But the dark night of wrestling soon passed, and the female figure began to overcome and dismantle this negativity that was infecting her very womb - her sacred space of creativity and dreams. She was at peace, as my art coach said, "swimming in the cosmos."

Swimming With Confidence - Feeling Peace Within

I still wrestled with the composition, but it was trying to find a pleasing balance to the painting rather than dealing with the epic wrestling of that "dark night." I decided to bring back the Picasso-like face for a little while, but now she celebrated her transformation and no longer wept. The overall feel is carnival-like. I liked the fish that emerged as part of her face and some sly hidden imagery that was a response to surprising information I learned while studying Picasso.

A Celebration of Boldness & Response to Picasso

But as much as I enjoyed this face, I felt it overpowered the composition, so it had to go. Who knows? I will use it for future inspiration, and remember how she made me smile, and her overall boldness. I feel these changes happening internally in my own life, little by little. And the fish, a sign of abundance and fertility, later made an appearance again, as you can see in a later stage below.

I played with various color combinations and tried unifying different elements, including the caterpillar figure on the bottom right. I added a seagreen color and then all of a sudden disliked the dullness of it. I decided to do something different to make the painting come alive again, and that is when I added some raised stenciling with gel medium. The mandala shapes and texture began to harmonize the composition. I especially liked the white pattern in the middle of the piece. It resembled a dream catcher. I could see the beginnings of feathers in the composition as well, and a few streamers. This symbol seemed to fit perfectly with the celebration happening in my painting, and the dreams and transformation I was expressing.
Raised Texture Made the Painting Come Alive

As I moved into the final stage of the painting, I decided to return to a darker background. But the dark color, a mix of ultramarine blue and Payne's gray, didn't feel oppressive. My unashamed female figure swam in the moonlight, Her head, which might almost appear mask-like, is actually a picture of her true self. It has a Van Gogh quality, reflecting a Starry Night.  Her womb now pearlized and full of light, with a tiny green transparent leaf growing inside. The dream catcher moves with the breath of angels. The bulb in the bottom left reminds her of her many-layered soul, beautiful and multi-faceted. She is liberated. She is free.

Another look at Self Possession, AVAILABLE for PURCHASE

If you are interested in purchasing this painting, please leave a comment or leave me a message on Facebook.

Painting Info:
Self Possession
Acrylic Painting
18 x 24 inches Gallery-Wrapped Canvas

xo Sandra