Back in the Saddle Again

Ah, it really felt good this evening to make a mandala! I had intended to work up a design that I'd had in mind for the next painting, but my subconscious had its own plan, apparently, as what came out was something else altogether:
I like it very much, but it's not really what I want for the next big painting project. There are too many shapes - reflecting, I think, the fact that I've got more going on right now than I can handle!

While I was working on it, N was busy with her latest work - bookmaking. No, not taking bets; she's making lots & lots of tiny (as in 1/2" to 1" long) notebooks, illustrated on the outside. Very cute, and handy for making short lists. Here's one she made me for tomorrow:
I think she's now made about 20 of them, and they're all taped up on a large, colorful display in the kitchen.

Meantime, here are the last few of Z's works from her summer drawing class. She's gotten very accomplished at drawing hands, which anyone who draws will tell you are wretched hard to capture:
and this is a cute picture of our guinea pigs:
But here is a typical Z masterpiece - one of her fantasy drawings, just made up from her imagination. As with her portrait of her birthparents, it's done in colored pencils - she gets such rich effects with pencils it amazes me.
Needless to say, Z got an A in her drawing class.

Tomorrow Z & I begin classes at the community college. Z's very excited. She's taking Intro. to Psychology, which will give her a good idea of whether or not she's on the right track in planning to go into Art Therapy; Chinese; 2-D Design; and Figure Drawing. That's a lot for a high school senior, but I think she will handle it just fine.

I am sad to see my summer end. I don't feel as jangled as I did at the end of last summer; this has been a good summer, as I've really fed my soul for the first time in years. It's time to look back on my "49 Project," I think. I didn't do 49 mandalas, but I did focus on art and mandalas for 49 days straight, and that was spiritually very nourishing.

The most important thing I learned was how soothing it is to spend time in the right side of my brain, and how easy it is to slip into it by picking up a piece of paper and a couple of colored pencils or gel pens. And you know, in the beginning it wasn't easy at all! I'd sit and stare at the paper for a long time before I could get started, and I was very critical of myself. Now I can sit down and just begin - well, most times.

A few days ago, R said in a frustrated voice, "I never spend any time doing anything creative, and I really need to!" I've been telling him this for a while, but I think he needed to see me doing it regularly for it to sink in. So this evening when I sat down to make a mandala, and the girls joined me, he came to the table and began folding origami shapes with us. I can't recommend the concept of a "family art night" enough. It's a great way for families with wide age ranges to do things in tandem.

For the next 3 weeks or so, as we all adjust to changes (new semester for me, 1st grade for N, college for S, and C's absence in Georgia for all of us), I will just keep making mandalas as often as possible. But once we're all settled into a routine, I'm hoping to put together some kind of plan. I did promise K's guides I'd come up with a 2-year plan, after all, and that was three months ago.

I suppose if I'm going to teach tomorrow, I'd better get some sleep.

Oh, click on the title for a link to a very entertaining blog. The writer is my new heroine.



The Best Movie of the Summer!

Yeah, I know, this isn't a movie review blog, but I can't help it - you have got to go see "Death at a Funeral"!!! While down in Virginia visiting S, I had the great good fortune to see it, and I can't say enough good things about it! Alan Tudyk (the pilot of "Firefly") is just one of the many wonderful actors that make this a highly successful film. Click on the subject line and check out the website. Better yet, go see it when it comes to your city (alas, for some bizarre reason it's only showing in 200 cities across the US).

And yes, it's even better than "Stardust." Whodathunk?

I've got a lot of catching up to do tonight, now that I'm finally almost ready for classes to start on Monday. I'll start with the last two projects from my painting class, one that I am very happy with: the one my teacher, Ro, called our "loosey-goosey" portrait. She told us to do anything we wanted, incorporating elements besides paint if we wished. I began with a bindu, of course, which at first I intended as a bindi - nice little pun, only it turned into the nose instead.
As you can see, the face became an yin/yang symbol, and the yin/yang shapes kept appearing in other places in the design. It turned into a painting for N, which I called "I Will Meet You In Your Dreams," something that I often say to her at night. The face has a bindi after all, and there are mini mandalas in the painting, as well as the Chinese symbol for breath, the Hebrew letter "chai" (for life) and the Sanskrit "aum."

One of my classmates said that all of my painting is "fluffy," a characterization I didn't much appreciate until she told me she meant it was calming, which is a good thing - this one in particular I intended to be tranquil and reassuring. She said my paintings seem like they'd be good illustrations for children's books. Hm. That's okay, but fluffy? That I don't like.

Here, just to show you that I'm modest, is the portrait. I don't like it. One of my classmates exclaimed "Ooo, it's just like a china doll!" and I agree - no life to it at all, though I am not sure that's what she meant, exactly. I didn't enjoy doing it at all. I learned quite a lot, and it's better than I thought I could do, but I don't expect to do any more portraits, and that's a huge relief. All the others were fun to a certain extent, but this one was just onerous work.
Glad it's over.

I got an A in the class. I learned a lot, and for the most part it really was fun. I don't plan to take any courses this fall; I do plan to paint more, though! The thought of giving "my" paints to Z for her 2-D Design class is painful, but we can share. She shared her brushes with me, after all!

And now on to books. Peggy Orenstein's Waiting for Daisy was the next on my list from Elle. I read it in two sittings, not because it was such a fast read, but because I couldn't stop reading it. Orenstein is a very good writer, and her story is compelling - but that's only part of the reason. Her story is also, in part, my own story, and she wrote about things I hadn't thought about for many years.
Orenstein's book is about a lot of things, including infertility and what the quest for a child can do to a couple. Her descriptions of taking her temperature, keeping ovulation charts, talking to doctors, dealing with the INS - all of that evoked in me emotions I had not felt since I finally became a mother.

Of course, the title rather gives the ending away, but there is much more to this book than even the long subtitle would suggest (
Waiting for Daisy: A Tale of Two Continents, Three Religions, Five Fertility Doctors, An Oscar, An Atomic Bomb, A Romantic Night, and One Woman's Quest to Become a Mother). Orenstein's honesty captured me from the start; I felt she was speaking directly to me, woman to woman. Her last chapter alone is worth the price of the book, and should be required reading for every infertile couple and every infertility doctor.

Too much thunder & lightning; have to shut down the computer for now. Go read the book. It's not just for people with infertility issues - it's a damned good story.




I'll be back again shortly - we went down to Virginia for a few days, and now I am paying for it, i.e. trying to get ready for the new semester that begins in just a few days. I've finished my syllabi, so only another few hours and I will be able to relax by uploading the mandalas I've done (and do another one, I hope). Stay tuned . . .



Post #61

And that's about how old I feel right now. Spent almost all day driving to, walking around, and driving home from Marywood U., which is in lovely (NOT) Scranton, PA. Z loved the place - moi, I felt it was not the most attractive campus I'd ever seen, and there was just something that didn't feel quite right about it to me. But we're looking for a campus for her, not for me, so I guess it's not my call. :-P

Anyway, the rest of the day passed in frantic phone calls to SCAD (for C), to LCCC (for Z), to a couple of other moms to discuss synchronized swimming team arrangements (for N), getting dentist appts. for all three kids before school starts. And then frenzied prep. for my fall syllabi.

And now it's time to put N to bed and then grade final exams like a fiend, as the grades are due by Wed. morning at 10. So far today, no mandala time at all, and I'm feeling quite jangled as a result. But I do have something for you to look at: Z finished her final project for Drawing I over the weekend, a 14x18 colored pencil drawing of her birthparents. The photo does not do it justice - IRL it is not blurred at all, and the photo has foreshortened their features considerably. It actually looks more like pastel than pencil. Very lovely.

The original looks so much like Z that her classmates asked if that was her boyfriend in the picture! So now she knows that it's not just me who thinks she looks just like her birthmother.



So this makes, what, three posts from me in one day? I can't help it, I have to link to this before I forget it: Postsecret has a very moving video that is worth a look.

And now I'm going to bed to read more of the next book on my Elle list.



It's done. And I have to say, it's rather a let-down. After working on it for 30-40 hours, I feel a sense of loss, because it is finished and I don't have time this coming week to begin the new mondo-dala that I began thinking about two days ago (I'm going to use the 24"x24" canvas I've already got, but turn it so it's a diamond). It just feels weird not to be in the middle of a huge mandala project. Naytheless, it means I can get back to doing small daily mandalas again, which will be nice.

I call it "Syzygy," and if you look closely at the stars in the bindu you will see a syzygy there - three heavenly bodies in alignment.
I'd fully intended to have a ring of stylized clouds in the color modulated outer rings, in honor of Georgia O'Keeffe's "Sky Above Clouds IV," which I love. But once the modulation rings were done, I was convinced that the clouds just wouldn't look right. The mandala seemed done, so I stopped (after a whole lot of tweaking).

I wish there were a way to show you online just how huge an accomplishment this feels like.

Almost every single day now for 44 days I have worked on mandalas or learning techniques to apply to mandalas. I need to take some time to reflect on how that has changed me, but I will say one thing immediately: it has become a habit and a need. Does this equate to an addiction? Of that I am unsure.


Penultimate Day!

I have got to finish my mondo-dala by the time I hit the sack tonight, even though it isn't due in class until Thursday at 6. I simply have too many things to do next week to have time for painting, and then we're leaving for VA by 6 am Friday, in order to get there to watch the visiting Tibetan monks creating a sand mandala (yippee!).

I've been painting steadily every day; the greatest obstacle I have faced has been my indecision over colors and design past the green rings.
As you can see, I did figure out what to do - Z suggested that pink would go well with the green "leaf" color, & she was right! I decided on the water and then sand colors to go with the pearls, which have been part of the design for a while now (many thanks to C & Z as consultants on how to paint pearls!). And then I dithered forever, while doing other things, over the penultimate ring.

Now I know, so after a trip to AC Moore to get more white paint (man, do I ever go through a lot of that!), I am about ready to set up to finish. I hope I can get done before midnight.

I've also been reading like crazy to read all the Elle books by Sept. 4, and have only two left. I got through Meredith Hall's Without A Map pretty quickly, and I have to say it was a big relief to finish it. She is for the most part a good writer, but her choppy, inconsistent style is very frustrating and at times confusing; one moment she is living in Boston with her boyfriend, the next she's walking alone down a dusty road in Nebraska with no explanation of how or why she got there, and then on the next page she's back with her boyfriend again and they've bought a fishing boat and there is a sketchy explanation of how that came about.

Guiltily, I also have to admit that it was a relief to stop reading about such a very sad life intertwined with so many other sad lives. After a while, it just became an overload and I couldn't take in any more. Which was too bad, because there were some very nice bits of writing in this book.



Kabul Beauty School

I just finished reading Deborah Rodriguez's stunning book Kabul Beauty School. If it weren't for Elle Magazine, I might have missed this one, and I would be the poorer for it. Rodriguez's stories of the women - and men - she worked with in Afghanistan, as well as her own transformative journey, are so compelling that I resented anything that took me away from my reading. I honestly never thought I'd be particularly interested in anything related to cosmetics or hair styling, but I have a completely different attitude toward the subject as a result of reading this book. Buy it, read it, support her work.

Z & I went this evening to hear Anna Quindlen speak. She was wonderful, of course. She spoke about reading. She mentioned (in passing) her friendship with Calvin Trillin, and afterwards someone asked her if he was as funny in person as in print. She said yes, absolutely, but that more than anything, he is the kindest person she has ever known. Which pretty much tallies with what my father has said about him. Anyway, it was great, and Z & I were both very glad we had gone.

This is a short post because I am very tired. Another seven hours (or so) in interrupted sessions have resulted in the following expansion of The Mandala, as I have come to think of it.


Not quite giving up just yet . . .

. . . but darned close to it. I've been working on this:
which, in case you've forgotten (I sure haven't) is 30" x 30". Here's a close-up of what took me five hours to complete, and that doesn't count the underpainting of the entire canvas (which was actually fairly quick, about 1/2 hour).
Nor does it count the measuring. Either time. I could not find our yardstick anywhere, so I did one of my usual convoluted measurings which always work when I'm sewing. I've been sewing since I was a teenager, which is what - about 33 years now? - so I've gotten pretty good at sloppy-eyeballing-seatofthepantsing. Unfortunately, this doesn't work very well with geometry (a subject I never actually took in high school and just sort of fake my way around). I have been known to use whatever comes to hand, and it seemed at the time that the raggedy little measuring tape ought to be just fine . . . .

Yet after I'd done a lovely crescent moon, silver and lavendar highlights & all, I discovered that it was nowhere near the center of the canvas.

And okay, my estimate of five hours doesn't count the time I spent saying all sorts of bad words, which it was okay for me to say because only C, who is 20 and has heard lots worse from his friends (well, maybe not), was in the room at the time. The girls were elsewhere (not that they haven't heard at least a few of those words from me in other times of stress, alas).

So you see, sometimes making mandalas is not quite as stress-busting as it's cracked up to be.

Anyway, I remeasured, this time using the measuring tape to mark off distance on a rigid wooden rod I'd found in R's lab. I measured FOUR TIMES just to make sure, and came out around the same place each time, so I decided that was close enough. I painted a new moon, and then made dinner.

This morning when I came downstairs, R had very cleverly used two long pieces of string stretched diagonally to show me where the center was . . . about a centimeter away from where I'd measured it. Conveniently, no one else was around, so I chanted a few more choice mantras and then traced the strings as guidelines before removing them. I did not repaint the moon this time; I think I can fudge things enough to make it all come out all right.

I simply remind myself that this is still a learning process. Life itself is a learning process. If I'd wanted this to be geometrically perfect, I'd be learning computer art rather than painting by hand, right?

I should mention that next to the moon, in the center, it will eventually be dark purply-blue with silver stars, but not till the rest of the thing is done, because I have to see the center dot so I can draw the rest of the circles. Why not draw the circles now? Because I am still revising/redesigning as I go. Anyway, I'll show you more as I paint more.

Given the other things I had to do today, and the fact that I still need to feed everyone and leave for class soon, I don't see how I can keep doing mandalas every day. I will either need to count my daily work on this mondo-dala as one of my mandalas, or I'll need to extend the 49-day period. I'd appreciate comments/votes/suggestions, please!!!

Tomorrow morning Z&I are heading over to Cedar Crest College to find out about their art therapy program, so I won't be painting till the afternoon. But maybe I will paint more tonight. This must be finished by next Thurs. night's class. Ack!




I finished my landscape painting today, with help from Z and no help from Ro. I guess Ro feels landscapes are so simple to do that she doesn't need to give us many pointers, because she pretty much left us on our own with this. I did my best with it, and I did tackle a very difficult scene; but I am definitely ready to move on! Here it is:
I worked up two more mandalas today, after taking N&Z to the pool. I had no idea where I was going with this one - I took out some pale pink paper (because I am running out of the other colors - pink isn't usually a favorite color of mine to work with) and just started in on it. The end result was a surprise, and I like it.
Then I did some back stretches, and while doing them I got the idea for this mandala. What I pictured was grass around the outer rim, a circle of little animals and plants, and the inner circle just sky. It came out almost precisely the way I'd envisioned it, although the rabbits were hard to execute. I'm not very good at rabbits. It makes me think of spring, so that's what I called it.

Just one more mandala today, and I will be caught up at last. Which is good, because I have a lot of other things that need my attention as well!



Look Me In The Eye

How wonderful it is to be a reader for Elle magazine! I got my advance reader's copy of Look Me In The Eye! my life with asperger's by John Elder Robison two days ago, and devoured it at once. It was touted as "darkly funny," but what it actually was was highly informative and extremely touching. The chapters on struggling to handle small talk and finding a way to have a successful marriage were the absolute best.

In case you didn't know, Asperger's is a form of autism. I know a couple of people with Asperger's, and interpersonal relations is the toughest part of the syndrome. My view is that autism is a wide spectrum, and there are many people who are viewed as "normal but weird" who have a touch of it.

Of course, none of us is simply the product of our DNA. How much of Robison's personality may be chalked up to his Asperger's and how much to his abusive, dysfunctional parents is something I wondered about as I read his memoir. Some elements were obvious, others less so.

I feel positively privileged to have read this book. Now I want to read Running with Scissors, by Augusten Burroughs - Robison's brother. For a little more insight into Robison, you can click on the above link and read his blog.

In addition to reading today, and working on my landscape (about which I don't feel too good right now, alas), I spent time on mandalas, hurray! I mostly played with media again. I did a slightly better flower mandala, beginning with carnation petals from N's flower cake. I need to find that website with flower art that my mother sent me a while ago, though - surely there are more interesting things to do with these dried petals? I tried making little rabbits in the outer ring; I think I was marginally successful.
The second mandala is one of Julie Keefe's Mandala Mondays designs, again on vellum. I liked the filigree pattern, and I am trying to color more yantras in the hope of some day getting the hang of them enough to recreate one myself. (I tried making one from scratch yesterday, but after three attempts I gave up in frustration.)
The third and fourth mandalas were practice using a white pencil to add "light" to a design. My cousin E just had surgery, so I wanted to make her a mandala card to wish her a good healing. Adding to the blues I tried white, and I was really pleased at how the white brought a sort of luminous quality to the vellum, much as it does to the black paper in Judith Cornell's lessons.
Then I worked one more mandala on vellum using the same principle, but this time playing with shapes and color changes, just for fun. I used a lot of white - if you click on it and open it in another window to enlarge it, you can see just how much.
And now I'm really tired, and I'm heading for bed. Maybe tomorrow I can get caught up as well as finish my landscape. And then I will begin my huge mandala, which will take a couple of weeks to finish!

This, I believe, makes 33, and this is day 36. So I am gradually catching up.



Book 15 at Last

It's taken me some time, but I have finally caught up to everyone else and, thanks to the Parkland Community Library, I have finished The Harlequin, book 15 in Laurell K. Hamilton's vampire series. Some of the books were more enjoyable than others (the covers were all uniformly awful), but I stuck to the series doggedly because the universe she created was so fascinating. I'm glad I did stick with it, because with The Harlequin, she seems to have returned to her earlier story-telling mode, and the story is a good one. I haven't yet spent any money on the books, as all the others have come from paperbackswap, and I don't intend to buy any in the future, but I will probably continue to read them as she writes them.

Two other books I want to mention this morning are indy graphic novels. The first, by Scott Mills (of Little Clay Pot, which I reviewed in an earlier post), is Trenches.
It's the story of two brothers in WWI. A bit formulaic, the book is nevertheless a good introduction to the horrors of WWI for those unfamiliar with it, and I am a fan of Mills' artwork. I liked Clay Pot much better, though. It's another offering from Top Shelf Productions.

Far more impressive is Jane Irwin's Vogelein: Clockwork Faerie, to which I understand there will be a MOST welcome sequel this summer! The heroine of the book is a tiny, 300-year-old clockwork fairy, whose latest master has just died. She is searching for a new master, since she must be wound up every day in order to continue to survive. Yet there is a spark of magic about her, as you will discover if you read the book.
This is one of the most original, magical graphic novels I have read in a very long time, and I recommend it highly. Irwin poses the Frankenstein question in a new light, and her addition of the Fay creature Ezrael, trapped in the human world and unable to return to Tir na nog, enriches the story even more.


Revealing Oneself in Mandalas

Jung, as I may have mentioned in an earlier post, believed that our mandalas reveal a great deal about our feelings at the time we draw them. (Click on the title link for more information on Jung and mandalas.)

When I sat down yesterday late afternoon to make a mandala, I was tired and I had no idea where I wanted to go with one. All I knew was that it had been two days since my last mandala & I craved some mandala time. I pulled out the new pencils I'd bought (more on those, below) and shifted quickly and completely into my right brain. No music, no audio books, and no one else around - just the media and my subconscious. Perhaps that sounds a little flaky, but that's what it was, because I wasn't thinking about anything consciously at all.

I immediately went for the red and orange pencils, and after drawing a swirling bindu with a few sparks of yellow, I picked up the black pencil. I found myself pulling out some random swirls around it until I got to the edge of the circle. Then I grabbed the red pencils again and worked my way outward. But - how terribly frustrating! Every time I really got going with the red pencil, I hit one of the black marks, and had to detour around it, or even got stopped completely by one and had to turn around and go back again.
It was like a maze with a lot of obstacles, and it was THE most annoying mandala I have ever drawn. To top it all off, I then had to go back and rework those same passages with the orange and yellow, and I almost didn't make it through.

When I finished, trailing my way out, I was exhausted. The whole thing only took about 15-20 minutes to complete, but it was very draining. I had a long drink of water and sat back to think about it.

That was when I discovered what it was all about. For the past week I've felt frustrated at every turn. I have several projects going, and I haven't had the time to devote to any of them because of all the other daily aggravations that have intruded. Sleep deprivation has exacerbated the situation, and yesterday afternoon it all came to a head. I felt like a volcano about to blow its top.

So I decided to stay home from painting class last night. C&Z promised to help me finish the landscape that we'd be working on in class, and R said he'd take N to the pool and then put her to bed. I fell asleep about 6:30 pm, roused enough at 8:30 to cuddle N a bit, and did not get up till 7 this morning. I feel like a new person.

Let's hear it for the insight of mandalas.

As to the new pencils: they are conte crayon pencils, which I found at Dick Blick the other day. I'd never heard of them & thought I'd get a few to try. Z draws in conte crayon a lot. They are quite soft, and almost like drawing with chalk, producing a lot of dust - well, I suppose they are like conte crayons only with a fine point. Interesting. They'll take a lot of getting used to. I'll have to get Z to teach me to use them, I think.



Mostly pictures

I've been pressed for time this past week, what with the still-life to tackle on my own, and trying to get a handle on the many other projects of the summer. To be quite honest, I am feeling pretty discouraged about how little of the summer is left and how many things people are depending on me to do, and this is making it very hard for me to maintain my resolve to complete both the painting course and the 49 Project - because, after all, those are just for me, which means there's a little voice somewhere slyly suggesting that that makes them far less vital than all the other things on my plate.

I'm trying my best to ignore that voice.

Anyway, from most recent (last night) working backwards, here are some pictures. I've got my very rough study done for the final painting project. It will be a mandala 30"x30" - monumentally scary in size (to create, not, I hope, to view!). Pay no attention to the stuff around the outside of the circle; the outer edges will be some neutral color, probably pale blue. I already don't like most of the colors I played around with, & will change them:
but anyway, this gives you the basic idea.

Next up is a funny little robotic face - that wasn't what it started out as, but that's just how it ended up. Just for fun.
And this is the still life I set up:
And this is how it turned out:
I chose things that, for the most part, I had brought home from my travels, with the exception of the little black pot (though I brought that from Kentucky) and the blue vase, which I think my brother gave me. The egg is an ostrich egg, which is why it's so huge. N kept rearranging things, which made it a bit difficult, and I ended up doing a marathon painting session on Saturday to keep from having the whole thing changed completely out from under me. :-/ (She didn't like the composition.)

The last thing I painted was the pot, and somehow it went all van Gogh on me, but I really like it. Some day I'd like to do a whole van Gogh-ish painting just because.

I'm going to finish up for tonight with some of Z's latest drawings. They're quite good. I have to get N to bed and get to bed early myself, so I will just post them and sign off. Enjoy.

Just FYI: she did the drawings in art class, and they're of a model, not of me. In case you were wondering. I am neither that young nor that shapely!