Saturday, September 30, 2006

San Juan Channel from Cattle Point, San Juan Island, WA; photo by Robin Atkins, bead artist
Comments Off...

Listening to Saturday Night Blues on my favorite radio station, KPLU, I’ve just been catching up on a few special blogs. One of them is Layers of Meaning. The author, Serena, has disabled comments on her blog.

Can’t help thinking about that… What would it be like to blog with “comments off” and “counters off?” Wouldn’t there be a sense of freedom?

Years ago, I took a “process painting” class where the underlying assumption was that we would NEVER show our work to anyone. The idea was to work on a large canvas, painting up close and personal, never stepping back to judge or evaluate our work, and never looking at the paintings of others in the class. My paintings were different than anything I’d ever done or have ever done since, and it was an amazingly liberating experience. Yes, I do have them still. I only showed them to one person, and that was someone I trust with my darkest secrets.

Turning off comments and counters is different from that painting class, because I know people might still find and read my blog. Yet, similar to the process painting, there would be less of a sense of responsibility to meet the needs of known viewers, and less of a desire to please them, rather than myself. For example, right now, I’m feeling pressure to find an image or two, suitable for this post. (Maybe you’re thinking, “She COULD show us her paintings!” Me too, but I’d have to find them and photograph them, and their associated memory of freedom might then slip away… so instead you get a photo I took from the tip of San Juan Island during a storm last winter.)

Surely turning off comments and counters would make blogging more of a diary writing experience. The sense of community (that is boosted with every one of your comments and every time I see another country’s flag on my counter) would be lost. I adore being part of this community in all of its struggles and victories with the process of art. Without that, I’m not sure I would blog. But Serena does… and she does it well… and for a long time, starting in October 2003. I wish I could tell her how much I enjoy her writing and images.

Another blogger I greatly admire is artist, John Stewart, who does A Drawing A Day. While comments on his blog seem to be enabled, I’ve never seen one posted. To that end, I posted one today. Maybe he gets a ton of them, but doesn’t approve them to be posted, which would make it look like he doesn’t get any.

Writing and answering comments does take time. Yup, sometimes a lot of time (especially when you have to retype the code over and over again). So I guess more time for art would be another small advantage of “no comments.”

For now, I’m keeping both comments and counter enabled, because I love the dialog, the feedback and the support. It’s great to feel connected to people in Canada, Australia, UK, Columbia (most recently)… as well as closer to home. Maybe our blogging and through it our sense international connection contributes to world peace in some small way.

“If we have no peace,
it’s because we have forgotten that we belong to each other.”

Wednesday, September 27, 2006

Fabric Conversations...

Kitty S., a talented quilter, colorist and teacher from our local quilt group, is offering an informal class to several of our members on making a Boston Commons quilt. I can’t do the class, but decided to do the quilt anyway – king size!

Saturday, Kitty and another gal who recently completed one went fabric shopping with three of us who intend to do this thing. There will be twenty different fabrics in mine! Here they are, in the order that they’ll be placed in the quilt. The center of quilt is the fabric on the left, and it will build out from there in the order shown. Click on the picture to get a better look.

Boston commons quilt, fabric selection, photo by Robin Atkins, bead artist
Perhaps more important than color, value, scale and design, I think fabrics also have personality. There are silly ones that you couldn’t take to dinner in a fancy place – playful ones that shout for a romp in the sprinkler – sedate ones that like to sit in the back pew at church – and so on. As we were selecting mine, Kitty often mentioned that one of them “talked to another.” Looking fondly at my new quilt babies this morning, I started thinking about them as characters in a play, having conversations with each other.

You may have noticed that my characters are all over the map – batiks, dainty floral prints, stripes, plaids, polka dots, abstracts, large scale florals. How can all of these different types of fabric get along together?

Let’s look at the whole cast one more time.

Boston commons quilt, fabric selection, photo by Robin Atkins, bead artistWhat could we name this play? What about Jungle Exploration? What about Tango of Love? At the moment, I’m leaning toward Family Reunion. We probably would not call it Desert Dreams, or Revenge of the Grunge Singer, or Country Bride. Given this particular cast of characters, what might you name this play?

Indulge me for a moment… let’s explore this concept with regard to specific personalities. Here are some of the conversations I imagine in the play:

Blue-green Lattice Batik says to his son, Tiny Blue Flowers, “Come on kid, lets go shoot some baskets.” Watching them fondly from across the room, Dragonflies murmurs, “Chip off the old block. Our son will grow to be as handsome as his dad."

Blue-green Lattice Batik, Boston commons quilt, fabric selection, photo by Robin Atkins, bead artist
Tiny Blue Flowers, Boston commons quilt, fabric selection, photo by Robin Atkins, bead artist
Dragonflies, Boston commons quilt, fabric selection, photo by Robin Atkins, bead artist
Blue Batik is sitting on the sofa between her sisters. Her elder sister by less than a year, Periwinkle Polka Dot, is calm and composed, the scholar of the family. Both sisters are concerned about Violet Floral, who is young, impetuous and in love for the first time. “You are always such a wild one, dear,” says Blue Batik. "Stick with us, and try to stay out of trouble today.”

Periwinkle Polka Dot, Boston commons quilt, fabric selection, photo by Robin Atkins, bead artist
Blue Batik, Boston commons quilt, fabric selection, photo by Robin Atkins, bead artist
Violet Floral, Boston commons quilt, fabric selection, photo by Robin Atkins, bead artist
Violet Floral replies, “Trouble? Fat chance! Look at Stripes! You think YOU keep me under control? Ha! So, you’ve noticed I’m crazy in love with Spiral Batik? Ooooh-la-la! Right! Well just try to keep us apart – I dare you!”

Stripes, Boston commons quilt, fabric selection, photo by Robin Atkins, bead artist
Spiral Batik, Boston commons quilt, fabric selection, photo by Robin Atkins, bead artist
Pale Hydrangea waves at Pink Floral across the room and turns to wink at Bright Purple Floral in the kitchen. She says softly to herself, “Without us, this play would be rather dull. I am gentle, fresh and pure. My light reflects on all the others, emphasizing their brighter qualities. I don’t need many lines to be of influence here.”

Pale Hydrangea, Boston commons quilt, fabric selection, photo by Robin Atkins, bead artist
Pink Floral, Boston commons quilt, fabric selection, photo by Robin Atkins, bead artist
Bright Purple Floral, Boston commons quilt, fabric selection, photo by Robin Atkins, bead artist

Green Plaid, out in the garden, is having a conversation with his grandson, Purple Batik. “Congratulations,” he says. “You and Bright Purple Floral are a great couple! Your strength of character, orderly without being boring, compliments her almost child-like willfulness. You’ll do well together.”

Green Plaid, Boston commons quilt, fabric selection, photo by Robin Atkins, bead artist
Purple Batik, Boston commons quilt, fabric selection, photo by Robin Atkins, bead artist
Well, OK, I never said I had any talent for writing scripts. I’m sure some of you could do far better. But the point is, fabrics do have personality. They can speak to each other across the boundaries of color, value, and style. Hopefully my selection will continue their conversations with one another throughout the second (sewing) and third (using it) acts of this play.

Anyone care to give us some samples of conversations between Dragonflies and Wild Batik? (Remember, Dragonflies is married to Blue-green Lattice Batik and mother of Tiny Blue Flowers, or so the script says...)

Dragonflies, Boston commons quilt, fabric selection, photo by Robin Atkins, bead artist
Wild Batik, Boston commons quilt, fabric selection, photo by Robin Atkins, bead artist

Wednesday, September 20, 2006

B is for Beads...

B is for Beadlust, which swept me into a glorious beaded pathway back in 1985. Beads are my passion. Mary, a reader here, sent me a surprise package of beady treasures, which arrived yesterday. Oh heavens, it was grand! I’ve bought beads from traders and in China and in all of Eastern Europe; and bought beads at countless conferences from countless vendors; and bought beads from bead shops in countless states; and bought countless books and magazines about beads… You’d think maybe I’d seen them all. But no! This little package arrives, and beadlust bursts forth as I examine each of the precious little treasures within… all of them new to me… not one of them a duplicate of beads in my more than ample stash. Don’t you just love it!!!! Thank you, Mary!

set of beads given to me by a friend

B is for Bike, which I have, and Biker Babe, which I guess I am. The gentlewoman in me doesn’t like either of these terms and would prefer Motorcycle and Motorcycle Rider. But those words don’t start with B, so for now we’ll go with the vernacular. The picture below shows me with my third motorcycle, a Suzuki 800 Intruder, which I bought in 2004 and have ridden a little over 5,000 miles since. Generally when I tell someone I ride a motorcycle, they will say, “Oh! Do you ride a Harley?” With apologies to Janet and her purring cat, Harley, my response is emphatically, no! I rode on a Harley once as a passenger… one time was more than enough. They are excruciatingly loud, vibrating, testosterone-loaded pieces of junk. Do I have a strong enough opinion on that one?

Robin Atkins, bead artist and her Suzuki motorcycle

B is for British Columbia, the westernmost Canadian province. Riding two old (1979) Honda Goldwings and my Suzuki, Robert (husband), Matt (brother), Karen (Matt’s wife, riding as a passenger), and I just returned from a 7-day motorcycle ride through BC and the Jasper-Banff part of Alberta. The second day out, riding from Pemberton to Lilooet, was BC at its scenic best. Here are a couple of pictures from that day.

Pemberton to Lilooet, British Columbia, photo by Robin Atkins

Pemberton to Lilooet, British Columbia, photo by Robin Atkins

B is for Beaver. Robert has a special affinity for beavers, and has been collecting Beaver Wood for some time now. Many barkless, tooth-marked branches and sticks with chewed ends embellish our property. They are branches with remarkable history… once a growing tree, then part of a Beaver building project, then washed down some stream into a river, then flowing into the sea, then found by Robert on one of our beaches, and now standing as a reminder of Beaver Wisdom by our front door. As we drove by Green Lake off the Cariboo Highway, Robert noticed some Beaver Work. A few minutes later he pulled to the side of the road and requested that we return to take a better look. And pictures. Of course, a couple of the chips came home in his pockets. Could Beaver be his totem animal?

beaver work near Green Lake, British Columbia, photo by Robin Atkins

B is for Beautiful. So many things are beautiful, although many times it’s an inadequate word. For example, if you’ve ever explored the 150-mile Icefields Parkway between Jasper and Banff, you know what I mean by running out of beautiful and all of its synonyms in the first 3 miles. In 2000, Robert and I (as passenger) did the ride in sunshine. We could not go a half a mile without stopping to snap pictures (film cameras at that time). Our fingers were sore and we’d each shot over 400 exposures by the end of the day. Clearly, it is the most beautiful place I’ve ever been. This time, the weather turned early winter with near freezing temperatures, rain, sleet, and even some snow around the ice fields. This is challenging on motorcycles, and requires full involvement on the part of the drivers. Yet, even with that, it was beyond beautiful… the way the clouds wrapped themselves around the mountains, the way the rocks glistened with wet, the way the new snow glowed even under dark skies. Robert (whose passion is photography) took many more pictures than I did, and maybe when he gets them processed I’ll share a few of them. Meanwhile, here is one of mine. As good as any photo may be, the amazing beauty of the mountains, streams, glaciers, fall colors, smells, wetness, snow, straggling wildflowers, and wildlife remains way more clear in my mind than in our images.

view from Icefield Parkway in the Jasper National Park, Alberta, Canada, photo by Robin Atkins

B is for Bull Elk. On the grounds of Becker’s Chalet, our lodging near Jasper, a herd of elk has made a nest for themselves over the past year or so. They seem to have no concern whatsoever about all the tourists with their cameras. You can see one of the calves and a cow below. It’s rutting season, so the Bull of the herd was a bit testy, putting his head down and starting a charge toward the camera crowd on several occasions, driving people to hide behind trees or shrubs, or flee to their cabins. The evening of our arrival, a smaller Bull came to challenge Mr. Dude… quite a visual and auditory spectacle! For hours we heard the other-world sounds of them bugling at each other, and sometimes the crash of their antlers. Mr. Dude ran back an forth along the boundary of his turf, in the woods just beyond our cabin, keeping Mr. Intruder to the other side of his cows and calves. Mr. Intruder attempted again and again to get through to the herd, but failed on this day to get past Mr. Dude’s ample rack. I tried to take pictures, but didn’t get any good ones due to the distance (I wasn’t about to get closer!) and the speed of the Bulls.

elk bulls, Jasper National Park, Alberta, Canada, photo by Robin Atkins

elk calf, Jasper National Park, Alberta, Canada, photo by Robin Atkins

elk cow, Jasper National Park, Alberta, Canada, photo by Robin Atkins

B is for Back Roads. We love Back Roads, Blue (on the map) Highways with only two-lanes and no traffic, the sounds and smells of wildlife, farms, streams and rural living, the slowed down pace, both physically and mentally. We ride the Back Roads as much as possible. Here is a picture taken just beyond the Washington side of a little-known border crossing, Nighthawk, west of the main highway down the Okanogan Valley. Imagine stopping along a narrow road by a small building, waiting for the one and only customs officer on duty to appear. Not a single other person or car in the vicinity. Sweet!

stream crossed by the road from Nighthawk, photo by Robin Atkins

B is for Birthday. Today my odometer clicked past number 63 to the 64 marker.

B is for Blessings. Sixty four years filled with more blessings than I can count, including you, dear readers! I’m Blessed to have had a Bountiful life so far, with eager anticipation of more ahead and no unresolved regrets.

Friday, September 08, 2006

bead embroidery by Robin Atkins, bead artist
Rabbits & Bead Embroidery ~
Note: Vacation time for Robin!!! I'll be back in the studio September 18th, and back to blogger as soon as possible after that. Show'n'tell you all about it when I return.

Meanwhile... with all the pictures of rabbits in my previous posts about totem animals, I never thought to include pictures of how they seem to find their way into many of my bead embroidery pieces. Here are a few detail images.

bead embroidery by Robin Atkins, bead artist
bead embroidery by Robin Atkins, bead artist
bead embroidery by Robin Atkins, bead artist
bead embroidery by Robin Atkins, bead artist
bead embroidery by Robin Atkins, bead artist
bead embroidery by Robin Atkins, bead artist
bead embroidery by Robin Atkins, bead artist
Have a bunny good week. See you soon!

Friday, September 01, 2006

Totem Animals ~ Tigers!
(Part II ~ Continuation of August 30th post)

tiger doll by Mary Preston

Mary Preston is an artist who has always had a very unique and passionate relationship with animals. When I first met her in 1990, she was well known for her wearable arts - coats and jackets stenciled and embellished with animal forms (as shown below).
After getting an idea for a jacket, perhaps from a commission or inspired by a certain fabric, Mary always consulted the library for information about the animals - their behaviour, appearance, habitat and habbits. She then drew each animal and, from the drawings, cut stencils. Her coats and jackets had a magical quality and a great deal of "animal energy."

As her interest in animals, animal symbology and animal mythology grew, Mary began to study under a local Huichol shaman. She wanted to learn the methods used by these native peoples for contacting and speaking with animal spirits. After being tutored for several years, Mary is able to journey into a different world (called the lower world by the Huichols), where she can meet and converse with animals.

She is able to journey for another person and to speak with their totem animal. Let's just suppose that she is doing a journey for the purpose of meeting your totem animal. (This could actually happen... contact me for referral information.)

The journey requires that she fast for at least 8 hours and prepare herself emotionally, thus beginning the shift in her cognitive process. After several brief rituals, Mary starts each journey by imagining herself in a safe, pure and natural place, generally walking on a beach. After a while an opening occurs and she enters the lower world, where she asks politely to meet with your totem animal. Then she waits, observes, asks questions and avails herself to whatever appears.

She may see many different animals while in this trance-like state. When she has seen a specific animal several times, she will ask if it is your totem animal. She must see this animal at least four times and get confirmation from it that it belongs to you before returning to the real (or in Huichol terms, middle) world. Immediately she makes a written log of the entire journey, so as to keep track of all the nuances and details, which she then passes on to you.

Although it is not a business, Mary offers this service to those interested. If requested, she will also construct a likness of your animal, and costume it as suggested by her vision, including any companion animals that appeared to be associated with it. The doll image at the beginning of this post is the likeness she made of the animal she met while doing a journey for me ~ a Siberian tiger with rabbit, bear, otter, mouse and fish as companions. Here are two more pictures of him.
tiger doll by Mary Preston
tiger doll by Mary Preston

According to Mary, this is my totem animal - not necessarily my birth animal, but a very strong presence in my life at the time of thejourney she did for me. I find this quite amazing, because tigers have always held a great fascination for me. Always at the zoo, I've headed right for the tigers. At age 11, with my very first camera, a little Brownie, I took pictures of the tigers when we visited the Zoo in San Francisco on our summer vacation. I still have these pictures, sad as they are (because at that time the tigers were housed in bare cages, unlike habitat areas many zoos have nowadays).

Here are a few more recent ways tigers have shown up in my life.

A decade or so ago I was in Rathdrum, Idaho, and happened to hear about an animal rescue program that was open to public visit - Noah's Exotic Wildlife Shelter (no website). Somehow I found the place, which turned out to be a private home with government-approved animal enclosures at the rear of the 5-acre property. Glenda York and her husband, over the years had assumed the care for animals that were no longer wanted or needed by their owners (tigers and lions) or wild animals that had been injured or abandoned (bob cats and cougers).

Glenda took me out to see their brood, and there was Olivia, the most beautiful tiger I'd ever seen! Glenda showed me how I could put my hip against the heavy chain link enclosure so Olivia could strop or rub against me. I also put the top of my head against the enclosure, and felt/heard her gentle snuffle snuffle as she investigated my hair. Later I wrote the following poem about this experience.

making eye contact
with a 300 pound tigress
nose to nose
deep yellow eyes
and mine brown
held together longer
than comfort prefers
brain wanting to disengage
from experience
wanting to analyze my reactions
what reactions
there are no reactions
only the experience of it
of eyes meeting eyes
and meeting again
and meeting again
brain still working on it
still trying
to make sense of it
or maybe
looking for magic
on another level
a spiritual handle
a deep meaning
to be revealed
from this eye contact
in this time
we are inside
each others heads
I in her cage
she in mine
or are we
I don’t know

A few years later, I returned with a camera, and took this picture of Olivia.

Olivia, tiger at wild animal shelter in Rathdrum, ID

I keep in touch with Glenda, and send her donations whenever I can to help with food for Olivia and the other big cats. They operate on the edge, with donations from people like me, their own personal work income, local restaurants which collect and give table scraps, road kill from the country, volunteer veterinarian services, etc. Yet, for twenty years they've kept their big cats well fed, healthy and contented, while at the same time providing valuable education and opportunities to visitors.

This is one of Olivia's whiskers, as compared to one from our cat...

tiger whisker and cat whisker

Do you remember the needle-felted rabbit from the previous post, the one I made in a class? Well, the next day or so I made this needle-felted tiger mask.

needle felting, tiger mask by Robin Atkins, bead artist

Long before Mary journeyed for me, while on a bead buying trip in China, I learned about tiger shoes, lovingly made for Chinese boys and thought to bring strength and courage into their lives. As soon as I heard about them, I was determined to find a pair. Here's what I finally found in a small antique shop in Shandong Province (along with a couple of other tiger things from my studio).

antique tiger shoes from Shandong province, China

Here are two special tiger buttons in my collection. Both are hand done using scrimshaw techniques. The fist is Japanese, done on bone. The second is by an American artist, Diane Schefferly, done on mother-of-pearl.

scrimshaw on bone, tiger button, Japanese

scrimshaw on mother-of-pearl, tiger button by Diane Schefferly

Have you enjoyed being with tiger energy during this post? Even if you take the concept of totem animals with a grain (or even many grains) of salt, I believe that observing, learning about, and finding a way to assist an animal that seems special to you is something that circles back to you in a very positive way. Thank you for taking this little safari with rabbit, tiger and me!