Light within Fog
I have been sick for nearly a month now. Thank goodness my head is clearing at last so I am not so foggy and befuddled. At least I am beginning to feel deeply again and even write about those feelings.
It has been a dispiriting time, alone for Christmas and for New Year’s. Not what I would choose.
But there is a certain dreamy distance that comes from being sick. It forces you to step back, take a break from the mad rush of life and responsibilities. I have had this now, even as I do the work expected of me, putting off what is not mandatory until later.
Being sick this time brings with it a warning or a lesson to stop the patterns of living that brought me here. It tells me I need to learn new lessons, a new pace, that allows breath and spaciousness and REST. And in that rest and spaciousness and breath is the ability to BE with who I am again and take time to sense what is right for me, instead of perennially forcing myself to trudge against the wind, my whole body bent over, pushing as hard as I can to conquer all on my path.
I don’t want to live that way anymore. It is how I was forced to live as a child, and I am tired of carrying on the lessons that they taught me. It is high time, yet again, to LISTEN to this message before my life has passed me by with only work to stand for what it has been.
It is time to remember to trust again, too, to know that I am always taken care of.
I haven’t had the energy to work in the studio. I have stepped foot in there often to bask in the piece I have created so far. The next step is to remove the tree trunks that are now only push-pinned over the canvas with my face. It is time to begin to “paint with fabrics” the forest floor, greenery here and there, the sky, her hair.
It will come, but not yet. I do not have the energy. I also feel the whole of it gestating inside me as I slowly come to envision how I do want to drape the fabric, layer the folds of pattern and shape to create the rest of the forest.
It will come, and when I get there, I will love doing it. My entire body will expand with the joy and magnificence of creating!
Honoring of Trees
My beautiful trees.
Forked birches here beside me
deep within Fairy Woods.
Others of you up the road.
You, who years ago,
formed a stockade fence
inside my brain
to keep me sheltered from his advances,
his ridiculous lack of integrity,
his crossing of the line
too many times too often.
You set yourselves up
within the cavity of my skull,
each of you giving of who you are,
my own staunch army
preserving my sanity
for those long weeks.
I acknowledge each of you
who stepped forward
to be my loyal minion,
who joined together,
trunk to trunk, in protection
so my brain would not scream out,
running in abject terror,
so all of me suffering so deep inside
could clamp my awareness instead
on the barrier of your solid strength,
the power of your presence,
your benign spirits
vowing to keep me safe,
and the knowing you were here for me
and would not leave,
would not forsake me,
until he was gone.
Only then did you break apart
and come to me again as simply trees,
the living, breathing trees
who have been my friends all these years.
You returned to being
sisters and brothers,
as you wrapped your gentled branches around me
to hold me again and again.
Great-Grandmother Tree at the Lake.
Shaman Woman Tree and Hawk Woman Tree
on the way to the High Beaver Pond.
My Seven-Trunk Tree growing up.
Grandmother Great White Pine in back of the house.
All others of you quite simply and gorgeously
the trees who have helped me become who I am
these 37 years.
You let me lay my hands upon you
and hear your words.
You touch my heart.
You salve my spirit.
It is all of you I want to honor
in this piece I am creating,
and that at last today—
the painting of you finished--
I believe I have.
Every single one of you:
I honor you.
I thank you.
I am so grateful for the blessings
you never fail to give me.
Sometimes we just have to speak what is inside us and take the risk to share what we have to say.
Thanksgiving Week Off
I’ve taken the full Thanksgiving week off. I am racing the cold in my studio in the barn. I am trying to finish the painting on my Self-Portrait with Trees so I can shut off the water in here, put antifreeze in the toilet for winter. With only wood heat in my studio, I am now using electric radiators to keep my paints and water from freezing.
I have today, tomorrow which is Thanksgiving, Friday, and Sunday. Saturday is completely taken up with a sweet Carole Sing and a workshop on making kimchi.
During this week, I am also learning a new program to help my own books and others’ get a higher ranking on Amazon. It’s impossible for me to learn this during a regular workweek. I have too much work to do, too many emails to respond to, details to attend to.
Baring Myself as an Artist and as a Writer Within GAB
I have been shy about showing the tree trunks that go with this piece, resistant to baring myself, risking ridicule perhaps? But, as I was gathering the right colors of housepaint for the birches, I started thinking how similar this is to baring our souls as we first write and then read our stories out loud to others within GAB.
I remember how much my voice shook as I read my first story when I took the Instructor Training. It shook less the second time and less still the third. But even by the last story, I was so hesitant and anxious about others hearing who I truly am.
And yet, as I was painting the birches, it came to me that, AS we let ourselves be vulnerable, as we reveal our imperfections, we are opening ourselves to others as simply being human. As such, we offer ourselves as just like everyone else: no one is perfect. I think this helps us feel that we are not alone.
So here I am, being vulnerable with you by showing you the progression of the tree trunks before they are finished. I only started photographing them as I began work on the birches. I’ll show here the earliest rendition on these and keep going so you can see how they've evolved.
I am not yet satisfied. After I painted the birches which I kept for last because of their complexity, I saw I need to go back and do more on the simpler trees. I will do that. But, as a practice in humility, in vulnerability, I wanted to push myself to bare these unfinished, imperfect trees.
The Beauty of GAB
GAB is a beautiful program. It allows us to be vulnerable as we speak who we are in all of our imperfections. And, as others listen to and hear us, as they respond with positive feedback, slowly we come to accept both ourselves and also others more deeply.
I am so grateful to have taken the dive into GAB as are countless others all over the world. I am grateful, too, for my abilities to speak not only through words but through my art.
The Tree Trunks for "Self-Portrait with Trees"
I included the above pic as a reminder of the whole piece. AFTER I have created the forest floor, touches of greenery, the sky, and her hair by "painting" with fabric on the canvas with my face, I will cut out the tree trunks and glue them on top. My face will then peer out through my beloved trees. The canvas is about seven feet square.
Sunday, July 25. I am here.
I am here! The two days of plumbing under the kitchen sink last weekend that kept me away is accomplished and very well and worth it. Perhaps I won’t need to see to it every year, and maybe not ever again with the AAV valve in place now.
I am here now, as usual terribly exhausted, living the life of three women, working very hard to get my graphics work done, and now the GAB marketing class, and being here, just barely, in the studio today after yesterday spent mostly on homework.
I’ve been reading till now on this Sunday that I am claiming for myself, resting, part of me longing to be reading still. But I know I'll miss doing this next step, starting to resolve the skin tone.
I think I’ll first aim for the right overall color. Once I get that, I'll apply it with a 2-inch house painting brush. That will help. Then I’ll stand back, take a look, and proceed to go back in for shading by looking in my hand mirror. It will be backwards from what the shading is in the blown-up photo and in my features because the light in my studio is hitting my face from the other side. But the viewer is just going to have to deal! It'll be good enough! Fantastic words that have taken me 68 years to be able to say. The trees are the most important part of this piece.
One step at a time. First make my tea. This helps with the shift from THAT world to THIS—always difficult for me.
OK, then. Get up. Get going.
Well. It’s the next step. I’m not DISsatisfied. Still needs work. The skin looks dark, but looking at My Higher Self piece, it's not so different.
Doesn't look like me at all. Might never. Does it matter? I don't know. I think it's mostly the feeling that I want, of what will be this very large face peering through the trunks of my glorious trees.
Needs lightening in places. More highlights—stronger, LIGHTER highlights—where the light hits my face. Like the end of the nose. I like the lightness there.
Also needs more prominent wrinkles at my laugh lines and around my mouth and between my eyebrows.
Need to paint in my eyebrows—draw them with a marker?
The shape of the face is weird. Need to define it more. Perhaps with the fabric of the forest floor.
The skin tone is better than it was, all a mottled mess.
Good progress. I'm OK with this. It's a good next step.
This may be the hardest piece I've ever done.
Too tired to write anything really pithy.
One of the greatest gifts given to me in this lifetime—besides my children—is the sacred land I live on. On this land, a quarter-mile from the house and fields, is the Waterfall where I am now. The sun has come out this afternoon after a long period of heavy rains for days or weeks (I have no idea), and the Waterfall is enormous, rushing, powerful — Water Mother incarnate.
I sit here and weep, alive with the wild again after so long away. Rain, the endless work of retraining after Covid, and the full weekend taken up with plumbing.
In seconds I go from crunched in on myself to shoulders back, chest open, the energy of my body reaching out to the wild of the water, to the deep solid stone of Grandfather Ledge rising 15 feet above me. The water is slamming down and even spewing straight out with a force coming from 60 feet above. All of this calls to me, to that part of me that knows this water, this rock. I am the water here. I am this rock. The power of the water is here inside me. The depth within Grandfather Ledge is within me. They have taught me this. They have brought me to this, my real mothers and fathers.
As I sit here, I sob and sob in relief, in recognition, in finding myself again here, my whole being lifting up, spreading out to connect with not only Waterfall and Grandfather Ledge, but farther to the Grandmother and Grandfather Trees and Rocks, and to the Earth Mother herself.
I could not connect with myself this weekend through the painting I am working on in my studio. I had a full weekend of plumbing to do. And the rain and rain and work and work and my Achilles’ tendons not great have kept me from this forest place. But as I contemplated walking to the Fairy Woods adjacent to the road today, I felt instead the call to come here to witness this wild.
We are made up of something like 60% water. I am made up of at least that amount of wild. I need to be in its proximity to remember who I am. Sitting at the edge of the Waterfall on a wet, moss-covered rock, the rage of the water muting all other sound, still I feel and hear and take in the soft, persistent welcome of the trees all around me and the sloping fingers of the land that embrace me. The sky finds its way through the treetops to bathe me in its light. The mass of ledge beside me connects with and infiltrates and replenishes the round river rock that I always envision way down inside, where dwells my deepest self. And that strength, that depth of the Grandfather Ledge spreads out from that small round rock inside to quiet my anxious self, fill each hollow cavity of need with sustenance, so that I straighten up, my body and lungs and heart and soul filling with this love I know Nature is giving me.
I am quiet. The tears are finished. I am given this gift of stillness to carry back with me into my busy, challenging life. I have not felt this in a long time, but it is so needed, and I will do the best I can to make it last.
Thank you, all elements of earth and sky and water, for the arms you have wrapped around me this day and for your soundless words of blessing.
I am your daughter, as you know.
Today, I want to mix some skin color in a tub and paint from a pie plate with my big-ish art brush. Then, I need to work on the nose, and start the mouth. That’ll be it for this vacation week.
It will be restful only working on a calligraphy book tomorrow.
OK. Time to get to work.
I think the nose is better.
Whenever I am about to do very difficult things like this, or even when I am only making something with my inner kids, I call in my guides to be with me, especially Gabriel who helps artists. I ask for him to be by my side, at my shoulder. Either to help me SEE, or to help me reach my deepest self, or to call in what my soul needs me to find or know.
I don’t think I’m going to be able to get the nose until the mouth is in place, until I can see it all together. How embarrassing it will be if I CAN’T get it. I’ll keep trying, for the trees.
It helps, actually, that this is not about me but about the trees, to honor them, thank them for all they give me.
Before I start, I'm going to raise the whole canvas to make it easier to work on the mouth.
How scary it is to be posting these less than perfect, less then loved images. It's not something I have done before, at least not with my more serious work. I’m blaming that GAB course I took!
This piece is so important to me, like my Earth Mothers. Trees have been such an important part of my healing and my continued thriving.
That's It for Today
Oh, drat! That’s all I’m doing today. The nose is better but still not right. Skin tone needs lots of work!! Needs to come somewhere in between all the variations. Mouth begun.
Thank god for kitties. I need to quit and feed mine.
This is enough anyway. Going to chill and float and just BE for the rest of the last day of my vacation.
Yikes, this is hard! And I probably should have stretched and gessoed the canvas, but I couldn't bear to. I so wanted it to be as loose as possible, like cloth instead of plastic. I'll figure it out. Every piece I do I figure out as I go.
Won't be back in here until next Sunday. I hope I’ll be here then. Over the weekend I have to completely redo the plumbing under the kitchen sink.
Thanks to all my guides here with me for letting me get this far. A good start this week. But so much work to do!! This feels like a good sketch, a good underpainting.
Saturday, July 10
I have missed an entire day here and lots of today. Early morning yesterday until almost 3 a.m. this morning I worked on a grant I'm applying for. And then from 7 this morning until one when I finished and sent everything in.
I read and rested a bit. I didn’t think I’d have the energy to come over here, let alone want to paint. But, like “SOME GREAT ARTIST,” I am drawn here, to my canvas, to the enormous face I'm the model for—not that I have to make it look like me; I am past caring about that at 68, and this painting is more for the trees. But I want to get the expression right, and I want to paint the skin and the bridge of the nose and along and down to the nostrils today. I am surprised, truly, by how much my studio drew me, as tired as I am.
When I look at her left eye in the painting compared to the blown-up photo of my actual eye, I see I need to change the tilt of the bottom as I did on her right eye, bring it up to show the partial crinkle of a smile there. I want to tackle that first. I say “tackle” because all of this is a “tackling,” a challenge to me. It is hard work, and I am astounded that I am even capable of it.
I see that my brush strokes became much looser as I worked on her right eye, the second eye that I “tackled.” I think I ran out of steam. Let's see how the variation in brushstrokes shows itself as the painting progresses.
OK. Here goes!
I did the nose and the skin....
Well, I did the nose and skin under and above the eyes, but it all needs work. The shadows are too strong, the nostrils are not right. But, hey, after working so late last night and today, not bad.
Tomorrow I want to mix a big batch of skin tone and put it in a covered plastic container. It's crazy to need to mix it on a tiny paper pallet when I need so much paint with these large brushes on such a large area. I'll add Hi-Slo to retard the drying and so I can blend more.
This will allow me to focus on the shading—colors, shapes, blending. We'll see what happens. I've never painted a face this large. I've drawn one even larger with pastels for my “I Can Speak Again” piece (scroll down) from my Earth Mothers series. This is really hard!
I'm finished for today. I want to go have a gentle fire now and burn my Christmas branch for a second and more belated Solstice fire. I don’t have the energy to do a lot, but I’ve been wanting to do this, just to connect with the earth and to pray.
I'm still on vacation for a couple more days, back in the office on Tuesday, July 13. If I'm slow to respond to folks who comment, please know that I WILL, just mostly unplugged, especially these last couple of days. Thanks for your patience!
Monday, July 5, 2021
I am here.
In this space that is utterly my own.
In which I feel my confidence,
where I simply KNOW.
Even though I begin each new piece,
each new step
with a wondering: Can I do this?
Yet somewhere in me knowing
I will find a way.
I am here,
about to make my first marks
on this glorious large canvas
for Self-Portrait with Trees,
to honor them,
to give them my gratitude
for all they have given
to my life
and to my feeling of safety.
Entering this space
that is no one else’s,
here for no one but me --
except the workshops I will lead here
which are also for me,
for my own growing --
I feel as if I enter
through a magic portal
into the mysteries that are
ONLY WHO I AM.
I am so grateful
to all who have given me this great gift
for the furthering
of my own unique gifts
to my spirit
and to the world.
Thank you, all of you.
I am about to sketch out the face—eyes, nose, mouth, ears?
How large do I want the head to be? As large as I envisioned it?
I think I need to measure and then simply begin, however many mistakes I will make….
....After trying to draw my face freehand, enlarging it enormously, I discovered I couldn’t do it. I decided to take a photograph my sister took of me and blow it up on the computer and print it out. This is what it looks like right now on this canvas that is about 7 feet square!
[I am going to try to catch up to today, July 8. I won't transcribe as much for each day while doing so.]
Tuesday, July 6
I would love to get the tracing onto the canvas today. If I get that far, I'll be pleased. Then maybe tomorrow, I’ll begin painting the eyes! I hope so! We’ll see....
....So cool! I have traced most of her onto the canvas. Used charcoal. She looks old and hideous and crone-like and elder wisewoman-ish.
I still need to print out the top of her head and hair and the mouth again. This is so exciting!
She doesn’t look anything like me, but I don’t care. Maybe in time she will. Mostly, I love the size of her face. It feels just right to be peering between the tree trunks.
Will this be my last realistic self-portrait? I don’t know. Will I have the energy for something so large again? I don’t know. I do know that I cannot stop making art. It is a part of me.
It's beginning to feel as I envisioned it. I love the wrinkles!
Wednesday, July 7
This morning I printed out the mouth again and all around the head so I can get the shape and dimensions right. I want to sketch that, and I want to redraw the mouth, and then I want to begin to paint!
I AM TERRIFIED!! But I always am as I begin any piece. When it requires painting skills, I am terrified I won't be able to do it, I won't be able to SEE and my eyes/brain/hand communication just won't work. Also, because the face is so large, I know it will be far more difficult, and it's hard to read the print-outs. All I can do is the best I can.
I am also worried I won't have the stamina. I'm so very tired so much these days at 68, especially doing so much….
….I have finished tracing the top and side of the head and hairline. Spirit was absolutely with me as I did this because it is exactly the right size as it is. If I had been able to print out the larger size—which my laser printer would not do—it would've been way too large. Incredible!
I don’t have the energy to begin painting today. This was a big deal. But I’ll begin to gather materials to start painting tomorrow.
Thursday, July 8
I am very, very tired today. Thunderstorms last night woke me at three, and after dozing until seven, I did a bunch of connecting with the outside world this morning. Tried to read, mostly dosed until now: 2:30.
Part of it is fear, I know. I am terrified I won't be able to paint this. If I even get anything done today, just to begin, I'll be happy.
Really, a lot of me just wants to go and watch movies, and there’s nothing stopping me. I am on vacation. This is not a time to be pushing myself. I just know that, once I am back to work, I won't have the energy for much on Sundays — my one studio day every week — especially for painting. We’ll see.
I want to begin, just to get past the fear.
OK. I am going to pull out some possible brushes, position the print-out of her left eye, look at myself in my large hand mirror, mix some paint, and begin.
Wish me luck!
....I did her left eye! I like it!!
I feel better.
Now her right eye. Hold me steady. Give me stamina and focus.
Phew! Very hard....
....I did both eyes! And I love it! I want to bring a little more light into her left eye. Maybe do it right now....
....I did it. Better. Now the other eye needs a bit more work — the iris, is it called? Maybe needs more shading?
I want to start a blog. I really do. I want to not wait anymore. I want to put it on my Writing Your Way Home website. I want to chart the daily progress and feelings and process of this piece. I’ve spent my whole life waiting. For what? Seize the day!
This is terribly exciting!
Tomorrow I hope to do the nose and maybe lips. We’ll see. If I don't wake in the middle of the night again so get a horrible night’s sleep.
My hope was to get the whole face painted this week while I'm on vacation. Maybe it will work!
I can’t believe I am doing this!! But I am tired and I’m going to quit.
Now, I am caught up to today. I am going to try to keep posting daily during the days of my vacation as I make progress. I am so very happy I am doing this!
Thank you for reading!!
I write every day. I write to discover who I am, to note special things that happen, and for guidance from my own inner wisdom and from the universe.
I have several books in the works, one of which is Healing Through Art.
As I begin yet another self-portrait, this one with my beloved trees, as I photographed my progress for the third day in a row this week—while on vacation and spending lots of time in the studio—I thought, "Robin, why wait. You have been waiting all your life for so many things. Why don't you simply transcribe your daily studio writings and post the progress on this piece through images and words.
I had a retrospective at my local private high school in 2016. As part of being granted this one-person show, "An Artist's Life: Healing Through Art," I was required to give a talk to the entire student body and faculty. In response to what I said and to the show itself, one student asked if all of my work was self-portraits. I looked around the enormous room filled with a sampling of work from over my lifetime, and I realized that abstract or realistic, concrete, wood, paint, or pastel, yes, every piece in that huge space was in some way a self-portrait.
I guess I create self-portraits as a way to claim myself, that I am alive, something I was not allowed to be during my childhood. I need to SPEAK that I exist and who I am at that time in my life and I do that through writing and art.
Trees have always been incredible healers for me. In the Guided Autobiography (GAB) Instructor Training that I took, for the Family theme, I wrote a piece about the Seven-Trunk Tree that I would go to during my childhood. Seven trunks from one tree grew together, and I could step up between two of these into a little room to lick my wounds. As part of our assignment, we were also asked to draw a room that was special to us. I drew my Seven-Trunk Tree.
I don't live near that tree anymore, and the tree itself is only a stump now. But when I moved here to western Massachusetts in 1984, I discovered near the Lake close to my house a five-trunk tree that is shaped like the palm and five fingers of a hand. I call her my Great-Grandmother Tree, and she has become very important to me.
Self-Portrait with Trees
This is a piece I envisioned five years ago. I had started a new relationship, but it wasn't working out. It became very difficult, even traumatic, and trees helped me through it big time.
I live in a very rural area, on a dead-end, dirt road. Down the road from my place is an area of woods I call the Fairy Woods. After this challenging time happened, I envisioned a self-portrait with my face very large, peering through tree trunks from the Fairy Woods. I wanted to create this to honor all the help and love trees have given me over the years.
Today I decided to begin a blog of my daily progress of this piece and the writings associated with it. I think taking the GAB class gave me the courage to do this; I learned that people appreciate what I share. I am SO excited to be doing this, to no longer be waiting.