Sunday, March 23, 2014

Hollow Bone

In one day, songstress Ayla Nereo will be releasing her new album Hollow Bone. I've been a fan of Ayla's ever since I first heard her sing a few years ago in Berkelely at a house concert. What struck me most about her was her ability to drop down into the collective depths, gently pulling the listener with her. She sings about universal experiences of meaning, reminding the listener of truths they may have forgotten, calling us back to the source. To me, her music is rhapsodic, penetrating, and profound. 

While I've been fond of all of her music up to this point, I've really fallen in love with Hollow Bone. Ayla named it in reference to a Rumi poem which mentions being as a hollow reed. To me, the hollow reed metaphor has always referred to the process of becoming a vessel through which inspiration can flow through. That inspiration can be anything- to write a song, to create a painting, to speak the truth, to act for the benefit of others, to sit and be still, to dance... the action itself flows through an open portal. For Ayla, the songs on Hollow Bone felt as if they were received in this way. 

When she approached me to create an image for the album cover that portrayed this process of receiving inspiration and channeling it into song, I was pretty excited, yet knew it would be a tricky one to execute successfully. Portraying the physical and energetic/spiritual realm simultaneously has been an interest of mine ever since I discovered the art of Alex Grey as a teenager, yet I've never tried it myself in such a direct way. I spent quite awhile incubating the vision for this piece, keeping it in the back of my mind and letting it simmer and slowly take shape. 

Finally it was time to sit down at my desk and draw. At this phase of things, I try not to think too much and instead just allow ideas to sprawl across the paper. The image that emerged showed an archetypal tricephalous female, often called the triple goddess or triple deity, which surfaces in mythology all over the world, from ancient paganism (Maiden, Mother, and Crone) to Christianity (Father, Son, and Holy Spirit). Above her head is a scarab beetle, which the ancient Egyptians associated with creativity and the creator god Atum. The forward-facing woman is receiving a channel of light from the scarab above her head, which is being funneled through the side-facing women as song. 

When I took the sketch to the next phase, I didn't use any reference for the drawing of the primary woman's face. In keeping with the notion of the hollow reed, I drew straight from my mind, pulling this face out of the mist and into the physical realm. Creating this image was definitely a journey. At one point, I stayed up until 5 a.m. trying to meet the deadline, only to make a silly technical error in Photoshop which basically destroyed the previous 10 hours of work I had just done. Despite that mishap (from which I learned some very important lessons), it was a joy to create this piece and I'm just so happy and honored to have been asked to do so. 

The first sketch.
In progress, taking it to a finish with Photoshop.
The finished piece. 

Ayla was a delight to work with through the whole process of taking the piece from a sketch to a finished image. I really couldn't imagine a better client to work with nor could I ask for a more engaging idea to create into an image. I'm so grateful to Ayla for asking me to be a part of Hollow Bone, and I hope that you all get a chance to hear her songs. 

Listen to the story told by the reed,

of being separated.

"Since I was cut from the reedbed,
I have made this crying sound.

Anyone apart from someone he loves
understands what I say.

Anyone pulled from a source
longs to go back.

At any gathering I am there,
mingling in the laughing and grieving,

a friend to each, but few
will hear the secrets hidden

within the notes. No ears for that.
Body flowing out of spirit,

spirit up from body: no concealing
that mixing. But it's not given us

to see the soul. The reed flute
is fire, not wind. Be that empty."


Thursday, February 6, 2014

I'm just finishing up reading a really superlative book titled "Stilling the Mind: Shamatha Teachings from Dudjom Lingpa's Vajra Essence" by B. Alan Wallace. I received it as a gift from my wonderful friend Matthew Champoux, an exemplary human and skilled yogi who has practiced under the tutelage of Richard Freeman for well-over a decade. The book, in a nutshell, focuses on the practice of shamatha, defined as"meditative practices that are designed to refine the attention and balance the mind in preparation for the practice of vipashyana"(vipashyana is contemplative insight into fundamental aspects of reality). Within the short span of 180 pages, it packs in so much paradigm-shifting, radical clarity about the nature of the human mind that I found I could only read a few pages at a time, lest I become overwhelmed! Through the process of reading it, many subtle aspects of reality were pointed out to me, and many of my assumptions about my own body/mind/world were called into question.

So good!
This experience brought to mind how I felt when I first started studying the Dharma. I remember the excitement and the enthusiasm it instantaneously aroused in me, the intense curiosity to know more, and the now-familiar sensation of the ground of my paradigm dropping out from under me. I remember reading for the first time about concepts such as emptiness and impermanence, or about the impossibility of locating a fixed and solid identity within ourselves. Everything is changing all the time, from the atoms in our bodies to the thoughts in our minds. We create a solid sense of self by piling our experiences, opinions, memories, thoughts, perceptions, and sensations all on top of one other and then vehemently guarding that heap that we call our "self" from dissolution. The wonderful/terrifying thing about studying and practicing the Dharma is that it knocks down each of these carefully erected pillars of who we think we are, one by one, or sometimes all at once. What we are left with when all of that rubble has fallen is tremendous openness, spaciousness, freedom and clarity.

This ever-present process of dissolution has allowed me to begin to understand some of the concepts that I've been reading about for more than ten years now. I recognize these concepts in my mediation practice, in life's constant changes and turbulence, in having parts of my life that I thought were my most stable foundation simply and unexpectedly evaporate. I see it in the subtle wrinkles appearing on my face as well as in the other myriad ways my body has begun to start it's slow descent into aging. I see impermanence everywhere these days, even in the small reflection that who I was yesterday simultaneously is and is not who I am today.

I often get a sense of this when I see an old piece of artwork that I created at some point in the past, whether it was two days or two years ago. I know that it came from my mind and my hands, but often I feel an almost eerie sense of distance- did I really make that? Logically, I know that I did, but I also feel so palpably that the me who made it is gone. Looking at old artwork is like viewing a relic or an artifact from an expired state of mind and place, a series of moments in which it was being created that have been frozen onto a sheet of paper or canvas. I often feel like every thought I had while drawing it is somehow recorded-- every emotion, every mood and every mindset has been documented and transcribed in lines, shapes, and color. The hectic days that I spent sitting at my drawing desk working under deadline have passed, and so has the me that participated in that effort. What is left is a remnant, a little picture that hopefully serves to transmit meaning.

It is precisely this feeling I get when looking at a poster I finished a few weeks ago for The Polish Ambassador, an awesome human and Bay Area DJ. This piece was created in what felt like a race against time, a flurry of pen strokes, and thousands of tiny dots that made my wrist ache and my forearm burn. Yet now all of that stress is just a flimsy memory, while the art endures in a slightly more permanent way.

The piece was inspired by a trip I took at the end of December to visit another very dear friend (also named Matthew!) in Trinidad (which is in Northern California right near Arcata). His beautiful little home feels like it is on the edge of the world, nestled into redwoods with hanging moss swaying from their branches, all next to a cliff that drops down to the beach, overlooking the massive expanse of the Pacific Ocean.

On my friend's deck overlooking the ocean.
This spot is now my favorite place in the world to practice yoga.
Sunset from the deck.

I spent an entire day in silence, on an empty stretch of beach, sitting contemplatively and listening to the roar of the waves. As the day waned, I ran along the edge of the waves, and then watched a sunset so beautiful that tears ran down my cheeks in gratitude and joy. How lucky am I, are we, to live in such an opulently exquisite world that is ever in flux, from moment to moment, where what is here now will soon be gone. The royal colors of the sunset reflected on the sand, wet from the receding waves, catching in each facet of the foam and sparkling like internally luminous jewels. I stood knee deep in the frigid December Pacific waters, and as the sun disappeared over the horizon, I saw a little face in the waves. Bobbing in and out of the water, yet holding my gaze, was a large seal, watching me through its whiskers with what I interpreted as curiosity. We both remained that way, perceiving each other silently, for several minutes, until it bobbed once more under the dark waves and I saw it no more.

My wonder grew wide as I pondered the amount of life beneath those cold waves-- the whales, the fish, the sharks, the squids, the corals, the krill, the phosphorescent plankton-- all the creatures that live a life that seems so different from my own. I thought of the grace of dolphins and the enormity of the blue whale (who has a heart as big as an elephant and veins large enough that an adult human could swim through them!). I thought of the incredible alien strangeness of deep sea creatures-- the angler fish with its luminous bait attached to its head, the ancient nautilus with its Fibonacci sequence shell, and the eels of the deep that go their whole life without seeing sunlight and live off of the carcasses of whales and other detritus. How strange, how beautiful, how wild and weird, these creatures that inhabit this world with us and whose lives are every bit as important as a human life, just as worthy of protection, just as sacred, and just as impermanent.

When I returned home from this trip, I sat down with a pencil and made this sketch as tribute to those fellow creatures of the sea. May we be aware of them and may we consider our impact upon them.

Rough sketch for the poster
The finished naked image, without the tour information.
I'm very thankful to The Polish Ambassador for commissioning this piece from me for his spring tour. Check out his side project Wildlight, in partner with his extraordinary girlfriend Ayla Nereo. Working with such inspiring people truly is a blessing. If you like the piece, TPA will be releasing a limited edition run of prints in the near future. Also, I'd like to say a huge 'thank you' to the very talented Colin K for creating the lovely calligraphy for the poster.

The final poster! (here with the San Francisco show information. To see the rest of the dates for the tour, click here).

I believe in all that has never yet been spoken.
I want to free what waits within me
so that what no one has dared to wish for
may for once spring clear
without my contriving.

If this is arrogant, God, forgive me,
but this is what I need to say.
May what I do flow from me like a river,
no forcing and no holding back,
the way it is with children.
Then in these swelling and ebbing currents,
these deepening tides moving out, returning,
I will sing you as no one ever has,
streaming through widening channels
into the open sea.

- Rilke

Friday, November 29, 2013

I hope that everyone had an abundant Thanksgiving rich with gratitude for this sweet and fleeting life. As for me, I'm grateful for getting older, for the difficult lessons that break me and soften me, reminding me to be careful, to be kind, to be calm. I'm grateful for the extraordinary opportunity to do work that I love, and I pray for the ability to make art that helps people connect to something meaningful. I'm grateful for my loving family, my incredible parents, my inspiring friends, and for all the people in my life, whether they offer encouragement or criticism, for teaching me and providing me a mirror in which to see myself. Thank you for being on this Earth with me, during this brief moment in the incomprehensibly long lifespan of this beautiful, strange, and wondrous universe.  

Putting my art school education to good use. Homemade pecan and sweet potato pie. 

What was said to the rose that made it open
was said to me here in my chest.

What was told the Cypress that made it strong
and straight, what was

whispered the jasmine so it is what it is, whatever made
sugarcane sweet, whatever

was said to the inhabitants of the town of Chigil in
Turkestan that makes them

so handsome, whatever lets the pomegranate flower blush
like a human face, that is

being said to me now. I blush. Whatever put eloquence in
language, that's happening here.

The great warehouse doors open; I fill with gratitude,
chewing a piece of sugarcane,

in love with the one to whom every that belongs!

-Jalaluddin Rumi

Thursday, November 7, 2013

There are many things I love about living where I do- the ethnic and cultural diversity, having access to world-class art and music, the uninhibited turbulence of the city- yet one thing that I really miss about Colorado are the seasons. Of course seasons change here, but the shifts are subtle and only begin to be noticeable once you've lived here for a year or two. In Colorado, seasons can change in a day! Trees still laden with red and yellow leaves can buckle and break underneath a sudden and unexpected snowfall of several inches or even several feet. Each season is marked by what can feel like a completely different climate- compare an arid 100 degree day in late July to a frigid blizzard in the middle of January. In fall, all green plants die and give way to the utter stillness and silence of winter, and in spring, the forests and hills explode in nubile verdancy.

Here in the Bay Area, however, flowers bloom year round, and the numerous farmer's markets have a bounty of produce even in the middle of winter. I recently planted baby shoots of kale and chard in my garden beds- this late in the season! It's true that sometimes it's chilly here; the skies do darken and rain, but the fog always seems to give way to a balmy sunshine before too long.

I get particularly nostalgic around this time of year for Colorado and its clearly demarcated seasons that provided a steady beat to the background of my life for the first 26 years. I miss the cold, crisp air of autumn and the quiet stillness of the forests in the snow. I have images of the bare skeletons of trees flash into my mind when I'm falling asleep, and when I look out my window in the morning, I feel a little surprised to see green leaves still on the trees.

Without realizing it at the time, I think that this homesick longing for my old friend autumn inspired my latest drawing, titled "Harvest Fox." I created it for a show at Studio Gallery called "Tiny," which opened last week in San Francisco. All of the pieces in the show are 7x7 inches or less- you can see many of the pieces from the show, here.

I usually don't intentionally plant symbology into my work, rather, the latent meaning of it appears to me as it's developing or often once it's complete. That was the case with this miniature drawing, in which a fox skull rests on a bed of greenery. The birds, frogs, and snake that frame the dead fox were animals it once preyed on while it was living, and now they form a bower beneath which it rests. The circle that is created by these elements of design gives a nod to the cyclical nature of existence, which arises and then passes away, arises and passes away. A creature of the woods needs no grave more ornate than the soft forest floor, adorned with leaves and flowers, where it can return to the earth once more.  

Beginning phase of line work
In progress...
The finished piece- an offering of impermanence.

After having lived here in California for over two years, I'm starting to attune myself to the small harbingers of autumn here- the yellowing of leaves on certain trees, the crisper breeze coming off the bay, the wispy high clouds stretched across the sky in the early morning. Perhaps one of the most powerful gifts of the changing seasons is to remind us of the reality of impermanence. What a fragile and brief life ours is; how quickly everything changes. As the days of autumn fall away one by one into the coming winter, I feel thankful to have lived through another cycle of the year, thankful to be doing what I love, thankful to share this earth. 

“I will not die an unlived life.
I will not live in fear
of falling or catching fire.
I choose to inhabit my days,
to allow my living to open me,
to make me less afraid,
more accessible;
to loosen my heart
until it becomes a wing,
a torch, a promise.
I choose to risk my significance,
to live so that which came to me as seed
goes to the next as blossom,
and that which came to me as blossom,
goes on as fruit.”

― Dawna Markova

Sunday, October 13, 2013

One of the things I enjoy most about being an illustrator and artist is the diversity of projects I get the opportunity to work on. This summer I received a variety of commissions ranging in diversity of subject from illustrations for an elite massage therapist to digital designs for sublimation printed leggings.

Anatomical illustrations and template design for an elite massage therapy client. He uses these as self-care instructional sheets for his clients- highlighted muscles show spots on the body in need of attention. 

Another fun part about my work is handing off the artwork to the client and then after a few weeks or months, the finished product appears and I get to see the complete actualization of the project. I'm happy to announce that the leggings and sports bra I designed for The Om Collection have just come out and are available on the company's website. These leggings are printed on fabric made from recycled plastic water bottles and are great for hot yoga or stand up paddle boarding. It was really a fun project to design fabric patterns to fit with the wild and funky aesthetic of this very ethically-minded company. 

Boulder, Colorado-based yoga teacher, Nancy Kate.
Om Collection's owner, the lovely, multi-talented Katie Armstrong. 
It was sweet of The Om Collection to ask me to model my design at their photo shoot- thanks Katie!
I have much more to post from the summer, including adventures on rivers and in mountains, plus new artwork and thoughts to share. As always, thanks for stopping by! 

Friday, August 16, 2013

“A smooth sea never made a skillful mariner, neither do uninterrupted prosperity and success qualify for usefulness and happiness. The storms of adversity, like those of the ocean, rouse the faculties, and excite the invention, prudence, skill and fortitude of the voyager. The martyrs of ancient times, in bracing their minds to outward calamities, acquired a loftiness of purpose and a moral heroism worth a lifetime of softness and security.”        -Author unknown

Friday, July 12, 2013

A year's worth of work.

“Talent and all that for the most part is nothing but hogwash. Any schoolboy with a little aptitude might very well draw better than I perhaps; but what he most often lacks is the tough yearning for realization, the teeth-grinding obstinacy and saying: even though I know I’m not capable of it, I’m still going to do it.”         — M.C. Escher

Another year of graduate school came and went in a flurry of activity. Waking before the sun to catch the subway to the city, standing in front of an easel for six hours at a time, riding the subway back to the East Bay in the humid heat of the late afternoon or walking home through a drizzle of fog and mist (depending on the time of year), spending hours late into the night focused on a computer screen or a piece of paper, then dropping into bed only to repeat the next day... with such full days, the time flew by. After all the stress, all the striving to improve, all the comparison and critiques, I'm shocked by how much I produced in such a short amount of time. There's nothing like constant deadlines to make you realize how much you really are capable of. What I'm sharing here is the best of the work I did during my second year. 

During the fall semester I took a class called Situation and Environment, an oil painting class. I had never painted with oils before (or really painted very much at all), and it proved to be a very challenging and exasperating experience. I spent many hours utterly frustrated and defeated. By the end of the class though, I felt like I was finally getting the hang of it. Below is my third oil painting ever, the final painting for the class- it's based on a screen shot from the movie Australia

This photo of the painting doesn't quite do it justice...
Situation and Environment.  A painting of my lovely friend, musician Ayla Nereo.
Situation and Environment. 
I also took an Anatomy class, which I thoroughly enjoyed. That kind of academic left brain engagement is something I've always been engaged by. I loved learning the names and mechanics of all the muscles and bones, and I really appreciated the visual understanding of the human body that the knowledge of anatomy began to afford me. My favorite assignment for that class was the skeletal and muscle overlays we did for two master drawings. It was an incredibly challenging assignment for me, but learning to visualize the interior of a person and to realize how well the masters knew their anatomy was so educating. I'm happy to say that I'll be the teaching assistant for this class in the fall!

Skeletal overlay of a master drawing.
Muscle overlay of a master drawing.
Michelangelo's original drawing.
Skeleton overlay of a master drawing.
Muscle overlay of a master drawing.
Raphael's original drawing.
Master copy of Leonardo Da Vinci's Leda and the Swan, for Anatomy.
Da Vinci's origial.
Master copy of Da Vinci's drawing of Michelangelo's David, for Anatomy.
Da Vinci's original.
Master copy of Michelangelo's Medusa, for Anatomy.
Michelangelo's original.
"Ardor," for Anatomy. The assignment was to draw a life-size rib cage and pelvis in any medium and style. I was lucky enough to get this piece accepted into the Academy's Fall Show.
At the Fall Show.

"Pollination," the final assignment for Anatomy. The assignment was to draw a full figure nude in any style and medium. This piece made it into the Academy's Spring Show- I was honored to be featured amongst so many amazing artists.
On the streets of downtown San Francisco- a banner announcing the show!
Drawing from a live model, Anatomy.
Drawing from a live model, Anatomy.
Drawing from a live model, Anatomy.

Drawing from a live model, Anatomy.

Drawing from a live model, Anatomy.

In the midst of all the work I've been doing for school, I've been trying to get in the habit of sketching more. Becoming skilled in anything seems to be all about practice and exploration, and a sketchbook is a place for both. My Head Drawing teacher from my first year told us that drawing in a sketchbook is the same to an artist as doing pushups is for an athlete.

From my sketchbook.
My Clothed Figure Drawing class was also really enjoyable. We learned about the different folds that clothing makes, how fabric reacts to the stretch and pull of the body in action, and how to simplify the often chaotic expression of fabric and form into its most essential details in order to tell a story most effectively.

From Clothed Figure Drawing class.  He's doing a crossword puzzle :)
Clothed Figure Drawing.
Clothed Figure.
Moving on to spring semester, I took an incredibly challenging class called Perspective for Illustrators. The class used to be called Drawing from the Imagination, because of the fact that you're not allowed to use any reference for the class and everything has to come from your imagination, but I think they changed the name because it sounded too easy and fun. In reality, it was the most mathematical and logical class I've taken at the Academy, focusing on perspective rules, creating buildings and street views and even drawing people from different perspectives. We also learned things like how to plot shadows from the sun and from artificial light sources in our drawings and how to accurately create reflections. The class taught you almost everything you would need in order to create a convincing visual world from your imagination, without using reference. I was definitely out of my element in this class, and I really struggled with it. I did, however, learn an incredible amount that I hope to put into practice for the rest of my career. I'm not going to share too much of what I did in that class, but hopefully will be able to post some things later on that show what I learned.
For a fight scene for Perspective for Illustrators.
Perspective for Illustrators.
Perspective for Illustrators. Three point perspective view of a person.
Perspective for Illustrators. Two point vertical perspective view of a person.
Perspective for Illustrators. This is an example of the kind of grids, rules, and measurements involved in this class.
During spring semester I also began my first foray into combining my traditional pen and ink style with digital medium in a Digital Painting class. We focused mostly on learning to use a program called Corel Painter, but also spent some time learning some neat tricks in Photoshop. A lot of the students in the class are primarily digital artists, and I was one of the only ones using traditional mediums along with digital. In the future I'd like to experiment with delving into the digital realm further, but for the meantime I really enjoyed blending the two styles.

"Guardian," from Digital Painting class. Pen and ink and digital.
My attempt at a Japanese style landscape for Digital Painting. Entirely digital.
I already posted this one,  but thought I would share again. "The Gift of Grief," pen and ink and digital.
"Mandala," for Digital Painting. Pen and ink and digital. Look for this one coming out as a fabric pattern and as stickers soon!
My favorite class of the spring was Children's Book Illustration. After practically having an emotional breakdown at the beginning of the semester because of struggling to find a style and a voice, I stumbled upon paper cutting as a technique. My teacher for the class was incredibly helpful and encouraging to me as I dove into this new medium, and once I figured out the mechanics of it, I really enjoyed the unique style and bold graphic look that paper cutting affords. The images below are for a story I'm working on about a little golden fox who lives in a vast forest, and goes on a search of a true friend. They are made entirely out of layers of intricately cut sheets of different colored pieces of paper, with subtle embellishments with colored pencil.  
For Children's Book Illustration class. This would be the decorative end papers at the beginning and end of a children's book.
For Children's Book Illustration. The little golden fox exploring the forest.
For Children's Book Illustration. The little fox out at night, with a river full of fish and a sky full of birds.
For Children's Book Illustration. A territorial porcupine!
For Children's Book Illustration. The little fox gazing at the moon, wishing for a friend. 
For Children's Book Illustration. The last illustration of the book- the fox has found a friend. "Goodnight!"
So there you have it- a year's worth of art. There were literally stacks of drawing pads full of less successful pieces that went into the recycling, so for every piece you see here there were at least five times as many drawings that no one will ever see- drawings that I struggled over to no avail, sketches that failed miserably, and ideas that fell flat. It's a painstaking process, creating art... at least for me. There are days when I have no question about the purpose of my path, and others when I am clouded and weighed with doubt. But like M. C. Escher said in his aforementioned quote, I have the "tough yearning for realization, the teeth-grinding obstinacy" that drives me (in an often maddening way) to keep pushing myself towards a more honest, skillful, expressive, and raw image, an image that speaks of things both meaningful and important, that opens others to see and feel, and that offers praise to this unutterably beautiful world that we have the gift and capacity to drink in with our eyes. 

Thanks for looking!