Tuesday, July 8, 2014

Learning new tricks

During the spring I had the amazing opportunity to learn the art of paper sculpture from one of leading artists in the field, Jeff Nishinaka. If you're not yet familiar with his work, I highly recommend checking it out. His style is extremely precise and detailed while simultaneously maintaining a graceful sense of movement and flow.   

Before learning from Jeff, I had experimented with cut paper as a medium, but only in a two dimensional approach. Here's an example of one of my older cut paper pieces, a children's book illustration titled "Solstice," from 2013. 

While I really enjoyed working with paper in that way, I was interested in learning how to bring more depth and dimension into my pieces. Jeff specializes in created intricate three dimensional worlds with his paper sculptures, using mainly only white paper. 

The concept that I came up with for my first paper sculpture was a human rib cage with an anatomical heart inside it from which the tributaries of the vascular system would branch out like tree limbs. From these veins would grow tropical flowers, which would attract hummingbirds to feed. Below the ribcage and spine is a lotus flower and leaves, forming the shape of the pelvis and representing the energy of the base of the torso. 

concept sketch
This concept was inspired by my deepening understanding of the practice of yoga. I've been dealing with a chronic injury that has made it difficult to engage in many of the athletic pursuits that I've been passionate about (such as climbing, training, and running), but the upside of that has been that I've developed a whole new relationship to yoga. Though I've practiced yoga on and off for over a decade, it's really only been in the nine months or so that I've really devoted myself to it, practicing almost daily. What I've learned is that it's an incredibly subtle practice, one that just continues to open to greater depths, with a seemingly unlimited breadth of new things to teach me about my body and mind. The concept for this piece was to express the opening, expanding, and enlivening potential of yoga and meditation practices on a physical, energetic, and spiritual level.

If I would've realized how complicated and time-consuming this piece would end up being, I might have gone for something a little more simple for my first paper sculpture. Luckily, I naively thought I could handle it- and with the help of a great teacher, I managed to pull it off after numerous weeks of effort. 

To begin, each element of the sculpture has to be analyzed and dissected into smaller pieces in order to plan out how each small flower or bird will be constructed. After the planning comes the cutting, where hours upon hours are spent with X-acto knife in hand. Then, each small piece of paper is individually rolled and sculpted to have the desired curve or bend, and then it's carefully glued together with other pieces to form the intended object. 

I started with the hummingbirds- the first one took me around five hours. The rest were quicker, but not by much. 
After a day spent working on hummingbirds in my studio, I came upstairs to find a real hummingbird perched on a chandelier in my living room! Luckily we were able to get her back outside safely.  
detail of lotus flower
 In addition to learning paper sculpting techniques from Jeff, he also taught me how to use an airbrush on the vascular system and anatomical heart I had created.

Airbrushing! It's quite fun. 
One of the best things about art classes are meeting other artists and being inspired by them. While there were many talented artists in the class, I particularly enjoyed meeting fellow Bay Area artist Julia Cone. She makes the most colorful, sweet, and cheerful creations out of cut paper, with a keen eye for shape and design. Her style is very different than mine, which made it really fun to observe her working and also easy to glean a lot of inspiration from her art. 

Julia working on tiny birds. 
"The Paper Ladies," one of her many incredible paper sculptures. Yes, these are made entirely out of paper! 
Another Julia Cone piece- visit her website! http://www.juliaconeillustration.com/
 Once I finally completed the cutting and construction of each individual element of the piece, the time came to arrange it all on one larger sheet of paper (reinforced with foam core and mounting board) and glue it all down- very carefully, of course.  

Getting every piece in the right spot

detail of hummingbird and flower
It was a very long process from start to finish, but the result was unlike anything I've ever created. I was really pleased that it got accepted into the 2014 Academy of Art Spring Show! 

In its custom-built plexiglass frame 
Hanging at the Spring Show 
Jeff with my piece at the Spring Show
I didn't have a chance to get it professionally photographed yet, which makes a big difference due to the shadow and lighting effects. Here's the best photo I was able to take:

"Prana" or "River of Life"

As of now, the piece has two names. One is "Prana" a Sanskrit word referring to the life force of all beings. Think of a tree branching upwards towards the sun- that's Prana. The other title for now is "River of Life" which refers to the rivers of blood that flow in our bodies as veins, sustaining and nourishing us. It's also an homage to one of my Dharma teachers, Reggie Ray. To hear some of his teachings in the form of free podcasts, please visit Dharma Ocean here

Which name do you like best? Feel free to comment and let me know! As always, thanks for reading. It's an honor and a privilege for me to create art to share with you. 

"There is a vitality, a life force, a quickening that is translated through you into action, and there is only one of you in all time. This expression is unique, and if you block it, it will never exist through any other medium; and be lost. The world will not have it.
It is not your business to determine how good it is, not how it compares with other expression. It is your business to keep it yours clearly and directly, to keep the channel open. You have to keep open and aware directly to the urges that motivate you. Keep the channel open.

No artist is pleased. There is no satisfaction whatever at any time. There is only a queer, divine dissatisfaction, a blessed unrest that keeps us marching and makes us more alive than the others."

–Martha Graham (May 11, 1894 – April 1, 1991)

Wednesday, June 18, 2014

Today I feel a familiar feeling of tremendous gratitude towards the many people (some who I know, some who I do not) who have generously taken the time to share my work with others. In this particular instance, I have Sunset SF to thank for spotlighting me on their Facebook page. Visit the link here or read their wonderfully kind words below!

Today Sunset Shines On Marisa Aragón Ware

Marisa is a professional illustrator whose artwork has been commissioned for album covers of your favorite artists like The Polish Ambassador and Ayla Nereo. We love her work because she's amazingly good at translating the enchanting forests and glades of the Rocky Mountains into unique and unforgettable pieces. Her illustrations really convey how her childhood in Colorado has transformed into deep appreciation of nature.

We want to shine a light on Marisa's beautiful work because her depictions of natural world are what help others connect with its abundant primordial magic. We know you can appreciate her captivating illustrations as much as we can. Just to add another layer to the legend, she also studied journalism in college and has since written for a wide array of publications such as Juxtapoz Magazine and Hi-Fructose Magazine.

Keep up the good work, girl! You always blow us away!

Somewhere on the North Coast...
Another reason I feel gratitude today: the effusive beauty of this place called Earth. I'm feeling so blessed right now to be living in Trinidad, CA for the summer, right between the majestic Redwoods and the mighty Pacific. (All photos by my intrepid and inspiring friend Jason Bowman). 

Sea and sky. 
 After a long year in the city, the slow pace of a tiny town feels utterly refreshing and nourishing. I'm living at the end of a dirt road overlooking the ocean, surrounded by tall trees draped in lichen that pepper the ground with pinecones almost as big as my head. In the middle of the night, I hear bobcat cries- in the morning, I awake to mist and fog. 

Mist and sunlight. 
The view from my backyard.
I've seen seals bobbing in the waves near deserted beaches, and turkey vultures cutting through cloudless skies on silent wings. I've fallen deeply in love with the primordial power of this place- the frogs hiding under damp leaves beside the trails- the white and blue swallows that swoop down fast and then disappear- the commanding presence of the water with it's rhythmic beauty and shimmering waves- and of course, the ancient Redwoods that stand still and stretch towards the light for centuries on end. 

The air smells sweet like sunshine. 
I'm so inspired by this place and cannot wait to start integrating the beauty my eyes and body have absorbed into my art. It really is my aim to depict the power and splendor that I witness in the natural world, and in this way, hopefully I can share the joy, freedom, and meaningfulness that I stand witness to. 

Though they are indeed beautiful, elk are very dangerous! I learned this firsthand upon startling an elk in a thicket and getting charged and then chased by an angry, territorial 700 lb female. One of the scariest experiences of my life!
The beauty of this world is beyond fathoming to me, and it's impermanence makes it utterly precious. May we all remember how lucky we are to be alive and may that remembrance inspire us to kindness towards each other and the other beings we share this Earth with. 

Thank you all for the continued support- I hope you find some time to get out in the sunshine and play! Hooray summer!!


Monday, May 5, 2014

Limited edition prints of my poster for The Polish Ambassador are now on sale at a discount- only $10! Get yours here and thank you so much for your support.


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!