Category Archives: Art

The Temple of My Imperfection

—that moment when you finally realize that all your efforts toward achieving perfection will never be enough.

Seizing the Wabi-sabi

 Wabisabi (侘寂) represents a comprehensive Japanese world view or aesthetic centered on the acceptance of transience and imperfection. -Wikipedia

crProbably wabi-sabi was first named for what happens to pottery subjected to the hellish temperatures in kilns, around 2,000ºF (~1100ºC). During the firing, the intense heat vibrates all the bonds that hold the minerals together until they come apart, and their constituent ions and molecules cruise around in a melted bubbly mixture that resembles lava, an igneous rock.

The kiln cools, and the pottery solidifies. Sometimes a gas bubble in the glaze pops at that moment and a little crater forms. Or maybe the glaze didn’t come out with a uniform color, or part of it dis-adhered from the pot and crawled away. Or the tea bowl sagged into another pot.

Classic wabi sabi, telling the story of a unique and unrepeatable moment of creation, fired and frozen in time.

Such wabi-sabi moments manifest keshiki–the landscape of the clay; these imperfections do not in any way interfere with the functionality of the piece, and it would be enormously wasteful to throw something useful away because of a surface imperfection.

One over Infinity

SphericalCow2I like to think of firing pottery as a sort of ‘backyard metamorphism’ that changes the pottery, essentially a sedimentary rock, into a metamorphic rock.

I have even made the statement publicly, that kilns are science laboratories in which ceramic artists perform experiments in thermodynamics, which is a branch of science that deals with the advanced secrets of the Universe. <Click here for Out of the Periodic Chart and into the Fire>

We have learned a great deal about the behavior of matter through experiments that rudely resemble the actual physical universe, tweaked by precise mathematical equations that ignore much of the almost infinite variation therein. Somehow we get close enough that the pieces fit together in rude sorts of ways.

Potter’s kilns on the other hand, much more closely approach the actual imperfection that brought us all the rocks on Earth. And the universe. With a great deal of faith, you consign your piece to the kiln. The wabi-sabi is impossible to know or quantify. There are no round frictionless cows.

Pray to the gods of fire, electricity, gravity and magnetism, that what comes out resembles the vision in your mind. Let me take a moment to calculate the likelihood of that.

One over infinity.

There’s always some wabi-sabi.

A Wabi Sabi Moment with Georgia O’Keeffe

O'Keeffe-(hands)I grew up looking at O’Keeffe art—being that she lived in New Mexico, where I was born and spent most of my life. I’d seen her paintings in books and posters for years. Standing in front of famous paintings in real life—no photograph holds a candle to that experience. It’s not just the colors being more alive, or that you get the true idea of the size of the painting. You are close, very close to the act of creation.
And once, I stood mesmerized in that very moment, as close to a painting as the cops at the Georgia O’Keeffe Museum in Santa Fe would allow. I could not take my eyes off it: a single paintbrush hair embedded in a stroke of color. I felt as if I was there in that one moment when Georgia O’Keeffe stood before this very canvass. A million brush strokes in her long life of painting…and there’s this one that put in that single, unique moment of exquisite wabi-sabi.

It was breathtaking.

I’m glad she didn’t see the hair; surely she would have plucked it out. I would have, in the name of flawless perfection that is found only as a concept within the part of the human brain that dreams of round frictionless cows.

Imperfection: it’s what makes the world

The Hope Diamond
The Hope Diamond

Not even crystals are perfect; they all have wabi-sabi.

They found this one really big chunk of blue diamond, cut all the wabi-sabi away, until it was perfectly huge. Hugely perfect. They called it the Hope Diamond—hoping for another humongous one like it.

One over infinity. It happens. But it’s all the other instances of imperfection that comprise the whole dang universe. The perfect parts are so few as to barely exist at all.

I’ve never made a perfect pot, never wrote a perfect book, never been a perfect anything. I’ll continue to put it out there, though, as long as I have a heartbeat. I am but a fragment of the whole wabi-sabi universe unfolding.

I just don’t know what else to do with myself.

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Sentience and the Art of Everything

A Guineafowl Pufferfish, Hawaii
A Pufferfish

A recent blog post, And then it was Art, featured a delightful video of a pufferfish creating a work of art in the sand, as if he could somehow visualize what the final piece would look like. That’s what artists do—we create a physical manifestation from an internal vision. Who knew a little fish could do that too? Surely it is not a sign of high intelligence and sentience in humans, but merely an instinctive mating ritual in the pufferfish.

Heretofore, I’ve been guilty of a quite bigoted attitude, you might even say species-ist, against pufferfish everywhere. I have in a most unaware manner, equated art with superior intelligence and sentience, and discounted the very idea that this tiny fish could be either. For most of my life I have bought into that dogma.

Until the pufferfish came into my life.

What if the pufferfish is actually highly intelligent as well as aware?—but how would we know? When the standard of intelligence is set by us, and has everything to do with our anatomy?

So what is sentience, exactly?

Well, the definition evolves over time, but has nothing to do with intelligence…

 

And:

sentience (ˈsɛnʃəns) n.

1. the state or quality of being sentient; awareness

2. sense perception not involving intelligence or mental perception; feeling

 Some say that the ability to plan, visualize, and construct is a sign of sentience. That sounds like architecture, actually. Art and engineering combined if we do it; instinct if another animal does.

Just because we can’t hear it scream…

Sense perception means the ability to feel pain and loneliness. And to suffer. I wonder if there is a living creature anywhere that does not feel pain? Or loneliness. Everything that lives probably feels pain. I’m thinking maybe microbes don’t, but how do I know?  Just because they’re microscopic?  Am I again being species-ist, also known as myopic?
BlackCanyonMoss2
Moss Rocks!

EcoArt

Maybe art and sentience have nothing whatsoever to do with one another. Consider also the lush green moss gracing a quartz and pretty pink feldspar rock called Orthoclase.  As if the moss was painting on the rock. Can we even consider sentience in a plant?

 

If you take a closer look, past or within the velvety green luscious amazing moss, there’s a few other creatures in the rocks. As it turns out….moss is an allotrope, meaning it’s a primary plant producer upon which the food supply of the entire animal world depends.  Contrary to popular belief, moss does not eat rocks, it attaches to them in order to get water; it’s energy is derived from the sun, as is true of all plants.

BlackCanyonMoss3
Symbionts
So what’s the lighter green stuff? Not moss, not even plants. They’re the rock eaters, the lithotropes, aka lichen—microbes that feed off the chemical compostion of rocks, or whatever they attach to. Lichen form a symbiotic relationship with the moss. Some are pale green, some are yellow, orange, they’re all amazing.
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Crustose Lichen
Are these creatures aware of their artful expression of living; their unique and endless variations of a verse in the great song of the Universe?
Am I?
Are you?

 

 

 

Eco Art

ow.ly/Ed3Uj

Moss Is:

 

http://agillenlifescience.pbworks.com/w/page/34864162/Autotroph

Isn’t

 

http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Endolith

The Little Pufferfish Who Could

…build her a castle

Art in the Sand

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Click on image for extraordinary video: Art of the Pufferfish

I am totally charmed. Who knew pufferfish are masters of art and architecture?
The scientific powers that be attribute the whole thing to a mating ritual and the sole purpose of the pufferfish’s activity is to impress a female.
Not me, though.

Mission Accomplished

I am impressed. Thoroughly and completely.

I feel a certain kinship to this pufferfish, who pulls his vision from the sand. I work in clay—rarely if not never do I sketch things out first on paper. It’s not that I cannot draw, it’s that paper is but two dimensional, and clay is three. For me, it’s just easier to ‘draw,’ so to speak, with the clay in the first place.

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Archimedes Flight, 2006, Ceramic sculpture by Mary C Simmons

The pufferfish didn’t draw it all out first either, for obvious reasons. No paper, no writing utensils, no thumbs…just an internal vision that drove his entire body in the performance of art. That’s how I do it too, engrossed in my task and operating from an internal vision that informs my hands to construct the compendium of details that comprise the whole.

Art and Sentience

We humans draw a firm boundary between ourselves and the rest of creation, based on a standard (set by us) of intelligence and sentience, which undergoes periodic redefinition to exclude all of creation except us. Originally defined as the ability to feel and perceive, the definition was expanded to include an ability to suffer. Once we started noticing that all animals have that ability, self-awareness became the defining quality of sentience.

I can’t imagine how the pufferfish created his art without an awareness of himself in his oceanic landscape of water and sand. Why is it that the creation of art is an instinctual mating ritual in the animals, but a sign of sentience and intelligence in us?

satin-bower-bird-nestUntil the pufferfish first maps out his sculpture on paper or via computer graphics, or when the bowerbirds use differential equations to construct their nests, they’ll never even approach us intelligence-wise. Cool that we get to not only set the standard, but keep changing it as well so as to exclude all that is non-human. But why?

I am over-awed and comforted by my kinship with the little pufferfish creating a work of art the same way I do—from an internal vision, using his physical body. I doubt very much, however, that I could create this or any piece of art with my nose. From that perspective, the pufferfish is quite a bit more talented than I am.

 

ANIMAL ARCHITECTURE, book out April 2014 087.jpg
Animal Architecture

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Custom Book Covers and Interior Formatting by Mary C Simmons

Words of Art

The art on the cover attracts me to a book in the first place. In the absence of eye candy, I am drawn to catchy titles—kind of like at the horse races. I cruise the racing form for the cool names like Mickey Blue Eyes, or Quicksilver. Queen of Swords. Names that inspire me to squander a few bucks on a completely random outcome. But I hardly ever go to the races….a whole other story.

I am also drawn to wine and beer by the art—color and imagery—on the label. A practice that is no doubt every bit as effective as how I choose the horse most likely to win the race. The image is a powerful tool….being worth 10,000 words, they say.new

803707_553f_625x1000Color is worth at least that many words, as it conveys volumes of information and activates emotional responses to the environment. Lots of animals see only the colors of their food in the landscape, but we humans see myriad colors—perhaps because we are omnivores and therefore our food can be of any color.

And, the color of the horse would probably figure into my calculus of who might win the race, if I got to see it first.

I’m into words too—as is evident by this webpage and a published book. I love Art also. Capital A, my whole life, just about (thanks Ma!).

I love it all, do it all. Painting. Pottery. Jewelry. Textiles. Book covers. They’re canvasses, you know. What a perfect place to be…making words of art, and pictures of words.

Indie authors, Indie Covers

The first of my cover designs was for my own book, Corvus Rising — a book about a mysterious island of talking crows who enlist the help of a few humans to save the island from a developer’s bulldozers. It’s a fairly low-tech cover as they go these days, meaning minimal computer graphics. I had a specific vision of the cover that I splashed out into the world, using mostly traditional methods to create imagery in my head: water color, pen and ink drawings.

Since then, I’ve been in the business of making covers for other authors. Following is a list of them. Click on covers and bolded text for more information.

 

As I Recollect… a memoir by huck Gaylord (2017)

I laughed out loud many times as i formatted this book. Author huck Gaylord recounts his life as a horse-logger, Viet Nam war vet, and the decades-long love affair with his wife, Mary.  Find it here: http://www.amazon.com/dp/1542914205

>>>>>>>>>>>>>>

 

Facing Up—a Patient’s Guide to Healing the Face, by Lois Hawk  Todd (2016)

facingup

With truth, humor and compassion, Lois Hawk Todd chronicles the highs and lows of two catastrophic injuries to her face. She tells the story of her arduous journey of healing through multiple surgeries—with some wise words for all of us who walk this Earth, with or without such injury.
The bravest woman I know…

Find Lois’s book here:

https://www.amazon.com/dp/B01LX28O0C/ref=dp-kindle-redirect?_encoding=UTF8&btkr=1

 

Bound for the Western Sea—the Canine Account of the Lewis & Clark Expedition (2016)

Adobe Photoshop PDF

A well-researched story about the Corps of Discovery led by the famed Captain Meriwether Lewis and Second Lieutenant William Clark in the search for the Northwest Passage.
And Meriwether’s loyal, intelligent and sage  Newfoundland hound, Seaman.

Find Laura Lee’s book here:

https://www.amazon.com/Bound-Western-Sea-Account-Expedition/dp/0997349107/ref=sr_1_cc_1?s=aps&ie=UTF8&qid=1483640239&sr=1-1-catcorr&keywords=bound+for+the+western+sea

 

U Got To Have You Some Fun, by Andrew Harkless (2014)

UGottaHaveUSomeFun_PODThis book tells a story about an ordinary man on a cruise, and how the people he met changed his life.

I used a very large amount of imagery in the form of photographs from the author, the editor, and the internet. We were able to find a number of sites where images are really free, giving the author a completely custom cover for a very affordable price.

The people on the ramp are all characters from the book, and the guy with his back to us—that’s none other than Andy Harkless, who sent us this fabulous portrait of his backside. I had to Photoshop him a bit, making him look more like the kind of guy who runs a desk, rather than, how shall we say, a more active man.

Thank heavens for computer graphics and the internet!

They came from everywhere, the passengers of this cruise. These are the random folks in life, the ones you never choose to spend a lot of time with, but who make a lasting impact on your life. Do go on a cruise, or a backpacking trip or a raft trip down the Grand Canyon. You’ll see what we mean.

I say ‘we’ because a custom cover like this one is a group effort that involves the author, the cover designer, and the editor/publisher. Together, we worked to get this book published.

UGotTo_Paperback-Cover-2.12.15And then ‘we’ redesigned U Gotta, as I came to affectionately call this book. The author had always cherished the idea of a painting of a cruise ship…and we delivered.
Find Andrews’s book here:

https://www.amazon.com/Got-Have-Some-Fun-ebook/dp/B00O4EJ1M6

 

L’Orange Fire, by Michael McLarnon (2014)

L'OrangeFireCoverFinal_688A psychological/mystery thriller of a time in the near future, when the city of Los Angeles and Orange County have merged.

The author provided a high quality photograph of an original abstract painting by Gilbert Plante, of Quebec City, Canada. The rich reds and yellows gives a sense of intense flames superimposed over an image of downtown Los Angeles.

Find Michael’s book here:
https://www.amazon.com/dp/B00NADW6OC/ref=dp-kindle-redirect?_encoding=UTF8&btkr=1

 

An Abduction Revelation, by Thomas L. Hay (2012)

Cover6.8_C-Kid1

A story of the Comeback Kid and his trips through time on a flying saucer, where he witnessed the construction of such notable wonders of the human hand and brain: Stonehenge, the monumental statues of Easter Island , the Sphinx, the Great Pyramids of Egypt…

All the elements of a space odyssey.

Find Thomas’s book here:

https://www.amazon.com/dp/B009OMF7FS/ref=dp-kindle-redirect?_encoding=UTF8&btkr=1

 

 



Secret Testimony, by Barbara Ann Payne (2012)

SecretTestimony_POD_Cover.1

An autobiographical story of childhood abuse, suffering, redemption and hope, author Barbara Ann Payne made this book cover as personal as her story. She provided us the photo of herself, and selected the other images for the cover.

Find Barbara’s book here:
https://www.amazon.com/dp/B00HUX9704/ref=dp-kindle-redirect?_encoding=UTF8&btkr=1


 

Corvus Rising, by Mary C Simmons (2013)

CorvusPOD_BookCover

The background is one of my watercolor paintings, and depicts an island under a sunset sky. A flock of crows in open and ink flies above the island, while Charlie the blue-eyed crow (an altered photograph) looks on, perched on a branch of a ghostly tree.

A multi-media event made digital, thanks to Photoshop.

Find my book here:
https://www.amazon.com/dp/B00HDQKRUM/ref=dp-kindle-redirect?_encoding=UTF8&btkr=1

 

The Judas Crow, by Mary C Simmons (2014)

JudasCrowCover2

My eShorty (Kindle) about an injured crow who cannot escape his fate: to lure other crows to their deaths. The cover comprises several altered photos and original ink art drawings of crow silhouettes.

Find it here:
https://www.amazon.com/Judas-Crow-Story-Epic-Betrayal-ebook/dp/B00IELTQ0C

 

 


 

I would love to create a fabulous, affordable Custom Book Cover for you!

Contact me for information and pricing:

TheBookMidwife@gmail.com

Living in a Painting…

FirstCut
First Cut

“You live in a painting!”

That’s what my friend Nina said when she saw this photo of the pasture after the first cut of hay.

It’s true. I live in a beautiful landscape of mountains, hay meadows, peach orchards, and small farms on the Western Slope of the Rocky Mountains.

That’s Lamborn Mountain on the left, behind the tree branch, and Landsend Peak on the right; the two peaks form an iconic backdrop to the North Fork Valley—the North Fork of the Gunnison River.

Lamborn Mountain and LandsEnd
Lamborn Mountain and Lands End

Lamborn Mountain rises 11, 397 feet above sea level, and almost 6,000 feet above the valley. The two peaks are part of a laccolith—where hot magma oozed up and intruded the Mancos Shale, an organic-rich clay layer, and baked it into coal. Erosion over the millennia has removed a lot of the Mancos Shale, revealing the igneous core of Lamborn Mountain.

Nearby and up the road, the geological picture includes three coal mines, though they’re not in this painting. But chances are good I’ll be taking my camera up the road toward the mines in the very near future.

By the way…diamonds are not formed by squeezing the bejesus out of coal. Click here for more…

Freeze
Irrigation Water Ice Cubes

Spring run-off was pretty incredible this year, starting in mid-April with more snow meltwater than anyone has seen in 40 years.

It still freezes around here in mid-April, though not hard enough to freeze the water in the irrigation pipes, it got cold enough to turn it to ice cubes as soon as it spewed out the gates. There’s just a little snow left up in the high country. Now our hopes are on the monsoonal rain.

Mount Lamborn
Mount Lamborn

 

 

Lamborn and Landsend are photogenic at any time of year, or day. And totally paintable, though I have not. Yet.

Lamborn and Landsend at Sunrise
Lamborn and Landsend at Sunrise

 

 

 

En plein air, for sure.

My Mother, My Art

Rita
Self Portrait, ~1950, Rita M. Simmons

Thanks to my very creative mother, Rita M. Simmons (1921-2004), my childhood was steeped in a variety of creative enterprises and the permission to make messes. She faced it, back in the 1950’s: creativity is untidy. She even organized a neighborhood puppet-making project in our garage that engaged the children of the whole neighborhood.

She painted. I opt for the third dimension. Far and away from my childhood steeped in the odors of oil paint and turpentine, my mother’s paintings inspired me from the hidden places of memory and imagination. I put my hands in clay and evoke the landscape, the dancer, the flowers that grace the Earth. As she, my mother, did before me, on the flat canvasses of her vision.

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Abstract Landscape, Acrylic, ~1970, Rita M. Simmons; Ceramic Sculpture Cylinders, 2005, Mary C. Simmons

The paintings and ceramic sculptures herein were part of a recent art show at the Church of Art, in Hotchkiss, Colorado.

In 1999, I received a Master of Science degree in geology, which also has exerted a profound influence on my art, both in design inspiration and technique (seeMaking Paint from the Desert Landscape & Bones of Earth, Bones of Clay…)

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Ceramic Sculpture Cylinders, 2005, Mary C. Simmons

I taught geology for 4 years in Indiana, and spent the summers in dry New Mexico, where the Cylinder Series happened, 22 of them, comprised of high-fired stoneware and porcelain.

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Skeletal Cylinders, 2005, Mary C. Simmons

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Platter1
Textured Platter, 2014, Mary C. Simmons

My latest passion in ceramic art: bright, beautiful colors and intricate textures in low-fired earthenware clay.

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Textured Bowls, 2014, Mary C. Simmons

At last, I am painting. Like my mother, who by her example, made my life an open space for art.

Thanks, Mom.

 

 

 

 

Zentangle!

Zentangle1Zentangle, a technique of doodling that requires a steady hand more than anything. And concentration— which somehow makes it relaxing. Really.

That’s why it’s called Zen-tangle. Almost meditative, Zentangle shuts out the world and flatlines the nagging cortisol-producing thoughts that our brains seem to be addicted to like candy. All the while you’re making a piece of art.

Zentangle3

Pick up a pen. Just do it.

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Crows—Inspiring Painters for 15,000 years

I love crows. They inspired me to write a fictional book about them. In doing so, I learned that they are smarter than our species gives them credit for. A lot smarter. They plan dream, love, raise new generations. And they notice us.

But they don’t make art. We do. And we make a lot of it about them.

Though some fear and loathe crows, many of us honor and revere them as intelligent, sentient, creatures; to some of us crows are a source of inspiration. Stroll through my Gallery of Crow Art in its many forms, from famous as well as unknown artists, poets, and writers, living and dead.

Paleolithic Cave Art

Lascaux-Broken
Paleolithic Cave Painting—Lascaux, France
Unknown Artists ~15, 300 B.C.E.

My interpretation of this cave painting: a crow on a perch overlooks a fatal encounter between a human and a big beast. Gored by a spear from this upstart Tool-maker, the beast prepares to impale the naked, hairless human on his horns, while his guts pour out onto the Earth. The crow is waiting for dinner. If it’s not about the Food Chain, it’s just not that important.

Or is it? Many believe the Lascaux cave paintings are star maps of Gemini, Orion, Taurus and Sirius.

lascaux_stars
http://www.timothystephany.com/stone.html

Wheatfield with Crows, Vincent van Gogh, July 1890

800px-A_Vincent_Van_GoghArt historians believe Wheatfield with Crows-painted just weeks before his death-was van Gogh’s last work.

 “Crows interest themselves in everything, and observe everything. The ancients, who lived far more completely than ourselves in and with nature, found it no small profit to follow, in a hundred obscure things where human experience as yet affords no light, the directions of so prudent and sage a bird.”—Jules Michelet, a favorite author of Van Gogh

Woman with Crow, Pablo Picasso, 1904

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Picasso painted Woman with Crow during his Blue Period, at about the same time he moved to Paris. The portrait features Marguerite Luc, whom he knew as Margot kissing and caressing a crow. Margot was the step-daughter of a cafe Picasso frequented.

Georgia O’Keeffe, painted crows too. More than once. She painted Canyon with Crows during the time she lived in Texas and depicts Palo Duro Canyon, whose Permian-aged iron-rich ‘red beds’ became the focal point of the painting. Just before your eyes jump to the crows flying in freedom above the red rocks.

georgia-o-keefee-paintings-canyon-with-crows-1917
Canyon with Crows, Georgia O’Keeffe, 1917

After O’Keeffe returned to New York, she painted Lake George with Crows.

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Lake George with Crows, Georgia O’Keeffe, 1921

 

Oil paint, real feather. Wish it were mine.

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Crow Painting (Is it Mine?), Jacqueline McIntyre, 2010

The crow is in the painting, the feather is on our side of the canvas. That’s how my imagination works too. Crows step back and forth between it and the world of physical reality. I find their feathers everywhere…
Another unabashed crow-lover:

Crow2
Two Crows, Kristin Fouquet, 2010

Kristin Fouquet’s photograph, Two Crows, graces the cover of Full of Crow – “an independent online literary magazine that publishes poetry, fiction, flash, reviews, interviews, articles, art, photography, and more…”

I could go on. And on and on and on….about the ways and means that crows have inspired our species.  But do go ahead and continue looking…Google ‘crow art’ – 62,400,000 hits.

Paint from the Desert Landscape

Making Paint From the Rocks

I can easily IFlose myself in Earth’s landscapes, especially the rocky ones. The textures and colors tell a story of chemistry, weathering and erosion. And, if providing a scenic backdrop to my life is not enough, I understand these rocks well enough to make pottery and glazes from them.

And paint.

The color palette is generally limited to oxides of iron: brown, reddish-brown, tan, yellowish tan, greenish tan–e.g. Earth colors.

Occasionally a little copper shows up, coloring the clay softly green or blue. Pottery glaze colors depend on these denizens of the Periodic Table. And so did paint, once upon a time before IKB.

I started with several gallon-size zip-lock bags of reddish, greenish and one highly yellow clay. The colors are the result of a certain degree of iron oxidation, and finely ground turquoise, which is a copper mineral.

I sifted out all the rocks, twigs, animal bones and other detritus, and let the colored clay settle in large jars of water. After siphoning off the excess water, I poured this clay slurry onto large pieces of gypsum board to dry. The mud cracks were amazing art pieces in themselves.

CuMudHLimonitePM

Painting with Clay

After the clay slurry completely dried, I crushed and sieved each into a fine powder. I added a little linseed oil to the colored clay powder and in a frenzy of inspiration, I painted

The Paintings

SandiaSunset2 What else can I say? Inspired by rocks, enchanted by Earth’s landscape…

Follow this link to Desert Paintings…http://wp.me/P3Fsq9-in