For my long-time followers, you know birds pop up in my work often. They are most definitely my muses. I love to observe them, to witness each species characteristics and culture, their distinct forms, figure, flight pattern and personality traits. A Scrub Jay is different in personality and energy than a Blue Bird. Chickadees run together in a tight flock, and Ravens pair off with a partner for life. Each one unique and wonderous. Here I have been charmed by the most common of birds, the American Robins. I always admire their upright stature, sleek feathers and of course their red russet chest that seems to say “here I am, look at me”. They spend time both on the ground hopping and browsing and in the trees chatting and communing (here is a link to hear their song and calls).
The thing is, for me to observe their busy-ness, I have to stop and be still. To hear their call and song I have to be quiet. To create these little odes to the American Robin I have to stop and consider them carefully to be quiet with them, to spend time creating this space for them in the form of a fabric collage. So, thank you robin, wren and bluebird; thank you raven, flicker and sparrow, you remind me to be still to be in your time not my time and you animate my creative verve.
I have developed this into a mixed media retreat so you fabric artist and quilters out there please invite me to your quilt guild to lead a workshop on making your own bird box fabric collage contact me through my website at lisathorpe.com
To see more in the Bird Box series see past post about Wrens.
Hello friends, it’s been a busy week with a busier weekend; lot’s of lists and check marks and more things added to the list. This morning I’m heading out to Incarnation Church to lead a All Souls and Saints Icon making workshop for 20. I have a long list of materials to pack in the car to get on my way. As I was dashing up the driveway to my studio to load the car a wonderful vista over the vineyards emerged: golden rows of vines, a silky layer of fog ribboning above the river beyond and two brightly colored hot air balloons floating above. I took a glace and told myself I’ve got no time to stop – get the car loaded and get going- my head told me. As I dashed into my studio I saw this painting propped against the wall ready to take to my Mendocino show, it gently reminded me – your one job is to observe this brilliant moment -and so my heart listened and I stopped walked out on the patio, drank in the moist morning air, let the sun warm my face, watched the birds out flank the floating balloons and gave thanks.
This is just a little reminder to me and you (now I’ve got to go – I have a workshop to lead!)
My dad recently found these “business cards” of mine in a desk he was sorting out. I put business cards in quotes because you’ll notice there is no actual information; no phone number, and no address, not even my full name. I don’t have a strong memory of making these but I’m sure it was in college when I was often between phones and addresses, and maybe experimenting with a Madonnaesque one name only moniker. Anyhow- the thing that caught my attention after all these years was that was I put a bird on it. And I guess I’ve been putting a bird on it ever since. If any of you are familiar with the sketch comedy show Portlandia then you might be familiar with the episode in which Carrie and Fred spruce up a shop’s merchandise and “put a bird on it” every where (Portlandia). It’s a spoof on Portland and groovy shops and the predominance of birds on everything. Well I have to say I’m guilty as charge- I’ve be putting a bird on it since 1982!
I’m not sure what that proves but I do know the bird as symbol is a powerful one.When my son was growing a frequent topic of conversation would start like this “if you were an animal what would you be?” or “if you had a super power what would it you do?” my answer was always be a bird, sometimes a hawk or a sparrow but often a smart, sassy, loyal raven. My super hero strength was always flight. So I guess I’ve always been drawn to the bird and so the bird is drawn into my work. These new paintings are a part of my new story. My who am I and where am I going now wandering and wondering. Yesterday was my last day teaching at the elementary school and I’m not sure what is next in my life – but one thing I do know is what ever I make I’ll probably still be putting a bird on it, and dreaming of my life as a bird!
Bear with me now but I’m going to take you on a mental bird walk and try and explain what I’ve been thinking about lately and what that has to do with this art. Ok, deep breath, here we go…during my recent winter vacation I watched a TED talk that my sister recommended. The talk , by social psychologist Amy Cuddy, shares a research study she conducted on how “power posing” — standing in a posture of confidence, even when we don’t feel confident — can affect testosterone and cortisol levels in the brain . Her research on body language shows that we can change our own body chemistry by changing body positions for 2 minutes. So before a meeting, a test, a tense conversation we can become more confident and comfortable just by striking the power pose for 2 minutes. Of course ever since then I’ve been striking the power pose often, much to the amusement of my family.
This got me thinking of another study I had read awhile back: “When we smile, fake or real, the contractions of the facial muscles slightly distorts the shape of the thin facial bones. This slight distortion in their shape leads to an increase in blood flow into the frontal lobes of the brain and increases in the release of dopamine (Iwase et al., 2002, Neuroimage 17:758). As a result, walking around all day with a smile on your face will bias your mood to be happier. Not only will you be happier but your smile might spontaneously induce the release of dopamine in someone else’s brain—now that truly demonstrates the power of a smile.”
Ok you’re saying – what does this have to do with the slightly weird, somewhat amusing birds as Japanese Ukiyo-e art? The best answer is it made me smile. Smile to make it, smile to share it- so there- I just wanted to give you and me a bit of dopamine for the day. But what’s the link to the power pose? I hear you pondering…following is my interpretation of the power pose bird style. This pose didn’t seem to fit with my demur Japanese bird images so I went for an all American chicken doing the power pose.
When I showed this one to my husband he had a look of alarm…. he felt maybe I’d gone too far with the cross dressing rooster Wonder Chicken – offended, I said that’s not a rooster it’s a chicken with a full comb – he said maybe if it’s hips were wider it would read more chicken than rooster which just made us booth laugh, you be the judge too weird or just weird enough? So take just two minutes today to power pose – slap a smile on and you’ve got some good medicine for what ails you…pass it on!
I spent the week at The Bishop’s Ranch Quilt Retreat. I have watched the myriad of quilting groups that come through, wandering the rows of tables piled high with colorful fabrics and tools of the trade; sewing machines, scissors, rolling cutters, rulers, on and on and on. Along with all the stuff and stash at these retreats there is an abundance of accumulated wisdom, practiced advice, and a flowing fount of ideas. I have been threatening to attend one of these bursting, bustling events myself for a few years and this week I finally did. I have a lot of sewing experience and have even done a bit of quilting but never seriously and never with all the tools and information. I tend to launch into things with a lot of enthusiasm but little knowledge and muddle my way through, with mixed results. This retreat provided me with two things I don’t usually have: 1. a wealth of shared tools and space, 2. more importantly, a generous community of experience and encouragement. Almost everything I do these days I do alone, my graphics work is just me and the computer and the rest of the time I am stashed away in my tiny bursting at the seams studio. I am something of an introvert so mostly I don’t mind the alone time, but this week I got to experience the joy of the sewing circle, the draw of the modern quilting bee. Back in the day when quilting bees were a part of life, church ladies and neighbors would get together to work on quilts, each in turn helping the other with wedding quilts, and baby quilts, anniversary quilts and quilts for the county fair. Women would chat and share, gossip and support. It was a productive excuse to take a break from the hard isolated work of keeping a household running back in those days. And today the needs are different but the draw is the same. We all are running full tilt in our own little worlds, getting snippets of friends on facebook, learning new things off of youtube. Don’t get me wrong I use those resources too, and it’s amazing what you can learn out there floating in the world wide web, but you are floating alone. I know we’ve got our “friends” and our “links” and our “bookmarks” and our “pinterest” but we are still sitting alone with our device….or more likely sitting with other people who are all searching their devices (I know because it happens all the time in my house ….myself included). But this week community was incarnate, we were there in the flesh, ideas, comments, instruction, feedback, sharing, help all happening in real time. It was invigorating and exhausting all at once. Although we were all working on our own projects, unlike the quilting bees of old, there was still a strong sense of collective effort. I went in with an idea of what I wanted to accomplish and managed to achieve that but gained much more from the passion and practice and patience of this modern sewing circle.
It was good to get out of my little box, otherwise know as my studio, and try something new. I made the bird banner (pictured above) members of the sewing circle and stitchery (picture below) The bird images are ipad drawings that I printed on fabric on my home printer then pieced in a traditional way and machine quilted. I am going to donate the wall hanging to The Bishop’s Ranch to raffle off for the 2012 annual fund. When there is a link for raffle tickets I’ll let you know.
Recently an Americorp team came to stay and work here at the Bishop’s Ranch for six weeks. Their first evening we had a little social for Ranch staff and the Americorp crew. As a conversation starter we were asked to put three things on our nametags: first our name, an easy enough question I was able to handle without discomfort. The second question was a bit harder for me, write down your favorite sport, ughm, well I not too big on sports and while I played basketball in High school I wouldn’t say it was my favorite now, so I put down my favorite physical activity – hula hooping. Ok two down one to go, “where are you from?”. Oh no, this is a stumper! Where am I from? Usually I answer that query with a vague “small town northern California” explaining that my family moved a fair bit. But somehow, this day, the question put me in an existential crisis. Where AM I from? Having gone to four different schools in four different towns as a kid, three of those in five years, wherever I was I always felt like a bit of an outsider. Like someone just pretending be from around here (wherever here was at the time), just pretending to fit in. Before my fifteen years at the Ranch, the longest tome I lived any where was in San Francisco. After a few years of living and working I felt an ease and comfort there that I hadn’t felt many places in my life. But I couldn’t really say I was from there, that would imply an urban upbringing that is far from my small town past. So finally, to answer the question “where are you from” I put HERE. This is where I am, where I feel myself, where I have been grounded the longest. It put to mind of the mass of birds gathering around my yard that I wrote about last week. Some staying the winter, some moving on to warmer climes soon. But all seemingly wildly happy, singing, sounding, shrilling, HERE, I am here! Where are they from? Where are they going? Their communal joy at being here in this wondrous place on this wondrous day seems to say the past is but a dream, the future a mystery, I am here, be here now, HERE.
This piece and others like it, along with fine art reprints, fun jewelry and much more will be for sale at my Holiday Art Sale and Show, Saturday, December 3rd, in Healdsburg. If you would like more information and you aren’t already on my art updates email list please contact me at email@example.com and I’ll add you to the list to find out about classes, sales and shows.