I went for a hike along the trails here at The Bishop’s Ranch yesterday morning. The sun was bright and warm, tempered by a brisk spring wind. As I walked through the heirloom apple orchard the nearly century old trees, twisted and bedraggled with dead branches, persisted in blooming, they resist the urge each year to give in to winter and choose instead, with what energy they have, to embrace spring. Thanks to the abundant winter rains this year the trees are surrounded by carpet of green dotted with delicate, bright yellow buttercups. As I bent down to pick a few a sweet memory flooded through – forty-five years or more ago I bent to pick these same buttercups. That day I stood in a meadow with my sister. The meadow had a little creek that ran through it and housed two fat ponies and a burro. While they grazed idly by we picked buttercups. We picked buttercups not by the handful but by the armful. We truly filled buckets with buttercups to bring to the house. We filled every nook and cranny with buttercup bouquets.
Yesterday I brought my bundle of buttercups to my studio. I am preparing for a mixed media nature journaling class I’m teaching in May here at the Ranch (class info). I have been experimenting with printing organic objects. So I inked up my printing plate and placed my buttercups down, laid the paper on and rubbed. When the print is lifted what showed is the negative space around the buttercup. Then I gently peeled up the buttercups and made what is called a ghost print of what was left behind under the buttercups. I found these negative space prints and their ghosts to contain a simple quiet beauty and while I was making them I began to think of my father who passed away last fall. I have been working on a slide show for the celebration of life we are having for him next weekend. While I have done the best to find images of him throughout is life from birth to death, to somehow encapsulate who he was in one slide show, I know is folly. There are gaps of course, missing pieces things he loved not captured in film, people whom he loved and loved him not pictured. The gaps and missing pieces in this slide show are like the negative space buttercup prints- they depict the presence of absence the space around the life. And like the ghost prints it is just a whisper of the vibrant life he led. I am grateful that his memory comes to me in many ways through photos and celebrations, and quiet buttercup prints reminding me to leave space for the presence of absence.
I just wrapped up a great weekend with 16 adventurous creative women, who in two days learned a bunch of new techniques and made a vast array of interesting, personal, playful and insightful art. It is always rewarding to share what I know and then see the different directions that one medium can go. In just 2 days I could see each student find their voice and unique style. I always learn something along the way too, a new twist on something I’ve been doing for ages or in answering a question I never thought to ask before. So I give thanks to these women who trusted me with their creative hearts and dared to go on a creative adventure with me!
I have been wandering and wondering both artistically and spiritually for a long time – probably my whole life. I am always working out a new puzzle trying a new technique and making it my own. In some ways that makes me a nomad in the art world. People ask “What do you do?” – what they want in reply is something they can get their head around like, landscapes, or still life, or abstract, or some medium they can pin me down on, but I never have a good answer. I am always trying new things and by the time my audience gets used to where I’m at I’m usually moving on. I don’t think this has helped my art career much. People here at the Bishop’s Ranch still tell me they miss my landscapes – and sometimes I’ll still paint a landscape for them – but after some 100 plus landscapes of the Ranch surrounds I was itchy to move on. Over the years I’ve explored printmaking, collage, encaustic, watercolor, fabric art and I have enjoyed them all and dug in deep enough to teach a class and share what I’ve learned. Right now I like the loose label Mixed Media artist. I doesn’t really mean much to anyone and that suits me fine – that way I’m never in a box I can’t paint my way out of!
Spiritually my trajectory has been more a meander than a direct path as well. I consider myself a Christian (I got baptized at the age of 23, a young adult wandering and wondering). I am a nodgie, scab-picking Christian – full of doubt and wonder at the same time. Over the years yoga and tai chi have offered me comfort in my times of need and I have come to enjoy what Buddhism has to share though I have barely scratch the surface of it’s depths. So when I stumbled upon Stephen Batchelor in a interview with the amazing On Being host Krista Tippit, his wandering and wondering spoke to me. He has published a number of books including Buddhism Without Beliefs and Faith to Doubt. In this interview (OnBEING interview with Stephen Batchelor) he spoke of the Buddhist core concept of the Eightfold Path. The Eightfold Path was taught by the Buddha and are as follows: right view, right aspiration, right speech, right action, right livelihood, right effort, right mindfulness, right concentration. While I was listening to the interview I began to doodle a folded roll of cloth, eight folds on top of each other, eight birds, eight growing plants. Later when I googled, eightfold path images they all came up as compasses with 8 crossing strands and ships wheels with 8 spokes. It’s funny how I didn’t see it as 8 crossing concepts but one concept folded in on itself, anyhow that is the origin story of this painting in my new series of work I’m calling Signs & Symbols. Like all the other artistic wanderings I’ve done I don’t know how long I’ll stay here but I feel like I have lots to learn and explore and I am excited to share that exploration with you.
Lately I have been designing mixed modality meditation workshops with a variety of different groups that come to The Bishop’s Ranch. This week I had the opportunity to work with Colleen Cannon and her Women’s Quest retreat (Women’s Quest Site). Colleen leads women’s empowerment retreats and takes women all over the country to go on “adventures for body, mind and spirit”. She asked me to design an art meditation for her group during their stay at the Ranch. Last night I got to work with this delightful group of women. During the day they had biked for many miles around Sonoma county and after dinner joined me in a meditation session that lead to these beautiful intention filled stones. Each color on the stone relates to an intention or goal. I had them each make two stones, one to take home with them and one to leave in a little meditation spot here at the Ranch- I plan to do this project with all the summer campers this year and as the summer passes the rock cairns of good intentions will grow!
I haven’t written in awhile… sorry….when I got fired from my teaching job in late March I imagined so much time and space to make art and blog with you and meditate and ponder the meaning of life. But as Aristotle said, horror vacui, or nature abhors a vacuum, and while I was worrying about how to make money when my job ended I caste a fist full of seeds into the universe. Well I guess a lot of those seeds found fertile ground and now I need to consider thinning my crop down to the things I most want to do. I saw a Venn-diagram recently with 3 overlapping circles; one reads what you are passionate about the next reads what you are good at and the third reads what people will pay you for…..and where they all cross over is the sweet spot – where talent, passion and marketability meet. Simple enough in theory but harder to find on a day to day basis. When I finished teaching April 1st I felt like this was an opportunity- I was just given some space to find the sweet spot- but in my fear of no income I have been filling up my every minute taking on every job that comes my way. I have taken on more graphic design work, more work at The Bishop’s Ranch, more workshop teaching, more sewing jobs…. you get the idea. In some ways it feels good, I know I can make the money when I need to, but now I need to pull back and do that thinning of my possibilities garden I was talking about before and find the sweet spot in my personal Venn-diagram. This week I got a little clue about which way to wander. On Sunday I taught an Encaustic Collage Workshop for 12 wonderful women- they had a good day I had a good day and I felt financially well compensated. Also this week, kind of by accident, I sold 4 pieces of art- big pieces- and when told the prospective buyers the price no one flinched. So I think I’m beginning to zero in on my talent, my passion, and what people will pay for. So here’s to searching for the sweet spot and listening to what the universe is telling you!
I am excited to share my latest adventure – a coloring book! I am inching on to my 20th year living at The Bishop’s Ranch, in that time I have had the great privilege to soak up the seasons and the scenery here. Each season arrayed in it’s own palette, from vivid greens to golden brown, the hills and fields change their colors in a beautiful circle of fecundity and fallow that never ceases to amaze.
The coloring book has twenty pages of Ranch scenes both on the grounds and in the backcountry. I drew the images on my iPad in black line. Now the owner of the book can choose the season make it spring or fall at their whim – something of a visual choose your own adventure book. Coloring the pages can put the artist right back here to the Ranch, in that way it is both a coloring book and a memory book. For those who have yet to visit the Ranch it can be an enticement of things to come. Please follow the link to purchase one http://lisathorpe.com/shop.html
Here in my little slice of paradise spring has long sprung (sorry you guys in cold climes) and now it is iris turn to stretch out her long neck and open her beautiful face to the sky. The iris come in an awe-inspiring color palette that surprise and delight every year. Some time ago a friendly acquaintance asked me if I wanted some iris rhizomes (they look like a ginger root gone mad) he was digging out of his yard. I picked up a bucketful not really knowing what a treasure trove I had. The following year blooms of impossible beauty shot tall and sturdy in my yard. I have this purpley-pink bloom (above), and a surprising periwinkle blue one, there is a pale creamy yellow one and one that is a deep cabernet red and another that is a purple black of astounding darkness standing like the night sky facing the full sun. The flower itself is a delicate fluttering silk butterfly but the stalk it opens from is tall and sturdy and strong giving a wonderful jux of position. I have been admiring these beauties that rise from my garden with seriously no help from me now for at least 10 years. They rise and bloom and slowly fade and fall to burrow again in the comfort of the ground and spring forth strong and beautiful again each year, a good reminder of beauty and strength and resilience. Thank you iris, for standing as a bold reminder that I too can grow and bloom and fold fallow ready to bloom again when the time is right.
The painting above is from my watercolor sketch book- I’m teaching a Wine and Watercolor class this Sunday at a local winery Campo Vida website. If you have ideas of places I can teach or contacts with organizations or businesses that you think could pare well with a watercolor class, let me know and I will reach out to them.