Sunday, August 11

Creativity in the woods

I've been home for a week (somehow this week flew by in comparison with the week before). I thought I'd look back on the artwork made by myself and the other participants at the residency in Montana. It seems far away now, but I'm still feeling the restfulness that grew while I was there.
Tobacco Road Studios was a great location with 2 studio spaces in the garage, and a wrap-around porch where I made my workspace. Our hostess was working on an elemental series and cut a huge spiral in the lawn for "earth". The elements and trees around the property were inspiration for many of us.
 I noticed how most of the trees grew in clusters,like families. their root systems are shallow because the bedrock is so close to the surface, and the interlocking of the roots help the trees support each other. A great deal of underbrush has been cleared out of the surrounding woods over the past few years. I noted numerous stumps dotting the landscape and thought it would be interesting to take prints from them.
Woodblock printing with ink and a brayer was a total failure as it picked up only the sawmarks instead of the beautiful rings. So I switched to oil pastel rubbings to capture the texture and age of about 8 stumps. After heat setting the pastel I experimented with walnut ink on a few, but didn't like the loss of contrast.
 The 2 small stumps with walnut ink were appliqued to some red sunprinted cloth I'd made in grad school. I stitched a few rings and used feather stitch for roots reaching out and entangling. It needed a little something extra, so I added  a ring of red seeded "fire". Wildfire is a major concern in the Rockies in midsummer. The firetruck came out at one point because someone noted smoke from our (well-tended) campfire! But fire is needed at times to control undergrowth and bring new life to the forest floor as well. I finished this 12-inch piece up in a day and then moved on to a larger piece.
 I waited for a full sunny day and painted out a yard and a half of cotton with blue, ochre, and emerald setacolor. I laid plant material I'd found on the forest floor on top and let the fabric dry in the sun for a lovely organic sunprint. Five more stump prints were appliqued onto this 4x5 foot background, and then I spent 3 straight days doing concentric circles in running stitch until my fingertips ached.
 On our last night we had an open house despite rainy weather. All our artwork was hung and displayed around the porch. The event was publicized in the local paper and we had a number of adventurous souls venture out in the rain to visit. Here are some of the other artists' work:
 Michelle Menard of San Francisco delighted us with a puppet show she developed over the week. She created all the characters and scenery from painted cardboard and papier mache. Above is wise Ladybird in a cage and below is the blue bird of happiness nesting.
 In the evenings we gathered on the porch for some basketweaving lessons from our host's mother, and they were displayed along with the rest of our art:
 I'm quite proud of my tight little reed basket. I've always enjoyed weaving....
 One of the major events of the week was a pit firing for the ceramic pieces that had been made. It was a little scary to do after all the fire warnings, but I helped out by keeping the surrounding area quite damp with a hose. A 4 foot deep pit was dug out, the ceramic vessels were loaded in the bottom and the fire was fed over the course of 3 hours. Finally we let it burn down, and by morning it was cool enough to unload.
 The woodfire makes an amazing and unpredictable smoky effect on the clay body. Our hostess, Christina Barbachano's pieces are above.
 One of the local artists who joined us in the evenings was Nikki Meyer (also a reporter for the town paper!). She worked on a series of somewhat surreal photos of animal life, playing with real and unreal, pumping up the contrast and color to distort perception. I loved the image of the turkeys and buffalo below. Not all of the animals in this image are actually alive though....
 We had a few of Christina's high school art students up as well. A pair of them collaborated on the "Dr.Seuss Tree" below, transforming a former porch post into a fantastical tree with a strange creature in the branches. It was wonderful to watch the perseverance of the pair, as they struggled with weather and materials to get it complete.
It was wonderful to have so much time to just make art and be surrounded by other creative folk. As artists and mothers and working people, so much of our time and mental power gets distracted by everyday life and responsibilities. It was a joy to let all those distractions fall away.
 I've returned to my fair share of worries (perhaps to balance out that free time!) but  I'm trying to hold on to that rest and rejuvenation that soaked into my spirit while I was in that other world.

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