Sunday, January 28, 2007

Puppetmaking workshop in Woodlawn!

I had an intergenerational puppetmaking workshop on Saturday. Don't you just love it when folks make something themselves and get a huge kick out of it? Just a few socks and some fingers from some gloves for finger puppets, and trays of do-dads like beads, buttons, yarn, ribbons, feathers, and silk flowers, a few hot glue guns and a little bit of imagination thrown in and that's all you need to have a really great time! We even had some story telling at the end with a Hanging Puppet Theater.

(You can create a very simple puppet stage at home with a tension rod across a doorway or narrow hallway and a curtain or table cloth draped over it)

Fairy Gifts

Altered book by Lani

I've been thinking about a Fairy Gifts altered board book. I was reading some folk tales about fairy gifts and it seemed that people who are kind and generous to fairies are rewarded with kindness, while people who were greedy are usually given a very unpleasant gift. I got to thinking, if I were to make a little book filled with presents for the little people, what sorts of things would they enjoy? The colors, sounds and scents of things wild and beautiful? Gold and little bells?

This artistic flight of fancy is based on Ann Arbor's own Urban Fairies. There is a whole urban fairy legend growing in Ann Arbor, and it seems like a delightful way to encourage literacy, map reading, and even community building. If you like fairy doors and altered books you must visit the Ann Arbor Library, and look in the fairy tale section.

Monday, January 22, 2007

Having enough to go around!

I just got this quote from my friend, Elizabeth Adams, in Ontario. The quote is so true and I think it's true for inspiration, happiness, joy, in fact all those lovely non-material things that feed us so much.

Thank you Elizabeth. You are right, we do have enough to go around!

In the physical and economic world, if I give you something, then I no longer have it. Wisdom and love behave altogether differently: if I give you my love or wisdom, both of us can have it. And even more remarkable, you may pass it on and not only still retain it, but it will grow with each transaction. The more we give away, the more there is and the more we have. Another remarkable quality is that if I give you my wisdom and it rings true in you, what I gave you was really already in you, and you recognized it as your own. The more we bring our wisdom into the world, the more wisdom there will be, and easier it will be for other women to find it in themselves.
Bolen, J.S. (2001), Goddesses in Older Women, Quill, N.Y.

PS - Another friend, Cyn Richardson, ran a very successful workshop on "Small Art" at her local library. They worked on Altered books, ATCs and other small collages.
There was a kid's session in the morning which went great, and an adult/teen session in the afternoon, which also went great! These folks had no idea this stuff was out there! The little kids were asking me when the next class would be--they want more! The adults were amazed and amazing in their own creativity and we're going to form a club to explore more as a group.

Read about it here.

Sunday, January 21, 2007

Comic Dreams

Comic Dreams collage by Lani

Have you read many graphic novels? Here's one that reawakened a very long dormant interest in the whole serial image, comic, storyboard genre. Artobiography, by Don Seiden.

Seiden described the process of writing this book as first drawing the cartoon-like pictures, the memory images of his life, in these little boxes. Once he had his life illustrated graphically, he went back and added the text, looking at each image carefully and creating a condensed text block to go under the image box. For Seiden, the value of the book was in the way it documents his pursuit of meaning through art making. He described art as a constantly available friend to "talk to" about his experiences, a kind of vehicle for containing and understanding feelings and thoughts, and a way to recognize and resolve problems. It seemed that creating art, maybe even creating this book, helped Seiden appreciate and even love his life, the people in it, and himself a little more clearly, deeply, and intensely.

As I read Seiden's book, thought about what was included, and imagined what was excluded, I began to wonder about this format, how well it might work in the art room as an organizing and grounding tool. I wondered about the idea of gentle interventions, how easily a narrative might be expanded on, altered, or have parts emphasized or de-emphasized when told with storyboards or little cartoon boxes.

The only limitation of this book relates to its format, in that the images are black and white, hand drawn, and small. With the artwork Seiden describes, the reader will likely want to see more, and that is not necessarily a bad thing. Fortunately Seiden's website has excellent photographs of his art work.

Does this genre interest you just a little? If so here are some other titles you might want to look at:

One Hundred Demons by Lynda Barry. Keri Smith writes about it here.

Maus : A Survivor's Tale : My Father Bleeds History/Here My Troubles Began/Boxed.

Our Cancer Year.

Graphic Storytelling.

To the Heart of the Storm

Saturday, January 20, 2007

Anomic Depression and the Ethnosphere

"Protect the ethnosphere" collage by Lani.

I'm starting to prepare for the spring round of workshops and courses so I've been doing some cultural digging. I discovered the Dalhousie School of Social Work has a wonderful research project going on, in which they have been looking at resilience in a variety of cultures. They are using a mixed-methods, culturally sensitive approach to understanding how youth around the world effectively cope with the diverse challenges they face. They have partnerships with researchers and community-based organizations on six continents in over 25 communities. They are bringing to a close the first three-year phase of research, in which data was collected with over 1500 children in 14 communities worldwide.

The research project that interested me the most was carried out in Sheshatshiu, an Innu community in Labrador, because the Innu are considered to be clearly suffering from Anomic Depression. In addition to poverty, high rates of unemployment, and isolation as a community, Innu youth have among the highest rates of suicide in the world; and suicide is the leading cause of death for young people in Sheshatshiu. Media attention has focused on widespread and increasing addiction to solvents among the youth of Sheshatshiu. Parental neglect, family violence, crime, smoking, and health problems are also above national norms for Innu youth. For this research young people answered a variety of questions and told interviewers how they were overcoming these systemic difficulties, isolation, and substance abuse to create healthy, sustainable futures.

I include some of the questions they were asked here but you can download the research for a more complete understanding here:

Do you think non-prescription drugs and/or alcohol will help you when you have to deal with lots of problems?
Do you eat enough most days?
Are you comfortable with how you express yourself sexually?
Do you feel safe when you are with your family?
Are you proud of your ethnic background?
Are religious or spiritual beliefs a source of strength for you?
Does your family have a ritual or routine around mealtimes?
Do you respect your Innu elders?
Do you feel you should be learning more of cultural traditions and history at school?
Do you feel less stressed when you are in nutshmit (traditional Innu relationship with the land, the animals and the spirits)?
Do you try and learn your culture?
Do you have friends who do not use alcohol drugs and sniff gas or solvents?
Do your parents teach you family history?
Are you proud of your community and its members?
Do you consider suicide when you are depressed?
Do you have any knowledge of suicide intervention?
Do you feel like sniffing gas and other solvents?

It's pretty clear that the answers to these questions would give the questioner a sense of how resilient the participating youth might be. sent this fascinating video yesterday, of National Geographic Explorer-in-Residence Wade Davis talking about the extraordinary diversity of the world's indigenous cultures -- many of which are disappearing -- as ancestral land is lost and languages die. Against a backdrop of beautiful photography and stories, Davis suggests that we should be just as concerned with protecting the "ethnosphere" as we are with protecting our biosphere He describes "ethnosphere" as "the sum total of all thoughts and dreams, myths, ideas, inspirations, intuitions brought into being by the human imagination since the dawn of consciousness."
If we don't have our dreams, myths, ideas, inspirations, intuitions, and our imaginations what do we have? Anomic depression and slow genocide.

Wade Davis also did an interview with NPR which you can read here but I include some quotes.

At the very least I want people to know what is going on, to face the reality of our times, the deep and most consequential current of history that flows beneath our lives. What can possibly be more significant than the loss in a single generation of half of humanity's intellectual and spiritual legacy?

Just before she died, anthropologist Margaret Meade spoke of her singular concern that, as we drift toward a more homogenous world, we are laying the foundations of a blandly amorphous and singularly generic modern culture that ultimately will have no rivals. The entire imagination of humanity, she feared, might become confined within the limits of a single intellectual and spiritual modality. Her nightmare was the possibility that we might wake up one day and not even remember what had been lost.

...The myriad cultures of the world are not failed attempts at modernity, they are unique manifestations of the human spirit. With their dreams and prayers, their myths and memories, they teach us that there are indeed other ways of being, alternative visions of life, birth, death and creation itself. When asked the meaning of being human they respond with ten thousand different voices. It is within this diversity of knowledge and practice, of intuition and interpretation, or promise and hope, that we will all rediscover the enchantment of being what we are, a conscious species aware of our place on the planet and fully capable of ensuring that all peoples in every garden find a way to flourish.

In the end this is neither a sentimental nor an academic notion. Indeed in the wake of Sept. 11 it has become an issue of survival. For the central challenge of our times, at least in a political sense, is to find a way to live in a truly multicultural world of pluralism. Not to freeze peoples or cultures out of the flow of history but rather to insure that all peoples may benefit from the products of our collective genius without their participation having to imply the eradication of their cultures.

You can download articles and self-study guides for an NYU art therapy course here.

How would you answer these questions:

Are you proud of your ethnic background?
Are religious or spiritual beliefs a source of strength for you?
Does your family have a ritual or routine around mealtimes?
Do you respect older people in your community?
Do you feel you learned about cultural traditions and the history of your people school?
Do you think your culture and the history of your people is important to learn about?
Do your parents teach you family history?
Are you proud of your community and its members?

Wednesday, January 17, 2007

To every thing there is a season; Or how to make Wabi-Sabi art

I'm thinking about making Wabi-Sabi art or a little altered wisdom book about and full of wabi-sabi art.

The other day someone asked me for a zine of instructions on how to make wabi-sabi art. Well I don't have such zine but I thought why not!? What a marvelous metaphor that would be. In a throw away, conspicuous consumption culture, to create something precious, simple, old, revered, and imperfect... well, I just think it would be the best!

My favorite author on things wabi-sabi is Leonard Koren. In "Wabi-Sabi: for Artists, Designers, Poets and Philosophers" Koren describes wabi-sabi as a beauty of things imperfect, impermanent and incomplete, a beauty of things modest and humble,and a beauty of things unconventional. He also says wabi-sabi is a nature-based aesthetic ideal that restores a measure of sanity and proportion to the art of living. He believes it is deep, multi-dimensional, elusive, and because of this wabi-sabi is the perfect antidote to the pervasively slick, saccharine, market driven style of beauty.

Wabi-sabi art then would take an intuitive world-view in which things are relative, soft edged, ambiguous, contradictory, flexible, and idiosyncratic. One-of-a-kind, personally meaningful objects are valued. Materials might be gleaned from nature, since wabi-sabi celebrates the fundamental uncontrollability and impermanence of all things natural. The bowl is a fundamental metaphor in wabi-sabi art.

I love this. So now I'll go in search of a book to alter to fill with wabi-sabi wisdom and art.

It's just a bit cold here...

Outdoor guys want to move in.

Over at 14 Secrets for A Happy Artists Life we were discussing Gioia Chilton's Washington DC area conference;

Transformative Journeys: A Woman's Spirituality Conference

Saturday, February 10, 2007


Mount Vernon Unitarian Church,

1909 Windmill Lane

Alexandria, Virginia

They are going to learn transformative methods to expand spirituality, increase health, celebrate woman's ways of knowing, become inspired, refreshed, and renewed through connection with the earth and the spirit. There will be information and activities concerning women's health, spiritual practices, and creative journeys will be offered as we join together, in the quest to bring soul-fullness to our daily lives.

Well, because not all of us will be able to attend and yet most of us found the topics very intriguing, we declared that Sat. Feb. 10 would be our very own 14 Secrets Transformation Day. Between now and then we will be collecting ways to expand our spiritual practices, increase our health, and celebrate our more feminine ways of knowing. We will be looking for ways to be more inspired and inspiring, refreshed and refreshing, renewing and renewed. As we find them we can share them with each other, then on Feb. 10 itself we could practice which ever ways we would like.

So I found these beautiful pictures of Poojas or Yagnas in India and I thought, of course, how lovely, combining ceremony and beautiful, colorful, sensual experience, and all so transitory and ephemeral. That's what I would create, a kind of celebration; filled with color, sound, smell, taste, and touch.

I also think I'll head on over to Jennifer Louden's website because she has a lot to say on retreat and transformation and comfort here.

If you would like to join us, feel free to declare Feb. 10 YOUR transformation day! Be our virtual buddies in this. See what you can find between now and then that would make your life more inspired and renewed. Share what you find with others.

Tuesday, January 09, 2007

Full moon over Prospect, June 30, 2007.

The big news here is the Lost Sisters art retreat will be blessed with a full moon! How cool is that? There's also a yahoo group now for sharing information, travel plans and general excitement.

Sunday, January 07, 2007

Lost Sisters Retreat and Reunion

The First Annual Lost Sisters Art Retreat and Reunion from June 28 thru July 1, 2007.

Do you ever feel like the pace of life is a little frantic, and out of control? Do you ever feel a bit bombarded by the noise and stress of day to day life? Do you find your mind is filled with restless inner-chatter and worry? Do you long for clarity and joy and the company of long lost sisters who understand the total pleasure of art making, doll making, book binding, and story telling?

Why not join the Lost Sisters First Annual Art Retreat and Reunion in Prospect, Nova Scotia, where it is possible to reclaim the heart of your life through art making, good company, ocean views, kayaking and walking the labyrinth.

Essential Elements for our first retreat and reunion:

1) Leave your day to day worries behind
In this lovely, simple old fishing village we can leave the cares of our everyday lives behind. We can find our inner resilience in the company of good folks and lost sisters, and once found we don't ever have to give it up, since it is ours.

2) Diet & Nourishment
Rosalee and the Wild Women of Prospect are all good cooks, with the secret wisdom of the Prospect Cookbook to consult (how to feed 400 people lobster dinners with pie and feel happy at the end of the day). Also, we are 25 minutes outside of Halifax where you can find very fine dining with ethnic diversity as well.

3) Physical interaction with the world around us
We will be walking, kayaking, dancing by moonlight on granite rocks (caveat: I haven't actually checked what the moon is doing on that weekend). We also have access to an Aveda spa which is only 20 minutes drive, where you can have every imaginable kind of kelp wrap and aroma therapy experience you could possibly want:

4) Art and Story
We will be learning and teaching various crafty/arty techniques and discovering and sharing our own resilience stories. At the end of the weekend you will have a suitcase full of craft and art and a heart full of good stories and friendship.

5) The DIY principle
We strongly believe in the Do It Yourself principle. We believe that we have untapped inner wisdom and strength, knowledge and joy, just waiting to emerge. So with that belief we are creating our own retreat, just for ourselves, taught learned by us. The main difference between this approach and the approach of a retreat that has a paid staff, is that this is free and that is not. So come join your lost sisters, book your flights soon as there are good seat sales going on right now. Find peace and joy within yourself and your long lost sisters, and then take that home with you, where you can share it with others.

Here is what the retreat will look like:
Thursday June 28
4:00 Arrival
5:30 Tour & Orientation
6:00 Dinner (Either eating in Halifax or dinner with the Wild Women of Prospect)
7:30 Program Orientation ~ Meet the teachers (us) and hear about the workshops
(doll making, simple book ideas, narrative development with collage)

Friday and Saturday
7:45 Sun Salutations (walk on the beach, meditation, yoga, etc.)
8:15 Breakfast
9:00 Workshop introduction. (either doll making - Friday or little books - Saturday)
9:30 Hike with the Bergamasco Boys (totally optional)
10:30 Tea
12-1:00 Lunch (Details are being worked out with Rosalee at the B&B)
1:30 to 5:00
Continue workshops, hike with camera, or explore with sea kayaks neighboring islands and old wrecked whaling ships.
5:45 Dinner ( again working out details, either eat out or with wild women of Prospect)
7:00 Evening Discussion, share how projects are coming and hear preview of next days' workshop
Then you are free to read, watch a movie, listen to music, etc. (Rosalee is a wonderful folk singer and if any of us are, you never know, there may be some music happening in the evenings.)

7:45 Sun Salutations (walk on the beach, meditation, yoga, etc.)
8:15 Breakfast
9:00 Retreat wrap up. Discuss what you can do to make the rest of your life more fun, more like a lost sisters' art retreat. Meet the dolls, hear the narratives and see the little books.
11:30 check out

Oh, and did I mention we have a canvas Labyrinth which can be used outdoors if the weather is good and in the church hall if the weather isn't good?

The Labyrinth; Universal Symbol of Transformation:
It is thought that the labyrinth was created originally to represent our search for divinity. The labyrinth is an archetypal form found all over the world, dating back thousands of years. There is no way to know who created the first labyrinth, but this we do know from experience, that by walking the labyrinth we somehow quiets our deep inner being so we can hear our own inner wisdom and the wisdom of our higher power. The labyrinth is a wonderful tool for reflection, focusing, meditation, healing, bringing calm and a deeper knowledge of the Self.

Unlike a maze, a labyrinth has one path, which leads back and forth on itself, eventually working its way to the heart or center, and then back out again. It's a three part process for us. First we need to trust the path, and not worry about how things "should go." At the center we find a quietness and spaciousness, where we can be receptive to our inner state, meeting ourselves as if for the first time. As we return to life outside the labyrinth, some may experience a state of timelessness and serenity.

Any questions, feel free to email me here!

Tuesday, January 02, 2007

What I wish for the new year...

Collage by Lani; photo & ticket from Prospect and other ephemera from the ScrapArtist.

Simple Living has an article by Duane Elgin on the simple life. He points out that most people are not choosing to live more simply from a feeling of needing to sacrifice and have less, but because they are seeking deeper sources of satisfaction than are being offered by our highly stressed, "consumption-obsessed" society. He says that real incomes have doubled in the U.S. in the past generation, but that the percentage of the population reporting they are very happy has remained unchanged at roughly 1/3 of the population. Divorce rates have doubled and teen suicide rates have tripled. So a whole generation has been raised in an affluent society and has discovered that affluence does not create happiness. Duane says that in the search for a more satisfying life, millions of people are not only "downshifting" (pulling back from the rat race), they are also "moving ahead into a life that is, though materially more modest, rich with family, friends, community, creative work in the world, and a soulful connection with the universe."

So this is what I would like for the new year: a life that is rich with family, friends, community, creative work, and a soulful connection with the universe. Simplicity. So here are Duane's ten different approaches to thriving in a "garden of simplicity. "

1. Choiceful Simplicity: Simplicity means choosing our path through life consciously, deliberately, and of our own accord. As a path that emphasizes freedom, a choiceful simplicity also means staying focused, diving deep, and not being distracted by consumer culture. It means consciously organizing our lives so that we give our "true gifts" to the world -- which is to give the essence of ourselves. As Emerson said, "The only true gift is a portion of yourself."

2. Commercial Simplicity: Simplicity means there is a rapidly growing market for healthy and sustainable products and services of all kinds -- from home-building materials and energy systems to foods. When the need for a sustainable infrastructure in developing nations is combined with the need to retrofit and redesign the homes, cities, workplaces, and transportation systems of "developed" nations, then it is clear that an enormous expansion of highly purposeful economic activity will unfold with a shift toward sustainability.

3. Compassionate Simplicity: Simplicity means to feel such a sense of kinship with others that we "choose to live simply so that others may simply live." A compassionate simplicity means feeling a bond with the community of life and drawn toward a path of reconciliation -- with other species and future generations as well as, for example, between those with great differences of wealth and opportunity. A compassionate simplicity is a path of cooperation and fairness that seeks a future of mutually assured development for all.

4. Ecological Simplicity: Simplicity means to choose ways of living that touch the Earth more lightly and that reduce our ecological footprint. An ecological simplicity appreciates our deep interconnection with the web of life and is mobilized by threats to its well-being (such as climate change, species-extinction, and resource depletion). It also fosters "natural capitalism" or economic practices that value the importance of natural eco-systems and healthy people for a productive economy, from local to global.

5. Elegant Simplicity: Simplicity means that the way we live our lives represents a work of unfolding artistry. As Gandhi said, "My life is my message." In this spirit, an elegant simplicity is an understated, organic aesthetic that contrasts with the excess of consumerist lifestyles. Drawing from influences ranging from Zen to the Quakers, it celebrates natural materials and clean, functional expressions, such as are found in many of the hand-made arts and crafts from this community.

6. Frugal Simplicity: Simplicity means that, by cutting back on spending that is not truly serving our lives, and by practicing skillful management of our personal finances, we can achieve greater financial independence. Frugality and careful financial management bring increased financial freedom and the opportunity to more consciously choose our path through life. Living with less also decreases the impact of our consumption upon the Earth and frees resources for others.

7. Natural Simplicity: Simplicity means to remember our deep roots in the natural world. It means to experience our connection with the ecology of life in which we are immersed and to balance our experience of the human-created environments with time in nature. It also means to celebrate the experience of living through the miracle of the Earth's seasons. A natural simplicity feels a deep reverence for the community of life on Earth and accepts that the non-human realms of plants and animals have their dignity and rights as well the human.

8. Political Simplicity: Simplicity means organizing our collective lives in ways that enable us to live more lightly and sustainably on the Earth which, in turn, involves changes in nearly every area of public life -- from transportation and education to the design of our homes, cities, and workplaces. The politics of simplicity is also a media politics as the mass media are the primary vehicle for reinforcing -- or transforming -- the mass consciousness of consumerism. Political simplicity is a politics of conversations and community that builds from local, face-to-face connections to networks of relationships emerging around the world through the enabling power of television and the Internet.

9. Soulful Simplicity: Simplicity means to approach life as a meditation and to cultivate our experience of intimate connection with all that exists. A spiritual presence infuses the world and, by living simply, we can more directly awaken to the living universe that surrounds and sustains us, moment by moment. Soulful simplicity is more concerned with consciously tasting life in its unadorned richness than with a particular standard or manner of material living. In cultivating a soulful connection with life, we tend to look beyond surface appearances and bring our interior aliveness into relationships of all kinds.

10. Uncluttered Simplicity: Simplicity means taking charge of a life that is too busy, too stressed, and too fragmented. An uncluttered simplicity means cutting back on trivial distractions, both material and non-material, and focusing on the essentials -- whatever those may be for each of our unique lives. As Thoreau said, "Our life is frittered away by detail... Simplify, simplify." Or, as Plato wrote, "In order to seek one's own direction, one must simplify the mechanics of ordinary, everyday life."

Want to join me in this new year's wish for an artful, simple life? For some simplicity support see The Compact. For more art in your life try 14 Secrets for a Happy Artist's Life.