Tuesday, January 31, 2012


It was difficult for me to get to work today.  Or yesterday.  I spent a lot of time "getting organized".  And on Facebook.  And writing "important and necessary" emails about business issues.  Admittedly, the emails were important, but I knew them for what they were - diversions from the work I really WANT to be doing.

There are times when it's difficult to paint because I am afraid to be with the feelings that painting brings up.  Painting is like meditation - an opportunity for previously veiled/denied/hidden feelings to arise because nothing else is there to distract me.  Sure, I'm thinking about hue and value and shape and line and form, but there's plenty of room between those thoughts for feelings to arise.

And my feelings lately have been challenging.  My father died about a month ago.  He'd had Alzheimer's disease for a long time - 7 or 8 years perhaps - so he hadn't been "himself" for a very long time - hadn't even known me for a couple of years.  His wife told me he'd go around the house calling me and my sister at times, but he couldn't name who I was for anything.  So I'd been dealing with the loss of him for a long time.  It is surprising to me to have strong feelings about it now that he's actually died.  Perhaps it's because it put a lid on it.  The finality.  The end.  There's no way some miracle drug can bring him back anymore - not that it ever could, but hope springs eternal.

I can hardly imagine a disease worse than Alzheimer's except perhaps for ALS which relentlessly takes the body while the mind is still intact.  Alzheimer's attacks the mind relentlessly, offering a glimpse into the sufferer's mind every so often, but mostly advancing without pause through memories and abilities and words, then it marches directly into the body and shuts it down, finally, thank God, after taking all there is to take of the brain.  I found it horrifying to watch his demise.  Each time I would see him, he had lost more words, more abilities.  Oddly, though, his gestures and tone of voice remained.  So, though he was speaking nonsense words, his tone of voice remained so I could often tell what he was saying anyway.

Exceedingly articulate throughout his life, Dad suffered particularly cruelly with this disease which first took his ability to find just the right word.  For several years he knew it was coming and the anxiety attending its approach was great.  I was grateful for him when he got to the point where he no longer realized what was happening.  He still knew he couldn't say what he wanted to and would get frustrated, but at least he didn't know he was becoming disabled more and more each day.  Instead he'd shrug his shoulders and say, "Oh well, I don't know that word now.  Blah, la-la-la-blah!"

Eventually the disease began taking away his automatic processes like walking and even swallowing.  That was when the end was very near.  He could no longer control his movement and began pounding his hands into his stomach.  His face contorted into a grimace.  Beautifully, though, right before that final step, he saw his wife and knew her one last time.  He was able to get out his last words to her, "I love you."

Who knows where his mind was or his soul?  Yet even with all that he was present enough to let her know he loved her.  What a gift.

My last visit with him I held his hand and sang to him, songs he'd song to me as a child.  His eyes were closed when I got there but eventually he opened them and looked into my eyes intensely, locked into mine completely.  It was clear to me that he knew me.  It was a gift to be able to see him at that point and to say goodbye.  It was painful to see his body so decimated, but oddly, through all that, his soul was still present, and we were able to meet at that level and say what we needed to say.

I miss the man I knew in my childhood, the man who played endlessly with me and my siblings, who sang and danced in plays, who told stories in my classrooms, who made me feel as adorable and loved as a person can feel.  I'm thankful his body is free of its constraints now.  I wish him well on his journey.

I am thankful for painting which allows me to express everything I just did but wordlessly.  It allows me to be with the feelings, to weep as I paint when I need to, to hover in and out of the grief then sway into hue and form and line then back into tears and sadness.  

Sunday, January 29, 2012

The Best of Beyond Barbie

A couple of months ago a woman from Chesterfield County's Chesterfield Domestic and Sexual Violence Resource Center contacted me to ask if I would be interested in organizing a Best of Beyond Barbie show to be sponsored by her department and perhaps by the Women of Color Caucus of the Virginia Sexual and Domestic Violence Action Alliance, and Virginia State University as well.  

I am delighted to announce that we are making it happen!  Here's the information!

Saturday, April 14, from 7-9 PM, at Holiday Inn Koger Center South off of Midlothian Turnpike, near Johnston Willis Hospital.  Tickets $10, available at the door.

The following performers will grace the stage:
Gaye Adegbalola and The Wild Roots, Blues Singers
Megan Hicks, storyteller
Dawn Flores, artist, dancer, poet, activist
Denise Bennett, storyteller, musician
Karen Morris, Eating Disorders Activist
Frances Wessells, 92-year-old dancer
Jennifer Jurlando, writer
Lisette Johnson, blogger and Domestic Abuse survivor
and yours truly, artist, writer, activist

Though we're calling it The Best of Beyond Barbie, I'm realizing that almost none of the acts will be exactly the same as at Beyond Barbie.  Almost every person is creating or presenting a new piece for this show so whether you were at our other performances or not, there will be much newness to experience!  The show will have some focus on Domestic Violence and Sexual Abuse since that department is sponsoring it, but primarily it will focus on how glorious it is to be a woman, how empowering, how wonderful, how rich and fulfilling.

I will post more information as it becomes available.  I hope to see you there!

Wednesday, January 25, 2012

Yes, this is me 2

I've just finished working on "Yes, this is me 2".  This version probably looks a lot like the first one I posted a few days ago, but there are a fair number of subtle differences which I think improve the piece.  I outlined my entire body, for example, so that, even though it's disappearing into the dark, you can still discern where the legs, hip, other breast, and arm belong.  It's subtle, but I think it helps.  I also worked on some details on my face.  I had had the nose too small so I brought it down a bit and worked on the shape of the lips.  It's very difficult for me to discern those issues, so I'm grateful to Chris, my husband, who can see them in a heartbeat and is generous enough to point them out.  
I've enjoyed creating this piece.  It has felt like a labor of love.  My dad's death, though somewhat expected since he died from complications of 7-8 years of living with Alzheimer's, has been painful.  I'm learning that the death of any close relative or friend will bring up many, many emotions.  That sounds obvious - grief, of course, is the main emotion - but it is also an opportunity to look at relationships, not only with the deceased, but also with other family members.  I have had many opportunities to work with my feelings these past few weeks.  This painting is but one of many vehicles for doing so.

When I was painting it, I felt happy, content, absorbed, intent.  As usual, I focused on the hue, form, shadow, line - the artistic elements - but occasionally the power of the image would assert itself and I would experience a surge of compassion for myself, for my father, for my other family members who are also grieving.  It was deeply moving and healing to create this painting.

I look forward to having it in the show in Williamsburg in Feb: From Hurt to Harmony. 

Tuesday, January 24, 2012

From Hurt to Harmony: Body Image and Consciousness in Transition

I have a show coming up at the Linda Matney Gallery in Williamsburg, VA. The opening is Sunday, Feb 12, from 2-5 PM.  We'll be giving a gallery talk at 3.  Hope to see you there!   Here's the information about it:

Because art is a reflection of the state of the artist's soul, it is often a tool for healing - both of the artist and the observer. The pieces on display in From Hurt to Harmony: Body Image and Consciousness in Transition reflect the individual journeys of two artists as they work with their humanness and reach towards wholeness.

John Lee Matney first recognized the intersection of psychology and fashion photography in 1993 when he started his fashion photography business.  Developing his photography in Atlanta was a highly rewarding experience as he discovered international models and opportunities to cover fashion shows where designers such as such as Versace were featured. Matney continues to be in contact with celebrated Atlanta creatives in his consulting business and has seen growth toward a more international sensibility in fashion and art in Virginia such as Ann Leister’s Virginia Fashion Week. Coinciding with the beginning of his fashion business, he developed new personal work featuring the figure – a blend of his work in fashion and his fascination with psychology.
Shelia by Lee Matney

Matney says, “My work in From Hurt to Harmony explores my preoccupation with the mysteries of the psyche and how we perceive our bodies. It mirrors transformative experiences where various elements are projected through time – archaic elements, alienation, and danger, to mention a few. Many of my images play with the edge between safety and danger and psychological states which are recurring themes in my work. As the years have gone by, I have begun creating pieces - photographs, mostly - which focus on a reconciliation of the individual with a more universal and objective view of social awareness. The show will document these aspects of my journey as an artist and a person”.
detail from Singer's newest work

Since she began creating art, Susan Singer has always used images of the human form to work through hurts in her own life. She first drew miniature graphite images of the pregnant form in an attempt to come to terms with feelings she had when she was pregnant. Later, after her son’s life-saving spinal surgery which left him with an 8-inch scar, she drew that scar and those of others as a way to
integrate the fear she had experienced during his operation into acceptance of his newly limited abilities. Her next foray was into the world of male nudes. She was frustrated by the objectification of women by the media and so chose to objectify men to point out the absurdity of objectifying anyone. Responses to that series
were quick to arise, intense, and fascinating. Next she chose to address the way the media portrays women more directly. She began painting life-size canvases of women of all sizes, shapes, ages, and races and to paint them in all their joy and glory and power. It is her hope that these images will replace those in the media and give women and men something different, more attainable and realistic, to reach for.

From Hurt to Harmony will include images from Singer’s Twelve Naked Men series as well as many of her most recent female nudes. They, along with Lee Matney’s collection of portraits, photographs, and multi-media pieces chronicle the journeys of these two multi-talented, intensely thoughtful artists as they work through their personal and societal hurts and reach towards a place of greater consciousness and harmony.

While knowing the psychological underpinnings of these works is helpful in creating a broader context for them, it isn't necessary for enjoying them. Each image stands alone as a powerful beacon of aesthetic beauty and provocation, powerful for the personhood portrayed in each. This show will give the viewer
a chance to explore the artists' psyches, to observe their unique journeys, then to delve into their own perceptions and feelings and judgments about the human form. Opening Reception is Sun, Feb 12 from 2-5 PM at the Linda Matney Gallery at 5435 Richmond Rd, Suite A, Williamsburg, VA 23188. The show will be on display through March 14. Gallery hours are Tuesday-Saturday 10am-12pm, 2pm- 5pm. Special viewing appointments are available.

For more information about the gallery or Lee Matney’s work, please contact him per email at lmgfineart@gmail.com.

For more information about Susan Singer’s art, please contact her per email at SusanSingerArt@msn.com.
Many thanks for your interest in this show!

Monday, January 23, 2012

How can you charge so much for a painting???!

A few weeks ago I was excited and delighted to find out I got a piece of art into a show in Oregon.  I live in Virginia.  There's a lot of road between the two.  It took me a while to get up the energy to pack up my 22"x22" framed canvas and take it to the UPS store to be mailed.  Once there, it took me a while to swallow the costs associated with mailing the piece to Oregon and to decide to send the darn thing!  At that point, I thought it might be interesting to blog about why art is so expensive.  I'm guessing that most non-artists don't have a very good idea of all that's involved in getting a painting from concept to gallery, so here goes...

Concept:  I read in Professional Artist ($37/year, 2 hours to read) about a show at the Foundry Gallery in Washington, DC which sounded right up my alley - Celebrating Gay Marriage.  The problem was I didn't have any pictures which would work for a painting about gay marriage.  I wrote an email to my wonderful contact at the Gay Community Center of Richmond (20 min) asking her if she knew anyone she thought might be willing to/interested in modeling for me for this show.  She put out an email to the community and, serendipitously, within 20 minutes I received an email from a woman who said she and her partner would be interested.  I wrote her back immediately to set up a time for them to come over (I was under a huge time constraint since the entry was due in 3 weeks, and I had to paint the darn thing!  (30 min for emailing, organizing).  10 days later, the couple showed up with props and great ideas, and we had a wonderful photography session.  (3 hours).  I gave them a CD of their pictures in exchange for their posing for me.  ($2)  

The next day I spent some time (3 hours) going through the images, sorting out which ones I like best, which ones I could use (no faces), which ones I could do given the time constraints, then cropping and preparing the piece, applying a grid, printing out the prints. ($5)   Then it was Chris's turn - he made me a canvas 18"x18" - small so I could get it done quickly.  ($3 for canvas, $5 sticks and hardware, 3 hours).  I photographed them 11/15.  I started painting them 11/21.  I worked that entire day on the canvas and got mostly finished.  (8 hours)  The next two days I spent a couple of hours/day refining it and finishing it up. (4 hours)  Back to Chris who made a frame for it ($5 wood, 5 hours routing the wood, fitting it to the canvas, me staining it the right color, attaching hardware).  I photographed the piece (20 minutes), worked with the photos to get the perfect version, adjusted the color, cropped it just right, put it in the correct format for this particular contest (each contest has different requirements) (1 hour), put the picture on a CD, wrote my artist statement for this particular show, focused towards Gay Marriage (1.5 hours), filled out all the other application stuff for this show (1 hour), wrote my models to ask them to prepare a statement for me to send along ($35 application fee, 10 min, then 20 min to edit, put in right format, include in application), received their statement, prepared it for application, prepared application for mailing (30 min), put the thing in the mail - finally!

Then came the waiting...  (that doesn't count for the time count!)  A few weeks later I was thrilled to receive notification that my piece had been accepted and would need to be at the Foundry Gallery on a certain day at a certain time.  I drove it up to DC (160 miles R/T @$.40/mile = $64, lunch $15, 6 hours) and dropped it off.  A week later Chris and I went to the opening. ($64 travel, $50 dinner, 9 hours) The models went as well - it was absolutely wonderful to have them there!  A couple of friends came too - it was a great time!   The wonderful thing that happened that night (besides the delight of being with friends seeing terrific art) was that my piece won 2nd prize which came with a $200 check!  That helped balance the costs a bit.

At the end of the show, I had to retrieve the piece ($64 travel, $10 lunch, 6 hours).  

For a time, that was it.  It spent time on my wall being enjoyed by me and my family (and hopefully by visitors to our home as well!)

I put it into a show at Crossroads Art Center - I figured if it won a prize in a National Show, it might have a good chance of winning in a local show.  ($10 entry fee, $6.40 travel, 2 hours).  I won Honorable Mention (no prize money, just glory) ($6.40 travel, 4 hours for reception).  I picked it up two months later.  ($6.40 travel, 2 hours)

Another quiet period.  Then I put it into Not Barbie, but I won't count the costs involved with that because they were so complicated, and so many pieces were involved, but it included the following:
  1. creating and printing and mailing and otherwise distributing postcards  
  2. writing all the copy for the advertising 
  3. creating Beyond Barbie, organizing it
  4. being interviewed by the press
  5. transporting and hanging the show
  6. the opening
  7. each night of Beyond Barbie
  8. taking down and transporting the show back home

If I consider what it cost to put on Not Barbie, it would probably be close to $600, 50 pieces, or about $11/piece.   The time is incalculable, but it took me a solid 5 months of 8-12 hour days painting, marketing, writing, etc.  I don't mean to give the impression that I am sorry about any of this - I loved almost every minute of it!  I'm just trying to give a full and detailed, comprehensive list of what goes into the cost of a painting.

Once the piece was back home from Not Barbie, I heard about a show at Clatsop Community College in Astoria, Oregon called Au Naturel.  (Professional Artist $37/year, 1 hour reading) and decided to apply to it with three pieces:  Susie Kissing Sally, Woman with a Hat, and Che'.  The process of processing the pictures to upload, writing the artist statement, filling out other paperwork took about 1 hour and the application fee was $35.  It was all online so it was a bit less time-consuming than finding an envelop, putting stuff on a CD, going to the P.O., etc.

The administrator there was exceedingly helpful and friendly, so when I applied to have a solo show there with my nudes, it was a delight filling out all that paperwork, etc.  (That show may or may not include Susie Kissing Sally, so I won't include it in the time needed.)

I found out I got in the show with Susie Kissing Sally, but not with the other two.  That was kind of funny, actually - I was checking my email early one morning and saw one was from Au Naturel.  I clicked on it - rejection letter.  Well, that happens.  Here's what I read:
This year’s juror, Bonnie Laing-Malcolmson, The Arlene and Harold Schnitzer Curator of Northwest Art at the Portland Art Museum, was faced with a very difficult task, and after much deliberation, 52 works of art were selected from over 700 images submitted by nearly 200 artists from 35 states plus international submissions from Japan, India, Denmark, Italy, and Canada. The 2012 exhibit will represent 48 artists from 18 states as well as international artists from Canada and Denmark.

Those are high, very high, odds, so I didn't feel so bad.  Then I noticed another email - from the same place.  I thought about deleting it, but went ahead and opened it.  The first paragraph was the same then I read:
Congratulations! We are pleased to inform you that your work specified above has been selected for the exhibit. Please mark these important dates on your calendar:

Wow!  That was exciting!  Glad I opened the email!  (5 minutes - very valuable 5 minutes!)

From there it took a while to post it on Facebook and to email my husband, etc. , but I won't count that time since it wasn't necessary!

Getting the piece ready to ship - I had to find a box, find packing material, modify it, pack the piece in it safely.  My resistance to doing all that definitely took longer than the actually work doing it!  I was very thankful to find a box I could mail it in - one from Dick Blick in which I had received paper.  I also found some foam to protect the painting with on both sides and the edges.  (1.5 hours to pack)  Next step was to take it to UPS to mail it.  That's where I almost had a conniption fit.  I was stunned to find out it cost $19 each way to mail it and $16 to insure it each way, or $70 total to get the piece to Oregon and back.  OUCH.  Double ouch.  Triple ouch.  I have a thing about paying for postage - I don't like to do it - don't know why - it goes back to being a kid - it always seemed outrageous to buy stamps even though I LOVED to write and receive letters.  I swallowed my horror and paid the daggone $70 then left, feeling like I was stomping out of there like a petulant kid.  Hopefully I managed to hide those feelings at least til I got out of the door!

So...  that's the reckoning of costs so far for this one painting.  $304.20, 66.25 hours.

I have chosen to charge $1500 for the painting.  The gallery retains 40% of that or $600.  That means IF it sells, I would receive $900 for the painting.  (The postage and insurance I already paid will go to waste - no way to re-use it.)  

$900 - $304.20 (expenses) = $595.80 profit / 66.25 hours = $8.99/hour

The almost $600 probably sounds like a decent amount to make on a painting until you consider the time that goes into it - 66.25 hours in this case.  Then it's only $8.99/hour!  To make that amount of money, I could work at Target working as a cashier.

Again, I don't mean to complain - I love my work.  I don't want to be doing anything else.  I want to be a full time artist.  I just thought it might be helpful/interesting/fascinating to find out what sort of time and effort goes into creating and selling a painting  and why they cost so much! 

Sunday, January 22, 2012

Translating emotion onto the canvas

I have just spent a good amount of time writing to try to explain the piece I've painted the last few days.  I erased it. I realize I don't know what to say about it.  It's a self-portrait.  It depicts some emotions I've experienced recently.  It's been a painful time in many ways for several reasons I choose not to go into here.  This painting is an attempt to flood myself with compassion for the experience and to love myself deeply through it.  I use art as a way to come to terms with my feelings, to process emotions, to get out my sadness and grief and anger, to express my joy and fascination with the world, to delight in the beauty of the world.  It is the way I experience and process my life.

I would like to know what you experience when you see this picture if you feel like sharing.  I don't know how it appears to others...

Monday, January 16, 2012

Fine Art America

I spent much of the day today uploading pictures onto a website I just found out about yesterday.  It gives me the opportunity to offer prints on paper and canvas of my work at very reasonable prices.  I have uploaded 33 images so far, a couple of which don't seem to have worked - gives me something to do tomorrow!  I plan to upload 20 or so more in the next few days. 

I would be quite honored if you would take the time to check out the website and to let me know what you think - is it easy to navigate?   What do you think of the prices?  Would you consider buying art this way?  Are you glad to know you can get reproductions of my work for significantly less than the originals cost or do you prefer to own an original?

I uploaded the stories the models wrote about their experiences modeling for me or how they feel about their bodies or whatever they were generous enough to write to accompany their paintings.  Do you think folks will read them, or are they too long? 

I'm open to any and all feedback!


Here's the link:  http://fineartamerica.com/profiles/1-susan-singer.html

Tuesday, January 10, 2012

Good art day as the holidays finally fade away

Well, I guess the holidays are finally over, and life is starting to resume its normal rhythm.  In the past, the holidays have consisted of the time I had off from school, recovering from the rush and serious hard work of tutoring up to 10 hours/day to prepare students for exams.  It seemed like the vacation was barely over before I was back at work tutoring again.  This year, in strong contrast, I am no longer tutoring.  For the first time in my life since I was two and a half years old, I'm not on a schedule which is tied to the academic year.  It's a very strange feeling.  Normally I get cues that it's time to put up a tree when I see one in the hall at school.  I talk to colleagues about their holiday plans.  I go to the chapel service at school to hear the choir sing carols, or my kids are in school and I hear their PTA choir performance with the carefully selected diversity of tunes including Hanukkah and Kwanza.  This year we didn't put up a tree.  The kids traveled with their Dad.  Chris and I went to the beach where it's possible to miss the holidays completely.  We bought a few presents but not many.  We focused on the sacred aspects of the season, attuning ourselves to the goodness surrounding us and the beauty in our lives.

Shifting my focus from one of ritualistic consumerism to sacred awareness made me very aware of the way the world, well, at least the US, almost stops for about a month.  There are holiday parties, there's the rush of buying the right presents, cleaning the house to prepare for company, getting ready for family, stress, stress, stress.  I would email people to set up an appointment or would have ones set up for photographing a model or whatever and people would cancel/not be able to set one up until after the holidays - too much going on.  I felt like a detached observer and was surprised to see all the hustle and bustle and what a black hole was created around these celebrations - Thanksgiving, Christmas, New Years, and to a lesser extent Hanukkah and Kwanza.  I don't really want to take part in all that, but it isn't really possible to continue interacting with others until after the rush is over.

This week it feels like things are starting to get back to normal.  I started teaching a Beginning Drawing Class at Crossroads Art Center.  It felt great to get into the classroom and to teach again.  It's the first time I've taught Beginning Drawing, and it's great!  8 students, 5 of whom are raw beginners and a bit worried about messing up.  The way I teach there's no way to screw up - it's all about learning to see in a different way and teaching ones hand to translate that onto paper.  I look forward to the next 5 weeks of class!

After class, I returned home to tutor - yes, tutor!  One of my former students asked me to help her prepare for the SAT for a month.  Since I am crazy about her and enjoy her company so much, I said yes.  It was great to see her.  Then I prepared to teach a teenager art.  Unfortunately he got caught at the doctor's office so he wasn't able to make it - I found out when he was over an hour late.  That's part of tutoring which I don't miss at all!  Once I started getting the sense he might not show up, I decided to start on a new canvas.  I'd drawn the image on a month or more ago, but I put it aside to work on some other pieces in the meantime.  This afternoon I received the write-up the model wrote for me about her experience.  She inspired the heck out of me and made me excited to work on her piece.  Here's part of what she wrote:

I had been ashamed of my body for so many years, this just added to my disappointment. Then a friend posted something on Facebook, about a talented artist in Richmond, who paints female nudes, and shows us that we are all beautiful in our imperfection, we don't need a "perfect body" to be gorgeous! I was hooked! It was the awakening I needed-I no longer had to feel ashamed of my body...and something shot through me like a jolt!! I wanted to be a model! I never in my entire life would have believed that I would undress in front of anyone, and give her permission to paint my image, and show it in shows if she wished, but that's exactly what I did! What a freeing experience! Susan helped me to accept myself for who I am, and to love the body God gave me, and to accept both the imperfections He gave me, and the ones I created.
I am free-perhaps for the very first time-and it is an amazing feeling! Thank you, Susan, for helping me learn to love myself. It hasn't been easy to stop being self-critical, but I am getting better every day, because I now know-that I am indeed beautiful!
 After reading that, I'm sure you can understand my inspiration!  

 Here's the progress so far.  This model was bold enough to have me photograph her outside on one of the beautiful, absurdly warm days of Fall.  I haven't painted such an elaborate background before, with an abundance of nature all around.  It was fun trying to figure out how to create the illusion of leaves and branches, etc. without driving myself nuts painting each and every leaf. 

Tomorrow I hope to spend time cleaning up the background then moving on to her beautiful body.  It feels good to be back at the canvas, back in the classroom, back to the lovely rhythms of my life as an artist.

Monday, January 9, 2012

The Artist's Creed

One of my students sent me this Artist's Creed.  She has it posted in her studio where she reads it daily.  I encourage you to do the same, to give yourself permission to be the artist you know you are.

I believe I am worth the time it takes to create whatever I feel called to create.
I believe that my work is worthy of its own space, which is worthy of the name Sacred.
I believe that, when I enter this space, I have the right to work in silence, uninterrupted, for as long as I choose.
I believe that the moment I open myself to the gifts of the Muse, I open myself to the Source of All Creation and become one with the Mother of Life Itself.
I believe that my work is joyful, useful, and constantly changing, flowing through me like a river with no beginning and no end.
I believe that what it is I am called to do will make itself known when I have made myself ready.
I believe that the time I spend creating my art is as precious as the time I spend giving to others.
I believe that what truly matters in the making of art is not what the final piece looks like or sounds like, not what it is worth or not worth, but what newness gets added to the universe in the process of the piece itself becoming.
I believe that I am not alone in my attempts to create, and that once I begin the work, settle into the strangeness, the words will take shape, the form find life, and the spirit take flight.
I believe that as the Muse gives to me, so does she deserve from me:  faith, mindfulness, and enduring commitment.
                                                                                                                                                     Jan Phillips

Sunday, January 8, 2012

Christmas Eve and Christmas morning at the Beach

For Christmas Eve, Chris and I went to the Sound and sat in meditation for an hour from 4:20 to 5:20 as the sun set.  It was a glorious, spectacular display of ever-changing beauty.  I invoked the fellowship of Quaker Meeting in Richmond (they were meeting at the same time) and reveled in the gorgeous display in the clouds and on the water.  Grief over my father's death two days before and worries about what was to come crossed through my mind, but I chose to replace those thoughts with awareness of the beauty and sacredness of the moment.

Written on Christmas morning:
Right now I am watching pure beauty unfold as the sun rises over the dunes in front of me.  I see a sliver of orange light at the edge of a slender purple cloud.  The sky above it is beginning to take on shades of neutral, then green, then brilliant aqua then light cerulean.  I have no shade for the green among my paints - it's the same hue as was in the sunset yesterday.  Birds by my window, many of them, awaken to partake in the feast they can now see arrayed before them.

Wisps of clouds drift through the horizontal sky.  Small puffs up high reflect the orange glow beginning to ascend over the horizon, purple on the top where they still reflect the night just passed.

These moments between day and night and night and day hold such magical beauty, such vivid displays of color and intensity.  Perhaps transitions are such - birth and death seem to be equally full of richness and an awareness of the Divine.  How else to explain the infinite variety of exquisite?  One simple sunrise is more satisfying than the entire stable of Oscar-winning movies since The Academy began their awards.  And such promise each one holds.  A fresh start to a new day.  Clean, clear, washing everything with the brilliant glow of the almost infinite power of the sun.  How logical for our ancestors to have worshiped the sun!

Even on overcast days, the sun offers a glow through the grey, a hope of beauty, and, always, Light.  Light that illumines all things and displays the Truth of them for all to see.  Light I hope to shine onto the sadness and grief present in my life right now.

The sun is rising.  I can no longer look at it - its glare would hurt my eyes, so direct and bright has it become on its journey to illumine our entire world.  It casts a pink/orange glow on the large white house in front of me, standing sentinel over the dunes.  The sky is taking on its daytime blue, tinged only slightly by green now.  The puffs of clouds have changed to light yellow underneath, their grey more green than purple.  The orange cast to the horizon has been dulled to pale blue, almost neutral, by the sun's brilliance.  The powerful yellow white orb has wiped out the quiet intense colors of dawn to shed its stronger light on the world.

It feels too direct, too bright in this moment as it shines its beam directly into this room, onto this bed, into my eyes, casting a strong shadow through the railings of the deck.  I am beginning to feel the heat of the rays on my face.  I notice the parallelogram patterns of sun and shadow against deck floorboards and the salty residue shining almost opaque in the window.  The shadows from the rails allow me more visibility through the glass to the outside world.

The sun is an inch above the dunes.

Fear of situations in my daily life intrudes.  My stomach feels the rush of adrenalin.

I return to the scene outside the window.  More beauty is there for the awareness than anything I could imagine in my mind, especially these days as my mind runs amok with worry and despair.

Perhaps this Christmas is about the birth of a deeper God-consciousness within me.  Perhaps it is the chance to live more aware, more in the moment, with greater gratitude for and awareness of God's presence.  A complete surrender to his Will, complete Trust in divine goodness, and Trust that joy and happiness are more present when I open my heart fully to God.

The sun is shining brightly on my face now, warming it, causing me to keep my eyes downcast so I don't burn my retinas.  Maybe that was the metaphor for God in the Bible - the Israelites weren't supposed to look directly at God - perhaps he was embodied in the sun for them.  That makes sense to me.

God, bless us as we go through the day.  Help me feel the ultimate gift of your presence.  Help me retain the knowledge of your presence as I am confronted with my fear and sadness.  Blessed be.

Friday, January 6, 2012

Contemplations on a Beach Vacation

This was written Dec 16 before I left for a week at the Outer Banks, NC.

I'm going to the Beach Sunday.  My soul is already there.  I've already slowed my senses down to take in the vast nothingness of the waves and water and sand and sky.  I want to take my camera and paints and pads and pens and I don't want to take anything. I want hours of nothingness, staring into the repetitive roll of wave after wave assuring me that my life is not my own - I came from the stars and will return there.  Meanwhile I have choice and love and patience to explore. I  have my senses to show me the creativity of the Universe.  I hesitate to mention God, but I believe in God.  I believe in a God who is my best friend, my closest confident, my greatest comfort, my biggest cheerleader, my adviser and quiet witness to all that I do and all that I am.  He is the parent I've longed for and have always had within me.  Even as a child, I felt cradled by his presence, never alone and scared - alone and anxious, unsure what to do or how to handle a given situation, but solidly knowing I am not alone.  When I listen, God is immediately there for me, telling me what I need to know or what to do next.  I draw my inspiration from listening to God.  I follow leadings from God and, on perfect days, I allow myself to open up to God's creativity and channel that.  My best art comes directly from God.  My desire to change women's body consciousness comes from God.  My blessings come from God.  And I also believe my challenges come from God, giving me opportunities to love more deeply and with greater awareness of the frailty of our humanity.

I often wish I cold overcome my humanity and embody more God-like qualities.  I wish I had an open door forgiveness policy.  I wish I could immediately glean the lessons being offered in challenging situations.  I wish my heart were as big as God's.  I wish I could incorporate God-consciousness into everything I do, say, think or feel.

That is why I am going to the beach on Sunday - to be a hermit, away from the pulls of my human life, to a place where I can more easily focus on what really matters to me.  I want to drop everything and become conscious of my breath, of the pull of my eyelids towards sleep, of the yearnings of my body for specific nutrients, of my soul for the roar of the ocean, the moon rising over the water, the crash of the surf as it and I play tag, me screeching as it gets me, it roaring in fake scariness as it plunges towards me then just as quickly pulls away.

I breathe deeply, settling into the slow goodness of it all.

Wednesday, January 4, 2012

A Caring Touch

One of my models, Karen Morris, wrote about her experience modeling for me.  She says it so eloquently, there's really nothing I need to add.  Thank you, Karen, for the gift of your words and of your presence in my  life.  You have become a dear friend.