Thursday, December 27, 2012

Arriving in India

I've just returned from sixteen amazing days in India.  India overloads your senses, and opens your heart to ways of seeing and being that you didn't know you were capable of.  There are no words or images that can fully describe the experience of India.  Life feels different - that may be because the drivers have you wondering whether you will make it back home, or it may be because there is color and beauty in the most unexpected places, or it could be that you don't usually life at the heightened state that life in India demands.

What really made my trip remarkable was the wonderful itinerary planned by Namaste India Tours and our wonderful driver and guide, Sanjay Kumar.  From fetching me at the airport at 2 a.m. (after waiting for two hours because my flight was late arriving), to giving wise advice for staying safe in the large cities, to educating us with the history of the places we visited and the customs of the people, to stopping the car every time he sighted a new bird or animal (I had told him my husband was a keen birder and loved wildlife), to checking that we were happy with our hotel rooms, and to furnishing a place of refuge from the crowds and the hawkers in the backseat of the wonderful old Ambassador car that was our transport, Sanjay was an amazing  host and friend to us.  I would highly recommend Namaste India Tours for their professionalism (they gave us a cellphone to use should we get lost or be uncomfortable at any time), the hotels they chose were just great (and all had flush toilets!)  In addition, the owner of the company, Jawahar Lal Rana, checked in with us four times during the trip to make sure everything was going well.

Because of the sense of overwhelm when you arrive in India, I believe having a reliable tour operator is essential.

We traveled approximately 4,800 miles during our trip which started in New Delhi, and took us to Jhunjhunu, Bikaner, Khuri, Jaisalmer, Jodphur, Udaipur, Pushkar, Jaipur, Fatehpur Sikiri,  Agra and back to Delhi to fly home.  We experienced only a small part of India, the part known as Rajasthan or the land of the Maharajas, which is situate in the North Western part of the country (circled in white on the map below).  The ancient architecture and history of the area is rich and well worth seeing and experiencing.  Enormous forts can be found in most of the centers, and one has to marvel at how they were built so many hundreds of years ago and survive to this day.

How does one share the richness of character that is India?  It certainly can't be shared in one blog post - this is the first of many to share my trip so I can experience it again in memory.   Keith Bellows of National Geographic describes India so well in these words: "There are some parts of the world that, once visited, get into your heart and won't go.  For me, India is such a place.  When I first visited, I was stunned by the richness of the land, by its lush beauty and exotic architecture, by its ability to overload the senses with the pure, concentrated intensity of its colors, smells, tastes, and sounds ... I had been seeing the world in black and white and, when brought face-to-face with India, experienced everything re-rendered in brilliant technicolor."

Sunday, October 28, 2012

SoulCollage® as Oracle

OracleALL - 2011 SoulCollage(R) Facilitators' Conference from SoulCollage on Vimeo.

I am so often asked to describe what SoulCollage® is.  The problem is that words don't fully express the magical process of discovery that takes place through making and speaking from the SoulCollage® cards.  This video, created by SoulCollage® Facilitator, Sue Gelber, is a deep and meaningful discussion of SoulCollage® as well as a sharing of how the SoulCollage® community use their cards to grow and expand.  It is almost an hour long, but well worth the time.  You will find yourself looking at the world in a new way after viewing the video.

Sunday, October 7, 2012

Singing from the Soul

While exploring the archetype of the Healer, I learned that indigenous healers ask four questions of a person who is miserable and disheartened.  These questions are:

When did you last dance?
When did you last sing?
When did you last listen to a story?
When did you last spend time in silence?
This made me think of how much I loved singing in my school choir, and reminded me that I very seldom sing out loud anymore.  I sing in my head, but seldom let the words and sounds vibrate through my body.  I want to change that, but I've become self-conscious of my voice.
So I did what I usually do when I want to explore something I would like to change in my life.  I made a SoulCollage® card.  And this is what the card said to me:
I am the one who raises my voice to the heavens by the singing of sacred words.  I am the one whose voice sparkles with joy and praise. I am the one who has used the magic of sound since the beginning of time.  I am the one who knows the energetic vibration of sound.
I give you the knowing that your voice contains magic.  It is a connection to the realm of source.  I give you the reminder that opening your mouth and letting sound vibrate into the air around you will heal your body.
I want you to sing and chant.  I want you to remember how much you loved singing as a child, how much you loved being part of a choir.  There is no need to be self-conscious.  You can sing when you are alone.  Enjoy letting the vibrations of your voice travel within your body.
It is time to start singing!

Thursday, August 23, 2012

The Healing Arts

At the deepest level, the creative process and the healing process arise from a single source. When you are an artist, you are a healer; a wordless trust of the same mystery is the foundation of your work and its integrity.
Rachel Naomi Remen

This week I focused on the archetype of the Healer in a class I taught, so when this quote found me this morning it really resonated within me.  I have found that creating is a deeply healing process for me - one which allows me to connect to a sense of wonder and awe.

The image is my SoulCollage® Healer card.  On it is a traditional African Healer or Shaman, and the card speaks to me of the connection between wholeness and wonder.  Wonder in sun that rises each day, in the dew that forms on the grass, in the sparkles created by the moon, in our bodies - our hearts which beat, our eyes that see ... there is so much to appreciate. When I focus on just how magical and beautiful our world is, a sense of gratitude wells up within me, and that in itself is healing.

Sunday, July 15, 2012

Treasures of Imperfection

One of my favorite places to visit with my camera is Cline's Country Antiques in Mt. Pleasant, NC, affectionately known as "The Junk Farm".  You can find all manner of unusual and interesting items here, many of them in stages of deterioration.  It is the perfect place to photograph textures as rusty items and peeling paint abound. In fact the chair and the old tricycle on pages 122 and 123 of The Creative Photographer were photographed at Cline's Country Antiques.

Why photograph old things? I talk about my feelings about old things on page 122 of The Creative Photographer: 

"Old things seem to hold the energy of all those who held them or beheld them.  They have a story, a history.  They were once useful or meaningful, and now they have been left to disintegrate.  They can remind us of the inevitable journey of the human body.  Keep your eyes open for these hidden treasures of imperfection.  Visit an old junkyard and look at the junk in a new way.  Think about the "life" it had before it was discarded.  Photograph these things in such a way that you focus on the beauty in their degeneration."

And, if you don't have space to collect and store old things in your home, making photographs of them is a fun way to start a collection.  I have a great collection of old chairs which I have made into a Tag Book, and after my last visit to Cline's Country Antiques, I now have enough photographs of rocking horses to start a new collection!  What might you like to start a photograph collection of?

How about a show of hands?  (Also found at Cline's!)

Friday, July 13, 2012

Summer and Slow Photography

Once photography was no longer my daily business, I slowly began to use it as a way to find myself again.  When my cameras were my "work tools" I found I wanted a break from them when I wasn't working and so I found that I only made photographs for myself when I was away from my daily life.

Now I often find myself content to sit watching something with my camera on my lap waiting for the intuitive connection between my subject and myself.  But I wasn't always able to allow myself to slow down and do this.

To get to this place of "slow photography" I suggest in the Exploration on page 134 of The Creative Photographer that you:

"put on music that speaks to you, perhaps something without words to distract you and loud enough to drown out any other noises.  Then, take your camera and sit in front of an object you have decided you want to photograph.  Take a photograph of this object every five minutes for an hour (a total of 12 images).  In between, just look at the object, contemplate it, and listen to the music."

Doesn't that sound like a perfect way to spend a summer day?

In addition I suggest you "think about where the object came from, how many hands it passed through to get to you, whether it has been touched by the sun or the earth, by ocean, river or stream.  Think about its symbolic meaning ..."

After all, as Jan Phillips so eloquently reminds us: "We photographers are poets in the language of symbols."

(And if you want to know what the Buddha is holding, it is a stone with the words "Embrace Love" stamped on the stone)

Wednesday, July 11, 2012

New Perspectives

In Chapter 6 of The Creative Photographer the focus is on changing your perspective by getting closer to your subject.  This reminds me of the way I aim to be in my life when I am overwhelmed by my never-ending "to-do" list - I simplify by focusing on one thing at a time which allows me to be truly present to what it is I am doing.  I find I enjoy things much better that by doing this and often wonder why it took me so long to realize that you can really only focus on one thing at a time!  You'd think a photographer would intuitively know that!

This past weekend I took time out from our family reunion to look around my sister-in-law's beautiful garden in Virginia Beach and got closer to the color and shape and wonder that is present in flowers.  I used my macro lens (which gave some interesting effects as it fogged up in the 104 degree weather).  I became totally mesmerized at these miniature worlds within worlds.

On page 104 of The Creative Photographer I talk about the captivating essence of flowers in the Exploration called "Flower Power":

"There is so much beauty in flowers.  Once you start photographing them, you can become enchanted by the perfect details, the color, and sometimes the minute life forms that live in them.

Get down to the level of the flower as if you were having a conversation with it.  Get as close as your camera will allow.  Look at the background.  Is it simple and uncluttered?  What color is it?  Does the color enhance the flower or detract from it?

I love blurred backgrounds with images of flowers.  Flowers are primarily about color and shape, and blurring the background - and even parts of the flower - allow us to focus on the color and form.  If your camera has an Aperture Priority mode, this is a great time to use it.  Set your camera to its smallest f/stop (which equates to its largest lens opening), such as f/2.8 or f/5.6."

Tuesday, May 29, 2012

Slow Returning

I didn't realize how much time it would take me to settle back into the daily routines of home after my trip to South Africa.  I thought I'd arrive back on Wednesday and be back into doing again on Thursday.  Perhaps I packed so much into the three weeks I was in South Africa that it has taken me six weeks to feel that I am home again.

And how do I choose which images to share from the hundreds of photographs I made?  What is it I want to remember?

The weekend at the Buddhist Retreat Center teaching photography as meditation?

Or the days with the special people of Woza Moya Project?

Or the walks on the beach?

Or the weekend in the Game Reserve with dear friends?

Or the weekend of training the first South African SoulCollage® Facilitators? Or my 30th wedding anniversary which my husband and I celebrated by having lunch at the hotel in Umhlanga Rocks where we had our wedding reception? Or tea with special friends we hadn't seen in years? There are so many magical experiences that I don't want to forget.  And photographs can't always show what you saw because what we see is so influenced by our emotions and our memories.  Sometimes you just have to breathe in the experience and hope that your body remembers the feelings.

There is nothing like returning to a place that remains unchanged 
to find the ways in which you yourself have altered.
Nelson Mandela

Friday, March 23, 2012

Heading to Africa

On Tuesday I head for South Africa.  Between teaching workshops, I'll have the opportunity to spend time at a place that means a great deal to me - Woza Moya in the Ufafa community, near Ixopo, KwaZulu-Natal.  Woza Moya is an AIDS community care and support center and much of their work is centered on the at risk children - children affected and infected by AIDS.  I was last there in 2008 and was touched by the children who are featured in these videos:

I am humbled by the selfless work of the community care workers and those who run Woza Moya, in particular Sue Hedden.  They are an inspiration and a living example of making a difference in the world.

I'll be there at the beginning of April on the days that their crafters meet.  The crafters make beautiful embroidered cards to sell to support their families.  I love supporting those that create beauty for others.  I'll be lucky enough to meet and talk to them, and see their latest handwork, and of course bring some back with me.

Wednesday, February 1, 2012

Artist Sara Naumann

 I'm looking forward to meeting artist and teacher Sara Naumann in person at Art & Soul, Virginia in a couple of weeks time.  She is flying all the way from Amsterdam to teach!  Sara's art has been published in a number of publications:  Somerset Studio, Somerset Apprentice and in beading and jewelry magazines  Sara has taught workshops in England, Australia, New Zealand, South Africa and across the US.   I am in awe of the fact that Sara balances her role as artist and teacher with that as mother of a one-year old daughter.   So if you are a mother who wants to know how find time for your art, read on as Sara has some tips for you.

Catherine:   Tell me more about one of your classes--what techniques students will learn, how you developed the project, what you're excited about.
Sara:  I’m excited about all three of my classes, but the one I’m especially keen to talk about is the Journal of Musings. This is an evening workshop that’s designed to offer a sort of “breathing space” for students. Art & Soul (and so many retreats) is full of life and energy—sometimes it helps to have some time in the midst of all the excitement to look inward, to pause and reflect. 
The workshop combines very simple meditation with journaling prompts focused on key areas in our creative lives. I’ll ask students questions that they can then journal about in the class. It’s going to be a very relaxed, introspective time and I think a good way for people to pause and rejuvenate. The project was initially developed in response to my own experience in meditation-with-journaling and the surprising (and very useful) things that come out of a session like this.

Catherine: How has your artistic style developed over the years, especially in terms of your teaching? Do you develop a different sort of art for the classes you teach, or have you developed techniques because of a teaching experience?
Sara: My artistic style has definitely evolved over the years, mostly due to lifestyle changes. I moved from a place (Portland, Oregon) that has a lot of readily-available craft supplies to one (Amsterdam, Netherlands) that has few craft stores but lots of art supply stores and markets. So my supplies-on-hand have changed, which has forced me to investigate materials I might not have thought about using before.  I also take classes, which teaches me new techniques but more importantly, allows me the time to nurture my own creative spirit. Sometimes people wonder why a teacher is taking classes—I think it’s vital that we do.
As for developing techniques in light of my own workshops…when I’m working in my studio, half of my mind is always thinking, “Can I teach this in a class? Could I write an article about this?” and then, “What questions would the students/readers ask?” Those questions very often lead me down interesting paths, as I imagine students saying, “Okay, but what happens if I do this instead of that?” Well, I’d like to have an answer for them!

Catherine: With a young child how do you find time for your art?
Sara: Naps, naps, naps! J I have a daughter, Anna, who will be one in February—she goes to kinderdagverblijf (daycare) two days a week. Those are my days to make stuff, design classes, put together class kits, etc. All the messy stuff or projects that require concentration or need to be kept away from little fingers. On the other weekdays, I take advantage of her naps to do quicker projects or writing.
My studio is a shed outside, so if I’m going to make art while she naps, I need to bring materials inside and set up on the kitchen table. So the night before, I decide what I’m going to work on during Nap #1 and Nap #2, then I fill a cardboard box with the supplies I need, and put it in the closet. When she falls asleep, I whisk it out and when she wakes up, I pop it all back in the box and into the closet. Evenings and weekends, my husband and I tag-team it so we each have time to do our own things.
One thing about kids, though—I think playing with kids is one of the best ways to get your creativity going. There’s nothing like making up silly songs, making stuffed animals “talk” in funny voices, or going to the park or the petting zoo to force you to relax and have fun. And that, for me, can be just the break I need to get my creativity going.
But I have to say, this year has been a biiiiiig learning curve for me in terms of balance and flexibility. And I don’t get it right all the time by any means—some days are great, some days are hard…and sometimes, each day is it’s own exercise in creativity as I’m just trying to figure out what the heck I’m doing.
Oh, one more thing…as a person who loves to say YES to projects, I’ve found that having a limited amount of time has really forced me (in a good way) to learn to say NO to things I don’t have time for, so that I do have time for the things I want to do.

Catherine: Do you work in a planned or intuitive way?  How would you describe your approach?
Sara: I’m a “planny” sort of person anyway, so I like having a general idea in my mind before I get started. That said, once I have the gist of something down, I love just seeing where the path goes—whether that’s trying a different color or seeing what would happen if I did this to that…
I also structure what I call Lab Times into my creative work time. This is where I have a sort of self-assigned question or idea or thought and just want to see if something would work. This relieves me of any stress over “making” something, and the experiments are usually where I come up with the most useable techniques. (Even if the experiment only allows me to tell people what not to do!)
Catherine: What do you enjoy most about teaching?
Sara: I love the connections that happen in a class—between students, between me and the students, between the students and the technique or product or their result. I feel pretty privileged to be a part of this greater creative community, where we can all share what we know.

Thank you Sara!

Sara's class on Lazertran Transfers is so popular that it is full, but there is still space in her Narrative Jewelry class and her Journal of Musings class.

Don't forget to comment on this post to be in line for an exciting Art and Soul goodie bag draw provided by Artistic Artifacts Annex.  

Friday, January 27, 2012

Wisdom is of the Soul

I've been preparing additional samples for the Photo Transformations class I am teaching at Art and Soul in early March,and just love the message this owl had for me.  This is a Great Horned Owl that lives at the Carolina Raptor Center.

I often look through the words in old books to add text to my art and today these words jumped out at me "Wisdom is of the soul".  This was after I decided to name this regal looking owl "Wisdom" - it seemed like the right name for him.  Then I wondered why he looked so stern and the words "Listen! Nature speaks" came together.  It seems he wanted to make sure I was listening to the signs of the natural world.

Yes, I am ...

Monday, January 23, 2012

Scattering joy through paint.fabric.metal

Jenni Horne's byline: scattering joy through paint, fabric.metal reminds me of what creating art does for me - it makes me feel joyful! I love viewing the world through the eyes of another artist and just love the way Jenni depicts the world through her paintings. Spending time with creative people inspires our creative life and that is why I have attended art retreats.  A couple of days in the company of creatives seems to encourage my creative soul to give more time to what I love doing.  I will be meeting Jenni in person at Art and Soul in Virginia Beach at the beginning of March this year, but wanted to get to know her a little before the event and share her with others.

Catherine: Where do you get your inspiration from?
Jenni:  I draw inspiration from so much on a day to day basis.  The class I am teaching at Art and Soul is called, “The American Still Life”.   I am drawn to the simplicity of these subjects; trucks, bikes, campers, old phones, etc.  To me they symbolize gentle reminders to slow down, remember the past and look forward to the future.
Catherine: After art, what else is your passion?
Jenni: I am a sucker for decorating our home.  We just moved into a new house so I am having a wonderful time making our home a nest to enjoy. 

Catherine:  What type of classes do you like to take at Art and Soul
Jenni: I love to make jewelry.  Although I am a painter by trade, jewelry making is truly a passion.  I try and take at least one class every retreat to build my skill level.
Catherine: What aspect of teaching do you love the most?
Jenni:  I love inspiring others to create beautiful works of art.  I do not encourage “cookie cutter” art in my classes, but rather encourage students to find their own voice in the creative journey.  I always tell my students in the beginning of class that I am here to guide them through the art making process.  In the end, it is not my goal for them to create a “Jenni Horne”, but rather a piece from their own hands  that is the voice from within them.  Of course as a student they are there to learn from my experiences as a painter, and through a day’s workshop we explore many techniques and materials together.  Always however, the end goal is for my attendees to leave inspired, and full of enthusiasm for a medium I love.  With this knowledge my hope is that they continue to build their creative journey at home.

Catherine: Do you have a favorite technique? 
Jenni: I’ve actually developed my own painting technique over the years.  It combines the skills I learned in the print making studio, painting studio with acrylics and my love of encaustics, without the hot wax!  The end result is truly unique.

Catherine: Do you work in a planned or intuitive way?  How would you describe your approach?
Jenni: As a child I loved the plastic viewfinder toy.  You could click frame to frame at your own pace, flipping fast through lesser exciting images and staying for a spell on the ones that captivated your imagination.  My creative journey is much like this.  I have on my art desks always more than one project.  It allows me to seamlessly flow from project to project, as well as being a better use of my time.  It is not uncommon for a body of 5 paintings to be worked on at once.  They all get texture and carving, they all get cool colors, they all get warm colors, they all get collage at once.etc...  They are all a part of the wheel….and in the end help to create the story I am telling through my art.

Jenni, thank you for sharing your creative process with me.  And I have to let you know that I just love your blog, especially the image of you holding the Paint Something card! And discovering that you just live up the road from me (well sort of) in Atlanta, Georgia.

Visit Jenni's Blog: Jenni Horne Studios

Wednesday, January 18, 2012

Dawn Time

This past weekend I caught a 6:00am flight from North Carolina to California.  My plan was to try and sleep so I would arrive refreshed in San Jose.  But I was captivated by the changing light outside the plane window.  The bright blues, yellows, oranges, the moon in the dawn sky ... I couldn't help but feel the magic of earth waking beneath me and kept watching out the window.  Every few minutes the scene in front of me changed.  I felt surrounded by magic, and realized just how many mornings I sleep through the beauty of the dawn.

One of the strange things about living in the world is that it is only now and then one is quite sure one is going to live forever and ever and ever. One knows it sometimes when one gets up at the tender solemn dawn-time and goes out and stands alone and throws one's head far back and looks up and up and watches the pale sky slowly changing and flushing and marvelous unknown things happening until the East almost makes one cry out and one's heart stands still at the strange unchanging majesty of the rising of the sun—which has been happening every morning for thousands and thousands and thousands of years. One knows it then for a moment or so...”    
Frances Burnett

This early morning flight was a reminder of the unending beauty of the sky above us.  The sun is always rising somewhere, the colors of the sky are always glowing brightly somewhere in the world.  I am so grateful to be living on this beautiful planet of ours.