Dragonfly wings are fascinating to cultures around the world, with people attributing both positive and negative connotations to their appearance. Me, I’m just fascinated by the structure of the wings, and the iridescent colors that they create. Thanks to the internet, I was able to go down a rabbit hole about dragonfly wings. Here is what I learned.
Dragonflies are ancient
Large ancestors of dragonflies existed 325 million years ago, making them older than dinosaurs. These precursors of our much smaller modern-day insects had up to a 27-inch wingspan, wider than my current desktop screen. Today, dragonflies live on every continent except Antarctica and in many different climates. Dragonflies are considered harbingers of stress in ecosystems.
Resilience. One of those watchwords for the year 2020. Staying at home for me meant creating cyanotypes, often with whatever was around. So I had to coax my inspirations out of my nemesis — the ground cover weed Creeping Charlie. In the Midwest, this European transplant is definitely resilient.
“This is my song, Oh God of all the nations, A song of peace for lands afar and mine. This is my home, the country where my heart is; Here are my hopes, my dreams, my sacred shrine. But other hearts in other lands are beating, With hopes and dreams as true and high as mine.
My country’s skies are bluer than the ocean, And sunlight beams on cloverleaf and pine. But other lands have sunlight too and clover, And skies are everywhere as blue as mine. Oh hear my song, oh God of all the nations, A song of peace for their land and for mine.”
This is My Song Lyrics by Lloyd Stone (with a third stanza by Georgia Harkness) Sung to the tune Finlandia from a tone poem by Jean Sibelius
Creating amidst crises can either be cathartic or impossible. My crises actually started before the current novel coronavirus. In early February, my husband was suddenly diagnosed with a brain tumor, and within a week he had surgery to have it removed. Rare, but benign, I guess you could say we won the brain tumor lottery. Could I create anything during a month of worry and caregiving. Not at all.
Getting your creative groove back is something I have spent some time considering. Read some suggestions here. A month after his surgery, I spent time looking at old work in my flat files, and came across a multiple block woodcut I created while a student at Indiana University in 2009. Our prompt was another worrying pandemic — the novel H1N1 virus, nicknamed Bird Flu.
Tomorrow night is the winter solstice where I live. As much as I try, I find the darkness and gloom this time of year oppressive. Add challenging circumstances, whether they be personal, relational or political, and it can be just unbearable. Since a vacation to the southern hemisphere is not a possibility this year, I have turned to being mindful — in my art and in my life.
I purposefully used the structure in different ways. Some were familiar polygons, and others more angular. I can see several examples from nature that are evoked by these elements. But I’d rather not influence your reactions.
What do you think of when you see the color blue? To me, it is the color of beginnings — of water and sky. Deep and moody, filled with possibility. My latest monoprint collage is a meditation on blue.
Water figures prominently is creation stories worldwide. At a time when I find myself impatient for progress and peace, both personally and globally, immersing myself in blues has been a calming practice.
We have so many ways to learn new things. We can watch Youtube videos to learn how to fix our cars. We can watch cooking shows to improve our culinary techniques. Watching other people being creative can be stimulating or calming. But is it actually enriching? At what point should we stop watching and start doing?
After two days of ridiculously warm weather, February has returned to its normal pace of dark and dankness. As someone who needs sunlight to boost my mood, this is a rough month. While I sit at my drawing table, or print in my basement, I struggle to make sense of why I am creating art.
One of the delights of working with collages is that each one begins with a great deal of unknown. As I choose patterns and rhythms, maps and papers, the work begins to make more sense. This sense of now knowing can be a challenge as well. I hope at some point, the work begins to feel whole.
Opalescence is one of those collages that came together only at the very end. The addition of the mint green topomaps and my use of interference pigments on some of the patterned monoprints made me think of the random color effects of an opal, my birthstone.
What if no one knew what they were doing?
Imagine if most of the world sat down each day to work thinking, “I have no idea where this is going, and I have no idea why I am doing it.” Certainly chaos would ensue. Yet this is exactly the state I signed up for when I decided to create art.
I came across a passage from Anne Lamott’s writings in Help, Thanks, Wow: The Three Essential Prayers (2012) which perfectly captured why I make art despite this state of constant discomfort:
“In paintings, music, poetry, architecture, we feel the elusive energy that moves through us and the air and the ground all the time, that usually disperses and turns chaotic in our busy-ness and distractedness and moodiness. Artists channel it, corral it, make it visible to the rest of us. The best works of art are like semaphores of our experience, signaling what we didn’t know was true but do now.”
This is a quick story to tell you why some of my latest work uses masking tape. And to illustrate the maxim that you never know where your next inspiration might come from…
I am not one of those artists (or writers) who is able to go to the studio every day and create. There are seasons of my life where creative pursuits are excruciatingly difficult, like earlier this summer. So instead, I painted the interior of my house. House painting is my form of meditation — even prayer. Two bedrooms later, and I realized that the main bathroom could use a make-over.
What to do with all those sample paints?
I realized that I had ten small sample cans of paint from my various projects, and set a challenge for myself to create a mural in this otherwise nondescript bathroom. The design must also harmonize with the 1970s vintage gold tiles which are sadly staying.
I am fascinated by nature patterns and their mathematical foundations, so while doing some internet research, I came across Delaunay triangulation and Voronoi diagrams. (Click on these links for more mathematical explanations.) These constructions explain many patterns in nature including air bubble packing and leaf cellular structures.
More people would love doing math if it involved tape and paint
I started the process by drawing random dots lightly on my white wall. A mathematician friend pointed out that humans can’t actually be completely random, and he’s right. I just tried not to make them regular. Then I used 1/4 inch painter’s tape to connect the dots into triangles that had the smallest sides possible. I overlapped on the mirror a bit so that my design would seem to grow out of the mirror.
Next I used a clear ruler to find the midpoints of each line of each triangle, and marked this on the masking tape. Then I lightly drew pencil lines perpendicular to each of these midpoints. The intersection of these perpendicular lines was a new point — usually inside the triangle but not always.
I connected these new points, and they created polygons. My intention was to paint these polygons with the various colors of sample paint, which were surprisingly harmonious. I traced the polygons with Sharpie marker so I didn’t get lost.
My sample paints are surprisingly harmonious
I chose seven colors of sample paint, including a new gold paint that would harmonize with my tiles. The darkest color reads as almost black in the images, but is really a dark purple. It took two coats of paint to make sure the polygons were saturated with color. Now the fun part begins!
About an hour after I finished the second coat, I began carefully peeling off the painter’s tape. From all I have read, this is the best timing to avoid pulling up the paint. I needed to touch up some places where the paint bled through the tape.
Here is the completed wall. It is amazingly difficult to take an accurate image of this narrow space. See the video below to get a glimpse of the entire wall, including where the design wraps around a corner.
Is my bathroom great art? Probably not. Was it therapeutic during a time when I couldn’t do my studio work. Absolutely.
Now I have a new tool in my toolkit that was instrumental in my explorations at Penland School of Crafts. Stay tuned for more about me and the painter’s tape in my next blog.