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Stories from the Field: where am I?

Updated: Sep 22, 2021

This is me right before I make a big mistake.

I want to get to know this river, this body of water life that flows through everything here. So major to my every day, I cross it, walk it, drive alongside it, live just above it, work my way along with it, sit with it, and recently have been kayaking on it. Yesterday the river and I got to know each other in a whole new way…..

I say “Let's go further upstream. I will do a reconnaissance, driving alongside most of it, check it out”.

“Looks great," I say, "it generally seems pretty calm but for a little white water that we could definitely handle”.

In our beautiful blue kayak, we have been gaining confidence this summer, somehow now tripping this over into foolhardiness.

Off we go, into the wilder place.

Soon there is powerful white water I did not anticipate. We are novices at best, perhaps not even that, and don’t understand currents and eddies. We are zipped along out of control, then we are wedged, tipped, jarred, and pushed along again. No helmets. It goes on...

……seeing our ineptitude and worse ahead, we find a large rock formation, a safe shoulder of an island to stop and strategize. I love the feel of this solid stone more than ever I could imagine.

We had no idea how to be this part of the river and realize our boat was not what it needed to be for this kind of water. I saw dramatic reruns of Lassie in my minds eye and didn’t want either of us heading off down that river at speed with no helmet and no Lassie to save us: )

The river is so wide, the current so strong, we are in the middle.

We decide together to try to make small sure steps on the rocks underneath the water, maybe this rock formation will continue underwater enough and make it shallow enough that we are not out of our depth. It is clear that when we are, we will get swept up and away.

It takes us over an hour to walk about 25 feet. The rock shoulder has this yellow and amber glow with slits of fir green. It is gorgeous in the underworld of the rushing lines of deep cobalt, swirling in waves of white bubbles. I pull in the steady earth color into me, help me stay strong, holding the rocks tight as I can with one hand and the handle of our boat in another, I push myself from step to step, trying to not let go before finding another.

PJ does the same. We make small sure steps together, pushing against the currents. We have done this so often as a couple, holding up against difficult forces till the worst of it subsides (and there is no more space for metaphors at this moment). Sometimes one of us loses grip but not both at once. Both of us stay calm for the other.

An angel appears in a small purple kayak, Angel John. John knows all about the river, he’s been on it since he was 14. He circles us and moves through the water in his perfectly sized and formed boat with fish-like expertise. So kind, so kind.

He directs us and explains our best routes and even to jump back into our boat at a point where we can paddle against the current at a diagonal to work our way over. He speaks kayak and river. We paddle ferociously doing exactly what we are told, at first we rush back towards the currents we plowed out of like a very bad dream, but then somehow get some power in us and we are veering into the right direction and I see the bank in arms reach, we are home.

I know River better. Our first tumble with her, she is so much more……

This morning I made this drawing/painting, I call it Boating ( learning about our boat: )

I worked alongside my first student of the day. It had been a while since she had been in. I offered her a practice I created to use in my workshops for opening the heart to your own creativity, quietening the judgment enough to feel the flow of creative juices in your hand again. Especially valuable if you haven’t worked for a while and need to rekindle your trust and loosen your hand. Art making is a conversation between creativity, our materials, and ourselves that takes some coaxing to remember the way we connect ( or support might be a better way of putting it) at times. I also use this practice to develop an image that is true and unique from my own inner well, uninfluenced by what I have made before or am aspiring to. It's very helpful in bringing me into the present with my materials, and without trying so hard. Sounds good, doesn’t it?

This is often surprising too what emerges. It has been the beginning of many of my paintings and a profound opening up.

Do you want to give it a try?

Visiting the Well.  Field practice 1. 

First set up a table and sheets of paper, some kind of watercolor or gauche or pastel will be good for this but really use anything you have got, pencils, pens, inks, charcoal…..

  1. You are going to choose an experience you have had lately that you would like to relive or bring your attention to. The attitude to come from is the chance to relive something, better understand it more, integrate or enjoy the facility of your memory library.

  2. Just for now, you are here, free to enjoy just this. ( I know this is a tall order sometimes, but all the more reason to try. You can choose any kind of memory dark or light, today I chose my turbulent river adventure but you can choose the delightful, joyful celebratory memories too, and equally, I have found this practice an essential part of my own grieving process for my loved ones and the losses of Earth)

  3. Your chosen memory will be the subject of your work. It will be non-representational, though representational elements may emerge and you can develop them further if so. We will be going back step by step re- walking this experience in your memory whilst working.

  4. Close your eyes and enter your library of memories. Take your time and notice your breathing. no need to change it, just notice and don’t hold your breath.

  5. I would trust the first memory that comes to you. Try not to judge its value too much. It arrived for a reason.

  6. That first step in your experience has a color, what is it?

  7. Begin there, anywhere on your page, where do you feel is the beginning?

  8. Start slow or speedy. But give yourself at least a half-hour to complete the work, so slow is usually better here.

  9. Work with this first color and make shapes, lines, marks, and ask yourself how the memory feels, what shape it may make, adding another color, working your way into and around it. You can be darker, lighter, more opaque, or transparent. contrasting color and shade. There is no right or wrong only your experience and this process.

  10. There is a developing balance now between remembering, drawing up a thought, and noticing your work unfolding, feel your way through rather than forcing an outcome.

  11. Stop every now and then, and ask yourself. Where am I in my memory? If you have lost your place, go back to where you last remembered.

  12. Coming back to the memory is key and stopping to see what is emerging is next

  13. What, if any symbols are emerging? Try not to contrive any symbols, though if something is obviously forming allow it to be and expand its form, is it transforming itself?

  14. This is very intuitive work, but not freestyle. There is a framework here and a process.

  15. Curiosity is your viewing lenses, the question of, what is happening, is your standpoint

  16. Eventually, stand back, look away from the work for a minute and then come back. What do you see now?

I knew I wanted to express the rushing river yesterday, but the beginning of my memory was the calmer blue edges. I started there. Then I remembered the yellow and amber rocks and the feeling of them being this huge foundation and formation underneath the river if I could just hang on to them! I found myself loving the combination of the huge rocks and waters, I stayed as true to the experience and to the unfolding colors and forms trying not to make them look like something, letting them change if they wanted to. How did the rocks feel, what was the water like then, and then, and after that? The white lines of currents dancing and the eddies came later. The last thing I did was the two figures swimming and the boat. I think I would have made such a completely different kind of work if I had tried to represent us swimming from the starting point which would have been that mental picturing. I would have overcomplicated it at the get-go. As it is I am surprised with what I made and intrigued. I may develop it into a painting.

I used Gouache and water and then finally a posca white pen.

Enjoy and if you make something in this way, do let me know how it goes!

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