Provenance

I’ve been negligent about posting to SHARDS for several reasons. I wanted to change the look of the blog, and work on some website redesign as well.  So I’ve been busy, yes, but that’s no excuse.

Have you ever felt that the longer you go without doing something you should do, the harder it gets to do it? My brothers and I are of the generation that got swats on the bottom from our dad when we were little and did something REALLY bad. Daddy would let us choose the time for our swat, but would tell us that “the longer you wait, the harder it gets.” Sigh. The anticipation was worse than the swat, of course. Sometimes you just have to get it done and move on 🙂

But I digress – today I want to discuss “provenance,” a word that refers to the historical origin of a piece of art, or really any object. As an assemblage artist, provenance is hugely important to me. I believe that an object’s history can be sensed in some weird way, kind of like a shard of clay gives a clue to its history.

I’ve been working lately on a series of wrapped and bundles figures inspired by the Peruvian Chancay Burial dolls. Here’s the Chancay doll on the right and my interpretation is on the left.

Part of my process involves selecting specially-curated objects to wrap into the form. Here is another example:

Below are several little objects I want to wrap into the next figure – two seed pods and a feather.

No one who sees the finished doll will know about the provenance of these objects – they could be just some stuff I picked up anyplace. But the seed pods came from my Pride of Barbados tree which seemed completely dead after the snow disaster this year, but manages to come back gloriously despite the trauma. The feather came from the construction yard at SAY Si where they are building a wonderful new place to share art with the youth in San Antonio who really need it. So all three of these objects have a special “provenance,” a story of rebuilding and renewal.

As I said, no one but me knows about the provenance of these objects, but somehow they carry an aura of their story with them, and that infuses the finished piece with a sense of inexpiable mystery and meaning. You can do this with objects, with paper, with fiber.

When you have a choice in your own work of using something that has a special provenance even though it may not look quite as bright and shiny as something you bought at a craft store, consider the source, and go with what your heart says.

If you look up “provenance” as it relates to collecting art, you’ll find that it refers to the trail of ownership of an art object, or the history that got it from there to here. But every object has a history and a story based on where it is found. As an artist, you can incorporate those stories to give richness to your work.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Shards and Santos, Clay and Collage

Happiness is teaching in Taos!

A week from tomorrow, I’ll be at the Taos Ceramics Center working with students in my Shards and Santos Workshop. The class takes place on two consecutive Saturdays – here’s a description.

In this workshop, we will create personal assemblages inspired by these iconic figures of Santos. In the first class, we will construct handmade textured slab-based clay components such as heads, bodies, and enhancements. We will also learn to make hand-crafted clay press molds. These components will be fired once.

Here are some examples of assorted assemblage components that I’m taking with me – honestly, working in assemblage is just like working in collage, only a bit more dimensional:

Continuing the workshop description —

The next week, we will build our figure, incorporating found objects such as bones and shells and bleached twigs into the final assemblage and perhaps include cherished objects and hidden words. We will explore the limitless possibilities of cold finishes, such as metallics and beeswax, to enhance the surfaces of the unglazed earthenware.

These santos, below, are in progress, and I’ll use them to show how the components are put together.

Since we will not be glazing and re-firing the shard components, I’ve been experimenting with cold finishes for fired clay for the last couple of weeks.

One of the most successful combinations I’ve discovered is Pearl Ex powder by Jacquard mixed with Gamblin Cold Wax Medium.  You can control the translucency and the color saturation, then buff the wax finish. It’s exciting to see how well it works on bisqueware.

 

Another technique I’m playing with is tube acrylic paint mixed with a bit of cornstarch to dull the finish.

In the sample below, the acrylic mixture mimics the look of Gilder’s Paste at about half the cost and with less potential toxicity.

This kind of experimentation is part of the fun of planning a workshop. And then I get to share with new people!

I’m grateful to the Taos Ceramics Center for inviting me – and at this writing, there’s just one spot left, so if you need a quick get-away, come on up to the mountains of New Mexico!

 

New Work, Old Concept

Old retablo frame, late 1800’s

THE ENCANTO SERIES

Lyn Belisle, Crow’s Companion, 2021

My work has always been strongly influenced by the idea of “shards” as a metaphor for human communication across time. A shard can be a found fragment of clay, a rusty nail, a scrap of handwriting – any little clue that becomes a “secret handshake” between the maker and the discoverer.

Shards, clues, and other stuff

As an assemblage artist, I collect bits of meaning from various cultures and times. This series, called Encantos (charms), respectfully combine contemporary historic images, then veil them with beeswax, a material which has been used in art-making for over 2000 years. This encaustic process seals and enhances the images. The metal adornments on these pieces honor the traditional centuries-old Retablos, painted tin icons that show the significant rust and fading consistent with their age.

Lyn Belisle, Spiral Crows, 2021

For decades I’ve worked with clay, fiber, and paper in assemblage and collage to express this non-verbal time-circle connection. When my friend Michelle Belto introduced me to the encaustic process in 2009, This new-to-me medium seemed a perfect companion for my most-loved materials.

Lyn Belisle, Crow’s Talisman, 2021

I’d briefly tried encaustic medium on collage, but I began to understand that beeswax is a metaphoric material in itself, ancient as clay, versatile as paper, compelling as ivory and bone. Now beeswax and encaustic are integral parts of my process.

Lyn Belisle, Nest, 2021

This series feels just right, a synthesis of digital, ancient, and contemporary process and content. Work for this series is available at the Members Gallery (San Antonio Art League) and soon at Marta Stafford Fine Art in Marble Falls, Texas.

Take good care, hope to see you soon – Lyn

Wendy’s Nature Spirits

A weather note : I started this post on Monday morning. The post (and normal life) has been interrupted by two days of power outages and snow here in South Texas, and there may be more to come! Yikes!

So, before the power goes out again, I want to warm your heart (and mine) by telling you about Wendy Larsen of Nevada.

Normally, I’m shy about writing my buyers to ask how they are using the faces the purchase from my Etsy shop, Earthshards, but Wendy had ordered quite a few of the Celtic Forge faces and I was curious. I emailed her, and she graciously told me about her Nature Spirits.

Celtic Forge faces from my Etsy Shop, Earthshards

Wendy wrote:

“I use all natural materials, and your faces are beautiful addition to my art. I was going to create my own Etsy shop one but the works weigh a lot as I use petrified wood and agate rose quartz . So that makes them quite heavy to ship, but I do have some in a crystal shop in Lehi Utah that carries my art, and I’ve done quite well there over the past few months. I’m currently doing a few commissioned pieces.

It started when I was at a cactus nursery and saw some Choya wood and decided to use it to create a beautiful piece of art. Little did I know they would be such a success! They are inspired by nature. Everything used on them is natural except for what I used to keep them in place. They they all have an energy that lives within each piece. I use a lot of raw crystals, pine cones, living moss, and natural stones as well as the Choya wood and your beautiful clay faces. I’m typically inspired to do a piece by what the face tells me.

Here is a picture of the first piece I ever did — and it’s history from there – LOL.”

Wendy’s Nature Spirits are packed with intricate detail and precious objects – tiny silver lizards, clusters of crystal. Here are some others. You can see the care and love that she adds to each one.

Thanks so much, Wendy, for sharing your wonderful Nature Spirits with us!

Before I close (and before the power goes off again!), I want to remind you that the Early Bird pricing for Painting with Fire is still open if you want to explore a year of Encaustic techniques and processes by 26 teachers (including me!) for less than $10 a workshop — pretty cool. Or hot.

Click here to visit Essence of Mulranny .

Please stay safe and warm – and take good care,

Lyn

A Walk-in-the-Woods Workshop?

2020 was surely The Plague Year (and we’re still being extra-cautious), but it did get a lot of us outside, walking and exploring nature. That’s a good thing. Decades ago I discovered that walking worked well for me as meditative thinking time – plus I find lots of cool stuff along the way. And sometimes it seemed that the cool stuff was left there especially for me to find.

You may remember the wonderful photo collection of composed found objects that artist friends contributed to my website in 2019. Here’s that link, and here’s one of my favorite compositions (this one is by Marilyn Jones)

Marilyn Jones, Found Objects

This kind of collecting is nothing new for me. One of my signature techniques is embedding sticks and other natural objects into my assemblages – there’s just something mythical about material found outdoors “by accident”.

Sometimes, I even construct pieces almost totally from found objects and natural material, such as this piece called Bone Tea.

Lyn Belisle, “Bone Tea”

It was influenced by my friend Shannon Weber, whose work with natural materials makes me swoon.

Shannon Weber

So all of this leads up to a new workshop that I’ve just posted on my Teachable Studio site. It’s called Sacred Serendipity:Nature Shrines and Assemblages.

Collecting things from nature and assembling them as art is a long and honorable practice.

If you’ve ever read Ann Morrow Lindbergh’s Gift from the Sea, you know how she describes different seashells as stages in a woman’s life – the oyster shell, covered bumps and lumps but still smooth and beautiful on the inside.

This is a workshop for anyone who has ever found a pine cone, a smooth rock, or a red and gold leaf and brought it home in gratitude and wonder.

There are several free preview videos, including one of me being very goofy in the woods across the street from my house, pretending to “find” objects. But I think the real beauty of this workshop lies in the techniques about arranging and attaching natural objects to a small canvas. This gives you so much leeway to create your own small Shrine to Nature.

I also show you step-by-step how to make a mold from a natural object and then cast it with paper clay – you can do faces this way, as well. The class fee is a mere $29, and you can start and stop whenever you like. The lessons are yours forever – or at least as long as the Internet lasts. Think of this as the cost of a bag of groceries but with more lasting results!

Workshop Preview Link

So here’s to a walk on the wild side – and the natural treasures that we “accidentally” find there. 🙂

 

 

 

 

 

Workshop Update – Meow

THE MYSTICAL CAT SHAMAN IS BACK!

The Mystical Cat Shaman Workshop was first offered in 2016 as part of the Artful Gathering summer class program. When the Artful Gathering group scattered, I decided to bring this popular class back to a new audience.

The NEW Cat Shaman workshop will be available until August 1, 2020 for $39 tuition, which is about half of its previous cost. In this new version, I have updated the handouts and added to them. The videos, for the most part, are the original ones, almost three hours of detailed instruction.

You can read more about it on my website. There is a free lesson from the workshop available that might help you decide if you want to create some feline magic. Ask your cat if she wants to help. Yeah, right 🙂

Click here for the CAT SHAMAN WORKSHOP info.

And there are new Cat Face Shards in my Etsy Shop!

If you decide to take the workshop, I will show you how to make your own cat faces, step-by-step, using about four or five different techniques. That’s always the best way to do it, learning for yourself.

But if you want to purchase some Cat Shaman from my Etsy shop, great!

I’ve added some new cat faces using the mold I made in the the original workshop. They are kiln-fired earthenware and they come in three finishes. They’re $9 each and there is a limit of 2 (I have only 30 right now).

You may find that they are sold out when you go to the Etsy shop. I sent an advance notice to my private email list last night, and the cats are going like hotcakes. 🙂

However, I’m making more earthenware cat faces today and they should be fired and  ready to go by Saturday. I’ll re-list them ASAP. (And if you’d like to be on my email list for previews and updates, you’re welcome to sign up).

Last note – I’m finally internalizing the reality of these times. Sigh. It’s going to be a long summer and fall without in-person interaction.

As a social creature and an artist who cherishes the company of my circle of friends and co-creators, I miss the times we could really look at each other’s work, touch the textures, laugh and hug in person.

But if there was ever a time to count our blessings, this is it. Be safe, trust yourself and trust the process, and take good care!

Shards and Tesserae

Christa Lamb is a mosaic artist from Cottonwood HeightsUtah, who has ordered small shard faces from my Etsy shop several times. She sent me a message last week saying, “I thought you might be interested in seeing how I use your beautiful faces in my work,” and she attached some photos.

 I was amazed at her work. I often wonder how artists use these faces, but never expected to see them incorporated into such fantastic mosaics!

I asked her if I could share them with SHARDS readers, and she agreed – thanks, Christa!

She sent several more examples, all of which use mixed media materials to create rich panoramas in tiles, glass and found objects. I love these fabulous “storyboards.”

Here are some more of Christa’s mosaics:

The details are endlessly intriguing.

Look at this mysterious mixture, below!

I found more of her work on Flickr – along with some gorgeous photos of Utah.
Thanks, Christa – so grateful for your work and your email ! Do you show your work in a gallery? We’d love to see more!
Keep in touch,
Lyn

 

 

 

TRY IT! 7-Day Found Object Challenge for Composition Competence

Say THAT three times fast – anyway, this is fun! And it takes practically no time at all each day. It will sharpen your observation skills and boost your composition fluency.

HOW THIS STARTED (you probably do the same sort of thing):

So, I take walks every morning and most afternoons and often find a small object along the way  – like a rock or dried leaf –  that intrigues me. Sometime I put it in my pocket, sometimes I just look at it and leave it.

Last week, I challenged myself to choose one found object a day, bring it home, and see how the daily objects might fit together at the end of the week.

There’s a table inside my front door where I often drop stuff, and here was where I put the first object. (You’ll need a designated spot, too, for your daily objects.)

Monday’s object was a piece of thick layered cardboard, which I first thought was a little book. I found it in the street by my sidewalk and it had been run over a few times and flattened nicely.

Monday – flattened cardboard fragment

Tuesday’s object was a dried leaf that had the most gorgeous rust-patina colors and was curved like an umbrella.

Tuesday – interesting dried leaf

On Wednesday, I thought I had found a bird’s egg by the driveway of a neighbor’s house, but it turned out to be a seed pod of some kind. I brought it home to add to the collection.

Thursday’s find was a slightly grubby bird feather, which is always a nice touch.

Thursday – bird feather, probably a dove?

On Friday, I brought home another seed pod thingy – this one look kind of like a bird.

Seed pod, probably Magnolia

Saturday’s and Sunday’s finds were rather similar for no particular reason – a rolled leaf, and a stick with no bark on either end.

Then came Sunday, which was Composition Practice Day – I  started arranging the seven objects in different configurations on a black piece of paper, then photographing the experimental arrangements with my phone camera.

Important point – there is more than one right answer! This is the great fun of solving art problems versus math problems!

This one may have been my favorite, but that could change depending on how the composition was going to be used:

I also tried the objects on a white background.

It’s instructive to note what works for you balance? Scale? Horizontal versus vertical? symmetrical versus asymmetrical? Stacked versus separate?

You can save your favorite photographs and use them as inspiration for paintings (you already know that the composition works!) or as backgrounds for digital art – here’s one example that I did from the photo on the right, above.

I would love to see examples from all of you who want to play with this idea.

You don’t have to wait until a Monday to start! You just need to choose one object a day without thinking about how it will go with anything else. Choose it just because you like it. When you start your arrangements, document them with photos, and send your favorites to me.

Go to my website (CLICK BELOW) to submit photos of your own 7-Day Found Object Challenge for Composition Competence. I’ll put together an online gallery on September 1st.

FOUND OBJECTS CHALLENGE LINK

I can’t wait to see what you find!

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Wax and Clay play – plus a cool lightbox!

Grace and Deliverance (detail), Lyn Belisle, 2018

Grace and Deliverance (detail), Clay and Encaustic, Lyn Belisle, 2018

I’ve been working with earthenware clay and encaustic medium for a few years now, and really enjoying the combination.

But it occurred to me that not all encaustic artists have a chance to try this combination since they don’t have unlimited access to fired clay like I do.

Then it occurred to me that I have an Etsy shop that sells unglazed clay shards to artists. Hmmmmm. Then it occurred to me that I  just got a notice about a discount deal for advertising in Encaustic Arts Magazine.

Aha – the “Earthenware and Encaustic Exploration Set” was born!

I find that when you get an idea, just go ahead with it as if it were already real! Don’t worry about how it’s all going to work. So I put together an ad for Encaustic Arts Magazine that looks like this using photos that I took especially for this purpose:

To make the pieces look good for the ad, good lighting was necessary for the photographs of the clay pieces. So I’m sharing with you a link to a photo light box that I have found to be extremely useful for all kinds of objects – and it’s cheap (about $40) and has its own light source.

It folds up into a flat package, and it comes with different colored backgrounds. As always, you get what you pay for – it’s not what you’d find in a professional photo studio for sure – but it does give good lighting for items up to about 12″.

This is what an art object looks like inside the light box:

Of course, you crop the photos so the edges of the photo box don’t show!

Here are some of the Encaustic Shard photos taken in the new light box – good detail! By the way, I use my iPhone for taking the photos 99% of the time. You don’t need a fancy camera.

To create the ad for Encaustic Arts Magazine, I wrote a simple description of how an encaustic artist might want to experiment with clay on a small scale. The I added the photos. You’d be surprised at how easy it is to put something like this together. True! Here’s a link to how to make an ad using Microsoft Word.

Anyway, if there is a point to this post, it is to follow up on an idea that you think might work as if it were already a success, using tools that facilitate the process.

It’s important to start with the conviction that the idea it WILL work – and in fleshing out the idea, you learn a lot along the way. If it doesn’t work, the journey itself is worth the price of admission!

I’ll let you know if the “Earthenware and Encaustic Exploration Set” appeals to encaustic artists when the ad comes out in June, but even if it doesn’t, it’s always fun to put together an inspiration!

 

 

 

 

 

Screens and shelters as art

archaeological excavation shelter

screen panels of heavy paper and sticks

As part of my work with the “Unearthed” series, I’ve been working with panels of paper, wax, sticks and silk to construct three-dimensional sculptural objects that can be configured in different ways.

This has become a very exciting project for me, informed and inspired by shelters and screens for archaeological excavations as well as the idea of versatile art panels that can be viewed from many perspectives to conceal and reveal.

Here’s one that is almost finished. It is large, about four feet long and two feet high.

Lyn Belisle, Shelter Screen #1, 48″ x 36″ Paper, wax, silk, pigment, and sticks

This is a close-up of the surface of one of the panels – torn silk is adhered with beeswax to squares of archeological symbols printed on paper. It’s multilayered and complex. The surface is meant to suggest ancient shards and scraps that have been collected and stuck to experimental surfaces for further study.

Detail, “Shelter Screen #2”

Another great thing about working with these kinds of panels is that each panel has two sides. Here is the reverse side of that piece.

“Shelter Screen #2”, reverse side

The artwork can be displayed on a wall as a four-panel work, or it can be configured on a pedestal or table as a three-dimensional object.

Here is another Shelter Screen in the series that also has two different-sided surfaces. This one is slightly smaller, about 3.5′ long.

Lyn Belisle, “Shelter Screen #3”, Paper, wax, sticks, acrylic, pigment

The back of this screen features photos of one of my earthenware face shards in a series of altered photographs.

“Shelter Screen #3”, reverse side

And it can be hung, or folded or tied into a square with either side out!

Because I have very limited studio time these days with all of the Art League duties, I find that working with these shelter panels is like meditation. Each one that I construct is slightly different, and when they are stitched or hinged together, their possibilities are endless.

I love the way this process grounds me back to the basics of building. And the fact that they are inspired by archeological screen and shelters gives them a deeper meaning.

Here is my second “Unearthed” sculpture displayed in front of a Shelter Screen – they were obviously meant to be together!

It’s as if the past is reaching out into the present, giving me guidance. Maybe “Nine Antlers” has a hand in all of this!

“I held my breath as we do sometimes to stop time when something wonderful has touched us…” ~ Mary Oliver

RIP