What does your vessel hold?

Jennifer Dixon, Vessel Workshop

I spent this past weekend in the Art Studio at UTSA/Southwest teaching a workshop called The Ephemeral Vessel: Exploring Plaster, Fiber, and Paper. As usual, I learned as much as a taught.

We began the first day by discussing the vessel as a concept. A vessel holds deep symbolic and spiritual significance, representing both containment and potential. The outside of a vessel symbolizes the physical form, protection, and boundaries, encapsulating the external aspects of life and the tangible world. It is the visible, crafted exterior that interacts with the environment, often reflecting cultural artistry and craftsmanship.

Jalen uses a soldering iron to pierce the “skin” of his vessel in progress

The inside of a vessel, however, carries profound spiritual connotations. It
represents the inner self, the soul, and the essence of being. This inner space holds potential and mystery, symbolizing the capacity to contain and nurture life, emotions, and spiritual energy. It is a metaphor for the unseen depths within every individual, the potential for growth, transformation, and the holding of sacred or significant contents.

The inside of Janis’s vessel shows little scraps and shards of memories of the process

Together, the inside and outside of a vessel illustrate the dual nature of existence: the balance between the external, material world and the internal, spiritual realm. This duality underscores the importance of harmony between our outer actions and inner values, encouraging a holistic approach to understanding life and spirituality.

And when we weren’t pondering the existentialist nature of the forms we were creating, we were also have fun! There was a moment of silence in the studio when each person got ready to pop their plaster-covered balloon. There were many oohs and ahhs when an unexpected material turned into magic on the surface of a bowl.

Almost dry enough to pop!

Taking simple materials and transforming them into meaningful creative statements has always been kind of a miraculous process. Every one of the vessels created in this workshop held a narrative. I am in awe of the vessel-makers and their stories.

Click here to see a catalog that I put together of some of the amazing work that was done this weekend.

As a final note, Everyday Sacred by Sue Bender is another one of those books that I can return too whenever I need centering. The begging bowl in this book is such a powerful image. The begging Zen monk receives the food people can spare in his bowl with gratitude. It’s an ongoing practice to accept what happens in life – and my bowl is so full of gratitude for this workshop experience!

Clay Soup and Alan Watts

Riddle: You have 60 small clay faces drying in the sun, almost ready to be fired. What do they turn into after an expected thunderstorm?

Answer: Clay Soup!

If only I had loaded the kiln before we left for the afternoon! But noooooo – the sky was clear, so who would have thought that a gully-washer was coming?

Seeing all of those dissolved clay faces when I got home made me feel sad, but also a bit philosophical. After all, they were still clay. Only their shapes had changed. They were returned back to their primordial soup!

This experience got me thinking about Alan Watts, whose writings have been a huge influence and comfort to me all of my adult life.

Alan Watts often spoke about the nature of life and death in terms that demystify and de-dramatize the transition. The concept that when you die, you go back to being what you were before you were born, is a profound reflection on the nature of existence. From clay to clay? From soup to soup?

He encourages us to view life as a temporary journey through a realm of awareness, much like a bird’s fleeting passage through a lighted house. By understanding and accepting the cyclical nature of life and death, we can alleviate the fear of death and appreciate the transient beauty of our existence. (Alan Watts Organization)​.

If you haven’t read Alan Watts before, I encourage you to start with THE BOOK
On the Taboo Against Knowing Who You Are. If you’re interested in The Book, there’s a PDF version available here.

This is all kind kind of a heavy-duty metaphor about something simple as melted clay, right? But there are lessons in everything. Living an artful life means looking at things through a different lens.

And the other HUGE bonus from this experience was the rain! Because I live in South Texas, I will willingly trade a couple of hours work for some welcome rain! I can make more clay faces but I sure can’t make it rain!

Thanks for reading – back to the clay studio 🙂

Lyn

 

 

 

 

Shards and Stories – Lessons from Greece (continued)

Taken at the National Archaeological Museum in Athens

Examining shards of pottery in Greece, especially in historical museums, is a fascinating and often deeply meaningful experience. These fragments, bearing partial symbols and images, are remnants of ancient lives and cultures, offering glimpses into the past. Each shard is a piece of a larger narrative, a fragment of a story that once was whole.

Taken at the National Archaeological Museum in Athens

The symbols and images on these shards might depict scenes from daily life, mythological tales, or intricate patterns that were significant to the culture that produced them. Even in their broken state, these fragments can tell us a great deal about the artistic styles, technological advancements, and social practices of ancient Greece.

One of the most compelling aspects of these shards is their ability to be reassembled with other pieces, even those from different pots. This process is akin to piecing together a complex jigsaw puzzle where the final image represents a broader cultural or historical narrative. When these shards are put together, they often reveal a more comprehensive picture, connecting disparate elements to form a richer, more detailed story.

Humans have always told stories with symbols and pictures and objects.Even a small scrap of of pottery gives a rich clue that inspires us to infer more of the story.

My personal artwork has  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.

Lyn Belisle, Encanto Assemblage, 2011

Have you ever wondered whether fragments of the artwork that you create today might one day be discovered and displayed in a museum, offering clues to the creative expressions of the 21st century? Imagine a future archeologist unearthing remnants of our contemporary art, much like how we now marvel at the fragments of ancient Greek artifacts. Each piece, though incomplete, tells a story of its time, revealing insights into the culture, technology, and aesthetics that defined an era.

In ancient Greece, even the smallest fragment of a vase, statue, or fresco can speak volumes. These pieces provide invaluable glimpses into the past, allowing us to reconstruct the visual and cultural landscape of a civilization long gone. The intricate designs on a pottery shard or the delicate chiseling on a broken statue reflect the artistic prowess and thematic concerns of their creators.

Reconstructed Lion, National Archaeological Museum

Similarly, future generations might uncover fragments of our current artworks—perhaps a piece of a digital print, a shard of a ceramic sculpture, or a remnant of a mixed-media installation. These fragments would serve as tangible connections to our present, helping future historians and art enthusiasts understand the themes, materials, and techniques that shape our creative output.

Lyn Belisle, Shard Components

As artists, the possibility that our work could one day be part of an archeological discovery adds a layer of legacy to our practice. It encourages us to think about the durability and impact of our creations. What messages are we embedding in our work? How do our materials and methods reflect the values and technologies of our time? In contemplating these questions, we become part of a continuum, linking our contemporary expressions to the vast tapestry of human artistic endeavor.

Lyn Belisle, Icon, 2020

So, next time you create, consider the enduring journey your art might undertake. Perhaps, centuries from now, a fragment of your work will be unearthed, sparking curiosity and admiration in a future museum, much like the ancient Greek artifacts do for us today. Through these fragments, our stories will continue to be told, and our creative legacy will persist, connecting us to future generations in a timeless dialogue.

Birds on columns, Heraklion Archaeological Museum

Learning from the past enriches our understanding and inspires us to create meaningful, lasting art for future generations to cherish. Or maybe just to wonder about . . . .

End of lesson from Greece !!

Lyn

 

 

 

The Clarity of White

I returned from Greece this past weekend filled with awe and wonder and new perspectives. Here’s the first one.

One of the many revelations that came to me while I was there was the strange and beautiful properties of the color white. Of course, if you remember your science lessons, white is not really a single color but a mixture of every color on the light spectrum.

In Greece, white dazzles everywhere – in the architecture, on the clothing of the men, women, and children. The bright white color reflects the intense sunlight, helping to keep buildings (and people) cooler during the hot summer months. The uniform white aesthetic has become a cultural and architectural tradition.

Intuition would suggest that if everything is white, then nothing stands out. But actually, white provides a clarity of detail that would be lost in a mass of various colors through the emphasis on form and value. Look at this rock wall in Mykonos – each white-washed stone is clearly outlined by form and shadow.

In this photo of Santorini, each building is clearly defined by its shape and its non-white accents such as the windows. If every building were a different color, this clarity would not be so evident.

And here is a Greek chapel. Does this white abstract form remind you of Georgia O’Keeffe? It does me 🙂

Sculptor Louise Nevelson used this principal to clarify her signature work because she wanted to emphasize and give power to the forms.

This morning, I was thinking about all of this while working in my studio on some base forms for the Vessel workshop I’ll be teaching at UTSA/SW School in July. The forms start out as pure white and are intended to be expanded and embellished. Here are a few that I made today, stacked up together:

Here they are individually – I experimented with various base materials:

Plaster gauze over balloon armature

Cotton rag and plaster

Mulberry paper and cheesecloth

Layered cheesecloth with acrylic medium

There is a huge temptation to leave them just as they are – variations in white that show the texture. But of course they are just bases that are intended to be added to.

On a whim, I took a couple of scrap assemblage pieces that hadn’t been working and painted them white, like the rocks in the Greek stone wall – I liked the result. The white clarifies the design and gives me some new directions.

I’m obviously not going to take a can of white spray paint and cover everything dimensional that I’m working on because of what I saw in Greece, but this new appreciation for white as a clarifier and unifier rather than just a blank element or space-holding color is inspiring. White. Simple. Limitless.

End of Greek Lesson One – next lesson, shards and faces!!

Thanks for reading!

~~Lyn, Intrepid Greek Island Explorer

 

 

 

 

Intermission Time

First, thanks so much for all your input on the Art League logo design! I took all of your comments and presented them to the entire Board and membership at our meeting last Sunday as part of a slide show, which I added to your input page – you can see that here. You have been hugely helpful!!

Now I am in one of those “intermission” phases. I have lot of work to do but there are no critical deadlines until next month. One of the things I like to do during Intermission time is to look back on past instructional videos and see where they might be expanded or reinvented.

The one I’m sharing today is one of the good ones that works just as it is. It’s the introduction from my eBook called Wax and Words and includes a sample short lesson on composition that is useful for anyone.

Rest assured, this is not an ad for the eBook – it really is just a rediscovery of a useful lesson on competition. Almost anyone can use the principles, not just encaustic artists, and it’s good for me to remind myself of those principles. They are my guidebook when I get lost.

Perhaps this will give you some ideas for weekend play! I hope you have a good one – thanks for reading!

Design and Branding Input

Want to give your feedback on some potential new branding for the San Antonio Art League & Museum? Now’s your chance – even if you don’t live in San Antonio and even if you are not an artist.

Our Art League is 112 years old and has gone through many changes during that time. You can read more about that on our website, saalm.org. When I first became President back in 2017, this was our logo:

It was hard to read and reproduce. I played around with some new ideas in 2018 (below), but ultimately we decided to use the one that you see at the top of the post, a simple SAALM. Kinda blah, but readable

However, in a recent stroke of very good luck, our current Art Patrons for 2024 are Lionel and Kathy Sosa, and Lionel just happens to be a world-renowned graphic designer, former owner of the largest Hispanic agency in the country.

Lionel, who is generous with his time and talent, did some pro bono work for us and suggested we brand ourselves as simply “The Art League . . .more than a museum.” It’s true – we are more than a museum because we give workshops, showcase student art, off public lectures, and collaborate with other arts organizations in our community.

Here are some samples of the new ideas:

 

What are your thoughts?

  • Do we need “San Antonio” on our logo?
  • Can we just be known as The Art League for short?
  • Do you like the Texas Peach as the accent color?

Help us with our new marketing ideas! You can send your comments to me on the Art League website.

Thanks!!!

Lyn

 

 

Hill Country Gelli Jam

The small towns and two-lane roads fanning out north of San Antonio and westward from Austin make up the heart of the Texas Hill Country. There, you will find rivers that wind through an abundance of bald cypress trees, shimmering lakes cupped in limestone canyons, and rustic German towns with unique names. One of our favorite places to stay is called Hillside Acres near Dripping Springs where we just spent a weekend with 15 inter-generational family members.

I am the Designated Art & Crafts teacher on these trips, and this time I decided to being along Gelli plates for some printmaking lessons using the camp’s abundant natural leaves and grasses. I reminded the campers that we needed just a few interesting samples, and then laid out the guidelines:

  • Only gather plant samples where it’s permitted and ensure to minimize any negative impact on the environment. Preserve the beauty and balance of nature.
  • Take only what you need and avoid harming the plants or their surroundings. Sustainable harvesting ensures the ecosystem remains healthy and diverse.
  • Aim to collect a wide range of plant species to expand your artistic palette. Experimenting with different textures, shapes, and sizes can lead to unique and interesting prints.
  • Clean up after yourself and leave the gathering area as you found it, or even better. Take pride in being responsible stewards of the environment and setting a positive example for others.

We spread the plant samples out on newspapers in the spacious Gathering Room. Sharing was encouraged.

First, we made Chapbooks to hold our favorite prints (there is a free workshop on my Teachable site showing you how to to this).

Then we created two-layer gelli prints based on positive and negative space around the plant samples.

We got lots of interesting results from all kinds of plants:

Everyone loved making “birds’ nest” prints from grasses and cut paper egg shapes:

Some of the Weekend Camp Artists used their prints on their chapbooks as covers, and some wanted to frame theirs.

You don’t need any experience to make really interesting, artful, designs using gelli plates and natural materials. Keep this in mind of you are looking for a fun activity for a family trip, especially if you are going where natural materials are widely available. It’s a good way to study the characteristics of different leaves and flowers and to preserve them as one-of-a-kind monoprints.

If you’ve never used a gelli plate before, the website called Gelli Arts has lots of information, including tutorials and lessons plans as well as materials lists and how-to’s (I have no connection with them other than enjoying the process).

I hope you are able to enjoy a nice get-away this spring with friends of family that includes some art!  Now, back to the studio . . . .

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

New Work – Scraps and Shards and Milagros

If you haven’t heard from me in a while, it’s usually because I’m on a deadline in the studio or I’m having computer problems – this time, it’s been both things, but all is well now. I just wanted to drop in to show you five new pieces I’ve built for the upcoming Art League Members Gallery show.

These guys are variations on the idea of my “Two-Byes” which I introduced in this post last year.

These pieces are a little less fiber-oriented and a little more found-object focused, but the idea is the same – take discarded scraps and and create new miracles (or at least new artwork). They incorporate some of the techniques I’ll be sharing in the upcoming working at the Fiber Artists of San Antonio Spirit Box workshop in May.

I’ve also completed a series of five new Neo-Santos in a different format – stay tuned for those. I’ll try to post photos later this week. Thanks for reading!!

The Pilgrim’s Scroll: Stories in Paper and Cloth

Color me happy !! My new online course, The Pilgrim’s Scroll, is open for enrollment! You saw the results of the recent in-person workshop in this post, and now you can join the workshop online with extra lesson and materials and unlimited time to play.

It’s been a dream of mine to explore the fusion of paper and fiber in a way that is both simple and profound. Paper is a fiber, of course. Combining paper and fiber into a scroll is akin to weaving together threads of history, culture, and creativity into a tapestry of artistic expression. The marriage of these materials allows for a unique fusion of textures, colors, and forms, culminating in a fine artwork that transcends traditional boundaries.

This new course, The Pilgrim’s Scroll: Stories in Paper and Cloth, is designed to help you choose what matters most to you and to express that in simple terms. Techniques include several kinds of image transfer , methods of surface design on textiles (think wabi-sabi), creating beads, talismans, and birds from paper clay and fiber, and assembling these with thread, wire, ribbon, and adhesives.

Here’s is the Introductory video which will tell you more about the workshop than just writing about it can:

As always, I try to keep my courses affordable, and this course is just $49 right now for instant access, downloadable videos, free images, and almost five hours of video instruction, including, as usual, the non-perfect parts (which always make us feel better somehow).

Find Out More

I hope you will join me in this course. Even though these workshops are self-paced, I’m always here to answer questions. The Pilgrim’s Scroll represents a journey, as you will see in the lessons, and we will arrive at a place of discovery and self-awareness together!

May our feet always be light on the path!

🙂 Lyn