The Spirit Doll hits the road to Austin

It’s been approximately four years and twenty five days since I last got to teach an in-person Spirit Doll workshop (but who’s counting??). That one was at the Hill Country Arts Foundation in Ingram, Texas – it seems like forever ago. Like a whole pandemic ago . . .

I have said often that when times get uncertain, I return to clay and figurative sculpture as the “comfort practice” in my studio. There’s something about making a tribe of small figures from natural materials that creates a sense of optimism, particularly since humans have been doing this for millenia.

Lately, I’ve been working on a new series of Spirit Dolls that are so much fun and fulfilling – here’s a look at those. Remember what the base is made from? Yep, recycled TP cardboard rolls.

Use what you have, right?? And pretty soon, you have a bunch of these little figures marching along in their underwear on the way to Austin.

Why Austin?? Well might you ask – because I’m finally finally teaching an in-person Spirit Doll class there at the Austin School of Fiber Arts!! HOORAY!!

On the first day of the two-day workshop, we will explore the simplest form of a spirit doll, a figure crafted from twigs and twine adorned with scraps of fabric and fiber.

On the 2nd day, we’ll work with a paper and plaster armature to create a small Spirit Doll sculpture which will be wrapped and adorned with fiber, fabric ribbon, beads, bone – any materials that reflects your aesthetic and spiritual intention. These figures can be free-standing, or wall hung.

These art dolls will become a beloved part of your body of work in fiber and mixed media. Well, of course!

The cost for the two-day workshop is just $150, which is pretty reasonable these days, and each day we will work from 10-4. I hope you’ll consider coming to this class – I’m excited about it, and I like the facility a lot.

There is a limit if EIGHT students – so if you’re considering it, register early. I will be providing three Earthshard faces for each participant. You’ll bring your own sticks and fabric and we can play to our heat’s content.

 

Here’s the link to information and registration – 

ENROLL

I hope to see you in May. Now, I need to get some clothes on those spirit dolls before they hit the road.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Trunk Story

Some of the best gifts come from unexpected places. Several weeks ago, I received a note through my website contact form. This is what it said:

I love your work and the way you incorporate different textures with your clay. I have two very old trunks the type that are made of wood and have metal and leather details. The two trunks came from my Dad’s family ranch south of San Antonio that is an original family land grant.

The wood and metal details are very very weathered. I was wondering if you were interested in having these two trunks. I would like to donate them if you want them and I can send you pictures to see if you’re interested. The trunks look very old.

We connected, and she sent me some photos of the trunks as well as some photos of the ranch where they came from, a place where she grew up.

When she brought the trunks to my house (yes, delivery was included!), I got that goose-bumpy feel that some old objects can produce just by radiating a sense of profound history and adventure. Canvas, rust, wood – everything I love just ready to be re-purposed.

I asked her if it would be OK if I took some of the components apart to used in mixed-media assemblages, and she said, “Of course,” but I can’t bring myself to do that just yet.

These photographs show the well-worn canvas coverings and the character of the boards that were used to construct the trunk. Some of the hardware is incredibly intricate,

What did these trunks hold? How far did they travel? Who made them? Where did the metal hardware come from? And how will I honor them thorough my art?

This is a starting place – an open doorway for a lot of visual stories.

Stay tuned for more. This is a gift that requires a lot of thought! Thank you, Margaret, for this inspiration.

 

 

Finding answers in your own work-stash Shards

It seems fitting to start the new year with a post on the whole idea of Shards.

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.

But sometimes the maker and the discoverer are the same person. Have you ever gone through work you’ve done earlier and found the answer to something you are doing right now? Perhaps it was a sketch, or a scrap of dyed fiber, or an unfinished collage. These are your shards, fragments of creations that were waiting for re-discovery to be put to good use in the place they had been waiting for.

Such was the case with this sculptural piece which garnered many comments when I posted it on Facebook.

Child of the Universe. Lyn Belisle 2022

I had completed the main body and really liked it, but there was something in this piece that wanted more. I envisioned him as a pilgrim coming home. He needed to be bringing something with him, but pilgrims bring only what they can carry.

I searched through my own older clay shards for answers and found four pieces that fit perfectly and answered the question of what he is carrying – he is carrying memories on his back.

Child of the Universe, back view

 

The four shards I found in the “shard stash pile” fit so perfectly on the back of the pilgrim that you cannot see them from the front. One piece even has the word “Memory” on it. Who are these people carried in the pilgrim’s memories? We don’t know, but we want to.

All of this reminds us that sometimes our own burdens are not visible to the people we encounter in our face to face dealings. It is only when we take the time to look behind the facade that we can discover and empathize.

It’s amazing to me that when we look to our own work for “shards” in our past stash pile, we often find and answer to a story that is deeper than we could have imagined if we had started out all fresh and new.

Nicholas Wilton had a great quote this morning that inspired this post – it really resonated with me, especially with this earthenware piece I’d just completed.

“Even in the mess we make, there’s hope! Beautiful clues emerge, like certain colors together or how a line relates to a shape, to inform your way forward and keep you progressing. Rather than looking at others’ work, staying immersed and attentive in your art-making will provide the solutions. It’s a self-generating process that comes from within.” – Nicholas Wilton

Now go through your own stash pile this morning for clues from your earlier self that will shape and inform your work!

Three of a zillion stash piles in my studio

 

 

 

 

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