It is hard to write a post about looking back 20 years that isn’t a bit cliché ridden!* I will try to dodge this trap!! 20 years ago this month Mal and I took our darling girls, then aged 13 and 14, with our dear friend Cath (Tashi delek you!) to Tibet. Since our own teens we had been involved with Amnesty and active members of Free Tibet societies; concerned like so many about the impact of the Chinese occupation of Tibet. I had stayed with a family in a Tibetan refugee camp in Nepal and we both were desperately sad about what we knew was happening to Tibetan culture in China. I had wanted to travel to Tibet for many years and we felt that opportunities to do so were being limited. We knew a train line was being built and we knew the restrictions on travel would increase so we bit the bullet, readied the girls as much as we could and went.
In 2000, you could travel to Tibet in groups of 5 and had to have a government guide. Back then it was possible to have a Tibetan guide (rather than Chinese) and we were incredibly fortunate to have as our guide an amazing young Tibetan man** who had lived in India and returned to Tibet to act as a guide but also to attempt to keep people IN Tibet informed about what was happening outside. He knew his days as a registered guide were numbered. We were quite clearly being followed on our trip. The watchers were so obvious that our daughters asked about the men in suits following us.
I could write so much. In my travel journal I kept using the phrase stunningly sad. The trip was stunningly sad. I was in tears A LOT. We met incredible people. We saw astonishing beauty. We saw dreadful destruction. We saw phenomenal courage and resilience. We saw deep brokenness. In 2020, this strange year of no-one going anywhere, a notion came to me to somehow mark some of my travels with my art. This consolidated and when I realised that our Tibet trip was 20 years ago I decided to start by making some pieces responding to this. These two necklaces are my first efforts.
Yamdrok Tso (Jade Lake) is a beautiful sacred lake which has now been dammed for hydro-electricity. The setting was exquisitely beautiful but sitting on a rock listening to the wind whipping shredded prayer flags and gazing down at the lake was heartbreaking. If the dam broke two towns would be threatened and that the very existence fo the dam was already changing the eco culture of the place. Artemisia (wormwood) grew wild and every time you brushed past it the smell was released. I have grown wormwood in every garden I have had since. I was guided by the colours, the ambiguity I felt…the textures. My intention (thanks gorgeous Sage Bray ) was to capture the mood. My mood! Once in Dharan where we lived for 4 years an old Tibetan lady walked down the street wearing necklace of amber beads the size of bantam eggs. She probably wore them every day. I wanted one necklace to have the sense of those beads. So present and still. The second necklace uses thousands of tiny pote (seed) beads from Kathmandu. I made two long bone-like tubes imprinted with a Tibetan wood block inspired by the bone horns used in Buddhist ceremonies. I may or may not have made a bead using something that looks very like currency from an occupying country. Both these necklaces have been made slowly….with lots of listening and dipping into my journal and journalling and thinking and feel very significant. Colleen (the astonishing artist behind African Baroque Textiles) thank you for encouraging me to do more than just talk about this on Instagram!!
Anyway, I have a table littered with sketches for designs and ideas for more Tibet memories so strap yourself down. It is a bit symbolic too that today is 12 months to the day since my little op. This time 12 months ago I was still under then knife, had been for hours and still had hours to go. Feeling very grateful today to be standing upright and not holding a shopping bag full of drains!
*I think I say this because on reflection my dear old journal was a bit cliché ridden!
**Still too scared to write his name. He could have several blog posts devoted to him. I often wonder what happened to him and his brother, a monk we visited.
Well can I just say that it was fortunate for you lot that I didn’t write a post a couple of weeks ago when I was composing the post in my head. It would have been a miserable, self pitying rant about what giant mistake I had made getting this surgery done. I would have talked about all this green stuff I made to deal with my intense morosity. Is that a word? Should be.
But…lucky for you, finger never actually got to keyboard and time passed and BLOW ME DOWN if things didn’t improve somewhat. Everyone around me said all the things that I said as a therapist when I worked in brain injury rehabilitation…be kind to yourself, trust the process, be patient, do the homework regularly, same for everyone and it will get better. Thank goodness no one person said al of those things at once or I would possibly have decked them. And all these things were true. Life is still not acoustically rosy but it is much better and I am starting to make sense of the electronica in my brain. I no longer feel like I am living in an MRI machine (Ok, that was a slight whinge but it was such a good description of what it was like it seemed ad shame to waste it!) The robotic speech I hear is now gendered and sometimes even inflected and I am hearing sounds I never knew were sounds! Like the washing machine coming on, referee’s whistles, car indicators. Who knew? Nearly everyone else but me.
In the midst of this I made green stuff. I used my long neglected extruder and distracted myself from my potentially giant mistake. It may have been significant that I hardly made any earrings (didn’t want to think about ears). I made wild knuckle duster rings and necklaces. And all this was a single hued (but many toned, tinted and shaded) exploration that will be enlarged on in my next post but for now…lets go GREEN!
Well, I’m on. As I type this, with every strike of the key, a weird buzzing in my left ear confirms that. Yesterday was staples out and activation day and it was…OK. I was expecting worse. I don’t feel devastated. I am curious. Maybe even hopeful??? And neurologically exhausted but that is par for the course.
People ask what the sound is like. It is very very hard to explain but go to about the 6 minute mark of this video where Peter Frampton is singing Do You Feel Like I Do and starts using his talk box. That is the closest thing I can think of to explain it. But for me right now, the words are nowhere near a recognisable as in his solo. This takes weeks.
So what does this proliferation of yellow jewellery have to do with ANY of this? I have to confess that I have been very afraid. Afraid this might not work; afraid that I don’t have the energy in me to take on the learning required; afraid that I was not up to another episode of digging deep. Afraid that none of the electrodes that were stuck in my cochlear would take. Afraid that I would be left worse off than before. And obviously, the way to go…the way any NORMAL person would deal with this…was to explore that fear in jewellery form. And it is most emphatically not that I associate yellow with cowardice. I LOVE yellow. Yellow is sunshine and confidence and fields of mustard flowers in Nepal and fields of canola in Australia and Vincent Van Gogh and amber and wonderful things! It is the second favourite colour after red of just about every Nepali women I have ever asked!! But…I rarely create with yellow and I even more rarely wear it. I was…afraid of yellow. So working with something I was afraid of, immersing myself in it to the extent that it was the only colour I could use, is kind of a symbol of facing my fear. I mixed many many yellows and just spent hours surrounded by yellow. Really looking at yellow. Feeling more confident abut yellow. Letting yellow seep deep into me. The way I need to do with this buzzing.
* Mellow Yellow, Do You Feel….anyone would think I was a child of the 60s!
Last week on my sporadically frequented social media accounts I posted a photo of some pieces I made to mark the beginning of another journey! Most of you know that I am deaf as a post (diagnostic terminology) and that I could have got a cochlear implant years ago. I finally got it last week (and can I just say that I had underestimated just a tad how uncomfortable the post surgery period would be). This is very much the beginning of the journey because an implant doesn’t amplify sound like a hearing aid does, but transmits an electronic sounds. My brain has to be retrained to recognise this sound and this will take time and effort and more of that later. THAT starts with my activation tomorrow.
Back to the post. I decided, as you do, to mark the various stages of this journey with my making and made these pieces over the days before the surgery. I wanted to incorporate the motifs of shells because the cochlear is a shell shaped structure and the cilia, the nerve endings. I chose calming, gentle colours because I needed to be calmed and gentled!
I used a ball stylus to hand etch the shell designs then applied layers of the gorgeous Pan pastels. Then I used several ball styluses (stylii?) to make the dot and cilia marks before applying more layers of pastel. I used Cara Jane’s lovely surfboard templates to make the earrings and a brooch held with a magnet. More to come as I negotiate the slightly daunting road ahead but I know the negotiation will be easier if done creatively!
The stamping experiments continue! Ironically, there has been something very liberating about restricting myself to exploration in one area. Using the outie form* of my stamps and pastels I returned to a colour palette that was me several years ago and created what I call my relics. Friends and family would talk about Wendy colours and knew this meant emerald, magenta, turquoise and ultramarine (give or take). In these pieces, I sometimes augmented the impression of the stamp with additional texture makers and then added more texture by pressing the completed piece with a texture sponge. This also helped to embed the pastel chalks into the clay.
Many of my homemade stamps were leaf forms and certainly there has been a leafy theme to my latest experiments. I combined my stamps, pastels and, for the earring components, silk screens by Helen Breil and made a bangle and a couple of forms that I will make into BIG BEADS!! There was something about these that reminded me of my childhood and some research yielded barkcloth. This led into a bit of an online rabbit hole but I got lots more ideas about designs and saw that everything old gets new again!! So many of the new fabric designs we are currently seeing borrow heavily from mid century barkcloth patterns!
For lots of inspiration and ideas, you might like to subscribe to Heidi Helyard’s Studio Scraps which is a fabulous read each week. I get easily overwhelmed by words (I know, ironic!) and Heidi has the perfect sized newsletter of tips, techniques, prompts and links. And who knows what you might read about in coming months or weeks!? I also feel a class coming on so watch this space.
*technical terms! The outies are the stamps that have fine raised lines so leave large flat areas when used. The innies have the lines carved into them so leave lines when pressed. I had a photo of the outies in my last post and here are the innies!
Hello my darling ladies,
(Going out on a limb a bit there re gender! Correct me if I am wrong)
I dropped the ball a bit with my daily posts (we could all see that coming) but it was mindful ball dropping. I began enthusiastically at the start of the lockdown but the internet got so bloody noisy so I kept wearing my daily earrings and posted them on @sociallydistantearrings on Instagram but stopped rambling on. The internet version of whispering I hope.
I have been walking. A lot. I am very lucky to have a great place to walk within ten paces of my back door. I sometimes spend several hours walking, stopping to meditate or make mandala type thingies. (I only use seeds and pods and leaves as I am mindful of not moving rocks etc.) Then I come home and head to my studio where I have been exploring some new techniques (for me).
True confessions time….when I began with polymer in the dim dark depths of time over 30 years ago, I was bit of a purist. I was…a caner. And only a caner. I prided myself in saying, often in bold capital letters, no paint has been used. You could almost imagine me crossing my fingers in front of my face. I loved caning with a passion (if you are wondering WTF I am talking about read this). I still do love caning and I make some really really complex canes.
But over the last few years I have come to understand (call me a slow learner) that caning is just a tool…a process. It is just one way for me to say what I want to say or to express the idea I want to express. Other fabulously exciting and effective ways include surface treatments like painting, texturing, carving and printing. I have done all these things for ages but realised the purist still lurked a bit telling me that this was somehow less…pure. Well, I have told the purist to be buggered and am having a heap of fun. The best fun is actually combining the techniques.
It was a bit like saying I only cook Nepalese food. Or I would cook other cuisines but that when I did that, I wasn’t really cooking. Now I am exploring a heap of cuisines now and, guess what, it is all cooking!
Recently, I’ve been looking at the work of a number of ceramic artists and I love how they used stamps. I decided to try carving myself some stamps from scrap clay and then set myself the challenge of using these in ten different ways. This been such a good exercise!! I will post more photos in a few days and hope you enjoy seeing how one thing can trigger such fun!
I can’t quite recall what got me onto reading Genevieve Williamson‘s blog but I am so glad I started. After a nanosecond I signed up for her newsletter and there began a friendship which I value enormously. She is a gem. I (like many others!!) adore Genevieve’s work and after surviving a tough time several years ago I treated myself to a Genevieve Williamson necklace as a You made it gift to myself. The necklace was inspired by a quote by Clementine Paddleford (what a fabulous name?) who said Never grow a wishbone, daughter, where your backbone ought to be.” I felt like I’d shown some backbone! I have this necklace on right now, in splendid isolation, with the fabulous drop earrings I got to go with it.
Do you like the board I painted to show earrings on? As I said on IG, she is exactly like me except for the absence of eyes, hearing aids, age spots, facial hair and wrinkles. But the lipstick and hair colour is bang on.
Just do yourself a favour and look at Gen’s website and the simply extraordinarily beautiful works of art on it. I think you will start breathing more slowly, feel soothed, calmed, and ready to face whatever comes next with backbone.
People who know me know that I have a very conflicted relationship with social media. I basically hate nearly everything about it but use it of necessity. I am not SO narrow though that I cannot see the positives. I am just not totally sure that they out weigh the negatives. But this makes me sound very snarky and I am not really. Much.
For the next 5 days, I will wear earrings that celebrate some good things from social media…mainly connections with gorgeous people which may not have happened without it. I have already referred to Kate and Heidi who began as Instagram friends and today’s earrings celebrate another friendship born of a social media connection.
Early on in my involvement with Samunnat Nepal, a dear friend Mel told me I should contact the legendary Cynthia Tinapple of PCD and tell her about the ladies and what was happening over there. Me being me I didn’t, but Mel being Mel she encouraged me to until I did. To cut long and fabulous story short, Cynthia was thrilled to hear about the amazing Nepali girls and how they were using polymer clay to escape lives dominated by violence. She came and visited (twice!!) bringing with her all sorts of resources including our beloved Simmons slicer (thanks Dorothy too!!) One of the many things we learnt from Cynthia was how to make what we called our shisha veneer which she designed especially for her trip to us. Later on, with the extraordinary help of also legendary Ron Lehocky she rallied the polymer community to help us raise thousands of dollars to build our home. Cynthia learnt the delights of a good mustard oil massage and the best time of year to meet mosquitoes.
These earrings always make me think of darling Cynthia and the very special time we had together there in Nepal. A time that may never have happened without horrible social media.
Did you all realise it was a weekend? Harder to pick the difference in these days of the new normal.
I realise that a lot of the earring posts are really about connections. If the most I can do is to connect lovely people with other lovely people or lovely things (via links or photos or whatever) then…that’s enough! I sometimes think that is my role on the Colourful Journey….cue wistful sigh…connecting wonderful people to each other.
I am catching up a bit today. Yesterday I was obsessively walking or gardening. But OF COURSE wearing earrings. Yesterday’s earrings are on high rotation. I made them using veneers I made in an online class called Matrix Canes by Dan Cormier. Dan and I work differently. Dan works with precision and exactitude and I sometimes work less precisely and exactly but I learn SO much from his classes. I learn techniques but also about another way of working, another approach, that I can modify for what works in my studio. I have now done several of Dan’s online classes and he and his partner Tracy have donated a place in the classroom to the Samunnat ladies just about every time they do a class.
I made today’s drops using two gorgeous silver beads from Millennium Crafts in Thamel, Kathmandu. We sometimes go there on our trip. It is one of those really tricky to find places that are well worth the effort hunting down. A place where it is good to have local knowledge or you could end up in a dance bar with cabin. Don’t ask. Today I wore these earrings on a cold, windy walk to Mt Ainslie’s quarry. I wanted to find an old dump I had heard about and I did. But decided that it would be better to return wearing heavier boots rather than runners!! I may have had the wrong shoes but I did have the right earrings.
Today’s earrings are hot off the press. I have been working for a while on a collaboration that I was doing with Annette* from Dissonance Fashion for a fashion parade that Trove Canberra had planned. Obviously the fashion parade has been postponed but I am still excitedly working away with the fabric swatches and drawings that Annette gave me. Part of my intention was to just play with the colours and work with different ideas that I had learnt, invented, liked or made by mistake. I want to really make exploration a big part of this.
As I mentioned before, I have been playing with ideas about mark making triggered by Sage Bray in her wonderful Virtual Art Box. I’ve also been looking at ways of combining veneers and colour. Someone whose work I have loved for decades now is Bonnie Bishoff. I was transported by the pieces made by Bonnie and her partner J.M Syron which combined Bonnie’s skills with polymer and her husband’s cabinet making skills. Just stunning. What a handy husband.
Over the years, Bonnie has made different kinds of sculptural and practical pieces and, more recently, jewellery. Her voice is so clear and her style so distinct. There are several artists who use a cut and replace technique with polymer veneers and Bonnie’s is just so vibrant and joyful and celebratory. I have also used this technique but more often with blends or veneers made from repeated canes. Bonnie uses both caning and colour blending. The earrings I am wearing today are the result of me trying to do what Bonnie did. The really important step though is the next one (that isn’t counting the message I sent to Bonnie about buying earrings…)
When someone has a really clear, distinctive style, I don’t want to copy it. It was the same when I did some online courses with Dan Cormier. If the result simply was that I could make something like Dan’s, or like Bonnie’s (and it would NEVER BE AS GOOD) then I have sold myself short. And when I teach my own classes, students might initially make something very much like something I have shown them. But I REALLY want them to use what they have learnt to connect with their own voice. (Such a laden word but I can’t think of a better one at the moment.) To make something that is authentically THEM.
Only Bonnie Bishoff can make art like Bonnie Bishoff. Any copy is usually very obviously a copy and just lacks the…singing. The authenticity. Now that I have made some veneers that look a bit like sorry imitations of what Bonnie does, I want to work out, not how to make them better imitations, but how those techniques and skills can work in the pieces I want to make. Because Bonnie’s work is the star here my earrings will take a very small role in the wings. For a feast of visual sumptuousness (Mum, you will LOVE this) just go to her website and drool.
*Annette is the amazing woman who made my goddess dress.