Saturday, December 26, 2009

On inspiration and feeling inspired

When writing on the challenges I see ahead as a Bead Journal participant, I began wondering about the concept of inspiration. It all started with a Dutch magazine I subscribed to recently, called Happinez. All issues adress a theme, and the issue before last one was centered on... Inspiration. In one of the interviews  The artist way by Julia Cameron was mentioned and I remembered Robin Atkins posting about it once. In the interview it is mentioned that inspiration is not a thing you either get or don't. It is a flow that you can step into, if you open yourself up to it. A very compelling thought, so please tell me where to find my stream? OK, it isn't that simple...

Next thing I knew while strolling the www, I ended up at Angela Players blog. She turned out to be a BJP participant last year and facing the upcoming 2010 edition of the Bead Journal Project she decided on blogging about... Inspiration. Guess I am not the only one with the same idea, would that be part of the flow? Could inspiration be some morphogenetic field like the ones suggested by Rupert Sheldrake? Interesting! This would mean that the more inspired we get, the easier it is to get or stay inspired! Tune in to INSPIRE101.FM now.

Then I picked up the newspaper and found an article on Herta Müller who apparently won the Nobelprize for literature this year. I have never heard of her, nor of her writings but was so touched by the abbreviated version of her acceptance speech that I truely felt... Inspired. I immediately thought that I would at one end maybe... No, I am not getting ahead of myself. Some inspiration I want to keep to myself for the time being.

That made me wonder what inspires me... Well for the obvious part: classical music and eyecandy. I truly love the word eyecandy, there is no Dutch equivalent for it. I do know though that I can get lost in beaded cyberspace just by looking at all the beautifull things that are made, like this collar by Linda Vann Rettich.

On a more subconcious level, I am inspired by life itself. I treasure memories, I ponder about happenings, I linger on experiences just all to find what they make of me. Sometimes it feels like my head is spinning with ideas, not a flow but a mere waterfall! It can get quite intimidating and scary to "just" hop into. Still, that is what I have set myself as a goal for next years Bead Journal Project. No cold feet, just jump right into the water and maybe it may not be as scary as I thought it would be. The first steps have been taken, I have posted for the first time on the BJP blog so my big toe is in. I now just will have to keep on walking.

The artist is a receptacle for emotions that come from all over the place: from the sky, from the earth, from a scrap of paper, from a passing shape, from a spider's web.

Pablo Picasso (1881-1973) Spanish painter.

Tuesday, December 15, 2009

I dare

A few months ago I posted on visualization based upon music. I promissed to share my images later, so here I am to try an give you a peak into my visual mind.

Those who have been with me so far know that I have a great love for music, especially classical music. One of my favorites being Modest Mussorgsky's "Pictures at an exhibition". I embedded video's of several variotions of one movement out of this bigger piece. On the right you see the facsimile of the drawing "The Hut of Baba Yaga on Hen’s Legs" by Viktor Hartmann depicting a clock in the Russian style. This is the sketch that inspired Modest Mussorgsky to compose the movement.
To be honest, this clock does not by far do justice to what I saw when I first heard the movement and understood de background of the Baba Yaga figure! To me, this is just an old fashioned cuckoo clock. Not scary at all, while Baba Yaga is a very, terrifying figure indeed. To me from the very start she was the kind of witch you were afraid of as a kid. The witch in European folklore that is featured in the Grimm-brother's story Hans & Grietje (Hansel und Gretl) with her house build out of cake and candy, who wants to eat little childeren ...

In fact, the Baba Yaga stories are very similar to the folklore thats was gathered by the Grimm brothers. The main Baba Yaga story is Vasilisa the beautifull and tells of a beautifull young maiden that gets sent into the woods by her evil stepmother to find the hut on chickens legs. The scene is very eary, cold and fearsome. When she finds the hut and Baba Yage, she has to fullfill some assignments before she can go home with the light she was sent for. So Baba Yaga is the personification of all fears that we have to conquer before we can become enlightened of be set free.

I feel these enourmous, yet utterly human fear when the movement that Mussorgsky composed starts. It's low, dark tones that approach rappidly out of nowhere, dissonant chords and a harmony that makes you feel out of balance. But then suddenly, the dark subsides a little, seems to become ligher... Then, the dark returns and masters the light that was shimmering through. After the victory of the dark, the movement seamlessly goes into the next one: the great gates of Kiev. Free, free at last! While listening I can let go with a great sigh, the dark has been overcome as I faced my fears and step through the gate into the light.

It is easy to see how the story fits into the music. It is also easy to see how many folklore and modern lore work around this same theme. Even in  my last post Challenges Ahead I referred to my inner critic as a trickster. But if I can face her and maybe even befriend her, I can take advantage of  her wisdom. In most fairytales witches are not pure evil. Often they present the hero or heroine with some unrealistic accomplishments they have to establish before they will have what they need to fullfill their quest. This mostly means they somehow have to conquer their utmost fear(s). Even the frightening Baba Yaga is sometimes said to offer guidance to lost soles.

Below I have embedded a video of yet another composition that was inspired upon the figure of Baba Yaga by Anatoly Liadov. As is the case with Mussorgsky's movement, I find this one equally disturbing and yet beautifull. I hope you will enjoy it and have some (new) visions of your own.

Because I don't want to leave you with disturbance, and have said that facing your fears can also bring good to ones life, I also want to share another video. It is sweet and lacks all the disquieting qualities that usually accompany Baba Yaga. Above all, it shows that your Baba Yaga can be found anywhere and sometimes had to overcome a little fear herself.

Tuesday, December 8, 2009

Challenges ahead

As the end of the year comes closer, the start of the Bead Journal Project 2010 comes nearer. I am getting a little anxious truly. Can I really do this? Wasn't I too bold to subscribe? She's back again: my inner critic. Some of my doubts and fears come from very unrealistic thoughts. The thing is, I got this wonderfull book on Pakjesavond: "The art of bead embroidery" by Heidi Kummli and Sherry Serafini. When I see a beautifull piece like this one (by Heidi Kummli), I can't help myself but wonder if I would ever be able to make such an outstanding work of art?

But I do have to correct myself, for both artists have been beading for decades and I just started last year. It is like comparing a toddler that just has started to walk and is making its first, wobbly steps into the big world to a trained walker who is used to walking several miles at an end. Hmm, so who is speaking here? It's not the practical mom, nor the artist I met in my earlier post. It is my inner critic again that is trying once more to scare me off. Let's call her the trickster who tries to make me believe that I would never be capable of such art and that being capable of creating outstanding work from the start is one of the demands of... Wait a minute, of what? Don't the rules on the Bead Journal clearly state that:

there is no BJP enforcement squad ?

So who am I kidding? What is the trickster trying to get me running from? It seems that in the upcoming months I will do some serious soul-searching to find my own voice, or should I say "voices"? Over the past months I have encountered many inner voices, not just while beading. They all are truthfully mine, even though some are louder than others, more eloquent or persuasive, all deserve to be heard. That will be the true challenge: to give way to all that is in me without judging. In other words: to witness myself and put that to my embroidery canvas so I will learn to walk steadily.

To be rooted is perhaps the most important and least recognized need of the human soul.

Simone Weil (1910-1943) French Philosopher

Tuesday, December 1, 2009

Old traditions die hard (part II)

Saturday-afternoon I went shopping with my oldest (a 10 year old girl) for gifts. As I wanted her to really think about the people she was picking out presents for (her grandparents, dad and brother), I didn't tell her what to choose. I just took her to the Wereldwinkel (a fair trade shop, the link is to a Dutch site) and told her to think about these people. It was amazing at how easy she came up with nice, loving gifts for all of them and while she normally is very indecisive she was now done in a sec. This shows my point in part I of this story of how important it is to look for something that is needed and not merely wanted. What my daughter did was pick out things that reminded her of what she knew others loved doing or that she wanted to share her feelings about. (At one point I had to leave the store, because she also wanted to find a gift for me, I cannot wait until I can unwrap this little piece of her love and attention.)

Later the same afternoon we spent some time working on what we call a "surprise". This is not merely a surprise in the litteral sense, you could compare it to a piñata. She has to make one for the celebration at school but it is a tradition mostly among grown-ups as they don´t believe in Sinterklaas anymore. It all starts with drawing a name out of a bowl and buying a present for that person. Then you make a gift-wrap that symbolizes something that has been important for that person over the past year. This can be something funny, something wonderful... Anything will work that can be cast in some form or other. Usually this asks some craftiness of the person, so the making is as much fun as the unwrapping on Sinterklaasavond. To finish up the whole is wrapped in giftpaper and a special poem is made and stuck to the gift. Now what relates this tradition to the Saint we met earlier?

In early human history Europe was home to amongst others the Germanic peoples. There was no monotheistic God in their presence and their beliefs were highly dependent on natural phenomena as lighting and thunder, and on perceptions of for example the sun- and mooncycles. They left behind an oral tradition that shows a very high level of culturalization and has profoundly influenced our lives till today. In a lot of ways the traditions and rituals around Sinterklaas are not only linked back to the Saint, but also to one of the main God's in the Germanic pantheon: Wodan.

Wodan was represented riding an eight-legged horse, wearing a hat and robe, carrying a lance and mostly accompanied by two raven, called Huginn and Muninn  (Old Norse for thought and memory).  These raven travelled between the worlds of gods and men, conveying stories of how mankind was behaving upon which the gods could choose to interfere. In the days of winter, when thunderstorms and lightning, rain and snow made work outside impossible I imagine men, women and children all gathered to tell stories of how their god Wodan was riding the clouds judging men who would be worthy and brave enough to sit beside him in his great hall Walhalla. Furthermore they would probably recite epic poems, one of which tells of how Wodan received the Runes during a rite that lasted nine nights, in which he hung upside down from a tree. During these winternights they would also feast, eat and drink together. They would make a lot of noise to scare the ghosts that roam the dark nights, they would celebrate the turn of the year and the return of light at their Yule festival.

The common components in these historic roots of Western European cultural heritage and that of the Eastern European cult of Saint Nicholas are quite obvious. It is easy to see that after christianity had concurred Western Europe, the bearded God was readily transformed into a Saint with a miter, staff and robe, riding on a horse. The knowledge of all men was transformed in the celebration of Sinterklaas to a book of knowledge in which all doings - right and wrong - over the past year were accounted for. This knowledge being gathered by Sinterklaas and his aid Zwarte Piet (black peter). Because even then the rule "old habits die hard" applied, a lot of age-old customs where woven into the christian version of the festivities. Often, simply to make the people more susceptible to conversion. Even in the late 1800's Dutch city councils tried to ban Sinterklaasfestivities because they were too papistic. They didn't succeed, the traditions are too ingrained in our Calvinistic society to ever loose ground.

So back to making a surprise, because here again it is imperative that you somehow know the person whose ballot you drew. Like I  mentioned earlier, an important event in this persons life over the past year is most likely to be adressed. Like the ravens told Wodan and Zwarte Piet tells Sinterklaas of your whereabouts. This does not mean that it has to be all very serious or reproachful. Even though there are still parents who frighten children with a Sinterklaas that will punish them if they don't behave, it is an occassion par excellence to bring some humour into play! With a rhyming verse to accompany the gift we usually laugh a great deal. It softens harsh reality and deepens a sense of belonging and sharing. That is why our indigenous Sinterklaas is so dear to me and I wouldn't trade it for a 1000 Santa's in the world!

I have only 3 nights left till Sinterklaasavond, so off I am to write my poems and wrap some gifts!

Tuesday, November 24, 2009

Proud to present

Last week I finally got around to finishing the 3D-beaded necklace I wrote about earlier. I am very contented with the end result and got nice comments from my husband, my children and a co-worker! In the previous post I stated a lot of thou-shalt 's and I-should 's ... I can't say I have completely let go of these notions, because they are so deeply ingrained into my being, but I have to say that posting about this necklace and thinking about the witnessing comments brought me closer to being able to go with the flow.  So now it is with great proud I present to you (note that in the pictures the colours seem much redder that they actually are):

It was made in tubular peyote stitch using 11/0 Miyuki delicas only, one bead at a time. It was a growing proces, and as with the jewelry I have done before, I am sure I will not repeat it. That poses the question: why? What does this tell about me?

I am a person that in normal day life thrives best on regular routines that have proven to work. I am not the kind of person that likes to change her schedule just on a whim and without preparation, although I do like evolving the skills I need to do the things I want. A steady, sturdy flow is what I need to feel at peace and comfortable. In my work I sometimes have to repeat the same answer over and over again, still being patient with every customer that calls in. And I can say (without becoming too arrogant) that I manage to do these things quite well.

Apparently there is another side to me that is not that steady, that does like change at least to a certain amount. A side that likes surprises and new things, that is eager to learn, experience and has the ability to stand in awe. And somewhere the two fall together, as I think is the case in this project. Let's call them the woman and the artist for practical purposes.

Before I started this project I was totally overwhelmed by the possibilities of 3D-beadwork as I encountered them on the website of Jean Power. I fell in love head over heels with her Collar For A Rangoli Girl (a rangoli is a colourful design made on the floor near the entrance to a house to welcome guests in the Hindu tradition). The artist screamed out at the top of her voice: "I want that!" She sometimes can be a little child wanting to touch everything her eyes see. It took some time for the woman to find courage and order the whole set of geometric patterns. Being more practical she thought: "Oh, why not all. You might never know when it comes in handy." Thus satisfying her own needs, and the needs of her friend the artist. The woman built a bridge knowing that learning new skills would make them both happy, no matter what the outcome would be, as would holding a beautiful piece of jewelry. All in all, it was the artist that initiated this project, but is was the woman who finished it.

So it is safe to say that I need both. One for inspiration and initiation, the other for patience and perseverance. As I come to think of it this way, it sounds quite beautiful. Still I haven't answered the question of why I don't think I will redo this project. In fact the answer is quite simple: I started beading to give the artist a chance to find her voice and be able to express herself. When following a pattern, even if it is my own interpretation, the woman takes over the minute the artist gets bored. And she does get bored as she is constantly looking for new insights, new possibilities, new anything... Maybe one day she won't be as dependent on the woman to bring her ideas into reality, but as of now: if it hadn't been for the woman I would have had just unfinished jewelry projects lingering around. On the other hand, so far I have experienced that when I do have a bead embroidery piece at hand, working on that prevails above any other beading project that I have left unfinished. It somehow calls to me and feels free. That is what I intended to find when I opened that chest of possibilities called beads&beading. That is what my artist is looking for: freedom of expression, letting her own voice be heard and giving way to all that she is. Today I can safely say that I have come one step further on my beading path and it sure feels good!

Saturday, November 14, 2009

Old traditions die hard (part I)

It is that time of year again, the greatest friend of all children is coming to town... Sinterklaas. Why are we all so excited and who is this bloke with his long beard, all dressed to impress and why are we full of anticipation about it? Today I want to share an age-old tradition with you, that bares a lot of resemblance to Santa Claus. In fact, our Sinterklaas is his predecessor.

It all started about 1800 years ago when a little boy was born into a wealthy family, was orphaned at a young age, became a priest and later in life a bishop in  Myra. Many legends are told of him, starting from his birth. They all have a great compassion and generosity towards others in common and a great will to live a spiritual life. Although no one knows exactly when he was born or died, it is an accepted fact that he died on december 6th sometime during the 4th century in Myra where he was burried. Later on his bones were stolen from the original tomb and relocated to Bari in Italy where a huge crypt and ditto cathedral were built.

As with any Saint, there are lots and lots of stories told about Nicholas, but two of them lead up to why he is seen as a protector of children and giftgiver. The first of the most widely known legends is that of the 3 children or students murdered by an innkeeper and put in a pickling tub. When somehow Nicholas gets hold of the meat, he brings the boys back to life. Another story tells of a widower with 3 daughters for whom he can't afford a dowry. In those days, this meant that it was impossible for the women to marry and they would probably end up slaves or prostitutes. When Nicholas hears of this, he secretly throws 3 pieces of gold through the open window on seperate occasions, thus providing the dowry and saving the life and honour of the young women.

These are the most important ingredients for the main festivities: Sinterklaasavond or Pakjesavond. On the eve of december 6th Sinterklaas visits our homes with his helpers and brings us presents. Some of which have not changed over de years and still remind us of the ancient stories, for example:  chocolate coins, wrapped in gold or silver foil as a reminder of the dowries or a large, gingerbread man reminding us of the students he brought back to life or the possibility of a good marriage candidate. As was the case with the coins he provided for the girls' dowries, he is usually not seen, but simply leaves a huge sack of gifts on the doorstep.

But the tradition doesn't apply only to the evening of december 5th. There is a building up to that moment, full of anticipation. To understand this, you must know one more important story of how Nicholas once rescued his ship from a heavy storm when traveling from the holy land back to his home after making a pilgrimage. By praying he was able - or so it is told - to calm the waves and let the winds subside thus saving not only his own life, but that of the crew as well. This made him the patron of sailors and voyagers.

Every year in late november, as the Pakjesboot - the steamboat - arrives in a harbour somewhere in the Netherlands it marks the start of a festive season. Sinterklaas is everywhere: in every store, home or school. Everywhere you can hear the childrens' songs that are only sung during this season. Also, another tradition starts on this day: children putting a shoe in front of the fireplace or the doorstep (most houses lacking a fireplace nowadays, this is a practical solution). It is believed that at night, Sinterklaas roams the roofs of our homes mounted on his horse, assisted by one of his helpers. The children usually put an apple, carrot or some hay in their shoes for the horse to eat, which is then exchanged by a small gift. This custom might have something to do with the legend of the dowries, as some versions state that the coins landed in the shoes of the girls that were set in front of the fireplace to dry.

Today our season has started, he has arrived and all are filled with joy and anticipation. So far I have just talked about the history of the feast. But there is so much more to say about the inner meaning of this time of year and its relation to the upcoming christmas season. This post would become way to long if I wrote about these aspects too. Let me close by saying that to me, the most beautifull aspect, and the purpose of the giftgiving, is the fact that it is a challenge to find gifts that meet the needs - not merely the wants - of others. I believe, that when you are forced to really connect to one another, to find out each others needs, you are doing justice to yourself, the other and a higher cause. This connecting is what makes this season so festive, warm and loving.

A gift consists not in what is done or given, but in the intention of the giver or doer.

Lucius Annaeus Seneca (4 BC-65) Roman philosopher and playwright.

Thursday, November 5, 2009

Done and new lessons learned

I am done with my Staphorster Stipwerk trial-piece. It doesn't resemble the real work, but I had fun working on it and have yet again learned some valuable lessons.

It all started out with this:
You might remember I wrote about not liking the Lacy's Stiff Stuff. Well, I have not altered my opinion. Working with a backing that won't give way when held, doesn't appeal to me. It has happend that I had to pull the needle out of my work and try to pierce it again and again through the LSS just to come up at the spot I wanted it to come up.

lesson 1: The backing
For the BJP I need fabric that feels comfortable and is pliable. My first work I did on felt, which I liked very much for its warm touch and easy to handle qualities.

This is what has become of my endeavors
Even though it has not turned out a Stipwerk, I do like it. It has the contrast between the black background and bright colours that the original work has. For the jewelry I make, I work more in shades of one colour. I guess it has to do with not wanting to stand out to much. While working on this piece I realized that it can be a good quality to let some parts stand out, backed by a solid background.

lesson 2: Speak out
I can play with brighter colours without my piece becoming blatant.

The real Staphorster Stipwerk, being a very mathematical and precise design, is not easy to duplicate by freehand embroidery. I didn't draw any markings on my LSS before starting to work and didn't keep any physical example at hand, just the image in my mind that I posted above and in previously. The reason behind this being I wanted not to pin myself to an exact design but let some flow into the work. Ha! I was mistaken: freehand and preconceived design don't mix to well. At least not for me at this point.

lesson 3: Make a choice
I will have to make a choice between pre-designing a piece or really embark in freehand embroidery. For the first I will have to mark my backing so I will be able to make it more exact. For the latter I will have to really let go of any prejudice and let the muse(s) speak to me. For the BJP I have already made my choice: I want the pieces to be real journals. I don't predesign my life, so I cannot predesign my pieces either.

If I don't want do think about the outcome of my pieces beforehand, I will have to find a means of letting the inspiration come to me. A little help was in this project, as I also experienced that working on a plain background doens't offer much inspiration. 

A few ideas that popped up:

I have previously printed images on special transfer paper, that allow you to iron an image to for example a T-shirt. I could easily use that and try it on felt. The only thing is that I don't want to make large pieces, and you can only print the paper once. Some thinking needs to be done on waste-management.

I could use printed fabrics and attach either a total surface or just parts of them to felt in some manner

Lots of roads yet to be travelled, new horizons to be discovered and beads, trinkets and fabrics to be packed to continue...
You cannot travel on the path until you become the path itself.

Buddha (563 BC-483 BC) Founder of Buddhism.

Tuesday, November 3, 2009

Where am I from?

I have told you a bit about my home in my post Where am I? This post was mostly about the country I live in, but didn't adress anything personal. Today I want to tell you a little bit about where and when the seeds of my creativity were planted and how they were thriving at times and wilting at others.

Before I could even hold a spoon, my education and upbringing as a music-lover started. My mum claims she sang nursery rhymes for me even before I was born. I cannot recollect, so I have to take her word for it. If you see my efforts in the picture here, she must be right. I was about 4 years old and seem to be reading the words of the back of the album cover, but that's only to impress. In fact I could not read a word yet. I knew the songs by heart though, this (christmas)album being one of my favorites, or so I was told.

If you have read my previous posts, you might have guessed already I am a great lover of classical music, and that love has never ceased. At about the age of 6 my parents took me to a classical concert. Of course I don't know what was played but it is our family history that from that day on I wanted to be a musician. Not just any instrument was good enough, no I was very persistent about wanting to play the harp.

Not so lucky me found Rules & Regulations on her way that stated that any child wanting to learn to play an instrument had to have had 2 years of prior, general music lessons in order to learn how to read notes, sing, play the recorder and develop a feeling for rythm. So by the time I was 8 I enrolled and learned all that. Then I first learned how to play the piano to start my harp lessons at the age of 11. See? I told you I was persistent!

In total I played the piano and harp for about 7 years and then went off to college, but not to become a musician. I just wanted to enjoy making music and didn't feel the drive and ambition I would have needed to become one. Why would I want to be better? Still, creativity and art to me are not about competition, but about sharing what is dear to me and close to my heart. After a couple of years I missed my music an was lucky enough to be able to pick up piano lessons once again for another 7 years.

As any other kid I loved to draw and paint, though music has always been my number No 1. There is hardly any handcraft in the world that I haven't been able to try out. My mum being a very curious person in nature wanted to try out different techniques for herself and shared them with me and my 2 younger sisters. The amazing thing is that in my family we al have a "creative coming out" of sorts, after the age of 40. My mum started a career as a painter after that age, my dad's mom started making bobbin lace after my granddad retired, who himself picked up painting at that time, and I only remember my mom's mum busy with crocheting or knitting. The only one that started earlier in life I assume is my grandfather that I never knew. He is said to have been a gifted amateur piano player. It is sad that I have never had a chance to listen to him play, but he somehow  must have passed on his love ...

So in addition to making music, I learned how to knit, crochet, weave on a loom, spin, make bobbin lace, do thread embroidery, sew... Not that I know how to do all those things these days, nor that I am an expert at any of them. The richness is in the fact that I have at one time or another been able to try so vastly different skills and find out what I liked most: working with thread and fabrics. Not on a machine, but with my bare hands, feeling the touch of the cloth, seeing the work grow before my eyes, living the thoughts and emotions it brings up.

When my life was on the drawingboard, a great love for arts must have been etched into my soul. I really cannot imagine a life without music or some kind of craft. Due to hearing problems I am now no longer able to enjoy making music, but still have not lost the joy of listening. On my search for new experiences I stumbled upon beading and bead embroidery last year. My heart leaped for joy and I have felt drawn to it ever since I saw Robin Atkin's beadwork and the Bead Journal Project she started in 2007. Now I feel doubly blessed to have tried out so many different crafts, as it will enable me to really find my own voice over the coming year. For I know one thing for sure: I have never felt more alive then at the moments I was creating.

I have often thought the best way to define a man's character would be to seek out the particular mental or moral attitude in which, when it comes upon him, he felt himself most deeply and intensely active and alive. At such moments there is a voice inside which speaks and says: ''This is the real me!''.

William James (1842-1910) American philosopher and psychologist.

Tuesday, October 20, 2009

On dots again

One could state that I have become obsessed by dots, but while writing on my post  Dots rule I remembered art-class in High School (lucky me, because this way I wouldn't have to take a course in biology). When the modern artists were discussed also Pointillism was reviewed: a technique that uses dots instead of brushstrokes to create an image . One known contributor is Georges Seurat (1859 - 1891), of whom the  painting "Un dimanche après-midi à l'Île de la Grande Jatte" (Sunday Afternoon on the Island of La Grande Jatte) is shown below.

In fact, Pointillism was derived from Impressionism. Impressionists wanted to catch the light of the moment in the painting as accurate as they perceived it at the exact moment. To achieve this goal, often colours were blended on the canvas itself instead of on the palette, the brushstrokes were harsh and black was hardly ever used. The reasoning behind this was that even a shadow holds all colours, only it is lacking enough light for our eyes to be able to perceive it. To use black would deny this fact and would deprive the image and experience its quality.

The Pointillist way of achieving the same goal was a bit more artificial:  they tried to replicate the perception itself, by not painting in colours that match as closely as possible the colour(s) perceived. By not physically blending different pigments, but merely placing them next to each other on the canvas, the viewer would in his or her mind automatically recreate the colour intended. The eyes would do the trick, so to speak. You could view this as a kind of optical illusion. To illustrate this, view the next image  for a while and try to distinguish the individual colours you perceive (detail from "La Parade" (The Parade)):

If you look very close (click to enlarge) you will find that in the face there are touches of blue, dark red and perhaps even a hint of green. Colours you wouldn't normally expect in the pink and fleshtones that would be used to paint a face "the old-fashioned" way. The darkness of the hair in the back of the neck is not achieved by black paint, but by dots of dark blues and greens lying very close to each other. Still, when you look, you don't see an alien but a human , in normal human hues.

I was thinking about this again when I was reading my copy of "Beaded Embellishment" by Robin Atkins and Amy C. Clarke. In the book is a high quality picture of a beaded piece by Amy, that when I viewed it with the book at a reading distance in my hands, didn't make much sense. It was named: Apple.

Then it came to me to hold the book at a greater distance and Lo and Behold ... two hands carefully holding an apple came forward, presenting me with its beauty. So vividly that I wanted to take a bite out of it and savour it all to the last piece.

This is exactly what the Impressionists in general and maybe the Pointillists more particularly aimed at: you, the viewer, wanting to be a part of the experience. Looking at a painting had to feel like you were there, at the waterside on a sunday afternoon:  feeling the breeze, the warmth of the sun on your cheeks, hearing children shout and laugh, dogs bark,  and maybe holding an apple and admiring it before eating.

I feel so delighted by the idea that painting and beading to me once again fall into place, though I have never held a brush in my hands for art-purposes since kindergarten. Painting is not my cup of tea, as much as I admire those who do have the gift. It does pose me however with the challenge to blend my beads for the BJP-pieces to come, in a way I feel like I honestly am journalling, beading the experience instead of the mere thought.

I also gained a new appreciation of how intricate our eyes work and work together with our minds in combining (the frequency and intensity of) light and prior expierence, to make sense of a whole that is truely composed of parts. This even to the extend that qualities that are in fact not there are added, like motion:

So I want to leave you with this thought:

"A work of art is above all an adventure of the mind."

Eugene Ionesco (1909-1994) Romanian-born French playwright.

Tuesday, October 13, 2009

Visualization reversed or do you dare?

I won't have to make it any clearer that there are hundreds of ways to visualize a thought, feeling, mood or anything else. There are at least as much roads to visualization as there are people setting their minds and hands to it. In my post Visualization fantastique I gave a couple of examples all based on one piece of music. Now I want to try to trigger your minds in doing exactly the opposite.

A very well known piece of music is "Pictures at an exhibition" by Modest Mussorgsky (1839 - 1881). It was orignally composed for piano around 1874 in honour of the artist and architect Victor Hartman (1834 - 1873), a close friend of Mussorgsky, who had died at the age of only 39. In commemoration of Hartman about 400 pictures were exhibited in the Academy of fine Arts in St. Petersburg. Mussorgsky, still shaken by the sudden death of his good friend and an admirer of his art, then needed only about 6 weeks to compose his virtual tour through the museum.

The original piece consists of 15 movements:
  • Promenade
  • Gnomus The gnome
  • Interlude (Promenade theme)
  • Il vecchio castello The old castle
  • Tuileries (Dispute d'enfants après jeux) Dispute between children at play
  • Bydło Cattle
  • Interlude (Promenade theme)
  • Ballet Ballet of the Unhatched Chicks
  • Samuel Goldenberg und Schmuÿle also known as 2 Jews, one rich the other poor
  • Promenade
  • Limoges, le marché (La grande nouvelle) The market at Limoges (The great News)
  • Catacombæ (Sepulcrum romanum) and "Cum mortuis in lingua mortua" The Catacombs and With the Dead in a Dead Language
  • Baba-Yaga The Hut on Fowl's Legs
  • The great gates of Kiev The Bogatyr Gates
It is easy to see that Mussorgsky wanted to take his listener by the hand and walk with him through the halls of the Academy. He wanted to recreate in the minds of those who heard his music the pictures he had seen and loved so much. Maybe (but this is a wild guess on my side and not even an educated one at that) he even wanted to make us part of his loss and grief. Unfortunately, most of Hartmans paintings didn't survive today so we do not know what Mussorgsky saw and have little more than his music to testify for their existence.

Apart from the music being very inspirational in itself it has inspired others as well. For example, Maurice Ravel made an orchestration that has now become more known that the original version. But also Emerson, Lake and Palmer have made their own version, as did Isao Tomita. They all added a personal note to their own stroll through the museum and all evoke a different sensation. ELP even went so far as to add a few pieces of their own, thereby making their tour a very personal one.

Now my question to you is: when you listen to the music, what images come to your mind? Are they vivid? Colourful? Real or abstract? Does your imigination cling onto the title of the movement or are you able to let go and just drift away? Does it make a difference whether you listen to the original or to the orchestration?

In order not to give away to much, the pictures in this post are not of the music you can listen to below, nor will I tell you what movement is played except that all videos are of the same movement. Of course it is easy to cheat, as most video's will tel you what movement is played... But face the real challenge and just listen, eyes closed. Do you dare?

The original:

The orchestrated version:

The Emerson, Lake and Palmer version:

The version by Isao Tomita:

An unknown (to me at least) surprising version:

I would love to hear what you come up with and will later share my own visions. If you have any versions I didn't mention, please let me know!

Sunday, October 11, 2009

Where am I?

A short time ago I received the question to blog about where I live.... Well, to me it's quite simple: I live in a very small village in The Netherlands. A small country on the north coast of the Norhtsea. No, it's not Danmark. No, our capital is not Brussels. No, we don't speak German (as a matter of fact most of us do, a little, but not as our native language.) 

So now that a few misunderstandings are out of the way, where do I live?

Ok, this might be too general an indication. But at least you have in incling as to where you would fly into if you came over for a cuppa. Just to give you some statistics, The Netherlands are:
  • 41,526 km²  in total
  • of which 18% consists of water
  • and most of which is under sealevel.
  • there are 16,528,699 of us
  • our capital is Amsterdam
  • our government is seated in The Hague
  • and we speak Dutch (which to most foreigners sounds the same as German, but defenitely is not)
If we didn't protect ourselves from al that water, about 40% of our country would disappear, as would the village I live in. The Netherlands would look like the picture on the left.

 But now you still don't know where I live! As I said it is a little village called Kanis, if you want to "fly in" search Kanis, Utrecht with Google Earth and you will almost end up in my backyard. As you will notice it's a very small village, surrounded by lots and lots of farmland. If you have taken a close look at my profile, you will have noticed it says "Kamerik" and not "Kanis". I can tell you why: to the postal service the small place I live in doesn't exist. As far as they are concerned I live in the nearest village, which is called Kamerik, and lies about 1,5 km's south to our village. To make it even more confusing: the community we live in is called Woerden. There is also a little town called Woerden, about 7 km's south.  So how small is a small village and how little is a little town?
  • In my village Kanis live about 600 people, that is including the farms surrounding us
  • In the community of Woerden there are 48,395 people in total, of which 33,927 actually live in the city
To give you a comparison:
  • Amsterdam is our largest city that harbours 1,36 million people including those living in the suburbs
  • New York is the largest city in the United States and has over 8,36 million inhabitants
So now you know where I am. I hope you enjoyed your short visit in my small country. It's nice out here, so you're welcome to visit an find out more about those clogwearing, tulipminded people under the winds of the Nothsea. As long as you never forget:
"Home is where the heart is."

Thursday, October 1, 2009

Visualization Fantastique

In my previous post, I wrote about how powerfull visualization is and presented you with a couple of examples for visualizing data. Lately I have found some wonderful videos on YouTube. Among them were a couple of a lovely (piano) piece by the French composer Claude Debussy (1862 – 1918), called Claire de lune or Moonshine.  Debussy was one of the Impressionists and alongside with Maurice Ravel one of the most know composers of his time. The original sheet music looks like this: (Follow the link if you want to download the entire piece. It is free for non-commercial use.)

You have to be able to read the notes to let it speak to you. So it won't be appealing to a lot of people, unless they have had some education in reading musical notation. Of course anyone can listen to the music and let it come to them that way, but today I want to talk visual. That's what this blog is all about now I am officially on the road to the Bead Journal Project 2010.

When I saw the first video I found it astoundingly simple, and at the same time it shows the intricacy of the musical lines so beautifully. It all comes together, even if musical notation isn't your thing: you can litterally see what is going to happen next. The experience of listening and being able to see what you hear is an intriguing one. So please take the time, watch this video, listen to the music and let your imagination do the rest.

This visualization was made by MAM, the Music Animation Machine. Someone has spend years and years of time and effort to be able to convert music to animation. The same way we bead single beads onto cloth, he entered pieces of code after code to start encoding music.

Much earlier Walt Disney had similar ideas when he started his Silly Symphonies in the late 1920's. In 1940 the first full feature film was made with this idea and I think everyone will now know Fantasia and Fantasia 2000. The video below is of the same piece by Debussy, now orchestrated which makes the listening all together different, and with a less abstract visualization. Sadly enough it didn't make it into the full-lenght film, so I am very pleased for technical improvement and the blessings of YouTube.

So when Oliver Wendell Holmes (1809-189, American author and poet) says:

Take a music bath once or twice a week for a few seasons, and you will find that it is to the soul what the water-bath is to the body.
I would like to add:
Open your eyes for anything that you may find of beauty every day, and you will find that it is balm for your mind.

Tuesday, September 29, 2009

Dots rule

Have you ever noticed that once you get started on a subject or your attention is caught by something, it seems to be everywhere afterwards? It must be some law, because it happens to me all the time. Lately I have been dotted, so it seems.

Recentely I picked up the newspaper and read about News Dots. Its a fun way to link all the news in a visual way with... Yes indeed: DOTS. I coulnd't help but google for news dots. It's fun and interactive and got  me wondering if there is anything in it, useable for my BJP next year. Somehow of course, not only the news but everything and everyone is connected. So will be my monthly journals as well. I haven't decided on anything yet , but I am sure the thought will come back. Next I followed the link on the Slatest website, and realized how wonderful and powerful a tool visualisation is. It is a universal language and I guess that it was the same power that grabbed me when I first encoutered the BJP and visual journaling as such.

I copied some images from the Flare website. And even though I don't know what these graphs are about,  aren't they beautiful? In reality they are interactive. When you visit the flare website and go over the demo-graphs with your mousicon, you will notice that around the circle words will light up in different colours, connecting with lines that also are highlighted. It awoke a sense of awe in me. How about this one?

It reminds me of a tree, it reminds me of the 4 seasons, it reminds me of the elements, it reminds me of reaching out to someone or something, it represents growht, it ...

Apart from its practical meaning (which it was obviously designed for) it has an inner beauty all because of its simplicity. It doesn't matter it wasn't designed to be pretty, it just is. Robin Atkins blogged about visual journaling some time ago and mentioned the diversity in languages used by different artists in journaling, some more obvious conveying a message, some more hidden. Neither one being better than the other, all beautifull of their own accord.

So I would like to close with these quotations: 

"Beauty is a harmonious relation between something in our nature and the quality of the object which delights us."

Blaise Pascal (1623-1662) French mathematician, physicist and philosopher

"Beauty is a primeval phenomenon, which itself never makes its appearance, but the reflection of which is visible in a thousand different utterances of the creative mind, and is as various as nature herself."

Johann Wolfgang Von Goethe (1749-1832) German poet, novelist and dramatist.

Sunday, September 27, 2009

lessons learned

I made a start with my beaded version of Staphorster Stipwerk. In anticipation of the Bead Jounal Project 2010 I ordered some Lacy Stiff Stuff. I have read many beaders work with it, mostly to make jewelry so I wanted to give it a try for my bead embroidery.

When the shipment arrived I was surprised at how litterally Stiff the Stuff is. I didn't expect it to be for some reason. But hey, maybe there was an advantage that I didn't know of. My first piece I made with a square of 100% woollen felt that was very flexible to work with, had a nice, comfortable feel and was easy to handle.

Because I wanted my backing to be black as most of the background is for the Stipwerk, I simply dyed the Stiff Stuff with aquarelle paint that I bought once for the children. The Stiff Stuff absorbed the paint quite well, but took very long to dry. The result was not an evenly coloured piece of material, but I didn't mind too much since it is meant to become filled with beads and I have decided earlier that I just have to have the courage to try and fail.
So I went on and started beading with beads that I found last year and date back from when I was a kid - which means they are at least 30 years old! I liked the idea of working with those old beads in trying to replicate an ancient Dutch technique. While beading I realized that the production of seedbeads must have improved since then, because I simply wasn't able to pull the thread through all of the beads as the holes weren't equally big. Neither were the beads for that matter, which makes it harder to lie them down nicely on a flat surface. How fun the idea of working with my age-old beads might be...It wasn't an easy start.

As I mentioned earlier, the Stiff Stuff lacked flexibility. It didn't feel comfortable to hold and wouldn't bend in my hand to make holding beads to the backing any easier. I am not giving up though. I have beaded some and like the fact that with each series of beads attached, the work seems to come alive more and tickles me for more! Opposed to my demons that want to keep me from my trying and the possibility of not achieving a perfect result, a little angel is awakening that wants me to keep trying. My journey has begun!

Even though my piece is not finished by far, there are lessons learned:
  1. It is important to me to have a backing that is flexible, feels good and comfortable
  2. It helps if the beads are of good quality
  3. you never learn as much as from plain trying!
I did sign up for the Bead Journal Project this weekend. Although officially, registration is open from october 1st till december 15th, you can send in your application already. The reactions I have had so far are heartwarming, so I can encourage anyone to please sign up. It will be fun to travel parts of that road to discovery together.

Tuesday, September 22, 2009

thread or threat?

Saturdaynight, as I was picking up my current beading project again - after putting it down when "normal" life started as summerbreak was over - I felt frustrated. I am beading a 3D necklace from a design by Jean Power, but the use of very small 11/0 cilinderbeads sometimes asks too much of the tread. Especially when I have made some mistakes and re-do part of it. Working on my own version of this necklace is a study in patience and concentration in itself, a training in mindfullness.

So I found myself with a fraying thread and the urge not to replace it. Two very incompatible options. Then I asked myself why I would be so stubborn not to finish it and start with a new one? The answers that came to mind were simple:
  • thou shalt not waste a perfectly good piece of material
  • thou shalt finish what thou has started (with)
  • thou shalt not give up
But these thoughts...are they true? Or are they the voice of a thou-shalt demon, that wouldn't let me think for myself, but rather have it that I - without any questions asked - just follow lessons learned early in life? And if so, the lessons being inherently good: are they applicable now?

Then I remembered Robin Atkins' post on witnessing. Robin always succeeds in posing challenging thoughts that keep my mind busy for quite a while. Often I don't realize the personal meaning I find in her posts until I had time to digest them, so to speak. True food for thought! It was the same with this one, but it suddenly became clear to me that witnessing is not only important when communicating with others, but also in a more inner sense. Sounds vague? Let me try to explain:

As of late I have been investigating my inner critic and I found out that she loves to consume a lot of positive energy to spill it out in harsh comments. I let a little of that seep through already in my post walk the talk. So that's who was speaking here when I heard that voice saying I should not... Now, from a witnessing point of view: if I would be witnessing myself, what would I say? How would I build myself up and give me support? I realized that:
  • I should finish the fraying tread and start a new one, because it would stop the frustration and bring joy back into my project
  • I should give up on my tread, because it had become a threat. In no way would starting a new thread stop me from finishing my project.
  • Oh, yes... the thou-shalt-not-waste-stuff... But isn't it just what it is: a piece of yarn? What harm could there be in getting rid of that?
 I made it so and I felt the frustration ooze away. On the go I had witnessed myself and then I found this quote:

"The intuitive mind is a sacred gift and the rational mind is a faithful servant. We have created a society that honors the servant and has forgotten the gift." - Albert Einstein

I rest my case.

Tuesday, September 15, 2009

I love dots

I do, I love dots. Never realized it so much as of today. They always make a happy impression and combine so easily into flowers or other motives. (Photo with courtesy to Stegemans textiel)

Why today? Well, the 3rd tuesday in september traditionally is Prinsjesdag in The Netherlands. The Hague welcomes our queen for the festive beginning of the new parliamentary year. Although this might be boring to think about, it is always a festive event. To get an impression: think of it as the marriage between the State of the Union (USA) and the hats of Royal Ascot (UK). But is this now turning into a political blog? By no means! And what does relate Prinsjesdag to dots? I will come to that in a sec.

As I said Prinsjesdag is a very festive event, so it attracts lots and lots of people from all over the country who want to get a glimpse of our Queen, the prince royal and his spouse. As I was watching the news I saw a few children in traditional clothing from Staphorst, a small town on the north-east side of the Netherlands. As part of their clothing these girls were wearing small bonnets. Lots of these traditional garments are from a (dark) blue or black fabric and adorned either with shawls or aprons in vibrant colours and (floral) patterns or as in the Staphorster Stipwerk, the fabric itself is embellished.

Now I come to the dots...The picture above is of so called Staphorster Stipwerk, which can be freely translated as Dotwork from Staphorst. It's nothing more than a technique, in which a small block with some nails attached to it is dipped into paint and pressed on the fabric or any other backing. When this is done a couple of times with different colours, the black is suddenly alive with small floral elements.

In fact it sparked  my imagination: if this could be done by such simple means, why not try and do it with beads? I think I found a challenge for the upcoming fall and winter. The base colour does apply to the retreat and death in nature that holds the promiss of a blooming spring and summer...If I'll be patient. (Photo was taken in my backyard last autumn.)

Sunday, September 13, 2009

Walk the talk

The first work I made was just a trial. I had become intrigued by bead embroidery by surfing the WWW. After I first stumbled upon the Bead Journal Project homepage I felt drawn into a whole new world. I had been beading for a short time then - I started in the summer of 2008 - but had focused on beaded jewelry. Fun to do and still one of my a favorite ways to spend spare time, but I cannot possibly wear all that jewelry and have no ambition to start a shop. The BJP showed me a whole new meaning and means to beads.
It was the flow that seemed to embody all these different works and my inner self didn't seem to stop with ooohs and aaaahs.
The next I knew, I felt torn between a strong want to give bead embroidery a try and a little demon voice inside me that kept on telling me I would never be as good as they were. At first I won: I did start a little project of my own that didn't turn out so bad. I called it "teardrop", because the shape reminded me of a tear. Unfortunately my work then stalled: I simply did not know what to do with my piece and still haven't found out either.
It was when I started to really follow blogs like for example Robin Atkins' Beadlust  or Susan Elliot's Plays with needles' that I realized that they too struggled with their inner critics.  After I read Susans blogpost on  Mini Me I realized I did the same. Always telling my children that you never learn untill you try and try again, and that all good work (artistic or not) is not achieved at once. Teaching them that failure is not a bad thing at all, because it is through failure that we learn important and invaluable lessons that help us grow. And here I was, allowing myself to be put aside by my own fear of failure. I love the phrase Susan used as she wrote she needed to "walk the talk...". It might be a common way of saying, but to me (being Dutch and not having English as my mother tongue) it was new and compelled me to push myself to start overcoming that hurdle.
As I am writing this down I am well on my road to victory. I have started this blog as a first step into starting my own BJP next year. I am decided to embark on that voyage that will lead me to discoveries of new worlds where no one has gone before... - as captain Picard would say - not even me. I will no doubt find myself struggling with my inner critic who will sent me countless little demons as I go along... But if they can, why wouldn't I be able to?


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