Thursday, February 24, 2011

Art Spotlight: 'Good Karma'

'Good Karma' by Cristina McAllister
Interwoven hearts at the center radiate arrows of positive energy, which interact with other  forces and return love to the center. Encircling is an ouroboros - a mystical symbol of cyclic nature, eternal return and self-recreation. 

The theory of Karma is essentially: "you get what you give" - a cosmic system of reciprocity and balance. 
This same basic concept is also reflected on an ethical level with the "Golden Rule", which urges us to treat others as we would like to be treated.  
In modern magickal teachings, the Threefold Law states that whatever energy a person puts out into the world, be it positive or negative, will be returned to that person three times.
This universal concept of "what goes around comes around" is an essential pillar of human society, shaping our notions of community, ethics, justice and spirituality.

Tom the Post Office Guy

        Tom is in his 50’s, tall and lanky with longish curly hair and a big, bushy mustache.  He strikes me as the sort who may have been a hippie in his youth, or maybe a rock-n-roll musician. 
        Now he works at my local post office, and he has done so for decades.  I first met him about seven years ago, when my job at the time required me to make daily trips to the post office to ship overseas packages and collect the mail from the company P.O. box.
I’d usually have to go to the counter for service, which meant I did a lot of waiting in line.  Waiting in line at the post office isn’t the most exciting thing.  It’s pretty boring, and people tend to get impatient and irritated.
        But somehow, Tom has a way of easing the dullness and tension of waiting in line.
He hails each customer approaching his station with a genuine smile and friendly greeting, often calling them by name. Even after I left that job and hadn’t been to the post office for a couple of years, Tom recognized me and remembered my name.
        He is never in a hurry, never seems to feel pressured to rush, even when there’s a long line.  He focuses on each customer in turn and takes care of them. Yet he doesn’t lollygag or waste time.  Even while engaging in friendly chit-chat, he is busy attending to the task at hand, managing to efficiently take care of business while being pleasantly sociable.
        I particularly noticed this because there was another postal employee at a different post office I frequented who did NOT do this.  He’d usually be the only one working the counter and the line would be out the door, and this guy would sit there chattering away with his current customer…and not doing anything. While we all watched.  And waited.  He seemed oblivious to everyone’s annoyance, and incapable of multitasking.  I swear, there were times at that post office when I thought the people in line were going to go postal.
        But Tom – he’s always moving, taking care of business, meeting your postal needs AND managing to throw in a little affable conversation.  He is always upbeat, relaxed, genuine.
You might think that a guy who’s worked at the post office counter for decades would be bored out of his mind, disgruntled, apathetic…but Tom seems to truly enjoy his job, and he passes that contentment on to the people he deals with.
        It’s a small thing – his greeting of “Hey, Cristy, how ya doin’?” (he’s the only person who calls me Cristy), his efficient handling of our business, and his truly heartfelt “You have a great day, now.”  This standard farewell never sounds like a curt dismissal or automatic response.  He really does hope I have a great day.  I can feel it.
        A small thing – a mere few minutes of interaction…yet an encounter with Tom lifts my spirits, without fail.  I always leave with a smile, any bad mood banished, any stressful burden momentarily lightened.
'Good Karma' by Cristina McAllister*
        Tom has become a hero to me. I picture him as the hub of great web of positive energy rippling outward with each person he helps at that dull post office counter.  Maybe when they leave with a smile, feeling good, they’ll be inspired to pass that attitude on to whoever else they encounter.  I know I am. 
        It’s a small thing, but it can have far-reaching and profound affects. It’s more than just good customer service.  It’s making the world a better place.  I don’t know if Tom realizes he is a Force of Good in the world, but I do.  I really appreciate his small contribution to my life.
        Thank you, Tom.  I hope you have a great day, too, every day. And I mean it.

* 'Good Karma': see THIS POST for more information on this design.

Tuesday, February 15, 2011

Art Spotlight: 'Metamorphosis'

'Metamorphosis' variable edition serigraph by Cristina mcAllister
A Mandala Celebrating Change and Transformation

The butterfly undergoes a dramatic metamorphosis throughout its life; from lowly, ravenous caterpillar to jewel-like chrysalis to colorful, winged adult.  Because of this, it has become a symbol of change, transformation, spiritual growth and promising potential.
See THIS POST for a more in-depth exploration of butterfly symbolism.
In my "Metamorphosis Mandala", the bodies of the butterflies are in the form of an ankh, an ancient Egyptian symbol that represents the Life Force.  Each butterfly embraces a lotus flower, which represent spiritual awakening and the idea of emerging from a time of hardship stronger, wiser and more complete.
Between the butterflies is a West African adinkra symbol called sesa wo suban, which signifies self-motivated transformation of one’s life or character.
Beyond these are the triangular alchemical icons for Fire, surrounded by flames.  Fire is a powerful symbol of change and transformation, as it profoundly affects everything it comes into contact with. 
Change is an inescapable part of life – we must learn to accept the things we cannot change, find the courage to change the things we can, and cultivate the wisdom to know the difference.

Fine art prints of this design are available at my Print Shop:

Tuesday, February 8, 2011

Art Spotlight: "Namaste" Reflectograph

"Namaste" by Cristina McAllister
"Namaste" is a Hindi word of greeting, respect and hospitality used in many parts of the world.  Literally, it means "I bow to you", and it is often accompanied by añjali mudrā, a brief bow made with palms pressed together before the heart.
For many, it has a deeper meaning along the lines of "I honor the Spirit in you which is also in me", acknowledging the notion that the Divine resides in -  and connects - all of us.

 This design features a reflectograph* of the word “namaste”, framed by a figure preforming añjali mudrā, a winged heart and lotus flowers.
This piece makes a wonderful gift for someone you greatly respect, and is especially suited to hang near the entrance of your home to welcome guests.

Fine art prints of this design are are available at my Print Shop:

*Learn more about reflectographs here:
Art Spotlight: Reflectographs

Saturday, February 5, 2011

Art Spotlight: "Autumn Queen"

"Autumn Queen" serigraph by Cristina McAllister

The Autumn Queen represents my favorite time of year - the leaves are turning vibrant colors and falling to the forest floor, the harvest is reaped and stored for winter's long cold night, mighty oaks drop their acorns to sustain the creatures of the woods, the air is clean and crisp and cool, the sun is bright.

This piece celebrates all of those things, incorporating a sheaf of wheat, fall leaves and acorns into a twining knotwork pattern. The female figure represents the many goddesses associated with Fall and the harvest; Demeter (Greek), Ahrenkonigin (Austrian), Anieros and Pomona (Roman), Anapurna (Hindu), Mama Alpa (Peruvian), Sif (Scandinavian), Tatsuta Hime (Japanese), Zisa (German).

All of these deities celebrate the transition from summer to winter, the abundance of the harvest, perseverance and preparing to weather the coming season of scarcity and cold.

 14” x 14” Variable Edition serigraphs of this design are now available on my Etsy shop.
“Variable Edition” means that each print of this design is unique, featuring hand-painted backgrounds with color and texture variations. 

Friday, February 4, 2011

Art Spotlight: "PEACE"

"PEACE" serigraph by Cristina McAllister
The olive branch has been a symbol of peace since ancient times. When someone wanted to express thier peaceful intentions, they approached bearing an olive branch.
The dove bearing an olive branch originated in the biblical story of Noah’s Ark, and was popularized in the 18th century as an icon of the anti-war movement.
It has come to represent peace, hope, harmony, goodwill and serenity.

Celebrate PEACE with this original design featuring a dove bearing an olive branch and a “reflectograph” of the word “peace”.

A reflectograph is a design created by mirroring a word. 
You can read more about reflectographs in THIS POST

 6” x 9” Variable Editions of this design are now available on my Etsy shop.
“Variable Edition” means that each print of this design is unique, featuring hand-painted backgrounds with color and texture variations.

Browse available selection of prints here.

Thursday, February 3, 2011

Art Spotlight: “Reflectographs”

'Namaste' by Cristina McAllister'

Calliope's door.
While working on the artwork for Calliope (who?), I began thinking about ways to incorporate meaning into the designs.
One way was through visual symbols.  Another way was by including actual words.  I began to fiddle around with this idea, sketching stuff out, playing with different words and fancy fonts and ways to make words and letters look more decorative.  I wanted to integrate the words into the artwork in a way that almost disguised them as pure design, but was still recognizable as writing.

 What I ended up with was something I call “reflectographs”. 
I use a lot of reflective symmetry in my mandalas, and by orienting a word vertically and reflecting it, I got the effect I was going for.
At first glance, it may appear to be just an abstract design of lines and curves, but upon closer inspection, the letters (and the meaning) can be discerned.
I totally love this effect!
Reflectographs growing in"The Garden"
When I was a kid, I was captivated by the idea of secret languages, ancient writing, mysterious messages.  I even devised my own fantasy alphabets and symbol systems.  There’s something fascinating about unfamiliar writing.  I can appreciate it for its pure beauty of form, and it has the potential to mean anything, which I find intriguing.

Reflectographs growing in"The Garden"
The reflectographs have this same aura of mystery about them, when you first see them. They are almost disguised as decoration or some alien script, but just a bit more attention and contemplation can reward you with the veiled meaning.

There's a flash of instantaneous revelation and can translate this mysterious text.

'Peace' by Cristina McAllister
It’s interactive art magic!

Wednesday, February 2, 2011

Symbol Spotlight: The Butterfly

           The butterfly is one of my favorite symbols. Not only are these colorful creatures inherently beautiful, their symbolic significance is rich and multi-layered. Their symbolism stems from observations of their behavior - in particular, their extraordinary life cycle. 
A butterfly does not begin life as a colorful, winged creature.  What hatches from a butterfly’s egg is quite the opposite – a lowly, fat, squirmy, wormy caterpillar.  Its only goal in life is to survive – and eat.  For months, this ravenous little beast consumes as much food as it can, growing and molting several times as it grows too big for its own skin.
Monarch Chrysalis Photo: Albert P. Bekker
© California Academy of Sciences
Eventually it is ready for the next stage of life.  It anchors itself to a leaf or twig and begins to squirm and writhe, splitting its skin, wriggling out of it and discarding it. What emerges is no longer a caterpillar, but a chrysalis.
This chrysalis contracts and pulsates as the liquid coating it dries to a hard shell.  A time lapse video of this process can be seen here. 

Inside this jewel-like casing a remarkable transformation takes place. 
The plump body grows slimmer. Long legs, antennae, and wings develop. Once this metamorphosis is complete, the skin of the chrysalis becomes transparent once more, and the adult swells to split open its shell and emerge.  It hangs from the empty skin, unfurling its wings and letting them dry before taking flight as a beautiful, graceful butterfly.  It will now feed on nectar (pollinating the flowers it feeds from), find a mate and lay eggs for the next generation before dying.
"Metamorphosis Mandala" by Cristina McAllister

Ancient people who observed this amazing cycle drew a parallel to the spiritual journey of a seeker of enlightenment.
The caterpillar represents the unenlightened person – lowly and blindly groping, filled only with the desire to consume and satisfy its worldly cravings.
The chrysalis phase was likened to a period of study and spiritual growth.  There is a long tradition of isolating oneself to focus on inner processes – the notion of a spiritual retreat, a monastic existence and turning the mind inward to seek truth, as in meditation. The shell of the chrysalis symbolizes this process of spiritual questing, gathering of knowledge and resulting transformation.
The winged adult represents the enlightened soul – full of beauty and able to soar through the heavens.
This spiritual journey can also be seen as the transition from physical form to pure energetic spirit, or from the mortal life to the afterlife.
The butterfly’s incredible metamorphosis can represent change in general, and acceptance of change.   It signifies potential – the promise that even the ugliest caterpillar has the innate capacity to become a beautiful butterfly.
It is also regarded as a representation of the human soul.  The ancient Greek goddess Psyche was the personification of the soul, and was portrayed as a butterfly or a woman with butterfly wings* .
The people of the Solomon Islands believe butterflies to be reincarnated beings – the butterfly form being the last lifetime before the soul ceases to exist.
The Aztecs associated their native Monarch butterflies (whose fluttering wings flash bright orange, yellow and red) with flames and fire (also a powerful symbol of transformation).
Butterfly designs from ancient Mexico.
Butterflies are also considered by many diverse cultures as omens – of just about everything– fair weather, a rainy summer, thunderstorms, a marriage, good health, sickness, good luck, bad luck, birth, death.
            Butterfly designs are popular tattoo motifs, especially for women.  Their delicate beauty and brilliant colors suggest femininity and grace. They are also symbols of freedom, as are most winged creatures that fly free through the sky.

            The next time you spot one of these fascinating beings, take a moment to consider what it represents, what you may have in common with it, and what it may have to teach you. Or just watch it fluttering among the flowers and smile.

* Interesting Trivia: In art and literature, a woman with butterfly wings is known as a rhopalocerienne.  Check out this beautiful photo series by Carsten Witte.

Sources and further reading: