Monday, December 23, 2013

Exploring the 3rd Dimension!: Research and Theory

I’ve decided to take my work to the 3rd Dimension – adding literal depth and texture to my artwork.
There are many ways of doing this, and I’ve been pondering the possibilities.

There are a couple of considerations I have from the get-go that will determine which materials and methods to use.
  1. Most of my work is sold online and shipped to buyers, so I don’t want my pieces to be too heavy or too fragile, both of which make packing and shipping more expensive and risky as far as damaging unique and irreplaceable items.
  2. I prefer to create ready-to-display pieces that don’t require framing.  I’ve heard numerous tales of people buying prints or original art, excited to put it up in their homes, only to realize that matting and framing the piece would cost another $100+, often resulting in the artwork languishing as other priorities are attended to.
So…I need something lightweight and sturdy, that’s ready to hang or display as-is.
These requirements eliminate a lot of materials, including earth-based clays and ceramics, plaster and cultured stone.
Possibilities that meet these requirements include some resins and various plastic formulations, especially foam-based ones, which reduce weight by replacing much of the bulk with air bubbles.
However, working with these chemicals often requires ventilation, special equipment, etc.  Waste material cannot be recycled.  It can also be expensive.

Another option that I find particularly intriguing is cast paper.
Basically, this is paper pulp that is pressed into a mold to shape it.  There are numerous artists working in this medium, using a number of different formulations and techniques.   
The basic recipe is just any old paper that is torn into small pieces, soaked and blended with water in a blender to break up the fibers.  This watery pulp is then pressed into a mold and the water removed using sponges and evaporation.

There are also numerous additives that folks have experimented with to add different properties to the paper pulp – including glues, starches, wallpaper paste, joint compound, clays and plaster.

This fortified paper pulp (and/or strips) is generally considered paper maché, an ancient sculptural medium that is unfortunately not terribly well-respected these days.  It is most commonly associated with grade school crafts and cheap piñatas. 

But this medium has a long and interesting history.
The ancient Egyptians used it to make coffins and death masks for their mummies.  In Asia and the Middle East, beautiful lacquered jewelry boxes and trays were crafted.  It was also used to add decorative elements to amour and shields of samurai warriors.
Eboshi-Shaped Kabuto (Helmet) with Maedate (Crest) in the Form of a Mantis Edo period, 17th century Iron, lacquer, cord, silk, wood, gold, and papier-mâché; H. of bowl: 8 in. (20.3 cm) - Art of the Samurai at the Metropolitan Museum of Art

In 18th century, European architects and designers devised waterproof paper maché formulations to create cheaper and lighter decorative elements for buildings, coaches and furniture.

It was used to skin wood-framed canoes and observatory domes and even to make projectiles fired from guns and artillery cannons.   

File:Schenkl projectile.jpg
The Schenkl projectile, used in the American Civil War, used a papier-mâché sabot

Other wartime uses included military aircraft fuel tanks made from plastic-infused paper, and paper maché combat decoys of tanks and soldiers that were used to draw enemy fire and help locate shooters.

It has a long history of use in the theater – from scenery and props to masks, costume pieces and puppets. Today is it used to build elaborate carnival floats, lampshades, dolls and effigies of saints and gods that are often burned in sacred rituals.

 And it has always been used to make art.  Paper maché lends it self to art with colorful, primitive, folksy qualities that most people usually associate with the medium, but there are amazing things being done in this with it that go far beyond humble figurines and school projects.
Oaxacan animalito figure (couldn’t find artists credit)

Troll by Kim Graham

Not to mention the massive, mind-blowing wood and paper maché sculptures built and burned at the Las Fallas Festival in Valencia, Spain every year.
Las Fallas festival sculpture

But the artist that is doing stuff closest to what I have in mind is Celtic artist Kevin Dyer
He sculpts his original design in wax, makes a mold and uses paper pulp to make a casting from the mold. He then hand-paints each cast.  The results are lovely.  The paper creates a bas relief with an almost porcelain finish, and brings dimension and definition to his complex knotwork compositions.
Celtic Wheel of Life paper cast by Kevin Dyer

I’d like to do something similar, but less fragile.  I’d like the finished pieces to have the solidity of a plaque or heavy plate that can be hung directly on a wall or set on a display easel.

One material I've been looking into is called Sculptamold. Sculptamold is a blend of paper pulp and plaster, which is non toxic and air-hardens to a very lightweight, strong and durable material. This would seem to be an ideal casting medium, but the texture is rather coarse and lumpy.

I want my surface to be finely textured to grab the fine details of my designs.  The finest paper pulp I've come across is called cotton linters. This is the tiny fibers that are left behind on the cotton seed after ginning removes the longer cotton fibers from the seed. It is naturally acid free, an important consideration for creating long-lasting fine art.  Only paper made from wood pulp has the dangerous acidity that can discolor and degrade paper over time.

So my idea, after much research, is to use fine cotton pulp for the surface layer, and use the Scuptamold to “fill” the cast, adding bulk and sturdiness.  

Theoretically, I think this combination will give me the fine texture and detail I envisions as well as the structure and durability I desire.

Of course, it might not work as I hope.  Air-dry materials tend to shrink and warp, and combining two different materials may well result in unforeseen difficulties.
But that’s what experimentation is for!

I just received my shipment of cotton pulp, Sculptamold and mold-making materials.  I’ll be getting to know these materials and testing my theories (and making a mess, I'm sure).  I’ll let you know what I discover!

After Christmas, I should have some funds to get some exciting new art supplies to finish my casts and make them shine!

Wednesday, December 18, 2013

Exploring The 3rd Dimension!: Prologue

For the past few years I’ve pretty much exclusively worked in a digital medium.  My designs start with hand sketches, which are scanned in and finished on the computer.  I’ve made these finished images manifest as paper prints, clothing, jewelry and device covers.  All of these are basically 2-dimensional applications - flat images.

But I recently watched several episodes of a PBS series called “Craft In America”, which profiles artisans working in metal, textiles, clay, glass and more.  I was suddenly struck by the fact that it had been awhile since I’d actually hand-painted any personal work (I have done some freelance projects), or created anything from physical raw materials.  My work had become almost purely cerebral – a vision in my brain translated into reality through minimal action; mainly the miniscule motions of manipulating mouse and keyboard.

Not that this technique does not result in satisfying work…I have settled into this medium for a reason – it allows me to very precisely develop my ideas and imagery.
But watching these artisans play with raw materials and work with their hands to create unique pieces got me itching to do so as well, to try new things and learn new skills.

I’ve long envisioned my designs in 3D.  Flat pictures are wonderful things, but imagery that has mass and presence, that interacts with shifting light and shadow and perspective has an extra dimension of fascination – literally, a 3rd dimension – of depth and substance.

So this realization and inspiration has sent me on a ravenous survey of new possibilities.  Projects I’d been contemplating, but had not followed through on have been brought back out into the light and reconsidered.  Various materials and techniques are being re-explored, new ones discovered, and possibilities of combining these established mediums in new ways pondered and planned.

The potential of blending the digital and the traditional, technology and hand craftsmanship has my little brain cells bursting with ideas and new avenues of inquiry that drive me to quest into unfamiliar territory, or revisit past investigations with new eyes.

My mind has been researching and studying, following breadcrumb trails through the internet, examining the properties of various materials, studying the work and techniques of other artists, watching how-to videos on YouTube, checking books out from the library.   

I’ve done a bit of experimenting with materials I had on hand, or could acquire locally.  I’ve sloshed some plaster around, stole tools from Dore’s workshop to try my hand at carving it. I’ve lugged a 25 lb bag of clay home from the art supply store and slapped that around.  But these things haven’t given me quite the result I’m looking for. 

But I’ve got some ideas I think will work, some new skills to acquire and materials to test. I’ve got allies I can collaborate with to help bring my visions to life.
I’ve ordered some more exotic supplies (and resisted ordering many, many more tempting ones).  Experimentation in earnest awaits only the FedEx truck’s arrival with my box of goodies.

I find myself a bit jittery and impatient. 
It’s exciting!  And frustrating…this lack of immediate gratification.  The Muse demands ACTION!
But I suppose this is a vital aspect of the very arena I’m delving into – the need for raw materials to start with. The necessity of a step-by-step process which physically shapes the formless into form.

This path requires patience. 
Waiting is.
Creation will be.

Saturday, December 7, 2013

Getting Old

I’ve been thinking about aging a lot lately.
I turned 40 in August, and I’ve been noticing the changes in my body.  I put on weight more easily these days (though I’ve never been prone to slimness).  The texture of my hair has changed – more fine and thin and wispy than it used to be. My skin gets very dry now, especially in wintertime.  Wrinkles are becoming more prevalent.  Things are sagging.

I see so much fear and hatred in our society about this stuff.  People fight aging tooth and nail, desperate to cling to the attributes of youth.  As a culture, we seem to despise the attributes of old age.  If you are not slim and fit and smooth-skinned and glossy-haired, fashionable and hip to the latest technology and terminology, you are considered gross, foolish, out of touch, irrelevant. 
No one wants to be those things, so we try to stave off aging, we hate seeing the signs of it in our own bodies.  We are offended when people call us “ma’am”, we don’t want to be considered or called “old”. We lie about our age. We spend millions of dollars on skin creams and plastic surgery, fad diets and injecting toxins into our skin, etc....desperately trying to avoid those hideous changes that come with age.

See how hideous she is in the Before picture???

 But that’s a losing game, kids.  No one has ever lived a long life without getting old.  It’s a part of the process.  We change constantly, and in many ways predictably.

You have already changed profoundly throughout your lifetime.  You began as a single cell, were born a plump and tiny infant.  When you grew into a child, did society scorn you for that development?
When you went through puberty and developed adult attributes, were you encouraged to delay that change?  These life transitions are considered natural and normal – they are even anticipated and celebrated.

But once you hit middle age, further progress along this universal path of transition is no longer desirable.  We want the inexorable march of time to halt, or at least to slow down.  We don’t want to continue the journey we began at birth.  We want to maintain our youth, because wrinkles and sagging flesh and less flexible joints and failing eyesight are terrifying, and even more terrifying is that we know what comes next…death…and we are certainly not ready for that!

But die we will.  Maybe in 50 years, maybe today.
And the only thing we can do in the face of inevitability is to accept it and make peace with it.  Even find the beauty in it.
detail from a work in progress

I am working on a piece about wisdom, featuring an old woman, and while studying reference picture of wrinkled faces and recreating them in my artwork, I began to see how beautiful the shapes and contours and textures of aged skin are.  The patterns suggest the valleys cut by rivers through stone, the cracked surface of a dried lake bed, the gnarled bark and fractal branches of trees.
As far as I can tell, our skin just gets more and more interesting as we age.  The smooth, featureless landscape of youthful skin seems incredibly boring by comparison.
I look at my hands now and I see a complex and fascinating network of tiny lines, flexing and deepening, growing more and more intricate as I progress on my journey through life.  I see the result of countless smiles etched into the flesh at the corners of my eyes.

We don’t have to consider wrinkles ugly.  That’s just the popular concept these days.  But I don’t buy it.  You don’t have to, either.
"Laugh Lines" by Karen Walzer

Personally, beyond the physical changes, I’ve found the mental and emotional changes that come with age to be quite marvelous.
The longer I live, the more I experience and seek out information, the bigger my picture of the universe gets, the more I’m able to see how it all fits together, and find the beauty in the whole system – even the scary parts like death, which seems less wrong and terrifying when we realize it is a necessary part of the grand scheme of things.

My perspective is changing from micro to macro.  I’m no longer so focused on myself and my own little world, but able to perceive beyond the limits of my own life and appreciate the greater context.
And when this happens, we realize that many of the things we thought were true and obvious are really just certain ways of perceiving things…and that there are many other ways that are just as compelling, if not more so, than the ones we were raised with. 
And that we have a choice in what we want to believe.
Teenagers look at the plump older lady at the grocery store - no makeup, wearing sweatpants, and think: “Yuck!  How awful, she’s just given up on life!”.
What they don’t realize is that the older lady has actually figured out what life is really about, and it has little to do with looking fashionable.  Perhaps she’s come to the conclusion that comfort is more important to her than what the teenagers at the grocery store think of her.
Younger people can’t understand some of the things older people do, but I think older people CAN understand why the younger folks do what they do, because they have done it, and come out the other side into somewhere different.

Younger people are focused on such things for a reason- they are exploring and learning to navigate the world of their peers, which is largely centered on finding a mate.  In our culture, appearance is considered very important in choosing a mate, and the spectrum of “acceptable attractiveness” tends to be rather narrow, considering the vast array of human distinctiveness of appearance.  Only a small percentage of humans would be considered beautiful if we stick to the fashion magazine standards.  How ridiculous is that?!  These days, even people who do fit the standards of beauty are ripped apart for minor deviations.  “I don’t think she’s that pretty”, they say of some gorgeous actress, “she’s too skinny/fat/pale/etc.”, and they sneer in disgust.  

 I remember thinking these kinds of thoughts when I was younger, and they still creep in today, but I can realize now how utterly insane and dehumanizing such comments are.
These days I see the beauty in peoples’ distinctiveness, how they change and grow, how they express themselves and impact one anothers' lives. 
My concept of beauty has broken free of the cage of societal standards and embraces an infinitely more vast and meaningful spectrum.  


Once we move past the fervent biological drive to mate and reproduce, a whole new world opens up.  We can focus on other things, without worrying about all the rules about impressing others and striving to present ourselves according to such standards.  We begin to be motivated by what we think and feel is right, rather than what everyone else thinks we should do or be.  The consequences of not following the herd become less fearful.  We become less sensitive to the judgments of others, because we’ve come to realize that those who judge us are not necessarily correct.  Everyone has a developing concept of the world and how it should be, and everyone is different.  Once you figure that out, it seems silly to expect ourselves to fit into any one “correct way” of being.  

It is up to us to decide how we should be, and the older we get, the more experience and information we integrate into our understanding, the more clear our personal concept of ourselves and how we want to be becomes.
This can also open us up to accepting others as they are, instead of imposing a false standard on them.

It can take a lifetime to realize how little fitting in to the current paradigm of physical appearance actually matters when it comes to living a satisfying life.
But our modern world is dominated by this younger ideal.
We can either buy into that ideal (which can often result in debilitating self loathing and dehumanizing criticism of others), or choose to discard that ideal and rely upon our own wisdom to determine what has true worth and meaning to us.

This shift in attitude is beautifully presented in this poem by Jenny Joseph:

With a red hat which doesn't go, and doesn't suit me.
And I shall spend my pension on brandy and summer gloves
And satin sandals, and say we've no money for butter.
I shall sit down on the pavement when I'm tired
And gobble up samples in shops and press alarm bells
And run my stick along the public railings
And make up for the sobriety of my youth.
I shall go out in my slippers in the rain
And pick the flowers in other people's gardens
And learn to spit
You can wear terrible shirts and grow more fat
And eat three pounds of sausages at a go
Or only bread and pickle for a week
And hoard pens and pencils and beermats and things in boxes
But now we must have clothes that keep us dry
And pay our rent and not swear in the street
And set a good example for the children.
We must have friends to dinner and read the papers.
But maybe I ought to practice a little now?
So people who know me are not too shocked and surprised
When suddenly I am old, and start to wear purple.

 Personally, I think getting old and “wearing purple” is something we should celebrate. 
It’s an accomplishment, getting this far - surviving all that life has thrown at you over the years, learning so much. I find that age has allowed me to see my life as a narrative - as a story unfolding.  From my older perspective I can look back on my life and see it's patterns and themes, witness the changes I have been through, and anticipate the new adventures and changes that future chapters will bring.

I am not offended at the idea of being an Old Lady.   I consider it a great honor, and strive to embrace that role with enthusiasm. 
I figure I’m far more likely to succeed in that than in trying to resist it.  Fighting a battle one cannot win is a waste of time and energy, and I choose not to spend the rest of my life in such futility. 
Instead, I’ll surrender to the continuation of my journey and work on appreciating it for what it is, and enjoying where it takes me, and practicing gratitude for the chance to experience the "golden years".  

  beautiful old lady

Wednesday, November 6, 2013

New work: "Potential" Mandala

"Potential" by Cristina McAllister

This piece features a character who has shown up in my sketchbook off and on over the past 10 years.  I don't have a name for her, but she seems to represent the magic of Life, of wisdom, of growth and goodness.  

Detail from "Potential"

 She's part woman, part tree; an ambassador of Life in it's many forms.  She often carries a lantern, which indicates to me that she is a guide - a light-bearer to lead one through darkness.  She is also adorned with many spiral motifs - ancient symbols of outflowing energy, growth and evolution. 
Here she holds a symbol called the Seed of Life, which she is nurturing with her breath to sprout into branches which entwine with her own.   The central medallion features open locks and keys - symbols of unlocking potential.   

Starcode message from "Potential"

The circular band contains a starcode message.  You can find more information on my starcode here, if you want to try your hand at decoding it:

 Prints on fine art paper, canvas and other option (including mats and framing) are available here:

sacred art digital art
mandala prints
pagan prints

Friday, November 1, 2013

New Designs Added to my Art Pendant Line

Click to see larger image

I've added several more of my designs to my line of handmade art pendants, including "Shaman", "Sacred Mother", "Love" and detail images from "Mystery" and "Love".
I've also added "All-Ages" versions of my designs that originally had bare breasts.  The original, au naturel versions are still available for those brazen enough to wear them!

You can peruse the collection here:

Thursday, October 31, 2013

Calliope Photo Gallery

Cristina McAllister, Dore and Calliope

Calliope the Wonder Wagon is a home-made, gypsy-style camper trailer that my husband, Dore, and I built.
You can read the behind-the-scenes scoop on how we did it here:

Calliope at the IgNight Fire Arts Conference 2013

Design drawing for the front exterior wall

"The Garden" art on one exterior wall

Design drawing for rear exterior wall

Calliope and Apollo (our Jeep)

Design drawing for door, featuring the name "Calliope"

Rainbow over Burning man

L.A. Decom Festival, 2013

Cristina McAllister


Interior, kitchen area

Peacock feather design on interior door panel

Hand-painted rose window

Calliope and the Gypsy Mystery Arts booth

One of Cat's favorite perches

Be sure to check out the story behind Calliope:

Monday, October 28, 2013

Special Offers for Newsletter Subscribers!

Sign up for the Gypsy Mystery Arts email newsletter and get an exclusive 15% OFF coupon code to use at my Fine Art America Print Shop!
Follow this link to the signup page and fill out the simple form:

Or - simply enter your email address in the "subscribe to our mailing list" box at the right.

I’ll send out the coupon codes to the newsletter mailing list next week. 

Why should you sign up, even if you’re already a fan of my Facebook page?  Because a lot of posts don’t get out to everyone.  Unless there’s activity (such as Likes or comments) on a post, it’s likely that only a few folks will see it on their feeds.  So, if you want to be sure to get announcements of new artwork and products,  notification of blog posts and sales, and special offers such as discount codes, I encourage you to sign up for the email newsletter.  I promise I won’t give your email address to anyone else, and I won’t inundate your inbox with constant pestering.  Scout’s Honor!

Wednesday, October 23, 2013


Detail from "Mystery" by Cristina McAllister
I’m really excited to present this piece.  I feel like it’s taken my work to a new level. 
Interestingly, it took a trip through the dark to get there.

I don’t talk about it much, but I struggle with occasional depression.  It runs in the family, and fortunately, it’s never been severe.  There are just certain days when I can’t seem to get my thoughts turned the right way ‘round.    
All my doubts and fears are magnified, my motivation and enthusiasm seems to evaporate.  For whatever reason, even though I KNOW I’m not being rational, I can’t seem to find my way to the positive outlook I usually have.  I can’t seem to manifest ME.  It’s frustrating and…well, depressing.
By now, I’ve learned to recognize that it’s temporary, so it doesn’t worry me too much.  I just have to ride it out, and eventually the dark cloud will lift.
I have learned that on those days, it’s best to set aside creative endeavors (my Muse usually visits on brighter days) and keep busy with something basic, or find a distraction to maybe cheer me up. 

The other day was One of Those Days.
After spending the morning cranky, unfocussed and frustrated, unable to find a distraction to grab my attention, I decided to grab my sketchbook.

I didn’t want to feel the way I was feeling, so I thought about feelings I DO like to feel.
One of those feelings is a sense of Mystery.  That enchanting sense that wondrous things are possible, that the answers to all those deep questions are out there (or within, or both), and they are extraordinary and magnificent.  It’s a feeling of sacredness, of reverence; it’s the secret song that serenades the Soul.
This feeling is one of the reasons I’m drawn to studying sacred art and spirituality in its many forms, to explore the explorations of other minds that have delved deep into the Mystery and shared their insights.   It’s one of the reasons I’m fascinated with symbols – how they can convey secret messages to those who learn their language.

“Mystery” is the result of this escape into the refuge of my imagination and inspiration.

"Mystery" by Cristina McAllister
There are many symbols entwined in this elaborate mandala, many images that invite you to ponder their significance.  There is even a secret code – an idea I’ve been contemplating integrating into my work for awhile.

"Mystery" StarCode message.

The blue bands with the stars contain a message, encoded in a simple alphabet-substitution cryptogram.  The message in the art doesn’t contain enough information to crack it (though you’re welcome to try!), so I’ve provided a sample, below, for you to work with, if you are inclined to take a whack at solving the mystery.  Please let me know if you do!

A sample of my StarCode - can YOU decipher the secret message?

Future works will contain more starcode ciphers.

This piece is more elaborate than my previous work, and took a lot more time and effort to create.  I was striving to balance complexity with legibility, to create an overall impression of ineffable mystery that dissolves into comprehension as one wanders through the details.  I wanted to create a sense of exploration and discovery, to try to capture that sense of wonder and reverence I value so much.

To that end, I’m not going to explain all the symbols in this one.  I’ll leave that for you to discover.  Many of them I’ve used before, and have written about in art descriptions and blog posts.  The internet is a fantastic resource for finding answers.  And do not discount your own, intuitive interpretations – they are just as valid, and perhaps even more meaningful, than the established connotations.
What does the Mystery whisper to you?

So...I feel like this piece has raised the bar for me, and it taught me something; my Muse is willing to visit me on my bad days, if I invite her in  :)
Fine art prints of this piece are available from my print shop (you can also zoom in to get clear images of the details here):

Saturday, October 19, 2013

NEW GMA Website Re-launch!

I’ve been a busy bee this past month or so working on a complete makeover of my website.   


I've been restructuring, redesigning, prepping art, adding watermarks, writing blurbs and FAQ answers, diving back into Dreamweaver and going: “Wait…how does this work, again?”.  I closed my Shopify account.  I switched web hosts.  I added social media thingies. I created an email newsletter sign-up.  I even inserted widgets!!!

My experiment with Shopify, which allowed me to make items directly available for sale from my website, was ultimately unsatisfying.  It was too limiting in look, layout and organization.  With Shopify, my only option was to make the site product-based.
But I want my site to focus on the art, not the products. 

So my new site is more of a gallery – click on an image thumbnail and you’ll get a closer look at that design, complete with detailed art description, and links to available products featuring that image.

The one thing I have not been able to make work are the Pinterst Pin-It buttons.  I’ve been through several tutorials and tried several different techniques to get the darn things to work right, and so far I’ve failed.  I read that it may be because I have an SSL certificate, which makes the site secure for online transactions.  In any case…this is boring technical stuff…

If you are a Pinterest user, and want to pin my stuff, please do so from your end.  I know you have your ways!

The Facebook and Twitter Share buttons appear to be working, though, so please make use of them!  Share away!  It really is a HUGE help to me when folks spread the word about my work.  :)

And FYI: you can Share a particular product directly from the product pages - look around for the little Facebook, Twitter, Pinterest, etc. icons, or "Share" buttons and BAM! Instant gratification!

I’ve also added an email newsletter sign-up, and will be launching an email newsletter soon.  Thusfar I’ve mainly used Facebook to connect with folks, but after speaking to a social media marketing consultant (THANK YOU, Sunnny D!), I now know that my Facebook posts don’t actually reach all of the fans on my fan page.   
I often feel like I’m spamming my fans with too much stuff, but it turns out that most of what I post is only seen by a small portion of people.  How mysterious and sometimes annoying you are, Facebook!

So, if you want to be in the loop and get the scoop on new work, new products, new adventures and special offers such as coupon codes, giveaway drawings and sale alerts, sign up for my newsletter.

You can do it RIGHT NOW!!!

I also re-organized my Zazzle shop, which has cases and covers for cellphones, iPads, iPods, laptops, Kindles, etc.  These are really nifty and eye-catching “costumes” for your devices that protect them and turn them into expressive accessories.
You can now pick a design you like and see what products are available featuring that image.
I realize some of these products are a bit pricey.  I can’t do much about that. The prices are largely set by Zazzle, and I add a small markup, which is my cut, and it’s not much.

BUT…Zazzle regularly has sales and coupon codes that give significant discounts – up to half off! -  and those discounts don’t affect my cut.  Score for both of us!
If you sign up for the email newsletter, I’ll let you know when relevant sales are happening so you can save some $$$.

That’s about it for now.  Thank you for all your support!  


Tuesday, September 10, 2013

Burning Man 2013: Downhome Hospitality and Unexpected Accolades

Photo by Genevieve
            We spent our summer vacation out in the arid wasteland of the Black Rock Desert once again, participating in the wild and wondrous phenomenon known as Burning Man. This was my 8th year attending, my husband Dore’s 5th. 
            This indescribable festival has become an important part of my life.  My first year, back in 2003, was a revelation.  The experience of the art and the community totally blew my mind right open.  It radically expanded my concept of what art is and what it means to be an artist.  It also restored my faith in humanity, and gave me a taste of the incredibly positive potential that we, as human beings, possess and can achieve if we make it a priority.
            Since that first year, the Burning man community has been integral to my life.  I had discovered my Tribe, and found like-minded locals and organizations who held various social events in the L.A. area.  Most of my closest friends have sprung from this network of Burners, and countless amazing experiences, including meeting my husband, have resulted from associating with this mad mix of artists, musicians, dreamers, dancers, DJ’s, evil geniuses, builders, healers, helpers, hippies, teachers, clowns, freaks, geeks and many more inspirational characters.
            Over the years I’ve been involved in many Burning Man art projects and volunteer activities.  I’ve installed my own art piece in Center Camp.  I’ve helped others with their art cars and theme camps and installations.  I’ve lit the lamps of Black Rock City in duststorms and guarded the sacred space of the Temple as the sun rose over the playa. 
Photo by Dore
            This year I was looking forward to taking it easy.  No art projects, no volunteer shifts, no commitments, no toil.  We just parked Calliope next to Professor Peacock’s Medicine Wagon, set up camp with our closest friends in the suburbs of the city and chilled out most of the time.

            The Medicine Wagon is another camper trailer/art piece built by some good friends of ours who’s last name is Peacock.  They commissioned me to do the artwork, inspired by the old patent medicine wagons. Professor Peacock’s Miracle Elixir claims to address such troublesome afflictions as Blueballs and Spontaneous Combustion , among other things. The Peacocks make specially-labeled bottles of liqueur or herbal spritzer to give out as gifts.  Their decorated camper wagon was part of the inspiration for our own Calliope The Wonder Wagon.
Photo by Tom Varden
 The two wagons have since become camp companions, and this year we arranged and decorated them to form a welcoming entrance to our cozy camp kitchen and lounge area.  Even though we were kind of out in the boonies, away from most of the art and action that takes place in the center of the city, the wagons tend to attract attention.  Folks riding by on their way to somewhere else will stop to get a closer look.  That’s when we pounce – luring them into our little lair with the offer of a cold drink and conversation.
Photo by Jeff Linebeck

             This year we had a whole slew of visitors from all over the world stop by and hang out with us for a spell.  Old friends stopped by, and strangers became new friends.  We cooked meals and shared the surplus, gave away many beers and sodas and re-filled water bottles for thirsty travelers.  We heard many intriguing tales and received some lovely gifts.  At one point, I’d say about 30 people joined us for our Stone Soup night – a camp tradition where our campmates and neighbors contribute whatever ingredients they can spare to two huge beer kegs converted to soup pots (one with meat, one without). The resulting soup is always magically delicious!

Photo by Mike Smith
            This hanging out at camp and welcoming people to stop and visit is truly one of my favorite things to do.  There are plenty of elaborate “public camps” with bars and places to chill at Burning Man, and they are great fun.  Our space is just our camp, and inviting people in is more akin to good old-fashioned hospitality than a civic service.  It’s simple, it’s nearly effortless, and it’s incredibly rewarding.

            But despite our determination to be as lazy as possible this Burn, we managed to win an Award of Excellence!  Near the end of the week, a pair of travelers stopped by wielding a giant suitcase.  They inquired as to the makers of the two wagons, popped open the luggage and handed us a large envelope.  We had been chosen to be honored as one of 300 winners of the Necklace Factory camp’s Burning Man 2013 Awards of Excellence.   We were presented with an iron-on patch and marvelous electrum medal featuring the UFO-shaped base of this year’s Man.  The medal came with a battery to slip into the back, which powered its sound-activated blue blinky lights. 
            We also received a beautiful printed and signed certificate, which touched me so deeply I couldn’t finish reading it aloud.  I wasn’t the only one whose eyes were watering. 
            It references this year’s theme of “Cargo Cult”, and it quite eloquently describes the effect that the art and experiences out there on the playa can have.  I’ve transcribed the text here, in case the photo is difficult to read:

            “We come to the desert, overflowing with abundance.  Great cars and trucks, recreational vehicles, motorcycles and even airplanes. We bring more food than we can eat, more clothes than we can wear, more music than we can listen to, and more friends than we have time to visit.  We rush into the day and race into the night…stuffing our faces with wonder and magic. We witness miracles of sight and sound that are brought to us by fantastic artists who travel frum around the world…just to stretch our minds to overfull. 
            We are the newest evolution of Cargo Cult, and we are created by you, the Artist of Note.  The Winner.  Your cargo is splendid, your generosity is boundless and your motives are beyond our understanding.  YOU HAVE MADE MAGIC. 
            You are the winner because through your magic you have made Hope. People you will never meet walked up to your creation and were made happy.  Strangers to you found reason to live larger, and smarter and more free from the persons they were before they saw your work.  That is why you are the winner of the 2013  Necklace Factory Awards.  You join a rare group of artists who are making someplace new – a richer, funnier, tastier future. 
            And when we all return home in our great cars and trucks, our RVs, motorcycles and airplanes…when we take home all the food we couldn’t eat, and the music we had no time to listen to…when we are cleaning the mountain of clothes we barely had time to wear…we will be thinking of the most precious cargo of all: the hope that was created by being witness to your work. 
            When the Muggles in our life ask why we glow with confidence, and move with a tired by firm spring in our step, we can gaze fondly into the distance and think of the artists of Burning Man.  We can once again be filled with the wonder of your work. And if they ask what these magical artists were like, we can reply the same the Melanesian man trying to describe the unimaginable abundance brought by another long past John Frum: ‘’E look like you and me. ‘E tall man, ‘E live long.’ 
            Your cargo is splendid, your generosity is boundless, and your motives are beyond understanding.  YOU HAVE MADE MAGIC.”

            Maybe I’m just a silly old woman prone to unabashed displays of sappy emotion (or maybe there’s no “maybe” about it!), but this thing gets me every time.  I don’t really need this kind of validation as an artist.  It is its own reward most of the time.  But damn, it’s grand to be informed so expressly that what we do matters to people.  Even when quietly parked in the backstreets of BRC, minding our own business!

            So congrats to Professor Peacock’s Medicine Wagon, and to Calliope the Wonder Wagon.  Congrats to the Peacocks, and to my wonderful husband who built the wagon I get to pour my creative energies into, and congrats to me for finding my way here to this nexus of time/place/people that allows me to have such precious experiences. 
            And a heartfelt Thank You to the Necklace Factory camp, for expressing their appreciation, even to the smaller efforts out there, which truly can be just as impactful as the big dollar, fire-spewing extravaganzas.  It was a delightful surprise and a highlight of our Burn.

Photo by Mike Smith
  And with luck, our “Award-Winning Calliope The Wonder Wagon” won’t become insufferably conceited over this whole thing!  ;)