When I was on The Way of the Monk course, I began the practice of setting up and keeping an altar. Mine is in my studio and I often light the candle on it when I want to really focus on my artwork. Here is my wintertime altar which reflects the journey that I was very consciously on for awhile.
One of our first invitations in the Way of the Monk course was to introduce ourselves with a six word memoir. It wasn’t as hard as it sounds. Mine was “Nature mystic journeying towards Muscogee roots”. I placed the photograph of myself and my full-blooded Muscogee great grandmother Melindy Davis beneath a drawing on fabric with my Winter Trees Wept haiku on it. I added a pair of jackdaw wings I’d found and placed symbols for each of the four elements – wind, fire, water, and earth at the four directions.
This is how I see the four elements of creativity:
- Stone – the physical manifestation of my art making/creativity, earthing the Muse
- Feather – inspiration, the Muse, the conception of an idea
- Fire – passion, doing the work, being in the heat of the moment
- Water – the flow of creativity, always changing, never ending, sometimes still and quiet, sometimes a torrent, the river feeds me and I feed the river
I find that it really helps me to focus on a specific element at certain times. For example, when I came to paint the shadows cast by the slate and rose petals onto Cleaved I kept putting it off, because I’ve never painted onto silk before and was worried about screwing it up, etc. When I could put it off no longer, I lit a candle and focussed on the task at hand. I put the stone from my altar in my pocket so I could really ground myself in the doing of it – to focus and be mindful enough to do a good job.
Today, I am ready to do the machine quilting on Cleaved. I stitched all around the outlines of the slate and rose petals which was very straightforward and easy. I did some research on the internet into Art Nouveau and Jugendstil designs for my quilting and found a piece of cream-coloured tailor’s chalk, perfect for drawing my design onto the white silk. Then I paused and went into my studio to light a candle for everything: grounding, passion, inspiration and the flow. My wintertime altar suddenly didn’t feel right.
So I painted a new altar cloth on silk, picked some flowers from our front garden, placed our engagement photo – flanked by a pair of jackdaw wings in the back and our wedding rings in the middle to make a springtime altar.
I am also going to start a new online course with Christine Valters Paintner on Sunday called Water, Wind, Earth and Fire which will focus on contemplative encounters with creation and praying with the elements. So it feels right to give my altar a spring clean.