Hearing the cries of the world

I’ve been feeling many different emotions in response to all that is happening in the world.  The recent violence in Germany, France and America, and the political situations in the UK and the US.  I was especially upset about the killing of an elderly priest in Rouen.  I’ve lately felt quite overwhelmed and as though I would like nothing more than to retreat from the world and build a hard shell around me.

I woke from a dream the other morning in which I had just finished drawing a portrait of a young man who was dwelling with me. I beheld this young man, paid witness to him and captured his likeness. Next in the dream, I was about to draw a picture of Kuan Yin.

Dream figures reflect our inner state and the outer world. Many of our young men are not well fathered, nor well mothered nor held in the fabric of the world. Some of them are doing really horrendous things. It must be so difficult to grow up into manhood. I know how trapped and diminished girls and women can be by society’s definitions and roles for us, but it is no easier for boys and men.

Kuan Yin goes by many names. She is an Eastern goddess of Mercy and Compassion who hears the cries of the world. Compassion means ‘to suffer with’.

When I woke, I felt a softening and the ability to hold a lot of conflicting and difficult thoughts and feelings with love.

I felt at peace after being visited by the promise of Kuan Yin.  I found a few different images of her online:

Guanyin Bodhisattva

Guanyin Bodhisattva

Kannon (観音)

Kannon, (観音

Kuan Yin_chinese

Kuan Yin



This morning, I woke with the dawn and sat up in bed and made the drawing that I was about to in my dream last week.  As usual, different than expected elements always appear.  The earth is in the lower left hand corner and a dragon appears to  encounter the world.  This isn’t an evil presence, however.   The dragon, an ancient symbol for high spirituality, wisdom, strength, and divine powers of transformation, is a common motif found in combination with the Goddess of Mercy.

kuan yin

She Hears the Cries of the World, Staedtler-Triplus Fineliner pens, 25 x 25cm, 2016

I saw a friend last week who has a very similar resonance to me, and it was good to share and reflect together.  She currently has a very spiritual response to life, but said that when she was younger, she had a very political stance and wonders if she will take that approach again.  I think that many people are concerned about the state of the world and are wondering what response is needed.  We can choose to hide away, tune out, become politically active, write and speak to others about our feeling and thinking responses to events.   For myself, I don’t know if I will take a more active response, but for now it is enough to hear and acknowledge the cries of the world.

Going into the moment

One of the great and liberating things about becoming older is becoming more confident.  I’ve been such a perfectionist for so long, a bit of a control freak and so worried about ‘getting it wrong’.  I wrote about this in relation to art and creativity eight years ago.   As with many things, this particular lesson is one which spirals around again and again, giving me the chance to work on it some more!

With art making, these tendencies have allowed me to make some very finely crafted pieces of art;  the art quilts and fibre art that I focused on for the first years of my voyage as an artist are very well thought out and meticulously crafted.  But, it has always been difficult for me to let go, experiment and play with art materials.

Unexpectedly, the people who come to my  creativity group for people living with dementia are my great teachers.  In providing them with the opportunity for process oriented creativity, I am experiencing for myself the liberation of being in the moment, letting go of an ‘outcome’, going with the flow, experimenting and experiencing.
With my new found confidence and certainty about who I am, I am more and more able to shuck off my insecurities and do stuff I was previously too chicken to do.

This weekend, I made marbled paper which I have admired for a very long time.  I found a ‘how to’ article in Country Living which I didn’t follow because it had a supply list requiring an initial outlay of dosh that I wasn’t prepared to spend on marbling specific materials.  I ended up going with a very user friendly, simple tutorial using shaving cream and food colouring.  It was really fun to do and the results are amazing!🙂

This was the palette for my first pass.


Shaving foam marbled with colour

I kept adding colour and/or foam for subsequent pressings.


I simply pressed the paper onto the bed of foam and lifted it off.


Then scraped the foam off with a ruler.  The colour on the paper didn’t budge and I could wipe off the excess foam with a paper towel.


The shaving cream dolloped ruler was a joy to behold.



Et voila!


A delicious, serendipitous and temporal piece of art

I had a lot of fun doing this and excitedly showed Steve each one as it became revealed.  I did a couple of them twice.


My results from the day


These were printed onto 120gsm cartridge paper.  I folded them in half and glued the backs together with PVA to make them double sided.  I went back to the Country Living tutorial and made decorations for an Easter tree, which I will show in another post.


My word for 2016 is ‘Focus’.

Opera Glasses ;; Joseph Lorusso (b. 1966)

Opera Glasses  ::   Joseph Lorusso (b. 1966)

In 2015, it was ‘Brave‘.  For the past year, I’ve been open to lots of ideas and possibilities, and have begun some explorations.  I actually haven’t produced very much, which is OK.   Now I feel ready to narrow my vision and choose.

Already, a very exciting opportunity has come my way which I have grasped with both hands.  In February I start/develop my new role as an artist working with people living with dementia.  This is pretty much my dream job.  I’ll be sharing and developing the post with an artist friend who lives in my village and I think that she and I will complement eachother very well.   I have an academic background in Counseling Psychology  and a lot of personal experience of my own and in facilitating the deeply healing aspects of artmaking and creativity with others.  I am going to London tomorrow to a workshop on Early Stage Dementia Awareness Training for Arts Facilitators.  I’m really stoked, a little nervous and have the feeling that a new world of opportunities to combine my counseling skills and working creatively with people is opening up before my eyes.

I have also decided that in May,  I’ll submit some artwork to a juried show open to Native American artists on the theme of Spirituality & Borderlands.  Last year I got my Muscogee (Creek) Nation Citizenship ID card for this express purpose.   More on that later, but I have already begun working on a piece.

What is your word for 2016?


To the moon

As promised, here are a few more shots of the nearly completed paper moon.   I collaged  vintage sheet music covers from the 1920’s and ’30’s onto the back.



We attached the moon to one of our kitchen tables, which was the perfect height and very stable too.  We glued a piece of wood to the back, which we then screwed onto a supporting structure.  Our weighty tomes and Le Creuset cooking pots came in handy.


Et voila!  The paper moon.  We did some more work to make the midnight sky background, scattered with gold stars and a skirt to hide the table legs.


I can tell you that it looked fantastic!  We’ll have access to many photos that our photographer and many of our friends took on the day of our Fifth Anniversary Celebration over the next few days and weeks.

We gave each of our guests a crescent moon lino print and an admission ticket to the Paper Moon Gallery when it comes online.


Today, Steve and I are off to Austria for about 10 days, traveling by train and staying in some beautiful places.  And guess what?  The moon in the sky looks just like our paper moon!


Over the Moon

I recently learned a new skill!  I have a very inspiring artist friend in his early 80’s who offered to teach me lino cutting some time ago.  Alan is a world traveler and worked as an architect & interior designer all of his working life.   He continues to explore in various artistic media.

I found a crescent moon design and went to his very well organized studio for a few hours last Friday.  He explained the process, let me practice on a scrap of lino and left me to it.

Sometimes, when I learn something new, I hang back and wait until the moment to begin when I am absolutely certain that it will come out perfectly the first time.  Which means that sometimes, I don’t try anything new.

Alan knows me as a fibre artist and knows that I put a lot of time and care into my art work.  He was gently encouraging.  I felt confident to try this new thing and aware that he had made time in his busy schedule to meet with me.  So I picked up my lino cutter and went for it.  I am not going to give a tutorial on the process, but I did learn that the next time I will make sure I have a good light source and I will probably draw my design with a Sharpie pen (rather than pencil).  Oh yeah, and wear my reading glasses!

I found it a very cerebral and controlled process.  I liked the planning – I cut my design in ‘reverse’ so that the print will be the right way – and when I do others, I will think about different colours of ink and about breaking up my design into three or more different blocks and about which order I will print them.

I kept my first one very simple.   On just one block, so I’ll do my prints in one go in one colour of ink.

This print was done in water based ink.  A trial run to check it out.  I removed a bit more of the lino where necessary and identified a couple of places that I will ink in with a brush after the print is made.

over the moon001

I went out and bought a pack of different coloured card stock and am going back on  Monday to make a run of prints using oil based ink.

I’m also thinking about other, larger and more complex designs to do.  I love German Expressionist woodcuts and think that my Little Red Stick story would lend itself especially well to this medium.


Besides being over the moon about learning how to do printmaking, I am really stoked that my first response to what I made was, ‘Wow!  Look at what I made.’  Not feeling apologetic and pointing out the mistakes, but feeling very proud of myself.  That mindset is 180º from where I used to be in the not so distant past.

Transformational vessel

For the past few months, I’ve been feeling restless, on the cusp of a new horizon, like I am beside myself and don’t know quite who this new person is that I am becoming.  My experience of menopause is of a very deep and powerful transformation.  I’ve been feeling very alone in it too, but recently I have been having conversations with women in my life and on Facebook.  I’ve found some blogs and websites and have bought a few books.  I am coming to realise that each woman’s experience of menopause is as individual as her thumbprint, even though there are many commonalities.  I am also discovering that I, and many other women, view this transition as a deep journey and a time of coming into real power and profound Self-knowing.  I absolutely do not label menopause as an anomalous state to be ashamed of or as an illness to be medicated away.   Still, it isn’t an easy time for me.  My artwork is my medicine.

One of my friends and Steve said to me in the past week, ‘Draw how you’re feeling’.  My friend asked, What will you draw?  And with what?’  I answered, ‘This place I am in and maybe it will be a self-portrait.  I’ll use water-soluble pastels and maybe acrylic paints.  I have some canvasses!’  Steve said, ‘Maybe you should just make some artwork.  It will help you and maybe other people too.  It’ll be brilliant.  You’re brilliant’.🙂

But I needed to feel into myself a bit more first.  It isn’t so much that I feel beside a duplicate of me.  More like there is a new empty space inside of me, new territory to explore and it’s scary.  I could talk about it with my friend and she knew what I was talking about.  I feel very grounded with Steve and it’s like he holds me and I’m holding this void.  There is this space for a new something.  A new something to emerge and a new place for me to inhabit and in the process, I am becoming someone new as I enter this new place.  It’s all of this.

I was peeling shallots on Sunday night.  You know how the bulb is wrapped in many layers of tissue-y skin, and then the flesh emerges?


Sometimes there are two bulbs curved into each other, or the one bulb is split in two, but is still contained within the whole.  That’s how it is.


I woke up the next morning and brought my wax pastels to bed and drew this picture.  To my surprise, ue-cetto, water snake in Muscogee, came to hold the space around my becoming.  In our view of the cosmos, the water snake or water serpent or water panther inhabits the Lower World.  I have so many books and websites that I have been visiting.  I can’t lay my hands on the source right now, but I’ve read that the Lower World is associated with the feminine, with creativity, with chaos.

I wrote some words about the water snake wrapping herself around me into a transformational vessel.


the place I know where dwells the me I know . . . . .

I decided to paint it with dip pen & India ink and water-soluble crayons, pencils and pastels.  I used a piece of 250 gsm mixed media A3 size paper.


First, I drew the design in pencil.  My eyes are now closed and my hand reaches through the membrane separating me from the void.


ue-cetto encircles me.


I love drawing with a dip pen.  I love the fluidity of the nib over the paper and the dipping into the ink pot.   I erased the pencil lines once I had finished.


And then I put all of the colours in.


I wrote a poem, ue-cetto (water snake).

(water snake)

She comes to me in the watery depths
and wraps herself around me.
A transformational vessel
This place I know
but I am beside myself
Where dwells the Me I know?
She holds my death and rebirth . . . . .
for a dark, deep time.
Deep we dive,
which way is up?
Up and down no longer matter
She holds me in the dark.
Dark, dark, dark and deep.
Deeper still.
My hands become my eyes
as I feel my way into a new place.
No longer beside myself
New horizons beckon.

-Melinda Schwakhofer, 2015

I wrote some of the lines of the poem onto the painting.


A powerful image from the Eastern Woodland ancestors of the Muscogee is the hand with the eye embedded in the palm.



She holds my death and rebirth . . . . . for a dark, deep time . . . . .


.  .  .  .  .  which way is up? Up and down no longer matter . . . . .


In order to place the complete poem well onto the margin, I first wrote it on a slip of paper.  Then I counted up the lines and penciled them onto the margin.



After writing the poem with grey ink, I erased the lines.



Here is the complete painting with the poem, which I may or may not keep intact.


Here are both images together.


I have a square canvas and acrylic paints.  I will paint this again and see how it continues to transform.  My artwork carries my transformation/journey which inhabits my artwork.