Saturday, October 27, 2012

Gemstones of the Zodiac - Part 8 - Pearl

Welcome to Part 8 of our “Gemstones of the Zodiac” series.

The eighth sign of the Zodiac is Scorpio (October 23 - November 21).  The Mystical Zodiac stone for Scorpio is Pearl.

Fun fact: Pearl is the only gemstone that is made by a living being.  The harvesting of pearls does not kill the animal.  After the pearl is harvested, the mollusks can be put back in the water (where they will produce more pearls).


Pearl is the oldest known gemstone.  The oldest known piece of pearl jewelry dates back to the 6th century BC, and was found in the sarcophagus of a Persian princess.  It is on exhibit at the Louvre in Paris.

In Classic Rome, only people above a certain station were allowed to wear pearls.  The Incas and Aztecs prized pearls, and believed they held magic powers.  Other cultures also believed this, largely because they felt the pearls resembled the moon.

In the 13th and 14 Centuries, there were laws in many European countries about who could and could not wear pearls.

The most famous of all pearl stories involves Cleopatra and comes from Pliny the Elder.  According to the legend, Cleopatra wagered with Marc Antony that she could produce a banquet that cost “ten million sesterces” (in today’s currency, that would be over $1 million).  After feasting on a banquet that was in line with many he had before, he challenged her on where this most expensive feast would come from.  Cleopatra then summoned a servant, who produced a single glass of liquid (vinegar).  Cleopatra then removed a very rare pearl from a pearl earring she was wearing, dropped the pearl in the vinegar, and, after it dissolved, drank it down.  (Note:  while a pearl can be made to dissolve in vinegar, it could not happen fast enough for the events in this story.  So, either Cleopatra had softened the pearl in advance, or Pliny was exaggerating his story.  It is still a great legend).

In ancient times, Egyptian women would grind up black pearls, mix them with olive oil, and use that for eyeliner.

Pearl Properties

Pearls symbolize faith and purity, and are also believed to increase fertility.  This is why they are a standard in wedding gowns and wedding jewelry.

Pearls are thought to neutralize poison and lower acidity (which is why Cleopatra was said to dissolve the pearl and drink it.  The base pearl balanced the acidic vinegar).

Pearls are also thought to bring foresight, and to protect from harm, especially from the evil eye.

Beyond its healing and symbolic properties, pearls are also believed to have magical powers.  The type of magic depends on the color of pearl.

White pearls are believed to bring freedom.

Brown pearls are believed to bring wisdom.

Yellow pearls are believed to bring wealth.

Green pearls are believed to bring happiness.

These colored pearls were not dyed to get their color.  The color of the natural pearl is wholly dependent on the color of the inside of the shell of the mollusk from which they were produced.

While any mollusk can make a pearl, saltwater pearls come from oysters, while most freshwater pearls come from mussels.

Cleanse and Purify Your Stones

For information on how to cleanse your stones, see this article by Diane Fergurson, published recently on Mind Body Spirit Odyssey.

You can read Giani's Tarot reviews in the Review section of this blog.
This is the eigth article in this wonderful series, and I am definitely looking forward to reading more
 in the upcoming months!  I thank Giani
 for his wonderful continued contributions to Mind Body Spirit Odyssey. 

The beautiful jewelry pictured above can be found in Giani's shop on CraftStar.
 ~ diane

Series Article Part 1 - Opals 
Series Article Part 2 - Sapphire
Series Article 3 - Amethyst
Series Article 4 - Moonstone
Series Article 5 - Diamonds 
Series Article 6 - Agate 
Series Article 7 - Jasper 

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Wednesday, October 24, 2012

The End of Summer and All Hallows Eve

I'd like to thank Celestial Elf for sharing this wonderful, informative article with us.  You can read more about Celestial Elf and his amazing machinima film work in the Artist Interview we conducted with him earlier this year.

The most magical night of the year,
All Hallow's Eve on 31st October is more important than All Hallows Day itself.
The Celts called this time Samhain (pronounced Sow-in), which means 'summer's end' and this marked the end of the Old and Beginning of the New Year for the Ancient people, as the New day begins at dawn, so the Ancient New Year begins at the darkest time, the turning point.
(The Christian clergy later co-opted Samhain not as a feast for All the dead, but only those hallowed (made holy) by obedience to God - thus creating All Hallow's Day.)

The Celts were a pastoral people and the end of Summer was significant to them because it was the time of year when their lives changed, the cattle were brought down from summer pastures in the hills and the people gathered into the communal halls for the long winter nights of story-telling, which held a very important role in earlier times....

To commemorate Samhain, the Druids built huge bonfires ( bone-fires ) where the people gathered to honour their deities with burned offerings of crop and creature.
During these celebrations they wore costumes of animal masks, horns & skins.
When the celebration was over they would re-light their home fires from the sacred bonfires as this consecrated fire would protect them during the coming cold and dark of winter.

In the Celtic belief system such turning points as the turning of one year into another, as well as the time between one day and the next, the meeting of sea & shore, were considered as very magical times.
The turning of the year was the most powerful of these times.
This was the time when the 'Veil Between Worlds' was at its thinnest.

They also believed that when their beloved people died, they went to a land of eternal youth and happiness called 'Tir Nan Og'.
At this time they held a Feast for the Dead, as it was believed the dead could return to this land of the living for just one night, to celebrate with their family, tribe, or clan. Thus the great burial mounds were opened up, with lighted torches lining the walls, so the dead could find their way & extra places set at the table for any who had died that year.

The dead were sometimes believed to be dwelling with the Fairy Folk, who lived in the fairy mounds or Sidhe (pronounced Shee) that dotted the countryside.
The Celts did not have demons & devils in their belief system, nor the concept of heaven and hell that the Christian church introduced.
The fairies however, were considered potentially hostile & dangerous to humans because men had taken over their lands.
On this night then, they might trick humans into becoming lost in the 'fairy mounds', where they could be trapped forever.
This would seem to be the origin of 'Trick-Or-Treating' & possibly of the 'Jack-O-Lantern' as well, which was used by people who traveled this night to frighten away spirits or faeries who might otherwise lead one astray.
Set on porches and in windows, the Jack-O-Lantern cast the same spell of protection over the household.
An offering (often food or milk) was left out for the fairies and spirits on the steps of the house or hall, so the homeowner or clan could gain the blessings of the 'good folk' for the coming year.

Such Halloween 'Games' as we have today clearly devolved from earlier rituals and beliefs..
Divination was practiced at Samhain and thought most likely to succeed at this time because the Ancient New Year's Eve exists outside of normal time, as the cyclical order of the universe collapses before re-establishing a new cycle, and therefore may be used to view any other point in time.
Young women placed hazel nuts along the front of the fireplace, each to symbolize one of her suitors,
& to find their future husbands they might chant:

'If you love me, pop and fly;
if you hate me, burn and die.'
They might also peel an apple, making sure the peeling comes off in one long strand, reciting,
'I pare this apple round and round again;
My sweetheart's name to flourish on the plain:
I fling the unbroken paring o'er my head,
My sweetheart's letter on the ground to read.'

Bobbing for Apples (sacred fruit to The Celtic people) evokes a Pagan baptism called a 'Seining' in which the water-filled tub is a Cauldron of Regeneration, into which the novice's head is submerged.
That the participant in this game was blindfolded & with their hands tied behind their back also evokes a 'Craft' initiation ceremony.

There are often two Halloween/Samhain celebrations,
The First, a Halloween party for non-'Pagan' friends,
& The Second a more private Samhain gathering held on Halloween night,
At which invisible friends may be present...

About the painting
This picture, which looks like a John Anster Fitzgerald painting and was titled 'Going to the Masked Ball', reveals the elusive nature of faeries, particularly at this time of year (Samhain) as it has been proven a fake/perhaps it was painted by the faeries themselves .....
Bought by London Art dealer who took it to his restorer, they removed the "over paint"and discovered the use of nickel titanium yellow, a substitute for the 19th-century "Naples yellow". Nickel titanium yellow was not patented until 1939; Fitzgerald died in 1906.

Dr Nicholas Eastaugh, a scientific consultant specializing in the analysis of paint, made a detailed study of the painting technique under a microscope, and compared it with known fairy paintings by Fitzgerald in Tate Britain and other collections. What he discovered, which was again hardly visible to the naked eye, was that Going to the Masked Ball lacked the precision of brushwork and finer details found in the other paintings.

For me however the mystery over authorship of this work adds to the fascination of this very beautiful painting.

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Wednesday, October 17, 2012

Mind Body Spirit Artist Series: Deborah O'Keeffe

I was walking through the artist booth area at our local "Art in The Park" last month - chatting away, not paying much attention to what I was doing, when I happened glanced over to my right and was totally thunderstruck by Deborah O'Keefe's amazing work.  I was immediately drawn in to her tent (something that rarely happens to me) and I went back to her booth 3 times that day, the third time with my poor husband and his wallet in tow.  Deborah's story is a fascinating one, and the process she uses to create her stunning collage pieces is quite interesting.  I thank Deborah very much for this interview, and I hope you will enjoy reading about her wonderfully amazing work!

                                                                                                      ~ diane fergurson

Mandala:  Gran Cirque
MBS 1:  Tell us a little about yourself.  How did you get started in art.

Deborah:  My story shows--as many of our stories do--how one thing leads to another.  Creating has always been important to me.  As a young person I gravitated toward finely-detailed handwork such as embroidery, sewing, knitting, and quilting.  I also involved myself in some very complex doodling projects (remember paisley?) during high school biology lectures.  Music was also important to me, and for a time I considered majoring in piano performance in college, a goal I scrapped due to extreme performance anxiety, pursuing instead undergrad and graduate degrees in religion and Biblical studies.  Following the completion of my M.A., I worked for 7 years as an assistant editor on the staffs of two different religious weekly magazines.  That very disciplined apprenticeship in writing and editing eventually led me to move out on my own into the field of creative non-fiction (a memoir) and then fiction (two literary novels).  For more than a decade I wrote on my own, every day, all day, an enterprise I interrupted for a couple of semester stints teaching college writing and literature.

Guardian Angel

As a balance to the writing life, I found myself turning to collage.  In school I had always steered away from art classes because they seemed too subjective and unpredictable in outcome (i.e., grade) for someone as protective of GPA as I was.  But on my own, after years of visiting art museums and enjoying friendship and conversation with many visual artists, I began creating mosaics out of paper.  My love of quilts and the tile mosaics of antiquity, plus my enjoyment of making something out of nothing, seemed to find fulfillment in this enterprise.  Furthermore, the materials were all accessible to me--paper, scissors, Elmer's glue (and PVA), various salvaged substrate, and polyurethane varnish.  After my first novel was rejected by at least a hundred publishers and agents (really, it's not that bad!), I decided to print it in book form, folio by folio, and bind it into a book.  Thus in a period of a year I created 7 individual, handmade copies of The Matisse Bag which I embellished with beautiful papers and many small collages.  That project, which I had turned to in order to feel a sense of closure with the novel, opened me to the realm of book arts and altered books.

After completing my second novel, The Virgins of Manhattan, I attempted to begin writing a third book.  By then I was spending my evenings collaging altered books.  After about six false starts on the third novel, and with a divorce in process, I decided to move in the direction my creative energy seemed to be taking me to pursue visual art.  It was a difficult, frightening time for me.  During the 10 years of my marriage I had left the regular job market to write and occasionally teach, and had depended on my husband's income for economic stability.  When our marriage ended, with limited saving and no income, I found that a 50-something woman with a humanities background was not exactly a hot commodity on the job market.    Soon job-hunting seemed like a futile waste of my time.  I decided to treat the creation of book art as my full time job, to be careful with my savings, and then see what would come of that.  As fearful and distressed as I was during that time, after an hour or two of collaging I would calm down, feel optimistic, and find myself thinking more clearly. That led me to make a series of good, intuitive decisions which ultimately enabled me not only to survive but to grow creatively in every aspect of my life.  In retrospect I see that when I was making art I was in my "best mind"--positive, creative, hopeful, resourceful.

Since that time, early 2006, I have continued as a full time practicing collage artist.  I am self-taught, but highly mentored by the art I see and read about, and by many good conversations with artist-friends for whom I have much affection and respect.  For me art is not only a career, but a spiritual path that involves all that I am and who I am becoming.

Poesis Lyrica
MBS:  This is interesting, because for anyone who has seen your work up close your collages are made up of very, very, very tiny cut up words.  There is such a connection between writing and making visual art.  So many people I know, and also have interviewed, not only paint or make fine art, but they also write.  What are some of your thoughts about the connection between the two?

Deborah: I do use some words in my collages, although mostly I am working with non-verbal images. When I incorporate words into collage I am especially interested in languages I do not understand or even read phonetically--what I think of as "character" languages such as Chinese/Japanese and Korean, Hebrew, and Arabic.  They are beautiful to me as symbols, apart from my understanding of their meaning.  I also enjoy using words from languages which employ some recognizable images from our alphabet, such as Greek and Cyrillic.  For me some beauty, mystery, and breadth is evoked when I incorporate those symbols into a collage.

With regard, however, to the relationship between writing and other art forms, I wish to first observe that artists are often broadly creative.  For example, Kandinsky not only painted, but played the cello and also wrote.  Carl Jung was not only a great psychoanalyst and researcher, but a prolific writer, art historian, and visual artist.  People are what they are, and may exercise remarkable gifts in more than one discipline, depending on their abilities, interests, and the direction their energies take them. Furthermore, I believe the variety of disciplines one pursues may stimulate and inform each other in synergistic ways, so that one art enhances the other.  When I was writing full-time I found that visual art provided a welcome relief from the life of words.  Furthermore, as a writer, I became acutely aware of the limitations of language to express human feeling, truth, and the subtle shades of existence.  It seemed to me, then, that art was able to complement language and also go beyond it in providing elastic, non-verbal symbols that could speak to people in very personal ways.  Now I find, however, that words, if they are not imposed, but flow genuinely from me as I am creating a piece of art, may enhance the significance of the artwork, or place it in a context that inspires meditation in a particular direction.  Some long-form writers--I think of Herman Melville in particular (who was, by the way, a great art appreciator and collector)--turn to poetry in their later years.  I feel that my turning to art after so many years of writing non-fiction and fiction was perhaps my way of turning to poetry.  To me art is, in a way, poetry.

There was a time, also, when I was writing full-time, that I felt very sure of myself, of the nature of life and truth, and of my words about those things.  I now feel a different kind of confidence, or perhaps could better be described as a comfortableness or at least acceptance of how great is the mystery of life and human experience, and how little I truly know of it.  I feel now that my best place in the expressive arts is to be as open as possible to the depths of my being, and to impose as little as possible, to avoid preaching.  Of course I do impose something, for I decide to go in a particular direction with a piece of art, and I continue making decisions as I work to complete a piece; art is nothing if it is not doing.  One of the cardinal rules I learned as a writer was to show rather than tell. For me, then, making art is my best-yet fulfillment of that rule.  Furthermore, the making of art is carrying me into areas of exploration that are beyond words and beyond myself.     

No One's Perfect
MBS:  How do you feel that your spirituality connects with your artwork?  Through inspiration?  While you are creating it?  As perhaps even a subject matter?

Deborah:  Here is where I meet the mystery.  On the one hand, I might say that the conduit between my spirituality and my artmaking is largely unconscious.  On the other hand, and perhaps more accurately, I think there is no separation, that every aspect of my life, including my artmaking, involves and expresses my own spiritual self and commitment.  I do not attempt to make overtly religious art, but my passions for nature, symbol and sacrament, literature, and the Mystery do somehow come through.  Also, it appears to me that my belief in faith, hope, and love, along with the need to wrestle with the darkness in order to protect and promote those qualities, is somehow communicated through the art I make in various ways that are either unconscious or so familiar to me that what I am doing seems simply normal, natural, and routine, not "spiritual" or religious.  Art-making is for me a spiritual path in which I am learning to "walk by faith" (a Christian metaphor I grew up with) not only by following a financially risky vocational path, but by approaching each new art project with openness to a living process rather than unduly imposing myself--my ego, my cleverness, my pre-determined plan.

With regard to the artistic process, Henri Matisse, in his cut-out book, Jazz, said, "You must present yourself with the greatest humility, completely blank, pure, candid, your brain seeming empty in the spiritual state of a communicant approaching the Lord's Table."  I also think of the sculptor, Henry Moore, who decided not to read an article offering a Jungian interpretation of his artwork because he did not want to become too conscious of what he was creating when he made art and risk having that consciousness interfere with the purity of his process.  And then there is this somewhat inelegant but humorously articulate poem by Ogden Nash which I found in my college literature anthology years ago and for some reason have never forgotten:  "The goose that laid the golden egg/Died looking up its crotch/To find out how its sphincter worked;/If you would lay well, don't watch."

The most important way, however, that spirituality and art connect for me and for those who exercise creativity in any activity or profession, is that creating puts one in joyful communion with the Creator in a place where we may meet on a graciously level playing field.  So much in spiritual discipline is necessarily remedial:  repentance, forgiveness, the struggle for peace, harmony, unity, crying out for help or resolution of a problem.  It seems to me in many aspects of my life I am simply, as the Shaker hymn says, turning and turning to come 'round right'--to where I needed to be all along.  But there is, then, the creative, positive experience of adding something of value, of bringing into being what did not exist before through art or some other means.  For me creating is joy, an experience that draws me into my "best mind," and proffers the privilege of fellowship with the divine.

The Marriage of Sol and Luna
MBS:  How do you create your pieces?

Deborah:  There are various ways a new piece may come into being.  From a technical/material perspective, however, I almost always work with small, hand-cut (scissors) or torn pieces of paper--mostly recycled from a variety of sources--which I glue into some pattern, usually abstract or symbolic, onto various substrate (wood, books, found metal, CD assemblages, stretched canvas, matboard, or layers of watercolor paper.  (Virtually all of my substrate is recycled or salvaged material.)  I use Elmer's Glue- All for most of my work (buy it by the gallon!), and occasionally PVA, an archival white glue book binders and book artists often use.  I use a small metal stylus, touched to glue I've spread on the substrate, to pick up the small pieces of paper and maneuver them into place in the collage.  When the collage is finished I varnish it with 3 or 4 or more coats of polyurethane varnish.  Occasionally I use polycrylic varnish if I do not want any yellowing of the colors.  Mostly, however, I embrace the slight yellowing of the polyurethane, which antiques and warms the colors of the collage and helps to further coalesce the piece.

From an artistic/aesthetic perspective, I am often inspired by particular materials at hand that I would like to work with.  Sometimes I set down a larger focal piece or pieces in a way that interests me, and then begin to collage around what I have laid down.  Other times, when I am creating a mandala, I may simply begin with a center and begin to work in concentric circles.  And yet other times, I may even draw some lines to establish a basic structure for the collage.  Often I will make a rule for myself that I follow, for example, collaging in a particular color scheme, or in a particular pattern.  I try, however, to be open to what is happening in the collage, and to what is occurring in my mind as I am creating it.  Sometimes I come to a point in which I've been following a pattern and something in me tells me to break the pattern or rule I've been following in order to surprise myself, to experiment a little.  Building on what I've done before, I then try to do something different.  So I am in a continual process of trying to subtly overthrow what I have done in the past.  For me the art I do is a continual exploration of possibilities.  I always feel that I am reaching for something I will never fully grasp, but the journey is satisfying enough that it gives me more pleasure and satisfaction than distress and frustration.  I do return to familiar patterns, such as the mandala form, at the same time that I attempt to tweak that pattern and find something new in it that excites me.  Of course sometimes I am more successful than others.  Sometimes I create pieces I don't much like at the beginning.  If I don't sell them immediately and they stay around long enough, I often get used to them, maybe even like them, and may even begin to see that their virtues are more than I originally believed.  In any case, those pieces that seem less successful to me are often stepping-stones to to pieces that seem more successful.  But when I talk about what is a successful piece and what is not so successful, I also feel that I am making a judgment I am in no position to make, and that someday I may see it quite differently.

One more thing about my process:  I am continually inspired by nature.  I do not try to copy what I see in nature, but I do try to work the way it seems to me nature works.  For example, I appreciate the repetition and variation that goes into the way a spider spins a web, or the way a bird builds a nest.

MBS:  Do you have a favorite material that you like to use or a particular format you favor? Do you work on more then one piece at a time?

Deborah:  My favorite material is paper.  I seem to gravitate toward rich colors and textures, but I also try to mix it up, to see the possibilities in quiet, subtle colors, or in an almost colorless scheme (whites, ivories, and tans).  I love natural-seeming materials, such as old papers that have become very grainy, stained, fletched, and/or absorbent.  The form to which I seem to continually return is the mandala form.  I love beginning a piece in the center and allowing it to generate from that point.  To me it is like watching something grow.  At each point in the development of a mandala, once I have completed a ring, I am looking at something that has its own provisional wholeness.  As the mandala grows it grows more complex and the resonances of the colors, textures, and patterns becomes more rich and interesting.  But it is like watching a human develop.  A 7-year old child is as much a whole being as is a 27-year old or a 72-year old, but perhaps not as experienced or complex. Often a piece that is largely generated from the center outward possesses a special kind of energy.

Usually I work on one piece at a time, but there are times when I may have two or three (usually smaller pieces, often in different stages) going at once.  

In the Beginning Was the Sound
MBS:  What is a typical work day like for you?

Deborah:  I work every day in my studio, which is in the unfinished basement room of my house, a large room that includes the washer and dryer.  First thing in the morning I take care of my e-mail, deal with pressing business (e.g., paying bills, etc.), and then I begin collaging.  Usually that is interrupted sometime in the morning by the walk I take with my husband when he goes to his office. I walk part-way with him, then return home and work in my studio till he comes home around 6:00 p.m.  During the course of my work day I often jump up from my chair to warm up my coffee, check the mail, tend to the laundry, or get a drink of water or a snack.  Other than these small breaks, I work straight through unless I have errands to run to the post office or bank.  I am either collaging, or preparing the substrate for a collage, or varnishing.  The most time consuming part, of course, is the actual collaging, which is quiet, detailed work.  I almost always listen to music while I work, usually classical music I stream through my laptop, or a CD.  At the end of the day my husband calls me when he sets out from his office and I walk to meet him part-way.  Sometimes I go back to my studio for a little while to tie up loose ends, but I rarely work again after supper.  Sometimes on the weekends I will work a little in my studio if I am home and my husband is doing something on his own.  I have been keeping this sort of daily work schedule for nearly 20 years, first as a writer and now as an artist.  I learned that if I did not set my work schedule in a serious way no one else was going to set it for me.  Early in my career as an independent writer/artist, I learned that it was even more important for me to keep a strict schedule in that work than it had been for me to show up to the 8 - 5 editorial office jobs I had once held. The work that no one else is asking you to do will never get done unless you yourself are serious about doing it and then do it.

Question 6:  What has your online experience been like?  Do you have a website or blog?  Do you sell online?

Deborah:  About a year and a half ago my husband presented me with a Wordpress blog site, all set, named, formatted, and ready to go.  Since then I have posted many, many images of my artwork, with titles and prices, and about 15 blog posts.  People cannot purchase work through the site, but they can contact me via e-mail and purchase a piece directly through me.  I use the site in conjunction with the weekend art shows I do.  Occasionally I sell pieces to people who have gone to the website, but I believe in all cases, those people have first seen my work at art shows.  This year I have been so busy doing art shows and creating work for them that I have been regretfully neglectful of my blog site.

Globe 2
Question 7:  What are you currently working on?  Do you have any shows or anything in particular coming up?

Deborah: Right at the moment, about 12 inches to the right of my laptop, sits a small collage I started last night while my husband was taking a short, after-supper nap.  I've incorporated into the piece a large amount of a mostly red, nearly full-page ad from my husband's Wall Street Journal, plus a line of music, material cut from the inside lining of my utility bill envelope, a half-rusted, half painted disc of metal about the size of a quarter (but NOT a quarter), some scraps of red and black papers from which I once cut or punched small circles, had been cut or punched, and miscellaneous other papers.  I created a large portion of this collage this morning while listening to a recording of the Dalai Lama's recent presentation at William and Mary College, in Williamsburg, Virginia.  It is quite a surprising piece to me.  For the next 8 or 9 days, I am devoted to creating small-ish collages for a show I am doing in Tampa, Florida, the weekend before Halloween.  After that I will be creating work (i.e., replenishing) for a show in Savannah, Georgia, the second weekend of November.  My last scheduled show for 2012 is the weekend after Thanksgiving, at the Cathedral of St. John the Divine, on Manhattan.  Somewhere in all this, I also need to prepare 7 or 8 small/medium pieces for a group show in November at Gallery 549 in Lafayette, Louisiana.  (I've been showing there since 2006; the artist-owner of the gallery, Donald LeBlanc, was the very first person to show and sell my art, in the fall of 2006; he is a friend, an artist whose work I appreciate and respect, and best of all, I trust him. When one has such a relationship with a gallery, even if the sales are small, it is worth nurturing.)  So I will be very busy till early December, at which time I'll be able to shift gears and create a couple of Christmas presents: a piece of space-related (i.e., planets, stars, galaxies) book art for my sister-in-law, and also a larger, preferably long, horizontal above-the-window piece for my husband for Christmas.  But don't tell!

 Question 8:  Any advice for those who would like to (seriously) pursue an artistic path?

Deborah:  Because making art is for me a spiritual path, the advice I have to offer is largely spiritual. I believe it is important for any person, whatever path they choose, to find what it is they are passionate about doing and then commit to doing and developing that.  Joseph Campbell said (I'm paraphrasing here, from memory) that the world is a wasteland of people who have stopped listening to themselves, and that the best thing any of us can do to improve the world is to find where our life is and then be alive ourselves.  "A vital person vitalizes," he said.  "Follow your bliss," he said. Following that is not always so easy.  It will take you on a life-journey that will discipline, develop, and transform you and your art, and influence and inspire others.

With regard to audience, don't pander, but do reach out, communicate.  For me, not pandering meant to not turn mandalas into clocks (which someone once suggested I do) because they might be useful and sell.  I did not like the idea, which seemed to me like a sell-out of what was truly driving me as an artist and a devaluation of my art.  For me, communicating means creating original, quality work on a variety of scales, and therefore in a variety of price ranges, so that people at every economic level can afford to purchase a piece of my art if they want it.  It is good for them and, of course, it helps me too.

My good friend Mare Martin, a very fine and experienced painter and print maker, told me over the course of several coffees and meals together, three things I often think of when I am working:
1.  "I always work with my mistakes."  (She did not say "erase" or "get rid of" or "throw away"; she said "work with."  What one may think of as a mistake may in fact be the fortuitous accident that brings energy and originality to a piece, if you work with it.
2.  "Don't listen to that voice in you that says, 'Why are you doing this?  No one needs this.  It's already been done.'"
3.  "I try to push a piece to the point of failure."  That's where the discoveries happen, where the new ground is broken.
Another friend of mine, also a painter, once said to me "No one painted more bad paintings than Picasso."  What he meant was that Picasso was not only incredibly gifted but incredibly prolific, and out of that abundant work emerged many, many masterpieces.  I believe that the works of mine that I judge as inferior (and really, who am I to judge?) are part of the artistic process that prepares for and generates the "masterpieces."  

Don't be discouraged if not everybody likes or understands your art, because not everybody will.  Be true, grow, and you will find and develop a community of individuals to whom your art speaks.

Finally, if you want to make a living as an artist, you will probably need to be as creative with your finances as you are with your art.  For me, that has meant living as simply as I can, taking risks (i.e., when the time was as right as it was going to get, quitting a part-time job to make art full time), and as much as I dislike saying this, accepting a certain amount of debt for a limited time--something many new business owners have to do, with the hope their enterprise will become profitable and enable them to pay off the debt.  The history of art, music, and literature is abundant with impoverished (either temporarily, or for a lifetime) luminaries.  Of course a lot of money can be and has been made in art.  But if you'll notice, most of the six-figure art sales at Sotheby's are for the work of dead artists.  Although that seems to be where a lot of the money is, it is still an advantage, in my opinion, to be a living artist, which is what I hope to be for a long time to come.

Thank you Deborah!

You can read more about Deborah and her work on her blog at
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Monday, October 8, 2012

Mind Body Spirit Odyssey Book Review: Understanding Your Food Allergies & Intolerances

Understanding Your Food Allergies & Intolerances
by Wayne Shreffler, MD, and Qian Yuan, MD,
with Karen Asp
Harvard University Health Publication
St. Martin's Paperbacks

I recently purchased this book on a whim, in an independent bookstore while browsing through the health and wellness shelves.  What got my attention was that it was small and compact (it wouldn't take me hours and hours to read), it had only been out for a few months, and it was published by Harvard Medical School. The fact that the book also addressed the growing, widespread problem of food intolerances - not just food allergies - also interested me.  I was not disappointed reading it. 

In a very clear, concise, relevant way, Understanding Your Food Allergies & Intolerances presents the most up to date current information that is related to food allergies and also food intolerances.  First, the authors explain what the difference is between a food allergy and a food intolerance, something that most people are not familiar with.  They discuss possible symptoms, from mild to severe, and how people can feel and react when they eat a food that their body is not reacting well to.  There are many of the symptom they mention that most people do not even connect to food, which as a result can lead to many misdiagnoses and the taking of medications that are either not appropriate or are not needed at all.

The authors also discuss the medical testing that is used to diagnosis a food allergy - what you can expect. Also what type of a physician you should see.   Should you go to your regular doctor or an allergist?  They also discuss the use of an EpiPen, when it is prescribed, and the importance of wearing an Allergy Alert bracelet or charm if your condition warrants it.

Other topics include; how to find and eat in an allergy friendly restaurant, how to travel with a food allergy or intolerance, decoding food labels, carrying a chef's card, sending your food allergic child to school, vitamin D and the connection with food allergies, ethnicity and gender as related to food allergies, therapies for food allergies (which includes Traditional Chinese Medicine), and the cross contamination of foods - which is very important for those, in particular, with gluten allergies.  Gluten intollerance, celiacs and IBS are also covered too, along with many other areas of concern.

Understanding Your Food Allergies & Intolerances is a little gem, and I would definitely recommend it to anyone who has food issues or suspects that they do. I hope the book finds it's way on to many shelves not only in homes, but in the marketplace as well.

~ diane fergurson

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Friday, October 5, 2012

Sitting - Meditating

Cat sits in the sun.
Dogs sit in the grass.
Turtle sits on the rock.
Frog sits on the lily pad
Why aren't' people so smart?

Those who follow the Tao are fond of pointing out the wisdom of animals.  When they see a cat sitting in the sun or a turtle who stretches her heard upward in a still post, they say that these animals are meditating.  They know how to be still and conserve their internal energy.  They do not dissipate themselves in useless activity but instead withdraw into themselves to recharge.

It is only people who label meditation as some sort of odd religious activity.  This is not the actual case.  Something like meditation happens when we sleep, or when we are absorbed in reading a book, or when we "daydream" and become so lost in a thought or an image that we so not notice what is going on around us.

There is no reason to think of meditation as something out of the ordinary.  Quite the opposite. Meditation is the purest and most natural expression we can have.  When you next look at a cat or a dog sitting still, and admire the naturalness of their actions, think of your own life.  Don't meditate because it is part of your schedule or is demanded by your particular philosophy.  Meditate because this is natural.

~ from 365 Tao Daily Meditations by Deng Ming-Dao

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