Sunday, October 26, 2014

What's in a Hand?

Lately I've been pushing myself to focus.  I love to paint, of that I am sure.  But in the process of establishing a career for myself as an artist I have to also think practically,  and focusing both the style and the content of my work is necessary.

What I love most about the creative process is starting with the unknown.

As I work through the process of finding a focus to my work in this moment I have several things to think about: materials, markmaking and style, palette and content.  The problem with my love for image making is that I love creating in many styles, many palettes and a full range of materials.  Content, for me, is an easier place to start.

Certain symbols show up over and over again.  I have spent years depicting hands.

I know I can count on nature,  animals, plants, and human figures (in particular eyes, hearts and HANDS) to provide me with plenty of symbolic meaning.  So much so that each one deserves its own thesis.  Let's take Hands....

If a bird in the hand is worth two in the bush... what about a soul?

I can't take any credit here.  The hand is one of the most commonly symbolized parts of the human body.  According to Aristotle, the hand is the "tool of tools.  It can communicate more concisely and definitely more universally than our voice ever could.   Throughout the world hands hold meanings, both specific and general:  Hamsa hand, Milagro hand, Helping hand, Hand of power, Eye in Hand... a more universal and powerful symbol is hard to find.

Hands heal, they also carry, point, grip, release, shelter, wave, gesture and punch.  They can offer assistance and they can do great damage.  In my own musings over humanity and the natural world I often see the hand as a symbol of technology, the human impact on the natural world.  It is a part of nature that has severed itself from its source.  What good is a hand is severed from its body?  What good are we when severed from nature?  These questions present themselves as I work, and I work to understand the answers.

By working with a symbol over and over again I develop my own personal encyclopedia of meanings.

Despite its frequent use in art and culture, I choose the human hand as an important symbol in my work.  I know I will return to it again and again and it will continue to evolve in my visual vocabulary, because I now have a very personal relationship with the symbol and its meaning.  

What's in a hand?  A Universe of meaning.

All paintings and painted stones are available at Dawn Patel Art on etsy.  Prints and printed merchandise available at Dawn Patel Art on Society6.

Wednesday, October 22, 2014

A year of (not) doing yoga

The longer version of this title is "What I have learned from my year of not doing yoga."  I'm not encouraging anyone to give up their yoga practice.  Read on...

Stretch your body and you stretch your mind.  As Without, so Within.

Two winters ago I had a daily yoga practice.  The stars had aligned, and I found a studio I felt so at home in I HAD to drag myself, through snow, ice and bleary eyed mornings, to an hour and a half of daily practice.  It started out a little forced; it ended up being my daily bliss.

During that winter of practice I experienced profound changes, as many do.  In a nutshell,  I moved beyond the physical benefits of a daily yoga practice into the place where I began to change within.   The most radical change was the experience of witnessing my thoughts without judging them.  I witnessed my body struggle awkwardly into poses, (and sometimes stumble)  without being hard on myself for falling short. I learned I could do the same with my thoughts.  When we judge ourselves we naturally turn around and judge others.  In other words if you are harshly judging others (a stranger on the street, a politician, a movie star.. judgement is judgement)  you'd better be sure you are doing it to yourself.  And neither is necessary.  Let it go, and just be.  You'll have so much more energy to apply to your poses, balance to keep you centered, and calm to stay with it.  This is what yoga teaches you about life.

When I was practicing yoga daily I had the opportunity to witness my thoughts passing, and slowly, through trial and error, learn to see them without judgement.  Learning to hold a thought before me and see it objectively, not excusing, explaining,  nor condemning, was an incredible revelation.  I had never considered the possibility of such calm in the face of the storm of my irrational, judgmental, and very busy mind.
Once you see your thought and DON'T judge it, you CAN let it go.

Then life got in the way.  I moved, I started working ALL the time and slowly my yoga practice went from daily to weekly to sporadic... and lately, rare.  I've been kicking myself about it a bit.  I miss the physical benefits.  I plot and plan to start again.

Recently, while struggling with my issues of the day, I witnessed my mind move through judgement of others to reflection of self to release in a relatively short time.
I was having a bad day in the city.  I'm not really a city person, I love my life in the woods where I can turn to the beauty of nature for solace at the drop of a hat.  But recently I have been called to the city and have been living in Chicago.  A few weeks ago I woke up in a sour mood and headed out to do some errands.  Everyone I looked at I judged.  I was irritated with people the minute I set eyes upon them.  It wasn't my shining moment of lovingkindness.  But something happened that turned eveything around.  I listened to my thoughts and I neither believed them, nor judged them.   Suddenly I realized I've been doing this all along.  I'm the same person I was before a year of practicing yoga, I can have the negative thoughts, I judge people, and I can be very hard on myself.  But I let it go.  It's an ongoing practice, and I learned it during yoga.

Looking at thoughts as something outside of yourself can lead to startling change.

One important lesson on the mat is to be where you are.  Yoga isn't about striving to reach a pose that someone else can do, it's doing a pose the way you are able to.  You take it to the edge of your capabilities, and maybe tomorrow you'll go further.  Or maybe you'll have a set back.  And then you'll be there.  Applying these lessons to my life has carried the practice further, even though the number of times I've unrolled my yoga mat this year is, well... let's just say I wouldn't lose count.  Maybe the time is coming when I start it up again.  Maybe...

And now... applying these lessons to the struggles this new chapter in my life, as a working artist.

***All of the artwork in this post is for sale as miniature originals, beginning at $18, in my etsy shop

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