I believe everyone is an artist until they are told they are not. This happens to most of us in childhood, and it is a denial of our creative potential, our birthright. I want to share with you how I found my way back to art through an unexpected encounter.
In 2007, I had the great privilege of traveling to Vietnam as part of a peace delegation with Zen master Thich Nhất Hanh. One afternoon I stopped by a delegate’s room to ask about our schedule. She was seated cross-legged on her bed, surrounded by colored pencils. In her hands was a journal, and she was creating a mandala of the city we were in, Da Nang. It was composed of concentric circles, each one holding a repeating symbol of something she wanted to remember. I was immediately captivated by the beauty of her work and the simplicity of her art practice. For the first time in my adult life, I saw an artist at work and thought I could do it too. I was thrilled.
When I returned to the United States, I started reading about mandalas and their uses in therapy, meditation, and art. I found a teacher, the mandala authority, Susanne Fincher. For two years I studied with her and delved deeply into the many potentialities of working with the circular form.
After completing the training to become a mandala facilitator, I ventured beyond the circle. I started creating other works, especially on social justice themes. But I was dissatisfied with my skill level so I looked for a new challenge, one that would speak to my values as it encouraged my growth as an artist. While in Ireland I heard about a botanical artist, Ida Mitrani, and I contacted her to see if she would be willing to take on an untrained novice as a student. Botanical art is an exacting form of expression and it demanded much of me. I was happy to try, fail, try, fail and try again. Ida taught me with compassion and skillfulness for two years. I improved and my relationship to the natural world, while always close, grew intimate. If you spend weeks with a leaf or flower – measuring, dissecting, studying colors, noting every detail, arranging – you establish a bond with that small part of creation that stays with you. Looking at every fruit, vegetable, mushroom, tree, and bloom with a botanical artist’s eye is a gift.
As my connection to nature thrived through these efforts, I stumbled upon the practice of nature journaling. This journal keeping includes words as most journals do, but also data and images. By following the work of John Muir Laws, I have been able to establish a regular practice of connecting in this new manner with the world around me. Many of my entries are drawings or watercolors, quotes that inspire me and poetry, my own or that of others.
We live in times that challenge the future of our species on this planet. For me, any way I can raise my own awareness of the need to preserve the sanctity of all life forms, is inspiring. My ministry reaches out to all – the birds in the sky, the fish in the sea, the four-legged ones, the creepy crawlies, Father Sun, Sister Moon, the stars of the night, and the earth below my feet.
How will my art evolve? I am not sure. I dwell in possibility with an open heart and mind. If you are practicing art I am happy for you, and if you are not yet doing so please take the plunge. Your path will be different than mine, but equally rewarding as you open up new parts of your mind and find the treasures there.