I'm not really competitive, by nature. Being "better" than someone else isn't what drives me....what DOES drive me is trying to be better, braver or bolder than I was yesterday.
Back in January, I was reminded of a beaded doll competition that I've known about for many years, but never thought I could actually enter and stand a chance... this year, I decided it was time.
Emergence began as a quick sketch, a loose concept and a simple shape. I was excited about the possibilities, but could I actually finish the doll, the writing assignment, the stand and the finished photographs in time to meet the contest deadline? Would the finished piece meet all the criteria and make it to the semi-finals...or would all my effort be for nothing? I had a long road ahead of me, and I was more than a little nervous.
After stitching, stuffing and painting the soft-sculpture base, I was ready to start on the meticulously covering every inch of the doll with seed beads. There is no glue involved in most of the piece. Rather, beads are stitched directly to the fabric base. (The only place glue is used is under the polymer clay face, so that it is secure while the bezel that actually holds it in place is constructed.)
The beadwork itself took countless hours over the next several months. The layers of beaded fringe that make up her hair took an additional 12 hours to complete.
The contest's rules also require the submission of a 2,000-word story - fiction or non - about the doll and her connection to the theme of "Transformations". Taking on an ambitious beadwork project is one thing...but writing about it? That was a challenge - not because I didn't have the concept, but because I'm not in the habit of writing about my process and sharing what goes on in my head while I'm working. Because really....no one wants to see that. But, if I was going to do this, I was going to go all the way...
As it turns out, Emergence was an important piece of work for me on several levels - but I'll let her story tell you the rest:
Swimming Toward the Sun
A mermaid: most comfortable in the deepest corners of the sea. Alone in a darkness of her own creation, she has lured countless unwitting sailors to their deaths in her desire for companionship, again and again feeling the loss of them as they lie silently in her arms. Always seeking the shadows, singing her ancient song of desire and despair, weeping silent salt tears that are lost and carried away on slow tides to the farthest shores of the ocean. How she got down here, she cannot remember…it happened so slowly, so subtly that she didn’t notice until it was far too late.
Her loneliness has driven her, at last, to seek something more, something brighter. She has begun, at last, to rise from the heavy depths to new heights. It is slow going. She must stop frequently to become accustomed to the changes in pressure, and let her lungs and heart expand as she travels through new waters. The scenery here is foreign to her, and with every thrust of her sinuous, jeweled tail, her world grows brighter and more boundless. Without knowing it, she is swimming for the sun. Swimming to the surface, to breathe salt air and explore a new life, a new world.
This journey is not without its dangers. She loses her breath when she rises too quickly, and frequently finds herself in territory so alien, so foreign to her experience that she hesitates, and nearly turns back, yearning for the safety of her favorite sea-floor cave. Her desire to grow is more urgent though, more pressing…and deep in her heart she knows that her truest desire – to love and be loved- can only be fulfilled in brighter waters, where the only shadows are of ships as they pass, distant and fleeting.
Her opulent tail tells the story of her transformation – from the dark places of the sea floor, she has travelled, through changing pressure and changing seascapes, through the places where currents meet and clash in silent warfare without rippling the surface, and finally to the warmer, lighter surface waters. Her spiral markings are new to her… symbols of growth and change and cycles. There are no barriers to impede her now, she can come and go between the surface and the cold depths as she chooses. She chooses to go to the dark places less and less now, but she will always carry their mark on her shimmering scales. Rather, she now spends her days basking on wave-smoothed rocks, just out of sight of the shore, and dancing in the water with playful seals and friendly dolphins.
Legendary tales of mermaids abound in cultures throughout the world. She is an ancient archetype… emotions given feminine form. Both alluring and deadly, playful and sinister, the mermaid appears as seductress, salvation, hunter and prey. An object of desire, and inspiration, humanity is at once fascinated and repelled by her, just as we are enthralled and terrified by our own emotions.
Who among us hasn’t felt the fear of the depths – of losing ourselves in the tides of our emotions, or drowning someone else with the weight of our pain? Swimming in despair, not knowing if we would ever see the light dancing on the surface again? Emergence is a study of that journey, a talisman against depression, and a gentle reminder that the sun is still there, even when the shadows seem darkest. Her story is the story of everyone that has surfaced from our own darkness, fought against drowning in the shadowed parts of our emotional depths.
Water has long been a powerful symbol of human emotion. We are drawn to it, and cannot survive without it, yet we instinctively fear what we may find in its shadows. Many of its secrets are hidden from our eyes, and try as we will to understand it, even our most advanced technology can only scratch the surface.
Water, like emotion, fills us and becomes us, affecting our bodies in measurable ways, spilling over our edges and into everything we touch. Depression is the dark side of water…the shadowy deep where Emergence begins her journey. The weight of the world presses in, paralyzes us, and it seems as though nothing within us can ever break free. Emergence is a tribute to that silent struggle, and a promise that it is possible to rise from those depths.
Emergence is constructed of bead embroidery over a soft-sculpture base. Her pose was inspired by her upward journey, as well as by countless images of goddesses and women of power reaching upward, drawing energy from a source outside of themselves. The base fabric 100% cotton, coated with sparkling gold glitter on one side. The glittered side of the fabric was turned to the inside surface of the doll, a subtlety, to be sure, but symbolic of a deeper truth… we all hold internal treasures that none will ever see, save the hand that created us. After being painstakingly stitched and stuffed, she was given a coat of acrylic paint to set a backdrop for the heavy bead embroidery that was then applied.
I felt it important, for her and I to be authentic in her journey, to start where she started. I began the beadwork towards the bottom of her tail, near the flukes, and worked upward. From time to time, I floated upward, and worked higher on the tail, sketching in transitions and giving myself a break from the pressure of the depths. Still, the work was executed in line with the themes of the doll: emerging from darkness, transformation, upward progress and travelling “into the light”.
I felt that she should have delicate, meditative features, to reflect her new-found sense of peace. Her beautiful face was created by polymer clay artist Kristen Barrick. Her facial tattoos, peaceful closed eyes and serene, pleased smile are all handpainted.
Her gleaming shell brassiere is built around a pair of vintage Czechoslovakian glass beads.
The beads that cover her tail and body, and make up her flowing hair are a kaleidescope of Czech and Japanese seed beads, fire-polished glass, and pearls, of course. Her hair is constructed of straight and branched (or coral) fringes, and bears the same shading as her tail...from the deepest purples and blacks at the nape of her neck, to softer seafoam greens and bright aquas around her face. As a final touch, she wears a small crown of five pure white cultured pearls, which reflects the clarity of her intuition and the renewal of her spirit.
Does the story have an end? Sort of.
I completed the work in time to submit Emergence for judging.
Sadly, due to an insufficient number of qualifying semi-finalists, the competition was cancelled.
I can be proud of the work I did, knowing that Emergence was, in fact, one of the pieces that *did* qualify. I was awarded a Judges' Award, making "Emergence" an award-winning work of art.
We have spent quite a lot of time together, this siren and I, but it is time for her to move on to a new home.
Emergence is now available for purchase in the AutumnSky Adornments Etsy Shop. I hope that wherever the tides take her, she will be cherished for years to come as the unique work of art that she is.
I am a crazy quilt.
More on that later...
I spent last weekend in the forest just outside of Wrightwood, CA at the 2nd annual Henna Intensive and Retreat. It is exactly what it claims to be... intense. Three days of classes, workshops and conversations, with each day culminating in an all night henna free-for-all.
I drove up to camp Thursday evening, settled into my cabin with a few of the amazing ladies I met last year, as well as a few new faces. Eventually, we wandered up to main camp for an evening of getting to know each other over sangria and nibbles...we sat in the dark and talked about our lives, our homes, how we came to henna and how we came to be here. We caught up with old friends, and quickly made new ones. Professionals that have been in the business for years, professionals just starting out, hobbyists and enthusiastic beginners...all of us with our own styles, influences and leanings, there to expand our experience with this fascinating, versatile medium.
Over the next three days, we took classes on composition, technique, cultural traditions, marketing, unique styles of body art from different parts of the globe, art theory, and new materials. The absolute volume of information is still overwhelming... I've been home for two days, and haven't yet begun to process everything I learned. In between classes we continued our conversations, shared tips, offered insight and got to know each other better.
Each night, after dinner and whatever treat had been planned for us - a campfire one night, complete with s'mores and drummers, and a gorgeous bellydance showcase the next - we drifted back to the all-night henna cabin... kicked off our shoes and shared our gifts with each other. We experimented with what we had absorbed in the days classes, stretched our comfort zones and drank wine out of paper cups. I got to the cabin late Friday night, and only did one piece - a floral shoulder for Tiffany, a Southern California muralist who just happens to be the stellar talent behind the murals at Riverside's famed Mission Inn. She was meant to be my last henna of the weekend at last year's retreat, but time got away from us and she had to leave before we had time...so this year, she was my opener.
Saturday, after our classes and before the evening's entertainment, I exchanged hands with my dear friend Chele - I did hers, and she did mine. Chele is the talent behind Henna Moon in Bellingham, WA, and has a distinctive moroccan-fusion style all her own.....she's also one of my favorite henna-sisters.
Sunday morning, my first class was on jagua, an emerging body art medium with roots in the tribal peoples of the Amazon rainforest...heady stuff! Catana Padilla of Henna Kauai has been working with it for some years now, and had so much insight to share on the subject! After the slideshow and lecture, we each got a fine-tipped jacquard bottle of the gel to play with...and play we did! Jagua is really easy to work with and is a much simpler process than henna in some ways. It produces a beautiful (and safe!) blue-black stain that can last up to two weeks.
One of the last classes I took was also the one I took the most from as an artist - Debi Varvi (also known as the Henna Crone) taught a class all about creating design and pattern from objects found in nature. I worked with a fragment of cactus skeleton, and had a major "A-HA!" moment when I picked up a cone and saw more than what was in my hand...
Sunday, after our last class it was time to hit the road, and wind my way back to the world... leaving is never easy, especially when there are so many talented hands and open hearts to say goodbye to!
Back to the quilt. I realized, after a shower and a good night's sleep, that over this incredible weekend, my skin had become a mad patchwork of art. (And I think the same is safe to say of all of us that were there...we never stopped drawing on each other!) No rhyme or reason, just snippets of design and intention her and there on my body. Eight patches of artwork, from seven different hands - wrapping me in love and beauty even after the stains fade.
I don't know about anyone else...but I can't wait to do it again next year!
Living la vie Boheme, on an endless quest to adorn the world.