Inspiration From the Ashes

yellow texture

 Life is a bed of roses!

You know what?  The last time I checked, not all of us live and breathe in a Disney movie.  Sometimes things can look pretty bleak.  It is unfortunate how easy it is to slip into a vicious circle of hopelessness and despair.  We’ve all been there at one point or another and hey, we might slip again in the future.  Perhaps this question sounds familiar: “Why me?” The real question to ask is “What now?”

To give you a little insight on why I chose to write “Inspiration From the Ashes” I thought I’d share something personal.  The past couple months have been a little rocky to say the least.  We recently learned that our pet chicken, Hops, has intentional cancer and we have been in a very sad place.  After a week at the vet we brought her home wondering how many days left we would have with her.  The first night home was sleepless.  We woke up in mini-panics whenever she’d fluff her feathers and we’d stare intently at this poor little bird who would stare back as if to say, “What the heck is wrong with you two?!”  The next day I did what I usually do:  have breakfast with Angel (my umbrella cockatoo), return some e-mails, then check on Hops every 15 seconds to make sure she was doing ok.  It was a nice day so I threw a couple of blankets on the porch and brought Hops outside so she could get some sunshine.  I decided to flip on the electricity and melt some wax.  Hey, I might as well do some art if I’m keeping my chicken company…

3 encausticWhile Hops settled in I looked at my messy, waxy workspace and smelled that wonderful aroma of beeswax in the air.  I learned a pretty cool technique a couple years ago from my R&F Advanced Teaching Workshop instructor, Laura Moriarty.   It’s not my first go-to technique but I thought it would be fun to just practice something outside my wheelhouse.  This particular process is all about texture through repetition of brushstrokes.  With each stroke the wax will catch on the micro ridges that are created.  Eventually a very organic-looking texture pattern builds into a unique (yet somewhat delicate) work of art.  I began carving or incising patterns into the first layer of wax to “train” my brushstroke texture.  A spiral here, a square there, a long “S” shape curving down a panel.  I started experimenting with colors next, “Hops, which one should I use?  Pthalo blue?  OK!”  Beautiful blues transformed into purples, deep oranges into sunburst yellows.  Before I knew it I was hooked.

Time flew by and soon I had created a small collection of mini encaustic “succulents”.  The whole process was very meditative and I used this simple technique to take my mind off my sadness – and it worked!  I would show my small creations to Hops and she’d cluck saying, “Is this something I can eat?”  I came back to the wax the following day, and Hops was content to roost on her blanket next to me.  Soon Hops and I were both in a much better frame of mind.  She was more comfortable at home, eating, dozing, and doing the little things that chickens do.  I was more relaxed and happy to see her feeling better.

The day came when I had to go back to work and I was allowed to bring my chicken-in-a-basket along with me – thanks boss!  I set up a small area for her in the back of the store and my buddies at work got to meet my little friend.  My co-worker’s mom, Kathy, was down the street so she swung by to take some photos and see what the commotion was about.  I told her Hop’s story and how she was at work so I can give her medicine and keep an eye on her.  As it so happens, Kathy is a preschool teacher.  She was so inspired by Hop’s story that she turned it into a lesson for her students.  The lesson was on kindness to animals.  “When your tummy hurts your mom and dad take care of you and make you feel better right?  We need to do that for our animals too!”all hops

I don’t really know why I’m always  surprised whenever I see the magic chickens are capable of.  A lot of times I will hear, “But it’s a chicken!” My usual response is: “Well of course she’s a chicken!  Did you know that chickens purr?”  It all goes downhill from there, quite often with a barrage of iPhone photos.  Perhaps life would be less stressful if we kept our distance from things that make us sad.  You have to wonder if going down that road might make life a little smaller.   Without Hops there would be less art in the world and one fewer lesson on Kindness to Animals.  My animals are extraordinary and what we’re going through with Hops is painful.  It must be a conscious choice to acknowledge the pain but not dwell in it.  This is an hour-by-hour, minute-by-minute effort and maybe we’ll slip once in a while.  We’re not perfect beings – we’re human beings.  What would humanity be without Love?

hops 3

Once Upon a Time…

The Chicken That Saved the DayAs 2014 drew to a close I sat in the break room at work doing what I usually do on my afternoon break:  check my e-mail.  I like to think that there is some philanthropic duke somewhere out there just waiting to send me a check for a million dollars “By golly, she’s the one!”  So while I hold my breath waiting for that to happen I enter as many competitions that I can afford to in the meantime.  One fine day in late December I received an e-mail letting me know that my painting “The Chicken That Saved The Day” was accepted into Incite 3: The Art of Storytelling and I couldn’t help but let out one of my patented high-pitched squeals.  I ran around the corner to my boss’s desk and began jumping up and down waving my arms in the air.  This was a signal to him to stop whatever he was doing and pay attention to me.  Reluctantly he put down his keyboard and leaned back in his chair, “Oh God.  What now?”  After I jump-yelled-air-punched at him he was able to make out “Chicken…Book…Competition” and gave me a high-five.  Now let me describe why this competition was different from any other I had entered…

chicks_n_tomatoesOnce upon a time there was a chicken named Chickey Penny and she lived with 15 other chickens in the backyard of a little house in San Jose.  She was an “aracauna” and had brown feathers with willow-green legs.  She had ear “tufts” and a beard.  She was also the smallest in the flock and the other girls would peck at her.  All of Chickey Penny’s feathers on her back and tail were plucked clean except for one which stuck straight up like a little flag.  One day a girl and a boy moved into the little house and met the flock.  Chickey Penny jumped right up on the fence to say “hello” and it was love at first sight.  Every day when the girl got home Chickey Penz would run up to the gate and try to squeeze through the bars to welcome her home.  She also knew that there was a brown paper bag inside the house that had the most delightful of snacks so soon Chickers just waltzed into the house to help herself.  She quickly learned that the house was a much nicer place to live than in the coop with the other chickens.  Instead of being pecked she was petted and got to sit on people’s laps.  “I much prefer this flock, this will do quite nicely!”

Eventually the boy and girl moved to San Martin with chickens in tow.  Chickey Penny did not ride with the other chickens, she rode to her new home on the girl’s lap while watching the California hills roll by.  When the sun would set and bedtime drew near she would walk down the hallway announcing to everyone that it was time to go to sleep “BAAAACK BAK BAK BAK!”  She would roost on a towel behind the pillows andme and chicks wait for the boy and girl to come to bed.  As the girl would fall asleep she would stroke Chickey Penny’s feathers and she would stretch her neck across the pillow and purr.  Chicks loved the country life and was especially helpful re-dispursing leaf piles throughout the yard.  Seasons changed and years passed.  Christmases came and went and she even put up with wearing painstakingly made ridiculous holiday outfits.  Chickers lived to be 16 years old and was the best friend the boy and girl could have.

One day the girl decided to paint a portrait of her feathered best friend.  She wanted this painting to be special, something that really conveyed Chick’s spirit and especially what she meant to her and the boy.  She knew even before picking up a brush that this would be her favorite painting.  Finally after weeks and weeks, she stepped back from the easel.  “She’s done!” The girl knew that she wanted to share this painting with the world.  She wanted everybody to know about Chickey Penny so she started entering the painting into book competitions.  Years passed and every once in a while Chicks would be in a local art show.  She was happy that people were able to get up close and personal with the painting but it wasn’t enough.  She kept submitting only to receive, “Dear participant, thank you for your entry but we regret to inform you that…”  Until one day in late December with the New Year peeking around the corner…

tom_n_chicks…”The Chicken That Saved The Day” was accepted into Incite 3: The Art of Storytelling and will be roosting on the world’s bookshelves later this year!

Congratulations Chickey Penny!