Friday, August 12, 2011

Thursday, August 11, 2011

Zen Monastery

In July I stayed at Green Gulch Farm, a working, organic farm and Zen monastery in Marin, CA. I was a Guest Practice Retreatant, which means I worked three hours a day in the kitchen for a discount on room and board. For $50 day, I got a private room and three organic meals.

I wanted to stay longer than four days. Next time I'd like to go as a Guest Student, where I'd work six hours a day, share a room and pay $20 a day for room and board. I am definitely planning on future retreats both there at the peaceful Green Gulch and at other monasteries around the world.

The garden and farm

Green Gulch is tucked in a valley, that runs down to muir beach, just a half hour walk. Other than the motorcycles zipping and the occasional road construction on the local highway, it was super quiet.

Families of quail ran free, making funny sounds, deer felt safe to graze and linger around. There are eucalyptus forests and huge, gnarly looking trees.

The meal bell which is struck with a hammer to let us know grubs up.

After observing 10 minutes of silence at the beginning of each meal, I got to know the folks who stayed at the Gulch. I met some really wonderful people. :-)

This schedule fit nicely with my natural rhythm, because I am such a morning person:

5:00a Zazen (seated meditation in the Zendo)
5:40 Kinhin (walking meditation)
5:50 Zazen
6:30 Service (chanting and bowing)
7:00 Soji (temple cleaning)
7:15 Breakfast (silent first ten minutes)
8:20 Work Meeting
8:30 Work (in the kitchen)
12:15p Lunch (silent first ten minutes)
5:15 Zazen (optional)
5:50 Service (optional)
6:00 Dinner
7:30 (or 7:50) Zazen (optional)

From what I understand, all except for the work in the kitchen, everything else is optional. Not all of the guests got up before dawn to go meditate.

Videos of my private room and guest house lodge. The Japanese wood work made for a relaxing place to stay. The building is an octagon which has a square central lobby, with the rooms circling the common room. The centralized wood burning store heated the entire building. It felt like home, so simple and utilitarian.

I could easily say so much more about this incredible place. It was such a hospitable place to stay. I have never felt so relaxed, both physically and mentally. And I was only there for three nights.

Wednesday, August 3, 2011

Newest Addition to the 2011 Book List

9. Meditation the complete guide by Patricia Monaghan and Eleanor G. Diereck

(currently enjoying)

Each chapter goes over one form of mediation (I believe there are 20 or so chapters), how to practice and a list of further reading. I find taking time to calm my mind and focus on meditating is really relaxing and replenishing.

Click here to see the complete 2011 Book List

Tuesday, August 2, 2011

July Happenings in the Studio

Since graduating from art school in December 2008, I started writing this monthly post called H.I.T.S. (Happenings In The Studio). On the first of each month I share the progress on my sculptures, art installations and my other artistic endeavors.

Besides working on several art projects I also clocked 1000 miles on my bicycle as of 12/1/10. Until moving to the San Francisco Bay Area I didn't enjoy getting around via a bicycle, and now it feels so slow walking. I LOVE my bike!

For three nights I stayed at a Zen Monastery to mainly focus my posture. I came away from there with a better awareness of when I was tensing up and slouching. More about my time there in a future post. It was the most relaxed I have ever been.

Bouncy Ball Curtain - Second Restring

One of the challenges of making interactive art, like this bouncy ball curtain that is at a friend's loft, is maintaining it. Originally I used 50 pound monofilament line to string the bouncy balls and crazy straws together. Over time the fishing line has stretched.

After consulting with some super smart people, one of which is a civil engineer, I have a new plan of attack. In a couple of weekends we are going to have a Bouncy Ball Bee and restring.

This process reminds me of the quote to seek advice before making plans. If I had picked an engineer's mind before constructing this curtain, I would of saved a lot of time. Hopefully I will remember this lesson.

Henna Ceiling Mural

The art of temporary dying floral and tribal designs on the body is called henna or mehndi, depending where in the world you are at.

I created a henna ceiling mural using a 7 foot diameter piece of paper and acrylic paint.

The blue tarp peaking under the mural shows where the ceiling light will line up.

Henna is painted to mark events in a persons life, like marriage. Last month I quit my full time picture framing job to pursue making art and freelancing as an office assistant to artists and entrepreneurs. It also marked the end of my 6 month art making sabbatical. (Check out this post to read more about the craziness that happened last month.)

I enjoy taking traditional art forms and giving them a contemporary spin, while messing with the scale and colors. In the past, I painted a henna design similar to this one around my belly button.

This is one of the few art projects that where I enjoyed all of the steps in the art making process. It helped immensely painting on the ground, versus straining my neck to paint on the ceiling. I intentionally free handed the design, because even though I can recreate hyper detail, I find it tedious and uncreative. I also like that when I do move out I can take my mural with me.

Cactus Lights for a Music Room

This is an example of a past Cactus Light I designed, knit, and wired with LEDs. This is a one foot section of a 12 foot light, which is apart of a grouping of three hanging Cactus Lights.

Tests for the current Cactus Light project, where I am looking for the best way to color glass.

I am in the design and research phase for making a version of my Cactus Lights for my sensei's music room. There will probably be two strings of these sculptural lights hanging from the 11 foot ceiling.

In the past I've made the light shades using found plastic containers, like sippy cups and vases. For this project I'm having a hard time finding larger plastic containers that are interesting shapes and vivid colors. I decided to switch over to glass vessels. This seemed like a natural transition since how the plastic lampshades are often mistaken for blown glass.

I love the research phase, running tests and playing around with "what if" questions. Working with glass brings on new design challenges, like how to drill holes into glass so I can wire the light. And which paint is vivid, opaque and yet lets enough light through, doesn't scratch, that is ideally nontoxic, not labor intensive or expensive. So far spray paint and decoupage paint over fabric are the best solutions for coloring the glass containers.

Finger Labyrinth

Photo courtesy of OpEdNews. Click to read about World Labyrinth Day.

Thanks to a meditation book that I am reading, I've fallen in love with the labyrinth all over again. I used it in my art before, like making a 5 foot in diameter wall labyrinth out of real leaves. After watching a youtube video on how to make a finger labyrinth, I busted out my play do, sculpy and paper mache.

I played around with different mold making techniques for making my own finger labyrinth. I think the fastest and most durable form would be to make one out of ceramic.

I discovered that elmer's glue poured into a relief made from unbaked sculpy makes a sturdy "rubber mold." It just takes two days for the glue to dry. From there I can then pour plaster into the elmer's glue mold to make an indented finger labyrinth.

Check out this post about a labyrinth that I walked in Berkeley, CA.

See you September 1st, for the next Happenings in the Studio. Thanks for reading.

Table of Contents for H.I.T.S. (Happenings In The Studio)

Grace North Church Labyrinth

Photo courtesy of Grace Cathedral.

While reading Meditation: the complete guide, by Monaghan and Diereck, the chapter on labyrinth walking reminded me of a goal I made in college. When living in the dorms I experienced my first labyrinth at Grace Cathedral in San Francisco. It was then that I made a goal of seeking out more. Casually, I’ve come across some in my area and while on vacation, but now I am actively (but not with urgency) discovering labyrinths.

Using the Labyrinth Locator, I checked out the San Francisco Bay Area for meditative paths. Most are based off of the 11 circuit labyrinth from Chartes Cathedral in France. From there the materials, location, and scale vary greatly. Many of the labyrinths are painted on canvas being less expensive and portable, one is permanently painted on the black top at a school and another was crafted from the bricks from a burnt down church. In particular three rock labyrinths caught my interest because they are outside, which is where I love being the most.

It is interesting that I have gravitated towards labyrinths, since how I would miss pronounce it every time I’d talk about them. Along with the word Ambulance, my college boyfriend would randomly quiz me on pronunciation. It seriously took months to get them both right.

photo courtesy of North Grace Church

The Labyrinth Locator introduced me to the North Grace Church Labyrinth in Berkeley. According to the labyrinth directory, public walks are available twice a month. I marked the times on my calendar and checked it out. I was surprised to find the sanctuary doors locked, figuring that’s where the path was located. After circling the building I saw someone and he pointed me in the right direction and he said I was welcome to walk until they closed down for the night. I strolled into the building adjacent to sanctuary, feeling a little uncomfortable not knowing exactly where to go or if I was allowed to be there. After passing several classrooms I found a gym with a maroon 7 circuit labyrinth painted on the floor. It wasn’t a particularly awe inspiring room, like being surrounded by stained glass windows and huge stone pillars. But the simple arts and crafts style of the 1913 church made for a simple canvas to focus on why I was there.

At first it was a tad distracting to walk the labyrinth, since how one side of me was a class that was ending and on the other side there were people in the kitchen. No one seemed to think it odd that I was there. I figure that’s because besides being respectful of the space, I acted like I belonged. Going into random churches feels normal since how that’s what I did growing up. At the age of learning to ride a bicycle, I lived in the British countryside. My parents made the most of it by taking frequent trips to castles and cathedrals. I remember begging my father to not drag my brother and me to another cathedral. Even though I loved exploring the vast buildings and pretending to be from a different era, I had seen so many that I wanted to do something else. But here I am, back to seeking out churches. Guess I didn’t get my fill.

At Grace North Church, after about 10 minutes of walking people cleared out of the classrooms and it became quite. That’s when I got creative. That was the first time I had the opportunity to walk with no one watching me. It’s like dancing at home. I hadn’t realized how self-conscious I was until left alone. Winding back and forth, I walked to the center and out again, playing around with my body in that space; searching for the rhythm that induced a relaxed state of mind. I played around with walking different speeds, even as slow as kinhin, Zen walking, where you make one step for every two breaths. Being in socks of course I had to try sliding my feet without picking them up. I twirled around the bends like a modern dancer. I moved my arms around in various martial arts positions and stretches. After about half an hour, I left happy and more relaxed.

In making art and in labyrinth walking, repetitive tasks are soothing and replenishing. I also enjoy their aesthetic being site specific art installations. I am cooking up a plan to organize a community project to build a labyrinth. This involves talking with city planners, grant writing and public speaking, none of which I have much or any experience. I am good at researching, designing, keeping details organized and follow through. Interacting with people of the community and the decision makers is something I want to be comfortable with doing. Making public labyrinths is the direction I want my art to take since how it’s collaborative, on a grandeur scale so that it impacts more people, and more complex project so to push me out of my comfort zone.